Cecilia’s eyes fluttered open. She looked around her room, confused for a moment as to her whereabouts. She glanced at the clock on the bedside table. 6:28 AM. Then she recalled. Last evening. Returning from her long flights from Moscow to Frankfurt; Frankfurt to New York; New York to Miami and then home. She recalled telling Mirabel she’d be in to work after a short nap. Apparently, her short nap had extended throughout the evening and early morning.
She got out of bed, realizing she was still wearing yesterday’s clothes. She jumped in the shower, relieved to be back in her own bathroom, enjoying the feeling of the hot water on her neck and shoulders. She dried herself, quickly dressed and went out into the living area. Her mother was sitting on the couch, with Rubio in his usual place on his bed. Her mother said, “The coffee is ready, but I haven’t fixed breakfast yet. Do you want something?” Naturally she was starving, but told her mother not to bother – she’d pick something up on her way into work. Rubio gave her that stare, turning his head sideways and beginning that familiar, low growl when her mother popped him on the side of his mouth. He turned to look quizzically at her mother, and then with an even more confused look on his face back at Cecilia. Then he squinted his eyes, sighed, and laid back down, as though he was tired of trying to warn his master of the potential danger of this creature sitting before them.
Cecilia said, “I just had the strangest dream! I found out I was a virtual character in a computer game, and the people explaining all this to me froze when I asked them if they were virtual as well. Isn’t that odd?” Cecilia’s mother replied, “Somehow I knew all this globe-hopping travel would begin to affect your brain. And look at you! You’re as thin as a sliver of sugar cane. You need to stay home and rest!” Cecilia thanked her mother for her concern, but said she felt fine, and would appreciate anything she cared to prepare for her to build back up her strength. And with that, Cecilia left to grab some breakfast before work.
She pulled into the Denny’s on US 1, across from the campus. She dug into eggs, sausage, toast, grits and a huge pot of coffee. Putting down her coffee mug, Cecilia glanced at her watch, which indicated it was 7:15 am. She had a class to teach at 9, so she thought it best to get into the office and clear up what would likely be a slew of e-mails as well as snail mail to open. She left cash on the table, including a generous tip, and waved at the waitress to make sure she got the money. She returned to campus, and parked in her usual parking spot behind the building.
As she walked down the hall, she saw Mirabel was already in her office, intently working on her computer. Cecilia stepped in and flumped down in the chair across from her friend. Mirabel’s glasses were down on her nose, and when she glanced up, she snatched them off her face. “Oye, chica, welcome back, welcome back! Oh, I am so glad to see you – the stories I heard about all those things that happened to you! And you look terrible! My God, you must have lost 20 pounds – your clothes just hang on you!” Cecilia said, “Only 10, and Abuela and Mamita are working hard to replenish them.” Mirabel came around her desk and gave Cecilia a hug. “You know, everyone here knows you are a hero..heroine…a person who saved the world!” Cecilia said, “That might be a bit of an exaggeration. I was just a part of the team that got some folks to do the right thing. No big deal..” Mirabel snorted. “No big deal – huh! And chica mia, you almost died trying to help another scientist with his work? Coñio!” Cecilia winced at hearing those words, and unconsciously reached up to touch her left temple where she’d been injured. There was only a hint of a scar left from her experience.
“But that’s all in the past now – I’ve returned, and I’m looking forward to taking my classes back. Is Dr. Suarez around? I want to thank him for filling in while I was gone.” Mirabel rolled her eyes. “No, chica, your class will be the truly grateful ones that you’re back. Suarez is a nice guy, but the kids tell me he is a booorrring lecturer! Those kids love you, you know. They were following everything that was happening to you in Russia, and keeping me informed. We prayed for you, you know.” That last statement made Cecilia blush. “I’m fine, really! Now, can I get back to work?” Mirabel provided one last hug and then said, “No more traveling for you anytime soon. We miss you, and you always get into trouble when you get off those airplanes!”
Cecilia returned to her office, with those words of praise like bouquets of flowers to her psyche. She put down her backpack, opened her Mac, and started looking at her e-mails. There was one from Nikolai and Tatiana, hoping she’d made it back home without incident. She hit the “return” key and quickly responded to their good wishes. The next e-mail was from Secretary Morrison herself, thanking her for all her hard work and hoping she quickly recovers from her issues in Lyubertsy. Cecilia thought she’d wait a bit to answer to that one. She cleared out a couple dozen emails that did not require any response. Finally, there was a note that had an e-mail address from the UK. She opened the e-mail to find a short, rather dramatic message. “You have no idea what you’ve done. You have interfered with and ruined a plan that would have been the salvation of the world. You have jeopardized years of hard work. I can’t be responsible for what happens next.”
Cecilia hit the ‘return’ key to respond, and asked who this person was and please provide additional information. She hit the ‘send’ key, but immediately got an e-mail message back saying that the e-mail could not be delivered, with some codes underneath to explain why that made no sense. She rationalized that this must be some kind of troll, and deleted it.
At five til nine, she went upstairs to Room 202 to teach her class in General Relativity Theory, PSC 654. As she entered, her 8 graduate students gave her a round of applause, and had written ‘welcome home’ in boxes that resembled elements in the periodic table on the dry-erase board at the front of the class. She told them she appreciates the sentiment, but they have a lot to cover, and let’s get down to it. She asked where Suarez left off (not very much farther than when she left) and hooked up the department Holoprezi to her Ppad to start the class. As soon as the connection was made, a text message popped up on the screen. It was the same message she’d received in her e-mail. She apologized to the class for the interruption and returned to teaching about the history of gravity, discussing Eddington’s pictures of the solar eclipse, proving Einstein’s theory about the curvature of space. She finished the class, and then stayed to chat a bit with the students. After about fifteen minutes of animated conversation, she returned to her office.
Within five minutes, her graduate assistant Jorge came in to show her he’d received a copy of the e-mail that had been sent to Cecilia. Then Mirabel came in to say she’d just gotten this very peculiar copy of an email. At the same time, her mother was calling to say she’d gotten a telephone call, and when she answered it, the person said that her daughter had ruined something and was going to destroy the world! All this was starting to border on the bizarre. Apparently this person knew all about her: her co-workers, relatives, telephone numbers – everything! She was beginning to feel personally violated by this troll.
She left the department about 5:30 and drove home. Her mother was out, having volunteered to work with the hospital auxiliary at Mercy Hospital, to repay them for the excellent care they’d provided her father in his waning days of life. Cecilia found her dinner covered in aluminum foil in the convection oven. It was boliche, beef roast stuffed with chorizo sausage and hard boiled eggs. The sight of the hard-boiled eggs gave Cecilia a flashback to the beets and eggs she’d eaten at the hospital in Lyubertsy. But the boliche was so good, she soon forgot about that unpleasant meal. She sat down at the dining room table to enjoy it, happy that Rubio was shut up in her mother’s bedroom so she didn’t have to deal with his nonsense.
After the meal, Cecilia went into her home office to think about the day’s events. She had no idea what to do about it. Without even realizing she was doing it, she said, “Hey, Emily?” A second or two later, a young girl’s voice responded, “Yes, Cecilia?” Cecilia still could not get used to this little girl’s voice in her head, but frankly she wasn’t sure she’d be alive if that voice wasn’t there for her. “Do you have any idea how I can trace that stupid troll that is sending me those e-mails?” Emily replied, “Oh, sure! You just go to the website www.whois.com. You put in the IP address from the e-mail, and it’ll tell you where the computer or network is that the message came from.” Cecilia said, “Ok. But where do I find the IP address?” Emily said, “Don’t you know anything about computers? You’re using Outlook at work, right?” Cecilia said, “Yes, but I’m at home now. I have the same message on my AOL account from the same troll.” Emily replied, “Well, that’s even easier. See at the top it says “Message source? Just click on that and you’ll see a series of numbers separated by dots.” Cecilia tried it and found the number. She went to the “who is” site as Emily had directed. She entered the number. It responded that the message came from a company in the UK called Konecranes. She went to their site, and found they sold mining equipment around the world. She sent them a copy of the email she’d received, and asked them to investigate where it came from. Since the UK was 6 hours ahead, it was unlikely she’d hear from them tonight. But at least she had a clue to who this person was. The question was: why were they sending her these terrible messages?