“The Last Christmas”

Visual vandalisations by Heidi Berthiaume, thumbnail by Martin Livings. I have excellent friends.

Once upon a time, people believed in a fat old man who flew around the world on Christmas Eve, delivering wonderful presents to all the good kids and lumps of coal to all the bad. That was before the Water Wars, when people were divided into rich and poor, which was the way who got what was actually worked out: the rich kids got all the presents, of course, while the poor got nothing. And everyone burned coal, which just made the sea levels rise higher and higher and higher.

Anyway, d-mat changed all that. It was originally invented to suck the excess carbon dioxide and other pollutants out of the air and turn them into stuff that wouldn’t mess up the environment. It took heaps of power, but that wasn’t a problem: the first powersats were up and running by then. People had long since stopped burning any old thing from underground.

Once the world was livable again, that was when scientists started using the technology to move us around, and to make things, too, because taking things apart is just the flipside of putting things together.

TwinmakerSantaHatIt was then that all our Christmases came at once.


That year, as dawn swept around the world, every booth opened one after the other, spilling out gifts of all shapes and sizes. Children were delighted, of course, but everyone else was mystified. No one had ordered the presents. They had just appeared. A hacker had got into the network and made the dream of Santa Claus a reality!

The trouble was that presents kept on appearing. As fast as the booths could cycle, new deliveries arrived, the same toys over and over again. Soon houses and public spaces were full of the mysterious gifts, and peacekeepers were called into clean it all up.

That was when the trouble really started. As fast as PKs could pile the presents into booths for recycling, more appeared elsewhere, and eventually the drain started to show on the powersat network. Making the unwanted gifts was sucking up so much power that the rest of the world was beginning to go dark. If things kept on like this, we would soon be covered in presents and the lights would go out forever. There was nothing anyone could do about it.

Then a man called Noel Perry stepped forward. His suggestion was simple. Shut down all the booths, he said. That should stop the presents from coming–and if that doesn’t work, he said, let’s shut down the powersats too. Without them, everything will stop.

People were reluctant at first to do as he suggested, but with mountains of presents piling up rapidly all over the place, no one had a better plan. So one by one, all around the world, people switched off their d-mat booths first, then, when the presents kept coming, the powersats as well.

The world grew very still and silent. All the machines that had saved humanity from the Water Wars were switched off. Officially, the only power that remained came from batteries, but there was still a tiny trickle running through the system, enough to start it all running again, when someone said it was safe to do so.

TwinmakerOZSantaHat - smallerNo one said anything officially for a long time. People gathered in their homes and public places, the very same places where the gifts had piled up. They came together as families, neighbors and friends to give each other comfort, to care for each other, to share what provisions they had in winter or summer, night or day, depending where in the world they were. They told stories. They sang songs. They waited.

Exactly two hours, seventeen minutes and thirty-one seconds after the last powersat shut down, the system rebooted all on its own. Energy streamed down from space, waking up all the d-mat booths. Cool white light poured out their open doors, and under that radiance every unwanted present dissolved into snow, which then melted into nothing. There was cheering in the streets, and praying, and dancing–whatever people did to express their gratitude for something that seemed like a miracle.

Within hours, the world was exactly as it had been before. All the presents were gone. D-mat was working as normal. The only apparent casualty was Noel Perry, who in the fuss and bother of the world restarting completely disappeared. Some people noted that his name was a mixed up version of “Santa Claus” and wondered if he might have been the hacker all along. They certainly never caught the person responsible, whoever he or she really was, and it never happened again.

The other casualty, some say, was Christmas itself. It was never the same again after that fateful day. The old version of Christmas–giving the good kids of the world presents on one single night–doesn’t really work today. Anyone can have everything they want and travel around the world in an instant. Those things aren’t miracles anymore. They’re normal.

That doesn’t mean that Christmas can’t be special, as long as it’s special for the right reasons. For family, for friends, for togetherness. Maybe one day we’ll sing songs about Noel Perry instead of Santa Claus, in thanks for reminding us of that.


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