"Let go of me!" Murray shouted into Lizard Man's ear. He grunted and lifted her higher into the air. She'd stopped kicking at them when they started down the stairs, but continued to struggle verbally. The beasts ignored her, only tossing an amused look back and forth when she came up with a really good insult, or particularly weak threat.
"When Gal-Fed gets word of this," she started again. The guards snickered. "You think that's funny now, but wait till...wait...What is that smell?" Her nostrils did their best to clamp shut against the stench wafting up the staircase-from the bottom, from wherever they were taking her. Being human nostrils, they were completely unsuccessful at the maneuver, and the odor remained undeterred.
"Dungeon," the reptile on her right said.
The smell intensified as they reached the stair's bottom. The green lights mounted along the wall illuminated a long hallway. Murray twisted in her captors' grip and caught a glimpse of bars and a row of dim cells.
"You're kidding," she said. When the guards continued forward into the aisle, she renewed her efforts, twisting against scaly arms that refused to budge. The lizard duo chuckled in unison. They carried her past three empty cells. A pile of hair and muscle growled at them from the fourth.
Murray screamed. She started kicking again, only to be hoisted further from the ground. They hauled her forward, down the center of the archaic dungeon to the last stall. Sitting in this one, perched on top of a heap of straw and rubble, sat her sister.
Zora posed, legs crossed and leaning on one elbow, with a lit cigarette burning in her free hand. She wore a miniscule white skirt, a low cut vest and a veil. As they approached, she flicked a length of ash into a metal bowl beside her and slid gracefully to her feet.
"Bride's quarters," Lizard man left sniggered. They dumped Murray to the ground, and she staggered to her feet.
"Mur?" Zora said. She lifted the veil and tossed it over her red hair.
"Zora!" Murray pulled away from the scaly hands still clamped around her forearms. "Ouch." One of the guards moved to unlock the cell. Zora dumped her smoke into the bowl and stuck out her left hip.
"Hey guys," she drawled. "Play nice and let me out?"
"Sorry," the guard at the cell said.
"Orders." His buddy shoved Murray forward. They passed her, stumbling, into the cell and swung the bars shut.
"Oh, come on!" Zora stuck her bottom lip into full pout mode, but the Reptilian duo turned and headed back toward the stairs. Murray's hands found her hips. She tapped one foot against the soggy floor and stared at her sister. Zora ignored her, leapt to the cell front and craned to watch the guards' retreat. "Damn," she said.
"I'm going to kill you," Murray snarled.
"Mur!" Zora finally turned in her direction. She grinned and clapped both her hands together. "Oh, Mur. Thank god you're here."
"I know what you're gonna say, Mur, and you're right. You're always right, Mur. Did I ever tell you that?" She flashed Murray a completely phony smile. "Good ol Mur. So, what's the plan?"
"The plan?" Murray said. She raised one dangerous eyebrow at her sister.
"Please tell me getting tossed in here was part of the plan," Zora said. She arranged her fingers over her own hips in a mirror image gesture of Murray.
"The plan," Murray said.
"Come on, sis." Zora's voice lost its syrupy tone. "Work with me here, the distress note, the rescue?"
"The wedding invitation?" Murray asked.
"Noooooooooooo," Zora howled. "You're kidding me, right? You can't possibly be that dense."
"Watch it," Murray growled.
"Call me dense again and find out."
"Jeeze, Mur," Zora dropped her hands and stomped back to her perch. She retrieved the still-burning cigarette and took a long drag. "All right, Mur, you win. You're not dense, you're brilliant. Nobody's gonna argue that one. But come on, 'help, help' is pretty self-explanatory."
"Do you remember the last wedding invitation you sent me, Zora?" Murray circled her sister.
"Don't start, Mur."
"It was written on a cocktail napkin from that dive on..."
"I remember," Zora said. She waved an arm in Murray's face. "That was just a joke, Mur."
"Right. And the one before that?" Murray watched Zora's eyes roll to the ceiling as she tried to remember the prior engagement. She went on. "Or what about that time you ran out of money on Cyrrus 2 and sent me that phony ransom note?"
"I needed some cash, Mur. I paid you back." She squinted and thought for a second. "Did I pay you back?"
"Yes. Then you talked me into that huge hotel suite at the port."
"Man, that place was swank."
"And then got us thrown out when you brought that band back to the room."
"Haley's Tail." Zora smiled for real. "Did you know they got a big contract right after..."
"The drummer was sweet on you," Zora said.
"Damn it, Zora." Murray stopped circling and did her best to glower. "Wait, he was?"
"Sure," Zora lied. At least she was lousy at that.
"No," Murray sighed. "No he wasn't." She sagged and gave in, plopped down on the pile beside Zora.
"Well he might have been if you'd just take your hair out of that bloody bun and... Jeeze Mur, get some clothes."
"This happens to be a very expensive jacket."
"It looks like a lab coat."
"It is a lab coat." She waited for it, watched Zora's mouth open and shut twice. "Leave it, Zor," she said.
"So, what's the deal this time?"
"Oh, Murray," Zora sobbed. "It's awful!"
"It always is." Murray leaned back and took the cigarette from her sister's hand. She took a drag and passed it back.
"His name's Crantok."
"He's amazingly handsome."
"They always are, Zor."
"It's not funny, Mur. We're in serious trouble here."
"Go on," Murray took the smoke back and leaned against the mound of trash.
"It was fun at first," Zora continued. "We met in a spaceport, nabbed a little star jumper and just took off bumming around, you know. Then one morning he says, 'let's go back to my place and get hitched..."
"Are you serious?"
"Hell, how was I supposed to know he was being literal?"
"And you think I'm dense?"
"Don't start, Mur. The point is the guy thinks he's some kind of warlord."
"Thinks?" The nicotine settled into Murray's bloodstream, doing wonders for her nerves.
"He's psychotic, Mur, and he's gonna force me to marry him."
"I noticed the veil. Ashtray." She took the metal bowl from Zora. "Maybe a little domesticity would be good for you," she said.
"Listen, Mur, these aliens aren't so nice to their wives. Or their in-laws, if you catch my drift."
"All right, all right. Let me think," Murray said. She crushed out the remnants of the cigarette and turned the ashtray around in her hands.
"We have to get out of here!" Panic stole through Zora's normal sass. "Mur, are you listening to me?"
"What is this?" Murray said. She held the metal bowl up above her head and eyed the bottom.
"It's a piece of junk, Murray. We don't have time to..."
"It's a head," Murray said.
"It's just garbage, look." Zora poked at the pile of straw beneath her. "It's a bunch of trash."
"No," Murray said. She spun around and started digging through the heap. "Look, these are parts, Zor." She pried a thick metal cylinder from the rubble. "I think this is an arm."
"Murray?" Zora tugged on the back of the lab coat. "We don't have time to fart around."
"This is an android, Zora."
"A robot? Great, a nerd toy. Murray..." she whined.
"Nerd toy? Zora use your brain, androids are strong."
"Slip of the tongue. How strong?"
Murray ignored her and flipped the head right side up. A rain of ash and filters fell to the cell's floor. "Maybe the brain is still functional, even if it isn't I might be able to..."
"Get up, Zora. See what else you can find in there."
"Hey, I'm not taking orders..."
Murray pushed against her legs and dug deeper into the pile. She ignored her sister's protests completely, waiting for the gears to kick into place in the woman's empty head. Eventually, Zora knelt beside her.
"How strong are these things?" she asked.
"Just keep digging." Murray said.