Christmas Time on the Bacchus
"Stop smirking, McQueen." The AI snarled.
"Do you have any idea how to cook a turkey?"
It was McQueen's turn to frown as he stepped to the AI's side, looking down
at the bird in question. He was rather relieved to note that Rikki was
not in the oven with it. "I have no idea." He said frankly.
"Who usually does this?"
"Twonky. He started it, gave me instructions
then went away." Alvin flipped the oven shut. "I think he wanted to be very far
away when the explosion occurred."
"When the bird exploded or when we
"Both probably." Alvin glanced over the
various pots set on top of the stove, then looked at a series of neatly handwritten cards
lined up on the counter. McQueen looked at them also, laughing out loud at the last one,
which said "Hire clean-up crew before I return."
"Doesn't trust you much, does he?"
"Not in the kitchen." The AI glared at the
contents of a pot then slammed down the cover. "I cannot cook. I burn water. Whenever
he goes somewhere, Twonky fixes a bunch of quick meals for Gary."
"Where is Twonky anyway?" McQueen pulled
himself up to sit on the counter, reaching for an apple and flipping open the butterfly
knife he'd pulled from his pocket.
"I've no idea. Twonky has his own . . .
amusements." Alvin leaned back against another counter, watching McQueen as he
absently peeled the apple.
"You trust Twonky?" It was half-question,
half-statement. Ever since that first fatal meeting with this unusual trio, the third
member of it rarely came within speaking distance of McQueen. He couldn't help but wonder
why. Surely it couldn't have anything to do with that double whammy he'd given the little
bastard with his own cricket bat.
"I trust Twonky with my life. More important, I
trust him with Gary's."
McQueen stared at the AI for a long moment then
nodded slowly. "All right then. I won't worry about him. As much." He glanced
down at the peeled apple before quartering it deftly and popping a piece into his mouth.
"Gary told me about his offer. The one he made after his last operation." No
answer. McQueen looked up to see that Alvin was staring at him impassively.
"And . . . ?" Alvin finally said.
McQueen turned his attention back to the apple.
"I was a POW during the AI wars . . . "
"I know." Alvin interrupted. "Twonky
dug out your file . . . oh yes, very clever is our Twonky. You wouldn't believe the things
he found out about you. And, yes, I can guess how you feel about AIs in general and me in
particular. But I wasn't involved in the war. I wasn't even on Earth."
"The virus . . . "
Alvin shook his head. "I was never exposed to
the virus. By the time I got near an infected AI, I no longer had a modem."
"Then how . . . ?" McQueen gestured with
Alvin smiled, a surprisingly human smile. "One
night a kirien screamed. And no, I'm not going to explain what I mean by that. Not
yet." His smile vanished. "But we were talking about Gary's offer."
"Let's just say that I was worried about Gary
being in your care . . . "
"Worried enough to check into nursing homes on
Earth?" There was a challenge in Alvin's voice. "Don't look so surprised. I did
the same thing when we first returned to Earth. I even found one that was decent but I. .
McQueen frowned. "Neither can I. I can't see
him getting the care he gets here with you anywhere, even in the best of nursing homes. So
I am going to do my best not to worry."
Alvin smiled. "Good enough. Here." He
tossed McQueen something. "Put that knife to good use. Help me peel the damn
McQueen looked down at the potato he had caught and
grimaced. "Make my way through the Marines to Lt. Colonel and what happens? I end up
back on KP duty." He muttered in disgust and Alvin laughed. "Where's Rikki?"
nodded at a shelf and McQueen glanced at it.
"Enh?" He reached up to poke at the toy.
"He's dry! How. . ?"
Alvin's grin widened and he glanced at the door
before sliding open a section of the wall. There, ranged neatly on the shelves, were
several identical toy raccoons, including a very wet fellow tucked on a lower shelf.
"That one's salvageable. He'll dry out. You would not believe how difficult it was to
find so many look-alike raccoons."
McQueen chuckled then paused with a frown, head
tilted at a sense of unease. Alvin noticed, opened his mouth to speak, then paused
thoughtfully. "I assume you brought something for Gary. Where, perchance, did you
McQueen's eyes widened. "Why that . . . !"
He dropped both the potato and knife on the counter and jumped down, running for the pool
hall. He almost stumbled over Gary, crouched down next to his duffel, going through it
Gary jumped up, looking up at his brother with a
guilty air. He opened his mouth then closed it with a look of frustration. McQueen
suddenly realized that Gary was going to do what he usually did, blame it on Rikki, but he
didn't know where Rikki was. "I was jes' looking." He finally mumbled.
"It's all right, Gary." Grabbing the
duffel, he swung it up on the bar. "Here, set these over there." He gestured at
the end of the bar with a package he had pulled from the bag. Gary took it, fumbling with
the tag and peering at it intently, mouthing the letters neatly printed there.
"Not me. Too many letters." He said
finally, setting the package on the bar and reaching for the next.
"Oh? And how many letters do you have in your
"Four." Gary held up three fingers,
frowned, then lifted another finger. "A G an' a A an' a R an' a Y. Alvin taught me
"You learned that pretty good." Ross' deep
voice proceeded him into the pool hall. He grinned at Gary who smiled shyly back before
easing behind McQueen, resting his head on his brother's shoulder and peering over it at
the 58th as they laughingly tumbled into the room.
One of the Wild Cards, young Jamethial Talisman,
literally bounded forward, leaping gracefully on the marble-topped bar and scurrying down
it, as nimble on all fours as on two feet. "Oh! Presents!" She reached for one.
"Hey!" Gary darted forward to shove at
her. Jamethial whooped as she did a double somersault to the floor, landing on her feet;
McQueen was reminded, once more, that the young woman had been a dancer before the war. In
a revival of CATS, no less, which seemed to explain her inclination for cat-like
behavior. Odd how the 58th seemed to attract a wide range of very unusual people with an
even wider range of unusual talents. She popped back up and leaped back onto the bar,
making a mock charge at the man. Gary blinked then spun around and ran into the kitchen.
Jamethial stopped dead, looking surprised.
"Errrrrr . . . think I went overboard, sir?"
McQueen frowned. She usually did but this time he
didn't think so. The impression he got from Gary wasn't fear but something much different.
Something like . . .
Gary returned, a determined expression on his face
and Rikki in his arms. He walked over to where Jamethial still crouched on the bar and
swung the stuffed toy hard, catching the young woman across the face. Jamethial whooped
again as she tumbled off the bar. This time, she landed on her back and laid there,
looking rather dazed.
"Oh, wow." Cooper Hawkes said as he and
Shane Vansen hurried forward to help their squadmate. "Cold-cocked by a stuffed
"The winnah!" Gary whooped, waving the
raccoon above his head before clutching it close and peering over the bar at the young
woman. "You okay?" He asked in some concern.
"Anybody get the number of that raccoon?"
Jamethial mumbled as Cooper and Vansen helped her up.
Gary looked at Rikki in some confusion then held him
up. "Rikki don' got no number."
"What he got is a hell of a right hook."
Jamethial blinked, shook her head clear then grinned at Gary. He grinned cheerfully back.
"I 'member you." He said. "You're
"Yes, yes, that's me. For lack of something
better." And she was back on the bar, practically nose-to-nose with Gary.
"Looking for your presents?"
Gary looked down at McQueen's still half-full
duffel. "Uh-huh." He reached down to pull out another present, peering at the
Jamethial shook her head again and jumped down from
the bar, reaching for the duffel Remy carried over his shoulder. The others, Ross
included, dropped what they carried onto the bar until a bright clutter of packages
covered the splendid marble top and, McQueen suddenly remembered, the weapons concealed
underneath. He thrust that thought away and concentrated on enjoying Gary's delight at the
sight of the gifts and the people coming to spend Christmas with him.
"Hey!" Bellowed a voice from behind him
and everyone turned to see Alvin standing there with a bemused look on his face, arms
crossed across his chest. "Anyone know how to cook a turkey? I can't tell if the
bugger's burning or getting ready to fly away."
Nathan, Vanessa and Shane looked at one another,
Jamethial pointedly looked elsewhere and Remy suddenly found the floor very interesting.
Cooper just looked confused. After a moment, Nathan and Shane walked around the bar and to
the kitchen. Alvin turned to follow and found himself shoved back out. He blinked then
shrugged, turning to walk over by Gary. Taking the man's shoulder, he leaned over to
whisper something in his ear. After a moment, Gary nodded, handing Rikki off to Alvin
before darting back into his room.
A moment later, he was back with an armload of
clumsily wrapped presents he dropped on the bar with the others. Taking Rikki back, he
smiled shyly at everyone.
"Come on. You, you, you and you." Alvin
gestured at the remaining Wild Cards as he made his way around the bar. "Let's get
the tables set up"
next several minutes were a flurry of activity as tables were moved and
set up. Ross and McQueen took advantage of their rank and settled by the
bar, McQueen gathering together the makings for eggnog on the way. Ross,
not too surprisingly, provided the rum. Supper turned out to be a remarkably
friendly affair, despite having an AI at the table. Alvin ate little,
concentrating mainly on getting Gary fed and keeping anything alcoholic
away from him. Gary was an energetic eater. Clean-up proved to be easy
enough. Since Alvin said he'd already contacted a cleaning agency, everything
was simply piled onto the kitchen counter for them to tend to.
It was on their way to the bar and a session of
present opening when someone appeared at the door; a middle-aged woman with graying hair.
Alvin broke away from the group and went to meet her.
McQueen stepped close to Gary, who was waving at the
woman, and took his arm, gently leading him to the bar. "Who's that?" He asked.
"That's my doctor. My talk-to doctor."
"Talk-to doctor?" McQueen blinked,
wondering exactly how unsteady rum-laced eggnog could make a person. But surely he hadn't
drunk that much.
"Uh-huh. I talk to her 'bout things."
"You mean like a psychologist?" Ross said
Gary frowned at the big word. "I. . .I guess
Ross studied Gary for a moment then looked at
McQueen. "You look like you just got poleaxed."
"I feel like it." McQueen grunted, shaking
his head. "Every time I think Alvin can't surprise me any more . . ." He watched
as the woman handed Alvin something and turned away, disappearing out the door. Alvin
rejoined them, dropping a couple more presents on the pile. He caught McQueen's look and
"Come on, Gary." Alvin slipped an arm
around Gary and drew him to the bar. "You've presents to open."
"'kay!" Gary sank gracefully to the floor,
joining Jamethial and Remy as they sorted out the presents. Gary proved as energetic in
present-opening as he did in eating. Alvin helped him as little as possible, sneaking a
hand around to break ribbons that proved too clever for the man to pull off, reading tags
too long for him to sound out. Most of Gary's presents consisted of books and educational
toys, though Commodore Ross had gotten him a new stuffed toy, a badger. Gary seemed wary
of this new toy but included it in his circle.
The presents from Gary turned out to be a series of
neatly-matted sketches, all painstakingly drawn by the man over the course of several
months. Gary squirmed with pleasure as all oohed and aahed over the artwork which, for the
most part, were portraits of the receiver done in a fantasy vein.
The eggnog flowed freely, maybe too freely, McQueen
thought, as he stared at Gary and his circle of stuffed friends. There was the badger, as
yet unnamed, and not one but two raccoons. He frowned, studying this tableau for a long
"Gary. Gary, where did Rikki's friend come
Gary squinted at him, his eyes more vague then
usual. Apparently, despite Alvin's diligence, he had managed to get some of the spiked
eggnog. "Frien'? Oh, you mean him? He . . . he lives in the kitchen. With his
"What!?" Alvin dropped his bottle of beer
and Jamethial, sitting on the floor nearby, caught it nimbly on the fly.
Gary jumped, throwing the AI a rather bleary,
furtive look. "Y'know. Dem raccoons. In the kitchen. In the closet."
McQueen had heard of the term flabbergasted but this
was the first time he'd actually seen someone with that expression. And on an AI. Imagine.
"Gary, how do you know about the other
raccoons?" Alvin asked slowly.
"I found 'em when I was explorin'. Sometimes
they like to play together so I bring em out. Sometimes. When you gone." He added.
"When I'm. . . .Gary, does Twonky know that you
know about the other raccoons?"
"Uh-huh. He found me wit' em. He said I
shouldn' tell you I know 'bout . . . " Gary stopped, blinking owlishly at Alvin as he
realized he had just told the AI what he shouldn't.
Thunk! The AI's head hit the bar hard and Gary
"Why do ever'one do that?" He asked, his
"Gary," McQueen slid from the bar stool
and took the glass from his brother's hand. As he suspected, it was laced with rum. He
handed it off to Ross. "Gary, how long have you known about the raccoons?"
Alvin muttered something that sounded suspiciously
like "Twonky is a dead man."
"Since before or after we first met?"
Gary blinked, thinking hard. "B'fore."
"Twonky is so dead." Alvin's mutterings
were a little louder this time and Gary looked at him woozily.
"I don' feel so good." Gary mumbled and
Alvin straightened, looking at him in concern.
"Gary?" He moved to Gary's side, reaching
out to gently touch the man's cheek.
"He got ahold of a glass of the spiked
"What!!! How . . . ?!"
"An accident." McQueen said sharply and
Alvin glared at him. "Come on, Gary. Let's get you to bed."
"'kay." Gary gathered up his stuffed
friends and stood, wavering, McQueen and Alvin on each side of him. "My 'ead's
spinnin'." He whimpered.
"It's okay, Gary." McQueen slipped an arm
around his brother. "Come on."
Between the two of them, they got the man into his
room and to his bed. Behind them, Ross started getting everyone together, preparing them
for their return to the Saratoga. McQueen glanced at his watch. They had two hours
but it would probably take that long for them to herd everyone to the landing bay.
He helped get Gary undressed and into bed. Alvin
knelt next to the man, stroking his hair gently.
"Why don' I feel good?" Gary mumbled,
hugging a raccoon tightly.
"You drank something bad. You'll feel better in
the morning, when you wake up. You just lay here and I'll be right back." Alvin rose
and walked from the room. McQueen took his place, tucking the remaining toys next to his
"Gary. Gary, listen to me. I have to go now. I
have to go back to my ship. And back to work. But I'll be back as soon as I can."
"Promise?" Gary asked sleepily.
"Promise. Now, if the room starts spinning, you
just stick a leg out of bed and it'll stop." McQueen grinned at the memory of Ross
telling his much younger self the same thing so many years ago. "Goodbye, Gary. Merry
"Merry Christmas, Ty. Love you. Lots."
McQueen hesitated before leaning forward to press
his lips against his brother's forehead, speaking softly. "I love you too,
Gary smiled, his eyes already closed and McQueen
rose, turning to see Alvin standing in the doorway, a pail in his hands. For a long
moment, they stared at each other until, finally, McQueen broke the silence.
"Good idea, that pail. He'll need it, I think.
In the morning, make sure he drinks a couple glasses of orange juice. It helps."
"All right. Thanks." Alvin walked over to
set the pail next to the bed and turned once more to face McQueen. The silence stretched
out long enough to become uncomfortable.
"Ross and the others are waiting for you."
Alvin said finally.
"Yes. I'd better go." He didn't move
immediately but instead looked back down at Gary, fast asleep, his arms around a raccoon
that might or might not have been the original Rikki. McQueen wondered briefly just how
many Rikkis there had been over the years. "Take care of him, Alvin." He said
"Always, McQueen. Always."
McQueen turned and walked toward the pool hall,
pausing briefly in the doorway. Alvin was now kneeling beside the bed, watching the man
sleep, stroking Gary's hair gently. McQueen smiled and slipped out to help Ross gather
together the 58th and their gifts.
Alvin waited until all sounds of the visitors had
faded before undressing, dimming the lights and slipping into the bed next to Gary,
reaching over to cradle the man close. He had taken care of Gary through injuries,
infections, sickness, operations, fever. Now, it seemed, he would take care of him though
a hangover. Oh, joy.
There was a whisper of sound and Alvin raised
himself on an elbow, looking at the open door. A figure stood there, a shadow against the
"Did you forget something, Jame?" He
"Yes, yes. To say goodbye properly. Don't
worry, everyone else is gone. I told them I forgot something and I'd catch up. Sorry about
Gary getting hold of that drink."
"It was yours?"
The woman nodded. "I put it down and forgot
about it. Gary must have picked it up."
The AI sighed. "You're forgiven." Then he
smiled, absently stroking Gary's hair. "Count yourself lucky, Jame me girl. No one
caught Gary's slip-up . . . "
"Which one? The fact that my name was the only
one of the 58th's he remembered? Or when he called me Jame? I wonder if anyone'll ever
figure it out. No one calls me that on the Saratoga. Maybe they'll figure it's just
Gary, messing with my name."
"We can only hope."
"Anyway, I just slipped back to give you a
message for Twonky. Tell him I'm sorry I missed him this time around and for him to stay
out of trouble. Mem will have his head if he gets caught or killed or anything. And I
won't be too happy either. Oh, and tell him not to worry about the Colonel so much."
Alvin frowned. "McQueen's a clever man . . .
"Oh, yes, he is. And he'll figure it out,
sooner or late. But not yet and not now."
"Very well, I'll pass it along. Merry
Laughter. "Merry Christmas, Herne." And
she was gone.
Alvin laid back down, a faint smile on his lips. How
he felt about McQueen was complicated but he did find himself actually liking the man, if
only because of how much he cared for Gary. But not even his worst enemy deserved someone
like Jamethial Talisman, who tended to take after her fictional namesake in alarming ways.
And, with that thought, Alvin turned himself down to
his sleeping state and drifted off into electronic dreams populated by a silver-eyed woman
riding an ivory-armored horse and commanding a platoon of fierce men with bloody hands and
red, red eyes . . .