LI: Sophomore Year #16 – Out of the Past Chp. 1

This entry is part 4 of 14 in the series Liedecker Institute Volume 5: Worst Subjects

In a corporate suite belonging to the shell corporation known as Luxan Microsystems, three teenaged girls gathered around a laptop for the mos unorthodox movie night of their lives.

Sitting in the center, her expression as blank as usual, Steampunk brought up the video player and started the file she wanted the others to see. To her left, Maya Blumberg and her—Steampunk was hesitant to use the word ‘pet’ for the little creature called Soot, but it was the best fit—pet fireling perched on a chair, shooting pensive glances at Steampunk and the third girl, Joy Duvall.

Joy had refused to sit, standing to Steampunk’s right with her arms crossed and a cross expression on her fuzzy face. Pouting, Steampunk estimated, though she wasn’t certain about the degrees of difference between pouting, sulking and passive aggression—no one seemed to have relevant reference material.

All the same, the file started playing, starting with a black screen with white lettering designating the video as part of the Generations Project’s archives, serial number MMV-230167A, retrieved from the personal effects of Erwin Straang, former Corporal in the German Army, serving 1930-1944. Video dated April 5, 1937. Confirmed authentic. Closed captioning had been added to translate from German to English and French.

The screen paused on the information for ten seconds before cutting to the black and white image of a cavernous room. The camera was panning around aimlessly, the occasional view of the ceiling revealing unfinished natural rock. At other times, banks of generators, arc lights, and men working at draft tables could be seen. At one point, a glimpse past the generators revealed the far side of what was most certainly a converted cave. An area had been cleared off around what appeared to be a classical stone arch, freestanding in empty space with wires crawling up its side to feed into something that looked like a large, metal bottle.

“Enns!” Someone barked. “Enns. Get that device under control.” The shot stabilized and slowly panned to orient on a bald man with a thick, bushy mustache sprouting from beneath his nose. He was stooped beyond his years and wore a heavy coat over a light button-down shirt and dark trousers. In his gloved hands, he was carrying three rolls of paper.

Giving the camera a sour expression, he shook his head. “I am disconcerted with command’s unnecessary focus on this particular technology.” His mouth movements didn’t match up quite right with the audio, but only Steampunk noticed, being the only one in the group who spoke German. She suspected an artifact of the audio being recorded separately. “Film is well and good for distributing information, but the secrets of the Society should not be recorded for posterity.”

“Your objections have been noted Doctor Boehler.” another voice, less confident than the man in front of the camera said, “But we also have our orders. This is to be recorded from start to finish.”

The man being called Boehler grunted and sat the rolls of paper down on the drafting table near him. “Of course. When we are on the cusp of performing the rite, we attract the attention of Command. But we have been on this mountain two years working and our requests are barely acknowledged. Son the entire continent will array against us, and the Fuhrer should know more than anyone that it through the Society’s actions, not those of his scientists that the Reich shall emerge victorious.”

Back in the room, Maya worried her bottom lip. “The Society? Do you mean the Thule Society?”

“Albert Boehler was a high-ranking member.” the other girl said. “He wrote a book on metaphysics in 1935—shortly before his disappearance.”

Maya could only mouth the word ‘disappearance?’ as the both returned their attention to the screen. The voice from off screen had just asked Boehler to explain what they were working on.”

“Very well.” Boehler said gruffly. “This way then.” He began walking and the camera followed, albeit slowly. Presumably, it was mounted on a hand truck. As Boehler walked, he started his explanation. “The object was recovered from a site in Spain formerly held by Moors. It is an iron flash measuring forty-five centimeters in height and twenty-eight centimeters at its widest circumference. Three iron bands encircle it and show no signs of welding or melting—they are solid in all dimensions. The mouth of the flask is stoppered by a lead plug encrusted by a single ruby engraved with what we believe is a crude attempt by the Moors to duplicate a sealing ritual.”

He emerged from the rows of generators into the open space around the arch. It was now easy to make out the flask mounted, inverted above the arch. It was also possible to see a complex of overlapping geometric shapes etched into the floor around it. Harsh lights illuminated the space, all but washing out Boehler as the camera came into their range.

“Inside the chamber the flask was found, there were carvings. As the Moors were incapable of anything resembling art and history,” He said with obvious disdain, causing the three girls, who had taken World History, to wonder what the hell he was talking about. “…we assume it was created b whoever the site was taken from.

“The carving depicted a burning humanoid figure being wrapped in ropes or chains by nude men and women while a very specific structure loomed in the background. We have been able to identify the structure as the Tor zu den Sternen as described in the Buch der Leidenschaften.”

“Why wasn’t that part translated?” Joy asked, suddenly reminding the other two she was still there.

Maya shrugged. “In Spanish class, we learned not to translate proper nouns. Maybe they’re specific things and knowing what they meant wouldn’t make a difference.”

On the screen, Boehler continued to explain the technical details of the device, how the ‘Tor’ required a targeting focus and they never had access to one until the flask fell into their hands.

“It is very clear that it is an energy source.” Boehler was saying, “At standard temperature and pressure, it is ten degrees warmer than the surrounding air. And the lower the environmental temperature becomes, the warmer the flask becomes.”

He gestured toward the flask where it was mounted and the camera slowly and jerkily zoomed in. A few film artifacts made the image jitter before it finally stabilized. Now off-camera, Boehler continued. “We have never attempted to integrate one mystical item with another before. There are no instructions on how to use a focus with the Tor. Therefore, we have married them using science: electrifying the Tor’s activation circle and connecting that to the ritual of unsealing. The result should be the formation of a gateway to the world beyond—the afterlife.

“And when every Reich soldier who dies is able to simply return to this world through the Tor, we will have an army never before seen: immortal and unstoppable.”

“Ugh.” Joy moaned. “Is it always super-soldiers? They say we all sort of came from the results of super soldier stuff, but did anyone do science back then do any science the wasn’t meant to make people weapons?”

Steampunk looked over at her and without a hint of irony stated. “The Manhattan Project.”

The fuzzy girl winced. “Anything that wasn’t for killing?”

“Project Whitecoat exposed soldiers to common diseases, attempted to inoculate them against said illnesses, and eventually harvested them for antibodies.”

Maya made a face and quietly asked, “Why would they do all of those things to innocent people.”

Again, without irony, Steampunk said, “Medical and scientific ethics were not a major issue until the late nineteen seventies and early eighties.”

“The past was horrible.” Maya squeaked. Joy nodded along.

Meanwhile on screen, several more men, most wearing honest-to-god dark, hooded robes had appeared from off-camera and were spreading something dry and dust-like around the arch from clay pots while chanting in what might have been Latin and certainly didn’t sound like German.

“What are they doing now?” Maya asked. Soot, who had been peeking out of her hair now hid in it, shivering slightly.

Steampunk gazed dully at the screen. This was the second time she’d seen the video and she had no idea.

“It looks like some kind of religious thing. Or maybe they think they’re casting a spell or something. He did say something about rites.” Joy leaned forward. “Sound creepy either way.”

After the chanter finished whatever they were doing, Boehler appeared again, now wearing a hood and cloak of his own. He carried a dagger with a wavy blade and took care to step over the dust the chanters had put down. He approached the arch, brandishing the dagger and shouting angrily, which the captions helpfully translated.

“Beast! Captured Fiend! You have been beaten. You have been bound. Your service is the price of your freedom. Serve us, Beast! Serve us, O Worm, O Crawling Thing. Your service for your freedom! Serve us. Open the Tor! Open the Way!”

At the same time, the audio started picking up heavy chunk noises. All three girls—even Steampunk—had seen old monster movies with mad scientists and know the sound of large knife switches being thrown. The generators surged and sparks burst from several dozen poor connections made to the flask.

“Listen to me, Beast! Crawl from your prison! Serve! Open the door!” Boehler roared above the din, raising the knife on high.

“Is this real” Joy asked. “This just got really weird.”

“It’s real.” Steampunk said without looking away.

More sparks burst from the flask and the arch suddenly rocked as if struck by a powerful, unseen blow.

Maya started breathing hard and reached up to retrieve Soot from her hair to hold him close. “Oh no.” she whispered. “It’s angry. I’ve never heard it angry before.”

“Huh?” Joy asked over Steampunk’s head.

Wide-eyed upon realizing she’d spoken aloud, Maya replied with a yelped, “N-nothing.”

On the screen, the flask shook in its mount. The brackets meant to hold it audibly groaned. The shift cause electricity to start visibly arching from the arch to the flask, which started to smoke.

“Fire.” the voice the girls assumed was Enns said from behind the camera. “Someone, is this supposed to happen? The floor…?” The camera tilted slightly to reveal smoke also rolling up from the floor, trails of the stuff following the patterns etched there.

Someone else took up the shout of fire and there was much shuffling behind the camera.

An irate Boehler, now being surrounded by rising smoke, rounded on them all. “Be still! Be still! This is a sensitive ritual! You will stay ba—”

It was at that point when the flask exploded with a deafening bang that overtook the sound track for several seconds. Boehler dove for cover, losing hold of the dagger in the process. The explosion caused the camera to jitter and dip until it was focused entirely on the floor.

Several minutes followed where only the floor was visible and all they could hear was cursing in German, left untranslated by the captions. Eventually, a new male voice started shouting. “Enns! Enns! The camera! Shoot, shoot, shoot.”

Once more, the camera jerked violently as it was righted. There was a split second view of Boehler trying to get up while at the same time crab-walking back toward the camera. Then the shot focused on what Boehler was crab-walking away from.

At first, it simply appeared as a silhouette in the smoke-haze, a dark hump that gathered itself and rose up to eight or nine feet in height if comparisons could be drawn between Boehler’s height and that of the arch in relation to the newcomer.

Then two arms lashed out and the smoke separated into streamers and bent away from the thing, leaving a clear path between it and Boehler.

It was shaped like a vaguely like a woman, albeit an impressively tall one. All the proportions were off: its hips jutting and pointed, as were its shoulders. Taken together with its impossibly high cheekbones and pointed chin and it looked like a being composed of downward-pointing triangles. Even in black-and-white, it was obvious the creature’s skin was metallic and more dull than shiny. Parts of it were smudged black, but aside from the sooty blast pattern, it wore nothing—but had no visible anatomy to warrant modesty. Manacles circled its wrists and ankles and the hands and feet so bound ended in claws.

And its hair was made of dancing flames.

“You are bound t serve, Beast!” Boehler shouted. At some point in the confusion, he’d gotten hold of the dagger again and waved it at the creature as if the mere possession of it should halt its advance. “You will open the Tor! You will follow my commands!”

Groping blindly behind him, he managed to find the camera truck’s edge and pull himself to standing. His shoulder partially blocked the girls’ view of the creature. They were still able to see its thin lips part to reveal twin rows of shiny, metallic teeth.

There was not translation provided for the rushing, hissing, crackling and roaring noises that issued forth from the thing’s (her?) nightmare maw.

Maya flinched and squeezed Soot to her. “I don’t want to watch anymore.” her voice quavered.

“This can’t be real can it?” Joy asked, casting a worried eye toward Maya. “You’re just playing us some dumb movie.”

“I-it’s real.” Maya murmured, starting to shake. “It’s really real. And she’s really mad.”

Steampunk regarded the creature’s impassive face. “How can you tell?”

No longer caring that the others knew she could understand what the thing was saying, Maya just started shaking her head. “Please turn it off. P-please, Alice; turn it off. I don’t want to s-see her burn them.”

Onscreen, the creature brought up its hands and clapped them together before it. Fire bloomed from its waist and swirled down in a miniature tornado that coiled down around its legs and lifted it into the air to loom over the still-shouting Boehler.

The visual image of the creature, it’s lower half trailing down in a swirling tail with manacles around the wrists clicked immediately with Joy. “Oh my god… it’s a genie.”

Maya became frantic now. “P-please turn it off. I don’t want to see her burn anyone. I don’t want to hear it!” With that,s he reached over and slammed the laptop closed. The video automatically stopped, plunging the suite into silence. Shivering, Maya sat back heavily in her chair, tears glistening but unshed. Her expression was one Steampunk and Joy had never seen on the shy girl. Rage.

“Why did you show us that?!” She screamed, her voice stronger than either of the other girls imagined it could ever be. “That was horrible, Alice! Just… just horrible! You were going to show us people being burned to death when you know…” She choked on the words. Mostly because she realized Steampunk might not have thought it was relevant.

She slumped, tears starting to roll down her face. “I-I can hear fire. Hear it talking—more like singing. My parents died in a fire. Ms. Brant and Ms. Masters say it wasn’t my fault, but I heard the flames anyway. I heard them… and they were so hungry and so happy and… it was awful.” She sniffed and raised her gaze to Steampunk’s. “P-please don’t make me watch that anymore.”

The blonde stared at Maya a long moment. Maya stared back, almost feeling that she could hear the ticking going on in the other girl’s head as she put information together. She was so engrossed that she almost screamed when a pair of fuzzy arms surrounded her.

“Oh Maya.” Joy said in a small voice. “That’s terrible. I’m so sorry.”

All Maya could do was nod and let the other girl hug her.

Meanwhile, Steampunk had finished thinking. “There is nothing else of value on that file. However, there is a second file, made ten years ago. It is relevant and no one is burned.” She hesitated, something Maya had rarely seen her do. “Will you watch? It is the file Joy Duvall needs to see.”

Her eyes met Joy’s. “It was made by her father.”

To Be Continued…

Series Navigation<< LI: Sophomore Year #15 – Steam Complex Chp. 3LI: Sophomore Year #17 – Out of the Past Chp. 2 >>

About Vaal

Landon Porter is the author of The Descendants and Rune Breaker. Follow him on Twitter @ParadoxOmni or sign up for his newsletter. You can also purchase his books from all major platforms from the bookstore
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