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04 December 2012 @ 10:55 am
30 Day OTP Challenge: day 8: Shopping  
Originally posted by dduane at 30 Day OTP Challenge: day 8: Shopping

You’d have trouble getting a definitive estimate of how many people pass through the Crossings on any given day. For one thing, the management has some reason to obfuscate the stats, specifically for security purposes. But regardless of the exact transit numbers being hidden, no one would argue the concept that a lot of people don’t go to the Crossings just to go somewhere else. Many go there just to go, because it truly is a stunning tourist destination..


Others, however, go to shop. Some go there to help others shop. And some… are less open about their motives.


***


Two young women, one almost a head taller than the other, materialize together on one of the blue-glowing hexes of the Gate 330 area. This forcewalled region of the wide white-shining Main Concourse floor is a “hard” target set aside for legacy gates like the oldest ones on Earth, which is where these travelers have come from; a routing via a dedicated catenary system in the New York suburbs, linking (for energy-saving purposes) through the old high-powered gate at Chur, and popping out here.


Reflexively the young women, seasoned travellers both, glance around them for a second after they manifest to make sure that none of the adjoining hexes are live: a smart move, as even in a facility this sophisticated, it only takes one software glitch combined with one careless moment to leave a person literally and physically bridging two different worlds. Once they’re sure the neighboring hexes are dark, they stroll off and out into the Concourse: a girl in blue jeans and a couple of layered tops in rose and green, under a short denim jacket; her companion in layered skirts and a force-braced camisole with red chase-light embroidery, keyed to her pulse.


“So, the emmfozing….”


“Yeah? What about it?”


“You were going to tell me how you got into it.”


“Yeah, well, you know how it is. Once you start grenfelzing, one thing just kind of leads to another…”



As they wander off toward one of the lower-level access portals, Nita is beginning to have second thoughts about whether she should be hearing this. “I didn’t realize you needed supplies, though,” Nita says. “I thought it was like emmfozing with more chocolate. Which we’ve got at home.”


“Yeah, thanks for reminding me,” Carmela says as they step onto a free “down” circle defined in the floor. She pulls out her phone as the circle throws its forcewall up around them and starts to sink toward the level below.


The level below them is crowded (as is the one above them) with aliens of every possible species; but these aliens, unlike those on the upper level, aren’t rushing to and from gates. They’re rushing to and from shops. Nita glances around her in mild surprise as they descend and Carmela taps away at her phone. “Get…more… chocolate…”


Nita grins: this is a recurring theme for ‘Mela, though as much of it gets ingested as gets brokered off to alien species for everything from custom weaponry to (as far as Nita can tell) obscure political favors. “I thought you just got more.”


“I’m down to the last of the cocoa,” Carmela mutters as she tucks her phone away. “Small change. I’ll duck out at Chur when we head home and grab one of those giant Toblerone bars at the SBB. Should be enough to subvert a small planetary government or so.”


Nita laughs as the downlift circle lands on the floor beneath them and melts away into it. “But where did Kit say he was going? He claimed he was headed over to your place and he’d come in with you when I picked you up…”


“He was there for about five minutes,” Nita says. “Said hi, vanished into the tall timber in the back… then did a transit. Grand Central, I guess.” She glances around as they make their way through the strolling, striding, humping, rolling, gliding, honking, hooting, hissing crowds of aliens on the shopping level.


“Possibly he got wind of what’s about to happen,” Carmela says.


Nita gives her a look. “Which would be?”


But Carmela’s not paying any attention She’s jumping up and down and waving at someone far down the shopping concourse.


Nita cranes her neck and can just see a more or less conical, dark green shape heading toward them: and she grins as the vaguely green conicality resolves into a frondy, needle-boughed shape extremely reminiscent of a mobile Christmas tree. Yes, here it could have been any Demisiv—the species as a whole has been in a business and R&D relationship with the Crossings and its affiliates in the Alterf-based worldgating cooperative for thousands of years—but few Demisivs routinely go about their business wearing New York Yankees baseball caps.


“Fil!” Nita calls, waving too. And shortly along he comes, making his way through the throngs and bobbing up and down a little, treelike above and much-adorned with glowing bright-red berry-eyes. The lower part of him, where the trunk would show and roots would be if he was actually a tree, is cloaked in the grey cloud of a privacy field. Really have to find out some day why his people are so sensitive about their root bits, Nita thinks as she hurries over to him and hugs him from one side while Carmela hugs him from the other.


The hugging persists rather longer on Carmela’s side, and Nita just smiles at that. Filif and Carmela have had a thing for each other since they met while Fil and Roshaun and Sker’ret were living more or less in Nita’s basement, as part of the student exchange project that sent Nita and Kit halfway across the galaxy to Alaalu. Since then the three of them have been through a lot together; Nita knows that without this (mostly) soft-spoken being and his quiet unassuming power, the events that unfolded near the end of the Pullulus War might have gone very differently, and the known universe would have suffered for it.


However, since they’ve had more time to see him strictly socially, Nita and her immediate wizardly circle have had an opportunity to see a side of Fil that had been hinted at on holiday, but which he hadn’t had leisure to exhibit when they were all on war footing. These days he has been reverting to type. And Filif—to put it bluntly—when not on serious errantry, is simply a nut case. His sense of fun is the size of a star system: he’ll do anything once (and usually twice) with indefatigable gaiety. No plan is too boring or too crazy for him to resist jumping into it roots-first.


“So,” Filif says, shaking himself all over like a tree not waiting for the wind to do it. “Decorations! Let’s get shopping.”


“Shopping?” Nita says, and looks at Carmela in a sudden flush of realization and shock, and amusement, and annoyance: all splashing over her at approximately one-second intervals. “Fil—”


“We’re going decoration shopping,” Filif says, looking around him in delight. Nita gives him an affectionate look—having heard about Christmas decorations at third hand, and coming of a people who don’t normally go in for personal adornment, Fil went for the idea big time, and the Yanks hat is his constantly-worn reference to this exciting new concept.


“Ah,” Nita says, and gives Carmela—so ineffectively—one of Those Looks. “I thought we were here for emmfozing supplies.” Indeed, ‘Mela has for the past couple of days regaled Nita with a long list of the supplies needed for this pursuit, which has been variously described to her as a lifestyle augmentation, a mental discipline, an alien take on sports medicine, a cross between Zen and interior decorating, and a color calibration tool. (Apparently some cultures of some species believe that enlightenment and salvation are only to be found by making sure one’s perception of color coincides with that of some particularly finicky one of the Powers that Be.)


But now Nita’s left with no realistic assumption but that all these assertions were, well, of dubious veracity. The problem is, she thinks, I didn’t make her tell me any of this stuff in the Speech. Even in the non-enactive recensions of the Speech, falsehoods don’t come out without very, very serious mental work (which then routinely shows itself in your face). Now how do I confront her about this?


Too late. “Oh no,” Carmela says, airily waving a hand she’s spared from running through Filif’s branches and fronds and so forth, “that was just the excuse.”


“You mean this was a trick?”


“Yep.”


“And the purpose of the trick was…”


“To get you in here and buy you some decent clothes.”


Nita rolls her eyes, for she’s been down this road before with Carmela a number of times. She knows ‘Mela’s dress sense is better than hers; way more adventurous, anyway. For her own part, Nita has always found it hard to get excited about clothes. Once upon a time, Carmela (to hear Kit tell it) was this way too. But she’d suddenly gotten over this tendency a couple of years back, and since then can pretty much be guaranteed to be wearing something unusual, or hot, or both. Carmela has repeatedly threatened to inflict this state on Nita as well by throwing all her old clothes through a gate into a null space and re-equipping her from the underwear out. This hasn’t happened, mostly because both their lives have been complicated recently: interstellar crises, an outbreak of Martians, the usual. Now, though… Nita sighs. Her luck had to run out eventually.


“You’re looking troubled all of a sudden,” Filif says, looking closely at Nita with all the berry-eyes on that side of him. “What’s the matter?”


“Oh, Fil, not troubled…” Nita grins. “Just outmaneuvered.” And dammit, Kit, if you turned up you could get me out of this. Where are you?


No answer. She sighs again. The degree to which two wizards so close to each other as they are can hear one another think is (lately) a constantly changing variable, mostly because of their constantly-changing ambivalence about the different ways they’ve begun seeing each other. Meanwhile, she’s more or less stuck with going through with this. “’Mela, we couldn’t have done this closer to home?”


Carmela gives Nita an arch look. “What, where we’d have to pay for things?”


Nita has to admit she has a point there; the Crossings owes the two of them a big, big favor that will be a long time paying off. “Besides, the other place has stock issues right now. Seasonal change going on… it’s not optimal. Pity, because in season it’s even better than here.”


That surprises Nita. “Better for clothes shopping than this?” She waves a hand at the long, long subcorridor toward which they’re strolling. You’d suspect you could see the curvature of the planet down it, if local weather conditions didn’t obscure the view halfway down in a Gaussian mist-haze of distance.


“Absolutely.”


“Where?”


“This place Irina put me onto.”


Nita’s jaw drops. She stops right where she stands, astonished. “Irina? As in Irina Mladen??”


Carmela throws Nita a bemused look. “Why not? The last time we saw her, I seem to remember Irina was wearing, you know, clothes.”


Yes, yes of course, Nita thinks, stunned: Carmela has been hitting up the Planetary Wizard for Earth for advice on where to buy clothes. The go-to woman for when you need to save the planet, or destroy it? Carmela is bending her ear about clothes. …The unlikeliness of it was considerable. Especially considering that the last time we saw her, she was wearing a kinda-tatty floral housedress and a baby sling.


…but then, that had been on Mars. So maybe I shouldn’t judge.


“So, this, uh, place where she goes…” Nita’s half afraid to ask: it’s probably somewhere fabulously inaccessible and exclusive, the kind of place that only a wizard of Planetary rank would be able to access on a regular basis due to the power outlay. “Where is it?”


“Downstairs in the main train station in Zurich.”


“…Ooooookay,” Nita says, as the concepts of train stations and clothes shopping are not normally ones that would sit easily together in her mind.


“She started it,” Carmela says, sounding pained. “She started going on about this knit silk sweater that she couldn’t get there any more and, well, one thing led to another. I showed her where she could get it after all, and then she showed me what else her sweater place had, and then while we were having coffee we got to talking and—”


“Okay!” Nita says. “Okay. If you can consult with the Planetary, and if you’re willing to sucker me all the way out here…”


Carmela grins at Filif as they turn into the side corridor toward the personal augmentation wing of the shopping area. “Told you.”


Filif’s emotions are rarely a problem to feel when he’s not holding them private. His physiology expresses language in general and the Speech in particular through a neurological broadcast field, and Nita’s skin fizzes with his poorly suppressed chuckling. He says to her privately, There’s no point trying to dig her out from where she’s rooted when she gets this way, is there?


No, Nita thinks, knowing he’ll pick it up: not really. “So what’s the drill?” she says to Carmela. “You have one specific place in mind, or are we going to mall-crawl?”


And then she laughs, because crawling would be all any of them would be good for if they tried to make it down to the end of that broad long thoroughfare. The stanchions lining the corridor in two staggered rows display (in a non-enactive recension of the Speech and in KtPektirh, the Crossings-specific lingua franca, as well as many other languages) the words Personal augmentation. But that covers a lot of ground: clothing, jewelry, millinery, tattooing and scarification, decorative embeds and implants, adaptive skin redesign and decoration, cosmetic surgery, prosthetics, part- and full-body rebuilds, gender and reproductive manipulation (for places where one’s gender and plumbing are even tangentially associated), psychswap, soulshift, and a thousand other ways and means that the sentient species of this galaxy and the neighboring ones have found to do themselves over for pleasure, necessity, or heart's ease.


“Oh no,” Carmela says. “Are you kidding? Two of us are the Saviors of the Crossings.” She grins, elbows Nita in the side. “You really think the management’s going to make us wander up and down in here like holidaymakers being herded through on a package tour? Any more than we’re going to have to pay for anything. Please.”


Nita wonders idly when that particular condition is going to end: or if it is. Considering that the present Stationmaster lived in her basement for a good while and ate her garden shed—granted, on invitation—she’s beginning to think the answer to the second question is “never”. How long does a Rirhait live normally? she wonders. Something to look into later…


“No,” Carmela says, “we’ve got a suite. I submitted a menu of forty or fifty items each for us: they’ll be racked up and waiting.” She spares a passing glance at a shop window full of tastefully-posed twelve-legged mannequins displaying jeweled carapace ornaments, and another past it stacked high with off-the-rack generic bipedal humanoid bodies—turnkey-ready and prepped for customization—just before they come to the side portal to a very short sub-subcorridor marked PRIVATE ASSESSMENTS.


Carmela turns down this, and Nita and Filif head after. The walls look featureless, but about halfway down the corridor on either side, a floor-to-ceiling notice is displaying in the milk-glass walls on either side. It’s in the Speech, KtPektirh, and the languages associated with the IDs of the people closest (in this case English, and a strange chicken-scratchy sine-curving writing which Nita assumes is Filif’s native graphic-form language). It says, more or less:


This area is designated for the joint use of beings with more or less your kind of gender or personality orientationthis being data which the Crossings-issued ID also stores, in several different versions derived from several major classification systems. If you’re comfortable modifying your body around others broadly adjudged to fall into this category, go for it. Your mileage may vary. If you’ve got questions or concerns, signify these and your ID will be put in the queue for a solo changing room. (With, ever so slightly implied in the phrasing, or maybe even the font: Chicken!)


Nita and Filif, since they have wizard’s manuals or their equivalents, are naturally carrying a backwardly-compatible version of this ID, constantly updated. Carmela, though, is carrying Crossings iridium-level ID, and the portal practically pants with its hurry to go insubstantial and fling itself open in front of her. Carmela strolls in to look over the shared space, which is full of wall-mounted mirror-faced image repeaters, and about the size of the old waiting room back at Grand Central.


The space is scattered with sleekly comfortable looking white couches and chairs, accompanied by small tables laden with drink and food. Also, half of the bright floor has an odd granular look to it. “Very sumptuous,” Filif says, noting that side of the room, and immediately appearing to become a foot or so few inches shorter as he makes his way over there and sinks into it.


“Some kind of rooting medium?” Nita says, dropping her backpack/carry bag on one of the couches and going over to stoop down and run her hand through the shiny white granular stuff. It looks like fishtank gravel at first glimpse, but it’s lighter and shinier.


“That’s right,” Filif says, wriggling down into it and emitting a shameless feeling of indulgence in luxury. “No expense spared here, that’s for certain.”


“The retailers pay for it,” Carmela says with a shrug. “Every one of them down in this wing pays a fraction of a credit so small I think you’d need an electron microscope to see it. So don’t even think about it. Neets? Soda? Mineral water? And then… Clothes!”


And the racks start to appear.


“Guh,” is all Nita can find to say at first, because there’s not just one rack of clothes for her, there are three. “’Mela, I wouldn’t have time to try all these on if we were here all day!”


“Of course not,” Carmela says. “What are the repeaters for, anyway?”


And suddenly there are five of Nita in the changing room.


And five of Carmela.


And a small grove of Filif.


“Well,” Nita says, “that’s got to make things easier…” All her virtual clones mirror her slightest move, even down to her lip movements: which could be disconcerting if they weren’t set to mute.


“Okay,” she says, turning her attention to the nearest of the racks. As she does so, Nita (glancing over at the original Filif) suddenly has a small bout of concern about this situation as a whole. After all, the third of their party is a creature who once had a bad reaction to discovering that Earth had forest fires; and one whom the local wizards made sure never came across a salad bar without an escort. There’s a core of unexpected vulnerability under all that power that’s an integral part of what makes Filif a force to be reckoned with, and it’s worth protecting.


“Fil,” Nita says, “are you sure you’re okay with us getting, you know… less covered than we are at the moment?”


“What?” Filif gives her one of those multi-berry looks, a slightly confused one. “Of course. That was understood from the beginning. And the notice was clear enough.”


Which also leaves Nita confused, as for all this time she’s been thinking of Filif as a boy. Why have I never checked up on this myself? I’m a billion kinds of idiot. “Sorry,” she says, “never mind, I got the wrong end of that somehow—”


“You did?” Filif says, and then shakes himself all over. And a few berries fall off him, which is an occurrence that’s always left Nita a little perplexed when it happens; if her eyes started falling off, she’s sure she’d find it problematic. The berries fall into the adaptive rooting compound; this, in the manner normal for the Crossing’s “smart” flooring system, promptly analyzes them, identifies them as discarded biological material, and vanishes. “Oh! I get it. No, we’re fine, I’m in trans.”


Nita’s mouth drops open: she just can’t help it. “Sorry?”


“Isn’t that the right term for it? An elective move from one set of sexual or gender roles or assignments to another? Tell me I didn’t get it wrong. Filif sounds stricken. I looked it up before I came...”


“No, no, it’s fine!” Nita shoots a glance over at Carmela. Carmela shrugs, looking completely unconcerned.


Why am I always the last to get the memo on this stuff? “I just hadn’t had a chance to check your status…”


“Well, when would you have? You didn’t know I was coming; this was all sort of sprung on you.”


“It’s true.” And Filif sounds so unconcerned that Nita relaxes a little. “Was this transition a scheduled thing, or spur of the moment?” Because Filif has recently shown a tendency toward sudden whims. The recent day trip to a Mets game, the one where due to excitement over a bases-loaded situation he lost control of his shapechange, was beyond memorable.


“Not all that scheduled, but it’s high time I got pollinated,” Filif said. “I’m getting ready for a new crop of myonodules.” And—he? Or is it she? Or is that congruence close enough?shakes all over, so that more of the red eye-berries fall off into the rooting compound, and these too vanish. “Look at these! They’re nearly spent! I’m so overdue for new ones. I’ll go home to socialize a bit and get some pollinating done in a week or so, and be berrying out a new crop about this time next month. Means I’m identifying as female for the moment. Problem?”


“No, not at all!” Nita says. Except I wish I knew why everything in the universe is conspiring to make me think about sex right now! “I always thought those were eyes, though.”


“So they are,” Filif says. “But they multipurpose.” He, no she, dammit!—for the moment anyway— looks at Nita strangely. “Don’t tell me that your organs don’t multipurpose?”


“Some of them, yeah.”


“Well then.”


And how do you use those for sex? something at the back of Nita’s mind immediately wants to inquire— that all-purpose curiosity that made her take home a strange book from the library all that while ago. Leading to the thought: Do I need to start doing monthly reviews of my colleagues’ biologies and sexual status? Because we’re all changing. Growing. Growing… up. Oh God.


Finally Nita just shakes her head and grins and slips off the little short jacket she threw on over her layers before they left Earth: the air conditioning at the Crossings can sometimes get a little aggressive. “So what next? Don’t we have to get sprayed in ‘don’t-catch-anything’?” Not that “spray” is exactly the right term. The don’t-catch-anything superstrate is normally applied as free-floating heavy ions that affiliate themselves with your skin and prevent any possible contaminant from getting at you. It’s the kind of thing that would be extremely useful in a dressing room on Earth. And in a place like the Crossings, where one species’ relatively benign bodily byproduct could be or in some cases certainly is another’s toxic waste, it’s indispensable.


Carmela waves a hand again. “That happened when you walked in the door. The air in here’s saturated with it. You can skip your flu shot this year, by the way.”


“Thanks,” Nita says, surprisingly happy to hear that; she’s never been a big fan of needles. So whatever else happens, this trip has been worth something.


And after that, the trying-stuff-on part of the day commences with a vengeance.


***


The room turns into quite a crowded space as more repetitions of each shopper are added. Clothes fly off the racks (literally: they all have selective levitation subroutines attached to them. Powers forbid that a customer should actually have to disentangle an item from its storage substrate with its own hands, fins or tentacles). Copies of all of them bump into each other, laughing, dropping stuff, struggling with twiddly fastenings or mulish applicators. Everybody helps everybody else on and off with things. In between times, food and drink are consumed without concern (the don’t-catch-anything superstrate makes it impossible to ruin an item of clothing even if you try. And in a couple of cases—items that on closer examination suggest that even alien designers can go insane and not be removed from duty after the fact—attempts are made). Profligate and probably never-intended layering occurs. Combinations are attempted with varying degrees of success. Opinions are issued without mercy, and without fear; when you’ve survived a war together, telling someone that a hemline doesn’t suit their legs is a non-event.


Carmela’s selections trend way toward the strange. At the moment she seems to be favoring materials that can’t make up their minds what they want to be, shifting from gas to solid to apparent-liquid. “Multistate,” she calls it. “Limited, though. Plasma’s too much trouble to maintain…” Nita keeps to herself the opinion that if plasma was involved and the article of clothing should somehow fail to operate as advertised, it would lend a whole new level of meaning to the term “wardrobe malfunction”.


The clothing that Carmela has picked out for Filif—or maybe “adornment” is a better term—is structured more or less along the same philosophical lines. There are a lot of wildly assorted materials and some bound-energy complexes that tend to go onto Filif in strips or segmented drapings or as microsuperstrates, making Fil look like a very high-end Christmas tree indeed. There’s a lot of glow and glitter, in some cases seamlessly wrapping itself around every single needle and frond. But then this was what first excited Fil about the concept of Christmas decorations to begin with; light, worn personally. And, Nita has to admit, it admirably suits him.


For Nita, as she and her trying-it-on clones go through the clothes Carmela’s ordered for her, she finds they break down into four major categories: Not Sure I Get How This Is Supposed To Make Me Look, You Must Be Kidding, Good On Somebody Else But Not On Me, and WOW. WOW, in turn, develops a number of subcategories: Not On My Planet But Maybe Elsewhere, Possible Business Wear For Off-Planet Errantry, This Might Work At Home In The Right Light / With The Right Crowd, and Oh God I’d Never Get Up The Nerve No Matter Where I Was. Carmela, as always acutely conscious of other people’s response to clothing, starts pushing Nita toward this last category as she starts making preliminary choices. And as this process continues, Nita quickly starts feeling like a participant in a particularly outré makeover show. Carmela has the role down pat: kind, but firm.


“No casuals. You have too many casuals already. Something formal, something dressy for God’s sake.”


“Not that, are you insane? It turns you the color of asparagus.”


“Not with your hair.”


“Not with your height.”


“Forget that. With the shoes it needs, you’d cripple yourself in minutes.”


“For that you need spines.”


“You’d want another leg or two with that. Fortunately we can buy you those right down the way. …No?”


Nita, of course, is not one to let Carmela roll over her in this regard all the time.


“Not possible.”


“Too pink!”


“Not nearly pink enough.”


“Wouldn’t be seen alive in it. Bury me in it if you like.”


“That would look better on Filif.”


…And so it goes, with so much give-and-take and to-and-fro that Nita won't be able to remember anything but the highest points afterward. But there are at least a couple of those:


“This blue glass number. This is good on you.”


“Mela, if I wear that anywhere in the New York metropolitan area, I’ll be arrested!” Not that it isn’t really, really cool. Everybody who saw me in it would stand there with their eyeballs falling out for at least ten seconds before they called the cops.


“You’re too young to be arrested for that.”


“Don’t bet on it. Then Social Services would turn up on my Dad’s doorstep. He wouldn’t thank me.”


No, I see your point…”


Still. It covers up more of me than anything I had on on Mars… “Can this be opaqued down a little bit?”


“Are you kidding? Look.”


Hmm.


“And it makes more of your hips.”


“Is that code for ‘my butt looks bigger in this’?”


Carmela proceeds to drape herself all over Filif’s latest outfit (which is heavy on red neon: Fil has taken a shine to Carmela’s camisole) and laughs until she can’t breathe.


And:


“All right, this one then?”


“Mmm, at least more opaque than the last five.”


“Yup.”


“Really covers a lot, though. I mean, almost everything. Even my Dad would approve of this.” Which makes me sort of… immediately not want it. Does that make me a terrible person?


Carmela snickers. “Approve of this? Not for long. Not once it gets going.”


“Going?”


“It’s got interactive programmable transparencies.” And Carmela laughs evilly. “Never seen this before? This is what comes of you being so busy all the time. This was hot last year, but it’s kind of on its way out now. Which is good, because now it’s cheaper. Like that matters.” She turns the long dress around, pulling out the hem of the skirt to judge the flare of it. “You tell it which parts of you you don’t want to show. And which ones you don’t mind it kind of hinting at. And then you— Watch this.”


Carmela turns up the hem of the dress, does something to it, then drops it again. At which point the long silky material simply becomes invisible in some places. Said places then begin sliding gently around the dress, front to back to front, up and down, fading in, fading out, melding into one another… Nita watches the effect on her copy in a kind of fascinated horror. My Mom might not have wanted to let me near this, she thought, but she wouldn’t have been able to look away, either. In fact I think she’d have wanted one for herself…


“And if you have to run,” Carmela says, “the skirt automatically splits itself and wraps around your legs.”


Running in it isn’t on Nita’s mind. Standing still and letting people watch it do this trick is more the thing. Just what you want for a party…! And when you start dancing —


“Wow,” Nita said at last. “Okay.” Because I don’t have to wear it now. In two or three years, though… "What else have we got?”


***


And so it goes for a good while. Finally even Carmela is showing signs of wear and tear. “Okay, everybody,” she says. “Decision time.” She points at Nita. “And no more waffling from you. I’m not walking out of here until you’ve picked at least ten things.”


“Where’m I supposed to keep all of these?”


“They’ll store whatever you don’t want to take home. How can someone normally so decisive be such a weenie about clothes? Pick. Ten. Things.”


Nita sighs. “Okay. That one.”


“Even though no spines?”


“You said to pick! Why are you complaining?”


“Forget I spoke. Next?”


“That one. That one. This one. That… No. Well. Okay, wait—”


Laughter from both Filif and Carmela. “I now understand,” Filif says, “why you don’t do much of this kind of shopping, Nita. Mental anguish…”


“Neets! Making up your mind, please…!”


“Yeah.” A long indrawn breath. “That one?”


“Was that a question or a decision?”


“That one!”


“Yes!” Carmela yells, and she and Filif high-five each other. “Told you she’d go for it.”


More choices are made. But Nita has time for one last burst of waffling.


“…He’d bust a gut.”


“This is possibly the best reason to get it.”


“What? Freaking him out?”


“What makes you think he’d freak?”


“He’s always been a little, well, on the shy side about this kind of thing…”


“Oh, Neets.” Carmela looks at her with barely-disguised amusement. “You’ve been working with my little brother for how long now? But there are still things you’re not seeing. Or he’s not letting you see.”


Nita stands there and waffles.


And waffles some more.


…and then bursts out laughing at herself. Because I am not thirteen any more! And neither is he. “What the hell,” she says. “What’s the return policy?”


Carmela laughs too. “You return here and do whatever you damn well please!”


“I like that policy. Okay,” Nita says, and points. “That one.”


“Yes,” says Carmela in great satisfaction. “Fil?”


“I wouldn’t presume to predict,” says the Demisiv, “but I’d suspect whenever it’s worn, the response will be emphatic.”


“Okay,” Carmela announces to the room, “we’re done here. Packing and handling?”


“Have it all put in my claudication,” Filif says.


“Same here,” says Nita.


“…Except for this one: I’ll wear it out.”


And just like that, Nita changes her mind. “’Mela? Let’s pull out the blue glass number. I’ll change into that.”


Carmela doesn’t even look surprised. “How opaque?”


Nita just grins.


When final adjustments have been made in this regard, all pull themselves together. “Lunch?” says Filif as Carmela waves the suite door open.


“More like dinner at this point,” says Carmela. “What an ordeal: I have calories to replace. Many of them.”


“That dessert place we saw the review for?” Nita says.


“Absolutely.”


They start wandering up to the Main Concourse again: two humans dressed in the best the Crossings has to offer, and a Demisiv so ornately decorated in glass-white and gold and ministars, she wouldn’t look out of place in the White House. (Though the fingernail-sized squeezed-fusion reactions would probably give the Secret Service spasms, assuming they could ever work out what they were.) All three are moving with the confident stride of people who know they look absolutely terrific. Many of the shoppers and travellers in the corridor move aside to let them pass, sensing the near-celebrity-level air of confidence about them.


And almost as if by accident, Nita spots him down toward the Concourse end of the corridor: Kit, wandering along and casually eating something that might have been a hamburger, on something that might have been a bun (except that the bun is blue). One one side of him, to Nita’s surprise, is Sker’ret: on the other, even more to her surprise, is Ronan.


Kit’s concentrating on the burger for the moment as he finishes a last bite and then folds up the serving package. He looks down the corridor, toward the three who’re approaching in the midst of the crowd, not really locking onto them for a moment. Not recognizing them, in fact.


Then Nita sees him put it together—two human females, a Demisiv. Now, instead of just idly seeing, he looks.


And he slows… and slows a bit more…


And stops right where he is, staring at Nita.


She lets most of her grin slide off her face and lets it assume an expression that suggests that nothing all that unusual is going on, nothing at all: just a few sharp-dressed wizards having a day out on the town.


Carmela is humming “Here Come The Girls” under her breath in time with their walk. Nita, slightly flushed through her assumed calm but intent on brazening it out, holds Kit’s eyes as the three of them sweep right on past the guys, to their right.


Kit’s expression is disbelieving… and something more. His head swivels: he can’t look away.


“Sker’?” Carmela says as they pass, quickly grabbing one of his eyes and tugging it in a friendly fashion as they pass at speed. “Phase two.”


Sker’ret rears up into part-upright mode, some of his legs looping around one of Kit’s arms. Ronan idly grabs Kit by the other (blue-burger-encumbered) arm. And together they sweep him off down in the direction of the changing suite.


“Wait, whoa, wait! ‘Mela? ‘Melaaaa!!” The burger packaging falls to the corridor floor, and the floor obligingly eats it as Kit’s pulled away and out of sight.


“I do love it,” Carmela says as they turn the corner into the Main Concourse and head toward the food hall wing, “when a plan comes together.”





 (Folks -- so sorry this was so late. Ebook stuff's been keeping me busy. Will get caught up shortly. [Also: didn't realize this was going to run so long. R&D occurs at the strangest moments...])



**Note from Sarah: If you haven't read the Young Wizards books by Diane Duane, get on that. Ur doin YA/sci-fi/fantasy rong. Once you've done that, please start from her Master Post for the 30 Day OTP Challenge and read onward in her extracanonical writing because it is excellent and also roll-on-the-ground funny. (Tagged as fanfic even though, as she points out, it isn't really. Because of reasons.)
 
 
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