Chapter 7: Natasha
Lies (Second Best Option)
The Trapper-Spider fidgeted nervously. He didn't like being in a web that wasn't his own. The Headmaster, his patience knowing no bounds, was able to endure the constant tittering for the entire ascension to the observatory. Though, when the doors did finally slid open, he rapidly exited. The observatory was a triskadecogonal room, each side was made of a large, moveable sheets of metal that could be commanded to lower themselves, revealing a massive pane of glass. Additionally, the floor panels could be called upon to raise themselves, revealing a variety of storage compartments for files and the like.
"I feel that you need to see this thing of which I am about to tell you to believe it. I want you to know, surely, solidly, and without a doubt that this thing exists, and then I will explain to you exactly what it is," the Headmaster said, producing a remote from seemingly nowhere. With the press of a button, he lowered three of the metal sheets guarding three of the northern windows. With another press, a chrome, complicated-looking telescope descended from the ceiling. The Headmaster deftly and professionally adjusted it, and aimed it at what appeared to be a puff of black smoke on the horizon.
"Ladies first," the Trapper-Spider said, gesturing for me to take a look through the lens. I consented. For a few moments I could not believe my eyes, and the realization hit me like a brick, I backed away slowly, trying to compute exactly what I had just seen, and what it meant to me. And slowly, I smile. Things were going better than I thought.
Through the lens I saw towering, billowing, sulfurous, black clouds. It spewed forth from millions upon millions of gunmetal factories and warehouses. Enormous scaffolds rose several hundreds of feet into the air like a netting around behemoth buildings. Naval warships could be seen patrolling the intervening water between this hell of iron and the city I had found myself in. The gray buildings sprawled on for miles in all directions, a massive wall had been erected along the coast, even the ports were walled off, with a large metal gate that opened and closed like a maw every time a ship went in or out. And in the air, zeppelins weaved between the clouds like panthers, skulking between shadows.
"This cannot be..." the Trapper-Spider said, I laughed at him, "This is not possible. If this is what I think it is..."
"I fear this is exactly what you believe it to be," the Headmaster said dolefully. "Please control yourself, there is more. He pressed a button on the remote, and the three sheets of metal slid smoothly back into place. "We did not make contact with the inhabitants of this city, or rather, barracks, for I feel that is the more appropriate word, for years. Every attempt to make contact was met with hostility. Our ships were intercepted and escorted, wordlessly, back to our ports. They jammed every radio frequency we tried to use to establish any sort of dialog with them. However, they were never aggressive, they never launched any sort of attack, they never showed malice... they simply isolated themselves."
"You said years, how long have they been here?" the Trapper-Spider asked.
"Ten years. Ten years of chilling tension and silence. But then, two weeks ago, this washes up on the shore a few miles from the city," the Headmaster pressed a button that raised a large, metal cabinet from one of the floor tiles. It opened up to reveal a long, snake-like machine with a bulbous head, and a single, glowing, red eye. "At first no one worries too much. It is brought to me for my judgment, but I decide to leave it be. After all, our relationship with these... interlopers on the opposite shore isn't hostile, and no one wants it to be. I decide to leave the status quo. But then this writing along the side is brought to my attention..." he gestured at the side of the snake-machine. Printed in bold, bright, red letters were the words: 'Rousseau International'.
"This is... how? How are they here? Project H isn't even finished yet. This is bad, Natasha, this is very, very bad," the Trapper-Spider was visibly panicked now.
"You think I don't know that? This changes everything, if the Oktoberist has an army this big ready to mobilize..." I responded. The Trapper-Spider's face lit up.
"Wait, wait, wait! Maybe they can't. Maybe they can't mobilize, maybe they're stuck here. Otherwise, the Oktoberist would have surely started his assault by now, with a force this large..."
"That would make sense, communication between this world and ours may have failed, which would mean that the only way for the Oktoberist to contact the other side would be through Katie. Meaning Katie isn't the missing link in Project H, or at least not in the way we thought of it. So a technical failure on this side would mean that this army here is trapped, and essentially useless," I said, mostly to myself.
"Though, there are still three things that don't make sense. One, if Katie isn't the thing that is halting the completion of Project H, then what is? Two, why hasn't the Oktoberist's army become aggressive and started to lay siege to this world? And three, how did the construction team make it to this world in the first place?"
"I believe I may be able to explain quandary two," the Headmaster, who had been silent for quite some time, said, "And I may be able to provide some information regarding your third issue, though it may complicate the matter further, rather than provide any closure."
"Alright, well what do you have for us?" the Trapper-Spider said, his panic now turning into belligerence.
"What you just saw was merely a fraction of the Rousseau Hive, an incredibly small one at that. You asked why they haven't started aggressively expanding? You are quite mistaken if that is what you believe, they already cover, oh... sixty-eight percent of the surface of this planet? And their spread doubles in speed every day. This city is one of the few remaining unoccupied cities in this nation, and, one could argue, in the world."
"I sincerely hope you are coming up with a brilliant plan to deal with this situation, Trapper-Spider," I said. My comment was met with a sharp glare.
"What about their arrival? How did they get here?" the Trapper-Spider asked.
"I'm going to ask you to bear with me on this, but... ten years ago, the skies were torn-apart, along with the very fabric of reality, and a ball of fire fell from the gap. A few hours later, terrible machinations began spewing forth from the crater and began to construct the scourge you have just seen," the Headmaster gestured back towards the north.
"That is incredibly unhelpful information," the Trapper-Spider replied sullenly.
"How do you think I feel? My people turned to me for an explanation, the best I could give them was a shrug and a hand wave," the Headmaster said.
"Alright, alright..." the Trapper-Spider sighed, and I snickered a bit, "I need some time to think this over. This changes everything."
"This changes nothing," I said, forcefully but quietly, "If we are right, if this army is stuck here, then this changes nothing. We sabotage Project H, we destroy Katie, and Rousseau International's plan comes crumbling down. We need to stay the course right now. And we need to get the hell out of the North American continent, because the Oktoberist is going to go public any second now. New York, Los Angelos, and Chicago are going to be war zones by the end of this week. And most of the east coast will be a smoking pile of rubble before the month is out."
"In other words," the Headmaster cut in, "It is imperative that I release you as soon as possible?" I nodded, "Well then, you are lucky that you have won my trust. You are free to go, I'll send someone to pick up your friends, they will be waiting for you at the gates.
"Fantastic," I answered, offering him my hand, "Thank you very much. It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance. If you don't mind, we're in a rush, so we'll take our leave now."
"Very well," with another button press, he summoned the elevator, and seconds later we were being whisked down to the ground floor, and from there out of the city.
Clickclickclick. Click. Click. Click. Clickclickclick. Let me tell you about Oculus. Oculus is the most terrible example of life on this planet, and indeed, I would say, in all of creation. He is a liar, a coward, a cheat, and a traitor. The spineless man lurks the same, windowless, shaded room everyday. He passes his days, his months, his years, spying on all of creation. Watching, analyzing, and hiding. And yet, the intangible coward is a threat. He uncovers every conspiracy, every mutiny, he makes stealth a futile charade. How I loath him. Oculus knows about this. He knows about every little movement I make. He has read every word of this journal. Right now, the miserable, tortured, little brat is obsessing over every stroke of my pen. So then, now, as I write this, he knows he needs to run. He knows he needs to hide, he knows he needs to find someone to help him, to take pity upon the useless rat he is. Because I'm coming for him.
Azreal says hello, Oculus. He's waiting for you.