Saturday, January 15, 2011

Chapter 31 Choice

I look out the window of the bare room and look over the abandoned buildings. We’re on the second floor of an old apartment building. The other buildings outside are in varying degrees of ruin. Some are visibly sagging while there are others that seem to stand tall yet show the look of non-use with a dirty face and trees growing on their balconies or up their walls. Most of the buildings look as if they’re completely falling apart.

This is something else I’ve never thought of. A lot of care and upkeep goes into keeping a place running. Once the people are gone, the buildings become nothing more than shells and begin to crumble, just withering away.

We're in what was obviously a bedroom at one time. Flower designs on the wallpaper have faded so that there's only the shadow of the rose print left. There dirt and old faded papers laying around on the floor. Alex sits on the ground near the window taking out some food from the pack he brought with him.

“We must walk,” he says quietly as he hands me some dried fruits and dried meat.

I sit on the ground under the window to eat our meager breakfast. I don’t remember much from yesterday, but I can’t remember any of the areas near Henri's I've been in looking this bad.

“How did we get so far away so fast?” I speak to him without looking at him. “Did you make me walk?”

Alex moves, his chin rising as he looks up at me, but I don’t look up. “I had you sleep. If I had made you walk, you would have remembered.”

“What do you mean? You can’t wipe memories? Tell a person to forget?”

“No. I can only control the body. Your thoughts would still be yours.”

I shudder at the thought of a complete loss of control like that. If Alex were a bad man, there is plenty that he could do. There is still plenty he can do to me. But he hasn’t. It’s a small bit of hope. “I still haven’t agreed to do whatever it is that you need me to do.” My voice is low, but it still shakes a bit.

Alex leans back. “I know.”

“Are you just going to force me then?”

The corners of his mouth turn down as his lips press together. I almost feel like I’m being a selfish brat acting this way when he’s the one who’s lost his daughter and is only trying to get her back. But I was the one who was betrayed by someone I was starting to trust.

“No.” He says it quietly so that I almost miss it.

“So you’ll take me back right now if I ask you to?”

Before I remember not to, my eyes catch his, the conflict apparent on his face. “Yes,” he says as I remember and flinch, sliding my eyes away.

If he is really giving me a choice then he does want me to trust him.

“All right.”

The words feel as if they’re being soaked up by the walls of the bare bedroom. Even as I say them they seem so small a step for me. I can feel Alex’s eyes on me, and I even glance up again without meaning to. Maybe this is why I’m here. Maybe Mom’s done her part, and I have some part to play. Even if it’s not something grand like being a spy and challenging a government, maybe helping out one person and possibly saving the life of another is enough.

Alex is the one who looks down first this time. “Thank you.”

The sun is up but there’s still a chill in the morning air. We get ready to head out. Alex asks me to hold the bag in case he needs to fight, and when I agree he takes off his two shirts and stuffs them in the bag. There’s something much different seeing him shirtless now with a look of determination compared to when I saw him shirtless and sparring with friends. Now it’s a means of defense and a warning to others that strangely reminds me of Jimmy and the couple of times I’d seen him shirtless in much the same way.

“So your tattoos will scare whoever off?”

“It warns them. I am not from here. They do not like the unknown.”

I nod with my eyes probably looking huge. Alex looks up at me, his face softening a bit before I look away again.

“Some of them attacked me once. When I was alone.” He says quietly as if trying to reassure me.

“They attacked you?” The fact that they went after him despite his tattoos and that he was unknown doesn’t reassure me. If anything it only makes me think they must be crazy, and there’s no way to fight that.

“Yes. The one group of them. But only once.”

I catch his eyes and see the decisive look to them. Maybe he can’t outright assure me they won’t do it again because he’d be lying, but there is a confidence to him that doesn’t seem misplaced. I know he’s already betrayed me once, but I’m sure he wouldn’t have if he didn’t have a desperate need.

So I don’t fight it. I walk out with him, down the stairs, and out into the abandoned city that surrounds the Southlands.

Next Chapter -->


Just thought I'd share this since it definitely made me raise an eyebrow.

Really Henri? I suppose you never are too old to learn new tricks.


  1. So Alex carried her because the people he controls remember everything that happens to them - interesting.

    I'm in a suspicious mood today and I can see two possible reasons behind everything that Alex says and does in this update. Did he not want her to remember so that this was easier on her or did he not want her to remember because of what he said last time about the mind-reader?

    Then when she asks if he will take her back if she refuses to cooperate, does he say that he will because he thinks this is the way to get her to cooperate (because if he says no she might not), or will he genuinely abandon his plans to retrieve his daughter because Paula doesn't want to play?

    Poor Paula, it must be hard to want to look in his face to see whether there is truth there, but every time she does she remembers the danger his eyes hold for her.

    I can't imagine this is easy on Alex either. I get the feeling that what he has done doesn't sit easily with him and he's torn between doing right by Paula and doing right be his daughter, knowing that one must be hurt in this process.

    PS - that bonus pic was funny, especially as Henri is probably going to pound Alex into dust once he returns with Paula.

  2. So Alex must be very strong to have been able to move Paula that quickly--then again, maybe they aren't all that far from where she was.

    I can definitely see Paula comparing herself to her mother. Her reasoning is strangely resigned and yet...almost hopeful--hopeful that she can do something. I imagine that she got very tired of feeling useless when she first arrived in the Southlands.

    I think it helps that she knows so little of her situation, because she might be too scared to help otherwise. I can see her going along, rather than being defiant and making him take her back. It makes perfect sense for her character. Plus...Paula has a heart--whatever wrong Alex did, she doesn't want his daughter to pay for his sins against her, not if she can help.

    The set is great--the old, mildewed newspapers on the floor are a perfect touch! Are they CC, or did Photoshop them in? I might have need of something like that someday....

    LOL at Henri wanting to learn some of Alex's gigolo skills! I think Henri's got that skill covered. ;)

  3. Stop showing your body off Alex, she already agreed, she doesn't need any more encouragement... *Ahem*

    Looking forward to what happens next, sounds like a mixture of danger and excitement :)

    +1 for that last pic.

  4. Wait, what? I've never played that game, so disregard this if it sounds stupid, but... there are gigolos in Sims 3? Or is that customization thing? Either way, it's hilarious :D

    I'm glad he gave her a choice. In turn, that makes me glad that she chose to help him.

    Your other commenters are all so insightful! I feel pretty dense in comparison, to be honest--I'm one of those "big picture" people who can't give much analysis until the ending, if even then :S

  5. When Alex said he could control people's bodies, the first thing I thought of was that he could force Paula to do whatever it is that he needed her to do. And then Paula asked the very same question I would have asked you!

    I am extremely curious to find out exactly what Alex needs Paula to do, especially in light of his power. If he can control other people's bodies, I wonder why he needs Paula in this case. Would it not help in this case, or is his daughter with people whose bodies Alex can't control? Questions, questions!

    I am glad Alex said he'd take Paula back if she asked him to. I'll take him at his word there and be satisfied he only lost one point from me last week, as opposed to many!

    The little screencap is too funny! Alex the Gigolo teaching Henri a few tricks!

  6. I didn't connect Alex's disrobing to any attempt to impress Paula. The tats seem to be both signs of accomplishment (whatever level fighter he is) and some kind of warning system like yellow stripes on a poisonous snake. Keep your distance because I bite hard.

    If he had to fight a group before, does that mean his power doesn't extend to groups of people? If it did, he could just flatten the whole town, walk in and take his daughter and walk out again.

    Paula's diffidence and reserve masks a young woman with a good deal of courage.

    I thought about the exchange between the two of them, the nature of trust, why she would even ask if she had a choice, why she wouldn't ask WHY he was giving her a choice, why she didn't ask why now, then tossed it aside as projection on my part. She wants to trust him and she has some reason to do so, and she does understand his desperation.

    I love the way Paula uses her mother as inspiration. Whether what her mother did was right or wrong, it was brave. In that moment, that's all that counts.

  7. Illandrya, I don't blame you for being suspicious. All very good questions, plus it's interesting to see how you see every move he makes with this duality.

    And yes, exactly. You look at a person's face to see if they're telling the truth, but if you can't look into their eyes, then what?

    Alex is definitely painted into a corner here. Which is worse-- the harm his daughter will suffer or the harm Paula will suffer?

    Rachel, I'm very sure she got tired of feeling useless and being shuttled from Brandon to Henri. I think that, in some way, she's probably always comparing herself to her mother in the back of her thoughts.

    True, it probably is a good thing that Paula doesn't know too much about her situation. Because you're right, she wouldn't want to live with someone else's life on her conscience if there was something she could do and didn't.

    The newspapers are CC, though I can't remember where from at the moment, but I'm sure they're at the Sims 3 blog under grungy. I check there every week or so and download new grungy things that I can use. :D

    LOL! Henri as a giolo.

    poida, lol! Actually, she probably could use the distraction right now.

  8. Van, that's a customization thing. Because the whole story progression is disappointing, so someone made an awesome hack for it that gives random people in town new "roles."

    I think it was important that she have a choice even if she was already out there.

    Aren't they awesome? Don't feel bad though. Everyone enjoys a story differently, so hopefully when we get to the end it will have been worth it and leaves you satisfied.

    Carla, I think I'm getting good at anticipating you guys then. ;) I'm pretty sure that your voice was one of the ones I heard when I was writing this entry originally, lol!

    Well, Alex's power is pretty awesome, but it's all in how you use it. I think that there's only so much he can do. And the key to being good is knowing your limits and also being creative enough to find news ways to use your power.

    Also, of course we don't know if he'd actually take her back since she didn't bother to test him, so we have to trust him too when he says he'd take her back.

    SB, exactly. The tattoos are meant to be a warning system that everyone in the Wildlands understand though the meaning is different for each tribe. So unrecognized tattoos make a person cautious.

    I don't see his power extending to groups of people. Thought it's a good strong power, I do think that he has his limits.

    Actually, that you're asking why is interesting. It's a good question. She does want to trust him.

    Her mother is definitely a source of inspiration. Very true too-- considering that you never really know about any action until it's done, the only thing you have sometimes is whether you believe in the choice you're making at that moment.

    Thanks, Beth. Your comment put a smile on my face this morning.

  9. I’ve been reading Ruin now for quite awhile and finally worked myself up to commenting. I almost always read the comments, which I don’t normally do when reading a story because I don’t want my own feelings for a story to be altered by that of other people. But many of the comments you get are very interesting and well thought through, which in turn makes commenting myself a little intimidating.

    Ok, so to the actual commenting then. I have to say from the moment Alex appeared he instantly pushed Jimmy into a corner as my favourite; Jimmy has something dark and mysterious, an almost palpable danger around him that I’m drawn to and he’ll always be a favourite, but then Alex came in, with as much mystery, but with a sense of a hand reached out in the least likely of places.

    I’m very glad that Paula decided to trust him, if only because it confirmed my very own idea of their instant connection and understanding. Even though Paula is miles away from being able to fully understand his world and he hers I can’t think of anyone else to draw her out of herself and find, I don’t know, a heroine, maybe?

    Paula comes off as passive and frightened, who wouldn’t be in her situation? But I’ve thought for awhile that she must be getting close to having enough. Enough of secrets, enough of not being able to choose her own actions or help anyone, least of all herself and even if Alex does shake her trust in him, he does offer her a way to choose for herself what to do, he doesn’t just put her out of the way, but lets her in. Even if this is the most danger she’s been in so far, it seems to me like this is the least helpless she’s felt.

  10. Willow Weeds, thank you very much for your comment! Don't be intimidated by the comments. Everyone does get into it, and I love it. They see things so differently and sometimes react to things in ways I never expect!

    Jimmy and Alex are both so different, aren't they? Alex is mysterious, but he's also very honest when compared to Jimmy who's perfectly fine taking a page from Henri's book.

    I'm glad that you're glad-- I do think there is something there between them even though they themselves probably aren't sure what. You're right though, sometimes it takes pressure to see what we're made of, so hopefully Paula won't disappoint.

    Oh wow, exactly. All of that. Giving her the choice here-- well it's really the first time anyone's even asked her. So even if she's already out there, his giving her a choice here means a lot.

    Thank you, again, very much for your comment. :)

  11. You know, all things considered, it doesn't really surprise me that Alex could that far, that fast carrying Paula. He is in great shape, and no one is really going to pay attention to a man carrying a girl like a sack of flour in this environment. There is also the potential that they aren't as far away as it sounds. I mean, in the map (which I haven't looked at in a while) it doesn't really say where Henri lives, and I don't think there was a scale. So he could of just taken Paula 5-10 miles. Yes it's a long way on foot, but can be done in a few hours.

    As for using his ability on her to get his way, I have a feeling that it would only work for so long. That is to say, depending on the time it takes to save his daughter he would need to get her to look in his eyes multiple times to send more commands for her to follow. So in a way, it wouldn't be possible to do it without her help. I'm also wondering if there really is a mindreader, or if he's just saying that to try and convince her to help him....

  12. Alex with his shirt off, me? I would do ANYTHING he asked. No worries.

    I think Paula saw his vulnerability, convinced her to give him another chance. I really hope he is not playing her here.

    Also, I think Paula does want something substantial to do besides cook breakfast for a bunch of mysterious, sullen, sexy, dangerous men. Even if some of them are her family.

    gigolo~ snort. Love that.

  13. Migy, lol that's a great image. True, people wouldn't be disturbed at seeing anyone carried like a sack of potatoes. And that map was nowhere near to scale. *is horrible at those sorts of things*

    You're right. I can imagine that his power would only work for so long, but how long would probably depend on the person. Also are you suggesting that Alex would lie? Shame!

    Drew, LOL! But exactly, yes, he's showing her his vulnerability here. We're dealing with someone he loves who is in trouble. How can she not help?

    LMAO, omg you're killing me this morning. Thank you for making me laugh. It's a great way to start the day. Where's that run over by a moose smiley when you need it? LOL!

  14. Alex may not be lying about the mind reader, but that doesn't mean he is telling the whole truth about it. They may not be very skilled at readings, or they could be like Jimmy, and only capable of reading strays or thoughts connected with strong emotion. Because as it is, if he goes in with her than they'll read his mind (unless he's expecting her freaking out to drown out his thoughts), but even then I would imagine Alex would be recognized. His tattoos are rather distinctive after all.

    What do you mean shame? He's technically already lied to her once. Even if it was just because he felt he needed to, and that's what has brought us to this point.

  15. The one thing I really love about Paula is her ability to really see people and make sound judgments about them. She has a certain instinct.

    I was not surprised at all over her hesitance at looking Alex in the eyes. Sort of a "fool me once" type of thing, but she tested him even if it was accidental and he did not disappoint her.

    I have a hard time thinking of Alex as being unsure of his abilities although he is in a very different place with people who are very different from him plus he will no doubt be cautious over Paula's safety which in a way puts him at a disadvantage. How the mind reading comes into play is where I am most curious.

    I keep thinking that somehow Paula is a very important key to future events.

  16. I can't imagine Henri wanting that sort of advice from Alex but hey, an old dog can learn new tricks right?

    I don't think I've mentioned before but I love the way you touched on the desperation that happens when a parent loses a child, no matter in what way. That driving need, that willingness to do anything including betray the one person that was possibly his only sincere friend in this world where he can't really trust anyone.

    It makes you think and look at both Paula's parents in a slightly different light.

  17. No, he's not a bad guy, but desperate and young and thus a bit foolish? I do believe he cares about her though, and I hope that means he'll try to make sure she's kept as safe as possible in this. I assume he wouldn't be doing it if it could be accomplished any other way.

    It also seemed to come up really fast with him. I know we're in her head and not his, so we couldn't know how long he'd been planning this, but I do wonder. And I wonder if she wonders that as well?

    Oh, good point that someone else mentioned - I wonder if Henri even knows that Paula is gone yet? Because aren't he and the others occupied with Cheryl right now?

  18. Migy, heh we'll see! It definitely a tricky situation no matter how it's sliced. :P

    Gayl, true, it was an accidental test, a slip on her part and he did pass probably without her even realizing it.

    I don't really see it as Alex being unsure of his abilities, but more that there is an unsureness to his abilities, if that makes more sense. So he's sure of what he can't do and that his power does have a measure of instability since it affects everyone differently. Plus, true, Paula's safety does put him at a bit of a disadvantage.

    Carnaxa, lol! Can you imagine that discussion between the two of them? Awkward!

    I'm sure Alex does regret tainting this friendship which was so pure and innocent, but yeah, desperate is the word! Who knows how much time he has or what he has to do. But there is someone counting on him, and she means a lot to him.

    Oh, that's an interesting thought, comparing this with Paula's parents.

    Laura, oh yeah, definitely a bit foolish and young. It's a good assumption. He probably wouldn't do this if he didn't have to.

    To be honest, I haven't heard her wondering about it at all. It was very sudden, at least it seemed that way.

    It's a good question. Henri was busy, so who knows at this point. We'll see though!