Chapter 8: Nick

11/15/07

It's been three since our escapades in the trunk world. It's been three weeks since the beginning of Projekt Oktober. And I am exhausted. I need a moment, I need to step back for a second and take a look at all that has happened. I need to catch my breath and decide how I feel about it all, and where I want to go from here. But of course, that's not going to happen. I've hit the ground running, and there is no turning back. There aren't going to be any breaks anymore.

"We have a business meeting today," Matthias said this morning as I groggily stumbled out of my private room into the darkened hallways of the trunk.

"What?" I asked, still half asleep, "What time is it? Why are you waking me up this early?"

"Because, we have a business meeting. Now go take a shower and get yourself dressed. Try to wear something nice, by the way," and with that Matthias moved on to wake up Jones, leaving me befuddled in the middle of the hall. Eventually I decided I should probably do what he told me to, and retreated to my room to go through my morning routine. An hour or so later, I emerged from the trunk considerably more intelligent and awake.

"About time," Matthias said. He was leaning against the side of the car, Smith and Natasha were already seated inside. "We've been waiting. Hurry up and get in, we don't want to be late."

"If you don't mind," I asked as I hopped in, "Where are we going? I vaguely remember you yelling something about a meeting?"

"It's not far, we're meeting someone for breakfast at a nearby restaurant," Matthias answered.

"Who is it?"

"A potential ally of ours in our crusade against Rousseau International."

"Yeah, okay, but who is it?"

"Nick, you aren't going to know who it is. Are you in with the international crime rings, are you going to recognize the name? No."

"Do it for the readers," I said. Matthias sighed.

"Daphne Rousseau. She's the one who dealt with that helicopter for us a few days ago, remember?"

"Yeah, speaking of which," Jones cut in, "We kinda all took that in stride, but am I the only one who is still freaking out about the fact that we got attacked by a bloody helicopter?"

"I'm sorry, did I hear a Rousseau in that name there?" I asked, ignoring Smith.

"She's Midas's daughter. See, Nick, this is why I don't tell you things. They're complicated and hard to explain and I don't have the patience," Matthias sighed. "Anyway when we meet up with her, none of you say a word. Let me do all the talking. I need to gauge the situation, I'm still not entirely sure if I even trust her."

A metallic click sounded to my left and I turned to see Natasha pulling back the slide of a large, chrome handgun. She casually concealed it in a holster hidden by her leather jacket and flashed me a nonchalant smile.

"Just in case," she explained.

"You two will be unarmed, however," Matthias said, taking branching dirt road that led off into the woods. A large, intrusive, green sign read: Light, MN. Within five minutes, we found ourselves in a heavily wooded small town. Matthias took a right into the gravel parking lot of a diner and parked.

"This is the place, she said she'd be waiting..." Matthias said.

"I don't see anyone, maybe she's already inside?" Jones suggested.

"She's scouting us. Wants to assess the situation before she puts herself at risk. She's across the street," Natasha said, ever-so-slightly tilting her head in the direction of a shadowed figure standing at the opposite intersection. After a few seconds, the figure crossed the street.

"Stay here," Matthias ordered, and he approached the figure, who froze upon seeing him. They exchanged a few words, then returned to us. The woman, Daphne, approached casually, hands in the pockets of her expensive-looking, black, leather trench coat. She wore a gray, woman's business suit, preferring a skirt over slacks, and a light blue tie that matched the ribbon around her fedora. Overall very well-dressed, it was an ensemble that gave off an immediate aura of control.

"Daphne Rousseau," she said, extending her hand and flashing the slightest of smiles.

"Nicholas Forte," I replied. She turned to Smith.

"Ah, Jones, just Smith," Jones replied.

"Right, well then shall we going in?" Matthias asked, "We have a lot of business to discuss."

The next half-hour or so was surprisingly uneventful. There was very little for me to contribute to the conversation, so I spent most of our meal silently eating the food placed in front of me and listening to Matthias. He started by explaining the situation in the trunk world to Daphne, as he had explained it to me and Jones three days ago. She sat patiently, absorbing all the information he fed her and occasionally sipping her coffee. When Matthias finished his monologue, we all sat in silence for a few seconds waiting for her response.

"This is... unexpected," Daphne said, setting down her drink, "This complicates things, as I'm sure you know. Not necessarily for you, as Natasha astutely pointed out, your course of action will remain more or less the same. As for myself, well..." she trailed off.

"There will be time to worry about this all later," Matthias said, "For now I suggest we discuss the initial reason for our meeting."

"Yes," Daphne shot him a smile, "No need to get worked up right now, is there?" She paused, idly stirring her coffee for a moment. "The reason I came her... well... Let me preface my offer a bit. My father, he is a very bad man. I know this, I'm not naive. I've seen the things he's done, and I see the things that he wants to do. He is a monster, and a powerful one at that. So what do I do with this knowledge? I'm unique, I'm in a position that, if I'm clever, can allow me to bring him down. Where do I go from here? Do I sit idle and watch the atrocities he has planned unfold, or do I take action and prevent them?" She leaned back, "I think my answer is obvious."

"So you've decided to join our little band of misfits?" Natasha asked.

"Not quite, I can't afford to go rogue," she said, "No. For now, I'm going to keep the status quo. But I'm already in the process of assembling people in the shadows, and this includes you four. When the time comes that someone needs to step up and oppose Rousseau International, I'm going to be ready."

"What exactly is Rousseau International planning? What is it that has you so worried?" I piped up, "I'm getting a little sick of asking this, but what do you know that I don't? All of you." I gestured to Matthias, Natasha, and Daphne.

"I'm just going to glaze right over that, for the sake of time. I'm sure Matthias will explain it later," Daphne replied.

"You all suck," I muttered.

"Anyway, before I go there is one last thing I need to ask of you all," Daphne said, "Do you remember your train job? The one you two did right after you left Vegas?" Matthias and Natasha nodded. "Well, Rousseau International ran into problems with the objective you retrieved for them. They can't contain it. I need you four to find it and tag it."

"Tag it?" I asked.

"Yes, with this," Daphne produced a small syringe gun from the pocket of her trench coat. "And I need you to do it before Rousseau International regains control off the objective. It's highly important that they don't have it. Once you four tag it, I can send one of my companions to pick it up. We just need a way to track it."

"Track it?" My question was ignored.

"How can we trust you?" Matthias asked, "After all, both you and your father pride yourselves on your ability to manipulate people."

"You can't trust me. But if I were really representing Rousseau International, would I even be having this conversation with you?"

"She's right," Natasha said, "If she was with Rousseau International, we'd be dead by now."

"Alright, well then one last question... what exactly is the 'objective'? How will we know when we find it?" asked Matthias as Daphne stood up to leave.

"I'm afraid I don't have the time to answer that. Here is the tag, and instructions for how to find the objective," she handed Matthias the syringe gun and a small sheet of paper. "I really do have to leave, I'm supposed to be in Laos in fourteen hours. You'll know it when you see it. Until we meet again!" and with a wave, she was gone.

The four of us finished our meals, then quickly made our way back to Katie. While we had been eating, various, ominous clouds rapidly piled up over the little town, and as we were making our way to the car, it began to rain. Within two minutes, the downpour had become torrential. Vision beyond five feet became restricted, and so it wasn't until much to late that we realized the dirt road we had driven in on was reduced to a muddy slop. Katie's front wheels got sucked into the goo like it was quicksand.

"Fantastic," Matthias yelled, "This is totally impassable..." he paused for a moment, then cursed under his breath. As I was about to ask what we were going to do, a raincoat-clad figure appeared out of the maelstrom, waving around a flashlight.

"I hope you for don't intend to leave!" he yelled over the gusting winds, "There's no escaping this place! Why don't you all spend the night at my house?! We can dig your car out tomorrow!"


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