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“Hey, Alia…” a gentle voice murmured somewhere very close by. “Alia… wake up.”

I was so warm, why was the admittedly cute voice trying to disturb me? I was warm and safe, so safe… safer than I had felt in so long, so very long. Could I just stay here?

“Alia, we’re getting food,” the voice said again, a hand coming down to briefly tickle the tip of one of my ears. Big, long… fluffy ears.

I bolted upright, staring out of the mech chassis at Cerri, who’d been the one to wake me. Everything flooded my brain at once, thoughts and emotions clashing in a tumult for a moment before everything fitted back into place. Right, playing a game. I was Alia, a cute fox girl engineer. No need to panic just yet.

“You are tooth achingly cute, you know that?” Cerri told me, hand on hip as she stared down at me.

“C-cute?” I squeaked, mouth hanging open. I’d never really been called cute before.

“Yup, extremely cute,” she told me, eyes shining with mirth. Without warning, she reached out and brushed some of my wild hair back into place. This was followed by her fingers gently trailing along the tip of my ear.

Time slowed to a crawl as she caressed my ear, our eyes locked, hers kind and a little amused, mine probably wide as a deer’s might be when confronted by the headlights of an oncoming truck.

“So soft,” she murmured, finishing the move with a slight pinch to the tip of my fluffy ears.

I was frozen, still staring up at her, mind once again flooded with thoughts that moved too fast to be assigned coherent structure. Every single part of my body that could sense the world was at full alert. Sounds were scooped up wholesale by my ears, my nose drank the air, and with the help of my tongue it tasted it.

Each of those senses was focused on a singular object, a person… girl… Cerri. I quivered, exhaling in a rush. She was so much in that moment, the soft skin of her cheek, the curved angle of her cheekbone, high and dusted with pink. Then there were her horns, glittering with faux-starlight.

Her eyes held my attention the most out of everything though, they glittered just like her horns, only they had a depth to them. I was looking at another person, another thinking, feeling individual. For some reason, that had my heart racing even as it humbled me.

She crouched as I lay there, bringing us eye to eye. “You did a good job with the redo of the face. You’re so pretty. Cute and very pretty. Your ears are adorable too. Dipping your toes further into the non-human club.”

My cheeks flushed with her compliments and a smile bloomed along with it. “Human is vastly overrated.”

“Really?” she asked, sounding curious.

I nodded. “Humans are awful. Well, some of them aren’t… but too many of them are shit to call them anything close to good. If you’re addressing them as a whole, I mean.”

“You’re sounding more and more like an SAI, you know that right?” she chuckled, sitting properly down now and crossing her legs.

I shrugged, mimicking her position from inside the comfort and safety of my little ball. “I’ve never totally felt a kinship for the rest of mankind, I guess. I mean, I fall under that umbrella, but it’s like… I guess I’ve… I’ve- I’ve- I’ve- I’ve... fuck… Words. Um… I’ve disassociated from humanity, like I don’t really want to be a human if that is what it means to be human.”

“What just happened there?” she asked, frowning as I finished speaking. Damn, I was hoping she’d ignore it.

I glanced awkwardly down at my lap, trying to figure out how to explain what had happened. “I… my brain sometimes likes to randomly trash the words I need for a sentence. It’s like… my RAM is just randomly flushed for no good reason and I’m stuck on a word without being able to find the one that goes after it. I sort of just weirdly default to saying whatever I was saying over and over.”

“Hmmm…” she murmured, then pointed to my head. “There’s a lot going on up there, huh?”

“Yup,” I agreed sort of bashfully. I was a basket case, that’s for sure. Fucked in the head beyond all repair. Silence stretched for several moments, and I flicked my gaze up momentarily to try and gauge what she was thinking.

“Well, little Alia the non-human, I think I like you,” she said with a decisive clap of her hands. “You’re adorable, intelligent as all hell, pretty and most importantly of all, just plain fun to talk to. So yeah, whatever is going on in that head of yours, I think you’re fucking great!”

I melted, straight down into a puddle of confused fluffy fox girl. Smiling and blushing and just everything. Wow, this felt nice. Compliments were nice.

“Thank you,” I whispered, trying to meet her gaze but failing miserably. My eyes just kept bouncing up, then getting startled and running back to my lap.

“You’re welcome,” she smiled, standing and offering a hand to help me get up. “Now how about you come on up to the galley and come test out our new food making machine with us?”

“Oh, okay,” I agreed with a bashful mumble, tentatively reaching out to put my hand in hers. Gosh, her hand was a lot bigger than mine was.

Pulling me up onto my feet, she stepped back to give me some personal space as I settled. We made our way up one of the lifts to the engine room, then out and into the main hallway that ran down the center of the ship on the second level.

Faltering, I glanced around at all the doors to the cabins. “Which one is mine?”

“We saved you that one,” she told me, pointing to one of the doors right next to the engine room. “We figured it would be best to put you next to the areas you’ll probably be working in.”

“Thank you,” I said, my heart feeling all light and fluffy again. People putting me into their considerations was another new thing for me.

Cerri gave a nod towards the door on the opposite side of the hallway. “I’m next to you, actually.”

I wasn’t sure what to make of that. Cerri was nice, but she made me all weirdly nervous. I hoped I could relax even if she was across from me. Not that I really knew how to fully relax anyway, I was always anxious about something or other.

“Food time,” the tall demon girl reminded me, patting me gently on the back. “Come on.”

I followed her down the hallway and into the galley, which turned out to be surprisingly spacious. It was an oddly shaped room, since it was nearer to the point of the ship. I saw the food machine immediately, it was rather large and bolted to the forward wall. It was a strange looking thing, with a multitude of pipes all running in towards a box in the center. The box had a door on it that roger was currently retrieving a very yummy looking burger and fries out of.

Everyone except Cerri and I seemed to have food now, so I followed her over to the machine and watched her wake the touch screen panel above the box thing. I watched her finger hesitate over the menus, a frown forming between her brows.

What’s wrong? I typed, no longer comfortable speaking with this many people around.

“I um… don’t know what to choose,” she said, and this time it was her looking embarrassed. She turned to me, a pleading look behind her glittering eyes. “I don’t know what I’ll like… this is so hard! Ugh. What types of food do you like? I’ll get what you get.”

Huh… how did she not know what food she liked? That was an odd one. Well, if she needed help choosing food, then I was here. I loved food.

Well, let’s see what it can do first, I told her, getting in close to both her and the screen. Wait… it says it can do almost anything? How the hell does this machine work?

“Dunno, it just kinda spits out whatever food you want,” she shrugged, clasping her hands together nervously.

Well… in that case, I grinned, pressing a button on the menu. I was in the mood for noodles, so I picked us both a pork chow mein. Wait, did we have eating utensils? This was going to be messy as all hell if we didn’t.

As the machine began to whir away, I glanced around for some forks. Yes, I know, I was a filthy aussie who didn’t know how to use chopsticks. My eyes fell on a bunch of drawers next to a more mundane cooking bench, and further investigation revealed that yes, we did have forks. All was well onboard the Turshen.

It took about five minutes for the food to be ready, during which time Cerri was getting increasingly more antsy. What was up with her and food? Dang… chill girl, chill.

Opening the door after the ping revealed two plates of very yummy looking chow mein, one of which I handed to my food-anxious friend, along with a fork. With that done, I wandered over to a table and sat down.

Cerri followed, tentatively sitting down opposite me as she held the fork all weird, staring at the plate like it might jump up at her at any moment. She didn’t begin eating, instead sitting there with her fork, watching me settle in and begin eating. Then… she copied me, carefully positioning the fork in her hand and trying to spin it into the noodles.

I watched her with rapt fascination as she very carefully ate, the first bite going down with a look of surprise on her pretty face. “This is good… it uh, tastes nice. I like this. What was it called?”

Pork chow mein, I informed her via my ocula.

“I like pork chow mein,” she told me decisively, her expression adorably serious. It was like she’d never tasted food before or something.

I found myself smiling as I ate, watching her do the same with a look of deep concentration. For a girl who looked like a space succubus, she sure was incredibly adorable in the strangest of ways.