Part 7 – choosing to press “Play”

An odd quiet befalls the house following Van’s amazing rescue at the diving buoy.

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Two distinct and disparate attitudes surrounding the event have emerged. They are as different as the sims who claim them. At one end of the emotional spectrum, Van has become morose and contemplative. He has been unable to stop thinking about the sim who died underwater, very likely in the same moments her colleague was being saved. As a lifeguard, there had never been a single drowning on his watch. Granted, this situation is different. But the idea continues to haunt him, despite having saved one sim’s life.

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The opposing perspective belongs to Van’s roommate, Skyler Gilscarbo. While it’s not surprising that the two have processed the same event very differently, there is something more peculiar about the way this confrontation with mortality has affected her. The concept of death is not at issue here. Though still very young, she had already lost friends to drugs and violent crime. The incident responsible for provoking this inner-conflict is the manner in which her roommate had so readily and selflessly flung himself toward death in a bid to save a complete stranger from it.

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Witnessing this act has caused a sort of  meditative self-assessment – something akin to a cognitive inventory of her mental stock room. In the first hours after the rescue, Skyler enjoyed an aspect of herself that she had no idea existed. It was a sense of peace unlike any she could remember. It had likely been there all along, just obscured by something more dominant. Now, as the days begin to pass, that peace is becoming clouded again. She is desperate not to lose it. Van is somehow responsible for uncovering it, but she doesn’t understand how or why.

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Van had suffered a badly torn tendon in his shoulder during the rescue. He’d been bruised all over from being flailed with scuba gear. He also received a long and deep gash on the back of his leg, running from the crook of his knee up to nearly his rump. It was likely caused by something on the scuba gear gouging into his leg as is sank to the sea floor. The hospital stitched him up without incident. Now, slightly more than a week later, the bruises have healed but his shoulder injury still prevents him from changing his own leg bandages.

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Skyler’s evening schedule at the warehouse usually finds her coming home in the earliest morning hours. She generally sleeps until mid-day. It is about that time when she wakes to she sound of Van yelping in the bathroom from a jolt of pain. She had warned him not to try changing the bandages by himself. He may be brave, but he is also stubborn to a fault. She leaps from bed and marches, still undressed, toward the bathroom. A sly smile plays across her lips as she catches him unaware, still not dressed after his shower. Van howls again, both in surprise and in pain from turning himself away from her too quickly.

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Seeing Van like this arouses two closely linked desires. The first, and most familiar to her, is the desire to forcefully satisfy an appetite that has been building since Van took her into his home. The other emotion is unfamiliar but not unknown. It is an unwelcome and violent urge to beat the living *expletive* out of him until he submits. It strikes her the same way a hammer strikes one’s thumb while carelessly driving a nail. A deep, churning repugnance overtakes both urges, causing her stomach to do acrobatics of the sort that usually ends in vomiting. The smile she was wearing vanishes and is replaced by a deep and disturbed frown.

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She will not self-destruct. Not again. This is as close as she will ever come to making herself right; of mending what is broken. Skyler takes a few, rapid, deep breaths then moves forward to help Van. For the first time in recent memory, she is uncomfortable with her own nakedness. She knows she is completely safe. Still, she has never felt more exposed and vulnerable. Skyler somehow manages to remain calm and appear serene despite her discomfort. She scolds him quietly for not listening but immediately regrets speaking at all. Her words become stuck in her throat and  are barely comprehensible. She works quickly to apply fresh bandages while doing her best to avoid any incidental physical contact. It is a deep and ugly gash, but it is healing well. She ignores his every protest and complaint during the procedure. Then, she says nothing more to him before retreating hastily back to the bedroom. She pulls on a night-shirt then hides under covers in bed, burying her face in the pillow to explosively release her stifled turmoil.

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Every guy and most girls she’d ever known wanted her body but not her baggage. Typical for Van to be the total opposite. She knew he’d come, but she still isn’t ready for him when he does. Skyler feels him resting tentatively on the bed next to her. She’s not the crying type, so she works hard to collect herself. The attempt is partially successful by the time he pulls the cover from over her head. His words are gentle and reassuring. Nothing fancy. He simply asks if she wants to talk about it. The only sound that escapes from her throat before a wave of grief assumes control is a barely audible, I’m sorry.

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He sits with her and says nothing. He just strokes her hair while she cries. It’s a good, cleansing cry. And it lasts for a long time before it finally stops. When it does, she sits up to face him, helping him to adjust and ease the discomfort from his injuries. She tells him flatly that she has never known anybody like him. She assumed she could force her way past his insecurity about …sex. Skyler prevents herself using a favorite vulgarity to describe something that should be beautiful. Before now, she thought he was being ultra-uptight about it. She figured he just needed more… exposure to loosen up and let it happen. She was wrong. She just now finally comprehends why.

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She remains quiet for a long time, dreading what might happen if she sheds light on the darkest recess of her psyche. It fights her to the point of near hyperventilation. Again, his words are strong, confident, and simple – tell me. It fights with her for a moment longer, but Van takes her hand and squeezes it gently, urging her to let it go.

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She’d been an extremely happy kid for the most part. Her parents were great sims with a lot of friends. Their only flaw was that they were very lenient about most things. They were the kind of parents who never said “no”. Skyler had begged them for a smart phone for her birthday because all the other kids had one. It was an easy win. She got “the talk” about what she could and couldn’t do on the phone. But she was just a kid and really didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

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She’d had the phone for about a year when she was invited to spend the night at a friend’s house for a sleepover. Her friend’s older sister had a couple screws loose. She was either insane,  just plain evil, or maybe a little of both. She remembers how the sister made a point of trying to ruin the sleepover from the moment it began. She was annoying but mostly harmless. At some point during the night, however, she’d grabbed Skyler’s phone and loaded a “bad” video onto it. Maybe it was just to get Skyler in trouble. Maybe it wasn’t.

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Syler’s eyes fill with tears and her face contorts to match emotions from the painful memory. She clearly remembers the decision to press “Play” rather than “Close”. Skyler is almost unable to speak between sobs but continues anyway. Within the span of ten minutes, the contents of that video had ripped away both her childhood and her innocence. Before that moment, her idea of love had been defined in terms of the prince saving the princess from a fire-breathing dragon. There are no words to describe her mental state after the video ended. She thinks she remembers throwing up. It was crushing. It was horrifying. It rewired her brain and changed the way she looked at and thought about sims.

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She kept this a secret but also kept going back for more “bad” videos. Only, they didn’t seem so bad after awhile. She hated them but did not want to stop. It affected every aspect of her personality. She eventually grew into an angry teen without any real understanding of why she was so angry. Her body and her libido had finally developed to a point where she wanted to try the things she saw. She doesn’t even remember the first time. What she does remember is wondering why the anger didn’t go away. She went into full freak mode after becoming an adult; sleeping with dozens of men and women. Never once had any of them told her “no”, the way Van had.

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The night Omar forced their meeting, she had seen Van as little more than another potential way to feed her demon. He was no different than anybody else. Later, she’d come to  associate his hesitance with weakness and a pitiful lack of self-confidence. Everything changed after witnessing Van risk his own life. Without so much as a breath of  hesitation, he ignored his own safety to rescue another sim from drowning. The words “weak” and “pitiful” are not used to describe a man capable of doing what he did. His selfless display was the catalyst for bringing her anger forward and into the light.

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She describes her first thought upon seeing him this morning. She was determined to break down that wall, no matter what the cost. He is, without dispute, the most attractive man she has ever known. She was going to MAKE him into one of those guys from the videos. It was the expression on his face as she burst into the bathroom that sparked the memory. Pain and betrayal – the same things she felt that night as a child. With the flip of a switch, Skyler no longer saw weakness. He had demonstrated incredible strength; enough to endure the trials she has put him through.

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Her anger finally makes sense. She is angry at herself for wrecking her own childhood; which was stolen from her by an unseen, pixelated thief. She screams out in defiance for her stolen innocence by robbing it, in small portions, from others. She lies because her childhood was a lie; because love was a lie; because her whole *expletive* life has become one, big  *expletive* lie. Why? Because it’s all she can do to conceal the shame she feels for choosing to press “play”. Skyler smiles a teary smile of admiration toward Van. Now that she understands it, she can finally begin to make peace with it.

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She moves in close to hug him, resting her head on his chest. After awhile, she breathes a heavy sigh, asking if he still loves Benita. Van stiffens but continues to embrace Skyler.

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Benita has her own issues to confront. Before the big resorts moved in, The Gonçalves family worked a small coffee plantation that had been passed down through the generations. Legal documents proving ownership were non-existent. This was neither unique nor unusual. In fact, may of the island’s native residents owned their own generational plots of land, but few possessed or needed proof. It was simply understood. When real estate developers discovered and exploited this legal opportunity, it turned into a feeding frenzy. The locals received nothing. That was about thirty years ago, a few years before he was born… Van hesitates, hanging on the last word as a stray thought enters his mind. He was born from a woman he does not know. It was always just Mitch and Wade. He ponders to himself, silently – how well would motherhood suit Skyler? The interruption causes Van to lose his train of thought.

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In response to her question about Benita – “love” is a very malleable thing. Romantic love is only one facet. He and Benita had approached it but never crossed into it. Love shared between friends who care deeply about each other is entirely different but equally important. At the moment, it is the only facet of love he cares about. Skyler breathes a very deep and controlled breath, then smiles a sad half-smile. She playfully informs Van that the next time she sees this Benita, she’s giving the woman exactly fifteen minutes to kiss and make nice with him. Anything past that, all her prior claims are forfeit. Van laughs, feigning defiance, then asks whether he has any voice in the matter. She leans back and casts her gaze upward toward Van. Her eyes, though tired and weary, still manage to convey a deep and smoldering intensity, None whatsoever.

Part 6 – finished with heroics

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Governor Alfonzo Taxmoore, Esquire considers himself to be a patient man. Redirecting his newly hired assistant has provided plenty opportunity for him to explore whether or not this assertation holds true.

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He had met the young woman while visiting Isla Paradiso on a fundraising engagement. She was his masseuse at the spa and he became immediately and completely enthralled with the young and beautiful island girl; to the point where he required her services on his personal staff. He was unprepared for her sharp wit and strong will, however. It became evident rather quickly that her skills could be leveraged for more than just physical therapy. She may require some polish and grooming before hitting the campaign trail. But if she’s willing to cooperate and play the game by his rules, she’ll go very far under his political tutelage.

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The situation on Isla Paradiso has become ripe for a massive progressive push. A number of his contemporaries have already scored great successes mobilizing the island’s youth toward social reformation. Political reform will require a more delicate touch, however. Many of the locals are resentful. This is where his skill set is best put to use. Resentment can be a very powerful weapon if wielded properly and directed toward strategically vulnerable targets. Right now, the Isla Paradiso church is what stands between him and his political goals. Its teachings are incompatible with his modernist vision of a perfect Sim Nation and its influence must, therefore, be dismantled.

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He needs a new church on the island. One that does not marginalize its residents by worshiping ancient, white men or perpetuating the privilege enjoyed by their modern counterparts. Instead, they must focus on celebrating the power of self-determination. They must be taught to take what is owed to them. It is his responsibility to secure the emancipation of the people from their shackles of doctrine. The new church’s message must be clear, progressive, empowering, and overwhelmingly positive; actual faith notwithstanding. If all goes well (and it will), his new assistant will become key in making his vision a reality.

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For once, Van is thankful for the cheap plumbing installed in his bathroom. Taking cold showers is never enjoyable, but he finds it to be a much-needed distraction away from Skyler. She had crawled into his bed very early this morning. He woke up to find her in a freakishly deep sleep, completely undressed, and cuddling closely. He thought for sure that removing himself from her vice-grip would have awoken her, but she didn’t miss a snore.

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There are times, like this morning when Van feels the arrangement with Skyler just isn’t working out. He’s asked her repeatedly to wear clothes if she wants to sleep in his bed. It’s typically a roll of the dice with that issue. Some mornings she’s wearing night clothes, other mornings she’s wearing nothing at all.  His biggest complaint is that she’s somehow unable to speak more than two sentences without resorting to some kind of crude vulgarity. He’s as warm-blooded as any young guy, and she’s as gorgeous as any woman he’d ever seen. But Skyler’s filthy language and raunchy demeanor is a complete turn off for him. In a sense, she’s the antipodal Benita.

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To confuse the issue, there is a contrasting aspect of her personality he really enjoys having around. She is prone to random and unexpected fits of generosity and kindness. They always happen at the right times, forcing him to look past her flaws. Inexplicably, he discovers one such instance while looking into breakfast. When Van went to bed last night, there was nothing in the house to eat except some dry, overcooked fish. Not looking forward to it, but needing to eat nonetheless, he enters the kitchen to find that Skyler had brought home groceries. She had also taken the time to prepare pancakes for him. She set aside a plate, flowers, and a note thanking him again for trusting her. Van smiles, shaking his head in bewilderment, then breathes an exasperated sigh. He’s always loved pancakes.

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More than two weeks has passed since the night Benita broke off their relationship without so much as a text message to communicate how she’s been doing. She had called her family to let them know she was safe and working hard as an administrative assistant for some big-shot politician on the mainland. These past two weeks, plus the time she was working two jobs here on the island, add up to more than a month since the last time he actually spent time with her. Van sits on the beach a few steps away from the back of the house, enjoying the warmth of the mid-morning sun while eating Skyler’s pancakes.

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He sits alone for an hour or so before he sees movement out of the corner of his eye. It’s Skyler walking through the back door. He turns his head, shielding his eyes from the afternoon sun. Thankfully, she had put pajamas on before coming outside. One of her more admirable qualities is the confident manner in which she always carries herself. She is very deliberate in everything she does and says. It’s a fine quality to possess, providing one is content with sims only seeing what one chooses to project.

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Over these past weeks, it has become very obvious to Van that he does not fit many of the assumptions she had formed governing guys his age. He can see it makes her a little bit crazy. And  he’s okay with that. She sits next to Van smiling her “up to no good” smile. Van has learned a strategy for navigating through conversations to avoid them ending in frustration. Most important is to avoid asking her personal questions, especially difficult and probing questions. That, and let her lead the discussion. After a moment, he smiles and thanks her for the pancakes. They were perfect. Skyler stares at him for a long time, wearing the expression of a woman who has locked her keys in the car.

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She utters a short, exasperated grunt. Speaking to herself, she comments that after two weeks of trying every way she can think to *expletive* him silly, he finally decides to compliment her perfect *expletive* pancakes.

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Van’s smile disappears instantly, and his good mood shifts. She presses her lips together in frustration then casts her gaze to the ground, but stops short of apologizing. Her recovery is as smooth as silk. She concedes that she finds him to be a puzzle she just can’t seem to figure out. There are a few exceptions, however. Discovering his favorite food was really pretty simple.

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Skyler stands up and offers her hand to Van. She tells him she has a surprise that doesn’t involve reproductive organs. Van smirks in appreciation of her effort. He follows her to the kitchen, then to the end table by the front door. There is an envelope sitting on it. She wanted to wait for him to discover it, but she knows how serious the money situation is. Before he is able to move forward to collect the envelope, she steps in front of him, informing him that it will cost him a kiss.

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Van smiles and rolls his eyes, thinking she is playing another game with him. The determined look in her eyes says differently. She is serious. Van silently searches her eyes while wearing an unreadable expression. She whispers that she hasn’t decided whether his hanging on to Benita is sad and desperate, or whether she’d given him reason enough to stay this strong and faithful to her. Either way, it’s just a kiss and she wants to give him something else to think about. Van reaches his hand to touch the side of Skyler’s face. He begins to explain why he won’t kiss her but chooses to say nothing. He weighs the two scenarios she presented. The problem is that he doesn’t know which to believe, either. While distracted in thought and before he has a chance to react,  Skyler leans into him and takes the initiative.

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Van loses track of time as he becomes drawn into what can only be described as a truly amazing kiss. There is no one thing he can point to that would qualify it as such. The softness of her lips, the way their breathing synchronizes to maximize contact, the smell of her hair… too many other factors to mention, but every one of them perfect. When they do finally step away from each other after two or maybe three minutes, there is a long delay as they both recover enough to speak. Skyler does so first, purring softly that she would have been happy with just a kiss but she’ll gladly take another of whatever that was.

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Clearly flustered and extremely worked up, Skyler shoves the envelope at him, explaining that she has been working nights at the warehouse. The money she’s earned should be enough for him to cover her rent for the next few weeks. In the same breath, she slinks closer to him then caresses his bare chest, telling him that they had better get out of the house and do something exciting before she  beats him down and *expletives* him into next week… and then some.

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The old, beat-up, windsurfers hadn’t seen action since Van was a teen. Diving had become more his thing. They were both in surprisingly good working condition for having been stored under the house’s crawlspace for a few years. This is a good thing. Because without the distraction, there would have been no stopping Skyler, who has been on the prowl again. The situation is already dicey enough as it is, he doesn’t need another complication.

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A strong headwind generated from a nearby storm provides plenty of speed, not to mention a good coastal chop. The conditions provide exactly the kind of excitement needed to dispell their lunchtime kiss. After a couple hours, they meet about a half-mile out near a diving buoy where a small boat is anchored, but missing it’s diver down flag. Maneuvering themselves near the boat, they come together straddling their boards and using each other for balance to ride out the larger swells. She eyes him suspiciously after one wave launches her nearly into his lap. If this is is his idea of some kind of joke, it isn’t very *expletive* funny. Van apologizes quickly, then points out the diving boat missing its flag and radio.

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Skyler shakes her head and rolls her eyes, reminding him that NOBODY follows every, single, *expletive* rule, adding that he’s just about the most *expletive* uptight sim she knows. Ignoring the jab, he counters that some rules exist to keep sims alive. The sim who owns this boat is either ignorant or suicidal. Skyler scoffs defiantly with a flash of anger in her eyes. She asks if he’s just going to sit here and wait so he can lecture the poor *expletive* about the proper rules for diving.

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Using Van for leverage, she stands on her board and takes the sail. If that’s the plan, then he can do it alone. She ignores his appeal to wait which forces him to follow.  Van takes up his board and catches up with her quickly. When a mood like this strikes, there’s little point in rationalizing with her. The best thing to do is just ride it out. They were having such a good time, too.

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His head snaps almost completely around when he hears a gasp for air followed by a muffled scream. A submerged scuba diver has surfaced but is in trouble. The sim’s head resurfaces again, followed by frantically waving arms. Van shouts toward Skyler, “They’re drowning!”  He then dives gracefully off of the rear of his board, which is still traveling in the opposite direction.

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Skyler navigates her windsurfer into an 180-degree arc, completely in awe of the man she had been nearly ready to discard only a few seconds ago. She has never seen anybody swim with such skill. He moves like a bullet shot underwater.  Van intercepts the struggling sim then attempts to achieve a rescue hold while swimming toward the boat.  But the other sim is far too panicked. Between the weight of the scuba gear and the wild flailing of death throes, they both go under together before Skyler has finished turning her windsurfer around.

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She whimpers, “oh, god, no…” in helpless protest.

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They have been under water no less than thirty seconds when she finally succeeds in her fight against the wind, arriving where Van had gone under. The sound of her own breathing has never been so deafening. She cannot see anything through the choppy waves. Skyler is nearly  hysterical, looking around for anybody who can help. She huddles close to her board, trying to keep it steady against the battling winds. Her mind wanders back to the last words she had said to him. Blinded by some childish notion of indignation, she found it necessary to curse at him, “you can do it alone!”  What the *expletive* was she thinking? What is so *expletive* unbearable about Van being the most decent human being she has ever known? About him being so completely *expletive*  faithful to his ex? About actually daring to possess …integrity?

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It all happened so quickly. If she had only listened …and waited. Skyler closes her eyes then moans in quiet despair. Van was the only thing she had left

it’s just a simple leap from her board, and…

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He emerges on the port side of the small boat anchored nearby, gasping violently for air and grabbing onto the landing with is right arm. His left arm is still fully submerged. Van had somehow removed the diver’s gear and managed to slip the flippers onto his own feet.  Groaning loud and fiercely, Van exerts monumental effort hefting the unconscious diver out of the water using only his left arm.

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After what feels like an eternity, Skyler and Van move the unconscious man to the bottom of the boat . Although completely exhausted, Van continues tending to the stranger. The man has started shivering despite wearing a wetsuit. Van feels weird as well. He had pushed himself far past his physical limits. Regardless, he ignores his own discomfort asks the man where he hurts. Through gritted teeth, the stranger manages to say the word,  everywhere. This guy came up too fast and gave himself the bends. Van is sure of it. As he turns to talk to Skyler, the man groans again, then says the name Linda, followed by,  still down. Van’s eyes widen when he makes the connection that there is another scuba diver down.

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Before Van can move toward the edge of the boat, Skyler shrieks loudly. A thick stream of blood is flowing unabated down the back of Van’s leg. Holding him steady, Skyler suggests that he’s finished with heroics for today.  It is more a command than a suggestion and Van is in no position to argue. He has already started to feel light-headed. And worse, he cannot feel his left leg. Skyler cautiously inspects the damage. Working to control her gag reflex, she quietly retches before looking away.Skyler informs Van that it’s bad. They cannot wait for the other scuba diver. He’ll bleed out unless they get to a hospital. Now.

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Van tries to clear his head. This guy had been flailing around in a panic and gave Van a real beating. He tries to think what could have caused this kind of wound. But everything is a blur. There is one thing he does remember clearly. Before dumping this guy’s gear, he had had seen that both the main and reserve tanks were completely depleted.

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One thing is certain. If this man and his colleague had gone down together, then she is already dead.

Part 5 – no such thing

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Van exhales with a long, exaggerated breath then rubs his tired eyes. Frustration had set almost immediately after attempting to learn how to write computer code at the library.

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Skyler passed along a bit of information she’d heard regarding tech companies from the mainland outsourcing much of their computer coding offshore. Van figured he had as good a chance as anybody landing a job. His outlook changed shortly after seeing what the work actually looked like. It wasn’t even simlish – just a bunch of weird symbols and squiggly lines. With the exception of the occasional actual word, like “if” or “new”, he couldn’t understand any of it.

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Van switches off the computer and stands to leave. He had prematurely built up his hopes of landing a cozy computer job. Unfortunately, he is completely out of his element when it comes to tech stuff at this level. Maybe if he had studied harder during math class instead of staring at Benita the whole time, he may have had some concept of where to begin. The truth of the matter is even if he could figure out all of that gibberish, he’s not sure he could actually pull if off. Just the thought of sitting at a desk all day long was enough to make him crazy.

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He had given it his best effort. Van recognizes the facts and resigns to yet another defeat. It was a great lead, nonetheless. And if weren’t for Skyler, he would have never known about it. Accepting her as his roommate has been both a boon and a debacle. If anything, Skyler has provided a much-needed distraction away from Benita. Without her, past couple of days would have been unbearable. He’d been spared the sloppy and sappy post-breakup blues, and he’s moved on to simply being numb.

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On the downside, he had become very accustomed to living alone. Quickly unlearning a few habits, such as showering with the bathroom door open, has become a priority. Otherwise, the arrangement has worked out fairly well. They had both slept most of the day after being fired. When Van woke up to an empty house, he figured she was gone for good. He was surprised when she returned early the following morning with breakfast, coffee, and her heartfelt gratitude for being allowed to stay. As part of the living arrangements, she gave her word to Van that she would not steal any more simoleons. All the same, Van did not ask where she had come across the money to buy breakfast. Nor did he inquire where she had spent the night. She was asleep in his bed when he left for the library.

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Skyler isn’t exactly rude. To the contrary, she’s actually quite pleasant. The problem is that she sometimes lacks basic, common courtesy and refinement. Sleeping completely naked in his bed is one example. Considering it is the only piece of furniture in the house where either of them is able to sleep, confronting her about it is pointless. Unless something changes over the next week or two, the entire conversation will be moot anyhow,  because they’ll both be looking for another place to sleep.

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Van makes his way his way to the first floor of the library. While turning leave through the large, open courtyard, he hears a little voice urgently calling his name. Natalia Gonçalves is Benita’s youngest sister. While it is true the entire family has already grown to love Van as a son, Natalia has been the most vocal about a wedding date. She’s a very bright girl, if not a little bit odd. He’d rarely encountered Natalia without her winning smile… Benita’s smile. But this is one of those times.

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One of the joys of being a kid is the luxury of not quite understanding all the subtleties surrounding a bad breakup. With the directness excusable only for a child, she asks Van if he is ever coming to see them again. Her parents told her that he’d be too upset about Benita to come. Van smirks, walking to the table where she is seated. He pulls out a chair and sits at the table across from her. Before he can think of how to respond, Van notices the books Natalia has checked out.

Our Extraterrestrial Neighborhood
UFO Secrets Revealed!
Probed! How to Survive an Alien Abduction

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Concerned and somewhat confused about her choice of reading, Van searches for something to say. Before he is able to speak, however, Natalia’s mother rounds the corner from another section of the library shouting Natalia’s full, given name. She sees Van and blushes instantly, rushing over to collect the inquisitive child. There had never once been any awkwardness between him and the Gonçalves family. But now, Van can see that Benita’s mother, Luiza, is terribly uncomfortable. Van stands to calmly reassure her. Luiza frowns sympathetically, apologizing after a very long and restless pause.

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Van smiles and reassures them both that he’s not angry with anybody, especially Benita. Luiza reaches out and holds Van’s hands in hers, complementing his strong exterior. Her sympathetic frown and nurturing eyes see right past it, however. She reminds him of the many times he has confided that she is like a mother to him. And a mother always knows when her children are hurting. Van meets her gaze and nods, fighting back the emotion he had previously been spared.

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Nearly overcome with emotion herself, she confesses how badly it pains her and Benita’s father to see this happen. Both Luiza and her husband saw a different side of Benita when the news came; she was hungry, ambitious, and indomitable. It was not the same Benita they spoke to earlier that same morning at church. And the decision… it came so suddenly, with no indication that she had given the matter any thought or consideration past the opportunity itself.

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Van makes a grunt/snort sound and comments that he learned about it over voice mail. Luiza’s reaction is one of shock and dismay. Benita had given her assurance that she had spoken with Van and settled the matter personally. She apologizes again, complimenting the poise and maturity with which he has handled this crisis. It speaks volumes about the kind of man he has become.

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Luiza’s eyebrows shoot up suddenly, as though she has just thought of an amazing idea. Then her eyes widen in alarm, recognizing that same thought is completely inappropriate. Van knows Luiza well enough to laugh with her about it. It’s like he can read exactly what she’s thinking. He jokingly scolds against plotting to keep him single until Gabriele, her next oldest daughter, comes of age. Luiza’s eyes narrow thoughtfully as she teases that he would only have to wait two more years. They both enjoy a good laugh when Natalia groans in disgust, vowing to tell Gabriele all about their evil plot.

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Van laughs off the good-natured exchange. Knowing the local culture and customs as well as he does, he also knows that Luiza had, if only for a moment, seriously considered the possibility. Van softens his tone and smiles, telling her that he hopes Benita will have found whatever she is looking for by then and that he’s not writing her off so easily. Luiza smiles proudly. It was exactly the right thing to say.

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As he turns to leave, Luiza reminds him that Filipe will be celebrating a birthday in a couple of days, adding absently that it seems impossible two of her children will have become adults already. It did not seem very long ago that both she and her husband were Van’s age. Van nods and smiles, reassuring her that he will be there. Whatever is happening with Benita, Van refuses to allow his relationship with the only sims he has ever called “family” to suffer.

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Van cheers on as Filipe transitions into a strong and handsome, young sim. His hard work in school has paid off, earning him a full scholarship for oceanographic sciences at Sim State University. Van had expected Benita to come home for the celebration. He learns from conversations in the overly crowded, tiny home that nobody has heard from her since she departed several days ago. Still, no matter how concerned they are about Benita, the family has seemingly made a point of not allowing it to disrupt Filipe’s important day.

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Some of the extended family and locals are clearly surprised to see Van. News travels quickly in the small, close-knit community. And it seems all bets were against Van making an appearance at all, let alone acting as though nothing had changed. Regardless, it is a good day filled with loud music, laughing, games, and food – and many, many sims. Van somehow manages to speak with just about everyone. At one point, Gabriele and her friends corner Van and give him a lighthearted but thorough drubbing in response to Natalia’s warning about his “evil plot”.

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It is fairly late at night before all the guests have left to go home. Van had stayed to help clean up afterward, during which time he’d had a long talk with Benita’s father, Louis, and Filipe. After the last lights in the tiny house go out, Van finds himself unwilling to leave.

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He sits on an old chair in the yard, completely alone. Maybe she’s just running late? He stares at the dark window leading to the bedroom Benita once shared with her four other siblings. It still doesn’t make any sense at all. The tears come without warning and all at once. Under the crushing weight of bad debt, no income, and the situation with Benita – his armor finally buckles.

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After a time, he is startled back to composure when he hears a familiar, but quiet voice. Natalia, still wearing her pajamas, had snuck up next to him. She points out flatly that he is crying. Van clears his throat and manages an unconvincing laugh. He wasn’t crying, it was just all his extra “awesome” leaking out. Natalia rolls her eyes drolly, then apologizes for giving away his evil plot. She didn’t think it would make him cry. Van laughs spontaneously, telling Natalia that there was no plot. It was only a joke between him and her mother, and that she’s too young to understand it. Natalia just shrugs her shoulders in response.

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After a moment, Van’s eyebrows furrow then he asks Natalia what she’s doing out of bed so late at night. She doesn’t answer for a long time. Finally, she looks up at the stars, then out over the ocean, gesturing toward one of the islands on the ocean’s horizon. She tells him, very quietly, that they come out mostly at night. She usually sneaks to the church to watch, since they’re really easy to see from the tall steeples. Remembering the nature of her books from the library, Van presses his lips together in concern. Gently, he tells her that there are no aliens. There’s just no such thing. Weather balloons, meteors, top-secret military aircraft, maybe. But no aliens.

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Van lifts Natalia onto his shoulders and carries her over to the house, then puts her down by the doorstep. He instructs her to stay inside and go to sleep. Without warning, Natalia hugs Van tightly around the neck then rests her head on his shoulders, demanding a promise that he will come back to see her even if Benita is being a selfish brat. Van’s tears hold. He sticks out his pinky finger and asks for her promise stop sneaking out of the house at night. She smiles while hooking her tiny pinkie finger onto his. After waiting for her to lock the front door, Van finally turns to leave. He was a fool believing Benita would be here tonight. But he is glad he stayed if only to keep Natalia safe.

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As he takes a step into the yard, a cold shiver runs up the length of Van’s spine and his eyes dart instinctively upward. What were those …lights he just saw? Feeling somewhat unnerved, Van makes his way quickly to the road where the cab is waiting to take him home.

Part 4 – focusing on the present

I’ve tried calling you all night. I wanted to tell you in person, but I haven’t been able to reach you. I’m minutes away from flying to the mainland to start a new job.

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Van deflates onto an old, wooden bench just outside the resort. He had been so focused on the blackjack table, that he missed several calls, voice mails, and texts from Benita. She had been trying to reach him for hours. Her last message was a voice mail recorded about an hour ago,

Van, you are my dearest and closest friend. You know me better than anybody. That may explain why this hurts so much. I pray that you will understand. I have been blessed with an employment opportunity I simply cannot refuse. I will be away from the island frequently and for extended periods of time. This means I won’t be able to give our relationship the attention it requires or give you the time you deserve.

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Van is not an emotional sim, but he feels the uncomfortable pain of tears stinging his tired eyes and the empty feeling of loss encroaching upon his belly.

This opportunity can provide the future we’ve prayed about. However, we need to be apart for awhile… maybe a long while. I need to focus on the present without becoming too distracted with our future. I know this is a terrible way to handle this, and I’m sorry.

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Just like that, she’s gone. No different than those bastards Mitch and Wade, searching for their non-existent El Dorado. One of life’s little cruel jokes, it seems.  Van lifts his head to regard the ocean; the only constant he’d ever known.  It has been more than a day since the last time he slept. But his exhaustion seems irrelevant right now. The bigger problem seems rather obvious. He has no job, no money, and no way to resolve the debts that aren’t even his to begin with. He inherited them simply because he wanted a place to finally call home. Now it’s only a matter of time before he loses that as well.

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He sits for a long time like this before realizing he is not alone.  Removing the tears from his face with the back of his hand, he sits back on the bench. Skyler had run away from the resort with him. Van assumed she had gone home. Clearly she had not, because he finds her nearby in the pre-dawn light, sitting on the ground and sobbing. Setting aside his own problems momentarily, he quietly approaches her. Without looking at him, she apologizes profusely, adding that she really knows how to *expletive* things up. Van sits next to her in the sand, reassuring her that it wasn’t her fault. This was all Omar.

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Still working to avoid eye contact with Van, Skyler shakes her head, explaining how Omar set the whole thing up. Skyler is relatively new to Isla Paradiso. She’s only been here a few months and has only been an adult slightly longer than that. Her parents kicked her out of their house back in Pleasantview shortly after turning nineteen. Skyler stops to gather herself before continuing. She doesn’t blame them, really. There is no denying that she is a total *expletive*. Both a liar AND a thief – two awesome qualities that make for a super-happy life. She’s fallen into a lot of trouble since becoming an adult and thought she could move away from her troubles. She wanted to leave the “bad” Skyler Gilscarbo in Pleasantview. She knew better. But she literally had nothing to lose.

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She had seen a lot of hype about Isla Paradiso on the internet. So she stole the money she needed to fly here. Not exactly a great start to a new life. Her outgoing personality and “hot body” got her the job as a hostess at the casino. Then, as the opportunity presented itself, she did a great job of *expletive* everything up again. Easy access to money and a little bit of trust seemed like the perfect formula. And it was… for getting *expletive*. Omar found out about it and threatened legal action unless she returned the money. He agreed to take half her salary until she paid it off. Then tonight happened.

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Van remains silent as she continues. For whatever reason, Omar picked today to snap. He threatened to file charges against her unless she found a way to persuade Van to cheat in the casino. It seemed like a really weird request, but she was afraid of what would happen if she didn’t cooperate. So she agreed. Having spoken to Van all this time without facing him, Skyler finally regards him with angry and defiant eyes.

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She’s only been on Isla Paradiso for a couple of months, and already she is in more trouble than she can handle.  Omar had evidently called her landlord as soon as they were kicked out of the resort. It’s  the middle of the *expletive* night. The little *expletive* spilled everything about what she had done at the casino. The landlord didn’t even have the courtesy of calling to see what had happened. All she got was a text message notifying her about the eviction,

You’re out. Don’t come back here.

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Van invites Skyler to stay at his place long enough to find another apartment. He explains that he’s most likely going to be looking for somewhere else to live as well. The debt collectors have already started threatening repossession. And now that he has no job, there is no way he’ll be able to keep what little he has. They arrive at the house just before sunrise. Van is fast asleep in his bed a few seconds afterward.

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He wakes with Skyler sleeping in his bed next to him. The pile of clothes at the foot of the bed suggests that she is not wearing anything at all. Van does his best to quickly make a quiet escape, but she stirs just as he throws back the covers. She asks what kind of dude would pass up the opportunity to *expletive* a smoking-hot girl laying naked in bed next to him. Van shrugs. Doing his best to avoid what could turn into a real messy situation, he chuckles and says he’s not good for much of anything before his morning coffee. He stands and is about to ask her to get dressed when she throws off the covers then poses suggestively on the bed for him.

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She wasn’t kidding when she said smoking-hot. Van swallows a gulp of air, then compliments her. He quickly pulls on a pair of pants, then somberly explains what had transpired between him and Benita last night. He’s’ just not in any frame of mind to jump into another romantic relationship. Skyler quickly redirects him, clarifying that she only wants to *expletive* him, not marry him.

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Skyler’s foul mouth has already begun to wear on Van. He smiles, taking in eyefuls of her beauty, then asks her politely if she could try to tone her language down a little bit. He agrees that any warm-blooded guy would have leaped at the chance. He’s probably insane for not doing so himself. But it just doesn’t feel right. Not yet, anyway. She nods while bearing a disappointed smile. She doesn’t understand him, but she will respect his space.

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Van breathes a relieved sigh. He’s happy to have her hang out here with him until the bank kicks him out for not paying the mortgage. Unfortunately, that may be a lot sooner than either of them are ready for. Van rubs his eyes, then the back of his neck, and adds that his offer has only one condition…

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Please go put some clothes on.

Part 3 – no debt too small

Van lays sleepless in bed staring intently at the pile of unpaid bills cluttering his dresser, determined to somehow think them out of existence by way of pure tenacity and willpower.

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His confrontation with Omar a few weeks ago had resulted in less work at the resort and fewer simoleons going into his pocket. The reduction in hours is a clear retaliation for some perceived slight on Van’s part toward the petty and histrionic manager. Van’s replacement has already struggled with the high number of rescues and nearly had to be rescued himself after becoming fatigued. If Omar was attempting to make a statement, he was doing so at the risk of his guests’ safety.

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Reduced income from his lifeguard job translates to fewer dives and less money from his salvage work. Scuba tanks and gear rentals are expensive. On a good dive, he can typically cover his cost plus a nice bonus for himself. The dive shop has given him a few discounts since his demotion. But he stopped short of actually going into debt to continue his salvage work. In all likelihood, Omar’s power play will end with Van losing the property Mitch and Wade abandoned when they left Isla Paradiso.

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Finding a new place to live is not a problem. He can think of half a dozen different families on the island who would gladly take him in. His primary concern is one of self-sufficiency. Any future with Benita depends solely upon his ability to find steady work. Van’s willingness is certainly not lacking. He would pick fruit fifteen hours a day if it meant he and Benita could be together sooner. But there just isn’t any work. Benita has fared much better than he has in terms of employment. She works nights at the tiki-bar mixing drinks and serving food, then cosmetology and massage therapy at the spa during the day. She’s already started building a base of wealthy clients who ask for her by name.

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Unfortunately, the more she works, the less time Van has to spend with her. And now that he has more time on his hands than ever, he finds himself becoming very restless. Catching and selling fresh seafood is one of the few remaining opportunities available to locals. Van finds himself having to compete with friends and neighbors by way of selling his daily catch – the one thing he resolved he’d ever do.

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Van finds only a few hours sleep before his instinct tells him that dawn is approaching. Fortunately, his own backyard offers as good a fishing spot as any on the island. Facing his friends at the fishmonger is awkward enough without having to spend hours on the same beach competing for fish. Van makes his way slowly to the shallows before regarding the ocean and its ponderous expanse. He baits the hook, then casts his line into the water, desperate to find a better way.

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Weekends are the most challenging and difficult shifts for Isla Paradiso lifeguards. The volume of guests doubles over the weekend, as does the number of adult beverages consumed. The combination never amounts to any good. Van has told resort management as much.  Their response was to promptly open a second bar so guests would not have to wait as long for beachside service. In addition to having his lifeguarding hours cut, Omar has obstinately scheduled him for long shifts both Saturday and Sunday. Van had specifically asked for Sunday mornings off to attend church with Benita. Since the confrontation, however, those two days have been his only scheduled shifts – including Sunday morning.

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The result is a physically and emotionally exhausting schedule. He works from sunrise to sunset with a long enough break in between to sleep. The income generated by the new schedule is barely sufficient to keep the utilities running. Although Van has attempted to fix whatever he had done wrong, his efforts have gone unnoticed. Evidently, this is about more than just showing up late for work a couple of times.

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Van is very popular at the resort. Both guests and employees alike often greet him by name. News of the rift between Van and Omar spread through the grapevine quickly. Isla Paradiso is a rather small island, so most of his acquaintances are also quite familiar with Benita and the details of Van’s relationship with her. It’s not unusual for him to stop and talk with near strangers. Most of the time they simply want to offer their encouragement. When a resort hostess named Skyler Gilscarbo calls him over to the commons area after his shift late Sunday, Van doesn’t think to wonder why.

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Exhausted from many hours of heat and physical exertion, Van considers avoiding her. But she seems fairly intent upon talking with him. After a bit of small talk, Skyler’s mood changes abruptly. She moves closer to Van, making no effort to prevent chest from pressing firmly into his side, then whispers so that nobody else can her. Van listens to her somewhat suspicious proposition. She (and just about everybody else) knows all about Van’s feud with Omar. She hates that he’s treating Van so unfairly, and she wants to help him. She works tonight at the blackjack table and is willing to play a few bad hands in Van’s favor. He could make up all the simoleons from lost work, plus some.

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Van nearly dismisses the idea without giving the matter any thought. Skyler manages to inveigle her way past his better judgment, however. Her rakish, outgoing manner and warm, sympathetic smile provide the opening. Although it hadn’t come from Benita, the gesture is not entirely unwelcome. It has more than a week since Van last spent time with  Benita. Their most recent conversation was by phone, and it ended in frustration over Van’s Sunday morning schedule. He smiles in return and agrees to meet her in the casino.

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Now running purely on herb-infused, caffeine energy drinks, Van finds Skyler’s unoccupied blackjack table. It’s already a slow night thanks to a big horse race at the track and a match between the home team and a hated rival at the stadium.

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Casino slot machines have always been a much bigger draw for low stakes players than the card tables. Van sits, barely acknowledging Skyler, then sets his chips on the table. He knows absolutely nothing about gambling, past the basics he’d learned from watching visitors lose small fortunes in the casino. He hesitates for a moment and considers how the pitiful pile of chips represents his last remaining monetary assets.

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Van and Skyler say very little to each other as the small pile begins to grow. They’ve established a pattern where the house would win the smaller bets, but she would draw too many cards and bust on the larger bets. It is very early in the morning when Van reaches the agreed upon winnings.

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In what would be the last hand, Skyler’s hands begin to shake nervously. An odd sensation of being watched washes over Van a few seconds later. Then he senses the unmistakable stirring of air that precedes a sim invading his personal space. Skyler’s hand, which is still trembling, drops the card she had been holding – a Queen.

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Omar’s quivering, effeminate cadence sends a shiver down Van’s spine and  causes him to startle out of reflex. He congratulates Van on his winnings while sliding into an empty seat across the table from the young lifeguard. Using his best, practiced pleasantry, Omar instructs Skyler to deal another hand. He produces a stack of chips five times the size of Van’s pile, then places them on the table. Van takes a deep and nervous breath. His flight instinct kicks in and he hurriedly rakes the chips into his cupped hand, excusing himself to get some much-needed sleep.

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Omar snarls angrily, instructing Van to sit back down. After the demonstration of authority fails to achieve its desired motivation, Omar continues with a disturbing edge of charming cruelty. He asks whether Van would consider staying long enough to watch Skyler being removed from the premises by security for cheating, then delivered to local authorities for theft. Van stops cold amid a fearful squeal and sob from Skyler. He turns coolly toward the sneering resort manager, realizing there is no good outcome to this situation.

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The best he can do now is minimize the damage while denying Omar the satisfaction of humiliating him publically. Van digs in his pocket and roughly counts out his winnings, then deposits them on the table in front of Omar. Despite his rage, Van remains calm and concedes that even if he were fully awake, he’s no match for Omar at the card table.  At least this way, he’s saving himself the trouble of losing at cards when he could be asleep in his bed. Omar clicks his tongue and agrees with the assessment, but stops short of allowing Van the easy way out. His next words are delivered with a bitter coldness unlike anything Van had heard.

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I want all of it …every, last, chip…

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Van’s eyes narrow at Omar’s smug and indignant grin. When Van fails to comply, he adds that he not yet reviewed the security video of the conversation between Van and Skyler earlier this evening. But he’s sure the authorities would find what they needed to implicate them both for theft and gambling fraud. Van glances at Skyler who is now breathing in gulps and wearing an expression that conveys equal measures of confusion, fear, and panic.

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Stone-faced, Van reaches into his pocket and deposits the remaining chips, every simoleon of his net worth, onto the table in front of Omar.

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Flashing a wicked smile, Omar dismisses the young and embattled sims. Then he begins laughing. It’s not a maniacal or particularly despotic laugh. It’s more the punch-line-of-a-good-joke kind of laugh. Still, it is entirely unsettling given the seriousness of the situation. Then, after they’ve covered enough distance so that his voice must carry across the entire room to reach them, he half-laughing and half-shouts after them,

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You’re fired! You’re BOTH fired! You have sixty seconds to get off my resort before I call the cops!

In Other Words – Scene 1

When I write a Sims story, I tend to think in terms of vague ideas and generalities rather than specifics of conversational dialog. Not only does this directly mimic the Sims gameplay, but also I think it suits my style of story-telling and fits well with my preferred format of captioning screenshots. From time to time, however, I do wonder what my sims are actually saying to each other.
Depending upon how comfortable become with this new writing style, “In Other Words” may turn into a feature of the Stacpoole Legacy. In this way, I get the chance to reverse the experience for readers. I take away the pictures but get very specific with the dialog and setting. Please let me know what you think!

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~ Scene 1 ~

“Do you hear that?”

“What?” Benita Gonçalves breathed an annoyed sigh as the comfortable gauze of sleep slowly unraveled from around her dark and pretty face. She had happily succumbed to a nap on her beach towel, as she had done countless times before. Her dearest and closest friend, Van Stacpoole, had again awoken her just as he had done countless times before. Van was her boyfriend in every sense of the word with the exception of intimacy, which she had staunchly withheld. Van did not entirely understand the rationale but accepted it nonetheless.

As a result, a sort of banter had evolved between them. It was an unspoken set of rules to which they both mutually abide when the anxiety from temptation became uncomfortable. He would find subtle ways to express his need to be distracted and redirected, or she would abruptly suggest a workout or a swim; just anything to change the dynamic. The times they both were weak proved especially difficult and would usually find them spending their time together with her family.

Benita smiled knowingly, playing along to ease his agitation, “Is it the fish this time, or the stone crabs?” she responded sleepily. The thick dialect particular to the locals of the region colored her words.

Van chuckled, “No, it’s definitely the gulls this time.”, he waited for her feigned exasperation, then continued, mocking the scavenger birds circling overhead, “MARRRY…HIMMM… MARRRRY…HIMMMM!

“Oh, meu lindo…”, she sighed empathetically. Something in his voice was different today. They had only discussed marriage once or twice before. Most other times he was just testing the waters to determine whether she’d retreated away from her prohibition of  intimacy. “You know what Papa says…” Benita stood, in turn helping Van to his feet so they could walk. “He likes you! He really does… and even if he didn’t…”, she paused to achieve the desired effect. “But I agree with him for this once. We are still very young and ill-prepared for marriage and family. We have no money and nowhere to live…”, her voice trailed off, as though to punctuate the reality of their dilemma.

“You are too sensible.” he quipped.

“You are too eager.” she shot back, playfully.

She ran into the waves and dove into the crystalline water, emerging a few moments later, smiling. Van followed her lead, and dove gracefully into the waves, piercing the under-stuff as though he were a porpoise. The ease with which he swam, coupled with his part-time position as beach-patrol at the resort, had earned him the moniker “fin” among locals. He emerged behind her, wrapping his arms firmly around her midsection as she stood in the calm, chest-deep water.

“I love you, Benita Gonçalves. I promise you a beautiful house on the largest piece of beachfront land money can buy. Our children and our children’s children will become the Landgraabs of Isla Paridoso!”

Benita struggled slightly against his considerable arm strength, but gave up and relented to her trust in his self-restraint, “And I love you, meu lindo. But please, please be strong for me. I beg your patience until we can stand on our own two feet…”

“Four feet, technically…” he interrupted.

“UHG! YOU!” she fumed lightheartedly. Benita Abruptly shifted her balance and lifted her legs and support from the ocean floor, catching Van off-guard, and plunging them both into the water. She emerged again, laughing at him as she moved toward the shore. Van remained in the shallows, watching her as though she were a goddess emerging from the heavens.

“It is getting late,” she conceded. “I have to be to work very soon.”

“You don’t have to work two jobs, Benita. We barely see each other already.”

“I am sorry, namorado. We are blessed to have this opportunity. There are many on the island who cannot find even one job.”

Arguing this point would have led nowhere. Modernizing Isla Paridoso had been both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing in that it brought cell phones and broadband communications to the island. But it was a curse in many other ways. Local farmers who had previously worked their own land to subsist had all been bought out by resort owners and entertainment conglomerates. After locals demanded better wages for performing menial jobs, companies simply reduced their workforce. Other industries soon followed the trend, as businesses either eliminated or automated jobs or replaced workers with cheaper, imported labor.

“When is your next day off?”, he half-shouted toward her.

“I will see you soon… but not soon enough, meu amado!” She ran backward waving goodbye, “No wrestling with os tubarões tomorrow!”

Van smiled as he watched her disappear over the rise, leading to the beach, “Don’t forget about Sunday!” he heard her shout from a distance. Van breathed a very heavy sigh before making his way to shore. One recent turn of events had seen Van attending church services with Benita at her request. At first, it was simply to remain in good graces with the Gonçalves family, who were very religious.

Reconciling this with his upbringing remained a work in progress. Actively recognizing that she would not be the same Benita without her faith had helped him tremendously. Conviction to her faith and all that comes with it had been the single most compelling characteristic setting her apart from other women. Likewise, much of what her pastor had said about love, forgiveness, and salvation did not seem nearly as crazy as the endless slough of haughty face-twit posts would have liked him to believe.

Oddly enough, he had begun to experience a quieting sense of hopeful calm while examining his own conscience over those past few weeks. Understanding had not come immediately, and frankly, may never come. What chance, with social media, blaring music, and the endless drone from television and internet commandments, does inner dialog have to surface above such overpowering noise?

Regardless, it is instances like these, where there little else but him and the wilderness of the sea that provides enough opportunity for Van to truly hear.

Part 2 – celebration and thanksgiving

Residents native to Isla Paradiso have never shied away from a day’s work. But work has become scarce. Those fortunate enough to have found steady employment, often labor in menial and thankless jobs each day just to make ends meet.

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Despite the challenges they have faced as a result of an overly swift modernization of their rustic home, the local populace continues to thrive and adapt. As a collective people, they are hard-working and uncommonly dependable. But life is hard for them. There is no debate in that regard. It was easier before; when hard work was rewarded and consequences were immediately realized.

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They have learned from difficult and unfortunate interactions with the slick talkers and business savvy predators who have descended upon their home over the past decade. With no real legal documents proving land ownership, some locals were stripped of ancestral farmlands which have since been repurposed. They are now forbidden to step foot on them. Trades and crafts that were once vital have been rendered obsolete. Skills which may have once supported an extended family have become unnecessary, if not completely antiquated.

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To make matters worse, the murky repugnance of moral decay has encroached upon their culture. It brings with it an absurdist mindset valuing irreverent hedonism over any form or manner of restraint. The architects responsible for manufacturing this canon of misguided ideas broadcast their manifesto throughout a friendly new media; where it is cleverly packaged then sold as progress by its charismatic proponents. It has impacted, by design, the youth of the island more-so than any other age group. Old timers talk about the recent past as if it were eons ago. In reality, it has been within Van’s own lifetime these changes have taken place.

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Van associates the arrival of Mitch and Wade on Isla Paradiso with the onset of its troubles. His perception of the situation may lead him to draw a conclusion that their presence was a cause rather than an effect. The reality of it, however, does not concur. It may be more accurate to say they were drawn here. Unfortunately, Van will not discover this for himself until some time later.

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As our narrative resumes, we find that it is early Sunday morning. It was mentioned previously that many residents work diligently every day. In retrospect, the statement may be somewhat inaccurate. What we find instead is that whenever possible, Sunday is reserved for celebration and thanksgiving.

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Van has been waking up early to meet Benita at her church, Santuário Basílica de Santo António, over the past several weeks. Van is captivated by the way it comes alive with singing, laughing, reverence, and fellowship. There is typically no seat remaining when the pastor speaks. Van gladly stands with the others who also give up their seats or arrive late.

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Van always listens when the pastor preaches. He hears the words and sometimes thinks the pastor could be talking directly to him. Van is not sure why the words fail to connect with him the same way they seem to connect with everybody else in the building. Is fear holding him back? Is he afraid of becoming one of the monsters Mitch and Wade criticized so openly during his childhood? Much had been said to him about the church, and specifically church-goers. Neither Mitch nor Wade was particularly kind in their assessment of a subculture they generally referred to as being populated by crazies and bigots.

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Van was too young to understand the ugly rhetoric infused into their comments and actions. Now that he is older, he sees the metaphorical scorched earth caused by ideological warfare irresponsibly provoked against a segment of society who promote love at the very core of their beliefs. Albeit, it is love coupled with obedience to a higher authority. As the others in the church pray in earnest, Van ponders in the silence of his own contemplation. What extremes are the instigators of this pretentious social conflict willing to justify in order to claim their victory?

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Benita sings in the choir and always looks for Van after emerging from the dressing room before the service begins. He’s made a bit of a game out of standing somewhere different each time. When she does finally find him, he is rewarded with a heartwarming smile that somehow evokes a sense of peace through to his core. After the service ends, Benita finds Van, and hey walk together talking about the sermon. She always manages to somehow harvest thoughtful insights into the homily and how it fits into her life. Today is no different. She leaves every opportunity for Van to share his own reflections. But he finds nothing to share. He sees that Benita is saddened by this, and he assures her that he is not holding anything back from her. He just doesn’t feel anything.

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They walk together toward the beach, which is a short distance from the church. After traveling only about half the distance, Benita stops and breathes a heavy sigh, then regards Van. The pastor of the church, Padre Nuno, had approached her this morning asking about him. Though somewhat surprised, Van casually asks what it was in reference to. Benita smirks while enjoying a light-hearted laugh with Van after sharing that the padre was simply reminding her of the times he would be available for sacramental Penance if circumstances required. Amused, she reassured the aged and overprotective pastor that she was still in good standing.

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Immediately afterward, and with no visible reaction to her response, Padre Nuno spoke at length about an anonymous young man who, during his youth, had nearly starved to death. This young man would come to the dinner table and engage the family in delightful conversation and charming wit. But the oddest thing would happen as serving dishes were passed around the table. The young man would pass each dish to the person seated next to him without taking any for himself. When supper was finished, he would walk away from the table unfed and still starving.

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Having nothing more to say on the matter, Benita and Van continue silently on toward the beach, each lost in their own thoughts, contemplating the plight of Padre Nuno’s starving young man.

Part 1 – a surefire business venture

The equatorial, mid-morning sun shines through small windows opposite Van’s bed, waking him from a deep sleep.

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His alarm had already gone off a number of times in a fruitless effort to wake him in time for work. After each snooze delay, he had resolved to get out of bed the next time it sounded. It was a good strategy in terms of indulging himself with a few extra hours of unconsciousness. Where it failed, however, was about to become abundantly clear.

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When his phone rings, he ponders the quirky notion that it seems to be a rather angry ring. There is no questioning the identity of the caller. It is Omar, the resort manager. Van groans, then sits upright in bed. Still half asleep, he regards the phone then the alarm. After a time, a slow realization begins to take form. He’s an hour late for lifeguard duty.

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He had stayed out too late diving last night, looking for trinkets to unload on tourists. As it has been with most outings, lately, he’ll barely cover the cost of tanks and gear. Honestly, he’d be lucky to break even. The resort’s gift shop always takes what he can’t push on visitors. Unfortunately, their set buying price isn’t worth his effort.

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Tired, hungry, and feeling slightly stressed-out despite the extra sleep, Van calls his favorite taxi driver, asking her to meet him at the main road. Natalia is a popular, local woman possessing a bit of a wild side. Her driving, while technically incident free, is wildly reckless and far too erratic for visitors and tourists. Her unusually salty vernacular doesn’t help much in that regard, either. As a result, she typically finds herself relegated to driving locals around the island’s treacherous back roads.

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Van thanks Natalia for the swift ride to work, while silently thanking himself for not eating breakfast beforehand. A few angry beachgoers grumble at his arrival while he exchanges the red “do not swim” flag for the green one, signaling “all-clear” and safe to swim. Safe, of course, is a relative term.

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“They did NOT cover this in Lifeguard training!”

More and more, Van has been called upon to pull inebriated resort guests out the ocean. What’s worse, are the opportunists who play-act the need for rescue in some creepy attempt to make his acquaintance.

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Thirty minutes after the belated start of his shift, Van spots the resort manager, half marching, half prancing his way through the sun-scorched sand toward his guard station. Van never cared much for the shrewd and duplicitous sim. He’d known Omar for since before the resort when he’d been acquainted with Van’s “parents”.

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Van cringes every time he thinks about that word. From his earliest childhood memories, he had been raised by two men, Mitch, and Wade. Van has no memory his mother, and neither had ever volunteered information about which, if either, was his true, biological parent. In retrospect, the pair had always treated Van with a disinterested, mild indifference. Sure, they would dust him off and show him around like a trophy every once in a while. Most of the time, Van felt like he was just an unwelcome nuisance.  What irks him most about the situation is, given Omar’s former association with Mitch and Wade, it is quite possible that he knows more about Van’s pedigree than Van knows about himself.

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Van greets Omar with a chipper Good Morning, doing his best to delay the inevitable unpleasantness. Omar’s perfectly practiced smile is convincing but clearly forced. The resort manager’s effeminate falsetto, which seems a pitch higher than usual, asks if Van is aware of the time “his” beach opens to swimmers in the morning. Van nods, then responds by reciting the weekly schedule, which is posted in plain sight on a board just a few steps away from them. Omar sets his jaw and shifts his weight dramatically. His response is a jeering threat to terminate Van’s employment if he is late to work a second time.

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After an uncomfortably long wait for Van’s reply, which does not come, a pert but indignant smile crosses Omar’s face. He asks Van how he’s managing to get along with his parent’s unpaid debts. Van’s facade remains un-flinched, but the taunting barb hits home. He retains his controlled composure, despite wanting to punch the little creep in the mouth. Oddly, the word “parents” unnerves Van much more than Omar’s clumsy attempt at emotional broadsides, and it allows old, unresolved conflicts to surface.

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Just before his teen birthday, Van was again uprooted and brought to Isla Paradiso, where Mitch and Wade felt destiny had called them to make their fortune on a surefire business venture. The venture involved a modest capital investment toward establishing a new luxury resort. Alas, the luxury aspect of their plan was fundamentally flawed, not to mention their commitment to seeing the business through.

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With a few meager earnings in their pocket, they’d purchased a plot of land on which they were going to build a magnificent postmodern mansion. Here, they would host extravagant a-list parties and rub elbows with the rich and powerful. It was probably around that time that they either became bored or discouraged (or both) or ran out of money. The mansion had not worked out quite as they had hoped. To make matters worse, word had spread back on the mainland about the tiny, rustic island and its raw, untapped potential.

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Landgraab moved in quickly. Mitch and Wade moved out just as quickly. Somehow, the pair had caught wind of priceless artifacts, free for the taking, located in far-away lands. Initially, they were gone only for days at a time. They’d return empty handed, but absolutely certain that their next excursion would be the one that made them rich. Eventually, they spent more time away than at home. When the time came for Van to age into an adult, they had been gone for almost an entire year with no word from either of them.

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Looking away from Omar, Van mimics the same pretentious smile with which the manager had first approached him. He then states, simply and coolly, that he has work to do. He turns his back dismissively and attempts to block out the fact Omar, and the buried emotion his presence evokes exists at all.

Van – Paradise with Thunderstorms

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Paradise with thunderstorms…

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The endearing moniker can sometimes be heard uttered with equal parts affection and enmity from the lips of our protagonist, Van Stacpoole. The subject of this backhanded compliment is his adoptive home, Isla Paradiso.

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Of course, it isn’t difficult to imagine that sitting for eight hours in the rain would do much to rally anybody’s dampened spirits. Nevertheless, any measure of dissatisfaction he may feel is most likely fleeting, as Van and his profession are a perfect fit. The fact of the matter is that any gainful employment opportunity found on the quaint archipelago is reason enough to celebrate. In his mind, he truly has found paradise, and the occasional thunderstorm is a relatively small price to pay for his good fortune.

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Coincidentally, the same figure of speech he uses to describe his home is also a fairly accurate description Van’s of childhood. His parents, or the rough equivalent thereof, were restless transients with lofty dreams. He had only ever referred to them by name, Mitch, and Wade. Both suffered from the same terrible case of wanderlust. As far back as Van can remember, they were constantly on the move; always taking new jobs and chasing after the next get-rich-quick idea. As a result, they lived in poverty for the majority of his childhood. Still, they were inexplicably carefree. Carefree, that is, until Van reached the cusp of his teenage years. It was around that time he had been dragged to Isla Paradiso, where the duo had envisioned building a resort empire.

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A few years and a failed business venture later, it was time to move on to the next big thing. Van, however, had had enough moving. He wanted a place he could finally call his home. With little more than the property Mitch and Wade left behind, Van decided to cut his losses and remain on the island alone while they traveled the world without him.  His decision was not completely without outside influence, however…

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Her name is Benita Gonçalves, a local girl with whom he had become quick friends soon after his arrival on Isla Paradiso.

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As he and Benita matured, so too did their relationship. When the time came, Van was quick to ask for her hand in marriage. Her gentle rebuff was not an outright refusal. It was more of an appeal for his patience while they saved money to buy their own home and start a family. With the financial status of his home in a state of flux, he was doing everything within his power to earn enough money to keep the debt collectors at bay. Benita was absolutely right. What sense was there in building the foundation of their future family on shifting sands?

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This is where we find Van as his story begins. He works everywhere and anywhere he can, mostly relying on his athleticism and physical conditioning to do what most others are only able to imagine.

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Sometimes the work is dangerous.

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Most often, it is rewarding.

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Occasionally, it can be irresistibly tempting.

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But Benita and her family are always there to support and ground him with their rich traditions, customs, and beliefs. Because of the vast gulf between her upbringing and the manner in which he was raised, there are times when Van struggles with a lack of context and understanding. Regardless, he has already become a vital part of their family in every way except the most formal and intimate.

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The gravity of all these issues combined into a collective whole has weighed heavily on Van. He’s young, attractive, and smart. Leaving Isla Paradiso behind to make his imprint on the world may seem like the only sensible thing to do. In his mind, however, it would make him just like them.  Van has no intention of becoming the thing he despised so much as a child. He intends to create his legacy right here, in his paradise with thunderstorms.

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Seeing his vision bloom to fruition, however, will not be easy. The recent arrival of the Landgraabs and their luxury resort has changed the character of the island. What was once a pristine, untouched oasis; now boasts unlimited broadband connectivity and an all-you-can-eat gourmet buffet. Glamorous shops from the mainland have replaced local merchants. Cheap, imported produce and prepackaged, processed foodstuffs pushed inside the Landgraab commissary have priced local growers out of business. As Isla Paradiso prospers, it also suffers.

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Easy or not, Van’s dream is to make a home with Benita so that their children will know happiness. The dream seems simple enough. The question now becomes, does Van possess the resolve and fortitude needed to make it a reality?

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Van Stacpoole (Athletic, Loves the Outdoors, Frugal, Irresistible, Loves to Swim)
Lifetime Wish – Grand Explorer

Part 1 – the morning star rises

I finally decided on a new legacy to play with. I do have another story in the works and I may try to do some of both. But for now, please enjoy my introduction the Donblas Lineage!

The Donblas Lineage

Not all stories begin at the beginning. Consider the present example, which likely finds the distinguished reader expecting to be introduced to a young sim who will nobly lay the foundation for a family legacy that marches toward an end goal of producing ten generations of offspring.

This is not that kind of story.

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We are introduced, instead, to a middle-aged sim born to the ninth generation of a legacy family that may never achieve its stated goal of producing ten generations. Why introduce a story at the end, and at a point where the legacy is destined to fail? The answer, perhaps, is just simply because this is where things really start to get interesting…

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…zzz

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…zzz ….curiously dominated by superstitious, religious symbolism until the recent, modern age of scientific enlightenment. Mythological creatures, such as angels and omnipotent spirits, have been depicted in sim-made works of art all throughout history. These…

View original post 746 more words

Afterthoughts

So there you have it. The Barimen Legacy has finally played out to the end.

I wrote the very first words of the legacy, “Meet Julian”,  on October 10, 2009. Looking back, my catalyst for the blog was a story named “Alice and Kev“. I was blown away by the concept of mixing fiction with the Sims. The strong message behind “Alice and Kev” provoked the idea that I too, could convey a moral imperative through the Sims and story-telling. When I started, the only things planned were Moira, the cabin, and the ending. Moira, Finn, and Malachi were the very first family created for the legacy. Theirs were the first screen shots I took in-game, and they eventually would become the old photos David found in the library. Everything else played out as the game played out; including Kacey, who was Tori Kimura’s child in-game.

For each generation’s heir, I started with four foundational concepts. Each would have a strength, a weakness, a personal goal, and an opposing force that would stand in their way of attaining the goal. For example, Julian’s goal was to escape the criminal underworld, with Corwin there to stop him. Amber’s goal was to figure out that Wendell was in love with her. Brand was her opposing force. Her strength was a supernatural perception (an irony given her goal), and her weakness was an addiction to information (or solving mysteries).  It turned out to be a great formula.

Despite my aggravation at EA for overtly ignoring the religious aspect of life simulation (and openly mocking it in Sims Medieval),  I conceived the legacy family as being deeply religious and (dare I say) devout Christians. They were not perfect, and they often sought God to help them overcome their imperfections. Because of this, I knew the story was not going to attract many followers. I’m sure for some, the story was dull, boring, weird, and distasteful; given the religious and conservative undertones throughout. Let’s face it, I wasn’t exactly writing about sparkling vampires, here. It was science-fictiony at times, over-serious at times, and unapologetically religious at times. And that doesn’t earn may fans among the Sims target audience.

Fans of the “Amber Chronicles” will surely recognize many names borrowed from the genre; Corwin, Julian, Gerard, Amber, Grayswinder, Benedict, Brand… In fact, the algorithm itself was (in my mind) a reflection of Amber’s Pattern. Most writers have that one favorite book that stands out above the others. The Amber Chronicles is that book(s) for me.

So, what now? First, I have a lot of reading to catch up on. I will probably spend the next couple of months reading my backlog of blogs and leaving comments for some of the amazing writers out there. I’ve gathered that some of you have become acquainted in real-life as a result of the Sims. I truly wish I had the bandwidth to participate in that community. The reality is that I am so completely overcommitted, it would be next to impossible. It’s not a bad thing, honestly. I have one son who is excelling at guitar, one who has earned Eagle Scout, and a son who is in seventh grade, and playing alto-sax in the high school marching band. Toss in three “babies” preschool and younger, and my passionate and ongoing commitment to the Scouting movement. Plus work, church, ad-nauseum… you get the picture.

Eventually, I will tackle another story. Don’t tell anybody, but I do have a plot outline and the rough draft of a first chapter already written. It will be an apocalyptic, survival story involving two main characters across ten chapters of ten posts each. It will have the Zoxell flavor of morality and virtue in it, of course.

I am grateful for every single person who has helped shape this into the finished product. Thank you to all who have taken time to read and comment. Feel free to contact me on facebook to ask for prayers or just to say “Hey!”

To quote my favorite author (Roger Zelazny), whose wit, humor, and creative license was taken from us far too early…  “Good-bye and hello, as always”

Chapter 9.21 – Sunset

Moira wakes from her nap, then breathes in a deep dose of invigorating, springtime air being offered to her by the French countryside villa she now calls home.
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Gerard had taken Louis fishing, and left little Emilie behind, leveraging the pretense of mother and daughter enjoying a nap together. She smiles knowing what her boys really wanted, was time for fishing without an excitable, little toddler scaring away the day’s catch.
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She stands and looks down over the slightly convex field to the lake, where she spots them, just in time to see Louis reel in and hold up his prize and receive proud praise from his approving father.
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Moira smiles again and quietly admires her own perfect catch.
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Life has changed for Moira since becoming madame Moira du Pont. It has been a blessing in more ways than she can count. After having suffered the loss of everything she had ever known, and gaining the unenviable understanding that most of it had been an elaborate deception, there is no telling what she may have done without the overt kindness Gerard had shown her.
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At the time of their meeting, the only thing she had remaining was her vulnerable and susceptible state of mind. Malachi was dead. And poor Finn, a sim who had seen too much suffering, had gone to rest in his rocking chair during her absence. And as difficult as it was for her to lose those two, it was the affront of learning she had been manipulated and deceived for much of her life, that had left her questioning even the most basic truths. She had left Finn that day in search of answers. But by the end of it, all she had to show for her efforts was a broken heart and a brand new burning question. Why was she still alone?
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Hendrake, the creature responsible for all of this, had toiled for eons in an effort to learn the secrets of the algorithm. He’d slaughtered an entire race of beings like herself to learn it. But the beast had nothing to show for the scourge of merciless killing, corruption, and deceit it had perpetrated over the span of its vile existence. Then, under the bloated shadow of so much suffering, it had nearly managed to trick a silly girl into handing it over to him freely. The diary where she inscribed her insights, was the prize Hendrake had hoped to secure. Ironically, it was also a critical component responsible for bringing Adam and Kacey together.
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Logic would seem to dictate that any deviation from the formula that had led to Adam and Kacey finally meeting, would create a scenario wherein that meeting would never occur. Clearly, this is not the case. The same diary that had played such a pivotal role in bringing them together will never be found by David Barimen in the library. Realizing the danger it posed, Moira had burned it to ashes. And the ashes, she had burned to dust. By destroying it, she also destroyed the only recorded reference of the algorithm. And likewise, by uprooting her little contraption and using it to slay Hendrake, she had also changed the course of history in a way she is incapable of comprehending.
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Though it may seem impossible, both Kacey and Adam were brought into this reality as a result of the actions of sims, who, by her estimation, will never be born. Yet, she is here and she exists. But why?
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A tugging at her skirt brings her back into the present. And she revels in the feeling of pure joy that accompanies nurturing the children she bore; and loving, with indescribable intensity, the man who fathered them.
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After hugging Emilie then setting her down to play, Moira’s mind wonders back to the morning when she had first seen her amour de sa vie. Having dispatched Hendrake, she fled the cavern to find Finn, and tell him about Malachi. That’s when Gerard literally appeared from out of thin air, landing in a heap at her feet.  The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.
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She instantly sensed an inexplicable connection with him. He was there for her when she found Finn’s lifeless body. He consoled her through the aftermath and helped her move past the pain of witnessing the manner of Malachi’s tragic ending. Without hesitation, Gerard worked with her to bury the two sims that had functionally served as her stewards in the absence of having her natural mother and father.
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Gerard’s vocation as clergyman came as a surprise to Moira. She’d learned of this when he held an impromptu funeral service for Finn and Malachi. And though it was somewhat unexpected, it provided a great deal of context into Gerard’s outpouring of generosity and empathy.
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Moira and Gerard became acquainted very quickly. It came as no surprise that, after the matter of just a few weeks, they had formed a nearly insuperable bond. It was during the course of this magical and beautiful courtship that he confided in her, his innermost personal thoughts.
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He and a friend, whom he had referred to only as “Doc”, had been coerced into helping Kacey fix something she had broken. Gerard became separated from them shortly after stepping into a maelstrom; a tempest so fantastic, that it defied description. Being a simple man of the cloth, he did not understand any of it. Kacey, however, did seem to possess some keen understanding and insight into the situation.
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The evening before the maelstrom, Kacey had revealed her true nature to him. The motivation for doing so, she claimed, was to thank him for helping her find her faith; simply by living his. Through this awesome display of trust, she was able to surface the lustful desire for intimate relations with other men he had fought to resist his entire life. And by experiencing the light of perfect love, those salacious cravings no longer seemed insurmountable. She stayed with him that night as he wept, both with joy and with pain, for the new source of strength she had uncovered inside him.
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Moira smiles, remembering how she revealed her own angelic nature to him the night Louis was conceived.
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So much has happened since then. Most importantly, she fell in love with Gerard. Shortly after moving here from Sunset Valley, he became Pastor for the small church nestled into their countryside village. The Sunday services are always full and Gerard’s message never dulls. She has come to accept the reality that she may never fully understand what happened to Kacey and Adam. The artifact that Gerard brought with him was the last link to them. But it too is gone, having turned to dust during the journey to France.
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Moira waves and Emilie squeals excitedly as Gerard and Louis walk together up the path from the river to the villa. She laughs with Gerard, listening to Emilie scolding Louis for going off to fish while she was napping. Moira uses the distraction to gently kiss her husband. She finds his dark eyes with her own brilliant, blue gaze then whispers musically into his ear, Je suis enceinte, mon amour.
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His smile is warm, happy, and genuine. He hugs her ferociously, then kisses her with the same sentiment. Then, after collecting the children, the du Pont family retreats into their villa, just as evening begins its watch over the French countryside.
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Standing by the window, Moira welcomes a kiss from the sun’s last rays on her cheeks, before it disappears behind the rolling hills. She smiles before drawing the curtains. There is no more perfect place for her to be, and there is no more perfect man for her to be with.
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Just as the sun’s setting foreshadows the start of a new day; this, by no means, is the end of her story. She prefers to think of it as the interlude before a new dawn. And what could possibly be a sweeter and more lovely way of honoring a new dawn, than by dressing it with these proud words,
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“The du Pont Legacy”
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…they have a rather fetching sound to them, wouldn’t you agree?
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Some butterflies will dismiss it as ludicrous and irrational. But the ones that trust in faith and make the journey, become a part of something wondrous and beautiful. – Gerard du Pont (Chapter 6.12 – Butterflies)

Chapter 9.20 – Gold

Moira sprints away from the small cabin as her head swirls with confused images and conflicting emotions.
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The flashes of her mother, pregnant and heavy with an unborn child (her brother), and of her father returning home from work, have become indelibly etched onto her mind’s eye. Why had these things been repressed, while other things came to her so clearly? The answer, she believes, lies within the cave where Malachi has spent too many years of his life speculating (unsuccessfully) for precious metals.
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She approaches the cave entrance cautiously, weary of the complete silence within its dark interior. It occurs to her, that this is the same place where David had nearly been killed by Reid, and where Kacey had been hidden as an infant. Immediately upon crossing the wooden frame marking the cave’s entrance, she is met by an onslaught of hatred, jealousy, greed, lust, and wantonness. Like weapons, they are wielded against her with merciless force.
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Hendrake approaches a stunned Moira; his naked, marvelous, and statuesque form beckoning her to release herself to him. No words are necessary for her to understand his invitation. She will know pleasure unlike any other has ever known pleasure, and she will indulge like no other being has ever indulged. No limits, no rules, no inhibitions. Just simple, unrestrained, and eternal hedonism. He reaches out his hand, but says nothing. It is an invitation to end the hunt and join with him.
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Hendrake’s beguile is masterful. Moira, however, is no simple, silly, little girl to be easily swayed by flesh and bones. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees a shadow cast on a nearby wall. The shadow belongs to a man hanging by his neck inside an adjoining cavern. His lifeless corpse is swaying silently before the light shed by a bright, unseen candle. Though she can see only a silhouette,  she knows immediately that it is Malachi.
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Moira digs deep to resist the arousal Hendrake has attempted to provoke, and manages to douse the lustful desires aching to be acted upon. She sets her jaw and looks squarely into Hendrake’s sinister eyes. Having broken his grip on her, she now sees Hendrake’s true form. He is not an impressive monster, nor is he a statuesque demigod. He is nothing more than a snake; sleek and vile, and dripping noxious venom from its vicious maw.
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She is not afraid, nor does she feels any grief for Malachi. He had been tormented (likely for many years) and nearly driven mad, by Hendrake’s evil influence. She prays for Malachi, asking that he be reunited with is lost family and be absolved of his missteps in life. She regards Hendrake with a quirky half-smile. Her confidence restored, she observes that Hendrake has not only failed to tempt her with his wicked interpretation of paradise, but with Malachi’s death, he has also lost his primary foothold in this place and time. It is a place and time where he does not belong.  And as a result, he has left himself exposed and dangerously vulnerable.
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Hendrake, nearly hemorrhaging with fury, spits his defiance toward Moira. With boastful narcissism, the creature claims victory nonetheless, warning that her destruction is an eventuality. It will only be a matter of time before he builds influence and power. His twisted, taunting laugh causes her some hesitation, as he announces that his path to ascension has already been put into motion. And as his power grows, hers will wane.
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Moira’s mind races. In his arrogance, Hendrake had just given her the answer to everything. She shakes her head slowly in disbelief. The algorithm… and the repressed memories …the anxiety of wanting to know her parents. They’ve all been temptations coaxed out of her by the master of lies. But to what end? There has been plenty of opportunity; why hasn’t he just killed her?
It will only be a matter of time… his path to ascension has already been put into motion…
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Moira squeals with a burst of sudden excitement, having made the realization that her parents are safe. She affords herself a small measure of pride and hyperactively offers the serpent a portion of her understanding that pertains directly to it. Adam and Kacey HAD escaped that night. And they now reside in a time and place neither of them can reach… Nowhere. Hendrake needs Moria, or more specifically, the algorithm. Without Moira, Kacey and Adam are lost to him.
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Shielding her eyes from Malachi’s hanging corpse, Moira rushes out toward the deep cavern where she had let the little contraption begin it’s work solving the algorithm. Hendrake, desperate but powerless, commands her to stop. He attempts again to beguile her, suggesting that stopping the algorithm may seal off the only means between here and Nowhere. She may never meet her parents.
 chap9-20f
The tiny ball, having completed only a minuscule fraction of the algorithm, halts obediently upon her approach. She smiles and picks it up from the floor. Immediately, the glowing symbols it has etched onto the floor disappear; erased from existence. If a snake where able to scream in rage, Hendrake would have done so.
 chap9-20g
Holding the brightly glowing ball in the open palm of her hand, she watches as powerful, feathered wings unfold from it’s surface. A beaked head and tail feathers emerge from within it’s interior. Screeching victoriously, the bird of prey leaps away from Moira and deftly snatches Hendrake from the ground with its deadly talons. It flies off, screaming hungrily, then disappears into the blackness of the cavern’s bowels to feast on its catch.
 chap5rule
 chap9-20m
A soft, cool breeze and the sweet scent of lilac and periwinkles greets Gerard as he regains his lost wits. He opens his eyes for the first time after having squeezed them shut, when Kacey let go of him inside the maelstrom. Her amazing artifact, the strange, glowing hunk of wood she had taken from Khaliq, had fallen away with him. It lays beside him now, softly humming and pulsing a weak bluish-green.
 chap9-20n
As his eyes focus, and his head and gut both adjust to solid ground, he is quite suddenly aware that he is not alone. At first, he is worried that something had happened to Kacey; and that Doc had also fallen into the chaos. But as his vision clears, it becomes quite obvious that his mysterious companion is most definitely not Doc. Rather, it is a young woman, well into her teens, who is now standing and regarding him curiously.
 chap9-20o
He is immediately stricken by her astonishing, blue eyes and the most beautiful hair he had ever seen. It is shimmering and lustrous; nearly metallic, as though it had been spun from the purest gold…

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.

Chapter 9.17 – Beginning

From the diary of Moira McAllister:
 chap9-17a
How is it that I am able to know events that both precede and follow me, as though I had been there myself?
 chap9-17b
I’ve come to care about, cry with, and mourn for the many souls who have resided (or have yet to) upon this small plot of earth and its multitude of facets and reflections. How is it so? Why is this place special? I suspect that I am neither privy nor entitled to know the mechanics of such things. Or, perhaps, the threshold of understanding simply lays outside the realm of my comprehension. But what I do know, is that it began with the two lovely creatures Malachi discovered, late one unseemly afternoon.
 chap9-17c
Despite the grim condition in which they’d been found, Papa decided to bring them home, fully expecting to bury them come morning. He’d told his Father-in-Law, Finn, about the circumstances in which they’d been discovered. Finn, being a cheerful and empathetic old soul, had never really endeared himself to a humorless and overly sensible son-in-law. And his odd reaction to the pair did nothing to improve that particular dynamic.
 chap9-17d
I imagine that Papa must have needed a full two days away from old Finn (fishing, most likely), to cool his temper after listening to him rant about the two strangers being angels; sent to them from Heaven by his daughter (and Papa’s late wife), Fiona. He’d chided the old man for being a foolish, old goat. He also remained silent in regards to his own terrible pain, seeing the striking resemblance this grievously injured woman bore to his dearly departed Fiona. I suspect that Finn must possess some uncommon intuition. Because as it turns out, he was more right than wrong.
 chap9-17e
I suspect that Malachi quietly conceded to Finn’s observation, and recognized how special these two were. Could it be that in the process of saving them, he had also saved himself?
 chap5rule
 chap9-17f
Alive. As impossible as it may seem, they are alive.
 chap9-17h
Adam remembers clinging to Kacey’s lifeless figure, just before losing consciousness himself. It was a thing of pure malice, and persisted for just a few moments after Hendrake finally found them. The wanton, murderous brutality was perpetrated without hesitation or thought. Adam’s last conscious thought was a desperate search for escape. He remembered the Algorithm, and the effort he and Luke had undertaken together to traverse it to it’s core. He had escaped then; transported to a young girl who had called him Lukey’boy (see chapter 8.17). He thought of that place again, just as a brilliant white light engulfed them. He assumed it was his own death. But then he woke up here. Alive.
 chap9-17j
The first thing that registers in Adam’s senses is the particular sound made by waves crashing below the bluff. They produce a unique acoustic quality, as echoes from the beating waves ebb and flow up the steep slope, just as the water ebbs and flows at the shoreline. There is a stillness he is not accustomed to, however; and the sound of the gentle sea breeze whispering through a dense population of conifers. Adam opens his eyes and quietly regards Kacey, who is lying next to him on an old, dilapidated bed.
 chap9-17g
Kacey had suffered the worst of Hendrake’s malignant hunger. It was violence for the sake of violence; something far worse than sadism. By all rights, the two of them should be long dead, having been splayed open like pigs at the slaughter; ripped from sternum to pelvis by Hendrake’s own, bare hands (if they can qualify as such). How is it possible to survive such a thing? Adam stands, tracing an unsteady line up from his waist to the tip of his unblemished throat. Nothing …no disfigurement …no scarring …nothing.
 chap9-17k
He quickly tends to Kacey as she begins to stir on the bed. Her breathing has accelerated, and she has begun to flail in her sleep. Adam gently hushes her, stroking her silvery hair. His eyes are the first thing she sees as she wakes form her terror. She quickly throws her arms around his neck and buries her face in his chest; trembling, but calm. Finally, her muffled question rises quietly from the tiny spaces between them. Is it over?
 chap9-17l
Adam breathes in a deep, cleansing breath and holds Kacey even tighter. For all he can tell, this may never end. There will always be a Hendrake and his ilk. There will always dwell, those who seek to defy, dismiss, and disprove any notion of divine providence. And they will continue a relentless and tireless campaign to crush and silence those who resist. No, this isn’t over. It will continue as long as he and Kacey exist, representing the one, true, and perfect Love.
 chap9-17m
His lips brush softly against her ear, his gentle breath moving wisps of silvery hair, causing them to fall in uniform strands to her shoulder. Her response is an embrace that is executed with such intensity, that it feels as though she were attempting to draw him wholly within herself.
 chap9-17n
No, love. It is only just beginning…