The podium was envied – not because it was a position of power, or of attention, or of control. That’s usually the person behind the podium, but in this case nobody envied Glenn – his job actually had responsibility, and as we all know that is to be shunned at every opportunity.
No, the podium was envied for the simple fact that as a construction of wood, wiring and glass it couldn’t and didn’t have to deal with the bullshit that was currently going down. Said bullshit was, of course, the ChristmaHanukKwanzStice party planning meeting. Last Year’s processing of skippers was on-par in terms of metrics; both in quantity of humans sent to the stars and quality/originality of complaints levied against staff. The resulting pre and post-flashbang Holiday Cards were printed and shipped out to various family members, government offices and fellow Zephyr Stations, and the almost unanimous feedback was “eh, pretty decent. I’ve seen worse.”
After said feedback (and the regrowing of his retinas no less than 5 times) Glenn was determined to do better this year.
“-And so, with the professionals hired this year we will not have a raffle for Santa or his helpers.” Glenn “Silk” Abramson said, taking a sip out of his ‘this might not just be coffee’ mug, pressing the indicator on his podium to move to the next slide. “-however, you are all free to dress up as you see fit-”
A wave of hands went up.
“-as long as it’s holiday themed-”
A few hands went down.
“-winter holiday themed-”
A few more hands went down, and Glenn eyed the remaining troublemakers.
“-a federally recognized winter holiday-”
A few more hands went down with audible pouting. Good, good. Now to kill the creativity and holiday spirit in the rest.
“-without sexual innuendo-”
Almost all the rest of the hands went down. All but one – but it belonged to Mike, so Glenn decided to head it off at the pass.
“-save for Mike, who will wear last year’s costume.”
The chorus of gasps and verbal outrage washed over Glenn “The warp is taking me” Abramson, warming his soul more than the half-drunk cup of ‘hot whiskey’ brand coffee ever could. He leaned back slightly, gripping the podium as he dared to let a smile break across his stubble-laden face.
The red indicator light he saw through his closed eyes caused him to instantly frown. Looking up he locked eyes with the Jornissian … cohort, the viewscreen bolted to the back of the amphitheater showing a writhing mass of scales and tails, every so often the writhing mass was intermittently broken up with the garish colors of hand-picked terrible christmas sweaters. A couple-dozen eyes stared at him intently, furiously boring a hole into his being as they pressed the button as one, in unison, dozens and dozens of fingers methodically pumping up and down and-
Glenn shook his head, knocking the mental image just loose enough so his hind-brain monkey could rip it out of the wall and throw it into the void. He still had phantom muscle soreness from last year’s New Years party, and the memories never truly faded…
“Hashtag Team Pinchpot, what.” Glenn said, tapping the indicator light to turn it off and let the Jornissians have their say.
“[Stationmaster Glenn, will you allow us to participate in this year’s festivities?]” A Blue-sweatered Jornissian said, lowering it’s head to stare more intently at the shared camera.
“You don’t even know what we’re doing-”
“[…so?]” Bluesweater Longbody said, looking at their colleagues. “[Is… is that a problem?]”
“Just. No. Just. So Management got together and figured out an office Stealing Santa-”
With a sigh born out of years of longing for a government pension to finally fully vest, Glenn clicked the indicator, the Dorarizin screen finally unmuting much to the rippling growls of everyone present at that particular remote part of the station. A muzzle popped up from the apparently communal desk, and for a brief moment Glenn pondered what that particular Dorarizin was doing under the others.
His brain-monkey, with an animalistic shriek, launched itself at that particular memory and beat it into submission.
The body-less muzzle split it’s lips with grinning teeth, “[Stationmaster, you just said that there would be no amateur Holiday Alpha. If that is not the case, we vote for you aga-]”
“NO.” Glenn said, a little too loudly into the mic, the pop of feedback causing the Humans to jump a bit. “No. Not again – I still owe Lenscrafters back pay on my new eyes.” He said, aggressively pointing at the Dorarizin screen. “And I only get the shitty 20/20 base rejuv plan. Look. Stealing Santa is a gift exchange on the 24th, nothing more. No Dress-ups. No Moose Horns. No children.”
The speaking-muzzle paused for a moment, a broad tongue sticking out in a blep before rows of rippling teeth pulled it back in. “[-but it is the Holiday Alpha.]”
“No. It’s just about the holid- It’s. Santa – fuck you should know this by now.” Glenn ‘Did nobody read the pamphlets anymore’ Abramson said, growling into his cup.
“Aww, but we want storytime-”
“Mike your elf costume is now your standard work outfit.”
Mike cut his mockery short, quickly looking around his local group. “He can’t do that… he can’t do that, right? Right?”
Shrugs were all that he received, and Glenn continued. “Santa gives gifts to all the good boys, girls and attack helicopters across the Solar System-”
The third indicator light flicked on, but Glenn ignored it. “-and so the gift exchange takes it’s name from that legend. On the 24th of this month, Management is going to provide gifts-”
The third indicator light somehow turned on brighter, and yet was still ignored. “-and everyone will pick a random one, and then we’ll do a round of trading-”
The third indicator light turned off, which immediately gave Glenn chills. Looking up, he saw the Karnakian flock looking incredibly happy about something. A cold pit of fear opened up in Glenn’s gut as the unmute indicator somehow turned off by itself. “[Hello Brother Stationmaster Glenn~!]”
“How… how did you do that? You shouldn’t be able to un-mute yourself at all from over there.” Glenn murmured in confusion as a touk-wearing Karnakian got a little too close to the camera.
“[It is a Holidaysmas Miracle!]”
“That – that’s not how this works, that’s not how-”
“[Then the stars are in alignment! Bretheren, can we participate by providing the gifts ourselves?]”
Glenn shook his head no as hard as he could, individual vertebrae popping with the motion. “Absolutely-”
The vid screen muted again, the Karnakian delegation getting unreasonably animated over the cutoff answer, individual touk-poms wiggling in excitement.
“-NOT. Fuckdamnit!” Glenn growled, angrily fingering his button-
His brain-monkey screeched as it launched itself at yet another memory with zealous fervor.
-but to seemingly no avail. “Listen. LISTEN. We’ve picked out some nice approved gifts, they don’t go over a 20GRC limit, you can’t just-”
“[Stationmaster, if the Karnakian delegation is planning on giving your staff gifts could we participate as well?]”
Glenn continued to aggressively finger his podium, upper body shaking with the effort. “Listen here team constantly beeping, you can’t do this to me I have diplomatic immunity-”
“[I mean that’s not a no-]” Hashtag Team Pinchpot said, musing out loud.
“[Oooh, do you think [Asuka] would mind sharing? That’s a lot of vigor-]” An unknown Dorarizin female said, before with the crackling of wood and the breaking of glass, Glenn’s whole fist went through the top of the podium.
The podium’s controls were utterly destroyed, and with the pop of broken circuits the vidscreens shut off.
It’s problems were over now.
It was still envied.
= = = = =
For the Xenos, getting the actual list of gifts and participants was the easy part; Human encryption was almost at-par with the galactic community once standards were shared, but the inexorable momentum of forcing password changes once every 30 days caused some very obvious permutations of “password12345”, and biometric locks were passed with frightening ease considering that their species left bits of themselves, well, everywhere. The target Humans were divvied up by lottery, and in the end each “lucky” soul on Zephyr Station 8 had a group of 3-5 xenos pooling their resources together to get them something nice from the list of approved gifts. Well. Nicer.
The list was really a guideline, after all.
When this was made known to the “lucky” souls on Zephyr Station 8, they started to drop some very pointed hints for their alien friends as to what makes a good gift, what size of diamond-studded sequin jacket would fit them, and the fact that Disco was never coming back so you may as well not buy those floating sparkleballs and instead invest in something more useful, like desert-pattern-camo automatic underwater basket weavers.
None of this was lost on Stationmaster Glenn ‘Why, God’ Abramson, who at every turn attempted to assert his official authority over a voluntary non-work function and reign in some of the enthusiasm, backroom dealing and outright material theft.
This went about as well as you’d expect.
= = = = =
The 24th was greeted with anticipation, joy and wonderment by many Humans of many ages, most of which were on Earth or one of her colonies and far away from the radiating dread that was pouring from Glenn ‘My Ancestors weep’ Abramson. The fact that what should have been a bunch of minor holiday parties with a manager and his or her subordinates had turned into an all-hands, station-wide Festival that took up the entire ballroom of Deck Q-25 and at least half of the neighboring Aggrograg training summit and Arblebees’ Deli was not lost on him, nor was the fact that he had utterly lost control of how the day would go and who would start off with what gift.
His concerns had been ignored for the past few days, and so it seemed that he was the only one to comprehend two things:
1) Not breaking this party up into smaller, cohesive groups meant that there were well over 200 gifts to exchange. And steal. At once. Multiple times.
2) The station was going to be totally run by automated subroutines and xenos volunteers, which really meant that they were all replaceable and that his suffering was for naught. That this was a strand-type career-
“[Good morning, [Glenn]! How are you doing today?]” Rgrezneh-of-Hrzgarenm / Sheila said, far too happily.
“All is lost.”
“[Aaah, it is Tuesday.]” The Dorarizin nodded slightly, tilting her head as she did so. “[I was hoping to run into you before we started – I wanted to thank you for [Mike]’s costume. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed-]”
“You are the only one who has thoroughly enjoyed anything about that man or his body, and I would appreciate it if you kept those dark memories to yourself.” Glenn grumpily replied, stepping around the massive xenos to make his way to one of the double-door entrances to the ballroom. “I’m already dreading… this…”
The doors slid open on silent hinges showing a wide-open ballroom. Arranged throughout the ballroom floor were little islands of presents, surrounded by multiple human-appropriate snack and drink tables. Seating was provided around each gift island, and even that was colored in festive reds, whites and greens. Milling about were a majority of the remaining Human staff, weaving in and out of their corresponding gift-giving xenos “santas”. Hanging from the ceiling were the corresponding and appropriate banners in multiple human and xenos languages – all of them wishing a Happy Festive Season and/or the return of Sun, the Sun, to these darkened lands.
Glenn squinted at the last one… one of the Norwegians must’ve got time at the printer. He turned to Sheila, who was unfortunately still talking. “This seems normal.” He interrupted.
“[Oh? We did do some research – Myself and [Starburst] and [OHGODWHY].” As Sheila said each name, the corresponding Jornissian and Karnakian turned and waved, making their way over to the entrance. “[It’s good news to know that the instructions we reviewed were-]”
“No. I mean. Nothing’s on fire.” Glenn said, tentatively sticking his head fully into the room to look around. “There’s… nothing wrong.”
“[Is there supposed to be?]” Sheila said, crouching down to properly speak to someone of Glenn’s height.
“I don’t…know anymore. I just don’t know.”
“[What don’t you know, Station-Patron? Is it a riddle? I love riddles-]” OHGODWHY / Tr’Grakz the Karnakian said, starting to get reasonably unreasonably happy as his bullet-train of thought left the station and made a hard left on a straight track.
“[Is everything to his liking?]” Starburst, nee Shpressnrek said, clasping her hands together in mild concern. “[He’s doing that thing with the full-body shaking-]”
“It’s fine. Fine. It’s just a nervous disor- tic, is all.” Glenn said, straightening up and walking forward, checking the artificial christmas trees as he went for the PAVN. “It’ll be fine, it’s just like the kessel run back home.”
Glenn turned to see Jessica standing up on her tiptoes, her hand waving enthusiastically over the body of a ducking Karnakian. “OVER HERE~”
Glenn looked to his escort, who seemed to be encouraging him over to that location. With a mental shrug he walked over to one of the many, many piles of identically-wrapped presents, each individual box or orb seeming to blend into the ones beside it with a dizzying, shifting pattern of hard-light “wrapping paper”. As he got closer he realized he had to avert his eyes or be mesmerized; a few of his other colleagues had fallen prey to whatever siren song would have claimed him, much to the mild-and-growing concern of the xenos nearby. Holding a hand up to act as a blinder he made his way to Jessica, who was wearing incredibly festive sunglasses at night so she could so she could not watch the weave of lies that the mesmerizing presents were beaming to everybody present.
“Ayy this is fuckin’ awesome, isn’t it?” The American said, grinning from ear to ear. “Free swag, good food, time off-”
“Technically this is off the clock,” Glenn said, flinching as the memetic hazard of wrapping paper splashed into his vision every so often as the crowd around him shifted, “So there’s no pay-”
“Bah. Stop being Scrooge! We were just waiting for you to get in, so we’re gonna start soon I think!” Jessica said, as a ripple of commands worked it’s way through the implants of the xenos present. Before he could protest further, Glenn found himself being ushered to one of the nearby seats that at first, second or third glance absolutely did not fit him at all.
“Um.” He said, as Starburst coiled herself up loosely infront of him. “Where… am I sitting?”
The Jornissian opened her arms and Glenn exhaled, deep and slow.
“[No you won’t!]” OHGODWHY said, gently pushing him forward with his bodyweight. “[You’ll block out the cameras-]”
“[Not important!]” Tr’Grakz said, smiling with pure joy and anticipation as Glenn lost balance, tipping over into the waiting arms of the Jornissian, who was soon joined by the Dorarizin in an impromptu “sit on my lap of infinite length” seating arrangement. “[I’m running the festivities today-]”
“[Yes? Anyway, as Stationmaster you get the honor of opening the first gift!]” Tr’Grakz crowed, camera drones suddenly zooming in from various hidden positions to focus on Glenn and Glenn alone.
“No, Listen I neeuuuuuuuuuuhhhhhhh-” Glenn droned as a hefty present was thrust into his lap, the pulsating and rippling effects of the Hard-Light wrapping paper unwillingly hijacking his train of thought, mesmerizing him utterly. The colors, the patterns – what did they mean, Mason? He started to see, to know, as the lotus of all knowledge bloomed before him, the galaxy unfolding in his very mind-
There was a clawed tap and the light turned off. Glenn’s eyes refocused and he scrunched his face up, his brain rebooting.
“[Next year, not so many Holiday Lights.]” Starburst stage-whispered to OHGODWHY, the Karnakian nodding sagely. With a frown he pressed a very obvious button on the container, the numetal shrinking and warping to reveal-
“-Um. Thank you?” Glenn said, holding up a solid lead crystal tumbler set, inlaid with gold, precious gems and alloys. There was what seemed to be engraved filigree at points, whole interlocking plates of metal studded and ordained with details upon details. Depictions from various human stories littered every inch of every open crystal fragment, and as the light caught them they blazed with inner fire.
It was the most thoughtful gift he’d ever gotten. It was the most expensive one, too. He sat there, a bit dumbfounded, as Tr’Grakz began to dance in place nervously.
“[Ah… ah… NEXT!]” He said, quickly picking up and thrusting another present into another human’s hands. The process continued, but Glenn could not tell you how long he remained in a stupor – the gift, this gift, was incredible, and as he got lost in admiring it, a small, hairy, extraordinarily old and ape-like part of his brain gently tapped on his shoulder and whispered an indisputable fact into his ear:
He was not worthy of this gift.
‘Oh hello guilt, nice to meet you again.’ Glenn thought as he held his gift in his lap, looking up for the first time in many minutes to lock eyes with his other crewmates. The same look was plastered on their faces – yes, jokingly asking for a Faberge-egg back massager was fun, but to actually get one is… is…
It’s too much. It’s wrong.
“I uh-” Glenn started, looking around questioningly. The monkey part of his brain, grown strong from yeeting thoughts into the void, had assumed direct control. The important thing was not that he got a gift, no, it was that he got rid of the gift-that-he-was-not-worthy-to-have. Cause if he kept it then the other monkey who most definitely did exist and was worthy of the gift would take it from him and then that would be bad. He locked eyes with Jessica who was gently caressing a perfect faux-mahogany stock Gyrojet, every bit of it carved with intricate designs. Her hands didn’t really touch the weapon; they shook with the timidity of a master holding something of legend and realizing they were not worthy, giving it the hoverhand treatment all nerds give their prom dates when they’re 16.
However, Glenn didn’t have that problem; he was not a gun aficionado. He nodded at her.
She nodded back.
He nodded more insistently.
She nodded back –
Damnit, she didn’t have ESP.
“G-give.” Glenn said, lifting up his own drink set. Jessica looked at him, confusedly, letting out a low-pitched and defensive reeee as she clutched the rifle.
“[Stationmaster, is there a problem with your gift?]” OHGODWHY said, leaning in far too closely for anyone’s comfort. Starburst shifted under him, and he used the momentum to wobble to his feet. “I… I steal from you!” He said, loudly and in the silence of an echoing ballroom.
“[Stationmaster, that is not necess-]”
Glenn rounded on the Karnakian, crazy and desperate fury in his eyes. “This is Stealing Santa, and I can’t be caught with this-”
With determination he stepped through the coils of his seat, holding the probably-as-costly-as-his-yearly-salary drink set out to the American. “I’m stealing your gun.”
“SHALL FUCKING NOT-”
“Prison Rules, Bitch.” Glenn hissed, slav-squatting before the technician and her xenos-group-santa-seating who were giving him very sour looks. “And no stealbacks-”
“This- MUH RIGHTS-” Jessica cried as the drink set was placed in her lap, the weapon (after a little bit of wrestling) was wrested from her grip. With a growl she stood up, cradling the expensive set in her arms. “You CUNT. Fine, uh…-”
There was a look in her eyes as Glenn stepped back, the ape in his brain admiring his handywork.
That look was not one to see what gift they wanted, no. That look was the look of the ape in her mind, looking for the perfect target. The person who had a gift that was perfect for them. The person who would cherish it for the rest of their days.
The person to hurt.
“O-OI! YOU!” Jessica crowed, pointing to one of the interns who was holding out an incredibly fancy robe. “I’M STEALING THAT.”
The intern let out a low-pitched reeee noise that only got louder as Jessica stomped over, wielding the crystal drink tumbler set less as a family heirloom and more like a set of clubs to perform a beatdown with.
Glenn nodded in approval, up until the point that the gun was slowly tugged from his grip.
= = = = =
Shpressnrek did not approve of this Festival custom. And sure, that might have made her sound “speciest” in some circles of the galnet, but the honest truth was that in every culture there are some things that you respect as theirs, some things that you ignore, and some things that you wholesale steal and make your own. It took multiple days of designing, 3 trips to 5 different nanofabricators and a favor to get a few things quantum-shipped to complete this drink set for their resident functioning alcoholic, and he just… he just stole something that Shpressnrek was almost certain he didn’t want and didn’t care for. The point was that each one of the warm-cuddles would get something custom-made for them as an appreciation for having a mostly professional work environment, and then they’d all have snacks.
Shpressnrek wanted to have snacks.
Shpressnrek did not want to have what was currently going on, which seemed to be a rippling, low-decibel screech that was passing from warm-cuddle to warm-cuddle as perfect gifts were exchanged for… less than perfect ones. This would, of course, not do – so after a few minutes of implant-to-implant conversation, it was decided by democratic vote (the best kind of vote) that if theft was the name of the game, then they would steal from the warm-cuddles.
Just for tonight. Just to re-wrap and re-gift them again.
And so Shpressnrek found herself gently tugging on the antique weapon that was stolen from Eagle-screm by Astral-projecting-out-of-his-body-because-he’s-done-with-everything, with the goal of reuniting it with Eagle-screm’s group of species for damage-repair, re-wrapping and regifting.
“[Hey! NO. I NEED THIS.]” Astral-projecting-out-of-his-body-because-he’s- yanno what, let’s just go with Glenn – said, gripping the rifle in all the ways that gun safety disapproves of, but Kobain thought was pretty cool.
“<No, no->” Shpressnrek cooed, softly, trying to turn the barrel away from the warm-cuddle. “<Let’s not, ok? You’re safe, don’t worry->”
“[That’s what they want you to think-]” Glenn hissed, wrapping his legs around Shpressnrek’s arm and torso as he attempted to wrestle the firearm out of her grip. “[But then you’re in Manitoba and the trees start speaking first nation and-]”
Whatever he was going to say was lost, as with a thak the apparently chambered weapon went off, the gyojet micromissile exiting the rifle and slamming into a digital christmas “tree”, causing it to spark and pop as it exploded in a beautiful, vibrant, blinding but ultimately harmless light show.
“[GUN GRABBER!]” The hypocrite-formerly-known-as-Glenn yelled as he was shaken a little too firmly loose from his grip, landing with an audible oof on the cold metallic floor.
“[THREE PERCENT!]” Someone else yelled from across the ballroom, as all hell broke loose.
= = = = =
‘<The problem,>’ mused Shpressnrek as she ducked behind an overturned table, her colleagues lobbing chunks of fruitcake at problem warm-cuddles as they assaulted her position, ‘<is that war has changed.>’
She dared to peek her head over the barricade as the current wave of thralls died down, trying to eye the battlefield and come up with a plan. Once the tree exploded some warm-cuddles thought they were under attack, some thought that their trees just did that and wanted to recreate it, and some of the more prescient ones apparently realized “it” was beginning, whatever it was, and started to exacerbate the situation. Shell in coil, striding across the ballroom-battlefield was a warm-cuddle instigator with an omni-directional pool noodle atop a robot ‘[unicorn]’, penta-monocle flipping through various visible spectrums as his self-replenishing caffeine drip gave him a manageable overdose of their aqua vitae. The fact that he had single-handedly stopped 4 separate waves of senate gift-teams was not the real issue, no.
The real issue was that he was in an elf costume the entire time. He radiated a powerful chaotic energy, and Shpressnrek ducked before they made eye contact.
Astral-Projecting Glenn had snapped out of whatever issue had possessed him to steal a gift during such a festive occasion and had joined the resistance, muttering something about ‘establishing dominance’, taking a little perverse glee in winging a ball of hardened [stollen] or [christmas] cake at anyone who came nearby, especially ‘that intern asok’ which seemed to be everyone. His zeal was burning through their ammunition, and according to the comms chatter not only were the other senate-gift giving teams pinned down by holiday cheer, but station security had deemed this little incident “within acceptable parameters”.
Shpressnrek made a note to never let a computer program manage security ever again in lieu of a sapient.
“<So, I’m out of ideas. Anyone?>” Shpressnrek shrugged, tossing another balled lump of confectionary to Rgrezneh, who performed a gentle underhand toss against a human wearing a trashcan as some sort of armor, knocking the wind out of him and causing him to fall on his back.
“[Nah. I for one like what’s going on – he’s just becoming so dominant, yanno? I didn’t know he had this in him, but after getting serious about his career and now establishing a micro-empire~]” Rgrezneh made the Dorarizin equivalent of a sensual purr, which gave every human within earshot the absolute piss-shivers.
“[Micro-empires are illegal, [Rgrezneh]. You know this-]” Tr’Grakz chided, rolling a Holiday Ham like a bowling ball, knocking a human down at the legs with flavor.
“[I know, I know. It’s more that he’s taking initiative than anything else -]”
“<Please.>” Shpressnrek sighed exasperatedly, Pinching and stroking the side of her hood in a self-soothing gesture as she made a mental note of the time. “<We’ve been at war for the past 5 hours. This has gone on long enough, this ballroom suddenly is a battlefield->”
“<Absolutely ignoring you, you started this.>” Shpressnrek stated matter-of-factly as Glenn suddenly turned towards the Jornissian, red eyes wide in realization.
“[Say that again.]” He said.
“<What, that the ballroom is a battlefield?>”
“[Yeah. Yeah! YEAH yeah yeah -]”
And Glenn stood up as he pointed at Mike the TurboElf, because he had a sudden epiphany.
But He was the man in the back, and yelled “[EVERYONE ATTACK]”, and it turned into a ballroom blitz.
And the Dorarizin in the corner, well very few ignored her, cause she’s attracted to the passionate one.
And the elf on the horses back was ready to crack and he raised his noodle to the sky
And the she-wolf in the corner really couldn’t get any hornier-
– She did some things to that elf that’d make you blush if you tried.
And now you have that song stuck in your head just like me.
That’s my gift to you.