Chapter One: A Strange Spreadsheet

By Noam de Pluma and S. Q. Neemie - sqneemie@gmail.com
published April 22, 2021
4950 words
Summary

Aaron, the geeky programmer for Niche Software Startup, Inc., finds a strange spreadsheet in his boss’s files with intimate information about his coworkers. Aaron is shocked to learn that reality will change to fit the spreadsheet numbers he enters. Will he use the spreadsheet wisely or turn his office into a never-ending orgy?

Aaron stepped off the bus and popped his umbrella open just in time to protect himself from the pouring rain. It had taken him a while to work out the timing of the maneuver, especially in a crowd of other people, but after a year in the city he was finally used to it.

He melted into the crowd, heading to his office building. Melting into the crowd was easy for Aaron. He was the personification of beige, with mousy brown hair, pale skin and clothing in various shades of dun. The only thing that stood out about him at first glance were his eyes, which shone a brilliant green.

The bus had taken longer than usual today, and he rushed along the sidewalk to make it to the office on time. He didn’t want to be late. Xavier had said the new intern was starting today, and he needed to get there early to set up.

He arrived in the office, slightly wetter than he’d have preferred but no worse for wear, and looked around the open-concept office. Good. Only Wes had beat him there, and he was already engaged in a loud, bro-y sales call. Aaron left his coat and umbrella on the rack and walked over to his computer.

Wes winked at him as he passed his workstation, not losing a beat as he talked into his headset. “No, that’s the sweet thing about this setup,” he said in his finest schmoozing voice. “It practically pays for itself after the initial investment. First you clear the operating costs, and the build-back creates a positive investment flow, you see? Look, I don’t understand it either, but I’ve got a brilliant programmer on call and he understands it, and that’s what matters, right? You and me, we just want to push the button and know we’re gonna be rich at the other end, right? Damn right.” He grinned fiercely at Aaron and pumped his fist. “Okay, I’ll shoot you a contract in email. Talk soon, bud.” He pressed the disconnect button and whooped. “That’s half my quota right there, man!”

“Kind of early for a sales call,” said Aaron, sitting down and booting up his computer.

“Call when they’ll listen to you,” said Wes, wagging his finger. “Dude is high enough level that business hours are all meetings, but if you catch him on his treadmill before the day begins…” Wes whistled and mimed shooting a basketball through an imaginary hoop. “I tell you, bro, the last time I had someone panting so much on the other end of the line I was paying $8.99 a minute.” Grinning, he rolled his desk over to Aaron so he could sling his arm over the back of Aaron’s chair. “You know what it’s like to have a customer gasping while they beg you for the product? I do, now.”

Aaron resisted the urge to ‘accidentally’ lean into his colleague’s arm, opting instead to sit ramrod straight. “Oh, yeah, you know it,” Aaron replied, staring at the screen to catch a reflection of the dudebro’s square jawline. “Cuz I get so much time on sales calls as the office code-monkey.”

“Hah!” Wes laughed loudly and genuinely, and mussed Aaron’s hair with affection. “You’re a real cut-up, Sharp, you know that? We gotta get you a girl, man. Sense of humor like that’ll have their panties soaked and on the floor, I guarantee. Maybe that new intern starting today? Think she’ll be hot? I know she’s half sales, half code-monkey, but I can make sure you get more time with her, natch.” Then he made finger guns, complete with the ck-ck sound effect.

“Didn’t you hear Xav yesterday?” Aaron smiled thinly. “She’s gonna be a he. Dude,” he added as an afterthought. Finally his computer finished its reboot cycle and he logged in. Almost immediately he was flooded with email and support ticket notifications.

“Aw, too bad,” complained Wes, spinning on his chair. “This place is a sausage-fest as it is.”

Aaron shrugged his shoulders. “Eh, it’s better to pick up girls at bars, anyway, right?”

“You know it, bro,” said Wes, already wheeling his chair back to his computer. “When we ever gonna do that?”

Aaron shrugged again. He’d tried going out for drinks with Wes before, but every time he suggested something, his co-worker was busy. Scowling a little, he opened up his email and started work.

It was several hours later when he took a break, and by that time the office was buzzing–well, as much as it ever did. Xavier, the boss, was talking loudly with Wes as they tag-teamed the new intern, who was looking frankly terrified as he tried to take in everything they said. Aaron smiled slightly, listening to them.

“…so you want to be detail oriented,” Xavier was saying.

“But not anal,” said Wes.

“Yes,” said Xavier. “Friendly, but not too friendly.”

“Unless that’s what the customer is looking for,” said Wes.

The new intern–Aaron thought his name was Ahmed–gulped and asked, “Should I–be writing this down, or anything?”

“No need,” said Xavier, running his hand through his thick greying hair. “It’s mostly intuitive, anyway.”

“Yeah, just be natural,” said Wes. “Look, let’s make another call, and this time, sound more relaxed, yeah?”

Xavier caught Aaron looking at them and grinned. “Back to the land of the living, Sharp? How are you doing on those trouble tickets?”

“Down to two, and I’m waiting for user feedback,” said Aaron. Xavier crossed over to him and bent over his computer, steadying himself on Aaron’s shoulder with a strong hand. Aaron tried not to stiffen his shoulders as the man’s scent wafted past his nostrils.

“Looking good,” said his boss, clapping him vigorously on the back. “Damn sight neater than my desktop, I can tell you. Remember that I want you to take Ahmed through the initial coding parameters before he leaves today.” Xavier turned on his heel and began to march off to his office, then paused. “Oh, by the way,” he said, “did you happen to take a glance at that office specs spreadsheet I sent to you? I can’t get the numbers to add up, and figured I’d use the whiz-kid while I had him. You up for it?”

“You know how I like spreadsheets,” said Aaron with a grin.

“And you know how much I like that you like spreadsheets,” said Xavier. “Take a look at it and tell me what you think.”

Aaron put his headphones on and dove into his email, hunting for the specs spreadsheet. He’d set it off to the side as a task, figuring Xavier just needed a consult, but when he pulled up the spreadsheet in question he whistled softly. The document was all of the company’s employee data–spread out over multiple pages and horribly organized. There was no chance in hell that Xavier could get anything useful out of this spreadsheet, which was probably why he’d turned it over to Aaron to figure out. Sighing, Aaron began to sort through the data, muttering under his breath at how disorganized Xavier could be.

After two hours of solid work, the spreadsheet was completely reformed, a nice tight little document in which each value had a place and was clearly labeled. The only thing keeping it from being perfect was a strange page attached at the end of the usual tracking of salaries, benefits, and hours worked. The page was labeled &tc, which didn’t help Aaron understand it at all, and it looked like this:

<Spreadsheet 1>

He clicked on each cell to see if there was any code or formula programmed into it - maybe Xav was trying to make a pivot table? - and was, if anything, more perplexed. He found formulae all right, but none of it made any sense. Fetch commands to data sets that didn’t exist, even before Aaron cleaned them up. Bits of coding languages he didn’t even recognize, let alone any that would be compatible with the spreadsheet software. He knew Xav had some rudimentary coding skill, but this looked way beyond his abilities. Besides, if it didn’t look so deliberate, so clean in its way, Aaron would have sworn that he was looking at data that got corrupted somewhere between Xav’s computer and his own. He experimentally changed some of the numbers and data on the other, more sensible sheets in the file, and determined that modifications there had no impact on the mystery sheet. No dependencies, no relationships, nothing, zip, zilch.

Ctrl+Z, Ctrl+Z, undo, reset his changes. Should he check with Xav about this? The big boss was always happy to field any questions Aaron had, but he also liked to give a lot of leeway for his staff to solve their own problems. But this was so… weird. Aaron fidgeted nervously and glanced around the office. Wes and Ahmed had their heads down studying a sales sheet, and Xav was pacing at the far end of the office as he spoke energetically to one of his contacts. From the looks of things, it was going to be a long one. Fuck it. Aaron saved a copy of the file for his own reference and deleted the mystery sheet from Xav’s original, then sent it back to him with a thumbs up emoji and the single word, “Done!” If Xav decided he missed his weirdo chart, he could ask Aaron for it later on.

No sooner had he sent the email than he felt a tap on the shoulder. He gave a start and took off his headphones to look up at Ahmed.

“Excuse me, Mr. Sharp?” Ahmed asked in a light, musical voice. “Hi, I - I’m sorry to bother you. But Mr. Umbran said you’d show me about coding something about the-“ he checked a note in his hand, “the PEN-15 system?” He gave Aaron a sudden look of recognition and blushed.

Aaron looked over at Wes, who burst out in laughter. “Did he say it? Did he? Please tell me he did,” he guffawed from his desk.

“No, our intern is a little smarter than that, Wes. Maybe even smarter than you,” Aaron shot back. “You seriously made him call you Mr. Umbran?”

Wes just hooted all the louder. “Nah, nah, bro, he’s cool. Ahmed’s cool, you’ll like him. Welcome to the team, bro!” He finally finished laughing and got up. “I’m getting some lunch. See ya, code-monkeys.”

Aaron rolled his eyes and turned to look at Ahmed for the first time. The poor kid was still blushing, and, well… he looked kinda cute. No, very cute. Smooth brown skin, dark hair in a stylish coif, bright brown eyes with flecks of hazel. He exuded kindness and vulnerability, and Aaron decided to take him under his wing. “Sorry about that,” he said, smiling in what he hoped was a disarming way. “Just call him Wes. Total dudebro, but he’s actually been super nice to me since I got here.”

Ahmed sat down, his blush finally fading. “You sure? All morning he just kept on saying stuff and making jokes and, like… he’s a freaking whirlwind, or something.”

Aaron laughed, and smiled when Ahmed relaxed somewhat and gave a chuckle himself. “Yeah, but, well… look, just you do you, ok? Take notes if you want to. And definitely ask Wes about his customer sheets.”

“His what?”

“Mr. Never-Takes-Notes does his research, man. Knows his sales targets inside and out. He just likes to pretend to shoot from the hip. Oh, and call me Aaron. None of this ‘mister’ nonsense.”

Ahmed relaxed even more, reassured by Aaron’s somewhat gentler introduction to office politics. Aaron began to walk him through their IT ticketing system, their code base, their back end, and was beginning to warm up to Ahmed as well. The kid was nice, eager, adorable - no, don’t think about that here - and, well, nice. Aaron was just wrapping up his walk through and looked at the time, absentmindedly closing a program to reveal the mysterious spreadsheet as the window closed.

“So, you want to grab some lunch, Ahmed? My treat for your first day,” he asked. At the same time, his elbow slipped onto the number pad and pressed a few keys. His face fell as all of a sudden Ahmed gave a squeak of surprise and doubled over.

“Hey, man, are you ok? Is something wrong?” Aaron had no clue what just happened.

“No, yes, I… I don’t… I need to go to the bathroom!” shouted Ahmed, who swivelled around in his chair and bolted from the room, still bent at the waist.

“Uh, well… feel better, I guess,” said Aaron dejectedly. Of course. Wes never makes good on his offers to hang out, Ahmed bolts just when things seem friendly. Clearly the thought of getting close to him was revolting. He rolled his eyes and glanced at the spreadsheet, noticing a change. Ahmed’s cs column was 53? That couldn’t be right. He hit Ctrl+Z, saved and closed the file, and headed out for a late (and regrettably solitary) lunch.

When he returned from lunch, Aaron was surprised to find Ahmed sitting in the chair next to his.

“Hey, I want to say sorry,” the young man said, blinking his dark eyes and blushing slightly. “I had–like, the weirdest feeling. Seriously, it was like–well, never mind what it was like. But I thought I was going to faint or something. Not very professional, was it?”

“It’s fine,” said Aaron, sitting down to his computer. “Seriously, don’t worry about it.” “No, man, it’s not fine,” said Ahmed. “You were really nice and asked me to lunch and I acted like it made me want to barf. I swear it wasn’t that, though. I just got really–sick or something.”

The poor kid looked like he still wasn’t feeling well. Aaron allowed himself to put his hand on Ahmed’s narrow shoulder while he said, “Are you feeling okay now? It won’t be a problem for any of us if you have to go home.”

Ahmed stuck out his chin. “No, that’s not necessary. I’ll be all right.” He managed a wavery smile. “Besides, I still need to learn all the ins and outs of the back end.”

Wes would have made a joke about that, thought Aaron with a wry grin, and almost as if he could hear the thought, Wes shouted from across the floor.

“Hey, don’t dweeb it up too much with him all at once, Sharp,” he said. “I need him focused on sales for the first little bit.”

“Mr. Granada said that I needed to balance out my training,” said Ahmed.

“Mr. Granada doesn’t have to have you ready to talk on your own by Thursday,” said Wes with a grin. “I do, and I don’t want you jabbering about nerd stuff with them. Get over here so I can give you my philosophy of selling.”

Ahmed looked at Aaron with an agonized expression. Aaron gave Wes a pointed look and raised his eyebrows. Wes grinned at him.

“C’mon, Sharp,” he said. “No one ever spends a whole day listening to me.”

“It’s fine,” said Aaron to Ahmed. “You can learn the IT portions later. I’ve got things pretty much covered, anyway. You can gratify Wes’s ego and we’ll intersperse your training once you feel like you’re ready.”

“That’s what I’m talking about,” said Wes. “Ego gratification. Get over here, kid.”

Aaron gave Ahmed a reassuring smile as the young man gathered his notebook and went over to Wes’s workstation. As soon as he could see that Ahmed was comfortably nodding along with Wes’s long-winded ideas about closing sales, he turned back to his computer and pulled up the spreadsheet he had saved that morning. All through lunch he had been puzzled by the weirdness of the document, and he felt he could let a few of his other projects wait while he made another stab at understanding whether the spreadsheet was important or not.

He put his headphones back on and reopened the document and stared at the formulae again. Completely incomprehensible. Maybe they were related to one another, somehow? Tweak one cell and something changes in the others? That’d hadn’t born out when he accidentally switched Ahmed’s cs score to 53, but that was just one little experiment. Which one to change, which one to change… he had no idea why, but for some reason this decision felt important. He moved the mouse to and fro, to and fro. Wes or Ahmed, huddled together? Xav, still pacing on his call? Himself? A sonorous clang pierced the noise cancellation of his headphones, and he jerked his head up. Of course it was George. The lanky custodian with the ponytail and beard never was one for emptying the bins quietly. That did it. Aaron had no clue what ks was, but George’s was about to get turned up to 11. Literally. He typed in the new number and hit enter, staring avidly to see if any of the other cells would change.

The cell jumped slightly and a buzzer sounded in his headphones. The number 11 he had just entered flashed red, and then the value reverted back to 0. There must be a limit on this field, but what was it? Aaron looked at George, furrowing his brow. What on earth could the number represent? What was it that Wes, George, and Xavier had 0 of, and he and Ahmed were–what? Blank? Undecided?

George caught him shaking his head and gave him a nod. They’d talked a couple of times, but nothing had really gelled. Aaron nodded back and returned to the spreadsheet. He really should start on the next project, but it bothered him not to have some solid answers for the strange formulas.

To say nothing of the fact that spreadsheets didn’t usually tell him what values they could and couldn’t accept. “At least format the cell like a drop-down if you’re gonna restrict me like that, come on,” he muttered to himself. Well, clearly it could accept a ks of 4, so he upped George’s to… 7? He couldn’t find anything in the formula that would suggest a value cap, so his guess was as good as any, he supposed. He entered the new value and hit enter, watching intently to see how the sheet would react.

Again, the strange buzzer and the reversion to 0. What could this be? He right-clicked on the field. There were some parameters on this field, it turned out, and just a little less than he had tried. It seemed as if the values were running from null-6, but there was no notation as to what, if anything, the values meant.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” he muttered, clapping a hand to his forehead. All of his investigation so far and he didn’t right-click the cell? Xav may as well make Aaron the new intern and hire Ahmed full-time in his place. Whatever, fine. He really had to get to work. Georgie, you get a ks of 5, whatever the hell that means. Aaron entered the new value, hit enter, and fully intended to simply save and close the program once he was sure the sheet finally accepted his input.

In his peripheral vision, Aaron could see George suddenly pause. The lanky janitor was staring off into the middle distance, a frown on his face. Slowly, his bright blue eyes slid over to where Wes and Ahmed were huddled together. Slowly, he licked his lips, and then suddenly seemed to realize he was staring and–possibly drooling? Shaking his head, he turned back to the bins…but Aaron could see that he was stealing glances over at the two as he went about his duties.

Aaron didn’t often pay close attention to George so, in reality, the janitor’s behaviour didn’t register to him one way or another. It was just another thing that- wait, what? Ahmed’s ks score value had been null before. No data. Right? How come it suddenly showed a 3? Was his score linked to George’s in some way? No other cells were changed, he was sure of it. He even toggled undo-redo to be sure, predictably failing to notice the look of confusion that crawled across George’s face as he did so. No, nothing changed. Not even Ahmed’s new value, which seemed constant.

“What the hell did you do here, Xav?” Aaron murmured. He checked his watch and swore under his breath. He really had to get back to work. Just a few more changes to see if anything else was wonky, and that’d be it. He felt like doing all the changes in one shot, just to see if the sheet would accept numerous modifications at once. In theory, if there were any dependencies, at least one of them would be rejected. After right-clicking every other cell to see if there were any other upper limits to be aware of (none, as far as he could tell), he was ready. He carefully jotted down new numbers in a series of cells below the current data, then cut and pasted the new numbers over top of the originals. The table now looked like:

<Spreadsheet 2>

“Holy shit!” said Wes suddenly from behind Aaron, loud enough that Aaron took off his headphones and turned around in concern. The muscular dudebro was sweating heavily, his mouth working silently as he gripped the armrests of his swivel chair. The handsome salesman’s legs were man-spread even wider than Wes’s usual sprawl, and his formerly respectable bulge was suddenly huge and heavy, straining the confines of his gray work slacks, so large that it hung halfway off the edge of Wes’s seat.

Aaron and Ahmed stared at the inhuman package with open mouths. Aaron suddenly felt a wild hot hunger pulsing through him. Fuck, but he wanted that straining bulge and everything behind it. He could almost taste the hot meaty forbidden tubular…

“Jesus–jesus fuck!” whined Wes, still gripping the armrests, a panicked edge lacing his voice as he began helplessly humping the air with his heavy package. “What’s–what’s happening to me?? Jesus, my cock–”

Ahmed gulped visibly as he watched the obscene display of Wes bulge-humping the air next to him, looking like he wasn’t sure if it was something that he should be interested in or disgusted by.

Xavier, hearing Wes whine, stood up and looked at his employee, who by now was sliding halfway down the chair as his hips continued to pummel the empty air, desperate for release. “Wes!” he barked. “What in hell–” He blinked, watching the up-and-down of Wes’s hips, then shook his head. “This is very unprofessional, Wes,” he said severely. “Do you need to take some time?”

“I–can’t help–it,” Wes practically sobbed. His normally cool demeanor was collapsing, and twinges of desire and humiliation were chasing each other across his face. “Fuck–fuck–you gotta help me, boss.”

Aaron tore himself away from staring at the spectacle of Wes’s sudden descent into sex mania and stole a glance at the spreadsheet. It seemed impossible, but could it be that the spreadsheet had something to do with the strange occurrence?

He looked at George, who was watching Wes with slightly predatory interest. The lanky janitor adjusted himself openly as he did, and then blinked, prodding his crotch experimentally. It was almost as if he was missing something.

Wes began to moan loudly, a needy whine giving his tone urgency and slutty insistence. “C’mon, dudes, help me,” he gasped.

Aaron groaned, on the brink of orgasm just from… from… Jesus fuck, from everything. The salami in Wes’ leg. The look of hunger in Ahmed’s eyes. George groping himself. Xav’s sexy, silver-fox detachment. At the same time he was in a panic. His heart pounded from arousal and complete distress at being so… so… aroused at work. He moaned again as he felt an orgasm build in his loins. This couldn’t be happening. He couldn’t let it happen. On pure computer-programmer instinct he reached for his keyboard and mashed CTRL+Z for all he was worth.

In some ways, it was just in time: Wes had stood up and was actively fumbling with his belt buckle. Xavier had started to make his way over to Wes, impatient for his lone salesman to get over himself and get back to work lately. George had one hand halfway inside his waistband.

In some ways, it was too late. Aaron let out a final whimper as he came, hard. Waves of pleasure roiled through his body even as his face burned in shame and adrenaline surged through his body, making for a heady combination that overwhelmed his conscious mind. His last deliberate act before passing out on the floor was to hit Alt+Tab, pulling up the ticketing system and hiding any remnant of his shame from anyone who might come to his aid.

He was dimly aware of silence, then footsteps, and then suddenly Xav - hot, solid, musky Xav - was hovering over him, gently shaking his shoulder. “Sharp? Sharp! Aaron, talk to me. Are you ok?” Aaron gradually came back to himself. The room stopped spinning and just behind Xav’s head he made out Wes, George and Ahmed staring at him over his cubicle wall, each wearing an expression of confusion and concern. Was everything back to normal? Had it all been a dream? “Xav… I… what happened?”

“Some kind of episode,” said Xavier, passing a hand over his eyes. “I myself felt–downright weird there, for a moment.”

“Shit, men, I’m fucking mortified,” said Wes, sounding really unhappy. “There was something going on in my shorts, and then I was feeling all feverish and everything and–Jesus, I don’t even know how to describe it. I didn’t mean to be so–sexed up and everything. Honestly. It was like I was possessed or something.”

“Maybe it was a gas leak or something?” said Ahmed helpfully from where he stood at Wes’s elbow.

Xavier sighed, and some of the creases on his face eased. “That’s as good as any explanation, and I’m happy to take it if everyone else is.” He peered into Aaron’s eyes. “Are you doing all right, though, Sharp? We’re all of us a little shaken right now. I’m fine if you want to go home a little early today.”

“I–I’m fine, I think,” said Aaron, praying that his now-soaked briefs weren’t sending the bleachy smell of cum to his co-workers’ nostrils. “I might take you up on that offer, though. I could use–” He almost said a shower and caught himself– “a nap.”

“Hell, so could I,” said Xavier, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Funniest thing, it felt like I was suddenly into–well, it doesn’t matter. That’s a good call, Sharp. We’re closing, and I want all of you to be late to work tomorrow. And I’ll have maintenance come by and run some radon checks or–or something.” He shook his head. “I’m at a loss, gentlemen.”

“I bet a radon check will help, boss,” said Aaron, already packing up his materials, feeling distracted and light-headed. “Probably just–a gas leak–like Ahmed–said.” He hesitated a moment before closing his laptop with a little snick and bundling it into his bag. Maybe in the privacy of his home he could work out what had happened and what, if anything, the strange spreadsheet had to do with it.

“Actually, I’ll check on that radon leak right now,” drawled George in his southern twang. He still looked slightly flushed behind his beard, and his eyes darted about nervously. “And all the other gas lines, fer that matter. Ain’t no time to fix a tiny problem than before it gets bigger, if you know what I’m sayin’.”

“So, um, I guess, I‘ll just go home then…” said Ahmed shakily. No doubt his head was spinning. His first day at work had been a whirlwind all right. First the episode around lunch, and now… whatever this was? He was still trembling.

Aaron heard Xav try to make more reassuring small talk, but he was already out the door, beige trench coat buttoned up and covering any damp spot that might soak through his pants. Wet to work in the morning, wet on the way home, for… other reasons, he thought to himself, cringing as his briefs chafed against his left thigh. He hadn’t masturbated in close to a week - his usual schedule - and the deposit in his pants was substantial.

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Mind control
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