An Institute Christmas

Agents Asp and Valhalla, currently the sole occupants of The Institute's medical facility, watched as the red fluid that was essential to the lives of those they studied flowed out of their arms and into the medical bags.

"It still seems kinda funny," Valhalla remarked, "donating blood for vampires."

"Well," Asp replied, "it is Christmas. It was this or coffins. Besides, some of them do have problems hunting on Christmas--fewer solitary targets. Not to mention the poor vampires who have aversions to holy symbols."

"True. That reminds me--did we ever get conclusive proof that the ACLU suits against the Government using holy symbols in holiday decorations were initiated by vampires?"

"Not conclusive. We're pretty sure they were, but it will take a lot more digging to be sure, and other projects have priority."

As she finished, the monitors over both beds beeped, indicating the completion of the donation process. A nurse came in to disconnect the donation apparatus.

"Oh, good." Valhalla sighed, "Someone different. They guy who put these needles in did it in the most painful way I've ever experienced."

"Sorry about that," the nurse said, smiling pleasantly, "he's a new transfer. He came from Necrobiology, so he's not really used to working with live subjects, and he tends to forget about things like pain."

*****

A few minutes later, the two Agents had made their way to the Conference Center, their bags of blood wrapped in stasis boxes to maintain freshness.

The Conference Center had been brightly decorated for the holiday season, centered on the immense tree.

Although, calling it a tree might have been a bit of a misnomer. The structure was pure glass fiber, three stories high. The fibers were fanned out in the shape of a christmas tree, and lasers had been pumped through the fibers in such a way that the fibers themselves glowed solid green, while the very ends of the fibers blinked in every color imaginable.

Next to the fiber-optic wonder, someone had brought in a natural tree. This tree was small even by normal standards, and next to the marvel of technology beside it, it looked positively scrawny.

However, it was obvious that all Institute employees has received a healthy dose of the "Charlie Brown Christmas Special," as all of the presents were beneath this tree. The Agent's blood joined those presents.

*****

The next night, Christmas Eve, Asp went down to the Conference Center to take one last look at all the presents.

Much to her surprise, they had all vanished. A check of the logs confirmed her thoughts--the presents weren't due to be delivered until midnight, so she pressed the nearest Alarm button.

A few minutes later, Elite and Frontier burst into the room, weapons drawn.

A few minutes after that, nobody else had appeared.

"I don't understand," Elite said, "where IS everyone?"

"Last minute holiday shopping?" Frontier guessed.

"Makes sense." Elite agreed, "It certainly explains why you're still here. What do you get the squid that has everything?"

"You can't imagine." Frontier groaned, "You know what he wanted this year? A mountain goat sandwich."

"Enough of that." Asp said, "We need to get those presents back. Scan the area for magical traces first." All three Agents pulled out their Magic Meters and began scanning.

"I'm getting something." Elite remarked, "But I can't get a lock on it."

"I've got a lock." Frontier replied, "Looks to be extra-dimensional in origin. Tracing back in..."

"This direction." interrupted a forth Agent, entering the room. He was a short, scrawny guy, who looked like he would be more at home in a lab coat than a trench coat.

"Agent Lanner, Magic Division, right?" Asp asked, "You know what's going on?"

"Yes--I'll show you." he led the others out of the Conference Center, towards the areas where the Magic Division has its labs, "I had thought my attempts at duplicating an extradimensional portal spell had failed.

"It looks like I was wrong, however. But the portal didn't open immediately--I'm not sure if that was by accident or design. It appears that, when I wasn't looking, a demon made it's way through the portal, stole the presents, and then went back through that hole there." Lanner pointed towards a glowing hole in the floor of his laboratory.

"Well," Asp sighed, "I guess we'll just have to go down and get them back."

*****

"You know," Asp said as the four Agents fell through the strata between dimensions, "I really had better ideas for Christmas Eve than taking a trip to Hell."

"Oh, this doesn't go to Hell." Lanner responded.

"It doesn't?" Frontier asked, "Where does it go?"

"If you tell us we're going to Whoville, I'm going to wring your scrawny neck before we hit bottom." Elite warned.

"Nothing that bad. We're going to," Lanner started, interrupted by the fact that they all hit the ground, "or rather, we're in Heck."

"Heck?!?" the other three Agents all exclaimed.

"Yes, Heck." confirmed a portly man in a red suit with horns, who carried a large spoon.

"Who are you?" Asp asked.

"He's Phil," Elite replied, "Prince of Insufficient Light."

"How did you know that?" Phil asked.

"Easy. It's obvious our Author's doing a rush job. He's been lowered to swiping things out of the 'Dilbert' comic strip."

"Oh. In any case, what are you doing here? Not many dare to tread in the land of the Darned."

"We're looking for Christmas presents that were stolen by a demon from this land. Do you know where they might be?"

"One of my demons stealing Christmas presents? Hmmm, I have an idea who it might be. Follow me--I'll take you through a tour of some of the newer portions of Heck as we go."

*****

"Over here," Phil motioned to the left, "we have the section of Heck dedicated to those who drink all but the last gulp of milk or juice out of the bottle. Their punishment is to only ever get that last gulp, once a day.

"To the right is one of my favorite areas. This is for the people who never pick up their leaves, they just use the blowers to blow them off their property, and onto yours.

"As you can see, each person has their own little square, and their own leaf blower. If they can ever completely clear their square, they're out of here. But since the neighboring squares all have the same objective, it's not likely to happen."

*****

"Finally, we have our latest addition. I'm sure that technologically advanced individuals like yourselves will truly enjoy this one.

The group of people that Phil gestured to were all sitting in front of computers. Every few moments, one of those computers would announce "You have New Mail," causing whomever was in front of that computer to look a bit more nervous.

"I don't understand." Frontier said, "What's so worrisome about getting email?"

"Well," Phil began, "these people are all condemned to Heck because they sent chain letters or false virus warnings to electronic mailing lists without clearing it with the listowner first.

"For punishment, they are forced to receive email every two minutes. But not just any email. The mail they get all has a subject of 'Good Times,' and the first thing they heard when they were sent here was that if they opened mail labelled 'Good Times,' they would be sent straight to Hell.

"Of course, if they ever figure out that it's a hoax, and open one, they are actually sent to whatever rewards their religion dictates for them. Thus far, nobody's figured it out, however."

*****

"Ah, here we are." Phil said as the group made their way to a small hut. "I do believe we'll find your missing presents here.

"Alfred, you in there?" he yelled, pounding on the door. A small, trollike creature emerged.

"You wanted something, sir?" Alfred asked.

"Yes," Phil replied, "I believe you may have some stuff belonging to these people. Some Christmas presents, I believe."

"Me?" Alfred began. After a withering look from Phil, he started over, "Well, yes, but...it's not like they didn't deserve it. I mean their whole organization needs a good Darning--not to mention all those creatures they're planning on giving the presents to."

"That may be true, and believe me, I've considered having their air conditioning break down for a week next summer, but you know the rule.

"On Christmas..." Phil began.

"Nobody sweats the small stuff." Alfred finished, then sighed. "OK, I'll give the junk back."

*****

"Well, that's that." Asp said as the last of the presents was returned to their place under the tree, "Back in plenty of time for them to be distributed."

"That was rather interesting." Lanner commented, "It's the first time I've actually been to another dimension."

"Which reminds me," Elite said, "I better start packing. The Winter party starts soon."

"Try not to blow up Air Force One this year." Frontier commented.

"Awww, come on, you know I like the year to go out with a Bang!"

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