There are situations in space that have to be dealt with or will degenerate.
One of those is when you’re headed into three successive jumps and a trip into new territory to establish new trading outposts with colonies, some just rediscovered after thousands of years on their own, and your first mate develops a case of not talking to you except in officielise as though he swallowed all the Rules and Regulations of a Space Bound Vessel, published at the turn of the twenty second century.
Your alarm bells should ring particularly loud if you’re in a trading vessel, no part of any armed force ever, crewed and captained by hard core space geeks with the minds of merchants and the hearts of 13 year old boys half-in-love with the myth of space and the wonder of visiting never-heard-of-worlds. And when the crew numbers 12 and has been in the habit of addressing each other as Bob, Jim and Mike, not Captain, first mate and Tech Specialist.
The bells ringing in Bob’s mind — aka Space Captain Robert Valtar, Earth licensed trader — were loud enough to announce the apocalypse. But he didn’t know why. He and Jim had always got along find. They’d been in school together, been best buddies in the qualifying exams and bought this ship together, with Jim taking the junior position as he’d only contributed 25%. Their wives were best friends. Their children played together. And if Jim said, just once more “as you please, Captain Valtar, sir,” Bob was going to either punch him or burst a vein.
So he did the only thing he could do, and sent for the Servus — a brand new Servitor Xtra, and such a great improvement over their many-times-repurposed little guy who had performed these duties the last ten years. The Servus had got his orders and left, gliding silently, without even the slightest grinding of gears, unlike the Little Guy.
Minutes later, Jim came in. He was in uniform, for crying out loud. Uniform. They’d designed the uniforms when they’d bought the ship, and they’d planned to wear them if they made contact with some civilization that necessitated formality. There had been… one of those six years ago. Other than that, they normally slouched about the ship in the blue, shapeless coveralls normally worn by manual laborers at every spaceport in civilized space. Because it was comfy, and no one, in a crew of friends, cared what it looked like. But Jim wore the blue and yellow uniform, with the piping at the collar and not the slightest wrinkle. Bob wanted to ask him if he’d lost his mind. Instead he ground out, in a reasonable tone, “Jim, what in heck have I done to offend you?”
Jim rolled his eyes upward, as though contemplating the ceiling in Bob’s sleeping/office quarters with intense concentration. If it had been Mike, Bob would have worried he’d found a fault, by sight, in the communications and power wiring circuits that ran, visible, along it.
By immense power of will, Bob said nothing. One hand held the other on the desk, because he was not going to punch his best friend. Or his second mate. Talk about onboard relations going to hell in a basket on rails.
“Sir, I registered my objection, two weeks ago. It is the Captain’s privilege to ignore it. I’m simply obeying as a second mate should.”
Two weeks ago? That had been just after they jumped from Haven in the West Lands System. When they’d acquired the Servitor Xtra and… Jim had registered no official complaint.
Wait. No. He had. He’d insisted on registering it on the ship log. That was when they’d let the Little Guy out in Sands, that world–
“You mean when you wanted to take the Little Guy to pieces and sell him for parts!”
“Damn it, Jim. That’s what you said. That he should be recycled and repurposed, not let out in Sands for retirement.”
Jim’s eyes rolled, but there was no other sign that Bob had annoyed him. His voice was super official and even as he said, “You can’t retire a creature that has been raised by and socialized with humans. Not in an empty planet, sir.”
“Well, we couldn’t put him in any populated planet. Someone would have taken him to parts! You know the Little Guy. He trusts everyone. Kind of like a very good six year old kid. If someone told him to come into a back alley to help someone, he’d suspect nothing even if the person was holding metal saws and a set of screw drivers.”
Jim’s eyes flinched, just a little, then he sighed. “Damn it, Bob, that’s the point. And I’d say the Little Guy is more like a super-capable toddler. He doesn’t really understand humans, he just loves them and is super eager to please. Remember how we had to give him orders that couldn’t be parsed in any other way? Like when he added paint to Mike’s coffee, because Mike asked for it black, and coffee is at best dark brown?”
“Which is why I updated to the Servus. We can afford it, Jim, we really can. And the Little Guy was helpful, but as you said–“
“That is not the point. I don’t object to you buying the Servus. I object to offloading the little guy in a planet with no life.”
Bob made a gesture. “He’ll be fine. He has the solar pack for extra energy when he was on the surface. And you know, I checked the solar energy on Sands. He’ll be fine for centuries. Until something breaks.”
Jim growled. He actually growled. “Bob, think about it. He’s a little toddler. You’ve condemned him to centuries of no one. Nothing to interact with.”
“But he’s a robot!”
“Built and taught and formed by humans. He’s social, Bob. What did he do to deserve loneliness like that? He served us for ten years, the best he knew how. Remember how happy he was when we praised him? He learned to do that stupid little dance, so we knew we made him happy. And now you’re sending him off to be alone the rest of his life? What is wrong with you, Bob?”
“But breaking him for parts–“
“Would have been kinder. Or just let him stay around the ship as a pet. He’s too … sweet or simple or something to resent his work being taken over by the Servus. At worst, he’d try to help.”
“But …. it’s two weeks to go back. And he’s just a robot.”
“He’s a robot made by humans, in the semblance of humans, Bob!”
“It’s going to cost us. And…. The rest of the crew…”
“They all love LG.”
LG didn’t know what he’d done wrong. He’d always thought the Captain loved him. He loved the Captain. He used to sit by the captain’s bed and wait till he wakened in case he needed an errand. The captain talked to LG about his children. LG loved stories of the children.
And Jim too used to keep LG with him, when he wasn’t doing much of anything. He let LG play with toys he’d bought at various worlds. There was this little truck.
They’d just let him out at Sands, thanked him for a job well done, and–
There was nothing. The ground was dry and cracked. LG had tried to shape the sand, but it didn’t stay. He’d hoped that if he waited patiently the ship would come back.
Wouldn’t they miss him?
But they hadn’t come back. His very accurate internal clock told him it was almost three weeks, but it felt like forever. He walked, because he had to do something.
He wasn’t breaking down, and he had enough energy. Even now, as the sun set, he knew he had enough to last the night. But–
He looked up at the night, and down at the sand. He missed voices. He missed running errands for the guys of the ship. “LG get me this part,” Mike would say. Or “LG, get me a glass of water.”
The job had been difficult at first, but he’d learned. He enjoyed helping the guys. He…. missed voices, he missed the touch on his head, and the “thank you” when he did a good job.
Maybe he shouldn’t have done the little dance. Maybe that was what upset them? But he wanted to show them how happy he was to do well for them.
He wished he could cry. He’d seen men cry, and it seemed to relieve the sadness. But his sadness just kept getting bigger and bigger.
It was… like what the men said about being hungry. Like you couldn’t think of anything else, but he was hungry for… touch. And voices. And humans.
He was very sorry he had done wrong, but why hadn’t the humans come back?
Suddenly, in the middle of his walk, he saw a flower. It was like the flowers he used to cultivate in the hydroponic garden in the ship. The men let him do it — perhaps they’d been mad at it after all — even though they weren’t edible. He’d just done it because he’d found some plants growing wild on a colony planet, and he thought the flowers were pretty. The captain said they were roses. LG had started growing them and harvesting them, and putting them on desks and the dinner table. Maybe the men didn’t like that?
He wished he could tell them he was very very sorry.
For a moment he felt angry at the flower, but of course, if the men hadn’t wanted the flowers, that was LG’s fault for not being very clear, not the flowers. It was a pretty flower, in a blue color. And it smelled …. beautiful, his scent sensors told him.
He sat for a while, admiring it, then looked up, and saw another of the flowers, not far off.
More because it was something to do, he started following the trail of stars.
The men didn’t mind at all. In fact, John in accounting, had stopped holding himself with rigid disapproving propriety and said “Oh, thank God, sir. I thought it was a very bad idea to… I miss the little guy. I have dogs at home. He’s a lot like a puppy.”
They headed, full tilt for the jump point back to Sands.
Overhead, there was a star. LG noticed only because it was moving the same path the roses — the Captain said the flowers were called roses — indicated. He wondered if the light was a ship. Maybe there would be people.
He walked and walked and walked, till the sky above was velvety blue, and the pinpoints of stars were dwarfed by the big star moving above.
Suddenly he heard voices. They were human voices. He felt a great relief, but when he looked in the direction of the voices, it wasn’t the crew members. It wasn’t any humans he knew. It was a strange group of humans with avian wings. He’d heard of it, long ago, that there was a colony planet with them, and it made no sense.
LG waved at them, and they waved back, but they didn’t stop him following the trail of roses, and the star.
On and on, LG continued. Suddenly — more because of shadows on the ground — he realized he wasn’t alone. There were people: men and women and children. They walked alongside him, carrying various animals or leading them.
Sheep and goats, LG remembered, happily, from an educational program that Jim had bought for his kids and let LG try out.
The roses ended, and the star had become affixed above, over a point, from which a great glow came.
As he got closer, LG saw a crude construction of wood and straw, and in it were a man and a woman, in strange colonial garb, and a bay, lying in a little bed of straw. He’d never seen babies, but he had seen them in educational programs. There were other life forms. Donkeys. And cows.
But it was the human family that great light came from. Or a feeling of light, even when not visible. And great warm.
The people walking with LG knelt, in front of the little family, and offered their animals. The woman smiled, and thanked them, and–
LG was curious. He walked all the way up, till he could see the little baby. There was something there. A feeling a life, of energy, or peace. A sense of space and time folded on itself.
LG knelt in front of the little straw bed. Not that he meant to, but he felt like his legs couldn’t support him.
“Hello, little one,” the woman said. “And who are you?”
He couldn’t find words, so he thought at her. He was…. a little robot that was normally built to help children, but these very poor young space merchants had built him and taught him, so he could do some work around the ship and save them time and bother. And he’d…. He’d liked doing things for them. He’d been happy.
“Joseph,” the lady said, softly. “This little one is…. a person. He loves. He knows love.”
He didn’t know what the man said, but the baby turned to him and seemed to see him, to see LG perfectly in all he was. The baby didn’t say anything, but there was a feeling of …. it was like when the men pattted his head or told him thank you. But it was a thousand times more. It was energy and warmth and–
LG danced. He danced till he couldn’t.
“Can you trace him?” the captain asked Mike.
“I think so. He’s about fifty miles from where we left him.”
“Can you make a landing?”
“Yeah. I think so. The thing is…. we’re getting a very odd reading. He might not be salvageable.”
“What? It’s only been twenty four days.”
“Yeah. We left him December first, ship time, and it’s Christmas morning.”
“What could have happened to him?”
“I don’t know. It’s like he got a shot of energy he couldn’t handle. His brain might be fried. I’m just preparing you, Captain.”
It about broke Bob’s heart. When they found LG he was standing on one leg, with his arms extended, in the middle of the silly little dance he’d done to show he was happy. He didn’t react to them.
On his orders, they took him to the ship, with great care, and Mike said he’d do what he could, but he didn’t sound hopeful.
And Bob had gone to his office to plan the next jump, but really to cry. How could he have been so cruel to one so innocent.
So, ship time was set by their home world, which means it would be Christmas morning for his wife and kids. His wife and kids loved LG. How could he go back…. He could have taken him home to them. Yes, he’d be trouble, because he was so eager to help, but then– so were toddlers.
“Captain!” Mike didn’t even knock. “His brain is fine. I’m just repairing some circuits, and he’ll be okay. But I got a recording of his …. of what he saw and sensed in the last day.”
“But he’ll be okay?”
“He’ll be fine. He’s talking. That’s why I looked at the recording. He… you’ll have to see this.”
LG was sitting on the work table, while Mike worked on fixing the circuits. He chimed, happily, “Captain, you came back! I’m very sorry for what I did wrong.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong, little one. It was I who did wrong. I should never have left you.” He sat down on a stool, so he was at a level with LG, and petted his head, where the head sensors were. “I’m very glad you’re okay. The guys said you saw something?”
“Just the family with the baby. I can’t explain. But Mike says there’s a sensi record.”
There was, and in future months and years, while LG acquired the status of ship pet and his little offerings of roses were praised and he was petted, which strangely increased everyone’s happiness onboard, men would now and then, quietly go and view the recording.
No one could explain how LG had been at the nativity. They were fairly sure it hadn’t happened on Sands.
But the little guy followed a path of shining blue roses and a star, and he walked in the company of shepherds. He’d heard angels, and waved to them. And he knelt by the manger, and felt the all-encompassing love of that point of inflection where the Creator of mankind became human.
And they heard again and again the love that encompassed those creations of humans that became human in love and caring, themselves.
LG himself didn’t seem to need to see it again. Also, his energy levels never went down again. Inexplicably, he was always fully charged.
But the men…. The men watched it over and over again. Because in the world of metal and steel, amid the indifferent stars, it made them feel they hadn’t gone beyond the reach of love and forgiveness eternal.
And suddenly the stars were not cold or indifferent.
79 thoughts on “On Christmas Day In The Morning”
Darn, I don’t want to cry in the Panera Bread. But I may.
Damnit girl Sarah! & I say that in a laudatory way.
Thanks, and have a happy, holy, and blessed Christmas!
Well, my eyes needed a good rinse.
This is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever written. Thank you! Merry Christmas!
You’re not crying, I’m cry…. No, wait!
My house seems to be infected with onion cutting ninjas.
Clearly we need some more equitable way of distributing ideas for Christmas stories because I haven’t managed to write ONE yet this year.
And they’re all so GOOD.
Dusty here. Thank you.
Dang. I thought I’d dusted and vacuumed!
Thank you Sarah. Beautiful Christmas Story.
Yikes! Though I have to say it came perilously close to killing the dog…
Need a mop-up on aisle five. sniff
That was beautiful, Sarah. Thank you.
I’m fine. /sniffle
It’s awfully dusty in here. Thank you!
I loudly praised Sarah’s OCDITM with faint damning.
On a non germane note of little or no consequence, I’ve noted elsewhere and I’ll note here; Minus forty two degrees F. up here on top of the world this morning.
I, for one, of course blame it on global warming, Covid, and Trump!
I know quite well (even without reading comments) that I don’t dare read this until after the busy day of still untangling the horrible mess around here.
I’ll thank you in advance, though – you never disappoint.
Oh good, I’m not the only one who only managed a draw with strings of colored lights. They were in tidy, well secured bunches last January. This week . . . they are not.
Um, wrong tangle?
I managed to avoid that particular literal tangle this year – the son put up the house lights when he was down Thanksgiving weekend, and wife was, as usual, in charge of the tree lights this last weekend.
No, the place is still a minor disaster area – we needed to make a space for Kathie’s early Christmas present, a recliner, in the living room. Which first required moving her office into the bedroom that the son moved (mostly) out of in September. Which first required his bed to be moved into my office to become the guest bed. Which first required a major overhaul of what was already in said office. Somewhat like moving a studio or one bedroom apartment – without the ability to just put things into a truck.
Recliner is in, Kathie’s office is done, but I still have piles of stuff out by the back door to be sorted through and moved back into my office wherever it can be shoehorned in.
Working on it as I can, around the normal and holiday household maintenance. It MUST and WILL get done, but I’m going to be exhausted by the time this weekend rolls around.
It’s a wreck and a tangle.
(Carp per diem)
The Christmas Light Gremlins strike again! 😀
I cheated. The 19 year old Christmas tree is headed for the dump tomorrow, and the lights that replaced the strings That Would Not Light* are sitting patiently in their baggies, plotting revenge in 2023. The replacement tree is in the storage shed, and we did minimal decorations this year. December has been too interesting to get ambitious with Christmas decorations, so I pulled the non-tree tote. $SPOUSE’s healing back agreed with the less adventurous plan.
(*) I’m a retired electrical engineer, but my debugging patience lost to those [redacted] strings of lights, so the tree had white lights on the bottom and top, and colored LED lights for the middle. The white lights are mounted to the tree, so good riddance…
our trees match. White, colored, white. The middle strand burned out. Must be a design flaw that makes you have to add colored lights.
I liked this, very much. Thank you.
Beautiful story, Sarah. And yes, I need to change the air filter. Lots of dust in the office this afternoon.
Thank you, Sarah! The Reader is finding it pretty dusty here.
“Gaudete, Christos est natus.”
:catholic trained brain goes OH THAT’S PINK!!!!:
Gosh darn it, Sarah. I had to pull my handkerchief out for that one.
Darned onion-cutting ninjas.
How do you craft such wonderful stories? Thank you, now I need to clean this room again, it keeps getting dusty in here!
Doggone it; that’s beautiful. It’s the most moving thing I’ve read since “Eulogy for a Dog.”
Lovely. Thank you.
“Joseph,” the lady said, softly. “This little one is…. a person. He loves. He knows love.”
Reblogged this on Head Noises.
Thus why she writes, and I instead tend servers.
It’s increasingly rare to read a story that captures the true meaning of Christmas. This is one of them. And yes, I have tears dripping on the keyboard. Well done.
The only possible sequel is “The Robot Who Traveled in Elephants.”
From a cranky old guy… Thanks.
Merry Christmas to one and all!
A touching piece that I thoroughly enjoyed for sure. Thanks for posting it!
A lovely little story. Thank you.
This is a beautiful story. Thank you.
Best. Christmas. Present. Ever.
Thank you for this, Sarah. It was lovely.
And people wonder why I like sci-fi stories.
That was wonderful in a way that just telling the regular type of Nativity story never is.
…and I lost a cat yesterday.
Just before noon he suddenly started yowling and crying. I got him to an emergency vet, they said a blood clot cut off circulation to his back legs and nothing could be done for him.
He’s been a good cat, and overall I think he had a pretty good life after a rocky start.
A friend of mine rescued him from the street, starving and miserable, and named him Kevin. Fed properly, he weighed 18 pounds. Then, about 14 years ago she moved into a place that wouldn’t let her keep him and gave him to me.
Kevin walked with his tail held high, slept where he wanted, and purred a lot. He leaves a big cat shaped empty space.
I’m so sorry.
Thank you. I just wanted to post a sort of tribute and memorial to a good cat.
I’m sorry. Never easy to lose one. Harder when it is suddenly. Give yourself and everyone time to grieve. Then let another one (or two, three, four, 🙂 ) expand your heart.
I’ve still got two. I think they know he’s gone, but it’s hard to tell with cats.
I got three cat bowls out last night, just from habit. Oh, wait…
I don’t go looking for cats; they come to me. These cats turned up in my back yard about 8 years ago. I finally found out somebody had moved away and left two cats behind. Now they live here.
Inexplicably, he was always fully charged.
The Power and the Glory, Forever…
Amen Brother, Amen.
God bless ye merry mecha, may you glee the yuletide day….
That was beautiful
That was wonderful, even if it did set off my allergies something fierce. I had to pause several times while reading it to my bride tonight.
Each year there is a moment when the spirit of Christmas fills me. Thank you for creating that moment this year.
Another excellent one! Thanks!
Dang it. I didn’t need to be sniffling at the start of the worm day. That was beautiful.
What a beautiful story, Sarah. You made me cry.
Yup, sniffling here at work..
Thank you for a great little piece of work!
I normally don’t like short stories, but you have an amazing talent for them. Thank you.
First time here in ages, and I’m attacked by ninja onions…
When I saw that picture in your earlier post, it was about the saddest thing I’d seen in a while. Thank you for writing a nice story to go with it. The chance for the humans to redeem themselves for a bad thing done to a sapient entity fit very nicely with the Christmas myth.
I am not much of a lover of Christmas but that is a touching story.
This is so beautiful Sarah. Thank you so much. Christmas joy and blessings to you and all the blog commenters and readers.
Dammit Sarah, you made me cry.
Truly, literally, wonder-ful.
And if anyone might wonder if robots and Christmas stories properly overlap… we are told we are all made in the image of our Creator, so then it follows we are made to make.
Which is an awe-some thing, in so very many ways.
And suddenly the stars were not cold or indifferent.
And perhaps this view of the Universe around us is one of the big “secrets” to Getting Out There..?
Just lovely. Thank you, Sarah.
And to LG – faith manages.
Thank you. Don’t know why my keyboard is wet…
Oh Sarah, you have no idea how much I needed a story of hope. Thank you! Merry Christmas!
What a beautiful story of innocence, neglect, and the power of Christ. Thank you.
Thank you for a beautiful story of simple love encountering a Love that I still can’t wrap my head around after many decades. A love that transforms.
And the power of passive aggressive persuasion.
So good! Merry Christmas!
Thank you. Teared me right up.
Sent it to TDW-Mark II. She, also, teared up.
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