[DR: NJ] Hello, Goodbye

She knew something was wrong when as soon as she came home. Eleanor pulled back the curtain that served as their front door and the sickly-sweet smell of overripe strawberries filled the air. The thick desert air only made it worse and she nearly gagged when she peeled off her respirator and stepped inside, smearing a hand over her mouth.

“Little Miss Ella,” her mother called from the other room. The Remnant could barely hear her over the tinny sounds of the record playing on repeat. I need a fix cos I’m going down. Mother Superior jumped the gun. “Come see mama.”

She had a different name before, but now she was the Lady Madonna, alight in the warm glow of ascendancy as she cradled her son in her arms. He was barely four and Eleanor had only just turned thirteen, but she was old enough to understand the ugly little shooter that her mother brushed across the little boy’s temple as she held him. Happiness bang, bang, shoot, shoot.

“Mama,” Eleanor stuttered forward toward the Lady, her eyes wide. “Mama, stop.”

“Oh, Little Miss,” her mother chided, gentle as the dawn in spring. “You can’t feel it, can you? The Beat. It’s going to be okay, honey. You just let mama lead you.” The Lady pursed her perfect bright red lips in a smile that spoke with unending compassion and sympathy. “All together now–”

A voice came from behind. “That’s enough, Maddie.”

Eleanor hadn’t heard her father come in, but she felt his presence now: cool and still in the heat of the Vegasia summer, his shadow engulfing her and spreading forward into the room where her mother still sat. The needle slid off of the record and the two of them looked at each other for a long moment: her father, his face long and full of sorrow; her mother, who stared back, unblinking and empty-eyed. Eleanor didn’t understand what happened or why, but the Lady’s shoulders began to shake as the gun dropped from her hand, clattering onto the dirt floor. The child in her arms began to cry.

“Elle,” he murmured and settled his hand on her small shoulder. “Get your brother. It’s time to go.”

“It’s time to go.”

Bastion picked up her chin from where she leaned at the bar, staring into nothing. Brock stood on one side of her, silent and indecipherable while Ajax bopped along to the beat of a King that Bastion didn’t recognize, the both of them playing their roles in different ways and for different reasons, but the intent was all the same. She looked over her shoulder and found Alexa standing there with the hulking form of Stew just behind her, both of them wearing expressions that were carefully crafted. Time to go. “Okay,” she said quietly and finished her last drink. Ajax and Brock both followed suit.

The air was bitterly cold outside and hunger had sapped away her warmth as much as it did her strength. They were both quiet, but their separate entourages made up for the lack of it as they slipped into the morgue to await House. Beyond the makeshift bar where the recently returned tried to comfort themselves with a taste of hooch was a long dark hallway that faded into nothing, soaking up all sound, all light. Happiness is a warm gun, mama. Bastion looked at Alexa and tried to read the other woman’s body language, but the dark gave nothing away like it had before.

Fuck it. “Hey,” Bastion called out to her, startled by the sound of her own voice.  “There’s a couple things about me you should know..”

[DR: NJ] Fall to Pieces

She didn’t expect the pain. It rocked through her in a wave so sharp that she could take no pleasure from it, immediate and overwhelming as it was. I’m dying, she thought, although she had died before and it was nothing quite like this – and then, all at once, it evaporated. Worse than the pain, worse than the sharp pang of fear that ate at her heart, was the feelingless pit that engulfed her like a smothering darkness.

There was no House. There was no Aladdin or Alexa. There was Nothing.

She was blind as a newborn kitten, shivering in the unceasing emptiness that surrounded her.

Why can’t they see?

Eleanor ran her fingers across the chain link fence, the calloused pads catching the hot metal as it rattled with her touch. There were maybe three dozen slaves in Shark’s collection – no particular strain or purpose. This was his zoo, his exhibit: the sinners on display who crossed the Vegasian too far and became property instead of people. She sagged her body against the fence until it bent forward with the force of her weight. They could have escaped; it was only a cheap, piece of shit garbage that Shark’s builder slapped together one day. But Eleanor understood that fear was a mind killer. They feared Shark, his whims and retributions, as much as they were scared of people like Eleanor who would come chasing in their shadow if they tried to escape across the desert. Money was money and they were just property.

Eleanor rested her forehead against her arm, looking through the holes in the fence at the glazed over eyes of slaves. None of them looked back at her. She shifted her footing, rattled the edge of their cage – nothing. The Remnant sniffed, feigning offense as she looked out over them when the thought struck her from nowhere: what if I let them go?

She was so startled by the idea that she caught herself frowning. Let them go? Let them go. Why not? Wouldn’t save them – but she didn’t care about saving them. Eleanor did not care about the slaves or Shark or the hateful wastes of Vegasia. But what would happen – what would pry apart and what would rebuild? What would break? She looked out over them, her blue eyes narrowed under the dying afternoon sun as she chewed on one edge of her lip. The idea gnawed at her.

She didn’t care. What was there to lose?

Eleanor pushed off of the fence, still imprinted from the weight she left against it, and meandered toward the heavy lock that was the only theoretical barrier between Shark’s slave compound and the rest of the world. The slaver had given her the key years ago as part of her duties in his service and today he would regret it. She jammed the key into the mechanism and shook it around loudly enough that she saw several of Shark’s properties tighten their shoulders and hunch with expectation. The Remnant let the lock and chain slide off of the gate and hit the ground with an audible thunk as she opened the gate wide.

Her heart pounded and her mind sang with the freedom of apathy.

She took a step back, and then another. By the time the first pair of eyes lifted from the hovels that the slaves called home, Eleanor had already turned her back and was walking away. Away from Shark, away from Mother Madonna and her brother, away from the shadow of her father – away from the Beat. Vegasia’s light died in her shadow.

She was free.

You pick and pry. You tear them apart because you can, break them into pieces. Hurt them. Use them.

“I can make them stronger. I can rebuild them into something better. You only understand yourself when you’re at your worst.”

Why can’t you see?

“I don’t –”

— ele-a-nor rig-by —

“You know what the problem is, Bassy? You treat me like shit. You treat me like fucking dirt.”

Bastion tightened her jaw, her expression falling flat as she looked at the Yorker standing across from her. She bit her tongue.

Brock almost sneered at her, leaning forward in the deliberate way that all Yorkers seemed to when they were making their points known. “You talk down to me, treat like a fucking idiot – you walked right the fuck over me in the house when my legs were fucked, you know that? Didn’t even look at me. I get that you were anxious and shit before from the surgery, but it’s a month later – so what is it?”

She lifted her chin, her eyes narrowed to dark pinpoints. “You finished?”

He leaned away ever so slightly, as if he only realized what he said. “Yeah,” he replied, quieter than before.

“Good.” She turned her back on him, her boots cutting through the thick snow as she walked away from him with a fury and hurt that burned in her heart. It would have been easier to not care and for a hate-filled moment, she wished she didn’t.

“What are you hiding from yourself, Bastion?”

The Remnant laughed bitterly in the dark, the sound echoing into the emptiness. Alexa’s hand was wound in her own and she was unsure if she was shivering from the cold or the fear of knowing. The fingers of her other hand were caught in Aladdin’s belt.

“I’m a child,” she breathed out. Scared, stupid, young. “I’m a fucking child.”

Silence.

The world went still. Alexa’s hand was gone. Aladdin disappeared.

Bastion opened her eyes to the cold light of the morgue’s bar – alone — and she felt nothing.

[DR: MA] War Again, War Again

The moon hung fat over the evening. From where she stood, Bastion could just barely see the outline of the Double Tap with its flickering, fading lights; the whole of New Hayven was quiet now like a calm before a storm. Earlier she had watched the Dock Workers pack all their belongings onto a repurposed steam rig, each passenger dressed and ready for battle. She had watched the boat push off from the shore before slinking back to town like a forgotten shadow, taking up a planted post somewhere on the edge of town to observe the evening fade. At some point the Centurian joined her; she still had not asked his name.

He scuffed his boot against a stone. “I thought you liked war.”

Bastion’s lips peeled back from her teeth, but she did not look at him. “It’s not my war,” she eventually replied, though her tone rang with a childish petulance.

“I didn’t think it mattered if it was your war or not.” His eyes were clear and soaked up the moonlight when he tilted his head toward her.

She refused to meet his steady, assessing gaze, but she could see it from the corner of her vision nonetheless; Bastion knew that he was baiting her, and moreover, it was working. “Well this time it matters,” she snapped and finally turned to square herself against him. He was taller than her, certainly broader in the shoulder – they were both creatures of combat, but built for a different kind of war. “I’ve spilled enough fucking blood for Ripton Falls.” Bastion spat the name out like an ugly word, the light reflecting off of her red eyes like a cat at night. “They can fucking rot for all I care.”

He seemed unphased, dropping his chin to look down at her. “A person who didn’t care wouldn’t rile,” he intoned.

The Remnant said nothing, but her expression edged somewhere between venom and fury in equal parts until she looked away from him again. A brief silence carried through them while she chewed on her lower lip, the hilts her swords bouncing restlessly in her hands. After some length of time, the Centurian released a weathered sigh and fixed his attention back on her. “I’ll cover for you.”

Bastion’s expression lifted in surprise, and then suspicion, as she tilted her head back toward him. Her eyes narrowed into critical pinpoints, brows wrought with concentration in an obvious appraisal of his offer. Eventually she sniffed once and turned away again, looking toward the east; a moment later, she was moving. If she was fast, she could catch one of the out-going caravans. “I don’t owe you anything,” Bastion called back over her shoulder.

When he watched her go and saw the wild edges of her savage smile, his mouth lifted at one corner.