"The elves are on strike. Their list of grievances is posted online, all very reasonable."
"That I get, no one likes to be treated like garbage. What are they doing here and where the hell is the fat man?"
"I suppose after they destroyed the factory they realized they needed to deal with me next. I'm betting they don't know about you, M."
"You? Why you?"
"I'm Nicholas's only living friend."
"What? How do you know Santa?"
"I helped him build the first factory and set up relations with the elves, back when he was St. Nicholas."
"And now they want out?"
"They don't want out, they want what everyone else wants: hourly pay, vacation time, benefits."
M snorts. "Since when did Santa start turning a profit?"
"Since he started selling the rights to his name and image to everyone and anyone."
"Where is he anyways? This is his problem not ours."
"Vacationing in Florida. The moment the elves came to town, they became our problem."
"What about Mrs. Claus, where is she?"
"Divorced. The last I heard, she was living south of Los Angeles and married to a plastic surgeon."
"Yeah, she goes by Gloria now, looks completely different after the liposuction and facial augmentations."
"Maybe, I don't know. I've known her forever. I introduced her to Nicholas."
"How did you meet him?"
"First counsel of Nicea."
M looks at me blankly and then shrugs. "Okay. So why are we eating here? Shouldn't we hunt the elves down and end this?"
"They wanted to meet."
"To meet? They flew all the way here to talk? That makes no sense. It's not like you have anything to do with their problems."
"Then you think it's an ambush? Is that why all the roads are closed?"
"You got it."
M smiles. "Kill, or capture?"
"Capture if you can. Kill if you must."
M pounds his fist on the table. "Added challenge, awesome. So, what do they look like?"
The ground trembles and I point over M's shoulder. "I'll give you one guess."
In the empty intersection a block away stand two gigantic, metal, domed feet. Dirtied and scratched from use, they have left giant craters in the street where they landed. I follow the feet up the ridged legs and over a blocky, broad chest, to a boxy head and oversized eyes.
"That is a big ass robot. I'd be a lot more concerned if this thing didn't look like it was from the 50s. Where's the guns, lasers, rockets? It's nothing more than a giant toy," M says.
We stand up and start walking towards it. It's here for me, not to destroy town. We don't have to hurry.
He points upward. "What the heck is that and what's up with the hat?"
On top of the robot's head rests a red cone-shaped hat, but where the white ball should be is a long, metal pole.
"Probably an antenna. I bet it's controlled remotely. The hat is the symbol of the Northern Elves."
"Oh, the cowards didn't even show up to fight, they sent in a ringer?"
"Northern Elves are exactly what the stories make them out to be: short little people that are good with their hands, but have little access to technology."
"Fair enough." M cracks his neck. "All right, let's do this."
"You take top, I take bottom."
"I'll see you in the middle."
I take off at a jog, checking the runes on my fingers and loosening each of them like a pianist. From my fingertips, I pop off a couple lightning bolts at the robot’s legs. They connect, but only leave scorch marks behind. Hoping the attack did more than I can see, I send off a couple more in rapid procession. Each one ends with the same result.
The robot steps towards me and I hear a loud boom that has me look up just in time see a very large, metallic hand sail through the air and crash into the building next to me. So much for the elves not destroying the city.
I finish the last dozen feet in a sprint and use the robot's leg to shield me from the building and office debris. The robot makes no indication that it knows I'm here. M is doing a fantastic job of distracting it. Seeing as I have an opportunity to do some real damage, I set my hands in position and torch the robot's leg in fire. Maybe I can melt the damned thing. I watch the skin on my fake hand melt away: there goes that plan.
* * *
"I'll see you in the middle," is all I have time to say before Thomas advances on Santa's Little Slayer.
Waiting for the perfect moment, I watch the combatants with complete focus. Distractions and ambushes are in need of precision, of perfection. Without both, it all ends in failure and for naught. Waiting, waiting, waiting, now. With but a thought, I launch into the clear skies at the head of the metallic monster, like a bolt from William Tell.
The robotic giant takes notice and lifts its arm against me. Boom! The hand explodes through the air, but my speed is misjudged. The five-fingered death shot ends its journey with a three-story explosion of chairs, desks, stone and mortar that rains down on the city street like a bad day.
My partner makes it through unharmed and unnoticed. He goes to work on the legs of this towering toy of terror as I slam into and through its head like a bullet. Electronic innards explode out of its new cranial cavity behind me. I twist, spin and plant myself feet first into the building behind the Meccano-man. Exploding into the air once again, my push shatters the shatterproof office window as I set forth for its back.
* * *
The flames turn the metal leg red-hot and it’s dripping with molten iron. The spell begins to drain me mentally and physically as the heat draws sweat from my head; the stench of burning metal doesn't help either. On the bright side, my new heart is taking the stress without complaint. As M explodes through the robot's head, it teeters slightly from the impact, but remains on its feet. I turn the heat up and begin to melt holes into the robot's hollow leg. Exposed wires begin to liquefy and sever their connections with the foot. I cut off the flames and shoot electricity up the wires of the leg. Maybe I can short it out.
I never find out if it will work. M slams into the back of the robot and sends it face down in the street, barely missing the buildings on either side. The force of its landing bounces a car up in the air.
M lands lightly next to me and grabs the partially melted, partially torn foot and rips it off the rest of the way. Hopping on its back, he bashes it with his bare fists over and over, leaving the robot's body looking more like Swiss cheese and less like a robot. He hops off the back of the robot and smiles.
"Kick it while it's down."
"Nice to see you finally learned that." I look back at what's left of the robot. "Although I think it might have been overkill this time."
"Excuse me!" a voice says.
Running out of a building adjacent to the smoking robot are a reporter and his cameraman. They stop in front of us, catching their breath and facing each other.
"Okay, phew. Let's go, Bart on 3... 2..." The reporter takes a deep breath. "A fantastic battle has ended today here on Troost and Arland between two unknown men and a giant robot." The reporter turns towards me and asks, "Sir, what is your name?" He puts the microphone to my mouth.
The reporter shoves the mic in M's face. M looks at me and back at the reporter. "Um, M."
The reporter looks at us, puzzled, and continues on without missing a step. "Thomas, can you tell us what has happened here? Was the robot going to destroy the city, or was it here for you?"
"It was here for me."
"Why would someone send a robot to murder you?"
"Santa's elves are on strike. They thought I could be a threat."
The reporter stares at us for a moment. "Are you saying that Santa Claus is real?"
He turns to M. "That was a spectacular fight, good work taking down the giant robot."
M scratches the back of his head. "Thanks, I guess."
"How did you learn to fly? Have you always been able to?"
"Um, I just, sorta... jump really well."
"How did you manage to fly through the robot? Are you super strong?"
"Is there anything you would like to tell the public?"
M looks at me and I shrug. "Kids, don't do drugs."
M and I walk away from the reporter and towards our car before the reporter can say anything else. I can't help but laugh.
"What?" M asks.
"Don't do drugs?"
"Isn't that what you're supposed to say?"
I think about it. "I honestly don't know."
"Why did we even talk to that guy?"
"It's time we went public. We're going to need help with what's coming. This seemed like a good time to do it."
"Yeah, shit's about to get real!"