Nova rather likes the ceramic bears that stand guard outside Panem et Circenses. Red light bounces off of them, making them more imposing.
The building used to be a warehouse, so it’s quite large, larger than what Nova would expect for a strip club. The brick walls—once red—had been painted purple, and circus paraphernalia litters both the inside and outside. There is no sign advertising the venue or its services, but it doesn’t matter. Somehow, the intended consumer seems to find his way here.
“This place seems like it’s trying too hard to be quirky,” Nova says as she glances around the interior. Red and white striped curtains cover some walls, and a large, diamond tiled stage dominates half of the room. It smells smoky, but Nova can’t seem to locate anyone smoking. Maybe it's incense?
“I like it,” Mia replies, “it’s like totally ironic and stuff.”
“So where do I meet this guy? Guy-us?”
“Gaius. But call him Mr. Gallus. Upstairs, in his office. I got to go change for work. Take a look around if you want. I think Gaius told me he had to meet with someone before he met with you.”
Nova makes her way to the bar, her head swiveling back in forth as she takes her surroundings in. The bartender looks her up and down. Nova can’t tell if hes disgusted, interested, or something else completely. “I think the away team just returned to the Enterprise, doll,” he says, “you’re too late.”
Rude. “Can you make me a drink, or would that make you late for your barbershop quartet practice?”
"What'll you have?"
"Kyoto my heart."
The bartender complies, tossing bottles and tumblers in the air and juggling them as makes her drink. He certainly has a lot of flair.
“We don’t get many ladies here,” he says as he hands Nova her drink, “you auditioning?”
“Sort of. My friend wants me to meet with Gaius…um, Mr. Gallus, I mean. We’re going to talk about some show. I’m an acrobat,” she adds proudly.
“Huh,” he grunts. He had only been asking out of half-hearted politeness. His interest didn’t extend far enough to engage with her further.
Nova gets embarrassed in situations like this. People aren’t meant to drink alone--at least not in public--and this guy isn’t giving her anything to work with. So she slides off the barstool, drink in hand, and heads upstairs. She feels someone’s eyes on her as she walks away, but she shakes it off. It’s bound to happen in a place like this.
Gaius’ office is starkly different from the rest of the club. It’s covered with mahogany paneling from floor to ceiling and bas-relief sculptures decorate the walls. Despite the décor, the room feels barren and empty. The bright lighting only intensifies that.
“Excellent work, Rhee,” Gaius murmurs, his eyes fixed on the sculptures in front of him, “these pieces are exquisite.”
“Ain’t no thing, boss,” Mercury says, cracking his knuckles, “so are you going to wire the rest of the money to my account?”
“You’re always so elegant. Yes, of course. I’ll even include a bonus since you managed to acquire all three pieces.”
A knock on the door disrupts the conversation. “Enter,” Gaius calls over his shoulder before turning back to Mercury, “I’ll be calling on you again in the future but for now your work is done.”
As Nova enters the room, the drastic change in the environment shocks her a little. Even more shocking is Gaius’ appearance. His canines peek out of his mouth and the artificial light bounces off his skin, glowing and intensifying his pallor.
“You must be Miss Bee,” Gaius claps his hands together, “Mia told me so much about you. Look at you—so enchanting.” His words are hollow.
“Hi, Nova,” Mercury waves awkwardly.
“The two of you know each other? How interesting,” Gaius raises an eyebrow. He files away this information. It’s important to make connections.
“Yeah, a little. We haven’t seen each other in a while,” Nova looks pointedly at Mercury, but he doesn’t seem to sense her annoyance, “Mercury is just so hard to get a hold of sometimes.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” Gaius smiles mechanically, “Have a seat, Miss Bee. Rhee, you may leave.”
“Didn’t need your permission for that, but thanks anyway,” Mercury shrugs as he leaves.
Nova isn’t quite sure of how she should conduct herself during this meeting. She crosses her ankles and folds her hands in her lap.
“So,” Gaius says as he settles into his chair, “What do you think of my establishment?” He waves his hand as if to gesture at something.
“It’s tacky,” Nova says without thinking. Gaius’s expression doesn’t change, but his eyes harden. “I mean, tacky in a nice way. It’s like going to the circus. That’s what you’re going for, right? It’s great, just great.”
“What did Mia tell you about this job?”
"Well, she said it would be a steady gig. She described it as a burlesque show, and she said you needed an acrobat.”
“And she said I won't have to perform nude,” Nova adds.
“Are you interested in this job?”
“Yes,” Nova sounds too eager. Her stomach growls, echoing her.
“Good. You saved me a lot of trouble then. Having to place ads, take auditions—it’s tiring, especially since there don’t seem to be many acrobats in Sunset Valley,” Gaius sighs and leans back in his chair, closing his eyes.
How is she supposed to respond to that? This guy is terrible at conversation. And now she can’t tell if he’s awake or not. His eyes are closed and it doesn't seem like he's breathing.
“Um, Mr. Gallus? Do I need to sign anything or whatever?”
“Yes. I’ll have a contract drawn up immediately. You may leave now.”
“What about pay? What’s my schedule?”
“I suppose we need to discuss that,” Gaius leans forward and smiles, “300 simoleons a week, and you perform three two hour shows per week.” Nova quickly does the math. That’s not such a bad deal if she can still perform elsewhere. She’s got bills, after all.
“Okay. Can we schedule around my regular park performances? I don’t think that’ll be a problem if your show is at night,” she looks at his skin and fangs, “and I assume it’ll be at night.”
“No, no outside performances. The contract has a non-compete clause.”
“How am I supposed to live on 300 simoleons a week?! That’s ridiculous!” Nova’s voice quivers. She hopes she doesn’t cry. She only cries when she’s angry and it weakens the force of her ire.
“Sweetheart, you’re a commodity. I can’t let you perform other places. It’ll cheapen you.”
“A commodity?” she snorts, “I’m a performer.”
“Exactly. We’re going to brand you,” he says, “not literally, of course. But you’re going be part of what I know will be the best high-class adult entertainment in the area. You’ve got to have mystique and allure. By the way, you have a stage name, right?”
“Nebula von Cheekrouge the Effervescent.”
“Hmm. Not quite sure I like it. We’ll workshop it, maybe get some feedback from a test group.”
"No," she says firmly.
"I don't agree with this non-compete clause. It's ridiculous to monopolize my time and income with a policy like this."
"It's non-negotiable, sweetie."
"Fine," Nova stands up to leave. Gaius waits until she gets to the door before stopping her.
"Alright, alright. Have a seat and we’ll talk about this.”
“Okay,” Nova remains puts her hands on his desk and leans forward, trying her best to look imposing, “I’m allowed to take other jobs if they don’t conflict with my schedule here.”
Gaius pauses momentarily, mulling it over. “Fine,” he finally says, “but you’re going to use a different stage name and costume here than you use in your other performances, and no gigs with competing businesses. Just freelance work. Understand?”
“No ‘and,’ sweetheart.”
“Yes ‘and,’ honey. I want a larger weekly stipend.”
Gaius laughs, “you can’t be serious. That’s as high as I'll go.”
“500 simoleons a week.”
“350. And that’s generous, Miss Bee. I’d recommend taking it.”
Nova looks at her nails, “Gee, acrobats must be a dime a dozen if you’re making such an offer. But I seem to remember you complaining about a lack of talent in the Valley,” She looks pointedly at Gaius, who glowers in response, “500.” It’s been awhile since Gaius has negotiated for anything, and he made a fatal mistake by tipping his hand earlier.
“Deal,” Nova smiles. She’ll let him have those fifty simoleons.
“I thought you’d be as stupid as your friend,” Gaius says, “I was wrong. You better be worth this. I’m not taking a loss.”
“You won’t,” Nova promises, “I’m a real pro. You’ll see.”
Gaius stands and extends his hand, “well I look forward to working with you.” For once, his words seem genuine. Nova shakes his hand and smiles.
“Me too. Hey, what does Mercury do here? Is he like a bouncer or something?” Nova doubts Mercury’s ability to secure regular employment given his flakiness.
“Or something,” Gaius smirks, “good night, Miss Bee. The show starts in a week. Mia gave me your number, so I’ll call you.”
“Night,” Nova says as she leaves.
Gaius watches her leave, stroking his chin. She’s extraterrestrial. He’s sure of that. What an interesting development.
Mercury has never understood the appeal of strip clubs. It seems like such a waste. After all, he’s never had problems convincing girls to remove their clothes for free. Beyond that, it’s such a strange group activity. Why would a bunch of heterosexual men want to go out and get horny together?
He must admit, though, that it is a little fun to watch the girls spin on the poles. It makes him feel a little dizzy. Sometimes he hopes that one of them would trip. That’d be pretty funny.
“Good to see you back in town,” the bartender says behind him, “been awhile.”
“Yeah,” Mercury says absently, “missed a lot, I think.”
“Not too much. Gallus is going on about some new show. This place is always as dead as him, so I don’t think it’ll go anywhere. We should probably update our resumes.”
“Probably,” Mercury had never had a need for a resume, but the remark is metaphorical.
“New girl came in. Weird looking.”
“Nova,” Mercury says. Guilt washes over him. He doesn’t know why he never responded to all the texts she sent him. Guess he didn’t think it’d go anywhere.
“Didn’t get her name. That could be it.”
“Nova,” Mia calls from the stage. Nova does a double-take as she walks down the stairs. She almost doesn’t recognize Mia with all the makeup and the bad wig, “how’d it go? Did you work something out?”
“Yeah. It’s not much, but it’ll do. Thanks, Mia,” Nova says, playing to her friend’s obvious desire for praise. Mia beams as she continues to dance.
“Hey,” Nova says to Mercury as she perches on the stool next to him, “been awhile.”
“Sorry I didn’t respond to your texts,” Mercury replies, “I don’t have an excuse. I’m just kind of scummy, I guess.”
“At least you recognize it.”
“So you’re a stripper now?” Mercury asks the question casually, as if he’s asking the time.
“No! Jeez. Of course not,” Nova tries not to get too offended, “I’m an acrobat. Gaius has a gig for me.”
“Oh. Sorry. It’s not a bad thing. I’m mean, you’ve filled out a little so I thought you might be—“
“You callin’ me fat?”
Mercury sighs, “My mom always told me that if I found myself in a hole, I should stop digging.”
“You’re in a ravine. At this point you should hope a rescue team comes to save you.”
He looks her up and down, “I think I can remain hopeful.”
“Well this was lovely conversation, but I should leave. See you around, Rhee.”
Nova doesn’t look back as she leaves the establishment. She shouldn’t care about Mercury, but for some reason she finds herself drawn to him. Like a moth to a flame.
As she walks, Nova counts her steps. It’s something she used to do when she would walk home from school. Sometimes, she would count her steps to try to gauge the average amount it took her to get from school to home. Other times, she budgeted them, only allowing herself x number of steps. She’d always end up stretching her legs as far as possible during the end of her journey in an attempt to get the most distance per step.
She’s startled when she hears another set of footsteps behind her. She looks over her shoulder and notices some creep tailing her.
“I see you,” she says to him, making direct eye contact. She’d read a chain email once about how a woman should act when she thinks a man is following her, and it advised all women to acknowledge the man’s presence in assertive a manner as possible.
The man whips a knife out of his pocket and swipes it through the air. It makes a whistling noise.
“Hey, calm down,” Nova holds her hands up and backs up, “I didn’t mean anything, buddy. Just making myself known.”
“Gimme all your money, bitch,” he swipes the knife again, “now!”
“Dude, I have like five simoleons,” she begs, “please just let me go.”
“I’ll take your bracelet, too. And your earrings.”
“I’m not giving you anything, you creep. Get a job like the rest of us!”
He growls and charges towards her, but she anticipates his actions. She grabs his wrist and elbows him in the face, smashing his cheekbone.
“Fuck,” he snarls as he leans forward, cradling his face.
Nova takes that opportunity to knee him in the stomach. He gasps and drops his knife. It clatters across the pavement, then conveniently falls down a sewer grate.
“Wow, remind me never to get on your bad side,” Mercury remarks from the shadows. Nova jumps, her adrenaline rushing.
“How long were you there?”
“Since you elbowed that jag in the face.”
“Thanks for helping, then,” she scowls.
“Hey, you were doing fine. You’re a self-rescuing damsel in distress. Let me make it up to you by walking you home. I’ll get you there safe,” he boasts, “more or less.”
“Golly gee, mister, thanks. But I live like a block away. I’ll be fine.”
“Well then it’s not too much of a hassle for me. Lead the way.”
Nova walks awkwardly, unsure of what pace to take. Mercury—when there’s no apparent danger—seems to be the sauntering kind. He looks around, sniffing the air.
“I like the way autumn smells,” he says, breaking the silence.
“Seasons don’t smell like anything.” She shivers when a breeze rolls over her shoulders. Mercury puts his arm around her. She recoils a little, but he holds firm.
“I’d give you my jacket, but I didn’t dress for this weather, either,” he says, gesturing to his bare torso.
“Yeah, do you ever wear a shirt?”
“Only on formal occasions.”
The distance is short, but it feels like it takes forever. The conversation is stilted and awkward. Nova is relieved when they arrive at the door of her apartment.
“Thanks for walking me,” she says, “I’m sure your mere presence scared off many lurking criminals.”
“No problem. Nice place—you live alone?”
“Yeah, but I might need to get a roommate soon. I’m not quite sure I can keep up with rent. Silly me—I thought being an acrobat would pay more.”
“So do you want to invite me in?”
“Not really,” Nova laughs nervously. Mercury’s face is serious as he inches towards her. He leans over her and places his right hand against the wall of apartment. She can feel his breath on her face.
“You sure?” He asks as gently strokes her cheek.
“Pretty sure.” Nova doesn’t want to start anything she’s not ready to finish.
“Fair enough. I guess I misread things.”
“I’d say so.”
“I do that a lot,” he says as he leans forward and kisses her forehead. Her face feels hot against the cold air.
“Will I see you around?”
At this point, Nova considers revoking her negative sentiments about predictable men. Maybe it would be nice to have someone predictable. She doesn’t like the swinging pendulum.
“Shit, would it kill you to give a definitive answer?” She snaps.
“Don’t know. Not willing to risk it,” he winks, “see you soon.”
Nova doesn’t remember falling asleep or even going to bed, yet here she is. It’s morning, and she’s been jolted awake by the sound of clattering pans downstairs.
She’s frozen. Burglars are supposed to come at night, aren’t they? She recalls once seeing a television special about burglars who robbed homes during the day, but they surveyed their targets for weeks in advance and would strike during work hours.
After a moment of catatonia, Nova decides to investigate.
Author’s note: My first cliffhanger of generation two. /tear
So we finally got Mercury's full name: Mercury Rhee (huh, that sounds kind of fake, even by my legacy's standards). And Mercury’s back, so you all can rest easy. ;) He’ll be around in the next chapter, too. I guess he might be important or something.
Oh, and it’s time to reveal another roll: Nova is a fighter. She picked a fight with Mortimer Goth because I didn’t like the way he was looking at her. They were friends, too, so it was kind of sad. I have an enemy lined up for her in the story, so I’m going to start seeking out that particular sim and having Nova beat the snot of out her.
Story progression stuff: Polly got a job as a criminal, which actually surprised me. Polly, why?! You were so good! Luna and Quentin had their third kid, and January gave birth to Solaris’ son. Sadly, Zenith is in a relationship with Lyra. I don't know how that happened guys. I just don't know. I had tried to set up a relationship with another girl and everything, but my sims are quite disobedient and I am far too kind.