Wednesday 17 December 2008

The Christmas Robots - Chapter 12

The Christmas Robots (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Hat Rack) is a seasonal science-fiction novelette told in twelve parts, posted serially by me, your yuletide host, Cheeseburger Brown. This is the twelfth and final installment.

Chapters: 1|2|3|4|5|6|7|8|9|10|11|12

Seasonal scifi of Christmases past: One Small Step for Santa, Pink Santa

And now, this year's Christmas story concludes:


Bethix emerges from the bath house and pauses on the steps to take a deep breath of the sultry, humid air. She smells leaves and ozone, perfume and dog turds, and barely any salt at all. It's wonderful.

The traffic hums like a colony of bees, shadows of cars flashing over her.

She clicks her watch to hail a taxicab. One separates from the flow and comes to rest with a swoosh of warm city air, hovering over the grassy roadway before her. She leans in through the window, reciting an address as she takes off a ring. "Okay?"

The driver's eyes widen. "Get in," he says quickly. "You want the air conditioning on, or what?"

The garage is on the outskirts. The grass is sparse and yellow here, the trees feeble and the breeze briny. Old satellite dishes creak in the wind, clocking to steer clear of the great swirling face of the brown dwarf occluding half the sky. They click and grind in their rusted tracks.

The taxicab climbs home. Bethix walks into the garage bay. "Where is Skipper Miko Ting?" she asks a passing robot, its worn carapace smudged and stained yellow. It wordlessly escorts her to a small alcove in the back where she finds the young Reullian in conversation with a ghostly holographic head on an old, very sorry looking dataplate. The plate's chips and scratches are visible in the projection as strange, jangled lines of distortion. Ting breaks the connection abruptly and spins, eyes wild. "Who in the bleddy --" he begins, then breaks off. "Oh."

Bethix tilts her head. "Who was that woman?"

"Oh, thet?" says Ting, shifting the plate from hand to hand before depositing it on a cluttered shelf. "Thet's nobeddy."

"I'm sure it wasn't."

Ting glares at her. "It was my mether," he says finally, shoulders dropping. "I...promised I'd chicken, now and thin. You know, on the mession. For my encle."

She suppresses a smile with effort. "I understand completely."

They walk out onto the busy shop floor together. Grease-stained men corral rusted robots around vehicles in various states of disassembly, shouting orders and scratching themselves. They ignore Bethix and Ting while they muck with their watches, talking to their girlfriends or placing bets on the games.

Ting is looking at her. He says, "You chenged your cluthes."

"Quite," she replies. "But my face remains up here, skipper."

He flushes and looks away. They slow at the mouth of the garage bay where a floating skiff is being loaded with a neat package of parts sealed in transparent wrapping. A limping robot presents Ting with a manifest. He scans it and nods. "Thet's everything," he declares. "We're ell set."

"What happens now?" asks Bethix.

He shrugs awkwardly. "We get a ride, hetched or haired, back out into the weeste: pest the Western Weystation to get my shep." He gestures back at the skiff with an affected, wry smirk. "These perts are no good without a shep to hing 'em on, you know." His expression changes quickly when he sees hers. "But don't you werry, miss. We've over the hemp now. We'll be flying in a blenk. You'll see."

"Of course," she agrees with forced brightness. "I can't thank you enough for carrying on like this. You're a credit to your house, Miko."

"Tengs aren't quetters."

She smiles. "Indeed they are not."

They wander out into the sunlight, the Black Eye a dark smudge running the length of the horizon. Bethix plays with the few remaining rings on her long fingers, loosening and twisting them to feel the strange, blind skin beneath. "I've worn some of these a very long time," she says quietly.

Ting isn't paying attention. He continues to wander ahead, hand at his brow as a visor.

"What do you see, skipper?"

He looks back over his shoulder. "A steck's coming in."

"That must happen all the time."

"It's heading straight for us. See it now, miss?" As he speaks he begins to step backward.

Bethix looks past him. A roiling front of dust is rushing toward the garage. The ground beneath her feet is pounding. She starts walking backward, too.

Sheltered within the shop they watch the stack sweep in. Scores of robots dig in their heels, crow tails of dust plowing up from row after row, draining momentum from the burden behind them obscured by clouds of grit. With a colossal grinding noise the treads slow and then lurch as they stop. The tracers slacken. Slowly, the echoes die away and the air begins to clear.

Ting's eyes go wide. The parts manifest drops from his fingers, fluttering to the floor.

"My goodness!" exclaims Bethix, hands at her heart.

Ting cheers, "My shep!"

The last blossoms of dust fade to reveal the proud prow of the good ship Dollar, its struts and thrusters folded beneath harnesses lashing it to a flat-bed stack with a tiny cockpit set off to one side. The cockpit pops open and a herdsmen descends the ladder rapidly to the ground, cleats clanking on the rungs.

Bethix grins and strides out to meet him. "Hector!"

He looks up from pulling off his gloves and blinks. "You changed your clothes."

She hugs him and then steps back, hands on his shoulders. "I'm so very glad to see you again, Hector." She looks past him, expression awed. "And you've brought our ship! I can't believe it -- it's so wonderful!"

He smiles sheepishly.

She suddenly frowns, turning away from the Dollar and dropping her arms. "But Hector...your bonus --"

He waves it off, then fidgets with his gloves. "Listen Miss Bethix, you may not be Hyper-Christian, but I am. And today is Christmas Day. So this is my gift to you and the skipper. This is my gift to you, just because I can. And because I wanted to." He looks up, cheeks flushed. "Merry Christmas!"

Bethix and Ting jump as the herd of robots chants, "Merry Christmas!"

"Thenk you," whispers Ting reverently. "Thenk you ell the wey, Mr. Lifeloaf sir."

Hector nods happily to him.

Slowly, Ting walks out to the first row of robots. He hangs his head awkwardly, then clears his throat. "End you rubbits -- thenk you, too."

They all turn their heads at once to face him. "Merry Christmas, Skipper Ting!"

Ting laughs. Bethix and Hector do, too.

When all is said and done, and welded and bolted and tested and primed, the rotors atop the Dollar's thrusters begin to spin and chop the air. The antigravity beads keen within their housings and the ship rises, triple armatures unfolding and then lifting free from the yellow grass. The orange eye of Indi winks across the coppery hull, glinting along scratches.

"Chick, chick and chick," mutters the pilot, flipping switches.

The rotors thrum. Edgerain's tallest towers draw aside and the windows show only periwinkle sky and the yawning limb of the brown dwarf. The passenger secures her belts and settles into her seat, then smooths down her dress and closes her eyes. Her lips twitch in recitation.

The thrusters kick in with a roar. The cabin shimmies. The pilot and passenger are pressed into their seats. The sky outside grows darker.

The pilot flicks at a gauge and nods with satisfaction. "Up and out," he reports.

"So is so," says his passenger. "Carry on."

The End


Anonymous said...


Orick of Toronto said...

And so ends another great Christmas tales. Can't believe it's the 3rd one. So that means I have been reading this here blog for that long!

Thanks for this continuing gift and Merry Christams, CBB! I really should treat you to lunch or something next I am downtown during a weekday.

EMHMark3 said...

Very nice overall -- thanks for the great story :)

Simon said...

I like how this leaves me with the feel of an even greater adventure ahead, at least for Bethix. Chapters 11 and 12 combine to create the sense that this stopover was but a small incident in a much larger grand scheme of events.

I don't like stories that are all neatly tied up at the end. They seem too faerie-tale-ish. This one certainly doesn't disappoint in that regard.

Reading Ting's dialogue gets a little trying at times, but it's also rather endearing, and the South African(ish) accent comes across quite clearly. "Chicken" made me laugh.

Merry Christmas to you and yours, CBB. And more time to write serials in the new year!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful! Thank you for another great story! Merry Hyper-Christmas, Cheeseburger Brown!

SaintPeter said...

Wonderful, as always. "Always leave them wanting more", eh?

Anonymous said... I come back from the brink of flu-induced delirium, and there are two new chapters -- Yay!

Ah, that was nice. You'd think, though, that an adult Captain Ting would be a little "softer" toward rubbits (or "robets", as he would say 20 years from now), but I suppose a lot happened in the interim.

Chicken made me laugh as well... but I still always hear him as Chekhov from Star Trek (even though Reullians apparently have no connection whatsoever to current ethnic groups). I can't imagine the trouble an audiobook would have with this!

Way to go, CBB; have yourself a Merry Christmas. Thank you for sharing your gift.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Oy, thanks bobs.

Sheik: you mentioned in your late Chapter 10 comment an understanding of mercy in inverse relation to deserving (or I might have misunderstood). Would be good enough to amplify? I never really thought of it that way.

Wil: more, of a kind, will follow. As I've mentioned previously, I am now in the midst of a seriously crushing schedule this winter. In hard economic times one must always feel gratitude for being overworked, so I'm not complaining, but it is certainly proving to be a difficult spell. There will be some down time, writing-wise, sadly.

So, what happens next?

Unsure. I can tell you this: we're not immediately picking back up into TSM for now. I promise to finish it (and you know my promises are solid, if sometimes the deadlines drift), and we'll see it closed off the way it deserves, but not next. I need to refind my place, and restructure my ending.

Yesterday on the way home, though, I did think up a totally new novelette-length story I'm interesting in telling. It takes place at the star system the Lifeloafs fled, just before it was declared barbarian by the Panstellars. We'll see how that pans out. Need to think about it more, find some juicy hooks.

Now that our Christmas story is complete, don't forget to share it with friends and fam!

Cheeseburger Brown

Big t said...

Thank again for all of your stories, guess I'll have to get a copy of "Twilight" until you are ready. (I'm not sure if I'm joking) HX-Mas to all!

fooburger said...

" and Ting while they muck with their watches, talking to their girlfriends or placing bets on the games."

I understand this now, but it threw me for a loop at what they were doing with their watches was 'talking' and 'betting'. Maybe there's a better wording.

This was nice...

fooburger said...

Actually, one other thought. This was different from your previous x-mas stories in that the x-mas focus was less clear until the end. The Santas-gone-wild and x-mas-on-the-moon stories (can't rmemeber their names) were more x-mas themed throughout.

that's just the sense that I got...

gl. said...

i read this reluctantly, because i didn't want it to end. and it doesn't, in a fashion: it -says- "the end," but it's not really. if it were a movie i'd roll my eyes because it's clearly setting itself up for a sequel, but here i try not to shout "no! it can't end here!" out loud.

merry christmas, robs & bobs! cheeseburger, do you think you'll ever sell an xmas story collection via lulu? also, i just realized "the christmas robots" and "pink santa" are both 12 chapters, which would make a lovely "12 days of christmas" ritual to read in future years...

Mark said...

Nice finish. I'm glad to hear, also, that you are considering a story about the Lifeloaf's world. I know the current (yet hiatus-ed) TSM and the Simon of Space universe are not separate, but the characters' adventures in space and the secret math in action tug at me more than all the (made-up) principles behind it.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all (or whatever holiday you celebrate at this time of year).

fooburger said...

Almost forgot.. Merry Christmas everybody!

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year, Cheeseburger Brown! HNY to everyone else too; I hope you all had a great time partying last night. For our part, we got the kids put to bed and then enjoyed take-out and Friends reruns before falling asleep at 11PM.

CBB, regarding your question regarding my assertion regarding Chapter 10: I was under the impression that mercy, by its very nature, is something undeserved. Lexically speaking, I've always seen it placed in opposition to justice -- though perhaps the current pop culture influence is swaying the Webster folks, as it does all too often ( still, the first few definitions fall in fairly well ).

Does that help at all?

Anonymous said...

Also, Big t, since you mentioned it, here's a very brief, somewhat amusing review of Twilight.

Big t said...

Oh No! It's too late my 12 year old niece lent me her Twilight Series, I am half way through the fourth book. Now I think I'm a vampire or a Vampire/Werewolf hybrid sent to unite the two Mythical Clans. CBB I need a new story so I can go back to thinking I am a R0b0t.

Mark said...

Big t, I'm reading Twilight right now and a guy up at work threatened to revoke my man card.

My main interest was that I recently wrote a story that seemed to have similar elements (before I even knew Twilight existed), and after hearing a co-worker (guy) talk about it and seeing my wife get very into it, I had to see for myself. My original intent for my story had been to include a love angle, but I failed. Thought it might help to read someone who obviously did it right.

Anonymous said...

So Twilight was like your story in that it failed?

Anonymous said...

On Cheeseburger's blog, not a creature was stirring, not even the tiniest post... Wuz happening?! I'm going bananas!!... *sinks into withdrawal*

Mark said...

Sheik - In a way, you're right. For me, anyway, the love angle kind of did fail, now that I'm almost finished. Twilight definitely doesn't make me excited about reading the way a CBB story does, and it's a bit hard to get past all the "he was so beautiful" thoughts of the main character, but the vampire parts of the story are pretty good. The most moving part relates to the girl's relationship with her father.