Two elves in white lab coats and weighed down by stacks of paper teetered into the office. In a world of garish, clashing colors, the matching white hats and pointy shoes seemed out of place. Eugene reached the desk first and plopped his stack of paper on the corner, sliding Santa’s In-Out tray to the edge to make space. “It’s a little earlier than we expected, Chief.”
Jan shoved both over and Santa had to rescue the memo-filled tray, noticing Jan’s stack had a DVD on top of it. Some graphics-filled demo fresh from the burner, no doubt. Ah well, they don’t get a chance to show off very often.
Jan’s blonde pony tail bobbed. “But we can do it almost completely with off the shelf technology.”
“Can I ask what the heck is going on?” Frank’s eyes bulged a little. “Why are we running up the dead tree budget when we should be figuring out what to do about the Moon colony?”
“That’s what we are doing, Frank. Try to relax a little. Eugene and Jan will explain.”
Frank sat in the chair Santa offered and took several deep breaths. The effort to calm himself met with something less than total success, but he nodded to the R&D elves.
Eugene smiled, turning to Santa. “When the United States first put astronauts on the Moon in 1969, the Chief asked the R&D division to look into the possibilities. There was a lot of activity and speculation the first few years, but when Apollo wound down, Luna-Ho sort of shifted to a back burner. We had a little excitement again in the early eighties when it looked like the Space Shuttle would be a stepping stone to getting back to space exploration, but that fizzled out pretty quick when everyone shifted to using robots and probes. We take the plan out every few years, dust it off and update it to take advantage of new technology, so it’s more or less modern but the original concept is basically the same as when we first came up with it.”
“What concept?” Much as he enjoyed the show of being the excitable right hand elf, Frank was very, very good at his job. Production problems and toy trends, he was a whiz. Decorations or organization structure, no problem. Reindeer difficulties or labour disputes, he was your elf. But Frank didn’t have a clue what to do about another world. His whole being itched to do something to fix the problem, but he had no idea what that something should be.
Jan plucked the DVD from the stack of paper. “A branch office, of course. It’s really the only way to deal with a problem like this.” She wiggled the jewel case. “May I, Chief?” Jan moved around the desk to Santa’s PC.
“By all means.” Santa knew what Jan and Eugene proposed. Frank didn’t. So it wasn’t really fair, but the look on Frank’s face when Jan dropped the bomb would live in Santa’s memories forever.
Frank bounced in his chair as the idea sank in. “A branch office! Ha! Why I didn’t think of that?”
“That’s why we’ve got elves like Eugene and Jan spending most of their time out of the box, Frank.” And I keep them on a completely different org chart so they can be as weird as they need to be.
“You should drop down sometime, Frank.” Eugene beamed a smile. “We can show you some pretty off the wall stuff.”
Jan looked up from the computer. “Demo’s ready, Chief.”
“Let’s have a look, then.”
The demo ran over ten minutes, complete with rockets, shuttles, and a conceptualized base at the lunar North Pole. Elf-sized space suits figured prominently as did a sleek, high tech, toy manufacturing facility. Jan and Eugene gave a running digital narrative and they jumped in live with extra commentary about twice a minute. Frank’s eyes steadily grew wider.
When the simulation finally ended, Howard, silent in the corner since the meeting began, cleared his throat. “The only problem I can see with the plan you’ve outlined is how you’re going to vacuum adapt the reindeer.”
Eugene winced. “I’ll admit it’s one of the things we haven’t worked out yet, but we thought we’d have plenty of time. The only real alternative we’ve come up with so far is to lose the reindeer, but they’re important to the image.”
Frank folded his arms across his chest, mouth set in a line. “This is a well thought out plan, but there’s a huge problem. It’s still two worlds. It doesn’t matter how few children are on the Moon. Santa can’t possibly do both in one night.”
Eyebrows all over the room flew up or crunched down. Santa shook his head. “You’re right, Frank, and we’re not going to try.”
“Well then, what?”
One side of Santa’s mouth lifted. “If we’ve got a branch office, we’re going to need a branch Santa to run it.”
(Note: Branch Santa is released on http://lanceschonberg.com under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 Unported License. It can be shared, copied and distributed, but not changed or sold.)by