Rachel stared at her monitor, breathing heavily. Her chair squeaked as she shifted awkwardly in her seat, pressing her knees together. The words depicting Gemini’s climax lingered on the screen in front of her, as well as in her mind and elsewhere on her body. She squinted her eyes shut, gripped the edge of her desk, and counted slowly to herself. One… two… The rubberclad catgirl danced behind her eyes, shuddering as her vision faded. By seven, the tingling between her legs had mostly faded and her chest felt less like a balloon in a vice.
She wanted to keep going, but she’d been roleplaying these kinds of scenes long enough to spot a natural break. Plus, if she didn’t stop there, she was pretty sure she’d have some explaining to do to the cleaning staff. That’s probably a good place to leave those two, I think. The keyboard clattered under her fingers as she typed blindly. I’m really glad I jumped online, though! Thanks, Jenn. I really needed that.
A blinking window from her supervisor stole Rachel’s focus as soon as she opened her eyes again. Your lunch break ended six minutes ago. Are you coming back on-shift?
Rachel’s breath caught in her throat. Logging in now, she sent back to her boss. Sorry about the delay. The next seven minutes were a blur of headset cables and application splash screens as she set back up her workstation. I’m in queue.
I see you. Rachel could hear the disapproving glare in her boss’s text. Don’t take your lunch at your desk in the future, please.
Fine. Rachel closed the window without waiting for a response, then tabbed back over to her terminal client. Jennifer had left her a message in the meantime. Well, Kassita could probably come get Gem, maybe, but it’s not exactly in zir nature to go saving people. She’d followed up the comment with a few clearly out-of-character pokes and one explicit Rachel, you there?
It’s not in Kassita’s nature to do anything anybody wants zim to do! Rachel concurred hastily. Sorry about the delay; I had to log back in after lunch.
A chime sounded in her ear, and her arm snapped automatically over to the answer button on her desk, tabbing over to her customer management window as she did so. “Thank you for calling Prismatic Media. My name is Rachel. Could I please have your subscriber ID number?” The words came out in a practiced block, her voice rising and falling in the same preset pattern as the last thousand times she’d said it. It wasn’t a question, but an autonomic response, an output of the brain stem and thorax triggered by the answering click of her headset.
As Rachel’s fingers mechanically drummed in the digits that the disembodied voice recited in her ear, her terminal window flashed at her. That’s kind of the point! If zie did what people wanted, the first thing zie’d do would be cure zirself! Then how much fun would zie be?
“One moment, ma’am, while I call up your records.” Rachel clicked the search button, then tabbed back over to her terminal window. The non-contagious kind? The kind that doesn’t leave you worrying if you’ve become a nanoplague carrier?
Like I said, what fun is that? Several emoticons followed the rejoinder. I hope you enjoyed it, at least.
Rachel squirmed in her seat again. Immensely. She held her breath and closed her eyes for a moment, imagining the sensations she’d just been describing for Gemini. One day, Jenn, I swear. One day. Maybe. She knew she didn’t need to explain; her roleplaying partner had to be thinking the same thing about her own character.
“Hello?” The voice in her ear spoke. “Are you still there?”
The question snapped Rachel out of her reverie. “Ah, yes, sorry. The computer’s being slow today, you know how it is.” The excuse was as practiced as the rest of her speech, even if she had to be interrupted into it. “How may I help you today, Mrs. Reynolds?”
While Mrs. Reynolds nattered in her ear, Rachel pulled up a text window and started typing keywords into it, plucked from the flow of her customer’s speech. Maybe! Jennifer agreed in her terminal window. We could get a vacbed for the house, and I could play with the tube. What do you think?
“I think—” Rachel cut the flow of words off with a blush. Text-stream fail, she chastized herself as she cleared her throat. I think it might be fun. I’ve tried things like that before, but it’s never as good in real life, you know?
Mrs. Reynolds was silent, startled by the unexpected interruption. “You think what?”
“Oh, that was for my supervisor, ma’am, and I forgot to mute,” Rachel lied into her microphone, glancing over the keywords her hindbrain had pulled out of Mrs. Reynolds’ rambling. “So, it sounds like you’re having some connection problems. When’s the last time you power-cycled your cable router?” Mrs. Reynolds launched into another miniature tirade about the frustrations of technology, and Rachel caught herself nodding supportively at her computer. “I know it’s frustrating, but I do have to ask you to please go find it and unplug it for thirty seconds, then plug it back in. Of course, I’ll wait.”
Saudade. The word was waiting for her when she got back to the window. Longing for what never was or could be.
The chat window from her boss popped up again. Please come see me after your call.
The vice-grip around Rachel’s chest tightened again, but without any of the warm tingling that accompanied it before. Sure, she sent back, before flipping over to the terminal window where Jenn was waiting. Exactly. I should go, but I have a side question for you first. Who or what is Jakob Voynovich?
Another long silence passed. You know, I’m not sure! It made sense when I said it. I think it did, at least.
I’m not complaining! Rachel banged out the reassurance. I was just a little surprised by it. New character idea, maybe?
Maybe! Jenn’s reply was faster this time. With an introduction like that, he sounds like he could be some kind of crime lord. That might be fun to play!
“Hello?” The voice in Rachel’s ear startled her. “It’s plugged back in.”
Rachel’s snicker died in her throat as she shifted her vocal track back to operator-mode. “Okay, I’m going to try to connect to your router. This will only take a few moments. Please hold.” Her fingers bounced over her keyboard, cranking out diagnostic commands. While they ran, she tabbed back to her terminal window. That’s all you need: another excuse for a creepy backstage manipulator. Too much narrative intrigue, not enough sexy time!
To each zir own, love, Jenn chided. You want more sexy time, you have to give me more high-concept weirdness. That’s how it works!
I’m not complaining, just amused. Rachel’s fingers bounced on her keyboard as she typed. Anyway, I should get going. Is there enough of a dinner plan for me to worry about leftovers?
The chat window stayed silent for a few moments. Maybe. I’ll talk with the others and try to work something out.
Rachel sighed. Just let me know, okay? I’d rather stop and get a burger than come home and cook if you guys don’t do anything.
“Is something wrong?” Mrs. Reynolds asked.
I’ll let you know if a plan comes together, okay? Jenn sent back.
No, nothing’s wrong. Rachel stared at her terminal window, then drew in a deep breath. “No, nothing’s wrong. The computers are just slow today. I don’t see anything wrong from here. It looks like power-cycling your router seems to have taken care of the problem.”
What’s wrong? Jenn asked. Was it something I said?
Never mind. I have to go. See you tonight. Rachel closed the terminal window, then leaned back in her chair and stared emptily at the ceiling tiles. “You’re very welcome, Mrs. Reynolds. Thank you for calling Prismatic Media, and have a wonderful afternoon.” Her finger tapped the answer button again, but her mind was already drifting ahead to the meeting with her supervisor. She glanced towards the clock, hoping for a reprieve, but the hands only pointed out how far from her next break she was. She slumped forward, elbows against her desk, and sighed. I wonder if anyone will notice if I take a nap in the bathroom?