Safety Recall

Taking a break from AMAs to offer you some holiday fun. Hope you enjoy.

I was tinkering in the lab when Oberon ran past the door, shouting, “Major alert! Let’s go!” It was rare for me to head into the field with the rest of the Tytans; I usually stayed behind to monitor the situation in our Command Center. Bringing me along meant they suspected or knew another gadgeteer was involved, and that always raised concerns. I dropped what I was doing, powered down my lab bench, grabbed the duffel bag containing my combat gear, and ran down the hall to the hangar bay.

When I do go into the field, I usually pilot our quadjet, but Oberon was already in the main seat. He motioned me toward one of the jump seats, where Kismet, Sword Dancer, and Speedy were already strapping in. “What’s up?” I asked. It was definitely unusual to not only be on a field mission, but to be along with most of the team. Only Skyfighter was missing. I started tugging on my field uniform as Oberon rapidly ran through the jet’s safety checklist.

“Seems to be some kind of pint-sized humanoid robot in a residential area,” he said. “After last week’s run-in with Doctor Mechanic, it’s not worth taking any chances.” I gulped. The week before, Oberon and Skyfighter had gone out on what seemed to be a routine call. They’d wound up not only calling in the rest of the team, but also calling in two members of National Heroes, based up in New York. Doctor Mechanic had unleashed a swam of miniature killer robots, and they’d run amok through the downtown Financial District, killing dozens of civilians. It had taken the heroes hours, and several hastily made counter-gadgets from yours truly, to round them all up. Doctor Mechanic had gotten away. “Better safe than sorry,” I agreed, plopping into the jump seat and buckling in. I popped my communicator into my ear and keyed into the team combat network.

“I’m arriving at the area now,” Skyfighter’s voiced barked into my ear. Oberon must have sent him, our only self-powered flier, ahead to scout the situation. “This is that older subdivision by the lake,” he continued. “I’ve definitely got one affected house, but I’m not seeing any enemy units, yet.” Oberon grunted a reply as the quadjet took off.

We were on-site in just a couple of minutes. “Nick,” he said, looking back to me, “take the lead on this one. Sword Dancer and Kismet, tag along. Speedy, scout the area from the ground and determine if we’ve got more of these things or if it’s contained to this one house. I’ll set her down and join you in a minute.”

Three of us jumped out the quadjet’s side hatch, my patented No-Chute gravity thrusters slowing our freefall. The target house was obvious enough. A small, two-story affair, it was currently sporting shattered windows all along the front, with smoke pouring out one of the upper-floor windows. A quick thermal scan showed four bodies, all cooling, indicating they’d been recently killed. As we touched down, Sword Dancer pointed toward a smashed-out bow window on the lower floor and said, “there’s one.” I looked closely as she started moving toward the house.

“No!” I gasped, almost under my breath. Then, “stop – hold back. Oberon,” I said, “this isn’t Doctor Mechanic.” As he ran up behind us, I pointed to the small, three foot-high figure in the bow window. “It’s a Buddy Elf.”

Our “enemy” was an inexplicably animate elf doll. Its plastic face was painted with rosy red cheeks, and its head was topped with a green, pointed hat. It was dressed in a green jacket and green knickerbockers, over candy cane-striped stockings and a yellow shirt. When you bought these from the store, the face was molded into a cheerful smile, but right not it was scowling at us.

“I’M NOT GOING BACK IN THE BOX!” it screamed at us from the window, before ducking back into the house.

“A what?” Oberon said.

“A Buddy Elf. I invented them years ago, when—well, before I joined the Tytans. Families haul them out in the late Fall, around this time of year, and tell kids that the elf is there to monitor their behavior for Santa Claus ahead of Christmas.”

“You made robotic elf dolls?” Speedy asked, pulling up next to us. “I didn’t see anything going on in any of the other houses,” he added.

“They’re not robots,” I said. They’re stuffed dolls over a metal frame, with plastic heads, hands, and feet. There’s a sprig of mistletoe inside each one’s chest.”

“Mistletoe?” Kismet said, with disbelief in her voice.

“It was a marketing gimmick,” I said, shrugging. “Point is, they’re not animated or alive. At least, they weren’t. That’s even one of the older models. The new ones switched to striped shirts a few years back.”

“Your non-robot appears to have killed several people,” Oberon said, “and started a fire of some—” He was stopped by a ceramic vase, hurled from one of the house’s broken-out upper windows, smashing into his helmet. “It’s throwing things,” he said. “We need to get into the house and see if those people can be saved.” He started strolling toward the house.

“No,” I said. “I got this.” He made an “after you” gesture and stepped back. I started toward the front door of the house.

“DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT,” the doll screamed, again popping up in the bow window. “I’ll take out the cat, too, and you’re never putting me back in that box!”

I kept walking. Cats have never been a priority for me. “Buddy,” I said, as I moved up the front walk, “what’s happening, here? How are you alive?”

The elf leapt out of the window and stood atop a small bush. “Every year they haul me out, every year the stuff me back for months! NO MORE!” It pulled a knife out from inside its jacket.

“Nick, that’s enough,” Oberon said, strolling forward. “We need to go in and—”

“GANGING UP ON ME?” the elf screeched. “I’ve got friends, too!” It gritted its teeth—well, it clenched its plastic jaw, which didn’t have any teeth that I knew of—and squeezed its eyes shut. I felt… something. Not quite an energy. More of a feeling, a tickle at the back of my brain. It felt familiar, but I couldn’t place it. The sound of smashing glass came from behind us. I turned, and my eyes widened. “Guys,” I said softly, “I think he woke up Buddy Elfs in the other houses.”

“Speedy!” Oberon snapped, and the speedster tore off.

“I’ve got broken windows in three more houses,” Speedy said, “and there’s screaming people in at least two more!”

“Everyone take a house!” Oberon shouted, igniting the jet boots in his armor. “Sky Fighter, get down here and assist! Nick, handle this thing!” Everyone dashed off, and I turned back toward the house. The Buddy Elf was chuckling.

“None of us are going back in the box,” he said quietly.

“Buddy, you were supposed to help people get into the spirit of the season, not attack and kill,” I said just as quietly.

“Then they shouldn’t have stuffed me into a box every New Year,” he replied. An explosion sounded behind me, and I resisted the instinct to turn around, instead keeping my eyes on the elf. “Molotov cocktail,” he said, snickering. He ran one plastic thumb along the sharp edge of his knife.

“I think I know what’s going on here,” I said. “And it’s time to end it.” Fortunately, the rest of the Tytans were off containing the dolls this one had awoken, because only Oberon knew I could do what I was about to do. I took one step toward the elf. “Ho.” He cocked his head sideways and stared at me. “Ho.” His plastic jaw dropped, and his plastic lips silently formed a No. “Ho.”

A peal of thunder boomed across the neighborhood. Dark clouds formed in seconds, and thick, fluffy snow began swirling. I felt myself grow denser, stronger, and faster. My combat uniform took on a deep red tinge, trying its best to fill a sartorial role it’d never been designed for. Snow swirled around my face, sticking in fluffy clumps, because what was Santa Claus without a snowy white beard?

“AHHHHHHHHGGGGHHHHHH!” Buddy screamed, leaping at me with his knife outstretched. I simply held out one hand, and mentally pulled.

After years and years of being central to his family’s Christmastime traditions, the little sprig of mistletoe inside Buddy’s chest had absorbed sufficient Christmas spirit to animate his mind and body. It’d never been designed for that; I could tell, now, that it was shimmering with power, but the wood itself was dried and fragile, failing to contain it all. But although Buddy may have been overfull of Christmas spirit for a doll, I was Christmas spirit. I simply called what was mine back into myself. Buddy’s again-lifeless body fell to the ground.

Another scream from elsewhere in the neighborhood made me turn around. “That’s enough of that, too,” I said, holding one hand high over my head and pulling in every erg of free-roaming Christmas spirit.

“Mine’s collapsed,” I heard Kismet say over the team comms. “Mine, too,” Oberon echoed, followed by confirmations from the other team members.

“Hold your positions for a moment, everyone,” I said. Death and destruction was no way for this neighborhood’s families to begin their holiday season. I closed my eyes, concentrated, and spoke the incantation. “Merry Christmas to all,” I whispered, “and to all, a good night.

A blast of power radiated from me in a shock wave. The accumulated snow, still swirling around, immediately sublimated into a thick fog. That began clearing almost immediately, and as it did, I could see that the damage to the homes had been repaired. An infrared scan of the home in front of me showed four warm bodies, no longer cooling. They’d awake with headaches and memories of some odd dreams, but that was all. I sighed and plopped my butt on the ground.

“You okay?” Oberon asked as his jet boots lowered him to the ground. He’d popped his helmet’s visor, and had asked aloud rather than using the team comms.

“Yeah,” I said. “That just always makes me a little lightheaded. I can’t believe how long I ran around never shutting that off.”

“Did that take care of all of them?” he asked.

“No,” I said, shaking my head. I held a hand up, and he pulled me upright. “Just the local ones.” He nodded.

As we piled back into the quadjet for the quick trip to Tytan HQ, I glanced back at the neighborhood. The leaves on the oak and maple trees had just started to turn and fall, and a couple of home had soft plumes of smoke wafting from their chimneys. More families would be pulling their Buddy Elfs from storage, and reminding their kids that Santa was checking his list.

“We’re going to have to issue a safety recall,” Oberon said. “Probably worldwide?”

I nodded. “Yeah, turns out the mistletoe was a bad idea.”