Monday, 28 August 2017

2.20 Life is Weird

Paolo went into work today and was greeted by chaos. During a training exercise, some of his colleagues managed to crash their tanks into the base's wall. Without being aware of it, his training took over and he helped evacuate the building and sent his co-workers to the hospital. He then got promoted on the spot for his quick action and given the rest of the day off. 

Life is weird.

So he decides to make use of his free time and exercise. His muscles burn, but he ignores it. 

He's gotten good at ignoring things. 

But, like always, he is pulled out of his reality avoidance. Someone always needs something, or wants to talk, or do something with him. This time it's a text from one of his co-workers, Private Miller. She was next to the tank when it crashed and thus was sent to the hospital for a checkup.

Hey, I'm fine! But I won't be coming into work for awhile; apparently I'm pregnant!!! 

Paolo blinks at the message, then chuckles as he types a response, Congratulations! 

The next text is almost immediate, btw my housemate works at the science lab. Saw her at work today when I came in to the hospital. 

The Appaloosa Plains's science lab is attached to the hospital; Running into a scientist on the way to a doctor's appointment was a common occurrence. 

His phone pings with another message, She said she thought all the guys in uniform were cute soooo I gave her your number! She'll call you later tonight. 

Paolo's fingers fly over his phone's keyboard, Greta what in the actual fuck. 

Don't thank me too much :D 

Greta wisely goes offline after this. Paolo rolls his eyes then sighs. He hopes this woman doesn't actually call him; he doesn't look forward to possibly hurting this woman's feelings. Greta didn't even give him her name, so he has no way of contacting her first and letting her down gently. 


Paolo gets home soon afterwards and sits down for a snack. Persis joins him, noticing the stewing look on his face. Had Marko been there, he would have said "like mother, like son". 

"Something the matter?" 

Paolo makes a face at his cookie, "I'm fine mom." 

Persis resists the urge to roll her eyes; it's like he's a teenager again. 

"This will be over faster if you tell me about it." 

Paolo puts his cookie back onto his plate. "I..." he suddenly feels ridiculous. What is he going to say, that he's grumpy because a girl wants to call him? What is he, 14? "It's really nothing." 

Persis looks at her son skeptically, "Uh huh." 

"It's really not a big deal." 

"Uh huh." 

Paolo's face flushes, "Stop saying that." It reminds him of Xara teasing him about Krista all the way back in high school. The memories make him feel a bunch of things he's not ready to think about. 

Seeing his growing discomfort, Persis relents. "Fine, Paolo. Just don't stew for too long." She gets up to clear her plate, but pauses to ruffle Paolo's hair. Paolo doesn't resist. 

Paolo sighs. Looks like he'll just have to face this head on. 

At almost seven o'clock sharp, his phone rings. Unknown number- it must be her. 

"Hello?" a woman's voice says uncertainly, "This is Paolo Winterly, right...?" 

"Yeah, yeah it is." There's a heavy silence. Now would be the time to tell her- politely- that he's really not interested, but instead he finds his voice caught in his throat. 

"Hey I'm sorry about Great being all...weird, I really just meant the cute uniform thing as a joke. I guess I let it go a bit far," she apologises with a nervous laugh, "I'm sorry to have bothered you like this." 

"No, really it's fine, uh..." He realizes that he doesn't even know her name, "I just realized I don't even know your name." 

"Sun, Sun Sheperd-Pinkerton. We had chemistry together in 10th grade-," she cuts herself off as she seems to realize how this could be interpreted otherwise, "Er um not that I mean you and I were attracted to each other-not that you aren't attractive! Ah..." 

Paolo feels a smile spreading across his face at her stumbling over her words. Then the smile falls; her awkwardness reminds him of Krista. 

"Don't worry about it, I get what you mean. So, uh, I guess we might see each other around sometime." 

"Yeah, sure. See you later..." 

He hangs up with a sigh. 

That could have gone better. 


The next day he goes to see Greta. With her so suddenly on maternity leave, she left a lot of things at the base. For whatever reason, Greta insists that he be the one to bring her things over. 

"I don't see why your husband couldn't have picked this stuff up," Paolo grumbles, nudging over a bag with her work computer, work pass, and wallet. 

"Becauuuuuseee my husband doesn't want to help you out," she hisses, taking her things and putting them on the couch behind her. 

"Help me out?" he repeats. 

Greta almost face-palms. "Your phone call with Sun! She told me about it, and I know you two can get along." She neglects to mention that she's been trying to help Sun get a boyfriend for years. Sun will go on a few dates, then complain about the guys not being like this or that. Paolo is the smartest, most responsible single guy Greta knows. This can't possibly fail! 

"Come on, we're mature adults here, we don't need this...cliched high school-esque stuff," Paolo waves his hands around in frustration. 

Greta snorts, "Real articulate there. Just talk to her- she's a scientist, you're a huge nerd- seriously. Please. For me. I can't take much more of her "I'll be single forever" schtick." When Paolo begins to object, Greta makes her eyes large and sad, "Then think of the children, Paolo. My baby shouldn't be exposed to such... negativity. My child should grow up surrounded by love! As a parent, you should-," 

"Oh. My. God. Please stop. Fine, I'll talk to her. Where is she?" Paolo acquiesces. Greta smiles and points behind him. 

"Shit, was she there the whole time?" Paolo hisses. 

Greta just pushes him towards her. 

Gee, thanks. 

"Paolo, hi!" Lakeisha greets cheerfully. Inwardly, she can't help but feel a bit uneasy. She hasn't gotten many calls during her career as a paramedic, and Krista's stands out. Watching her flatline was one of the worst feelings in the world. 

It's been a long time, and she knows it wasn't her fault that Krista died, but seeing Paolo here brings some of it back. The huge pool of blood, the metallic smell that hung in the air, Krista's lifeless body... 

And now Paolo is here. 

Trying to put the moves on her sister. 

"I'm pretty tired from my shift, I think I'll go lay down..." 

Sun and Paolo barely notice her leave. 

Greta's insistence that they have a lot in common turns out to be true. Paolo is hanging on Sun's every word about her job. 

"So do you prefer the botany aspect of your work or the mechanical?" Sun is a fertilizer analyser, but has been called in to help the robot-fish crossbreeders from time to time. 

"Definitely the mechanical. Hardware for me is a lot easier to...control...than plants, and way safer." She shudders at the memory of a particularly rowdy Cow-Plant. It was hungry for meat. Didn't matter what kind. It's a minor miracle that the incident didn't leave any scars. 

Paolo arches an eyebrow, "How can a plant be more dangerous than electricity?" 

"Ah, the uninitiated... I too once thought like you," she laughs to herself. She glances at her watch and gasps, "Oh shoot, I need to leave for work." 

She throws on her lab coat, then turns to him seriously. 

"I'm a Gemini, if that kind of thing matters to you. Call me sometime." 

Paolo drifts back towards Greta after Sun leaves. 

"Told you so," she says, smirking. 

"What are we, 5? Can I have some waffles, by the way? I didn't have time to eat breakfast because someone asked me to get here before 7." 

Greta scoffs, "Sure. I set you up with someone and you thank me by taking my food. I see how it is." 

"Can't hear you over the smell of these waffles!" 

Behind him, Greta smiles. It's so nice to see Paolo acting a bit normal for a change. 

She hopes it goes well between him and Sun. She really does. 

Saturday, 12 August 2017

2.19 Don't be Sad

Since Marko's death, Persis has been obsessively painting. Guy is mildly confused when she decides to make a portrait of him. 

"Why do you want a copy of me? Is that a clone?" Guy gasps, "Is that where I came from? Did someone paint me and I just...appeared?" 

"Hmmm," Persis intones with a long stroke of her brush, "We're not really sure where you came from, Guy." 

Guy scratches his ears, but then lets his hands drop limply to the side. The teachers at school got really mad when he used to scratch them, back when he still thought people were listening to his thoughts. He knows now that the only person who could hear his thoughts is probably Tula's aunt, Tulip. 

Thinking about her glowing eyes and long teeth make him uncomfortable, so he picks distractedly at his sleeve. 

"So I could be a painting come to life then." 

Persis glances at him, "That's not how children are made." 

Guy covers his ears, "We already learned about this in school! I don't need to hear about it again!" He can't help but relive that day; he had asked if all kids appeared after drinking potions like he did. The teacher's effort not to laugh confused him, the snickers from the other children even more so. And after finding out how exactly children are made without potions, Guy had never felt more bewildered in his life. There weren't any parents to bring him here. He just...showed up. 

Guy quickly scampered off before anything more about "the birds and the bees" could be said. Persis finishes his painting mere hours later, but feels no satisfaction. Instead, she wonders if she should paint Tula. 

Funny how there was a time when Persis didn't really care about saving memories. It just didn't seem important; who needs mementos when you can just remember? Who needs pictures when you have the person with you? 

What she didn't realize is that people don't stick around as long as she thought. 

Tula eats yet another lunch alone. Guy's trying to play Sim Gnubb by himself outside, and despite her earlier wish to get fit, Tula finds herself too lethargic to play any sports. 

Another weekend, another solitary two days. She needs to come up with something to break the monotony. 

She pauses. There is something she could try. 

She hasn't even so much as touched the baking oven before today, but for her plan to work, she'll need to whip something up. 

She also throws in a few tears. Persis is absorbed in her painting, but glances over. "What's wrong, Tula?" 

Tula wipes at her eyes, "I thought grandpa could teach me how to bake... I just kept forgetting to ask." She sniffs, then wipes her eyes on her sleeve. "I-I thought it would be fun..." 

Persis looks back at her canvas, now deep in thought. Teaching the kids to bake would have been fun for Marko. He would have probably gotten very into character, proclaiming himself as the best baker in the city or some other light hearted nonsense.

She misses him. 

Paolo comes out for lunch a little while later, surprised to see Tula eating at this hour. 

"What's with all the pastries?" Muffins, cookies, cupcakes, and even a small pie are stacked on top of the small oven. 

"It's me and Guy's birthday, so I thought I'd make food for everyone and throw a party," Tula says brightly. 

Paolo freezes. Birthday? Today? How did he forget? 

"Party?" he says dumbly. 

"Yeah, I was going to give you, Guy, and grandma some of the stuff I made. Then if we have some candles we can put them in the cup cakes later and blow them out, like in a real birthday party!" 

Paolo's gut wrenches. "Don't you want to invite over some of your friends?"

Tula shrugs, "I didn't want to bother you and grandma with a big party. I know you guys probably don't want to see other people right now..." 

As she thought, a look of immense guilt flashes across her father's face. 

"I'll call some people." 

"Oh you don't have to do that! I'm used to being the other kids might not even come... it's fine," she replies with a false cheer. She lets her lower lip quiver a bit, "I bet they're busy anyways..." 

Paolo's jaw clenches. He is not going to let his daughter down. Not today. 

"You and Guy are going to have a party. I'll take care of it." 

The first step was, of course, to call Xara. With all of her friends- and connections with the other parents in school through her son- getting a few party guests over would be no problem. 

"What am I supposed to be doing?" Guy asks her anxiously. Tula is serving muffins to the guests, Persis is fiddling with the stereo, and Paolo is hurriedly cleaning the rest of the house. Guy has never been in a birthday party before. There's so much attention on him and Tula. 

"It's your day, Guy. Just relax!" Xara says, clapping his shoulder, "We're all here for you and Tula!"

Gregory doesn't see why he has to be here for Guy. He's so weird, always saying random stuff and not paying attention. He makes everyone uncomfortable. 

But his cousin Tula is here too...and Tula is popular. She's nice and friendly, and super smart. Getting on her good side would be a good idea. Guy probably won't talk to him anyways. 

Gregory complains about the cold to his mother, barely glancing at his aunt, Tulip. Gregory's seen her plenty of times since they used to live together, so he doesn't feel the need to greet her properly. 

Tulip looks at her niece, bubbly and chatty for the first time since the funeral, and smiles. She's proud of Tula for being so strong. 

Paolo isn't in the room, but Tulip thinks about him anyways. She was shocked to receive the invitation to this party, and hesitated when Paolo had called her. 

It's what dad would have wanted, Paolo said. 

So here she is, pulling herself away from work. 

Pablo is in prison, Keith has done his part, the "key players" as Sterling calls them are in prison or being indicted. It's been a busy time for the precinct, and everyone has found themselves stuck with immense workloads. She was hesitant to leave work early tonight, but at the urging of both Captain Sterling and her husband (who Xara also called and invited) over text, she left some of her paperwork with Roman and came here. 

As her dad would have said, there are other things you need to make time for.

Tula knows she should make a wish, as is custom. But her mind is blank; there's not much she can't get without a bit of effort. She quickly decides on the "normal" thing to say. 

"I wish mom were here," she says tearfully. 

Paolo slowly lowers his party horn. 

"...I do too. Oh Tula, don't cry..." 

She takes a deep, composing breath and looks at her cake with determination. What to wish for? her expression seems to say. In reality, she's thinking about what a strange ritual this is; extinguishing a fire to mark the passage of time. Whose idea was that?

But as she must, she follows tradition and blows out her candles. 

She doesn't feel too different. If she looks awkward, it's the sudden height change. She read about the vertigo, but nothing quite prepares you for the instantaneous growth spurt. 

"If only grandpa could have been here..." 

Persis wishes her husband could have seen their granddaughter become a teen. She wonders what silly comments he would have made. Something about "keeping the boys away" for sure. 

She'll just have to be here in his place.

Next it's Guy's turn. 

This is a smile of pure panic. 

He begins to hyperventilate when he sees just how many people are staring at him. What if he does something weird? All these people will be able to see it... 

If  anyone thinks"monstrously sprouting into an adolescent" is weird, then they're hiding it pretty well.  

Paolo sees Tulip...

Then looks away. 

For a split second, Tulip feels tears well up in her eyes. She never meant to hurt anyone. She doesn't want her brother to drift away from her. They were so close, once. Now they're barely speaking. 

Just as quickly, she recomposes herself. What's done is done. She's made her choices. 

And now she has to face the consequences. 

Not wanting to impose any further on her brother's family, Tulip gets into her outerwear and starts making her way home. She can take advantage of her night off and spend it with Rodney. 

The rest of the guests quickly follow suit. With no one else around to watch her, Tula "lets go" and allows the tears to flow. 

"I miss grandpa so much," she sniffs. 

Guy walks out of the bathroom and opens his mouth to ask about birthday cake. Persis elbows him lightly in the gut. He looks between Persis and Paolo comforting Tula before it dawns on him. 

Damn, I have the worst timing. Not knowing quite what to do, he picks up a plate of cake from the dining table and backs away...slowly... 

"Grandpa wouldn't want you to be sad on your birthday," Paolo hates himself a little for repeating nearly word for word the expression his dad said to him when Krista died, but he knows it's true. Besides that, seeing his daughter cry is like a knife twisting in his heart. She's just aged up! She should be excited for school, or calling her friends, not being sad... 

"I'm sorry...I just miss him so much, dad..." 

Paolo can feel tears welling up in his eyes, "I miss him too." 

She takes a deep breath and wipes her tears away, "But you're right... I should be happy. For him...and for mom." 

A ghost of a smile passes over Paolo's face, "Yeah... for your mom too." 

Citing the late time and high emotions of the day, Paolo quickly goes to bed. As soon as he's walking up the stairs, Tula lets her expression drop. 

Her father is taking quite a while to get out of this bothersome state. Since, as a teenager, she's dependent on him, this is quite problematic. 

She'll just have to bide her time, it seems. 

Paolo enters his bedroom and goes to the dresser. Before getting out his pajamas, he pauses and looks at his photos with Krista. He hasn't been able to bring himself to take them down. 

"Tula and Guy had their teen birthday today," he murmurs. Krista's smile remains frozen. 

He glances at their prom photo. "They'll be going to prom soon enough..." He remembers the night he and Krista first met; her awkward invitation to dance, the way she fumbled with his phone when she gave him her number... 

He clears his throat, "I wish you could be here to see it..." 

The photos can only offer their silence. 

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

2.18 Evaporate

Time passes. Paolo eventually goes back to work. 

Nothing seems to dull the pain. 

He tries to lose himself in mundane tasks. He works out regularly and hard, only stopping when his muscles are straining and screaming for relief. He cooks every meal for the family and takes out the trash. He gets to work on time and does his part. 

He tells everyone that it's starting to get easier, bit by bit, but it's all a lie. The platitudes don't help. The exercise doesn't work. Talking about it leads nowhere. Ignoring it does nothing. 

He's just existing here. There is no escape. 

Tula counts herself lucky that her homework takes up so little of her time and effort. If she actually needed help, she'd be doomed. Her dad's just been going through the motions and her grandparents are too old to keep up with two kids. 

She can see right through her father's lies of improvement and fake smiles and recognize the false assurances. He's not very practiced at hiding his feelings, not like her. 

Well, assuming that there is something to hide. Tula often wonders what would remain if she stopped acting. 

Maybe nothing at all. Maybe she'd just be the empty shell her father is becoming. 

But there's no reason to stop. Everyone pretends. 

She just happens to be a very good at it. 

One weekend Persis surprises the kids with a trip to the library. With Paolo barely interacting with anyone at home, the kids have been skittish and walking on eggshells around him. Persis wants them to get out a little. Do something "healthy", as Marko had put it. He would stay at home with Paolo. 

The kids' reactions are mixed. 

Tula's been getting bored at home, acting hesitant around her father and being the good girl who minimizes her presence around her heavily burdened grandparents. So when she cheers and laughs raucously, her vigor is genuine. 

Guy's head just hurts. With all the oppressive quiet at home, the change in scenery and pace is almost overwhelming. He's not fully convinced that any of this is even happening. The real Persis likes to stay home and paint. The real Tula is reserved and polite. The real library doesn't have lights so bright that they melt his skin. 

"I want to go home," he pouts, "I don't like it here." 

"Maybe reading a book would make you feel better," Persis suggests, unphased by Guy's grumpiness. 

He scowls, "Can I just wait outside?" 

Persis sighs, "If Tula goes with you." 

He turns to her. "Tag, you're it!" 

"Y-you're sure? You look kinda..." his skin is clammy and his eyes a bit unfocused, "um, sick." 

"It's the lights! They're getting under my skin...literally." 

Guy is weird. 

Persis settles in the empty library with a good book. Now this is worth getting out of the house for. 

Guy's mood brightens considerably after a few rounds of tag. 

Tula resolves to get better in sports. This lack of stamina is just embarrassing. 

Guy glances up at the rain beginning to drizzle. "Did someone else die?" he asks innocently. He looks up at the sky with a smile, "Don't be sad! Everything'll be ok and the sun's going to come back-," 

"People die every day. The sky doesn't give a shit about that," she hisses bluntly, "It's just weather." 

Predictably, his face shutters. "Oh." 

Tula pushes him roughly to the side, "Don't be a baby. Go run somewhere." If she lets him, Guy can get sidetracked for hours. Besides, they're going to be teens soon. He can't keep talking like he's in elementary school. She's doing him a favor, really. Tough love, she'd say if he asked why she was being so 'mean'. 

But Guy doesn't ask. He just keeps his eyes trained on the pavement as he runs. He's always saying the wrong things. Tula's a good friend for correcting him. 


Just as Persis and the kids are walking through the front door, Marko feels...strange. 


There aren't any words to describe Persis's horror. They just lost Krista. Does her husband have to go, too? 

Marko faces death with dignity. He shakes the Reaper's hand and looks it in the...hood. He has no voice now, but they seem to exchange some kind of greeting. Marko's smile is genuine, but this goes unnoticed by his horrified family. 

"Why do you keep doing this to me?" Paolo wails. 

The Reaper says nothing. 

With a single sweep of the Reaper's scythe, Marko is gone. 

Tula feels a chill as Death hovers in the air. She has never seen so much power in a single being. Is this what awe feels like? Is this how everyone else feels when they're scared? 

The reaper fades before she can ask any of these questions. 

Tula's heart is beating rapidly, but she manages to carry on her performance of shock and grief. If anything, her shaking hands make it more convincing. 

Just like that, Marko is gone. 

Guy has had his own room for a long time now, but tonight he feels too scared to sleep alone. Tula happily permits him to share her room. It would be best if she plays along and "needs" company. 

Paolo, for the first time since Krista died, reads the kids a bedtime story. They're almost too old for it now, and Tula rolls over and falls asleep quickly, but Guy eagerly listens to every word. Anything to not think about Marko being so quickly reduced to ash by that otherworldly, incomprehensible force. Just like water turning into steam. Poof. Gone. 


Guy stares at Paolo's forced smile and waving hands, and can't help but think of steam being waved around. He squirms uncomfortably. 

Paolo's fake smile fades. "I-I'm sorry, I guess this story is a bit boring for you, too childish..." he closes the book and sighs. 

He stands up slowly. His dad would be better at this. 

The thought of his father causes him to burst into tears. "I'm sorry," he breathes out in ragged sobs, "I shouldn't be crying in front of you guys..." 

Guy smiles softly at him, then gets under the blankets. "It's ok. Tears evaporate, like steam." 

"What does that even mean?" Paolo asks, wiping his eyes. When he turns around, Guy is already fast asleep. 

And once again, Paolo is alone. 


AN: They just cannot catch a break. My life span is set on 100 days, Marko died at 103. 

In other news, the kids are so close to being teens. I planned on this entire arc happening earlier, but it took me longer than I planned to get Krista skilled high enough to make any money and get the ball rolling. 

So not really a spoiler anymore, but Paolo's marital structure is... second chance! 

Poor guy. 

I originally planned on Krista not being a criminal at all and dying in an inventing bench related accident, and almost allowed her to perish the time she caught on fire when Tula was a larva. Paolo would have then discovered that she was working for her family while taking care of her affairs after she died... 

But I wanted to involve Tulip a lot more, and it felt like a waste of a story line to have Krista be a criminal...and then die before she gets in too deep.