Lowell is an anthropologist, working with the Enknopans, studying their culture and ways. They haven't completely accepted him, so he's not invited to their year changing celebration. He decides to show his very good Enknopan friend Tiklup some of his own Christmas traditions, but things don't work out exactly as planned. Can he still have a happy holiday?
Well, ho fucking ho, Lowell thought, shifting one more time in the barely-too-tight smoke hole. He knew it was useless; he'd been wedged in for over an hour and a half and all he'd managed to accomplish with his pushing and squirming was to get himself in even tighter.
It'd seemed like a fun idea at the time. Of course, some variation of that statement was probably carved into a million gravestones across the Hundred Worlds, and on billions more memorial markers in various alien languages in the far corners of the universe. (There were actually a hundred and eighteen known human-inhabited worlds, but the Recovery League thought "The Hundred Worlds" sounded better on the news posts. Early in his career as an anthropologist, Lowell had learned that in most cultures, facts had to bow to considerations of marketing and image, or whatever the locals called them.)
The local tribe, the Enknopans, were all gathered somewhere outside their settlement, engaging in some sort of year's turning ritual which involved renewing family bonds. Lowell had been told, very politely, that he was not welcome to participate or even to observe, since he wasn't related to any of the Enknopan clans.
It'd been a sharp disappointment, not only because Lowell was specifically there to study the Enknopan culture and lifeways, but also because he'd come to feel close to the people there; being so firmly excluded was a reminder that he was still an outsider. It'd been a while since he'd received quite so clear a reminder, and it'd stung a bit.
To show that he didn't hold a grudge, and also because the learning and sharing had to go both ways in order to be ethical and respectful, he'd decided to share a Terran year's turning ritual with the Enknopans, and specifically with his friend Tiklup. Tiklup had taught Lowell how to carve wood with a knife, and Lowell had made him a covered bowl with a leaf pattern on the lid. It was pretty crude by local standards, the sort of thing a youngster just learning to carve would make, but Lowell was just learning and he was proud of it. Tiklup had been encouraging, and Lowell was sure he'd appreciate the effort, and understand that it was a tribute to his teaching.
Besides, they'd come to be very good friends, with all that meant to the Enknopans, who had some unusual (to a Terran) ideas about public and private activities.
The local star, called Upiklip by the locals and noted as FUSC-32829 on the most common star charts, was just beginning to show over the horizon. Of course Lowell was facing east, and he hadn't brought his hat or his sun visor. Upiklip was whiter than Sol, where Lowell had been born, and emitted more UV radiation than he was used to. If no one came to pry him out soon, he'd be sizzled good. His first few days on planet, he'd gone without a hat a couple of times and the sunburn had penetrated all the way down to his scalp. He'd looked like he had a terminal case of dandruff for the next week, with huge flakes of peeling skin working their way out of his hair.
Lowell moaned and buried his face in his crossed arms.
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