Chapter Two: Much Ado About Nothing
The only sound more annoying than an alarm clock going off at the proper time is a phone ringing a few hours earlier. When this happens, most people feel justified in answering said phone with an unpleasant demeanor. While this may be true of most people, it was a law of the universe for Myrna. And she was not afraid to deliver swift and (to her) just punishment to those who interrupted her slumber.
So when her landline rang only a few hours after she flopped into bed, a groggy part of her was aware it had to be for a damn good reason. The rest was just cranky, wanted coffee, and ready to deliver on some punishment.
After stringing the required amount of generic curses, she rolled out of bed, looking like Samara got a perm. Slamming the on button to the coffee machine as she passed it, she snatched the phone up and snapped into the receiver: “The hell is this?”
“Robin, sir. We need you to come back to HQ immediately.”
Myrna groaned. The newbie. Of course he was the one who called. Some of the elves were probably hazing him. “What could have possibly happened between Santa’s last stop and the way home? I promise you, the reindeer know what they’re doing. They’ve been doing this for years.”
“It’s not that, sir. It’s the active Scout Elves.”
She watched the first few drops of coffee hang off the filter, taking their sweet time to fall. “They’ve also been doing this for years, so unless there’s a major system-wide failure of some sort, there really isn’t a reason for me to drag my sleep-deprived ass up there, now is there?”
“Well then, sir, I have some good news and some bad news.”
“Jesus Christ,” Myrna muttered, feeling a caffeine-deprivation headache taking hold of her temples, “Look, if the terminals are acting up again, just do a quick reboot on the system, it’ll be fine.”
“It’s not the technology failing on us, sir.”
Myrna’s need for a cup of coffee dissipated.
“I’ll be there in five minutes,” she said, before placing the phone back onto its receiver.
As she headed back to her room, the front door opened, revealing Juniper, in her socks, and holding her shoes in one hand. She was pushing the door as gingerly as possible, cringing every time the hinges gave a ghost of a squeak.
“Hello Juniper,” Myrna said, disappearing into her room.
Juniper jumped, dropping her shoes and theatrically clutched at her chest. “Tinsel tufts, you’re awake.”
“Work called,” Myrna’s voice said, muffled by her door.
“And yet they live.”
“They had a good reason.”
“Must have. They’re still alive.” Juniper walked into the kitchen where the coffee machine chugged along, dispensing the drink’s sharp stench. She wrinkled her nose. “Please tell me you’re going to drink this before you go.”
She retreated from the pungent kitchen, leaning against a wall in the hallway as she pulled her boots back on. “Hey, before I forget,” she called in Myrna’s general direction, “I need to borrow your truck. Got some furniture I need to—,”
That’s when the phone rang again. Before Juniper had time to do anything but stand up straight, Myrna dashed past her, wearing only a bra and some pants, and snatched up the phone.
“This is Myrna, what is it now?”
“Oh wow, you’re actually awake.”
“Yeah, I’ve got a favor to ask—,”
“Unless it’s an emergency or work related, something showed up on this end that I need to deal with right now.”
“Well, it’s… both. I got fired.”
“I know, long story, I’ll tell you later. Right now I’ll need some help moving out and—,”
“Alright, I’ll head over a little while later.”
“Don’t forget the truck.”
“I won’t. Is that it?”
“Yes. Thanks, Myrna.”
The moment she hung up the phone, she darted back into her room to finish dressing.
“Was that work again?” Juniper asked.
“No. Something else.”
“Oh… Look, I know this may be a bad time, but I do need an answer about the—,”
“Yes, fine,” Myrna said, reemerging fully clothed this time, and tossed her keys over to Juniper. “As long as you pick up Bernard for me from the workshop at some point.”
“Uh…sure. No problem.”
“Thanks,” Myrna said, before fading into a shower of gold glitter.
Myrna didn’t bother to wait until she completely materialized in the Control Room before demanding, “Which of the magical systems are failing?”
“All of them,” Robin responded, not missing a beat. He was one of three seated at a long line of computer terminals, all displaying maps with several dots and squares meandering across them.
“Exaggeration or fact?” asked Myrna.
“Fact,” another of the elves piped up from behind her screen.
“Tits,” Myrna muttered, coming up behind Robin and taking a closer look at his screen. “Is this a complete M.S. Self-Shutdown or widespread bugs?”
“Bugs,” he said.
“Good. That gives us something at least. What’s been the most affected?”
“Teleportation and camouflage. Disguises are dropping left and right, and teleportation seems to have limited itself to a 5-mile radius anywhere outside the North Pole.”
“Safe Houses still intact?”
“A few of the disguises are flickering, but security measures are still holding up. No complete failures as of yet.”
“Good. Send out a local retrieval message to all active sectors, and keep the inactive ones on lockdown for now. Blanket coverage, no exceptions. I don’t care how important their mission is, I don’t want a single elf out in the open tonight.”
“Yes, sir,” Robin said, running over to the E.C.H.O., the fastest way to contact any and all Scout Elves.
“Calling all elves, calling all elves,” Robin’s voice filled Myrna’s ears, despite his distance from her, “Operation Not Even a Mouse is in effect. I repeat, Operation Not Even a Mouse is in full effect.”
Immediately, elves started teleporting in, rushing over to their terminals. Most of them were still in their pajamas, and the few that wore uniforms had more than one button in the wrong buttonhole. Soon, all the seats were filled and Myrna found herself running between terminals, dealing with the constant stream of S.O.S. emergencies.
“Agents in Sector V4 having issues reaching Safe House 83, sir.”
“Covers blown in Sector B5. Several adults involved.”
“Teleportation is completely inoperable in Sector 2F.”
“Witnesses noticing Safe House 95’s Camouflage flickering, sir.”
“Sir, there’s a telephone call for you.”
“Who is it?” she asked, still focused on the screen of the latest disaster.
“Someone named Juniper, sir.”
She spared a quick glance for her secretary. “I’ll get back to her later, just take a message.”
“She says she has a question, sir.”
Myrna’s sigh eked out as a hiss. “Fine, I’ll be right there.”
After reassuring the sector head she was working with, she slipped into her office and grabbed the phone.
“What do you want, Juniper, I’m in the middle of something.”
“Yeah, uh, you remember when you loaned me your truck this morning?”
“Yes.” She could hear a sudden influx of commotion outside her office.
“And you said I had to pick up somebody at some point?”
“Sir!” another sector head burst in, “We have more covers blown in Sector Z6!”
“Pardon?” Juniper said.
“Look, Juniper, get to your point. I’m really busy.”
“Who am I picking up again and from where?”
“Bernard, main workshop, bye.”
“See you la—,”
Myrna hung up halfway through Juniper’s farewell and made a mental note to pick up some of Juniper’s favorite shortbread from the bakery once everything settled down.
“Sir! Sir!” Robin ran in, nearly knocking over the elf who previously entered. “Sorry. Sir! The M.S. bugs—,”
“Yes, yes, I’m coming.”
“No! Sir, they’re gone!”
“All the issues we’ve been dealing with for the past few hours? They’re gone. They just… disappeared.”
The elves in the office, for the first time that morning, took a moment to stare at each other as the information sank in.
“The fuck? How?“
“I don’t know, sir. But all the magical systems are back to normal.”
Myrna, still in emergency response mode, rushed past him back into the eerily quiet Control Room. She stopped in the doorway, hit by the confused and exhausted faces of all the assembled elves.
Walking over to the closest terminal, she saw that everything seemed to be running quite smoothly. Scanning down the row, she saw that all the active Scout Elves were squared away in their respective Safe Houses, and all the alarm signals were gone.
Everything was so quiet.
“What the hell was all that?” she mumbled to herself. The sound still carried across the entire room.
“We don’t know, sir,” a voice piped up from the middle of the silent mass.
Myrna re-checked the screen. “Everything seems to have re-stabilized.”
“Yes, sir.” It was Robin this time, emerging from the office.
The tension in Myrna’s shoulder’s released with her sigh. The rest of the room seemed to follow suit, and the whole atmosphere lightened.
“Okay, here’s what we need to do,” Myrna said, holding back her exhaustion for just a little while longer, “Keep Operation Not Even a Mouse in effect until tomorrow, have three elves monitoring the terminals with shifts every three hours, and I want someone to contact Quintin to give our systems the once over, and someone get me a cup of coffee. I’ll stay here in case the M.S. starts acting up again, but unless that happens, Merry Christmas everyone! Bugger off and go get some sleep. It’s been a long night.”
AN: “E.C.H.O.” stands for “Emergency Contact from the Home Office.” Credit for this goes to my mother.