"I don't know, Raub," Ben Jones told his co-worker and sometimes accomplice in holiday surprises for the neighborhood children. "Most of the older kids are already skeptical of Santa Claus, or they think they're too sophisticated. If we just put the robot we used at Halloween into a red suit, they're just going to laugh at it."
Raub took the last bite of his sandwich, chewed and swallowed it before replying. "There's only three weeks left." He pointed at a little poseable wooden "robot" toy on Ben's desk. "What're we going to do — dress him up as an elf?" He laughed. "That's lunch for me. Back to the salt mines." And he walked off, whistling a Christmas carol.
Ben laughed,too. Later that day, the toy caught his eye again. It wouldn't take much effort to get it to walk, maybe a pair of servos, and LEDs would make the eyes light up, but just one little robot wasn't much. Then he remembered the carol Raub had been whistling. When he left that evening, he left one of the 3-D fabbers turning out plastic versions of parts for the little robot, careful to mark the time and materials to his own account.
It was Christmas Eve and Jackson Jones had been persuaded — with considerable reluctance,to go to bed only a half-hour later than his usual time. "Santa won't come if you aren't asleep," his mother said. He was determined to stay up, but his dark bedroom, and quiet adult talk and cooking smells wafting from the kitchen lulled him off to sleep no matter how hard he fought it.
Jingle. Jackson suddenly found himself awake. Had he heard something? He shut his eyes and held his breath, heart pounding. There was a tiny, shuffling sound. He was sure of it. It was exactly not the sound of a jolly fat man with a big bag of toys. Jingle, jingle. What was it? Was he dreaming? There was a little scrape and a sudden creaking sound he recognized: It was the sound of his closet door opening. The latch was bad and sometimes it just opened if you bumped it. But what had bumped it? He opened his eyes and realized there was a dim, shifting light coming from close to the floor.
He got very awake. Was there a fire? A good Cub Scout, Jackson always reminded his Dad to change the batteries in the smoke detectors every Spring and Fall, and helped him do it, too. Surely it would have gone off? He raised up to get a better look—
And he saw pairs of little lights, low against the wall. Yellow, blue, green, red, white, orange, each set shifting a little. He started to yell and then remembered the flashlight Dad had given him when he'd had a bad nightmare. He kept it on the table next to the bed, just in case. This was as big an "in case" as he could think of. He reached carefully, slowly.... The first thing his hand found was his glasses, so he put them on. The lights got sharper but they still didn't make any sense. He groped again, found the light, aimed it more-or-less and pushed the button, yelling, "AAAAAAAH!"
The beam illuminated a half-dozen blocky little robots, all of which took a step back as he yelled.
He yelled again, "Daaaad! Robots! In my room!"
His Dad, Ben Jones, walked through the door, holding some kind of remote and grinning. "Yep. You know what they are?"
"Um... No." He didn't know if he should be relieved or mad, but Dad always said if you didn't know what was going on, you should find out. "What are they?"
"'Tiny bots...with their eyes all aglow...' Just like in the song." His Dad fiddled with the controls.
"Aw, Dad, that's awful." Jackson was watching the little robots. They all moved at the same time. "How do they work?"
"They follow the leader. See the one with red eyes? The remote runs him. Wherever I move him, the others follow."
"Want to try?" His Dad handed over the remote. "Maybe you'd better see if you can get them to walk to the living room. It is Christmas morning, you know, and you've got a few other presents under the tree, too."
...Though it's been said many times, many ways: Merry Christmas to you from the Hidden Frontier.