The computer screen flickered in a blue haze, numbers scrolling automatically until a familiar, if not innocuous voice requested the user's personal code. She typed in her PIN number and waited impatiently for the machine to process it. "Welcome to the Intellex System. Please choose the appropriate category for your request." The methodical voice was but a small annoyanceto be dealt with for the convenience of the 21st century, thought Joanneas she followed the instructions.
The screen for "Housing Options"appeared on the monitor. Thoughtfully she opted for the map of the Los Angeles area and scanned the complex layout for each sector of the city, the population, income levels,crime statistics and community situations. Being new to a large city is a pain, Joanne lamented to herself. It's certainly overwhelming compared with the small Vermont town she happily left to accept Valortec's offer to move to the West Coast as their Director of Marketing and Research for future technology in the world of today.' With all the conflicts in her life, it was hard to believe that the job of a lifetime should appear at such a perfect time. Call it magic or whatever, Joanne decided, fate was rescuing her from a less than amicable divorce and transporting her to anew life here in Los Angeles.
"Oh, that looks good!" she exclaimed and scrolled up to the description of a residence in Silver Lake. "Three successful women looking for a fourth to share a large home complete with all the fully automated systems one needs in a modern world. Joanne punched in the designated code and waited for contact. The screen flickered and blurred. Joanne adjusted the settings, cursing the hotel's inadequate quality system she was forced to use. "Hello?.....Hello? Hel---lo??" A woman's voice echoed through the computer. Joanne responded, finally getting the screen to clear. A well-dressed 30-something brunette appeared before her. "Oh there you are," the dark-haired woman exclaimed. "I was afraid it was a prank call!"
"Sorry," Joanne apologized, "I'm using a somewhat antiquated system. Can you see me okay?"
"Mmmm, a bit fuzzy, but I think my system can clear that. Hang on a moment." The woman punched up a series of codes on her computer and smiled. "There, much better now! So what can I do for you?"
Joanne introduced herself and explained why she was calling. "Have you filled the vacancy?" she finally asked. Joanne saw the woman smile, "Actually you're the first caller. We just put the ad in this morning. As you know there are three of us already here. Let me put in our profile disks so you can see what you're in for," she laughed jokingly.
Her humor was refreshing. I like her, Joanne decided as she waited for the computer to decipher the profile disk. The screen flashed a kaleidoscope of color and a musical introduction was followed by a scan of the house, it's dimensions, specifications and special features. Joanne was impressed. It was big, private, in an exclusive community and actually had trees that sheltered it from the outside world.
She reviewed the information, then continued on to the personal profiles of the tenants. Barbara, the woman who answered the call, was first to come up on the screen. She seemed extremely sophisticated and well-bred as she explained that she owned the property. It was actually an inheritance from her parents who had moved to Mars and given up all their Earthly possessions. Barbara was successful in her own right as a stock analyst and broker. As Joanne suspected she was in her mid-thirties. One divorce. No dependents. Liked night life -- dancing, music, parties -- a socialite of sorts.
Then there was Marie. Having been at the top of her class at England's Cambridge University she was one of the world's top genetic research scientist. Her British accent was really charming as she thoughtfully shared her life. With her long blonde hair and trim figure, she could still pass as a college co-ed though she had just celebrated her 30th birthday. She considered herself a morning person - long walks, horseback- riding, biking and weekend jaunts to just about anywhere. Never been married. No dependents.
Last, a profile of Sandra showed a thirty-two year old transplant from China. Her deep dark eyes seemed to twinkle as she laughed nervously trying to think of something to say. Her ancestry dated back to the Ming Dynasty and her company, China Doll, was incredibly successful with its traditional Asian products being exported all over the world. Once again, never been married. No dependents. Enjoyed cooking, staying home and working in the garden.
Joanne exited the program and returned to Barbara, patiently working by the computer. "Well, what do you think?" Barbara asked. Joanne grinned. "It's really wonderful. If you'd like, I will put my disk in for you now."
Barbara nodded in agreement and waited for Joanne to enter her own personal profile. It was a difficult time to be totally honest with strangers, Joanne had thought when she made her profile. Nothing seemed to be going right in life, except the job transfer to Valortec. Her parents had recently died, her mother of a sudden heart attack, and her father, Joanne was sure, of a broken heart.
Needless to say, the discovery that her husband, Ron, was obsessed with other women and an admitted philanderer was an additional cause of a depression that sent Joanne into the depths of loneliness. There was a desperate feeling of urgency to find something that would take her away from this life in Vermont. Much to her surprise, and delight, Valortec had contacted her about the position on the west coast as head of marketing for their operations division.
She saw a red light flicker on the screen and knew that Barbara was at that moment checking her references and statistics. Joanne thought back to the day she made the disk. She had on her best silk dress and had just had her hair done. By most standards for her thirty-four years, she was considered very attractive. As for hobbies, she shared her love of the outdoors, travel, reading and long, deep, thought-provoking conversation. Her divorce was mentioned, but briefly. Hopefully her enthusiasm and compatibility were evident.
She waited nervously as she watched the red light turn to blue than green. The screen cleared and revealed Barbara. "Well, that was too easy!" she commented. "Everything seems in order. Are you still interested?"
Joanne nodded, relieved that the process had been relatively painless. "All I need to do is to figure out the costs." Barbara broke down the monthly maintenance fees and miscellaneous expenditures. "And," she added, "of course there's the cost of Jeremy. He's a bit more expensive than most, but we think he's worth it." Joanne scanned the cost listings and noted the extraordinarily high cost of the home's Mantoid. "Why is that?" she asked, a bit taken aback.
"Well, we could have gotten a manufactured Humanoid. They are certainly getting realistic, but there are still kinks in the systems. Besides we prefer the real thing" and she added "We can afford it. Let's face it. There's nothing like being with a real man without the games and mental gymnastics that always happen when you get involved emotionally. Anyway, along with Jeremy's maintenance we felt it necessary to put in a transference room to give him, and us, of course, full access to whatever experiences we wish fulfilled. No compromises. We really did go all out! Would you like to see Jeremy's profile?" Barbara asked with confidence and pride.
Joanne thought for a moment, then agreed. The screen field was immediately filled by a full view of a very handsome man. The camera zoomed in to the man's rugged face, with its firm jaw, wavy dark hair, deep brown eyes and an incredible smile. When he spoke, it was warm. When he laughed, it was sincere and almost comforting, and when he smiled, Joanne felt like melting away.
What was it about him? She was quite taken aback and relieved in a way that he was a Mantoid and committed to being a community provider. His image disappeared from the screen and in its place Barbara was looking out with anticipation. "Well, what do you think?" she inquired.
Joanne grinned, "When can I move in?"
Joanne was ecstatic over her new job and new home. Valortec was a prosperous company that believed in sharing its success with loyal employees. The people in the office were accommodating and helpful; the work was interesting and challenging...and the money, great! Everything was perfect, except for the loneliness that would creep up slowly, without warning. Sometimes in the middle of the night, Joanne would wake up with a lump in her throat and a feeling of emptiness.
Even during the afternoons, she would be sitting at her desk working on a project when she would just want to close the door and cry. It wasn't supposed to feel like this. It takes time to make friends, she rationalized to herself. On the other hand, she couldn't get up the energy to put the effort out, even though she did enjoy her co-workers. She felt a stranger in this new environment.
Home life was all right, but also isolating. Each of the women seemed perfectly content leading separate lives. Although she had met them all, it was rare to run into them in the house. As for Jeremy, Joanne was just not ready for an encounter, not even with a Mantoid. Healing was slow from her divorce and she preferred the company of a good book or a hike far away from the city's frenetic pace.
Despite her reserve at getting to know Jeremy, she was still included in his scheduling. Each house mate was allotted a certain period of time in his transference room, although exceptions, trading and special occasions were easily arranged. One night as Joanne wandered through the house, she heard a giggle and a sigh as she neared the room. Out walked Barbara, her clinging silk dress in disarray, her hair unkempt and her shoes in her hand. She smiled and sighed, "Nobody can beat him, really. Jeremy is amazing...well, good night...and sleep well!"
Joanne watched her disappear down the corridor, then she casually walked over to the big oak transference room door. Something about that door was captivating. Resisting the temptation to go in she returned to bed for a fitful night's sleep.
Everything seemed to go wrong the next day. The wake-up code somehow malfunctioned and as she got out of bed, Joanne tripped over a shoe and jammed her knee into the side of the bureau. "Shit," she cursed as she hopped on one leg to the shower. The water felt good, cascading down her body, too good. She would have liked to stay there all morning. Her knee felt tender, a bruise was already beginning to form a purple shadow.
A quick brush to her hair, makeup applied rather haphazardly, and she was off to work. As she walked towards the front door, she saw Marie in a western riding costume, spurs, round-up rope, the works. "Been out riding?" Joanne asked. Marie grinned, "Yeah...you could say that." She tossed back her blonde mane and pointed to the transference room. Then she added, "I haven't been able to throw him yet...but I have a lot of fun trying!" With that she turned on her spurs and headed for her room.
Joanne paused, looked around, and curiously contemplated the big oak door of the transference room before shaking her head and going off to work.
The transference room itself was amazing. Through the complex molecular scientific breakthroughs of the 21st century, a person's reality could be transformed into practically anything they wished. By manipulating a complexity of computerized programs, it was possible to be transformed to a deserted island, another country, a gambling hall filled with Humanoid gamblers...wherever a person could think to go, they would be there.
Although Joanne had certainly been exposed to transference rooms, it had only been with a robotic Humanoid, and only if her husband was out of town or unavailable for long stretches of time. Being with a real Mantoid seemed a lot more invasive. As she ate her salad alone in the kitchen that evening, Joanne couldn't help noticing the Mantoid schedule posted on the refrigerator. This was actually her night...and it was tempting. She sighed, feeling lonely, depressed... and tense. That made her chuckle to herself. Tense. That was the feeling that always pervaded when she would rent time with a Humanoid. Funny about Sex. When it's good it could just melt away problems. When it was bad, well, everything seemed to intensify.
Forget it, she thought to herself. There was a good book waiting in the library begging to be read. Padding down the hall in her bare feet, carrying her shoes in one hand, a glass of wine in the other, she headed for her room. As she passed the big Oak door, however, she paused. Looking at it gave her a chill through her entire body. Memories of something were flooding through her.
Then she remembered. Five years old, feeling scared, lonely. She was supposed to be asleep, but the shadows on the wall were like the demons from the fairy tales her mother read her. The wind outside howled, rattling the windows, wanting to come in. She crept down stairs, creepy-crawlies followed her along the walls. When she got to the front door, she paused.
The big oak doors protected her from the outside world. But the wind was calling and whistling. She tried to open the door, but it wouldn't budge. Then she looked up and realized that a big imposing lock was securely in place. She struggled to reach it. Out of frustration she sat down and cried, feeling helpless and small. The next thing she remembered there was morning sunlight streaming through the windows and her parents standing over her, laughing at finding their little girl curled up by the front doors.
Well, it wouldn't hurt to just have a look inside, Joanne rationalized, as she stood outside the transference room. Setting her shoes and glass down she slowly opened the big oak door and looked inside. She was surprised to see a fireplace with a healthy fire roaring away at the far end of the room. Strewn around the floor were big pillows, large enough to lounge in. It was warm in there too, unlike the house that was so cavernous there always seemed to be a subtle chill in the air.
Just as she was about to close the door, she heard her name. "Joanne, why don't you stay awhile. It's been awfully quiet here. And to be honest, I'm feeling a bit lonely." She froze. It was Jeremy speaking from by the fire. She hadn't even noticed him sitting there with a book and a glass of wine. Adrenaline rushed through her and she felt a flush overcome her face. "I....I...no thank you, really." She was about to leave when he rose and approached her.
She could see the cleft in his chin from across the room. He strode towards her confidently. His smell, his real man smell reached her before he physically did. That was something they were never quite able to do with the Humanoids. No matter how life-like they appeared, there was always a non-human quality about them that kept you emotionally detached.
But Jeremy was different. Uh oh, thought Joanne, this is too weird. He extended his hand and took hers gently. "I don't believe we've been formally introduced. I'm Jeremy." He smiled a sensitive, warm, safe grin. "I'm Joanne," she managed to stuttered. Then she laughed at herself. "But you know that."
He didn't ask her why she never visited. He didn't probe. He just invited her to sit with him by the fire, and have a glass of wine. Well, it couldn't hurt, she thought. One glass of wine. She followed him to the fireplace and sat down on a pillow. It was soft and enveloped her as she curled up, legs tucked underneath her. She couldn't help noticing the book, Flannery O'Connor's compilation of short stories. "Great book," she commented, as she accepted the glass of deep, red wine.
"Yes, it is. A bit strange though. Red, okay?" he asked, indicating to the glass of wine. She nodded as she sipped it. "So what's your favorite story?" he asked, referring to the closed book. Joanne paused for a moment, then responded, "The bible salesman... where he seduces the girl with the peg leg! She really did write some strange stuff, didn't she?" They both started laughing.
For the next two hours they discussed books, music, anything that came to mind. Yawning, Joanne looked at her watch and realized that she should get to bed. "Well, this was really nice," she said shyly, feeling as if she was saying good-night after a first date. "Yes, it was," Jeremy agreed. "Sleep well, Joanne. Let's get together soon, okay?" She nodded as he opened the door for her.
Crawling into bed, Joanne's heart was racing. God, she thought, I feel like a schoolgirl and a first crush. Get over it girl. He's a Mantoid. But she couldn't get over it and all night long she had dreams of him smiling, laughing, holding her. Making love to her. She woke up the next morning before the alarm. At first she didn't know where she was. It took a few moments. Then she remembered last night and smiled.
That morning, Joanne had amazing energy. She threw on a pair of shorts, T-shirt and her running shoes, then headed out for a four mile jog. She zipped into work and the day seemed to fly by. It wasn't until the end of the day that she realized that this was because she had something to look forward to. Jeremy. Barbara was out of town and Joanne was going to spend time with him again tonight.
When it was finally time to leave, Joanne flew home with so much energy she didn't know what to do. She wasn't even hungry. As soon as she got to her room, the work clothes fell to the floor in a pile and she rummaged through her drawers for something soft, subtle, sexy...an off the shoulder lambswool pullover and a tight, well-fitting skirt. She touched up her lipstick and headed for the big oak door.
Her heart was racing. Calm down, girl. She laughed to herself, took a deep breath and opened the door. She was stunned. Unlike the night before, the room had been transformed into a beautiful sandy beach with palm trees and an ocean bluer than blue. She stopped in her tracks. It was the most heavenly sight she could imagine. As she stood there, not sure where to go or what to do, she was startled by a hand on her shoulder. She jumped.
"I'm sorry if I surprised you!" Jeremy exclaimed. "I thought you saw me." She turned and gasped. There he was in bathing shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt. His bronzed muscular body rippled unassumingly through the fabric. He put his arm around her, "Hungry?" he inquired.
She realized that she had skipped dinner, lunch for that matter as well. "I could eat," she quipped. He led her to a beach blanket at the edge of the water. A basket of fruits, a bottle of wine, some light salads and breads were laid out next to two tall candles and a couple of plates with silverware. "M'lady?" he motioned to the blanket for her to sit down. She did and they began to eat in silence.
It took all her nerve to talk. "Jeremy, can I ask you a question?" she paused nervously. "Jo, you can ask me anything you like. I have nothing to hide." She took a deep breath.
"How did you...I mean, well, you're bright, charming...handsome, why in heaven's name did you become a Mantoid?" He looked into her eyes and leaned over. She thought he was going to kiss her, instead he wiped away a crumb from the corner of her mouth and replied, "For a long time I was a womanizer - I loved to party, to flirt, to have sex. Married, single, young, old. Two, sometimes three in a night. In the day time I was an attorney, I was pretty good at that too!" He laughed.
Joanne felt a sense of disgust overtake her. Great! she thought to herself. Are all men alike or what? This guy sounded just like her ex-husband! Worse yet, her boyfriend prior to meeting Ron had left his wife for her! She nodded her head for Jeremy to continue. "Well, one day I was caught by my boss with his wife. That was the worst thing I could have done." Jeremy paused. "As you know the federal law considers irresponsible sex grounds for prosecution, what with all the diseases going around."
"My boss was really angry and threatened to report me. But, thank God he had compassion. He discussed it with the local committee and after I passed a physical examination with a clean bill of health, it was decided that since I was apparently very appealing to the opposite sex that I could do ten years of community service as a Mantoid. Considering my options, it seemed like a pretty good deal."
Joanne was shocked, but couldn't help asking, "So how long has it been?" He thought for a moment, "Just about ten years." "What will you do next?" she probed. "Well, who knows. I haven't thought that far ahead really. More wine?" he asked as he began pouring.
Joanne was quiet. Well, there go any romantic possibilities. Another philandering jerk. "You know something Jeremy? I hate lawyers and I hate womanizers. So let's call it a truce and just be friends, okay?" He looked puzzled and nodded his head.
"How about a walk then? I hate to waste a good transference" he indicated the sun beginning to set behind the water. She agreed and joined him at the water's edge. "By the way Joanne," Jeremy softly began as he held her hand, "there's something very special about you. You are bright, charming, intelligent....I think it's going to be fun having you as my friend."
When Joanne went to bed that night, there was a note on her door. "Jo, I came back unexpectedly from my trip and desperately need a little 'Jeremy' time. Is it okay if I take tomorrow afternoon and give you Sunday morning? Thanks, Barb." Joanne tacked a quickly scribbled 'okay' to Barbara's door and went to sleep thinking about Jeremy? What does he do with the others? Should she ask? From the way the other women acted, Joanne was sure their time in the transference room was kept confidential. Besides she didn't feel comfortable confiding with any of them. She finally fell into a sound sleep.
Saturday morning Joanne awoke and rolled over in bed. She realized she was really lonely and really horny. Shit, she cursed, why does he have to be real? Maybe I should go to a Humanoid Relaxation Center and get off my frustrations there. She looked up at the ceiling and stared. I'm hooked, she resigned to herself. No, no, no. I can't be. I am. I can tell. Shit, shit!!!
The day lingered on endlessly. Just as she was going into the kitchen for lunch Joanne ran into Sandra coming out of the transference center. She had on a loose fitting kimono robe and from the looks of it, nothing else. She smiled at Joanne, "Are you doing well here? Is everything satisfactory?" she asked politely. "Everything is great, thanks. Umm, you were just in with Jeremy?" Joanne inquired, cursing herself afterwards.
Sandra continued smiling without a flinch. "Yes, it is always such a pleasure, no?" Joanne didn't know what to say, so she just shrugged her shoulders in agreement. Sandra excused herself and headed towards the back of the house. Joanne watched her go, then headed to the kitchen to get something to eat.
The next morning she kept her appointment to see Jeremy. And as before, her heart started pounding in her chest as she struggled with herself as to what to wear. She decided on a white mini-dress with a low-cut neckline. A tease is what the guys had called her in high school. So what, she mused. He's only a Mantoid.
For her two hours in the transference room, Joanne had scheduled a brunch. And at the last moment, she chose to leave the details to Jeremy. Let's see how creative he really is, she quietly challenged.
He's done it again, she marveled, as she entered a tropical forest complete with birds, the buzz of insects and the smell of plants, too numerous to mention. Jeremy appeared in khaki shorts and shirts. "You Tarzan, Me Jane?" Joanne teased. Jeremy looked around the forest and protested apologetically, "You don't like it? Don't worry, we can change it, no problem!"
"No, Jeremy, really. It's great. I love it. It's great." He looked relieved as he took hold of her hand and led her to a little hut in the midst of the forest. Even before they reached it Joanne could smell the Asian spices. When they entered the hut, two native women scurried to them with big glasses of Mai-Tai's. Then they urged them into big comfortable chairs as the food was ready.
Rich, coconut curry accompanied by grilled fish, plantains and heaping bowls of rice cooked to perfection were placed before them. When they thought they could eat no more, tall glasses of ice tea and fresh fruit were offered. Afterwards, Jeremy insisted that Joanne join him for a nap in a double hammock. Sensing her suspicion that he would "try something" he promised that they were only "friends." They lay there with their arms wrapped around each other. Joanne couldn't help wishing that it was as more than friends.
He snuggled close to her, "Mmm, this feels good, doesn't it? It's nice to just be with you. It's very special." Joanne sighed, wishing her time didn't have to end.
The next few weeks seemed to leap towards Christmas at a rapid pace. Joanne got caught up in work, in shopping and always, always there was Jeremy. Whether it was sailing on a lake, jogging together around a park, hiking through the Alps or just sitting by a fire, it was these times that kept Joanne going. She felt that they were getting closer and closer, not just in a Mantoid servicing. It was something more.
As Christmas approached, the house got quieter and quieter. All three of Joanne's house mates had family to visit. Joanne just couldn't face a cold Vermont winter with distant relatives. With her parents gone, the holidays just weren't the same. But Jeremy promised it would be a very special Christmas, and Joanne knew he would keep that promise.
On Christmas Eve, just as planned, she prepared to visit him. Feeling rather sensual, she slipped on her silkiest hose, garter, and matching lace bra. Not bad, she thought, not that anybody else would see it, she sighed. Then she put on her new dress...or what there was of it. It really was a little filmy thing...all black with subtle glitters of gold that shimmered on their own. Soft, sensual. Nice. She felt good. Feminine.
The room was filled with candles and the smell of pine. It was the fireplace room again. She hadn't been there since the first time she had been with Jeremy. He appeared, as if out of nowhere in a tuxedo with a single red rose.
"M'lady," he bowed from the waist. "Would'st thou accompany me to the dance?" She felt like Cinderella as he gently put his arm around her waist and they entered another room where a quartet of musicians softly played a waltz. Jeremy expertly danced her around the room, his cheek close to her, one hand clasping hers, the other hand at the small of her back. They danced and danced. In between they took sips of champagne and he lightly kissed her neck.
She didn't resist, so he continued. Nuzzling her ear at intervals. He took her face in his hands and looked into her eyes. "You are an incredible woman, Ms. Joanne. This is not what I expected when I accepted this position. I think I'm falling in love with you." She looked back, unafraid of what might happen next. He stroked her hair, her cheek and held her close. Then he took a step back and bowed once again. "M'lady, please excuse my inappropriate behavior. Won't you join me for dinner?" Playing into his game, she curtsied shyly, "Thank you sir. It would be a pleasure!" And together they sat down to a feast of roasted turkey, potatoes, fresh vegetables and more.
Joanne could barely eat. Her body was crazed with hunger, but it wasn't for this. No, it was for something else. Something so special she could hardly believe the sensations running up and down her spine. Jeremy seemed to be having the same thoughts as they quietly played with their food. Spontaneously their eyes met and as if an unspoken pact had been set, they rose and returned to the room with the fireplace.
Jeremy held Joanne's hand firm, yet gentle at the same time. She shivered involuntarily. As if on cue, he pulled her close to him and began caressing her bare back. She moaned softly, putting her free hand around his waist, encouraging him. He kissed her neck and then caressed it. He let go of her hand and leaned down to kiss her lips.
It was a soft kiss...patient, questioning. She returned it with an unspoken 'yes.' His hand slipped beneath her dress and he almost gasped as he realized that her skin was bare and smooth. He caressed her. She leaned back and moaned. "Oh Jeremy, this feels so-o-o good. I can't believe it." She looked into his eyes. "Believe it Jo, just believe." With that, he effortlessly picked her up and carried her to the pillows next to the fireplace.
The rest of the night was a blur, as was the next day and the next. Joanne spent the entire week in the transference room. Nothing could be more wonderful. They spent every moment together and it was heaven. Barbara and the others wouldn't be back until after New Years Day, light years away.
As New Years Eve approached, Joanne felt a sense of loss. Waking up in the middle of the night, she looked over at Jeremy sleeping peacefully in the moonlight of their starry night. He opened his eyes, feeling her stare. Wordlessly he pulled her towards him and they once again made love until the sun came up, finally falling into a euphoric sleep.
When Joanne awoke in the morning, Jeremy was gone. She sat up, panicked. Just then he came into the room with a tray full of breakfast goodies. Joanne sighed with relief and hugged him. He returned the hug and insisted that they eat. "You were pretty restless last night, weren't you?" Jeremy commented in a concerned tone. "Mmmm, just thinking I guess." Joanne replied. "About?" he encouraged.
She took a deep sigh and continued, "Well, I know this sounds crazy and you can say no, but what would you think about leaving your Mantoid contract and you and I, well you know?" she looked at him suddenly embarrassed. "It's just that you mentioned your contract will be up soon and I just thought...."
Jeremy paused and took a deep breath before speaking. "It's as if you were reading my mind, Joanne. Since you've been here, I've realized what commitment and love mean. Our time together has been like a whirlwind of passion. But more important, I respect you too. I guess that's what is so weird for me. I really love being with you physically. But I also just really like being with you" She nodded as tears filled her eyes. She laughed, then cried. "Do you mean it?" He nodded and hugged her close.
For a moment everything seemed perfect. Then Joanne pulled away. "I don't know Jeremy. Barbara will be pretty upset to lose you and I could just hear my co-workers talking about me running off with a Mantoid. On the other hand true love doesn't come around that often. I could always get another job and you could take a job as a lawyer again, couldn't you?"
Jeremy grinned and ran his hand through her hair. "Jo darling, that's exactly what we'll do. We can go anywhere, do anything." "Yes," she cried out, "I think so too....no, I KNOW so." They laughed, then cried then made love one more time before Joanne had to go.
The next two weeks were the hardest two weeks of Joanne's life. The world seemed a crazed, exciting, adventurous place. It drove Joanne nuts to see the other women continue visiting Jeremy. If only they knew, she thought. It was such a relief when her time to be with him arrived. They would rush into each other's arms and make love until she had to leave, always promising to return.
It took all she could do to muster up the courage to resign from Valortec. The people were not only nice; there was such a sense of commitment to working together. But as long as she kept Jeremy in her thoughts, nothing else mattered. Then there was Barbara. She couldn't bear to tell her that Jeremy was going with her, that would be a last minute thing.
Barbara was sincerely concerned when Joanne did tell her that she was moving out. She tried to understand. "I'm sorry everything didn't work out. I really thought we were getting along quite well." Joanne insisted that Barbara not take it personally. It was just one of those things, really.
The day finally arrived for Joanne to leave and for Jeremy's Mantoid contract to expire. Breathlessly, Joanne entered the transference room for the last time. Jeremy rushed to greet her, and before she could say a word he began kissing her passionately - her lips, her nose, her neck. He picked her up and carried her to a canopied bed. She was in heaven, moaning with delight. The very thought of being with Jeremy filled Joanne with ecstasy.
Afterwards, he held her in his arms, caressing hair, gentle kisses. "You really are wonderful," he whispered into her ear. Joanne turned to him, brushing a loose strand of hair from her eyes. "Are you ready to go Jeremy? This is it, you know. It's really hard to believe." Jeremy paused and looked at her curiously.
"Barbara said you were leaving," Jeremy remarked. Joanne looked at him. "Jeremy, come on, the car is all packed." He just sat there staring at her. "I think there's been a misunderstanding. This is your last session here. Barbara said that today is your last day."
Joanne stared back at him, stunned. "Jeremy, you're coming with me. Remember? You're kidding aren't you! God, I hate when you do that!" She looked into his eyes and continued, "Your contract is up and we're going to be together now. Forever." Jeremy smiled and laughed with that impulsive grin. "Joanne, you silly goose. That's just your fantasy! That's why I'm here. I could never leave. Besides, why would I?"
Joanne stared at him, her mind working a mile a minute. She wrinkled her brow and shook her head. "I, I don't understand."
Joanne's face felt flushed as she sat up abruptly, realizing what was occurring. Jeremy's eyes had turned cold, "Like I said, Jo, you are no longer a tenant here. It's time for you to go."
Joanne looked down at her hand shaking uncontrollably. Her lip trembled. Tears welled up in her eyes. She raised her hand and slapped him across the face. His expression remained unchanged as he touched his cheek. "You have to go now." he repeated. Joanne stood up, numb. Memories of the last few months sped through her mind. This Mantoid. This fantasy room. It was all a dream, a wonderful, terrible, perfect fantasy. Jeremy was right. He had done his job. She had been swept up by her own delusions of romance. He was right. Yes, he had done his job ...very well indeed.