Chapter 9: Jones
As first day of the last year came to a close, we met our companions. I don't know how they found us, but they were waiting patiently at the Swiss border. Renard, Scylla, and Daphne. All they had with them were two motorbikes and a black duffle bag each. Their clothes were torn and their faces muddied. Daphne had a bright, crimson cut curling across her left cheek. It was recent too, she hadn't yet washed the blood away. From a distance it was impossible to tell who they were, and as we approached the tension among us was palpable. Natasha slowly and deliberately loaded her 9mil. Once we saw their faces, once we recognized them we relaxed, and our tension faded away. Theirs did not. There was an emotion unmistakeably etched on ther face. Fear.
"How did you find us?" Natasha said, getting out of Katie before she even rolled to a complete stop.
"What's happening to us?" Daphne replied, not speaking to Natasha but instead looking pleadingly towards Matthias. Her arms were wrapped around her stomach and she had a look of intense pain on her face. "My God, Matthias... I'm so hungry." Matthias stopped the car and leapt out. Nick and I cautiously followed suit.
"We woke up Behemoth," Matthias said, "by accident. And our doppelganger woke Ziz." Daphne understood immediately what was said. The shock took root first, but it was quickly replaced by terror. Scylla, however, only vaguely seemed to understand, as though he had heard the story before and was struggling to remember how it went. Renard was utterly lost.
"I don't understand," Renard said, "Matthias, what is happening? We've been here for maybe an hour, just sitting. We've been watching people walk and drive past us like phantoms. They're glassy-eyed and... empty."
"Ghosts in machines," Natasha interjected.
"Where are they going?" Renard continued.
"South," Matthias answered, "to the sea. Are you a religous man, Renard?"
"I went to sunday school, yeah."
"Do you remember the stories of Behemoth and Leviathan?" Renard shook his head. "They are two of the three beasts. Creatures as older than and as grand as the Earth. It was said that at the end of the world they would kill eachother and the entire world would feast on their corpses..."
There was silence.
"They're dead now. They fought and each fell. The battle ripped a hole in the Sahara, we saw it happen. They world is cracked, shattered. That hunger you feel? That is your instinct, one of the most primal desires, programmed into all humans from the beginning of our race. We're being called to the feast."
Renard had nothing to say, but he didn't doubt a thing that he had been told. None of us did. Daphne retreated away from us, stalked off into the field to the left of the highway, and I could vaguely hear sobbing.
"How did you find us?" Natasha asked again. Nick lit a cigarette.
"Lucky guess," Renard answered, but the usual playful inflection of his voice was notably absent. It occured to me that perhaps he was just given the first truly bad news of his life.
Matthias, Natasha, Scylla and Daphne all gathered with each other and plotted in hushed whispers after Daphne had calmed down. Renard, Nick and I were left on our own. Even after all we have been through, even though in the beginning it was Matthias that selected us, we were still treated like dead weight. Work horses to drive their personal war machine, but not to be treated as equals or as peers. The three of us retreated into Katie's Trunk World. We found the door that led to the outside, and we sat atop the grassy hill that overlooked the alien world. In the distance was the city we had visited, perhaps only weeks ago, but it seemed like years.
"This place feels familiar," Renard said. He had not seen the Trunk World but it appeared he had been informed of it. The shock on his face was dull as we had opened the door from the dank corridors of the place that Katie's trunk led to and revealed the perpetually twilit world.
"How so?" I asked.
"It isn't alien. This place, the land... these are things I recognize. There is grass here, and it's green. There is one sun setting over the horizon, and the sky is orange as it should be in twilight," Renard replied. Not a moment after he had finished his sentence I felt the smallest of creatures alight on my knuckle. I glanced down to find a red insect with a hard, black-spotted shell. A lady bug.
"This is Earth," I said, voicing Renard's thoughts.
"Yeah... this is Earth. Another time, maybe. Somewhere in the future." The sun disappeared beyond the horizon and we turned our backs on it to see the moon rising in the east. Our moon. The same one that we had seen every night of our lives. We were silent as we watched it rise and the red tendrils of the sun receeded from the sky, day's grip on the world finally admitting defeat and letting the night rule until sunrise.
"This can't been Earth though, at any time," Nick said, his voice full of grim discontent. "There was no time that places like that," Nick gestured toward the city, "existed. And there is no time that they will... we're watching the world die. Our Earth is cracked and soon it will split in two..."
"Then what is this place?" I asked.
"I think it's a vision of what the world could've been. Where humanity could've gone," Nick said, looking towards the Ivory towers in the distance, now gleaming in the moonlight. "If we hadn't torn ourselves apart. This is what mankind could be like if we had no evil, if we were perfect. It's a cruel joke, but I'm not sure who's it is."
"We could leave," I said, "Leave Natasha and Matthias and that broken world behind and go live in this one. There is nothing left for me back in that old, scarred world. There's nothing left for you either. There is only death in that world, for all of us. We could live here forever, in this perfect world. Maybe... maybe it's not a joke, but an offer. An escape."
Nick paused and thought for a moment, saying nothing but staring intently at the city in the distance. Then, he said, "it would be a lie. Like living in a dream. It wouldn't matter, because that world isn't ours, it is like a toy. It is a pure world, and we are impure beings. Our involvement would destroy it. Cause it to cease to exist. It is a world we're only allowed to look at, to watch, but never to exist in."