Twas the Night…
by John Reiher
The Re’na Dar shuttle hovered down to the landing pad at Earth’s capital city. Snow spiralled away in small whirlwinds under the force of the impellers as the sleek red craft came to a rest on its silver landing rails. Technicians and port personnel quickly swarmed the craft and a covered walkway wheeled into position and docked into the shuttle’s airlock. At the other end of the walkway, a huddle of humans waited, all dressed in their finery and arrayed behind one man. The airlock opened and a lanky individual, flanked by his own functionaries, headed down toward the group of humans.
Counselor Ransom of the Terran Diplomatic Corps stepped forward to greet Ambassador Reu Dol from the Re’na Dar Commune. Reu Dol was tall and lanky, dressed in his people’s version of formal dress: A fur coat with leather trim, a white blouse, leather pants, and the multi-pronged headgear common to his culture.
“Ah, Counselor Ransom!” he called out in a loud voice, stepping forward on his long, digitigrade legs that ended in cloven hooves.
Smiling, Ransom stepped forward and clasped appendages with his friend. “Congratulations, Reu, on your appointment as ambassador to the Terran Republic! So, who did you have to butt heads with to get it?”
Gesturing to his assistants, who scurried off to collect his luggage and diplomatic cargo, the ambassador said, “Dan Kar. He was the favorite of the old members of the Commune, but I was able to bring more votes my way. I know how to play the Re’na Dar games and get my way.”
Ransom nodded to his assistant, Julian Jorgenson, who nodded in return and took the rest of Ransom’s staff to assist the Re’na Dars in unloading the ship.
The two senior diplomats headed into the starport. Reu Dol marveled at the multicolored lights that decked the shops and cafes that lined the interior of the port. Red and green were predominate, but other colors were also present. Silver streamers decked the halls along with garlands of some sort of evergreen plant with spiky leaves. Reu looked about in wonder. “Some sort of festival?”
“Yes,” answered Ransom, “it’s the Christmas season.”
“Ah, I’ve heard of this celebration of yours,” Reu said, gesturing with a cloven digit. “You celebrate the birth of your god that was later killed. Yes?”
Ransom gave his friend a sideways look, then smiled. “Sort of. It’s complicated. On a purely historical basis, this time of year is rife with many religious holidays and festivals. Over the centuries, Christmas became a purely secular celebration. And we are far from a monotheistic culture. As of last count, we have 40 different religions amongst all Terrans.”
Reu stopped short. “That’s right,” he said, “you never did stamp out the lesser religions as my people did. If I remember correctly, you value diversity over consensus.”
Ransom shrugged. “We’re a bunch of naked apes who learned how to make pointy sticks and fire, and that took us into space and among the stars. We cherish, despite what others may say, all beliefs and opinions. Even when we don’t.”
Reu rubbed his brow. “Dealing with omnivores and carnivores is always a pain, as you have radically different modes of thought from my people. Few of my people can deal with this, well, insanity.” He gave Ransom a wan smile. “It’s a damn good thing both of our species can ingest ethyl alcohol with similar effects. We can ease this migraine I’m developing right now.”
Patting his friend on his back, Ransom said, “You’re not the first to have problems with our laissez-faire way of life. We respect authority up to the point where it tries to control our daily life. Then we tell it to go to Hell. Christmas is what it is because the world needs a celebration about peace, love, family, and gift giving. You’ll find that it’s celebrated everywhere within the Republic’s territories, no matter what the original culture believed. And I’m glad you’re here to experience it.”
As they walked, Reu spotted a fat human with a white beard, dressed in red with white trim, a pointed hat on his head. He stood next to a pot, ringing a bell. Individuals stopped, tapped a com unit to a plate, and got a hearty “Merry Christmas!” in return. Reu headed for him, gesturing to the man, who just smiled in response. Ransom trailed behind.
“Merry Christmas, rie!” said the man, using the non-gender pronoun. “Have you come to make a donation for the unfortunates of our community?”
Reu was taken aback by that pronouncement. “But I thought the Republic had a universal wage? No one should be an unfortunate.”
“True, my good rie,” replied the jolly elf, “but it’s a subsistence wage, not enough to pay for luxuries such as Christmas dinner or presents. The charity I work for also finds work for those who have none. But as they say, ‘to make money, takes money.’ Your donation would help us help others at this time of year.”
The Re’na Dar tried to comprehend what he just heard. “You do not do this already? I thought that the universal income was to address this… I’m confused. Ransom?”
“Universal income is set at just above the poverty line,” explained Ransom. “Some say it is the poverty line. And getting it raised takes an act of the Senate, and they are loath to appear soft on those who refuse to work and live off of universal income.”
“Except that’s a lie about those on universal,” said the bearded man. “Most folks on universal have to work to make ends meet, since the UI isn’t set to the cost of living index. So most families have to find some way to make a living. Many do, ‘off the books’ so to speak, and risk penalties for doing so. Thus the charity I work for. We do our best to help them with legitimate employment and assistance.”
Rubbing his brow, Reu wobbled a bit on his bent legs. “I need to sit down, this is all so overwhelming” he said shakily, dropping onto a nearby bench, crossing his arms in his lap. Ransom and the other man sat down on either side of him.
“Kris, by the way,” said the bearded man, offering a hand.
“Really?” said Ransom.
“Really. Kris Nicholls.”
“Ransom, Samuel Ransom.”
“Of the TDC? I’ve heard of you, good rie! Your handling of the Affair of Missing Khaligi Socks is famous! You stopped a war!”
“It was a team effort on the part of the Terran Diplomatic Corps,” Ransom demurred.
Kris turned his attention to Reu. “My dear rie, what vexes you so?”
“That you’d let people get to the point where they have to beg or engage in illegal activities to make a living. Within the Re’na Dar Commune, this would never be allowed. Everyone is provided for equally. All is shared, equally.”
“That’s not exactly true, Reu,” said Ransom. “You yourself have a bit more than others.”
“Yes,” agreed Reu, “but only because of my position and situation. When I leave this position, I will be treated like everyone else.”
“‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,'” quoted Kris. “Sadly, we Terrans are not a species that can be completely altruistic. We can think it, but in our hearts, we want it all for ourselves. That’s why Christmas is so important. It reminds us that we are all in this together, that ‘no man is an island,’ if you pardon the human-centric wording.”
“Yes, and ‘some animals are more equal than others,’” replied Ransom, and both men nodded in agreement.
Looking at his friend, Reu said, “What you said doesn’t make sense to me.” He turned to Kris. “But what you said does. How can this come from the same species?”
“Ah, that’s the crux of humanity,” said Kris. “We can believe in twelve different things in the morning, and still operate as rational beings. One of the ancient religions had five different and conflicting creation stories, yet its adherents believed all to be true. The Christian religion, of which I am a believer by the way, has two conflicting creation stories as well. Of course, my sect views the Bible as more of a collection of allegories rather than factual truth. Yet truth can be pulled from those stories. But fear not, friend…?”
“I’m sorry, I am Reu Dol, of the Re’na Dar.”
“I am pleased to make your acquaintance! I haven’t seen your people on Earth before. I hope we’re treating you equably.”
Reu was rubbing his forehead again with his cloven digits. “Understand if it was anyone else from the Commune but me and my staff, they would be having a psychotic break right now. I’ll stop asking how; perhaps I should ask why?”
Ransom looked over at Kris. The other shook his head and Ransom nodded in agreement. “No, that wouldn’t be any better. I’m trained at this, but right now I’m feeling like a rank amateur. Perhaps we should get that drink?”
“Alcohol, yes,” said Reu, standing. “Alcohol will make it all better. Thank you, Kris, for being patient with me.”
“No worries, my friend. I’d join you, but for one, I must do my job. For another,” he made a pantomime of drinking with his hand, “well, I like drinking too much. Much too much. So enjoy yourselves and have a Merry Christmas!”
As they stood up from the bench, Ransom pulled out his com unit, tapped in a four-digit figure, and then tapped Kris’ donation pad. “And a Merry Christmas to you as well, Kris.”
As they walked to a starport bar, Reu said, “I wish we had some sort of insurance or protection from the insanity of other races. I do like you humans, but even you have your moments of irrationalism.”
“Ah, my poor Reu,” said Ransom. “When it comes to humanity, there is no sanity clause.”
Written by John H. Reiher
Edited by Lisa Costantino
Image: SFM X-mas – Sci-fi City ©2007 Enterprise-E