Chapter 3: Nick
I think, for a moment, it is useful for us to dwell a second on the subject of heat. More specifically, the lack of heat. Dangling in a bright orange Avanti, miles above an expanse of inky black ocean that spreads out in all directions in the middle of winter, you have a variety of things to worry about. Yet, paradoxically, you're only capable of worrying about one thing; you are cold. You are very, very, extremely cold. Imagine having all the blood in your system drained, while being doused in a grave of ice, during an Oktober thunderstorm. Imagine the world has no colors, it's just black and white. Imagine your eyes frost over, and you are frozen, unblinkingly, staring out of your tomb.
It's kind of absolutely nothing like that.
It's about a hundred thousand times worse.
"We are going to die out here," Smith moans, his breath turning into a fog that shrouds his face.
"We should be there soon. Soonish," Matthias muttered in response.
"... What do we do when we land?" I asked, "Where do we go from England? We were supposed to hide there, but... I don't think we can hide, anywhere."
"So we have to keep on running," Matthias responded, out of the corner of my eye I saw a cold shudder run down Jones' spine. "There is a location of interest to me and Natasha in England, the site of a previous Rousseau International project that has been abandon. As in, they shut the place down. Severed all connections to it, all phone lines, all electrical wires. Every conceivable means of entrance and communication has been sealed."
"And so we're going there?" I asked.
"Natasha and I are. You and Smith are finding a safe haven, a place for us to stay, if only for a bit." I glanced at Jones, I hadn't forgotten what had happened to him in the Labyrinth. I could see him shudder, he didn't want these people near his family. He didn't want them involved. Not Matthias, not Natasha, not Renard. Not me.
"And Daphne and Renard?" I asked.
"Leaving. The two are going to find Scylla, and any other allies we can scrounge together. The plan is to meet with them in Italy at some point."
Silence again. None of us had anything to say to one another. None of us really wanted to talk. It was too cold. Like ice that burns your flesh. Earlier, Matthias had considered attempting to climb into the trunk, but he judged it too dangerous. There had been constant fog banks and rain storms since we left the Arcturus.
"I haven't adequately explained the situation we're in to you," Matthias said suddenly, "and for that I apologize. But... I can't continue to cover your eyes, to shelter you. You both have earned the right to know what we are facing, what the world is facing." He paused, neither of us said a word. "What do you think Project H is, exactly?" The question caught me off guard.
"A superweapon of some sort?" I responded, "Maybe nuclear?"
"Antimatter cannon," Smith answered, "It's in Switzerland right? Near the LHC?"
"Good guesses, but... not exactly. Project H, it's not truly a weapon, though it could be considered one. It's more akin to an antibody. A treatment for a disease.
"Midas is not a right man. There is some deep, innate flaw somewhere within him. You can feel it, there, if you ever talk to him. If you ever look him in the eye, you can see the caged beast behind the glass. He looks at the world, and he sees death, and desolation, and poverty, and disease, and suffering, and hatred, and murder, and theft, and bombs, and guns, and rape, and... and he asks himself, 'what is the source of this, why is the world like this?' And he answers himself, 'man.' Man, he believes, caused this. Every evil we know, every ailment of the world, is merely a symptom, and man is the disease.
"Project H is the treatment. It is a device, a machine on a scale like nothing we've seen before. If he manages to bring it to this planet, it will be seen from space. It has a simple job, an easy one. It merely has to emit a certain compound. A very advanced compound, one that can only be synthesized by a machine like Project H. It emits this compound.
"And everyone dies.
"Every single man, woman, and child drops like flies. Every last one of them. The compound cannot be washed off, it cannot be removed ones contact is made. It is airborne, waterborne, and animalborne. It takes three minutes for the compound to seep through the skin, into the blood stream, and to the brain, which it then rots inside-out.
"But it is utterly harmless to every other living being on the planet. It only affects humans. That is what's so glorious about it. It is odorless, colorless, and tasteless. Other than the instantaneous extinction of mankind, there are no visible effects," Matthias finished. There was a full minute of silence.
"Oh God," Jones whispered, his face was a contorted mask of horror.
"How... how does Midas convince people this is the right thing to do?" I asked.
"People are sick, each one of us has our own unique illness, and Midas finds that and exploits it. He knows what people want, what they lust for, or what they fear. Some people he pays, enough that they don't care what they are helping advance. Others he blackmails. Sometimes, he just takes everything you love and slaughters it, and when he does, he says 'look, look at how cruel the world is, how do we let men like me live, we must end this.' And some people, some people are just... loyal."
"... What was it for you?" Smith asked.
"What did he have for you, what made you want to follow him?" Matthias didn't answer him.
Let me tell you a story.
A boy walks down the twilit suburban street he lives on. No cars, no bikes, no people. Just a black cat, sniffing through garbage on the other end of street. This boy's knuckles are bruised, and bloody. The blood isn't his. Someone is going to wake up to the first day of the rest of his life, his ears ripped off, and one eye gouged out.
This boy walks past his house, the lights are out. No one is home.
His father is dead. Shame.
Earlier that day, his mother attempted to slit his throat. She pinned him against the ground, and whispered in his ear, "My dear, you're so beautiful, I love you so much sweetie, let me make you live forever." This was the second time this had happened. It happened once before, years ago. That time, the boy's father was there to stop her.
"Why are you crying, darling," his mom asked, "It's okay! We're going on a trip. We're taking a leap of faith, to find daddy again. And then you're going to help me rip that bastards throat out and hang him with it." She giggled. Like she made a joke.
She swung the blade of a glinting butcher knife down. The child wriggled a single hand free and grabbed the blade in one hand. The pain was searing. He pushed it back towards his mother while violently struggling free. His right arm came free, and he shoves his mother off of him. He head slams against the granite counter.
As the boy ran screaming, crying, out of the house. She sang.