Branch Santa, Part 7

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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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