I was planning on writing the usual special story on Christmas, but on December 23, 1999 I turned on my TV and was motivated to write a story two days early.
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Copyright (C) 1999 James "Kibo" Parry
(This story was written on December 23, 1999.
Verbatim quotes are used from ten minutes of CNN Headline News.)
It was approaching Christmas and the end of 1999, and everyone was determined to party like it wasn't Y2K -- the total end of the world due to all computers everywhere simultaneously exploding (give or take an hour for the ones that weren't on Daylight Savings Time.) People were happy because they had heard so much about Y2K on TV that it must have been fixed by now. (Actually, what had happened was that Bill Gates had agreed to push the button that fixed the Y2K problem if the President agreed to drop the lawsuit against Microsoft.) People were also in a part mood because it was the end of the second millennium, from 1000 to 1999, which curiously overlapped with the last year of the first millennium from 1 to 1000.
But such technical details were unimportant because people were simply celebrating the pure mathematical beauty of the number. Two Thousand. It was a number that carried a cachet of ultimate cool. Two thousand was the model number of KITT, the Knight Industries Two Thousand talking car. Two thousand was one cooler than "Space: 1999". Two thousand was exactly four times the Daytona 500. And it was exactly two thousand times as cool as Pepsi One! The impending change of the calendar was a reason to celebrate.
Of course, not all was fun and games -- there was an impending economic crisis because many people would have money trapped in their banks forever because their checks said "19__" where they were supposed to write the date. Reruns of "Space: 1999" could never be shown on television again. And if they every showed NBC's "Y2K: The Movie" again, it would seem stupid!
Albert Einstein, who was not just the world's greatest scientist but also America's greatest scientist, was taking no chances. He was watching TV because they would tell him if anything important was going to happen on Christmas on New Year's Eve. Stepping over his sleeping dog Spot, he turned on CNN Headline News to be reassured in a non-hysterical manner that nothing bad was happening. And indeed nothing bad was happening, because CNN Headline News was all about things that weren't happening... YET.
"A Federal prosecutor says bomb-making materials smuggled into the United States by an Algerian man could have been used to, quote, 'easily take down a building.' Ahmed Rassam is being held without bail..."
"Oh no!" gasped Einstein. "Enough explosive to destroy an unspecified building! Maybe even the Unabomber's little shack! Nobody's ever had that much explosive power before!" He pushed a bag of nitrate fertilizer and a nearly-empty can of gasoline aside to get a better view of his TV as the second news story unrolled:
"Officials are asking Americans to be on alert for possible terrorist threats, but don't see any reason to call off New Year's celebrations at the Seattle Center."
Einstein sighed in relief. Although there was the danger of everyone everywhere being threatened with imminent death at the hands of terrorists, the level of terrorism wasn't enough to, say, ruin a party. So everyone should go to the party anyway, as long as they're really, really, really worried about terrorism while they were there.
Woman with enormous earrings: "At this point we can certain urge public attention and care and attentiveness to any uh, un... attended packages, alert to anything unusual. We do not have any specific information that would indicate that Seattle Center is a target or that that particular celebration is at risk, we do not have any specific information like that or we would try to share it."
Unattended packages! Oh no! Einstein had wrapped his Christmas gifts for Spot and they had been hidden in a closet for days, where nobody could see them! He made a mental note to never open his closet again, because opening his closet could allow Spot to get his gifts, which would be bad in case his gifts had turned evil. He was grateful that the big-earringed woman didn't have any specific information so that there was no need to panic about anything in particular, and relaxed into a media-induced state of general panic.
"'...making us particularly vulnerable to terrorist influence and activities.' Elcock said Canada's counter-terrorism group was investigating more than fifty alleged terrorist organizations in Canada."
Einstein made a mental note to ever visit Canada again, because it had alleged organizations in it. He wondered if any other countries had ever had fifty alleged organizations in them at the same time. He wished he could do something to protect Canada, and the United States, from the dangers of alleged terrorism.
"The FBI is warning people to watch out for possible mail bombs. The bureau says that the government has received unsubstantiated information that bomb in small parcels may be sent to the United States. The packages would be sent from Frankfurt, Germany. And the FBI cautions the public about any packages originating or bearing Frankfurt postal markings, or stamps, when the sender is unknown or unfamiliar to the recipient. Questionable packages should not be handled, and authorities should be notified."
Einstein gasped in abject horror. His Aunt Vilma, whom he had never met, lived in Frankfurt! And sitting on his bed were several large, prettily-wrapped packages she had mailed him! And worse, the packages all had... stamps! He picked up the phone and called the FBI, who were kind enough to send a bomb squad over to tape the door to his bedroom shut and pump it full of oil to disarm any bombs that might have been hidden in, or near, the packages of Aunt Vilma's tasty fruitcake.
Einstein was thankful that the TV had brought him this unsubstantiated information, because unsubstantiated information was always more worrisome than real information. It would be a shame if there just happened to be some terrorist incident somewhere in the world and people hadn't practiced worrying beforehand.
The American news media were filling an important void in everyone's daily routine -- because people had stopped worrying about that Y2K thing, the news media were now working to convince every American that their lives were in danger because of unspecified, generalized alleged terrorist activity which would take place only around New Year's Eve! And Einstein, being the good and intelligent citizen he was, had learned to be paranoid after only a few minutes of watching TV!
"I must do something about this horrible subjunctive terrorism that, by next week, MIGHT HAVE HAPPENED!" yelled Einstein. He shoved Spot's doggie bed under the laboratory table and set to work unhampered by the sight of his sleeping dog not worrying about terrorism.
Within hours, his invention was complete. He threw the master switch and the force-field generator began to glow. A faintly-visible three-dimensional lattice spread out through the room, out the window, and filled the sky to the horizon. "It works! Spot, it works! I have successfully projected an impenetrable defense grid over the continental United States, including Canada and Mexico!"
"Zzz," snored Spot.
Einstein checked his electronic map of the world's tactical hot spots. There was now a glowing red dotted line surrounding the entire NAFTA region. Now no terrorists could get in from anywhere else in the world, such as the evil countries (in green), the suspicious countries (in purple), and the sleazy countries (in yellow)! Furthermore, because the impermeable defense grid filled the atmosphere and extended up into space, no missiles would be able to get in should any of the evil countries try to give America the glowing Christmas gift of thermo-nuclear devastation! Everyone would be safe from nuclear attack, at least until he turned off the force field on January 2.
Einstein dimmed the brightness of his global tactical defense map and went to sleep. He slept the sleep of those who are truly comfortable and secure and not at all worried about terrorism.
Meanwhile, high overhead, Santa's sleigh set out from the North Pole, and rammed into the edge of Einstein's defense grid. Santa was incinerated, as well all the presents he was carrying. Even the Barbies. Even the Pokémon. ESPECIALLY the Pokémon.
Millions of children in the United States were staring at their fireplaces, waiting for Santa Claus to sneak down their chimneys in plain sight, not realizing that he would never come! Christmas would be ruined!
Of course, over at NORAD, the Pentagon's top brass were huddled around a radar screen, watching Santa's progress. Some of the less-drunk ones noticed Santa being immolated. "Hey," said General Tipsy, "Santa's gotten all burned up an' stuff." He passed out, falling on the Big Red Button.
In grain pastures and lima bean fields everywhere, armor-plated hatches popped open as all the nuclear missiles were launched in all directions. Because of the hot exhaust from the missiles, much of the Midwest now smelled like burnt lima beans.
Of course, the missiles did not reach their targets in the Soviet Union, because the Soviet Union didn't exist any more, and because all the missiles exploded harmlessly when they bumped into the edge of the defense grid. Tons of radioactive fallout fell in places like Nova Scotia and Mexico City, harming neither Americans or anyone in bad countries.
The President, of course, was alerted to this by a special box on his night table that was designed to wake him up if there had just been a nuclear war. He rolled out of bed, bounced twice, and picked up the red phone that would connect him to the greatest mind in the United States.
Einstein's phone rang.
"Hello? Vas ist das? Who is vaking me up at this hour?"
"Dr. Einstein, this is the President. Something terrible has happened. Santa Claus is dead. There has been a nuclear war. Outlying areas are covered with fallout. And oxygen levels are rapidly dropping because some terrorist has covered the United States with an airtight force field."
"Oh. Uh, well, I wish you luck in trying to find him. I mean her. Good night, and have a Merry Christmas."
Einstein hung up but the President called him back.
"Dr. Einstein, this is important! You have to help me! Public opinion of my Presidency will decline if it's discovered that I was the first President ever to allow Santa Claus to be vaporized! You are the only one who can help -- I am counting on you to replace Santa Claus!"
Einstein thought about that for a moment -- after all, he did have that rocket-powered sleigh he'd invented last week, and he did have a lightweight machine that dispensed thousands of toys per minute, and he did have that spy computer that monitored the thoughts of millions of children to detect the bad ones -- and he had big white hair -- but it turned out that the President wanted Einstein to find a qualified professional to replace Santa Claus, not just any crazy old man with a super-fast sleigh and an infinite supply of presents.
Einstein promised the President that he would find a replacement for Santa Claus and hung up. Then he unplugged the phone to stop the President from pestering him again. Using his quantum-powered trans-puter, he scanned the United States (again, including Canada and Mexico) for people with magical powers who could substitute for the late Santa Claus. The trans-puter's quaternion gate arrays and meta-logical thinkery buffers spun around and information churned back and forth for a moment, and then the material synthesizer beamed down a punched paper card with the output on it. Einstein held the card over his head to see which holes the light came through. The card listed three worthy candidates.
The first name on the list was Fanta Claus, a man in a pale orange suit with very bad teeth. He had the power to bring cheap carbonated beverages to children everywhere in a multiplicity of flavors (orange, red, blue, green, and especially brown) and could travel where he was needed in his flying soda fountain, which was pulled by eight flying fanta rays. Einstein thought about Fanta Claus a while, just as he had done on many rainy weekends, but decided that Fanta Claus was inappropriate because of all the diabetic children out there -- he didn't want diabetic children to get gas. So Einstein read the second name off the card.
The second candidate hailed from Mexico: El Santo Claus. He was a shirtless professional wrestler in a silver bondage hood, and he had the power to wrestle with vampires and Aztec mummies in low-budget black-and-white movies that never needed to be translated because, hey, stupidity is the universal language. However, there was no way El Santo Claus could deliver toys to all the good children in the NAFTA sphere of influence because his only means of transportation was an old silver convertible, which was currently buried under twenty tons of radioactive fallout in Mexico City.
The only remaining option on the list was from Canada, but he had a French-sounding name so Einstein rejected him immediately because Einstein wanted someone who could say "HO HO HO!" in English.
So, there was only one thing that could be done: Einstein would have to save Christmas himself, against the President's wishes. He pushed the button that would print out a list of who'd been naughty and who'd been nice, then drove to OfficeMax to buy several reams of paper when the printer emptied out, and loaded all 8,374 pages of the list into his rocket-sleigh along with the present dispenser, the laser-guided bad-child-finder, and a semi-automatic pistol in case he got mugged. He hitched Spot to the front of his sleigh.
"Zzz.. whazzat?" asked Spot as he woke up. Einstein had no time to answer, as he was busy pushing the button that fired the rocket engines. "YAAAAAGH!" screamed Spot as the sled blasted into the sky, trailing Spot behind by his elastic neck leash. The rocket exhaust was hot and it burned off all his fur!
"HO HO HO!" yelled Einstein as he buckled the belt of his furry red suit after tucking a pillow inside. Unfortunately, it was a contoured foam neck pillow, which made Einstein look like he had breasts covered with egg-crate bumps. But that mattered not, for this was Christmas Eve, and Einstein's sleigh was on a mission! He leaned over the side and yelled "HO HO HO!"
A big green hand reached up and grabbed Einstein's sleigh! "HO HO HO INDEED!" snarled the Jolly Green Giant, furious over the destruction of his lima bean fields when the nuclear missiles were fired. Einstein reached inside his fur coat for his pistol, but it was lodged somewhere beneath his chiropractor-approved pillow. "HO HO HO AND HASTA LA VISTA, BABY!" yelled the Giant as he prepared to crush Einstein and his sleigh in his massive green hands.
Just then, Spot finally caught up with the sleigh, as the leash snapped back from its fifty-mile-long stretched-out length and Spot came hurtling out of the dark at a thousand miles an hour. Spot crashed into the back of the Jolly Green Giant's head, causing a substance resembling guacamole to spurt from his ears as his skull caved in. The Jolly Green Giant died instantly, while he was out standing in his field. Einstein and Spot sped away as green blood seeped from the body of the fallen giant amid the toasted lima beans.
They resumed their course towards the home of the first good little boy on their list: Aaron A. Allensworth, who lived in Alaska. Unfortunately, Einstein's sleigh burned up when it reached the edge of his defense grid, which covered only the continental United States, including Canada and Mexico but not the relatively unimportant Alaska and Hawaii.
The strain of incinerating Einstein's sleigh (plus Einstein, Spot, and one contoured foam neck pillow) proved to be too much for the already-overburdened defense grid. It collapsed, sending random chunks of force field crashing down. Buildings everywhere were crushed by large blocks of solid energy! Mountains were flattened. Some of the force field fell into Lake Michigan, causing all the water to boil away instantly. The resulting cloud of steam covered the United States, causing everyone's clothes to shrink uncomfortably. Worst of all, at that same moment, terrorists came flooding across the now-open borders! There wasn't much of the continental United States left to destroy by that point, so the terrorists left, disappointed. They headed out to Alaska and Hawaii to blow them up too.
At his secret underground backup bedroom deep under where the White House used to be, picked up the red telephone and began to dial for help from the nation's second-greatest scientific mind, Bill Gates.
Gates's fees were a little higher than Einstein's. And although Bill Gates did indeed save Christmas and rebuild the United States, the nation's income tax had to be raise to 350% of income. Bill Gates laughed all the way to the bank, which in his case was a mountain made of million-dollar bills, protected by his latest invention, an impenetrable defense grid.
It was the best Christmas ever, at least for Bill Gates.
If terrorists are so sneaky, why do they call themselves "terrorists" and not "happy fun friendsters" to avoid suspicion?