The Gift of the Magi (Revisited)

By Linda

Rating: G

Genres: family general

Keywords:

This story has been read by 1149 people.
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Disclaimer: No filthy lucre changed hands.

Summary: This story has the same title as O'Henry's story because I think it fits and I greatly admire O'Henry. But this story is not about the exchange of gifts. I already wrote a gift exchange story about Trip and T'Pol two Yule times ago: "Family is Forever: a Yule Story". This new story is about one simple act of impulsive selfless giving. And this story was a gift to me from my muse because it came whole into my head as I sat on the bus one morning on the way to the job that I will soon be losing, and decided I should not mope, but think positive thoughts.

 


 

The station had an industrial feel, being the transportation hub for several mining companies in the asteroid belt of star system 386778, thirty-five light years from Earth. But it was an exciting place for Laura, despite the astringent taste of the air and the faint smells of industrial chemicals wafting in from the cargo bays. Laura was excited because she was going home. The small two-level promenade deck had only a few established vendors, with several empty storefronts. There were temporary vending kiosks set up down the middle of the promenade that had changed each time Laura had visited the station on days off.

Laura had ridden the supply shuttle in from her company one last time. It had loaded up with goods and departed within an hour of arrival and she had watched it go back to Asteroid 87B with only faint regret that she would not see her fellow workers again. She had then climbed to the upper level of the promenade after doing her shopping.

After a half hour, Laura's foot was going to sleep. She put down her sketchpad and crossed her legs the other way. Her knee bumped the railing.

"Ouch!"

She rubbed it until the pain died down. That taken care of, there was still an annoying pressure, but this was from the pocket in her coverall. Reaching in the pocket, she touched the amulet she had purchased that morning from a Ferengi merchant. Yeah, it was overpriced, but not by as much as she had expected. The merchant was closing out his store and moving as much inventory as he could. Freighting it back to his home world was probably expensive, especially since he was using a cousin's ship. He had been mumbling about that under his breath, something about a maxim from the Rules of Acquisition called 'exploitation begins at home'. Laura had also purchased a copy of those rules, in translation, from him as a gift for her father. This had pleased the little storekeeper no end, and he had wrapped it up with more care than the amulet.

"Good luck in the Great River of Acquisition" he had lisped through his sharply pointed teeth as she left the shop. She had walked to the nearest bench and painted the little guy in colored chalks. Those colors in his outfit! So outlandish.

Before leaving the bench, she unwrapped the amulet, keeping it in her pocket to take out and look at from time to time. She rubbed its silky surface. It was made of 12 carat Bolian latinum and plated with gold from Betazed. The little Ferengi gave her a certificate of authenticity, which described the piece as the work of a Telarite artist of some note. The amulet itself was round with an equal-armed cross in the center. No explanation of its meaning came with it, but to Laura it was universal in that it could signify the four directions which was part nature spirituality on many worlds, or Earth's Christian religion, or even the Andorian Circle of Life philosophy. It was to be a gift for her mother, a perfect one that she had been searching for, for a very long time.

This and other gifts would be in the hands of her parents in less than two weeks at Christmas. After four years away from home, it was just perfect that she found a Vulcan freighter that had a small passenger deck and had Earth as one of its stops. The amulet had cost five times what her ticket home had cost - a good four month's wages. She might even have spent more to get the amulet but the little Ferenegi had sensed the limit of her ready cash. Fortunately, she had already had her bank transfer the rest of her savings back to Earth from her limited term job with Rare Metals Interplanetary. Working for them as an extracting machine operator had taught her the value of precious metals like those of her little amulet. But mainly, that job had allowed her to save to resume her art studies when she returned to Earth. She had banked more in four years then her older brother had in ten years as a petty officer with Starfleet.

Her thoughts returned to her sketching. She picked up her pad and reviewed the pencil drawing of the shifting crowd below. Not bad...but not good. Something was off, but she would fix it when she understood what it was. She turned the page and clipped it to the pad so she could start a new drawing. Looking down again, the crowd had thinned and some people were sitting on the benches scattered in this central gathering place of the space station. Good. She could study faces more thoroughly before she sketched them. She leaned forward to put her arms on the lower railing, stretching her back a little, and chose a very pregnant Vulcan woman who was resting her head and back against a pillar behind one bench. The woman was hugging her robe around her with both arms and her face looked drawn, eyes closed. Then the Vulcan snapped open her eyes and moved her head quickly to both sides before closing them again.

Laura was not sure, but the woman looked furtive, perhaps fearful - an unusual expression for her species but not an unusual expression for people on this station. It had the reputation of a rough place. She sharpened a charcoal pencil and began to draw the woman.

"Why do you use primitive messy drawing materials?"

Laura pursed her mouth. Why did people always ask her that? She turned to see who it was this time, and looked up into the cobalt blue face of an Andorian man holding a padd and carrying a duffle bag.

Her CALTD (common alien languages translation device) carried her answer in a higher pitched female Andorian voice "a stylus on a screen just does not have the effect I like".

She smiled at him.

He gave her a brief smile and tilted his head. "There are many Humans like yourself milling about below, why draw a Vulcan?"

"Why not," she said. "I draw all kinds of people." She handed him the pad and he flipped through it, his eyes becoming more engaged with each drawing. He stopped and smiled at one sketch of two Andorian children sitting on the floor with their family's luggage stacked around them, a large-screen game padd glowing on the floor between them.

"May I have this?"

Laura breathed out slowly and said "Sure." A good quarter of her drawings passed out of her possession in this fashion. She carefully pulled the sketch out of the pad and handed it to the Andorian along with two stretch Velcro bands she dug out of her jacket pocket.

The man gave her an open-handed Andorian thank-you gesture and took the drawing, deftly rolling and banding it. He took three steps away, and then turned.

"Would you like a snack? I can get you something from the concessions below."

"Why thank you, yes. Hmm, some coffee? And a sweet roll?"

He nodded. "I will be back in five minutes."

He never came back. But that was not his fault and Laura saw it all play out from her perch on the upper walkway.

She followed the Andorian with her eyes as he stopped to scan the storefronts arranged around the open sitting area. He seemed to have picked one, for he was walking toward it in purposeful fashion. When he was passing the resting Vulcan woman, a figure ran up to the woman and fired a phase pistol point blank into her chest.

Passersby froze, astonished. The Andorian was the first to come out of his shock and reach for the pistol of this attacker who was only five feet from him. The attacker struggled to free the pistol, whipping his hand back and forth and raising it up to break the strong grip of the blue hand. It went off again, and the Andorian stumbled back, then fell, and the attacker disappeared into the gathering crowd, roughly shoving stunned onlookers aside.

Laura found herself standing, gripping the top railing, horrified, as the man she had spoken to only half a minute ago, lay on the floor below, eyes glazed and unseeing - a massive black burn mark in the center of his chest. One of his hands was still clutching the rolled sketch, charred at one end.

She stumbled down the stairway to the ground floor and ran over to him. Why she ran to him she didn't know because there was nothing she could do. Jostled now by others, she crawled away from the man and pulled herself up on a bench. Dazed she leaned back against the pillar and against someone else next to her. She bumped this person, who started to slide down, so Laura grabbed at her. It was the Vulcan woman who now had a large char mark on her chest too.

Laura screamed and screamed and passed out.


The lights above were too strong. Harsh. Why was she looking straight up at a row of them marching along the ceiling? Where? Laura felt around with her hands and pushed to sit up...from a bed...and fell back dizzy. A purple face with hanging jowls appeared above her, dark against the background of the light.

"Where? What?" was all Laura could manage, groggily trying to put words together.

"Your name is Laura Holt? Yes? Human? Yes?"

"How..."

"Your identification papers. In your bag. Do you remember what happened?"

Laura groped in her mind for an answer and failed.

"That is allright for now. We gave you a sedative. You were with a Vulcan woman, holding her. A relative? A friend? Her identification says she was T'Mari Vokal-Rancik-Sak-Novan-Sak-Simork. It is a fake identification, crudely made. But there was nothing else that she had with her accept a ticket."

"Was?" croaked Laura.

"I am sorry. Your friend is dead. But we managed to deliver her child alive."

"Child? Oh...yes...she looked...very...near her time."

"Can you tell me her real name? Her only other possession was just a ticket on a transport to a Vulcan colony world."

"No, I did not know her. I grabbed her because she was slipping off the bench. I fainted, right? I...have never seen a dead person before, not even with all those accidents in the mine where I worked."

"I see. Well, we sent her DNA profile to the Vulcan authorities."

"May I see the baby?"

"Why? You said you didn't know her."

"Please? I just...would like to know that she is okay. Oh, that Andorian man?"

"He is dead. You knew him though. That ruined drawing, it is the same style as the drawings in your bag."

"Yes, I gave it to him. But I didn't know him either. Will I have to talk to the station police?"

"No," he replied, "they have statements from the other witnesses and you have nothing to add. A private quarrel, no doubt, like many around here, hmm? Probably never will be solved. You get used to this if you live on the station very long. A shame though, you can't be more help. But let me support you if want to see that baby before the embassy sends someone for her."

"Her?"

"A female. Cute...for a Vulcan. Here, try to stand." He had his arm under her shoulders.

In another room down a passageway was a single glass encased tiny bed. The baby inside it was a chubby little elf, greenish-beige smooth skin, asleep. Laura leaned over the incubator. The baby opened her dark eyes and stared fixedly at Laura, and burped.

"So cute. Is she all right? I mean, her mother being killed. She must have stopped breathing, with the baby still inside her, right?"

"We got her out quickly."

"May I hold her?"

The doctor hesitated. "Well, babies need touch and reassurance. All right, for a little while. This poor orphan will probably need all the attention she can get."

"Why would she not get all the attention she needs?"

"Let's hope she has a father somewhere or clan kin. I have seen that Vulcan orphans do not fare well if they have no close relatives to care for them. It is the nature of their culture."

"How strange! How sad," murmured Laura as she gathered the baby into her arms. She sat in a nearby chair and gently rocked the child who slowly closed her eyes. Laura stroked the palm of the baby's tiny hand and the baby clasped tightly to her finger. Humming softly, Laura thought about the dubious future this poor girl faced. She thought of packing the baby into her bag and stealing out of the station hospital. She could run to the gate where she would be boarding the ship for the next leg of her journey home. She would tell her parents the child was hers and perhaps they would not do DNA tests to make certain. Some Vulcans lived on earth, so the physical environment would be okay to raise her in. And she would give this child all the touching, all the love that she needed...

No, that was a crazy thought. She would not get two yards out of the hospital with the baby. They probably had a nasty old jail on this station and she would be detained for who knows how long. Reluctantly, she rewrapped the blanket around the baby and put her back. There was a lump under the blanket where she had wrapped up a little something for the baby inside a note.

Laura thought she would cry if she looked back at the baby, so she went back to the bed where her possessions lay. She touched the divider, which went opaque and dressed quickly. A nurse came by with discharge orders and Laura scrawled the stylus across the padd, adding her thumbprint. She hurried from the hospital and went to her departure gate. Sitting there, she planned what she would do at the next station, the last one before she would be home on earth. She would shop there, get her mother something small, but nice. And she had forgotten about her sister's two children. She would look for something nice and exotic, but inexpensive, for them too. At the next station. Far away from this horrible place.


T'Rul carried the bundle gingerly as Simik made another note on his padd which now contained all the witness reports and the doctor's test results on the newborn.

"This is all this child will ever have for a family history, Surak aid the poor little one," said Simik as he tried to write and keep pace with T'Rul.

T'Rul did not break stride to respond. "It is more than some orphans have, little though it is. I do wish we had come up with a DNA match. Maybe we will, in the future. It is possible this woman was from one of the colony worlds, though I am sure our database would have come up with a match if she was from any of the official colony worlds."

Simik looked thoughtful. "Could she be from one of the criminal infested societies? This child will be fortunate to escape that sort of life. She will be raised on the home world and will one day no doubt be thankful for that, at least. You did well finding an open position at the House of Charity in Shir'kar."

T'Rul sighed and said "She has a meager start in life since we Vulcans rarely adopt children as is the practice on so many other worlds. Perhaps this gift from a stranger that I found wrapped in her blanket may help. Yes, it may even someday save her life."

"How so?" asked a perplexed Simik.

T'Rul stopped to explain further. They were standing, unknowingly, at the very spot Laura had been sitting to draw passers by.

"Because," said T'Rul in didactic fashion to her assistant, "this child is different than the other children she will encounter in school. They will tease her openly, and if admonished, they will tease her privately. She has no parents. This will cause her to be sad, perhaps angry and wish to retaliate. She may want to cause them bodily harm or even want to harm herself. Then she will touch the amulet around her neck, possibly her only valuable possession, and realize someone, somewhere in the universe, cared about her and might be thinking about her right then - an alien who had only held her for a moment, the first non-medical person to hold her after she was born. And while holding her, this alien thought she was beautiful and gifted her with a valuable amulet, which must have cost her a large portion of her income. This child's katra might then calm down enough to prevent the planned transgression, for the real gift was not the amulet but the caring behind it as expressed in the note, signed not with a name, but a tiny sketched self-portrait of the donor. And this just might save the young girl's life - perhaps more than once. An act of kindness can send ripples of positive energy out that have effects no one expected. Surak tells us so."

Simik nodded. His fingers played a tattoo along the railing as he watched the sea of travelers pass below. Somewhere in the teachings of Surak, he knew he would find this wisdom. He would look for it in his next readings before meditation. How could a Human have possibly known this wisdom, which was deep in the teachings of Surak?

T'Rul shifted the sleeping baby in her arms and the two Vulcans moved off toward their embassy to deliver the child to Vulcan Social Services.


Afterthought: Perhaps, as Asso pointed out when he reviewed this story for me, I am presenting Vulcan society as a bit cruel. But also as he astutely suggested, it is based on human society. It is! The 15-year-old girl that my daughter took guardianship of last August is now enjoying her first real home. She has some very sad stories from being shunted around in foster care most of her life. Though my daughter and son-in-law get by on a very modest income for a family of 6 now expanded to 7, there is a lot of love and fun activities that Michelle said she never participated in before. A little kindness in life goes a long way.

 


Comments:

Dinah

I was almost hoping that Laura would have found a way to take the baby home with her.  But I suppose that probably wouldn't have been good for either of them.  However, her gesture of concern for the child was lovely.  The little girl will always know that there is someone in the universe who cared enough about her to give her a precious gift.  Thank you, Linda, for a lovely story. 

bluetiger

This was a wonderful and sad tale. You certainly made us quickly care about these people. Leaving the amulet for the child was a beautiful gesture on Laura's part. In my tender heart, I would like to believe that a society as old, practical, and family oriented as Vulcans would have a better adoption system than we human barbarians.

Honeybee

What a lovely, well-wrought fic. Bittersweet but a pleasure to read. 

Asso

Very touching, isn't it? But absolutely without any useless search for gratuitous angst. I know that when I am about to read something from Linda, it is special.
Oh yes. Let her write the way she is capable of doing!:D

Alelou

I enjoyed this bittersweet story.  Thank you for sharing it with us.  And I hope Michelle and her new guardians have many wonderful experiences together.

Linda

Ibekoj, I should have thought of Laura also leaving a sketch of the baby's mother!  Darn, that would have been better because the child might never have otherwise known what she looked like accept for autopsy photos.  Okay, when I put the story on fanfic.net, I will add that bit.

Distracted, although it is very sad, I am glad the story hits the mark on the experience of some orphans.  Hopefully, after all of Michelle's sad exeriences, her life has taken a permanent turn for the better. 

 

Distracted

This is a sweet, sad story.  Many times during my med school and residency pediatric rotations at the local charity hospital I wished that I could do more for the neglected children in my care at the hospital.  It just broke my heart sometimes to let them go, even after holding them just once or twice, when I knew the sort of life they were going home to.  It was even worse when they didn't get to go home.  Thank you for the happier ending.

lbekoj

This story with the captivating flow of all events and descriptions is amazing, involving, perfectly written, thoughtful and profound.
I love all your well crafted characters. You were able to make me caring about all of them. They all are the living beings with the specific nature, interests and appearance. The station is also not some abstraction but the real place which I may see. I like that you could portrayal the global interstellar economics by example of one thing (the amulet).
But I really appreciate the original, vivid and memorable implementation of the idea that "a little kindness in life goes a long way" which so grips at the heart. I thought at first that Laura left to the child the sketch of her mother. But she presented the valued amulet and gave the newborn infant as a keepsake only the anonym note with the picture of herself. And your conclusion from this unusual act gives it more the deep. It is astonishing. By the way, the children can be cruel not only to orphans. Unfortunately, they are always capable finding the weakness in somebody. And the offended child can both complain to his parents or other caregivers and not.
And I love your positive and fighting mood in the tale from the summary.
Thank you, Linda, for sharing all your fiction and RL stories!

justTrip'n

Thank you! I love it. :D You always come up with something unique and real.

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