He asked for submissions of the title of reader's current WIP (works in progress) so I decided to play along.
I shared the name of my current work - "Malwhere" - and lo and behold! It was selected as one of the Top 10.
The followup challenge was to create a < 1,000 word piece of fiction. So here it is. ; )
The ominous tones of Darth Vader’s theme music erupted from Lucretia’s laptop and echoed throughout her corner office. The Director was Instant Messaging her. She squinted at the message box. All she could make out was the sender’s name in bold red font, followed by lines of strange symbols.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” she muttered and responded back to the instant message.
HIGGINS, L: My Aramaic is a bit rusty. English, please.
DIRECTOR, THE: Ms. Higgins, the Board requires assistance from you. They need information on estimated effects of a locust swarm in Madagascar, cross-referenced with the profits and losses in commodity quinoa trading markets, aggregated by potential impact of a global dengue fever pandemic. By COB today, please.
She glared at the message on her screen. This was an impossible task, especially given the recent budget cuts.
DIRECTOR, THE: The Board is concerned about certain activities from The Competition. This represents an existential threat to AsurasTek.
Lucretia closed her eyes and counted to five before typing her response.
HIGGINS, L: It will be challenging. Our systems are maxed out. To model something like this will take more resources. If I could re-bind some of our other daemons-
Her screen flashed an angry red and the stench of brimstone filled her office. A peal of thunder rattled the windows.
DIRECTOR, THE: Unacceptable. The Board is adamant. The earthquakes in South America, the drought in Europe and never-ending sequels to “Fifty Shades of Grey” are the only initiatives generating enough MPP to keep us solvent.
HIGGINS, L: I understand Misery Product per Person is what keeps us out of the red but if we don’t have enough daemons for the incantation, what am I to do?
She mashed the Return key with enough force to break the nail on her index finger. She gasped at the sudden pain and stuck her finger in her mouth, but not before a single scarlet drop of blood splashed onto the keyboard. It hissed briefly and vanished in a curl of copper-scented smoke.
DIRECTOR, THE: Precisely, Ms. Higgins. It will likely take blood. Our soothsayers agree that you’ll think of something. I suggest you do so. Need I remind you that, as per your contract, should the company go under, your soul comes with us? Good day.
Lucretia leaned back in her chair and exhaled slowly. Her mind was racing, awash with desperate plan after plan. For the next few hours she lost herself in the pages of musty tomes, tattered grimoires and scraps of Gnostic incantations written on cocktail napkins. Even Google couldn’t provide any answers. Filing an SRO - Soul Requisition Order - would take days to complete. Days she didn’t have.
Shortly before noon, Lucretia slumped into her chair. She was fresh out of ideas. Conjuring a daemon powerful enough to run the computation wasn’t the problem. That was the easy part. The hard part was binding the infernal creature to one’s will, forcing it into a computer server and making it do what needed to be done. That was the challenge. Well, that and keeping one’s soul where it belonged. Daemons did not enjoy being summoned and could get fussy from time to time.
Lucretia started as her phone beeped. She stabbed the TALK button.
“Karen? Didn’t I tell you to hold all my calls?” she snapped.
“Ma’am, your 12 o’clock is here. Mr. Riordan?” answered Karen, her assistant.
She’d completely forgotten about the interview. Had meant to cancel it, in fact. Riordan had a bad reputation in an already rotten industry. While a talented infernal technology professional, he was regarded as self-serving, conniving, homicidal and ambitious. The last thing she needed was some backstabbing -
Lucretia smiled as the last gear fell into place.
“Sorry, Karen. I forgot. It’s been hectic today. Why don’t you send him…” She looked around her office. Piles of books were strewn across the floor and the stench of sulphur was still in the air.
“Karen, could you please send him to the data center? Summoning pentagram number four, I think.” she asked.
“Thank you.” Lucretia hung up and rummaged through her desk.
“Where did I…” she muttered.
Her fingers finally found the ice-cold steel of her sacrificial athame, a gift from the Director to mark her 30th anniversary of employment. She examined it with a critical eye and pursed her lips. The edges were still plenty sharp, but it could use a little polish.
Hours later, back in her office, Lucretia stared at the IM window on the cracked screen of her laptop with glazed eyes. She was exhausted; her right foot ached, her back was sore and her left knee was swollen. Riordan had been a lot tougher than she figured.
DIRECTOR, THE: The Board is pleased, Ms. Higgins. The models are working out perfectly and the daemon you procured to work the incantation seems uncommonly zealous. We surmise the Competition will be too tied up unraveling our latest project to even consider a counter-offensive of their own. Well done.
HIGGINS, L: Thank you, sir. Glad I could help.
DIRECTOR, THE: Furthermore the Board, in their infinite generosity, has decided to award you with a spot bonus, pursuant to your contract and terms of employment. Five years, Ms. Higgins. I personally believe it too much, but was outvoted. Thank you again.
The chat window vanished and Lucretia leaned back in her chair, staring at the pad of Post It notes on her desk. She removed the note with the number “23” on it and tossed it in the wastebasket. With a black Sharpie she wrote the number “18” on the fresh note.
Less than two short decades before she could reclaim her soul and be free of AsurasTek forever. But until that day, if it ever came, Lucretia had no choice but to keep working; conjuring infernal beings, binding them to her will and exporting despair around the globe.
At least it paid the bills.