“WHAT KIND OF woman turns you on?” Dora asked.
“A silent one.” Zical didn’t keep the irritation from his tone when he snapped at the portable computer unit on his wrist. Sometimes Dora could be more annoying than any flesh-and-blood woman. A sentient machine with Dora’s brainpower should have observed through one of her many sensors that he was busy clinging to the steep rock face. With one hand clawing for his next grip up Mount Shachauri, the planet Mystique’s highest peak, and his other straining to prevent a fall to the glacier far below, he couldn’t manually shut down Dora’s chatter, even if she hadn’t overridden her mute circuit.
“I’m serious. Do you like big-breasted women?”
“Stars.” Sweat beaded Zical’s brow faster than his environmental suit could whisk it away. He was lucky she hadn’t upset his equilibrium. Plastered to the sheer stone lip, he’d successfully climbed beyond the cobalt glacier, pitted from space debris like an old starship’s hull. In the silver morning air, the snow bridges had held, and he’d worked his way toward the summit. He’d come up here to be alone, to consider his future, but how could a man think with Dora asking such provocative questions?
During the last few years, the great distances of space had become Zical’s world, his spaceship a safe haven, and his crew like family. Still, restlessness shadowed him, a feeling that however much he’d done to help his people, he still had more to accomplish. Perhaps, no matter how tired he was of war, he couldn’t shuck off the years of responsibility as easily as he’d have wished. Maybe duty was rooted too deeply into his genes to change. However, whether he remained in the military or became a civilian pilot, part of his decision had been made: he wouldn’t give up flying.
Now on the steep rock’s south face striped with vertical snow gullies, Zical strained, swung an arm to the right, aiming for an overhead outcropping. “Why do you care about my preferences?”
Dora sighed. “Every man on Mystique says chest size doesn’t matter.”
“There you go, then.” He grabbed a handhold, his exasperation rising. “Why bother asking me a question when you already know the answer?”
“In spite of their claim, I’ve noticed their gazes linger longer on women with larger—”
“Dregan hell. Dora, now is no time to distract me.”
Zical had planned to tax his muscles into a pleasant state of exhaustion, detox the stress from his soul, and clear his mind from the past so he could focus on the future. A day off was long overdue. For the last three years, he’d had precious little free time. After the Endekians had invaded his homeworld, Rystan, he’d escaped on a starship with the leader of his clan, Kahn, his Terran wife, Tessa, and other family unit members.
But they’d not forgotten the people left behind. Rather than fight a war to retake the frozen snowball of a world that was Rystan, Kahn had organized the relocation of their people to Mystique, a planet Tessa had bought with winnings from a giant wager, lost by the Endekians. For the last four years, Zical had been busy transporting Rystani colonists to Mystique, and he’d just resettled the last group on the planet’s southernmost continent. With their people thriving on their new world, his mission was finally complete. He’d taken his first free week in years to climb Mount Shachauri for some well-earned solitude and to decide what he’d like to do next.
Putting off the decision until he reached the peak, Zical scraped his boot against rock and found a toehold. Right now the only thing he wanted to decide was where to place his next handhold.
“Now’s a great time to talk,” Dora interrupted the silence. “You’re not working and you’re not sleeping.”
“I came up here to be alone.”
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