Amanda sat quietly as she studied Nyx. Amanda had been observing her for nearly an hour. She could not get over how much Nyx reminded her of herself. She was about her height and weight. It was something about her lips (really the only visible part of her face) but also the way she sat, the way she typed. She seemed too familiar which made her feel even more uncomfortable.

Nyx finally looked up, aware that Amanda had been watching her 'Is there a problem?" Nyx asked in her refined but subtle French accent.

Amanda was now embarrassed "No…" and attempted to find something else to occupy her focus away from Nyx.

Nyx clicked off her Airpad, her 3D virtual interface, and it vanished. She sat for a moment and stared at Amanda. Nyx subtly smiled and then spoke with firm directive "I will need to brief you on the ships protocol before we land. We should arrive in less than 20 minutes"

Amanda nodded "Ok"

Nyx sat up and straightened her posture and continued "While you have already been scanned for weapons, you will not be allowed to bring any tech on board the ship such as your VC"

Amanda nodded but was also subtly surprised "I was scanned?"

Nyx did not respond but held her stare, waiting for the appropriate response.

Amanda realized this was not to be a 'Q&A" and nodded and spoke "Alright.."

Nyx continued "You will have an escort the entire time you are on board" "Consider every area on the ship as off limits unless otherwise instructed."

Amanda responded with a look of curiosity "Sounds a government engagement...?"

Nyx spoke now in a firm tone "Dr. Devlin rarely has visitors. This should be considered a great honor. You will be escorted the entire time you are onboard and you are only allowed in areas where directed. Is that going to be an issue Professor?"

Amanda realized this was going to be similar to visiting any classified facility and responded 'No. Understood"

"Good..." Nyx continued "...You will only speak when spoken to…"

Amanda laughed in response …

Nyx spoke now in a more concerned tone 'Professor, I need to ensure you understand the rules of the ship. . Dr. Devlin expects strict adherence to his rules."

Amanda felt even more uneasy and realized this was much more than protocol. She responded with heightened awareness as to the serious nature of the request. "I will only speak when I am spoken to – understood"

Nyx stated 'Finally, you will do as instructed by Dr. Devlin. "

Amanda looked perplexed "Pardon? ...What does that mean?"

Nyx spoke in a firm emotionless tone "The Dr. has full domain on his ship, You agree in advance to do as he instructs…"

Amanda raised her eyebrows "Do I really have a choice at this point?"

Nyx replied "This is protocol Professor. The Dr. Is a consummate professional, very detailed oriented and knows exactly what he wants and expects immediate action he when directs it."

Amanda nodded with slight hesitation "Understood."

Nyx put her hand to her ear listening and then spoke directly to Amanda "We are on approach…we will be greeted by Commander Carlos Solis, Dr. Devlin's chief of security. He will be your escort while you are aboard."

Amanda nodded then stared out the window looking in the direction of the massive ship. 'Wow. That's much large than I imagined…Its larger than most cruise ships.." The ship was nothing like anything she had seen before. Outside being completely matte black, the ship had no apparent windows or entry points. The large ship structure started with a pointed bow but mid-ship was quite wide tapering off at the stern " Amanda turned to Nyx 'I guess the Dr. Likes the color black..." attempting to make a joke.

Nyx sat without reaction.

Amanda slightly rolled her eyes as she turned to look back out at the window "...but again black is fitting considering the name of the ship..."

Nyx finally spoke 'It is comments like that which will lose you quick favor with the Dr., Professor."

The airship circled one more time. Amanda watched as the front bow of the ship opened revealing a landing pad. The airship maneuvered with ease and landed quietly.

Amanda sighed 'I guess I am ready…"

Nyx sat quietly as the door opened. She then stood and instructed 'Please follow me professor…"

Nyx walked down the few steps and turned to ensure Amanda had followed. They were greeted by a very large muscular man dressed completely in black. He wore a formal Nehru matte black suit, black sunglasses and greeted them with a not-so-friendly face "Good afternoon and welcome aboard Professor Collins. I am Commander Carlos Solis. I am Dr. Devlin's chief of security. I will be your escort while you are aboard. I assume Nyx has debriefed you on ship's protocol..."

Amanda nodded 'Thank you, and it is an honor to be aboard you ship. Nyx has briefed me sir"

Carlos nodded 'Excellent. Do you have any questions before we enter the ship?" "Once we are on board, protocol will be strictly enforced…"

Amanda shook her head 'No questions... Thank you"

Carlos seemed to glance at Nyx , nodded then looked to Amanda

Carlos attempted a smile… "This way professor. The Dr. is expecting you."

As they began walking, Amanda noticed that they were approaching a large wall reflecting the area around them... a dead end... Carlos was not slowing as the wall drew closer. As soon as they came closer, the wall disappeared and they entered the ship . Amanda looked around her. From the inside of the ship all the exterior walls were completely transparent "Wow" was the only words she could mutter...

The entry room was lavish with 20' ceilings and probably over 2500 sqft. The floor was polished black granite. In the center of the room was a large round cherry wood table with a huge 6' obsidian carved vase holding a variety of fresh sunflowers. The interior walls were all hand carved cherry wood. Half-moon couches offered viewing out both exterior walls and there was a 25' wet bar behind her... fit for royalty and obviously for entertaining.

Nyx interrupted "Excuse me professor, I have business to attend to. Carlos will escort you from here"

Amanda replied "Thank you Nyx" and she watched Nyx disappear into a hallway to the right on the starboard side of the ship.

Carlos instructed Amanda 'This way…" as he motioned to a hall in the center rear of the room. The walked down the hall for about 30'' and stood before a grand staircase that ascended upwards. The stair case was very stately with made of deep, dark ornate cherry wood construction capped with rich brass rails. The staircase led up to a brilliant golden color waterfall on the first landing. Carlos spoke again motioning upward "This way Professor…"

As she touched the rail, Amanda was realized the stair rail was not brass… it was solid gold and carved elegantly to contrast the rich dark wood around her. As she reached the top of the landing she stared at the waterfall. It was not water...

"Molten gold…" Carlos spoke in a matter-of -fact tone as they passed taking the left staircase up in a reversing direction back towards the bow.

Amanda could not help but study it and put out her hand "molten gold? but it has no heat?"

Carlos did not reply but instead motioned her up the next stair case... 'This way Professor…"

As they reached the top of the stairs, Amanda now stood before two huge golden amber doors. The doors looked like they were made of fluid material. On each end of the door stood massive art deco statues of some sort of winged creatures turning into black marble columns supporting a very neo modern carved ceiling. This entry room almost reminded Amanda of some sort of futuristic neo classic church.

Carlos spoke in a directive tone "Please wait here Professor." "Dr. Devlin will call for you when he is ready" "I will meet you back at this location when your engagement is complete." He then turned and walked back down the stair case.

Amanda looked puzzled and was about to follow him when she heard a voice out of nowhere... 'Welcome aboard Professor Collins."

Just then the massive amber doors began to open - sliding into the walls appearing as if the were melting away. Amanda stood, awe of the unusual entry.

The mysterious voice offered "Please come in Professor…"

Amanda looked into what at first seemed to be a dark and empty room.

"Please professor, come forward…"

Amanda took a step forward. The moment she crossed the threshold the room transformed before her eyes. She could not believe what she was seeing… she was in ..."Versailles...?" she said aloud and in bewilderment. She looked around in near panic. The amber doors where gone. She was alone, standing in the middle of the Hall of Mirrors. She walked up and touched a mirror 'How is this possible?" As she turned, she was suddenly in Trouville. It was midday an she turned to face the ocean. She could feel the warmth of the sun and she felt the sea breeze. She enjoyed the all to familiar smell of the ocean, but again she was the only person there. She turned to see that same familiar green pastel bench. She walked up to it and sat down. She was paying more that usual attention to the bench 'This can't be real?". She then noticed a cup of coffee in a to go cup next to her. It had her name on it with the word "Cappuccino." She picked it up. It was hot. She was about to taste it when suddenly she found herself in a well-appointed study. Her cup was gone and he was now sitting on a Louis the 15th couch. Before her was a large elegant antique French desk from the same time period.

A man spoke from behind her "I believe you will find this a more comfortable setting for our conversation..."

Amanda sat up quickly, startled. As she turned she found a very well built man standing before her. He was dressed impeccably. Her first impression was that he was very handsome until she noticed he wore a matte silver mask...and she gasped aloud...

Dr. Victor Devlin stood before her. With his athletic build he would be considered extremely handsome if it were not for the nickel metal colored mask that covered his face from the middle of his forehead covering his right eye down to the top of his right cheek. He spoke with a refined English accent 'The mask?" and he laughed "I apologize. I did not mean to startle you…"

Amanda attempted to regain her composer and held out her hand 'I apologize for my rude behavior...Very nice to meet you Dr. Devlin. It is truly an honor to meet you and thank you for inviting me aboard your amazing ship..."

Devlin laughed "The honor is mine Professor... and nothing to apologize for it is quite a normal reaction. I am used to it… and please call me Victor."

Amanda smiled and nodded "It will be an honor sir... and please call me Amanda. " Amanda glanced around the interior of the room "This room has some amazing features..."

Victor subtly laughed " Ah, the room… but first things first and I do appreciate the fact that you must have many questions.." "Please, make yourself comfortable. May I take your coat?"

Amanda smiled and removed her coat then handed it to him 'Yes, thank you."

Victor took her coat and hung it from a coat tree that suddenly seemed to appear to to the right of his desk. He again motioned 'Please have a seat" and then offered 'Would you like something to drink? Wine? Spirits?"

Amanda politely shook her head 'No thank you..."

Victor moved to the small bar that also seemed to suddenly appear to the left of his stately desk 'I insist…" He chose a bottle and closely examined it. He poured two glasses of wine. He moved to where Amanda is sitting "Before you take this, do you remember the best glass of wine you ever had?"

Amanda smiled but looked a little puzzled " The best wine? ...well, yes, I actually do…"

Victor smiled "Excellent...I am interested in seeing how this compares… and I assume you will be honest. I have little patience for people who cannot be candid with me..."

Amanda gently accepted the glass. She raised the glass as if to toast and tasted it . She looked up at him in surprise and tasted it again "This is unbelievable. It tastes exactly how I remembered it."

Victor asked in a slight questioning but affirming tone "It does doesn't it?" stating that with a look of satisfaction on his face. He looked at her as if assessing her situation "My apologies, where are my manners? You missed lunch traveling. You must be famished!"

Amanda smiled "Honestly yes. If that was an offer I graciously accept it"

Victor grinned 'Excellent" 'Lets enjoy lunch together…" and he took a seat directly in front of her as the room changed again. They were both now opposite each other at a table at Le Jules Verne Restaurant on the second floor of the Eiffel tower in Paris.

Amanda began looking around astonished and then caught his stare '"

Victor spoke in a soft and assuring voice 'Lets enjoy our meal and I will answer your questions later. He then motioned to her food that suddenly appeared before her 'Please eat. You can't focus on business when you are hungry…"

Amanda looked down at her plate and spoke again in a surprising tone "Risotto ai fungi? – Victor, it's my favorite..." "But…how ?"

Victor grinned taking another sip of wine 'I see you truly are inquisitive and probably will not enjoy your meal without knowing some basic answers." He then gently wiped his mouth wth his napkin and placed it back in his lap. he leaned back and spoke " How?"... "Well the easiest answer is... it is you who are creating this reality…"

Victor held her gentle stare ' ...and before you offer more questions... please sample your food and tell me what you think?"

She tasted it and was pleasantly surprised 'Its delicious Victor..."

Victor slightly touched the left side of his face realizing his mask was gone. 'I assume this more acceptable as well?"

Amanda could not help but stare. She was taken back by how handsome he was, but she also felt a strange a strange sense of familiarity with him, as if she had met him before ...

Victor laughed quietly enjoying her reaction "Are you ok Amanda?"

Amanda blushed and while remembering and now ignoring, protocol she tried to shake her thoughts "I felt suddenly as if we have met before..." "but I know that is not possible ..."

Victor grinned and spoke "Déjà vu", an odd experience isn't it?" "...and anything is possible Professor."

Amanda felt he was trying to tell her something, but her mind was already filled with curiosity about Victors previous comments - and despite protocol, she inquired 'Victor, may I ask you something?"

Victor looked up with an expressionless face, clearly annoyed at the beach and paused.. then offered "Please do..."

Amanda asked as gently and as politely as she could "What do you mean when you said I am doing this?"

Victor slowly cut a choice piece of his medium rare filet mignon and paused "Answers always lead to more questions Professor. I will offer you just a few more and then I must insist you enjoy your meal." He gently put his utensils down and leaned forward for an intimate conversation "When you disembarked the G50 Cyclometer, you greeted and then shook Carlos' hand did you not?"

Amanda took a sip of wine and placed her glass back on the table and with an look of eagerness replied 'Yes …' anticipating him to continue...

Victor paused for what seemed like minutes to her and then he continued "I am a scientist Professor, an inventor. For my latest project, I have taken virtual reality to an entirely new level. For years scientist have explored the possibilities of virtual reality in many aspects. The only problem is that up until now, it was pretty much limited to the sense of vision. While some will argue that the use of wearable prosthetics can expand to the feeling of touch... it is still more visual based than anything else."

Amanda sat back "Are you saying none of this is real?" "I mean I taste and am eating an amazing dish of risotto…and drinking the best glass of wine I ever had…" This is Le Jules Verne in Paris . I have been here many times. One of my favorite places to eat when I entertain friends who are visiting Paris for the first time..."

"I am very happy you are enjoying it" Victor said as he enjoyed another piece of steak "and to answer to your last question about how real this feels, it is as real as you make it…" "When you came aboard you were infected with a small dose of self-replicating Nanites through that simple handshake. … They are currently enhancing your thought process and interfacing with technology all around you. Basically if you think of something it will materialize …"

Amanda looked at him with surprise then concern "...Injected with Nanites?

Victor nodded 'Yes... micro biological replicating machine … and we can talk about the technology in detail at a later time… but again if you have any concerns of impact to your health, I assure you they are completely harmless…"

Amanda questioned "Micro replicating machines…?

Victor smiled to comfort her"…and completely harmless. I have been injected too. That is how we are both able to experience this virtual world. Again, I will be happy to share the details later"

Amanda continued on "And You mean if I think of say a copy of Gutenberg bible it will appear..." and she paused - stunned in reaction to what she saw " …oh my god…" as she stared at a large folio that was now laying on the chair next to her.

Victor laughed 'It takes some time getting used to…and as you can see others can enjoy the simulation as a shared experience". H admired his surrounding "You have a strong mind" "You definitely have an eye for detail."

Amanda looked at him in amazement, now forgetting protocol all together ..'So I am doing this?"

Victor smiled tolerating her moment of excitement "Right now the room is under your control, so yes…"

She stood and picked up the large book "…and this is not real?"

Victor continued to eat "Again, as real as you make it…"

Amanda sat down again, with book in lap studying it intensely.

Victor politely wiped his mouth and placed his napkin on the table and inquired 'Have you finished your meal Professor?"

Amanda was now clearly distracted, lost in the book "Yes ..." and looked up "Thank you…"

Victor grinned " I hope you enjoyed the meal and experience..."

Amanda realized she was being rude and now realized how many protocol violations she just made. She closed the book looking up now speaking in a very appreciative tone 'Victor this was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had!"

Victor stood and offered her hand to help her up.

Amanda gently placed the book own and gently placed her napkin on the table and stood.

Victor politely asked "Do you mind if we move on to business Professor?"

Amanda nodded "Of course Victor."

Victor motioned "Lets move back to my study" and suddenly the room transformed again to an ultra modern study. Victor offered her a seat in the small sitting area to the right of the desl. He took a seat directly across from her . Amanda sat realized she still held the large book. She looked around the room. The walls and floor were midnight black. Victor's desk was ornate large greenish stone and metal and the sitting area was a set of modern matte black couches with a small table in between.

Victor motioned "This is how the room really appears. The walls are a unique metal alloy and enable the technology around it to create the life-like environments your just experienced."

Amanda stared up at Victor. She still found him extremely attractive.

"My face? Just like your book, you are still holding those images in your head…"

Amanda looked down in reacting to his statement, embarrassed.

She looked up and Victor's face appeared as it was. His smiled back at her wearing his matte nickel mask. The book had also disappeared

Victor waved his hand and they were back in the French study 'I assume this is more to your tastes? I do apologize for the theatrics, but I rarely get visitors and knew you would appreciate the boundless potential this technology offers. Thank you for indulging me."

Amanda's wine glass suddenly re-appeared 'The room is now under my control.. Please enjoy your wine..."

Amanda stared for a moment at the glass. "This is unbelievable tech. I am even satiated from the food…"

Victor now spoke 'Now let's get down to business…"

Amanda nodded in acknowledgement "I am ready sir..."

Victor grinned " Lets start by asking you a few questions...

Amanda smiled and nodded "I am at your convenience..."

Victor acknowged "Tell me about Edward Land…"

Amanda almost choked on her wine

Victor handed her a napkin 'Are you ok?"

Amanda nodded, embarrassed 'I am fine thank you" as she gently wiped her mouth "What would you like to know?"

"Your impressions … you met him two days ago" Victor said watching her for reaction.

Amanda looked at him puzzled but replied resisting ask how he knew "Honestly I think he is an egomaniac, a narcissist and a misogynistic bastard" 'I cant believe he is about to be the President of the United States..."

Victor laughed as her answer surpised him "I appreciate your candidness…"

Amanda leaned toward him 'I know I have breached protocol a hundred times, and I am sorry but can I ask why.?"

Victor arched his eyebrows "I assume a question regarding my involvement with Mr. Land?"

Amanda nodded politely

Victor took a sip of wine and then spoke "Edward Land is the face of my business. Yes I own ConGlobal amongst other corporations. Yes I am his major supporter..." "any of that surprise you?"

Amanda gently shook her head no and now politely asked knowing she was about to be in full breach of protocol" But ConGlobal was founded in 1922. There are a lot of rumors about you Dr. There is no way you could have founded the company. You must be in your mid to late 30's. Are you the grandson?"

Victor's face turned more solemn. "Rarely do I allow any breaches in protocol - especially to that level Professor" " "But I forgive you..."

Amanda bowed her head 'Apologies Dr. I was properly instructed. I know what I did - I forgot my place..."

Victor studied her and sat back . "No. You dont feel sorry at all do you?. And I see it is hard for you to feign respect for my protocols. You are very strong minded. On one hand I admire that. On the other I do expect you to respect my home and my rules..."

Amanda nodded and spoke with sincerity "Apologies again and I will and do respect and honor the rules your home Dr."

Victor sat in silence as he continued to study her. The pause became uncomfortable for a moment bu tthen he changed the subject and spoke "Tell me about yourself Prorfessor. While I have read your dossier I am very interested in "who" you are."

Amanda softly smiled "Is there something specific you would like to know?" "I am more than happy to tell you anything you wish..."

Victor nodded "Thank you Amanda. I do have one area I have extreme interest in..." "You seem to have a fondness fo family histories ...especially your own..."

Amanda replied in a more respectful tone 'I do sir, very much so..."

Victor corrected and restated a more warm and pleasant tone "Please call me Victor. I realize I rarely get an opportunity to engage with someone as brilliant as yourself. Let's forget protocols for the rest of your visit... I am thoroughly enjoying our conversation and really prefer this to be a more causal engagement Amanda"

Amanda gently smiled "You honor me and thank you Victor. I realize how great of an honor this is just being here and you have no idea how much this means to me... ." and she paused. "I do have a great appreciation for family. I don't have any so I come from a perspective of how much that means in its absence. I believe it is something most take for granted."

Victor continued in a warm tone "...and you and Edward share a common family history? do you not?"

Amanda nodded once in acknowledgement "Yes. Our great great great great great great grandfathers supposedly shared a remarkable adventure. Are you familiar with that tale?"

Victor smiled and nodded 'Very much so...please continue..."

Amanda continued "The press said at the time they made the story up to try to make a profit. It ruined them. Pierre lost his position at the university, and they threw Ned Land in jail where he died… Jules Verne wrote about their extraordinary story and, well, here we are today…"

Victor grinned. "I find their story fascinating… Pierre Aronnax and Ned Land met over 150 years ago and now today you and Edward Land again entangled again by a series of coincidences " "I read Verne's version of that story many times. It is one of my favorites. I even read your paper" Victor then paused "But in your paper was not clear of where you stood as to your personal beliefs or the accuracy off their story. Do you believe what hapened to them?"

Amanda smirked "Victor are you asking me if there really was a Captain Nemo and a ship called the Nautilus? And she lightly laughed.

Victor studied her 'Yes.. I mean you know Ned and Pierre were real people then why not the primary antagonist and his ship?"

Amanda responded politely "My research was merely exploratory sir. I did not intend on including my commentary. I believe something happened to them but the tech Pierre wrote about just wasn't possible in the 1860's…"

Victor grinned " There you go again on stating what is and is not possible with little to no facts. That is so far the only area you disappoint me. You are very confident, too confident in your opinions …"

Amanda nodded "Dr. if you mean that I am committed to what I believe, then yes, yes I am. But I am not dogmatic sir. If new evidence is presented, I am open to a discussion…"

Victor took a deep breath and slightly nodded "My advice is to believe until you have factual reasons not to. Other than that, you impress me very much Professor."

Amanda seemed surprised by the flattery "I will heed your advice Sir. Thank you Dr. Again you honor me. "

Victor sat quietly and studied her. She could see he was now staring at her hand

Victor spoke and gently asked "May I see your ring Amanda?" as he reached out his hand referencing her ring bearing a large blue stone.

Amanda looked a bit puzzled on the sudden change of topic "Of course…" and she reached out her hand to him.

Victor gently held her hand admiring the ring and spoke in a knowing tone "...Sophie Aronnax's wedding ring…."

Amanda seemed startled and retracted her hand in surprise 'How do you…?"

Victor interrupted and gently reached for her hand again "You know she even wore it on the same finger" and he gently released her hand" "She was a brilliant scientist, much like you. She was very beautiful, very confident albeit at times a bit too brash… Just like you" and he smiled.

Amanda studied him as he spoke 'You speak as if you knew her…"

Victor laughed lightly and then continued "She was quite an exceptional woman in every aspect…" and he paused as if to contemplate something and then continued… "Your family history is clearly important to you "

Amanda stared at the ring "It is...and this ring is the only personal item I have from her…" "Although I did inherit have her apt in Manhattan. It remained in trust until they found me. The bank had auctioned off or threw away all the personal belongings. I have what was left of her furniture and art.." "It is the only ties I have to my family…" 'May I ask how you know about Sophie Aronnax?"

Victor paused for a moment as if studying her and then spoke in a polite tone "You are brash..."

Amanda shook her head 'I am sorry. I am just curious nothing more... Sophie is my point of connection with my family and I virtually know nothing about her..."

Victor gently smiled "I make it a habit of acquainting myself regardingt the most brilliant minds of our time" "Why do you think you are here Amanda?"

Amanda spoke almost in reverence "You honor me again Dr." "I will ensure I do my best to live up to those expectations."

Victor now stood. "I am more than confident that you will exceed my expectations in every way...Are you ready to get to work?

Amanda nodded

Victor reached out his hand to politely assist her "Excellent. Let me escort you to the gallery..."