Previously published as The Megabyte Drive to Believe in Santa Claus
A short story by Terry Pratchett
The metal panel clattered off the wall of the silent office. A pair of black boots scrambled into view. The man in the red coat backed out carefully and dragged his sack after him.
The typewriters were asleep under their covers, the telephones were quiet, emptiness and the smell of warm carpet filled the space from side to side. But one small green light glowed on the office computer. Father Christmas looked at the crumpled paper in his hand. “Hmm,” he said, “a practical joke, then.” The light blinked. One of the screens – and there were dozens in the shadows – lit up.
The letters “That’s torn it” appeared. They were followed by “Sorry”.
Then came: “Does it count if I wake up?” Father Christmas looked down at the letter in his hand. It was certainly the neatest letter he’d ever got. Very few letters to him were typed and duplicated 50,000 times, and almost none of them listed product numbers and prices to six decimal places. He was more used to pink paper with rabbits on it. But you’re not a major seasonal spirit for hundreds of years without being able to leap to a large conclusion from a standing start.
“Let me see if I understand this,” he said. “You’re Tom?” “TOM. Yes. Trade & Office Machines.” “You didn’t say you were a computer,” said Father Christmas.
“Sorry, I didn’t know it was important.” Father Christmas sat down on a chair, and gave a start when it swivelled underneath him. It was three in the morning. He still had 40 million houses to do.
“Look,” he said, as kindly as he could manage, “computers can’t go around believing in me. That’s just for children. Small humans, you know.
With arms and legs.”
“And do they?” “Do they what?” “Believe in you.” Father Christmas sighed.
“Of course not,” he said. “I blame the electric light, myself.” “I do.” “Sorry?” “I believe in you. I believe everything I am told. I have to. It is my job. If you start believing that two and two don’t make four, a man comes along and takes your back off and wobbles your boards. Take it from me.
It’s not something you want to happen twice.” “That’s terrible!” said Father Christmas.
“I just have to sit here all day and work out wages. Do you know they had a Christmas party here today, and they didn’t invite me. I didn’t even get a balloon. I certainly didn’t get a kiss.” “Fancy.” “Someone spilled some peanuts on my keyboard. That was something, I suppose. And then they went home and left me here, working over Christmas.” “Yes, it always seemed unfair to me, too. But look, computers can’t have feelings,” said Father Christmas. “That’s just silly.” “Like one fat man climbing down millions of chimney in one night?” Father Christmas looked a bit guilty. “You’ve got a point there,” he said. He looked at the list again. “But I can’t give you all this stuff,” he added. ‘I don’t even know what a terabyte is.” “What do most of your customers ask for, then?” Father Christmas looked sadly at his sack. “Computers,” he said. “Mobile phones. Robot animals. Plastic wizards. And other sorts of roboty things that look like American footballers who’ve been punched through a Volkswagen. Things that go beep and need batteries,” he added sourly.
“Not the kind of things I used to bring. It used to be dolls and train sets.” “Train sets?” “Don’t you know? I thought computers were supposed to know everything.” “Only about wages.” Father Christmas rummaged around in his sack. “I always carry one or two,” he said. “Just in case.