Gift of the Oracle
Greg frowned at the inexplicable package on the gunmetal-grey table. "What is that?"
"I don't know. It looks like a gift," replied Sophie.
"You do recall what that is, don't you?" Her question was only half-joking. It had been lifetimes since seasonal gifts were part of the human experience. Holidays had given way to survival during the war; no one could pinpoint exactly when.
His tone was sardonic. "Yes. But where did it come from? Who did it come from? How did it get into our quarters without one of us knowing?" He regarded it with suspicion. Unexpected parcels were too often disguised explosives, in his military experience. However The Conundrum were defeated nearly six months ago, and they didn't send gifts with personally addressed cards attached. But there, clear as ether-glass, was the word SILVERFOX in block print on the front.
"It's hand written. Who writes things down manually?" He reached out a cautious hand and turned over the card.
"Someone old-fashioned?" Sophie offered.
"More like someone intent on keeping record of something out of the computer systems."
"Well, what does it say? Or have you forgotten how to read script?"
"You're full of comedy tonight, aren't you?"
He read the note, a bemused smile slowly turning up the corners of his mouth.
Sophie tapped an impatient finger on the metal table top. "Well? What does it say? Out loud, if you please."
"I will regret this moment of sentimental madness later. For now, accept this token of thanks. You stood by John in direst circumstances and for that I will be forever grateful. Of course, if you speak of this-particularly to him-you must expect consequences."
"Who's it from? It's like pulling teeth with you."
"It's signed 'Oracle'."
"I'm not." He showed her the hand-written message to prove it.
"Well, open it then."
Greg picked up the package. A bit heavy for the size. The wrapping was a roughly cut piece of red safety fabric tied with a green decontamination clearance lanyard. Something about the colours rang the faintest of bells in a distant corner of his memory and he paused.
"Come on," urged Sophie. "I'm dyin' to know what it is."
"Hold on. What's the date? In Old Earth time, I mean."
"Och, Christ. Y'expect me to do the conversion in my head? Hang on." She looked up at nothing, an indication she was running numbers through her brain. "Late December, I think. Maybe the twenty-fourth or twenty-fifth."
Greg let out a snort of laughter. "'Christ' is right. It's Christmas."
"Is it? Who'd've thought? And you getting a gift from Oracle of all people." She shook her head in disbelief.
Greg set the parcel back on the table.
"Don't you want to know what's in it?"
He smiled. "Yeah, but it'll wait." He sat down and looked at the bright spot of colour in the monochrome world of Edinburgh Base. "Right now, I'm going to enjoy it just as it is."
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