Now if I could pinpoint one facet of my lifetime integral to the hope I hold in my heart today, it would be the alien we knew as “Kal-Droa’kul Trison”. I like to think that a good portion of the hatred among my people dissipated because of this strange man. Either way, I cannot deny the impact he had on my life and the history of the Pragonese. To properly tell my story, I need to go back to my childhood, when I first heard about the day my clan-members called “Kal Trison Twilight.”
80 years earlier, Age 6
“Kal Droa’kul Trison is coming, Robith,” my mother said to me, as the three of us sat at in our cave dwelling, eating wort-rat, “you behave and maybe he’ll bring you something nice.”
“Father says the man is crazy,” my older brother Dar’fil countered, “he says the man wants something from us, or wants to give away our secrets to the Artocruk scum down the mountain.”
“Well, I think Kal Trison’s a nice man,” my mother reassured, “he said he hated the Artocruk people as much as we do.”
“Who is Kal Trison again?” I asked.
“He’s the strange alien who dressed in the red suit - with the beige skin and the big, white face-hair - that had you crying like a baby, remember?” Dar’fil reminded me. His words brought back only a vague memory of his first ever appearance last year. Apparently I had been terrified of him, having only approached him after my mother and brother forced me to sit on his lap. “Last year, he came down in his ship, talked to the clan elders and asked if he could bring all the children in our village those weird toys and machinations. And he did – he gave you your creature doll that you lost.”
“Oh, yes, I remember,” I said, lying. For some reason, my mind couldn’t picture the man’s physical features, despite the meaning of his full name, which in our language translated as ‘flamboyant man who gives foolishly.’ I remembered the doll well enough – it was a small, handheld creature stuffed with tiny, white beads. It had tan fur, four legs, a stubby tail, floppy ears, and a black, beady nose. No one had any idea what it was. One of the girls in our village thought she could identify it from a book Kal Trison had given her – the picture showed a little, white mongrel similar in appearance to my doll and identified by a symbol that read “DOG.”
“And I didn’t lose my doll!” I said. “You threw it down the cliff, you hog!”
My brother stuck his tongue out, making me slam my hands down in anger.
“Enough, you boys!” My mother said. “If you don’t stop bickering, we won’t take either of you to the evening twilight, when Kal Trison is going to come. Instead, we’ll send you to the Artocruk, so they can feed you to their geysers!”
My family lived in a mountain village; our people, the Pragonese, worshipped the sky as the spiritual home of the gods and the higher you lived, the closer you were to them. Our planet’s name, Elavan, literally means ‘mountain pathway,’ and every night our prayer rituals involved us looking at the skyline for a sign the gods may give us, a fluttering star, a cool breeze – anything that could be a message of divinity.
Unfortunately, my people were not the only race that lived on the planet. Situated in the lowlands were the Artocruk, a blue skinned race, who believed that the gods lived within the earth – their voices heard from the dozens of geysers that existed in the rock plains at the planet’s surface. As such, the Artocruk lived around these ‘bursts of water,’ and, unlike us, had no formal prayer ritual. They simply believed that if you lived near a geyser, you would be safe under the watchful eye of the gods. They called our planet ‘Krusteox,’ which in their pig-tongue translates to ‘the planet that speaks.’
The two races of our planet could not be more different. The Pragonese have red, gritty skin, lean bodies, and brown ridges along our backsides, from our ankles to the tops of our heads. We have larger eyes, and rounder, more pronounced nostrils to help us accommodate for the thinner air at the elevation which we live. The Artocruk are a smaller, fatter people, with slit-like eyes and nostrils, and skin that had a shiny, rubbery look to it.
“When you fill your faces with geyser steam,” my father would often say, “you start to look like a worm.”
My father’s name was Cortix, and he was a clan elder for our village. He helped make decisions for the community, which usually involved some sort of anti-Artocruk policy. I grew up hating the Artocruk people; all of the children in my clan did. I had seen an Artocruk only once before in my life, and that was when my father was selected to challenge them for territorial control of an unclaimed valley. My whole family was required to attend the challenge, and I remember my brother and I huddling behind my mother as we watched our father walk to the middle of a clearing, stare down the Artocruk representative, then walk into an empty cave to begin the ritual A’Chal-Sharar – the fight for Recognition, in which each delegate quarrels until either he, or his opponent, is killed. The winner, according to custom, was deemed to have received the support of the gods, and therefore can claim the disputed territory for his side.
“Why does Father have to go into the cave to fight that hog?” I remember Dar’fil asking my mother.
“Hush, child,” my mother said, her voice wavering but firm. “Your father is protecting our village from the Artocruk scum. He is claiming the land that rightfully belongs to the Pragonese. If he has to go into the cave to fight, then he will fight with all his heart.”
My heart clenched. Dar’fil had me convinced that my father’s opponent was going to unleash a secret geyser inside the mountain and drown my father. It was the longest three hours I ever had to wait. My father finally emerged from that cave - battered, winded, but triumphant. We ran to him, I remember the green Artocruk blood that was splattered on his face, and crusted under the nails of his claws. I was so relieved to see him that I cried. My father refused to talk about what happened in that mountain, but I didn’t care. All that mattered to me was that I had him back.
The only other time in my childhood that I would experience such jubilation would be the second time I got to see Kal Trison, three months later. His arrival occurred exactly as expected, at evening twilight – one year from the date of his first ever appearance, on the terrace where we stood. Much to my father’s chagrin, many of the adults believed the man to be a god. The fact that Kal Trison came from the sky captivated them. As for the kids, we were excited about the presents he doled out.
“When is he going to be here?” I remembered badgering my parents that day.
“Patience, little one,” my mother said, “Kal Trison won’t give you anything if you’re impatient, or misbehave. You remember what he said last year.”
“Yes,” I said. I didn’t remember but that was beside the point. We all stood on the cliff and stared at the sky with wonder.
Everyone except my father, who stood with his arms crossed.
“Just be mindful everyone,” he said, “Kal Trison has to speak to me first, and I want to inspect everything he will be giving the children.”
“Yes elder-father,” Dar’fil said. I had never seen my brother so well-behaved. He had been staring upwards at the dark blue sky. Suddenly, he perked up. “Look over there!”
He pointed to what appeared to be a shooting star. The speck of light gradually became larger. It curved, then headed straight towards us and slowed as it approached our terrace.
|The Rudolph Express disappears into the night sky
illustrated by Justine Knox
A whirring sound became louder the closer it got. Once the light came to within 500 yards of us, we could see what it was – a strange, streamlined flying machine, with a grey, metallic hull and thick, ridged wings. It had large thrusters, armor plating, and side-paneling painted with colorful designs – bells, ribbons, and trees decorated with lights and pearls. The tip of the bow was painted red, and the symbols (though I couldn’t read them at the time) ‘RUDOLPH EXPRESS’ were inscribed on the side.
“Get back,” my father yelled, “the ship is hot from being in the sky!”
Everyone could see that the outside of the vessel was steaming, so we all backed off. Our anticipation, however, remained, and when the outer hatch of the ship opened, exhilaration charged through the crowd. We watched the platform drop, the sealant spray burst from the door, and through the opening we saw Kal Trison walk down the ramp with his bright red suit, white beard, flushed cheeks, and the biggest sack of toys I had ever seen in my life.
“Ho, Ho, Ho,” he said, with his eyes beaming at us kids. We stood sheepishly at our parents’ side. His Pragonese was awkward, but sensible: “Merry Christmas, children of Pragon.”
“Alright, you!” My father said, cutting off the strange man before he could make his way to us. “We need to talk, away from everyone else!”
“Hello, my good friend Cortix,” Kal Trison said. I was impressed he remembered my father’s name – I could only hope my father was too. “Of course we can talk. It’s good to see you again.”
We waited nervously as my father and Kal Trison conversed behind his ship. It was no secret that the clan elders did not trust Kal Trison – he was the first contact our people had ever had with the outside universe, possibly the gods for that matter, and he was nothing like our elders had expected. We were taught to offer sacrifice and go with very little to please our mountain gods, and yet here was this man offering nice presents to us kids, for no reason whatsoever.
We blew a collective sigh of relief when Kal Trison and my father emerged from around the ship. Kal Trison greeted us with that same jolly smile, but I could tell that my father wasn’t happy. Nevertheless, he had conceded to Kal Trison’s appearance among us.
“Okay, boys and girls.” Kal Trison gathered us around. “Now it’s very important to remember, I am not one of your gods, and I honor the Pragonese faith, and spit upon the beliefs of the Artocruk. Ho, ho, ho!”
The words seemed forced, and I saw Kal Trison give a glance to my father, who nodded curtly. No one else noticed, and Kal Trison went back to being his normal, jovial self.
“Now Santa wants to give all you girls and boys a present today, but first I need a helper to do that – now I ask you children, what’s my helper’s name?”
“Alabaster!” We cried out.
“Alabaster, that’s right, ho-ho,” Kal Trison said. “Alabaster, come see the children!”
We turned our attention to the ramp, and saw the strangest sight, even more bizarre than this fat, jolly man. A strange, metal machine with rolling tracks, spindly arms, and an artificial face moved down the ramp. It was wearing green clothing and a red-and-white striped hat that didn’t seem to fit, but it was pulling a cart that carried a chair and yet another sack of gifts.
“Now all of you children need to wait in a line behind Alabaster,” Kal Trison said, “and you can come sit on Santa’s knee and tell me whether you’ve been a good girl or boy this year. And what will happen, Alabaster, if the children tell me they’ve been good?”
“Then Santa will give you a Christmas present.” The strange machine’s voice was scripted and mechanical yet, unlike Kal Trison, his Pragonese was flawless.
“Ho ho ho!” Kal Trison said. “Come children. Get in line.”
I remember waiting in line, and sitting on the man’s knee. It felt surreal and I recall clamming up. I remember receiving a bizarre, hook-shaped candy and a small, heavy present that my brother ordered me to open the second I got off the man’s knee.
“Come on, hurry up!” My brother said, not that I needed much goading. “What’d you get?”
|Robith opens up his new book
illustrated by Justine Knox
I tore the colored paper from my present and uncovered a book. It was the first book I had ever owned. I knew exactly what to do with it and started flipping through the pages. It was thick, filled with information I couldn’t read, but the pictures inside were clear and colorful. There were images of everything imaginable – flowers, plants, trees, animals, and all kinds of strange people.
“That’s neat,” my brother said, “look what I got.” He held up a strange, rectangular contraption, with a plastic screen. He flipped a switch at the top and some sort of motion appeared on the screen. It took him about a minute to figure out he could control the being shown on the display.
All of us kids sat in large circles, looking at each other’s gifts. Chatting, laughing, showing them to our parents, many of whom were just as confused as we were as to what the toys did. Kal Trison watched us with a smile.
When it was time for him to leave, the kids swarmed around the jolly man. We took turns rubbing our ridged spines against any part of his body we could grab – this was a popular sign of affection amongst our race.
“Alright, children of Pragon,” he said with that bubbly laugh. He was freed of the last Pragon child brushing up against him. “I will see you again next year, same time and place. Merry Christmas, and to all a good night. Ho-ho-ho.”
We watched in fascination as Kal Trison and Alabaster walked up their ramp, fired up their engines, rose from the terrace and flew into the night sky, their destination a captivating mystery.
“Come children,” my father said, “that’s enough! Back to your dwellings. Remember, our complete focus must go to the gods, not some weird gift-giver and his strange machinations.”
I remember that night well. My body returned to our home, holding the precious book I was given, but my mind was utterly enamored by the eccentric and extraordinary being from the sky.
Of course I was not the only one infatuated with Kal Trison. Our entire village was. And return to us, Kal Trison did, on every eve of the full planetary rotation, for the next four years. “Santa Day” had become tradition for our people, as important to us as our annual prayer feasts or the Great Summit Climb. As the villagers became more smitten with Kal Trison, our elders became more cynical, and my father took the lead. As a matter of fact, my cherished book, the second gift that I had ever received from Kal Trison, was the first casualty, shortly after I was given it.
It took me about a week to figure out it was some kind of information book. Apparently, Kal Trison and his alien race, as sophisticated as they were with their rocket ships, had figured out a way to spy on our people without us being made aware. Inside the book were pages devoted to different species and cultures, and there were two sections that immediately caught my eye – one was on our people, the Pragonese, and featured hand-drawn sketches of Pragon civilians living in our mountains, completing daily chores.
The other section was on the Artocruk, and showed illustrations of the pigs hovering around their planetary geysers, collecting steam for warmth, energy, and water. There were also some real-life pictures of Artocruk mothers and their children – again it appeared as though the subjects had no idea they were being watched. It was fascinating to look at. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of being too engrossed with the section, and my father caught me looking at it.
“What is this vulgarity you’re reading?!” He grabbed the book from my hands. “This rubbish comes from Kal Trison, doesn’t it?!” He ripped the book in half and ground it into our compost.
My book was one of many gifts from Kal Trison that the children had confiscated or destroyed. Soon stories of other kids having their gifts seized by the elders became commonplace. In subsequent years, a “black market” emerged among us, as we started trading old gifts with each other so that we could keep one step ahead of our parents.
Despite their misgivings, the elders still permitted Kal Trison to visit us every year. They knew the man was too popular, and that banning him from our village would be condemned. The coming of Kal Trison was an event treasured by the mothers too, who loved seeing the happiness he brought to their kids. Forbidding him to land in our village would be a huge blow to morale, something the elders didn’t dare tamper with.
So for the next four years, Kal Trison came, and we loved it. As I grew up during those years, I found that my excitement didn’t wane one bit. I, too, became entrenched in the black market, and enjoyed many of the gifts other kids received just as much as my own.
Of course, the man came a sixth time, when I was twelve, and that was when I made a decision that would be the principal reason for telling this story. It was a decision that would change my life and planet forever.
Kal Trison’s visits had become so popular that we had to relocate the site of his arrival. Congestion had become a problem, so the elders arranged for Kal Trison to go to our amphitheatre. The event was to be more controlled, so that the villagers and children didn’t swarm the man. Many of the mature, able-bodied men were recruited to act as guards, and my brother was one of them. Though able-bodied, Dar’fil was a long way from mature.
“I need this piece called an ‘ex-pan-sion pack,’” Dar’fil told me on the morning that Kal Trison was scheduled to come. He showed me his handheld game that he received from Kal Trison two years earlier, one that he had hid from my spiteful father. “The pack allows me to use bigger weapons to beat the fat enemy on the final level of the game. I can’t defeat him otherwise.”
“How do you know all this?” I asked.
“It shows you - look.” He pointed to his screen and played some sort of advertisement for a small, black box that would plug into the top of his console. I didn’t understand the ad because its language was in Kal Trison’s native tongue. My brother must have spent hours trying to make sense of it. “I know Kal Trison must have one of these in his bag of toys.”
“You can always ask him for one,” I said.
“Cro’aul Dutzi!” My brother slapped me in the head. “I’m guarding the event tonight. Besides, I’m too old to sit on his knee!”
“Well, what do you want me to do?!” I asked, rubbing my head.
“Tonight, Alabaster is to put his extra toy bags behind the throne that our ladies set up for him,” Dar’fil explained. “You should see the work they did, by the way. They’ve made a big set for him, with silk curtains and cotton snow. They copied it from the pictures in the book Kal Trison gave to Golindu’s sister last year.”
I knew where my brother was going with this. The effort the ladies put into the display was not what he wanted to talk about.
“I’ll make arrangements for you to hide behind the stage curtains before Kal Trison’s visit,” he instructed. “My job tonight will be to stand at the curtain and carry the toy sacks to Alabaster. I’ll make sure Alabaster stays in front of the curtain – long enough for you to come out and search through the rest of Kal Trison’s bags. When you find the expansion pack, grab it and return to your hiding spot.”
“That’s crazy, brother,” I challenged. “I can’t steal from Kal Trison!”
Dar’fil grabbed me by the earlobe – very painful for the Pragonese people.
“Ow!” I yelled.
“You will do this because I am your senior.” Dar’fil said. He had four years on me - I could not refuse a direct request from an elder. “And it’s not stealing when you take from a man who has everything and wants to give you what you want.”
Stealing was stealing, I begged to differ, but I knew that response would only cause me more pain.
“Alright,” I decided. “I’ll do it.”
Dar’fil let my earlobe go. “Good brother. Meet me at the Hall before evening twilight starts.”
“Fine.” I said. That meant I wouldn’t be able to sit on Kal Trison’s knee. Far worse, I would be forced to steal from a man who had done nothing but give us things we enjoyed. No matter how Dar’fil spun it, I knew there was something wrong about that.
That evening had been like any other of Kal Trison’s visits. He arrived on the terrace, was bombarded by the children, who were restrained only by my father, who yelled at them to give the man space. At my father’s command, the crowd stopped to hear Kal Trison’s welcome, and his usual speech that he was not a god, and that the Artocruk were vermin. The only difference this time around was that my father escorted him to the amphitheatre, and to the show-room the mothers set up for him.
“Ho-ho-ho, Santa is sure impressed with this,” I could hear Kal Trison speak from my hiding place behind the display. I so badly wanted to run out there and see him; instead, I was wedged between a white boulder and red crate. I had been sitting there for over an hour, waiting for Dar’fil to bring Kal Trison’s bags behind the curtain.
“Dumsi Dar’fil Tut!” I cursed my brother as I heard the festivities start. I felt the buzz of the crowd as children started lining up. The man’s jolly laughter broke my heart.
My misery was cut short when I saw my brother emerge from behind the curtain with Alabaster. The machine still wore the same striped hat and green outfit.
“You can leave the bags back here.” Dar’fil said to the machine. “I will pass them to you one-at-a-time when Kal Trison needs them.”
“Very well,” Alabaster stated, “please note that I will require each bag to be passed to me immediately upon request.”
“Of course,” Dar’fil answered, sending the machine on its way. There were three bags, all of them loaded with toys and packages. When he was finished, Dar’fil closed the curtain and gave me the signal to start looking.
I leapt from my hiding spot and tore into the bags as quickly as I could. The noise I made was drowned out by the cheering on stage. In the first bag, I dug into dozens of stuffed creatures, building bricks, and toy men – then I realized this bag was for younger children. It was in the second bag that I found handheld games and cartridges, but no ‘expansion pack’ was readily seen. I was buried so deep into the bag I looked like a burrowing animal. Then, right at the very bottom, after I pushed all of the other boxes out, I spotted it - a single package with a picture of the black expansion box on it. I squinted to read the box. It was the one Alright. My brother made me memorize the word “expansion” letter for letter. He owed me his life.
“Hey Robith, you punk,” a harsh voice whispered behind me. “What are you doing?!”
My heart froze as I recognized the voice of Varleq, one of my brother’s acquaintances. My head still in the bag, he had caught me pilfering through Kal Trison’s gifts. But what was he doing here?
“Hey, is that the add-on box for the DL3?” He asked, his eyes widening. “Give it here!”
The thief! He was behind the curtain to do the same thing!
“No,” I told him. “It’s for my brother.”
“I don’t care if it’s for Kal Trison himself,” Varleq hissed, “you give it here. I’m your elder and you have to obey!”
He lunged at the package but I held firm. We started pulling it back and forth but I was losing my grip. I was still halfway in the bag, giving him all of the leverage. With a wild heave, he wrested the box from my grip. As it slipped from my hands, I lost my balance and slid backwards into the bag, my head striking the floor, hard. I remember the force of impact vibrating through my brain.
“Good for you, you Bortash D’utsi!” Varleq said with a sneer, as he lifted my legs up and stuffed the rest of my body into the bag. He pulled up the sack’s sides, then tied the top. “You can explain to the Elders what you were doing stuck inside Kal Trison’s sack of toys!”
I don’t recall exactly when everything went black; but it must have been right then and there.
I awoke in short bursts. I remember the sensation of being flipped upside down, while several boxes and toys were thrown on me. The flow of movement brought me to the brink of consciousness, only to have me pass out again. I thought I heard Alabaster’s voice at one point, but nothing registered. I finally came to in a hot sweat, and a feeling of disorientation. I panicked – I clawed at the burlap sack, found the opening, and pulled it open.
And realized I had no clue where I was.
I crawled out of the bag. I was no longer behind the stage in my village. I was in a strange room. I was standing on a grey carpet and in front of me was some square contraption with weird-looking logs that burned a blue and yellow flame. There were strange, wooden chairs around the room, and light that came out of crystal globes that protruded from the ceiling. I wanted to cry out but my voice and lungs were paralyzed. My heart seized when I heard talking in the room adjacent.
I glanced around a corner and saw Kal Trison sitting on a revolving chair in front of a giant window that showed the largest star line I had ever seen. In the lower, left corner of the window I could see a blue and white sphere glimmering against the black sky. It took me about three seconds to recognize that I was no longer on Elavan, and another half second more to realize I was on Kal Trison’s ship!
An even bigger astonishment was the look of the man. My eyes swelled at his appearance. I saw his white face hair, bushy eyebrows, and red hat lying haphazardly on the floor behind him. He looked nothing like the person I had seen for the past six years. Kal Trison had no hair on the top of his head - the only real hair he had was ash-colored and feathered back on the side of his temples. He had thin, brown eyebrows and a clean-shaven, round face. There were no flushed red cheeks either, the man was pale-faced in comparison to the jolly persona he portrayed. His clothes, face-hair - everything about him - appeared to be fake. I didn’t understand.
Kal Trison leaned back in the chair with his jacket open and folded his arms across his belly, while Alabaster was buzzing across the room, rambling on in a language I couldn’t understand. The machine appeared to be loading primitive-looking dolls and toys into a burlap sack. Kal Trison continued to gaze out into the black abyss, but was talking to Alabaster in the same, foreign tongue – likely their home language, the same that was spoken on the handheld games he had given us over the years.
I was completely beside myself, unsure of what to do. I looked around the room. Everything was sealed. The doorway ramp I recognized so well was closed. It was painfully obvious that I was trapped. There was only one thing I could do. Feeling as though my legs weighed about 8000 pounds, I trudged into the cockpit where Kal Trison and Alabaster were talking, and forced myself to speak.
“Um, hello,” I said, stammering. “Excuse me.”
“Whoa!” Kal Trison leapt from his chair.
Alabaster reacted even faster, spinning his heads towards me, blinding me with a red light that shot out from its left eye. “Intruder alert! Pragonese male, weight 112 pounds, 4 feet, 8 inches tall. Intruder alert!”
“Wait,” I pleaded, relieved that the machine had switched to my language. “I’m not an intruder. I didn’t mean to come on board!”
Another red flash from the droid scanned over my body. “No apparent weapons present, possible stowaway from visit to Pragon. Shall I attempt to seize and jettison, commander?”
“Whoa, whoa, computer,” Kal Trison held his hand up to the machine. “Hold on.” He turned back at me. “How did you get onboard, son?”
“I think I got onboard in one of your bags,” I said. “I wanted to find an expansion pack for my brother, but another kid came and took it from me. I think I hit my head on the floor when I lost my grip on the box-”
“Thief! Delinquent!” Alabaster cut in, acting nothing like the jubilant assistant who helped Kal Trison deliver presents every year. “Shall I attempt to incapacitate and jettison, sir?”
“No, that won’t be necessary, comp – er, Alabaster,” Kal Trison replied. “Why don’t you enter sleep mode for a few minutes? I would like to sit down and have a chat with our…guest.”
“That is an imprudent, uncalculated risk to your safety, sir,” Alabaster said. “The likelihood of preserving your existence increases at a progressive rate if you command me to incapacitate and jetti-”
“Computer, activate sleep program Conatus 11.” The lights in the machine’s eyes shut off.
“You’ll have to excuse my assistant, he tends to be overprotective of me,” Kal Trison explained. He turned and motioned to the front of his vessel, where the expansive view of the night sky could be seen.
“You might as well sit down,” he pointed to the chair next to his. “I should ask if you’ve ever been in outer space before, but that would be a stupid question. A better question would be ‘do you even know what outer space is’?”
I took the chair. His Pragonese was awkward, but I thought I understood the question. I didn’t really know the answer, so I shook my head.
“Outer space is where you are now.” He glanced at one of his dials on the control panel. “We are in orbit around your planet – Elavan, I believe you pronounce it – approximately 30,000 kilometers above the surface. That beautiful blue and grey sphere you see below us is your home.”
I was dizzy as I tried to comprehend what the man was telling me.
“Not exactly the way a member of your species should be seeing outer space for the first time,” he said. “But ultimately, I guess, I have only myself to blame for that.”
Kal Trison looked at me with skepticism. My awe quickly turned into embarrassment. I wanted to crawl under a rock.
“The billion dollar question is what do I do with you?”
I had no idea what the man was asking, so I remained quiet.
“Don’t worry,” Kal Trison said, giving me a playful wink. “I won’t jettison you out the airlock. Just be thankful Alabaster’s not in charge.”
“Yes sir,” was my lone, pathetic reply.
“You look familiar to me.” Kal Trison stared at my face. “I know I’ve seen you on the planet before. You sat on my knee, correct?”
“Yes sir,” I said. “My name is Robith.”
“Robith, okay.” He said, nodding. “I think I remember you. Your father is Cortix, the clan elder?”
“Yes,” I answered, closing my eyes. Oh boy, was I in for it now.
“I see,” Kal Trison said, frowning. My father wasn’t thrilled with Kal Trison as it was, and this was bound to complicate matters.
“Well, Robith,” he continued, “I am disappointed that you’d try and take things from me without permission. On my home planet, we call that stealing.”
“We call it bortash.” I put my head down. Dumsi Dar’fil Tut! I knew my brother was acting in the wrong but all I could feel was his painful pinch on my ear that compelled me to do his bidding.
“So you know that it is a serious crime, and the punishments can be severe.”
“Yes sir,” I answered. I thought about incriminating my brother, but it would have been a lame excuse. I had to take responsibility for my own actions. This was Kal Trison I was facing after all.
The man leaned on his dashboard and rubbed his eyes. “Aw hell, kid, I’m no good at this sort of thing. I haven’t had a single, sentient being on this ship in ten years. The last thing I want to do is chastise you.” He let out a heavy breath. “Are you sorry for what you’ve done, Robith?”
“Yes sir,” I answered, “absolutely.”
“Good enough for me,” he slapped his knee, “I’ll put you on my naughty list – you’ll have a full year to do good deeds to get back on my good boys-and-girls list.”
“Sir?” I asked. I had no idea what he was talking about.
“Never mind.” He sighed. “I told you I was no good at this sort of thing.” He rubbed his forehead. “Look stealing is wrong, okay. You hurt people when you do that. Do you want to hurt people?”
“No.” I said. I could tell he was trying to think of what to do with me. Little did he know that the silence we were sitting in was punishment enough.
He caught me staring at his white beard and red hat sitting on the chair behind him.
“I guess you can see that Santa isn’t quite the man you thought he was,” Kal Trison said with a forced laugh. “It’s a lesson every kid has to learn one day…I know when I learned it I lost a piece of my childhood…”
He went quiet again. I could tell he was studying me. There was some kind of conflict going on inside his head.
“You know what it’s like to lose something, kid?” He finally asked.
“Sort of,” I responded. I told him about the furry toy creature he first gave me as a child, the one Dar’fil threw over the cliff.
“A dog,” he laughed at the story. “I got you a toy dog.” He let out a final chuckle, one that I could sense was laced with pain. “I lost a lot more than a stuffed dog in my life, son.”
He stared out the window, into the abyss he called outer space. Once again, I sat there, not knowing what to say. I was mustering up the courage to ask him if I could go home, when he started talking again.
“In case you haven’t figured out yet,” he said. “My name isn’t Santa Claus, and this ship isn’t a magical sleigh.”
He looked at me. There was no mistaking the heartache in his voice, or his eyes. “This vessel we are on is a scout ship. A spaceship, if you will, that can orbit planets and enter their atmospheres in order to take readings of the planet’s air quality, potential for life, and so on. My actual freighter,” he pointed among the sea of stars, to a faint, shimmering light in the upper left of the window screen, “is that flashing speck you see right there. This scout ship, the Rudolph as I call it, pops right into the underbelly of that ship, which from this distance looks like any other star in the sky.”
“You have a ship bigger than this one?” I asked.
“Much bigger. My freighter could hold 25, maybe 30 of these scout ships. I only have two scout ships, though. The rest of my cargo is food, medicine, and supplies, including the very toys I’ve been giving to you kids for the past six years.”
“Why do you have so much stuff?”
“The cargo was intended for a colony planet,” he explained. “I was on a mission to run ten years’ worth of freight to a population of settlers who were living in outer space, breaking new ground on a planet that my people discovered was habitable.”
Ten years worth of freight that ultimately became presents for my people – I realized something didn’t add up.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Halfway on my journey to the colony, the people on my home planet became embroiled in a localized conflict that quickly exploded into an all-out, global war.” He looked down at the floor. “The nations involved used very powerful weapons – too powerful – they ignited three-quarters of our planet’s atmosphere, and detonated enough explosives to knock our entire world off its axis, destroying all life in the process. The war spread to the colony just as fast…” He paused to choke out the last words, “even there, the weapons they used…dissolved the water supply, they wiped one another out.”
Once again, I was speechless. What do you say to something like that?
“I floated around in space for years,” he said, “trying to find survivor ships, escape vessels. I visited both planets…nothing.”
“I’m so sorry,” I replied.
“There were times when I just wanted to fly into a star, you know. I lost my wife and two children. I lost my friends, my entire civilization. Who would want to live after something like that? But here I was, drifting around in a freighter. This massive storehouse – containing the last remnants of my people and their history. I had an archeologist’s dream at my disposal – books, computer banks, artifacts, food packages, toys, you name it. I soon realized I was the last of my people, and it was my duty to keep the freighter intact, and preserve the last vestige of my race as long as possible.”
I suddenly felt guilty about the fate of my dog, and the book Kal Trison had given me a few years earlier. The presents he had been giving us were all that he had left of his civilization. The sheer thought of that sparked my next question.
“So why did you come to us, then?” I asked. “Why did you give your items away to my people, our children?”
“We had known about your people for decades. We studied you from a distance. I wasn’t involved directly, but I remembered learning about your civilization. The leaders on our planet had considered colonizing your world. They decided against it, because they didn’t want to interfere with your culture. So they kept their distance, and allowed you to develop on your own.
“As I drifted aimlessly in space for nearly two years,” he continued, “the question for me was, ‘who else is out there?’ I couldn’t find any other sentient species, so your people became my audience, and the unwitting purveyors of the human race.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I got lonely, kid,” Kal Trison let out another heavy sigh, “and desperate. I finally decided that sitting around in space was no way to preserve my people’s memory. We were doomed to oblivion if I stayed on that course. I needed to share my culture with others, so that the story of my planet would be known by whoever would listen. I took a very popular icon from our culture – Santa Claus - and presented him to you, so that your people would accept me and my gifts. That way, you could catch a glimpse of the type of people we were, and the civilization we had.”
“Wow,” I said, realizing just how valuable Kal Trison’s gifts were.
“The problem was,” Kal Trison said, “that I was starting to have too much fun with the tradition. It was just nice to have contact again. The looks on you kids’ faces. The excitement.” He closed his eyes. I could see the contentment in his expression.
“I’ve violated every ethical and intergalactic code in the book, interfering in your culture. And I really wrestled with that, but in the end, I just decided, ‘oh, what the hell’?”
“You kids made it worth it,” he said, then leaned forward and stared at me. “But maybe I should stop.”
My eyes shot wide. “What? Why? Don’t stop.”
“Oh, it’s something your father said to me once,” Kal Trison said, “that I spoil you children, so you become greedy. I can’t help but think that is exactly what happened with you, Robith, and why you are on my ship right now.”
“No, wait, Kal Trison,” I said, pleading, “don’t go by that. I was a fool. Give my people another chance. Please. I’ll do anything.” Dumsi Dar’fil Tut! This is as much your fault as it is mine! Goodness, what have we done?!
The man looked at me with his sad, pitying eyes.
“Anything?” He asked.
“Yes!” I insisted.
“Alright,” he folded his arms. “I have one more stop to make this evening. How about helping Alabaster and I out?”
“Yes, yes,” I replied, relief coursing through my veins, “whatever you want.”
“Alabaster!” Kal Trison shouted, jolting the droid from its slumber.
“Yes sir, Merry Christmas,” the robot’s eyes popped wide-open. “Always and able, at your service, sir.”
“Fit our friend Robith here with some of the extra elf material we have in the back. Santa’s just recruited another helper.”
“Where are we going?” I asked Alabaster as I felt the ship dip down into the planet’s atmosphere. “I thought the Pragonese were the only other living people Kal Trison knew of.”
“I need a measurement of your arms and waist,” the talking machine sized me up. He ignored my question because he had received explicit instructions from his master to fit me into a green, elf outfit. Until that task was complete, it wouldn’t answer my questions.
Alabaster’s incredible efficiency made me forget about our mystery destination. The robot completed my measurements, and cut, fitted, and stitched up my outfit by the time our vessel cleared the atmosphere and zoned in on the area where Kal Trison wanted to land.
“There you are, young Robith.” Alabaster plopped the striped hat on my head. I looked at myself in the full length mirror at the back of the ship. I hadn’t quite registered that I was dressed in the exact same outfit as Alabaster. I was glad my brother couldn’t see me. “You are now officially a helper of Santa Claus,” the droid finished.
“So where are we going?” I asked again. I could feel the rumble of the ship’s landing gear touch down on hard rock.
“We’re going to see some nice girls and boys,” Alabaster stated. “They all made Santa’s good list this year.”
I watched Kal Trison get dressed, carefully fitting his beard over his face. Alabaster loaded the bags so fast onto the cart that I didn’t even see him carry them out. It was no wonder it had thought nothing of hauling a bag with my unconscious body in it.
I looked at myself in the mirror before Kal Trison led me to the ramp. I had no idea who we were going to be visiting, more than likely an alien race my people had never seen before, or perhaps another Pragonese village we had yet to encounter.
“Stay close to me, son,” Kal Trison said. “I’ll get you to help me hand out gifts.”
“Yes sir,” I said, nodding.
“And I’ll make you a promise,” he looked down at me, “if you do a good job helping me today, I’ll be sure to give you your Christmas present.”
“It’s Christmas Day. You never got a present.”
“I don’t think I deserve one.”
“Don’t worry, it won’t be a lump of coal.”
“Never mind,” Kal Trison shook his head as the hiss of the ship’s ramp signaled its opening. “Just remember to smile. You’re Santa’s helper now.”
I watched the ramp lower. We got hit with a burst of the sealant spray. It blocked my view, so I couldn’t immediately see who it was we were greeting. When the vapor dissipated however, my body seized up. A foggy haze hovered in the air, but not from the coolant, but rather a hotter, thicker mist.
|Robith surprised to see the Artocruk
illustrated by Julie Beer
I saw the eager eyes of the grayish-blue humanoids I had been bred to hate.
“The Artocruk,” I gasped under my breath. I felt like I had been stabbed in the lung. I looked up at Kal Trison and whispered harshly. “I can’t be here.”
“Yes, you can.” Kal Trison winked at me. “I’m here.”
“But you’re not supposed to be!” I said, then turned to see the blue-skins surround his ramp, making clicking noises with their gullets in the traditional Artocruk greeting often ridiculed by our elders. A few of the blue-skins stopped clicking once they saw me. Their expressions were as shocked as mine.
An Artocruk elder quickly approached the ramp, his angry eyes directed straight at me. He yelled at Kal Trison in his pig tongue. I recognized enough to know he was yapping about me.
Kal Trison merely held up his hands and spoke in the Artocruk language. I don’t know how much of it he knew, but they all appeared to listen. I could see the look of suspicion in the elder’s eyes, but we were allowed to descend the ramp, Alabaster followed behind us, hauling the cart of toys.
“Kal Trison, you are a traitor,” I hissed at him as he perched up on a rock and a swarm of Artocruk children gathered at his feet. “You swore to my father you rejected the Artocruk people!”
The man answered me with a soft, sympathetic voice. “Santa Claus doesn’t reject anybody, Robith. I said what I said to your people so that I could bring joy to you children. And nothing I said was a lie. I am not a god, and I don’t follow your faith. Nor do I follow the Artocruks’.”
“I don’t believe this,” I grumbled, wanting to run away from the hypocrite. I was completely surrounded, however. The children thankfully didn’t notice me, their eyes were affixed to the jolly man in the red suit, and the bag of toys held by his robot helper.
One by one, the children lined up to sit on the man’s lap. Alabaster and I took turns handing out gifts to Kal Trison, who gave them to the kids. The Artocruk had even less than we did, so the sheer exuberance in their faces was profound. A few of the adults were watching me as if I was a robber.
“Kal Trison told them the truth about you,” Alabaster informed me. “The Artocruk aren’t thrilled with you being here, but they have chosen to tolerate you for this event.”
“I don’t want the tolerance of a bunch of rats.” I murmured.
We must have gone through at least 60 children that afternoon. Many of them were playing in the stony plains around our location. In the distance, I could see the pluming steam from their geysers that made the air so humid. I was sweating profusely, partially due to the humidity and partially due to my intense desire to get out of there. Finally, we got to a point where there were only a handful of children left to go.
|Robith blows bubbles in the Artocruk girls face
illustrated by Julie Beer
I watched as a young, blue-skinned girl struggled with a toy that I had seen a couple of years back. It contained two pieces – a bottle filled with an oily water and a plastic wand with a circle on the end of it. At first, even we Pragon children didn’t know what it was, but eventually one of the adults figured it out. You dipped the circle into the water and then blew air through it, producing floating bubbles that you could chase and pop. It was a simple invention, but I remember us playing for hours with it.
The girl had no idea what to do, and started to cry.
“Perhaps you can help her, young Robith,” Alabaster nudged me forward.
“Stupid Artocruk child,” I mumbled.
“Go!” Alabaster ordered. I swore the droid gave me a shove.
“Here, let me help you,” I said to the girl, taking the wand. She took a step backward, unsure of what to think. I showed her how the toy worked. I blew a string of bubbles in her face. She jolted as if I had committed an affront, but as the puffs of air popped in her face, she realized how harmless they were. She started giggling, and her friends joined in.
Within minutes I had the girls laughing and playing, chasing bubbles as I blew them into the air. Soon a stampede of other children came along, abandoning their own gifts to come look at the little balls of water. I felt like a muse, performing a tune as the children paraded behind me. I could see several of the adults smiling as they watched us. Before I knew it we had ventured away from the ship, towards a rocky outcropping cratered with plumes. In the distance I could see one of the larger geysers erupting, and it was an incredible sight. To them it was an everyday occurrence, but for me it was astounding.
I looked around at the children. They were so very much like our own Pragonese kids. I could see my childhood in their antics.
It was at that moment that I turned to look for Kal Trison. I had lost track of time. Surely the man had to be done with the children. There appeared to be no crowd at the gathering place where the children had convened to sit on his knee. I ran to the rendezvous point, ready to get off this rock-plain and back home. What I saw caused my heart to landslide into my stomach.
There was no ship. There was no robot. There was nothing.
“Kal Trison?” I asked, looking around. I noticed that some of the Artocruk children had followed me, watching from a distance. A couple of them ran to the parent’s dwellings, which could be seen along the horizon.
“Kal Trison!” I screamed, registering the horror of what had just happened.
He left me, I panicked, ripping the silly, elf hat off my head and throwing it to the ground. He left me with the Artocruk scum. What in the gods was I going to do?
“Roo-bith,” a gruff voice mispronounced my name. “You are Roo-bith, yes?”
I spun around to see a middle-aged, Artocruk male, looking at me. He held a small piece of paper in his right hand. He handed it to me.
“Yes, I’m Robith,” my voice trembled. “What’s going on?”
“Santa Cloos gave me this letter,” the Artocruk man said. “He said to give this to Roo-bith, but I had no idea who he meant…until now.”
I took the letter and opened it. A grim feeling festered in my stomach. The note read, in misspelled, awkward Pragonese:
I know you are feeling anger at me as you read this note, but I want you to understand that this is your Christmas gift from me. I am giving it to you with all the love in my heart, and though I know you will not understand right now, I hope and pray that one day you will come to realize the gift I gave on this day. If you never bring yourself to forgive me, then please understand this – the people of your planet are not much different than mine. As a matter of fact, you’re more like us than you’ll ever know…
Merry Christmas my friend,
“What in the gods is he talking about?” I cursed. “This is my present? He abandoned me on the other side of the planet?!”
With the Artocruk scum, I wanted to add, but didn’t. A small group of them convened around me. The adults in particular eyed me with distaste.
“We agree,” the Artocruk man grunted. “We don’t know what that crazy alien was thinking.”
“What are you going to do to me?” I swallowed. I started to back away, prepared to break out into a full sprint.
“Don’t worry, we won’t hurt you,” the man said with a sigh. “That is not the Artocruk way, contrary to what your Pragon elders taught you.”
“Instead,” the man finished. “We will help you find your way home.”
For the next four days, I traveled with three Artocruk men, trudging through the geyser plains on the journey home. I had never seen this part of our planet before, and I was truly amazed at how expansive it was. We camped near the smaller geysers, the heat of which kept us warm during the chilly nights. I learned to harvest steam, which we used for water. We ate nuts, berries, and rogue rats, which the men killed with their bolas – nifty weapons made with a stick and rope-like vine that allowed one to hurl sharp rocks at their prey. I learned how to cook rat in boiling water, which produced a softer meat than the drier, fire-broiled version I was used to.
The men I traveled with were kind, for which I was grateful. As we approached the mountain range, I sensed their ambivalence as we began to ascend the steeper slopes. I was a far better climber than any of them, and probably could have broken away at any time, but I wasn’t certain of the way home. Apart from that, I realized it would have been rude to abandon the men who had guided me safely to the mountains.
As we approached the pass that led to my village, I spotted some Pragon scouts at the crest northeast of our location. As we entered the pass, and were about to rest, a familiar voice echoed down the eastern slope.
“Robith, Robith!” My father called, emerging from the trees. My brother and two Pragon scouts trudged behind him. “My son, Robith!”
I had never seen my father so frantic. He ran to straight to me and rubbed his ridges against my arms and chest. I had never seen him act so affectionately before.
“That traitor Kal Trison kidnapped you!” He snarled. I could see tears in his eyes. I was unsure if they were tears of joy at my safe return or tears of rage at Kal Trison.
“Kal Trison didn’t kidnap me.” I said. I glanced over at my brother who looked away from me.
|Robith wakes up in Kal Trisons toy bag
illustrated by Julie Beer
“His talking machine knocked you out, then packed you into his toy bags,” my father said. “Dar’fil told me as much. It figures Kal Trison would try and sell you to the Artocruk –”
His words stopped as he looked at the three Artocruk men who guided me to the mountains.
“And you brought him back to me,” my father said to them, swallowing. He looked hesitant, uncertain, but he also like he was ready to burst into tears. I had never seen my father that way before.
“We did.” At’ell, the lead guide, nodded. He was the only one of the party who spoke Pragon.
“Well, on behalf of the Pragon people, we thank the Artocruk,” my father responded, “and we are in your debt.” I could tell saying those words were as painful to him as swallowing sharp stones.
With that, we shared awkward stares – there were no angry accusations, no growling, no stare-downs that typically characterized a meeting of our two races - just a prevailing sense of discomfort as neither side really knew what else to say. Feeling the most sheepish of the bunch, I skirted away from my three Artocruk companions and hid behind my father and his men. With the unease lingering over us like a jutted cliff face, we turned and traveled up the mountain slope, back to our home.
Since that day, no one from our village ever saw Kal Trison again. He had been banned from visiting our people, based on the false accusation that he kidnapped me. Despite my protestations, and my calling out of Varleq’s role in trapping me in the bag, my father never forgave Kal Trison for dropping me off with the Artocruk.
“They could have fed you to their geysers,” my father insisted. “How could he know they wouldn’t have done that?”
I found out years later that Kal Trison did visit the Artocruk on one other occasion, but the flak he took from their elders for abandoning a Pragon child in their village caused him to be rejected by their people as well. I have no doubt that the Artocruk children felt the same emptiness in their hearts as we did when we experienced the first “Santa Day” that Kal Trison did not show up.
Despite the controversy surrounding the man, I now fully understood the gift he had given me that day. It wasn’t just a gift to me, but to all the people on my planet. He gave us an opportunity for peace. He knew the Artocruk wouldn’t sacrifice me to one of their geysers, that they would find a way to get me back home. I wasn’t sure how Kal Trison knew this, and will never know, but I suspect it was because, unbeknownst to us, he had been visiting the Artocruk as long as he had been visiting us, and knew them well enough to make that decision, to know that the Artocruk, deep down, weren’t really the terrible people are elders believed them to be. And the change in my father’s attitude towards their people was obvious, though he would never admit it. There was a little less edge in his voice whenever he would mention the Artocruk, and never again did I hear them referred to as “pigs” or “scum” from his mouth. Within a few years, that vocabulary disappeared from the mouths of my mother, brother, and myself as well. Shortly after that, under the leadership of my father, who would become chief elder of our people, that kind of talk disappeared from Pragon discourse altogether.
Though our relations with the Artocruk aren’t perfect, we have bridged the gap in our differences, and I firmly believe it started with the actions of Kal Trison that fateful day. And now, on the eve of our planet’s first ever excursion into the sky – a joint effort by Pragon and Artocruk scientists to construct an aircraft – we have acknowledged the role played by Kal Trison – Santa Claus – in helping us evolve to this point in our planetary relations. We have named the ship the “Rud-olf,” and our ultimate goal is to work together and spread goodwill among our species, and to ensure our people never suffer the same fate as Kal Trison’s people did, so many years ago.
Memoir Translated Into English, by Eldon Peter Sorieski, AMB. - Resurrection Society of New Earth, 2415 A.D.