“Captain, unidentified transmission coming in.” Uhura looked up from the communications station, and the eyes of everyone on the bridge turned to her.
“Put it on the screen,” Kirk ordered.
“It’s audio only, sir.”
A jovial voice rang through the speakers. “…Now Dasher! Now Dancer! Now Prancer and Vixen! On Comet! On Cupid! On Donder and Blitzen!” The message suddenly crackled out.
Spock was studying his monitors. “Fascinating. Donder and Blitzen translate from the Earth language German as ‘thunder’ and ‘lightning’. The others, of course, are Earth English words, but I am at a loss as to how these disparate words relate – “
McCoy was grinning broadly. “Haven’t you ever heard of Santa Claus, Spock?”
Spock turned from his monitors and raised an eyebrow. “Santa Claus, also Sinterklaas, Kris Kringle, and many other appellations, is a mythical figure who accomplished physically impossible feats of speed and mass. For example, if he were to deliver gifts to only those children on Terra who profess belief in his existence, he would have 1/1000th of a second for each visit—“
“That’s because it’s magic, Spock.” McCoy was still grinning.
“Lieutenant, can you tell us where that message came from?” Kirk asked, returning to the real question at hand.
“Negative, Captain. It was a single directionless burst.”
Kirk peered at the viewscreen as if all answers would be revealed. “Could it be a ‘Merry Christmas’ audio blast from some nearby system? Spock?”
“Unlikely, Captain,” Spock reported. “There are no nearby Federation-allied worlds, and no ships show on scanners—“ his board beeped — “until now,” he concluded. “Sensors are picking up an unidentified vessel.”
“On screen,” Kirk ordered.
An image appeared, instantly riveting the attention of everyone present.
“Is that a— ?“ Bones started.
“Sleigh!” Pavel Chekov exclaimed.
“With eight – not so tiny – reindeer,” Sulu observed.
“Where’s Rudolph?” This was from Chapel, who was visiting the bridge with Bones.
“Uhura, could you hail that, um, vessel?” Kirk asked as he curiously studied the image on the screen, which showed a large, old Terran-style sleigh. It was bedecked with streaming fantastical multicolored ribbons and glorious sparkling bows, and was filled to bursting with colorful packages of myriad shapes and sizes. It was piloted by a humanoid male figure, sporting a luxurious white beard, who was dressed entirely in bright red with white trim. He sailed on, seemingly exposed to the vacuum of space.
Kirk could feel a headache coming on.
“Hailing frequencies open, Captain.”
“Alien vessel, this is Captain. James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise. Please identify yourself.”
And then *snap*!
The red-and-white- clad bearded man – surprisingly slim, given his reputation - appeared right next to the command chair and offered Kirk an elaborate flourish. “Ah, Captain Kirk. I’m quite fond of starship captains.” He chucked Kirk under the chin. “Have you been a good boy?”
Kirk jumped to his feet and started again. “I am Captain James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise--”
“Yes, yes, yes,” the man interjected with a wide smile “No need to go through the whole spiel. I’ve heard it all before.”
“We would like to know more about you, Mr…?” Kirk bit off his words before he uttered the word ‘Claus’.
“You may call me Q.” He turned to survey the people populating the bridge. “Ah, humans. You are always so entertaining.”
Kirk stifled a sigh of exasperation, remembering that, like Apollo, beings who suddenly appeared out of nowhere and claimed to be figures from Earth legend usually caused a great deal of trouble before matters were resolved. “What is your business on the Enterprise, Mr. Q?” He smiled, pouring on the charm.
“Oh, I thought I’d just drop by before continuing my rounds. You know, since humans spread around the galaxy – you do breed like bunnies, you know – making these trips is just the tiniest bit more challenging.”
Spock, who had been taking readings, quirked an eyebrow at Kirk, who gave him a tiny nod. “Mr. Q,” Spock said, “what are your origins?”
“I’m Q of the Q.”
“Could you elucidate the meaning of your statement?”
Q yawned widely. “My meaning is obvious.”
Spock’s eyebrow approached his hairline. “Where is your home planet?”
Q smiled magnanimously. “Don’t you like mysteries?”
“My preference is to solve mysteries.” Spock seemed to stand a bit straighter than usual.
Q shrugged. “You can carry on seeking out new life and new civilizations at your leisure, later.”
“Why are you dressed like Santa Claus?” McCoy wanted to know.
“Oh, do you like this better?” In an instant Q was dressed in a mirror-reflection of Kirk’s own uniform. Beard gone, he resembled one of Kirk’s least favorite admirals.
“Actually, I don’t,” Kirk said.
“Ah, well.” The Santa suit made its reappearance, sans beard. “I’m dressed this way because of the gifts, of course. It’s my turn, after all.”
“Your turn?” Kirk repeated suspiciously.
“Q has been doing this service for Humans for many years.”
“Why would that be?” McCoy drawled.
“Because it’s amusing.” Q cocked his head. “I like to view it as a mission. Greedy children await me.”
“There are no children present on the Enterprise,” Spock pointed out.
“There will be one day. There’s one insufferable brat in particular…. But I digress. Q has sent me to give you gifts.”
“I thought you were Q?” McCoy frowned slightly.
“That’s the beauty of it!” Q exclaimed. “I am Q. We are all Q.”
“Not me,” Chekov muttered to himself.
“Not you, silly. You’re only human, after all.” Q treated them to an insufferable smile.
“Mr. Q,” Kirk was trying for patience. “Why did Q send you here to give us gifts?”
“Well,” Q grinned. “His parents decided he really did need to apologize to you, but they can’t quite trust him on his own yet, so they sent me.”
He flung out an arm in a sweeping gesture. Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Brightly-wrapped packages of various sizes and shapes appeared on the consoles of the bridge crew – or, in the case of McCoy and Chapel, in their hands.
“His parents?” Kirk asked, eyes narrowed.
“The lonely squire of Gothos!” Q winked.
Kirk’s headache was becoming a real pounder. “Spock?” Kirk indicated the sensors. Spock ran a scan of the packages, under the bemused eye of Q.
“Nothing’s going to bite. Go on, go on.” Q waved his hands at the gifts. “You first.” He looked directly at Sulu. A long thin curved package reposed on the console in front of him.
Sulu glanced at Kirk. “Captain?”
Kirk then glanced at Spock, who reported, “Sensors do not indicate any dangerous substances.”
Kirk decided to let things play out, hoping to get some clues about this entity’s intentions.
Sulu hesitantly touched the package and the wrappings instantly disappeared. He gasped, “A katana!” He carefully picked up the curved slender sword and gasped again at the inscribed signature. "This is centuries old!" His eyes narrowed suspiciously as he looked at Q. "Where did this come from?"
“It’ll never be missed.” Q shrugged indifferently. “Next?”
He indicated Chekov, who cautiously touched a rectangular flat package. He smiled in delight at the sight of an old-fashioned hardcover book titled “Famous Russian Inventors”.
Kirk privately thought the book looked a bit on the skimpy side, but he held his tongue at the sight of Chekov’s pleasure at the gift.
“And…?” Q now turned to Uhura. Her package revealed a 7-stringed round-bodied musical instrument. She ran her fingers across the taut strings experimentally, and sound shivered out. She smiled. “A litungu! I had one of these when I was a girl.”
Scotty opened his package and his eyes gleamed when he contemplated his gift: a bottle of the finest Scotch whiskey. “A party in my quarters later,” he announced around a beaming grin.
McCoy was holding a fancy envelope. It was lavishly decorated with a holographic image of a rustic rural setting of lush bluegrass and wide, shady trees dappled in sunshine. Set in the middle of the grassy patch was a well-worn heavy wooden chair next to a small matching table, which held a tall, frosty glass of pale green liquid with a sprig of mint waving gently in a slight breeze.
What was inside the envelope was anything but rustic. McCoy lifted the envelope flap and pulled out a card decorated with the image of a showgirl wearing a tiny, fluffy pink feather bikini and a matching, enormous pink feather headdress. The holographic image coyly winked at him. McCoy read the inscription and whistled, his eyes huge.
“What is it, Bones?” Kirk asked, a little impatiently.
McCoy grinned widely and held up the card. “A lifetime pass to Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet!” At that, Scotty whistled too, and looked more than a bit envious.
“Oh, you can have one too, if you’re going to pout.” Q snapped his fingers and an envelope decorated in a tartan pattern appeared in Scotty’s hands.
At least it’s not a white rabbit! Kirk thought.
Chapel was looking at her gift – a large poster of a middle-aged man dressed in mid-20th century clothing – in bafflement. She read a signature curving along the bottom right corner. “Who is The Great Bird of the Galaxy?”
“Oops! Alternate reality.” Q snapped his fingers. The poster disappeared, and a large, embossed white envelope, with the words Dr. Chapel printed on it in ornate script, appeared in her hands.
Chapel grinned when she opened it and found her application to Starfleet Medical School, stamped “Approved”.
“And now…” Q stared significantly at Kirk and Spock. Kirk was somehow not surprised to find that in the past few minutes, Spock had moved to stand by his side. Twin parchments appeared in their hands, each adorned with an identical Vulcan script.
Kirk read the single word. His headache vanished.
Spock turned to look at Kirk, a speculative and interested look in his eyes. “I will explain it to you later,” he said in words audible only to Kirk.
Kirk felt a smile tug his lips and warm sensations inhabit various parts of his body. His heart, for example. And places lower. He’d done his research. He’d recognized the Vulcan word. He’d memorized this particular bit of Vulcan script, along with the various meanings of the word ‘t’hy’la’, a long time ago.
They found a row of curious eyes looking at them. Spock said placidly, “It is a word denoting friendship and brotherhood.”
Kirk thought of mistletoe. Over their bed. “An appropriate message for the season,” he declared. He and Spock exchanged another glance. Later, their eyes promised.
Q sharply saluted Kirk, his hand brushing against the white fluff at the bottom of his Santa hat. “It’s been fun, but I must be off to Earth and points beyond. I’ve got lots of lumps of coal to deliver this year. Humans seem to prefer naughty to nice. Oh, and Trelane – I wish he’d grow out of his penchant for nicknames - did have one message for you all.”
“And what is that?” Kirk demanded.
Q’s beard reappeared. He took on a pose as if he were about to step on board a departing sleigh. With a sly wink, he proclaimed, “Just wait until you see what he has in mind for Trick-Or-Treat!”
He disappeared in a blink. The sleigh vanished from their screen. But far away, a faint, echoing jolly voice could be heard calling, “And to all a good night…!”