Regular guest blogger Andrew Woodhouse joins us with a short story for Christmas.

It was the 7043 hour of Christmas Day and Epiphanius was tired. Being one of Santa’s Little Helpers was hard enough but each day of Christmas Day seemed longer than the day before.  He hadn’t had a day off for weeks now and he was exhausted. It must have been easier in the old days. Back then Santa only delivered to a few children but now there were hundreds of millions of them, each expecting a visit on Christmas night. Epiphanius wished a few more children had been naughty this year.

He wished that his ancestors hadn’t discovered trans-dimensional travel. He really wished that the first person they met wasn’t that crazy bishop guy. He wished that they hadn’t brought back his religion that now had Epiphanius and tens of thousands of others spending what seemed like every waking hour of their lives delivering presents to children on that insane, self destructing, over populated and ungrateful planet.

The people of the four planets known as the Worlds had long had a rigorous and imaginative scientific curiosity. That was how the gates came into being. Many hundreds of years had been spent in the pursuit of the holy grail of communication with or even travel through to other dimensions. When, after a great deal of time and effort, they finally managed to make the leap from one dimension to another the remarkable thing was that it wasn’t identical to theirs. Their destination wasn’t a mirror of their dimension as science had told them it would be. It was an alien world that bore no resemblance to  their own world. The utterly hostility of the world that had been spectacularly unsuited to any life form had shocked the scientists profoundly. All the fire and brimstone they encountered instead of something slightly and engagingly different to themselves had sent a bolt of consternation to the core of their scientific beliefs. They searched dimension after dimension for some world that supported life similar to their own. The only one they found was Earth.

Earth had a similar atmosphere. It looked almost the same as the Worlds. There was water and mountain and deserts. The inhabitants were curious though. The lower order creatures were all very interesting but the thing that really caught the imagination was that there were people there. People who looked just like the inhabitants of the Worlds.  There was a difference though, they were giants! These monsters were twice the size of the Worlds people.

Science’s apotheosis had been discovering trans-dimensional travel. This was a scientific breakthrough that had been so astounding that many believed that it wasn’t possible without some form of higher assistance. The very first person on Earth that the Transdims met was Nikolaos of Myra, the local Christian bishop. These first gate travellers aroused pity and concern in Nikolaos as he thought of them as weak and sick children due to their oxygen starved state.They had taken off their survival suits thinking that they would alarm the locals.They took a risk hoping the air rich enough to breath. He did his best to nurse them. While they acclimatised to Earth’s thinner atmosphere he told wondrous stories of a man who was the son of God . The tales were all recorded as the Transdims had no idea what Nikolaos was saying. Once the recordings were brought  back  to the Worlds and translated  many took this as a sign that someone higher and divine was holding their hand and was gently walking them in the way of his wisdom  It made sense to those who wanted to believe. Others were sceptical. Debate raged while Christianity took hold not only amongst those who believed but also with those who looked at it and thought that even if it was illogical it was a good way to live your life.

The Worlds embraced Nikolaos’s simple and gentle religion as a balance to the scientific and logical nature of their world. The worlds were becoming, for want of a better word, soulless. The rationality of the scientists had created everything from almost perfect health (death was still causing them some problems but illness was a thing of the distant past), to the cold fusion breakthrough which had lead to unlimited free energy. Trans-dimensional travel was only made possible by the availability of free power as staggering amounts of it were used to maintain the connection between dimensions. Christianity spread quickly to become a counter balance to scientific dogma.

Some said that there had to have been a great creator who allowed them to discover the miracle of trans-dimensional travel to lead them to this point and this man of God. Others had had enough of the technocracy that they lived in. They needed spirituality and Earth’s religions provided this. Science got up from the chair that it had been so comfortable in for so long and left the room for a breath of air shaking it’s head ruefully at these sentimental romantics. Religion and spirituality took the opportunity to stride confidently in and kept the seat warm.  They have been fighting over the chair ever since.

Nikolaos’s party piece had been leaving gifts for people. If you left your shoes unattended he would slip a coin into one. Soon parishioners  deliberately left their shoes out for him. He happily placed a coin in those too. And that was how Santa Claus was born…

The people of the Worlds took it upon themselves to continue this gift giving in his name.

For 1600 years the devotional giving of gifts across the dimensions had been for a few local followers that Niklaos had brought to Jesus in Lycia. Simple toys for a simple society. They had soon ran into problems.  Christians fell out with each other. The Transdims had felt forced into taking sides. Nicholoas had been an Orthodox believer so they had sided with him when the Coptics fell out with the Orthodox on whether Jesus was equal to God or not. The Coptics didn’t get a present. Then the Orthodox of the east fell out with the Romans in the west. All the many schisms and disputes, tensions and, all too often, wars that Christians had with each other had been very dismaying to Epiphnius’s ancestors who had embraced all of the love and turning of the cheek that Jesus espoused while the Christians on Earth did their utmost to wipe each other out in the name of peace and understanding. After much discussion the Transdims had decided that all Christians should receive a gift. It seemed better than taking sides. There were so many sides to take. For a simple and gentle religion it seemed to be getting very angry and complicated. Lots of people were being killed in it’s name.

It was about a hundred and fifty years ago that things changed on Earth. You could say it was the start of the modern day commercial Christmas. The amount of people celebrating Christmas had started to expand in an alarming fashion. Every year there had been more and more children to give to. This would have been impossible to cope with if it hadn’t been for a startling and lucky discovery.

About 1500 earth years ago during some upgrades to the gate system scientists had been astonished to find out that if they kept the gate to another dimension open they could vary it’s arrival point within that dimension. That was impressive enough but what was really astounding was that it was always at the same point in time. Exactly the same time, no matter how often they changed the destination!   This meant that it was possible to spend a week secretly giving a present to many different children at once. It took the few people who went through the gates back then about a week to leave something for the relatively few Christian children at that time. It was great fun and created a great deal of good feeling amongst those who took part. As Christianity spread on Earth so the gift giving became more complex, time consuming and very much more serious until it reached the industrial scale it is today. Divisions of Santa’s Little Helpers going through hundreds of gates backed up by armies of technicians and toymakers.

Being a Secret Santa was seen by many of Epiphanius’ fellow Transdims, as an obligation to society – a good deed, a service to be proud of. Epiphanius didn’t really believe in a god.  Still though, here he was. He thought of himself as a man of science but having a year of being Santa on your CV did it no harm at all. Employers liked to see that a person was willing to make sacrifices – for example spending a year working long and dangerous hours at minimum wage for a charity.

Tiny drones were constantly being sent through to keep up with what is happening on Earth. They were the size of a small fly but accessed and downloaded vast amounts of information. The rise of the internet has made this information gathering easier. No longer did they have to rely on solely the eyes and ears of these tiny machines. The data was then analysed carefully in enormous Earth Intent Centres until a picture of trends and regional variations could be mapped. Local economic, political and environmental conditions had been carefully analyzed. The level of technical excellence had become so impressive that an individual’s financial and social circumstances could be taken into account. A present ideally suited to each child was then chosen with great care. There were other considerations that were counted. Some more fundamental branches of Christianity frowned upon Christmas as a frivolity and never celebrated it. Their households were avoided. If there were indicators of errant behaviour then this counted against the suitability or status of the present and if the indicators headed further into negative territory the suitability of the child to receive a present at all. This had become known as the Naughty/Nice Coefficient.  It became more important as Christmas achieved greater popularity while becoming less Christian. Budgets and logistics had become more important. What had been a small scale religious matter became a vast and expensive enterprise. Costs were costs and so had to be kept in check. No matter the expensive, however,  the Santa Initiative had generally been supported throughout the Worlds.

The rise of other religions and the growing secularisation of the previously Christian world had caused considerable concern and debate until it was decided that it would be the right and Christian thing to bring a gift to all children who believed in Christmas and Santa Claus. Non Christians started to receive presents. This had created the behemoth of largess that the Transdims have now. Half a planet amongst the four home worlds set aside purely for Christmas. Continents of factories, warehouses, laboratories, research facilities, surveillance facilities, analysis and future trend facilities, trans-dimensional travel facilities and all the support networks needed to keep Santa up with demand. The current debate centres on “has consumerism on earth taken the whole thing too far?” There was a fear that Transdims were aiding the rise of greed while the religious side was ignored and stifled. A rumble of discontent grew voicing the opinion that the Earth were ungrateful, avaricious and selfish so didn’t deserve the commitment the Worlds had made. So far, the good Christian ethos is winning that argument. But for how long?

The life of a Transdim is quite arduous. Due to the slight difference in atmospheric pressures and oxygen content between the two dimensions all those involved in the leap from one dimension to another must live in pressurised chambers that mimic Earth’s atmosphere. Nobody is allowed through until they are fully acclimatised. Though the chambers are quite large after a few months those within yearn for some more space and freedom. To be able to go somewhere on a whim becomes an impossible but recurring dream.  The irony that they escape through a portal into a new world only to appear in another small room is not lost on the Transdims.

Contrary to popular misconceptions there are no bright lights or glowing, swirling worm holes, paper doesn’t fly about nor are there explosions.  Santa’s Little Helper just appears. One millisecond here, the next millisecond there.  As long as the Transdim marks exactly where they landed they can leap back. Before they leap, the link between dimensions is opened slightly and a tiny drone is sent through to the other dimension while the link shrinks to a tiny dot, barely open but still able to transmit radio and microwaves. The drone will scout the area transmitting images of the surroundings back to the control desk at the Transdim base. If it is safe the link will be widened and the Santa’s Little Helper will step through. The link is reduced again while the Little Helper places the present in the required spot. Once this is done the Little Helpers sends a signal on his control pad that he or she is ready to return. The link widens again, the optic insert that the Little Helpers wear shows where the link is and they step through and the link closes. It then moves on to the next destination. The link cannot stay open for more than thirty seconds. After that it becomes unstable. If there is a problem an emergency back-up team of “Elfs” are ready to go through at a seconds notice to do what is necessary. They can neutralise a situation with a range of electro-neurological and gas weapons. They are trained to cope with any of the many situations that can arise. From children waking to dogs attacking. They are trained to evade and survive if the link goes down and a new one opened.   Memories are altered and situations calmed. Because the Santa’s Little Helpers are half the size of an adult human contact with aggressive humans and animals is problematic and to be avoided.  They have to rely on technology and stealth to keep out of trouble.  Having the Elfs able to intervene is a relief to many helpers. It is an embarrassment to others.

Epiphanius stood on his tip toes and stretched his arms as high as they could go. His finger tips brushed the ceiling. He dropped his arms, sighed and paced the length of his chamber. Six steps and he had made it from one end to the other. He turned and looked at the far wall. A hologram of Johanna looked fondly back. How he missed her. He wondered if she was missing him.

There was a knock at the door.

“Ho. Ho. Ho.”

Epiphanius  smiled sourly. “Come in, Theophanes.” A smiling figure, dressed like Epiphanius, all in black, opened the door.

“I would but there is no room,” he said. “Let us go and spread good cheer and joy…yet again.”

“Two hundred and three days down, one hundred and sixty two to go,” Replied Epiphanius heavily as they made their way down the short narrow corridor to the travel room.

Even though the complex was pressurised and the walls were immensely thick the noise of the power couplings sounded like water going over the top of a waterfall. A humming, rumbling sound backing a chorus of thousands of voices going “ssshhhh .” It never failed to quicken the pulse and dry the mouth.

“Where are you going today?” asked Theophanes

“Ummm,” Said Epiphanius as he checked a screen. “Britain”

“Should be okay then, no guns.”

“Yup.” Epiphanius wasn’t really wanting to chat, he was watching the feed from a drone. He liked to have a feel for where he was going, what the room was like. He liked to know what to look for. He took pride in the fact that for 203 days he had not needed the Elfs. Some people like Theophanes relied on the Elfs. He strode in without a care, relying on the Elfs to come charging through the gate firing memory bolts and gas darts to save the situation. The Elfs love this so they like Theophanes. They knew they were guaranteed action on his shift. They grouse about Epiphanius behind his back because they don’t like his perfect record. Epiphanius doesn’t care.

He continued to watch the feed. He would sometimes ask the controller to close the gate and open it again closer to where he was to put the parcel. On many occasions he has judged this so well that he is able to lean forward through the gate and place the gift without his feet leaving his dimension.

Once he was happy with the placement of the gate he turned back to the screen and tapped a couple of icons. Beside the door through to the gate a hatch opened and a brightly wrapped box slid out. He picked it up and walked through the door onto a platform in the small room. It had three flat dark shimmering walls. The colour was indistinct, he always thought of how to describe it and failed. He felt as if the room pulsed with energy and possibility. The fourth wall, the one he faced, was very dark and curved towards him. He felt like he had stepped into a corridor that had been plugged by a giant black ball.  He looked up at the tiny drone slightly above and to the side of his head and a voice in his ear started counting down.

“Seven six, dimensions merging, four, three, two, one. Dimensions aligned.” The wall disappeared and a dark room lit by a Christmas tree in a window appeared instead. The light danced on tinsel and baubles.  “Drone through. Good to go.” He stepped through into the room. Either side of him there was a couch and two large armchairs.  Just as it was on the screen. It was like most of the rooms in Britain. It was why they did this country by country. You got a feel for national characteristics. It helped you anticipate.

He knew what to expect behind him as the drone had shown him a full scan of the room. There should be a door there. It had been closed when he looked seconds before he came through, but he was aware of light coming from behind him when all should be dark. He was about to turn and check when a small voice said




Andrew Woodhouse Landscapes 365

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