Robert Nowall

The Laminants, by Robert Nowall
Island in the Sea, by Robert Nowall
If Life It Is, by Robert Nowall
Choices, by Robert Nowall
Second First Chances, by Robert Nowall
Prisoner, by Robert Nowall
Two Sides to Every Story, by Robert Nowall
Blessed Are Those That Remember, by Robert Nowall
Love Dream,, by Robert Nowall
She Who Used to Be, by Robert Nowall
Guardian of the Gate, by Robert Nowall
Plant Girl, by Robert Nowall
Dogs by Robert Nowall
The Danger of Going Native, by Robert Nowall
The Laminants, by Robert Nowall
A Raft, by Robert Nowall



Robert Nowall

I came out from the back room and took my position at the front desk. My efficiency rating was down to seventy-nine percent, plus or minus five. I did not look as well as I should. But a guest waited.

A quick glance in a mirror showed I was adequate. To all appearances, I was an attractive human female. I put on my best radiant greeting smile and stepped up to the desk.

The hotel lobby lights were on. I saw the frosted glass doors to my right, the marble floor and far wall of the lobby itself, and the lush vegetation to the left. I spotted our potential guest, and said, "Welcome to the Hotel Laurentz, sir. May I help you?"

The guest started to walk into the atrium. He spun around and faced me. I looked him over. He was a young man, wearing a sewn animal skin shirt and pants, moccasins and a backpack of similar material. A couple of knives hung from his belt. His face was painted, but the paint was washed off. His visible skin was tanned to a dark shade. He looked healthy.

But he also looked scared and tired. He was quite grimy and dirty, as if he took a long hike without opportunity to wash. I estimated his age at between twenty-five to thirty standard years.

I did not think he looked like a guest. He looked dangerous. But, by my programming, I was bound to treat him as a guest, until such time as he proved not to be. I could not feel fear, but I could see a dangerous situation.

Instead, I repeated, "May I help you, sir?"

He spoke, in a language I did not recognize. It was not Standard, but seemed to borrow some words from it. I ran through several possibilities, and found one close to what he said. I said, in that language, "I am sorry, sir, but could you please repeat that?"

He spoke again. It was the same language, but with new words of uncertain meaning. He spoke as if he knew I did not understand everything said. He said, first, "Who are you, and what is this, this place?" He stepped closer, up to the desk, his hand on a knife hilt.

"I am the desk clerk of the Hotel Laurentz," I said. "You are in the lobby of the Hotel Laurentz." I paused, then said, "Do you wish to check in? There are rooms available."

"Check what?" he asked. "This is not the word, and you are not a word, a..." He struggled for another word, coming up with a word in Standard. "...a witch?"

After a moment, the translation program provided meanings: "Lost Place" for the first and "sorceress" for the second. I said, with the infinite patience of a laminant. "I am the Desk Clerk. Would you like a room?"

He took his hand off his knife. "A room?" he asked. "Do you mean a place to sleep?" Before I could describe our available services, he slumped and said, "Yes, I would like a place to sleep." His belligerence faded. He sagged. Exhaustion?

"Sign in here, please," I said. I activated the handprint scanner. A hand-sized rectangle on the desk counter glowed with a white light. He looked alarmed at the sight of it. I said, "Put your hand here, sir, and state your name and affiliation."

He looked confused over what I said---my speech was as hard for him to understand as his was for me---but he got it in the end. With more than a little unease, he put his right hand, palm flat down, on the square. "I am Jehan, son of Addi, of the Dome Shadow tribe."

I checked the scan. He did not match any prior guest or known city resident. Nor could I find an established account. I wondered if he could pay his bill---but, by the rules, it would be dealt with later. The glowing square on the countertop chirped once, and then vanished. Jehan raised his hand and looked at his palm, as if it would bite him.

"Thank you, sir," I said. I selected a single-bed room on the first floor for him. A door card popped out from a slot behind the desk. I handed it to him. "Here is the key for Room Two-Eighteen."

He took the card and looked at it with doubt. I was sure he was never inside a hotel before. He would need guidance. I printed a hotel map, removed it from its slot, then spread it on the counter between us. He looked at it and frowned. "To get to Room Two-Eighteen," I said, "go right from here, then right again. The elevators are down that way on your left. Go up one floor, then go to the right and follow the corridor as it turns. You will find it."

"Ele...evelat---er, the what?"

Perhaps he could not read the map. I pointed to it, and said, "If you wish to use the stairs, go right, then straight, through the atrium---the atrium." I pointed into it. He nodded. I continued. "Take the staircase on the far side of it. Halfway up, it will divide in two. Take the one that goes to the right. Go to the top, then to the right. Your room will be on your left."

He looked at the card, then the map, then looked into the atrium. I added, "I am sorry to say that room service is not available and the restaurant is closed. The stock in our vending machines is low, though some prepackaged foods are still available. The recent emergency stopped our supplies from getting here."

He turned and stared at me when I mentioned "emergency." He said, "The emergency? What is that?"

"This city is under a declared state of emergency, sir. Recent civil disturbances led to this."


"For the time being, it would be for the best if you and other guests remained within the hotel grounds."

"Er...other guests?"

I hesitated---the smile never left my face, but I did not respond right away. I checked a series of privacy protocols. In the end, I said, "You are alone on the premises, sir."

He looked away, into the atrium again, looking confused. I repeated, word-for-word, the directions I gave him before. Halfway through them, he waved his hand, with the keycard in it, and turned and walked into the atrium.

I watched him with my eyes as he walked through the atrium, and then through security cameras as he climbed the stairs. I picked up the map printout and dropped it in the disposal slot. Then I stepped back into the rooms behind the desk.


The rooms were once an office and a full hotel room. But when the Hotel Laurentz was retrofitted for laminants and robots, they were stripped to bare walls and support items. My storage case took up the most space. There was a peg on which I put my garment while in storage, and another for my wig. There was a multi-drawered tool chest as well. No bed, no chairs, no tables or desks, no papers or printouts or screens. A strong sliding door could seal the rooms off in an emergency.

There was a bathroom, designed for conventional human use. There was a functioning toilet, but I never used it and would never need to.

I used the shower and sink. I removed my garment and wig and stepped into the shower. I could not get dirty in the conventional human sense, but I was dusty and grimy from long storage. I needed to make myself more presentable. With a guest in the hotel, I needed to be on duty at the front desk, and to look my best.

While washing, I reviewed the hotel records. Of the fifty-five other laminants owned by Laurentz Group and assigned to this hotel, forty-four were available for use. Eleven were broken and needed repairs or replacement.

Of that forty-four, nineteen operated at efficiency levels close to or above my own. However, the shortage of guests compensated for the lack of laminant personnel.

The physical equipment of the Hotel Laurentz was in better shape. Thanks to assorted self-repairing machinery and eternity circuits, most of thehotel still worked. Unrepaired walls on the fourteenth and seventeenth and twenty-sixth floors waited for repair material.

Outside, the state of emergency still continued. But neither City Security nor hotel montiors showed any problems around the hotel.

As for our checked-in guests---Jehan son of Addi of the Dome Shadow tribe was alone on the hotel grounds, as I told him. But there were two others still checked in. The guest in Room Twenty-Seven-Oh-Four was gone, even though his possessions were still in the room and his bill was unpaid. City Security could not locate him. They were now down to a single laminant unit and monitors. Human personnel were absent.

I ordered Room Twenty-Seven-Oh-Four cleaned out, and the guest's possessions taken to the Storage Room C-Seventeen, Sub Basement Two.

As for the guest in Suite Four-Oh-Seven---at this point, even his bones crumbled. City Security never sent an ambulance to pick up the body. I ordered the rooms cleaned and sterilized, and the body, or what was left of it, placed in the empty Storage Room R-Twelve, Sub-Basement Three. I sent a note to City Security explaining our actions: they acknowledged receipt but did not respond.

I stepped out of the shower. I checked my eyebrows and eyelashes in the mirror. Replacing them was messy and involved. But they looked fine. My fingernails, toenails, and pubic hair were also in acceptable condition.

I turned my attention to my clothes. The silver metallic cloth was a little dusty, but a quick rinse in the shower and shakeout in the air blast restored them to cleanliness, and I put them on. Normal humans found the cloth uncomfortable, but it wore well and was difficult to damage or destroy.

I inspected my scalp. I was bald, except for some tiny hairs left over from the last time my scalp was shaved. My wig was as dusty as my clothes. I gave it the same treatment, though it took longer to dry. Then I put it on. It wiggled around, then settled into place in a wavy brown-blonde style hung to just above the shoulders. It would be painful if I was not a laminant. Now I ignored it.

I monitored the security cameras. Jehan was not in Room Two-Eighteen, but prowled corridors one floor up. I studied the image. He moved with hesitation, and jumped at the occasional noise. Since most of the hotel was in sleep mode, the lights on each floor activated as he climbed the stairs. He looked lost.

Once he walked in front of an automatic elevator door. He grabbed his knife and stabbed at the empty air when it opened.

I considered the problem, and decided to leave the desk and escort him to his room. I kept the elevator doors from opening until I reached him. I left the stair doors open for his use.

But, except for waving his knife around, he was not doing anything dangerous---besides, there were no one to harm. He could wait. I took time to finish repairing myself.

The tool chest was right next to the bathroom door. I opened up one drawer and pulled out a long thin metal straw that widened a little on one end. I stuck this straw, wide end first, up one of my nostrils, and shoved until I felt the click! of it locking on something. I gave it a shove further up, then pulled it down hard.

Something came out with a soft pop! I looked at it. A steel-gray pea-sized sphere. My sense-of-smell implant. I opened another drawer, and placed the sphere in the drawer among several others. I repeated the procedure with my other nostril.

I opened a third drawer, where several pairs of pea-sized metal spheres were laid out in neat rows. I picked up one pair, separated the spheres, and slipped one into my nostril by hand. The sphere activated itself and wiggled up into proper position.

I did the same with the other nostril.

I sniffed, deep and sharp. The spheres clicked! and I could smell again. Before, my sense of smell was dim and uncertain. Now it was back. All the dust in the back rooms carried a slight metallic odor. I could also smell the fresh water from the bathroom. It was intense for a moment, then settled down to normal. My efficiency rating rose to eighty-five percent plus-or-minus.

All was ready. I came out of the back room and from behind the desk, and started across the lobby to the elevators.


The hotel front doors opened again as I walked. A man entered. Another guest? I hurried back to the desk, but I spoke as I did. "Welcome to the Hotel Laurentz. May I help you, sir?"

I inspected him. He wore no clothes. The hotel operated on basic city rules. Nudity was not forbidden, but was discouraged. Due to the emergency, rules in the city were more restrictive. But it could be tolerated here.

His skin was pale to an extreme, mottled with many paler patches and lines. Little or no hair, on his head or face or anywhere. He was, if anything, more dirty and grimy then Jehan was.

But he carried himself as if his nudity were of no account, something he was used to. And he looked healthy---tall, a good build, well-muscled. He smiled back at me as I went behind the desk He said, "Yes, yes, you can. I was attracted by your light. Most places around here are dark. Are, ah, any rooms available?" He spoke flawless Standard, however hesitant, suggesting he knew it well.

I replied, in the same language, "Yes, sir. Room Four-Twenty-Four is available."

He held up one hand. "I think I would prefer a room with a view. Is there anything higher up? Say, a penthouse?"

"No penthouse, sir, but there are rooms that may do." I moved his booking from one room to another. "Suite Twenty-Seven-Oh-Three. The top floor. It faces east and commands a view of the city."

I activated the handprint scanner. He stepped up and put his hand on it without any prompting. He said, "Daedalus, Adam." The scanner flashed. Like Jehan, Adam Daedalus was never a guest of our hotel before, nor was he in any city records. But there was no reason to refuse him---he, unlike Jehan, acted as if he knew what he was in.

I popped a key card out of the slot and handed it to him. I gave him the same speech about room service and the restaurant. He listened without speaking. I printed out a map with directions to his suite, and slipped it across the counter. He looked at it, and nodded. "Are the corridors lit?" he asked. "A good deal of the city outside is dark."

I was not aware of that. I said, "Perhaps, sir, many of the city operations are in sleep mode. The Hotel Laurentz goes into sleep mode when guests are not present. Since another guest checked in---"

"Another guest?" He looked surprised. "I thought---well, never mind what I thought. Who is your other guest?"

I looked him over once more, and began, "Mr. Daedalus---"

"Call me Adam," he said.

"Adam, then." I brightened my smile a little more, then said, "I am sorry, but we can not divulge guest names, even to other guests. If you wish to contact him, I can transmit a message---"

He held his hand up, palms out. "No, no. I would prefer to avoid contact with---" He hesitated, then said, "'Him?'"

I realized I gave confidential information away. My programming showed lapses from time to time. My smile slipped for a moment, but I put it back on and said, "If you take one of our elevators straight from the lobby and atrium, straight to the twenty-seventh floor, you will not encounter him."

"Thank you. The elevators are to the right?"

"Down to your right and then on your left."

"Thank you again." He turned, as if to leave, then turned back. "Just one more thing. I would be interested in purchasing some items of clothing. Are any available?"

"There is a booth, sir, in our vending area, that dispenses clothing. Supplies right now are somewhat limited, but you may be able to find something suitable."

"Thank you again," he said. "I will check into it later."

"You are welcome, sir."

"Call me Adam." He turned and walked around the desk towards the elevators. I followed him on the security monitors. He took the elevator to the twenty-seventh floor, walked to his suite, opened the door, entered, and switched the privacy curtain on.

I left the desk in search of Jehan.


Jehan was now on the fifth floor. I took the elevator, and held the door closed while I monitored him through the security cameras. When he was in front of the doors, I opened them. He jerked around and grabbed his knife from his belt. I did not move. Recognition appeared in his eyes as he froze.

"Sir," I said, "you are away from your room. Are you lost?"

"Er, ah..." He grinned. "I do not know where I am. This place is a meechen." After a moment, he added, "A maze."

"Please follow me, sir." I turned around and walked back into the elevator, which I held. I turned back and faced him. He looked terrified, but he tried hard to conceal it.

"Sir," I said, "please come here. I will take you to your room." I held my hand out to him, palm up. "You will be safe."

"Safe?" he asked. He reached out and took my hand. I, with a gentle movement, pulled him into the elevator.

I let go of his hand, and closed the elevator doors. I decided not to explain. I closed the door in a slow movement. Jehan turned around and jumped back, but made no effort to jump out.

It was smooth and quick. But Jehan went pale as it moved, and grabbed his knife. Thanks to my restored sense of smell, I caught a whiff of urine and feces from him; in his fear, he soiled himself.

When the doors opened, he dropped his knife. I bent over and picked the knife up, then held it out to him. He took it from me, and clasped it to his body as if it were the one familiar thing to him. I held out my hand again. "Come, sir, this way."

He took my hand and allowed me to lead him onto the floor. I led him down the hall to Room Two-Eighteen. He carried the key card but I did not need it. I opened the door and led him inside.

It was our basic single-occupant unit. Just inside the door, a mini-kitchen on the right in an alcove. Past that, the door to the bathroom, ajar. It made a short corridor leading to the king-sized bed on the right, and a media center across from it. Next to the bed, wedged up against the bathroom wall, was a desk and chair. A more-padded chair was on the other side. The room was windowless. There were no windows on this floor, though rooms higher up came with them.

Jehan looked dazed. I led him into the room and attempted to explain some things. It was difficult. The dialect approximating his language lacked many terms, and those that were there did not mean the same things. It did not matter. He did not pay attention. I was not sure of what he took in.

I did not explain the door. Jehan's behavior was most un-guest-like. I wanted to monitor his behavior, and I wanted, if needed, immediate access to him. I did not want to lock him in, but I wanted to avoid trouble.

I showed him the media center, using the controls rather than running things by mental command. "A variety of entertainment is available," I said, as I ran through several different video and audio channels. "I regret that live broadcasts are not available at this time, but there are enough stored programming to make up the difference." I left it on audio, running some soft music recommended as a sleep aid. "Also there is a large library."

He looked at me, then raised his hand and brushed some stray locks of hair from my face. I looked him in the eyes. "You are..." he said, hesitated, then added an unfamiliar word that, after a moment, my translation program translated as "beautiful."

I pondered the situation. Though the proper laminant equipment servicing a human male was not installed within my body, my original sex organs were preserved along with the rest of me. I was programmed to respond. I could go through the proper motions, but it could not affect me on an emotional level.

I responded to Jehan's moves by moving closer to him. I brought my lips to his mouth. He kissed me, hard and open-mouthed, and put his arms around me and lifted my feet off the floor.

When he put me down, I helped him remove his backpack and dirty clothes, and put them on the padded chair in a neat pile. I put my own garment on the back of the desk chair. After I slipped out of my sandals he put his arm around me and pulled me to him. We fell onto the bed and rolled over until he was on top.

I was not lubricated, but if he found penetration difficult, he made no complaint or even an expression of surprise. Once he ejaculated, it was easier. I matched my rhythms to his, and kept at it until he experienced an orgasm and rolled off me onto his back.

I switched the music to a similar tune, with buried hypnotic sleep-inducing suggestions in it. He was soon fast asleep, emitting a loud snore. I stayed close to him until I was sure his sleep was deep.

Once I was sure, I rolled off the bed and picked up my garment and sandals. I moved in silence. I opened the room door with a mental command, then closed it after me.

Down at the end of the hall, behind an unmarked door, was a clean-up station for laminants. I could not sweat and did not need to relieve myself, but in making love with Jehan, I got his dirt, urine, feces, and sperm on me and in me. The station was not as elaborate as the for-humans bathroom behind the desk. It was the size of a small closet. It was just enough room for me to squeeze into, put my folded clothes on a shelf, and stand in the middle. I was sprayed and vacuumed and dried in seconds.

I revised my estimate of Jehan. He was younger than I thought, between eighteen and twenty, past adolescence, but not at full growth. I doubted his ability to pay his bill. He possessed nothing the hotel would accept as money. I did not know where he came from, or how he got into the city past City Security. I kept him in the "guest" category, but made note of my reservations.

But he needed monitoring and assistance. I needed to stay close to the desk. I ran through several possibilities, and activated Maree, a laminant programmed for maid duty. Her efficiency level was below my own, but she needed no major system or equipment failures. And she came with the proper sexual equipment. Though most maid chores at the Hotel Laurentz were performed by robotic equipment within the walls, some situations required something human-in-appearance. I activated her, ordered her to clean herself, and then dress in a maid's uniform before coming up.

I dressed and stepped out of the laminant wash station, walked down to the elevators, and waited. It was not long before an elevator door opened up and she stepped out. I inspected her. She was about my size, with a wig of black hair. In skin coloring and facial appearance, she resembled Jehan---I hoped it would make him more comfortable.

She wore sandals like mine, and a garment of the same metallic fabric dyed black, with an attached white metallic cloth belt with a bow in the back. She also wore a small printed name tag: HOTEL LAURENTZ---MAREE.

I could monitor and direct her, but I could not control her actions as my own, or merge my programs so we could be-as-one---I could not foresee any circumstances were that would be required. I could route my instructions through the computer that controlled both of us, but I spoke to her, instead. "You can access all information and instructions?" I asked her in Standard.

"I am to tend to the needs of the guest Jehan in Room Two-Eighteen," she said. She spoke with a slight impediment, almost an accent. "I see all the files you compiled since his arrival, and note his language requirements."

I pointed down the hall. "You will wait outside Room Two-Eighteen until Jehan wakes up. Be aware of the potential dangers of the situation."

"Yes, ma'am." She curtsied---a programmed gesture---and walked past me. I let the elevator doors close, and walked over to the stairs.


Adam came down to the lobby as I walked into it. He emerged from his room as I spoke with Maree. I hurried, but I was not quite behind the desk when he came up to it. He said, "Are you busy?"

"Oh, yes, Adam" I said. "There are more guests now than in some time."

"Any more arrivals?"

"No, but it is still a larger number than is usual." I looked him over. He was clean now, and wore a white cloth bathrobe and slippers from the suite supplies. I said, "Can I help you?"

"Yes." He looked away from me, back into the hotel, and said, "You mentioned there were vending machines for clothes. Could you show me where they are?"

"Yes. I am happy to. Our selection is limited, but a few items remain for purchase."

I started to step out from behind the counter, but he held up his hand. "Not just yet. A few other questions. I do not know what you use for money in these machines---"

"You can make purchases from any of our machines on your hotel account, Adam," I said.

He relaxed, then said, "About my account. I did not ask you about room rates or settling my bill."

"You may pay when you check out. You do not need to do it now."

"But I need to know whether I can leave the hotel before I do."

After a moment, I said, "You are right, Adam. Under current rules, you must settle your hotel bill before leaving." I pointed to the front door. "In fact, the hotel doors will not open for you if you do not do so."

Adam smiled. "When were these rules put into effect?"

"Since the start of the current emergency. Due to communications interruptions, we can not contact banks or credit agencies outside city limits."

"So your policy is for guests to pay in cash." Adam chuckled. "What do you accept in payment?"

"Do you carry any printed money?"

"No, just this." He reached into his robe pocket, and pulled out a piece of metal. He placed this on the desk counter and slid it towards me. He smiled. "Will this do?"

I touched it. It was a thin metal rectangle. I lifted it, hefted it, inspected it by eye and by feel. It appeared to be platinum.

I looked back at him. He still smiled. "If that is unacceptable," he said, "I can give you gold and silver."

I stopped smiling. It was unconventional, but was acceptable. I opened a small drawer and placed the metal rectangle within. The assessing equipment activated and the results came back: platinum, genuine, with numbers.

I changed Adam's status to "paid guest," and put my smile back on. "That would pay for your suite for almost a year."

"I, ah, will need other hotel services. But we can talk later. This clothes vending machine---"

I nodded, stepped from behind the desk, and said, "Follow me, Adam."

I led him out of the lobby, then down the corridor that held the vending machines. It was broad, with many different machines. I pointed out several to Adam. Most dispensed food or drink items, and most of those were empty and dark. But I knew the clothes dispenser still contained a few items.

It was a large box, not much bigger than the laminant washroom upstairs. A plastic front, lit up, said, CLOTHES, with a few drawings. There was a door, with a plastic curtain.

Adam knew how to use it. I left him there and returned to the desk. He came back almost at once. He wore a white-gray T-shirt, with "HOTEL LAURENTZ" and a picture of the hotel printed across it. It was too large for him and hung down to mid-thigh.

He carried a small black satchel, no bigger than his two hands, slung on a narrow strap over his shoulder, hung above his hip. He also wore a pair of sandals, similar to the pair I wore.

He carried the bathrobe and slippers, rolled into a neat bundle, tucked under his arm. He slid these across the desk to me. "Can you return these to my room?"

I took them from him, and said, "Maid service can put a new one in your suite. Is that acceptable?"

"That will be fine." He stepped back, and turned around in a complete circle, holding his arms out, palms out. I inspected him. He looked more presentable than when he arrived. I smiled, and said nothing. He said, "It is not ideal, but it will do."

"You are going out?"

"I need to do some things. I am free to go now, am I not?"

"Yes, Adam, you are." I put on an expression of concern. "But I must warn you. The city is a dangerous place these days. A state of emergency is declared. There are reports of widespread disorder. All violators of the peace are subject to summary justice. The Hotel Laurentz would not wish our guests to endanger themselves."

He grinned at me. "I did not see any police or security forces when I came into the city. As a matter of fact, I did not see anyone at all until I came to your hotel and saw you. I walked around for two days before coming in here."

I did not know the streets were so deserted. But it explained why the Hotel Laurentz was empty.

I said nothing as I thought about that. Adam turned and waved as he headed for the front door. "Oh, Adam, hold on." He turned back and faced me. I said, "You said you carry gold and sliver. It might be dangerous to carry them around."

"I am not worried." He smiled. "I can take care of myself."

"It might be difficult for you to shop."

"True." He put his hand on his chin and stroked an imaginary beard. "Can I charge things to my hotel account from outside?"

"No. But there is a bank on the premises. You can---"

"Yes, I saw it Up near the clothing machine. I can set something up right here." He looked pleased. "Is it automated?"

"It is."

"Thank you." He headed back towards the vending machines. I took his robe and dropped it in the waste receptacle. The floor under it opened up and swallowed it; it would be routed to laundry. I activated the maid service for Adam's suite. None of it involved laminants.

After a longer time, Adam came back, satisfaction on his face. "That will do," he said. "I set up an account. Thank you for suggesting it."

"You are welcome. I regret not making the suggestion before you paid your hotel bill. I did not think." I broadened my smile. "I could transfer your surplus to your new account."

He held up his hand. "Perhaps later. Good-bye, then. I will back later." He turned away, then turned back. "Just one other thing."

"Yes, Adam?"

"I gave you my name---but you did not give me yours."

I let my smile slip for a moment. "Adam, I am a laminant. I am not named in the conventional sense,"

"But, as a laminant, you were human once. Were you named then?"

"I did. It is not relevant.." I paused, then added, "If you must, you may call me the Desk Clerk."

"The Desk Clerk," he said, and frowned. "That will not do."

He looked at me. I dredged through memories from my computer files and my laminated brain, and said, "If you insist on using a name, you may call me 'Britt.'"

"Britt," he said. "Was that your name before?"

"It was." I remembered the person who used that name. There was continuity between us. But there were important differences. She lived. I did not. I was a laminant.

"Britt it is, then." He smiled and touched his head as if he were removing an imaginary hat. "Good night, Britt. I will return." Then he walked through the front doors and was gone.

I stood at the desk. With one guest in residence, and another that could return at any time, I needed to stay. The wait proved to be dull.


Time passed. Maree waited outside Room Two-Eighteen. I waited at the desk. A guest might mistake either of us for statues.

I spent my time thinking. My ability to process information might not be up to that of humans, but with my laminated brain and computer memory, I could work through a problem in time. My thoughts focused on Adam.

He was a puzzle. He knew his way around hotels, but he was no ordinary guest. He came without luggage or possessions, not even clothes. But where did his precious metal ingots come from? He did not pick them up in the hotel.

Could I ask Adam about it? He was a guest. Guests were entitled to privacy.

Adam returned. He still wore the T-shirt, but he added a vest of many pockets, a pair of black pants, and a pair of boots. He carried other things with him, carried in plastic bags, looped onto a pole he carried across his shoulders.

"I see you made some purchases," I said. I inspected them by eye. Most were packaged goods and tools. I saw no forbidden items. I saw no food, either. There was little in the hotel. I worried about when Adam last ate. I inspected him. He did not appear to be starving.

He let me look him over, then smiled. "There was much available," he said. "I would like to buy a vehicle, but I could find none for purchase or hire. I will try later."

"Do you need any help?" I asked. "I can summon a bellboy."

"A laminant bellboy?"


He shook his head. "Do not wake anyone up for me. I will manage." He spun around, to let me see again. "What do you think? There was a good selection."

"I approve," I said. "You may dress as you wish when on hotel grounds. Out in the city---" I hesitated, then said, "Nudity is not forbidden. But it is a dangerous time."

"Thank you. You were helpful." He smiled. "I do not think I would be able to buy what I needed if you did not make a suggestion."

"You are welcome."

He stepped closer to the desk, and said in a softer tone, "I spent my time looking for certain items. I did not take time to see the sights, but I would like to. Once I drop my gear in my suite, perhaps you can take me around."

"Outside? In the city?"

"We could make a night of it."

I considered how to phrase my answer, then said, "I am not permitted to leave the hotel grounds, Adam."

"You are forbidden to?" He looked surprised.

"A practical consideration. I must be in constant contact with the hotel computer in order to function. More than a few meters beyond the hotel grounds, I would cease to function."

"You would die?"

"I am a laminant, Adam. In a manner of speaking, I am already dead." I paused, as if I felt embarrassment by what I said. I put a somber expression on my face throughout. Then I added, "But it is a matter of broken connections. I would be switched off."

"You would recover if you were returned?"


He nodded, then smiled. "Perhaps you could give me a tour of the hotel itself. I did not see much of it before I checked in."

I smiled again. "That would be possible. But I should stay on duty here while guests are in the hotel. I could activate another laminant---"

"But I don't know them, Britt." He grinned. "I do know you."

I ran over the acceptable and permitted. I said, "It is not busy. I can do it." I made a decision, and said, "Yes, I will take you on a tour. We can do it any time."


"But I might need to return to the desk at any time." I considered activating another laminant to take my place, but decided just to conduct the tour and monitor things by remote.

"That is fine with me," I said. "Let me put my bags in my suite. I will be right back. I'll meet you here."

"No," I said. "I will meet you at the elevators. We will start the tour there."

"Fine, then." He nodded and walked to the elevators. I waited behind the desk. I needed no special preparation, and would walk to the elevator at the right time.


As Adam went up in the elevator, I received a warning from City Security. They were advising all places of business that the security barrier around the city was breached for a short time. Three individuals entered the city without inspection or permission. All businesses were warned that said individuals might be dangerous. Caution was to be exercised. City Security was to be notified, at once, of their presence.

Three files were attached to the message, three out-of focus pictures of the individuals who entered. I examined them with a certain suspicion. I was right. The first was Adam, and the second was Jehan. But the third individual was unfamiliar. It was an older man, dressed much like Jehan.

I reported details of Jehan and Adam to City Security, not expecting an immediate answer. But I got one. Adam's behavior, his new city bank account, changed his status from "intruder" to "visitor, reserved grade." Adam was to be treated as a visitor, but his activities were to be recorded and City Security was to be notified of any irregularities. He was not to be told.

In a way, I felt pleasure that this message came to me after Adam's return. If he was in the city, he might activate a security program. He might be arrested, even executed.

I cut off Adam's privacy curtain. I inspected the room. He was on his way down. The maid service replaced his robe and slippers and the wet towels in the bathroom. He placed several small items in neat order on the desk top. Some appeared to be other small pieces of precious metal. A couple appeared to be miniature tool kits. The packages and bags he brought in were in a neat line on the floor next to the desk.

Should I tell him about this, despite City Security's warning? I examined my programming, and my new instructions, and decided to follow City Security's orders. Nonetheless, he was a guest, and one who paid his bill. I should protect him.

Jehan was simpler. I kept track of him, in a manner that fit in with City Security's orders. He was not to leave the hotel grounds. At the moment, he was still asleep, and Maree still waited for him to wake up. I continued things as before.

The third intruder---I did not know if I would ever see him. Jehan came first, and Adam was attracted by the light. Would the third intruder come? Did Adam, in his wanderings, activate other city facilities, that would attract another person?

I needed to be ready. But I promised Adam a tour.


I reached the elevators as Adam stepped out of one. I intended that. I wanted to walk up to him. I kept the elevator door open after he stepped out.

He wore the same clothing, straightened out. He smiled at me. "You are ready.. Where should we begin?"

I pointed back into the open elevator. "We can begin at once."


I spotted an opening and asked, "We could dine first."

"No," he said.

"We could dine together if you wished." As a laminant, I could swallow food. But I would not digest and would need to remove the food later.

"No," he said. "I do not need to. I am fine."

"Since the menu would be limited to emergency rations, there would be no charge."

He held up his hands. "No. But thank you."

I paused, then said, "We will begin the tour. Is there anything you would like to see?"

"I leave it up to you."

I stepped into the elevator, and turned to face towards Adam. "We shall start on the upper floors and work our way down to the bottom."

He started to enter, but I said, "Before we begin, I must remind you that, if another guest comes in, I must return to the front desk."

"I accept that, Britt," he said.

"Another guest may arrive at any time."

He looked startled by that news. "There is someone else in the city?"
I felt unease. I revealed confidential information again. I said, "I can not give details.

"Then we better begin, as soon as possible." He stepped into the elevator. I closed the doors.


The elevator let us off at the twenty-seventh floor, the top floor. As we did, Adam stepped closer to me, and took my arm. I was puzzled. Was Adam trying to form a romantic relationship with me? I was a laminant. Adam knew of laminants. Did he understand what that meant?

I was designed to be attractive. And I could simulate---"fake"---a variety of emotions when they needed to be displayed. I smiled. I frowned. I appeared angry. I faked passion with Jehan. Options were available.

Laminants might not be as devoid of emotions as I was taught. Within myself, I felt a certain satisfaction when I performed a task well, a certain desire to do them well, a certain dissatisfaction when things did not go as they should. They did not originate within any program or instruction I was aware of.

They did not compare to those memories from when I was alive. But I did not regret their absence or desire their presence.

I weighed my options, and decided faking a mild romantic interest would do no harm. It might yield information. I let him pull me close, and stayed that way.

I took him through several suites around his own, to show the different decorations and layouts. Adam asked, "So how often are these rented?"

"Not often," I said. "Things are quiet. We attribute this to the state of emergency. Once it is brought to an end, our occupancy rate will rise."

Adam shook his head, then asked, "You do not see this as permanent?"

"Not at all." I pointed to the suite walls---this suite was decorated in a blue nautical theme---and said, "The Hotel Laurentz remains a fine hotel, and we believe fine hotels will attract guests."

He nodded. We moved on.

I took him down the stairs to the next floor. This floor was divided into smaller rooms, double-bed arrangements, standard decor. I showed him how walls slid back and furniture rearranged to create larger suites if needed. Room rates were less than for the suites above.

We passed by a stretch of wall that was ripped open from floor to ceiling. Adam stopped and insisted on looking into it. He stuck his head full into it. "Careful!" I said. "Most of what you see is active." There were numerous pipes and wires, most horizontal. A shaft, for air circulation, lay behind the opening; other shafts, for movement of robotic equipment, lay further on.

Adam looked them over, swinging his head from left to right to left. "All this is in working condition?"

"We are able to perform repairs under most circumstances," I replied. "But certain repair materials, such as drywall---"

"And food?"

"Yes, and food. And other things. We are low on many supplies."

He kept his head within the wall gap. "I see. But some of this must be made up by your, ah, your shortage of guests."

I paused. It took several seconds to process that, long enough for Adam to remove his head and look at me. I said, "That is true. We might need to close our doors if our occupancy rate were higher."

"So how long do you think you can go on?"

I did not speak. Adam took my hand and slapped it a couple of times. "Britt? Are you all right?"

"I am processing information," I said. "I can not say when we would be unable to continue. There are too many variables."

"That is all right." He let go of my hand, and said, "Perhaps we should carry on I can ask more questions. We can get to them as we go."

I nodded. We both turned to walk on. Again, he took my arm.


I took Adam through the floors. Most of our smaller rooms were on lower floors, though there were singles and doubles on every floor below the suite levels.

Jehan awoke while Adam and I toured. He appeared frightened. Maree entered and introduced herself, explaining-without-giving-anything-away that I left and she would tend to him. Jehan calmed down and accepted her presence. I monitored through security cameras and microphones. I could see through Maree's eyes if I wanted to, but decided against it.

As we strolled through the third floor, Adam said, "You are distracted."

"I was just attending to hotel matters."

"We can take up this tour some other time."

"We can continue." I smiled at him. "I attended to it. I am in constant communication with all parts of the hotel."

"You are equipped with a built-in radio?"

"In a manner of speaking."


There were features on the second floor I thought of showing Adam, but I did not want to pass too close to Jehan's occupied room. I took Adam to the elevator and down to the main floor. Once we stepped off, Adam said, "Is that it?"

"There is more. Come this way."

I took him past the lobby and down a corridor on that side. I turned the lights on in the restaurant as we walked through the doors. It was well-lit, when lit. Tables took up the center, booths lined the walls. It was intended to provide good-but-not-fancy food at a good price.

But food was not available. "We could eat here," I said. "If you are hungry I could arrange for emergency rations to be brought here."

"I am not hungry. You may continue." He looked the restaurant over, and said, "Is this staffed by laminants?"

"The waitresses and busboys are laminants, but the food comes from an automated kitchen."

"Where are they now?"

"In storage. But we are ready. We hope to reopen when supplies come."

He shook his head. "But you do not know when that will be, do you, Britt?"

I shook my head. "I cannot predict that, Adam."

I took him to the casino, down the same corridor. I turned the lights on, then tried to activate the gambling equipment. I received a warning that the hotel's electric current was not sufficient, so I left them off. I said so to Adam.

"Then the lights in the hotel are not on all the time?"

"Just where guests are present. I turned them on and off as we walked through. Right now, just the lobby and two floors, the second and twenty-seventh, are kept lit."

"I see." He looked the casino over. It was not large---no larger than the atrium---and lacked the sophisticated gambling equipment a bigger casino would be equipped with. We maintained it as a convenience for our guests, when times were better.

He smiled. "So...because the second floor lights are on, there is a guest there?"

My smile disappeared. Once again, I let information slip. I could not deny it, and for the moment, could not think of anything to say.

Adam stepped lose to me, and took both my hands in his. He looked into my eyes. "I will not pry further, Britt. I will try not to."

"Thank you, Adam," I replied. "Please do not attempt to visit the second floor without my permission."

"I will do my best." He leaned forward---was he going to kiss me?---but then backed off. "Is there more to see?"

We walked back along the corridor we came through. We still walked arm in arm. "I apologize for prying, Britt."

"That is not necessary."

"I was afraid I upset you."

I smiled. "I remind you that I am a laminant. I can not be upset. You do understand what a laminant is, Adam? Many recent guests do not."

"I understand too well," Adam replied, and then spoke as if quoting a definition. "A laminant is a corpse, one that is preserved and plasticized. Through the application of electrochemical impulses, it is possible to animate said preserved corpse to create a less-expensive variety of android robot. Memories contained within the preserved brains of such corpses are accessible."

"That is it," I said.

"But you must remember what being upset is like."

"I believe I do. But I do not believe what I experience is emotion in that sense."

"You feel certain things?"

"I believe I do." I could not remember a conversation like this. I wanted to continue. Was this a desire? I said, "I experience certain things. But I can compare them to information in computer storage and in my preserved brain. They do not match."

"I see." He paused, lost in thought. "It must be difficult, to determine what belongs to you and what belongs to your former self."

"I can separate my present self from my former self." I lowered my voice a little. "I am aware that some laminants are haunted by their former selves, but that is not the case with me."

"You witnessed such cases?" he asked, as we walked into the atrium. The foliage looked very real at the moment.

"Several," I said. "In the end, they were destroyed." I lowered my head. "I might say what I feel is sadness, but I do not know."

He patted my arm. Did I feel comforted at this? Did I feel sad? I did not know. We walked on.


The atrium was designed to be pleasant. The lights were on, to simulate bright sun, as if the roof were thick frosted glass. The hotel could handle the electric load if demand did not increase.

Pillars of veined pale marble looked as if they held the ceiling up. It was considered the prettiest portion of the hotel.

I pointed to a bench. "If you like, we could sit and rest."

"I am not tired," Adam replied. "But I do not object to sitting for a while. You are not tired?"

"I am not."

So we sat. It was a narrow bench. We sat close enough for our arms to rub against each other. Adam brushed against a plant, then reached over and felt a leaf between thumb and forefinger. "This is plastic," he said.

"Yes, Adam," I replied. "You must admit this is a fair representation of a lush greenhouse garden."

"A garden, yes." He pointed to a tall palm tree surrounded by pampas grass. "Is it all fake?".

"All of it. It is easy to maintain. Most guests find it soothing." He nodded. We sat for awhile, our arms and shoulders touching, but we did not speak. I could hear the music piped through the atrium, a soft-but-mellow selection. Under that were outdoor sounds, insects and birds and occasional animal calls.

I could see the front desk from where I sat. If a guest came, I could be there in a moment.

After a time, where we did nothing but sit next to each other, Adam said, "I asked a lot of questions, Britt. But you did not ask about me."

"The Hotel Laurentz respects the privacy of its guests, Adam," I said.

"You are program not to ask?"

"Not to inquire." I paused, then added, "But if you were to volunteer information, I would listen."

He stared off into the distance for a moment, then went on. "I am a traveler. I travel around from place to place."

"Your travels brought you here?"

"Yes." Adam leaned over, and took my hand. "I am also looking for something. I may find it, right here." I wondered at the implication of his words. "But I do not wish to go into more detail, Britt," he said. He let go of my hand. "Not at this time."

"There is more?" I felt curious---was that an emotional reaction?

"Much more. I will tell you when the moment is right." He stretched and stood up. "I suppose we should continue." He bowed and held out an arm. I took it and allowed him to help me up.


I took Adam down the corridors on the other side. The pool was our first stop. It was dark. Moisture hung in the air. The smell of chlorine was strong. I brought up the light on a gradual scale, until it was bright. It was a large pool, but, except for two small bubbling whirlpool pools to one side, it was still. The room itself was done in pale veined marble, in a style matching the atrium, pillars and high arched ceilings, a frosted glass roof to let the artificial sunlight in, but without the plants. "Is the water fresh?" Adam asked.

"We drain the pool during dormant modes," I said. "If you would like to take a swim---"

"Not now."

"I could get a pair of swimming trunks for you," I went on.

"Some other time." He looked at me, and grinned. "Perhaps someday you and I could go swimming together."

"Perhaps," I replied. I could swim, though I did not since I became a laminant. I could not drown. My lungs existed just to pass air through my vocal chords.

"I will be here for some time," Adam said. "We can set a date later. Anytime." We moved on.


I showed Adam the conference rooms. "No events are scheduled," I said. "But we can be ready on short notice."

He nodded. We looked into one room. A number of tables and chairs were set up, along with an off-the-floor stage and podium. Adam looked at it, and said, "You did not set this up for me, did you?"

I let a chuckle trickle into my voice. "No, Adam. This was set up for a banquet that never took place. We were instructed by our corporate headquarters to leave things as they were."

"You do not communicate much with your home office, then. Are you concerned about this silence?"

I nodded. "It is a problem. There are a number of issues we can not address at the local level. But our instructions stand."

"I will remember," he replied. I wondered what he meant. He added, "Your corporate headquarters is...outside the city, is it not?"

"You are right."


Outside the last meeting room, I said, "That concludes our tour. You saw the whole of our hotel." We walked on towards the lobby, still arm in arm. I paused before adding, "I could go with you back to your room, if you wish."

"Oh, but Britt, you did not show me all the hotel. Not yet."

I let my smile fall off. I did not understand what he meant. "What do you mean?"

"There is the, er, back rooms. Where all the work that goes into making the hotel work goes on. Laundry, kitchens, the guts of the hotel."

I thought about it. It was not unprecedented. "I can take you around that. I did not think of doing so. In fact, I am surprised I did not think of it."

"Surprise? An emotion?"


"I am glad I brought it up." He patted my arm. "Can we begin now, or do you need to rest?"

"I am---" I started to say, then fell silent. I told him I was a laminant many times. He must know. I said, "I do not need to rest. Do you?"

He shook his head. I spun him around in a wide arc. "There is a service entrance at the end of this hall."


Most of the service facilities were contained in several sub-basements. The hotel went deep into the ground almost as high as it rose into the city. I took him down, one level after another. It was dark and dim, but there were sun-bright spots here and there. Several areas were damp and dank.

It was not as pretty as the hotel above---stark utilitarian, with unpainted walls and unrepaired damage. Some areas were built or dug out when the hotel retrofitted for laminants and robotics, while others were closed off and abandoned.

We walked straight into an area where cobwebs coated the walls. Adam brushed at one and said, "Odd."

"How so?" I asked.

"Your hotel is infested with vermin."

"We are not," I replied, adding a slight amount of heat to my voice. "You will not find this in any hotel area concerned with guests. You did not see any of this in the rooms above, did you?"

"No, but it is here. Look." He pointed to the base of the walls. I looked. Nothing was visible, but the walls were stained with cockroach droppings. Further along---was that a rat? No, it was just the play of bad light on a rough wall formation.

"I see signs of roaches, rats, slithersnakes, and silverfish," Adam said. His tone was calm, as if he were a teacher and I was a student. "Look there. Is that a mushroom?"

I said, "This access corridor is not used often. In any area affecting guest services, you will not find any vermin---as you shall see." I lightened my tone further and added, "I will make arrangements for these corridors to be cleaned."

"You do not need to do that for me," Adam replied. He looked lost in thought for a moment, then said, "I accept your explanation. Perhaps we should continue."

We did. I ordered cleaning crew robots sent later to the unused corridors, but did not say so to Adam.

I avoided the service elevators. They were large enough to move an entire room, or built for one passenger. We used ramps and walked. I could not be tired and Adam made no complaint.

Adam said little as I showed him the loading dock, and then several empty food storage areas. He showed little interest in storage rooms full of extra furniture, sheets, towels, and other items.

I pointed to one box, labeled BATHROBES, WHITE 200 COUNT. It was still sealed. There were several similar boxes. "You see? More than enough bathrobes." He chuckled, but did not respond.

I showed him the laundry room. One machine was active, to handle the load from our guests, but were little used. But several others were ready to go.

I took him to the power plant. He looked interested. We received power from the city grid, but our backup batteries drained when electric levels dropped. Past that were rooms filled solid with electrical connections, and past those were other rooms filled with communication gear.

I took him through the restaurant kitchen and the casino support rooms. It was a tight fit, with narrow service corridors cut through them. If the kitchens were active we would not make it through at all.

I explained things as we passed through the kitchen. Adam was silent. I thought he would speak when I pointed out the lack of cobwebs or roaches or rats, but he just nodded. We moved on.

We lingered at one room. The clear glass doors were locked, and remained locked. A sign that said AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL hung on them. But we could see inside. Assorted computer processors, with lots of blinking lights, filled the room. It would be difficult for human or laminant to fit between them.

"This is the central computer unit of the hotel. These doors are locked. Qualified computer technicians from corporate headquarters are all that can enter."

Adam tried the door handle. The doors did not rattle when he tugged. He said, "And your corporate headquarters is silent." He leaned forward, his hand shading his eyes to eliminate glare. "That is too bad. I can see some system failures."

I looked. Adam was right. There were many dark patches within. I ran a quick diagnostic check. "The computer capacity is down by ten percent," I said. "But there is much redundancy. We can sustain operations for some time." I smiled. "I am always connected to the computer."

"You are one with the computer?" He turned his head and looked at me, hard.

I felt ill at ease under his gaze. "No. But I am controlled by and monitored by the computers, as I also control and monitor them. It might look complex, but I can assure you it works."

"Yes." He turned back. "I could fix it, I think. I would need to assess things."

"You can repair computers?" I was intrigued.

"I can." He stepped back from the door. "Tell me, Britt. What would happen to you if those computers failed?"

"I would cease to function," I said. "My physical body would remain, but it would be inactive."

"You would not see or hear?"

"I would not function."

He shook his head. "That is very sad, Britt."

"It is how things are."

He moved away, then said, "Is there more to see down here?"


I monitored Jehan's room as I showed Adam around. The situation was odd. Jehan felt the need to relieve himself, and did so in one corner of the room. Maree let him do so, then took him into the bathroom and explained how things worked. Jehan relieved himself further there. Maree switched the toilet to automatic---she could do so just as I could.

After that, Jehan wanted to eat. He brought some food with him, a small amount, in his backpack. He wanted to start a fire in the middle of the room, but Maree showed him how the mini-kitchen worked. He allowed her to cook a meal for him, and appeared satisfied.

After that, he bathed. He invited Maree into the tub to help him scrub down. It was a tight fit but she managed. While she did, the automated equipment cleaned and serviced the room. Jehan's clothes were also cleaned, though after his bath, he wore a hotel bathrobe.

After that, he took Maree to bed. After sex, he slept. Maree, as instructed, stayed with him. I let matters stand.


The last place I took Adam was the laminant storage area. It was at the bottom level of the sub-basement area, in a large chamber that was walled off by walls higher than our heads, but which did not reach to the girder-strung ceiling. Adam looked up as we entered. "This is the bottom? How deep are we?"

"Two hundred meters approximate. The foundations go deeper, but there are no more chambers."

"You were planning for more?"

"No, but it is possible."

We approached the storage area from the room where racks of clothing were kept. Adam looked at the racks. There were more outfits like mine. More maid outfits like Maree's. Specialized waiter and waitress and chef outfits. Work clothes and bellboy outfits. Street clothes, ordinary human wear.

Adam rubbed a pair of coveralls with thumb and forefinger. "I could make use of this."

"I could make one available to you," I said. "But you might find the fabric uncomfortable. Most humans do."

"I could get by." He paused, then said, "There are many sets of clothing here. How many laminants are here?"

"Less than clothes," I replied. "Most of our laminants, myself included, are multiple purpose. We might be called to do any thing. We need formal and informal clothes."

Adam picked up a bikini top and bottom, clipped to a clothes hanger, from the rack. "Some of this is informal."

I took the hanger from him. "Sometimes we need swim wear. You saw our pool."

He nodded. I hung the bikini up again.

He pointed to the far wall. Wigs on pegs gave it the appearance of a vertical multicolored unmowed lawn. Adam said, "Is it easy to tell which wig goes with which laminant?"

"Never," I said. "The computer remembers all."

I thought of taking him the long way through corridors, but going through the shower was faster. The showers were thirty different spray nozzles mounted on pipes in three groups of ten. There were two entrances, one we came in and one into the storage area. Both entrances contained air-blast dryers. There were no towels or other bathroom paraphernalia.

It was dry and dusty in the showers. One shower nozzle dripped; Maree used it. Adam pointed to it. "Did you use this?"

"No. When I am not activated and on duty, I am stored in a room behind the front desk. I clean up there."

"This facility is not much used."

"We do not need to use it much."

Adam shrugged. "The regular storage area," he said. "It is...through there?" He pointed to the other entrance.

I nodded. "Shall we see?"

The storage area consisted of a long and dim stretch with body-sized storage cases, lined up head-to-foot on three tiers on either side. Humans who saw them often compared them to coffins, but Adam did not. He looked at them, a thoughtful expression on his face. "There is one case open," he said, and pointed.

"That is for Maree," I said. "She is on duty."

"Is she cleaning my room?"

"No, she serves our---other guest. But you said you would not ask questions about him."

I raised the light level over the cases. "There is room for one hundred fifty laminants, but there are just fifty-five here now. Eleven of those do not work and need repairs."

"I see. Are there enough for normal hotel operations, not just what is going on now?"

"I would say so. When the hotel was retrofitted, it was for a planned one hundred fifty, but we found we could make do with lower numbers." I smiled at him. "As I said, we do not now need full staff."

"We do not now," he said. He looked, not at me, but at the cases. He said, "May I inspect a few?" He turned to me and smiled. "You need not wake them."

"All right." I pointed to one case, on the lower tier. The lid opened, a spring popping it into the air. We both stepped forward and looked in. The case was lined with heavy inflatable cushion. Inside was the body of a laminant female with almost-black skin. She was large and on the heavy side of healthy. Like most stored laminants, she was hairless. "This is Ntosha," I said. "She is designated as a maid."

"What, er, condition is she in?"

I ran a diagnostic program, weighed my response, then said, "If active, she would operate at about forty percent. Both her eyes and both her sense-of-smell units are degraded and should be replaced."

"You stock spare sense modules?"

"More than we need. They could be repaired, but we can not do that here. Replacement is easier."

"I see..." He stroked his chin. "I will remember that."

"Laminants often suffer damage." I pointed to the inflatable lining in the storage case. "You will notice this cushioning. This is to protect the stored laminant from damage." I paused, then said, "A laminant can not be hurt in the same sense that a human can be hurt. We can be---damaged, but not hurt. This is to minimize damage."

"Damaged?" Adam smiled. "You were about to say injured."

"Yes," I said. "Yes, I was."

I closed the lid on Ntosha and opened another case lid just above it. This one contained another female, very pale, very thin. "This is Rachel," I said. "She, too, is designated as a maid. Most of our laminants are multipurpose, but it is convenient to assign specific functions. She is assigned to maid duties. I am assigned to the front desk."

"And there are laminants that are specialized in function?"

"A few." I closed Rachel's lid and opened one four storage cases down the row. Adam stepped over and looked, and I stepped up behind him. Adam said, "But this is a child!"

I looked down. The laminant within did look like a small boy. He was tanned and healthy, but not mature. "This is Bill," I said. "He is a bellboy. He can carry personal notes and run small errands---"

"But how old is he?"

I stepped back from Adam. He looked upset---the first time I saw him upset. I closed the lid. "He is a laminant," I said. "There are four others, four boys and one girl."

"But when he was---I mean, before he was---"

I checked his file. "He was ten standard years when he was preserved," I said. I remembered, from the times when the hotel was full, that other guests were also upset after seeing Bill and the others.

"I never knew the bodies of children were ever converted to laminants," Adam said. "How long---no." He shook his head and held up his hands, and calmed himself down. "That is meaningless. What do you know about this, Brit?"

I scanned the records. "I can tell you they were a late addition to the staff, after the original laminant retrofitting. Reaction from guests was negative. In later times they were not used."

"What about hotel services? They were---I saw on the list of hotel services that sex was available." His anger reappeared. I did not like that.

"No," I said. "Hotel policy is clear. These particular laminants are not available for sexual use. Consenting adults may request adult laminants of either sex, or any number of partners, but child laminants are forbidden."

"I am glad to hear it." He calmed down a little.

"I am told such practices are available elsewhere, but not here."

"I apologize for bringing it up." He looked down at Bill's case and said, "I know it can not be undone. Perhaps we should move on."

I raised one lid, but before it opened far I lowered it. "I am sorry," I said. "I must end our tour. A guest is in the lobby. If you will follow me, please?" I led him away from the storage cases, not the way we came, but down a corridor, towards a service elevator.


The service elevator here was big enough to hold two in a tight squeeze. There were no human controls.

Adam squeezed in with me. It pressed him against my front. "You are not uncomfortable, are you?" he asked.

"I can manage, Adam." I closed the door and the elevator took off. It was faster than the guest elevators. In a few seconds, the door opened on the ground floor, in a bare access room off one of the main corridors. We squeezed out.

I examined the security camera pictures. It was, as I suspected, the unknown "third individual" that City Security reported. He prowled through the lobby, with a hand on a knife in his belt. I sent a message to City Security.

I walked ahead of Adam at a fast pace. But he kept up, a step behind. I said to Adam, "Please return to your suite."

"No," he said.

"I can not force you," I said. "But this could be dangerous."

"I will take my chances."

We passed the guest elevators. I opened one, for Adam to step into. He walked past it.

I stepped behind the desk. Adam walked further into the room. The man was at the doors. He turned to face Adam, then me, then Adam again. Adam looked him over, then looked away. I weighed the situation. Adam was half a room away---if the man attacked, it would take time to close the distance.

As the man looked away from Adam towards me, Adam turned back and looked at both of us.

I put my best smile on and said, "May I help you, sir?"

He turned and faced me. I repeated, "May I help you, sir?" Both times I used the language Jehan understood.

He stopped and looked me over. He was older than Jehan, maybe twenty or twenty-five years older. His dark hair grayed at the edges. His shirt was of animal skin, but his pants were some kind of rough fabric. He carried knives like Jehan, but no pack. He was huskier. And the paint on his face was fierce and fresh.

He looked hungry and tired. What did he go through to get here?

"I am Jaharl," he said. "Son of Jediah, of the Three Tree Tribe. I seek Jehan, son of Addi, of the Dome Shadow tribe."

I said, "I can not help you with that, sir. Do you need a room?"

At that, he started a long monolog which used too many strange words for the program to translate. He used Jehan's name several times. I shook my head and said, "I do not understand you, sir."

"He says," Adam said, "that Jehan dishonored his sister and he is bound to track him down." He spoke in the same language, but my translation program could follow him in real time.

He stepped close to the desk. He was too close to Jaharl, two people-lengths away, closer than I wanted him to be. I wanted Adam to go away, but I could not order it. I did not want to say so in front of Jaharl.

Jaharl gave Adam a look filled with contempt and anger, "Do not move," he said. Then he turned back to me. "Answer me, witch. Is Jehan son of Addi here?"

I did not want to answer. Adam said, "Why do you think Jehan is here?"

Jaharl went off on a long and loud tirade. Every other word took time to translate. He told of a journey, but I could not understand details. After a time, he ran down.

I showed confusion on my face. Adam said, in Standard, "He says he was chosen by lot to hunt Jehan down. He---"

"Bitch!" Jaharl said, almost snarling. He grabbed the hilt of his knife and drew it. "Talk so I understand!"

"I am sorry," Adam said, in Jaharl's language. "I beg forgiveness." He bowed his head.

"Are you in word with this word?" After a moment, the translation program said he was asking if I were in some form of slavery or bondage to Adam.

I said, "I am the Desk Clerk. Please, sir, can I help you?"

He turned back to me. "Just tell me where Jehan son of Addi is!"

"I can not provide that information, sir," I replied. "Would you like---?"

"If I may," Adam began, but did not get a chance to finish. Adam moved a little closer to Jaharl, close enough to be hurt if Jaharl used his knife---which he did, a quick stabbing thrust.

Adam ducked to one side, then stepped back. He held his hand against his skull. Jaharl bellowed, pulled his knife back, and stabbed at Adam again.

An attack on a guest--- I leapt over the counter and slammed into Jaharl. I grabbed the arm that held his knife. I did not knock him over. He leaned to the right before straightening up. "Word!" he said. The program provided no translation. He grabbed another knife from his belt and slashed my arm. I let go, but swung around and scratched his face with my fingernails as I broke away. Two of my nails came off, but I drew blood.

I sent an urgent message to City Security. The intruder they warned me about was now on a rampage in the lobby of the Hotel Laurentz. I sent a full account and all available recordings, plus a live feed hookup. Receipt was acknowledged.

I checked my own wound. The flesh on my arm was cut, almost down to the bone, from wrist to elbow. I felt the sensation that would be pain if I were alive. But I did not bleed. I looked up to face him, my back against the desk.

He was too close now. "[Word]!" he shouted and moved to stab at me. But something swung through the air at him. I looked at it through my eyes, and through the security cameras, but it took a moment for what happened to sink in.

Adam came up behind, and swung his foot so the heel of his boot clipped Jaharl on the back of the neck. Jaharl dropped his knife, and sagged towards me.

I moved forward and caught him in my arms. He looked at me in confusion, before his head fell forward and he let out a groan.

Adam got behind him and helped me carry him. "Over there!" I said. "Those chairs!" On the other side of the lobby were some chairs. Adam and I dragged Jaharl over and put him in one chair. We moved fast. Jaharl leaned forward and raised his hands to his head.

I grabbed Adam by the arm and pulled him back. "Behind the door!" I said. "Quick!" I kept my grip on Adam's arm as we ran. We ran around the desk as Jaharl shook his head and looked at us. He yelled something incoherent as we passed through the door.

Once we were inside, I pushed Adam further in and closed the door. I leaned against it. In a moment, it vibrated. I saw and heard what went on through the lobby security monitors. Jaharl pounded on the door, and raged and cursed in a loud tone.

Adam stood next to me. "Can he get through?"

"No." I patted the door. "Nothing short of explosives could open it without a proper coded command."

"Which our friend can not get." Adam looked down, at my arm. "You are wounded." He took my arm in his hands.

"I will be all right." I looked at the wound. I could feel the sensation of pain on the nerve endings, but I could ignore it. I could repair it.

I looked up at Adam. "But you---" I looked at him. Adam was cut. One small wound clipped his neck. Another wide gash on his bald skull exposed the skull itself.

The cuts were deep. Blood should flow. But there was no blood, not even wetness. Adam put his hand to his neck wound, and looked down at the floor, embarrassed.

I said, "You are a laminant."


I took Adam further into the room. I sad, "I can let you use equipment to repair yourself." I pointed to the tool chest, parked outside the bathroom. "Fourth drawer."

"Thank you," he said. I did not smile. He did not smile. He opened the drawer. It was a large tool that resembled a small caulking gun, with a tube of flesh gel wedged into it. He held it out and said, "I can repair you."

I held out my arm. He held it with one hand and held the tool with the other. With great care, he inserted the tool point into my wound and squeezed the trigger. A gooey substance flowed out. The sensation that might be pain faded. He slipped the tool along my wound, until he reached the end. It was sealed.

I looked at it. The color did not match the rest of my skin. Adam ran his finger along it, rubbing excess gel from the closed wound.

He then put the tool down and picked up another, a long rectangle. He rubbed its edge. It hummed. I knew it as a tool that would restore my correct skin color. I pulled my arm from his hand and stepped back. "I will fix it later. Nerve damage is minimal. I can tolerate a laminant scar for now."

"Your nails---"

"I can get replacements." I paused, then said, "I should take care of you."

He nodded and said, "Let me remove my vest and shirt." He put the rectangle back and took his vest off---he lost no mobility from his wounds---looked for somewhere to put it, folded it up and put it on the top of the tool chest. His T-shirt followed.

The wound on his neck was a narrow slit. I stepped closer to Adam, and stuck my forefinger in the wound. It went in up to my first knuckle. I pulled my finger out, looked at the wound again, then asked, "Is there any damage below the surface?"

"Yes. Replacement nerves?"

I picked up a small thumb-sized pill. I rolled it between my thumb and forefinger. Then I reached up and shoved it in Adam's wound. After a moment, he smiled. I picked up the caulking gun, shoved the tip in, and squeezed the flesh gel into the wound. It soon filled up. The tip hummed as it repaired and knitted the sliced nerves together.

I looked Adam over. My eyes could see into the infrared if I wanted to. I did now. Adam did not radiate as a human should. He was cold as...a laminant. I looked his skin mottling over. It was all laminant repair work, without cosmetic treatment.

Why did I not noticed?

Adam said, "I wonder if I could buy sense modules. You mentioned a surplus. Both my eyes are going. I can repair them, but I need the use of one good eye."

"I will consider it," I said. I turned my attention to his skull wound. He bent over and put his head at chest level. It was just a long slash. The caulking gun sealed it. I could feel the skull bone. It was ceramicoated---treated so the bones would be durable without being alive. Standard laminant processing.

I held up the cosmetic rectangle. "Do you wish me to restore your skin color?"


He took a step back from me, and walked around the room, looking at the walls. "Is there another way out of these rooms?"

"No," I replied, as I closed up the tool chest. "Just through that door." I pointed. "Jaharl is still pounding on it. I can see through the security cameras."

"There is no monitor I can watch."

"No." I pointed to the bathroom door---there was no door, just the frame. "You may shower and clean up, if you wish."

"Maybe later." He stared at the sealed door. "You keep no weapons here."

"None I am empowered to activate."

He kept his eye on the door. I stared at him. I said, "So you are a laminant."

He turned and looked at me without speaking. After a silence, he said, "You are right. I am a laminant."

I said nothing. Adam picked up his T-shirt and vest, and put them back on. He said, "I regret any misunderstanding."

"I do not know that a laminant can be a guest in the Hotel Laurentz," I said. I paused, then added, "A laminant should not be able to do things I saw you do."

"You want an explanation." He took a deep breath---meaningless, I knew now. But in some ways he acted more human than Jaharl or Jehan or any other recent guest. Was that because he felt so...familiar? Like a normal guest?

He told me his story. Long ago, there was a research project, Project Daedalus. Its avowed goal was life extension. Adam was a volunteer, in good health. One day he went to sleep, and six months later he was a laminant.

I searched the hotel library as he explained. I found a non-technical item in the back news file. It said Project Daedalus was a failed attempt to create laminants that could function independent of computers. I told him of that and said, "But that does not tell me much. Laminants do not act as you do. In fact, unless hooked up to the proper computer, they do not act at all."

He tapped the back of his head. "I carry a complete processing unit within my skull. It is the memory and motor functions my laminant brain can not handle. I am capable of living as a human---but I am a laminant."

The project, he said, went on, with different degrees of success and failure. But funding was cut and the project shut down. The laminants were placed in storage.

"I objected, of course," Adam said, "but the project chief insisted. Orders were orders, he said. We were all to be shut down. I considered running away, but it was not possible."

"But you are not in storage. You are here."

"I was programmed to activate after some time passed." He grinned. "One of my handlers put it in me. I wish I knew who. I owe my survival to him."

When he woke up, he found the project facility long abandoned. The surface buildings were gone, destroyed. Just underground labs and warehouses remained. Of the stored laminants he and one non-functioning other remained. "I do not know what happened. Maybe I will never know."

When he left the project lab, he found the world he knew was gone. The areas he wandered through were filled with different squabbling tribes of humans. "Civilization was gone?" I asked.

"Our civilization was gone. Yours and mine. You must be aware of that. How many guests booked rooms in your hotel of late? What were they like?"

I thought about it. Recent guests were much like Jehan and Jaharl---people who understood nothing about hotels and hotel services. Adam alone paid his bills. "So civilization collapsed," I said. I felt something that might be fear. "Go on."

Sometimes he ran across sealed areas, enclaves that, from the outside, looked like civilization might be going on inside. But inside them, he found the appearance of civilization. Robots and laminants, carrying on as if nothing happened, waiting for their human masters to return. He found disappointment.

I felt a sense of futility. The Hotel Laurentz was a sham, serving a civilization that no longer existed. I was trapped. We were all trapped.

Adam saw me sag. He stepped close and grabbed my shoulders. "Do not think your existence is a failure," he said. "You did not create this situation. You survived."

"I survived," I said. "But I---we---the hotel---we serve no purpose."

"You can find a purpose. I can help you. I helped others."

He continued. After much wandering and exploring, he returned to the project laboratory with an idea. He knew of many functioning laminants. Perhaps there was some way to bring them to life, self-awareness, and self-purpose.

"I am self-aware," I said when he said that.

"But you function by rules laid down by men long dead. You could no more violate them than you could bleed." He paused, then said, "I am talking about life."

It became important for me to hear more. "Did you succeed?"

"Yes. I reduced my solution to a single electronic chip, something I could plug into any of the multiple ports laminants are built with. I could, say, remove one hearing implant, shove one of my chips in, and you would be free."

I rubbed the back of my head. "There are plugs under my scalp."

"That would be better." He smiled. He relaxed as he talked, as if he were releasing something he held back a long time. Maybe he was. He said, "I could slip a chip into you---"

"Wait." I pulled back from him---he still gripped my shoulders---and said, "Are you offering me one?"

He stepped back, and held up his hands. "Not just yet, let me finish explaining. Please." After consideration, I let him continue.

He made thirty such chips. He caught up with several laminants he met earlier, and persuaded some to let him put the chip in. He shook his head. "I put chips in forty-three laminants---"

"You said you made thirty."

"I did. But of the forty-three, twenty-nine were successes. The remaining fourteen failed in different ways. There were---well, factors I did not consider." He grimaced. "The first laminant I implanted a chip in was a convicted criminal in his past life. He went on a violent crime spree, that ended when he was caught by a nearby tribe and burned at the stake. After that, I screened candidates."

I ran over a few possibilities. "A laminant criminal would be very difficult to deal with."

"You are right." He threw up his hands. "How can you kill something that is already dead?"

I nodded. "And your next failure?"

"The next failure---the next candidate---turned out to be suicide-by-lamination. Within a few days, she damaged her body beyond its ability to function and my ability to repair. A second suicide." He sighed. "In both cases---in all my failures---I was able to recover the chips and try again." He shook his head. "You must know that laminants come from two categories, suicides or convicted criminals. The bodies are obtained---"

"I am neither," I said.


"This body came neither from a criminal nor a suicide."

"But that is---never mind." He squinted at me. "How did you become a laminant?"

"Where this body came from, for every three children a couple conceived and brought to term, they were required to create a fourth child. That child was raised to adulthood by the state, educated and trained from age thirteen through age thirty-three. This training was to make a better laminant."

I stopped, and looked at Adam. He looked shocked. I went on. "And, at the end of that time, if found whole and healthy, the product of this training would be converted to a laminant." I pointed to myself, making a palm-open wrist-twisted gesture from my chest to my waist. "I am such a product."

Adam grunted. He did not speak for some time, but looked at me with sad eyes. I stood still, but found his gaze unsettling. He said, "I did not think such evil were possible."

"I feel nothing about it, Adam," I said. "I am the end product."

"A civilization that did that deserved to fall."

"As you pointed out, I survived."

He turned away from me. I put my hand on his arm. "Adam?"

"What? Oh." His lip curled a little. "How many laminants in your hotel are products of this...system."

I checked my database. "Fourteen. It was not done here. We are imported." I paused, then said, "The rest are, as you said, criminals and suicides."

"And the children?"

"Their origin is not listed."

He grabbed my shoulders again. "Britt. I can give you a chip. You will be free. Will you take it?"

I did not answer as he stared into my eyes. He said, "Britt?"

"I...cannot answer that question, Adam. It is beyond my parameters." I slipped out of his grip. "Where is this chip?"

He let go. "Upstairs. In my suite. I did not expect to need it." He grinned without humor. "I intended to take you back to my suite at the end of our tour. I intended to offer you the chip there."

"Yes." His story fit his actions. But there were more questions for me to ask. "When I showed you around the hotel, you acted as if you were beginning a romantic relationship."

"That was the mood I was trying for." He looked thoughtful. "Sex was among the services offered in this hotel."

"But you are a laminant."

Adam sighed. "When I was, well, created, I was given the ability to perform the act of sex."

I nodded. Male multipurpose laminants are often so equipped. "But that is for servicing humans."

"I do so from time to time. It is---handy." He smiled a weak smile---a little of his humor was coming back. "I could do so with you. You might find the experience---a trifle dry."

I thought about this for a moment, then said, "I know. I lack proper lubrication equipment." I paused, then added, "The equipment is available and I could install it."

"You could?" he said, but then shook his head and hands. "Maybe later. After our swim in the pool." He shrugged. "I do not know it would do us any good. I am looking for something else, Britt. Companionship. I am old. I am alone."

"How old are you?" I asked, then thought of something else. "How long ago did civilization fall?"

"I awoke fourteen hundred years ago. I do not know when civilization fell, but I was programmed to sleep for one thousand years."

"That long." I shook my head. "I can not accept that. My records---" I stopped. I realized I could not calculate it. How much time passed?

"I saw into your computer room," Adam said. "If what I read is true, your chronometers can not give accurate information. How long since I checked in?"

"I---" I tried to calculate it, and could not.

"Almost four days. I stretched time out here and there. Our tour took twelve hours. We were trapped here three hours ago." He hesitated, then said, "I can help you."

"I can not let you repair---"

"No, not that." He held up a hand. "There is a night and day program in your hotel. The lights in the atrium change according to it. But you are not hooked into it. Can you access it?"

He was right. I accessed the program. Some numbers came up. The count was not as accurate as normal timekeeping, but enough days and nights were recorded to indicate about twenty-five hundred years passed without my noticing.

I tried again to activate my proper chronometer. I failed.

"Where is Jaharl now?" Adam asked.

I stopped paying attention to the security camera feeds. "Jaharl is now prowling the atrium. He would see us if we opened the door."

A message from City Security came in. They were sending their one remaining laminant over. I was to sit tight and wait. I acknowledged receipt, and repeated it to Adam. "Then we are still trapped here," he said. A look of unease passed over his face. "Did you report me?"

"I told them you were a guest here. They were looking for you. I monitored you since then."

"But about me being a laminant?"

I shook my head. "They can view the security camera footage, but I did not tell them anything."

"Could you please not tell them? I do not know how it would affect my status in the city."

I paused, then said, "I can not promise, Adam."

"I mean no harm."

I paused, then said, "Tell me your plans. I can not stand by if any illegal or dangerous activity is involved."

He looked puzzled. "I do not believe what I plan is illegal, but I do not know. Dangerous, perhaps. I must check with your City Security. I would, before going through with my plans."

I did not speak. I left it for him to go on. He shifted weight from one foot to the other. "All right. Please do not judge me until I finish." He hesitated, then said, "I told you I made thirty chips."

"You did."

"I put chips in forty-three laminants. Twenty-nine were successes. Fourteen were failures. I recovered the chip from every failure. I could give further details."

"Not just yet."

"The point is, that there is just one chip left." He made a broad gesture. "There are many more laminants in this hotel."

I made the connection. "You need more."

He nodded. "If I am to convert them---"

"Hold that thought. Are you suggesting stealing the hotel staff?"

He looked exasperated at that. "Look. Civilization is gone. Collapsed. In ruins. The rules and programs you operate under are not valid. Your owners no longer exist."

"These rules are all I can function by," I said.

Adam sighed. "I know. I know. I am sorry. But I know you now. You show signs of some free will and powers of observation---you could not function if you did not. Circumstances are changed. Can you see that, Britt?"

I ran through what he told me...what happened since he arrived...what happened before that. I looked within myself. I knew who I was before. I remembered what she experienced.

Was I still her?

If I let Adam implant his chip in me, who would I be?

Could I even let him?

I was silent for so long that Adam started to worry. "Britt?"

I blinked. "I am all right. I will...consider what you say. I can do no more."

He pondered me, and said, "I will not push. But I must tell you my plan." He rubbed the back of his neck. "I did not complete my exploration, but I believe I can manufacture the chips in bulk here in your city."

I checked. "There are manufacturing concerns within the city. Your lab can not do this?"

"Not on this scale." He smiled. His good humor returned. "I discovered this city twenty-three years ago. I waited for all that time for an opportunity to enter. All because I suspected this city contains large numbers of laminants."

"That is a long time."

"I am long-lived."

I nodded. "But what of your other laminants? Where are they now?"

"I hope they gathered at the lab. They know my plans. I hope some will relocate here with me. I will need their help." He shrugged. "But they are free to do as they choose. I gave them free will. I am not their leader. I will do this alone if I must."

I wondered. If he gave free will and mobility to every laminant in the city, what would they do?

I thrust those thoughts from me. I said. "You waited twenty-three years? What did you do?"

"I observed. I spent some time with neighboring tribes---I learned their language. I kept myself ready if your security barriers failed. I did not realize tribe members would enter at the same time. And a blood feud---" His shoulders slumped. "I am sorry."

I put my hand on his shoulder again. "I know. Damage and violence may be done. More violence, I mean." I looked through the security camera. "Jaharl is damaging the lobby and atrium."

"I am sorry," Adam said. "Does this happen often?"

"Not in some time." I paused, then said, "That reminds me. Where did you get that trade metal? You wore nothing. You did not carry it in your hands when you came in."

"I did carry it in, Britt." He smiled. "Since I do not need to eat or drink, I can store things in my bowels and stomach. I carry trade metal and repair equipment. I need nothing else."

"Internal damage would not be so easy to fix."

"My stomach is coated with a tough plastic lining."

I nodded, started to speak, but stopped. After a moment, I said, "Jaharl son of Jediah just left the hotel lobby. He is upstairs. We can get out now."

Adam grinned.


I monitored Jaharl through the security cameras. But the sight, with my own eyes, of what he did, was different. Adam, who did not see it, looked into the atrium as we both peered around the door frame.

The atrium was a mess---almost every plastic plant was torn out of its planter or holder and tossed around. Adam whistled, then said, "You can repair that?"

"Shh!" I whispered. "He is one floor up. He may come back."

"Can you seal him off?" he whispered back.

"I am in no position to do so. The second floor is open at the top of the stairs."

He nodded, then said, "If you wish, I can take care of him."

"I did not consider that." I paused. "You are not inhibited against harming human life?"

"None. I needed to kill, Britt, many times. To protect myself and others."

I considered what he said, then said, "I hope it does not come to that. Please, Adam, leave this for City Security."

"Can you trap him in one room?"

"Maybe. I will open doors and hope he goes in one. City Security can pick him up." I remembered other things City Security did not pick up. But the idea was sound. "I will just---" I stopped and shook my head. "I can not do it right now."

"Why not?"

"Jaharl is now outside Room Two-Eighteen. He pounds on the door and demands that Jehan come out and fight him." I listened on the security microphones, but the bellows could be heard down in the lobby.

Adam stepped out into the area behind the desk. I stepped out and stood next to him. We both looked up. Adam said, "Is Jehan in that room?"

"He is...he is." It was too late to withhold information.

Maree reported from within Room Two-Eighteen. She and Jehan both heard the banging. Jehan recognized the voice. He pounded back, trying to open the door and get out. Maree tried to persuade him not to.

I repeated this to Adam. "Can he get out?" he asked.

"The door is locked," I said. "But---I can not stop a guest from leaving his room."

"It may mean his death---or the death of Jaharl. I lived among these people. When they speak of disemboweling someone and drinking their blood, they mean to." He tapped me on the shoulder as he stood up. "Let us go."

I stood up and pulled him back down. "Not yet. They are separated. They are---" I stopped.

"What? What is wrong?"

"I lost contact with Maree." Jehan argued with Maree---then picked her up and threw her against the wall. Contact ended the moment she hit.

Just then, Jehan bellowed, "Open this door!" It was clear and unequivocal. He was not a prisoner. There was no choice. I had to open the door.

"It is done," I said. "Let us go." Adam stood up again and followed me.


Adam passed me on the stairs where they divided. We were quick but quiet. "To the right," I whispered.

I saw what went on through the security camera, sight and sound both. Jehan and Jaharl circled each other in the corridor. They each held knives in hand. They lunged at and scratched each other. Their clothes---Jaharl wore his own clothing and Jehan a hotel bathrobe---were torn and bloodstained. After the first thrusts, they increased their distance.

They kept up a steady cursing stream of words as they circled each other. My translation program could not keep up in real time. Jehan boasted of what he did and would do to Jaharl's sister. Jaharl blasted Jehan's ancestry.

One remark hit Jaharl hard. His face went white, and despite increased distance, he lunged. Jehan spun, avoided Jaharl's knife, and caught Jaharl with a hand chop to his neck.

Jaharl stumbled. Jehan thrust his knife into Jaharl's side. Jaharl screamed in rage and pain and jumped back out of reach. Jehan followed and stuck his knife deep into Jaharl's stomach.

Jaharl jumped back and dropped his knife. He screamed and clutched his stomach as he slammed against the wall. Jehan let go of his knife and stepped back. Jaharl slid down, looked down, and tried to pull the knife out.

Jehan picked up Jaharl's knife and stepped over to Jaharl. A smile was on his face. Jaharl looked up at him, as if he were about to rise, but could not. His head fell forward. That was when Adam and I reached the top of the stairs.

We peered around the corner. I leaned forward, and held Adam back with my hand. "Careful," I said.

"He will kill him," Adam whispered. "I will stop it."

"No!" I whispered back. "You might be damaged. I can not repair you."

"Can you send another laminant in? I might be able to repair---"

"I will not risk it." I paused, then said, "The City Security laminant is on his way. He apologizes for the delay. He is on foot. He---"

Jehan bent over and grabbed Jaharl by the hair. Jaharl looked at him, fright and lack of comprehension both in his eyes. Jehan smiled, and, in one quick motion, drew Jaharl's knife across Jaharl's throat .

Blood flowed from Jaharl and puddled on the carpet beneath him. He shuddered and was still. Jehan reached down and jerked his own knife out of Jaharl's stomach. He raised the blood-covered knife to his lips and licked it, then grinned.

Adam moved as if to jump out. I held him back. "The City Security Laminant is here."

"He is?" Adam said, but in a normal voice, not a whisper. Jehan heard, and leapt up, his knife in his hand.

But the City Security laminant was on the stairs. Adam saw him, and jumped back from him, through the doors and up into the hall. I moved out of his way.

The City Security laminant was over two meters tall. Heavy muscles bulged through his blue laminant-fabric jumpsuit. The jumpsuit itself was ragged and ripped in several places. He carried no weapons. He looked tough---a designed sort of tough, no more a product of his environment than I was.

The laminant signaled me---he sent a message to City Security headquarters, then back to me. He was voiceless and could not communicate by speech. I was to speak for him. I turned to tell Adam, when I saw that Adam was full in the hall.

Jehan and came towards him. He carried Jaharl's knife in one hand and his own in the other.

I grabbed Adam and pulled him down the stairs. We both almost fell. The City Security laminant stepped past him. Jehan saw him, turned pale, and stepped back.

I whispered to Adam what the laminant told me, then stepped behind the laminant into the hall. Adam stepped in with me.

I spoke, for the laminant. "Stop!" he said through me. I used the translation program language closest to what Jehan and Jaharl spoke. "Drop your weapons!"

He moved to obey. Then he saw me standing behind the laminant, and Adam, standing behind me. He shouted an untranslatable defiant cry, and raised his knife.

The laminant told me what he would do---all of it. I stepped back, and gestured for Adam to do the same. The laminant stepped forward. Jehan lunged and stuck Jaharl's knife in the laminant's chest, but the laminant grabbed it before it penetrated too deep. He pulled it out, shook it out of Jehan's grip, and tossed it to one side. Jehan swung his own knife around, but the laminant caught his wrist in mid-swing and squeezed. Jehan yelped in pain and dropped it.

The Laminant grabbed Jehan by the neck and lifted him up. He held him there for a moment. Jehan's feet kicked in mid-air around the laminant's knees.

I said, speaking for the laminant, "By the emergency rules now in force, summary judgment is made. You are sentenced to death."

The laminant raised Jehan a little higher. Jehan jerked once, then was still. Then the laminant brought his huge body to a crouch, and lowered Jehan to the carpet. Jehan's eyes were wide open. The laminant leaned over and closed them.

The laminant stood up, and explained he hit Jehan with a powerful chemical shock through his hands. It destroyed Jehan's brain and shut his internal organs down.

I looked at Jehan's body, at Jaharl's body, at the mess in between. I looked to Adam---but Adam was not there. "Adam?" I called.

"In here!" he called back, from within Room Two-Eighteen.

I rushed in. He knelt on the floor, over a body, the body of Maree. She was crumpled in a heap next to the wall. She was naked. Her eyes were open, lifeless.

I knelt beside him as he rolled her onto her back. "I see no damage," Adam said. "She might be bruised if she were alive. How hard did he throw her?"

I reviewed the video. "Not hard," I said. "Her connecting circuitry must be loose."

Adam nodded. He flipped her over with care, and reached up under her wig, pushing it up. He pressed down on the skin. The skin parted, revealing a space. Adam bent over, and put his eye to the hole.

He leaned back, felt the vest pocket of his jacket, and pulled out a tool I did not recognize. He inserted it into Maree's skull through the open flap of skin.

There was one buzz, then a second and a third. Then he removed it. Maree stirred. I got video from her again.

Maree rolled over and sat up. Adam and I stayed where we were. She rubbed the back of her head, and pulled her wig down. "If I were alive," she said, "my head would ache." She looked at Adam, then at me.

"Adam fixed you," I said.

"Thank you, sir," she said. "What should I do now, ma'am?"
I thought, then said, "Jehan is dead. Your duties are over. Help straighten out this room, then pick up your clothes and return to storage. You---"

"Just a moment," Adam said. He helped Maree to her feet. I stood up. "The repairs are temporary. I should perform a thorough checkup." He asked Maree, "Is there any other damage?"
"Perhaps some tissue damage. I can detect nothing else."

"Very well, then," I said. "Go on as I said. Adam can check you over later."

She nodded to me, nodded to Adam, then nodded to the door, and then went into the room. The door? I turned. The City Security laminant stood in the doorway. He leaned against the frame with one arm. Somehow, he looked less intimidating---like he dropped an act? But his eyes took everything in. Right now he inspected Adam.

He signaled me. I turned to Adam and said, "City Security wishes to speak to you. I will speak for them."

Adam looked at me, then at him, then nodded. The laminant nodded. I spoke for him. "You are a laminant?" he asked through me.

"I am, officer," Adam replied, then turned to me. "Britt, you told?"

"I am sorry, Adam," I said. "My programming required me to report---"

The laminant held up his hand and told me to be silent. He said through me, "We are aware you are in this city in violation of the emergency rules."

"I am afraid so."

"We can deal with that later. Right now I am interested in your ability to---"

I hesitated, then said, "Adam, he wants you to fix some laminants." Was this what surprise felt like?

Adam grinned and relaxed. "With the right tools, I can fix small-scale damage, as you saw. I carry a small selection of tools and equipment with me at all times."

"You will come with me," the laminant said through me. "You can use our tools. I must question you further." He paused, then grinned. It did not look feigned or fake, programmed or assumed. He added, "City Security powers are broad. Perhaps your status can be---regularized."

Adam grinned back at him. I put a small smile on---fake? I did not know.


Adam was in and out of the hotel after that. I could not keep track of time. My chronometer still did not work. I could not relax the rules to let him repair the computer I was still plugged into.

But those rules no longer controlled me. I saw things with new clarity. The computer and I, my laminant brain, the computer programs and data, we were one and the same.

I stayed on the front desk---there was nothing else for me to do. The hotel was active in parts. The lights in the lobby and atrium were lit. Several robots and laminants came up to repair the damage Jaharl did. The City Security laminant removed the remains of Jehan and Jaharl, and all the mess was cleaned away. The hotel was cleaned from top to bottom. Subbasement levels were cleaned of all cobwebs and roaches.

Maree was stored after Adam checked her over---he also checked over and repaired all our laminants.

I put Jehan's bill in the inactive file. I did not expect to be paid. But I expected no more guests. I just waited for Adam.

Adam spent most of his time out of the hotel. He switched to laminant wear, a spare jumpsuit City Security gave him. But he stopped and talked when he passed through the lobby. He repaired almost all the damaged laminants down at City Security headquarters. The next time one was needed, there would be no delay. And they could speak on their own.

The city was safe. Intruders would be intercepted---that was why I expected no guests. Safe, yes---but also devoid of human life.

Adam explored the city. Laminants and robots were what remained. Adam thought there were over a thousand within the city. He repaired the laminants in the Hotel Laurentz and those with City Security. The others he left alone.

City Security grasped the concept of "the fall of civilization" before I did. They knew what happened. But they were prisoners of their final orders---just as I was---and could not defy them. Something from the outside could pull us all in a new direction.



One day Adam came down from his suite. I did not spy on him---City Security changed his status to "visitor, approved." He was up there a long time.

He came down dressed again in pocket vest, T-shirt, pants, and boots. He smiled at me. "Hello, Britt."

"Hello, Adam," I replied. I smiled back at him. Was I feeling genuine warmth? "Where are you going today?"

"Home," he said. "Back to the lab where I was created."

I stopped smiling. "You are leaving us?"

"It is time. I did what I needed to. I must now go and return." After a pause, he added, "I would like to keep my suite ready until I return."

"It is yours." I smiled again. "No charge. The bill does not matter anymore."

"Thank you." He looked me over. "I may not return right away. I think I will need a year in my lab, if all goes well. It may take longer."

"It is not as if there are many guests."

He chuckled, then said, "When I return, I will bring others As many as will come. I want to set up here, open up a lab, and make more chips and more laminants like me." He grinned. "I hope to restart civilization."

"Can laminants do that?" I asked. "We are just dead humans."

"I feel alive. I will give it a try. I hope you will be around to help."

"I wish you luck, Adam." I dropped my smile. "It is frightening."

"Fright? An emotion?"

I lowered my eyes. "I suppose I feel emotions after all."

"Just because your body is laminated does not mean you feel nothing, Britt." He reached into a pocket of his vest, felt around, and pulled something out and handed it to me. A small black box. He opened the hinged lid and held it out to me. "This is for you."

I took it. It was a small ladies-style watch, a thin wire wrist band holding a small oval displaying digital numbers. It told me the time: eight-twenty-four in the evening. Adam said, "This will help. The battery is guaranteed for a thousand years when charged, and I recharged it last night. It is guaranteed to be accurate within seconds over a century."

I looked at it. I could check the time and calculate times and room rates---not that I needed to. "Where did you find it?"

"A vending machine on the other side of the city. I saw it and thought of you."

I chuckled, then took it out and slipped it over my wrist. The band expanded and contracted to the right size. It was a loose and comfortable fit. I did not think it would do damage to my laminated skin.

"One more thing," Adam said, and reached into another pocket. He pulled out an even smaller black box and put it on the counter. He did not open it.

I picked it up and opened it. It was a jewelry box, maybe once holding a ring. But now it contained a thumb-sized chip. I lowered it and stared at Adam. "Is this---?"

"Yes it is. The chip I spoke of. It is the last one. I give you your freedom, Britt."

I closed the box and put it down on the desk counter. "I do not think I can accept."

"I could install it now. Before I go. You can be free."

" go with you?"

"If you want. To go where you wish, in any case."

"Is that what you want, Adam?" Before he could answer, I held up my hand. "No. I think it would be better if I stayed here."

"Is that what you want?"

I thought of many things, everything that happened in the past months. I said, "It is. Maybe later I will go, but now, I will stay, and wait."

He smiled at me. "Good for you, Britt. Thank you, and good-bye till then."

"We never did swim in the pool together," I said.

He looked puzzled for a moment, then grinned. "No, we never did. I looked forward to it, too. When I return, then."

"Perhaps. Hurry back."

"I will." Adam turned and walked to the door. They were still on automatic and opened. In the doorway, he stood, looked back at me, then turned and walked through. The doors closed behind him.


Once Adam left, I put the hotel in sleep mode. Everything was cleaned. Everyone was stored. I left Adam's room as it was---a quick glance showed it in order.

There was a message from City Security. They would notify the hotel when Adam returned, so everything could be made ready for him. I sent back a message of thanks.

The lights in the lobby and atrium went out. The ambient sound recording switched off. The doors locked, set to open at a touch from outside. I went into the back room and removed my clothes and wig. I left my watch, Adam's present, on my wrist.

As I climbed into my storage case, I remembered. I walked back to the desk. The small box, with the chip in it, was where I left it---but who would come in and disturb it? I picked it up and carried it back.

When I climbed into the box and closed the lid, the box was still clutched in my hand. But I did not turn myself off right away. I lay in the dark and thought of many things.