Pandora 0.6

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"There's our Carpathia," Aki announced.

She didn't have to tell me. If it wasn't for the fact that she'd ordered me to strap in, I'd have had my face against the front viewscreen like a kid plastered to the display window of a candy store.

A Crystalliad-class troop cruiser. I'd never expected to see one up close, mainly because they were all decommissioned years ago. She was built along typical lines, in the almost arrowhead-like shape favored by the Sanavila. Opaline shimmered in an ever-shifting array of colors along the curves of her hull. She didn't have some of the dramatic flair seen in other ships—her tails were curved back and only slightly longer than her spindle—but then, she was a warship; she didn't need flair.

"She's beautiful," I breathed.

Captain Chui chuckled. "I'm glad you appreciate her. Some people think I'm space-fried, cruising around the galaxy in a ship this old."

"We-ll...I might have upgraded her hull to opaline-d, myself," I admitted. "But she's in fine shape. I've seen new ships that don't look as good."

People tended to give me funny looks when I started talking about starships, probably because I could babble on about them for ages, and knew all sorts of obscure stuff about them. All Captain Chui did was quirk an eyebrow slightly upward.

"Indeed," she said. "And, Xandri, I need you to understand something. You've heard rumors about the Carpathia, I take it."

"I might have heard a thing or two," I said cautiously. Like that Carpathia was so kitted out, she was one of the most illegal ships in the Alliance.

"Don't believe everything you hear. People are good at underestimation."

Yikes.

"You will speak of what you see to no one."

Not a question. I swallowed hard and nodded. Even if I'd ever be in a situation where I might spill Carpathia's secrets to someone who could make use of the information, I'd never do it. And it wasn't out of some kind of misguided nobility, either; drawing attention to myself was the last thing I wanted. Talking about my experiences aboard the Carpathia would get me attention, all right, and then some.

"Captain, we've got permission to dock," Aki said.

Captain Chui turned to glance at the Ongkoarrat. "Very well. Take us in, pilot."

"Captain?" I questioned softly.

"Yes?" She turned back to me.

"I have secrets too."

"And they remain yours. I swear it."

I nodded. So far, I'd been able to trust her every step of the way. Even so, my belly quivered with nerves. I turned my attention back to the viewscreen, where I could see the docking bay doors grow larger and larger as we approached. New life, Xandri, I reminded myself, taking a deep breath. This could be good. Please, Sweet Mother Universe, let it be good.

*****

I stood at the top of Mr. Spock's ramp, gazing open-mouthed at the docking bay. Truth be told, it was probably not that big in comparison to some other warships, but to me it seemed enormous. Several shuttles and a full complement of six fighters took up most of the space, though there were a couple of empty spots, like the one Mr. Spock took up. I licked my lips. If only I could get a closer look at those fighters. I was pretty sure I knew the model, but—

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