CHRISTMAS EVE 12/24/2033

"Sound check."

"Check. One. Two. Three. Check."

"Testing. One, two, three. Check."

Check... two, three... check... two... three..."

Standing on the roof of 93 Underground, Dawn turned and looked at the rest of The Razor's Edge. "We ready?"

Behind the drums Leon grinned. "Looks that way. Let's get started before we freeze."

Rachel chuckled and ran her fingers down the keyboard. "You were told to dress warmly."

"I am dressed warmly. And it's still cold."

"Stop complaining," Roy rumbled as he hung his bass around his neck. "If Dawn doesn't have a problem with the cold then you should be fine."

"Oh," Leon smiled, "There's some impeccable logic for you."

For her part, Dawn ignored the band's banter. Everyone had been told to dress both warmly, and formally. For Rachel that meant a long-sleeved white blouse, black vest, black tie, black ankle-length skirt, and boots. Roy had black pants and boots, and a charcoal gray turtleneck. Leon, for all his complaining, looked warm enough in black tunic and trousers, and a gold cheong-sang. As for herself, she had on her green leather boots and black jeans—her trademark look—and like Rachel she wore a white long-sleeved blouse and black tie, but instead of a vest she had on a long swallow-tailed black coat, with a tall top hat perched on her head. Having finished the sound check, she glanced around. The speakers and cables were in place, as were some scattered space heaters—they weren't the best, but they were better than nothing.

"Let's play."

Instantly discarding their joking attitudes, the band did just that. The Razor's Edge was on the roof of 93 Underground to give a free concert. A Christmas Eve concert comprised of both classical and contemporary holiday music, all given the special Razor's Edge twist. They started with an ancient classic, Lennon's Happy Christmas (War is Over), and then shifted gears and went into The Little Drummer Boy. Having set the pace and style, they switched from fast and slow, vocals to instrumental, modern to oldie, Silent Night to I Believe In Father Christmas.

From up on the roof, the sound blasted out across the Entertainment District and the rest of Zone. People gathered in the street and listened, ignoring the chill and the cold. Others opened a window, or stood in around trash cans of burning wood scrap. There was a stillness rarely seen or heard in the Zone. Even the gangs seemed to take the night off, and those that attended the show kept to themselves, with nary a glare or gesture between them. It was, in its own way, an almost spiritual moment.

As the echoes of Christmas Eve/Sarajevo died, Leon glanced up from his kit. "Hey..."

"Hey, what?" Roy replied.

"It's snowing."

"What?" Rachel looked up from her keyboards and out across the Zone. "Wow... would you look at that."

"Never seen it snow this early before," Dawn added. "Guess we'll have a white Christmas after all."

So this is Christmas
And what have you done?

I'm sitting in my office looking out the window. It's Christmas Eve in Hong Kong, and this means the streets are even more crowded than normal. Add in the wet weather, the short tempers, and the desire for "holiday cheer" forced on anyone and everyone and you end up with one blue-skinned synthetic who is not leaving her office come hell or high water.

Christmas doesn't interest me much. If I were a religious woman, which I'm not, I might debate the question of whether or not I have a soul, and if so, if said soul could even be saved. But like the question of my memories, that's something I'd rather not dwell on. So I'm going to stay in my office until six P.M., then retreat to my apartment, make up a bowl of instant noodles, and crawl into a nice warm bed. For me, December 25th is just another day, albeit one were I don't have to work. Of course, this year, it falls on a Sunday, a day I don't have to work anyway. Such is life.

I'd like to say the sudden knocking on my office door didn't make me jump, but I'd be lying.

"It's open." I really hope it's not a disaster in the making.

The door opens to reveal one of my tenants. Chih-Wah Lau, better known to me as "Andy" Lau, a tall handsome man in need of a shave and with hair long enough to warrant a ponytail. As usually he's dressed fashionably, and looks like either a simsense star or a triad gangster. It's my personal suspicion he kills people for a living.

"Miss Ferrari?" he asks, sounding hesitant.

"Yes, sir, Mr. Lau. What can I do for you?" I've found its a good idea to be polite to people you suspect are capable of extreme violence.

"Well..." He paused and looked embarrassed of all things. "I know you work hard to keep the place going... and don't have any family." He then looked up and seemed to gain a measure of confidence. "Neither do I. So I thought you might want to come up and share dinner with me. I've got duck, and steamed pork buns, and soup, and..., well, a big spread. It's more than I can eat by myself. What do you say?"

What do I say? What do I say?!

What do I say?

I gave a moment's thought. He's not asking me out... well... maybe he is, but... he's not asking me for sex, he's asking me to dinner... and duck and pork buns sounds better then instant noodles, and it is Christmas... so...

"Sure, Mr. Lau. I'd be delighted.

"Thank you, Miss Ferrari. Oh, and you can call me Andy."

Oh, I see. Well, then obviously I must say: "Sarah. Sarah's fine for tonight."

Another year older
And a new one just begun

It was winter. They days were short, the nights were cold, snow had begun to fall erratically across the city. Most smarter people were avoiding the outdoors as much as possible as the temperature plummeted. Some, however, had reasons to be outside. Sandra Blackmore and David Lam were two of them. At the moment, they were both wearing filthy, tattered overalls, and spreading fertilizer across a vegetable garden.

"Stupid manure." Sandra muttered as she shoveled. "Stupid shovel." Pausing for a second, she wiped her forehead with the back of her arm, before continuing. "Stupid garden."

David paused. "Hey, Sandra, do you know what day it is?"

Sandra had to look up for a second. Screwing up her face, she thought about it for a second. "No idea."

"It's December 24, Christmas Eve."

"Oh." She said, then went back to the garden. "Stupid vegetables."

And so this is Christmas
I hope you have fun

In ritual style, Shoko held the small box close to her ear and shook it, trying to guess the contents, but all she could tell was that it was small—slightly larger than her palm—and heavy for it's size. The box held no clue; it might well have been scavenged from elsewhere, and in any event had been colorfully sprayed with paint from the workshop, which effectively hid its origins.

Giving up, Shoko carefully opened it and found... "Ammo! For my Stormbreaker!" The box held a small plastic rack of twenty 15 mm bullets. Jinsei Ravagers, Shoko saw, a very reliable and effective brand of hollowpoint. "Thank you, André!" she cried, and leaned over to give him a quick hug and kiss on the cheek. "I really needed these—I was down to my last six rounds."

She put the bullets down with her other gifts, sitting on the table in front of her. The garage's ritual of gift giving late on Christmas Eve had come as a bit of a surprise; she was used to the idea that gifts were opened on Christmas morning. Her own accumulation of presents was quiet satisfying. In addition to the ammo André had gotten her, Bell had gotten her a new pair of heavy-duty bib coveralls in her size, while Ayane had got her a pair of good boots. With those, she could work around the garage and in the yard without trashing her already overly-abused clothing. But perhaps the best gift had come from Ken, who'd somehow managed to acquire a full case of her favorite beer, Victoria Bitter. Imported from Australia, it was not easily available even in Neo York proper, much less the Zone.

Of course, everyone else had gifts in front of them too, some of them from her—like the tube of five baseballs in front of André, the old Louis L'amour western in front of Ken (not a chip but an actual book, paper pages and all), and the hairbrush she'd gotten Ayane for her tails. That was her favorite. It had a real wood handle—teak, she thought—and she'd found a local zone artist who could carve an inlayed relief of a nine-tailed kitsune into it. It had cost her as much as she had originally intended to spend on all the presents combined, but the look on Ayane's face when she'd seen it had made it well worth the cost.

"Thanks again, Ken. In fact, thanks again to all of you. Not just for the Christmas presents, but for welcoming me into your home. I feel like I'm part of a family here, and I think that's a pretty damned rare feeling for a synth."

Everybody else smiled at her. "Shoko, you are part of our family now," said Ayane firmly. "And, as it happens, as a member of our family there is last gift we want you to have. It's really from Ken--"

"--it's from everyone!" interrupted Ken.

"Fine, it's from everyone," said Ayane. "But mostly from Ken, 'cause it's his to give."

Ken looked mulish at this, but didn't object again.

"C'mon," said André, standing. "It's too big to bring inside; we hid it in the garage."

"Too big?" muttered Shoko as she followed them all outside into the freezing night air. She was beginning to have a suspicion...there weren't that many things Ken had to give that were too big to bring in the trailer...but firmly told herself not to get her hopes up. Besides, she just couldn't make herself believe they'd just give that to her...

Outside the garage, the others stood theatrically on each side of the door as Ayane grabbed the handle and flung it open, revealing....

"Ace! It is!" cried Shoko, shocked in spite of her suspicions to see the bike sitting inside, a large red ribbon tied into a bow attached to the handlebars.

"Oh my god, you've dressed it up!" she added. It still looked like a Frankenbike, something kludged together from mismatched parts and brought unnaturally to life, but a cowling had been added to the front end that gave it a bit of sleekness it had lacked before. It and the fuel tank were now painted an dark orangey-red color, and on each side of the tank, bright yellow letters spelled out the name of the bike, "Shoko's Gift".

"Oh Ken, are you sure?"

Ken smiled and held out his hand to her, the key chain dangling from his fingers. "I'm sure. You've been using it almost exclusively anyway, and you've proven to me that you'll take good care of it. You deserve it."

Shoko's eyes misted up as she took the proffered key and hugged Ken, and then everyone else in turn. "Thank you. Oh, thank you all," she found herself repeating over and over.

Wiping the tears from her eyes, she finally said, "Well, I see that cowling includes a headlight mount, so I guess it's okay to take it out at night now. I wanna take it for a spin right now, see if it's more aerodynamic than before. It'll seat two; who wants to come along? Ayane? Ken?"

"Actually," interrupted Bell. "I don't think you should go out tonight. The streets will be getting icy now."

"I don't think it's that cold, is it?"

"Yes, it is," came Bell's answer as she headed out the open door. "It's snowing..."

Everyone quickly followed her out, Shoko brining up the rear. A flurry of exclamations followed at the sight of the fat, white flakes falling from the sky, but silence appreciation of the sight soon overcame them. Faintly, the sound of Christmas music could be heard coming from the direction of the Entertainment District.

"So," said Shoko softly, finally breaking the silence. "Is this the most perfect Christmas or what?"

The near and the dear ones
The old and the young

Like it or not, Aoi was quite getting the hang of her new role. She was getting used to her boss' particular moods and tastes, not to mention her exacting specifications on how things were to be done in her home. Right now she found herself restocking Shion's fridge. It was normally fairly empty from all she'd gathered, but since having someone else to cook for her, Shion had kept it rather well stocked.

She heard footsteps coming into the kitchen behind her. It could only be the Empress. After all, the two of them were alone, and no-one was bold enough to enter Shion's home unannounced. No-one but her, that is.

"I'll be done in a minute," she said without even looking.

"Aoi," Shion asked slowly, "Do you have anywhere to go for Christmas?"

Aoi stopped dead. Just when she thought she was used to everything in this job, this came out of the blue. Her mind raced with answers as she stood to face her employer. She was meant to be spending Christmas Night with her "family," but before then...

"No," she suddenly blurted out.

There was a moment's pause while Shion visibly relaxed. "Would you mind spending it in Hong Kong?"

"You mean, with your sister?" Aoi asked. She couldn't help but wonder just what had come over Shion all of a sudden.

"Yes, with my sister." Shion paused and gave Aoi a quizzical look. "What did you think I meant?"

"No, it's not that..." She started, but trailed off. This was all too sudden. "Why do you want me along?"

There was a moment of silence. "I..." Shion stopped and looked thoughtful. "I wasn't sure you had anywhere to go, and I knew I wasn't going to leave you here alone. Besides, it's not like I have that many friends..."

Aoi blinked in surprise. Not at the fact—she'd pretty much guessed how lonely the Empress was by now—but at the admission. From what she'd seen, Shion wasn't one to let her personal feelings be known, and this was as personal as it comes. She nodded slowly. "Sure. Sure, I'll come with you."

A very happy Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

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