Pandora 0.16

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            The first hour passed uneventfully, and I began to relax at last. It was hard to do anything but relax, with little noise except for the sounds of the forest—which I was growing used to—and the midday sun beating down hot even through the canopy. I lazed on my belly, the smooth, sun-warmed wood of the platform under my cheek, and longed for a swimming pool of some sort. I let my gaze drift over the village, admiring all the detail I hadn't had time to see before, with so many people swirling around.

"You like our home," Many Kills said. He sat on a perch-stool next to me, the butt of his spear propped against the floor.

"I like all this sun and open space," I admitted.

Back on Wraith, I'd rarely had time to bask in the sun, and before that...no, I wouldn't think about that now. It would ruin this lovely moment.

Many Kills paused, about to say something else I was pretty sure. Without a word of excuse he rose, his spear tucked neatly against his side, and headed off through the village. The other Psittacans exchanged a series of looks and quiet whistles. Concerned, I pushed myself upright. Strands of hair dangled in my face, having worked loose from my braid. I shoved them away and turned to look at Day Dawns Red.

"Something wrong?"

"He thought he heard something unusual," she replied. "I heard nothing, but I'm still young. Many has gathered more skills than I."

"Well, I didn't hear anything, either," Sunshine pointed out. "Which means he'll probably be right, curse my luck."

That sounded bad.

Diver was already on his feet, his hand resting on the grip of his pistol. And the Psittacans came alert in an instant, their beaks turned in the direction Many Kills had disappeared, their crests raised in alarm. The rest of us sat like rabbits, startled into stillness. It's nothing, I told myself. At least, nothing we have to worry about. I couldn't imagine the Titans defeating Captain Chui, Completes The Whole, and all the soldiers that had gone with them. Unless of course the Titans had split up, but—

A cry echoed across the village. Many Kills came crashing out of the underbrush at the village's edge, running hell for leather. A cloud of smoke roiled out of the greenery behind him, coiling hot on his heels like some kind of demon. As he ran, he let out a rapid series of clicks, squawks and trills, none of which the translator-implant could cope with. All around us, Psittacans sprang into action.

"Ready your weapons!" Rain Falling Softly said.

I didn't want to, and anyway, Captain Chui had told me only in an emergency. Still, I wasn't sure what to do. Then Diver seized my arm and drew me down, pulling me off the edge of the platform, to shelter behind it. He yanked a bandana from the pocket of his jeans and quickly tied it over my nose and mouth.

"Whatever you do," he said, his mouth against his ear, "stay with Rain. Understand? And don't breathe that shit in."

I wanted to ask him what he was going to do, but I didn't get a chance. All the hustle around me distracted me. Swifter Than Lightning and Silence In The Night took off like a shot, streaking for the stretch of jungle behind us. Sunlight and Day Dawns Red headed towards Many Kills at top speed. Only Rain stayed with us, vibrating with tension down to the tips of her feathers. She wanted to fight too, but her position as guest meant she should avoid it at all costs.

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