Chapter 8.17 – Choire

“The hand which strikes also blocks” – Wing Chun
Take the fight to the enemy.
The strategy is a timeless one. Having always been a sim of action before diplomacy, Luke finds that it suits his personality well. Before yesterday, He had not even been aware there was another enemy to contend with. He sensed the urgency behind Anna’s question about believing in ghosts, and knew immediately that what had started off as a simple apology earlier in the day, has now evolved into something much larger and significantly more dangerous. Convincing Anna to show him where she’d first encountered the ghost was suprisingly easy, considering the legal hot-water they’d both land in if they were to be caught in a secure area of the base without orders.
 
Luke had suspected that showing a lack of skepticism and doubt probably wouldn’t have sit very well with Anna. After all, how does a sim go about telling another sim that he’s been talking to ghosts his entire life? The simple answer is, he doesn’t. The honest truth is that Luke was actually far more disturbed by Anna’s casual, almost conversational tone when talking about her recreational drug use. Evidently, he hadn’t done a very good job hiding his agitation about the blithe manner in which she spoke about her habit. Unimpressed with his prudence, Anna reluctantly changed the subject again. She continued on about the ghost, explaining how at first she thought the sightings were caused by a bad reaction to some stuff she had acquired from a squirrely dealer.
 
Being the most skilled mechanic on base comes with the perk of enjoying unrestricted access to areas that few others know exist. Anna explained how she had been called to repair equipment inside a secretive underground lab on numerous occasions. This is where she had first seen the ghost in question; lurking among the scientists, who seemed oblivious to its presence. Anna felt that it would be wise to feign her own ignorance, given the feeling of dread the spirit provoked in her.
 
It wasn’t until she was called into the commander’s office to address a formal reprimand for missing work, that she realized the spirit was, in fact, not a hallucination at all. The ghost was there, just a few feet away from her. Anna talked about the terror she felt, and how she contemplated a number of unplesant outcomes had the spirit seen her reaction. Fortunately, the ghost completely ignored her and continued to focus on the commanding officer. As chilling as it was to see the angry spirit, she was frightened most by the orders she could hear it barking out incessantly to the commander.
 
She was able to hear the viscous orders in her mind, while the commander wearily went over the paperwork for her reprimand. The ghost was using very vivid and gory imagery to describe how the commander should deal with her insubordination. But even more frightening than that, were the unsettling instructions she overheard it telling the commander, regarding how to stage an accident at the base where Luke would be killed. Anna had not intended to divulge this information. But when she heard his offer to help, it just came spilling out.
 
Anna escorts Luke through the security barriers and checkpoints leading to places deep below Sunset Valley. Having done it a hundred times before, there was no reason for security to question her. Luke had grabbed a poorly folded schematic for his motorcycle’s clutch assembly, and slung a tool belt over his shoulder. He allowed Anna to tug him along; his face stuck in the schematic, mumbling meaningless techno-babble. His charade was just plausible enough to get them both through without issue.
 
 —
 
Once past security, they emerge into the rough-hewn and cavernous tunnels leading deeper below ground. Soon after, Luke feels overcome by a deep sense of urgency, and decides that Anna needs to hear the truth. He stops, causing her to cock her head curiously. He rests his hand gently on her shoulder, then asks her to listen to what he as to say. It may sound crazy, so he asks her to let him finish everything he has to say before interrupting. Up until this point, Anna believed he was just playing along with some kind of game of hers. The deadly serious expression on his face, and the intense tone he uses when he tells her he believes everything she told him about the ghost, abruptly changes that assumption on her part.
 
He informs Anna there is a lot more going on than she might suspect, and the stakes are incredibly high. He explains how, as a child, he felt there was something calling to him from inside Fort Gnome. And to this day, he has been fixated on what that thing might be. Hearing her story has given him hope that this was what he has been waiting for. The problem is, he’s still not sure, exactly, what that thing is.
 
It is the algorithm, Luke. It is nearly complete. The voice is emotionless and factual, but still colored unmistakeably with a tone of imminent danger.
 
Deirdre Barimen was a genius almost without peer. Her twin sister, Claire, was the only other sim who could claim to equal her unmatched intelligence. It seemed as though nature had designed a failsafe feature to prevent their combined ability from belonging to a single sim; and split the twins at conception into two hemispheres. Deirdre possessed raw, mathematical genius and an acuity with all things mechanical. Claire, however, possessed an elusive, creative genius combined with a rare sense of empathy. As a scientist assigned to study the algorithm for the military, Deirdre did not understand (until it was too late) the immense scope of this particular equation.
 
Deirdre had made the job a personal challenge, and recruited Claire to help her unlock the secret of the algorithm. Even with their combined minds, nothing could have been accomplished without Moira McAllister’s diary; a thing their father had unwittingly uncovered inside the library archives during his youth. Together, they had learned Moira’s secret. And that is how they died – together, refusing to share their knowledge with a man who would destroy an entire reality to gain its power (See Chapter 4.5 – Roses).
 
Anna breathes nervously as the ghostly sisters approach. Luke comforts her and speaks. Drawing again upon the shared memories provided by the entity, he tells the sisters that he remembers how devastated and heartbroken Mark was over news of their deaths. The young women smile at the memory of their stubborn but lovable brother. Clarie quietly admits that she and her sister were angry at first. But they came to understand that they died protecting something much bigger than themselves. Her ghostly expression changes from that of a nurturing sister, to a worried mother. She warns Luke about Anna’s ghost. He may no longer be alive, but he has learned some tricks that should be guarded against.
 
Deirdre’s flat and emotionless tone replaces Claire’s sweet and melodic voice in Luke’s mind. Time is short and they’ve run out of options. The mechanism has to be stopped at any cost; including the sacrifice of his own life, if necessary. Luke nods and comprehends what Deirdre has communicated, but his attention has been drawn away from his distant relative. The entity’s deep and powerful voices have begun to sing again. And this time, he can almost hear them audibly. It is nearly time for the being to emerge from it’s inter-dimensional hiding place. But how?
 
Clarie cautiously approaches Anna, speaking softly and gently, like a mother would her injured child. You are the sum of your experiences, Anna. You would not be same the sim you are at this very moment, had you not brought Luke here today (or punched him in the mouth, for that matter). The same goes for each and every experience and decision from each and every day of your life. But also remember, that tomorrow has not happened yet. You may not be able to alter what has happened. But you can alter what is going to happen.
 
Luke quickly forges ahead, which finds Anna running to catch up. Scared and uncertain about their encounter with the twins, she demands that Luke stop and tell her what is going on. Luke quietly pulls her to the side and looks deep into her eyes, which, for some weird reason, he doesn’t remember being such an amazing hue of green. Luke redirects himself, then asks for her complete trust. Then he adds, that no matter what the outcome, failure is not an option. He came to finish whatever it is he is supposed to do. He promises to explain everything to her afterwards. If there is an afterwards.
 
They press onward together, into the tunnels, past unmanned checkpoints, and through open security doors. This is much farther than Anna has ventured into the complex, and she’s pretty much certain that neither one of them have clearance to be here. She is shaken and confused about the ghostly women. And to make matters worse, she is now hearing some kind of faint and distant sound, like a men’s church choir. Is she going crazy?
 
The tunnel opens abruptly into an immense cavern. Standing at the entrance, atop a shallow incline in the tunnel, is the ghost Anna had described. Luke says only one word in greeting – Buford.
 
Using his best passive-aggressive, condescending tone, General Jon Buford brags that even death cannot stop him from joyfully killng yet another Barimen. Unable to contain his urge to step on a few of the general’s ghostly toes, Luke observes how Mark did a pretty good job of making a fool out of him in that regard. And as for killing another Barimen, Luke is not particularly worried. Especially after failing to kill Mark with an entire quiver of cruise missiles. The general’s ghostly eyes narrow, and the cave seems to rumble in unison with his angry growl.
 
Anna, who had been tugging on Luke’s shirt, points to the cavern floor beyond the general. Luke takes another step into the cave, with his mouth hanging open in awe-filled wonder. This is it. This is what has been calling to him since childhood. Seemingly scrawled onto the stone floor, is a gigantic, circular, maze-like structure comprised entirely of symbols and numbers. The symbols glow in places as entire lines of numbers morph and change, updating other sections of numbers and symbols further down the equation. The algorithm spirals inward toward small, central section at the center of the “design”. There, Luke can see a small, dull, metallic object, about the size of a golf-ball, somehow etching symbols into the floor is it slowly rolls along some unseen track.
 
The voices of the entity have now come alive, singing some ancient song from antiquity. Luke trembles at the sound of it. It is a hundred booming baritones joined by a hundred trumpeting tenors, filling his mind with its majestic and otherworldly music. Without realizing he had done so, Luke has approached the structure and placed a tentative foot onto the beginning of the algorithm. There is a sense that the entity has somehow asserted itself, and Luke is not completely in control of his own body. He allows the entity to direct his actions, while listening to the breathtaking voices proclaiming their awe-inspiring hymn. It evokes emotion and reverence like none Luke has ever felt in his life. He would drop to his knees if the entity were not moving his legs; carefully placing steps along the algorithmic maze. The entity’s goal seems clear: stop the small device before it can complete the mind-bending equation.
 
Even if Anna had wanted to move to help Luke, she wouldn’t have been able to. She has been completely paralyzed with fear, invoked by the ghost Luke had addressed as Jon Buford. Anna knows her father was an evil man; there is no doubting that. But the pure malevolent hatred Jon Buford directs toward anything besides himself, sets him apart as a special kind of evil. The ghost has invaded Anna’s mind, plucking out the painful memories and showing them to her in merciless detail.
 
After more than an hour of this, he finally offers some reprieve. His voice sounds like broken glass in her mind, pressing its shards into her consciousness. He has shown her vivid accounts of her life’s most terrifying, depressing, and mistake-ridden events, and she had relived each agonizing moment. Buford promises that if she stops Luke right now, she can make those terrible memories all go away forever. She can rewrite history to whatever she wants it to be. She will become a goddess, and she will have the luxury of satisfying any desire she can imagine. All she has to do is stop Luke, then she will hold all of reality within the palm of her hand.
 
Anna has always enjoyed the heavy grip of solid gun metal in her hand. She’d been shooting since she was a young teen. It is the one memory of her father she actually enjoys. They would stand up cans in an old junk yard and shoot at them. Even then, she appreciated the deadly power she commanded with a pistol in hand. Buford barges into this memory and suggests that she might be able to kill her father right here; before he ever lays the first hand on her. All she has to do is pull the trigger.
 
Anna’s lip trembles, but she steadfastly refuses to let the first tear fall. In her mind’s eye, the pistol is pointed at her father, who is setting up the cans for another round. He calls her peanut, as he always did during those remarkable childhood days.
 
He sternly instructs her to remember her safety rules, and never lift a weapon when there is a sim down-range. He was such a good daddy back then. What happened? Buford snarls in her ear and barks out the command to shoot him.
 
After having traversed most of the way through the maze, Luke realizes that the entity is taking amazing care to step only where the symbols are scrawled onto the rock. And as they move closer to the small mechanism that has etched out the algorithm, some kind of unseen force seems to be attempting to push them back.
 
General Buford’s ghost has done something to Anna. Luke sees she is in distress, but is helpless to do anything about it. Buford is standing over her, barking out orders for her to shoot. Her service pistol is drawn and it is pointing directly at Luke.
 
If not for the entity protecting him, Luke is sure the power that surges through these symbols would have obliterated him in an instant. Luke can only assume that a misstep on the algorithm would be disastrous. The last thing he wants to do is interrupt its concentration. But all the same, being shot would probably yield the same results. Luke prepares to shout toward Anna, to remind her what Claire had told her, and to put the gun down. But when he opens his mouth, the sound that leaves his throat sings with the voices of the entity. It is a deafening but indescribably beautiful chorus that seems to speak not to the ears, but to the soul.
 
An uplifting, angelic chorus has burst through Buford’s attempt to confuse and subdue Anna. She has no idea where the voices are coming from, or whether they are real or just another mind trick. As far a she knows this could all be the product of some crazy dream or really bad drug-induced trip. In a way, she wishes it was. But she knows it’s not.
 
Anna’s hands shake uncontrollably as she continues to watch her father set up cans. Then a thought occurs to her. How long has Buford been haunting this base? She turns to face the spirit. Maybe her father was not always the monster she thought him to be. He had worked at Fort Gnome, probably right here in this very cave, for many years before stuff started happening. Then, soon after she became a teen, he just snapped. He eventually took his own life. Did Buford get into his head too, and twist him into some kind of sick freak? The ghost has been taunting the base commander like this for weeks. And now it’s doing it to her.
 
Horror, disgust, outrage, and grief all flood out at once. It was YOU!
 
Anna’s rage emerges and she lifts the pistol with a quick snap, and levels it at the ghost. She pulls the trigger, sending round after round harmlessly through the corrupt spirit. Buford roars at her in rage, as she empties the last rounds of ammunition into the cavern wall.
 
Shots had been fired inside the cave. Luke had been too focused on the movements of the entity to see what had happened. As they complete the final steps approaching the little ball, Luke sees Anna sitting on the floor, her knees pulled up to her face while she rocks back and forth, crying inconsolably. Luke approaches the small spherical mechanism busily etching out symbols into the cave floor. He is exhausted. Judging by the the comparatively tiny space remaining, Luke figures that they may have had no more than an hour remaining before the object completed it’s task.
 
He must finish the job.
Luke is strangely disappointed by the anticlimax after picking up the small device. In the same instant it loses contact with the ground, the entire algorithm silently unravels itself from the outside, inward. Military police burst into the cave just seconds before the last symbol fades from the floor. An intense light has now engulfed the area where the algorithm had stood. Before he is forced to shield his eyes, Luke is just barely able to see the guards pick up a limp Anna from the floor and escort her out of the cave.
 
He stands on the bluff next to a golden-haired, young girl who appears to have just barely entered into her teens. The girl’s thick, Irish brogue brings an unconscious smile to his face. She introduces herself as Moira MacAllister (and she has just turned fifteen years old, thank you very much).
 
Luke glances behind him and sees the old log cabin from his childhood visions, many years ago. Luke smirks and asks where they are. Moira smiles and winks, telling Luke that it doesn’t really matter where they are, because by the time she’s had the chance to tell him, they are really no longer there any more. She giggles, calling him Lukey’boy, then asks him if he understands. Luke chuckles at the odd girl and amends his question to ask her instead, what happened?
 
Moira smirks mischievously and regards Luke with a sparkle in her eye. Both the girl and her thick accent are unbearably cute, and it somewhat eases the impact of her words. You’ve just saved the universe, Lukey’boy.
 
She daintily takes the metallic ball from his hand, holds it up between her thumb and forefinger, and tsks. She calls it a naughty, little contraption, then laments ever thinking up the idea to create it. The problem is that she gets so bored talking to simple farm-folk who have absolutely no comprehension about these things. Not that there is anything wrong with simple farm-folk, mind you. Unfortunately, in her boredom, she sometimes does stuff without thinking properly through the consequences.
 
Attempting not to sound rude, but still convey his skepticism regarding her claim; Luke wonders if she is asking him to believe that she actually created a device responsible for scrawling a glowing, supernatural equation into solid rock. Moira holds out her hand. Wings unfold out of the surface of the metal ball, which completely reconstructs itself in the time it takes to blink. A butterfly emerges, as though coming out of it’s chrysalis, then flaps its wings and takes off into the hazy sky. Wearing a serious expression, Moira points out that things aren’t always what they seem to be.
 
Moira smiles, then thanks Luke for saving her “fair-skinned hide” from a very silly mistake. She’d love for him to stay and chat, but she has a beau coming to call and she wants to make herself presentable. Then, just on cue, Luke hears a man’s voice yelling Moira’s name from the the other side of the cabin. Moira fluffs her hair, rustles her skirt and nervously asks Luke how she looks; seemingly more distraught over her appearance than the idea that, allegedly, some cosmic disaster had just been averted.
 
Moira scolds herself silently, and apologizes to Luke. She can sense the carefully camouflaged pain he carries. His girlfriend must be an amazing woman to cause Luke so much suffering. Moira offers a worried smile and concedes that the faith and loyalty he has quietly sustained is admirable.
 
She takes his hand, then walks with him toward the tiny cabin. It comes as little surprise when he realizes that within the span of just a few footsteps, he is walking alone beside the estate. Moira’s unforgettable dialect carries across whatever distance he has just traveled.
 
Thank you Lukey’boy, for your bravery. I regret that I have nothing to offer in return for your effort, except maybe a small bit of advise. Love is a fickle thing, to be sure. You’ve struggled both with it and against it for a long time, dearie. And as such, it has become the one weakness your enemies will always seek exploit. Be on your guard, Lukey’boy. Preserving your own life, going forward, may prove to be much more challenging than fixing the careless mistakes of a silly, little girl.
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4 thoughts on “Chapter 8.17 – Choire

  1. Awesome chapter Zoxell! You have completely baffled me. That’s a good thing. With every chapter I am drawn in more and more. But armed guards carrying Anna’s limp form? Is it just because she was on the ground crying, or did they kill her? So Buford has been influencing military sims all this time? He makes me upset. And every time I think of Deidre and Claire, it makes me sad, that they had to die because of one selfish man’s stupidity. (even though in the game they originally just died of electricity or something)

    Can’t wait for future Barimen Legacy chapters

    Like

    • I was seriously bummed out when they got zapped by the EA Story Progression. It happened pretty much as soon as they moved out of the legacy home, too. Anna is still very much alive. I guess she had a mini mental-break after seeing ghosts, facing her past, and the whole algorithm thing…
      Thanks again for reading! I’m glad you’re enjoying it 🙂

      Like

  2. Anna looks different as a teen o_o more tanner. I love her struggle with Buford. And I can’t believe he came back…I thought it would be Reid. Moira is really nice and pretty X) and apprantly, a genius, making that thing she made. I’m still not sure what it was. A time traveling device? Did she create Kasey too? Hm..
    Aww, can’t wait to see which lady he chooses!

    Like

    • Buford is one seriously bad dude. I’m really glad you enjoyed the Anna/Buford bit. It was one of those posts I’ve been itching to write, and actually had a lot of it already written down in “Notepad” early-on, Heh!

      Like

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