“Buck, I’m worried about Hawk. He’s gotten moody,” Colonel Wilma Deering said as she was bussing her tray.
“And when hasn’t he been moody?” came the response. “Do you blame him?”
“Buck! You know what I mean. He’s moodier than usual.”
“All right, I’ll go check on him.” Captain Buck Rogers tossed what was left on his tray into the trash chute and walked out.
Wilma gazed after her shipmate, puzzled. She realized Buck was testier than usual, too. Maybe they could help each other, she thought with a sigh.
Hawk sat in his austere cabin, trying to calm his troubled mind. He had brought very little from Throm, only a few things belonging to Koori, the few things that had been in the leader’s hut. One was a welcome candle, unlit since that awful day when he had returned with Koori from the soaring place and found his people slaughtered.
He heard a light scratching on the side of his door before Buck Rogers announced himself in the communicator. “Come in,” he said reluctantly. He really didn’t want company, but Buck could be extremely persistent. At least he had remembered the Tane-rapanui custom of visiting guests.
Buck came in with a bottle and two glasses, set them on the small table next to Hawk’s chair and pulled up a chair from the other side of the room. He had something bulging from his pocket, but Hawk didn’t ask.
“To what do I owe this visit?” Hawk asked, gazing at the bottle. It was not standard Earth vinol. He suspected this was something more potent that Buck had picked up from a planet-side visit.
“Don’t your people celebrate something this time of year? Um, the Renewal of the Spring Winds? How do you say it?”
Hawk had no idea how Buck knew about that unless it was something Dr. Goodfellow had told him. “Ke-anu Atu Makala.”
“Ke-anu Atu Makala,” Buck repeated. “A time to gather with friends and family and greet a new year. Right?”
Hawk nodded. “Except there are no friends and family of my people to gather.”
“Yeah. I know. No family. But there are friends.”
“You know nothing about this celebration.”
“Then tell me about it. What did you do for Ke-anu Atu Makala?”
Hawk hesitated. While he respected Buck, liked him, he was still reticent to talk about his people with a human. Buck patiently waited.
“We had a community feast,” Hawk finally said. “Every family contributed what they had caught or grown or made.”
“That would make for some pot luck dinner! Sounds fun.”
“It was.” Hawk ignored the reference to this pot luck dinner thing. He figured it was similar to what he was describing anyway. “We sang the old songs that celebrated the coming of the spring winds and the spring rains, thanking Make-Make in advance for his bounties for the new year.” He paused.
“Did you have any special foods for the celebration?”
“Yes, the Ke-anu bread. It was rather sweet with various fruits baked into it. High mountain grapes. Sweet tubers. When it had been a very good year, we had atui nectar.”
“From a plant?”
“Yes, naturally fermented in the plant.” At Buck’s nod, he continued. “In our family celebrations, we gave gifts to one another. Decorated our homes.” Hawk glanced at a carving of a snow eagle that sat by itself in a niche near the door.
Buck must have seen his glance. “Was that a gift from Koori?” he asked softly.
“Yes. Last celebration. We also thanked Make-Make for everything he had given us. We had hoped by this celebration, we would be celebrating a future birth.” Hawk took a shuddering breath.
“I’m sorry, Hawk,” Buck said, his eyes showing his sincere grief.
“I have nothing to thank him for this Ke-anu Atu Makala.” Hawk felt the ashes in his heart stirring.
“Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Diwali, Kwanzaa….”
“What are those? What is this Merry Christmas?”
“They are pretty much similar to what you just described. A time when friends and family gather together and all held about the same time of the year.”
“Oh. From your century. Don’t humans celebrate these things still?”
Buck shrugged. “They have something similar, but it is mostly a celebration of survival from the Holocaust. The celebrations I mentioned were based in religious origins.”
“Tell me what you did.”
“After we were grown, all of us kids converged on Mom and Dad’s house. By that time, we contributed to the feast—we came with the ham, potatoes, salads, and desserts out the wazoo. That way Mom didn’t have to do a bunch of cooking for a crowd of people. There was always eggnog to drink and Dad would sneak some bourbon in it. Mom stuck to the traditional wassail.” At Hawk’s confused look, Buck explained. “Eggnog is a combination of eggs, cream and some spices. Wassail was fruit juices and spices, all heated up. Really good stuff.”
“I am assuming this bourbon was a fermented drink.”
“And how!” Buck said with a laugh.
“Atui was pretty potent as well. It didn’t take much.” Hawk couldn’t help it, he smiled at the memory of his father-in-law drinking too much of the atui and singing a flying song from the top of the table. Hawk had made sure he didn’t actually try to fly.
“Hawk, before you told me, I didn’t know if you gave gifts at your Ke-anu Atu Makala, but I came with one because that’s what we did at Christmas. We opened our presents for each other on Christmas morning. It was really special when we were kids.”
“Yes, our holiday gift giving was special for our children as well.”
“Merry Christmas, Hawk.” Buck handed Hawk a fist-sized square package, wrapped in something that looked as though it was decorated with stars.
He gazed at it a moment.
“Sorry, hard to find Christmas wrapping paper in the 25th century.”
“No, but I can see why it was special for children. Seeing presents all covered up and having to wait to open them.”
Buck nodded. “I hope you like it. It was the only thing I could think of.”
“I have nothing for you….”
“Sticking around with us strange humans is a big enough present.”
Hawk began unwrapping the package. When he got the paper off, he sucked in a trembling breath, staring at the cube in his hands, which were also trembling.
After a while, Buck said, anxious. “Hawk, I’m sorry. I . . . I thought you’d like it.”
“No, Buck. I do like it. It is beautiful. How did you get this?” Hawk continued staring at the picture of his beloved. It was as though she was alive, her eyes flame, her smile one of promise of his return.
“I had Dr. Goodfellow use the OEI and I remembered her and he preserved the ones that Wilma thought were the best pictures of Koori. There is a picture on each side.”
Hawk slowly got up and put it next to the eagle. She seemed to be looking directly at him. “Koori,” he whispered, touching her face. He turned to Buck who was still gazing anxiously at him. Hawk smiled. “I have to be grateful to at least a few humans for their consideration. Thank you, Buck.”
“I’m glad you like it, Hawk.”
“And what is that you brought to drink. I am assuming it isn’t your innocent ‘wassail,’ is it?”
“No. I picked it up on Cronis when Searcher first began its mission. Definitely not vinol. Something called alista. I was told it had a kick to it but I haven’t tried any. I didn’t know if you wanted to toast our respective holidays or not.”
“Yes, I think I do. Let us see if this is as good as atui nectar.”
Buck pulled a cork out of the bottle and sniffed. He jerked back. “Wow! If the taste is like the smell, it’s potent.”
Hawk held out a glass. Buck poured it half full of the purplish liquid. When he sniffed it, Hawk understood what Buck was talking about. He sipped and felt the fiery liquid slide down his throat. This was definitely comparable to atui drink.
Buck poured himself somewhat less than he had poured for Hawk.
“I gather this is more potent than your bourbon?”
“You gather right. One finger to figure out what this stuff does. To Ke-anu Atu Makala.” Instead of sipping, Buck drank the two swallows he had poured in the glass. Then he gasped and choked, trying to draw in a breath of air. Finally, “Gives new . . . meaning to….” He coughed again. “Firewater.”
“To Merry Christmas,” Hawk replied and took a swallow.
“You can keep the bottle, Hawk. I’m already feeling a buzz.”
Hawk put the cork back in the bottle and put it in his refrigeration unit. “For next year.”
“I think I will try to make some eggnog for next year. If I can find a chicken and a cow.”
Hawk didn’t ask what his friend meant. Buck was already looking a little glassy-eyed. “Do you need to relax on my bed?”
“No. I can make it to my cabin. I have duty in six hours.”
Hawk doubted both statements, remembering his father-in-law. “I will accompany you, my friend.”
They made it, but barely. Hawk left Buck in his bed and dimmed the lights. When he exited Buck’s cabin, he met Wilma.
The question in her eyes demanded an explanation. He smiled, knowing that Buck Rogers was going to be what he called—razzed—about this. His father-in-law had been teased by his friends as well. “Buck and I were celebrating lost holidays, mine and his. I think he made a poor choice of the drink to toast with.”
“You mean he’s drunk?”
“Perhaps the best term is that he was overcome. My people had a drink like that. My father-in-law tried to fly off the feast table one year when he drank a little too much atui nectar.”
“After all that griping about vinol, Buck can’t hold his liquor,” Wilma said and then began laughing.
“He can’t hold this liquor,” Hawk said dryly.
“You said your father-in-law?”
“One swallow too many. My mother-in-law was angry with him for a month.”
“I guess.” She continued laughing. Hawk joined her.
“I can take the beginning of Buck’s duty. I am off for a day.”
“If you’re going to do that, you’d better go get some sleep, too. You look a little, uh, mellow.”
“Yes, I will. And I want to thank you for your part in Buck’s gift to me. I am grateful.”
“It was all Buck’s idea, but I’m glad I could help.”
“By the way, for next year’s celebration, Buck said he needed a chicken and a cow. He was going to make something more benign that he called eggnog.”
Hawk nodded and retraced his steps to his cabin. “Thank you, Make-Make,” he said as he sat down on his bed. Sleep came quickly and with it, a knowledge that these humans were totally unlike those on Throm.