A 1300 word seasonal story for you. It fits between books 2 and 3.
‘Big’ Pete Garcia lay on a sunbed basking in the eerie light of Viridium, the system’s sun, eyes closed, and a hat pulled over his face.
Lars ‘the Swede’ Nilsson adopted a similar position next to him.
Two further sunbeds, unoccupied, stood on the soft cream sand on the other side of Lars.
“I told her she had the day off,” Lars said to the sky.
After a few moments, Pete replied. “And…?”
“She said she wasn’t a slave now and she’d do whatever she wanted.”
“Then Dolores told me off for working her too hard.”
Pete shifted an inch to his left, then returned to his previous position. “And that’s why they’re both chatting up the barman?”
“I s’pose, yeah.”
“It’s only Krismas. It’ll come around again next year.”
“Yeah, but I was looking forward to a nice dinner, just the four of us, no hassle from anyone…”
“If you don’t want hassle, don’t go upsetting Maggie.”
“But I didn’t…” Lars sat up, knocking over a half-empty bottle of beer in the process. The sand sucked up the moisture. “Darn. Now I’ll have to go inside for a refill.”
“Surely Jard does beach service?”
“Maggie will have got him giving us the cold shoulder by now.”
“You’re too sensitive. She’s probably giving him instructions on basting his turkey.”
“As long as that’s all she’s talking about.” Lars was peering into the depths of the Much Ado, their favourite bar and restaurant that opened out onto a lovely beach terrace, extending onto the sand, fringed with palm trees. Just like the brochures of Sunset Strip’s legendary vacation spots. Come to think of it, this probably was the place imaged for the adverts.
Lars stood up. “Want a refill?”
“If you’re going.”
“What does it look like?” Lars grumbled as he strode off, barefoot in the sand. Several people glanced at him as he approached and passed them, the women casting admiring glances at his physique over the rims of their sunglasses. Some of the men did too. Others noticed the tell-tale scars of old mining injuries, showing white against his light tan. The fact that he tanned at all put paid to the rumour he was really an Ouroboran.
Dolores met him at the entrance to the bar itself, handed him a tray of drinks and snacks, and turned him around.
“We’ll bring the rest out, just start on that.”
“But…” he tried, but he carried on, since there were four of his favourite beers on board, along with some of the girls’ choices. They were expecting him to share with Pete, by the look of it.
“That was quick,” Pete said, sitting up and reaching for a bottle.
“Wait your turn. The girls are coming out with some more things.”
Maggie and Dolores duly arrived with a spread of dishes, on a tray that grew legs to raise it to eating level for sunbed sitters. “Tuck in then,” Maggie said.
“So, you didn’t make these?” Lars said, still chewing on his first mouthful.
“Lars, what’s wrong with you? I’m not cooking this holiday weekend. Jard’s team is doing it all. It’s his job.”
“She’s just given him detailed instructions,” Dolores added, grinning.
“Oh, you,” Maggie aimed a kick at her, but only in pretence. “We’ll be eating at two so we can nap beforehand. I thought you’d prefer that to waiting till the end of the day.”
“You’ll be eating all through the day anyway.” Dolores took the end sunbed, carefully balancing a large plate of salads, vegetables in batter, and seasonal delicacies known as tuberoots.
“How many meals have you missed?” Pete said, looking at her stack.
“It’s the time changes. I don’t feel hungry at normal mealtimes. It’ll settle down. I’m not doing another trip for two weeks.” Dolores had started a taxi service between the Viridian planets and the Scania system, ten days flight away. She was just back from her first one without Pete riding shotgun, as he put it.
With a little food, a little alcohol, and a lot of relaxation, the four were soon playing the sort of silly games they would at their villa.
Dolores was the first to realise they had become the holiday entertainment for the rest of the vacationers.
“Come on guys, it’s nearly first sunset. Let’s watch it from the balcony of our room.”
Lars brushed the sand off his backside, and looked up at her. “Race you!”
He lunged towards her, but she squealed and ran in a straight line away from him, before veering round and heading to the outside steps of the bar. Jard had provided a room with additional facilities which they’d rented in the past, before they’d bought their own property on the hill.
Dolores was a fast runner. Lars was not as fit as he used to be, despite the muscle tone. He gave up and waited for Maggie to catch up, and took some of the things she was carrying.
First sunsets were quick, so after watching it, they played a few more games before settling for a nap.
The sound of buzzing woke Pete up. He moved Dolores’ leg off him, which made her turn over, and sat up, testing the direction. He walked towards it, following the trace onto the balcony outside. He felt Lars behind him.
“Got my back, eh?” he asked in a low voice.
“Always,” Lars replied. “Can you see anything?”
Pete stopped. On the ground in front of him was a glowing orb, about the size of a fist. It was a dainty glow, enough to delineate the curve of the sphere, but appear grey or transparent with some more tracery lights inside.
“What do you think?”
Lars replied by squatting down, resting on his haunches as he studied it from about a metre. “Looks vaguely familiar… smells,” he sniffed, then put his face closer and tried again, “of cinnamon or other spices. No trace of oil or metal. No ominous clicking.” He held his hand about ten centimetres above it. “No residual temperature. I reckon we could pick it up.”
The buzzing continued. “How’s it doing that?” Pete asked.
Lars shrugged. “Internal.”
“Pick it up or get the girls?”
“You thinking what I’m thinking?”
Lars stood up and stepped backwards, through the balcony doors. The orb rolled after him. Pete stepped past Lars and woke Maggie, as Dolores was already on the edge of the bed, pulling on a wrap.
“What is it?” Maggie asked, as they stood, or sat, around the orb, which had taken up a position at the centre of their room.
“Remember the visits we’ve had in the past, up in the asteroid belt at Krismas?”
“You mean the funny message capsule?” Dolores asked.
“Yes, and the fly-by although maybe we didn’t tell you about that.” Pete seemed filled with a glow of amusement.
“No,” Maggie replied.
“We get messages from an unknown person each Krismas, Mags,” Lars explained. “Ever since we rescued some strange being in our solar sail one year.”
“And you think this is part of that?” Maggie clearly thought they were kidding her.
Pete shrugged. “It’s Krismas. Merry Krismas, everyone.”
They hugged each other and exchanged traditional greetings, and then Pete put his hand on the orb.
It sprang into the air, opening up in segments, like a flower unfolding its petals. A smell of cinnamon, orange, clove and other spices filled the room, and a tinkly sound played a traditional song message while miniature stars flowed in complex patterns around it.
They watched it for about five minutes, before Pete sighed and put his hand over it. The orb retracted into a shiny globe again, but no longer buzzed. Pete put his other hand under it, to capture it securely, and put it safely in Maggie’s bag.
“Well, I think we should thank our benefactor for a wonderful Krismas present. Now, how about dinner?”
© J M Pett 2021