Christmas eve, part 1
I’ve been dreading this moment for weeks. Wiping my palms again down my pants I scan the landing bay. The shuttle boarding agents frown against sweaty palms on their palm-print reader for check-in. I’m part of the last group to leave—abandon—the station. Barely a year living on board the world’s first habitable space city.
My father, Josef, is over there talking to Sala Guntaa, the Unity Space Station Administrator General. My father is, or rather was, the under administrator of Unity. He glances over at me, an ever-so-tiny tilt of his head as if to ask, are we doing this?
There was still time to opt out. Chicken out, my late brother would have teased. Five minutes remaining. Go with my family or stay behind, hide out, and spearhead the new rebellion? Already on the shuttle, Ezra and Maya, my two and only best friends on the station, awaited my decision. The plan, code named Home for Christmas, would only work if we all agreed to play along. It is the classic struggle between good and evil, right and wrong, happiness and greed. If you want to consider it a continuing resolution, I’d agree with you. But that’s not what it means.
No pressure. My parents would understand if I declined. It was dangerous and there are no second chances. I turn sixteen tomorrow and they are convinced I’m ready and capable. I’m convinced it’s a worthy and noble cause but it’s also worth a ton of personal sacrifice if anybody got caught. My mom leaves my father’s side, stops in front of me and smiles. It isn’t her decision but she understands the gravity of it. Yeah, pun intended.
Viktora and Isabella (Maya’s and Ezra’s mothers, respectfully) hurry by, each carrying snacks for the short trip back to Earth. Two bot-totes follow dutifully, like well-trained dogs heeling to their masters.
Her eyes darting to me, Viktora says to my mother, “Meri, all set.” It isn’t a question. Meri sends a wink so subtle I thought I might have imagined it. Mom turns to me but only arches an eyebrow in that same subtle way. I glance over at dad, still engaged with the Administrator General, and then look her in the eye. I’m on the verge of tears. I may never see them again.
On the surface, this plan is treason in the eyes of the United Nations. The followers would either not care or not understand when the incident is reported in the media. Notice I didn’t say news.
The first amendment, which I learned about through studying banned texts, was all but eye candy in the 22nd century. The media didn’t even need coercion. They were complicit. But the fact is, the Unity experiment is a colossal failure. An enormous budgetary boondoggle five years behind schedule. Like every government project. They’ll spin it for safety reasons or some other rubbish, as Maya’s mother would say. We’re not allowed to talk like that in school or in public so I won’t mention it again. But I can think it. A smile tugs the corners of my mouth at that little piece of freedom I still possess.
I am vaguely aware of mom steering me up the shuttle’s boarding ramp into the passenger cabin, still wrestling with my decision. The decision.
My months of study on the station, and on the ground at home before our trip up to Unity almost a year ago, convinces me that life used to be better—freer—if not perfect. The majority have never experienced true freedom, and UN policies have choked the life out of most economies over the past ninety-two years. But the sudden decision to abandon the station was our opportunity to let folks see the light. Maybe effect a change and return to national sovereignty. My parents, and those of my two best friends, straddle a fence between their administration jobs and their true beliefs. Not to mention their covert membership in the reawakening. It is simply too risky for either of them to undertake the spearhead action. The symbolic gesture that we hope galvanizes free thinkers all around the planet.
The adults couldn’t get away with just disappearing from the last shuttle out of dodge. Haha. Out of dodge. One of Ezra’s favorite sayings. Something he picked up from an old western. Anyway, their absence would be noticed. Not so much for us teens. Teenagers in the realm of administrators were rarely seen and never heard from. Dad, a long-time member of the reawakening, hatched this plan shortly after the UN failed to secure enough funding to keep the station rotating. The kids could do it. Their kids in particular. Me and Maya and Ezra. We’d been “groomed” with a prohibited education, a broader picture of history, and special training to carry out this mission, the catalyst of reigniting faith. Nothing so esoteric as faith in God per se, but faith in our humanity and hopefully, once and for all, get past man’s penchant for greed, power, and corruption. Yeah, I know, wishful thinking. But hope is eternal and it’s the effort that counts. Our plan, the Home for Christmas, if successful will serve as the symbol of that reignited faith.
If I get caught, I probably won’t be shot but certainly I’d disappear. My parents might be shot. The embarrassment to the administration and all that. An example, certainly. Precarious indeed. Make no mistake, the forces at work are greedy and ruthless.
If we succeed, we still might get caught, but, depending on one’s point of view, the damage would be done or at least we’d have fanned the spark. I’d be a hero. I could live with that. And I don’t have to physically get caught. We built in the ultimate failsafe for that turn of events. But I won’t discuss that unpleasantness. Looking at the state of life on earth, it’s worth the risk. We either get past our greed or we eventually implode under our own corruption. Many have sacrificed in the past for the good of many. I have an opportunity. I can do no less.
Mom taps my chest. I come back to the present standing beside our seats. I look her in the eye. “Okay. I’m ready. Let’s do it.” There, I committed. Meri nods but fails to hide the pride on her face and the fear in her watery eyes. She quickly shoves me toward the back of the cabin where a maintenance tech is casually looking busy. Ezra and Maya quietly get up and follow.
A maintenance tech shuffles us around, to get us out of her way and then opens a trapdoor in the floor. A maintenance ladder leads down into the guts of the shuttle. The stern-looking woman, wearing a safety vest and wireless headset, practically throws us down the short ladder access then follows, closing the trapdoor above. I didn’t even have a chance to look back.
“Keep your mouths shut and follow me. We haven’t much time,” the tense woman barks. I look at my friends turned co-conspirators and shrug. Ezra, Maya, and I each had our assigned tasks, three critical parts of the catalyst and subsequent escape from the station. Let the adventure begin.
Minutes later, trusting Maya and Ezra to their assigned tasks, I race along the perpetually sloping corridor that serves as the station’s carotid artery. The corridor is perpetual because Unity is ring or donut shaped so the central corridor is one big loop, sloping up in both directions. This took some serious getting used to when I first landed on the station almost a year ago, but it seems normal now.
My footsteps echo after me in the cavernous thoroughfare. Or are they echoing ahead of me? Hard to determine because I’ve never heard an echo in Unity’s grand promenade. Until a few hours ago, the promenade was a perpetual scrambled mass of humans and bots of every make and model, the din from which prevented a novelty like echoes. But no time to play with reflected sound. I was on the clock. I glance at the nearest repeater board. 2226 UTC. I had ninety-four minutes.
Why don’t I use the vac-tubes or simply hop a drone-skip? Either would be much faster, especially since the promenade was devoid of people. But I hadn’t anticipated the automated transit would be shut down and the wireless intra-net taken off-line with the mass desertion. So I find myself running. I like to think I’m one of the faster runners in my cadre, but damn, Unity is a big station. I try to picture the massive dimensions in my mind as I run toward my first stop.
The Grand Promenade is similar in width to a typical shopping mall back home in the United States. I know how long it takes me to run from any point on the promenade to any other point because the circumference is just shy of a mile, or one point five kilometers. In other words, Unity Station is huge.
The Grand Promenade is also tall, the ceiling five levels or decks above the main deck of the promenade. Each upper deck overhangs the one below by a half meter or so forming the outline of a step-pyramid. The ceiling is a hybrid reflective surface and video screen to display any combination of scenery, sky, space, or messages and scrolling data. It’s often used to augment holidays and festivals or whatever special occasion is happening. The station rotates about its axis to provide a fraction earth-normal artificial gravity between about forty and ten percent, depending on which deck you’re standing on.
Overall, the station width is approximately three times that of the promenade with rooms and workspaces lining both sides and most of the inner workings are below decks, beneath the Grand Promenade. We call those areas the maintenance decks.
The air recyclers and the climate control were also placed in standby mode according to a brief system’s check before leaving my cabin. The ambient chill had already started to take hold. Power was still on, for now, and even though the reactors were also put in stand-by mode, it would take a couple hours for the residual power to bleed out. Enough time to put my plans into play.
I reviewed my short list of to-dos as I ran, dodging empty kiosks and large planters with palm trees that never needed water. You guessed it. Looks real but is quite fake. I had three stops to make. First, the nearest student chow hall—oops, dining facility, according to the language police. I prefer the historical term because it has more character and sounds less sterile. My secret research into history formed the basis of my plan. I had to start the rehydration process for the freeze-dried food that I currently carried in my backpack. It took me months to gather all the traditional food items. All of it through bribes and a sleight-of-hand method historically known as kleptomania. And if a particular food item wasn’t already freeze-dried, I’d had to freeze-dry it without getting caught. That part was easy, sort of. I got a kick out of every time I pulled a quick-two on the galley boss. I volunteered for kitchen duty once a month just for this purpose. I call it a quick-two instead of the original fast-one because what I had to do was a two-part procedure. Yep, I’m weird like that.
One of my kitchen duties was to refreeze-dry the leftovers since seconds were never allowed. Sometimes, the freeze drier would break down and I’d have to take it to the shop to fix it. And of course I had to test it on whatever I’d managed to stash in my pocket that shift. It was easy because the galley boss never bothered to trouble-shoot and he was lax with inventory. Few people even knew how to fix things let alone bothered to do so. It was too convenient to call a maintenance bot or request a replacement.
Anyway, I’d detour my return from the shop via my cabin and add my freeze-dried test subjects to my stash. The galley boss never had a clue. He thought I wasted time fixing it myself, though. Whatever. All the adults were cavers. As in they continually caved to the new unity way of thinking, which was to stay in line and inside the proverbial box. Somehow, I managed to think outside the state parameters.
Had I been able to hop a skip it would have dropped me off by now. I ran on, working up a bit of a sweat. Okay by me. It’s not like the station is getting any warmer with the climate control in standby. Two hundred meters to go.
My second stop will be the water plant. I chose the China-sector chow-hall because it was closest to the water plant, which in turn had direct access to an exterior air lock used to resupply Unity with water-ice from Antarctica—the most expensive water on or above earth. None of the space agencies nor any of the corporations had yet perfected mining ice from other solar system moons or the asteroid belt.
I spent hours studying the water plant schematics, searching for the right combination of emergency exterior vent valve and viewing lounge. Not sure if the designers realized they conveniently placed the water plant and a lounge in close proximity to the China-sector chow-hall, but it was certainly nice of them. It shouldn’t take me long to convince Unity’s A.I. of an overpressure condition and rig a timed partial water evacuation just outside the lounge view ports. Those two tasks would be the easy part.
Step three, hacking Umai, would not be so easy. Unity Module Artificial Intelligence is a dispassionate set of algorithms that pretends to want to learn about what it’s like to be human. Fortunately, I don’t need to hack any security systems or illegal historical data. Just the internal and external light grid. Ideally, I’d also like to disable communications with Earth, but that is unlikely since there are multiple redundant arrays located throughout Unity. No matter. Even if Umai ratted me out, it’d be hours or days, if ever, before they’d send somebody back up here to investigate the anomaly. The double doors to the chow-hall came into sight.
I reached the China-sector chow-hall breathing heavily. The overhead repeater board shows ninety-three minutes so I had to hurry as hacking Umai would take up most of my time. I drop my backpack and dig out the items I’d need to get into the chow-hall: One of four maintenance bot identifiers, a 9-volt battery, and a can of body spray I swiped from some muscle-bound pretty-boy’s duffle in the all-gender locker room. Man that stuff reeks.
I set all the items on the floor close to the bulkhead on the side of the door where the terminal was located, the right side. In preparation days earlier, I wired alligator clips to each of the two wires protruding from the ID component, one red wire, the other green. Now I attach the green wire clip to the positive terminal but I didn’t attach the red negative lead yet. The ID component and the battery were incompatible amps and the difference would fry the identifier within a second or two of closing the circuit. It’s why I have several components with me.
I pick up the 9-volt and the bot identifier, careful to keep the negative wire away from the negative terminal of the battery. I shove the battery into my vest pocket. Next came the tricky part. I had to hold both items in one hand, because I’d need my other hand to clip the negative wire to the battery, all while holding the bot identifier close to the door’s terminal. I hope Umai recognizes the authorization code. The bots weren’t to be shut down until after the last passenger shuttle departs, which ought to be right about now. Since I removed this component days ago, I gamble that this particular identifier had not yet received the stand-by order and still had an active code. Only one way to find out.
I took a steadying breath. Here goes. I arranged the identifier and the battery like I had practiced. Identifier facing the near-field sensor in the terminal panel, pinched between thumb and index finger. Next, I fished the battery from my pocket and placed it into my palm, pressing my pinky and ring fingers against it, the terminals pointing toward me. I grabbed the red wire, glanced left and right out of habit, then, holding my breath, I clipped the red to the 9-volt negative terminal and breathed a silent prayer.
All prayers these days were silent but a second later the doors opened and something inside the identifier popped and crackled as tiny wisps of smoke oozed from it, a distinctive acrid burnt smell that wrinkled my nose every time. I pump a fist and dash through the door before it closes me out. I was in.
I need to make haste, now. There isn’t a lot of smell from the burned circuits of the bot identifier, but it’d be enough to set off an alarm if I didn’t neutralize it fast. I take a moment to douse the area with the body spray, Mountain Air, the label read. How any guy could like this fake smell was beyond me. I hold my breath while I spray the can then shove it back into my pack as I make my way to a stack of chairs.
I grab a 6-stack of plastic chairs from a nearby row of stacked dining table chairs and half-drag, half-carry it to put between the doors. That should trip the sensor and prevent the doors from closing. I grab my backpack and the can of body spray eager to get on with things, the clock was ticking.
My movement causes the motion-sensitive lights to come on, revealing the off-white room. All of Unity’s galleys are the same design with the same color scheme in the same lay out. Oh so imaginative. Part of the UN’s non-offending policy. Everything was bland and standard. Kinda like the military. However, the bland sameness made it easy to find the kitchen.
I run past rows of metal tables bolted to the deck. The buffet islands are next and then the made-to-order grills. I veer left to go around the serving line and through a swinging door to the heart of the galley, the kitchen where all the food was prepared.
Unshouldering my backpack, I place it on a prep table and dump the remaining contents. Tools, a flashlight, the other bot identifiers, a couple of data sticks, a sling-shot with some ball bearings, and several freeze-dried food items. My mouth waters at the thought of what the food might taste like. The administrators import the good stuff for themselves, fresh from the surface once a week. This good stuff was reserved for the stations’ administrators, but my parents refused to partake in this hypocrisy while the mere inhabitants received bars, squeeze tubes, and shakes. The food we were served wasn’t bad, but it was all processed, cooked, shaped, dehydrated or frozen, stored, and rehydrated or unfrozen and then nuked before consumed. Yep, rubbery cardboard was one way to describe it. It kinda makes you wonder why the kitchen is so big if most of the food is manufactured and packaged.
I set about preparing my feast. Each food item was freeze dried and vacuum sealed. My meal would not be “fresh” but the food was real food, not processed like the usual ration fare.
I carefully cut the sealed packages and remove the contents, placing each on a plate or in a bowl designed to help the reconstitution process. I have a turkey breast, a chunk of mashed potatoes, a block of gravy, a block of cut up mixed vegetables, and a baseball-like bread roll.
I glance toward the repeater board—five more minutes had elapsed. It was 2233 UTC.
I arrange the plates and bowls on a rehydrator tray and slid it into the oven. The oven has a fancy name but I can’t pronounce it.
I enter the name and approximate weight of each item into the control panel and hit start. The panel display blinks a few times and displays “Low Power”. I hit the ignore button and it then settles on a time and temperature. It displays fifty-nine minutes. Over an hour. Whoa. Cutting it close, that was. No worries. I still have two more tasks to attend to, the water plant and the lights.
I sync my watch to the oven and then return to my backpack. I repack my flashlight, tools, sling, and bot identifiers but shove the data sticks into a vest pocket. I leave the kitchen in a hurry the same way I’d come in, slinging the backpack over my left shoulder. On to my second task, rigging the water plant.
I jog through the dining area to the chow hall door but pause to shrug my right arm into the backpack and settle it so I can run unhindered. I clip the chest and waist straps—what was that?
I hear a faint hum from down the corridor. I freeze, listening intently. Panic threatens to surface. A lump catches in my throat. Was I discovered? If so, I’m toast, as they used to say. As in done, finished, caught.
I creep to the threshold and peak out. Looking back the way I’d come, I hear it better now, but can’t see it. The grand promenade is deserted. Nothing moves along the deck. The hum grows louder, closer. I look up. There. A surveillance drone reflects off the overhead faux sky panels. The panels are dark now but their glossy surfaces in the low light made passable mirrors.
It was high, too high. Dorks. Those things are visual only. Strictly line of sight. It can’t see around corners or under ledges or overhangs. Whomever was flying it was overly confident the station was deserted. I duck back and listen as it flies by, no more the wiser.
I realize I’d been holding my breath and exhale. I move cautiously out into the open grand corridor. I look after the drone until it disappears under the horizon of the curving ceiling. I’d have to be more careful. Why somebody is flying drones around an empty station is beyond me. Best not to take unnecessary chances, though. I’m so close.
The water plant’s main entrance is farther down the grand promenade, another hundred meters or so. And on the opposite side, the planet side of the station. Satisfied there were no more flying spies in the area, I take off running down the promenade again. I head straight for the other side first then turn toward the industrial sector of the station. I’m one-third of the way through my plan. Up next, rigging the water plant.
The repeater boards showed 2236. Dang. That drone delay wasted almost three minutes. I run faster. The water plant entrance was just ahead on the left. To port if I was using the technical terminology. But I’m not very technical, so, on the left.
I see the doors to the water plant. Fifteen meters ahead. I watch the doors to the water plant open and a maintenance bot emerges. I throw myself down behind the nearest cover, a large plastic planter for a giant fake palm tree.
I hit the deck hard and crack my head in two places simultaneously where the planter meets the deck. Ouuuuch! No time to nurse my self-inflicted injury. I quickly sit up, pushing up against the planter. My heart is thundering in my chest. So loud I fear the bot will overhear. I hug my knees close and don’t budge. Would the bot turn away from or toward my position? My hopes sink in the next instant. A squeaky roller confirmed it was headed my way. My next hope and prayer, it’s the type of bot with FLV, or Forward Looking Vision, as opposed to WAV, Wide Aspect Vision. If it has WAV sensors, it’d almost certainly notice my presence in its peripheral vision and stop to query. The squeak gets louder. It was close enough now that I heard the characteristic hum of the bot’s power core. Please, please, please let it be the FLV type bot. Almost here. It would pass me by on my right, starboard side. Haha. Right starboard side. Funny. Stop it. I make a face. This is no laughing matter, Jakes.
I turn my head. The bot squeaks into view. I look up. It doesn’t look down. Keep rolling, I will it. The squeak stops. The bot stops. Dang and dang. The bot’s head swivels in my direction, miniature pneumatic motors whirring as its head tilts slightly. For a moment it just stands there staring.
“Identify yourself,” it demands.
“You are poorly hidden and a liar. Stand up, young station resident.”
I stare back. Should I make the first move? Or wait for it? No doubt it’s trying to process why it had encountered a human where none should be. It looks like a simple custodial bot, programmed for routine cleaning tasks. This model was a newer version and ironically, it resembles the old shape of a twentieth-century vacuum cleaner but stands one and a half meters tall. Wide flat base with eight magnetic rollers arranged in an octagon. The smooth, sort of rounded, square-ish body tapered narrower on the way up, ending in a pair of “shoulders” that could rotate a full two hundred and seventy degrees. Four, multi-articulating arms added to its functionality. The short neck and pyramidal head sat atop the quadruple-jointed shoulder. The pyramid-like head attached upside down and featured six pairs of “eyes,” two on each side. It didn’t miss anything, even though its back was to me. I had no idea how it would react or who it would notify. I struck first.
I jump up and jab my fist into the access panel on the bot’s back. It pops open revealing a mass of wires, tubes, and components. I reach in, seize a handful of whatever I could and yank. Hard. I yank again, harder. The force pulls it up over my foot, smashing my big toe. I shove it back. Its arms are now in motion, attempting to extricate itself from my assault. There is enough of a ledge on its base for a toe hold and I step up, wrapping one arm around its torso as I continue to yank on its innards with the other.
It begins to roll and twist in short bursts and jabbering on about unauthorized property abuse. It would be comical had I not been the one trying to disable it. It’s flat, monotone synthesized voice lent nothing to the urgency of the situation. But I figure I have only seconds before it decides to transmit a malfunction code to Umai. That would only bring more bots and possibly a human or two to check it out. The bot continues to twist and stop and go, forward and back, in random patterns. I hold on tight but soon feel wires and tubes begin to loosen and snap off. The warnings cease but its twisting becomes erratic, increasing in severity. Bots are designed by default not to harm their human masters but that assumes one doesn’t hop on and start pulling its wires out. It’s harder to hang on now, but I nearly have the handful of tubes and wires completely separated when it stops gyrating. I loosen my arm from its torso thinking to step down as four arms grab me. Two of its hands gripped my arms and two gripped my sides. And none too gently, I might add. It pulls me close then hoists me up and heaves. I sail through the air, clutching a handful of bot innards.
Flying was fun, but not being able to see what I was flying into, not so fun. I hit the wall of the grand promenade with a thud. Difficult to describe the feeling but suffice it to say my vision grew rapidly narrow and was overlaid with stars while the air left my lungs as quickly as it ever had. I’m a meter off the deck when I hit the wall. The spin-generated gravity did its job and I slide down the wall. I was still seeing stars and fighting to drag in a breath when first my feet then my legs collapse beneath me. I sink until my butt hits the deck. I can just make out the bot’s wheel base. It had apparently toppled over upon throwing me, its weight unable to counter balance the effort.
No matter. It wasn’t moving and no hum emanated from its power core. It was out of order. I struggle to replenish that most precious of commodities called air. I pick up my handful of bot components and stumble to my feel, supporting myself against the wall as my vision clears. 2238 according to the repeater board. Another two minutes wasted.
With the bot obstacle taken care of, I trudge to the water plant doors and peek inside. No movement so that was a good sign. I examine the handful of bot components and discover one of them was an identifier. I shrug. Why not try it? I hold it up to the terminal and the doors immediately open. I reckon there was residual power in the unit. Well that saved me some time. Sweet.
I walk in and head straight for the master control panel just inside the front doors. The water plant was a large open bay with giant tanks and a mass mess of pipes, tubes, valves, gages, and displays stretching left, right, and up for fifty meters in each direction.
It’s also warmer in the water plant bay. Not surprising. All the station’s water originates, circulates, or returns here at one time or another. The water-ice is also melted and sterilized before it enters circulation for the station inhabitants. The gray water is treated and reused for reactor coolant or other non-human consumable uses, like cleaning or watering plants and small animals. The black water passes through a limited filter but then is blocked, frozen, and launched toward the sun for disposal. My task this morning is simple. The system is designed to vent gray water if too much returned while not enough fresh or filtered gray water is pulled out. Since the desertion, there is sure to be venting as the return adds up with no demand. All I have to do is hasten the process by filling any gray-water overflow tank causing an earlier than scheduled vent release. But I also want it to vent to a specific exterior valve and at a specific time. In exactly… I glance back at the repeater board over the main doors… eighty-one minutes from now.
I touch the control panel to bring it to life. I first have to track down the correct vent shaft, the one near the view port lounge adjacent to the China-sector chow hall. Next, select which gray water tank to fill. This part is a bit tricky because the rate of fill would be a factor and the timing depends on the overflow being timed close enough to trigger the purge. Pick a tank too low and it’d take forever to fill. A tank too full and it’d either switch or vent early. I wasn’t good at math so this is where my pre-programmed data stick comes into play. I select the valve and several possible gray water tanks and put the override command in stand-by mode. I insert my data stick into a port and hit the execute button. The pre-programmed instructions and authorization initiate and the new time to vent pops up on the screen. The A.I. automatically selects the best choice of gray water tank and displays the fill rate and time to fill, but I don’t care which tank or what the fill rate is, so long as it’s in progress and timed to vent in exactly eighty minutes. Second task, check. Now the third part, the lights. I take a moment to wonder how Ezra and Maya are getting along with their assignments.
My next task is to hack Umai and reprogram Unity’s interior and exterior lights to perform a pre-programmed coordinated pattern of on and off. The water plant hack was easy. It was logical. All I had to do there was create a condition that resulted in the plant executing something it was already programmed to do. I was not a programming whiz, but I knew how to cajole, trick, threaten, and bribe my way to what I wanted. Most of the time.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2.
Here ends Part 1 of Christmas Eve. In Part 2, Jakes has set operation Home for Christmas in motion. Ezra and Maya are tackling their own tasks.
With Christmas dinner rehydrating and the water system hacked, Jakes must complete one more critical task in order to show their message to Earth. But surprises abound: drones, bots, and a bully upper classmate.
Can Jakes muster the creative courage needed to overcome obstacles and make the midnight deadline? Get part 2 of Christmas Eve to find out. Sign up HERE for free to see what happens next.
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I hope you enjoyed this short story. More adventure to come with our heroes, one short story for each major holiday