The scientific equipment shop was a lot smaller than the hardware store, to the point that they only stocked smaller instruments in the actual shopfront. The rest you were expected to just know about already, I guess because their customers were big ol’ nerds like us, who went and researched products before buying them.
Luckily, Cerri was one of those who knew what she was doing.
Giving the bored looking elderly man behind the counter a smile, she asked, “Hey, can I see your catalogue?”
I was instantly on guard as I saw him eye us up, something about the way he’d moved reminded me of my father as he was about to con someone into a bad deal. My instincts were telling me to be careful, and so I kept a close eye on him from behind Cerri.
“Use the website, if you want something, you should know what it is and if we have it,” the old man grumbled, his expression one step away from a sneer. Oh, he thought we weren’t the real deal. Fuck this guy, as soon as he’d mentioned it, I’d whipped said website up using my rapidly developing Ocula skills and sent it to her phone.
She gave me a surreptitious grin as it appeared, at least to the clerk, that she pulled up the website almost instantly on her phone. Through direct messages, we began to coordinate.
Alia: What do we need? I’ll look up independent reviews.
Cerridwen: Start with a simple gravitational wave sweeper.
Alia: On it.
I searched through their catalogue as Cerri did the same on her phone, narrowing the range down to one that we could afford, then searching each one to see what people had to say about them. The Jelmarn GWSLA 5200U was a bust almost immediately, getting terrible reviews talking about how its accuracy was terrible and some component I wasn’t aware of sometimes shipped out broken.
I found another one with an equally gibberish name though, and forwarded what I’d found to her. She pretended to find it on the website on her own, and began asking questions about it. As the old man began to speak, I’d tell her what he was lying about and what he was telling the truth about.
The words being used were way over my head, but it wasn’t hard for me to throw a message copy pasting what others on the net thought about specifics surrounding the item we wanted to purchase.
Very quickly, the old man was frowning, clearly a little flabbergasted the knowledge that Cerri was displaying after he’d dismissed her as a scientist wannabe. He’d even started trying to scam us, talking the product up further than the real specs of the thing, and my crewmate used that to destroy him.
We walked out of that shop with everything we needed and more at a significant discount.
“Holy shit, Alia, you were a lifesaver!” she exclaimed once we were out of earshot of the shop. “I can’t believe how easy that was!”
I gave her a cheeky wink. At least, I think it was a cheeky wink. Something about that guy made me wary as soon as I saw him. Reminded me of the asshole cutthroat businessmen that I had to interact with at my old job.
She considered me for a moment, taking time to look me over. “How old are you?” she asked, then winced and clarified, “You don’t have to answer that. I was just wondering… you know, uh…”
“Twenty six,” I told her shyly, my voice so small and quiet when combined with my natural tendency to speak softly.
“That’s a lot older than I expected, to be honest,” she mused, giving me a long look that had my toes curling. “I’m twenty three, by the way.”
I gaped up at her for a moment before realising that this was a game and honestly you couldn’t really tell what age she was from her character.
“Yeah, younger than you,” she laughed, taking gentle hold of my arm to move me out of the path of another group of spacers as we walked. “Not that it really matters in here, the game is 18+ anyway. I figured you’d be between that and like, twenty two at the most.”
I shrugged, feeling a little sheepish. I’d wanted my character to look cute, I guess that translates to looking younger.
“If you made your cheeks a little less round and pinchable, you’d look older,” she told me, giving my face a critical once over. Gosh, her eyes could get intense when she was really focusing on something.
I wanted to put big dark winged eyeliner on myself, but I’m kinda shit at makeup, so I was going to practice first, I told her via my Ocula.
“That would do it, and I’m sorry but I’ll be absolutely no help in the makeup department,” she said with a wry smile. “I’ve never really needed to learn how to do it, so I didn’t. Gloria would be able to give you some pointers though.”
Oh right, I wanted to do something about my looks. Apprehensively, I mentally typed out my request to her. Actually, speaking of changing my face and stuff… do you mind if we go back to the Galicorp building before we meet back up with the others? I want to try and get them to change some things.
“Wait… what? I thought getting your body changed afterwards cost a ton of money?” she asked, giving me a surprised look.
Oh, it does. Except there was a coupon inside their terms and conditions, hidden there to reward crazy people like me who actually read them, I told her via text as a smug little grin took over my face.
“A coupon?” she asked incredulously, her eyes diving heavenward. “Wow, you are… I’m a… well, even I don’t read those things.”
What does that mean? I frowned, giving her a suspicious look.
“Nothing,” she said quickly with a wave of her hand. “Let’s go then. I’m curious to see what you choose.”
When the lady at the desk had heard me talk about the coupon, she’d frowned, started to tell me I was crazy, then called a manager instead. That manager had turned out to be the woman who had helped me through the process of spawning into the game originally.
She had laughed her ass off and explained that yeah, that coupon was a real thing, and that I should get my ass into one of the pods. I did so, feeling a little smug and more than a little excited. I had made a few oversights when I first made this character. Now was my chance to fix it.
First, there was something that I should have added in hindsight, but didn’t. Now that I’d been out and about, I knew something fundamental was missing. I had the big fluffy tail… now I needed the fluffy ears. If this were a game that didn’t involve stuffing myself into cramped spaces all the time, I would have made them all big and floppy. Sadly, this was that type of game.
My compromise was to make them somewhat smaller and move them from the traditional place at the top of the head, down to where human ears were. Basically, I was giving myself fluffy elf ears.
Then, I did as Cerri had suggested and reduced the baby fat around my face a little. It helped a lot, giving me a pretty face that was still on the cuter side, but also didn’t make me look like a kid barely out of high school.
Last, and most importantly, I made myself smaller in general. Not by a huge amount, three inches off my total height and… my hand hovered over the slider for the hips, but I just couldn’t. I liked my hips like that, but ah… I knew that they’d get stuck in something eventually. Finally, I just sighed and took my hand away from the slider. My hips would stay, I guess.
Hopping back out of the VR character design environment was far smoother than it had been the first time, and most of my clothing still fit, which was good. The ears though… when I moved my head, I felt them wobble a little. Just a tiny bit, but still. Also they were way fluffier than I had intended… oh well.
Time to see what Cerri thought. I left the spawning room and moved back out into the main foyer, where I found her reading intently from her phone.
“H-hey,” I mumbled, only just loud enough that she could hear me.
She glanced up curiously, and some sort of strange emotion hit me in the chest as her face lit up in a smile. “Wow! That’s much better! I mean, you were adorable before, but now you’re pretty and adorable, which is— wait, are those fluffy ears?”
I nodded, feeling a blush spread all across my face.
“They’re great. They match the tail too! I love it!” she exclaimed, standing up and stepping close. Her hand had gone up as though to touch my ears, but she came to a screeching halt when her eyes met mine.
We stood there for several seconds, her hand hovering a few inches from the side of my head. I was paralyzed and desperately confused by the strange fluffy panic that had taken root in my stomach.
Then she twitched, pulling her hand back and stepping out of my personal space. “Oh, the others are waiting for us though. Let’s transfer over to them. Walk— I mean. Walk over to them.” Now she was blushing a little too now, and she tried to hide it by rubbing at her cheeks as her eyes did the embarrassment dance.
I just nodded, her antics had completely robbed me of my ability to communicate. Why was she so flustered now? Why was she acting so weird, and why was I acting so weird with her? I mean, other than the fact that she was a girl who was very beautiful, that happened to everyone… or something. I don’t know. I was so confused. I didn’t understand my own emotions most of the time, how on earth was I meant to understand what she was feeling?
Wait no, it should be, how on… Spaceport Halifa. In? In Spaceport Halifa? That didn’t have the same ring to it, but—
“Alia, let’s go! Your friends think I’ve abducted you,” Cerri urged, waving for me to follow her.
As I checked the new group chat, I felt another blush storm onto the scene. Ed and David were threatening to call child services over my mysterious absence. Nevermind that child services didn’t handle missing person’s cases, at least not that I was aware of, but—
“Alia! Feet moving time!”