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We stayed in port for a week while I made upgrades to the ship that couldn’t be done while we were flying all over the place. Honestly, I’d have liked a whole month with the ship before we took her out, but we only did a week because dock fees were beginning to rack up and we were running out of funds.

I did a few upgrades to the power management of the ship, but I didn’t touch the reactors, at least for now. Definitely didn’t want to fuck that up and brick our ship. What I did instead was add a few more capacitors to the system, meaning that we could at least exceed our power generation capabilities for a little while in the heat of battle.

During the times I was working on the ship, which was quite often since I was struggling to sleep in my cabin, I was also working on designs for my mech. It was coming along rather well, in direct proportion to the absence of hours asleep. I simply couldn’t get comfortable in the basic, uncomfortable bed that my sterile cabin was outfitted with.

By day three I hated life and refused to interact with anyone in person, telling them to message me instead. Eventually, Roger had to sit me down and ask what was wrong. When I answered him, he sort of sat back and stared at me for several moments, then gave me a whole bunch of money and told me to go and buy whatever I needed to sleep properly.

When I got back to the ship, it was with a multitude of blankets, pillows and… uh… well some cute plushies I saw. Don’t judge me, they just looked all cuddly and friendly, and I wanted them. I also bought some big brightly coloured sheets, but these ones weren’t for my bed. Rather, I covered the walls and ceiling with them so that the room felt more like a tent, warm and welcoming rather than sterile grey painted metal. Like, why did they even bother painting it all grey? Metal was already grey!

With my nest made, I finally convinced my anxious ass brain to calm the fuck down long enough to sleep. Well that, and I had a not-quite-scratchy blanket that for some reason really helped. The tactile feeling of the thing on my skin made my brain happy.

Sleep had always been a struggle for me. Business trips in particular were hell, where I found myself in a strange place that my subconscious didn’t recognise and thus didn’t feel safe falling asleep in. Even getting to sleep in my bed… actually, now it was my old bed. Whatever, it had been a challenge to get to sleep in my old bed a lot of the time. 

I was beginning to understand that I had a lot going on in this shitty fucking brain of mine, stuff I’d just taken for granted given new meaning by Cerri’s words. What other terms would I fall under?

Did other normal people need to wriggle and squirm for ten minutes under their sheets before they could settle? Did they need to constantly be doing something with their hands? Wrapping their sheets up in their fists or holding onto a plushie? Did they suddenly stop understanding spoken language as their brain became overwhelmed and stopped processing input? Did they feel like simply waking up every morning and trying to function like a normal adult was crushingly difficult, every mundane task a brutal jab straight to the mind?

I was starting to wonder if my assumption that I was just pitifully weak was not the whole picture, or even a part of it. My parents had certainly thought I was just weak, constantly admonishing me for being lazy or forgetful or incompetent.

I didn’t know what to think anymore, so I just didn’t bother. Digital galaxies was my home now, for the time being at least. I just wanted to be Alia, the small fox-girl mechanic. Thinking about everything else was terrifying, my mind shying away from those thoughts like they were a scalding hot iron.

Anyway… back to the ship and crew, Cerri had set up a small lab in a portion of the barracks and she was hard at work testing all of her kit out. She got so into her work that she didn’t notice me sneaking in to mess with panels and things inside the barracks. She also had a habit of swearing up a storm when things weren’t going well, which sounded strangely cute in her high, musical voice.

Our two resident shooty boys were usually off the ship down at a shooting range getting themselves familiar with their shooty sticks. They kept talking about wanting power armour too, not so subtly looking at me as they said it. I glared back at them, especially David, who was acting like a large, muscled man-brat about it. Big dum-dums thought that power armour just grew on trees or some shit.

Warren turned out to be a surprising comrade in arms as we worked to get the ship functioning how we liked it. He wasn’t really the talkative type either, so we tended to message back and forth about things that needed doing around the ship.

Case in point was on the fifth day, when I received a message while I was tinkering with my mech.

Warren: Can I get some help on the bridge? The others are out and Cerri isn’t responding.

Alia: On my way!

When I stepped onto the bridge, I suddenly found myself weightless and spinning. Squeaking in surprise, I flailed for a moment before my tail found a handhold to wrap itself around. Now mercifully motionless, I glanced up and saw Warren hanging upside down in midair with a grin on his face.

“Hi… I could use some help getting down,” he laughed, stretching out his limbs to demonstrate that he was stuck without anything to push himself off of.

I couldn’t help it, the funny situation along with how he was just sitting there grinning like a goof, I started giggling and then couldn’t freaking stop. It was like a surprise giggle storm up in this fluffy mechanic.

His laugh rolled on as well, fuelled by mine in some sort of crazy feedback loop. Between gasping breaths, he told me, “Looks like… that gravity… plate… problem in… the reviews… was real.”

Let me get you down, then we’ll figure out how to fix it, I told him as I continued to giggle.

With my tail holding me firm, I tentatively reached out as far as I could to try and snag him. This, of course, proved to be fruitless. I was definitely not tall enough.

“Shorty,” Warren teased, watching me with amusement as I grumbled and made my way up to the ceiling. I’d be able to reach him from there.

I was right, using my tail as an anchor again I grabbed his hand and pulled him up to the ceiling.

I’ll go find the plate down in the guts of the ship, you run diagnostics to see what’s wrong? I sent to Warren, raising an eyebrow to accompany the question mark.

“Sounds like a plan,” he nodded, giving me a thumbs up. That thumbs up had him taking a hand off the ceiling, which meant that he lost his hold and panic rushed onto his face for a second before he scrambled to secure himself again.

I laughed again, clambering back down and out into the hallway. After a quick detour to my workshop to get my tools, I made my way down to the crawl spaces. I hadn’t had much of a look at the gravity plates yet, so I was curious to see how they worked.

Following the ship schematic, I made my way to the plate in question, and almost immediately barked out a laugh of disbelief. Well then... that definitely explained how they got the gravity field to fit perfectly with the profile of the ship. It was like a tiny 3D replica of the bridge, surrounding area, crawl spaces and systems, all the way out to the armour that was the boundary between ship and space.

On a hunch, I checked its position within the ship and found that it was in the correct place for the field to be extended out to fill the bridge and surrounding crawl spaces. Honestly, it was pretty clever. I’d thought the shape of the field would all be done via software or something, but apparently not.

The plate itself was made of a strange glossy black substance that had me not wanting to touch it. Like… it just seemed dangerous. It was clamped in place with wood of all things. Well, wood sitting between the plate and the steel clamps that held it more firmly in place. The whole setup looked like how you might hold a bowl full of soup that had been in the microwave for five minutes.

Crouching down, I found how the plate was integrated into the ship’s network. A small circuit board was fixed in place against the underside of the plate, with a metric boatload of wires running into it. I could see power cables, some data transfer cables and what looked like some sort of fluid cooling setup. Honestly, it looked like a CPU had been welded to the underside of the thing.

A message from Warren came in as I was frowning at the contraption, my fur all on end from the feeling of weirdness that the plate gave me.

Warren: Um… I don’t really understand what I’m looking at here. It’s telling me that it's working, but also that it isn’t.

Alia: I’m going to need a little more information than that.

Warren: Alright so it thinks that the plate is working fine, but it’s also telling me that it’s drawing way less power than it should be, at least according to the specs they gave us.

Alia: Fucking typical. Let me check the power delivery.

As soon as I got in close to take a look, I realised the problem. What in the name of whatever gods might exist was that weld? Seriously!! What the fuck!

Alia: Can you cut power to it? I can see the problem plain as fucking day. This shit is so jank, cheap parts I guess.

Warren: Roger that, power is off.

Alia: What did Roger do?

Warren: Ha ha… very funny.

Just in case, I used my phone to scan for power running through. There wasn’t any, but it never hurt to check. Confident I was safe, I pulled out my little futuristic soldering pen thing and got to work making sure those connectors were actually attached properly. Yet another job in this whack ass jank boat. I swear it was made by sleep walkers or something.