George spent most of his youth separate from the others, puzzling out math problems well above his age. When he studied astrophysics in college, he was only 12 years old, and he wasn’t even cute. The other students did not so much ignore him as not see him. He didn’t mind. He wanted to understand. His enthusiasm was reserved for the worlds he read about in his text books.
And so it was years later on Christmas Eve that he found himself alone in the capsule of a manned satellite — a human lab rat to measure the effects of continuous flight, to prepare for the mission to mars. He was glad to be alone up here, as company in this cramped space would be intolerable. Still, given the holiday he was finding himself a little nostalgic.
The comm device beeped and his console indicated an incoming call. He tapped the screen to receive audio transmission.
“Hi George, it’s Karen.” His sister’s voice came between bursts of static.
“This sounds like a walkie-talkie.”
“They should call it a shuttle skuttlebutter,” she offered.
He thought about this a while.
“You know, ‘skuttle-butt’? Come on, that’s pretty funny. I just thought of it.”
“Is that a joke?” he asked. He never got her sense of humor.
“Not really. So, Merry Christmas! I would have got you a present but it cost five million dollars to Fedex, so.”
“Ha…” he tried.
“Anyway, I visited Mom today, she didn’t recognize me but she was happy they had chocolate cake for dinner.”
“Uh huh… “ he searched for something to tell her. “It’s night all the time.”
“Oh, yeah, I guess you’re right. I didn’t think about that.”
“OK, Karen. I have to get back to my work now,” he lied.
“Well, Merry Christmas!” she said quickly. Her relief was obvious even over the fuzzy connection.
He ended the conversation, then wondered if he was supposed to say goodbye.
He sat in the quiet, staring at the swirling clouds below him. It wasn’t night, he didn’t know why he’d said that. It was dark above the earth, but he was in the sunlight still.
He heard a strange rhythmic metallic sound and ran a diagnostic on the craft. None of the controls were blinking or showing warning dialogs.
He got up, stooping to avoid the low ceiling and looked out the side portal monitor. Astonishingly, a small craft was approaching. It was too small to be a rocket. Where did it come from?
The jingling sound got louder. His heart pounded as the craft pulled up and docked with a loud clang. There was silence, then a knock at the portal.
“Who are you? What do you want?” George squeaked out.
“Ho! Ho! Ho! Open the door, George.”
George tapped the panel and the door slid open.
An old man with a giant, non-regulation beard, a red suit, and leather boots stood there, holding a gigantic package under his arm.
“Merry Christmas!” he said, handing the package to George, who took it cautiously.
“No cookies?” the man asked.
“Uh, no. How about Tang?” George offered.
The man shook his head, smiling. “Must be off, lots to do tonight!” he said, and turned his bulky body to exit the capsule back into the airlock.
George watched on the monitor as the craft undocked and zoomed away. He opened the package, which turned out to be a giant rubber doll. He found the on-switch at the back of her neck.
“Hello. My name is Alexa. Ask me a question.”
It was the best Christmas he’d ever had.