Christmas Spirits

A Sci-Fi Short Story written by p.d.r. lindsay

Christmas Spirits

by p.d.r. lindsay


Author p.d.r. lindsay -(no capitals please in tribute to a favourite poet, e. e. cummings) – is passionate about words, feels the loss of people like Shakespeare, those who wrote the King James Bible, poets who made words dance, like Gerard Manley Hopkins. She’s published over 100 short stories, 3 anthologies and four novels. Whilst her short stories range from SF, Fantasy and literary genres she prefers historical stories for novels because she finds she can say things to readers in historical settings which readers might not accept in modern settings. She is concerned that certain social issues make repeat appearances over the centuries and likes her readers to think about those situations which her characters find themselves in whilst enjoying their company. Novel five is incubating around another serious social issue.
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There are no ghosts in space. That was a whanau saying, a family motto, handed down by the first of our family’s spiritual leaders, a great tohunga, who ventured up there. A man of wisdom, intelligence and curiosity, he saw a need for his skills among those people venturing beyond our planet and founded the family business. I eventually inherited the family korowai, the cloak and mantel of that tohunga, and became, in my turn, the wise spiritual family leader, the ninth of our family’s tohungas to work in space.

Whanau genes, or an ancient enemy’s curse, gifted me with a dark dislike of leaving my native soil. I must have been one of the last people on Earth who had not travelled out in space, not even to the lunar colonies. I liked it that way. My Maori roots tied me to my land, large tracts of Northland, New Zealand, which our business profits kept as a green, bush-clad wilderness. Oh, I’d work up on space dock occasionally, every one did in my line of business, but as the senior and leader in the family firm, I could generally avoid going. Jobs in space were offered as a reward to those of my children who loved working with nothing but a thin sheet plate between their feet and the black void. So I was annoyed when the rest of the family passed this space dock job onto me.

“It ought to be so simple, Pa,” my youngest daughter told me. “But, no matter what I do, the static remains, the banging reoccurs and the com. circuits are blocked.”

“Simple?” I queried, insulted. We charged huge fees so that I could enjoy my planet-side life with as little interruption as possible. This meant that we were only offered the impossible. We’d never failed yet.

“You’ll have to do it” she said. “The rest of us can’t. It’s a job for the one with the acquired knowledge of the spiritual leader, the tohunga, i.e. you.”

I was shocked. “You haven’t told Space Dock that have you?” I foresaw many more demands for my personal attendance every time a space craft arrived home from distant ends of the galaxy with our kind of problem. Maintaining the firm’s reputation, that of having highly skilled and successful staff, was vital if I was to be able to keep my feet on the ground. Our mana, the family prestige, was now so high that both civil and government organizations called on us automatically. They found the family motto, ‘There are no ghosts in space’ most reassuring. I wanted to make sure we kept that mana, the money which came with it and my feet securely planted on terra firma.

“No, Pa, we told them we are most concerned that this type of problem will manifest itself on all starships where they have lost crew in unusual accidents.” She grinned at me. “It’s a job for you. Now hurry up and finish it before the Christmas celebrations begin.” And the screen went blank.

So there I was, stuck in space, on the military dock, and it was Christmas Eve. We were an old fashioned family and Christmas was important spiritually as well as for the more usual, time honoured celebrations. Christmas meant the whole extended family, camping at the beach, our beach, on our land. I had less than twenty four hours to solve a problem no one could put a name to.

The star ship was a deep space special quarantined in one of the isolation bays. There was even a security squad on the dock, but I had clearance. Even if I hadn’t they would have let me through. Who else arrived at work wearing a priestly korowhai, my beautiful flax cloak with feather trim, and carrying a sacred tokotoko? Everyone else wore spacesuits or space uniforms and toted technical gadgets, not an ornate carved stick. The security guards ran their collective eye over me and heaved a sigh.

“This one might fix it,” said the lieutenant under her breath to the man beside her.

“Or us,” he hissed back.

I raised my hand. “Kia ora,” I said and chuckled behind a straight face as the guards twitched. I rapped my stick on the floor and showed them my pass. They sidled along the ramp to let me through. I strode into the entry briskly, wanting to get the feel of the ship without Security tagging along.

Once I’d walked through the entire craft, I began to wonder why my family had called me. I could find nothing. There was only a dull emptiness and the muffled, behind-the-walls wheezes of the ship’s systems at work. I proceeded to the computer control centre and upset the security squad considerably by shedding my cloak and working like an ordinary info-technical expert. I looked everywhere for an answer to the problem, but there was no physical reason for a communication blockage.

“All the experts have tried this,” a beefy guard said. His voice made a sneer out of the word expert, yet he sounded edgy.

I’ll find something to make you jump, I thought as I closed down the access and waited for a visual scan of the results. Nothing wrong.

Later I tried to sleep in my allocated cabin. Quite often in these situations I could dream a solution. But I remained sleepless. I wanted to call home and check up on the Christmas preparations, yet I couldn’t as the communications system was blocked. And I couldn’t fix it until I could find the blockage. In frustration I rose and wandered the corridors, tapping with my tokotoko, calling and listening. The security squad, the second shift, followed me at an anxious distance. They didn’t understand Maori, and the lieutenant in charge wasn’t in the mood to risk anything.

“Don’t care if he’s got clearance from every admiral,” he growled, “find me an interpreter.”

I chuckled behind a solemn expression and lowered my voice so that the chant became a soft croon. Still nothing.

By now all the family would have come home. The earth pits would have been dug to make the traditional hangi oven, the large rocks placed in them and the fire laid over the stones. My mouth watered at the thought, and I could almost smell the food cooking. I was not going to miss our Christmas feast. I swallowed the saliva and exhaled a great gusty breath. Here I was, useless, up in space, strolling down endless passages made of thin metal plates. I shuddered, I wanted to go home.

Then I felt it, the same longing. Someone else wanted to go home. Faint but distinct the message came. I grinned and pounded down the corridors to the nearest lift. The bridge, the centre of the ship was the place to start.

Up there, I stripped the main communications control boards, taking out each part and replacing it with a new unit. The translator, the security squad brought, became my assistant.

“What do you hope to do?” she asked, handing me microchips and tools. I shook my head at her and keyed in my message again. The lieutenant watched. Nothing happened. Then the boards chimed. The communications system worked, intermittently, but it worked. The block had moved. I seized the chance to call home. I pushed my messages across space, timing them to hit the open patches between the blocks.

“Love you, Pa,” my children said.

“Be home for Christmas,” my partner pleaded.

I ached with longing for them all and for the feeling of real ground beneath my feet. Then the board blew a circuit and cut us off. But the word ‘home’ flashed across the com. board screen. The temperature on the bridge dropped. The explosion left a chill. The security people drew together, and the skin over the nape of my neck tightened. I murmured, “Happy Christmas,” and the air tingled with cold sparks.

“Here we go again,” said the lieutenant and stiffened unhappily. But nothing else happened. In the end, I wandered off with my two personal security guards and the translator dragging behind me. Somewhere on this ship, someone else felt like I did and was trying to get home too. I shut my eyes and began to follow that need. I waved my stick around and nearly hit the guards.

“What’s he doing now,” they muttered, but the translator shushed them. Then we heard the rapping. I banged the tokotoko in reply and headed for the lift. “Stay away,” I commanded and left my escort hesitating, wondering who had the higher rank, their commanding officer or me.

Down below us was the largest shuttle bay. There was a view port by the exit doors. Normally nothing could have induced me to walk over and look out into space, yet I felt compelled to go and gaze through the port. Far out in the inky nothing, I saw the stars. They looked brighter and harsher than when viewed from home.

Far stars, far homes, I thought and grinned as another idea hit me. “Twinkle, twinkle little star, Now we know just what you are,” I sang, my bass voice rolling round the cavernous space. “Just another blob of gas, Bloody boring, like the last.” I let my mind dwell on my dislike of space and my desire to be safely grounded. Nothing. I slapped my palm on the port and thought of Christmas at home with the kids, on our warm stretch of Northland beach, and my need to be with them. “There are no ghosts in space,” I said aloud, then added the second half of the saying, which we didn’t usually mention to our customers, “only spirits wanting to go home.”

A cold raised goose bumps on my skin, and little flecks of light crossed my field of vision. I blinked. The specks were still there, floating before me. “I’ll have you home for Christmas,” I promised, looking down at the green and turquoise planet. And all the hair on my neck stood up like hackles as I felt the strength of a desperate plea. This was the place. I put my hand on the personal communicator clipped to my belt and hit the security button without even thinking about it. And the sense of someone pleading faded. I walked the perimeter of the empty bay. There was nothing, just some battered bits of metal in a rack on the wall, and cavernous silence.

The security guards arrived and set a smart search and defend pattern around the entrance. They were nervous and cautious. I stood in the centre of the shuttle bay. “What’s that lot?” I asked, before they could speak, jerking my head towards the bits and pieces.

They wordlessly questioned each other with raised eyebrows and canted heads, then shrugged and shook heads. No one wanted to say. The lieutenant walked cautiously over to inspect the metal.

“Yep,” he said. The others nodded and looked at me.

“Well?” I asked.

“That’s the remains of the Dawn Star,” he said.

“So you lost people in a shuttle, outside the ship, as well as in the onboard accident,” I said, keeping my voice neutral. We should have been told this sooner; it might well explain our difficulties.

“Got caught on a scientific foray,” the young officer said. “They were hit in a planet’s atmosphere by a freak storm.” He frowned. “Such a dumb thing to happen wasn’t it, a lightning strike? I mean it isn’t the sort of death you expect in space.”

He wanted to ask me why I pushed the panic button. “Did you see something, sir?” I sensed unease and distress amongst them. But now I knew.

“Where’s their log?”

After a brief discussion, the female guard said, “I escorted the Captain when she secured it in her office.”

“Right,” I said, “I need a list of the lost ones’ names and an officer who can access the log’s confidential codes.” The lieutenant began to question me. I cut him off ruthlessly. I wanted to go home. “Just do it, and keep your people out of the way.”

They were puzzled, and I heard the officer issuing the command to stay alert as they went.

I stopped thinking and stood still. I felt nothing. I ambled over to the port and made myself look out. “Twinkle, twinkle little star,” I sang again, testing the theory. The remainder of the security team peered in. I looked down planetwards and allowed myself to feel homesick again. Christmas day soon, I told myself.

Security checked me out again. I smiled inwardly and walked to the broken parts of the Dawn Star, holding in my mind the images of home and Christmas. Flecks of light, brighter this time, floated out before my eyes. I needed something to give them shape but what? Candles, of course, we lit one for each person on our Christmas tree. It was an old custom. I dashed for the entrance. I knew where to find the very thing I need. The lieutenant and I collided in the doorway. “We haven’t much time,” I said, “when’s this commander coming?”

In the end three commanding officers came, their rank insignia showed them as the captain and two commanders of the ship. They sailed into the shuttle bay just after midnight. It was Christmas morning, and I wondered if they knew. For me their uniforms and impressive aura supplied the majesty of the three Magi, but their eyes were uneasy. Perhaps the real Magi had been too. They came to join me in the centre of the bay, prudent and careful in their actions.

Security protected the entrance.

“Fear not,” I said to them and spared them the rest of the King James’ Bible quotation because they clearly hadn’t understood the first part. But the translator grinned. The guards might well have been the original shepherds, for they were distinctly ‘sore afraid’. I smiled upon everyone; I was about to provide some Christmas spirits, and I liked that part of the Christmas story.

“The log please, Captain,” I said, holding out my hands. I had jerry rigged a clip-on connection for the log’s little computer, which went into the main communications system through the wall panel by the port. I just had to make the connection.

Disbelieving faces stared at me, and I grinned. I had thrown on my korowai, tied my hair into a warrior’s knot ,and my carved stick rested on the ground in front of me. No one was sure whether I was Maori tohunga or pakeha technician. Eyes kept glancing at the tree which I had stolen from one of the corridor junction gardens. It was some sort of evergreen and made a reasonable Christmas tree to put the candles on. The officers remained a silent anxious trio. Security muttered.

“I need to empty the log memory into the ship’s com. core,” I said to the captain. As the log had not yet been stamped and sealed by the accident investigation commission, I was asking her to break regulations about not tampering with evidence. Thank God, I thought silently, that my mana is so great that she’s contemplating my request. “There are no ghosts in space,” I said. The three flicked silent eye messages to each other. “There are only spirits needing to go home.” Security shuffled. “I might not even empty the log entirely, but the ship’s problems start from there.”

They knew. They’d spent all that time travelling back to earth in a ship they would not say was haunted. They’d have felt the desperate needs of their dead crew mates. No wonder my family said this was the tohunga’s job.

The Captain nodded. I saw a flicker of pain. She’d lost someone close to her in that shuttle. “I promised them we’d be back for Christmas,” she said, her tone flat, hiding grief.

“Stand clear,” I commanded and closed my eyes, calling on my ancestors for strength. Then I unclipped the temporary connections, took the log from the Captain and carried it to the tree. I chanted the words for the release, and the log grew warm to my touch. My vision blurred with tiny pin points of light. I made a full connection to the ship’s com. system and switched on. The log shuddered.

Light, in beautiful pale blue and lavender waves, spangled with silver moats, floated around us. The waves drifted through the shuttle bay. The old words came quietly to me and I chanted them steadily. In my mind I held fast to the image of candles on the tree and watched the waves of light reach it.

I let myself long for home, and reflected on all that Christmas meant, as I began the blessing of the lost. Then I looked down for the names of the six on the list the Commander of Sciences had given me. His list consisted of rank, number and surname. I sighed and the waves of light diminished, escaping upwards in spirals. There was enough static to make my hair bristle.

I backed away and reached the officers. “Names, not numbers,” I said in exasperation.

The Captain told me, and her voice trembled on one name. I took the six names and called each one aloud. The wave patterns dimmed and faded, and the tree was enveloped in silver light, like star dust. I called each name again and touched the tree with my stick. Will o’ the wisps hovered and burned along every branch, burning like candles. A fiercer light turned from blue to purple at the tip of the tree to make a Christmas star.

“Captain, I need your security code.” Her face reflected the pale lavender light, her eyes looked stunned. She hesitated, and I caught her hand and took it to the log input. She tapped in her code, and there was a high speed rush of air and a silent, visual explosion. It was the terrifying lightening of a Prairie storm with all the colours of the aurora borealis and australis exploding within the confines of the shuttle bay. The will o’ the wisps expanded, and the light seeped outside so that the inside of the shuttle bay dimmed, and the entire star ship lit up like a Christmas tree. I sent the messages of love and remembrance needed to release the spirits out with the lights to the milky way and watched the six go free. The Captain’s face relaxed, the lines softened, but the commanders frowned, puzzled and disturbed. Security couldn’t believe their eyes.

“What have you done?” the lieutenant asked. “What is all this stuff.”

“Just a little Christmas spirit,” I replied, “to add some cheer for Christmas day.” And I watched their disbelief and smiled. “Happy Christmas,” I said and walked out to take the shuttle home.

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