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Villains or Heroes? chapter 1

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  1. 1. There I was, in the middle of nowhere, and it was the end of the world, writes Salahuddin Chamcha in his diary. With everything that was apparently happening in Strangetown, I realized that I was lucky to even be alive, and the fact that I had managed to come all this way from La Fiesta Tech without as much as a scratch was simply a miracle. I am not sure how I was capable of rational thought at that time, but somehow I realized that I was going to need a place to stay. Partially by collecting materials myself and using my limited building skills, partially buying whatever limited assets my money could provide me, I managed to build a shelter, one that hopefully would endure in the drastic circumstances around me.
  2. 2. While Salahuddin was busy building himself a shelter, Seth, Rodney, Marielle and Cypress had a different kind of worry. ”Are you sure it didn't work?” Seth pressed Cypress perhaps ten minutes after the two explosions. Why there had been two, they didn't yet know. ”I told you, we'd know by now”, Cypress replied in an icy tone, still twiddling with the knobs on his science station that he had tuned to detect the presence of an inter-dimensional gateway or other disturbance. ”But what could possibly have gone wrong?” asked Marielle in turn, irritation apparent in her voice. ”You seemed quite sure that it would work.” Marielle was pushing her luck, thought Seth. Even at the best of moments, it was probably unwise to irritate Cypress, and this was definitely not the best of moments. But apparently it was not Marielle one should feel worried about. ”The instructions”, barked Cypress, ”I need to see the instructions.”
  3. 3. A few moments later, they were all crammed into the study. The internet was very slow, possibly as an after-effect of the explosions. Rodney was the first to cry out what made Seth's heart skip a beat: ”They're gone!” ”No shit, Sherlock”, Cypress snorted, while Seth kept frantically hitting the refresh button, always with the same result. Page not found. ”Maybe there's some problem with the internet”, Seth suggested (to which Cypress snorted again) and opened another bookmarked page at random. It was extremely slow, but the moment he clicked on the bookmark, it started loading. He hit the instructions page again. Page not found. Marielle, who wasn't yet completely accustomed to all the techincal wonders present in Strangetown, seemed completely bewildered about their discussion and Seth's actions, but Cypress didn't seem to be even very surprised. ”I should have known it. It was too good to be true. Someone's played a trick on us.”
  4. 4. As the phone lines didn't work, Salahuddin spent a lot of his time on his first day listening to the radio, to get a comprehensive idea of the situation, if possible. ”The food rationing is in effect immeadiately, and each household may only prepare food once per each day. I repeat, each household may...” ”... electronic devices are deemed unsafe to use, except for the following...” ”... the water is deemed unsanitary, and caution is adviced...” It was not encouraging news, but at least it was news.
  5. 5. Once he felt sufficiently familiar with his situation, and had managed to, at least for the moment, assure himself that Bim had done as he had asked and stayed inside (he forbid himself from thinking of what could have happened if she had not), he decided that the best thing to do in his situation would be to try to find a job. Not only for the money, as money was not an issue at present, but also, working seemed like the best way to stay on top of the situation and to improve on it, if possible. Unfortunately, on that day there didn't seem to be any particularly promising jobs available. But there was no room for panic. No doubt something would come up later.
  6. 6. Salahuddin was happy that he had been able to locate an abandoned junk car nearby and bring it here. He'd put it under his shelter with the intention to try to fix it into an actually working car. In these circumstances, cars were not really about distance, but about the relative safety they provided. Salahuddin didn't really know much about cars beforehand, but he was of course otherwise skilled at mechanics, and willing to try. Besides, it gave him something to do, meaning that there would be less time to worry. So he set to work.
  7. 7. It didn't always go beautifully, but Salahuddin didn't allow himself to be discouraged. It might take some time, but he would get it to work.
  8. 8. Fixing the car was a messy job, and that's when Salahuddin came to find first hand one of the downsides of living in a post-apocalyptic world: washing up properly wasn't really possible, and on top of that, the only place where he'd managed to get running water was outside. Thankfully, even though it was technically a nuclear winter, it wasn't terribly cold so far.
  9. 9. Salahuddin knew that based on everything that he was hearing on the radio news, he shouldn't be too trustful of anyone he didn't know, and he did keep his doors locked at all times. But apparently some others were willing to take risks, seeing that on his first day, he came across a teenage boy on his property. The boy didn't seem dangerous, and perhaps he had some information on him, so Salahuddin decided that if he was cautious, it should be safe to talk to him. ”Oh, it's true”, started the boy without preamble, ”The other kids were right after all. They were saying that someone has a shelter somewhere around here. You live here?” Salahuddin decided that there was no benefit in lying, the boy didn't look like a bandit, and he'd already seen that there was a house, or a shack at any rate, here. ”Yes, yes I do. I have managed to build this shelter for myself, I only hope that it will endure the conditions. I take it that there are other survivors nearby, then?”
  10. 10. ”Oh yeah”, said the boy. ”We are a few, that way”, he gestured in a general direction, ”and a little further away seems to be another shelter.” Salahuddin nodded. ”I see.” He wasn't sure what else to say. The boy seemed to agree on that. ”Well, I guess I'd better get going. They sent me to look for some building material, so we could have a better roof.” Salahuddin idly wondered whether that was actually true, as the boy seemed suddenly in a bit of a hurry. Maybe he was worried he'd said too much. In the current circumstances, Salahuddin couldn't really blame him. He nodded. ”Very well. I wish you the best of luck. Unless it has already been emptied, there is a collapsed building in that direction, it had some useful things when I visited it few hours ago. Stay safe.” The boy nodded and smiled slightly. ”Thanks. You too.” And with that, he was gone.
  11. 11. While Salahuddin was preparing his meal from the goods he was allowed to have that day, he thought to himself that apparently he hadn't found out very much about the boy. Not even his name, in fact. And well, the must not have learned very much about him, either, and perhaps it was the best. Then it occurred to him that maybe he should have been worried that someone he did not know well now knew where he lived, but the boy was young and alone, and probably harmless. Still, better safe than sorry, Salahuddin thought and checked that the door was locked. And then he was sorry that the situation made him think like that. He thought of the boy again. Clearly, it was not just him who was feeling worried and paranoid, either.
  12. 12. The old grill Salahuddin had managed to find didn't fry quite evenly, but at least he was able to eat cooked food instead of the canned drinks they were dealing out to those without even the simplest appliances.
  13. 13. The meal was decent enough. Salahuddin had taken all of the food he was allowed to have that day, and decided to save the remainders for later. With the appliances in the state they were, he knew that they would soon go bad, but he had the vague idea that the future might hold times when spoiled food would be better than no food at all.
  14. 14. In the evening Salahuddin tried to call Bim, but as he had feared, the line was still dead. The man on the radio had said that there was some problem with the phone lines, something to have to do with a popular game, although Salahuddin didn't understand how anyone could think about games in these circumstances. All the same, the result was that he had to go to bed with almost as little information as he had woken up with, and with a nagging worry about Bim.
  15. 15. ”It's a WHAT?!” yelled Cypress, making Rodney and Marielle jump slightly, but Seth was calm. The moment he'd gotten to know, he'd felt more in control.
  16. 16. ”An apocalypse”, he repeated. ”I just heard it on the radio a little while ago”, he gestured towards the stereo equipment, ”Some public service announcement. There has been an explosion 'of unknown origin', in the warehouse, and that happened to be a bit too close to the local nuclear powerplant, which, well, went critical and caused the second explosion we heard.” Even Cypress didn't seem to be able to say anything to that. He just stood there, staring at Seth, who calmly went on. ”Apparently just about everything there is to be damaged, has been damaged. The explosion destroyed factories making food, clothes, medicines... You name it. The transportation is a mess, clean water and elecricity...” At this point, Seth was cut off by Marielle, who had been looking at him with her head tilted, and now ran out of the room.
  17. 17. They found her in the bathroom, where she was bent over the bath tub, running water from the tap. ”The water seems fine to me”, she pointed out, and true enough, it was clear and there was no foul odor or anything that'd seem off. Seth nodded. ”I thought it might be. The first thing I did was go to the computer, and that, too, worked just fine. We'd better test the water, but I'd almost be willing to bet that it's just fine, and there seems to be plenty of it”, he nodded to the still running stream of water. ”So what you're saying”, said Cypress, clearly disbelieving him, ”is that there's supposedly an apocalypse going on out there”, he pointed out the window, ”which is caused by us, by the way, but everything in this very house is fine?” ”That'd be the reinforcements”, said Rodney before Seth had had the time to answer. ”I did do the calculations and ask for the house to be strengthened against explosions, and I made sure to account for a bigger explosion than you were planning. This house was designed to endure against a nuclear meltdown.”
  18. 18. ”We are on the edge of town”, Seth took over, ”so our water and electricity are actually coming from elsewhere, and the connections haven't been damaged.” ”Ok, so those things are fine”, said Cypress, suspicious. ”But didn't you say that there were other effects. Like food, medication, transportation. The house doesn't protect us from that.” At that, Seth smiled. He was prepared. ”No, it doesn't, that's true. But, if we play it right from here, I think we can protect us from the rest.”
  19. 19. Somehow the night's rest, even though not very comfortable, gave me new deternination, Chamcha's diary describes. Even though the situation seemed hopeless, and even though I was still extremely worried about Bim and my friends, I had decided that I could not simply sit and do nothing. As hopeless as it seemed, maybe there was something that I could do about the current situation. As the first thing in the morning, I searched for a workplace from the newspaper again. After all, even though my college years had left me relatively wealthy, those earnings would not support me – and Bim, if I ever found her again – forever. There were still not any particularly promising openings, but I refused to give up hope.
  20. 20. Salahuddin decided that even though he had no occupation as of yet, he still should not waste his time. He headed back under his shelter and set to work with the car. Getting it functional again was one of his main goals for the short term.
  21. 21. Meanwhile, elsewhere. ”So Rodney, what did they say?” asked Seth when Rodney showed up in the living room after his work day. ”Oh, it's going pretty nicely”, replied Rodney with a hint of a smile. ”I've got experience from Simsfield and they're actually pretty impressed that I've been Mayor before. Thanks to the disaster, they can't check back with Simsfield what kind of a Mayor I was. And since I suggested a couple of regulations to them and they seemed to like them... I should be well on my way to be the next Mayor. Doesn't hurt that the old one was thinking of resigning anyway.” ”Great. Marielle?” ”My prospects should be very good as well. My superiors are aware that I have some very good qualities”, she said proudly, sitting as straight as ever. ”Oh, I'm sure”, said Cypress from the side, half snorting, half-amused. ”Though I'll admit it's the oldest and surest way, so points for that.”
  22. 22. Marielle seemed to catch his hint, and looked utterly scandalized. ”Mister Vetinari, I would never, never do such a thing! As if I was some lowly...! How dare you even suggest...” she was getting incoherent with rage. ”Now now, no one's suggesting anything, right?” Seth intervened and shot an irritated look at Cypress. He hadn't known Marielle had this kind of moral views, but if Cypress were to get the chance, he'd mock her constantly. She suddenly reminded him of Rodney in some way. ”So, what about you, Cypress?” Seth asked to distract Cypress and Marielle, the latter of whom was still muttering to herself and shooting dirty looks at the former.
  23. 23. ”Please, as if I could do anything but succeed”, he replied. ”These idiots in the Science career here, they'll buy whatever crap I can come up with.” ”Anything concrete, rather than just your endless self-promotion?” asked Rodney coolly. ”I estimate I should be Mad Scientist when I come home from work tomorrow”, Cypress said. ”Ok, good then”, said Seth. ”So when you're the Mayor, Rodney...”
  24. 24. ”Yeah, yeah, we've been over this”, Rodney interrupted. ”When I'm secure enough in my position – should be easy by giving few bribes here and there – I'll summon the city council for a meeting and propose new members. I shouldn't even need to propose new spots, since politicians are fleeing like rats if they can. The rest will be just relieved to see someone new willing to 'take the blame' like they see it.” ”And with our important positions, it should be even easier to get in”, Seth continued the thought. ”Excellent. That should give us a lot of power, and money. With a bit of effort, we can get our hands on the 'protection' payments that I've heard the criminals collect, and we can bypass the relevant regulations. Food rationing? Won't apply to us. Need some medication? No problem. Secure transportation? Yes, sir, Mayor, right away, sir”, summarized Seth.
  25. 25. ”And with my connections in the scientific world”, said Cypress, ”we'll be back on track with getting out of here, which is of course the main thing”, he stated his opinion. ”The only one whom I don't see doing anything useful”, he shot a glance at Seth, ”is yourself.” ”How am I not surprised that you aren't aware of the benefits of having a celebrity in the party?” asked Seth, part amused, part irritated. Before Cypress could say anything he continued: ”Rhethorical, rhetorical. Anyway, as I'm sure Rodney will confirm, getting someone in Entertainment into the city council should be a piece of cake. As it happens, the celebrity types always get in. Sims are just that superficial. Also, you wouldn't believe the connections you get in the field. When something worth knowing happens, I'll be the one to know.” ”Whatever helps you sleep at night”, snorted Cypress. ”Actually, I prefer karaoke and some hot chicks”, replied Seth. ”Anyway, who's up for a game of pool?”
  26. 26. In the afternoon, Salahuddin felt as if something heavy had suddenly lifted off his shoulders. His desperate attempts were finally succesful, and there was someone in the other end of the phone line. ”Sal? Is that you?” Bim's voice was loud and clear. ”Bim, darling! You are alive!” ”It's you! Thank goodness, Sal! I've tried to get a hold of you, but the phone's been mute. I've been so worried”, said Bim, sighing of relief. ”So have I”, replied Salahuddin. ”Where are you? What happened to you?” he continued – while overjoyed for learning that Bim was alive and well enough to speak to him, he was constantly worried that the phone might suddenly stop working again.
  27. 27. Bim was fine. She had stayed inside as Salahuddin had asked her to. She had heard the explosion, and her home building had shaken by its force, but it hadn't collapsed. She was experiencing the same difficulties as he was: the power shortage, the food rationing, the water being scarce and unsanitary, all of it. She had not managed to find a job in the chaos, but she was alive, and she had a shelter, just like Salahuddin had, so she was relatively safe. Also, she told him that she was coming over. No ifs and no buts. Tonight.
  28. 28. It was soon apparent to Salahuddin that convincing Bim to stay at home was going to be impossible, so he didn't even try very hard. He felt guillty, but Bim assured him that he would be very careful, and he understood that she needed to see him just as badly as he needed to see her. And in the evening, they would. In the meantime, there were other things for Salahuddin to take care of. The old sink he had been using to wash himself as well as he could had broken, and he didn't want the precious water to go to waste. After that, he continued working on the car. Apparently, the phone lines were somehow in a better condition today. He was able to speak to both Michelle and Holly, who assured him that they were safe and sound, which made him feel slightly less worried, at least for the moment.
  29. 29. And a few hours later, all worries left Salahuddin's mind as if they had been wiped away: he was holding Bim in his arms. ”I still can't believe it's you”, she mumbled into his shoulder. ”I thought...” ”I know”, he said simply. ”I felt exactly the same.” And for a while, there was nothing in their world except relief and happiness.
  30. 30. As they sat down to eat, however (Salahuddin had saved his rationed food for the evening so that they could eat together – ”You should be saving it for yourself!” Bim protested), their thoughts turned to more practical matters. ”This place is, you know, relatively nice”, commented Bim, looking around. ”You've done a good job looking for goods and materials.” ”Thank you”, Salahuddin said, but became worried. ”Are you less comfortable? I do not want you to suffer, you should be living here with me.” ”I'm not suffering”, said Bim quickly, ”don't worry. I'd like nothing more than to live with you of course, but you heard what the man on the radio said: it's not safe to change existing housing arrangements.” Salahuddin didn't say anything. He wanted to protest that he couldn't possibly see what would be dangerous about moving in together with his fiancée whom he loved and trusted, but all the same he realized that with the current atmosphere being what it was, breaking regulations would be unwise.
  31. 31. They did not want to part again, but what choice did they have? From what they had heard, what was left of the police force was oddly motivated to enforce the new housing regulations, however unreasonable they were, and a stay of even a few days could easily have been interpreted as a violation. ”I probably won't be able to call you when I get home”, said Bim, ”by that time the phone lines will likely be dead again.” ”Ah yes. It may be Wednesday already. In that case, you will hear from me, at the latest, next Tuesday. Promise me you will be careful. I do not want you to be caught by the mob”, Salahuddin said seriously. ”Don't worry about me. I'm a good runner.”
  32. 32. Perhaps Salahuddin wasn't entirely convinced of Bim's assurance that she'd be fine, but it was the best he could have, so he tried to push it out of his mind. She had been right: he didn't get a phone call from her, and when he tried to call her in turn, the line was dead. The next morning it was chilly inside, so Salahuddin put his coat on. The newspaper made him feel somewhat better: even though there still wasn't an opening in one of the careers he was the most competent on based on his degree, Gamer, Architecture, Criminal, Natural Science or Science, there was one in Intelligence. After a moment of hesitation, Salahuddin decided that he could best stay on top of things and possibly even affect them if he had and occupation, and took the position.
  33. 33. That morning was also the first time that Salahuddin faced with eating spoiled food. He'd known it would be inevitable at some point, if he didn't wish to starve. Living alone the rationed food would usually suffice, but definitely if he were to live together with Bim at some point (given that it would be possible at all), as he hoped, food would start getting scarcer. And it would definitely be him who'd have the spoiled food, Salahuddin thought without hesitation. This morning, he felt hungrier than usual, and didn't want to take out the day's portion too early, so the only option was to eat whatever was left from yesterday. He was a little bit worried about getting ill, but knew it was better than starving. So bravely he ignored the smell, and ate.
  34. 34. I spent most of that day at hard work, repairing the car. There was a lot to do, but I was determined to have it in a functioning state. Hopefully by the time I and Bim would be able to find a way to live together. I did meet someone that day. Another teenager, likely from the same group that lives somewhere nearby. I did not learn much new from her either, but in this situation we both understood that asking too many questions would be unwise.
  35. 35. The next morning when Salahuddin woke up, he had somehow found new determination, and he felt like he had some kind of a plan of action. Today was his first working day. His best chance of improving things was definitely to do his best at work. If he got promoted to a better position, perhaps he could have a chance at changing things, albeit slowly, for the better.
  36. 36. It was a chilly morning, and the water felt could when Salahuddin tried to tidy himself the best he could. The first impression was important, and he would do his utmost to succeed.
  37. 37. And so begun the first working day. Salahuddin was there well on time for the car pool; if he missed it, he currently had no other means to get to work, as his own car was still undriveable. He was taking no chances. I was lucky to have my college degree, even if its value was less than it would have been otherwise. Thankfully, the degree allowed me to not start in the very bottom of the ladder. And even on my very first day, I apparently convinced my superiors, as I earned a promotion. ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Salahuddin started at level 3 of the Intelligence career, as only the jobs offered on the paper can be taken at this point (computers can't be used).
  38. 38. In the afternoon, Salahuddin had a pleasant surprise waiting for him on his, well, not his lawn but his sand. ”Marion! It is so good to see you! I have been worried about you!” ”It's good to see you too, Salahuddin”, said Marion warmly. ”I'm perfectly ok, the house nearly collapsed but luckily I didn't get anything heavy onto me.” ”That is very good to hear, it really is a relief.” ”So it's true!” said Marion then, looking around. ”What is true?” Salahuddin asked, confused. ”I heard a rumor that someone was living around here, in a quite decent shelter even. They talked about a pale man with black hair, so I immediately thought of you, but of course in this situation you can't really put much weight on rumors.”
  39. 39. The talk naturally circled around the latest events, the biggest that either of them had ever experienced. ”... and then the heavy bookshelf fell over, and only just missed his head, he told me. We really are lucky to be alive.” ”Yes, indeed we are”, agreed Salahuddin. ”The conditions now are of course terrible, but with time, maybe we can do something about them.” ”Oh? You've really thought that far?” asked Marion. ”Most of the sims probably just think about surviving day by day, how not to starve to death or go to jail for breaking the regulations.” ”That is of course understandable”, said Salahuddin and nodded. ”I, however, cannot bear the idea that the sims who come after us would not have it at least a little bit better than we do at the moment.” Marion nodded slowly. ”I see what you mean. Someone has to do something. Even if we don't yet know what exactly that something is.”
  40. 40. ”I should get going”, said Marion finally. ”I want to be home before dark.” ”It is for the best”, agreed Salahuddin and nodded. ”Do take care of yourself”, he added. ”You too”, answered Marion. ”And you know, if there's anything I can do to help... Please don't hesitate to ask.” They both knew that in the current situation, even asking would be a huge undertaking, let alone actually helping one's fellow sims in any way, but didn't say so. Both knew that Salahuddin ever asking for help would be an extremely unlikely event, but didn't say so. Regardless, Salahuddin knew that Marion meant every word. Maybe in this new, terrible world he couldn't trust just anyone, but he knew he damn well would trust his old friends. ”Thank you, Marion, I appreciate it”, he said simply. ”You know the same applies to you”, he added, and meant it. ”I know. Thank you, Salahuddin.”
  41. 41. ”I knew it”, Seth muttered to himself, scrolling down a long webpage. ”Knew what?” asked Rodney, who'd just entered the room. ”Oh hey, Rodney”, Seth acknowledged and gestured towards the screen. ”Just found this, I was sure this was a thing.” Rodney leaned forwards and started reading. After a moment he said: ”That looks awfully familiar to me.” ”Doesn't it?”
  42. 42. ”What looks familiar?” asked Cypress' voice from the doorway, and made the two men jump. Seth frowned to himself. He hadn't intended for Cypress to find out, and definitely not yet, but he knew lying would not only be futile, it might be dangerous as well. He backed down with his chair and pointed at the screen. ”This.”
  43. 43. ”What is it?” asked Marielle, who'd just shown up in the doorway. Cypress and Rodney interrupted their reading, and everyone turned to face her. ”Seth found this website”, Rodney explained, ”about a challenge. Much like the legacy challenges we're all from. Only this one looks a lot like the current situation in here. It's called the apocalypse challenge.” ”We were wondering whether this Chamcha guy was a challenge founder”, Seth said, mostly thinking aloud. ”Looks like we got our answer, then. If he wasn't at first, he is now.” ”Well that explains it all”, said Cypress suddenly. ”Explains what?” asked Rodney. ”Looks like we found out who the clever little sim was that manipulated us into causing the explosion. It was him all along.”
  44. 44. ”WHAT?” Seth couldn't surpress his yell of surprise. ”What the hell are you talking about?” ”It's pretty obvious isn't it?” Cypress said, sounding frustrated. ”Well I hate to sound stupid”, mocked Seth, ”but not to me it isn't. Why don't you spell it out?” ”Sure I'll spell it out. I'll draw a picture if you'd like”, said Cypress in the same tone. ”Let me see. Who's the one sim who knew what we were planning to do – thanks to you by the way? Chamcha. Who's the only sim in Strangetown who's to our knowledge playable and started out as a singlemember family and is thus eligible for a challenge founder? Chamcha.” ”So what you're saying is that he caused the disaster because he wanted to be in a challenge?” Seth asked in disbelief. ”Why not?” Cypress shrugged. ”From what you've told us, he isn't all puppies and sunshine any more than we are, and I bet I can guess his story. He's some neglected side character in his own universe and wants some more attention. What's a better way to get attention than saving your world?”
  45. 45. ”You don't know him”, Seth said. ”I don't think...” ”I don't need to. That's how you folks work”, said Cypress and leaned his back against the wall. ”You sad little rejects.” Seth was saved from answering by Rodney. ”Wouldn't it be easier to start a legacy or something?” ”Well that's just it”, Cypress sneered. ”It's too easy. Whoever and their granny can start a legacy. An apocalypse, however... Being a hero, that's where the real attention is.” ”Who'd want that kind of a life for his own family?” Seth tried. ”Not a nice guy, remember?” Cypress shrugged. Seth shook his head. ”I don't buy that.” Rodney and Marielle looked unconvinced as well, but didn't say anything.
  46. 46. ”Not that it matters”, said Cypress and shrugged again. Then he laughed. ”Maybe he's not a nice guy, but apparently he's not a very competent villain.” ”Hmm?” Seth asked. ”Well, he was obviously planning to get all the attention and a hero status, but I'm pretty sure he wasn't going to have us benefit from the disaster”, Cypress said as if it was obvious. ”But now, we won't be affected by it, and can even benefit from it financially. Maybe I should send him a thank you card or something.”
  47. 47. ”Well that was unexpected”, commented a voice in a far away comfortable living space. ”But good, right?” ”Good for us, definitely. Not that they'd have any chance to find out, but if they are – or at any rate Cypress is – distracted by the thought that he did it, they're unlikely to even try. It's true they are more resourced than the rest of Strangetown right now, so if they did try we'd have more work to do. Now we can just sit back and relax. I can't help but wonder though...” ”What?” ”Nothing, nothing. Now let's switch cameras back on the main action, ok?”
  48. 48. The next few days were mostly very similar to each other. Salahuddin spent his time working hard, be it at work, or at home. When at home, he concentrated on the car, whenever something else in his shelter didn't require his attention. Sometimes he was so tired that he fell asleep in his lounge chair. At work, he made sure to play everything by the book, as the current situation required extreme caution. His strategy paid off, as he soon found himself promoted to Reconnaissance Communicator.
  49. 49. Salahuddin's most frequent information sources were still the sims passing by the house. For instance, the young boy who still bravely made his rounds delivering newspapers, even though their content had gone down the drain. He never learned much at once, as one had to be cautious about whom one trusted, but every little bit helped, he told himself. Besides, talking to others was one part of making sure he didn't go mad from loneliness.
  50. 50. It also helped that apparently word was getting around about his survival, and every now and then a familiar face would be seen at his yard. All of these sims liked him enough to take the risk of visiting him even in the terrible, terrible conditions they were living in. He admired their courage, and felt guilty that he didn't leave the house himself, to go looking for them. When he said so to Jessica, she told him: ”You absolutely should not. It's better to come to you.” This was somewhat of an odd statement. ”Why? I have ten body points, which I do not think you do. I should be better able to defend myself if needed, and my friends may be in need of my help.” Jessica shook her head. ”There is not much you could do for them out there. No one knows the situation exactly, you wouldn't likely even be able to find us, at least the ones most in the need of help. Besides, you can't risk it, you're a playable.” ”What does that have to do with anything?” Salahuddin asked, puzzled. ”You are able to do many things we townies are not”, Jessica replied, ”and actively changing things for the better is our only hope. I hear you're already doing something good in your current job. You are the kind that can change things here. That's why you might also be in greater danger than the rest of us”, she added, worried.
  51. 51. Not sure what else he could do, Salahuddin trusted his gut feeling that Jessica must be right, and kept working hard on his career at SCIA. He found himself thinking that perhaps, if he climbed high enough, he would be able to bring about a change in the atmosphere, by convincing his coworkers that the level of mistrust currently present in Strangetown wasn't justified. Before he knew it, he was suddenly a Rookie Field Agent. It was going rather well, Salahuddin thought to himself.
  52. 52. And that, he writes, was when something truly disheartening happened. The following night, I was visited by a burglar.
  53. 53. Thankfully, I was fast asleep, and the burglar was only interested in some of my meager possessions. As things were, I only lost some items, and as I was sleeping and no threat to the intruder, I was not hurt. Still, it horrifies me to think what could have happened had I been awake.
  54. 54. The burglar took my chess board and my bookshelf. Neither had much value, I am sure, seeing the price I paid for them myself, but I suppose in those circumstances there must be a black market for everything imaginable. Besides, when there are no high-quality items available, even the most basic things become highly desirable.
  55. 55. But what most pained me, was that the burglar took the car. Not because of the monetary value, which was low, but because of all the work I had already put into it. Now I would have to find a new abandoned car, or enough parts, and start again. Of course, all of this was inevitable. Electronic devices did not work, so I had no hope of protecting my possessions with an alarm, and even if I did, the police would not come. The locks available on the cardboard-like doors we have would be a laughing stock if it all wasn't so worrisome. I was in fact very lucky that this robber only wanted material things.
  56. 56. He was gone long before I woke up the following day, and in retrospect, this was probably for the best. I was extremely angry, and had I woken up in the night, I could have attempted to capture the burglar myself, which would have been very unwise. I was of course in very good shape, but I would have had no way of knowing whether the burglar was armed.
  57. 57. It took some time to find another car that seemed to be salvageable, but Salahuddin was determined: he was convinced that having a car would give him and his family some much needed security, and the chance to travel a bit further than they otherwise would have been able to. So when he did find another car junk, he gritted his teeth, dragged it under his shelter, and set to work again.
  58. 58. This wasn't a particularly good day for the other four, either. Cypress marched through the front door in his Mad Scientist work clothes and slammed it behind him. After a selection of juicy curse words, the three others emerged, Seth and Rodney from the study, and Marielle from the bathroom, where she had been enjoying a bubble bath. ”What is it?” she asked. ”That damn Chamcha.” ”What about him?” asked Rodney. ”He's in the Intelligence career, correct?” Cypress asked, no one in particular, but Seth replied. ”Yeah, why?” ”Well, he's apparently making headway there, and the SCIA pops up snooping everywhere. Including in the Science labs. I can look stuff up but I can't conduct research on making a device to get us out of here. That'd take too much resources and taking too much resources when you're not supposed to have any is very suspicious to the SCIA. That's why.”
  59. 59. ”Do you mean that there is a way to escape Strangetown?” Marielle asked. ”Yeah, I'm positive”, said Cypress. ”The instructions we found may have been fake, but at work I've found something that's pretty promising. You have to build a kind of a device, a vechile if you will, and it'll take you across dimensions. The thing is, it needs a lot of material and a lot of energy.” ”Neither of which are really available”, continued Seth. ”Well, would be if it wasn't for that damn Chamcha and his snooping coworkers.” ”Can't you just... have a laboratory here or something?” asked Rodney. ”I don't think they'd come snooping to city council members' homes”, he added. Cypress rolled his eyes. ”Don't you think I already would if that was possible? Sure, we've got electricity and some materials, but not nearly enough for this kind of a project.” ”You're a Mad Scientist. Can't you do anything about those electricity restrictions?” asked Rodney again, seeming a bit frustrated. Perhaps he shouldn't have.
  60. 60. ”Is your buddy really that stupid or is he just pretending?” Cypress asked Seth, almost hissing, but didn't wait for a reply. ”You don't think that I already would have if I could?” he spat at Rodney. ”I wouldn't be so sure”, Rodney shot back, ”seeing that you don't seem to mind others suffer.” Seth stepped in before the situation would get out of hand. ”Yeah I figured you might not be able to.” That silenced the two of them. All three others looked at Seth. ”Why is that?” asked Marielle, the quickest to recover. Seth was calm, on top of the situation again. ”You tried talking to your employees, suggesting solutions and your ideas of how to fix things, but they wouldn't believe any of it?” Cypress remained silent and looked threatening, which made the answer as obvious as if he'd shouted it in their faces. Seth was hitting a nerve.
  61. 61. ”Knowing you, you probably tried forcing and blackmailing too”, Seth continued, as Cypress looked more and more grim. ”But none of it worked.” ”Those cowards are too damn scared to do anything about anything”, said Cypress. ”They'll rather rot in this literal hellhole than take a bit of a risk to try to fix it.” ”Well, since this is a challenge, and apparently the Chamcha guy is the founder, I thought there would probably be a problem with anyone else trying to set things right. Actually, just to try it out, I tried to suggest improvements myself when I became Prestidigitator. And as I had suspected, I ran into the exact same problems as Cypress did. There was a perfectly logical explanation: the sims are too scared to try anything. But I think it's more than that.” ”That's what I suspected”, said Seth. ”But how? How did you know?” asked Marielle. She and Rodney had both been listening quite intently. ”After I didn't manage to do it, I'd really like to see that Chamcha idiot or any of his no doubt equally stupid offspring try”, said Cypress, apparently momentarily forgetting his bad mood in favor of shadenfreude. Seth didn't care, but finished his thought: ”That might just be how this universe works.”
  62. 62. Soon afterwards, Salahuddin met another one of his old friends, Holly Andersen. ”The word seems to be spreading that I am here”, he said, half amused, half worried. ”As much as I appriciate it, you really should not take any risks.” ”Of course I had to come. Besides, in this world just about breathing is a risk, but that doesn't mean I'm going to stop doing it”, Holly said briskly. Salahuddin nodded. Perhaps she was right. Perhaps the only way to survive would be to keep on living as normally as possible. ”Come inside. When did you last eat?” ”You really shouldn't...” ”I insist.”
  63. 63. And he did. At the moment, there was not much he could do for his loved ones, but at least he could offer them some of his food when they risked their lives to see him. ”Have you heard from Bim?” Holly asked. ”She managed to call me a few days ago somehow, even though it was not Tuesday. The line was terrible, but it seems she is fine. I always keep my ears open for the phone”, Salahuddin added, ”I have only managed to use it on Tuesday myself, but occasionally someone appears to be able to phone to me otherwise.” Holly nodded. ”I'm glad to hear she's ok.” ”I only wish that she could live with me here”, Salahuddin said. ”My only hope is that they cannot hold on to these ridiculous restrictions of living forever.”
  64. 64. ”No they can't, I'm sure of it”, said Holly. ”I think it just takes someone to convince them of that. Think of it, you can't even live together with someone you love and trust? I know the times are dangerous, but this amount of mistrust is just ridiculous. I know, easy to say here sitting with one of my oldest friends but...” ”I know what you mean”, said Salahuddin. ”And I hope to be able to do something about these very issues at the workplace. Once I become important enough, someone has to listen”, he said, perhaps most of all to convince himself. Holly smiled. ”That's what I like about you, Salahuddin. You are always wanting to do something about the things that you think are wrong. I really admire you for that. You work in Intelligence, right?” ”Yes I do, why?” ”Well, I happen to know some of the higher-ups in there. I might not be able to get you promoted, but I should be able to lobby for your cause. At the very least, you should get a raise.”
  65. 65. Salahuddin was wondering whether Holly could be of any help in his career, considering the circumstances. For the moment, however, there was nothing he could do about work, so after she left, he set to work on the car with determination. At first the situation seemed bleak, but after hours of hard work, Salahuddin had reason for joy: the motor was finally running without any problems.
  66. 66. Working on the car, as rewarding as it was, had one rather major drawback: oil and dirt were bad for hygiene, and as it was, being clean was a luxury one could not afford. In the end Salahuddin decided he was too dirty to endure any longer, washing his hands wasn't helping anymore. He went to the sink, glanced back and forth to see if anyone was looking, and when he couldn't see anyone, he stripped off his clothes and piled them on the floor. The air felt chilly, but thankfully it hadn't been very cold so far. If only he was quick about it, he could get himself relatively clean using the sink and a sponge.
  67. 67. Salahuddin had a couple of days off from work. He felt slightly frustrated that he couldn't work on his career, seeing that he had become determined to affect his situation that way, but nevertheless he decided to spend that time doing something useful. Naturally, that meant working on the car. Now that the engine was running, he set to work on the body. This time, he would get it done.
  68. 68. At about that time, however, Salahuddin came to find that he also needed an inside activity; the weather had become colder, and the rain came down as snow. Soon it was enough to cover the ground.
  69. 69. Fortunately, he knew just what he wanted to do. He wanted to write a book. There were several reasons. First, obviously he now had something to write about, his own experiences. Who would have thought something like this would happen to me, the dream Salahuddin thought, while the real Salahuddin only remarked Of course, I know better. In any case, he wouldn't let those experiences be forgotten. Second, both he and the future generations needed literature, reading material. Publishing was of course in shambles, and the explosion had damaged stores and libraries, so books were a rare occurence (not to mention that even going anywhere was a huge risk in itself). Salahuddin had managed to collect some battered copies of essential informational books, but anything else was non-existent. Perhaps his works would not have tremendous literary value, but they were better than nothing. All Salahuddin had was an old computer that just about sufficed for typewriting but not for much else. But that would have to do.
  70. 70. In addition to all the hard work he was doing, Salahuddin made sure to peek outside every now and then, to see if anyone was daring to roam the streets. And those occasions that the phone rang, he dropped everything and got right to it. Nothing in this new world felt as valuable as his friends. If he could get a word from someone, that was worth its weight in gold.
  71. 71. Interestingly, Salahuddin's friends gave him not only their full support, but also material things. Many of these things were currently not functional due to the harsh conditions, and he couldn't exactly sell them either due to the market conditions, so he stored them on the roof. Who knew, maybe they would become useful some day. He could barely drag them there, and realized that he probably wouldn't be able to move them again, but that was a worry for another day. Now he only wished he wouldn't run out of storage space. ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Salahuddin has been receiving several reputation rewards from friends visiting and calling the house. According to Science restrictions, electronics can't be used. Under Business restrictions, they can't be sold either, and under Athletic, Salahuddin can only hold three items in his inventory at a time, and items put into his inventory can only be moved onto a place on the lot (within the 8x8 area dictated by Politics) and after that they can't be moved. Thank goodness for the roof! Kind friends are awesome, but I hope they don't keep giving Salahuddin televisions and computers, or we won't have space to store the spoiled food at some point.
  72. 72. In a couple of days' time, when it was time to go to work again, Salahuddin was more than ready. Of course, he could spend the time usefully at home, but he was anxious to get back to his work. He was very satisfied to be promoted to Field Agent that day.
  73. 73. That evening it was cold outside, so I decided to work on my novel instead of the car. Besides, I had not heard from Bim and did not want to miss the phone in case it happened to ring – inside I would be closer to it. I was in a highly excited mood: I had the impression that I was becoming a well-respected official at work. I had taken care to mention few possible improvements on the conditions that our office could possibly force into effect, and to my satisfaction they were received with cautious optimism, Chamcha writes.
  74. 74. He continues: The next morning, when it was time to wear the new work outfit that I was given the previous day – a black outfit with a long leather jacket with boots – I experienced an odd sensation. I felt more like myself than I had for a long time. As the real me awakened from the dream that time, I naturally experienced a slight shock. It was indeed the case that I had physically resembled my actual self more than any time previously.
  75. 75. Perhaps that feeling helped Salahuddin. Even if it wasn't the best of his days – his plan on catching an identity thief did not bring about as good results as he had wished, and for that, he lost a logic skill point – he still kept going, and in the end of the day, it was rewarded. Salahuddin was now a Double Agent, and at that, very close to his overall goal.
  76. 76. After work that day, Salahuddin stayed outside to play chess. It wasn't too cold and he wanted to gain back that one point of logic skill. It might be that he wouldn't even need it for work, but it was the principle of the thing. Besides, he had again gotten quite far with the car, so he had it in his mind that it might help if he kept an eye on it. Of course, if someone actually came for the car, what he would do was beyond him. But he had ten body points, Salahuddin thought. He was bound to figure out something.
  77. 77. Chess and the car continued to make the contents of Salahuddin's next day, and the real Salahuddin was starting to wonder whether this dream was in fact some odd version of Groundhog Day.
  78. 78. But then again, he supposed that was part of living in the end of the world, the monotony. What neither the real or the dream Salahuddin could not understand was the repeated appearence of teenagers on his property. It was the end of the world, after all. Not that he minded for his part; anything to break the routine. ”Are you with those other youngsters whom I have seen here earlier?” Salahuddin asked a young girl who had said her name was Ophelia. ”Other... What other kids?” she asked, confused. ”No, I live nearby with my... family.” Again, she seemed reluctant to say more. ”I see. You really should be careful when out of your home, especially on foot”, he said before saying his goodbyes and heading for work. Salahuddin, neither, could say very much to a stranger, but he was genuinely worried.
  79. 79. That evening, Salahuddin came home an Elite Operative. He was now in a very, very high position within the SCIA, and at that moment, he realized it would in fact be possible to rise in the lead of the whole organization. And if he did, that would give him a real chance to change things.
  80. 80. Salahuddin's head was so full of thoughts, ideas and desires that night that he simply couldn't go to bed right away. He sat at the chess table rather long, playing throught the moves but really thinking about the ways he could change his world if only he played his cards right...
  81. 81. The next day, Salahuddin was still excited, and also increasingly nervous. Today was the day. He tried to help his growing anxiety by working on the car, but felt absent-minded. He hardly even noticed that the mail carrier had come to bring him something. (Interesting how the bills kept on coming, even if nearly nothing else worked.)
  82. 82. And before he knew it, it was time to go to work. This time, it would make all the difference, he promised to himself.
  83. 83. And it truly did. That evening, when Salahuddin came from work, he was the Head of SCIA. He had made it to the very top. He was now his own boss, and on top of that, the boss of everyone else at SCIA. There was no one above him, absolutely no one. And that, that made all the difference in the world.
  84. 84. Even before he had left work that day, Salahuddin had set the wheels in motion. He could not change everything from his position, but all those things that he could, he would. As the SCIA was now very strong, essentially back to its former glory, they were able to establish the trustworthiness of individuals, in secret of course. This was the end of the age of mistrust. The sims could now once again speak to strangers without fear, even invite them on the inside. And most importantly, they could once again change their living arrangements, to live together with someone they cared about. ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Salahuddin lifted the Intelligence restrictions, and as this was the first career lifted in the challenge, also the Hopelessness restriction was lifted.
  85. 85. Whatever he may have been in his previous life, Salahuddin still couldn't remember. But that night, he was definitely a hero.
  86. 86. Seth came to the living room. ”Seems like you were wrong, Cypress.” ”I'm never wrong. Whatever makes you think so?” ”I just heard from a coworker that Chamcha had managed to make it to the top of the Intelligence career, and with that, lift some of the restrictions making sims' lives difficult.” ”Well any idiot can make it in Intelligence, the SCIA isn't...” ”Cut the crap, Cypress”, said Seth, ”I don't need a lecture on how awesome you are and how everyone else is an idiot. What I'm telling you is that I was right and you were wrong. The restrictions can be lifted, but it has to be that particular family.” ”Whatever. Now make those two...” ”Already did”, interrupted Seth. ”Rodney and Marielle are at the city council, turning this to our benefit as we speak.”
  87. 87. The next day, when Salahuddin had his day off, he heard some rather interesting news on the radio. He thought he recognized the announcer as well. Wasn't that the Jalowitz guy? ”... and thus, we, the city council, have taken measures to alleviate the situation. There has been a great deal of effort to make Strangetown more habitable again, and I believe we have succeeded at that. One little step at a time, we will march towards a better future.” The city council? Making an effort to make the future brighter? Salahuddin would have laughed if it had been a different situation. Those bastards had done nothing but enforced more and more unreasonable restrictions on the sims of Strangetown. ”The following actions are now deemed safe”, Jalowitz continued. ”Existing living arrangements can now be changed by inviting sims to move over. Service sims may again be befriended, and the city council has also deemed it safe to give gifts...” The list was a very familiar one. Salahuddin already knew all of this. ”These improvements are granted to you by the Strangetown city council. We are already working hard for further progress, and we hope to give you more hope soon. Thank you”, Jalowitz finished.
  88. 88. Salahuddin just sat for a long while, dumbstruck. All his hard work, and according to the official record, it was all thanks to the city council. Not him. Not the SCIA. The city council. It did not take a genius to understand that something was happening behind the scenes. I was positive that I had heard the voice of Rodney Jalowitz on the radio. If that was the case, he was likely a high official in the city council. Possibly even the Mayor. And if Jalowitz was involved with the city council, I knew three others who would be involved with the city council. All this had something to do with their former plans. The plans that had very likely been foiled by the disaster. But what exactly did they want? That I did not know.
  89. 89. In the afternoon, the phone rang. ”Seth?” Salahuddin asked when he heard a familiar voice on the other end. He wasn't sure what to think. He felt deeply betrayed by what the city council was doing, that was clear without doubt, and Seth, Rodney, Marielle and Cypress were obviously involved with the city council. On the other hand, Seth was a friend of his, agood friend. ”Yeah, that's me”, said Seth's voice. ”I hope you are doing okay?” ”I am well, thank you”, said Salahuddin, reservation apparent in his voice. ”I'm glad to hear that”, replied Seth. He sounded genuine. ”Hey listen, there's this thing I should tell you, I hope the phone lines can take this. You might already have heard about it and if you have, I'm sorry, I should have told you before, but the phone wasn't working and...” ”Seth, I already know.” ”Oh...”
  90. 90. ”Listen, Salahuddin”, Seth said. ”I know this is a terrible cliché but it isn't what it looks like.” ”This is not the city council taking credit for my work?” Salahuddin asked coolly. ”No! Or, well, I guess it kind of is. But there's nothing malicious behind it, I swear! It's a purely political move on the city council's part, and we all regret that we have to do it, but we do.” ”So you are part of the city council?” ”Well, yes, I am a member. And the other members asked me to contact you since I already know you well, they hope that I'd be able to explain it the best...” ”Explain what, Seth?” ”That it's a purely political move, this whole taking credit thing, and it's for the common good. You see, in this situation, the city council isn't at its strongest. Even the slightest change of wind might blow the whole thing over right now. And let's be honest, we don't really need the city council to go down, on top of everything else. So what's really needed is something positive, something strong.”
  91. 91. ”And so you have decided to take the credit for my work in order to stay in the city council?” ”To establish trust for the council! You of all sims should know how much trust means in this situation! If you can't trust the council, then who can you trust?” Seth pleaded. ”And in any case, it's only temporary, I swear.” ”Only temporary?” ”Yes. As soon as the situation stabilizes enough, the council will acknowledge all of your help to its full extent, and we'll all be very grateful.” ”And you do not believe it would harm the sims' trust in the council to admit that you have lied?” ”Hey come on, Salahuddin, there are ways to do that. The city council consists of experienced politicians, they'll be able to handle it. Right now we just need you to understand that we didn't do it out of any malicious intent towards you, we did it for the common good. And once the life stablizes, you'll be given full credit. I swear, Salahuddin”, Seth assured him. After a long silence, Salahuddin sighed. What choice did he have, anyway? ”I understand.”
  92. 92. The next morning, when Salahuddin woke up, his thoughts had become clearer. First of all, I now knew how to restore things to how they once where. My own efforts would not be enough, nor would those of any other single sim. This was a group effort: the whole family would simply have to do what I had done, in different areas of life. In the end, Strangetown would be a safe and pleasant place to live, and my descendants would be able to enjoy it. Second, I believed that I had some vague idea of what my four ”friends” were planning to do. I still trusted Seth, to some extent, but the others very likely had their own plans. Plans which I and my family would perhaps not like. And I would have to do something about that.
  93. 93. Salahuddin was burning with anxiety to finally live together with Bim, to get married to the woman he loved and to have children. That all was now possible. But as the phone lines were still in bad shape, the soonest he could with certainty reach Bim was next Tuesday. And that was yet several long days away. But he would endure. He had improved the situation, and he had a plan for the continuation. He would be allowed to marry Bim. He would endure. Until then, there was still work to be done. The car would not work on itself, and with the two of them, it would be even more important to have one. So Salahuddin set to work.
  94. 94. He was, in fact, further along than he had thought, and soon he was finally done with the body of the car. All there was to do now was to paint it, and it would be ready to drive.
  95. 95. Salahuddin didn't get far with that before he heard a familiar voice behind him. ”Salahuddin! It's true, you're alive!” He turned to look. The voice belonged to Gerard Landry, another one of Salahuddin's old friends in Strangetown. ”Gerard! It is so good to see you!” Salahuddin exclaimed, and greeted the man warmly.
  96. 96. ”You look well”, said Gerard, ”I'm so glad to see that. Oh, and you have a car? That's a valuable posession these days.” ”Thank you”, Salahuddin said and smiled. ”Yes, that is in fact the second car that I have owned.” ”The second car? I can't even... And what happened to the first one?” ”Unfortunately, it was stolen. It has taken me a long time to restore this one to an almost drivable state”, Salahuddin explained, gesturing towards the nearly finished car and his painting equipment. ”Oh, did I interrupt...” ”Do not worry, Gerard, I am very glad to see you. In fact, how about you go inside to warm yourself a little while I finish the painting, and afterwards I will join you? It should not take very long.”
  97. 97. Gerard agreed, as he was feeling a little cold, and Salahuddin got back to his painting. Only the last part of the job to finish. Clearly Gerard understood that it was difficult for him to tear himself away from the task at this time.
  98. 98. A few moments later, Salahuddin was finished with the work. He had a car. In modern standards, that is, those before the explosion, it would have been considered ugly, and Salahuddin would have hesitated driving it. And he definitely would have objected to the thought of his fiancée driving it. But right now in Salahuddin's mind it was the safest and the most beautiful car in the world.
  99. 99. ”Did you hear the news?” Gerard asked Salahuddin while they were eating the food portions for that day. ”The news?” Salahuddin asked, wondering what he may have missed. ”The Mayor announced that the city council decided to loosen some of the current restrictions. We can again invite sims inside, even if we don't know them yet, and give gifts! I'm sure they're still repeating the full list on the radio, if you missed it.” ”Oh, yes, that”, Salahuddin said quickly. ”Yes, I heard of that”, he continued hesitantly, judging it best not to reveal his irritation. ”I wonder how they pulled it off”, Gerard went on. ”You'd think it wasn't really up to the city council, you know. It almost sounds like...” Gerard stopped. ”You work for the SCIA, right? Do you know anything about it?” Salahuddin hesitated, but only for a moment. It was trust that he had re-established, wasn't it?
  100. 100. ”... and it appears that no one, except for myself and my closest co-workers, is aware of the truth, that it was in fact me who relieved us from those unreasonable restrictions. It seems that the city council is taking the credit, although I am not sure why”, Salahuddin finished while they were having a friendly game of chess outside. ”That sucks”, said Gerard thoughtfully. ”You, the head of SCIA, now that's news”, he continued after a while. ”Sims should know, Salahuddin. Whatever the reason, they shouldn't be taking the credit when it should clearly be yours. Should I spread the word, you know, tell others how it really is?” Salahuddin considered this for a moment, then shook his head. ”Please do not, not yet at least. Whatever it is that is behind this exactly, I should know and understand the reasons before I do anything. I am going to have a family, and I do not want to take any unnecessary risks. But thank you for your kind offer, Gerard, I appreciate it.” Gerard nodded. ”That does sound smart. If you need help later on, just let me know, ok?” ”I will, thank you.”
  101. 101. That night, after Gerard had left, Salahuddin thought long and hard. Of course, he wasn't completely lacking ideas about why he wasn't receiving the credit where it was due. Surely the three men and one woman from the mysterious warehouse all those years ago had something to do with it. Seth had tried to convince him that it was for the common good, and only temporary, but Salahuddin highly doubted that this was the whole truth. Seth may be his friend, but it was the other three that he didn't quite trust. He had recognized the voice of the Mayor on the radio, that was a clear piece of evidence. They were probably taking advantage of the situation somehow, possibly even manipulating it to some extent, although Salahuddin wasn't sure how. And seeing that he was constantly getting older, and was planning to start a family, which would take a lot of time, he wasn't sure whether he'd live long enough to solve the mystery himself. Salahuddin had made a decision. He sat down and started typing his thoughts on the old computer.
  102. 102. From then on, Salahuddin's mood was inexplicably good. Maybe he was living in an apocalyptic world, but he had done something to make it better. Maybe nearly no one else knew it, but he did. Maybe the phone lines didn't work most of the time, but he knew they would eventually, and he knew he would be able to contact the woman he loved and start the family they both wanted. There were of course dangers and possible obstacles, but he refused to think about those. It all would simply have to go as planned, he would accept no other outcome.
  103. 103. Now that I was on the top of my career, I had more free time to spend on whatever I wished. I spent it mostly at the chess board, as gaining back my lost logic skill point was a matter of principle, and at the computer. I no longer needed to work long hours at the car, which meant that I could focus on my ”novel” as I called it. As in the circumstances there was little that I could do about the city council taking the credit for my hard work, and as I no longer entirely trusted the warehouse crew, I had decided to use my artistic work to hide my thoughts, my suspicions, and my plans. I would likely not live long enough to take those plans into action, so someone else would need to, and they would need instructions.
  104. 104. Meanwhile, the now eternal winter in Strangetown became colder and snowier. The circumstances felt almost arctic, and in fact Salahuddin saw a penguin out of his window one morning. He was wondering if his senses were betraying him; after all, he had thought that most wildlife had died in the explosion. Then again, maybe new species were migrating to the area. He only hoped they could survive the harsh environment. For his part, he was definitely happy that his shelter was reasonably well built.
  105. 105. Whenever he wasn't working on his logic or his novel, Salahuddin was likely seen with one of his old friends. He could not call him as the phone lines were still dead, but somehow they found their way to him, and possibly risked their lives doing so. Whenever Salahuddin mentioned it, however, they would shrug it off and say something along the same lines as Holly had: everything was a risk in this new world, and as they already had to avoid plenty of things they were used to doing, if they gave up everything, they could just as well dig their own graves and go lie in them.
  106. 106. As a result of these visits, Salahuddin was also receiving and increasing number of items that he wouldn't have been able to buy himself and at least for the moment wasn't able to use. He wasn't sure how his friends had got their hands on them, either. Perhaps some of them had found the things abandoned (because they didn't work), but Salahuddin suspected some items possibly originated from the black market. He didn't ask, but just kept storing the items on his rooftop.
  107. 107. Finally, it was Tuesday. Salahuddin made sure to call Bim in the morning already, and couldn't help but grin widely when he heard her squeal in the other end. He asked her to come over in the evening, and take with her everything of value that she could carry. This time, she would be staying. To which she pointed out that she wouldn't be able to carry very much, but it was just as well, as most of her possessions had been destroyed or were in an unusable state anyway. It didn't matter; they were going to be together. Salahuddin spent the morning at the chessboard, and finally, he was able to gain back that elusive logic skill point. That was a good sign.
  108. 108. It was a working day, and there was no way Salahuddin could avoid going, but at this point, he didn't care. In any case, it was only hours until he would be together with Bim, for good.
  109. 109. After work, Salahuddin couldn't concentrate on anything. He'd start playing chess, then put the pieces away again, sit down to write his book and soon notice he'd been staring at the screen for the past fifteen minutes. Today was too important to do anything of the usual kind. When the agreed time came, Salahuddin didn't wait for the doorbell to ring, but ran down the stairs to see whether Bim was already there.
  110. 110. She was punctual, and it was only moments before she was inside and in his arms. ”Oh Sal. I've been waiting for this so long. When I heard some of the restrictions had been lifted and one of them was the one preventing us from living together, I almost rushed here that moment, but I realized that you might be at work and it'd be too dangerous to come here and stay outside alone for too long. I've been trying and trying to call you and...” ”I know, darling. I have been trying to reach you since that day, too. But you are here now, that is all that matters.” And for the longest of moments, neither of them said anything. All that mattered was really there, between the two of them.
  111. 111. ”So it's real? I can really stay?” Bim asked then, still holding onto Salahuddin tightly. ”Of course you can stay! I have been wishing you would be here ever since I found my way to this plot of land from La Fiesta Tech. And now no one is forbidding us.” ”What's up with that anyway? I heard on the radio the list of what everything should now be safe to do, but the city council didn't give any reasons.” ”I believe I may know the answer to that”, Salahuddin said, ”But let us speak of this later. Did you bring everything important with you?” ”Well, in the end, I decided to leave all my stuff behind. I'm not going to need it anymore, and you've said you have enough for two. But I did bring money, took my savings from under the mattress and stuffed them under the coat.” Salahuddin didn't say that this was probably rather dangerous, but nodded. ”You must be hungry.” ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Bim Weburg is a Virgo Knowledge sim with the personality 1/10/6/4/3, and her Lifetime Want is to Become Cult Leader. She brought 10,000 simoleans to the household, and her inventory was empty.
  112. 112. Over dinner (which mostly was only called dinner because it was eaten at dinner time, not because it actually much resembled proper food), Salahuddin explained to Bim everything he knew or suspected about the current situation. ”Wow, I had no idea”, said Bim when he had finished, ”No idea at all. I completely agree, there's something fishy going on. The city council is definitely up to something, and so are those four from the warehouse. The two are probably connected, especially if you're sure you heard the Jalowitz guy, but... Whatever can we do?” ”Yes, I am sure, it was him. I have only heard his voice few times, but I am sure. As for what we can do, I have some vague ideas, and I am writing them down. I will show you later. But for the moment, there is nothing we can do, apart from keeping our eyes and ears open and trying to make the world a better place again, for us and for our children.” That was enough for Bim.
  113. 113. After clearing the dishes and carefully storing the leftovers for times when food would be scarce, Salahuddin spoke to Bim again. ”Bim, honey. This is not the future that I had planned for us, and this world it not the place where I planned for our children to live. But I am with you, and for me, that is everything.” Bim nodded. ”We were engaged a long time ago, long before this disaster happened.” Salahuddin suddenly sounded worried. ”I... I hope that nothing has changed, that you still wish to spend your life with me, even if the future looks so grim.” ”Of course I do! Sal, there's nothing I want more.” Salahuddin's face lit up. ”I am so very happy to hear that. This is what I want as well. So perhaps...” ”Spit it out already!” Bim sounded almost amused.
  114. 114. ”Perhaps... we should make it official, then?” Salahuddin asked, showing Bim a pair of rings on his palm. ”I... purchased these while I was still in college, shortly after our engagement. Thankfully they were not very expensive”, he continued with almost a laugh, ”as if they were, they would surely have been robbed from me before now.” Tears were glistening in Bim's eyes. ”I love you, Sal.”
  115. 115. ”I love you too, Bim.”
  116. 116. In that small space with furniture collected abandoned from various locations, Bim Weburg unceremoniously became Bim Chamcha. There were no witnesses, but in this new world, it didn't matter. Hardly any of the things that were before mattered these days. They were alive. They were safe for the moment. They were together. They were married.
  117. 117. If that wasn't hope, Salahuddin didn't know what was. ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~ Author's notes: This concludes the first chapter of Villains or Heroes? I hope you have enjoyed it, and I apologize for the long wait. Though I'm sure you're used to that with me by now. This chapter, Salahuddin lifted the Intelligence restrictions, which include for instance the rules that you are not allowed to let inside sims with whom someone of the household is not friends, to give anyone gifts or make friends with service sims. As this was the first restriction lifted, also the Hopelessness restriction, which disallows moving in new sims (or pets), was lifted. I believe I haven't stated it earlier, but I'm playing by the Apocaborg rules for all expansions (see My choice for the Criminal career is the cheapest items rule as suggested by Apocaborg. I believe that's all. Thank you for reading and until next time, happy simming!