Two Deserted Loves
I limped over to the girls as fast as my legs would carry me. They were bound and gagged, sitting on some kind of pressure sensors, which had wires connected directly to the C-4.
The apartment had more of a modern flair to it then any that I had seen before. The carpeting gave way to polished granite and smooth, translucent aluminum.
I couldn’t help but notice, however, that the apartment was very cold. It struck me as very odd that these two were wearing bikinis in a place so frigid. I pulled the gag off the one on the left side of the tree.
“Mrs. Claus, I presume?”
“Whatever. All I know is that one minute, everything was mistletoe and holly. The next minute, I wake up tied to a tree, sitting on some kind of bomb, and Kris has left us here.”
“Is he still in the building?”
“Far as I know. Did you hear the part about me and my sister sitting on a bomb? I don’t really care where he is.”
I motioned Thyger over, and then, as an afterthought, Graile.
“What do you make of this, boys?”
Thyger whistled. “Nothing good, sir. That much plastic explosive could take out a city block, ordinarily. If Kristopher is still in this building, then this room must be really well reinforced.”
I nodded to Graile. “Think we can diffuse this thing?”
“Maybe, sir. Frankly, I don’t think it’s going to be a piece of cake, if that’s what you’re asking. It’s clear that the person who built this knew what they were doing.”
He looked at the circuit box, and called over Dorhaise, who was helping the others secure the area.
“Got a stethoscope handy?”
Dorhaise, who at this point was getting used to being used as a supply train, simply took out the stethoscope and handed it to Graile. Graile held it to the side of the box, and tapped on it a few times.
“Well, it seems to have something that’s transmitting the sound inside. There doesn’t seem to be a vacuum seal, which is what I was really afraid of.”
He pulled out a screwdriver. But as he was putting it to the screw, he paused, shook his head and then put it away.
“But the screws have almost certainly got a catch mechanism that sets this off if they’re used.” He reached into his pack, pulled out his combat knife, and selected the can opener.
It wasn’t Hattori steel, like Thyger’s knife probably was. But it was well-crafted, field qualified, and capable of piercing the relatively thin steel of the circuit box.
Carefully prying out the piece of metal, he looked at the internal mechanisms, and whistled.
“This is nice work,” he said simply. “Our friends downstairs probably helped design it. But—” he tapped the internals, carefully, “—there’s a tiny oversight here, which I think we can exploit. The pressure switch is connected to a weight sensor, and the device controlling those is on a very short timer. That was probably so they could regulate the transfer of electricity more exactly, sir, this being plastic explosive. I can, with relative safety, slow down the timing between counts in the internal clock.”
“Will that diffuse it?”
He blew out between his lips.
“Probably not. But it will buy you time. Ten seconds of it, probably. I wish I could get you more, and Thyger is welcome to look at it if he wants, but I don’t think your going to get much more out of this thing.”
“Um, I don’t mean to interrupt.” said the girl without a gag on her mouth, “But is it possible to tell me what’s going on?”
I looked up at her. “Frankly, no. Where did he pick you up? Florida? California?”
She looked hurt, “Hey, we’re married, not cheap floozies. Just because my sister and I happen to be married to one guy doesn’t mean we’re those sorts of girls. I don’t know. We met him back when he was still doing personal service to houses, rather then just teleporting things down. We were kids at the time. Who knows where?”
Lovely, I thought. I refuse to continue probing beneath the surface of how disturbed this is.
Thyger snapped his fingers.
“We could destroy them, sir.”
I tilted my head at him, “We’re not here to pass out sentence for polygamy, we’re here to diffuse a bomb.”
He shook his head, and stepped forward.
“Not them, sir. This is C-4, sir. Like we had in the munitions dump. Which means what was a liability for us then is to our advantage now. C-4 burns in fire, instead of exploding. We just need to find a way to burn it.”
An epiphany hit. “Didn’t the chief programmer mention that all of the air ventilation is run through this apartment?”
* * *
The filter was three rooms away. Getting there involved heavy hoisting, with a whining girl attached to the tree we were carrying, and me with a hurt ankle.
Our rate of travel was ridiculously slow, and there was a serious problem with the filter.
Kristopher used a gigantic, full sized filter, which was walk-in. It was gleaming white, and very modern. It was a full chemical filter. It reacted with oxygen and nitrogen, then reacted with the compound created afterwards, leaving only the pure elements. They were then recombined with each other later.
But the door was not nearly wide enough to accommodate the tree.
Thyger did not see this as a problem.
“Frankly, sir,” he said, “I’ve been dying to chop down a Christmas tree since we started our visit up here.”
Considerable trimming eventually left the tree just small enough to slip through the doorway.
“How long can you hold your breath?” I said, interrupting Mrs. Claus #1 as she was whining about being placed in the tank.
She stopped, and shrugged. “A minute, a minute and a half.”
I shook my head. “You’re going to have to hold it for two minutes. We’re going to change the mix in this room to almost a hundred percent oxygen. That should be enough to burn all of this C-4 before it can detonate. But if you breathe that continuously, you’re going to be in danger.” This was, in fact, a white lie. I was far more concerned with getting her to shut up then preventing the “danger” of nausea and a sore throat. My men didn’t need anyone else yelling things at them right now.
I turned to Graile. “Is the adjustment ready?”
He nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“Alright, then. Let’s light this Yule log.”
* * *
It went off like a dream. Two men stood by with the girls, and at the signal, yanked them out the door.
We shut the door, locked it, and then Thyger detonated the final charge, which was still sitting on the fuel line downstairs. This was connected, as I had suspected, directly to the oxygen feed on Kristopher’s filter.
The resulting flash of flame instantly incinerated the C-4, leaving nothing but a flyblown ashen structure to show what it had been.
Mrs. Claus was very surprised to find my machete at her neck before she could finish drawing a compact flechette gun from her bra. It had the characteristic long, thin design, although it was light-years more advanced then what we had at home.
“I’ll thank you to put that down, Mrs. Claus. Boys, grab the other one.”
She stomped her foot and shook her head from side to side.
“How did you guess?”
“It wasn’t easy,” I admitted, “but there were clues. Kristopher put an exaggerated amount of C-4 on you, for starters, but that was relatively innocuous, since “overkill” is his middle name. There was also the fact that you said you woke up tied to the tree with your sister, which is interesting since you’re both bound and gagged, and you couldn’t see past the pine tree behind you. But the really damning evidence is that you’re wearing bikinis, and this room is about 40 degrees. The fact that you weren’t yet showing signs of being very cold was the giveaway. You changed, what, five minutes before coming in here? Wouldn’t it just be perfect if we were distracted by the mostly naked women, or pride in diffusing the bomb, so much we doomed ourselves?”
She narrowed her eyes.
“You’ve got no idea who you’re dealing with. Yeah, okay, fine. It was a setup. At gunpoint, but a setup. He came in, dragging a stupid elf along with him, and told us he had a surprise down in the living room. He’s upstairs, right now, waiting to hear about your death.” She paused. When she started again, her tone was that of someone who’s had a revelation. “He knows everything, you know that? He sees everything that goes on around here. But Kristopher was really clear about what would happen to us if we failed. The bastard didn’t grow me, so he doesn’t have my brain on file, and I’m not going to let him bring me back just so he can have his kicks.” And before I could stop her, she shot herself with the flechette gun. Ordinarily, the damage caused by a flechette was low, but she shot directly into her head. The pin flew right into her chin, her eyes glassed over, and she fell down, dead.
I swore under my breath.
“Graile?” I said, turning to him, “if I gather correctly, he’s got Snow. Do you recall if there was something odd about the trace you ran?”
“You mean besides it being watched? Not really, I –” He stopped.
“You mean what he said about showing the world, don’t you? You think he’ll try to do that now?”
“Count on it,” I said, grimacing.
* * *
I climbed the stairs on my hurt ankle, and opened the door. The air was even more frigid then the rest of the apartment.
This room was not like the otherwise light and airy rooms the rest of the North Pole seemed to be made of. The walls were a somber, brooding crimson. Forest green marble veined with black made up the floor. The ceiling was high and forbidding, with atmospheric sconces on the walls shaped like Christmas trees.
I called into the darkness.
“Kristopher Kringle, we hereby order you to cease and desist. Failure to comply will result in violence.”
The shadows shifted at the far end of the room.
Out of the darkness, the sound of approaching footsteps rang, as a shadowed figure approached.
He was about seven feet tall, and surprisingly thin. He wore a red uniform, trimmed in neat white fur. It had epaulettes shaped like golden Christmas trees, a spattering of medals, and a lidded red hat with stars on it, which were placed on either side of the eye and cane symbol, also in gold.
His ringed hand held in its grip a jade cane with a Christmas tree for the top.
His face bore the lines of too much age and time, and a certain ironic twist of his mouth was framed perfectly in a neatly trimmed white goatee. He resembled a demonic colonel sanders far more then a child’s Christmastime fantasy.
“I am Kristopher Kringle.” The figure said, in a harsh metallic voice. He did not speak very loudly at all, but the sound was full of odd tones and susurrations which grabbed the ear. “And you, Captain Mesner, are just in time to watch Snow melt.”