The Bob Clause

by Lubrican

Chapter : Prologue | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4-9 & Epilogue Available On

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Chapter One

Gobelon frowned and tugged at his beard. He was the HMFIC of the compound. Officially, that meant His Majesty's Final Implementation Counselor, but unofficially (and universally among the elves) it meant Head Mother Fucker In Charge. He had held that position for some two hundred thirty years, during which he'd developed a sort of gut instinct for when things were not running well.

His gut was warning him right now.

"Something's wrong," he said, suddenly.

Gelwenil, his beautiful, if somewhat prickly minded executive assistant lifted her eyes from the global map on the computer screen and looked at her boss.

"What kind of something?" she asked.

"I don't know yet," said Gobelon. "What's the tracking telemetry look like?"

She looked back at the screen, at the little box below the word "Gwedhes," which was Elf for "Telemetry." It was green.

"Looks fi-" She stopped, having almost, but not quite said "fine" as the light went from green to amber, and then almost immediately to red.

"He's off course," she said, a little breathlessly.

Gobelon turned to a big, blue button on the wall, that had the Elven words for "DO NOT PUSH" on it, plain as day. In two hundred thirty-three years nobody had ever pushed that button. He hated the idea that it was going to be pushed on his watch ... but he reached out and his palm slapped it firmly.

Every manner of siren, klaxon, bell, whistle, light and other audible and visual warning signal ever developed, went off like it was World War Three.

Actually, thought the HMFIC of Santa's compound at the North Pole ... it was worse.

The initial hysterical response by a number of elves quickly gave way to efficient activity. This had never happened, but that didn't mean there wasn't a procedure to deal with it. Gobelon stayed right there in the command center. He could have overseen things from the balcony of his office, but he wanted to be there, on the floor, looking at the screens as things were learned, and decisions had to be made.

It became clear almost immediately, though, that the sleigh was on its way back home. It was much too early for that. Only a third of the presents had been delivered, according to the sensors on the sleigh, and the GPS readouts that were scrolling across Merilinor's screen like sunlight ticking off the miles as it sped away from Sol. Other workstations, that had other screens, were reporting all sorts of things. The reindeer were all alive and well. The sleigh bells were all functional. The runners on the sleigh hadn't iced up. Fuel was optimal. Satellite imagery confirmed that the sleigh was, indeed, returning to the pole, so the GPS hadn't malfunctioned. Everything, in fact, looked perfect.

Except Santa wasn't answering the comm, and the sleigh was on its way back to the North Pole.

"Égilin!" barked Gobelon.

"Sir!" piped a perky female Elf.

"Conditions under which the sleigh would return with no communication taking place?"

"Santa's unconscious," said Égilin immediately. "The failsafe has kicked in."

"Couldn't it be a malfunction?" asked the HMFIC, who was in charge of Santa's workshop when Santa wasn't there.

"There's a backup radio, and we have the rights to five different frequencies. He's not answering because he can't. And he can't because he's unconscious," said Égilin smoothly.

Gobelon turned to a short, wide Elf who could not, for some reason, grow a beard. He was sitting rigidly in front of a screen that required he sit on a stack of books to see.

"Caraphinnor?" asked the boss.

"Vital signs are within parameters," squeaked the short Elf. "Pulse is a little low, at 68. Blood pressure is 140 over 90, but that's been normal for him for the last seventy-five years. Breathing is down a little, but oxygen levels are fine. According to my readouts, the old man is fine."

"Then why isn't he answering when we call him?"

"Sir, I work vital stats, not communication," said Caraphinnor, sounding injured.

Gobelon didn't look over at the comm console. He'd hovered over it for the first five minutes as tests were run seven or eight times. All of them had produced data that said the radio was working flawlessly ... on both ends. Santa just wasn't using it.

The head Elf sighed. They'd know soon enough. The manual said that if the sleigh went on autopilot and started back to the pole - something that had never happened in the history of Christmas - the after burners kicked in. That meant it would be touching down on the North Pole landing strip within twenty minutes.

The problem was ... it should be landing on a rooftop in Lichtenstein then, instead.

SSG Collins couldn't have been prepared to hit mother Earth four seconds after his chute opened. Even on a high altitude low opening jump, which only the special ops guys did, and which he had yet to get a chance to attempt, you had ten to twelve seconds after the chute deployed to prepare to land.

It didn't take a genius to figure out that something really bad had gone wrong.

The first thing he noticed, though, was that while he had hit the ground (impossible!?) hard ... the ground seemed to sway under him, which lessened the impact appreciably. The next thing he realized was that the wind was blowing again, just as strong as it had been before he jumped. You didn't feel the wind, hanging from a parachute.

He looked up. His chute wasn't overhead.

The obvious conclusion was that he was hung up on the tail of the plane. But there was some data that didn't fit with that explanation, primarily that he knew his chute had opened, and he'd fallen some three or four seconds. That wasn't long enough, according to the mission brief. Not even close. Another problem was that he was sitting on something. But the wind was blowing way too hard if he was on the ground. It felt like the chute was trying to jerk his spine out of his body.

All this evaluation happened within a second or two. He executed the drill instantly, and without thinking. His right hand reached for the knife and he dragged its razor edge across the lines threatening to kill him. He felt each one part, and felt how that affected the way the wind was dragging him. As soon as the last one whipped away, and the awful drag eased, he pulled his reserve chute with the other hand. He felt the handle pull away, and the pack open.

Nothing happened.

No jerk.

No blossoming reserve chute.

And somehow ... he was still sitting on something.

For lack of anything better to do, he looked around. Then he blinked. In the direction the wind was still coming from, he saw eight reindeer ... in harness ... running as if there was a pack of polar bears chasing them. The problem - well, one of the problems - was that their hooves were running on ... nothing.

He looked sideways.

Open air.

He twisted around to look behind him, and found what the wind was pushing him up against. It was a huge, red, velvet bag.

He stood up and looked down. The "ground" he had landed on, and had been sitting on ... looked for all the world like Santa Claus.

It was then, that his reserve chute fell far enough out of its pack that the blistering wind caught it, and the canopy whipped open, jerking SSG Robert Collins off Santa's sleigh.


The straps of his web gear caught on a curved gilded projection on the side of the sleigh and he stopped with a jerk that he thought would break his neck. He heard snorts from the reindeer and tears filled his eyes as the chute tried to pull him one way, while the reindeer and sleigh kept pulling him the opposite way. He felt like straps were cutting his body into four or five pieces.

Again, instinct served him though, as he used the knife that was still in his right hand to cut the shrouds of his reserve chute, his brain told him he was committing suicide. He had, after all, only one reserve chute.

But when the chute whipped away on the wind, and the terrible forces trying to rip him apart vanished, all he could do was give a sigh of relief. He looked rearward automatically, trying to pick out the bundle of cloth that had been his reserve chute. Instead, he saw twin jets of flame coming from the rear of the sleigh that looked, for all the world, like the kind of flames jet fighters spewed when they were in afterburner mode.

After he rested for a few seconds, he laboriously climbed back into the sleigh, getting away from the heat and roar of the flames, and squeezed in between the big red bag and the back of the seat on which a thoroughly dead looking Santa Claus was almost reclining.

Bob had no idea how long he sat there, stunned, in shock, trying to figure out what the hell was going on. He assumed he was having some kind of hallucination, at first. But the whipping wind - which seemed to have tripled in speed somehow - and the pains he was still feeling where straps had cut into his body, made that seem unlikely.

Of course he didn't, for a second, believe that he was actually on Santa's sleigh. Yes, it was Christmas Eve. Yes, he was obviously still up in the sky. Yes, there appeared to be reindeer pulling the sleigh. But it had to be some kind of mechanical device ... an advertising gimmick, maybe ... an unauthorized aircraft ... made to look like Santa's sleigh?

He rubbed his face. That felt real enough. He was pretty sure he didn't yet understand what was going on, but whatever it was, the flight seemed stable. In fact, it didn't seem quite as cold as it had a little while before. Were they losing altitude?

Remembering his altimeter, he pulled his wrist up and peered at it. 800 feet. The jump plan had been to jump at 2,000 feet, which was a little higher than the normal 1,200 feet done in a day jump. He was sure he'd left the plane at that altitude. That meant he had been supposed to hit the ground in roughly forty seconds.

Except that he wasn't hanging from a parachute any more.

He leaned, to peer over the side of the sleigh. In the moonlight, all he could see was the kind of white that meant complete snow cover.

But the jump zone was in Bavaria ... where it was cold, but there had been no snow all winter.

He lifted his head to see the lights of a runway, directly ahead.

It was impossible. How did this thing fly? Where were the wings? Where were they?

In a daze, he held on tight, but the touch down was like landing a double axel on virgin ice. The green and red (?!) runway lights flashed past him. They were heading toward what looked for all the world like a castle made of ice.

He was pretty sure it couldn't get any weirder.

Until the sleigh stopped ... and a dozen elves swarmed all over the sleigh. Three of them climbed over the edge of the sleigh right into his lap.

They stopped, as if frozen by some magical, super-cold wind. Except the wind wasn't blowing any more.

They stared. The only reason Bob was able to keep it together at all, was because one of the three fainted dead away, while one of the others yelled, "Holy crap!"

Then some kind of vehicle arrived, driving up alongside the sleigh. On top of it was a flat surface with a railing all the way around it. On that were half a dozen more Elves. One of them stood a little taller than the others, and wore a more ornate costume than the others. He had a long, white beard. And his eyes blazed like red hot coals.

"What have you done to Santa?" he roared.

If you're a parent, then you've heard it before. I'd even be willing to bet you've heard it many times.

"I didn't do anything!" complained Bob.

Gobelon, being well into his fifth century, had been a parent four times, and elven children are no different than human ones.

"The evidence," said the Elf in what was as close as an elven voice could come to a growl, "suggests otherwise. Who are you?"

Perhaps it was the shock. Maybe the Army had trained him a little too well. For whatever reason, Bob's mind caused his body to come as close to the position of attention as it could, considering its location and position, and he barked out his full name, rank and service number.

To be truthful, he felt foolish about it almost immediately, but what was done was done. He gritted his teeth, stuck his jaw out a lot more than it felt like he was doing, and tried to assume a hostile look.

He was, after all, just twenty-two.

Gobelon had seen all this many times before too, though never with a human. But he recognized the signs of callow youth instantly. He sighed, and then turned to the two husky male elves beside him. If you are unfamiliar with elves, "husky" means they were within spitting distance of five feet tall, and weighed within five pounds of ninety. But "husky" can also be a mindset, and these two, fairly trembling with indignation that their supreme leader had been attacked by this ... human ... gave them a kind of rare courage. It was, in fact, the same kind of courage that, in years gone by, had resulted in a bearskin rug on the dirt floor of a wigwam in an Indian camp. Before the Native Americans were introduced to firearms.

Of course, for every bearskin rug that came to be, back then, there were eight or ten misguided and very dead Indian braves. Bob let them grip his arms as he stepped out of the sleigh and onto the platform of the vehicle. Once his feet were firmly planted, however, he simply raised his arms and turned his head to peer from one dangling elf's face to the other.

"You want to let go before you get hurt?" he asked, calmly.

Remarkably, it only took fifteen minutes to sort out what had happened. Of course fifteen minutes of "Santa time" can represent hours, maybe even days of human time. Santa's found a way, somehow, to wring every bit of use out of every second. Considering his mission, he had to.

Actually, to be perfectly honest, Gobelon figured things out within the first three minutes. Bob's uniform pretty much identified him as a paratrooper. And even elves know what paratroopers are, and what they do. After all, paratrooper dolls, costumes and gear were on the master list of presents.

What took the longest portion of those fifteen minutes was Bob, having to adjust to contemplating the possibility of an impossible scenario. I suspect his Army training helped. He was used to finding himself in ridiculous situations, and then being told to adapt, improvise and overcome while carrying on his mission.

He was also a good kid.

So when he accepted the working hypothesis that, instead of landing on German soil, he had landed on Santa Claus, who appeared to be in a coma as a result, the implications were immediately recognizable.

Another factor was that there were elves everywhere wailing that Christmas was ruined, and that millions of boys and girls would be so disappointed in the morning that at least half of them would cease to believe.

"Somebody has to finish his route!" blurted Bob. And, being a good kid, he felt responsible for the crisis, even though a blind man would have said he did nothing to bring it on. Nonetheless, he continued. "I'll do it!"

There was a crackling sort of electric flash in the room, and a clap of thunder. There was no smoke, but Bob felt like he'd been pummeled by a couple thousand fuzzy dice. He looked down to see that his uniform and gear had suddenly become bright red. The material of his web gear now looked suspiciously like it was made of satin, rather than nylon, and his uniform shirt and pants looked like velvet. It was all the same design of military gear he'd been issued ... but it was made of different colors and fabrics.

"It's the clause," gasped a female elf.

"Claws? What claws?" asked Bob, who was again feeling like somebody must have slipped something illegal into his orange juice that morning.

"Clause, not claws," said Gobelon, frowning and tugging at his beard. "And if it is, it didn't manifest like it has in the past. Never mind. We can talk about that later. Right now, I have to ask you a question, and it's a serious question." He paused and peered into Bob's face.

Bob nodded, most likely because it was easier to do that than start asking the dozens of questions his mind was screaming for him to ask.

Gobelon folded his short arms over his narrow chest, on top of his long beard. "Are you willing to deliver Santa's toys to all the girls and boys, preserving their hopes and joys?" This question was delivered in a peculiar sing-song voice that even Bob could tell was the result of years of practice, as opposed to a coincidental accident of rhyming.

And then, a very peculiar thing happened to SSG Robert Collins.

Okay, another very peculiar thing happened to SSG Robert Collins.

He had, in that instant, what felt almost exactly like an orgasm. Except it wasn't centered in his groin. In fact, it wasn't centered anywhere. His whole body was suffused with a most pleasant sensation that was so different from anything he'd felt before, that the only comparison his brain could make was with the orgasms he'd had in his young life. It wasn't sharp, or temporarily debilitating. It wasn't the “little death" that left a man vulnerable for a few seconds. What it was, was an instantly addictive kind of feeling that he had finally found true love.

"Sure," he said, dreamily.

"Excellent," said the HMFIC. "Let's get this show back on the road!"

One might think that getting Santa's sleigh back in the sky would be a big production. One would be wrong. The sleigh had all the properties of any VTOL aircraft, which meant it didn't even have to be turned around to take off again. Like most societies that have powered flight, however, there had developed a cadre of people (elves in this case) who created their own importance by inventing rules, regulations and procedures that had to be obeyed, followed and executed to actually take off and land the sleigh.

Normally, such needless bureaucracy would be tedious, but the fact is that it gave other elves time to get Bob into a proper Santa suit, and brief him on a few things it might be good for him to know. It was Gobelon's executive assistant, Gelwenil, who took that upon herself. While flight operations might have become codified, invocation of "The Clause" was an exceedingly rare event, and very few rites existed to respond to it.

Bob sat, staring at the beautiful young elven woman who faced him. To his mind, she looked astonishingly like Kristin Chenoweth, who in real life is only slightly larger than an elf. She sounded like Kristin too, and since Bob had always had a tiny little letch for the artist, he gazed at Gelwenil with more than a little interest.

"All this obviously involves magic," said Gelwenil. "But you don't need to worry about that. The sleigh is pre-programmed with the most efficient route, based on GPS readings that match the packing list. The failsafe is the reindeer. They know where to go too."

"So why is the sleigh here?" asked Bob. It seemed like a legitimate question.

"That's a failsafe too," said the elf. "If Santa becomes unconscious, the autopilot brings the sleigh back here. That's always been a legend up until now. This has never happened before."

"Oh," said Bob, suddenly feeling bad that he had put Santa out of commission for the first time in history.

"All you have to do is reach into the bag," said Gelwenil. "The right present will be there automatically."

"Is there some kind of computer program that tracks the GPS headings?" asked Bob.

"No," she said, a little impatiently, "That's part of the magic. Please be quiet. There's a lot I need to tell you and you need to get going. Time's a wastin', you know."

"Okay," said Bob. He was just as happy to stare at her. He had calmed down enough that he was beginning to take in more information visually. One surprising bit of that information was that elves apparently didn't feel the cold like humans did. The elf briefing him, for instance, only had on thin, green satin trousers, and a beautiful red silk blouse. He blinked, and swallowed. Elves, it appeared, also had nipples!

"My eyes are up here, bucko," said the girl in an annoyed voice. Apparently elves had discovered women's liberation too. Bob jerked his eyes up to her face.

"Even though everything is automated, you still need to be vigilant," she continued. "We can't plan for aircraft that don't file a flight plan or, as it turns out, paratroopers," she said wryly. Bob gave her a weak grin. "So you have to keep a sharp eye. And you can steer the sleigh by using the reins, just as if it were a normal sleigh. I don't understand why Santa didn't avoid you. But that's a glacier under the snow, now. Also, there are buttons on the dashboard of the sleigh. I don't have time to tell you what they all do, but one of them is for camouflage, in case someone sees you. You push that button, and it will appear to any watcher as if you are something else."

"Like what?" asked Bob, becoming curious. He was slowly adjusting to this odd situation, and was actually starting to look forward to the adventure.

"An airplane, a weather balloon, a UFO," said Gelwenil, tossing one hand. "It changes. I don't know how it works. The point is, keep your fat fingers off of the other buttons."

"How do I know which one is the camo button?" he asked.

Gobelon approached, interrupting them. "Time to go," he said, tersely.

"He's not ready, yet!" complained Gelwenil. "I haven't finished briefing him!"

"You can finish in the air," he said. "It will take you about twenty minutes to get back to where the ... um ... incident happened. You can fill him in on the way."

"What?" squeaked the beautiful, blond elf. "I can't go with him!"

"Why not?" asked the HMFIC.

"Because it's highly irregular!" she squealed. "Nobody goes with Santa on his sleigh!"

"What page and paragraph in the manual are you referring to?" asked the old elf.

Gelwenil sputtered.

"Exactly," said Gobelon. "Now get going. We're already losing time we need to make up. Let's not push it. We have no idea what will happen if we do ... right?"

Gelwenil paled, and her lips formed a tight, white line across her lower face.

"Fine!" she snapped. "But don't blame me if this all goes to ... poop!" she finished, blushing.

"Nobody will blame you. We all know it's his fault ... isn't it?" He pointed at Bob, who was watching the exchange with wide eyes.

The female elf shot a look at Bob that contained daggers in it. He swallowed. At that point he was no longer a well-trained killer.

He was just a twenty-two-year-old kid in a very strange situation.

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