I instinctively raised my gun, only to realize that it would do absolutely no good, because I had one bullet left and far more than that number of foes. I pulled out the machete, and gave it a few practice swings.
“I take it that you’re Kristopher’s personal guard?”
The elf in green nodded.
“I wouldn’t bother putting up much of a fight,” he said, looming forward, “You’re going to die anyway. It isn’t really all that bad. But you’ll probably prefer it if I simply snap you neck.”
“Oh, really?” I stepped backwards, pivoted on my front foot to sweep the weapon at the elf, and darted back again. The elf slid backwards to parry my attack.
“And what leads you to that conclusion?” I said, signaling with my hand for my men to circle up.
The elf shrugged. “We’ve just been sealed in here. I can tell you that there aren’t many things less pleasant then oxygen deprivation.”
I jumped into the air, swept my machete past the elf’s cheek, and landed again, on the other side. Before he could turn around, I brought the blade around at a shallow angle behind my back to cleave at his calve, and finished with my arm at it’s full extent, behind his back.
He was bleeding, but that was about all you could say. Otherwise, he did not even seem to notice.
The other two elves lunged forwards at my men, and the green elf turned around.
But that meant that he left his back open to my men, who were already under attack, but not fully engaged.
“Trample him, boys!” I shouted, and some of them broke free and charged, pushing the humungous elf to the ground.
But he didn’t stay down long. With an exaggerated grunt, he flung my men off in all directions, pressed his huge knuckles to the ground, and hopped up on his back feet so that he was upright again.
The red elf grabbed my ankle, and lifted me into the air. I felt the bone pop under the strain. I pulled the machete around, and stuck it squarely in his eye, in hopes that I could escape in the following turmoil.
I yanked back the machete, and the pressure on my ankle released. I dropped, ready to capitalize on the elf’s anguish.
But something was wrong. As I looked up, I saw the elf put a hand to his ruined eye, pulled what remained out of the socket, toss it aside, and raise his fists.
What the hell? I dodging backwards as Red brought his humungous fists down and slammed the floor like a thunderbolt. A shower of sparks hit the floor as he jerked his head violently.
The white elf dived for me. I rolled backwards so that he planted his face directly in the floor .
The air was beginning to feel hot. I wondered how much air we had, exactly. Certainly not enough, in a room like this, to support eleven grown men for very long.
White picked himself up, and with the aid of Green, started picking men up, and throwing them at the wall as calmly as if they had been pitching ball. As Red raised his fists again, I dodged to the side, took a very ungentlemanly swing at his groin, and rolled to a stop between Green and White.
Red did not seem to be affected by this attack. But his counter-attack careened him directly into his two comrades. I leapt under him before they dropped into a pile.
So it HAD affected him. His depth perception was shot. He wasn’t invincible, he just didn’t show pain.
I took the opportunity to sprint to Thyger, who was picking himself up after being thrown against a wall.
“These things aren’t robots, but they also aren’t really elves. They seem to be androids of some kind… they’ve got robotic bits that depend on their biological portions functioning properly,” I said, quietly, watching the henchmen for the next attack.
He looked at White, who was tangled with Red and trying desperately to get up.
“Does that mean that they’ve got the same weaknesses, sir?”
I nodded. “But they don’t seem to need to breathe. That’s why they don’t bleed much; the blood isn’t that necessary to them.”
“So, we go for the base of the skull, sir, right at the back? Try to sever the spinal cord?”
“My thoughts exactly,” I said.
Red gave us an ample opportunity. In a gung ho charge, he leapt at me and Thyger. I tried to jump out of the way, but my ankle gave out under me, and a gigantic hand grabbed me around the midriff and squeezed my ribs until they almost broke.
But Red had made a fatal mistake. He had forgotten to account for Thyger. Pulling out his wicked field knife, Thyger drove deep into the base of the elf’s neck.
The elf’s eyes went very wide for a moment, then he toppled over, trapping me under him. Instantly, the wind was knocked out of me. The elf weighed a ton. It was literally like having a piano on my chest.
I managed to let out a strangled cry. The other men saw me from the place where they were fending off Green and White with far less impressive standard issue field knives.
In one wave, they ran into the side of the red elf, pushing with all their strength while I crawled out.
But the white elf was not finished. He sprang across the room like a jungle cat, swiping with his hand and tossing men like so much loose tinder.
My men dropped the red elf, and scattered. With the white elf distracted, I leapt onto his back. Pain ran down my body. I was certain I had broken something, but I didn’t care.
Using the machete to help make handholds as I ascended the treacherous face, I climbed the elf’s back. The huge hands groped for me.
But as the elf closed his fist on me, I severed his spinal cord with a sharp snap of my wrist. It was lower then I wanted, but it managed to kill him. Unfortunately, this did not stop his arm from throwing me headlong in its last convulsion. My face planted right in the rock-like chest of the green elf.
He lost no time. He caught me in one hand as I flew into him, plucked the machete from my hand, and folded it like a paperclip. As my men surged forward, he moved one tree-trunk arm across the floor and swept them off their feet.
“There,” he said, picking me up by the nape of my neck, “Now that I’ve taken away your weapon, what are you going to do?”
I coughed. It was getting harder to breathe, although my damaged ribs might have been the reason why. A tiny idea scratched at the back of my mind. This elf was not stupid. But that just might be to my advantage.
“Well…” I said, raising my head, “I’m not going to do anything. But my friend behind you will.”
The elf didn’t even bother to glance. Which was a shame for him, because if he had, he might have seen Thyger standing behind him, poised to jump.
The elf only got as far as, “I wasn’t grown yester—” before Thyger drove the knife in to the hilt.
* * *
It was definitely getting harder to breathe, and the room felt hot.
Graile looked at the seams on the doors.
“I can’t understand it,” he said, looking at the door, and his USB drive, “The programmer told us that this key could open the door.”
I drew a breath with some difficulty. “I think, Graile, that we have to consider the possibility that Kristopher saw this coming.”
“But wouldn’t the programmer have known something, sir?” Graile said.
His expression changed. He grimaced, and pulled out his mini-computer.
“Isn’t that broken, Graile?” I asked, staring at him.
“Yes, and no, sir. The electronics still work fine. If my theory’s correct… well, give me a moment.”
He plugged in the USB drive. I was very surprised to see something appear on his screen.
“Hm,” he said, “That’s odd.”
“What is?” I said, looking up. The air felt like steamed pudding, and my head was filling with cotton wool.
“As I suspected, this thing has it’s own, very small OS loaded on it. It adds to the security. If there are no references to the data that opens the door in the host machine, a hacker won’t be able to open the door without both the key, and it’s OS to read it’s instructions and execute them. But these aren’t programming instructions of any kind I’ve ever seen before,” he said, scrolling though them on his mini-computer, “The code more closely resembles an animation sequence for a three dimensional figure.”
I nodded. It took a while for the words to wade through the molasses of my head. But when they arrived, they made an impact.
“Hold on. Do you mean, like these elves?”
Graile looked at the corpses, and put his head in his hand. “Unfortunately, sir, yes. I think you’ve got it.”
I groaned. It all made sense, now. What better way to ensure that no one broke in, then to make it so the only person who could let you in was one of your personal body guards. And if you killed them, then you stayed outside forever.
Thyger stood up, brandishing his knife. “Well, if we’re going to die in here anyway, we might as well find out where the plug is, at least.” he said, swaggering over to the elf.
I held up a hand.
“Don’t bother,” I said. “Given Kristopher’s sense of humor, I think I can guess.”
And I walked over to Red’s body. I pulled down the shirt flap to show where Thyger had put a knife in him. Sure enough, I was right. We hadn’t noticed, in the heat of the moment, that there was a rectangular slab of flesh in that same place. The vulnerable spot on the elves was also the only interface point.
Graile looked thoughtful.
“Hold on a second, sir. Don’t despair just yet. If the USB plugs in there, then it’s trying to interface with the brain stem. There may be a system for causing direct motor control. In fact…” he snapped his fingers, “… in fact, I’d count on it. The elves didn’t feel things normally, right? They almost certainly had their brain stem screwed with.”
“We’re still going to need power to get through the door, and the USB port on all of the elves has been trashed,” I pointed out.
“We haven’t checked that second point, sir. And as for power…” He smiled thoughtfully, “I think we can get some from Kringle.”
* * *
As it turned out, there was one elf, the one dressed in white, which I hadn’t killed properly. He had been pulling me off his back at the time, and the knife had slipped down, and inch. It was still a fatal blow, because it severed the spinal connection, but if the elf hadn’t swung me like a lever, I would never have gotten that far into his neck.
Graile was overjoyed. With a tremendous effort, we propped him by the wall.
The air was now almost unbearable. My eyes were starting to blur. This had to work, or the next equipment I’d be carrying in the field would be one standard issue combat harp.
“What was the last thing he was doing?” Graile asked.
“Trying to pull me off his—” It suddenly became clear why we were propping him by the door.” Do you think that the action is still present in memory for the device? So that if we ran power through him, his other arm might flail out and puncture the wall?”
Graile nodded as he tweaked something in the elf’s neck with pliers. The low blow had severed the connection to the internal computer, as well as the spinal cord. But at least the prior was easy to fix. “Exactly, sir. The door would require a more sustained effort, but this wall is relatively thin. Our power source will be whatever was powering the welder.”
I narrowed my eyes. “I think I might just know where we can get the initial power.”
I motioned over to Dorhaise.
“Dorhaise? Do you still have a field defribulator handy?”
“Always, sir. Why?”
“Give it to me.”
He handed me the defribulator. I pulled up White’s shirt, lined up the pads on the spine, and Thyger put his hand over the shock button.
“Clear!” I said.
And White came back to life again, for a moment, ramming his hand right through the wall. Then he died, like a toy winding down.
And on the other side of the wall, there was the electrical wire we needed.
“Alright,” I said, as the smoke cleared. “Graile? Let’s hook up Franken-elf, here, and give Kristopher the shock of his life.”
* * *
Apparently, the protocol that the elf was supposed to take was to lift the door out of its track to allow Kristopher through. Because the door was welded shut, however, it simply ended up in the ceiling along with half the frame.
My men and I ran thankfully out into the relatively fresh air of Kristopher’s private penthouse as White exceeded his safety line on the wires and once more fell still.
Unfortunately, there was no time for celebration.
Two women, this time actual humans, albeit even more scantily clad than snow and her sisters, were strapped to a Christmas tree in the center of the lavish apartment.
And beneath it, with neat little bows, were a dozen and a half fully wired stacks of plastic explosive.