“I’m really glad you agreed to participate in my charity auction, James. We’re going to help so many children this way. I actually had a hand in the new hospital’s design, though Lady Pendreigh used her sway over the Pendreigh Group to make a few alterations. They were improvements in a way to be perfectly honest, but I don’t really care for Lady Pendreigh at all. She’s so… stuffy.” claimed Maxine, still chatting away as Mila took the limo to the Intergalactic House of Awesome Sauce. “What sort of improvements?” I asked, curious about what Alma would change. Smiling, Maxine replied “For example, I had a grand entryway designed which I felt would lift people’s spirits as they entered. Hospitals are so dreary. I failed to consider how some of the sculptures would affect traffic flow, and Lady Penreigh added a sterilization system to the fountain that will work with the ventilation to clean the air while spreading an airborne sanitizer. For all her stuffiness, she really is brilliant. The design was very elegant.” I felt a bit surprised by Maxine’s enthusiasm toward the hospital. Did she have some dark plan in motion, or did she actually like children? “I can’t say I’ve actually seen any of her designs myself. She’s always working, and I hate to bother her.” I admitted. I suddenly found myself wondering how close I really was to Alma when I didn’t know much about such a big part of her life.
Maxine shrugged and told me “Oh, I’m not surprised. She has her fingers in countless pies throughout Europe, and her influence here is growing rapidly. To be frank, I don’t feel spending too much time with her is safe.” I felt like rolling my eyes, hearing such a line coming from a known villain, but this was a job. “She’s not so bad.” I argued. Maxine laughed and said, “If you believe that, you really don’t know her well. What’s one good thing about her?” I hesitated a moment before saying, “Well, her desire to see things done right will help that hospital.” Maxine shook her head and told me “No-no. You can’t turn her obsessive need for control into a good thing. Can you think of any positive qualities she possesses?” I took a moment to think, trying not to get caught up on how beautiful Alma was. I was confident that Alma meant well for humanity, but I questioned the morality of her methods. She was extremely intelligent, but as impressive as she was, intelligence could be used for evil purposes as shown by Maxine’s machine. “Sorry, but you’re time’s up. We’ve arrived.” stated Maxine. My head jerked to look out the window, and I found she was right. “How did you..?” i started asking when Maxine interrupted me, saying, “The smell, James. This parking lot always smells fresher than most of the city.”
I stepped out of the limo and offered Maxine my hand as she stepped out. She grabbed it easily as if expecting my hand to be there. With her being blind, I thought I’d have to adjust. “Pardon my asking, but do you have partial vision?” I inquired. “Oh, no. I’ve been completely blind since birth.” she replied. I realized that Jarod might have overlooked one terribly important detail. How would Maxine control a large, powerful machine without being able to see? As we walked into the restaurant, I doubted myself. Jarod couldn’t have overlooked such an obvious flaw. He probably had a dozen theories for how to pull off maneuvering the cybernetic suit without sight. Needless to say, Maxine had to be brilliant. There my train of thought vanished as we entered the dining area. Maxine and I walked across a smooth, crystalline floor transparent enough to see the rugged edges of the crystal dangling below us, suspended in air above a dimly lit forest. The peaks of mountains could be seen through the numerous archways off to our right, and a large moon shed a gentle light from our left. The valley in front of us spread out as far as I could see. Walking from the noonday sun outside into this marvelous, enchanting night was shocking to say the least. The entire room and furniture was made of the clear crystal as far as my senses could tell. “How is it, James? What is the room like?” asked Maxine. “The room is transparent, and we’re surrounded by a moonlit valley so beautiful that I lack words to describe it.” I told her, still in awe.
“James! How’s it going?” stated a strangely familiar voice. I recognized the girl from Aaliyah’s birthday. “Evanna, right? I thought you were a driver.” I told her. She rolled her eyes and said, “I am, but Carl insisted I fill in for a moment between shifts. Can’t argue with the boss. If you follow me, your table is just over here.” I was still staring at my surroundings as I followed Evanna to the table. I saw more wonders coming to this restaurant than I had most anywhere else I had been. Thinking of my office at home, I realized that I should have known Aaliyah had a hand in this place. There were other guests around the room, sitting at the numerous tables, but all were so spaced apart that we might as well have been alone. “I’ll bring your food in just a sec!” exclaimed Evanna before walking off. Finding my hand as she leaned over the small table, Maxine said, “Details, James. I feel like there is a soft breeze in here.” I wondered what words could do this place justice and felt myself unequal to the task at hand. I had to try. This was part of my job today. I explained “There is a great, crystal dome above us suspended by archways around the giant circle of a room. Each archway appears to be completely open, allowing the night air to reach us. The moon looks different to me somehow, as if it’s not our moon but that of another world. It’s absolutely enormous and tinged with blue. The forest beneath us is hard to make out, but it’s quite expansive, stretching into the distance.”
Maxine squeezed my hand and said, “Go on.” I nodded absently before saying, “ I didn’t notice at first, but the crystal appears to be glowing faintly. Even looking away from the moon toward the mountains, I can make out the outline of the floating structure by the dim glow. I… I have no idea where our server went from here. She seems to have vanished entirely.” Maxine smiled and said, “I’m not surprised. I’m guessing some of the patrons here aren’t even real. I think this room utilizes some very advanced technology to create realistic screens on the walls. Then there must be some sort of environmental control for the temperature and breeze. You’d be amazed at some of the theories I’ve read.” I almost asked how she read them before thinking of Braille. These days there were also a great number of text-to-voice applications she could use. I jumped as Evanna placed a bowl in front of me. “Sorry. I didn’t see you return.” I told her. She laughed and said, “I’m the one that should be apologizing. I’m supposed to be making people feel comfortable. Playing host really isn’t my thing. Who wouldn’t get distracted in a room like this.” Maxine piped up and said, “Evanna, is it? Do you happen to know how this illusion is created?” Evanna laughed again before replying “Sorry, but I’m not allowed to discuss any of the inner workings, even with a friend of James. Please enjoy your meal.”
Evanna pulled the lids off the largest of the bowls before us, revealing some sort of soup as the steam disappeared. I recognized shrimp at a glance, but wasn’t certain what else was in the slightly orange-colored liquid. Another bowl contained white rice, and the third was yet another liquid I couldn’t identify. “Moqueca!” exclaimed Maxine, and I was at a loss as to how I was supposed to respond. “Pardon?” I asked. “The dish, silly. I had this when I was in Brazil a few months back. You’re in for a treat if you’ve never tried it.” she insisted. As I tasted a bit, I wasn’t disappointed. Though like nothing I had previously tried, the soup was indeed delicious. I quickly grew distracted watching Maxine as she felt around the table. I never really thought about her needing to feel where things were on a table and wondered if I should ask if she needed anything. As I opened my mouth, she deftly lifted her spoon and ate a spoonful of the soup, smiling a moment later. “This is even better than I remembered. How do you like yours?” she asked. “Oh. It’s great! I’ve never had anything quite like this, but the flavor really is wonderful.” I assured her. “I’m glad you think so too. My chef can’t quite get the flavor right, so I told him to give up. I’d fire him, but he really does quite well on most things.” she explained. To my great surprise, I couldn’t rate this as one of my worst dates, despite sitting across from a villain, but the day wasn’t over yet.