“I want an Earth Burger.” Zora stared at the flashing directory and frowned. “They don’t have a Jeb’s here.”
“There’s one on Cyrus 2.” Murray raised one judgmental eyebrow at her. “You can’t wait till we get there?”
“I’m going to have to, aren’t I?” She scanned the port business list and frowned. “This place is a dump. How long are we here?”
Murray turned her back on her. She eyed the trickle of pedestrians crossing the station’s main floor and shrugged. “Only until we hand off the first batch of eggs. Rook thinks we need the port on Cyrus 2 for repairs.”
“Because this place is a dump.”
“Because it’s small.”
“Right.” She watched a family of Amarylians pass in front of the billboards. The mother tugged gently on the little girl’s purple hand, encouraging her forward past the flashing ad for Farah’s Frond and Feather. “They have any shopping at all here?” She frowned at the sign as the girl moved on. Cyrrus 2. Of course. Who’d open a Farah’s on Cyrus 4, where the local population obviously didn’t put too much effort into their hair.
“There’s a Bingies.” Murray had to be joking, but the look on her face claimed otherwise.
“Are you serious?”
“Their clothes are very sturdy, Zor.”
“Yeah, sturdy was what I was hoping for. No thanks. I’d rather pick through a dumpster behind Gillian’s.”
Murray sniffed and went board stiff. No doubt stretching the sturdy seams in the blouse she wore under a coat that looked suspiciously similar to the old lab version she used to wear. “Well, they don’t have a Gillian’s,” she snapped. “And we’re not here to shop anyway.”
“Fine.” Zora sighed and watched the foot traffic again. Maybe Mur had them replicate it, but she couldn’t imagine anyone doing that on purpose. A custom lab coat, please. Slightly shorter this time, but with the same, frumpy cut. “When are your science guys coming for the babies?”
“We have a few hours. As soon as Rook files our trip papers, we can grab something to eat.”
“Where?” She stared at the directory again, as if it would magically manifest a decent place to grab lunch. “Does Bingies serve sturdy burgers too?”
“Maybe you should grab something back on the ship.”
“Maybe you should--.” She caught sight of Ignatius over her sister’s shoulder. He stepped around the corner, slid aside to allow the Amarylians to pass, and looked across the port’s main aisle, squinting until his gaze found them. His arm came up in a wave, and he smiled. “I’m gonna grab something back on the ship,” Zora said.
“What the hell is the matter with you?” Murray leaned in conspiratorially, but forgot to lower her voice. “Why not just tell him?”
“Tell him what?” She took a step back, but kept her eyes on the approaching Emperor.
“Oh, I don’t know, Zora. Maybe tell him you’re pregnant, maybe tell him he might be the father, or maybe just tell him that you’re crazy about him.”
“Shut up, Mur.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Good.” She kept backing up. “Cause it’s none of your damn business.”
Murray didn’t get it. No lie. Cause hey, I’m pregnant, wouldn’t exactly be easy. Cause hey, remember that one night, couldn’t really cover it. Cause, you might be the father, but so might a four-armed reptilian overlord from the planet Crag didn’t quite roll off the tongue, did it?
He was an Emperor.
She shook her head and ignored her sister’s disapproving frown. No way in hell, she was telling him. Instead, she avoided his gaze and spun around, intent on a quick escape to her quarters and the last bit of Venusian chocolate she’d stashed under her pillow. Her route to freedom, however, was blocked by a wide, hairy chest.
“Zora?” A deep voice, slightly familiar. “Is that you?”
She cringed and peeked up and to the side, praying the voice belonged to some casual acquaintance--a childhood friend, a teacher, even her high school principal would have worked. Instead she followed the open collar of a loose, white shirt to a rough, unshaven jaw. Three big blue eyes twinkled above a hooked nose, and they knew her far too well for comfort.
“Stanton,” she all but whispered. “How the hell are you?”
“Zora!” His laugh reached the far side of the port, and his stout arms lifted her before she could squeak in protest. “Where have you been, woman?” He spun her in a large circle, one that blurred the station around them, but didn’t quite block out the sight of Iggy’s frown. It passed her twice, punctuated by Murray’s pinched, uptight grimace, and she couldn’t tell which made her more nauseous, the spinning or the view.
Either way, she staggered to the side when Stanton put her back on her feet, and he had to throw an arm around her shoulders to keep her upright.
“You all right?” He winked the middle eye. “How long has it been?”
“Years.” She tried to smile, but he still tilted to one side, and her stomach lurched.
“We,” Murray put more stress on the word than Zora would have called polite. “Were just going to get something to eat.”
“Great!” Stanton bellowed. He had more lung power than most humanoids, she recalled. Three eyes, three lungs, three--. She needed to ditch him, and fast. Ditch him before any conversation ensued, before disaster could strike. “I know a great burger joint, Zor. You’ll love it.”
Burgers. Her stomach turned on her. Apparently, her mouth obeyed it these days. “Fab! I’d kill for a burger right now,” it said. She grinned up at the Triploid and ignored the pang of doubt. If Stanton remembered too much about the last time he saw her, she just might have to.