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The Prodigal Son

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Nothingness, as it turned out, was not all that interesting.

Not that it mattered when the only people who could experience nothing were those dead and gone. As such they had no way in which to observe this tedious and all together anticlimactic idea that was nothingness. It seemed only right that nothing could not be perceived by something.

And he was something. Still, somehow.

He knew that he must have been because for as uninteresting as nothingness may have been, once it was replaced with darkness – he was aware once again. Once aware he could not be sure if what he’d experienced up until that point had been death at all. Darkness was, strictly speaking, not nothing and that was all he could see. Blackness, vast and unending. This, the dead man who was not positive he was truly dead at all, decided was far worse.

Darkness was something, but it was not enough. There was no life in it; it was about as interesting as the nothing had been.

Why was he here? Simply…lingering.

Was this what happened when something ended? This great deal of emptiness? This lack of any substance whatsoever? If so, the possibly deceased man decided he’d not have a bar of it. This death business was absolutely the worst part of life and unfortunately seemed that one could not be without the other and so he rather hoped this too would end. 

But he could not be dead surely, because the man could hear.

Very faintly, very far away as though it were barely even a memory, he heard an angry voice resounding somewhere inside of the darkness that might have been what was left of his mind. It shouted and seethed, screamed and kick up an almighty fuss but all the potentially lifeless man could make out were hazy snippets of a long since finished conversation. 

“No. No, get out! This is my show ground! Get. Out.” 

He heard that angered voice echoing through the blackness. Knew that these words were meant for him. “Don’t you get it?” It asked to a moment long passed. “You’re not actually alive. There’s nothing you can do. Not a card left to play.”

For a corpse, the man thought there was nothing he would have loved more than to disabuse that notion.

The angered voice that faded in and out of existence went silent for a time, abruptly silenced by a crack that sounded as though it may have been thunder. Then there was silence and in that quiet there was no comfort. Just that stretching blackness and time that could have been as endless as it was brief.

In the darkness there was nothing to do but wait. No fight to give, no thought or word to offer up – just the wait. But for as long or short as the passing of time may have been, so long as there was still something – no matter how dull it may have been – then inevitably more would follow. For the long silenced voice, that ‘more’ was a sharp, sudden pain boiling around the base of his mind. 

His neck. 

His body.

Something he’d not felt since the blackness had come creeping in. Something a dead man could not feel. And with it he felt pain. Pins and needles prickling along the limbs he didn’t know he had, superseded by a white hot flush of pain through his veins and then finally the blackness was being pushed out. Small, reaching tendrils beginning to creep along his vision, gradually chasing away the darkness and replacing it with a blinding light that grew brighter and brighter, until the sight truly hurt and the formerly, possibly deceased man opened up the mouth he hadn’t noticed having and screamed.

By no volition of his own the dead man was removed of his title. Returned an old one in it’s place that he’d nearly lost in the darkness. A name this time.

Atlas fell out of the vita-chamber with all the elegance of a tossed sack of bricks.

Hitting the ground heavily Atlas was left gasping and heaving on the damp floor. Every muscle in his body twitching and spasming either in protest of the pain or a great deal of confusion as they tried to right themselves. They gave it their best effort, trying to figure out in what order to tighten and release to move the host in any other way besides pained jerks and twists. The lungs that had laid dormant for an uncertain period of time faired little better. Struggling to inflate as Atlas tried desperately to drag air down his throat.

Winded, dirty, collapsed on the floor and lost was not a new look for the former revolutionary. He’d been in enough pub brawls topside to know his way around the panic that came with the disorientation and lack of air.

Unfortunately he had no such experience to speak of when dealing with what he could only equate to being rejected from the pearly gates themselves. Not unthinkable seeing as if that particular set of beliefs did prove to be true there was no place in heaven for the likes of him. And if he were asked Atlas would have claimed Rapture to have become a hell of it’s own. Perhaps that was why he could still hear the groaning of the ever strained city around him, still smell the rot and decay that had set in and feel the murky puddles of a sprung leak under his hands. He knew the feeling of this retched city well enough and before his eyes had even cracked open he knew that was exactly where he was.

Rapture, and the good news just continued to roll in.

There wasn’t a single light on above his head. The entire space he’d awoken was only a few red tones shy of the oppressive darkness he’d just been violently expelled from. Those few luminescent red hues were far off however and what gave Atlas the sight he needed to look down at his own dirtied hands as they pressed into the shallow puddle he’d fallen into, was a glow at his spine, hitting his hunched back.

Groggily Atlas pressed a hand to his head, seeking the source of the incessant ringing inside of his skull but found no external damage. Seemed the headache would just have to run its course for the time being.

Finally he shifted and looked back over his shoulder where the brightest light source lay. He was met with the sharp light of a vita-chamber. A fine layer of dust had gathered along its surface but it glowed bright, well and truly alive. Atlas was relieved for its light in that moment, not sure his eyes could make out anything with only those faint red hues scattered around. Those pockets of light wouldn’t be enough for Atlas to find his footing but he heaved himself upright all the same.

Disorientated Atlas struggled to find some balance, needing to plant his hand against the vita-chamber he’d come stumbling out of in the first place with his other hand still pressed to his head as though he could force his mind to stop reeling. Under his fingers the chamber hummed almost pleasantly. It was comforting buzz but Atlas found it unnerving and immediately retracted his fingers from the glassy surface. A cheat card from death seemed like the kind of thing that he ought to be messing with. The moment his fingers had pulled back Atlas felt foolish, retreating from a machine he’d seen used countless times for good even if it had been built to reanimate the king of hell himself.

It was that thought that brought Atlas back to the present beyond his own bewilderment and aching. It took a moment to recall anything beyond the darkness he’d been spat out of, took even longer to piece together a semi-coherent memory. What he finally dragged back into his mind was a name. Jack, the kid.

Looking back to the vita-chamber he began to attached moments and memories to that name. Using the device as a jump point to organize his own mind. Indeed he had seen the vita-chamber in use, Jack had need of it frankly too many times for Atlas’s liking.

Forming a fist with the fingers he’d whipped back from the comforting hum of the vita-chamber, Atlas found himself quickly bombarded with all the instances he could recall of Jack pulling himself free of those chambers only to be sent right back when things got too rough.

The poor kid had suffered through too many impermanent deaths for their fight. His fight.

Had he asked too much of Jack?

Just as soon as the kid had entered his mind the rest of the situation seemed to fully hit Atlas. Where was the kid? Where was he for that matter? When trying to think back to how he might have gotten where he currently stood Atlas was met with nothing but a booming aching behind his eyes and absolutely no solid memories to go off.

In fact if he tried to locate the very last thing he could remember with one hundred percent accuracy and certainty, he remembered Ryan’s voice. Ushering the kid into his lair.

Could something have gone wrong?

Atlas’s stomach all but fell out from under him. They’d been so close, close enough he could practically smell Ryan’s blood on his hands but he couldn't recall if Jack had ever made it to the man himself or been swallowed up in some kind of trap before the deed could be done. Again he wondered, where was the kid, this time with a greater sense of urgency.

It was enough that he finally began to try navigating through the dark. Setting each foot carefully in front of the other and finding that even the simple task of walking was difficult. As though his legs were not used to the practice or had been stilled for an inane amount of time. But he couldn’t allow them the time to get with the program; he had to figure out where he was and how to get back to his base of operations quickly, to locate Jack on the monitors and assure himself all was well.

There were some questions he dared not ask himself in that moment. Specifically how long it had been since he lost sight of Jack and how long he’d been stuck in the darkness. If the answer became any longer than a few hours he knew all these efforts to get back to the plan would be a moot point. They were as good as ghosts if he was left out here in the open and Jack without his help over the radio.

Caught between moving in the opposite direction in an act of survival instinct and continuing on, needing to know what those few light sources were – Atlas chose to move forward.

Cautiously Atlas inched closer to the first of the luminous red hues he could see. Atlas took notice of another faint light that was not quite as eye catching as the others. An ammo vender and then a small distance ahead of him standing brighter, but far less useful to the revolutionary in that moment, a gene-bank. However useless they may have been to Atlas in that moment their placement provided a key piece of information – the power was on but the lights were off. Vita-chambers ran on a seemingly personal energy system Atlas had found. If one was on – they’d all be on. Independent of all else around them. But these vending machines meant the main power was still online and someone had elected to leave the lights off.

Passing by both Atlas finally managed to make out a shape to those few lights. While he moved towards the red glow, thinking to himself that anything that hummed with a crimson light was likely not the sort of thing he ought to get nearer to, he finally realised that what he was looking at were…flowers.

Glowing blood flowers – only in Rapture.

Just as he’d identified the strange flower lights Atlas heard something else within the darkness stir. Tensing he quickly retraced his steps, finding a solid surface he’d previously felt out in the nonexistent light. Carefully he pressed into that surface, unsure as to if anything else down there could see better than he currently could. A spider splicer scuttling its way along the floor was a very real possibility and even more unpleasant image running through his mind as he strained to hear.

What had been a distant indistinguishable sound was abruptly traded out for a loud, grating wail. The unholy racket caused Atlas’s teeth to grind, every nerve set on edge as his hands whipped up this ears, trying to keep it out of his head. He recognised it as the screech of a poorly handled microphone only after an equally grating voice came booming across the otherwise still air.

“What’s this…?”

Static came attached to each word, that voice was something vaguely sensible, something that Atlas for a moment swore he recognised as a sharp intelligence. That feeling of recognition lasted all of three seconds before the voice returned. “What is that I hear?” The voice that had once belonged to one of Rapture’s ‘best and brightest’ was coarse now, even without the aid of the static around its edges. “I hear…someone skulking around in the dark.”

Everyone was mad in Rapture and all he had was a name to apply to that crackling voice. It was more than enough reason to seek out protection. Fortunately Rapture was in no short supply of weaponry. But in this darkness what hope would he have of finding one?

A small shiver rushed down Atlas’s spine. It was not one of fear exactly, at least not the guttural kind that snatched people up in the dead of night and left them trembling in place. No, it was a fear born of anger inside of him that grew upon realising there was a very real danger lurking out of his view and he was without a weapon. Outstanding.

Gritting his teeth Atlas tried again to see through the blackness tried to find the source of that voice as it in turn sought out the unwitting intruder.

He couldn’t make out any human figure moving through the gloom, not so much a flicker of a shape past the low burning red hues. But then again splicers were not always known to walk along the floors nor could they be considered a ‘human figure’ at a certain point.

It was an easy switch; one Atlas took some level of comfort in, moving from dazed and confused to sharply focused. Survival he knew, anger he knew – killing he arguably knew better than both.

While Atlas kept to the shadows and minded his every sound as he weighed his options, the static delivered voice that came cracking through the air showed no such reservations. Crazy he decided with ease, insanity often took all basic self preservations instincts along with it – hence why he was confident he’d be the one to come away still breathing from this encounter if things turned nasty. And when in Rapture you could bet your bottom dollar they would.

“An invalid prowling around the Fontaine premises? The press? A saboteur come to steal company secrets? Show yourself, you belligerent cad!”

Two pieces of information slot neatly into place through the mad man’s mad ranting. First and foremost a name came to Atlas. Gilbert Alexander. A name but no greater meaning behind it. Atlas’s mind applied the name to that voice like one would a title card to an unwritten novel. The second and more vital to his current position in life – the Fontaine premises.

Which of that wretched blackguard’s frontages was he currently stuck in?

For a bone chilling instant he recalled the sinking. The department store, the oppressive imprisonment that Ryan labeled as a mercy. If he was back in that place Atlas was going to have a small crisis that could only be resolved with a bullet.

The gun for which he’d need to even use said bullet now one he now sorely lacked.

Jack would have made do without.

That thought lodged itself deeply within Atlas’s mind, the only truly solid thing he had to hold onto when everything else became murky and subject to question. Somewhere out there his kid was without him, Atlas had to get back to him and he’d watched that oddball make his way through Rapture with little more than a wrench and a desperately clutched first aid kit.

He’d been setting a heck of a poor example for the kid thus far – time to knock the gears up a level.

Before he could overthink the movement Atlas darted across the barely visible room, passing between the two separate appliances he’d dismissed earlier. Then once their light was no longer useful to him he turned his gaze towards those faint red hues. If he followed their pattern he’d find a surface, judging by the few he could see level with his feet they’d mark the ground as easily as walls. He could make his way out of this place using them.

That was the only working theory he had, and even Atlas acknowledged it to barely be anything at all – it was the only thing he could do to move forward. And he’d not remain stationary any longer.

It was unsteady, uncertain progress. Atlas moved with caution, ever weary of finding the ground beneath him suddenly vanishing into the darkness below. All the while he listened to more of those crazed rantings. Occasionally he’d hear something far off from his location. A buzzing sort of screech that closer might have resembled human speech but with the distance was reduced to a vaguely irritating shriek. He knew it was this Alexander fellow and did not wish him back any time soon. But when in Rapture wishes did not hold water.

“Intruders will be punished to the up mostly severity by the Fontaine corporation!” Those words like so many others in the underwater grave were nothing short of delusional. Even while screamed through whatever speaker the nut-job had found, they were just some long lost fantasy from a time before ADAM became the very life blood of the city. A poison in their veins they willingly injected.

Biting his tongue Atlas refrained from snarling his thought’s aloud. Fontaine’s been gathering dust for months, let him lie in that grave he dug out for himself. He distantly recalled repeating a similar sentiment to Jack back at the crook’s fisheries. Indeed half the city still jumped at the mention of his name.

Ryan and Fontaine – if there were ever two men more deserving of the bottom layers of hell, Atlas would see them there himself. He would have put Fontaine under with his own hand had he been given the chance, but he could still make good on Ryan.

Distantly Atlas wondered what he was doing when Fontaine finally kicked the bucket in a flurry of bullets. If he pushed he could remember being…ill at the time. If his memory served, on the cusp of truly stepping out of the shadows into his role as Atlas’s revolutionary voice, and he’d been sick as a dog. That freak Steinman even crossed his memory although he could not for the life of him recall why.

Jarred out of his distractions from the no doubt spliced out of his mind Alexander’s occasional rambling, Atlas found the hands he’d carefully placed against the filthy, blood-crusted walls finding a gap. It took a moment and he had to be careful to try and image where he was currently standing, guess the lay out from those dots of red he could make out, but he’d say that the drop here was in face steps.

Over what would be the ledge to the level he stood on there was a second light coming from below. It too was red but paler and a brighter, broader sort of light. Atlas could guess what machine that was producing that eerie glow. “A Gather’s Garden…” He muttered under his breath, trying to peer down without risking the potential fall from the second floor. Yet another machine he himself had absolutely no need for. But it was from the light of this machine that he finally managed to make something else out.

Is that…a fish tank?

Atlas frowned, eyes narrowing as though that would clear the haze around the surface he was looking at. At first he might have mistaken it for a window out into the ocean but the shape was too curved, too enclosed – as though it was designed to hold something inside. It positively towered over him; it’s size entirely unnecessarily for some guppies.

Fish tanks in Rapture were not unheard of, not at all. But it was always a cause for some morbid humour, after all they were in their own backwards version of a fish tank weren’t they? Atlas himself didn’t particular fancy keeping fish. Felt too much like keeping birds with even less of the satisfaction. They weren’t creatures designed to belong in a box or bucket. They had the sky and the ocean – cages were more a human’s place of comfort. It merely went by different names for different folks.

Without the foggiest idea where he was other than knowing it belonged to one of Fontaine’s many fronts, Atlas attempted to get a little closer. Fingers reaching out into the dark, seeking purchase and much to his relief finding the railing that looped around the level he uncertainly stood on. Leaning forward he managed to get a slightly better view of the thing he’d named a fish tank despite its sturdy, mechanical structure. Trying to see if maybe through it – the only really notable structure within the room he’d awoke – might provide some kind of answer to his current predicament.

What he got was almost just that, in the worst way possible. Naturally.

“Ah! There you are my slippery little visitant.” Alexander’s ear splitting voice came snapping over the speakers again, closer than those distant squawks. Very much within the same living space as Atlas currently occupied. “Hiding within my very own office! The nerve, you’re not of a high enough clearance to be down here. This is against policy, against policy, against basic common sense! Of all the discourteous, boorish—you must be a saboteur!”

The words sent a sharp shot of adrenaline through his body, kicking Atlas abruptly into a form of damage control; being spotted was not the end if he just found a way out. But it was the realisation that what he was hearing directly lined up with what he was seeing that truly turned Atlas’s blood cold.

Inside the tank something was writhing. Twisting and turning in time with each of Alexander’s shrieks, its pinkish flesh grotesque and squirming across the poorly held together shape of its bulk. It was too big to be anything Atlas knew. Very briefly his mind flashed with images of giant squids but their grey mass did not hold a candle to this thing he could see curling within the tank before him. His mind raced to apply names of things he knew, but nothing fit. Nothing seemed to fit with the rest of it. The gargantuan size and uneven portions not matching the shark like tail or the shrivelled up appendages that may have once been human—

Human. Splicer. ADAM.

Abruptly it no longer mattered what the beast might have been. Atlas knew its name.

He’d give Gilbert Alexander points for joining his nightmare reservoir.

For a single stupid second Atlas was frozen. Stuck in a moment of unadulterated disgust. Towards the thing that had once been a man and spoke to him from the containment tank. Towards the wretched waste Rapture had become. Towards Ryan.

“I see you there, intruder!” Alex crowed, no doubt aware of how much more he could see than his unwitting guest. “I’ll have someone escort you from the premises immediately. Be a good chap and comply with these fine men as they see you off.”

Now call him a touch jaded but Atlas had absolutely no hope that his escorts would in fact be fine men – he’d be lucky if they were men at all.

Not a moment later he heard something in the darkness begin to strain and crack, a horrendous metal groan as something gave under immense pressure, a door being pried open at a guess. Followed by a thunderous crash as the metal was thrown to the ground and still there was only that stretching dark. But Atlas knew something emptier than a simple lack of light and held his ground, hands tightening on the railing under him. Rushing off into the unknown was as good as staying where he was under the monster’s gaze. He had to move, but he’d not do so recklessly.

But the heavy footfalls of Gil’s summoned beast were rattling the metal under his hands but what really clinched it for Atlas was the loud, droning bellow of a big daddy through the darkness and as those thundering footsteps got closer he could only conjure up images of a bouncer descending on him while he was unable to defend himself.

A sharp burst of pain at the base of his skull came with abrupt and gruesome example of what would happen to him should that be the case. Pinned to a table, drill lodged between broken ribs with every drop of blood in his body left to paint the surrounding walls and floor – death by the drill. The momentary shock of the unexpected memory forced Atlas back a step and the lingering visage burned into the back of his eye lids have him continuing to take a few more.

It was this accidental stumbling in the darkness that prompted the thing in the tank to shriek at him again, unaware of his delirium and taking any movement for a sign of knowing intent. “Keep away from there, don’t put your filthy hands on that control switch! You don’t have enough clearance to so much as scrub the floors, you bumbling gollumpus!”

And all Atlas could think in that moment, hands lurking forward to find the surface that had caused the gelatinous mass to screech at him again, was a single vicious sentiment. Fucking idiot. Showed his hand.

Atlas’s fingers were too busy racing over the surface for anything that felt even vaguely like some form of control switch or button as the mocking croon echoed in his own head. Too distracted to think of how unfitting that thought sat inside his own skull felt when his desperate searching finally landed on something that felt like a leaver.

Without a second of hesitation or indeed deeper contemplation, Atlas threw the thing and abruptly all the darkness was chased away in an explosion of light. The facility roaring back to life with a mere throw of a switch. 

Having spent so long in one variation of darkness or another, Atlas was forced to shield his eyes from the harsh light when it hit him against for the first time. Unable to make out anything of the room around him as his eyes were assaulted by the abrupt change. The only thing he had been able to blearily make out before his arms were thrown over his eyes was the thing in the tank – writhing.

Gil’s scream came through the speakers a moment later. An ear piercing shriek that tore through the speakers at such a volume they cracked and fizzled into a wailing white noise, unable to process the sheer volume of the sea monster’s agony. Then the thrashing in the tank increased, Alexander’s warped body squirming and curling in on itself as it sought out the only dark corner it could find to hide itself from the light.

Atlas might have been unable to adjust on spot but Gil’s reaction was one of genuine agony and the creature had been chased away by the first of the lights. “Turn it off! Turn it off!” He continued to wail from within it’s watery home. “It burns, destroy it! Turn it off, kill him!” Order after order he shot off and Atlas was reminded that while the light was his ally it could just as easily become an enemy.

Forcing his eyes back open, Atlas squinted against the new light and sought out the figure of the tin man that Gil had sent for him. He found it. The massive beast of what had once been a man just a shadowy figure by the side of Gil’s tank, apparently halted in a moment of either confusion or pain itself as it’s owner continued to kick up an ungodly racket.

Atlas found now was the best time to move.

Unfortunately there was nowhere to go behind him on the upper level. At his back was a door that lead to an airlock; he’d only corner himself between a big daddy and the crushing pressure of the ocean floor if he went back. So forward it was.

No longer bound by how little he could see Atlas launched himself over the railing, landing in front of the glow of the Gather’s Garden and squarely into a filthy puddle. Far too used to being covered in grim after years fighting through Ryan’s little underwater mistake, Atlas found his balance easily and didn’t slip despite the dampness.

Behind him the creature let out another bellowing roar, broken from its stupor by the sound of rapidly fleeing feet. Atlas did not make the mistake of looking back, not so much as a glance over his shoulder as he took a shot in the dark, risking putting himself into a dead end as he ran through unfamiliar halls. He’d never been in this place before, but quickly assigned it the title of illegal and something to do with science, neither of which tended to go over well in Rapture. But that did scream of Fontaine’s shady business. Even with his sight restored he remained blind, not knowing where he was running just that he had to lose the monster behind him or he’d be back at the pearly gates.

For as blind as his movements were Atlas did not wind up trapped into a corner without any form of protection. Instead lady luck must have finally decided he was worth a nickel because he encountered no locked doors and eventually found himself in a room that had a door he could lock. It was little more than instinct that drove Atlas through those doors and immediately lashing out for the locks set just aside from the steel door that flung shut just barely missing his sleeve, as it sealed up tight. Atlas put it down to adrenaline and an unprecedented level of luck as he stood panting for a moment, staring at the now shut door.

Then reality caught back up with him and he hastily dropped, scrambling under a desk that lay pressed up against a near wall and above it a window. Atlas was used to hiding, granted he’d done so in a more broad sense in the past. Hiding his identity and trail as opposed to literally cramming himself into dark corners and holding his breath in the hopes the diving suit monster would fail to find him.

He waited. Silent and still, not daring enough to even breath as the heavy footsteps approached the door. He knew it’d have no trouble busting down the door he’d closed on it. But hoped it would not feel the need to, having lost sight of him long before it could have seen where his frantic, thoughtless path had lead him.

The heavy pounds of the big daddy’s boots had slowed, an unsure stalk through the halls as it sought out it’s lost target. The steps halted by the door and Atlas found himself squeezing his eyes shut and tensing, hoping the next thing he heard would not be the roar of a drill coming to life. Too vividly he could image the creature breaking through the window that stood between them, drill effortlessly passing through the glass and flimsy wooden frame of the desk – killing him as easily as it would any drugged up splicer.

Seconds trickled by at an agonisingly slow pace until finally the steps resumed and the creature wandered off in a different direction, footsteps growing quieter and quieter until finally Atlas couldn’t feel it’s every step sending tremors through the floor.

A whole body sigh heaved out of Atlas’s chest as he collapsed forward, elbows draped over his knees as he dropped his head down between his legs. Feeling as relieved as he was exhausted, only able to breath and think once again after the thing was gone. “Rapture…” He snarled under his breath, fingers pressed harshly against his face as with that moment of relief came an overwhelming wave of exasperation. “Sea monsters now, of course. Don’t know why I was surprised.”

All that anger and exhaustion was astonishingly and extraordinarily easy to summarise and Atlas did so with a simple three word growl.