The story was first posted on this website on Dec 16, 2015, in time for the winter holidays.
“They requested help?” Lyd-Co asked.
“Yes. They’re losing power. They need to evacuate the station for a few days, to make repairs. It’s getting mighty cold in there. More than a million people live on that station. They are asking every ship in the vicinity to accept refugees for a few days. Our orders are to fly to the station and take in six hundred people.”
“Six hundred!” Lyd-Co glanced around the briefing room. Every officer seemed as stunned as he was. “We have fifty-seven crew, including you, Captain. We are a small ship. We can’t possibly have six hundred extra sleeping places.”
“We can,” the captain said. “All the crew cabins will be vacated—we’ll sleep in the gym. The mess hall can fit fifty. The infirmary is empty—another twenty or more. The shuttle bays—we’ll have the shuttles tethered outside. We’re having the mattresses and blankets delivered.”
“Aye, sir. What do you want me to do?”
“Be my liaison. Assign quarters. Answer questions. Sort out squabbles. They’ll have kids.” The captain winced. “Maybe pets.”
“Pets? I’m not human, Captain, and this is a human station.”
“You’re my first officer,” the captain said sharply. “Tomorrow night is human New Year’s Eve. A big holiday. Let’s make it as painless as possible for the refugees.”
“Aye, sir, a holiday,” Lyd-Co repeated, his cranial antennas pulsating in distress. “With pets. I’m allergic to human pets. My antennas itch.”
“Shut up, Lyd-Co,” the captain said tiredly.
“What about waste disposal?” the chief engineer asked. “We can’t process ten times our designated number.”
“How much can we process?”
“Maybe two hundred, if we minimize the safety margins.”
“Rig one of the transport pods to receive the excess waste. We’ll deal with it later. There should be enough space in a transport pod.”
“A pod of shit.” Lyd-Co snorted. “Just in time for your holiday.”
The captain glared at him. “Take antihistamines, Lyd-Co, and go do your job.”
“Aye, sir.” Lyd-Co left the bridge. Behind his back, the others bombarded the captain with more questions. Pets, he thought. And children. He hadn’t signed up to the Federation Fleet to babysit either.
The embarkation went surprisingly smoothly. The subdued refugees followed his directions without demur, despite his blue skin. A least most of them did. He was able to handle a few troublemakers with a minimum of fuss. By next morning, nobody in the crew had slept for more than three hours, Lyd-Co hadn’t slept at all, but the refugees seemed content. The noise on the ship rose to a deafening level, and gaudy plastic ornaments appeared randomly along the previously pristine walls of the ship.
Lyd-Co ordered video screens installed in various areas of the ship for the New Year programs. The cook baked and distributed cookies. The head navigator performed an impromptu concert; he could play guitar and sing. Someone organized a video game competition for teenagers, and they crowded around the game consoles. Someone else started a daycare. The owners of two pets—a furry dog and a Vergacian dragon—agreed to keep their creatures sedated for the duration of their stay.
By four in the afternoon, Lyd-Co couldn’t keep his eyes open any longer. He needed to sleep for a few hours. He sat heavily on his bedroll but before he took off his boots, a frantic young woman rushed into the gym, an upset soldier hovering behind her.
“Sir! My son disappeared. I can’t find him. I looked everywhere. Please.”
Regretfully, Lyd-Co climbed back to his feet. “How old is you son?”
“Four.” She sobbed. “He went looking for Santa.”
“Looking for what?”
“We’re from Earth. We have this…” She sniffed convulsively. “…this fantastic being, Santa Clause. Every New Year Eve, he brings gifts to children. My son wanted to be sure that even after we immigrated to the station, Santa could still find him. I was busy, so he went searching. He said something about it before her disappeared, but I didn’t pay attention. I’m so sorry.”
“Right,” Lyd-Co said. “Don’t worry. He can’t be far. It’s a small ship. What is your son’s name?”
“Tom.” Her voice wobbled.
“Let’s give Tom his Santa.” Lyd-Co led the way to the bridge. He explained the situation to the captain and said into the loud speakers, projecting his announcement throughout the ship: “This is a message for Tom, four years old. Santa is waiting for him on the bridge.” He repeated the message several times.
“Do you have his gift, the one Santa is supposed to deliver?” he asked the mother.
She nodded jerkily.
“Bring it here.”
She ran out, returning with a big box wrapped in garish red and white paper. Fifteen minutes later, a guard at the door ushered in a small boy with curly blond hair. The boy looked around, spotted his mother, and marched towards her.
“Santa is not here,” he said accusingly.
“I’m Santa.” Lyd-Co offered the bright box to the boy.
Tom took the box and frowned. “You don’t look like Santa. You have blue skin. And no beard. And horns.”
His mother started to apologize, but Lyd-Co stopped her with a gesture. “I have antennas,” he corrected. “You see, Santa is not one man. It’s a job. In a place where you lived before, the man doing the job had white skin and a beard. Here, Santa is blue with antennas.” He wiggled his right antenna for emphasis.
“Oh,” Tom said, eyeing Lyd-Co’s antennas with interest. “That’s okay.” He smiled and tugged his mother off the bridge, the box safely clutched in his little hands.
“Thank you,” the mother mouthed. The door hissed shut behind them.
“Hey, Santa, did you bring me a gift too,” the chief engineer asked with a grin.
“Congratulations on your new job, Blue Santa.” The captain didn’t even try to restrain his smirk.
With twitching lips, Lyd-Co stomped out. He was so tired, his antennas had shrunk to half their normal size. He needed to find out everything about this Earthen Santa. But before that, he needed sleep.
Original cover art by Naum Osyno