One Small Step for Santa is a kid-friendly Christmas story told in three episodes, posted serially by me, your jolly host, Cheeseburger Brown.
Related reading: Pink Santa
Multimedia note: This story's header illustration has been composited for anaglyphic stereoscopic viewing. For best results, look at it through red-and-blue 3D glasses.
And now, our yuletide tale begins:
It was a dark and starry night, and had been all day.
George woke up to the smell of tangerines, which are like small, sweet oranges. He was lying in a hammock, which is a sort of bed made of fabric and ropes, and it swung gently back and forth as he rubbed his eyes with his knuckles. George yawned.
Outside the window the sky was black. The stars were bright, but they didn't twinkle. There were no clouds or birds, because George was in outer space.
Remembering this made him feel nervous.
The next thing he did was to fall out of his hammock, which was easy because in outer space it's hard to know which way down is. For most of the trip, down had been nowhere at all which George found very confusing because he kept floating around and bumping into things. Today, it turned out, down was toward the front of the spaceship, so that's the way George fell.
He landed on a pillow of big sacks that squirted out the smell of tangerines when he hit them. "Oof!" said George.
"Don't bruise the fruit!" called Brother Marcus from the cockpit.
"I'm sorry, brother!" said George. He pushed away from the sacks of tangerines as gently as he could, although he thought he might have squished one or two because he could see some wet spots on the sacks. He dabbed at them with his pajamas.
"Get up here and strap in," called Brother Marcus. "We're almost there!"
"But I'm still in my pajamas," said George.
"You need to have your seat-belt on, novice, or you might get hurt when I fire the engines."
George scrambled down through the short tunnel into the cockpit. The cockpit had two big squishy chairs, four wide windows, and about a million gauges and buttons and dials. Just looking at the controls made George dizzy, so he looked at his feet while he climbed into his chair beside Brother Marcus and attached the safety-straps around his body.
Brother Marcus had a long, fluffy, yellow-white beard and a bald, shiny head. He had rosy cheeks, a round nose, and a mischievous glimmer in his bright eyes. Now he was talking into his radio, with its long antenna on the outside of the ship pointed back to Antarctica. Into the microphone he said, "Roger that, Kringle Control. Executing burn sequence Tango, entering radio silence. Over and out, and to all a good night."
George wasn't really listening. His was staring out through the four wide windows at the Moon, which he had never seen so big and so close. The silver crescent was covered in all sorts of overlapping circles and rings, which were craters left after asteroids had crashed there. Since there was no weather on the Moon -- no rain, no wind, no snow -- marks like that tended to stick around for a very long time.
"Wow," said George. "The Moon sure is beautiful, brother."
Brother Marcus nodded. "It certainly is, novice. And soon enough we'll be standing on it. Think about that! We'll be making history: this is the very first mission from the Order of Saint Nicholas to serve Lunar children!"
George already knew that. Prior Ignatz had told him, back on Earth, while he had been explaining how important it was for George to go along even through he wasn't a full brother yet. George was just a novice monk, and he hadn't yet finished his training. That's what he said to Prior Ignatz: "But I haven't finished my training!"
"Listen to me, George," said Prior Ignatz; "you're the only one in the order who's ever been to the Moon before. You were born there. You'll be a big help!"
George didn't think he had anything helpful to tell anyone about the Moon. He had been moved to Earth when he was just a little kid, and he hardly remembered the Moon at all. Still, he knew that being a monk in the Order of Saint Nicholas meant trying to be as helpful as you could, every single day, so he had no real choice except to say, "I'll do it, Prior."
"Ho, ho, ho!" laughed Prior Ignatz as he shook George's hand.
So now here he was inside a tiny silver spaceship called Blitzen, flying into orbit around the Moon with Brother Marcus, carrying sacks of tangerines across hundreds of thousands of kilometers of cold, empty space to bring a spark of joy to the lives of the Moon's children.
Brother Marcus pulled back on the throttle and the ship started to rumble. The big rockets on the back were blasting out energy, sending Blitzen and the two monks inside hurtling over the bright face of the Moon toward the far side which never faced the Earth. In the shadows of the far side George could see patches of light shining from the Moon's cities, which were all on the far side because a group of people called the Commercial Islamic Futurists had bought the near side lock, stock and barrel in order to stop anyone from ruining the Moon's face by building stuff all over it. They hadn't been able to afford to buy the whole Moon, though, so there had been people living on the far side for years.
Brother Marcus worked the controls carefully. The engines went quiet and Blitzen drifted into a lower orbit, gradually coming closer and closer to the rocky surface.
Somebody from Moon Landing Control kept trying to call them on the radio, but Marcus sent back only static and a repeating computer message explaining that their radio was broken and that they were landing for repairs. George hoped that would keep them out of trouble.
He couldn't tell how far away they were. Without any sky or air to make distant things hazy, everything on the Moon looked like it was right in front of your nose. What seemed like tiny rings grew into giant craters many kilometers wide, and then what had seemed like dots inside them grew in turn to become giant craters, too. Nestled in the corner of one such crater was a bunch of domes with little lights blinking around them.
"Is that where we're landing, brother?" asked George.
"Yes, novice, it is," said Marcus as he worked the controls. Blitzen turned as it dropped and in another moment George and Marcus could only see stars through the four wide windows. Marcus hit a switch and the ship began to shake again as the retro-thrusters -- which were little rockets meant to slow the falling ship down -- fired with a roar.
The cockpit went thump and bump and then settled to a rest. A cloud of grey moon-dust billowed up around the windows and then rose away. George relaxed in his chair, and noticed that for the first time in days he knew which was down was -- it was pointed toward the ground, which was just the way George liked it. He sighed in a happy way. "That's better," said George.
"Yes," agreed Marcus, rubbing his hands together in excitement. "Now we can actually get started on our mission! Please fetch us the sacks of tangerines, George."
"All by myself?" asked George. "They're too heavy!"
"Not on the Moon they're not," replied Marcus with a laugh. "You of all people should know that. On the Moon, things are only one sixth as heavy as they are back on Earth, because the Moon is smaller and has less gravity pulling you down. You can carry as much as six men, novice!"
"Oh, right," agreed George, undoing his straps and getting out of his chair. "I'll get them now, brother."
"Don't bruise the fruit!" Marcus called after him.
George promised he'd be careful. After he'd changed out of his pajamas, he picked up the two massive sacks of tangerines and slung them over his shoulder, smiling as he realized just how light they felt. Brother Marcus met him at the hatch. He pushed a button and the hatch opened. The monks climbed down the short ladder.
"Behold," cried Marcus, "the Moon!"
George and Marcus were surrounded by ships, each of them standing in a yellow circle painted on the dusty asphalt, their noses pointed to the sky. The monks were standing inside a transparent plastic tube that had been attached to Blitzen by a parking robot. The parking robot was now rolling away, looking back and forth for something else to do. The plastic tube snaked between the ships, leading all the way to a giant dome with tall, glowing letters on it spelling out the words: WEST MOSCOVIENSE SHOPPING MALL.
"What do we do now?" asked George.
"We go shopping!" said Marcus.
"Why?" asked George, his face scrunched up in confusion.
"We need to get our parking validated, so they don't tow away our ship."
So Brother Marcus and Novice George walked into the shopping mall and bought a couple of chocolate milks to drink. The man at the drink stand stamped their parking stub, which sent a code back to the parking robots telling them to leave Blitzen alone. Marcus was finding it tricky to walk in the Moon's light gravity, so they sat down on the edge of a pretty water fountain to drink their chocolate milk. George used a straw, but Marcus lifted off the lid and sipped directly from his cup. Every time he put the cup down it left a dazzle of brown droplets all over his fluffy beard.
The shopping mall was very busy. All sorts of Lunar people were out buying presents for their friends and families for Christmas, Eid, Yule, or Channukkah. There were lighted signs and amazing displays of products everywhere, buzzing or turning or flashing for attention. Holiday music played from hidden speakers, mumbly and slightly out of tune. It was a very crowded place, and most of the people didn't look very happy.
"It doesn't seem like a very jolly season," said George.
"It's even less jolly where we're going," said Marcus. "These are the richest people on the Moon. You and I, novice, are going to visit the poorest."
George pointed to the train station in the distance. "Are we going to take the train to Seyfert City?"
"No," said Marcus with a shake of his head that caused little drips of chocolate milk to fly off. "If we travel through the dome network we would have to get through several security check-points where they would want to know our names and our business. This is a secret mission, novice, so we'll have to be extra sneaky."
"But how, brother?"
"We'll travel outside the domes," explained Marcus. "We'll go over the surface."
George's eyes opened in surprise. "What?" he exclaimed. "Isn't that dangerous?"
"Maybe a little," admitted Marcus. "Don't worry, George: we'll rent some fancy environment-suits so we'll be warm and toasty, and a crater-buggy so the trip won't take long."
"But nobody will know we're out there! What if we fall and get hurt, or what if we run out of air and need help?"
Brother Marcus smiled and squeezed George's shoulder in a friendly way. "Taking risks is part of the game, novice, if you want to be one of us."
Brother Marcus put his cup into a garbage can and then stood up from the edge of the fountain. He stood up too quickly, however, and ended up making a high, slow jump into the air. "Oh my goodness!" he cried.
George caught hold of Marcus and helped him land on his feet. "You have be careful on the Moon, brother!" he said breathlessly. "In the weak gravity you've got to move gently."
"Well, you don't seem to be having any trouble!" grumbled Marcus.
"Hey, you're right," said George. In fact, he felt perfectly at home taking long, bouncing strides. It reminded him of being a little kid. "Maybe I can be helpful after all!" he cheered.
"Of course you can," said Marcus with a grin. "Come on: let's get moving."
George held on to Marcus' arm to help him walk without crashing into anybody, and together they went to arrange for a pair of environment-suits and a crater-buggy. George felt very happy to be able to do something useful for Brother Marcus, but he began to feel frightened again after they put on the suits and drove the little buggy to one of the airlocks that led outside. The airlock had two doors, and while they waited between them all the air would be emptied out. George shivered as the big metal door closed behind them. Then he heard a hissing sound as the air was sucked away.
He tightened his helmet, then turned to look at Brother Marcus whose long beard was all scrunched up around his face. "I'm scared," he said to Marcus through his radio.
Marcus gave him a smile. "Have courage, novice," answered Marcus, his voice crackly through the little speakers in George's helmet. "This is what being a member of the order is all about. Just think about how happy the children will be when we get there!"
They both stopped talking to look as the airlock's outer door yawned open, giving them a view of grey rocks under a black sky. It seemed very cold and lonely out there, and the rocks looked very sharp.
Brother Marcus gave George an encouraging slap on the thigh with his thick gloves. "All set?" he asked.
George nodded. "I guess so."
"Think of it this way," said Marcus as he put the buggy into gear. "It's just one small step for a brother of the order, but a giant leap for Santa Claus."
George nodded again, holding tight to the edge of his seat.
Marcus hit the accelerator and the buggy zoomed out of the airlock and out onto the Moon's surface, bouncing over rocks and kicking up a cloud of grey dust. "Ho, ho, ho!" he crowed, laughing all the way.