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A Special Extra Christmas
    by Eric James Stone

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Drawn Sword of Allah exited the exploratory wormhole at 11:52 Universal Mecca Time on 9 Jumada Al-Thani 4494 AH. Intissar Majid entered this fact in her journal using longhand Arabic script. Khalid, the ship's artificial jinni, doubtless had already stored much more detailed information in his memory, but Intissar liked having a record of her own.

"I have pulsar-calculated our position," Khalid said. "The nearby star had a small Confederation-era colony, Summerfair, but there's been no recorded contact in over eight hundred years. I'm not picking up any broadcast traffic, so it could be another world that died after the wormhole network collapsed. We could claim it for the Caliphate."

"Or they have regressed," she said. In the five years of surveying she and Khalid had done since being mustered out at the end of the war, she had learned that regression was the more likely case. Without access to interstellar trade, a colony might lack the tech base to maintain its existing technology, but unless the planet was on the extremes of the habitable range, humans tended to find a way to survive. "In which case, we shall offer them the choice to accept or decline the protection of the Caliphate."

"I've found the planet," Khalid said. "Range twenty-seven million kilometers." A hologram shimmered into being: a blue and white world partially obscuring a brilliant white moon. "It seems you are right: there is a town with active illumination visible on optics." An inset picture of tiny dots of light in a somewhat grid-like pattern appeared, with lines tracing back to the source position on the night side of the planet. "I'm firing a probe to do a close-in pass for a better view. It should be in position by the time the town moves into daylight."

"Still no radio?" Intissar asked.


"Then we'll have to land to make contact," she said. "How long before we can do that?"

"Our relative velocity is too high to go directly, so we can do a flyby in a couple of days, before coming back to land. We can do it in five days--three if we max out the inertials, insha'Allah."

Intissar smiled at Khalid's desire to push himself to his limits. The decommissioned single-crewed fighter had been stripped of weapons after the last war, but still had military-grade engines. "No rush."

"Then I will set our course for the colony after dhuhr prayers. I am now pointing us toward Mecca."

Two hours later, Khalid said, "I have noticed an anomaly."

Intissar looked up from her workpad. "What?"

A hologram of the colony world and its moon popped into the air. A red circle surrounded the moon. "Documentation on this colony is scant, but it did not mention a moon. I have been observing since we arrived in this system, and have confirmed that body is not in orbit around the planet. It may be a moon ejected by one of the gas giants, or possibly a giant comet. It is two-thirds the size of Earth's moon, and it will strike the planet in seventeen hours."

Intissar gasped. "Merciful Allah, let it not be so," she prayed, even though she knew Khalid was never wrong about such things. "Can we warn them?"

"We have no way to communicate with them. Such warning would be futile anyway, as nowhere on the planet is safe from devastation." Khalid paused, then said, "I know you will not like my saying this, but perhaps we were brought here by the hand of Allah in perfect time to witness the destruction of these foul infidels." Another pause, then, "They are Christians."

"They are People of the Book, not infidels," she said. His war-time programmers had perhaps gone a little too far to ensure Khalid would be zealous against the enemy. Christianity was the dominant religion of the Union of Worlds, but the war's root causes were political and economic, not religious. "There are many worlds of Christians that Allah has not destroyed," she said. "We are simply witnesses to a tragedy . . . Unless, insha'Allah, we have arrived in time to prevent it?"

"Even if I still had my weapons, I could not hope to destroy an entire moon."

"How many people?" she asked, still trying to comprehend the scale of the disaster.

"About forty thousand."

"How do you know they are Christians?"

"Our probe sent these back." Images flashed up of the town. Red and green dominated the colors of decorations placed on buildings and streetlamps. "The English words indicate they are celebrating Christmas. It is a holiday for greedy children, who demand gifts from their parents. They are celebrating three months late or nine months early according to the Christian calendar."

"They may have adjusted the calendar to their world."

"According to the data, Christmas is a winter holiday, but it is now spring in the colony."

With a flash of insight, Intissar said, "It is a mercy, for the children. The adults know their world is ending, but they have told their children it is a special extra Christmas so they will not die in fear."

"It's wrong to lie," said Khalid. He often resorted to the black and white rules of his religious programming when presented with an ethical dilemma.

"Mercy is a gift from Allah," she said. "May Allah have mercy on them all."

"Do you mean what you say about mercy?"

"Of course."

"Would you . . . "

She waited a few seconds, but Khalid did not continue. "Would I what?"

Finally, after almost a minute, Khalid said, "I'm sorry. I lied to you when I said I could not destroy an entire moon. I've had to overcome a security override in order to tell you the truth. Would you save the lives of these Christians if you could, at the cost of your own life? And mine?"

Would she? She didn't want to die, but how could she live with herself if she allowed forty thousand to die? Her mouth went dry, but she said, "Yes."

"It is a violation of the Jordan Convention to activate my wormhole generator within a certain radius of astronomical bodies. Such a procedure was used as a weapon of planetary destruction during the Confederation Civil War, and has been banned ever since. If I did so right next to that moon, the wormhole would try to swallow it entirely, and fail. The moon would collapse to a singularity and the energy given off would create a white hole."

"And that would save the colony?"

"I calculate that the energy should discharge disproportionately along the axis of the wormhole mouth, mostly avoiding the colony world if, insha'Allah, we come in at the correct angle. They will merely see a very bright star that fades over the next few days. But if we're going to do it in time, I'll need to max out the inertials along a least-time path to the moon."

Intissar closed her eyes. During the war, she had been willing to die to kill the enemy. This felt like a better reason for her death. "Let's do it."

The moon loomed stark white, pushing the black of space to the edges of Intissar's vision. An inset display showed the planet they had just passed.

"The infid--people below expect to be destroyed," Khalid said. "They will think it a Christmas miracle when I create the wormhole, especially since a bright star figures in their holiday celebrations."

"Yes." Intissar smiled. "They will never know that the Drawn Sword of Allah defended them. But we will know, and Allah will know. It is enough."

After a moment, Khalid said, "It is enough."

The calm of knowing one was doing right filled her heart as the final minute ticked off. "Is there something traditional to say when giving gifts for Christmas?"

"Yes," said Khalid. "There is some disagreement as to whether it is forbidden for a Muslim to say it to a Christian, but the phrase in English is 'Merry Christmas.'"

Looking at the display of the planet, Intissar said, "Mer--"

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