The world we suggest is a new wild west. A sensuous evil world. Strange and haunting, the path of the sun
― Jim Morrison
Cecilia woke to find Tatiana smiling at her, with Nikolai standing behind her looking hungrily at the tray Tatiana was holding. This time it was oatmeal with fresh blueberries, other fruits and a glass of orange juice, croissants and coffee. Tatiana said “I brought warm milk in a thermos, so just pour it over the oatmeal. It’s that American instant type. Cecilia complied, and looked at the tray. “I feel bad eating this beautiful breakfast in front of the two of you.” Tatiana said, “Oh, please – go ahead and enjoy it. Poor Nikolai is on a special diet now because of his gout. He can only have 4 ounces of whole wheat cereal, a glass of cranberry juice and a slice of whole wheat melba toast. Nikolai made a face behind Tatiana, but when she turned around to face him, he merely nodded and smiled, rubbing his belly with relish. Cecilia laughed softly, and they chatted while she ate her breakfast, Tatiana and Nikolai sitting on chairs on either side of her bed.
Cecilia asked Nikolai if Tatiana had briefed him about their conversation with Olga Arkhipov. Nikolai said that indeed she had. Cecilia began to emphasize in her careful way how all the pieces fit together in a most plausible fashion. Tatiana chimed in with her perception that Olga was lucid and quite aware of what she was telling them when she explained the details of the incident. Nikolai nodded patiently, saying yes, it did sound plausible. But how was it possible? Tatiana and Cecilia waited to hear Nikolai’s explanation. “I went back into the records from certain other observatories on that day, in particular from Ondrejov Observatory in Czechoslovakia. In late October, 1962, the observatory reported a major solar flare that erupted, creating a geothermal storm that affected the lower southeast United States and the Caribbean. I believe that it is what created the data anomaly on October 27th, 1962.
Cecilia vaguely recalled that she had heard about solar flares being the cause of the problem from somewhere, but she just couldn’t find it in her memory. She turned to Nikolai and said, “But what about my grandfather’s observations? The picture Olga had of the destruction – Tatiana, did you tell Nikolai about the picture?” Tatiana nodded, and Nikolai said “Yes, she told me of Olga’s picture, Vasili’s observations and Javier, er Juan’s as well. But I consulted with some of my colleagues in psychology. They gave me a copy of an article, written by Robert Bartholomew and Simon Wessely, entitled ‘Protean nature of mass sociogenic illness’, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2009. The authors perfectly describe the illness’ affect on individuals under the stress of an impending nuclear attack. The authors say…” Nikolai pulled a small note card out of his right pocket. “They say…’Additionally, early symptoms of those affected by MPI are difficult to differentiate from those actually exposed to the dangerous agent’. So I believe that explains what happened to those individuals. And it is possible in the case of Vasili and Juan, their suffering from Mass Sociogenic or Psychogenic Illness gave them the strength and impetus to resist others’ exhortations to create such a devastating war. And so the mystery is solved, and you helped me solve it!”
Cecilia wasn’t sure whether to be relieved, or argue with Nikolai. Instead, she related to them her sojourn into the world of virtual reality, including her encounter with the avatar called Emily, and Emily’s reaction to Cecilia’s description of the nuclear exchange. Cecilia said she believed the person controlling the Emily avatar knew something about the nuclear exchange. Tatiana and Nikolai look at one another, and Cecilia could read the skepticism in their eyes. “That is a very interesting theory, I must say… Dr. Vasquez.” Again, Cecilia had that odd feeling of deja vu – but again couldn’t place whethere she’d heard him or someone else say that in a similar fashion.
Tatiana and Nikolai exchanged looks, and Tatiana nodded. “We should go now – we’ve likely worn you out with our visit and these discussions. Get some rest and, possibly you will be discharged in a day or so.” Cecilia thanked them profusely for coming and for the food. Nikolai and Tatiana stood up, talking in low tones as they turned and left the room.
Cecilia dozed a bit after the filling, delicious breakfast. Ilya came at 11 am with the wheelchair. No Ratched this time. The invalid needed only a little assistance to get into the chair, and she returned to the recreation room. The box with the equipment was still sitting where she’d left it the day before. She plugged the controller into the wall socket, watching it come to life; then put on the headset. Since Cecilia was doubtful Emily would return to the baseball game, she chose the collection of Medieval World Games. From the sub-menu, she selected Runesworld. It was the first one on the list, and Cecilia recalled the avatar’s appearance seemed appropriate for such a game. She revived her Avatar and proceeded into Runesworld. She followed a path toward a gathering area. The first avatar she encountered was Emily! She called out to her, but the avatar walked right by. As she entered the central plaza, she saw three other Avatars identical to Emily. She approached each, and in a timid voice said, “Emily?” Again, all three avatars walked by without responding. It occurred to Cecilia that this must be the standard avatar for females in Runesworld, likely a more basic game than some of the others in the menu. She continued to walk around in the plaza, not quite sure what to do next. She exited on the far side, and entered what appeared to be a pasture area, complete with grazing sheep. A figure was standing in the middle of the path, looking at her. She approached the figure, and again asked sheepishly, “Do you happen to know an avatar called Emily?” The individual, dressed as a Samurai swordsman, responded with “You mean the one controlled by the girl-gamer from Florida?” Excitedly, Cecilia responded with “Yes, that’s the one,” assuming that Emily must be from Florida since she knew the names of those Miami hospitals when they met at the ball game. The samurai responded, “I know her. She’s quite an advanced player/programmer. How did you meet her?” Cecilia responded “We met at a baseball game yesterday.” The samurai’s face looked quizzical, and he said “That’s weird. I would never have expected to see her there.” Cecilia asked, “Do you know where I might find her again?” The warrior said, “Sure…she likes to hang out in a world that’s not on the menu. It’s a place where the more advanced amongst us go to work on their game programs. But you can get to it through a back door here in Runesworld. Do you want to go there?” Cecilia hesitated for a moment. Go to a place that isn’t on the menu? She asked, “Is that safe?” The swordsman replied, “It’s as safe as anywhere else in virtual reality.” Not sure what that meant, Cecilia replied, “Yes. I’d like to go there.”
The Runesworld avatar led her avatar to an area in what appeared to be a back wall of the game. After many twists and turns, he pointed at a virtual door. The design of the door appeared completely out of character from the rest of Runesworld. Her avatar guide said, “I am an advanced enough player to have a key. He put the key in the door, and it opened a crack. Go through this door, and she will more than likely be in a room on the second floor. Good luck.” Cecilia thanked the character, and then asked him “What’s your name?” The avatar responded, “Call me Javier. And the avatar winked at Cecilia’s character.
Cecilia’s avatar went through the door into what appeared to be a dark hallway. Soon the space was darkening, and getting narrower. She felt her way along the corridor, and at one corner, her avatar scraped her arm on a jagged piece of what she could barely make out as rock. Her avatar looked at her right shoulder, and saw an injury with tinges of blood. She continued on through the corridor, slowing meandering left, then right, then right again. Finally, she was in pitch blackness. Her avatar took another step, and then found herself falling straight down. A little light coming from torches high on the walls of the tunnel showed Cecilia her avatar falling, rolling and twisting on her back and then her left side. Finally, the avatar fell onto something solid. She picked herself up, glancing at her sore and bleeding right arm. She looked ahead, and saw a pair of double doors, with an arch of glass over them. Her avatar tried the brass door handle, and found it unlocked. She walked into the small space, and observed a table and mirror on a wall to her left. A staircase was in front of her, with an oak bannister and spanish style, wrought iron railings. A virtual calico cat sat on the bottom step of the staircase. Cecilia looked up to see the staircase leading to a room. She saw a girl that resembled Emily’s avatar sitting in a chair in front of a computer screen. She could hear the tapping of her keyboard, and the girl’s avatar intently staring at the screen. Cecilia’s avatar began to climb the stairs, coming to the top and turning to face Emily. Emily’s avatar sees her, and calmly says, “You shouldn’t be here. You belong back in the game.” Cecilia asks, “Are you Emily?” The avatar repeats, a bit more loudly this time, “You shouldn’t be here. Go back to the game!” Cecilia thinks for a moment, and then tells the character, “I have no idea how to go back to Runesworld. I met a samurai who called himself Javier, who led me to a back door in the game and said you’d be here. Emily replied, “I don’t know anyone named Javier. There is no back door to Runesworld. This is really creepy.” Then the Emily avatar turned her head to the right, and shouted down the stairs, “Grandma! Your avatar is here talking to me!” Cecilia heard a voice coming from down below. “Oh? Which one?” Emily says, ‘It’s Cecilia.” The voice from below replied, “That’s impossible. It’s time to eat, so TURN OFF THAT GAME!” Emily calmly turns to Cecilia’s avatar. “I didn’t mean for that nuclear exchange to happen. But I did stop it before it blew up the game and destroyed everything, including YOU!” The Emily avatar calmly reached up and pressed the button at the bottom of her monitor. Her screen went black. Then the Oculus Rift screen went black.
Cecilia took off the headset. She arched her back, as she’d been sitting in the same position for seemingly the whole time. She felt a pain on her right side. She looked down, and saw the same bloody scrape on her arm as her avatar had observed on hers. She immediately felt dizzy, confused and upset, just as she had when she’d tried to process what Olga Arkhipov had told Tatiana and her. Just then Ilya entered with the wheelchair. He looked at her, and she opened her mouth to speak. Nothing came out. Then, as though she were watching her avatar, she watched herself begin to scream; to point to her arm; to describe Emily, the room, nuclear war and finally to hoarsely shriek the words “It’s All Just A Computer Game!”. Ilya presses the red emergency button on the wall. His partner orderly came in, and the two of them held her down. Nurse Ratched entered with a hypodermic needle. “Thorazine will make hallucination go away.” The nurse placed the hypodermic need against her arm, right in the area of the injury, and pushed the plunger down to the bottom of the tube. Cecilia immediately slumped to the floor. Everything went black.