Max Wheeler stepped off the intergalactic carrier amid a crowd of urbanites and, as an android accustomed to the isolation of a prison transport, he stared in wide-eyed wonder. Turning on his heel a complete three-sixty, he used every scanning device at his command, searching through the crowd.
“Max?” Someone tapped his shoulder.
Max didn’t jump. He stiffened like a rabbit caught in the glare of a hound. “Yes.” He scanned Cerulean’s face and an automated smile broke the line of his tight lips. “Cerulean.”
Cerulean grinned. “I’m glad you made it on time. What, with all the extra traffic—”
Max had not moved a millimeter.
Cerulean nudged him on the elbow and nodded toward the street crossing. “There’s a diner across the way. You want to get something?”
Max tilted his head. “I do not depend on human food. What would I get there?”
The grin was joined by a glimmer in the eye that Max didn’t understand.
A passerby jostled Max and scrunched around Cerulean in his hurry. Max accepted the inevitable. “If it would make you happy.”
Upon sliding onto a bench in the Breakfast Nook, Cerulean waved to the hostess. The large, bio-armored Ingot wearing a blue sprigged, calico apron grunted, slapped her datapad against her palm, and charged toward them.
Max watched her approach, scanning her features, clothing, and behavior in order to classify her into a recognizable category. None.
The Ingot’s gaze swept over Max and stopped. “What’d you want?”
Cerulean lifted two fingers. “Two coffees and a couple of sweet rolls.”
Ignoring Cerulean, the hostess offered another appraising glance at Max, huffed her martyred patience, and tromped off.
Max, sitting ramrod straight across from Cerulean, stared unblinking. “It was my understanding that you were Luxonian.”
Cerulean fiddled with the saltcellar. “Still am.”
“As a Luxonian, you do not need human nourishment.”
“Humans could take nutritional pills, but instead they still practice the culinary arts. Why?”
“Is this a test?”
Max shrugged. “It is a habit they cannot break. Like a drug.”
Cerulean chewed his lip. “Just a small point, Max. Use contractions. You’ll fit in better. It’s more natural. Right now, you sound like you just swallowed an antiquated database.” He leaned forward. “As for food, humans enjoy—”
The hostess slapped two hot coffees on the table and swished a metal plate with sticky buns in the middle. She tilted her head and appraised Max again, slowly. “Got back problems?”
Max glanced at Cerulean.
Cerulean spoke more quickly than he had earlier. “In the war. Never been the same—eh, Max?”
Max stared at Cerulean, unblinking.
The hostess relaxed. “Huh. So was I.” She leaned in conspiratorially, her softened gaze joined by the hint of a smile. “I got a brace that helps when the load is heavy. Want me to show it to you?”
Coffee sprayed across the table as Cerulean choked.
Max tilted his head toward the hostess, meeting her gaze. “How kind of you. But, no. Thank you.”
She recomposed her wide shoulders and tapped her datapad against her thigh. “Well, let me know. The name is Sal. I’m always here.” She lumbered off.
“I didn’t know it was possible.” Cerulean’s voice had grown thick and raspy as he wiped the table. “You’ve woken the passion of…an Ingot.”
Max could feel the satisfied grin slide across his face. “Contractions, eh?”
Cerulean rubbed his forehead with a groan and nudged the coffee and plate of sticky buns toward Max.
As if the bun might explode, Max hesitantly lifted it. He carried it to his mouth and took a tiny bite.
Cerulean sipped his coffee and watched Max, his eyes wide. “Don’t you ever eat diner fare?”
“Of course. Just rarely in public and never covered in—” Max tapped his sugar-coated fingers together. “—goo.” Licking his lips, he took another bite and sipped the coffee. “They go rather well together.”
Eyeing the hostess who kept swiveling her gaze in Max’s direction, Cerulean leaned forward. “Time to get to business.” He laced his fingers together. “You’ve heard of an android named Justine—Justine Santana?”
Max didn’t swallow the bite in his mouth. He simply stopped chewing.
Cerulean shook his head. “That’s not an answer.”
Max gulped the unchewed bit, pushed away from the table, and rose. “Where is she?”
Cerulean waved his hand, his gaze tracking the Ingot’s interested stare. “Sit down. It was a question. I need an answer before I can tell you anything.”
Max leaned across the table and lowered his face within a few centimeters of Cerulean’s. “If you know where she is, tell me now or I’ll—”
The hostess appeared at Max’s back and leaned over his shoulder, peering at Cerulean severely. “Problem here?”
Cerulean knew when he was beaten. He raised his hands and shifted off the bench. “Everything’s fine. Max and I are done— here.” He stepped up to the cashier.
Sal maneuvered aside while glancing at Max. “You’ll be sure to visit us again… soon?”
Max considered the Ingot standing before him, all seven biomechanical feet of her. “I will—I’ll—make every effort.”
Cerulean nudged Max forward. “Oh, don’t worry; he’ll be back. Max loves your sticky buns.” He motioned toward the door. “Come on. We’ve got visits to make.”
Max offered a parting smile to the blushing Ingot and traipsed after the odd Luxonian. “Where?”
Cerulean stepped out into the crisp winter sunshine and rubbed his hands together. “A prison and a morgue.”
“To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.”
A new chapter every Tuesday and Thursday.
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