True to my word, here is the first chapter of The New Guy, book 2 in the Office Aliens series.
Releasing this book in July just got even more imperative because I have been hit with the BIGGEST tax bill known to man. I might be being dramatic… But I also might not be. I got a bill demanding a down payment by the end of the month and I thought “Outrageous! I haven’t even submitted a return for that tax year.” So I submitted a return for 2016/17… LIKE A SUCKER. Anyway, now I have this to deal with.
For context, the monthly payments will take up almost all my paycheck from my part-time job, which only just cover my rent and bills. So it’s going to eat into my savings one way or another, even with money from Amazon coming in (Thank you, lovelies.) So I’m not going to be able to quit to write full-time next year like I wanted to. I’m not going to be able to go on a fun holiday like I wanted to. I’m not going to have enough saved up to get a mortgage in the next few years like I wanted to… Bah.
And I’m only going to get another tax bill next year, and in the meantime they’re using this bill to calculate my down payments for next year, which I have to pay before the tax year even ENDS.
It’s not the end of the world… It’s just a HUGE PAIN. I thought I was finally scraping some money together. But nope, ding-dong, the taxman cometh.
Sigh, I’ll get over it. Don’t worry about me. I just have to write more, publish faster 🙂 So yeah, I WANT to get this book out this month. I think there’s maybe… 20k? 25k? left in it. I decided to cut a plotline and use it for the next book in the series, so that helped. I don’t know if I will be able to get it out though, if I’ll have the time with only three weeks left to write that much, and then edit it (shriek), and I still have to make the cover, and I predict that to take… probably over ten hours. Definitely two or three days work. I’ve talked about this cover so much, I bet you’re all going to be super disappointed when you see it, you’re going to think it looks totally normal. The book is going to be so much longer than usual it will take two or three days to read through and format it. So you see, there’s just not enough time! So much to do, etc.
But enough of my whining. On with the show!
“Okay, everyone, sit down, sit down, come on in.”
Maggie’s boss, Derek, stood at the front of the room, ushering the department further inside. With him stood five Teissians, looking strange in suits and ties that had obviously been made for humans and so hung loose or pulled tight in places. Maggie tried not to stare as she shuffled between the tightly packed rows of chairs that had been put out.
Everyone was curious, and the Teissians shifted nervously, some of them trying to smile at their audience, others glancing at each other in silent comment. The humans tried not to trip over chair legs or bump into each other while also keeping one eye on the aliens. Maggie took her seat when Lucy sat down in front of her, and tried to see more of the newcomers.
Their scales were shades of green that went from yellow to black, and only one of them was significantly taller than an average human. Maggie couldn’t see much, as her co-workers were still moving along the rows in front of her, and she didn’t want to crane her neck to look at them as if they were an exhibit. The suits they wore covered a lot more of their bodies than the clothes other Teissians in the building preferred, which tended to leave their arms and lower legs free. The group looked like a mix of the different Teissian races, four males and one female. One of the males leaned over to whisper something to the one next to him, who appeared to shush him.
As the last of the Enquiries department took their seats, shifting as they got as comfortable as they could, Derek crossed the room to shut the door.
“Thank you all for coming,” he said with a managerial smile. Derek was a good boss, always willing to listen to issues and do his best to resolve them, but other teams had more cause to deal with him than Maggie did. She rarely had any complaints and didn’t deal with cases big enough to warrant his attention. He clapped his hands together and held them, apparently taking a moment to find his words, which was strange. He rushed on to cover it.
“I know we’ve all been busy recently dealing with all the extra cases coming in-”
That was an understatement. It was three days after the closing of Earth’s borders after the destruction of the Tiberius, and the mega-load of refugees who had arrived before the deadline had created a storm of uncertainty in the Teissian community, and not just in the new arrivals. Maggie had never known it to be so frenzied, and that made her wonder how they could afford to take the time out to have this meeting. The thought of the calls she must be missing made her anxious.
“But we’ve got some extra help now!” Derek said cheerily. She had known him since she started almost four years ago, and she thought he seemed to be floundering. She wondered just when he had found out about these newcomers.
“These helpful folk here have been assigned to our department to help us cope with the new volume of calls. I’ll let them introduce themselves in a moment, but just to fill you in a bit more, these new people are going to act as interpreters. We’re going to set up a new option in the menu to allow Teissian callers to speak to an assistant in their own language. This will hopefully relieve some of the pressure by creating clear pathways for callers, and reducing cultural misunderstandings. They will be going one to a team, and I will let you know their placements at the end.”
Maggie nodded along dutifully. She’d take all the help she could get, though she didn’t think she had the time to be training anyone new right then. It wasn’t the best atmosphere for new people to get settled in. But there were more than five teams in Enquiries, so not every team would be assigned a new person. Maggie’s team, Incomings, could use one though. There were other Teissians working throughout the department, but Maggie was one of five humans and they just had to do their best if they got a client whose English didn’t include the right vocabulary to talk about their tax or visa.
“Now I’ll let your new co-workers introduce themselves so we can all learn their names, and we can stop talking about them as if they’re not in the room.” There was a nervous chuckle as the polite ones in the audience acknowledged Derek’s joke, and he conceded the floor to the Teissians, who looked alarmed at having the spotlight suddenly thrown on them.
After a moment’s hesitation, the one closest to Derek stepped forward, obviously not relishing having to go first.
He was the darkest of the line-up, his scales a matt obsidian. Even his eyes seemed to be black from where Maggie was sitting. He had markings on his face and head, hot pink crescents on his cheeks that curved underneath his cheekbones like backwards Cs, and the ridge that ran along the top of his head from front to back was the same colour. Like all Teissians, his hands had two thick fingers and a thumb, each tipped with bone claws that were bright white against his dark scales.
“What should I say?” he asked Derek. His voice was soft and deep, with an accent that made him enunciate carefully and clearly. Maggie suddenly hoped he was on her team, or that they all sounded like that. He would be a dream on the phone.
Derek gave him a welcoming smile. “Just give your name, a little about yourself, so we know who you are.”
“My name is-” He seemed to catch himself. “Ro,” he continued, dragging the syllable out slowly, watching Derek for approval. Maggie knew from the various forms she processed that Teissian names were incredibly long, and they tended to choose a single syllable out of them to make things easier on the humans around them. It looked like this could be the first time Ro was introducing himself with his shortened name. Derek smiled and nodded encouragingly.
“I am from Bala. I arrived on Earth five days ago. I am happy to be working here.”
Derek nodded, and Ro stepped back into line in relief. Maggie hadn’t heard of Bala before. She hadn’t heard any of the Teissians refer to being from anywhere but Teiss before, but she felt stupid now for not wondering about it earlier. She knew there were different races, it made sense they would be from different places, different countries or continents.
The male next to him stepped forward. He was almost as dark, but there was a green tinge to his scales, and he had dark red stripes that followed under his eye sockets and marked out the ridge on his head.
“I am Kez. I am also from Bala. I also arrived five days ago.”
Maggie was growing concerned as the two of them announced they had only been on Earth for five days. Was it normal that they already be working? Weren’t there other Teissians who could have been assigned these jobs to give the new arrivals a bit more time to settle in? She knew a great emphasis was placed on integration, but these people didn’t seem to have sorted out their wardrobe yet, and they were already being expected to work? But maybe they had volunteered. She didn’t know what the atmosphere was like at the dorms. Maybe this was totally normal. After all, the Teissians were supposedly taught everything they needed to know on the transporter ships.
The next was a male who was all leaf-green, with yellow eyes and no special markings who identified himself as Tur. Then a male with a deeper green colour who was six inches taller than the rest introduced himself as Las. And finally the yellow-green female introduced herself as Mie. These three were all from Vol, though Maggie didn’t know where that was, or how it differed from Bala. None of the new recruits had been on Earth for longer than a week.
Maggie tried hard to remember their names, mouthing them as they spoke, imagining herself saying them. She wanted to look friendly. She couldn’t imagine moving to another planet. Maggie realised she didn’t actually know that much about how it worked on Teiss, or the transporter ships. She just knew what everyone knew: that Teiss had been infested by the Ypex, who the Rhacahr were waging a generations-long war against; that the trip from Teiss took two years and during that time, the refugees were taught languages and other skills they could use to find employment on Earth.
When the female stepped back into line with the others, Derek hesitated in case there was more to come, but the Teissians were clearly finished and uncomfortable being the centre of attention. “Thank you!” he said. “Now we all know who you are, I’ll explain to everyone how things are going to change…”
Derek then took five minutes to outline what updates would be made to the system and the caller menus to integrate this new ‘mother tongue’ option, and how it would affect their reporting procedures and case allocations. He used enough office jargon that Maggie thought it would be impossible for the newbies to understand, so she guessed he was trying to be quick and would leave it to the team managers to get their new person up to speed. Listening to him, Maggie tried to follow, but all she could think was that this was either going to turn into a big mess, because cases would be opened in a load of different languages, or it was going to make no difference at all because beneath Derek’s fancy managerial speak, it sounded like the same system they had always used.
Her eyes strayed back to the black Teissian with the nice voice, Ro. He looked like he was doing his best to follow along with Derek’s explanation, though he couldn’t have a hope to. Maggie resolved to make sure he was alright, whatever team he ended up on.
Derek opened the floor to questions, and took a few that related to the specifics of other teams, nothing that concerned Maggie. She imagined, if she got one of the new recruits, that she would just train them up as usual. On her team it was easy, there was a script, though it was only available in the most common Earth languages. She could see that it would be a good idea to get it translated into the Teissian languages, though none of her team could speak any of them, as far as she knew. She wondered why it hadn’t been done already, but then she guessed they weren’t much use if you didn’t understand what you were saying or what was being said. Maggie couldn’t, she had never taken languages at school nor at work, though maybe it would have furthered her career if she had. She knew DETI offered them, but it had never occurred to her that it would be something she would be good at.
“Alright, there’s just one more thing. I’ll let you teach these guys the basics today, because the new menu rolls out tomorrow, so we need our interpreters. I know a day isn’t much, but I trust you to support them in every way you can in this busy time. I think that’s everything for now, I’ll let you go. If I could get Kamal, Vicky, Kira, Jason, and Maggie to stay behind for a moment?” Derek finished.
Maggie looked at him in surprise as everyone else stood up to begin picking their way through the chairs to the door, some of them stopping to introduce themselves to the Teissians. She knew the others, they were the team leaders of Employment, Accommodation, Visas, and Requisitions. But she didn’t know why she had been included.
As the crowd thinned, Maggie made her way to the front of the room where Derek was standing with the team leaders, the Teissians gathered around them. She tried not to look out of place, but she knew the other humans at least knew she was. Derek gave them all a reassuring smile.
“Okay, so! As you might have guessed, yours are the teams these guys are going to be joining. If I could get Mie to go with Vicky, she’ll show you Visas. Kamal and Tur will go to Employment. Las and Kira can go to Accommodation. Kez and Jason to Requisitions. And Maggie and Ro to Incomings.” Derek looked around at the group. “Alright?” he asked.
There was a general murmur of agreement as the managers introduced themselves to their charges, shaking hands and exchanging smiles, gesturing them out of the room. Maggie stepped back to allow Kamal to pass her, trying to get a moment with Derek while Ro was distracted, but she failed. As the others trailed out, it was painfully obvious that she, and therefore he, was not going anywhere.
“Um, Derek, can I ask…?”
“Sure Maggie, what’s up?”
“Well, I’m not a team leader,” she said. She tried to speak quietly, but she knew if she wanted Derek to hear her, Ro would too. She glanced at him and he smiled pleasantly, a thin smile that only showed the barest strip of white between his lips.
“You’re the most senior member of the Incomings team,” Derek argued. “You’ve been training the new hires for years.”
“I know but… One day isn’t much.” She glanced at Ro again. She didn’t want him to think he was getting the loser team, or that she didn’t want him there.
Derek put his hand on her arm to get her attention. “Don’t worry about it, you’ll do great,” he encouraged her with a smile. “And if the new system works well, we’ll expand it to the other teams. Incomings might need a team leader then, eh?”
“Really? But you always said we didn’t need one, because we’re not specialised.”
He shrugged, and gathered up the few notes he had lying around. “You’re a great member of staff, Maggie. You’re friendly, you’re loyal, and you’re experienced. You’ve stuck with Incomings longer than anyone else I know. If anyone is going to be team leader, it should be you. Obviously I won’t force you if you don’t want the promotion. I’ll let you figure it out,” he said with a wink. “Now, why not show Ro to his desk and get him started, hmm?”
Derek didn’t stay behind to make sure she did, ducking past Ro instead to head presumably for his office so he could get some work of his own done. Ro let him pass with a bemused smile, then turned back to her, awaiting instruction.
Maggie tried not to wince at the impression she must have given him. “Sorry about that,” she said. “I hope you don’t think I have a problem with you joining me, I just wanted to make sure you got the best deal. Incomings has a pretty high staff turnover.”
“Pretty high staff turnover?” he queried, the individual syllables clipping out of his mouth as if he was rolling them like dice, examining them. His voice was still soft and smooth like fresh sheets, and Maggie tried not to show her reaction to it. She was standing close to him now, close enough to smell him, and he had a dry smell like fragrant smoke.
“It means people leave. I train them up and they move to a different team,” she explained. From this distance, she could see that his eyes had an iris of a lighter colour, a very dark brown. “It’s not because of me, it’s just the work. It doesn’t have much… room for ambition.”
“Oh, I see,” he nodded, holding her eyes. He shrugged. “I have been assigned to you, and I would still like to learn if you will teach me. This is my first job here. I am interested to see how things work. I imagine it will take me a long time to learn.”
Maggie smiled, feeling somewhat reassured. “Not too long, I hope. We only have a day before I have to put you to work.”