Small Realities

Inside the mind of Lance Schonberg

Branch Santa, Part 10

Santa crept through the bare tunnel, toy sack slung over his shoulder.  The colonists hadn’t spent much mass on luxuries or decoration.  Out here, he had a hard time believing anyone would want to live on the Moon, a tough, barren existence compared to what the colonists left behind.  He shivered.  With only the sealed hatches for company, he felt cold.  The lack of chimneys, snow, lights, or anything else that might give a sign of Christmas, weighed down on him.

But inside, Santa found decorations, simple things made of colored plastic or sometimes painted on the stone walls.  In a few family units, Santa found a holographic Christmas tree.  Not very many presents under those trees, but every family found or made something to celebrate their first Christmas on the Moon.  Santa made sure the small piles grew.

In a few decades, when the population grew larger, he’d actually need the time compression field to get his deliveries done, but this year, from leaving the Sled to reaching his last stop, some tiny fraction of a second passed for the universe outside the bubble.  A few years of practice would help him remember to tighten it up when he moved from warren to warren.

Santa slid a second present, beautifully wrapped in red and green with a shining gold bow, under the last holographic tree.  Five letters in a careful flowing script spelled Sasha and he wondered what hid inside.  The Moonbase children occupied a special section of the Earth List and the crew back at the North Pole had taken good care of things this first year.  Luna would have its own List next year.

He stood up, as careful not to disturb the holographic tree as he would be with a real one.  Looking down at the present, Santa realized he didn’t know if Sasha was a boy or a girl.  He should know.  Santa would know.  He set his jaw.  Next year he’d know all of the children, and every year after, no matter how many there were.

A delicate yawn answered the question.  Santa spun around to find himself towering over a girl who, if five, was small for her age.  Blonde pig tails tied with pink bows and blue, sleepy eyes.  Pink cheeks and pink pajamas with feet in them.  She yawned again while he stared and her eyes traveled up the long skinny length of him to make contact with his.  She screwed up her face and frowned at him, her head pulling back.  “Santa?”

He took a deep breath and crouched down and smiled.  The moment of truth, he supposed.  “Who else would you expect on Christmas Eve, little one?”

The frown didn’t go away, but she didn’t back away, either.  “You’re all wrong.”  She sniffed, wiping half the length of her pajama clad arm under her nose.  “Tall and skinny and your suit’s blue.  What’s wrong with your beard?”  Sasha made another face.  “Dario said you wouldn’t be able to get here.  You’ve got too much to do back home.”

He kept smiling.  “This is your home now, isn’t it?”  She nodded.  “And you know the Moon is another world, don’t you?”

“I guess.”  She eyed him with suspicion, probably thinking him an odd dream.

“Well, it’s true that I’m tall and I’m skinny and I’ve got a blue suit instead of a red one and my beard isn’t all white, but can I ask you a question?”

She sniffed again.  “What?”

“If you’re on a different world, why do you think you should get the same Santa?”

Her sudden smile lit up the whole room, far brighter than any Christmas tree.  “You’re the Moon Santa!”  She jumped to wrap her arms around his neck and squeezed.

“I certainly am, Sasha.  I certainly am.”  He let the hug go on for quite a few seconds -– it was the best he’d ever gotten –- before putting a kink in his neck to look at her.  “Tell me, little one, do you like candy canes?”

She let go and took one step back.  “Only the minty kind.  Last year I gave all the fruity ones to Dario.”

“Dario is your brother.”  Had he read the name on the other present?

Sasha nodded.  “He’s nine.”

Santa reached into his pocket and pulled out two candy canes, one with the traditional red, green, and white swirls while the other twisted two shades of blue.  “Well then, here’s one for each of you.  Minty for you and raspberry for Dario.”  She clutched them to her chest and he guessed very little candy made it to the Moon.  He’d take care of that problem next year.  Still smiling, he rubbed her head with his other hand.  “You should go back to bed.  The sooner you go back to sleep, the sooner Christmas Morning will come.”

She gave him another quick hug and he watched her bounce back to her room, one candy cane sticking up over her shoulder.  How could I even think of not taking this job?

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Branch Santa, Part 9

Frank stopped at the bottom of the gangway, turning to look down at the man he’d looked up at for most of his career, the man he still looked up to.   “How did I let you talk me into this again?”

Santa clapped a hand on Frank’s shoulder and had to reach fairly high to do it.  “You were the right elf for the job.”  He gave Frank a lopsided grin before leaning back a little to avoid craning his neck.  “I’ll come for a visit early in the New Year when things have settled down.  Well, maybe early in February, after I’ve had a chance to rest a bit.  If you need anything, or just want to talk, I’m here.  Really busy, but here.  Nelson will have a line open and I can always spare a couple of minutes.”

Eugenestuck his head out of the airlock above them.  “Final checks complete.  Everything is loaded and secured.  We’re good to go as soon as you’re on board, Santa.”

Frank looked up and shook his head.  “Santa isn’t- oh, that’s me, isn’t it.”

A deep chuckle floated up to his ears.  “It certainly is.”

“It’s going to take some getting used to.”

Earth’s Santa folded the Moon’s Santa into a bear hug, short and appropriately manly, considering their wardrobe and job description, then stepped back.  “Tell me something I don’t know.  It’s a long time ago, but I still remember the early days.  I was terrified half the time for the first few years.  You’re better prepared than I was.  You’ll get over it a lot faster.”

Frank looked back at the shuttle, not quite willing to voice his doubts.  “I hope so, Chief.”

“You know, Frank, I mean Santa, I’m going to miss you bringing me two or three ‘real problems’ every day.”

Frank turned back to see Santa smiling.  He bit his lip for a moment, then let his own grin free.  “Don’t worry, Chief.  Hans and Xavier will find their own way to keep you involved.”

“Keep me involved?”  The smile disappeared as shock chased comprehension across the rosy cheeks.

Frank’s smile, on the other hand, got bigger.  “Of course.  You’re a little distant sometimes.  If I left you alone, you’d never come out of your office.”

Two big laughs ho-ho-ho-ed across the hangar.

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Turn the World Around, Part 33

A little late as I apparently I just saved a draft instead of setting up an auto-post. If you’ve been waiting for a little denouement, I’m sorry. But here it is.

Chapter 30

Heart is of the river

Body is the mountain

Spirit is the sunlight

Turn the world around

We are of the spirit

Truly of the spirit

Only can the spirit

Turn the world around

Paper had significance for everyone.  That was something we all had in common.

Electronic copies of the Treaty, and all its codexes, would go forth and multiply.  Aside from spreading across Earth, it would become the mostly widely read document in history on all the worlds settled by the Shalash, the Asoolianne, and the Hoon.  At least, all three ambassadors were quick to say so whenever someone talked about the document in their hearing.

But an electronic copy was still only a copy.  Months of talks culminated in four originals of the basic Treaty, printed on the highest grade archival paper human technology could produce, all to be signed by each Ambassador and witnessed by the Intermediaries.  One would go with each Ambassador to his or her respective home world and government.  The fourth would remain on Earth, sealed in a case resting on a four-sided pedestal in the room directly above the negotiating chamber, a permanent monument to what had been accomplished inGuinea.

The Signing took place early in the morning before the brilliant West African sun poked more than its upper third above the horizon.  Dozens of world leaders and scores of representatives were in attendance, along with hundreds of delegates, envoys, and diplomats representing more governments than I’d thought existed, plus the United Nations.  They overfilled stands built on three sides of the platform expressly for the Signing.  On the fourth side, a sea of reports crouched, sat, or stood to film the proceedings.  The quiet hum of so many cameras, a strange electronic symphony, brushed against my ears like waves from the distant coast.  So many faces blurred together in that crowd, more than we could have crammed into a dozen of the visitors’ complex press galleries.

I watched the Ambassadors sign each copy, starting with their own to give pride of place to those copies returning home with each of them, shifting positions after each signature.  As always, balance remained important in the extreme.  The Ambassadors’ signatures appeared as the points of a large triangle.  A second, smaller triangle below the first would hold the Intermediaries’ signatures, using the same positioning as the Ambassadors we’d served for.  On Earth’s multi-lingual copy of the Treaty—English, Mandarin, and Spanish—the alien signatures held equal rank, appearing on the same line, and the Intermediaries would each place theirs below the appropriate ambassador.  We waited our turn then signed in the same way they had, all at the same time.

A murmur rippled through the press as we stepped back.  In a mixed crowd or any other profession, the murmur would have become a cheer.  After a few seconds, applause began to spread through the stands as the leaders and representatives stood to recognize the achievement.  It didn’t matter that it was far away, farther than anything anyone in the crowd had imagined outside of a story not much more than a year ago, peace had been won.  Three governments needed to ratify that peace, but the ambassadors assured everyone it would happen.  All three species were tired of war.  They needed it to stop if only because they’d finally learned to talk to each other.

It gave me a burning hope for my own species and I wanted to think a lot of other people shared it.  I really wanted everyone to share it. Sharon, still drinking in the news channels, not that that would ever change, told me most conflicts across the world had slowed or paused in the last week.  Maybe the enemies in some of them would find a way to stop and talk to each other too.  Maybe we could learn from someone else’s problems.

If we did or if we didn’t, life would never completely return to normal after the ships left, not even for a while.  We knew now we weren’t alone and if there were three other sentient species out there, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to find out there were more.  Earth had a lot to think about.

And our position as a ‘neutral’ planet might have continued benefits.  Small embassies had been suggested with small staffs.  We already had this convenient complex.  Gargltch had suggested it might be possible to talk about more than just peace.  Riptalektik’fa wondered if they could find a way to someday discuss trade.  Mahyul mused out loud that she could see herself just talking to the other two.  The Intermediaries agreed to make themselves available should any such conversations warrant their inclusion or if any of the ambassadors wished them present.

The universe, or at least our little corner of it, seemed to be overflowing with hope.

Sharon and I could theoretically return to our jobs, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to.  I’d told Antoine I’d been happy in a cubicle doing work I enjoyed, but too much had changed in the last year for me to expect my old work life to be satisfying.  Neither Talya nor Manuel had mentioned their plans to me yet, if they had any.  Could she go back to being a teacher?  Could he return to his quiet retirement?  Our futures might be very, very different.  Mine would have to be if for no other reason than the kids had made new friends.  So had I, and not just among the Shalash.  The Intermediaries wouldn’t easily fall out of touch.  The world probably wouldn’t let us.  St. Hivon had already hinted that there might be work for us.  So had Ambassador Cunningham.  Our interesting times probably weren’t over yet, and that didn’t bother me nearly as much as I thought it would.

As we stepped back from the table, I threw an arm around each of my counterparts.  I supposed it made a good photo op, but I just wanted to express some affection for the two people who’d become my closest friends.  “It’s been a strange ride.”

Manuel looked up at me with a lopsided grin.  “My friend, you speak as if it’s over.”

Talya smiled too, letting her reserve slip just a little.  We’d all gotten used to the cameras, I guessed.  “I am certain we have much yet to do.”

I almost laughed.  “You’re probably right.  And a lot to learn.”

“About the world and each other.”  Manuel looked out over the crowd of reporters, maybe wondering at the torrent of questions held at bay only by distance.  “And perhaps about our friends from the stars.”  Or maybe wondering about something else entirely.

“Do we know who we are?” Talya elbowed me in the ribs and I had to laugh.

“Maybe not, but we’ve got lots of time to start finding out.”  The script started to reassert itself as a few shuffling footsteps moved up behind us.  We broke apart and took our places beside the Ambassadors.  Let the new ride begin.  The applause grew louder, almost loud enough to drown out Mahyul’s voice in my ear.

“I will say it many times, Intermediary, but thank you.”

My face heated up and I tried to speak without moving my lips much.  “I’m just happy things are starting to work out, Ambassador.  I expect you’ve still got a long road.”

“A very long road, but at least now we are moving in the correct direction.”  She hesitated a moment before leaning down to whisper in my ear.  “It slipped my mind earlier, but I have received confirmation.”

I bit the inside of my cheek and fought the childish impulse to kick her ankle.  With clear emotions, I didn’t think anything ever slipped the Ambassador’s mind.  “Thank you, Ambassador.  That brings me a great deal of joy.”

The reception started in half an hour and I had no idea what I’d say to Harry Belafonte.

Oh-ho!  So is life!

Abateewah-ha!  So is life!

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Branch Santa, Part 8

“It’s a variation on the original magic that made you Santa.  A little different, a little more focused.”

The booth hummed, an oscillating pitch putting Santa in mind of 1970s science fiction.  Lights inside the booth flashed cheery colors against its walls.  He looked down atEugene.  “Different how, exactly?”

Eugene kept watching the controls.  “Well, you started out as human.  The magic imbued you with extra abilities from scratch:  the Chimney Thing, time compression, and so on.  As an elf, Frank already has some minor magic but he still needs a full set of Santa skills, just not quite the same set you have, plus he needs a size upgrade   Time compression will be important some day, but there’s an unfortunate lack of chimneys so he’ll need some kind of portable airlock instead.  Throw in gravitational considerations and everything that goes with not having an atmosphere–-you’ve got no idea how many things that changes–-and the fact that he’ll be piloting a shuttle instead of flying a sled.  Reindeer are a lot easier to learn to maneuver than a small spacecraft, let me tell you.  And then-”

“Okay, I get it.  But why, exactly, is he in a magic phone booth?”

Eugene gave his boss a sheepish grin.  “More or less because we want to keep the magic contained.  We’ve given the system every parameter we think might have any effect on things and told it to turn Frank into a Santa fit for the Moon.  Honestly Chief, we’re not exactly sure what he’s going to look like.  But we should find out in about twenty seconds.”

Santa glanced at his watch, some reflex wanting him to count down those twenty seconds, but the booth chose that moment to get a lot louder.  The hum oscillated faster with a wider pitch range with the high end pushing against Santa and the low drawing him in, trying to rock him back and forth.  He caught himself swaying in time with the pitch and stopped himself from taking a step forward.  A glance atEugeneshowed a pained expression, elfin ears probably catching sounds Santa’s couldn’t, but the elf had no problem maintaining his footing. Eugenemerely stood frowning at his monitors.  Santa specific magic.

Nodding, Santa turned his eyes back to the pulsing booth and thought he could see its walls bulge in and out now, the colors leaking through with an intensity not seen since Technicolor.  And then it stopped.  Not slowing or powering down, the oscillation ceased on an upswing and took the color flashes with it.

Eugene grumbled.   “All right.  Twenty-three seconds.”  He pushed and pulled at various controls, tapped several buttons and the booth began to rise up, retracting into the ceiling.  A bright light above and behind the figure left behind cast him in shadow.  One more switch and the light turned off to reveal the new big guy, Frank, Santa, Lunar Claus.  With two Santas around, they’d have to figure out what to call each other to avoid confusion.  Santa could see Frank in the new Santa’s face, so that would do for now.

Frank rubbed his eyes then used his thumbs to massage his temples for a few seconds.  “Wow.  That was… weird.”  The high tenor had dropped almost to a baritone.  One side of his face scrunched up.  “Is that my voice?”  He shook his head, staring at Santa with a deep frown.  “That you, Chief?”

“It is, Frank.  How do you feel?”  Santa stepped forward to take the former elf’s elbow and found it farther above the floor than his own.

“Like a college student just off a four-day bender.  Wow.”  He looked down at Santa.  Down at Santa.  “How do I look?”

“There’s a mirror on the wall behind you.  Why don’t you see for yourself?”  Santa turned his friend around by the elbow with a brief stab of sadness at the realization he wouldn’t see Frank very often anymore.

Frank let himself be turned to look in the mirror and spent more than a minute examining the reflection while Santa made a similar survey:  the same dark beard and bushy eyebrows, but bigger, so much bigger, and with rosier cheeks.  He wore a blue suit instead of red, trimmed in grey instead of white, the better to blend in with the Lunar background, Santa guessed.  Frank looked almost like a younger Santa in one of the old Victorian suits.  And the height!  Santa moved to compare their reflections.  At a guess, the man in the red suit was ten inches shorter and at least seventy-five pounds heavier.  Frank barely had a paunch!

The new Santa shook his head back and forth.  “This is not what I expected.  I thought–”

Eugenefinished the sentence for him.  “You thought you’d be a carbon copy of the big guy.  Surprise!”

Frank turned around to look at the suddenly tiny elf.  Most elves stood somewhere between waist and rib height on Santa.  Eugene, taller than most, might reach Frank’s waist.

“Physically, you’re more or less like I expected.”  The elf held up a hand and spoke a bit to the side.  “Oh, I know I what I said, Chief, and I wasn’t lying.  We didn’t know exactly what you’d look like, Frank, but I made some private guesses.  People will get taller and thinner living on the Moon.  It’s going to take generations to be really noticeable, but shouldn’t the new Santa fit his world?

“In a dim tunnel carved out of solid rock, blue and grey will blend in a lot better than red and white.” Eugene took one last look at the readings and gave a satisfied nod.  He grinned at the Santas.  “Well, Christmas is coming.”

Frank looked at Santa and sighed.  “Damn.  I really wanted the red suit.”

A laugh burst out of the big guy.  “You know, Frank, I miss the blue one, but I’d give a lot for the white suit back.”

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November’s Over

So technically it’s December 1st now, but I’m calling this my last blog entry for November since it was November 30th when I got up.

It’s been a weird month, but I’m not sure I have any other kind lately.  As far as the blog goes, with a little adjusting here and there, I’ve managed 30 blog posts for the month, most of them here and a few on my other blog, Walking a Martial Road, and have written more than 9,600 words to do it.  Brings a little faith back into my writing maybe, when everything else seems like a struggle lately.

Happy NaNoWriMo if you participated and well done whether or not you made it.  Look forward to Christmas, or the seasonal holiday of your choice, and a new year beyond.

Turn the World Around, Part 32

Chapter 27

As a kid, I saw every episode of the Muppet Show, most of them more than once, most of them again as a teenager, and a third time as a father with my kids.  It had never occurred to me before just how important a part of my life the Muppets were.  A background part, sure, but still important, and probably millions of people across the globe could say the same thing.

But I only ever saw the Harry Belafonte episode once and it might even have been the first time it aired where I lived.  From that one viewing, the song stayed with me, almost intact, for thirty years.  I could have sung along with most of it and not mangled the lyrics too badly.  The song stayed with me until I needed it.

Harry performed “Turn the World Around” for the show’s closing number.  It involved a specially crafted group of African-mask Muppets and eventually expanded to include as many Muppets as they could find people to work them.  All of the major cast members, including the grouchy hecklers on the balcony, eventually sang along with the chorus as the show came to an end.

I picked the start time to include Fozzie’s talk with Harry leading into the song.  I thought, hoped, the conversation might help make my point, and do it far better than any words I could ever find.  As the video started, I hoped the gathered aliens would all understand the idea of Muppets and that the deeper meaning would come through into three separate alien languages.

I shouldn’t have worried.  Jim Henson was a genius.  So was Harry Belafonte.

Chapter 28

The media player went dark and I folded the laptop.  No one spoke for at least a minute.  None of the ambassadors looked at each other or at me, staring instead at the primitive computer.  The silence went on long enough to worry me.  I started holding my breath and it took conscious effort to let it go again.

Gargltch let out a sigh that could have blown up half the balloons for Martin’s party and turned his pumpkin-sized head to face me.  I felt pulled into contact with the too-round eyes.  He spread the four baseball bat fingers of each hand wide then pressed his palms together in front of his chest and bowed to me, so low I saw the back of his wrinkled head.  “Intermediary Cotta, you have brought a wisdom to this conference that we have left behind.”  Rising, he walked back to his own side of the triangle, lowering his compact bulk into the chair.  “Ambassadors, see we one another clearly?”

“Do we know who we are?” A shiver ran through me at Riptalektik’fa’s answer.  Screw the Prime Directive, I’d made the right choice.  The Asoolianne ambassador turned to me, placed his upper hands on my shoulders and bent to touch his forehead to mine.  He stepped back one pace before returning to his side of the table.

“We do not.”  Turning, Mahyul smiled wider than I’d seen any adult Shalash smile in the entire time since the Landing.  She pressed two fingers to the centre of her forehead then used the same fingers to touch the centre of mine.  “But perhaps we may come to.”  She faced her counterparts across the table, still smiling, and sat.  “I think we have much to discuss.”

Chapter 29

“I can’t believe you ended a war with the Muppet Show!”

Sharon and I lay in bed in the Intermediary’s Quarters in the Shalash third of the Peace Complex.  I wondered why we hadn’t stayed here more often during the talks instead of flying back and forth on the shuttle every day.  Not exactly a convenient commute, but more equally inconvenient for everyone I supposed.  There had been a lot of that going around.

The kids all slept in the next room, each in their own bed, at least for the moment.  Martin especially had been thrilled to be up at three o’clock in the morning.  Time zones, and the fact that he’d be getting up sometime around local noon, didn’t signify.  And sleeping until noon might be a different kind of benchmark for him, anyway.

“It’s not over yet.”  I tried stroking her hair with my right hand, but with her head on my elbow, I didn’t manage much more than fingertips.  She snuggled in closer and her hair somehow trailed out of reach.  I gave up and let my hand flop back onto the mattress.  “There’s a long way to go before they have an agreement.”

Fingers drummed on my chest then traced a few wavy lines.  “I watched the afternoon recordings with the benefit of a translator.  Yesterday, they hated each other.  Today they spent a solid six hours talking to each other with only a short recess for lunch and not a single insult or tantrum.  It’s over.”

“It was a good day.”  I yawned.  “They might make a little more progress now, at least for a while.”

“Probably enough to figure out they can learn to not hate each other.”

Another yawn escaped.  “Hope so.  Today’s distraction worked so well we’ve decided to make the cultural media presentation part of the opening every day.  Manuel deferred to Talya for tomorrow and he’ll take the next day.”

“Not so much a distraction as a wakeup call.  And, if they still plan to take every fourth day off, you only have three days to come up with something to top Harry Bellafonte singing with the Muppets.”

And if they didn’t take the day of rest, I only had two.  “What could?  I’ll find something completely different, something just for fun.”  And as soon as the powers that be figured out it wasn’t a one-time thing, we’d have a new source of pressure.  “Not everything has to have a message.  I can’t wait to see what they come up with, though.  Talya and Manuel, I mean.  This could be a really interesting learning experience for me, too.”

“Are you going to limit yourself to video played on that sad little laptop Antoine gave you?”

“It’s actually a pretty good laptop.”  I tilted my neck a bit to look atSharon, but her face was turned almost away from me.  The one eye I could see didn’t look open.  “What do you mean?”

“I’ve got a couple of ideas.”  I could see her smile, though.

“I can’t wait.”  I yawned again, big enough and long enough that my ears popped.  “But I don’t think I’m awake enough right now.”

“Get some sleep, o saver of worlds.  There’ll be plenty of time to talk about it tomorrow after the talks.”

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