Author Topic: Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley  (Read 173635 times)

Offline chetanhaobijam

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Re: Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley
« Reply #180 on: January 17, 2017, 10:30:24 PM »
Great update. Nice to see how the Wainwrights spend the snow day. Like to see the teen Patrick. And hoping no bad things happen to Cycl0n3. And imo Cycl0n3 needs some athletic lessons before further investigating the warehouse. Who knows any bad can come out of it. Looking forward for next update.
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Offline Magz from Oz

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Re: Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley
« Reply #181 on: January 18, 2017, 02:23:50 PM »
I really liked this update Cheezey.  I agree with Chetan, Cycl0n3 needs some strength conditioning if he's going to take on bullies like that again.  One sucker punch like that can induce quite severe head injuries.  I hope he doesn't freeze to death left out there in the snow.
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Offline Cheezey

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Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley - Chapter 39
« Reply #182 on: January 28, 2017, 02:56:03 PM »
I'm relieved to see that Blair and Cycl0n3 managed to settle their differences, at temporarily.
It's painful to watch them both feeling so sad and unhappy.

Ahhh no, Cycl0n3! What a cliffhanger! The "security guard" confused me a little cuz he's dressed like a cat burglar.

Waiting eagerly to find out what happens to the unconscious Cycl0n3 and to meet Orion as a child.

Outstanding hires qualified criminals for their security staff. ;)

As for Orion, he's having his birthday in this chapter!

Great update. Nice to see how the Wainwrights spend the snow day. Like to see the teen Patrick. And hoping no bad things happen to Cycl0n3. And imo Cycl0n3 needs some athletic lessons before further investigating the warehouse. Who knows any bad can come out of it. Looking forward for next update.

Thank you! Patrick won't be a teen for a few more chapters yet, but he's more than halfway through his childhood at this point.

For a guy who's supposed to be a genius, it definitely was not the brightest move on Cycl0n3's part to ignore the basic physics behind the principle of "don't sass the guy twice your size when he threatens you," that's for sure. But then again, that's not the first time Cycl0n3's smart mouth has gotten him in trouble, either.  Just the most violent example.

I really liked this update Cheezey.  I agree with Chetan, Cycl0n3 needs some strength conditioning if he's going to take on bullies like that again.  One sucker punch like that can induce quite severe head injuries.  I hope he doesn't freeze to death left out there in the snow.

Thanks! Cycl0n3 seems pretty dedicated to his couch potato lifestyle, so while it would be a good idea for him to join Blair on an occasional workout, I suspect he'd just try to play it smarter. Maybe if he'd taken snow-covered bushes to his stakeout, they wouldn't have spotted him in the first place!  ;D

Chapter 39

It felt like an eternity before Cycl0n3 was able to stand up again.  He swam in and out of consciousness, but by the time he was able to get back on his feet, his masked assailant was long gone.  His head and chest hurt, and he wondered if he had broken ribs.  A glance behind him at the gap in the fence showed that the noise he’d heard back there while semi-conscious had been a plow and a garbage pickup.  Concealed behind the fence, no one noticed him lying there, and the tracks that would’ve served as evidence of the assault were gone.

He felt in his pocket for his phone.  Miraculously, that and his wallet were still there, but he hadn’t been recording, so there was no evidence.  Much as Cycl0n3 hated to admit it, the thug had been right.  He’d be hard-pressed to identify him without question in a lineup. 

He staggered back to his car, his pride bruised as badly as his body with every step.  When he got behind the wheel, he felt another sharp pain and tried to focus.  “Probably shouldn’t even be driving,” he muttered, but it was only a few blocks to the ER.  He could manage that.

He called Blair after he got to the hospital, and they admitted him to the emergency room.  “You’re lucky you don’t have a concussion,” Dr. Morgana Wolff told him after his exam and X-rays.  “But you’ve got two fractured ribs, and I’m afraid your head’s going to hurt for a while.  Your assailant did a number on you.”  She gave him some medicine.  “This should help with the pain, but I have to insist you not drive home.  You shouldn’t have driven here.”

Cycl0n3 nodded.  He didn’t like being lectured, but she was right.  “I called my wife.  She’ll get me.”

“I’d recommend calling the police, too.  The thug who did this to you deserves to be behind bars.  But that’s up to you, of course.”  She finished cleaning a scrape on his neck from being dragged through the fence.

“My wife is the police.  She’s SVPD.”

“I’m sure she’ll do her best to get him, then.”  Morgana gave him a reassuring smile.  “You’re in a risky line of work, Mr. Sw0rd.  Please watch your back.  I’d hate to see you in here again.”


Blair showed up shortly thereafter, with Hank.  “Cycl0n3!”  She rushed in to see him.  “Oh, my Watcher!  Are you all right?”  She almost hugged him, but stopped.  “I don’t want to hurt you.  Dr. Wolff said you had broken ribs?”

“I’ll be fine.  Fractures.  It’ll heal.  I’m just sore.  Jerk hit me in the head a bunch of times, too.”  He looked up at Hank.

“Sorry for what happened to you, man.”

“Thanks, but, uh, what are you doing here?”

“We were in the patrol car together when you called, and if you want to press charges, it’d be better if I took your statement.  Defense lawyers would have a field day with the victim’s wife being the officer taking the report.”

Blair squeezed his hand.  “We’re gonna get him, Cycl0n3.  He won’t get away with this.  I won’t let him!  We’re going to bring those creeps at Outstanding down.”

“So what happened, exactly?”  Hank lowered his voice.  “I mean, speaking off the record here, there are some bad characters there with rap sheets a mile long.  I hate to say you’re lucky considering you’re in the ER, but you are.  What kind of case had you sniffing around that place?”

Cycl0n3 sighed.  “I can’t go into details because of client confidentiality, but in a nutshell, I’m digging up dirt on someone associated with the place.”

“Must be some dirt.  Or maybe you accidentally got close to something worse that someone important really didn’t want seen,” Hank mused.

“Trucks came and emptied the dumpsters after the security goon used me for a punching bag.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t wearing a name tag or a badge.”

Hank started taking notes.  “Can you describe him to me?”

“Other than a middle-aged white guy?  Not really.  He had one of those black cloth hats so I couldn’t see any hair.  He was clean-shaven and had a mask around his eyes.  He was a little muscly.  Not as much as you, more than me.” 

“Do you think there’s a chance you could pick him out of a lineup?” Blair asked hopefully.

Cycl0n3 shook his head.  “No.  I don’t think so.  I’m not even sure I’d remember his voice for sure, since he belted me in the head so many times.”

Blair scowled.  It didn’t suit her normally kind face.  “This makes me so angry.  How can they just brazenly assault someone in their own lot and get away with it?”

Hank sighed.  “Because they’re criminals and they know what they’re doing, unfortunately.”  He asked Cycl0n3 more questions until the report was complete.  “We’ll do everything we can to put this guy away.  Blair, I’ll head back to the station and round up some officers to head over to Outstanding for questioning.  Odds are they’re scrambling to cover everything up, but maybe if we get there fast enough, we’ll catch something they missed.”

“Thanks, Hank.”

“No problem.  Take it easy, Cycl0n3.  And be careful poking around that place in the future.”

Cycl0n3 rubbed his sore head.  “Yeah.  I think I learned that lesson.”

After Hank left, Dr. Wolff brought by Cycl0n3’s discharge papers and a prescription for some pain medication.  “Remember, no driving for a couple of days.  Rest up and be careful with the heavy lifting until those ribs heal.”

“Does that count an unruly toddler?”

Morgana smiled.  “I’d say no piggybacks for a while, yes.”

“I’ll take good care of him,” Blair promised.  After the doctor left, she pulled Cycl0n3 into a gentle hug.  “Come on.  Let’s get home.  I’ll take care of dinner and watch Chris tonight.  Justine told me to take the rest of the day off and let her know if I can’t make it in tomorrow.”

Cycl0n3 gave Blair a weak smile.  “If I’d known I’d get Nurse Blair taking care of me, I’d have gotten beaten up sooner.”

“Oh, you.”  She kissed him on the cheek.  “Come on.  Let’s get home.”

“Will you make me macaroni and cheese?”

“I’ll go one better and get a to-go order of the baked stuff from the diner.  Extra melty.”

“Mmm.  My wife does love me.”  He changed out of his hospital gown and back into his clothes. 

Blair helped him with his coat and shoes since bending was still painful for him.  “And she always will.”

The Wainwrights were enjoying a quiet evening at home when they got the call from Blair telling them what happened.  “Beaten up by some thug claiming to be security right in the parking lot.”  Susan shook her head.  “And they had the gall to tell the police it must’ve been a trespasser, because nobody on their staff could’ve done it.”

“Bet it all happened where there were no cameras, right?”  Boyd said with a frown.

“She said their security records showed everyone on staff either in the building or not on the clock the whole time it happened.  They have a badge in/out system like we do at the lab.  No deactivations and everyone not scheduled had an alibi.”

Boyd scoffed.  “So they either have someone working under the table off the record, on call, or sneaking around.”

“Good luck proving that, though.”

“Yeah.  Poor Cycl0n3.”  He paced anxiously.  “I hope this is the end of it.  And Blair… you know she’s not going to let this go.  Not that I blame her, but by the Watcher, I hope she’s careful.”

“Me, too.”  Susan’s expression changed as unwanted memories came back to her.  “I don’t want her to end up like my brother.”

Patrick looked up from his computer.  “What do you mean, Mom?”

Susan stiffened; neither she nor Boyd had stopped to consider that Patrick had no idea about such old family history.  “I had a brother, your uncle Jonathan.  You never met him because he was gone before you were born.  Before Blair was born, even.  I was seventeen years old.  He was a policeman, like her.”  A bittersweet smile crossed her lips.  “They were a lot alike, actually.  Both always wanted to get the bad guys and do the right thing.  Unfortunately, unlike in the movies, good doesn’t always win over evil.  He was trying to put some very dangerous people away, and…”  Her voice trailed off as she started to choke up. 

“The bad guys won,” Boyd finished so she wouldn’t have to. 

“He died?”

Boyd nodded and put a hand on Susan’s shoulder.

“And now bad guys went after Cycl0n3.”  Patrick bit his lip, worried.

“Not the same bad guys.  They’re all in jail or dead now.”  Susan regained her composure.  “I’m sure he’ll be fine.  Blair will, too.  Logically, there’s no reason to think the same thing will… I mean, some things are just bad luck.”

“Blair’s tough, and she and Cycl0n3 are both smart.  You don’t need to worry about them.”  Although Boyd was not as confident as he sounded, that much was true.  He didn’t want Patrick to worry about such things.  He knew all too well how it felt to worry constantly, and it was something he’d just as soon spare his son.

Unfortunately, right on the heels of what happened to Cycl0n3, the Wainwrights got another reminder that there was a thriving criminal underbelly in Sunset Valley.  In the early hours of morning, they were awakened from a sound sleep by the shrill sound of their burglar alarm.  Someone had broken into the house! 

The alarm automatically notified the police, but they ran downstairs anyway.  In a more coherent state of mind, it might have occurred to them that neither was physically or mentally equipped to handle a dangerous intruder.  It wasn’t until Patrick followed them down and they saw the panicking burglar that they yelled at him to get back upstairs where it was safe. 

Right then, the police arrived.  The burglar tried to make an escape, but the arresting officer was too fast for her.  She tackled and cuffed her, and took her out to the squad car.  The thief hadn’t gotten much, luckily.  The alarm triggered as soon as she got into the house, so the Wainwrights did not lose any of their possessions.  The burglar, however, would be losing her freedom for quite some time being caught in the act with that many witnesses.  Distressing as it was to have an attempted robbery, it was satisfying to see a criminal so soundly thwarted, especially after Cycl0n3’s assailant had gotten away with what he did to him.

Despite the rough start to the day, the Wainwrights were determined to make the most of it, since it was Orion’s birthday.  They invited Blair, Cycl0n3, and Chris over to celebrate as a family.  Susan was getting ready for it while Patrick played in the kitchen with Buddy.  Susan saw her son giggling seemingly to himself by his toy stove.  “What’s so funny?”

“Your mom’s face!” Buddy said behind her back.

Patrick struggled to keep a straight face.  “Buddy’s being silly.”

Susan looked around, but didn’t see his doll.  “I don’t see him.  Where is he?”

“Right here.”  He pointed to the air in front of him.

Susan was confused.  “But your doll’s not there.”

“That’s because he’s in his invisible magic form, not his doll form.  He’s evolved, like a Voidcritter.  He can talk and play with me now.”

“Oh.”  Susan was a little surprised by that, but Patrick was a creative child, so she supposed him having a vivid imagination and imaginary friend was not unusual.  Especially since Orion was too little for him to play with.  “Well, you two have fun, I guess.  Just remember that the party’s in a little while.”

A surprise guest arrived at Orion’s birthday party before Blair and her family.  When the doorbell rang, Boyd was astonished to see none other than Eni Jish Xip, Orion’s alien genetic mother, wearing an out of season and decidedly human summer party dress.  His mouth hung open in shock, but he invited her inside.

“I hope you do not mind me visiting on this celebration of our Earth-Child of Sixam’s life cycle, Boyd Wainwright.”  She looked down.  “I was granted permission by the Sixam Council to attend and interact with your family on this joyous day.  I attempted to dress more like your human customs so as to not confuse him, or cause concern to your family.  But do not worry.  I will not mention our genetic link until you grant permission for it.  I merely wish to be present for the celebration.”

“Uh, yeah.  Fine.  That’s… that’s good, I guess.”  Boyd had no idea what to say, but on some level he was glad to know she had at least a little feeling for the child she’d helped create.  He picked up Orion from his baby mat.  “Here he is.”

“I see how well he thrives, and how much he has grown!  I am happy for him.  You and your kin care for him well.”

Patrick walked into the room, and gasped when he saw Eni Jish Xip.  “Whoa!  Who’re you?”

“This is… someone who knows Orion from where he came from.”  Boyd tried to be somewhat honest without getting bogged down in details.  “As you can see, she’s got a similar genetic condition.”  He gave Eni Jish Xip a meaningful look that he hoped she understood, if she was at all telepathic.

She nodded to Patrick.  “Yes.  It is a pleasure to meet you, Patrick Wainwright.  My name is Eni Jish Xip.  I am not from here.  Just visiting your younger brother on his special occasion.”

Susan overheard the last of the conversation and came in from the kitchen.  “So you’re Eni Jish Xip.  I’ve heard about you.”

“I imagine so, Susan Wainwright.  Thank you for the excellent care you and your family have given to the child Orion.  It is a pleasure to interact with you.”

Buddy whispered to Patrick.  “Wow.  She is weeeeeird.  I don’t think she’s human.”

When Blair, Cycl0n3, and Chris arrived, it got even more awkward.  Chris was tired and fussy, so they put him down for a nap in the baby swing.  Patrick had long since outgrown the “Captain’s Chair,” but Orion liked it sometimes, so it was still set up.  While Chris was also getting big, he was still small enough for it.

Explaining Eni Jish Xip to Blair and Cycl0n3 in front of Patrick was a challenge, especially without the chance to come up with a plausible story ahead of time.  Like they’d told Patrick, they said she was from where Orion was, and had the same condition.  Cycl0n3 asked flat out if she was an alien, because she sure looked like it.

“I am foreign, yes,” Eni Jish Xip replied. 

“So where are you from?” asked an unconvinced Cycl0n3.  “That’s a pretty unique accent.”

“It’s cake time,” Susan announced, waving everyone into the kitchen. 

“Cake, yay!”  Patrick ran in, while Boyd carried Orion to blow out the candles.  Eni Jish Xip simply followed without answering Cycl0n3’s question.

Like any other toddler, Orion mashed up his cake and made a mess.  Susan had learned her lesson from Patrick’s icing-fest on the high chair at his toddler birthday, though, and gave him a bowl to mush it up in.

Even though he was not one hundred percent healed yet, Cycl0n3 felt good enough to pick up Orion and toss him in the air.  Since he was younger than Chris, he was lighter.  He played with him while the others ate cake.  “I don’t know.  You’re cute and all, but you can’t convince me that the lady over there who looks a lot like you just came from somewhere like France.  Unless there’s something really funky in the water over there.”

Orion giggled while Cycl0n3 bounced him.  He was fearless, and loved being held up high in the air and flown around.

“But I did not state that I came from France.”  Eni Jish Xip was perplexed by Cycl0n3’s remark, and gave Boyd a look as if to ask what she was supposed to say. 

He was frustrated.  Even if she meant well by being there, her presence raised the exact sort of questions he wanted to avoid. 

Blair spoke up before he had a chance to respond.  “Cycl0n3’s a private investigator.  Figuring out mysteries has become second nature to him.”  She eyed Eni Jish Xip curiously.  “So, where are you from?”

“A foreign world.”

“A foreign world?”  Blair blinked in surprise.  Cycl0n3, on his way back from putting Orion in the playpen, also heard, and sat down to hear the answer.

Susan frowned, and Boyd sighed inwardly.  Their daughter and their son-in-law were too intelligent to fool with obvious lies.  “I think you might’ve gotten the wrong word.  I know this isn’t your first language,” Susan suggested in a vain hope of covering it up.

“Oh.  I bet it’s not,” quipped Cycl0n3.

Buddy snickered from where he sat invisibly in the chair next to Patrick.  “Liar, liar!  Pants on fire!”

“They’re not lying!” he retorted under his breath, but unlike Buddy, the others at the table could hear him.

“Who’s not lying, Patrick?”  Blair looked from him to her parents and Eni Jish Xip.

Both Boyd and Susan knew that look, and they realized that at this point, no clever story was going to work.  Not only were Blair and Cycl0n3 too smart to fall for it, but they no longer had the advantage of them not having a reason to think something odd was going on.  The only choice was to come clean and hope they understood, for Orion’s sake.

Boyd set his fork down.  “All right.  You’re right.  There’s… more to this here.  I’ll explain it, but all of you have to promise, and I mean swear it, that what we say doesn’t leave this room.  Not to anyone, not for any reason, no matter what.  Promise me.”  He looked at Blair and already felt guilty knowing she how she’d feel about the lies they’d told so far. 

“Okay.  I promise,” Blair agreed.

“Yeah.  Sure.  Me too,” said Cycl0n3.

“I promise,” echoed Patrick. “Buddy too.”

Buddy did not appreciate him speaking for him.  “Hey!  That’s not fair.”

Boyd, Susan, and Eni Jish Xip exchanged a look of agreement, and Boyd continued.  “First of all, no, Eni Jish Xip is not from around here.  She is, in fact, an alien from the planet Sixam.”

“What?”  Blair gasped.

“Wow!”  Cycl0n3, for once, was nearly speechless.  He stared at her, taking in the nuances of her strange appearance in detail.

“An alien?”  Patrick’s eyes went wide, while Buddy just stared at her.

“So that’s why she’s so ugly.”

Fortunately, only Patrick could hear Buddy’s snide remark, while Boyd went on with his explanation.  “She’s a genetic parent of Orion.  He has alien DNA.  That’s his ‘genetic condition,’ but since most of the world doesn’t accept that aliens exist, at least not in this context, we can’t tell anyone that.”

Blair was confused.  “But why not?  Haven’t you always wanted to prove alien life exists?  Now you can.”

“Because the first thing the scientific community on Earth would do to an alien is turn them into a test subject, and they’d do whatever it took to find out whatever they could about them.”

Eni Jish Xip raised her head in a matter-of-fact way.  “They would find acquiring me difficult, and would be most unwise to try.”

“Orion can’t just teleport away at a second’s notice,” Boyd pointed out.  “He’s helpless, and he needs us to protect him.  But if the government found out about him, they wouldn’t give us a choice.  Believe me.  They’d just take him, by any means necessary.”

“No!  He’s got rights.  He’s a citizen,” said Blair.

Cycl0n3 frowned thoughtfully.  “I don’t know.  If he’s an alien, can you prove that?  What does his birth certificate say?  Legally speaking, they might be able to say he doesn’t.”

“Actually, how does an alien have a birth certificate?”  Blair looked at her parents.  “You adopted him.  You must’ve needed that for the paperwork, right?”

Susan glowered at Eni Jish Xip, thinking that if she had not shown up, they would not be dealing with this.  “That’s not something we need to get into right now.”

Blair gaped back at her mother.  “What?  Mom, if that’s not legal, you could be in big trouble!  Having a baby here illegally… that’s called kidnapping.  It’s a felony.  You could spend the rest of your lives in jail!  Even if Orion was abandoned at the lab, you can’t just make up paperwork to keep him!  That’s, at best, fraud!”

“It’s necessary,” Boyd argued, his voice rising.  “This is why we didn’t want to tell you.”

“So you lied to me?  To Cycl0n3?”  She looked at Patrick.  “To him?”

“It’s for Orion’s safety.  Do you know what they’d do him?  Do you think they’d be kind or gentle?  Do you think he’d ever have a normal life?” Susan asked her daughter.  “We’re scientists.  We know exactly what they might do, and believe me, a little fudged paperwork is by far the lesser evil here.”

“He’s also your brother, Blair,” continued Boyd.  “Not just an adopted brother, and not some baby taken from parents that are going to come looking for him.  He’s your flesh and blood half-brother.  I was abducted.  By her, and others.  My DNA was used to help create him.”

Cycl0n3 was the first to get what Boyd was saying.  “Holy freaking llama!”  He laughed, inappropriate as it was.  “Are you saying you got the ultimate alien probe, and Orion was the result?”

“Shut up, Cycl0n3!” Boyd snapped.  “That isn’t even remotely funny.  It was physical and mental torment that I’d just as soon forget.  Orion was the only good thing that came of it.  So, for once, listen and keep your mouth shut.  You absolutely cannot tell anyone the truth about him!  One wrong word to anyone could have him taken away and tortured!”  He realized he was yelling and shaking, and took a calming breath.  “You promised not to say anything.  Orion’s counting on you to keep that word, until he’s grown and can take care of himself.  All of you!”

A silence fell over the table that young Patrick was the first to break.  “I don’t want anyone to take Orion away.  I won’t tell anyone he’s an alien.  I promise.”

Cycl0n3 glanced in the direction of the playpen.  “Yeah, of course.  I won’t say anything, either.  I swear.”

Blair was the most upset.  “Of course I’ll keep him safe!  But I can’t believe you didn’t tell us the truth in the first place!”  There were tears in her eyes.  “Why’d you lie to us?”

Susan met her daughter’s eyes earnestly.  “Because we didn’t want to put you in the position of having to lie for him.”

“So you just lied to me instead?”

“I’m sorry,” Boyd apologized.  “We thought it would be easier for you that way.”

“Well, in the future, give me more credit!  You should know I’d never let anything to happen to Orion.”  She sniffled.  “I love him.”

“Oh, Blair, we do know that,” Susan said, abashed.  “We knew you’d accept him.  We just didn’t want you in the position of having to choose between the good of your family and the law.”

“All right.  I get it, even if I don’t like that you did it.  But since we’re promising things, I want you both to promise me right now that you’ll never lie to me like that again.”  She gave her parents a pointed look.  “Somebody raised me to know right from wrong.  I don’t want to worry they’ve forgotten it themselves.”

Boyd nodded.  “Fair enough.”

“We’ll be honest with you from here on out,” Susan agreed.  “But you understand, to keep Orion’s secret, we’ve got to do what’s necessary.  I can’t say there won’t be questions you’d rather not know the answer to, such as the birth certificate.”

“For Orion’s sake, I’ll forget I ever asked.”  It was clear she was uncomfortable, but she let it go at that. 

Eni Jish Xip looked at her with concern.  “I can erase your memory, if it would make it easier for you, Blair Sw0rd.”

“No!”  Blair was weirded out by the suggestion.  “Let’s just… go play birthday games or have more cake, and put this behind us, okay?  It’s supposed to be a happy day.”

“I’ll have more cake!” Patrick declared eagerly.

The mood lightened after that.  They had some more cake, although Patrick was denied when he tried for a third slice.  He, Chris, and Orion played for a little while before it was time for Blair and Cycl0n3 to head home.  Eni Jish Xip also prepared to leave.

“My presence here caused an uncomfortable situation for your family.  I apologize.”

“Yes, it did,” Susan said with a bite to her tone.  “If you want to keep Orion safe, unannounced visits aren’t a good idea.  Ever.”

“She’s right,” Boyd said to Eni Jish Xip.  “I understand you wanted to see Orion.   If I’d sent him back to Sixam, I’d have wanted to check on him and know how he’s doing, too.  But just showing up like this, you put him at risk.”

She nodded regretfully.  “I see that now.  I am sorry for my intrusion.  If you and your family wish, I will leave and not return, for the sake of the child.”

“I won’t be cold enough to insist on that.”  Boyd couldn’t help but remember how she said they would have done that to him had he chosen to send Orion to be raised on Sixam.  “But contact us first.  Let us arrange for it to be safe.”

“And please disguise yourself better,” added Susan.  “A hat, some sunglasses, and maybe a wig?  You need more than just a party dress to blend in.”

“I will heed your advice, Susan Wainwright.”  She nodded to her before turning to Boyd.  “Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to celebrate young Orion’s growth.  I will not return until his next aging cycle, but I will not arrive without contacting you first.”

“All right.  Thanks.”

“Good luck to you, Boyd Wainwright and Susan Wainwright.”  Eni Jish Xip looked over at Orion, playing with Patrick and Chris, and smiled.  “Grow well and strong, Orion Wainwright.  Goodbye.”  With that, she walked out the front door.  Boyd and Susan watched to see where she went, but after she took three steps down the sidewalk, a beam of light engulfed her, and she vanished.

Offline Magz from Oz

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Re: Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley
« Reply #183 on: January 28, 2017, 03:22:47 PM »
What an emotion charged update.  I'm glad Cycl0n3 came to no real harm from his assault but Orion's birthday was soooo full of drama!  I do see Susan and Boyd's point of view but I also see Blair's.  You've given us great insight into the depth of their characters.  I do wonder how Patrick will cope with the knowledge.  At least nobody but Patrick will hear Buddy's inappropriate comments.  ;)
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Offline oshizu

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Re: Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley
« Reply #184 on: January 28, 2017, 04:13:04 PM »
I appreciate how you've woven the story threads of Cycl0n3, Blair, and Susan's brother together.
May I assume that TS3 aliens cannot assume a human disguise like in TS4?

Blair and Cycl0n3 were not as shocked as I'd imagined they'd be to hear that Boyd's the biological father of Orion.
Cycl0n3 even laughed!
I'm not liking Patrick's imaginary friend at all, to be honest...
Another riveting update!

Offline chetanhaobijam

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Re: Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley
« Reply #185 on: January 28, 2017, 10:03:28 PM »
Great update. Glad to see Cycl0n3 okay besides some fractures. Great to see Orion grow up. And hope all is okay and taking the secret of Orion well. Looking forward for next update.
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Offline Rikki8528

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Re: Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley
« Reply #186 on: January 29, 2017, 07:41:58 AM »
Love this story! If you don't mind me asking, which Story Progression mod do you use?

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Offline Cheezey

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Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley - Chapter 40
« Reply #187 on: February 24, 2017, 04:44:23 AM »
What an emotion charged update.  I'm glad Cycl0n3 came to no real harm from his assault but Orion's birthday was soooo full of drama!  I do see Susan and Boyd's point of view but I also see Blair's.  You've given us great insight into the depth of their characters.  I do wonder how Patrick will cope with the knowledge.  At least nobody but Patrick will hear Buddy's inappropriate comments.  ;)

Thank you! Patrick is a bit young to really get everything that's going on, although as he gets older and understands more, the situation with his family and Orion is bound to affect him.  He's the "normal" child of the two, and thus could feel a bit overlooked compared to the attention and needs that Orion has. (Blair is so much older that as far as family dynamics go, she's more like an aunt than a sibling in how he relates to her.)

I appreciate how you've woven the story threads of Cycl0n3, Blair, and Susan's brother together.
May I assume that TS3 aliens cannot assume a human disguise like in TS4?

Blair and Cycl0n3 were not as shocked as I'd imagined they'd be to hear that Boyd's the biological father of Orion.
Cycl0n3 even laughed!
I'm not liking Patrick's imaginary friend at all, to be honest...
Another riveting update!

TS3 aliens don't have the disguise feature, unfortunately. Though that does leave me the opportunity to dress the alien sims like they're trying to fit in, even if it does humorously fail like Cycl0n3's fake bushes while doing the P.I. stakeouts. ;)

As for Buddy, yeah, he's a character. I have terrible luck with imaginary friends and their traits in my games, and Buddy was no exception.  His traits are photographer's eye, diva, and mean-spirited. So two out of three are obnoxious!  When he's not talking about pictures and cameras, he's either preening self-importantly or using rude socials. He also sets a lot of booby traps. If he was truly imaginary and not an occult sim, one might wonder what sort of issues Patrick has to come up with a friend like that!

Great update. Glad to see Cycl0n3 okay besides some fractures. Great to see Orion grow up. And hope all is okay and taking the secret of Orion well. Looking forward for next update.

Thank you! I think all the toddlers are cute, but the alien ones like Orion really are adorable to me. He's safe for now, even if his alien mother did have terrible timing. I had fun writing her showing up, though.

Love this story! If you don't mind me asking, which Story Progression mod do you use?

Thank you! I'm glad you like it. :)

I use the NRaas story progression mod, with the extra modules, though I have random occults turned off. I put the personalities add-on in during the third week of the game, but they haven't figured much into the story at this point.

Author's Note: I wanted to get this update posted sooner, but I recently switched jobs and to a 12-hour night shift that's been wreaking havoc on my free time. I'm hoping not to have such a big delay before the next update, as I get more used to keeping vampire hours.

Chapter 40

Shortly after Orion’s birthday was Snowflake Day.  When Blair and her family arrived for the gift giving party her parents threw, she hoped that it would be a merrier occasion than Orion’s birthday had been.  Although she was no longer upset by her parents’ deception and had forgiven them, she looked forward to a cheerful family celebration with no drama. 

Not that it was only family at this gift giving party.  Her parents invited several family friends as well, including the Bunch family, an older woman she didn’t recognize, and an elder man she only knew was Simis Bachelor because she’d given him a ticket for running a stop light earlier that week.  Cycl0n3 whispered to her that he was “mouthwash girl’s cheap dad, the one I used to work for” from his first P.I. case so long ago.  Blair had no idea how her parents knew Mr. Bachelor, but he and Boyd were amused at something that had her father almost doubled over laughing.  Blair was somewhat surprised the Goth family wasn’t there, too.  Regardless, her family seemed to be enjoying themselves.  Patrick was chatting it up with Penny Bunch, while Susan enthused about their expensive stereo to Penny’s older sister, Lisa.

“Oh, the sound quality is exceptional with this system.  You can’t go wrong with this brand.  It’s expensive, but totally worth it.”

“I’ll have to have VJ get me one, then.”  Lisa smiled in that superior way she’d always had about her since she was a young girl.  Now, she was grown, and her usually slim build had changed with the roundness of the second trimester of pregnancy.

Jack Bunch scoffed at that remark.  “I’d like to know how he can afford it, on a shipping clerk’s pay, when you two have that baby to think about.  Did he even help you with your house payment this time?  Maybe he should put his money toward that instead of expensive speakers.”

“Don’t start, Dad.”  Lisa rolled her eyes.  Jack had never liked her boyfriend, VJ, and if it was the same VJ that came to Blair’s mind when she heard the name, she couldn’t blame him. 

Susan decided to end the awkward conversation by calling everyone to open presents.  “So, who’d like to get started on this big pile of gifts, huh?”

A cheerful mood spread throughout the room, while the kids bounced with enthusiasm.  Everyone took their seats so they could get started, and the adults agreed that the children could go first.  They passed a gift to Penny, who started it off.  Patrick was a little disappointed he didn’t get to, but Susan whispered to him that it was polite to let guests go first. 

“Your mom’s got dumb rules,” Buddy grumbled next to him.

Penny was very happy with the toy she got, and said thank you for it while clapping happily.  Next it was Patrick’s turn.  When he opened the box, there was a cute white holiday bear with a bright red ribbon around its neck inside.  “Oh, a snow bear!  Thanks!” 

“You don’t like him more than me, do you?” asked Buddy.

“‘Course not.”


Susan saw Patrick talking to himself and gave him an odd look, but didn’t say anything as she opened a gift for Orion, who was still too little to participate.  It was a stuffed bear that looked a lot like a robot.  “Oh, how adorable!” she exclaimed.  “He’ll love it.”

Blair opened Chris’ gift next, a toy truck.  “So cute!”  She made a “vroom” noise as she pushed it on the floor.  “He’ll have fun with this.”

“So will you,” teased Cycl0n3.

The adults began opening gifts next.  When it was Boyd’s turn, he was thrilled to see a brand new Maxoid Game Simulator 2 ½ in the box.  “Yes!  Thank you!  I was planning to get one of these!”

“I’m kind of surprised you didn’t have one already,” remarked Cycl0n3.

“I have the last gen console in the rec room upstairs, and the GUGA Joy Toy 3 down here.  But I can’t wait to see how the upgraded graphics look on the big screen over there.”

“You have a lot of video games, don’t you?” asked Judy.

“I’ve got a decent collection.”

“By ‘decent collection’ he means everything from his original Simtari 2600 to this and about twenty different systems in between,” Susan pointed out.

“Hey.  They all still work.  Besides, someone still likes having her classic Plumtendo Tetris game to mess around on,” he pointed out.

Susan smirked knowingly.  “That’s because no one can beat someone’s high score at it, to this day.”

Buddy leaned over to Patrick and whispered in his ear.  “Geeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeks.” 

Patrick giggled.

Next it was Susan’s turn.  Her box was small, but there was a note inside telling her what the true gift was, with a picture: a brand new premium chess table with hand-carved pieces inlaid with gold accents.  The actual chess set was in the garage, still boxed and stored safely to be brought in and opened later, after the party.  “Wow!  This is amazing!  I can’t wait to put it up and try it out.”

“Just the thing for someone so close to the fourth rank.”  Boyd was glad to see her so happy.

Blair grinned.  “Now you can trounce your opponents in style, Mom.”

“And I shall!  Oh, I shall!”

After everyone was finished opening gifts, Boyd and Cycl0n3 wasted no time setting up Boyd’s new video game system.  Cycl0n3 had the same system at home already—he had ordered it the day it came out—and he’d gotten a new game for it as a gift, so it was new for both of them.  Once it was hooked up, they put in Cycl0n3’s new game and gave it a try.

“That looks cool.  Can I play, too?” asked Patrick.

“Sure.  As soon as I finish kicking your dad’s plumbob, you can have my controller,” Cycl0n3 replied with a grin.

“I’d like to see you try.  Bring it,” Boyd taunted back.

Patrick sat down to watch while Buddy wandered off.  “I’m bored.  I don’t want to watch grown-ups play.”

Soon it was time for the other main attraction of the Snowflake Day party—the yummy treats.  Unlike at Feast Day, where they served a huge meal, at this party there were all sorts of yummy appetizers and desserts to fill up on.  Susan made several herself, but some of the guests also brought dishes to share.  Everyone had their decadent fill before it was over, and with full bellies and happy faces, they all wished one another a happy Snowflake Day at the end of the night.

After the holiday, Boyd and Susan got more good news.  Just before they left work, the board officially granted each of them a new title of Top Secret Researcher.  Since they were the lab owners, it was only a formality, but it felt good to have the official promotion and salary on paper as well. 

It was still not the highest they could rise, however.  There were two higher ranks in the system, but no scientist in their lifetimes had ever held them.  They were not positions that someone could attain simply by owning the company or having the favor of the board, but reserved for individuals who made breakthroughs recognized outside of the company and in the scientific community as a whole.  Both of the Wainwrights aspired to that status, and for Boyd, doing so would mean the achievement of a lifelong dream.  With what they’d already achieved, it was within reach, and Boyd and Susan were very excited.

Making such progress at work motivated them to work on their personal goals on the home front, as well.  Susan invited more challengers to ranked chess matches and officially achieved the fourth rank.  Her skill and confidence rose with each victory, and she was excited to imagine that before long, she might achieve the high and prestigious fifth rank.

“An international champion,” she mused dreamily after winning her latest match.  “That would be amazing.”

“You’ll make it.  I have no doubt.”  Boyd smiled at her from where he’d put Orion in his walker. 

Their alien son was growing strong and fast.  He had already learned to walk; the walker was more for his own entertainment and protection than actual need.  Orion was not as accident-prone as his nephew Chris, but he was fearless, and that made Boyd anxious.  A toddler with no concept of danger was a catastrophe waiting to happen, and the walker made it harder for him to get anywhere unsafe.  Little Orion also liked the buttons and shapes.  “Star!  Star!” he would say, in a baby voice that had a slight reverberation to it, while he pushed it to make it light up.

“There’s a championship gathering in Champs Les Sims soon,” Susan said as she watched Orion play.  “I’m considering signing up for it.  I think I’m ready, and if I win, I’d make rank five!  Even if I lose, the experience against players on that level will make me a better player for next time.”

“I’m sure it would.  When is it?”

“That’s the thing.  It’s only a few weeks away, and it’s in France.  An international trip.  I know our passports are still valid from when we went to Isla Paradiso, and we got one for Patrick a while back, but—”

“We probably couldn’t get one for Orion in time.”

Susan nodded.  “And I’m not sure taking him on such a trip would be a great idea.  Exposing him to strangers from all around the world?”

“No.  We don’t want a lot of curious eyes on him, especially on a trip where we’d have a higher profile than an ordinary vacation.”  Boyd considered their options.  “We could ask Blair to watch him while we’re gone.  There’s no one he’d be safer with than with her.”

Susan stood and smiled.  “All right, then.  I’ll apply and see if I’m accepted to compete.  If I am… we’ll plan a trip to France.”

While Susan and Boyd discussed their plans inside, Patrick played outside with Buddy.  They’d been out in the snow all afternoon.  First they built an igloo by the greenhouse, and after playing in that, they made snow angels and built a snowman by the pool.  Buddy giggled mischievously.  “Hehehe!  Think he could swim?”

“There’s ice on the pool.  Besides, he’d melt if he got wet.  You’re so mean sometimes,” laughed Patrick.  “What’d Frosty do to you?”

“He just has a funny face.”  Buddy tweaked the snowman’s carrot nose.  “Besides, he’ll never be as cool as me.”  He struck a dramatic pose.

“Nah, but he’d be colder.  ‘Cause he’s made of snow.”  Patrick shivered.  He was getting cold from being outside so long.  “So, want to go in and get some hot chocolate or watch TV?”

“Okay.  Maybe I’ll put a whoopee cushion on the couch!  It was really funny when the babysitter sat on it.”

Patrick laughed with him.  “I know!  She tried to blame Orion for the farting!”

“She turned redder than your mom’s shirt.”

“Too bad she didn’t believe me when I said you did it after she found it,” Patrick said as they went inside.  He hadn’t gotten in trouble, but the babysitter had complained for what felt like forever about it.

The next day was the weekend, and the Wainwrights used the time to work on their hobbies.  Although it was still icy cold outside and snow was still falling, winter was almost over.  They’d been able to keep their established plants healthy in their greenhouse, but in the dead of winter, the days were too short for efficient growth.  Now that the days were getting longer again, they had some experimental seeds they wanted to plant.

One was a beautiful golden-toned seed that had a very rare strain of plant DNA matching what their lab records identified as a money tree.  Although there was a saying that it didn’t grow on trees, the truth was that there was a tree that produced leaves valued as currency to collectors that could be sold for a good amount of money.  The plants required high skill to keep alive and grow, and thus were quite rare, but Boyd and Susan had become expert botanists over the years.  Now that they’d obtained the seed, they were certain they could grow it, especially after successfully growing plants like the wild flame fruit, life fruit started from seed, and the crystal flower from Oasis Landing. 

After that, they planted one of their experimental spliced seeds.  A while back, Boyd successfully put sim DNA into a seed that they hoped would grow into a rare forbidden fruit.  Those plants were notoriously unstable, prone to rot and damage, and required expert knowledge to bring to maturity, so a viable specimen was priceless from a scientific perspective.  It was said that consuming the fruits could genetically alter someone to the point where they became part plant.  Obviously, neither Boyd nor Susan wanted any part of that, but they were both curious about the nature of the compounds that could cause such a transformation.  If their seed produced a viable specimen, they could re-plant it at the lab and establish formal research on it. 

Later that day, their neighbor Nick Alto stopped by to visit.  Susan played a game of chess with him while Boyd indulged a whim to paint.  Patrick had been spending a lot of time in front of the easel lately, and his enthusiasm for it inspired Boyd to give it a try.  He was far from the natural artist his son was, but he had fun swishing bright neon colors all over the canvas anyway.

“I think you’re getting more paint on the drop cloth than you are the canvas,” Susan quipped when she glanced over.  “And is it on your shoes?”

He bent over and wiped off a splotch of green with a rag.   “Just a little.  It’s fine.”

Susan shook her head; she had long since given up trying to break Boyd of his sloppy habits.  “Well, be careful about tracking it off the cloth.”

“Yes, Mom.”

“Don’t think I won’t ground you, too.”  Susan raised an eyebrow at his cheekiness.

“Oh, believe me, I know.” 

“You’re brave, risking her ire.”  Nick looked at the board.  “Especially considering what she just did to my army in her last two moves.  That’s checkmate, isn’t it?”

Susan smiled.  “It is, but I didn’t want to rub it in.”

“I see.  A gracious victory, not something I’m used to.  Not in my line of work.”

“Ah, yes, business can be quite ruthless,” Susan remarked.

“Yes.  Business certainly can.”  That wasn’t quite what he had meant, but there was no need for the Wainwrights to know that.  “Speaking of which, are you looking for investors by chance?  Vita and I have been talking about diversifying our interests, and a scientific research venue not owned by Landgraabs could easily be a consideration.” 

“Well, we’re not going that route yet, but if we do, I’ll let you know.”

“Fair enough.  Good luck with it.  I’ve heard good things about the place under your ownership.”

“You have?”  Susan beamed with pride.  “I’m so glad.  We’ve worked hard at it.”

Orion began to fuss, so Boyd abandoned his painting to take care of him.  “I’ve got you.  What’s the matter?”  He bounced him to calm him down while Nick came over to the playpen.

“Is that the little boy you adopted?  Vita told me about him.”

“Sure is.  Can you say hi to Mr. Alto?”  Boyd prompted Orion to wave, and he stared at Nick.


Nick gave the toddler a warmer and more genuine smile than he normally showed.  Despite his ruthless reputation, he had a soft spot for children.  “Hello there.” 

It was then that Patrick came into the room.  “And you must be the older boy.  Patrick, right?”  Nick glanced at Susan, who nodded.

“Patrick, this is Mr. Alto, our neighbor.”

“Hi,” Patrick greeted him cheerfully.  He noticed the chess board.  “Did my mom just beat you at chess, too?”

“Patrick!”  Susan was a bit taken aback by his bluntness, but Nick didn’t seem to mind. 

“Quite soundly, I’m afraid.”

“I figured.  She beats everyone.  She’s gonna go beat everyone in France soon, too.”

“In France?”

“I signed up for a competition on the chess circuit in Champs Les Sims.”  Susan couldn’t hide her pride.  “But I haven’t heard if I’ve been accepted or not.”

“Oh.  Well, in that case, good luck.  Champs Les Sims is a lovely town.  You’ll like it.  Vita and I vacationed there when Holly was in grade school.  Several historical sites, fine dining and music, and the nectary’s got some vintages you can’t get anywhere else in the world.”

“What kind of music?” asked Patrick.

“French music,” Nick said with a chuckle.  “I’m not a musician, so I can’t get more technical than that.  My daughter loves the arts, and she had a wonderful time there.  She was, well, probably about your age at the time.  She enjoyed the museum quite a bit, too.  There are works from some of the finest artists in the world there.”

The thought excited Patrick.  “Cool!  I can’t wait!”

That evening, the Wainwrights gathered at Blair’s house to celebrate Chris’ birthday.  It seemed to Susan and Boyd like it hadn’t been that long ago that they’d attended his first birthday party.  Time had flown, and soon Chris would be off to his first day of school.  This time, Blair and Cycl0n3 decided to keep it casual, a quiet gathering with just family, a relaxed atmosphere, and yummy cake.

“Don’t choke on your cake,” Cycl0n3 teased Chris as he wolfed it down.  “I wouldn’t want to have to Heimlich you on your birthday.” 

“Aw, I’m fine.”  It was one of accident-prone Chris’ most oft-uttered phrases.  Luckily, he’d never been seriously injured, but Cycl0n3 and Blair joked that they should buy stock in the bandage company for all the minor scrapes he got.

“You should join Sim Scouts with me,” Patrick said.  “We could go on trips together even though I’m in an older grade.”

“Speaking of trips, I have a favor to ask,” Susan said while she and Blair enjoyed their cake.  “I’ve got an opportunity to get to the fifth chess rank, international, if I compete in the upcoming tournament in Champs Les Sims.  If they accept me, would you mind having Orion stay with you while we go?  Patrick will be coming with us.  One little brother is enough to ask you to take care of, and I think the educational experience will be good for Patrick if he comes along.”

Blair laughed.  “Sure.  But wow, I wish I could go, too.  Lucky you!  A vacation to France sounds fun.  Unfortunately there’s no way I can work that into our schedule on short notice.”

“I figured as much, otherwise you know you’d have been welcome.”  Susan gave her a rueful smile.  “I know we never got to take such lavish vacations when you were Patrick’s age.”

“It’s okay.  I’m glad he’ll be able to.  And you and Dad, too.  Don’t worry.  One day Cycl0n3 and I will get our chance to travel and all that stuff if we want.”

“Yeah, assuming they let you use your vacation time,” Cycl0n3 groused from over on the couch.

“Anyway, of course we’ll be happy to have Orion over.  Just let us know when.”

“So is it true you get a lot of homework every night in school?  Penny said it gets worse every grade.”  Because they were neighbors, Chris often played with Penny Bunch. 

“It’s not that bad.  Especially when you first start.  As long as you’re smart, anyway.  Buddy says we’re smarter than most of the other kids, though.”

“Buddy?  You mean your doll?”

“Oh, he’s not just a doll!  He evolves like a Voidcritter.  He gets big like us, and I can talk to him.  But he’s invisible to everyone else.”

Chris made a face.  “What?  I never heard of that.  You’re making that up.  Toys can’t do that.”

“No.  It’s true! I’m serious.”

“None of my toys ever evolved and talked to me.”

“That’s because you don’t have an imaginary friend,” Cycl0n3 pointed out from the couch.

Patrick shot Cycl0n3 an indignant look.  “He’s not imaginary.  You just can’t see him.”

“Well, how come none of mine did, then?” asked Chris.

“Maybe you just don’t have the same kind of doll Buddy is.”

“What kind of doll is he?”

“He was a present.  One of our relatives sent it to him when he was a baby,” Boyd said.  “I think we asked you two about it back then.”

Cycl0n3 remembered.  “Oh, the creepy doll!  Yeah, Chris, I didn’t think you needed your own Chucky.”

Both Chris and Patrick looked at Cycl0n3 confused.  “What’s a Chucky?”

“Something from a movie neither of you should be watching at your age,” Blair said before changing the subject.  “Speaking of which, time to open your presents!” 

Chris was thrilled with his birthday gifts, and got several toys he’d been wanting.  He and Patrick played together for a while, and they even let Orion hang out with them in his room for a bit before it was time to go.  Boyd gave him a hug.  “Happy birthday, kiddo.  I still can’t believe how big you are.”

“Thanks, Grandpa.  And thank you for the video game.”

“You’re welcome.  Have fun with it.”

“Thank you, too, Grandma,” Chris said as Susan took her turn to hug him.

“You’ve very welcome, sweetie.  You deserve the best.  Happy birthday!”

The doorbell rang, and Blair let Judy Bunch in.  “Susan, Boyd, hello.  We just brought over a present for Chris.  Penny will be right over.  She’s still getting her boots on.”


“See you at school,” Patrick told Chris as he, his parents, and Orion got their coats on.  “Bye, Blair!  Bye, Cycl0n3!”

“Bye!” Blair called back, while Cycl0n3 waved. 

Soon after Chris’ birthday came another: Cycl0n3’s.  He didn’t want a big party, though, and decided to celebrate with Blair and Chris over dinner at the lounge where he and Blair had been married.  “I don’t need a bunch of people to get together and tell me how old I am.”

Blair recalled all the jokes he’d cracked at the expense of their older friends on their birthdays.  “Afraid of payback?”

“Maybe a little,” he admitted.  “Besides, I don’t like to think of myself as old.  Old is for, you know, old people.  Old people don’t do the fun stuff I do.”

“What?  Watch TV and play video games?” Blair retorted with a laugh.  “Yeah, I don’t know any older people who do that.  I’m definitely not related to any.”

“Well, your parents are old geeks.  That’s different.  They’ve always been old and geeky, haven’t they?”

“And now, so are you.”  Blair giggled.

“Thanks.  I love you too, babe.” 

What Cycl0n3 didn’t know was that his friends weren’t going to let him get away with not celebrating such a milestone so easily.  Tamara, Emma, and Stiles had conspired with Blair to surprise him with a celebration at the lounge when they got there, cake and all.

“Surprise, you old nerd!” Tamara teased with a grin.  “Happy birthday!”

“Aw, come on!  I said ‘no parties,’” Cycl0n3 grumbled good-naturedly.

“This isn’t a party.  It’s a small social gathering of select friends who happened to bring a birthday cake for dessert after dinner,” Blair said cheerfully. 

Emma looked around.  “Not a balloon in sight, so definitely not a birthday party by my definition.  Blair didn’t say that you said ‘no celebrating,’ right?”

“Oh, so you’re pulling technicalities on me?”

“Same way you did all the time back when you lived with us,” Emma replied.  “Now blow out your candles before we start a fire here, geezer.”

“You do have a point.  Stiles is here, and we know his luck with birthday cakes.”

“Man, that was the worst birthday ever.”  Stiles shook his head.  “Don’t remind me.”

“That’s all right.  You’re not far from your next one, anyway.  We’ll make your sendoff to the retirement home better.”

Stiles chortled.  “Thanks.  Now shut up and blow out your candles, Cycl0n3.”

“Yes, sir, Grouchy Old Cane Shakin’ McGraw.”

Everyone cheered as Cycl0n3 blew out his candles, and even though he hadn’t expected his friends to surprise him, he appreciated the gesture.  “Okay.  It’s official.  I’m old.”  He glanced at the clock.  “You may indulge in the appropriate mockery for a brief and festive time, while we consume sugary cake that my doctor will probably start lecturing me about eating now that I’m old and have to take care of myself.”  He took his cake and headed for a table.

Chris took his slice.  “Don’t worry, Dad.  You were always old to me!”

That got a laugh from everyone, and Emma gave him a thumbs-up.  “I love this kid.”

“So, Tam, got any tips for me on this middle age thing?  You’ve been there a while now, rocking those ‘silver highlights.’  Got more of those, I see.”

“You know, Cycl0n3, I’m not too old or mature to not give you a face full of frosting.”

“There’s precedent for that here if you want to,” giggled Blair.  “Remember how I got him on our wedding day?”

Cycl0n3 smirked.  “Come on, now, Tam.  No one ever said you were mature.”

“You should talk.  But since it’s your birthday, I’ll be nice.”  She took a bite of her cake and smiled.  “I’ve got one tip for you.  At your age, you should know how to use a razor.  But if not, full beards are distinguished.”

“But then I really will look like a boring old dad, and the family’s already got one of those.  Space wouldn’t appreciate the competition.”

Blair giggle-snorted from the next table over, where she was eating cake with Chris and Emma.  “That, and Cycl0n3 says he looks like a twelve year old when he shaves.  ‘Cause he’s got that cute little baby face.”

“I do,” Cycl0n3 argued, making a face.  “Except now I more like an aging twelve year old with wrinkles.”  He sighed.

“So, how are things with you, Emma?” asked Blair.  “We haven’t had a chance to talk in a while.”

“Pretty good.  I got promoted to Pastry Chef last week, and catered some big events.  My sheet cake for the holiday staff party at Doo Peas got a personal compliment from Nancy Landgraab herself.”

“Wow.  I’ve met her.  She’s hard to impress.”

“Yeah, it felt pretty good.  Jared helped me out a lot with that one.  Did I tell you we’re together now?”

“I saw it on Simbook.”  Blair tried to be happy for Emma’s sake.  She hadn’t interacted with Jared Frio in a long time, but the impression he’d left back during that child support case had been a bad and lasting one.  Blair hoped he’d changed for the better since.  Emma deserved to be with someone with as warm and generous as she was. 

Emma picked up on Blair’s reaction.  “I know he never gave you the warm fuzzies.  He’s done some messed up things for sure.  I’ve given him hell for them when he has.  But that’s also why we get each other.  We’ve got a lot in common, we’ve known each other for years, and been friends for most of it, even when we don’t agree.  I don’t put up with his attitude.  Never have.  He respects me for that.  And I know you get what it’s like to be friends with someone and then have it turn into more.”

“Yeah.  I do.”  Blair looked over fondly at Cycl0n3.  “I hope you and him will be very happy.”

“Thanks.  Me, too.”  She chuckled.  “It’s looking like things are finally working out for all of us that way.  Tam’s happy with Parker, and Stiles even found someone after so much bad luck.  He was pretty mopey for a while.  Even his music got depressing!  But he and Agnes are happy together.”  Emma finished her cake, set down her fork, and turned to Chris.  “Oh, you poor kid.  Listening to us gossip like old ladies ourselves about boring mushy love stuff.  Sorry.”

“It’s okay.”  Chris grinned.  “Mom didn’t even notice that I had two pieces of cake.  Thanks for keeping her busy being boring.”

Both Blair and Emma were amused.  “You are your father’s son, no doubt about it.”

“Don’t worry.  Despite that, he’s still cute,” teased Emma. 

“I see they’ve got a domino table over there,” said Blair.  “How about we play a game?”

Emma got a drink to wash down the frosting-rich cake while Cycl0n3 and Stiles joined Blair and Chris for a game of dominoes.  “How have you been?” Blair asked Stiles.

“Same old, same old.  Aside from selling some albums and getting bigger gigs out of town.  We played in Bridgeport last month.”

“Nice.  I heard your latest album.  Good stuff,” Cycl0n3 said as he played his turn.  “It always amused me how you have such a country name but your music has such a strong electronic sound to it.”

“Well, Pauline and I have both always been into that, so it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise.  This might be our last album, though.  She hasn’t made any formal announcement yet, but Zelda found out she’s pregnant, and, well, she’s my age, so the doctor doesn’t want her on stage much, and definitely not touring.  Not that I don’t have plenty to do at the theater and managing other stuff, and I’ve even got a few solo projects, but still.”

“Wow!  Congratulations to Zelda, then.”  Blair made her move.

Cycl0n3 laughed and placed his piece.  “Having kids while old seems to be trendy these days.  Your move, Chris.”

“Thanks for calling me old again, by association, on your birthday, by the way,” Stiles said dryly.  “Nice to know age hasn’t changed you.”

“I’d never want to be old and boring.”  He looked at Chris as he placed his piece.  “What do you say, youngest one at the table?  Am I old and boring?”

“You’re not boring,” Chris replied with a gleam in his eye.

“Plum,” laughed Cycl0n3.  “The apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

Blair set her piece down and giggled.  “Not at all.”

Offline chetanhaobijam

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Re: Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley
« Reply #188 on: February 24, 2017, 09:51:49 AM »
Happy birthday to Chris and Cyclon3 Sw0rd. And good luck to Susan on her France chess competition. Wishing the family have a great time in France.
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Offline oshizu

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Re: Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley
« Reply #189 on: February 24, 2017, 01:56:11 PM »
Chris is really fantastic! I love how you've written him as a mini-Cycl0n3!

I'm still wishing Emma had hooked up with someone nicer than that Jared fellow but, as the saying goes, there's no accounting for taste. Or is that the work of your story progression mod?

Everyone keeps talking about "old," but they've just joined the Adult stage, right? (sorry, I'm not familiar with TS3...)

I'm really looking forward to joining the crew on their trip to France! Good luck to you, Susan!

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Re: Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley
« Reply #190 on: February 24, 2017, 04:16:19 PM »
Another terrific update Cheezey.  I feel Susan will do well at the chess championship but where Patrick goes, Buddy goes... that may be good or bad.  Looking forward to your next update.
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Offline Cheezey

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Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley - Chapter 41 Part One
« Reply #191 on: November 27, 2017, 05:51:44 PM »
Wow! It's been the better part of a year since I last updated this story. I'm sorry for the long break. I had a lot going on in real life that kept me out of playing and writing Sims, and by the time I was inclined to go back to it, Photobucket had pulled its nonsense and the huge project of fixing everything put me off of it for several more months. But I missed the Wainwrights, and eventually, my "Enraged at Photobucket" moodlet timed out, and I decided to come back, fix it all, and work on it again. Thanks again to MarianT for resurrecting this thread out of the graveyard so I could do so.

If you're still reading, thanks for bearing with me, and sorry for the long wait!

Before I post the story, to answer the last comments on the thread:

Happy birthday to Chris and Cyclon3 Sw0rd. And good luck to Susan on her France chess competition. Wishing the family have a great time in France.

The France trip is in this chapter. :)

Chris is really fantastic! I love how you've written him as a mini-Cycl0n3!

I'm still wishing Emma had hooked up with someone nicer than that Jared fellow but, as the saying goes, there's no accounting for taste. Or is that the work of your story progression mod?

Everyone keeps talking about "old," but they've just joined the Adult stage, right? (sorry, I'm not familiar with TS3...)

I'm really looking forward to joining the crew on their trip to France! Good luck to you, Susan!

The Emma/Jared relationship is a story progression mod choice. I'd really hoped she'd stay with Iqbal, if for no other reason than I wanted to see what an Emma/Iqbal child would look like, since I hadn't seen that pairing before. Unfortunately for Emma, her relationship with Jared is pretty rocky, with them on and off again. She really deserves better!

Cycl0n3's birthday was young adult to adult. He's just feeling cranky about being middle-aged now. Stiles and Tamara are a lot older than Cycl0n3 and Blair, though, so they're much nearer to elder at this point.

Another terrific update Cheezey.  I feel Susan will do well at the chess championship but where Patrick goes, Buddy goes... that may be good or bad.  Looking forward to your next update.

Sorry it took so long! I hope you enjoy the France trip.

Author's Note: This chapter is 25 images and over 6000 words, putting it over the post character limit, so I had to split it into two posts. I preferred to keep it all as one chapter since it flows better that way, and lets the entire France trip be its own chapter.  Unfortunately, that means there's not a whole lot on Blair and her family in this chapter, but they will be more of a focus in the next one.

Chapter 41

Boyd and Susan were puttering around in their home lab when Susan got a call from a number she didn’t recognize.  “Hello? … Yes, this is Susan Wainwright.”  She paused as she listened to the caller, and her expression changed from curious to happy and excited.  “Wow!  Yes!  Yes, absolutely!  Thank you! … Oh, you too!”  She hung up and turned to Boyd.  “That was the chess tournament organizer.  I was accepted!  I get to compete in the Champs Les Sims tournament for the fifth rank!  I can’t believe it!  I’m so excited!”

“Congrats, honey!”  Boyd hugged and kissed her.  “Guess we’d better book some airline tickets and find a hotel.”

“And let Patrick know we’re going on vacation, and get Orion ready for a stay with Blair.”  Susan was giddy with excitement.  “Wow.  A championship tournament.  I’m really that good.”

The Wainwrights made their travel arrangements, and when the time came to go on their trip, they headed to Blair and Cycl0n3’s house to drop off Orion.

“Yay!  Look who’s here!”  Blair took Orion from her mother’s arms and snuggled him.

Boyd and Susan said hello, and Susan raised an eyebrow when she noticed Cycl0n3’s change in appearance.  “The goatee’s a new look for you.”

“It was my birthday.  Time for a change.”  He stroked his chin.  “I think it looks cool.”

“Someone’s having a mid-life crisis,” teased Blair.  “Tam picked on him about not being able to use a razor when we went out for his birthday, so he went with that.  I’m not really used to it yet, but I’m getting there.”

“It’s all right,” Susan said to Blair.  “Your father still has that snakeskin jacket he bought back when he turned Cycl0n3’s age.”

“Oh, come on.  You still don’t like my jacket?  After all these years, that it’s lasted so long and still looks so good is a testament to its fine quality.”

“Sure, Dad.”  Blair bounced Orion and changed the subject.  “So, Chief Engineer, are you ready for an away mission with us?”

“Chief Engineer?” Susan exchanged an amused look with Boyd.

“If Patrick’s the Captain and Chris is Number One, heading up engineering is the next important position.”

“Actually, third in command is usually a lieutenant commander, but that rank’s not specific to engineering—”

“Dad, it’s just a joke.  Besides, with how much Orion likes his peg box, that says engineer to me.”

“Anyway, thanks for watching him while we’re away,” Susan said.  “We brought everything he should need, but you’ve got a key to our place if you need anything while we’re gone.”

“And don’t hesitate to call if there’s any kind of emergency,” added Boyd.

“Don’t worry.  We’ve got it covered,” Blair assured them.  “You two enjoy your trip.”

“Yeah, and kick some plumbob at that competition,” said Cycl0n3.  “I’ve been thinking of giving the chess circuit a try myself.  Done some online chess competing now that the TarzWar endgame has gotten all stagnant and redundant.”

Boyd nodded in agreement.  “Tell me about it.  That last patch, what were they thinking?  When was our last real challenge?  The meteor madness event?”

“Pretty much.  No wonder most of the guild’s quit or gone free to play.”

“I only log in for my long time perks these days,” said Boyd.  “I don’t have the time to waste grinding through half-baked content.”

“Seriously.  I hear you.”

After saying their goodbyes, Boyd and Susan went home to finish packing and head for the airport.  Their flight was a late one, but due to the time difference, they arrived in France early in the morning.  Luckily, the three of them managed to get some sleep on the plane.

They arrived at their hotel, a bed and breakfast style place in the center of Champs Les Sims, where the tournament was being held.  After checking in, they looked over the bulletin board advertising local attractions and events.

“I need to check in with Jolene Montaque for a pre-tournament interview today, but the appointment’s not for several hours.  What do you want to do in the meantime?” Susan asked her family.

Patrick pointed to an advertisement on the board.  “Can we go to the Gallerie d’Art?” 

Boyd had no objection.  “Sounds good to me.  You good with that?”

“Sure,” Susan replied.  “Nick said some of the world’s greatest artists have works on display there.”

Although Patrick was the only art buff, all three Wainwrights enjoyed the visit to the museum.  Susan was not an art snob, but she appreciated the finer things in life, and mused that they might consider getting more art for display back home.  Boyd was most interested in the international exhibits, especially the alleged magic gnomes.  He and Susan were both familiar with the lore surrounding the gnomes, statues that supposedly came to life and moved around when no one was looking.  Neither had any personal experience with them.

Patrick studied the gnome display intently, but was disappointed when he saw no sign of magical life in the whimsical little statues.

“They’d probably be annoying for the curators if they were the real thing, anyway,” Boyd pointed out to cheer him up.  “Imagine being the one who had the job of keeping tabs on an exhibit that liked to prank you.”

“Cute or not, I think they’re a bit creepy.  Who wants something spying on you when you’re not looking?”  It reminded Susan of how Eni Jish Xip and the aliens knew things about them that they only could have learned by stalking them.

Patrick shrugged.  “I think it’d be kind of cool to have one around.  No different than Buddy back at home.”

Boyd and Susan exchanged a look, but didn’t say anything.  They were both a little concerned about how real Patrick’s imaginary friend was to him at times.  He was young and had a vivid imagination, and they expected he would outgrow it, but occasionally they worried that there might be more to it.  Susan remembered the way her deceased older brother used to talk to the air and mutter to someone she could never see, and Patrick’s friendship with Buddy reminded her unpleasantly of it.  She hoped there was not some recessive gene she had passed on that would plague her son with hallucinations throughout his life.

After their trip to the museum, the Wainwrights headed back to where they were staying so Susan could complete her interview with Jolene Montaque.  After introducing herself, Jolene accompanied Susan to the chess table to discuss the competition.  “Your qualifications are impressive, and everything seems to be in order.  We just need to play a match as a formality, to verify that your skill level matches your history on the application.”

“I understand, although I’d hope you don’t really have problems with imposters in a tournament like this.”

“No.  We haven’t had any issues with that, or with cheating, in recent years, but you know how it is once someone tries it once.”

“Sad that anyone would do such a thing.  There’s no pride in an accomplishment you don’t earn,” Susan said with an aura of disdain as she pulled her chair close to the board.

“I completely agree.”  Jolene looked at Boyd and Patrick.  “I’m afraid I have to ask the two of you to leave the room so we can conduct the match in private.  We need to be sure there’s no coaching or signaling—”

“No problem.”  Boyd kissed Susan on the cheek.  “Good luck, honey.  Not that you’ll need it.”

“Show her what Sunset Valley can do, Mom!” Patrick cheered.

Susan smiled back at them as they departed, and then focused on the board.  The French woman was no novice, and she was quite skilled at the game.  Susan was able to figure out her strategy, but Jolene was sharp and changed tactics more than once after Susan caught onto her.  The match was definitely a challenge, but in the end, Susan was able to stay a step ahead and win.

Jolene clapped graciously as she conceded defeat.  “Well done.  You’ve more than proven your skill.  Congratulations.  I look forward to seeing your performance in the tournament.”

Susan beamed with pride.  “Thank you.”

After Susan’s interview match was over, the Wainwrights went to a local café for dinner.  They had a delicious meal that started with a rich cheese plate appetizer, and then a local recipe for frog’s legs as the main entrée.  Susan remarked that she would have to look at the market back home for some of the cheese varieties she hadn’t had before, and perhaps she’d pick up a book for French cuisine recipes while they were in Champs Les Sims.

Patrick was still coming to terms with the notion of eating a frog.  He took a bite.   “It’s so weird, but it tastes good.  We caught frogs in scouts once.  But nobody at home eats frogs.”

“They’re not something you just get at the grocery store,” agreed Boyd.  “You’d probably need to special order the meat.  Which is a shame, because this is pretty good, and I bet you could learn the recipe easily.”  He looked at Susan.

“It’s not like we can’t afford to have frog legs sent to us.”  Susan loved being able to say that; the novelty of being super rich had yet to wear off for her.  “Although we could probably catch a local specimen and clone it.  I saw you sneak that analyzer into your suitcase.”

A guilty smirk crossed Boyd’s face.  “I didn’t sneak it.  Besides, how could I pass up a chance to analyze some foreign specimens?  You even said I’d need to find some stuff to keep busy with while you’re with the chess group.”

“Do you think we could catch frogs, Dad?  Like we did in scouts?  I could take a France frog back to Sunset Valley and show it off!”

“I don’t see why not, as long as customs lets us.  There are rules about importing wildlife and foreign fauna.”

The tournament did not start until the day after the next, so the Wainwright family took the opportunity to do some more local touring and sightseeing.  They visited a few local landmarks, and spent the afternoon at the famous Champs Les Sims nectary trying some of their world-famous libations.

Nectar tasting was too grown-up a hobby for Patrick, so he amused himself with games of make-believe until he made friends with a local boy, Remy Dutiel, whose parents were also visiting the nectary.  They played tag out in the yard and vineyard while Boyd and Susan tasted all sorts of nectars.

Susan savored a glass.  “This one has definite chocolate undertones, with perhaps a touch of coffee.”

“You sound like you’re on the Noms Network.  Next you’ll say you’re on a trip to Flavortown, France,” Boyd teased.

She made a face.  “That’s not the show I’d be on, thank you very much.  So what did you think of it?  What did it taste like to you?”

He gave her a sheepish look.  “Sweet, like all nectar?”

“My husband, just not a gourmand,” Susan lamented with a playful sigh.

After they left the nectary, Patrick asked if he could take a French art class he’d grabbed a brochure for back at their hotel.  Susan read it over.  “I don’t see why not, although it says you need a parent with you.”

“I’ll go with him,” Boyd volunteered.  He had only a casual interest in painting, but his dabbling back home was more than Susan had done.  Besides, she was preoccupied with her upcoming chess tournament.

“I’ll hit that bookstore, grab some coffee, and update my blog while you two get all artsy.”  She grinned.  “And now that I’ve got the list of who I’m up against tomorrow, maybe I’ll even research the enemy a bit.”

They returned to the hotel early so Susan could get plenty of rest before the big day.  They had a light dinner there, a traditional French cheese plate and some bouillabaisse.  Patrick thought it was “all right,” but he still thought chile con carne was better and wished he could have had that or something like it.

“Honey, I know it’s your favorite, but French cuisine isn’t known for that kind of flavor.  You’ll probably have to wait until we’re home to get that.”

“Yeah but the only other option had snails in it.  I already ate frogs.”

“The escargot tastes better than it looks and sounds,” Boyd said.

Patrick made a face.  “Yeah, but you’re old and weird, Dad.  I’m not surprised you like it.”

“Old and weird?”  Boyd raised an eyebrow.  “Well, I can’t say I don’t resemble that remark, but you don’t need to go full Cycl0n3 about it.”

“No one ever needs to go full Cycl0n3,” remarked Susan.

“Cycl0n3’s also old and weird, but that’s okay.  I didn’t mean it as an insult.  Sorry.”

“It’s all right.”  Boyd was more amused than offended.  “Speaking of which, I posted some of our pictures to SimBook so Blair, Cycl0n3, and Chris could see them.”

“Oh!”  Patrick bounced in his seat.  “Chris said we should try to get him a magic gnome.  He wants one.  Especially since Blair won’t let him get a cat until he’s 13 and can take care of it himself.  And that’s like forever.”

“Well, if one turns up in the relic shop, we’ll grab one for him,” Susan said.

The Wainwrights relaxed in the common area a little longer, watching some French TV shows, until Patrick decided to go to his room for the rest of the night.  Without Buddy, he was a little lonely, but not enough to be bored.  He decided to practice painting on his paint program on his tablet instead.

Susan and Boyd took their dishes back to the dining area.  “Looks like he was inspired by that class you two took today.”

“Yeah.  It amazes me how talented he is.  He’s got a real knack for it.  His painting sure put my still life to shame.  You could’ve called mine ‘spice induced floral hallucination’ if you were feeling generous.”

“I hope you had fun at least.”  Susan smiled confidently.  “I’ve got just the strategy in mind for my first match against Edith Morel tomorrow.”

“I’m sure you will,” Boyd struck a dramatic pose and adopted a fake French accent, “wipe ze floor with her.”

Susan snickered.  “Nice accent.”

“Sorry.  Our art teacher was an over the top stereotype ar-teest.  A couple hours of that rubbed off, I guess.  Nice guy, though.  He had nothing but praise for Patrick, and even taught us a couple of French songs.  Patrick was humming ‘Philippe’s Kenspa’ the whole way over to meet you.”

“Oh, is that the tune?  I heard him humming at dinner.  What else did he teach you?”

“A French love serenade, although Patrick had no interest in learning that, not at his age.”

“I bet.”  Susan smirked.  “So are you going to serenade me?”

“You want me to sing?  In public?”

“Look around.  No one else is in here.”

“Well… I cannot resist the lovely lady,” Boyd replied in the mock accent, and sang the song to her.

Susan was flattered, and while her husband was no star vocalist, he was not a naturally bad singer.  The song was seductive and romantic, and she found it sweet.  When he finished, she leaned in close.  “Very nice.  I’ll be expecting an encore on Love Day.  But for now…”  She leaned in and kissed him.  “I think Patrick had the right idea.  Let’s call it a night and head to our room.”

The following morning, they had a breakfast of crepes at the hotel and split up.  Susan had to be present at the tournament while waiting for her match, but there were hours before her match was scheduled.  She told Boyd and Patrick she would not be good company because she had to focus and prepare, so she wanted them to go out and do something fun on their own.  “I don’t need moral support while I wait.  Just my cheering section when it’s time to play.”

“We’ll definitely be back for that,” Boyd promised.

“We want to see you kick France’s butt!”

She smiled confidently.  “That’s the plan.”

After leaving Susan at the tournament, Patrick asked to go visit his new friend Remy at their house.  They visited for a while, and the two boys had fun playing in the Dutiel home and yard while Boyd got to know Remy’s parents.  They had a good time, but the visit had to be cut short due to the Dutiels having other obligations.

“Hey, is there anywhere you can catch frogs around here?” Patrick asked as they were leaving.

“Sure.  There’s a frog pond in the woods by the cemetery.  The one by the flowers and butterflies.  Sometimes even glowy flies appear there at night.”

“You can also catch them in most ponds and rivers around here,” Remy’s mother, Lea Dutiel, offered.

“The pond is really cool, though.”

“Can we go to the pond, Dad?”  Patrick looked at his father.

“Sure.  I think I know how to get to the Champs Les Sims cemetery.”

Gaston Dutiel, Remy’s father, spoke up.  “You can’t drive to the pond, but it’s a short walk from the cemetery, about halfway to the river.  The woods aren’t thick and you can find your way in and out easily.  On a nice day like this, it’s rather picturesque out there.  I’ve fished there many times.”

“Great.  We’ll check it out.”  Boyd thanked the Dutiels for their hospitality, and he and Patrick went into the woods.  The pond was indeed easy to find, and they were able to spend about an hour fishing before it was time to go watch Susan’s match.  The fishing research he’d done over the years made it easy for Boyd to catch a few frogs, and Patrick’s experience at scouting helped him to catch one as well. 

“Wait until I tell everyone back home!” he said excitedly, as Boyd took a picture of him on his phone.

Boyd and Patrick got back to the square where the match was being held just in time.  The crowd was kept back from the players, but as Susan’s family they were given as close access as possible so they could watch.  Susan was at the top of her game.  The large crowd and prestige of the tournament left her feeling the pressure, but she knew she was good, and she trusted in her superior intellect to see her through.

Her opponent had somewhat of a harsh look about her, but she was surprisingly pleasant and charming.  Almost disarmingly so.  Susan realized that it was likely her own strategy: make small talk that might trip up the opponent so they forget what’s at stake.  Susan didn’t fall for it.  She supposed she probably came off like a snob, remaining cool and aloof, but she didn’t care.  She wanted to win.

And win she did.  The French woman scowled when she lost, but remained gracious.  “You destroyed me.  Excellent game.”

Susan almost felt bad.  “It was a good game.  A worthy challenge.”

“Congratulations on moving ahead.”  Edith shook her hand, but did not stick around long for appearances or small talk.  Susan could not blame her.  Had she just lost in front of a huge crowd, especially when it was clear she expected an easy victory, she would not be zen about it, either.

Boyd and Patrick joined Susan for a post-victory lunch.  The tournament had partnered with the Catania Café to feed the competitors and their guests during the competition. 

“So I made it.  I’m almost there, to the final round.  If I win against Estelle Fouchier, I play Laurent Durand, the champion.  Then if I beat him, I’m rank 5.  The champion.  The top dog.  The big cheese!”  She looked down at her plate and poked a bit of brie with her fork, amused at the pun.

“And there’s a lot of cheese here in France,” Patrick said after swallowing a bite.  “So will that make you the cheesiest?”

“Very funny.”  Susan noticed her son’s cheeky grin and the gleam in his eye.  Boyd was right, maybe he had been hanging around Cycl0n3 a little too much while visiting Blair and Chris lately.

Susan’s match against Estelle Fouchier was the final one for the day.  She went into it psyched up.  So much was riding on it.  It was an elimination round, so if she lost, she would not get her chance to play for the championship.  As she sat down, she was more than a little nervous.  Susan could feel everyone’s eyes on her, and as she caught Boyd and Patrick’s faces in the crowd, they gave her encouraging smiles. You can do this, she told herself.  You’ve gotten this far, and beaten everyone.

Her opponent was not nearly as personable as Edith Morel had been.  In fact, the no-nonsense woman reminded her a bit of her long-gone mother-in-law.  That turned out to be a point in Susan’s favor, however.  Myra Wainwright had never missed a chance to point out when someone did any little thing wrong, something that had rubbed Susan the wrong way more than once back in the day.  Here in Champs Les Sims, that association fueled her desire to win even more.  Every opponent pawn taken, every bishop blocked, every rook removed was like a symbolic retort in her ghostly direction.

Susan won a decisive victory, and Estelle Fouchier had no choice but to concede defeat to Susan’s gently spoken, “Checkmate.”

Boyd and Patrick came over to congratulate her afterward, and Susan was surprised to see Edith Morel there as well.

“Well done,” she said with admiration, before turning to Estelle, whom she apparently knew.  “See?  Our Sunset Valley friend is quite merciless on the board, no?”

Estelle shook her hand.  “Indeed.  I never enjoy losing, but I do appreciate such a well-executed victory.  I may just start studying your strategy.  You have a blog, you say?”

“It’s called Board Insight.”  Susan beamed with delight as she gave her the address.  “Thank you.  Good game.”

“Best of luck to you against Laurent.  I’ve played him, and aside from you, he’s the only one I can’t beat.  I look forward to watching your match with him.”

Offline Cheezey

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Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley - Chapter 41 Part Two
« Reply #192 on: November 27, 2017, 05:56:03 PM »

After that, Susan wanted to do something unrelated to chess so she could give her mind a rest.  “I don’t want to burn out before the title match.”  They saw an advertisement for a nectar making class that evening, so they signed up.  Patrick took a guided tour while his parents donned their swimwear and stomped grapes.

Boyd wasn’t fazed at all by the messy fruit juice splashing all over his skin, but Susan felt a little undignified.  “It’s so squishy on my toes.”  Her tone that made it clear it was not a pleasant feeling.

A moment later, Boyd lost his footing, and landed on his rear in the grape mash with a huge purplish-red splash.  “It’s squishy everywhere else, too.  And I mean everywhere.”

Despite it being messier than expected, Boyd and Susan had fun with their foray into nectar making.  They headed back to the hotel to clean up.  When Susan told Patrick about Boyd falling in the barrel, he started calling his father “Grape Butt” for the rest of the night.  Boyd took it in stride; kids would be kids.  He was glad no one had taken a picture of it for social media, though.  The keg stand stunt had happened years ago now, but it still got brought up on occasion.

After a shower, the Wainwrights went to their hotel’s gym.  Not to work out—neither Susan nor Boyd ever did that by choice—but to relax in the hot tub in the pool room.  Patrick splashed around in the pool while his parents unwound in the relaxing bubbles. 

“I’m feeling really good about tomorrow, Boyd.  I’m sure I can do it.  I can be a world champion at chess!  It’s like a dream come true!”

“You deserve it.  You’ve worked really hard at this.  You’ve come a long way since Miles Forthright bored and offended you back in the lower rank days at University.”

“Ugh, that guy.”  Susan laughed.  “Still one of the more obnoxious people I ever played.”  She dipped her toes in and out of the water.  “I wonder what Laurent Durand will be like.”

“I’m kind of surprised you didn’t cut your relaxation short to go study up on him.”

“How do you think I’ll be spending tomorrow morning?  Not enjoying a leisurely breakfast of crepes at the café with you and Patrick, unfortunately.  I’ll be way too keyed up for that.  But tonight?  Tonight I’m going to enjoy that well-earned break, and get a good night’s sleep so I’m in top shape tomorrow.”

Susan did get her rest and relaxation, and just as she predicted, she was one hundred percent focused the following morning.  Their breakfast was the hotel’s complimentary offering.  As it turned out, that day’s menu was crepes, so Susan got to enjoy a plate anyway.

“Patrick, it’s important that you keep in mind how important today is to your mother.  It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

“I know.”  He was a bit puzzled as to why he was stressing it so much.

“That means no jokes or kidding around this morning.  Not even in fun.  She doesn’t want anything distracting her, so we have to be extra careful not to say anything that’ll do that.  You understand?”

Patrick nodded.  He was kind of glad Buddy was not there; he knew his invisible friend would never have been able to keep quiet.  Not that his mother could hear him, but he could, and that would just make it harder.  “Okay, Dad.  I want her to win.  She’ll be the best in the world when she does!”

“I know.  Me too.”  He put a hand on Patrick’s shoulder.  “We’ll cheer her on.  That’s why I think we should hang around her this morning before her match, as long as she wants us to.  Just in case she needs the moral support.”  He leaned closer.  “She’ll never say it, but she’s a little nervous.  Let’s do what we can to help her out.”

Boyd and Patrick spent the morning helping Susan get ready for her match.  When it came time to play, they each wished her good luck before she headed to the board.  Laurent Durand was a pleasant fellow, and not at all arrogant despite holding the title of chess grand master.

He had quite clearly earned that, however.  Susan started the match confident, but he seemed to anticipate a lot of her moves, and caught her in a couple of traps.  Her resolve was strong, but doubts began to creep in as he gained an advantage on the board.

Come on, you can do this!

She awaited his move, and cringed when he took her knight.  She saw it coming only a second before it happened.

Foolish!  How could I have left myself open for that?

Susan tensed.  She had become so good at chess that she was not used to losing.  While she’d known there was a chance, and that it would be hard, she’d hoped, really hoped, that she was truly good enough for the title.  Could I have been so wrong?

She stared at the board.  There was an obvious move that could gain her some advantage back, but it seemed too obvious.  Another trap?

The tick of the timer made her pulse race.

I can’t let him trip me up.  I can’t let self-doubt trip me up.

There was another move, she realized.  It was risky, but judging by his recent moves, she didn’t think he saw it.  He expected her to take the obvious one.  The safer, seemingly better one.
That was when she saw it.  Oh, you sneaky devil.  It was a trap.  She made the risky move instead.

The look that flashed across his face showed that he didn’t expect her to make that move.  It didn’t get the game, but it did seem to throw him off, even if only briefly.

But that was all she needed.  She saw a genius strategy that could get her the win, if she could get him to make the right move.  Susan considered her options, and made her move.  It laid a subtle trap, outside of an obvious trap.

Laurent wavered.  Had he seen both traps, or just the one?

He placed his piece, and Susan’s heart pounded.  He took the bait.  The Grand Master had fallen for her trap.

Another move.  There were two ways it could go, but neither were great for him.  She’d have to sacrifice her queen, but…

Laurent took her queen, and Susan made her decisive strike.

She sat up straight and tried not to show just how excited she was, out of sportsmanship and propriety.  “Checkmate.”

Laurent bit his lip, and studied the board.  There was a murmur through the crowd, and a long moment where time seemed to stand still.  Then he sat up as well, and clapped.

“A most amazing game, my friend.  Congratulations.”  He stood and shook her hand.  “The circuit has a new champion and Grand Master.”

Susan could no longer contain herself, and despite her desire to remain proper and dignified, bubbled over with excitement.  “Wow!  Grand Master!  I did it!  I mean, thank you!  Thank you so much.”  She regarded him respectfully.  “It was an intense game.  So very close.  You’re an amazing player.”

“As are you.  I think we both benefited from this experience.”  He winked.  “Even if I do already miss my title.  You understand that I’ll be working on my game to get it back.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything else,” she replied in kind. 

“You did it, Mom!  I knew you would!”  Patrick hugged her as soon as he could get to the table.

“Congratulations, honey.  Or should I call you Grand Master now?” 

“Only when we play chess,” Susan teased.  “Thank you both.”

“So you made it.  You’re the world champion!  What do you want to do now?  You deserve a celebration.”

“Yeah, Mom, what do you want to do now?”

Susan beamed.  “Claim my championship certificate for proof, and tell the world!”

The tournament organizers came to Susan next, and provided her with all of the documentation to prove her success and prestigious rank.  A local reporter interviewed her, and several other competitors came over to offer their congratulations on her win.  Susan loved the attention, and appreciated again how much more sportsmanlike and gracious real life competitors were compared to ones online. 

Once all of that was done, they attended a complimentary dinner at the Catania Café, provided by the tournament committee, to celebrate.

“I kinda like these crunchy frog legs now,” Patrick declared.  “Especially since they’re chess champion food.  Do they make you smarter?”

“I don’t know about that, but they have a decent protein content, and that’s good for you,” Boyd answered.

“Of course, the ten tons of butter and that delicious crispy coating may not exactly be good for your heart,” Susan pointed out.  “But that’s okay, because like you, I’m always going to remember this as the Dinner of Champions.  One much tastier than the boring old cereal that calls itself the Breakfast of Champions.”

After dinner, they took their waiter’s recommendation to check out a local watering hole called The Dogwood House.  The pub was a converted vacation home turned night spot.  It wasn’t a dive bar—Susan wouldn’t be caught dead in one of those, especially not on such a special occasion!—but a warm and cozy place that served quality nectar, drinks, and snacks.  Patrick ran right to the Synesthesia arcade machine while his parents tried some nectar.

“We should pick up some good French nectar before we go home tomorrow.  Our nectar racks are pretty bare, and as fun as it was stomping grapes with you, I don’t think we’ll be making our own anytime soon.”

“What, you don’t think we might be able to learn how to make some flame fruit or life fruit nectar?”

“Make it, sure.  But how would it taste?”

“Life fruit nectar would make us live longer.  Who cares how it tastes?  As long as it’s not so bad nobody would drink it?”

“Sounds like someone with the tastes of a college frat boy,” Susan teased him.  “We’re too mature and dignified and rich for that.”

Boyd chuckled and finished his glass of Gralladina Fran and Meloire grape nectar.  “Fair enough.  If we make it, we make it taste good.”

When they finished their drinks, Boyd got up to use the restroom.  Susan checked on Patrick, who was still playing the Synesthesia game.  She asked him if he wanted a soda or anything else, but he said he just wanted to focus on the game.  “I got a couple levels and a free continue.”

“All right.  Have fun, then.”  Susan noticed Boyd hadn’t returned to the table, but instead wandered to the back room where there was a stage with some instruments for when bands played the venue.  No band was playing that night, but nobody seemed to mind or care that Boyd had sat down and started playing “Chopsticks” on the keyboard.

“Having fun?”

“Just messing around.”  He stopped, but stayed seated.

“I never knew you could play.”

“I can’t.  Not well, anyway.  I had some piano lessons as a kid.  My dad hoped I’d get into music, like him, and we’d have something more in common.  I was okay at it, but never got all that into it.  I preferred my computer.”  Boyd plunked a few notes.  “He tried to teach Blair the same thing, played with her all the time at that xylophone.  Remember?”

Susan chortled.  “I remember her banging away on it when we were trying to watch TV.  She didn’t exactly have rhythm.”

“He’d have loved Patrick,” Boyd said suddenly.  “The way Patrick gravitates to art, he’d have been all over encouraging that.  I always kind of disappointed him that way, being a computer nerd instead of a band geek.”  He paused.  “Not sure what he’d have made of Orion, though.  I think that would’ve blown his mind.  Heck, it almost blew ours, and we lived it.  But I’m sure once he got past freaking out, he’d have probably tried to teach him the xylophone and given him music lessons, too.”  He gestured for Susan to join him.  “Come on.  Tap at the drums.”

“I wasn’t a band geek, either,” Susan replied, although she did sit down at the drums beside him.  “I’ve never played an instrument other than blowing on a kazoo or recorder in class in grade school.”  She picked up a drumstick and gave it a halfhearted rap.  “Much like my daughter, I have no rhythm, either.”

“Yeah, and I’m a real prodigy.”  Boyd plunked down hard on a key, eliciting a sharp sound from the keyboard. 

“Bet I’m worse.”  Susan imitated a drum solo, but succeeded only in making random noise.

Patrick came over, incredulous.  “Are you trying to be a band?” 

“Nah.  Just embarrassing ourselves like weird old people,” Boyd said wryly.

“Speak for yourself,” Susan shot back.  “And on that note, pardon the pun, I think we’re done assaulting the eardrums of the poor citizens of Champs Les Sims.”  She stood up, and looked at Boyd, who also got up.  They returned to their table for another drink, along with one for Patrick that time, before calling it a night and heading back to the hotel.

“Our trip’s almost over.  This has really been a dream vacation.  Not only because I’m the world champion Grand Master now, though that is nice,” Susan’s eyes lit up with a bit of well-earned smugness, “but because it was great just spending some time with you and Patrick.  This trip meant a lot to him, too.  I can tell.”

“I think maybe he’s felt a bit, I don’t know, less of a focus since Orion happened.  Before that, he was babied and fussed over, the surprise baby, then all of a sudden there’s the new alien little brother needing all this special attention that he never did, because of what he is.  It had to affect him at least a little.”

“Think that’s why he’s so focused on Buddy?” Susan wondered.  “An attention thing?  I hope that’s all it is.”

Boyd drew her close.  “Me too.  We’ll see how far he takes it and how long it lasts, but for now, I don’t think there’s a need to worry.”

“Well, if the master of worrying isn’t worried, I guess I should relax.”  Susan fluffed Boyd’s hair affectionately, and he chuckled.

“Master of Worrying doesn’t sound quite as prestigious as Grand Master.  I think you got the better title.”

“How about Grand Master’s Loving Husband, then?  That better?” she flirted back.

“It sounds promising.  Does this title come with the full perks of being in the land of romance with a beautiful, brilliant Grand Master?”

Susan giggled.  “It just so happens it does.  Especially if you keep that sweet talk up.”

“Well, then, in that case… Mr. and the gorgeous, amazing, incredible Mrs. Grand Master should not waste their last romantic French night together, should they?”

“Absolutely not,” Susan whispered back as their lips met in a passionate kiss.

Offline Cheezey

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Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley - Chapter 42
« Reply #193 on: December 01, 2017, 09:43:19 PM »
Chapter 42

While her parents and Patrick vacationed in France, Blair enjoyed her time babysitting little Orion.  She adored her alien half-brother, even though the reality of who he was and where he came from was still hard for her to wrap her mind around at times.  Sometimes she would study his unusual features and ponder it all.  It was almost impossible to believe he was really the result of an experiment that aliens had run on her father, yet there he was.  When she thought about it, it struck her how different and comparatively normal her own upbringing with her parents was in comparison.  Them having Patrick after she’d grown up and moved out had been surprising enough, but then they’d won the lottery, and then, Orion happened.  Life had twists, turns, and surprises for everyone, but in the last several years, it seemed like her family’s had been more like a rollercoaster.  Not to mention all the changes there had been in her own life.

Orion waved at her parents’ old home as she pushed the stroller past it.  It was the first day of spring and the weather was warming up.  The Sekemoto family lived there now:  Leighton and his wife Monika, their son, Tom, who was around Chris’ age, and Tom’s older half-brother Sam.  They had kept the outside largely the same, but Blair had never been inside or visited since her parents moved out.  Blair smiled at Orion, who seemed quite interested in the house.

“Did you know Dad and Mom used to live there, and me too, a long time ago?  Way before you were born.  They moved to your house when Patrick was your age.”

Orion didn’t say anything, but kept looking intently.  It almost seemed like he did know, on a level deeper than just having it explained to him.  Blair wondered if that was possible.  Sometimes, when Orion looked at her, it was like he saw right into her.  Her father had told her the aliens knew all sorts of things about them, to the point where he was paranoid about it.  He believed they were telepathic.  She wondered if he was right, at least in Orion’s case.

Blair loved having Orion around, though.  He was a well-behaved toddler, not prone to tantrums or crankiness.  His motor skills were well-developed, above the curve for his age, even, and he’d learned to walk early.  He was also potty trained and knew a lot of words.  He was a little too bold about climbing and exploring for her liking at times, though.  She was glad that she and Cycl0n3 never got around to un-child-proofing much of the house from Chris’ toddler days.

Having Orion there, and the crib set up in Chris’ bedroom again, made Blair wistful for the days when he was a baby.  She’d been thinking about how nice it would be to give Chris a little brother or sister.  Cycl0n3 was also on board for that, but they both felt that their house was too small for a full-time family of four.  Having to accommodate Orion made that clear.  They would have to save money and move somewhere more spacious first.

For just the length of her parents’ trip to Champs Les Sims, though, it wasn’t bad.  Just a bit cozy.

Cycl0n3 picked up a sleepy Orion.  “The Chief Engineer needs to go off duty,” he said, using Blair’s nickname for him.  “One to beam to the crib.”

Orion let out a little squeal as Cycl0n3 tickled him, made cuter by the unique reverberation of his voice.  Cycl0n3 found who and what Orion was mind-blowing, but he accepted it, and thought it was cool.  The need to keep his origins a secret appealed to the part of him that liked trolling.  Keeping that under wraps was like pulling a fast one on society.  Not to mention, it left him with prime material for ribbing Boyd when he felt like it.  While his alien probe joke had obviously crossed a line, Cycl0n3 would always enjoy pushing right up to such lines.

Chris also had fun with Orion there.  He was used to being an only child, or a younger one with Patrick.  Even after Orion had gotten big enough to play with, when the extended family got together, Patrick tended to take charge because he was older.  With just Orion, Chris got to be the big kid for a change.  Orion liked playing with him, too.  They were at the activity table together, and Chris showed him how to build things with the blocks.  “See, you can make a tower like this, and then we can use it for a fortress.”  He picked up an action figure and put it in the structure they were building.

“Make tall.”  Orion handed him a long block.

Chris considered it.  “Sure, we could probably make it a little taller.”  He placed a second block to brace the one Orion gave him.  “Yeah, that’ll work.  It could be a lookout tower.  Since the table’s the mountain, they can see the enemy coming for miles from up here.”  He put on another block.  “Now we need a roof.”  He reached into the block bin in the middle of the table, but when he did, his elbow brushed against the side of the tower, and it started to wobble. 

“Oh, no!”  Chris tried to grab the blocks in time to steady them, but his clumsy catch only made it more unstable.  It gave way under his fingers.  “No!”

But to his amazement, it didn’t fall.  Right before his eyes, two pieces seemingly righted themselves back into place.

“What the…”

He noticed Orion staring and pointing at it.  “No fall.”

Chris blinked in amazement.  “Whoa!  You—did you fix that with your mind?”

Orion smiled proudly.  “Fixed!”

“Holy llama!”  He stared at Orion.  “You’ve got super powers.  I didn’t know you had super powers!  Patrick didn’t tell me you had super powers!”  Chris was giddy with excitement.  “How’d you do that?”

Orion stared at the table and moved his arm.  Another block moved, although not as fast or as precisely.  He tried to concentrate harder, but it seemed to become more difficult.  He stopped suddenly and sat down, shaking his head, frustrated.  He picked the block up with his fingers.  “Move hand.”

“Oh, you can’t do it all the time,” Chris realized.  “Like you’ve got a battery or only so much power.  Well, maybe it’s something you have to practice or train.  Like the mutants of Z-men learning their powers.”  He put the block where it was supposed to go and smiled at him.  “That’s okay.  It’s still really cool.  And maybe it’ll get easier as you grow up.”  Chris remembered what his parents told him about how important it was to keep it secret that Orion was an alien.  “That’s probably something you be careful doing, though.  Like when you go to school and stuff, don’t show other kids that.  Other than me and Patrick, I mean.  We already know, so… it’s okay to use your powers with us.  That’s cool.  As long as you don’t wedgie me, of course.”

Aside from playing with Orion at home, Chris had taken a real liking to scouting.  His troop took a fishing trip to Sunnyside Strand where he learned a lot about it.  He and his friend Tad Wolff, who he’d met in scouts and was the exact same age he was, each caught a few fish to show off to their parents at the end of the trip.

Neither Cycl0n3 nor Blair had any idea what to do with Chris’ catch of the day, as neither were skilled enough at cooking to do anything impressive with it.  Blair ended up calling “Aunt Emma” to ask for suggestions, and she came over and made a plate of fish and chips out of it.

“We’ve really missed your cooking,” Cycl0n3 told her.

“And you too, of course.”  Blair hoped she wouldn’t take Cycl0n3’s remark the wrong way.  “This is so good.  I love fish and chips.  Thanks so much for making it.”  She looked over at Chris.  “And I’m so proud of you, my little fisherman!”

Chris felt a bit of pride, but also embarrassed at his mother’s gushing.  “Mom!  I’m not little.”

“You know me.  I love showing off my ‘leet kitchen skillz,’” Emma said with a teasing look in Cycl0n3’s direction.  “And hey, your little brother even likes the kiddie version.”  She watched Orion chow down on some of it cut up in a bowl.  “How do you like having a temporary little brother, Chris?  Even though he’s your… uncle, right?”

“Yeah, my little uncle,” laughed Chris.  “That’s kind of weird, but he’s cool.”  He thought about Orion’s secret block-moving powers, but didn’t say anything.  “I like being the older one for once.  Usually that’s Patrick.”

Blair smiled at him.  “Well, maybe someday you’ll be a big brother.”

Emma raised an eyebrow.  “Oh?”

“Not in the immediate future, though,” Cycl0n3 clarified.

“We’re hoping to move somewhere a bit bigger before then.”

“Ah.  I understand.”  Emma paused, and then continued with a gleam in her eye.  “Though, between this room of us here, uh, Auntie Emma may be having one of her own soon.”

“What?”  Both Blair and Cycl0n3 were surprised.

“Jared and I are kind of serious and, well, you know, sometimes things happen.”

Cycl0n3 chortled.  “You got knocked up, didn’t you?”

“Cycl0n3!”  Blair shot him a sharp look, and hoped Chris did not ask for an explanation.

Emma took it in stride.  “It wasn’t planned, but it’s good.  We’ve been talking marriage anyway, and I want kids.  I’m moving in with him soon.  Connor lives with his ex who’s his friend now or whatever, so we’re fixing his old room up to be the baby’s.  You’re the first I don’t live with that I’ve told, but aside from them, Connor, and obviously, Jared, you’re the only ones who know.”

Blair had mixed feelings about Emma’s announcement.  She was happy in that she seemed excited, but on the other hand, she could not imagine her marrying someone like Jared Frio and having a child with him being anything but a mistake.  “Good luck.  You’ll be a great mom.”

“We’ll be sure and give your kid all the noisy toys,” Cycl0n3 teased.  “Hopefully he or she will be less of a handful than Tam.”

“The only roommate I’ve ever had to babysit is you,” Emma quipped back.  “At least until Blair moved in and took over that job.  I’m sure they’ll all be fine without me, though.  We all make a lot more money now than we did back in those days.  Parker gets lots of O.T. with the force, Stiles makes big bucks at his gigs, and Tam rakes it in pretty well working for Vita.  It helps being the mayor’s favorite when it comes for raise time over at city hall.”

“I bet.”  That reminded Cycl0n3.  He owed Nancy Landgraab a call back about that case against the mayor…

After Emma went home, Cycl0n3 returned that call.  He had not abandoned Nancy’s case after the beating he took at the Outstanding Citizens warehouse, although the thought had crossed his mind in the days afterward while his ribs healed.  Instead, he’d gone back to investigating what he could online, or anywhere thugs wouldn’t find him and beat the tar out of him again.

“Ah, Mr. Sw0rd.  Good to hear from you.  I was hoping you had some updates on my case.”

“I’ve got some information.  You’re definitely onto some funny business, especially when it comes to one of their local investments in the job program.  Outstanding Citizens Shipping.”

“Oh, that place.”  He could hear the disdain in her voice.  “From what I’ve heard, it’s all thugs and creeps working there.  They probably hire those ‘unhire-ables’ because they’re criminals, and the tax break is just a bonus.  I know I wouldn’t leave my car unlocked if I had to park within a block of it.”

“It’s pretty shady.  I can confirm that.  I did some on-site investigating and, well, an altercation with their security landed me in the ER.”

“Oh, dear!  Are you all right?”  She sounded concerned, but Cycl0n3 was not sure if it was for him, or for the integrity of the case.  Or if he’d ask her to pay his medical bills.  He’d considered that, but Blair had good insurance, and he planned to just pad a fee for his pain and suffering into his incidentals when the time came.

“I’m fine.  Thanks.  Luckily, my brains are hardier than their brawn.  I did have to lay low until the heat came off me as far as they go, but I can tell you this.  A bunch of the businesses benefitting from Mayor Alto’s tax breaks are owned, at least in part, by organizations that can be traced through a paper trail back to her husband.  Nothing illegal, but, well, probably not the best P.R. for the mayor if it got out.”

Cycl0n3 could almost hear Nancy’s smugness through the phone.  “Indeed.  Can you give me some of these names?”

“I’ve got it all in a file, but I’d like to follow up on a few more leads first.  You know, fact-check a couple of things and see if one or two other things I’m waiting to hear back on pan out.”

“All right.  Thank you for the update.  Do keep me in the loop.”

“No problem.”

Cycl0n3 was following up on some of those leads when he got a call from the Sunset Valley chess club.  For a long time, he’d written off the notion of competitive chess in a non-online environment as a hobby for pretentious intellectual snobs.  His mother-in-law’s success at it did not exactly change that image.  He liked and respected her, of course, but Susan Wainwright was exactly the kind of personality that he trolled mercilessly online.

However, Cycl0n3 had grown bored with MMO gaming after TarzWar’s heyday passed, and his guild friends all moved on to other things.  He kept in touch with those he’d been closest with, and still played console games with some of them, but it was a different sort of fun and not as much of a challenge.  That was an aspect of chess he truly enjoyed—strategic play and anticipating the moves of another player.  Chess was a classic game for that, and he was good at it.  His matches online had proven that.  He knew he could compete on the local circuit, so he wanted to give it a try, just for fun. 

His first scheduled match was against Miraj Alvi, at the library.  Although it was early spring, it was cold that day, and there had been a dusting of snow overnight, so the match was held inside.  His opponent was a clean-cut, well-mannered guy, much younger than him.  While they chatted during the match, Cycl0n3 felt old as it struck him how much younger his “just out of high school” opponent really looked compared to him.  A part of him did not want to admit was the age he was, even though he was married with a house and family, a career, and all those other adult things that were typical of someone his age.  Besides, his life was on track, and he was pretty content.  He was okay with getting older, in truth.  It was just being “old” he had an issue with.

The match against Miraj was a challenge, and he kept him on his toes.  They went back and forth, thwarting each other, but the mood remained upbeat.  Miraj was a good sport.  While Cycl0n3 was used to playing games with individuals who talked smack or goofed around, he had more fun than he expected, even though none of those things happened in the chess match.  They shared lighthearted banter, and Miraj took him taking his queen in stride, even when it led to Cycl0n3 declaring checkmate a few moves later.

Miraj looked over the board.  “Are you sure I can’t…?  No, you’re right,” he conceded.  “You’ve got me cornered everywhere.  I’m defeated.  Good game.”  He extended his hand.

Cycl0n3 shook.  “Thanks.  It was fun.”

“It was.  I’m going to have to keep a few of those moves in mind.  Good luck on the circuit.”

“You too.”  Cycl0n3 put his jacket on.  “Maybe our armies will clash again sometime.”

“I look forward to it,” Miraj replied as they walked out.

After the match, Cycl0n3 shopped before heading home.  He picked up a gallon of milk from the grocery store, put it in the car, and walked down to the bookstore to see if they had anything interesting in.  Before he got there, he noticed familiar faces talking together in front of it: Parker Langerak and Nancy Landgraab.  Cycl0n3 was curious what Tamara’s roommate and sort-of boyfriend, and the wealthy business tycoon that hired him, had in common, or how they knew each other.  It was apparent from their body language that their conversation was not casual met-on-the-street acquaintance chatter.

Cycl0n3 slowed his pace, trying to remain subtle as he approached.  Parker, you aren’t seriously hitting on that old gold mine, are you? Although Parker had a reputation for being a ladies’ man—before Tamara, he’d had a string of girlfriends, from what he’d heard from Blair, who worked with him on the force—he had trouble imagining he could seriously be attracted to Nancy Landgraab.  Not that Cycl0n3 thought she was ugly or anything, but she was old enough to be Parker’s mother, a first class snob, and from what he’d seen, happily married.  Parker had never struck him as a gold-digger or someone looking for a sugar mama.  Someone sleazy like Xander Clavell, sure, but not Parker.

The mystery deepened when Nancy handed Parker what looked like an envelope, and he quickly stuffed it into his pocket.  Cycl0n3 could hear a bit of their conversation as he got closer.

“… trust that’ll take care of it?” Nancy asked with a pointed look.

“Sure thing.” 

“Good.  I’m glad to know I have friends I can count on in the SVPD.”

Cycl0n3’s eyes went wide.  That wasn’t… had he just heard Parker accepting a payoff or a bribe?  He took a couple of swift steps to the side of the building, before they spotted him, so he could listen inconspicuously and make sure.

“You’ve got nothing to worry about.  I’m on it.  By tonight it’ll be a done deal.”  Parker sounded confident and friendly, almost like he was talking to a friend about having their back covered. 

Nancy was equally warm.  “It’s much appreciated.  Thank you.”


That was the end of their conversation, and Nancy Landgraab headed for her car while Parker pulled out his phone.  He sent a text, and then made a call.  “Yeah, I’m on my way in now.  Just going to grab a drink at the java hut and then I’ll be there.”  He paused.  “Oh, no problem, Hank.  I’m cool with the O.T. tonight.  There’s stuff I need to get done anyway.”  He listened a bit and then nodded.  “She told me she’s training him tomorrow.  I can give him a rundown.  Tell him to stop by my desk when he gets in.  I’ll show him. … Okay.  Bye.”  Parker hung up and hurried across the street.

Cycl0n3 was unsettled.  What he’d witnessed had been too vague to be proof that Nancy paid Parker to do some policing of some sort in her favor, but it sure sounded like it.  And she hired me to get dirt on Vita Alto paying off people in city hall?  Rich pot, meet rich freaking kettle, Cycl0n3 thought bitterly.  He hoped he was wrong.  Blair liked Parker, and she was honest to a fault.  If Parker was taking bribes, Blair would be devastated, and then she’d do whatever was in her power to put a stop to it and out all the guilty parties.  That was a given, and when it happened, it would be ugly.  Then there was Tamara, romantically involved with Parker, working for the woman that that Nancy was paying him, and possibly Parker, to undermine and get information on.  Cycl0n3 didn’t like any of it.

He leaned against the side of the building, and considered whether he should tell Blair now, or wait until he had more information.  After thinking on it, he decided on the latter.  At least working for Nancy Landgraab might make it easier to get information on her.  May the least messed up rich family win, I guess.  And my wife and Tam not lose in the process, Cycl0n3 thought as he returned to his car.

The next day, Cycl0n3 stayed home with Orion while Blair partnered up with a new recruit on the force.  Hank had been promoted to Vice Squad, and Justine had him training with one of the senior officers there.  The new recruit that Blair was working with was no stranger, though.  She had known Arlo Bunch for years.  It amazed her how time had flown that Arlo, who she remembered as one of the young kids on the block growing up, was now a young man on the police force with her.  It turned out the two of them even had similar career aspirations, the agent branch.

They were sent to question Agnes Crumplebottom in regards to a complaint made against her by Xander Clavell.  Arlo had never had the pleasure of making Xander’s acquaintance, but Blair was curious as to what they would discover.  Xander claimed that Agnes was stalking him.  “She’s following me around, lurking around my place, leaving messages… her name ought to be Agnes Creeple-bottom!  Just like her and her dead husband buried in her yard.  I told her I’d call the cops if she didn’t knock it off, and she didn’t.”

“Xander said that?”  Agnes was disgusted by the explanation after letting them inside.  “That man has been nothing but a headache.  I dated him—foolishly, I might add—and when I realized he was only interested in my money, I dumped him.  He’s bitter and making up stories to harass me, because I saw through him.”

“And the dead husband—?” asked Arlo.

Agnes’ frown deepened.  “My husband drowned in an accident on our honeymoon years ago.  Erik’s grave is in the yard.  Family tradition.  We’ve always kept our loved departed ones close.”

“Nobody is questioning or investigating your husband’s death, ma’am,” Blair reassured her.  “Officer Bunch, I checked into that before we came here.”

“Oh.  Sorry.”  Arlo gave her a sheepish look.  “So you haven’t been calling or following Mr. Clavell around, then?”

“I went to his place to drop off some things he left here.  I certainly didn’t want reminders of him around.  I suppose I should’ve just mailed them, but shipping is frightfully expensive, and gas was cheaper.”  She scoffed.  “But then he’d probably accuse me of sending him a bomb.  I don’t believe this.”

“Our records do show a number of phone calls from your number to his,” Blair pointed out.

Agnes folded her arms.  “I called him trying to find out when and where I should leave his things.  I called several times because he wasn’t returning my messages, and I just wanted to be done with him.”

“I see.”  Blair took some notes.

Arlo nodded with her.  “That all sounds reasonable, ma’am, but, since there’s been a complaint, we advise you to avoid contact with Mr. Clavell from here on out.  You’re not in any trouble, but if you don’t see or talk to him, he won’t have grounds to send us here to bother you again.”

“Avoid him?  Hah.  Gladly.  Advise him to do the same in regards to me, thank you very much.  Will that be all, officers?”

“I think so,” said Blair.  “Thank you for your time.”

Although her day training Arlo had gone well, Blair was glad to get home.  She looked forward to being able to relax with Cycl0n3, Chris, and Orion.  Her littlest brother was waiting at the door when she came in, and she picked him up and gave him a hug.  “I’m glad to see you, too, Chief Engineer!”  She took a few steps in to greet her husband and son, but stopped short when she saw the room had been rearranged… with an expensive looking TV as a centerpiece. 

“Hey,” Cycl0n3 greeted her, while Chris called over cheerfully. 

“Hi, Mom!  Look at all the cool stuff Dad got!  New TV, video games, stereo…”

Blair then noticed it was not just a television, but also a shiny new video game console, a small but not-cheap stereo, and, wait, was that a new laptop on the desk?  “So I see.”  She was not nearly as excited as Chris was.  Everything looked nice, but expensive, and she thought they were saving their money for a move.

She set Orion down.  “Chris, would you mind going to play with Orion in your room while I get my coat off?  I want to talk to your father for a minute.”

“Okay.  C’mon, Orion.  Let’s play with the blocks again.”  He took him by the hand and led him to the room.

Cycl0n3 caught the note in Blair’s voice.  Although the purchases had been an impulsive buy, he thought they were worthwhile.  He’d gone to the electronics store only planning to get a new stereo after their old one broke that morning.  Then the clerk showed him the deals on the TV, and how it was even better when bundled with the new gaming system, and there was also a deal on the laptop.  It had been a while since he treated himself.  Their house was pretty bare bones, and it was nice to have some upgrades.  “What’s wrong?  Don’t you like it?”

“Like it?  I didn’t know we were getting it.  How much did all this cost?  Did you just finish a big case or get a bonus or something?”

“No, but don’t worry.  I got some good deals, and it’s nothing we can’t afford.  We saved a few grand on the new car when we bought it, so I figured, we originally budgeted so much for that, and this was just a few hundred more.  We’ve got plenty more than that in savings.”

Blair frowned.  “You dipped into savings for this?  When we’re trying to buy a new house?” 

“Just a couple hundred, like I said,” Cycl0n3 said defensively.

“A couple hundred past what we saved on the car, you said.  That was a few thousand.  That was supposed to put us closer to getting a house!”

“A penny saved is a penny earned, right?  So it was like getting all of this for a couple hundred on the old spreadsheet.  And our old TV sucked.  Come on.  That picture is beautiful.  It’s not like I went all out and got that monstrosity—that gorgeous monstrosity—your parents have in their living room, or anything.  The deals on this stuff were amazing.  And look, now we’ve got a better stereo, better games for me and Chris, the new laptop…”

“Speaking of which, a new laptop?  Really?”

“You know me and my undying love of computers.  Besides, now we’ve got my old one for Chris, or you, if you want me to clean it up and pass it on to you.  It’s got way better stats than that dinosaur you insist on keeping.”

“I don’t need a new computer, Cycl0n3.  But we do need a bigger house, especially if we want another baby.”  Blair’s voice wavered.  “I can’t believe you spent all that money without even talking to me about it.”

Cycl0n3 was taken aback by her reaction.  While he’d expected a little grousing, he had honestly thought she’d like the stuff he bought and think it was worth it, even if it wasn’t something she’d have gotten on her own.  “I thought it’d be nice having a TV that wasn’t from a thousand years ago, and the new stereo.  That’s what I went out for.  That junky old one finally gave up the ghost after my last duct tape and wire job ran its course.  Come on.  We’ve been living with bargain basement stuff forever.  This improves our quality of life.”

“Not the value of our house, though,” Blair pointed out.  “If you were going to spend on appliances, why not get a shower that has more than four cold needles or a stove that heats evenly, or maybe a fridge that doesn’t smell like your dirty socks?  This is all stuff we’ll take with us.  That other stuff would at least get us a better selling price.”

“Being able to keep what I buy is kind of the point,” Cycl0n3 retorted.  “Why spend on stuff we won’t even get to enjoy that long if we’re going to sell?”  He frowned.  “And my socks don’t smell like the fridge, thank you very much!”

“You still should’ve asked me before you bought it!  I’m not even saying I’d have said no, but—”

Cycl0n3 groaned.  “Yes, you would.  You’ve shot me down every time I’ve brought up getting a new TV in the last couple years.  And I’ve been upgrading my laptop piecemeal for ages, because I know how you’d react to the price tag of the one I really want.”

“So you’re saying you just bought it behind my back because you knew I’d say no?” 

“Easier to ask for forgiveness than permission,” Cycl0n3 muttered.  “Not that I should need it for my own money.”

“For our own money,” Blair stressed.  “That’s what marriage is, Cycl0n3.  A partnership.  What’s mine is yours and yours is mine.  Ours.”  She sighed in aggravation.  “Why did you even need a new laptop, anyway?”

“Why don’t I?  How could I resist the lure of the sexy new model, especially when the old one is always performing erratically, crashing unpredictably, and giving me a lot of crap?”

Blair narrowed her eyes.  “That better not have been a crack at me.”

That made Cycl0n3 angry.  Although the retort that sprang to mind was “if the motherboard fits…” he managed to refrain from saying it, mostly because it hadn’t been what he meant until Blair erroneously drew that conclusion.  It hurt him that she thought he would.  While he’d never deny he shot off his mouth without thinking too often, he legitimately made an effort to not say things that he knew would hurt Blair.  “You think I’m that much of a llama’s south end?  Really?”

Blair stuttered, but Cyl0n3 kept going.  “If I’m that bad, why do you even want another kid with a selfish, inconsiderate, money-spending jerk like me, huh?”

“Cycl0n3, that’s not what I meant.”

“What did you mean, then?”

“I—I’m sorry,” Blair said through tear-filled eyes.  “I didn’t mean to hurt you.  I know you’re not mean to me on purpose.  I just… I just wish we could’ve talked about all this first.”  She sobbed.  “Not fight about it.  I don’t want to fight with you.”

“Well, I’m not having a great old time with it, either,” Cycl0n3 snapped back.  “You think this is fun for me?  News flash: it sucks.”

“Then let’s stop.”  Blair met his eyes.  “I’m sorry I assumed you were being hateful.”

Cycl0n3 drew a deep breath and calmed down.  “And I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you about buying the stuff.  I didn’t think you’d mind once you saw it only set us back a little.  I didn’t know you’d changed the budget around.  Maybe next time, let me know that?  And I’ll run major purchases past you from here on out?”

“Yeah.  Okay.”  She drew him into a hug.  “I love you.”

“I love you, too.  So, how about we let the kids know it’s safe to come out of exile, and go try to enjoy the TV you didn’t really want but will hopefully come to love?”

Blair smiled despite herself.  “All right, but you’re making dinner.”

“Okay.  One pot of macaroni and cheese, coming up.”

After the argument that Cycl0n3 jokingly called “TVgate” was over, life returned to normal, or as normal as it ever got, in the Sw0rd household.  The day of Boyd, Susan, and Patrick’s return to Sunset Valley arrived, and they picked up Orion on their way back from the airport.

“I’m glad you all had a great vacation, and that you’re a champion now, Mom.  Welcome back.”  Blair handed Orion to her father.  “We’re going to miss you, Chief Engineer.  He was very good.  No trouble at all.”

Boyd smiled at Orion and bounced him.  “Good.  I’m glad you were on your best behavior for your big sister.”

“Of course, we didn’t expect anything less from him.”  Susan straightened Orion’s jacket.

“Those were some great pictures you shared from the trip,” Cycl0n3 said.  “Congrats again on the big win, Susan.  So humble Sunset Valley now boasts a chess champion.  Nice!  But be careful.  I’m a competitive gamer, and I just won my first match on the circuit here.  I may steal your title someday.” 

“That’s chess Grand Master, and over my dead body.  You can try, though,” she said with a light laugh.

Cycl0n3 grinned.  “Eh, maybe I’ll just wait for you to kick off, then, and beat the rabble left.  I won’t have to wait forever.  You are way older than me, after all.  Wouldn’t want to start a family feud.” 

Susan shot her son-in-law a withering look, while Boyd quipped, “Survey says: wrong answer.”

“So, were you able to get me a magic French gnome?”  Chris was hopeful.

Patrick shook his head.  “Nope.  They didn’t have any gnomes for sale there.  But we saw one in a museum and got pictures.”

Susan smiled at her grandson.  “We did bring back some things for all of you, though.”  She handed Chris a box.  “This one is for you.”

Excited, he opened it.  Inside was a beautiful amethyst carved in a sun cut pattern.  “Wow!  It’s pretty.”

“That’s an amethyst, of a type only found in France or space rocks,” Boyd told him.

“Thank you!  It’s cool.  I’m going to keep it on display!”

“This one is for you, Blair.”  Susan handed her daughter a larger box.  When she opened it, she saw a beautiful vase inside.  “An antique French vase.  Perfect for displaying all the flowers you want, whether you pick them yourself, or he gives them to you to get out of the doghouse.”

Blair giggled.  “Thanks.  It’s very nice.  I love it!”

“Last but not least.”  Susan handed Cycl0n3 a bottle of nectar.  “Perfect quality meloire grape.  Ancient vintage.  I recommend saving it for a special occasion.”

“Like maybe a new house?”  Blair gave her husband a knowing look.

“New house?”  Boyd and Susan gave their daughter and son-in-law a surprised look.

“We’ve been thinking about it,” Cycl0n3 told them.  “Nothing definite yet.  Thanks, though.  We’ll drink it on a suitably snooty occasion.”

Blair gave each of her parents a hug.  “Thanks again, and it’s good to have you back.  You too, Captain.”  Blair ruffled Patrick’s hair.

“Aw, c’mon, Blair.”  He smoothed it down.

“Thank you for taking such good care of Orion while we were away,” Susan told them.

Boyd shifted Orion in his arms.  “Speaking of which, he’s getting pretty tired, so we ought to get him home.  We’ll get together and catch up soon.  Take care.”

“Bye!”  They waved as they left, and as Blair watched them go, she found herself thinking once again how much things had changed, and of changes she’d like to see come.

Offline Magz from Oz

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Re: Brilliant Minds: The Wainwrights of Sunset Valley
« Reply #194 on: December 02, 2017, 05:21:39 PM »
Yay Cheezey.  I am sooooooo glad to see an update to this story.  I love the wonderful world you've created for the Wainwrights.  I've missed this.  Welcome back.  And poor Blair, Cycl0n3 really does suffer from foot-in-mouth disease, doesn't he.  ;)
Where there is love - there is life. -- Mahatma Gandhi

My Stories:
1. Duty Calls
2. Duty Calls Sequel: Islands of Sunset Valley
3. The Lady of the Lake
4. The Secret Time Traveler