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Christmas Eve 2064: Almost Everyone Gets the Right Gift

Christmas is eco-friendly, gift giving is a breeze, families are close, and almost all are happy.

“Daddy, he is soooooooo beautiful!” my eight-year-old daughter Susie cooed.

He was. The magnificent white unicorn was on his hind legs. His long mane was flowing, embedded diamonds in his horn twinkled in the moonlight, and his whinnying was reverberating throughout our family room. Susie was in my lap. Her gorgeous blue eyes were open wide and she was smiling from ear to ear.

“I think there’s more coming, Hon,” I said to my daughter. “Keep watching.”

Susie, I, and my wife Ruth were watching the HDC (Holographic Display Center) in our family room. Santa’s flying sleigh could now be seen approaching in the sky from afar bathed in a bright lunar light. The sleigh grew in size as it got closer, circled overhead, and then landed next to the unicorn. Jingle Bells began playing in fourteen channel surround sound. The unicorn trotted over to Santa. He shook his head and whinnied, and as he snorted vapors spewed from his nostrils. Santa stroked his nose and stood up in the sleigh. Both he and the unicorn turned to look at us.

Both Santa and the unicorn smiled and Santa said, “Merry Christmas from Grandma and Grandpa!”

Then all the images slowly faded away along with the music, and the message trailer (XMAS msg—2064:12:24:2150:13.05—150) appeared. Eventually the viewing area went dark.

“Oh, Hon, here comes another!” my wife Ruth shouted. She was sitting on the sofa next to us. Ruth was like a child on Christmas. She loved the decorations and visual displays as much as Susie.

New images appeared on the HDC. A quaint wrought-iron lamp post appeared, its light illuminating a bare old-fashioned concrete sidewalk on a dark winter night. ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ began playing, and snowflakes began to fall. First it snowed lightly, but then the downfall became heavier. Soon the snow had piled up to a foot or so. Suddenly, in the light of the lamp post, some of the snow formed into a snowman. Then two pieces of coal flew in from the right and became the snowman’s eyes. A cherry dropped from the top and became his nose. A mouth appeared on the snowman and a brown pipe popped out of it! Then a tall black brimmed hat flew in from the top and landed on his head. The music changed to ‘Frosty the Snowman.’ Two arms popped out, and suddenly Frosty also had his two legs. He twirled around, stopped, and then looked at us. Then he looked left and beckoned to someone out of view on our right. A snow woman entered and took Frosty’s hand. Then they both turned to look at us, Frosty took off his hat and waved it and said, “To our dear friends, have a magnificent Christmas and holiday season. Merry Christmas from Bob and Beth!”

Once again the images slowly dimmed, the sound faded, and the message trailer (XMAS msg—2064:12:24:2154.23—75) eventually appeared. And again the area went dark.

“Bob and Beth are so sweet!” Ruth commented. I hope they enjoyed ours as much as I enjoyed theirs.”

I looked at Susie. Her brow was furrowed; she looked perplexed.

“What is it, Hon?” I asked Susie. You look like something is bothering you.”

“Daddy,” she asked, “what are all those numbers that come after?”

It took me a second to realize that she was referring to the message trailers. “I’ll show you, Honey,” I replied.

I looked over at my wife. “Ruth, would you mind putting the HDC in trace mode and recalling the last message trailer? I’d do it myself but I seem to have the cutest little Christmas angel in my lap, and I don’t want to lose her!” Susie giggled.

Ruth used the mobile remote to switch the HDC to trace mode and show the last message trailer: XMAS msg—2064:12:24:2154:23.14—75. It appeared in big one foot tall black three-dimensional block letters floating in the middle of the HDC.

“Thanks, Hon,” I said to Ruth.

“Seem them, Baby?” I said to Susie.

“Yes, Daddy,” she replied.

“Well,” I began, “the ‘XMAS msg’ just stands for ‘Christmas message.’”

Susie chastised me. “I knew that, Daddy!” she said. “I’m not stupid! It’s the other stuff!”

“Sorry, Honey,” I replied. I kissed her forehead. “You certainly are not stupid! Daddy apologizes. O.K. The rest of the stuff. Well, the numbers between the dashes are just the date and time. In this case, the year twenty sixty-four, then the date, December twenty-fourth. Then comes the time, twenty-one hours which is nine o’clock p.m., fifty-four minutes, twenty-three seconds, and fourteen one-hundredths of a second. That’s a little part of one second.”

“And what’s the last number, Daddy?” Susie asked.

“That seventy-five,” I explained, “is the size of the gift. Our Christmas bank account was credited with seventy-five units as soon as the message was received.”

“Oh!” Susie exclaimed. “Wow! My weekly allowance is only three units. They gave us a lot!” But then Susie fell silent again. It was clear that something else was bothering her.

“Daddy,” she asked, “when we send our gifts do they have message trailers too?”

“Yes, Hon,” I replied. “All messages have message trailers.”

“But Daddy,” Susie asked, “what if we only gave someone fifty units after they gave us seventy-five units and they see that in the message trailer. Won’t they get mad?”

My wife Ruth laughed. “Honey,” she said to Susie, “sometimes I think you are too smart for your own good, and wise beyond your years! Don’t worry, Sweetie, it can’t happen.”

“Why not?” Susie asked.

“Because,” Ruth explained, “the amount of every gift is tracked in a central computer, and whatever gift that arrives second is automatically adjusted to match the gift that arrived first! We received seventy-five units from Bob and Beth because that’s what I sent them about twenty-minutes ago!”

For a moment Susie seemed satisfied. But then her brow furrowed again. The curse of being a very bright, inquisitive child!

“But what if two people send different amounts at the exact same time, Mommy?” Susie asked. “What then?”

“Baby,” I said to Susie, “that can’t happen. The computer tracks things to the eensy-weensiest part of a second! So things almost never occur at exactly the same computer time, Precious. And if somehow they did, both gifts and messages would be rejected and returned to both sending parties. They would have to try again until things worked out right. That’s called a collision algorithm, Sweetie. You’ll learn about those in school in a couple of years.”

“Hmmmm. A collision algorithm,” Susie repeated.

“You see, Hon,” I continued, “a long time ago that wasn’t true. People gave things called ‘presents,’ and many people would get angry if they didn’t think that the presents they got were as nice as the ones that they gave. Did you learn about presents in school when you were taught about recent culture, Hon?”

“Yes, Daddy,” she replied. Suddenly her face lit up. Complete understanding had occurred! “That is so neat! Everyone is always happy!”

Ruth laughed out loud. “Well, at least almost everyone! But Darling, there’s much more to it than just that! It’s also a large part of why it is so green and beautiful outside, and the air is so fresh!”

“How so, Mommy?” Susie asked.

“Well,” Ruth explained, “generations ago there were all these buildings called stores and malls filled with things that people wanted to buy.”

“I saw holograms about stores in school!” Susie said. “They had all kinds of shelves and things with all sorts of toys on them!”

“That’s right!” my wife continued. “Very good, Sweetie. But after everyone started giving credits like we do today, and also using their HDC’s to look at what they wanted to buy and using their computers to buy whatever they needed, we didn’t need the stores anymore! One by one almost all of the malls and stores were torn down and eventually replaced with tree parks and man-made lakes and lagoons.”

“And,” I interjected, “trees didn’t have to be cut down to make all the boxes and paper that people used to use to wrap gifts. And there were no casualties.”

“Darling,” Ruth interrupted, “don’t you think she’s a bit too young for that?”

My wife was right. There was no reason at the tender age of eight why my daughter had to hear about things like the ‘The Terrible Trenton Trampling of 2026,’ when over two hundred men, women, and children had been trampled to death after the doors had flung open to start a big Christmas electronics sale at an old-time store. So I changed the topic.

“Ready for more viewings, Baby?” I asked Susie. But before she could answer, the words ‘Richard Calling’ flashed in the HDC area.

“Darling,” my wife said, “maybe you should take that call privately.” Richard was my wife’s brother, and we didn’t get along too well.

“Maybe I shouldn’t take it at all,” I responded. “Why don’t you talk to him? I just haven’t got it in me now. I just want to enjoy Christmas Eve.”

“Sure, Hon,” Ruth replied. She handed me the mobile remote control and went into the next room to take the call while Susie and I switched the HDC to entertainment mode and watched some animated shorts.

Ruth returned about ten minutes later. I could tell that the conversation had not been pleasant.

“What’s he mad about now?” I asked.

“Our gift,” Ruth replied.

“Did we send first?” I asked.

“Yes,” Ruth replied. “Yesterday. One-hundred-forty credits. His one-forty came through last night.”

“So why is he mad?” I asked.

“He thinks the amount was too small,” Ruth replied. “He says you’re a cheap prick.”
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Copyright © © Lee Goldberg 2011, 2012, 2013. All Rights Reserved. Contact info: leegpoetry@gmail.com

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