Santa’s Problem – a Gwendolen story

Several readers enjoyed ‘The Wonky Wand’ which introduced Gwendolen the fairy. I felt like contributing to the festive mood, so here’s another story about her. After all, as Lynn Love commented, everybody loves a sweary fairy!
As a practising scientist I hadn’t believed in fairies – until I met Gwendolen. Eight inches tall, dumpy and pasty-faced, with lop-sided iridescent wings, she was undoubtedly real. Meeting her had been entertaining as well as an eye-opener. And, of course, I couldn’t forget that she had arranged the introduction to Paul, my husband.
I had never expected to hear from her again, but one December evening, when Paul was out, I heard a crash from the bedroom.
“Oh, bugger.” I heard a ripping sound. “Oh, BUGGER!”
There was Gwendolen, red-faced and with a comprehensively torn dress. “Misjudged the landing, and got caught up in your bedside lamp,” she explained. “I’m glad you can see me. I thought you might have lost the gift; you know, with Paul and all that. Physical satisfaction tends to make discernment less acute. I hope you are enjoying life with Paul?” She peered at me a little doubtfully.
The subject seemed to embarrass her, and I was tempted to tease her by asking her to explain what she meant. But she looked worried, so I just nodded, smiled and said, “Yes, thank you.”
She had plainly made an effort. Her hair was brushed. The star on her wand twinkled quite prettily. It was a shame about the torn dress.
“It’s Santa,” she said. “He has a big problem.” She looked hopefully at me.
“Santa. Um. Gwendolen, are you telling me that Santa is real?”
Gwendolen eyed me up. “I do sometimes forget that you’re not eight years old. Yes, Santa’s real and, yes, he does deliver presents.” She folded her arms, daring me to disbelieve.
“But Gwendolen, love, surely Santa couldn’t travel fast enough to deliver all those presents in a single twenty four hour period?”
“Well of course, he couldn’t. D’uh! How could you run a business like that? A factory geared up to producing for delivery on a single day of the year? Bonkers. What would you do with the elves the rest of the time? No, production takes place steadily throughout the year, and parcels are despatched every day on time-lapse delivery.”
“Elves, Gwendolen?”
“Yes, well let’s not say too much about them. Some of us are very concerned that Santa will lose control of them, and then where will we be? He claims that elfin safety is his top priority, but I’m not convinced.”
“And time-lapse delivery. It sounds neat, but how does it work?”
“You pop the package into the despatcher, the computer attaches space-time co-ordinates, and the delivery system then transfers the package to those co-ordinates. That’s where the problem lies. The despatcher uses a quantum computer and Santa’s wife, Mary,…”
“Not Mary Christmas?” I breathed.
“No, don’t be silly, she’s Mrs Mary Claus, anyway, she spilled coffee on the computer, and the qubits decohered and, well, there’s going to be some disappointed children this Christmas. Unless you can help.”
“If Santa’s really using a quantum computer, I doubt I can help. We humans only have experimental models, and I would never be allowed to use one.”
“Santa’s head of IT said it could be done by ordinary human computers if we could link enough together.” She screwed up her face in thought. “Massively parallel computing, I think he said it was.”
“How many would we need?”
“About a thousand.”
“Whoo! That’s a lot of computers. The only way we could do that would be with a botnet, and a big one at that.”
Now, I’m not a computer scientist, but I know one or two. There’s Chloe, who’s studying computing and there’s Amanda, who’s up for anything that looks like fun. They might have access to a big enough network.
“Where will the data come from, Gwendolen?”
She pointed at the floor. A DVD was lying there. “That’s why I hit the lamp,” she explained. “It’s a big thing to carry while you’re flying.”
“And how do we return the processed data to Santa?”
“Same way. One of those pretty, shiny discs.”
“It will take time, Gwendolen. I’ll have to ring my friends.”
“That’s alright. Paul’s never back from the Golf Club committee until eleven o’clock.” Her voice died away as I looked at her.
“How do you know about Paul and the Golf Club? Have you been…” I wondered how to ask her politely whether she’d been spying on us.
Have you ever seen a fairy looking shifty? Gwendolen looked at the floor, shuffled her feet, gave her wand a guilty twirl. “Well, you always feel interested in the people whose wishes you’ve granted. You want to know how they’re getting on. And I haven’t been here while you’ve been…you know.”
I didn’t altogether believe her. In fact, I didn’t believe her at all. “Oh, Gwendolen,” I sighed.
Amanda thought the whole thing was a great joke. I don’t know whose computers she hijacked, but the following day she rang me especially to tell me to watch the evening news. Apparently Russian computers had hacked the CIA. I didn’t want to know. All I needed was to download the data and burn it onto a DVD.
Gwendolen came back for it the following evening. I was sitting at the computer in the study when I heard a cough. There she was, sitting behind me. Wordlessly, I passed her the DVD.
“Christmas is saved,” she murmured. “Thank you so much. I won’t stay. I can feel Paul coming.” Her little face softened. “I’m really glad your marriage is working out so well,” she said. “You know, your wish was only the start; all the rest, you’ve managed for yourselves. Good-bye – must fly!” She vanished just as Paul came in.
“Is that a new perfume? Nice!” He nuzzled his face into my neck.
Gwendolen, don’t you dare!

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