ABSENT SANTA • by Dale Ivan Smith

Early Christmas morning aboard the Masters’ starship, and once again there was no Santa Claus. I stared at the stars streaming past on the display window. There was a quiet knock on our apartment’s door, a little rap-a-tap-tap given with a careless ease that only Great Great Gran possessed.

My little siblings, Chance and Sybil remained asleep in their bunk, Chance’s legs stuck out from beneath the pile of blankets while Sybil’s face was buried beneath two pillows. They believed again this year Santa would come.

I pulled on my envirosuit, as per the Masters’ Sacred Regs, and saw the door’s readout showed normal conditions for the corridor outside. I cycled the door open.

Great Great Gran hopped from foot to foot in the corridor, her own envirosuit’s display blinking like crazy. Her adrenaline and heart rate were up, a wide grin split her wrinkled face.

“Tali, follow me,” she said. She spun around and capered away down the corridor.

“Wait,” I called after her but she didn’t look back.

“Come on!” She called over her hunched shoulders.

I shut the door, one last glimpse of our little green metal Christmas tree with the single row of lights and the silver tinsel Mom and Dad scrounged up years ago. They were gone now; since before last Christmas.

I swallowed and trotted after Great Great Gran.

We went down an endless series of access ladders, followed by a very long stairway. We saw no other human. After all, it was Christmas morning and everyone slept in their beds, waiting for Santa.

The Masters allowed us the hope of Santa Claus.

A little kid’s dream even the grownups believed, a convenient lie serving the Masters.

The Masters stood asleep at the intersections and landings as Great Great Gran and I descended deeper into the starship’s bowels.

Great Great Gran stopped beside a Master asleep beside the Forbidden entrance to the Engine area. Its scales glinted gold in the corridor lights, its wedge shaped head lay folded against its muscled chest, eyes closed.

Great Great Gran grinned. “A Christmas Gift from Santa.”

Once a year the Masters slumbered while we slept in our beds and dreamed of Santa’s arrival, yet Santa never came. People said he chased us across the great Cosmos, but I think the Masters, who slept but one day a year, needed a way for us to stay in our beds while they rested and Santa was as good a lie as any other.

Great Great Gran skipped over to the mesh barrier. “Forbidden” was displayed in Universal Speak, big glowing red letters in the air before the barrier.

She drew a tool from her suit’s pocket and thumbed it. A Wand from the Masters.

My mouth was suddenly dry. “What are you doing? I whispered. Where had Great Great Gran gotten one of the Masters’s tools?

The mesh parted and she scampered through the gap.

I didn’t move.

“Whatcha waiting for, Tali?” She jerked her head in the direction of another set of glowing letters down the long corridor behind her, letters that read, “Masters Only.”

“That’s forbidden.”

She frowned at me. “You a baby now?”

“Mom and dad are gone because they went down here.”

She shook her head. “They gave up hope, Tali, and that is why they went down here, but they didn’t do it on Christmas Eve. They should have waited until the Masters slept.”

I blinked away tears.

The golden master still slumbered back up the corridor.

If we were caught I wouldn’t be there to comfort Chance and Sybil tomorrow morning when Santa didn’t come. Christmas days were always days of tears aboard the starship; despondency lasted until mid-year and then hope renewed, when whispers Santa was coming for real this year began. Someone always had a dream he would come, this year, and people always believed. Great Great Gran never argued with them, only saying there is a Santa Claus.

The Masters said nothing, but why should they? It kept us on our best behavior.

She stamped her foot. “You need to see!”

Her words ran through me like an electric shock.

“See what?”

She smiled slyly. “Santa Claus.”

She had finally gone crazy.

“There is no Santa.”

“No Santa here, maybe,” she said, but there is a Santa.”

“You always say that.”

She frowned. “This isn’t about believing, Tali.”

No, it was about getting her to stop. That was worth the risk. If it would get people to know the truth.

“Okay.” I walked into the Forbidden area and followed her.

We went past more sleeping Masters. The floor trembled. This was the Alive part of the Starship. It was like walking on Daddy’s belly when I was a toddler. The air grew warm and moist, and fungus grew on the walls, which quivered and shook more the deeper we went.

Steam filled the air.

Finally, the twisting labyrinth opened up into a wide space. Our helmets were sealed now, the atmosphere was not breathable here.

We went to a pulsing mass of flesh, like a huge, closed mouth. Great Great Gran waved her Wand and the mouth opened. We stepped inside, it closed behind us. All was black. The mouth opened again, this time before us.

The light of hyperspace flooded in, redder and bluer than in our apartment view display.

Great Great Gran guided me to a ledge. We looked down on a vast array.

“Engines, “ she said over the suit radio.

The hyperspace drive glowed whitely.

Great Great Gran had a cylinder in her hands, mounted on a stand she’d attached to the fleshy rim of the ship.

“Telescope,” she said. She ran a cable into my envirosuit’s input port and another into hers.

“Turn on your video feed.”

My heart lept. Suddenly I felt light as feather.

Amidst the blue red whorls and twists of hyperspace was the tiny figure of a distant sleigh, drawn by a dozen creatures, reindeer. Inside the sleigh was fat bearded figure in a red suit.

Santa Claus.

Dale Ivan Smiths stories have appeared in online magazines and can also be found at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other eBook stores. His website is www.daleivansmith.com.

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Every Day Fiction