Then the familiar sound of the TARDIS materialization drowned out the bells and brass of the music the computer was playing. The Doctor stepped out, with a woman and another man. At least Kirk assumed that one of the men was the Doctor, regenerated again since last Kirk met him. Both men appeared to be young, human, of about thirty years of age. Both were wearing Victorian-era coats, one of a dark green velvet, the other of a plainer brown in a plainer fabric. Both had long fairish hair, but the one in brown had an untrimmed but well-groomed beard and was wearing a wide-brimmed hat that was flat on top. The other was carrying a cardboard box, about the size of two breadboxes, wrapped up in string. The young woman was slender and had short-cropped blonde hair, and wore a Victorian dress in a much brighter green than her escort's coat.
The man with the box must have been the Doctor, for upon spotting Kirk he immediately advanced on him with a wide smile. "Captain Kirk! Merry Christmas! I have coaxed the correct date out of the TARDIS, haven't I?"
"Congratulations, Doctor, you've beaten 1-in-365 odds."
"Capital!" The Doctor waved the others forward. "You remember Saavik of course. She's traveling with me at present."
"Admiral," said the girl, courtseying. "I mean, Captain," she added with a grin and a giggle. Obviously Saavik had regenerated at least once again (her first regeneration having occasioned the discovery that she was the Doctor's half-sister), and into a nearly- or totally- non-Vulcan body.
"And this," said the Doctor of the other man, "is my friend Rabbi Joshua Carpenter."
"How do you do, Captain," said the rabbi, extending his hand.
Kirk shook it. "Pleased to meet you," he said, quite sincerely, not at all taken in by the alias.
The Doctor hefted the box, which Kirk had noticed by now was emitting the most enticing aromas. "We wondered," said the Time Lord, "whether we might tempt you with Christmas dinner."
The box yielded a turkey with stuffing and all the trimmings, and a selection of wines and desserts - the box seemed to be, like the TARDIS, bigger on the inside than the outside. The four spent an hour and a half attempting to drain the cornucopia before they admitted defeat.
"So," said the rabbi, as they retreated to the sitting area with their brandies, "men still celebrate Christmas in this time." Kirk had a small replicated artificial evergreen on an end-table, decorated only with a five-pointed star at the top. The rabbi had sat in the chair next to it and was examining it.
"Does that surprise you?" Kirk asked.
"It surprises me," the Doctor said, mildly annoying Kirk, who had wanted to hear the rabbi's response. "The humans of this time all seem to be what I might call rational humanists. Humans don't still believe that Christ was the son of God, do they?"
"For myself," said Kirk, "what I don't believe is that so many humans believed for so long that only Christ was the son of God."
"Really?" The rabbi seemed pleased by that. "Do you still celebrate Easter too? Arguably that's the more significant of the two major Christian holidays, being the affirmation of the promised afterlife."
"The celebration of Easter declined steadily from the twentieth century," Saavik lectured, "commensurate with the commercialization of Christmas."
"I don't think it was solely the commercialism that gave Christmas the edge over Easter," said Kirk. "If that were all, it would have reversed when humans outgrew the profit motive. It was the growing trend of humanity to regard the living of this life, while we're here, as a priority over the afterlife; even if, or perhaps especially if, one believed in the afterlife."
"So why was Christ still important at all, if his message of the afterlife wasn't important any more?" the rabbi asked.
Kirk found the question a little disingenuous. But it would be rude to call "Carpenter" out now after playing along all evening, even though he was sure his visitors knew he'd seen through the masquerade. Had the Doctor brought the rabbi here just to feed his ego? "Because Christ is still a major historical and philosophical force from human history. Our attention just turned to his other message."
"Which was?" Saavik asked.
"Love one another,", said Kirk. "And the kingdom of heaven is in you - it's not reserved for after you've shuffled off this mortal coil. Humans have learned that, whether we're children of some paternal Creator or not, 'salvation' in is being true to ourselves and to each other."
The rabbi nodded. "So with all this emphasis on life, how do people feel about death?"
Kirk snapped a look at the Doctor, who only looked over at Saavik phlegmatically over his brandy glass. Saavik kept her cool expression but had turned quite pink. It wasn't after all for "Carpenter" that this get-together had been arranged.
"Death," said Kirk, rolling the concept around in his head. This was the first time in awhile, and it wasn't falling into the same tracks as it always had before. "Death," he said, wondering as much as his listeners what he was going to say, "is just another unknown. The unknown is to be explored."
"Something to be explored," repeated Saavik. "Not something to be cheated, or tricked your way out of?"
Kirk shrugged. "I've done those things. But I've seen too much of death - I know it too well to be afraid of it any more."
"Congratulations, Captain," said Saavik. Then the Doctor turned the conversation to more innocuous topics.
"My friends," said Kirk eventually, standing, "it's been a pleasure."
"We're overstaying our welcome," said the Doctor. He, Saavik and the rabbi rose. "Thanks for your company for dinner, Captain."
Kirk walked his guests to the TARDIS. "Thanks for dinner."
"Merry Christmas, Captain," said Saavik, entering the TARDIS.
"Merry Christmas," said the rabbi.
"Happy birthday," said Kirk.
"Thank you," said the rabbi without batting an eye, and stepped into the TARDIS.
"December 25 isn't actually his birthday, you know," said the Doctor pedantically as he boarded the TARDIS; and then the night visitors were gone.
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