The Master Chief had taken a console in Combat just to kill the boredom. Nothing deader than Christmas Eve in the middle of the Pacific ocean. Besides, the petty officer who had been sitting the position was nodding off. A coffee run to the Goat Locker for some java and cookies would wake the kid up. In the background of his awareness, he heard the phone ringing at the Tactical Action Officer’s spot in the rear of the room. Moments later, his intercom clicked and Lieutenant Worth’s voice came over the network on his private channel.
“Master Blaster, the spooks are all wound up about the Russians and NORKS for some reason. According the the Sith Lords in the tank, the entire Russian Network in this region just lit up with a massive comms burst, and all of the air defense sites are up and radiating. Not normal for 0340 in the morning any day, much less Christmas. Top it with the North Koreans flushing all their alert aircraft and something has to be getting them all riled up. You have any indications on the screen.”
Delroy English scanned the data in front of him and then turned off the filters. He’d learned over the past 25 years that sometimes the computer took out the good stuff because it was outside of any algorithm expectations. The screen blanked for a full two seconds then settled down to a cacophony of data.
One thing after another was eliminated as he sifted the data in his mind. Until track 3298D was up for observation. It took Delroy just one second to smack the alarm on the console with the palm of his enormous hand and key the microphone: “Vampire. Vampire. Vampire. I have an inbound orbital object at Mach 18, projected impact point is own ship.”
Lieutenant Worth keyed his headset and hit the general alarm at the same time: “General Quarters. General Quarters. General Quarters. Turn the Aegis to auto, ABM configuration. I say again, Robo mode ABM for Aegis. Do it now.”
Turning to the messenger of the watch, he dispatched the young woman to wake the Captain and tell him they were under missile attack.
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Systems synced, weapons powered up, and with the Aegis in auto, launch was anticipated any moment. Just as the Captain hammered through the hatch into combat, the secure radio net lit up. “U.S.S. Shiloh U.S.S. Shiloh, this is November Papa One Sierra Charlie. I authenticate Echo Lima Foxtrot. Say again, authenticate Echo Lima Foxtrot. Secure your weapons. I say again, Weapons Tight. Clear your helo pad for VIP Pax arrival. Have an Electronics Technician standing by on the pad. This is November Papa One Sierra Charlie out.”
Captain Frank Gustke stared at the red radio speaker as though it held secrets only dreamt of in the past. Lieutenant Worth was flicking through the communications book, checking the codes.
“All right, Mister Worth, who the heck is November Papa One Sierra Charlie? And is that code crap? I’ve got to launch now to keep us alive.”
“Yes, Sir. It authenticates. Only thing it says is “Special National Command Authority Entity, Top Clearance.” I’d say we have to obey it.”
“This is the Captain, I have control of the weapons systems. Put Aegis back in manual mode, secure general quarters. Clear the Helo Deck and have the head ET lay aft to the helo deck. Somebody grab my parka, I’m going back there myself.”
The 1MC rang out, “Now hear this: secure from general quarters. Secure from general quarters. Now set flight quarters. Now set flight quarters.”
Captain Gustke went to the flight control station and looked at the radar. Nothing. Just a small blip identified with the same track number that had set the whole ordeal into motion. But this was coming in at Mach 2, not an orbital velocity. And it painted very small, no where near the size of an Osprey or helicopter. None of this made sense unless someone was spoofing all the radars in the western Pacific.
With strobes flashing around it’s perimeter, the only other light on the vehicle was a brilliant red glow as it came in vertically to the pad. Frank Gustke couldn’t believe his eyes, and he wiped his face with his right hand, and then took another look. “I’ve gotta lay off the Ambien.”
In a much louder voice, he grabbed the microphone for the 1MC. “This is the Captain. Anyone who takes a single picture of this is going to be doing screen door repair on submarines for the next five years. Secure all electronics and recording devices NOW.”
There in front of him was a massive sleigh, nine tiny-reindeer, and Santa Claus himself. Frank jumped down the ladder as the craft set down, and a team of crew members swarmed the craft and dogged it to the deck. Santa grabbed a crewmember, pointed to a plate on the side of the sleigh, and then hustled inside the skin of the ship.
“Captain Gustke, a pleasure to meet you. Now, where the heck is the men’s head?”
A bewildered Captain Gustke pointed down the passage, “Third door on the left.”
Santa hustled down the passageway and vanished into the men’s room. Three minutes later he emerged with a big grin on his face.
“Danged relief tube froze up. Stupid elves never check that battery. Your crew should be able to fix it. While we’re waiting, how about a cup of coffee?”
Up two decks, and near the bridge, Captain Gustke turned into the mess before entering his room, asking the sailor in charge of making sure they got coffee and cookies.
“Yes, Sir. Already on the table.”
Santa peeked through the door. “I think we need more.”
Captain Gustke just nodded wearily. “Make it so. Santa, have a seat.”
Santa added some sugar and creme to his coffee cup and tested it. Sipping daintily, he nodded his approval and then munched a dozen cookies in under four seconds.
“Darned fine, Captain. You have good bakers. You don’t have to worry about the recording thing, I don’t show up on recordings. Unfortunately, you’ll also all forget about this when I leave. Part of the field effect the sleigh has. I only stopped because the night is long, and the coffee is strong. Know what I mean?”
“You mean to tell me you just stopped for a head call? You couldn’t land anywhere else and just… you know… why not?”
“Damned EPA. I have to tank it all airborne and treat the waste within regulations. If I just dumped it overboard, it would freeze to the side of the sleigh. Never… uh… well, into the wind. Never.”
“Santa, this is just too improbable. Am I dreaming?”
“Nope. But some clown of an author sure is unless I miss my guess. Merry Christmas, Captain. Your crew will find presents hidden around the ship when I leave. Please don’t let the MAA force blow them in place.”
“Good night, Santa. Thanks for the visit. Merry Christmas to you as well.”
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Merry Christmas to you all. My your relief tubes forever be warm at altitude.
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