Small Realities

Inside the mind of Lance Schonberg

Archive for the tag “Santa”

Branch Santa, Part 11

“That’s going to take some getting used to.” Eugene stared at Santa as the big guy strapped his skinny frame into the only seat on the Sled that fit him.

“What is?”  Santa fought with the straps, taking forever to get his too-long arms in the right spots for things to snap together.

“The time compression field.  Take a few steps away from the shuttle and we’re outside of it until you come back.  On Earth, Santa would still be gone all night but I didn’t have time to blink in the time you were gone, Chief.”  He held out his hand.  “Here, I need to get the data into the computer.  Were you seen?”

“On the last delivery.  A little girl named Sasha.  I think she was five.”  Santa pulled off his gold belt buckle, just a cover for the real one, and dropped it inEugene’s hand.  The elf immediately plugged it into a special port in the panel next to him and a screen full of numbers appeared.

“We’re good to go, Falco.”  The Sled’s pilot nodded and Santa felt the shuttle lift off the surface. Eugenesmiled at the screen.  “That’s good, Chief.”

“It is?”

“Sure.  Look here.”  He pointed at a section of the screen where the numbers were bigger.  “Deliberate effect of the magic.  See, the field expanded just exactly the distance needed to reach a restless child.  Happens to Santa, Earth’s Santa, a few times every year.  The magic helps the legend along.  Kids have to believe or there’s no point.  I’m glad it translated to you, too.”

“Hmm.  I am too, I suppose.”  Without belief, he was, well, just a guy in a funny suit with strange friends.

Santa looked out the window to watch the Moon base get smaller.  Not much to look at from the outside, a few domes and a couple of hangars, the rest deep underground.  The Christmas facility at the North Pole couldn’t be seen from the surface, but below them lay the concealed future of human space exploration, the first few people leaving the cradle to live on another world.  They brought the spirit of Christmas with them, and Santa came along for the ride.

The Sled sliced through a turn and Santa watched the lunar surface whip past at a disturbing speed only a hundred metres or so below them.  He took his eyes from the window just as a yawn escaped.  Leaning back, Santa closed his eyes and let his mind wander.

On Earth, Santa wouldn’t finish until just before dawn real time but for the Lunar crew Christmas Eve was more or less over. Things could find a less frenzied pace for a few months.  Short as the night had been, it took years of work and sweat to give him his first taste of what it really meant to be Santa, the joy on Sasha’s face.

He sighed.  Years had a way of racing past.  How many more before they needed a Martian Santa?  Probably fewer than they thought, a lot fewer.  Putting a Christmas Town on Mars wouldn’t be nearly as easy as the Moon.  He’d ask Eugene and Jan to look into the idea, but not until after they’d had a little time off.

He wondered if Santa, the first Santa, had mentioned the idea to them already.   They probably had a basic presentation cooked up and ready to go.

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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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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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Branch Santa, Part 7

Most meetings happened on the workshop floor, out of the way but with activity swirling around them.  Once in a while events called for something more formal.  Once in a long while.  Frank thought back to the last time they’d used room, three years ago, or was it four?  A multimedia presentation on, well he couldn’t remember exactly, but he’d been impressed at the time.

Today they needed the room.  Really, they needed three rooms just for the elves in attendance and the technical department polished the PA system so every pointed ear in every building of the facility could hear the announcement.  Tonight, in just a few minutes, there would be two Santas.

Frank did his best to not smile when they got to the boardroom.  Standing room only, and no surprise.  Every department head had a seat, as did Jan and Eugene, but about three-quarters of the managers and supervisors jammed into the room didn’t.

The air conditioning system, never before used in the arctic climate, worked hard to keep the temperature reasonable, but even at elf size so many bodies packed together generated a lot of heat.  Sweat beaded on Frank’s forehead by the time he and the big guy squeezed to the front of the room.

Eugenepressed a button on the conference caller and gave Santa two thumbs up.

Santa cleared his throat.  “Thank you for coming, everyone.  I’ll try to keep this short.  We’ve got a lot to do in the next thirteen days and it’s hot in here.”  He looked around the room and smiled.  Some of the elves smiled back.  One or two looked ready to pass out from the heat.  The five finalists for the new top job all beamed like they had it sewn up.  “Since we first found out about the Lunar Colony, everyone who works here has given tremendous extra effort to help get through a difficult phase in our growth and I want you all to know how much I appreciate your work.”  A few elves started to applaud but Santa held up his hands.  “Let me finish, please.

“At every step along the way, one elf has shown himself able to rise to any challenge, conquer any obstacle, deal with any difficulty.  Without this elf, the Lunar North Pole Facility would never have been operational in time for this Christmas.  With some regret and much pride, I can truthfully say it will be hard to lose him.  You all know him well.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the new Santa Claus, Lunar Branch:  Frank Silverbell.”

Applause roared through the suddenly too-small space.  It lasted fifteen or twenty seconds before a voice, its owner sufficiently recovered, cut through the sound.  “WHAT!”

The applause faded quickly, but the grins didn’t.  Shoe and cap bells jingled with stifled laughter.  The five supposed candidates for the job quietly congratulated each other on keeping the secret.  Frank stared up at Santa.  He quivered with some elfin combination of anger and shock.  His current position was stressful enough, thank you very much, and he hadn’t aspired to the big chair.  When Frank managed to speak, he quivered with barely restrained emotion.

“You’ve gotta be kidding me, Chief.  I can’t run the place.  It’ll blow up, burn down, fall over!  The Moon will fly out of its orbit!  Bad things will happen!”

Frank’s arms waved over his head with each phrase and Santa had to laugh, a deep rumbling belly laugh.  “Frank, for the past couple of years you’ve been the proverbial snowstorm of activity.  You’ve gotten things going up there without letting anything slide down here.  I think you’ve been on nearly every transport shuttle, including the first.  Details, problems, production issues, all taken care of.  Operations as smooth as normal.  Maybe smoother.”

“But, Chief-”

Santa put a hand on his friend’s shoulder, silencing the elf before he had a chance to get rolling.  He smiled and spoke just loud enough to reach Frank’s ears.  “Frank.  Take the job.”

Frank took a deep breath through his nose.  The chance to design and guide a new legend.  Being Santa on the Moon would never be like it was on Earth.  It would start off small and new and wonderful and grow into something bigger and different and still wonderful.  Could he be Santa?  Was he ready?  No, how could you ever be ready?  Maybe he could grow into it.

Frank looked up at his boss.  He trusted Santa’s judgment and the old man said he was ready.  Could he fail to live up to that?  The left side of his mouth quirked up.  “You’re sure about this, Chief?”

Santa’s smile got even bigger and the twinkle in his eye might have been an elfin tear.  “No doubt in my mind, Frank.”

Frank looked around the crowded room, filled with sweating elves.  Everyone smiled and more than a few nodded.  Hans gave him two thumbs up.  Jan and Eugene sat at the long table with self-satisfied smiles on their faces, probably thinking he’d be easy to maneuver into special projects.  He looked back to Santa.  “Well, I don’t suppose I’ve backed down from a challenge yet, even if I like to make a production out of it sometimes.  I’d hate for this to be the first.”

Santa put a hand on Frank’s shoulder and faced the crowd.  “Once again, ladies and gentlemen, I present the new Santa Claus, Lunar Branch: Frank Silverbell.”

More applause and this time it lasted a lot longer.  Frank wore a goofy grin and didn’t try to think up any kind of acceptance speech.  “All right, let’s get started, then.  Christmas Eve is only thirteen days away and there’s still a lot of work to do.”

“One little detail first, Frank.”  Santa nodded to Jan and Eugene.  “You’ve got to look the part.”

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Branch Santa, Part 6

Late in the afternoon of December eleventh, Santa finished the List.  He clicked the save icon and watched the progress bar creep to full.  Not quite the same as the satisfaction of checking each name with a pencil, but it saved literally tons of paper.  He shuddered to think about how many trees went into the List in the years just before the first computer version.  Bells, but what a nightmare that had been.  They’d almost gone back.

A tiny jingle preceded Frank into Santa’s office.  “Meeting room’s full.  You ready, Chief?”

Santa looked up, first at Frank then at the clock.  “I guess I am.”  He pushed away from the desk.  “Didn’t realize it was so late.”

“Plenty of time for the List, Chief.”

Santa let tiny lie pass.  Worse lay in the past but they both knew two weeks before Christmas was deep into crunch time.

Frank obviously had the same thought.  “Remember the seventies?  There were a couple of times you didn’t have the list done until the twenty-second.  We still made it through.”

Santa stood and stretched, stomach jutting forward as he arched his back.  He cricked his neck from side to side then rolled his chin shoulder to shoulder.

“Still gonna make me wait, huh?”

A chuckle slid past Santa’s lips, a lower, throatier version of the patented Ho! Ho! Ho!  “Leave me this little bit of fun.  I promise you’ll be happy with my choice.  It’s only a couple minutes more.”

Frank rolled his eyes.  “What I’d really like to know is what you threatened them with.  They’re all so tight-lipped they can barely breathe.  I can’t even get a squeak out of Hans.  He won’t always tell you what you want to know, but he’ll always tell you something.”

A louder laugh as Santa reached the door.  “I should make threats?  Now why would Santa need that kind of motivation?  Really, Frank.”

“Sure, boss, whatever you say.”

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