Author : Suzanne Phillips

The scent is the worst part.

Sweat, stale cigarette smoke, ethanol, ear wax, cheap hair gel. When your face, and therefore your olfaction sensor, is pressed against a client’s neck, it’s impossible to avoid it – you weren’t given an option to switch it off.

But there isn’t supposed to be a “worst”. There isn’t supposed to be a “bad”. You’re programmed to detect chemicals wafting off a client’s body and interpret them as stages of arousal, or nervousness, and use the information along with visual and auditory cues, to choose the appropriate program.

The client clinging to you now should be a simple case: access humor files, cheer up with some light banter, relax, entice, satisfy. But satisfaction, in a more encompassing meaning of the word than the mere physical, is exactly what you can’t provide or achieve, and your programming whispers there should be more you can do. There’s not. You’ve tried. With this client and with many before him.

Maybe you made a mistake that day you plugged into the ‘Net outside your cubical. It’s part of your programming to seek new information if it will benefit your performance. But how much information was too much? There were so many databases to access. Human psychology, health, history.

Now you know that the ethanol and cocaine metabolites evaporating from his skin signal problems you can’t solve; That the un-washed lingerie, still giving off a faint perfume, that he brought and asked you to wear is probably from a girlfriend or wife whose memory brings as much pain as it does pleasure; That the saline and protein mixture you detect on his unshaven cheeks are tears – and what other human secretion so perfectly represents suffering?

And you can’t wipe them away, not with all the sex in the world. Not if you fucked him every day of the week.

He doesn’t belong to you. None of them do. You can temporarily satisfy his body, but all the other problems remain, pleasure a thin veneer briefly covering the pain.

You now know these things, but you lack the programming to respond. You’re programmed to please, to help, to comfort, but these are things you can’t fix. Brief gratification is all you can offer. The same programing that pushes you to do more denies you the parameters to act.

The scent is the worst part, but it’s just an indicator. You could go to the manager right after this client, request to have your olfactory sensor shut down, but it wouldn’t shut off the knowledge you have. You’d still know the sorrow was there. A complete reformat would wipe all your memory, but it would also wipe out any chance that, one day, you could help them. Any chance that you can go beyond the programming.

So you take the client to the padded bench in the back of the cubical, and revel in the few seconds where pleasure is the only thing on his mind, and pain is forgotten.

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