The Preliminaries

The next few days Raphael spent with Elizabeth, familiarising herself with Elizabeth's fashion sense. Elizabeth always dressed smartly, rarely casually. Her favourite colour was fuchsia and she loved eye makeup transfers. Time was when make-up artists only focused on the face, but now with the lookautomaton, it was essential to design clothes too.

  Raphael had a few nail-biting moments when Elizabeth entered on the sixth day.

  "So, tell me about this new look of yours that you want me to wear." Elizabeth commanded.

  "Well I was thinking about a Greek mythology inspired goddess look, that is very iconic. It features a chiton which sweeps the floor, the front slightly shorter than the back. The hair is done up and dyed a fetching red. Two ringlets frame the face to the right and the left." Raphael carefully said.

  Elizabeth studied the projection on the lookautomaton. The screen was slightly taller than her and the woman shown on it stood on a white background. "I like this!" Without further ado, she stepped into the curtain of light, or as we know it, the screen. The clothing nanobots received new instructions from the lookautomaton to clothe the subject and rearrange the make-up. She emerged on the other side appropriately dressed.

  Raphael flicked a finger at the screen and it turned into a mirror. Elizabeth twirled left and right, and giggled at her image.

  "You know, I received the best news today!" Elizabeth whispered in hush tones to Raphael.

  "What is it?" Raphael asked Elizabeth.

  "I'm in the preliminaries of the Miss Universe contest!" Elizabeth clapped her hands.

  Raphael smiled. She was in the contest too, and had been instructed to go to the Half Moon hotel. She was not about to tell Elizabeth that she had been successful, for fear that her job might be lost.

  The next day, Raphael took the space shuttle service to the Half Moon. She was greeted at reception by a sour-faced clerk who nevertheless had the looks of an angel. She was handed a number and told to wait outside an imposing room with sliding doors. Time passed slowly. Eventually she was told to step inside the test chamber.

  The test chamber was a cube and inside was a stove and a preparation table. There were ingredients for a cheese soufflé on the table. A voice sounded above.

  "Welcome candidate. You are required to make a cheese soufflé in 40 minutes to serve 5 people. If successful at this stage you will be progressed to the next stage in the contest."

  Raphael moved quickly, grouping movements together. The cooking ran like well-greased machinery and she was finished well before time. Whilst the soufflé was cooling in the ramekins, a group of nanobots collected a tablespoon of the finished product and passed it out of the room for testing.

  "Not bad!" Came the verdict. Raphael smiled and shrugged. She had been so intent on getting the soufflé finished on time that she had burnt it slightly due to the higher temperature in the oven. "You are now required to clean the cube. Not a single speck of dust can be left."

  A cavity in the wall opened up. The preparation table and stove slid into it and from the other wall a dusty set of bookcases slid into the cube. A feather duster and a step stool lay nearby. Raphael dived into action and in a trice, had the bookcase spick and span.

  Later on, after the timed period was over, Raphael saw the wall in front of her change into a video screen. A man with an egg-shaped head smiled at her and took up a card into his hand. "You have done well in the preliminaries so far. But now comes the harder part. I will ask you a riddle. If you answer it correctly, you will move forward. But if you answer it wrong, you will automatically be shown the exit."

  Raphael nodded, wondering what the riddle might be.

  "No legs have I to dance, no lungs have I to breathe, no life have I to live or die, and yet I do all three. What am I?"

  Raphael frowned. Then it suddenly hit her. "It's a fire!"

  "Correct, you are through to the next round."

The End

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