Five Traps Waiting
As we pulled even with the North Pole, I went up to the cockpit in order to get a better look. The North Pole was, appropriately to Kristopher’s determination to adhere to and pervert all the myths about him, a literal pole. But the dimensions had been expanded considerably. It was about the size of an office building, and the stripes on it were not the cheerful colors portrayed in Christmas specials, but deep blood crimson and bone white. And the flag flying above the very tip was the eye and crossed canes, but the material on it was slightly reflective, which gave it a more menacing air.
We also had company. There were opposing reindeer migs pulling in from the distance.
“Graile, did you say that the electromagnetic field was dependent on the animal?”
He looked up from the electronic device he was inspecting.
“I did, sir. But it’s a guess.”
“It’s good enough for me.” I looked at the radio on the reindeer mig. It had an adjustment button, thankfully. I checked my own radio’s frequency, and slid the power dial all the way up. Hopefully, that would overpower the electromagnetic field of the reindeer enough to let them hear.
“Take ‘em low, guys. We’re heading upwards. This thing doesn’t move too fast, but I think it had better altitude then those migs. The resistance should be higher.”
And I yanked on the controls on my side. The wooly mammoth flew straight up for the clouds, while the rest of the team in the migs flew under us. The enemy Migs were suitably confused. I slid my hand over a touch screen display which was on the center console.
“Does this elephant have any bombs on board?” I asked Locht, maneuvering through menus.
“No idea, sir. We certainly didn’t have any time to load them, so if it does, then they were on board when we left.”
I accessed the weapons tab. The flashing screen made my heart sink. There were no bombs on board.
I grimaced. Our alternatives were fairly risky. The mammoth’s head thrashed from side to side as we hit our maximum electromagnetic altitude, and leveled out. The elves were going to be trained pilots. I couldn’t leave the team down there too long.
But, then again, just because we didn’t have any bombs didn’t mean that the enemy had to know that.
“Locht? Can you maneuver us around so that we can dive directly for the entrance of the North Pole?” I asked.
He frowned. “I think so, sir, but it’s going to be very risky… we’d probably crash.”
“Not necessarily. Magnetic resistance should get stronger the closer we get to the Earth. I think sheer magnetic force might save this elephant, but the pilots down there are experienced. If they see a diving bomber, they’re going to follow instinct and draw their fire towards us. If we’re moving fast enough, I think we can pull off a quick entrance into the Pole before the elves even know to strafe us. But just to make sure…” I clicked the radio transmitter back to the Frequency used by the elves, and pressed the button. “Pull up, gentlemen. We’re got something to drop down Kristopher’s chimney.”
I clicked it off. “That should protect the others. And now, Locht, if you please, let’s give those Migs a mammoth surprise.”
And, trumpeting excitedly, we dived.
* * *
The theory of magnetic repulsion worked perfectly. The other laws of physics did not cooperate.
Imagine, for a moment, that you had an elephant that had reached terminal velocity, and that all this force was suddenly incapable of making the elephant slow down. It has to go somewhere. If you’re currently desperately trying to pull up the trunk of that elephant, it goes foreword.
Which explains why we crashed into the main Lobby of the North Pole aboard a trumpeting menace that was going well in excess of two hundred miles per hour.
I want to stress to SPCA employees that the elephant had been bulletproofed, prior, and that it had more then enough protections against violent collisions. Thankfully, the interior was padded with the sort of high end crash gear that most plane companies would have wet themselves to get blueprints for. That, combined with the fact that my men had the good sense to jump out of the way when a wooly mammoth was flying right at them, meant that everyone walked away from the crash.
Or rather, ran, in our case, because the fighters may have missed the trick while it was happening, but they were quick studies in the aftermath.
There was a conveniently unlocked door immediately adjacent to the crash site, which was exactly where we all ran, the instant that the mammoth had stopped moving, without my even having to shout out an order.
It was not until the door locked behind us, that I realized there was something seriously wrong.
We were in what looked like a generator room. It smelled like oil and ozone. On either side, there were hulking turbines spinning away for all they were worth. It was dark, except for the occasional control panel, and distant florescent lights.
It made sense that the North Pole would have it’s own generator room. It was the metal floor ahead of us which was crackling with high voltage electricity that said to me that there had been a significant design flourish in this room.
But we didn’t have time to stop and contemplate our belly-buttons.
“All right, men, we’re dealing with Kristopher on his own turf. As you can see, he’s clearly expecting us. Just like with those planes, we’re going to have to do what he doesn’t expect if we plan to beat him. And right now, he expects that we’re going to be slowed down.” I glanced around the room.
Any place which needs to deal with high voltage has to have some form of insulation, somewhere. In this case, that place was on the generators themselves, where it would be problematic if discharge occurred.
I ordered my men, double-time, up onto the generators, and urged them down up the isles. Except for Thyger, who I had deposit remote charges on the generators. I had a feeling we might need the ability to cause a power crisis later. Otherwise, we were slowed down only with the difficulty of jumping between the platforms, and whenever I wanted to scan the room for further traps.
But beyond a lethal floor, it didn’t appear that Kristopher had done anything more dangerous with this room.
The florescent lights at the end of the generator room were hanging from sturdy steel rods, that looked as though it could easily support our weights. A flying jump, catching the light fixture with our arms, and we could swing onto the control station on the other end of the generator room. From there, it was a relatively simple task to push the button, and jump out the door.
But as the last man flew across, the sturdy looking fixture gave away. I grabbed his hand as he fell short, and pulled him up. The light fixture hit the floor.
What was disturbing was not that the voltage was so high that it melted the light. What was disturbing was the vacuum which came down from the ceiling to collect the charred lumps that were left.
Vincent swallowed hard, and turned to me. “I think I just figured out where the coal that he gives to the naughty list comes from.” he said.
* * *
I was beginning to get a good picture on Kristopher already, but as we mounted the top of the stairs to the second floor, I started to wish that he hadn’t said that. The room that we walked into was far worse then the one that we had come from.
It was a huge circular stable, stuffed to the gills with reindeer, locked behind metal cages.
Ordinarily, this would not have been a bad thing. Reindeer were dangerous, but no more so then any wild animal was.
But there was a terrible stench. Both of manure, and of rotting meat. The feeding troughs for the reindeer were filled to the top with chunks of carrion and fresh ground steaks.
“I get the impression that those biological experiments they’ve been engaging in here are not friendly.” I said.
Graile looked around the room.
“Well, sir, I would imagine that the protein requirements for the reindeer are far higher when they have to be used as conduits for power.” he said, stepping foreword.
The floor gave slightly under his foot. All of the cage doors sprang open with a sharp click. The reindeer inside lunged outwards, showing off full sets of carefully filed sharp teeth under maddened eyes.
I pushed Graile foreword, and signaled the other men into a full sprint.
“Unless you want to find out about those protein requirements firsthand, I suggest you start running,” I yelled.
I checked my rifle. I was disastrously low on ammunition.
“How’s the ammo, gentlemen?”
I swung the butt of my rifle into a reindeer and chipped its tooth.
The chorus came back. Everyone was pretty much out. We were going to have to run this one on empty, if we could help it.
All except Thyger, who, despite being an explosives expert, had provided himself with a very large knife for the sole purpose of being there if he ever found that he was out of explosives. He laid about him on all sides with the blade, leaving bloody streaks in the hides of the reindeer and making any bull foolish enough to put his neck within striking range briefly but extremely sorry for it.
But anyone who had ever tried wrestling with a single full grown deer will understand why we were thankful that the elves had left the knives they used for carving up corpses to feed the reindeer.
We were close to the door when a reindeer attacked. He had not just a bright red nose, but a whole snout that glowed like Chernobyl. It made him look demonic. I brought the machete round in a tight arc, and the vicious creature lunged and grabbed it in his teeth.
Thyger came to my rescue while the deer was distracted, and plunged his knife into its neck.
“The song was right, sir. He just went down in history.” he panted.
There was no point laying any charges in here. We had turned most of the herd into venison by the time we reached the far door, but we had taken some pretty heavy damage. Locht had a serious bite on his arm which Dorhaise slapped over with gauze. The others threw away their cutting implements, but I kept the machete that I had picked up. I wasn’t sure I was done with it yet.
* * *
I wasn’t. The third story was biochemical laboratories the likes of which I didn’t have the clearance to see at home. State of the art didn’t enter into it. This was a whole continent of the art.
So, for that matter, were the locks.
Kristopher was getting serious. The room began to flood with light pink gas. The overwhelming stench of peppermint flooded my senses.
My throat was instantly sore.
“Graile!” I choked, “Is there any way that you can shut this off?”
“No can do, sir. My mini computer’s hard drive was wiped by the electromagnets. There’s nothing. I’m sorry.”
There was a control panel in front of us, but it had thousands of switches and hundreds of dials. It was a cinch that I couldn’t press them all.
My brain was starting to fog over. I took a breath, before the air became too thick to breathe.
There had to be something. There was no trap so good that it was completely impossible to escape from.
My first order of business was find something to breathe.
I ran over to a vat. It was filled with some disgusting experimental reindeer that was clearly in the middle of being experimented on. But the vat was not completely filled. Right up at the top, there was some sort of gas.
Which meant that these vats were not vacuum sealed. The deer had a hosepipe that was connected to its mouth, which was keeping it alive. Every so often, a bubble escaped and floated to the top.
I spotted the air tube, connecting into the vat, and jumped for the ceiling desperately, with the machete extended in an attempt to sever it.
I succeeded. The hosepipe flopped around like a fish, and I desperately shoved it to my face and took a deep breath. I tried to make it to the control panel, but it was too far away. I could only just read the dials on it.
The other men crowded around, while I looked for some way to stop the gas.
The gas had to be coming from somewhere. I needed something airtight to seal the ducts.
I slapped my forehead.
I ran to Dorhaise’s backpack, and grabbed the roll of duct tape. Swearing that I would buy a year’s supply the instant I touched down at home, I wrapped first one duct completely shut, and then another, until all four were closed.
Then, I settled down with the others by the hosepipe and waited.
It didn’t take long. The rate at which gas had been pouring out was immense. The duct tape held firm, long enough for me to notice that one of the pressure gauges was raising markedly on the control panel. I found the switch connected to it, and flipped it. To my sheer amazement, the pressure stopped raising. I didn’t dare press any other buttons. If I knew Kristopher, almost everything else would mean that we would cause our own demise. That was how he thought.
But we still had the door to worry about. Thyger placed a small charge he had been carrying on it, but all it did was blow a sort of vertical crater in it. The door itself was solid, but good.
There had to be another way out. Then it occurred to me that he had not had this entire system put it just waiting for us.. There had to be something else which the system did, which we could use.
The air vents. The air vents were in fact supposed to be connected not to poison gas, but to oxygen. This room could depressurize in order to be totally clean. And given the damage that might just be our ticket to killing two birds with one stone.
I urged the men into empty vats, quickly enough that they had relatively little gas with them.
I ran over, found the PSI for the room. Crossed my fingers, and twisted. Then I ran for the vat with the deer in it.
I dived and closed the lid as the ceiling panels moved aside.
The gas disappeared. But the door, which was now no longer thick enough to withstand the pressure, was ripped inwards, flooding the room with pure oxygen and giving us our escape to freedom.
I gratefully popped the lid on the vat, dived out, hit the switch, and led the men through. In all we were somewhat soggy, but intact.
But Kristopher was taking off the gloves.
So before we left, I decided it was time we did the same. I had Thyger leave a set of charges on the oxygen line. If the time came that we needed an ace in the hole, I wasn’t going to be afraid to use it.
* * *
The room above had a distinctly more genteel feel to it then the previous ones. Marble flooring, hardwood wall paneling, gilded picture frames. The room was several concentric circles, this time with the way up in the center.
The moment we stepped in, there was the usual routine with the door locking behind us.
Walls of shop lasers – that could easily by themselves have sliced a person in half – activated, between the walls. Then the room began to spin. At least the floor did.
It flung me off my feet and hurtled me towards the laser at quite a rapid pace.
I shouted desperately to Thyger.
“Hit the charges on the generators!”
He grabbed a remote from his belt, and pushed the button on it to activate the charges.
With my boots an inch away from the lasers, all the lights went off.
I leapt to my feet.
“Hurry it up, men! Make for the center double-time. It isn’t like Kristopher not to have a redundant system. Thyger, I need some charges where they’ll be missed by the lasers.”
He didn’t even stop to answer. He pulled out three charges, set them to a receiving position, and positioned them on the ring. Then we ran for the center.
But we weren’t quite fast enough. Just as we approached the final doorway and the rest of the men, the power returned, and we were swept off our feet as the floor resumed spinning.
But the machete I had, like all of the stuff that the elves touched, had been mirror polished, so that the blood stuck. Better still, it was made of the same fine materials as everything else in this place. A lesser blade would almost certainly have disintegrated. But this was no ordinary machete, and a quick, precise twist of the wrist reflected the beams from the both the sides and the ceiling so that I took out the whole row of lasers.
Rolling to inside and grabbing Thyger, I plunged the machete into the wall, and pulled against the floor to prevent our flying into the next set of lasers. Thyger pulled out his own knife, and also hacked into the wall
Together, skidding and nearly falling, we managed to get through the door. Thyger stayed and panted for a moment, then jumped up. I looked around the room. The stairway leading up was forbidding.
I turned back to the men.
“Well,” I said, grinning and brandishing the machete, “how bad could it be?”
* * *
The answer to my question was “extremely.” The room that we walked into was clearly a barracks, with elves dressed in white, definitely the personal guard for Santa.
They had just been plunged into the dark for a moment, and now, judging by the way they were all completely armed, I got the impression they had been waiting for us.
Low ammo be damned. I pulled out my gun, and commenced firing at head height. The elves ducked, but this didn’t stop them from continuing foreword.
But they had not counted on Thyger planting bombs in the gallery downstairs.
When Thyger pushed the button for the bombs in the floor below to go off, it became clear that the floors in this place were not that thick, or at least not thick enough to stand in the way of C-4.
One of the explosions nearly bought me the farm. But all of them blew holes in the floor. In the spaces between them, we waged battles, sweeping the elves off onto the horrible spinning rings and shooting for all we were worth.
It was the worst of Kristopher’s traps, but he hadn’t counted on Thyger or his explosives. The elves had to fight in narrow quarters, and despite being small, were not actually much more flexible or acute at dodging.
It gave us the edge we needed. A couple of times during the battle, a section of floor, weakened by the bombs, would actually give way, and we would have to leap to the side in order to continue the battle, holding onto our position through the sheer desire not to fall down into the gallery again.
But when the bloody battle was over, I knew that we couldn’t last much longer. By the end of the battle, we all had wounds. I had been grazed on the shoulder and leg, and I was the only one with any ammunition left.
But how much ammunition, I thought to myself, sliding the clip out of the rifle.
I held it to eye level.
There was a single bullet. Who knew how long there was to go, and I had but one bullet left. I gritted my teeth, and slid the clip back into gun.
“Good news, men. I don’t think Kristopher was expecting us to get this far. If he sent his entire personal guard after us, then he certainly wasn’t expecting survival. From here on out, we’ll almost certainly encounter heavy resistance, but I don’t think we’ll see any more traps.”
With a hoarse cheer, we picked up our equipment, and headed for the upstairs floor.
* * *
What we encountered as we stepped through the door, however, was not a trap, as I had been expecting. Or if it was a trap, then something had gone very wrong in setting it up. The room was stuffed to the brim with electronics, including four humungous screens that would have served small movie theaters at home, all connected to computers.
Silhouetted in the light, four sinister figures in button-down shirts hunched forewords, facing us.
“I wouldn’t move any closer than that, if I were you,” one said, the light catching his thick glasses in a peculiar way.
“I’d hate to have drag you to the recycle bin.”