Really, she should have been prepared. It wasn’t as if Jude hadn’t endured jokes and pranks galore at practically every workplace that had ever employed her, or at the University of Washington dormitories before she graduated–such was, after all, the curse of having a birthday on the most mischief-laden day of the year.

But the morning had started out annoying, and shot straight to crazy-making from there. She’d mis-set her alarm, which had gotten her out the door twenty minutes late. Her truck had balked at starting, which had added another ten minute delay to the commute. And to top it all off, a week of sun had on this very morning given over to a deluge of the heavy rain for which Seattle was infamous. Accordingly, traffic on I-5 inched along at a crawl all the way into downtown.

Jude normally would have taken this as a challenge, and sung her defiant way through the sappiest Disney movie soundtrack at her disposal. Except that the instant she jammed her CD copy of Beauty and the Beast into the player on her dashboard, a sickening grinding noise told her that effort was doomed. She gave it her best go anyway, but even bellowing “Every morning just the same, every morning that she came to this poor provincial town” a cappella at the top of her lungs couldn’t chase off her rapidly souring mood.

It was, all in all, a hell of a way to start her first day of work.

The receptionist at nTrust Networking’s front desk was sympathetic, at least. She signed Jude in and called for James, her new lead, to come show her to her new office. James, it turned out, had been stuck in traffic half an hour longer than she had, and his hair was still wet from his mad dash into the building to avoid the downpour. He made all the expected new-lead-on-a-new-job social noises, and assured her she wouldn’t need to do much on her first day besides get her computers up and running and get all the tools she’d need installed. Lacking adequate breakfast, her nerves still on edge, Jude made all the appropriate social noises back and prayed to herself that the smile she’d forced onto her features didn’t look too false.

She stopped dead, though, when she and James reached the door of what he identified as her shiny new office.

It wasn’t big, and like most offices she’d worked in, it was set up for two occupants, with a pair of desks back to back, sporting a ring of CRT monitors. This one had one decidedly non-standard feature, though: a mighty pyramid of water bottles stacked floor to ceiling. Every last one was tied with a colorful ribbon. Right in the center of the stack, a construction paper sign stood proudly, bearing the words WELCOME TO THE TEAM in large, ornate Sharpie letters. HAPPY BIRTHDAY was written just beneath that, in red Sharpie rather than black. Confetti was strewn liberally over the entire display. Jude couldn’t say for sure without inspecting the work closely, but a certain suspicious sheen along the very bottom of the lowermost set of bottles strongly hinted that all of them were glued to the desk.

Sitting in the opposite chair was her apparent officemate, a young woman about her age. She was African-American, clad in the traditional Seattle geek uniform of jeans, T-shirt, and ponytail, and she was typing busily away on her keyboard. When she spotted Jude’s shocked figure in the doorway, though, she looked up with such a straight face that for an instant, Jude had to wonder if she had even noticed the water bottle sculpture beside her. “Oh, hi,” she said blandly. “Can I help you?”

“Kendis,” James drawled, just as blandly, “I’ve brought you your new officemate.”

Jude stood frozen for one moment, then another, then another. Then, she tilted sideways into the doorjamb, propped her face against her arm, and laughed herself silly.

Then and only then did the other girl rise, smiling broadly now and thrusting out her hand for a shake. “Kendis Thompson,” she introduced herself. “I’m going to be the one helping you make our dev team’s lives a living hell.” She gave a sideways toss of her tousled head at the bottles. “That’s from all of us. Good to have you on board–and happy birthday!”

“Jude Lawrence,” Jude replied. She took and shook the offered hand and added brightly, “And I’m a big fan of making developers’ lives hell! How did you know it was my birthday?”

“HR warned me,” James put in. He was grinning now, too, though he was also turning to go. “Welcome, Jude. I’ll leave you two to get settled in, okay? I’ve got to get to a meeting.”

They let him leave, and Jude was willing enough to take the measure of her new coworker. “Think fast: Star TrekX-Files, and Buffy?”

“Sisko’s gorgeous, Voyager is silly, Mulder and Scully should under no circumstances get together because Mulder is mine, and oh please god yes let’s have more vampires with guns,” Kendis said without batting an eye. Her grin got broader, and Jude’s mood perked up immensely. Another girl on the team, and enough of a science fiction and fantasy fan that they could talk TV?

As April Firsts went, maybe this one wasn’t going to be bad at all.