Keys to Tartarus, chapter 1

Max sat at the large desk late into the night. After completing the algorithm development by hand, he was now programming the computer to handle the necessary calculations.

Actuarial work in the 21st century was little different than the 19th century; just the tools were different. The math was still much the same.

Working late always appealed to him. The darkness outside and the quiet solitude were old friends. Without the distraction of everyone else around he could finally concentrate and get the last of this block of calculations complete. The project manager would be relieved.

With the last keystroke, Max sighed contently. The work was complete. He tilted his head back and forth to release the tension in his neck. The hours spent hunched over a computer were taking a toll at his age.

Max pushed the expensive oak office chair back from the large, mahogany desk and glanced once around the room. His compatriots often teased him about how spartan he kept the high prestige corner office.

Other executives in the company kept their offices much more luxurious. Max was content with the antique desk and chair. The older designs were more sturdy. Modern office furniture tended to break under his heavy frame.

A glance at the clock showed that it was well past the witching hour. Max stepped out from behind his desk and walked to his office door.

Sticking his head around the door he said, “Christopher, can you come here?”

Sure, Mr. Paeter,” said Max’s young intern. Max stepped aside to allow his young intern to enter the office first.

What did you need, sir?”

A look of contrition crossed the swarthy complexion of Max’s face. “My apologies for keeping you here so late. I’ll make sure to put you in for overtime with Accounting. They dislike paying interns more than the company has too, but you have earned it with all these late hours this week.”

Wow, thank you, Mr. Paeter. I am just doing my job,” said Christopher. He stood awkwardly for a moment before asking, “Is that all for tonight, Mr. Paeter?”

Max frowned, “Not quite yet. I need you to send a copy of the file results to the back up servers while I get something to drink.” Knowing the helpful intern would handle the task without any further instruction, Max walked out of his office.

A quick glance around the outer office showed Christopher had been organizing the files, not just using the under supervised time to loaf and be indolent.

The break room was just down the hall from his office. Fatigue leadened Max’s steps. These long nights and weeks had worn him down. Yet, he had completed the new actuary tables the corporation needed for the new Asian markets.

Max entered the break room. It was obvious that the cleaning crew had already been through. There was usually some food left over on the table. It was a poor reflection on the executives that worked in the offices along these hallways left a mess for the cleaning crews to pick up. To Max, such little gestures of rank and privilege were annoying but all too human.

The coffee was, of course, old and cold. Max’s leather shoes squealed on the tile break room floor as he turned about, seeking all the necessary items in the cabinets to make coffee.

Cabinet doors banged with being opened and shut impatiently. Max was annoyed but unable to find the coffee filters.

Standing up, Max leaned against the counter and surveyed the break room. “Now where would Susan or Chang have put the filters?”

Max was still looking when he heard the door at the far end of the hall was shut quietly. There should be no one else hear at this time of night. He paused and listened. The office building was full of small noises, but all the things Max expected to hear from years of working in the building.

Cautiously he moved out of the break room, listening for anything out of the ordinary. Max glanced left down the hall, but saw nothing but the darkened hall and closed office doors. Back to the right was his own office. Down that way Max could hear Christopher typing away on the computer keyboard.

The cleaning crews had gone home hours ago, and security would not make a sweep for another hour. Max knew there was someone else here on the floor besides just his intern and him.

Almost ten minutes passed as Max stood in stillness, awaiting to see what would give away their late night visitor.

The whole early morning hour seemed to stretch the moments…

No sign gave away the stranger but Max’s apprehension grew. There was little he truly feared, but he hated uncertainties. It went against everything he preferred in his world.

After waiting for what seemed an inordinate amount of time, Max gave up on his wait and made his way back down the hall to his office. It was time to beat a cautious retreat, but Max did not want to give a sense of haste. His stalker would be watching. Now just when and where would this stalker strike? Once Max was back at his office, he made sure to close the outer door and lock it.

Christopher, are you about done with exporting those results?” rumbled out of Max’s large chest.

Yes, sir, Mr. Paeter. The export and backup are still running on the main servers,” responded Christopher.

So we are done for the night,” stated Max. “Grab your things, and let us depart this place. We have been here for too many hours this week. You did a good job.”

Thanks, Mr. Paeter.”

Why don’t you take tomorrow off,” replied Max as he shrugged on his suit coat over the black silk dress shirt he was wearing.

Christopher was shutting down Max’s computer when max heard the door lock to the outer office break.

The young intern looked up with a puzzled expression. “What was that? It sounded like breaking metal.”

Max gestured for Christopher’s silence s he stepped in front of his desk. That put him between Christopher and whatever came through that outer office door.

Max watched the outer door of the office suite through the open inner office door.

That outer door was partly open. The handle was obviously broken by someone in the hall, but the outer door was still mostly closed, only slightly ajar.

Max watched patiently for whomever to reveal himself. Christopher was showing admirable restraint and remaining silent.

The damaged outer door swung slowly open. Filling the door was a huge, grotesque man in a trench coat that just hung off the huge shoulders of the man.

Dark lord, my master wants something you have,” said the huge man in a voice that rumbled like sliding granite mountains grinding past each other.

Max remained nonchalant, even in the face of the potential menace of the hulking form. Max’s six foot five inch frame marked him as a big man, but this invader of his office was eight foot tall. The huge shoulders on the strange man marked him as very abnormal or not human. This fact was even more displayed when the intruder had to turn sideways to enter the inner office. He was not just too tall for the door, he was also too wide for the doorway.

The intruder wedged and worked his way into the inner office. Max stepped back to keep the range just a little open as he dropped into a self defense stance. Glancing back, Max saw that Christopher was still sitting in his office chair but had pushed it all the way back into the corner of the office, right up against the outer wall, not in front of the offices big picture window.

Max’s left foot slid back, giving him another half foot body width of space, while the large invader shambled forward. The form’s trench coat fell open showing an inhuman body beneath. The figure only wore the large trench coat and large hat. The invader wore no clothes, but the body underneath the coat was covered in a brown, pebbly skin and was only vaguely human.

Despite max’s preparation for self defense, he was not prepared for the speed of the invader. The invader’s left oversized hand reached out in a lunge to grab Max.

Max attempted to leap back as the invader’s left hand closed on the fabric of the front of his shirt. The silk shirt tore down the front, with buttons flying.

The tearing of his shirt kept Max out of the invader’s grasp momentarily, but it threw him off balance and he stumbled back into the front of his large, wooden desk.

Many years of wrestling and hand to hand fighting guided him to roll immediately over his desk in reflexive response to the threat.

Standing behind his desk, Max weighed his options. Christopher was over in the corner off to his left in Max’s high backed, old style wooden office chair.

In front of the desk, the invader had paused after his initial lunge had failed to bring Max into his grasp. He grunted and grumbled out, “You come with me Now!”

Max studied his assailant somberly. “I do not think so.”

The office invader roared in rage and surged forward. The attacker had descended into mindless rage. Max braced himself and shoved the eight hundred pound, antique desk forward. The desk slid forward with sudden force, driven by Max’s strength and body weight.

The forward sliding desk met the short charge of the behemouth and checked its forward momentum. The edge of the desk slammed into the invader’s thighs and slammed him off balance.

As the attacker tipped over the desk off balance, Max reached out with both hands and gripped the invader’s head.

Max slammed the head down as hard as he could into the desk top. The move stunned his foe. Then he shoved the creature’s head away. This motion plus the attacker off balance sent the foe crashing backward.

Vaulting over the desk, Max crashed down on his prostrated foe with both feet. He quickly slipped off the body of his attacker, but his landing had knocked the wind out of his opponent.

Max planted two quick kicks into this foe’s left side. The blows landed with power, but it felt to Max that he was kicking a solid block of concrete.

Christopher, get out of here.” The boy did not hesitate. He launched to his feet and sprinted past Max and the thrashing creature. Within a moment, he was in the outer office.

Max turned to follow Christopher. He had taken three steps and had just reached the doorway between the offices when the creature surged to its feet.

The invader’s huge hand grabbed Max by the shoulder and pulled him back with an immensely strong pull. “You no go!” roared the beastly foe.

Max was thrown back and slammed into his own desk. The last remnant of his torn shirt was ripped off his shoulder with this latest attack.

The creature’s follow up lunch forced Max to repeat his earlier escape, and he rolled back over the desk. There were few options left to him. The six meters between the displaced desk and the picture window the picture window left little room to evade.

Yet the creature showed it did learn, if slowly. With one quick motion of its right hand, it gripped the side of the desk and threw it off to the side. The desk crashed into the corner where Christopher had been sitting.

Realizing there was no longer any chance of escape, Max surged into the creature, his closed fist slamming repeatedly into the creature’s midriff with precise boxing punches.

His foe grunted with the blows but seemed mostly unphased by Max’s hard strikes. With a wide swung back hand, the foe slapped Max onto his upheaved desek. He slammed into a tumble in the corner atop the upturned desk and the office chair. Max took a few deep breaths as he thought rapidly. The creature stood there with the oversize trench coat just hanging from its shoulders.

The trench coat had come open and any observer could easily tell the thing was not human. It had never been human. Its whole body was like a large shaped lump of hardened clay.

No human being would ever defeat this thing without heavy weapons of military grade. Max was going to have to go above and beyond to defeat this creature.

He took a deep breath and centered himself internally. Max staggered to his feet slowly, watching the creature guardedly. The creature seemed content to stand there for the moment, knowing it had him trapped in the corner.

Max thought for a moment, then with his left hand gripped one of the thick legs of the solid oak desk.

I will not be going anywhere with you to visit your misbegotten master,” Max said.

The creature growled and took a step toward where Max was standing.

It is time you left. I would suggest the door,” Max said, while reaching deep inside for a reserve of energy he had not touched in decades.

The creature took another step forward, raising a hand out to grab Max.

On the creature’s third step forward toward him, max acted. Pulling that deep, hidden energy up into his muscles, Max swung the eight hundred pound desk as hard as he could. The improvised weapon smashed into the creature’s side with overwhelming force.

Max carried through the swing. The blow lifted the creature off its feet and slammed it against, then through the picture window. The impact was sufficient to send broken structural safety glass fragments and the creature hurling out into empty space, then falling the thirty stories downward.

Max fell to his knees in exhaustion. He was barely able to keep from blacking out due to fatigue.

A sudden potion at the inner office door caught Max’s attention. Standing there was Christopher. He was unsure how much the intern had seen. “Christopher, I did tell you to run. I meant further than the hall,” stated a weary Max.

You are not human are you?” asked a hesitant Christopher as he stood with one hand on the door sill of the office door.

Max chuckled as he sat back. “No, child. I am not.”