The meeting broke up and everyone left the room except Duke and Mrs. Claus. Mrs. C walked over to Duke, put her arm around his shoulder and said, “Don’t pay Santa no mind, Duke. He gets rude and obnoxious at times and can’t deal with anyone who’s smarter than he is. He knows you’re smarter than him and that’s why he treats you like he does. He likes dealing with Susie because she won’t question him; she’ll do as he asks just as long as she gets something out of the deal, and Santa enjoys giving stuff away, so that makes her easy to deal with. If you’re worried about your name not being on The List, you can stop worrying right now because I’ll fix that. It’s obvious to me that I made a mistake, because after talking to you I can see you are definitely a cool-kid.”
“That’s not it, Mrs. Claus,” insisted Duke. “I don’t care if I’m on The List or not. I just don’t feel that any kids should be left off the list unless they are extremely bad kids. Being cool or not being cool shouldn’t have anything to do with it. 99% of the kids on Earth are basically good kids and they deserve to be recipients of Santa’s generosity, not just a selected few. Can’t you see that?”
“Yes, I can Duke, however, Santa only has a limited amount of time to circle the globe and he couldn’t accomplish that if he had to go to every child’s home. It just isn’t possible.”
“Oh, yes it is, Mrs. C. If Santa would have listened to me, I could have built and installed a highly sophisticated navigational computer in his sleigh that would have enabled him and his reindeer to circle the planet in record time, stopping at every kid’s home along the way, all within the allotted 24 hours!”
“Really?” Would you still be willing to do this… for me?” asked Mrs. Claus.
“Sure,” replied Duke, “if you think Santa will use it.”
“Oh, he’ll use it all right, unless he prefers to cook his own meals and clean his own house for the next year. Tell me, what do you need to do the job, dear?” Mrs. Claus asked the boy.
“Well, I’ll need radio transmitters, radio receivers, infrared sensors, a radar module, a couple of Macintosh high speed computers and I think I should enclose the cockpit of Santa’s sleigh with a plexiglass dome to protect Santa from the high speeds he’ll encounter. I also need the names and navigational coordinates of every kid on earth, so they can be entered into a database program readable by the Macintosh computers I’ll be using.”
Mrs. Claus told Duke he could find all the hardware he needed in Santa’s Neat-Stuff warehouse. As for the names and coordinates of all the kids on earth, she told him she would delegate her fastest typing elves to that project and have the database finished and ready for him in a few days.
With that, Duke went about building a hi-tech navigational system for the fat guy’s sleigh. He then installed the system and the plexiglass cockpit onto the sleigh. He completed the installation in three days, and true to her word, Mrs. Claus presented Duke with a full and complete database containing the names and home coordinates of all the children on Earth shortly after he finished the installation. Duke entered the database into the navigational computer on Santa’s sleigh, ran a simulated check of all the hardware and software and declared to Mrs. Claus that all was up and ready to go. Santa knew nothing about the transformation that was taking place on his sleigh as Mrs. Claus kept him busy in other parts of the North Pole complex while Duke went about his work.
On Christmas eve Santa searched out little Susie and asked her for the new and updated List she had promised him. Susie presented Santa with a small Newton computer, saying, “It’s all in there, Santa.”
Santa Claus looked at the small gadget in his hand and said, “What is this Susie? I don’t see any names.”
Susie laughed mockingly and replied, “You really are computer illiterate aren’t you?” She took back the Newton and removed the stylus from the clip on the side of the miniature computer. “Look Santa, all you have to do is point this stylus at the word menu, that will open a list of items to choose from. Notice that one of the items is Cool-Kids List. That’s the one you want.”
Santa took the machine back and did as he was instructed. When he pointed the stick at Cool-Kids List, a list of five names and their addresses showed up on the small screen. Susie’s name was on top, of course, and the other four names where all located in Susie’s neighborhood making Santa think that she had sorted the list geographically, which would save time and make the distribution of his presents a whole lot easier.
“Ho! Ho! Ho! This is wonderful,” Santa told Susie. “It will cut down on my flight time drastically!”
“It sure will Santa, you’ll be finished in no time and be back here at the North Pole before the sun comes up on Christmas Day.”
“Well, maybe not that quick, but you’ve still done a wonderful job, Susie. Now if you would just show me how to get to the rest of the names on the list…”
“The rest of the names? But Santa…”
“Yes, show me how to go to the next page on this thing, Susie.”
“That’s the only page there is, Santa. It consists of me and four of my best friends. That will make your job sooo much easier don’t you think?”
“Why you selfish little girl! How dare you think you and your friends are the only cool-kids on Earth. I ought to…” Santa stopped himself from verbalizing his next thought. He glared at the little girl as he threw the palmtop into a snow bank and turned and walked away before he said or did something he might be sorry for later.
“What’s gotten into him?” Susie wondered.
Back at Santa’s house, he explained to his wife what had just taken place with the little girl Susie. “What are we going to do now? It’s almost time to go and because of that greedy little girl, we don’t have a List to work from. We’re finished, Ma! It’s over.”
“Calm down, Pa, things may not be as bleak as you think.”
“How can you say that? We’re doomed!”
“We’re not doomed, Pa. While you were putting all your trust in Susie, me and little Duke, mostly Duke, put together quite an amazing Neat Stuff distribution system that will allow you to personally deliver presents to all the boys and girls on Earth, and to do it all in the allotted time.”
“What are you talking about, woman?”
“Come with me, Pa, it’s time to go and Duke needs to explain a few things to you before you blast off.”
Down at the barn, Duke had all the reindeer hooked up to Santa’s sleigh. He had small cables running from the sleigh to each reindeer’s collar. All Santa had to do was click on a name on the computer screen inside the cockpit and that child’s home coordinates would automatically be entered into the navigational computer and an electrical impulse containing commands for direction, altitude and speed would be sent to each reindeer. The sleigh’s new radar module would also keep Santa safely out of the path of other aircraft.
Santa didn’t even recognize his sleigh when he entered the barn and asked his wife, “What in tarnation is this thing?”
“That’s your new and improved sleigh, Pa. Duke has transformed it into a lean, mean, Neat Stuff delivery machine. According to Duke you should be able to deliver a present to every boy and girl on Planet Earth and still make it back home before the 24 hours has expired. Imagine that, Pa! A present for EVERY child on Earth, not just a chosen few.”
“The devil, you say! How is that possible?” Santa asked his wife.
“Duke made it possible. Ask him.”
Santa approached the sleigh where Duke was making some final adjustments to the onboard computers.
“Hey kid, is what Mrs. Claus saying true?”
“Yep.” answered Duke.
“Is this thing safe or is it going to leave me stranded in the Sahara Desert or worse, give out on me 20,000 feet over the North Atlantic?”
“Trust me, Santa, it’ll work just fine,” Duke told the fat guy.
“What do I have to do to make it work?”
“Come here, I’ll show you.” And Duke familiarized Santa with all the steps he needed to know about his new computerized sleigh.
Looking at his watch, Santa realized he didn’t really have a choice unless he wanted to cancel his Neat Stuff Giveaway this year, and that would break too many hearts of too many children around the world, so his only option was to go for it. He would put his trust and maybe even his life in the hands of a little kid he didn’t even like very much. If it worked, it worked. If it didn’t… oh well, we all gotta go sometime!, he thought.
As he settled into the cockpit of his new and improved Neat Stuff Giveaway Sleigh, he proceeded to push the buttons and flip the switches Duke had instructed him to push and flip. His HUD (Heads-Up-Display) came to life on the canopy directly in front of him and showed that all the indicators for take off were in the green except one. Santa hit the last switch which discharged the proper amount of reindeer flying dust over his battery of reindeer and the final red indicator on the HUD turned green. He hit the GO button.
With the speed of an F-18 Hornet in full afterburner catapulting off the deck of a carrier, Santa’s sleigh and reindeer were gone.
“Whoa, Ho, Ho, Ho!” Santa exclaimed, as he accelerated into the night sky of the North Pole. “This might be fun!”
Back on the ground, Duke and Mrs. Claus monitored Santa’s progress on a radar screen Duke had installed. After 30 minutes of watching the screen, Mrs. Claus said, “I hope he’s okay, Duke. I could never forgive myself if something happened to him.”
“He’s fine, Mrs. C, don’t worry. He’s just completed his rounds in Greenland, Iceland, Canada and Alaska and he’s now headed into the lower 48.”
“But he’s only been gone a half hour. How can that be?”
“The power of technology, ma’am. Pretty cool, huh?”
“I suppose so, but I can’t stay out here and watch; I’m a nervous wreck. I’m going into the kitchen and bake some of Santa’s favorite cookies so he’ll have them when he gets back. He will make it back, won’t he, Duke?”
“In record time, Mrs. C. In record time.”
Three hours later, Duke took a break and reported to Mrs. Claus that Santa had sojourned his way through North America, South America and Antarctica and was on his way to New Zealand, Australia, Indonesia and all the islands of the Pacific. Duke helped himself to a handful of cookies and returned to his radar tracking screen.
This was going better than even Duke had expected and he wished he were in the sleigh with Santa. “Maybe next year if all goes well, Santa will let me tag along,” he thought.
After eight hours of flight time all of Duke’s software and hardware was performing flawlessly and holding up fantastically.
Duke watched as Santa polished off the Pacific Islands and screamed across southern Asia. While streaking over China, Duke watched as several other blips showed up on the screen and rapidly converged on an intersecting path with Santa’s sleigh.
“Holy Cow! They’re firing missiles at him!” Duke screamed to the empty room. He quickly typed in a command on his computer that was slaved via satellite to the onboard computer in Santa’s sleigh. He instructed the onboard computer to immediately initiate evasive action. Duke watched in stark horror as the missiles closed the gap at an incredibly fast rate. Just as the missiles were about to impact Santa and his reindeer, the blip that was Santa did an impossible 180 degree turn and dove for the deck.
“Phew! That was close!” Duke whispered to no one. “He ain’t gonna be too happy about that when he gets back.”
Before Santa was able to escape Chinese airspace, several more missiles were fired at him, but Santa was able to evade them without too much trouble. Safely out of China, Duke called up his individual country database and, under China, looked to see who had granted them permission for Santa’s over flight and then reneged on that permission. What he found was that he’d forgotten to obtain that permission. “Oops!”
Duke quickly brought up a list of the remaining countries Santa had to visit and double checked to see that he hadn’t made the same mistake elsewhere. He hadn’t, thank God.
Duke waited to see if Santa would come straight home after his brush with certain death in China but the radar showed Santa back on course and happily traversing the rest of Asia and then on into the continent of Africa. Duke took this time to report to Mrs. Claus who was still in the kitchen baking cookies.
“How are things progressing, Duke?” Mrs. Claus asked nervously.
Duke decided not to mention the Chinese episode to her, as it would only increase her nervousness.
“Just fine, Mrs. C. In fact, Santa is on the last leg of his trip and should be back here in about three hours.”
“Three hours! Oh my gosh, I’ve only baked 82 dozen cookies! I’ve always had 200 dozen waiting for him when he gets back. I hope he don’t mind. You’ve done a wonderful job here, Duke. I’m sooo proud of you, and I’m sure Santa feels the same and will tell you that when he returns.”
“If he doesn’t shoot me on sight for almost getting him killed!” Duke thought.
“Thanks, Mrs. C. I’m just glad that all the children in the world can share in Santa’s generosity now.”
“Me too,” Mrs. Claus added. “Now, you go on back to that radar gizmo of yours so I can get at least a few more dozen cookies baked.”
Grabbing another handful of cookies and pouring himself a glass of reindeer milk, Duke returned to his command and control room. He sat back in his ergonomically designed computer chair and wondered what the fat guy would have to say when he landed back here 14 hours after he left. He sat silently watching as the blip that was Santa crisscrossed Africa, jumped over the Mediterranean Sea and tick-tack-toed his way across Europe ending up in Norway before zipping across the Barents Sea and the ever-frozen Arctic Ocean to a soft and safe landing right in his own back yard.
At 4:04 PM local time, Duke and Mrs. Claus, who had joined him after finishing her baking, spotted that outrageously red sleigh coming out of the eastern sky on its final landing approach. Duke was watching the reindeer and noticed that something wasn’t right but couldn’t put his finger on just what it was until the reindeer touched down. What normally happened during a reindeer-powered sleigh landing was that the reindeer would match their leg speed with the speed of the sleigh so that when their feet touched the ground their legs were moving fast enough to prevent stumbling. But these reindeer legs were not moving at all and when they made contact with the ground they dug into the snow and ice as though they were straight and sturdy 4X4 planks. This caused the whole train of reindeer and sleigh to come to an almost abrupt and not so graceful stop. It was then that it occurred to Duke that the reindeer were frozen solid. He realized that he had enclosed the fat guy in a canopy to protect him from the extreme cold and hurricane force winds that the high altitude and tremendous speeds would add to his environment, but he failed to take into consideration the effects it would have on the animals. Oops!
Duke was sure that Santa would be so furious with him that he’d be lucky to get out of here with his life.
As Duke and Mrs. Claus approached the sleigh, the canopy raised up and they saw Santa climb out and step on the ground and then immediately fall flat on his back. They rushed to his side and looking down at him saw that he was hysterical with laughter. Not understanding, Mrs. Claus shouted, “What’s wrong, Pa!? Are you alright?
In between fits of laughter, Santa said, “HO HO HO!, HO HO HO!, Did you see that landing? HE HE HE!, Those deer are like venison popsicles! HO HO HO!, HE HE HE!”
“Sorry about that Santa. That’s my fault. I shoulda…” Duke began.
“HO HO HO!, nonsense boy! Don’t you worry about that! Coupla days in a warm barn and they’ll thaw out just fine. Besides, it was I who pushed them to a record breaking speed over that last thousand miles at 40,000 feet! HO HO HO!. Son, I’ve never had so much fun delivering presents in all the years I’ve been doing this, and I owe it all to you. What can I ever do to repay you, boy?”
Duke didn’t feel he deserved all this praise from the fat guy and wanted to come clean about his major goof up in China.
“Uh, before you pat me on the back too much Santa, I want you to know that what happened to you over China was my fault and…”
“HO HO HO! Wasn’t that grrreat! Did you see me give those missiles the slip, I was…”
“MISSILES!” screamed Mrs. Claus. “WHAT MISSILES?”
“Er, Uh, No no no, not missiles, Ma, I said thistles. Yeah that’s it, thistles. I got tangled up in some thistle bushes. No big deal. Say Ma, did you bake me some cookies like you always do? I sure could use some. Would you please go get me and the kid here a couple dozen of those delicious delights of yours?”
After Mrs. Claus left, Santa put his arm around Duke and walked him over to the sleigh to unhitch his frozen reindeer and drag them into the heated barn.
“Duke, he said, I was wrong about you and I hope you can forgive me for the way I treated you these past few days. You’ve turned my Neat Stuff Giveaway into the most exciting thing I’ve ever experienced. I will be forever grateful and can only hope that you’ll come back next year and work with me. I want you to come with me in the sleigh next year and experience the joy and thrills that I had this year, and maybe you can come up with something to give the reindeer a little protection from the elements. And maybe you could fix it so a few more countries can have chance to fire their missiles at us. That was the best part of the whole trip! HO HO HO! Golly, that was fun! Of course, the Mrs. doesn’t need to know about that. We’ll just keep that part our little secret.”
And so it was that Duke, the not-so-cool little boy, once hated by Santa himself, saved Santa Claus’s annual Neat Stuff Giveaway and became Santa’s closest friend and confidant.
Pete Miner (firstname.lastname@example.org)