The nature of TechCo’s system was to prevent any one “associate” from having any real power or information. Every bit of information came from the database software, every action had to be double-checked with the floor manager, and any really big decisions were made by “supervisors” who were, in point of fact, hundreds of miles away.

This meant that Andrea had to keep customers on the line for a long time, much of which was dead air as she waited for higher-ups or the creaky database to give her information. She felt the need to fill these spaces with something beyond the boilerplate she’d been trained to spout–“your call is very important to us”–and tried above all to give the impression that people were talking to a human being.

It was only partially successful. Most people just grunted a reply when asked about their weekend, or their history using the widgets for which TechCo handled outsourced service calls. Others were so desperate for a human voice, especially one that sounded youthful and female, that they unloaded reams of personal information that a less scrupulous person could have put to nefarious ends. Some even asked for her personal phone number, which was grounds for instant termination from TechCo, though luckily most of those appeared to be mutants who weren’t numberworthy in the first place.