Chapter 11: Nick
Do you know what it feels like to be unreal? To not exist? Do you know that feeling, the one you have while you're half-awake, and the memories of your dream are spilling out into oblivion? It's like that. It's that sudden moment of realization that it was all fake, followed by the obliteration of the memories altogether. Perpetually, this is how I live. Nothing here is real, we're all just dolls. Puppets that look like humans, but aren't, objects that act as though they are real, but in truth are merely attached to strings that are being pulled by the powers that be.
I can't sleep, and so I can't dream. They want to find a way out, my dreams. And my nightmares. I keep seeing things, things that aren't there. Of course, none of this is there, none of it is real, but it pretends to be. These things I see? They don't even have the decency to do that. What is real in the first place? Is it what I sense? What I see and hear? I can see anything, I can hear anything. I see what my author wants to me to see. Is that real? Are you real? How do you know you're not like me? How do you know you're not a fake? Cogito ergo sum? I can think freely, but does that mean I'm real?
No. I'm the shadow of a man that flickers into your vision for half a second when you're alone. I'm the voice that whispers cruel words into your ear as you fall asleep. I'm the creaking in your brand new house at night. I'm the embodied fear that dumps buckets of cold sweat onto you as you sleep. I'm that unnatural sense of being watched when no one is there. I'm not real.
Oktober sat in a small coffee shop.
The hard wood glistened elegantly, the scent of beans and sugar melted through the air. All four of us sat at the same round, plasticy table, sipping our lattes. The store's mind-numbing muzak was barely audible over the din of cars, horns, and construction that filled the city outside. We had made it, finally. New York, our terminus. Once we escaped from here we would be clear, for good. Matthias would hide Katie, somewhere where she would never be found. Or perhaps simply destroy her. Then we would all divide. We would each go our own way, never to see each other again. At least, that's what I'm told will happen. It won't really, I know what happens, I've seen it.
Do you know what a cold sweat feels like? I didn't either. I learned today. Because today, six-pronged, six-headed Death dressed in a gray suit and white tie decided that I was on its list of things that needed not to exist anymore. Not that I do exist in the first place. Murder is an art form, it's truly beautiful in the hands of a master. Scylla is a master. He took pride in his work. He knew his work mattered, and he made it look like it mattered. 67 confirmed assassinations in his career. He had a perfect track record, not a single failed mission. He was an artist... he was a genius.
Have you ever felt the air freeze solid around you? Did it choke you, could you feel the tiny crystals forming in your blood stream, could you feel them cut you? That's what it felt like when Scylla entered the sad little establishment we had decided to shelter ourselves in. Matthias and Natasha froze, they sat utterly motionless. His face was sickening. Gray hair, sagging eyelids, deep, inscrutable bags, tinted a royal purple. Rumpled suit, uneven tie, wrinkled shirt. He looked as though God himself had chewed him up, only to spit him out upon discovering how bitter he was.
Ink-black blood sports forth from me. I feel sick.
Scylla stalked towards us with an air of smug control. He sat down with us. He looked each of us in the eye, smiling like the sick bastard he is. And then he spoke to us.
"Each one of you is going to die today," he grinned, "I want you to know that. Don't hide from it, don't push it away. Know it it. Feel it, embrace it. And tell me how it feels."
"Scylla, lovely to see you," said Matthias. His sarcasm was too weak to even disguise the minute tremors in his voice. He shook violently under the table, he was a wreck.
"You four, oh..." Scylla laughed, "You'd not believe the trouble you have put us all through. Chasing you was like chasing an the invisible man. I have to admit, I'm impressed. You left no trail, no evidence of your cross-country grand theft auto. If you don't mind me asking, how did you manage it?"
"Dumb luck, I suppose," Smith growled, then turned to Matthias, "Who is this guy? Do you know him?"
"Oh how rude of me," Scylla giggled, "I forgot to introduced myself. My name is Scylla." He extended his hand forward towards Jones.
"Smith," Jones said, shaking Scylla's hand.
"Oh I know who you are," Scylla replied, almost admiringly.
"As much as I'd love to sit here and make smalltalk all day," Matthias whispered. His voice was low, almost inaudible, and dangerous, "we really must be going."
"Oh, so soon?" Scylla asked mockingly, imitating the manner of a close friend. Matthias stood up, sending his chair clattering behind him. With a fluid motion, he reached into his jacket, presumably heading for a conceal holster, but he stopped dead as soon as he noticed the dangerous look in Scylla's eyes. Scylla slid his hand, which had been under the table the entire time, and flashed a brief glimpse of the silver-chrome finish of his revolver to Matthias.
"Sit," Scylla said welcomingly. Matthias bent down and picked up his chair, but never broke eye contact with Scylla. We had begun to draw the attention of the other patrons in the shop. And eerie and caustic silence was slowly draping itself over the place. "Matthias, Natasha, I feel that you two don't fully understand the situation you now find yourselves in. You think you have a good two, maybe three months before Midas initiates Projekt Oktober's second phase." Scylla waited a second, reading the expressions of confirmation on their faces, then grinned. "It starts today. You're too late to do anything."
"Liar," Natasha whispered.
"Am I? Think about it, would Midas ever allow me to kill you sloppily, messily in a public environment like this, as I intend to, if phase two wasn't imminent?"
"Liar," Matthias said. Scylla just laughed, then turned to me.
"Have they told you?" he asked, then turned to Smith, "Either of you? Do you know what the end goal of all this is? Do you have any idea what you're attempting to stop." Neither of us moved, neither of us said a word. We didn't need to, the answer was painted all over our faces.
"I thought not.
"Let me tell you about the world Midas dreams of. In his world, the sky is blue and clear. The grass grows long and free, wind rippling through it. Vines creep over the empty and abandon parking lots and skyscrapers. Lions prowl through the desolate cities of the world. Slowly, the towers begin to crumble and collapse. They fall, and the world it returned to its natural state. And mankind ceases to exist, from dust to dust.
"This is the fate we deserve. Midas' goal is not dictatorship. He does not want to rule the people of this Earth, he does not have any idealized utopia to put into effect. His goal is much, much simpler. He wants everyone, every last man, woman, and child, to die. Because Humans are monsters, a scourge that is slowly destroying the land. We are beasts, we deserve to die like it."
There was silence, a sickening, wretched silence. Matthias bored a hole into Scylla's forehead with his gaze. Scylla merely smiled, his vision sweeping across all four of us. After a moment, he rose, and held his revolver aloft before lowering it and taking aim at Matthias' head.
"In fifteen minutes, bombs will rain from the sky, bathing not only New York, but sixteen other major cities worldwide in flames. This is happening now, Matthias. You had your chance to be a part in it," Scylla grimaced, "and you blew it. Both of you. What a useless waste..."
And that's when 1.5 tons of painted red steel came flying through the window of the coffee shop, nearly, but not quite, crushing the patrons who had been unfortunate enough to choose that area to seat themselves. Out of the crimson vehicle leapt gray-haired man in a tan trench coat. Simultaneously, he and Scylla fired off six shots from their respective revolvers. Each bullet collided midair, ricocheting off in random directions harmlessly.
"Well..." Scylla said, lowering his gun, "That's new. I don't normally miss."
"Yeah, I'm kinda an except to most rules," smirked the gray-haired man, his voice was familiar.
"... Renard?" Smith said with a mixture of shock, confusion, and glee.
"The very same," Renard replied with a smile, "What have your four been up to?"
The momentary cheeriness Renard had ushered in disappeared from the room, banished by the resounding, cold, metallic click of a gun being cocked. Matthias put his pistol to Scylla's head.
"Trouble," Matthias said, "You came in the nick of time there, Renard."
"You know me, I just get lucky like that."
"You four go on without me, I'll delay Scylla here. Split up, Natasha with Nick, Jones with Renard. You know where to meet up, if I'm not there within a half-hour, assume the worst."
"Thanks for sharing your battle plan there, Matth-" Scylla's sentence was cut short when his cheek was very suddenly introduced to the barrel of Matthias' gun.
"What are you waiting for?! Go!" Matthias said, throwing Scylla to the ground. Natasha grabbed my wrist and began sprinting away, Smith and Renard were already ahead by leaps and bounds. Scylla was laughing maniacally.
"Go ahead! Run away! Run and hide, because you're too late!" he yelled.
Off in the distance, I heard a loud, repetitive, robotic beating. The sounds of the blades of a platoon of helicopters. And they were getting louder.