Martine sat watching the Rush camp become smaller and smaller beneath her, until it finally dissolved into a tiny dot on the Nichee desert of Phyrnos and disappeared. She remembered how everyone had been so excited to walk on solid ground; to look up and see the suns. To breathe fresh air. Even if it had been sometimes heavy with sand.
“Fools,” she said.
“You thought highly enough of them not long ago,” Jacques said.
“They’re cowards. It was clear to me ages ago that the lizards were stringing us along.”
“That would have been helpful for you to mention a few weeks back. There I was, biding by Howl, all 'let me tell you a story about old bull and young bull'.”
"Americans all want to think they're cowboys." She smoothed his hair.
Coyote came between them. “Who doesn't love a cowboy? You can tell everything you need to know about them by their hat," he said. "White makes right, black makes night."
Martine flicked his bandanna. "What's this red scarf mean, then? That you're a blood-thirsty stooge?"
Coyote shifted. “Heh. You know what they say. The sharper the claw, the cleaner the carving."
"I must say I didn't expect you to enjoy yourself so much. We just needed you to scare the Phyrnosian away, not give her a complex."
"I got what we needed, didn't I? Now we can afford an army." Coyote looked at his hands and noticed the blood of the Evok crusted beneath his nails. He wiped them on his Prest-o pants. Martine watched him.
"Of course, of course," she said, glancing at Jacques.
"Oh well," he said.
“You ever been to Iceman’s before?” Coyote asked Martine.
“A couple times,” she said. She looked down on Phyrnos. The red planet grew smaller and smaller behind them.
“I’ve never been,” he said. His smile hung strangely on his face, as if it did not fit.
Martine and Jacques exchanged a look. “So you keep saying,” Jacques said. “You’re in for a treat.”
The number of bodywriters had grown every year. Some were artisans; others were hacks. Of all the writers in the guilds, the Iceman was the most highly regarded. He worked quickly and intuitively, so that each of his pieces was a true creation: something which had never before existed. When one of his works was uninhabited, its black market value was priceless.
“There,” Jacques said, pointing to a grey-blue orb in the distance. “That’s him." He clicked on the screen. "Come in, Orbital 9. This is Kingsolver, requesting to dock.”
The screen of Orbital 9 showed only an empty room. A voice responded coolly.
“Enter, if you wish,” it said.
"All right." Jacques grinned at Martine as he clicked off. “That wasn’t the Ice. Must be his new femmebot,” he said.
“She certainly sounds new,” Martine said.
As they drew near, they saw the orb-like station had been designed to look like an enormous, disembodied eye, complete with an iris. It dilated in invitation as they approached. Their ship linked with Orbital’s tow, and they were drawn inside.
The port was lit by strips of blue light at its outer edges. As they scrolled down the runway, the shadows of other ships reared around them like images from a dream. Jacques turned the Kingsolver into an open spot and powered down. As the ship lowered to the floor, sinking well beneath the other ships docked in the bay, Jacques began to feel rather small.