Chapter 1: Nick
We have more than five senses. In reality, there are about eight or nine. For instance, our ability to sense heat, most would lump under the sense of touch. However, upon reflection, you realize that the heat of an object is something distinct from its texture and feel, and the senses are also distinct. You can sense heat from a distance, as you can sense light, sound, and smell. Hold your hand above a heated surface and it is hot, yet you're not making direct contact with the object, and therefore not touching it. Pain is also its own sense, balance, speed.
Ice burns. Another fact people seem to ignore. It doesn't burn in the sense of bursting into flames, but in the sense that touching your bare skin to a block of ice produces an identical sensation to placing it in an open flame. I observed this fact as a spear of ice impaled me, pinning me to the deck of the Arcturus. About ten seconds ago, we had run head-first into an iceberg roughly the size of a small continent. The impact caused the iceberg to fracture, and showers of ice were now raining down on the ship like some unholy, leviathan hail. This includes that aforementioned polearm that had just lodged itself in my stomach.
There was screaming, somewhere nearby. Sounded like Smith, perhaps Matthias. Though upon reflection, it could just as well be a member of the crew of Arcturus, who had so kindly agreed to provide us with transport across the sea. My blood looked black in the moonlight, flashes of silver light glinting off of it. For a brief moment, I wondered why the ruddy liquid was sliding down deck with alarming speed. Around that same time I realized that the Arcturus was capsizing.
Resigned to my fate, I wondered if the critical damage to my abdomen and a variety of essential organs would kill me first, or if I would drown in the icy water. Of course, there was also the possibility that one of the shipping containers would come loose and smear me along the deck like roadkill, or perhaps the shock of the freezing sea in addition to my previous trauma would end up killing me instantly. My mind simple giving out and bailing on my body. Presumably while giving it the finger.
Except none of this is true. The Arcturus never crashed. There was no impalement, no blood. Well, there was some blood, but that was an unrelated incident. In reality, I was merely standing on the deck of the Arcturus, looking out over the endless see. A light dusting of snow was falling, immediately dissolving as it landed on the deck.
I pulled my jacket tighter around me, though to be honest it was so soaked that it provided no warmth. Smith was down below, chumming around the crew. Matthias and Daphne were off in some dark corner... plotting. No one knew where Natasha was at any given time. She just disappeared off into the bowels of the Arcturus with no explanation, for hours on end. I don't think anyone missed her. As for Renard, he was probably looking for me, unable to get past his bizarre, imagined obligation to keep me company. Maybe he had given up, maybe he was down with Jones, gambling and laughing with the crew.
I lit a cigarette. It was a habit I had adopted from Natasha, who had recently relapsed into her old addiction. The orange glow from the tip of the small paper rod glowed like a will-o'-wisp in the darkness. Smoke rose with it, mingling with my icy breath. I turned around and leaned back against the guardrail, closing my eyes.
"That's a nasty habit," someone called to me, their dainty steps making a light, clopping sound as they approached me. I opened my eyes and glanced to the source of the noise. It was Daphne.
"I'll quit when this is all over," I replied.
"What exactly do you mean by this?" she asked, mimicking my posture. Arms thrown wide, draped over the rail, fingers hanging loose, legs crossed, head back.
"Oktober, Rousseau International, Project H. I'm not even sure to be honest. I'm not sure of anything these days."
"It gets like that sometimes. It's hard not just to give up... stop caring, stop analyzing everything."
"Maybe I should, maybe it's not worth it to swim against the stream."
"It won't be over," she muttered, ignoring my last comment, "Not really. Not truly. Even if we win, even if Project H fails and Rousseau International comes crumbling to the ground, it won't ever be the same. Too much damage has been done already. Every day, another city crumbles. Or monument, or government, or country. Matthias has been listening to this emergency broadcast on the ship's radio. It's horrible. Starts ever morning with a death count, ends every evening with another. Except it has gone up, by at least a couple hundred. Every day."
I tossed my cigarette to the ground and stomped it out. The orange glow extinguishing left us bathed in nothing but darkness, and the palest moonlight. Daphne didn't look at me, she continued to stare up at the clouds.
"Los Angeles was leveled today. Burnt to the ground. It's nothing but cinders and ash now." An image of my apartment flashed into my mind and for moment I felt a cutting stab of guilt. As though there was so much I had needed to do, so many obligations that had suddenly been swept away, ashes in the wind. I think I left my stove on.
"My mom used to live there," I said, casually. A twinge of regret rippled through me as the words left my mouth. Daphne looked at me for a second, studying my face, then she turned back.
Silence for a while. Awkward and heavy. I lit another cigarette, but immediately decided against it, and threw it back to the ground. Daphne slumped forward. She looked tired, bags under her eyes, and pathetic smile slithering across her face.
"I think I might go to bed. It's getting late."
"I should too. Do you have any idea when we're going to arrive in England?"
"About two more weeks, the captain says," she sighed in response, "Europe's been untouched thus far. It'll be the last to fall, Rousseau International doesn't want to draw attention to itself, and they don't want to overextend themselves either. So they're fighting from the outside in. Starting distant, and getting closer to home as they wear themselves out." She paused, and shook her head. "Well, I'll see you in the morning..." she whispered, and turned on me, light footsteps fading away into the same abyss they came from.
The thought of visiting the Trunk World once again crossed my mind. It would be the third time I crept into the darkness of Katie's trunk today, if I did. I've been finding myself there more and more often, though apparently the powers that be have not seen fit to allow me to roam the world alone, I'm constantly trailed by my friends in black.
After toying with it for a bit, I cast the notion off. Primarily due to that realization that I. Was so. Tired. I needed sleep, not that it would come when I invited it. Apparently it had grown sick of being taken for granted for so many years, and so it decided to show me just how much I needed it. With a reluctant sigh, I bid my aching body to move itself, and it reluctantly obliged. With tired, heavy steps, I moved towards my quarters.
Darkness envelops the ship every night. We don't leave any lights on, for fear of being detected and sunk. Of course, in someways the darkness is a thousand times worse than any torpedo could ever dream to be. Darkness is a primal fear, it has been drilled into us since the birth of our species. What was the first thing man invented? Fire, according to some accounts. A tool to combat the darkness, and the cold. And those many-eyed, many-toothed things with odd numbers of legs that go bump in the night. Did you know that as you begin to drift off to sleep, you hallucinate? There is a name for it, something that escapes me at the moment. You hear things, and you see things as your mind shuts down, and towards the end of the process you lose the ability to move your body. You're stricken with sleep paralysis.
Every night, the hallucinations start off simply. Whispers, vaguely heard in the darkness. Little stars flashing across my sight. And then the whispers become words, voices of those close to me, whispering sweet nothings into my ears. I can see their figures, standing at the foot of my bed. Except, I notice something is off, too many fingers on one hand, too many joints in the arms. No nose. And the glamour of these figures fails. I see them for what they are. Their fangs glisten, their eyes glow like coals. And they crawl into the bed with me, wrapping their five arms around me, kneeling on their seven legs. And the sweet nothings whispered in my ears... they becomes screams. Shredding metal, ripping flesh, liquids splattering on the walls, and the screaming, the constant, screaming of my voice.