Vivienne chews her ink stained nails as Bridget comes back from the nurse’s desk.
“They say that Dad’s resting comfortably. Suze and Bella are almost here, and Seffie is already on a flight in from Denver, so she should be here either tonight or tomorrow.” Bridget says, sitting next to her teary-eyed sister and putting an arm around her. “Hey, hey, it’s okay, Viv. Dad’s fine.”
“But what if he isn't?” she says, scrubbing the heel of her palm against one tired eye, before lowering her voice to a whisper. “All that… that stuff… it’s made him age so fast, and he’s… so sick.”
“Yeah, but he’s not gonna just leave us. You know Dad. He's stubborn.” Bridget is still wearing her work clothes, a sharp suit with her hair pulled back in a silver-streaked bun. A travel mug of coffee with a little design of happy garden slugs in sun hats sits beside her, with dark plum lipstick smudged on the top. She looks put together. In charge. The way an oldest sister should.
Vivienne takes a deep breath and twists her nervous hands in her lap. The blue ink has surely gotten on her lips by now, she thinks, and lets out a shaky sigh. Dad has always seemed so capable. Like a hero from a tall tale, who could bring a forest crashing down in a single day.
Or an underwater city to its grim demise.
Always safe with Daddy.
She shakes her head suddenly, to get rid of the memory of propaganda posters in an orphanage she hadn't belonged in.
“Bridge! Vivi, how’s Dad?”
Vivienne looks up to see her sisters, Susan and Isabella, rushing down the gleaming white hall to them. Suze’s long gray braid and paint covered shirt are a comforting sight, as well as Bella’s oil stained coveralls. Her older sisters give quick hugs before looking at the door they sit beside.
“Is he in here?” asks Bella, her deeply tan hands shoved in her pockets.
“Yes, he's asleep right now.” Bridget says.
“I wanna see him,” Suze replies, pushing the door open and disappearing inside.
“I’ll make sure she doesn't wake him up.” Bella follows after, rolling her dark brown eyes and closing the door gently behind her.
The four of them are half asleep in the waiting room nearest to their father’s room when a loud noise from the doorway startles them.
“I hate airports!” Stephanie says, dropping a beaded bag into a chair next to Bella.
“Seffie, loud.” Bridget stands to hug her last sister. “Hospitals are not places for yelling.”
“Sorry. But I do! Bastards almost lose my bags and don't even apologize properly!”
Seffie is a bright light against the dull gray of the waiting room, jingling silver bracelets pushed up her golden tan arms, with a mane of dyed reddish hair pushed back in a beaded headband. “Where’s Dad? Tough old man like him should be up by now.”
“Seff…” Bridget starts, voice quiet and somber. “He's not looking good.”
Stephanie folds her arms and taps her foot almost impatiently, as if she doesn't believe what her sister says, and Viv looks away to keep from tearing up again.
One of the nurses brings the women coffee, giving them all sympathetic glances before retreating behind her desk.
A doctor comes by to tell them that their father should be waking up soon.
Viv continues to bite her nails.
The hospital room their father is in is cold, impersonal, and smells of cleaner.
Vivienne’s hands tremble as she holds his hand, sitting in an uncomfortable chair next to his reclined bed. Her sisters either perch on the switched off radiator, a cabinet, or a metal stool, and they talk amongst themselves. About husbands, children. Suze mentions the woman she's been on a few dates with. Bella’s daughter is teaching third grade now. Bridget’s company is doing fine. Seffie is… well, Seffie.
Jack usually had some bad joke or sweet anecdote to give his girls, but now all he could do was lay in bed, asleep.
Viv thinks about the house they had when she was young, at the edge of the sea in Maine. The sunroom had always seemed too bright for her, the light unfiltered like she was used to. Only birds passed by the glass. Only crickets sung at night, grating chirps instead of melancholic groans from passing whales.
Adjusting to the surface had been easiest for her as the youngest. Her eyes adjusted more quickly to the light of the real world, her body sweating out the drug that kept them all so bone-crushingly strong with less effort. She couldn't feel the parasite inside of her squirming as much as Bridget did.
Vivienne doesn't remember her real parents. Suze is the only one who claims to.
“Hey… all my favorite girls in one place.”
They all stop talking and look over as he speaks, Vivienne squeezing his hand. He blinks slowly, smiling at them all.
“Must be bad if you all showed up, huh?” he says, voice a soft wheeze. “It could be worse, I guess. There's no drills at least.”
Seffie is the only one who laughs.
“Why so sad, girls? I’m an old man, don't cry.”
“Dad…” Bella begins, but he holds a hand up to stop her.
“C’mon.” he says. “I don't want my little girls upset.”
“We’re not, Dad.” Bridget says, standing up to help him lean forward and adjust his pillows. “We’re fine.”
“Did I ever tell you girls about the time I learned to use a crossbow?”
Jack’s breathing is getting more shallow, his heart rate slowing down.
All of his daughters huddle together now, each holding one of his fingers like they used to when they were young. Tears spill down Vivienne and Bella’s cheeks as Jack looks over the five faces he knows best in the world.
Long faded track marks of old ADAM and EVE needles wind their way up his arms, and the girls can feel the faintest buzz of static electricity as they hold his hand. Scars from wrenches that bounced off his forehead are still there after sixty years. An old bullet wound is visible on his left shoulder, and a chunk is missing from one of his thin legs where an errant drill had missed its mark so long ago.
Jack Ryan lays in his hotel bed, telling his adopted daughters one last story. A story about little girls and sea slugs, of loving monsters in diving suits, and of a city at the bottom of the sea, more beautiful in its decay than anything he had seen above ground. It was a story they all knew very well.
“Rapture took a lot from me.” he says. “But you girls gave everything back.”
When his monitor flatlines, all of the no longer Little Sisters close their eyes, and squeeze one of his fingers, before Vivienne takes a deep breath, wipes her tears away, and goes to tell a doctor.