Warnings: language, references to mental illness, depression, suicidal thoughts, grief, and death.
Johnny Smith looked out over Strangetown.
Many considered it bleak, ugly, or worse, but he'd always thought it had a desolate beauty about it.
It was his home.
"Do you think we'll ever see this place again?" he asked.
"Hard to say," Lola said. "We either will or we won't. It could go either way."
Johnny nodded thoughtfully. He didn't imagine that flying through space was the least perilous activity he'd ever undertake, and that wasn't even factoring in those sims that might actively want to shoot them out of the sky. And once there, would they even be allowed to leave the new colony? After his abduction experience, he couldn't help but be doubtful.
"Our father did," she added.
Lola so seldom referred to their father that way that it took Johnny a while to realize she was referring to P.T. No. 9 instead of Glarn. "You're right. I suppose he did. For all the good it did him in the end..." He fiddled with the strap on his helmet. He hadn't bothered to put the ridiculous thing on yet, and neither had Lola. It was nice to see that he wasn't the only one to question the usefulness of Stella's headgear of choice. "At least you'll be there, too. Nice to have family."
"Always," she agreed.
"I've been thinking about what Chloe said, that evening at dinner. How we're not really alien, not entirely."
"No, not entirely. She was right, though her delivery could have been a little softer." Lola smiled at the thought of her sister. "We are and we aren't. We aren't them. But we aren't sims either. We're something else, all our own."
Johnny nodded. "Both, yet neither. You know, it's funny... when she said it, it made me realize that I've always sort of felt like more of a sim than an alien. Even with Dad there. I guess I grew to think of him as a sim too, just in context."
"I'm sure he was much more like a sim than any other of his kind."
"But they're not all like him," Johnny said, thinking again of the night he was abducted, and what they had said to him. "They won't be, the ones we're likely to meet. And they really might not have our best interests in mind. As sims, I mean."
"That's why we need to be there," she said. "To remind them."
Johnny nodded. He had every intention of doing just that.
He turned his gaze upwards and contemplated the sky. What would it be like out there? Would he have any influence in the colony, on their new society? Was there anything he could do to make it safer for them here, on his own planet? He'd do everything in his power to make it so. He supposed that meant doing his duty to the species, passing on his genetic heritage. Well, if that's what it would take to help them find peace, and to end the abductions, then so be it.
He glanced over to where Jayne Doe stood, patiently waiting for Stella to arrive. He knew one thing for certain, and on that there would be no negotiation.
If he was going to pass on his genetic material to her, or to anyone else, he'd be handing it over in a plastic cup.
Johnny turned and walked back through the large rock formation where Stella had asked them to wait. As he paced back and forth, running his hands over the surface of the stones, he heard Jayne approaching him.
"Johnny, I'm glad you're going with me," she said. "I like you. I always have. And I'm very sorry I've ruined any chance of us having anything more than this business-like relationship. I hope you'll still be able to be my friend."
Johnny didn't respond.
"I'll give it time, then. I understand how you must be feeling right now."
"Do you?" he asked, suspect.
"Well, yes," she said. "I'll never really be able to be with the one I love either."
Johnny looked at her, and his face softened a little, but still he said nothing. Not just one, he thought.
Both of them.
He thought again about his last night with Ophelia. The feeling of holding her in his arms and how he might never be able to do that again. He thought about Ripp, and how far they had slipped past the boundaries that usually separated two men from each other. How Ripp had reached out to him, searching for a way to express the extent of his feelings. Had he gotten it all wrong? He'd done that very thing he often accused Ripp of doing; of mixing them up, and thinking they were the same person. Ripp loved him. They loved each other. Perhaps that meant something slightly different to each of them, but what did it matter? Two different roads that had lead to exactly the same place, toe to toe. That was why he had shared that kiss with Ripp, why he'd kissed him back, and even that didn't fully convey the extent of his feelings.
And now he would be leaving it all behind.
"Time will heal your wounds, Johnny. You'll learn to laugh again, with time. You know we can be happy out there... if we let ourselves be."
"We'll see, Jayne. We'll see."
It had been nearly a week since he'd left. Graduation had come and gone, but still Ripp hadn't returned.
How quickly things had fallen apart.
Ophelia looked herself over in the mirror, examining the surface as if for cracks in the facade. She saw nothing. The same blank surface she'd come to expect looking back from there. The face of someone too tired to even worry anymore. Was this really the same face that so recently had said that "everything would be okay" and had really and truly believed it? Had she ever been as naive as that? She had actually thought she had something solid, that would hold up to outside forces, but she had never truly been in control of the situation. The winds had picked up, the waves had risen, and they had all been smashed to pieces against the rocks.
It had all fallen apart. She'd thought she could have it all, but now she'd have nothing.
She was a fool.
Her thoughts steered themselves down a well-worn pathway in her brain, the wheels falling into deep, familiar ruts, unable to change direction.
Stupid, stupid, stupid. You're alone. You'll always be alone. Nothing gets better. It never gets better. Never. Never. Never. Alone. Alone. Alone.
How long had she been standing there? She found herself unsure. Like being stuck along the edge of a whirlpool, she went round and round, always a little bit closer to being pulled towards its centre.
Ophelia turned around to see Nervous Subject approaching her from the kitchen. She realized, with a start, that she had never heard him raise his voice to a shout before. More often than not, her cousin's voice was just barely audible.
"I dreamt about you," he said.
She wasn't sure what to say to that.
"Be careful." Nervous held her gaze much longer than she was used to from him. The intensity in his eyes unnerved her. "It's not set in stone. You don't have to."
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"You... You have a choice."
Had he read her thoughts? Ophelia felt a cold shiver run over her body. Nervous reached out and touched her arm, which was also something he rarely did.
There was a quick flash, like an electric shock, but it was entirely in her mind.
She saw the outcome. What could be the outcome. But she didn't see it, she felt it. All at once, she knew it. Saw it for what it was in its entirety. For a moment she lost her breath, like someone had knocked the wind out of her.
He was still looking into her eyes. "When it comes to that, you always have a choice."
Jill stayed there with her mother that week, unable to go back to La Fiesta Tech. Not ready to even begin to move on. She'd made one false start, and took a taxi all the way to her apartment only to call them back to take her home before the day was over. It didn't feel right to go back there yet. Instead, she remained at home and watched as many of her family members left, one by one.
Johnny had been the first. She was somewhat taken aback by her own reaction to seeing him go, and of his to saying goodbye to her. A brother is an easy thing to take for granted and so much of the power of that connection was buried in sibling bickering and all that nonsense. During their goodbye, as he asked her to look after their mother, they both seemed to realize the hole in his logic. If Jill went away, as he'd suggested, it would leave her Mom that much more alone. It certainly complicated his previous advice to get away from there. Could she really do that now? She wasn't so sure.
Her mother did have her own army of siblings there for support, but they too were dispersing as the week went on. Aunt Lola was also going with Johnny. Her uncle Pascal was heading off to Pleasantview on some sort of business. Something about his client, Bella, though Jill hadn't heard all the details. It seemed they'd learned who she really was just in time for her to vanish from Strangetown as mysteriously as she had arrived there.
Lazlo was heading off to Riverblossom Hills at her own suggestion. Jill was proud of that. It's like they all forgot that she was actually pretty smart. Certainly, if Lazlo could become a scientist... but anyway, he'd gone. Erin and Lazlo had gotten the Nervous Subject clones out of the Beaker mansion and headed off to hopefully hide them and keep them safe. Jill wondered how the owner of McGreggor Farms would react to a bunch of clones working there. She supposed they'd tell him they were triplets or something like that.
Chloe remained, and Vidcund. That seemed somewhat amusing to Jill, as they were the two that got along the least. Without Lola and Pascal around, she wondered how much they would see of each other at all. After their fight that evening at dinner, they'd been keeping their distance from each other.
Her Mom would have the twins to keep her busy, and she was sure she'd welcome that as a distraction, but who would look after her?
Jill brushed the question aside for the moment and headed out into the backyard.
She found her aunt and half-sister sitting beside the pool.
"Hey Chloe," she said.
"Oh, hey." Chloe looked up and smiled when she saw her, then welcomed her with a sweeping gesture. "So here we are. The ones left behind."
"Yeah." Jill walked over a little closer to where Chloe reclined on a patio chair. "Johnny thinks I should do everything I can to hide the fact that I'm part alien. Maybe even move away and change my name and things like that."
"Well, you could do that. At least you have the option."
"Yeah, I guess it's been a blessing in disguise all along. I've put so much effort into proclaiming my alienness to the world, trying to stand out, when really I've been lucky. I can choose to avoid the negative attention if I want to. How do you deal with all that?"
Chloe shrugged, looking off into the distance. "You get used to it. Sims staring, both good and bad. I like the attention most of the time, even the negative kind. I suppose I enjoy confrontation. But there are other times when you wish you could turn it off and take a break from it, to fade into the background for once."
"You know, going away might not be a bad idea." She sat up a little, and turned to face Jill directly. "If I was your age, you wouldn't be able to pay me enough to stick around here. Hell, maybe I'll take off for a bit anyway."
"I'll be heading back for the next semester soon."
"So what? You could transfer somewhere else. Get out there! You only live once."
"Did you do that?"
"Yeah, for a bit."
"Disappeared. Yeah, around that time."
"But what if I went away and something happened? To everyone here? Mom and the children..."
"What if you stayed and something happened? Is one really better than the other? Either way has its drawbacks, its potential for things to go badly. You don't have to let fear and worry control your life. Why not go for it? You're young. Get out there and see the world. Don't tie yourself down. When I was your age, I did a lot of traveling. It was great! And you can be anonymous, like you said. Blend in. Forget about all this alien bullshit for a while and enjoy yourself. It will always be here if and when you want to come back."
Jill looked off across the desert. Strangetown. She really hadn't ever gone that far away from it. Perhaps it was time.
"Besides," Chloe added. "I will be here. I'll keep Jenny company... look after her."
Jill was relieved to hear it. "Maybe that's not a bad idea," she said. "I could transfer to a different university for a while--maybe go abroad, or even just closer to Sim City. It's a little outside my comfort zone, but that could be good."
"That could be very good."
"Yeah, maybe." She thought for a moment about Buck, and leaving everything at LFT behind. But maybe this was a chance for her to try something new, something she'd always wanted to do. Perhaps she could even spend some time near the ocean. She'd always wanted to do that. "Well, it's something to think about, anyway. "
"Hey, you only live once. And who knows how long it'll last. Carpe diem!"
"Well, this is it, Worthington. I'm all packed and ready to go."
"You know, it seems like only yesterday I was putting up posters around campus to find a roommate, and here we are on moving day."
"Yeah, I remember the day I moved in. I couldn't believe this place."
And I couldn't believe you, Frances thought. He almost said it out loud. Maybe he could have. Maybe. He smiled at the memory. "I remember that day well," he said. "Who would have thought we'd end up here?"
"We've come a long way," Tank agreed.
"Yes, we have. In another sense, it feels like you've always been here. It's hard to remember what I did with myself before you moved in."
"Well, I'm not sure what happens now," Frances said. "I hope our paths will cross again. I know I'd like to stay in touch."
"Do you know where you're going?"
"Well, then..." Tank fidgeted in that awkward way he often did before getting to his point. "Why don't you come stay with me?"
"Where? In Strangetown?"
"Well, yeah. That's where my house is."
"Yeah, sure. Why not? It's a big empty house."
A smile quickly overtook Frances's face, and he could feel his eyes welling up.
"Don't cry," Tank warned, though there was no real harshness in it. "All I said was it's an empty house."
Frances wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and attempted to reign it in. He knew how Tank felt about "manly" emotions. "Sort of like this was also a big empty house, three semesters ago..."
Frances looked him over once more, thinking about how truly far they'd come together. He could have said something about imposing, but he already knew that wasn't true. He knew Tank well enough to know that he had meant it. Otherwise, he would never have suggested it. "I'd like that," he said. "Just until I can find a place in the city..."
"Stay as long as you want. Doesn't bother me. I could use the company, I'm sure."
Frances smiled. Coming from Tank, this was really something.
"I'll have one of the rooms set up for you, so you can just show up whenever you like. After you do whatever it is you have to do..."
"That sounds wonderful, Tank. I need to visit with my sister, Charlotte. I haven't spoken to her since my... little indiscretion at her wedding."
"That should be fun."
"Well, Charlotte is the model of a refined high-society lady, so I think she'll be gracious enough." He rubbed the back of his neck absentmindledly. " ...but I'm still terrified."
"Could be worse."
"True. It could be my father."
"It could be my father."
Frances took pause at that. "Has there been any word on that? One way or another..."
"No." Tank picked at a hangnail on his thumb. After a moment, he added, "Not yet."
Frances had to admire his optimism. "Well, I'll let you know when I'm en route to Strangetown. Best of luck with your first days at work."
"Thanks. Should be fine. Good luck with your... stuff."
Frances threw up his arms in a gesture of closure, then reached out his hand to Tank, who stood and stared puzzled at him for a moment before shaking it. Then Tank pulled closer to him for a somewhat uncertain and awkward hug. It was the first show of affection that Tank had ever offered to Frances on his own.
Manly emotions. Perhaps they were growing on him.
Just not too much.
Continue to Part Two...
- Current Music:Hounds of Love by Kate Bush