Chapter 4: Nibelungen
“What was that monster? Normal bullets can’t kill it! Its self-healing abilities are straight out of a sci-fi movie! I need you to explain, Mr. Song! Hasn’t Juli Corp crossed the line, creating that monster? ‘Der Ring des Nibelungen’ project, what is it?”
Song Zhi closed his eyes, and after thinking over it for a few seconds, he spoke, “Are you sure you want to know? Although the objective truth exists, it will have no effect on your life if you don’t find out. But once you do know it, you will fall from the edge of hell into hell itself.”
Zhou Yu smiled, then pointed at the large wound on his abdomen. His head was constantly replaying the moment Chen Chong had been killed by that monster. “Mr. Song, I’ve already been to hell.”
“Trust me, you’re still far from hell. You’ve merely peered into its shadow.” Song Zhi wore a profound expression.
This is what Zhou Yu loathed the most about academics; they always thought they knew everything.
As if he could even see into Zhou Yu’s future.
“On the surface, you’re asking me if I really want to know, but you’re already prepared to tell me, aren’t you?” Zhou Yu asked in reply.
Song Zhi turned to the side and smiled.
He was very fair and probably stayed in the Research Institute all year round, rarely going out in the sun. He didn’t look like he exercised often; he was much too thin. When he was expressionless, he looked exceedingly cold and aloof, but when he smiled, he revealed a noble and elegant demeanor.
“Correct, I would very much like to explain it to you. First, the monster you saw, we call a ‘peryton’ after a monster in Western mythology. You probably noticed that the monster didn’t have eyes, ears, or a nose, and that it had a naturally savage disposition.”
“If it doesn’t possess senses for sight, sound or smell, then how was it able to locate its targets?”
This was a question that Zhou Yu had been puzzling over.
Song Zhi tilted up his chin. “As you know, the many animals of this world have various ways of locating their prey, different from humans. For example, the bat uses echolocation to find their prey. Dolphins use sonar. The platypus uses electroreception. The monster you saw uses ‘fear’ to pursue its prey; the more frightened you are, the more you are able to excite its destructive potential.”
Zhou Yu stared blankly at him. What Song Zhi had said was completely outside the scope of his comprehension.
“You said fear?”
“Any animal—including humans—in a state of fear, will have their brain secrete a special type of a microscopic hormone, which is then dispersed into the air through the skin. When the ‘peryton’s’ tongue tastes the hormone, it will pursue its prey. That’s why the researchers died. They were all too familiar with the ‘peryton’s’ nature and cruelty, and the more they tried to remind themselves not to be afraid, the more they were afraid. When their fear diffused outwards, unbound, they had pushed themselves into hell.”
Zhou Yu still looked at Song Zhi with a distrustful gaze.
“Think about it carefully. Why did all your team members die, but you did not?” Song Zhi propped up his chin and looked at Zhou Yu meaningfully.
He appeared to be very patient, as if he had all the time in the world to wait for Zhou Yu to understand the question completely.
Zhou Yu closed his eyes and recalled his team members’ voices through the communication device.
“What is that?”
“Oh my god! How is that possible?”
“Impossible! That’s impossible! Why would there be something like that?”
It was dread that stemmed from disbelief and of a swiftly approaching death.
They were different from Zhou Yu. They went in with the goal of saving hostages, yet by a turn of events, they were met with a monster they had never seen before. When the monster attacked their least experienced member, Zhao Cheng, everyone else was rattled. They had a taste of just how terrifying the monster was. Bullets, of course, could not injure it, but even if they showed the slightest amount of fear, the monster would chase them down until it killed them all.
When Zhou Yu had found Chen Chong hanging onto his last breath, what had actually attracted the monster to them was not Zhou Yu, but Chen Chong’s fear. You could even go as far as to say that the monster hadn’t known that Zhou Yu was there and simply acted on the urge to kill Chen Chong, until the trace of the hormone being secreted due to fear faded away.
“Why couldn’t it detect my presence at all?” Zhou Yu suspiciously asked Song Zhi.
When Zhou Yu shot its tail, it had been agile enough to simply avoid the bullets and kill Zhou Yu, but it acted like it had lost sense of Zhou Yu and didn’t know where he was.
Song Zhi smiled placidly, then reached out his arm to tap a finger on Zhou Yu’s chest. “Ask yourself, were you afraid of it? Were you afraid of being tortured and killed by it? When you saw your team members’ crushed remains, did you have the anger and determination to grasp the truth, or did you fear it?”
“I wanted to find it. I wanted to kill it.” When Zhou Yu looked up, the glint of certainty in his eyes only served to deepen Song Zhi’s smile even further.
“See, that’s the reason you were able to live, on top of killing it. Your gaze is telling me that you’ve accepted my explanation. This is good news; if you can’t even understand this, then what I’m about to tell you will be even harder to understand.”
Zhou Yu was silent.
“Your second statement.” Song Zhi extended his finger. “The peryton wasn’t bred or created by us, and it is not a product of human greed. It was a pre-existing organism.”
After he said that, Zhou Yu stared at him blankly.
“It was a pre-existing organism? You’re trying to persuade me into believing that Juli Corp discovered some new species living on Earth?”
Zhou Yu felt that Song Zhi was getting more and more absurd.
“Do you know of the concept of parallel worlds?” Song Zhi asked.
“I’ve seen it in movies. So right now, you want me to believe that this creature came from a parallel world? What a convenient explanation!”
Although his explanation sounded made-up, Zhou Yu found a kind of assuredness in Song Zhi’s eyes. At least in Song Zhi’s heart, everything he said was true.
“We named that parallel world ‘Nibelungen’. Although its name sounds whimsical—I personally am more inclined towards a systematic naming scheme, such as alpha and beta, or World A and World B; any of those would be better than something from Norse mythology—I have no choice, Juli Corp’s board of directors like that name. Zhou Yu, many years ago, scientists thought that gravitational waves were only an imaginary concept that didn’t exist at all, but it has now been confirmed to be real. The expansion of the known universe is really just repeatedly verifying what we don’t believe is true. The existence of Nibelungen is the same.”
Zhou Yu listened to his story and leaned back. “Then, what’s in this world?”
Reason told him that it didn’t exist, and that it must be an excuse concocted by Juli Corp to hide its research. But, deep in his heart, his intuition was constantly echoing to him: It’s real, Zhou Yu. It’s real.
“It’s similar to earth, but with an entirely different system of organisms.”
“That monster was brought here from that world?” Zhou Yu didn’t ask him what an ‘entirely different system of organisms’ meant, because it was a loaded and specialized question.
“Yes. Doing any research there has a large risk factor, and our researchers are constantly in a state of danger. That’s why we brought back some research specimens, to keep examining them in an environment we can control and understand.”
His words implied that Juli Corp had sent researchers into that world before. Since they were able to go that far, then it meant that Juli Corp already knew how to cross over to that world.
“When you brought that monster into our world, you also brought back the risk that came with it. Even in the most extreme case, if you were to seize control of that world, you still can’t control the organisms that don’t belong to our world.” Zhou Yu’s tone was ice cold.
In his heart, for the pursuit of his own answers, there was nothing this lunatic wouldn’t do.
“Did you see that monster’s healing ability? And its unique biological composition? By studying them, we can help humanity defend against and even defeat all kinds of diseases, even ones that originate from our own human bodies. For example, Huntington’s disease, Down’s syndrome, and so on. Even malignant cancers can be cured. Humanity can overcome the consequences of our collapsing environment, and live and reproduce without limit.
“That sounds quite grand.” Zhou Yu knew that every academic madly caught up in the midst of their research would give themselves a grandiose sense of purpose.” Mr. Song, I trust that this information on the other world is confidential, but now that you’ve told me of this secret, it can’t be to just talk about science. Why not state your real purpose?”
Song Zhi smiled. He slightly tilted his head down and showed a contemplative expression. “A lot of people have seen the peryton, both researchers and Special Operations team members trained by Juli Corp. None of them were able to do what you did, to discard their fear and look straight at death. In that world, fear is the sign of the hunted. Nearly everyone has some trace of it on their bodies. Although we’ve done countless studies, and have made all kinds of tools to mask our physical signals, fear always exists objectively. You’re very special, Zhou Yu. You’re the first person I’ve met who can face a peryton without any fear. I want you to join us, to go to the world on the other side.”
This answer surprised Zhou Yu. He never thought that he would be so valuable to Juli Corp.