The group of students Chrístõ first got to know when they were the notorious 3C were a lot easier to deal with now they were fifth years with only one year of school left. They were all working hard within their individual capabilities. Even Billy Sandler was coming along now he was getting help with his dyslexia. He had stopped being so angry and frustrated and actually took notice of his lessons.

Today, he was actually listening as Dana Peyton read a text in front of the class in preparation for the discussion period that followed.

"VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except [what] they see.....

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world....

Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood....”

Dana sat down and closed the book. Chrístõ looked around at the group carefully.

"Does anyone want to say anything about the text you just heard?" he asked as the silence lengthened.

"I don't believe in fairies, either," Niall O’Leary pointed out. The others laughed.

"That doesn't matter," Chrístõ told them. "It's not really about believing in Santa Claus or fairies in particular. It's about having the imagination to believe that there are things beyond the mundane, ordinary universe that colour it and make it wonderful, whether you're an adult with mortgages and work to worry about or an eight year old child, or fifteen year olds on the brink of leaving childhood and entering the adult world.”

They were trying, but they didn't really understand him. He glanced at the seasonal ornament on the table beside his desk - a nativity scene complete with stable and all the usual figures inside.

"I've seen your confidential files," he said. "All your parents put down some form of Christianity as your religion. Do you believe in the original reason for Christmas?"

They all glanced at the nativity scene and then back at him. He could feel their thoughts. Yes, they believed in a general way. But they didn't really feel any emotional connection with something that happened nearly two and a half thousand years ago on a far off planet that they only knew from stories.

"I'm the wrong person to go into all of that," Chrístõ admitted. "I come from a species that ARE gods on some planets. Let's go back to the Santa Claus issue. Father Christmas, Papa Noel, Kris Kringle, Saint Nicholas.... wherever Humans live, on Earth or out here among the stars, the tradition has persisted of a man who brings presents to children on Christmas Eve. But you cynical lot don't believe in him?"

"We're fifteen," Kate Waring pointed out. "That stuff is just for kids."

"It's silly, it's impossible,” Stuart Peyton added. “Humans are spread out over millions of light years on different planets. How could one man get to them all?"

"Even you couldn't do it in your TARDIS," Judy Knox said.

"That is true," Chrístõ admitted. "I don't think I'd want to try. It would be one exhausting night."

They laughed, as he meant them to do. This was not a serious debate. This was the afternoon of the last day of term. There was precious little chance of anything serious happening in any class. But he wanted them to have a go at exploring that idea of faith and imagination, romance and illusion, that was in the text they listened too.

But it seemed as if 5C didn't have much of those in their souls.

"Did you ever believe in Santa Claus?" he asked them. "When you were younger?"

Most of them said yes. One or two said no. One, significantly, didn’t speak at all.

"When did you stop believing, then?" he asked as a supplementary question, and was not surprised to find that it was about the same age that young Virginia O'Hanlon of New York had written that famous letter in 1897 and prompted the equally famous reply. Most of them had worked out by eight or nine that their presents weren’t delivered by a man in red riding a sleigh across the sky, but had been bought by their parents and hidden in cupboards and lofts until the big day. It didn't spoil their surprise on Christmas morning, or their enjoyment of their gifts, and for most, gratitude to their hard working parents replaced the belief in a magical delivery system.

And that wasn't a bad thing in itself.

Even so....

"Billy...." He turned to his most problematic student. Billy wasn't looking at him, or at anyone.

"I never believed in anything," Billy said with something of the old sullenness Christo thought had been dispelled. At least his diction was better. In the past his reply would probably have been a grammatically incorrect 'I never believed in nothing'.

"You never believed in Santa Claus, Father Christmas... any variation on the theme, even when you were little?" Christo regretted asking the question almost immediately. It meant that everyone had turned to look at Billy. The boy was embarrassed and a little scared, and it was no surprise when his answer was so reminiscent of the old Billy who was the class thug rebelling against the injustices of life.

"I don't need Father Christmas. I don't need anything. It's a stupid idea. Leave me alone."

Christo didn't leave him alone. He moved from where he had been sitting on the edge of his teacher's desk and stood beside Billy. He reached out and touched him on the shoulder. The boy shrugged him away quickly but the brief physical contact was all he needed to see what was at the root of such bitterness.

"It's ok, Billy," he said quietly. “I understand.”

He walked back to his informal perch in front of the class and looked at them all. He quickly reached out and touched their minds. They were all thinking about their childhood Christmases, and the time when they replaced the fantasy with reality. In each case there was something that triggered that transition. A few of them had been upsetting and traumatic. Most were trivial but nonetheless a catalyst in their lives

The students were quiet. They were all looking at him. None of them could have known what he was doing, except possibly Mia Robinson who did have some rudimentary telepathy of her own. They were all a little puzzled.

"Sir, we're not allowed to sleep in class, so you can't," Gary Marshall told him.

"Quite right," he agreed, smiling his most disarming smile. "Ok, essays.... two thousand words on the meaning of Christmas to be presented to me on the first day of next term."

There were groans and protests.

“Two thousand words isn’t so difficult,” he said. “When I was a senior at the Prydonian Academy the minimum length of an essay was ten thousand words.”

“Yeah, but you were, like, two hundred years old and you have super fast fingers,” Helen Cary pointed out.

“Try not to use the word ‘like’ as punctuation in your essays even if it is part of your everyday speech,” Chrístõ told her. “Ok, there’s the bell. Off you go. Have a nice Christmas even if all us Scrooge-like teachers have given you homework to do.”

Most of them wished him a good Christmas in return as they picked up their bags and filed out of the room. He tidied his desk and put everything he needed into his own bag, including a whole collection of Christmas cards his students had given him. Even Billy had signed a cheap card with a picture of a robin on the front.

He drove home through the busy afternoon traffic of New Canberra and was pleased to see lights on in his house when he pulled up in the drive. Julia opened the door to him with a warm smile and a kiss. There was a smell of something nice cooking in the kitchen.

“Don’t get too used to this sort of domesticity,” she warned him. “I didn’t have much else to do today. But I’m nobody’s little housewife, not even you.”

“I should hope not,” he replied as he put down his bag and took off his coat. “But it’s nice to have you here for the holidays.”

He put up his Christmas cards while she finished off the meal she had cooked. With the Malcanan brothers back home on Gallifrey for the Winter Break as it was called there, it was just the two of them for a while, and he was enjoying the cosy intimacy of it.

He enjoyed the meal she made. Afterwards, he enjoyed sitting on the sofa with Julia by his side. Unconditional cuddles at his arms reach were something he appreciated without taking for granted. There was a film on the videoscreen. It was a fantasy about that very subject he had tried to tackle today – Santa Claus.

“I wonder how he DOES get to all the children in the Human race in one night,” Chrístõ said idly, remembering his afternoon class. “Because Judy Knox is right about that. Even if a TARDIS could do it, I don’t think the Time Lord flying it would stand the strain.”

Julia laughed.

“A magic beyond even Time Lord technology,” she said. “The point is not to wonder how it’s done. You just have to believe.”

“My father always made sure we had Christmas in our home,” he added. “Because he promised my mother we would. But Santa Claus wasn’t really a part of it. I always knew the presents came from my father.”

“I used to believe, when I was little,” Julia admitted. “The first Christmas on the ship… on our way here… I was old enough not to worry about it. But some of the younger kids worried about how Father Christmas would find us out there in such deep space we couldn’t even get radio messages from Earth. When their presents turned up on the morning, it was a real surprise to them.”

Chrístõ said nothing for a minute. The first Christmas on the SS Alduous Huxley had been all right. But he knew what came next. Julia had told him about the Christmas Day that she spent huddled in her hiding place with replicated food, hiding from the Vampyres and trying not to cry from loneliness. She told him just that once then they never talked about it again. It didn’t stop her thinking about it, now, though, before she passed on to happier Christmases since then with Chrístõ at her side.

“We’ll keep Christmas, even on Gallifrey,” he promised her. “It’s what my mother wanted. Not just presents, but the spirit of it.”

Chrístõ had a nativity set on his sideboard. It was old. Very old. It had been bought before he was born and put up in the drawing room of his Gallifreyan home every winter. His father had let him take it to his home here on the Human colony of Beta Delta where its meaning was better understood.

Well, in theory, at least. He recalled his glimpse into the theology of 5c.

“You could make them believe easily enough,” Julia told him. “Take them there. To the stable… the real thing. You did before… you took us that time when we had Christmas in Liverpool.”

“Not allowed,” he answered. “My father ticked me off for that time. Potentially dangerous interference in a major Fixed Point. I can’t risk that again.”

“Time travel is complicated,” Julia observed. “The things you’re not allowed to do….”

“What happened on your ship is a Fixed Point, too,” he said. “I can’t change that. If I could…you know that I would have done it long ago.”

“I know,” Julia said. “I understand that.” She was quiet again for a moment after that then she spoke again. “Is there any way we can restore Billy Sandler’s faith in Father Christmas without breaking the Laws of Time?”

“Billy never had any faith in Father Christmas to begin with,” Chrístõ admitted with a sigh. “There was no room for fantasy in his home.”

“I know they’re poor,” Julia mused. “They live in a very little house, with no garden to speak of, and all of his clothes are obviously second hand. Nothing ever fits him properly.”

“His parents aren’t very well educated. They only have very low paid jobs. His father is a janitor at the hospital, very often on night shifts, so he isn’t home in the evenings. His mother can’t work because she has to look after Billy’s younger brother.”

“I didn’t know Billy had a younger brother. He never went to the school with him.”

“He’s sick,” Chrístõ explained. “It’s on his confidential records, and I saw it in his memories when I read his past timeline. His brother was born with a tumour on his spine, something that even twenty-fourth century surgery couldn’t treat. He can’t walk, needs help with everything from feeding to washing. The things he needs apart from medicines – special equipment that isn’t covered by health insurance - cost a huge chunk of the family income. There isn’t much left to buy new school uniforms for Billy, let alone Christmas presents. And he’s grown up that way, having to accept that his brother’s needs come first and that there’s no such thing as Father Christmas.”

“Poor Billy, no wonder he was always such a ratbag at school.”

“It doesn’t excuse his behaviour,” Chrístõ said. “But it explains a lot of it.”

“So, can we do something?” Julia asked. “About Billy’s miserable Christmases?”

“I don’t think so,” Chrístõ answered. “I was thinking about going to Christmas Station and getting all the class one surprise present each. I did a bit of mind-reading and I know exactly what their hearts desires all are. But I don’t think I can make up for all the disappointments a fifteen year old boy harbours in his mind.”

“Can’t you?” Julia asked.

Chrístõ didn’t answer the question. He was looking at the Christmas cards on the mantlepiece and the decorated tree in the corner of his drawing room, and most especially, the Nativity.

“It’s not really meant to be about presents,” he said. “Father Christmas, in a lot of ways, actually gets in the way of the true meaning of it all – the gifts given to a child who was born to sacrifice himself for all of Humankind.”

“I know that,” Julia told him. “Everyone does, in a kind of way, somewhere deep down in their hearts. But that doesn’t make it easier for a kid like Billy when everyone else has a brand new bicycle. It really doesn’t. And we don’t have the right to say it should. I’ve been lucky, mostly. My parents always gave me what I wanted when I was little. Aunt Marianna and Uncle Herrick always made sure I had loads of presents. I think they were probably paid for out of the money you gave them when you announced that you were going to marry me when I grew up. Michal and Cordell did all right out of that fund, too. And you’ve always been generous to us all. I am lucky. And I don’t have the right to tell Billy and kids like him that they should be grateful for so much less than I’ve taken for granted every year except that one really awful one.”

“I know,” Chrístõ said. “I understand. But I still can’t change anything. I can’t go back and give Billy a new bicycle for the Christmas when he was ten and he so desperately wanted one or….”

“Why not?” Julia asked. “Billy’s tenth Christmas isn’t a Fixed Point, is it?”

“No. But….”

“But what? Why don’t we do it? Let’s take the TARDIS and….”

Chrístõ was trying to think of any reason, any rule in the long list he had been forced to study when he trained for his provisional TARDIS licence, that prevented him doing what Julia was proposing. There was no Fixed Point involved. He wasn’t actually changing history in any significant way. Nobody would live or die who shouldn’t.

There was a rule about not using the TARDIS for trivial purposes.

“Nuts to that,” he said. “Grab your coat and let’s go.”

New Canberra wasn’t very much different eleven years before. The most significant changes to the infrastructure had been in the year following the unexpected earthquake that damaged part of the city. The TARDIS had no problem landing in the estate behind the city hospital where Billy Sandler’s parents had set up home.

“The idea of coming to these colony planets was to have a better life,” Chrístõ noted as he looked at the very plain row of small houses with tiny strips of grass and tarmac for a garden. He looked up at the small windows and guessed there were two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, the minimum a family home would need. “If this is better than they had before….”

“It probably isn’t,” Julia admitted. “The dream didn’t work out for some people. Uncle Herrick worked for the same company on Earth. He was promoted to foreman of the factory here. He and Aunt Marianna knew there was a better life here for them. My parents were coming because Uncle Herrick had arranged a job for my father in advance, a better one than he had on Earth. But if Billy’s dad was a janitor on Earth, then I don’t suppose he was qualified to get anything better here. That’s just how it is. I don’t know how anyone could change that.”

“Nor do I,” Chrístõ admitted. “Economics was never my strong point. I preferred thermodynamics and temporal physics.”

They walked up to the front door of the house in the middle of the row. It was in darkness, as were all the others. It was after midnight on Christmas morning. Everyone was asleep.

Chrístõ used his sonic screwdriver to unlock the door. He stepped into the house, followed by Julia. They were both wearing perception filters, but they trod carefully and quietly anyway.

There were two rooms downstairs, a living room and a kitchen. That was all. The living room had been decorated for Christmas with tinsel around the picture frames and a plastic tree with cheap baubles on it. There were a few wrapped gifts under it. Mr and Mrs Sandler had done their best.

The present Chrístõ brought made the others look very small. It was wrapped in gold paper, but there was no disguising the fact that it was a rocking horse. At four, Billy didn’t really have any burning desires. Those came later when he was aware of what other people had and he didn’t. Chrístõ had wanted a rocking horse when he was four and living on Ventura where there were a lot of real horses. He had got one. And now, so had Billy.

“Just a minute,” he said to Julia. He left her in the living room while he crept upstairs. In the smaller of the two bedrooms he found the four year old Billy in his bed. He touched the little boy’s forehead and reached into his child mind. He put a soft dream there to see him through the night.

“Have a good Christmas, kid,” he whispered.

He went next into the bigger bedroom. There was a special incubator cot there, lights blinking in the dark and a soft hum as it fed oxygen directly to the three month old baby that lay within the protective cover. Human medical science in this century was good, but sometimes it had limitations. Billy’s little brother, Adam, taxed those limitations just staying alive.

“Sleep well, little one,” Chrístõ whispered, placing his hand on the side of the cot briefly. Then he turned to the double bed. Mrs Sandler slept closest to the cot. Her hand was stretched out towards it as if she wanted to keep contact with her youngest child even in her slumber.

Chrístõ put his hand on her forehead and reached into her mind. He gave her soft, contented dreams, too. But he also had another agenda.

“The rocking horse is from a friend who wishes you all well. Don’t worry about it. Don’t be frightened. And don’t think of it as charity. You’re doing your best for both your children, but this is to remind Billy that he isn’t forgotten.”

He did the same for Mr Sandler, who rolled over in the bed and draped his arm over his sleeping wife after Chrístõ withdrew and stepped back from them. They were all right. The little piece of suggestion he had placed in their minds would allow them to accept the sudden appearance of an expensive present for their son without undue concern.

He went back downstairs and Julia followed him out of the house.

“Traditionally we should come down the chimney,” she said with a soft laugh as they walked back to the TARDIS.

“That’s an idea that bears some examination,” Chrístõ replied. “A grown man… a stoutly built man at that… going down a shaft no more than a couple of feet wide….”

“With a hot fire at the bottom,” Julia added.

“Even without the fire, it would take some dangerous messing around with relative dimensions to pull it off. I think we’ll stick to the front door.”

They used the front door the next Christmas to deliver Billy’s first bicycle with training wheels. Again the wrapping didn’t leave much guessing. Again, Chrístõ crept up to the bedroom and assured his parents that everything was all right.

The year after that, when Billy was six, the present was a deluxe model train set with three highly detailed trains and enough track to circle the little drawing room. Billy had seen one in a shop window when he was out with his mother and wanted it – the first time he had really wanted anything specific and the first time he realised that it was impossible. Toys cost money. Adam needed a special chair so that he could sit up to eat. That cost every spare penny.

The year he was seven, Beta Delta IV had unusually heavy snowfalls. Every child wanted a sled to ride down the snow covered slopes in Earth Park. Billy had resigned himself to using an old piece of wood with some hand holds nailed on inexpertly. Even before he ripped off the paper he would know exactly what was in this year’s not-so-secret present.

When he was eight, he was ready for a bigger bicycle without training wheels. The one he had set his heart on without very much hope was blue and silver and had a bell on the handlebars.

There had been some changes in the house. The drawing room was doubling as a bedroom. Mrs Sandler was asleep on a sofa bed while Adam, now four years old, was in a special bed with an oxygen hood over it at her side. As ever, her hand was outstretched towards her younger child as she slept.

The following year, Chrístõ and Julia brought Billy’s first televideo set with a selection of holovids that a nine year old boy would enjoy. Mr Sandler was taking a turn sleeping on the sofa beside the invalid child. His wife was in the bed upstairs.

When Billy was ten, and his present was a mini computer, Julia and Chrístõ both noticed straight away that the bed with the oxygen hood was empty and the sofa bed unused.

“Oh, no,” Julia whispered. “He isn’t….”

“He’s in hospital. His mother is there with him. Billy and his dad are spending Christmas on their own this year,” Chrístõ explained. “Adam will pull through. But this was a rotten time for them, and I don’t think our present will entirely compensate for that.”

The following year Mrs Sandler was again sleeping downstairs beside Adam’s special bed. He was seven, but looked as small as Billy did when he was four. Beside the bed was a specially adapted wheelchair that had taken all the family savings this year. Julia placed this year’s present for Billy beside the familiar plastic Christmas tree while Chrístõ made sure the family were all sleeping soundly.

By the time he was twelve, a growing boy, Billy needed another new bicycle. The big thing this year was dynamo engines that helped with cycling uphill, but they made the bicycles twice as expensive as normal and as if that wasn’t bad enough, not enough of them had been shipped to the Beta Delta planets. Bicycle shops everywhere had signs up saying ‘sold out’. There were going to be a lot of disappointed children this year.

But Chrístõ made sure Billy wasn’t one of them.

“He needs it more than any other child,” he said. “The bicycle is his freedom from these streets. He can cycle out as far as Butterfield Lake and enjoy himself.”

Julia nodded and took his hand as they walked back to the TARDIS.

The ‘must have’ for every teenager when Billy was thirteen was a virtual reality helmet. Julia laughed as she remembered Michal and Cordell pestering their father for them. They were, as the name implied, helmets with a multi-sense virtual reality built in. The wearer could be a space pilot in his cockpit or a racing driver, or any of a hundred programmable activities.

“I thought it was rubbish,” Julia said. “It made my head ache when I tried Cordell’s helmet. But they got plenty of fun out of them. Aunt Marianna banned them from playing the multi-user medieval jousting programme in the house.”

There had been another change in the Sandler house. Now Billy was the one sleeping on the sofa bed with his mini-computer from two Christmases ago by his side and some of his personal things scattered around. While Julia left the present under the increasingly sad looking Christmas tree, Chrístõ went upstairs to find that Billy’s bedroom had been given over to Adam and the various equipment he needed. He wondered if Billy had been willing to make such a sacrifice for his brother or not. Even when he had started to open up a bit and be less of the sullen class menace, he had never talked about his brother. He never said if he loved him or resented the attention his parents gave to him. Did he share their worry when Adam was ill or did he secretly wish he would die so that there would be room in the house and in his parents’ hearts for him?

But that was not for him to know unless Billy chose to tell him, and it was not something that was in his power to change.

Billy was still sleeping in the drawing room when he was fourteen. This time, Chrístõ leaned over him and put him into a deeper, dreamless sleep before he and Julia set to work replacing the almost bald plastic tree with a brand new one made of realistic simulated fir, guaranteed not to lose needles. They decorated it with baubles and tinsel and a luxury set of lights. Chrístõ went to the kitchen and left a traditional pudding and a big iced Christmas cake to supplement the feast Mrs Sandler had prepared. He filled every dish and bowl in the house with sweets and nuts, little treats for everyone. There was a large box of chocolates under the tree for Mrs Sandler, a bottle of aged brandy for Mr Sandler and the luxury gift for Billy this year – a complete set of winter clothes, including the latest fashion leather ankle boots, a coat, casual wear for all occasions, and a school uniform that fitted him. In the pocket of the coat was an envelope containing a season ticket to New Canberra Leisure Dome, giving him access to the cinema, bowling alley and indoor quad bike track every weekend.

There was something else to be left beside the tree. A brand new battery-powered hover-chair for Adam. It would make things easier for his mother when she took him out. When he was a little older, he could operate it himself and gain a little independence.

“I think this will be their best Christmas ever,” Julia said as they looked around the room then quietly left.

“I hope so,” Chrístõ answered. “Come on. I’ve still got a shopping list for this year.”

Christmas Station was the ultimate commercial face of Christmas from the twenty-sixth century. Fifty floors of shopping on a space station on the edge of the Sol 3 system was the place to get anything imaginable and quite a few things that weren’t.

“Why does Sarah Hammond want a music box that plays Lara’s Theme from Doctor Zhivago?” Julia asked as she looked at the list of fifteen gifts for the boys and girls of 5C that Chrístõ was intent on tracking down.

“It’s her favourite song. When she was nine she set her heart on having a box that played it, but her parents couldn’t find one.”

Chrístõ found one. It was made of lacquered wood and inlaid with mother of pearl and was in the ‘fine crafts’ section. It was expensive. Julia thought that it was far more expensive than the one Sarah had imagined when she was nine.

The Russian nested dolls that Helen Cary had wanted when she was seven were probably made of plastic. Most things were in the twenty-fourth century. The set that Chrístõ bought were hand painted, finely carved wood.

At eight, Mia Robinson had wanted a baby doll with eyes that opened and shut, with dark hair and brown eyes and dusky coloured skin like herself. Among shelves full of blonde haired, blue eyed dolls with peaches and cream complexions Chrístõ tracked down what he was looking for.

One by one he found the gifts that his students had all thought of when they cast their minds back to their not so distant childhood when they had been so disappointed not to get something that the magic of Christmas faded for them. In some cases there just hadn’t been the money for the toy they really wanted. In others they had made the mistake of not telling anyone of their hearts desires, only to realise that Father Christmas hadn’t heard their secret wishes. One way or another hopes were dashed.

“They’re too old for some of these things now,” Julia pointed out as Chrístõ took his purchases to the wrapping and delivery counter where presents could be sent by a special vortex manipulation system back or forward in time to any Christmas and any address in the Earth Federation. “What is Scott Miller going to do with a set of model Cowboys and Indians at his age?”

“Enjoy one last Christmas as a child,” Chrístõ answered. “Next year he’ll be sixteen. His mind will be wrapped around upcoming exams that terrify him, and that will determine the future course of his life. After that, he’ll be too busy being a young adult. Life will be full of cares and it’ll be even harder to believe in Christmas than it is now. These gifts are to remind them all that there can be a bit of magic, after all.”

He sent off all but one of the presents. The one for Billy Sandler he kept back. This Christmas Eve they would deliver it the same way they always had.

The fifteen year old Billy was still sleeping in the living room. He was still thin for his age, but his enthusiasm for bike riding had put strength in his muscles. By his bed, along with his mini computer and virtual reality helmet, Chrístõ noticed that there was a book – an actual, physical book made of paper. It was stamped out from the school library. Chrístõ noticed with a note of irony that it was a copy of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. A bookmark halfway showed how far he had got, reading at his own slow pace. Chrístõ left it where it was and turned to leave this year’s present by the tree – the one he had brought for the family last year.

“That’s what he wanted for Christmas this year?” Julia asked. “A telescope.”

“Billy wants to reach for the stars,” Chrístõ answered. “He’s doing all right in his science stream. His best subject is electronics, but he has an interest in astronomy that ought to be encouraged. As long as he keeps plugging away at the reading and writing he should be ok.”

Julia looked around as Billy stirred in his sleep. He turned over on the sofa bed and settled again. He shouldn’t have been aware of them hidden by the perception filters, but they were neither of them entirely sure. They quickly left the house, closing the door behind them.

Chrístõ and Julia had a pleasant Christmas at Marianna and Herrick’s house, a family Christmas as it ought to be. After the festivities were over he took Julia to join his own family on Ventura to enjoy the skiing season. They came back in time for the start of the academic year. Julia went back to her college on Beta Delta III. Chrístõ drove to New Canberra High School and steeled himself for registration with 5C.

He was pleasantly surprised to find a collection of thank you cards and notes on his desk. None of them bothered to ask how he knew about music boxes, nested dolls, fire trucks with extendable ladders or flutes. They knew their teacher could do just about anything if he chose.

“The cards are nice,” he said with a warm smile. “But how about those essays?”

There were groans and complaints. Christmas was over and it was business as usual in the class. But they all handed in something.

He looked at Billy Sandler’s essay. It wasn’t even close to two thousand words. He had managed about three hundred, give or take, and there were some spelling mistakes he would have to go through with him.

But he smiled as he read Billy’s idea of what Christmas meant. Especially the last line - a properly constructed sentence with absolutely no grammatical errors whatsoever.

“I still don’t believe in Father Christmas or Santa Claus, but I do believe in Chrístõ.”

“Good enough,” he thought, before getting down to the important matter of registration.