"I remember this place back when I was guv'ner. Ruined, wretched, damp, pissed on Hooverville. The Sinclair Deluxe weren't no better, either…place had so many holes in the walls it looked like the builders done gave up entirely. Bathtubs and toilets were broken off as well…had to cut off the water to stop the smell. When Sofia asked me to help this 'League' settle in, I weren't expectin' much better. But Mario and his brother did a first-rate job of fixin' up the Sinclair, though you can still hear every creak on the floor. Water pipes fixed, walls repaired, decent mattresses shoved in so the people can still get some sleep. Still ain't much compared to Mercury Suites, but it'll do for the soldiers…at least until we can fix up another of the hotels."
To get to the Sinclair Deluxe, Link had to pass through Pauper's Drop. It was the poorest of the neighborhoods in Rapture, a shantytown under the discontinued railway. The buildings looked ready to fall apart…some were literally wood shacks held up with copious nails and duct tape. The war certainly didn't help the Drop keep itself together. There were a lot of posters of Lamb and her piercing eyes plastered around the town.
The lad was following the painted signs to the Sinclair Deluxe, likely the most intact building in the drop (after Mario's repairs of course) and the barracks for many of the soldiers. On his way he ran into Rtas. He and Lara had walked out of a building with the sign 'Limbo Room' with puzzled looks on their faces.
"Hmph. That is where I would've guessed she'd be. With the stage and all."
"I told Mario to consider soundproofing the rooms. He claimed there were other priorities. This would not have happened if he had just done as I requested."
"Easy, Rtas. She can't be that far off. She was just looking for a place to play that guitar."
"A good thing, I suppose. You can hear almost every noise in that hotel." Just then Rtas noticed Link. "Hello. Surprising to see you here."
Link nodded hello to both of them. "What are you doing here?" Lara asked.
"The chronicler? You have heard she has vanished. We have searched this area; she is nowhere to be found."
"Unless she's playing with one of the soldiers."
Rtas shot Lara a small glare. "We would have heard. Besides, that fool I just detained claims she was exiting the hotel. If she is still in the drop, well, but if she went into a bathysphere station, we may have a problem."
"I thought…there were cameras." Link remarked.
"We can only get half of them to work. Most of them were destroyed in the war. Besides, we can't look out of every single one at once. Casey went out of the camera's sights when she left the hotel. If we had a general area to look, we could probably find her." Lara shrugged.
Link nodded understanding before walking towards the hotel. Lara turned back to Rtas. "Perhaps we should call an alarm?"
"Not yet. My soldiers are still sleeping. We should give it a few more hours and then send out a city-wide broadcast on the PA. If the chronicler doesn't show up then, we'll call an alarm."
"Our housekeeper Grace is tougher than she appears. She was a lieutenant of Sofia Lamb during her rule, and the only person Sofia calls 'friend'. She commands the Sinclair Deluxe right now. One of my soldiers smashed a door into pieces to spite the occupant, and she appeared and gave the Sangheili a fierce lecture. Did not back down even though that soldier could have broken her in half. If my soldiers had half of her nerve…I am told she has survived an incredibly rough life in Rapture. After seeing that exchange, I believe it."
The Sinclair Deluxe was not Mercury Suites. The hotel was cheap lodging for the residents of the Drop, who were probably desperate for little more than a roof over their heads. They got it here, to be sure, with decent beds and plumbing, but creaky floors and tiny rooms (at least compared to the apartments uptown) made it a place no-one wanted to stay if they could choose. Apparently though, it was the most intact of the lodgings that had enough room for the rest of the soldiers.
Link walked through the hotel calmly, doing his best to minimize the noises he made after a half-asleep shout called him to be quiet. The walk was otherwise uneventful, and he eventually found #76.
The youth tried the door handle. Locked, of course. Link silently criticized himself for a fool. Casey would not leave her door unlocked, not in a place like this. Disappointed, Link turned around and began walking away.
"And just what are you up to here?" Link turned to see a woman with dark skin, a flowery yellow dress, a long white scarf and a strong but sweet expression. Grace Holloway was in charge of the hotel, and although the old woman had to use a cane to get around, she was as weathered and tough as most of the soldiers sleeping in her hotel.
Link shrugged. "Looking for Casey."
Grace smiled slightly. "You heard she's missin'. She walked out of this here hotel and got her tracker stolen by one of the drunks. Ol' Halfjaw and Lara are huntin' for her in the drop."
Link nodded. Then he motioned towards the door. "Can I go in?"
Grace was puzzled, and leaned on her cane looking hard at Link. "She ain't in her room, I checked. What d'you think you'll find in there?"
Link gulped. Grace's eyes were just as piercing as Lamb's. It was easy to believe they were close friends. He could do little but shrug and motion at the door again. "Please?"
Grace hesitated for a moment, and then shrugged herself. "Don't see why not. And y' did say please." Grace instinctively felt Link could be trusted, and took out the master key she carried in her pocket. The door opened.
Casey didn't have any real personal effects when she was brought to Rapture, so her room was more or less untouched. The large bedsheets were disturbed, of course, and there was a large pillow and bowl for her pet. There was little else…except for an audio diary left behind on the floor. This would be perfect…
"She took her guitar, as y' can see." Grace explained, reminding Link he would have to wait for a bit before he could start searching. "I don't think it real music, but she's good at playin' that thing. I figured she'd be at the Limbo Room…that was where I sang." Apparently Grace had the matronly habit of reminiscing about her past with anyone who was available. "I used to be quite the singer, the toast of Pauper's Drop. Ryan didn't like my lyrics. When I met Sofia, I had gotten blacklisted, penniless and depressed. She got me back up…whatever they say about Doctor Lamb, she was a good doctor. Took care of her friends…oh, I'm sorry. Must be borin' ya."
"It's alright." Link reassured, waiting patiently for Grace to leave.
She seemed to understand what Link wanted, though not necessarily why. "I need to do some sweepin' in the halls now, don't make a mess here." Grace walked out quietly, her cane tapping the floor as she walked out the door.
Link glanced around quickly to see if any cameras were watching him. There weren't. As soon as he was sure Grace Holloway was away from the door, Link pulled out the wolf mask. The cat had 'given' it to him, might as well put it to good use. He raised the mask to his face.
It leapt on like the wolf it bore the face of.
It was over in a flash. Link's bones were rearranged and his senses sharpened. He was a wolf again. He shook his head to clear any confusion out, and then took a good sniff of the audio diary. Soon, he had Casey's scent memorized.
"Just when I thought I done seen everything."
Grace's voice made the shocked wolf spin around in surprise. Sure enough, the caretaker of the hotel was watching from the doorway. The wolf let out a surprised gasp. He didn't want to be seen…for some reason.
It looked every bit like a wolf to Grace's eyes. But the sheepish, shocked, stammering, wide-eyed expression was certainly human. There was a curious factor about the face that made it clear this was Link, the youth from Hylian. At least to someone with sharp eyes.
Grace chuckled quietly as she stepped in. "Forgot my key." The old woman shook her head amusingly at the stymied wolf. "Should've just said somethin' bout it. This'll be a help." The wolf just blinked as Grace patted him on the head. "Now go."
Link gave Grace another curious look before running out of the room.
Grace touched the commlink on her ear. "Didja see that, Doctor Lamb?"
"Yes. It certainly answers some questions. Thank you, Grace."
"There's a nice mark around this place. Nice looker named…Link, I think. Blonde, good form, not grabby at all. Shy though…I tried to have some fun but I scared him off. Wasn't even coming on that strong. Weird. Ah well. Didn't have time to play anyway. Maybe I'll try again later."
Casey's scent was like a pathway that Link could follow. The trail led out of the Sinclair Deluxe and into the drop. Link went on his way unhindered, every soul in the hotel sleeping. It was quiet when he left the hotel, with only Lara and Rtas walking outside. They didn't notice the wolf, or if they did, they didn't think he was a threat. Link was so focused on following the trail he didn't notice if they were watching him or not.
Passing by the abandoned, derelict buildings, the wolf eventually came into a bathysphere station. Plants growing on the side made a desperate attempt to give the place a nice appearance. Whether or not they succeeded was a matter of opinion. There were several bathyspheres, lined up in a row with specific numbers. A few were missing. The wolf checked and sure enough, Casey's scent led into the pool of water where the bathysphere was. And then down, down, down into the water…
Link decided there was little point in keeping this form…if Casey had gone on a bathysphere, he would need his hands to activate another one. First of all, he had to get the mask off. It took him a few minutes, but he was eventually able to grip something on the sides of his head with his front paws. It felt like an end, the edge of something. Link pushed hard…
…and the mask clattered on the ground, Link's human form kneeling over it. The young man got up to his feet, and looked at the pool of water. This wasn't as helpful as he had hoped. If Casey had used one of these, she could be anywhere in the city…
Sofia's voice surprised the boy, and it took him a moment to realize she was speaking on his commlink. "Hello."
"In the future, I would appreciate you refraining from your little…vanishing act without word" Sofia's voice seemed concerned, but had the distinct undertone of someone who knew more than they were saying.
Sofia cleared her throat to cover a chuckle. "So she went on one of the bathyspheres? That…may be a problem. Or possibly not…can you tell me exactly which one she went on? They should be numbered in order."
Link blinked. How could she expect him to know that unless…Grace must've told her. Link sighed and looked at the bathyspheres beside the place where Casey's trail ended. "6 and 8…she went on number 7."
"Seven. Call back the bathysphere with the control nearby." There was a control panel in one of the nearby booths, with numbered switches representing each bathysphere. Flicking the one labeled 7, Link heard a click, beep, and a hum.
"There were several bathyspheres down here because of the railway construction." Sofia explained. "When the Atlantic Express was being built or repaired, it became prudent to be able to have several workers go to different parts of the city at one time, to pick up supplies or answer an alert. Prentice Mill, the man who constructed the railway, always hated that his workers relied on them. While you're waiting for that bathysphere to return, check the listings. They should be on a bulletin."
Link turned around and sure enough, posted on the wall was a list, with the bathysphere numbers and the places in the city they went to. "They had to reduce the amount of locations every bathysphere could visit, to reduce the chance of them crashing into each other and drowning the occupants. So each 'sphere was only allowed to ferry workers to a few specific places in the city. It should be listed what places #7 was permitted to go."
Link leaned in closer to the list, both to help him see the listing better and to let the camera Sofia was watching through get a decent picture.
"Bathysphere #7 locations:
-Pumping Station 5
To access Arcadia, see #8, #3, and #5. To access Mercury Suites, see #1, #2, and #4. To access Fontaine Futuristics, see #6, #9, and #10."
"Fort Frolic…" Sofia mused. "Of course, Fort Frolic! There are advertisements everywhere in the Drop…of course a musician would go there."
"It was the entertainment capital of Rapture, I'm ashamed I did not think…of it…sooner…" Sofia's voice started to sound troubled.
"Strange…There are no cameras in the place…"
BEEEEEEE! Link looked up at the noise. Bathysphere #7 had returned, erupting from the water like an ocean god's chariot.
"Perhaps you should go there and have a look…"
Link boarded the bathysphere and pulled the lever that said 'To Fort Frolic'. The youth sat down and glanced at the bathysphere wall. On it was a tattered poster featuring a man with a white face and black suit.
'Oh boy, what a floor show every night! Sander Cohen.'
"I've been brought on this league to screw people. Yep. Lara invites me on to spite Snake, Arbiter allows me on to spite Sofia and whoever insisted on a chronicler. Heh. It's not like I'm bitter. Ain't the first time. Remember Johnny? That loser. World's biggest Liberty Spikes do not a punk make, and neither does an arm candy girl like me. At least he was better than Eric…oh, I'm rambling. Bored, I guess."
Link stepped out of the bathysphere into a world of neon. Signs advertising casinos, dancers and theatre were everywhere in the place. The entertainment capitol of Rapture looked every bit the part, even with the cracks and bloodstains on the floors and walls. Another place the cleaners seemed to overlook.
"Hmm, Casey should be in the stage in the Fleet Hall, if anywhere. Most appropriate place for a musician." Sofia remarked.
Link's ears picked up sound. It was a guitar being tuned. Casey! The lad followed the noise through an atrium where a strange statue was set on a stage. The statue had several men in bunny masks holding up blurry photographs. Link didn't bother to take a closer look, and simply walked past and through the door labeled 'Fleet Hall'.
The Fleet Hall was a colossal theatre, with blood-red curtains and splattered leather seats. The stage was wood charred by a recent fire. On that stage was Casey Lynch, tinkering with her guitar to get it in tune. Beside her was her faithful Pikachu, Jimi.
She looked up when she heard Link walk up. "Oh, hey there." she acknowledged. Jimi waved slightly to Link. "What are ya doin' here?"
"Looking for you."
"Well, a new assignment… Sofia was looking." Link stammered a little.
"Sofia was looking for me? Couldn't she just…" Casey felt her ear and her eyes went wide. "Oh hell! That stinking soldier must've…GAHH!"
"Oh really?" Casey sighed quietly. "Can't she wait a bit? I've been here forever tuning this stupid old thing, can't I play one song? I need some music."
Casey didn't wait for him to answer, strumming the guitar quickly. "Just this one solo. You'll like it. It's based on the feeling of a very first kiss. Tell me if it reminds you of that."
Link looked very uncomfortable. How could he answer? His discomfort must have shown, and Casey noticed. "Um…you know what I'm talking 'bout, right?"
Link rubbed the back of his neck silently. Casey abruptly stopped strumming.
After a moment, Link shook his head. That was it. That was the problem.
Casey's hand went right to her face. "Oog, no wonder I spooked you when…sorry bout that, man." Link smiled slightly and shrugged. "Alright."
"Alright." Casey smiled again. "I'll play it. It's just a minute or so, should show you what you're missing." Before Link could object, Casey began playing.
Her fingers danced across the strings expertly, producing a sound that excited and thrilled anyone who heard it. She put her entire body into it as well, dancing a small dance to the music. Casey smiled broadly, very happy for the first time in weeks. Jimi mimicked her, hopping about and holding an air guitar, waving his small claws across invisible strings.
Link couldn't help but be lost in the spectacle. He felt no-one could help but be drawn in by the noise.
Sofia's voice came across the commlink. "Hm, yes, it is impressive, she is very skilled. But we still - - need - - what the - -" Sofia's voice began to crackle. "Something's wrong - - Losing your signal - - this is diff- - it's being actively blocked - - I'm sending - -" And then Sofia's voice was gone in a crackle.
Link tapped his ear, troubled. His signal blocked? Something was wrong. Jimi felt it too…he suddenly stopped dancing, his ear twitching and his eyes wide.
Casey didn't think anything was wrong. That is, until her guitar burst into flames.
"EYAAH!" Casey shrieked as she threw the burning instrument away. The guitar landed in a flaming mess on the stage. Link stood up suddenly as well, his sword drawn. Jimi's eyes searched the dark theatre for who had fired at the guitar.
He soon made himself heard.
"ENOUGH! I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE! I tried to be quiet, tried to stay out of the way…but that $%$*#@# NOISE you create is TOO MUCH! THIS IS A RESPECTABLE THEATRE! I will not have this musical insult in MY domain! This is a realm for ARTISTS!"
A man appeared in a flash of red. Or, he had been a man at some point. Now he was little more than a mangled mutant in a loose-fitting tuxedo. A rabbit mask hid whatever hideous thing his face was. Flames appeared in his hands like burning coals.
"And I am the Artist! I'm SANDER F$*% COHEN!!"