Time,” the Captain said, “is not what you think.” He sat down next to Eddie. “Dying? Not the end of everything. We think it is. But what happens on earth is only the beginning
― Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven
Tatiana picked up the phone on Nikolai’s desk. She dialed the number that Cecilia had given Nikolai in case he needed any additional information about the mission. The connection was made within seconds. “Pentagon. May I direct your call?” Tatiana said, “Yes, I am calling for Dr. Nikolai Kardashev. He would like to be put through to the Office of the..” Tatiana picked up the card with the phone number and title of her contact. “The Secretary of Defense, Mrs. Morrison.” The voice on the other said, “One moment, please.” The telephone clicked and a version of Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik ,played rather badly, replaced the voice. But only ten seconds passed when another voice, this time of a man came on the line. “This is Colonel Oates. Dr. Kardashev?” Tatiana replied, “Just one moment, please,” and she handed the telephone to Nikolai, saying “This is a Colonel Oates.” Nikolai took the receiver from Tatiana. This is Dr. Nikolai Kardashev, Colonel Oates. Have we made the proper connection with respect to Dr. Cecilia Vasquez?”
Colonel Oates replied, “This is the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The Secretary is in meeting at the moment, but I am her liaison with Dr. Vasquez’ mission to Russia. Dr. Kardashev, it’s a pleasure to speak with such an eminent scientist.” Nikolai thanked him for his sentiments, but then his voice took on a grave tone. “Colonel Oates, I’m afraid Dr. Vasquez has had an accident. She is currently in hospital in Lyubertsy, just outside Moscow. I’m afraid her condition is quite serious.” There was silence on the other end of the line. “What kind of accident?” Colonel Oates’ voice sounded serious, almost sinister. Nikolai replied, “She was attempting to assist me with a problem I had with a manuscript. The problem was unrelated to her mission. And, by the way, I have wholeheartedly agreed to cooperate with your President Huntsman in his quest to avert warfare over this confounded shortage of water.”
Once again, there was silence on the American side of the connection. “Could you please explain in more detail what has happened to Dr. Vasquez?” Colonel Oates seemed to be losing patience with Nikolai. “Oh, yes, of course, I apologize. I am a very old man, and sometimes my thought processes are not always linear. So I will tell you what has happened to Dr. Vasquez, and what I am putting in place to assist her.” Nikolai held his hand over the receive for a moment. “Tatiana, please – a glass of water.” Tatiana went to fetch the glass. Nikolai sat down in his desk chair.
“Colonel Oates, as I said Chech..ur Dr. Vasquez was pursuing an hypothesis regarding some missing data in one of my manuscripts about black holes. She went to speak with someone in Lyubertsy, about 30 minutes southeast of Moscow. I’m afraid travel illness caught up with her, and in spite of my wife’s best efforts to feed her, she was suffering greatly from lack of sleep and low blood sugar. She fainted and hit her head on the corner of a table. She was being properly cared for and on her way to recovery. But unfortunately, some additional difficulties caused one of the nursing staff to give her an injection that exacerbated her symptoms. To be quite frank, Colonel Oates, Dr. Vasquez is in a coma, and the medical staff I’ve brought in to assist are concerned about her recovery.”
The phone went dead in both Colonel Oates’ and Nikolai’s hands. The colonel instructed the operator, “Get this connection back immediately! I need to speak with this man again, NOW! Nikolai hung up the phone. He turned to Tatiana. “It appears that Colonel Oates has hung up on me.
Cecilia found herself back in Runesworld, trying to retrace her steps to the lea where she encountered Javier. After a few missteps, she returned to the exact location where she’d seen him. But there was no Javier in sight anywhere. She feared there was no way to recall the way to the back door, but withiin a few moments, she was in front of the door. Then she remembered: the door was locked, and Javier had the key. She looked at the lock from a variety of angles. Her avatar got down on her hands and knees, trying to see under the door. “Looking for something?” The avatar whipped around to see a young man standing before her. “Are you Javier?” He nodded. Will you open the door for me? I must speak with Emily again.” Once more the young man nodded, pulled a key out of his pocket and unlocked the door. As Cecilia walked through the door, Javier touched her arm. She turned back to see what he wanted. “Be careful in there. Emily’s a tough cookie that can handle most anything. But she can get scared. First she ran away from you. The second time she shut off the game. This time she might delete it. If she does, you will cease to exist. So be careful.”
The telephone on Nikolai’s desk rang. Nikolai picked it up, saying “Colonel Oates?” The Colonel responded, “My apologies Dr. Kardashev. We lost our connection a few moments ago. Would you please continue with your explanation?” Nikolai looked at Tatiana with relief on his face. She nodded, gesturing to encourage him to explain the situation to the American. Nikolai said, “Certainly. When I received the telephone call yesterday about Dr. Vasquez…distress, I immediately asked my personal physician to go to hospital and evaluate her condition. He called in an eminent Moscow neurologist, and the two of them consulted with the hospital psychiatrist, who had already evaluated Dr. Vasquez. All three doctors concurred that a medically-induced coma would be necessary to relieve the swelling in Dr. Vasquez’ brain, a product of the original fall and the injection that the staff gave her.” Colonel Oates interrupted. “Injection? What did they give her and why?” Nikolai was hesitant to say much more, but he had no choice but to be candid with the American officer. “The injection was for thorazine. Dr. Vasquez was upset and the hospital protocol called for the use of medication in liquid form. Unfortunately, this was given as an intraveinous injection, which significantly exacerbated the brain swelling. But I assure you, Colonel Oates, Dr. Vasquez is now under the best possible medical care. I …” As before, Colonel Oates interrupted. “It sounds, Dr. Kardashev, that the mission has been seriously compromised. The Secretary will be most distressed to hear of this turn of events. Let me be clear: if we do not hear from Dr. Vasquez within the next 72 hours, we will discontinue the mission and send a team to retrieve Dr. Vasquez and take over her care. In the meantime, I will find it necessary to contact her loved ones to let them know what has occurred.” There wasn’t much more Nikolai could say. The line had, once again, gone dead.
Cecilia walked through the door and proceeded down the corridor and into the tunnel. Just as she had before, she found herself in front of the double doors. She walked into the house, went up the stairs and around the corner. As before, Emily was tapping away on the keyboard. The girl looked up at Cecilia. “You again. I don’t know how you’re doing this, but you sure are persistent. What do you want?” Cecilia said, “I just need to understand what you meant when you talked about the nuclear exchange. I mean you no harm.” Emily looked embarrassed. She pointed at a green loveseat, on the wall behind Cecilia. “Have a seat. I’ll try to explain.”
Cecilia walked over to the loveseat and sat down. She looked over at Emily, who continued to tap away on the computer. Emily said, “Hold on a second. I just have to finish this part of the program.” Cecilia said, “Okay…take your time. I think I have all the time in the world.”