Friday, December 24, 2004

"Rockets and Reindeer"

Rockets and Reindeer

"I don't see any way around it, Santa. We're screwed."
Santa Claus drummed his fingers as he squinted at the printout.
"I have to agree with you, Clancy. The portal is just too small."
Santa rose from his desk and peered out the window.
"Last year, we barely squeezed through the dimensional warp," he said to himself.
Clancy the Elf picked up the paper from Santa's desk. "This year, it's no bigger than a Yugo. Much too small for a large sleigh and eight reindeer."
Santa turned with his hands behind his back. "Tell me, if the collective disbelief of the children is slowly closing the portal - how come we haven't been fading away ourselves?"
"The Law of Conservation of Archetypes," said Clancy. "Archetypes may become obsolete, but they cannot be destroyed."
Santa scratched behind his head. "Nothing will make us obsolete faster than missing Christmas."
"You know as well as I do, it's a impossibility in this dimension to deliver the gifts in one night. We need to take a shortcut through the timeless dimension - and we can't squeeze through the portal any more."
Santa looked very serious. "Wow, the kids are going to be disappointed."
He sat down at a table where examples of some of the toys were scattered about. He picked up a foot-long plastic rocket. A thought came to him, and he knitted his eyebrows as he turned the rocket over in his hand.
"Clancy, these rockets do travel pretty fast, don't they?"
"Fastest mode of travel real humans have. They go faster than a bullet."
The Elf came over to where the old man sat.
"But we couldn't use one of these to pull the sleigh!"
"I wasn't thinking about using one for deliveries."
The old man stroked his beard. "I was thinking... if we hitched the sleigh to one of these, and got up a real head of steam... could we punch through the portal?"
The Elf knitted his brow. "Well, there's a thought. Let me crunch some numbers."
The Elf went over to his Dell and began pecking at the keyboard. Santa stood with his hands behind his back, looking up at the North Star through the frosted windowpanes.
He turned as he heard the printer whirring. "It might work," said Clancy as he grabbed the sheet of paper. "It just might work. If we hit ballistic speed, we just may crack the portal like a walnut."
He walked over and handed the sheet of paper to Santa. "But where can we find a rocket on Christmas Eve?"
Santa raised an eyebrow. "It pays to have satellite TV. I saw a story on CNN just a couple of days ago."
He grabbed his red coat. "Go hitch up Rudolph and the usual suspects. We need to go right away."
"Where are we going?"
Santa pulled his fur cap on tight.
"Central Asia."


ICBM Missile Base

"I wish I had enough seniority to avoid this shift."
Dimitri cupped his hands as he lit a cigarette.
"Myself also, comrade," said Nikolai. "But someone has to stand watch."
Dimitri cocked his ear.
"Are you wearing jewelry?"
Nikolai cocked his head. "No, what makes you say that?"
"I thought I heard a jingling. Like from a bracelet. But that makes no..."
He stopped as Nikolai held up a hand. "Quiet! There, I hear it too!"
They both looked up.
"It's coming from the sky," said Nikolai.
They both drew their rifles.
Dimitri looked across the dark and starry sky.
"I don't see anything."
The sleigh dropped rapidly after clearing the perimeter fence, and the soldiers turned around as the sound quickly grew louder.
"Ho Ho Ho!"
Nikolai dropped his rifle, which struck his foot - but he didn't flinch. The cigarette fell out of Dimitri's gaping mouth.
There was a cloud of snow as the sleigh skidded to a halt. Santa dropped the reins and stood up, waving a gloved hand in the most cordial fashion.
"Greetings, tovarisch!"
Nikolai looked over at Dimitri, whose jaw remained dropped. "My mother told me this would happen if I kept drinking cheap vodka!"
Santa came over, and shook their hands.
"You both look rather surprised to see me? Has it been so long?"
Nikolai found his voice first. "Father Christmas!"
He clasped Santa's handshake to see if he was real. "To what do we owe this honor?"
"Do you remember, Nikolai, when you were six, and you got that shiny red sled? How grateful you were?"
Nikolai's eyes grew wide. "Yes, I remember!"
"Well, I could use a favor now."
Dimitri spoke up. "What could we possibly do for a supernatural being such as yourself?"
"Truth be told," the old man said with a wink, "this year I need a little help."
He cocked a thumb in the direction of the missile silo.
"I need to borrow one of your rockets. I saw on television you tested one just a few days ago, and planned more tests. I was right, you have one just sitting here ready to launch."
Nikolai's eyebrows shot up. "You want we should help you steal a Russian Republic ICBM?"
"I need a boost to start my trip tonight, and I think I can get it with the rocket."
Nikolai shrugged at Dimitri, who waggled his head. "Why not?" said Dimitri. "It makes as much sense as anything else here," casting a sidelong glance at the line-up of flying reindeer.
"But Comrade Claus - I mean, Commissar Christmas," said Nikolai. "We will be shot if the missile disappears on our watch!"
"You can come with me and stay in the mythopoetic dimension, if you like," said Santa. "I could always use good help. Besides, you get to be immortal."
Dimitri looked at Nikolai as he tossed his rifle over his shoulder "I say KGB, friend. Kiss Good-bye Barracks. Let's go."
Nikolai took off across the launch pad. "I know code for control bunker."
Santa rubbed his hands. "Excellent! Dimitri, why don't you help Clancy hitch the reindeer behind the sleigh?"
While the Russian and the Elf were switching the reindeer around, Nikolai entered the bunker and then went into the gantry. Santa gave him the traces, which he draped around the nose cone of the ICBM.
After everything was in place, the guards sat in the sleigh next to Santa. Clancy sat on Dimitri's lap, and Nikolai held the remote control.
"You sure we're not going to be blown to kingdom come?" asked Nikolai.
"Rest assured," said Santa. "I have plenty of magic.”
"Hoo-boy, here we go," said Nikolai as he pressed the button.
The rocket emerged from the silo in a rush of gas and steam, and in a second, the traces drew taut.
"Hold on, everybody!" said Santa.
The ICBM shot into the night sky, with Clancy pressed up against Dimitri's heavy Army coat, Nikolai praying, and Santa holding the reins with both hands. The reindeer at the rear enjoyed being passengers for once.
"Wowser, these things do go fast!" hollered Santa.
"There's the portal," shouted Clancy at the top of his lungs.
"I see it!" said Santa.
As they screamed upwards, what at first looked like a bright star turned into a small shiny disk. It enlarged rapidly.
Nikolai stopped praying and looked ahead. He could see the nose cone was beginning to glow red.
Dimitri saw it, too. He nudged Santa and pointed.
"Not to worry," shouted Santa. "We're almost there."
Right then, they hit the small round dimensional portal. There was a flash of blinding light - and then everything stopped.
Clancy clenched both fists. "Yes, it worked!"
Santa looked behind them. The hole was expanding into a halo-like circle of light.
"Great job, Clancy! Not only did we punch through, the portal is growing back to its old size."
Nikolai looked around, rather dazed. "Would you, please like to tell us what just happened?"
"I need to travel through a dimension where there is no time, in order to deliver gifts to children all across the world in one night," said Santa. "The force of childhood unbelief, however, had caused the portal to this dimension to shrink, and I needed a little boost from your rocket to punch through."
Santa waved his hand and the rocket engines cut off. "I have plenty of magic, but in your world I also have to fight the laws of physics. Here, magic is unabated.”
He looked over the side of the sleigh. "Let's drop down there and hitch the reindeer up. We can leave the rocket hovering here, and pick it up on the way back to the pole."
They alighted in a clearing among some very tall pine trees. "This looks pretty remote," said Santa. "Let's make the switch and take off - we have a lot of work to do."
"Very little snow," said Dimitri as he helped Clancy and Nikolai with the reins.
As they hopped back in the sled, they heard a dog baying. "Away we go!" said Santa as the reindeer took off.
As they flew into the night, a large black and tan hound trotted into the clearing. A middle-aged man with a crooked walking stick loped after him.
"Damn it, Solace! What's gotten into you!"
The man followed the dog's upward gaze to see the reindeer and sleigh disappear into the night sky.


Dimitri and Nikolai helped Clancy load up Santa each time he dropped down a chimney. Clancy enjoyed the respite, and the two Russians enjoyed their new role as mythical creatures.
On the way back to the North Pole, they lassoed the rocket. Santa plunked it into the ice.
"This doesn't really look like the North Pole," commented Nikolai as they all walked towards Santa's lodge.
"Of course not," said Santa. "This is the mythical North Pole. In my existence, the real and the mythical exist side by side."
He stood and turned around on the doorstep. "Thanks to you, I was able to get a little technological help when I needed it! I'm very grateful."
Nikolai put his thumb under the lapel of his heavy coat. "We are proud as Russians to have been of assistance!"
Nikolai turned and followed Santa's gaze. Dimitri was trotting over to the rocket, which stuck out of the snow at a tilt.
"Dimitri, what are you doing?" asked Nikolai.
Dimitri stood by the mid-section of the rocket and held up a piece of charcoal he had picked out of a scupper by the door.
He carefully spelled out in Cyrillic letters, "R-U-D-O-L-P-H II".
Santa and Nikolai both looked at him, puzzled.
Dimitri walked over with a smile. "I thought we should name this historic rocket. I saw as we shot up from the base how its nose cone grew red, so I thought to call it the Second Rudolph."
Both Santa and Nikolai smiled and nodded, fooling Dimitri into thinking they thought him clever.
What they were really smiling at was the sight of a formidable stag behind him, charging at full speed - his red nose drawing a laser-like stripe across the snow - with his head down and antlers lowered to catch the former Russian missile base guard right in….


Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Ah, the busy holiday season

People often say they're especially busy during the holiday season. Well, this year, it's true for me. Wife came up with a back sprain last week, and so I've had to take over some of the chores and shopping she would have normally been doing. Of course, all that gets piled on addition to the normal duties at work. Ah, exhaustion...
One thing we dropped was decorating the house. Since we're not having any guests over this year, it's no matter. We're visiting relatives both Saturday and Sunday. Strangely enough, no neighbor within eyeshot has decorated, so we don't look bad.
Needless to say, I haven't done any writing in a few weeks. But it hardly matters - all the editors are on holiday hiatus, anyway. Strange Horizons and Futurismic are flat-out closed to subs until Jan. 1. But I'm accumulating a nice backlog of story ideas.
Last Friday I was covering a basketball game, and I was idly thinking about the story that Bill Rupp wants to run in his magazine, Continuum. I suddenly remembered that name of the "Mad Professor" in the story. It's an amalgam of the names of two newspaper editors that worked for a competitor once. A real pair of "running dog lackeys", if you know what I mean - always willing to kiss the ass of whatever crooks were in control of city hall. Of course, if you're a moron, you don't have any talent to rely upon - you'd better kiss ass.
Also of course, there's really not much of a free press left in this country, thanks to the godless money-grubbing Republicans. You only have full citizenship rights - including free speech - if you're rich. That's a big reason the media is this country as such a bunch of ass kissers. Even Jay Leno joked about it, after that soldier buttonholed Rumsfield over the cheap ass protection offered by Hummers (surely, someone took a bribe from some rich asshole Republican corporate pirate to overlook the bid specs). Leno quipped Rumsfield got asked an honest question by a soldier - because back home in America, no one in the corporate media would.
Well, enough of a rant. We hold these goofs to be self-evident, to mangle a phrase of Thomas Jefferson's. Time to take care of some last-minute Christmas chores.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

OK, here's all the whining...

One of the problems with being a sports editor is that you have to work some evenings and weekends. I recently went through a period where a number of schedules combined to run me ragged. To wit:
Basketball games are usually played Monday, Tuesday or Friday nights (2 out of 3). Wednesday is the day actually goes to press. So if I take a day off it usually would be Thursday.
Lat week I was feeling pretty run down, and I would have probably taken Thursday off - except that I had previously volunteered to be a judge in a room decorating contest at a local nursing home. Turns out, the nursing home insists the contest judging be done on Thursday, the 9th. So I didn't take the day off.
The next two days, Dec. 10 and 11, I have to travel over 70 miles to a basketball tournament held a few counties away. My wife and I own a lot and a cabin in the same county, so while I was in the general area I did work at the cabin; I actually slept over Saturday night (the cabin has no utilities of any kind).
I probably overworked myself. Monday I worked a 12 hour day because I had to cover a special school board meeting in the evening. And then Tuesday I had to cover a basketball game that was 120 miles away. By Wednesday I was dead on my feet and actually had trouble getting my work done.
I did get to take yesterday off, this Thursday instead of last Thursday. Boy, I needed the break. Today (Friday - since it's past midnight, the blog will probably put down this posting as Saturday) I had to cover a basketball game 100 miles away, but it went so much better because of my being rested up. Unfortunately, the timing and travel to the game meant I missed my office's Christmas Party, but there was really nothing to do, and I see no reason why everyone else in the office needs to shift around because of my screwy schedule.
OK, that gets me all caught up on the whining.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Some days are better than others...

I've been so astoundingly busy I haven't had time to update this blog since last week. I've had days I've been so busy I haven't had time to poop or eat. I hope I get a little free time this weekend.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Another Contract

Received a contract via e-mail from Bill Rupp. I ran it off after I checked my e-mail this morning, but I had to take off for an hour's drive to where the local girl's basketball team was playing in a tournament. I read it and then e-mailed it back this evening.

That's three contracts since Nov. 23. Grand total earned: $265. Oh, well, it's a start. I wonder which check will be the first to arrive???

Thursday, December 09, 2004

A Call at Lunch

I was home for lunch on Wednesday when I got a phone call, which was a bit of a surprise. It was Bill Rupp, calling from California, where he prints a magazine called Continuum. I sent him a story months ago. He said he had a space in an issue he was putting to press and wanted to print the story, "Double Crossing the Styx".
OK by me.
That was the first time I got a phone call from a publisher. The reason I was surprised he caught me at home during a work day (though I often eat lunch at home, because my office is only .8 of a mile away).
Last year at this time I was geting ready to hit the road to attend Philcon in Philadelphia, but I am staying close to home this year. I have a lot of things to do and I need to manage my physical stress.
I am going through my submissions and planning to lay out my strategy for this week. I've gotten a few stories back this week and I have to shuffle a few more around. I'm also planning to send stories to the judges of the Sideways award, since one of the stories I had this year - Rome, If You Want To - is alternate history.
I don't know why, but Rome is a story that has grown on me since it was published in Surprising Stories last May. Patrick Samphire in the UK said some very nice things about it on his Journalscape reviews of short fiction - and he hit on the main points I was trying to get across in the story. Which was heartening - it's nice to know you've written well enough that other people "get it". So I'm going to be sending copies out to the Sideways judges.

Monday, December 06, 2004

They're All Up

Well, I got my three-peat. Al three stories are now up their various publications.

"The Rocket-Powered Cat" at RevolutionSF:
main page-
direct link -

"They Call It Time" at Alienskin:
main page -
direct link -

and "Circe in Vitro" at Astounding Tales:
main page -
direct link -

Like the tailor's business card said, "if you like our work, tell your friends. If you don't like our work, tell us."

Thursday, December 02, 2004

"Circe in Vitro"

My latest story is now up at Astounding Tales:

I came up with this title maybe 30 years ago. I took an (unsuccessful) stab at writing a story maybe 18 years ago (according to some real old notes I found last year in a box that was uncovered while moving). I actually came up with a story idea that worked around April of last year.

This story has the distinction of having killed TWO web sites - both the Palace of Reason and RevelationSF died after it was submitted!

Also. on my Cedar Hill Sentinel news site, I've posted a reprint of "Rome, If You Want To", which originally ran on Surprising Stories in May of this year.

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