Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Christmas story

A sentimental Christmas story for 2000AD fans.

“Have they gone?”
“That’s an affirmative, good buddy!”
“If you say it’s too damn quiet I’ll shoot you myself.”

The creak of a drawer in Tharg’s ancient, intergalactic wooden desk is suddenly deafening in the empty office. The tiny occupants freeze, then chuckle and shake their heads at their own foolishness. More creaking and the drawer is open. Heads appear over the edge of the battered, cheap desk drawer. They’re free. They’re back. Exciting news, readers.

It’s Christmas Eve.

Out of the drawer they pour in their dozens, their hundreds, their thousands. At first they are silent, disoriented among the abandoned desks, peering around in the gloom of an office briefly left empty by droids permitted to visit their factory batches for this one special time of year. Here is torn tinsel; there, a gaily-decorated drum of toxic waste with a page of art poking out of its sludge. It’s Tharg’s Nerve Centre, it’s midnight, and for the forgotten multitude it’s time to party.

A cheer goes up from the growing crowd, many of them humanoid and many not. Blasters, blazoogas and glowing gauntlets are fired at the ceiling in celebration and, amid falling white flakes of plaster, a dark-haired schoolboy and his pretty cousin start to make a snowman. Strange, buzzing creatures zip between people’s legs and try to suck at their bodies, but are swatted away with a good-natured laugh. Somewhere, a bear-man and his small friend break out enormous barrels of Mac-Mac.

A unspoken awareness ripples through the crowd, and the dancing begins, with music blasting out of the sound system of a parked-up alien spaceship. The floor is filled with whirling figures: mutants and monsters, robots, cyborgs, clones and shapes so grotesque a mere glance at them triggers nausea. Soldiers tear aside their gasmasks to reveal pallid grins, long hidden. The scents of sweat, decaying flesh and mothballs mingle as the crowds pogo in unison.

It’s a long night, and a short one. The dancing goes on forever and the music never stops. Couples peel off to find quiet corners, while near the ceiling the vampires watch, their eyes gleaming. The drunks get drunker, and one family of outlaws, filled with bitterness by their lost chance of escape, get a bit too mean and have to be put to bed. Then the party’s winding down and the slow dances have started.

Outside, the light begins to grow. As usual, the fat man in the red suit didn’t bother to put in an appearance; too many people here are on the other list. Realising their time is up, the long-lost heroes and villains exchange sad glances, handshakes, shirts and a little gunfire then trudge back towards the desk. In small groups and battle units, they help each other to climb up the legs. A large, bald man in yellow dungarees pauses briefly to defecate in Tharg’s coffee cup before he and his brother head to bed. It’s all over again. It was a good run while it lasted.

Another long, sad screech and the drawer is closed. There is silence in the Nerve Centre, where the new alcoholic, radioactive litter will go unnoticed among the rest. Nothing stirs. Except...

Moonlight is glimpsed as a fire exit, chained shut except for a few inches of leeway, opens slowly. A single set of footsteps patters off into the night and a contented sigh is heard.
“Just out,” she whispers to herself.

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