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Chapter 5: An Old Friend

November 19, 1958

“The phrase ‘a needle in a haystack’ never seemed applicable until now. Especially considering I’ve never seen a haystack before.”

For over an hour, Alice had been combing over the Farmer’s Market. Aster’s old egg business/home now sold fruits and vegetables, and its current owner, a small man with the nervous tick of rubbing his hands, had never met the man he bought the space from. Alice resisted from asking around because if there was one thing she knew about the business owners of Rapture, it was that they didn’t care for questions that weren’t about their business or products.

She had to admit, the Farmer’s Market was one of her favorite places in Rapture. As it was part of Arcadia, it had some trees, paved cobblestones, grassy areas, and sweet-smelling air. That, combined with the almost-quiet energy of the vendors and customers, made for an environment that Alice could have enjoyed for hours on end, if it wasn’t for the fact that she was here on “business”. The business of finding an old friend.

From what Alice could tell, Aster Bunnymund had completely vanished into thin air. What she needed to do was to corner someone that knew him and see what knowledge they had of his whereabouts. The problem was that Aster had been a bit of a loner, and surly to boot. He hadn’t had many friends in Rapture, and it seemed he didn’t have very many topside, either. The only people that he seemed to open up with were Alice and other children. He especially liked “ankle-biters” as he called them. If the impromptu Easter egg hunt he had been setting up when she found him wasn’t proof enough of that, nothing was.

For some reason she couldn’t divine, Easter had been his favorite holiday. His favorite part was setting out colored eggs (very beautiful ones, by the by) for the children to find and then watch from an excellent hiding spot as they searched and shrieked in joy whenever they found one. He did it for free, and that worried Alice. That could be construed as altruism, and if there was one thing that Andrew Ryan hated (and there were many things he did), it was altruism. Alice didn’t know if Ryan’s dislike for philanthropy was extreme enough to warrant arresting a man who arranged Easter egg hunts for free. She didn’t allow herself to ponder what had happened to Aster if that was true and Ryan had found out.

Alice considered her next move as she sat on a grassy knoll and nibbled on some cheese she had bought with an apple. Amongst her once-errant memories was the recollection that this was one of her favorite snacks: an apple with some Rapture cheese. She wondered to herself just where the cows that produced the milk for the cheese, and for drinking, were kept. Probably some other area connected to Arcadia; the Market by itself wasn’t big enough to house any bovines.

Arcadia. That was the place where she had first found Aster. He shared her liking for the green, fresh-smelling glades and small fields of Arcadia. Rapture had its beautiful areas and Arcadia was at the top of the list. Ryan had started charging for the “privilege” of walking in its woods a few years before Alice had awoken. She personally thought that a breath of fresh air and the sight of calming green shouldn’t be a luxury to be bought. She had heard rumors that Ryan had burned down a forest he owned on the surface in order to prevent its nationalization. If that was true, Alice couldn’t help but wonder what measures Ryan had planned for Rapture’s discovery by the outside world, if that ever happened.

She had heard about “Johnny Topside”, a man who had found Rapture all by himself in a diving bell. Ryan had suspected the man of being a “government spook” and Sinclair Solutions, the same legal firm that found the evidence against Sofia Lamb, had managed to “prove” that Johnny was an agent for the US government and then the man himself had vanished. Alice noticed that Sinclair always seemed to be nearby whenever a person vanished in Rapture. As the man was now her landlord, she’d best stay low and hope that nobody figured out it was her that tried to kill Suchong. She had no intentions of getting familiar with the interior of Persephone.

As Alice finished her snack and stood up, a very familiar and unwanted voice sounded a few feet away.

“Alice Liddell, fancy finding you here.”

Mentally cursing her luck, Alice turned to behold the gigantic olfactory organ that was Priscilla “Pris” Witless’ nose. Alice had heard that Witless had been an alcoholic on the surface. Here she had continued her drinking thanks to the many businesses that sold the mind-numbing liquid to the masses. She had also discovered ADAM, hence the scraggly hair, filthy clothes, and huge nose. Most people that developed growths or tumors from ADAM usage did their best to hide them. Not Pris. She was either proud of it, or she pretended it wasn’t there. She had gotten Alice her clothes and her place at Bumby’s after Rutledge, only to start bothering her for money for ADAM. She believed that Alice owed her and used some of her ramblings from Rutledge to blackmail her. If Ryan had known, he would have labeled the woman a “Parasite”, and Alice would have agreed with him.

“Hello Nurse Witless,” Alice met her with an even look. “What brings you to the Market?” ‘Worley’s Winery, no doubt.’

“I came down to see if the rumors about Worley were true or not.” Witless had a sour look on her face. Alice decided that either she knew the woman too well, or that Witless was one of the few one-dimensional people that existed in the world.

“What rumors?” She asked innocently. She didn’t care two cents what the rumors were. It was only a matter of time before Witless asked her for some cash for ADAM; she was just stalling.

“The man has been watering down his wine. I prefer gin myself, but that should be a crime.” Witless’ alcohol preferences were gin in first place. “You might as well just pour it all out on the ground if you’re going to do that.”

“That is a shame.” Alice didn’t really care, though she did find the idea of mixing water with wine disgustingly cheap. ‘At this rate, they’ll be using fish teeth to make forks in a few years.’ “Out of curiosity, have you seen my Nanny around, nurse? I need to ask her a few questions.”

Nanny had been one of Aster’s most faithful customers, which had allowed Alice to spend a lot of time with the Aussie. In fact, there had been a few times when Nanny had left Alice with Aster while she shopped around the Market. She was one of the most likely people to know of his whereabouts. Alice couldn’t help but wonder why she hadn’t mentioned him sooner though, or why she hadn’t thought of asking her in the first place.

Witless sniffed though her large snozz. “Yes. In fact, I saw her going into the apiary just now.”

Nanny loved honey, especially from the Silverwing Apiary. Alice remembered one time they went there she had tried to examine one of the bee boxes only to get stung. Now that she thought about it, that was just before Nanny had started dropping her off at Aster’s. She probably figured his chickens weren’t as dangerous as Tasha Denu’s bees.

Alice saw her chance. “Thank you very much, Nurse Witless. I’d best leave you to your business. Ta-ta.” Alice turned and started to leave, hoping that Witless would just leave her alone for once.

“Not so fast, dearie.” She had that wheedling tone in her voice that Alice knew all too well. “I need some money for a little ADAM.” Alice turned to find Witless holding her hand out expectantly, greedily. “I heard that you came into some recently,” she grinned.

‘A little splicing? Right, and I’m a Madcap,’ Alice growled, holding back her gag instinct at the sight of Pris’ neglected mouth and teeth.

Slowly, Alice reached into her bag and counted out some bills. She held them out to Pris, who grabbed for them. Alice jerked her hand out of the way at the last moment. “Uh-uh. Before I give you that, I have something to tell you.” She leaned down until her face was in Pris' and glared hard. “I’m grateful for what little good you did for me after Rutledge, even though you became a leech in my side. I have my own place, my own clothes, and my own job now.” She narrowed her eyes. “Just to be completely, frightfully clear: I don’t owe you a damn thing anymore, so leave me be.” She finished the last word by stuffing the money into a sputtering Witless’ hands before turning to leave again.

“And if I go to the constables and tell them about your confessions?” Pris finally shot at Alice’s back.

Alice turned and gave her a contemptuous look. “Then I’ll tell them that you’re a bloodsucking Parasite leeching off the ramblings of a poor, mad girl. I imagine how they’ll react to that tidbit of information, along with all those times you blackmailed me into satisfying your craving for ADAM.”

As Pris stared angrily at her and grounded her teeth, Alice walked towards the Silverwing Apiary. With any real luck, Nanny would still be there.

She couldn’t help but feel especially smug. Part of her had always wanted to tell Pris Witless where to get off. She had to put up with the woman’s hunger for money and ADAM addiction for about a year now. It felt good to finally be rid of her. ‘I wonder why she didn’t threaten to use my association with Bumby as new blackmail material. She either can’t dip into her ADAM fund enough to buy a newspaper, or she can’t find anything in the article to use against me.’

‘I doubt that she’s going to do anything about it now. Every person like her is fearful of being labeled a Parasite. I suppose Ryan’s fanaticism is good for something after all.

With Fontaine, Atlas, and Lamb gone, maybe the paranoid man would relax his vigilant and ever-distrusting watch over the city. Many people were rethinking their initial opinions of Andrew Ryan. He was an excellent businessman with an incredibly charismatic and powerful personality, but that didn’t mean that he was immune to the power he now wielded.

‘Quite a few people, chiefly here in Rapture, seem to think that political power is the primary corruptor of the human species. The truth is that all power is corrupting: financial, technological, even genetic power. All power, if abused, leads to the ruination of its wielder.’

“I’d best watch myself lest I let the A-gene’s properties go straight to my head,” Alice said to herself. “It’ll hardly matter that I can’t get ADAM sickness if I go mad from the power bequeathed to me by my genetic inheritance. Besides, insanity comes in many forms, all of them undesirable.”

A speaker mounted on a nearby wall boomed to life with a jangling tune, nearly making Alice jump.

“What’s the matter, Frank?”

“It’s this thinning hair, Jim! Every day there’s less and less.”

“You know the problem’s not in your hair, it’s in your genes.”

“Hey, I don’t go in for all that splicing stuff, my buddy says it's not safe.”

“Shows you what your buddy knows. Go over to Genetic Horizons for a trial of Fresh Hair. Fresh Hair not only gives you a full head of thick hair, but it’s 100% safe.”

“Full head of hair? And 100% safe?! Maybe it’s time for me to get a little Fresh Hair!”

“Forget about power driving me mad,” Alice muttered as she hurried off before another advertisement could start. “Those inane advertisements will be the cause of any future relapses.”

Nan Sharpe was exiting the Silverwing Apiary with a small jar of honey poking out of a bag just as Alice walked up. The look on her face when she saw Alice could only be described as overjoyed. The last time she had seen Nanny, Alice had been dirty, disheveled, knocked out, and nearly burnt alive (again) in the fire that consumed the Mermaid. Considering how she looked now in comparison to then, that expression was very appropriate.

“I believe you warned me against making odd faces for danger of the wind blowing and freezing my face,” Alice said, smiling as she stopped a few feet away from Nan

Nanny abruptly shut her mouth and hugged Alice like she would have if Jack Splatter hadn’t slugged them both in the face and set that electrical fire. There was still some bruising around her right eye, showing where Splatter had struck her before Alice had entered her office. As she hugged back, Alice hoped that he was rotting away in Neptune Bounty’s makeshift jail like Carmine said he was.

“My word, Alice! I heard all about what Bumby was doing to you and all those tykes. If I had any idea what he was up and what he had done to your sister and parents…can you ever forgive me?” Nanny cried when she pulled away from her. Alice was shocked to see some tears threatening to spill out of the usually reticent older lady.

“There’s nothing you need to be forgiven for, Nanny,” Alice said, fixing her with a look. “He had everyone fooled: you, me, the constables, everyone he interacted with saw only a doctor on his way to becoming one of Rapture’s best, not a purveyor of abuse and perversion. Everyone knows the truth about him and his atrocious interests now, and that’s what matters.” ‘And the fact he’s dead, of course,” she mentally added.

“Thank you, dear.” Nan took out a handkerchief out of a pocket and dabbed briefly at her eyes. “Still, it’s infuriatin’ to know that I was not only letting you work and live with that spider of a man, I was practically encouragin’ you to give in to his memory erasin’ when I told you it was time to move on.” She sniffed and put the handkerchief away. “Maybe now you can finally find some peace of mind.”

“Thank you, Nanny,” Alice replied. “I’m no longer hallucinating, though Wonderland has certainly changed, for the better this time,” she quickly added. Best to get to the point right away. “I’m sorry to bother you with something else, but I’m truly concerned. Whatever happened to Aster Bunnymund? I remember you always swore his eggs were the best in Rapture.”

Nanny's face fell somewhat. “Well,” she sighed, “at least you’re not askin’ about that rabbit of yours again.”

“Radcliffe gave that back to me along with Poppa and Momma’s money,” Alice explained. “That was perhaps one of the few halfway decent things he’s ever done in his life, especially after the path he started you down. Now, what happened to Mr. Bunnymund?” she pressed.

Nanny looked over her shoulder. “Let’s talk where we’re less likely to be trampled.” She and Alice began walking back to the main marketplace. “Why the sudden interest in Bunnymund? You haven’t mentioned him once since you were discharged from Rutledge.”

“The reason for that is simple,” Alice answered. “All my memories concerning him finally came back to me about a day after we last conversed.”

“…You mean you didn’t remember him at all?” Nanny stared at her for a moment. “The fire and Bumby’s ‘treatments’ must have damaged you more than any of us realized. Honestly, I’m not sure what’s happened to him or where he’s gone off to.”

“And why is that?” Alice continued. She wasn’t backing down from this.

“You’re too direct for your own good, Alice. Maybe you should consider becoming a detective when you’re on firmer ground.” Alice raised an eyebrow, waiting. “Very well,” Nan sighed as they entered the door to the main part of the Market. “Bunnymund was one of your most faithful visitors while you were in Rutledge, even more than I was. He was heartbroken over what had happened to you and your family. He was never the same, or he become more so than ever; more reclusive and surlier than I’ve ever seen him.”

Alice had to admit that Aster had a grumpy exterior to him. Then again, she couldn’t criticize now, could she? If asked for one word to describe her, “surly” would be one of the most common that others would use.

“When he wasn’t at Rutledge visitin’ you,” Nanny continued, “he could be found in his egg stand caring for the chickens or at the cabin in Arcadia he bought back in ‘54.”

Alice remembered that Aster had told her of his dream: a cabin in Arcadia where he could look outside and imagine that all the world was a peaceful woodland. He loved plants, which made Alice wonder why he didn’t sell vegetables instead of eggs. He had also told her that he loved spring, calling it the “Season of Hope”. In Rapture, Arcadia was the only place where any spring existed. Now, Alice wondered to herself why Aster had ever left the surface if he loved spring so much. That was definitely something to ask him when she located his whereabouts.

“He was doing well until ‘56, when someone decided that it was ‘good business’ to poison most of his chickens.” Alice started at that and began to seethe. She had liked his birds, and Aster had always been attached to them. “What few survived weren’t enough to support him, and when he began to have troubles with a few investments he had made, he was forced to close his stand and work at what odd jobs he could find. It was shortly after that he became really secretive. There were a few rumors that he was working with Fontaine’s smuggling.”

At Alice’s expression of horror, Nanny quickly added, “They was just rumors. There was never any proof. Well, any proof that was found, that is. It was shortly before you recovered that he just vanished. All his disappearance did was fuel more tales that he was working with Fontaine. No one could find him and those who tried soon quit. No profit in it.”

Alice could only snort at that. At least the greed of those searching for Aster was stronger than any determination to find a suspected accomplice or betrayer of Fontaine’s. It helped that most of his and Ryan’s men were (or in Fontaine's case, had been) mindless thugs who only did as they were told. Not an ounce of initiative in any of them.

“And his whereabouts are unknown to this day?” Alice asked.

Nanny nodded. “It’s like he never even came to Rapture in the first place.”

Alice was reminded of similar things said about men and women who disappeared in Rapture. She had heard that Grace used to have a man in her life who came to every single one of her performances. The Limbo’s star singer used to blatantly sing about life in the Drop and when he had vanished, she had started singing “Rise, Rapture, Rise”. When Dr. Lamb came along, she had apparently given Grace new courage to sing her mind. If she ever came back, Grace would definitely return to Lamb’s tune with a vengeance.

“I’ve already been to his stand,” Alice said. “Please, do you know where his cabin is?”

“Oh no,” groaned Nanny. “Don’t tell me that now you’ve gotten your rabbit back you’re going to get fixated on Bunnymund.”

“I don't fixated on objects or people,” Alice snapped. “I know I was insistent on learning what had happened to my rabbit, and I apologize for any aggravation that I caused. Please Nanny, if that’s all that you know about Aster Bunnymund, I won’t bother you again about him. I promise.”

Nanny regarded Alice for a moment before sighing loudly. “Focusing entirely on the past won’t help you when there’s only the future left, Alice. But if it will make you feel better, I do know where Bunnymund used to hang his hat. Just don’t be surprised if someone else has already bought the property.” She told Alice where she could find Aster Bunnymund’s old cabin.

“Thank you, Nanny,” Alice said, smiling. “I just want to make sure he’s alright. I don’t want to lose anyone else I care for.” Alice suddenly remembered something. “Oh, I forgot completely. Do you have any place to stay? I recently moved into the Sinclair Deluxe in the Drop. It’s not Mercury Suites by a fathom, but it’s better than nothing.”

“I’ve been staying with a friend,” Nanny answered. “I don’t want to be any trouble.” She looked hesitant when Alice mentioned the Drop.

“You won’t,” Alice responded. “I have a job as a waitress at the Limbo Room, a jazz club. Don’t worry, it’s respectable, for the Drop,” she added quickly. “You took care of me and Lizzie when we were children; the best way to show appreciation for that is to assist you now.”

Nanny was silent for a moment as she considered what Alice was saying. They had stopped right in the middle of the marketplace and were receiving a lot of dirty looks from passing shoppers for being in the way.

“I suppose,” she finally said, “that I could move in with you, after I had a day or two to gather my things together.”

Alice smiled at her. “If you need any aid with moving, I’ll be more than glad to help you. Now, I think I’ll go have a look at Aster’s old residence. Good day, Nanny. See you soon.” Alice hurried off, her step a little chipper than before.

“Alice,” Nanny called out after her, “take care now! Just because Bumby’s dead doesn’t mean there aren’t more of his ilk slinkin’ around Rapture!”

BS+AMA=WS

Nan Sharpe continued to go about her shopping in the Farmer’s Market, buying groceries for herself and her friend, a fellow worker in their occupation. Nothing had disgusted her more than when she had had to turn to the world’s oldest profession in order to eat. She remembered one time in her life when she had looked down on “working women”, even sneered at them. Only a few days earlier, she had been the owner and manager of the Mangled Mermaid: a Prostitute of prostitutes.

There were times when she would think back to the good old days when she and Mrs. Liddell taught the girls in the little “schoolroom” just down the hall from Mr. Liddell’s study. He would sometimes pop his head in the door and then just as quickly pop back out to hear the girls giggle at his antics. The three of them, Mr. and Mrs. Liddell and herself, they had made a good team when it came to raising and educating first Lizzie and later Alice.

They had been through so much together. Lizzie’s growth from a little girl into a beautiful, young woman, Alice’s birth, the education of both of them, the Blitz, and then Rapture. Mr. Liddell had lost his beloved father during the Blitz, a saint of a man who had managed to die peacefully in a bed surrounded by his loved ones instead of being the recipient of a German bomb. The loss of his last living blood relation had been one of the factors that convinced Arthur Liddell to move his family down to Rapture. To their own fiery deaths, of all the cruel ironies.

Nan couldn’t help but wonder if the Liddells would be ashamed of her for what she had become after their passing. She could just imagine the looks on their faces if they were to somehow come back to life and learn all that had happened in their absence. There had been no demand whatsoever for nannies in Rapture; people were perfectly content raising their children without help from a stranger. A stranger whose last employers had died in a house fire. And then Radcliffe had come along with an “offer” and her new career had taken off from there.

She had been in no way a suspect in the fire and the subsequent deaths of the Liddells and their eldest daughter; she had been on the other side of the city the night it happened. It was just that she didn’t really serve a purpose in Rapture anymore. She had been “the Liddell’s Nanny” since the first day. Thankfully, no one had suspected her of setting the fire out of some jealous fit brought on by an attraction for Arthur Liddell. That had never come up at all. At the least, he was her employer; at the most, a good friend.

Nan finished the rest of her shopping and began to work her way to the bathysphere station. She couldn’t help but wonder what Alice would find at Aster Bunnymund’s cabin. It was a nice place; she had come across it while on a rare walk though Arcadia’s woods and he had been polite enough to invite her inside. She had declined at the time, but from what she had seen through the open door, it looked like a very homey place to live. What had surprised her were the plants growing in the window boxes. Then again, he could have much worse hobbies than growing flowers and other green things.

Coming to the bulkhead that separated the Farmer’s Market from Arcadia, Nan couldn’t help but worry about Alice. Seeing the young girl in Rutledge Asylum had been heartbreaking, even more so because if she recovered, she would have no family to return to. Her recovery had been bittersweet, especially now that Bumby’s real intentions towards her had been revealed. She was sane again, but the little girl she had been, and the young woman she could have become, were gone. One had died in the fire and at Rutledge, the other never had the chance to exist. At least, it seemed that Alice was starting to get her feet on stable ground after all that had happened.

It was still a little hard for her to wrap her head around it all: Dr. Angus Bumby, respected scientist and social architect, had been responsible for the Liddell’s deaths, Alice’s descent into madness, and the destruction of so much innocence and so many young lives.

Personally, she had never really cared for him, even when he was coming to the Liddell’s for tea. She remembered Lizzie’s dislike for the man, but had assumed that he had finally got tired of chasing her. However, now that she thinking of it, it all made sense. Lizzie had been a very sweet girl, and her utter loathing for Bumby had seemed quite out of character, except that it perfectly fit the feelings that the girl would hold against someone capable of the evil that the Tribune had written of. What was infuriating was that ever since his graduation from Rapture University, she had heard nothing but good things about him. His work with psychology was paralleled only by Dr. Lamb’s, and he had used it to line his pockets with the suffering of the innocent.

The PA system chose that time to play a message. “Rapture citizens, please be advised: Dr. Yi Suchong was attacked in his clinic yesterday morning by a Parasite wielding a large kitchen knife. The Parasite has been described as a woman with shoulder-length, black hair. If such an individual is spotted acting strangely, please alert your local constabulary. This Parasite is very dangerous. Remember, this Parasite has her eye on Rapture’s finest. Keep your eye out for the Parasite.”

“Oh dear,” muttered Nan. “Now some maniac is out tryin’ to kill people. We don’t need that, even if Suchong is a bad egg. Alice will surely be targeted. Black hair. As if it wasn’t enough that she….” Nan nearly stopped short in her tracks as a thought came thundering across her brain. What if Alice…?

‘Now you're just getting senile, Nan Sharpe,’ she chided herself. ‘Alice wouldn’t do something like that, not even if she was mad again. Attacking Suchong, ha. Then again, Bumby’s death sounds too convenient, don’t it? Slipping from a train platform to get ground to a pulp under the train, and there are all those rumors about Suchong’s experiments. And those Little Sisters….’

Nan shook her head as she came up on the bathysphere station. Alice would always be an odd girl, but she wasn’t that daft. Then again, it might be a good thing that she would be moving in with her former charge. The girl needed a steady figure in her life, and Nan Sharpe was nothing if not steady.

BS+AMA=WS

“A Rapture reminder: Your actions may be monitored, but they will never be judged.”

“That is the most nonsensical statement I’ve heard yet,” muttered Alice as she left the main part of Arcadia. She had heard the message concerning her little adventure at Suchong’s yesterday. It would appear that Cheshire’s warning was coming true and that her foolhardy actions were coming back to bite her backside. When she began receiving the suspicious looks of the “Ryan philosophy” fanatics and the greedy stares of those out to make a reward from turning in Parasites, Alice simply ignored them and acted as she usually did: Aloof and indifferent. That, and the absence of any sharp kitchen utensils on her person, seemed to satisfy them that she wasn’t the Parasite to be watched for.

Alice entered through the Securis door that led to some of the larger, out-of-the-way parts of Arcadia. There were several areas that branched off from what some called “Rapture’s Lungs.” These areas were usually extra spaces for growing trees and plants. A few of them had cabins built on their grounds for the purpose of housing those who wished to “get away” from the hustle and bustle of normal city life.

Alice could remember Aster telling her that one of his goals was to save enough money to buy a cabin and live away from the Market. He slept, ate, and lived in the stand where he worked, and she could tell that he had been miserable. City life, which was pretty tame in the Farmer’s Market, was not Aster Bunnymund’s cup of tea at all. He had been a jumpy one, bursting with energy and nerves. Some of the other shopkeepers had jokingly asked him if his father had been a rabbit; his last name seemed to suggest it. She couldn’t help but smile at that memory. He hadn’t been amused with them in the least and had let them know it.

She was glad that Aster had been able to realize his dream of a peaceful and quiet home amongst the buzz of life in Rapture, if even for a little while. Whenever he had spoken of the Australian ranch where he had grown up, his eyes had lit up and that rare smile of his would show. It was there that he had learned his expertise with all things living, whether they be plant or animal. He had told her stories about the scrapes that he and his father had gotten into, of the cattle drives and nights spent staring at the “Bush Telly”, or stars. Alice could barely remember the stars, or anything else topside.

He had told her about the times he and his parents would drive to the nearest towns. He had loved those trips to the city. And then there had been that one trip to the coastal city of Darwin. The city had sounded like a strange and wondrous place to the young Bunnymund. His stories ranged from as far back as he could remember up to that particular event. From there however, he clammed up and wouldn’t tell her anymore. Even as a child, she knew that there were some things that people didn’t want to talk about, and so she had left Aster alone when he grumpily refused to continue talking about his past during the war. Now, she was sure that something terrible had happened in Darwin, something on the scale of her own tragedy.

Not surprisingly, Aster had bought the cabin that was the farthest away from Arcadia’s heart. It was a bit of a walk between his cabin and his old stand, but Alice could see why he had put up with it. She was almost there, and if it wasn't for the glass-metal alloy overhead shielding the glade she was in from the cold and pressure of the Atlantic Ocean, she could have easily forgotten that she was in Rapture. She could barely hear any of the street chatter she was accustomed to, and in the case of the bothersome advertisements, announcements, and other such rubbish, it was a relief.

The fresh air, the moisture, the smell of the soil, and the sound of a nearby brook occupied all of her senses to her delight. Someone even had songbirds brought down for the express purpose of making Arcadia’s glades and woods seem even more authentic. She paused in the middle of the glade and just closed her eyes. She let the calm sink into her nerves and slowly began to relax. This place was pure bliss.

‘I believe I’ll take a page from Aster’s book and come live here,’ Alice mused. ‘This location is so serene, one would think they had died and left the ocean for the heavens.’

A child’s laugh interrupted her thoughts. She turned to find the child only to stop short. There, a few yards to her left and under the shade of an oak tree, was a shimmering something in the air. A door or a window, she couldn’t tell which. From within came the sounds of a child’s happy laughter, innocent and joyful. Within it, she could just make out a field of large, bright flowers. Flowers that she had never seen before, either in London or in Rapture.

Alice turned and hurriedly left, her good mood spoiled as she remembered her first encounter with the “portals”, as they were called. They had started appearing all over Rapture about a month or so earlier. She had looked into one before and she didn’t want to think about what she had seen in it. It was too painful, even more so now that she knew the truth about Bumby.

It had been a month ago on October 19, 1958, exactly eleven years since the fire. Dr. Bumby had suggested that a distraction would be the best thing to help her forget the pain from the fire and had given her some money to go enjoy a night out at Fort Frolic. After wandering the halls advertising the casinos, clubs, and other vices the Fort had to offer, Alice had settled on listening to Elizabeth Comstock, Sander Cohen’s Songbird, perform at Fleet Hall.

All the things she had heard about the newest disciple of Sander Cohen’s were true. Her voice was of a beauty born from pain and sorrow, each note flowing from her throat, putting the audience into a trance that Alice wouldn’t have minded staying in. The girl who bore her sister’s name possessed the voice of the angel that Alice was sure Lizzie had become. Like Lizzie, Elizabeth was beautiful; unlike Lizzie’s chestnut locks, Elizabeth’s hair was much darker, and her eyes were blue. There was something…off about those eyes however, like they had seen far more than other person ever had, and the result was that those eyes shone with the cold and aloof attitude of a Tundraful glacier, even more cynical than Alice was.

After seeing the rest of the show (the applause for Elizabeth had been enough to shake the roof), Alice had gone out onto the Fort’s Atrium to find a crowd of people grouped around something right in the large room’s center, gawking and chattering away at it. Her natural curiosity piqued, she had elbowed and pushed her way to the front of the ring, stopping only when she was in front of the thing. She had never seen anything like it before, like a rippling tear in the air itself. Looking into it, Alice was stunned to find herself looking right into the eyes of none other than her older sister.

The inside of the “tear” was black and white like the few TV monitors that she had seen. As close as she was, Alice could hear Lizzie speaking, along with other things. Lizzie was standing and talking animatedly to a handsome young man, their arms linked as they walked down a London sidewalk, her mouth in a stunning smile, her eyes dancing with mirth and joy. A large diamond ring adorned her right hand, matching the plain one that the smiling, curly-haired man sported on his own. Coming up on a house, the door burst open to admit a stranger, smiling and laughing as she ran up to Lizzie and the young man, her hair flying behind her, her emerald green eyes flashing with a joy utterly alien to Alice. It was only after Alice saw her parents smiling down on the scene from the house’s front door that she realized who the stranger was: it was herself.

Backing away from the impossibility she was seeing, Alice could feel a roaring start up in her head as her vision blurred and vertigo took over. Next thing she knew, she was in the Land of Fire and Brimstone, in the burning ruin of her house with the broken, smoking remains of the Jabberwock screaming at her. “You selfish, misbegotten, and unnatural child!”

She had awakened in her cell at Fontaine Fisheries, suffering from the headaches that often followed her psychotic episodes. Since then, she had avoided any places where one of those portals were rumored to be, along with the entire area of Fort Frolic. A new conversation had later been added to the Jim and Mary propaganda playlets, with Jim reassuring Mary that the portals were just a consequence of so much genius in Rapture plumbing the absolute reaches of physics and science. Alice had no idea what they were and she wanted nothing to do with them.

She shooed those thoughts away as she came upon the cabin that Aster had once called home. It was the most remote of all the cabins in Arcadia and this was proved by the absence of all noises, smells, and sights associated with civilization. The only man-made things in sight were the cabin, the vine-covered walls, and the transparent ceiling. It was the perfect place for someone like Aster Bunnymund, someone who was truly a child of nature.

As Alice came closer, she studied the structure keenly. It was a nice-sized cabin, two stories, windows, some space behind it that allowed for a backyard. However, it seemed to be abandoned. The grass that grew right next to its walls was up to the windows. One of them was broken and another had a shudder about to fall off. One whole wall had been swallowed by vines, and the window boxes were full of dirt and dead plants, something she doubted that Aster would have liked. The whole place had an air of abandonment and deterioration.

Alice peered through the first-story windows, trying to spy any activity. The interior, shrouded in darkness, revealed nothing to her. Taking a step back, she turned her attention to the door. It was an old-fashioned door with a knob that had to be turned to open. Alice tried turning it, only to find it was locked. She considered it for a moment, and then simply kicked the door open. The door flew open with a loud bang in the quiet solitude, almost causing she to jump guiltily. When no angry voice or gun barrel came out of the gaping doorway, she entered.

‘Brute force, augmented with SportBoost, is all one needs occasionally,’ shee smirked to herself. She only hoped that Aster wouldn't be too peeved with her if, no, when she found him. A broken door was not the best way to rekindle a friendship.

After stumbling around in the dark for a few minutes, Alice found the light switch and clicked it on. Even so far out here, there was all the comforts of a modern day dwelling. Electric lights, an oven, a refrigerator, all the modern conveniences in this rustic cabin. There was even a television and a radio in the corner. Alice recalled Aster played classical music to his chickens, but would always change the station or turn the radio off completely whenever one of Sander Cohen’s pieces was broadcasted. Aster disliked the man’s music, and that was before Cohen had gotten bizarre.

Finding nothing in the kitchen, the den, or the bathroom but dusty furniture, Alice took her search to the second floor. She knocked on the master bedroom’s door.

“Aster,” she called out before opening it. Besides a chest of drawers, a bedside table, and a bed with a bare mattress on it, there was nothing in the room. The closet held nothing besides a few mice which scurried away and an audio diary in the corner.

It had been made on September 17th, 1957 by “E. Aster Bunnymund” and titled “So Long”. When Alice flicked the play button, Aster’s familiar Aussie accent came out of the diary’s speakers. “If the twerp that’s sneakin’ around my house is listenin’ to this, I’ll tell you now that there’s nothin’ here worth stealin’. And if you’re one of Ryan or Fontaine’s show ponies, I have two words for ya: Rack. Off. I’m done with the trap that the two of them laid for me, and for everyone else in Rapture. And if you’ve got any brains left in your heads, you’ll do the same.”

“It’s a comfort to see he hasn’t changed a bit,” she muttered.

Alice checked everywhere before going back down to the kitchen. Besides the diary, there was simply nothing to be found anywhere. Alice slumped down in the chair and sighed heavily. A dead end.

‘This isn’t the worst setback I’ve ever suffered,’ she told herself. ‘Remember when the Hatter was so unserviceable after all the work I did fixing him and going after the Hare and Dormy?’

She thought back to when she had retrieved the Hatter’s arms and legs from his former friends, both of which were hungry for revenge after the horrors that Alice had unconsciously subjected to them all and that Hatter had knowingly done to them.

She remembered the things that the Dormouse had spouted out from the loudspeakers of “Smelling & Regurgitation”, the part of Hatter’s Domain that he had been in control of.

“A good worker is a live worker, paid to live and work. A bad worker is a dead worker, and vice versa. Don’t be a bad worker. Bad workers are slaves and dead.”

“Payday for good workers has been postponed indefinitely. Payday for bad workers has been cancelled.”

These and other things he had broadcasted through the factory. Alice wondered if the damages done to the Hatter’s Domain through her subconscious doings had been a warped reflection of her thoughts about the workers’ conditions in many of Rapture’s workplaces and of the propaganda that Ryan spoon-fed its citizens. The last time she had been to Wonderland after the Dollmaker’s fall, the Hatter, the Hare, and Dormy were still cybernetic, but they were happy friends again. The Hatter’s Domain had meshed with Hephaestus, a very logical combination given the Domain’s affinity for machinery.

Alice shook her head back to the present moment. Where was she going to go for answers now that her only source, Nanny, had been exhausted? She couldn’t go to the authorities; they might arrest Aster if they managed to find him. There was nowhere else for her to go. No one really cared for anyone else’s welfare in this blasted, selfish fishtank.

Alice got up and began to stomp her way angrily back to the door when she noticed it. The floor beneath her sounded hollow, like there was something beneath it. She kneeled down and narrowed her eyes at the floor. She hadn’t seen any doors that would lead to a basement. Had Aster constructed a secret hideout beneath his cabin?

Hope springing up in her breast, Alice turned on her X-ray vision. There, underneath the kitchen table, was a familiar, white form, crouching down and looking up at her. As she looked around, Alice realized that loose objects showed up as blue and that movable objects, such as the door, turned a pink/purple. There, under a rug, was what looked like a trap door. Alice yanked the rug off and couldn’t help but smile as she saw the finger-sized holes meant for opening it.

Turning off her X-ray vision, Alice stuck her fingers into the holes and pulled. The trapdoor swung open with a protesting, grating sound that made her head ache. “Aster,” she began to call into the darkness. She was stopped short by the sight of a .45 Automatic shoved up from the hole and into her face.

“You’ve got five seconds to tell me who ya are and what ya want before I blow your noggin right off, mate.” Bunny’s voice came out of the gloom, hard as diamond and twice as sharp. Alice could see his green eyes narrowed at her in distrust and concentration.

She almost lost her voice in shock. This potentially tragic scenario hadn’t presented itself in her mind whenever she thought how her reunion with Aster would turn out. The tragic potential of this situation would be horrible unless she could defuse it.

“Aster,” she managed to gasp out. “It’s me, Alice Liddell.” When he blinked at her name, she added, “My Nanny would drop me off at your egg stand while perusing for necessities. Have you forgotten me?”

Aster slowly lowered his gun and stared at Alice for a moment. His eyes widened in recognition and amazement as the .45 clattered to the ground beneath him.

“Alice?” he whispered hesitantly, almost as if he were afraid that she was going to vanish. He slowly climbed out of the trapdoor, while Alice moved back to make room. He stood to his full height of six foot one and stared down at her.

She took the opportunity to look him over as well. Besides looking older (it had been a decade), he hadn’t changed much appearance wise. His hair was still dark-brown and his eyes a forest green. He still had the mutton-chop sideburns, as well as the prominent buck teeth that added so much to his personal Aussie charm. His clothes hadn’t changed much; they were older and scruffier than the ones he had worn in her childhood (except for the wide-brimmed hat, that had always been old), especially the rawhide vest and jacket he wore. Other than his age and his attire, he hadn’t changed a bit.

She knew that she had definitely changed since the last time they had met. She had metamorphosed physically and mentally into the individual she was today, a being not unlike Aster in some respects. She was a taciturn, irritable girl that distrusted almost everyone around her. A small part of her wondered if he would want to be in her company when he realized this, but she quashed that part for the moment.

“Alice,” Aster started, “you’re….” He paused, searching.

“In my right mind?” Alice offered. “That’s debatable on some days.”

Aster stood there for a moment, just staring. When Alice was about to ask if he was alright, she suddenly found herself in his arms. She jumped at first before relaxing into his embrace. Besides Nanny, she didn’t like being touched like this by anyone. Alice just didn’t care for physical contact unless she cared for the person in question. If a stranger were to try something so forward, he would be sorely disappointed, emotionally and physically.

“I’m so sorry, Alice,” Aster whispered in her ear. “I wasn’t there for you when you needed me, not when you woke up or when your family….” He stopped himself right there. “And now I nearly just shot you,” he whispered. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s quite alright, Aster,” Alice replied. “I broke your door coming in.”

Aster looked up at his front door and snorted. “Nothin’ I can’t fix. That door must be a worse way than the rest of the house if you could break it.”

Alice snorted nervously. The news about her A-gene could wait a little while; it was rather unbelievable. “I would like to inquire a few things of you. It’s been a very long time since we last spoke,” she redirected the conversation.

Aster cleared his throat as he stepped back from Alice. “Well then, let me get a light goin’ down there. It’s darker than the insides of Fontaine’s mind.” He disappeared down into the “cellar”, where a light soon blossomed, revealing a ladder which Alice climbed down.

She looked up to behold Aster's hideout. It looked to be a natural cave right underneath his cabin. Easily twice as large as the first or second floor of the above structure, Aster had taken the cave and turned it into a home as much as possible. Lamps provided heat and light to an assortment of plants growing in pots. A work bench with what looked like two boomerangs resting on it stood off in one corner next to a sleeping bag. A virtual mountain of canned goods and bagged foods lay in another corner with a well-used can opener on top of it all. A simple table with two chairs stood in the middle of the cave. In the gloom beyond the light of the lamp, Alice could make out some openings which apparently lead to other caves. Lights glowed in some of them as well.

“Not that I really need to ask,” Alice said, turning her attention to the twin boomerangs on the workbench, “but what is this place?”

“Undersea cave, one of many connected underneath Rapture. I found it ‘bout a year and a half after I bought the place,” Aster explained as he carefully picked his gun off the cave floor and cleaned it off before placing it in a shoulder holster underneath his vest. “Welcome to the Warren, which has been my home for the past year now.” He pulled one of the chairs out and took the other one. “Have a seat. We’ve got a whole lot to talk about.”

Alice took her seat and tried to find something to converse about. From the look on Aster’s face, he was trying to do the same thing. The silence, awkward from the start, was beginning to increase in intensity. As the moments began to crawl by, Alice become cross with herself.

‘Well, this is a fine situation. A single day spent locating the Prodigal Aussie and now I can’t conceive a single conversation topic for my one of my oldest companions. Wait, what of his poultry?’

“Nanny told me about your chickens,” Alice began sympathetically. “I’m sorry about them. What happened to the survivors?”

Aster pointed towards one of the tunnels that had light glowing within. “They’re in there and doin’ well. Jumpy as a bunch of ‘roos though.” He pondered something for a moment. “How are you makin’ out in the city of Man?” he finally asked.

“Well enough,” Alice replied. “I have a job and a place at the Drop. It’s no lark, I won’t be the last to say that, but it’s better than nothing.”

“Pauper's Drop?” Aster grimaced. “Now you have my sympathy. I’ve heard horror stories about that place. Isn’t there anywhere else you could go?”

“I’m afraid not,” muttered Alice. “Even with my inheritance, which wouldn’t allow for anything opulent when I received it, I won’t be leaving the Drop within a definite time period.”

“I’m surprised that Radcliffe parted with it at all,” Aster murmured. “That selfish, greedy wanker wanted nothin’ but your family’s seaweed. Aren’t you underage still?”

“Yes, but with his business meeting a greatly-deserved bankruptcy, he decided that he wanted nothing more to do with me.” Alice sighed. “To think, we used to play chess together.”

It was odd that Radcliffe had gone bankrupt after that trip to Wonderland that had begun in his office. She had found herself in a decaying, neglected version of his office and apartment at Mercury Suites, the Asian antiques broken or gone, his desk in disrepair with no sign of her stuffed rabbit, bits and pieces of rubbish here and there, the entire apartment in a shambles. Outside in Mercury Suites, it didn’t get any better as she had walked through its abandoned corridors, looking for all the world like the Judgment Day had come and gone. Which it had, for Wonderland at least. For some odd reason, it had somehow struck her as prophetic.

“You see who a person really is during hard times, or when they’ve got power," Aster muttered, drawing Alice’s attention back to him. “In this case, Radcliffe is a self-serving drongo. Perfect for this ratbag city.”

Alice nodded in agreement, then frowned. “Aster, Nanny said there were rumors you were helping Fontaine smuggle contraband into Rapture. And I found that audio dairy in your closet. Do you wish to elaborate on that?”

The look on Aster's face and the ensuing silence said it all. He sighed heavily and rested his head in his hands. “You want to hear my side of the story?”

At Alice’s nod of affirmation, he began. “When my birds were poisoned, my business went south real quick. And when a few investments I made turned out bloody wrong, I had to sell the stand to keep the bank off my back. I was talkin’ to a friend at the Fighting McDonagh’s and he told me about a meetin’ at Fontaine Fisheries. There, I heard Fontaine’s business offer as a smuggler under him. Things were getting’ bad, Alice, and I was pretty fed up with Ryan and his beliefs. I was just a battler tryin’ to make a livin’, and Fontaine’s deal sounded better than any of that tight-fisted mongrel’s.

“It was alright at first. I laughed at the guys that told me I should have stayed out. The goods we smuggled weren’t bad or anythin’ like that: Beef, letters to and from families outside Rapture, even Bibles and crucifixes. We did smuggle in guns and other weapons; that’s where I got these.” He lifted his vest to reveal another .45 automatic in an opposite shoulder holster.

“Fontaine revealed his true colors as a crim as he had done to the others; he took eighty percent of our cut and threatened to turn us in to Ryan if we didn’t go with it. One guy, Sammy, decided that he would go to the constables about it; he wound up dead. We were caught between a rock and a hard place, as the Yanks say. Between Ryan and Fontaine, a true lose-lose if I ever saw one.

“What finally convinced me to get out was a delivery to a Little Sisters Orphanage. I noticed that some of the little girls looked, off. Their skin reminded me of a cold corpse and their eyes…they looked like they belonged in a ghost’s face.” he shivered. “Their voices sounded so wrong, especially when they were singin’ children’s rhymes and songs. I spied on them during supper and I saw that Tenenbaum kraut give them something that made them vomit. The smell was just awful, and when I realized that they were somehow makin’ ADAM from the girls, I knew I had to do somethin’.

“I wrote a note to Sullivan, Ryan’s security head-honcho, tellin’ him to watch the Little Sister’s Orphanages and sent it via pneumo line. I already had this place ready in case something happened. Over a few months, I had brought most of my rubbish and things down here, and after I sent that note, I just came down here and stayed.

“A couple times I’ve heard people rummaging around up there, lookin’ for me no doubt. I didn’t dare come up. If it was Fontaine’s men, I would be dead the instant they saw me. And if it was Ryan's, I don’t want to die at the end of a bloody rope just for working for the wrong man.” He stopped there and looked up at Alice. “And here I am. What’s been goin’ on up there?”

Alice sighed. “Fontaine’s dead, and his smuggling business has been broken up. Ryan took over Fontaine Futuristics after killing him. I hate to reveal this to you, but he’s continued producing more of those little girls. They call them Little Sisters, and they make ADAM from an ADAM slug implanted in their stomach lining. The new ones are being altered mentally, to keep them compliant and docile.”

Aster looked like he was going to be violently ill. “Crikey,” he breathed, “I never liked Ryan but I never thought…is anyone doin’ anythin’ about them?”

Alice shook her head. “As far as I know, the only people that care for the Little Sisters’ plight are in this cave. Welcome to Rapture, city without god or king” she added bitterly.

Alice also told Aster about Atlas, about the portals, and about anything else she could think of or that he asked about. She didn’t mention anything about Bumby or Houndsditch, deciding that he had enough of Rapture’s rottenness for one day. When she tried asking him his reasons for leaving the surface, he merely said that he didn’t want to die in a nuclear war, but neither did he want to survive only to live in a destroyed world without hope or life. She could tell though, that was only part of his reason for coming to Rapture. When she was done, he groaned and rested his head completely on the table.

“Rapture’s gone to the dogs even more than I ever thought possible,” he muttered. He looked up at Alice. “Somethin’s going to happen, you know. And it won’t be pretty when it does.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Alice responded. She glanced at a clock that rested on Aster’s workbench. To her surprise, it was almost supper time. She felt the familiar gnawing sensation that heralded hunger, plus she needed to get ready for tonight.

“I’m sorry, Aster,” Alice said as she stood to her feet. “But I need to go. My shift will be commencing in a few hours.”

“That’s alright,” Aster replied as he got to his feet and opened the trapdoor for Alice. As she began to ascend, he spoke again. “Alice.” When she turned, she could have sworn she spied a tear coming out of his eye. “It was great to see ya again, and please take care of yourself, half pint.”

At the sound of his old nickname for her, she smiled back at him. “If there’s one thing I’m well-educated in, Aster, it’s that particular skill-set. Please do the same for yourself. I’ll tell Nanny you said hello.”

“Just her now,” Bunny called after her as she stepped out of the trapdoor and began to close it behind her. “I don’t want it broadcasted that I’m still kickin’.”

“Of course, Aster,” Alice replied. “See you soon.” She set the door down carefully and replaced the rug over it. She made sure that the door was somewhat closed behind her before leaving.

She couldn’t help but crack a half-smile as she made her way back home. Aster Bunnymund was alive and well, even if he was in hiding from Ryan and his goons. And soon, Nanny would be living with her in the Deluxe. It seemed that some stability was returning to her life once again.

Alice stopped by the pneumo office in the Deluxe’s lobby to pick up any mail, as unlikely as she was to receive any.

“Hello Doris, any mail for me today?” she asked. Her reasons for doubting she’d receive anything were well-founded. She was practically a nobody in Rapture; the only thing she had ever received through Bumby’s pneumo line was the photograph taken of her family just prior to the fire; there were no people that she knew of that had need to send her something. In short, she had no real reason to expect any.

“Four items,” Doris replied, barely looking up. “A catalog, a copy of the Rapture Tribune and two letters. That’ll be two dollars, please.”

Alice blinked in surprise before handing over the money and taking her items. She had two things from Mr. Fink: Another plasmid catalog, this one exclusively dedicated to Fink Door-to-Door, and a letter from him, asking her to send him a letter on her satisfaction. She made a note to do that after she had ingested the rest of her plasmids.

The newspaper was from Nathan Presley, a very surprising gesture considering Rapturians didn’t typically send each other things unless it was Christmas or some other holiday. She promised herself she would look at the article on Bumby later.

The last item nearly made Alice stop in her tracks in front of the elevator. It was from Mr. Radcliffe. Alice ripped it open and read it on the elevator.

Ms. Alice Pleasance Liddell,

Tomorrow is the reading of Dr. Angus Reginald Bumby’s last will and testament. Please be present at his former office at the Houndsditch Home for Traumatized Youth, No. 12 Skid Row, Pauper’s Drop. Your presence is not required, but is greatly advised.

Wilton J. Radcliffe, Solicitor

Alice remembered what Radcliffe had told her the last time they had met. The will would be read after a few legal matters were cleared. She could recall all too well what he had said when asked about the orphans.

“I have no clue, and I honestly don’t care. After the will is read, I suppose they’ll go out onto the street. It’s none of my business, and none of yours.”

Alice knew what would happen to the girls if they were thrown out into the street; the memory of Susan with her new gray eyes and corpse-like pallor came to mind all too readily. There was no such plight for the boys. Instead, they would be subjected to the usual horrors that abandoned orphans the world over suffered: Neglect, abuse, and eventually, starvation. And if one of Bumby’s former customers found them….

Alice’s brow furrowed as she left the elevator and walked to her room. She had ignored the suffering and abuse of others in the sedative of her own pain, and she had no intention of doing so again. She had the will and the means to protect the innocent from all persecutors and tormentors, present and future. She wasn’t sure how she would save the remaining orphans from their fate, but she was going to save them this time.

‘Tenenbaum, Suchong, and the rest can wait their turn. Their punishment is meaningless if the blameless are subjected to their tortures and abuse before their tormentors are stopped. Bumby has tasted his just desserts, and they will too, once the children are safe.’