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?
(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.)