December 24, 2020
Christmas is only T-25 minutes away and counting. All pre-flight checks are proceeding normally. The elf ground crew scurries around the launch pad, completing the fueling of the sleigh. So far, the count-down has been smooth, but tensions are running high as launch time draws closer.
On the launch pad, lit by strings of multi-colored Christmas lights, and by the candles in the windows of the control bunker, the massive red sleigh crouches, poised for flight. Holly wreaths and strings of mistletoe, shivering gently in the chill breeze, drape the yawning mouths of the eight rocket tubes.
Santa Claus stands in the center of the control bunker where he can see the status board showing how the launch sequence is going. Mrs. Claus kneels beside him, sewing up a tiny rip in his red space suit. Santa is complaining to the Elf Loadmaster.
“Make sure you check the gasket on the cargo door. If It leaks just a bit, it whistles and drives me batty. Also, don’t load the stuff so far aft. Last year she was tail heavy all the way to Birmingham.”
“Right, Santa,” retorted the Elf, “I’ve already checked the cargo door. As for loading, we’re right on the computer simulation. The predicted center of gravity is within 10 millimeters of ideal.”
`”BALDERDASH!” yelled Santa, “That computer hasn’t been right for the past twenty years. Besides I don’t weigh near as much as that dumb machine thinks I do. That’s why your load prediction is off.”
Mrs. Claus laughed around the pins sticking out of her mouth. She peered over her glasses at Santa and slowly shook her head.
“Why you old fool, you’ve gained ten kilos in the last five years!” Turning to the Loadmaster, she winked and chuckled “Don’t pay any attention to him. That computer was completely checked out just last summer. Load her by the book and let her go.”
ALARM ALARM ALARM. Red lights flashed and alarm bells rang in mission control. All eyes quickly turned to the status board covering one end of the bunker. The count-down clock was flashing, showing T-20 minutes and holding. An excited babble of voices came from the controllers seated at their consoles, as they talked with the pad crew, trying to determine the problem.
“What in thunderation is wrong now?” roared Santa, “If that piece of junk acts up on me again, I’m going to trade it in for a snowmobile.”
“Hush, you old fool, so I can hear the reports.” Mrs. Claus was the calm one as usual.
The Mission Controller finally yelled over the din. “Tube five is not holding pressure. We have stopped fueling while we check it out. It may be only a leaking seal which we can repack in place, but we won’t know until we remove the outer shielding.”
“Which one is tube five?” asked Mrs. Claus
“Comet” replied the controller.
“COMET!” yelled Santa, banging his fist on the top of the console. “Comet messed up on us four or five years ago. I thought we fixed it then? What’s going on out there? How long will it take to repair it? Why can’t I get any information from the pad?”
“Oh relax, and have a cup of coffee,” said Mrs. Claus as she calmly closed up her sewing kit and put it away. “If you will just leave them alone, the elves will fix it and then you can go deliver the presents, and the rest of us can have some peace and quiet.”
Twenty, maybe twenty-five minutes pass, and Santa is growing more nervous by the second. He stalks over to the window looking out over the pad, then to the mission controller’s console, checks his watch, stomps over to the table where the engineers have unrolled the blueprints for tube five, then back to Mrs. Claus. She is sitting in her rocking chair, knitting a sweater and paying little attention to his non-stop chatter.
“I have never been late! No matter what has happened, I have always made it on time. But not his year! I feel it in my bones. This time that Comet tube will have something really bad wrong with it. I just know it. I’m going to be late getting out of here.”
Right on cue, the Chief Engineer came into the room, his long face advertising the bad news.
Santa didn’t give him a chance. “What’s wrong with the sleigh? How long will it take to fix it? How soon can we load and go on the trail? I can’t waste any more time. Let’s get this show on the road.”
The elf slowly walked over to the table where the blueprints were laid out, and turned to face Santa.
“We’ve got a bad problem. The left-handed thing-a-bob that controls the outer gizmo on five has totally failed. First time I have ever seen one go completely like that. Usually they will partially operate, at least enough to…”