Chapter 1: Prologue: When a dream appears
That night, Sally dreamed of Rapture.
Except it wasn’t Rapture, it was home. Except it wasn’t home, it was Rapture.
She padded out into the hallway leading from the her room.. The light flickered and changed at seemingly random intervals. Each time, the light shifted the soft white of incandescent bulb to a lurid blue-green to a glowing gold. Each time, the dream took the familiar farmhouse and grafted onto it the decaying grandeur of Rapture or the gilt halls that had only existed in her carefully conditioned mind.
She turned back to her room, but the door had disappeared behind her. A dread filled her. What had happened to Addy and Ruth?
She pressed on, overwhelmed with the need to find the rest of her family.
As she walked, even the flashes of her home seemed unfamiliar; everything was just slightly off in the way it always is in dreams. The hallway was just a little too long, the space between her room and the next too far. Her father’s door at the end of the hall seemed to be moving farther and farther away, the distance extending impossibly with each step she took.
She sprinted the last few yards to her sisters’ door, even as her mind transformed the surroundings to Rapture. A series of manic screams and babbling seemed to be coming from the first floor.
The doorknob refused to budge. Then, it transformed in her hand from a rusted hunk of metal in a rotting piece of plywood to an intricately carved masterpiece set in a golden door.
“Leta,” She cried as she shook the knob, “Masha! Let me in!”
The screaming from downstairs had stopped, but now it was replaced by a quiet, mocking laughter which floated up the stairs.
Suddenly, the door was again the solid oak they had stripped of its awful paint and varnished two summers ago. Sally desperately pressed her ear to the door to hear some sign of life from inside, calling out her sisters’ names again. A faint and all too familiar two-toned giggling came from inside. Her heart stuttered.
“Found is lost and lost is found,” came from inside in a soft sing-song.
With a gasp, she pushed away from the door.
She was again in Rapture. The ceiling was gone, replaced with a glass dome. Overhead, a shark swayed indifferently, one cold black eye fixed on her. She watched it swim back down towards where she had come from.
Soft microphone feedback sounded from down the hall.
“See the pyramids along the Nile. Watch the sunrise on a tropic isle.”
Her breath caught in her throat at the soft, sad voice.
“Just remember, darlin', all the while, you belong to me.”
The halls again glowed white with expensive marble. She turned towards the singer.
Red carpet and rose petals led down to where Jack’s room lay. The door was gone, and a small platform stood in front of the wall.
Sally knew who the performer would be, the beautiful lady from her memories. She was clad in a beautiful red gown, crooning softly into the microphone. She looked healthy, stunning, framed in the golden glow of a spotlight, not at all like Sally had last seen her.
She had an audience of one sitting in an ornate chair directly in front of the platform. The beautiful lady’s blue eyes never moved from the man’s face as she sang. Even from behind, Sally recognized the broad shoulders and sandy blonde hair of her adopted father.
A feeling of nostalgia swept through the girl. It felt as if she was viewing a beloved memory from long ago. No, that’s not right, she thought. They never met. The lady had been dead for a year before Sally ever saw Jack. So why did this feel so real, so right?
“See the marketplace in old Algiers. Send me photographs and souvenirs.”
The singer seemed to catch sight of Sally for the first time, and sent her a sweet smile.
Jack followed her line of sight, turning in the seat to look at his girl. The former Little Sister felt a swell of pride at how handsome he looked in his tuxedo. She had never seen him so dressed up and polished, even in his Sunday best.
He sent her the same smile he had given her since the day she had helped take down Fontaine. Sally basked in the warmth of both loving gazes for a moment.
The idyllic scene started to flicker and waver at the edges, like bad reception on the downstairs TV. Green light started to seep in, and the spotlight dimmed, threatening to gutter completely.
No, she thought desperately, just a little longer.
The lady’s smile turned sad and her voice became softer and breathless, as if it was a struggle to draw air. She reached toward the girl.
“Just remember when a dream appears…”
The spotlight flickered out and in the dim ambient light of Rapture, Sally saw the woman as she had been that night in Fontaine’s, in her torn and bloody blouse and skirt, blood pouring from the side of her head, down her side, and dripping onto the floor.
“..you belong to me,” she rasped before crumpling to the floor like a rag doll, again going limp in death.
With a cry of horror, Sally rushed forward to help, only to stumble and fall on something in the dark.
She pushed herself up, and came face-to-face with Jack’s sightless eyes, a pool of blood expanding out from his head.
She went to scream, but instead woke with a start. Breathing hard and sweating, she pushed the blankets off and sat up.
It had been so long since she had dreamed of the lady. And even then, the image had always been fuzzy, the details blurred and made uncertain by the memory of a frightened small child. Tonight, everything had been so real, so clear, like she was watching it unfold in real time.
Willing her heart to slow, she peered around her room the light cast by the bright moon. Adelaide moved restlessly on the bottom bunk across the room, her blankets knotted around her. Sally could only hear a sigh and a shift from Ruth on the top bunk.
That often seemed to be the case. When one of them had a restless night, all of them had a restless night. It was one of those things she accepted as fact, but had decided not to dwell too deeply on.
Addy would be up soon from the looks of it, then she could talk about their dreams, compare notes like they always did. She stood and walked to the door, shutting it quietly behind her as she left.
The hall was as it had always been since they had come to live here eight years earlier: Masha and Leta’s door at the proper distance, Jack’s door a constant at the end of the hall. For a moment she contemplated going into his room and curling up next to him, like they had all done those first few months after their journey to the surface. Her teenage sensibilities balked at the notion, however. She was no longer a six-year-old frightened of the new world in which she found herself and traumatized by old world she had left behind.
She wouldn’t worry Dad over some stupid dream.
As softly as she could, avoiding the squeaky third step, she padded downstairs to the kitchen for a drink.
The open window over the sink let in a steady, cool breeze which fluttered the curtains and made Sally shiver. She regretted not grabbing the afghan from the living room. Nights in upstate New York could still be quite chilly, even in May.
As the wind died down, she became aware of a soft murmur of voices from the front of the house. The hairs on the back of her neck rose with the memory of the disembodied voices and laughter in her dream.
But those had not been a familiar baritone, a clipped German accent, and a raspy Chicago burr all blending together in a well-known harmony.
Surprised by the late night visit -but never let it be said that Tante kept regular hours- Sally quickly placed her glass in the sink and ran to the front door.
Sure enough, there in the orange light of the porch lamp sat Brigid Tenenbaum and Charles Porter together on the porch swing, drinks in hand.
She gave a cry of delight and ran to the woman, barely giving enough time for the scientist to put down her drink on the railing before catching the girl in a tight hug.
“Hello, little one,” she murmured fondly into the blonde hair. Sally straightened from her awkward position and smiled at the man next to her.
“Hello, Uncle Charles,” she said politely. He looked even better than he had when she saw him last month. Many of the scars covering his face were smoother, less angry and puckered, and he could open his left eye completely now.
“I don’t get a hug?” he rasped in mock offense. Sally was pleased to hear that speaking did not take nearly as much effort as it had, either. She complied and bent to wrap him tightly in a hug, as well.
“You grow like a weed,” clucked her Tante. That was true. Just cresting into fifteen and she had another growth spurt recently, as her exposed wrists and ankles on her now too short pajamas could attest.
“She’s going to need a new uniform before the summer even gets here,” Jack remarked from behind her, “She’ll be in a miniskirt at this rate.”
She turned to Jack where he sat on the top step with his back against the bannister. The smart remark about being a slave to fashion died on her tongue when she saw the young woman next to him. Eleanor Lamb sat on the next step down, looking unflappable and alert, even at the late hour.
Sally plucked at her sleeve, suddenly feeling conscious of everything from her ratty hand-me-down pajamas to her exuberant greeting. Eleanor had that effect on her. While only a few years her senior, Eleanor seemed much older and wiser than seventeen. Sally always felt clumsy and awkward in the face of her serene elegance. She hadn’t talked to her much in the months since the older girl had joined their strange little clan; she was closer to Adelaide’s age, anyway. At least, that’s what she kept telling herself.
“Hi, Eleanor,” she offered.
“Hello, Sally. I hope we didn’t wake you.”
She plopped down next to Jack, who lazily draped an arm over her shoulders. She curled into his side, just in time to see Eleanor look away. Another hot curl wave of embarrassment unwound in her stomach. Her friends at school always did accuse her of being a daddy’s girl.
“Oh, no. Just had a bad dream, that’s all.”
Jack peered down at her, concerned. For a moment, the dream returned, and she could only see his green eyes clouded over in death and face smeared with his own blood. She tightened her grip on him.
“It’s fine, Dad, really. Just a dream,” she reiterated.
He didn’t look convinced, but turned his gaze back to Tante, who held it. The two of them stared each other down for a moment, before she turned her head and huffed.
Sally knew the signs one of their tiffs when she saw it. At least this appeared to be more on the scale of a Cold War than World War III.
“What’s going on?”
Jack face contorted briefly, pain and worry flashing across his expression before he schooled it into placidity. He sighed.
Tante was looking at him again, her own expression unreadable. A quick glance at the rest of the faces on the porch gave away nothing either.
The light in the upstairs bathroom went on, casting its light onto the lawn. Addy was up, then, maybe Ruth. Sally wanted them down here. It would help if she didn’t feel like the only one not in on the joke.
Jack ran a hand through his hair, tousling the already messy strands.
“Sal, we’ve got something to talk about.”
Eleanor wished she hadn’t finished her iced tea quite so quickly. Then she would have something to do or look at while the Jolene family argued. She had a sneaking suspicion that it was only the presence of the others on the porch that kept it from going into a full-on shouting match.
Sally had been joined shortly by Adelaide and Ruth, who had come in as Jack was explaining that with Dr. Milton’s recovery, Tenenbaum was finally satisfied with the cure for ADAM sickness she had developed. Leta and Masha stumbled out on the porch just in time to catch the tail-end of the news.
The girls had crowed and congratulated their Tante, but they quieted quickly when their elation was only met with pursed lips and averted eyes from both the triumphant scientist and their father.
Adelaide had been the first to realize the significance of their silence.
“Oh, my god,” she whispered, “Tante, you’re going back.”
Four other female voices exploded in indignation, all speaking over each other.
“Are you crazy!”
“You’ll be killed!”
“Who knows if anyone is even alive down there!”
Eleanor wondered if it was the natural authority that the Belarusian radiated or some deeply instilled instinct from when she had been their only parental figure, but with only a raised hand from Tenenbaum, the chorus of voices died down. If possible, she only looked grimmer.
“It is not I who will be going. I will be staying in the Lighthouse. Another will be doing the dirty work.”
All at once, the rest of the porch was exposed to intense scrutiny as the former gatherers eyed Milton, quickly dismissing him, before turning on Eleanor.
Eleanor felt a wave of panic and shame rise up in her at once, making her neck flush, and she had to swallow down the nausea. She shook her head subtly to their unspoken inquiry. She had wanted to go when Tenenbaum first presented her plan, had told them she would, but then the shaking had begun. Concerned, they had quickly assured her that she didn’t need to, that Jack could go alone, that she had done enough. The words had stuck in her throat when she tried to protest.
Now faced with the girls that had been nothing but friends to her, she felt like she was sacrificing their father on the altar of her cowardice.
No, I’m sorry, she thought despairingly, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. Those last desperate moments she had with Father rose unbidden in her mind.
She had once again had to question her connection to the other former Little Sisters when their expressions softened, gentling seemingly in response to her emotions.
Now, as one, they turned to their father.
Eleanor shifted uncomfortably. A long pause ensued. The girls looked at Jack accusingly as he stared blankly back.
At Masha’s desperate question, Jack’s calm façade cracked and his chin wobbled slightly.
“It has to be like this.”
Eleanor felt like her panic from moments ago was now reflected on the young faces in front of her. Jack stood from his place on the steps and walked to where the girls stood in a cluster.
“Your Tante and your uncle can’t hold their own against the splicers. You know that. And I am not about to send Eleanor back down there when I can do the job myself.”
“Tante will be staying in the lighthouse and I’m going to be running reconnaissance to see what the situation down there is like. Then we’re going to figure out the safest way to save who we can. I’m going to be just fine.”
The tears had started in earnest for two girls.
“You know I can’t leave them down there to rot. Not when they might have a chance.”
It was to Jack’s credit, Eleanor thought, that his daughters all nodded in reluctant understanding. It seemed to be understood among them that if there was good to be done, it should be done.
“Doesn’t mean we have to like it,” said Ruth tearfully, rubbing a sleeve under her nose.
Jack pulled her against his side and placed a kiss on top of her dark head. “Never said you did.”
The rest crowded in, brought into the circle of their father’s long arms. Only Sally stood aloof, chewing on her bottom lip.
“We’re going with you.”
Jack’s head whipped up, as her sisters turned to look at her in shock.
“No, Sally, absolutely not.”
“We could stay up in the Lighthouse with Tante! We could help!”
Before Jack could protest, Tenenbaum spoke up.
“It is not the bad idea. Adelaide could help with any communication systems.”
Eleanor had to agree. The eldest Jolene girl was the undisputed queen of the AV club at her school and she had personally seen Adelaide once deconstruct and reconstruct a short-wave radio in almost five minutes flat.
“Sally could help with the bathysphere maintenance and repair.”
Expressions of excitement and triumph were spreading across the girls’ faces as Tenenbaum went on. Jack was pinning her with a look of absolute betrayal. She didn’t meet Jack’s eye.
They had an odd relationship, the scientist and her experiment. Tenenbaum had a fierce maternal pride and protective instinct when it came to Jack, though he had been specially developed to withstand most things. Eleanor wondered if this was an attempt to both ensure his safety and to remind him not to do anything too stupid.
“Let us see, Leta could help with any first aid…”
“And Masha can keep the moral tone high. I will be there to improve the looks of the group,” quipped Ruth.
“I will need you and Masha to be helping me plan and organize the whole procedure. You have excellent minds for the details.”
The girls looked immensely flattered by the complements from their infamously hard-to-please Tante.
“Dad,” Sally said imploringly, “Please let us. We’ll be safe, and we can help you! What could possibly happen to us in the lighthouse? It will be awful being stuck here, a thousand miles away from you!”
A murmur of agreement went up from the rest of the group, including Eleanor. She remembered the awful waiting, only catching glimpses of her father while he tore through the city to find her as she languished in the quarantine chamber.
In the meantime, Jack had recovered from his shock and with that, his voice.
“Absolutely not! I want you and your sisters thousands of miles away from that city! Under no circumstances will you be going anywhere near that lighthouse!”
So far, Jack’s second transatlantic voyage was going much better than his first.
It could be the pleasant weather and smooth seas. It could be that travelling by boat appealed to him much more than by plane. But it was more likely that he hadn’t been forced to kill all passengers and crash their means of transport. Yet, anyway. They weren’t even to the lighthouse, after all.
May and the beginning of June had passed in a flurry of activity, as they always did. There were recitals, concerts, award ceremonies, and all sorts of other end-of-the-year activities to attend for the girls. On top of the mundane activities, they also had to prepare for the return to a crumbling ruin of a capitalistic dream.
The rush had prevented him from really reflecting on what a stupid thing he had agreed to. It wasn’t even the decision to return to Rapture with the cure for ADAM sickness. He had argued for that with Tenenbaum for weeks when she first contacted him with the news.
By his lights, he was the only one who could. Tenenbaum was not capable of fighting the splicers or the Big Sisters; Milton had lost the strength of his Alpha Series modifications and was still in recovery; Eleanor had only just emerged from the underwater city, and while she had said she was willing, she looked on the verge of a panic attack at the thought. No, Jack wasn’t about to make the poor kid relive her mother’s tyranny and her father’s demise so soon.
Not that the bile didn’t rise in his own throat each time he thought of getting into the bathysphere and descending once more. So, Jack it was, even if Tenenbaum was still pretty miffed about the whole thing.
No, what this voyage had provided was a full four days to really contemplate what an idiot he had been in allowing the girls to come along.
That night on the porch, they had argued until the stars winked out one by one, and the first glow of dawn appeared on the horizon.
Jack had accused Tenenbaum of putting the girls at risk. She accused him in return of not knowing her at all; as if she would place any of her little ones in harm’s way.
The arguments and accusations flew back and forth for hours. Jack hated to admit, even a month later, that their points made sense. The girls were extremely intelligent and competent, far beyond what was normal for their ages. Jack had always wondered if the sheer amount of ADAM that had pumped through their small bodies for years had made them more advanced than most children. Or maybe that was the proud father in him speaking.
So, exhausted, outnumbered, he had given in, though only with the firm promise that the girls would never descend to Rapture and that if anything even seemed to be going amiss, they would get the hell out of there.
Now, on day four of their journey, Jack had checked, double-checked, and triple-checked his supplies, had done his daily target practice, and had even used a small amount of the EVE that Tenenbaum had smuggled back from Minerva’s Den to flex his Plasmids for the first time in eight years.
Now, there was nothing to do but stand at the starboard railing and contemplate the great green-gray expanse of the moody Atlantic Ocean and what a monumental schmuck he was.
“Daddy? Do you have a minute?”
Jack sighed and ran a hand through his hair, mussing the wind-tossed mop of dark blond even further.
The tension that had been building between him and his daughters had been easier to ignore, too, with the preparations for the trip. Now, stuck on this boat ---more of a modified corvette owned and piloted by a supposedly discreet “old friend” of Tenenbaum’s (Jack knew better than to ask) --- the strain had become harder to ignore. Each conversation was an exercise in strained cheerfulness and affected nonchalance. Milton and Eleanor, bless them, had been trying to gently smooth over the situation. The family had found more and more excuses to do chores around the boat away from each other.
Even sleep offered no relief. The nightmares had started in the weeks leading up to their voyage and had not abated. Yet, they had taken on a peculiar form the last few nights. He was in the lighthouse in those dreams. A woman’s humming echoed through the structure, but he couldn’t find the source no matter where he looked. A panicked desperation pressed him to find her, as if she were in immediate danger, yet he never could. It was by far the most benign form his nightmares had taken in a long time, but it never failed to make him wake in a cold sweat, a restless energy coursing through him that led him to pace the decks and fret for half the night.
He knew that the situation was near its breaking point. Now it seemed Sally had decided to force the issue out into the open; he had a suspicion that she had been feeling responsible for this whole escapade.
“Are you still angry with me?”
He let out a deep sigh and turned to her.
“Oh, kiddo, I wasn’t mad at you.”
She shifted uncomfortably.
“It’s just, you really haven’t been you for a while.”
Jack motioned her over as he turned again to face the ocean. The girl stood next to him, leaning on the railing and staring out at the water.
“I’m not mad at you, Sally,” he reiterated, “I’m just worried about you all being here. I feel like I’m bringing you right to the gates of Hell. Rapture’s like a black hole; anything that gets close seems to get sucked in and can’t escape. I mean, look at us.”
Jack smiled sadly, “Eight years and I thought we were done with the nightmare, and here it is drawing us right back in. I wanted to spare you and your sisters being sucked back in with me. I’ve had a month to stew over it. Sorry if I’ve been a heel. I’m just scared.”
Sally quirked a pale eyebrow.
“You? Scared? Dad, you went against the entire city before AND came out on top!”
“And I was absolutely terrified the entire time. I’m glad that you apparently don’t remember any screaming and running. There was a lot of that,” Jack recollected, still staring out with a serious mien.
Sally giggled, glancing up at his face, “No, I rather remember you as a knight in shining armor.”
“Can I be truthful, Sal?”
Sally nodded, watching him with concern and understanding.
“What I truly live in fear of is that there is video footage somewhere in Rapture of my first fight with a Big Daddy.”
Sally let out a helpless laugh. Jack flicked her ponytail.
“Never tell Tenenbaum or your sisters, but I’m glad you’re all here. It’s good to have you girls close. Plus, I may need you all to save my hide again.”
“Yeah, you will!”
Sally wrapped her arms around Jack’s waist and gave him a quick squeeze.
There was a commotion from behind them.
Jack and Sally turned and looked above the bridge where Masha and Tenenbaum had stationed themselves earlier to keep an eye on the horizon. Masha was cupping her hands over her mouth, trying to yell to them, but the wind whipped her words away. At their confused looks, she began pointing to something off the prow.
They raced to the bow and peered out into the distance. At first they could see nothing, but then, almost as if it had winked into existence in a moment, the beginnings of the wall of mist that surrounded the lighthouse appeared on the horizon.
A small war council was held on the forecastle as the boat continued its advance towards the impending fog. Tenenbaum explained that the lighthouse had a system which took in the water and produced the mist to interfere with navigation.
“But,” she assured everyone assembled, “the captain and his crew have accomplished this many times. They will be doing it again.”
Jack once again had to remind himself of his resolution not to ask questions.
It took them another two hours to finally reach the edge of the fog, where it stood like the walls of a fortress. As they slid into the grey, the feeling that they were entering an entirely new dimension pricked its way up Jack’s spine.
Later, he realized that they spent three hours navigating the mist. It felt like an eternity.
Everything, no matter where you looked was simply fog. Anything further than ten feet away was enveloped in the cloud. Every object turned an odd twilight grey in the half-light that the mist permitted to break through. The lights on the boat only provided a dim haloed glow around them. All sense of the time of day was lost.
The crew and their passengers did not speak. There seemed to be a silent understanding that any speech would bring down something unspeakable upon them. Even the ambient sounds of the ship were muffled and echoed strangely back, distorted by the curtain around it.
At last, a light broke through the mist like a great, glowing eye peering at them. The dark outline of the rest of the structure soon loomed out from the nothingness surrounding it.
The boat slowed to a halt and the crew began to prepare the motorboats that would take them directly to the lighthouse.
But Jack could already see the steps leading up to the rest of the structure, which he had dragged himself up and into a living hell nearly a decade ago, the very anteroom of Rapture.
Unbeta’ed, please forgive any glaring errors. Apologies for the delay, as well. I really, really hate writing exposition, so this was an absolute slog for me in an already busy month. I have hopefully set down some necessary groundwork for coming chapters.
The pace is going to pick up in a BIG way in the next chapters. No one is more surprised about this than poor Jack.
As always, please leave kudos or comment! Nothing motivates me like interaction with my readers!