By Brent Abell
James Market sat quietly at his desk, watching the video feeds stream in from around the facility. All was quiet, and not even a mouse could be seen or heard. He leaned back in his oversized leather chair to ring in Christmas on the graveyard shift. The kids missed him, but he pulled the shortest straw for the Christmas Eve shift. Helen wasn’t as forgiving as the girls had been toward him. They hugged him and told him they understood. All Helen did was look at him with her usual disdain.
“How’s it looking, James?” Peter Fox asked, taking his seat on the other side of the control room.
“Silent night, holy night,” James quipped.
“Wow, that was a bad one,” Peter said. He logged in to his terminal and started his visual sweep of the facility.
“Sorry, I’m just trying to stay festive.”
“Understood. The kids were bummed I wouldn’t be home tonight, but I promised to be back before they get up in the morning,” Peter said.
“Helen was pissed, but the girls will forgive me when they’re busy with what Santa brought them,” James added.
Both men sat and sighed. The wall clock loudly ticked off the seconds while James and Peter monitored the surveillance screens. James whistled a short Christmas tune every few minutes and would fall silent again. Peter matched the songs with a hummed hymn before falling quiet as well.
“I brought cookies,” Peter said, breaking the uncomfortable silence.
“Heather’s homemade ones?” James asked. He hoped they were from Heather; they were his favorite cookies at Christmas.
Peter dug around in his bag and got out a small container. James salivated at the aroma escaping from the box as Peter removed the lid. The sweet smell of homebaked chocolate cookies filled his nose, and James didn’t see the alarm indicator on his central screen blink red. Peter rolled his chair over to James and held out the cookies. James took two and turned back to his screen.
“Oh, shit,” James uttered with a mouthful of cookie.
“What is it?” Peter asked, shoving a cookie in his mouth.
Before James could answer, Peter’s screen lit up in a sinister red hue. The claxons blared out in the hall, and James scrambled to log in his security key. Peter jumped from his chair and stood behind James, frantically pointing at the screens. In each image, the other workers in the facility were dead. One doctor’s face stared at the camera with a scream frozen on his face and blood pouring from his mouth and nose.
“Holy shit,” Peter said. His hand covered his mouth to stifle the scream welling up in his chest.
“Merry Christmas, buddy.”
“How can you be so calm right now! Look at them!” Peter cried out.
James reached over and switched off his station monitors. “I’m going home for Christmas, Peter. You really should do the same before the protocols kick in tonight.”
“What did you do?” Peter inquired.
“We’re about to be blessed with the chance to see our Lord and Savior on the night of his birth,” James replied. He stood up and slipped his coat on.
Peter stood in stunned paralysis. James pushed past him and grabbed another cookie from the box. He took a bite and laughed as Peter swatted the box to the floor. The cookies and crumbs spilled out over the green tile floor.
“You should go home and tell Heather how delicious the cookies are. She’d appreciate it, and so would the kids. Spend Christmas with them,” James said. His voice changed, and he sounded cold and robotic.
“You’re fucking insane!”
“Am I? Look, I’m leaving now, and I think you should too, Peter,” James said and opened the door. “Oh yeah, I locked my terminal after I entered the protocol password.”
Peter rushed toward James, but James yanked the door closed before Peter could reach him. While James walked to the exit, he listened to Peter scream, damning him for what James had done for the base’s residents in the control room. James felt sad because Peter didn’t understand the gift he gave the compound. James looked up at the bright star in the north and smiled all the way home.
James slowly opened the door to his house and crept inside. He tried to stay quiet as a mouse. The Christmas tree was still lit, and a plate of cookies and a glass of milk sat out on the coffee table. James loved the way the twinkling red and green tree lights danced around the darkened living room. The ambiance reminded him of Christmas when he grew up in northern Indiana. It wasn’t surprising to anyone when he took a job at the Naval base in central Indiana. He got asked the most about why the Navy would be in the middle of a state. Well, it isn’t about boats, but about the things stored at the facility.
The base stored certain things until they could be destroyed.
Tonight, the menagerie of viruses got loose.
“Daddy?” a small voice called out behind James.
James turned and opened his arms to his youngest daughter. “Merry Christmas, honey.”
The little girl rushed to her father and embraced him tightly. “Santa hasn’t come yet; there’s still cookies and milk.”
“Oh, Jade, I think he’s running behind tonight,” James replied. He ran his fingers through Jade’s golden hair and sighed.
“Merry Christmas, daddy.”
James felt the tear in his eye and looked out the window. The bright star in the north appeared more prominent in the sky than it had earlier when he left his post. Jade wiggled free of his hug and joined him in looking up at the heavens.
“Is that the Christmas Star?” Jade inquired.
“Yes, it is, sweetheart,” James answered.
Jade sat in silence with her father, watching the star grow larger.
“Is the star a gift from Santa, daddy?”
“Yes, Santa is giving us a great gift this year.”
James embraced his daughter as the star grew brighter in the midnight sky. Snow fell, and James heard the wind howling outside the window. The serene setting reminded James of the perfect Christmas nights he’d dreamed of as a child. His parents never gave him the perfect Christmas, and James only wanted to give his family the most sacred holiday. Outside, the sirens blared, breaking the silence.
“Daddy, is that Santa?” Jade asked. “Should we get Karen up?”
“No, this moment is for us. I always wanted to give you the perfect Christmas, Jade.”
“Why is the star getting bigger?”
“The Christmas star is my gift to you, sweetheart,” James said. “Merry Christmas.”
The star grew bigger faster. The snow turned to rain from the heat radiating off of the star. James held his daughter tighter as the windows rattled and the noise from the star grew to an unbearable crescendo. James smiled at his gift to the world. The protocol code gave him the chance to show how much God so loved the world that he gave humans a gift in the form of viruses and missiles to cleanse the planet. Redemption in the form of self-destruction.
James closed his eyes, and Jade screamed when the missiles blanketed the base, but it was too late. James already bestowed his gift to the world, and soon all would celebrate the season in death and suffering.