"It doesn't feel real," Arabelle told her breakfast. "This can't be happening. The Altar of Beauty is a myth. All I ever wanted was to get a stunning piece of technology running again. I never really wanted to become Princess of Erisky."
"Yes, I know, the portal is just as much a myth as the Altar of Beauty. Now it only remains for mermaids to swim ashore, or flying horses to touch down in my yard."
"I really have to get a grip on my imagination. I can't keep dwelling on how different I look and that I'm going to die soon. This is driving me crazy!"
"I remember reading that smashing something is supposed to release frustration. What if I were to hurl this bowl at the floor, shattering it into a million pieces? Would that make me feel better? Imagine putting all my fears and grief into the bowl and watching it go smash!
Arabelle carefully imagined placing all her fears and anger in the bowl. She lifted it up and hurled it against the floor as hard as she could.
The bowl obediently, and loudly, exploded into chunks and fragments.
Arabelle stared at the mess. Well, that was a bust in more ways than one. She didn't feel any better. What she felt was....stupid. She had just destroyed a perfectly good bowl for nothing.
Hazel, Arabelle's robotic maid, came whizzing out. "Don't move! I'll have the glass cleaned up in just a moment. You don't want to cut your feet by stepping on a fragment of glass. Worse, your weight would force the fragment down into our nice new, high-quality, linoleum! The warranty states it will NOT be replaced because of 'user damage'. We need to take proper care of it to keep it looking like new for years to come."
Arabelle considered what Hazel had just said. "How do you know that Lady Carol has this particular bowl?" It seemed highly unlikely as she probably would have heard if Lady Carol had suddenly gone insane....or blind. No, even a blind woman wouldn't buy this monstrosity.
"We Ready-Maids are all connected through our Rapid-Relay, Instant Communications' Hub," Hazel replied. " I must know what your competitors and friends own and are buying, so that I may advise you correctly as what to purchase. I watch the Shopping Channel and the online Extreme Buy...you know; Ebuy, so that I know what is for sale. I know Lady Carol purchased this very bowl three days ago. Satisfaction garanteed. Now WE must purchase one as well!"
"Or what?" Arabelle asked dryly, "The sky will fall on our heads?" Now this was taking consumerism and advertising to new depths of intrusiveness! The Ready-Maids were connected, as in gossiping about who had what. Blatent spying! To add fuel to the fire, the maids were connected to two systems whose reason for existing was blatent, excessive consumerism.
"You aspire to be a princess and Lady Carol is a princess! She's not called Princess but she is the granddaughter of King Gregory and that makes her royal. You must keep up with the royals!" Hazel explained. "You must prove you are just as royal as they are by buying this royal bowl, the Princess of Paris Bowl! They wouldn't call it Princess if it wasn't royal. Look! It has doves! Four doves! It has real silver gilt and was made by a professional artist. It has carbuncles! This bowl is a great bargain but for a limited time only! So, Act Now before it is gone! Your social status is at risk of falling!"
Arabelle tried to decide if she was amused or irritated by Hazel's sales pitch. Both of course. That bowl was hideous! She really had to sit down with Hazel's operational code to weed out some of the consumerism and maybe instil a little sense, if not taste. She didn't flatter herself that she could eliminate the rampant consumerism but maybe she could reduce the buy-now nagging to once a day.
Not now, however, as her patience had run out. She had far more important problems, namely getting the portal running and capturing an Altar of Beauty. What she wouldn't give to tackle that machine's operating code!
"Hazel," Arabelle said after a moment's consideration. "Does Lady Carol own a piano? Does she have a working piano, a full sized instrument not a little, ornamental, piano that can't be played?"
After double-checking, Hazel replied in the negative. Lady Carol did not have a piano. Lady Carol had two flutes and a tamborine, possibly a whistle or two, but she did not have a piano.
"WE will have a real, royal, piano!" Arabelle declared firmly. "Queen Alexandra plays the piano and owns pianos. I will buy an expensive, top-quality, high fidelity, state of the art, instrument in premium, real triple lacqured walnut! Not veneered walnut but solid, exceedingly expensive, walnut, burnished to a high sheen. Bench included. Maximum luxury and precision craftsmanship for all our artistic needs! We have musical needs and must have the best piano on the market to satisfy them. This piano is a 'baby grand' which is the absolute best piano! Our social standing has shot up. Anyone can buy a bowl but a baby grand piano is an aquisition!"
Arabelle immediately purchased the piano. She had been thinking she should get a piano before she completely forgot how to play one. Now was as good a time as any, especially since she didn't have that much time left. As an added bonus, buying a piano should be an expensive enough piece of 'consumer consumption' that it should shut Hazel up for a couple of weeks. Even a couple of days would be nice! Not to mention, that she was paying Lady Carol back for buying the exceedingly ugly Princess of Paris bowl. (Maybe her ladyship wanted to do some target shooting?) Let Lady Carol's maid nag that her ladyship was in danger of falling behind in the mad rush to collect the most junk.
"There! Now, we have a luxury Lady Carol doesn't have. We have one-upped her! We have a top-of-the-line Ouida de Senaca Grand Piano....the Excaliber! Due to be delivered in a week, or less. Happy now?" Arabelle asked triumphantly.
"Oh yes!" Hazel responed. "It is the perfect place to display the Princess of Paris Bowl! You must buy the Princess of Paris Bowl to adorn our new baby grand piano!"
"Oh dear! Our good bowl is broken! Our net worth, our excellent social standing has been diminished! We must buy another bowl immediately! Fortunately, there is a wide selection of top quality bowls to choose from at very economical prices. Free shipping on orders over $50.00! Such a hot deal won't last long. Buy now and be happy!"
Not for the first time, Arabelle wished she hadn't 'economised' by buying the Ready-Maid 2020. She had to admire the low cunning of the marketing wizard who had figured out how to get paid twice for the same product. The customer paid Ready Inc. for a basic cleaning robot. The Shopping Channel and Extreme Buy paid Ready Inc. subsities to insert an indefatiguable sales robot into your home. The Ready-Maid cleaned efficiently but what a nag! Buy this and buy that.
Arabelle tried to ignore her maid's exhortations. She was dying and her maid was blowing her microchips over a stupid bowl! It wasn't an expensive bowl. She had five other identical bowls. Not that she dared mention that to Hazel. Hazel would declare the entire set ruined and demand they buy an entire new set instead of just the single bowl needed to complete the set.
"Not to worry, Miss," Hazel declared. "I am here to advise you as well as help you maintain your elegant domicile. I know exactly which bowl we need....The Princess of Paris!! Isn't it great? Lady Carol, granddaughter of King Gregory and Queen Alexandra, has this very same bowl! It's perfect for all your entertaining needs!"
Arabelle blinked. Entertainment NEEDS? Since when was entertaining a need? The last thing she needed was to host a party. Even if she weren't dying, she had a top secret portal in her back room. Even if she 'needed' to entertain, a fancy bowl wasn't top priority. Friends were.