Pandora 0.10

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I stared out the small window in the side of the shuttle—uncomfortably named Fate Unknown—in utter fascination, just as I had during the takeoff on Mr. Spock. This time, however, it was a descent.

Heat burned along the sides of the shuttle as it entered Psittaca's atmosphere. It licked up around us like a shell of flames, and corny though it might sound, in those moments I thought I knew what it felt like to be a newborn phoenix, peeking through the top layer of ashes to watch the last of the fire die away. A new life. My new life. The idea of rebirth, of leaving behind who and what I'd been, made my heart pound with fear and excitement both.

"Pretty stellar, eh?"

I glanced at the seat next to me, where Diver sat. It was going to be just me and the Xeno-liaisons team going planetside first, but I'd asked Captain Chui for permission to take Diver with us. She'd raised her eyebrows at this apparently unusual request.

"Well," I'd said, banging my arms lightly against my side for a moment before getting control over them, "he helped a lot. Without his bird drones, we'd still be back where we were a few weeks ago. And I get the impression he doesn't often get to be one of the first to see a new planet."

Those eyebrows had risen even higher. "And that's the only reason?"

"Yes...?" I'd answered, unsure what other reason I might have.

Of course, now that I thought about it, it was kind of nice having Diver here. I still struggled to get along with the Xeno-liaisons team. They were nice to me, for the most part—except Christa—but I still felt so awkward around them. Though I hated admitting it to myself, I was much more comfortable around Diver. But I'd meant what I'd said to Captain Chui. I thought Diver deserved the chance to see this all first hand, after the work he'd done to help us see it at all.

"Christ," Sho said with a small burp. "I hate this part so much."

Marla rubbed his back. "It's almost over. Then you can drink your tea."

"Shuttle sickness," Diver explained in a quiet voice. "Some people only get in their first time, other people never stop experiencing it. Bet you didn't have so much as a hiccup, though."

I looked away, my cheeks warming with pride. Even as the shuttle slowed into the final stage of the descent, my stomach didn't so much as tremble. The rest of me did, as I took in all the green around us. It was so verdant, so rich in color, more so than a number of other jungles I'd seen holos of. The green wavelength must've been strong here, to create such startling emerald and such deeply saturated viridian. And as the shuttle settled into place, carefully perched on tree branches that tangled together like a crossroads, I saw hints of brightly colored birds and flowers.

"I still feel like we should rethink this," Christa said, once the engines had quieted. "Visiting is one thing, but setting up camp..."

She gestured at the pieces of the temporary habitat that we'd brought down with us. Until I'd seen the inside of the shuttle completely reconfigured, I didn't see how we'd fit the thing inside it. But with most of the seats folded away, there was plenty of room.

"It's not the first planet we've stayed on," Kimi pointed out.

"We had permission then."

"We're in neutral territory," I reminded her, quiet and unsure. "And we can leave if there's a problem, but this is a good way to get them used to us. It worked for Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey."

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