A man travels to an alternate world to find a lost artifact.
| THOR’S HAMMER
by Terrell Manasco
Asgoth stood on the side of a huge mountain, a cold north wind blowing his blonde hair across his face. He shivered and pulled his cloak tighter around his body, watching the snow falling silently across the valley. His breath vapor rose in little clouds from his lips as he stood there, his silver eyes scanning the huge landscape. He felt the familiar wave of nausea and closed his eyes for a moment until it passed. Just behind him the air shimmered like a desert mirage and the portal closed silently. He stood motionless, alone, now closed off to his world behind him. It would be days, weeks, perhaps even months or years before he could return home. He did not relish the thought.
As he began his trek around the mountainside, he thought of his wife and children, how he would miss them. He had been selected from among thousands to go through the portal, to enter this world. Only four had ever gone through before him.
None had ever come back.
He pushed the thoughts from his mind and continued around the mountain. The wind blew fiercely and his face stung from the cold. According to the holo-map in his pocket, there was a large cave a few kilometers from where he had arrived. The cave, and its contents, was the reason he was here. If he succeeded, his people, his world, would be free again. If he failed, they would all likely die.
Tugging the cloak tighter around him, he brushed away his hair from his face and scanned the mountainside for a sign of the cave. The snow was almost blinding in the afternoon sun and he was forced to squint in order to see. No sign of anything except rocks, boulders, a few trees. And snow.
Two hours passed and Asgoth had to stop and rest. He was exhausted and felt he could go no further. He found a large rock near a tree and sat down. His leggings felt damp inside his boots but he dared not remove them because of the cold temperatures. He must keep moving. Then he realized he hadn’t eaten since early that morning. Breakfast seemed days away but he knew it was only a few hours. Still he must keep up his strength. He had a few months supply of rations in his cloak, but it required heat, warmth. He had to find that cave first. Reaching into the folds of his cloak, he found the holo-map. Touching a tiny button on the front, he watched as it lit up in bright yellow and green colors. After doing a few calculations, he determined he was only forty or so kilometers from the cave. He shut off the power to the map and replaced it in his cloak. Then he started back on the mountain trail.
The sun was lower in the evening sky and the amber light was beginning to fade. He slowly treaded through the snow, which seemed to be getting deeper. Indeed it was now halfway up to his boots and he had to take large and high steps to keep moving. After awhile he was becoming tired again but he refused to stop until he found the cave. It had to be close by now. His breath was growing short and he felt the bitter cold deep in his lungs. His chest was beginning to ache. He forced his legs to keep moving and thought of the warmth of home. Of his family.
Then he saw it. Up ahead, past a group of large rocks, was the opening to the cave. The map was correct. Smiling like a child, taking a deep breath of the mountain air, he treaded on up the hilly slope, as the snow began to fall heavier. The path he had been following was now almost completely covered in it, but he had only a few more meters to go. As he neared the mouth of the cave he could see that just inside the entrance there was a small room with a low ceiling. On either side of the room were two more open doorways, which forked into separate paths. He stood for a moment at the entrance, his cloak now blanketed in snow. Shivering, he contemplated the task he was about to undertake. The enormity of what he had been chosen to do was staggering, yet the survival of his people, his world, depended on his success. He took one deep breath, crossed the threshold of the opening and stepped inside.
As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see that the walls were covered in strange writing, which appeared to have been carved into the rock itself. Asgoth could not determine what the language was, nor what the meaning of the strange symbols could be. He studied the markings for a while, but still could not make any logical sense from them. Whatever meaning they held, it must wait. He had a task to complete.
He stood in the center of the room, crouching because of the low ceiling. Which path should he take? Back home there had been a tale told around a fire of a great king who had been thrown into prison and had been forced to choose between two doors. Behind one was a beautiful lady who would free him and live as his wife forever. The other held a terrible beast with razor-sharp fangs that would be set loose and would tear his limbs apart. The story ended with the king choosing the wrong door and being ripped to shreds. After his death, the second door was opened. It too contained a beast. The king had been deceived because he had believed he had a chance, when in reality none existed. Asgoth did not wish to be deceived.
At first glance it had appeared that both paths were identical, however this was not the case. While one appeared to be almost a straight path, the other curved so that he could not see more than a few meters. He checked the holo-map again. It showed the path to the left as leading down a long corridor that ended in a dead end. The path to the right was the one he should follow. He searched his cloak, found a small black box, and pressed a button on the side. The box emitted a small beam of light that illuminated the interior of the room. He aimed it down the corridor and started walking. The corridor was rather narrow and several times he had to turn sideways to pass through it, and even then, he had to suck in his stomach once or twice. As he made his way through it, he had the feeling that he was walking slightly downhill. The ground appeared to be level but the sensation was that he was descending to a lower floor.
After several minutes he came to the T that the map showed and stopped dead still. He turned to the right and took ten more steps, then turned to the right again and aimed the light at the wall about eye level. The wall was now composed of large rectangular stones. One appeared to be of a slightly different coloration than the rest. He withdrew a small narrow pointed cylinder from his trousers and touched it to the stone. Immediately a bright tiny greenish colored beam emitted from its point and began slicing into the stone. He slowly guided the beam around the edges of the stone until he felt it loosen. Then he shut off the beam, replaced the cylinder in his trousers, and began tugging on the stone. In seconds he had it loose and he pulled it toward him. He was amazed at how heavy it was, and it took both hands to remove it and lower it to the floor. He dusted off his hands and stood up. Where the stone had been a moment ago, there was now a hole the same size as the stone. He aimed the light at the hole and saw a large wooden box covered in markings. He reached into the hole and took the box, pulled it out of the hole, and shined the light directly on it. He wiped a hand across the surface, displacing years, perhaps centuries of dust. It was covered in the same strange writing he had seen on the walls at the mouth of the cave. The box felt warm to the touch, though the room, and the entire cave itself, was rather cold. He studied it for a moment, his heart now racing, pounding like a hammer in his chest. His mouth was dry, and he also found he was having trouble breathing.
Turning the box over, he inspected the sides, top, and bottom. He had expected it to be locked, but strangely enough, he could find no such lock on it anywhere. He turned behind him and squatted down, carefully setting the box down on the floor of the cave. Holding the light in one hand, he gripped the lid of the box with the other and pried it open.
He could not believe what he saw. Inside the box was the very thing he had searched for, the object that could once again free his people, the device that would alter fate itself. He rubbed his eyes and beheld it, perhaps the only one of his kind to ever actually see it with naked eyes. He swallowed hard and reached out his hand. It appeared to be cylindrical, a little less than the same diameter of his wrist. It was composed of some type of silvery metal, with several dials and buttons encircling the middle. His fingers grazed its smooth glasslike surface, afraid to touch it, yet eager to do so at the same time. For years it had lain here, unknown by any being, untouched by any hands. Now he had found it. The treasure he had sought was within his grasp. And now he would use it to free his world.
Asgoth smiled as his fingers touched the smooth glassy surface. Though the box was warm, the device itself was cool to the touch. He gazed at it for a long time, still amazed that he had found it. Now he must return it to his world without being detected. He knew it would not be easy and that if he were discovered, he would not be allowed to live. He thought of the other four of his kind who had been sent here, who had come through the portal, and had never returned home. No word was ever heard from them. They had either been killed or had somehow been taken by force, but they had failed nevertheless. He shook his head. He would not fail. He would bring Thor’s Hammer back, and his people would be free again.
At that moment, approximately twenty kilometers outside the cave, in a small clearing, the air shimmered and three figures stepped through the portal .One appeared to be staring at some object in his hand. After studying it for a moment, he pointed toward the cave, and all three began walking in that direction.
Inside the cave, Asgoth reached into his cloak, withdrew a small black cloth bag, and carefully placed the box inside it. Then he closed the bag, tied it, turned on his light, and started back down the corridor. The box was rather heavy and he had to stop two or three times and catch his breath, but he kept going. He was almost to the end of the corridor when he heard a beeping sound within his cloak. He stopped, setting the bag on the ground, reached into his tunic and retrieved a small metallic cylinder. He held it near his mouth and spoke into it. “Yes?”
“Asgoth, our brave soldier. This is Vol. I have grave news, my friend,” the voice said.
“Speak now.” Asgoth’s heartbeat quickened as he spoke.
“The enemy has been alerted to our mission.”
“Are you certain? By whom?”
“We have discovered a spy in our ranks. He has been detained and will be dealt with accordingly. You are in much danger, my friend. You must hide quickly.”
“No, I will go back through the portal. Have someone standby for my arrival.”
“Asgoth, I am afraid that is not possible,” Vol said, his voice heavy with concern. “The Portal Room has been attacked. The doorway has been closed forever.”
“By the gods!” Asgoth said, unable to believe what he was hearing. “How can this be?”
“The Chancellor sent his men to find and destroy the Portal Room. Everything is gone. All of our work, our research, has been in vain. I am sorry, my old friend, but we have no way of bringing you back.”
“Surely you cannot abandon me here. There must be a way, Vol.”
“No, my friend. There is none. I am afraid all the equipment has been destroyed.”
“This is unacceptable. There must be a way to bring me back. If the Chancellor knows about the portal, then he must know I have gone through it.
“That is precisely why you must not be found,” Vol said. “If the device were to fall into their hands…there is no end to the havoc they could wreak. To have that kind of power at their disposal….”
Asgoth heard a crackle and suddenly the transmission went dead. He replaced the transmitter back inside his tunic and picked up the bag containing the box. He must find a way to get out of here alive.
Outside three figures approached the mouth of the cave.
The sun was setting, night was falling, and Asgoth was growing tired. The bag he was carrying now seemed to have doubled its weight and his back was beginning to ache. He pushed forward, sometimes carrying, sometimes dragging, the bag containing the device, hoping that soon he would see the opening to the low-ceilinged room. Time seemed to have stopped and he prayed he would be able to keep going without collapsing from sheer exhaustion. Drops of sweat begin to pour from his head, into his eyes, down his temples and his back, and in no time at all his clothes were damp, in spite of the cold. He could feel a draft around his legs so he surmised he was getting close to the entrance. Then he thought he heard a noise, a tiny scraping sound, and he stopped dead in his tracks. Leaning against the wall of the cave, he dared not to breathe. His heart beat so fiercely in his chest that he was sure it could be heard outside the walls of the cave. He waited, his breath stalled in his lungs, his heart pounding like a war drum. There was only silence. Finally he exhaled, relieved, but as he stooped to pick up the bag he heard a distinct thump from outside. Taking a step forward, slowly, taking care to make no sound, he reached in his cloak and withdrew a small octagonal black ball with dials and buttons. Listening carefully, he tapped the buttons in a certain sequence and waited. A tiny red light began to pulse on the ball. He slowly made his way up the corridor, holding the ball in one hand, the bag in the other. His arms ached now from carrying it this far. Finally he reached the area where he had first entered the corridor. He stopped. Silence. He gripped the objects tightly in both hands and stepped forward into the low-ceilinged room. Something in the darkness caught his attention and he almost dropped the black ball. He opened his eyes wide to adapt to the darkness and what he saw made him lose his breath.
The figure of a man stood silhouetted in the moonlight, in the entrance to the cave.
He felt the wind blow cold around his legs and he pulled the cloak tighter around him. Earlier he had thought of building a fire in the cave for warmth, but had reconsidered lest he be found. It appeared he had been found regardless.
Asgoth stood silent and motionless, not daring to move one muscle. The figure also did not move. Then he cleared his throat and spoke.
“Who is there?” he said. His voice had a certain authority. Asgoth did not answer. The man spoke again. “Who is there? I can smell your fear.”
“ I am Asgoth. Who are you?”
“Your speech betrays you, my friend. You are not from this world,” the man said.
“That is no concern of yours.”
“Ah, that is where you are wrong, my friend, As-goth. You see, this is my land you are standing on.”
“That is a lie,” Asgoth said.
“Perhaps,” the man said in a calm clear voice. “But the device you have stolen does not belong to you.”
“Nor does it belong to you. But if you value your life, you will go your way and let me pass.”
“I think not, my friend As-goth. I think tonight I will kill you and take it from your warm dead body.”
“You may try,” Asgoth said, a coldness in his tone, “but I give you my word that if you do, you will not live to use it.”
“That is bold talk for such a nervous man. Even if you could kill me, I have friends outside who can vaporize you if you try to escape. Is that what you want? Come now, As-goth, let us reason this thing together. Perhaps we can arrange a deal. Eh?”
“Step aside. I will not say it again.”
“You fool,” the man said, spitting his words. “You have no idea of what you possess. Cities have been brought to ruin over it. Entire kingdoms have been decimated because of it. Worlds have been destroyed because men coveted it. You dare to even think you can take it as your own. You have much to learn.” The man reached into his clothing for something but before he could draw a weapon, Asgoth, still holding the black octagonal device in one hand, secretly touched a switch with one finger, engaging a timer, and tossed the object at the stranger, then turned and dove back toward the corridor entrance. As the man’s hand came out with the weapon the ball landed at his feet. His concentration was lost for a brief moment and he instinctively looked down at his feet. Asgoth caught a glimpse of him as the cave was lit up, his eyes so wide they almost popped out of his head. A second later the thermonuclear device detonated, erupting in a horrific ball of fire that shook the cave violently, blowing out the front wall and part of the ceiling, and scattered debris in all directions. Asgoth landed on his side on the cave floor as particles of dirt, rock, snow, and body parts rained all around him. He lay there for a few moments, his side aching where he had landed on it, and waited for the clouds of dust to clear. He heard voices, perhaps two or three, he wasn’t sure, shouting outside the cave. He rolled over on his back, propped up on his elbows, and surveyed the damage. Most of the cave entrance was gone, only a small piece of the opening remaining. Dense clouds of black smoke filled the air and he had to hold his breath to avoid choking. He closed his eyes for a second and when he opened them, the smoke had begun to clear. Above him the stars twinkled like ten thousand tiny diamonds. The shouts were getting closer and he quickly grabbed the bag and got to his feet. Two dark figures were approaching fast, both carrying electric torches like his. Not good.
“Don’t let him escape,” one said to the other in a deep voice.
“Don’t worry. He won’t get past me,” his partner said.
“You have killed Galen. For that alone you are not worthy to live,” the first man said.
“I offered him a chance to step aside. He foolishly did not take it,” Asgoth said.
“Give us the device you are carrying and I promise you a swift and painless death. However if you refuse, I will personally see to it that you are tortured for weeks before you are allowed to die.”
“Why should I give it to you? So you can take it back to the Chancellor and he can rule us forever, killing us by the thousands as he does now?”
“Do not speak evil of the Chancellor or you may find yourself without a tongue to speak with,” the second man said. “ He is our ruler after all.”
“He is a butcher,” Asgoth said, spitting the words out. The second man drew his weapon but the first man grabbed his partner’s arm to stop him.
“Do you even realize what you have there? Do you realize the power in your hands? None of us is even worthy to wield such power. We are not fit to even touch it. Only our Chancellor deserves to have it. I offer you one last chance to give it up. If you do not, I vow to you now, you will soon meet Galen, the man you have slain.”
Asgoth stood still, watching the two men, their faces barely visible in the moonlight. He turned his head slowly, studying the land, his silver eyes recording every hill, every mountain, every rock and tree. He thought of the four who had come before him, the four who had left family and friends behind, to come here to this world in the hope that one day, tyranny would die in their own, and had vanished like a vapor on the wind. Were they now dead? Had they died in vain?
“Make your choice now, my friend. Our patience has ended.” Asgoth saw now in the moonlight they were carrying plasma blasters.
“I don’t think I will let you kill me tonight,” he said in a calm voice. He had the box now tucked under his arm, the fabric of the bag wrapped tightly around it. Calmly he undid the clasp of his cloak, laying it across his arm. As he did so a pair of wings unfolded from his back and as they gracefully spread open and began flapping, he slowly rose from the ground. The men aimed and fired but nothing happened. As he rose in the air underneath the black velvet canopy of stars, Asgoth heard a faint humming sound from within the bag he was carrying. The men were shooting, or trying to shoot at him, but it seemed their weapons were powerless. He didn’t fully understand the power of Thor’s Hammer, but he knew somehow it had something to do with why he was still alive. Those blasters should’ve ripped me apart, he thought. He twisted his body, wings now flapping rapidly, and soared high over their heads away from them as they stood helplessly and watched his figure shrink smaller and smaller until he was a tiny dot behind the moonlit clouds.
“He was one of the winged mutants. Why were we not told this? The Chancellor will not be pleased,” the second man said.
“He will have us both executed,” his companion said, then turned and fired a single plasma bolt at his partner, which, upon reaching its target, exploded into a fireball that ripped the flesh off both men simultaneously.
From above the clouds Asgoth heard the explosion, saw the huge ball of fire light up the night, and continued onward, flying like a large eagle over the snow-covered valley toward the mountains.
Asgoth awoke early the next morning to the crackling of his communicator radio. He opened his eyes and looked up. He was lying on a blanket on the floor. Then he remembered finding this place last night after he’d escaped the two men at the cave. There had been an explosion just after he’d taken off but he wasn’t sure what had caused it. He had continued flying onward for several hours until he’d spied what he thought was an abandoned cabin here in the snowy mountains. Tired, cold, and hungry, he had landed nearby and cautiously approached it. A bearded old man with white hair had greeted him at the door and after reassuring him that he, Asgoth, only needed a night’s rest, the old man had allowed him to come in and bed down for the night. After talking for a bit, he had learned the old man’s name was Azmael. Beyond that, he was unable to learn much more about his new host. Azmael had offered him a hot meal of venison, and after their meal was done Asgoth had been allowed to warm himself by the fire while Azmael prepared a bed for him in front of the fire. He was so tired he had fallen asleep the moment he lay his head down on the pillow.
The next morning Azmael awakened him just before sunrise and they ate a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs. After they had finished eating, Azmael sat in a chair, smoking a long pipe and spent several moments staring at him. Finally he removed the pipe from his mouth, blew out a smoke ring, and said, “Asgoth, I may be old, but I have seen many things. I am not a stupid man. I know you are not from here, and I know someone came looking for you. Your business is your own, but my advice is to keep moving.”
“What do you know? Who has talked to you?” Asgoth said, growing suspicious.
The old man held up a gnarled hand, palm out, and said, “I mean you no harm, my young friend. I have spoken to no one else, nor have they to me. I live here on this mountain, all alone, and I do not concern myself with the affairs of others. But if I am able to help someone who is in trouble, I will do so. So tell me, Asgoth, why are you here?”
Asgoth sighed, looking into the old man’s eyes. “Have you ever heard of Thor’s Hammer?” he said.
Azmael nodded slowly, puffing on his pipe again. “Yes, I have heard of it. Legend says it was buried here a thousand years ago.”
“What can you tell me about it?”
Azmael stared back at Asgoth for a long time. “It is said that Thor’s Hammer has the power to alter the space-time continuum.” His eyes seemed to be boring into Asgoth’s. “Whoever has it would have the ability to travel backward in time. It was supposed to have been created by the Norse gods eons ago. Legend says it was stolen by Loki, the adopted son of Odin and a member of the Frost Giants of Jotunheim, who then attempted to use it to become ruler of Asgard. Odin was so angry that he stripped Loki of his powers and banished him to the outer realms of Asgard forever. Odin then tossed the hammer into space and it is said that it finally came to rest here in our world.” He leaned forward, gazing at Asgoth closer. Lowering his voice, he said, “You have found it.” Asgoth’s eyes fell to the floor and he for a moment he regretted asking any questions about the device. Azmael saw the look on his face. “Don’t worry, my friend. Your secret is safe with me.” He smiled a sad little smile. “ I am an old man, Asgoth. I have seen much in my few years alive here. Even if I wanted to tell your secret, no one wants to listen to an old man. I live alone here in this cabin. I do not venture out except to purchase food and supplies. No one visits me for I have no family. None alive anyway. So you can see, anything you have told me will remain here in this room. But if you want my advice, I would suggest that you do not delay here much longer. I have heard of men who have come here looking for this very thing. I know of four who have disappeared since they arrived here.”
“Yes. I have not seen them, but a few times when I was out buying food in the markets, I overheard talk of these men. It is said that they came here from another world through some sort of dimensional portal or wormhole in space. I do not know if that is true, but I have heard that they came looking for this Thor’s Hammer but have not been seen nor heard of since they arrived.” He gazed off into the fire for a long time before speaking again. “Asgoth,” he said at last, “why do you want to possess this…thing….so badly?”
Asgoth looked directly into Azmael’s eyes. “My people are dying, Azmael. Hundreds, thousands, killed every single day. Our leader, our Chancellor, was an honorable man. He did much for our people. But he was assassinated two years ago and his successor is an evil man. A murderer.” He looked away for a moment to compose himself but when he spoke again the venom was still in his voice. “He hates all our people. He has no tolerance for those whom he sees as different. He has them marched into the public square every day and shot dead. My wife and children were to be killed but we have hidden them where he cannot find them. But I know one day they will be found, and then they will be killed, as will I. That is why the four men you spoke of came here. They were sent by my people to find this thing so that it can be used to change everything that has happened. That is why I came here, and why I must bring it back.” His com-radio crackled inside the folds of his cloak and he heard his name spoken faintly. He looked at the old man for a moment. Asmael nodded. He understood now.
The radio crackled again and again he heard a voice calling his name. Snatching the cylinder from his cloak, he held it to his lips. “I’m here, Vol.”
“Asgoth, my friend. I am so glad to hear your voice. Are you well?” His voice sounded faint and tinny through the static.
“I am alive, Vol, and that is what matters. Have you found a way to bring me home?”
“I am sorry, my friend. Our people are working diligently even now to find a way but so far have been unsuccessful. After the portal was destroyed, our satellites lost your coordinates so we are unable to track you.” Vol said nothing else for a moment or two and Asgoth wondered if he’d lost contact again. Then his voice came back, this time a little stronger and somewhat clearer. “Asgoth, have you located the device?”
Asgoth sighed. “No,” he said. “It was not there.” Azmael looked at him with a pair of arched eyebrows.
“Not there? Are you sure your maps are accurate? Did you search the right place?”
“I am certain, Vol. Thor’s Hammer has been located by someone else. I am afraid…I have failed the mission,” Asgoth said. There was silence on the other end for a few moments. Then he heard Vol sigh.
“Do not blame yourself, my friend. We did all we could do,” he said.
“Yes. Just do whatever you can to bring me home.”
“I will, Asgoth. But I cannot make any promises. Until we speak again, be well.” He was gone, his voice now replaced with the hiss of static.
“Yes,” Asgoth said to himself and to Azmael. “I intend to.”
“I cannot make any promises,” Vol was saying into the radio. “Until we speak again, be well.” He shut off the transmitter and turned to the older man standing next to him.
“It has been recovered by Galen and his men, sir,” he said.
The man nodded, smiled, and patted him on the shoulder. “Good work, Vol. I’ll make sure you get a promotion for this.” He started toward the door.
“Thank you Chancellor. I am very grateful. What should I do about Asgoth?”
The Chancellor touched his chin, thought for a moment and said, “Nothing. He still thinks the portal is gone, correct? Let him stay there.” He closed the door and was gone.
“Yes, sir,” Vol said to the empty room.
Asgoth stood in the doorway, his hand clasped in Azmael’s. The old man spoke first.
“You have a long journey ahead of you, Asgoth. I know you must be on your way. If you tarry here much longer, you will be found. I wish you and your people well, and I hope to see you again one day.”
“Thank you, Azmael. And thank you for your hospitality. I must be going now.” Azmael nodded and said nothing else as Asgoth pulled up the hood of his cloak and stepped out into the snow. He walked onward several steps and turned around to look back. Azmael stood inside, peering out the window, his age-lined face now slightly red. He waved a hand and Asgoth mirrored the gesture, then continued walking on for a while across the mountainous slope. The cabin now seemed no larger than his little finger and in no time it was gone. Clusters of slate-gray clouds hid the morning sun and a part of him was glad. With no direct sunlight, he was less apt to cast shadows. Closing his eyes, he removed his cloak and focused his mind on opening his wings. He felt them stir on his back and spread open wide. Tightly holding the cloak, which contained the device, he flapped his wings slowly, majestically, rising upward, and was soon high in the air over the mountain.
Though he had been cold a few moments ago, a warmth now surged through his body as he flew high over the valley, swooping across the snowy plains, often climbing high through the clouds, sometimes dipping so low he could almost touch the ground. Wings flapping gallantly, he looked like a great bird soaring across the winter sky. In minutes he was approaching the cave where the three men had approached him last night. Now flying lower to the ground, he noticed a scorched place on the earth as he passed a grove of trees. That’s where it happened. One of them must have fired his plasma blaster and killed them both. Swirls of white smoke rose from the bare spot where the men had vaporized in the explosion. Asgoth slowed his wings and gracefully descended to the ground in front of the cave. A shame I couldn’t have just flown here before when I came through the portal. Don’t want to attract any attention either. People in this world are probably not accustomed to seeing winged mutants flying around. He reached inside his tunic, grasped a tiny metal square imbedded in the skin between his chest, and yanked hard. He yelped from the pain, but the disc did not fully detach. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes and yanked again, this time dislodging it as well as part of his skin. He fell to his hands and knees, one hand holding the disc, the other holding his chest, which now dripped small droplets of blood. Biting his upper lip, he slowly stood upright and walked over to where the ground was blackened and still smoking. With a good deal of satisfaction, he tossed the disc into the smoldering embers, watching it slowly melt into liquid metal. After awhile he wrapped the cloak around his body, then turned and started walking back toward the mountain.
Vol sat in his chair smoking a cigarette, his eyes glued to the view screen, his face lit by the eerie greenish glow. For several minutes he had been watching a familiar series of blips as he tracked the signal. Then, without warning, the signal was gone. Just vanished. He blinked through the smoke of the cigarette and leaned in closer to the screen. Still nothing. Swearing under his breath, he turned to the dark-haired uniformed young man seated next to him. “Corporal, did you see that?” he said.
“Sir?” the young man said in a rather squeaky-sounding voice.
Jabbing a finger at the screen he said, “The signal is gone. We just lost it. Check your instruments.”
“Yes sir,” was the reply. Squinting through his thick glasses, he did a careful check. After a moment he said, “All instruments operating at normal capacity, sir.”
“Then something has happened. Calibrate the equipment immediately.”
“Sir, you’re not thinking of going through-“
“Mind your post, soldier. Notify me as soon as the calibrations are complete.”
“Yes sir.” The corporal turned back to his duties as Vol stood and began pacing the room. Something had to be wrong. The tracking signal was there, then gone a second later. It didn’t make any sense. Either there was an equipment malfunction or…
“Sir, I have calibrated all the equipment.”
“Excellent. Begin aligning the portal,” Vol said, exhaling blue smoke.
The young man stared back with a blank look on his face for a moment. “Yes sir,” he said, turning back to the console. As he began working the controls, flipping this switch, moving that lever, punching this series of buttons, a faint hum arose inside the room. Overhead lights blinked red off and on, while a sign on the door in big black letters on a yellow background read: CAUTION: PORTAL ALIGNMENT IMMINENT. STAND CLEAR AT ALL TIMES. The humming grew louder as a series of inner walls, hidden from view, began moving slowly into position. Vol felt the floor vibrate under his feet where he stood. He reached out and touched the slick metal walls, feeling their hum beneath his fingers. The effect was hypnotic and he instinctively closed his eyes for a second or two. After what seemed like an hour but in reality was only ten minutes or so, the humming subsided, the flashing red lights slowed, and the young corporal turned around and looked at him through his stupid Coke-bottle glasses.
“Sir. The portal has been aligned,” he said. His voice had lost its awkward, boyish quality and now sounded more like a grown man’s.
“Good. Good job, Corporal,” Vol said, stubbing out his cigarette in a nearby ashtray. “Open it.” The soldier pressed a single button and instantly there was a loud groan as the huge six-inch thick slab of a door slid open. A cloud of white smoke that smelled of sulphur billowed through the opening, obscuring his vision for a moment. As the smoke began to dissipate, he could make out the faint outline of a man’s figure standing in the open doorway. His eyes widened in recognition.
“Hello Vol,” Asgoth said.
Vol initially appeared shocked, then a smile crept across his face. “Asgoth, my friend,” he said. ‘Thank the gods you made it back. We have only now managed to open the portal back up.”
“Yes, I see.,” Asgoth said without smiling. “Did you not tell me the room and all the equipment was destroyed?”
Vol appeared slightly flustered but quickly recovered. “Yes. It was destroyed. Everything was gone. We salvaged enough material from our auxiliary unit to rebuild it. None of that matters now, Asgoth. You are home. We have brought you back.”
“Yes. I am home. Where is the Chancellor?” Asgoth said, his eyes scanning the room.
“The Chancellor? Oh, I suspect he is conducting his usual business. Why do you ask?”
“I must speak with him.” Asgoth’s right hand began to move slowly inside the folds of his cloak.
“Of course. And what is the nature of your business with him?” Vol said, lighting another cigarette. “He is a very busy man.”
“It is very urgent that I speak with him.” He turned away slightly so that his body was now at an angle, his right side facing the opposite wall, away from Vol. His right hand, now gripping the device, was now obscured from Vol’s view.
“Then perhaps you should tell me and I can relay the message to him?” Vol said, exhaling smoke. As he spoke the last words, Asgoth , gripped the device in both hands and swung hard at Vol. There was a sickening thud as it connected with his head. Blood spurted from a small hole in his temple and he was knocked clear across the room, crashing into a small console. The young corporal leaped to his feet and was reaching for his sidearm when Asgoth turned toward him and swung again, smashing into his forehead, shattering his glasses which went flying off, and splattering blood across the console, floor, and the young man’s face. He spun around, his back to Asgoth, and dropped like a stone. Asgoth turned back to where Vol lay, moaning softly on the floor. The side of his head was covered in blood and a large reddish-purple bruise surrounded one eye.
“Call him. Now,” Asgoth said. Vol’s head rolled slowly from side to side and he moaned again. Asgoth shrugged and walked around him to the com-panel and pressed a red button.
“Yes?” came a pleasant female voice.
“I would like to speak with the Chancellor.”
“He is unavailable-“
“Tell him it’s Asgoth. Tell him I have Thor’s Hammer.”
There was a brief pause. He could hear her turn away from the mouthpiece for a moment. It sounded as if she were speaking excitedly to someone else in the room. When she spoke again her voice was all business. “The Chancellor will meet with you at any location you choose.”
“The Portal Room.” He glanced over at the young soldier who now lay still, face down in a pool of blood.
There was another pause as she relayed the message to the other person in the room, probably the Chancellor himself. Then she said, “Agreed. He will meet you there in ten minutes.”
Asgoth stared at the console where the young corporal had been sitting. “I will be waiting,” he said and started toward it.
Nine minutes passed and Asgoth waited patiently for the sound of footsteps outside in the hallway. Leaning against the wall near the console where the corporal lay unconscious, he closed his eyes, going over every detail in his mind. No second chances. I have to make this one count, he thought. He heard Vol stirring on the other side of the room and opened his eyes. He was sitting in the floor, back to the wall, his head leaning back against it, one blood-covered hand holding the side of his head.
“I suppose it would be a waste of breath to suggest that you abandon your plan,” Vol said in a quiet voice.
Asgoth said nothing, only stared at him with cold eyes.
“You really can’t win this one, Asgoth.” Still no response. “Don’t you realize who he is? You know what he has done. You have seen your people, our people , die. Only a fool would go up against him.”
Footsteps in the hallway. Now getting closer.
“Yes,” Asgoth said. “And I am that fool.”
The door opened slowly and two dark-suited men stepped inside and promptly took stations on either side of the door. Two more stood just outside. The Chancellor appeared, dressed in a gray suit, hands in his pockets, and stepped in between the other two men.
“Hello Asgoth,” he said.
He looked around the room. “Where’s Vol?” he said.
“Over here, sir,” Vol said from his spot on the floor.
The Chancellor nodded. “Alright, let’s get down to business. What do you want, Asgoth?”
Asgoth smiled. “What do I want?” His arm was behind him.
“Yes, what’s your price?” He looked around the room. “You do have Thor’s Hammer, right? I assume these two men aren’t laying down in the floor for their health? So name your price. Come on, how much?”
“Fifty million dollars.”
The Chancellor opened his eyes wider. “Fifty mill- why I ought to have you…” He caught himself and smiled. “Alright. How do you want it and when?”
“On second thought, Mr. Chancellor, I don’t think fifty million will cover all the suffering, the grief my people have been through. I just don’t think it’s enough to bring back seventy thousand, ninety thousand, a hundred thousand lives. What do you think?”
The Chancellor looked at the man on his left, then the one on his right and gave a small, almost imperceptible nod. As they reached into their coats, Asgoth pressed a single button on the console behind him. There was a hum in the room and he felt the familiar vibrations under his feet. The two men in black suits charged at him and he met them both, swinging the heavy device like an ax. The first swing caught one off guard and he was struck in the face, breaking his nose with a sickening crack. The second man attempted to deflect the blows but howled in pain as one smashed into his wrist, snapping the bone. Asgoth swung again, this time landing one in the middle of his forehead, splattering blood on the floor and wall. The man went down fast, landing on his back, not moving. His partner with the broken nose aimed his sidearm at Asgoth’s head but another swing knocked the weapon out of his hand, snapping three fingers in the process. One more swing caught him in the throat and he clutched it with his good hand, struggling to breathe, before passing out next to the other man. Asgoth looked down at the two unconscious men, his chest heaving, face wet with sweat, then looked up at the Chancellor, who was yelling for his guards out in the hall. The hum was much louder now and Asgoth could almost see in his mind’s eye the inner walls moving, sliding, locking into position. The Chancellor was banging on the door with his fist and yelling again but apparently to no avail. They can’t hear him. It’s too loud. The humming’s too loud. Vol stared blankly from his position, his hair and the side of his head now caked in dried blood. The Chancellor turned around, facing Asgoth, sheer rage in his eyes. And something else. Fear.
“Give me that thing,” the Chancellor yelled.
“You have dealt with me falsely,” Asgoth said, taking a step backward. The floor was vibrating so much that he could feel it up to his teeth.
“It’s mine. Give it to me now and you can walk away from here.
“You are not worthy to possess it.” Another step back.
“How dare you speak to me as if I were a dog! Give me that thing now or I will have you shot and hang your body upside down on a twenty-foot pole so the whole world can see what a gutless coward you are.” He was moving toward Asgoth, spitting his words out, his eyebrows furrowed, eyes blazing.
“Here, take it,” he said. The Chancellor lunged for it and Asgoth pivoted sideways, grabbing hold of the man’s lapel and shoving him toward the door, which was now sliding open. A blast of cold arctic wind blew through the door, almost blowing them both against the far wall. The Chancellor grabbed the side of the door and held on, jerking, twisting, spitting vile words in his face. “Stop!” he was screaming. “Let me go or I will kill you right now!” Asgoth held on tight, his face distorted in a grimace, hair blowing across his now reddened face, summoning every last bit of strength he could muster, pushing, pulling, trying desperately to shove him through the doorway. As the humming sound grew to almost ear-splitting level, there was a gut-wrenching yell behind them and Asgoth felt something slam hard into them both and the Chancellor was yanked away from his grip. Asgoth saw him thrown forward, arms flailing, legs kicking widly, mouth open in a horrible scream that chilled him to the bone, watched partly with horror, partly with satisfaction, as the leader of his world was shoved headlong through the portal, the bitter cold winds ripping his clothes apart, disappearing into the vast blackness on the other side. Vol let go of Asgoth and, holding on to the wall with all his might, staggered over to the console, gripping it tightly, the fingers of one hand dancing madly across the controls. The massive steel door slid shut with a loud hiss and the teeth-chattering humming slowly began to subside. Vol leaned back against the control panel, his chest heaving, hair caked with dried blood and matted to his forehead, one eye now purple and swollen badly. He looked down at the floor, then up at Asgoth. He opened his mouth to say something and the other door was yanked open and the two men in the hallway rushed in, weapons drawn.
“Where is the Chancellor?” one demanded. He looked at Vol, then down at the young corporal still out cold on the floor, and finally at the first two men dressed in dark suits.
“He left,” Vol said.
“Left?” the man repeated. “How?”
“Through the door, of course,” Vol said. Asgoth rapped the side of his leg a few times with the device. The men looked at him, then back at their two bloody and unconscious partners on the floor, at each other, shrugged, then turned around and walked out.
Vol looked at Asgoth. “Where is he now?” he said.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t really know. Hopefully somewhere that he can’t commit the atrocities he did here.”
Vol nodded. “He will not be back then.”
“Perhaps we should destroy this place, just to make sure.”
“Perhaps we should.” Asgoth pursed his lips. Vol?”
“He had Chancellor Kennedy killed. So he could be Chancellor himself. Right?”
Vol nodded. “Yes.”
“I see.” Asgoth pursed his lips. “One more question?”
“You just answered that.”
“No, I mean, why?” he repeated. Vol nodded slowly, understanding this time.
“ I don’t know, Asgoth. Perhaps I was caught up in the sheer power of it all. He promised me that and much more if I would help him get it back. Sometimes a man loses himself when he’s offered too much. I suppose I woke up.” He glanced down at the device in Asgoth’s hand. “With a little help,” he said, grinning.
“I am glad I could help.” He sighed and held up the device. “It is a shame five of us went through the portal after this thing so we could alter the timeline so he would never become Chancellor. And we didn’t even get to use it.”
Vol smiled and rubbed his temple. “You used it.” He shook his head. “I never liked him anyway.” Both laughed at that. “So who do you think will be the next Chancellor?”
Asgoth shrugged. “Well I don’t want the job.” He looked at Vol’s swollen eye. “And you’re too ugly.” Both men laughed again.
“You’d make a great leader. You could lead us anywhere.” He nodded toward Asgoth’s back where his wings lay folded and hidden.
“Think of the fuel you’d save with those things.”