Chapter 9.5 – Interests

Nine generations of Barimens, spanning nearly two-hundred years, have lived on a bluff in Sunset Valley, overlooking the sea.
Adam Barimen, the ninth generation heir to the Barimen Estate, contemplates what he had been told by the woman who birthed him. Under normal circumstances, Anna would have been considered his mother. But things being as they are, it would be difficult for her to qualify as such. She had carried his physical form (presumably, a form that he had unconsciously chosen himself), and then bore him into this world. But that is the extent of their relation. To put it in simple terms, Adam is not human.
This, perhaps, is the only reason that Makayla and Luke give any merit to Adam’s account of the ill-fated visit to Anna. Noah has maliciously refused to corroborate Adam’s account of their mother’s death, if for no other reason, than to oppose his brother. In the long-run, however, it proved to be unnecessary. Makayla expertly wielded her considerable litigious clout, and pressed Fort Gnome with a blistering legal assault.
Months later, Anna’s remains are returned to the family with an apology. Anna had committed suicide ten years ago. But due to a clerical error, her records had been mixed up with those of another prisoner.
As Adam grows older, the memories of his formless past have begun to solidify. They are much more than memories, however. He is somehow able to consciously re-visit them, and interact with others by proxy. He has visited several of David Barimen’s memories in this fashion. And what’s more, Kacey is able to see him – not as David Barimen, but as himself, Adam. There is something amazing and special about her.
Adam has also discovered that he is able to travel through space and time as easily as a sim walks to the mailbox. It happened for the first time inadvertently, when he was injured during a fight with Noah. He had fled to Makayla, the sim who he’d always considered to be his mother.
Noah was able to deduce what had happened, and convinced Adam to use his ability to visit Anna. To be honest, it can’t all be blamed on Noah. Adam had often wondered about his birth-mother. He does not remember much about her, with the exception of one very special memory from when he was an infant. She was nursing him, and he remembers her beautiful, green eyes, and a warm smile that he can still visualize to this day. That memory proved to be sufficient enough for Adam to walk a few steps through spacetime to find her.
A short time later, he watched the life drain from those same eyes. The experience was traumatic, and he will never be the same because of it. But what she had told him with her dying breath, left an even larger impact upon his psyche. If what she told him is true, then he must somehow find a way to warn Kacey, the girl with silvery hair. Anna’s final words were a warning for Luke and Adam to leave Sunset Valley and hide; but he has no intention of hiding. He intends to stand…
…and fight.
The boys’ teen birthday arrive amid very little celebration; mostly, due to Noah’s continued struggles.
Since witnessing Anna’s death, Noah rarely says anything. But his malicious glare speaks volumes. He’d hated Adam already; but that night, when they visited a dying Anna, something snapped inside his mind. Noah’s annoying, attention-seeking pranks have become more secretive. And more dangerous.
At times, it is difficult to determine who Noah hates more, Makayla or Adam. He’d resented Makayla since childhood, and would often seek to play her and Luke against each other. But after the news of Anna’s death, the relationship between Luke and his closest, oldest friend had slowly warmed into an affectionate romance. This has only caused Noah to sink deeper into his twisted world, adding Luke to his list of perceived foes.
Luke and Makayla had tried to hide it, at first. But there are some things that just cannot go unnoticed, even inside a home as huge as the estate. The truth is, Adam couldn’t be happier. From his perspective, it brings everything full-circle. Obviously, he cannot begin to imagine the pain Luke must have felt when Anna was sentenced to spend her adult life in military confinement. And news of her death must have been crushing. But if anything, Luke is resilient. The transformation of his relationship with Makayla was restrained and respectful of Anna’s memory; or as Makayla often describes it – adorable.
Emergence into his teen years affords Adam some measure of independence. He has proved himself to be a responsible and dependable teen. Of course, it’s likely that he’s at least a hundred years older than any sim in Sunset Valley. But developmentally and physically, he’s still just a teen – and prone to those insurmountable hormonal rampages that all teens suffer. Adam chuckles, remembering what his biology teacher had said regarding her theory about aliens taking over the brains of teenage sims. If she only knew…
After learning to drive, Adam is given the opportunity to stay with his grandparents in South Sim Beach for a few weeks during summer vacation. Adam’s girlfriend, Flora, had asked her parents if she could go with him. Oddly, her parents agreed to let her go (possibly, the aliens never gave them their brains back). The fact of the matter is that their daughter is dating an heir to one of the wealthiest families in Sim Nation. What else where they going to say? They agreed with the stipulation that they keep separate sleeping arrangements throughout the trip.
Flora is a little bit on the wild side, and does not hesitate for a moment when the opportunity to do something rebellious presents itself. The trip should have taken only about twelve hours of driving time. But the teens do more stopping than driving. And when it starts to get dark, they’ve progressed less than half-way. Both teens understand what would likely happen if they were to make an overnight stop. The mischievous grin on Flora’s face betrays the fact that this was her plan all along.
Unwilling to fail on his end of the bargain, Adam subtly pushes through spacetime as they drive toward the nearest hotel. And much to Flora’s dismay, they arrive in South Sim Beach eight hours sooner than they should have. Adam shrugs off the impossible feat, and gives credit to the fuel booster he had used before leaving.
Amber and Wendell show the teens all of the tourist traps and shopping venues. And even though they’re both quite a bit older, his grandparents understand that young love also needs some quiet time. It’s those times that Adam and Flora spend together, alone on the beach, they enjoy the most.
It is late one evening, when the teens are too preoccupied with a very steamy make-out session to realize that it is well after their curfew. The police are a lot more relaxed here, and Adam is quite sure that they could easily spend the night on the beach without incident.
Adam’s mind races and his gut twists with the anxiety of having choose between two very conflicting outcomes. There is a line in the sand, and Flora has already leaped across it. Adam hesitates and considers consequences of doing something so risky. Then, within the blink of an eye, the decision seems wholly unimportant. His surroundings begin to gently shift into something less tangible; and Flora seems to fade away into the distance, even as she continues to entice Adam with her increasingly bold affections.
The police in Sunset Valley are quite a bit more strict when it comes to curfew. Kacey barely makes it through his bedroom window, before a police spotlight shines into the room. She giggles excitedly, then kisses him firmly on the mouth. Still breathing heavily from her sprint away from police, Kacey stops, opens her eyes and takes a cautious step backward.
Author’s Note: See Chapter 2.13
She surrenders a shy smile upon recognising Adam. She is no longer the little girl from David’s earlier memories. She is even more beautiful now. They stare at each other for a moment. Then, after feeling a draft, Adam realizes that he is wearing only his boxers.
He leaps to grab a pillow, blanket, or anything else to conceal himself. Kacey laughs at his reaction. With Adam scrambling to pull on a pair of pants, Kacey lets her hair down, then asks if he remembers their past few nights together.
Adam meekly shakes his head. She closes the space between them with a few graceful steps, then gently kisses him on the lips. Afterwards, with her eyes still closed, she smiles and whispers that his kisses are different than David’s. She opens her eyes and touches his silvery hair. She smiles again, absently murmuring that he’s not like other sims. He is the same her.
Adam tentatively takes Kacey’s hands into his. He manages to choke out the words that the two of them are somehow connected. He tells her about being David’s distant descendant, and that he cannot control when he comes to visit. She quiets him with another kiss.
Their physical voices remain perfectly silent. And it’s doubtful they would have spoken, even if they were able to find the words to describe what they hear. The booming voices of their ancestors have emerged and started singing in unison, weaving together an otherworldly harmony. The resulting hymn shakes the earth beneath their feet. And it easily moves them both to tears. They stand like this, locked in an embrace, for a long time.
Then, when Adam senses it is about to end, he kisses her wet cheeks, strokes her slivery hair, and promises that that he will not rest until he finds her.
Fire consumes without hesitation and without discrimination; hypnotically and addictively.
Somewhere within a small, nameless suburb of Sunset Valley, Noah stands inside the tree-line, just out of sight. Emotionless, he admires his work of art. The flames defiantly resist the efforts of firefighters to extinguish them. Another canister of fuel ignites inside the burning farmhouse, bringing a smile to Noah’s face. That was the master bedroom.
A cold chill interrupts his enjoyment. A spirit has joined him. Is it the spirit of a sim trapped within the burning house? Could he possibly be that fortunate? No. The spirit is old, angry, and evil. Noah likes him already. Its chilling inner voice grates over Noah, while dreadful, icy fingers probe his defective mind. He compliments Noah for producing such a fine work, which clearly bears the mark of a prodigy. Another explosion produces a small mushroom cloud, and a wide grin on Noah’s face.
That accounts for all five residents. No escape. Impressive.
The spirit introduces himself as Corwin, and he suspects they likely share some very intriguing common interests.

Chapter 9.4 – Hunger

Adam doesn’t remember much after finding Makayla, or even going to the hospital.
The one thing he does recall, however, is another memory about that cute, silvery-haired girl. Much like the other memories he’s had of her, this one only lasted a little while. But there was one important difference. He’d never been able to talk to her before. And this time, he could. Her name is Kacey, and she had told him she was afraid of her weird brother.
But was it a memory? Or was it a dream? It felt interactive, like he’d actually been there, experiencing it.
The gash on Adam’s head had bled a lot. But when doctors are finally able to treat his injury, there isn’t much to treat. Doctors are more concerned that Makayla had over-exaggerated the extent of the injury. But she was not imagining things. The only explanation (which she obviously does not share with doctors) is that Adam’s body had already repaired much of the damage by itself. Adam returns home with Makayla with little more than sticker for his trouble. And of course, ice-cream.
Spending quality time alone with Luke and Makayla together is a very rare treat for Adam. He enjoys the opportunity while Noah is at school. Both adults do a lot of talking. It’s mostly about when Adam was a baby. Luke talks a lot about Anna, and how she loved spending time with Adam before she was taken away ten years ago.
Adam can sense immediately when the topic of conversation is about to change to “the accident”. He shares the few details he can remember. He was sound asleep when Noah came into his room to frighten him out of bed with a prank. They started yelling at each other, as usual. But then Noah poked Adam in the chest and started saying stuff about Makayla. Adam swung first, and landed a couple really good punches. He’s not sure how, but they ended up wrestling and figthing into the hallway. Then the next thing Adam remembers is Noah shoving him down the stairs.
Makayla kisses Adam on the forehead and looks him directly in the eyes. Then asks him, very gently, how he was able to find her.
Adam hesitates, losing himself in thought. He remembers hitting his head and being really scared. He knew right away it was bad. All he wanted at that moment was Kay. Then he just went to her.
As Adam begins to verbalize his thoughts, he hears a very familiar sound. It’s the voices again; the ones that have been with him from the very beginning. Brilliant, golden light erupts around him as he feels the weight of feathery wings manifesting on his back. Being somewhat unprepared for this revelation, Adam’s eyes dart between Luke and Makayla. And then, quite suddenly, he understands something very important.
He is different…
Adam lays awake in his bed, late that night, contemplating what had happened today. After the startling discovery, he and his parents sat together, spontaneously hugging and laughing. It finally felt like what real families are supposed to do. But unfortunately, Noah eventually came home from school. And he scowled silently at Adam all through dinner and up until bedtime.
He’s not surprised at all when his bedroom door quietly eases open. The safety of his bedroom is not enough to prevent chill-bumps from raising on his skin when Noah’s mocking and sinister voice drips into the dark room. Tell me how you did that.
Noah emerges from the shadows, his green eyes blazing in the darkness. He repeats his demand to know how Adam was able to find Makayla. Adam sniffs defiantly and dismisses his unstable brother, stating that it is none of his business. Noah scowls again, and states that is completely his business. He’d always known that Adam was some kind of freak. But he had no idea that he could be a useful freak. He points demeaning finger at Adam and accuses him of being a brainless idiot. Adam can feel his anger seeping up again, but he swallows it and tells Noah to leave. Noah ignores him and continues.
He conjures up his best condescending tone and asks if Adam had ever considered the possibility that he would be able to go to their REAL mother in the same way he went to Makayla…
It is the only real weapon she has to use against them. It may have been weeks already; but it’s impossible to tell when she ate her last meal. They’re not even human enough to notice. All they care about is her knowledge regarding the experiment Luke destroyed.
Well, they’re not going to get it…
She had been at death’s door once already, and she is very close again. It is a last, desperate bid to protect her family for a little while longer. Her only regret is that she will be unable to warn Adam …and Luke…
His name forms as a whisper on her parched lips for what might be the last time. A small twinge of jealousy tugs at her gut. She’d seen how well he and Makayla had meshed together. There were times after the boys were born that she’d felt like she was on the outside looking in. There is no doubting Luke’s loyalty or love for his wife. But she’s only served the first few months of her bogus fifty-year sentence. It cannot be easy for him. The slightest smile tugs at the corners of her mouth. Makayla has been a blessing. And she’ll be a loving wife for Luke. She just prays that her sacrifice will afford them some intimacy before…
 …before the end.
Her thoughts wander to Adam, the son she birthed but could never have conceived. It all revolves around him. Thinking about it, the whole thing smacks of some half-baked science-fiction saga. Two warring, alien races bringing their fight to a tiny speck of a town on an impossibly innocuous, little world. And now she gets to die protecting the last, living member of the “good guys” from a murderous contingent of “bad guys”. She laughs out loud into her disgustingly dingy cell. Maybe all the drugs she took in the past have finally cooked her brain, and she’s just hallucinating the whole thing.
Pain grips at her insides; a signal that her body is cannibalizing itself for sustenance. Death cannot be far away.
She calms as a burst of radiant, golden light floods her sickly accommodations. The sound of singing angels accompanies the light. Her heart races in anticipation. But then a sudden realization strikes. She knows those voices. They had sung out into the cosmos during her entire pregnancy. And the warm, golden light is the hallmark of Adam’s glowing wings.
She’d suspected he was powerful. But she had no idea he would be able to do this sort of thing so soon, and at such a young age.
Her vision has been ravaged by starvation. Still, she sees two tiny sim shapes emerge from the fading, golden light. One has shining, silvery hair – Adam? And the other possesses her own penetrating, green eyes – Noah!?
The sim with shining sliver hair shouts ecstatically and races toward her. His embrace causes her to wince in pain, but she ignores it. She kneels to his level and brings his face close. He looks just like Luke. And there’s something else. The boys appear to be at the cusp of their teens. But that’s impossible. They should be no more than three years-old. She’s only been here a few months… hasn’t she? There’s no time to worry about it now.
The presence behind Adam’s powerful eyes conveys an intelligence and wisdom far beyond his youthful exterior. He can sense that she is about to die. She sits with her back against the filthy wall and reaches out for Noah. His intense, green eyes widen in horror. Then he cowers away; as though repulsed by the thought of hugging such a sickly looking creature. Sensing her disappointment, Adam holds on tighter. Anna cries out as pain racks her body. Then her breathing begins to shallow.
She pulls Adam closer, whispering to him everything she has learned. His face remains expressionless until the end, when Anna’s breath becomes faint. Life fades from brilliant, green eyes and her final words linger on unmoving lips.
…leave… sunsetvalley …and… hide…

Chapter 9.3 – Altercation

 Author’s Note: After nine generations in Sunset Valley, I’ve found that a very interesting thing has happened. The vast majority of families now living in the town are somehow related to the legacy family. Four bloodlines seem to have really been very prolific:

  • Doc and Hope – they had five kids together, and the offspring from those children are all over the place.
  • Mary Upchurch  – Mary was Mark’s sister. She and her sister Elizabeth were the last kids between David and Ciara. Again, there are quite a few Upchurch family branches in town.
  • Tina Mann  – Tina was Faith’s daughter, born at the same time as Amber. Tina had five children. Makayla is the middle child. Her older brother and sister have started families of their own, as well.
  • Nava – By far the most extensive family tree in Sunset Valley. Dara (Hope’s sister) and Richard only had one child; but Nava offspring are virtually everywhere.
One of the great ironies of life, is that childhood lasts forever in the eyes of a child. But from the point of view of their parents, it disappears all too quickly.
As years stroll past, sims in the Barimen household struggle to find peace. Any hopes that Noah and Adam might strike common ground to foster the bond of brotherhood, are fleeting at best. Noah’s mean-streak is mostly to blame for the ongoing feud. Though Adam, at times, can come across as slightly high-and-mighty; especially when he begins lecturing his brother about being Good.
Makayla was present for the boys’ birth, and she understands that Adam is something different and special. But his glowing, angelic wings had not appeared since toddler-hood, and he shows no indication that he remembers anything about his otherworldly origins. She often wonders to herself whether he understands that he is not like other sims.
Socially, the boys are polar opposites. Adam has grown to be one of the most popular and well-liked kids at school. There is no questioning the natural leadership and charisma he possesses. And while he is far more social than his father ever was, he displays Luke’s gracious humility and charm.
Then there is Noah, who has chosen to travel a different path than the vast majority of Barimens before him. An outside observer might explain his propensity toward wrongdoing as “lashing out” at the trauma over being separated from Anna at such a young age. Whatever the cause, one thing is clear. He despises his brother, and he goes out of his way to make misery for Makayla and Luke.
However improbable it may seem (considering how Noah is only a child), Makayla cannot help but sometimes wonder whether the little creep is driving them toward a chaotic family implosion, just so he can stand back and enjoy the carnage. Some days, the tension caused by Noah’s antics is unbearable.
And, if things weren’t troubled enough already, Makayla soon realizes that she has become increasingly dependent upon the innocuous hugs Luke provides when consoling her. It is particularly evident when she is at her weakest, worn down by Noah’s wiles. She catches herself somewhat awkwardly embracing Luke in return.
Granted, she and Luke are both desirable, young adults with a lot in common. They’ve managed to keep their friendship grounded and platonic for years. But at times, the attraction is undeniable. Makayla suspects that extracting herself out of this situation would be sensible, if not outright advisable. But Leaving now would crush Adam, and set Luke into an emotional tailspin.
Still, she sometimes contemplates finding a man she can settle down with to start her own family. But, then, there is an uneasy sense that she’s already found him; and he is hopelessly out of reach. Despite her emotional battle, Makayla decides that she is exactly where she needs to be. She calls up her inner-strength and willpower to overcome the temptations, and finish the job she has started.
The decision is selfless and commendable. But Makayla does not entirely comprehend its scope until late, one evening, when she is working at her office at Doo Peas. There had been no contact with Anna since the first few months of her incarceration. The only information she is able to glean, is that Anna had been placed in the mental ward, where contact with family is prohibited. Neat trick, that.
Military legal code is far different than civil law. Nonetheless, Makayla has made it her mission to find a way to get Anna released. Obviously, it’s just simply the right thing to do. But personally, keeping Anna in the forefront of her thoughts provides Makayla the reality check needed to remind her that Luke is a distant cousin; and also a married man.
Makayla rubs her eyes and directs her tired gaze to the clock. She’d lost track of time and it is getting pretty late. She stands, stretches, and begins to pack her things. Then a faint sound causes her to take pause. It sounds a little bit like a men’s church choir, with booming baritones and trumpeting tenors. When the floor abruptly shifts beneath her feet, Makayla lunges out to the desk to steady herself from falling.
Adam’s voice, crying in long wails, grows in volume until it sounds like he is right next to her. She can also hear Noah, laughing maniacally some distance behind him.
Her office instantly  becomes flooded in an otherworldly, golden light. Then, sobbing in gulps, Adam launches himself into Makayla; burying his face into her midsection. The golden light vanishes as quickly as it appeared. The angelic voices fade, until only Adam’s muffled sobs remain.
Even in the subdued lighting of her office, Makayla can see thick globs of blood flowing from a deep gash on top of his head. Amazingly, she does not panic. She manages to piece together something about Noah frightening Adam out of bed, then some kind of altercation, then Adam falling down the stairs.
Makayla frowns and comforts Adam. How on earth did he get here? Never mind that. She needs to get him to the emergency room; and quickly. A picture of Noah’s wicked, little face comes to mind and she sneers involuntarily.
It’s a miracle Adam wasn’t killed.
Reid has been acting really weird, lately. Adam’s birthday is in just a few days, and he hasn’t said much of anything about it. All he does is talk about that stupid, old mine.
His kid sister, Kacey, hasn’t been quite the same either. The three of them sit together at Reid’s dinner table, doing homework. When she glances up at Adam, her eyes widen and something like a smile tries to emerge on her pretty face. This goes on for some time, with Kacey continually making a point to look at him, as though she were periodically checking to see if he was still there.
Reid finishes his homework then sternly announces that he has work to do on the computer. He shoots an suspicious glare at Adam, then a warning glance at Kacey. Something here is not right.
After Reid leaves the room, Kacey’s musical voice, now colored with worry and stress, nervously whispers out to Adam. She asks a really strange question – who are you?
Adam stands, approaches Kacey, then cocks his head. Wearing what is sure to be a confused expression, he chuckles and begins to make a joke about it. But then, it doesn’t seem quite so funny; because he was about to say his name was David. He steps forward, sensing Kacey’s anxiety, and realizes that this is no laughing matter. He pauses, stutters, then tells her his name is Adam.
She smiles a quick, sad smile. Then her eyes begin to fill with tears.
Adam, please stay with me. I’m really scared…

Chapter 9.2 – Library

No matter what he does to distract himself, Adam cannot stop thinking about the situation his father described earlier.
He and Luke had talked for at least an hour about his birth-mother, Anna. Adam’s father tells the funny story about the night she she slugged him just to get him to notice her; and how it was true love after that. Some bad things had happened to her, and she was in the hospital for a little while. He explains how Anna was still very sick while she was pregnant. And when Luke got to the part about her trial, he’d said very little; simply that she was sent away to jail for something that happened at Fort Gnome. And even though they knew it wasn’t her fault, they punished her like it was.
His father did not go into great detail about the specifics, but he didn’t have to. There had been a deliberate injustice committed. It would have been like punishing Adam for Noah’s prank at school. Adam immediately understands what Kay’s big project is. She has been working to find a way to have Anna released from jail. She’d spent years searching for some legal loophole or advantage, but nothing has ever come to fruition.
Apart from discovering that his mother is in jail, Adam noticed another interesting detail. However subtle or unconscious it may have been, Adam did not miss the distinction that his father made between he and Noah. Anna is Noah’s biological parent. As for Adam, she is his birth-parent. No matter how curious he was about difference, he was far too interested in what his father was saying to change the subject. Besides, any conversation including Noah, always ends up being about Noah.
Adam purposefully did not mention the gnawing sensation that has been bothering him recently. At first, he’d chalked it up to wanting a sibling that didn’t completely hate him. But there’s something more urgent about this. It feels stronger that just wanting sister. Inexplicably, it almost feels like he needs to protect somebody. His mind warders to the girl with silvery hair. Is she in trouble? He relaxes on his bed, intent on staying awake until Kay comes home.
As Adam’s mind continues to explore what his senses are trying to tell him, something like sleep washes over him; and he finds himself visiting another distant memory. But is it just a memory? He recognises the library immediately. Strange how it hasn’t changed that much after such a long time…
If there’s one thing Adam absolutely cannot stand, it is wasting a perfectly good day sitting inside the library. What kid in his right mind (besides Reid) would spend such a beautiful day reading geo-something-or-other maps of Sunset Valley? Adam had figured that, at least, he’d be able to convince his best friend to do something other than study on his birthday. What’s worse, is that it’s studying for stuff not even related to school.
Reid had gathered a stack of books and had asked Adam to find a bunch of others. It’s physically painful for Adam to look out the window and see the beautiful day with him not enjoying it. He focuses only enough to locate the correct numbers marked on the spines of books Reid had asked for.
Adam deposits the books next to Reid and considers wishing his friend a happy birthday, then escaping to the beach to catch some fish by himself.
His thoughts of fishing are interrupted by an oddly familiar sound. He hears her voice again, and the faint chorus that accompanies it. The cute girl with silvery hair rounds the corner into the main area where they are sitting. She had found the maps Reid is looking for in the archives. The girl stops and smiles upon seeing Adam. He can feel his cheeks blushing as his own smile appears with a will of it’s own.
Reid instantly buries his face in the new books, ignoring both his sister and Adam. She takes a couple graceful steps closer to Adam, then blushes in kind. When she is close, she just studies him for a short time. A sweet smile appears on her face, as if to thank him for visiting. But before either of them can speak, the memory fades, and Adam emerges again into his bedroom. Kay is standing beside him, commenting on the plaque above his bed.
Still slightly spooked, Adam blinks then finds he is staring at Kay. She scrunches her eyebrows and asks, somewhat worried, if he is okay after talking to his father about Anna. Adam nods absently, but says nothing.
The corner of the room is occupied by an antique sofa that has graced many different rooms in the Barimen household across several generations. Kay sits gently on the comfortable sofa and breathes a heavy sigh. She has been wanting to speak with Adam for a long time about his mother. After all, she owes him some kind of explanation; considering his adorable attempts to bring her and his father together as a couple.
Having no “good” way to approach the subject, she explains that for all of the different reasons why she and Luke cannot be to together, the most important reason is because Luke already loves Anna. Kay describes her memories of his parents’ amazing love story. She also emphasizes that just because they are apart from each other, does not mean that there is any love lost between them.
Adam nods and frowns. After awhile, he regards Kay with bright, blue eyes, and asks if he can still call her “Mom”. She smiles broadly, marveling at Adam’s ability to say exactly the right thing.
Kay stands up, then rustles his silvery hair. She tucks him in, turns off his light, then tells him that hearing it is, without a doubt, the best part of her day.
After Kay leaves, Adam lays awake in his darkened bedroom and thinks about his mother, Anna. It must be really hard for them to not be able to see each other. Then, as the fog of sleep settles around him, his mind wanders again. And he sees the girl with silvery hair. She has been waiting for him.
He falls asleep enjoying another memory of her, while quietly wondering to himself whether the empty and anxious sensation he gets when the memory ends, is anything close to what his parents must be feeling.

Chapter 9.1 – Prank

Adam quietly listens while Makayla speaks with the school principal, discussing the finer points of a very messy prank pulled on the school after hours yesterday.
Evidence found at “ground zero” would seem to point to Adam being the perpetrator. But Makayla assures the flustered, young woman that Adam had gone to a movie and then burgers with his father yesterday, as reward for perfect grades. They were out fairly late; well after the damage was done.
Adam’s lips curl into a disgruntled expression of disgust as he leaves the school with Makayla. There is no need for either she or Adam to voice their suspicions about the prank. They both know it was Noah. Still, Adam apologizes for the embarrassment, gives her an reassuring hug, then says something that leaves Makayla wearing a flattered smile.
I love you, Mom.
From the very beginning of school, Adam has taken to regarding Makayla as “Mom” instead of “Kay”, while among his friends. It’s honestly a whole lot easier than having to explain the entire situation to every single sim who asks about it. After awhile, he became so comfortable with it, that he started saying it at home, too.
Makayla is somewhat awkward with the undeserved title. And oddly, the harmless gesture seems to have intensified her building urge to settle down and start her own family. Parenting Noah, however, has been a great equalizer in her desire to experience motherhood for herself. She would just as soon remain celibate her entire lifetime, if there was even the slightest chance of conceiving another sim like Noah.
The kid is a repulsive, little creep. And he seems to derive great enjoyment from opposing whatever Adam does. In his bent mind, Noah has found it necessary to oppose Adam in addressing their parents as “Mom” and “Dad”. Her cousin nearly lost his mind when Noah called him “Luke” the first time. And the reaction was all Noah needed to continue doing it indefinitely.
When they arrive home, Adam finds Noah playing video games on the sofa. The smug smile on his brother’s face warrants a thorough beat-down, but Adam maintains his cool. Given the many tense moments, so far, none have ended in a fist-fight. And honestly, there’s no sense in subjecting his family to any more unnecessary drama.
Kay kisses Adam on the head, then rustles his shining, silvery hair. Although she had already said so, Kay again praises Adam for his hard work and great attitude. Surely, this is more for Noah’s benefit than Adam’s. But quietly, Adam enjoys the reinforcement. Having made her point, Kay explains that she needs to do some after-hours work at Doo Peas. There’s been a small breakthrough on a case she’s been working on, and she wants to follow up on it tonight.
Adam has suspected, for some time, that Kay’s pet project has something to do with his and Noah’s real mother. Adam has not built up the courage to ask either Kay or Luke about it. Surely there is a good reason why they have not mentioned it. What if she was killed in some horrible tragedy, and their dad still hasn’t fully recovered? Or worse, what if she’s like Noah?
Kay sternly announces to Noah that he is grounded for the stunt at school. Without flinching or missing a step in his game, Noah responds with an offensive, two-word vulgarity. Laughing, he then challenges her to prove it, replacing her name with another another foul expletive.
Before the signal to dismantle Noah has a chance to travel from Adam’s brain to his extremities, Kay has placed a restraining hand on his shoulder. Her face is humorless and her expression is firm as she shakes her head warning Adam not to respond. This is a fight for another day and time. She smiles weakly, instructing Adam to hang up the award in his room; promising to come check it out after she gets home.
Luke arrives home just Kay is leaving. They exchange words outside by the front gate. Adam can see his father offering a friendly hug, then apologizing to her after an animated account of the afternoon. Sometimes Adam wishes that Kay and their dad would just settle down together. He’d really love to have a little sister.
Unfortunately, Adam is pretty sure that the situation isn’t quite so simple as he wishes it could be. They’ve really never talked about why Makayla lives here. As best Adam can tell, she is some kind of family relation and works closely with his dad in managing all of the businesses he owns. Unfortunately, any time the four of them try to have a discussion, it just turns into another crisis, courtesy of Noah.
Adam grins as he adjusts the Honor Roll plaque on the wall above his bed. His mind wanders from his idiot brother, to the accomplishment now hanging prominently on the wall, then to thoughts about his father and Kay, and his dreams of having a little sister. Then, Adam finds that his mind has wandered back to a time and place that, while impossibly distant, somehow seems vaguely familiar.
Adam stands with his hands on his hips, laughing as Reid hangs another award to the wall in his bedroom. He had just said something he thought was really funny; something about just making wallpaper out of his awards. As usual, Reid doesn’t get it.
After January Donner grew up to a teen, their trio had become just two. Reid had always been a weird kid, but he was still Adam’s best friend. Even so, he has been extra-weird, lately. All he wants to talk about is the abandoned mine they’d found last year. Sure it was pretty cool, but there are new things to go discover… like the mysterious circle of huge, standing stones that Adam had seen while using the telescope at the top floor of Reid’s apartment. Maybe it’s the massive fingers of a giant, buried robot!
He tunes out Reid’s discussion about theories as to why it is unlikely to be a giant robot hand; and ponders, instead, about how Reid used to be really fun to play with. Finally, Adam interrupts and asks Reid what he’s planning on doing for his birthday. His own birthday is just a few days after Reid’s, but he isn’t planning on throwing a party. Reid understands, without his friend having to say anything, about being too embarrassed to have anybody come over to his tiny, wooden shack for a house.
The uncomfortable lapse in their conversation is broken by Reid’s sister. Her sweet, angelic voice is accompanied by an otherworldly chorus as she speaks. He’s not sure, exactly, what she was saying when she came into the room. It was something about her nerdy brother being too boring to have a birthday party, but that he is welcome to come over and celebrate if he wants to…
They make only the briefest eye contact. But in that instant, Adam gains a glimpse of bright, blue eyes framed by shining, silver hair. She stops in her tracks upon seeing Adam, her face forming an unreadable, curious expression of astonishment.
Luke’s voice snaps Adam out of his subconscious state. After Adam fully emerges, he can see the worried expression on his father’s face. Adam smiles and apologizes for zoning out. But before Luke can respond, or offer his own apology for Noah’s behavior, he catches his breath. With a half smile on his face, and in a distant voice, Adam describes his brief encounter with the weird kid named Reid, and a beautiful, young girl with silvery hair and blue eyes. Adam shakes his head, and for the first time, verbalizes his realization that he is different from the rest of the family. Then, while Luke tries to formulate a response, Adam again abruptly shifts topics.
The boy attempts, but does poorly to hide his emotion, when he asks Luke what happened to his real mother.

Chapter 9 – Adam

Makayla playfully chases Adam down the long hallway leading from his bedroom.
He’d managed to escape from the dreaded chore of having his shining, silvery hair brushed after taking a bath. She laughs and gives up as the soft rustle of feathers and a warm, golden glow accompanies the manifestation of angelic wings; allowing him to hover just out of her reach.
Let’s ignore, for a moment, the evidence suggesting that Adam Barimen is some sort of inter-dimensional, alien being. For the most part, he’s still just a kid.
Granted, he’s a kid with silken, chrome-like hair and magnificent, glowing wings that appear whenever he’s feeling particularly feisty. Of course, it only seems to happen when he’s at home at home with his parents (the wing bit, that is. The part about feeling feisty actually seems to be the case most of the time).
Although he has not yet developmentally acquired the cognitive ability to understand why, Adam has always felt a very close bond with his father. The time they do spend together is always very special. But unfortunately, Luke is forced to spend most of his time with with Noah.
Every minute of every day is a competition with Noah for a sliver of Luke’s attention. It’s a competition that Adam loses nine times out of ten. If the inequity bothers Adam, he does not seem to show it. And he gives away nothing to impress upon his brother that he is unlike the rest of the family. Whether he is consciously protecting his secret or not is unclear. But he seems to instinctively know to keep it hidden from everybody except Luke and Makayla.
Adam is the first to understand that Makayla isn’t their mother. He’d deduced this through interactions he’d seen between other kids and their mothers, either at the park or out in the stroller. Besides, Makayla has always just been “Kay” to Adam and Noah, and never “momma”, “mommy”, or “mum”. Not only that, but Kay and their father aren’t smoochy like the other kids’ moms and dads are.
Still, Kay is really great. She spends a lot of time with Adam. He can’t really fault her, because most of the time he doesn’t like being around Noah either. There’s really no nice way to say it. He’s just a bad sim.
As the boys grow older, Noah’s difficulties become more complex and troubling. Luke begins to lose his patience with his son’s flippant and arrogant demeanor. There are many threats of sending him away to boarding school. Kay often tries to reason with Noah, but it never helps.
Nobody but Adam seems to be able to stop Noah when he’s on a rampage. They’d shared their mother’s womb; and there is an unspoken, understood hierarchy in place. All it requires is an intense, penetrating stare-down for Adam to shut his brother up for a good, long while. Adam does not assert himself like this very often. But when he does, Noah immediately complies.

Noah Barimen (Evil, Excitable, Daredevil)

And he also resents it.
It is a situation that could quickly develop into trouble. Each recognises the potential for disaster, and they each manage it in their own way. For now, Noah does not possess the maturity to understand that he occupies a position of power and control over the family.
That, however, will soon change. And when it does, Adam’s survival may require something more than his own supernatural nature alone. Admittedly, finding the only other living being in the universe like himself may prove to be impossible.

Adam Barimen (Good, Brave, Family Oriented)

But as events unfold, both their lives may depend upon it happening before time runs out.

Chapter 8.25 – Running

He has been running and hiding for at least a year.
He sensed almost immediately after murdering his daughter, Sandi, that something was wrong. He had anticipated instant gratification for his accomplishment. But instead, he became aware that he had failed yet again.
So he ran. And he continued to run, hiding with the rats and the other vermin; sustaining himself on the stuff they left behind.
But there is no hiding from something so wicked as Corwin.
He has proved to be spectacularly incompetent, in spite of the advantages he had paid so dearly to acquire. Sadly, he must now pay his debt in-full. And the Beast always comes to collect in person.
Perhaps he will succeed at being a decent chew toy.
Though it is doubtful.
A grizzly and entertaining death is exactly what Corwin needed to improve his foul mood. That, and another debt collected. A chilling wind blows through the city’s murky underbelly as Corwin’s lips curl into a malicious smile. Even the reaper knows not to interfere.
There truly is plenty to smile about. Opportunity has again thrown herself at him like a smut-drunk lover, desperate for yet another lurid and raunchy affair. And while each previous copulation with fate has been mildly entertaining, there is something special about this particular rendezvous that promises to be grossly satisfying.
This time, it’s family.

Chapter 8.24 – Journey

Life, even for a sim, has its ups, downs, highs, and lows.
Anna Barimen has experienced events in her life that touch every range of emotion. She had even briefly glimpsed into the afterlife and witnessed the promise of eternal peace, that some sims would claim, it has to offer. But for the first time in her memory, Anna is able to enjoy the tranquility of simple happiness which she derives from being a loving mother and wife.
And while motherhood is no picnic, she has come to cherish both the merits and the trials that are built in to the role. Noah has been a demanding baby from his first few moments out of the womb. She and Luke spend most of their time and energy tending to his demands. To say he is “high maintenance” child would be putting it lightly.
As a sim who is on the outside looking in, Makayla’s perception is not colored by the unconditional love of parenthood. And while she does not speak her concerns, Makayla knows that Noah is not only a difficult child, but an evil one.
The experience with Adam is something entirely different. He appears to be a normal baby by nearly every measure. The exception, of course, are the whisps of silvery hair on his little head and the glowing, angelic wings that seem to shimmer in and out of existence at will. Anna calls him her little cherub. She knows he is not her own flesh and blood. But there is still a fierce maternal instinct she feels; and a sense that this responsibility was the one her father had warned her about.
Anna basks in the love she feels for her three boys; letting go of the past, and building upon her newly discovered faith. But the tranquility does not last long. Talk of her court-martial had quieted to where Makayla was hopeful the charges might be dismissed. But Makayla admittedly does not possess the same legal clout in military matters, as she does in the civil arena. Anna’s sons, Noah and Adam, barely emerge into their toddler years before the legal hammer falls.
It happens almost too quickly. Makayla had prepared herself by studying military procedures and code. She felt strongly that she could defend against any prosecution. But she soon learns that neither she nor Luke will be permitted to hear the testimony, as most of the evidence presented will involve highly classified, sensitive information. Anna must rely on  counsel provided by the military; someone who possesses the required clearance levels. There is a foreboding sense that this is simply window dressing, and the outcome is already decided.
In the days leading up to her trial, Anna becomes quiet and distant. She barely sleeps, oftentimes opting to just sit with her sons as they sleep in her arms. And, on the night before the trial takes place, she and Luke share in each other’s love in a manner they had not experienced since their first time together. Of course, neither of them imagine that it might very well be their last time together.
Anna’s “crimes” are tried with a general court-martial. The records are sealed due to the classified nature of the case. The entire proceeding takes only a few days, and the decision is unanimous. She is found guilty of trespassing, military espionage, and treason.
Luke’s lifetime ban from Fort Gnome is temporarily lifted so he can attend Anna’s sentencing. The treason charge, which could have carried a death sentence, is commuted to criminal sabotage by the general presiding as judge. The punishment is overly harsh for her actual role in this “crime”; fifty years in military confinement. Luke and Anna share an emotional embrace before she is taken by military police, in shackles, to serve out her time.
A deep, seething anger boils over from inside Luke. This is not how it was supposed to happen. He snaps as Anna disappears deep into the bowels of Fort Gnome. Anna did nothing wrong and they know it. This is Luke’s punishment for erasing the algorithm. Makayla barely manages to calm Luke, narrowly preventing him from doing something stupid. The smug smile worn by the general presiding over the case does not help her effort. But Luke does eventually calm himself, then glares at the group of officers congratulating each other.
Makayla comforts Luke and wipes the angry tears from his face. She states urgently that the trial was illegal. She joins her cousin in an angry glare toward the military brass, vowing that she will not rest until she makes this right.
He spits on the floor in disgust as he turns to leave. This just cannot be how it ends.
In the aftermath of Anna’s court-marital, Amber and Wendell retire to South Sim Beach to help care for an aging Ben and Lisa. They come to visit Sunset Valley often, at first. But those visits soon become less frequent.
Luke’s cousin, Makayla, had witnessed Adam’s birth. She is fully aware that he represents something truly unique. Believing there are no accidents in life, Makayla feels that she was meant know to Adam’s nature for a reason. Luke and Anna together had difficulty contending with Noha’s demeanor. Now, there is no telling how her cousin will manage alone.
Luke wears the shroud of a defeated man, and he suffers the pain of being separated from his wife. Makayla knows that Adam will also suffer as a result of Luke’s issues with Noah. And no matter how strong Luke thinks he is, no one sim can manage those things alone in addition to running the business of an estate.
She shares her concerns with Luke in an honest but empathic way, then offers to move into the estate with he and the boys. Not only can she help him with bringing up Adam and Noah, but she’d be a perfect fit for managing the legal side of his estate affairs. She knows immediately it is the right thing to do when he covers his face with this hand to conceal the emotional response. After regaining his composure, Luke simply nods and thanks her. He asks if she is sure this is what she wants to do.
Makayla smiles and shares her belief that she was shown Adam’s true nature for a reason. She has always felt like the estate was a second home, going as far back as her childhood; when she would come here to escape the craziness of her large family for awhile. Besides, she does not want her legal career to be measured in terms of courtroom wins and losses. Managing the Barimen fortune will catapult her career and keep her skills sharp, while still being available to help Luke with the boys.
Luke’s story ends with his makeshift family doing their best to bring peace to the maligned Barimen Estate.
For years, Luke has carried the ring his grandmother had given to him on the night she died; and along with it, a supernatural seed he had found inside Reid Kimura’s cave. He tells Makayla the haunting tale of how Grandma Faith had charged him with somehow getting the ring back to Kacey; another being like Adam. He understands now that this is Adam’s job to complete. He’s not entirely sure where the seed fits in, but he suspects that Adam will also figure this out on his own. He puts both artifacts, along with a note, safely away inside a lock-box in Adam’s room.
Luke still remembers everything he had learned about his ancestors, from when he was able to draw upon the entity’s …Adam’s …shared memories. Makayla often sits and listens to him talking about the past, writing down every incredible detail for the benefit of future generations. Perhaps one day she will raise a family of her own and share the story with them.
But for now, this is where she is supposed to be. Maybe she’s here to help raise Adam. Or maybe it’s to ensure that the estate survives past this generation.
Or perhaps, she is simply here to listen so that one day she can recount the remarkable legacy of the Barimen family, and retell the tale of their most incredible and unlikely journey.

Chapter 8.23 – Fate

Ying had warned Luke that Sandi’s fate was intertwined with his. But he would never have suspected this is what she had meant.
Luke is the last to leave the cemetery after Sandi’s memorial. And it isn’t until after he is alone that he sheds his own tears. Out of respect for her firm religious disbelief, there had been no service for Sandi. But Luke prays for her, regardless.
Two graves have been placed at the Barimen family cemetery at Luke’s request. One is for Sandi. The other is for his child, whom he will never have the privilege of meeting. There is another casualty, as well. With its only tether to the physical world gone, Luke can only assume the entity is either lost or dead. He shakes his head in defeat. All this time… all this work… for nothing.
Police could find no evidence to suspect foul play in Sandi’s death. She had likely slipped and lost balance while taking a bath, struck her head, and drowned while unconscious. Was Jiang Xi wrong?
He wonders if the outcome would have been different had he just kept his mouth shut about the whole entity business. He should have just allowed Sandi discover things on her own. He would have been there, and could have prevented this senseless accident from ever happening.
He finally walks away after his phone rings and he sees that it is his mother, Amber, calling. She and Wendell had decided to spend the winter months in South Sim Beach with Ben and Lisa (who probably have very few winters remaining). Amber has always been a wonderfully nurturing mother hen to him. And now her doting nature brings a smile to his face when he needs it most. She was just calling to see how he is holding up (again), and to offer (again) to come home if he needs her. With a little more emotion than he had intended, he thanks Amber for being so amazing, then assures her that everything is fine.
When he sees Anna respectfully waiting for him at the cemetery entrance, he takes a deep breath. He tells Amber he loves her, and that he has a few last things to put in order. Luke hangs up, pockets his phone, and quickens his pace to greet Anna.
She’s gained a little bit of weight while at rehab. It looks good on her. And there’s something different about the way she carries herself. She looks healthier, happier, and almost glowing with a sense of inner-peace. Anna hugs him and offers her condolences. She had heard about Sandi …and the baby, through Makayla. Luke returns the embrace and wonders about the unusual bulkiness he feels. He puts his arm around her shoulder and tentatively tells her they have something important to discuss.
As they walk, Luke earnestly admits to his affair with Sandi while Anna was away at rehab. His apology is heartfelt and sincere. He should have tried harder to keep his emotions in check, even after learning about the pregnancy. The loss of his bond with the entity, coupled Anna’s absence, and the ongoing stress of being “hunted”; these things all combined forces to eliminate his willpower. It’s no excuse for being unfaithful, just the plain and ugly truth.
Anna nods as she listens, then forgives him quietly after a short time. She’s surprised and hurt about his lack of self-control, and had expected some attempt at restraint on his part. But they’ve come too far together to let a lapse of judgement tear down what they’ve built. It would be a lie to say she doesn’t feel betrayed. But at the same time, she feels much more secure knowing that he had come forward with the truth on his own, rather than attempting to hide it from her. Anna half-smirks, admitting that Makayla had already slipped up and told her that Luke had been staying with Sandi.
After arriving at the estate, she asks what he had meant about the entity dying with Sandi and her baby. Still visibly shaken and upset, Luke describes the first moments after realizing the entity was no longer with him. He had started needing to sleep after Anna became sick. They both remember how emotionally exhausting that week was for both of them, and Luke really hadn’t given the matter much thought. But after Anna was gone, and he was alone again, Luke became aware that something had changed. He did not make the connection that the entity had moved on, until after Sandi told him about the pregnancy. He has no idea whether it died when Sandi drowned, or whether it still lives; trapped in an inter-dimensional limbo. Luke shakes his head, expressing his shame and regret for not simply breaking off his relationship with Sandi, like he was supposed to.
Anna sits with Luke in the reading room as they work out the emotional wrinkles. Her feelings are difficult to pin down. She is hurt by Luke’s indiscretion. But she finds it nearly impossible to hide the excitement regarding her own news. Anna had never really understood what happened that night she and Luke were together the first time. She would have described it as being something almost supernatural in nature; like visiting a place where love was not just an idea, but an actual, tangible substance. And now, after hearing Luke describe his detachment from the entity, Anna realizes that night actually had been supernatural. Anna giggles quietly and rubs her belly as she feels the soft tickle of a child moving inside of her for the first time.
She smiles in response to Luke’s confused expression, and instructs him to remain very quiet, and just listen. The sound is barely audible, but it is there. It is the voices of the entity, singing out into the cosmos for its lost companion. Anna whispers, telling him that the entity still sings out to her every night. And, if you listen very, very closely; sometimes you can hear her singing back to him. Until now, Anna had thought it was Luke somehow doing this for her benefit.
But now she completely understands. Anna smiles and explains to a stunned and speechless Luke, that entity did not die with Sandi and her baby. She knows this because it has been with her own child from the very beginning.
This chapter, more than any, contains allegories pertaining to faith, trust, forgiveness, and redemption; while also dealing with rejection, doubt, and skepticism. While the characters involved may have been confronted with physical life and death situations, I believe Luke’s story has dealt more with spiritual life and death. As for Luke, I’ve tried to express both a sense of strength and competency, while still conveying the same fear of uncertainty that any other character would feel. He was powerful, but far from perfect. In many ways, I think Luke has been even more insecure than most sims regarding his relationships – especially with Sandi.
In the game, he and Anna (Peanut) have been best friends since childhood. Part of me wanted to show how that relationship has evolved over time. But no matter how many different ways I tried to bring her into the story, they all seemed contrived and really didn’t fit with the overall plot. In the end, I feel pretty good about how her role has progressed. I imagine that Luke and Anna often lay in bed together, talking about that first night, while attempting to find ways to verbalize what they had experienced. And since it is truly an impossible task, they usually just resort to reenacting that amazing event.
Luke’s story nears conclusion with Anna’s legal problems looming heavily on the horizon. Their marriage vows are exchanged in a private ceremony on the lawn of the chapel. Only the timing of their small wedding feels rushed. Perhaps they had both known they would ultimately be together going as far back as childhood, when they’d play tag around the military base. And even though it comes with only days to spare before Anna gives birth, their decision was not solely based upon wanting to be married before having babies in the house.
Makayla had been the first to warn them that Anna’s court-martial trial was moving forward at an alarming pace. Anna wanted nothing more than to be married to Luke, but neither of them wanted it to be “because” of anything, other than their desire to become husband and wife. As usual, Makayla was right. As a Barimen, Anna is not immune to prosecution, but she is afforded all of Luke’s resources to help defend her case. Not only that, but Luke would also enjoy some limitations from having to testify against her.
Anna gives birth to twin boys inside the comfort of the estate. Both Luke and Makayla had tried to convince her to go to the hospital. But she refused. Call it instinct or intuition, Anna probably knew that this was not going to be any ordinary birth. Noah is first. He is strong and healthy, and looks a lot like Anna.
And then there is Adam. With thin wisps of silvery hair on his tiny head, and angelic wings that glow with the golden radiance of sunrise; Adam had clearly not been conceived by anything from this world. He looks up at Luke with alert eyes. And rather than crying for his mother’s milk, he smiles. It is almost as if he were showing gratitude for the sacrifices made in helping him to come this far.
Luke laughs out loud with overjoyed elation, while Anna cries tears of joy. And poor Makayla, having no clue what is going on, simply short-circuits from sensory overload and slumps over into Luke’s capable arms.

Chapter 8.22 – Static

Guilt, shame, disappointment, hypocrisy, betrayal; these words float like rotten driftwood through Luke’s mind while he holds Sandi and drifts off to sleep after spending the evening in bed with her.
Learning about Sandi’s pregnancy with his child has introduced a whole new world of confusion, uncertainty, and doubt. His thought processes had always been so clear and direct when the entity was a part of him. Luke’s personality is such that he only speaks when there is a tangible, concrete thought he is able to express. And right now, the entire situation seems to have decayed into an unworkable mess. So he says nothing, being careful not to destroy Sandi’s joy in celebrating her newly awakened maternal instincts. At the same time, he works to conceal the sick feeling stirring deep in the pit of his gut.
Not only had the entity been his constant guide and companion; it seems to have been his moral compass, as well. Luke’s mood darkens as each day passes without telling Sandi about Anna. But if nothing else makes sense to Luke, he at least begins to understand what happened to the entity. Before Luke was conceived, the entity had passed from child to child over the course of several generations. Could it be that the entity is no longer with Luke, because it has already moved on to the next generation?
He remembers Amber talking to him about feeling the same sense of loss when she first became pregnant. Luke masks his melancholy from Sandi, who has started talking about marriage and nursery furniture. There is a question which continues to plague him, however. And it is a question he has no good answer for. How do you tell the mother of your unborn child that you’re in love with another woman?
After nearly a week of staying with Sandi at her house, Luke wakes up early, one morning, with the determination needed for setting the record straight. He prepares breakfast and makes small talk about baby names before moving on to the more pertinent topic. Jiang Xi had warned him that there can be no balance without truth. Any potential future he and Sandi have together must be built on honesty, truth, and trust.
Luke can sense the extreme downturn in Sandi’s mood during the long explanation concerning his encounters with ghosts, the dream with Ying, and the entity. He tries to explain that the child she carries may be more than just a sim. It could very well be one of the last pieces in an ancient, cosmic struggle against evil. Finally, he suggests that they would both be safer staying at the estate. He talks until his voice grows tired, and there is nothing left to explain.
Having lost the supernatural powers granted to him by the entity, Luke fails to sense the unwelcome presence lurking nearby, within earshot of their conversation. It could be that some measure of good luck keeps the intruder from immediately acting upon his newly gained informational leverage. More likely, it is the spineless cowardice of the intruder, and the painful memory of previous outcomes against Luke, that causes hesitation. Regardless, the damage is done. The shadowy henchman listens in, hearing every word Luke speaks to Sandi.
Sandi has sat expressionless the entire time, looking at the remnants of breakfast. The words she wants to say never materialize (which is probably a good thing). Instead, all she can manage is exasperation, disbelief, and a profound sense of disappointment. Finally, she closes her eyes, shakes her head disapprovingly, and quietly tells Luke to leave.
Author’s Note: Anna (aka Peanut), has been a playable sim ever since turning from Luke’s imaginary friend into a child. She has built up enough lifetime happiness to purchase the “Mid-Life Crisis” reward. Her original traits (Neurotic, Excitable, Hot-Headed, Flirty, Handy ) have been changed to (Good, Brave, Charismatic, Flirty, Handy)
Anna has woken up every single morning with the intent of visiting the campus clinic and taking care of her little problem. It had become a daily ritual for her. She would stand inside the shower cradling her belly, apologizing for not being strong enough to go through with motherhood. But by the time her shower was finished, she had talked herself into waiting just one more day.
Soon, it becomes visibly evident she is carrying a child, and Anna brings these feelings to her therapist. She had actually been looking for somebody to validate her decision to end the pregnancy. But what she receives instead, is the validation of her natural ability to become a wonderful mother. And it scares the hell out of her.
Anna had never expected to tell anybody about her previous pregnancies, and the parts of her soul that had become lifeless and dessicated after terminating them. Remarkably, she finds by exposing this, she has unearthed another source of pain that has driven her continued spiral into moral and emotional anesthesia. She works with the therapist, both of them choking on stifled tears, as Anna names her lost children. It is only after she has said goodbye to each one, that she feels the final, terrible weight being lifted from her back.
Anna’s time in rehab has been both exhausting and enlightening. She had chosen to serve some very frightening demons in her past. Evicting them from her life has been a difficult process. And it is work that she will likely need to continue throughout her whole life. But at least, she now has more to look forward to than “the next guy and the next high”. Oddly enough, it is a song that Anna had heard coming from a neighbor’s window, as she lay dying, that she will remember most when looking back upon this experience.
I once was lost but now am found. Was blind, but now I see.
 **gospel choir singing** T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear. And Grace, my fears relieved. How precious did that Grace appear The hour I first believed**
…don’t **static** of SIN steal your soul! SAVE your HUMANITY!**static**
**gospel music plays** Listen to me now, **static** DEVIL is after your HUMANITY! He wants to corrupt your SOUL! **static**
…the TRUTH! the LIGHT! and the WAY! **all sing amen** …TEMPTATIONS **static** …the agents of SIN… **static**
**shouting** …the ANGELS in HEAVEN sing and rejoice.. **static** …and SAVE your **static** …eternal SALVATION!!**static**
**gospel music **static** all shouting HALLELUJAH!! **static**
Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail, And mortal life shall cease; I shall possess, within the veil, A life of joy and peace. – John Newton,  c. 1779

Chapter 8.21 – Withdrawal

Luke and Anna lovingly attempt to recapture the remarkable bonding they had shared together a few nights ago.
It has been a catalyst for triggering fundamental changes in both of them. Family members fortunate enough to witness the transformation can only describe it as falling in love. Some of these changes seem insignificant, and are easily attributable to the euphoria of a new romance.
A number of other changes, however, are hardly insignificant. Anna’s addictions, having been neglected for too long, begin to assert their authority. No longer feeling alone, Anna completely surrenders to to her new-found faith. But the price of her betrayal to old demons is a crushing detoxification that demolishes her both physically and psychologically.
At first, Luke attributes his own fatigue to the constant care Anna requires. But there seems to be something more at work than just the stress of supporting her through withdrawal. The immunity to sleep he has enjoyed his entire lifetime has recently vanished. The benefit to this, is that he is able to be with Anna when she wakes from nightmares in the middle of the night, suffering cold sweats, convulsions, and nausea. But what troubles him most, is the vacant feeling he’s been experiencing; like a part of himself has disappeared.
His shared memories, unnatural stamina, heightened senses, and myriad of other assets – they’re all gone. Though he already suspects what has caused the revocation of his very unique abilities, he simply is not ready to face the possibility that the entity is no longer a part of him. He shares these concerns with Anna, who wants desperately to help him as much as he’s helped her. But she finds herself too sick to do anything but listen and reassure him that it is going to get better.
To compound their troubles, the District Attorneys Office has levied multiple drug possession charges against Anna. Luke’s cousin Makayla, being the legal magician that she is, has worked out a plea-deal with the prosecution. Anna will enter a secure rehabilitation facility, pay a hefty fine, and do community service. In exchange, she will not be forced to serve jail time.
Makayla does not have to do much convincing. The worst of Anna’s physical symptoms are behind her. But Anna knows the impending physiological repercussions promise to be complicated. And they will likely be more than Luke can manage.
Anna packs her few belongings, plus some new things that Luke’s family has been incredibly generous to provide, and reassures Luke that this is the right thing to do. Her near-death experience opened a door she had always known was there, but flatly refused to acknowledge. Plus, she still has no idea how to even comprehend what happened the night she and Luke became lovers. All she knows for sure, is that she is crazy in love with him because of it. She kisses Luke and promises that she will return to him; and together, they will be the happiest sims on the planet.
She remains curiously silent, however, about the slight bulge inside her abdomen. Perhaps she is afraid to tell Luke because she is unsure whether or not he is the father. It could be that she is in denial, or worried that her violent withdrawal from drugs has somehow harmed the tiny, vulnerable sim. Or maybe she has already resolved to handle this child like she had the others; by simply terminating the pregnancy. Regardless, she leaves after a tender hug and kiss with Luke, and an unspoken understanding the he will take care of letting Sandi know about his change of heart.
It is a strange sensation, feeling completely alone. Luke had always taken the presence of the entity for granted. In a way, it had become his best friend without ever really having spoken to it. The silence in his skull is depressing enough. And now, with Anna gone for what could be weeks, he is faced with the unpleasant chore of dumping his next oldest friend. He had worked for years to reconcile with Sandi. He marvels a the irony of the situation. She had become pretty upset about him chosing church over going to breakfast with her last Sunday. With any luck, she’ll still be angry, and realize that it just isn’t working out between them.
They had not spoken to each other for more than a week, so Luke is surprised by her unusually light mood. In fact, she is almost elated to see him. They both begin speaking at the same time, then apologize in unison. After a good laugh, Luke expresses his regret for missing breakfast with her friends. Sandi smiles broadly and rolls her eyes. She apologizes in return, reassuring him that the reason she hadn’t called is because she’s been really sick.
Sandi gracefully approaches Luke, and greets him properly with a sensual kiss. His mind spins for a way to break the news to her. He knows the longer he stays, the more difficult it is going to become. He begins to speak, but is immediately startled by a avery overt distraction. Luke smiles unconsciously, but musters the willpower to move Sandi’s misbehaving hand. Before he can gather himself to speak, Sandi has pounced again, whispering how much she has missed him.
Then, as if having just thought up a very clever idea, Sandi takes him by the hand, kisses him again, then begins to lead him upstairs. But Luke stands firm, eliciting a confused expression. He begins to explain why it isn’t a good idea for him to go woo-hoo with her. But she puts a finger on his lips and tells him that she’s got a different surprise to share with him, first. He can see by the way she’s looking at him that this is something important to her, so he reluctantly agrees to follow her up the stairs.
After they reach the top of the stairs, she invites Luke to close his eyes. He regards her suspiciously, but she smiles playfully and draws out the word, pleeeeaaasse! Unable to contain his own smile, despite knowing that he is avoiding what he has come here to do, Luke plays along and closes his eyes. She leads him into the studio and sits him down on the chair by the desk. She clicks some keys on the computer keyboard, then tells him to open his eyes.
At first, Luke is not sure what he’s looking at. But eventually, like a perfectly thrown knuckle-ball, it slowly sinks in. The image on the screen is from an abdominal ultrasound. Luke’s gaze narrows, and he looks up as Sandi, back at the image, then back at Sandi again. She shrugs her shoulders, offers a sheepish smile, then rubs her belly affectionately.

Chapter 8.20 – Lullaby

Forensic testing on drugs found in Anna’s apartment, uncover a very real and disturbing fact. Somebody had tried to silence her.
The drugs had been purposefully tainted with a toxic combination of chemicals that would have killed her in short order, had Luke not intervened when he did. Luke provides a good description of the jukie he had confronted inside her apartment, and gives investigators the knife left behind from the scuffle. There is little chance it will do any good, however. The military is generally pretty thorough about cleaning up after gaffes like this. The junkie Luke fought is likely already a resident inside some morgue if he’s lucky; a landfill if he’s not.
Unfortunately for Anna, surviving only means that her problems will just continue to build. The landlord who owns the building where she rents, evicted her immediately upon hearing about the drugs. And to make matters worse, Fort Gnome has begun an offical investigation into her court-martial. But for now, she rests quietly at the hospital.
Over the following days, anxiety generated from recent events begins to build, and Luke quickly finds that unemployment does not suit him well. If Luke’s job was good for anything, it kept his overactive mind busy. Thankfully, the time he spends with Sandi helps to keep him somewhat focused. Oddly enough, for the first time since Luke has know her, Sandi actually seems content.
Evidently, she’d had the foresight enough to put away a respectable sum of simoleons during her employment in politics. She purchases a nice plot of property, complete with an art studio, and immediately begins living her dream of writing and illustrating children’s books. She had decided to completely start over after the confrontation in Bridgeport with her father. Fearing what he might still be capable of doing, she hadn’t even bothered to go back to the house to get her stuff.
Rekindling their romance has been a frustrating process. Much the same as it was before, their relationship ebbs and flows with Sandi’s mood swings. They had both agreed that rebuilding trust in each other was necessary before making any assumptions about their future together. Of course, this hasn’t stopped them from fully exploring their physical relationship. On one hand, Luke finds it to be (obviously) an immensely enjoyable distraction. But on the other hand, it is hardly a solid foundation on which to build life-long commitment.
The remaining hurdle, it seems, is Sandi’s acceptance of Luke’s religious beliefs. That ugly topic had come up again after inviting him to have an early Sunday breakfast with friends visiting from out-of-town. Her mood soured after being reminded that the time conflicted with his church service. And although he had offered to join them afterwards, Luke could sense Sandi’s growing disapproval and impatience. The effort she had exerted in holding her tongue, seemed to conjure some small measure of her father. And in the end, the situation ended up in a shouting match. It leads Luke to wonder if, perhaps, there are some things which simply cannot change.
Luke arrives at the chapel earlier than usual. He has often come here in the past to unload his burdens. But it has been quite awhile since he’s sat here alone to just quietly meditate.
He sits with his eyes closed in thoughtful reflection, baring his soul for reconciliation. After nearly an hour of this, parishioners begin to file in for Sunday service. Typically, sims are pretty polite about leaving some small comfort zone of space when taking a seat on the pew next to another sim. Luke is uncomfortable enough as it is, with so many people packed into one space for such a long time. But for somebody to come and sit, literally, elbow-to-elbow with him, seems kind of rude.
With his eyes still closed, Luke politely shifts slightly away from the encroaching sim. And in the matter of just a few seconds, the sim has come and sat even closer. Luke disguises a heavy sigh, and opens his eyes to politely excuse himself to a less crowded pew. He scrutinizes the the woman sitting next to him. She looks sickly pale, skelatally thin, and appears to have borrowed some clothes from a donation bin. But when he gazes upon beautiful, green eyes and a humorous, sly smile, Luke cannot resist breaking out in a huge grin of his own.
Having achieved her desired reaction, Anna begins to move over to give Luke some breathing room. But before she can do so, he places a steady hand on her thigh and pulls her gently closer to him just as the sermon begins.
After church, Luke and Anna drive to a wooded fishing spot he had recently discovered. They lay together in the soft grass, just like they had done when they were kids, watching the birds and clouds. Their conversation is candid, unedited, and completely without judgement. They casually talk about many things, including Sandi and the junkie Luke had found with Anna inside her apartment. Then Anna’s tone becomes serious.
She quietly thanks him for saving her life. Anna calmly shares how, after collapsing at her apartment, she experienced something that can only be described as a near-death episode. Her father stood at death’s door, where she felt a compelling and all-encompassing love unlike anything she thought to be possible. She spontaneously forgave him without question, and without hesitation.
It was the most beautiful thing she had ever experienced. And she remembers wanting to stay in that place with him. But he told her that she needed to go back to take on a very difficult, but important responsibility.
When she came back, she was hovering above Luke, who was crying and working tirelessly to save her life. That’s when she realized the mess she had made of it. She saw how Luke valued her life more than she did. She’d seen the mountain of drugs and the dozens of nameless men she had known over the years. They sat around, just consuming the drugs, laughing as she lay dying. She had never felt remorse before that moment. And it was at that same moment when her own forgiveness came. It was just like she had done for her father; without question, and without hesitation.
After a short time, Luke smiles, clears his throat, then clarifies that he wasn’t crying; only sweating. As they laugh together, Luke stares into Anna’s beautiful green eyes. He nods and states that her story is the most amazing thing he has ever heard. And honestly, he has heard some amazing things.
They stroll lazily through the woods surrounding the small fishing spot for a long time. After their encounter with Deirdre and Claire, Luke had promised Anna an explanation. And he makes good on his promise. He tells Anna everything. He describes his unnatural stamina and the ability to go completely without sleep. He details his visions, and every encounter with ghosts since childhood. Then he talks about the the memories he shares from his earliest ancestors, the entity, and the unearthly beings which hunt it.
As it becomes dark, Luke takes Anna back to the estate and shows her to the guest room. They stand together silently and expectantly, unwilling to let the day end without some recognition of the connection they’ve made today. But before either of them can think of a way to express their feelings, the entity begins singing its nightly song to Kacey. The chorus has become so pronounced, that Luke can often hear it audibly when the conditions are quiet and still. Anna moves in close and whispers to Luke, asking if he can hear them.
Luke nods, and explains that it is the entity. Anna runs her fingers through Luke’s hair, and she holds his face close to hers. Nearly breathless with excitement, she continues whispering, expressing how it sounds like the voices are calling out to someone.
Luke silences Anna with a gentle kiss, to which her only response is an alarmed, but approving squeak.
The word “love” has been artificially shaped and molded in an attempt to make it to fit into many different situations. A number of these definitions are contrived, and a number of others are contrary. It is to where the meaning has become diluted over time. But there still exists the purest form of love; the love of the Father for His children. 
They are not the first sims to reside on this land. And they likewise are not the first to fall in “love” here. But what happens between them tonight cannot be called anything else. Perhaps it is just the timing. Or it could be something else intangible and immeasurable. In any event, an occurrence of both amazing and ordinary proportion has taken place. It is equally as mundane as it is miraculous. A child has been conceived. It is the child of two sims whose biologies combine to form a new and unique sim, with a life breathed into it from something that cannot be fully comprehended; just simply glorified.
As lovers and unsuspecting parents, they come to rest after their exertion. They lay alone, and yet together, pondering to themselves whether the thing in which they have just participated was completely real; or whether they had transcended this reality and peeked, if only momentarily, into a place where absolutely nothing else exists but the searing light of perfect love.
And as they sleep, they are just barely aware of the voices which have started singing. These voices are different than the others they’ve heard. It is the powerful and awe-inspiring sound of a hundred women, all proclaiming their overwhelming joy. Songs such has hers had once filled the heavens with their grace and beauty. They had been the messengers; harbingers of the covenant; heralds of the way, the truth, and the life.  And until now, she had been the last of her kind remaining. 
There are few places scattered throughout reality, where the formless concept of love can manifest itself into a tangible, living being. And it has happened, just now, through some means not completely understood, and entirely indescribable through the inadequate mechanics of written language. Regardless, another transcendent being, like the one whose song reaches across the cosmos, has been introduced into this reality. It has remained hidden away for generations to ensure its survival . And now, it has finally emerged, camouflaged beside its earthly womb-mate; more vulnerable now than ever before.
For the moment, he is safe; comforted by the gentle voices that have traveled across the limitless expanse to greet him. And somewhere, within the lazy fog of sleep, the lovers know that hers is not just any ordinary song.
It is a lullaby.

Chapter 8.19 – Afraid

Luke drives home from the airport with Sandi, who is still dazed and asking why she hadn’t seen the facts for herself.
Luke ran to catch a plane as soon as Sandi’s father had been neutralized. Sandi hadn’t argued a bit when he bought an additional ticket on the same flight home. Many, many emotions (some of them conflicting) surface, rendering Sandi mostly unable to speak. Anger, grief, shame, embarrassment, disappointment; they all run the gambit through her already emotionally charged personality. But these emotions are highly concentrated as a result of the encounter with her father at the airport.
Sandi calls Luke early that next day. She had stayed overnight with a friend, being afraid to return home. She invites him over to talk about what happened. When he arrives, she has just returned from City Hall. She had turned in her resignation as Town Councilwoman as soon as the offices opened in the morning. Sandi expresses to Luke how much she had always hated the job; and how, inexplicably, she had done it only because she was told to. She’d never questioned her father, never disobeyed him, and had always done just what he wanted her to do.  Ironically, Sandi had always perceived herself as being a strong, forward-thinking, modern, and independent woman. But the reality of it, is that she has been little more than a lackey.
Sandi continues talking while Luke listens, saying very little. Inevitably, the topic of conversation finds its way to their stalled romance. Sandi explains how, on the night of his birthday, she became very emotional when thinking about their future together. When he confessed his love for her, she was completely unprepared to respond. The problem, it seems, is that the word love had been completely absent from the family since her mother’s death.
Her father had always been an antagonistic man, critical of anybody or anything not in line with his world view. Because of him, she had learned to place blame for the hardships she encounters in her life. That night, after after hearing Luke’s expression of love, she thought of her mother. Without ever really having dealt with her grief, Sandi just simply blew up at Luke. She went home after the incident, with the intent of sharing these thoughts with her father. But instead of comforting her, he just added fuel to the fire. The entire “giant slayer” idea was his. The result? Her father had succeeded in finding a way to make her hate Luke instead of him.
There is something she still doesn’t understand, though. Why does her father want to kill Luke? Having remained completely silent until now, Luke brushes a stray lock of hair from her face. He voices how, over the years, he has found there are some sims who value power, status, and decadence above all other things. They value gratification over morality. Some are even willing to exchange their humanity to attain it. Her face is expressionless and tired, and it takes a long time for her to respond after Luke has finished talking. Finally, Sandi closes her eyes and asks him to say those words he said on his birthday.
No smile erupts from his face. No swelling of love pours out from his heart. And the words refuse to form on his lips. Instead, something unexpected happens. He sees Anna’s green eyes and her contagious, sly smile in his mind.
Luke hugs Sandi, then kisses her firmly on the lips. He shakes his head and cautions her about taking smaller steps. She nods a hesitant agreement, and leans in to kiss him with a genuine tenderness that catches him somewhat off guard. She smiles then tells him that she’s got a lot to think about; and quite probably a lot of phone calls to answer after quitting her job. But she quickly adds that she’d like to see him again tomorrow. Luke smiles and nods, again accepting her gentle kiss.
Just as he is about to leave, Sandi runs outside calling his name. Then, with tear-filled eyes and her voice heavy with remorse, she quietly apologizes.
**gospel music plays**
 HE has come to you offering FREEDOM from your bondage.
**woman from audience shouts AMEN!** Hallelujah! AAAAMEN SISTER!!
Throw off the shackles of SIN and sing and REJOICE in HIS eternal LIGHT! **gospel music plays**
Anna lives in a small apartment building just on the outskirts of town. From the outside, it could easily be mistaken for an old, run-down motel. The tinny sound of cheap televisions and AM radios blaring through open windows, gives him reason to suspect that these rooms lack any kind of air conditioning. In a way, it feels like walking back through time to the way things were when life was simple; such as it was when Moira was alive. He knocks on the decrepit door to Anna’s apartment and waits for an answer. After she fails to respond, he knocks again and announces that he’s not going away until he sees her.
Through one of the neighbor’s open windows, Luke can see that the occupant, an old woman who is watching some kind of revival show on tv, has adjusted her chair to give her a better view of the drama. Then, after another moment, the deadbolt on Anna’s door slowly slides open. Luke can hear her shuffling to get out of the way of the door as it opens inward.
A half-dressed, scruffy-looking, junkie leaps from her bed and yells at Luke to get out; coloring his angry demand with a few choice expletives. Luke, who is focused only on Anna, calmly tells the thug to take his things and leave.
When the junkie produces a blade, then takes a threatening step toward Luke. The young Barimen meets him half way. Luke grabs the guy’s wrist and twists his knife-wielding hand upward. Deftly grabbing the falling knife with his off-hand, Luke then maneuvers the scumbag into a painful arm-lock. He calmly repeats his request for the guy to quickly leave; adding, that if he does not, he will require a colonoscopy in order to retrieve his knife.
Anna has hung silently in the shadow of her darkened apartment during the scuffle. Drug paraphernalia lay scattered across the kitchen table, and her unkempt apartment reeks of the vile stuff. She looks to be in really bad shape. After ushering the scumbag out, Luke turns to her and struggles for something to say.
He has never been the type to spook easily, but when he sees how the blood has drawn from her colorless face, and the unsteadily manner in which she sways on her feet, Luke is forced to catch is breath. Anna attempts to look at him. But her badly dilated eyes roll lazily around their sockets and refuse to obey. Luke hardly has time to react, but still manages to catch her as her knees give out.
He lays her gently down onto the floor, barely subduing his panic and quietly mumbling a desperate prayer for help. He calls quickly for an ambulance, then he begins performing the life-saving techniques he thought he’d never have to use.
And for the first time in his life, Luke is afraid.
I have a confession to make to you, brothers and sisters. **man shouts out from audience — TESTIFY brother!**
AMEN, brother! **preacher mutters inaudibly** Brothers and Sisters, I have SINNED! **gospel music plays**
But through the POWER of HIS SALVATION, my SINS have been washed away and I have been HEALED!! **all shout AMEN**
TESTIFY! Brothers and sisters! TESTIFY and your sins will be FORGIVEN!! **gospel music plays**

Chapter 8.18 – Gamble

The city of Bridgeport was definitely not on Luke’s “must visit” list.
If anything, he’d made a point of avoiding places were there are more sims per acre, than trees. Circumstances, however, have required some kind of action on his part, as fallout from erasing the algorithm continues to build. Luke is certain that military brass suspect his involvement. But given that he was somehow whisked away to a strange meeting with Moira, then deposited back home, there is absolutely no substantial proof linking him to the incident.
Still, Luke had been promptly discharged from active duty with no explanation. He was given a dire warning about trespassing anywhere near Fort Gnome, however. Losing his job might be a blow to his ego. But it is meaningless in the larger scope of things. The real problem is Anna. She was captured by military police, and has been incarcerated ever since. His efforts to speak with her have failed; even after sending Makayla inside to apply legal leverage. But unfortunately, civilian and military laws are two entirely different things.
Anna had come to him asking for help. And he is not about to give up on her. If money and prestige hold sway anywhere, it is in the realm of politics. So, after placing a quick phone call to a senator who maintains deep connections to his grandparents, Luke finds the first flight available. Politicking is not a game he enjoys playing. Honestly, it reminds him too much of Sandi and her father. Just that situation alone is more trouble than he is prepared to fight. But with Buford and the algorithm seemingly materializing from out of nowhere, it makes him wonder what other enemies might still be lurking.
Throwing simoleons at a problem is not the way Luke prefers to do business. This situation calls for drastic measures, however, and he sees no other reasonable option. The senator is both clueless and disinterested in who “Anna” is or why she is being incarcerated. After a very sizable contribution to the senator’s campaign fund, and a conference call with top brass, Luke is satisfied with the assurance that Anna will be released while an investigation into “trespassing” is conducted. Then, before the schmoozing begins, Luke respectfully reminds the overly-friendly politician that the check has already been written, and there is no need to make a sales pitch.
He leaves the office suite feeling comparatively happy, but also like he needs to take a shower. There are sims who would question the ethics of what he has just done. And normally he’d count himself to be among them. Unfortunately, Anna had no comprehension of what she was getting herself into; other than perhaps taking Luke where he shoudn’t have been. And as things stand, she’s in a precarious position of becoming the “fall guy”.
As he walks through he lobby of Bridgeport’s government building, some little inkling in the back of Luke’s mind recognises a voice among the sea of sims bustling around him. Despite already suffering the feeling of being closed in, Luke stops to take a look around. During his trip to China, he had dreamt a very vivid dream about a young woman named Ying. There is not much he remembers about Ying, other than the non-existent night they shared together. But he does remember one thing. She told him that his and Sandi’s fates were woven together. That she should be here now, seems more like outrageous luck than coincidence.
Luke finally spots Sandi, who is engaged in a heated discussion with fellow politicians about protecting some kind of llama-fly habitat. He calmly approaches her, just as the group breaks up. As Sandi turns to leave the building, she finally takes notice of him. By this time, he is just a short distance away. Her expression immediately tells him that she has been caught completely off guard. Forgetting about the summons, the argument, and the demonic father, Luke smiles a warm smile and greets her like he would any old friend.
Sandi quickly (and coldly) turns down an invitation to have lunch with him. Still, he can sense that some some part of her wants to accept the invitation. Or is it just wishful thinking? Luke watches as Sandi frantically storms from the building. Regardless of his one-time girlfriend’s feelings for him now, she should at least know the truth about her father. And the opportunity has just presented itself in a rather interesting way. In Sandi’s world, money talks. So Luke picks up the phone makes another call to his new senator friend, asking what he knows about llama-flies.
When Sandi shows up for dinner and sees Luke sitting with the senator, she sets her jaw and appears ready to turn around and walk right back through the door. But Luke is quick enough to point her out to his companion. With another huge donation riding on his efforts to to help the poor llama-flies, Sandi had absolutely no chance of ever leaving the building.
Luke sits silently though the excruciating details, posturing, and doublespeak that consumes their dinner conversation. By the end of it, Luke is sure that nothing of value was actually said. All he knows for sure, is that there are some very wealthy insects. Sandi has telegraphed through body language, her outrage about having been set up. It is also clear that the senator has sensed the awkwardness between Luke and Sandi, and seems particularly unhappy about being used as a decoy to stage some kind of dinner date.
Luke has no sympathy whatsoever for the discomfort felt by either of his dinner companions. They’ve likely perpetrated countless scenarios just like this one; it’s just part of the job. But if his hunch is wrong, Luke could come out of this with egg on his face (and an apology owed both to his grandparents and the senator). Luke is pretty sure he’s not wrong, however. Sandi’s father had tried to kill him once, already. And now that Luke has ventured away from Sunset Valley again, there’s no doubt he’ll make another attempt. Ordinarily, a sim takes precautions to avoid violence and possible death. In this case, Luke wants to make the job look easy. He had booked the flight back to Sunset Valley and ordered to have a taxi waiting for him after dinner to take him to the airport; narrowing the window of opportunity. Luke understands that he is playing with fire, and that his gamble could turn into a disaster. He thinks back to Moira’s mistake, and wonders if his odds of winning are worth the wager.
Once the deal is sealed, and the second large check written, the senator excuses himself to speak with another fellow politician who had just entered. Sandi immediately glares at Luke and asks through gritted teeth what kind of game he is playing with her. Luke leans forward and expresses soberly that he is not playing a game. The truth is, he’s in trouble, and he needs her help. Sandi eyes him suspiciously, but listens. Luke explains that he doesn’t want to talk about it in the restaurant, but if she would ride with him to the airport, he’ll explain everything.
Sandi’s phone rings before she can give him a response. A frantic voice on the other end of the call shouts excitedly while Sandi nods and quickly writes down an address. Without looking at Luke she begins to collect her things and readies herself to leave. Luke says her name firmly, but gently, reminding her that she has not answered him. Still not wanting to look at him, she stammers, saying something important has just come up and she cannot go with him.
Luke stands, reaches out for her hand and asks for just twenty minutes. Sandi’s determination begins to melt after feeling his touch again. She finds his eyes and starts to shake her head, but Luke reminds her about the night she trusted him enough to sleep over. He didn’t try to trick her, or lead her into doing something she wasn’t ready for. After a moment, he repeats firmly, that all he needs is twenty minutes.
Luke’s grandparents had learned some neat tricks for dodging paparazzi. Whenever they were forced to use a taxi, they would ask the driver to take them to a service entrance. They typically don’t make for very good photo ops. But more important to the immediate situation, they provide plenty of cover. Oddly enough, Sandi has become a much higher profile celebrity than Luke, and she expresses some guarded measure of thanks for giving her the tip. Being captured on film with one of the “giants” she has sworn to slay would be very difficult to explain away.
Luke had chosen to utilize the airport maintenance dock for a different reason, however. They do not have to walk very far before Luke senses that same, sinister presence he had felt in China. He tenses up immediately while Sandi checks her watch. She arrogantly clears her throat and informs Luke that he has five minutes remaining. Luke smiles a nervous, competitive smile when he spots a figure hiding in the shadows. His voice echoes throughout enclosed loading dock, inviting Sandi’s father to take his best shot. Sandi looks at Luke with a confused, almost betrayed expression.
Luke follows the figure with his eyes as the shadowy form moves to find a clear shot. Luke moves in kind, making sure that both he and Sandi have plenty of cover. After several minutes of this, Luke taunts his hidden, would-be assassin, explaining that he is running out of time. Soon, he will board the plane back to Sunset Valley and then his opportunity will be lost… AGAIN.
An angry voice growls for Sandi to move out of the way. Her recognition registers instantly, and Luke smiles. He knows immediately he has won.
Her confused and betrayed expression intensifies, and she quietly calls out to her father… Dad? What are YOU doing here? Sandi’s father repeats his command, swearing that he’ll shoot her too, if necessary. Sandi stammers, and demands to know what is going on and why is he talking about shooting them?
Sandi had once told Luke about her father’s bad habit of going into a lecturing diatribe whenever she disobeyed him. He knew it was coming, he just didn’t know when. Her father begins to shout his disapproval for her continued failures at making significant progress in changing Sunset Valley. His vision will never become reality if she doesn’t learn to stop asking questions and do what she is told to do. She must stick with the agenda and find others who likewise follow her without question. THAT is how nations are conquered; through ideological warfare, not weapons of destruction.
Luke uses the opportunity of distraction to stealthily move his way into a position conducive to taking out his attacker. As Sandi’s father continues his outraged admonishment, Luke can see that he has begun to panic, having lost track of his target. He steps into one of the dim overhead lights to confront his wayward daughter. Anxiety builds on his sinister face, and he begins to tremble and spit. Sandi’s mother also refused to see the truth, …and look what happened to her. Sandi’s eyes open wide with shock, as she puts together for the first time, the understanding that her mother had been murdered.
Before he can lift his weapon and use his daughter as an expendable tool to flush out his target, Luke strikes. Only this time, a chilling and gut-wrenching cry of agony accompanies the crushing maneuver; which lands with crippling and bone-breaking results.
An hour, perhaps more, has passed. Sandi had purchased a ticket on Luke’s flight home, and they are very likely already gushing all manner of disgusting affection over each other. To make matters worse, it is also very likely that Sandi has already …apologized.
Corwin approaches the so-called man who has failed on too many occasions. The agonizing pain he’s endured as a result of his injury is payment enough for this failure – for now. Since healing is not a word that exists in Corwin’s vocabulary, the ghost haphazardly repairs ruined bones inside the body of his pathetic failure of a henchman.
When he stands, he cowers before the angry ghost… no.. worse than a ghost; far worse. No words need to be spoken for him to understand that the cost of another failure will make death seem desirable. But this is far from over.
There is still one more opportunity that even the Barimen brat does not suspect; and this time he will not fail.

Chapter 8.17 – Choire

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