"How is he doing?" Gillian said.

"He looks fine," Starless said, lying across from the stasis tank in her own narrow bunk. She'd been feeling queasy, and was trying to distract herself with a game of 10 Dimensions. The Shepherd flickered restlessly.

It seemed bad luck, somehow, for other people to know about it. Demma had been killed. Howl had been--changed. She wished she didn't know about it, herself. So she hadn't mentioned its presence aboard the ship to anyone.

Gillian's ship was small but sleek. Its single hallway stretched from the cockpit to the machine room, and was lined with doors that opened on compact kitchen spaces, living areas, game rooms. Her entire ship was lit by seam panels so that all the rooms seemed to glow, an effect which was highlighted by the lava frames and fish tanks recessed into all the walls.

You could lean down from your bunk, peek out the door and see all the way up to the captains chairs at the other end of the ship, where Gill and the Knife sat whispering, their shadows long behind them.

The Knife was chewing his straw, teasing Gill with the sounds she made when she thought no one else was listening. He playfully bumped her shoulder with his and put his hand on the side of her seat to get a better look at her controls.

"It's the same panel you have," she said, laughing.

"No, no, the view is definitely better over here," he said. "It smells better over here, too." She giggled and pushing him away.

Orbital 9 loomed in the distance.

"Look at that shit," the Knife said. "That's some mad genius shit right there. I can't believe we're doing this."

"Believe it," Gillian said, "we're going in."

"Calls for something special," he said. He went to the ancient record player playing in the background and rifled through her records.

"Don't touch those. My ship, my soundtrack."

He smirked. "Geez, okay, okay." But he lifted the needle and gently replaced it at a different spot on the brittle disc. "This one," he said, sliding into his chair. The singer from Earth, dead some hundreds of years, crooned as sweetly as if he stood behind them, his hands weighing heavy on their shoulders:

"what makes my head go 'round and 'round

while my heart stands still...

If I didn't care..."

"What are you drinking, rum and juice? Be a diamond and pour me a little," Gill said. He did.

From the sleeping berth, Starless rolled her eyes and went back to her game. There was a part of her that didn't fully believe adults and children were the same species. She promised herself she'd never act so stupid. If she lived to be so old, that is. Gill and Vince were practically thirty. More than twice her age! She shuddered.

There was a gentle bob as the beam of Orbital 9 locked on their ship.

"He's expecting us," Gill murmured. The Knife watched her as she powered them down and floated them gently onto the beam. It brought them to bay. As they came through its doors, their running lights illuminated the bodywriter's fleet of pods, racers and shooters. They skated past, drawn into place near the tall, narrow entrance doors. Their stark geometry highlighted the curves of the femmebot who stood waiting beside them.

Her eyes shone patiently in the dark.

Gill patted Vince's shoulder. "Watch Howl, will you?"

The Knife nodded. He looked at the record player and then back at Gill with a hopeful grin, sucking the dregs of yet another of his orange drinks.

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