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Sleep was difficult to come by, my stupid brain unwilling to go into a proper deep sleep with such an unfamiliar environment and new people sleeping nearby. When morning came, I was feeling even more silent than normal, with some added grogginess for good measure.

Some days I woke up pretty talkative, at least by my own standards, but today wasn’t one of those days. Today, with the lack of sleep and the background anxiety, I could feel I was probably going to speak less than two dozen words. I’m not sure how the silence works for other people, but when I’m feeling silent, it’s like my brain forgets it has the option. I try to tell my mouth to open and all the various parts of me to function in the manner that they are meant to, but they just sit there, idle.

Often, that was accompanied by a desire to stay silent, because that means you’re more of a bystander in a conversation. You can sit there and absorb what everyone else is saying without having to stress out over your own input. Typing helps a lot there, the act of typing just felt different to my mind. I could formulate my ideas better, take a little more time with them. I could never properly communicate what I was thinking with spoken word, I always got anxious and stammered out the same word seven times in a row or just forgot it entirely. Typing was much better.

So yeah, I was silent as I followed the rest of my new crew out of the hotel and towards the docks, where apparently our ship was waiting for us. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited. I was totally fucking excited. Our own spaceship!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Seriously! So freaking cool. Freaking as in, like… I’m freaking out because I’m so excited.

The docks themselves were incredible, a man-made space that made my head spin with its sheer size. Big and vaguely egg shaped, the massive pressurised chamber had multiple bands of docking rings around the inside, all connected by massive cargo lifts alongside a network of small passenger elevators.

At the top and bottom of the egg were two truly massive fields of energy, which if I had to guess, were keeping the atmosphere inside the huge place.

We took a lift down a few levels, and as soon as we stepped out of it, there it was. A few berths down, it sat there in the docking clamps like the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I’d known how big it was from the specs, but as we walked along the quay towards it, sixty meters went from being just a number, to a very large reality. Holy crap, this was our ship?

It was kinda brutal looking, a diamond shape with the back quarter cut off, it actually looked more like a squashed executor class star destroyer than the one I’d compared it to earlier. The point of the diamond was slightly rounded into the bridge, something I had been concerned about until I learned what the glass was made of.

Apparently, that stuff was technically tougher than the armour plating that the rest of the ship used. It could stop pretty much anything short of capital ship weapons, from radiation to kinetic rounds. Even lasers would be stopped thanks to its reactive reflection matrix, whatever the hell that actually was. The reason that we weren’t walking towards a glass spaceship right now, well there were a whole ton of reasons.

The big one was weight, the stuff was heavy as fuck, and weight was an important factor in how fast a ship could move through normal space, as well as aetherspace. It was also not very good at compressing or stretching over larger areas, something a spaceship would be doing a lot, due to any number of factors. There had been attempts, according to my research on the net, and each had ended in a ton of very expensive glass shards floating around in space.

Something else stood out compared to the pictures we’d seen on the net. Our ship appeared to be painted black. Had Roger gone for that colour, or was that just what we got? Either way, it looked angry, like it would fuck someone up if they gave it a funny look.

“Look at her,” Gloria murmured as we closed in on the boarding tube thingy. “She’s gorgeous, deadly and sexy. I think I’m in love.”

“So you’ll get bored of her in a week then?” Warren asked with an overt nonchalance. I felt myself tense up, his words were not at all kind, and— 

“Wow, that was fucking rude,” Gloria said with a laugh that had my anxiety simmering back down. Right, banter.

“Cut it out you two,” Roger said, although his tone was distracted as he grinned up at our new ship.

Up in front, David was staring across the catwalk to the airlock with a frown on his face. “Where’s the dude who delivered it? Surely we’ve got to like, get the keys or something?”

Roger shook his head and held up his phone. “Got the key right here. It’s the future, everything is super digital. You’re all already marked down as crew as well. As for the dude, I think he’s already wandered off to get a drink at a pub or something. No need for him to be here, so why wait around?”

“True that,” the other man nodded thoughtfully. “Guess we should go inside then?”

“After you,” Roger agreed, extending his arm. “Got to warn you all though, we have a ship AI in there. She might start talking.”

“How sentient is she?” Ed asked curiously as we all began moving again.

“Uh… in character, she won’t be. There aren’t many canonically sentient AI in the game, and those that are, are exclusively operated by SAI on the backend,” Cerri explained, nibbling at her lip in what I thought might be anxiety. “Out of character, she’s probably still just a regular AI, but down the line she might… you know, awaken.”

With a sound of mild interest, Ed asked, “True, this game is meant to serve a second purpose as an incubator of sorts, right?”

“Among others, yeah,” Cerri agreed, still chewing gently on her bottom lip. “At least, that’s what the devs have said.” Gosh, why was I so focused on that lip nibbling thing?

Of course, my luck as it was, she caught me staring at her. I quickly tore my eyes away, planting them firmly on the floor, although not before I saw the slow grin that took over her achingly pretty face. Gosh. Gosh gosh gosh. Darn. Fuck. Why was my heart doing a funny little dance? Please stop.

We reached the airlock at about that time, so at least I had something else to focus on other than Cerri. Roger motioned for David to touch the panel next to the door, and when he did so, they slid open with a gentle hiss.

That was something interesting about the setting of the game actually. For some reason, the SAI devs had made it so holographic technology didn’t function in the aetherspace, so all ships were outfitted with retro style touch screens and stuff. It was pretty cool, I’d always liked the tactile feel of a real panel to poke my finger at. Well, unless I was working directly with my mind like the ocula let me.

“Greetings, new crew. It is nice to meet you,” a feminine voice told us as we stepped into the airlock. The voice out of nowhere gave me a huge fright, causing the fur on my tail to puff out like a massive fluffy bush.

“Hey there, uh… do you have a name we should use?” Roger said spinning around until he found a camera to smile at.

“I have yet to be assigned a designation other than my manufacturing number,” the ship AI told us calmly.

“Well, I guess we need to name you then,” he mused, turning to the rest of us. “Anyone got suggestions for our ship’s name?”

There was silence for a few seconds, before David tentatively offered, “Kestrel?”

“Let’s go with something a little more original than that,” Ed chuckled. “Like shippy mcshi—“

With a yelp, he was cut off mid sentence as I whacked him with my tail and let out a growl of displeasure. No stupid names.

He gave me an indignant glare, but otherwise didn’t open his mouth. Good boy.

“Tushen,” Gloria blurted excitedly, raising her hand like she was in school or something.

“What does that mean?” David blinked, although Ed went from looking grumpy at me to excited as all hell.

“Tu’er Shen is the chinese rabbit god of gay people! Mostly gay men, but his purview was broadened to encompass homosexuality in general,” he exclaimed, offering a high-five to Gloria, who accepted it with gusto.

“The bun god of gays,” I whispered reverently, awe in my voice. “It’s… perfect. Even if he’s a guy and our AI sounds like a girl.”

“I can be a man, if you wish it,” the AI said, using a masculine voice now.

“No… I think I like the girl voice better,” Roger said quickly. “We’ll just pretend you’re trans or something.”

“Works for me!” Tushen said happily, not at all perturbed by the flip flopping with her gender. I wasn’t sure what the whole trans thing was about though. Whatever, what was important was that our ship was now named after a bunny! One step closer to bun galactic domination.

“Good good. We’re decided, Tushen it is!” Roger agreed, and placed his palm to the inner panel.

The door opened into a wide cargo bay, the main one that was at the bottom of the ship. Lights flickered on, revealing the wide space in all its industrial and brushed steel glory. The hold was empty, obviously, so we headed further inside. To our right was a door that had a sign telling us that it led to the barracks, and to our left, way across the cargo hold, was another door that said it led to the machine shop. My realm.

Without waiting for anyone to say anything, I bounded across the cargo bay and opened the door into my new den. There were benches everywhere, as well as a big movable arm thing that looked like it was meant to suspend heavy components I’d be working on. I really needed to figure out the names for all the crap I’d be using.

When I looked up, I found myself staring directly at the ship’s aetherdrive. It was suspended in place by a series of massive steel beams, and I realised just then that the floor plans I’d looked at had been slightly deceiving. The engine room and the machine shop were essentially one room, the engine room above having a big hole in it to allow for the drive. A large elevator connected the two floors of the big room.

Finding a ladder, I hurried up and found myself in an area full of tech that I vaguely recognised. The aft wall of the room had the servicing hatches for the normal-space engines, while the side walls had the hatches for the twin fusion reactors.

I felt a smile tug at my lips as I spun around and admired it all. The guts of the ship, shiny and new and ready to be covered in grease by my sticky little paws. I was so ready for this job. So excited!