[For those tracking continuity, this McEdifice story takes places between the events depicted in “Portals of Glory: A Cyborg-marine versus Vampires Anthology!” and “A Very Chiseled Hogmany: A Very Special Edinburgh Mystery”]
Planet X-Mas! Famous for its two X-shaped polar continents and perpetual snow season. Planet X-Mas! The X-mas Ornament Planet! Also, by virtue of the galactic degree that a planet can’t just be one thing (a law necessary due to a glut of desert planets inhabited by grizzled miners and angry sand monsters) the X-mas Tree Planet! The prime exporter of pine trees to the galaxy!
And who doesn’t love X-mas? That festive holiday in which we all come together to celebrate the 24th letter of the Alphabet on its own special day: the 24th of Alphtember. Sure Y-mas day has its supporters and who doesn’t enjoy the Z-Boxing day sales? But nothing can really beat the warmth and tradition of X-mas. The xule log roasting on an open reactor, Xack Frost nipping at your toes, Xuletide carols song by a choir.
Through the crisp snow that has fallen on Festive city, walks a lowly office worker. His work accomplished for the year, he treads home after the excesses of his office X-mas party. Insulated from the cold by good cheer and thoughts from home, he almost walks past the dark alley without a second thought. Yet…a soft whisper causes him to halt and peer into the darkness.
He stands unsteadily before the dark rectangle that forms a gulf between the X-mas Bargain Beetroot Emporium and the Xuletide Mega-Tinsel Store. Then, to his horror, two glowing red eyes stare back at him from within the alley and a spectral hand reaches out and grabs his throat…
What sinister forces are at work on Planet X-mas?
I’m Chiseled McEdifice Space Navy Marine and vampire hunter. I’m deep, deep uncover disguised as a private detective. I’m surprised how well the job suits me, almost as if I will have a future career as an ace investigator leading my own band of crime-fighting mercenaries. Deception doesn’t sit well with a man with my kind of integrity but I know more than most that the fight for justice comes first. I’m on the trail of a cell of Space-Vampires: the worst of the worst and then even worse than that. To track down these bat-obsessed monsters I needed a disguise, something that doesn’t shout ‘Space navy marine’ to all and sundry, hence the private dick cover.
The flaw in the plan is I have to take jobs whenever I might find them. That’s why I’m here on Planet X-mas, the most X-massy planet in the galaxy.
The office was dingy and smelt of cheap tobacco. A sallow face guy sat behind a desk looking at me like I was something he’d scraped off his shoe.
“Please sit down,” he said gesturing to a wooden crate marked “cheap tobacco”. “I’m sorry,” he continued, “but all our furniture was replaced with old shipping crates due to budget cuts. I understand you’ve come out about the role we advertised?”
“Sure,” I responded, “the assistant to ‘Mr Scrooge’.”
I’d heard rumours of this Scrooge guy. A man of old but indeterminate age. Misanthropic, holed up inside an ageing house. A nexus of supernatural events. Everything about this Scrooge guy’s profile said ‘vampire’.
“It’s ’Scooge’ actually. A lot of people make that error,. No ‘r’, just ‘Scooge’” replied the sallow man whose name badge said George P Sallow.
“Scrooge, Scooge,, doesn’t matter – I’ve just come for the assistant’s job.” I answered.
“I don’t really see you as an ‘assistant’. Hmmm, let me see…” Sallow ruffled through some papers on his desk, “Ah yes! Crossing Guard who helps Clarence the Angel cross the road in scene 7. That would suit you to a tee.”
“What?” I asked confused. Was this some sort of vampiric mind game? Angels? Crossing guards? What had I stumbled into?
“You’re an actor right? That’s what the job advert was asking for? Actors to take part in our virtual reality holiday interactive movie? We do one every year! This year though will be extra special though! A revival of an old X-mas story from Old Earth!” Sallow explained.
“So there’s no Mr Scrooge?” I asked
“Well, there’s an actor playing Mr SCOOGE (ahem, not scRooge), as well as people playing other roles. Tiny Tim the Cat, Clarence the Angel, George Bailey the sinister mortgage advisor who terrorises Nakatomi Plaza, three ghosts and a good looking couple who find that the true meaning of Christmas is family. It’s all based on the lost classic of earth culture: ‘It’s a Wonderful Carol, Mr Scooge!’ We’ve got a great actor playing Carol, she is wonderful.”
A virtual-reality experience? I would have to descend into even deeper layers of deception. This new information didn’t change the mission. Anybody who would choose to play the role of Mr Scooge was also probably a vampire and deserved a sharp stake through their vampire heart.
The digitisation process was uncomfortable and involved far too many wires but before you could say “stimulated simulation” I was being rendered into pixels.
“Don’t forget,” said the VR technician, “If you die in the simulation you die in reality!”
“I thought we fixed that?” said the other VR technician, “It seems needlessly dangerous.”
I was in.
I was still dressed in my regular clothes and tactical helmet. It was as good a costume as any for a twentieth century crossing guard. In those wild times, huge predatory motor vehicles roamed the roads. The only way to cross safely was with the aid of a highly elite group of desperados, willing to trade their lives against the four wheeled death monsters. That group was known as ‘The Crossing Guards”.
I checked my carbine and my “Stop” sign. All was in order.
The VR interactive experience was set to beam out to all sectors of the galaxy at the stroke of midnight. I had had an hour before I had to be in position for rehearsal and another four hours before the show was live.
Luckily I had only two line. I help Clarence the Angel over a busy road, shooting down four battle-wagons in the process. Once he get’s across the road, I say “Just doing my job.” and Clarence says “Don’t forget, every time an angel dies a mortgage broker gets his wings.” and I say “Not on MY watch, he won’t.” Frankly, I was born for this role.
I knew my lines perfectly which meant I had time to check out this Scooge character.
Scooge was a nice enough guy and I quickly revised my opinions of him. He’d had a small accident a few minutes earlier and I helped him wipe the blood of his chin.
“Vank you,” he said in an odd accent that he said was due to his method acting, “I vant to suck your bl…I mean your blatantly good acting skills.”
His name was Dr A.C. Ula and he said acting was more of a hobby than a profession for him. As we chatted, a pixelated production assistant staggered out from behind a desk where he’d apparently been lying supine. He looked very pale and was probably drunk. He’d also must have cut himself shaving as he had blood on his neck.
“Shockingly lax standards of behaviour,” I commented to Dr A.C. Ula — to which he nodded. The more I thought about it the more the whole situation seemed off somehow. I couldn’t put my finger on it but clearly there was something going on. I decided to ask Dr A.C. Ula directly.
“I’m going to be honest with you because you seem like a solid fellow,” I said confidingly, “I’m not really an actor, I’m actual a Space Navy Marine undercover as a private detective who is undercover as an actor playing a crossing guard.”
“I see,” said Dr A.C. Ula who for some reason raised his oddly claw like hands up almost menacingly.
“I just want to know, have you seen any vampires around here?”
Dr A.C. Ula shook his head. “I wouldn’t recognise one if I saw one but that production assistant who just left tasted funny, I mean, um smelt funny. Yes, yes, smelt not tasted. Ha, ha, what a silly and very unsuspicious thing for me to say!”
Dr A.C. Ula was right. There was something funny about that production assistant. Drunk at this time of day? I decided to follow him.
I trailed the production assistant through the pixellated snow that settled virtually through the binary air. His footprints wandered erratically along the frosty sidewalk and occasional tiny drops of blood stood out against the snow. Eventually I caught up to him, leaning on a shop front advertising festive root vegetables.
“Wow, that guy really did a number on me,” he said woozily.
“What’s your game buster,” I said trapping him by the shirtfront.
“Mainly Yahtzee, sometimes Battleships. Also, how did you know my name was Buster?” he replied slurringly.
“It’s on your name tag,” I snarled.
“Sorry. I’m a bit woozy from blood loss,” said Buster.
“Are you, or have you ever been a Space Vampire,” I said houseunamericanactivitiesly.
“What? No! I’m an e-cyber-human! We’re immune from vampirism!” he said, accidentally revealing the whole sinister plot.
E-cyber humans! My second worst enemy. Pacifists posthuman scum, spreading their sinister gospel of ‘why can’t we all just get along’ to the galaxy. Making us weak with their ‘compromise’ and ‘see both sides’ doctrine — a doctrine that would lead to our deaths through inaction in the face of the deadly existential threats that threatened our very existence.
I looked at him deep into his eyes and said: “E-cyber humans! My second worst enemy. Pacifists posthuman scum, spreading their sinister gospel of ‘why can’t we all just get along’ to the galaxy. Making us weak with their ‘compromise’ and ‘see both sides’ doctrine — a doctrine that would lead to our deaths through inaction in the face of the deadly existential threats that threatened our very existence.”
“Oh for flip’s sake, your some sort of brainwashed Space Navy meathead, aren’t you?” said Buster.
“That’s SERGEANT Space Navy meathead to you, hippy-dippy silicon brain.” I snarled back, “What’s the scam going down here, you monster?”
“There’s no scam. It’s all open and above board. Which you’d know if you’d read your background material. Any VR project of this side employs e-cyber-humans as technicians and production assistants. In addition, the VR environment is used to rehabilitate Space Vampire prisoners-of-war. They can suck as much blood here as they like without harming anybody!” explained Buster.
“Lies! The technicians said that if you die in VR you die in real life!” I exclaimed.
“That’s just their crap sense of humour. I mean, how would that even work? This is all just simulated sense data. That would be like saying a really bad smell would kill you.” said Bowser exasperatedly.
“Buster” he corrected.
“What?” I said.
“You said ‘Bowser’ after that last bit of dialogue. It’s ‘Buster’,” he explained.
“Don’t think you can escape through the fourth wall mister.” I threatened.
Just then a dark shadowy figure loomed out of the shadows.
A dark shadowy figure loomed out of the shadows.
“I am the ghost of X-mas past!” said the figure. My razor sharp reflexes kicked in and I off-loaded a magazine of virtual bullets from my carbine.
The ghost was unaffected by my shooting.
“It’s just part of the show!” said Buster.
“No I’m not!” said the ghost, “I’m a real ghost and I’m going to go all spooky on you CHISELED MCEDIFICE!”
“Nooooooo!!!!!!!” I cried.
Unbeknownst to me, back in the VR control room the two VR technicians were monitoring the situation.
“You know how we always play that prank on people being digitised.” said one.
“Oh, when we tell them that if they die in VR they die in real life, just as they go under?” said the other.
“Yes! Well it turns out the system has gone wrong and now it is true!” said the first one.
“Oops! How did that happen!” said the second.
“We may have accidentally used explosives in all our VR headsets and now they are all rigged to explode and also we can’t take the headsets off the actors because that may also make them explode!” said the first.
“Wow! We are REALLY crap at designing this stuff,” said the second.
“Tell me about it! I also designed this console so it was made out of cheese and now it’s all clammy and a bit stinky!” said the first.
“We should maybe get more training next time.” said the second.
“Nooooooo!!!!!!!” I cried.
“Woooooo!!!!!!” said the ghost.
Just then Buster reached up and a virtual screen appeared before him. A little ‘>’ blinked and then he typed some commands.
The ghost blinked out of existence.
“Like I said,” said Buster, liking what he saidingly, “It’s just part of the show.”
“Oh.” I said disappointingly.
Unbeknownst to me, back in the VR control room, the two VR technicians were monitoring the situation.
“Ha ha, only joking” said the first technician.
“What? The VR headsets aren’t really made of explosives?” said the second.
“No, that’s definitely true. I was joking that the console is made out of cheese.”
“Oh, good one! You had me going there for a minute!”
The whole performance went off without a hitch. Clarence stopped the run on the bank. Mr Scooge reformed his miserly ways and turned all the townsfolk back into geese. George Bailey fell from the top of Nakatomi Plaza to his death due to a lack of wings.
I was, according to the reviews: ‘a nuanced actor who brought depth to the short but crucial role of the crossing guard.’
Buster defused the explosive headsets from within the simulation. To stop the two VR technicians ever doing anything that dangerous again, they were promoted to human resources.
I let Buster off with a warning.
“What about me?” asked Dr A.C. Ula.
“What about you?” I replied.
“I’m a vampire! I lied to you! Also, you’re Chiseled McEdifice and killing vampires is your whole thing!”
“Dr Ula, it’s X-mas and X-mas is a time for goodwill and forgiveness for everybody!” I replied uncharacterisngly.
“But I murdered that guy in the prologue!” he protested.
“He was probably a jerk,” I said and gave Dr Ula a hug.
“Hmm, did you edit his brain chemistry?” asked Dr Ula looking at Buster suspiciously.
“I’ll do anything to ensure a smooth and happy X-mas,” said Buster,” Don’t worry, he’ll be back to his usual self come Z-Boxing Day.”
And everybody laughed and drank egg-nog, including me despite the deeply unethical brain chemistry surgery.
Merry X-Mas everybody.
Straw Puppy: Um, isn’t the title ‘Ghost of X-mas Future?
Tiny Tim the Cat: Oh crap. Too late now, we’ve published it.
Chiseled McEdifice: Nooooooooo!!!!!!!