Tales from Site-91 - Part IV.
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Festive Mood

December 24th, 2003

"I'm quite hungry!" Doctor Vávra, seated on the left side of the large table in the Site dining room, said. Vávra, like everyone else at the table, could hardly wait for a celebratory dinner from the hands of the Foundation's chef. Most of the staff, of course, celebrated the holiday outside the Site, but protocols don't allow for granting time off to everyone at once.

Besides Vávra, five other people sat at the decorated table. To his left, in shirt and tie, sat Dr. Ike, quiet and composed. Unlike Vávra, he saw the occasion as a mere formality and it was obvious that he was not used to celebrating Christmas.

Across from Ike, Lisa Arlington was adjusting the curls of her red hair every so often, or adjusting her new snowflake-themed Christmas sweater. Judging by her smile, she was instead very excited about the possibility of spending another Christmas with her friends and Chris.

Christopher Erwick was seated to her left and had just laughed at a joke from Doctor Vávra. Occasionally he would exchange a word with Ike, or smile wistfully at his sweetheart. Chris and Lisa had recently taken a big step in their relationship and were waiting for the right moment to break the news to colleagues, friends and family.

It should have been even easier since Site Director Slavík, Chris's uncle, boss and friend all rolled into one, was at the head of the table. Slavík, despite having run the operations of Site-91 for over 12 years, still had a smile on his face and a tendency to drink only in moderation, just as befitted someone in his position.

The last person at the table was Agent Majer, a clean-shaven member of Site Security who sat at the table more to remind the others that they were still in a top-secret facility where men like him carried weapons. But since he had to sit at the table with them, Majer decided he wouldn't pass up a little potato salad.

For the first time, they all enjoyed a celebration together. Chris thought for a moment about all the Christmases he had to spend at work. In 1999 he spent his Christmas Eve doing paperwork and in 2000 he managed to convince Lisa to try traditional Czech Christmas sweets. Last year he also spent the entire last week of Advent at work, but at least he was able to use the time to infuse the spirit of Christmas into some of the humanoid anomalies he was working with. This year, however, was the first time he was able to spend Christmas with most of his friends.

"If you're hungry, you should have gotten some sweets." Lisa said and sipped contentedly from her cup of hot licorice flavored tea. Dr. Ike laughed at her comment, making Vávra's cheeks visibly flush with shame. But he too had to smile.

"Don't worry, Doctor, I'm sure they haven't forgotten us," remarked the Site Director Slavík, but even he was already peering impatiently towards the kitchen.

It didn't take long for the small circle of employees at the table to finally receive their longed-for reward for their years of service to the Foundation. Dinner from the cafeteria. However, this particular meal was special because it was not on the usual menu. Six carp schnitzels in a nice Czech way, the way Chris knew it since he was a kid. His mother was Czech and he had been in her care most of his life, so he was used to Christmas carp. But the same could not be said for all his colleagues.

Site-91, being an international site located in southern Bohemia, had many employees from different parts of the world. Lisa's family was from America and Dr. Ike was… Well, no one really knew where Ike was from, but because of his accent, everyone thought he was from Britain. Anyway, neither of them were used to breaded carp schnitzel and so far they'd done everything they could to avoid it at Christmas. This year, however, Chris convinced them both to give it a go.

"It smells good," said Vávra as he hungrily groped around the table. They all nodded in agreement, wished each other a Merry Christmas, and got to eating. They used a soft drink for the toast that tasted exactly like champagne, but Ike insisted it wasn't wine.

Coincidentally, it was Dr. Ike who first started coughing, causing a panic at the table over a snapped bone. However, it soon became apparent that he had merely taken a drink at the moment Erwick was telling a story from his youth involving building a snowman and losing his boots. Erwick himself, however, had to be repeatedly hit in the back by his girlfriend later that evening before declaring that the bone was no longer stuck in his throat.

Vávra liked the carp and Lisa didn't like it very much. Slavík laughed all evening, which certainly lifted the spirits of all present, and after dinner there was some singing of a few Christmas carols, although not everyone joined in. Agent Majer soon declared that he had enjoyed the evening but had to leave the table because of his duty. As for Dr. Ike, it turned out that he didn't know the lyrics to any popular Christmas carols, so he got a crash course in a few classics from Lisa and Erwick.

Finally, at the end of the evening, there was a little gift-giving. Vávra received a new microscope, or rather Slavík showed him the bill for the new microscope, as the instrument itself was not due to arrive for another month. The Site Director was given a group photo with autographs by the staff and received a new ballpoint pen from his nephew, as he had been complaining about the old one for some time. Lisa gave her boyfriend a kiss under the mistletoe and Ike unwrapped a knitted sweater under the tree that could only have been from Lisa. Chris gave her her favorite Lewis Carroll book and another kiss in return.

It was a wonderful evening that nothing could spoil, even though everyone in attendance was employed by the secret organization that protected the world from the terrible things locked two corridors away. So when Chris and Lisa decided to announce to their friends and colleagues that they were engaged, it only added to the magical feeling of the evening, which for once could remain just that. The magical time of Christmas.

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