This is going to seem a little odd, but I wrote a short story as a wedding gift for a friend of mine, Tabitha Grace Smith. Why? Well, I’m both poor and cheap, so there’s that. Anyway, I have a novel in which my character has just completed an epic road trip from L.A. to Indiana. Tabitha’s a proud geek, so it was a short trip to have the hero make a pit stop at one of her favorite kinds of places–a science fiction convention:
CHAOS AT THE CON
He should have driven around Las Vegas. Surely Ian Grant wasn’t the first person to have that thought.
Shutting off his wedding planning audiobook, Ian braked and leaned forward as he approached the North Point Hotel and Casino, on the sunbaked Strip. “The Vegas Science Fiction Convention?” It sounded familiar. Hadn’t someone invited him to it?
The smart thing would be to pass it by. He was on a strict timetable, after all, even though only he knew it. Besides, these cons tended to attract the same people, and Felicia Day didn’t like him much. Come to think of it, Stan Lee still had a restraining order on him, the old grouch.
Ian whipped his Mustang into the parking lot. When it came to walking into possibly volatile situations, he had a reputation to maintain.
The valet’s eyes widened when Ian hopped out of the car. “Dude, are you Ian Grant? You totally rocked as Acid Spitter in ‘Tormentor 2’.”
“No, I’m just cosplaying him—how did I do?” He handed the young man his keys, and tried not to turn his head away from the reek of controlled substances. The stuff made him sneeze. So did memories of the “Tormentor” movie franchise. Especially the second one, his first, which he’d made during one of his rebellious stages. Well, more rebellious stages.
“Whoa—you look just like him. But shouldn’t you have cosplayed the character, instead of the actor?”
“Didn’t have the costume budget.”
He would, Ian told himself, stick around just long enough to make a round of the booths, grab some food and drink, and hit the men’s room. Maybe not in that order. Definitely not in that order. It had been a long drive already.
The men at the lobby door were dressed as Klingons. The earlier movie Klingons, not the reboot. Walking boldly up to them, Ian growled, “nuqneH!”
The two took startled steps backward, and looked at each other. “We, um, don’t actually know any Klingon,” one said.
“I said hello, kind of.” Taking on an offended expression, Ian brushed by, growling something that he hoped would be mistaken for an alien language. He knew only two words of Klingon himself, and used the second as he passed. “Nice Bat’leth.”
“Oh, thanks. My brother made it for me in his shop.” He looked down at his bladed weapon, which really was nicely done, and totally missed that Ian had passed without a ticket.
Ian had no idea if he was supposed to present a ticket, but better safe than banned. “Like taking candy from a Klingon …”
He made it well into the crowded hall before a woman wearing a blue box crashed into him. “Oh, sorry!” she said, as he helped steady her.
“No problem. Aren’t you claustrophobic in there?” He waited for the inevitable shriek of recognition, which sometimes was followed with catcalls, and occasionally fruit.
“Oh, no—it’s bigger on the inside. Thanks!” She went on by, flashing him a smile as she passed.
Ian had a little experience in this genre, having built up his CV a bit with SyFy original movies. But with all that makeup he’d been unrecognizable in “Tormentor 2 or 3”, and managed to walk around the hallways mostly unrecognized. And thank goodness, considering his habit on that movie’s set of sneaking up on people in full makeup and freaking them out.
Those few people in the crowd who did find him familiar shook it off, assuming a celebrity would be busy on a panel, or at least have a handler. He even stumbled upon an autograph session and got signatures from half the surviving cast of “The Walking Dead”.
It was nice. The closest he came to being stalked was when three fans cosplaying zombies chased him away from Norman Reedus. Personally, Ian thought there were enough zombies in Hollywood, let alone here.
He consumed a Coney dog and headed toward the exit with a huge cup of soda—probably not a good idea, considering he had thousands of miles to go. Then someone grabbed him by the arm.
“Mr. Grant! OMG, I didn’t think you’d be showing. We never got a response from your agent.”
At first he thought it was a child. The top of her head came to his chin, and her long blonde hair was arranged in some kind of weird style that produced two tight buns on the top of her head. She wore a short, stylized schoolgirl outfit, spectacularly red, white and blue, with tall red boots and long gloves. Ian started to compliment her, but remembered the “child” part. “Say, how old are you?”
“I’m nineteen. Why?”
“Do you have any ID? That getup makes you look like you’re twelve.”
“I’m Sailor Moon.”
“Of course you are.” A glimpse of the exit reminded him of his timetable and he tried to pull away, but her grip was like the Jaws of Life. “Okay, are you really a superhero? Because if so, someone should point out that you forgot to take off your glasses.”
With her other hand, she pushed up the red plastic frames. “I could make this outfit or buy contacts—I made a choice. Look, I know you’re trying to make time with me, but we’re late for the panel.”
“I’m not trying—“
“Please. Why do you think we invited you?” To Ian’s surprise, she started dragging him through the hall. “I’m Serena. That’s my real name, so deal with it.”
He wasn’t sure why that name should be a big deal, but he could go with it. “So, I know your real name and that you hide your Moonish identity with glasses. Suppose I’m a villain?”
Serena turned back, her gaze raking over his jeans, black t-shirt, and green cross-trainers. “That’s why you’re here, dummy.” A near-collision with two Cylons made the girl turn her attention back to their path. “Move it! Celeb coming through!”
I have a bad feeling about this. “Listen, Serena, there’s something you need to know.”
“If it’s about the shade of color on my bow, forget it—I did the best I could, and I’m not getting into any more kerfuffles.”
“It’s a very nice bow, very … large. No, I needed to tell you I’m not Ian Grant.”
She stopped, so quickly he almost slammed into her. Turning, she examined him closely. “You messing with me, bad boy?”
“Um … I’m actually cosplaying Ian Grant. How did I do?”
For a long moment, Serena stared at him. Maybe it was the glasses, but Serena’s eyes seemed to be throwing sparks. “Why didn’t you dress up as one of his characters?”
“I figured he was a character in and of himself.”
“You got that right.” After a quick glance around her, Serena grabbed two hands full of Ian’s t-shirt and drew him down to his level. “Now listen here, faux-Grant. I promised the panel I’d bring a guy in. Simon Helberg punked out on me. Mark Sheppard wouldn’t even return my calls.”
The combination of names stirred Ian’s memory, but he couldn’t quite place why. “Well, that’s just—“
She gave an extra tug, and lowered her voice so she could just be heard over the crowd. “So here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to go on with this perfect impersonation of Ian Grant, and attend the panel. Afterward, assuming you survive, people will buy you drinks and suck up to you, and women dressed as green Orion slave girls will want to go up to your hotel room and let you lick their makeup off. It’s lime Kool-Aid. But if you don’t do it, I will personally make you look like you’re wearing that acid-spitter makeup again. Capisce?”
“Wow. You’re incredibly sexy right now. Was Sailor Moon this take-charge?”
She tugged on him again. “My version is. And thank you. Now, are you coming?”
Ian checked his phone. He’d tarried too long, but getting to Indiana a few hours later shouldn’t be such a big deal. He also saw six texts from his newly ex-girlfriend, the first of which started with several X-rated words. But never mind that … Sailor Serena clearly needed his aid and, contrary to his reputation, he couldn’t stand not coming to the aid of a damsel in distress.
“Okay, Princess. Count me in.”
“Yay!” Serena grabbed his arm again, and they hurried toward a conference room door while she spoke urgently into a cell phone. Ian didn’t hesitate, confident he could charm any audience.
Then he saw the sign, shouting out the panel’s purpose from the main entrance:
MEET THE CAST AND CREW OF THE TORMENTOR MOVIES
“Ladies and gentlemen—please give a big Vegas Con welcome to actor Ian Grant!”
Serena shoved him forward, then took a guarding position in the doorway. There had to be a thousand people in the room … although “Tormentor 3” had been released years before, the franchise kept chugging along.
As Ian headed toward the front, he tried to gauge his chances of being lynched. About half the audience cheered wildly, while the applause of the rest could best be called “polite”. The good news was that, although he recognized most of the actors, producers and writers on the panel, none had a restraining order against him. The bad news was that they were all women.
One of them—the producer of the series—pointed toward the podium. “Late as usual, but your timing is impeccable, Ian. By all means, do take the center seat.”
“Ah … the place of ‘honor’.” Stressing the word got him a laugh, so when he took his seat Ian turned the soda so the cup’s logo faced the audience. “I don’t have an endorsement contract, but what the heck—maybe they’ll decide to give me some money later.” Another laugh. So far, so good.
“Hello, Ian,” said an actor beside him, in such a silky smooth tone that he immediately knew he was in trouble. “I assume you know why you’re here?”
“To be tarred and feathered?” It couldn’t be a coincidence that they’d been seated side by side. He’d dated Terri, a former gymnast hired for her athletic ability, who’d become the tough star of the entire “Tormentor” franchise. In fact, he’d started dating her on the set of the second film … and she dumped him during post-production. “Hello, Terri. Haven’t seen you since you ran over me with a tank.” Come to think of it, almost every woman here had killed him, directed him being killed, or written him being killed.
“We were just discussing how you were something of the court jester on the set, with your puns, practical jokes, always breaking up the crew …”
A titter ran through the audience. What had they been talking about before he arrived? He’d been twenty-one when he joined the franchise as the main villain. A kid, full of vigor and empty of thought, except for the thought of sex. Ian was barely able to hide a shudder. “Well … I’m still bad with the puns, although I’d like to think I’ve matured a little overall.”
That brought a laugh from both the audience and the panel, who all apparently thought he was joking.
“Talking about you on the set got us on the subject of sexism in the entertainment industry.” This from a redhead further down the line, who Ian recognized with a start as a fairly well known director of other films. She’d been a production assistant when he signed on for “Tormentor 2”. She’d also fallen for a certain rakish actor who was happy to fall right back, until a week later when she decided he was too immature for her. That made Terri a rebound relationship.
Oh, boy. I’ve been set up. They were either going to talk about me, or jump down my throat. And the worst part is, they might be right.
When Ian didn’t reply, the redhead continued. “Our contention is that sexism runs rampant in the entertainment industry, not to mention it’s a continuing problem at cons like this. We thought it would be only fair to get the other side’s point of view.”
“The other side?” This must be what it’s like to dance in a minefield. “Do you mean the other side as in men, or the other side as in sexist people?”
“Is there a difference?”
The audience held its collective breath.
Where the hell were Shephard and Helberg when he needed them? Wait, hadn’t they been killed off in IV and I, respectively?
Before Ian could formulate an answer, Terri spoke again. “It’s pandemic in Hollywood, and has been since the beginning. Your father could probably speak about it even more than you could.”
Ian felt his hands close into fists, and forced them into his lap as cold swept through him. “My father? Well, it depends on your definition of sexist. Charles Grant never looked down on someone in the business because of their sex, never treated them differently other than to watch his language and hold the door for them. If being a good man is sexism, then yeah.”
Ian stopped, feeling his face redden in the silence. That went south fast.
“But I thought you hated your father,” someone in the crowd said.
“I thought I did, too.” Carefully, Ian placed his hands flat on the podium. “Maybe I was just jealous because he’s a better man than I.”
“Then what about you, Ian?” Terri seemed determined to get back on track. “Would you call yourself a feminist?”
Wow—loaded question time. “Not really. I never gave it much thought, to be honest.”
“But a person who dumps enough women gets a reputation.”
“Yes, and someone who believes everything they read in scandal sheets gets stupid.”
Terri leaned back, eyes and mouth wide.
“I’ve broken up with exactly two women in my entire life. Usually they leave me, because I’m a reprobate.” The crowd tittered. “Did I use the word right?”
A few seats down, the producer spoke up. “You did … and three syllables, too.”
”It’s all that fancy book learnin’. I know my own weaknesses. But I would never consider a woman to be a weaker sex.” He rubbed his sore arm, and looked across the crowd to see Serena, who was staring at him intensely. His cosplay game, at least as far as she was concerned, appeared to be up.
“Yes, but what about …” Terri’s brow furled. She was, he assumed, trying to think of a time during his hard partying ways when he’d been seen treating a woman badly.
Time to twist the knife a little. “In fact, I remember a movie set in which not one, but two women made passes at me. Man, you are so good at skating on thin ice.
Terri and the redhead—Robin, that was her name!—had the good grace to blush. Thank goodness, for his case, that Robin well and firmly dumped him before Terri cornered him in her trailer. Running lines, indeed!
“I guess what I’m saying is, a man can have fun and be a basic ne’er do well without objectifying women.”
Ah, an appreciative laugh. He had the crowd.
“Ian …” Terri had a look on her face, one he should have recognized and feared from entertainment reporters. “Why do you think sexual harassment is such a problem at cons?”
“Well, I don’t know—I suppose if you get a bunch of undersexed nerds who aren’t familiar with being in social situations, they need to learn to take the feelings of others into consideration.”
A communal gasp.
Oh, I’m so stupid. Always talking first, thinking later. Ian glanced around for an exit.
“But aren’t all these people nerds?” Smiling sweetly, Terri swept her arm out toward the crowd. “A thousand nerds, and you just called them anti-social and backward.”
“I didn’t call them backward!”
The audience murmured. Angrily.
“And so many of these nerds are women,” Terri continued. “How does being a nerd give men a pass to make a pass, but not women?”
“I didn’t say it gave them a pass! It’s an issue of consent. Look, if a nerd woman wants to be horny. I absolutely approve and that didn’t come out right.”
By the main door, Serena suddenly pointed at him and shrieked, “That’s the real Ian Grant!”
It should have confused everyone. But the crowd took Serena’s sailor suited words to mean something else, something much worse. A low chant began: “The real Ian Grant. The real Ian Grant …”
When young, he’d dreamed of being in a place where women outnumbered him. Here was fate, laughing at that dream.
Then two Klingons burst through the door, almost knocking Serena over. “Stop that man!” one of them yelled, brandishing his Bat’leth. “He’s an imposter! And he didn’t register!”
“I gotta go.” Standing, Ian grabbed at his soda.
“Where are you going, Ian?” Grinning, Terri tilted her head with the expression of someone who’d managed mayhem.
“Um … Albuquerque.” Better a lie than to lead an angry crowd to Indiana. Leaving the soda, Ian made for a side exit he’d identified earlier. Safety first. One of the other panel members tried to trip him, but he’d long ago learned to vault such small obstacles
Ian slammed through the exit into a side hallway. He oriented himself, then headed toward the convention center’s front doors—which took him right by the main entrance to the conference room he’d just left. The startled Klingons whirled, while beside them Serena caught his eye and gave him thumbs up.
“Real or not, best panel ever! Now get out, or I’ll punish you.”
“Thanks for the good time, Sailor Serena!” Twisting his way through the crowd, Ian knew he had it made. There would be confusion behind him, and any mass attempt to chase him would come up against the crowd already there. He reached into his jeans pocket for his keys.
His hand came up with a valet ticket.
“Shoot. I mean, frak.” Still another example of him not thinking things through. He twisted around, taking in the crowd, then raised his voice and pointed back the way he’d come.
“It’s Joss Whedon! I just saw Joss Whedon over there! Nathan Fillion is with him!”
For an instant the crowd froze—then the stampede began. He dodged over to a booth and hugged the wall until most of the screaming crowd swept past, then broke for the front doors.
The entrance was now being guarded by Batman and an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., or maybe a Man In Black. “Hey! There are two Klingons back there attacking people with a Bat’leth.”
The two stood on tip toes, trying to see over the mob. “A real Bat’leth?” Batman asked.
“I think it’s plastic molding—they’re bopping people over the head with it. One of them just smashed a Sixties model of The Enterprise.”
“No!” The two left their posts, heading back to where two blood-smelling mobs had crashed into each other.
Rushing outside, Ian found the same valet waiting with a somewhat vacant expression. “Dude, man, I’ve got a confession: I really am Ian Grant.”
“Oh, man. Dude.”
“And I’ve got a hundred dollar tip if you get my Mustang back here fast. But without damage. And no smoking in it.”
“Um, you mean no more smoking?”
Taking the ticket, the valet ran as if the “Lost” smoke monster was chasing him.
Which, in this place, it might be. Ian looked around for the best place to hide. The parking lot was too far, and if he went inside he might not be able to reach the door again before a rabid mob of aliens and space queens tore him into bite sized chunks.
“Ian! Over here!”
The woman who waved him over stood near the door, wearing a strange silvery dress that gave her a bell shaped appearance, and was covered with little half spheres. She also wore a headpiece that caused what appeared to be a toilet plunger to poke out from her forehead. It took a moment for him to recognize the face.
“Aren’t you the lady in the blue box?”
“Costume change. Speaking of which …” She grabbed his already sore arm and dragged him over to where the box had been placed, by a wall not far from the door. “Get in, and keep your head in. Pretend you’re a turtle.”
“But I’ll never—“
“Bigger on the inside.” She shoved him closer, and Ian reluctantly stepped into the box and swung it shut around him. Sure enough, he was just able to fit his torso and head into it, although his legs stuck out. His savior’s voice was muffled. “Just stand there and look like you’re cosplaying.”
“You knew who I was all along!”
“No, I didn’t figure it out until you passed.” Something hit him on the head, and by luck he managed to catch a pen as it fell past. “Sign the inside of the box! And not on the picture.”
“What’s your name?”
“You’re a lifesaver, Tabitha.” Maybe literally.
He heard a commotion go by, and chose to ignore it as he squinted to find a place that hadn’t already been signed. Electing to avoid the area around Felicia Day’s autograph, he picked a spot between Katee Sackhoff and David Duchovny and wrote a very heartfelt note. Boy, a lot of celebrities had been in this thing.
He tried to ignore the face that stared back at him. Affixed to the rear of the box’s doors was the photo of an older, gray haired man with craggy eyebrows, staring at him with such intensity that he had flashbacks to his father’s most famous looks of disapproval. “The Twelfth Doctor, I presume?” Ian muttered. “Do you need a separate agent for those eyebrows? What, they don’t have hair trimmers on your planet?”
The noise died down, and after a moment the door swung open to reveal Tabitha. “You didn’t hurt Peter, did you?”
“I beg your—“
“Hurry, they’ll be back soon.”
Ian stepped out of the box, and found the crowd had disappeared. “Where are they?”
“Half of them think they’re chasing you around the parking lot, and the other half are trying to keep the Klingons from tearing up the “Star Trek” table. The Klingons are very confused.” Tabitha grinned. “They turned on the loudspeaker from your room, and … well, usually I only collect autographs, but I figured this time I’d collect a rescue.”
“It was my pleasure.”
She shook her head. “I could tell they were setting you up, but next time somebody brings up a serious issue, try to think about it … well, seriously. Okay?”
“I’ll never let my words get me in trouble again. Geronimo!” Ian kissed her on the cheek, then headed for the parking lot.
The valet stood there, smiling as he held out the keys. “That was legendary, man.”
“I know, right?” He slapped a bill into the valet’s hands and grabbed the keys, then headed for the car. “Can’t help noticing the windows are all open.”
“Air conditioner wasn’t working.”
“Right. Take care, friend. You know, I wasn’t aware they had valets at events like this.”
“Dude, they don’t. You never actually asked if I was the valet—I gave you a movie ticket. I just hang out here because nerd girls are sexy.”
“So they are.” Before Ian could say anything more, he glimpsed an approaching crowd of aliens and superheroes, and hit the gas.
As he left town, Ian Grant rolled up the windows and turned on the air conditioner, which worked just fine. He’d had more surreal experiences, he decided, although not all at the same time. From here on in, straight to Indiana—no more side trips. And no more joking before he thought.
Naturally, he became immersed in his wedding planning audiobook and soon took a wrong turn. It didn’t hit him until later, the irony of going from The Vegas Science Fiction Convention to Nevada State Route 375 …
Also known as the Extraterrestrial Highway.