Pandora 0.12

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"I can't believe you're drinking coffee in this heat."

I cradled my mug, trying to sit still while Marla and Kimi tied feathers in my hair. "I'm not human without coffee. And I need it. I'm so nervous."

"You do know caffeine is actually not good for nerves, right?" Sho pointed out. "I could make you some tea instead."

"It works for me," I insisted, hugging my mug protectively.

"Psychosomatic dependency?" Christa tsked. "Are we going to have to report that to the captain?"

For once she spoke without much rancor. After all, our mission was going so well, it was almost perfect. We'd returned to the hab after the first meeting to find Diver's drone waiting for us, weighted down by a container full of medium-sized, melon-like fruit. It appeared to be a favorite of the tribe, but didn't grow locally, so they always appreciated being able to have it. Their gratitude had been such that it wasn't long before we learned the names of our escorts. Of course, we stood no chance of pronouncing them in the Psittacans' own language, but we were at least able to get the gist.

The green male who always seemed to take the lead was called Many Kills. He offered no explanation for that name, and none of us seemed inclined to ask. The green female was Day Dawns Red, because, as she informed us, she had been born as a red rising sun broke above the horizon, cementing her destiny as a warrior of the tribe. The yellow male was called Swifter Than Lightning and indeed, he moved even faster than the others; there'd be no escaping him if we got ourselves in trouble. And the darkly colored male introduced himself as Silence In The Night. Once again, we didn't ask.

It wasn't until after the third gift—a cache of fresh fish that was another hard-to-get favorite among the tribe—that the yellow female finally gave us her name.

"Shadows Beneath Sunlight," she had told us grudgingly.

"That's...an interesting name," I'd replied, trying to figure out how to ask her about it in more detail.

"You want to know where it came from."

"Well..."

"Sunlight picked it herself," Many Kills filled us in. "Didn't you, Sunlight?"

She'd turned to look at him, her crest rising in clear annoyance. "Yes, I did." One clawed toe tapped the branch beneath her feet, gouging a small hole in the bark. "When I was young. I was too pretty. The tribe believed my destiny was to be a mate, not a warrior. But I proved them wrong." She'd snapped her beak in pride.

I'd glanced at Lightning, who was dodging around tree trunks and careening wildly ahead of us, bored with our sedate pace. "What about him? I mean, if he'd been too pretty, would they expect him to forgo being a warrior, too?"

"Of course." All four of the other Psittacans stared at me in bemusement, or perhaps astonishment. "Beauty is beauty."

I'd filed that interesting bit away for later and left it at that. Sunlight didn't seem to care much for talking about her past, and I could relate to that all too well.

The fourth day we brought something that I was uneasy about: weapons. They were older tech, long metal staves that could extend a sharp spearhead from one end. Of course, they could also fire from the other end, both stun rounds and lethal ones. Diver had sworn he'd removed the parts necessary for the weapons to fire, but I was still uncertain about it. We chose five and presented them to Many Kills and the others. They were so pleased with their shiny metal spears that I breathed a little easier. A very little.

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