I couldn't help but gawk as the octopus-like monster scooped a glob of fertilizer around a plant with a trowel, patting the soil firmly in place. The creature's body language seemed to be telling me `Nothing unusual to see here, just an eight eyed octopus doing a little yard work...'

Tamra smirked at my shocked reaction. "His name is Eybarbe. They're called Ishuca. Great workers. Taught us a lot about horticulture."

"So...that's your client?"

I could have sworn I heard the creature giggling.

"No, Mr. Finch, he's just a gardener. Our clients are headquartered in Raxkagni. You'll get to meet them soon enough."

The octopus thing waved a five fingered hand. I smiled and waved back. "That's...kinda cool!...Can I pet it?"

She chuckled. "You can try."

When I made the attempt, the little beast snarled and bit me, making a bunch of noises like Woodstock from the Peanuts cartoon. An orifice sprayed me with something that made me wish I hadn't removed my mask.

"He says not to interrupt him while he's working and keep your hands off him."

I stared at the woman. If the little octopus guy was truly an extraterrestrial and not a genetic experiment of some sort, I couldn't help but wonder if she were getting horny right now, and what her social life must be like. Of course, I couldn't bring myself to ask those questions out loud. "Do you...hang out here a lot?"

The woman shrugged. "Sometimes. When I need to think. It's a nice place."

I bet it is, I thought. A lot of secluded areas in this greenhouse.

I decided, at this point, that my chances with her would be less than zero. Giving up allowed me to relax, and actually weigh the pros and cons of the job.

Regardless of what the woman did with those...things, or whether they actually came from space, I wanted to see more. After all, this was `Only the tip of the iceberg.' "You know, I think I'm starting to like this place."

Tamra looked amused. "Just wait until you're doing calls! That's really going to blow your stockings off!"

I followed her back down the hallway and across the main corridor, to a concrete room containing pillar-like chrome drums. Each drum, in terms of height and other dimensions, measured roughly the size of a deluxe hotel shower stall. I could hear no sound but the humming of electrical machinery. "What's all this? A server farm?"

"This, Mr. Finch, is where you'll be doing all your calls."

She slapped her palm against one that wasn't lit up. "Each of these contain a small 3D holographic movie studio. You will be reviewed daily for professional appearance."

"Are calls going on right now?"

"Yes, Mr. Finch."

For a call floor, the silence was deafening. I expected dozens of employees yabbering at once to various customers, people up and walking around talking to someone. "Is it always this quiet?"

Tamra gave me a nod. "Our sound canceling devices are highly advanced."

A hidden door on a drum slid open, and out stepped a person I thought for sure was a man, dressed in a uniform like mine. Well, with the addition of a dog collar and an electronic utility belt.

It turned out to be only a plump woman with a butch haircut.

As the stranger left, Tamra showed me the opened compartment: Gray walls covered in a sponge-like material, padded bench, something like an oversized hamster water bottle, a little table like you'd see on the back of an airplane seat.

A computer glowed at center, resembling a keyboard sized Feng Shui sand garden with tiles suspended above it in midair. "You'll go over the basics of all this equipment during training. Your water bottle automatically replenishes from the outside water supply, but you can also bring a snack or bottle of your favorite beverage if you'd like. Just no full course meals."

"That's...pretty standard...except for the guinea pig bottle."

"The fixtures are changed and sanitized at the end of every shift. The client wants us to avoid messes, so your other beverage goes into a similar but insulated container."

I frowned. "I see...Why was that woman wearing a belt?"

"That's for switching your call status, or putting customers on mute and hold. You'll get one after you complete training, as well as a vibrating identification collar."

"What!" I smacked my head, wondering if they were intentionally trying to make to quit. "Never mind."

"This concludes our tour. Now let's get that drug screen taken care of..."

I thought for a moment she'd make me go outside and test at LabCorp, prompting no small amount of anxiety about me walking around in public in drag. What actually happened was still humiliating, but in a different way.

I got tested in the mini-hospital.

I stepped into a room resembling an examination room in a family clinic. The smells of disinfectant stung my nostrils.

Sterile, standard doctor's accoutrements: Otoscope, EKG, blood pressure machine...The hospital bed, IV pump, dialysis and sonogram told me they went overboard with dodging insurance.

Among the swabs and tongue depressors, I spotted polished silver instruments resembling medieval torture instruments. I prayed they'd never find a use.

Noticing an eerie glow, I glanced through the glass windows on the storage cabinets and spotted unearthly tools, some even pulsating with blue light. "What happened. Get tired of using an outside company?" I scowled at my dress. "Not that I'm complaining or anything..."

"What we're testing for, you can't get in one of those corporate testing centers."

"I thought you said I was clear for Covid."

"This is for something else. Let's just say, in the past, a few applicants have shown up with some very interesting substances in their bodies."

A redhead in a labcoat stood at a crash cart, inventorying medications. The labcoat was short, and I thought leatherette leggings an odd fit for a serious medical professional.

"Sal, I got a new guy who needs a drug test."

"Just a sec."

When the woman at the cart turned around, I noticed she had pointy elf-like ears.

"Woww." I smiled, raised a Vulcan salute.

I thought she'd be pleased, but she only rolled her eyes. "Oh God. Where do you find these people?"

Tamra just shrugged.

"I'd say he definitely needs one!"

A three fingered hand passed me a condom-like device, one with buttons and a tiny computer screen. "Pull this over your penis and urinate through it."

The nurse didn't smirk, or even appear to hide a chuckle. She just said it.

At this point, I'd stopped questioning things like this. I just gave Tamra my best `This is bullshit' face. "And this is going to scan me for drugs."

"Uh-huh."

I nervously fingered the sieve-like attachment on the `reservoir' end, then stopped when I realized that I might be accidentally telling volumes about my personal life. "What exactly would have happened if I had been a woman?"

"We get a special cup with a liner."

"I'm wearing a diaper. Isn't there some way for you to just do your reading from there?"

The nurse grimaced. "Gross."

"And a condom thing isn't?"

"Yes. It doesn't have to touch...anything unsanitary."

That statement really didn't make any sense, but I figured I was pretty well falling down the rabbit hole anyway. "I haven't used it. It's brand new."

"So's the liner."

"This is a one time test, Finch," Tamra said. "They only make those for daily situations."

"Like a pill factory?"

"Exactly."

"I...really don't have to go right now." Frankly, the thought of having to wear such a thing kind of made my bladder reverse direction.

The nurse gestured to the rubber examination table. "Then take a seat. Would you like a soda? Pepsi? Mountain Dew? Azaoca? Apple juice?"

Swallowing, I seating myself on the paper covers. "Sure. Pepsi's fine...What's Azaoca?"

"It's a drink. It's...minty. You want some?"

I grimaced. "No thanks."

She handed me a stainless steel bottle.

I frowned. "Why's it in a thermos?"

"We make our own beverages. It reduces waste."

"Clever." I took a swig. "Tell me something, am I the only guy in the building that has to wear a dress, or is this really a job requirement?"

The nurse shrugged. "Does it matter? You seem to be the type of guy who would enjoy it."

Blood rushed to my face. I mean, I didn't not enjoy it, but the last thing I wanted was to have someone call me out on it. "Hey! I didn't come here to be insulted!"

"He's a little insecure," Tamra muttered. "But I think he really wants to work here." The tone of voice seemed to hint that I was a closet queer, but her words implied that I'd better get used to the uniform if I wanted the job. The nurse chuckled at my expense.

Despite the humiliation, I'd had worse jobs. For example: A printing plant where I did a lot of repetitive bending over, stacking magazines on pallets, scrubbing huge ink rollers with chemicals that were probably unsafe to breathe without a mask. We had an oven you'd have to reach your hand inside when the giant roll of paper got torn. I shut up and drank my soda.

It tasted as expected, except for tinges of something tasting of Fisherman's Friend cough drops and little beads of gel flavored like burnt popcorn. "What did you put in this?"

"Just something to make you pee."

With a shrug, I drank more, staring at their urine tester. "There's holes in the bottom of this. How is it going to read anything?"

The nurse gave me a look like I were crazy. "Your planet is so barbaric. Pissing in a plastic jar? Disgusting!" She sighed. "The Sopolo is computerized. The matrix of filters scans waste particles as you—"

All of a sudden, my bladder felt like it were going to explode. I jumped to my feet, fighting the urge to let it all go right there. "Where—"

The nurse pointed to a bathroom. "Place the Sopolo in the cabinet when you're finished."

I rushed inside, nearly forgetting to close the door in my haste.

It was humiliating, but I performed their little obscene test, sticking the device in a cubbyhole above the toilet tank.

"Am I done?" I asked when I came out.

"Basically."

The nurse stuck the urine tester onto a gun shaped device, staring at a little monitor. "Congratulations. You're negative for illegal substances." The look on her face said the results weren't perfect.

"Something wrong?" Tamra asked.

The nurse tapped the gun. "It's nothing. The sensor's been malfunctiong for awhile. People keep testing positive for drugs that don't exist on earth. Anyways, I think he's clear, but you can retest him if you want."

"I don't think that will be necessary." Tamra smirked at me. "He doesn't strike me as a drug addict."

She checked a clock. "Well, Finch, it looks like we timed this just right. Your class will start in a couple minutes."

She showed me into a surprisingly mundane looking classroom, a generic gray cube with rows of work desks, markerboard and beat up chairs. I inhaled scents of carpet cleaner, dry erase markers, starch, lavender perfume, some foreign odors I couldn't identify. The only thing setting it apart from any other bland corporate training environment: Alien computers...and my classmates.

Although largely human, they all wore dresses like mine, men included. The scent of starch and perfume I detected probably came from all those dresses being together in one area. I still resented the uniform, but found comfort in not being alone in my humiliation.

In the category of not largely human: A couple creatures resembled human sized chipmunks with beaks, clad in lingerie, which, to their credit, did bear the company logo. Octopus suckers ran down their backs, terminating in long lizard's tails.

A thing like a giant cockroach with a grasshopper head. It wore a harness with the D logo.

And...her.

Slender green figure, clad only in leather harness and thong, with four arms and a pair of tusks growing from the sides of its head.

I stared at the frog-like face with awed fascination. Small antennas wiggled on a bald head decorated with a jeweled wreath.

Her widely spaced toad's eyes blinked me in puzzlement. They didn't quite meet mine, but I didn't care. I smiled bashfully, giving her a little wave.

Okay, so I was more than fascinated. I didn't even care she was hairless and had no nose, or breasts for that matter.

The creature let out an amused snort, but seemed to be even more puzzled.

Not wanting to be rude, I looked away, which caused the creature to giggle.

Although I'd been skeptical before, I no longer had any doubts about the existence of extraterrestrials. I couldn't imagine any genetics lab capable of making so many intelligent humanoid creations...especially ones as beautiful as the one before me.

Tamra elbowed me. "Stop drooling and take a seat, Mr. Finch."

Another snort.

The lovely green creature sat in the back row. Although bashful around woman, this...alien wasn't quite a woman, and my curiosity emboldened me. I pretended to just randomly choose the empty chair next to her.

"Next time fold your skirt under you when you sit down," Tamra muttered. "I'm not going to sanitize every seat you plop your ass into."

My face flushed with anger as I noticed the alien looking my way. I lowered my voice to a fierce whisper, so the creature next to me couldn't hear. "You're the one who forced me to wear a dress!"

"I could fire you at any time, Mr. Finch."

"The chair does feel kinda cold..." I quickly did what she said, pretending like nothing embarrassing had happened.

I cast the green alien a bashful sideways glance, and when she caught me staring, acted like I were focused elsewhere...like that sandbox computer thing in front of me.

The device was kind of weird. I poked one of the rocks experimentally.

Tamra slapped my hand. "That's not a toy, Mr. Finch."

"Gee," I muttered. "Somebody takes their Feng Shui way too seriously!"

She turned to face the rest of the class. "Everybody. Hands off the Gezrot. They're made of delicate materials and you can seriously damage the mechanism if you're not careful. Each one is imported, so we can't just grab something off the shelf at the computer store."

I placed my hands in my lap, impatiently waiting for her to explain the devices.

Instead, Tamra excused herself to take care of other business matters.

So much for her, I thought. As much as she turned me on, the attraction hadn't been mutual anyway...And there were sexy aliens.

I would have introduced myself to the creature beside me, but my encounter with the Ishuca made me a overly cautious. The moment I opened my mouth to say something to her, our presenter marched into the room.

He seemed mostly human, his manner of dress the strangest thing about him: A long black leather dress, bondage style, like you'd see Pinhead wear in the movie Hellraiser...with a tie.

Again, mostly human. Blonde, unremarkable Irish nose, but his ears...

Pointy and covered in fur, they looked like someone had grafted parts of a German shepherd to the sides of his head. His name: Vuembi.

Wagging a raccoon-like tail, the creature greeted us, launching into a training session.

We started with an overview. Surprisingly prosaic for a weird looking space mutant.

DOGOS dealt in various types of loans and credit. Banking type stuff. I asked if they were credit cards, but they said no. All I knew was, someone borrowed funds and had to pay back. They also handled calls for retail matters, like clothing and other merchandise, as well as long range telecommunication devices.

I usually liked science fiction stories with histories, but the history of a company? Let's just say they made a lot of money. No exploding spaceships, no Jedi. Also, the word DOGOS, apparently, stood for something of alien historical value, no English equivalent. My head and eyelids drooped before he reached an interesting part: Our customers.

We somehow had the capability of making calls to distant planets, meaning a little over one hundred different races and species would be talking to us. They all looked really cool, I mean, if you like the idea of alien biology.

The novelty wore a little thin when we delved into the employee handbook. You'd think training for a job like this would be exciting, but whenever you have a corporation, everything gets mired in the driest laws and company policies. For example, each planetary region has its own special time zone restrictions, and we have to read region specific scripts.

Even that wasn't clear cut because certain places were full of customers who worked the graveyard shift, or were nocturnal and slept in caves during the day, making it unclear as to when we should call.

It's rather dry, so I'm giving you a basic summary rather than the full lecture. If you're really interested, you can look them up in the handbook I've posted elsewhere on this site. What management doesn't know about my breach of the NDA won't hurt them.

Whenever my attention wandered, I stared at my instructor's tail, or the rodents', or my green seat partner. Of course, that only served to make them more attentive to the lesson.

Well, except for one of the rodents, one with a swollen, pregnant belly. That thing smiled at me, running a paw up her stockinged thigh, pretty much explaining her present condition. I cringed, focusing on the instructor.

Vuembi pulled out a big chart, showing us where, on every planet, we couldn't speak to a spouse. Some places had polygamy to complicate matters, or non-marriage arrangements, and you had to address the right party based on their sexual configuration, except if they reproduced aesexually by cell division.

Sometimes you even had to address a third party that provided mitochondria to the offspring, so three individuals, all married to one another, could handle the same account.

Some planets had slavery, offendensive to the African Americans in the room until they realized the slaves were not black, nor even human. Some regions of the planet allowed slaves to speak on the owner's behalf, others required special permission or written documentation. Oddly enough, the only one who quit that day was a heavy set white woman.

"Hey, man," someone said in the front row. "It's been two hours. Can we please have a break?"

"I'm sorry," Vuembi replied. "Breaks are not allowed during a productive workday. Labor laws are slightly different here. You should all be wearing appliances that take care of your need to go to the bathroom. Those of you who are smokers will also be provided addiction counseling. Water bottles can be found in the cabinet in the back of the classroom."

A lot of offended murmurs resulted from this, but only one other person left.

From that point onward, I tried to ignore certain gross noises from my classmates.

Again I wondered about the legality of my current situation. How could the law be different "there" when we were still in the middle of America?

I didn't say anything about it, though, because I already knew for a fact that aliens existed, so maybe Earth laws didn't apply to my situation, in the same way Will Smith had to burn his fingerprints off to join the Men In Black.

"Does this also bother you?" the green creature muttered to me. The voice was low and husky, her breath smelling of cinnamon and curry. I loved it.

I admit, I wasn't thinking about her words. "Uh, what?"

"Not having breaks. Humans are finding this offensive."

"Oh! Right!" I shrugged. It was a scummy policy, but as a new hire I knew I didn't have any pull in unionizing. Also, I'd signed some paperwork that more or less stayed that I accepted their break policy. Tamra rushed me through that part, but I remembered it being mentioned. "I've been in companies where they didn't allow me breaks until late in the day or when the replacement guy comes in to keep the assembly line going. I don't like it, though."

"Your species has inefficient bladder configurations. Especially your females when they're pregnant."

I felt a twinge of envy. "Guess I know who not to bring along on a road trip."

"...Speaking of labor laws, I think this is a good time for you to receive your employee handbooks..." Our instructor passed out binders like the girls in the hallway had been carrying, along with laminated instruction sheets and little pads to take notes.

A slender green hand passed me the materials.

Again I was staring. My eyes traveled down the female's long neck, admired her bare, muscular belly, her bony hips...An orange tint spread across the creature's chest, accented her cheeks.

She scowled at me. "Human, I don't think we've been formally introduced."

"H-hi." I was never good at formalities.

"My name is Ibira." She offered me a hand, her harness straps making a pleasant creak as she shifted in her chair. "I believe this is your custom." When I hesitated, she offered a second right hand.

I grinned, eagerly shook both of them. "Jason. I...Sorry, about the-" I was trying to apologize for staring while I continued to stare at her. I mean, she had no bellybutton. I forced my eyes upwards, staring in to solid hazel-green eyes that didn't meet mine all the way, due to the spacing. "N-nice to meet you." Up close, I noticed her body had an exotic animal muskiness to her, one that distracted me to the point of not thinking.

Ibira cleared her throat, indicating that I should take my booklet and pass the stack along.

"Sorry." I pretended to be really interested in my booklet.

Half the book contained nothing but bullet point listings of various laws and guidelines. I had to sign and date several documents, agreeing to the terms of things I never knew existed. Again, if you want to see the handbook, and are in need of sleep, you're welcome to it.

My eyes widened when I saw lines in the booklet like "Door to Door Collection Guidelines," which actually sounded like instructions, and "Employee to Employee Fraternization and Cohabitation Policy." Again, too complicated to be a simple "No, don't do it," but nobody ever explained these items to me. They only said "I wouldn't have to worry about it", just sign the paper and move on to the next one. Someone did ask about the "Employee Enslavement and Redemption Process" section, but got told that it didn't apply to our facility.

As I filled out yet another sheet, I felt a tap on my shoulder, but when I glanced that way, I only saw the cute green thing busying herself with paperwork.

Another student had seated himself in the chair to my right during the lecture, but he seemed ill humored, and scowled at me for even looking at him. I could sympathize - unless you're gay, you don't especially want some other dude staring at you while you're wearing a dress.

Hearing a snort, I looked over at Ibira. Although she pretended to mutely fill out forms, I knew her to be the culprit. "I didn't know they had grade school on your planet."

She smirked, but made no admission of doing it. "What ever do you mean?"

I only rolled my eyes and tried to listen to the instructor.

We had a little introduction time, each one of us getting in front of the markerboard and saying a little bit about ourselves like we were in kindergarten or something.

I didn't know anyone in the room. A lot of people came from some company called Abadak, and already knew each other. When they didn't come from that place, they came from Encore. I'd heard of Encore, and worked for one of its affiliate companies, but apparently had been left out of the loop when it came to Abadak and other places these people had come from. So yeah, a lot of stuff they mentioned went right over my head, and I quickly forgot it.

What I did find memorable was when Ibira went up to present:

"...My homeland is the province of Gugabind on the planet Zutdabi. I have one year of customer service and collections experience, I like sports and painting, and I was separated from the U-Bank facility during the razorback invasion, so I'm here to learn operations with DOGOS."

I committed her words to memory, turning them over in my mind to see how I could use the information to impress her. When my turn came, though, I had nothing too impressive to say. I had a year of job experience, I did do artwork, and karate, which was kind of a sport.

With introductions out of the way, we at last got to play with the weird computers. Vuembi activated one of the devices on our desks by flipping a rock. The sandbox made the sound of running water, and an abstract symbol appeared in the air. "On each one of your desks, if you haven't noticed yet, there are Gezrot, highly advanced computer systems from planet Woirtu. You are now free to experiment with the interface."

The floating symbol changed into a holographic three dimensional desktop where things floated in the air instead of moving around on a flat plane, a constant annoyance if you're used to working with Windows.

Classmates flicked the rocks randomly, creating the sound of a gurgling stream. I did some experimenting myself, and found the water sound to be illusionary, and when I rolled around a spherical stone, it repositioned a cursor. Some electromagnetic force kept the rocks from leaving the sandbox.

Vuembi had us log into the system, taught us how to use the main computer programs. Really complicated, and not at all like the Windows operating systems I'd been used to.

Although fascinating, I doubt the average person would find this interesting, so I'll skip past the details. A lot of the program features I didn't even get an opportunity to use at my job. I've got the technical manual posted elsewhere on this site, if you're curious.

Two of my classmates tinkered with the device, clicking the rocks around until a holographic image of a topless purple woman with quadruple breasts appeared above their desk.

The boss, understandably angry, stomped over and shut off the display as they giggled and pointed. "Gentlemen, all abuse policies regarding use of electronic communications apply to the Gezrot. If I see you accessing Xalxub or any sort of pornography again it will be grounds for termination, do I make myself clear?"

I'd later encounter this Xalxub thing in real life, but that's another story for another time.

The two nodded nervously, making themselves very slight in attempts to draw the attention away from themselves.

We spent the next hours opening and closing various menus and accessing different windows in a repetitive style that resembled martial arts drilling.

Complaining of problems with her computer device, my green companion changed desks, seating herself in the row in front. Conveniently for me, she had chosen one which allowed me to admire her body without having my view obstructed by a chair...or conspicuously turning my head.

When the creature caught me staring at her dappled rump, she rolled her widely spaced eyes and turned away.

We navigated through a myriad of confusing programs, menus and notation screens. I often got bored of the repetition, and found my eyes tracing Ibira's curves.

She really caught me this time, frowning and furrowing her brow in confusion.

Turning red in the face, I bashfully smiled and waved to her.

Ibira glared, skin changing that orange tint again.

I gave her an apologetic shrug.

She stuck out an oddly shaped tongue, turned around in her seat. One hand gave me the finger while the other ones typed.

With the exception of a few random glances, she didn't look at me again for the rest of class. The change to her skin color almost seemed permanent.

I gave up on her, driving myself deeper into the training. I learned we had to wear our uniforms every time we stepped into the video chat booth, how we'd have to maintain a professional appearance appropriate for our alien demographic, and the mute button on our belts, when we got them, was not our friend.

Also, if we got too noisy with our bodily functions, we would have to take a sort of yoga class to learn breathing and muscle control.

A bald brown skinned female entered the room, clad in a dress with a stylish Black Panther motif. "Is this a good time?"

Vuembi nodded. "Everyone, this is Osmifa, our Employee Ambassador. She'll be going over a few programs our company offers."

The young woman launched into a speech about how to use our paychecks on a website to order dress uniforms (called Ipsego), how to earn Customer Satisfaction Points and redeem them for special outfits or other perks.

Osmifa's eyes had no whites in them at all, a weird, unnatural feature in an otherwise ordinary but beautiful face. Not really something I could avoid staring at, especially when she spoke, though nobody brought up the subject out loud.

Right away, she brought up some disturbing topics: Corporate guidelines on when and where employees could have sex (we had to sign a paper for that one) and "Abuse and Lose" policies on the Company Interfaith Chapel.

Nonhumans were not allowed to leave the lower levels while on earth. When I asked, "What, do you mean this building can move?" my classmates laughed at me.

She mentioned the Daycare and addiction support groups, expanded on the topic of CSP's, plus `off campus housing,' on various planets...I still wasn't sure how we'd get to space, or why Earth laws had ceased to apply to us, but Osmifa seemed pressed for time, Vuembi a little impatient to return to weightier business matters.

"Hey," someone asked. "How many CSP earn us the right to wear pants?"

To my surprise, Osmifa had an exact figure. "Three thousand per quarter. Less if you're tenured."

I had to say something. "Actual men's pants? Not just tights or pantyhose?"

"Yes, Mr. Finch," Vuembi answered. "3K earns you the right to wear whatever you want for that quarter. You can dress up like the Cookie Monster every day if you like."

"Me like cookie!" another classmate joked. The resulting laughter probably ruined our chances to lobby for better uniforms.

Osmifa concluded by telling us to see her in her office if we wanted to talk, she seemed to be in the counselor capacity.

"She's been doing this for centuries," Vuembi agreed, though I doubted the validity of that statement.

Since Ibira had been looking my way anyway, I tugged my collar to indicate my dress, made a shrug that signaled "Why?"

She smirked, scooting her chair closer to my desk. "Their outfits only have two sleeves."

"You'd think they could make you one with more."

"Perhaps in a few months. It has to be discussed with HR. Currently they think that my quasi-primitive appearance will give customers a sense of user friendliness and easy to understand simple communication, making my skill and efficiency a pleasant surprise."

I grinned. "I see."

She crossed both sets of arms. "I think I'm going to ask them again. You seem to have a problem with it."

"No, no!" I stammered. "I think it's—"

"Too distracting," she growled, returning to her desk.

I sighed in frustration. I seemed to be really striking out today.

Despite the time, class didn't get dismissed like I hoped. Instead, Vuembi delved into values of various alien currencies (each one added up a different way). He spent a lot of time going over Arcuva, some sort of universal currency. And I thought I hated math before.

If you're really interested in how it works, I've posted the details elsewhere on this site, but this kinda stuff is only exciting to math geeks.

To my great relief, Vuembi at last dismissed us for lunch, much to my relief. I guess they had decided against feeding us intravenously.

As I was walking out the door, the green creature marched up to me and snarled, "Stare at me like that again, human, and I'll cut off your testicles and feed them to you."

I swallowed hard. "Sorry."

But then I paused. "Wait, there are laws against a hostile workplace! I could report you!"

"And I could report you for sexual harassment."

"Before or after you cut off my testicles?"

Ibira's eyes narrowed. "Does it matter? Either way, I'll make you sorry for fucking with me."

I paled. "Fine. God, you made your point!"

Only then did she smirk and walk away.

After that, I kept my eyes elsewhere...mostly.

I still hadn't gotten used to the idea of peeing on myself, so I hurried away to the bathroom. Unsurprisingly, the place was near empty, only a couple guys plugging drainage hoses into their diapers. I used the toilet the normal way, seeking out the lunch room.

I stepped into a cafeteria resembling a small restaurant, getting hit with smells not conducive to a healthy appetite. While I could smell potatoes and a cheddar broccoli soup, I also detected sour cabbage, a kind of meat that smelled rotten, and something scented of epoxy or moth balls.

Uniformed students chatted around small circular tables, occupied booths, waited in line at a long buffet. I had no windows to look out, just like the classroom, but at least they had framed abstract paintings to make it less dungeon-like.

I followed a line up to the counter, staring at the people, the food.

I kept my eyes mostly averted as the green creature got in line and filled her tray.

I did a double take. Behind the plexiglass spit guard at the buffet counter, the big bellied IT guy from my last job held an ice cream scoop at the mashed potato station.

I stared at the bearded face. As typical for him, beneath the apron he wore a `Han Shot First' Star Wars t-shirt. The heavy lidded man ladled out potatoes and strange looking meat, acting like he'd always worked there. I imagined this job was right up his alley.

At Sprint, he never seemed to leave the building. He was like furniture. "Tom?"

The thick jowled man seemed...unsurprised to see me. Of course, I don't think he would have been surprised if he saw Godzilla stomping buildings downtown. "Hey."

"I didn't know you worked here! What happened? Sprint didn't pay enough?"

Tom laughed, plopping a white mound on my serving tray. "No, they did not. Nice dress, by the way."

I rolled my eyes. "How come you don't have to wear one?"

"I'm still doing IT. Nobody sees me, thank God." He stuck a tongful of greenish red meat in an adjacent square. "All they cared about was my ability to jury-rig ethernet cables and modems to their alien electronics so the shit runs without them ordering parts from the other side of the galaxy."

"Lucky you," I groaned. I pointed to the meat. "What is this stuff?"

"Vornok. We mix alien food with the reserves so we can meter it out. You'll get used to it."

"Vornok?"

He didn't explain, he just shrugged like `Vornok is Vornok.' "The team acquired it during a sortie. This is the last time we can serve it before it expires."

"It looks expired already," I joked.

He laughed. "Trust me. You don't want to eat Vornok when it's expired, unless you wish to experience facial paralysis."

"How do I know I won't experience it now?" I cried.

Tom waved a hand at the other employees eating plates of the stuff. "They look just fine to me."

"I'll take your word on that...What do you mean by `sortie?'"

"People go out on the planet sometimes. We find stuff that is suitable for human consumption, we put it in the cafeteria." Again, that `whatever' shrug.

I got some cornbread and a kind of broccoli casserole at the next station. Aluminum company produced soda bottles stood on the next row, but people assured me that none of them contained that stuff that makes you want to pee really bad...unless it's a prank. I looked for a cash register, but it seemed they didn't have one.

Our Employee Ambassador stood at the far end of the buffet, also clad in an apron. I waved to get her attention. "Hey."

"Hey yourself."

"Um...Is there a cash register around here somewhere? I have a debit card..."

The girl chuckled. "Newby, food rations come directly out of your salary. Take whatever you want."

I frowned. If lunch was to come out of my salary, I would have at least made sure it came out of Applebee's or something.

Remember those cute black girls I saw before? They sat at a table together, chattering away. With butterflies in my stomach, I decided to at least break the ice with them, to make friends, if nothing else. I mean, I'd already struck out with Tamra and the green thing, right?

I brought my tray to their table. "Hi. Mind if I sit here?"

"Yes," said one girl. "I do mind."

The other rolled her eyes, and the two had a good laugh at my expense.

Not the friendliest bunch. Since the chipmunk creatures had gone somewhere, nobody else bothered to strike up a conversation. They just gave me a bored look, got in line, found their own table. Even the insect creature seemed unfriendly.

I decided to sit alone, at an empty table by myself.

I only got halfway there before a green figure shoved me into a wall, two arms pinning mine against concrete as a third pressed a blade to my throat. My tray flipped, spraying mashed potatoes, gravy and everything else all over my uniform.

"What did I tell you about staring at my ass!" she snarled, using her fourth hand to smear food into my dress.

The color drained from my face. "I'm...sorry. I...couldn't help it! I meant nothing by it!"

The knife nicked me. She leaned in closer, strangely curried breath warming my skin.

Her ivory tusks rubbed up against the side of my neck. The fourth hand now grabbed the hem of my skirt. "What the hell is your problem? Why do you keep staring at me? Do you think me some carnival freak to provide you amusement?" She lifted my skirt, showing everyone my butt. "How do you like it?"

Honestly, I thought it sexy in a frustrating way. "N-no! It's not that!"

"Explain yourself!" she shouted.

I gulped. "You're beautiful, okay? I keep looking because..."

The creature didn't look any less angry. "Because why."

"Uh..." I stammered. "I, uh, like you. A lot. I, uh..." I lowered my voice, barely even able to say it. "I think you're cute."

She gave me a blank look. "Are you saying that you find me sexually attractive?"

The alien was being a little too forward for me to be comfortable. All I could think to do was quickly blurt no.

Ibira seemed taken aback, almost like I had slapped her.

I didn't want the conversation to go in that direction, either. With my face incredibly flushed, I backpedaled as fast as I could. "That's not what I meant."

Her eyes narrowed in anger. "And what exactly did you mean."

"No, I mean, yes, I mean...kinda?"

"Kinda yes, or kinda no?"

I swallowed. "I don't know. I mean, it's exotic. It's..."

Her two upper hands encircled my throat, the two lower ones preparing to rip my skirt.

"Okay, okay!" I stammered. "I do find you (ahem), attractive, but we don't know each other that well, and I wasn't sure if it was proper to say something like that at this point, especially with all those harassment policies-"

Ibira scowled. "I should report you."

"I...probably should too. You did attack me."

She glared at me in silence for a moment, then sheathed her weapon and let go. "You're not my type."

But yet, as I was walking away, I felt a slap on the butt.