(Apologies for the silence the last few days. The holidays, a minor technical glitch and a death in the family of one of our editors have thrown everything off schedule. We’ll be getting caught up today — hopefully. We left off Robert A. Hoyt’s Christmas Campaign at Seven Bombs A-Bursting. Between now and the end of the day, we’ll put up the next three installments and finish the adventure out tomorrow. Now, to the Christmas Campaign.)
Six Craft A-Sleighing
I knew that this should have been more frightening, but it wasn’t. I’d like say in that it’s because of good training. In fact, it had far more to do with the fact that humans had not been designed for the fear of having themselves thoroughly expunged from the face of the earth in a multi-megaton explosion.
Retrieving Thyger and the others from the hole was relatively simple. They had rope, and though the walls were a stiff climb, it wasn’t much worse than what we did in training. But the room had only one legitimate exit, given that the two doors we had access to were both connected to the control room, and that exit faced onto empty air. The first order of business was to get Graile to close the floor. Which meant that, to save time, I left him upstairs with a couple of men, collected Thyger and the others personally, then radioed in the order to close up the hole.
All this took some time. Thyger said we had a little over fifteen minutes to be clear of the nuclear explosion. Just getting the other team took about four.
But in the meantime, Graile combed the system for information on the base, and a way to get us through the final door. The latter was perhaps more important, because the door was on a separate circuit, Thyger was out of bombs, and there were no more warheads left in the room.
But Graile finally found something that would do the trick.
“You’re not going to believe this, sir, but all the doors open to a single alarm code.”
I held the radio up to my mouth.
“Tell me what it is after you’ve entered it in.”
“Way ahead of you, sir. It’s called “official inspection”, code 72682”.
I winced, as the thought processed in my head. I had memorized the alphanumeric keypad as a soldier.
“I think it’s a demonstration of power. It shows that nothing can be hidden from Kristopher. And it should be taking effect… now,” he said.
But I couldn’t hear him. The base was suddenly ringing with the jangle of jingle bells. It was hard to argue that they were indeed alarming. But the door slipped aside.
“Open SANTA-me,” I said, and waved Graile down.
* * *
The hallways of the main base were not nearly as impressive as the silo. They were still sturdy and well-constructed, using a mixture of white stone, galvanized metal, and translucent lighting panels. But they were far more Spartan and functional.
I wondered if the average elf experienced much boredom. Their whole life appeared to be devoted to working, which was a fairly dangerous obsession given the presence of high explosives.
But Graile had found some very useful things. One of them was Kristopher’s current location, as per the trace. The other was a map of the base, in an electronic PDF that loaded directly into my handheld projector from his mini-computer. This was, unsurprisingly, an air-base. The water was too far away, and the land army was a relatively small one mostly used for defending the base. Besides, Kristopher depended on air superiority in order to give him that ability to make his rounds around the Earth without being shot down.
An aircraft was also the only way we would get out of this place with any decent speed. The hanger was where we had seen the open field earlier. It was fairly simple to find with a map.
The only oversight in our plan was the very thing which granted us access to the base. The inspection alarm had driven the elves insane. Since they were expecting their leader to arrive through the same hanger, we were not a very welcome sight.
We didn’t even get to look at the room before having to retreat, and left a string of bullets meant for us in the wall. I glanced at my watch. We were running out of time. We now had five minutes till the first bombs “hit”. We needed to get through those elves.
Thyger pulled out his second to last flash-bang, yanked the pin, and waited for a moment before throwing it into the room. It went off almost instantly.
We popped through the door and tried our usual tactic of mowing down the enemy. This did not work at all.
The elves we were facing were not the ones that the rest of the base had been filled with. These elves were wearing gold trimmed white uniforms, accented with a red bulletproof vest that absorbed our shots like nerf darts. While it was relatively simpler to shoot at the head height of an elf, their heads were also smaller.
But there were what looked like fuel containers at the other end of the hanger, and I started a leak in them as we advanced.
“Thyger, get out your lighter.” I shouted.
We weren’t killing them, but we were knocking them down, which meant that when we came under fire again, it was at the other end of the hanger. We ran over the line, and Thyger threw his lighter into the fuel. The pool ignited in a wave of flame, as we threw aside the doors to the hanger beyond and ran through.
I shut the doors hastily behind me. This hanger was clear.
I turned to the men.
“Alright, gentlemen, spread out. Look for an aircraft which will carry more then one person and report in if you find anything.”
I walked to the first door as the others spread out, and opened it.
It was then that I realized I would have to reevaluate my definition of “Aircraft”.
* * *
It was shaped like a sleigh would be, if it were designed by NASA. On either side, bucking and pawing, were two reindeer, mounted up and strapped into two stubby wings in the same position that a normal aircraft might have had engines. These were not merely harnessed, but were filled with wired needles and so covered in devices that they resembled some terrible scientific experiment. The cockpit was made of tinted glass. Naturally, the canes and eye symbol was printed on the side. But the whole thing was done up in black, with red and green for the highlights and wing lights.
It looked like it could really move, but there was one tiny hiccup. It was designed for an elf. The only humans capable of piloting it would be between the ages of ten and twelve, which no one in the team was.
The others checked back with similar responses. The fuel outside was almost certainly for the tanks and armored carriers, but those had all left looking for us hours ago, and were still on patrol. The aircraft were all solidly biological.
While the reindeer migs were technically two men craft, we could get one soldier in one with a crowbar, and the flight position was going to be anything by comfortable.
Worse, with only five migs, that still left six men unaccounted for, including myself. And time was running out.
One of the hanger bays, however, was still stuck shut. Caber, one of the relatively quieter men, was attempting to make it through the lock. He was the infiltration specialist for the trip, but was largely overshadowed by Graile and Thyger in most cases. But when it came to the sort of good old-fashioned sturdy metal lock that would probably survive the upcoming explosion without breaking, Caber was the man to have on your side.
Unfortunately, he was not having a great deal of success, either. The lock required that the person trying to break into it use the force of a jackhammer with the delicacy of a scalpel.
Thyger, who was getting rather impatient, finally grabbed one of the lock saws from Caber, and ran it against the lock. All he got in return was a piercing screech and a dulled mini-saw.
Followed by a resounding thud on the door, which shook the entire building.
We all stopped. I looked at the door in fascination. Then, I turned to Thyger.
“Give me that saw.” I said.
He handed it to me, limply, and backed away from the door.
I ran the saw against the lock again.
The door dented sharply outwards with another thud, followed by a desperate barrage as whatever was inside tried to push its way out. It subsided as I pulled the saw away.
“Anyone got some duct tape?”
Dorhaise swung his pack around, dug in it, and then tossed me a silvery roll.
Everyone looked at him oddly. He shrugged.
“You can use it to fix anything,” He said casually, “Including bullet wounds and broken arms, if you know what you’re doing.”
I pulled a length out, and duct taped the saw to the lock. Then I pulled a length tight over the micro-saw’s “On” button, and yelled to my men.
“Hit the bricks!”
The thing inside went wild. The door tore off like tissue paper, bursting right through its hinges and swinging on its lock. The thing that needed the lock was shaking rock and metal off itself. It certainly had room for six people. It would have fit all of us, if I hadn’t wanted a fighter escort.
Standing in the light, covered from head to toe in metal and hosepipes so that the aerodynamic gondola on top and delta wings strapped around its midriff gave it the appearance of being some terrible robot, was a very perturbed wooly mammoth bomber.
* * *
We barely made it out before the nuke went up. But when it did, there was no mistaking it. The sound was deafening.
I was more then a little shocked to find that I was actually on top of a flying elephant.
Graile was slapping his mini computer. It was refusing to turn on.
“Something wrong?” I asked, looking over his shoulder.
“No, sir. But I think I’ve figured out why they’re using these animals.” he said. I raised an eyebrow. He went on. “They turn their nervous systems into a carrier mechanism for an electromagnetic field of the same polarity as the Earth’s. This is incredibly efficient with an animal because the nervous system still has a conductivity that can rival high-end metal alloys, but is spread throughout the animal so finely that it provides lifting force in all portions of the body, in a way that conducting agents cannot. Unfortunately, our electronic devices are not shielded very heavily, which is what is causing the malfunction.”
I was somewhat concerned.
“Do you still have the location of Santa’s workshop?” I asked.
He glanced at the device, and put it away.
“No, sir, not precisely. But I do remember that they were nearly in the very center of the North Pole.”
I nodded, and turned to the pilot of this strange craft.
“Head straight for the center, Locht,” I shouted, “It’s time to regift Mr. Kringle.”