Jule Vandamme knows she's in big trouble before her boss utters a word. The walls in Vesta Harper's office vibrate in the grey-green of a storm-tossed sea. At Pinnacles Center for Sexual Rehabilitation, it is difficult for employees to hide their emotions as the building echoes them quite publicly. The air swirls tornado-like as the room tries to purge itself of the stench of smoke. Jule's eyes water. She suppresses the urge to dry them with the sleeve of her crisp white blouse. Her blonde curls whirl around her head in the gale. She captures the mass and twists it into a bun.
"Your client burned down half the facility. The sprinklers have ruined most of what the fire and smoke didn't. Why?" Vesta's red cheeks bulge ominously, like twin suns about to explode. "Stop that," she commands her office. The sudden stillness and quiet makes Jule feel more exposed.
"Don't interrupt." Vesta waves her hand, and a tiny Jule hologram, taken on her first day at Pinnacles, floats in the air between them. The holographic icon is captioned with her real name-Juliet. She hates that her mother named her after the quintessential doomed romantic heroine. Vesta pats the icon on the head to open Jule's personnel file. The throbbing blue text scrolls along in midair, the words disappearing as they reach the ceiling.
Nanocrap. Was there anything worse than watching a transmission of your professional life in front of an audience? And why would Vesta bring up Jule's personnel file? She could not think of a single pleasant reason but could think of a thousand unpleasant ones, including that she was about to be fired.
"Why would you tell him love doesn't exist in the real world?"
"Well, I ..."
"I said no interrupting. Your job, your only job, is to support our clients, to help them through the surrogate process. Our objective is to help them transition from artificial partners to normal, healthy, human relationships."
"I know, but ..."
"Half the building burned ... your client in the hospital meeting with personal injury lawyers."
"But he set the place on fire while trying to steal an Erotibot worth a billion dollars. We should sue him, right?" Jule says, but underneath her fear, she wonders if she had let her love life influence her work.
"He only tried to steal it because you told him love doesn't exist, and he would not find anything as sexually satisfying in the real world."
"Well, he wouldn't, would he? His Erotibot was a vampire mermaid. At least I didn't tell him that she'd already been disassembled and her parts returned to inventory." Jule wishes Vesta would vanish the file.
"Juliet," says Vesta.
"Jule ... I mean, my friends call me ..."
Vesta glowers while Jule squirms in the chair. "Juliet, I've known you for three years. You are our best counselor." Vesta pokes at the still-climbing file for emphasis. "Frankly, I don't understand why you are so good." She purses her lips like a fish and zeros her piercing gaze in on Jule's eyes. "Your clients are, by far, the happiest, yet you're like a robot yourself."
Jule's face heats. She takes a deep breath and manages to keep it from turning into a full-on blush. How had Vesta figured that out? Sure, Jule suppresses her own emotions but only to allow her to focus on her clients, not because she is afraid of them or anything. "I am sorry, Vesta. It will not happen again."
Vesta exhales in utter annoyance. "I like you, Juliet."
"Thanks, I ..."
Vesta glares Jule into silence. "Corporate wants you out, but I've convinced them to give you another chance."
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The Perfect GuyScience Fiction
It is the year 2040, many years since we cracked the human genome and resolved the ethics of DNA profiling. Now, a company called Pinnacles can use your DNA to manufacture your perfect sex partner. The problem is, sometimes "The Perfect Guy" is the...