Seven Bombs A-Bursting
My mind raced. Besides being yet another example of this lunatic’s terrible sense of humor, I had no idea what “Tannenbaum” was. But there were no prizes for a good guess. If he was opening silos, then he had missiles on base. And not the tiny peashooters we had just been wallowing in, but proper ICBMs.
Hafton turned to me. “You really think he can slur us, the way he said?”
I grimaced. “I don’t know. But it doesn’t matter. I don’t care where my name goes, but I do care what happens to the people that Tannenbaum is aimed at. Graile?”
“We need to get you up to that control room right away. Tannenbaum is almost certainly electronically controlled. That means that you should be able to shut it off, or at least realign it. The real question is, how do we get upstairs?”
I looked around the room. It had a high ceiling, three card-keyed doors, and what appeared to be mirrors near the ceiling, which were probably one-way glass . Those had to be looking out from the control room. But where on Earth was the silo?
It was ironically at that moment that I realized this room was vaguely cylindrical, and that the roof cap had a line down the center where I could just imagine it splitting. And at the very same instant, I felt the floor start to slide away beneath me.
I leapt away from the expanding gap. Half my team, including Graile, was pulled away as the floor ground out of position. The other half, including Thyger, was stranded on the other side.
Below, in the huge hole that was forming, I could just make out the rising shape of the world’s largest metal Christmas tree. Above, the cold sting of Arctic air reached down and choked the room in its grasp.
I thought fast. The missiles had never had warheads put in them in the production line. As quick as I could, I ran for the disappearing work-table, lunged for it, and grabbed one of the warheads.
I leapt backwards onto the platform just as the floor disappeared. We had a way up.
“Graile,” I said, handing him the small warhead, “Do you think you can open the door with this?”
He nodded, and pulled out a screwdriver.
Graile was not Thyger, but he was also not a bad man with explosives.
He turned it over and over in his hands, and then I saw him reach for his radio.
“I think I might be able to make this sucker work, Cap. But what are the other men going to do?” he asked, pulling out a screwdriver and applying it mysteriously to the tip of the warhead.
I thought about it as Graile opened the payload container. If I could have, I would have had whom provide support, but these doors precluded that. Tannenbaum was probably mostly electronic, but almost certainly not all. When the time came, it would pay to have eyes on the ground.
“Thyger, take your team down into the hole.” I said, holding the radio up to my mouth. After all, Thyger knew everything ever known about explosives. If there was any way to disarm those things personally, he’d find it.”
He nodded. “Roger that, sir.” He said, clicking shut the screwdriver, and hefting the warhead. “I think that I’ve got this thing adjusted. The original amount of explosive in this thing would have killed us, but those doors are also blast proof. Word of warning, sir, you may want to cover your ears.” He turned around, and walked to the door, propping the explosive on it, and then retreated to the ledge. I followed suit.
“Alright Captain. Heading up now. I’ll give you an update when we reach the control room.”
“Copy,” I said, and grabbed the radio to tell Thyger the plan.
They were on the catwalk below, when the door exploded.
* * *
The first thing we proved for certain was that there HAD been guards. Emphasis on the past tense. There are things that a three hundred pound door can do to the human body when blasted into it at force, and those things are even more explicit and horrible when they happen to an elf. The entire walkway was covered, all the way up to the control room, in pieces of elves.
But they were not expecting their door to disappear, which meant that we were unerringly effective when we used the relatively simple tactic of walking through the doors with rifles in automatic mode and spraying wherever there was green. We literally blazed the path to the control room through a wall of corpses. When we reached the control room, we found perhaps the biggest shock we had gotten yet.
It was completely empty. There was not a single soul in sight.
Graile looked concerned.
“What is it, Graile?”
He turned to me as the others shut and secured the doors.
“Two things, sir. One, it was too simple. At this stage in the game, he should be expecting that we are capable of dealing with these elves as fast as he cares to throw them at us. Two, we didn’t see any elves on the way here who looked anything but soldierly. Given the high level of organization here, technology specialists would have some sort of different outward marking to denote them.”
I shook my head. “I’m not quite following your point here, Graile.”
“Well, sir, the missiles had to be activated somehow, and I don’t think technologically gifted elves are responsible. They’d have to head for the other door, which leads nowhere, in order to avoid us. I won’t discount an additional passageway, but given the structure of this base from appearances, I don’t think it’s likely either.” He stepped up to the computer, slipped a device for password cracking into the USB slot, and then checked the console for an antenna, “Which means that our friend Kristopher is probably in a direct link with this base. And that makes him vulnerable to my finding out where he is.”
An LED light on the base of the password cracker turned green. The OS came up with a completely straight-faced, slightly intimidating boot screen proclaiming that the machine was running “LinXmas”, with the words arranged like a Christmas tree. Unsurprisingly, the account had the familiar eye and crossed candy canes emblem as the background. That, and an OLED keyboard which glowed green, until you pressed a key, whereupon the key turned red.
But what was shocking was the very small accompanying holographs on either side showing three dimensional cross sections of the missile.
Seven stages of branches in Tannenbaum. Seven major cities set to go up.
This didn’t suggest that Kristopher was a technophobe.
I grabbed Grail’s shoulder.
“Graile, I think he wants us to trace him. This guy knows what he’s doing with technology, and it isn’t being stacked in blocks. Bring up the missile systems first.”
Graile narrowed his eyes.
“Copy, sir,” he said, typing a few buttons. The OS had a three dimensional GUI, and from the back of a stack of files, the missile stats emerged, complete with convenient timer. In a way which no longer surprised me, the minuites, seconds, and milliseconds were highlighted in alternating red and green.
We had about twelve minutes.
“Alright, Graile, now, can you check what computers are connected to the network?”
“Roger,” he said, gazing over a few boxes of black windows with white text. He frowned.
“Hmm. That’s odd. There seems to be a connection being used currently to monitor the missile control files. I can’t tell where it’s coming from.” He tapped a few keys.
“But I can certainly find out.” he said. And before I could stop him, he pressed the enter key.
And the numbers started moving much faster. A voice recording came over all the speakers at once in the room. It was Kristopher again.
“You see, gentlemen? I told you that you were responsible!” he said. And then he laughed. It was funny, how it had always seemed so jolly when it was written in children’s books. And then when you heard it for real, it was strange how obviously it was a cruel sound uttered by any outsized playground bully as he ground someone’s face into the dirt.
“ Ho, Ho, Ho!”
* * *
The clock was moving about four times as fast. This was a horrible thing to watch, but it meant de facto that we had about three minuites.
“Don’t you dare stop that trace. Keep it running in the background if you have to,” I screamed.
A voice came crackling over the radio. “Captain Mesner, this is Thyger. No signs of anyone down here, but the landing arms just retracted and the reference screens in this pit are flashing like crazy. What are you doing up there, sir?”
“That seasonally obsessed SOB saw us coming a mile away, Thyger. Can you come up?”
The voice came back over the radio.
“Love to sir, but no dice. The blast shield is coming out over the top. Tell Graile to shut that thing off, pronto.”
I turned to Graile.
“How is it coming?” I said, looking over his shoulder. Windows appeared and disappeared at a desperate rate.
“Not well, sir.” He said, shaking his head slightly. He was sweating profusely.
“He’s tied network files up in this rocket three or four times over per. I’m trying to keep that trace going, but…”
The timer was moving down past what I calculated to be one and a half. I picked up the radio again.
“Thyger, you get the team as far away from the engines as possible, and try to get behind some form of blast proof shelter. I don’t know how this is going to go.”
“Yes, sir,” he said.
“Don’t talk. Run!” I said.
I turned back to Graile. His fingers were dancing in complex little arcs over the keyboard. Forty-five seconds.
“How’s it coming, Graile?” I said. And then he stopped dead.
“I think I’ve got an idea, sir,” he said. Thirty seconds.
He leaned over the keyboard, and then his hands really started to move. He typed away like a demon, bringing up the main engine programs.
As the clock raced towards zero, he raced through values, cutting them and replacing them with other values, changing and distributing.
I saw him hit the enter key at five seconds. I saw the “Compiling” task bar come up. And then, as the timer hit zero, nothing happened.
Nothing, that is, except for an additional timer coming up.
“Graile?” I asked the technology specialist as he slumped in the chair in a pool of perspiration, “What is that?”
He didn’t even look. “That, sir, is the ETA of the missile. It thinks it launched.” I stared at him, trying to work through this.
“I’m sorry?” I said, glaring at him.
He wiped his face, and looked up.
“Well, sir, it occurred to me that that even if the missile splits into segments as it appears to, the projectiles would still cause considerable damage when they landed. Not a mushroom cloud, but still. And then it occurred to me, why disable the bombs? You can’t, in any case, because they were all adjusted onboard, and hardwired. The guidance software is the only thing you can tap into by network, presumably so that they can alter flight paths. And I’m fairly sure I violated several international laws doing so, because Kristopher’s satellites were not forthcoming.”
“So, in essence, we are currently sitting right on top of the future ground zero for seven ICBMs, each capable of taking out a city by themselves?”
He stood up. “You sir. Exactly.”