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"Just speak to the communicator and say 'shopping.' Your purchases
will automatically be credited to the room's account. One other thing.
I'm going to leave Izmir here with you."
The Astarach hovered near the ceiling. It had assumed the shape of a
solid block of black granite lined with glowing white stripes. The blue
eye moved from one side of the block to the other.
"Guard him with your lives." Rail exited rapidly.
"Hey, wait a minute!" But Rail was already gone. Kerwin didn't press
the alien for two reasons. First, he was pretty sure Rail meant it when
he said he had to move fast, and second, he didn't have any idea how
to open the door, which had become part of the wall once again.
"Man, is this a great place or what?" Seeth stood and jumped as high
as he could, landing on his backside on the bed. The thin suspension
field caught him gently as a giant hand.
Eminently practical, Kerwin mused. A field could adapt itself to any
shape. Speaking of adaptability, Miranda had already managed to
conjure up a procession of exotic attire on the holowall. He wondered
how the store representative, be it alien or machine, had managed to
figure out her species and size. No doubt the wall scanned as well as
broadcast.
As he stared, a portion of the screen seemed to leap out into the room
to envelop her standing form in glowing red light that molded itself to
her body. For the first time in his life he found himself envying a shaft
of light. A moment later the light fled. Thereafter everything that
appeared on the screen was exactly her size and shape. She was able
to try on the various outfits simply by making a verbal request,
whereupon a solid-looking, projected duplicate of the clothing in
question would appear surrounding her form. The wall would then
helpfully become a four-sided mirror, showing her how she looked in
the attire from front, back and sides.
"I wonder if it's okay for her to submit herself to so many projections."
"Hey, leave the girl alone. Can't you see she's died and gone to
heaven?" Seeth rolled on the bed.
Kerwin sat and watched the show for quite a while before commenting.
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"Uh, remember what Rail told us. You don't want to go over his limit."
"No sweat. Besides, he never said what the limit was. I bet I can keep
ordering until we hit it and then the screen will just stop offering me
stuff." She turned to face him. "How about this one?"
He stared. She was wearing what appeared to be a dress fashioned of
thinly sliced rubies held together with ruby thread. The sliced stones
varied in color from blood red at the bottom to a light pink near the
neck. All of it no doubt artificial and whipped up as ordered. Such a
dress made of real corundum would have been unbearably heavy.
Kerwin had no doubt that the actual material was light and
comfortable.
Ruby being a semi-transparent stone, each section was like a little red
window.
"Your tongue's going to crawl out of your head." He blinked, saw Seeth
leering at him. "Better watch it. I bet this joint's got individual room
cleaning. Suck your tongue right into the trash. Have one of these."
There was a small container atop the communicator. It held what
looked like a basket of napkins, but as Seeth had discovered they were
actually flat white containers of a delicious, ice-cold syrupy liquid.
Having drained one, he dumped the empty container on the floor.
The carpet rippled uncertainly for a moment. Then the individual
fibers, like so many hands, began moving the debris to the right.
Kerwin had to jump out of the garbage's way, though it probably
would have gone around him if he'd held his ground. When the debris
reached the far wall, a hole materialized in the floorboard. There was a
small suctioning whine and the empty container vanished into the
opening.
Kerwin looked uneasily at the substance beneath his feet. Was it some
kind of charged or programmed material, or was it actually alive? The
tiny fibers suddenly looked uncomfortably like green cilia. He walked
over to sit down on the other bed, treading gingerly. The carpet didn't
protest.
"Great place to party. Drop any chips and the floor cleans itself up."
Seeth sucked another of the white containers dry and flung the empty
aside. Once again the hundreds of tiny fibers shifted the trash toward
the wall.
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He jumped off the bed and blocked its path. The carpet hesitated,
began shifting its burden to the left. Again Seeth moved to intercept.
Kerwin watched until he could no longer restrain himself.
"Look, here we are on an alien world no telling how many lightyears
from Earth. We're the first of our kind to experience stuff like this, and
all you can do is tease the carpeting?"
"Whatever's fun, man." He finally stepped aside to let the floor
complete its clean-up work.
In the meantime, boxes that looked like giant, solid-sided baggies had
begun to accumulate beneath an opening in the opposite wall. Kerwin
saw the ruby dress inside one of the transparent containers.
"Don't you think you ought to get some ruby slippers to go with that?"
Miranda considered. "No. I think maybe yellow. With a yellow
something for my hair and something yellow for my wrist. That'd be
sharp."
Obviously, she'd missed both his reference and sarcasm completely.
"Tell me something. How do you manage to stay in school?"
"Oh, I'm a B student. I guess I could manage an A average if I wanted
to, but studying is like, a real drag, you know? I'm only in college
because Mom and Dad positively insisted on it. We had, like, a real
fight about it, and I would've put my foot down but then they would've
cut off my allowance and that would've been an even bigger drag. So I
figured why not give it a try. Now I've only got a year left to go and
they've finally quit bugging me.
"Besides, I thought it'd be a great way to meet some cute guys."
"Have you?" He tried not to sound too hopeful.
The anticipation was wasted. "Not yet."
"Oh."
"I mean, Brock was all right but he was like, kind of an airhead, you
know?"
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"Why'd you chose UNM?" He was reluctant to end a conversation in
which she was actually participating, it apparently being possible for
her to successfully concentrate on two things at the same time so long
as one of them was shopping.
"I like skiing. Besides, Houston, which is where I'm from, is so boring,
and the weather there, well, it like sucks. I didn't want to go too far
from home, and we do have good friends outside Hobbs. They have
the biggest ranch. I mean, it's just awful for cattle but there's oodles
of oil under it, and Uncle Joe told me he'd be happy to fly me back
down to Houston anytime in his plane. So it's not such a bum deal."
She pointed.
"What do you think of that silvery thing, the one on the far left?" She
was gesturing toward something fashioned from tin foil or maybe it
was woven platinum.
"I can't say. I'm not much for fashion."
She shook her head sadly. "Honestly! You boys. Sometimes I just
think you've no idea what's really important."
"Is that so?" He was miffed and tired of trying to hide it. "Sure. Let's
find out what's really important, okay?" He walked over and spoke [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]