• FFF Short Stories

Valhalla Interrupted

Updated: Oct 7

by Matthew Stuart Evans


(Taken from The Beginning & End of All Things, Science Fiction Short Story Anthology)

 

Elskede - beloved


I


“Incoming download. Network 56-2639, environment variable 9-5018. Data fragment 878.” The woman with dark hair tied neatly back in a slick bun flips the switchboard and continues speaking into her headset’s microphone, “Permission to open transmission line.”


“Permission granted,” comes a static male voice on the other end.


She flips another switch and rises from her chair. Smoothing out her placket front dress, she crosses the floor and descends a clanking metal staircase to the ground level of a massive bunker. Mainframe technicians, busily activating their eight-foot terminals, nod to her as she passes. She stops at a control panel next to an adjacent room, separated by a plate glass window. She turns a large dial, and a countdown begins on a black digital display above her.


A deep boom resonates above. The entire facility quakes; dust shakes loose from the ceiling. The woman hesitates for a moment then says, “Begin download in 8, 7, 6, 5 . . .”


The room on the other side of the window fills with a pale green gas. It is thick and moves with purpose. Soon, the woman can no longer see inside. The whirrr of a printer brings her attention down. She checks the printout and makes a note on a clipboard beside it. The gas in the room shifts color from green to pulsing orange. Electrical bolts pop. The pulsing and zapping grow louder, faster. Then, all light and noise cease.


The digital display dings; the color switches from black to green. Download Complete.


The woman turns the dial back to its original position, and the gas slowly seeps from the room. She picks up the clipboard. Straightening her dress one more time, she heads for the door between the two rooms, her low heels click-clacking on the hard concrete floor.

Inside, she approaches a metal slab. On the slab lays a man—seven feet tall, muscles bulging, long blonde hair and beard matted. The woman picks up a mercury thermometer and takes the man’s temperature. When done, she inspects his body, making marks on the clipboard as she goes.


Satisfied, she leaves the room and busies herself back at the control panel. More explosions shake the ceiling. This time she ignores them until one particular bang nearly cracks the window in front of her. She jumps back and looks up at the blonde man, nakedness in full glory, staring at her from behind the glass.


“Valhalla?” His booming voice sounds muffled from inside the room. His blue eyes dart wildly.

The woman reaches up and presses a switch on her headset, projecting her voice through the room’s intercoms. “Not quite.”


II


My name is Orm Knudsen, and I long for death, but not the death that awaits me now. As I spin the wheels of my chair back and forth, waiting for the next recruit to be ushered into my office, I dream of the deaths I could have had.


I’d been so close to dying at Ethandun, where we fought Alfred’s Saxons. I felt the sword puncture my side, the warm trickle of blood drain from my mouth. But then everything was gone, all an elaborate illusion.


I mourned the afterlife that had been promised to me for some time but soon fell in step with my newfound role as protector of this realm. One of many.


My second death might have been three years ago. After fighting the Grays for nearly two decades, it appeared my time had finally come again, and not knowing what awaited me after made it even more exciting. The enemy shot me in the abdomen, a wound many men before me had succumbed to. But I had not. Beyond all reason, I lived. And now I haunt these halls as a spirit with a squeaky wheel and feast at the head of a table of scientists, not gods.


At last, a knock on the door.


“Enter.”


The door pushes open and the first face I see is Lauren’s. My wife flashes me her sweet smile. She was the first person I saw upon arriving in this strange world. I believed her to be Freyja herself. Despite learning later that she was not the goddess, it mattered not, for I had already fallen in love.


“Orm will take it from here. Try to relax,” she says to the quivering man she shepherds into my office. She then vanishes from my sight, my last glimpse of perfection until we both retire for the night. The man with a close-shaved beard and puffed-up hair, passes the threshold and into the room. He wears the cream linen pants and shirt of a new arrival.


Small and weak are the first words that come to mind upon looking at him. He shuffles from one foot to the other, staring at me like a whipped dog. His flesh hangs plump off his bones, his skin pale and soft. This man could not have seen much fighting if any, yet I have been wrong before. Not every recruit spit out of the program was a physical warrior in their past life, such as myself. Some have proficiency in weapons that I would never have been able to imagine before this existence.


I cannot stand the pitiful look on his face for very long, so I break eye contact and read through the documents before me one more time. Network 56-2639, environmental variable 11-5093. Data fragment 2020. It is the same network that I was created in. Most downloads from data fragment 1950 on are adept with several different projectile weapons. I’ll reserve judgment for now.


“Sit . . .” I glance at the document one last time “. . . Leon.”


With a burst of speed, the boy pulls out the chair and sits in it, never taking his eyes off me.


“Would you like to know why you are here?”


Leon’s eyes bulge like the question has allowed him to fully realize his alarm. “Where am I?”


“Earth.” I wheel my chair out from behind the desk. “Just . . . not the Earth you know, but an Earth nonetheless. The real Earth. Though, little will be familiar to you.”


“W-what? What are you talking about?” Leon begins to hyperventilate.


“Calm down, boy. I need you to concentrate.”


I need to get back to my friends. I need to get out of here. Who are you people?”


“You won’t be seeing your friends or family again, Leon. But you don’t need to worry about them. This may be hard for you to hear, but the people you knew do not exist. Your life wasn’t real. But you are one of the lucky ones in that you get to live a real life now.”


A bomb goes off in the distance, and the room rumbles. A black fly, disrupted from the rafters, buzzes around the room.


Leon yelps and leaps from his seat. “You’re crazy this-this is all crazy, man. I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing, but it’s not cool.”


His reaction gives me pause. Not his reaction to the news I just gave him, but to the bomb. His fear is palpable. Fright of this magnitude is not often an instinct downloads possess.


“I would love to give you time to come to terms with what I have just told you, Leon, but time is something we do not have a lot of around here.” Though I’m finding I have had more than I’d like . . . “You must join your fellow recruits.”


I wheel over to the side of the door and hesitate before pushing the handicap button to open it. Even after three years, my body recoils at the idea of needing assistance to do something as menial as leave a room. Odin is surely laughing at me. Or at least he is in my imagination, the only place I know he truly resides.


Upon leaving my office, Leon follows at a safe distance, gazing at his plain and cold surroundings and breathing hard. Faint explosions fill the space, followed by the pop pop of rapid gunfire. The bulbs above us swing gently, and one dims before flickering out completely.


Leon stumbles through the corridor, flinching every time another round fires in the distance.

“Are we safe?” he pants.


“We are never safe. But for now, there is nothing to worry about.” I stop beside another room, this one with two tall steel doors.


“Open these,” I say to Leon.


He looks at me, then the doors, then back to me before dragging his feet toward them. He pauses with his hands on the knobs and glares at me. The look flashes hateful for a short moment. He opens the doors, and the hum of the central computer fills the hallway. Leon falls back a few steps as if the sound were accompanied by a gust of wind.


The computer fills the entire room, lights flash, and consoles beep. In the middle stands a thirty-foot tower, spinning vertically at such a rate one might think it wasn’t moving at all if not for the ungodly howl it makes. Leon’s mouth gapes as his head tilts up; his eyes follow the tower to the top. Electrical bolts shoot out sporadically up the length of it, illuminating the space with their blue and white flashes.


“What is this thing?” Leon takes tentative steps forward.


Your Earth.”


The lad spins around and cinches his eyebrows together. I continue, “Our Earth. And many others. This is the network hub of our program. Some who have come through have labeled it the Multiverse. But no matter what you call it, it is the thing that gave you and I and many of us here, life. Not simulated life, but real life. As limited as that life may be.”


“No. No. I don’t understand. One minute I’m in my car on my way to get a latte when I get t-boned by some jackass trucker, and the next, I’m lying naked on a metal shelf—like waking up in a morgue—then you’re telling me nothing in my life is real. And now this . . . this is supposed to be God? A 1960’s Star Trek set?” Leon shakes his head, then backs out of the room.


I wheel myself after him. “It is not God!” I say the words with more force than I intend an