science fiction by Robin Graves
“We have a distress signal coming in.” 16-year-old Jenny Alvarez called to her family over the ship-wide com system.
Her father, Fernando, stopped his lunch preparations and stepped to the intercom. “You’re the captain. Make the call.”
“Already have. They’re a little over four days from here,” Jenny said.
“Hmmm. Do we have the delta to get there and then home?”
“Still checking,” she said, in a tone of voice that meant leave me alone, I’m working.
“Fuel, velocity, momentum, gravity wells, mass,” Fernando prompted.
“Dad, I’ve been a pilot five years and a captain for three. Don’t you think I know how to calculate delta?”
Fernando laughed, after he knew she couldn’t hear him, and joined Xuan, his wife, who was checking their other daughter’s math school work.
“Is it serious?” Xuan asked.
“Jenny’s working on the solution. So far it looks like we might have to divert.”
“Divert where?” asked eight-year-old Marie.
“Another ship is in some sort of trouble,” Xuan said. “We may have to go and help them out.”
“How long will that take? Will we still be to Ceres before Christmas?” Marie had already started her Christmas countdown.
“We’ll see. If we’re closest, we have to help. It’s the law. More important, it’s the right thing to do. Now back to work.”
“When will Jenny have it figured out?” Marie asked.
“Dad to the bridge.” It was Jenny.
“See. She probably has the answer now.” Fernando kicked off and headed for the bridge.
“We’re going to help the Iwata family,” Xuan explained. “They got hit by a micro-meteor and it pin-holed one of their fuel tanks. By the time they got it squared away, they didn’t have enough fuel to get back to Ceres.”
“Because we have fuel and are closest to them we have to save them?” Marie said.
“Yes, and that means we’ll be ten days later into Ceres than we planned.”
“So Santa will have to come to our ship instead of visiting us at Ceres like he usually does. Right?”
“Not exactly. What it means is Christmas will be delayed this year. Just until we get to Ceres.”
Marie looked stricken. She was expecting the next doll in the Woman of Space Series. She already had Valentina Tereshkova, the first one. She was hoping for Sally Ride or Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger.
“You can’t delay Christmas,” she stuttered. “You can’t have two Christmas Days in one year and none in another year. It doesn’t work that way. Santa will just have to find us here.”
Xuan sighed. “Santa doesn’t have the delta to get here. I’m sure he’ll leave your — our — gifts at Ceres.”
“But you always said Santa had unlimited delta, so he could go all over the solar system and give out all the Christmas gifts. You said he had unlimited fuel and speed. You said!”
Xuan put her arms around her daughter. Marie pushed off and grabbed the wall.
“You were little when I first told you that,” Xuan said, quietly. ” You didn’t understand. You know enough about fuel and speeds and orbits now. Do you think it’s even possible to have unlimited anything?”
“Are you saying Santa isn’t real? Are you saying you made all that up?”
Xuan remained silent. With tears forming in her eyes, Marie kicked off her perch, rebounded from another wall and shot out of the kitchen-common room. The sound of her room hatch slamming echoed throughout the ship.
“Welcome to our humble dinner,” Fernando announced to his guests. The seven of them crowded into the common room. Mr. and Mrs. Iwata and little Octavia were more than a bit relieved to be heading back to Ceres. They’d had to abandon ship and most of their supplies and cargo to join the Alvarez family.
“We are very grateful for your generosity in picking us up,” Mr. Iwata said. “We thank you and will pay you back someday.”
The adults went on talking while Marie took little Octavia’s hand and pulled her along. “I’ll show you where you’re sleeping. My sister will be staying with me while you and your parents share her room.”
Four-year-old Octavia was still too scared and shy to have much to say.
“Marie, time to eat,” Xuan called over the intercom. The two girls retraced their path and joined their families.
As Jenny and Marie cleaned up the dinner mess, Marie eavesdropped on Mrs. Iwata, talking to Octavia. “So Santa won’t be here tomorrow. But he will be in Ceres next week. Understand?”
Marie didn’t hear Octavia’s reply, but wondered how a four-year-old could understand. She barely understood herself. It wasn’t fair. Later, as Jenny readied their sleeping pouches, Marie headed for the hatch.
“Where are you going, sprout? Jenny asked.
“To get some cleaning supplies. I won’t be long.”
Marie kicked out of the room and down the corridor, clutching the small bundle she’d hidden from her sister.
At breakfast, Octavia could barely contain her joy. She thrust her new Valentina Tereshkova doll forward. “Mawie, Mawie, look what Sandy got me! He found us. Sandy Clause found us!”
Marie examined the doll. “Wow, that’s beautiful! You know who she is?”
“Vawentina, the first girl in space!”
“Yes, they called her Chaika. It means seagull in Russian.”
“Chaika. That’s a pretty name.” Octavia hugged her Christmas gift.
As Marie settled at the table, she smiled. Her mother had been wrong. Santa could go anywhere. He did have unlimited delta, he just had to borrow a bit from ordinary folks, now and then.
Even from eight-year-olds like her.
Copyright January 2011 by Robin Graves
Robin Graves lives in southern California with his dog, Ragnar. Robin is an avid tri-athlete, bridge player, patent holder and reader. Unlimited Delta is his first published story.