0x001 – The Last Normal Day Part1
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Hi Folks, this story will contain transgender, lesbian, and poly themes.  If this make you uncomfortable, please do us both a favour and find a different story.

Talon:

The day was as normal as any other. I sat by in the corner of my long dusty room, tapping away at the keys of the laptop provided by my employer. Writing one steady line of code after another. Today was the day that the team would
be assigned tasks. I'd been late with my tasks this week, another matter all on its own.

"Have to check the mutex here," I mumbled to myself, a fresh line of code spilling onto the screen in step with the little taps on the keyboard. I was already in the hot pot for a slew of other events. A lack of focus for the last month had caused my productivity to slip. Just a few more lines and I could start running tests.

With the tests underway, I got up and walked to the mini-fridge. It wasn't a far walk, just a few meters away. The whole apartment was rather small, hosting enough room for my twin bed, a small kitchenette, a rather small closet, the restroom, and the mini-fridge I was now in front of. I opened the door of the small box and pulled one of my last sodas, some vanilla and cherry flavored drink.

"I guess its time to get dressed for the meeting," I sighed. I hated seeing myself on camera, but since I stopped coming to the office (a rather short affair given it was just downstairs), management wanted the cameras on during meetings. Constant social anxiety caused me to resent all of my peers. My brain was just messed up like that. At least, it was recently.

Anxiety welled up inside me as I picked out a business casual outfit to put on. Just a few more meetings until the project was complete, right? I didn't know anymore. Time was a hard concept to grasp when your circadian rhythm was an ever-changing beast that nobody could tame.

I looked into the remaining shards of mirror hanging above the sink and a sigh escaped my throat, a much longer, deeper sign.  I should have made sure there were no shards left the last time I punched the mirror out.  A tear rolled down my cheek.  Another crying fit, as if I hadn't had enough in the last two months.

I looked down at my hands, trying to avoid the specter in the mirror. In a shout of frustration, I had found more glass in my hands. Damn it. I'd have to fix my fists before the meeting. Again. I was crying harder now. Not because I was in pain, but because I couldn't control myself. I had no clue what was causing this, and I wished it would stop tormenting me.

A quick shower and a decent amount of scrubbing later, my hands were no longer bleeding. I just couldn't be too rough on them or they'd split open again. In that moment I wished I could have more control over myself, manage my emotions better. Instead of letting them overflow into pain, resentment, and... whatever that feeling I didn't have a name for was.

The rest of my day was nominally uneventful until the meeting.  I had pulled an all-nighter to ge the projects assigned to my done, so I was reasonably tired by the time the meeting came around.  I could feel myself dozing off.

"Talon!" a deep voice erupted from my laptop, "wake up you moron!"

My eyes rushed open as fast as they could. I was greeted by many faces, all with looks of concern save one. The red faced man was the manager of the project, Kaden. He was also new to the project. The other faces in the call were concerned, mostly.

"Hey Talon," another man said, cutting off Kaden, "are you doing okay bro? We've all been worried sick about you, but things have really taken a turn in the last few weeks..." he trailed off. I felt pangs of worry and hurt as I properly processed my name being said this time. Who was that? Vance. He must have been referring to my recent tiredness during the meetings.

Vance was overall a good guy. Just trying to get things together and make sure the team was good. His heart laid with the project though. At least he was a bit of a humanist when it came down to making sure the project went smoothly. Can't let colleagues having a bad month setback our timeline. Now that I thought about it, I needed to do code review for a few of his revisions.

"I'm fine," I muttered, lying, "Just had to pull an all nighter with this set of problems. After the meeting I'll take care of whatever revisions I need to review, then take care of whatever projects I can, then go to bed."

"Don't worry," another developer spoke up, "we'll give you the light load this week." Brent. Another good guy. Just sometimes really weird. Not like I could talk.

"Thank you," I said, genuinely, "I appreciate that, though if all aren't in agreement, I can take one of the other workloads." There were unanimous nods from all but one. Kaden. He's new. I should give him the benefit of the doubt, shouldn't I?

"Kaden!" another senior developer exclaimed, "Talon's just been having an off month. His code is top notch and beyond stellar. We should let him recover." A pang of pain shot through me. I wasn't sure why. I didn't know this developer's name, though he's certainly seen my code. He wasn't lying either. My code was top notch.

"I don't care!" Kaden yelled, still red in the face, "If I don't see your face in my office this afternoon, Talon, I'll put word in to your manager."

I chuckled slightly at his threat. My manager was already mostly aware of what was going on, and my job wasn't in jeopardy.

"What's so funny? Do I look funny to you?"

"Just dole out the assignments for the week," I said, plainly. "I'm not coming down to your office. You've already yelled at me enough in an unprofessional way. Just because you manage the project doesn't mean that you're somehow in control of my job. That is my manager's decision."

Kaden's face went red as a tomato and I got a few cheers from the other developers, but others simply responded with worry.

"Talon," one spoke up, a thin figure of a woman, "don't speak of being unprofessional while you respond in kind. We know there's friction, but at least respect the appearance of authority." Becky, I think her name was. It didn't matter.

"Just," I started, then gave up, letting out a big sigh, "let me know what my assignments are. I'll start working on code review now." I hit the big red 'hang up' button.

Anxiety pushed me over the edge and before I knew it I was crying again. Why had I done that? What stupid thing possessed me to take a hostile course of action?

I shoved myself into bed and pulled the covers up over my head. Easy way to hide from the anxiety. Fuck. Why had I done that? Why had I done that?

I could hear the dings of direct messages coming in. I pulled my head out from under my covers and checked them. A few asked if I was okay. A few cheered my actions on. A few told me I should have been a little more tactful. And my manager, Esmerelda. I opened the DM window.

Esmerelda: Hey. I just heard about what happened. Kaden's really pissed off and Becky feels awful. Do you need some time off?

Talon: No, I don't need any time off. I just need Kaden to get off his high horse. He's only been here a week and he's already threatening my
job.

Esmerelda: LOL. -er sorry. Don't worry. He's being corrected. The whole team have had issues with his... behaviors. Especially the women.

Talon: Ugh. Of course. When it comes time to fire him, let me walk him out the door. It'll be a big momentous occasion for him to see me afk.

Esmerelda: I understand. I'll see what I can arrange. Don't get your hopes up. Here is this weeks work. The team decided to give you only one task to work on, on account of your all-nighter. Be careful Talon. I don't need you working yourself into the ground.

I chuckled to myself slightly and clicked the link. The web browser opened to our issue tracker with a list of open issues. Only one was assigned to me.

[OPEN] [Flight] [Debug] [Regression] Current Version not decoding data correctly

I switched tabs to the version control software and counted the reviews I had to do. Three. Not bad. I can knock them out in an hour. Probably. If I don't break down crying or fall asleep.

I began with the first review in the queue. I found it to be passable, and gave it an approval. The second was less passable, so I rejected it and wrote a quick note about the test that it failed, and the overall syntax and format of the code.

The third review was Vance's. It was actually far better than all of his previous submissions. I gave it an approval and wrote a very good note on it, complimenting all of the techniques he'd learned since his last code review, then gave some further advice for more improvement.

I copied the link to the note and sent it to the general chat. Good work deserved public recognition, after all.

Then I began work on the open issue. It was relatively easy. A parser wasn't working properly. A quick test to confirm that was actually the case. And it was, but I was working on a development branch, so my errors were actually a lot more strange than the examples provided in the ticket.

I quickly did some digging through the version control system, finding every edit to this particular subroutine since the last version, then went through them line by line. Nothing that would cause this garbled mess of data stood out at me. I took note of which functions were being used in the subroutine and examined each of them for changes.

Two functions had massive changes, and one had several sets of changes since the last version. I took a look through it first. It was a deserialize function, so it made the most sense to look at anyway.

Another few hours and I had found the problem. A stray line someone had let through code review. It wouldn't have caused any other problems because the other use cases for the deserialize function wouldn't be passing as much data as this particular user.

The line was easy to fix. All I did was change the way that the data was processed to ensure there were no overflows during data consumption. Counting data was easy, but not if you're using a counter that rolls over at 32,767. If any structures came in longer than that, it would roll over to -32,767, causing the subroutine to exit early.

I then got to work writing a test that would make sure the function was tested to its actual expected data size. I crafted an example serialized structure that was nearly 100,000 bytes longer than any real data would have been, just in case.

It was now nearly midday, but all my work for the week was done. I let out a big sigh, and set the code to do a full rebuild. Setting the laptop on my nightstand and ensuring that it was plugged in, I settled myself into bed.

My mind drifted around, not finding a particular topic to settle on before bed. This was a fairly frequent occurrence, but today was especially bad. So I settled on looking around my apartment.

It was a single room, of course, with an attached bathroom. My bed was nestled into a corner, so I could see the whole room. The brick walls near my head made sure that there was always a slight chill, so I could sleep easier. Not that it ever helped.

On the other side of the room from my bed was the kitchen. A simple affair, really. A small counter for preparing food, a little fridge, a sink, and a simple range. You could almost be forgiven for not knowing with campus was the cutting edge of space travel by looking at it. Next to the kitchen was the door. Then a small closet containing my sparse sets of clothing. Then the bathroom with the broken mirror.

In the other corner was my workstation, for all the good it did. There was nothing I did on it anymore. Most days I didn't even get out of bed anymore. Just booted up my laptop and worked. I let loose another sigh and looked toward the bedside table.

The laptop's screen was only barely bright, compared to the sunlight that leaked through the window just beyond it. My last thought before sleep came was about how I should find a better way to block the light that filtered in from that single window.

Next thing I knew, I stood before a big brown stone building. If I turned around I could see the familiar fountain at the center of the campus. The building in front of me was unmarked. Nobody knew what was inside it, either. And women were the only people you could see going in or out, if you saw them at all.

I was dreaming again, that much was obvious, to me at least. I'd seen this building every time I'd slept since I'd seen it. The last several months it had gotten far worse. I'd once asked my manager about it.

"What's in that brown stone building at the back of the campus?" I cringed as I heard the reflection of my own voice in my thoughts.

Of course, she'd not known either. And she was told to ignore it in its entirety. She'd instructed me to do the same. I figured I should heed that warning. But my brain always had different plans. I visited the outside of this building so many times in my dreams, it was getting tiring.

"Hello, Talon," a voice chimed, "We meet again."

"I've never been here," I said, then asked, "so how can we have met the first time?" I turned to look at her. She was beautiful. Her blonde hair perfectly accenting her slender face. Her green eyes nearly the same color as aventurine.

She leaned over in a quick bow, the long sleeves of her dress almost concealing the errant movement her hand had made. "It won't be long before you meet me, don't worry."

I blinked. Was this a dream? And why was she so pretty, but so weird?

"Yes and no," she answered, "its more like an alternate space inside your mind. And I'm not really that weird." I could feel her staring at me as my face became slightly contorted with confusion and fear.

"But how can you be here, in my dream?" I asked aloud, terrified that she had read my mind only a moment before. I needed answers, my curiosity wouldn't let the unanswered questions stand.

"No need to be scared," she said, "but we will meet outside of here soon."

"What's that mean?" I asked. Even more questions were rattling around in the back of my head now, but she didn't appear ready to answer them. Even now I could feel the anxiety building up in me.

"Nothing you need to worry about with that anxiety laden heart of yours," she said gently, reaching out and cupping my face in her hands, "I'll see you soon." She planted a gentle kiss on my forehead. "Now wake up."

I jolted out of my nap. The full build hadn't even completed yet. Why would it have? I'd only been asleep an hour. My head clouded as I still tried to shake the sleep from my eyes. My body was very awake, despite the fog in my
brain.

I felt like I was running a fever, so I went into the bathroom and took another shower. The water set as hot as it would go. Of course it burned a little, but that was the point.

Having a hot shower tells your body that your environment is hot. So its supposed to self regulate and lower your temperature. At least, in theory.

I went back to bed and fell asleep almost instantly. No dreams this time. Just deep, deep sleep.

I woke up to my laptop ringing. I rolled out of bed just barely in time to watch the call end. I missed it. I clicked on the phone application and it opened up.

I tried checking the call log as another call window popped up on the screen. It was Esmerelda. I sat up and tried to gather myself for a second, then answered it.

"Hey Esmie," I said toward the laptop.

"Hey Tal," she replied, "look, I'm sorry, but you have two visitors headed up to your apartment. I tried to get a hold of you, but it looks like they were in a hurry."

I sighed. "Alright, thanks for the heads up." She hung up.

The next three minutes were me frantically getting on a set of casual clothes and packing my kit. A simple set of black cargo pants and a nicely fitting tee shirt. Unironically these were the best looking clothes I had. I'd nearly ruined all the others.

My kit was simple, to be sure. Laptop, phone, compact set of lock picks, and a small device used for wireless sniffing. Call me crazy if you'd like, but I had this thing on all the time when I left my apartment.

A knock at the door. I took a breath and moved to open it. My fever was making things a little harder than I had anticipated.

As the door opened, I saw two beautiful women standing in my entryway. One was wearing a beautiful flowing blue dress that matched her eyes. I was captivated by her eyes. They were like glowing sapphires. "Davis," she said, holding out her hand.

"Young," I replied, "I'd shake your hand but I'm kinda feverish right now."

"We're actually here about that," the other woman said. She was a beautiful young woman wearing a finely tailored suit. Her eyes were a dark color, but they shined with a bright light. "I'm Tamaki. We're with Research and Development. Special intelligence division."

"Okay," I said, "and this has what to do with my fever?"

"We'll explain under more secure circumstances," Tamaki said, "but you really need to come with us before it gets worse."

"Define secure circumstances," I said.

"We have a secure facility here on campus," Davis said, her eyes captivating me again. It was like I didn't have a way to really combat her gaze. It was hard to focus on anything else.

"Okay," I said, "let's go, then."

They walked down the hall a bit, before Tamaki stopped and turned around, then said, "and whatever's making that horrible noise in your bag needs to be turned off."

I turned each of my devices off as we walked down the hall. Each of them on either side of me. During this time I noticed that they were armed. Davis had a pistol, I couldn't tell what kind. Tamaki had a short sword, it looked Japanese, but I wasn't sure.

We'd turned the corner toward the stairs, a quick two minute walk, when Kaden had spotted us. He was at the top of the stairs talking to someone at the bottom. He gave the women around me a look over and a quick courteous smile.

He gave me a smug look.

"So, Talon," Kaden said, sarcasm dripping from his voice, "what'd you do to get walked out by sexy security officers?"

"Got a fever," I said, a wry smile on my face. It was there to cover up the anxiety.

"I called security and told them you're fired," he said, that smug look still there.

"We're Research and Development," Tamaki said, "and you are?"

"Kaden," he said, extending his hand, "Project Manager for Flight Software."

"Oh," Davis replied, "you manage Young's project. I suppose that makes sense, this is the flight software building." She merely shrugged.

"We're taking Mr. Young for opportunities you couldn't possibly understand, Elon," Tamaki said, "it is okay if I call you Elon, right?"

Kaden was caught off guard. He opened and closed his mouth a few times. "I suppose," he stammered. "How did you know my name?"

"Magic," she replied, pausing for a moment, "or something akin, now, we don't have much time to loiter, please give us a six foot berth."

"Definitely security," he mumbled as he stepped away from the stairway to the wall.

We moved as a group again. As we descended the stairs, Tamaki moved in front of me while Davis smoothly stepped behind me. They easily took position on either side of me once we'd cleared the stairs. My office was in full view now.

The looks I'd been given walking out of the building with two extremely beautiful women gave me an odd sense of terror. Either they'd get the wrong idea, or they'd get the right idea.

"Don't worry," Tamaki said as we passed through the buildings large glass doors, "the likelihood of you interacting with these people again is extremely low."

"Why's that?" I asked, slightly alarmed.

"Those in our department are considered classified," she replied, a smile on her face, "besides, we aren't very personable people, so it works out fine."

We'd already walked to the water fixture. It was a large pond with a statue of an airplane in the middle. The Eastern Hills Space Company's first product, back when the company was named Eastern Hills Aerodynamics. A design commissioned by the United States Space Force nearly 120 years ago.

It was a space jet. I mean, it was a really cool fighter jet capable of operation in both low Earth orbit and in atmosphere. But it was also just a space jet. Honestly, thinking about it made my head hurt. The company had to build a whole new engine to get the damn thing to work and I couldn't really imagine how hard that engineering team worked. They must have put in more overtime than the company could have afforded.

"Young," Tamaki said, breaking me from my thought, "you okay? We need to keep moving, we don't have enough time to be admiring the art."

"Sorry," I mumbled, "I guess my brain is just taking vacation on me."

"We need to hurry," Davis said, "you wanna?"

"Yeah, that's probably for the best," Tamaki replied. Then she whispered something quickly. It sounded almost Gaelic. Before I could contemplate more on it, my brain went fuzzy.

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