Saturday, November 4, 2017

1.11 Fitting In

I Really REALLY love you, more than this GUI can even understand.

'Drea': “Uh-huh”.

(This is about where I had decensor installed to film the fight scene between Dustin & Loki in an alternate college save, which should give you some idea of how far behind the story is from the game- it's half told from what I've already played. Decensor makes speech bubbles crazily large for some reason- but that mod file is from 2011 so, moving on...)

They stay up late talking at night until all hours. Dustin doesn't have to get to work at any particular time, so he's free to spend late hours with his favorite person discussing ideas, dreams, her research, his growing career in entertainment. Meghan wasn't sure about Starlight Shores at first, but the environment is exciting, the research opportunities more that she thought was possible, and the views from their home reach over the town and into the ocean. It's growing on her.

In moments of reflection she's amazed at what her life is now. Growing up on the marshy plains of Twinbrook with old town platitudes and expectations life as a child in that town had been stifling. Even if her situation had been different from that of a normal child's, she's sure it would have held her back. Dustin had also talked about how the old biddies in the neighborhood watch and at the town hall meetings had been oppressive to he and his friends. But she thought back to the beginning, to how she had despaired that she was stupid and would die there without her mother and without love, and wondered at the change. Now it felt like nothing could stop her and she could do anything.

Moreover, would she be able to pass this feeling on, to her own kids one day? Life could be so... exciting.

She leaves the comfort of their bed to head to her new haven below the garage. Dustin said they could be expanding the main house with extra funds she's been making from hacking late at night but he preferred if she spent her money on herself right now. She hadn't had a proper research space of her own, and without being employed officially by the Labs at Holy Cow Memorial Hospital (which purchased some of her biological study data) she wasn't going to have access to the a world class facility unless she built it herself.

The metal stairs are a bit cold on bare feet but they're more difficult for germs to live on than a porous surface like wood or concrete. She wants to put a foot bath upstairs at the entrance soon too. One can never be absolutely sure that they are germ-free.

There will also be seed samples of every fruit and vegetable Meghan can get her hands on, just in case there's ever another extinction event and the citizens of Simnation are experiencing crop die-outs, but that may never happen so this is a back-burner project for now. It just never hurts to be prepared.

Also these are mostly just fruits and vegetables she's harvested herself for now, but one of Meghan's projects is to preserve seeds for future generations. She wants this place to serve the future well.

To the end of cleanliness there are lockers provided someone needs proper protective gear, a clean labcoat, or to shower. She also now has her own humble bathroom down here that she'll be tweaking to clean itself so she never has to touch it unless something breaks. Priorities!

The door makes her feel like she's in an escape pod, getting ready to be jettisoned into space at the first sign of trouble.

It's not a bad way to 'go'.

Upstairs, the door to the labs is much less conspicuous. It's been recessed to better conceal the opening, and if anyone asks it'll be considered a small private study or even workout space. Certainly not a basement that may one day span the length of the property!

Dustin wakes up before noon and heads downtown to audition for gigs with the bleary-eyed sub-population of proprietors in the theater district. Rodeo Ago-go is go for next Tuesday night!

A perfect butterfly release!

“We don't have a lot of weddings here...” The proprietor of MN8, a local club, says hesitantly.

“That's not really what I do.” Dustin responds.

The man just nods with narrow eyes and finally says it straight. “We don't need what you do until you do it better.”

Rude. But he'll be back next week to try again.

“The public park attracts more guests than any other casual venue,” the woman in charge of marketing for it lectures, “And a lot of young talent mistakenly believe that we are... lenient about things like preparation, presentation and diversity in our shows. As you look a lot like a kid that was late for every show and made frequent mistakes, I don't feel that it's a smart idea to add you to our weekly lineup. You should probably work harder at other places, first. If you mess up here the whole town will see it, after all.”

Dustin doesn't understand how what she said just now has anything to do with him. He's used to rejection by event planners and the like, but this casual no offends him a little more than it should. He'd performed at the park several times in the past, and he was never late or lax in his work.

The park was one of his favorite places to perform because it catered to families and the tips were good after. But she's new, so he just thanks her for her time. He knows she's confusing him for someone else.

Meghan is still hard at work analyzing samples.

The foot bath went into the experimentation room so for now that is the cleanest part of the facility. Biological experiments are nothing to mess around with! Temperatures must be controlled! Microscopic organisms that are not part of a study must be eradicated!

Every blip on every screen must stream into the data records and be sold to the highest bidder!

She loves having a clean, studious environment with absolute peace & quiet. She tries to remind herself to leave the house on occasion, but she was even forgetting to water the garden and Dustin had to get sprinklers installed, so that's probably not going to happen for a while. Also, who wants to get cancer from the sun when you can risk your life instead around expensive equipment that obeys your every studious whim?

Experiments done in this environment frequently come out better than expected. She's not mapping the genome or anything (not yet) but the structures of flora are a great place to start.

They also had enough from one of Dustin's few shows to make an actual bathroom and laundry room, so there's some privacy and separation from industrial noises ((finally)).

Meghan also, in supposed bouts of feminine nest-makingness, has been finding unique art. There's a square of an ancient quilt not made by anyone they know, and some trendy decorative sketches or birds and old inventions. Dustin's been meaning to ask where these keep coming from, they're kind of girly and don't seem to suit her personality.

Some weeks she realizes how little she's left home, although she does catch the occasional show put on by Element the Suspicious. Meanwhile, she relies on primarily external factors to help her have a weekly rhythm and semblance of normalcy.

It must be a Thursday night.

Again, leave it to the weekend to give them a few moments to reconnect. They aren't heavy drinkers, but games like this are fun and bring out each of their competitive sides.

Dustin secretly aims each ping pong ball to bounce off the table and down her shirt. In the beginning she thought he just played poorly, but she's starting to catch on.

“You going to make this an easy win since you keep playing around.” She cautions.

“You're going to make this easy.” He mocks without looking up from gauging the next shot.

It bounces squarely off her chest and into one of the cups in front. “Two drinks.” He said smugly.

She rolls her eyes and drinks them. She has no sleeves to roll up but it may be time to get serious.

She doesn't try anything fancy, just one cup at a time, she starts getting shots in.

“Yes! Drink it you baby!”

He downs it, unfazed. He's still several shots ahead. “Next!”

And then he takes his time on the next few plays, carefully gauging the distance . She's become wiser about the effect her standing directly at the end of the table has on his perception and has moved off to the side.

He gets the final one in.

“I probably shouldn't.”

“You can take it.” He assures her.

“No that's not it, I think I'm pregnant.” She smirks into the cup and downs it.


Actually instead of dancing along with him, the alcohol hits her hard and she runs to throw up. That's not a good feeling. At all. Probably shouldn't have more of that for a while.

She trudges back a few moments later, feeling drained . “I'm gonna go... take a nap. I'll go to the hospital in the morning and have them say for sure.”

Suck it up buttercup, she tells herself.

Epic prom pictures before the reset! Aww lookie at Dustin dancing alone.

(ahem, I mean) Dustin takes the news very well, they celebrate in the usual way, and he falls asleep first in his usual way.

She played it cool before but spends a moment marveling. She didn't expect to feel so excited about this.

The saw is from Dustin's time as President of the Shop Club.

This small Scottish child wandered onto their land and they decided to adopt it. It has an affinity for getting lost and looking oddly realistic. Dustin believes that it's one of the quirky dolls Meghan gets out of the claw machine like the Vampire bear, and Meghan believes it's one of Dustin's props for his show. Nobody ever seems to actually use it for anything, oddly enough, but Meghan's convinced that Andrea or someone else moves it around when she's not 'driving'.

Meghan gets her own 'leave me alone I'm preggers' nook, and immediately begins investing 65% of each day there. She doesn't normally mind standing long hours but her blood pressure is kind of high according to her doctor and she needs to stay off her feet. Not to be outdone by Dustin though, she makes sure to gets some time in hacking whenever she is up to it in the evenings.

Their schedules are completely opposite, so they communicate with the little things, like when breakfast is put aside for her or when Dustin needs attention and so wanders naked throughout the house.

Dustin saunters lazily around on days off, working on his pet project or occasionally tending the garden. He's taking advantage of the time he has to relax before chaos in the form of a small child arrives (happily) to upend it.

Apparently this exhibitionism does not faze the neighbors. They're in a rock band and are rarely home, and when they are home they're asleep, rehearsing, or being just as lazy as he is. Still, maybe they should build a fence or something, but that would wreck the amazing view, so nevermind.

Besides, Dustin's fairly convinced that nobody other than Meghan cares what his butt looks like.

He works on the car like this for the next hour. How sparks and shreds of metal striking his skin from the grinder are not even a passing concern is anybody's guess.

She finally wakes up and notices him. “aren't you...cold?” She asks, a bit confused.

“It's summer.”

“Oh right, I guess it is.”

“So are you flirting with me right now?”

He raises an eyebrow. “Do you want me to be?”

“Maybe.” He's such a dork but he's her dork and she loves him. “I'm feeling a little better today so I'm going to head to the library and do some... research. I don't want to be absolutely horrible at this.”

“Meghan you care too much to be bad at it.”

“...Maybe. Not that I don't appreciate your support, but I have serious doubts about my ability to handle a child.”

“Our child is going to be clever like you and confident like me. You're overthinking this.”

“And you're underthinking it.”

“...Maybe.” He smiles. “Have a great day Meg.”

He waits patiently for her to come home. That and he has a set tonight and he wants to be well-rested.

Meghan hasn't been to a library since college. Everything's just available online nowadays. She tries to remember how to use the Dewey Decimal system as she enters the building.

...after a quick change of clothes and some... walking issues.

Meanwhile, Dustin... *cue elevator music* making the most of his adult freedom. But he managed to make Ratatouille and it's good. Meghan can probably keep this down, right? It's mild and she's been on about having summer vegetables lately.

The music box was a present he gave her back on their last birthday. She wanted a music box with a gnome, so that's what he got for her. He's somewhat simple like that.

Eventually he can't wait anymore and he gets changed to head out. Starlight shores waits earnestly for him and the way the city calls is hard to describe. As the sun sets behind the cotton candy hues of a sky reflected over the deep sea, the breeze carries the scent of salt even at the higher elevations the people begin to head inside, eagerly waiting for the night to bring entertainment. He will not disappoint them.

This moment when reflected on later becomes a defining one in his life. It's the simplest ones that often stand out: the realizations made in a quiet moment that kick the embers of hope into raging flames of excitement within. 

The realization that hits him? If you work hard and carefully, and if you're patient and perceptive, every door will be open to you. He's already seen men with more talent than his give in to peer pressure or their own delusions. He's seen women with exceptional promise head off the rails and disappear forever from the public eye after scandal. He knows he's different, he wants this life.

And he's determined to go all the way.

Some of Meghan's clothes are not only very tight lately, they're threadbare. But this isn't the best time, they just spent a lot of money setting up her lab, she isn't ready to have kids, she can't afford a new wardrobe! Once again the negative thoughts creep in when she's alone.

Dustin's set at Rodeo Ago Go is going well! The bar is packed, people love his humor, and he hasn't made a single mistake.

He plays the trick up look as dangerous as possible of course, but he knows his tools won't fail him.

The cheers here are louder than ever- outside the noise dissipates, but here he can actually hear the volume of the response and see the excitement on his audience's faces.

He looks over the crowd as it begins to dissipate. He's not quite popular enough yet for people to want autographs or a handshake, but this was a great debut in a new place. He snugs his top hat over his head and surveys the scene, idly wondering when he'll be big enough to have other people pack up his equipment.

His thoughts are cut short when someone still seated catches his eye and smiles.

Stephen Cupp tells him in no uncertain terms that the show was great and he'll pay triple what he made tonight for a private show.

Mr Cupp is a known philanthropist and his name circles around town for the extravagance of his fundraisers, which happen twice a year and proceeds go to everything from marine health studies to homeless shelters.

Dustin figures he's being recruited for one of those.

But no, the older man informs him that every entertainer who wants to make it big in town has to have his permission to expand. The rewards will be worth it, and there will be some backstage deals. Occasionally Dustin will be expected to smuggle unmarked packages in his equipment, for a cut of the profits. In exchange for the best access to fame. Cupp owns 70% of the private clubs in town, after all.

The conversation turns Dustin's stomach.

To cover his anger, he gives a polite bow and pretends not to truly understand the nuanced threat. “Thank you for your consideration, but I don't feel I'm ready for private events just yet. Magic is meant to be shared with the public and to entertain many people, not be hidden behind closed doors. I believe there is room for many types of business in this town. I wish you all the luck with yours.”

The older man takes a step back from where he'd been leaning. “I don't believe you know what you're saying.” He growls in a gravelly voice.

“I believe I do understand you.” Dustin says, “And that does not change my determination or my mind.”

What was casual and happy originally becomes insistent and even hostile now. “You won't be able to do business here for very long without my organization.” The old man growls.

Dustin brazenly corrects him. “That's where you're wrong. I may not know a lot about it, but your kind of business that can only exist in the darkness of night, under cover of lies and secrets can never compete with honest hard work in the light of day. You wouldn't work to harness the efforts of honest men if you were able to beat them fairly in their own arena.”

“Look here kid, you're obviously new in town so I'm merely offering you some friendly advice. You won't be able to survive on work and talent alone here. You have to hedge your bets. People will get bored of you, and they'll move on to other acts. It won't be enough to work at it by yourself. I'm giving you a chance to work for my talent network, where your business will expand infinitely. There is no venue you won't be able to play to a packed house at! You'll have sponsorships! Halftime shows at Roo Stadium, a world tour! Do you honestly believe your act with it's fake swords and popup flowers is going to be enough to earn that kind of attention?! I've seen a million guys like you, and all of them fizzled out without my backing. You're going to need me.”

“I'll take my chances. I'd rather know where my money came from. Besides, you wouldn't have approached me if you didn't see a threat in my success. Nice try pops, but I'm not changing a thing.”

The old man lets out a short bark of a laugh. “I've already started to shut you down. The park rejected you, didn't they? The first place you ever played at and now they're saying no. Do you know why that is, son? Because they need me too, far more than they need you.”

Dustin, furious, balls his fists at his sides. This old man seriously got him if that was the case.

The man continues, gloating. “I knew we'd need to have this conversation, I led you to this venue, the only one you can put shows on at in town right now. I'll see you here again, and you will say yes. Because you and your family's future depend on it.”

Exasperated, Dustin yells. “The hell's wrong with you?! I'm just working to make people happy, to be good at my craft. Not to make deals in secret behind closed doors, to run drugs though the VIP lounge at some seedy establishment. Now you can't handle rejection so you're going to threaten my FAMILY?!”

Dustin's voice is booming even in the loud music, but this was a late show and thankfully the bar has mostly cleared out of patrons by now.

“Hang on kid, I never said I was threatening your family, but I don't have to. This is how you put food on the table, and you're risking everything by being willing to throw away success.”

Dustin is practically speechless by this point. The old man is completely serious. He wonders how much of the new talent he's seen come and go have done so as the result of the efforts of people like Stephen Cupp.

“Can you afford to gamble with your own future like that?” Mr. Cupp goes on with no pause to take a breath. The satisfied look of smugness on his face is fist worthy. “I hold the keys to this industry now, and I'm offering you a piece of it, just a slice to start, but later on you can have the whole pie. Nobody will be allowed to compete with you when you have my backing. Furthermore, it won't be long before you have no choice.”

It's the end of the rant. The creepy man has finally said everything he came here to say. It's as if a coating of slime has seeped into the entire evening and ruined it. If merely talking to this man feels this dirty, how much more horrible would it be to work for him?

Dustin finds his voice. Quietly at first he replies, but his voice grows in confidence as he goes on.

“You're going to follow me here aren't you, you'll be in the back of every show, waiting. You or some cronie. So you can feel powerful in your old age, because you no longer can do anything on your own.” His gray eyes bore into the older man's and he declares, “I feel sorry for you, but come to my show. Buy a ticket, get in free, I don't care if you sneak in through the bathroom window. You're not going to be able to stop me. I will come up with ways to entertain people that will make them beg venues in town to host my act. You won't be able to escape from seeing my face on every billboard, in every magazine. Even when I have fame I will still be playing for tips on every street corner, and you will probably still not understand what you could have said to make me work with you. Well let me help you figure it out anyways. You're not honest, so you're not worth my time.”

“Well like you said kid, I'll be here, and I know you'll have a positive answer for me. It's easy to roar like a lion when your belly is full, but you'll change your tune. You'll see.”

“I won't. I promise you.” Dustin frowns, thinking, and his eyes light up slightly. “Actually, you're the owner of this bar?”

“I have a controlling interest.” Cupp confirms smugly. The look on his face all but says this deal is made, then it falls when Dustin responds with,

“So you know where I can find the bathroom then.”

“To the left of the bar.”

“Thanks.” Sucker. And the young magician walks away.

He heads out to library, a little on edge despite the bravery of his words. Cupp did own a lot in town, and he wasn't the only entrepreneur waiting in the wings to put their name on absolutely everything. But they weren't thinking practically, and that would maybe be their undoing. The young always rise to replace the old, the same people wouldn't be in charge for ever.

Still, the look on old man Cupp's face. The entertainment industry certainly didn't disappoint. For some reason he can't manage to summon any worry about what happened. If people are chasing him it means his act is good right? And more than a little bit? He has many ideas, but it might be time to start thinking about building his own props from scratch, making moves others wouldn't dream of. He knows he can break in, it's a hard industry because so many others give up. Well people here have yet to see the best of Dustin Sparrow: Element the Suspicious.

Back to reality first though, trying to figure out how to be an amazing dad.

Chapter One: Don't drop the baby. Got it.

Back at home, Meghan resumes talking to herself, and finishes her less than scholarly work with a flourish. “Thank you, Mister Muckerzurg.”

For all the great new baby stuff.

Finally finished working for the evening, she takes a relaxing shower and something odd catches her gaze as she's finished dressing.

Were those always there on the wall?

Ugh. Andrea's style. How girly and weird these look. What if Dustin gets the wrong idea and thinks she likes them? Just for once Meghan would like to have a a day or two go by without having a gap in her memory. Thankfully she's been the one in charge more than ever lately, but what if her own child thinks she's someone else one day?

Do these pictures really need to be here to look at every time she takes a shower in the house, reminding her that she's got problems? A hot air balloon surrounded by butterflies, a nuthatch wearing a crown and ringed by flowers. Who thinks up this junk?!

Maybe whenever she's not herself Dustin would agree to lock her up in her lab so the others can't run out and spend her money. Then again, that's a little too close to her childhood for comfort.

She knows in some ways motherhood is going to be agonizing. Mainly because she only knows some things not to do, and not what she should definitely do. There has to be a way to ensure her kids grow up normally.


C'mon Meghan, those pictures are awesome and you know it. Quit being such a stick in the mud.

So apparently you have to have a relationship with the proprietors in order to get gigs at their locations. When a new one is assigned it turns out I have to play for tips for a while there in order to build up a relationship with them, or meet them or whatever and THEN audition. But I was able to use it for the story so it's all good. :D