"Is Spock going to be a problem?"
"No, ma'am, absolutely not. You have my word on it."
Admiral Gibbons looked skeptical, and with good reason. Spock usually was a problem when it came to things like this. Just last year, a second-grader had asked him if Elves and Vulcans were descended from a common ancestor like humans and apes were.
Spock had not been content to respond that they were not, but had felt compelled to inform the boy in his coldest skeptical scientist voice that elves were mythical creatures that did not exist and never had. Uhura managed to lose their transmission before Spock had the chance to say anything else. The Vulcan Embassy had moved quickly to clarify Spock's statement for the benefit of Terran children—there were no elves on Vulcan, but there had never been a definitive study of the existence of Terran Elves, though it was a subject worthy of study.
"Why do you do that?" Jim had asked him.
Spock didn't bother pretending he didn't know what Jim was talking about. "Elves do not exist," he replied. "I see no benefit to dishonesty."
"You don't feel the need to debunk any other culture's myths."
"Perhaps I am not inundated by other cultures' myths," Spock had answered.
Exasperated, Jim let it go. He wasn't going to let this one go, though.
Which was why, three hours and two heated arguments later, Jim snapped, "If you can't play nice, stay off the damn bridge!"
The Enterprise was in orbit around Earth on December 24, and on the line was a Starfleet tradition, as old as Starfleet itself, handed down from the old North American Aerospace Defense Command, which in turn had inherited it from the Continental Air Defense Command.
Every year on Christmas Eve, any vessel in the sector received orders from Starfleet Command that they were to divert all sensors to Earth to track the progress of Santa Claus as he delivered presents to Earth and all local system colonies.
It was the highlight of any Starfleet officer's career to ad-lib through the night, making periodic, official reports to a base commander, who in turn relayed those reports through the local media. All of them could remember the magic of seeing those reports when they were children, that last year, just before they forgot how to believe, when a Starfleet Captain, or a Science Officer, or a Tactical Officer convinced them for one more Christmas that the impossible lay just out of sight.
Jim took his seat with a smile, though his heart was a little heavy because Spock had taken him literally. His First Officer was not on the bridge.
Taking a deep breath, Jim initiated their mission. "Status, Mr. Sulu?"
"Maintaining geosynchronous orbit at 342 km," Sulu replied.
"Sir," Uhura said, "I have incoming transmission from Command Center 14 in Albuquerque."
"On screen," Jim said.
The screen resolved instantly into Admiral Gibbons' face. She was sitting at a desk, aides arrayed behind her. "Enterprise," she said without cracking a smile. "USS Sagan reports the target is leaving visual range. Feeding coordinates to you now."
"Mr. Chekov?" Jim prompted.
"Coordinates received, sir. Acquiring target. Data incoming."
Jim pretended to check the readout on the arm of his chair. "Very good," he said. "Feed the coordinates to—"
Before he could finish, the bridge door slid open and Spock approached his station. After a breath of hesitation, Chekov gave over to him and assumed his own station at navigation.
Utter silence engulfed the bridge as Spock peered into his viewer. "Mr. Chekov, I recommend you recalibrate your instruments," Spock said. "There is nothing at these coordinates."
Jim curled his hand into a fist, but said tightly, "Please verify the coordinates."
Chekov cleared his throat and reentered a set of numbers.
Spock straightened. "Captain, I believe I have identified a malfunction in the ship's sensors. If you will permit me a moment, I shall correct the error."
"Proceed," Jim said, not meeting Gibbons' eyes, trying to keep his own expression neutral. They were being broadcast live to media outlets within a 500-km radius. He couldn't say what he was really thinking.
Spock's fingers flew over his keyboard and the screens flickered, then came into focus again. It took a moment for Jim to realize that he was looking at an actual field of stars now, not the fabricated scene that they had been feeding. Spock had 'fixed' the sensors all right; they were reporting what the ship actually saw.
"Mr. Chekov, I am feeding new coordinates to your station now," Spock said. "Please track the object and provide updates."
Chekov looked at his display, then did a double-take, then turned around, his eyes wide as he looked at Spock. A slow smile spread across his face.
Spock locked his hands behind his back and gazed dispassionately forward.
"Tracking object," Chekov announced. "143 mark 17, closing at a velocity of 164,110 kph."
Automatically, Jim glanced at his own display. Of course there was nothing on it. For whatever reason, Spock was just going off-script. He was baffling on the best of days. "Lt. Uhura, relay that information to Command 14," Jim said, playing along.
"Hendorff, do you have the object on screen?"
"Yes, sir." He sounded convincing at least.
"What's the ETA?"
"Six minutes, nineteen seconds," Spock corrected.
Jim glanced back at him. "Very good," he said, hoping Spock would read his tone and back off just a little. There was such a thing as too much detail.
Spock just stood there.
With an inward sigh, Jim turned his attention back to Admiral Gibbons. "Are you seeing this, Admiral?"
"We have the target on our sensors," Gibbons replied.
"Admiral, if I may?" Spock said.
Gibbons looked wary, but nodded. Spock stepped up to Jim's side. "The coordinates you provided were slightly off. We are transmitting new coordinates now. Are you receiving them?"
Gibbons looked off-screen, her brow furrowing a little. "We're receiving," she said. Behind her, one of her aides leaned over and said something to another, and the second aide peered with interest at the screen, then looked directly at Spock with something akin to disbelief.
"If I may be so bold as to suggest it, I believe the target will be briefly visible in the southwest sky, approximately 40 degrees above the horizon."
Jim spun around in his chair and gestured at Uhura to cut the audio transmission. As soon as the channel was closed, Jim hissed, "What the hell are you doing? You're going to have every kid from Phoenix to Albuquerque to Chihuahua going outside to look at the sky and when they don't see anything—"
"I quite doubt that every child in that geographic region will be looking at the sky, and I also doubt that the sky is even visible in all locations," Spock said.
Jim just shook his head. "Why couldn't you just stay off the bridge and let us have our moment?" he snapped. "Why did you have to come and ruin it? Do you even understand what we're trying to keep alive?"
"Captain," Uhura said, "Admiral Gibbons is asking for an update."
Jim narrowed his eyes at Spock, but gestured for Uhura to reconnect the audio. "Chekov, update Command please."
"ETA three minutes, thirty-nine seconds."
Jim was seething, but he looked at his display again almost out of habit. Still nothing, of course.
A sudden shrill alarm attracted Jim's attention. It was the proximity alarm, and the Enterprise's shields were down. Jim opened his mouth to order shields, but Spock stopped him by leaning over his shoulder and entering a few commands into the display.
It took a moment for Jim to realize what Spock had done. He'd removed a standard filter which ignored objects less than ten meters in diameter, and now Jim could see that there was something there. It was small, less than half a meter in diameter, but the Enterprise's powerful sensors could see it and track it, and they were feeding information back to the captain in real time.
Jim moistened his lips and looked up at Spock, his eyes misting as the full meaning sank in.
"Admiral Gibbons," Spock said, "would you be so good as to direct visual transmissions back to us?"
Gibbons just nodded. She looked a little like Jim felt—like maybe her collar was suddenly too tight.
The meteoroid entered the atmosphere at precisely the right angle, and it sliced a bright white sliver of light into the shadowy blue haze below.
Scant seconds later, the same image repeated, transmitted from the surface this time. From the vantage point of Albuquerque, it was a spectacular shooting star, with a tail that arced nearly four degrees behind the glowing head.
Jim couldn't speak, so Spock spoke for him. "Command Center, this is Enterprise. We have tracked the object into the Earth's atmosphere. Can you confirm entry?"
"Confirmed," came the reply. "Thank you for your assistance, Enterprise. We'll take it from here. Merry Christmas. Command out."
The screens went dark.
After letting the hush linger for a moment longer, Jim looked up at Spock, trying to form the words to ask the question on his mind.
Spock didn't make him ask it. He answered softly. "Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world."
"I thought you didn't approve of encouraging myth and superstition," Jim said finally.
"I do not. But I do not believe that is what we were doing here."
"What do you think we were doing?"
Spock clasped his hands behind his back again. "We were telling your planet that for one night, Starfleet has nothing more pressing to do than to preserve a child's sense of wonder. I consider the cause worthy."
"Is Spock going to be a problem?"