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Since We've No Place to Go

Secret Santa bursts into the War Room with a snarl, cheeks bright red, eyes shooting a look that says he's checked his list twice and some motherfucker is going to pay.
"I want everything we have on the Seattle Seven," Santa says. "On the big board. Now."
The team scrambles to comply. No one asks why, especially not me. I stopped asking why years ago.
The big board lights up with displays. A dozen video streams, details of the coordinated Christmas eve attacks in Bellevue, Georgetown, and SeaTac. Casualty estimates and dossiers line other screens and one tech tacks up a paper map of the Puget Sound area. Someone hands Santa a tablet, but he waves it away, takes in the data flowing around him on his own. Nearly two decades in counter-terrorism has hardened and focused him, prepared him for this post as the head of the newly-formed Combined Intelligence Agency.
Then he closes his eyes, is silent for a full five minutes. Standing there, dressed in a tight black turtleneck and cargo pants, head shaved, beard unruly, he's ready for battle, projecting the quiet confidence of an experienced operator. A brief shudder hits him, and his eyes open. He pulls a knife from its concealed sheath and flicks it toward the wall, where the blade sticks deep in the paper map at the north end of Mercer Island. The knife shivers, then goes stiff.
So quietly I can barely hear, he says, "Someone screwed up. I already know who." He points to the map, then to me and my team. "You're with me and you know the drill. On deck in twenty. Full load-out. We have packages to deliver." He turns on his heel and strides out as quickly as he came in.
As we gear up, there's no chatter. Santa's already in his TactiClaus get-up. Striped red and white rip-stop uniform, blue MOLLE webbing with white stars on his chest plate. Signature red ball cap showing his national pride and loyalty to his President. Cameras so his adoring audience can watch in orgasmic detail when the op finally goes hot. So much for secrecy. I still prefer my plain brown winter jacket, body armor, and simple load-bearing equipment. Santa calls it my harness. To mock me, to remind me to fall in line.
Santa smirks as I cinch my armor, secure extra mags for my carbine. He racks the slide on his HK P30, slides it into his chest holster. He used to carry an old submachine gun, one made in the Workshop, but that was before he'd internalized how immortal he was. How invincible. It was before he'd played the games, watched the movies, listened to the screams of the dying, savored each take-down. These days, he preferred to get in close. One shot, one kill. He went from "Ho-ho-ho," to "Now I have a machine gun, ho-ho-ho," to "Tango down" in a few short holiday seasons.
"Strap in and get your shit squared away," Santa yells. "Wheels up in five."
He hasn't been to Santa's Workshop in ten years. Not that it matters. It's automated, scattered across the North Pole to increase efficiency and circumvent the few international treaties still in place. Drone tracking for package delivery and surveillance, persistent monitoring to assure positive transactions. Or, as Santa once said, "Vertical supply chain integration and just-in-time distribution to deserving recipients. Those are the keys to making Christmas great again."
Then we're in the air, and the V-22 Osprey pulls sharply away from the USS John C. Stennis. We arc over Alki, cut east just below downtown Seattle, and approach Mercer Island.
"Should have eyes on any minute," Santa says.
"Affirmative, sir," says the pilot. "Positive ID on the compound. Hydras ready for launch."
"Hit 'em," Santa says.
"Presents away," says the pilot. "That oughta soften them up for you, sir."
"An airstrike, sir?" I say. "We don't know targets are on site."
"I know," Santa says. "I always know."
"There are still rules."
"The President put his faith in me," Santa says. "In us. My loyalty to him is what matters."
"Sir," I say.
"Let me rephrase," he says. "Your loyalty to me--and to him--is what matters."
His eyes bore holes in me.
"Ten seconds," says the pilot.
Santa and I have been through so much. I know it. The team knows it. Santa knows it. But the look on his face is hard. Harder than I've ever seen. I swallow, think of all the ops over the years. The night raids. Kandahar, Aleppo, Boulder, Portland, Harlem. I've seen his look go flat, his eyes glaze, spittle criss-cross his beard. I've heard sounds come from his mouth no human should make, even in terror, and certainly not in glee. I've watched him fill with bloodlust over each perceived threat to his legacy, his reality. He's a force of nature, with unlimited potential, but he's also an old white man who will do anything to preserve his way of life.
The Osprey touches down and we exit in light snowfall. Santa looks at me: a question. I nod. I'm good. We're good.
The compound--little more than an old warehouse, two out-buildings, and a few apartments--is burning. Bodies are strewn across the sidewalks, the lawn. Cars with ruptured gas tanks flame bright and hot. The snow sizzles as it touches the flames, and the smell of charred meat drifts from somewhere nearby.
"Find them," Santa says, and my team goes live. We're professionals; of course we'll find them.
I'm behind Santa as he kicks in the door of an out-building not already on fire, his pistol close and high as he shows off his Center Axis Relock skills for the audience. They eat that shit up. Two armed men appear in a hallway, and Santa takes them down with remarkable speed. Then we're through the entryway, clearing each room, and out the other side.
Back in the street, the rest of the team has seven in custody. Disarmed, on their knees, in a line, hands on their heads.
"We got 'em, sir," says Donner.
"Excellent work," Santa says. He strides up to the captives, walks around them twice to give the cameras a good view of both his team and the enemy. Men and women both, two black, two white, three possibly Asian. No Muslims, but they're rare these days. All are injured, dirty, dazed. He stops behind the first man.
"Fucking terrorists," Santa says. He raises his pistol, puts a bullet through the back of the man's skull. The others scream, and most of my team flinches.
"Sir," I say. I raise my carbine. Two inches, maybe less, but then stop. Santa knows. He always knows. He turns toward me, and his eyes go as black as his cameras.
"They're Americans," I say.
"Do they look like Americans?" he says.
"Yes," I say. "And we don't know they're guilty."
"I know," he says. "Just look at them. They're--"
"Different, sir?" I say. I know something about being different, but I don't have to tell Santa that.
"Rudolph, you're my brother," he says. "But don't think I won't put you down. Right here, right now."
He's right, of course. Given the power he wields in the new America, he's right. Even when he isn't. I stare at the murdered man, snow falling lightly and mixing with his blood. I stare until the blood cools and the flakes of white begin to cover it, to hide it. Then I do what I've always done. I lower my weapon and stand aside. I let Santa do what Santa does best: deliver presents to those who deserve them.
Santa nods once, then turns away from me.
"Merry Christmas to all," he says. "And to all a goodnight."
One shot, one kill.
As we pull up and away from Mercer Island, I glance back down. The lights of the cleanup crews flash red and blue. Media and onlookers sing carols, wave to us, aim smartphones, grab any images they can stream for fame and profit. Flashes blend with the emergency lights, reflect off the snow, but all I see is red. Not the excitement of another successful raid. Not the cheers of a grateful nation. This is who we are now.
The snow covers everything in a smothering blanket of white.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, April 13th, 2018
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