It definitely looks like Christmas around here. In fact, about the only place that isn't decorated and festive, is the train station. Not a single light, ornament, sign, or anything. How ironic is that?
Today's original fiction is a glimpse at the world of my Nano project. I'm not sure what led me to this story, setting, or genre. None of them are what I usually write or read, but when #1 and I first started kicking around the idea of people who are crazy, but aren't, but don't know for sure if they are or not, we thought that the only way to make it the least bit fresh and interesting was to make it steampunk and in space. Then one day Sonja and her Tree showed up and they've been pestering me to be written ever since. When it was time to write nano, theirs was the story I had to tell.
This does not appear in the novel.
Dweamah White Christmas
by Jon Stark
Sonja stared out at the stars. They looked different tonight. She stood in the parlor, a decadent space for a private steamer, big enough room for all of the crew to assemble. The pipes had been hidden behind paneling but the Tree's branches and roots were still clearly visible, crawling across the ceiling and down the walls between the shelves and cabinets, flawlessly crafted and lacquered. Brass lamps floated in the air and rugs covered the steel decking.
"Come help me." said the Lady Hillary.
The girl turned from the window and went to Hillary's side. The old woman stood near a chest that Vanderwall had brought to her from the hold. Inside, a menagerie of sparkling glass, ribbons of silk, and carved figurines lay packed with care.
Hillary handed the girl a small crystal globe with a bit of thread. "Hang this on the Tree."
Sonja looked at her blankly. Hillary frowned, then took another of the globes and, standing on a chair, attached it to an exposed root near the ceiling.
"Why?" said Sonja.
"Because it's Christmas." said Hillary as though everyone knew that. "We're going to have a party and I need your help to get ready."
Most girls Sonja's age would have asked a million questions at that point, but Sonja wasn't like most girls and she wasn't as young as she looked. She watched Hillary place another ornament then another. "Does it hurt the Tree?"
Hillary laughed lightly. "Not at all, Dear." She looked at where the decorations hung, arms crossed. "I think they make it look quite nice, don't you?"
Sonja shrugged, but she dutifully began to hang ornaments on the exposed parts of the Tree. She thought it was rather silly, but as the ship's Dew'all, it was her job to do all of the odd jobs that the rest of the crew was too busy for. And she liked Hillary.
The old woman kept at it, providing a constant stream of decorations to the girl and singing quietly to herself. After the globes were hung, they strung garlands and placed tinsel. She had brought special perfumed candles and they put them around, with stands that looked like branches and needles.
"It’s pretty." said Sonja.
"Have you ever celebrated Christmas?" said Hillary. Sonja shook her head. "I'm sorry."
Sonja thought that was an odd thing to say. "Are we done celebrating now?"
"No." laughed Hillary. "We still have the party. And one more decoration." At the bottom of the chest was a small box. Hillary lifted it out gently and placed it on one of the tables. She opened it and Sonja saw a collection of statues.
"Who's that?" asked Sonja pointing to the baby.
"That's God." said Hillary. "Christmas is about his birth."
"That should be God." Sonja pointed to the figure of the woman.
"God made the mother." said Hillary. Sonja made a face. “Earth was the first thing he made.”
"But if he's her baby, that doesn't make any sense."
"I know." said Hillary. "But when he came into our world, he needed a body." Sonja thought about that.
"Sort of like when the Mother gave us trees. She needed a way to provide for us."
Soyer, the Ships'ook, came in with a bowl of punch. "Where do you want this, Ma'am?"
Hillary showed him. He set down the bowl. "Help me with the rest, Girl." Sonja left with him. Hillary fussed at the decorations.
"I don't believe we've ever celebrated Christmas on board." She turned and saw the Captain of Dweameh standing in the doorway. "And in light of our current situation I’m not sure this is the best time to start."
"How can you not celebrate?" she asked him.
“We will be fortunate to make port, Good Lady.” he said. “Hardly a reason for celebration.”
“Dire circumstance is all the more reason to reflect on-“
"We aren't exactly religious." said Eben dismissively. He was an older man, dressed sharply and, even at the end of middle age, was powerfully built.
"I've never met a sailor who wasn't religious." said Hillary with a smile.
"There's a difference between being superstitious and claiming God." he said.
"Captain, I've traveled all over the universe and there are two things that have been the same everywhere I've been." He waited for her and she continued. "People. And their hunger to know God, whether they claim Him or not."
Soyer and the girl returned with trays of food. It smelled wonderful and Hillary's face lit up. Eben raised an eyebrow. "Where did this come from?"
"The Lady Hillary arranged for it to be added to our stores, Captain." said Soyer. "And I must say, it has been a pleasure preparing it." He looked slyly at the old woman and then snatched a gingerbread cookie.
Sonja had crumbs on her coveralls and the corner of her mouth. “Merry Christmas, Captain.”
Vanderwall and Donnelly stuck their heads in the parlor. "Smells like real food." said Vanderwall. "Is there enough for us?"
“It's for everyone." said Hillary
Donnelly looked at the Captain and he nodded. "You may call the rest of the crew. Tonight we'll celebrate with our guest."
Hillary enlisted Alexis, the Captain’s wife, as hostess and even Tabitha helped the old woman entertain the men, though she had not planned to come until Sonja had insisted. "She's made the Tree look pretty." the girl said. And the Tree was happy.
Alexis played the organ after they had eaten. The hull of Dweameh vibrated with the sound of the pipes and their voices. The stars watched as the small ship, battered and leaking, sailed through the void, staring in through the window at the small group of people, encased in a brass and wood cocoon. Hope had come to them, and, whatever might happen, they were joyful that night.