Chapter 9.19 – Marshal

From the diary of Moira McAllister
I write this in the earliest hours of daylight, having woken up from another restless sleep.
 chap9-19g
All I think about now is the algorithm, which stubbornly refuses to be silent in my head. At first, I assumed it had originated from deep within my own mind, and was attempting to emerge through my subconscious and into the forefront of my thoughts. But recently, I’ve come to suspect otherwise. Just as my parents were physical expressions of the intangible concept of Love; this algorithm …this equation… it may be alive. Do I possess some manner of latent empathy through which am being essayed? It is communicating with me, but I don’t understand what it wants. It is impossible to ignore. But how do I begin to solve the unsolvable?
 chap9-19j
Employing skills I still do not fully understand, I have succeeded in assembling a wee, little contraption to assist me in this endeavor. I dare not claim any credit for creating such a thing. While necessary, my role in bringing about its existence was tiny. Like a farmer does for his crop, I provided the conditions necessary for the thing to thrive. More catalyst than creator; more paint than artist. It hardly matters now, as I have released the little wonder to do its work in solving the algorithm.
 chap9-19i
For now, I feel good about the accomplishment. Yet, there is still some part of me that fears what consequences might occur, should some unwholesome character gain access to it. All I can do now is pray this was the right thing to do. In the meantime, I continue to also pray for insight into what happened to my parents. By revealing the secrets locked within the algorithm, I hope to finally learn the ending to their amazing love story.
chap5rule
 chap9-19h
Moira closes her diary and breathes a depressed sigh. Like the many past and future circumstances into which she has had some uncanny, prophetic insight, Moira does not fully comprehend the meaning behind an intuitive notion suggesting she has just written its final entry.
 chap9-19z
She stares out the window and watches the rhythmic motion of Finn’s old rocking chair. She remembers the days when she fit neatly in the crook of his arm; and when that same rocking motion would lull her to sleep. She was not an unhappy child, exactly. Nor was she overly delightful. It has been a rather subdued melancholy. Though at the same time, it colors every aspect of her persona, which Malachi often describes as “silly”, “aloof”, and “brooding”. Still, it is deeply rooted, and it emerges at the most unexpected times. Now, actually, is one such occasion.
 chap9-19aa
Neither Finn or Malachi has ever spoken a single word about Kacey or Adam. All these years, they have lied to her; telling her she is Malachi’s daughter by his late wife, Fiona. And all these years, she has lied to them, never once telling them what she knows about the two angelic beings Malachi had found – and her knowledge that she is, in fact, their child. But she is not a child any longer.
chap9-19q
Today, she decides, is the time to put an end to the lies. Finn regards her with the same warm smile with which he always greets her. But upon sensing Moira’s resolve, it takes only one moment for the expression to change.
 chap9-19p
A range of emotions plays across his face. He struggles briefly to maintain the facade. But his animated expressions betray any attempted subtlety. Or, perhaps, he has just become weary of the deception. His rocking motion becomes a little bit quicker, as his lips purse into an unhappy frown. The sudden loss of color from Finn’s face, and the appearance of a gaunt expression, causes Moira’s heart to flutter. Hesitant to make eye contact with her, Finn quietly (and correctly) guesses that she has come to ask about her parents. She catches her breath, and manages to choke out the word, yes, despite her larynx threatening to close from anxiety.
 chap9-19r
Finn’s eyes, which had hardly ever shown anything but happiness and joy, begin to cloud over with tears. Finn starts to speak in a low, expressionless drone, which evokes a sense of the old sim having practiced this dialog many times in his mind. The words have barely left his lips when Moira is assailed with agitated flashes of past events. Each one of the disconnected and surreal situations fights against her, battling to remain hidden. She struggles with each one, forcing her will, and working to pull out as much detail as she can before it breaks free of her grasp.
chap5rule
 chap9-19a
Old Finn had found a nugget of gold worth thousands of coin; more than a year’s crop of potatoes would ever yield. Since then, Malachi has staked a mining claim to the entire hill and started working to find more. He’d worked together with Adam for hours, clearing rocks from the opening of a natural cave in the rocky hillside. Malachi shakes his head in wonderment, as he watches Adam continue to work under the blazing, hot sun. He has easily done the work of ten men today.
 chap9-19b
Signaling Adam to stop working and collect his gear for the day, Malachi thinks back to the evening he had found the young man and his wife. The circumstances were very suspicious, if not bizarre. They’d been terribly mauled, and by all rights, should have already been dead. Malachi would have bet every coin he possessed that they would not survive through the night. But they did survive. And not only did they survive, but had they healed with no visible trace of the grievous wounds they’d suffered. Impossible? …Aye. But he has never worked up the disposition to ask what happened to them or where they came from. And they’ve never volunteered any information regarding their appearance. Perhaps old Finn was right about them, after all…
 chap9-19c
 chap9-19d
Adam jogs easily beside Shena, as though he had just woken up from a fresh night’s sleep. This, after working non-stop for no fewer than twelve hours. Upon arriving back at the cabin, he greets his wife and baby Moria with warm embraces. Kacey, now very heavy with a second child, returns his affection. After a bit of small talk, Kacey speaks to the matter of a telegram that had been delivered earlier in the day. Malachi opens the message and reads it out loud.
 chap9-19e
It had been sent by a distant friend of Finn’s from the Old Country, who now works for the federal government back east. Aside from a short greeting, the only other contents of the wire is a peculiar presage. A Federal Marshall, going by the name Hendrake, would be arriving in Sunset Valley by the end of the week to investigate Malachi’s mining claim. Although the text itself had contained nothing to suggest any malevolence,  just the simple presence of the letter seems to evoke a sense of dread.
 chap9-19f
If this visit from a Federal Marshall was simply an investigation into his mineral extraction rights to the hill, then why send a provocative warning? Caught up in his own feelings of uneasiness,  Malachi fails to notice the stunned and fearful expressions washing across the faces of both Adam and Kacey. Finn, however, does notice; and the only words he can think of to describe their reaction, is nothing short of pure, terrified, panic. 
chap5rule
 chap9-19x
The sound of Finn’s troubled voice eases her back into the lucid present. He is in the midst of verbalizing his recollection of sitting with Moira in the bedroom later that same evening, rocking her to sleep. She was, at the time, only just a baby. She had always been a fussy child, possessing a wail so shrill, that it may have been able to unsettle the dead. But she had taken a liking to old Finn, and seemed content in his company. And much to Kacey’s dismay, Moira would only sleep when Finn was rocking her in the bedroom.
 chap9-19t
Finn’s old voice quivers from the strain of revisiting these unwelcome memories. His words, shallow and weak, leave Moira feeling sick to her stomach. He regards Moira with as deep a sorrow as she had seen befall any sim. They wanted to take her with them… But it was Kacey, wanting to protect her first-born, who decided that it would be safer to leave baby Moira with Finn until Hendrake had gone. The old man’s entire body shudders from a memory he refuses to speak. After a moment, his tired, sober eyes meet hers. The words that leave his lips cause Moira to cringe. She was right.
 chap9-19u
The marshal arrived shortly after Adam and Kacey fled into the night that same evening. An unusually hot, dry wind had accompanied Hendrake’s arrival, which was a full week earlier than expected. Somehow, they had known…
 chap9-19v
Peeking at the Marshall through the bedroom’s keyhole, Finn understood what had provoked such terror. Marshall Hendrake was not human. Finn describes the sense of dread and bleakness he had felt from just being within close proximity to such a creature. That’s when everything fell into place for Finn. This creature had nearly killed Adam and Kacey, but they had somehow escaped. The beast, unwilling to lose its prey, had tracked them down. And it was eager to finish the job. Instinct alone (or perhaps it was his deeply rooted faith) had warned Finn to keep both himself and Moira silent. It would easily recognize the golden-haired, angelic child for what she truly was. And child or not, Moira was in grave danger.
 chap9-19w
Over the booming of his own heartbeat, Finn could hear muffled voices through the door. The creature had convinced Malachi that Adam and Kacey were criminals. The government was offering a permanent land trust within Sunset Valley as reward for capturing the “fugitives”. Malachi had not been able to see through the Marshall’s guise. So, in the pitch of night, Malachi led Hendrake and his contingent to the mine, where Adam and Kacey had taken refuge.
 chap9-19s
After a long quiet spell, Finn, now clearly exhausted, completes his telling with a hushed whisper. Malachi did not return until morning. And even then, he was too traumatized to speak about what he had witnessed at the cave. In his hand was the payment Hendrake had promised for his obedience; a deed administering full and permanent ownership rights to all land claims within Sunset Valley. As to the fate of both Kacey and Adam, Malachi has kept his account of what transpired that night, staunchly to himself.
 chap9-19n
 chap9-19o
Having unloaded his burden, and with nothing more to tell, Finn finds his usual rocking rhythm and begins to quietly hum the Irish lullaby he’d always hummed while rocking Moira to sleep. He had seen too much unhappiness over his lifetime, and Moira does her part to ease his broken heart. With tears still fresh in her eyes, she kisses the tired, old man lightly on his cheek, and expresses her gratitude and love. Then, filled with a surplus of nervous energy, Moira runs through the tall grass toward the cave …and Malachi. She looks back once, and understands that this is the last time she will see her dear, old Finn.
 chap9-19y
Afraid but determined, Moira continues on her path, unsure of how the day will end – but certain that it will end with her finally learning the truth.
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