The Alpha-9 Holiday Special
rating: +20+x

Mobile Task Force Alpha-9 (“Last Hope”) was not having a merry Christmas. While non-anomalous people around the world were settling down for long winter’s naps, excited about the fun the morning would bring, Alpha-9 was bracing for impact.

Instead of drinking eggnog, Agent Andrea S. Adams was waiting in ambush under the only unsealed air vent in Site-17. Instead of wrapping gifts, Agent Aleksander Foxx was checking and rechecking all his various guns, knives, and ammo. Instead of checking a gift list, Agent Rainer Miller was going over a mental list of small objects he might need to summon later. Instead of building gingerbread houses, the team's newest and youngest member was constructing weapons and armor from solid light. And instead of hanging stockings over a fireplace, Agent Iris Thompson was hanging polaroid photographs of strategic choke points on the wall in front of her.

In fact, about the only person in Site-17 doing normal Christmas things was SCP-239, nestled snug in her coma bed. Unfortunately, the visions of sugar plums dancing in her head were about to become everyone else’s problem.

Iris glanced over her shoulder at the unconscious reality bender, separated from her by a pane of one-way glass. “Everyone in position?” She didn’t really need to ask, since she could see everyone through the pictures she’d taken of their positions earlier that day, but it was still procedure.

“Aye,” Adams replied. The vent she was guarding had been strategically chosen as a compromise between distance from SCP-239 and number of possible shortest paths from it to her containment chamber.

“Yes,” Foxx seconded, waiting in ambush around a blind corner.

“Yeah,” Rainer said, standing guard in a narrow hallway.

“Yep,” Leora reported, waiting at one end of an elevated walkway.

“Alright,” Iris finished. “Now we wait.”

They didn’t have to wait long. At midnight sharp, sensors detected a small craft coming in for a landing. The automated anti-aircraft guns atop the building fired at the incoming bogey, but none of them seemed able to lock on as the vehicle slowed, leveled out, and skidded to a halt on the roof. There were antipersonnel mines all over it, but none of them detonated.

This was because they had all been transmuted into whoopee cushions. No one was up there to hear the farting sounds, but they did hear the howling of a bitter winter wind as it rattled into the vent system.

It was no coincidence that one vent remained open. When planning their defense, Alpha-9 (and their supervisors) had concluded that, if it really wanted to, the bogey probably could have forced its way out of a sealed vent or entered by a different means entirely. With one vent open, though, it would hopefully take the more predictable path of least resistance – right into an ambush.

Apparently, that hope had been well-founded, if the increasing volume of the rattling in Adams's vicinity was any indication. Calmly, she stepped back and raised her weapon, something that looked as much like a cannon as it did a rifle.

It still took her by surprise when, instead of snow, the vent erupted with a dense cloud of black soot. Her helmet kept the particles out of her eyes and throat, but the cloud was still almost opaque. Adams fired blindly at the obscured vent, and the boom of her weapon drowned out the sound of black boots landing heavily on the floor. In the fraction of a second that it took to switch from visible light to infrared, the intruder had closed the gap between them. One hand seized Adams’s gun by the barrel, and another shoved her so strongly that she flew off her feet.

Something behind her eyes went click.

Twisting in midair, Adams turned her fall into a flip and skidded back on her fingers and toes. Slowly, she stood.

As the soot cleared, it revealed a very, very recognizable figure.

“Miss Adams,” said the real, genuine, honest-to-God Santa Claus, “we don’t have to do this the hard way.”

“Yeah,” she retorted, “you could leave now.”

“No can do, Miss.” He tossed the gun and its broken strap aside. “I have promises to keep.” Then he raised his fluffy mittens in a fighting stance. “And butts to kick before I sleep.”

“Adams?” Iris asked. “Do you see him?”

Confusedly, she replied. “Do you not?”

“No,” Iris said, a touch of panic in her voice. She could faintly hear his booming voice, but the picture portal showed only a soot-covered Adams, bantering with thin air.

“Well,” Adams supposed, “they never do catch him on video.”

“Shit.” There went any hopes of sniping the guy through a picture.

“Should I still engage?”

Santa smirked, amused by her seeming hesitation.

“Shit. Yes. Engage.”

Without further words, Adams rushed him. The spirit of Christmas was more than a foot taller than her and probably twice as heavy, but he also seemed twice as fast, somehow. He spun around behind Adams as she lunged through the space where he’d been, then wrapped one massive arm around her waist.

“Santa suplex!” he shouted, hoisting the superhuman agent effortlessly over his shoulder and falling back.

Fortunately, the suit’s helmet absorbed most of the impact, and Adams flipped out of Santa’s grip. He bounced back to his own feet just as quickly, but he still had his back to her. Adams leapt onto it and wrapped her powerful arms around the old man’s neck. It would have been the perfect position to choke out a normal assailant or snap his neck (or even tear the head clean off, for that matter)…but jolly old St. Nicholas was no normal assailant. She might as well have tried to strangle a statue. Santa fell backwards again, trying to crush her under his weight. It was certainly a lot, but nothing like the grand piano Clef had dropped on her head.

Then again, it was hard to breathe with 500 pounds of comfort and joy on top of her. Harder than Santa was finding it to breathe with her arms around his throat, if his jolly chuckling was any indication. With a grunt, Adams heaved Santa off herself. They both clambered to their feet.

“You’re tougher ‘n’ you look,” she said.

“Never judge a gift by the wrapping.”

With a running start, Adams launched herself into the air and delivered a mighty drop-kick to his big, bearded face.

Well, she tried. What actually happened is that Santa grabbed her by both feet and started spinning. Through the picture, Iris watched in dismay as Adams blurred into a spinning ring shape. Then, with a cry of “Peanut Butter Pinwheel!” Santa let go and sent Adams flying down the hallway. At a T-intersection, she collided with the wall and went straight through it, leaving a comically Adams-shaped hole and everything.

“Should we…” Leora started to request, hearing her teammate’s cries over comms.

“Hold your positions!” Iris ordered. If Santa was that fast, adding more people to the equation
would just increase the odds of Adams getting (more) hurt by accident.

Whistling a holiday tune, Santa retrieved his bag of toys (still lying under the vent) and slung it back over his shoulder. He dusted a bit of soot off the other, apparently the only place where any of the black stuff had actually gotten on him.

“Hey!” Adams shouted, drunkenly, from her hole. “’m not done w’you yet!” She punched her way back through the wall and squared up again.

Santa sighed. “Really?”

“Really!” she confirmed. “Bring it.”

He brought it. Santa covered the distance between himself and Adams with the speed and force of an avalanche. She dodged to the side, but was surprised when Santa’s big arm shot out and caught her across the chest (“Clauseline!”) like a tree branch. From her new vantage point on the ground, Adams looked up in horror as Santa rose into the air. One arm was bent outwards, elbow ready to strike her in the gut. The other was holding a sack of – Adams’s brain quickly and unhelpfully estimated – about a billion toys that probably weighed a lot more than a piano if you put them all together. Right now, with a booming cry of “Polar Piledriver!”, Santa was putting them all on Adams.

Iris still couldn’t see Santa, but she did see the cracks spread across the concrete under Adams. She winced; Adams screamed.

“Status!” Iris cried, as Santa skipped happily away.

Adams groaned, which meant she was alive, at least. Iris had to content herself with that, because now the bogey was approaching Foxx’s position.

“Foxx, incoming!”

Foxx didn’t respond, since that would’ve given away his position. He heard Santa’s heavy boots on the concrete as he approached…then stopped.

“Mister Foxx,” he called out, “I can see you when you’re awake, too.”

“Armed?” Foxx whispered.

“No,” Iris answered, “but…”

Foxx didn’t wait for the “but”. He sprung around the corner and unloaded two of his favorite pistols into old Kris Kringle. As the bullets struck him, the old man’s chest and stomach blossomed with…nerf darts?

Santa gave his signature laugh. “Careful, Mr. Foxx. You’ll…” He didn’t get to finish, because Foxx had reloaded and tried again.

When Foxx was done, Santa brushed the darts off his jacket. “Why, when the first one didn’t…” This time, he was interrupted by a different gun, something with a long barrel that Foxx had kept slung across his back. As before, he ended up covered in darts instead of bullet holes. One landed squarely in the middle of Santa’s forehead, and he looked up at it with crossed, indignant eyes.

“Are you quite finished?” he asked, plucking off the offending dart.

Foxx was not, if the knife now tumbling through the air was any indication. Santa swatted it aside effortlessly.


Then Foxx tried his last trick – a grenade. He chucked the device, then dove back behind the corner.

Moving impossibly fast, Santa dove to catch the explosive in the catcher’s mitt that had just appeared on his left hand.

“Foxx?” Iris asked, seeing him bolt back around the corner. He didn’t answer, but Iris saw the grenade wink back into existence as it left Santa’s hand. Although “blur” might have been a more accurate word than “wink,” since it seemed to be moving at the speed of a major league baseball pitch. It could also turn corners, apparently. Before Iris even had time to remember the last time she’d watched a teammate die, the grenade had gone off…

…with a whimsical snap and a poof of ribbons. Iris almost breathed a sigh of relief, but then she saw that the ribbons had wrapped around Foxx’s arms and legs (and a paper hat had affixed itself on his head). He landed painfully on his face. Foxx struggled against his restraints, but those ribbons were apparently much stronger than the tissue paper they resembled.

As Santa approached, he scooped up a piece of paper from where the grenade-turned-Christmas-cracker had exploded.

“Hey Mister Foxx,” he asked, reading from it. “Who is Santa’s favorite musician?”

Foxx stared up at his attacker, dumbfounded.

“Elf-is Presley!” Santa chortled.

Iris groaned. Foxx just redoubled his escape efforts, without success.

“Alright,” she said, trying to sound as calm as possible, “he’s heading for you next, Miller. Guns and explosives don’t work on him, he just turns them into toys. What else do you have?”

“Toys, huh?” Rainer pondered, looking down at his hands. “Let’s see if he can play with fire.”

On cue, the blast door in front of Rainer slid open. Santa was standing there, a disappointed look on his face.

“Mister Miller. Do you really want to spend your Christmas Eve fighting Old Saint Nick?”

“Sorry, Mister Claus. Just doing my job, nothing personal.”

Santa nodded and dropped the toy bag behind him. “I understand. And I hope you understand that I also have a job to do.” He loudly cracked his mittened knuckles for emphasis.

“I do.”

“Well, let’s get it over with then.”

Uncertainly, Rainer raised both hands. “So you know that song about roasting chestnuts?”

Santa’s smile seemed to widen. “I do.”


Then he opened a small wormhole in front of each hand, both connecting to a dimension filled with nothing but lots and lots and lots of fire. The flames shot towards Santa in two powerful jets. At the same time, Santa raised his own hands and fired twin jets of snow. The elements collided at the halfway point, dissolving into a cloud of hot steam. After only a few seconds, Rainer couldn’t even see Santa anymore. Soon, the cloud had even enveloped him and obscured Iris’s point of view entirely. He kept the fire going until the damp heat of the steam became unbearable.

Without the roar of flame and hiss of sublimating ice, the hallway was dead silent. Rainer tried to peer through the steam, but it was as impenetrable as a thick fog. He felt like a sitting duck. Quickly, Rainer conjured a set of thermal imaging goggles and slipped them on. Nothing showed up on the thermal scan, but he wasn’t sure if that was because Santa was gone or because of the hot steam around him. He staggered backwards, looking frantically about for any sign of his holly jolly opponent.

His back bumped into a bowl full of jelly.

Rainer started to shout, but his cry was suddenly muffled. There came a tearing sound, and a heavy thump.

“Miller!” Iris demanded. She tried to squint through the thinning steam cloud, but still couldn’t see anything. “Are you okay?!”

“Ugh,” he grunted, “yeah, I’m okay.”

“What happened?” As the cloud continued to disperse, Iris thought she could make out a wriggling, humanoid shape on the ground.

“He wrapped me.”

Now Iris could see it. The struggling shape on the ground was Miller, bound up to the neck in colorful wrapping paper. Well, at least he wasn’t hurt.

In a matter of seconds, Santa was at Leora’s position. He stood at one end of the walkway and beheld Leora at its midpoint, decked out in shining, crystalline armor that looked like a cross between Captain Marvel’s costume and medieval plate mail. It was, in Iris’s opinion, completely ridiculous. Less ridiculous was the blade of solidified light in Leora’s right hand, complete with a cruciform hilt.

Dramatically, she leveled her light-saber at Santa Claus. “Let’s dance,” was the best quip she could come up with.

Santa smiled. He dropped the toy sack at his feet, then reached into it. When his hand came back, it was clutching a whole-ass Scottish claymore.

“What kind of kid gets a real sword for Christmas?” Leora mused.

“What?!” Iris stammered, desperately wishing she could see the fat bastard.

“Hey,” Santa said, “I get a present too.”

Three throwing stars of pure light sliced through the air towards Santa. He swiped them out of the air without even looking, the gigantic sword moving like a fencing foil in his super-strong hand. Leora formed a chain-whip in her left hand and lashed it at Santa. The crystal chain wrapped around his blade, and she yanked at it, trying to disarm him. As she could’ve predicted if she’d seen him curb-stomping Adams, her most powerful tug came nowhere close to the strength of Santa’s grip. He looked at the chain around his blade in mild curiosity, then yanked it. Leora was smart enough to let go instead of being dragged off her feet, but the maneuver still left her off balance for just a moment. In that moment, Santa blurred across the distance between them and planted one big black boot on Leora’s belly. The kick sent her flying, but Leora’s luminous armor took most of the damage. She even managed – barely – to keep her footing as she skidded to a stop at the end of the walkway.

“That all ya got?” she said, forming a circular shield – with a big star in the middle, of course – in the hand that wasn’t still clutching a sword.

Santa looked up at the lights overhead. “No,” he said, “I don’t believe it is.” Then he snapped his fingers, despite the fluffy mittens still encasing them, and all those lights went out.

“Shit,” Leora and Iris said in unison.

Without further ado, Santa lunged at Leora, now the only light source in the room. She actually managed to block the first swing, but it packed so much punch that her shield immediately winked out of existence.

“Get out of there!” Iris shouted. Light armor or not, Iris wasn’t sure the kid could survive a trip through a wall. She certainly couldn’t handle another “Polar Piledriver.” She couldn’t handle taking orders, either, apparently, because she continued to stand her ground against Father Christmas. None of her swipes connected, though; Santa's longer reach and bigger sword made sure of that.

Then again, Iris thought, maybe she could help the kid in another way. She raised her old polaroid, made sure the flash was on, pointed it at the picture, and snapped another.

As the new light lanced into the room, Leora snagged some out of it out of the air and used it to form a giant, glowing fist. For the first time, Santa actually looked surprised. He looked even more surprised when the fist swung at his face. He blocked on pure reflex, but the blade of the claymore apparently wasn’t as magical, or as strong, as he was. It snapped in half under the onslaught, and Leora’s crystal fist glanced Santa’s face. It knocked his signature hat right off.

Santa staggered backwards, looking more surprised than hurt, and Leora pressed the attack. Her sword slashed down in a deadly arc…

…and shattered into a million tiny, harmless sparkles of non-anomalous, not-at-all-hard light. Leora looked up at Santa, a hurt expression on her face.

Santa Claus, who had apparently never been in any real danger, was no longer smiling.

“That’s enough,” he said. With a wave of his hand, he dissolved all of Leora’s other constructs. This time, Iris didn’t have to tell her to run.

Abandoning her wall of pictures, Iris picked up her rifle and leveled it at the door. Not a moment later, it slid open.

“You should be more careful with that thing, Miss Thompson. You’ll shoot your eye out.”

She tried to shoot for Santa’s, but instead of a BANG there was just a disappointing pop. Iris looked disdainfully at the cork dangling on a string at the end of her gun, which was now made of wood.


“Language, Miss Thompson!”

That, she would later reflect, was what pushed her over the edge; the absurd assertion that a swear word could possibly be objectionable under these circumstances. With a cry of frustration and desperation, Iris lunged at him with combat knife drawn. As expected, Santa effortlessly wrestled it from her grip and wrapped her in a crushing bear hug. She kept fighting, but her kicks and headbutts seemed to bounce right off like he was made of rubber.

“Tisk-tisk,” he chastised, “and to think I brought you this shiny new pair of roller skates.”

Iris felt her boots transform, a second before Santa stuck a ribbon to her with one hand and sent her spinning across the room with the other. The ribbon twined around her as she twirled. Then her back collided with the wall, her wheeled feet slipped away, and her butt crashed painfully to the floor. Maybe she was just concussed, but for a moment there Iris could’ve sworn there were two tiny turtledoves circling around her head. Or maybe they were French hens.

Still whistling jovially, Santa strode past his incapacitated opponent. The door to the containment chamber slid open to admit him. He drew right up to SCP-239’s bed and dropped his big red bag beside it. Then he started rummaging inside.

“Let’s see…aha!” Santa removed a long, thin, package and set it beside Sigguros on the mattress. He lifted the lid, revealing a comically, frightfully oversized syringe full of cinematically bubbling liquid that glowed a garish pink. “Just what little Siggy wanted: to wake up!”

“No!” Iris cried, shaking her head to clear it of avian Christmas presents. “You can’t!” She lurched towards Santa and managed to fall over in the door to the containment chamber.

“Of course I can! Santa can do anything.” Carefully, he lifted the syringe.

“Don’t you know what she is?” Iris yelled, twisting around to face him.

“A little girl, unfairly confined against her will?”

“A Type Green! A reality bender, a child-god!" Iris heaved herself up onto her right shoulder. "She could destroy us all!”

Santa seemed offended. “She would never! Siggy is Nice!”

“What?! She’s been unconscious all year!"

Santa shrugged. “Can’t be naughty in your sleep. Well, not until puberty.”

“Are-" in her surprise, Iris lost her balance and fell over on her face. Though her voice was now muffled by the floor, she continued. "Are you serious right now?!”

“Well, I suppose you could argue that noct…”

“She summoned a fucking dragon in the middle of the Site!”

“Doctor Clef was trying to kill her!”

“Because she made him do it!” Iris wasn't actually too sure about that part, but she figured Santa probably wasn't either.

“Not on purpose,” Santa said, crossing his arms.

“Yeah, she didn’t kill that D-Class on purpose either, did she?”

“She brought him back!”


“As a baby! I didn’t judge you for pooping your pants as a child.”

Iris growled and rolled back onto her shoulder. “You didn’t exist when I was a child! You’re just a figment of her imagination!”

“Well,” he retorted, “what is Santa if not the hopes and dreams of children? And it’s my job to make those dreams come true.” He turned back towards Siggy, but Iris wasn’t finished yet.

“And what if her dreams are our nightmares, huh?” Something about that choice of words tickled the back of Iris's brain, but she didn't have time to think about that.

Santa paused. “What do you mean?”

“What if Siggy wants to make the world a ‘better place’? What if she wants to turn the whole fucking thing into a stupid fairy tale? What if she wants revenge on the people who put her in that coma and scorches the Earth to get it? What if she gets bored and decides to put out the fucking Sun?”

“Siggy would never…”

“Are you sure?" Iris spat. "Are you sure she’s so nice? Have you ever known a kid?”

“Of course!" Santa drew back, offended. "I know every child!”

"Then you know how mean they can be. Drawing on the walls, breaking shit and lying about it, stealing shit. Throwing a screaming hell-fit when they don't get exactly whatever the fuck they want. I was an insufferable little shit as a kid."

Santa looked up for a moment, remembering. "Eh. You usually broke even. Well, except that first year of middle school. Sophie never did anything to you."

Iris hadn't expected Santa to actually dredge up her Nice/Naughty ratio, especially from before SCP-239 even dreamed him into being. She certainly hadn't expected to be scolded for it. If her face hadn't already been red from all the yelling and rolling around, it would be now.

"This isn't about me! You're - you're just proving my point! Kids are cruel! Kids are bullies!"

A crease formed between Santa's bushy white eyebrows. "Well, some of-" he began, but Iris wasn't finished. She was properly ranting now, fired up into a frenzy by frustration (Why wouldn't this holly jolly asshole listen?!), humiliation (How dare he throw her personal life in her face like that!), and most of all desperation (OH GOD WE'RE GONNA DIE). There were even a few hot, angry tears bubbling up as she wriggled around down there like a ribbon-wrapped slug.

"And kids get bullied, for stupid shit they can't even control like how tall they are, or how fast they can run, or their dorky hobbies, or who they like, or…or what their name is! My brother, he…" Iris caught herself before that particular pain could slip out. Any further than it already had, anyway. God, how many people even knew she had a brother? Well, Santa surely did with his omniscient fucking List, but that also meant he didn't need her to tell him.

For a long, tense moment, Santa stared into Iris's eyes. They were angry. Hurt. Frightened.

Santa glanced back down at Sigguros. She was pretty young, especially if you didn’t count the years she’d spent unconscious. And the Foundation hadn’t exactly been great parents.

“What’s your point?”

“My point," she gasped, out of breath, "is that you’re about to give that girl permission to write on the walls of reality. To break the whole damn universe and lie about it. To take whatever the hell she wants. All because she’s been ‘nice’. By default."

“But…but it isn’t fair! Siggy never meant to hurt anyone! She shouldn’t have to spend her life…” he gestured at her unconscious form, and the beeping machines connected to it, “…like this!”

“You think I don’t get that? You think I don’t know what it’s like to be locked up forever because of what you can do, instead of what you did?”

A look of confusion crossed Santa’s face. “Then how can you fight to keep her like this?”

“Because I still realize that there’s seven billion other people on this planet, and they don’t deserve to get mind-controlled or blown up or whatever else any more than Siggy deserves what's happening to her. I’m Protecting those people, from her. And if you’re one ounce as good as you think you are, then you will too.”

Santa looked back at Siggy, and his lips twisted into a frown. He looked down at the syringe full of bubbly magic medicine, and a tear glistened in his twinkling eye. With a defeated sigh, he placed it back in the padded box it’d come from.

“Cold, not cruel?” he asked, as the drop slid down his rosy cheek.

“Something like that,” Iris answered.

Santa put the lid back on the box, and the box back in his bag. He didn’t sling it over his shoulder this time; he just dragged it sadly along behind him, until he got to Iris.

“You’re blocking the door,” he said, quietly.

“Whose fault is that?” she retorted.

Santa squinted. With a grunt, he lifted up the sack and stepped gingerly over her. For the first time that night, he seemed tired. His broad shoulders were slumped, his light-footed skip replaced by a slow, heavy trudge.

“I’d wish you a happy Christmas,” he mumbled, “but I don’t suppose your ironclad ideology has any use for happiness.”

Iris didn’t know what to say to that, so she didn’t. As Santa plodded away, though, she did feel kind of…bad? Was she really feeling sorry for the guy that’d kicked her team’s asses from here to the North Pole?

Yes, she reluctantly admitted, she was. He looked like a kicked puppy.

“Santa, wait.”

He stopped in the doorway. “What?” he asked, without looking back. All the mirth that had filled his voice before was gone.

Iris thought about stopping, or telling him to fuck off, or something. What was she doing, putting the mission back in danger like this? The bogey was retreating, Siggy was asleep, the world was saved…and she’d made Santa Claus cry, on Christmas Eve. What kind of a jerk does that?

“There are other kids in here, you know.”

Santa peered at her over his shoulder, but he didn’t speak.

“And if they’re anything like I was, they could really use something to believe in. Or someone.”

“What are you saying?”

“Well,” she said, biting her lip for a second, “Siggy brought you to life for a reason, right? To make kids’ dreams come true?”

“I…I suppose so, yes.”

“And there’s more in that bag than just a big needle.”

“Well, of course.”

“Why do you think that is?”

Santa seemed to consider this. Slowly, a jolly smile crept back onto his face. “It’s not too late,” he whispered.

“What?” Iris asked. Her ears were still kind of ringing from all that spinning, falling, and yelling.

“It’s not too late,” Santa repeated, whirling around to face her, “to save Christmas!”

Iris started to return his smile, until she noticed the mischief in it.

“But I’m going to need some help,” he said, pointing at her.

Iris groaned.

“Well,” Santa boomed, “good job, everyone!”

“Thank you!” Rainer replied, sincerely.

“Thanks,” Leora said, less so.

Iris muttered something unintelligible.

Adams just grunted.

Foxx remained silent.

Santa chuckled. “Aw, where’s your Christmas spirit?”

Adams was the first to answer. “Pretty sure you crushed it with that ‘Polar Piledriver’.”

He winced. “Ah, sorry about that. I…got a little carried away on that one.”

“No shit.” She shot a dirty look at her un-piledriven teammates, who pretended to ignore it.

“Well,” he sighed, patting his great bowl-full-of-jelly with one massive mitten, “my work here is…wait!” With the same mitten, he pointed toward the center of the room. “We forgot the most important part!”

No one moved.

“That’s really high up,” Rainer observed.

Sighing, Iris fished her phone out of her pocket. “Leora, star me.” With one hand, she took a picture of the problem area. With the other, she accepted the large, crystalline star that Leora had made. Then she passed it through the picture and set it in its proper place. “Ta da,” she said, unenthusiastically.

Rainer actually started clapping, so she punched him – lightly, but not too lightly – on the arm.

“Perfect!” Santa cheered, drowning out Rainer’s quiet “ow”.

Stepping forward a bit, Santa turned to face the bedraggled members of MTF Alpha-9 (and Lambda-2). He was beaming, with little red dimples and everything. “Thank you for showing me that Christmas isn’t incompatible with the Foundation’s overwhelming moral ambiguity after all!”

“Thanks for not killing us,” Leora grumbled.

He winked. “Well, there’s always next year.”

Everyone’s eyes widened fearfully at the prospect of a rematch, but Santa ignored them.

“Oh, I almost forgot!” From his fuzzy jacket, Santa produced a surprisingly large box wrapped in colorful paper. He handed the package to Agent Foxx, who accepted it suspiciously, as if it might be a bomb. Then he noticed the tag on it: “Lucille”. Foxx gave Santa a quizzical look.

“It’s Dippin' Dots, Mr. Foxx. They’re little frozen ice cream balls, and I think your daughter will enjoy making them very much.”

Foxx sighed and shook his head. He should’ve guessed.

“Now,” said the jolly old elf, hoisting the massive sack of toys back onto his shoulder, “I really must be going. Merry Christmas!”

With a salute, he dissolved into a flurry of snow and vanished into the nearest air vent.

The assembled agents stood there in silence, staring at the vent. Foxx was the first to speak.

“I need to get home. Lucy will want to open this.” Then he walked away, followed by various mumbled holiday wishes.

“Say, Rainer,” Adams sighed, with palpable exhaustion, “ya got any peppermint Schnapps in that wormhole dimension?”

“What’s a Shnop?” he asked.

Adams stared at him for a second or two. She opened her mouth to explain, but ended up saying “Yo Foxx, wait up!” instead. Then she limped away after her fellow Real Adult.

“You guys want anything?” Rainer asked, pulling a Sprite cranberry from one of his wormholes.

“A normal fucking holiday,” Iris grumbled.

When Christmas morning came, it felt much like any other to the various humans and humanoids of Site-17. There hadn’t been many festivities this month; mostly just a few holiday-themed arts and crafts sessions, whose flimsy products would soon be exchanged as makeshift gifts. Everyone would pretend to like what they got, if anything, and then they’d sit down to watch some outdated Christmas classic that even the longest-contained anomalies could still remember seeing before the skippers got them. There weren’t even any decorations, since some of those could be repurposed as weapons.

At least, that’s what they’d been expecting. But when the cells slid open for breakfast that morning, something was clearly different. Instead of the harsh, unsteady glare of the ever-present fluorescent tubes, the cafeteria was lit with the warm glow of a million tiny Christmas lights. Evergreen garlands arched up and down the walls, and delicate paper snowflakes dangled from the ceiling. Festive tablecloths covered each table, anchored by glasses of eggnog and plates of sprinkle-coated sugar cookies. The most impressive thing, though, was the tree. It stood tall and proud at the center of the room, its living branches heavy with countless sparkling ornaments and ribbons. At the top of the mighty pine, seemingly higher up than the ceiling should have allowed, a massive crystalline star gleamed the brightest of all. And all around the base of the tree, there were dozens of expertly wrapped presents.

For a moment, the crowd of groggy anomalies bottlenecked there in the hallway, eyes wide and mouths agape. A small child was the first to break from the stupor, because she’d spotted her own name on the comically oversized tag that dangled from one of those presents. After that, it was a free-for-all.

The security guards, who were still trying to get their bearings amid the holiday hoopla, could do little more than shout ineffectually over the ruckus. Paper, ribbons, and bits of carboard flew every which way, and countless exclamations of surprise and delight echoed over the sound of tearing paper products.

Han scrambled into a bag full of tissue paper. Seconds later, he emerged clad in a white, sequin-spangled Michael Jackson glove. Alexei found a book called Goncharov and its two sequels, favorite works of literature that he never expected to see again in this dimension. Cactusman pulled a protruding string on a box taller than he was, which fell away to reveal an entire saguaro cactus.

“Hey big guy!” he exclaimed, then went in for a hug. “Ouch,” he said, quietly.

Stacey’s present was a DVD holding all 21 episodes of My Love From Another Star. She was glad to see it; none of the other skips were fans of K-drama, so her requests to have it added to the approved media pool had been repeatedly denied. She still wasn’t sure if they’d let her watch it now, but this wasn’t the time to worry about that.

Stacey was halfway through her sixth sugar cookie when she spotted Leora, sitting at a table off to the side with Rainer and Iris. She hurried over, eager to see what they’d gotten. As she got closer, though, she realized that the three members of Alpha-9 didn’t look nearly as jolly as the rest of the folks in the room. In fact, they were exhausted, covered in bruises, and still wearing their tactical gear. Stacey opened her mouth to ask what’d happened, but Leora saw her approaching and spoke up first.

“Hey! What’d you get?”

“Oh. Uh,” she held up her DVD. “A show I liked, before…” she gestured at the Site around her.

“Nice,” Leora replied, showing a tired smile.

“What did you get?” Stacey asked, seeing no signs of gift-opening around her friend’s feet.

Leora shared a look with Rainer. Then, in unison, they reached into their jackets and pulled out fist-sized lumps of coal.

“We were naughty,” she said. Rainer started giggling. To Stacey's astonishment, the perpetually-grouchy Iris did as well. Before long, Stacey had joined in too.

Gently, a fluffy-mittened hand lifted SCP-239’s pillow and swapped it for a softer, more colorful one. Another hand tucked a fluffy teddy bear under her limp arm. Finally, a warm, purple blanket was pulled up to her chin and tucked in.

“Sweet dreams, Siggy,” Santa whispered. Then, as Christmas Day dawned over Site-17, he was gone.

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