Dying was a strange feeling. It had been funny, especially so now, but Elizabeth had always thought it would be like being born except in reverse. Being in a tower all your life and immediately being thrown into bloodshed and violence, seeing the life slip from someone’s eyes for the first time, makes you fear death. Taking a life makes you accept it. It was natural, and no matter how much money men like Ryan had to throw at scientists who could create chambers to cheat it, to death he was no different than a beggar in the slums of Pauper’s Drop. It was the ultimate equalizer. While some such as Daisy Fitzroy and Booker faced it with dignity, others like Fink, who made an image of themselves as haughty and better than everyone else, spent their final moments on their knees, pleading for mercy.
Elizabeth knew she was going to die. From the moment she had stepped foot in Rapture, a plan had been set in place that would end with her joining the bodies that would soon fall. For a time, she had forgotten, doubted even herself, but she understood now. Death was not something to be feared. It was an old friend, ready to be embraced. Finally, she could get the one thing she had longed for all her life. Paris. Peace.
The world had no place for her, but by giving herself up for Sally, for Ryan’s poor test tube bastard, Jack, for all the other little girls who suffered under men like Ryan, Fontaine, Suchong, they now could. The doors had revealed themselves to her, and while Fontaine ranted and raved, she could see the future. How his vision of control over Rapture would be struck down seemingly by the heavens in the form of the children he wronged, their needles as sharp as their now cleared minds and their taste of revenge as bloodthirsty as he.
A pathetic end for a pathetic man.
But that wasn’t all she saw. The doors were kind, giving her glimpses of a future in which a boy bred to be a science experiment breaks free of the chains that tie him down to become a man. A father to girls who bond over their abuse, and while he struggles, he does them right and loves them unconditionally. The doors gave her visions of Sally, letting her watch a scared, cowering little girl in a bathysphere transform into a prom queen, a graduate of medical school, a bride, a mother.
Though the Little Sister gripped her tiny, cold hands tightly around hers, pleading that she didn’t leave her alone, Elizabeth was ready. Her vision was blurred, due in part to the searing pain in her skull and the blood pooling in her eyes, but she stared in Sally’s large, clear, glowing ones before losing consciousness. Hard to believe they would be a beautiful blue- as vibrant as a tropical sea.
Now, she felt nothing.
Just as it was before her birth, she was now one again with the universe. Her essence spread across the Sea of Doors.
But, then the pain came back. Her senses were overwhelmed with music and lights and the screams of children that made her throbbing head seem ready to explode. Bile at the back of her throat was swallowed as she finally opened her eyes. She had thought she was dead. She had been so sure that this was it. Yet, unless there was a heaven, and it smelled like a sewer and had a dozen little girls conversing, bickering, and playing with each other, Elizabeth was very much alive. She contemplated being happy or disappointed as she weakly examined her surroundings.
She was on a bed. An uncomfortable, hard bed that was most likely tossed from Mercury Suites. Her ratty, stained blanket was harsh against her skin and did little to give her warmth. Her head was spinning too much for her to sit up, but when she placed her hand up to where Fontaine had struck her with the wrench, she felt thick, heavy bandaging.
Someone had brought her here. Someone had saved her.
Tiny shrieks filled the air, making the pain nearly unbearable. She groaned and rubbed her temples. For a moment, there had been dread. Elizabeth had forgotten what happy children sounded like when they played. It was different than Sally’s when she was stuck in the hot vent, getting her little hands burnt, or when she was strapped onto a gurney and nearly lobotomized by Fontaine. It was light, like a song, and if her skull hadn’t been cracked, she would have found it lovely.
“Masha, what is the rule?” A woman’s voice says sternly, like a mother scolding child. Her German accent thick. “We have rule here, no?”
Elizabeth recognizes one of the little girls running about, being chased by another one. Her blue dress is torn and her tight ponytail is now undone, revealing her short, black hair. She had been in Suchong’s lab, cowering with her friend and terrified of the wounded Big Daddy. While Elizabeth had saved him, it didn’t take long for her to put two and two together and realize what fate he suffered shortly after. He had killed Suchong. A death sentence.
“We have to use our inside voices,” Masha replies, and Elizabeth cannot help but be taken aback at how aware she is. When they had met, she rambled nonsense, repeating the same phrases over and over again.
“So the Bad Man and the splicers don’t get us.”
“Good, good, mein kleine mädchen,” the woman said. It was hard for Elizabeth to make her out. She stood in another room with tinted windows, but she could see the cigarette in her silhouette. There was a trail of smoke when she waved the girl off. “You can continue to play, just quietly. Perhaps, some board games or hopscotch?”
Masha nodded. “Okay, Mama Tenenbaum,” she said sadly as she held her head down.
“Soon, child, soon,” Tenenbaum softly replied. “You will play in the sun and can be as loud as your heart contents.” She took a puff of her cigarette and sighed. “Just a little longer, hold out, please?”
The girl nodded again, more determined. “Yes, Mama Tenenbaum.” She turned to her companion, a slightly younger girl in a pink dress that Liz also recognized. “Do you want to draw?”
“No,” Leta replied. “I’m almost done Charlotte’s Web, so I think I’m going to read.”
“Can I borrow it when you’re done?”
“You’ll have to ask Sally. I told her she could read it next.”
Elizabeth’s eyes shot open. Was it her Sally? Sure, it was a pretty common name, but who else could it be? She had thought the doors told her truth, but given how she wasn’t dead, that didn’t seem to be the case. Her heart stopped as she peered at the crowds of various little girls, and while she swore she could see Sally, there were so many blondes. She could feel panic setting in. What if Fontaine hadn’t kept his deal? What if she had ran off and encountered a splicer? She would have never survived for long on her own.
“I sense you are looking for your little one,” Tenenbaum began.
“Where is she?” Elizabeth croaked, cringing at how dry her voice sounded. “Where is Sally?”
“You look at wrong places. All you need to do is look down. She is closer than you think.”
Sure enough, by peering over her bed, Elizabeth found the tiny form of Sally curled up on the ground. Her hair and black dress was just as dirtied and ripped as it had been before, but her skin now had a pinkish tint instead of a corpse like grey, though the bags under her eyes were still prominent. The young woman watched her little chest rise and fall as she slept. Seeing her on the floor while she had the bed broke Elizabeth’s heart.
“She came to me,” the scientist continued. “She guided me to where you lay. You are lucky, Fontaine’s aim is poor. If he had hit just a little closer, a little harder, your brain would have bled.” She took another puff of her cigarette. “Concussion is not ideal, but better than dead, no?”
Elizabeth’s brows furrowed. “You know Fontaine’s Atlas?” she asked as she turned her head slowly to Tenenbaum’s secluded room.
“You ramble in sleep,” the other woman replied. “Gibberish, mostly. But, I was able to get that.” She paused for a moment. “I had my suspicions, though.”
“You’re Dr. Brigid Tenenbaum,” Elizabeth began, sitting up some more. “You created the Little Sisters while working at Fontaine Futuristics and then ran away with them. Most people think you’re dead, others think you’re a traitor.”
She scoffed. “If I am a traitor for trying to undo the cruelty I have committed against these children, then I wear it proudly like badge.” The words came out bitter, but through the edge, Elizabeth could make out the fatigue and depression in the scientist’s voice. “I ask: what do you think of me?”
Elizabeth frowned and truly thought about her answer for a minute. She was an angel compared to Fontaine, who had taken no time in making it real clear he was going to kill her and took pleasure in jamming ice picks in children’s eyes, but that wasn’t much of an accomplishment. Fontaine could even make a toad like Augustus Sinclair look like a beacon of morality.
“We’re all terrible people down here,” she finally said. “It takes a lot of guts to right your wrongs, though. I would know, I guess.”
“This place was supposed to be safe haven from surface.” Tenenbaum sighed. “We all mocked them, but what would those people think of us if they saw what we have done to these children?”
“They’d think we’re monsters. Probably send us to hang like in Nuremberg.”
“I cannot say we do not deserve it,” the scientist murmured, taking another drag. “That I do not deserve it.” Her self-hatred was strong. Elizabeth knew that feeling all too well.
“I guess it’s my turn to ask: what do you think of me?” Elizabeth asked as she stared into the glass, watching as the other woman stood there, unmoving. “You don’t know anything about me.”
“I know you became instant success over night working under Sander Cohen, but just as soon as you appeared- you disappear. No one knows who you are, where you come from, or why you came.” Tenenbaum paused. “And you are not Suchong’s lab assistant.”
“What gave it away?” Elizabeth scoffed, though it turned into a cough. God, her throat was so dry.
Tenenbaum was not so amused. “You are very lucky Fontaine was not in right state of mind. He does not take well to liars. However, mysterious as you are, my little ones trust you.” She motioned towards Sally, who still laid there still on the cold, dirty ground. “She trusts you.”
Elizabeth frowned, slowly reaching her hand down to brush a loose strand of hair away from the tiny girl’s face. “She shouldn’t.”
“She told me you saved her life. Went through hell and back to give her a chance.” Tenenbaum put out her cigarette, rubbing it on the ashtray that rested on her desk. “Anyone who goes that far for my little ones is someone I can trust.”
“Trusting people in this shit-hole is the biggest mistake you can make.”
The scientist crossed her arms before saying brusquely, “You are more than welcome to leave when you recover. The door is up the steps and you will be in Olympus Heights. I am sure Fontaine and Ryan will be thrilled to see you alive.”
Elizabeth bit her lip. She was right. The moment she stepped out of the sanctuary, she was a dead woman walking. Between Fontaine and Ryan, the carnage of the ongoing war, and the splicers who would attack her on sight for ADAM, she’d be lucky to make it outside of the Adonis before being swarmed. Besides, what would she do anyway? It wasn’t like she could leave. Ryan had every bathysphere locked to his genetic code.
Unless she managed to make it down to Persephone to cozy up to Lamb, she didn’t have any other ‘friends’ but Tenenbaum. Of course, she knew Elizabeth wasn’t going to leave. At this point, they both had to rely on each other.
The oldest girl, a lanky, awkward thing of about eleven-years-old in a dress far too small for her, brought over a pitcher of water to her bedside and poured a glass of water. She held out the plastic, slightly stained cup to Elizabeth nervously as she played with a strand of her greasy, dark brown hair. Liz took it with a soft smile, and even though it had a disgusting salty, grimy aftertaste, she savored it.
“Thank you.” She placed the cup on the bedside table after she was finished downing it. Immediately, the girl refilled it. “Thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome,” she replied. “Are you hungry? I could get you something to eat if you want.” She fiddled with the hem of her torn green dress, which was now up to her thighs.
Elizabeth frowned. She needed new clothes, and desperately.
“I’m good, I’m good,” the older woman replied with a wave of her hand.
“Are you sure? You were sleeping for a while and I thought you’d be hungry. I know I would be.”
“Wait, how long was I out?”
“A month,” she answered. “You woke up a couple times, said some weird stuff, and then you’d go back to sleep. We all thought you were gonna die.” She looked down at Sally. “She’s been right by your side the moment you got here. She didn’t even want to sleep- she was afraid you were gonna wake up alone.”
The girl nodded with a grin. “She’s gonna be real happy you’re up, though!” Her attention turned to two of the former Sisters arguing over a candy bar. “Hey, hey!” She marched right over there and gave them both a scolding. “I have more Pep Bars, but none of you are going to get any if you keep fighting!”
“Well, tell Trudy to get her grubby, butterfingers off of people’s stuff!” A ten-year-old with medium length, dark copper hair and an orange dress huffed. “I don’t even know why you want it, your diet mostly consists of your boogers anyway.”
“I don’t eat my boogies!” Trudy, most likely the youngest of the girls at roughly four, stomped her tiny feet. “I don’t eat my boogies!”
“Oh, yeah? What were you doing, like, ten seconds ago? I saw you pick your nose, look at your finger, and then stick it right into your big mouth.”
“Not a boogey!”
“Well, then what was it? The air?” The red head turned to Leta, who had been trying to read her book in peace. “Did Trudy just eat her booger or am I still hallucinating?”
Leta looked up, slightly anxious due to being suddenly put on the spot. “I mean, yeah. She does it a lot. It’s gross.”
“See!” the older girl cried. “I have witnesses!”
Elizabeth’s brows raised. She was so used to children acting like little robots she wondered if this was how they were supposed to behave. A glance towards Tenenbaum, who sat hunched over at her desk, rubbing her temples, cemented that this must be a regular occurrence.
As entertaining as this was to watch, firing up an angry toddler was like poking a bear with a stick, and things were sure to escalate. Even the eldest of the Sisters wasn’t going to be able to diffuse this. Trudy’s face was a bright red as she continued to huff and puff. Steam was practically coming out of her ears.
It was like a tea pot on a stove or a thermostat pushed to its limit. She’s going to scream, Elizabeth thought. She’s going to scream and all hell is going to break loose. Hell, it could even alert the splicers, and then they’d all be dead.
“I have another Pep Bar, see!” The oldest girl pulled one out of the pocket of her apron. “See, Trudy! I have another one, so Rosie can keep hers!”
“I’ll have it, she already contaminated mine with her germs.”
“I did not!”
“Hey,” Elizabeth called out sternly. The dryness of her throat made her voice raspier, even slightly intimidating, or so she thought. “What’s going on here?”
The girl in the orange dress, Rosie, pointed at Trudy with a scowl. “I had a Pep Bar, and she tried to grab it right out of my hand!”
“I wanted it!”
“Trudy, you just can’t take things that don’t belong to you,” Elizabeth reprimanded from her bed. “If it was her Pep Bar, then you either ask to share or get one for yourself.” She then turned to the red head. “And you! Rosie, don’t stir the pot! Don’t be mean! We all don’t have to like each other, but we got to respect each other, understand?”
The girls both glared at each other before the older of the two handed her bar over. Well, more like dropped into the other’s hand before grabbing another one from her friend. Elizabeth couldn’t help but be impressed with herself. Problem solved, and no one cried or got their eyes clawed out. She didn’t even have to do that much. She could even see the beginnings of a smirk from Tenenbaum.
Trudy smugly grinned, feeling victorious and blew the older girls a raspberry as she walked upstairs to play hopscotch. She then proceeded to stop to stick her finger in her nose, stare at it, and lick it.
Elizabeth swore Rosie flipped her off.
Sally woke up shortly after. How she managed to sleep three hours on the ground, Elizabeth had no clue, but she seemed refreshed after her nap. As a Little Sister, she probably had to sleep in worse places. She rubbed her large eyes with her fists, yawned, and smacked her lips, completely unaware that Elizabeth was trying hard not to giggle at her. She was just too stinking cute.
Of course, Elizabeth’s breaking point came when the seven-year-old blew away a strand of hair from her now loose ponytail. The strand came back and Sally repeatedly blew it away for about thirty seconds before letting out an aggravated sigh and tucking it behind her ear.
Wide, bright blue eyes met her darker ones. The little girl gasped, her face frozen in shock as she stared up at Elizabeth, who beamed down at her. They remained that way for close to a minute before Liz finally broke the silence.
She leaped into her arms. Elizabeth was so taken aback by the sudden force she let out a grunt as Sally practically buried her face into her neck. The whiplash made her head ring.
“You’re okay!” She squeezed the woman’s neck so tight Elizabeth was afraid she was going to be choked out. “I was so scared! Atlas hit your head really, really hard and I thought you were going to die, but you didn’t die and-“
She shushed her gently, cutting off the girl’s ramblings. “And I’m okay,” she whispered, “I’m okay.” Still, Sally gripped her as if she was going to leave if she didn’t, and Elizabeth did the same when she heard tiny, muffled sobs. “It’s alright.”
Sally pulled away. Her eyes were bloodshot and snot dripped down her nose as she wept. Fat tears rolled down her cheeks. “I-I t-thought… I thought you were gone!” she said in between shaky breaths. “I thought h-he got you and I-I was gonna be all-all alone!”
“Oh, but he didn’t,” Elizabeth replied, her own voice wavering. “See, I’m here.” She wiped away her tears with her torn sleeve. “See, I’m right here. I’m here.”
And still, she cried. And Elizabeth held her, and even when they petered out into whimpers, she still held her and never wanted to let her go. The other girls gawked. Some of the more empathetic ones got teary-eyed themselves, while the rest awkwardly went back to playing after a few minutes. Tenenbaum watched them through the glass as she smoked another cigarette.
Leta had wandered over, clutching the book she had been reading close to her chest. She slowly placed it down on the table before backing up. Masha grabbed her by the arm and led her to the chalk, but they continued to watch from a distance.
With one hand wrapped around Sally, Elizabeth leaned over to pick up the book with the other. Charlotte’s Web. “Sally, what is this?” she asked.
Sally, whose head rested on the other’s chest, stared up at the book. “Charlotte’s Web. Leta had been reading it. I asked her if I could borrow it when she was done.” She paused, biting her lip. “I-I was going to read it to you while you were sleeping, but I-I’m not really good at reading so-“
“No, please read it.” Elizabeth smiled. “I’d love to hear it.”
“And if I stumble over the big words?”
“Then, I’ll help you.”
Sally wiped her face with her arm, sniffling before taking the book. She moved towards the end of the bed, allowing Elizabeth to lay back and rest her aching head. She glanced over at her nervously and received a reassuring nod. She opened the book and began to read.
“‘Where’s Papa going with that axe?’ said Fern to her mother as they were sett… sett…”
“Oh! said Fern to her mother as they setting for b…break-fast.”
Though none of them could see it through the tinted glass, Tenenbaum smiled as the other girls stopped their activities to sit down on either the floor or beds nearby to listen.