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Deep in the Persian city of Saba, the last rays of sunset cast deep shadows between the sand colored buildings. Inside the refectory, pale orange streaked across the dark wood table, and hanging branches cast shadows along the wall. A ball of blue light filled the room then faded, leaving an apparition dressed in green and white with flaming red hair.

"Um, sorry to disturb you," the spirit warbled.

Jaspar's heart pounded. Phantoms weren't supposed to speak. They weren't even supposed to be real. "Why are you glowing?"

"My name is Harold."

"Are you an angel? Why are you singing?"

Harold cocked his head. "It's just the way I sound."

An angel deserved respect. "Hark, Harold the singing angel. May I help you?"

Harold's face beamed with golden light. "The Magi have been chosen to worship your savior." Silvery notes echoed off the brick walls.

Jaspar snorted. He didn't need a savior. "The Magi are on a quest for enlightenment. I'm Jaspar the caretaker."

"Then you shall be the chosen one," the angel sang. "On a cold winter's night, you will bring gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to a newborn king. You must come by camel."

Traveling sounded like a lot of work, and he hated cold weather. "I'd love to, but I should stay here. Besides, gold and frankincense are rather costly. As I said, I'm only the caretaker."

"Your halls are decked with boughs of holly, an expensive import." Harold pulsed brighter. "You will follow a star to Bethlehem through the silent night."

Jaspar opened his mouth to refuse, but Harold stared right into his eyes. A warm glow of love and joy washed over Jaspar. He would give his life to please this angel.

Harold glowed brighter and then faded away along with the last of the daylight.

Thin slivers of silvery light played across the room almost chasing away the dark. Jaspar sighed and crawled under his blanket, the warmth of Harold's love chasing away the evening chill. Images of stars and shepherds danced through his head.

Jasper woke to a bright new day, the faint, sweet smell of sugarplums, and a note telling him where to get supplies on Harold's account.

Outside, all was calm and bright as if a holy light had descended upon the world. It was a glorious morning for shopping, so he went to get a camel.

A scruffy man in dirty robes sauntered to the corral gate. "Do you want one hump or two?"

"What's the difference?"

The camel herder looked at him sideways. "One-humped camels have one hump, and two-humped camels have two humps."

"Humps are good, but I need to follow a star. Which would be best?"

"That depends upon whether you want to be on top or in between."

Jaspar narrowed his eyes. "In between."

"Have it your way."

Jaspar led the two-humped camel to the gold seller's stall. "I need some gold."

The old lady behind the counter tapped her fingers together. "How much?"

"Enough to bring joy to a newborn king."

She grabbed an abacus and moved beads around furiously. "How do you want this gold? I can give it to you in bricks that are heavy and ugly or in bells that'll jingle all the way home."

"The bells would be nice. I'll hang them on the camel."

"Of course, you will." The lady handed him a string of golden bells.

With camel and bells in tow, he went to the most southerly stall. "Excuse me, sir, I'm looking for frankincense and mirth. Do you have any?"

A man waddled up to the counter, belly protruding through his open coat. "Frankincense, I got plenty of. As for mirth, it's two stalls to the left. Murray books the theatrical acts."

Jaspar chose a large box of frankincense, had it gift-wrapped, and went to see Murray.

A middle-aged man with a cheap cigar puffed his chest out and put his thumbs in his pockets. "What can I do you for, friend?"

Jaspar waved the foul smoke away. "I need some mirth."

"Where's the venue?"

"I'm not sure. Somewhere to the east under a magical star."

Murray flipped through sheets of papyrus then held one up. I got just the guys, Balthazar and Melchior. Here's their contract information."

Jaspar signed the contracts then went back to the camel store for two more camels.

With the three camels tied outside, gifts ready to go inside, and Balthazar and Melchior scheduled for tomorrow morning, all was ready to go. But Jaspar still had a few questions.

He stood before the fire in the main room and shouted for Harold. Then he sang, thinking a singing angel might respond to singing. When Harold didn't show, he went to his room and knelt by his bed. After a while, he clasped his hands, and bowed his head. "Harold, you forgot to tell me what to do with the gifts. Is not a newborn king a baby? A baby would like the jingle bells, but he won't have any use for frankincense and won't understand the mirth."

An incandescent glow filled the room. "That's a nice touch," Harold warbled. "The kneeling and hand clasping. I like the reverent whispering too. We'll add that."

"Do I give the gifts to his parents'?" Jaspar asked.

Harold smiled and studied Jaspar for a moment. "You will travel for many days, months actually. King Herod will help you on your journey, but beware he wants to kill the child."

"Wait a minute," Jaspar cried, "I only booked Balthazar, Melchior, and the camels for three days." He wanted nothing to do with a king bent on murder.

Harold faded out for a moment then became solid again. "Remember to follow the bright star. You'll see it during the day."

This sounded like a lot more work than Jaspar had initially envisioned. "What if I refuse?"

"Glory streams from heaven above. I don't think you want to disappoint." The warmth of Harold's eyes burrowed into Jaspar, and the world filled with golden chimes. Then Harold dissolved into mist.

* * *

Mary woke enveloped by light emanating from the middle of her room. Something pulsed deep inside her, not painful, but warm and full of love. The glow faded, resolving into a man shining green and red.

"You're an angel!" she gasped, unable to believe her eyes.

The apparition bowed. "My name is Har--, um Gabriel."

He had to be an angel. Except for the funny clothes and red hair, he looked just like the stories described. "I can tell by the radiant beams emanating from thy holy face." If he turned around, she might be able to see his wings, if he had wings, she couldn't tell.

"Why are you here?" Maybe something bad had happened. "Am I dead?"

"No, Mary of Nazareth you are very much alive and with child."

She scowled. That was impossible. How dare he suggest that? "I am not pregnant."

"I bring glad tidings. You will give birth to the savior of your people."

"I will not. You should leave now."

"Joseph is a good man. He'll make a wonderful father."

"Joseph!" Her eyes went wide, not that old carpenter. Why him? No one would tell her who to marry, not even an angel. She stood with her hands on her hips. "He's not my husband."

Gabriel faded out for a moment and then reappeared. "Joseph understands and will care for you and the child."

Mary scowled. "What makes you think I want a baby or Joseph?"

"You're Mary, mother of - well - a holy infant so tender and mild." Then Gabriel whispered, "Beware of King Herod."

"I can't be pregnant. I haven't . . ." That wasn't the kind of thing you talked about with strangers, even angels.

Gabriel's eyes softly sparkled and glowed.

She couldn't look away. Bliss overcame Mary, and love for her child filled her world.

"Sleep in heavenly peace dear Mary," Gabriel sang before he faded from view.

* * *

Asher leaned on his staff. The sheep had bedded down for the night and the smell of cooking mutton filled the air. Something sparkled to the south. It flashed again, and an enormous ball of golden light hovered over the ground moving toward him.

Nicolas and Trowel ran from the campfire to surround the light, but before they got there, the light faded leaving a man in its place.

Asher held his staff as if it were a weapon and approached the glowing spirit. "Where'd you come from?"

Nicolas narrowed his eyes. "It's two days walk to the nearest town."

Trowel held back but kept his staff over his head as if to ward off evil. "Why are you glowing?"

The specter stood still for a moment, and the glimmer subsided. "On a cold winter's night you will praise a newborn king." The words floated through the night air as if a heavenly choir had sung them.

"Perhaps." Asher spit on the ground. "But it's spring, now." No ghost would tell him where to go or what to do. "Who are you?"

"I'm Harold, an angel." Beams of golden light radiated from his face.

"You think we're dumb enough to believe that?" Trowel asked.

Asher glared at Harold. Never before had he seen anyone glow.

Harold smiled. "When winter comes, you will follow a bright star to Bethlehem."

Nicolas stepped forward. "I already know how to get to Bethlehem. I don't need a star."

Harold faded out for a moment and then reformed. "The star will shine both day and night. It will lead you to a stable. Your new king must sleep in a manger because the inn will be full."

Asher guffawed. "Of course, the inns'll be full. Everyone is supposed to go to Bethlehem this winter for the census." No king would tell him what to do. He swaggered up to Harold and looked him in the eye. "We're not going. We don't want to be counted."

Tendrils of light caressed Nicolas and then Trowel. Asher backed away, but when the light caught him, all his fears melted. The angel's voice filled his world with warmth and peace. "You will sing praises to your heavenly Lord."

Stars glittered in an onyx sky. Sheep bleated quietly in the background.

"Why would a king sleep in a feeding trough?" Asher asked, but Harold had faded away.

Ashler knew he would watch the sky every night, searching for the magical star.

* * *

Back in the pod, Harold waited until the tingling stopped and his real body reformed. He shook himself, glad to be free of the confining human shape and silly clothes. "Is that it?"

His wife waved at a wall filled with images of graphs and charts. "All the projections look good. It's not a bad religion, but it will lead to a dark age, setting their science back a couple hundred years giving the rest a chance to catch up."

"I wonder why they think I'm singing?"

"Don't know dear, but my scans say they believed you and will do as you directed. This experiment isn't going to work unless all the worlds develop interstellar travel at about the same time." His wife pulled up a display covered with charts and lines. "Let's head out to that little planet just past Tau Ceti. We need to stimulate their scientific curiosity. They're getting behind."

The end.