(A/N: Sorry for the wait... If there's a lynch mob on the way, I can't say I blame them. Though I must say, trying to live up to Piers Anthony is no easy task. Hope it was worth the wait. Again, pardon the errors in previous chapters, I may yet fix them^_^ And I greatly appreciate all the good reviews^_^ They do so bolster a writer's soul.)
She lingered outside Chronos' front door for a few moments, looking at her watch to see it wasn't even 6 pm. "No kidding 'you leave before you arrive'!" she chuffed. Petra strode off his property, onto the main grass of Purgatory, thinking to herself. She'd had a nice time, but he was saying goodbye while she was saying hello. Leaving after the movie ended seemed like the best idea to her, as she could tell he was wishing for a more familiar goodbye.
'What do I do with the extra two hours?' she humphed to herself, looking along the line of estates. 'It's important not to run into myself, so where do I go?' Shrugging, she walked to the Purgatory office, looking over the entrance. It was a plain, one story office building, completely mundane but for its location... In the center of Purgatory, between the mansions of the Incarnations and their Lessers. She shook her head, marveling at the unreality of it all, as she stepped in the building.
Through the glass double-doors was an off-white tiled room, with cream-colored rough-upholstered chairs here and there. Classic office plants framed the door, though closer inspection revealed that they were growing through the floor. A three-sided, rectangular desk sat staunchly in the center of the room, supporting various paperwork, and a young woman working frantically at lessening the pile of paperwork with the help of her computer.
The young woman raised her head momentarily, registering Petra with little interest. "To what do we owe the pleasure of Eros' company?" she asked with a bit of a clip to her tone.
"Curiosity," Petra answered brightly. "You wouldn't happen to have time to explain why there's an office building in Purgatory, would you?" Her hands were again in her pockets as she asked tentatively.
The woman rolled her eyes. "Not really. Follow the green line," she stated flatly, pointing to a green line leading off to Petra's right.
"Oh. Thanks," she waved, following her line while noticing the other colored lines on the floor. They led to separate rooms, and she wondered what the difference was between them. She opened the door that the line disappeared beneath to find a square computer room. She looked at it quizzically. "How exactly is a computer going to ease my curiosity?"
Petra pulled up a chair and hit the on switch with a shrug. A tree with a heart-shaped bole near the center flashed onto the screen, then it went black. "Hmm..." she typed, "Inquiry: Are all Purgatory computers identical?" The text appeared in boldface, pale green.
'Essentially.' It replied in boldface white. 'How else may I be of service to you today?' It scrolled onto the screen.
"Hmm. If only you could tell me what the deal is with the receptionist," she wondered out loud as she leaned forward to type it all out.
"She, like all the staff here, is a balanced soul, trying to work off her evils in order to ascend to Heaven." It answered in a tinny voice.
"Oh, you speak," she said with a furrowed brow.
"Yes." The text scrolled on screen even as it spoke to her.
"You said the computers are essentially the same, so how are they different?"
"They are programmed to expect specific Incarnations and their Lessers. We have access to the same database, but are in effect specialized."
"Interesting... Do God and the Other have computers here also?" She asked, leaning back in her chair and linking her fingers behind her head.
"They do not need them." It answered flatly.
"Lord of Flies has already contacted me, can I expect anything of the sort from God?"
This time it took a considerable amount of time for an answer. "Unlikely."
"Unlikely, but not impossible?" Leaning forward, she rested her chin on her fists.
Again a lengthy pause. "Correct."
"Hmm. Can you give me details on the relationship between Gaea and her husband?"
"It is not my place to inform you in this matter." It answered briskly. Well, as briskly as a monotonous computer-generated voice can be.
"I see. Then I suppose asking why Mars sends his regards would get me the same reaction?"
"Well, at least you're consistent," she sighed, rubbing her eyes.
"You're repeating yourself, but I'm sure you know that." She said with a smirk, wondering if she'd actually enjoy trying to see how many times you could get it to say only 'yes'. Shaking her head as it answered 'yes,' she rested her cheek in her palm.
"You wouldn't happen to be able to volunteer information I may find useful, would you?"
"No. I can only answer questions. It is up to you ask the right ones."
She quirked a brow at it. That sounded suspiciously like a big hint, which is in a sense offering up information. She decided to let it go for the time being and figure out a good question that it could actually answer. Maybe that was all it meant by asking it the right questions. "Of course," she said after a delay, answering herself more than the computer.
"Did, um, Mr. Positivity mean what he said about Love in his back pocket being no good to anyone?"
"Yes." Petra frowned. It seemed to her that the computer had been a little too quick to answer that one.
"Just 'cause he meant it doesn't mean he won't try to buy me out." She let out a sigh and scratched her head while she looked at the monitor. She could see her reflection in the blackness around the computer's text, and a strange feeling made the back of her neck prickle.
"Astute observation," the computer took it upon itself to answer her thoughts. And why not? It had been sitting alone for more years than it liked to calculate, and the new Eros was nice, even if she wasn't the brightest diode in the batch.
Petra went back to typing. 'Has someone been watching us?' she wrote as she asked out loud, "I wonder what I should ask next..."
'Yes.' It scrolled the answer silently onto the screen. 'There is no need for alarm.' It added quickly.
'Why Not?' she typed with exasperation.
'There is a surveillance system in place.'
Petra knew there had to be more to it than that. Cameras never made her feel quite as watched as being stared at. She frowned at the computer, feeling like it only gave her half the answer.
'What kind of surveillance system?'
The computer's screen flickered for a second before it answered. 'It is complicated.'
'Does that mean you can't tell me? Or you won't?'
'I am not at liberty to give details on this matter to an Incarnation still within the trial period.' If the computer were capable of hate, it would hate that sentence. It had been the computer's experience that as soon as that sentence was placed in the way of the inquirer, said inquirer would leave.
Petra just sat there, looking indignantly at the screen for a few minutes. She crossed her arms and glowered at the monitor as she asked, "Did I do the right thing, accepting this job?"
The screen flickered again. "Yes. Fate would not offer the position to an unsuitable candidate."
"Does that mean there can be multiple candidates for Incarnations?"
The computer processed for a few second before answering, "It varies from office to office."
"So yes for some, no for others..." she summed up to herself. She wasn't fishing for a response from the computer, but it still answered her. This time it chirped 'Precisely.', instead of a simple yes. Petra was getting the strange feeling the computer had been lonely...
"Does that mean there was another potential Eros when Fate picked me?" Petra was really beginning to enjoy this conversation. She wasn't sure how useful it would prove to be, but at least it was interesting.
The computer processed again momentarily. "Technically yes."
"So technically, there's someone else who could do this, but they aren't as suitable for it as I am. That is what you're getting at, right?"
"Well that makes me feel a little better." She folded her arms and stared at the terminal. What else could she ask it? She was still incredibly curious, but she knew she was running out of the right questions. "Hmm, I'll be back once I've figured out something else to ask you."
"Alright." Again, Petra would almost swear to a hint of reluctance in the computer's tone.
"Is there a proper way I should shut you off or anything?" She asked tentatively.
"Merely press the off switch." It answered matter-of-factly.
"All right... Well... Goodbye." She wasn't sure it was really appropriate to tell a machine goodbye, but manners never killed anyone. At least not that she knew of...
"Goodbye," it scrolled and spoke before flashing the heart-boled tree and and going black again before she pressed the off switch.
Checking her watch, she discovered she hadn't killed as much time as she'd hoped, but at least she wouldn't run into herself at home now. It was about 6:20 again, so she decided to go home sine her previous self had most certainly left.