“You were actually in the battle of Sparks?” Ignatius leaned forward, and Zora could see the fascination shimmer in his rapt expression.
“Well, not in exactly.” Stanton blinked two eyes, and fixed the third on her. It hadn’t taken him long to realize Zora ran with a different sort of crowd these days. “But I was there, yeah.”
Stanton’s escapades behind the lines at Sparks had netted him a senior position amongst the galaxy’s less public businessmen. The last time they’d spoken, his black market empire rivaled most of the sector’s planetary governments. Now, Ignatius hung on his every word, blissfully unaware of their dining companion’s more nefarious endeavors.
Murray ate her burger in silence, thank god, though Zora had caught her laughing silently at more than one of Stanton’s comments. She’d barely stifled the urge to bruise her sister’s shins with a good kick under the table.
The only bright side to the afternoon, as far as Zora could tell, was the food. She licked at a trail of juice running along her finger and smacked her lips around another hunk of burger. Not quite an Earth Burger, but with enough add-ons and sauce to come close. They even carried holo-relish. She put the burger down on her hover plate and swirled a fat fry through the dip. Awesome, burning-hot holo-relish.
So her baby’s maybe-father was chatting it up with one of the ghosts from her past, one of the many skeletons in her rather vast closet. Who could worry while enjoying a meal with this much grease involved? She chomped the fry and then dove on her spiral glass of Beam-berry smoothie—artificial, but sour enough to pucker a bot’s face.
“Yeah, we did,” Stanton continued, but she’d missed the first bit. She pushed aside a twinge of concern and kept eating. “She never told you?”
Zora sat up straight and froze.
“No,” Ignatius answered. “But we haven’t known each other quite that long.” He didn’t look at her, and the worry flared.
She checked with Murray for a clue, but her sister had turned to focus on the restaurant doorway where her husband stood, waiting for a break in the crowd and reflecting the overhead lighting into a rainbow across his silver hair. Yuck. They’d taken the metal thing a bit too far in Zora’s book. But then, she’d never fallen for an android—or whatever. To each their own.
“So, Zor,” Stanton broke the silence that seemed a tad on the awkward side. Damn it, she’d missed something all right. “Did you catch Haley’s Tale on Cyrus 2?”
“We’re going over there next.” She watched Iggy, but he’d developed a sudden interest in his plate.
“Too bad. The last show was yesterday.”
“Really?” At least something had worked out in her favor. “That’s too bad. I was hoping to see them again.” She heard Murray cough, but who cared? She’d dodged the band bullet, score one. Now all she had to do was get rid of Stanton—fast.
“But, hey, they’re coming here tonight. Maybe you guys could hang around one more day?”
“Oh, man. Murray’s got us on a tight schedule, I’m afraid. Deliveries, you know.”
“Yeah, I know.” Stanton laughed and for a moment, the look he gave her reminded her of a time when she didn’t give a damn what anyone knew about her. She couldn’t help but smile. “Remember when we had to get that shipment of--.” He rolled his eyes to one side and paused less than subtly. “Medical supplies to the Farfeld Sector.”
“Oh, yeah.” As she remembered, it had been very rare booze and vapors to a small, restricted zone, but for a second, it all came rushing back. “Good times, Stanton.”
They stared at each other for a moment, and Zora let the nostalgia take her. Stanton had come right after her stint as a pirate, and they’d had a wild ride for a few months. Too wild. She’d had to phony up a ransom letter to get Murray to come rescue her that time. Murray. Maybe she’d gone a step too far once or twice as far as her sister went. She’d taken advantage, she’d pushed too far, and she was losing her damned mind. None of this had bothered her before.
“So what are you delivering now?”
“Endangered species.” Zora grinned.
The look on his face was priceless. She’d have given anything for a camera bot. “There much money in that?”
“None. My sister here’s a xenobiologist on a mission.”
All his eyebrows lifted at once. “I thought your sister died at birth?”
This time Murray choked for real. Rook showed up at exactly the right time. He smacked down a helping hand, and launched a hunk of pre-chewed burger free. Zora leaned back, Stanton ducked, and the offending food landed on a neighboring table. Thankfully, it was unoccupied.
“Jeeze, Mur.” Zora grinned. She heard Stanton chuckle, and almost could have sworn Iggy did as well.
“What did I miss?” Rook asked.
“Nothing important.” Murray glared across at Zora and sighed before turning to her rescuer. “How did it go?”
Rook shrugged wide, human shoulders and tilted his head to the side. He might have a brand new, hunky body, but he still acted like a robot. His silver eyes blinked just a tad too slow for a humanoid. “The sanctuary is acceptable, and the Cyrian government biologists are meeting us at the ship in half an hour.”
“Great!” Zora dove back into her fries. They’d be off the rock in no time and back to society where she belonged.
“But?” Murray added.
“But the port officials are posing a difficulty.”
Zora set the fry down and glared at Murray, as if it were her fault, as if her “but” had asked for trouble.
“There seems to be a problem with our trip papers,” Rook continued. “They want to inspect the ship, do a full scan and book us for departure late tomorrow.”
Stanton slammed a big fist down on the table, and Zora’s fries jumped. “That’s great!” The Triploid grinned and pushed her shoulder so hard she bounced off Mur before settling back upright. “You can stay for the show.”
“Huh?” Zora tried to focus, but the holo-relish made her eyes sting. She sniffed, and blinked and found Ignatius staring across the table at her.
“Are you all right, Zora?”
“Yeah. I’m fine.” She tried to read his look. Hell, she tried to read his mind, but she’d never been much of a psi. “Thanks.”
“Well I don’t like it,” Murray said. “Everything was supposed to be pre-arranged.”
“I don’t like it either.” Rook pulled a chair from an empty table across to join them and sat down beside his wife. “But at this point, I think we’re grounded until they give us to go-ahead.”
Zora saw the look they passed between them and stiffened. They both expected trouble, suspected more than just a routine scan. She frowned and turned back to her fries.
“Man!” Stanton threw a big arm across her shoulders and gave her a friendly squeeze. “How lucky is that?”
Maybe it was too lucky. She caught the way Iggy’s eyes narrowed and felt her own suspicions stir. What had Stanton been up to since the last time they’d seen each other? She’d changed more than a little herself. Who could say what or who her Triploid friend was in bed with these days?
“This is great, Zora,” he said. “It’s gonna be just like old times.”
“Yeah.” Zora forced a smile. Just like the old times, exactly what she was afraid of.