Christmas, Somewhere in the Galaxy.
The Magnatar class ship held in orbit around the “Super Earth” at forty-thousand meters above the ground.
Well above the traffic lanes for aircraft that flew from hither and yon. The crew of the large ship parked it with great care while the pirate King strode around his command center at the top of the ship.
The Orcus was a powerful ship that logged many hours in trips between planets for negotiations for trade and peaceful coexistence in the United Confederation of Pirates. A label put on the outlying colonies by the Empire. They were all self-governed and traded with each other with no control or supervision by the Momo Empire. No one could be happier than the colonists.
After negotiations, the crew was tired. They had stopped at a half-dozen planets, secured agreements with every one of them.
Delivered gifts of the one time of year that was held onto by the humans to bring out the best of each other.
Still, the bachelor King, Ruu’ta O’Danu. From a long line of scofflaws, scallywags, rogues and leaders stood with his arms crossed in thought.
One crewman, the weapons and flight space officer, his daughter was just born, it was her first Christmas for this family.
Another, her mother died in the last month (Against the Kings mandate that no one dies during this time.) but she stayed at her post. Even when the King performed his duties as Ruu’tan she acted stoic. But, the king noticed the trickle of tear from one eye that traced down Chief Sharan Nayaan’s cheek in quiet moments.
They were too far away for her to go home to bury her mother, weeks out at maximum speed.
Sigh The crew was beyond their limit. Each member of the dozen ship’s crew had needs to go home. Even if it was to make contact over the holidays.
He took a position on the bridge, behind his chair and had a thought.
“Chief, ship-wide communication to my station please.”
The surprise announcement. Everyone had a five-day pass. Two days before, the day of and then two days after the time on earth where everyone sang, and felt a little nicer.
King Ryan O’Danu saw everyone off, transporters operated full-time, three drop pods took the teams down to their hub points.
One lieutenant had a sky-surfer he had modified himself, and, to the laughter of the red-headed master of the ship, flew it off of the landing pad that he ordered deployed from the side of the ship.
From there, the crew all went to their homes.
Last on the ship, a Magnatar class heavy cruiser, was the leader of the planet himself.
King Ryan O’Danu, his line of leaders went back to an age of sail and wooden ships. The first pirate, family legend had it, was a child that was kidnapped by the government. The child became a king of the sea and started a family dynasty.
Today, the king was simply a man alone on board of a flying battleship. He strolled about the empty ship, the quiet undertone of electronics his only company.
Standing on the landing pad, he watched until Lieutenant Antares was no longer visible. When the King turned back to the ship, he noted a blemish on the hull. A meteor impact when they orbited the mining colony that suffered a storm of flying rocks when two ‘roids collided nearby. The teams that mined the raw materials needed their shields repaired and King O’Danu brought the royal ship in as a blocker until the colonists and ship’s engineers got the system up and running again.
It had been a busy time for the run-up to these days of family and reaffirmation of life and love. They had worked hard to renew contracts, deliver gifts and assure that peace would last for at least another month.
Now it was over, other than the pit on the side of his ship, painted to look like a Killer Whale of earth. The ship was a well known force, and it the pride of the master of the ship, never shot any of its weapons in anger.
He tapped on a palm-held display and a ladder built by the Rose Suchuk company rolled out on its own wheels.
An hour later, he finally finished. He’d leave the ladder out to climb again later and inspect the fit and finish of the repairs. (He was picky like that.)
“Computer, Celtic traditional drums.” He said when he made his way to the lounge of the ship. “Collapse ladder, but leave in airlock for further use. Seal Airlocks.”
He sat at the table in the lounge, drinking an eggnog with rum from Lats-Ute mining colony. Finger foods, from Gray Kitchens on his own planet.
He laughed. If the ships chief medical officer saw what he ate now, Lynn McCoy M.D. would issue a health report on him and make him do extra physical training.
His cup was empty, but the view was grand. King O’Danu shook his head, he was not about to give up his view and poured another jigger of rum, shrugged, then just filled the cup with the dark liquid.
An hour passed while he read novels of distant lands and other worlds when his eyes started to droop.
“Computer, nightwatch. Sensors on passive scan. Environmental shields only.” He sighed. “I might want to go out later for a view of the stars.”
The king thought about his telescope, he’d like to do some stargazing later.
It was important that the shields would keep a layer of warm, pressurized air around the ship for him to breathe if he used the pad outside.
Whooo… I’m buzzed. That was potent stuff. He rubbed his eyes, they felt dry. He had been up and going for twenty-hours straight today. In the last few weeks, he slept only three hours out of every twenty-four. They may live on a ship, but the force of his circadian rhythm still forced him to hibernate a few hours per day.
In the captain’s quarters, Ryan peeled off his carbon fiber body armor and crawled into the bed and pulled the dense, heavy blanket up to his head.
He liked a cool room with the a blanket.
His mind drifted, the ship was secure, he set the systems and he was safe. No one would dare approach a Magnatar class, fully armed battleship with evil on their minds.
Ruu’tan and King of Garnet-4, then leader of the council of the Pirate Confederation. Ryan O’Danu lept out of bed like a cat spooked on Halloween.
Proximity alert Proximity alert Negative response on IFF
Lights were at full bright, which dazzled him for a moment. Ryan ran to his desk were basic control systems were active.
“Computer, display sensor contact.” He rubbed his eyes, but not out of fatigue.
On the display, the contact was small. Only enough room for, maybe, four people.
“Overlay readings with Orcus in relative center.”
A hundred-thousand feet lower but climbing rapidly. He thought.
No one is scheduled to come back for four more days.
The display glowed with a 3-D overlay.
Then he gasped.
The speed at this target tracked, it approached the ship, cannon and defensive systems came online.
Phased energy weapons locked on.
“Crap!” King Ryan knew what the targets was. He had to shut this system off at the command center. The weapons command and control had not been transferred, only navigation. ran down the gangway and hung a hard right, skipping the lift, he climbed the emergency ladder next to it and flopped over onto the floor.
The main display showed with detail not available to him in his bedroom.
“Computer, display HD display on holograph map of 3-D space, overlay Orcus as relative center and give readout on altitude and direction.” He thought a moment. “Speed and mass.”
“Working. Speed is thousand meters per second, mass of two-thousand two hundred kilograms. Reading ten life signs. One biped humanoid, nine quadruped of the Rangifer tarandus.”
“Rangifer. What is common name of Rangifer whatever you said.”
“Rangifer Tarandus, common name reindeer.”
“Reindeer? Rein…” his eyes grew big. “Oh Jeeze!”
“Computer, disable defensive systems.” King O’Danu yelled. “Stand down shields, stow the guns.”
“Power down. Alert, target is tracking to landing pad.”
“Danger, there is an obstruction in on the pad.”
“I requested the ladder in the airlock.”
“Manual override engaged on brakes, ladder is stationary.”
Ryan slapped himself in the forehead and ran down the stairs, taking them two at a time. At the bottom of the stairs, he tripped over the automated janitor and ended up in a pile next to the door.
Outside, clatter and noise of a landing.
“Computer, send warning to contact, danger on…”
A voice sounded through the intercom.
“Ahoy in ..oh balls!” and the sound of a body hitting the deck.
King Ryan ran down the gangway, slipping on golden elf-dust and overshooting the doorway and ended up, for the second time, in a pile on the floor. This time near his quarters.
“Sorry, Nicholas! I was fixing a meteor hit and left it out for inspection later.”
“Yeah, you left a trap for me. I know!” The shaggy white mane shook as he laughed at the joke. “I have some deliveries to here. Special ones.”
“I don’t have anyplace good to put them, over in the lounge on the bar would work well enough.” Ryan said.
“What’s this? You don’t have a tree.”
“Trees on Garnet-4 are all protected, this is one barren rock, you know.”
“This planet is, but Sapphire isn’t, nor is Palindrome Prime.”
“Yeah, but with PP you can’t tell which way your going.”
“Ryan.” The old elf turned around. “I can take these all back and assign you a Cadet Elf. Her name is Moonbottom.”
“She sent a gift to the wrong person, supposed to send a puppy to one boy named Brighthill in the Carolinas of the US on earth. Instead, she sent the pet to a Miss Elisabum in London who had coal coming.”
“Coal? From you? She must have been quite bad.”
“No no.” He pulled out another gift from the bag he carried in. “She is very poor. A lump of coal could warm her for the season.”
“Must be some lump.”
“About a ton.”
“OH! Well, in that context, I can see that.”
“Now for your tree.”
“You do not have a tree in that…” He went slack-jawed and silent.
“An Immortal tree. Sequoia Sempervirens. It is rooted on the bottom, too. When you get this craft on the ground, plant this tree. It’ll grow. You also have a warehouse full of these to plant along the coastal areas as of now. You have perfect zones for it.”
“How did you get these trees? They are protected and endangered.” Ryan stroked the green, feathery growth that served as needles for the evergreen tree. “I didn’t think the government would allow them off world.”
“Yes, actually. They are spreading them everywhere. So you have a hundred-thousand seedlings, ready for planting.”
“Thank you, I will have people on it after Christmas. You are a saint.” Ryan paused and thought a moment. “How many gifts are you leaving?”
“You have quite the shopping list. Why do you ask?”
“Ooh, nothing. I am having alerts, the ship is compensating for the weight of your deer and sleigh.”
“Reindeer.” Nicholas corrected. “Oh, my back. I have another billion stops to do tonight.”
“How do you do that? You cannot even go a second per stop, that’d take you longer than thirty-years.”
“Thirty-one years, nine-months, one and a half weeks and one hour. Roughly.” Nicholas groaned again as he stood. “But we have the Einstein Time Exception Device. The rest of the universe slows to a crawl, while me and anyone nearby is sped up. Elf Bernard came up with using the formula eons ago.”
“Oh, one more thing.” He handed Ryan a box. “This is a special request. It keeps all the good wishes for you, nice and safe.”
He turned and the old man nearly fell to a knee again.
Yeah, he gets some medicinal drink. The King of Garnet-4 thought to himself.
“Nick, have a seat. I’ll make you something ot warm the cockles of your heart.”
Nick sat back in a chair with a sigh.
“I’m a little tired of milk and cookies tonight. I’d take a carrot.”
“Carrots are…” Ryan called from galley. “For the reindeer! And I have a whole bag for them.”
“As you wish.”
Ryan brought out a pitcher of hot water, a mix he had created a few days before of maple sugar, vanilla, butter and cinnamon, hot water and rum.
They talked far into the night, each comparing notes with the other.
“You might have been told you are autistic as a child, King O’Danu, but you have done such good things with other people. You have shown other people who there is no label that you cannot overcome. You should be proud of all the negotiations you have done.” The white beard shook as the eyes crinkled behind the glasses in rum-warmed humor. “That said, I have a lot of stops to do and I am going to have to do something special. I must go.”
King O’Danu picked up the heavy bag, it felt nearly empty, but if he shook it, it made a sound, as if boxes rubbed together.
“Don’t shake that.” Nick smiled. “At the rate you are going, you’ll have my job someday. You are a good man. Ruu’tan Ryan O’Danu, King of this planet.
Ryan walked with the older man out to the landing pad of the ship, where he climbed up into the ancient anachronism. The conveyance was a throwback of nearly five-centuries. But the antlered reindeer were muscular and, quite literally, glowing gold.
Adjusting his had, he slurred his words slightly.
“Good rum. Keep up the good work, Ryan. Merry Christmas.” He pulled at his beard for a moment and then said softly.
“Ho ho ho.” And Santa was gone.
Watching the old man disappear from sight. He felt an old familiar pain.
King O’Danu walked back into the ship and hit a button and the landing pad withdrew into the ship, and he heard an old familiar refrain.
“Merry Christmas to all, to all a good night.”
Ryan laughed as the airlocks were sealed.
“Good night to you, too, old man.” Ryan said to the 3-D map as it tracked the small target, accelerating up and away, already at the edge of sensor range at relativistic speeds. “Merry Christmas to you too.”
Ryan O’Danu, descendant of Keegan O’Danu, the first pirate of the family, turned off all the lights. And set the defense systems to alert status and went to bed. The rum had definitely gone to his head.
When he woke up in the morning, he would laugh as he got out of bed. He was so drunk, he dreamed that Santa came and visited. Which everyone knew was a figment of his booze addled imagination.
Which made the existence of a pile of gifts all the more difficult to explain in the morning.