Author's Note: This story is rated G, I hope you enjoy it. This is the time of year for counting blessings, and I find that I have more than I can number. Thank you all so much for making me and my small talent a part of your lives and a part of the community that our group has become. May all the joys and blessings of the season fill your homes and your hearts, now and throughout the coming year.

A Very Merry Christmas
Becky Ratliff

(On the Saratoga, Christmas Eve, 2064)
Shane reached for another piece of popcorn and carefully threaded it onto the needle. Across from her, Lisa was crumpling small pieces of red and green foil and stringing those. Jimmy had found a box of telltale lights with six-inch-long wire leads attached, he was putting them together with black tape to form a long string.

Anita was teaching Cooper how to make paper snowflakes, he grinned just like a kid when he unfolded the first one to find that the seemingly random cuts he had made created a lacy snowflake when the paper was unfolded. Anita and Shane exchanged a little smile, Shane felt a bittersweet pang as she remembered her mother teaching her that trick, guiding her chubby little fingers with her little first-grade scissors.

Shane looked up and smiled as Ty came in. He stared at the seven-foot Christmas tree in the middle of the bunk room. "What in the --?"

Deadpan, Shane replied, "It's a Christmas tree."

"More to the point, what's it doing in here?" He found an empty chair. "There wasn't room to turn around in here before, you needed a Christmas tree?"

She smiled mysteriously. "It won't be here long." She set a bowl of popcorn and a needle in thread in front of him.

"What am I supposed to do with that?" He stuffed a handful of the popcorn in his mouth. "Needs salt."

"String it, don't eat it," she scolded, her eyes dancing.

Ty scowled at her, but skewered a piece of popcorn. The popcorn immediately crunched into a million pieces. "Why am I doing this?"

"You'll see. You're trying to *string* it, not *kill* it -- go easy."

Lisa giggled.

Shane knew from the look in McQueen's eyes that both she and the young lieutenant were skating on thin ice. That hadn't stopped either of them yet. Shane went back to threading popcorn on her garland. After a moment, McQueen stopped glaring at her and tried again, this time more carefully.

Vanessa ran in. "Shane, did the laundry bring my choir robe here?"

"Yes! It's in your locker!" Shane replied.

"Oh, good!" She grabbed the blue and white robe and darted back out.

Shane spotted Nathan taking aim with a can of spray paint. "Don't spray that in here! Take it back in the showers and put down paper first!" She yelled.

Laughing, Nathan replied, "Yes, Mother!" But he took his project through the hatch all the same.

Marcy popped in. "I just heard, what can I do?"

"Umm--check the presents off against that list and make sure everyone has one and they all make sense! Then get Kenny to help you wrap them, he'll be back with the battery for the tree lights."

McQueen said, "Just what is this operation you've got going, anyway?"

She said once again, "You'll see!"

Nathan came back from the showers with a bunch of snowflakes, now sparkling with silver glitter. The flurry of activity soon resulted in a decorated tree and a cart full of wrapped gifts.

Jimmy wired up the battery, and the lights twinkled to life. Anita turned off the room lights for a moment so they could enjoy it. The magic of the lights transformed popcorn and foil and paper to snowflakes and icicles and starlight.

Nathan cleared his throat. "It really came out nice -- but we need to go, the chaplain said 1900 hours."

"Okay, I think everything's ready," Shane said.

They had the tree on a wheeled platform, several of them steadied it along and Anita and Lisa brought the cart with the presents. McQueen went along with them. Now that they had him curious, nothing could have kept him away. For once he was just as confused as Cooper -- more so, apparently, because Cooper acted like he at least had a clue what was going on.

Lisa suddenly clapped her hands together. "We forgot to get the cookies!" She exclaimed.

"Meet us there!" Shane answered. Lisa took off, heels flying. They eased the tree onto the lift, but most of them went down the stairs rather than wait for the car to return. McQueen realized they were on their way to sickbay.

Dressed alike in simple blue and white choir robes, three dozen freshly scrubbed and polished young men and women waited in the corridor outside. They were soldiers and sailors, airmen and marines, and even a few civilians, but for the time being they were angels ... so very young and still in many ways so innocent, despite all the horror they had seen ... so far from home.

Dr. O'Leary stuck her head out the hatch. "Oh, good, you're here!"

The chaplain nodded to the choir, they struck up the strains of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" as they filed through the hatch one by one.

Sickbay was a busy place, the last fighting the Sara had seen had been a hard-won victory and there were a lot of people in here. But as the carols and the tree brought Christmas to the sickbay, McQueen watched the frightened, weary eyes of the wounded light up as if by magic. The irresistable gospel beat of "Go Tell It on the Mountain" got everyone clapping time and singing along. McQueen looked over at Shane, understanding at last. She smiled, and whispered for him alone to hear, "Merry Christmas, love."

The End

Next : Return To Kazbek
Previous : Degrees of Guilt Miles To GO ... Book 7

Becky December 1996