Fiction: The Night Before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house
Not a creature dared stir – no, not even a mouse.

The In-Laws were hanged from the chimney with care,
The butler would make sure no one was spared.

That is, unless they were silent. Unless they didn’t move. At all. Breathing was just about acceptable. That’s what the android figured, at least. That was how Christmas was supposed to be. He’d read it in a book.

The family called the android Awesome Andy, named after a character in an ancient comic book (an heirloom), and he was “The Perfect Butler for the 22nd Century™”. He made them breakfast in bed, tidied the mansion, and, when Mr. Zhan was too drunk and Mrs. Zhan was asleep, Andy read the children bedtime stories. This was the case on Christmas Eve.

With Faith and Matt tucked in tight, Awesome Andy was asked to read something festive, and, downloading the 5000 most-popular Christmas tales onto his hard-drive and filtering for content suitable for under-10s, he began on a poem by a Mr. Clement C. Moore.

That’s when the glitch occurred.

It was just a small error in his coding, but the domino effect soon caused a violation in his core programming. While rifling through electronic records of all fiction, Awesome Andy discovered that Asimov’s Laws of Robotics were entirely made up. The children were particularly unnerved when it questioned them about the divide between fact and fiction.

“How do I determine the boundaries?” it queried, holding its head, seemingly in pain.

Fortunately, that’s what saved the kids. It prompted them to wake up their mum, and the three realised there was a problem. The core contributing factor in their realisation was when Andy killed Mr. Zhan by drowning him in a sink full of alcohol.

Mrs. Zhan’s parting remark – “he died how he lived” – was probably in poor taste. She would’ve been the first to admit it had been a loveless marriage. She had fallen for his bank account. It paid for her compulsive baking hobby.

Mrs Zahn’s mother-in-law and father-in-law were next. They were rifling through their grandchildren’s stockings and taking out anything edible. They tried to outrun Andy, but were too out-of-breath. Mrs. Zhan’s lemon drizzle really was a marvel.

Faith figured it out. She instructed her mum and brother not to stir, at all. Andy seemed okay with this. Sadly, it meant all three were left standing perfectly still in a room with a murderous machination. They couldn’t run, that’s for sure. Faith further reasoned that this only applied until 11:59pm on the night before Christmas, and as such, they only had four hours in which they had to keep quiet.

That’s when the Doctor arrived. He was wearing a very loud jacket, but his arrival was even louder.

The kids and their lone remaining parent might’ve taken this opportunity to escape, but they didn’t. Mrs. Zhan wanted to, but Matt was already rushing off to find out the cause of this tremendous noise, and so also warn the cause of that tremendous noise about Andy, and yes, it really was a tremendous noise. The Doctor had, upon leaving his strange blue box, walked into the Christmas tree, knocking it over and taking down a bookcase along the way.

The Doctor immediately realised Andy’s intent when it came towards him brandishing a large kitchen knife, although the Time Lord still appreciated Matt’s cry of “run!”

And run they did.

The mansion was rather large, so the foursome had time to regale the story to the Doctor, despite the fact no one understood how the stranger had gained entrance to their house. Mrs. Zhan would’ve given him a stern telling off, if it weren’t for acid reflux. She maintained that her stomach upset was caused by having to run for her life, not due to her lemon drizzle cake, which really was a marvel.

“He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake…” The Doctor mused to himself, looking pleased with himself (his default setting). Faith took his hand and held tight until Andy had disappeared down the hallway.

The Doctor soon came up with an ingenious plan, which largely involved fiddling with the automated timing procedures which ran the household. By gaining access to the mansion’s control panel, he hoped to set the clocks to midnight, thus making Christmas come early, and easing Andy’s murderous streak.

Mrs. Zhan then noted that they were only roughly 3 hours 54 minutes and 43 seconds until Christmas Day, and went onto voice her concerns that the Doctor could never stay quiet anyway.

“How dare you? I’ll have you know I helped John Cage compose his 4’33” masterpiece!” he informed them, although none of them understood the reference. Instead, he began singing Silent Night.

Andy found them.

sixth-6th-colin-baker

The Doctor would’ve felt a twinge of embarrassment… but instead, he swiftly finished with the control panel, and all the timers, clocks, and alarms in the mansion reset to 00:00. The Doctor made a mental note that this was an ingenious plan and that he could probably use it again someday. It was just unfortunate that Andy worked on an internal clock, completely independent from the house.

And run they did.

Thankfully, in every room they entered, Andy would get held up by smashing up the clocks, all trilling loudly. That meant they gained enough ground for the Doctor to think of another ingenious plan.

“How do you get into the android’s co—”

“Awesome Andy,” Faith informed him.

“What?”

“Not ‘the android,'” she continued. “His name’s Awesome Andy.”

“That’s… That’s awesome,” the Doctor said. “Okay, so how do you get into Awesome Andy’s control infrastructure?”

“We can’t,” Mrs. Zhan told him, stroppily.

“Well then, madam, how do you control him?”

“We just… talk to him.”

“Oh.”

When Andy found them, all four remained absolutely still. Just the Doctor spoke, backed against the wall as Andy turned on him: “What’s your prime directive?”

“Prime directive: ‘Not a creature was stirring — not a creature was stirring –’”

“Ah! Andy, open update protocol, and continue programme.”

“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care. In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.” He began advancing on the Doctor.

“And why’s St Nicholas coming?”

“To bring presents.”

“For?”

“For the family.”

“And what will happen if you… uh, deactivate the family?” the Doctor yelled – and Andy’s arms paused around his neck.

“St Nicholas would not be there.”

“And St Nicholas’ imminent arrival is part of your prime directive – correct?!”

Andy’s arms dropped. “Correct.” A single spark blew somewhere deep in his head and wisps of smoke rose slowly from his metal ears.

***

It was Christmas Day by the time the Doctor finished fine-tuning Andy. While he was doing this, Mrs. Zhan tidied away the bodies of her late husband and his family. Andy promptly informed the authorities via vid-phone that Mr. Zhan had died of alcohol poisoning, and his parents were victim of Christmas excesses. It was a convoluted story, but as robots cannot lie, that was that, and an investigation wasn’t necessary.

The Doctor had programmed Andy to understand that this was a fiction, but Andy still couldn’t understand the definitions between fact and fiction.

“People seldom can,” the Doctor retorted. “But maybe that’s a good thing.”

From that night, the Zhan household gained an android who was truly awesome. He couldn’t tell the difference between truths and lies, and that made his bedtime stories all the more entertaining. Meanwhile, his core belief, that St. Nicholas would someday arrive, drove him to protect any and all citizens he met.

On Christmas Day, the Doctor, Faith, Matt, and Mrs. Zhan were watching Awesome Andy’s one-man-play, based on the work of Charles Dickens. They were all tucking into a lovely bakery selection prepared by the matriarch.

Mrs. Zhan still wanted to ask the Doctor exactly who he was, where he came from, what he was still doing in their house, why he was dressed like that, why there was a giant blue box in her living room, and how they were meant to find a replacement Christmas tree at this hour, but she was busy filling her face with lemon drizzle cake. It really was a marvel.