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.”
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.