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Chapter 7: Innocence is Chrysalis

December 9, 1958

“How many times must I tell you, Mr. Sinclair? I’m not interested in dinner with you!”

“Now there, Gloria, it’s just a little evenin’ refreshment. Nothin’ to get worked up over. And when was the last time you received some attention from a man?”

Alice could feel a headache coming on as she stalked towards the source of her annoyance. Augustus Sinclair, the owner of the Deluxe and of many other businesses in Rapture, was trying to get a date with Gloria Parson, Alice’s next-door neighbor. While he possessed that “Southern charm” and was rather handsome, Alice found his personality and mindset to be wanting. He was a combination of a businessman and a conman, ever on the lookout to make an easy profit through many of the business ventures he managed. What truly rankled Alice was his ability to target groups of people, particularly the poor and dispirited, and sell them cheap, low-grade products and services for far more than they would be worth elsewhere. The dangerous liquor of Sinclair Spirits was perhaps the best example of this.

Add in the fact that he thought that he was God’s Gift to Women, and there was someone that Alice disliked with a passion. And right now, he was attempting to convince Gloria Parson to have dinner with him. The nerve of him, asking one of his tenants, and a married one at that.

“Good day, Mrs. Parson,” Alice greeted her with a smile, making sure to emphasize the “Mrs”. Gloria shot her a grateful look as Sinclair turned to her. Her smile promptly vanished as his own appeared for her.

“Why, Ms. Liddell, how are you this fine day?” And now he was turning that 1,000-Watt smile, which must have been Steinman’s work, on her along with all his Southern charm. At least he wasn’t boorish enough to believe he could get away with using her first name. She had no idea why Yanks thought it acceptable to toss first names around like they were confetti. Then again, Heaven help her if he ever found out her second.

“Mr. Sinclair,” she answered as though the words were something tasteless in her mouth. “Sinclair Solutions must be doing quite well if you can find the time to visit the Drop in person.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I was in the neighborhood. And since the Deluxe is my biggest interest in the Drop, only good business to drop by and see how the ole place is doin’.” He glanced back to Gloria and winked. “Not that business is my only interest, of course.”

Alice rolled her eyes. She was surprised that he hadn’t made any advances on her yet. That would probably change on her 21st birthday. She could see it now: A card in her mail on May 4, 1960 from Augustus Sinclair, offering her a night out on the town for her birthday. Personally, she’d rather clean out the sewers of both the Drop and the Square then go out with him of all people.

“You know, Mr. Sinclair,” she began, “now might not be the ideal time to ask Mrs. Parson out.” A sly gleam appeared for a moment in her eyes before continuing. “If Mr. Parson should suddenly return and find out that you were bothering his wife of all people, I highly doubt that he’ll be pleased.”

An annoyed look briefly passed over Sinclair’s face as he looked back to Alice. “What makes you think that Parson will be comin’ back?”

“What gives you reason to think he won’t?” Alice countered. A thoughtful look came over her face. “Unless you have knowledge of his whereabouts.” She pretended to be confused for a moment. “But how could you know where he is? It’s not like you’re in the business of making people just vanish into thin air.” The lack of sarcasm in her words only made it all the more sarcastic by the mocking look that Alice was giving him.

Sinclair’s confidence deflated like a popped pufferfish. He gave Gloria a weak smile. “Perhaps some other time, Gloria.” As he passed by Alice, he whispered, “Watch it kid. You wouldn’t want Sharpe to lose her job.” Alice glared fiercely at his retreating back as he headed back to the lobby.

Once he was out of earshot, Gloria burst out. “Thank you so much, Alice! He’s been doing that since I moved in the Deluxe. It’s been driving me crazy!” Anger suddenly flared up in Gloria’s face. “If that awful Sinclair’s done something to Harold, I’m going to-.”

“I already know who’s taken your husband, Mrs. Parson,” Alice interrupted. “Andrew Ryan. As much as the well-off all like to deny it, everyone knows he’s the one responsible for the disappearances. They’re just too afraid or too comfortable with their own place to speak out against him.”

Harold Parson used to run a bookstore before he disappeared. Alice had been to it a couple times when it was still operating and she could figure out why: Mr. Parson had included Lamb’s “Metamorphosis and Unity” along with a number of similarly themed and worded books in his inventory. It seemed that Ryan believed in the freedom to choose one’s own beliefs and philosophy, except when those tenets one chose deviated from Ryan’s own philosophy. She hadn’t met Mr. Parson enough to decide her opinion on him, but she had liked his store and she pitied his wife and young son.

Gloria looked defeated at her words. She turned and quietly walked back into her apartment. About to close the door, she looked back at Alice. “Billy’s excited to be spending Christmas with you and Ms. Sharpe, Alice. She’s very sweet, by the way.”

Alice smiled at her. “Thank you, Mrs. Parson. Grace and Eleanor will be joining us as well.”

Mrs. Parson smiled at that. “It’ll be nice for Billy to be around Eleanor. That fascination of his with those Little Sisters worries me.” Alice was silent as the Parson’s door, the entrance to Apartment 213, closed shut behind its resident.

The Little Sisters had been steadily increasing in number. Alice had heard people discussing the disappearances of the orphan girls off the street ever since the Fontaine’s orphanages were closed down. She couldn’t believe that they weren’t making the connection between the missing girls and the new Little Sisters, all in rows like grotesque factory-made dolls with their pinafore dresses and made-up faces.

Alice winced at the comparison she had just made in her mind. They weren’t truly like dolls, the Little Sisters. They still acted somewhat like little girls; it was just that they weren’t. Suchong and Tenenbaum had turned them into the sad creatures they were today with Bumby’s conditioning. Only he had intended for her to become a lifeless doll with no sense of reality. Whatever reality they lived in, at least it was better than none.

Alice had managed to save those ten little girls from suffering that fate, but whenever she saw a group of Little Sisters being instructed in how to act, she couldn’t help but feel that she hadn’t truly made a difference. True, she couldn’t really take anymore to Aster, but deep down, she couldn’t help but think that if only she had found a way, they wouldn’t be the way they were. If only she had done something sooner.

Aster had his hands full with the children currently in his care. Alice visited whenever she could, and she could tell that Aster was definitely out of his comfort zone. He was adapting though, and she could tell that deep down under that gruff and surly exterior, he was a natural with “ankle-biters”. When she had asked him if there was anything she could do for Christmas for them, he had told her that he already had an old friend on it. Apparently, he had reestablished contact with some friends of his since she had found him. She only hoped that they could be trusted.

A few days after the “Rapture Rescue”, as Aster called it, Alice had helped Nanny move into her apartment. To keep rent from going up, Nan had applied for a job as one of the Deluxe’s housekeepers. Basically, she worked for free so that the rent didn’t go up. Having Nanny move in with her just in time for Thanksgiving, had been more than worth it.

Unfortunately, right after Thanksgiving the banks had all crashed. The value of the Rapture Dollar had declined exponentially. The Limbo had to be shut down and both Alice and Grace had been laid off. Alice had taken up several small jobs around the Drop to keep paying for the rent; her meager salary was stretched so much that she had only been able to buy one upgrade for Old Man Winter (an area effect to freeze multiple enemies) and one for Possession (people could now come under her control). Most of her money went into paying her and Nanny’s own expenses and into helping Grace. The older woman hadn’t been able to find any work and was using what little savings she had into taking care of Eleanor.

Entering her apartment, Alice looked around for her old caretaker. ‘Must be cleaning up some part of this one-structure slum. She’s the only employee here that actually cares for how this hovel looks.’ She set down the groceries she had just bought and began to prepare dinner.

“Fish again, Alice? I have no inkling what was in that ‘meat’ last time, but it certainly was from no animal I’ve ever sampled.”

Alice had long gotten used to Cheshire's appearances and disappearances, the intervals of which varied from hours to days. At least he had the sense to avoid visiting whenever Nanny was around. One good look at Cheshire and Alice was sure the older woman would suffer a heart attack, or something else equally crippling or life-threatening.

“I’m pretty sure it was the leftover pieces of a cow that no one would eat if they knew what it was.” At his look of disgust, she added, “I’m not swimming in the seaweed, Cat, so if you’re going to criticize my foodstuffs, why not make yourself useful and catch some Wonderland fish for me?"

Cheshire rolled his eyes as he used his claws to cut open a can, revealing the mixture of small, whole fish and grease inside. “I doubt that would work, as evidenced by your utter failure to bring anything else out of Wonderland. Also, I’m no fisherman; what I catch myself, I eat by myself.” He sniffed at the mixture and wrinkled his nose. “Thankfully, I never caught these.”

“As I would expect from you, Cat”, Alice smirked. “Now, you usually don’t appear unless I’m either brooding about myself and life, or if there’s some life-and-death matter at hand. Which is it?”

“Oh, it’s both.” Cheshire grinned. “That, and to reassure your insecure self that you have made a difference in the cruel world, even if it’s just for the short term.”

Alice poured some water into a pan and set it on the stove to boil. She got out a cutting board and summoned her Vorpal Blade, using it as an ordinary kitchen blade. “"I’m listening.”

Cheshire shook his head at the use of the Blade. “That is the most insulting thing you can do to that weapon, Alice.” When she ignored him, he sighed. “Whenever you ask yourself ‘how could things be better if I had done something?’ stop, and instead ask ‘how could they be worse if I hadn’t done anything, or if I had instead taken the quick and dark path?’ As I’ve said before, she who saves a single soul, saves the universe. Your father taught you the inverse, did he not?”

“‘Whoever destroys a soul, destroys the world.’ Yes, I remember, Cat.” When she didn’t get a reply, Alice looked up to behold nothing up an opened sardine can.

“Typical Cat.”

An idea came to Alice’s mind and she quickly summoned him back. Judging by the way his ears were laid across the back of his head, he wasn’t pleased. “Yes, Alice?”

“Cat, I have an errand for you that I believe you’ll enjoy immensely.” The smirk on her face intrigued him.

“Now I'm the one listening.” Alice leaned forward and Cheshire inclined his head towards her to catch her whispers. His tail began lashing in a blatant display of pleasure as his grin widened and his eyes somehow brightened. “That is a task I will relish in undertaking,” he winked before vanishing.

A few minutes later, a shout sounded through the Deluxe, followed quickly by a gunshot. Alice smiled in glee. If Sinclair was still in the lobby, Cheshire was to appear right in front of him and ask if he had any cream with him. He had reacted the very way that Alice had hoped he would. Now, if only she could orchestrate a face-to-face meeting between Ryan and Cheshire. That would be entertaining.

She went back to slicing vegetables. Her mind wandered to Cheshire’s advice. Simply ask how the world would be different for the worse? Well, imagining it would be easy enough.

‘A world where I chose to take Radcliffle’s mindset and let the orphans of Houndsditch out into the street. A world where each of those little girls became a Little Sister. A world where those little boys either died of starvation or exposure to the elements, or where one of Bumby’s customers found them. Such a world….’

Alice’s mind dipped into this other world. She saw herself walk away from Houndsditch without a care in the world as they were thrown out. The little girls’ eyes turned grey and lifeless as their voices took on the strange two-toned sounds of the Little Sisters. The boys turned thin, dying of hunger and cold, or they cowered underneath the leering grins of Rapture’s perverts and pedophiles. Add in the real world’s own tragedies and she found herself in a true nightmare, because if it was real, there would be no waking from it.

Alice shook her head and hurriedly dumped the vegetables into the now-boiling water. Cheshire’s advice could be helpful, once one was able to decipher it. That imaginary world…she was going to do her best to forget it so that it didn’t infect her Wonderland. That was the last thing she needed. The point was, she had saved those who were in her power to be saved and that was what mattered.

‘The next time cream goes on sale, I’ll be sure to procure some for Cat. If only I could obtain get the genuine article and not some watered-down mixture.’

She jumped when someone began banging on the door. She hurriedly dried her hands as the blows began to intensify, rattling the door in its frame. “One moment, Nanny! I’m not in danger of expiring at any moment,” she called out as she almost ran to the poor door and yanked it open, making it squeal as it rolled into the wall. “Grace?”

Grace Holloway stood in her doorway breathing hard and rubbing her right hand, which had apparently been her knocking hand. She was breathing hard, and not just from almost breaking down 211’s door. Below her sweat-soaked hair which clung to her forehead like wet seaweed, Alice could see her eyes, filled with fear, despair, and desperation. She was trembling all over, like she had ran all the way from her apartment to Alice’s. Her labored breathing finally brought Alice’s attention to the woman herself.

“Grace!” she cried out, clasping the older woman’s hands in her own. “What’s wrong?”

“Is Eleanor here?” Grace finally gasped out.

Alice shook her head in mounting horror. “No, I haven’t seen her since yesterday. Is she….” This couldn’t be happening.

“She’s gone Alice!” Grace’s eyes began to overflow with tears. “Baby Eleanor is gone and I can’t find her anywhere!”

It was happening.

BS +AMA =WS

December 24, 1958

Early evening in the Drop usually found people walking back home after the day, or what passed for home in Rapture’s worst slum. Only a few people walked against the sparse traffic towards their workplace or the nearest liquor store. Among those headed home after some errands was Grace and Alice. They were walking together in silence, heads down as they separately contemplated the hole that Eleanor’s disappearance had left in their lives.

In the weeks since Eleanor’s disappearance, most of the Drop’s population had turned out to search for the little girl, but to no avail. “Father” Simon Wales led large prayer gatherings for the “Lamb”. Alice searched everywhere for her: The Drop, Dionysus Park, Ryan Amusements, Arcadia, Fort Frolic, as well as every Little Wonders Emporium. She even risked being identified when she went back to Suchong’s to see if he had gotten ahold of Eleanor. She was nowhere to be found.

Alice become so desperate that she even went to Aster for help. He told her that he would search all of the cave system and every location in Rapture that it opened out on. He also told her that he would get his friends on the case. Alice wondered where in Rapture such good people existed; she just prayed that Aster knew what he was doing.

As the days turned into weeks, more and more people quit the search until it was just Alice, Nanny, Grace, and a neighborhood boy named Amir. And the two older ladies didn’t possess the energy that Alice did, so now it was just her and Amir, a nineteen-year-old girl and an eight-year-old boy searching an underwater city of twenty thousand people for one little girl.

It wasn’t just the energy of youth that drove Alice; she had come to like and even care for Eleanor. She reminded Alice of herself at that age. She was an intelligent, thoughtful, lonely little girl out to face the world. That, and Alice wanted to take her mind off just how angry she was with Rapture and with herself. Rapture, because it seemed that it was out to snuff out all innocence and good in the world. Herself, because she hadn’t considered it a possibility that something like this would happen. She just knew that the Little Sisters project was involved, she could smell it. And after she had done to protect the Houndsditch girls from Suchong, Alexander, and the rest, she couldn’t have stopped Eleanor from being taken.

She had told Grace about the man who had been spying on her apartment and she had received a name: “Stanley Poole”. Seeing his picture in the Rapture Tribune confirmed it. Alice had gone to the Tribune’s office to discover that Poole hadn’t been heard from in weeks. Presley revealed that Poole was currently in Dionysus Park. All of Alice’s attempts to find him and whip some answers out of him were met with bitter failure. Besides, most of Lamb’s followers said that he couldn’t possibly have done it; he was a member of the Rapture Family.

Alice wisely kept her opinions of the “Family” to herself. None of them were flattering. Besides, she had heard of the wild ADAM, alcohol, and drug-fueled parties that Poole had thrown in Dr. Lamb’s absence, practically turning quite a few of Lamb’s followers into animals. She remembered the look on Eleanor’s face whenever Poole was mentioned, like she suspected something about the man.

Through all this, Amir followed her. He was an Arabic boy, around the same age as Eleanor. From what she had been able to put together, he was perhaps the only friend that Eleanor had that was her own age. He had shown himself to be smart concerning both the streets and hidey-holes of Rapture, and about many subjects as well. One time, he had brought this book with him, told her that it was Eleanor’s favorite. It was a rare book from the surface that had information on many of the country’s that dotted the earth’s continents. He had read the entire section on Great Britain to her, describing the island nation where she had been born.

Alice couldn’t help but like the sharp-eyed boy. She hoped for his sake that Ryan or one of his lackeys never learned about the book. It was practically contraband down in Rapture.

She had spent the last few days preparing for Christmas whenever she wasn’t out looking for Eleanor. She could remember the few Christmases she had spent with her family when she was a little girl. Thanks to her decade long catatonia in Rutledge, her early childhood memories were clearer to her than they were to most. Since she had been a year old when the Blitz started, their Christmases had never been “fancy”, even on the salary of an Oxford dean. The simple affairs had been happy ones, though, and one of Alice’s fondest memories was of her father picking her up so she could put the angel on their Christmas tree. That had been on their last Christmas on the surface. She had received her rabbit, her favorite childhood toy, on her first Christmas in Rapture.

The gifts she had saved for and bought weren’t expensive, but they were perfect for the people she was buying them for. A wood-carving knife for Aster to pass the hours (when he got them), a knitting set for Nanny, who had always loved to knit, a song book for Grace (Alice had glued a piece of paper over “Rise, Rapture, Rise”), a book for Gloria, a stuffed octopus for Billy, and finally, a stuffed rabbit for when Eleanor came back. It was practically the same as her own rabbit, though that was most likely because she had bought it and the octopus from the same place where her father had bought hers: “The Workshop” in Market Street. It was probably one of the most popular toy stores in Rapture.

Looking around the Drop, Alice knew that the Christmas gathering at Apartment 211 tomorrow would clash with the mood of its location. The rest of Rapture was preparing to celebrate the holiday. Posters advertising “A secular Christmas is a merry Christmas” were up everywhere (more of Ryan’s propaganda), shoppers flocked to the stores to purchase gifts for friends and loved ones, and Andrew Ryan’s canned speeches about “enjoying the fruit of your labor” sounded over the PA systems. Even Apollo Square had a large decorated tree right in its center (the one at Olympus Heights dwarfed it, of course, and both were plastic). No amount of “holiday cheer” would ever brighten the Drop, or its downtrodden inhabitants.

‘I shouldn’t bother Grace about coming tomorrow. She has the most excellent reason to avoid celebrating, but still. Ignoring her pain could possibly make it worse.’

“Grace,” she began quietly, “were you still planning on coming to my apartment for Christmas tomorrow? If you changed your mind, I understand.”

For a few moments, Alice wondered if Grace had even heard her or if she was being ignored. Grace finally looked up from her steady plodding. Her sorrowful eyes said everything, but she spoke anyway. “I’m sorry, Alice, but celebrating just don’t seem right to me now. Dr. Lamb trusted me with her only child, and I failed her. If I ever find that baby snatcher….” Grace’s face hardened for a moment before sorrow overtook it again. “I pray Eleanor is alright.”

“As do I,” Alice sighed.

Alice was not a religious person (she had never really given it much thought), but in the wake of Eleanor’s kidnapping, she began praying, even if it was to comfort herself with the thought that Someone was hearing them and looking out for the Eleanor.

“I’ll present you with your gift after my shift then,” she added. “It’s not much, but I hope it helps.”

Grace gave her a half-hearted smile. “For that, I thank you kindly.” They were approaching the Limbo when she spoke again. “Nan told me about that stuffed bunny you got for baby Eleanor.”

‘Note to self: Find a better hiding place than under my bed. Good thing I got rid of those plasmid bottles.’

Alice hoped that she hadn’t offended Grace through the gesture. “I…I just thought that when we learn Eleanor’s location and take her back, it wouldn’t be fair to her if she missed Christmas in its entirety.”

Grace just shook her head sadly. “Alice, I wish I had your hopeful spirit. I just don’t know anymore.”

For that, Alice had no answer, and the silence returned for the rest of their walk. They were passing the stairs that led down to the Limbo, their former workplace, when it happened.

“I smell an angel, Daddy. This way!”

The voice didn’t sound right, but both Alice and Grace recognized the child’s warble behind it, and the child it belonged to. They shot around to see Eleanor running around a corner, grasping something large in one hand. Grace gasped out in joy, and began running towards Eleanor as quickly as she could, bumping into indignant passersby without a thought except to reach the little girl. Alice followed behind, hesitant. Something wasn’t right with Eleanor, but at this distance, she didn’t know what.

“Eleanor child, where have you been?” Grace dropped to her knees and pulled the un-expecting Eleanor from a run into a hug, unaware of her grocery bags hitting the ground and splitting open. “I was worried sick.” Alice could practically hear the joyful tears beginning.

“Let go!” Eleanor screamed in a voice that sent chills down Alice’s spine. “Daddy, help me! There’s a bad lady here!”

“Girl,” Grace pulled out of the hug and held Eleanor's shoulders in place just as Alice came to halt behind her. “What’s the matter with-.” Her eyes widened as Grace finally got a good look at her ward. “You?” she finished in a whisper.

Alice’s heart almost skipped a beat when she saw Eleanor. The girl’s pale skin now had a grey shade to it, the dress she was wearing was one of those horrid little things the Little Sisters wore, and her eyes were dull grey with a yellowish light beginning to glow forth. Her voice was a two-toned inflection that no normal child or even adult should be able to make, and the object she held was a huge syringe made of rubbish and spare parts. Alice’s stomach churned as her brain made the horrific connection between the intelligent little girl she knew and this…creature. Eleanor Lamb had become a Little Sister.

Grace seemed to be in shock as she held the screaming Little Sister. Alice’s own stupor was suddenly broken by the sound of booming footsteps and a familiar roar. People yelled and jumped out of the way as a large form barreled past them and stopped right in front of Grace and herself. Alice had to crane her head to the meet the gaze of the seven-foot-tall Big Daddy.

It was an Alpha Series, the newest model of Big Daddy. Alice had heard of them; they were supposed to be some sort of “Protector”, though she hadn’t heard what it was they were supposed to protect. Judging from their suits, they weren’t as altered as the Bouncers and the Rosies, though that could easily be a mistake. On its gloves, Alice spied the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet, Delta. The yellow porthole on its helmet turned a blazing red as its gaze fell on Eleanor and Grace, and a growl boomed out of whatever passed for its mouth.

Alice’s eyes flickered to the huge drill on its right arm before widening in horror.

“Grace, watch out!” she cried. Grace snapped out of her trance just in time to see the Big Daddy’s arm flying towards her face. Thankfully, he opted for backhanding her instead of using the drill. Unfortunately, he was far stronger than the ordinary man and Grace was sent sprawling to the ground, cupping her mouth and groaning.

Alice ran to her side and knelt by her in concern. Propping Grace up, she could see the streams of blood dribbling out of Grace's mouth and nose, staining both her clothes and the ground. A massive bruise was forming over the left side of her face, and her eye was beginning to swell shut. She was groaning in pain, unable to talk. Judging by the way she was gingerly holding her jaw, it could be broken, along with several other facial bones. “Grace, keep as still as possible. I’ll make sure you receive medical attention,” Alice tried to comfort her, her own mind awhirl with what just happened. Grace just moaned in reply before a tooth fell out of her mouth.

“Bad lady! Next time, Daddy will x your eyes!”

Alice glanced over at Eleanor, who was now atop the Big Daddy’s shoulder, a grotesque imitation of the pose her own father had taken in lifting her to reach of the top of that Christmas tree.

“Daddy, there’s an angel close by.” The Alpha began to lumber forward, the traffic ahead either moving to make a path or to stop completely. Those who had witnessed the attack fled the scene, afraid of the Big Daddy’s temper and greater strength. Those who came onto the scene looked down at Grace before hurrying on. A few of them even grabbed some of her groceries from off the ground, taking advantage of the injured woman. Alice glared at them as she gently lifted Grace to her feet and began guiding her to the nearest doctor, pausing only to retrieve the singer’s cap, dropped in the commotion, and the errant tooth.

As soon as the white-coated (or rather grey-coated) man had Grace sitting down and was carefully studying her jaw and face with a First Aid Kit from a Circus of Values, Alice raced back to the scene and began to track down the Big Daddy. It wasn’t that hard. People always gawked in the direction a Big Daddy went after one soon passed, some in curiosity, others in disgust and trepidation. It helped that his footsteps were so heavy and that he kept uttering one of those distinctive, whale-like groans every few minutes.

The scene kept repeating in Alice’s head as she ran through Skid Row’s street. Eleanor’s bizarre grey-yellow eyes, staring at Grace in unrecognition. Her warped voice crying for her “Daddy”. The brute’s hand connecting with Grace’s jaw, throwing her to the ground. Eleanor’s sickening delight at the spectacle. Alice had suspected that something like this had happened to the young girl, but to see it and have it confirmed…it was too awful for words.

She finally caught up to them, right in front of Houndsditch of all places. When she came close enough to see what they were doing, she froze in confusion and apprehension at the sight unfolding in front of her. The Alpha was apparently guarding Eleanor, standing over her with that gigantic drill of his, his yellow porthole glaring out at anyone who got too close, and somehow managing to make a groan sound threatening. Eleanor was happily jabbing that syringe of hers into a corpse, humming the whole time. The word “disturbing” didn’t quite give the morbid picture service.

Every once in a while, a fight or domestic dispute would break out and a body would wind up in the streets for hours before being removed. ADAM was usually the cause of such disputes. Even from the safe distance that Alice put between herself and the pair, she could see the massive tumors and scars of ADAM sickness on the body.

Eleanor drew her syringe out of the corpse and studied it in case she missed anything. Alice saw the large amount of blood in the syringe’s container right before she realized something. The clear part of the makeshift syringe that held the blood was in fact a repurposed baby bottle, with the rubber nipple still attached. She started to wonder why they were sending out Little Sisters to take blood from dead bodies using such an odd syringe.

‘Seems to serve almost the same purpose as the White Knight’s lunchbox. Turn the syringe to the wrong side, and the blood will spill out. What is she doing now?’

Eleanor, apparently satisfied that she had stabbed the corpse enough times, held up the syringe up, put the bottle’s nipple to her mouth, reared back her head, and downed the ADAM-laden blood in a few gulps. Letting out a held-in breath in pleasure, she turned back to the Alpha. “All done, Daddy. Time for beddy-bye.”

Alice’s mouth dropped open in disgust. Her brain momentarily froze, trying to absorb the atrocity she had just witnessed. Of all the horrors that populated the real world, this particular one came the closest to rivaling the crazed and twisted things that had lived and existed in the traumatized imagination of her youth.

‘This, this is monstrous! They somehow managed to take the Little Sisters project and make it even more despicable. How is it humanly possible that even here in Rapture, depravity is fertile enough to breed and give birth to such wretched practices and creatures?!’

Alice leaned against a convenient wall in an attempt to calm her racing mind and watched as Eleanor began to lead her “Protector” away. He leaned down and picked her up, placing her gently on his shoulder while she giggled the whole way. Alice was struck with a recollection of her own beloved father doing the same for her (though she had never much of a giggler). This, this, mockery of the bond between father and daughter was far too much to ignore.

She took her Hand Cannon out of her bag and sighted it at the Alpha’s back, brow furrowed in concentration and mouth set in a sneer. For a few moments she stood there, the Alpha far too big to possibly miss at this range. Then she quietly put it back down.

Alice’s mind revolted at the thought of letting this monster, this taskmaster, walk away with Eleanor in tow, but what could she really do? She wasn’t sure if any of her plasmids besides Shock Jockey could be used offensively against the cyborg, and her Hand Cannon was far more effective against a human being than something of that size and stamina. Even if she somehow managed to kill the rumbling creature with her handful of plasmids and gun, what was she supposed to do with Eleanor now?

As far as the girl was concerned, Grace was a “bad lady” and she wouldn’t want to come home. Since she was a Little Sister now, and it was Ryan Industries that made the Big Daddies, there would most certainly be legal ramifications that would affect her and those close to her. The rumors of the “interrogation methods” used by Ryan's constables on Fontaine’s smugglers were too brutal to be ignored. That was not the method through which she wanted herself or Nanny to expire.

Alice bowed her head, turned around, and very quietly began to walk back to Grace. She glanced back at Houndsditch, which was slowly degrading along with its neighbors, reflecting on how it so fitting that she discover the Sisters’ newest function in front of Bumby’s wretched training house. This couldn’t possibly get any worse.

BS+AMA=WS

December 25, 1958

‘Christmas this year is, as the Yanks say, a “bust”. I wonder how they coined that phrase; it’s perfect for this whole situation.’

After the Big Daddy’s assault on Grace, what little “Christmas Spirit” Alice had (she could remember her mother using that term) withered and nearly vanished. The only reason she hadn’t cancelled the Christmas gathering altogether was that she didn’t wish to disappoint Billy, who, in her opinion, truly needed a decent Christmas in the wake of his father’s disappearance.

In a few hours, most of the Drop and the Family knew what had become of Eleanor Lamb. What they didn’t know, or at least weren’t sure of, was what she had been doing there in the first place with her Protector and that huge syringe. After that Alpha had so easily broken Grace’s jaw, most people had gotten out of the way when they saw him coming, so Alice had been perhaps the only one to witness that horrendous scene at Houndsditch. She had told no one about it, as though it wouldn’t be so horrible if she was the one of the few who knew of the Little Sister’s new function.

When she had gone to give Aster his gift and to check up on the children there earlier, he had asked if anything was wrong. When it came to the people he cared for, he was truly perceptive. She had told him about Eleanor’s return as a Little Sister, but nothing more. She didn’t know if he suspected that she had only told him part of the story. He had been disgusted by the mere fact that there were more Little Sisters than ever; she didn’t want to make it worse by informing him of their occupation. The only thing that had made her feel better was the sight of the Houndsditch girls examining one of Aster’s tomato plants.

‘I wasn’t able to save Eleanor, but at least I protected them from suffering such a grisly fate. If only I had known. I didn’t ignore anything this time; I just didn’t think that she was in any peril. Poole, you’d better pray the Family learns your role in her transformation before I find you, I can be infinitely more terrifying than any mob.’

The scene in what passed for her living room was an awkward one. Grace, who had changed her mind about coming for some odd reason, sat in a chair with a bandaged jaw and a hollow look in the eye that wasn’t swollen shut, her new cane laying in her lap. Nanny bustled around the apartment in an attempt to keep herself busy, trying to put on a smile for the rest of them and failing miserably. Gloria stood by Billy’s chair, looking both afraid and guiltily relieved at the same time (Billy was in no danger of being kidnapped since there were no Little Brothers), while the little boy sat on a chair, munching on a cookie and playing with his new toy octopus, his usual happy chatter subdued by the atmosphere. Alice was currently leaning against the kitchen counter, surveying her apartment and occasionally sipping from a glass of what was supposed to be eggnog (very questionable down in Rapture).

The Christmas tradition of gift-giving had started as soon as Alice had gotten back from Aster’s and concluded about an hour later. In the half-hour since then, they had been trying and failing to enjoy themselves. Well, most of them; Grace had sat down in that chair as soon as she had arrived, mumbled a “hello” and “thank you” as well as she could through her wrappings, and began staring forlornly into space. Only Billy, whose innocence prevented him from understanding, had attempted to engage her. He had been disappointed from that until he saw Alice’s gift to him.

Her gifts from the others were simple and modest, but well-received. A ring with an Omega symbol that matched her pendant from Nanny. A very small bottle of perfume from Gloria. From Billy, a puzzle box, the contents of which rolled around inside (that had piqued her interest). Grace’s gift had been both the strangest and the most sorrowful: Eleanor’s Hack Tool. Of all those present, only Alice know its significance and its meaning; Grace had lost hope that Eleanor would ever return as the intelligent, curious little girl who hacked her mother's security systems to sneak out. And she couldn’t blame the poor woman.

Alice’s gift from Aster was delivered by a beaming Nan, who had peeked before giving the large box to her. It was one of the most lavish and beautiful outfits she had ever seen in her life. A red and black, silk satin brocade cocktail dress, with metallic gold accents and a jeweled neckline. A pair of black evening gloves and a pair of red kitten heels completed the outfit, and a brass hairpin with a red heart on it added a Wonderland flair to it. Alice found herself looking at what could be a real world version of the Red Suit, the dress she had changed into the last time she had visited Queensland and the Red Kingdom. As the others had crowded around it in admiration, she had wondered just how much cash Aster had in the Warren in order to afford it. This was definitely something she was going to save for the most special of occasions, and something she was going to thank him profusely for the next time she saw the Aussie.

“Mommy, is it true that Eleanor is one of those little girls with the yellow eyes?” Billy suddenly piped up in his haltering, almost-accented young voice. From what little Alice knew of Mr. Parson, Billy had heard two different languages in his short life and he was experiencing difficulty in separating the two. She noticed Grace had taken a sudden interest with what Billy was saying.

Gloria was obviously flustered. “Well dear, I’m not really sure…” she trailed off, “I think we should talk about this later, alright?”

“She is,” Alice broke in, surprising everyone. “She's a Little Sister now,” she continued bitterly, taking a sip from her eggnog. ‘And there was nothing I, or anybody else, could do about it. Damn you, Poole.’

Billy’s face brightened. “Does she have one of the big, suited men with her?”

Now that the relationship between the Big Daddies and the Little Sisters was practically public knowledge, stories of other sightings of the bizarre pairing were springing up all over. Alpha Series were paired to a single Little Sister and escorted them around Rapture on what Alice now knew to be a ghastly errand. She honestly needed to start paying attention to gossip; most of it was rubbish, but at least she would have some idea of new developments in Rapture.

When she nodded and replied to the positive, Billy’s face lit up. “The big, suited men look like comic-book superheros, don’t they?”

Alice’s jaw clenched at that thought. ‘They’re not heroes, they’re monsters, made to keep the Little Sisters from being rescued by the ones that truly love them,’ she wanted to scream at Billy. At Grace’s sharp intake of breath, Alice looked over at her and was able to spy an anger she had never witnessed before blazing forth from the singer’s eyes, directed at the unsuspecting boy, before disappearing behind an even deeper sadness. How would the little boy with the toy octopus and stuttering voice learn what kind of world he lived in, how wretched the city of Rapture truly was as it devoured the innocence and energy of youth, and warped the relationship between father and child?

While Gloria told her son that they would talk about this later, Alice realized just how close she had come to breaking the glass she was holding, she had been so upset. One of Ryan’s sales pitches for Rapture was that it would be an excellent place for children to grow up, a place where only the parents would have any say in the growth and development of their children.

‘What of the Little Sisters, Mr. Ryan?’ Alice roared in her mind. ‘Even if their parents are gone from this world, what right have you to turn them into the abominations that your rival helped create? What right to bond them to those lumbering brutes in a hideous parody of the father-daughter relationship? What of the children who are going to mature in this place only to recognize how much of a hell it is?’

Alice drained the rest of her eggnog and began cleaning the glass in the sink before Nanny could do it for her. It was a wonder the glass didn’t break under the vigorous scrubbing she was giving it. This was pathetic: putting the frustration she felt into cleaning a glass? Maybe she should tell Nanny and the others about her immunity to ADAM withdrawal. If they could all pitch in and help her acquire more plasmids and gene tonics, perhaps she could finally make progress on ending the Little Sister tragedy before it could get worse, if that was somehow even possible.

Someone chose that exact moment to begin banging on the door. Unlike when Grace had been knocking on the door a few weeks ago, these blows weren’t as rapid, but the strength behind them threatened to bring the poor thing down. Nanny beat her to the door this time. She pushed the button just as someone forced it open, nearly breaking the rollers. “What’s the idea, nearly breakin’ the door dow—Bunnymund?”

Alice was suddenly at Nanny’s side, letting out a gasp at the sight of Aster. He was pale and haggard, his mouth open in an endless pant. His clothes were ripped, torn, and even burned in a few places. The rips in his clothes revealed bruises and cuts. The most alarming part was the makeshift, blood-soaked bandage that covered his left shoulder. Almost slumping over, he looked up at Alice and managed a smile, almost delirious from blood loss. “Hey Half Pint,” he began, “I hope I’m not interruptin’ anythin’.” He tried to take a step only to pitch forward on his face in front of a staring Nanny and Alice.

His fall broke them out of their stupor. That and Gloria’s screech.

“Aster!” Alice cried as she hurled herself by his side and began to prop him up (something she was starting to get good at). “What happened? Where are the children?” As she began to get him up, the bandage on his left shoulder partially fell off, revealing a large bullet wound which began bleeding profusely. Gloria screeched again.

“Alice.” Nanny was at Aster’s other side, helping her pick him up. “Let’s get some medicine and bandages on him and then you can ask questions without the possibility of him dropping dead.” That spurred Alice into action.

Billy stared at Aster as Alice and Nanny practically dragged him to the table. “What happened? Is he dying?”

That last question made Alice's heart jump into her throat. Of all the things that could happen to her, losing either Nanny or Aster or, Heaven forbid, both of them was the absolute worst. A world without them would be a truly dark and lonely one.

Gloria hurriedly ushered Billy out of his seat. “Of course not honey, he’s just hurt,” she said, obviously trying not to panic. “Alice, Nan, thank you very much for the presents and for the good time, but I think it’s time we left.” She kept staring at Aster nervously.

“You're welcome, and have a merry Christmas,” Nan replied as she and Alice lifted Aster and placed him on the kitchen table as carefully as they could

Alice didn’t say anything as she desperately began to search the cabinets for a First Aid Kit. Right now, she had better things to do than to answer Gloria Parson’s farewell. Etiquette was the farthest thing from her mind.

“Merry Christmas,” Billy called out just as his mother pulled him out the door. Alice barely noticed as she finally located a First Aid Kit and brought it to the table. In her haste to get it open, she sent several bottles and bandages flying onto the floor. Nanny was about to pick them up when Grace suddenly appeared and began to help the other woman gather them up.

“Thank you,” Alice breathed as she took the cloth that Grace offered to her. Soaking it in alcohol, she began to wipe at the edges of Aster’s wound as gently as she could in her haste.

That brought Aster out of his dead faint. “Bloody..!” he began to yell before biting his tongue. “Any of you ladies know ‘ow to YOWCH!” Alice cringed in apology. “Know ‘ow to fish a bullet out of a fellow’s flesh?”

Grace looked up. “I can,” she managed to whisper out through her own bandages. She motioned towards Nan and Alice. “Give him something to bite. He’s gonna need it.”

Alice stuffed a dry washcloth between Aster’s jaws before taking up her position at Aster’s left side. Nanny took the right and they both prepared to hold Aster down. His eyes widened when Grace pulled a pair of pliers out of the First Aid Kit. Alice could feel just his muscles tense and knew that he was fighting to stay put.

“Once that bullet’s out, wrap him real good,” Grace instructed as she brought the pliers closer to the wound. “He’s lost too much blood already.”

The next few minutes were full of Aster's muffled screams, Alice and Nanny’s grunts as they struggled to hold him down, and the metallic clacking of Grace’s pliers. It finally ended with Grace holding up the bullet in triumph while Aster groaned on the table and Alice wiped a splatter of blood off her face before bandaging the wound.

BS+AMA=WS

A few hours after the impromptu surgery and Grace’s departure, Alice was sitting in one of the cheap easy-chairs and waiting for Aster to wake up. After she and Nanny had finished bandaging him, he had fallen asleep on the ratty, cheap couch that took up what passed for their living room. Given how much blood he had lost, that wasn’t surprising. If it wasn’t for the tell-tale rising of his chest, Alice wouldn’t have been able to tell if he was dead or not, he was so pale. Good thing Rapture’s First Aid Kits were enhanced with special medicines and bandages; Aster would possibly be in a worse state than he was already if not for that.

Her mind was whirling with the questions she wanted answered. What had happened? Why had Aster been shot? Where were the children? Were they safe? Were a bunch of Ryan’s lapdogs about to break the door down and shoot the place up? Alice couldn’t help but jump at every little sound, expecting a hailstorm of bullets and plasmids at any moment. She had her Hand Cannon loaded in her hand and her EVE reserves at their maximum in preparation.

She could hear Nanny’s gentle snores coming out of her bedroom. After cleaning up the blood up from the carpet, the kitchen tile, and the table, Nanny had decided to go in for a nap. Before turning in, she told Alice that she wanted a full explanation when she awoke. Alice knew at this point that that was the least she owed her. She also decided that it was time to tell Nanny about the A-gene and her plasmids. If Nanny learned she was taking plasmids before she told her, that wouldn’t carry over well. At all.

“G’day, Half-Pint. Did I miss anythin’?” Alice nearly jumped five feet and turned to find Aster giving her a lop-sided, sleepy smile from his place on the couch. “Sorry if I cut your Christmas short.”

Alice was on her feet and standing in front of Aster in a flash. “What happened? Why were you shot? Where are the children? Who-.”

“Hold up Alice!” Aster held up both hands in a halting gesture, though he quickly dropped the left one while stifling a yelp. “I’ll explain as soon I’m awake. My brain still feels like I got cement in it.”

“My apologies,” Alice said quietly as she sat back down. She fidgeted as Aster rubbed his forehead before finally sitting up.

He got right to the point. “‘Bout half an hour after you left, a whole bunch of Ryan’s thugs suddenly came crashin’ down through the ceilin’, grabbin’ the girls, and puttin’ up a show with their guns and plasmids. I stabbed one of them with the knife you gave me, and that earned me the bullet in my shoulder. I managed to herd what kids I could into one of the longer tunnels before cuttin’ the Warren off from the rest of the system with explosives.”

“Explosives! Are you mad?” Alice exclaimed.

“I set ‘em up as a last resort,” Aster protested. “I didn’t want to lose that entire cave to Ryan. Right now, there’s sixty feet of rocks and dead thugs between the Warren and the rest of the cave. We can still use it to hide if we need it.”

Alice was afraid to ask the next question, but she needed to know. “Aster, how many…of the little girls…?”

Aster hung his head and stared at the ground for a long moment. “All of them,” he finally said.

“All?” Alice whispered, trembling. On the inside, her heart felt like it was shattering very slowly, the pieces falling one by one into oblivion.

“I was only able to get three of the boys out,” Aster went on. “I got them to another hideout of mine in the caves before I came ‘ere. All my medical stuff got roasted by some fire-slingin’ splicer.”

Alice was staring straight forward, unmoving. Her eyes held no emotion. On the inside….

‘I did everything I could. I saved them before Houndsditch was auctioned off. I took them to the safest place I knew of. And all I did was put one of the few friends I have left in mortal danger. To think, I actually believed I could accomplish the impossible, that I could protect innocence in Rapture.’

Alice was suddenly jolted back from her guilty musings by Aster.

“Alice, I’m so sorry. I tried everything I knew of.” Aster was hanging his head in shame. “I used my guns, my boomerangs, your present.” He gave a short laugh. "I even killed one drongo with my Tai Chi skills, and I still failed those kids in the end. They’ll let the boys go, but the girls…oh crikey, what have I done?” He clutched his head in his hands. “What have I done?”

“You nearly died for those children, Aster, that’s what you’ve done,” Alice said vehemently.

“The question is, what have I done?” She was standing now, and gesturing to herself. “I put those children, and you, in danger by escorting them to your home. I honestly believed that I was taking them to a safe place, when all I did was force Ryan’s hand. You could have been killed in that raid, and they could have been killed too.” She forced herself to meet his gaze. “If only I had stayed a little longer, I could have helped you save them, Aster.”

“What? You?” Aster let out another barking laugh. “Alice, you look much healthier than I imagined you would after leaving Rutledge, but I doubt you could go toe-to-toe with Ryan’s wankers, even with that cannon of yours.”

Alice winced a little as she remembered how weak, frail, and bedraggled she had been just before her fight against the Infernal Train and the Dollmaker, just before the SportBoost she had taken. Aster was closer to the truth than he knew. Maybe it was time that he learned the truth.

“Actually Aster, I haven’t been entirely truthful to you and Nanny. That is,” she faltered, “I haven’t informed you of the whole truth, just parts of it.” She held up her right hand and some crystal shards, arcing with electricity, emerged from her skin. “I’ve been splicing.”

“WHAT!?” Aster tried to get up, only to lie back down with a pained yelp. “Splicing! Alice, do you ‘ave any idea how dangerous that is? I don’t care what those dang advertisements say, there’s no such thing as ‘responsible splicing’. Once you’ve started, you only stop when you’re dead.” He was starting to yell now.

“You think I’m that ignorant, that I don’t know that?” Alice countered in raised tone, the electricity in her hand began to arc wildly and in more erratic patterns. “If I wasn’t immune to ADAM withdrawal, I wouldn’t be splicing at all!”

“Then why are you—wait.” Aster's eyes began to pop out of their sockets as Alice's words started to compute. “Did you just say, ‘immune to ADAM withdrawal’?” he said slowly.

“That I did,” Alice replied rather primly. The Shock Jockey shards disappeared back into her hands.

“But, but, how?” he began to stutter, staring at her in confusion.

Alice held up a hand to quiet him. “I’ll explain to both you and Nanny when she rises from her nap. Until then, I’ll be in my own bedchamber. Try to get some more rest, Aster.”

Aster gave her the “raised-eyebrow” before nodding reluctantly. “Alright, though I don’t think she’ll be happy to ‘ear you’ve been splicin’,” He mumbled as he lay back down.

Alice was silent as her door closed behind her and she sat down on her bed, her gift from Aster taking up most of the bed. The photograph of her family stared down at her from the wall. Her father’s wise eyes, her mother’s strict but kindly face, Lizzie’s wavy, chestnut brown hair, and her younger self when she was still a little, imaginative girl sheltered from the horrors of the world. Whether they looked upon her now with sympathy or accusation, she didn’t know.

Her room was better than the one at Houndsditch, but only just. It was bigger for a start (Nanny’s was only a little larger), and the bed didn’t squeak like the Dormouse whenever she sat upon it. The lights didn’t flicker (at least not as much), and she had more closet space (not that she really needed or used it). The wallpaper’s designs caught her attention at night with their twisting patterns, fueling her train of thought as she followed their ordered chaos. Her favorite feature was the porthole window that looked out onto the sea, filling the room’s interior with the blue glow of sunlight passing through ocean water. The only real attempts at personalizing the space was the Liddell Family photograph on the wall along with her drawings from the asylum and from Houndsditch. She had added some higher quality ones since she had left Houndsditch.

She reached under the bed and pulled out the rabbit she had meant for Eleanor. Except in age, it was much like her own bunny: Soft, gray “fur”, little blue vest, two button eyes (matching in this case) that reflected the light. It had caught her eye immediately at the Workshop. At Rutledge, Dr. Wilson had theorized that her old bunny had a hand in bringing her back from madness. Alice couldn’t help but wonder if she had associated the rabbits with the concept of returning, and that was why she had bought the thing, to bring Eleanor back home. Well, Eleanor had returned, as one of Tenenbaum’s little Frankensteins with a hulking brute for a “father”, and now, all the girls from Houndsditch were going to suffer the same fate as Susan and Eleanor. The atrocity of the Little Sisters was continuing despite her best efforts.

Alice stared into its black button eyes and allowed herself to remember the little girls as they had been. Eleanor congratulating her on her first successful hack, Susan singing a lullaby to a bedraggled doll, each and every single one of the Houndsditch girl doing or saying something that had imprinted them indelibly on her mind. Some of the Houndsditch orphans had been absolute brats or worse to her, but they didn’t deserve whatever treatment they were currently receiving at the hands of Ryan’s men. The girls would be made into Little Sisters, each with a Big Daddy, and the boys would be abandoned somewhere in the city. All her fears were coming true.

Alice bowed her head and closed her eyes. A small stream of tears began to slowly make its way down her face, something that hadn’t happened since the day after Bumby’s death. Some of them splashed down onto Eleanor’s rabbit, wetting its cloth face and button eyes.

Alice wiped her eyes and set Eleanor’s rabbit next to her own before standing and looking out of her window to the aquatic environment outside. A few jellyfish floated by the window before a school of fish passed by. Alice jumped when a shark came out of nowhere and bit one of the silvery fish in half, sending the rest into the a panicked flight in its blood-tinged wake.

‘Ryan chose a very appropriate foundation on which to build Rapture,’ she thought bitterly. ‘Where else does nature imitate the ethos of the great trampling the small so utterly than the bottom of the ocean?’

A realization suddenly bloomed in her mind; it had always been there, but now it truly revealed itself to her conscious mind.

‘Andrew Ryan,’ Alice practically spat his name in her mind. ‘This is all his fault. Everything is his fault. If he hadn’t lured us all down here to be part of his dream, to have a life free of God and kings, my family would still be alive. They never would have met Bumby, and Lizzie and my parents would be alive and well. I never would have succumbed to insanity. That…whatever it was in Fort Frolic, that would be a reality.’

Alice’s jaw clenched as she continued her inner tirade. ‘Tenenbaum, Suchong, and Frank Fontaine never would have created the Little Sisters, and Ryan wouldn’t be making more of them. The evil of the monster who initiates suffering is exceeded only by the evil of the one who continues it. The only way any of them will be saved is when he dies. The only way the nightmare of Rapture and the Little Sisters ends is with his death.’

Alice turned from the window, a hard glint in her eyes. It was time that Andrew Ryan saw just how fragile “Man” could be.