Magdalena sat on the park bench for a few moments to collect her thoughts. She closed her eyes and felt the cold afternoon air on her skin and sunlight kiss her pale skin as it filtered through the trees above her head. Patrick couldnt have known this one fact would give away the illusion. She’d kept her nature a secret from all members of the crew, despite their close working conditions. She laughed. How would they take to knowing that there were days where she saw them as nothing more than five ready-packed meal rations? She was officially listed as suffering an “eating disorder” and given a ration allowance high in manufactured stemcells. She suspected that the Captain and perhaps Shawna (in her capacity as ship medic) might have enough information to put two and two together and see her condition for what it was but definitely not Patrick. He was a grunt. Career military that had never actually distinguished himself in any way. He’d had no way of knowing that direct afternoon sunlight would be deadly to someone suffering with her condition.
She laughed to herself, he had no knowledge before the present encounter anyhow. She wondered how closely he’d been following her movements, how deeply his investigation and Protocol Seven data recording went. Was he watching her feasting? She wished she could have been there to see the shock on his face at the discovery of her first … donor.
Her mind kept chewing on the problem of the illusion that she’d found herself in. A harassed office-worker walked past her, talking on a cellphone and attempting to bit chunks off the end of a large bread roll stuffed with cheese, ham and lettuce. In frustration he tossed the sandwich at a trashcan nearby and missed completely, the bun bounced off the rim scattering contents across a three foot radius. Mayonaise erupted in a spray across the impact site. An excited twittering above Magdalena signalled the arrival of a flock of about two dozen pigeons to begin pecking up the lunch.
In horror Magdalena heard the delighted squeal of a young child from around a bend in the path.
Magdalena didnt need a gift of prophesy to predict what would happen next: The child came thundering along the path at a full sprint directly at the pigeons squealing and whooping with joy. Two dozen birds erupted into the air almost simaltaneously filling the space with frightened beaks, feet and feathers. Magdalena ducked despite knowing she was living in an illusion. The birds circled and flew off peppering toddler, the park bench and the trashcan with white poop. Magdalena breathed a sigh of relief noting that she’d come through the _literal_ crap storm unscathed. Then came the straggler, the bird too intent on eating cheese to be freaked out by the five year old. It flew right at the bench, straight over Magdalena into the trees, launching a precicely aimed missile as it passed her position. She screamed at Patrick for the torture he’d inflicted as she wiped fresh bird turd from her ebony hair.
Drew and Zachary walked off along the dock leaving James laying in a puddle. He thought about getting up but the floor wasnt spinning. Each time he raised his head to try to view the world as anything other than sideways, he felt the world spinning like it wanted more than anything to return to being sideways.
“Oh, alight.” he said to the world, “have it your way.”
He closed his eyes. The docks were quiet – just water lapping at the quayside – no ships loading or unloading, no workers looking for manual labouring positions, no working women plying their trade at shift change. It was still. He laid his head down to make sure the world stopped spinning and found himself dozing.
“Hey there Maggie!” a French lilting voice said from behind Magdalena’s bench. She stood up and turned, finding that the view behind her was not trees as she’d expected from the sounds. She turned and found herself standing on a beach with the ocean at her back. She turned around. There were the bird droppings all over a park bench, trashcan and pathway. She turned around and stepped forward on the beach. The sun was at her back, most likely just setting, given the length of her shadow. The beach sloped upward and smoothly changed from golden sand into rough scrub grass before reaching the top of the dune. Sitting on a striped blanket at the top of the dune was Patrick. He was dressed for the occasion: royal blue shorts, plastic flip-flop shoes and a loud hawaiian shirt whos dominant colour seemed to be a shade of green that conflicted perfectly with the blue shorts.
“Hey Magda. I have a picnic here. Join me?” he said cordially.
She frowned. He was holding her her for a reason. It was a deliberate time wasting ploy, he wasnt asking her anything, wasnt communicating. What was his plan? Why consume all the processing resources of his mind with creating this virtual environment, running it across a local-net link, if there wasnt a decent answer. She decided that the answer would never come if she walked away from him entirely. Magdalena strode up the hill and dropped down on the other side of the striped blanket from Patrick.
He handed her a bread roll and began chatting about the sailing waters, about the mild winds and safe winter sailing that was available nearby.
Finally she could take it no longer, “What is this place?” she demanded.
“Oh come now Magda, you know that!” he said.
“Its a contruct, running over a local-net connection.” She said
Patrick dropped into the mannerisms of the host of a crummy game-show, “Exactly! Give a stuffed toy to that lady.”
“Let me out of here!” she demanded, throwing the virtual bread roll at him. It evapourated somewhere enroute, arriving at his position as little more than mist.