A Phoenix Christmas
By Bernard Doove © 2013
Loander entered hir and Presaiths cabin to find hir mate sitting cross-legged on the carpeted floor, clad only in hir fur. The nudity was not odd – both Faleshkarti were usually grateful to be able to shuck their ships uniforms after their shifts, and neither even had the concept of a taboo against nakedness before they had entered Federation civilisation. It was the device with which Presaith was engrossed that was unusual. The engineer was normally very happy to set aside work in order to relax, but this so monopolised hir attention that shi did not notice Loander until hir mate bent over and kissed hir.
Presaith was only momentarily startled before shi returned the kiss with fervour. Then shi asked excitedly, Have you got it?
Loander held out a data-stick. Of course. Haven't you finished that yet?
Just a couple of bugs that I want to be sure are eliminated, Presaith replied as shi took the stick. We don't want this to fail in any way, or else we'll look like fools.
Shi plugged the stick into a waiting port, snapped a cover over the electronics, then toggled a power switch. A small diagnostics screen lit up and Presaith stared at it keenly.
Loander said, I'm going to have a shower.
Uh-huh, Presaith replied absently.
Loander realised that hir mate was lost in the project once more and shi grimaced, a little miffed that shi had missed the implied invitation to join hir in a little fun in the bathroom. When your biology required regular sex, you tended to make the most of your opportunities. It took a lot to take their mind off such things, but then, Christmas was quite a big deal for both of them.
The Faleshkarti as a race were culturally stunted; their biological imperatives had left little time for such things, and alone among the sapient races so far discovered, they had no concept of religion. So these things had come as a very puzzling surprise to them when the first envoys had gone out to learn more about the Federation. Such knowledge that they had brought back had barely started to disseminate before Loander and Presaith had been assigned to Phoenix, thus they had been quite bewildered at first by the concepts. However, Christmas had been one holiday that they had been able to embrace. Not for the official religious reason, of course, but for the spirit of giving and good will to others. Their first Christmas with the crew had been an eye-opener for them, and they had enthusiastically joined in the celebrations for the subsequent ones. This was to be their fifth, and they had a very special gift planned for one of the crew, and it was important to get it right.
Preoccupied with hir thoughts while shi shampooed hir fur, Loander did not notice someone entering the bathroom until Presaith put hir arms around hir mate. Loander smiled in anticipation.
Martin was in his office, taking the final reports from the heads of department, and M'Rarrtikar was just concluding hers.
… and profits from the E'Kali contract are 1.3% higher than estimated due to favourable conditions on this voyage. Therefore the crews profit-sharing bonus should amount to an extra 247 fed-creds each. Just in time for Christmas, she concluded with a smile.
Christmas was a holiday that the Caitians had also adopted due to its similarity to the Celebration of Krrtnassun on their home-world, and living on a Terran-based ship, it was easier to go with their holiday than with the Caitian one. Besides, as M'Keera had pointed out a while back, Kà'iît was no longer their home, and it made sense to integrate with their extended family.
Excellent! Martin declared. Now how are things in Engineering?
R'Murran replied, Presaith and I finished the scheduled maintenance early. We're ready to go into station-keeping mode.
Great! Then I see no reason to delay. I'll announce to the rest of the crew that we'll be shuttling down to my parents place at 0900 hours. Everyone is dismissed.
Only Bethany remained behind. As always, she maintained a professional demeanour while on duty, but as soon as the door had closed behind the others, she spun Martins chair around, sat in his lap, and gave him a kiss.
Martin returned it enthusiastically before saying, You're pretty excited about this, aren't you?
Well, it's not often that you get to tell your mother-in-law that you're expecting her grandchild.
You know that she will probably have anticipated this as much as she did our getting married?
There's a big difference between a prediction and a hard fact. Just you wait and see – she's going to be excited too.
Don't let Mother get carried away, darling. She's a strong-willed woman, and might have some ideas that clash with your own.
Nonsense! We see perfectly eye-to-eye.
I'll remind you that you said that, Martin said with a smirk.
Oh, you pessimist! Bethany replied, punching him in the shoulder. Then she forestalled a comeback by kissing him firmly again. Soon both had lost interest in the conversation in favour of communicating in a more physical manner.
Will you be joining us, Andrea? Martin asked the doctor.
The serval gave him a lopsided and slightly sad smile. I had been half-hoping that I would hear from relatives, but it would seem that I am not expected elsewhere. So yes, I would be happy to join you for now.
We leave in ten minutes. I hope you've packed for a few nights stay?
Yes, I was prepared for that eventuality. Ill go grab my bags.
Andrea greeted her chakat colleagues as they passed her on the way. Martin said to Zelkie who was in the lead, Good morning! Ready to visit your families?
Yep. I'm told that they've organised a big gathering this year, and everyone's looking forward to it.
Martin noticed Ceres and Danson follow the chakats in the company of Darkwave. So your brother isnt going home alone, I see.
Zelkie grinned. Was there ever any doubt? Those three might not have formalised it as yet, but they're as good as being a triad right now. Shi lowered hir voice conspiratorially. I think they're going to make an announcement at the gathering. Dark probably wants to give Dad and Mum a thrill.
Martin smiled back. Sounds about right. He raised his voice for the others. Everyone enjoy your holidays! I know that you'll probably be spending as much time as you can with your families, but if you feel inclined, youll be very welcome to drop by my parents place.
Thanks, Captain! Hotfoot replied.
Have a very happy Christmas, Captain, Burningbright added with a hug.
Pixiepaws handed Martin a parcel. That's from us cubs, Captain. Dont open until Christmas, okay?
Martin gave the teen chakat a fond look. You're hardly cubs any more. Make the most of your opportunities while you're on holiday, okay? And thank you for the gift.
The three gave him mischievous grins as they gave him a parting hug. He was keenly aware of how they had filled out as they had grown up, and he wondered briefly if all of them would be returning. There were few opportunities for the youths to meet other chakats with their starship lifestyle, and it might be soon time for them to fly the nest.
The chakats, skunktaur, and foxtaurs piled into the heavy-lift shuttle that Zelkie normally piloted, while Martin exited the shuttle bay. With the door safely sealed behind him, he watched through the observation port as Zelkie expertly guided the shuttle out of the bay and on its way to the spaceport closest to their families.
Not long after, the rest of the crew started arriving and boarding Martins shuttle in the second bay. Anastasiya was the last to arrive.
Everything secured, Captain, shi reported.
Good. R'Murran has left everything in station-keeping mode, so all Madeline has to do is keep an eye on the status board. He raised his voice slightly. All set, Maddy?
Everything is in the green, Captain. I'll see you dirt-side, her voice replied from the bays speakers.
Great! All aboard for immediate departure, Martin announced cheerfully.
Minutes later, Martins shuttle exited the bay and Madeline sealed it up. The coyote nimbly adjusted the attitude of the shuttle and set course for their destination.
Welcome, everybody! Martins mother greeted them cheerfully from the front door of the mansion as they got out of the PPTV that had bussed them from the spaceport. It's good to see you all again.
Martin gave his mother a fervent hug. I'm glad that we could make it for Christmas this year, Mom.
We all knew that it wouldn't always be possible, so we should celebrate twice as hard to make up for missed opportunities, shan't we?
Of course, but when did we ever stint on celebrating?
Lydia smiled. You're right, of course, but let's try anyway. She then turned to Bethany to embrace her too. Welcome, Daughter. Married life agreeing with you, I hope?
Very much so, Mama Lydia.
You must tell me all about whats been happening since the wedding later. She next turned her attention to Anastasiya who was carrying hir new daughter on hir shoulder. It's good to have you and Valentina here also, Ana. How is little Petrushka doing?
Growing bigger and stronger every day, Mama Lydia, Anastasiya replied as shi and Valentina gave her a hug and kiss. She did the same for Katarina and Shintaro.
The Faleshkarti were next to be greeted by the coyote woman. It's good to have you two here for our celebration. That is a very lovely skirt, Loander.
Thank you, Lydia, Loander replied. M'Keera helped me choose something appropriate because I am not very familiar with Terran fashions.
Did she also pick out those slacks for you, Presaith?
M'Keera tried to get me to wear a skirt also, but it was not to my taste. We compromised on these, and I find them comfortable. I hope that they are not inappropriate here?
Good heavens, no! Back in my younger days, I preferred slacks also. I've never been one to police fashions.
Lydia greeted the Caitians next, singling out M'Keera particularly. You are looking wonderful, my dear. Being mated seems to suit you well.
Being mated and still aboard Phoenix suits us both, she replied with a fond smile at her husband.
The group was then ushered inside where they found Martins sister and the younger of his brothers already present. There was another round of greetings before the group was allowed to be shown to their rooms for their stay. Then they socialised until Yote senior and Martins older brother arrived in time for lunch.
While all of Martins siblings had expressed their congratulations to him when the announcement of his future succession had been made, Martin still had not been able to stop having his occasional doubts despite messages of reassurance from them. It had taken an empathic reading of them by Burningbright to finally convince Martin that they truly did not bear him any ill will. Their parents had done a good job in raising them all, although it did not stop them from teasing him about it.
Brandon said, I can't say that I'm not disappointed in not being named Dads successor, so if you get yourself killed on one of those crazy adventures of yours, I'd appreciate being named your first choice to take over the reins of the company. He mimed stabbing him in the back to the rest of the family.
Youll need someone to give you an alibi, I think, Clarice pointed out with a grin.
Martin rolled his eyes, but he was amused by the ribbing they were giving him. His crew-mates laughed along with his parents and siblings. They were as much part of the family now, and the atmosphere was happy and lively as they all ate and caught up on each others news. Bethany waited until the end of the meal to make her announcement however.
After asking for attention, Bethany said, Mama Lydia, Papa Arthur, Martin and I are excited to announce that we are now expecting a grandchild for you.
Lydia got up from her chair to embrace Bethany. I am delighted to hear that, dear. I was so hoping that you two would be fully compatible.
Not that you'd let a little thing like that stop you, my love, Arthur commented mischievously. I know that you have been checking out fertility clinics to investigate genetic compatibility adjustment.
There was no need to mention that, dear, Lydia rebuked him mildly.
Martin laughed. It's nothing that we hadn't guessed for ourselves, Mother.
Oh dear! Am I becoming that obvious? I must be slipping, she replied in mock dismay.
There was much laughter, and the pregnant mother was toasted with a very fine wine that Alain fetched from the cellar. Aside from a token sip, Bethany had to abstain, of course, but as she was not a great fan of wine anyway, it did not bother her greatly.
Martins father and siblings excused themselves after the luncheon, Yote senior saying, Tomorrow may be Christmas, but today is still a business day, and we all have work to complete before the holiday.
Several of the crew took the opportunity to do some last minute shopping. Martin and Bethany elected to settle for a walk through the local park despite a chilly wind. Being out in the fresh open air for a change was worth having to rug up a lot. They strolled arm in arm, happy to have these quiet moments to themselves.
Eventually Martin said, You're unusually quiet, hon.
She smiled softly. I was just thinking about how much things have changed for me. A little over five years ago, I would never have imagined myself in this situation. I was career Star Fleet, and if I was ever going to be mated, it would be to another officer, and we'd raise a couple of Fleet brats.
Are you sorry that dream ended then? Martin asked with concern.
Bethany stopped walking to turn to face him, a very serious look on her face. Thats just it – it was just a dream. I was starry-eyed and, despite my age, somewhat naïve. I did not have very realistic expectations, and I really had no idea what life outside of the service could be like. Oh, I miss Fleet occasionally, but I have traded it for so much more. Phoenix is my real home now, and you and the crew are my true family. I would not give that up for anything!
Nor would I, Martin replied, then pulled her muzzle to his and kissed her deeply.
A young cat morph passing by on a bicycle yelled out, Get a room! with an impudent look on his face.
We will! Bethany yelled back, unabashed.
I think I must be corrupting you, Martin said with a grin. I can't even imagine you saying that a year ago.
Hopefully that stuffy person is gone forever. She snuggled up closer to him as a particularly cold gust of wind hit them. Otherwise I wouldn't be able to do this. The new me enjoys life a lot more.
They strolled in contented silence for a while. They came to a lake where the local waterfowl were regularly fed. A few ducks were quickly on the scene, looking for an easy meal. From the capacious pocket of his coat, Martin pulled out a bag of bread crusts and other leftovers that he had brought along for that very reason. They passed out the food as fairly as they could manage before they continued on their way.
Do you think it might snow? Bethany asked.
I doubt it. While it does so occasionally in this region, it doesn't often, nor much. I hope that you didn't have your heart set on a white Christmas?
No, not really. It would have been a nice touch though. Where I grew up, it never snows.
I once spent a couple of weeks with friends in a town further north. They had an unusually big dumping of snow that year which made life difficult. There's a fine line between picturesque and a pain in the butt.
I'd settle for a few centimetres.
Works for me, Martin agreed.
They came across a café where they decided to indulge in coffee and cake before making the return walk home, a little cold but very contented.
Dinner was scheduled a little later than normal to allow for all the office Christmas parties at the various businesses that the family ran. After that, they gathered in the living room to chat about what they had done that day. Arthur dismissed all the staff for the holiday, but not before handing out a Christmas bonus to all of them. Even old Alain planned to visit his family, and Martin gave him a fond farewell when a PTV pulled up at the entrance to pick him up.
The mansion had an old-fashioned wood-burning fireplace that was only ever used for special occasions. Tonight it was lit, and they chatted around its friendly glow. Gradually the numbers dwindled though as first the youngsters were put to bed, then Martins siblings headed home with the intention of returning the next day with their spouses and children. Next Lydia and Arthur decided to retire. That signalled a general exodus by the rest.
Martin carefully banked the fire before taking Bethanys hand and heading to their room. But not to sleep. It was quite some time before the lovers rested their heads on the pillows with slumber in mind.
With the staff all away, it was a case of everybody fending for themselves at breakfast. The kitchen was a scene of cheerful chaos as people manoeuvred around each other as they looked for ingredients and implements. Fortunately someone had had the foresight to get the coffee machine up and running to allow the more torpid amongst them to get their wake-up dose of caffeine.
Much to the surprise of the rest of the Phoenix crew, when Martins siblings arrived, they kicked everybody else out of the kitchen and told them to keep out.
What's going on? Andrea asked in puzzlement.
Martin grinned. Old family tradition; the staff is always given the day off, and my brothers and sister and I prepare the Christmas feast. Oh, the kitchen staff buys in advance most of what we will need, and make any preparations that have to be done the previous day, but the rest is all up to us. It was something that started way back when Brandon was still a cub, and he used to hang around the kitchen when they were preparing the feast. To keep him out of mischief, the staff put him to work, and then the next year, Clarice and Hank did the same. They were all so proud of what they had done that they did it again the next year. I joined them the year after that. Then one year we asked if we could tackle the job by ourselves, and ever since then it has become our tradition to prepare the feast and the cooks get the day off along with the rest of the staff.
Wow! Andrea replied, genuinely amazed. I've never met a family as rich as yours so willing to do a servants work.
You can thank Dad for that. He never let us kids forget that he worked his way up from nothing, and none of us are above doing the dirty work either. I reckon that it has also helped to make us a closer family.
A muffled voice from the kitchen called Martins name.
Andrea grimaced. I had better not hold you up any more then.
Not if you want dessert anyway, Martin replied with his trademark grin.
The siblings did make the occasional foray out of the kitchen, but for the most part they remained unseen until Clarice came out to announce that dinner would be served in fifteen minutes, and would everyone start making their way to the dining room.
Two turkeys with all the trimmings were the mainstay of the meal, but there was a large choice of side dishes ranging from sweet potato to corn on the cob. Dessert consisted of plum pudding with hot custard, or chocolate mousse with whipped cream and cherries.
Andrea asked, Did you say that you were the one making the desserts, Martin?
Yep. You like?
I really like! Does Hotfoot know about this?
No, and don't tell hir either, or else shi might kick me out of the galley permanently in a fit of professional jealousy!
Andrea laughed and promised not to blab.
Besides, Martin added, these are some of the few things that I know how to do well from years of practice. Hank is our turkey specialist, Brandon does the entrées, while Clarice does the vegetables and sauces. You probably wouldn't like the result too much if we swapped tasks.
The feast was declared a great success, but the siblings work was not finished yet. They cleared the table and cleaned up the kitchen, declining offers of help from the others. All part of the tradition, Martin explained. You don't leave dirty pots and pans for the staff to contend with the next day.
When that task was completed though, everyone was asked to gather in the living room where the traditional Christmas tree stood, surrounded by wrapped presents. It was time for the gift-giving, but before they could start, Presaith approached Arthur.
Sir, have you still got that holo-projector that you had set up in this room for Madeline?
Yes, I do. I saw no point in removing it, considering that she was likely to visit on occasion. Did you want to use it?
Yes, I do, please.
One moment. Arthur went to a panel on the wall, opened it, and flicked a switch. After a few seconds, an indicator lit to show that the system had booted up and was ready.
Presaith then said to Martin, Could you ask Madeline to join us when she is able to do so?
Sure! Martin agreed, intrigued by what shi might be planning. He got out his comm and made the call. Hi, Maddy. What are you up to right now?
I'm tele-visiting Dad and Adele, came her voice over the speaker. Is anything the matter? I've got everything on the ship set to automatically notify me if there's a problem, but it all seems to be normal at the moment.
No, there isn't any problem. We'd just like you to join the gift-giving at my parents place whenever you're free.
Oh, that's okay then. We're just chatting, catching up on the news. I can pop over for a while right now if the holo-system is available.
We turned it on just before I called you.
Great! Give me a moment to excuse myself, and I'll be with you shortly.
Martin shut off his comm, and in less than a minute, Madelines hologrammatic form materialised in the room. Amusingly, she was dressed in warm outdoor winter clothing despite not actually needing any at all.
Hi everyone! Hello Mr and Mrs Yote! Merry Christmas!
And the same for you too, dear, Lydia replied. How are your parents doing?
Very well, thanks. We've had a lot to talk about, and it's my and Pennys first Christmas there together, so it's been pretty special.
You must tell me more about that later, but for now, I think someone wants to start off the gift-giving, and I think that you're the first recipient.
Me? Then I better not hold things up. I wasn't expecting anything though.
Presaith spoke up. That's because Loander and I wanted it to be a surprise. Shi held up a box about the size of a basketball. This is from both of us to you.
Thank you, Presaith, and you too, Loander. Could you please open it for me? This hologram form is the non-solid type.
Loander nodded. We know, and it has other limitations also, which is what gave us the idea for your present. Shi pulled the ribbon that held the lid closed, and then opened it to reveal a spheroid with a matte grey finish, two lenses, and several other protuberances. We both designed this, but I built the unit while Loander programmed it. It's a mobile holo unit. It has an anti-grav pack that is designed to hover at exactly your head level and project your holographic form around itself. The binocular inputs give you much truer stereoscopic visual input than the processed imaging from the multiple cameras in the room, and there are also stereo audio pick-ups located where your ears would be to again allow for truer sound directionality. But it's true value is that it isn't limited to the room where the holo-projectors are installed. This is intended to be able to give you the freedom to move all around the ship, and anywhere else within range of your signal.
Madeline looked as if she was ready to cry, and perhaps in her life-support unit back on the Phoenix, she was. This… this is the best thing that anybody has given me since Daddy got me the job on Phoenix. Can… is it possible to try it now?
Of course, Presaith said, lifting a cover and pressing a switch. Diagnostic lights flickered for a few seconds, then settled into a calm constant glow. It's ready and in discovery mode. Just look for it. Shi released it and it floated to hover in front of hir.
Madelines expression became distant, and then she abruptly disappeared, only to reappear a moment later where the unit was hovering. The spheroid was completely surrounded by Madelines head, and while the image was not quite as opaque as the big room projectors could manage, the unit was quite invisible due to blending with her head shape and colour. Madeline looked around and started grinning widely.
Oh, you're right – this is so much better! I can even hear the fire crackling over there in the fireplace, she said as she pointed without looking. Then she looked at the open doorway to the room and said, Excuse me.
She then ran to the doorway and left the room. Her delighted laughter floated back to the others. Martin and a few of the others went out to see her bounding up the stairs, the holo units sensors and programming keeping her form moving totally naturally, her feet falling soundlessly on each riser perfectly. She disappeared around a corner, only to come dashing back down again. She stopped short at the front door, suddenly realising that it was an insurmountable barrier to her.
Loander stepped up then and said, One last thing – while it's impossible for us to fit a solid light system into such a compact unit, we did manage to squeeze in one more thing. It's a force projector with a twin focus on the thumb and index finger on your right hand. Try turning the knob.
Madeline hesitantly reached out, and with just the finger and thumb, tried to turn the knob. It opened. Madeline let out a whoop of joy and dashed out into the yard, grinning so hard her cheeks would ache if they were real. She ran about the lawn like a little kid freed from detention, jumping and spinning for joy.
Soon everybody came out to watch the liberated bunny and join in her joy, and only then did they notice that a gentle snow had started falling.
Back on Phoenix, Presaith was giving Madeline the final details on her new gift.
The units Supastor battery is good for about twenty hours before needing to be recharged. However, we have made several units, so you can keep them located around the ship to be used as needed, and on charge when you don't, so there are always some available. We've ensured that your holo-signal can be picked up anywhere on the ship, so now anywhere we can go, so can you.
So I see. Even in this translift, I notice, Madeline remarked as the doors closed behind them.
That would be embarrassing to us if it didn't, Presaith admitted.
You and Loander have to visit me in the holosuite. I so want to give both of you a great big hug.
We're just happy that you're happy, Madeline.
I couldnt be happier, she declared as they stepped out on the bridge level and made their way to the Captains office. She still monitored his room, but she could do that and manage her holo-self at the same time.
They found most of the duty crew there already. Bethany as usual was projecting an air of professionalism, dressed in her immaculate uniform. There was one addition however – a tasteful diamond pendant that Martin had given her for Christmas, proudly worn over her uniform top.
Martin sat behind his desk and smiled at the duo as they entered. Okay, everybody is here now, and we can begin our pre-flight meeting. Before we do though, I want to welcome Maddy to her first meeting in person, so to speak.
Madeline smiled. Believe me, Captain, I have never been so glad to be present in all my life.
Characters and story copyright © 2013 Bernard Doove.
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