Mr. Bumblesforth relit his pipe, lowered his voice conspiratorially and whispered: ‘….but, not in the vestry, parson!‘
I have to confess that, as unbecoming as it was, I almost collapsed with laughter. Beside me, Mr.DarkRoom_954 was quite literally rolling on the floor laughing. Mrs. Geomage_75’s shrill laughter rivalled my own and, between us, we almost drowned out the authoritative crackling of the fireplace in the corner.
Once we had regained our composure, and Mr. Bumblesforth had passed around a fortifying schooner of brandy, we caught our breath in silence. Outside, above the bustling of the gaslit street below, I could just about hear the jangling tones of an organ grinder playing a tuneless rendition of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”.
‘Say, shall we bypass the formalities and bring out the Christmas goose?’ Mrs.Geomage_75’s eyes twinkled mischievously in the firelight.
‘I say, yes! It would be most daring, wouldn’t it?‘ I chipped in.
Mr.DarkRoom_954 merely shook his head solemnly, before Mr.Bumblesforth burst into echoing laughter. Clapping his hands briskly, he summoned Camberwell the butler and instructed him to bring both the goose and an extra bottle of port, forthwith! Camberwell merely nodded and said: ‘Quite, sir!” in perfectly programmed Received Pronunciation.
‘I still think that we should have gone for enchiladas.‘ Mr.DarkRoom_954 uttered solemnly. ‘You know, a real break with tradition.‘
Mr.Bumblesforth smiled and tapped out his pipe dottle on a nearby saucer. As he refilled it, Mrs.Geomage_75 turned to Mr.DarkRoom_954 and said: ‘But, darling, we had enchiladas last Christmas, I’ve always wanted to try a traditional fat-roasted goose.‘
Before Mr.DarkRoom_954 could come up with a witty riposte, Camberwell reappeared in the doorway. A solemn expression crossed his gaunt face. Mr.Bumblesforth furrowed his brow and said: ‘For heavens’ sake! What is the meaning of this, man?‘
‘A telegram, sir.‘ Camberwell reached into his jacket and handed Mr.Bumblesforth a folded piece of yellowed paper. He read it in silence, before passing it around. We all knew what it would say, but some traditions have to be followed.
When it reached me, I read the bold words: “From LANCorp Winter Wonderland Admin: It has come to our attention that you are running an unathorised private server. Not only that, your data output traces show that you are breaching several parts of the Winter Wonderland content policy (Sec 5. Glamourisation of the 19th century, para 3-6/ Sec 8. Simulation of meat, alcohol and tobacco products, para 1-12/ Sec 10. Offensive humour (Religion), whole document). Please cease and desist immediately, or we shall be forced to take further action!”
‘Spoilsports, I was quite hoping to try the goose.‘ Mrs. Geomage_75 muttered.
‘Shall I fetch the muskets, ladies and gentlemen?‘ Camberwell intoned. Obviously, Mr.Bumblesforth had refined his defence subroutines this year.
Mr.Bumblesforth trembled with glee: ‘Oh yes! Who’s up for a spot of shooting?‘
We chattered and nodded. Camberwell disappeared and reappeared a few seconds later with a brace of muskets. They, of course, launched Mu5k viruses of the most potent variety. Once attached to a target, it would attract every angry troll within a ten-thousand kilometre radius.
By the time that Camberwell had handed out the muskets, another telegram appeared in his hand. We didn’t even need to read it.
Instead, we levelled our muskets at the sitting room door. A second later, there was a loud rapping, like someone tapping upon a coffin lid. Mr. Bumblesforth barely waited for the door to open before letting rip. A beam of pure blue data arced across the room, followed swiftly by an angry swarm of glowing red dots. A chorus of unholy bleeps and screeches filled the room.
An image of a stern man in a suit appeared behind the shining red dots. I took aim and fired. The whole doorway glowed red and the noises intensified. Against the bright red light, there was an angular silhouette of a giant person with writhing hair. ‘By heavens! They’ve got a G0rGon!‘ Mrs. Geomage_75 exclaimed, almost dropping her musket.
‘Crash out.‘ Mr.DarkRoom_954 shouted at me. I nodded.
As if in prayer, I recited the familiar words: ‘Execute emergency routine five, authorisation admin67/bfg/9. Purge traces, encrypt passages and close server.‘
In an instant, everything went black. A shiver ran down my spine and an acrid scent filled my nostrils. Slowly, the gloomy storage room of the old sewers came into focus. Bum had obviously already disconnected, since he was sitting against the wall and taking a swig of pot-brew to calm his nerves. Beside me, Geo shivered and reached for a tattered old blanket.
‘Well, we got two hours online this time. New record.‘ Dark said, trying to add some cheer to the icy room. Bum ignored him and took another swig from his grimy bottle.
Finally, trying to stay in character, I said: ‘Hey, at least everyone’s still on the main server, even the cops. Who’s up for a spot of scrumping?‘
‘Capital idea, old girl‘ Dark said, with a gleam in his eyes. He reached for his pry-bar. ‘I’d forgotten to get you lot any presents anyway.‘