A Delicious Christmas Cookie

  

A 2008 Christmas Bonus Chapter of The Claus Effect, following directly from The Seaton Family Christmas

"Who are you people?" demanded Emily.


"We are friends." The driver spoke with a barely-perceptible accent, and he smiled reassuringly into the rearview mirror, but the long scar that ran from his left nostril down his neck and under his high, stiff collar did not look particularly friendly to Emily. And the lack of handles on the inside of the doors of the black Mercedes wasn't very reassuring either.


The car had picked her up at the Novotel that morning, just six hours after she had landed at Frankfurt Airport. Gunther was still conjavascript:void(0)valescing in Canada, so it was only her and Ilsa on the trans-Atlantic flight. "It will be just we girls," Ilsa had said, and at the time Emily had rolled her eyes.


Ilsa was the first one Emily had seen after the explosion at Lake Voltaire, and that was when she had started with the "we girls" thing. Emily supposed that was the dark-haired German woman's way of being comforting -- and at first, crawling out from amid the wreckage of the cottage, stepping around the steaming carapaces of tar-sealed iron, through the clouds of ancient septic stink, it was comforting. Syllerphane and his private army of elfs had been effectively buried in the aftermath of the blast, and intellectually at least Emily knew she was out of danger for the moment. But as the enormous helicopter circled and finally settled, and the team of white-clad soldiers and medics tumbled out of the back and set about "establishing a perimeter" as Mitchell would have termed it, Emily was grateful for the camaraderie that Ilsa offered her.


"We must let my people do their job here," said Ilsa. "We girls will go inside and have a nice cocoa, yes?"


"Sure," Emily replied.


They didn't stay long at the ruins, though. Emily was still blowing on her cup to cool it by the time they'd loaded Gunther on board, shut up the cargo bay and took off to pick up "the stragglers" back at the elfs' cottage -- two other team-members that Ilsa had thought dead, but who had apparently radioed in with their positions just minutes ago.


"Ha!" Ilsa's pale cheeks flushed red with a sudden exultation. "Good news, Emily -- no one killed after all! We girls have reason to celebrate! More cocoa, yes?"


And that was the last time that Emily hadn't found Ilsa's "we girls" shtick irritating.
Now, though, driving through Germany with the scar-face Aryan man, she found herself missing the overly-familiar secret agent. "Where are we going?" she asked, trying not to sound plaintive.


"A safe place."


She had a strong suspicion she wasn't going to get any real answers from this man, but she had to ask anyway: "Why are you doing this?"


Sure enough, he answered with: "Because it's the right thing to do."


Emily slumped back and pouted out the window.


At least the scenery was nice enough. They had passed some long straight rivers--actually, she supposed they were canals--with open water and neat little house-boats on them. There were lots of towns and villages on this drive, but the road was narrow and wound a lot, so Emily would catch tantalizing glimpses of old stone houses and big red barns. At first she had tried memorizing the names of the villages, but there were too many of them and she hadn't seen more than half the signs anyway, so she had given up. By now she didn't even know what direction they were driving in.


She had learned nothing from Ilsa. At first they had been too busy getting cleaned up at some cabin called the Den. A frowning woman had put makeup over the abrasions on Emily's wrists and made her wash her hair. Then there was another gruelling helicopter trip, and then when they got to the airport departure lounge, she'd had to put up with Ilsa coaching her on how to behave. "Stop looking around like that. Smile. Read this magazine. Act natural. We're just a couple of girls on a trip to Europe."


On the airplane, she had simply fallen asleep.


Hectic though things had been, Emily had come to some conclusions, anyway. The Germans knew about Claus, that was the first thing. Secondly, they were against him--if being for Emily was to be against Claus, which was likely. Third, the Germans knew who she was... though that conclusion was a bit shakier. All they really needed to know was that Claus wanted her. Emily hadn't asked, because she still didn't trust them enough to give anything away.


More than anything, she wanted to ask about her Aunt, but sensed somehow that they might use her anxiety against her. Also, she felt her Aunt should be kept out of this completely, to the point where if one of these Germans even mentioned her name, Emily would feel Auntie had been sullied by the whole thing.


Of course you could call having your house being blown up `being sullied' she supposed, but... oh, she just wasn't going to think about it. She slumped against the door of the car and scowled out at the white sky.


They began to slow. She perked up a bit. "Are we there?" she asked the driver.


"Sort of," he said.


"What do you mean, `sort of'?"


He grinned into the rearview mirror, making him look threatening again. Emily bent over to look past him. She could see they had pulled up to a wire gate in front of a blank white field. At the far end of the field a dilapidated rusted building squatted. It was tent-shaped with a tall narrow tower covered in corrugated iron rising from its roof. On the whole, it looked like a thoroughly unpleasant place to spend Christmas. But Emily had lived in worse, she reminded herself. She would make do.


Two men in white snow-suits appeared out of the field. One of them waved, while the other unclipped the gate and swung it aside. Her driver waved back cheerfully, and the Mercedes slowly trundled onto the single, rutted track that led across the field. Emily observed the man who had waved speaking into a walkie-talkie as they drove past.
She reviewed her three conclusions again, trying to see where they led. Maybe if she put herself in place of these people, it would make more sense. If she were a German, and she knew about Claus and was against him, what would she make of Emily?


They pulled up next to the old building. Worriedly, Emily examined the frosted windows and metal door, looking for some sign of what this place was. She needed more time! But there seemed to be no more of it. Her driver yawned, smiled back at her and got out. He opened her door with the sort of flourish chauffeurs reserved for movie stars. Emily sniffed -- how silly -- but got out anyway, and stood stamping in the cold, getting her legs moving again.


"So?" she said, determined not to let him know he had the upper hand.


"This way." The driver stretched, then cracked all his knuckles as he walked to the metal door. He rapped on it smartly. "Heinrich? Ich bin Jost."


"Ja, Ja." The door squealed open on rusty hinges. Jost the driver made another flourish for Emily to go in. Keeping her dignity, she did so.


The place smelled of machine tools, oil and sawdust. Emily saw with disappointment that it was all one big room, filled with heavy machines that had tall hoppers on them, sort of like the ones she'd seen at the cement plant her cousin Rich worked at. There were lots of rails--overhead rails and rails underfoot, and numerous big metal bins on wheels sitting on the rails. All the rails converged on a sloping ramp that led down into a cut in the ground. Long cables hung down from the inside of the tower she'd seen, and disappeared into the end of the cut.


"Welcome to the East German Mint," said the fellow who'd opened the door. She supposed he was Heinrich. He had a perfectly square face and fine blond hair that dangled in swatches over his unlined, pink forehead. He wore a conservative black business suit and carried an Uzi. "It's okay if you don't laugh at my joke. Please come this way."


Heinrich led Emily across the huge floor to the ramp, and he gingerly stepped over the rails and between the carts, careful not to dirty his suit. Emily followed as best she could, but wound up with a nasty smear of dust across the blouse Ilsa had bought for her in Orillia. Finally, Heinrich stopped at one cart that was more sophisticated than the rest -- it had two burgundy vinyl-covered seats and a gear shift. Heinrich gave an exaggerated bow and pretended to open the nonexistent passenger-side door for Emily.
"After you, madame."


Emily settled into the passenger seat. Heinrich took the driver's seat and started the car going. They rolled down towards the cut.


"You think I was kidding about the East German mint," said Heinrich, "I can tell because you laughed so hard. But I am very serious." He motioned ahead with the barrel of his Uzi. "When the two Germanies became one last year, there was a small matter of what to do with the East German Deutschmarks that were cluttering up the economy." A crew of men in coveralls were unloading what looked to Emily like mailbags from a small train of carts. Heinrich grinned at them and waved his Uzi. They waved back. "In fact, there were a lot of small matters of what to do with all kinds of things, but this one was easiest for our fine German statesmen to deal with. It was decided that all Deutschmarks of East German origin were to be gathered together, stuffed into mailbags and buried from the light of day forever more. It is like a fairy tale, ja?"


"I don't much like fairy tales," said Emily as the cart rolled into the cut and the lighting changed from the cold white fluorescence of the mine-head to the red emergency lights of the cut.


"You are a wise girl. Fairy tales are for die kinder, the children. So we will deal in cold hard facts. This is the very mine where that currency has been kept. If it were a fairy tale, all that money really would stay here forever, maybe filling up the mine to the very top; it would be kept under the guard of a three-headed troll. We would not be going down into its belly just now, because there would be too much money here and the troll would be a lot of trouble. But in the real world, our government was offered a good piece of real money -- Amerikaner money -- to turn over the valueless currency. So the mine is being emptied again."


"Why would anyone want all that money?" asked Emily. The slope of the cut seemed to be getting steeper; as she looked ahead the tracks actually curved down, out of sight. "You can't buy anything with it."


Heinrich looked Emily straight in the eye. "A speculator," he said without smiling. "He wishes to sell it to the Parker Brothers company, for their Monopoly game." The car lurched to one side then righted itself. "It's okay if you don't laugh at my joke."

#

The cart switched onto a side-tunnel where the only light was provided from their own flickering yellow headlamp. The air was cold and stale and dusty. Heinrich gave Emily a handkerchief after she began to cough, and it seemed to help when she held it over her mouth and nose. For a long time, Heinrich didn't say anything at all.


"Why are we going so deep?" said Emily finally, after doing a quick mental calculation of how far down they must be by now. "What's really down here?"


Heinrich gave her a sidelong smile. "I am sorry, fraulein," he said. "There is a procedure to these matters, and I cannot stray from that. Your questions will be answered very soon."


Emily leaned back in her seat and crossed her arms. Heinrich laughed. "Don't be so unhappy," he said. "See--" he motioned ahead with his Uzi "--we are almost there."


"Where?!" said Emily, her voice rising to a crescendo of frustration.


"Well," said Heinrich, "I don't think I'll be giving too much away by telling you that you will be visiting Mister Krampus this afternoon. But don't tell anyone I told you. It could well be my neck."
"Don't worry," said Emily. "I'll try to act surprised."


"Ha!" Heinrich barked. "Good joke, fraulein."


The cart rounded a bend, and all at once they emerged into a wide room, bathed in bright yellow light.

#

The cart stopped on a miniature roundhouse turntable in the middle of what must have been a huge cavern. Its ceiling was too high for any light to reach. The lights here -- bright incandescent bulbs in wide conical shades -- were suspended from a web of construction scaffolding only twelve feet up. The floor was made of plywood sectionals, and for all Emily knew they ended at the limits of the scaffolding, with nothing but an unguessable darkness beyond. To Emily just then, the room appeared as a tiny island of light and warmth in the vast gulf of interstellar space.


Heinrich stepped out of the cart and walked around to Emily's side. He offered her his arm, and she took it as she stepped out.


"Much as I have been enjoying our trip together," said Heinrich, "I am afraid I must leave you here. Do you see that chair over there?" Heinrich pointed to a chair at the far end of the platform. Emily nodded. "Go sit in it. Wait for Mister Krampus. He is never long."
"Who is Krampus?" she demanded.


"The one who lives here, fraulein." Heinrich smiled. "The one you will be talking to."


Emily didn't say anything to that. It was obvious that Heinrich was going to keep playing with her -- make her squirm with Christmas-Eve hints and games of 20 questions whose answers would all boil down to, "Wait until morning." She glared as Heinrich pulled a lever in the floor to turn the cart around. He got back in, put his hand on the gear and made shooing motions with the Uzi. "Go, fraulein. I will be back for you when Krampus is done."


And with that, Heinrich threw the cart into gear and rumbled off into the tunnel.


#


Emily sat down. The chair was one of those overstuffed imitation leather armchairs that looks as though it might recline but in reality does not. It was green, and there were clear protective plastic covers over the arms. She leaned back in it and crossed her ankles. She began to whistle.


"What... is that melody?" The voice seemed to be coming from directly over her head.
Emily stopped whistling and looked up.


Gazing back down at her were two great eyes, nicotine-yellow. They were set in a face so narrow that its thin mouth seemed to bisect it, and the nose -- itself narrower than a primary-school pencil along its entire length -- took up precisely one-third of the span of distance from ear to ear. Overtop the eyes, the skull was a perfect, hairless sphere; too small, Emily thought, to hold enough brains to power a dachshund. Yet those large, yellow eyes blinked at her with frank intelligence.


"I did not recognize that melody which you were whistling." The creature's mouth was so narrow, Emily noted, that there was room for only two teeth, not four, between its two tiny canines.


"I don't know what I was whistling," said Emily. "It might not have been anything."


"It must have been something." The creature stepped around in front of Emily. The rest of its body was as thin as its face -- as thin as twigs, as pipe-cleaners, as wire -- and Emily noticed with a shiver that its tiny, thumb-thin chest seemed to rise and fall completely independent of the words it spoke.


"I am Krampus," it said.


"I am Emily," Emily replied, testily.


"Good." Krampus smiled. Behind its canines were only four molars, two on either side. They were the same colour as its eyes. "I think I have been waiting for you."


"You think--" Emily had finally had enough. "Well I think I have no idea what's going on here! Would you mind telling me just who you are, why you've brought me into this mine, what the elfs are doing shooting at me and whether Santa Claus is real! As a threat I mean!"


The lids around Krampus' enormous eyes crinkled like a baby's and its body swayed back, as though buffeted by a wind. Its tiny chest heaved as fast as a hummingbird's, and as it did so Krampus spoke, in clean, measured syllables:


"Emily, squawk not in those harsh and unlovely tones -- it pains me more than you can know. I will answer your questions, but assail not mine ears again. In the old days..."
"I'm sorry I yelled," said Emily.


Krampus' eyes opened, and this time they contained a different spark "--in the old days, you would have suffered a stick in your boot on Christmas morn for such lamentable noises. But those were the old days, when the Yuletide season meant another thing. I will tell you the reasons, Emily, but you must sit patient and with folded hands, keeping clear of mischief as I do so."


"I'll be good," promised Emily -- she didn't know what a stick in her boot meant, but she also worried what another attack like the one that Krampus had just suffered might do to him. "Promise."


At that, Krampus smiled again, and the fire left his eyes. "Two thousand years ago," he said, "there was a man named Elton, a chieftain of some great repute among the people known as Picts. He was a strong warrior and led his people to many victories; he was a wise leader, and settled disputes among men with an even hand that brought him to even greater repute than his skill with arms; and he was a thoughtful leader, who sought with a measure of success to understand many of the mysteries of heaven and earth before there were priests or popes or even a Saviour born to reveal their secrets. He was also a prodigious husband, and early in his lifetime his wives gave him many children. But although he governed his tribe and conquered his enemies with a strong and measured hand, his children quickly grew beyond him. They would run wild through the halls of his relatives and allies, insulting the wives and injuring their children and soiling their beds. When called up to account for their wickedness, they would simply say, `we are the offspring of Elton; we only answer to him.' And Elton, so wise in matters of state and war and philosophy, found that the one thing he had not the heart for was the firm upbringing for his children.


"Spare the rod and spoil the child," commented Emily.


"Precisely! And this is exactly what Elton's friends and comrades and wives told him one night after a gang of his children had freed the livestock in full view of everyone and then lied about doing it with straight faces. And it was then that Elton realized that all his Kingly tributes, all his victories in love and war, everything he had achieved could well be dashed to nothing for this one terrible failure. And so he said to his people, `never fear. Although this problem is beyond my strength, there are those in the wide world who can set things straight again. I will be gone for twoscore of days; and when I return, I will have for you the solution to our conundrums.'


"Elton went then into the wilderness, although it was getting very cold and the trees had long ago bared their branches, and he began casting a spell. It was his intention to call up a spirit, you see, to carry out the things that he himself had no heart for; to mete out punishment to creatures so small and defenceless that it could set a grown man to weeping; to set order among a people that listened neither to entreaties nor reason and if left alone would make a ruin of everything. He called a creature called..." here it paused, a tongue like a snake's licking its paper-thin lips "...Krampus!"


"Oh come on," said Emily. "That was two thousand years ago!"


"Do not doubt me, girl. It was this very creature you see before you that sprang from the bare trees and brush and faced the mighty Elton all those years past. And I recall the very words as he spoke to me:


"`See to the young!' he cried. `My children are lamentable beasts in my neighbours' homes; and they speak with a tone of great contempt for their elders; and they demand all the riches of my livery; and they do never lift a finger to help my wives with the tasks of the household; and they will not even keep their beds and their selves clean as befit the sons and daughters of the mightiest Chieftain in the land!'


"So this is what I did, and for many years the halls of King Elton were quiet and genteel places, with only the soft laments of the recalcitrant children and the quiet clanking and scrubbing of chores being done on time to add to the contented talk of the adults. Had Elton left well enough alone, things might not have come to the place they have today. But he saw his children as they huddled in their well-made beds and pulled the sticks from their boots and wept at their lot in the world, and the foolish King allowed himself to feel pity. So once again he went into the wilderness for twoscore days after the leaves had fallen and the ground began to freeze, and once again he cast the summoning spell. This time he called up a spirit of another name."


"The Claus," said Emily with a roll of her eyes.


"Yes! The very Claus! And King Elton said to the Claus, `my children are weeping and lamenting their lot in life when I am verily King of the World! How can such a thing be? See to it that my children who behave themselves and do not make overmuch a nuisance for their elders are granted whatever their hearts desire!"


"And that's where the problems started, right?" said Emily.


"You are a perceptive youngster. That is precisely where the problem started; for what King Elton did not account for was that, while only some children find it in their hearts and souls to actually perform acts of wickedness, every child, no matter how angelic, wishes in their heart of hearts to exact a terrible revenge upon the very world and the parents who inhabit it. When the Claus heard King Elton's request, he laughed aloud and said, `I shall have a busy time of it, fulfilling the desires of all your wondrous children. Give me assistants, and a means to travel, and a thousand thousand lifetimes to see it through!' The King did as he was commanded, and soon the Claus was to work.


"And so it was, Emily, that within a year there was nothing left of King Elton and his mighty tribe but ashes and bones and dust. For he had been destroyed, by the very goodwill he so wanted to pass on to his undeserving children. Given the very scope of Claus' power, there was nothing even I could do to prevent it. And so the Claus was free in the world, waiting on its childrens' terrible desires, with the full knowledge of the wickedness those desires could bring. Finally, it was only through the power of a good and wise witch –"


"Mrs. Claus," said Emily.


"Yes, Frau Claus," said Krampus with a glare. "It was only through her intervention that the demon was quelled. He had come to hate children over the years, and had taken to augmenting their wicked wishes to harm them as much as their intended victims; if little Hans wanted a crossbow to shoot his father with, the bow would snap and the bolt impale the young lad through the eye. And then as his madness began to overtake him, he developed what a modern psychoanalyst would call a schizophrenia, and tried to take on the role of Krampus as well. But where I would have only put a stick in the child's boots -- a reminder that he should be better next year -- Claus would put venomous spiders in babies' cribs, needles in the eyes of sleeping girls, quicksilver on the tongues of little boys. The witch who forever changed her name to Frau Claus saved the world, Emily. She brought the Claus to the North Pole, far away from the plaintive wails of the world's young, and she let him scheme and build in complete ignorance of the changing world, syphoning only enough information to trick him into believing he was doing great evil, when really he was doing good. The ruse worked for five hundred years... Until you came along. And showed him the letters."


"I also destroyed him!" said Emily. "I saw it happen!"


"No Emily. You made him angry. You destroyed his treasured Toy Mill, for which he will never forgive you. And you may have caused him some other injuries as well. But more to the point, he is once again free in the world, with knowledge. And in spite of the recent activities of his elfish underlings, we have no idea where he is right now."
"So how do you fit into this?"


"In all the time that the Claus has been toiling in ignorance at the top of the world, I have been toiling under my own deplorable ignorance," said Krampus, his eyes lowering. "Frau Claus was all too successful in subverting her demonic husband's madness into goodness; and soon, Claus -- or Frau Claus rather -- had taken the mid-winter feast as her own. Over the centuries, I became bored... and depressed. I watched the world around me first build up and then degenerate. For a time I continued to carry out my geas, but it became increasingly less satisfying. The children of the new wealthy cared no a whit for the sticks they found in their boots, for the Claus would fill their stockings regardless of their behaviour; and the children of the impoverished millworkers were glad for their sticks, mistaking them for the toys they had never seen. I thought of only giving sticks to the good children, and when that thought occurred to me I knew it was time to forget King Elton's entreaty. It was about then that I chanced upon a bent and much-underscored copy of Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto. Here, I thought, was a balance of punishment and reward that could really be enacted in a world far removed from the worries of Pictish kings and their unruly brats, where entire classes of people moved in unequal and frequently colliding orbits around the sun of profit. And so, when the time came, I ventured to the land of the czars and joined the revolution that brought them down. It has been seventy years, Emily." Krampus leaned forward. Its quick breaths tickled Emily's nose like fly-wings. "Seventy years of blindness."


"I'm sorry," said Emily, pushing back into her chair and wishing it would recline.


"I should have been watching, Emily. Watching Claus, not the lazy East Germans and their crumbling society as that foolish man Brezhnev ordered me to. But I will not make that mistake again."


"Good," said Emily. Krampus' breath smelled of old fruitcake. "Now why did you bring me to this mine?"


"Since the reunification, I have been bringing together my old Securitat friends with some new ones I have made in the German government. Together, we have contacted the United Nations. And, with the secret resolution that was passed just last night, in the wake of the incident at Lake Voltaire, a special task force has been formed. They are meeting in Lithuania, and they wish to speak with you. We are certain that Claus is up to something, more dangerous than anything he has ever attempted before. It is more than just revenge against yourself, Emily. I fear it is revenge against the very world."


"And you want me to help you."


Krampus held its breath as it spoke. "I think you know as well as I that you really have no choice in the matter."

#

Heinrich was waiting for Emily at the roundhouse. "Ha! Back so soon! You must be hungry after all your exertion."


"Ha, ha," said Emily.


Heinrich chose to ignore the sarcasm in Emily's voice and climbed into the cart. "This time," he said as the electric motor hummed to life, "you open your own door. We are comrades now, so you are no longer a guest. Are you hungry, fraulein?"


As she climbed into the passenger seat of the cart, Emily realized that she wasn't just hungry, she was famished -- she hadn't had anything but a muffin and a cup of coffee before leaving the hotel. She nodded. "You could say that," she said.


"Good." Heinrich looked at his Rolex. "It is half-past three, but the commissary is under orders to remain open late today."


"I thought you said I wasn't a guest anymore," said Emily as the cart started up the cut.
Heinrich smiled. "True enough. But we can make allowances for the first day on the job."

#

The commissary shared a cavern with the task force's living quarters and an off-limits suite of rooms that Heinrich described only as "Ops." Emily thought the entire level was actually deeper than Krampus' den, but Heinrich assured her this was not the case. "We are now only 300 metres below the earth's surface," he said. "Krampus lives nearly a kilometre down. Don't worry, Emily. You're not the first one to be fooled by the switchbacks."


The two stepped off the roundhouse and Heinrich nodded at the blue-uniformed guard who climbed into the driver's seat to bring the cart back to the surface.


As the cart's hum diminished, Emily marvelled at the chamber. Unlike Krampus' room, the floor in here was made of metal plates, and brushed-steel walls gleamed in the checkerboard light of the fluorescents installed above the metal-grill ceiling. At the far end of the room, a lone technician sat at an array of television screens, behind a panel of thick glass. It all somehow reminded Emily of the ValueLand Security Training School in Brampton, in theme if not particulars.


"Through here." Heinrich took Emily's arm and guided her past the guard to an opening door. Smells wafted out that made Emily's mouth water.


"We do keep ourselves well-fed," said Heinrich as the door closed behind them. "It is, after all, the yule season."


"And how," breathed Emily. The commissary was a room longer than it was wide, with a single table running its length. It was decorated in the manner of the ValueLand Accounting Office, with inexpensive crepe-paper streamers, red plastic baubles painted to look like glass, and fake holly wreathes. But where the ValueLand office was also festooned with cardboard cut-out Santa Clauses in tiny sleighs that always made Emily queasy, this place had no similar substitute.


Heinrich took Emily to the counter at the commissary's far end. Emily grabbed a tray and immediately began filling it -- roast beef sliced as thick as Emily's thumb; baby carrots and corn in a delicate butter sauce with parsley; a baked potato wrapped in searingly-hot tinfoil, with four pats of butter and a little steel cup of sour cream; seven items from a salad bar with twenty-seven to choose from; and a steaming mug from one of four pots of flavoured coffees. Until Emily actually stood before the feast, she hadn't known how hungry she truly was.


"The last time I ate properly was on the plane," explained Emily between mouthfuls as they sat together in the otherwise-empty commissary.


Heinrich nodded gravely. "In our business, we take our meals where and when we can."
Emily gulped back her Bavarian Cream coffee and scooped out another forkful of baked-potato. "Why aren't you eating?" she asked.


"I only want to make sure there is enough left over when the day shift comes off duty in another hour." Heinrich's face broke into a grin. "Ha! You are eating enough for both of us, fraulein."


Emily swallowed, nodding. The food wasn't only nourishing her, but warming her too. It seemed to be removing a cold so fundamental that Emily could only detect it by its absence. Eight years past, when she had spent her year at the Claus' Toy Mill, the warmth in her had felt similar. But this was no elf-magic, independent of the laws of the world; it was food, stuff of the earth, fuel for an entirely wholesome warmth.


Emily felt her eyelids droop, and she jerked her head back just in time to keep her face from falling into the remains of the carrots.
"A long day, eh fraulein?" Heinrich put a strong hand on Emily's arm. "If you like, I can show you to your quarters now. We can save the rest of this for later."


"No, no," Emily heard herself saying as her vision blurred and the sound of her breathing became like a gale inside her head. "No I will be fine leave it here."


This time, it was Heinrich who stopped Emily from falling into her dinner. She must, Emily supposed as the world blackened and she fell into unconsciousness, have been more tired than she... had...

previously...

imagined.

#

Heinrich stayed in Emily's room for a moment after the two Israeli attendants left. It would have been easy enough, Heinrich realized, to leave the work to one of the Israelis -- the tall one, Moishe, was a certified medic and both were fully briefed on this phase of Operation Best of the Season. It would have been so easy. Heinrich made a sour face and reached into the breast pocket of his jacket, removed the instrument.


Sometimes, he reflected as he pulled back the covers from Emily's feet, ease is not what is called for. Sometimes we must take the difficult path, and face our choices like men.

They had not removed Emily's socks, and Heinrich was reluctant to do so now. So he searched patiently until he found a thin spot, over her left great toe.Heinrich nodded, satisfied, and removed the instrument's cap. The three thin prongs underneath gleamed like starpoints in the dim light.

I am sorry, Fraulein. Heinrich set the points against the thin cotton of the sock. Although he knew the injection would be quite painless, nevertheless Heinrich shut his eyes as he pushed the instrument's plunger.

Copyright 1997, David Nickle & Karl Schroeder