Well it had to be Heart of Glass didn’t it? The song came on, and the entire dancefloor shuddered to a halt. Couples dropped their arms from one another and stepped apart, suddenly maintaining a decent distance that any chaperone from the fifties would have approved of. On the edges of the floor the wallflowers and the drunks looked up and moved away from the protection of the shadows and joined the erstwhile dancers. When the entire room was stood there, arrayed like the pieces on a chessboard, they all stretched their faces into an identical grin like that found on plastic dolls and started stepping in time to the music. If it weren’t so slow I’d have mistaken it for a modern aerobics class.
I sidled into the DJ booth where Samantha Panther was standing, legs akimbo and a thin trail of icy drool running from the corner of her mouth, her eyes unfocused and staring out beyond the dancefloor into an infinity she wasn’t sharing with anyone else. In front of her the computer indicated that Heart of Glass was on repeat, and it looked like it was going to go on for several hours.
Someone cleared their throat, and I had to look everywhere to find the guy crouching under the mixing desk. He looked uncomfortable, and was wearing a suit that looked as though someone else had thrown-up on it. I raised an eyebrow.
“What are you doing?” he said. His voice was clear, low, and somehow familiar. I looked at him, wondering if I’d seen him before, and his suit suddenly seemed familiar. “Yes,” he said, without inflexion. “You threw up on me earlier. In the smoking area.” Oh yes, that would be why he looked and sounded familiar.
“I’m turning the music off,” I said. “It’s turned everyone on the dancefloor into a zombie. It’s completely choking the vibe.”
“I can’t let you do that,” he said, still inflexionlessly. “They’re not zombies, they’re soldiers. And it’s important that they remain soldiers for the next nineteen minutes.”
“Soldiers usually have weapons,” I countered. “Or are you intending that they Tai Chi some invisible enemy to death.”
“Look out there,” he said. I looked.
On the dancefloor they were still moving, but from this angle I could believe that they were marching in place. It reminded me for a moment like a Pink Floyd video from the late 80s. Then, as I watched, I saw shimmers in the air that coalesced and I could see the dancers all holding guns in parade rest, glass weapons that barely existed at all.
“What. The. Fu–“
“Quite,” said the man under the desk. “How did you know that the enemy is invisible?”
I took several moments to stare at him as though he was quite mad, which he clearly was. Even though I had to have been drinking the same polluted beer as him, because I could see weapons that obviously couldn’t exist and didn’t just spring into existence because a large group of people started doing the right kind of calisthenics. That kind of thing would put the arms manufacturers out of business, and the things about upsetting people who make weapons is that they’re the people who eventually have all of the weapons.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said. “Or what you’re doing.”
The wallflowers are out there joining in, my brain reminded me. That was bizarre. That never happened. They lingered on the edges like leeches, waiting for someone too drunk to know better to stumble off the floor and into their arms and be carried home to be sucked dry. Or something like that, I’d never been drunk enough to experience it for myself.
“We’re fighting a war,” said the man. “We’ve found out who we’re fighting at last, and we’re using their technology against them. The tables are turning!”
“It’s an MP3-player,” I said. I couldn’t resist pointing it out. “They haven’t had vinyl here for six months.”
The man waved a hand. I wondered how long he could crouch there before he got cramp. “Irrelevant,” he said. “The point is that we know how it works, and we can make it work for us. They can’t enslave us any more! We’re going to be free!”
“You sound very sure of that,” I said. “And yet all you’re doing is playing a 70s song.”
“It’s the choice of song,” said the man. “Some of them weren’t really songs at all. You should see what happens when we play Video killed the Radio Star.”
“So what happened?” I asked.
“Sorry? What do you mean?”
“Why did they stop making these songs? If you have to go back all the way to the 70s either they already won, and you’re an idiot, or they already lost, and you’re an idiot. Hey, look at that! You’re an idiot!”
“They never stopped,” said the man. “Haven’t you listened to Pop Idol? They’re actively trialling their songs for effectiveness on directly now. That’s why they have to be stopped!”
I reached out to the mixing desk and the man tried to grab my wrist. I dodged, and tapped the keyboard, changing the playlist so that at the end of Heart of Glass something else would start playing. The man under the desk tried to get out to see what I’d done, and I pushed him back in.
“What are you doing?” he spluttered, trying to get leverage to force his way out, but his uncomfortable stance prevented it. I could hear his breathing shortening as panic started to overcome him.
“Picking the next track,” I said. “I fancied St. Elmo’s Fire.”
“I figured you needed a new horizon,” I said.
“What?” I waited. Achingly slowly realisation crept across his face like an elderly mystic realising that he’s known the secret to transcendence all along. “You’re one of them. Aren’t you?”
The song changed, and as the music crescendoed and the singer started howling about new horizons a bright light erupted from the dancefloor. It struck the mirrorball, an ironic celebration of an earlier, cheesier disco era, and, impossibly, lased.
“Oh yes,” I said softly.