Rosie had been researching herbal remedies of Earth when she came across the cultural antecdote of mistletoe. Any custom revolving around a parasitic plant seemed a bit strange to her, but she decided that she would see if this little sprig of green would be found, or identified, or put to use if it were strung up. "Thelma!" she called across the classroom.
The android skittered to the Mercurian's side. "Yes?"
"Do we have anything called 'mistletoe' in the biosphere?"
A few circuit links and a jolt later, Thelma replied. "We have two kinds: Viscum album and Phoradendron serotinum. Which would you like?"
She giggled. "The first one is fine. Can you show me where it is?"
* * *
Suzee had noticed the first cluster of berries and leaves hanging, of all places, at the entrance to the exercise sphere. She had passed it by a few times, but wasn't sure what it was until she went trolling for answers. Knowing that the boys weren't as interested in botany as her bunkmate, she went to Rosie first.
"Rosie, do you know anything about the plant over that door?" They were passing by the room before breakfast. "It's definitely out of place."
"Oh, thaaaaat plant."
"What is it?" she said flatly.
"Sounds like something you'd get in the exercise sphere."
"No, silly, you're supposed to put it up and then kiss someone under it."
"Anyone? It's not a mandatory thing, is it?"
"The one you love, usually."
Suzee raised her eyebrows, and grinned. "This could be interesting. But let's put it somewhere that people will see it."
Rosie was glad to have at least one conspirator in her game. "Sounds good to me!"
* * *
The mistletoe was now hanging over the food wheel. Bova and Harlan didn't notice at all. Radu spotted it when the center triangle landed on his breakfast in one of the higher chutes. "What's that plant doing there?"
"Maybe it's food that's growing from the wheel," Bova suggested between bites.
"Nah, it's attached with string." Harlan looked at from his seat. "Hey, I know what it is!"
He smiled at Suzee, who was sitting across from him. "You should go get seconds."
"You should be careful, Harlan," Suzee taunted, getting up and taking her plate. She put an arm around Radu, still under the mistletoe. "You might not be in the right place at the right time."
"Aw, c'mon," he frowned.
"So, what is it?" Radu asked, still looking very confused.
"It's a plant called mistletoe," Rosie said. "It's from Earth."
"What happens is that you get someone to stand under it," Suzee explained, "and whoever you're caught with standing under the mistletoe you have to kiss."
A look of bemused panic came across Radu's face. "Well, then, maybe I should move or..."
It was too late. Suzee had already planted a kiss on his cheek, and turned to put her plate in the sink.
"That's not fair," Harlan mumbled.
"Then kiss her next meal," Bova shrugged.
"Did you find that on board, Rosie?"
"Thelma found some in the biosphere for me?"
"OK," Harlan said. "That's good to know."
* * *
It looked as if an infestation had begun. Berry-spotted greenery was appearing in the doorways of the ship: the lounge door, the classroom door, the galley door even when the other bundle was left up. Even the Compost couldn't escape the decorations. Not only was it hanging from the entrance but also the four highest points of the support posts. When the students filed into the Command Post for afternoon class, all but one was again surprised.
"Harlan!" Suzee exclaimed as she walked in the door. "What have you done?"
"I've upped my chances," he said, grinning.
"Did you have to put it everywhere?" she questioned.
"There's a lot of stuff over our heads now," Rosie remarked.
Bova frowned. "It'll fall on us."
"And seriously," Suzee went on, "did you have to put it over the jump tube entrances?"
"That's not really safe, Harlan," Radu pointed out.
"I'm covering my bases," he retorted. "And it's not like it's gonna be up there forever. Just until the holiday season is over."
"According to my calculations," Bova said, "on Earth it should be August."
Harlan swaggered over to the helm. "Well, I've got some time, now don't I?"
Suzee scoffed and headed to her post, but not before giving Radu another peck.
"I'll have to watch where I stand," he said, rubbing his cheek. Another honest flush was overcoming his face. "I keep forgetting where that stuff is."
The students were at their posts when the two adults entered the room. "Class, prepare yourselves for afternoon lesson," Miss Davenport announced.
Suzee's ears perked up, but not at the teacher. "Good one," she whispered before she looked at Rosie. "Ah, Miss Davenport?"
"Rosie and I did our homework together and I want to double-check a question with her. Can I do that now?"
"Make it quick, please."
Suzee darted over to Rosie's station before she could receive any more confused looks. She checked her surroundings before speaking; Commander Goddard was leaning on the helm and Miss Davenport was collecting the rest of the student's assignments. "Rosie, Cat gave me an idea!"
"What?" Rosie whispered?
"Let's get Miss Davenport and..."
The Mercurian's eyes widened in excitement. "And Commander Goddard under the mistletoe!"
"Is your homework that exciting, girls?" they heard from across the room.
"We were discussing question four," Rosie stammered.
"Aah," Miss Davenport said brightly, echoing their supposed excitement. "We'll discuss it during the period. Are you all ready?"
Suzee looked down at her worksheet. Galaxy classification. Exciting. "Just watch me, Rosie; I'll give you signals," she said, and quickly retook her seat.
Gathering the two girls' papers, Miss Davenport brought things to order and began her lecture. "Class, today we will be discussing types of galaxies. On the screen you will find examples of such galaxies observed from our relative position in space. Now, as we go over the worksheet we will be discussing the answers but I will also be giving you information, so please take notes and..."
Suzee had tuned out. This was going to be a interesting challenge, considering that the mistletoe was hanging from the posts and the posts were between stations. It was simplified because she and Rosie were next to each other, but if Harlan had hung some over the helm it would have made everything easy as cake. Her plan would make Davenport and Goddard the only fish to bite for that bait, though.
Well, Harlan made this challenge possible, Catalina told her.
"You're right", Suzee muttered under her breath.
This is one class that I'm willing to sit in for, Cat replied.
"You can help out, too," Suzee whispered.
Will do, the voice from another dimension said.
Miss Davenport was used to having small mutterings during classes; she continued over the one-sided conversation. "So, the first question is, Name four types of galaxies. Harlan, name one."
"Spiral," he called from his temporary seat in front of the navigation console.
"Correct. Rosie, another."
"Elliptical," she answered.
"Correct. Radu, another."
"Irregular," he said.
"Like Andromeda," Harlan piped up, grinning.
"Andromeda is a spiral galaxy, Mr. Band."
With the correction, Miss Davenport had begun her routine pacing around the room. It was a prime chance to plot a rendezvous. Suzee put a plan into action. "Ah, Commander, I think there's some sort of odd reading on my console."
"Is there?" Miss Davenport rushed over to engineering, already looking nervous. "Where?"
Well, that didn't work; we have to get the Commander to move, Cat said while Suzee pointed out a fake problem that Miss Davenport immediately denied. Commander Goddard was still propped up on the helm.
"It only showed up for a minute. Cat says Commander Goddard would know what it is. He's seen it before, she tells me."
The three cheered silently as the Commander wandered over to the pair... and sunk when Miss Davenport immediately left. "What's it look like, Suzee?"
"It was just a couple of blinking lights, in an odd pattern. Could you keep an eye on it?"
Miss Davenport continued the lecture from the helm, switching screens and asking questions. It turned out that their plan had a downside: when Commander Goddard milled behind Suzee, she couldn't talk to either Rosie or Cat. Nice going, Suzee, her invisible friend muttered. Suzee sighed.
It took more than half the lecture to get the Commander to leave. In a moment of silence he told Suzee that he would check it out later and didn't see anything at the moment. She thanked him and stepped down off the platform, coming to rest with arms crossed under the closest hanging boughs.
Rosie saw this as her chance. She raised her hand. "Miss Davenport?"
"I'm still not sure of the differences in spiral galaxies. Can you show me on the compupad?"
"I can switch back through the screens for a better view," Davenport said, starting to do so.
"I can't really see the difference on the screens," Rosie lied, almost whining. "The compupad is so much clearer. Can you come point them out?"
"Well, then let's see here." Miss Davenport crossed the room towards the young girl's station.
The boys, mildly paying attention to the lesson, began a general grumbling. "Looks like the girls need a lot of help today," Harlan said loudly to no one in particular.
Radu, who was looking over at the other side of the room, had Suzee catch his eyes. She cupped her hands over her nose and, feigning a tired gesture, whispered inaudibly. He grinned, and leaned down to Harlan. "Don't say anything. Look up."
Harlan gave an amused hmph when he saw what was in the works. It was a good thing that Commander Goddard was distracted by both his compupad and the viewscreen, or he would have clearly seen the nudge that Harlan gave Bova and the accompanying small head jolt upwards. The four undistracted students waited for developments.
"Oh, I understand now!" Rosie beamed in an enlightened student sort of way. "Thank you!"
"You're welcome, dear. Now," she said as she left the platform to stand next to Commander Goddard, "let's take a look at these various irregular galaxies."
Doing a check to make sure the other half of the room was paying attention, she found herself looking at three generally attentive students, a rarity. Each had a varying degree of smile on their face: Harlan was grinning, Radu was smirking, and Bova was as happy as Bova could generally look. Her face knit into confusion. "Is there something amusing, gentlemen?"
Suzee and Cat gave each other a mental high-five. They knew it wasn't long before Rosie would blurt out som...
"You two have to kiss now! You and Commander Goddard!" she blurted out.
"I beg your pardon!?" Davenport exclaimed.
The Commander was speechless, but did look taken aback.
"Look up," Bova muttered.
The adults looked up in tandem. "What is... oh." Miss Davenport had been to enough interplanetary holiday parties to know what plant of Damacles was above her. "My."
Commander Goddard looked at the three other sprigs above him. "Mr. Band," he started in an accusing tone.
"Don't peg it on the Earther," Harlan said, waving his hands. "It was the girls' idea."
"It is no custom of my planet." Miss Davenport brushed it off but still looked at the other startled party. He slightly cocked his head, as if considering. She turned back to her compupad, cheeks pink.
"Please? Just one?" Rosie asked.
"You're still under it," Suzee pointed out.
Davenport let her lips thin out to a frown. "Let's continue the lesson."
"Miss Davenport?" the Commander said.
One half-turn. She hit his lips and she didn't even see it coming. From this angle it had turned into a kiss on the corner of the mouth. He stayed still long enough for her to realize her faux pas. Pulling back, he grinned, seeing her eyes wide as saucers watching him. Rosie dissolved into giggles, and the newest trick even got a smirk from Bova.
Miss Davenport stifled her fury, cheeks bright red from embarassment and anger. "You have no decorum!" she accused. "What sort of example are you setting? You're setting an example, you know!"
It was all said to a deaf, and rather hidden self-satisfied, ear. "Mr. Band," the Commander declared, "clean this all up after dinner. I don't want to see any of it anywhere else."
"I told you, I didn't..."
"Do it," Goddard said.
"Yes, sir," was the grumbled reply.
"We are going to finish the lesson now," Miss Davenport said in mild composure. She made a quick retreat to the helm, fumbled with her compupad, and continued the lecture. Rosie and Suzee looked at each other in gleeful triumph. Catalina contributed with another cheer. I wish this stuff was up all the time, she said.
"Me too," Suzee whispered, still trying to concentrate. "It'd all be much more interesting."
* * *
"Did you get it all, Harlan?" Suzee asked.
The four students gathered in the lounge turned to the late arrival just in from the jump tubes. "Yeah, I got it all."
"Thanks, Harlan," Rosie said in apology.
"It's no big deal. Besides," he said as he wandered suspiciously over to Suzee, "I'll just use the portable version."
He pulled a large cluster of mistletoe from his pocket and held it above his and Suzee's heads. She just rolled her eyes and escaped to the couch with her reading.
"Hey, Rosie," Bova said from across the Nine Globed Dudley board, "did the mistletoe work for you?"
She thought about it for a moment, as if she were making a move in the game. Her lips pouted enough to form a small frown. "I didn't get any kisses," she realized.
"Aw, not even one?" Suzee said.
"Nope, not one." She sighed a bit and moved a red orb.
Harlan moved his lips in the direction of the Andromedan studying in the corner. Radu smiled, nodding.
Rosie caught sight of the two boys flanking her, but wasn't expecting them to stop by her sides. Harlan dangled the mistletoe over her head, and the girl lit up again. She closed her eyes, soon feeling two kisses on her cheeks. "Aw, thanks, guys," she said, looking at both of them.
Bova, whose kiss count was at zero from avoidance the whole time, got up to help in the surprise. Dodging quickly to take Radu's place as the greenery was still overhead, he gave Rosie a big smooch.
"Aaaaah!" he yelped as he backed away in pain.
"I was getting embarassed; I'm sorry!" exclaimed Rosie.
"You OK, Bova?" Radu asked.
"Iwll neiwer get t' kiss agaiwn," he muttered.
"It doesn't look bad. Let's get an ice pack from the MedLab. I'm sorry!" Rosie said, putting a hand on his shoulder. The two exited, leaving the three others chuckling to themselves.
Suzee smirked. "I think it's best to put that stuff back in the biosphere."
"Are you kidding me? I'm going to grow a whole crop of this," Harlan said. "Joking."
"Well, it was fun while it lasted," Radu said. "And Miss Davenport will be red for a week. Believe me, you don't want to know what she was muttering under her breath."
"Really?" Harlan laughed.
"I can imagine," Suzee said.
"Well, I'm going to go put this back." Harlan hesistated, and walked over to the couch where Suzee was at. The mistletoe was back up again. "Just one?" he asked again.
She sighed. "C'mere."
A slight kiss on the cheek was what she allowed, and Harlan broke away cheering. "Yes! Thanks," he said sincerely before strutting over to the tubes and heading for the biosphere.
Radu and Suzee looked at each other. Suzee rolled her eyes again, Radu smiled, and they both continued their work.