Part of USS Olympic (Archive): Encounter at Ullho and USS Sarek (Archive): Illogical Flock

The Claws of Santa

USS Olympic, Captain's Quarters
Stardate 77980.3: Christmas Eve 2400
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The transition to wakefulness came easily.  It hardly required more than a couple of blinks.  The nothingness of sleep was replaced by the twinkle of stars through the viewports over his bed.  The slope of the hull meant the shape of his sleeping compartment felt akin to a hug from the starship herself.  The green glow through the viewports, from the Jengelen Nebula, was even more pronounced than when he’d laid down.

Holmgren sleepily reached for the blanket that was draped over him in awkward bunches.  His hand closed around one edge and he felt hard metal in his hand.  Dropping his chin to his chest, Holmgren could see he was blanketed in the black and red uniform jacket he had taken off.  And further along, he could see something else.

Beyond the foot of the bed, there was a red-brick fireplace set against the bulkhead.  The fireplace’s mantle was decorated with green candles and red stockings, hung with care.  Squinting hard at the fireplace, Holmgren reached a hand out to the space beside him on the bed.  His palm came down gently on nothing but the mattress.

Jeffrey Holmgren’s Personal Log, Stardate 77980.3: I swear.  I only closed my eyes for five minutes.  I couldn’t have fallen asleep.  The first thing I noticed was a chill in the room.  It was far cooler than I preferred my environmental settings.  The second thing was the glow, that flickering glow.  I thought it a reflection from the Jengelen Nebula, but it was a fireplace with an open flame.  Now, I know my quarters aboard the USS Olympic haven’t been equipped with a fireplace.  My mind wandered; I thought this could be my family quarters aboard Deep Space Seventeen, but my wife wasn’t in bed with me.  These were my quarters on the Olympic and yet there was a fireplace.  A fireplace with an open flame, and yet it felt like it was emitting cold rather than heat.  Open flame.

Bracing both palms into the mattress, Holmgren pushed himself into an upright position.  He scrabbled back into the headboard of his bed, pulling his knees into his chest, retreating from the fireplace as quickly as he could.

“Computer!” Holmgren ordered.  “Erect a fire-suppression forcefield five metres away from–“

“Belay that order,” came another voice beyond the foot of Holmgren’s bed.  That voice was deep.  It was so deep the voice reverberated as though the compartment were an echo chamber.  The voice belonged to a plump man of a certain age wearing a red boiler suit, trimmed in white fur.  Under his conical red hat, he had curly white hair and a bushy white beard to match.  He laughed at Holmgren with a, “Ho, ho, ho.”

“Calm down, little guy,” said the man with the white beard.  “There’s nothing to worry about.”

“Huh– whuh–” Holmgren sputtered at the older man.  “Who are you?”

“Don’t be silly; I’m Santa Claus,” was his reply.  “Who else could be visiting you on Christmas Eve?”

Holmgren hugged his knees to his chest even tighter.

“How did you get on board?” Holmgren asked.

“Rudolf brought me!” Santa excitedly answered.

To Holmgren’s left, he saw a reindeer shuffling in the cramped space between the bulkhead and his bed.  The red-nosed reindeer dropped his head and began to chew on the bed’s top sheet.

Holmgren scoffed.  “You travelled through space on a reindeer?”

“Don’t be thick,” Santa said gruffly.  “He’s a time-travelling reindeer.  How else could I be everywhere in one night?  Look at his nose so bright.  Doesn’t it make you want to rub it?”

This is bad.  My thoughts feel sluggish, like trying to run through deep snow.  I know there’s something else I’m supposed to do, supposed to say, but I only have questions.  No answers.  His clothes, his words, his mannerisms; I don’t understand any of it.  I think I saw Christmas Eve in a couple of holo-novels as a kid?  Maybe?  I don’t recognize the references.  This is like a First Contact gone wrong.  I must be dreaming.  Or something worse.  Did I never wake up from the coma?  After the agony of the body swap with Doctor Nelli on the starship Dvorak, did I never wake up?  Was taking command of the USS Olympic just another cruel dream like this one?

A blinding green light flashed from one end of the compartment to the other.  It came on so suddenly, Holmgren hardly had time to squeeze his eyes shut.  When he opened his eyes again, Santa Claus was still standing there, watching him.

“What was that?” Holmgren asked.

Santa waved a mitted hand at a fully decorated Christmas tree.  The tree was something else that Holmgren had never seen in his quarters before.  Judging by the spiky green leaves on the branches, it looked like a noble fir, and those pine-like leaves looked awfully sharp.  Baubles and tinsel and flashing lights had been hung in every open space between the branches.

“Your eyes caught a reflection from the Christmas lights,” Santa said in a patronising fashion.  “If you’ve been a very good boy this year, I brought a gift to leave for you under the tree.  Now tell me, have you been a good little boy?”

Holmgren answered before he thought about it.  “I tried to be.”

“Go on,” Santa encouraged, “tell Rudolf your secret wish for Christmas this year.  Whisper it in his ear.”

I’ve seen that pattern of light before.  Christmas lights?  I don’t think so.  The hue, the pattern, it’s too familiar.  I’ve usually seen it emitted from a probe or a trident scanner, but a starship’s internal sensors can generate it too.  My compartment was scanned with a high-intensity transphasic sensor!

Stretching his arm across his chest, Holmgren reached for the companel set into his bedside table.  Before he even got halfway, Rudolf chomped in the air over the companel.  Holmgren immediately recoiled from those razor-sharp teeth.

Boisterously, Santa cried out, “Let’s sing a Christmas carol together!”

“What?” Holmgren spat back, making no effort to hide his confusion.  “I don’t know any Christmas carols!”

Sighing, Santa said, “C’mon, everyone knows them.  Think back to when you were a child.  You can rub Rudolf’s nose if you want, lil’ guy.  That always helps me remember things. There’s Jingle Bells!  There’s All I Want For Christmas Is You!  And who can forget: Could You Help Out a Forty-Niner?”

“What?” Holmgren asked, even more perplexed.

Santa sneered.  His voice got deeper.  In annoyance, his jolly façade slipped for the first time.

“Oh wait,” Santa said.  “That was someone else.”

Through the bulkhead, Holmgren heard a muffled voice scream: “Captain, get down!

The door panel between Holmgren’s bedroom and the living room began to glow orange and then white-hot.  Holmgren shoulder-rolled across his bed and dropped onto the deck, utterly gracelessly.  Still, Holmgren managed to position himself on one side of the bed, while Santa and Rudolf were on the other.

As soon as the door panel vaporised, Santa and Rudolf growled in the direction of the new opening.  The sound was unearthly, like their vocal cords were vibrating in a fifth dimension.

Barging through the open hatchway was Holmgren’s chief engineer, Draia Theroh.  The Cardassian woman looked far too comfortable brandishing a phaser rifle in her captain’s quarters.  She thumbed the settings toggle without looking at them and she blanketed the room in a wide-beam phaser blast.

Santa and Rudolf were hardly jolted by the stun beam.  They weren’t even knocked back by one step.  They certainly didn’t lose consciousness as Holmgren had expected and hoped.  What happened instead was their skin went slack, as if it was about to melt off, and then their bodies shifted in form.  Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, and the fireplace all melted into vaguely humanoid forms that were blindingly bright silver in colour.  Each was between two and three metres in height and they were largely featureless except for four limbs and the orifices where their foreheads might have otherwise been.

Rudolf, meanwhile, was nothing other than a red-nosed snake.  His body condensed, revealed his true form to be that of a glowing, silver ophidian.

Simultaneously, Draia snapped her phaser rifle to her shoulder, pointing the emitter at the compartment’s overhead.  She snatched up a fistful of something grey from her belt clip, it looked only half-assembled.  It certainly wasn’t standard-issue.  Draia twisted the hand-made attachment onto the emitter of her rifle.  Once her left hand was free, Draia aimed the phaser rifle at the ophidian and shot it with five field bursts.

The ophidian opened its mouth in a silent scream.  Instead of any noise, it produced a white vortex: a tear in the spacetime continuum.  Given the cramped quarters of Holmgren’s bedroom, the span of the vortex immediately consumed the beings that had once appeared to be Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, the fireplace and Rudolf the ophidian too.  As soon as the ophidian fell through the vortex, the vortex winked out of existence.

“Devidians on Christmas,” Draia remarked contemptuously.  “Nasty business.  They’re shapeshifters who exist out of phase from the rest of us, sir.  They only risk coming into phase because Human neural energy is their favourite meal.”

Draia pointed her rifle at where the reindeer had been.  “If you had touched the ophidian, they would have drained your neural energy and left you for dead.  I suspected they were hunting you for a week, maybe more.  There were some strange sensor readings, but the science department thought it was only the elevated triolic waves emanating from the Jengelen nebula.”

“He said he was a time traveller,” Holmgren offered, sitting himself on the edge of the bed.

“Brilliant scheme,” Draia said with an impressed nod.  “They thought they’d catch you unawares on your gluttonous Earther holiday by appealing to your childhood nostalgia.”  

Draia’s eyes widened when she evidently saw something surprising in Holmgren’s facial expression.  She stopped and she cleared her throat.

“I read up on it when I was assigned to the Olympic,” she explained.

Holmgren smiled weakly.  He shrugged at her.

“Draia, I never celebrated Christmas growing up,” he admitted sheepishly.

Ah,” Draia vocalized awkwardly.  “My mistake.  The Devidians’ too, I guess.  I assumed it was your favourite holiday, sir.  Don’t tell them I told you, but the whole crew has been planning a surprise Christmas party for you.”

Draia’s eyes dropped to the deck between her feet.  She pointed her phaser rifle down at the deck too.

“Your wife, sir,” Draia said tentatively, “She told me she was playing Christmas carols for you when you awoke from your coma.  I thought that meant Christmas meant something to you…”

Holmgren smiled gently.  “It will now.”