“How so?” W.B. pushed himself away from the wall and stepped to the table. “You are long-lived, I take it?”
“Indeed. However, other information as to our existence is off-limits to this current discourse,” the bot said.
“Ah, cloaked in mystery,” W.B. spread his hands and then crossed his arms. “Liishi, unlike most of her kind doesn’t like waiting, but I do not mind terribly.”
Liishi rolled her eyes. All she needed was for W.B. to launch into one of his pedantic tirades, and they’d be here for another decade. “No. Cutting you off now,” she said. “Just tell us who to take this to.”
“Whom,” W.B. corrected.
“Who cares?” Liishi snarled.
“You two should take this act on the road,” Tariq muttered. “I think you’re starting to bore the robot though.”
The bot had rolled itself away from table again and turned to another wall that opened to display a vidscreen on which was the image of a dark-coated pantera.
“King Falil?” Liishi leaned back in her chair. “The box goes to him?” She glanced at the item in question.
Roughly thirty centimeters long by fifteen wide, the chest gleamed dully in the harsh light of the room. Banded metal, black lacquered, locked by some sort of imprint mechanism. A blank plate adorned one face of the box.
“Indeed,” the bot replied, returning to its place near the table. The image of King Falil remained on the monitor in the wall. “Your king Falil of the Fayleed Alliance fits the prerequisites imparted to us by our forebears for the information contained within the box now in your possession.”
“Why couldn’t you take it yourselves?” Tariq asked. And at the look Liishi gave him, “Sorry. Just had to ask.”
“Our directives forbid us from directly interfacing with members of your various species.”
“Like you’re doing now?” Liishi said.
“Ah, yes, a slight conundrum,” the bot replied. “Allow me to clarify: we must keep exposure to a minimum.”
“Exposure?” This from W.B. who had his perpetual grin back in place. “Exposure as in we’ve become exposed to some sort of contagion? Or exposure as in you do not wish to be seen?”
The bot swiveled its box-like head toward W.B. and tipped it forward so the tubes to either side pointed directly at him, almost weapon-like. “We are not allowed to expose ourselves any more than necessary to achieve our dictated goals.”
“And those goals are?” Liishi resisted the temptation to place her paw on the touch pad, scratched idly behind one ear. “Never mind. Ignore the question,” she said. “You probably can’t tell me and, frankly, I don’t care.”
“You might not,” Tariq added, “but I do. You’re taking that box on my ship.” He glanced up and the robot and hooked a thumb in his belt. “So what are your goals here? What’s inside the box?”
The bot paused, its “head” tilted to one side, then it said, “As the pantera-hu designated Liishi surmised, we are unable to impart that information. However, I can only hope to assure you by stating the information contained within will be of prime importance to whosoever holds it. The purpose for seeing it delivered to your King Falil is that he most likely of all leaders will not keep the information for his own purposes but will share it as was meant.”
W.B. leaned against the table on Liishi’s right side. “Then why did you not divide the information among all the leaders . . . .”
Liishi clapped both hands to her face and groaned. Out of the corner of her eye, she noted that Tariq had raised a hand to one ear. He nodded, spoke something subvocally, though Liishi’s sensitive ears caught “main drives up.” At the same time, the bot raised its head.
“We’ve got to cut this short,” Tariq said as the bot added: “Sensors have detected a ship at extreme surveillance range.”
Tariq growled, “Harcon may have just found us again.”