When the fall of civilization came, as he knew it would, Gustav Sjdbeck was ready for it.
“We shall go to America,” Gustav’s father, Carl, said to him on the eve of his seventeenth birthday. Gustav’s mother had died in the night before, and within two months the guns of August would bring death to peace in Europe as well. Although he knew that Sweden would largely be spared the horrors of the coming Great War, they were still too close for the elder Sjdbeck’s taste. So he and his only son packed their belongings, left the town of Linköping where their family had lived in the shadow of the Linköpings domkyrka — of the great cathedral of the town — for twelve generations, and sailed for a new world.
“This is a good place,” said Carl, when he and Gustav finally arrived in Lindström, Minnesota, not far from the Wisconsin border. Gustav had fallen in love with Chicago, City of the Big Shoulders, with its tool-making and its playing with railroads, but Chisago County was good farming country and more to Carl’s tastes. Linköping was small enough that you could live in the town but still be part of the country; the same was not true of Chicago. So as Europe tore itself to pieces, father and son set to work building a new life on the sprawling acreage they came to call Sjdbeck Farm. Carl’s head for systems and organization kept things running smoothly, and his insight into the turning of the seasons spared them from disasters that nearly wiped out their neighbors. Gustav’s knack for tinkering annoyed his father at first, but Carl came around, as Gustav found ways to automate and mechanize tasks so that he could do with three men what took other farmers ten. By the mid-twenties, Sjdbeck Farm was the envy of its neighbors, and the two men prospered.
“There are things you should know about,” said Carl, as he lay dying. His son was nearing forty now with three children of his own, and he was close to seventy. Europe was the brink of another war, the bitter fruit of the vengeful settlement of the last one. Carl would not live to see its conclusion, and he feared that his son would not either. In the deep of winter, by candlelight, he told his son those things he had kept hidden, those notions Gustav had speculated about and dismissed as fairytale nonsense. He told his son how it was he knew about those things unseen and events yet to come, about those who knew how to read movements of the stars and the listen to the secrets of the animals. And he told his son about those few who knew how to do more than just observe, who even now flocked to secret orders that gathered under the banner of the crooked cross. He foresaw what was coming, and with this last breath he told his son to prepare for it.
“It has happened,” said Gustav one morning in July. He saw it in the death of the bees in the orchard, heard it whispered in the voice of the brook, felt it in the suddenly cold wind from the north. He called his tall three daughters to him — his Norns he now called them — and told them that they time they had prepared for was at hand. They nodded gravely and set about their tasks. They retrieved the rifles and shotguns from their hidden cache and distributed them to the family members and farmhands, directing them to their appointed places to secure the entrances to the farm. They checked on the stockpiles of food and fuel and hoped it was enough to last through the awful great winter that was coming. Gustav walked slowly his workshop and unlocked the door, the mechanism moving soundlessly and effortlessly he turned the key in the lock. In front were a pair of Allis-Chalmers Model E tractors, though close inspection would reveal subtle changes in the engine and loader, and anyone who used the machine would notice that it ran quieter and smoother than normal but seemed to have more power. Behind them was a trio of what had begun life as John Deere Model GM, with their larger engine blocks and six-speed transmission. There was no mistaking the changes to these; the flamethrowers were the least ostentatious additions. Further back in the workshop were the machines that were entirely Gustav’s design, more Panzer than tractor. They would see use in the coming weeks, of that he was sure. The mad Swede walked to the nearest ten-wheeler, started the engine, and drove it out of the workshop to help his daughters distribute arms and ammunition.
Ragnarök would be the death of the gods, but it would not be death of Sjdbeck Farm.