Pandora 0.9

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I thought my next few weeks would be spent mostly on studying the Psittacans and little else. Boy, I'd rarely been more wrong in my life.

Once Magellan reported my inability to use the grav-tubes to Captain Chui, any spare time I had disappeared. First the captain sent me to the ship's doctor, Alena Marsten. Dr. Marsten checked me over thoroughly; in the end, she agreed with Captain Chui's assessment that I needed three nutrient-bars a day, and added a multi-vitamin to the mix. She also recommended time with the ship's physical therapist to help me work on my strength.

So while I did spend many hours working, I also spent an hour each morning, and one each afternoon, working with a retired Marine sergeant who'd taken up physical therapy later in life. Sarge—that was the only name she gave me to call her—stood shorter than me, and was easily twice my width, she was so heavily muscled. She spoke in a staccato bark and kind of scared the shit out of me at first. But despite her gruffness she seemed to recognize the poor shape I was in, because she started off relatively easy.

Relatively easy meaning all manner of weight lifting in the morning—though to start with she gave me nothing heavier than two kilos—and endurance building cardio in the afternoon. I thought I'd hate it. And I didn't love it, since it left me feeling like wrung out laundry, but there was something liberating about it, especially the cardio. Being able to move as much as I wanted to was...a new experience.

At least I've been sleeping like a log, I thought, sometime near the end of the second week, as I made my way towards Xeno-liaisons HQ with a mug of coffee cradled between my hands. I knew my way around the ship pretty well, which was a damn good thing, because I had to run back to my room to rinse off the sweat after my workouts. Despite my hour with Sarge, I was on time when I walked through the door to Xeno-liaisons.

"Hey, Xan," Marla greeted me. "We've got the latest footage from Diver. Just waiting for Kirrick to show up."

"It's not like him to be late," Christa said, frowning.

"Yeah, but he's been putting some extra hours in, studying the local fauna and flora. You know how he is." Marla shrugged, then turned her attention to me. "According to Diver, it appears the visitor took his—or maybe her—leave. None of the ceremony we saw at the beginning of the visit."

"Well, that's something." I took a seat at the far end of the table, as far from Christa as I could get. "I didn't realize Kirrick was that interested in wildlife."

"Eh, he's not, really," Sho said, setting a steeping mug of tea on the table and taking a seat. "But you mentioned we'd need to figure out what might work for appropriate gifts, and Kirrick decided to take on that task himself. He's a real hard worker once he gets started on a problem."

I blinked. "Did I ask him to do that?"

"Nope, like I said, he made up his mind himself. But now you know who to delegate all the tedious stuff to."

He grinned, his eyes crinkling as they always did; I got the impression Sho smiled a lot. And he was one of those people who I could manage to smile back to, maybe because his own was so infectious. Even Christa, who was trying so hard to be disapproving of anything having to do with me, bit her lip and looked away so no one would see her amusement. I wish she didn't hate me so much. It almost feels like I could get along with these people. At least well enough to do the job.

I started a little as the door burst open behind me and twisted around, half ready to pull out my knife—which I wasn't actually carrying—and attack. But it was only Kirrick, his dark curls a halo around his face, circles under his eyes from lack of sleep, and a broad grin on his face.

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