Dexi wasn't sure if this counted as finally seeing the light of day. She was standing behind the pilot, a dark-skinned human named Eloise. She was French, apparently, but Dexi didn't really know what that meant. Curled up on a worktop behind Eloise's chair, Dexi could see through a wide many-times-glazed window into the endless night of space.
Another pilot, Justin, a tall skinny guy with floppy brown hair and slight stubble, mumbled an apology as he nearly bumped into Dexi's paws on the way past. They were hanging just over the edge of the shelf, crossed over each other lazily. Dexi had barely stopped stretching out since getting on the ship - the expanse of space was far less claustrophobic than the metal box at Neuromax... or the van, or the weirdly wallpapered room at the government mansion, or all the other windowless vans that had taken them from London to wherever they'd taken off from.
Justin leaned over Eloise's shoulder and whispered something in her ear. Dexi didn't really mind the way they weren't kept in the loop, only really being spoken to to be given orders. But this time, she heard her name.
"Oh, dammit, I forgot," Eloise exclaimed.
"It's alright," Justin said, glancing back at Dexi. "I got it."
Eloise nodded as Justin sat down a chair next to hers, strapping himself in tight so he didn't float away. He put his hands on an identical set of controls - a rectangular steering wheel, just above a big bank of buttons. He flicked a flappy paddle on the back of the wheel, and a little green light blinked on just beside his right hand. Eloise yawned and stretched, standing up from her chair. That was how they switched shifts without ever having to leave the controls unmanned - two identical sets, with a ten second overlap between which one was in use.
"See you, Dexi," Eloise said, ducking down to get through the low, circular doorway that led to the storage area.
When she'd drifted off down the short corridor, and off around to the left, Dexi pushed herself up into the air a little so that she could meet Justin's eyes in the mirror mounted on the side of the window.
"What's going on?" she said.
Justin glanced at the mirror and gave her a quick smile, then looked back out the window as he talked. "It's... you're not going to like it."
Dexi rolled her eyes. "You can tell me. I won't bite."
He chuckled. "Very funny. Well, Captain Barrett finally settled on jobs for you all."
Dexi's ears pricked up and she accidentally whacked her front feet on the edge of the worktop, causing her to reel backwards and gently knock her head against the wall. As she righted herself, she tried to calm her breathing. There had been an announcement that a select group of animals would be chosen to shadow the six crew members - out of the fifteen animal on this particular ship - and Dexi was desperate to be chosen as Shadow Captain.
"I didn't get captain," she realised. "I didn't get picked."
"Well... you got picked," Justin said. Dexi's heart started to flutter judderingly back to life. But then he said, "But not as captain."
"Please stop messing with me," she growled.
His arms tensed, the veins popping out. She'd frightened him again. Over the past couple of weeks the human crew members seemed to have got used to this rather ridiculous career development, but being around so many life forms who could theoretically tear them limb from limb evidently hadn't stopped being unnerving.
"You got picked for pilot," he explained, "You're shadowing me and Eloise."
"Oh," Dexi said, finally managing to settle down somewhat flat on the worktop.
"Well, come on. Come forward." He jerked his head forward, then nodded towards the chair Eloise had used.
Dexi's eyes widened. "Really?"
"Of course!" Justin exclaimed, as she slowly drifted forward.
She managed to settle herself in the chair, but the lack of opposable thumbs made it difficult to get the seatbelts to work.
"We'll figure that out," Justin said, "Maybe put some easier to use handles on them or something."
Dexi frowned. "But why me? Why not choose someone who already has opposable thumbs, like Chip?"
Justin shifted in his seat. "Ah, well, Chip already has a job. He's going to - Dexi, I'm so sorry - he's going to shadow Captain Barrett."
Dexi felt a low, rumbling growl begin to build up deep inside her, but a quick glance at Justin showed her his already pale face was blanching even further. God, for an astronaut he really was a wimp. A lovely guy, but a wimp. Just like Chip. This didn't make any sense.
"Would you like to know why you were chosen to be a pilot?" Justin asked. Dexi wondered if his voice was loud because he was trying to mask the way it croaked.
"Sure," Dexi said, throwing him a bone.
"We found your Mario Kart scores." He giggled. "Captain Barrett's convinced you're going to be the best driver he's ever seen."
Dexi frowned. "Wait, how the heck did you get hold of that? We never got any of our stuff out the zoo. The games are probably all still there."
"Crap," Justin muttered. "I forgot we hadn't told you about that. The, uh, the zoo's empty now. Once the buzz died down a bit, apparently the police went in and just emptied the place. Mario Kart was in the Wii when they unplugged it."
Dexi leaned back in the chair, pressing the back of her head into the headrest. So that was it. Tayburn was gone.
"I'm impressed, for what it's worth," Justin said, "When I was a kid I played it constantly but I could still never win Rainbow Road on one-fifty-cc."
"Uh-huh," Dexi murmured.
Justin sighed. "Hey, come on, buddy, the decision's been made. You've been spending a lot of time in here anyway. Now it'll be your job to look out at the view."
"Yeah," Dexi said, staring out at the stars. They never moved - they were so far away that even their weeks of travel never brought them any more meaningfully closer. They had gone much further from Earth than any spaceship Dexi had read about, and none of them had had these enormous windows either. But then again, Earth had never been contacted a mysterious, far off source before.
Because that, as it turned out, had been the nature of the disturbance they'd all been told about.