Pandora 0.8

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Argh, I'm gonna be late again! Which way...damn it!

It was only my third day aboard the Carpathia and I'd already discovered—the hard, humiliating way—that I was in no shape to navigate the grav-tubes. So I went everywhere on foot and spent most of my time lost in the ship's gleaming corridors. So far I'd been late for every meeting with the Xeno-liaisons team. Sure, I could've asked Carpathia herself for directions, but I didn't want to bother her. Being a starship had to be time-consuming.

"Lost again, Ms. Corelel?"

I managed to clamp my teeth around my first impulsive response—are you stalking me or something?—and turned to face First Officer Magellan.

Like most Kowari, Magellan towered over me, standing, I figured, around two meters twenty-five, give or take just a little. Sometimes humans referred to Kowari as Viking kangaroos, and I guess I could kinda see why, though I didn't approve of the term myself. Their bodies were somewhat kangaroo-like in shape, and they were even marsupial, like the Ongkoarrat. But the fuzzy plushness of their faces reminded more of red pandas, and their long tails were often fat with stored nutrition.

Spectacle-like markings surrounded Magellan's eyes, enhancing the impression that he was looking down his nose at me. I pressed my lips together tight; as I'd learned over the years, Kowari had just as many types of smiles as humans—if not more—and at least half of them were actually threats or insults. Any of the awkward grimaces my efforts tended to produce would likely just infuriate him, and I already got the impression that Magellan disapproved of me.

"Really, Ms. Corelel, the layout is not that complex. At the very least, if you're going to keep getting lost, perhaps you should leave your room earlier."

I wasn't getting that impression from nothing.

"I...I really thought I had it this time," I mumbled, staring at my toes.

"Clearly, you were wrong."

Sweet Mother Universe, I just wanted to sink through the floor.

"Hey, Lieutenant, give the new kid a break," rumbled a familiar voice from down the hall.

I half-turned, unsure whether it would be wrong to turn away from Magellan; he was next in charge aboard the Carpathia after Captain Chui. But I didn't want to be rude to Aki, who came sauntering down the hall, her body rolling with a grace that ought to be reserved for a less bulky creature; possibly one with less legs. She paused beside me, dropping into a half-sit and looking up at Magellan without the slightest hint of remorse.

"It's only her third day," Aki went on.

"Plenty of the members of this crew—"

"Are ex-Marines and were drilled on the layout of the ship practically before they got to see their bunks," Aki cut him off. "I'll take her where she needs to go, Lieutenant. Fair?"

Magellan grumbled and turned away, his tail—half weighted with fat—swaying in annoyance. I wanted to call out to him, point out that I knew the layout of Crystalliad-class ships better than almost anyone. Unfortunately, Carpathia had been refitted to such an extent that, when I let my mind wander and just followed where I expected I ought to be able to go, I got all turned around. Somehow I doubted that would improve his opinion of me.

"Don't mind him," Aki said as she started down the hall again. "He's the first officer; being anal retentive is his job. Come along."

I followed, stammering out apologies that Aki dismissed with a snort. She led me through the ship to the area set aside for various offices. Xeno-liaisons had a meeting room, one side stuffed with personal desks, a large, single table taking up most of the rest of the space. There was no slipping in quietly when you were dealing in door hydraulics, so I braced myself for the stares and pressed my palm against the plate.

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