Pandora 0.7

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Pandora 0.7

Music drifted out from R&D as the door slid open. I tilted my head to listen; the guitar had a sound unlike today's synths, so I thought it might be Ancient Earth music.

R&D was a singular room split up into six stations, with the largest one taking up a fair bit of space against the right-hand wall. There was also all kinds of machinery I didn't recognize, aside from the 3D printer. Most of the work stations had two people at them, working in what seemed like relative harmony; a bit of chatter here, a little teasing there. Only the biggest work station was occupied by a single individual, and since it looked vaguely like the wreckage of a fire bombing, I figured the man there had to be Diver.

He had his back to me, fiddling with something on the table and swaying his hips to the music—which, I noticed, came from a podcaster at his station. I approached quietly, fascinated by the way the light glinted bronze in his shaggy, fawn-colored curls. And by the fact that he sang along to the music and even occasionally paused in his work for a little bit of air guitar, without any hint of self-consciousness whatsoever.

"Um, hello?" I called. "Mr. Diver?"

He swung around, still singing—and gazed at me in surprise. I gazed back, unable to hold back my horror.

This man was beautiful; the kind of beautiful you expected out of models or holo stars. His high cheekbones and strong jaw—covered with a day or two's worth of red-gold scruff—balanced out his long aquiline nose, a nose that would look awkward on many other people. His red-gold eyelashes were long and thick enough to be noticeable, especially against his startlingly green eyes. The gold and red tones in his brown skin combined with those soft, fawn-colored curls to create the impression of some sort of antlered nature god. Oh yes, he was beautiful—and I had learned all too well what kind of cruelty such beauty could hide.

Xan, you're staring! But oddly, he was staring back, his gaze for some reason drawn to my face. Then he gave his head a shake, snapping himself out of it, and flashed a sweet, boyish grin.

"Hey there. You the newbie?"

"Um, yes. Xandri. Xandri Corelel."

"Xandri, huh? Cute name."

I was pretty sure you could cook eggs on my cheeks, with how hot they were. "Uh...are you Mr. Diver? Captain Chui told me to find you."

"Just Diver, please." He grabbed a rag from the crowded work table and started wiping his hands. "I hate being called Mister. Now, if I got this straight, we gotta hook you up with some kind of communication. You got a HUD?"

I shook my head, then braced myself, expecting him to pry. He didn't. Instead, he moved around me, to a second table, and cleared a spot on it with a sweep of his arm.

"All right, hop on up," he said.

Before I could even try to figure out how to get on the tabletop—which came up to somewhere around my stomach in height—Diver hooked a booted foot around the rungs of a step-stool and dragged it out from underneath the table. Huh. Most people wouldn't even realize it might be difficult for me... The week of three meals a day and nutrient-bars was starting to help, but I was still dealing with severe malnutrition. Even with the stool, getting onto the tabletop was a bit of a struggle.

"Lotta people think I'm weird, 'cause I like messing with old tech," Diver told me, as he rummaged through an open toolbox. "But I think it's got its uses and lo, here you are. I got something I been working on that oughtta suit you real nice. You mind if I take a measurement of your dominant wrist?"

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