(Baseball) is a game with a lot of waiting in it; it is a game with increasingly heightened anticipation of increasingly limited action
― John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany
She spent the remainder of the afternoon dozing and waking to find herself uncomfortable, alternately freezing or overheated. Cecilia was afraid that meant she had a fever, but Nurse Ratched assured her she had no temperature, it was only the erratic radiators in the old facility. By evening, Cecilia was famished and hoping there was something decent to eat. Her hopes were dashed when the dinner tray arrived with some kind of cold fish, sliced beets and hard boiled egg. She ate the beets and egg, but couldn’t handle the slimy fish. Later they brought her a cup of cold, weak tea. “At this rate, I’ll never get out of here, I’ll just quietly starve to death,” Cecilia thought. She slept fitfully, but at least she slept – that was a new phenomenon, compared to the previous four days. Four days! She realized she had been out of touch with her family and work for four days. They had no idea where she was, and what misery she was experiencing. She thought to herself, “maybe I can find my cell phone and contact Nikolai.”
The next morning brought a lovely surprise and a visitor in the person of Tatiana Kardashev. She brought a tray of croissants with jam and honey, a lovely melange of fruit, a warm soft-boiled egg and a huge pot of black coffee with thick cream in a tiny pitcher. Cecilia was so overwhelmed to see her with her bounty of food, she began to cry for joy. Tatiana, no-nonsense and upbeat as always, told her she was going to be okay, and to just sit up and enjoy a half-decent breakfast for a change. “Oo ha o iea,” Cecilia said, as she wolfed down the food, and poured cup after cup of the strong brew. When she was finished eating every speck of food, she wiped her chin, sighed and looked gratefully at Tatiana. “You have no idea how wonderful that was and you are for bringing it to me. I will adore you forever for it.” Tatiana nodded and smiled. “Nikolai sends his regards. He’s been in touch with the doctor. The x-rays show no fracture, but there is a fair amount of internal bruising and a bit of swelling in the area of the left temple. I’m afraid you’re going to have to stay here for at least two more days until that bleeding and swelling subsides. But Nikolai and I promise to come and visit you and I’ll provide food. Don’t worry: we can’t have an international incident by having you starve, can we?” Cecilia smiled, and shook her head. She let Tatiana know the psychiatrist had come to see her, and was encouraging her to use the hospital’s recreational therapy as a way to help relieve her discomfort and anxiety. Cecilia did not tell Tatiana about the psychiatrist’s warning, as that revelation would likely complicate an already-complex situation. Cecilia was determined to be cooperative and do what she was told so there would be no issues when she wanted to leave, in two days at the most.
Tatiana departed, taking the tray and empty dishes with her. Cecilia dozed off for a few minutes, but then one of the two burly orderlies from the day before came into the room, pushing a wheelchair. Nurse Ratched followed on his heels. “You will go to recreation room and play with Dr. Tereshkova’s strange face box. You will not make disturbance while you are there and then Ilya will fetch you and return you to room after one hour.” Cecilia nodded, and the orderly helped her up and into the chair. She was still dizzy, but much improved from the previous day. Wordlessly, he wheeled her down the hall, to the right and into the elevator. On the first floor, the recreation room was empty except for a man in the far corner watching a Russian television news program. There was no sound, but he seemed to follow the action, as he continually muttered and occasionally shook his fist at the television.
A few moments later, Dr. Tereshkova came into the room carrying a box. She opened the box and retrieved the equipment needed to participate in a virtual reality experience. The psychiatrist handed Cecilia the headset, and showed her the controller. Ludmila handed her a written set of instructions, but then realized they were written in Russian. She translated for Cecilia: “Connect controller to power source. Place headset on face and adjust straps until the headset screen covers your field of vision. Look up and left for the menu. Create your avatar first, using option selection menu. Blink to choose options.” Dr. Tereshkova paused – is that the right word? ‘Blink’?” as she rapidly opened and closed her eyes. Cecilia nodded. Ludmila continued. Once you have created and named your Avatar, select the virtual reality location you want to visit. Blink at the icon. That world will open up. Your virtual reality session will begin. To exit, look to the upper right for the log out icon. Blink at the icon to exit the session”
Cecilia told the psychiatrist she understood the instructions. Ludmila plugged the controller into the outlet next to the table. The controller came to life with lights and sound. Cecilia placed the headset on her face, wincing as the corner of it came into contact with the left side of her head. She moved it over a bit to the right, and adjusted the straps to keep it upright but not press too hard on her head. She saw the icon “Avatar Animator” and blinked. A series of menus appeared, with information in English for her to create an Avatar. What she created looked as much like her as a computer simulation could, and – naturally – she named it Cecilia. She told Dr. Tereshkova she could handle it from here, and the doctor left, saying she’d retrieve the equipment later. Cecilia went to the next menu, and scanned for options. There were quite a few: medieval world, space invaders, soccer, tennis and aha! Baseball. Cecilia thought to herself, “A baseball game in a Russian version of Oculus Rift. This ought to be interesting.” She blinked on the icon, and a three-dimensional image of a baseball stadium opened up. It was actually quite realistic. In fact, it looked fairly familiar, vaguely resembling Marlins Park in Miami. Cecilia blinked to accept this field. She next had the option to pick the team. Of course, it would be the Miami Marlins. And their opponents? Why, naturally, the Oakland Athletics. They were the team that frequently gave the Marlins trouble the few times they came to town to play. With the teams selected, the game began.
Cecilia’s Avatar’s seat in the stands was directly across from home plate, atop center field. She could see the game quite clearly, and could identify the players as they trotted onto the field. All her favorites were playing today. The seats around her were beginning to fill up as well. An overly-large man and woman sat two rows in front of her, carrying boxes of food and drink. To her right, a couple sat with their young son, who was more interested in the video game he was playing on his game boy than in watching the game. Finally, a girl of about 10 sat in the seat to her immediate left.
The game began, and Oakland had two men on base, but did not score. There were three outs, and it was the Marlins’ turn at bat. They were hitless and scoreless after their at-bat. “I hope the rest of this game is more exciting than this,” Cecilia thought. The avatar of a young girl sitting to her left said, “Yes, I hope so too. Cecilia glanced down at her, and the girl was looking directly at her. The girl had longish brown hair, and a bright, eager face. “Excuse me?” thought Cecilia. The girl replied, “You’re excused.” Cecilia hesitated for a moment, and then said “Are you speaking to me?” The girl replied, “Of course I’m speaking to you. Do you see anyone else around here that isn’t stuffing their face with stadium food at the moment?” Cecilia looked around to see the hefty girl two rows down lifting large chunks of jalapeno-laden nacho cheese chips into her mouth. “Disgusting, isn’t it?” said the girl, whose avatar at least was slim and trim. Cecilia asked “How are we communicating with each other?” The girl chuckled, and said, “Don’t be silly. This is virtual reality! I’m just a figment of your imagination! Ooohhh.” The girl waved her arms up and down, making sounds like a ghost. Cecilia had to laugh.
“Okay, I’ll play along. We are both imaginary, and so is this game. So how do we make sure the Marlins win this game?” The girl smiled, and said “Don’t worry – when I selected the game, I went into the options subroutine and chose the Marlins to score 8 runs in the 6th. That way I don’t have to stick around for the whole game. It can get boring after a while.” Cecilia replied, “Well, this is my first time using this equipment, so I’m glad you know what you’re doing. And I’m glad you set it up for the Marlins to win. They’re my favorite team.” The girl replied, “Yes, I know.”
Again Cecilia said, “Excuse me?” The girl smiled, and said, “Figment…imagination…remember?” Cecilia thought she understood virtual reality, but clearly she was clueless as to how this worked. But at least the girl next to her seemed to know. Cecilia decided to play along, since it would only last for an hour.
“Cecilia asked, “What’s your name?” The girl replied, “I’m Emily. And you?” Cecilia said, “I’m Dr. Cecilia Vasquez, and I’m an…” The girl interrupted her. “What kind of doctor are you? I hope you’re not an ENT – the guy that took out my tonsils was a real sadist!” Cecilia had to laugh, both at the notion of herself as an ear, nose and throat specialist, and at the precocity of this girl’s conversation. “How old are you, Emily?” The girl replied, “I’m ten, but my grandmother says I’m ten going on twenty.” Cecilia smiled, and said “Your grandmother’s right. You’re very mature for your age.” Emily nodded. “Yes I am.” Then Emily asked, “How do you like the Oculus Rift? You know there are newer VR players out that are loads better.” Cecilia replied, “I’m afraid I’m in a hospital right now, and I’m playing with this equipment to give my head some time to rest. I fell and hit it.” “Oh,” replied Emily. “Sorry. Hope you feel better. Which hospital are you in? Jackson? Baptist? Doctor’s?” All these were hospitals in Miami. Cecilia replied, “No, actually I’m in a hospital in Russia. I came to visit a colleague and had this small accident.”
Emily replied, “Russia, huh? Wow – that’s a long way away. Are you a scientist? They have a lot of scientists in Russia.” Cecilia replied, “Yes, I am a scientist. Dr. Nikolai Kardashev and I are working together on a project that is really important. It has to do with terraforming on Mars.” Cecilia thought that piece of information would really impress the young girl. “Cool,” was all she said. The girl thought for a moment, and then said, “How did you fall and hit your head?” Cecilia replied, almost sheepishly, “I came here to visit a woman whose husband was a submarine commander in the 1960’s. The submarine was involved in the Cuban missile crisis. Do you know about that?” The girl replied, “Of course I do. We studied that last year, and I wrote a program about it.” Cecilia continued. “Her husband’s submarine had a nuclear-tipped torpedo on it, and I had this crazy idea that the submarine fired the torpedo, and a nuclear war occurred between Miami and Havana. Isn’t that just crazy? I think I …”
Emily’s avatar leapt out of her bleacher seat. “HEY! How do you know about that? Nobody knows about that.”
Cecilia looked quizzically at the girl’s avatar. Emily looked aghast, apparently at what Cecilia had just shared about her imaginary nuclear exchange. The avatar jumped up from her seat, telling Cecilia “I have to go now. Bye.” Emily virtually ran down the aisle. Cecilia found that rather strange, but then thought “Well, she was a figment of my imagination. I suppose she got tired of the game before the sixth inning. I’ll just watch the teams play.” She turned back to the stadium to try to pick up the thread of the action. But the next thing she knew, the Oculus Rift screen was black. There was a message that scrolled across it. “You have been black-listed from this server.” A subsequent message said “You cannot return for another 24 hours. Goodbye.” Cecilia wondered if she’d done something wrong. Or if the machine shutting off had anything to do with the little girl’s avatar. She removed the headset, carefully avoiding the left side of her head. She looked up at the clock, which showed that Ilya would return in fifteen minutes. She packed up the equipment, and shortly thereafter he returned her to her room. The rest of the afternoon she thought about her conversation with the young girl, but could not figure it out. “Well, I’ll go back to the recreation room tomorrow and see if I can find her again.” And with that, she dozed off for the remainder of the afternoon, not giving it another thought.