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The jungle was gorgeous, spread out below us in all directions as we wandered down the enclosed walkway. Shields in the place of windows kept everyone safe from the wildlife, while also allowing the sounds and smells to pass through unhindered. It was sort of magical, really, especially with the way it was suspended between the ground and the canopy.

We saw all sorts of wildlife, from the local bird analogue to things that looked a hell of a lot like monkeys. Some even wandered right up to the shield, staring at us from nearby branches. It was pretty amazing, I certainly hadn’t been this close to wild animals at any point in my lifetime.

“Look at the way it’s tilting its head!” Cerri exclaimed, stepping up to get a better look. “It’s so cute!”

“Head tilting is cute?” I asked, tilting my head, long fluffy ears perking up in question.

When her eyes fell on me, she gave a delighted laugh and reached out to place a hand on the top of my head. “Yes, cutie. You’re also not fooling anyone, your tail is wagging.”

“Oh,” I mumbled, cheeks heating. I mean, I hadn’t entirely meant to tilt my head like the cute monkey, I’d just subconsciously done it because I was thinking about it.

She just gave me a smile and we continued on our way. Funny she accused me of being cute when she was also being super adorable. Seriously, the way she rambled about every little thing she saw was just… well, really cute.

“Hey, Cerri…” I said after another few minutes of sightseeing. “Was that time with the noodles your first time eating food?”

She stopped in her gawking to give me a shy glance. “Yeah… I really did like it too!”

“I’m glad,” I smiled, brushing her tail with mine. “It would have sucked if your first time eating anything had been with a food you hated.”

“That happened with drinking!” she giggled, pulling a disgusted face. “Beer is gross.”

I laughed, a burst of surprised amusement. Holy shit, that had happened when we all went to get a drink to talk about crewing up together.

“I’ve never really spent much time in uh… well I guess it’s called virtual reality, but to me it’s more of a simulated reality or something,” she explained after a few moments, expression turning thoughtful. “Most of my time being self aware I was continuing in my job as a research AI. I mean, I went into VR a bunch but never something like this.”

“How did you get into playing this game then? Making friends too,” I asked, finding myself incredibly interested in her life and how she’d come to be here.

“Ah… Gloria gets hired to do test piloting for the company I worked for, she and I became… um… friends, when we were having meetings in VR about the aircraft she was testing for us. Followed her into some virtual chat rooms with her friends and yeah… that’s how it all happened, I guess,” she told me, eyes roaming everywhere but towards me. She looked so nervous right now, had I upset her with the question?

“I’m glad you made those friends,” I said quietly, anxiety forcing my gaze to the floor.

“Me too,” she murmured, and the both of us fell silent.

I thought for sure that I’d upset her, but was proven completely wrong when a few minutes later the tip of her tail found mine, wrapping around it with utmost care. What was that, why was she twining tails? Gosh, it felt really nice, but it was also crazy intimate! What was going on? Heart hammering in my chest, my gaze flitted up to meet hers, finding a small, shy smile waiting there for me.

“All my other friends are so… worldly, they know what they’re doing, who they are and all that stuff,” she said slowly, as if the words were still forming in her mind as she spoke. “With you though, it’s like… It’s like I’m allowed to just be curious about things that are new to me. You even like seeing me experience it all. I guess, I just want to say thank you. We haven’t known each other long but I feel really attached to you.”

Words left me right there, but words weren’t really the thing to reply with right then anyway. In an act that took me a lot of courage, I stepped forward and hugged her. Cerri was so good, she needed to know she could be herself with me, that I valued her friendship and more importantly, I valued her as a person.

“I really like seeing you experience life and the world. It’s so nice, and you’re nice too and… you’ve also helped me as well!” I told her with a deep sigh that inadvertently had me breathing in her incredible scent all over again. “I feel very attached to you too.”

“Good thing we’re going to be hanging out a lot then, right?” she laughed softly, nestling her face in my hair. “I mean, apart from when you… um, log out, or whatever.”

I tensed, the spectre of my inevitable log out rising to the fore of my mind once more. It had been sitting back there constantly since I saw David, whispering quiet anxiety into every moment.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, pulling out of the hug to give me a worried look.

“Nothing,” I told her nervously, then caved immediately and blurted, “I just don’t want to log out. Reality is… I don’t like it. It is safer in here.”

That pulled her up short, her eyes going wide as she stared down at me. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t know,” I whined desperately. “Can we table this discussion until later? Preferably when I’m in my bed surrounded by soft things to cuddle?”

“You can’t just… okay, fine, but we are definitely talking about this later, because like… that’s confusing as fuck,” she told me with a worried frown.

“Sorry,” I mumbled, eyes turning downcast.

“It’s okay,” she sighed, stepping further back and freeing her tail from mine. “Let’s keep going with the walk, huh? Find more cute animals to look at.”




We were late back to the ship, having lost track of time while we were wandering the jungle walkways. I couldn’t find it in myself to feel bad though, I had loved every moment of that walk. Cerri was such an interesting person, and the way she was awed by the simplest of things had me grinning like a tiny fool.

Roger did have a frown for us when we finally made it back to the ship, but otherwise said nothing. I almost wandered off to keep working on my mech, since I nearly had the internals finished, but Cerri’s tail grabbed mine again. She’d taken to doing that often on the walk to get my attention.

“Let’s go see what Gloria bought,” she said excitedly, big sparkling eyes pleading with me to follow her.

“Okay,” I grumbled, even as another smile broke out across my face. She kept making me smile dang it!

Her pleading expression gained a grin as she chirped, “Thank you!”

Off we went through the ship, tails intertwined at the tips the whole way. It was kinda like her grabbing my hand to drag me, but we still had both hands free. Very convenient.

We reached the rec room to find Gloria and Jason excitedly setting up some gaming stations against one wall. Gaming stations were the last hold out of older style computers. Since not everyone could or wanted to spend weeks at a time in VR, the normal-space gaming market was still very much alive and well.

One concession that had to be made was the tactile needs of that type of gaming. You needed actual, physical controls to play, since waving your arms around at a hologram wasn’t ideal. Hence why we now had eight monitors in a row along one wall, partitioned off from each other with little walls, while a set of various controllers, as well as mice and keyboards sat in front of them.

“Pass me the last mouse, Jason?” Gloria asked from the end of the row, turning to hold out her hand to the big guy who was holding a cardboard box. He gave a grunt as confirmation, reached in and fished out another chunky looking mouse with an obscene number of buttons arrayed across its various surfaces.

“Wow, this is next level,” I breathed, moving over to touch one of the controllers.

My mumbling must have caught their attention, because both of them turned to look at Cerri and I.

“Hey you two, finally back from your… are you holding tails,” Gloria asked, staring down between myself and the cute space-succubus.

“It’s better than dragging her up here by the hand,” Cerri blurted defensively, her long, nebula coloured tail wrapping itself tighter around my fluffy one.

“I figure she’s geeky enough that you don’t need to use any of your appendages to drag her up here,” Gloria mused, still staring at our intertwined tails.

In an effort to divert attention away from Cerri’s clinging, I used my ocula to ask a question. Where is the computing hardware? Is this all just the physical stuff we need to play and the rest is run on their servers, or is there a computing unit I can’t see?

The pilot sent a sarcastically raised eyebrow in my direction in response, clearly seeing through my diversion, but she allowed it anyway, answering, “The computers are down with the ship’s core. I figured since the ship has a wireless network, we can just put them anywhere. Plus, when we’re not using them, Turshen can use them to do other shit.”

Seems sensible. Do you mind if I look at them later to make sure it’s all fitted in properly? I asked, picking up one of the mice to look at the underside. I wondered if they were still optical or if they used the new hyper accurate positional sensors that were becoming commonplace now.

My curiosity was answered before the mouse had even fully turned over. I could see the little HAPS node on the bottom of the screen. Cool, I hated optical mice. Ancient and outdated tech. I had opinions on gaming hardware.

“Yeah, go ahead TTG,” Gloria said in response to the question I’d asked.

Looking up, I tilted my head at her at the same time that Cerri asked the question I wanted to ask, “TTG? What’s that mean?”

“Tiny Tech Girl,” came the response, along with a wink.

“I like it,” Cerri agreed, turning to give me another sparkly eyed smile. “Cute and accurate.”

I pouted up at her, giving her tail an irritated tug. This was embarrassing, and plus, she was meant to be on my side!

“Hey, don’t be grumpy,” she teased, giving my tail a tug in return. Oh no, I was being ganged up on!

“Hey everyone, lock that hardware down and get into the bridge, we’re lifting off,” Roger said, poking his head through the door.

“Aye, aye, cap,” Gloria said, fishing a little remote out of her pocket and pressing a button. Clicks rippled down the line of computers, and I gave a gasp of understanding. Magnetic locks! Nothing would be flying around the ship while we maneuvered! That was so cool!

“Come on, time to go do our jobs,” Cerri said with a knowing look. “You can geek out over the magnets later.”