Every Alician dawn is the same
as every other. The searing diamond of Vega strikes like a physical
blow to the senses as he rises above the flat, almost featureless
plain of ochre-coloured rock. But, to a ten year old boy, even the
harsh landscape of Alicia seemed somehow different on this special
morning. The scene from the small view-port seemed somehow softer and
– could it be? – was there movement in the silicaforms near
Seth’s dome? No, perhaps not. But it was pleasant, momentarily, to
think that he might have been the first to notice the rare event; he
looked every morning.
He put off joining his parents
in the family room as long as possible, allowing the ecstasy of
anticipation almost to overwhelm him. He knew that, this morning, he
would be allowed to see the crystal tree, the tall, green lattice of
minerals that his grandfather had found on Farside before he was
born. Its twelve brittle arms (it had once had sixteen) would have
hanging from them a present wrapped in some of the fragile giffpayper
that his mother said was old when she was a child. He hoped with a
dreadful longing that his present would be wrapped in the white
giffpayper with the red spots and funny green ‘leaves’ that his
mother had called holly.
The choice of giffpayper was
more important than the present – he knew it would be either a
singball or a smetchcock and he didn’t care which. It was a
fifty-fifty chance either way but there was real uncertainty about
the giffpayper. He had first seen it years and years ago when he had
been five (or was it four?), when his mother had told him the ancient
tale with the strange words: stay bull, kamels, shepperds,
flox-by-night and aynjuls. What could they mean? And how could the
three gurus have followed a star? Everyone knew that stars don’t
move, but his grandfather had said this was one of the most important
parts of the story and, one day, when he was ten (TEN!) it would be
explained and he would understand.
He remembered so well the first
time he had heard it. It was soon after they had moved into their own
dome. He had listened, enraptured, as his mother talked. There had
been singing and bright lights and colours. Yes, the lights! How they
had shone on his mother, raising glints of colour against the almost
black skin. His mother was the prettiest of all the mothers – and
he felt a sudden surge of pride.
He entered the room and, yes, it
was his special giffpayper! But, suddenly, the giffpayper didn’t
matter – only the story.
“Long, long ago, my little
Guito, nearly at the beginning of time, Joseph and Mary were called
to visit the little town of Bethlehem ...
More than a hundred trillion
miles away, the cinder that had once been Earth circled its dying
sun. There was no one to know that on a million planets across
the Galaxy there were still children who woke to Christmas mornings.