Friday, August 31, 2012

Chapter 16: Recidivism

Well, this was certainly turning out to be a day of surprises.

Rather than the SCIA facility Altin expected, the address Agent Ryans gave him over the phone showed all the signs of being a quiet apartment in the heart of Grey Meadow.

Almost immediately after he rang to be let in, the door swung open and Agent Jenning strode past him. "Go on in, Bryan's in the living room," she said, gesturing vaguely towards the still open door as she climbed into that ever-present ice cream truck. As Altin stepped across the threshold of the entrance, he heard the sickeningly sweet music start as it drove away.

Agent Ryans was inside the door...watering houseplants? Yes, yes he was, with a cheesy little farm-style watering pail and everything. This was the first time Altin had seen him out of his ubiquitous suit and aviator shades, and he realized the agent must be offduty.

"Apologies for my wife's quick exit," Ryans said, glancing up. He smiled towards the door for a moment. "Jen has an appointment elsewhere in the city that can't be rescheduled."

Wife? Altin was certainly making quite a collection of "not even going to ask" moments over the years. He was starting to feel like he had woken up in an alternate universe, one of those you see in movies where everything's just different enough to confuse the hell out of you. 

"Do you know why you're here, Mr. Snickerson?"

Altin shrugged. "Not even a little bit."

"In a word, recidivisim." At Altin's blank stare, Agent Ryans -- Bryan -- continued. "Almost seventy-five percent of released inmates originally convicted for theft steal again."

"Hey, now, wait a second, I haven't done anything--"

"Oh, we know," Ryans interruped. "My question is: what are you going to do to maintain that admirable devotion to law-abiding behavior?"

Oh. Oh. That was just about as perfect an opening for Altin to introduce his idea as he could ever have asked for.

"Actually, I have a...proposal for you. I mean, for the SCIA," he corrected himself. "You know better than I do that the Organization is massive, right? It's everywhere."

Ryans smirked. "That is part of the general problem, yes..."

Altin took that as an encouraging sign. "Well...what if it wasn't? Part of the problem, that is." He could tell he had the agent interested. "Look, I was talking of my coworkers, and apparently everyone thinks I singlehandedly deposed the boss. Which in some weird way makes me the new boss. Which is just awkward all around, because my kid wants to grow up to be a cop and this is just going to get really complicated really fast." Stop rambling, man, and get to the point. "What if I changed the Organization? We've got resources even you don't have." Altin hesitated a second, but dove in when he saw Ryans following his own train of thought to the obvious conclusion. "Does the SCIA have any need of a...freelance consulting group?"

Agent Ryans stared at no point in particular for a minute, considering possibilities. "Mr. Snickerson...I will need to confirm this further up the chain of command...but I believe we can come to some sort of arrangement, yes."

By the time Altin returned home from what proved to be a particularly profitable discussion of details, night had already fallen, and he was thrilled to see the result of one of his many calls earlier. The construction company he had hired had torn down the old stone fence that only seemed to annoy the horses (Spot more than the rest, of course) and had, with the profits from reselling the material plus most of his savings, managed to add on a full second barn to the property, leaving Altin with enough stalls for all the four-legged family members, whether they be horse, zebra, or mystical trans-dimensional being. 

He hoped the construction work hadn't inconvenienced Elsie too much on her special day.

Altin had made it home just in time, and it was about time Elsie got a long-overdue party for her birthday, instead of just a mostly empty house and a cake. Of course, Elsie being Elsie, she spent so much time with her studies that she barely knew any of these kids, but it was close enough. 

Elsie thought the flippers would be practical for life in a coastal city, but the Watcher vetoed that in a heartbeat.

Much better.

And for a while, life on the Ripley-Snickerson farm looked like it might begin to be somewhat normal.

Somewhat normal.


Yes, that's right, my federal agents are named Bryan Ryans and Jen Jenning. Or rather, Jen and Bryan Jenning-Ryans. I'm quite proud of my naming skills at the moment.

I don't believe you've seen this ghost before, but he's been around "off-camera," so to speak. That's Wallace Ripley, Kirk's father. You can see him from when he was alive in their family tree.

Oh, and if Ryans failed to explain it properly, the rate of recidivism is the likelihood that a criminal will repeat his crimes. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Chapter 15: This Changes Everything

As Altin fought his way through the brambles and briars of the Unicorn's field, his mind was on other things. Particularly, he was promising the Watcher over and over again that he was never drinking again. EVER. Bad things happen when he drinks.

It's a pity he didn't have that revelation before he splurged for a new bar, though. Oh well. He certain wasn't about to stock it now.

The pinks and blues of sunset still shone in the sky as the Diamond's equine pedestal appeared through the mist. The fog played over the bronze, creating shifting shadows that made the statue almost look as if it were breathing. Creepy.

Time to finish this. He lightly set the stone on the pedestal, immediately yanking his hand back and backing away as if he expected it to explode, and...

...absolutely nothing happened.

Except for the arrival of the Unicorn, that is. 

Altin made a note to himself. Unicorns can teleport. Must remember that.

 /That's just a display, not a mystical artifact./ Huh. It was possible to sound patronizing in telepathy. Who knew? /It needs some help to make it work./

"What sort of help?"

/The magical kind./ The Unicorn pushed past him to reach the Diamond and bowed its head before it until its horn was nearly touching the bronze stand.

And then things got weird.

The Unicorn's horn began to glow. Then its eyes, and coat, and the Diamond, everything. Even the air around them danced with power. It flowed between the Unicorn and the Diamond in a loose beam before a thin tendril broke off to encircle him, too. Altin was almost too entranced to notice when he began to float. Almost.


/Please stay still. Your flailing is making it difficult for me to insulate you, and the feedback from the bonding process can be quite...uncomfortable. So I've heard./


/If you insist./

Then everything went black.

When Altin came to, his phone was shrilly ringing in his ears, the Unicorn was gone and the grove had changed completely. Life had returned, in a hundred different colors. As he groaned and sat up to grab for his phone, something rolled off his chest with a slight clink and fell to the ground. Altin caught a flash of the glittering pink, and retrieved the Celestial Diamond from the lush grass. The pulsing energy he had felt this morning was gone, returned to the Unicorn, and all that remained was the gem itself. 

Oh right, his phone. Checking his voicemail, Altin found three messages. Elsie's was nearly incoherent with glee over the real life unicorn that had showed up in their yard and could they please keep it please please please? The phone beeped over to the next message and Altin grumbled absentmindedly to himself as Agent Ryans' deep baritone came on, extolled his talents as an undercover informant and assured them that following that morning's successful arrest of one Erika Kanzler, wanted for conspiracy to commit grand theft, his record had been purged and he was a free man. Altin sighed as Ryans invited him over to some safehouse of the SCIA's for some "minor details" remaining, then blinked in surprise at the third caller.

Sage Oxendine? He hadn't heard from her since he fled Appaloosa Plains. She wanted to know what in the name of the Watcher he was getting himself into over here and suggested in no uncertain terms that the next time he decided to singlehandedly remove the most powerful member of the Organization, it would be nice if he could give his dear friend Oxy a little warning so she could prepare! Old age hadn't changed the old crook one bit.

Come to think of it, she might be able to help him with something. But he'd need to multi-task, there was another outstanding issue he needed to take care of. Altin consulted with Oxy all the way to City Hall, pausing only to sign the paperwork necessary to transfer ownership of the grove into his name. If there really was some sort of magical wormhole boundary whatchamacallit -- and after the incredible change surrounding him when he woke up, he believed it -- then the responsible thing to do was to see it safeguarded from those who would abuse it. And Altin was responsible. Sort of. Maybe. Okay, not really, but he bought the land anyway.

Maybe now he could go back to being a normal fugitive ex-con zebra owner.


Okay, progress report. As of this play session Altin's technically completed the Real Estate Powerhouse requirement for Generation 1, but because it was so cheap and because the storyline requires that he not open it to the public (and therefore won't actually make income off of it) I'm going to try for a second. 

And yes, as you might have noticed from the screengrabs, he successfully adopted the unicorn today, too. So now I have four horses and two stalls. Spot is not very pleased with me right now...

Chapter 14: More Trouble Than It's Worth

When Altin left the Organization HQ a few nights later, he had yet another unwelcome surprise waiting for him.

At least he didn't get handcuffed this time.

The officer said little as she drove, but a few miles from Altin's workplace, she unhooked the cruiser's radio handheld and reported to whoever was at the other end, "He's here."

The radio crackled. "Ahh, Mr. Snickerson, how good of you to join us."

Damn it. "Agent Ryans. Did you change your mind about arresting me?"

"Of course not. We just needed to make a few preparations. For instance, Officer Tomsin there will be decking you out with a recording device and transmitter. I suggest you be cooperative."

Altin sighed. He had realized there was no good way out of this that night at the farmhouse, but that didn't make it any more enjoyable.

"Now listen up, Snickerson. The Empress of Evil has been very careful, so we can't get any of our usual tricks to stick. You know, tax evasion, broken taillight, that kind of thing. It hasn't worked. And you'd know better than we would that she doesn't actually need to do her own robberies and heists with all of you lot working for her."

"Just tell me what I'm doing."

"What you're doing is getting Kanzler to admit she hired you for the diamond job. You get her to say that while wearing the microphone, it gets transmitted back to us, she goes down for grand conspiracy, we convince some judge that poor innocent little you were just following orders, you go home a free man. You don't get her to say that, and we have no one else to go after but you. Clear?"

Altin threw the door open as the cruiser pulled up in front of his house. "Clear."

Altin was supposed to have the next day off, but that lasted all of ten minutes after he led the fourlegged family members to the horse ranch for some exercise. 

His phone buzzed. Email. Great: the boss had heard about his ride last night and believed, reasonably enough, that he had been arrested. Presuming he wasn't currently in prison, she wanted him to report in for an explanation. 

She didn't say as much, of course. If he was in jail, the police would have his phone. Instead she invited him to meet her for drinks that evening at a local bar, which happened to owe the Organization quite a bit of protection money and wouldn't mind looking the other way as they handled business.

This was his chance. But he wasn't particularly thrilled.

When Altin arrived at the Brick House, a particularly disreputable local establishment, he found Erika staring thoughtfully into a surprisingly pink drink. He caught her eye and she gestured him over.

"Well?" she asked, getting to the point immediately.

He improvised. "It was nothing. Noise violation complaint from my neighbors. I have a lot of horses."

The boss frowned, but seemed to accept the excuse. After a moment of sipping her drink -- really, how could she stand to drink something that frilly? -- she asked out of the blue, "You grew up in the system, correct?"

Altin blinked. "That's in my file?" he wondered. "I'm impressed." 

"I'll take that as a yes." She paused, long enough that he thought she had dropped the subject, and he jumped when she started again. "So did I, actually." Oh man, since when did she have sharing moods? How strong was that drink? "Not a particularly nice family. Do they make nice foster homes? I've never come across any. " Altin decided remaining silent was probably his best option. "Mine was particularly irritating, though. Constant fighting. It was very...crass. Yes. Crass. That's why I asked him to take me away with him."

Wait, what? Altin had been distracted by the site of Agent Jenning slipping into the bar. He must have missed something.

"They talk inside your head, you know." Erika sampled the pink concoction again. "I thought I had lost my mind, but no, there he was, horn and all. I must have been twelve or so. He refused, something about mortal beings and our proper place in the world. I wasn't having any of that though. That's why I called you in for the diamond grab--" Oh. That was easy. "--because I never did take rejection well. So really, that's why I knew the legend had to be real, and that it had to be possible to use the stone to control that glorified mule. I've already met a unicorn. I knew it was true."

Huh. Altin muttered something noncommittal when Erika glanced over at him. She waved her glass at the bartender. "You're going to blow my cover, Snickerson. We're supposed to be drinking." 

The bartender came back with two of the pink drinks. Ewwww. But a familiar SCIA agent shifted in his peripheral vision, and he decided maybe he was done with being serious for the evening. 

"Eh, why not?"

The rest of the night would be nothing but a blurred memory for years. He could only remember bits and pieces where he felt particularly warm and fuzzy, and he didn't think it was the special effects machine. All he knew was that he was pretty sure his last drink of the night and his first drink of the night had about a million drinks in between them.

As this floated through his mind the next morning, Altin pondered the unexpected discovery that the walls around him were not purple with western accents.  He was pretty sure he had seen them before, but in his dazed state, he couldn't immediately place them.

....Oh. That's where he knew them from.

"Seriously, Altin? Seriously? Seriously?" he berated himself quietly, as he veeeery slowly slipped out of the bed. Why were his clothes in the shower? Did he really want to know? He paused, considering. No, he really didn't. He just wanted to get out of the cottage without waking the sleeping dragon.

A horrible thought occurred to him. After a momentary minute of sheer panic, though, he was relieved to discover he had somehow misplaced the SCIA microphone at the bar. That could have been awkward on so many levels.

As he tiptoed his way out of the house, he happened to glance in an open doorway as he passed, then backtracked and took a closer look.

Aha. The famous Snickerson luck strikes again.

He knew instantly it was the Celestial Pink Diamond. Maybe it was the booze still coursing through his system, maybe it was his recent proximity to the unicorn, but he thought he could even almost feel it pulsing through the display at it. 

Two birds with one stone, then. He could get both the SCIA and the unicorn off his back today. He carefully slipped the glass case off the stand, watching for alarm wires -- he might be drunk, but damn it, no one around could do this better than he could -- and set it on the floor beside him. Then he glanced around nervously, grabbed the gem, and bolted from the house. 

Mission accomplished.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Chapter 13: Playing Games

Magnolia grows up and becomes awesome-looking.

And Altin has surprising success with his "bribe them with food" technique. Turns out, Maggie's aggressive nature was all bluster (he hopes).

But one night later that week, he comes home to find an old friend waiting for him.

Uneasily, Altin went inside, taking extra care to double-lock the door behind him. He took three steps towards the bedroom...and stopped, sighed, and went back to the door as the door buzzer from downstairs sounded. He had a bad feeling about this.

Lovely. The feds.

"Mr. Snickerson?" the nearest of the duo asked. "I'm Agent Ryans, with the SimCentral Intelligence Agency -- and my partner here is Agent Jenning," he added, gesturing towards the woman standing behind him. "May we come inside?"

Craaaaap. "I...I don't think that's a good idea, no..."

In unison, the agents laughed in his face. Bad sign. Agent Ryans was the first to control himself, and turned back to Altin, still grinning ear to ear.

"Mr. Snickerson, I don't think you really have a choice in the matter."

Once inside, the agents did a bit of...roaming.

"Nice farmhouse," Ryans said, glancing around. "I suppose you can take the man out of Appaloosa, but you can't take Appaloosa out of the man. Have you filed your SR2-78s forms to claim proper ownership of inherited property from the death of a family member yet?"

Altin didn't know what an SR2-78 was, so figured he'd better plead the fifth. Ryans looked back when he didn't answer. "Yeah, I didn't think so."

Through the exchange, Agent Jenning was watching something behind him. Altin turned in time to see Elsie put down her toothbrush and exit the bathroom.

Jenning started forward. "Well, hello there--"

"Bedtime. Now," he interrupted. Elsie muttered and wandered off into her bedroom.

"So..." He turned back to the agents. "How can I help Grey Meadow's finest this evening?"

"No need to play games. You don't want us here, and I assure you, we aren't thrilled about having to spend all night outside some random farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, either. This time last year I was stationed on the beaches of Barnacle Bay, checking boats for customs violations. Now I'm sitting in an ice cream truck outside your house. 

Let's not waste any more time, shall we? We know who you are, of course. We know they've been looking for you in Verona, and in Appaloosa Plains now, too. We know you're active again."

"More relevantly," Jenning interceded, with a glance at her partner, "we don't care."

"Excuse me?"

"You aren't important. A petty thief? Do you really think you warrant a full operation across three towns? No, Mr. Snickerson. We want someone a little higher up the food chain."

"Kanzler. You want the boss."

"Oh good, we understand each other." Ryans again. They were taking turns with him. 

Altin frowned. "No, I really don't think we do. I'm not going to turn on anyone."

"Yes you will. You're an escaped felon and we could hand you over to the mercies of the Verona County justice system any time we wanted to. You wouldn't want your daughter to grow up without any parents, would you?"

"...what do you want me to do?"

Friday, March 16, 2012

Chapter 12: Thingamajigs And Other Plots

(Z: mild language warning.)

Altin had gone for broke, literally, in planning Elsie's birthday present. Just one thing left to decide.

"So...what do you want as a theme for your bedroom?"

"Uhm...horses!" YES!

"Wait, no, even better, unicorns." Oh come on...

Unicorns it was.

Altin even moved the computer from the living room to Elsie's room, so it'd be easier for her to do her homework. Or something. 

And as an extra gift, he had gotten a matching painting easel, which Elsie broke in immediately in an effort to singlehandedly provide the house's wall decor. 

Wall decor on walls that were no longer orange, thanks to the rest of the renovations.

"That's great, Elsie, what a pretty girl!"

"It's a cow."


But for as pretty and as unicorn-filled as the new room was, Elsie didn't seem to want to sleep in it, as Altin discovered when he checked on her on his way to his own room. She was still wide awake, sitting on the floor and muttering to herself about lines of perspective and chemical analysis.

He sat down next to his daughter and peered over her should at a notebook that was impressively filled, considering less than a day ago she was still a Toddler. "What are you working on?"

"I have to get ready for school," she bemoaned. "And there's so much to learn! I'll never be ready in time!"

(Z: I said impressively filled, Elsie!)

Awww, she was nervous. 

"You know," Altin began, "You're going to be in class with kids your own age. They're all just starting school now too. You'll have a teacher to show you what you need to learn, you don't need to stay up late the day before school worrying about it..."

"If I don't make a comprehensive educational projection now, then I won't have the proper academic preparation I need, and then I won't be on track for a top-tier university, and then I'll never become the best criminal forensics investigator in the world!"

Oh, that's going to make for an awkward conversation in eighteen years...

"You're absolutely right. And of course, the first step in any comprehensive educational thingamajig--"

"Comprehensive educational projection."

"Right, like I said, comprehensive educational thingamajig. Anyway, of course the first step in any thingamajig is to make sure you get plenty of rest so you can be in peak mental condition the next day. For, uh, implementation something-or-other purposes."

For a minute Elsie looked horrified and shuffled through her papers, then penciled something in a margin, leapt to her feet, and hugged him, before practically throwing herself into bed.

He guessed that meant she agreed.

The next day, Elsie went to school...

And Altin went to work. Sort of. His only assignment for the day was to report to a quaint little cottage in the rural part of town, and that "he'd understand when he got there." Looks like they still didn't trust him to do any real work.

Oh, great, she's back in town.
(Z: I think we all have that moodlet when we talk to our bosses, Altin.)

"Is this where you--"

"Live? One of several places. It's conveniently low-profile."

"And floral..."

What was it with Grey Meadow people and orange?

"So, are you enjoying the fine world of thug work?"

"Uh, I don't know, I haven't actually done any thug work yet."

Uh oh, wrong answer. Altin tried to explain, but that just seemed to make her angrier.

"When I give an order I expect them to follow it," she hissed. "You, stay there, I need to go fix this immediately."

"Hey, wait, I didn't really mind..."

She rounded on him then. "I'm listening. Go on."

"I'm, uh, not really suited for being a thug, am I? I have these delicate thief hands, and I'm too nice...I'm sure there's some big scary guy you could find to do it instead..." Also, he didn't want to explain to Elsie why he'd be beating people up for a living, but he didn't really want to talk to the boss about his daughter.

Kanzler stared at him for a moment as if she was deciding whether to throw him to the sharks. Just as he was really starting to regret saying anything... "I'll consider it."


"I'll look at the staff charts and I'll see whether I can rearrange anyone to better suit your delicate little conscience-- I'm sorry, I mean your 'thief hands', and I will consider it."

"Why?" Oh, Watcher, did he just say that out loud? He couldn't help it, she caught him offguard with the lack of immediate shark-feeding.

"Why?" She laughed. Altin was pretty sure that was a bad sign. "Oh, you really don't know, do you?"

"That's...why I asked." That and the fact that he never learned to bite his tongue.

"How did you escape from prison, Snickerson?"

Oh no, a trap. "I...there was a fight. I snuck outside in the commotion."

"You walked out the front door of a county prison? And that doesn't seem the slightest bit odd to you?" She laughed again. He was really starting to hate that. "You walked out of that prison because the guards for Verona County Prison work for us. They were transferred to Bridgeport after that. Nice promotion, came with a highrise. And to answer your inevitable next question, because it occurred to me that you were still useful to me."

Wait, what? Still? He asked as much.

"You've worked for me before, on a very important job. That's why you had to be caught, you see. Loose ends and all that. But I changed my mind. It was a very good score, after all."

"...the Diamond." Oh. Oh, shit. That meant...

"Have you heard the legend about the Diamond, Snickerson? It's quite fascinating."

"Nope. Not at all. Not a word of it. Never heard of it before in my life."

"Unfortunate. Essentially, whoever controls the diamond can control a unicorn. And thanks to you, I control the diamond. So you see, I'd be happy to waste my time rearranging the Organization because you don't want to be mean to some target. I owe you a favor."

"Okay. Great. Unicorns. I'm going to go now."

Elsie, meanwhile, had decided she quite liked school. 

Especially the part where she had the house to herself all afternoon while her father was at work. She put a sandwich together for herself -- there were leftovers from dinner, but Daddy was a pretty bad cook -- and went to sit down.

"Hello, child."

Everything about the stranger screamed BAD MAN, from the fact that he was actually glowing, to the creepy eyes, to the fangs, to the fact that he was in her house. Elsie did the only thing she could think of, even though she had been very thoroughly told not to unless it was an emergency.

She called her father's work. A BAD MAN in the house uninvited counted as an emergency in her book.

It wasn't her dad that answered the phone, but the lady that did put her on hold -- with the BAD MAN still standing right there?! -- and transferred her to another lady, who listened to Elsie describe the BAD MAN for a moment, asked a few questions, and then disconnected.

A moment later, the BAD MAN's phone rang.

He stepped away to answer, and Elsie really didn't want to get close enough to him to hear what he was talking about, but after a second or two she saw him get nervous and speak faster into the phone. He paused a moment after hanging up, then nearly tiptoed back to her.

"How about we just agree this never happened?"


When Altin got home, after a particularly worrisome phonecall of his own, Elsie was already in bed, but woke up when he stepped inside the door.

"So...I heard you had kind of a weird moment today..."

"Yeah, but it's okay. I talked to some lady on the phone. At first I thought she sounded mean, but she said she'd take care of it and then the bad man answered his phone and freaked out and left. So I guess she did take care of it. That was nice of her."

Huh. So that favor Kanzler owed him extended far enough for her to want to keep her other goons from messing with Altin's family. That was almost sweet.

"Also, she said that you could have the bad man's job because he wouldn't be needing it anymore. So that's a good thing, right?"

Okay, still terrifying. But terrifying and sweet.

(Z: The "bad man" is Shaw Blightwood, one of the premade sims made for Grey Meadow. All credit for his general freakiness goes to Quailhogs.

And no, I have no idea how he got in the house.)