"There's nothing to be ashamed of," Tamaki told me, "Being trans isn't an issue here, nor will it ever be. Our lineage is that of the first chosen, and we hold that very proudly."
We were in what she had called her mind space. I figured it was a 'scape she built to represent her mind. She hadn't mentioned much about it though, so I wasn't certain.
She'd poured me a drink and sat me down by a window overlooking Earth. Fitting, considering our employer.
Something told me she just liked looking at Earth, though.
"I understand that." I took a sip; it was fruity, sweet, and delicious. "And you'll have no quarrel with me over it. People deserve rights and to be treated fairly. It just feels like there's a lot of pressure to be, um, trans, I guess."
"We certainly haven't been trying," she replied, "but I'll be extra careful around the topic. You deserve that at least."
We stared at the beautiful planet in silence, close enough to see cities lighting up the surface.
After a short while I broke the silence. "I've never really thought about myself. I wasn't supposed to be around this long. I always thought I'd have died already, probably doing something really stupid. Somehow I never got around to doing anything stupid enough to die by misadventure."
"The Pale Goddess always pleases," she said, "Even if you don't know what you want yet, you'll get whatever it is you're meant to have."
As if that was supposed to soothe me.
She gave me a look and a forced smile.
"I'm not really sure," I admitted, "That's the thing: I never thought about what I want, what I deserve. None of it. And now, knowing that options I never saw on the ta... ble..." Nope. Not finishing that.
She cast a genuine look of worry my way. "You're scared?"
I nodded. What else could I do? Of course I was scared. My anxiety was playing double-time since she showed up on my doorstep. I let out a whisper. "I've just got so many options now for my future, for everything."
Options for these feelings I'd had for so long. Could I finally fix myself because of this? Could I reinvent myself as more than a fucking code monkey?
"Hey." She was wiping my face gently with her sleeve. "No need to cry. I'm your commanding officer now; I'm here to help you through all of this. It's my job as your leader."
The tears didn't end. I raised my voice, to the obscene volume of... a mumble. "Then let me cry."
She nodded, moved closer and wrapped her arm around me. "I can do that for you." She put her glass down on a nearby table to free her hand for me.
I cried; for some untracked amount of time I cried. At some point Tamaki must have let me go because I found myself in a corner, crying myself to sleep.
I woke up under a warm, heavy blanket. Apparently a pillow snuck under my head while I was asleep.
I looked to the wall and found Tamaki sleeping in a tiny built-in cot. I wondered about her past, and where she learned how to sleep in such a tiny hole.
After being entranced from the view of Earth, I turned my attention inside the 'scape. It reminded me of the inside of a small cargo hauler. A wall split the space in twain, with a single-stair step jutting out into the half I was in. The space in the wall tapered toward me, hinting at a possible doorway.
The section up the step looked like some kind of workspace. Little components lay scattered along the floor everywhere. A simple desk spanned the far wall, covered in shelves, bins, bits, and other things my brain tried to process.
In the center of the main section stood a coffee table made of tinted glass, surrounded by comfy-looking cushioned chairs. In the corner blinked a little terminal, what it connected to I couldn't quite be sure.
A smaller table stood before the Earth-facing window, holding Tamaki's drink and an empty glass. I couldn't see anywhere for her to have prepared the drink or stored glassware, so I stopped thinking about that and started thinking about me.
Every time I tried, however, another question crept to the forefront. "Who am I?" it asked in place of anything about what I wanted.
"Who am I?" I said aloud. I tried thinking of an answer before giving up again and sitting there in front of her coffee table.
"Who are you indeed." Tamaki giggled and slipped out of her cot in the wall.
"I'm not even sure how to answ-" I stopped talking and averted my eyes to the ground. She'd been covered in her cot, so I didn't notice now, but Tamaki was walking around her 'scape in nothing but a pair of panties.
"Oh," she giggled, "don't worry Officer Young; this is something you'll have to get used to."
I kept my eyes away from her. "Why?"
"This is casual wear for officers of the strike force," she replied, "but I can put some clothes on just for you."
"Please," I pleaded, "you're the first woman I've even seen naked. Just, put something on so I can avoid brain melt."
"Brain melt?" she asked, putting on a pajama shirt.
My brain fumbled for words. "You know, when you're, flustered and, uh, this, I guess." I could feel my face heating up.
"I'm safe for your innocent eyes now," she laughed, putting her finger under my chin and lifting my eyes up to hers. "Officer Young, am I pretty?"
My face flushed; it was bright red I knew it.
She laughed. "Don't worry." She brought herself to a giggle. "I'm not the only one that'll tease you. You'll have to take a few weeks to adjust but we're all a little, um, friendlier around here than you're used to for sure."
"Will you all respect my boundaries?" I asked with a serious look on a red face.
"Yes," Tamaki replied, "it should go without saying, but if anyone needs a reminder, I'll see to it."
"Thank you," I said, my serious look fading, "and for the drink. And the blanket. And pillow. And letting me cry on you."
"You're welcome," she said, a look of subtle surprise on her face. She sat down on the chair across from me and looked at the wall her bunk was on. A holographic screen appeared and began playing the campus' news channel.
I settled into the chair a little deeper and began watching whatever segment was on. It looked like some report of an HR employee getting fired for extortion and bribery. I wasn't entirely sure what to make of it: this was my first time watching the campus news.
Tamaki clicked her tongue. "Of course that bastard got fired: I walked him out personally."
"So you are actually part of security?" I asked, unable to hide my grin.
"We serve many roles," she answered, "and represent whichever department gets us what we want the fastest."
"I see," I lied, "you'll have to explain in more depth."
"We have a provisional charter that places us under our own authority," she said, "officially we are under R&D, but really we are above everyone. Except the CEO, and the board. Fun fact though, the only way this strike force can be disbanded is if the company dissolves."
I nodded. "Wow, so we are everything and above."
"Yes." She laughed.
I continued watching the news. The company's latest space fighter was released. It looked a little odd. It had the first fully electric impulse drive, though; that was kinda revolutionary, considering the idea of electric engines was abandoned some time in the last century.
Of course, if the engineering team really got it working, and it looked like they did, it could be a game changer. Fuel costs would be lower, even if the range was slightly shorter. What governments were left would buy them in bulk, and corps would buy production lines full of them.
"You much into politics?" Tamaki asked, breaking my train of thought.
"Not really sure," I replied, "Never been exposed to much, so I have no clue what I'd agree with."
She giggled "I see. Makes sense: the company does that to reduce the chances of insider threats."
"Well," I said, "I guess I'm impressionable enough for whatever you have planned for me."
"You'll be spending the next several months in classes, don't worry," she replied, giving me a serious look.
"Oh," I coughed, "you're not joking."
"No, I'm not, Young, you will have to be educated on every topic you'll be overseeing."
"What will I be overseeing?" I asked, not really knowing what to expect.
"You'll be overseeing the tactical operations unit," Tamaki replied, "hence your designation of Tactical Officer."
"I see," I sighed, "when do classes start?"
"When you're ready." Apparently she read my face plain as day because she went on to clarify: "Oh, you really thought we were going to put you in a position you weren't ready for. We ensure that all of our recruits are trained for the position they are in. How could we run a strike force if our folks couldn't do their jobs?"
I laughed. "I'm not really sure." It was a silly assumption, really. How could I have expected them not to send me to classes? I'd never had any form of military training.
"You will have combat training soon," she giggled, "along with all the other new recruits. I believe that class starts next week, so you at least have a break."
I chuckled and went back to watching the news, but it was amazingly boring, so with nothing else to do, I decided it would be easiest to start messing with the menu available via the neural crown. I could feel Tamaki's eye on me the whole time.
Figuring out how to open it was weird. When I'd mentally aligned that I did want to open the menu, I felt an urge to put my hand over my right eye, and when I did, it opened.
Options and buttons in cute self contained circles with brief labels exploded from inside of me, smattering my view with an overlay. There were circles labeled with normal and expected things, such as avatar, user interface, and accessability.
There were stranger things, too, but they were all grayed out. Pain Threshold, Trauma Mitigation, Substance Effectiveness, and more. I played around with the accessibilities menu for a minute to figure out what kind of options had been built in.
Apperantly this thing, while it talked directly to the brain, was still all about helping users acclimatise to having new uses. All of the options were sliders. I'd taken a particular interest in the visual section of the menu, which had been preset to align with how my eyes see the world, both in colour and lense shape.
Humans only have three types of structures in their eyes to detect colour, and they only detect red, green, and blue. With these options I could enable dedicated structures for purples, pinks, a whole range of different infrared and ultraviolet colours, and even change the effectiveness of my low-light vision.
"You like all the options we've included?" Tamaki asked.
I jumped slightly. "Yeah. Do we have a way to actually enable all these out in the real?"
"Yes," she replied, a giggle tugging the corners of her lips into a smile. "Requires two optical implants if you want to do anything fancy like that."
I laughed. "Guess I may want two optics then."
"Is there something wrong with your eyes?" Tamaki asked, alarm in her voice.
"No," I chuckled, "but I figure having the ability to quickly switch between different wavelengths would be a decently good thing." Tamaki's reaction was to immediately lose herself in thought.
"Should I instruct our medical officer to begin the procedure while you're under?" she asked.
"Sure," I nodded, "no reason not to get it done now. Gives me more time to get used to all the different options."
"Get ready to reappear somewhere totally new," she instructed, "and we'll see you in a few hours."
"Should I be worried?" I asked, alarm and anxiety filling my voice.
"No, but officer Manafed needs to do work on you, so she's putting you completely to sleep."
"Alright, let me know when she's sedating me."
"As we speak."
I could feel the drowsiness rolling through my system, then the almost-stoned feeling of pain killers. I looked up at Tamaki with worry and fatigue. I'd started to fall, but it didn't matter. I was out before I'd hit the ground.
We're moving down to one chapter a week publishing schedule.
Thank you for reading!