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Space Interns Adventures (1x1 w/ Mage)

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"Attention, crew; this is... your captain, speaking. We've successfully entered FTL and initiated the artificial gravity, so you can now leave your rooms and explore the ship. But, er, before you do - would everyone please gather in the lounge as soon as possible for a quick meeting? Thank you." 


"Fantastic work, Captain," a voice drawled from the overhead speakers as Michelle let go of the intercom button. "Very smooth. Your crew definitely doesn't think you're planning on axe-murdering them the moment they step through the door." 


Michelle grunted noncommittally as she undid her seatbelt; TRI's remarks didn't deserve a response at the best of times, never mind now when her nerves were already shot without his help. This didn't seem to deter the AI any, though -- the cockpit’s main screen flickered on and displayed his familiar triangular logo, which managed to blink condescendingly despite being made up of five straight lines. "Oh, I'm sorry. Your plan was to slowly suffocate them with your presence over the next two years, wasn't it? My mistake." 


She heaved herself out of the chair with a sigh and plodded toward the door. "Save it. I didn't have to bring you on this mission, alright? I know you’re psychologically incapable of being thankful, but you could at least give me five minutes of silence for that.” 


She ducked out into the hallway before TRI could say anything else and headed for the lounge. 

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Despite presumably being the most spacious room on the ship, the lounge was cramped. Even if there was objectively enough room to stretch her legs out all the way, Rikari sure didn't feel like that was the case. She had, for now at least, abandoned the idea of giving the furniture a new re-configuration by shoving everything toward one wall -- partly because that was a lot of effort for negligible space gain, and partly because the the couches were nailed to the floor. 


Shortly after the announcement, she was already in the lounge, legs crossed, slouched over to the side, elbow on the chair arm and hand pressed to the side of her face. As soon as possible meant exactly that: being earlier than being on time. Beside her sat her assistant -- one of them, at least -- who had followed her over, straight-backed and alert, his hands dutifully crossed over his lap and awaiting further instructions. If anyone were to ask the question, Rikari would say that she had no hand in making him this way and that he just came like this out of the box. Randal's endless enthusiasm for his job disgusted her, frankly. She thought he should have just gone to college instead of taking up a practical internship, so they could hammer into him some cynicism with a free side of depression.


Her other assistant, having been in the room even before the announcement, was enjoying their existence as several of the ottomans cramping up the room. Rikari didn't bother to count how many units were present, so she could not say if the damn bot was entirely present in its whole -- but as long as at least one block was here the information would eventually relay itself to Poly (so ultimately, it didn't really matter).


The door slid open and Randal stood up to greet Michelle, while Rikari's only acknowledgement came from how her eyeballs were now focused on the pilot instead of on the bland decor.


"What did you need us for, Captain?" he asked. "Wait, we should probably wait until everyone's here so you don't have to explain it twice..."

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As the door to the lounge slid open, Michelle breathed a mental sigh of relief that people actually showed up. She gave both the humans a stiff nod of acknowledgement as she entered, suddenly extremely aware of every minute detail of her posture and positioning. Should she be sitting? There were (just barely) enough couches to fit everyone, but would that be unprofessional? What does a normal person even do with their arms? God, she probably did look like a twitchy serial killer. She settled for shuffling a few steps to the side as to not block the door, and cleared her throat. "Right. It's nothing important, really; just some starting formalities. I thought we should follow protocol, at least for the first-" 


The sound of claws scrabbling against hard metal floors behind her interrupted her train of thought, and she turned to see her last crew member charge full-tilt into the lounge, narrowly avoiding crashing into the couch Rikari and Randal were sitting on. "Excuse me, sorry," they squeaked in between breaths as they smoothed down a few stray feathers with their front legs, "I, uh... I had some trouble with the gravity generators... oh, but it's alright! Nothing to worry about, really." With that, they climbed onto the other couch and sat up, waiting for Michelle to speak. 


An image of the owlworm tangled up in a seat belt designed for human use sprung into Michelle's mind and she couldn't help but smile. Whether it was their species or their individual personality, Pip's presence always had a way of cutting the tension. "Right, well - this is just a quick start-of-mission meeting, so if you had any questions or concerns, feel free to voice them. Oh, and aside from some mandatory stops we have a lot of freedom with our route, so if you had any specific places you wanted to visit, we can discuss that. I don’t have a detailed map on hand at the moment, but I’ll ask TRI to...” 


****, she’d forgotten about TRI. He was usually exceptionally memorable in all the worst ways, so the fact that he hadn’t spoken at all in the past few minutes was a very bad sign. Well, it wasn’t as if she was in a position to do anything about whatever he was planning, so maybe she should push on while she has the chance? “I’ll ask TRI to-” 


“What seems to be the problem, Captain? Oh, do pardon me for interrupting; I thought you were finished.” 


Michelle blinked up at the ship speakers, trying not to let the absolute terror show on her face. TRI, apparently unfazed, pushed on. “I suppose you did ask me to keep quiet, so I do apologize for that. But since I am the one being discussed, I thought I should contribute to the conversation.” 


Michelle swallowed. A sudden personality glitch would be too much to hope for, so what was he doing? She looked back down at her crew members, who certainly wouldn’t have the context to appreciate it if she started demanding answers. “...Right. This is TRI, the ship’s AI; we’ve been... working together for several years now. I'll ask him to send you the maps, which you can look through on your own time.” 


“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” TRI chirped as Michelle resisted the urge to grind her teeth into dust. 

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Rikari flinched back and out of the way of the scrambling, six legged worm. She followed the creature with her gaze, mildly disgusted at how those itty-bitty almond eyes and those wonderfully soft looking face feathers and little wiggly toesies were so cute and she didn't know how to handle these emotions she'd rather get up right now and go suffocate herself in the airlock--


" 'S'alright, no need to apologize," Randal had sat back down after Michelle's reply and Pip's arrival, reassuring the alien with a gentle smile that it was okay. Now that everyone was here (he thinks? The ship is present and these blocks are Poly, right?), he turned to check in on Rikari. The wizard was sitting as stiff as a board, fingers tensed into claws digging into her thighs and squinting intensely into the distance -- all signs of stress... or deep thought. But, in all of his two years of service, he had never seen all three together at once. He gave her a gentle nudge in the arm. She snapped back to attention, giving him a searing glare before relaxing her shoulders.


Over time, he had learned that she was all bark and no bite. (Well, maybe a little bite.) Unapproachable, demanding, impatient, and socially awkward -- but also rigorous, studious, and brilliant. He could see where others could have failed when it came to dealing with her quirks and unpredictable nature, though he himself didn't feel those hurdles were too difficult to overcome. 


Michelle smiled before she continued the meeting -- a creeping, awkward baring of teeth from Rikari's point of view, but Randal found it quite charming and approachable. He looked up, trying to find where the ship's speakers were, even if the AI speaking through it was technically present everywhere around them.


"Thanks TRI!" he spoke to the ceiling. "We'll take a look at the maps later."


Map? Didn't need a map. Rikari made a mental list of a couple places she thought might be along their general itinerary. She would have to speak to Michelle later. She thanked the universe that the pilot wasn't as... chipper as literally everyone else on this ship. Well, that was to be expected of AI... She wasn't sure how many bureaucratic hoops Michelle would have had to jump to get her own assistant on the company-sponsored ship, but she supposed that this was fine, even advantageous.


"Is that everything?" she asked. There could be more announcements, but she'd rather leave before the room descended into aimless smalltalk.

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"You're quite welcome," TRI purred. Michelle glared at the floor so her eyeballs wouldn't reflexively roll themselves. Somehow, this was even more obnoxious than regular TRI. Fortunately the human members of her crew didn't seem to be in a chatty mood, so with any luck, the end was in sight. Hopefully the AI wouldn't keep this ridiculous charade up when she interrogates him about it later. 


"I suppose so, yes," she responded to Rikari. "Well, I was going to ask if you had any questions, but if you don't, we can wrap this meeting up and - " 


"Leave?" Pip interrupted, ruffling their head feathers in a gesture that radiated indignance even through species boundaries. Before Michelle could say anything, they leapt off the sofa in a single swift motion and coiled up in front of the lounge's only exit. Any of the humans present could have easily stepped over them, but the gesture - and the extended claws - were quite clear. "Is every human like this or do I just have the worst luck ever? Look! We're going to be on this ship for two years, okay? We have to get along, or we'll drive each other crazy. After Misha went to the trouble of gathering us all here, you're not even going to introduce yourselves?" 


Michelle swallowed. Evidently, she had hoped for too much. She took a cautious step toward the owlworm, eyes fixed on their talons. "Um. Pip? I... know what you mean, but it's fine, really..." 


"Don't act like I'm not talking about you, too," Pip snapped in a surprisingly deep tone. "We just took off, there's nothing to check or maintain, so none of you have any excuses. Come on, it'll take five seconds."


They straightened up and clasped their front paws together. The claws, still extended, clacked menacingly against each other. "I'm Pip! Well, it's a nickname, but I don't expect any of you to pronounce my real one. I'm officially the ship's science officer, but I think 'xenobiology student' would be a more accurate description. Nice to meet you!" 

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"Don't you have our files? Read those. It will be a more pleasant experience for everyone involved." Rikari said. The threatening claws contrasted with the creature's peppy voice and their general silky appearance as they coiled themself in the doorway. In that moment, she pictured how easy it would be for everyone to perish in an emergency if something blocked the only door out of the room, and perhaps a well-placed fire might be the solution to get out of this trap. She focused on a speck on the wall beside the owlworm so she wouldn't have to look at their ridiculous face. 


"I'm Randal," the young man cut in, playing along. "I think this is a great idea! After all, we'll be spending two years on the trip. Might as well start it off on good terms."


Two years. Rikari almost wanted to have herself cryogenically frozen and then wake up at her destination -- but she couldn't afford it, nor could she afford simply letting two years slip by without any work done to show for it.


"Not all humans are like this," Randal continued. "I heard that it's more of a fifty-fifty split of introverts to extroverts, but since our sample size is so small, it looks like we ended up getting more non-sociable people on the crew than not. But scholars don't usually talk to others a lot, don't they? Other than to talk about research and stuff." He shrugged. "I'm Rikari's assistant, and we're on this journey to investigate the dead zones at our destination and see what we can do about that. It's really exciting! We're lucky that we get to pick our own stops and explore other planets. I can see why you tagged along, Pip. Plenty of opportunities to see new things."


He paused politely, then glanced at Rikari to get her to go next. With a few pairs of eyes on her waiting expectantly for her introduction, the wizard finally conceded with a roll of her eyes. "Rikari. Notorious Magical Engineer."


Once done, she gave one of the ottomans a solid shove with her heel. "If I had to do it, you'd have to do it. Don't try to get out of this, blocks."


The white rectangles began to move on their own. One ottoman climbed on top of the other, forming a tower about four feet high of nondescript bricks. "Hello," the tower said. They made no acknowledgement of anything that had just transpired, as if they were blissfully unaware of the tense mood. "We are Poly, multipurpose assistant bot serving as your cleaner and caretaker. How may we help you today?"

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