The flags snapped in the crisp autumn breeze and the pigeons fluttered.
"They hid the relics in a barrel of pork to get it past the guards," the old lady sitting on the park bench was explaining.
"Pork? What's that, Babushka?" asked the tall young woman, her honey hair lightly falling over her face.
"Oh! I guess you wouldn't remember, Lida. Well, see in the old days..." the old woman began.
Just then a teenager came crashing into the bench and was about to shimmy up the back on his hoverboard when Babushka froze him and he clattered to the pavement.
"Hey! Ima cage you!" he whined, clicking in futility. The cage was already dematerializing.
The kid reached out and right-clicked on the Basilica, then re-rezzed it out on the square, sending tourists scuttling.
"Rude little monster," said Babushka, grabbing the second Basilica.
"Hey!" whined the kid. "Where's my build?"
"It's not yours to copy, and it's not for sale," warned Babushka.
"Fail," said the boy. "Ima copybot it..."
Instantly, a giant robot appeared at his elbow.
"You name is D5vid Lame. You reside at 2010 Sepulveda Blvd. New City, SQ. Your Citizen Number is 4398747. You completed 13 grades but failed Chemistry, Literature and Gym and now you are enrolled at Woodbury Connectivity. You had pizza for breakfast and reached 78 percent of your daily carbohydrates but have reached only 27 percent of today's vitamins. You are 5 ft 4 inches and 128 pounds. General health: average. HIV status:..."
"Stop!" cried the youth.
Babushka had already flicked the bot off the server.
"I don't like those things," she said. "I'm going to do it my way."
"We don't copy here," she explained.
"People make a living -- we have an economy," added Lida. "How much for the raven, Babushka?"
"RMB 40," said Babushka. Lida right-clicked and paid the old woman and quickly rezzed the pet on her shoulder.
"You were going to write a poem with the word 'aura,'" began the bird.
"What rhymes with 'aura'?" Lida asked the creature.
"Think about it," said the bird cryptically.
"See, it's worthless!" cried the youth.
"Erm, 'ignore ya'?" put in Babushka. "I have him set on 'challenge' for Lida."
The teen was already right clicking and putting a copy of the bird on his shoulder.
"Tell me the combination to win the Zynga on..." the boy started.
The bird had already fallen over dead on the pavement.
"They only live if the UUID matches her data base and is linked to a payment event," explained Lida.
"Your friend Sarah has logged on in New York at the Chelsea Hotel, 23,107,42," the bird was chirping.
"Unclick the 'friend notifications' box or you will go crazy with him," advised Babushka.
The dead bird was turning pale and transparent.
"I bet I could get him working," the boy continued stubbornly. "Say, how did you get 40 RMB, anyway?!"
"I worked," said Lida.
Suddenly they were looking up at a sphynx. The sky was bright above a gleaming river.
"Leningrad," said Babushka. "Er, I mean St. Petersburg."
"How did we get here? I didn't see a portal," whined the boy.
"Loki's Loci," said Lida. "You don't have to teleport to a sim. It comes to you, if you want, and rezzes above yours."
"We don't have that yet...But it won't be contiguous," sniffed the kid.
"Wanna bet?" Lida had already skated a block away. The boy scrambled after on his hover board, scraping along the wall.
"You don't have it...because you don't have Loki!" cried the old woman after the pair.
"The region you have entered is running a different simulator version," said the message.
"No bumps. Hmmm...." marveled the boy.
"They solved the sim seam problem in 2015," explained Lida.
"Oh. Well they will fix it in OS too then," the boy said defensively.
"Maybe not. It's a tough job," warned Lida.
"Your poetry reading is in 30 minutes at Astor Place, 24, 207,32. Sarah is already there. 47 avatars are already on the sim..." said the raven.
"Income today," typed Lida in chat.
"RMB 400," the raven quoted.
"How did you get that much?" D5vid marvelled.
"I worked," said Lida. "I give readings and I sell my books. And people pay me."
"Meh," said D5vid, already right-clicking on the Sphinx.
"I'd be careful with that one if I were you," said Lida.
The boy's viewer crashed.
Five minutes later he was back. Lida had already skated back to the old woman. D5vid hovered back toward them, stopping respectfully before barging into the park bench.
"That's better," said the old woman.
D5vid clicked on the raven. "St. Mark's Square, Venice," he typed. His inventory was still loading and he couldn't find the landmark.
"The new church was burned in a rebellion in 976, rebuilt in 978, and finally to form the basis of the present basilica in 1063," the bird was telling him.
"Teleport," typed D5vid. "I want to go back there. Hey, it's not working."
"The succeeding centuries, especially the fourteenth, all contributed to its adornment, and seldom did a Venetian vessel return from the Orient without bringing a column, capitals, or friezes, taken from some ancient building, to add to the fabric of the basilica," continued the bird.
"You're likely banned for that copybot," said Lida.
"But you can see how it was made even in real life!" objected the boy. "They swiped a bunch of columns and stuff!"
"Even so, there's only one St. Mark's," said Babushka. "Anybody can swipe a bunch of columns. But can you make a Place?"
"I bet I could hack back into that sim," the boy began.
"Don't even try. It's harder than you think."
"Hmmm," the boy faltered. "How could I get some RMBs?"
"You work," said Lida. "Like I told you."
"OK, where can I get a job?" he asked.
"Newb," sighed Lida.
"I can give you a job cleaning up prims on the old grid," said Babushka.
"Prims!" scoffed D5vid. "That's for losers!"
"Or people who want to make a little cash," Babushka replied firmly.
"Do you want a pet like mine or not?" asked Lida. "Plus, if you become friends with Babushka, she will tell you about Original Grid -- not even the pets know about that. And she might give you a present from the Beta."
The kid was opening up another copy of Lida's raven, this time having laid it out on the pavement, and was staring at the contents in edit mode.
The raven turned white and began to fade.
"I can't get at it," fumed D5vid.
A porcelain bowl appeared above the river.
"My ride's here," said Babushka. "We'll have to teleport to this one. Coming?"
Lida hopped in. A pestle was already rezzing.
"I dunno," the youth said, feigning indifference.
"Your job at Mike's Pizza is starting in 27 minutes. You are already late because the M16 requires 29 minutes travel time. Log-off, log-off," chirped the raven.
"Why not have something a little more healthy for dinner, you're only at 27 percent," suggested Lida.
D5vid blushed in real life, and his avatar's face turned red.
"I have to go work the gamerz' pizza channel," sighed D5vid.
"Why can't you go online?" wondered Lida.
"I have to pack boxes in real life," confessed D5vid.
"I can pay you 3 RMB today if you finish my prims," said Babushka. D5vid stood with his arm outstretched.
A copy of the Basilica appeared over the Neva, then was gone. The dead bird was already missing.
Lida smiled enigmatically.
"Well...," said D5vid. The old woman was already stirring her pestle.
The last thing he saw before she whooshed away was her friendship card coming toward him.
D5vid stood for a moment, staring down at the Sphynx. Then he clicked "YES".