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Excerpt for An Accidental War by , available in its entirety at Smashwords



Jay Greenstein

All rights reserved

Copyright 2018 Jay Greenstein

Published by Continuation Services at SmashWords


Other Novels by Jay Greenstein


Science Fiction

As Falls an Angel

Samantha and the Bear

Wizards

Foreign Embassy

To Sing The Calu

Hero

Monkey Feet

Sisterhood of the Ring – Six linked novels:

Water Dance

Jennie’s Song

A Change Of Heart

A Surfeit Of Dreams

Kyesha

Abode Of The Gods

Living Vampire

An Abiding Evil

Ties of Blood

Blood Lust

Modern Western

Posse

Romantic Suspense

A Chance Encounter

Intrigue

Necessity

Betrayal

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. It may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, please visit your favorite bookseller and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


This is a work of fiction. All characters and events in this book are fictitious and created by the author for entertainment purposes. Any similarities between living and non-living persons are purely coincidental.


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Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Author’s Note



° ° ° °








Chapter 1 – Rescue




Zack Marlin woke to the proximity alert’s warble, muttering curses. The tone pattern said an unexpected craft had been detected, close to the transfer station’s near-Earth orbit.

Releasing the sleepnet’s latches, he pushed off for the control station. “What’s going on, Zelda? Do we have an ID?”

“Negative, Zack,” the computer’s voice called. “There’s what appears to be a disabled craft about 100 kilometers in-planet from us, both closing the gap and losing speed. It’s tumbling slowly, and will pass in forty-six minutes, outbound. Traffic control says they have nothing scheduled.”

“Pictures?” he asked as he settled into the control station.

“None useable yet. The craft is backlit by solar reflection from the sea, and the side facing us is in shadow, making it hard to define. It’s not visible to radar, and the mass detectors show only a general outline.”

Frustrated, he chewed on his knuckles before saying, “Trajectory…origin? Give me some data, baby. Is it a threat to the station?”

“No threat. If nothing changes it misses collision by half a kilometer. The craft originated on Earth, exiting atmosphere somewhere over Europe, destination unknown. It changed course in small bursts over the past hour, slowing and redirecting to intersect our path. At the moment it’s inactive. The numbers say if it remains so, without escape velocity, it reenters atmosphere in forty-six hours.”

He chewed on that for a time. Apparently one of Earth’s smaller countries was experimenting with spaceflight and screwed up. Which country might become apparent when video was available. No way to speed that up, though, so he checked the time. The alarm came only ten minutes before scheduled wakeup. An inbound ship from the Asteroid Belt was due to drop off passengers for Earth transfer in a few hours, so, with company coming from two directions it made sense to take care of breakfast and a fast cleanup in the spray-chamber.


“I have visual, Zack,” the computer said, as he was drying off.

“So whose ship is it?”

The computer’s voice held an odd hesitancy. “Unknown. In fact, I’m not certain it’s a craft built for vacuum. It appears to be designed for travel on the planetary surface. It’s also no longer inactive. The craft has changed velocity via a few bursts of power, and is now close to being stable in relation to us.”

“What?” Slipping into his coverall he headed for the control station to settle in and gape at the screen, trying to make sense of the image.

The craft was open to space. The pilot wore a red EVA suit, trimmed in white and topped with an odd-design bubble helmet—though it was nearly opaque at the moment to protect against the sun’s glare. The ship appeared to be linked to a group of large, antlered animals, at odd angles to each other, tangled in the straps connecting them to the craft. Definitely, not a space vehicle.

The animals wore no environmental protection against the vacuum of space, yet were struggling to free themselves, which identified them as animatronic constructs.

What do your instruments tell you about the craft, Zelda. Anything useful?”

“Perhaps. A scan shows heat and mass signatures compatible with Brownell batteries in use in the animal replicas attached to the craft. The pilot appears to be a living being.”

“Uh-huh.” The term “living being,” instead of human, seemed an odd choice. Then, before he could request clarification, the shape of the beard he could just make out through the darkened helmet, coupled with the animatronic creatures and the suit abruptly made sense. His jaw dropped. He couldn’t help it.

“Santa?” Good Lord…Santa Claus…in space?”

What in the hell was going on? What possible reason was there for a Christmas parade Santa in space? The presence of the ultra-powerful Brownell batteries in the phony reindeer said they probably powered whatever lifted the sled clear of atmosphere, but connecting them to the sled with strapping seemed a chancy idea, and the tangled mass of animals attested to that.

Protocol said to keep traffic control in the loop, but he held off, and instructed Zelda to try contacting the pilot, who was obviously alive, and gesturing for someone to come to him. Obviously, his craft, if it could be called that, wasn’t capable of the fine control needed to approach the station and match velocities.

When an attempt at radio contact failed Zack sat pondering his options. Obviously, the pilot was facing an emergency situation, and time was passing, along with the sled. A decision had to be made at once, so he checked with Zelda to be certain he could do it with the utility-tug, then suited up and headed out to snag Santa.

Two hours later, no better informed than when he left, he eased the tug and the attached Santa-sled into the small storage bay, killed power, and flooded the bay with air.


Thank you, Zack,” Santa said as he stowed his helmet and gloves and turned to untangling the lines between the sled and the animals. “I could call for short bursts of power when I was facing the station—which is how I ended up here—but I couldn’t have reached home before my air was gone, so you saved my life, for which I am properly grateful.”

“I’m glad to— Wait. You know my name? How can you…I mean…”

Santa grinned and raised an eyebrow. “I know the names of all the naughty little boys, remember? Especially naughty boys who make their own fireworks and scare hell out of their neighbors when they’re thirteen.”

“Ouch. You have me there, but forgetting the million questions I have, why are you out here in…” He shrugged, and pointed to the mess that Santa was in the middle of untangling. “… With that?”

“Mostly to stay in character. And for fun, of course. Most of the presents are handled via matter transporter, but I love the expressions on kids’ faces when I allow them a glimpse of me delivering a toy. And before you ask, no, I don’t supply all the toys on Christmas. That would be impossible. I just provide enough, ‘Where did this toy come from,’ presents to keep the legend of Santa alive.”

Matter transporter?

That was a subject he very much wanted to talk about, but before he could, Santa’s face turned serious. “I screwed up, Zack, as your people are prone to say. When my com unit died I should have aborted, but I was having such fun that I took a chance…and lost. The malfunction continued and the links between the drive animals and the sled lost rigidity as I was exiting atmosphere and lining up for the trip home…which resulted in my being stranded with no way to call for help.” He thought for a moment before adding, “So I guess I owe you the present you missed, after all.”

While Santa talked, Zack studied him. The reason for Zelda’s calling him a living being became plain. Though he might pass for human in most ways, the hands busy rethreading the straps had only four digits, and the thumb appeared to be oddly jointed. The proportions of his body, especially his legs, also seemed a bit off.

Unsure of what to do next, and at a loss as to what to say, he essayed, “Can I offer you something to eat or drink…a bathroom, perhaps?”

“By chance, do you have coffee? I’ve developed a taste for it over the years. And a toolkit would be helpful, if you have one. I need to fix whatever’s bothering my computer, so I can at least call for a pickup if I can’t fix the drive’s control system.”

“I—” He stopped, overwhelmed, as the immensity of what was happening hit him.

Holy crap. I’m talking to an honest-to-god alien being. After all the years of people speculating on us being alone in the universe—or not—I’m the first. And, the alien is dressed as Santa Claus. The absurdity of that set him to laughing, which necessitated an explanation as to why.

Santa’s response was to sigh, before, “If you don’t mind waiting till I finish my repairs, I’ll explain why I’m here, and why I have no choice but to ask you to keep my secret.”

He weighed the being’s words. It wasn’t impossible that after making his repairs the next step would be to ensure silence with death—a sensible, and understandable precaution. But, would a being who dressed like Santa and left presents for kids do that? So with, “Coffee in ten minutes,” he headed for the galley. Still, he scribbled a note detailing the morning’s events while the coffee brewed, then hid it, just in case.


° ° °


Santa turned from the sled’s com unit, saying, “My people know where I am, and will monitor my travel. So if necessary, they can pick me up.” He took a breath. “Now, I guess I owe you a story. And since this will take a while, do you have someplace a bit nicer than a bare bones storage bay? I could use the fresher unit you mentioned, too, before I leave.”

With trepidation, Zack led him to the station’s entertainment compartment.


Settled into a seatframe facing his own, to keep from drifting, Santa said. “About a hundred of your years ago, I was here doing a survey when there was an accident. My ship was losing motive power to the jump unit, but I managed to reach the outward facing side of your moon. For the most part the crew survived. But the landing was rough, and destroyed our drive bay, along with any hope of leaving.”

“So you’ve been living on the moon ever since? Are you…I mean, do you need…well, supplies? I can—”

“We’re fine. We had equipment suitable for in-system travel, and went shopping in Luna City for what we needed.”

“Luna City? Seriously? How did—”

Santa shrugged. “Well, you don’t lock the service airlock doors, so we rolled into the parking area like any other outpost vehicle, headed inside, and went shopping.”

Shaking his head at the image that brought to mind, all he could say was, “I am amazed.” But then a though occurred. “You said that you were doing a survey. Your beard is white, but still, you don’t look to be—”

“Over a hundred years old?”

“No. But you are?”

“I’m close to one-hundred and forty, as your people count time.” He waved that away as unimportant, adding, “We’re lucky that way.”

“Ahh…. So you breezed in and out of Luna City, but never officially contacted us?”

“Against the rules. Your people aren’t ready. So don’t ask me how the matter transporter works.”

“Oh. But couldn’t you build a replacement—”

“Drive unit?” At his nod Santa spread his hands. “How? I’m a ship’s captain not a drive engineer. No one who survived the landing knew how, and the engineering computer was lost—which is why I can’t tell you how the either transporter or the drive, works.”

Before Zack could ask, he volunteered, “We sent out a work drone modified to summon help. But it travels at less than light speed, so assuming nothing went wrong, we may see a rescue mission within the next decade.”

He took a long moment to digest that before saying, “I can see why you don’t want me to mention meeting you, but why this?” He gestured toward the suit, adding, “Why Santa?”

That brought a grin, and, “For the kids, of course.” When he responded with crossed arms and a twisted mouth, the being spread his hands and said, “We watched a lot of your TV, and the idea of Santa Clause intrigued me. Enough so that it became a hobby, one shared by many of my crew. Making toys is useful work and helps pass the time. And playing Santa, watching their faces light up when they realize I’m really there, is, in and of itself, more than enough reason to do it…. Right? Wouldn’t you, were you me?”

“I…” How do you respond to an alien being, one who played Santa to Earth kids as a hobby? But then, something important had him saying, “Wait a minute. You knew my name, and what I did when I was thirteen. So how—”

“How did I know?” Santa wore a broad grin. “You told me.”

“I…what? How could I—”

“Relax, Zack. You wrote about the incident and posted it in your blog a few years ago, remember? While you were towing me here I looked up who was on-station and dug into your background. We don’t have an engine for the ship but the computers still work, and they’re better than yours.”

While he was deciding how to respond to that, Zelda’s voice came through the intercom, saying, “Incoming message from Ned Dobbs. ETA is seventy-one minutes from now.”

“Tell him we’re ready.” In response to Santa’s puzzled look he said, “We have a ship inbound and set to arrive in a little over an hour, so I suppose you’d better get going.” To that he added, “It will kill me, but I’ll keep your secret.”

In response, Santa pushed free of the seatframe and kicked off toward the compartment’s exit, calling, “Thank you Zack.” At the hatch he stopped, turned, and pointed an oddly shaped finger as he said, “You’ve been a very good boy, so you’ll like what you find under your tree next year.” With that and a, “Ho, ho, ho…merry Christmas,” he headed for his sled, while Zack went to ready the bay for pump-down and his exit.


Feeling warm and very self-satisfied, Zack watched Santa disappear into the darkness, with the thought, Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.


° ° ° °








Chapter 2 - Tika


“You have mail, Zack.” The station’s computer said, as he readied a drink-bulb for coffee. “Shall I read it?”

“Who’s it from, Zelda?” Given that he’d docked with Earth Transfer Station Beta just hours before, who could be writing now?

“Santa…no last name included. Shall I read it?”

Oh…my…god. With Zelda’s speaking that name it all came back and he was, once again, facing the alien being he’d rescued—stuck in space with his controls unresponsive after a Christmas run to deliver toys.

Stranded in the solar system one hundred years before, along with his crew, and forced to live on the back side of Luna while awaiting rescue by his people, the alien was playing Santa to Earth children for the fun of it, when an equipment failure left him close enough to the station to be rescued.

But Santa, as he knew him, had repaired the problem with his craft and successfully reached his lunar base. And that, he assumed, would have been their last contact, given that his society had strict rules about interacting with other cultures.

Now, fifteen years later, an email was unexpected.

“Let’s hear it,” he said as he snapped the zero-G container into the hot water port for filling.

“The message origination point is uncertain. The text is as follows: ‘Hi Zack. I’m sure you’re not expecting a message from me, but there’s been a change in our situation. So, once again I find myself in need of help. If you can spare a few hours let me know.’ ”

“Oh…my…god,” was the only fitting response to that, followed by, “Hell yes, I can spare the time.” Since their last contact, conventionally powered ships had been refitted with the newly discovered Collins-Trier jump drive, which meant they could launch on Earth and continue to their destination without having to refuel. Since a transfer station was no longer needed, it would become a training facility when he finished installing the upgraded life-support system—which meant that for now, a visitor could stop by without anyone noticing that they weren’t quite human.

“Okay, Zelda,” he said. “Reply as follows: ‘Hell yes. And though it’s a few years overdue, thank you, thank you, thank you for the car.’ ”

The thank-you referred to the delivery of a brand new Ferrari to his house on the Christmas following Santa’s rescue.


By the time the latch on the airlock snapped open Zack was a mass of conflicting emotions. The idea that he was about to meet an alien being for the second time, and, presumably, provide assistance, was only part of it. A million questions were at war in his head, along with the need to seem relaxed and unflustered. But jittering was silly, given that his questions were about to be answered, so he pushed them aside, took a steadying breath, blew it out, and forced himself to relax.

As the port swung open he was grinning. “Welcome back, Sant— Ahh…who— Who are you?” The woman pulling herself through the hatch was unexpected in so many ways that he couldn’t help but stare.


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