[This is part of the #wheresfree collab – more info here.]
Ace Sloan hadn’t meant to leave Free-Jon alone at the park for so long, but his mom had some interesting news concerning the whereabouts of a certain Emelia Johnson. As soon as he finished the call, Ace collected his newly chicken-hatted friend and brought him back to his house for a long-overdue reunion.
“Em? Is it really you?”
“Free! Where have you been?! Are you okay?” Emelia asked, worried and relieved all at once.
“Em, something went really wrong! Why are we old??” he demanded to know.
“And why isn’t your hair grey like mine?” he added before she could answer.
Emelia shrugged. “I dunno. Good genes? But listen, we–”
“I was naked when we got here, too. Were you naked? That doesn’t make sense!”
“I wasn’t, but, I’m pretty sure the player of this world is a Geek; maybe she was trying to make a Terminator joke.”
Free-Jon didn’t get it.
“You know, The Terminator? Big scary robot-man travels through time naked to assassinate someone’s mom?”
“But then this other naked guy shows up, and he’s all ‘Come with me if you want to live!’ ” Emelia chuckled. “Don’t worry, Free. It’s just a movie.”
“Oh god,” Emelia realized, “She gave me Geek as my adult trait.”
“No matter,” Emelia continued, half to herself. “We’re going to have to use the Time/Space Thingy to get back. I do have it, which is kinda weird because Amina should have it – where is she, anyway? – And of course it’s broken, but Reagan says that her son can fix it for us.. I mean, I haven’t actually met him – he might be, like, eight or something.. You know, we should probably just hurry up before the writing gets any worse.”
But Free-Jon wasn’t hearing a darn thing she said anyway.
“Aw, Free – I’m sorry,” Emelia paused. “What’s on your mind?”
“I want to see my cousins.”
“About that. Free – while we’re stranded here, we should try not to draw attention to ourselves. You’ve only ever been a child, but I’ve been older before and I’ve traveled a lot, and I can tell you for sure that most adults don’t have the same, uh, flexibility of imagination that kids have. If you stray too far from local expectations, things can go very wrong. We’re gonna have to act somewhat normal, and we shouldn’t tell people who we really are – not here.”
“What is normal, anyway?” Free-Jon balked. “The one thing I haven’t wanted to be when I grow up!”
“Look,” Emelia sighed, “I know it isn’t fair, but we are grown up on the outside – and we need to try to play along. If you can do that just a little bit longer, I promise we’ll get you your cousin party before we leave.”
. . . .
Ace waited outside for a bit to give his guests time to get caught up. His tiny house could only hold so much enthusiasm before it became painfully obvious just how little square footage there actually was in there.
Better to give them a little privacy anyway, he thought.
“There he is,” said a female voice.
Ace sputtered for a moment. His friend Freesia just laughed.
“Dude, where were you today?” she asked. “I went to freakin’ school because I thought maybe you forgot how much it sucked and decided to show up.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Something came up. Something important.”
“Like you having an old-people convention in your kitchen slash living room?”
“Heh. Something like that.”
“You want me to go?” she asked seriously. “I can come ba–”
“Stay. It won’t take long.”
. . . .
Four hours later, and they were still at it.
“That’s why the Thingy doesn’t recognize me,” Emelia said.
“Right,” Ace said. “I mean, as a Sim your coding seems to be fairly intact – but all those experiences you’ve had since you started traveling must have added enough variables that the original Emelia got kind of.. spread out.”
“What about my coding?” Free Jon asked. “I mean, my outfits were all empty again this morning.”
“Huh,” said Emelia. “I wonder if that has to do with the lack of reference material on older forms of you.”
“Cas.fulleditmode glitch,” Ace said.
“Hey – there’s game awareness, and there’s immersion-breaking game awareness!” Emelia snort-laughed.
“Sorry,” said Ace, slightly embarrassed.
Emelia cleared her throat. “So, uh..”
Ace recovered. “You should be okay, Free-Jon. Once you two get back and synchronize with your local selves, the problem should resolve itself.”
“So everything is good again?? We can see my cousins now?”
“Well, I don’t know about that,” Emelia cautioned. “It’s not like we can just stroll into some community lot and host an ice cream social.”
Finally someone said something interesting, Freesia thought.
. . . .
With Reagan home from work, it was standing room only at the Sloans’. Conversation was boisterous and the lights were all on — if one were wandering the streets looking for signs of life, they’d certainly find her house difficult to miss.
Which was, perhaps, why it didn’t surprise her all that much when another visitor showed up.
Reagan got to the door before he could knock, and stepped outside to greet him.
“Wrong turn at Albuquerque?” she asked.
Geoffrey Landgraab snorted. “No. Well, perhaps. May I come in?”
Geoffrey looked a bit disoriented from his recent trip through the Gallery. Add that to her past experience with Geoffrey Landgraabs and it was hard for Reagan not to feel sorry for the guy, whichever incarnation this was.
“I was trying to remember where I was going, and I just followed the clearest path,” he apologized. “I’m not sure why it lead here.”
“It’s alright,” she smiled, “I’m getting used to it.”
. . . .
“Why is there a Geoffrey Landgraab here?” Emelia asked Ace in a whisper. “Your Landgraabs died out generations ago. You don’t think we opened some kind of wormhole between d’Angers and.. ”
“You didn’t,” said Ace quietly. “That’s been there for a while now. Our Player leaves the porch light on.”
“More like she won’t leave the poor guy alone,” added Freesia at full volume.
Emelia resisted temptation to join in as the others had a good chuckle at the local Player’s expense.
“Anyway, I don’t want to freak anyone out,” Emelia said gently, “but I do have some experience with this and if I didn’t know better, I’d say your player is losing interest in this Legacy. You should probably do something to guard against distractions.”
. . . .
At the perimeter of the room, Geoffrey Landgraab in the blue shirt hung back. His memories were still fuzzy, but comparing the state of things here to what he knew of the law of averages, the place he’d just come from couldn’t possibly have been more messed-up than this.
It’s like some kind of brainy Lord of the Flies over here, he marveled with a measure of dread.
This woman Reagan seemed ok, at least. She had offered Geoffrey some tea. There was a certain familiarity to her and she had a warm, calm presence that put him at ease.
“Shall we?” she asked, holding the screen door open.
“Might as well,” he said as he followed her out to the patio.
. . . .
“Consider this,” Emelia expanded on what she’d been saying before, “Free and I have been here less than 48 hours and already your Player has broken Pinstar’s 9th rule of gameplay just to accommodate us.”
“Oh, she does that all the time.” Freesia said. “But she never tampers with Legacy relationships or anything.”
“And how do you account for the huge gaps between updates?” Emelia asked. “I mean, Meggles, her contemporary, has already finished her Legacy and started an Amazon Challenge — and you guys are still stuck on generation 5.”
“Oh yeah!” said Freesia, “I read that one! Man, that part where she abandons her status and leaves her betrothed at swordpoint to go start her own clan? — Lady Suzu is badass!”
Emelia chuckled while Ace shot her a concerned look.
“Look,” Freesia addressed Emelia, “I know you wanna go, and I appreciate the heads-up about our Player or whatever. But somebody promised hat-boy here a party.”
Emelia sighed. She was right, plum it.
“One more day won’t kill anyone. And your identities will be safe,” Freesia insisted. “Me and Ace have done this a million times. It’ll be fun. And after that you two can go your merry way, and we’ll get back to being boring and Legacyish. Ok?”
Emelia didn’t say no.
“It’s settled then,” said Ace. “Now, let’s see that Time/Space Thingy.”
. . .