It began with a single glance; my eyes meeting hers and
forever sealing my fate.I could not get those eyes out of my head, I saw her
everywhere I went. She was always in my mind but never physically there; it was
driving me to insanity. Was she just a ghost? Did I only imagine her in some
outlandish dream? No, that’s impossible; I saw her, Sander saw her, all his
disciples saw her. We will all see her again today, for today is where I begin
my rehearsals with her; Elizabeth.
It was two hours before the rehearsal, yet I went to Fleet Hall and waited for it to begin. My anticipation was palpable and I could not bear the thought of staying in the apartment when there was even the slightest chance that she would arrive early. Ibrought a few items for recreational purposes as I waited in the empty auditorium; a fictional book I brought from the surface by the name of “Story of the Eye” and a pack of cigarettes. Whether or not these items will entertain me for the next two hours is really a matter of opinion. I light my cigarette, puff out clouds of smoke, and read my book.
An hour passed, I was a quarter of the way finished with what is a relatively dreary book that has far too many surreal elements to be enjoyable and have already went through half of my cigarettes. My attention did not even go towards the book; it all went to Elizabeth. Minutes felt like hours, hours felt like days, it was excruciating. In situations like these I would just contemplate the idiosyncrasies of life, but even that was not an option for me.
Another thirty minutes passed, still no sign of her. At that point I gave up and lost all hope of sharing sometime alone. Sander and his goons would be here soon, when that times came, the only intimate moments we will be sharing is through instrument and voice. This was it; I hadone more cigarette left, of the twelve, I only had one left. It was not that Iwas a heavy smoker; I just smoked excessively when I got anxious and was in a deserted environment. I take out my lighter and pointed my cigarette to the flame.
“That’s quite enough of that.”
I turn my head around and gasped. It was her; stunning, magnificent her. I was hardly able to breath and almost started panting. But for the most part I kept my cool, I had to, otherwise I would certainly look the fool.
“Elizabeth! I didn’t hear you come in, what are you doing here so early?” I asked
“I can ask you the same thing, do you wish to avail yourself.” She asked, her sinister temperament has not changed, although beautiful, she still put the fear of god into me. But what does she mean by ‘avail myself’? There is absolutely no way she knows what I am doing here. She most likely is just making an assumption, nothing more.
“I enjoy coming down here, there is this ominous feel when you are in an auditorium all by yourself. You can hear nothing but the murmur of nearby whales.” I said, hoping that was an adequate answer.
“That’s very poetic, Mr. Buchanan.” She said “But like most poets, you’re shrouding yourself in lies.”
“How did you come to that conclusion?” I asked, keeping my calm.
“You’re just a terrible liar,” she said, pulling out a cigarette of her own, “Yet somehow, you continue to pose as this façade.”
“I don’t follow.”
“Something tells me you will.”
I came here on a mission to uncover her secrets, to discover what made her so blue. Yet after a minute of conversing with her, she made me question myself. I had lost my clarity of thought because of her wit. I wanted to ask more but I soon heard footsteps from a distance. I turn my head to the direction of the noise and out comes Sander and the rest of his disciples.
“Ohhhh Buchanan you sly sloth, you have the aptitude to think and assess, but you’re ability to react is, well, lacking.” Sander said with a vicious smile, “I clearly remember telling the both of you to meet me in The Artist’s Struggle. Yet you two strayed from the pack and defied the head wolf. It is of no consequence, what’s done cannot be undone, that is the burden of being a meager human. Now up you two go, there is much work to be done.”
We both went on stage, I sat myself onto the piano bench and she went to the front where the microphone was. Sander and the rest of his minions sat themselves down. “Now I assume the two of you have looked over my composition, while performing it you must portray a certain degree of suffering and anguish. Perform like it is your final day in this world, and you will be considered champions of the arts. But make no mistake, if I see even the slightest bit of petulance, this will be the last time you enter my domain.”
If it was my last day on Earth, I would not spend it with Sander, that conniving snake. But I did as he asked, luckily for me it was Elizabeth who had to take the grunt of the work, all I had to do was play the composition without making a mistake. As expected, Elizabeth was flawless; she played her song with such elegance and grace that any man in that audience would have their heart stirred. Sander looked pleased and the disciples looked spiteful, I’m assuming they wanted the spotlight but had neither the skills nor the charisma to meet their master’s expectations.Sander did not correct us one time and just watched, the song soon ended and he gave out a roaring applause. Soon after that he gave us another composition, and another, and another. This went on for another hour until Sander simply ran out of paper to give us. I was exhausted, my hand was aching and I felt a bit nauseous. Elizabeth on the other hand was showing no sign of exhaustion, she remained firm and still.
“BRAVO, BRAVO! That was exquisite” Sander said in gleeful joy“continue playing like this and I’ll have no use for the rest of my senseless pupils. We will continue this tomorrow, I have precisely five more of these that you must play,and then we will be prepared for our upcoming concert. Little songbird and butterfly, you may leave now.”
Thank God, I did not think I would have been able to perform another one of his compositions. Though I must admit they were all masterpieces, the equivalent of something Mozart or Bach would make. Elizabeth quickly left the stage and I followed.
“Wait!” I said to Elizabeth, “I thought that we co-“
“Follow me,” she said
“Okay,” I said not questioning her request. This is what I longed for, and my wish had been granted, I got to speak to her. We exited Fleet Hall and walked around Frolic for a bit, passing by the art galleries and the casinos. We did not speak once while walking through the densely crowded hallways, I did not know when was the right time to ask the many questions I had. She entered a smoking room and sat down on one of the coaches. Unlike other smoking rooms this one barely had any people in it. It was less lavish than the other rooms but still had enough decorations and art deco architecture to fit with Rapture standards. I took a seat right in front of her and we looked at one another for an extended period of time. I could not open my mouth; I was lost and simply bedazzled by her presence. What can you expect when a man sits next to a goddess? I stayed silent, the room itself was completely void of sound; I could only hear the ticking of a nearby clock and echoes of the large crowd. I can feel my face getting red, this was not going well for me, not one bit. She must be testing me. That’s it! She’s testing what I would do if we met alone. I had to react quickly or she will simply just walk away. I soon cooled myself down and took out my last cigarette, I was about to light it until she spoke.
“Put that away,” she said calmly “I’m not here to have a chat and exchange laughs with you.”
I was a bit shocked by how blunt her answer was; I put the cigarette away and asked “So what are we here for then?”
“Heh, you really have no idea do you,” she said “Tell me Mr. Buchanan, what is a façade?”
“The face of a building?” I said, not sure what she is implying
“An outward appearance maintained to hide something, something menacing, something bred to bring a far less pleasant being than the one shown on the surface. You are so persistentin believing this is who you are that you avoid anything that might give you the truth of who you really are.”
“And what is that?” I asked
“A walking time bomb.”
What the hell was she talking about, again with this façade business? “Look lady, I don’t know what yo-“
“Where is the bottle in the winery?” she asked “Sound familiar?”
“… What did you say?” I asked, I lost all previous state of thought, no longer could I hear the ticking of the clock, the noises of the hall; no longer can I smell the smoke that traveled throughout the room; all I could do is see what was in front of me, the furtive songbird. She lit a cigarette and started smoking, blowing clouds of smoke right into my face.
“Who are you?”
“That’s not what you should be asking right now,” she said “The real question is . . . who are you?”
“I don’t want to play this ridiculous game anymore, tell your pal in Neptune’s that I’m through with this, stay away from me.”
“Stay away from you?” she said, giving off a chuckle “I have no quarrel in any of this, you’re the one following me, or did you forget that? When the timer goes off, I don’t want to be the idiot standing next to you. So do me a favor . . .stay away from me.”
“Bulllshit!” I screamed “If there was any truth to that then how do you know that phrase? Hm, HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT PHRASE?”
She stood up and looked at me, blowing another puff of smoke into my face and said, “Can’t expect a girl to share all her secrets.”
She turned around and walked away. I wanted to pursue her, oh how much I wanted to pursue her, grab her and force out all those secrets she was holding. But I did not; I just watched her fade away into the crowd.
I stayed in the room, lost in a whirlpool of thought, contemplating the events that just transpired here, the events that instigated ever since I arrived here. The man, the girl, the dreams and the phrase; my four hauntings in this city, all so different yet somehow the same, woven together like a web, a web solely designed to forever trap it’s pray, until its creator comes and gobbles you up. It’s a never ending cycle of deceit and blood. . . What the hell was I saying?
Blood?Deceit? Where did this all come from? What is crawling inside my head that is leading me to this conclusion? It’s a game, that’s all it is, a damn game. There is nothing to it, I know who I am, and that is all that matters. I must forget all this, the dreams, Neptune’s Bounty, Elizabeth, and that phrase. All will be well and I will put this all behind me. I needed a distraction, something I knew would bring me an insurmountable amount of joy.
I left the smoking room and went through the crowded hallway of Frolic. Instead of having a somber mentality, I decided to stay optimistic with all my admirers. I signed autographs, had extended conversations, looked at the posters of me with pride! It was at this point where I decided to make a major life decision. I went to a nearby bank and asked to make a withdrawal, I did not know how much money I garnered from the performance but it must be a handsome sum. But before I did make a withdrawal, I asked the banker. “How much for an apartment in Olympus Heights?”
“That depends on what floor you want the apartment on.” He said to me
“Let’s say the thirtieth floor.”
“Probably around a hundred thousand,” he said, giving me a grin. Even if my concert was a massive success, there is no way it garnered that much, at most I have twenty five thousand, though that should be enough to get me a decent new home. So I asked him how much I had in my account, he checked and his eyes widened. He looked at me then looked down.
“Sir . . . two hundred thousand dollars,” he said surprised
Two hundred thousand dollars, how did I amass such a fortune? I asked him where it all came from and he told me ‘Compliments from Sander Cohen’. Of course it was Sander, the man makes so much already that two hundred thousand is just a small fee to him. I asked him to take out all of it. The banker did not look pleased by my decision, obviously a client withdrawing all his money is a loss of revenue, but nevertheless he did so and gave me a duffle bag to carry it all. I then left the bank, went to the bathysphere station, and headed towards Olympus Heights. After I arrived and exited the docks of Olympus Heights, I entered a narrow hallway, in the end of the hallway was a large man dressed in a black suit. He greeted everyone who passed by, when it was my turn to get the greeting he stopped me.
“Can’t you read the sign? Residents only, so scram.” He said rather rudely, he probably assumed I was part of the lower class of Rapture, and thirty minutes ago I would have assumed he was right. But now I was far from the lanes of poverty.
“Actually I’m here as a buyer,” I said “Who do I see for that bit of business?”
“Didn’t you hear me? I said scram! You’re holding up the line,” he said rudely once again. He assumed that I was conning him, he is assuming the worst of human beings, which is perfect for this job, but in this instance he made a mistake. I opened my bag and showed him what was inside it. His eyes glowed in disbelief and embarrassment.
“Sir, I apologize for my misconduct,” he said red faced and flabbergast “If you would follow me.”
And so I did, it is remarkable how money can change one’s perception of you; without it you’re treated like filth, thieves of the night in an area occupied by the affluent. But show them a duffle bag full of gold or anything else that holds value, they take you in and treat you like family. One may say a wealth gap of this propensity is a crime and we should be an egalitarian society. I say that is nonsense; I lived in the depths of poverty for years, because I utilized my talents I was able to pick myself up and be placed into the wealthiest portion of society. It has nothing to do with unfairness or what is morally just; I chose to make something of myself while many others decided to remain as dormant beggars. I chose to live a life where I was able to maximize my utility through the sweat of my brow. Andrew Ryan’s Rapture provided that and I was eternally grateful.
I went past the door in the end of the hallway and entered a stunning lobby. It was the type of lobby you would see in five star hotels in New York; immaculate, minimalistic, eloquent, and spacious. There were large seating areas in every corner, a small garden café, a fountain surrounded by exotic plants, and waiters serving glasses of champagne to any resident in the lobby. I followed him to what looked like a check in; the workers were comprised of beautiful white females, which gave me a good understanding of what the qualifications for this job are. My ‘well-mannered’ guard told me to wait while he talked to the girls working at the front desk. I could not here what they were discussing but judging by their facial expressions, he was telling them about what was inside my bag. One of them left the front desk and opened a door leading to another room behind them. Was it really so surprising that a man of my positions was able to acquire this degree of wealth? She came out and was then walking towards me.
“If you would follow me,” she said, which I did. She led me to the same room she entered momentarily ago. She opened the door for me and I entered, she then closed it shut. What I saw in front of me was a dimly lit room and in the center of it was an older woman sitting in her office desk. She had odd looking reading glasses and was writing a report of sort with incredible speed.
“Please, sit,” she said in a humble matter, and so I did “Welcome to my establishment, my name is Barbara Morgan, I am the owner of Olympus Heights Apartments, I understand you want to make a purchase here.”
“Yes I do,” I said, then explaining to her the specifications of my order.
“I see, that can be arranged, but I must ask you a few questions before we carry on. These are questions of curiosity and have nothing to do with our transaction.” Said Barbara, taking off her odd glasses.
“Of course, go ahead,” I said insistently, I anxiously wanted to move in to a new apartment. I wanted it all; I wanted the true Rapture life, a life where hard work is rewarded with comfort, beauty and all things material.
“Do understand that to truly be a part of this elite class, more is required from you than the acquisition of wealth. New money is looked down upon by many of our residents in recent days.” She said
“Of course, I am aware of the mannerisms and little idiosyncrasies I have to adopt to truly be a part of this class. I’ve been here on several occasions attending dinner parties hosted by your residents.” I said with confidence.
“I see, and what is your opinionon the Ryan ideology?” she said
“Ryan’s way is our only true path to salvation. Any hint of altruism is essentially misconduct.” I said
“Well said, my worries have been put to rest, you will do fine here.” Barbara said smiling at me “I need you to fill in this paperwork, while you do that I would like to take a look at that duffle bag.”
And so I did, I gave her the bag, she counted the money, I filled out that paper work, and the transaction ended. She called in one of her assistants to escort me to my new home. I exited the room and walked through the lavish lobby of Olympus Heights. I already grew very fond of it; the smell of the plants, the minimalistic art design, even watching an elegantly dressed man reading a newspaper gave me a sense of joy. No longer was my longing for wealth and place a dream, it was now a reality. I was now an equal of the elite class. We soon entered the elevator; again the announcements were on.
Wanting an item from the surface is forgivable. Buying or smuggling one into Rapture is not. Stay on the level, and out of trouble.
“Excuse me,” I said to Barbara’s assistant “But in elevators, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to just have . . . elevator music?”
“It really isn’t that bad,” she said “It’s either this or our anthem, and when you hear that every day, you start missing things like the Pledge of Allegiance.”
We reached the thirtieth floor and our journey in the elevator ended. I followed her across the zigzag hallways until she stopped next to a room; room 302.
“Welcome sir, to your new home,” said the assistant, opening the door for me.
I stepped through and was stunned, this was better than Williams’s apartment. Sure his was more spacious, has elaborate furniture and an outstanding kitchen, but the view of Rapture was simply surreal. The wall in front of me when I enter the room was completely composed of glass; no medal rods to hold it, no curvatures that might distort the view, it was pure glass, overlooking the city of wonders in a way I have not seen ever since Kashmir. My room featured a variety of handy devices such as a record player with a collection of records stored next to it, a microwave, air conditioner, you name it. I thanked the assistant and she left, I was alone, alone to explore this new home of mine. I went right up to the glass wall to get a good look of the city, there were buildings with neon spotlights everywhere, it was truly beautiful to behold, but what really caught my eye was not the city, not even the wild life surrounding it, but the ocean itself. It was so blue, so dark, reflecting rays of blue light into my room. It all felt so atmospheric, yet I could not help but feel melancholy. It was endless darkness, the ocean, forever preventing the sun from presenting its true beauty. I would never be able to hear the singing of birds, to feel gusts of winds hitting my body; there was only the forbidden waters. The natural world is something I will truly miss, but never will I go back, for the manmade world of the surface, it is something too atrocious to come back too. I felt a growing sense of despair from looking outside, I decided to close the curtains and turn on the lights. I was exhausted, lack of sleep and a disproportionate amount of stress can have its toll on a man, I needed rest. I entered my bedroom; it contained a queen sized bed that was already made, a desk on each side and a reading lamp. But there was something else, something very peculiar, a glowing liquid of sorts on one of the desks. I went closer and realized I was right, it was glowing liquid in an elaborate glass bottle with metal holdings. The liquid was crisp red, shining its light throughout the room. Next to it was an empty injectable. What was this? A decorative lamp of sorts? Why the injectable? There was a note next to it, I picked it up; it read ‘Compliments from Ryan Industries: Plasmids, Evolution in a Bottle’.
Of course! This is a plasmid that magical liquid derived from slugs that essentially give you super powers. I never put much thought into these things because I was so afraid of them and what they might do to me. But now with it in the palm of my hand, I could not uppress my excitement. Would I be able to sculpt ice with my hands or start a fire in the fireplace with the flick of a finger? There was another paper besides it, an instruction manual that explained how it worked and what the side effects were. What this does is rewrite my entire genetic code, during the process; I would feel excruciating pain all over my body. This immediately frightened me, my entire genetic code rewritten? I am not a man of science but this seemed like it had major repercussions if I used it. For now I decided to hold off from injecting it into my blood stream. When the time was right I would use it, until then, life simply goes on. I looked at my bed and gave out a sigh of happiness; it looked incredible compared to my broken spring mattress in my old apartment here. I lay down and immediately sank into the mattress; I put my head into the soft pillow, closed my eyes and entered my first stage of sleep. All I could hear now is my slow breaths; soon I could not even hear that, everything became dark and silent.
“William,” said a voice
I opened my eyes, but it was no use, everything was shrouded in complete darkness, I heard echoes from a distance, echoes of a song, a crowd, of water. An image began to form; I could see white light emergingto such an extreme degree. I was not able to see anything but that light. Then it faded, I looked down and saw I was standing on sand, I felt intense heat coming from a large source of light. I looked up, I was in a beach, but not just a beach, a beach in the sky, a floating beach, accompanied by floating buildings, a floating city in the skies, surrounded by white clouds and a sun that was larger than the one I knew in the surface. I hear music, vibrant instrumental music; I walk towards the sound, passing by a large amount of gleeful people swimming in this artificial beach or laying down on the soft sand. I entered a corridor that led me to that vibrant music, I soon came to another part of the beach, a gust of wind made an umbrella fly and a bundle of happy children followed it. There were so many people, so many happy people in the liveliest world I had ever seen. The sun glistened its light towards the populace; pelicans flew in the open environment, and that music, that music lifted my spirits and filled my heart with joy. I soon came to the source of the music, a small pier where a small group of exuberant people were dancing. I went up to the pier and slowly went closer to the group. They all disbanded from what they were doing formed a circle and started clapping to the music, in the center of the circle was a girl who was dancing, a small petite girl. It was Elizabeth, a younger version of her, I did not recognize her, she did not have those sinister eyes I knew all too well. Instead her eyes were glowing with life and passion. She was smiling, dancing, and looked bewildered by all this, but for the first time she was happy. She was wearing a school girl’s outfit and had a ribbon to knot her hair. There was nothing sensual about her in anyway, she was now this innocent benign being that I wanted to look after and protect, I wanted to be a paternal figure. The sun released rays of light to where she was standing, Elizabeth was shining with light, and she looked almost divine. All I longed for was to watch her for an eternity, to watch her in this state of happiness and exuberance. I suddenly felt a nudge from my back.
“Hey watch it, will you!” I said, angered by the fact that my sense of peace broke. But then I looked at this figure who pushed me, he was a tall brooding man in striped pants and had brown hair. He blocked the sun with his height; I could no longer see the rays of light that were hitting Elizabeth. He walked towards her, slowly and menacingly. I did not like the looks of him, he was after her, I know it. I decided to walk towards him and stop him before he reaches her, but every step I took he went further and further. I could see nothing but his back, growing ever so distant. I start panicking and begin to run after him, but it was no use, he was getting further from me but closer to her. I screamed this time.
“HEY, LEAVE HER BE! YOU HAVE NO QUARRAL WITH HER, GET AWAY!” I said but it was no use, he could not hear me, nor could anyone else here. He reached out to grab her shoulder. And I scram again. “GET AWAY FROM HER.”
But it was too late; I could not undo any of this. The sun starts flickering and all the moving pieces of my dream freeze. One second the sun radiates its light, and another complete darkness. My frozen frame begins to crack all around me, soon it crumbles and darkness insinuates my sight.
“You have cracked the cypher; the Bottle in the Winery is now yours.”
“What?” I said in disbelief “What the hell is the Bottle in the Winery? HEY WHAT IS IT”
There was no response, no noise, not even an echo from a distance. I was alone in darkness. There was no point in asking anymore.. Is this what the afterlife is like? Eternal and oblique darkness? Or is this simply my fate? It did not matter anymore;I remained silent and gradually turned into nothing.
“You’re a walking time bomb.”
I woke up, this time I did not scream, but was nevertheless in distress and covered in sweat. It’s not ever going to end; exploited, exploited, exploited. No matter what I did, no matter how miserable or happy I was; the man, the girl, the dream and the phrase would always come back to haunt me. But that dream, what was I in? What happened to Elizabeth? How did she go from that innocent girl to . . . whatever she is now? I was about to get up from my bed until I felt something strange. I was holding something under the covers; something composed of glass and was relatively heavy. I pulled this object out of the sheets and saw the bottle of Plasmid that came with my room. How the hell did you get there? I put it back from where it came and went back to sleep. Then it hit me, my eyes widened in disbelief and complete terror. I slowly turn around and looked at the bottle of plasmid. I held it and analyzed it to the fullest of my ability and reached this conclusion, ‘The Bottle in the Winery is now yours.’
“This is it, the Bottle in the Winery.”