I won’t announce that “I’ve been on a blogging hiatus” since you already know that if you follow my blog at all. I’m sorry for not warning you all ahead of time — the holidays just got so busy and I got out of the habit. But I’ve been thinking of blogging ideas for the new year, and I’m excited to share them. I’ll be on a more regular schedule, among other things. But in the meantime, here’s a story I wrote last year for you to enjoy. I know it’s a little late, but merry Christmas!
It was an unspoken policy on most class-A vessels not to have any ship-wide Christmas celebrations. There were too many people from too many different backgrounds, and the prevailing policy of ISA was one that was tolerant and respectful of all of its various members. But the Surveyor was different, because Captain Trent insisted that by celebrating Christmas or various other traditions we were giving the crew a much better opportunity to practice tolerance and respect than if we did nothing at all. “No one is forced to join us,” he insisted. “If anyone finds Christmas offensive, they can stand on the sidelines for one day and be glad for those of us who celebrate.”
Still, it wasn’t a huge deal. The B-Deck lounge was decked out with a faux tree and ornaments, and some of the crewmembers would put on a concert or two, and those who wished exchanged gifts. Sometimes the Captain would have a few close friends to the officer’s mess or his cabin for a special dinner, but that was all. People had more time off, and the schedule generally relaxed for a few days before picking up as normal again.
The trouble became procuring gifts secretly. Especially if I wanted to get anything for the Captain or the Doctor. Nothing could be ordered or brought aboard without the Captain’s express approval, and the Doctor was altogether too smart and too observant. Not to mention that supplies could sometimes take months to be delivered, so we had to think far in advance to get anything to the ship on time. I usually solved this problem by making things, and the only things I knew how to make were mechanical. I’d invented a portable hand dryer for the Doctor a few months back, and had kept it tucked safely in the bottom of my closet behind my shoes, knowing that it was safe there. The Doctor never thought about his own clothes more than was absolutely necessary, let alone anyone else’s.
It had taken me a long time to come up with something for the Captain, but at last I’d programmed a new pad to connect to all of his electronic books and catalogue exactly what books he had on them and where to find them. He could even touch a title on the catalogue and the corresponding story would open on the applicable book.
I had gotten the Captain to help me order a new apron for Almira, and I wracked my brain about Guilders for weeks before finally deciding on socks. It made me wrinkle my nose, but they were practical, and Guilders liked practical.
Crash and I had a game of just giving each other whatever we happened to see on our way out the door to greet each other wherever we happened to be in the vicinity of the holiday, so I never worried about him. He’d probably end up with a lightbulb or a bit of laundry I hadn’t put away. The best had been the time that he arrived as a surprise, and in my search around my quarters I couldn’t find anything detachable except the short, blue curtains on the portholes, so I’d ripped one down and presented it to him. I’d probably end up being the lucky recipient of a bolt or an old worn out communicator.
This year, however, I had a new problem. August.
August had arrived only six months before Christmas the year 2320, and I hadn’t been able to think of anything in the first two months I knew him, and by then it was too late to order anything, and I tried in vain to think of something to download. So Christmas Day found me desperately gathering a plate full of cookies and tying a bow around them. One thing I had learned was that August didn’t like chocolate, so the plate was mostly full of decorated sugar cookies, with a few oatmeal raisin and peanut butter mixed in.
I slipped into the lounge, where people were exchanging gifts, making toasts, and laughing in the merriest way. Gripping the warm plate of cookies, I looked around the room for my brother, but couldn’t find him. Of course. August wouldn’t be at a party.
I rode the elevator down to C-Deck, found his cabin, and rapped on his door four times. “August!” I called. I could hear faint, indistinguishable sounds from inside. “It’s Andi.”
“It’s open,” his soft voice called in return, and I balanced the cookies on my left arm and used my right hand to press the button on the side of the door.
It slid upward, and immediately music met my ears.
August sat at his desk, boots propped up on top, a drink in his right hand, his face illuminated by the dim lamplight. The music came from his computer, and I vaguely recognized it as being a style from the mid-nineteen hundreds.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
let your heart be light
from now on our troubles will be out of sight…
His eyes were closed when the door opened, but he opened them as these lines played, and he smiled at me. “Hello, Andi.”
“Hi.” I smiled back. “Can I come in?”
“Of course.” He slid his boots off the desk and onto the floor and sat up straighter, placing his drink on the desk as the music continued to play. “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas.” I handed him the plate of cookies, feeling a little shy suddenly.
“Thank you,” he said, his soft, Austrian accent blending perfectly with the quiet scene. “It was very thoughtful.”
I briefly wondered if he’d gotten me anything, but pushed the thought from my mind. “I looked for you at the party in the lounge.”
“Oh yes, I’m sorry. I meant to go, I guess I didn’t realize the time.” It felt like a lie, one that he believed.
“It’s okay.” I listened as the song changed to something about a snowman named Frosty who was a jolly, happy soul. “This is nice.”
He nodded, and looked towards the computer. I thought for a moment he wasn’t going to say anything else, but just a hint of awkwardness infused the silence, he spoke. “It’s what I do every year.”
He turned to look at me, studying my eyes for a moment. “She always loved the ‘oldies’ as she called them.”
I instinctively knew that “she” was our mother, and a longing washed over me, tinted with jealousy. “Why?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. She liked old-fashioned things. I think they felt hopeful to her. Like something good from the past coming back. I think she felt like she belonged there.”
It was a longer sentence than he usually made. I listened more carefully to the music now, as it shifted into lyrics about rockin’ around the Christmas tree. It was unfamiliar, and I felt suddenly like an intruder. I stood up hastily. “I’ll leave you to it, then…”
“No.” He looked up quickly. “It’s okay.”
As I slowly sat down again, he added, “She was your mother, too.”
I nodded, forcing the tears to stay in my eyes.
For a moment we were both silent, listening to the songs. They ranged from jazzy and playful to thoughtful and wistful, but they were all Christmasy. All hopeful.
“He wasn’t always like that, you know,” August began.
“I know…” I hastened, but he kept talking.
“I remember one time… it was before you were born… I remember wondering why her stomach was so big.”
I smiled a bit, and he kept looking at the computer screen.
“We were making cookies. Dad was in the other room reading the news, and she let me make a special cookie for him. It was supposed to be a starship, but since I formed it myself, it was probably more of a shapeless mass. But it looked amazing to a three-year-old. She let me decorate it, too. All by myself.”
I didn’t stop a tear this time. Reaching into the inner pocket of my uniform jacket, I pulled out a picture of a smiling, brown-haired woman who bore quite a resemblance to myself.
“I gave it to Dad after it was done. He said it was perfect. He smiled at her.” He stopped there, and the music went on uninterrupted for a whole song. Then he shrugged. “A silly memory I suppose.”
I reached out and touched his arm, still clutching the picture with my other hand. “Not at all.”
He pulled his arm away gently to wipe his eyes. “She loved Christmas. For awhile I didn’t like it, because of that. But… I guess it didn’t take me long to figure out that remembering her was a good thing, and this was one of the ways to do it.” He shrugged again, and fell silent. It wasn’t awkward this time, and we both listened as a song I recognized, Auld Lang Syne, played. When it was over, he turned towards me and laid his hand on the cookies.
“Thank you for these, Andi. I tried to think of something to get you, but…”
I touched his hand, to stop him. “You did give me something, August.”
He smiled, and we went on listening to the Christmas music our mother had loved.