Why was I the only one left? It should have been Marsh. He was stronger. Or Gloria. She had the biggest heart.
“What are you doing on the floor?”
I was hallucinating. That couldn’t be Marsh’s voice. He was gone. Like the others.
Strong hands lifted me up. I knew those hands, had felt them under my arms before. Had felt them all over my body. Now they cradled me against a hard chest. A chest beneath which beat a heart so loud it hurt my ears. A wonderful hurt.
“It’s about time you got up.” His chuckle rumbled beneath my ear.
I looked into his laughing blue eyes and reached up to touch his face. “You’re alive.”
“I’d say that was obvious.” Again, he chuckled.
“B-But Hal said there was a malfunction in the tubes. I thought…”
“Yeah. We woke up early. All at once. You should have seen MT scrambling from one tube to the next.”
“Wait.” I held his face between my palms. “Are you saying everyone is alive?”
“And waiting for Sleeping Beauty to get her rear in gear.”
He led me down the passageway to the combo gathering/dining space.
“Merry Christmas,” they shouted. Laughing and cheering, the four surrounded us. Ana and Tom, Gloria and Bill. Alive.
After much hugging, Marsh said, “Give her some space.”
“Hal,” I said to the comm speaker on the wall. “Why did you let me think they all died?”
“As I recall, you ordered me to stop speaking.”
“Yeppers.” MT had followed us into the gathering space. “You ordered me not to talk, too.”
They were right. It was my own fault for jumping to conclusions. “My apologies.”
I clung to Marsh, reluctant to let him go, even when he seated me in a chair. I stroked his face and let my hand drift down his chest. My love was still alive.
Gloria brought over a container of the same liquid MT had given me to drink. “This will help.” Marsh took it from her and held it while I sipped.
Gloria returned to Bill’s side on one of the loveseats against the wall. Ana and Tom cuddled on the other. When I looked away from their obvious infatuation with each other, I saw the decorations. Garlands were strung around the doorframe and hung from the ceiling in loops. A small artificial tree sat on the table between the loveseats. I wondered who sneaked the tree into their gear. Sparkling lights blinked next to tiny ornaments on the tree.
Between sips, I asked how long they had been awake. When Marsh answered, I cried, “Two days! And no one thought I would want to be awakened, too?”
“It was my decision,” Marsh said. “I thought it best to let the procedure cycle normally.”
“I could have slept through Christmas,” I groused.
“Nah. I know how much Christmas means to you. Besides, how could I give you your present if you were still asleep?”
I brightened at that. I loved presents. More giving than getting, though. I loved watching others open my gifts and seeing their delight that I’d chosen the right thing.
“What present?” I asked.
He helped me up and with his arm around my waist for support he led me across the room. “Close your eyes.”
“Unfair,” I protested but obeyed.
With me clutching his side, we walked three more steps. He held me in front of him, his arms around my waist. He pressed his cheek against mine. “Merry Christmas, love.”
I opened my eyes. We were standing in front of the viewport. There, across the black. A magnificent blue sphere, with browns and greens, and a scattering of white clouds. Serenity.
“It isn’t barren.” I groaned at my inane comment. Serenity looked like Earth.
The next morning, our landing module gently set us down on the surface right on target at LZ-45. Four cargo containers sat nearby, one for each couple plus a common use container where we would work, eat, and hang out.
Despite Marsh’s instrument readings that indicated an atmosphere conducive to humans, we suited up and took our first steps onto the alien planet. As mission commander, it was my privilege to lead the procession.
I turned to the others. “Welcome to Serenity.”
So prosaic. Although I’d wracked my brain for months during training, I couldn’t top Neil Armstrong’s “One small step for man…”
“We should rename the landing zone,” Gloria said. “LZ-45 is so—so boring.”
The others nodded.
“What do you all think of naming it Christmas?” Bill suggested.
“Perfect,” Tom said. “We could enjoy Christmas all year long.” The rest of us groaned.
We each claimed a container. Marsh and I chose the farthest on the left. Once inside, he opened the control box and started up the artificial atmosphere. As soon as the lights changed from red to green, I helped him off with his helmet. He did the same for me. The air smelled musty, not surprising since the container had been closed for close to seven years.
“Would you like your Christmas present now or wait until we rearrange the module?” I asked.
He unfastened the top of his enviro suit. “I wondered why you didn’t give me something last night.” He gave me the silly grin that always set my heart aflutter.
We’d had a small celebration at midnight, singing carols and toasting the success of our mission. I’d handed out small tokens as gifts to the others, but to Marsh I’d whispered, “Tomorrow.”
“It’s tomorrow already. Think I could have my present now?” He reminded me of a kid who got his parents up at six on Christmas morning.
I shoved down my enviro suit and soon we stood before each other in our working jumpsuits. I put my arms around his neck and gave him a long kiss. “I’m your present, Marsh.”
Then I stepped back and reached for the zipper tab near my throat. Slowly, I lowered the zipper, one centimeter at a time. All the while I looked into his eyes.
When his eyes darkened, a shiver of delight rippled through me.
He brushed my hands aside. “I want to open my own present.” He yanked down the zipper. When he got to my waist, his eyes widened. “You aren’t wearing any underwear.”
I gave him a slow grin. “Why waste time?”
Within seconds, he shoved off my jumpsuit and dispensed with his own. We stood plastered against each other, bare skin to bare skin. I held his face. “Think we could get started on our mission?”
“Mission?” The disbelief in his voice almost made me smile. “You want to talk about our mission now?”
“Yes. The mission to populate the planet.”
“Oh, that mission. My pleasure, Commander. My pleasure.” His mouth came down on mine.
Afterward, we lay in each other’s arms, squeezed between containers of medical supplies and dried meals.
“Happy Christmas, Marsh.”
“A very happy Christmas, Sara.”
I hope you enjoyed my short story. For more information about my books, visit my website.