Christmas Time on the Bacchus

Part Two
of Two

"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 exploded?"

"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 the knife.

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. . .couldn't."

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 potatoes."

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?"

AlvinAlvin 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 leave it?"

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 intently.

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 name?"

"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 that."

"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 raccoon."

"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 Jame."

"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 tag.

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"

McQueenThe 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 suddenly.

Gary frowned at the big word. "I. . .I guess so."

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 shrugged.

"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 moment.

"Gary. Gary, where did Rikki's friend come from?"

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 brothers."

"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 frowned.

"Why do ever'one do that?" He asked, his voice slurring.

"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?"

"Awhile."

Alvin muttered something that sounded suspiciously like "Twonky is a dead man."

"Since before or after we first met?" McQueen asked.

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 eggnog."

"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."

"'kay."

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 brother.

"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 Christmas."

"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."

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 finally.

"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 darkness.

"Did you forget something, Jame?" He asked.

"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 Christmas, Jamethial."

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 . . .

The End

Coming Soon!!!
The Furies

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