|Let It Snow
Author: Cri86 PM
On a very special Christmas eve, Auto comes to terms with Christmas spirit - and forgiveness. Half "It's a wonderful life", half "Christmas Carol", with more than a little of a charming italian novel called "Il regalo più bello".Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Spiritual - AUTO - Words: 11,806 - Reviews: 2 - Favs: 2 - Follows: 2 - Published: 06-06-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7056229
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
LET IT SNOW
a Christmas WALL-E story
Dedicated to the WALL-E Forum, for keeping alive the magic 365 days a year.
The sky was clear and grey as WALL-E rolled cautiously out of his truck. Sadly, the roads and the houses weren't white-clad as he had hoped.
Ever since he had first heard about it from Captain McCrea,WALL-E looked forward to winter all year long. In many ways it was a novelty for him; the past winters had hardly been different from the other seasons, the same way the other seasons had not been different from every other day. Content with his daily routine of stacking trash, collecting small treasures and dreaming, WALL-E had bothered little to keep track of time, and even to date the concepts of passing time and circling seasons were somewhat hazy to him. He couldn't have been able to tell summer apart from autumn, and spring, with its flowerbeds, was a reality the humans colonists tried to bring about day after day. But to winter he did look forward.
In the pictures that the Captain had showed him on the Axiom computer, winter was something new and beautiful, something that WALL-E had never even thought existed. It was snow covering the hills, the trees and rooftops, children playing in it, it was clouds of breath and colorful clothes, streamers and decorations, presents in their shiny red and green wrappings and ringing bells, it was family and friends, smiles and cheers. The lights of Christmas trees had delighted him, because he had recognized them as the very self-same lights that lit up his truck, and had felt that in those long years of loneliness the winter had been close to him, although he did not know it. Yet the one thing he liked most about the winter was snow. All that whiteness reminded him of EVE, although she, of course, was far more beautiful. Watching the human children at play in those pictures, he imagined to be in EVE's arms as she whirled, spun and pirouetted among the dancing snowflakes – almost as if they themselves could be, for a small time, a snowflake...
For all this reason he eagerly waited for the first cold winds to sweep over the Colony – the Captain had told that he could tell by the wind when winter would be arriving – and for the roofs, the trees, the trash towers to turn white. And year after year, he was left down. The cold had arrived, yes – barely noticeable in the first years, although Captain McCrea insisted that it was colder - but even in most recent times, when the humans had to wear heavier clothes, the snow had always failed to show up. Sometimes it rained, and overnight the drops of water would turn into ice crystals hanging from the trees; but it was not the same thing.
Looking around himself at the Colony, that looked just like its ordinary self, WALL-E sighed. Something was missing, and it wasn't just the snow… although he felt that the two things were, in a way, connected. The colorful clothes, the smiles, the decorations, it was all there, but not as vivid, not as bright, not as… real, as in the pictures. WALL-E felt that the winter only needed snow to kick off, and then something would click, and the atmosphere change, then it would truly be Christmas, that strange word he could never clatter right, but which he identified with snow as much as he identified snow with winter.
::Waaall-e?:: an argentine voice to his left trilled, and EVE placed a fin on his arm. His sigh alone had told her that something worried her beloved waste-allocator, and instantly she had stood on alert. What's the matter?, her soft touch asked. Are you alright?
::Eeeevah:: he answered, straightening a little on his treads to reassure her. Yes, Eeevah, I'm alright. It's just that… He glanced at the landscape outside and struggled to utter: ::Sssss-nwwwwww:: I had hoped this could be our first Christmas with snow. You know, like in those pictures…
EVE patted his arm comfortingly. She understood only too well the magic that a Christmas with snow had for WALL-E; she, too, had been charmed by those portrayals of winter wonderlands.
Don't give up on snow, she wanted to say. Someday we'll see it for ourselves. Some other Christmas, maybe.
Her eyes drifted off to the truck's interior. Hanging to the right of the neatly stacked shelves was one of their newest finds, which they had come across only last year. A wall calendar, Captain McCrea had called it – and WALL-E had looked at it with curiosity and honked his name, as if to ask if the strange treasure was a WALL-E too. Afterwards, the Captain and the two robots had flipped the pages in awe, like children unwrapping a secret gift. And although the pictures had faded and the paper was scrunched and worn out, WALL-E had found it a honor place in the truck.
December's illustration depicted a Christmas tree, lit and surrounded by presents. A window behind it gave on a landscape covered by that self-same snow which she and WALL-E desired to see so badly – but it wasn't to the picture that the probe's bright blue eyes were drawn. She glanced fleetingly at the numbered days until her gaze halted – on the 24th.
Some other Christmas, maybe, sighed WALL-E, following her stare.
Without a word, EVE's hand took hold of his own and squeezed it tightly.
"Now, what have I made of the list of things to do?" Captain McCrea shuffled desperately through the holocreens spread across the console. "Auto, a little help here…?"
The steering wheel glided over, lowering a spoke to press a button. He did not even glance at the screens as they rearranged quickly, but at long last one among the many was brought up. Only then Auto turned to regard the Captain with his impassive stare.
::Here it is::
"Thanks goodness!" McCrea leaned against the back of his chair, breathing with relief. "I'm going crazy here… good thing I have you to help me with the logistic stuff, Auto. If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't really know where to begin from."
Auto's processor strips rotated slowly, as if trying to translate those words from a foreign language. Human emotions were something that he still struggled to grasp; it escaped him how the Captain could be glad of something that, to him, was merely a matter of fact.
::Does not compute:: he said at length. ::I must follow my directive:: he added, as if to say, what is so special about it? Wasn't it what he had always done? Always – a dark thought crept up the Autopilot's artificial mind, but he quickly pushed it aside – always he had been there to assist the Axiom's Captains, not just with the logistic stuff but with anything they required.
McCrea rolled his eyes. "You've made that clear a hundred times over, Auto. I'm the Captain of the Axiom and your directive is to carry out my orders, blah blah…" He chuckled. "And I suppose that's the only reason why you haven't tossed me out of a window and taken off with the Axiom yet, isn't it?"
His words were followed by an uncomfortable silence. Auto's optic stared at McCrea with a blank expression, and the Captain's smirk faded as quickly as it had appeared. "Geez, Auto, I was joking! I know you wouldn't mutiny of your own will, relax!"
::I must ask you to refrain. I am not programmed to understand human sense of humor::
"It's not human sense of humor" McCrea groaned. "Sense of humor is an universal thing. It's as much a human thing as it's a robot thing!"
::I am not programmed—::
"Not programmed this, not programmed that! Must everything resolve around what you're programmed to do or not to do? Can't you think your own mind about anything?"
But no, of course not. If Auto had been able to think for herself, it would have been so much easier for humanity to return to Earth – which of course was exactly what BnL had not wanted to happen. Auto had the decisional autonomy of a hoverchair. He would stick to his floor line no matter what, and if for some reason he had to steer out of it, automatically he directed himself to the nearest other floor line and followed it, without thinking.
::Sir, my directive is to follow the orders I receive from my superiors. I am not programmed—::
"I know, I know!" McCrea waved a hand in exasperation "Just forget it, why do I even bother…" Snorting, he returned to browse his list, with Auto hovering silently behind his back. It was pointless to argue with the steering wheel. Auto would never think outside of his directives, like WALL-E and EVE did – no matter how much himself, McCrea, wished he would.
As he checked the entries on the list, he could sense the Autopilot's indifferent gaze roam over the holoscreen, as if it had been airing a b-rate tv show of doubtful interest. "You don't understand what Christmas is all about, do you, Auto?"
::A human holiday, sir. Celebrated in the month of December:: Was it just his imagination or there was a hint of annoyance in Auto's voice, as he repeated the definition they had heard from the Axiom computer?
"No, I mean all the hype of it. Why we're all so eager to celebrate and stuff…" he gestured to the list and to the holoscreens behind, with their coverage of preparations for the street market, the restoration area, the school play, the choir's last rehearsals and the growing stack of presents surrounding the First Oak. "In the old times it was called Christmas spirit…"
::Irrelevant, Captain:: replied Auto in his no-nonsense, monotone voice. He wasn't sure what the Captain meant by spirit. It was the humans directive to celebrate holidays, much like it was his directive to steer the Axiom; what was there to understand?
McCrea sighed. "I knew you'd have answered that."
As the Captain left to inspect the Colony grounds and make sure that everything was ready for the evening, Auto watched him off with a mixed sense of regret and disconcert, a feeling he experienced often nowadays. It felt as though he had somehow failed his directive, although it couldn't be, because he always followed the Captain's orders to a t. For some reasons, this would happen sparingly in the rest of the year, but with increasing frequency in the December period.
Dealing with the waste-allocator and with Probe One was just as difficult in this time of the year. Not that they had many opportunities to talk – the couple spent most of their time outside, and Auto was stuck to the bridge. But whenever Probe One had something to report to the Captain, or the waste-allocator rolled on the bridge looking for him, and their eyes fell on Auto, the steering wheel was always the first to avert his gaze.
It wasn't exactly guilt. Auto perfectly remembered the events that had led up to the Axiom's battle; but just like his attacks of WALL-E and Captain McCrea had been motivated by his directive, now that A113 had been lifted he usually had no problems ignoring the former and obeyeing the latter like he would have done at any other time. To his mind, there was no flaw to be found in either his pre-landing or post-landing course of actions. Always, always follow his directive – that was him. Auto was not programmed to feel guilt, one of the many human emotions that he did not understand, and maybe never would.
After the Axiom's landing, McCrea had personally seen that A113 was overwritten before reactivating him. Auto's computing power would not only be useful in the process of reconstructing the planet's resources; he also had far more experience than McCrea with leadership, and the Captain felt – now more than ever in his life – that he really needed an advisor figure, someone to whom he could turn for help. No longer forced to keep humanity away from Earth, in the following five years Auto had proved to be the same invaluable aid that he had been to the long tradition of Axiom Captains, starting from Reardon.
It wasn't guilt, no, but something far more complex. As though he was meant to do something and ultimately didn't. But Auto could find no such directives in his programming, nothing else than follow the orders of his superiors – which he did – and surely nothing about the waste-allocator. Yet the feeling of having somehow failed a directive remained.
Slightly shuddering, he remembered that it had first manifested itself on the day of his reactivation. He had glided over to salute the Captain, awaiting for orders; he had been conscious of the presence of EVE Probe One and the waste-allocator on the bridge, but he had ignored them, wondering why GO-4 had let them on the bridge and why they weren't following their directives. But the Captain had told him to usher them out and, thus, Auto had not done a thing, unconcerned with the two robots and assuming that McCrea must have wanted them on the bridge for some reason. Captain's orders.
Yet with the corner of his optic he had seen Probe One take a combative stance, deploying her gun, which had set Auto on alert. Was there a threat on the bridge which he himself had not noticed? He had turned to interrogate her, and found the barrel aimed warningly at his faceplate.
Not possible. His logical assumption was that the probe had to be faulty; but as the Captain rushed between them and tried to talk her into calming down, Auto had met her stare, challenging and wary, and that of the waste-allocator behind her – confused, lost, and with something that Auto himself had felt only moments before, when he had seen Probe One deploy her weapon and thought that some danger might have lurked on the bridge during his deactivation. The waste-allocator was worried. No, something more – frightened.
At length McCrea had managed to talk some sense into Probe One. Grudgingly, she had lowered her gun – but the wariness had not left her eyes as she glared at Auto, just as the fear had not left the eyes of the waste-allocator. Then the Captain had spoken, and Auto had turned to listen him – but all the while he could feel their stares on him.
When they had left the bridge, hand in hand, with the Captain close in tow, Auto had first experienced that miserable feeling of having failed a directive, that feeling which – for reasons beyond his comprehension – was particularly bitter in December…
"So, merry Christmas, Auto" said a cheerful voice from the doorway. Auto, lost like he was in his thoughts, turned with a start, and only after a few seconds recognized the smiling intruder who had snuck upon him.
He was an older-looking man, with a cloud of thin white hair and benign eyes crowned by white eyebrows. He wore a rather old-fashioned coat and hat, but the most prominent aspect of his personality seemed to be his smile, vague and luminous at a time. Although he had shed off his excess weight from his time as an Axiom passenger, Auto identified him at once.
:Mr. Clarence:: he said, unable to keep the surprise off his voice. It happened rarely that people would wander on the bridge – if not to talk with Captain McCrea, who was outside for his patrol. ::Good day::
The man gestured benevolently. "Good day? Auto, come on – it's not an ordinary morning, the customary greeting today is 'merry Christmas'."
::Christmas is a human holiday:: replied Auto, deadpan.
Clarence's eyebrows went up. "Now, now, what a restrictive way to put it. Kind of makes it sound like you ought to be left out because you're—"
::— a robot:: Auto concluded for him.
"Well, that's an absurdity if I've ever heard one! Who put such an idea into your head?"
::My directive is to follow the orders of my superiors::
"And if your superiors" said Clarence gently, "wanted you to partake in the holiday?"
Perturbed, Auto averted his stare. He had just remembered McCrea's words about the Christmas spirit, and his disappointed expression upon realizing that Auto did not understand a word of it. Although it was not his directive to understand, it was the only way in which he could think of having let down the Captain – but Christmas spirit wasn't part of his programming, he repeated to himself, it wasn't part…
::That – exudes from my tasks:: he replied uneasily. Nonsense! What was this man speaking about? Asking him to take part to a holiday – to a human holiday – would be like asking a L-T unit to sweep the dust from the ground. Does not compute. Glancing at Clarence in a perturbed silence, Auto wondered if the old man might have not be malfunctioning
"Really?" Clarence tilted his head to one side like a curious bird, his small beady eyes regarding the steering wheel. "Tell me, Auto, what are your tasks exactly?"
Auto was quick to answer. ::Steer the Axiom, firstly. Assist the Captain of the Axiom in whatever difficulty he or she might experience. Safeguard the human crew. Keep the ship in good conditions:: He paused briefly – to think. ::Provide the passengers with everything they need::
"You can quite say that", replied Clarence, glancing distractedly out of the window. "So if they, say, needed a place where they could celebrate Christmas… someplace where they could find the Christmas spirit…"
"… you could provide them with that?"
::Does not compute. Preparations to celebrate are already heavily underway in the Colony. In fact, you probably ought to make your way outside, if you do not want to miss the beginning—::
"Why, Auto, thank you for the concern!" the old man clapped his hands, smiling brightly. "But you know, I don't think I am going to miss it, and neither are you."
Auto's processor strips rotated slightly faster. Had he heard it right? Was Clarence really talking as if he thought that the celebration outside regarded Auto as much as everyone else?
::Does not compute::
Clarence chuckled, as if Auto had said something very amusing, although he could not find any evidence of his words being amusing.
"You can't expect Christmas spirit to compute. It's – well, the magic of Christmas, you know."
::Does not compute:: replied Auto coldly. ::There is no such thing as magic."
"Now, don't say that." Clarence waved a finger in warning. The smile had vanished, but not – as in McCrea's case – to be replaced by disappointment; he looked serious, but not upset. Auto had the distinct impression that before him stood a man who knew what he on about. Despite himself, he was intrigued by the sureness in Clarence's voice. "There's more magic in the world than we ourselves realize. It's all around us, Auto – you just have to want to see that it is."
Perturbed, Auto did not answer, his steering wheel turning to stare in the void. For all his computing power, he struggled to follow Clarence's reasoning. He wasn't sure what the old man was aiming at, either.
::What is your directive, Mr. Clarence?:: He almost asked, what do you want?
Clarence shrugged, smiling benevolently. "If I said that I'm here because I don't want to see you throw another Christmas away? Auto, you've let life pass you by too many times…"
Auto's faceplate twitched. ::I do not understand–:: he began.
"Do you remember what the Captain told you five years ago? Live, not survive." Another twitch. His optic flickered. "Ever since the Axiom was built, you have existed. But now, Auto, it's time to live… not just to merely exist." The man twinkled at him out of his beady, laughing eyes. "And what better time than Christmas to start living? Christmas when all is cheer and kindness, when we're ready to give and be grateful, when we rejoice and forgive?"
Struck, Auto glided back, almost seeking reassurance in his closeness to the ceiling. He did not withdraw there, though. He had lowered his optic to the ground, and his processor strips rotated faster than they had before. Why Clarence's words had shocked him like that, he couldn't tell. But suddenly forgiveness seemed to him to be the most beautiful word on Earth.
Clarence, who had surveyed him keenly, sighed: "And so we've figured it out."
He had spoken in a quiet voice, yet not so quiet as if he had been talking to himself. Reluctantly, Auto's optic turned to glance at the old man.
::Excuse me pardon?::
"There' something troubling you, isn't there?" asked Clarence, looking at Auto with a sympathy and an understanding so deep to be almost unsettling. For the first time, he had the distinct feeling that Clarence knew what he was thinking even more than he did. "Why don't you confide it to me? Maybe we can work it out, somehow."
::Negative:: the Autopilot stammered.
"Negative that there's something troubling you, or that we can work it out?"
At a loss for what to say, Auto hesitated. ::I am not quite sure, myself:: Truthfully, he wasn't even sure he could begin to explain it. ::At times there seems to be a directive that I miserably fail, over and over again::
"Yes? What directive?"
In the pause that followed, Auto's optic turned to stare blankly ahead of himself. ::I do not know:: he finally admitted.
"Maybe this Christmas could be a good time to find out, don't you think?"
::I must follow my directive::
"Well – one thing doesn't exclude the other" replied Clarence, suddenly cheerful."Few things can take one's mind off troubles like a Christmas party does…"
::Not possible:: As Clarence's inquisitive eyes met his stare, Auto felt that he somehow had to justify his rejection. ::Christmas is a human holiday:: he stammered quickly. ::And at any rate, the celebrations are being held outdoors. I am confined to the bridge::
"But you can do much even from the bridge" Clarence pointed out. "You said you're to provide the passengers with everything they need."
Auto's optic flickered with confusion. What was the man trying to get at? ::Affirmative::
"Well, then you better hurry!" Delighted, Clarence clapped his hands together. "Otherwise the Axiom won't be ready in time for the celebration. Such a pity, wouldn't it be? Alright now, where to start from? There are the decorations to organize, the lights, and switching all those holographic palms to Christmas trees..."
Auto had stared at him in silent, wide-eyed amazement. It wasn't until a few instants later that he recovered the use of his speech synthesizer.
::I do not understand::
"Look, you can send the Stewards around to deck up the place, can you?"
::Mr. Clarence, preparations to celebrate are already heavily underway in the Colony::
"Now, now, I wouldn't be so sure of that, you know" Much like he had done before, Clarence turned to throw a casual look at the window.
And at that very moment, as if cued by the man's passing glance, a single raindrop tapped the glass surface, then another – until the entire window was spattered.
Auto's optic flickered in disbelief. Slowly, he turned to Clarence, who flashed him a bright, encouraging smile.
"So, Auto - willyou deliver to your passengers the Christmas they're so looking forward to celebrate?"
"Well, that's perfect!" snorted McCrea, as he helped WALL-E and EVE to the restructured lifepods, the Repair Ward BRL-A close on their heels. "There goes the last month of preparations! But where did this rain come from?"
Up until then, the weather had been cold but stable. Nothing suggested that there might be downpours of any kind, and the weather bulletins were good, almost depressingly so – like WALL-E and EVE, McCrea had rather hoped that the Colony would be graced by snow, and had been let down. But rain was definitely out of the equation.
Yet it had turned up now to thwart the celebrations big time.
"Now that was out of the blue!" John said, motioning over to let in McCrea and the three robots. Both he and Mary were drenched, their hair damp and dripping to the floor; the rain had caught them outdoors with no BRL-As in the immediate whereabouts. "Where did all this water come from? I could swear that it started out of nowhere, as if someone had pressed a trigger."
WALL-E shook himself off, while BRL-A closed his canopy and hovered dutifully near McCrea, as the Captain asked: "How comes the weather stations haven't detected it? That is what I'd like to know."
"Maybe the satellites are malfunctioning."
"Heaven forbid" McCrea rolled his eyes. Last minute emergencies were exactly the sort of thing that he could do without. "We already have enough troubles as it is… what of the recreation area? People had already started bringing food there…"
"Aye. A team went out with BRL-As to try and retrieve as much as possible, but I fear some things will be too spoiled to eat already."
"Not the turkeys?" groaned McCrea.
John shifted his weight from one foot to another. "A bit watered down, but we shall have to put up with that. The soups, on the other hand…"
"And the vegetables, the desserts, the puddings…" Captain McCrea shook his head dismally, throwing a bleak glance to the rain outside. "What a waste it has all been."
"Problems?" asked Clarence, peeking over Auto's steering wheel at the holoscreen.
::Negative. 84% of the reset completed::
"Good idea you had there" chuckled the old man. "A turkey in a cup wouldn't be quite the same thing as – well, as the real thing, you know. Very clever."
::Humans in this age seem to favor solid food:: replied Auto, matter-of-factly. ::97% of the reset completed right now::
"Are you sure the regenerative food buffet can be returned to default settings after all this time?"
::Affirmative. It was set on solid foods throughout all of Captain Reardon and Captain Fee's terms of leadership, as well as most of Captain Thompson's own:: A message appeared on the holoscreen, and Auto's holoscreen flickered – with what was undeniably pride. ::Reset has been successfully completed. Proceeding to evaluation::
He pressed a button, and brought up a holoscreen showing one of the Axiom's many automated restaurants. The conveyor belt was moving at a steady pace, cued by a whirr, buzz and grind of servos. In the space of a minute, the regenerative food buffet had produced a roast stuffed turkey, its crunchy bronze skin gleaming, a thin trail of smoke rising elegantly from the meat.
Auto turned his steering wheel to look at Clarence, who smiled and nodded approvingly.
"Looks good enough to eat."
::Affirmative.:: One of Auto's spokes descended on a button, and the conveyor belt was set in motion once more. The Axiom's regenerative food buffet was back in business.
In the lifepod, McCrea and John were attempting to reorganize. It would still be possible to celebrate indoors, the Captain had estimated - but it'd have to be done on a far smaller scale, as each lifepod could only house a family group or two. Rather than one huge group celebration, the Colonists would hold individual parties and try to stay in touch with each other through holoscreen. It was a depressing thought – but still the best they could make of their present situation.
"We can send out people to get those decorations that aren't too drenched" the Captain was saying. "Too bad for the trees, though…" When it had all come down to it, no one in the Colony had had the heart to chop down the trees that had sprout up among many difficulties. Since the celebration was meant to take place indoors, the trees had been decorated where they had grown.
"Yes, it'll really take something away from the atmosphere not to have a Christmas tree" nodded John. "Though I suppose it's our fault for not taking into account that something like this could happen. Once more, the world shows us that we hold no control over it."
"You think it would be possible to carry in at least some of the lights before the evening?"
John shrugged. "Worth a try, I suppose."
::L-ttt! Trrrrrk…. L-ttt!:: chirped WALL-E, helpfully. We have lights in my truck, we could carry those over! What do you say, Eeeevah? The probe, hovering next to him, bobbed her head up and down in agreement. They were exhilarated by the thought that they could do something, anything, to help with the celebration. Making one's friends happy for Christmas – what could be better than that?
"What – oh, the lights in your truck. Right, I hadn't thought of that" nodded McCrea. "Good idea there, WALL-E, would spare us a great time in retrieving all the luminaries outside…"
Smiling proudly with his eyes, WALL-E nodded. Anything to help my friends, Captain.
The bridge's lights flickered, and Clarence threw a worried glance to the neon above their heads. "Say, Auto, are you sure you know what you're doing?"
::Just a momentary inconvenience, Mr. Clarence, while the color filters switch on. Everything is under control::
Auto's back was turned to his guest. He hovered over the console, pressing tabs and buttons, issuing directives to the Stewards and surveying multiple holoscreens at once. But whereas a human would have had difficulties managing all that, the Autopilot felt totally in his element. He thought he understood, now, what Clarence had meant when he had said that nothing like a Christmas party had the power to make one forget troubles. Having to get a party started in record time had unburdened him of that mysterious failed directive that haunted him; he had a new directive now, and this one he definitely wasn't going to fail.
Finally, the lights stabilized – no longer cool and artificial, but vivacious and bright, ranging through the spectrum of colors as if the Axiom had turned overnight into one giant optical fiber tree.
Clarence walked closer. "Beautiful work with the lights there! What about the decorations?"
::I sent three Stewards out to retrieve them:: replied Auto, in the usual no-nonsense voice. ::The second batch has arrived just now:: And he brought up a holoscreen interfaced with the Axiom's entrance, whose threshold a Steward had just crossed. In his suspension beam he carried the equivalent of two armfuls of streamers and decorations.
"That's efficiency" said Clarence, giving a friendly pat to the steering wheel. "All in due time, I hope?"
::Affirmative, Mr. Clarence. The second batch was delivered five minutes and three seconds earlier than estimated::
"So we're good?"
::Above par, actually::
Smiling, Clarence looked at Auto as he would have done with a grandchild he was intensely proud of. "I said 'we', but really the merit's all yours, Auto. You're doing this solo."
::You set me to the task, Mr. Clarence::
"I? Don't be silly!" chuckled the old man. "I'm not one of your superiors, do I look like a Captain to you? Oh, by the way, how's it going with the music selection?"
::I am sorting out the Christmas tracks by keyword:: replied Auto, going over a list of musical files arranged by title.
"Would it be too much trouble to hear something?" Clarence smiled in a funny manner, almost apologetically. "You know, to get a bit of Christmas atmosphere…"
Without a word, the Autopilot pressed a key, and a few minutes later a catchy melody was playing on the bridge's amplifiers and all across the Axiom.
"Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful, and since we've got no place to go, let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…"
"I love this song" the old man said dreamily, as he wiped a tear from his eyes.
"… hopefully the rain will have worn out for tomorrow. If not Christmas eve, then—"
"Hey, Captain, what's up with the Axiom?"
McCrea's talk to the people of the Colony was cut off short as John's voice suddenly carried over his own. There was a silence from the holoscreens as McCrea went to see what the matter – and instinctively all those who had been listening did the same, wondering what could have called for their Captain's attention. They peeked out of their rain-washed windows, pointed, whispered – some even walked up to the doorways of the escape pods to throw a better look, as if doubting their own eyes.
"John, what's the—" McCrea began.
::Ooooh:: gasped EVE. WALL-E let out a surprised hoot and pointed outside in disbelief; the Captain dropped his hat.
It was as though the Axiom had suddenly come to life, reawakening from its five years old slumber. Warm, multicolored lights emanated from its windows, inviting entry with their promises of hospitality and merriment. Now and then, the gold or silver flicker of decorations could be glimpsed. Even though the windows were shut, and the rain still pouring, a Christmas melody carried over to the lifepod.
"… well, I'll be damned" John whistled under his breath.
Mary threw him a reproachful glance. "John, not at Christmas!"
"But what in the world has Auto got in his head?"muttered Captain McCrea incredulously. He bolted for the door, motioning for the Repair Ward BRL-A to follow. John and Mary got their raincoats and followed them outside, with EVE and WALL-E close on their heels.
Wow. Is that really the Axiom? WALL-E turned to glance at EVE as if to make sure that he was not dreaming it all. How could the grounded starliner have turned in that miracle of colors and music from one minute to another? ::Eeeevah?::
I can't believe it, either. EVE's LED blue eyes were two circles the size of saucers. With the lights from the Axiom reflecting off her smooth white chassis, it struck WALL-E just how beautiful she looked – almost otherworldly so. What do you think Auto is up to?
The waste-allocator shrugged, as if to say, I don't have the faintest idea…
Looking around, he noticed that they weren't the only one who had set out to investigate. Several other Colonists were venturing out of the lifepods. Some had put on their raincoats, others were beckoning to the nearest BRL-A units, but all seemed drawn to the holiday-decked Axiom like flies to a bright light.
"There's – hear, there's music playing!" a woman called out, pointing.
"What are those lights?" an older man squinted his eyes to see better.
"Are they having a party or something?"
"Has the celebration been moved to the Axiom?"
A buzz of curious voices seemed to rise from all directions around them. But suddenly Mary's cry of surprise rose even higher, covering all other noises – minus the faint melody playing in the distance. "John, the decorations… look!"
Heads turned around sharply, trying to determine what had caught Mary's attention. As he also looked up, WALL-E couldn't refrain from beeping in shock . ::Eeeevah!:: he squealed, tightening his grip around her fin. Eeeevah, look…
The decorations which the Colonists had worked so hard to put up in the past weeks – all the trails of spruces and pinecones, the lines of jingling bells, the rounds of holly, the mistletoe wrapped in red and green ribbons – had gone, vanished in thin air. EVE blinked incredulously – wondering if they might not all be going a little mad. Surely decorations could not disappear overnight like that?
"But what's going on here?" snapped a young boy. "What are there, ghosts?"
"Have the decorations been brought to the Axiom?" a woman asked timidly from her husband's side.
Several people glanced at her in puzzlement. Captain McCrea made his way through the crowd and asked quickly: "What do you mean, Madeleine? Why should they have been taken to the Axiom?"
The young woman now seemed to regret that she had had the boldness to speak. She looked around as if surprised that no one else was thinking around her same lines. "Well…" she replied nervously "… where else should they be? I mean, there's some kind of celebration or other going on at the Axiom, right? And why else would someone bother to take away some decorations, if not to move them?"
"But – but I never told Auto to…" McCrea weakly protested.
For a few instants all talks subsided as humans and robots stood in the rain, listening to the echo of a new Christmas carol. Finally, it was John who broke up the silence.
"You know – I'd have never said that Auto had any Christmas spirit in him…"
And glancing at the luminous cruiser, WALL-E thought that aside for the lack of snow, nothing prevented the Axiom from sharing the same atmosphere of those pictures which had charmed him and EVE so.
"Quickly, Auto, don't forget the presents!" urged Clarence. For the first time that day - and for the first time since Auto had known him – the old man looked actually frantic.
::Not necessary, Mr. Clarence.:: replied the steering wheel, turning to face him. ::I already have had the Stewards carry the presents carried to the Lido Deck. Unless I should have them moved elsewhere?::
"Whew! No, no, the Lido Deck will do fine" As though a tremendous weight had been lifted from his shoulders, Clarence slumped on the chair where Captain McCrea used to sit. "Good thing you're always a few steps before the others, Auto."
Amusing - only that morning, the Captain had told him something very similar.
"Because, you see – that's really what the Christmas spirit is all about" Clarence was saying. Auto perked up. Christmas spirit – the Captain had talked about that too. He remembered McCrea's look as he left the bridge and his suspicion that he might have let him down by not understanding all that Christmas spirit business, even though he couldn't have understood it either way because it was not part of his directive.
Uneasily, Auto regarded Clarence for some instants. The man had stopped talking, and was looking him with an air of expectation, as if waiting patiently for the Autopilot to ask a question. How did he know that he had meant to ask him something?
::Excuse me? Can you repeat – the last thing you said?::
"Well – that it's really what the Christmas spirit is all about" replied Clarence, as if to say, what's to understand?"Giving to others, not because they ask, or because you're told to do so or expect something in return, but because you want to make them happy. Honestly, Auto – the trick is all there."
::Trick? What trick?:: the Autopilot stared at him uncomprehendingly.
"The spark that sets Christmas spirit in motion. You can think of it as a loop of sort. Giving leads to more giving which in return leads to even more giving, and so on and so forth. And so it happens that on Christmas, all over the world, everyone gives and everyone is grateful, because someone else has given to them…"
Auto's processor strips rotated as he pondered over those words.
"Is there something you would like to receive?" asked Clarence in an encouraging tone.
::I – might already have:: Slowly, but steadily, he was beginning to grasp the mechanism of it. The spark that set Christmas spirit in motion, as Clarence had called it. Earlier that morning, Captain McCrea had wanted him to understand, and he had let him down. Now, by giving to the Colonists the celebration in which they had invested so much of their time and hearts, he would also give to the Captain, and he would be given something to in return – in the form of successfully carrying out the directive he had failed only hours before. But as far as the waste-allocator and Probe One were regarded… ::But there is something else. Something you mentioned earlier::
::Forgiveness:: Now the pieces of the puzzle were clicking together in Auto's mind. It all made sense – tremendous, logical sense, which before he had failed to grasp. Auto did not blame himself for the events on the Axiom, but could clearly see that the waste allocator and his probe still did. If he could have cleared the air between them, if they had found it in them to forgive, that last unfulfilled directive would have been carried out.
"Well, that should be easy" beamed Clarence.
::I do not understand::
"You know the key now, Auto. In order to receive – you must first give." The old man smiled, that soulful smile that seemed to come from his eyes as well as from his lips. "That's ye old Christmas spirit for you, alright."
Because, now he realized it, what had troubled him all along was that he ought to have told themsomething.
::What is it that I should give?::
"Now, Auto – I don't even know to whom you want to give. Someone in particular?"
::The waste-allocator and his mate, Probe One. I – want to let them know that it is not my directive to harm or separate them::
"WALL-E and EVE? I really don't think anyone could be so cruel to try and separate them on purpose" nodded Clarence. "And so you want to get them a Christmas present – that's a very nice thought from you, Auto. I am sure they will be touched. Still, it shouldn't be difficult to chose something, should it?"
::I do not know what they… how did you put it?... would like to receive. How can I chose?::
"WALL-E collects rare and unique things" replied Clarence in a matter-of-fact tone. "Things that might seem worthless to some, but that hold a special meaning to his eyes. Surely you've come across a lot of those in your lifetime… well, well, I'd say!"
For the first time since the rain had started, Clarence had turned his attention back to the window. Smiling cheerfully, he strolled over to it and beckoned to Auto, who glided nearby.
"Look there, Auto – it's snowing! Who would have said?" And indeed what until a moment before had been rain was now dancing weightlessly in the air. A couple more minutes and the snowflakes had gone from small to thick. Definitely weather was being a bizarre thing today.
Clarence's eyes were shining – with tears, Auto realized. It was the second time in the day that he saw the old man cry. Lulled by the music, he stared at the dancing snowflakes as if he was deeply entranced by them – as if they held a special magic to him. A moment later, Auto realized where he had seen that self same look of absolute captivation; the waste-allocator and his mate had watched the images of snowy landscapes with identical reverie.
"You know," whispered Clarence, not taking his eyes off the snow, "there's a legend according to which there's no such thing as two identical snowflakes. Wondrous, don't you think?"
Slowly, the processor strips rotated back and forth. What had he said before? That the waste-allocator collected rare and unique things, of scarce practical value perhaps, but that were dear to his heart?
There's a legend according to which there's no such thing as two identical snowflakes.
After what might have been minutes as well as hours, Auto turned to face the old man by his side. ::Mr. Clarence – GO-4 used to be my arms and legs. Now that he is gone, could you do me a favor?::
"But of course!"
::Open the window, if you please::
That peculiar, knowing smile touched Clarence's lips. "An excellent idea."
As they marched up toward the Axiom, at first the people of the Colony did not pay attention to the subtle change in weather. But BRL-As were programmed to know better, and in the blink of an optic the information was instantly passed soundlessly among them.
Well, would you have said? Now it's snowing.
Oh, look – snow.
Now that I didn't see coming.
Drreck, snow! I had almost forgotten what that word meant!
Funny… now all of sudden the rain's turning into snow.
Still, for a few minutes they were the only ones to realize that; everyone else was too astounded by the glittering bauble that seemed to have become the Axiom. But WALL-E had raised his optics to the slate grey sky above, like he had done for countless years. Happy as he was, he could not shut the familiar thought from his mind. If only…
And then, as his stare drifted from the sky to the Axiom, he nearly jumped off his treads. ::Eeeevah!:: he cried, taking her hand and frantically pointing. ::Sssss-nwwwwww! Sssss-nwwwwww!:: Look – Eeeevah, look! It's snowing! That's not rain, look against the light from the Axiom's windows – it's snowing for real!::
EVE trilled in astonishment. How…? But her eyes weren't playing tricks on her. It was snowing – large, soft snowflakes that slowly revolved from the sky, just like in those pictures of a faraway time. After years of grey uniformity and desolation, at long last snow had returned to grace the planet, after all…
"What the… hey, Mary, isn't that snow?" John was also pointing at the snowflakes. Other Colonists, too, had finally begun to notice – some on their own, others startled by WALL-E's exclamation.
"It's – snowing?"
"Tell you what, this isn't rain anymore-"
"But where did it come from?"
In awe, McCrea looked up to the heavy gray clouds above him. Bizarre, how the weather continued to change abruptly today. First rain, out of a perfectly clear sky – and now… the Captain wasn't sure what to think of it, or even if he wanted to think anything about it. Sometimes small miracles – the elusive touch of an ancient magic that was far more soulful than supernatural – had to be accepted… not understood, but accepted. Maybe the bigger picture behind it would forever escape… but was it so terribly important to know it anyway?
Throwing his head back as the snowflakes danced around him, the Captain laughed – a deep, heartfelt laugh, as if of a much younger Santa. "Why, this is – this is the best Christmas ever!"
Yes… the best of all! WALL-E hugged EVE tightly, and she spun him around. As his optics touched her eyescreen, a spark-kiss passed between them. Even after five years the smallest spark-kiss from his EVE had the power to make him feel light-headed and dizzy, with butterflies in his trash-compactor. Merry Christmas, Eeeevah, my life, he would have wanted to say – if he hadn't been too dazzled to do so.
Merry Christmas, WALL-E, my love. EVE giggled, and it seemed to WALL-E that no sleigh bell in the world could even remotely compare with the loveliness of her voice, while they danced to the rhytm of a distant melody, to the rhytm of their beating hearts.
They stepped into the Axiom reverently, like children tip-toeing around a stack of present. Grown men and septuacentennial robots alike held their breath, their eyes darting from the walls to the ceiling, to the lifts, to the upper decks, as if hungry to see everything at once and yet uncertain what to begin from. Overnight, or so it seemed, a small touch of Christmas spirit had turned the familiar interiors of the Axiom in a wholly different place from the one they had inhabited all their life. It was so amazing.
The walls were lavishly stocked with decorations, some still glistening after the unexpected shower. In the Lido Deck, presents in their shiny red and green wraps had been piled up under what the passengers at first took to be a holographic Christmas tree. But as they drew closer, they realized that Auto had replaced the old palms hologram with full-size holoscreens, transmitting a live coverage of the whitening trees outside. Completely oblivious to the guests, Stewards hovered down the corridors, busy with last-minute errands; two of them had just lifted a huge, sparkling garland over the entrance doors.
A delicious smell saturated the air – smoked salmon and stuffed turkey, ham, soups, dried and fresh fruits, hot cocoa and Christmas puddings; flavors, the passengers felt, that were way too intense to emanate from food in a cup, which never smelled like anything. As they looked at each other in bewilderment, they realized that the old regenerative food buffet must have been put to work again, and that it was clearly producing solid delicacies.
"Crazy…" McCrea muttered. He closed his eyes tight and opened them again, wondering if those wonders would still be there. They still were.
At his side, WALL-E and EVE continued to spiral along the lounge like they had done all the way up to the Axiom. They had not let go of each other ever since it had started snowing, and McCrea noticed that the top of WALL-E's compactor was almost completely covered in snow.
"It's sticking fast, isn't it?" he chuckled, reaching over to wipe it off. "At this rate, give it a few more hours and we'll be up to our knees in it."
WALL-E nodded vigorously with his binoculars. ::Piiiic-ttttttrrrrs:: Yes… it's as though those pictures had popped out of the Axiom's computer and come to life. Or maybe we have been transported into a picture? Throwing a circular look to the decked lounge, he sighed. It's so beautiful.
"It's beautiful, yes" nodded McCrea, as if he had read his thoughts. "Although I don't get why Auto did not warn me… uh?"
Barely audible over the new song being played – "Deck the hall", if he was not mistaken, - his communicator had started beeping. EVE and WALL-E watched curiously as he drew it from the pocket and pressed the call button. A minute later, Auto's steering wheel had filled up the holoscreen.
"Speak of the devil! Say, Auto, what—"
::Captain, you and your companions are required on the bridge.:: There was a pause, in which Auto seemed to listen to something being said off screen, although neither the Captain nor WALL-E and EVE could hear a thing. The steering wheel's optic flickered, and for a moment McCrea could have sworn that he was attempting to refrain a chuckle. ::Rectify – Captain, could you and your companions join me on the bridge, if you please?::
WALL-E's eyebrows went up. EVE stared back at him, speechless, as if to say – a polite Auto? Since when?
McCrea looked just as taken aback, because he blinked twice, stammering: "… uh, Auto – are you sure you are alright?"
"Well…" Uncertainly, McCrea glanced at EVE and WALL-E. "I guess I ought to go see what he wants. You…?"
What do you say?, asked the proble's bright blue eyes, as she turned to WALL-E. Will you be alright if we go with the Captain?
And you? The same mute question was mirrored in his optics. Without hesitation, EVE held him closer.
I don't care either way – so long as you're happy.
WALL-E tried to think. Could they afford trusting Auto? The Captain would be with them, and he knew that so long as he was with the Captain and with EVE, nothing could go wrong. All the same, he felt nervous, as always when he was about to enter the bridge. And yet a strong curiosity had gripped him – why Auto wanted to see them, out of all people? That he could not understand.
Alright, then he finally nodded. Let's go see why he asked specifically of us.
"Alright, what's – hey, Auto, it's freezing cold here!" The Captain shivered as they made their way on the bridge. Already some snow had been swept on the polished floor. "What's come over you to open a window in such weather?"
::I believed it would be appropriate to let in some Christmas atmosphere, sir::
"To let in – what?" McCrea stared at him as if he had suddenly blurted out that the Moon was made of cheese. Although an Autopilot's faceplate was not designed to convey a wide range of emotions, he had no doubts now that Auto was grinning.
Floating closer, the steering wheel continued; ::Can I formally welcome you to the Axiom's Christmas festivities, Captain? Merry Christmas::
"But… but…" McCrea sputtered incoherently. "But Auto – why?"
::Sir, the adverse climate represented a serious hindrance to the celebrations. I estimated that holding the celebration indoors would allow people to partake, as they desired.::
"Are you saying that you did all that…" the Captain gestured to the holoscreens, still incredulous. "… just so that the Colony could celebrate Christmas properly?"
::Affirmative. I must follow my directive:: And seeing the look in the Captain's eyes – a look that was at a time grateful and deeply, intensely proud – Auto knew that at least that directive had been carried out with success.
"Auto – I don't really know what to say."
::I think Merry Christmas will do, sir. Do you not agree, Mr. Clarence?::
He had expected that the old man would be leaning against the wall, with his perennial smile and twinkling eyes. But as he turned that way, Auto suddenly realized that the four of them – McCrea, EVE, WALL-E and himself – were alone on the bridge. Clarence had left.
The problem was that he couldn't have left. A human could not fit in the trash chute, and if he had taken the lift they would have all seen him – since they were standing right in front of it. As a matter of fact, the lift had not moved from the bridge ever since McCrea and the two robots had entered – and it suddenly occurred to Auto that ever since the lift's arrival, he had not laid his optic on Clarence anymore.
::Not possible:: he uttered quietly.
"What is not possible?" McCrea was looking at him with a raised eyebrow as Auto glided over the bridge like a lost soul. EVE and WALL-E exchanged a puzzled look, but they did not know what to make of the Autopilot's antics any more than the Captain did. "Have you lost something? What's the matter?"
::It is Mr. Clarence, sir. I do not understand where might have gone::
McCrea's eyebrows rose even higher, almost disappearing into his hairline. "But what are you speaking of?"
::Mr. Clarence:: Why were they all staring at him like that? Somewhat annoyed, Auto fired up his scanner beam and ran it around. ::He was here a few moments ago…::
WALL-E threw a puzzled glance at EVE. ::Woah?::
"Clarence?" repeated McCrea. "But Clarence couldn't have been on the bridge. Auto, he died three years ago!"
The steering wheel froze in mid-air.
For the first few instants, Auto was unable to process those words. He had heard them alright, but it was as though he could not translate them in a comprehensible language. Slowly, he turned to stare at McCrea.
::Excuse me pardon?::
"Clarence is dead" replied the Captain. "I thought you knew – oh, wait, no, you couldn't, you never get out of the Axiom. Well, it's like I said, he passed out some three years ago – he has a frail heart, poor fellow. Died around Christmas, too. Why did you bring him up?"
Auto's optic flickered. ::Does not compute. Captain McCrea, Mr. Clarence was here a few moments ago::
"What? No, Auto, surely you're mistaken…"
::Negative, Captain. Repeat, Mr. Clarence was—::
"Now, Auto - it will have been someone who looked like him…"
::Does not compute. I talked with him, sir. I saw him as clearly as I see you now.::
"How could he be on the bridge if he's dead?" insisted McCrea, in the same tone he would have used to reason with a stubborn kid.
::I—:: Auto paused in mid-speech, processor strips slowly revolving. ::I do not know:: he admitted, at length. ::Are you certain of what you claim, sir?::
"I was at his funeral" replied McCrea somberly, his grave eyes proving that he was being serious, that he was telling the sheer truth. "Damned sad that he should go around Christmas, too. Never met a person who embodied the Christmas spirit like him." Auto winced visibly.
::Pooorrrrr… Claaa-rrrrn-s:: sighed WALL-E, shaking his head. He had always liked Clarence, who was kindly and had a smile that warmed the heart. Yes, we all miss him… But it surprised him that so did Auto. When did you see him last after landing? I didn't know he had visited the Axiom…
::Does not compute:: The Autopilot trembled a little. He remembered the way Clarence had idly walked across the bridge, his casual glances at the window, the twinkle in his eyes, his laughing voice. When he had informed him about the Stewards being outside to fetch the decorations, he patted his spokes proudly. How could someone look so alive, talk, hang around... while really being dead? Not possible…
Seeing him so shocked, McCrea suggested: "Look, Auto - it's just that you worked too much to get all this going behind our back."
::Negative, sir:: replied Auto shakily. ::I know what I have seen. Perhaps I am malfunctioning…::
"Malfunctioning? No, no! You just need to take some rest, you deserve it…"
::If you say so, sir:: But Auto knew that he was neither malfunctioning nor tired. If there was one thing he was certain of, it was that Clarence had been with him on the bridge, talked with him, and helped him grasp what Christmas spirit was all about.
Shaking himself from those thoughts, the steering wheel turned to regard EVE and WALL-E. ::Now… waste allocator.::
WALL-E flinched as he realized that he was looking at him. Instinctively, he cubed up.
EVE's eyes had narrowed in an inquisitive expression, as if to ask, what do you want with him?
::Waste allocator, I have something for you:: said Auto, struggling to regain his composure.
It was a bombshell. McCrea's mouth had dropped open. EVE blinked incredulously, staring at the Autopilot as if she wasn't sure whether or not to take his words seriously. Surprised, WALL-E's binoculars emerged from the square bulk of his body. ::Woah?::
Their bewilderment seemed to slightly unsettle Auto. His processor strips whirred as he descended closer to the ground. ::I – have taken the liberty to get you a present:: he explained.
::… Woah?:: WALL-E gaped at Auto, at EVE, at Auto again, then back at EVE. He said – he really said present, right?
Yes, present… she nodded incredulously.
Auto extended one of his cupholders. WALL-E eagerly rolled closer, with EVE and the Captain close on his heels. Full of curiosity, holding their breath in anticipation, they looked in to see—
-the cupholder's empty bottom. A single drop of water stained the sleek black plastic, but nothing else remained of the snowflake which Auto had struggled to catch.
For what seemed an eternity, it was as though all air in the bridge had deflated. McCrea had a look of polite confusion to his eyes, WALL-E was fidgeting uneasily, and EVE blinked slowly – not certain what to make of it all. As for Auto, he could as well have been turned in stone. But no one had the heart top speak.
At length, Auto withdrew his cupholder and floated upwards, turning his back to them. ::I apologize:: he said regretfully. He would have wanted to say that it had been a miscalculation on his part – that he had not thought that the snowflake would have melted by the time he gave it to WALL-E. He wanted to say that his intentions had been good, and that this wasn't some poorly thought out joke.
But he couldn't bring himself to say any of that.
He had seen the pleasantly surprised look in the waste-allocator's eyes die like a tiny spark in the wind. In a sad remake of what had happened with McCrea no earlier than that morning, he had seen his expectance turn into burning disappointment. He could justify himself, but what would that change?
I have failed my directive.
::The guests below will be waiting for you:: he said, his voice duller and more expressionless than always. ::I shall not detain you further. Enjoy yourselves at the party. I wish you the best-::
Something soft and cold suddenly hit one of Auto's spokes from behind. Startled, the steering wheel lowered his optic to it – was that snow? Some of it had stuck to his spoke, while the rest had dropped to the ground. It was snow, sure enough. But how had it got there? Perplexed, he turned to the open window.
The waste allocator stood next to it, precariously balanced on tip-treads, and his grappler hands were quickly scooping up another handful of snow from the window rim. ::Sssss-nwwwwww!:: he chirped happily, laughing with his eyes, when he met Auto's inquisitive stare. Come on, Auto, let's play with snow – just like the humans kids in those pictures did! He finished the new snowball and threw it; too stunned to move, Auto was caught right in the optic.
EVE and McCrea giggled, the latter trying to cover his mouth with a hand.
At length, Auto shook the snow off and looked at WALL-E. If he had been a human, the waste allocator would have been grinning from ear to ear. ::Sssss-nwwwwww!:: he repeated, nodding his head encouragingly as if to say, come to play with us!
And Auto saw that there was no fear left in his eyes, no disappointment and surely no harsh feelings, but boundless joy and –
Forgiveness, Clarence had said. The most beautiful word on Earth.
The steering wheel turned to McCrea. ::Captain, am I entitled to retaliate to this provocation in kind?:: For the first time since the Captain had known him, suddenly Auto's voice was not monotone and expressionless, but ironic.
"Permission granted" he replied, trying hard not to break in laughters, and failing miserably.
::Will you be joining us in this aerial battle, sir, or do you claim yourself neutral?::
"What – Auto, I've waited for this moment each and every winter since we landed, and you ask me if I want to play with snow?"
::I will take it for a yes:: replied the Autopilot dryly. And suddenly, quick as a lightning, he darted over to the window, scooped up some snow in his cupholder and threw it at McCrea.
"Hey!" sputtered the Captain, laughing. "Alright, blinky – do you want war?"
And he staggered to the window too, as Auto and WALL-E, soon joined by EVE, continued to throw snowballs at each other. Before long, the bridge had turned into a huge snow battle, snow was flying everywhere, and the entire Axiom rang with laughing.
"Oh the weather outside is frightful,
but the fire is so delightful,
and since we've got no place to go,
let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…"
"Christmas spirit at its finest – ho ho ho."
Chuckling to himself, Santa Claus placed the snowglobe he had been observing back on the shelf. Encased in the glass was a miniaturized, grounded Axiom – its windows alit with the warm glow of the Christmas lights.
"So – has it been very difficult?" asked Santa, turning to the man on the other side of the desk. The armchair on which the other sat was visible through his semi-transparent body.
"No, I wouldn't say" he replied, his eyes twinkling. "The Christmas spirit was there in Auto's artificial heart – he just needed a little prompt to act upon it. It's been good to see him again. I hope he won't break his circuits too much over finding a logical explanation, though…"
Santa nodded. "If he ever gets around explaining the whole thing to WALL-E, he might help there. That robot sees things deeper than most people do."
"Yes" chuckled the other. "Poor Auto always wants to analyze things to death – I hope that hanging around WALL-E and EVE more he learns to let go sometimes and accepts that magic can't be rationalized. I have high hopes for him."
Santa threw a look to the old wooden grandfather clock. "Well, midnight's approaching, and there's lots of things to do. Off to work." His guest straightened, and Santa reached out over the desk to shake hand with him. "Thanks, Clarence. Nice job you did delivering all those presents at once for me; without your help I would still be up in the air. Even my workforce couldn't have managed."
"It was a honor, Santa" replied Clarence, smiling benevolently. "Anything to bring a little more Christmas spirit in the world."
The two elves shifting through envelopes glanced scornfully at the transparent man as he waved Santa goodbye and walked off through a wall.
"Show off", muttered one of the elves under his breath.
"Ghosts" replied the other, rolling his eyes. "Ever since they hired that Jacob Marley, they've been sprinkling like holly in Christmas stories."
I wrote this story for Christmas 2010 at the WALL-E Forum, which in these lhese last three years has inspired all of my WALL-E fan works. The year before, 2009, I had put up a short illustrated story, very fairytale-ish and based on an even older Christmas story I wrote at school, by the title of "WALL-E's Special Christmas". My main - and ongoing - fan fiction, "Chart Your Own Course", was very different in scope and narrative. Later on, for WALL-E's 2nd anniversary in 2010, I wrote a seven-chapter story titled "Every fairytale is a game", or "Ogni favola è un gioco", whose title was inspired by a song from Italian songwriter Edoardo Bennato.
"Let it snow", if I was to link it to any of my other WALL-E fanfics, has probably more in common with "Ogni favola è un gioco". There's a dream like quality to it that is very different from the serious and in times gritty atmosphere of "Chart Your Own Course" - but both stories take themselves more seriously than "WALL-E's Special Christmas", whose purpose was to discover the light, charming, sweet story underlying behind the images. Both stories deal with inverosimile happenings - and are, in fact, fairytales or dreams in their own fashion... but in both stories I use the expedient of the inverosimile happenings, the deus ex machina, and the easy way out to dig a little in the characters thoughts and feelings. One reason why I so like writing about WALL-E, EVE, Auto and the gang is that with them the unspoken is often more significant than is conveyed by words. Even Auto, who has a more complex speech synthesizer than other robots, is defined by his thoughts and by his actions as much, and even more, than by the sentences he utters.
To some, "Let it snow" will probably seem cliched and maybe a bit cheesy. I can only say that it was entirely intentional. I wanted the story to breath the spirit of old classic Christmas tales. Because you see, for me - and, in the way I imagine him, for WALL-E too - simplicity and naivety in a story are not necessary flaws. After all, the movie WALL-E was in itself simple and somewhat naive and still the greatest milestone that Pixar has ever produced. In my specific case, I like "cute, light and heartwarming stories" as much as I like more serious and impegnative stuff. Perhaps I'm just a dreamer at heart... but if there's one thing WALL-E has taught me, is that being a dreamer is one of the best things that could happen to a person. :)
This story has a debt of gratitude to at least four other works. First and foremost, to Frank Capra's "It's a wonderful life" - and if you've seen the movie, you will know that my Clarence is pretty much the same Clarence of the movie - except he's now doing a personal favor to Santa instead of being sent by the Almighty himself. Secondly, I owe much to Dickens "Christmas Carol" (and all the adaptations that have been made of it - with a personal preference for the Muppets version). In Auto's tale, after all, there's more than just a little touch of Scrooge (and of course I couldn't skip the homage in the last line). The third is a beautiful but sadly out of print little italian book called "Il regalo più bello" ("The most beautiful gift") by Jonathan Snow; I took the liberty of borrowing its conclusion for the end of "Let it snow". Last, my old story about "Jones and the magic of Christmas" (or something around that line) that I wrote when I was eleven or twelve, but which has lived with me for years afterwards (and still does!)