Andy types into IRC. "Anna, SH devs r ask 4 PHP on our platform; we shld talk b4 resp".

Anna is in her office, reading a sheaf of printed papers. A quiet ping alerts her that her attention is needed. By policy, she's the only on in the Team to have audible notifications. Everyone else's ability to concentrate on the task at hand is paramount, but Anna is the manager, outside interface, and general fire fighter, and sometimes needs to react quickly.

She turns to her keyboard, types in a password and taps her security to unlock her screen. She reads, then types. "Andy, sure thing. Come to my office when suitable. We'll escalate to others if need be."

In a minute, Andy walks into Anna's office, with a mug in his hand. He sits in Anna's visitor chair, and takes a sip, then a deep breath.

"So, here's the sit. SmartHome opened a ticket in our issue tracker to ask for PHP on our platform. I've not responded yet, I figured we should discuss it first."

Anna nods. "We've rejected PHP before, for other customers. It's hard to write secure, reliable software in the language."

"Indeed. That continues to be my opinion, and I'm happy to respond that way now, except how is our relationship with SmartHome? It's been dicey several times in this project. Managing that relationship falls on you, so it's your call."

Anna leans back, and crosses her hands behind her neck. "Hmmm. Yes, you're right. I'll need to think about this. I'm about to go out for lunch anyway. I might take a walk and think about this. Don't do anything until I come back, please."

"Agreed. If SmartHome presses the issue, I'll just say that we're considering the request, and will respond later today. OK?"

"Perfect. In fact, add that to the ticket, it'll buy us some peace and keep them calm."

Anna walks on the pavement, hands behind her back and eyes on the ground. Lunch was lovely, and she's thinking deeply. She comes to the building where the Team office is, and enters though the front door, using her key. She walks the stairs to the right floor, and enters through the locked door. The entire Team is standing in the entrance hall.

"What's up?"

Andy speaks. "We didn't want to disturb you at lunch, but when the downstairs door informed us that you're coming in, we gathered to wait you. We have a situation."

Nina steps forward. "SmartHome are upset that we're not adding PHP at once, and are saying they won't let us audit their software if we won't add PHP."

Anna takes off her coat and hangs it on a hook on the wall. "I see."

Bert shakes his head. "That's not all. They're also claiming our system is insecure, with known holes."

Nina's head turns towards Berg. "What?"

Berg nods. "Yeah. They added that to the ticket just now. I'd already heard you start moving to meet Anna."

Robin puts her face in her hands. "This is getting to be too much."

Anna hugs Robin. "Let me go read the communications myself, and see what I can do." She looks at the others. "It's not a healthy relationship we have with them. It's antagonistic. It's quite far from a collaboration."

She takes a step towards her office. "I'll handle this. We'll survive. You should all take a break in the kitchen. Vent as much as you feel like."

The others look at each other and go to the kitchen. Andy puts the kettle on. Bert puts a row of mugs on the counter, and small tea strainers in each. He then starts taking jars from a cupboard, and measuring tea into each strainer. The water boils, and Andy pours tea into each mug. Bert puts milk and honey on the table, and starts putting the mugs in front of everyone. The Team members each start their own timer in their watches or phones.

Robin lifts the strainer and examines the tea, then puts it back into the water. "I'm tired of working with SmartHome."

Nina makes a grimace. "Me too. Incompetent doesn't cover it. I can work with the incompetent. But this company, they're also nasty."

Andy lifts his strainer into a bowl in the center of the table. "I don't like the situation either, but to be fair, we started the collaboration in an aggressive way."

Nina looks at him, with her eyebrows high. "Are you saying this is my fault?"

Robin also puts her strainer into the bowl. "No, it's not. It wasn't your decision to use that approach. It was mine."

Andy nods. "I don't think it was wrong of us. They needed to be convinced. But maybe we could've built a more collaborative relationship since."

Bert gets rid of his the strainer. "I'm not sure we could have. We knew, going in, that they have a toxic culture. Brogrammers, we said."

Robin sips some tea. "Yeah, and all that entails. They were always going to dislike bringing in outsiders to fix their mess. Us bending over backwards would only have made it harder to collaborate."

"I know there's some real poopheads there. But they're not all like that. I like Nick, for example. We get along well." Nina puts away her strainer, and adds honey and milk. "Professionally and as friends."

Robin and Andy look at each other, and shrug. Nina stares into her mug. "I don't understand why he works there, given the poopheads."

Robin takes a gulp. "Remember, he's quite young. I think it's his first job. He's only just graduated and doesn't know that it can be better."

"He's not much younger than me. I know better." Nina looks up at Robin. "I don't want him to become a poophead."

"Let's try to make sure it doesn't happen. But here's the thing, you started working, on your own, as a teenager. Your had to have your mother run the business on paper, you were so young you couldn't found a company in your own name, but you did all the real work. Found customers, built software, and so on. Then you got hired at a couple of consulting agencies, before we formed the Team and you joined. This is literally Nick's first job. He's never even had a summer job, or been an intern."

"I guess." Nina pushes her mug away, stands up, and shudders. "It's just, I mean, he's nice, but I can see him drifting towards the dark side. He's starting to show macho tendencies." Nina walks to the sink, turns on the faucet, gets her hands wet, and rubs her face.

"Not good." Robin drinks some tea slowly. "He should get out and move to another job. But we can't tell him that. It'd be against the contract we have with SmartHome."

Nina dries her face with a paper towel. "Yeah. But as soon as we're done with SmartHome, I'm having a talk with him."

"Mmm. That might technically still be against the contract. Unless you just tell him, friend to friend, that you're worried about his macho tendencies."

Andy clears his throat. "Nick aside, what are we thinking about SmartHome? Is there anything good about them?"

Everyone looks around. Nobody says anything.

Anna walks in. "How are we doing?"

"I just asked if there's anything good about SmartHome, apart from Nick. Nobody had anything to offer."

Anna nods. "I'm starting to feel that way. I have an update. I called Sam. I told him we're going to respond by email soon. We need to sort this out now, anyway, so let's talk. Here's what I suggest..."

"Hi, Nick." Nina is sitting on a bench in the park near the Team's office. Nick sits next to her. He has two ice cream cones and hands one to Nina.

"I've some bad news, I'm afraid. The guys at work are upset at you. The Team in general, and you in particular, Nina."

"Oh?" Nina licks her ice cream, catching melted rivulets before they drop.

"Apparently you're a bitch. And that's the nicest term they you."

"I don't mind being a bitch, but I enjoy knowing why poopheads think I'm a bitch." Nina takes a bit of the cone. "Mmm, this is good ice cream."

"That email you sent explaining in detail why the claims that your platform is insecure were wrong, it made a couple of the guys look stupid. That's what started the tirades." Nick doesn't lick, just takes bites of ice cream.

"I just held a mirror to them. They were looking stupid already, but they didn't see it without a mirror. Looking at version numbers to determine if there's known security holes is such a beginner mistake."

"I agree, of course. We were taught at school to try if the hole is there, never mind what the version number says."

"What else are they saying about me? Don't try spare my feelings. I'm unlikely to feel insulted by your co-workers. They have been have been weighed, they have been measured, and they have been found wanting. In what world could they possibly best me?"

"Hah. Adhemar. Well, since you ask, they think you're variously lesbian, frigid, or a transvestite. Apparently a girl can't be as good as you are at what you do, unless they have boy genes, or aren't having sex with boys."

"Oh, that. Not new." Nina finishes off the ice cream cone, the pointy end of the cornet. "Still, shows they're not just poopheads, but stupid. Macho poops often are."

"Yeah. I told Sam as much."

"Well done. I knew I liked you for a reason."

"And then I resigned."

"What? Seriously?"

"Yeah, I've not enjoyed working there for a long time. They pay well, and it's nice to work on products that a lot of people use, but the culture isn't a good fit for me. I think toxic is the word."

"Good boy."

"Uh, and that reminds me of something I've been meaning to bring up. I like you too. I like you much more than I would've ever expected. I really enjoy all our chats."

"I'm glad to hear that, but..."

Nick raises his hand, showing his palm. "Wait. Before you say anything, I need to finish. I like you, I enjoy spending time with you, but... but I don't like you like you. I'm not attracted to you. Sorry."

"Oh, good. I was just going to say the same thing."

The two look at each other.

"Well, that's not how I expected this to go." Nick tilts his head. "I'm not offended, but I'm curious. Why aren't you attracted? Am I unattractive? Repulsive?"

"You first. I'll answer after you tell me why you aren't attracted to me. Wait! I'll text my reason, and you'll say your reason before reading the text."

Nina takes out her phone, and types quickly with two thumbs for several seconds. Nick's phone plays a few bars of the Imperial March.

"The reason I'm not attracted to you, and I've not told this to many people ever, is that I'm gay."

Nina nod. "Read the text."

Nick raises his phone and pokes at it. "Oh. You knew. How did you know?"

"Small things. You never look down my blouse or at my ass when I bend over in the lab. You might just be very well brought up, but even well brought up boys do that when they think they aren't being observed. The lab has hidden security cameras, and I checked."

"Oh. Well, I am gay, but nobody else has ever guessed. I only came out to my parents a couple of years ago."

"How did that go?"

"Very well. They accepted it and me right away, and have been quite supportive."

"Glad to hear that."

"It's one more reason to leave SmartHome. The guys there keep making crass jokes about gay people."

"When is your last day? I mean, I'm glad you're getting our, I don't think it's a good place for you, or anyone, but I'm sorry to lose an inside contact."

Nick smiles broadly. "Today, in fact. I'm not going back. Sam was very understanding, and I've not used any of my accrued vacation, so I made a deal that I'm garden leave for a month, and they won't need to pay me for unused vacation. Also, I won't raise a ruckus with the union about the way gay people are treated there."

"What will you do next?"

"Well, I'm in a good place financially. I've some savings, and my parents are quite well off, so I don't have to find a new job at once. I'm going to be looking carefully. I like how the Team looks, but since I can't join you, due to my employment contract and your contract with SmartHome, I'll look for somewhere else that's nice."

"Yeah, I was going to say that we can't hire you, unfortunately."

"Aye. I took a semester of contract law and one of employment law in school. I figured it would be useful to know that stuff."

Anna types leisurely. "Good new, team. I had a lunch meeting with Sam. We still have a customer, and they've agreed in writing that there will be third-party security audits of both their devices, and separately of our platform, and they're paying for that. We can continue work, and also, I think we are seeing the end of the project looming. We'll pull through this one yet."

She clicks the send button, then turns to face Robin, who's sitting in the visitor chair. "How are you doing, Robin? I'm a little worried, you've seemed a bit on the edge, lately."

Robin doesn't move a muscle. A moment goes past. "I'm coping, but it's been hard. Not just work, but some other stuff as well."

"I'm sorry to hear that. Do you want to tell me about it?"

"You know I'm involved with some free software projects in my free time? It turns out that one of them has some unpleasant people that I don't want to be associated with." She sighs. "See, there's a diversity statement, formally ratified by voting. It says we no matter how you identify yourself or how others perceive you. Now a RUDE WORD poophead claims that means we must accept Nazis. Actual, literal, card-carrying Nazis."

"Oh. That doesn't make any sense."

"No, it really doesn't. But there's a few members who agree, the usual suspects when it comes to stirring up trouble. It seems every big project has them. There's also a bunch of outsiders, baiting and trolling us."

"Are you coping?"

"I am, for now, but I'm getting tired of having these arguments. They keep getting repeated. The project has an arsehole problem: it doesn't know what to do with extra ones. I'd like to just kick them out, but it's hard to build consensus on that."

Anna stands up. "Hug?"


Bert stops typing. "Well, that's new."

Andy looks up from his screen. "What?"

"On the SmartHome IRC, someone just said they've started liking the CI we set up for them."

"Oh? They've not been positive about it before. They've complained it's picky and slow."

"Yeah, and someone else said they also liked it. It seems to reduce bugs that get merged."

"Maybe there's hope for them yet."