“I knew it was just a matter of time,” Santa said as he addressed the Council of Head Elves. They had never seen him look so wretched. “The United States Environmental Protection Agency has informed us ... well, me ... that I cannot fly in United States air space as long as I am using reindeer power. Their excrement is causing too much methane pollution. They have threatened to take it to the United Nations if we don’t do something about it.”
“They can’t do that! The reindeer are essential to our mission. They’re legendary!” Sherman, head of the reindeer division, shouted angrily.
“Without the reindeer’s speed and power, there’s just no way we can get around the world in just one night. We’re cutting it closer and closer every year,” Herman, head of the sleigh division, yelled.
“Read the report. They’ve been tracking our methane levels for decades. It isn’t a pretty picture,” Santa replied as he tossed the 147 page report into the middle of the table. It landed with a thud.
“The reindeer are the most environmentally safe solution we have,” Sharon, head of the science division, said as she flipped through the report. “All the known alternative fuel supply options would cause much more pollution.”
“You’re all going to need to get your heads together to solve this one. They demand a resolution to the problem by the autumn solstice to give their researchers time to test and approve our solution,” Santa said grimly. “I’ll be sending Marvin down to talk to them and see if we can get some kind of pass for next Christmas to buy us some time. In the meantime, you need to get to work on this. This is your new focus. Use as many elves as you need. I need you to fix this. The children of the world are depending on you.”
“Yes, Sir!” they replied in unison then scattered to their offices to start brainstorming.
Santa sat back in his chair and took a long swig from his flask. The whiskey warmed him from the inside and he started to relax for the first time since he’d gotten the package. He took a second swig then headed for home and Mrs. Claus’ loving touch.
Sharon pooled her elves together in the lab. “We need to come up with an environmentally friendly fuel that will be able to get Santa around the world in one night,” she announced. “The reindeer are officially on the no fly list.”
There were murmurs among the group. “I can google to see what MIT and NASA are doing,” Simon offered.
“I can check out some of NASA’s competition, like Virgin,” Debra volunteered.
“Great! If you find anything, let me know immediately. We only have nine months to come up with a solution and implement it.
Several days passed. There had been a flurry of activity as the elves searched the Internet for any alternatives that would be pollution-free yet powerful enough to allow Santa to deliver the presents in December.
“I think I found it!” Debra declared late one evening. Only Sharon and Simon were still working.
“What is it?” Sharon asked as the two elves squeezed into Debra’s cubicle.
“There’s a scientist in Sweden who is examining the DNA of tree bark to determine if there is a way to use it to create a renewable fuel source that has very little pollution. His preliminary studies have shown that only the bark from a blue spruce tree meets the perquisites,” Debra said as she clicked on the chart with the results of the tests.
“Well done, Debra!” Sharon replied as she patted the other elf on the back. “I want you and Simon to travel to Sweden to talk to this scientist. Offer him whatever is needed to buy his research. Money is no object.”
“We’ll leave first thing in the morning!” Simon said as he cavorted with Debra. He’d wanted a break from the North Pole for awhile and he would get to spend time with Debra, his new lover as well as help save Christmas. Who could ask for more?
“Remember, we only have until the autumn solstice! Now get home so you can pack and be ready to travel tomorrow,” Sharon ordered then headed for Santa’s house to share the good news.
It was late but Sharon was sure Santa would want to know as soon as they found something. She knocked on the door. Jenny, the head housekeeper, answered the door. Her hair was a mess and her dress was awry. “Can I help you?” she asked as she ran her fingers through her hair.
“I must see Santa, right away!”
“He is ... indisposed.”
“Well, dispose him then! We may have found a solution to the EPA demands!”
“I ... I ... will go tell him,” Jenny replied then stepped to the side. “You can wait in the parlor.”
Several minutes went by then Santa appeared in the door. He was wearing a robe and his face was bright red with sweat dripping from his brow. “Sorry about that,” he apologized with a sheepish grin. “I needed to finish what I’d started.”
“We have a lead on a possible alternative fuel,” Sharon said.
“Excellent! Tell me more, but be quick about it. I need to get back to ... my ... err ... obligations,” he replied. Sharon quickly explained what Debra had found and that she was sending the two elves to Sweden to buy the research.
“That’s amazing! Take the rest of the week off and give Debra and Simon a generous bonus for their work,” Santa said then gave Sharon a wink. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have something warm waiting for me!”
The elves weren’t able to buy the research from the scientist so they did what any industrious elf would do and stole it. There were no questions asked when they reappeared a few days later and the bank account hadn’t changed.
The scientist elves analyzed the research and started experimenting. Six months passed with no positive results from Simon and Debra’s work. Santa was growing increasingly impatient. “What are those elves doing?” Santa demanded as he pounded on his desk.
“They’re working as hard as they can,” Sharon explained. “Tree DNA can be tricky to work with.”
“They have two weeks! I am running out of time!”
Sharon hurried back to the science center. She was less than happy. Simon greeted her at the door with a huge smile on his face. “You’re just in time. I think we’re on the verge of a major breakthrough.”
“It is about time!”
“DNA is tricky! You know that!” Simon replied.
“Indeed it is.”
Debra was just putting the finishing touches on the latest experiment when they walked into the lab. They held their breath as they watched the newly-created tree bark burned then read the results. “We did it!” Debra announced.
Sharon called Santa with the news. They were thrown a hero party then Herman got to work on creating a furnace to burn the new fuel for the sleigh.
It was three days before the deadline when Santa was summoned for a test drive. He climbed into the sleigh and pressed the ignition button. Nothing happened. Herman turned bright red as he rushed in to see what was wrong. Santa pressed the button again. Nothing.
“I’ll get this sorted in just a minute, Santa,” Herman announced then climbed under the sleigh. Santa crossed his arms tapped his fingers against his forearm. Everyone around the sleigh shifted nervously. “There, try again.”
Santa pushed the button and there was bang and an explosive fire. Extinguisher foam filled the sleigh and quickly put out the fire. The elves rushed towards the sleigh and quickly hosed it down. Santa, who had been wearing his flame retardant suit, was covered and soot and looking very displeased.
“Fix this or you’re all fired!” Santa screamed then stomped back to his house.
“We’re ready again,” Herman announced on the autumn solstice. “We’ve tested it several times. It’ll work.”
Santa silently followed the elf out to the sleigh. He got in and pressed the ignition. The furnace started up and Santa took the sleigh for a spin around the North Pole. He landed in front of a cheering crowd.
“Excellent work!” he announced. “We’ll ship the furnace to the EPA on Monday.”
A letter arrived on Santa’s desk on December 20th. It was from the EPA. The furnace passed all their tests and was approved for use. A huge cheer went up from all the residents of the North Pole when Santa made the announcement.
“We’ll have a huge party on December 26!” he yelled over the din.
Herman put the furnace back on the sleigh and tested it several times before he would allow the elves to load it up. Then, on Christmas Eve, Santa climbed into the sleigh and pressed the ignition. As he rose into the air and flew out of sight, he called, “Merry Christmas!”
WORDS: DNA, tree bark, google, cavort, wretched, explosive