Chapter 18.3

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"What is Jacob?" Ward said.

"That's a good question. It all comes back to the Seven Sleepers."

"David Nassar was a Sleeper," Ward said.

Corvus arched his eyebrows at Ward. "You've really done this properly, haven't you?"

"But he couldn't've been that old," Carmen said.

"It seems unlikely. On the other hand, he was believed to be a great sorcerer."

"Were the Sleepers sorcerers too?" Carmen said.

"What they did certainly seemed like magic. But no, they were just scientists."

Ward had heard of scientists: they were the people who tried to turn lead into gold. Nobody engaged in such foolishness anymore.

"Jacob was seventeen. He was a prodigy: a programming genius. He'd written his first computer program at the age of six. He was accepted at the university on a scholarship, and there he befriended one of the Sleepers." Corvus swallowed. "He convinced this Sleeper to take him on as a lab assistant. So Jacob was at the lab when it happened. He saw the mouse disappear.

"He knew more about the Sleepers' research than anyone suspected. He'd followed it fanatically, secretly, for years. He'd been an avid hacker from a young age – hackers were people who illegally gained access to other people's computers. It must have seemed to him a tantalising challenge to hack into Al-Kahf. He broke into DEN one night and performed the experiment on himself. It must have worked. He used this power to do terrible things. He killed many people."

"Why would he want to do that?" Carmen said.

Corvus shrugged helplessly. "He wasn't the first murderer in history, nor will he be the last. We know little about him. He was an only child. His parents were dead. He had an unusual birthmark on his foot." Although Corvus didn't look at Ward, he paused, as if realising he had just described Ward himself. "I have come to believe he suffers from a great delusion. That he believes himself to be a god: a force sent to wreak destruction on the world. If so, the Beast of the Diphthera isn't so far removed from the truth."

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This is the serious part of the novel.


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