I suggested I might post this a long time ago but a search of the site indicates I didn’t, so here it is now. It’s the follow up to an old story called ‘The Sweet Man’ which is in the same book and I’m sure I did post, but can’t find it.
Both stories were in ‘The Good, the Bad and Santa’ (Underdog Anthology 4).
Anyway. Since I am busy with this publishing lark and have no time to comment on Vinnie the Wire standing down as leader of the Libby Dhimmis, with not so much as a slot-spectacled Lemsip O’Pick left to be a credible leader…. nor do I have time to wonder how the idiots in Parliament can believe that taking their only bargaining chip off the table helps them negotiate…oh bugger, it’s hard to care any more.
I still have to set up that Freddo competition but in the meantime, here’s a fun story that has probably nothing to do with reality.
Alan placed his left hand on the panel and the door
clicked open. Scowling at his palm, he entered the back rooms of the shop.
What was wrong
with swipe cards or code locks? Oh, it was the old ‘security’ trick again. Cards can
be lost or stolen, codes can be hacked or leaked. So much safer to have the
entry code implanted in your hand. Yeah.
Until some bugger cuts my hand off to gain entry.
That was unlikely to happen in this small shop but
these chips were in Government installations, banks, all over the place now.
The young loved them. They used to throw parties when another member of staff
accepted the chip. Alan remembered his – he felt as though he was not so much
being welcomed as an embracer of new technology, more as if he was being
assimilated into the collective.
Accepting the chip was no longer optional. The card
swipe panels and code locks had all been removed. You want to work, you have to
be chipped. When it started, they said it was voluntary. It didn’t stay that
way for long. It never bloody does.
Alan put his wallet and keys into his locker and
checked his watch. Fifteen minutes to the start of his shift, so he grabbed his
cigarettes and headed outside for a quick one. The smoking area was at the far
end of the staff car park, past the loading bay. As always, Alan had smoked
almost half his cigarette before he reached it.
Really, he thought. This is outside, a place where huge trucks
make deliveries and cars run their engines to get the frost off their windscreens,
and they’re all scared of a bit of burning leaf. Not for the first time, he wondered when the
modern world had become so weak. He had done this job for fourteen years and
had seen so many changes. None of them he considered to be for the better.
Well, time to get to work. Most of the year he just
stacked shelves and worked the tills but thanks to his somewhat rounded
physique, at Christmas his job took on a little more variety. Alan returned to
his locker and retrieved his uniform for the afternoon. Red tunic and trousers,
silly hat and fake beard. For a few weeks every December, the grumpy overweight
old shop boy became jolly Santa. Ho
As he left the stockroom, he met Damian on his way to
“Hey, Santa. Remember not to scratch your sack in
public.” Damian grinned at his joke.
Alan scowled. The same joke, every day, every year,
every time he wore this bloody costume. He responded with a monotone “Ho ho
Damian changed tack. “Hey, you’ll never guess what I
just saw. I was on till four and some guy paid for his shopping with
Alan shrugged. “So what? That’s been around for
“Ah but not with a card. He just put his hand on the
scanner. He has the chip embedded in his fucking hand!” Damian’s eyes glowed
with excitement. “I have got to get one of those.”
Alan shook his head. “You’re turning into the Borg and
you’re delighted about it.” He snorted. “Resistance is futile. Although there
is no resistance, is there? You all want to be assimilated. You’ll even pay for
“Oh lighten up, Alan. The chips are convenient, that’s
all. You can’t lose your credit card or leave it at home if it’s embedded in
you.” Damian gestured at the stockroom door. “Same as this – you never turn up
to work without your door entry card, do you? Of course not. It’s in your hand
all the time.”
Alan stared at his hand, where the hated chip was
embedded. He couldn’t escape the question in his head, the question that had
been there ever since the needle slid into his hand.
What else does
Damian slapped Alan’s shoulder. “You and your
conspiracy theories.” With a chuckle, he headed for the staff room.
Scowling, Alan stomped towards the tired, age-battered
grotto in the corner of the shop. He looked like a Santa who had just had his
sleigh impounded and his reindeer sliced up and on sale in Lidl’s freezers.
“Smile, you miserable old sod”
The hissed whisper made Alan jump. He hadn’t noticed
Mr. Elwood, the manager, who now glared at him from the household cleaning
products aisle. Alan forced a smile, nodded and carried on to the rickety chair
in the grotto.
The chair, like the rest of the grotto, looked
somewhat sad, as if it had made an attempt to be festive the morning after a
serious drinking session. Alan straightened out some of the threads of tinsel
and lifted the ones that had fallen to the floor. He lowered himself carefully
onto the wobbly chair and wondered if Elwood would ever see fit to replace it.
Probably not. This was the same chair the previous Santa used, five years ago.
He went mental or something – Alan hadn’t been at work that day but the tales
the staff told sounded really bad – so Elwood no longer trusted outside hires
for his store-Santa. Alan wondered if this rickety chair had helped drive the
man nuts. It certainly felt unsafe.
Ah well, he thought, at least it means a bit of extra money in the pay packet. Not much, but every little helps at this time of year.
Money for nothing, Alan thought, after twenty minutes of the four hour stint had passed. Not one child entered the grotto. Maybe it looked so unsafe parents were keeping them away. That was fine with Alan, he was sick of hearing demands for the latest expensive electronics from spoiled, greedy little shits.
He was not to promise them anything. That was the
rule. Santa never made a firm promise in case the parents sued later. Elwood
had angled a security camera, with microphone, onto the grotto in case some
compo-hound pretended Alan had made a promise the parents couldn’t afford to
keep. This was a bit of modern surveillance Alan didn’t mind. He wasn’t really
the one being watched, and anyone who noticed the camera would assume that he was the one being watched in case he
tried to get into a toddler’s pants. As if anyone with that kind of perverted
desire would even get a job in this shop. Elwood might be a grumpy tight fisted
bastard but he was a shrewd employer. Very few thieves or perverts had ever
slipped past his interviews and once identified, they were out of the door in a
flash. Sometimes with a police escort.
The customers never grasped that they were the ones
being watched. Any claim against the store based on what might or might not
have happened in the grotto would be faced with video evidence. Elwood kept
every tape for years. He was not going to lose any lawsuit brought against this
Alan’s reverie was broken by a small voice. “Are you
At the entrance to the grotto stood a small boy,
holding his mother’s hand. Alan composed himself and launched into his prepared
“Ho ho ho. The real Santa is busy. I’m one of his
helpers but he hears every word I say. So, small boy, what do you want Santa to
bring you this year?”
The mother’s face reddened. “Xe identifies as a girl
and likes to be called Belinda. Please don’t assume gender on first sight.”
Alan closed his eyes. Oh Jesus Holy Christ on a motorbike fuelled by unicorn turds. It’s one
of those trendy idiots who loves to mess with their kids’ heads just to look
right-on. He opened his eyes and took a deep breath.
“Okay.” He looked at the child. “What do – xoo – want
for Christmas?” Little boy/girl/thing.
Oh how he wished for the nerve to add that part aloud.
The mother rolled her eyes in that superior manner
that only the half witted can manage. “It’s just ‘you’, not ‘xoo’. ‘You’ is not
Did I ask for a
lecture on fantasy grammar? Alan looked her dead in the eye until she broke eye contact, then
turned his attention to the child. In a now very obviously forced cheery voice
he asked “Well, Belinda, what would you like?”
“I want a doll house.”
Alan raised his eyebrows. This was the most
traditional request he had heard in a long time. Among the demands for
expensive electronics, games of murder and death and toys of alien monsters or
demons, this child’s request seemed so… ordinary. Or it would have been
ordinary if a girl had been asking for a doll house. Alan coughed and regained
“Well, I’ll pass your wish along to Santa and we’ll
see what he can do.” Alan lifted the small plastic cauldron, a Halloween
leftover, and offered it to the child. “Would you like a sweet while you wait
His/her/its mother stepped forward. “No sweets. I
don’t want my child to suffer obesity.”
Oh for fuck’s
sake. Let the kid have at least a bit of childhood. Fortunately Elwood had
anticipated a visit from at least one of the modern loonies so Alan had an
alternative bucket behind his seat. He put the sweet bucket down and picked up
the other. “How about a bag of nuts or dried fruit?”
The mother smiled her approval and the child selected
a bag of dried apricots. As they left, Alan sagged in his seat.
How long does
humanity have left? He stared into his palm where the inert electronics of his door opening
chip lay silent. They’ll have credit cards
embedded and then all their bank details. They’ll have chips to run their cars
and they’ll have those Google Glass things embedded in one eye. They’ll get one
hand replaced with a tool for their specific job. And they will welcome it.
Hell, they’ll fight to be first in line.
There had been an old documentary, a TV show about the
fictional Star Trek universe, in which it was stated that nobody knew where the
Borg came from. Alan knew. He had recognised it at once. They came from a world
like ours. They did not need to forcibly assimilate their original population.
Their people had welcomed every new advance, every new embedded chip, every new
modification, until it was too late to resist.
So what’s next?
A child of about seven strolled into the grotto,
exuding an air of confidence that his youth should not possess. He (or she or
it, Alan was not going to fall for that one again) stood in front of him and
“So.” Alan felt a little disconcerted by this child.
“Um. Ho ho ho.” He shook his head to clear it. “What do you want for Christmas,
“Uh…” Alan blinked a few times. “A what?”
The child sighed, then pulled back the sleeve of his
shirt to show Alan a device around his wrist.
“Oh right, one of those things that monitors your
activity.” Alan considered these things pointless. Nobody needs a device to
tell them what they are doing, and whether or not they feel well. “But don’t
you already have one?”
“Oh get with the times, Santa. This is external. I can
lose it. The new ones are implanted. They transmit all kinds of information
about my health and location and my phone picks it all up.” The child looked
almost pityingly at the baffled old man Alan suddenly felt himself to be.
“Ah.” Alan saw an immediate flaw. “What happens if you
lose your phone?”
The child shook his head and lifted the hair on his
right side. There, embedded in his flesh, was a long narrow silver object with
a tiny blue light that flashed occasionally.
“Nobody loses phones any more. Nobody loses house keys
either.” The child held up his hand and tapped his palm. “And it all charges
using wireless chargers. I have one over my bed so everything charges up while
That must be why
the Borg rest in those alcoves on the TV show. Alan had wondered about that.
“You’re being turned into some kind of machine.” It
was out before Alan realised he had said it aloud. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to be
“It’s not like that.” The child scowled. “It’s what my
granddad says too, but it’s not like being a machine. I control the chips. They
don’t control me.” His lip started to tremble.
“Okay, I understand.” Alan felt panic rising. A crying
child leaving the grotto would look very bad indeed. He held up the sweet
cauldron. “Look, have a couple of sweets and I’ll see what I can do about that
– what is it – fidget?”
“FitChip.” The child’s smile returned. “I really want
one. I’d be the first in my class at school.”
“Right. Well, good luck on Christmas morning. Just
make sure to be good and I’m sure Santa will come visit.”
The child grabbed a handful of sweets and left with a
Alan sagged in the chair. That Santa who went psycho
in this very chair a few years back… Alan could quite understand it now. It
seemed to just get more damn weird every year. Maybe he should start looking
for a different job in the New Year. One that didn’t involve anyone, especially
him, dressing up as Santa. The image of the phone implanted in that child’s
head hung in his memory. What the Hell is coming next year?
The kid said he controlled the chips. They don’t
control him. For how long? The chip
he wanted, he said, transmitted all sorts of information to his phone. Where
else did it send that information? Could someone else pick it up?
Oh maybe I’m
being paranoid. Or maybe I’m being sensible. Only time will tell – but
implanted phones! Alan shuddered. The kid even had his door key implanted. Like mine, only mine is just for work.
Alan stared at his hand. How long before
it opens my house door too? And who else will have the chip code, and therefore
access to my home?
People never look at the risks of the new toys they
are sold. They have TVs with cameras installed, watching them as they watch TV.
They have voice activated listening devices that they’ve bought and delighted
in, and never wondered who might be listening. Now they are loading their
bodies with chips that transmit intimate details about them. To who? To where?
They never even think to ask.
What would happen to people his own age? Would they be
forced to assimilate or just be brushed aside, a load of irrelevancies waiting
to die? What happens when you get old and forgetful and can’t remember what all
those chips do? That child’s medical chip – will it simply switch him off when
he gets too old or too sick to be productive?
From Alan’s point of view the future looked bleak
indeed and yet the young people thought it all wonderful. He sighed and hoped
they were right.
It was a quiet shift today, leaving Alan plenty of
time to reflect, in his own morose way, on the coming world he could never feel
a part of. An old song played in his mind, a song by a deceased musician he had
idolised in his youth. He smiled at the memory of that particular musician’s
androgynous appearance, his space-age, almost science fiction music at times,
and how he played all it to the gallery. It was edgy and different in those
days. Now it had passed the stage of ‘normal’ and was fast becoming compulsory.
Alan closed his eyes and let the song play in his
strangers came today.
And it looks as
though they’re here to stay.