DECEMBER 24, 2162: Camp Parker, Main Residence - 2345 hrs
The roof was slippery with ice.
The chimney had a grille over the top and was fitted with security alarms.
The one small mercy was that there wasn't a fire burning in the grate this year.
The heavy set, white haired, bearded man stepped cautiously out of the fireplace, an automatic pistol clutched in one hand. The room was mostly dark, with the only light coming from a few strategically placed candles and the coloured lights on the large Christmas tree by the hearth. The sound system was softly playing It's the Moonlight.
"Ah-HA!" the big man exclaimed, and levelled his weapon at the Chief of Galaxy Security, who was lounging on the sofa, with a mug of tea in one hand. "Got you cold, this time, Anderson!"
Security Chief Anderson regarded the intruder with an impassive stare. "Evening, Santa," he said. "Busy year?"
"Hmph!" the white bearded man growled. "I only spent eight out of the last twelve months negotiating software licenses with Quanto-soft! Nobody wants hand made toys any more. Computer games! Bah!"
"Way of the world," Anderson said contemplatively. "Kids, huh?"
"You're telling me!" Santa Claus glanced at the gun in his hand as though only just becoming aware of it. "Now," he said, waving the gun in Anderson's direction, "I'm not having any of your nonsense this year. You're going to allow me to come and go and do my job without demanding access to the Naughty or Nice list. I've had it with your obstructive tactics!"
Unperturbed, Anderson sipped at his tea. "You may find it more than merely obstructive when the ISO sends interceptor aircraft to investigate the unidentified return on the planetary defence radar."
"Hah!" Santa smirked. "You forget, young feller -- and so had I, for that matter -- the Magic of Christmas holds sway over your technology. It'll get me past everything you've got! How do you think I've been getting up and down chimneys all these years? You can't hold me to ransom that way any more. I'm calling your bluff! The laws of physics only apply to me if I choose to let them!"
"And this would be why you're pointing a gun at me instead of, say, a magic candy cane or a loaded sugar plum fairy?" Anderson surmised.
"I've warned you about the sarcasm before," Santa growled.
"You honestly expect me to believe I'm going to be shot by jolly old Saint Nicholas?"
The personification of the festive season glowered. "Do I look particularly jolly to you, right now?" Santa snarled.
"Why don't you just give me the data?" Anderson suggested. "I'll stand you a drink and you can be on your way."
"It's the principle of the thing!" Santa said. "The Naughty or Nice list should never be misused by an agency like Galaxy Security for checking up on people! It takes me all year to make that list and check it twice!"
"We could always pay you royalties," Anderson offered.
"That's not the point! You have no business using my list!"
"On the contrary, my friend," Anderson argued. "It's in your interests to share information with us. If Galaxy Security doesn't keep Spectra's invading forces at bay, the Earth will fall, and then where will you be?"
"Politics mean nothing to me!" Santa said. "I transcend boundaries! I'm the anthropomorphic embodiment of a holiday!"
"Exactly," Anderson said, "and do you know how they celebrate Christmas on Planet Spectra?"
Santa frowned. "They celebrate Christmas on Spectra?"
"No, they don't," Anderson said, "and that's my point. Think about it, Nick... think about what happens when one culture is subsumed by another one. Think about what happened to your predecessors. Think of Cerunnos, think of Jove, think of the old Norse gods... and imagine what it'd be like to be absorbed into, say, the Spectran festival of The Two Moons, instead. You'd be diminished, emasculated beyond recognition. Just like the holidays you absorbed, just like those vestigial aspects of the old ways that make up Santa Claus as you are today."
Santa swallowed. The hand holding the gun shook. "Are things really that bad?"
"They could be," Anderson said. "I'm here to protect this planet, and you're part of it. Do you want to survive, or not?"
"Worldly matters," Santa managed to say, "are beyond my jurisdiction."
"But not mine," Anderson said. "Who could blame you for being coerced?"
"I'm the one holding the gun, Anderson," Santa pointed out.
"True," Anderson said, "but you're not going to shoot me."
"And why not?" Santa demanded. "It isn't as though you don't deserve it!"
"Oh, I agree," Anderson said, "but you see, for starters, there's a security officer standing behind you with a loaded gun pointed at your head."
Santa kept himself from looking around by sheer force of will. "I'm not falling for that old trick," he said. There was a soft sound of a shoe on carpet behind him.
"The second thing," Anderson continued, "is that as you said, you're the anthropomorphic embodiment of a holiday, which means you're bound by all the holiday rules, and you're standing under a bunch of mistletoe."
"Now just a second --!" The blood drained from Santa's face.
"Oh, relax," Anderson said. "I don't swing that way. Major Jones, kindly relieve Mr Claus of his weapon."
Rules were rules, and Santa Claus had no choice but to allow himself to be kissed by the blonde woman who took the gun from his unresisting hand. After a long moment, he disengaged and straightened his jacket. He looked his assailant up and down a couple of times as she tucked the confiscated pistol into her pocket. "You know," he said, "I always used to consider you a nice little girl."
"My apologies, sir," the security officer said primly, and patted a stray hair back into place. "Orders, and all that." She kept her service pistol trained on her target.
"The third thing," Anderson said, "is that if you're really serious about shooting someone, you take the safety off the gun."
Santa winced. "So sue me for being a nice guy." Slowly, he reached into one pocket and withdrew a small, thin piece of perspex with a glittering fleck at one end. "Here." He tossed the data strip to Anderson, who caught it with his free hand and tucked it into the inside pocket of his jacket. The Security Chief got up, walked to the liquor cabinet and poured a large shot of Scotch, which he offered to Saint Nicholas with a wry smile.
"No hard feelings?" Anderson said.
"Not joining me?" Santa asked, eyeing the shot glass with suspicion.
"Doctor's orders," Anderson said ruefully, indicating the mug of tea.
"Wuss!" Santa took the drink and downed it in one swallow. He let out his breath in a low whistle. "That's the good stuff."
"Only the best for you, Santa. Merry Christmas."
Santa handed the glass back and took five large, brightly wrapped parcels out of his sack. He arranged them neatly around the base of the Christmas tree. "At least you didn't drag the kids in to this," he acknowledged.
"I may be lower than a snake's belly," Anderson said, "but I have yet to start digging."
"You're an unregenerate shit head," Santa said, "but at least you're a shit head with principles." He pulled the drawstring closed on the big red sack, and as he straightened up, he smiled, eyes twinkling. "Oh, and one more thing. Miss Jones?"
"That's Major," the officer corrected.
"You're still standing under the mistletoe." He swept her up in his arms, dipped her, and kissed her. She uttered what might have been the start of a small squeak of protest, but didn't follow through with any of the moves Anderson might have expected, such as a knee to the groin or a fist to the solar plexus.
Anderson waited several seconds. Jones didn't appear to be putting up much, if any resistance. Anderson tapped one foot for several seconds more before clearing his throat. "Don't you have to be somewhere, Nick?" he asked pointedly. "Something to do with delivering presents to the children of the planet?"
"Like you said," Santa chuckled, releasing Jones and setting her back on her feet so that she tottered only slightly, "there's still something of the old Solstice in me. Thanks for the reminder." Santa hoisted his sack on one shoulder, winked at Jones, pressed one finger alongside his nose, and vanished up the chimney.
There was the sound of tinkling bells and Jovian laughter disappearing into the night.
Something clattered into the grate in the fireplace. It rocked back and forth a couple of times before coming to rest.
A piece of coal.
"And you," Anderson said to Jones, "quit smiling."