Pandora 0.2

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The chips paid out.

Suddenly I had a month's rent plus extra burning a hole in my pocket, thanks in part to Captain Chui. I paused at the stairs up to the restaurant, patting the pockets of my cargo pants. Yes, there was the small butterfly knife I always kept with me. I carefully slipped it from a lower pocket to a higher one. Yeah, I knew I didn't stand a chance in hell of fending off this woman if she got violent, but maybe the knife would be enough to stop her from doing so. I wasn't going to survive everything I'd been through only to be done in a restaurant. Like fuck.

I climbed the stairs, my arms folded across my torso, my fingers playing with a hole in the elbow of my hoodie. Damn. I'd have to get it replaced soon.

An assortment of smells assaulted my nose as I stepped into the hallway of the restaurant level. My stomach growled furiously, reminding me that once again I hadn't eaten all day. I tried going over the numbers in my head, wondering if I could afford dinner here. It's only the start of the month, Xan. You've got more than enough. But there was always the chance of Cake or Marbles coming down with something, needing vet care, and I wouldn't risk not having that extra money. And of course, with this much, I'd have enough for some time in the sims, and maybe a new book or two.

I reached room seven and paused outside the curtain covering the doorway. My fingers worked faster at the hole in my hoodie. Go on, Xan. The place is full of people. You can get away if you need to.

Hoping that was true, I pushed aside the curtain and stepped inside. Captain Chui sat on the cushioned, circular bench surrounding the table, her posture erect and her face as expressionless as ever. Covered platters and plates overspread most of the tabletop, along with a pitcher of water and a pair of glasses. One glass was already full, condensation gathering over its surface.

"I had a feeling you'd come," the captain said, her voice perfectly nonchalant. "I wasn't sure what you'd want to eat, so I asked the kitchen to send up a selection."

Again, I hesitated. "I can't pay for this."

"I am paying for it. Sit down and eat. You're so skinny, it hurts to look at you."

Under other circumstances, I might take that as an insult. But I couldn't really deny the truth of it. I was bad at making sure I ate enough even when food was readily available, and the last few months had been pretty lean in that respect.

I inched over to the table, taking a seat as far from her as I could get. If she so much as hints that she's going to make me pay for the food, I make a run for it. Assuming I noticed the hint which, with facial expressions as subtle as hers, was admittedly unlikely. I couldn't get any kind of read on her and that terrified me. I had no instincts for reading non-verbal language, had to do it all manually, and I'd never been good with the stuff that was subtle or closed off.

"That was an interesting talent you displayed down there," Captain Chui said, as she began removing the covers from the dishes.

"Kāchik?"

Silence followed that single word, but I hardly noticed as I perused the contents of the dishes. Some of it was stuff I couldn't eat, but there was plenty I liked. I claimed several slices of roast beef, red and tender and dripping garlic-scented juices, and a few chicken legs, covered in crispy fried breading. There was a very simple salad of lettuce, tomato, and vinaigrette, which I claimed a bowl of, and a basket full of still steaming dinner rolls, so fresh and soft that the one I grabbed caved a little beneath my fingers.

"I can't tell whether you were being smart with me."

I looked up. "Being smart with—" Oh shit. Step carefully, Xan. "I wasn't trying to be smart with you."

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