Within five minutes, Jones had confirmed Raz was happy with the lab coat and had issued him his first set of goggles.
Hands shaking with all the fear, excitement, and trepidation his body could manage, Raz followed Jones through one of the tech floors – this one dedicated to the laboratory work.
‘Technically you can use any of the labs. They’re like hot desks that way,’ Jones said. ‘But it’s always a courtesy to let people use their favourite lab, as it means you don’t have to load your settings each time.’
‘Huh?’ he asked, then cursed himself for his lack of eloquence.
Jones turned, held up a small billfold, and flipped it open, and Raz found his own face staring back at him. ‘This is your ID, by the way.’
Raz accepted it and looked at the picture inside – one they’d never asked him to stand for.
It was definitely him, and he looked all sensible and ready for work.
One thing struck him, however, and it slid straight into his heart. He was primarily identified as “Recruit Raz”. He looked up at the agent. ‘Um, Jonesy?’
‘Here,’ Jones said, ‘we go by the names we respond to.’ He waved his hand vaguely.
‘Except in rare circumstances, agents, for example, are born with one name. A lot do tend to pick up either a first name or a last name, depending on what they feel is appropriate. Hell, in some naming schemes, one is expected to have multiple names, so in those cases, they tend to take on the names of senior agents around them, further proving the idea that we are to be family. For recruits…’ Jones smiled. ‘You now have reasonable authority to order most Australian citizens around, up to and including the prime minister, if the circumstances warrant.’
The agent’s face pinched. ‘Don’t do it unless you have to – we don’t want the ramifications of that. But until it gets to some stupid point – you’ve got the ID, you’ve got the authority, so who cares if some muggle wants to argue about your name?’
Raz nodded, grateful that it wasn’t a problem.
‘Now,’ Jones said, ‘how are you with crowds? We like to have a welcoming party, but if that’s too much for you, we’ll forgo it in favour of a small orientation group.’
‘I’m okay,’ he said slowly, ‘so long as I don’t have interact too much.’
‘My kids don’t eat people,’ Jones said, ‘I’ll introduce you, then they tend to break into their own groups.’
‘Okay,’ Raz said with a nod, ‘then I’ll try.’
‘Oh,’ Jones said, holding out a name tag. ‘Just require the appropriate–’
‘I can’t require yet,’ he said quickly, if reproachfully.
‘Oh, right,’ Jones said, looking embarrassed. ‘Name’s easy. Pronouns?’
‘Any pride flag you want to pledge allegiance to?’
Raz scuffed his feet against the floor. ‘I’m gay, so the full rainbow,’ he said. ‘But is that going to cause a problem?’
The agent made a dismissive noise. ‘It’s hard for queerphobes to last in here.’ Jones slapped the label onto Raz’s chest – all his pertinent information there for everyone to see.
Socialisation. He could do this.
Jones led him to a large room. There was no attempt at surprise – the sounds of people chatting and music could be heard all the way down the hall. When they walked in, there was some semblance of quiet.
The agent raised his hands. ‘Raz, this is everyone. Everyone, this is Raz.’ He pointed.
‘Sacha, you just need a Milla, and you’ve got the full team.’
A tall, good-looking black man in a skirt stepped forward. Raz quickly looked at the man’s tag and saw the genderqueer flag, along with “He?” in the pronoun box. Sacha smiled.
‘Welcome, Razputin.’
‘Raz will be joining the lab team. I’ll mostly have him doing blood work to start with, so lay off the vampire jokes. Remember rule eleven: don’t break the n00bs.’
The assembled recruits gave shouts and waves of greeting, and unceremoniously, everyone broke apart and began to swarm the buffet tables.
Sacha, however, stayed. ‘You look…a little overwhelmed,’ he said, a definite touch of a German accent in his voice.
‘I am,’ Raz assented as Jones entered the fray, aimed at a large cake. ‘This is all– I didn’t believe in magic a week ago.’
‘I’ll tell you,’ Sacha said, handing him a plate, ‘the wonder never truly goes away. I’ve been a recruit for fifteen years, and I still get pwned by it every so often.’ He offered a hand. ‘I’m the overall head of the phone bank teams, which sounds slightly better than saying I’m the call centre manager. Stop on by during the afternoon. It’s usually pretty quiet, and I can help with the newbie jitters.’
‘You don’t get him all to yourself, Sach,’ said a bright voice – a voice attached to a fat, twenty-something white girl, who was coming over with a plate of spring rolls and cake.
Raz couldn’t take his eyes off her bright purple hair.
‘Screen,’ she said, pointing at the name tag that was stuck to her generous chest. ‘Operator extraordinaire, and some minor R&D. You need cake. It’s fucking brilliant.’
He didn’t argue as the girl and his fellow Psychonaut pulled him into the food swarm.