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The Ghosts of Christmas

                                   Jonathon Pierce

The Scimitar raced towards Earth, her engines throbbing with enormous energy. Once in Starlight Drive, the distance between the two focal points would pass within hours, instead of days. The Starlight Drive was based partially on ion drive and electromagnetism. Although ion based systems produced more electricity, the Starlight Drive achieved far greater speeds. A second drive equalized this difference by handling most of the electrical systems on the ship.

"ETA to Earth: one hour." Mr. Thorpe replied.

"Thank you, Mr. Thorpe. I shall be in my quarters until we reach Earth." He walked to the lift and Mr. Thorpe sat in the command chair.

*  *  Past  *  *

Iffley sat down at the only musical instrument he could play: the sript. It was comprised of a motor-operated tube which impaled a score of crystal bowls. Each bowl was perfect in shape and pitch. Another crystalline bowl contained pure spring water. The sript was invented by Benjamin Franklin and soon forgotten. Iffley had discovered and redesigned it, perfecting the beautiful instrument. Franklin had called it a glass harmonica, but Iffley, who thought the name was too plain, renamed it in respect for the fine instrument.

He turned on the motor, the bowls rotated in unison, and dipped his hands into the water. He touched the middle bowl; a pierce, howling tone sounded. He stroked the bowls in a familiar melody: Irving Berlin's classic Christmas song was well suited for these haunting tones. As he deftly played the instrument, the memories raced through his mind to a time long ago when he played the same tune...

Iffley concluded his Christmas performance for the Ludits. As the last notes echoed across the hall, the entire crowd stood and applauded. He arose and bowed to the crowd.

"More! More!" Shouted Adena, who was characteristically jumping up and down and clapping her hands. He glanced at the Queen who smiled and nodded.

"For you, Adena." He said and placed her on the bench beside him. "This song is known as Silver Bells; it was also written Before the Plague." He winked at Adena and wet his hands. He played with more ease, each note coming from his heart. He finished, the last tone mixing with the enthusiastic cheers. Adena shut her eyes and hugged him with all of her might. Embarrassed by all the attention, he gathered up Adena in his arms and quickly withdrew to the courtyard.

"You played really good." Adena whispered in his ear.

"Well," Iffley corrected.

"I still think you played real good, because..." She stopped mid-sentence and stared at Fluffy, the almost hairless guard-dog, who was barking at something trapped in a corner of the courtyard. Iffley recalled that Adena had named the dog, much to her parents' chagrin. The pair curiously approached the dog and saw the object of its vociforous cry. A small blob lay shaking in the corner.

"Its a Quruche. I wonder how it got separated from its pack." Quite suddenly, the creature attacked the dog with a claw that Iffley couldn't remember seeing before. The dog, blood flowing from a large cut on its nose, yelped, turned tail, and ran away.

Iffley laughed in amusement. Adena, however, screamed in fright, "Take it away! Away!" She then hid behind Iffley as he approached the animal.

The creature did not seem afraid of the humans, and wobbled toward them. It was then that he noticed a large lesion on its side. It sloshed into his open arms. "I will take care of you, little friend."

"I STILL don't like it!" Adena said violently. Iffley simply ruffled her hair and laughed...

The intercom returned Iffley to reality. He turned off the sript and answered the hail.

"ETA five minutes, Captain." Iffley acknowledged. He patted a small, blue-gray cube on his desk and left for the bridge.

*  *  Present  *  *

The Scimitar pulled into a tight orbit around the Earth. Minutes later, a shuttle soared toward Alarius. Suralio Iffley, the shuttle's only occupant, set his teeth. Bah humbug! What a rotten Christmas this was turning out to be. Here it was Christmas Day, and he had left Adena alone. He had never done that before, and the thought disturbed him.

The Shuttle landed at his castle. He transversed the lawn and took a small, overgrown path to the cemetery. He placed a dozen red roses at the graves marked Naidis and Ephryre Iffley. He was sure that his mother would have enjoyed the beautiful flowers. "Mom, Dad," He said to their tombstones, "I have something to tell you. I have realized my error in judgement, and I have come to make reconcilliations. I...I am no longer angry at you, Mother, for leaving me; it was not your fault for dying. I haven't, although, found forgiveness for myself. It is my fault that you died. Tell Father I said hello."

He smiled meekly and moved down the graveyard. Finally he came across the tombstone he sought, Camille Wolffe. She had been his first love and had died over a decade ago. He placed another dozen red roses at her grave and uttered four simple words, "Camille, please forgive me." He quickly dried his eyes and raised his Sceptre. The dreary cemetery was replaced with the lively sounds of the ocean.

The Rebellion anchored at the dock, rocked slightly with the wind-swept waves. The smell of salt hung heavily in the air and the spray from the ocean washed over the dock. "Merry Christmas, Adena." He touched the huge ship with the Sceptre and teleported it high into the atmosphere. The Scimitar would be awaiting it and would tractor it into orbit, as per his orders. He lifted the Sceptre and transported to the Ludit's castle.

Leffy opened the door and let him in, "Master Iffley, how good it is to see you!" Leffy was emanating, as usual, just plain fun.

"Leffy, I have a couple of questions for you. Adena has returned, and is anxious to see you. Would you like to return with me to T'mir--Titan, that is--as a late Christmas present?"

Even before he had finished his question, the Jiffle had nodded his head. Iffley, ignoring the assent, completed his question, Leffy nodding all the way. He was beginning to wonder if the Jiffle's brains were going to pour out of his ears.

Iffley continued, "There's one more favor I have to ask you, Leffy, can you take me to the twin's room?"

*  *  Future  *  *

Iffley ordered a separate shuttle to transport Leffy and the better-late-than-never Christmas presents. He teleported to the cemetery before he left for home. Once again, he was alone--as alone as Adena must feel. His heart was free from a heavy burden; somehow he knew that Camille had forgiven him. Her tragic death was now no longer his responsibility.

The sun slowly set, casting bright red beams on the low clouds. Twilight descended on the land, stars twinkling dimly in the east. This had been Iffley's first Christmas alone. He wondered if this would be his last, or if there would be others. But somehow, he knew deep within his heart that he would never spend Christmas alone. A chill filled his very soul as he heard--no, more felt than heard--someone whisper 'Merry Christmas' to him. He glanced around the cemetery, as if expecting ghosts appear before him. "Merry Christmas," he said softly to the graveyard."Merry Christmas," he whispered to the stars.

 © 1985, 

K. Blaire, L. Charles, D. Conrad, Enad the Great, J. Pierce, B. C. Randolf, and T. G. Taft

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