[Sunday, 25 December, 2259 | A Gift Under the Tree]
Virginia clambers out of bed. Spotting the elf suit, she dresses in it: it’s Christmas Day, so surely, there must be some official business to attend to. She exits her room and rushes towards the living room. Spotting Santa, she stops dead in her tracks.
Santa offers the girl a warm smile as he wobbles, barely able to stand. One eye is missing, and the cybernetic casing from his face has been removed, replaced by bloody bandages. The scar from the katana attack two nights prior has been joined by a number of additional scars. His jacket is in tatters and stained with blood.
“I survived,” Santa says. “I had to bring you your present, kid.”
Santa takes Virginia’s hand and leads her towards the tree. Sitting under it is a man, tied up with ribbon as a bow gags his mouth. He is bruised and bloody, yet still looks as though he’s in better nick than old Saint Nick.
“He got a little banged up, sorry,” Santa says.
“Dad?” Virginia’s eyes look as though they are about to leap from their sockets. She can’t believe her eyes. “You brought me my dad?”
Santa nods. “Mr. Dax Northbridge. Otherwise known as the Recruiter.”
“Is it true, Dad?”
Santa rips the bow from Northbridge’s mouth. “Answer her.”
“You don’t understand…”
“What… who were you recruiting?” Virginia asks.
Northbridge shakes his head.
“Kids from the slums,” Santa says. “Kids arrested for ‘crimes against the City,’ which nine times out of ten were committed just so they can survive. The officers arrest them, but rather than booking them, they hand them over to your dear old dad to sell them to the highest bidder. The City doesn’t have to pay for housing; instead, they take a fifty-fifty cut with your dad.
“It’s quite a profitable business. He donated over seventy-five million credits last night.”
“Release me, Virginia, please,” Northbridge begs. “I’ll get you out of the slums. We’ll be reunited.”
Virginia stays silent, motionless.
“You’re not some slumrat, you’re my daughter!” he shouts. “Release me!”
“You didn’t release me from the re-education camp.” Memories of her twelve days in the re-education camp flood Virginia’s mind.
“It was for your own good,” her father says.
“Oh, you dumb child,” Ms. Nagal’s words echo through Virginia’s mind. “He could have appealed the request for you to attend this camp, arguing that you were just an eight-year-old child. If he had promised to keep a better eye on you and revoke some privileges, you would have been able to spend the holidays at home.”
“You could have stopped it, dad. You could have saved me.”
“You needed to learn how to be a productive citizen of the City, Virginia. The camp needed to teach you that, to instil a sense of civic duty,” he says. “Instead, you’ve been led astray, following that man on his misguided crusade.
“Please, Virginia. Release me, and we’ll go home and celebrate Christmas.”
Santa kneels down and looks at Virginia eye to eye. “It’s your choice, kid. I won’t stand in your way. Your dad won’t be getting his money back; I already transferred it. But you can go with him. And if you want to get revenge for me forcing the donation, I won’t hold you back.”
Virginia looks first at Santa, then at her father.
“Unlock holster,” Santa says.
“If he had promised to keep a better eye on you and revoke some privileges, you would have been able to spend the holidays at home,” Ms. Nagal’s voice echoes.
Virginia pulls out the gun. She looks at her father and smiles. She looks back at Santa, then back to Mr. Northbridge. Virginia aims the gun at her father’s head and squeezes the trigger.
“Merry Christmas, Dad,” she says, watching as blood pools down his face.
He deserved it. Just like Stephen Lichtermann. Just like Ms. Nagal.