The Valhalla Catapult

 

If all cemeteries are sacred, permanent resting places, will we eventually run out of room to bury an ever-increasing number of our dearly departed? Perhaps people have considered that problem before. Maybe resting places aren’t as permanent as you think. For a reasonable fee, though, we can give your loved one the send-off they deserve.

 

The Valhalla Catapult

 

“You know I actually met my wife on a run like this, Wence?” Grigor asks. He hasn’t shut up for five minutes since we left Valhalla’s home office this morning.

“A tube landed on her house?” I ask. I nearly miss the turnoff for the gravel road, and swerve to avoid making a U-turn.

“Well not exactly like this one,” he says, bracing himself. “It was out in the country, though. The tube left a crater where her granddad’s toolshed had been, and she drove over to help him sort it out. She had to sign a nondisclosure, of course, but her papaw didn’t have much problem with it once he saw the money.”

“Given what Valhalla charges, I don’t think they miss it. If the gun failed more often, maybe, but–”

“Yeah. You ever wonder why folks never gave the endless space in their cemeteries more thought?”

“I guess they just liked to think of their burial plots as sacred. They didn’t think they were just renting them for a hundred years or so, until all their living relatives joined them.”

“But people aren’t that bad at math,” Grigor says. “If the population in a city is constantly growing, and more people die in it every day–”

“People are lazy though. They don’t really take the time to think about things. I mean I’m not complaining. It keeps food on my table.”

Grigor chuckles.

“Launching folks into the sun on a fusion-powered rail gun doesn’t pay your bills, Wence. Failing to launch them does.”

He reaches into the back seat and grabs the duffel bag.

In the early days, after the first Senate hearings on cemetery cycling, contractors like Grigor and me got caught skimming Valhalla’s hush money before it was delivered.

Now Valhalla puts a protein-based tracking thread on every single bill. If any of them leave the duffel bag prior to getting the recipient’s thumb print, it’s an automatic life sentence.

“You shouldn’t do that,” I say, when Grigor unzips the bag.

“Relax,” he says. “I just want to smell it.”

He inhales deeply before zipping the bag shut again.

“I wouldn’t mind a tube coming through my roof,” Grigor says. “I’d quit this job tomorrow.”

It’s disgusting, but it’s part of life. People don’t want to know how things like this happen any more than they want to know how chorizo’s made.

“Hey,” Grigor says, “you want to get some Mexican after this? There’s a great place nearby. They make their chorizo in-house.”

“Sure,” I say, “as long as they have beer.”

#

“I don’t see any damage to the house,” I say.

There’s nothing but cornfields for miles in every direction, which is by design. Valhalla chose a launch point that would only put Failures-to-Launch–FTL’s in industry jargon–over mostly unpopulated areas.

“Are you strapped?” Grigor asks. He knows I am, since he watched me holster my 1911. It’s company policy anyway.

“Well, yeah, but–”

“My second drop was a set-up,” Grigor says. “Global reducing weirdoes. They went on and on about how we were slowly launching our planetary mass into the sun. In the end, all they wanted was the cash.”

“It’d take a billion years to see any impact from global reduction,” I say.

“I know. They’re like the global warming folks were at the turn of the millennium.”

“I never took you for a history buff.”

“It pays off,” Grigor says. “Time is a circle. Nobody really misses California, from what I can tell.”

I would’ve gone.”

“Have you ever been to the beach in Reno?”

“Yeah. I mean it’s beautiful. Hollywood looked kind of cool, though.”

Grigor knocks on the door while I maintain distance. He fidgets with the holster under his jacket while he waits.

A man in his late forties answers the door. He smiles.

“Hello sir,” Grigor says. “My name is Grigor Salamanza. I’m a representative of Valhalla, LLC, and–”

“I know who you are, Mr. Salamanza,” the man says. “I’m afraid I wasn’t completely honest with your exec on the phone.”

Grigor eases his hand toward his holster. I’ve already thumbed the safety off on my 1911.

“Oh no, it’s nothing like that,” the man says. “I’m not a global reductionist or a cannibal, I assure you.”

“Then what’s it like?” Grigor asks. He’s dispensed with the professional charm.

“Perhaps you’d like to come inside?” the man asks. “You can keep your guns on me if you like. Just hear me out.”

Grigor looks to me. I shrug.

We walk inside, guns in hand.

The man, Flad Bjooren, is a real estate developer. He’s bought a sizable piece of real estate in the Nevada desert, and has begun construction on a necropolis. He explains all of this as he shows us the plans for cheap, uninhabited desert acreage.

“Think of it,” he says. “The people of America can still visit their dearly departed. We won’t lose global mass, and we’ll gain revenue from all the restaurants and hotels we build nearby.”

“That sounds great,” Grigor says. “Why do you need us?”

“A tell-all book about Valhalla would certainly steer business my way,” Flad says.

Grigor rubs his chin.

“And our cut?” he asks.

“How much is in that bag?”

Grigor tells him.

“Double that when the book comes out,” Flad says.

Grigor and I both give Flad noncommittal assurances that we’ll think about his offer.

“Did you know they hired me because I was a forward observer in the Army?” I ask once we’re back at the car.

“I didn’t,” Grigor says. “Why don’t you make the call then?”

I dial Valhalla.

“I need an FTL,” I say. “Protocol 13F.”

I give them Flad’s coordinates.

“The paradox is going to throw the police for a loop,” Grigor says, “since we recorded him calling this morning. It’ll be evidence.”

“They’ll be fine,” I say. “They don’t want to know how the chorizo gets made. They just like the taste.”

###

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