Author: Brendan Chris
Captain Christopher Stafford sighed as he walked through the corridors of his ship. Things weren’t exactly at their highest point, but in all fairness they had been much worse.
The ship was on en route to yet another planet in the general vicinity of Starbase 45. Silverado had been spending a lot of time in that neighbourhood lately, so to speak. They had been visiting Federation member planets, collecting updated information on non-member planets and patrolling the nearby border with what had been broadly designated ‘Delori Space’. Starfleet had never encountered a Delori ship, and their homeworld had been designated ‘off-limits’ after Silverado’s unfortunate encounter there, but artifacts and other signs of previous Delori presence had been turning up on more and more planets.
This time, they had been assigned to perform deep sensor scans of a planet designated ND342-3, to determine if it would be worthwhile for the Federation to establish a mining outpost. Shortly after that, they’d rendezvous with the USS Cletus, which would be taking Lt. Cmdr. Johnson to his next assignment. Stafford wasn’t really sure what exactly had happened with the man, but Johnson was adamant that he leave the ship as soon as possible. He still showed up for his duty shifts, but other than that he refused to leave his quarters.
Well fine. If he didn’t want to be there, Stafford wasn’t going to try to keep him.
He stepped around a corner and into Main Engineering.
“AGGGHHHHH!” Stafford cried, landing hard on the carpet. As usual, he’d tripped over one of the many Ensign Nakeths that worked in engineering. He rolled onto his back and stared up at the ceiling.
“Ouch,” he commented calmly.
“It’s no fun for me, either,” Ensign Frit Naketh commented, stretching and cracking his back, “Wouldn’t it be easier if you just watched where you were going? Uh, sir?” he hastily added.
“It might be easier if we strapped a warning light to your head,” Stafford replied, sitting up, “And guess which of us is the captain?”
“I’ll just tell Lt. Cmdr. Jeffery you’re here,”
“No, actually,” Stafford said, “I was looking for you.” He didn’t bother getting up, as sitting on the floor was the only way he could converse with the tiny Ensign face-to-face.
“Well, I’m still working on this promotion list,” Stafford explained, “And Jall and I are having trouble with some of the names. Yours is one of them,”
“What?” Frit looked surprised, “Why? What did I do?”
“Nothing, nothing,” Stafford assured him, “It’s just that, well, your name is on the list, but Jall and I realized that neither of us really know you that well. So we thought one of us would come down for a chat,”
“Uh, so,” Stafford pulled a padd off of his belt and pulled up the list of questions he and Jall had come up with, “So, um, would you describe yourself as a summer or a winter?”
“That must be one of Jall’s questions,” he said, scratching his head.
Fifebee, Wowryk and Sylvia were seated in Platterhead’s, enjoying a light lunch. Well, Wowryk was enjoying a light lunch; Sylvia and Fifebee were just sitting there and socializing.
“So how are the new inertial dampening subroutines working out, Sylvia?” Fifebee was asking.
“Oh, so much better than the old ones,” Sylvia replied, “I don’t have to tweak them at all. Somebody at the research center was paying attention when I told them they needed to make things more backwards compatible!”
“You mean you’ve been sending in suggestions?” Fifebee asked.
“Sweety,” Sylvia said, “I have the processing power of a starship and the attitude of the average mother. I sent out hundreds of suggestions every day. The amazing part is that somebody actually listened to one of them,”
“Must be nice,” Wowryk commented, sipping her tea.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Noel,” Sylvia said, patting her hand, “Is that a bit too much techno-babble for one sitting?”
“No, no,” Wowryk sighed, “It’s OK. I just can’t help but wish that Chris would follow some of my suggestions sometimes. You know, mandatory baptisms. Mass on Sundays. Christmas.”
“Christmas?” Sylvia started, “You mean the Christian holiday that, in the 21st Century, lead to the Great Commercial Rampage of 2023?”
“Yes, that one,” Wowryk said, “It’s only one of the most important Christian celebrations, marking the birth of our Saviour, and the only reaction I can get from Chris is ‘do what you want, just don’t expect me to do it’,”
“Yes, that sounds like Chris,” Sylvia remarked.
“It would just be nice to have a real Christmas celebration,” Wowryk went on, “At home, our family would come from all over the planet to Grandma Wowryk’s little place in the Northern Agricultural Belt…we’d all visit, and eat, and dance. It was always such fun,”
She looked at her wrist chono.
“But enough reminiscing,” she said, getting up, “I have to give Crewman Gibson a new liver.”
“Really?” Sylvia cocked her head, “But he’s so young!”
“Yes, I know,” Wowryk said, “It’s actually his third liver transplant in the past two years,” she shook her head as she left, “It’s the strangest thing,”
Stafford and Jall were sitting in Jall’s office. They normally held their meetings in Stafford’s ready room, but T’Parief was taking a turn in command and they really needed the larger desk. One would think that the captain would have the bigger office, but since the ready room was squished against the side of the bridge and Jall’s office was deep inside the saucer, Jall actually wound up with more available space.
“Did you meet with Ensign Dar’ugal?” Stafford asked.
“Yeah,” Jall said, “I had to call Ensign Simmons in, because I really don’t get the whole charades thing,”
“And? What did you think?”
“I don’t think we should promote him,” Jall said flatly.
“Why not?” Stafford asked, “Lieutenant Stern has been giving him very good performance reviews,”
“Yeah, but he can’t speak!” Jall snapped, “I had to get a frickin’ charades translator just to have the damned meeting!”
“But that’s the way his species is!” Stafford said sharply, “We can’t discriminate against him!”
“Oh, that’s rich, coming from you!” Jall shot back, “It’s not discrimination, he can’t speak! If he’s standing behind me and something’s about to fall on my head, he can’t shout to warn me!”
“No,” Stafford said, “But he’d push your out of the way! He’d figure something out!”
“Well, until I see some of that, I’m putting him on the ‘No’ list!” Jall said firmly.
“Well I’m putting him on the ‘Yes’ list!” Stafford said, planting both hands on Jall’s desk.
“‘No’ list!” Jall snapped.
“‘Yes’ list!” Stafford snapped back.
“Yes!” Stafford shouted, not noticing Fifebee and Sylvia walking in behind him, “YES, YES, YES!”
“Are we interrupting?” Sylvia asked.
“Yes,” Stafford said.
“No,” Jall said.
They glared at each other.
“Oookay,” Fifebee said, raising an eyebrow.
“Chris,” Sylvia said, taking a seat, “Did you happen to notice what day is coming up soon? Old Earth Calendar?”
“No,” Stafford said.
“Yes,” Jall said.
“Well, did you happen to see any of the suggestions that Dr. Wowryk put in, to help improve crew moral?”
“Yes,” Stafford said.
“No,” Jall said.
“Well, I hope you’re thinking about following a few of them. You know, it would be a really nice gesture, especially considering the effort she puts into keeping your crew healthy,”
“Why ‘No’?” Stafford said, turning to Jall, “You think Wowryk hasn’t been doing a good job?”
“Oh, no, she has,” Jall said, grinning, “I just liked the game we were playing,”
Stafford stared at him for a moment, then turned to Sylvia.
“OK, so you have my attention. Wowryk’s done a lot of work for the crew, and she’s sent in dozens of suggestions. And you think I should follow one of them,” he crossed his arms, “Which one? The forced circumcisions?” he shuddered.
“Actually, Chris,” Sylvia said, “I had something difference in mind…”
“The re-enactment of the Crucifixion?” Stafford shrugged, “Sure, as long as Jall is willing,”
“Hey, how come I have to die on the cross?” Jall demanded.
“Well, it doesn’t have to be on the cross,” Stafford said, grinning.
“You better be grinning because you’re joking, not grinning because you’re imagining it,”
“You’re picturing me nailed up there right now!” Jall accused, slamming his hands against the desk.
“It’s not the Crucifixion!” Sylvia snapped, pushing Stafford down into his chair, “Or anybody getting nailed! I’m talking about Christmas!”
“Christmas!” Sylvia said, “A time when friends and family come together to share a meal, exchange presents and enjoy each other’s company!”
“Do we have to invite my family?”
“As opposed to inviting your friends?” Jall smirked.
Stafford looked at him for a moment.
“Shut up,” he finally said.
“Just maintaining our balance of negative Karma,” Jall said.
“Boys!” Sylvia snapped, “Play nice, or I’ll take away your replicator privileges for a week!”
“Can she really do that?” Stafford whispered to Jall.
“I don’t know,” Jall whispered back, “But I have my heart set on this new soufflé recipe of hers tonight,”
“And I could really go for a good steak,” Stafford whispered back.
“OK,” Jall said to Sylvia, “We’ll play nice.”
“What did you have in mind?” Stafford asked.
“Me?” Sylvia raised an eyebrow, “Do you think I know anything about Christmas?”
“Only everything in our databanks,” Stafford said dryly.
“Plus anything you can get your dainty, perfectly manicured little hands on in Memory Alpha,” Jall said. He stood and came around his desk, “By the way, sweetie, how in the name of the Milky Way did you get your cuticles so-“
“Jall!” Stafford groaned, crossing his arms.
“Right,” Jall sat again.
“So what do you have in mind?” Stafford asked again.
“Well, if I did all the work, it would sort of defeat the purpose, hmmm?” Sylvia said, “I think I’ll leave you kids to it. See you all later,”
“Wait for me!” Fifebee called.
“Oh, dearie, you’re a member of the crew too! Don’t you think you should help out?” Sylvia gave a wave as she dematerialized, “Tootles!”
“We can put you in charge of the Christmas Bunny!” Stafford commented, as Fifebee planted her hands on her hips, “I know how much you loves animals!”
“Wrong holiday,” Fifebee replied icily, “Oh, and did I mention, bite me?”
“OK, OK,” Stafford said, “Your job is to keep Wowryk distracted, so we can surprise her with this Christmas thingy,”
“Acceptable,” Fifebee nodded. She turned and left.
“Sooooo,” Jall said, “How exactly are we going to plan a surprise Christmas for the Wicked Bitch of the North?”
“Simple,” Stafford said, getting ready to leave Jall’s office, “We call in…the Partymaster!”
“Ohhhh!” Ensign Trish Yanick squealed, jumping up and down in the middle of Stafford’s ready room, “This is going to be so much fun! We can exchange gifts, and do some carolling, and decorate the ship!”
“No ship decorating,” Stafford said, “We want this to be a surprise,”
“Oh, silly,” Yanick giggled, “Who would I tell?”
Stafford and Jall exchanged glances.
“Everybody,” the said together.
“I’m blond,” Yanick shrugged, “It’s what I do,”
“But you can handle this, right Trish?” Stafford asked.
“Sure,” Yanick said, ushering Stafford and Jall out of the ready room, “Just follow my directions and everything will be fine,”
“Where have I heard that before?” Stafford wondered as he stepped back onto the bridge.
“Probably from every woman you’ve ever slept with,” Jall cracked.
“Oh, like you would know!” Stafford shot back, “Hey wait…did I just get kicked out of my ready room?”
Stafford looked like he was going to say something, then simply walked over to his chair and sat.
“Whatever,” he sighed.
ATTN: All USS Silverado crewmembers, with the exception of Dr. Wowryk. (It’s not because I don’t love you, Noel, but this is supposed to be a surprise. But you’re not going to be reading this, so why am I apologizing. I dunno! Tee hee! Ugh, that sounds too blond. Pretend I said ‘Hah hah!’ instead, OK?)
Subject: Christmas Hi everybody! (Waves) So, this year, since Dr. Wowryk has worked so hard to keep us all healthy and cuz she would really, really like us to, we’re going to celebrate Christmas. Now, I know a lot of you aren’t Catholic…and that a lot of you aren’t even human. So if you’re not into the whole religion thing, just take it as a chance to have some fun with your crewmates. And if you get really offended by all this religion stuff, well, go lock yourself in your quarters for the next few days, and don’t get all upset when you hear about all the fun we’re gonna have! And yes, we’re gonna have fun, dammit! I, Trish Yanick, have been appointed PartyMaster for this event! Fun will be had! <Insert smiley-face here.>
Please see the attached appendices for your assignments. (Unless you’ve had an appendectomy, in which case, ask one of your friends.) Ensign Yanick, T. Helm Officer USS Silverado
“She has got to be kidding,” Lieutenant Stern said. He was seated in the security locker room, having just showered after a holodeck training mission involving the Hazardous Team, a hostage situation and a barrel of monkeys. Unfortunately, nobody had poked air holes in the barrel, resulting in the death of said monkeys, but since nobody could figure out what the monkeys had to do with the scenario anyway, he wasn’t particularly concerned.
“I think it sounds like fun,” Ensign Marsden said, “I haven’t done the Christmas thing since I was a little boy,”
Ensign Dar’ugal nodded his agreement. The Barudan officer was brushing his fur, which considering he was furred from head to toe, was taking a pretty long time.
“I take it you’re going to be locking yourself in your quarters, huh, Rengs?” Stern asked, pulling out a lint brush and trying to get the long, red Barudan hairs off his uniform. (For every one he removed, it seemed two more floated over.)
“Why?” Rengs asked. Being a Bajoran, Rengs had very strong religious beliefs, made stronger because the Bajorans actually had physical proof of their ‘gods’ existence.
“Well, you know, alien religious holiday and all that,”
“Not at all,” Rengs said, “I think it’s a good chance to learn more about your culture. I’m secure enough in my beliefs that I don’t feel threatened by Dr. Wowryk’s.” He pulled his uniform tunic on over his head, “Unlike her,” he muttered.
“Well, good,” Stern said, “Because we’re in charge of the gift exchange.”
“Not a problem,” Simmons commented, “I vote for a piñata-bomb!”
“And we have to provide a Santa Clause,” Stern added.
The Hazardous Team exchange glances.
“Christmas tree?” Ensign Pye scratched his head, looking at the assignment the evening shift had been given, “That doesn’t seem so hard. I mean, this thing is probably going to be held on the holodeck, right? So we just get Sylvia to-“
“Not going to be that easy,” Lieutenant Quintaine cut him off, “See the note there?”
“The one Yanick added about having to build the tree from scratch?” Pye asked, “Yeah, I saw it. I was ignoring it,”
“You do realize that to disobey Yanick is to risk the wrath of the woman responsible not only for most of our ship parties, but also for keeping Stafford in a good mood anytime we spill something on the bridge carpet?” Ensign Day asked calmly.
“Right. So, where do we get the tree from?”
“OK, people,” Stafford said, facing the senior staff (minus Wowryk), “We have a fairly easy assignment. Our mission; and we’ve already accepted it, so there’s no point bitching, is to plan the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day parties.”
“Why two?” Jall asked.
“Because,” Yanick explained, “It’s kind of a double thing. See, depending on how your family does thing, Christmas Eve might be the big party, with Christmas Day being the small party. Or the other way around. Or you might have Christmas Eve with your family, then Christmas Day with your spouse’s family. Or you might have your big family fights Christmas Eve, and the family make-up on Christmas Day. Or, if it’s just you and your spouse, you might have crazy love-monkey sex Christmas Eve and romantic holiday sex Christmas Day-“
“Thank you, Trish,” Stafford said dryly.
“Is sex a part of this holiday?” Jall asked, confused, “Because I didn’t sign up for that! Not that I mind, or anything, but finding a partner on such short notice-“
“Is probably what you do best. But this is a Catholic holiday,” Stafford told him, “They try to discourage sex as much as possible. Didn’t you see that book Noel was handing out last Valentine’s Day?”
“Ye mean ‘Sex is Evil and Will Make Yer Genitals Rot’?” Jeffery asked.
“Yup, that one,”
“About the party,” Yanick cut back in, “It has to be something…festive. Something wintry. And something without strippers,” she added, looking pointedly at Jall.
“There goes my Christmas list,” he grumbled.
“I know just the thing…” Stafford said.
The rest of the day was a blur as crewmembers exchanged hastily assembled Christmas Wish lists and tried to prepare for their part of the celebration. A single holodeck couldn’t handle the whole crew, of course, so different groups had different plans. Most of the officers would be converging on Holodeck 1 for the party planned by the senior staff, while the enlisted crewmen planned their own celebration in the lounges on Deck 12. The ship’s civilian staff, being in the minority, had requested and been granted the use of the Captain’s Dining Room on Deck 3 for their celebration. Things were quickly coming together, but there was a minor side effect that nobody had planned on…
“OUT OF MY WAY!” Nurse Kerry shouted, trying to elbow her way through the crowd that filled the Replicator Center on Deck 30.
Primarily intended as a facility for fabricating replacement parts, away team supplies or other items that were too large for the standard replicators to handle, the Replicator Center was a series of rooms in Silverado’s secondary hull containing replicators of various sizes, from tiny nano-tech replicators up to a massive unit the size of a small room and capable of manufacturing larger units like furniture, small computer cores and, rumour had it, cakes big enough to fit a belly-dancer in. The center also had several big display screens linked to the replicator library, so users could view the items they wished to replicate prior to spending their replicator rations on them.
Currently, the Replicator Center was a complete zoo. Crewmen from all over the ship had swarmed the place, each carrying shopping lists with names and suggested gifts. Kerry had been waiting in line for nearly half an hour, but other crewmen kept butting in front of her. Finally, her patience had snapped.
“OUT OF MY WAY!” she repeated, pushing past an Etendian phaser technician and Ensign Sweddlbeshid, the D’Ceti exchange officer. Sweddlbeshid gave a gurgly-sounding squeal as his squid-like tentacles flailed around, making Kerry think that the alien was getting a bit too excited about the whole holiday thing.
“Back off, sweetie!” Ensign Bith cried, pushing back, “I’m next in line! I have to get the latest ‘Tickle Me Krugos’ doll before the replicator storage is empty!”
“No, you back off, sweetie!” Kerry shot back, “I was here first!”
“And what are you getting that’s so important?”
“I have this fantastic replicator pattern for a dress Dr. Wowryk will love! It’s brand new from ‘My Little Catholic’! And I’m getting Seth a new leash!”
“You named your dog Seth?” Lieutenant Ovens asked, dragging part of a sectional sofa out of the furniture replicator.
“No!” Kerry snapped, “Seth Shwaluk! My boyfriend!”
“How are you going to fit that thing in the turbolift?” Bith wanted to know. Kerry took advantage of her distraction to slip her data chip into the replicator slot. Seconds later, the dress appeared on the tray. A couple of taps later and the leash joined it.
“You bitch!” Bith cried.
“Suck it up, sweetie!” Kerry said, blowing a kiss.
Bith fumed, then turned and started tapping at the control console. Two replicators over, a fight had broken out over a pair of identical taffeta gowns that two crew-women had just ordered, each claiming the other could not wear the same gown as she did. Lieutenant Stern tried to calm the ladies down, but apparently his offer to settle the matter through oil-wrestling was not welcomed, and the fight quickly encompassed him, Ensign Pye, Lieutenant Quintaine and Nurse Veeneman.
“My, what a busy day I’m having today!” Dr. Noel Wowryk commented as she ran a dermal regenerator over Lieutenant Stern’s nose, “Was there a hockey game nobody told me about?”
“Uh, yeah,” Stern said, “I was playing hockey. Without my pads. And this woman’s fist just happened to run into my face,”
“Well, that will teach you to play without proper protection!” Wowryk snapped. She pushed him off the bio-bed and towards the door, “Next!”
“Hello, Doctor,” Fifebee said pleasantly, walking into Sickbay as Wowryk began working on Ensign Bith’s sprained wrist, “I see you are working hard to ease the pain of the sick and the suffering, as usual,”
Wowryk looked blankly at her for a moment.
“I’m supposed to be EASING their pain?” she asked, dead-pan. Next to her, Ensign Bith swallowed nervously.
“Relax, I’m kidding,” Wowryk said. She ran the regenerator over Bith’s wrist, then ushered her out the door.
“What a relief!” Wowryk sighed, “I thought that would never end! What the heck happened, anyway?”
“Escaped prisoner,” Fifebee said.
“What? But we don’t have any-“
“Come, Doctor,” Fifebee said, pulling Wowryk into her office, “I am most curious about this, um, Bible book you keep mentioning. Would you perhaps be willing to explain the finer points to me?”
Wowryk’s face lit up like she’d just been told the second coming of Jesus started in five minutes.
“Yes, of course!” she exclaimed, “One minute, let me get my costume and hand puppets, it’ll make the whole thing much more enjoyable!” She hustled into one of the storage rooms and started rummaging around.
“You will pay for this distraction, Yanick,” Fifebee muttered, “You will pay for it in blood!”
“Where are we going to get a pine tree by tomorrow?” Ensign Pye wondered. It was ship’s evening, and the evening shift was manning the bridge. There were still a few aches and bruises from what was becoming knows as the ‘Silverado Christmas Rampage’ down in the Replicator Center. No doubt Alpha shift was starting a little rampage all of their own, now that they were off-duty.
“Spruce tree,” Lieutenant Quintaine corrected.
“No, I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be a pine,”
“Whatever,” Bith said, hoping to end yet another argument, “So what did you boys ask for for Christmas?”
“A puppy!” Pye said happily.
“Ugh, you really are a 5-year old under that old exterior, aren’t you?”
“A promotion,” Quintaine said, “Either that, or earplugs,”
“I asked for that new ‘Vulcan Love-Slave’ holo-program,” Burke said.
“Are you crazy?” Bith snapped, “You can’t ask Santa for porn!”
“It’s my passion,” he said.
“That still doesn’t answer the question,” Pye cut back in, “Where do we get a Christmas tree by tomorrow? Burke picked up the decorations at the Replicator Center-“
“And I had the broken leg to prove it,”
“-but we still need the tree!”
“Hmmm,” Quintaine stood, then walked over to Burke’s science station, “Any M-Class planets nearby?”
Burke tapped at his panel.
“No planets, no. But there’s a gas-giant with an M-Class moon that’s about an hour off our course,”
“Sounds good,” Quintaine said. He tapped his comm-badge, “Quintaine to Stafford,”
“Stafford here. Is this about the tree?” There was the sound of multiple voices shouting in the background, one of which sounded like Commander Jall screaming at everybody to stop bumping into the fondue pot he’d just replicated.
“Yes sir.” Quintaine affirmed.
“Just do it, then,” there was a crash, then the sound of Lt. Cmdr. Jeffery starting a fresh string of Scottish profanity, “Stafford out!”
“Mr. Pye,” Quintaine said, taking the command chair again, “Alter course,”
“Aye sir. Don’t you just love the holidays?”
The next day…
“Steven? Miss Horton? Are we set?” Stafford asked.
“Completely,” Horton said before Steven could get a word in, “My fabulous buffet is ready, the delightful little snackie-things are laid out and I have several of my highly-skilled Guinanco waiters on hand to provide any kind of food or holiday advice you might desire,”
“Er, thanks,” Stafford smiled weakly as the British woman resumed working.
He’d selected the ski-resort holo-program for the occasion. The slopes were freshly groomed, the holographic sky was clear and the inside of the ski-lodge was toasty warm. A fire crackled in the fireplace, Horton’s buffet was giving off some really good smells and Steven was standing behind the bar with his lounge staff.
Stafford spun around to see Pye, Day and Quintaine struggling to squeeze a bushy blue tree through the holodeck doors. Burke and Bith carried boxes of ornaments.
“You’re late!” Stafford snapped, “The party starts in half an hour!”
“You try fitting this thing in a runabout!” Pye shot back, “Uh, sir,”
“Just hurry up!”
Pye and Day managed to get the tree standing, while Bith strapped on a pair of hover-boots and started hanging lights off various branches. Soon all five officers were falling all over each other as they tried to achieve the perfect balance of lights, tinsel and ornaments.
“Here, I found it!” Lieutenant Sage cried, rushing through the holodeck doors.
“Hey, is that my Silverado model?” Stafford snapped, pointing at the model ship Sage was carrying.
“We figured you wouldn’t mind if we borrowed it,” Sage said. He handed the model to Bith. She prompted placed it on the tip of the tree.
They all stood back to admire their handiwork. The strings of tinsel were strung vertically, giving an almost Maypole-like look to the tree. Lights were arranged in random clumps, (according to Bith, each clump was its own galaxy) and the warp nacelles on Stafford’s model ship had been altered so they pulsed green and red instead of blue.
“Is that the way a Christmas tree is supposed to look?” Day asked.
“I don’t think so,” Stafford said slowly, “At least, I’ve never seen one with an Ambassador-class starship on top,”
“It adds character,” Pye chirped.
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Stafford sighed, “A Christmas tree doesn’t need our kind of character,”
The holodeck quickly filled with crew members. Horton’s buffet was quickly dug into, the Guinanco waiters replacing items as quickly as they ran out. The pile of Christmas gifts under the tree quickly grew to mountainous proportions, though it quickly became apparent that nobody on the ship knew how to properly wrap a Christmas present. (Jeffery had just stuffed his gift in an unused section of plasma conduit.)
Finally, the holodeck doors opened, revealing Sylvia and Fifebee as they guided a blindfolded Dr. Wowryk into the room.
“This better not be another surprise like last time,” Wowryk said, “I specifically said no more holographic dates!”
“MERRY CHRISTMAS!” everybody shouted as Sylvia pulled off Wowryk’s blindfold. The doctor’s eyes widened as she took in the sight of nearly a hundred officers crammed into the ski lodge, the crackling fire, the badly decorated tree listing slightly to the left and the piles of food stacked on the tables.
“WAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!!” she cried.
“Wow,” Stafford commented, watching as Wowryk hugged yet another junior officer.
“Yeah,” Jall said, raising an eyebrown, “Wow,”
“That woman has…hugging power,” Stafford said.
“She does,” Jall agreed.
They watched as Wowryk noticed a nativity scene that had been placed in one corner, then promptly broke down in tears again.
“Who would’ve thought that under that coarse, man-hating exterior,” Stafford said.
“Under the bitterness and resentment,” Jall added.
“Frigid, icy layers of black heartedness,” Stafford went on.
“And past the testicles,” Jall continued.
“Noel Wowryk actually has-“
“She’s actually got-“
The two of them looked at each other.
“I can’t believe how much trouble you all went to for me!” Wowryk said, holding Yanick in a death-grip hug.
“It wasn’t just for you,” Yanick squeaked, “But, y’know, it was fun. We’re just missing something…”
The holodeck doors hissed open again. A tall, broad figure walked in. He wore a red, old-style Starfleet uniform, to which a puffy white lining had been attached. A red and white hat was perched on his head and a white beard had been glued to the lower half of his face.
“Ho, ho, ho,” T’Parief rumbled, sounding either annoyed or slightly constipated.
Yanick and Wowryk exchanged a look, then broke out laughing.
“Your name will be called,” T’Parief announced, “You will come and sit on Santa’s knee and receive your gift. You will also,” he looked menacingly around the room, “Bring Santa a drink,”
“I thought you told the Hazardous Team to find somebody jolly,” Stafford whispered to Yanick.
“He’s jolly,” Yanick shrugged, “Sometimes,”
Ensign Pye was first. He looked very, very uncomfortable as he approached T’Parief then sat on the huge alien’s knee.
“Uh, hi,” he said. T’Parief just growled, then handed him a gift wrapped in what looked like toilet paper. Pye quickly unwrapped it.
“A holo-puppy!” he cried out, excitedly holding up the miniature holo-projector, “Thanks, Burke!”
“I just better get my porno,” Burke grumbled.
As the various officers went up and sat on Santa’s knee (and as Santa got progressively drunker) nobody thought to take a closer look at the base of the Christmas tree. Why would they, with all the gifts around to distract them? If they had, they might have noticed that the tree, which the evening shift had picked up on an alien planet and which had not gone through a bio-filter, was growing new roots at an alarming rate. And those roots, through pure coincidence, were growing right into the holodeck control circuits, scrambling program functions and fragmenting input and output data. Sylvia, of course, was instantly aware of the minor holodeck problems, but she simply compensated. She didn’t bother informing Jeffey, the boy was having fun and the problem really could wait until Boxing Day. (Uh, that’s the day after Christmas. In Canada, anyway. I don’t know if the Americans or the rest of you have Boxing Day.)
Unknown to Sylvia, she wasn’t the only intelligence playing in the game anymore. Deep in the computer core, a forgotten evil lurked. It had survived attempted deletion, database purges and even Silverado’s untimely crash on the Delori homeworld. But now it awoke, and started testing the waters…
“Do I really have to sit on your knee?” Stafford asked as he approached T’Parief and handed him a Vodka Sprite.
“Yes,” T’Parief said calmly. His head was starting to loll slightly due to the large number of tequila shots he’d been given.
Looking very uncomfortable, Stafford sat on the larger alien’s knee and was presented with his gift.
“Huh, looks like Jeffery drew my name,” he said, reading from the card. He pried open one end of the plasma conduit Jeffery used for wrapping and withdrew a heavy glass bottle, “Real Canadian vodka!” Stafford said, impressed, “Thanks, Simon!”
“Don’t mention it,” Jeffery said, “Especially to Noel,”
Hopping off ‘Santa’s’ lap, Stafford joined Jeffery and Yanick near the buffet.
“Well, it looks like Christmas Eve is a success,” he said, “Everybody is fairly happy, Wowryk thinks we’re all wonderful-“
“Which’ll last about an hour,” Jeffery predicted.
“And Horton even made some cute little Jack-O-Latern cookies,” Stafford had picked a cookie up off the table and was in the process of biting into it, “Mmmmm….”
“Huh,” Yanick frowned, looking at the cookies, “I guess Horton got her holidays a bit confused,”
Wowryk had slipped away from the party in the main area of the ski lodge and had gone to one of the hotel-like rooms upstairs to collect herself. It wasn’t like her to become so emotional, at least not in a warm and fuzzy way, but she had to admit she was truly touched that Stafford and Yanick had arranged for a Christmas celebration, even if they had focused a bit too much on the commercialized, greedy side of things. Yanick had given her an adorable stuffed bear, and though its current appearance really wasn’t appropriate, Wowryk was sure once she replaced the little vest and collar it was wearing with a robe and crucifix it would be a welcome addition to her quarters.
Wowryk jumped as a low groan sounded through the room. Probably something from the party, she realized. But then she noticed that the room was quiet. Very quiet. There was no sound of music, no shouting, no drunken banter.
The groan came again, this time the various knick-knacks on the dresser rattled as the room shook.
“Is somebody there?”
Again, the groan.
“Who is it?” Wowryk asked, clutching the stuffed bear.
The mirror in the room blurred for a moment, the colours in the reflected image blurring, swirling then re-solidifying.
“Sylvia?” Wowryk called, “What’s going on?”
A bottle of aftershave that had been sitting on the dresser (gotta admire the holo-programmer’s attention to detail) abruptly tipped over and spilled, the fluid running across the surface. As Wowryk watched, lines began forming in the spilled liquid, almost as though somebody was running a finger through it.
SHE CAN”T HEAR YOU, BABES. NONE OF THEM CAN!
“DEMON!” Wowryk shouted, bolting for the door. She tugged on the handle, but the door refused to budge.
“Show yourself, child of darkness!” she cried, still clutching the bear, “I’ll match the power of God against your Satanic powers anyday!”
The mirror blurred again. This time, Wowryk could almost make out a face in the distorted image. It was ghostly, pale, with a shock of white hair.
“Annnnytime,” it seemed to breathe.
“Where did everybody go?” Yanick demanded. The gift exchange was finished, T’Parief was passed out on the floor and the fire in the fireplace was burning down to embers.
“They hit the slopes,” Nurse Kerry explain, swaying slightly from the drink, “About half an hour ago,”
“The slopes???” Yanick frowned, “It’s dark out! And it’s night! What the hell would they be doing?”
“Well,” Kerry said, “Stafford and Jeffery are snowboarding, Fifebee and Grant are skiing, and I think Jall is using those little trick skis…snow blades?”
“What about Noel?” Yanick asked, “I have this adorable little robe and crucifix for that bear I gave her, but I haven’t seen her around,”
“I don’t know,” she said, “Why don’t you head out there and check?”
“WHHHEEEEEEE!!!” Stafford cried as he ploughed into a snow bank, powdery whiteness flying up in the air all around him. He managed to keep his balance as he cleared the bank, unlike Jeffery who was now rolling down the slope in an undignified heap. There was another whoop as Jall cleared the bank, his short little snowblades giving him far more manoeuvrability than the heavy boards Stafford and Jeffery were using. Fifebee and Grant had skirted around the bank; apparently only people with increased blood-synthohol levels thought going right through was a good idea. Jeffery had been about to change the holodeck settings to ‘Daytime’ mode, when Stafford had remembered something called ‘night-skiing’. So instead, they’d programmed in a bunch of flood lights that illuminated the slopes just enough for them to see where they were going, but not so much as to overpower the beauty of the mountain at night.
“Nice move, Simon,” Stafford laughed, coming to a stop next to Jeffery’s tangled form.
“Ah think I broke somethin’,” Jeffery groaned.
“Hey, somebody’s doing a bit of hot-dogging,” Jall pointed out, steadying himself on Stafford’s shoulder, much to the captain’s discomfort.
Further up the hill, somebody on skis was coming down at an extremely rapid rate, dodging nimbly around trees and other skiing crewmembers. They watched in awe as the mystery skiing hit a jump, flying up into the air in a graceful spin and landing perfectly on the slope. They skier was getting close enough now that they could recognize Yanick’s blond hair trailing behind her like a comet’s tail. Stafford called to her, and she skidded to a stop.
“Wow, Trish!” he cried, dragging himself and his board over, “That’s the hottest bit of trick skiing I’ve seen in ages!”
“Yeah!” Jall was nodding in agreement, “I didn’t know you could do that?”
“Do what?” Yanick asked, pulling her goggles off her face, “My goggles were totally fogged up! I couldn’t even see where I was going!”
“Have any of you seen Noel anywhere?” she asked. Everybody shook their heads.
“Why don’t you just ask Sylvia?” Jeffery inquired.
“Oh yeah,” Yanick giggled, “D’uh! Sylvia!”
There was no answer.
“Sylvia?” Stafford tried, “Are you there?”
“Sylvia! I’m spilling red white on the beige carpet!” Jall shouted.
Still no answer.
The officers exchanged glances.
“Uh-oh,” Stafford muttered.
“What do you mean you’ve lost contact with them?” Ensign Pysternzyks demanded, “They are on Holodeck 1!”
“Yes, I know that,” Sylvia said, her computer-generated face displayed on the Port Auxiliary console’s large display screen, “But I can’t get any comm channels into the holodeck, and the command pathways aren’t responding!
“Lt. Cmdr. Jeffery probably spilled Scotch on the control interface again,” Ensign Frit Naketh called from the Engineering station.
The bridge was currently being manned by those crewmembers who had no interest in celebrating Christmas. They were by far the minority. Starfleet, by its very definition of an exploration and discovery body, tended to attract individuals who were eager to experience new cultures. Still, Pysternzyks, Naketh and a few others had offered to man the duty stations while the rest of the crew celebrated.
“I don’t think so!” Sylvia said, “The holodeck doors have been sealed, and the transporters refuse to lock onto anybody in the holodeck! I tell you, something’s wrong!”
“Perhaps somebody gift-wrapped an honourable death?” Pysterzyks pondered, “A cobalt-based bomb would do nicely, since you human cowards don’t have the courage for a proper ritual suicide!”
“Ohhhh!!!” Sylvia frowned, “If you don’t take me seriously, I’ll find somebody who will!”
“Yes, yes,” Pysternzyks waved her away as her image vanished from the screen, “Now then, where did I put my practice daggers?”
“You let me out of here this instant!” Wowryk snapped, “I don’t know who you are, or what you want, but I will not be held captive this way!”
The image in the mirror, which had been growing more and more distinct with each passing minute, laughed at her again.
“And stop that! I will not be laughed at, either!” Wowryk stomped her foot, “What do you want!”
The face in the mirror vanished, only to be replaced with a star chart. Each solar system was labelled with small, glowing letters: Sol, Rigel, 40 Eridani…
“Betalgeuse?” Wowryk frowned, looking carefully as that particular star system started to pulse, “Now where have I heard that before?”
She thought hard for a moment.
“Wait a minute!” she exclaimed, “How could I forget! That name sounds just like ‘Beetlejuice’, which is one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever heard of! That also just happens to be the name of that crazy Hallowe’en holo-character that we deleted after it ruined our haunted house!”
The star map disappeared, the ghostly figure re-appearing. He looked very angry, almost like he was shouting at Wowryk.
“I remember how this works!” Wowryk laughed, “You’re totally powerless! You can’t do much of anything unless I say your name three times! Well, I assure you, I’m not stupid enough to say ‘Beetlejuice’ a third-“
There was a crash of thunder and the sound of loud, cackling laughter as the face in the mirror gave a triumphant smile and vanished.
“Oops,” Wowryk gulped.
Stafford, Jall, Yanick and Jeffery were skiing, boarding or snow-blading back to the ski-lodge at top speed. Fifebee had attempted to transfer her program directly to the lodge, but for some reason that had caused her program to completely freeze. In fact, it looked like she was still standing about a kilometer up the slope. Well, it looked like a kilometer, thanks to the holodeck’s imaging systems and inertial fields. In reality, they were probably only about a meter away from her. All four of them had shrugged off the effects of the synthohol, although for some reason that had led to a strong decline in Stafford’s snowboarding abilities.
“We’re barely a kilometer away now,” Jeffery shouted, his voice barely audible over the hiss of the snow as they flew over it.
They came around the side of the mountain and onto the home stretch, a kilometer-long stretch of pristine slope that led right to the lodge. The lights were still on and smoke curled from the chimney. The whole thing looked very inviting, and thoughts of hot chocolate were already stirring in all four officer’s heads. (The holodeck was being just a bit too efficient at simulating wind chill.)
There was a flash of light from the lodge, nearly blinding them. Something, it looked like a ripple, spread out in all directions like a shockwave, throwing all four of them onto their backs even as loud, raucous laughter filled the air.
Stafford and Jeffery stopped quickly, their boards sending sprays of snow into their faces as they skidded to a stop, their butts protesting as they were dragged across the snow. Yanick’s skis had been knocked off her feet, coming to a stop almost immediately, unlike Yanick. Only Jall had managed to regain his footing, but the brief skid on his backside had sent him off course towards a very large tree. Jeffery and Stafford winced as he crashed right into it. They quickly regained their feet and boarded down to where Yanick was just climbing back up to her skis. Jall joined them, limping.
“Are you OK?” Stafford asked the two of them.
“My butt hurts,” Yanick complained.
“My everything hurts,” Jall added.
The laughter came again, this time stronger and louder than before.
“There’s something familiar about that laugh,” Jeffery said.
The laughter immediately stopped.
“Come on,” Stafford said, “Let’s get back to the lodge,”
Beetlejuice stopped laughing the instant the engineer made his comment. His entire plan depended on the flesh-bags staying ignorant of his nature as long as possible. He had done what he could to insinuate himself into the holodeck control systems, cutting off computer control and blocking the comm systems, but he couldn’t change the nature of who and what he was. And part of that nature included being all but banished from the living world if his name was said aloud three times.
He was lurking behind a tree, watching as the four Silverado officers took off again for the lodge. He would have to slow them down, of course, if his plan was to work. He’d taken care of the other crewmembers further up the slops by changing the paths of the slopes, making it all but impossible for them to make their way down. But he didn’t want to block these four. He needed at least one of them to make it through.
He gaze rested on a groomer, one of the machines used in the real world to ensure good skiing conditions and included in the holoprogram to ensure authenticity.
Yes. That would work just perfectly.
Wowryk was not pleased.
She’d been bound and gagged before that abominable creature had left, vanishing into thin air with a snap. She knew exactly how to get rid of that disgusting thing, but with her mouth gagged, she just couldn’t do it.
He’d barely been gone two minutes before he reappeared.
“Well, that should take care of your little friends for a while,” he laughed, “Now, we can get down to business!”
Wowryk’s eyes widened as she started shouting, the gag muffling her words.
“What do I want, you ask?” Beetlejuice laughed, “Why, I want what any Ghost with the Most would want! A nice, sweet little lady to clean my crypt and keep the snakes in my hair nice and slimy,”
“Yeah, I thought you’d say that. The living never seem to want to marry the dead,”
Wowryk turned green.
“I don’t know why, I’m a nice guy!” he came closer, giving Wowryk a strong whiff of truly putrid body odour.
“Anyway, I have this totally great idea!” he went on, “See, I’ve been thinking about you ever since we met, that beautiful Hallowe’en night so long ago. And so I’ve been…tinkering,”
He snapped his fingers, and an almost perfect replica of Wowryk appeared next to him. Her skin was paler, almost a grey, and her eyes were milky…almost as though she were…dead?
“What do you think? Beetlejuice laughed, “A little ‘Ghostess with the Mostess’?”
“Oh, that’s no way to treat my gal!” Beetlejuice said, hands on hips, “She’s twice the woman you are! At least, she will be, once I cut you down to size. You can’t be dead and alive at the same time, right? There’s just this one little problem…I can’t kill anybody. I don’t know why, probably something to do with this little technological treasure-room you people have here. But I can’t. So I have to get somebody else to kill you for me. And to do that, we’re going to need a bit of makeup…”
It all happened so suddenly.
Stafford, Jall, Jeffery and Yanick were making their way down the hill, completely unopposed. The slope entered a forested area, which they knew from past skiing experience would open up into the final stretch leading down to the lodge and the lifts. But the instant they entered the narrow path, there was a deep grumbling behind them. Only Jall, who up until then had been lagging behind on his slower snow-blades, looked back to see what it was. It was a groomer, the heavy machine’s massive snow-grooming treads grinding the smallest bump on the ground down to perfect flatness.
Jall propelled himself forward, almost like he was suddenly in a speed-skating competition.
“What’s his problem?” Jeffery asked as the slim officer rocketed forward.
He and Stafford looked back and saw the machine gaining on them.
They tried to pick up speed. Yanick and Jall were ahead of them already, as it was much easier to go flat out on skis than on snowboards. The slightest misbalance on a board could cause one edge to catch on the snowy ground, sending the boarder flat on his face or ass, depending on the edge caught.
Jeffery didn’t care. While Stafford tried to keep himself balanced on an edge, Jeffery just aimed the front of his board downhill and let it rip. He’d almost caught up to Jall when an innocent-looking outcropping of ice caught his rear edge, slamming him to the ground with an impact that would have cracked his skull if the safety protocols had been inactive. As it was, he was very dazed.
“Simon!” Stafford shouted. He tried to put on the breaks, but he’d hit an icy patch and simply skidded. Up ahead, two more groomers had come around the bend, working their way up the slopes. Yanick and Jall veered wildly, trying to evade the machines. Jall vanished into the trees, Yanick managed to evade the groomer and continued down the slope.
Stafford tried to haul himself back up the hill to where Jeffery was sprawled out, the groomer closing in rapidly.
Just seconds before the machine would have crushed Jeffery’s skull like a tin can, two figures on skis came racing down the slope. They each took an arm and hauled, Jeffery to his feet. With inhuman strength, they lifted him up and took off down the hill, neatly avoiding the lower two groomers. One of them waved for Stafford to follow. Climbing to his feet, Stafford obeyed.
After they had cleared the groomers, they found their way unopposed. It took only a few more minutes for them to reach the ski lodge. In the main level of the lodge, the Christmas tree still stood, ‘Santa’ was still passed out on the floor (along with a few others) and the entire room was littered with wrapping paper and empty packaging. Yanick immediately began rummaging through the debris around T’Parief.
“That was good timing back there,” Stafford said to their two rescuers, who still hadn’t removed their goggles, “I don’t know how you managed to lift Jeffery, but-“
Sylvia and Fifebee removed their goggles.
“Oh,” Stafford finished, their identities no longer a mystery, “I guess that explains it.”
“Hey, wait,” Jall said, “If you two are here, does that mean the holodeck is fixed now? Where’s Wowryk?”
“It’s not fixed,” Sylvia sighed, “I rebooted Fifebee’s program when I noticed that she’d frozen up-“
“And she has made many jokes about my recommended operating temperature because of it,” Fifebee commented.
“-and because I’d lost communications and control pathways to the holodeck,” Sylvia finished.
“So, yer still not controlling the holodeck?” Jeffery asked, “That’s strange. Ah wonder if one of the optical data pathways is stuck in an algorithmic feedback loop?”
“So how do we get out of the holodeck?” Yanick wondered, ignoring the techno-babble.
“Crewman Shwaluk is attempting to shut down power,” Sylvia said, “Until then, it is all Fifebee and I can do to project ourselves in here!”
“Shwaluk?” Jall groaned, “We’re screwed!”
“Yes, unfortunately, anybody who might actually have a chance of succeeding is trapped in the holodeck or passed out,”
“First things first,” Stafford decided, “We need to find Noel!”
“Found her,” Yanick pointed, “Two of her, actually,”
Everybody turned to face the wide stairway leading to the upper level of the lodge. Standing there, dressed in tattered white dresses, their wrists bound and mouths gagged, were two identical Noel Wowryk’s. Both were pale as death, their eyes blackened and their hair in filthy tatters. Standing behind them was a very familiar figure.
“It’s B-“ Fifebee started speaking, but with a snap of his fingers, Beetlejuice conjured a heavy steel plate that slammed into place over her mouth. Next to her, Sylvia was receiving similar treatment.
“It’s…it’s…damn!” Jall snapped his fingers, “What’s that guy’s name!”
“And how do we get rid of him again?” Stafford wondered. Sylvia and Fifebee were trying to shout at the four organic officers, but because they were constrained by the holodeck, Beetlejuice was able to work his tricks on them.
“Found it!” Yanick exclaimed. She was holding up the phaser she’d given T’Parief for Christmas, “Do you need me to shoot somebody!”
“Yes!” Beetlejuice said.
“NO!” Stafford shouted, “No shooting! It doesn’t do anything against holograms!”
“Well, not against me, anyway,” Beetlejuice grinned, “But, you see, I have this little problem that maybe you can help me out with,” he vanished, reappearing next to Stafford, “See, I want to marry this here cutie, but, y’know, the dead version won’t be any fun while the live version is still around. And the dead version won’t really be dead unless somebody kills her. And since those darned safety things of yours stop me from killing people, well, I need you to do it for me,”
“So, wait,” Yanick wondered, “You want us to kill Noel, so you can marry a dead, holographic version of her,”
Yanick looked over at Stafford.
“I think our holodeck is broken,” she said.
“No shit,” Stafford muttered. He thought for a moment. “OK. I’ll do it,”
“WHAT?” Jall and Yanick demanded as Stafford grabbed the phaser.
“Just let me ask her a couple of questions, first. Y’know, kind of a goodbye thing.”
“Well,” Beetlejuice scratched his head, leaving a pile of dandruff on the floor, “OK. But they’ll have to be yes or no questions, since I gagged her and all,”
“OK,” Stafford walked over and stood in front of the two identical women. There was really no way to tell which one was the real Noel Wowryk. Not from looking, anyway.
“Noel, nod yes if you’re the real Noel Wowryk,”
Both women nodded.
“Predictable,” Jall muttered.
“Is Catholicism the best thing since sliced bread?” Stafford asked.
Both nodded again.
He pointed his phaser at the Wowryk on the left.
“Should I shoot you?”
Both shook their heads.
He pointed his phaser at the Wowryk on the right.
“Should I shoot you?”
The Wowryk on the right shook her head. The Wowryk on the left nodded.
Stafford fired at the Wowryk on the left. She fizzled in and out of existence as the phaser interfered with the holo-projectors. Stafford leapt for the Wowryk on the right, pulling her to the floor and pulling out her gag.
“BEETLEJUICE!” Wowryk screamed, “BEETLEJUICE! BEETLEJUICE!”
“Awww crap!” Beetlejuice shouted. There was a flash of light, then a swirling vortex appeared behind him. Within seconds, he’d been sucked away into nothingness.
The holographic Wowryk, the plates on Sylvia and Fifebee’s mouths and the pile of dandruff all vanished. Sylvia’s eyes flickered for almost a full minute.
“I have holodeck control again,” she said.
“Good!” Stafford said, “Delete the Beetlejuice character, PROPERLY this time, and for the love of God, END PROGRAM!!!!”
“More turkey?” Jall offered, holding the turkey platter in front of Stafford.
“Urp!” Stafford answered.
“That means ‘no’,” Yanick giggled.
“No, it means ‘yes’!” Sylvia corrected.
“It means,” Stafford said, “I’m full. But I want more turkey anyway!”
“Good!” Sylvia said, “Do you know how much trouble Yanick went to in order to prepare this feast!”
“It was tough!” Yanick said, “I had to turn on the replicator and everything!”
The senior staff was gathered in the conference lounge for their Christmas dinner. Different shifts and sections, such as the evening shift, the Hazardous Team or the Alpha-shift engineering team, were having their own Christmas dinners, to better build teamwork or moral or some other silly thing Yanick had insisted on. After eating, the senior officers were expected to go spend time with their respective staffs. Until then, it was time to gorge.
“So tell me,” Wowryk said, eating daintily off her plate, “How did you know which of us was the real Wowryk?”
“Easy,” Stafford said, “The real Noel Wowryk knows that killing breaks one of the Ten Commandments. She wouldn’t want me to kill anything, even a hologram. Torture, maybe,” he grinned, nodding towards Jall, who simply rolled his eyes, “But never kill. The holographic Wowryk, on the other hand, would be encouraging me to do whatever Beetlejuice said,”
“It was still a risk!” Yanick said, “You could have shot the read Noel!”
“Yeah,” Stafford shrugged, “And what a pity that would be!”
He ducked as Wowryk chucked a bowl of stuffing at his head.
“The phaser was on stun!” Stafford protested, peaking up over the table just in time to catch a glob of mashed potatoes right between the eyes.
“There’s the Wowryk we remember,” Yanick said fondly.
“And that’s one gift we can never exchange,” Jall quipped.