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by Jason-Roo Tracer (aka Jessie Tracer/Electric Keet)
Jason-Roo Tracer (aka Jessie Tracer/Electric Keet) -- all rights reserved

"Oh, yeah," Steve gasped in wonder. "Let's see it all! All the way!"

Angela smiled impishly, and obliged. "You're never satisfied, are you?"

Steve's tail swished back and forth, a habit he usually tried to suppress. "Not when it's this good...." His excitement grew. "Oh... oh.... YES! YES! Oh, Angela, you're the best!"

"Oh, chill out, fuzzy, they're only preliminary results. Need to go further for any real benefit."

Steve's expression of ecstasy melted away, and he realized how odd that might have sounded if his boss had walked in just then. He shrugged the thought off, turned to Angela and stared in his odd way, a sort of wide-eyed, ears-perked look of curiosity and a crooked smile of perversion. He really was a man obsessed with his work. "But, you know what this means, don't you?" He turned back to observe again the vidpanel, lit up so encouragingly....

"Well, if the results of the tests hold true, then we've got something hot here," Angela stated happily. "The random factor, the measured error..."

Steve cut in. "Weaving in half-calculated imperfections, but just the right ones, so it sounds more real. Pseudo-random variances in the inflection, juxtaposed to get the organic effect...."

Angela finished. "They said it couldn't be done, and we've done it! I," she grinned and motioned, "am a genius."

He glanced at her, smirking. "Hey, it was my idea."

She smiled even more. "But I pulled it off."

"With my..." he started, but broke off when Angela held up her hand to stop him. He turned to face the hallway, and saw Jones approaching. "Bet you a brewsky at th' Pig that he doesn't say a word about my shirt." He smiled at the thought of a cold, strong beer after this unusually warm day in May.

"What shirt?"

Steve spun around in his drafting chair to reveal the words emblazoned, in red lettering, on his T-shirt. To err is human, to perfect, vulpine. She nodded. "You're on, fuzzy."

Just as Jones entered the office, Steve whipped around to regard him, grinning. "Bonjour, mon ami! Comment a va?"

Jones's jaw dropped (not to his knees, quite, he was a rather tall man) and he stared in shock. "You're wearing THAT? Are you insane?"

Steve shrugged. "You win, Angela."

"Mr. Armstrong," sneered Jones, "you have been informed of the need for a professional appearance --"

"Mr. Jones, I've informed you of my situation. When you look at me, what do you see? Fur. It's got to be at least twenty-five degrees in here, which for you means discomfort, and for me means I bake in my own juices, eh?"

Angela interjected. "You said the air conditioning wouldn't be fixed until Thursday."

Steve nodded to Angela. "Air conditioning is why I'm here, and not back in Duluth, where it's in the fifteens right now. The system molded up, bad design. They had to shut it down and all --"

By now Jones had converted the first temperature from Celsius, and given up on the second. "Look, I know that, but today, of all days, to be in a T-shirt, and shorts, Mr. Armstrong...."

"Is today something special?"

"Didn't you get the memo?" Jones sputtered. This was instantly translated by both Steve and Angela, keen linguists, to be corporate-speak for 'I forgot to tell you, your problem, not mine.' He continued. "We have big investors touring the place today. I personally am showing them around. And it's not bad enough you're a SCAB, but dressed as you are, you know...."

Steve mockingly observed his own arms and paws, all covered with white fur, and bluish-black splotches. Yup. Still look like an arctic fox, he thought. Dunno if I like the summer or the winter coat better, though. "Wow, boss... you're right! I am a SCAB! Gee, I'm so very glad you brought that to my attention." Normally, Steve would not be so sarcastic, but the heat really was getting to him.

"Damn it, Armstrong, I don't care how hot it is, you need to look presentable for these people. You know that normally, I wouldn't care at all, but you understand that we can't afford to have any unprofessional appearance. It's business. You're very familiar with the scenario."

Of course he was. Steve used to be the head of Phonos Speech Devices. He'd given the exact same speech to one of his underlings, once, who insisted on wearing short-sleeve blouses to actually show off her scales. A pang of regret. Today, if they were to meet, he'd apologize. "Of course."

"Well, I hate to say this, but your choice is to either find suitable attire within the half-hour, or disappear into the cleanroom." The cleanroom was not that at all, but it was rather free of occupancy, with the exception of the three large supercomputers -- each the size of a cereal box -- and the backup air conditioning unit, necessary to keep the room at fifteen degrees, the best temperature for such fragile electronics.

"I'd rather not have to do that, Mr. Jones," Steve said. Angela muttered softly, something about a briar patch, just loud enough for Steve to pick it up.

"I'll be back in thirty minutes, with Mr. Silverman, Mrs. Yusef, and Mr. Hadeem." Jones nodded quickly, and stomped off to hassle other workers.

Angela spoke first. "Well? What're you going to do?"

"I was going to ask you. Should I scamper home, in sweltering, stroke-inducing heat, just to please the whipmaster, or should I hide myself in shame in that cold, dark... cold... air conditioned room...." He smiled a bit, and focused on the cleanroom. "Wouldn't be so bad, except I'm tired of being hidden away for every staff meeting or visit from the VIPs, you know? Like Quasimodo in the bell tower." His bushy tail drooped. Wow, he thought, that analogy hit close to home.

"You can get the best of both," she piped in.

He pondered that for a moment, tail in motion again. "I see," he nodded. "What would I do without you? We make an excellent team," he laughed.

"Do me a favor and mention that next time pay increases are discussed."

Steve listened at the door. Rather, he had one of the lower-end Phonos 1500 vodors pressed up against it, and the output connected to his own special headphones. Disable the translation, amplify the vibration input, he thought with a grin... perfect espionage tool. He waited for the right moment to exit the cleanroom. Ah, introducing Miss Angela DeMarco, hot young programmer... and what's this, Mr. Jones? Our chief programmer isn't here right now....

Steve casually opened the door and wandered out of the cleanroom, as if he'd only been in there checking on the computers. He grimaced slightly at the wall of heat that hit him upon entry to the office, but quickly turned that into a warm smile to the visitors.

Jones paled visibly, but didn't lose his composure. He even smiled a bit, in a fake corporate way. "Ah, there he is right now, Mr. Sonjun Steven Armstrong, our vodor programming mastermind."

Steve bowed to the three investors, addressing them by last name and title only. Every bit of modern courtesy extended, naturally. Two of them smiled hesitantly, but the third, Hadeem, was grinning congenially. "I like your shirt, Mr. Armstrong!" he chuckled, in a slightly Arabic accent. Probably Saudi. Maybe South Iraqi. Those dialects were easy to confuse.

Steve twitched his ears. That was unexpected, but pleasant! "Why, thank you, Mr. Hadeem!"

The man continued to smile. "My daughter, she is half red fox. That phrase suits her so much."

Steve nodded, and the next half-hour was spent discussing the computers and systems for programming vodor firmware, and highlighting the procedures for testing the results, and comparing the occasional anecdote of the life of the vulpine SCABS victim.

The three investors walked away happy, that May afternoon, and Mr. Hadeem was overjoyed to have the name of the store where the wondrous shirt was purchased. Jones actually apologized for his harsh remarks before their visit. Angela could only shake her head and laugh about it through the rest of the day, about how Jones's shorts must have been full of bricks at that moment....

On the way to the Blind Pig Gin Mill with Angela, to buy her that beer he'd promised, Steve mused happily. Wasn't it odd that most fox SCABS were at least slightly proud of it? He certainly had a bit more ego, now. Perhaps it didn't help much that he was a programmer, and everybody knows they're naturally egotistical. And on that subject, wasn't it beautiful that a bit of that programmed random juxtaposition, when applied to the world, had made the whole afternoon seem so much more organic, more real?

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