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“What the fuck is that?” Jason blurted from where he’d tripped and fallen over in surprise.

“H-hi everyone,” I said, suddenly nervous. Maybe giving them all a fright hadn’t been such a good idea. “I um… I wanted to show you all my mech!”

“Wait… mech?” he asked incredulously as he stood up and peered at Bundit. “You’re inside that?”

“Yes!” It’s very cool!” I exclaimed, pulling a hand-on-hip pose with the big mechanical arms.

“I think it's cute,” Cerri commented from off to the side, startling me enough that the mech wobbled a bit as I briefly lost control. Pilotbun was fast though, stepping in to stabilise things before I fell over completely.

“Cerri!” I exclaimed, changing the wide viewscreen to show her leaning against a wall, a delighted and amused smile shining across and into the cameras on Bundit.

She laughed as I stumbled, raising an eyebrow. “Startle you huh?”

“No…” I said out loud, while at the same time messaging her, Yes! Meanie!

Her resulting laugh had me smiling even through my embarrassment. She had such a nice laugh, high and musical, but with an underlying richness that had my ears drinking in the sounds like it was nectar.

Ed was next to speak, walking up to my mech and rapping his knuckles on the side. “So, how do you get out of that thing? Looks pretty closed up.”

David mumbled something under his breath that earned a questioning look from Cerri, but Bundit’s mics didn’t seem to pick it up. At least, it fell below the threshold for filtering out noise.

In answer to Ed, I hit the button that caused the doors to open. Blinded for a second by the bright light outside Bundit, I found myself open to Ed’s cowardly attack.

He pulled me out of the mech with surprising gentleness considering he was kidnapping me from my place of refuge, but then he threw me over his shoulder and turned for the couch.

“Got you!” he laughed, throwing me down into the cushions. He sat quickly down next to me as I stared up at him in shock over the whole thing. “You’ve been hiding out in that mechanic shop of yours for a whole week without talking to us!”

“Sorry,” I mumbled abashedly, ears wilting under the guilt I suddenly felt for ignoring my friends. I hadn’t meant to ignore them… I just got carried away and it sort of… happened.

“Okay, dang, no need for the kicked puppy look, come here,” he grumbled, tone changing from playful to caring as he spoke. His huge arm went around my smaller shoulders and I found myself dragged into a hug.

My first instinct was to wriggle away, but I paused, because it actually felt okay… like a brotherly hug or something. I didn’t know what one of those felt like obviously, since I didn’t have a brother. Even if I had one, my family was most definitely not the affectionate type. Hugs from my parents were cause for alarm more than anything else.

So rather than try and get out of his grasp, I settled in with a sigh and murmured, “I got distracted making that thing. It will be really helpful, I promise.”

“Nah, it’s all good. We’ve got a long time on this ship anyway. Honestly, I feel like we could log off for days at a time and not miss anything,” he mused, his weight settling into the couch along with me.

“Yeah, okay… but what about the mech?” Jason asked excitedly, pointing at Bundit.

“Bundit,” I told him. Then my eyes widened as a twin pronged lance of anxiety slammed into my stomach and brain. I’d been talking properly without realising, and I hated everything about it.

“Does it have guns?” Jason asked obliviously, leaning down to look at the arms.

I shook my head and hesitantly sent a message to all those in the room. No, but it could be fitted with some if we need it. Right now it’s packed full of maintenance tools and scientific sensors.

“Oh, really? What kinds?” Cerri asked, wandering over to peer more closely at Bundit. An action that was rather abruptly followed by a quick look of amused realisation in my direction. “You called it Bundit?

I nodded, giving her a shy smile. Come here, I’ll pull up the list on my phone.

Doing as I’d described, I felt another spike of nervous energy pulse through my body when I realised that Cerri had sat down on my other side, rather close to me too. Our thighs were squished against one another, which is… like, a lot of softness. Both of us had pretty thick thighs, and my eyes were doing their best to admire both.

Realising I’d frozen at her sudden intrusion of my personal space, I quickly handed her my phone, only to have my fingers brush across her upper thigh as I pulled away. Oh goodness, oh geez. She wore some very short shorts right now, which meant… soft skin, so soft.

I think Cerri was trying to talk to me, but she was probably hitting the closed sign that had been hung outside the door to my brain. I was vaguely aware of warmth retreating from my other side, and then suddenly I was slumping back against Cerri, face landing on her shoulder with a bump.

“Is she okay?” David’s loud voice asked, cutting through the haze. “She’s gone limp.”

“She’s smiling at least,” Ed commented, and even in the strange state I was in, I still heard just the slightest note of cheekiness in his voice. Like he was in the process of pulling a prank that was going off better than expected.

Whatever, Cerri was so soft and warm, but in a way that had my chest feeling both heavy and weightless at the same time. There was only one real, tangible thought running through my mind because of that emotion, and it was that I really wanted to stay like this a little longer.

Sadly, a hand grasped the back of my head, tilting it up until I had big, star-filled eyes gazing down into mine. “You okay?” she asked, voice so gentle, so wonderful. My eyes fell to her lips, full and with the edges slightly downturned. Wait, she was frowning?

“Mmm, okay,” I nodded, almost headbutting her in the process, our faces were just that close.

She squinted at me for a moment, obviously not buying it. “Well… let’s talk about how these components made it into your Bundit then, you little bandit.”

That pulled me back into reality, my breath stuttering to a halt as I tried to think. “I stole them,” I blurted, then groaned and cringed in on myself, ready for anger.

Rather than anything at all negative, I got a laugh. What? Why was she laughing? I stared up at her for long moments as amusement danced through the stars in her eyes.

Even more startling than the laughter, she proceeded to wrap her arms tight around me. “You’re so cute, Alia,” she murmured softly into my ear, tickling the fluffy insides and causing it to flick reflexively.

All I could manage in reply was a sort of happy whimper. This much physical contact with her was overloading my brain. I simply couldn't process it, like how work had always overwhelmed me, except this was strangely pleasant.

"Hey David, Ed, it's your— what the hell is this?" Roger had just arrived, it seemed. With his arrival went Cerri, retreating just slightly out of the hug to give a smile of greeting to the new arrival.

Trying with all my might to smother my disappointment, I turned to look too. Oh… oops, I'd left the mech blocking the door.

"Bundit, can you park yourself in the corner?" I asked quietly, knowing the AI could hear me.

It reacted silently to my command, closing the doors and making its way over to hunch unobtrusively off to the side.

"That's Alia's new mech," Cerri explained excitedly. "It's going to be a game changer for us. I hypothesize that we could take some rather interesting missions with it in our arsenal."

"Damn," Roger murmured, staring at it for a few long moments before he turned back with a pleased smile."Nice job Alia, holy hell. Looks like a beastly little nugget. I love it."

It’s really strong and it can be fitted with whatever tool we need for the job. It’s also able to go underwater, out into vacuum and even down into corrosive atmospheres. So I guess yeah… keep that in mind when you see jobs. I explained via ocula, since my voice had clearly abandoned me in my time of need.

“That reminds me actually,” Roger said, perking up even more. “I figure we’re all sufficiently familiar with the ship now, so we could take some more interesting short term missions on at the next port. I feel we could all use a little fun, some action.”

“Hell yeah!” Jason grinned, staring at our captain like the man had just proposed to him and he was seconds away from saying yes.

"Great, we'll do that," Roger said with finality, then turned to the two gay boys. "You two are on bridge shift now. I'm going to go get some rest in my cabin."

What followed was a lot of hustle and bustle as everyone left the room. Jason decided he wanted to go and play with his guns or something, talking about getting my mech equipped with "some real firepower."

As silence descended on the room, I found myself rather suddenly alone with Cerri, still draped half across her. Awkwardness quickly invaded that silence, Cerri and I staring at each other with no more than an inch between our noses.

“Want to watch TV?” she asked after a moment, her voice quiet as a mouse, bright eyes searching mine.

“TV?” I asked, my brain completely unable to compute the actual meaning behind her words around the confused gibberish that was rushing through my mind. She was so close and so achingly pretty, it was all I could focus on.

“Yeah, that’s what I see people do in shows a lot. Friends watch videos and TV shows together and stuff! I’ve never done it myself, but… we’re here, you know? Plus… I’m uh… comfortable… like this,” she explained, her conviction falling apart a little at the end, revealing a nervousness that I couldn’t entirely understand.

“Oh… I mean yeah. We can watch TV… I finished Bundit after all, so I have time on my hands,” I agreed, still staring into her gorgeous eyes. Some of the stars in them were different colours, I could see blue ones and white ones, as well as a few purple and red ones.

“Cool,” she said, her smile bursting out in happy radiance. Her arm settled down around my shoulders so gently I didn’t properly notice it at first, but when I did, I settled in against her with a grin of my own. Even I understood the shoulder move was an invitation to cuddle.

“This doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for stealing my spare sensors,” she told me, tone overly casual and filled with an underlying amusement. “Sneaky little fluff ball.”