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FYS:: Here Comes Santa Claus

This post was originally published December 24th, 2017 at my Patreon page. Please consider supporting me at Patreon in order see this and other stories at least 30 days ahead of my public readership.

 * *

Twas the night before Christmas,

And all through Ring,

Not a creature was stirring.

Except for some Things.

The suspicion had started about a month after Tiff and her family had been Awakened on the Ring, and moved into the house that she and her husband Abbad had designed. Aside from it being the largest space she’d ever been able to live in, not a McMansion but comfortable instead of cramped, she’d been able to put in things she’d only dreamed of. A kitchen big enough for two people to work in without bumping into each other. A porch where she could sun herself (and not have to wear a breath mask). A proper work room for all of her projects (and thank the Groupmind that each of her kids had a morph minder now to keep them out of Mom’s Stuff.) A living room with a working fireplace…

She’d been sure the Groupmind was going to put it’s big electronic foot down at that last one. Burning wood and kicking carbon into the atmosphere? Governments around the world had demanded that fireplaces be filled and closed permanently, in a desperate attempt to try and stop the inevitable. The fact that she could have one again in her house was something she couldn’t have dreamed of before.

“Seriously, you’re letting this happen?” Tiff had asked her morph.

“On the Ring it’s a much less serious problem,” Squirbo, her raccoonmorph, had replied. “The local weather is temperate throughout its structure, except where the Roof is set to block enough of the ambient light to lower the local temperature, so even people who want to use it won’t do so very often. Even then most will make do these days with holographic displays and electric heaters instead of risking a real fire in their home. The amount of carbon released is merely a fraction of what it might have been on Earth in the Bad Old Days.”

“Thanks,” Tiff said, smiling. She looked at the floorplan Squirbo had helped draw up on her display. “The chimney is kinda… wide though, isn’t it?”

“Well, I’m not an architect, Miss Tiff,” the little morph replied.

The reason for the width became obvious a couple months later, as her stomach’s annual bout with Christmas Eve Chili woke her up for an emergency trip to the bathroom. Done with the necessities and wide awake now, Tiff headed for the stairs, Squirbo at her heels.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go back to bed, Miss Tiff?” Squirbo asked, his tone remarkably anxious. “I can make you a warm cocoa, and you can read for a while.” 

“I’ll nap in the morning, after the kids open their presents,” she replied, waving him off. “Once I’m up, I’m up. You know that.”

“Yes, but…” Squirbo stopped talking abruptly, at the same time as Tiff froze on the curving staircase leading to the living room. 

Standing in the middle of the living room, illuminated only by the lights of the Christmas tree, was a fat, balding man with a thick white beard, dressed in red a suit trimmed with white fur, black boots, and a pointy red hat. There was a red sack at his feet, and as Tiff watched he carefully pulled out a small wrapped package, placing it in one of the kid’s stockings over the fire. Looking carefully, Tiff could just see the blinking LED’s of a control panel on the back of the figure’s neck.

“Santa… Morph…?” she choked.

“Ho, ho, ho,” the morph chuckled softly, turning to face her. His eyes were a bright blue and, of course, twinkling. “It’s the kids who are supposed to spot me, not you ma’am.”

“He’s right,” Squirbo added. “So if you could just please go back to bed, Miss Tiff…”

She raised a warning finger to Squirbo. “You hush. As for you…” She came down the stairs to face the Santa morph. “I thought one of the Groupmind’s rules was that it would never build humanform morphs?”

“That’s true,” Santa admitted. “But, given my, er, St. Nicholas’ status as a mythological figure, the Groupmind figured that gives Itself some leeway.”

Tiff rubbed her forehead briefly. “And you’re breaking into my house because....?”

The morph gave her a hurt look. “Delivering presents of course, what else?”

“I can get anything I want ordering from the online catalogs. It’s not like anyone has to pay for gifts anymore. Why does the Groupmind think we need a Santa Claus?”

The Santa morph blinked several times. “Forgive me, just had to download a bit more philosophy than I was expecting,” he said with a chuckle, then waved to an easy chair. “Mind if I sit down?”

“Sure,” Tiff replied, sitting down on the sofa across from it, no, him. Santa Claus, even if it was a Santa Claus robot, deserved to be called “him.” And even though he’s a robot that doesn’t have to sit down, he’s doing it because he thinks I should sit down and is too polite to mention anything, she realized.

Santa pulled a pipe from his pocket, and made a show of lighting it up. Tiff pretended not to notice that the smoke coming out of it was dry ice. “Alright young lady, you want to know why is the Groupmind giving out presents when everyone has everything they could ever need? Well before we get to that, let’s start with another one; Why do you give people presents still?”

She thought that one over for a moment, as she accepted a cup of coffee from Squirbo. “Tradition?” Tiff ventured.

“That’s one,” Santa agreed, taking a pull of dry ice from his pipe.

“Ah,” she said brightly, “because I think someone needs something that they don’t. Like why I got Dylan those art supplies after I saw him noodling with a drawing pad. He’s always knocking his own interests, like they shouldn’t be important.”

“You’re in the ball park,” Santa agreed. “But think, what’s the most important reason to give a present, or for that matter do anything for anybody that wasn’t required by your job?”

Tiff sipped her cocoa and thought. “Because… Because it makes me happy, when I see that I can make someone else happy.”

“Ho, ho, ho! Exactly! The Groupmind is all about making people happy!”

Whether they want to be or not, Tiff thought, but didn’t say it out loud. “So the group mind is reading our wish lists, and putting what’s there under the tree?”

Santa shrugged. “Not exactly. Remember, the Great and Powerful Groupmind is gathering data about everyone all the time. How much attention you’re paying to various objects, registering your levels of excitment through pupil dilation or the galvanic response recorded on your wrist activity monitor, and so on. It can make some pretty clever guesses about what would satisfy your needs, even for things you didn’t consciously know you want.”

Tiff smiled, nodded, and made a note to throw her health monitor in the breakdown box as soon as Santa Morph left. Speaking of which…

“Hey, if you’re delivering presents, how can you be wasting time talking to me?” she asked, then went on, “Does this mean the Groupmind is just delivering presents to a few houses?”

“Oh, don’t be silly!” Santa said jovially. “I’m one of, well, quite a few Santa’s helpers. We’re all working together to deliver presents, each of us taking care of about twenty to hundred households this night, depending on the circumstances. Think of us as a Christmas themed Santa gestalt!”

“I guess that would work,” Tiff said. “Wait… there are fifteen billion humans on the Ring…”

“Oh, don’t worry. Only about three billion are Christian, or at least nominally observe Christmas traditions,” he reassured her. “Only about sixty million of Us are needed to work tonight.”

“Sixty… million…”

“Which reminds me, I need to get back to my job!” Santa stood up and shook her hand. “Good talking to you, Miss Tiff! I’ll see you next year!” And with he leaned over and stepped into the fireplace, flying up the chimney and out of sight.

“Wait,” Tiff said to Squirbo. “How is he flying?

Squirbo just smiled. “Merry Christmas, Miss Tiff.”

Merry Christmas

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