Thursday, December 27, 2007

Episode 50: One thousandth of a second

One of the questions most common to children at Christmas is to ask how Santa can possibly fly around the world in one night; rational literalists have determined that the delivery of gifts to each household needs to be accomplished in a thousandth of a second. They've also determined that for Santa to make a dead stop at the speed he'd be traveling would result in him being jettisoned at a speed that would first pulverize the reindeer he'd shoot through, and then turn him into Christmas pudding.

As if speed had anything to do with it.

The truth of the matter is that the infamous reindeer are one of several modes for traveling the Tree. They do not exist within any of the worlds the Tree touches, but have footholds in all of them at once. They are able to travel through and within worlds, but being part of the Tree, perceive Time very differently from humans. Unlike the Tree itself, which, immovable and insofar as humans can comprehend, perceives the goings on in the worlds much like you perceive the microorganisms running around in your hair. The reindeer, as a mode of transportation for the Tree, and therefore able to move at speeds which give the impression of omnipresence to humans, see things as hardly ever moving. They move so fast that even standing still, they seem translucent; a blur to the naked eye. Impossible for detection devices to...well, detect.

When Saint Nicholas made his journey to the Pole, he was granted the reindeer as his means of transportation for his journey on Christmas night, which is celebrated in many worlds, and by many cultures within those worlds. The Sleigh was fashioned by the menninkäinen from the wood of the Tree itself, to retain the bond with it. When Santa, or any other being sits within that sleigh, their perception of time slows to match the Reindeers'. The world seems to come to an immediate stop. Objects in mid-air hang, seemingly immobile.

It makes being faster than a speeding bullet seem like standing still.

So when Ilmari-Pekka took the reindeer from their stable, bridled them to the sleigh, and let them loose with the commands to retrieve the survivors in the besieged train, the Leprechaun redcoats had the impression of something flashing across their vision.

What Ripper and everyone else in the train saw was something quite different. Being outside of the worlds allowed the reindeer to pass through solid objects at will, sliding between molecules or some such rot, and so one moment they were not there, and the next, they simply were. Silke was the first to see their blurred forms standing in the aisle of the train, backing the sleigh into the water beside Sunny's limp form. Ripper accidentally leaned against the sleigh to steady himself, aware only of a disorienting blurred motion beside him, and that was when he noticed the bullet hanging, spinning ever so slowly about two inches from his pupil.

"Don't let go of the sleigh," a voice said to him. "That bullet will blow your brains out before you even knew it had happened."

Ripper turned his head, keeping his body pressed against the sleigh and saw one of the reindeer with his head turned, facing Ripper.

"Blitzen," the Reindeer said simply. "Keep at least one part of your body touching the sleigh and help the ladies inside."

Ripper turned and put his hand into the water, which gave as little resistance as ever, but moved like it had the consistency of wet concrete. He grabbed onto Sunny's hand and pulled her to him.

Items outside the field of the reindeers' influence move normally, and according to the physics of the world they inhabit. Ripper was reaching from within that abnormal bubble of frantic motion to pull Sunny inside its' influence. Until she reached it, she seemed to move at an infinitesimally ponderous speed. He looked at her, lying unconscious, her blonde hair falling down against her cheek...

And it was in that journey between the water and the sleigh that Ripper realized a great many things.

* * * * * * *

Silke saw Ripper bump up against something and then he too was blurred, like the object behind him. Almost as suddenly as he struck the blurry looked like an old fashioned sleigh...he reached out his hand (one moment his arm was next to him and the next it had taken hold of Sunny and was pulling her closer). Then she felt a momentary spike of pain in her shoulder before being pulled into that blurred field herself. She gasped as Andrew's face came clear in front of her, his eyes panicked.

"Are you all right?" he nearly shouted.

"I think so," she said, but she could feel a burning sensation on the back of her right shoulder.

"Keep your hands touching this," Andrew said, inclining his head toward a magnificent sleigh, painted red with gilded gold knotwork. He kept one hand on the sleigh himself and looked over her shoulder. "I could see the bullet come through the glass," he said. "And it was coming towards you. I was up where the reindeer are..." Silke looked in fascination at the eight beasts tethered to the sleigh. The lead one was speaking with John and Charles. "And by the time I got down here it was entering your shoulder. But it didn't get too far. Turn around."

She turned and Andrew pointed to a round ball of lead hanging in the air, its' surface discolored with the red of Silke's blood. She gasped and nearly held a hand to her mouth, then remembered to keep it held to the side of the sleigh.

"They're going to take us out of here," Andrew said. "You, I mean."

"What do you mean?" Silke asked. "Aren't you coming as well?"

Andrew shook his head. "John and Charles and I are remaining behind. There's apparently something we have to do."

* * * * * * *

To be linked to the Tree is to be linked to the Magic that holds the universes together. Time, Space, and many of the constants that the worlds seem to run by are forces for manipulation. Throughout all the worlds, and all the times within those worlds, there are those who seek to access the power to manipulate this Magic. Some have succeeded in gaining the power to manipulate one or another, but never all. That is reserved for those who are linked to the Tree. These are the people to whom Miracles are attributed. Bodies of water displaced and held in suspension while a nation walked to freedom. Blind eyes seeing for the first time. Walking on water. Resurrections.

To be linked to the Tree in surrender is a powerful thing, Andrew realized. John had told him what he would have to do in order to fully surrender himself to the Tree. Odin had hung on the world ash for nine days and nights. Jesus hung on the Cross for hours. He only had minutes, but they were spent in the presence of the reindeer, and so time stretched out...

And in that time, Andrew too, realized a great many things.

* * * * * * *

And when that thousandth of a second was over, the Redcoat Leprechauns were left only with the impression of a disturbance in the air before the train car exploded outward in a thousand tiny fragments, and something wild and primordial rose up from a crouched position, unfolding its limbs like a tree unfolding its branches, a dark shape against the white snow and ice, dark as the depths of the forest.

The Leprechauns stopped firing their weapons then, uncertain of what had happened. The front ranks of their numbers lay wounded or dead from the debris and shrapnel of the passenger car's explosion. They also stopped firing, because somewhere in their own being, magic as it was, they sensed that firing their weapons would do them no good.

Some simply dropped to their knees and hung their heads, remembering a time long passed when they'd run through meadows and danced beneath rainbows, when they too had been a part of the Tree. Others ran in terror, knowing how far they'd come from those days, and fearing that the butcher's bill they had accumulated would be too great for grace to intervene.

The dark shape strode into their midst, and there was death upon the snow.


Gotthammer said...

I very badly wanted to have this episode written for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, but I was too busy with the serious business of joy to take time to write. They past few days with my family have been a grand time of rest and relaxation. I've thought about my own explanation for the reindeer as we went to sleep Christmas Eve, cookies and milk left out for Santa. I thought of it again tonight while watching "The Santa Clause" with my wife's extended family. And I'm glad it wrote out the way it did. Felt appropriate. No need for detailed carnage. It's Christmas after all!

Two to go.

the philosopher one said...

Magnificent! Santa's sleigh meets Douglas Adams. This episode was an exquisite compaction of so many huge ideas. If it was a film it would make people nauseous with its power. I am glad it is written though, because in my imagination that episode took me to some pretty crazy places. It reminded me of the feeling I got one time when I went over a rather terrifying waterfall. Very powerful, I loved it.

Gotthammer said...

Your experience reading it was akin to my writing it then. I had that sense of vastness behind the scenes, and I'm glad it's more of a thumbnail sketch so people can fill in the blanks themselves.

Jim Baerg said...

I like the descriptions of being speeded up & seeing everything else slow, but I think this capability needs to be hinted at a bit more in earlier parts of the story. As it is there is a whiff of Reindeer ex Machina about it.

Gotthammer said...

Good point Jim, and definitely one of the weaknesses of this approach to writing. I think there are many "ex machina" elements throughout the story...and a host of characters who need more reason than I've given them for being around. Stuff I'll tighten up in the edit. But good point. Not sure how I'd introduce that earlier though, given the absence of reindeer. I guess something to do with the Tree and time. Maybe Lara's naps in the Tree earlier on seem to have a warp on time, or something to that effect. Something to think about, for sure.