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circa 2009

I've been really tired lately. It's an expected hazard when you're working the night shift, but sometimes, it goes beyond just tired and into a fugue state where things get really strange and you start seeing things. I have to drive between sites a lot too, which means that at 3AM in the morning on an empty road through a forested patch, I get pretty twitchy about running into things. It doesn't help that there are mangled, vulture-picked corpses every quarter mile in Virginia, if not more.

But anyway, what I meant to say is that while I'm half-asleep and busy milking my near-exhausted adrenaline gland and then taking melatonin to sleep, I've been trying not to run over the grey foxes.

Foxes are everywhere, but these dust-colored scavengers only come out at night. They're harder to see than their red and orange cousins, and with the salt-brined roads and the snow everywhere, they blend in even better. They don't leave footprints on the frozen crust of the snow either, so it's twice as difficult to avoid them. But the hell of it is, they're faster, too, so when I swerve to avoid one, they're just... gone. Bushy tail and all, off into the forest while I'm trying to get the truck back between the lines and my heart back down out of my throat.

So, right. No big deal, right. At least it's not deer. But I've got the kind of soft heart where I get twitchy about rabbits living in clover leaves, so... I don't even want to think about hitting foxes, even if they're kind of creepy, evil little bastards given to eating the young of other beasties.

It wouldn't be a problem except I think they've taken to living around one of the data centers down south a ways. All of the buildings are in vaguely forested areas, including this one, meaning there's plenty of foxes. As a consequence, the cat population has dropped. I haven't seen the black cat around the oldest of the NOCs recently, and I'm rather worried. The foxes are much faster than one old tom with a wounded leg. I suspect the worst has happened.

It's one of those abstract things I wonder about when I've got too few minutes between midnight and five AM when everything shuts down and it's just me in a battered truck on the black ribbon of Highway 28 in the darkness. Or in the woods, tense, waiting for my pager to go off. There's nothing much of real consequence to think about aside from the pager and the network and whether or not I've seen more than two living people today.

The security guards, being themselves cardboard cutouts at the front desks, watch me with wary eyes like sheep - or kicked dogs. We don't make small talk.

It's easier that way.

Well, anyway. I keep finding long grey hairs in the fan intakes on servers, too, and they're clogging up the boxes just enough to let the magic smoke out. The things aren't long like my hair is, but long enough and dense enough to really throw a wrench in the works. It's dust-colored, too.

I don't think they're in the data center themselves, but I had to check some of the plugs under the raised floor the other day, and this tail vanished under and behind one of the air handler units. Maybe it's hunting rats?

No one else can see them. It's just fur and gone like a ghost, and I've started feeling whiskers on the backs of my legs, and their weird, warbling keen in the air handlers.

Maybe I'm just tired, but I've started finding these hairs in my clothing and in my pack and in my bedclothes, and I've got these fox-grey bags under my eyes too, the same shade as the fox fur, and in the harsh light of my bathroom mirror, seems like my brown eyes are a bit more orange. And I'm always tired and hungry now and going lean with this diet, lean and sharp and fragile.

I can't sleep now that I've gone completely resistant to the melatonin, and I've been seeing more and more foxes lately. I keep wondering if one day I won't swerve.

But I keep my eyes on the road. I get my coffee from the gas station. It's just me and the clerk.

"You be careful out there, hear."

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