The KlausCorp Contract

Summary: What is it like to be a department store Santa in a cyberpunk dystopia?

Being a department store Santa Claus was never a job I thought I'd enjoy. I remembered the old days, when I'd raid the labs, data farms, and factories of rival mega-corporations. My mercenary activities caught up with me, and I ended up a mangled torso with a cyborg head. As part of my mercenary company's medical plan, I was used as a human Guinea pig.

It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I got new prosthetic arms and legs, and best of all were the non-invasive neurostimulators. They use focused ultrasound to stimulate my few remaining organic nerves, so it's like wearing a necklace or bracelet instead of jamming more circuits under my skin. There's still the new catheter, though, and it now feeds my piss and shit into a microbial fuel cell that turns it into power. Now, the prosthetics were unsuitable for combat, so they transferred my contract to their consumer tech arm, KlausCorp.

Ever since home fabbers caught on, old fashioned retail stores have been struggling to stay alive. Fabbers and other Santa Claus machines made most of what people needed, so we handled stuff above basic level and big name brands. We only did so because we're so massive and successful in other markets. Instead of relying on the expensive trucks and international logistics chains of last century, they rely on the power of marketing. I mean that in a very literal sense. Each store is essentially an empty warehouse that customers walk around with, after we give them augmented reality glasses at the door. They see a wonderland of products tailored to their specific tastes and search preferences, and we use subtle neurostimulation cues to get them to buy certain items, based on our current sponsorships. They just "purchase" an order and walk out. Their account is automatically charged, the product is fabricated at a local hub, and delivered to their house. Most merchandise is DRM-filled shit with terms of service worse than my prosthetics, but hey, it's a job.

They still have holiday sales, and that's where I came in. I've gained weight due to my physical disabilities, and they stick me in a Santa outfit after giving me a few specific upgrades. My beard and girth were more than enough to match Saint Nick, and my artificial life support made up the difference. Despite my size and apparent disability, I was still able to sprint like a champ. What they really wanted for me was security, since I was one of the few human employees left in the store. Every one of us had to pull our weight for security, especially with our rival firms eager for bad press this time of year. Due to my background and upgrades, I was confident I'd be able to pull everyone else's weight as well.

Despite the upgrades, most of the job was boring. I'd sit on a plastic chair in front of the play area, where children were abandoned in while their parents shopped. Very few of them even stopped to look at the e-waiver before leaving their brats alone with a total stranger, as their obese sires shambled through empty shelves like a herd of zombie cattle. A rare thin boy came up and asked me for a water gun. I humored the kid and gave him one from the industrial tools section, a portable water cutter for metalworking. It was the most expensive thing in our catalog that matched his search terms, so my employer would be satisfied. Plus, the kid deserved it, after the way all the lard-bucket kids made fun of his relative fitness.

Next up was a girl who looked fitter and smarter than the rest of the bastard brood. She wanted a toy doctor's kit, and thankfully for my employer, she never specified what kind of doctor. So, I got her the junior chemist's kit, the junior biologist's kit, the junior physicist's kit, and the junior medical doctor's kit. I even threw in some free cryo-frozen lab rats and cage for experimentation. From the way she eyed that scalpel, I knew she'd be a good candidate for our company's cyber-surgery division. Without her knowledge, my AI boss put her on a watch-list for potential scholarship candidates at a future date, based on her experimental aptitude.

Last was a fat brat that weighed as much as a grown man. I forgot what I got the kid to shut him up, but it was one of the toys with software as a service model. Meaning that it would automatically upgrade itself, and then charge the fees from his parents' credit card. It would be more debt than the for-profit scams that passed for college nowadays, anyway. Enjoy your future working as a toilet-bot scrubber, kid.

The kids that followed were far less memorable, but I got a warning flag when a new customer entered the store. He was a tattooed, juiced-up man with more red flags than a Communist rally. From the bulges in his duffle bag, I immediately pegged him as a potential threat. I asked my security AI to scan his profile and background, and they suggested he'd been hanging out with KringleCo employees. The enemy. I knew exactly what they wanted: a bloody Black Friday at a KlausCorp store, in hopes of driving our stocks down. The guy pulled out a machine gun, pulled the charging handle, and trained it at the kids.

By the time he'd levelled his weapon, I'd already sprang from my chair with my own weapon ready. My prosthetic left hand unfolded to reveal a gun barrel, colored red and white like a candy cane. The electronically fired shotgun discharged, firing a rubber slug at his center of mass. As much as I'd love a dragon's breath round, I had to nominally use less-lethal force as a first resort. While he was staggered, I rammed the barrel into his mouth. I felt teeth break as he gave me a bloody gun-barrel fellatio.

"To these kids, I'm Santa Claus," I said. "To naughty assholes like you, I'm fucking Krampus."

I discharged the second round. "Merry Christmas, fucker."

The junkie's head exploded across the floor, painting the storefront red. Seeing the smoking, bloody gun in my cyborg hand, I remembered the dirty mercenary jobs I spent my life on.

That's how I rediscovered my love of Christmas.