Finally, a place where my desire to dream beyond the bounds of what a rational engineer may dream, to build that which ought never be built, to be the mad engineer that breaks down barriers, and possibly ends the world,–Fimbulvetr Industries. I confess that I saw their job posting and sent my resume to them on a lark–who would have thought that the premiere apocalyptic science and engineering conglomerate would want me? But they did, so here I am walking the austere gunmetal hallways, seeing the laboratories where the cutting edge of apocalyptic science is conducted. And everything is so clean! It’s the platonic form of Nordic design. I couldn’t imagine a better place to undergo hours of trite human resources on boarding nonsense.
At least they have a slogan: Building a Better End of Days, Today.
Fimbulvetr is not screwing around. I’ve been here a day and have access to the development lab of my dreams. Good devils below, there’s an entire team of assistants at my beck and call. The job is simple–as simple as engineering a possibly world-ending device is concerned that is–build a device to create a stable planar gateway to the nether realm to allow the creatures of the dark beyond access to the mortal plane of existence.
Should be fun!
Turns out the ancient Assyrians were super into the nether realm. The Fimbulvetr archives have hundreds of original clay tablets recovered (read: stolen or plundered) from archaeological sites across the Levant. As it so happens, however, I cannot read cuneiform.
Good news, though! Ivan, a twitchy Russian ex-pat with an eye-patch, has been the most useful in that regard. He tells me he studied and taught ancient languages at a university in Kiev, stumbled on something he’s only muttered about as “the impossible realities,” and they fired him for gibbering too much during lectures. Their loss is my gain.
There’s also a linguist to help interpret the texts, Bernice, an Alabaman with absolutely the sweetest accent and the keenest eye for the dark logic employed by the forces of darkness. Who would have imagined that demons employed passive aggressive language? When I expressed my disbelief, Bernice said “bless your heart,” and told me it makes her feel right at home. What a lovely person.
With Ivan and Bernice’s help the task came into focus. We have a great deal of work ahead of us.
There’s also Jeffrey. He doesn’t talk much, and near as I can tell, he’s mainly here to pick up heavy things at my direction. He does so at a languid pace. He must be hourly.
This was prototyping day. Based on Ivan’s translations, and Bernice’s helpful interpretation of archaic Assyrian linguistics, we needed both a lot of eldritch energy and a focusing medium to stretch the planar gate across.
First thing first, we measure eldritch energy in crowleys, like proper modern folk who are concerned with repeatable design. Ancient Assyrians? No such luck. They simply killed an absolutely mind boggling number of people until they got what they want. I’m honestly a little impressed by their can-do attitude. It worked for them, so what grounds do I have to criticize? I can, however, complain that it makes their cuneiform tablets hard to use as blueprints in a modern workshop.
Anyway, since we don’t know exactly how many crowleys we need, I’m ball parking the sum at: a lot of crowleys.
Also, we need something to channel the crowleys into a cascading web of interconnecting focus points. Essentially a matrix of dark energy that can fray the boundary between our world and the eldritch void we seek to contact. The ancient Assyrians came up with an answer for this too. That answer is femurs. We need a lot of femurs.
If we need a lot of femurs, then we’re going to need a lot of volunteers. After all, each one can only contribute two femurs, and we’re going to need twenty three femurs. That means approximately twelve volunteers, assuming our pool of volunteers does not include too many above-the-knee amputees or people with low bone density. This might be tricky.
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Not that tricky! You know what was tricky? Getting Jeffrey to gather all of the human thighs and separate the meat from the bones. It was a simple request, Jeffrey!
But, I digress. Did you know there’s a group of people on the internet who call themselves “thigh enthusiasts?” Naturally, I gravitated toward this group of people as I figured that anyone so enthusiastic about thighs would likely have high quality femurs.
This was not, in fact, the case. The yield of quality femurs from a single thigh enthusiast, which one could reasonably assume be close to, if not precisely, two femurs, is actually much closer to 1.1 per enthusiast. Most are men in their thirties, how is their bone structure and density so bad? What comprises their diet that they have the bone density of an elderly person with a severe calcium deficiency? This is, of course, not the question I’ve been hired to solve. It must remain a mystery for another day.
What we lacked in quality, we were able to make up for in quantity. Thigh enthusiasts are an easily baited group. Promise an internet message board an abundance of thighs, and like ten grand each, and boom, even with the comically low femur yield, I’ve got all the femurs an engineer could possibly desire. Really, it’s almost a problem. I’ve practically got too many femurs. Jeffrey certainly thinks we have too many femurs, but that is a Jeffrey problem.
So, with a massive stockpile of femurs at our disposal, it’s time to begin constructing a web of twenty three femurs arranged in a circle with a radius precisely calibrated to focus crowleys!
Well, I’ve summoned a demon. More on this later. At least I won’t have to worry about Jeffrey slacking anymore. More on this later as well.
I rate this experience as a qualified success.
Good news! We’ve sealed the demon in my original development lab. Fimbulvetr has given me a new workshop. It’s buried farther underground.
The boys upstairs have also given me a squad of armed guards at all times. Hans Jürgen leads the team of barrel-chested men with assault rifles and bandoliers of grenades. Seems a touch overkill, but it wouldn’t do to have a demon ruthlessly dismember a useful member of the team.
(Oh… right, Jeffrey was–literally–pulled limb from limb by a seven armed reptilian beast with eleven mouths and three wings. As it happens, and this would be a subject better suited for a mad evolutionary biologist, demons have very strange anatomy).
In any case, we have a very solid prototype planar gateway generator in existence. No idea how to control it. No way to manage what passes through. No clue what’s on the other side, and the boys upstairs tell me it’s not nearly big enough.
On account of me not being dead, I am willing to increase my assessment of this situation from qualified success to moderate success.
Add in Jeffrey’s demise and we might be flirting with major success territory.
Yes, out of chronological order, but I was far too busy fleeing a rampaging hell beast to take proper notes on the actual Day 5. So let’s all be aware that it was recorded on Day 7, but ought to slot in at Day 5. Deal? Deal.
So, get this, turns out virgins, not super effective conduits of eldritch power. I know, really came out of left field to me too. It’s all you ever read about: virgin sacrifice this, the world’s running out of eligible virgins that. Guess what virgins, you’re not that special!
Turns out, the sanguineous humors of debauched people–now that’s the blood you want to charge a planar gate. So we threw an orgy. Well, we advertised an orgy, lit some candles, provided massage oils and a room full of impractically sized pillows, and once we had a room full of good old fashioned debauchery underway, that’s when we threw a massacre. It was all very efficient.
I was able to capture thirteen crowleys of spiritual energy in the blood agony harvester (which we constructed mostly from tibias and fibulas, the ancient Assyrians–a very efficient people when it came to human sacrifice–were big on using every part of the sacrificial victim, particularly leg bones). Granted we’re still getting a handle on precisely how many crowleys of energy will be necessary to sustain a transplanar crossing, but I figured what we had was a good first effort.
Naturally, excited as I was from that success, I couldn’t help but turn to my assembled femur matrix and plug in all that sweet human suffering. It worked, and after experiencing the fabric of realty shred before my eyes, and hearing the distilled shriek of millions of disembodied souls, a demon ripped through the planar gate and started absolutely taking Jeffrey to town.
I ran, sealed the door, and changed my drawers.
Good thing I had all those femurs, because the boys upstairs want a lot of transplanar gates constructed. Without Jeffrey (typical Jeffrey, even in death he’s slacking off), it took more than a week to build a whole bunch of gates in reinforced containment cells. That way, when the demons rip through, we’ve got ‘em right where we want ‘em. Locked up nice and tight until we can figure out how best to unleash them on an unsuspecting world.
So here we are, two weeks into the job (they’re paying me in arrears, which means I don’t get paid until the second pay period is complete, truly barbaric, hopefully my benefits are already accruing. I don’t want to miss out on any compound interest.) and I have twenty-three individually contained planar gates made from five hundred twenty-nine femurs. I wonder if I hunted thigh enthusiasts onto the endangered species list? Each planar gate sat in a specially constructed holding cell built of concrete and steel.
The holding cells themselves are all on a central corridor buried deep underground. At the end of the corridor is the control room, where I work. From there I have the ability to route crowleys into the planar gates, as well as control each individual cell door.
Behind the control room, a twenty-three foot diameter vault door that is twenty-three feet thick seals the whole operation off from the access shaft that leads to the rest of Fimbulvetr headquarters.
We are so ready to summon some demons.
Or, we would be ready to summon some demons if we had enough crowleys. This is going to take a lot of massage oil.
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It’s been a tiring, but productive six days. I like to think we’ve done the ancient Assyrians proud. Good thing we got a bulk rate on massage oil.
The blood agony harvesters are practically humming with energy and the boys upstairs have quintupled my detail of armed guards.
A few keep very close eyes on me, and with the exception of Hans Jürgen, they communicate exclusively by way of hand signals, and are frequently checking their weapons and ammunition. It’s as if they assume that at any moment a demon might leap into this world. I asked Hans Jürgen about the increase in guards, he says that they’re here to prevent anyone from being Jeffried.
Jeffried. His laziness has been immortalized by becoming a verb in the Fimbulvetr lexicon. Where’s the justice in that?
But let’s not let Jeffrey’s perpetual incompetence interfere with our objective. In the morning we get to channel distilled human suffering into a series of arrays constructed from human long bones. What could possibly go wrong?
A lot can go wrong.
Holy shit a lot can go wrong.
I threw the switch and opened the crowley reservoir. The hair on the back of my arms stood on end as the cables that ran from reservoir to the holding cells and attached to the transplanar gates inside writhed like live serpents with the energy.
As had been the case with the first rift, reality shifted in front of my eyes, and an otherworldly howl threatened to burst my eardrums. The screams faded but then a series of sounds like the piercing chime of twenty three bells rang through the corridor, and I heard it even in the control room. A tiny red light blinked on the control panel indicating lock failure on each door.
Hans Jürgen flashed hand signs to his men and everyone spread out, rifles at their shoulders, covering the cell doors. It didn’t matter. Moments later the cell doors ripped open and twenty-three demons tore out of confinement into the corridor.
Ivan and Bernice had volunteered to check each containment cell, so they were in the hallway and were the first to die.
The snare drum report of automatic weapons fire filled the air, grenades provided a tympanic percussion beneath the gunfire, but none of it mattered.
Everyone got Jeffried.
Everyone but me. I’m sitting in the control room behind a pane of glass staring into the nearly countless eyes of twenty-three demons and hoping they don’t realize that the control room door doesn’t actually have a lock on it.
PICTURE: Tama66 in Pixabay
Jonathan Ficke lives outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin with his beautiful wife and daughter. He graduated from Marquette University with a degree in public relations, which (in a manner of speaking) is another form of speculative storytelling. His work appears in Writers of the Future: Vol. 34, Tales of Ruma, and Mad Scientist Journal. He muses online at jonficke.com and on twitter @jonficke.