A Villainous Apocalypse - Episode 22


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A Villainous Apocalypse - Episode 22

  1. 1. Smoothie Sims, Inc. proudly presents… A Villainous Apocalypse Episode 22 - “Hang Tight”
  2. 2. Azula sighed as she took a last look around the hotel room. “Guess I’m ready,” she said to her husband. Dominic offered her a half-smile that mirrored her reluctance. “The shuttle’s downstairs.”
  3. 3. Holding hands, they walked down the stairs and out to the curb. “ This was a good idea,” she said then. “ Yeah, I think it was good to have a break,” he replied. “I’d like to stay longer, even, but…well, even though your uncle is my friend, I hate to take advantage of his generosity.” Lex had offered Dominic a spot on the force, starting as soon as they returned. “ You’ll be great at it, Dom. I know it, and so does he.”
  4. 4. “ Thanks, Azula. I hope so.” He smiled and touched her stomach. “And we have something else to look forward to, too.” Reflexively, she glanced down at her abdomen. “Yeah, we do,” she said, with a teasing smile. “I guess going home might not be such a hardship after all.” He grinned. “That’s the spirit. Let’s go. I think steam’s starting to come out of the shuttle driver’s ears.”
  5. 5. ***
  6. 6. Eighteen hours later… “ Citizens of Sierra Plains…”
  7. 7. “ It has come to my attention that some citizens are taking illegal vacations to unauthorized countries. This is not acceptable and must stop for the safety of Sierra Plains and everyone living here. Therefore…”
  8. 8. “… I hereby instate a ban on all airplane travel to and from Sierra Plains, until such a time when political relations with these countries can be established.”
  9. 9. “ This means that the Sierra Plains airport will be closed indefinitely. In addition, Sierra Plains citizens will not be permitted to fly internationally out of any airport in the surrounding areas, including Sim City. There will be strict security checks at every point, and anyone found disobeying this decree will be indicted and punished. ”
  10. 10. “ Please understand that this is merely a safety measure, one I hope we will not have to enforce and one which will hopefully be done away with swiftly as we try to establish peaceful relations with the countries in question. In the meantime, I ask for your patience and your obedience in this matter. “ Thank you.”
  11. 11. Stephen turned off the television. “That’s not good.”
  12. 12. Saffron frowned deeply. She and her new colleagues had already heard about the decree from Lex Holm, so the announcement did not come as a shock, but she still didn’t understand it. “The whole thing just seems stupid to me,” she said. “Maybe it’s just cause I’m not a Sierra Plains citizen, but…why?”
  13. 13. “ Actually, there’s a very good reason for it,” Selina said soberly. “The fact of the matter is that we don’t have a centralized government since we’re still under martial law, so a lot of places, like Takemizu, don’t officially sanction travel from Sierra Plains.” “ Which means that Azula and Dominic might be in serious trouble,” added Stephen, with a glance at his wife. “We might not be able to do anything about this one. Raikov’s been waiting a long time for this chance.” “ Don’t I know it. Bastard.” He turned to Saffron. “Have you talked to Azula yet? Maybe if we find out their situation…”
  14. 14. “ I left her a message telling her to call if and when she could,” said Saffron. “No idea when that’s going to be. It’s the middle of the night over there right now, and they might have taken her phone. If I don’t hear back from her tomorrow I’ll try her hotel, see if they can tell me anything.” “ Did you get anything from Harry or Elle?” “ Ellie doesn’t know a lot, either. It’s bad, though. Like, ‘if this doesn’t get resolved soon Azula’s going to have to give birth there’ bad.” There was a pause, in which the other four could only stare incredulously. “Well, shit,” Vaughn said then. “ She’s pregnant? ” cried Cherryh. Saffron nodded. “Almost through her first trimester.” Cherryh turned pleadingly to Stephen and Selina. “There’s got to be something we can do! Rhys would want us to help her, you know he would.”
  15. 15. Selina sighed heavily. “We can’t do anything until we know what’s going on over there. Saffron, keep trying to get hold of Azula.” She turned and hurried out to the balcony, muttering “Stupid girl should’ve known better” as she went.
  16. 16. Stephen followed, leaving Saffron, Vaughn, and Cherryh to exchange awkward glances. “ This is awful,” said Cherryh, eventually. “Why did they even go in the first place?” “ Azula said something about getting as far away from Sierra Plains as they possibly could,” Saffron replied, shrugging. “It’s not like illegal travel is a new thing, and no one’s gotten called on it before. They probably thought it was worth the risk.” “ How did he find out, is what I want to know,” Vaughn said. “I guess it would have been easy if they flew straight out of Sierra Plains…”
  17. 17. “ No,” said Saffron firmly, “they’re not idiots. They probably went out of Sim City.” “ Still too close.” She frowned. She had never thought she would see Vaughn look so serious, or Cherryh so distressed. “Come on, Raikov’s not that anal, is he? Would he really go out of his way to look up outside records?” “ He’s never been like this with anyone but the Fitzhughs,” Cherryh ventured. “He’s rougher on them than anyone else.” Vaughn nodded his agreement.
  18. 18. “ Damn.” Saffron looked at her hands. “So…he must have heard that they were going out of town, got suspicious when he saw they hadn’t flown out of Sierra Plains, and found their flight record in Sim City?” “ It wouldn’t surprise me,” said Vaughn, with certainty. It sounded too simple to Saffron, but she felt as though she ought to take his word for it. He and the others had been watching the situation much longer than she had. “That’s probably it, then. I guess I’ll wait for Azula to get back to me.” ***
  19. 19. The Fitzhughs did not have a TV--there was no room for one--but they were able to watch a rerun of the announcement online. Afterward, Harry called a family meeting. “I’ve talked to the general,” he said grimly. “He said it’s impossible to just have them deported.” “ He says that,” Mya muttered. Tristan snorted. “ He’s having trouble negotiating with the Takemizan leaders,” Harry continued. “Apparently they think Azula and Dominic are spies and are refusing to let them out of the country.”
  20. 20. “ Dad, that could be dangerous for them,” Elle said, eyes wide. “Isn’t there any way--”
  21. 21. “ The general has assured me that they will not be harmed, but that’s all he can promise,” said Harry. “If anything changes, he’ll let us know, but I don’t think we can or should count on that.” He glanced at Tristan. “Honestly, the quickest and best way to deal with this is just to keep going with the government work. How are things going there?” “ We will probably be holding elections toward the end of Summer,” said Tristan.
  22. 22. Elle bit her lip. “Azula’s baby will be here by then.” “ Baby,” Tristan said, turning to her, “these things take time. Look how long it’s taken Sierra Plains to get this far. We’ve never had a real government before and if we want to avoid this sort of thing in the future, we’ve got to do it right. And, well…I hate to say it, but the good of the community is more important than family problems.” She looked at him, then at her father.
  23. 23. “ He’s right, Ellie,” said Harry wearily. “We will not give up on Azula, but we have to keep on no matter what.” “ All right.” She hated it, but she knew she had to accept it. They could do nothing else. “ What about you? Any luck with the job hunt?” She nodded. “The Culinary Institute in Sim City offered me Azula’s old job. It’s dicey since I have to start about when the baby’s due, but I’ll make it work.” “ Good for you. Just be careful.” “ I will.”
  24. 24. When Harry adjourned the meeting, Elle went straight upstairs, changed into her pajamas, and collapsed on top of her covers. She felt too exhausted, after the awful day, to do anything more than that. Azula can’t come home for a long time, she thought, trying to comprehend it. Her sister, her biggest supporter, had always been so close, and now…
  25. 25. She rolled over on her side, trying not to cry. You’re the heir, she admonished herself. You can’t do this. You can’t let the pregnancy hormones get to you now. But it wasn’t just the pregnancy hormones. The whole situation made her feel very, very alone, even with her husband and parents in the house and Billy only an hour’s drive away.
  26. 26. “ Ellie?” She stiffened a little at the sound of Tristan’s voice coming up the stairs and hastily wiped her eyes. He can’t see me like this, she thought, determined to keep it together. He appeared over the top of the stairs before she could compose herself. “There you are. You’re not asleep yet, are you?” “ No,” she said.
  27. 27. He lowered himself down next to her, and she automatically rolled over to face him. “It’ll be all right, baby,” he said soothingly, putting an arm around her. “ I know.” “ So don’t worry so hard.” He began to trail his fingers up and down her spine. “ She’s my sister--” “ And she’ll be fine,” he interrupted. “Trust me.” Elle swallowed. “I do trust you,” she said.
  28. 28. “ That’s my girl.” He leaned in and kissed her. Elle was so tired that she almost pushed him away when his hand slipped under her shirt. At the last second, she pulled him closer instead. They hadn’t had any alone time since before her first pop, after all. Maybe it’ll make me feel better, she thought.
  29. 29. It didn’t. ***
  30. 30. “ Azula.” Startled by Dominic’s low tone of voice, Azula looked up from her dinner. “What is it, Dom?” He kept his eyes fixed on her face, as if he were afraid to look anywhere else. “In a second, casually glance at the man over in that corner and tell me if you think we’ve seen him before. Over your right shoulder. Just a quick glance and then back at me.”
  31. 31. She blinked, then very quickly looked behind her. “With the sunglasses?” she murmured, frowning. “ Yes, but don’t stare,” Dominic said urgently.
  32. 32. She turned back around, nodded once, and took a big bite of her food before elaborating. “He was at the hotel the day we were supposed to leave.” “ I’ve noticed him a couple of other places too,” Dominic said, forcing a big smile on his face in an effort to pretend she had just said something delightful. “I think he’s following us.” “ Why?” “ I don’t know. It could be any number of reasons. Maybe…” He took a sip of water. “I can’t see his ears.”
  33. 33. Cold fear suddenly gripped her. “Marina said--” “ That they wouldn’t follow us to Sierra Plains, yes. She didn’t say anything about Takemizu, and she’s gone now in any case.” He reached for her hand. “It’s probably not them. I hope it isn’t, anyway. But he’s definitely following us.” “ Let’s go back to the hotel,” she said quickly. “ Finish your food first. We have to stay calm.”
  34. 34. Food no longer appealed to Azula, but she forced herself to finish most of her meal, and when she announced that she could not eat another bite, Dominic settled their bill and led her out of the restaurant. She glanced back only once on the way back to the hotel, but it was enough. The man was still following them.
  35. 35. Finally, they reached their hotel room. Dominic made sure the door was locked before he reached for her. They were both shaking. “ Can we switch hotels?” she asked. “ I doubt it’d do us any good. We can’t leave the city. He’d find us somehow.” “ I don’t like this, Dom.” “ I don’t, either.” ***
  36. 36. “ You haven’t--nothing at all?” Billy’s heart sank. “Okay. Don’t get upset, Ellie, it’s not your fault. They’re probably okay. Zuzu will call again when she can. Just let me know if you hear from her, all right? Okay. Love you.”
  37. 37. Though Billy did not look forward to moving back in with his parents, he had never lived alone before, and it made him feel just as isolated as Elle felt. Graduation could not come fast enough for him. He still had most of his last semester to go, but he had already done everything necessary to graduate. There was nothing to do but wait, and the waiting drove him crazy. There was a crisis at home, and he could do nothing to help. He knew that his being there would probably make no difference, but that did not comfort him.
  38. 38. He tried to suppress his frustration by focusing on his cousins and Snow. Spending time with them made him feel a little less lonely and helped him forget to feel guilty for short periods at a time.
  39. 39. When Cid called to report that he had proposed to Anne Austen, Billy happily agreed to meet the rest of his group at the twins’ disco-inspired house to celebrate. It felt like freshman year again. He was more than able to let his anxiety go and spend the afternoon focusing on his best friend’s happiness.
  40. 40. “ I’m really going to miss this,” said Kirby, after the sun had set and things had settled down somewhat. Thanks for reminding me, Billy thought, but he managed to keep his tone light. “Yeah, me too. Thanks for giving us an excuse to hang out tonight, you two.” He winked at Cid and Anne, and it hardly felt forced at all.
  41. 41. Cid grinned. “That’s totally why I proposed,” he said. Anne lifted an eyebrow. “Are you being facetious?” “ What’s that mean?” The others laughed, and even Anne had to smile. “It means that you are not speaking seriously, that you mean it as a joke.” “ Mm, possibly.” He kissed her, then turned to the others, shielding his mouth badly with his hand. “The other reason I proposed is that Anne is a walking dictionary, and I think that’s hot,” he said, in a stage whisper.
  42. 42. “ Yeah, your vocabulary’s already doubled from ten words to twenty,” Riku said dryly, as Anne playfully shoved Cid and received another, sloppier smooch in return. “Keep that up and you might even become a genius someday!” “ Hey, I’m smart!”
  43. 43. Billy laughed and squeezed Snow’s waist. “Too bad Heidi’s not here to keep him on his leash.” “ How is Heidi, anyway?” Snow asked, turning to Riku. “Is she going to be able to visit again this year, or is she just going to wait until she moves in with us?”
  44. 44. Riku’s face darkened. “She’s not.” “ What do you mean, she’s not?” Billy asked, glancing between him and the twins, who were starting to look distinctly uncomfortable. “ She’s just not, okay?” “ But what--”
  45. 45. Riku let out a snarl and stomped out of the house.
  46. 46. Billy got up. “What the hell…” “ Did something happen?” Snow asked, starting up as well. “ They broke up because of the ban,” said Kirby quietly. “ Why the hell would--” Billy paused as it hit him. “Oh, no, Heidi’s a Takemizan citizen, of course she can’t move here.” Kirby nodded. “It’d be impossible even if the general travel ban got lifted. Riku figured it would just be better to get it over with.”
  47. 47. “ Why didn’t anybody tell us?” “ Riku doesn’t want to talk about it, and Cid and I just thought it’d make you feel bad, considering…” He glared at her. “Oh, right, because letting me make an ass of myself isn’t going to make me feel bad about it?” “ I never said it was a smart plan,” said Kirby meekly. “ I did,” Cid volunteered. To his credit, he barely flinched when Billy turned the dirty look on him.
  48. 48. “ We were going to find out eventually anyway,” Snow pointed out. “Since we’re going to be living with him, and all.” “ I know,” Kirby said, with a sigh. “I’m sorry. It’s just…it’s Riku. There’s no good way to deal with him when he’s upset. I figured maybe if we just gave him some time to calm down first, it’d be better.” Billy couldn’t blame her too much for thinking that way. “You two still could have warned us not to talk about her.” Kirby nodded. “Yeah. I’m really sorry about that.”
  49. 49. “ I feel sorry for Riku, ” said Snow. “ The only time I ever saw him smile for real was when he was with her. It’s a shame. ”
  50. 50. Shortly after that, Billy and Snow excused themselves. They expected to pass Riku on their way off the lot, but he was nowhere in sight. “He must have gone home,” said Billy sourly. “ It’s probably just as well,” Snow replied. “Kirby did say he didn’t want to talk about it.” “ Yeah, but I thought I’d apologize at least.”
  51. 51. When they reached his house, Billy took one look through the windows at the empty living room and knew he could not face going in alone. He turned to Snow. “Stay here tonight?” “ Of course I will.” ***
  52. 52. Saffron’s cell phone went off just as she was about to turn in for the night. She glanced at the caller ID, then at her already sleeping roommate. I’ll tell her and Vaughn later, she decided, and ran upstairs with the phone.
  53. 53. “ Azula, finally,” she greeted her friend, even as she pounded on Stephen and Selina’s door.
  54. 54. “ Hi, Saffy. Sorry I didn’t call sooner, but it wasn’t possible.” “ Where are you? Isn’t it like five in the morning there? ” “ I’m in the lobby of our hotel.” “ What about Dominic? ” “ He’s still asleep. I was getting antsy but I didn’t want to wake him up, so I just snuck down here.”
  55. 55. “ Saffron? What’s going on?” Saffron covered the phone briefly with her hand. “Azula called me back. I thought you guys should know just in case you think of something I don’t.” Selina nodded and indicated that she should continue the call.
  56. 56. Saffron turned partially away. “Sorry about that. Why couldn’t you call any sooner?”
  57. 57. “ We’re being followed. ” “ Followed? What do you mean? ” “ There’s this man who’s been showing up everywhere we’ve gone for the past several days. The first time we saw him we didn’t think anything of it, but then we found out that we couldn’t leave the country, and since then he’s just been showing up more and more often. He’s never talked to us or anything, he’s just watching us. We don’t like it. I didn’t want to make any calls where he could possibly hear. ”
  58. 58. “ Is he there now? ” “ I don’t think so.” Even as she said it, Azula glanced over her shoulder. “I did check first, but I don’t see him anywhere. Plus, everyone’s got to sleep sometime.” “ Not with your uncle’s Energizers they don’t. ” “ Great, thanks for making me even more paranoid.”
  59. 59. “ Sorry, Zuzu, but it sounds like you can’t be too careful,” said Saffron, with a worried glance at the Morgans. “So you’re being followed. Honestly, I’m surprised they’re letting you go anywhere.” “ What do you mean? ” “ Didn’t you get indicted? Did they not take you into custody?” “ Oh, no. We actually haven’t seen any officials in person except at the airport. All they said was that they couldn’t let us out of the country because international travel to Sierra Plains and Sim City has been shut down. They canceled our flight and there haven’t been any new ones. We can’t even get a flight to anywhere else. ” “ What about ground transportation?” “ We can go anywhere within Takemizu, but not outside it. ”
  60. 60. She relayed the information to Stephen and Selina. “Maybe if we could get them out of Takemizu, we can fly them from somewhere else,” Selina suggested, looking questioningly at her husband. “Do you know anything about the area, Stephen?” “ A little,” said Stephen. “Twikkii’s not far from there, and their regulations are a lot less strict. They would probably let Azula and Dominic go through their airport.”
  61. 61. “ Who are you talking to ?” Azula asked. “ My colleagues,” said Saffron. “Remember how I told you I had an awesome job I couldn’t tell you about?” “ Yeah. ” “ Well, I still can’t. Especially not over the phone. But we might be able to help. Are you sure there’s no way you and Dominic can get out of the city? If you could just do that--” Azula sounded doubtful. “ We can try but they’ve got it locked down good. Anyone not from Takemizu has to show a passport before leaving. ”
  62. 62. Saffron repeated that to Stephen, who looked thoughtful. “This is a long shot, but…have they seen the ninja around?” “ The ninja!” Saffron cried. “Of course! Azula, have either you or Dominic seen the ninja?” “ Ninja? ” “ Guy in a hood and mask wearing traditional Takemizan clothing.” “ Oh, that guy. Yes, we’ve seen him a couple times, but only briefly. Why? ” “ See if you can track him down. If you can get him to talk to you, he’ll ask you a question and if you get it right, he’ll teach you to teleport. That could be your way out of the village.”
  63. 63. “ Okay,” Azula agreed. “We’ll do our best. And if another way to leave opens up, we’ll tell you right away.” “ Hang in there, Zuzu. We’ll figure something out. ”
  64. 64. “ I don’t know,” said Dominic, after Azula told him the plan in a hushed voice over Mahjong the next day. “This ninja thing sounds like a made-up legend for tourist entertainment.” “ It does to me, too, but I trust Saffron,” said Azula. “She wouldn’t have told us to do it if she didn’t know it was possible.” He nodded. “So did she tell you how to find him?” “ I guess just keep an eye out. Maybe we can ask someone.” She glanced over her shoulder. The man who had been following them was walking around outside. Despite her trepidation about him, she felt relieved that she could at least see him. That meant he could not have been listening at the doorway.
  65. 65. She glanced disconsolately down at the Mahjong table. “I don’t get this game. Let’s go have lunch.” “ Okay,” Dominic agreed, getting up. “We need to keep it cheap, though. There’s not a lot left in our account and we don’t know how far we need to make it stretch.” She frowned, but nodded. “Okay. Will you order some chirashi for me at the stand? I need to use the restroom.” “ Will do.” He kissed her on the cheek and left.
  66. 66. She leaned her chin on her fist. He was right--they couldn’t assume that they would find the ninja before their money ran out. The way he had put it worried her, however. Unless she remembered the amount wrong, their savings would probably not last beyond the end of Spring, if they even made it that far. Dominic’s pride and self-sufficient nature had always been one of the things she loved about him, but they had a hotel to pay for and a baby on the way. Taking care with their funds could only go so far.
  67. 67. “ Excuse me.” Azula looked up to see a redhead in an identical kimono to hers. “Hello,” she said cautiously. “ I am very sorry,” said the woman, “I did not mean to overhear, but…did you say you were seeking the ninja?”
  68. 68. Quickly, Azula looked beyond the woman. She could still see the man a good distance away, but that did not mean they weren’t working together. “Why do you ask?” “ Please, I only wish to help,” said the woman. “I am a friend. Your conversation sounded urgent. I would have joined you at the table, but you ended your game so quickly.” Azula studied her for a moment. There was nothing but earnestness in the redhead’s face, and she moved and spoke like a local. It was not proof, but it was a good sign. If she had a lead… “Yes, we are,” she said, at length. “Do you know how we can find him?” The woman nodded. “He can often be found at the Immortal Zen Garden for lunch and dinner. He likes the ramen at the food stand.”
  69. 69. “ Thank you. Thank you so much.” The woman nodded and hurried back out the door. “ Wait,” said Azula, following, “You didn’t tell me your--”
  70. 70. ***
  71. 71. Mya had a set morning routine that rarely deviated from day to day. She got up promptly at six, showered and dressed, had an instant drink while planning out the rest of her day, and then set about whatever tasks needed doing while staying as close to Jumbok or Snappy as possible. Since becoming an elder she had adhered to it more rigidly than ever, clinging to it as a method of keeping herself healthy and moving as long as she possibly could. But to spite everything, she was beginning to slow down. She still woke up at six--that part was easy--but with an ailing husband, a pregnant daughter, five businesses to run, and the constant feeling that she was being watched…she was beginning to find that she could not keep up with the other things as much.
  72. 72. Staring into the mirror, she tried to focus. Breakfast. Email. Ledgers. Drop by the salon. Mya frowned. Or maybe the salon can wait until after Elle has the baby. Phone call for sure. She frowned at her hair. I suppose I don’t need to put it up today. My shower can wait until later, too, if I’m not going out. Patting a stray wisp back halfheartedly, she turned away and headed downstairs.
  73. 73. “ It’s good to hear your voice, princess,” Harry was saying, into the phone. “We’ve all been very worried.” Princess. She stopped. That meant Azula. Relief flooded through her so suddenly that she had to snatch for the table to keep from falling over. If Azula could call, that meant she was all right, at least for the moment. The only person who had talked to her since the ban was Elle, and she had been so distraught after receiving the call that Mya and Harry could hardly get anything out of her at all.
  74. 74. She stepped up next to Harry. “Can I talk to her?” “ One sec. Zuzu, your mom wants to talk to you.” He listened for another moment, then offered Mya the receiver.
  75. 75. “ Hello, Azula.” “ Hey, Mom. ” Her daughter sounded uncertain, and Mya unconsciously hunched up a little. “ How are you? ” “ I’m all right.” How long had it been since she had last spoken with Azula? She couldn’t remember. She couldn’t even say for sure that it had been at Elle’s wedding, and before that… “Keeping busy. How are you two holding up?” A pause. “ Well…that’s part of why I’m calling. We don’t know when we’re going to be able to come home and our savings are running out. Could you wire us some money? ”
  76. 76. “ How much do you need?” “ Ten thousand Simoleons would be great if you can spare it. I promise I’ll pay it all back. ” Mya was surprised Azula had asked for so little--ten thousand was spare change for her, by that time, and she wasn’t sure it would last if they ended up having to stay in Takemizu through Summer. “You can have twice that, and you don’t have to pay me back.” “ Are you sure? ” “ I’m sure. Think of it as the rest of your pay from the businesses, if you want.” “ You said that was going into my college fund. ”
  77. 77. “ You earned a lot more than I ended up giving you,” Mya said quietly. “I want you to have the money, princess. You’ll get it by tomorrow.” “ Okay. Thank you, I really appreciate it. ” “ You’re welcome. It’s the least we can do.” And the only thing, she added silently.
  78. 78. There was another awkward pause. “ Are you angry with me? ” Azula asked then. “ No, Azula. The only person I’m angry with is the general.” “ If we hadn’t-- ” “ What’s done is done,” Mya said briskly. “There’s no point in dealing with ifs. You went. Illegal travel has always been and will always be an issue, and the way he’s chosen to deal with it is immature and unnecessary.” Azula let out a short laugh. “ Well, that makes me feel a little better. ”
  79. 79. “ Just come home safely, please.” “ We will. Thanks, Mom. Is Ellie awake yet? ” “ I don’t think so…” She glanced up the stairs. “Her pregnancy is wearing her out, but she’s due soon so hopefully she’ll feel better then.” “ I hope so too. Tell her and Gabriel and Dad that I miss them, okay? ” “ I will.” ***
  80. 80. “ Good luck, sweetie.” “ You, too. Take care of Junior.”
  81. 81. Once she had safely seen her husband off to work, Elle trudged back upstairs to take a nap. The baby had kept her up a good portion of the night, making her wonder if it was almost time for the birth. Whether it was or not, she had work later that day. She had to be rested and ready for her first shift.
  82. 82. When she woke up several hours later, she felt no less exhausted.
  83. 83. “ Are you all right, Ellie?” her father asked, when she wandered downstairs after a shower. “ I’ll manage,” she said lightly. “Are there any instant drinks left?” “ Right here on the counter!” He moved to get one for her.
  84. 84. “ Thanks, Dad-- oh! ” “ Ellie?”
  85. 85. “ I think the baby’s coming!”
  86. 86. It was a long and agonizing labor, but the end result was more than worth it to Elle.
  87. 87. “ Boy or girl?” Harry asked her, as she held her child close. She smiled. “It’s a boy,” she said. “We’re naming him Harold Saxon Fitzhugh.” “ Bit of a mouthful,” he laughed. “ I know. We just thought it sounded nice. We agreed we’re just going to call him Saxon, though.” She beamed at him. “After all, there’s already one Harry in this family.” “ As it should be,” Harry agreed, though he couldn’t help feeling pleased that they had thought of him.
  88. 88. Elle did not have long to linger--she had already missed a good portion of her shift. When her parents told her the time, she regretfully took Saxon upstairs and tucked him in his crib. “I’ll be back tonight,” she whispered to him. “Just as soon as I can.”
  89. 89. She hurried downstairs, but Gabriel stopped her, looking as troubled as a Servo possibly could. “Miss Ellie, the truck is not in the driveway.”
  90. 90. Elle blanched. “What do you mean, it’s not? Mom and Dad are both here and Tristan’s at work--” “ It is not there,” Gabriel repeated. “I regret to say that I have no knowledge as to why, but I went outside to recharge and found it gone.”
  91. 91. She pushed past him and ran down the stairs to the driveway.
  92. 92. “ No,” she whispered, staring at the bare patch of concrete. “No, no, no… ” Tristan had the car. Unless it had been stolen in broad daylight, and that was very, very unlikely, there was no other explanation. She took out her cell phone.
  93. 93. “ Hey, baby. Do you need something? ” “ Tristan. Did you take the truck to work this morning?” “ Not this morning, but I came home earlier and got a call that something urgent needed to be dealt with at the office, so I took it then. Why? ” Elle pressed a hand to her forehead, shutting her eyes against tears. “I needed it to go to work. Now I’m going to miss my shift. There’s no way I’ll get to Sim City in time.” “ Oh, baby, I forgot. I’m so sorry. ”
  94. 94. She babbled on as if he hadn’t spoken. “Now I have to quit, and…oh, no, what if no one ever hires me again?” “ Elle. ” The sternness in Tristan’s voice shocked her into quieting. “ I said I was sorry. There’s nothing we can do about it now. Just call them. I have work I need to do, and if I get it done I might come home with good news. ” “ All right,” she said, after a moment. “Sorry to bother you.”
  95. 95. Her parents were more sympathetic. “I’m sorry, honey,” said Harry, enveloping her in a hug, while Mya looked on in silent rage.
  96. 96. “ What am I going to do, Dad?” Elle asked, despairingly. “ There will be other jobs.” He pulled back just enough to look her in the eye. “There will, Ellie. You just have to be patient. I know it’s not always easy to wait, believe me, but you will find something. Depend on it.” “ Elle, this might not be exactly what you want to hear right now, but…perhaps you ought to wait until you’ve finished having children, anyway,” said Mya. “You had a rough pregnancy. It could be because everything’s been stressful lately, but it might also happen with the next one. If you’re planning on a next one.”
  97. 97. Elle wiped her eyes. “That’s a good point, I guess. I just…feel like a bad heir because I didn’t plan enough.” “ These things happen, Ellie,” Harry said gently. “We’re not blaming you.” “ Absolutely not,” Mya agreed. “ All right,” said Elle, although it was not all right. “I guess I’ll see if Saxon needs anything--” “ He’s fine,” said Mya. “I just checked on him. You need rest.” “ But--” “ Elle.” Her mother pinned her with a stern look. “You are exhausted. You won’t do anybody any good if you can’t take care of yourself. I want you to rest.”
  98. 98. It was the last thing Elle felt she ought to be doing just then, but she nodded and turned to go upstairs. Mom’s right, things have been terrible, she thought, trying to reassure herself. I’ll just try to get a decent night’s sleep tonight and figure it out in the morning. ***
  99. 99. The ability to mask his emotions was the one Tristan took the most pride in. He had spent most of his adult life thus far carefully pruning it. Since marrying Elle and beginning his slow rise through the political ranks, he had had to call upon the skill almost every day. As he climbed out of the truck, he carefully composed his features to hide the anger he felt. I should have tried harder for Azula, he thought, not for the first time. Elle had book smarts, certainly, but she had no spine, which made her pliable but caused her to fall apart as soon as the slightest thing went wrong. He could not have her calling him at work in tears again, and he intended to make that clear immediately.
  100. 100. He found his in-laws sitting at the kitchen table. “Where’s Elle?” “ Sleeping,” said Mya. “And she needs it badly, so I suggest you wait for her to wake up on her own.” “ She has all night to sleep. I need to talk to her.” The elderly woman got up. Tristan straightened, but Mya was not cowed despite the fact that he had six inches on her and kept himself in much better shape. “You will not,” she said firmly, “wake her up just to pick a fight with her. She is exhausted and upset. Wait until tomorrow, when you can both talk like rational people.”
  101. 101. Interfering old bat, Tristan thought, incensed, but instead of replying he stood there and took several deep breaths. He had to stay in their good graces. “All right,” he said, at length. “ The baby should wake up soon, though,” Harry volunteered. “You might go check on him.” “ She had the baby?” Tristan asked, deflating a little. Harry nodded.
  102. 102. He promptly turned and ran up the stairs to the second floor. Sure enough, a tiny boy lay in the weathered crib. Tristan slowly moved closer and looked down at his son.
  103. 103. So far, Saxon looked like Elle. Of course he did. Despite this, Tristan felt a small surge of pride. He had a son. He had hardly dared to hope that the baby would be a boy. And now we don’t have to have another child, he thought, absently reaching to tuck Saxon in. Elle had had such a rough pregnancy that he was certain he could talk her into settling for only one, and he also had her guilt over losing her job to play off. What a lucky break that had been. He could not stop Elle from completing some career, for fear she might be disinherited, but the delay would work in his favor. The General would certainly be pleased.
  104. 104. He glanced up to the ceiling. Irritating as she was, Mya had a point. In the morning Elle would probably be back to her normal, settled, compliant self. If he talked to her now, he risked her breaking down, and he was not entirely sure he could keep his own anger in if that happened.
  105. 105. “ Come on, Saxon,” he said to the infant. “I’ll get you a bottle.” ***
  106. 106. “ Which came first, the ninja or the sword? ” “ The ninja. ” “ Wrong! What would a ninja be without his sword? You are not yet worthy. ”
  107. 107. “ Which is more important: wisdom, or courage? ” “ … wisdom. ” “ Correct! Bravery would be meaningless without the wisdom to guide it. You are worthy. ”
  108. 108. “ The sword came first. ” “ It is not enough to know the correct answer, you must demonstrate that you understand it. ” “ The sword had to have come first. It’s one of the oldest weapons in the world. There’s more to being a ninja than just sword mastery, but that’s one of the foundations of it. ” “ Correct! You are worthy. ”
  109. 109. Once again, Azula snuck down to the lobby in the early hours of the morning to make a clandestine phone call. Please pick up, she pleaded silently, clutching her cell. Three rings. “ Azula? ” “ Saffron.” Though she cast a furtive glance around her, just to be safe, Azula could not help a relieved smile. “We did it.”
  110. 110. “ Tell her you’ll call her back with further instructions,” said Selina, when Saffron repeated the news to her colleagues. “She and Dominic have to be ready to go at any time, but they have to act normal until we give the signal.” “ Did you get that, Zuzu?” Saffron asked. “All right, great, hang tight. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.” She hung up. “ I’ll get the bags,” said Vaughn. He and Saffron had packed several days previously in preparation for this moment. The operation could not be as clandestine as they wanted, so to counteract that, it had to be fast.
  111. 111. Selina turned to Cherryh. “Cher, I need you to go reserve seats for Saffron and Vaughn on the first flight to Twikkii Island out of Sim City.” “ Yes, ma’am!” Cherryh hurried to the computer.
  112. 112. “ Do you have the fake passports for Azula and Dominic?” They had decided, just to be safe, that the Dorans were less likely to be stopped at a checkpoint if they did not fly under their real names. Saffron nodded. “They’re in my inventory.” “ The first flight out leaves in an hour,” Cherryh reported from the computer. “The next one’s not til tomorrow.” “ Book the first one,” said Selina. “Stephen?” “ I’ll drive them,” Stephen agreed.
  113. 113. Saffron was not entirely surprised that Cherryh gave her a hug goodbye, but Selina’s open display of affection and worry did take her off guard. “Be on your guard and call as soon as you get there.” “ We will,” she promised. She covered her apprehension with a bold grin, picked up her suitcase, and followed Vaughn and Stephen to the garage.
  114. 114. When they got there, Vaughn took Saffron’s bag and hoisted it in along with his before turning to her. “You nervous?” “ No.” It was a lie, of course, since the situation had proved that they could not expect such a risky plan to go flawlessly. Raikov was sure to notice eventually. The only variable in the equation was when. “If anyone can pull this off, it’s us.” He smiled. “Yes, we can,” he said cheerfully. “Let’s get going.” She flashed him a small grin in return, steeled herself, and got in the car. ***
  115. 115. Azula and Dominic spent most of a long and tense day waiting in their hotel room. Food was cheapest at the stands, but Azula did not want to stray far for fear that someone would figure out that they were plotting their escape and have them stopped before Saffron called back to tell them what the plan was. So they changed out of their kimonos in preparation, and ordered room service.
  116. 116. And then they waited.
  117. 117. Close to midnight, Azula’s cell phone finally rang, making her jump. “Scare the crap out of me, Saffy, why don’t you,” she muttered, reaching for it. Dominic grinned crookedly and squeezed her hand.
  118. 118. “ Hey.” “ Hey. Where are you right now? ” “ The hotel.” “ All right. Listen very carefully. Your hotel room faces the ocean, yes?” “ How did you know--” “ Zuzu, please. This is me we’re talking about. Yes or no? ” “ Yes, it does.” “ Okay, look out right now and tell me if you can see Twikkii Island from the window. ”
  119. 119. Slowly, Azula moved toward the window, waving Dominic after. “Yes, I can.” “ Good, ” said Saffron. “ The basic rule of teleporting is that if you can see where you’re going, you can teleport there. It’s a bit far, but since you can see the island you should be able to make it. Right now I’m on the pirate ship beach, facing Takemizu. ” “ I know which one you’re talking about,” Azula agreed. They could just make out the sails on clear days. “That’s where you want us to go?” “ Right. Do it fast. Your cell phone isn’t secure, so someone might be listening to the call. I’ll see you in a second. ” “ Okay.”
  120. 120. Azula hung up and turned to her husband. “She wants us to teleport to Twikkii,” she said. “She’s at the pirate ship beach right now, waiting for us.” He studied her for a long moment, then kissed her, hard. “Let’s do it.”
  121. 121. Clinging tightly to his hand, Azula shut her eyes and focused on it.
  122. 122. In the next moment, she landed rather ungracefully on the cooled sand of Twikkii Island’s most visited beach. “Whoa there,” she heard Dominic say, and felt his strong arm guiding her to a standing position. “Azula? Are you all right?” “ Yes,” she said breathlessly, glancing between him and the scene around them. “Yes, I’m fine.” Numb with relief, she had to hang onto him for several seconds.
  123. 123. “ Zuzu! Dom!” Saffron was running down the beach toward them, a befauxhawked man hot on her heels.
  124. 124. “ Saffy!” Azula moved out of Dominic’s grasp to hug her friend. After nearly a season of uneasy isolation, the sight of a familiar face was too much, and she burst into tears. “ Calm down, Zuzu, you’re okay,” Saffron said soothingly. “ I know, I just…pregnancy hormones.” Azula wiped her eyes. “I’m so glad to see you.” Saffron grinned. “Aw, you know I’d never have left you there. Good thing the teleporting worked, although I completely would have gone in there and busted you out the messy way.” “ I’m honestly surprised you didn’t try that first,” Dominic said, amused. “Who’s your friend?”
  125. 125. “ I’m Azula’s uncle Vaughn,” said Vaughn, with a smile. “Nice to meet you, Dominic.” Azula frowned. “Why are you here?” He smirked. “Didn’t Saffron tell you? We work together.” “ No, she didn’t. She said it was a secret.” Feigning offense, Vaughn turned to Saffron. “You wound me, Saffron--OW.” He quickly ducked out of the range of her elbow, wincing. “Damn, that hurt!” “ Good, it should have,” Saffron said dismissively, but Azula saw her smile.
  126. 126. “ Right, let’s get going. We are taking the next flight to Sim City and we have fake passports for you and Dom so, fingers crossed, we won’t have any trouble getting through security checkpoints.” Dominic looked troubled. “You’re sure it’s going to be that easy?” “ Twikkii’s security is really chill,” Saffron deadpanned. “I’m not worried about getting you two off the island at all.” “ And what about when we get to Sim City? There are people who know us there. We’ll be in the air for hours, that’s plenty of time for someone to hear that we’re not in Takemizu anymore.”
  127. 127. Saffron and Vaughn exchanged glances. “Okay, we may as well tell you now,” said Vaughn. “You can’t try to get back into Sierra Plains until a centralized government is established.” “ Of course not,” said Dominic. “That wouldn’t solve anything, and it’d just make trouble for Elle.” “ That’s what we figured. For a while, we thought we could hide you in Sim City, but like you just said, it’s too close. It’s the first place Raikov’s going to look. So, you’ll stay with us there until the baby’s born, and then you have to leave town.” “ I’m going to take you to my family in the desert,” Saffron added. “One of my cousins can put you up for a while.”
  128. 128. Azula mulled it over, then glanced up at Dominic. In turn, he turned his eyes to hers. He was not happy. His face showed nothing but weariness, and rightly--he had been on the run constantly for almost half his life, and Vaughn’s proposal meant more running. They had no way of knowing how long it would be before they were safe. “ I’m sorry,” she whispered. “This is my fault.” He shook his head. “No, it isn’t--” “ Yes, it is. I should have just talked to my parents when I moved back in with them. I shouldn’t have been such a--a child about it all.” “ I wanted to get away just as much as you,” he reminded her. “We both should have thought it through more.” She bit her lip. “Nothing we can do about it now, I guess.”
  129. 129. “ We should go,” Vaughn said quietly. “We’ll miss the plane.” Dominic sighed heavily. “Right. Let’s do it, then.”
  130. 130. Azula kept hold of his hand the entire way to the airport. ***
  131. 131. With graduation fast approaching, Billy had to come to terms with the fact that he needed to move forward with his life. Of course, any plans he and Snow made would have to wait until he finished his contribution to the relief work, but they had to be made. He could not keep waiting for Azula to come home or Riku to magically become less sensitive.
  132. 132. Both he and Snow made every effort not to deliberately step on sore spots, however, and even though living arrangements were still something of a delicate topic, they managed to get through it without making a scene. “ Billy, Riku and I were thinking about getting a roommate while we wait for you to be able to move out,” Snow said, as they ate dinner together one night.
  133. 133. Billy glanced at her, reading the unspoken because Heidi won’t be coming after all in her eyes. “Great idea,” he said. “Who were you thinking of asking? Woody?” Snow shuddered. “He’s nice enough, but…no. He’s planning on moving to Sim City, and anyway I wouldn’t like him bringing strangers home at all hours of the day.” “ It’s disgusting,” Riku added. “Having Phil wouldn’t be so bad, but he’s going to the city, too.” “ But everyone else already has plans, too,” Billy pointed out.
  134. 134. “ We were thinking we’d place an ad,” said Snow. Billy frowned at that. “Really? You wouldn’t rather just live with Uncle Jon for a while?” “ No, I wouldn’t,” said Riku, rather flatly. “If I moved back in with them they’d expect me to stay, and I’d rather gouge my own eyes out. They’d start bugging me about grandbabies. Hell no.” There’re worse things your parents could do, Billy thought, but didn’t say it.
  135. 135. “ Besides,” Riku continued, “there’re new people coming into Sierra Plains all the time, so we’ll probably get a few responses and be able to screen ‘em first, if that’s what you’re worried about.” Billy exchanged a glance with Snow. “All right,” he said. “I trust you both. And if you don’t find anyone, I’m completely okay with helping pay for the place myself.” Snow smiled. “It’ll work out,” she said confidently, and when she talked like that, Billy couldn’t help but believe it, too.
  136. 136. After dinner, Riku left for home, muttering something about toilets and cow mascots. Snow and Billy watched him go, then turned to each other in amusement. “I’m not sure what the hell he was going on about, but I don’t think I want to know,” said Billy. “ It’s Riku, do we ever?” Snow asked lightly.
  137. 137. He took her hands in his, a smile beginning to form on his face. Being alone with Snow never ceased to thrill him, and he knew it always would. He felt as though he ought to say something, but no words would come, so he just contented himself with looking at her. “ What?” she asked, with a puzzled frown. “Do I have dressing on my chin?” Billy laughed. “No, no, I just…you know I love you, right?” Her features relaxed. “Of course. You only tell me so every day.”
  138. 138. Billy had imagined more than once how he might propose to Snow. He had expected to do it in a more romantic setting than his living room, and he had planned to have some kind of elegant speech prepared, but in that moment all those plans flew right out of his head. “ Snow Bohemian,” he said, voice shaking a bit, “I…I love you so much, and I can’t imagine the rest of my life without you in it. I should have asked this a long time ago. Marry me?”
  139. 139. She stood there in breathless shock for several seconds, then tackled him. Her “yes” was directed to his neck rather than his face, but he didn’t care very much.
  140. 140. “ Sorry it took me so long to ask.” “ I knew you’d do it eventually, and I know you’d never leave me.” “ So you weren’t thinking about hurrying things up and doing it yourself?” “ I might have been tempted, once or twice. Ring shopping would have been awkward, though.” “ Ha, I can so picture you going to a jewelry store and blushing and stammering your way through.” “ Hey! Be nice!” “ I am! I think it’d be cute.”
  141. 141. ***
  142. 142. The morning after her son got engaged, Mya dressed and walked downstairs just in time to catch her middle child bidding an ecstatic goodbye to someone on her cell phone. “What’s going on?” she asked. “ That was Zuzu,” Harry said, with a grin, as Elle hung up. “She and Dominic found a way out of Takemizu.” “ Really? What happened?”
  143. 143. He glanced at Elle. “She said she couldn’t talk abou--” Abruptly, his words shattered into a sudden deep, rattling cough, and he backed away, covering his mouth with his arm. “ Harry?” “ Dad!” “ I’m fine,” he rasped, trying to stop coughing. “Really, it’s nothing--”
  144. 144. “ Harry Fitzhugh, that is most certainly not nothing,” Mya said fiercely. “The last time you sounded like that, you almost got pneumonia. How long has this been going on?” “ Since last night,” he admitted, “but I thought I could sleep it off.”
  145. 145. “ Clearly, you didn’t. Go upstairs and rest.” “ Mya--” “ No, Harry!” All the emotions she had tried not to let herself feel since their fight after the heirship discussion suddenly threatened to spill over. Her composure was nearly gone, not that she noticed. “You can’t get that sick again! I won’t allow it! If something happened to you, I don’t…I couldn’t…” She covered her mouth with her hand. “Please just go rest. Please.”
  146. 146. Harry smiled a little and reached for her hand. “All right, Mya,” he said. “I’ll go.” He gave it a gentle squeeze, then ambled upstairs. He made it most of the way up before the next coughing fit.
  147. 147. Mya cringed at the sound and hugged herself. “I should have noticed before,” she muttered. Elle cautiously crossed over to her and laid a hand on her shoulder. “He’ll be okay, Mom,” she said, in an uncertain attempt at comfort. “If he listens to you and gets plenty of rest, he’ll be fine. Please don’t worry.” “ I can’t help it, Elle. He’s my husband.” Despite this, she tried to put her brave face back on. “Anyway, tell me about Azula.”
  148. 148. Elle brightened a bit at the topic change. “Well…”
  149. 149. “ My Takemizu contact tells me he hasn’t seen them in three days. Today he went to the hotel to inquire and discovered that they had disappeared entirely. In addition, it’s come to my attention that a Sim City birth certificate for a Grey Doran, daughter of Dominic and Azula Doran, was filed yesterday. They had to have snuck out of the country, but I’m not sure how they possibly could have.”
  150. 150. Tristan frowned. “What should I do?” “ Ask if Elle knows where they are, and if she doesn’t, try to get her to find out. You may be able to convince her that it’s in their best interest if we know. Meanwhile, I’ll conduct a sweep of the residential area just in case they were idiotic enough to try to hide in Sierra Plains. ” “ Can do.” “ Good. Let me know what you find. ”
  151. 151. He hung up, exhaling deeply. What an unnecessary annoyance, he thought. He had more important things to think about than Azula Doran’s whereabouts, such as keeping Elle firmly in check and planning the upcoming mayoral campaign. Yet he had no choice but to go along with the General’s demands. He needed Raikov’s support in order to make the transition away from martial law, and the only way to keep it was to continue to feed him information on the Fitzhughs. He glanced up at the house. He did not doubt that he could convince Elle to do what he wanted, but it would take careful phrasing to keep her from suspecting his involvement.
  152. 152. Taking a moment to control his face, Tristan turned toward the door. He would come up with a plan later. For now, it was time to get ready for work. ***
  153. 153. Author’s Note OMG Marina updated! Yeah, I know. When my Simself checked out of the story, I did not mean for me to check out of updating as well, but for most of the past eighteen months I have just felt incredibly apathetic toward Sims. There was one specific incident that killed my momentum before I even got started on the necessary staging for this episode, and I didn’t get it back again until recently. But here is a new update for you and I hope it won’t be long until I have Episode 23 ready as well.
  154. 154. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to even get started on this episode until December, and it’s thanks to another Simmer that that thankfully ended up not being the case. Back in September, I was discussing my concerns about it with Ang/peasant007 (author of The Devereaux Legacy ), and she offered to help me out with filming the extra shots I needed. Staging has always been something I disliked, and this episode required a lot of it, and the longer I sat on it, the bigger my mental block got. Her offer suddenly made the whole thing seem doable, so with that incentive, I was able to actually write it and sort the pictures I already had. Thank you again, Ang, I really appreciate it. Episode 23 does not need nearly as much staging since I actually had the presence of mind not to play until I knew I was up for filming necessary scenes, so in December I’ll take a look at what I have for that, and with any luck you might see it before 2012 is over. :D
  155. 155. Down to business! No new lifts this episode. It’s a lot like Episode 14 in that it needed to happen for plot reasons, but it doesn’t cover a lot of time (like, maybe two-and-a-half days of my Spring rotation). However, as promised, we have seen the advent of generation 6 babies! Specifically, Saxon, the oldest main house baby (pictured above). Generation 6 is my Doctor Who generation. I know I already did a generation dedicated to villains from TV shows, but Who is one of my favorite things ever and it just wasn’t right not to name a Fitzhugh after the Master. :D Saxon is a Sagittarius (5/5/9/8/1), an extremely fun Sim to play, and a character I’m already excited about.
  156. 156. While we’re at it, here’s a picture of Azula and Dominic’s daughter Grey, as well. She’s a cutie and lovely to have around, but you probably won’t see her in the story at all until she’s a teen, so have some toddler cuteness for the road. she got the ears lookit lookit :D :D :D
  157. 157. And that’s all I have to say about this episode, so until next time, Happy Simming and thanks for your patience! Guest Sims Saffron and Snow Bohemian - The Bohemian Legacy Dominic Doran - The Boolpropian Round Robin Legacy Stephen Morgan and Vaughn Fitzhugh - The Morgan Legacy Cherryh Nebula - A Planetary Apocalypse Anne Austen - The Regacy