It was cold.
Why the heck was it cold? This was a satellite, with computer-controlled temperatures that remained ever-constant. But that didn't change the fact that Crow's computer system booted up (in other words, he woke up) to a much colder room than usual.
"Jooooooel? Jooooooellll!" he called out, snatching the blanket from his bed and wrapping it around his lanky metallic body. "Joel!" Crow stepped out from his room and took a few paces forward, peering around the hallway in awe. There were strings of small lights all over the place, running the length of the hall and curling into the bridge. Some silver garland was weaved in with them, twinkling with the small bulbs. "Joelll! What is all this?!"
"Yeesh, keep it down," Tom's voice snapped. Crow peered into his room, snorting in laughter at seeing the red 'bot bunkering down within a mound of blankets and underwear. "I dunno what's going on. Joel might've lost it, though."
"Greaaaat," Crow mumbled, peeling his eyes away and slowly trotting down the hallway, his blanket dragging along on the floor. As he neared the bridge, he heard a tune being hummed slightly off-key, meaning it could only be one person – his father.
"Just here those sleigh bells ring-a-ling, ding-ding-ding-a-ding dooooo…" Joel bellowed out, causing Crow to wince at how he hardly hit any of the notes. He hadn't even heard the song before – he just knew it was wrong. He was never quite able to hit the notes, so using that as a basis…
"Joel?" Crow asked, peering around the corner. The jumpsuited man was currently on top of the control table, wrapping lights around a support beam that ran across the ceiling. He was decked out in a long red and gold scarf, with his normal white tennis shoes now replaced by black snow boots.
"Yeah – hey Crow," he greeted in his regular monotone, though not looking down and instead concentrating on the string of lights in his hands. A red hat, fringed with white and holding a pom-pom on its tip, adorned his head, though it leaned dangerously close to falling off.
"What the heck is all this?" the gold 'bot wondered, carefully taking a few steps out to the bridge. He shot his foot back upon stepping on some white fluff strewn about the ground, but further investigation proved that it wasn't dangerous.
"It's Christmas," Joel replied, a mellow smile on his face at having successfully hung up the lights. Turning around, he said, "Don't'cha know that? Soon, Santa will come and leave presents and…"
"…What's Christmas?" Crow asked curiously, drawing close to the control table and peering up at Joel. His expression faltered to one of mild shock and horror as it suddenly dawned upon him – the robots had absolutely no idea what the holiday was.
Crap. It was times like this he wish he could say "go ask your mother".
"Well Crow…" Joel started, sitting down on the control table and patting his knee. "It's a holiday back on Earth. It's meant to celebrate the birth of Jesus –"
"So it's a big birthday party?" Crow balked, taking the invite and hopping up on his father's knee. "For ONE guy who's DEAD?! What kind of holiday is that?"
"Well, those are its origins but…but now it's more of an excuse to buy and give presents and for retailers to push decorations on you." He made a slight gesture to indicate the lights and garland.
"Ohhhhhhhhh, so it's one of those 'commercial' things, where corporate mongrels continuously try to suck out your soul and are doing it little by lit –"
"Calm down little buddy," Joel soothed, patting Crow's shoulder. "But I guess you could say it's like that. Well, except for the, ya know…"
"So what's this about presents?" the gold 'bot asked excitedly, peering up innocently (at least, the best that he could). "And who's…Santa?"
"Well Santa…presents…hey, where's Tom?" Joel wondered, looking up and peering towards the hallway. "Is he –"
"Hey heeey, no changing the subject!" Crow protested, annoyed. "Presents?"
Joel sighed, briefly screwing up his eyes in thought. "W-well, if you're good, Santa will bring you presents."
"And just who is this guy? Why's he giving me presents? Sounds kinda creepy! Like, maybe child services should get in on the act and track down this guy!"
"W-well…you see Crow, it's meant as an act of…good will."
"No, you're slightly off the mark there." Joel looked around the bridge, taking in the lights he had taped to the walls and watching them twinkle and glow. He smiled before glancing back down at the 'bot. "Santa rewards the good boys and girls by giving them gifts. And for the bad ones, he gives them coal."
Crow titled his head back, curious. "What, so they can make burgers with French fried potaters? That doesn't sound so bad."
"Err…no…It's just that…Would you want to get coal instead of a…new Matchbox car?"
"What?!" The robot seemed horrified at the mere thought. "No way man! Gimme the car! I don't want that meat sammich anymore! It – it never meant anything to me I swear!"
Joel chuckled, patting his shoulder. "See? Being good pays off."
"Did you celebrate Christmas back on Earth?"
"Well yeah. Everyone does."
"What did you do?"
Closing his eyes, Joel paused, thinking back to what he could remember. "Well, when I was a kid…Dad would put up the tree right after Thanksgiving – y'know, Turkey Day? – and then we'd spend that whole period of time shopping and doing all that…Then Christmas morning would come and me and my siblings would wake up at the crack of dawn and watch those terrible five AM cartoons – 'cause you know, nobody's awake…Then Mom and Dad would wake up and we'd eat a big breakfast – always the same, pancakes – err, waffles – and bacon…Then we'd open presents before getting dressed and going to the big Christmas mass at church…We'd eat a nice ham dinner with whoever wanted to come to the house…" He opened his eyes, his top lip protruding in thought. "And yeah."
"Wow…neat!" Crow's eyes sparkled with the various mentioning of pork. "So we'll do those things? Go shopping and eat pancakes or waffles or whatever and open presents?"
"Uh, maybe…maybe not quite like that." Joel sighed when he suddenly realized that all of his normal Christmas traditions were suddenly out of his reach. And now, with "children" of his own, he couldn't even do the things he was able to do as a kid – not even eat pancakes. Err, waffles.
"So we'll…have cereal instead?"
"…Well…Well…no, not…not really. You see Crow…Christmas is…well, even though it's become the commercial holiday it has become, the real heart of the matter is spending time with those you love." A sheepish grin crawled onto his face. "And this year, that's you guys. You and Tom and Gypsy and Cambot. You're my family."
"And you're our dad."
It took a moment for that to fully register with Joel, but once it did, he smiled. "Yeah, I am, huh."
"Yeah…So does this mean we don't get ham or bacon?"
Written for Christmas of '08.