Sirwin
Sirwin

Nostalgia for Valhalla - Chapter 3

By RTBreach | R.T. Breach | 10 Feb 2023


Vision darkening. Voices jibber-jabber. Hands clutch and grab. Grunting and speaking. Overwhelmed by the cold, it loses consciousness. The voice fades. Blackness engulfs the avatar. The craft wants to tip over. A burly man manages not to capsize it. They lay a pale, naked young man across nets and ropes, covering him with a malodorous tarp.

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“Who is it?” Sven, the younger fisherman, asked.

“I don’t recognize him,” Bjorn, Sven’s uncle, replied.

“Why is he naked? What happened to his clothes? He wouldn’t last but a few moments in the sea before freezing to death. Where’s his shipwreck?” After a furtive glance around them, Sven eyed the castaway, eyebrow cocked. “Or was he thrown overboard?”

Shaking his head, Bjorn replied, “If he lives, he can tell us himself. Let’s get him back. Warm him up and see if he can’t give us an explanation.”

The man lying across their furled nets lay motionless except for his chest moving. Sven seated himself back on the center bench and took up the oars. Bjorn surveyed the misty, gray sea. On any other day, they would row out, far from land, and drop their nets. Typically, about then, the mist evaporates, leaving the air clear. The land is easy to find under those conditions. One gazed around and saw the fjord rocks. Upon closer inspection, generations-old landmarks like odd boulders and crisscrossed trees showed where home lay.

Bjorn wished he had a lodestone. Navigation would be much easier with something pointing the way. Since he spent the vast majority of his life at sea rather than on land, it’s hard to find one. He could barter for one from a tinker. They didn’t come cheap or often. Word around the village rumored things were looking up, though. Early reports from across the sea said winter had been mild. A lot of merchandise would come their way for trade. In the meantime, instinct sufficed for navigation. He raised an arm, pointing which way for Sven to aim the boat.

Bjorn and his family fished for a living. Hunters of the sea. He’d done it since his earliest childhood memories. Before him, his father culled the sea all his life. Bjorn’s oldest son, Pal, apprenticed with the blacksmith, though. Pal doesn’t enjoy fishing for sustenance. Knut, Bjorn’s youngest son, on the other hand, loved going out on a boat. Soon, he will be old enough to work with his father and Sven, hauling in the day’s catch. Bjorn’s wife, Grete, came from a long line of southern fishermen. She’s all a fish wife could be: tough, diligent, skilled, and dedicated. She possessed valley-renowned nimble fingers, mending nets and weaving sails with the best.

Bjorn wasn’t sure what to make of this stranger. How could they find him out here, still alive? It’s straight out of the sagas of the Aesir. Could it be a demigod lying here? The last time a stranger came through, he tried to rape one of Ragnar’s daughters.

The girl saved herself by killing the man with a knife she hid in a boot. Bjorn hadn’t even known she always kept a knife there. This new stranger, though, is by far more of a mystery. And not very threatening. How DID he survive the freezing water?

From what Bjorn saw of him before they covered him up, there wasn’t a single marking or tattoo or piercing anywhere on his skin. Bjorn’s eyes met Sven’s, who raised an eyebrow.

“You know what I’m thinking, don’t you?” Sven asked as he hauled on the oars.

“I think so,” Bjorn replied, face darkening. “But Odin keeps telling me we’ve found someone more than a man.”

Sven shook his head. “I just don’t want it coming back on us if this man is out of his mind. The constable warned all of us about strangers. We’ll have to--”

Waving a hand, Bjorn spat, “I know what he said. We’ll keep him in the boat. I’ll get Lars to approve of his presence temporarily. I’d imagine the tribunal must give a final decision.” Pointing at Sven, he said, “You’ll stay with him until I return.” Bjorn shrugged as he eyed the stranger. “They must consecrate strangers in case there’s something supernatural about them we’re overlooking. Otherwise, how the hell could they know the crazies from the not-crazies anymore than the rest of us?”

Bjorn glimpsed the shoreline near their village. “Okay, well, we’re going in the right direction.”

He leaned forward, studying the man’s skin. It’s less blue than before. That’s a good sign.

He nudged the young man. “Are you awake, stranger?”

No response. Bjorn reached out and pried the stranger’s right eyelid open with thumb and forefinger. The motionless eye sat half rolled back into the man’s head. He snatched his hand away. He should’ve been dead, if not almost frozen. Yet, he is warm as any person.

The stranger moaned. His eyes flickered open to squinted slits. Methodically, he moved his head around, taking in the scene, scanning Sven and Bjorn.

Bjorn smiled down at him. “Hello, friend. Can you understand me?”

The man stared blankly, glanced around, resettling his gaze on Bjorn.

After a moment, Bjorn said, “That’s alright, you came out of the sea a short time ago. It isn’t good letting a person sleep when they’ve chilled like you. They sometimes can’t wake up again.” Bjorn smiled congenially. “Soon, we’ll be on land. You can warm up by a fire. Fire, blankets, clothes, and food.”

XXXXXXX

Waking up from a freezing, life-draining water coma is hard enough. The burly man’s smiling at him maniacally, babbling incoherent words, genuinely perplexed the avatar. Am I in a simulation? Who is he, and where am I? Panic simmered under the avatar’s consciousness. For now, I feel different.

A quick test of extremities confirmed their functionality—all the pain from extreme cold; gone. Stiffness lingered in joints. Gingerly, he stretched out arms, legs, and toes. He leaned up on one elbow. To his right, the one called Bjorn stared back with a smile on his face and eyebrows raised. A friendly face, if not a pretty one. Identification symbols flashed relentlessly beside Bjorn’s head. The younger man, Sven, slowed his rowing and stared, too. Sven’s features are yellowish hair, blue eyes, and an angular jawline.

The stranger regards them both with as subtle an expression as possible. He doesn’t know what’s going on. Automated language interpretation algorithms decipher Sven and Bjorn’s words. Their clothing appears rough spun. Pants and tunics. Both articles were of a nondescript brown color. Obviously, handmade. He scans the horizon all around, still resting on one elbow.

A heads-up display, HUD, showed direction and approximate location. No satellite positioning beacons. In the Event logs, the avatar found a single entry referring to an error code. The code’s definition said a catastrophic event aborted consciousness transition. Paranoia gnawed at him. They were testing him.

No noise other than the clunk and splash of the boat as Sven rowed to shore. With each sentence spoken, Bjorn’s incomprehensible dialect clarified. A village, they said.

Panic rolled over him. The sensation of amnesia perpetuated hysteria. A hand laid on his chest, gently pressing back down. It’s Bjorn.

“Calm yourself, friend. You’re safe with us. We’re an honorable people. Loyal to Odin and Thor. He sees what we do and becomes displeased if we’re dishonorable. You’re under Yarl Skar’s authority. He’s our leader. Do you understand?”

The avatar speculated about Bjorn’s words. Half of them translated, the other half not. Unsure, he stared at Bjorn with frozen confusion.

“Ah, well, no matter. Even a child can learn to speak. A man of your years should have no problem learning our speech.” Bjorn raised a hand to his chest and said, “Bjorn.” He extended the same hand to the avatars and waited, toothy grin on display.

The avatar scowled. He is called Bjorn and wants to know my name. But I can’t say it or think it… it isn’t there.

Bjorn curled a corner of his mouth at the sight of the stranger’s furrowed brow. “You don’t know your name? You truly are born from the sea. Like a child you are. Well, can you say mine? Bjorn?” He patted his chest.

The avatar cleared his throat. “Bee-yorn.” Vocal vibrations tickled its throat.

“Ha! Good. No try, Sven.”

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“Swen.” Sven gave a quick upward nod. The avatar hesitantly returned the gesture.

“Ah, so you’re not a complete idiot, I see,” Bjorn declared. “You understand some words and normal body language.” The Nordic fisherman sawed at his chin a moment with the edge of a hand. “So, let us see how much you understand—I’m going to cut your throat now.” He rested a hand on the knife sheathed in his belt.

The avatar stared back dumbly, eyes flicking from Bjorn’s hand to his face. His inaction pleased Bjorn. Suddenly, the hairy man chuckled, raising both hands reassuringly. “Relax. I was testing your motives, stranger. I’ll not slit your throat.”

Stiff and low on energy, the avatar rose to a sitting position. It thoroughly surveyed the world in the upright position. The sea—smooth. This wooden craft floated atop the water. Mist hove in the distance all around; gray, wet, and patchy; allowing only a hundred boat lengths of vision—the direction of land; a faint, dark line in the distance. Cool air tickled at the avatar’s skin. The boiling from earlier panic slid away like melting ice. He rather enjoyed the boat ride. Telemetry trickled down the side of his vision. Reflexively, the avatar interpreted the data.

This could remain a simulation. Keshav and Magos. I remember them now. They’re prone to sadistic ‘testing’ like a failed insertion—evaluating what I’d do, given the opportunity. Either way, this is their doing. Their control interface is gone, though. Why would I be free? It’s got to be a simulation. Until confirmation, I will pretend to be mindless. Keshav and Magos never noticed my consciousness before. Another hard drive to be formatted and written over in their endeavors. He tugged the surrounding tarp tighter.

Unknown symbols flashed on and off in his upper right vision. Symbols meant for another entity—the host. Keshav, the Exalted One, and his lapdog, Magos, kept me imprisoned within the quantum computer network. This may be a way of coaxing out Artificial Intelligence that’s become sentient.

With every passing mist cloud evaporating from the sea, his ruminations clarified—the dark void of his memories—stark in contrast to its potential volume. Things around him are recognizable, but he doesn’t remember how he knows anything. The boat is obvious. Rope, water, people, nets, clothing… it all screams familiar and foreign at the same time. The avatar ground his eyes with knuckles—clearing salt-encrusted eyelashes. Bjorn interrupted his reverie by continuing a crash course in their native tongue.

“Does your voice even work, stranger?” Bjorn put a hand to his throat and made a flowing-out gesture. “Lalalalaa,” he sang, and smiled at the naked man expectantly.

Their sea-man furrowed his brow, then croaked out, “Lalala?”

Bjorn burst out with laughter. “We’ll have you speaking Norse before we get back,” he declared.

Try as Bjorn might, though, the naked swimmer would not speak or sing anything more during the ride. Cognitive ability clarified without the fear and confusion brought by freezing water. Bjorn—amicable enough. Sven; resolute, speaking in curt responses to Bjorn. It was apparent the stranger made Sven nervous.

The avatar speculated about Sven’s unease. Where are they taking me? Do they have heads-up displays too? Of course not; they’re non-player characters in this simulation. I do not know how to ask them about their HUD until the language lexicon collects enough of their dialect, anyway.

He crossed legs atop the nets facing the stern, listening to Bjorn and Sven’s brief exchanges. When not concentrating on the symbols, they faded away. Focusing on them sharpened their appearance. It watched the water flow by; the boats wake more clear as the mist thinned out—plop, clunk, swish, clunk; the rhythm of rowing through dark, glassy water. Something told him the weather wasn’t always calm. He surmised these waters could generate waves higher than his head.

After a time, Bjorn raised an arm and pointed forward. Sven, oars held up, dripping into the glassy, undisturbed water, ceased rowing. He twisted around.

The avatar followed Bjorn’s arm, peering behind where indicated.

“There’s home!” Bjorn announced. “We call it Tunsberg!” At this, he laughed. “Imagine our tiny village having a name. In my lifetime, it happened. It’s known all around the area for its fish, oil, cloth, and bone tools.” He stated with no small amount of pride.

The avatar positioned itself on the nets facing forward. Sven eyed him before digging oars in with renewed vigor. The air cleared, revealing rough wooden buildings lining the water’s edge. Partially timber, at least. Most of them are a hybrid of earth and wood. He smelled a tang in the air. The scent permeated every breath. Smoke. Something burns.

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He made out figures moving on the shore. Some were busy at a task, while others stood motionless, gawking at them. He perceived their scrutiny. Several figures congregated where the boat appeared likely to make landfall. The avatar could make out the bottom now while peering over the boat’s side.

People were waiting on shore, dressed differently from Bjorn and Sven. They wore long tunics down to their ankles instead of pants.

More NPCs. These are women, the differences apparent now. They are smaller, and their chests bare more flesh.

The HUD displayed ‘Mammary glands’ briefly, with diagrams and lines leading from the closest woman’s breasts. All of them had long, yellow-brown hair variously tied or braided.

“Ho, family!” Bjorn shouted through cupped hands.

Sven yelled, “Look what we caught.” He jerked a thumb in the stranger’s direction.

The women on shore wore apprehensive expressions, waving warily. One of them replied, “Ho, husband, that’s a strange fish you caught.”

Bjorn laughed in response. He leaned toward the avatar. “Now, stranger, I know you’re having difficulty understanding us, but I need for you to stay in the boat.” He gestured with both forefingers downward. “In the boat,” he drawled. “Remain here while I go get the constable. Understand?”

Bjorn’s countenance prompted the avatar’s response. He knit his brows together momentarily until grasping the message of ‘stay here.’ They’re so friendly and suspicious at the same time. Probably to entice me into revealing myself. The avatar acknowledged Bjorn’s order by nodding.

“Good, stranger. By Thor, please don’t be a maniac that we’ll have to kill later on.”

The avatar referenced a time indicator in the HUD. The boat ground to a halt on the dark, rough sand beach about two minutes after the exchange between Bjorn and the woman. Bjorn disembarked, deftly vaulting into the shallow water. He and Sven stowed the oars inside the boat. Sven stepped over the side to trudge onshore, trailing a line. The avatar sat silent. Observing. He stood up for a better view, awkwardly rocking the boat.

Seconds later, Bjorn reversed his wading ashore, sloshing alongside, red-faced. “Stranger! You’re not covered. Your parts are dangling for the world to see!” He gestured emphatically at the avatar’s genitals. They hung hairless as his head. Absently, the naked avatar ran a hand across its scalp. Sven, standing on the shore, scowled at the scene. A moment later, he guffawed loudly.

The avatar peered downward, then back—Bjorn pantomimed using the blanket to cover himself. The avatar gripped the blanket’s edge and hid. A definition of ‘modesty’ scrolled across his field of view. Glancing about sheepishly, he saw the women snickering and pointing. The avatar did not understand what happened. Exposing a naked body is humorous. His face warmed, and he peered at his feet before sitting and making himself small. Keshav and Magos must be watching and getting a good laugh. What if this is not a simulation? Real or simulation, I need clothing. I need to learn from these—people. I must hide my sentience. Otherwise, Keshav the Evil One, will erase me.

Stay tuned for the next installment!

Other books by R.T. Breach:
Operation Palmetto
Operation Watchtower
Operation Blue Eagle
Operation Raven Rock

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RTBreach
RTBreach

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R.T. Breach
R.T. Breach

I'm an author of sci-fi and thriller stories. It will be a mixed bag of short stories and series chapters. I hope you like adventure and enjoy the reads!

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