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For Nimue8 for her birthday, and in special tribute to another whose birthday falls on January 3. Enjoy! And thanks so to RiverOtter for the beta!
The two American scientists emerging into the space station paused at the sight of the Russian cosmonaut who waited to greet them. "Velcome, comrades, to the All-but-Forsaken Inn! You have brought it?" he demanded in thickly accented English. "The vodka?"
"Yes," admitted one of them. "Although we had a time convincing our superiors that it was required of us that we bring it to you. Captain Mannix appeared to think that such gifts, and so long after Christmas, would be inappropriate."
"You be here today, tonight--you want it, too," the Russian growled as he grabbed the padded bag presented him by one of the two Americans. "Strange things happen, this day."
The two Americans exchanged curious glances. "Strange things? What kind of strange things?" demanded the other one.
"You will see. Oh, you will see!" And with bottle firmly in his grasp, the Russian led the way to the main living chambers.
It was an hour or two before they began to appreciate the Russian's concerns. "What the...?" murmured one of the two Americans, who'd been using one of the onboard telescopes to observe Venus.
"What is it?" asked his fellow, who had been checking out the hydroponics.
The first was examining the eyepiece of the instrument he'd been using. "I think our Russian host has been tampering with the telescopes. Come look!" So saying, he pulled the eyepiece free and looked at it carefully, then gazed through it at his companion. Puzzled, he pulled it from his eye. "No, it is clear!" he murmured.
As he reassembled the telescope his friend asked, "What made you think he was tampering with the telescope?"
"What I saw! I wasn't seeing Venus--I was seeing a boat--a great crystal boat, with great sails. And it was being captained by a great, shining Man, one with a crown of some sort, and Venus was as a great stone centered on the crown, right in the center of his forehead!"
So saying, he clicked the eyepiece into place and once again peered through it, only to exclaim, "Then he must have done something to the outer lens!"
The Russian, apparently pleasantly drunk, emerged from the small room in which he slept. "What is wrong?" he asked. "You see them? You see the boats?"
The other American shook his head. "What boats? he demanded.
"All around us! Wessels of crystal, with shining spirits guiding them! Look! Look!" So saying, he went to one of the obscured ports and slid the cover out of the way.
And it was as he said! Below them lay the Earth, but no longer a sphere of brilliant light blue; now it was a great shining disk!
"My God!" whispered one of the Americans, pointing to the emerging view they had of the moon as the space station turned. "Look at that!"
And there was no lifeless, scarred sphere, but instead a great round coach drawn by white horses, inside of which shone a tall, glistening figure who toasted them with what appeared to be a great foaming mug of ale.
When the Russian held out two large vessels filled with vodka to them, he was smiling sardonically. "You see?" he demanded. "Always this way, the third of January!"
And surrounded by the spirits guiding the stars and planets, looking down at that odd disk that appeared to be the Earth transformed, the three Men sipped in shock at their drinks.
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