Nativity by Pete Warner

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SUMMARY: My festive entry for the december flash fiction contest.

Upon the frozen gun-deck of a centuries-old French warship, Judas Iscariot watched a star fall. Ordinarily, the event should have been unremarkable. He'd been watching the sky every night for nearly thee millennia. Stars disappeared all the time. Winking out, one by one, like the universe was entering standby. Or torn suddenly away like insect gods smeared across infinity's black screen. He'd watched the Earth's sun slowly fade, and the moon retreat as if it had abandoned human kind. Yes, he'd witnessed countless thousands of stars die, and many more hopes. But this one was different. He watched it swell and flare, gravid and brilliant, felt it deep in his chest. It felt like his heart was unfurling. Like frozen flower petals beneath a new sun.

The star plummeted, elongated over the horizon; an actinic fist punching through the eastern sky. It dipped and scudded across the ice plains of a long-frozen ocean, careened from the jagged crowns of once-magnificent mountains huddled beneath their glacial tombs. Finally, it tore into permafrost, ploughed a steaming gouge hundreds of meters deep and kilometers long into the filthy ice far below Judas's elevation. It came to a halt directly beneath his vantage point trailing a vapor fountain that would fall to earth in a few hours, he knew, as lethal hail stones as big as skulls.

The old, rotting battleship jutted from the side of a glacial cliff hundreds of feet above the hissing crevice, only its prow and a few hundred meters on the starboard side forward-deck remained clear of the ice wall. The rest of it had been chewed and swallowed up by the glacier. Bent and twisted, many sections of it remained impassable, but enough of the ships dark corridors and cabins were habitable. The deck on which Judas Iscariot stood was rimed with frost, pitted with rust. Once it had bristled with guns, but only a few brittle iron remnants remained. A decade before, when he'd first occupied the ship, he'd worked his way up to the bridge. In the log book he'd found the ship's name and remembered a kiss. He'd wept then, after so long believing he'd forgotten how. In his beard, thirty frozen silver tears.

High above the hissing gouge, on the deck of the Bisou, Judas watched the alien object cooling slowly to a crystalline form that glowed golden from within. "Follow the star," he whispered to himself. Just before it exploded.

A sudden concussion and then it fragmented, shards of it peeling off and spiraling up. Those shards resolved themselves as creatures that flew with wing-forms made of the same crystalline substance, glowing with the same internal fire. The whole object was made from them, slowly dissolving into nothing as more and more creatures spun out to join the whirling maelstrom. They communicated in jarring, melodic shrieks that shattered distant frozen waterfalls. Their cries triggered tumultuous avalanches. With an iron scream, the Bisou's deck began to cant beneath Judas' feet. In moments he was sliding across the gelid surface, its abrasions tearing the quilting clear of his thick red survival jacket.

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