Santa and the Borg
By Laura Schiller
Based on: Star Trek: Voyager
"Naomi, Seven! Lovely to see you, as always!" Neelix beamed across the mess hall counter at his little goddaughter and her friend, who nodded in reply before examining the glass bowl of thick, reddish-purple fluid in front of them. It had bits of what looked like wrinkled orange slices in it, along with two cinnamon sticks. Seven sniffed at it dubiously.
"Hi, Neelix," said Naomi, almost at the same time Seven said, "This beverage contains synthehol."
"Oh, that?" Neelix chuckled. "That, ladies, is my first attempt at a traditional human Christmas drink. It's called 'mulled wine' and it's stronger than it looks – so, Naomi, you'd better stick to the hot chocolate, okay?"
Naomi made a face. Seven, whose system could not handle synthehol, was tempted to as well. They picked up plates of relatively harmless-looking meat and potatoes and sat down at a table close to the counter, where Naomi could people-watch.
"Speaking of Christmas," the girl began, picking at her food and staring out into the distance. "Have you ever heard of Santa Claus, Seven?"
"Yes," said Seven indifferently. "The Doctor has been using this myth to illustrate human generosity for his social lessons. Why do you ask?"
"I guess you … don't believe in him then?"
"No, I do not."
"Mommy and Neelix both told me he was real … "Naomi frowned. "I even typed up a transmission for Mommy to send him. I had it all figured out, you see?" She straightened up and began to gesture with her fork, talking earnestly away, barely pausing to eat a bite or even breathe.
"If he's a saint, that means he's all-powerful, right? Like the Q Continuum. And if no one's ever found his workshop on Earth's North Pole, then maybe it's in an alternate reality and he's got a portal somewhere. Of course we don't have chimneys on Voyager, but if we asked the Captain to scan for his shuttlecraft, wouldn't she find him? Imagine meeting Santa Claus, Seven! Wouldn't that be cool?"
The more Seven listened, the more confused she was. It was as if her bright, scientific-minded, future Starfleet officer Naomi had been replaced by a – well, a child. Surely Seven herself, even as a little girl, had never given credit to this nonsense?
"Naomi, listen," she said firmly. "I do not agree with Ensign Wildman and Mr. Neelix's decision to indoctrinate you in the belief of falsehoods. The individual known as Santa Claus is purely mythical. The Q continuum and the Caretakers are the only omnipotent beings on record in the entire universe, and neither of them would be inclined to bestow gifts on humans for no reward. If such a person existed on Earth, your communication would never reach the Alpha Quadrant, and if it did, he would be unable to reach Voyager. Only the Borg possess transwarp conduits, and if your Santa Claus attempted to reach one, his biological and technological distinctiveness would be added to the Collective."
Seven took a deep breath. In her agitation over Naomi's brainwashing, the words had tumbled out of her in a quantity and volume beyond her control. Everyone in the mess hall was staring.
Worse yet, Naomi's shoulders had slumped until she looked like a small marionette with her strings cut.
"I guess you're right," she said, in a tiny voice.
"I am sorry," Seven continued in a softer voice, "To disappoint you. I only want you to be aware of the truth. Resume your meal, Naomi, before it gets cold."
The little girl complied without a word.
Neelix cornered Seven in the Astrometrics lab next morning, planting himself between her and the door. His straw-colored whiskers fairly bristled with indignation.
"Naomi Wildman had a nightmare last night," he said, before Seven could muster up even a greeting. "She dreamed that Santa Claus was assimilated by the Borg, all because she asked him to come to the Delta Quadrant. I knew you were blunt, Seven of Nine, but I thought even you couldn't be so heartless as to destroy a little girl's dreams."
He moved closer, his sharp blue eyes narrowed. Seven braced herself against the console and looked down at him with all the dignity she could muster, grateful for her height.
"I am not heartless, Mr. Neelix. On the contrary, I have the greatest respect for Naomi's rational, inquiring mind. That is why I refuse to collude with you in feeding her lies.
"Lies?!" Neelix yelped. "How dare you – "
"Do you believe in Santa Claus, Mr. Neelix?"
The Talaxian was thrown. He opened and closed his mouth a few times, sputtering.
"State your response."
He spread his hands. "Why, of course not. I mean – that is to say – I'm a grown man, after all! And besides, my own religion is - "
"Your religion, Mr. Neelix, is irrelevant to this discussion. If Naomi continued to believe in Santa Claus as an adult, how would you feel?"
"I … er … "
"You would be concerned for her mental health, would you not? So why indulge the child in a belief only to eradicate it later? You will only cause her needless disillusionment. Now, Mr. Neelix, will you still accuse me of being heartless?"
"I think you both have a point, actually," said a wry female voice from behind Neelix.
He turned around. Samantha Wildman, Naomi's mother, was leaning on the doorframe, looking grave.
"Excuse me for listening in on your debate," she said. "I was coming to have a word with you myself, Seven, but Neelix beat me to the punch. And now that I've heard you … Seven, you know I really appreciate the way you look after my daughter. I was wrong to be worried at first. But in this instance, I don't quite agree with you."
She stepped closer to Seven, not aggressively, but so she could make herself clear.
"You see, I used to love Christmas as a child," she said. "We had this holo-program, Santa's Workshop, where my sister and I would get a tour of the North Pole. We'd meet the little elves in their green suits, hear them singing carols as they worked, eat cookies and drink hot chocolate with Santa himself, so big and funny with his white beard and red velvet. It was my favorite part of Christmas. That's what I wanted for my daughter – the joy, the sense of wonder."
The Ensign had her hands clasped, as if to hold a mug of steaming hot chocolate, and she was smiling. She looked more like Naomi than ever, and Seven could just picture her as a little girl.
"Even if she has to lose it in the future?" Seven persisted.
"Even if." Ensign Wildman nodded firmly. "She'll always have the memories in any case, just like I do."
Neelix, having recovered his powers of speech, chimed in eagerly. "Faith is a very comforting thing, you know, not only for children. That's why practically every humanoid species has, or once had, its religions - look at Commander Chakotay, praying to the spirits of his ancestors, or Lieutenant Torres, burning incense to expel demons. These are all things you can't prove or measure - but they make people feel better all the same."
"Such as your own veneration of the Guiding Tree?"
Seven remembered the time she had saved Neelix's life, unknowingly plunging him into an existential crisis because he could not remember the paradise he so fervently believed in. Thanks to Chakotay's counsel, the Talaxian still hoped to see his murdered sister there. It was an entirely different belief from a jolly fat man who gave gifts ... but was it? After all, both were a sort of wish fulfillment. And they clearly filled some emotional need in an individual's life.
"Hm, yes," said Neelix. "Something like that."
"I cannot take back what I have said," Seven warned. She had said it with the best intentions, believing it to be the truth, and she would not be made to feel guilty - even though the memory of Naomi's defeated face was beginning to follow her in a most disagreeable way.
"Of course you can't," Neelix muttered darkly. Ensign Wildman shot him a reproachful look.
"However, I will refrain from trying to influence Naomi's personal beliefs in future."
"We appreciate that," said Ensign Wildman, wearing just the hint of a smile.
On the stardate corresponding to December 24th, at 1200 hours, Ensign Wildman looked up from her mystery novel to find that yet another gift had been beamed onto her living-room floor. This one landed directly underneath the tiny replicated tree, its green plastic needles glittering with lights and ornaments and sprayed with a very realistic scent. Crewmembers had been beaming in anonymous gifts for Naomi all morning, in an effort to convince her that there was a Santa Claus. This package was tiny - the size of a data padd perhaps, carrying a holonovel or a musical playlist, or perhaps the toy tricorder Naomi had been coaxing for ever since the Doctor showed her his. Something about the crisp, compulsive neatness of the blue wrapping and silver ribbon made Samantha smile; it reminded her of someone.
She picked it up and opened the card. It was anonymous like the others, addressed to: Naomi Wildman, sub-unit of Ensign Samantha Wildman.
Samantha placed it back with the others, shaking her head and smiling from ear to ear.