“What seasons?” Jason snapped. “We live in a giant climate-controlled bubble—or maybe it’s more of a box, I’m not really sure—either way we haven’t had a ‘season’ since I’ve been here.”
“Wow,” Cindy rolled her eyes. “That just sucked the holiday spirit right out of the atmosphere.”
“We haven’t had one of those since I’ve been here either,” Jason grumbled.
The Eighth Power was gathered as they often were around the common area of the dorm. Cindy had a file folder and a carefully folded orders paper, which meant they were going on deployment soon.
The rest of the team, however, seemed unusually grumpy.
“Just give us the bad news,” Hunter ordered as he limped towards the kitchen. “Whatever horrible, soulless thing do they want us to do this time?”
Hunter’s leg had been injured on a recent mission, and while the physical damage was healed, the nerves were taking their own sweet time to stop screaming.
“For once” Cindy began with a grin. “It’s not a horrible, soulless thing. Get this, Daemon Wing has been hired to fly escort on Christmas Eve, for Santa Clause himself!”
“That is sincerely the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard,” Jason moaned.
“I don’t believe in Santa,” Rian put in.
“He’s got a point,” Hunter agreed with a sigh. “Mr. Kringle’s existence has been shrouded in a certain amount of… what’s a pretty word for this? Disbelief?”
“Santa Clause is also the designation for Spatial Anomaly M1872,” Cindy stuck out her tongue. “Colloquially known as SCP, or the Santa Clause Phenomenon. An anomaly which happens to pass near every inhabited planet in the
and GS-controlled space, on the Day of Dawn’s Reflection each year, and, coincidently, the children on those worlds frequently find presents in their stockings. But of course, you don’t believe in Santa.” Alliance
Hunter slumped into one of the chairs and snatched the file folder from her hands.
“What we believe is irrelevant,” he huffed. “We have a mission.”
“I don’t see how a man who rides around in a magic sleigh and breaks into people’s houses should be considered a hero,” Rian complained.
“He’s the ultimate equalizer,” Robin responded. “If you’re naughty you get nothing, if you’re nice you get rewarded. Clearly defined rules with a simple, straightforward cost-benefit paradigm.”
“But ‘naughty’ and ‘nice’ are arbitrary concepts,” Rian argued. “With no universal definition. I mean, how is it the kid who does poorly in school because he misbehaves get a naughty mark, while another kid who does bad because of a learning disability gets considered ‘nice’? It’s judgmental, biased, and unfair.”
“I think it probably harkens back to the laws of Antiquity,” Robin said. “To the Rule of Intent. If you tried to be good you got on the good list, if you didn’t, you didn’t. The whole point is not to judge, but to teach.”
“Or not,” Hunter threw down the folder. “Santa’s not terrestrial, he can’t be. According to these readings his ‘sleigh’ does a hundred twenty PSL on the straight away. Whatever Anomaly M1872 is, it’s not Santa. Case closed.”
“I had a feeling you might say that,” Cindy grinned. “So I took the liberty of accessing all known data on M1872 and compiling a report.”
“Really?” Hunter raised a suspicious eyebrow.
“Really,” Cindy nodded. “I just love Christmas that much.”
She produced another stack of papers from about her person (observers were not entirely certain how) and tossed the bulging folder on the table, spilling out a collection of documents and color print-outs.
“While Santa-sightings date back to before the founding of the Alliance, Gudersnipe has only taken an interest in the anomaly within the last two centuries,” Cindy began. “Although confirmed reports have existed since the earliest days of the Foundation. Correlative data assembled from several observation satellites have confirmed that the same anomaly can and has existed at the same time in multiple locations, which means it is not a normal object.
“Unfortunately, as previously mentioned, it’s traveling faster than the speed of light which makes it both a physical impossibility and supposedly not made of matter.
“But, the G.S.S. Swabouski, a specially modified cutter, was boosted to over eighty PSL in an effort to match speeds and get clear scans of the SCP.
“The cutter managed to maintain speed for about fourteen seconds and relative to Mr. Kringle, one-point four.
“Using FOG RADAR, they obtained these images.”
Cindy slammed down another collection of black and white print-outs.
It was grainy, blurry, and clearly a FOG image, but there it was: eight reindeer pulling a sleigh.
“Well, now,” Hunter gulped.
“We should pass the mission off to Gold Squadron.”
Everyone glanced over to Jason, who had been ignoring Cindy and reading the orders.
“This isn’t a deployment for us,” he explained, gesturing to the paper. “The anomaly travels through the system at close to one hundred and twenty percent light speed, the only wing able to even approach that is Gold Squadron using their safe-failure maneuver.”
“Gold Squadron wasn’t given the orders, we were,” Cindy replied. “Daemon Wing set the standard for precision-piloting and high speed maneuvers. Plus, Daemon Wing has Hunter.”
“Well gee, I feel all warm and fuzzy,” Hunter spat. “Daemon Wing has been disbanded. Fine, get everybody to a briefing room in six hours. The Eagle soars once more.”
Daemon Wing had begun its life when Hunter usurped control of the unit and the previous leader selected a nine-millimeter retirement plan. With an emphasis on training and the highest standard of precision, Hunter turned the whole Wing around and eventually earned the Star Medal.
Gudersnipe only had a handful of commendations, and Hunter had most of them. He seemed to be a habitual over-achiever and never let piddling things like physics stand in his way.
With the team scurrying about to reform the old Wing, Hunter limped off to his dorm room, and pulled his chair up to the desk. The computer terminal flashed on, and he began to work. Cindy’s research was thorough, now it had to be cross-referenced with the Foundation Wiki. The answers were out there.
Or, more accurately, they were on Hunter’s computer screen, or would be when he figured out what they were.
* * *
“Tesseract,” Hunter began as the pilots finished taking their seats. “Is a word we tend to throw around an awful lot. Usually in describing space-folding technology. The word actually means a four-dimensional hyper cube.
“Today, however, we are going to talk about something totally and completely unrelated: Santa Clause.
“Yes, I know it makes little sense, but if you read the mission briefing—which I know none of you did—you’d know that this unit has been hired to fly escort for Mr. Clause and his reindeer.
“Understandably this presents numerous logistical and physical challenges, but we are going to treat this like any other mission, and rule one of every escort mission is…”
Hunter paused dramatically and waved his arms like a conductor as the assembled group all responded in unison.
“Protect the asset.”
“Good,” Hunter nodded. “Now that we’re all clear, let’s try and define the asset.
“Santa Clause, or Anomaly M1872 as he’s less commonly known, was first confirmed by GS observational satellites in A.Y. 1714. Fly-by maneuvers and FOG samplings later confirmed that he—or rather it—is in fact comprised of solid materials which means: the anomaly is multi-spatial in origin.”
“Wait a second, isn’t that a pretty major leap of logic?” Jason interrupted. “We don’t know what it is, therefore its quantum?”
“Well it’s clearly not a zebra,” Hunter responded. “Simplest explanation people, when you hear hoof beats think horses, not zebras. When you see an object traveling faster than the speed of light in normal space, think quantum.
“Studies of the SCP have yielded numerous theories, and for the sake of this mission we are going to adopt the most logically plausible.
“Santa Clause is a four-dimensional hyper-being.”
The words stung and bit his tongue even as they left his mouth, but despite his best attempts, he just couldn’t get them out fast enough. It wasn’t so much that he didn’t believe, or didn’t want to believe, or was worried about looking suicidally insane in front of his cohorts. In fact, it pretty much mostly added up to the fact that he didn’t want to have to formulate an opinion one way or the other.
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” Jason sniped. “And I once spent a whole week alone with Cindy.”
A raw egg sailed across the assembly hall and struck Jason very squarely in the forehead.
He drew a very long, deep breath and brushed the dripping yoke away from his face, then glared questioningly at Hunter.
“Whether it’s true or not, whether you want to believe it or not, whether elves make cookies, shoes, or toys, it doesn’t matter,” Hunter shrugged. “It simply doesn’t matter. Our mission is to protect the asset.
“The best evidence to indicate intelligence is the behavior of the anomaly; predictable enough to observe, too random to interactively study. His route is different each year, he doesn’t pass by every planet, but most of them. When you place an obstruction in his path—or rather try to—he is on a different path. All function data says we should be able to predict his movements, but we can’t.
“Scientists working on the Geomancer have modeled four-dimensional matter on the computer, and based on their research, here’s what I’ve come up with: Santa Clause is an intelligent life form, comprised of exotic, four-dimensional particles. These particles do not obey the laws of physics as we know them, but rather must conform to their own laws.
“In theory, such a being made from these particles should be able to exist at every point in the time-space continuum simultaneously.
“Which means his existence at any one point should be unimportant.
“However, experiments with multi-spatial technologies indicate that his existence may be much more fragile, and that damage at any one point in the time-space continuum could be damaging on a level we can’t comprehend.
“That is why defending him is very important.
“We’ll be using the Allapa Dismissive for this sortie, as it has the highest flank speed of any fighter in our access. Our formations will be staggered along Santa’s predicted route, in an effort to provide the greatest possible defense.”
“Question,” Jason interrupted. “Why? If he can avoid obstacles, doesn’t it make sense that he can avoid enemy missiles?”
“Why?” Hunter replied. “Because we’ve been ordered to. The Drethsella Government is doing this as a PR stunt, something to impress the kiddies. ‘Look, we hired mercenaries to protect Santa!’ Should make a lot of children happy. As for us, it’s still a job, it’s still a mission, and we are still going to take it as seriously as we would any other assignment.
“Call it practice, call it a drill, call it a creative exercise in problem solving. We are still going to do it, and we are still going to do it to the very best of our abilities.
“Questions? No. Good luck, and God speed. Seriously.”
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