Christmas Past, Christmas Present

By Bob Hutchinson (UCSBDad)
Copyright 2001

Disclaimer: It's Christmas. Consider this a present from DK since he owns it. Rating: Very merry. Archiving: maybe at the University of Vorlag Library? Time: Unbeknownst to John, this ends on the Fourth of July.

"I frelled up, Aeryn."

I could barely hear his voice, even though I was just behind the pilot's compartment of the transport pod. I braced the pry bar against the jammed locker door. I heaved as hard as I could, but the frelling door stayed jammed.

"I really frelled us up this time, Aeryn."

I rested for a microt. "You did not frell up, John. There was nothing you could have done to prevent this. How could you have guessed that two ships would choose this area of space to have their frelling battle in."

It was true, too. We had been doing a simple recon of a planet, when two warships had sped past us locked in their own combat. One frag cannon blast was all it took to fatally wound our pod. It was all that John and I could do to crash land on this desolate, frozen planet.

"I was the one who thought there was something here, Aeryn. I thought I caught a part of a comm message from this planet." John groaned slightly.

I wedged the pry bar in the locker door and leaned on it with all my strength. The door popped open and I almost slammed into the side of the pod.


"What's the matter, Aeryn?" John sounded weaker.

"Nothing, John." Frell! I couldn't lie to him. "John, the med kit was damaged in the crash. The medicines were destroyed, but it still has the skin sealant unit."

I worked my way back into the cockpit and sat down next to John. "Okay, let me look at your head."

John lifted his head up. Blood was still running from the gash on his forehead. I ran the sealing unit over the cut. "This will work on humans as well as Sebaceans, we know that John. Don't worry."

"What, me worry?" That was followed by a laugh that ended in a choking cough.

"There, the bleeding is stopped." I wiped the excess blood out of John's eyes. "There should be a second medical kit. I'll get that one."

John reached out and took my hand. "Aeryn, it's not the cut. I have a concussion. I know, I've had my bell rung before. How long was I unconscious?"

I thought. Better tell the truth. "An arn, perhaps a little longer."

"Frell! Aeryn, I may go into shock. Hell, I'm probably in it now. You need to keep me warm, and you need...."

I interrupted him. "I know how to treat you for shock. Jool told me what happened when D'Argo hit you that time. There should be medicine in the other locker."

"Now don't get mad at the big guy..."

John continued to talk, but I had headed back to the cargo area of the pod. Once there I stopped and took a deep breath and pushed the panic down. I was not going to watch John Crichton die a second time on this planet. I picked up the pry bar and started on another storage locker. To my surprise, it popped right open. However, there was no medicine kit inside.

"If Rygel snurched the other kit, I swear I'll..." I muttered. Then, down at the bottom of the locker I saw spare blankets. I quickly gathered them up and headed back to John and the cockpit. I started tucking them around John.

"This could be Earth, Aeryn. It looks a little like the Berkshires do in winter."

I looked out a smashed viewport at the rolling, snow covered hills outside. "It's not Earth, John. As near as I can figure, we're about on this planet's equator." I could never understand John's ability to focus on the trivial and ignore the important. Perhaps I should be wondering why the trivial so often turned out to be important.

I turned back and returned to the cargo section. John kept talking as I pried open another locker. Better, I found food cubes, water and spare chakon oil cartridges. And a portable light source. I listened to John as I tried another locker. He was talking about some sort of Earth food. There! The other medical kit. I reached down for it and grabbed it. Surprisingly, it slipped out of my grasp. Frell! It was covered in hydraulic fluid. I carefully picked it up again and looked inside. The fluid had eaten through the seals of the medicine containers. I checked each one carefully and each was contaminated.

I stood up. I had none of the medicine that John needed. I breathed deeply. I would remain in control. I would be calm. I would not fall apart as I had after the other John had died. I would not watch John Crichton die again.

"Hey, Aeryn. Come here. It's Santa."

I rushed into the cockpit. "Sanda?" I asked. "Where?"

John waved vaguely to the right. "Out there. He just went behind a grove of trees."

I stared at the many groves of trees to the right, but saw nothing. "This Sanda, do we know him?"

"Aeryn. It's Santa Claus. In his sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer. He'll show up in a microt."

I tried to remember where I'd heard of this Sanda before. "Is he a football player, John?"

"Aer-yn! It's Santa Claus, Babe. The jolly old elf who leaves us Christmas presents."

I sagged a little bit. All we needed was for John to hallucinate. "The imaginary being that brings distractions to immature humans?"

John gave me a strange look. "Thank you Ebenezer Sun. He brings toys to good little boys and girls. And if he asks me if you've been naughty or nice, I'll say Aeryn is always nice, especially when she's naughty."

I headed back to the cargo area. I had to find something to try to seal the holes in the transport module before we froze to death.

"Whoa! There the old guy is. Aeryn, he's back." John called to me.

I stood up just in time to hear John say, "Nope. He just went around that little hill. Gone again."

I went back to my work, determined not to let John distract me.

John, of course, kept talking. "Aeryn, you know, he had ten tiny reindeer pulling his sleigh. That's not right. I know he's only supposed to have eight. Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen. Then it's Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen. Who are the other two reindeer, Aeryn? Flasher and Nixon? Vomit and Stupid? Scully and Mulder? Damn."

I continued to pry another of the storage lockers open. Tools this time. They might be useful.

"Babe, you should be able to see Santa if you look outside, I think."

I rose quickly and looked out of a hole torn in the skin of the transport pod. Nothing. "I see nothing, John." I leaned against the row of storage lockers and pushed down my rapidly rising panic. I was not going to allow John to die. That was not going to happen.

"It's prob'ly not Santa, anyway, Aer. He had a brown beard. Everyone knows Santa's is white. Even you know that, right?"

John was starting to slur his words. "Don't worry, John. I'm going to find some sort of a heating unit and something to seal the holes in the pod's skin."

"Not worried. But Santa's got eight reindeer. Ever'body knows. Beard's white." His voice was getting weaker.

The sudden knock on the back of the pod startled me. I whipped around and drew my pistol just in time to hear a booming voice. "Miss Sun, Mr. Crichton, is that you?"

I ran to the rear of the pod and opened the door. Before me was a huge, furry quadruped, nearly two metras high at the shoulder and nearly ten times my mass. He was dressed in a bright red suit with white fur trim and a broad black belt and black boots. A hole in the back of his pants allowed his furry tail to beat back and forth. On his head was a triangular soft hat with a small white furry ball at one end. Behind him was some sort of vehicle pulled by ten shaggy animals with horns on their heads.

"Professor Lah Rhee!" I quickly holstered my pistol and moved back from the cargo door. "Please, John was injured in the crash. He needs help."

Professor Lah Rhee easily leaped into the pod and headed for the cockpit. I followed the fast moving vorlag. "Professor, I never expected to find anyone else marooned on this desolate planet, let alone a friend. Do you have someplace to take shelter? Do you need food?"

Surprisingly, he laughed. "Miss Sun, this is the winter holiday world for vorlags from all around this sector. There's a luxury hotel just over the ridgeline. I'll have you both warm and cozy in no time. I thought I scented you. That's why I came looking."

"Oh, dear." Professor Lah Rhee said when he saw John. John had passed out and had slumped almost completely out of the chair. He put his nose by John and inhaled deeply. "He appears to be in bad shape, Miss Sun, but several of my medical colleagues from the University are also vacationing here. I'm sure he'll be all right in no time."

I breathed a sigh of relief as the professor gently picked John up and carried him towards his vehicle. He put John carefully in the seat and motioned me to sit beside John. When Professor Lah Rhee got in, he reached into the back of the vehicle and got a blanket out of a large sack. The movement woke John up.

"Santa? Damn, it's you." John giggled. "I knew it." John tried to turn around to face Professor Lah Rhee as I tried to keep him covered by the blanket. "I want the very best for Aeryn, 'cause Aeryn's the very best. Best damned thing in the Universe ever happened to me."

Lah Rhee nodded as he shook the reins attached to the creatures drawing his vehicle, sending it off. "Certainly, Mr. Crichton. But first we need to take care of you. But do not worry about Miss Sun, I'll see to it that she's taken care of."

John shook his head violently. "No, not just tooken care of. Everything first class for Aer." He giggled again and continued. "I left a gazillion cookies out for you, Santa. Not to mention the milk. An' enough letters to choke a reindeer."

Professor Lah Rhee stared at me over John's head. "Santa?" He asked.

I shrugged. "I'll explain later. Please, just get him to safety."

It took nearly half an arn, with John babbling about Earth and Christmas all the way, but we finally arrived at a huge building, made from local logs. Dozens of vorlags clustered around the entrance, staring at us.

"Here, here." Bellowed a voice. In a split microt the crowd parted for a black furred vorlag dressed in blue pants, a white shirt and a heavily embroidered vest. "Move away, people. There's a problem here, obviously."

"Quite true, Mr. Moew." Replied the professor. "We'll need a room for these people, if we may. These are the beings who saved me last cycle when I was trapped on the planet Kavkas."

A, hopefully, friendly, buzz arose from the assembled vorlags. Mr. Moew smiled hugely, showing why his race was referred to as razor tooth vorlags. "Ah, I thought he smelled nothing like a Sebacean." Moew turned and looked speculatively at his hotel. "Suite Denka Four Zero, I think would be best."

The Professor lifted John and stepped down. I scrambled after him and into the hotel. As we crossed the lobby, Moew called to a female vorlag. "Drushka, these people will be in Denka Four Zero. Please ask Dr. Rhu Dalph and his colleague Dr. Kos Tello to join us at once. This man is seriously hurt. "

The two vorlags sped up a staircase and I raced to keep up with them. The first door off the landing on the second floor was Denka Four Zero. We went in and Professor Lah Rhee placed John on the vorlag-sized bed. He began trying to take John's clothes off, but soon found his fingers, with long, sharp claws at their ends, couldn't unfasten John's clothes.

He almost looked like he was going to blush as he turned to me. "If, you could assist me in undressing him, Miss Sun?"

I stifled a smile and helped undress John. Before I was done, we were joined by two more vorlags, each carrying a large case. Both were dressed in black two piece suits, white shirts with a strip of cloth knotted around their necks. I was unceremoniously elbowed out of the way while the two doctors examined John.

"Hmmm." One muttered. "Not the least bit Sebacean internally. I say, Miss Sun, do you know the purpose of this organ just under the rib here?"

A large flat screen he held showed John's internal organs. The doctor tapped a large finger on the screen. "Here, the triangular organ on the right hand side."

"That's the liver. Human's have that in place of the Sebaceans paraphoral system." I responded.

For the next half an arn I answered every question that the two doctors could ask. Most of the time, my answer was "I don't know. "

Finally, the two vorlags engaged in a discussion of possible cures and treatments that I could barely follow. Suddenly, Professor Lah Rhee cleared his throat noisily. The two doctors looked up and then stared at me.

Dr. Kos Tello spoke. "Ahem, yes. Miss Sun, you stand as this being's next of kin. We confess that we are dealing with a species we know nothing of. We don't know what this gentleman's vital signs are like normally. Nor do we know his blood chemistry, or..."

The Professor cleared his throat again.

"Quite." Said the other doctor. "Miss Sun, we wish to perform a series of tests." The doctor raised his hand's." Don't worry, the tests will be as non-invasive and safe as we can manage. But, we feel we need to reduce Mr. Crichton's metabolic rate as low as possible while we run the tests. In effect, to put him in a coma. It's what his body is trying to do now, to protect him."

I thought for a few microts. "Can you be sure you can bring him out of the coma if you put him in it?"

Both doctors shook their massive heads. "No, with a species about which we know nothing, we can make guarantees. But the longer we have to study this gentleman, the better the chances are."

I looked at Professor Lah Rhee. He simply shrugged.

I looked down at John and then at the doctors. I really had no choice. "Do what you think is best." I told them.

We were interrupted by a gentle knock on the door. A lady vorlag entered, dressed in a black skirt and coat, but her white shirt was cut to show the tops of her six breasts, in pairs, on her chest.

"Ah, Doctor Rah Ch'ell." Said Dr. Rhu Dalph. "So good of you to drop by. A most interesting gentleman here. Definitely Sebacean on the outside, but entirely different internally. A race called humans, I believe." The three vorlag doctors were soon in a detailed technical discussion that I didn't understand one bit.

"Miss Sun?" Professor Lah Rhee said.

I managed to turn away from John and face my vorlag friend. "Yes?"

"You look rather tired and I'm sure you could use some food. The doctors will be here for some time discussing Mr. Crichton. I think you should have some food."

I shook my head. "I'll have to stay here in case the doctors need any help with John. I know more about humans than anyone else around, I'm afraid."

The lady vorlag turned to me. "Don't be too sure, Miss Sun. You'd be surprised how much we've learned already." She leaned over me and inhaled deeply. She looked at me and placed her hand on my neck. "As your personal physician, Miss Sun, I prescribe a good lunch and some sleep."

I started to object, but she cut me off. "Miss Sun, you can be back here in microts if we need you. And, given the size of the bed compared to the size of you two bipeds, you can probably sleep right here. Remember, if you don't sleep at all, you may make a mistake if we do need your expertise on Mr. Crichton."

I allowed Professor Lah Rhee to lead me out of the room and down the staircase. The building was filled with vorlags, dressed in bright clothes and carrying implements that I guessed were for some sort of sports. John had told me of the things he had done on Earth. It seemed strange to want to move over ice or snow with no other motivation than to enjoy yourself. I shook my head. Would I ever stop thinking like a Peacekeeper?

We entered the dining facility. The floor was covered with thick cloth. Brightly covered cloths covered each table. A large vorlag greeted Professor Lah Rhee and showed us to a table. I noticed that the other vorlags stopped talking and eating and looked at me. But they just looked curious, not hostile. To my surprise, one of the ramp-like chairs vorlags, being quadrupeds, used, was being removed and replaced with a chair designed for a biped. I sat and was handed another surprise. It was a list of many foods, most of them Sebacean. Professor Lah Rhee leaned over and whispered to me. "All you need to do, Miss Sun, is choose the foods you wish and notify the waiter."

As we waited for our food, the Professor asked me about whom the Santa was that John had mentioned.

"A mythical being on John's home planet. He allegedly lives in the uninhabitable Polar regions of Earth and maintains a factory there using some sort of mythical racial cousins to humans for a work force. He builds toys for Earth children, and somehow maintains an intelligence network to tell who is deserving of these toys. And then, he's alleged to deliver them one night in the middle of winter in a vehicle propelled solely by animal power. He supposedly drops down an evacuation shaft for a heating unit to enter homes to leave his toys. I can't believe that even the dullest human would believe something like that."

The Professor smiled. "Please, tell me more about this Santa."

I looked away. "You can't really be interested in such things, Professor."

He laughed. "Of course I am. I'm a professor of ethical studies. I find that legends and myths often contain hidden meanings as to right, or ethical, conduct. And this Earth is almost unique in my experience."

That caused me to smile. "Earth may be unique, but is that a reason to study it?"

Professor Lah Rhee cleared his throat. "Certainly. Virtually every planet whose myths or legends we study has been in touch with other civilizations throughout the galaxy. Why the Pettronio's great "Ode to Galchjazer" contains portions of legends from no fewer than five other civilizations. Your own Peacekeeper's legends..."

I cut Professor Lah Rhee off before I got his entire lecture. "I'll tell you what I know about Santa, or Santa Claus to give his full name."

Just then our meal arrived. While we were served, I went over what I remembered from John's talks about Earth.

"Human's celebrate a day called Christmas. It celebrates the birth of a religious leader on their planet."

"Ah," Said the Professor, "Is Mr. Crichton a Pa'u or some other sort of religious leader?"

"No. I don't believe John is particularly involved in human religious practices. I remembering him saying that his mother had to drag him and his father away from football, which appears to be another human religion, to attend worship services."

"Multiple religions. Fascinating." Said the Professor.

"John didn't feel that what he missed about Christmas was the religious aspect of it. Rather it was the giving of gifts, seeing your family, decorating trees, food and sports in the snow."

The Professor was fascinated. "Sports in the snow? Like here?"

I shrugged. "I suppose. I never took part in sports as a Peacekeeper. Any spare time was devoted to training. But apparently Christmas involves miniature wars using snow as a weapon, building representations of humans from snow, and falling over backwards and moving your arms and legs to create a snow angel. Angels are beings from human religion, but I'm not sure what their function is." I stopped. I had tried my best, but I hadn't been able to convey the joy of Christmas that John had so obviously felt.

"This human Christmas takes place only when it snows? Is the human home world like this one, then? Covered in snow eternally?" The Professor asked.

"No. John has been more worried about heat when I go back...." I stopped, not sure how to explain how I felt about this John. Not sure I could explain that to myself. I remembered something John had said. "John said that it really wasn't like Christmas if you didn't have snow, but you still had Christmas. I'm not sure that makes any sense."

"Well," Asked the Professor. "Are there rituals that need to be performed in snow only? You know, the inhabitants of Krelmore use sand in their rituals, and if sand isn't available, they use crushed verra root. I wonder if humans have similar rituals?"

I confessed that I didn't know and the professor asked about decorating trees.

"Human's bring trees inside their homes and place colored balls and lights on them and things that look like frozen water."

"Ah," Grinned the Professor, "doubtlessly they celebrate life by bringing in a living plant. Many cultures have similar rituals."

I shook my head. "No, the tree is cut down and killed first. Oh, and a star is put atop the tree."

"A star?" Professor said in a shocked voice.

I quickly corrected myself. "A representation of a star, not a real star."

"Fascinating!" Said Professor Lah Rhee. "Do you know the symbolism of these?"

I shook my head again. "I know that the representations of frozen water, icicles, they're called, are supposed to make the tree appear that it's actually out doors."

"They bring a tree indoors and then try to make it look like it's still outside?" Professor Lah Rhee looked more interested than confused. I decided I might as well confuse him more.

"The star is also of some religious significance. Human's, well, some human's believe a star stopped and hovered over a particular spot a long time ago."

"Hmmm." Said the Professor. "Didn't you say human's had some rudimentary space flight capabilities?"

"Just barely." I replied. "John's father actually knew the first human to orbit around their planet."

Professor Lah Rhee was obviously surprised at that. Most cultures had some records of the first explorers to leave their own solar systems. The first Sebaceans to have traveled in space were so far removed in time that they were more the stuff of legend than history. I couldn't think of another culture that knew much more than that.

"Don't humans know that an immobile star, or planet or any other spatial body is an impossibility? Couldn't it have been a ship maintaining its position?" He asked.

I shrugged. What more could I say about humans?

The Professor shrugged back. "Can you tell me about the gift giving? The exchange of gifts is common in many cultures."

Again, I was in unfamiliar territory. "Gift giving is unheard of in the Peacekeepers, of course. But with humans, the gifts are wrapped in bright wrappings to disguise what they are from the intended recipient. It would seem more logical to wrap them in drab wrappings so they would not call attention to themselves, but humans don't do things that way. And, at Christmas gifts are often given to children and to adult members of one's family unit and to friends. John once said that you should get people things they wouldn't get for themselves. "

Professor Lah Rhee thought about that for a while. "Logically, it would seem that humans would get for themselves what they really needed or wanted. Is there perhaps some sort of class or rank distinctions among humans? Perhaps a member of a particular caste could only receive a certain gift from a member of different caste?"

I considered that. "John's father was a member of Earth's military. Even humans must have some sort of an organizational structure and hierarchy to their military, but John never indicated Earth has a structure like the Peacekeepers with Tech, Pilots, Commandos, each being separate and distinct."

"Well, gift giving seems fairly straightforward." Professor Lah Rhee scratched along the side of his muzzle with one hand while staring at a point over my head. "Is there anything else humans do for this Christmas?"

I nodded. "They eat. Apparently they have foods that they usually eat only at this time. Something called a tur-kee. They like sweet, baked things called cookies, John talks about them a lot. And a strange food called a fruitcake, which is given as a gift, but often not eaten. I don't know why. " I stopped for a microt. "They also drink alcohol, a central nervous system depressant."

Lah Rhee laughed. "Yes, many cultures share that trait. Even Peacekeepers if I recall correctly."

I blushed slightly. Me, blushing. "I am not a Peacekeeper."

The Professor's gaze lifted to a point above me. I turned and followed his gaze. The three vorlag doctors were coming down the stairs. I jumped down from my chair and headed for them without even thanking Professor Lah Rhee for the meal.

The three doctors saw me and headed in my direction. I immediately asked how John was doing.

"As well as can be expected, Miss Sun." Said Dr. Rhu Dalph.

I started to move past them, but remembered my manners. "Thank you for your treatment of John. However, I don't want him to be alone, so if you'll forgive me, I'll go to his room."

Dr. Rah Ch'ell laid a hand on my arm, stopping me. "Miss Sun! We would not leave a patient alone, especially one we know so little about. In addition to the monitoring devices," She pushed back her coat to display some sort of a device on her belt, "we left one of my finest students with Mr. Crichton. He's perfectly capable of watching him."

I thanked her and went straight to John's room anyway. John was covered by a blanket and seemed to be breathing normally. A young vorlag had laid his head down on the bed by John's head and was breathing deeply. Doubtlessly, he was evaluating John's scent.

The vorlag lifted his head as I entered the room. "Hello, Miss Sun. I'm Kuhr Lhee. I've been asked to watch over Mr. Crichton. I assure you I'm capable, even if I am only a medical student."

"I'm sure you are, young vorlag, but I intend to stay with Mr. Crichton." I climbed up on the bed and sat near the end, where I could keep a good watch on John.

Mr. Kuhr Lhee put his head back down on the bed and resumed his smelling. Then he turned to me. "You can rest or sleep if you want, you know."

I shook my head. "I'll stay awake and alert." And stay awake I did until Mr. Kuhr Lhee was relieved by Dr. Rhu Dalph and then Dr. Rhu Dalph was relieved by Dr. Kos Tello. Dr. Rah Ch'ell came in with Professor Lah Rhee and advised me that they had determined what medications to give John. I watched as it was administered. And still I sat on the foot of John's bed.

I suddenly sat bolt upright. "How long have I been asleep?" I demanded.

"Less than a half an arn, Miss Sun." Mr. Kuhr Lhee replied.

"You've had far to little sleep, Miss Sun." Said Dr. Rah Ch'ell, who was examining some sort of readout on a machine attached to John.

"I'll be the judge of that, doctor. Is something wrong with John? Why are you examining him?" I was sharper with her than I should have been, but I was angry with myself for falling asleep.

"Nothing is wrong with Mr. Crichton. He's asleep now, rather than unconscious, which is very good news." She detached the machine and put in her pocket. "However, as I am your physician, when I say you've had too little sleep, that is my professional judgement. You're going to get some rest, Miss Sun." She reached over and picked me up and started carrying me out of the room.

I could have attacked her, but even assuming I could defeat a vorlag, I could hardly hit someone who had saved John's life. I'd go quietly and when she left me alone, I'd sneak back to John's room. She opened the door of the suite next to John's and put me down on another huge vorlag sized bed. Then she settled herself in a chair and began to read. "Don't mind me, Miss Sun, I'll just read for a while until you're sound asleep."

Frell! Well. A short nap wouldn't be so bad.

I awoke slowly to find myself alone in the room. Dr. Rah Ch'ell had left. I got up and walked to the door and opened it up. I almost walked into Mr. Moew passing in the hallway.

"Good morning, Miss Sun." He said cheerfully. "Did you have a good rest?"

I nodded, feeling a little embarrassed about how I had treated Dr. Rah Ch'ell. "A couple of arns of sleep was a good idea."

Mr. Moew laughed. "A couple of arns? You've been asleep for nearly a solar day now."

"What!" I couldn't believe I had let myself avoid duty for so long. I headed for John's room, thanking Mr. Moew over my shoulder.

I opened the door and, to my relief, I saw John sitting up and talking to Mr. Kuhr Lhee.

"Hey, Aeryn. Look who found us, Babe! Vorlags." John sounded tired and weak, but he was awake and functional.

"I know, John. They've been most kind."

John laughed. "You want to hear a funny, Aeryn?"

I nodded.

"I woke up once and thought I saw you next to me. I tried to reach over to you and when I did, I put my arm around Kuhr Lhee here. Luckily, he didn't mind."

I looked away from John. "I was here, John. You probably just regained consciousness for a while and then when you woke up again, you didn't realize how much time had passed." Frell! Why did I feel this way? Apologizing for not being with him? What more could I do?

Mr. Kuhr Lhee rose and headed for the door. "I'll tell the doctors that you're both awake now."

I resumed my place at the foot of the bed. "How are you, John?"

He looked at me for the longest time, and then grinned. "I'm fine, now, Aeryn."

We stayed on the bed for the rest of the day, occasionally talking, but more often just sitting. John smiled the whole time. After Mr. Moew brought us dinner, I crawled to the other side of the bed and we both went to sleep. The next day, John felt good enough to sit in a chair by the window. He watched the vorlags outside and told me about winter on Earth. Just as it was getting dark, Mr. Moew, Dr. Rhu Dalph and Professor Lah Rhee came in.

"How are you feeling, Mr. Crichton?" Asked the doctor.

"A lot better, thanks to you." John grinned. "You know I have this overwhelming urge to pet you guys."

The three looked at each other, and finally shrugged. "That would not be appropriate, Mr. Crichton." Said Professor Lah Rhee.

Mr. Moew pushed his way to the front. "Do you feel well enough to go downstairs for a meal and a special party?"

"Party?" John and I said together.

"In honor of Christmas. Miss Sun told Professor Lah Rhee all about it. And of course you told a great deal to young Mr. Kuhr Lhee."

John could hardly control his laughter. "Aeryn told you all about Christmas? Oh, this I do have to see." John started to lift himself out of bed, but dropped back quickly. "

"Are you all right, John?" We all said together.

John nodded. "Just tried to get up too soon. I just got a little dizzy. I'll be fine."

I put my arm around him and helped him rise. Then I turned to the vorlags. "I'll get John ready. When will the party start?"

Mr. Moew smiled hugely. "In an arn, Miss Sun. or, whenever you two arrive. We can't start without the guests of honor."

It took an arn to get John ready. It would have taken half that time if he hadn't spent so much time imagining how Christmas, Peacekeeper style, was going to be.

"What will it be, Aeryn? A frontal attack on the presents with the winner the first to shred his gift? A group of Peacekeeper carolers, going house to house, shooting up the houses? Santa in black leather coming down the chimney and laying waste to everything?"

I finally had enough. I leaned over and whispered in his ear. "Whatever it is, you're frelling well going to enjoy every microt of it. These nice vorlags have gone to a lot of trouble for both of us. If I've frelled up the stories you told me, you will not let that disappoint our friends."

John just kept grinning. "Spoken like a true ex-Peacekeeper, Aeryn. Merry Christmas, Aeryn."

I gave him a tiny grin. "Merry Christmas to you, too, John."

Mr. Moew was waiting outside our door to escort us downstairs. "Mr. Crichton, we've decorated the dining room as Miss Sun indicated. I hope everything is satisfactory."

"It's the thought that counts, Mr. Moew." John replied.

Once we reached the dining room, Mr. Moew stopped. Inside were several hundred well-dressed vorlags. The males were largely dressed in black, but the females seemed to have chosen red and green clothing. At one end of the room were four vorlags playing some sort of stringed musical instruments. At the other end of the room was a huge tree.

"Wow!" said John. "That's about the size they use in Rockefeller Center, but it's shaped like a corkscrew."

"Is that a problem?" Muttered Mr. Moew, who was still right with us.

John shook his head. "It's fine. I just never thought I'd see such a lovely Christmas tree again." Mr. Moew beamed with pride and escorted us to our table, which was right in front of the tree.

"Look, Aeryn, it has balls on it." John whispered.

"Yes," Said Mr. Moew. "We vorlags play ever so many games with balls, so we have lots around here. Some of the students from the engineering school at the University put them on gravity bladders to hold them up on the tree and also put tiny refractors on them so that they change colors."

John walked over to the tree and put his hand on something. "An icicle?"

Moew nodded. "We couldn't figure out how to make any artificial icicles, so we have a tiny freezer unit at the top that keeps the whole thing frozen."

John just stood there looking at the tree. Finally he said, "Cool." Then he lifted his head until he could see the very top of the tree some dozen metras above us. "A star?"

"A holographic representation of our home solar system, not quite to scale, of course."

John and I sat as Moew motioned for a waiter to bring us food. "We weren't able to find anything like the foods Miss Sum described, except for the baked sweet cookies. I hope you find them acceptable." The waiter put a cookie on each of our plates that was bigger around than our heads. John just nodded. Moew waved another waiter over. "We do have some brewed alcoholic beverages, though. They might be similar to what you have on Earth."

John stared at the golden liquid foaming in the glass in front of him. "Beer?" He slowly lifted the glass and took a sip. "Beer!"

"Mr. Crichton?" called Dr. Rah Ch'ell from the next table. She was sitting with an attentive looking Professor Lah Rhee and dressed in a long form fitting red gown that displayed abundant cleavage. Three of them, in fact.

"What's up, Doc?" John replied.

"Only one glass of beer tonight. You're still recovering from a nasty accident. "

John nodded and looked at the vorlag-sized glass of beer before him. "One is fine, doc."

For the next arn, the waiters kept our plates full of unfamiliar, but delicious foods. Then an elderly vorlag approached the tree and started handing out the presents that were underneath. I was shocked to hear my name called.

"Who?" I blurted out.

"Miss Aeryn Sun." Replied the vorlag. "From Professor Lah Rhee." I opened my package and found a sweater, knitted from vorlag fur.

"We shed." Called the professor. "That's where we get the fur."

"Do you need something in red?" I asked.

John's name was called and he found he had a sweater from Professor Lah Rhee. "Damn! I didn't get any presents for anyone."

"John! How could you possibly have anticipated this?"

He shrugged. "It's just embarrassing to receive presents when you don't give any."

The old vorlag handing out the presents laughed. "Mr. Crichton, you did get a gift for someone. For Miss Sun."

John looked shocked. "I did?"

Mr. Kuhr Lhee stood up and walked over and stood by the table. "Er, Mr. Crichton? When we talked about Christmas, you said something about wanting to get a present for Miss Sun, something that she wouldn't get for herself. Specifically, you said you'd get her a toy, since she'd never had one. I hope I wasn't too forward in making one for her and giving it on your behalf."

Before John could reply, I spoke. "Of course not. I'm more than happy to receive a present at Christmas time."

John leaned over and whispered in my ear. "Aeryn, I was still awfully fuzzy from the concussion when I talked to him. I'm not sure what I said. I hope the present is okay."

I whispered back. "Don't worry. Of it isn't suitable, I'll just say thank you and put it away. The vorlags need never know."

The old vorlag handed me the present and I opened it. It was a rectangular metal plate. I looked up at Mr. Kuhr Lhee.

"Press the lower left edge, Miss Sun." Called the young vorlag.

I did and the plate turned from a blank piece of metal to a holographic representation of the flight deck of a Command Carrier and part of the bulkhead. Slowly a damaged Prowler taxied in and stopped. Two tiny representations of Med Techs removed the injured pilot and carried him away. Then a crew of Repair Techs began working on the Prowler. The holographic techs realistically repaired the Prowler to make it combat worthy again. Then the new pilot appeared. I heard John's sharp intake of breath. The pilot was a dark haired woman, with her hair in a long braid. She wore black leather pants and a black tee shirt rather than a Peacekeeper space suit. She was followed by her partner, a man dressed in black leather pants, a vest and a black tee shirt. They stopped at the cockpit and turned to each other. Then they kissed. They pulled back and smiled at each other and then got in the Prowler. The engine started up and the Prowler moved off the other side of the hologram and disappeared. When the Prowler hologram moved off, the unit shut off. it was a blank piece of metal again.

I looked at John. "Thank you, John." Then I pressed the lower left edge to start the hologram again.