Actions

Work Header

Topside, or: Champagne Breakfast

Work Text:

1968

Mid-Atlantic 

 

 


 

 

What Eleanor Lamb thought to be the static hum of Rapture's radios was instead the sound of rain falling against glass. She spent hours looking at the stars. Topside. Once the clouds cleared, and the ever-greying sun finally settled into the ocean, it was all she could do. There were thousands of them at first, adrift in the cosmic sea and unburdened by the steady rocking of Sinclair's lifeboat.

          She could not believe her mother, Sofia, when she told her just how far apart they actually were. But even then, it took them both a long time for words to actually reach either of their lips. 

          "Mother", "daughter" — the titles alone became more and more distant as their time waiting and travelling passed. Days drifted into one amidst the fading, flashing beacons of their craft and the distancing Lighthouse. The rush of waves was a new noise to Eleanor's ears. The water below the surface stood statuesque as colourful coral felt fish gliding effortlessly through it.

          Above the sea however, each crash left her elongated legs quaking in her Big Sister diving suit.

          When the sunlight first glinted on their skin, it had left them both long since dry. But where Sofia quickly became reaccustomed to its warmth, her daughter's pale complexion burnt as if butterfly wings touched an open flame. That was their first interaction since Delta's death. The husk of rusty, brown armour laying still on the almost matching material of the watercraft as their attempts at comfort began inside its shell.

          At first, Sofia reasoned that they ration whatever food they had on-board, just in case they were stranded. That was until they found out just how well-prepared Sinclair was. The craft was gigantic—clearly made for more than two occupants—yet to be used by only one. The interior below the windowed observation floor was a cold, circular space of steel with a matching chequered floor of soggy burgundies stacked with rooms of necessities. Food, water, medicine, oxygen.

          The latter was where Eleanor found an air tank. 

 

          'You saved me...'

 

          Some of the first words Sofia spoke were unsurprising. Eleanor had expected a single-word question to follow it. But it never came.

          'What if they can't speak English?' The Big Sister pondered as they both stood facing the navigational controls.

          'I can still remember the coordinates to London...and Tokyo,' Sofia replied.

          'Well...which is closer?'

          The older woman managed to laugh slightly at this. It was croaky in her throat, as if it were the first time she had done so in years. Eleanor found a strange comfort in the noise. Still she scowled at both their responses, balling her fists, feeling her heart pound and practically pump ADAM through her as it did.

          'I'm sorry; does my ignorance amuse you, Mother?' She spat back sarcastically with anger riding the wave of her voice before her mother interjected.

          'I didn't-' 

          Her eyelids fell heavy across her blue eyes, drying blonde hair in strands as she adjusted her glasses first, then her damp, rolled up cardigan sleeves. Hands reached towards a console of buttons ready to input coordinates. Sofia did so as fast as she could before turning from her daughters' ever-judging gaze.

          Before long, they had both returned to the interior of the lifeboat. It was there, much to their surprise, they discovered a hatch to the engine room below. A red glow of engines mingling with wires and electronics masked both their faces in the same shade. It looked as if the vessel was slowly built from Rapture's rise and the technological progress that followed.

          Regardless, the warmth was a welcome change of fortune — much like the adjourning bedroom and drawers of every kind of money imaginable. 

          From dollars and balboa, to pound sterling and yen. Sinclair had solutions to more than just the trappings of Rapture's secrets. Escape was the true commonality of the city's citizens — escape from the surface, escape from the city, escape from the gene, escape from the Big Daddies and Big Sisters. Escape from the self.

          It seemed that Sinclair intended to escape alone. Only one bed was on-board — a single size, stuck between a single wooden nightstand and the room's wall close to the radiating heat. A meticulous planner even to the end. Yet not even that could have saved him. The bed was just the right size for Sofia's tall height, not Eleanor's even taller stature.

          Both were complacent at first. Sofia selflessly offering to give up rest for however long they would travel. Eleanor could not tell whether this was her mother's typically utilitarian altruism or simply guilt. She wanted to know. The pale young woman had never shared a bed with anyone before — it had been many years since Sofia had at all. Not even in Rapture could she find the comfort in-between her obsessive activities.

          Mother remembered an unfamiliar feeling boiling in her stomach upon seeing the Big Sisters for the first time. Women far too young for someone as mature as her. A visage her own kin was now replacing in her mind. To her, one soon to be struggling philosophy with survival. To Eleanor; eyes that needed to shut. There were moments in their first attempts at rest that Sofia found herself clutching against daughter's beige canvas diving suit in an attempt to calm her rigors.

          Eleanor's long legs tucked up to avoid hanging off the foot of the bed. Her shaking against the motions of the still thrashing boat were almost fluid. Yet her distress never turned to calm, even amidst Sofia's consistent cooing. Although their time above the waves were a crawling and methodical challenge

          The Big Sister had never dreamed that she would find herself scared. Scared of the sun, dreading the clouds. In these moments, with a parent she did not recognise; she longed for her cell. 

 

~

 

Ready or not...

 

          'Hello!' Eleanor called out into the cold void of darkness and murky greens that surrounded her.

          Her surroundings were almost just that — coupled with constantly moving, inky-black tendrils between the similarly sickly colours. She felt lucid, almost weightless and completely free. Looking down, she noticed her metal-framed boots clung to shallow, blue seawater. It was as contrasting, clear and still as when she were actually below.

          'Mother?..' She spoke softer this time—asking in a strange desperation—not expecting a reply; feeling no air surrounding her.

          'Well, oh well, oh well.' A familiar voice rung out in fast creaks — to the knowledgeable, its Southern drawl unmistakably Georgia. 

          Turning to face the voice, what she found instead was proof of this dream being a nightmare. A wooden dinner table greeted her: long and stretching. She used to have dinner with Dr. Gilbert Alexander there when she went to visit him in the Marketing Division of Fontaine Futuristics. Poking at orange, open tins of Beef•e potted meat with a fork. Now however, the entirety of the furniture—and what lay atop it—were covered in red rose petals.

          Further still were four pink tea chairs she was also accustomed too, with three on each side and one on both heads of the table. The painted white flowers took her back to Persephone, where the Little Sisters would come and plot their escape with her. It seemed that instead of the little girls were exhausting reminders of a world she just left behind, dancing with blue butterflies and yellow fireflies.

          Augustus Sinclair, on the left side, sat as Subject Omega. His silver Alpha Series suit hung heavy on him like a blanket, his helmet resting on his knee with his free hand while the other waved to her. His face was pristine, unblemished by the primitive conversion of the Protector Program. As if his audio diary portrait had leaped out its frame to rescue her.

          Her own audio diary had a place to the right of the businessman. Mr. Diary sat proudly in a red bow tie and brass monocle wrapped around his handle and coiled along the chair. Further along sat Grace Holloway. Aunt Gracie was immaculate and as young as Eleanor barely remembered her, glowing a continuous pale-blue as she simply smiled at her.

          At the place he always stayed with her, now the right opposite Sinclair, was Gilbert Alexander himself. Twitching, pink and opaque from mutation. Bald and bickering, the same gibbering from when she last saw him in his tank. That knife sank deep into Eleanor like an anchor. At least he still wore his black suit. But it was far from over.

          The emancipated corpse of a young Arabic, Jewish boy slouched down in the middle of the right row. He was Amir, her first friend. She had forgotten his last name, as had she forgotten how she once felt for him as new feelings bubbled in the blossoming teenager. A man who would no-doubt disprove of her changes was Simon Wales — soaking wet through his black pastor's garments and clinging by hooks to the bottom of the table.

          He cried softly, every orifice in his body pouring the water that she stood in. The underside of the table was covered in barnacles and the rusty decay of water.

          Stanley Poole sat opposite Grace. Still wearing a tattered shirt and playing with a deck of cards in his hands. However, his mouth was stapled shut; eyes now resembling the soft glow of a Little Sister, matching that of the fireflies. Finally, her Father, Subject Delta, lay dead on the table. His left arm was limp by his side, and his right hand clutched a squirming sea slug. Eleanor knew it was the one still inside her. 

          Even stranger still was Delta's use as a poker table by these guests — ones currently dining on deceased dogs. Chips of bright reds and blues were stacked high atop him like skyscrapers. It was as if she were the only one who noticed he was there; everyone else just seemed oblivious to his presence.

          '-if it ain't our very own lil' Miss Eleanor Lamb!' Sinclair spoke hoarse but softly, stretching out her name as he continued to gesture her. 'Well. Not quite so lil',' he chuckled, '...Y'quite a lot taller up close ain't ya? If you don't mind my sayin'. Pull up a chair, sport — y'know which is yours!'

          Yes, she did.

          Eleanor approached them, dragging water with each footstep that splashed back into tranquillity. She sat at the head of the table, facing them, only now noticing the pinkish glow from the trench outside of Persephone illuminating them all behind her. It glistened and fell on their frames as if still reflected through the sea.

          'Who's the other chair for?' She sheepishly asked, swatting a firefly from her face. 'Is it... Dr. Tenenbaum-' Eleanor immediately corrected her own assumption, presuming it was where her mother ought to be had she shared this dream with her.

          The final Alpha Series took a dog leg to his lips before replying, 'Seems your mama is occupied.' He finally took a bite, chewing and swallowing before placing the leg back down on the table and picking up his cards. 'Want some?'

          The dreaming girl watched the lights dance off the water and his armour before shook her head sharply. 'Can... any of you see father?-'

          'Know how t'play?'

          She could not quite tell if Sinclair was purposefully ignoring her question or not.

          'Course she does,' Grace intersected in a beautifully sing-song tone that could lull anyone to sleep. 'Dr. Lamb went ahead and taught her almost all she knew 'for we could. She always let me win...'

          'Jus' swell! Fine dinin' an' a game with our pal Eleanor!' Sinclair said enthusiastically. 'Give her some cards, Stan. We're playing another round o' five-card draw.'

          Stanley just grunted past the metal clamps on his mouth and reached past Amir to hand Eleanor five cards, a blue morpho perched atop the stack. She accepted, leaning forward herself and noticing Gilbert's judging eyes and Poole's shaking hand as it rested unwillingly upon Delta. The embers of fireflies still disrupting her were beginning to blend with Stanley's yellow eyes, like the soft flames of the Family's candlelit shrines.

          As they sat back down, Eleanor turned her attention yet again to underneath the table. She watched the preacher cling helplessly as everyone's feet stood in his tears, petals congregating around their soles. 'What's the matter with Mr. Wales?'

          'The milquetoast bastard was always a bit little wet!' Alexander yelled sporadically while twisting his inflamed neck, 'Before and after he died!'

          'Aw, now don'chu bring that up here, Gil.' Sinclair asserted in a tone close to worried, 'Man's still jus' down in the dumps after his Brother's passin'...'

          'Weeping like buggery isn't going to bring him back! That cacophony of noise... We're trying to play a game up here! But no! This. Is. It!' His voice raised, 'Did Alexander cry when he reached India, hm? Ha! You can bet what's left your pathetic lives he fucking didn't! Because he had nothing left to conquer!'

          With that, Alexander offered a sharp kick with his soggy black shoes to Simon's ribs — the table rocking with his sharp cries. Delta's weight kept them from tipping — but Eleanor felt every movement throughout her body. She arose quickly, glaring at Gilbert in confusion.

          'Why, Dr. Alexander?' She asked in genuine sorrow. 'What happened to you!'

          'The same thing that should still happened to you, god-willing!' The doctor slowly growled as he slammed his cards onto Delta's body.

          Eleanor's mouth dropped, '...You were kind to everyone once. But no! You let yourself turn into a...'

          'Oh? A change of heart? Defending her now are we, hm? Oh, do go on...' Gilbert teased, carrying out his syllables, 'I am Alex the Great! And I can take the insults of an actual, bona fide bastard!'

          'Freak!' Eleanor screamed.

          Alexander's eyes widened in shock and insult, 'F-Freak? Freak!' He trembled in body and voice. 'Do you kiss your mother with that mouth, girl!' Alex the Great ranted rhetorically.

          'Alright, you cool off now, "your highness".' Sinclair interrupted, 'Somethin' of a Freudian Slip there — emphasis on the Freud...'

          'What do you mean? And what is this?' Eleanor demanded answers as she stepped away from the table. 'Is this a dream? Are you in my head?'

          'I assume that last question was quite literal — see child, I don't quite know why we're here.' The man adjusted himself, searching his mind for the right words. 'But we see ya — and what'chu got goin' on inside that-'

          'Cranial cluster-fuck...' Gilbert groaned before burying his hairless head into his arms, crossed on the table.

          'Not in the least how I'd put it, but sure.'

          'Wonder jus' what that says about us...' Grace sighed, yet unable to remove the smile from her face.

          Had she thought about her mother like that? Eleanor was not quite sure anymore, and she certainly was not about to ask the table. Simon's noises had softened now, everyone seemed to return their game, their eyes off of hers. Cautiously, Eleanor made her way back to her chair and sat down as if compelled to do so. 

          Just what was this? A dream, or perhaps a lucid state. She could be ill. She could be dead. Did Sofia's conditioning and treatment work? If this is what Alexander felt then the rage for him had settled somewhat. Eleanor was more than ready to find out if she was capable of sympathy and forgiveness. 

          A dream or not, she had little control.

          'Can you sleepwalk in a dream?' She asked in a soft tone.

          'Full o' questions, ain't ya?'

          'I just...need to know about myself...'

          'Did y'like the kid?' Sinclair asked as he nodded towards Amir's corpse.

          'I don't think so — I... really am not quite sure anymore...'

          'Before your mama; anything went in Rapture. A free market of more than ideas — free expression. Not that folk had much'uva choice in that matter; no laws and such. And I sure do wonder why she came all the way down believin' what she did...'

          '...Are you saying that my mother-'

          'Likes women? Yeah, not gonna sugar-coat it, kid.' Sinclair chortled a bit, 'Hell, can't say I much do... Now I mean, I sure hate to be so crude, but surely ya lack of a daddy made that crystal?'

          She felt her heart drop like the plunger of a needle. Before it began to beat. Fast. Her already pale face flushed even more as she inhaled deeply through a now open mouth. Feeling each flap of the butterflies' wings, she gripped the edge of the table, short nails digging into the painted wood.  

          'H-How do you know that?'

          The man just smiled before reminding her, 'Again, it's your head, Eleanor. Must have noticed somethin'. Question is: does knowin' that bother you?' He chuckled, 'Hell, maybe it's jus' you she's pinin' for...'

          'No!' She barked back almost too fast to everything he said. 'I-I want to wake up now...'

          The world fell silent and still to the young woman. But water still dripped and pooled beneath them, cards were shuffled and dogs eaten. Instead of being able to stand up again, Eleanor found herself glued to the chair from a fear coming from a part of her she did not quite know yet.  

          Everything shook — yet nothing moved.

          Before too long, the battered Audio Diary whirred its tape into life. All the words were in a cobbled together mess of her damaged childhood recordings. Barely legible and faint memories. A voice Eleanor had desperately tried to forget. The time she asked her mother if it could rain down there. Rapture would never leave her, and in this moment, she knew she did not want to leave it. She was safe in her cell, she played in her cell, she had fun in her cell.

          A bright metropolis of eyes and pitch black, broken Art Deco spires towered in-front of her, behind the table. It simultaneously came from the water while remaining beneath it. The vengeful spirit manifested itself in tentacles rooted from its plundered depths as it shunned its former occupants for failing its purpose.

          Locked in this new prison, Eleanor found herself powerless to move or even speak as cards were thrown nonchalantly onto the only man who could save her in this moment. Wondering if he were still apart of her, and if that even mattered, did little to calm her. It was ever approaching, ever engulfing, like a flame under the ocean.

          She missed her mummy.

         

          Then—just as her whispering persisted—she woke up.

 

~

 

Frequent panic attacks passed by Eleanor as the stars in the sky did. Sofia's concern grew as Eleanor avoided sleep during their first night. The Big Sister would spend her time avoiding the bed, as well as windows. She remembered the feeling of her pillow smothering her face and her mother's hands against it. But she remembered afterwards too, and knew her mother did as well.

          Eleanor thought that was the moment Sofia had decided she would rather have all of them die than to know what she had done. To live with that. Her mother had originally offered her a place by her side in Sinclair's lifeboat.

          Here they were.

          Eleanor was beginning to believe that offer was genuine. 

          They stopped the lifeboat the moment Orkney was only faintly in sight. It took them a long time to agree on what should be done next. Specifically, to the body. His body. Subject Delta still lay peacefully on the port side of the craft. Sofia had one plan in mind, but it was one Eleanor gravely objected to.

          'We are not sending him back there!' The younger woman yelled past crossed arms. 'W-We'll bury him-'

          'You want to send him back into the depths?' Sofia tested, 'We agreed that whatever Sinclair had on this craft will not part it. If we send it back to the Lighthouse then...whoever finds it finds Delta too.'

          Eleanor felt tears returning to her eyes, just as when her father departed the second time. 'Do you promise to leave the beacon on?' She asked in an uncontrollably high pitch.

          Sofia wanted to hesitate. She truly did not want anyone to find Rapture, especially the body of the man who killed her only daughter. In watching tears tear a path down blackened circles above pale cheeks however, she could not speak. Strings tugged her heart in every direction that face, that voice and that body marionettes it.

          So, she simply nodded twice in response.

          The light of the craft had been flashing and illuminated by a steady turquoise since they surfaced. But a radio emitter for the spire lay in the belly of the beast. Although capable of defending them both, Sofia wondered just what would come to their aid when they activated it. 

          Whatever they needed was here, including the bags. Spending an hour, they stuffed what they could in brown luggage bags. The little food they needed, medical supplies and everything else from the shelves of supplies. Including the money. It was nowhere near a small fortune, but it was enough combined. There was one final thing to attend to before leaving. As Eleanor was zipping up the bags on the chequered floor, she heard a cough from behind her.

          'You cannot be seen in...' Sofia gestured to her diving suit, letting her eyes capture the tightly hugging suit. 'That.'

          'What else can I wear?' Eleanor answered in some bewilderment.

          'Sinclair's clothes. Whatever he had here. Given you're taller than he was-'

          'I'm sure his measurements proved useful before you stuck him in that suit, just like father.' Eleanor intersected.

          Sofia clamped her eyes shut and took a long breath. 'I do wish you'd stop calling him that.'

          'I will call him father in the same way I call you my mother.' Eleanor pursed her lips, feeling the sting of her own words on her tongue.

          The psychiatrist laughed without smiling, speaking in a defeated voice. 'You were only supposed to have one.' She let a thought linger on her tongue momentarily, 'And even then...' 

          Eleanor understood her meaning perfectly, and her place. 'I was never your daughter.'

          'You were-'

          'No, I became your daughter. I was born your...project. Then just who was my father?'

          'I have no idea. And that was the point. But I can assure you; it was not your pawn.'

          At that scathing implication, Eleanor stood up, almost towering over her mother as she moved to Sinclair's wardrobe. Sofia only watched Eleanor shape in the tight confines her diving suit. She still felt some strange, sick pride in seeing her daughter become so beautiful. To her, she was the most, even on crooked legs and ghostly skin. She must have had her father's hair, and unfamiliar parts of the body Sofia had long since noticed. Eleanor was no longer a child. She had not been for quite some time.

          Yet that would not stop whatever remained of her paternal instincts from believing so.

          Clothing from decades prior similarly stuck to the bones of Rapture still. The businessman's fashion sense was almost stereotypical. Suits of all shades, ties and jackets for shady dealings or a game of golf. Eleanor heard Sofia's heels click against the black and white tiles as she moved behind her. Feelings her mother's eyes on her back would have sent shivers down her spine below. Above the sea however, she felt almost comforted.

          She began picking out various pieces of clothing and assembling a pile at her side. Checking against herself, some were too small, even the most masculine of attire. The only shirt that fit her was a white dress shirt, with French double cuffs having to be undone to reach her wrists. Next was a black blazer, in corduroy, already feeling its warmth like the ship's furnace. It was double-breasted and Eleanor ironically felt she needed that security. A knitted waistcoat in black and box brown suit trousers followed — she grabbed the closest and smallest pair of shoes and the nearest suspenders she could see.

          Her metal harness detached with a loud click and took her oxygen tanks with it. Her boots, leg and arm guards respectively came off with a thunderous clang of rivets. Stepping out of them was unfamiliar, losing little in height but wobbling on her long spindly legs. 

          'You must be enjoying the view greatly so far.' Eleanor's attempt at spite unintentionally carried itself in an alluring way that it took them both by surprise. 

          Swallowing harshly, Sofia tried her hardest not to return her daughter's sentiment. 'Excuse me?'

          'You were watching... I just assume you're going to continue to watch?'

          'Are you purposefully attempting to make this awkward?' She said softly in scepticism of her daughter's intentions. In that moment, Sofia wondered just how well of a psychiatrist her kin would have made.   

          Her daughter just turned her head and shook it. Sofia did not say a word. She just sat down and rested her head on her hand. Eleanor had never seen her mother so casually dormant before — it was remarkably welcome. The Big Sister, after battle and loss, removed her armour fully before her skin went with it.

          The nicked zip of her wetsuit pierced the circular space and injected into their ears. Slow, cautious, but deliberate in her movements, Eleanor began to peel away the suit from her arms, from her chest and waist, until it lay her feet. Sofia simply pointed her daughter's attention to a pair of boxer shorts in the wardrobe. Eleanor began layering the clothes onto herself, unfamiliarity in apparel so clean and tailored. Tight on her even still, but fitting in length well enough. Putting on her socks and two-tone brown and white shoes, she did up every button self-consciously.

          Finally, she scanned the array of clothing until settling her eyes on a small cardboard box filled with neckties. Out of it she pulled a red bow tie—running it in between her fingers—feeling luxurious and dripping like blood. Turning to her mother for approval, she had not expected a look past the woman's glasses. A pride and lust simultaneously cast against sadness. Eleanor shared Sofia's more masculine features and traits, and the suit complemented every inch of her body for the mother. 

          'The tie is somewhat...formal, Eleanor...' Sofia spoke honestly, fearing the consequences of doing so.

          Eleanor's face soured as her heavy eyes darted between the garment and her parent. 'I want to wear it.' She asserted before extending her long arms, 'Tie it for me, Mother.'

          Sofia slowly obeyed, standing up again before walking towards her daughter. Placing her hands onto Eleanor's arms, she lowered them to examined her. Looking up slightly to meet Eleanor's face; her touch soothed them both. The scent of salt water no longer carried on Eleanor as it did Sofia — her own clothes now long since dry.

          Eyelids shifted up as the young woman's eyes did; still capturing the sea. The soft flutter reminded Sofia of a butterfly, and made her heart do the same in turn. Such a small movement trapped in a moment of weakness as the tie swapped hands. Steady fingers traced up the suit before reaching the club collar and pushing it up.

          'Why do you care how I look anyway?' Eleanor asked.

          'I do not. But others will. Infatuation with appearance is a vain trait we all gain; tyrant, or victims of consciousness.'

          'And why do we gain it?'

          'Because of cognitive bias, a halo effect factors into terribly outdated survival instincts. We perceive everything with how it will affect the self.' Sofia threaded the tie around her daughter's neck and adjusted the length. 'If we cannot grow out of it...we must remove it.' 

          'Well...you seem awfully infatuated with my appearance...'

          'And how does my pride make you feel?'

          The Big Sister chuckled dryly, 'Trying to catch me some-kind-of clinical ruse won't work.'          

          'Well, I am still human, am I not? As much as I imagine you oppose that fact.'

          Eleanor let out a solemn sigh, 'Have you considered that I only wish you might accept that you are?'

          The mother began to carefully wrap the fabric around itself. 'Of course... But chained to the selfish desires of individuality? No, Eleanor. Humanity is constant potential. Through Rapture, you almost became capable of harnessing that.'

          'You denied me a choice, Mother. If by your logic, with all our "convenient" flaws, you should have seen me coming...'

          The woman stopped short of tying a bow fully, 'No choices are made alone. If every choice is influenced by outside forces, if every choice has a butterfly effect, then what amount of free will did you hope to gain?'

          'Any. Just...any.'

          'And yet, because of you, I live. While Sofia Lamb died for us. Not alone. Unity and metamorphosis; because together we were so close to doing better. You could burn me to ashes where we stand and I will not fear death.'

          'I-I am not a child anymore, Mother. I am not blind to my emotions, nor my actions.' She declared, 'I spared you, knowing full well that you would either change or truly die by yourself-'

          With a swift tug, Sofia tightened the bow, making Eleanor yelp in her mouth. Her breathing increased as she looked down, still in the slightest ever-fading fear of her mother. 

          'I know not what you are anymore... Regardless of whether or not you accept your position — I know that you will soon see I was right about one thing. We are not welcome here. I had friends, family, a country-'

          The daughter laughed again, albeit nervously, 'You "had" family, did you now?'

          Sofia responded by softly repeated her previous question, slower than before. 'And how does my pride make you feel?'

          'Hopeful.' 

          An honest answer took the mother by surprise. Expecting further hate began to make her wonder if her own missing empathy was simply misplaced in her daughter. She let go of the bow tie and took a small step back, looking up at the ceiling. 'I did not kill Sinclair. But I wish I had done for what he did to my daughter...'

          Silence filled the space between them where their souls fell — slumped in exhaustion that any conversation devolved into bickering. There was a time that they could talk, years ago. A time that Eleanor wanted to do so. That never left Sofia. She could have spent days talking to her equal over games and the fauna from their city's windows. 

          Eleanor's therapy prevented any of that. Both remembered all in the moment of solace they now shared before Sofia finally spoke as honest as her daughter was.  

          'You look... so wonderful.'

          'I do?'

          Sofia nodded with an empty smile as Eleanor slowly brought her mother into a hug and began to softly cry on her shoulder—not many tears—those were long since spent. Neither knew if they had never held each other so tightly before. Finally, in the calmness, someone noticed the temperature. 

          'Mother?' The girl sobbed.

          '...Yes, Eleanor?'

          'Do you remember what...what month is it? What day it is?'

          Sofia's eyes fastened still when she realised; she had no answer to either question.

 

~ 

 

'Goodbye, father...'          

 

          When Subject Delta was finally gone, she believed Eleanor would have been perfect. The ultimate vessel for the living Utopian. Sofia could not shake the feeling she was still right. Eleanor took all the clothes with her, including her own Big Sister suit. The fishing boat that picked them up had a small crew. All were paid off for a pittance with little questions once the money was presented. However, the still selfless woman insisted on offering more.

          Just as the Lighthouse had left them in a miasma of fog, so too did the lifeboat. It ferried Delta back with it. For hours Eleanor would just watch the waves and brine collect from the direction sailed from. A further day was spent as the ship navigated the North Sea and slowly into the coast of southern Kent. 

          That's where they saw it. Whatever skyline Dover had was primitive in comparison to Rapture, but the young woman had never seen anything like it. The architecture so old with houses that almost looked like small castles. The White Cliffs shone against the soft sunrise; pearlescent in its jagged edges. It made her smile. In part, Sofia smiled with her, in place of a grimace. There were still fortifications and defences from the war gaining rust and dust above the water. Something that sunk Sofia Lamb back to the world's reality.

          'Look how much grass there is, Mother...' Eleanor whispered, the new sights soothing fears that still bubbled in her mind. 

          She had not noticed the many looks she was given as they finally boarded a train for the city of London. Where she expected steam, Sofia was reminded of the Atlantic Express — acting as the catalyst that doomed her plans. The heavy clicking of the rails had not changed — distracting the woman from just how different the machinery looked, even to Rapture. The carriages and soft seats were starkly more minimalist and uniform than she had expected. Her daughter's face practically stuck to the window throughout the journey. Scanning each blade of grass, each animal and countryside that passed, speaking silently of Rolling Hills in Arcadia and memories of Dionysus Park.

          London itself however, made both their hearts flutter. What Sofia remembered as shelled and war-torn, with history and life torn from its skeleton was vibrant. The colour was bright and blinding, from pink, painted buildings, grand skyscrapers and even the clothes the thousands of people their carriage passed wore. It made both the women look incredibly misplaced and out-of-time. Any familiarity in neon signage was lost with how casually dressed people were.

          'It wasn't always like this...' Sofia said simply while staring at Piccadilly Circus in the distance, a visage painted so old, clearly unable to remove from her marked mind. At this point, she would be surprised to see Westminster still standing.

          Eleanor did not reply — looking at her mother now instead. The worry and panic on her flawless face reflected what she still felt in her own, still fluttering heart. Whenever Sofia caught a glimpse at Eleanor's reflection it was as if she was staring into a pair of her own eyes. But she still could not see her daughter.

          Nineteen-Sixty-Eight. Maybe they were close to Nineteen-Sixty-Nine. Maybe they were not. It had been eighteen years since she had set foot on the surface: Eleanor's entire life. Was she eighteen yet? Seventeen? Did either remember which? Whereas Sofia had missed almost two entire decades of change and evolution, Eleanor had missed nothing.

          Red double-decker buses remaining among rows of cars and yellow painted roads was something Sofia had not expected at all. Perhaps a part of her thought that they would be greeted by radiation and nuclear winter. Perhaps a part of her still wanted to prove something to Eleanor. Or herself.

          Before too long, they found themselves in the crowd. Sofia having to shortly convince Eleanor off the train as the revelation that the persistent problem of humanity remained. This was not a world to be conquered, but one that had been done so already. The walk to Piccadilly Circus was winding, navigating new and unfamiliar roads and carrying luggage along with them.

          Eventually, they sat outside a French Brasserie rooted in named Le Saphir De Mer. It was nestled under a glowing Union Jack and beside many other competing businesses. Unlike them, this place had clearly weathered the years. Capturing a style that stood out from the new and replaced tan concrete of other shops.

          Ordering brunch gave them a time at the very least. A round metal table they shared outside the restaurant covered their bags, and both were beginning to notice the looks Eleanor was getting — just occasionally. But each judging stare made Eleanor sink a little lower into her chair. This was clearly an expensive place for the wealthier of this society. The skirts and shirts of the pavement instead resembled attire that might have made Eleanor fit in more had it not been for her height and complexion.

          Her native England was cold to Sofia — yet London provided a warmth that both of them needed, be it from weather or company. She imagined anything would be warmer to Eleanor than what she knew of Rapture. Yet she still avoided the clouds.

          'It's French.' Mother's words caught her daughter's attention after a long while. 'Well. I suppose just barely. But the food was good the last I was here.'

          'You've been here before? So how do you know if it's the same after all this time?' Eleanor responded in a croaky voice.

          'Because it's still here,' Sofia continued, 'I only remember this city as war-torn. I'll find small comfort in what remains...' 

          'Have you ever been to France?'

          'Yes, a few times.'

          'What is it like?'

          'I visited as a child. Outside of cities, it was far less urban than this island, naturally.' Mother's eyes scanned the long-rebuilt buildings now sporting bright pinks and blues. 'Given the state of this place now, I suppose I can only hold my breath.'

          Eleanor was unsure what Sofia meant by her words, but imagined she'd soon find out. A waitress arrived with their drinks arrived first. A glass jug of water, a cup of black coffee, and a bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice. Eleanor found herself gulping down the clear liquid while Sofia sat casually, sipping lazily at her drink. She couldn't drink coffee unless it was black and cloyingly sweetened with sugar — wondering if Eleanor had ever even tasted the beverage. 

          The glass now empty, Eleanor put it back on the table with both hands as the passing cars blew the table cloth and her shirt cuffs, flowing like a stream. She closed her eyes and focused on the sounds of her parent over the talking, and music unlike anything she had ever heard all around her. From what little either had seen since their arrival, things had progressed significantly. 

          'So... this is...a lot like Rapture.'

          That comparison and all the truth it carried almost made Sofia grimace. Still, this was not her London—not the world she knew—not that either were preferable. Old empires were falling, new empires were rising, all with similar billboards dotting the towers. Technology had not caught up to Rapture; but it was far too familiar. Yet, despite all the flaws and the ever-selfish nature of man, she had missed it.

          Her mother unresponsive, drinking her coffee, Eleanor found herself asking questions again. 'Can I drink that up here?' A lanky arm guided a finger towards the bottle of champagne, dripping with condensation. 'Or is that against the rules?'

          'There aren't rules here, Eleanor. There's laws. You should be old enough to drink, if you want to.'

          'I don't think I remember having rules in Rapture...not before you.'

          In truth, Eleanor did not remember much of her life before sisterhood. Just her voice becoming lighter and weak, cheerful but no reason to feel happiness. Emotions and instructions programmed into her. Faint glimmers, like the glow through Persephone's windows, of memories carried by her own voice on an audio diary. 

          Looking around, the young woman saw the other diners sat around tables sipping the bubbling drink from flute and coupe glasses. Reaching for the tray, she mimicked them and inelegantly poured the sparkling wine for herself. Sofia observed her, and her daughter noticed, pouring some for her mother.  

          The parent smiled a bit, taking her now full flute and raising it in a toast. Eleanor followed, cautiously colliding her coupe glass with her mother's flute, the dull clink almost making her jump. Both let the drink fill their mouths—Sofia relishing in the taste of real champagne—something she had not tasted in many years. The Big Sister recoiled at the bitterness and rough carbonation, feeling it burn down her throat as she swallowed.

          'Not to your liking?' Sofia asked.

          Eleanor shook her head sharply. 'Perhaps I'm not old enough after all...' She replied half-jokingly. 'Do you remember how old I am?'

          As soon as that question was asked, being above water made the nonchalant way it was asked alien to both of them.

          '...I remember the year you were born, so I have estimates... I never celebrated my own birthday. So, I never did the same to yours. I suppose you do?'

          Eleanor remembered her room in Pauper's Drop, with Auntie Gracie; plastered in pink she had since grown out of. The wall of the apartment marked with her age each year as she grew. The last number marked, before being given by Stanley to Frank Fontaine's thugs, was seven.

          'Seventeen. I'm seventeen. How old are you?' 

          Before responding, Sofia tilted her slightly and examined her daughter's reaction to her own words. She took another sip of champagne before asking her own question. 'I wonder, does it bother you that you do not know?'

          'Please don't psychoanalyse me, Mother...'

          The older woman looked down at the table and cleared her throat before the tension did. 'I suppose I am in my forties.'

          'Early?'

          'If only.' Sofia said sarcastically.

          'Why? Does aging scare you?'

          'No. It's my work escaping me. My ability, not my body.'

          'Yes, I suppose that you'll go back to psychiatry...' Eleanor sighed, failing to hide her annoyance as her arms crossed.

          'And we'll need to register you for citizenship.' Sofia hummed as the thought almost humoured her. 

          'Were you born here? In London, I mean.'

          'No, the last I was here was three years before I came to Rapture.' The idea of two decades passing made her grimace. 'I was born in Didcot, it's East of here. Not that I spent much time there.'

          The girl brushed her fringe from her face and raised an eyebrow in response.

          'My father and I traveled excessively.'

          'I remember you mentioning him... I heard your voice all the time on the PA... But it wasn't the same.' 

          Mother took a larger sip from her drink at her daughter's words. Either social skills had escaped her, or she was purposefully attempting to open some kind of dialogue.

          'I left after he died...' Sofia recalled, 'Yes, it was after the election, I remember. I voted and left. Trying to make some difference, a change...'

          Eleanor just stared at her expectantly. Sofia gripped her lower up between her thumb and forefinger, looking at the vividly coloured cars speeding by them. 

          'The Spanish flu took my mother; did I ever tell you that?

          Still unmoving. Not even a stir.

          'I never knew her. I often wonder just what my father was truly leaving behind...' Her voice became slightly hoarse, 'Maybe that's why I was such a terrible mother? Something far worse after I wasn't even that to you anymore.'

          'None of this stopped you. I-' The young woman stopped to rest her lower face in her hands, 'If you had any ounce of care for any single person then I would have never been taken... Now look at me. You always told me why the world should change and not what made it worth changing. It certainly isn't because of people like you.'

          'Then perhaps I never should have left.'

          Eleanor slammed her palms down onto the table as she stood up with the cutlery and candle-holders that jutted up from their places, becoming the only noise around her. Before any objections could leave her mouth, she found the eyes surrounding her had pushed them down into her lungs. 

          'Eleanor...' Sofia motioned her hand to her daughter who sat back down quickly.

          Her hand was open and waiting, and Eleanor found her own hand holding on tightly as the eyes slowly shifted away. 'I wouldn't be here...' She spoke quietly.

          Mother adjusted her glasses before looking down at the Big Sister's abdomen. 'But I'd spare you,' a melancholic and honest voice replied.

          'And because of this, I was supposed to be "holy"-'

          'You were — you always were to them.' 'You still are to me...'

          The tall girl let go of her mother's hand and rubbed tears building in her eyes.

          'The world has changed. Unlike Ryan, I believed that at least humanity would last if it didn't.' As she sipped her drink, she found her own conflict fading. Before, she could not decide if Eleanor was turning back into a child. It took her far too long to realise that was far from reality.

         

~

 

Both women were quiet as their food arrived. Sofia had finished her champagne and ordered Eggs Benedict, croissants and jams, a tray of half-shelled oysters on ice, and a bowl of caviar. The smell of salt water from the seafood was far too familiar. It still clung to both of them as if their souls were still stuck in what remained of Persephone.

          They both began to eat, revelling the sounds of muffins being sliced and the taste of freshly cut ham, popped orange yolks and yellow hollandaise sauce. Eleanor looked down at the medley of colours on her plate and found herself smiling a bit. It was the best meal she had ever eaten. She wondered just what else the world had to offer besides Le Saphir De Mer?

          'Have you ever had seafood before?' Sofia asked—gesturing a fork to the oysters—awkwardly breaking the silence between them.

          'No. None that I remember, at least... This is the best food I've ever had...'

          Even in Rapture, a city under the ocean, it was a struggle to find anything that wasn't from a vending machine. Any fish likely crept in through the flooded and crumbling city. Yet her mother always did seem to try and find the best for her. Those words again: "mother" and "daughter", had been leaving their mouths as if they were just breathing.

          'Still not quite French — but yes, it is lovely...'

          'I was thinking about the words mother and daughter.' 

          Sofia nodded for Eleanor to continue as she ate more.

          'I've read so much; fiction, non-fiction. It's just strange how certain words are always there. Universal, almost — clearly still unable to prepare me.'

          'You'd be interested in evolutionary psychology, I believe. Many brush aside the way we adapt, social cues and unquestionable words and phrases we cannot imagine life without.' Reaching for a packet of cigarettes she ordered with the food, Mother asked, 'I wonder, is the illusion beginning to break down?'

          'Something is,' Daughter replied, in a whisper.

          The parent drew a cylinder from the cardboard packaging and placed it between her lips. Eleanor found herself fixated by every subtle movement her mother made to secure it. The way a silver lighter glistened in the daylight and looked so natural in her hands, along with the cigarette.

          'M-May I have one?'

          Both knew she told her never to smoke.

          'I have a terribly addictive personality...' Sofia practically answered her daughter's question after exhaling a stream of smoke.

          '...Maybe that's why I'm still here.'

          What could have been ignorance, sarcasm, or a lack of social norms, sounded like flirting to both of them. The older woman took time to response, and both spent some time to process whatever would follow. She ashed out her cigarette in an ashtray, 'The only reason I started again was because I knew what I was going to do to you.'

          'I had figured as much. And I remember it too... We've both taken lives then. Haven't quite found a way of dealing with that yet-' Eleanor admitted, crossing her arms and resting on the chair's back.

          'Before you continue, I'd suggest you do so at our own discretion.' Sofia interrupted as she looked at the other diners.

          Eleanor obeyed, leaning forward on the table and clearing her throat before speaking softly. 'Did you thinking killing me would be a mercy?'

          Her mother's brow raised and she took a longer drag from the cigarette, shaking her head as she did.

          'I never would have...killed you. You know that, don't you?'

          'I know that I want to...'  

          'Apologising to you would mean nothing. But I will tell you I forgive you everyday if even any semblance of that entertains you. If I had to do it I would have died with you...'

          Regret was painted on Sofia's face. Eleanor thought it different — interesting and captivating. Watching aged lines on skin that was still so pure and unblemished. It made her want to burn the rest of the tobacco to prevent her from ruining herself with it.

          'It was the... Splicers I found to be a mercy killing... Did you feel the same, Eleanor?'

          Eleanor just slowly nodded in agreement, but remained fixated on Sofia, who looked anxious. Anxious at the possibility anything she said was reopening wounds. If they could ever speak without arguing. If they could even be together anymore.

          'Mother?'

          'Yes, my dove?'    

          'I think you look wonderful as well.'

          Sofia hoped whatever subtext and ulterior meaning the words she said to her daughter—that she was now repeating to her—carried the same weight. She crossed her legs, feeling her torn tights drag against one-another. Before she could speak, her kin spoke again.

          'I want to talk to you about something...' She demanded, albeit timidly, 'I need to talk to you about it. I've been so scared since we surfaced. Of people, lights, noise. Maybe I need a psychiatrist,' she laughed nervously. 

          Mother nodded at what she already knew.

          The girl continued, 'But I've been having these nightmares. However, I'm not so sure they're dreams at all. People we knew are there. People left behind in Rapture, I mean. I don't know if I'm making this from narcosis, if I'm mad... I was told something about you, I want to know if it's true. For validation, I suppose,' Eleanor had scrunched her shoulders up and looked down at her feet as she confessed.

          Sofia's voice cooled significantly. 'Go on, Eleanor. It's alright.'

          'I just wanted to know who you're attracted to.'

          Unnerved by her words, the parent finished her cigarette and butted it out. 'If you are asking what I believe you are asking; then yes. I would appreciate it if you didn't say that out-loud either. It's not quite as accepted up here as it was in Rapture. I believe this is something you might have always known, manifesting itself.'

          'Or it's what's inside me.'

          'Yes... Does knowing who I am bother you?' Sofia whispered.

          Eleanor shook her head and shrugged, 'It comforts me... Because I think I might be too.'  

          'And just how do you know that?' She asked knowingly.

          'Please don't torment me, Mother.'

          'I think it's better for us both if we hear it. I know it's hard, but try and trust me right now.'

          The Big Sister felt her heart racing, hearing blood rush in her ears. She felt as if she couldn't breathe as she bit hard on her inner lip as her left leg began to kick up and down, barely fitting under the table. '...Because I'm attracted to you.'

          Sofia swallowed harshly and took off her glasses, trying not to show emotion on her face. 'For how long?'

          'In estimation... maybe since we started travelling. In actuality, I just don't know. How long have you?'

          'Have I what?'

          'Have you been attracted to me?'

          She took time to gather her words. 'You were the best thing that had ever happened to me. Not raising you however. I can't imagine either of us remember that. Just being with you as you grew older.' Sofia turn her head in shame from someone who both was and was not her daughter — and defeat of her life's work. 'That is how long...'

          'Maybe we've both gone mad...' Eleanor said in a strangely cheerier tone as she picked up an oyster and examined it.

          Resting an arm on the chair, Sofia glared at her daughter, 'You are not "mad", Eleanor. And being how you are isn't an illness-'

          'Unless I'm interested in my own mother?'

          'I don't believe I'm the right person to ask anymore. I just hope you understand how... unnatural this is.' 

          Eleanor smiled lazily at her as her mother titled her free hand, mimicking the correct way to eat an oyster. She copied her and swallowed the muscle, widening her eyes in a pleasant surprise at the taste.

          'Rather nice, aren't they...' The woman tried to converse, but felt the need to leave. Very soon. But she feared neither would know just what to do when they finally stood up. At least she knew it would be together. 

          Placing the shell back onto the tray, the air began to feel far more humid to Eleanor. The sun moved them into shade and the always increasing noise of the city shielded their words. 'How long have you known you were?'

          'As long as I can I remember.' 

          'Did you ever tell anyone?'

          'My father knew. I never told him, but he knew. More on the surface than in Rapture. I was far too busy with you.'

          'So, you have had relationships.'

          Sofia knew exactly what this was leading too and made no attempt to stop it. Whether Eleanor did was another question entirely, and she was the one asking already. Her fingernails dug into her palms as she awaited the inevitability of her daughter's next question. 

          'This is interesting to you, isn't it?' Eleanor observed as her mother's actions became less clinical.

          'I very much want to be fascinated. Fighting against years of social programming, taboo and instinct. Yet I am amazed you can even bare to look at me.'

          'Because you're the only person I have ever truly known. I may not forgive you for what you have done. Yet you were always there for me. I feel something for you and I don't want that to stop.' 

          Sighing an exhausted sigh, Sofia sat up straight again. '...I suppose we won't be accepted either way. Do you still want to be a Lamb? That is your choice now, not mine.'

          'Yes.' Eleanor replied eagerly, feeling things she never had before. 'I do.'

          The oddity of the situation made Sofia grin a bit in curiosity. 'My daughter or my lover?'

           'I think I want both.'

           'I find it so hard to see you that way, and I need to make amends... There's so much to show you.'

          The girl nodded in acknowledgement. She was aware of her abnormalities, psychical and blossoming social skills. But whatever skewed view of emotion lay within her healing mind, she knew it was right. It made her feel right, no matter how wrong anyone thought that was.

          'So, I suppose, if we're in a relationship, that this is a date?' Eleanor asked, more colour in her face than usual.

          'The most bizarre date I have ever been on.' Sofia chuckled, leaning forward, 'And the most public. With the most-lovely company.'

          '...Maybe later I could kiss you?

          Eleanor's attempts at flirting humoured Sofia, 'Why wait so long?' She asked in reply with a cruel smirk drawn on her lips.

          'And you could kiss me?'

          '...Where?'

          Daughter felt her face grow warmer — adjusting her new clothes awkwardly before reaching for another oyster. Mother reached for one too, barely noticing the rough and rigid exterior on her fingers. As both brought the oysters closer to their mouths, watching each other longingly, they knew the world was about to change.

 

~

 

'Am I even human to you?'

          'I know you think Rapture turned you into something awful. But it's not. It's wonderful. I never wanted a child, I wanted something more. Maybe you were my child once. Still, I wanted perfection. And I fear I got it.'

          'It shouldn't scare you...'

          'Throughout my life, I have always concluded that love is ultimately selfish.'

          Eleanor reflected on what she had told Delta. Love was just a chemical and it was up to whoever felt it to give it meaning. 'Maybe in our genes. If you devote your life to someone, in some form, I don't think that's selfish at all.'

          'Is that what you want from me? A fresh start at life — together'

          '...Where do we even start?'

          'I can show you...'

          The oddly patterned burgundy sofa in their dimly lit hotel room held little space between the mother and daughter. Slowly, they had inched towards each other as they spoke—their mouths inches apart—breathing in each others' breaths. Their taboo slowly faded with each inhale and exhale.

          Contact was unfamiliar to each of them. But as experienced as one was, and as inexperience as the other, they still sank into each other like a shipwreck. Hands and arms holding each other closer than they ever had before. Their lips soon moving in perfect synchronisation — anything to stop the nightmares from resurfacing.

       

          'I love you, Eleanor. Please, forgive me...'

 

          Eleanor did not reply just yet.