Chapter 3a: What is the Point of a Building That Large?
It was the next day. Day 1, as Amelia thought of it. She awoke early, stretched, and decided to go see what she could get for breakfast at the Student Union. She and Amara had changed their minds at the last minute last night. The greenish rags that passed for salad at the free Cafeteria were going to forever be Severe-Emergency Rations Only.
The sun was peeking over the horizon as she stepped out of Greenwood. There were few Students out and about yet, and it looked to her as though those she saw weren’t “up already” so much as “up still.” That suited her just fine; there were too many people around most of the time anyway.
It only took her a few minutes to get her bearings, and she started walking toward the very large building near the center of Campus.
The ocean caught her eye as she rounded a corner, and she spent several minutes seated at a bench, looking out at the unfamiliar sight. Gollehon had bodies of water, of course, but they were artificial, continually scrubbed and treated to be algae- and scent-free and safe for consumption. The oceans on this world were… breathtaking. She let her gaze drift over the waves and watched gulls dive. With a small smile (and eyes slightly dazzled from reflected sunlight), she stood back up and continued.
The Student Union building was… well, from the outside, it was unimpressive. Three stories tall, made of cement and brick. The entrance was a set of glass double doors with functional yet uninteresting metalwork in the frame.
Inside, however, was a different story entirely. Amelia actually stopped in the entrance, and let the door close behind her while she tried to make sense of what she was seeing. At first and second glance, it looked almost exactly like an old-fashioned shopping mall. From the ground floor, where she was standing, she counted five levels of shops up to the domed ceiling. In front of her, at least fifteen meters wide, was a hallway lined with storefronts, occasionally broken by side halls. She couldn’t see the far wall; the place just seemed to fade into the distance.
Most of the shops were just opening. A few people nearby were setting out signs and displays for what looked like a store selling electronic gadgets. A little farther down she could see a sign for a restaurant called “Kentucky Fried Pokat’chu.”
Someone bumped into her from behind, and she realized she had been standing and staring. Again. The young man glared at her and hurried off to parts unknown.
Amelia took a few hesitant steps forward and realized she didn’t have any idea where to go. Consulting the packet the Dean had given her yesterday (her Quest Journal, as she thought of it), wasn’t helpful. All it told her was that she should go to the Bookstore to get her school books. There was no handy map, and she didn’t see any convenient glowing pathway to lead her anywhere, so she just started walking. After all, how hard could it be to find an important location like the Bookstore?
To her right, down the first side hall she passed, she could see a lounge. It was largely empty this early on a Sunday, but it looked comfortable. There were overstuffed chairs, tables of various sizes, a few vending machines, and she could even see a few deactivated privacy domes for napping. The left-hand hallway gave her pause again briefly. It was exactly the same size as the hall she was already in! If not for the Entrance she glanced back over her shoulder to see, she could have been easily convinced that she had gotten turned around.
And so it went. For what felt like hours, Amelia wandered through the ludicrously large Union, taking note of just how many things were for sale. She was now thoroughly convinced that there was nothing legal and precious little illegal that was not available for purchase here. She even stopped in a vegan restaurant for breakfast only a few minutes’ walk from the Entrance!
It wasn’t until she pried herself away from her third video game store that she realized that, not only could she not find the Bookstore, she could no longer find the Entrance! She tried to keep calm, but her eyes stung with barely controlled tears as she frantically tried to think of how to get un-lost. A map! She should have been drawing a map! Basic Explorer’s Knowledge, and she had failed!
She was seconds away from running into a restroom to compose herself when she finally saw someone she recognized. It was the green-haired boy that had helped her out yesterday! He had a group of three other Students with him, and was showing them.. Something. Some sort of kiosk. There was one in the center of each hallway intersection and also spaced apparently evenly throughout the halls as she walked. She had assumed they were there to place orders or something. Something told her she had been foolish.
Sure enough, Green-Haired Man was explaining to the others that these were Union directories, and were more-or-less reliable. Apparently, shops in the Student Union opened and closed all the time, so the system sometimes had difficulties keeping up.
She watched his demonstration, and then, once the group had moved on, checked it out for herself. The kiosk was touch activated (a necessity, she decided, since all the background noise would make voice-activation unreliable), and she was able to very quickly locate the Bookstore. It took her longer to figure out where she was, but she made careful note of the location and set off.
At every intersection she needed to turn at, and at the top of each stair she had to climb, she re-verified her path at the kiosk. It was only a ten minute walk, but she had no desire to get so lost again.
The Bookstore was really unimpressive. It was a standard-sized Union unit, so it should have had rows of books, gadgets, paper, and trinkets like any other University Bookstore, but all it had was… a counter at the far wall. On the floor were painted stripes, describing a zig-zagging line to follow in case there were a lot of customers or something, but there was no one in the store at all, aside from a bored-looking upperclassman lazily flicking through pages on his tablet. Amelia amused herself by following all the lines back and forth across the store until she came up to the counter. Her face turned beet red when she saw that, not only was the clerk watching her, but so were the other two Students that had walked in. Those two had gone straight through to the counter. Amelia made a peeping noise and then settled in line behind them, trying in vain to shake her ponytailed hair into her face. She made do with staring determinedly at the floor and waited until the two other Students left.
As it turned out, Ani Daigaku did not use physical books. This was almost disappointing to her, as she had always pictured walking around with massive tomes stuffed into a backpack and her arms wrapped arou… actually, now that she gave it any thought, she was glad the school issued her a special tablet. She hadn’t really considered how heavy that would get before.
The Schoolbook, as the clerk informed her they were called, was quite large by tablet standards. It fit comfortably between the inside of her elbow and her fingers. They had designed it to look like a leather tome, but gave no identifying marks on the outside. The clerk showed her how to register with her student ID number as conveniently printed at the top of most of the paperwork Dean Molesalot – “Savior of the Molish Race!” – had given her yesterday.
“Don’t let it sit in a liquid for long periods of time, don’t try to hack into it, don’t try to access questionable material during class, don’t use it to cheat, and you are responsible for all damages that may occur during your tenure as owner,” he said, completely unenthusiastically. “Have a real swell day.”
Amelia picked up the Book a little uncertainly and walked back to the entrance. Now all she had to do was figure out how to get out of the Union.