Tango Down: The Last Flight of St. Nicholas

(This story is inspired by this article in the Boston Globe about changes made to NORAD’s popular “Santa Tracker” program.)

The jolly old elf known to many as “Kris Kringle” and to the United States government as “Threat Vector 19” crossed into American airspace at 0520 Zulu just north of Duluth, Minnesota. A pair of F-22 fighter aircraft silently slid in behind him and maintained station a few hundred meters away. This is new, the Claus thought.

Suddenly invigorated by the presence of high-performance aircraft, he let out a right old laugh as he took the rare chance to perform close-quarter aerobatic maneuvers, thinking the pilots of the fighter craft behind him would relish the opportunity to do the same. It was a fatal error.

Just as the tiny red sleigh completed its barrel roll, the pilot of STARFISH 3 announced to no one in particular, “FOX 1!”

Santa barely evades the AIM-7 Sparrow missile and dives for the ground as the missile’s contrail glistens above him in the moonlight.
Just a few weeks before, the US Government informed Kringle that he had to appear at an FAA facility for inspection of his vehicle and a flight competency test before he would be permitted to fly in US airspace. Always willing to help out the good people at the Federal Aviation Administration, Santa appeared as instructed in his trademark sleigh drawn by eight flying reindeer.

The FAA inspector approached with a clipboard in one hand and a shotgun in the other. Santa was alarmed, but you know, America.
The FAA inspector noticed Santa’s discomfort and smiled as he boarded the magical craft. “Listen, I’m not supposed to tell you this because it’s your test, but,” he nodded his head toward the reindeer,”you’re going to lose an engine in flight.”

It was a joke, but Santa isn’t laughing now as he deftly evades dozens of 20MM rounds zipping all around him. He jukes to and fro in a mad dash for any type of haven from the onslaught, the tracers leaving ghastly after-images in his eyes. The trees whip by in a blur as he increases speed, but Kringle’s mind recalls a fact heretofore never needed: these aircraft are ungainly at low-altitude and low-speed. Santa promptly pulls-back on the reigns, decelerating so rapidly the inertial dampeners can barely compensate. A quick check of his magic sack reveals none of his precious cargo has been lost as the F-22s speed overhead and quickly pass out of sight in a matter of seconds.

The old Saint removes his cap and wipes his brow. He chuckles to himself at the near escape from almost certain doom, but unbeknownst to him a Global Hawk UAV has been monitoring his movements from 60,000 feet overhead and relaying them back to NORAD. Even now, as Kringle speaks comforting words to his frightened reindeer, electronic signals are forming an invisible net around the elf from which there will be no escape.

With a wry smile, Claus snaps the reigns and begins to rise once again into the night just as a pair of Apache helicopters appear above the tree line, their cannon trained directly upon his sleigh. Santa looks over his shoulder to see another pair of Apache approaching from behind. Above, he can barely make out the silhouettes of two armed Predator drones circling overhead.

He briefly considers making another run for it before spying a black cross slowly diving toward him. Kringle’s blood runs cold. It’s an A-10, the same beast that took out Jack Frost years before on Alaska’s North Slope. The gig was up.

The pilot of the Apache directly in front of Claus signals him to land immediately as a long line of black SUVs approach. They encircle the sleigh as Claus descends to the ground. Men in cheap suits empty from the vehicles by the dozen, guns drawn just as Santa touches down.

Kringle holds up his hands, but Comet, sensing danger, bolts and makes a run for the treeline. He staggers and falls as his body is riddled with hundreds of bullets. The muzzle flashes from the massive array of small arms fire form a constellation of death in the dark night. With a gargling moan, Comet breathes his last.

An enraged Prancer charges a group of agents directly in front of him and manages to connect head-on with one of the anonymous men as small arms fire again erupts in the night. Though mere inches away from a withering barrage of gunfire, Prancer is a credit to his name as he spins to and fro, kicking here and there with his massive hooves. Viscera hangs from his antlers and human bones crush beneath his bulk during his mad dance of death. A direct shot to the head finally fells the great beast, whose momentum allows him to crush one more suited figure beneath him before he, too, expires. In all, half a dozen men lay dead or dying in a circle around the reindeer.

An inconsolable Santa tries to make a run for it, but without the extra lifting power of Prancer and Comet, he can’t achieve take-off speed. Agents board his sleigh and forcibly toss him from the still-moving craft. As Kringle lands on the ground, he rolls and comes to a stop. He looks up to find a dozen guns pointed at his head.

The government agents, inexplicably wearing aviator-style sunglasses even in the dead of night, strip Claus of his famous red suit and cap, leaving him shivering in just an undershirt and boxers in the snow. He’s handcuffed by an agitated agent who makes sure to tighten the cuffs real tight, restricting blood flow to Santa’s hands. Numb from the cold and likely in shock, Santa doesn’t notice. He winces as a boot hits him square in the back and plants him face first into the snow. The agent grabs the jolly old elf by his magnificent white mane of hair and drags him to one of the waiting SUVs.

Through his tears, Kringle sees his magical reindeer punched, kicked, and rifle-butted, their moans of agony piercing the silent night. It’s the last thing he sees before a black hood envelops his head.

As the black line of SUVs snakes off into the night, they leave behind a scene of utter horror. All that remains are a few tufts of fur and chunks of meat in massive pools of maroon blood against the purest white snow. By morning, the wolves and other carrion will have removed the remaining evidence of slaughter, leaving only the blood behind as silent witness.

Santa is never seen nor heard from again. Rudolph, it is rumored, is an unwilling test subject of the Department of Energy at a secret facility in Utah.

After drone strikes destroy Santa’s workshop, Mrs. Claus and the surviving elves seek asylum in Norway, only to be rebuffed at the last second. At the moment, they are all living in a dacha as guests of the Russian government. Some say they’ve converted to Orthodox Christianity, though many believe it’s just another of Putin’s amateurish attempts at propaganda.

The sudden disappearance of Santa Claus causes widespread distress, but American corporations soon fill the void with their own mascots, working in concert with other brands to create synergy.
Coca-Cola’s Polar Bear® Brought to You with Limited Interruption by FedEx Air® is currently the most popular of the bunch, though Nike’s Lebron James in the Just Do It™ Sled Sponsored by Foot Locker is gaining influence out West.

The Waffle House’s “American Jesus” remains a mainstay of the South, even though he was a short-lived promotional tool to celebrate Labor Day.

Tim Horton is popular in Portland.

I’ll now end this tale and leave you with the inspiring words of the Macy’s Holiday Savings Elf®, beloved by children aged 4-8 in desirable demographic households with at least one college-educated parent: Festive Celebration to All and to All a Good Night™ (All Rights Reserved)!

The Shape of Things to Come

The Shape of Things to Come
The Shape of Things to Come

Contrary to the speculative fears of earlier generations, the conflict between Man and Machine did not arise due to exploitation, slavery, or superior mechanical intellect, but due to the robotic penchant for absconding with half-naked women.

Where and how this peculiar behavior arose is a matter of some debate, but many believe it originated with the programming for the Thresher Minion™, an early personal assistant from robotic pioneer, HotStepr. This particular variant of HotStepr’s popular TOBOR line of mechanical automata allowed someone to use the Thresher Minion to quickly swipe a personal belonging from a friend and bring it back to the minion’s owner, as part of HotStepr’s much-lauded social media strategy.

In the following decades, urban legends of robotic petty thievery abounded, but these stories were almost always dismissed as the fevered delusions of a gullible populace given to anthropomorphizing machines. The skeptics maintained their arguments even after a large tetrahedron built from thousands of commemorative Rudy & Santee coffee cups was discovered in the Atacama Desert of Chile.

The remote spot in the Atacama had become a place of pilgrimage for oddball techno-nerd outcasts wishing to shed their inhibitions and escape societal norms for a few days, though some of the early pilgrims believed that the whole thing had become too corporate. Others declared it was “over” after the appearance of professional counter-culturalists, who tended to show up and ruin anything that looked like a chance to score weed and see naked women, but that’s not important right now.

The tetrahedron, according to experts, was merely a marketing stunt of the Nipsey Cola Corporation, or the work of overzealous fans of the cult comedy classic, Rudy & Santee Tango Force Ghoster Begin. It was most certainly not the work of the Mark VII “Happy Friday” Deep Sea Cable Repair & Cappuccino Dispensing robot, as many suspected.

Repeated claims of robotic thievery were dismissed out of hand until Vairo star and Tri-World Interior Minister, Branch Donito, was accused in the disappearance of her synthkid. As the most popular Vairo of her day, Donito’s several dozen organic imagers transmitted a continuous stream of virt-world holodata to audiences throughout the inner solar system, many of whom followed and commented on everything they experienced within the data stream.

It was an enterprising vaironati who examined Donito’s dorsal imaging stream and discovered the fuzzy, yet unmistakeable silhouette of an Ares Labs’ Shin Hai To binary load lifter carrying the struggling synthkid from the Utopia Planetia Arcology to the planet’s surface. He uploaded the video evidence to the SolarWeb, providing incontrovertible proof of robotic mischief and relieving Branch Donito of a Class 12 misdemeanor and a $35 fine.

Still, the Solar Authority refused to take direct action until Max Jiggins, a stenobot from Xien Collective, alighted with the Authoritor’s third-favorite mistress. Within minutes, intra-stellar war was declared on all mechanical automata; however, no units were activated, no forces marshaled, nor any pulse rifles fired, as robots had absconded with the authorization orders, several key command computers, and a set of keys from a 1986 M-Class BMW.

The Authoritor herself was eventually stolen and replaced with a ceramic kitten, though it was several years before anyone noticed the change. As it had overseen the largest economic expansion in human history, it was decided not to ruin a good thing and the ceramic kitten was eventually named Authoritor in Perpetuity.

It was assassinated 243 years later.

As the centuries passed, widespread genetic manipulation had stretched the very definition of “human” to its limit, but the advent of the Intelogicals changed the game forever. They were beings who defied categorization. Each of their cells was a computer, using the very DNA itself as a CPU. The impossible dream of humanity was finally realized: Man was Machine and Machine was Man. Sexual congress with a robot wasn’t even necessary, though that never prevented legions of humans from trying anyway.

The Intelogicals quickly eclipsed humanity to become the dominant intelligence throughout the solar system, exploiting every world from the moons of Saturn to the icy sentinels in the permanent dark of the Oort Cloud.

They were also obsessed with locating and breeding pure humans: those with unmodified DNA, representing the archaic humans who existed before genetic modification became the norm. All humans certified as “TruHu” were placed within biological preserves, populated with flora, fauna, and technology from long-extinct environments. The most famous of these was Holocene Park, where Intelogicals of all types took automated tours to observe archaic humans in their natural habitat.

The park operated without incident until a “Humpty Runner” from one of the old mining complexes on Europa was installed as part of a new “Rise of the Machines” exhibit. Upon activation, it immediately abducted the first human female it saw and escaped the preserve. Mandroid enforcers pursued the wayward robot on period-appropriate motorcycles, with only primitive weapons at their disposal to disable the robot without harming the priceless human captive.

They were unsuccessful.

Millennia later, a node from the Tantillium Mindform discovered an unremarkable star with a most remarkable feature: a giant tetrahedron comprised of both organic and machined material over three light years in size enclosing the entire star system. It soon became a place of pilgrimage, drawing intelligences from all over the galaxy to observe its perfect angles and proportions.

Many concluded that it was almost certainly the work of mechanistic beings with a geometric fetish, but it was usually attributed to a marketing stunt by a defunct tourism board or the work of overzealous math nerds. After all, many perfectly good dodecahedrons existed throughout the galaxy, though none even remotely approached the scale and grandeur of the Tetrahedron.

Curiously, many of the pilgrims who went to the Tetrahedron often reported several personal items missing upon their return from the structure. To date, there has been no official explanation for the unusual phenomenon.

Sic Transit Terra

With a Creamy Magma Center
This is How the World Ends

Sometime after the Brussarian Consolidation, humanity entered a new Golden Age of peace, prosperity, and unparalleled space exploration thanks to the Carota Expansion Diaphony: a myriad of applications derived from the invention of Carota, mankind’s first artificial element.

Carota provided near limitless energy, confining poverty to the barbaric past and making resource shortages a myth of distant memory. Spaceships traveled far beyond the stars to the outmost reaches of the Universe.

One of these ships crashed onto a desolate planet in a distant galaxy, killing the crew and destroying most of the ship, yet the Corota Drive survived intact.

The Cuniculans, a species numbering in the trillions, yet bereft of planet and home for countless eons, discovered the ship by chance during one of their numerous foraging missions to feed their rapidly expanding population.

In the Carota drive they discovered the most nourishing and delicious foodstuff they had ever encountered, yet it was only a morsel; a mere preview of untold delight. Having tasted ambrosia, the Cuniculans yearned for more Carota to satisfy their constant hunger.
It took hundreds of years, but they eventually found a human colony world rich with Carota and they devoured it with relish. One by one, the lights of Earth’s colonies went out, bewildering the mother planet.

Ships sent to investigate and re-establish contact never returned. It was not long before a Cuniculan scout finally found Earth itself. Driven to madness by the overwhelming abundance of Carota, he gorged himself on the planet’s Moon before the terrified and bewildered crew of the El Mare Fahd, a seeker ship just returned from a lengthy expedition to the Walküre Expanse.

They never saw the Cuniculan horde approaching from behind. Perhaps it was better that way.

Sic Transit Terra