nsync in black and white

Fiction by Pen . . . . . not real, made up, purely intended for entertainment

Con-Stir-Nation

written for luxshine for MTYG 2017

Chris wasn't a planner. He liked to play things by ear, take it as it came, do what felt right at the time… but when you were faced with a con programme with approximately nine zillion items in it, Chris thought, you had to do a bit of planning.

He sat down on the circular bench in the middle of the lobby. Last night he'd been cursing his decision to get here early, what with the train being delayed, the missed connection, the kerfuffle with his ticket and that weirdo on the Tube, but he had—just—managed to get here before the early Registration desk closed, and spent the evening in the bar arguing with a handful of goth girls about which Buffy episode was the all-time best ever. He'd slept surprisingly well, then been cornered by a guy dressed as a Klingon, seriously old school, who sat down next to him at breakfast and scared him a little bit, because he hadn't ever actually talked to someone who did the whole costume thing before. The guy had some funny stories about interacting with civilians, and was determined to share. Apparently his first Trek con had been at the same hotel as a very smart wedding, where the guests had been extremely nervous and the bride's parents practically apoplectic when they discovered the clash. The bride, though, had been cool about it—somewhere in the world there were photos of him and his mates with a cheerful pair of newlyweds.

And now Chris was sitting here in the lobby with nine zillion programme items to look through, and his eyes were crossing.

There was a guy in the line wearing a cowboy outfit. Mmm. Nice. Big guy, beard, couldn't see much detail because of the hat and the turned-up collar on his leather coat. Chris couldn't tell which of the possible characters he was cosplaying, but the overall effect was very fine.

He looked back at the ten o'clocks. Maybe he should just pick a stream. SF, Fantasy, Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, Steampunk, Faerie Tales, Bronies—what? For a moment he was tempted by Room 302, because Bronies had to be among the craziest people here, but he thought better of it and headed towards the Steampunk room instead. Chris didn't have a lot of experience with steampunk, but what he had seen looked pretty cool and he had to start somewhere.

There was plenty of space among the rows, so he scanned carefully and, ooh, cheekbones at three o'clock, alert, alert! He sidled along to sit next to a long-legged guy with shoulder length dark hair and, it turned out, spectacularly beautiful green eyes. He introduced himself, and they exchanged the usual platitudes—were you here last year, how do you like the hotel, why do we get herded into the crap restaurant for breakfast—and then the guy with the eyes pulled out what appeared to be a willy warmer suspended on a garrotte. No, two willy warmers.

Kevin grinned at him. "Socks," he said, which at least explained why there were two… Chris was fascinated. He divided his attention between the speaker, who was talking about how to create your own steampunk costume and which mistakes not to make (which was not that fascinating since Chris had no interest in putting on a top hat and a pair of fancy goggles) and Kevin's steadily growing socks.

The session ended and the room began to empty.

"You didn't seem that interested in the costume stuff," Kevin said, beginning to tuck the twin balls of yarn inside the socks on what he described as a circular needle. Chris still thought it would make an excellent garrotte.

"Don't know much about steampunk, so," Chris shrugged. "I think it could have been a bit more engaging than it was. Some of the people in the audience look as if they know more about costuming than the guy doing the talk." Several, mostly women, were in some quite spectacular costumes involving corsetry.

"What brings you to Con-stir-nation? Anything particular or just general geekiness?"

"I've been reading SF and comics since I was a kid," Chris said, "and a friend who goes to a lot of conventions told me about this one. It sounded pretty cool. Also they have Neil Gaiman on the guest list, and I have all his books."

"Better get queuing early for that one," Kevin advised. "It's in the biggest of the spaces, but Neil will be a huge draw."

"I should probably check when he's actually doing his thing," Chris said. "How do people even figure out what they're going to see before the con is half over?"

"You'll find it doesn't matter if you spend hours pondering what to do, or just show up at something that catches your eye. Sessions that sound great can be boring, or you can end up having a fascinating time at something you wandered into by mistake."

"Wandering into things by mistake sounds like my style," Chris agreed, cheerfully. "Where are you headed to next?"

"I have to get downstairs and set up," Kevin said. "I'm running a workshop. Knit your own octopet."

"I—ah—octopet. Are you a professional knitter?" Good recovery, he thought.

Kevin grinned, and Chris would like him to do that more. "No, it's just a hobby. A lot of fans are into knitting. And I know someone on the con committee, she roped me into it. There's a Knitting for Beginners workshop tomorrow, if you're interested?"

"I… don't think it's for me. I'd probably end up throttling myself or cutting off the circulation to a finger."

"Well, then, see you later. In the bar this evening, if not before? The con bar, upstairs, not the hotel bar where they charge triple for everything."

"Sounds good!"

*

Chris decided to switch to the SF books stream and was on the way to Room 432 when he spotted the broad leather-clad back and dark hat of that cowboy cosplayer, and changed course. He ended up in a debate about which space vehicles were cool, which were hyper-cool, and which were rancid lumps of not-coolness. Naturally this was exactly his thing, and he found himself yelling out suggestions and disputing the results with the two cheerful (and slightly harassed) moderators, and forgot about the cowboy until it was time to shuffle out, when somebody behind him said "You sound like you have a lot of opinions on fictional spacecraft," and Chris was already turning round and saying, "Nope! I have a lot of opinions about everything!" before he realised it was the cowboy.

The cowboy had an amazing smile. "So, what are your thoughts on yaoi?"

"What the heck is yowee?"

The big guy grinned even wider. "Don't worry about it. 's just something a bunch of my friends say to each other."

Chris was getting a better look at the cowboy outfit now they were in the corridor. "I love the outfit." It was very detailed—dusty in a deliberate sort of way, with a light grey waistcoat and, he now noticed, a gigantic gun.

"Thanks. I had to grow the moustache out specially."

"Yeah, that's not a look for every day. What kind of cowboy are you?"

"Name's Whiskey Joe. From a graphic novel called Dead Seven. Cowboys and zombies, awesome stuff."

"That sounds like something I should read," Chris said with enthusiasm.

"Everyone should read it. It's the best," said 'Whiskey Joe'. "Are you rushing off to the next panel or do you want to get a coffee or something, and I'll tell you about it?"

That sounded to Chris like an offer he had no desire to refuse. "Lead on."

There was coffee in a smallish lounge upstairs, right opposite the large room that housed the dealers.

"There's a Dead Seven merchandise stall in there somewhere, I got a couple of great T-shirts from them last year," said his new friend as they settled down with plastic cups of something almost exactly unlike tea. "They'll probably have some copies, you should pick one up. I mean, you seem like the right-thinking kind of man who appreciates a good zombie shlock-fest."

Chris grinned. "Is Whiskey Joe the hero?"

"Not exactly, but he drinks the most." It was Chris's morning for meeting guys with amazing eyes. This one's were warm, brown and probably right next to the dictionary definition of 'bedroom eyes'. Not that he was making any assumptions. New SF-loving friends would be almost as good as new SF-loving lovers, anyway.

"I'm Joey."

"And I was all set to call you Whiskey."

"So, let me tell you all the reasons why you should be a Dead Seven fan," Joey said, and proceeded to tell him about zombies, weird goddesses both good and bad, magic, ritual, and a bunch of other crazy stuff which sounded an absolute hoot.

"I will definitely take a look at that stall," Chris promised. "What else are you into?"

"All kinds, everything from classic SF from the fifties—although I can't read EE 'Doc' Smith any more, it's too ridiculous. Um. Neil Gaiman. C H Cherryh. Kim Stanley Robinson, Terry Pratchett of course," and they both silently raised their half-empty T-cups in a salute to the dear departed. "All kinds. What about you?"

That was it—Chris could hold forth about his SF favourites for, well, probably for hours, though usually people didn't let him. The lounge grew quiet around them, and then all of a sudden it was crowded again, and he realised that he and Joey had been talking right through the length of a panel, and also, it was lunch time.

"Do they do food in here, or do we go down to the hotel restaurant?"

"Ah, grasshopper, you are new to conventions. Receive my wisdom," Joey intoned. "Firstly, the only meal you eat in the hotel is breakfast, and you eat as much of that as you can get down your gullet. That way, you don't need to break for lunch and miss whatever's going on. For dinner, you go out—there's a couple of decent pubs within five minutes, and an Italian place and a decent curry place a bit further away, and there used to be a Thai restaurant but I think it might have closed. Or you can order pizza, but the nearest place is a Domino's and as everybody knows, their pizza is disgusting. The con booklet has details, and a map."

"I should have read it last night," Chris said. "But I got into an argument about Buffy, in the bar."

"That's what you come to cons for," Joey said. "As for dinner, I'm going to the Red Lion at around five, shouldn't be too busy then, and there's a bit of a lull in the programming. You want to come?"

"That'd be cool," Chris said. Although he mustn't forget his half-promise to meet up with Kevin in the convention bar. But he could do that after dinner.

"Okay, we'll see you there. I'm with a friend—he's totally weird, but I think you'll get on."

"Weird people are the best," Chris said. "And weird comes in all sizes. I met a guy this morning who was knitting a pair of willy warmers. Well, he said socks, but," he shrugged, meaningfully.

Joey grinned, extra wide. "You need to get into the dealers room, and I need to go to Room 19. Catch you later!"

*

The dealers room yielded a fantastic haul of awesome new T-shirts, including a zombie cowboy one from the Dead Seven stand. Chris bought the graphic novel, too, and found himself sniggering at the depictions of Whiskey Joe, who did bear a surprising resemblance to Joey.

His more or less random sampling of panels had not led him astray so far, so after getting an overpriced flapjack from a vending machine he found his way to a really cool discussion between four authors—none of whom he'd actually heard of but it didn't matter. Someone in the audience asked them about their characters, and Chris was amused to find that two of the panellists stood firmly against the idea that their characters could ever do anything that had not been planned very carefully in advance, and the other two said, Oh, yes, all the time, and explained that their characters kept doing things that they hadn't expected and forced them to re-think what they were writing. Chris was in the latter camp. Not that he'd admit to anybody here that he had very nearly finished a novel, but it was a relief to know that other writers, actual professionals, had the same kind of thing happen to them that he did.

Then, by complete contrast, he ended up tasting marshmallows flavoured like characters from Buffy, which was not at all expected and possibly a little bit gross, since the marshmallow makers were talking about getting the 'essence' of the actors by sampling the air and the walls from the sets and such, but, hey, marshmallows! And they tasted great.

After that, he actually checked his booklet, dumped his collection of merchandise back in his room, and found his way to The Red Lion at about ten past five. Joey waved to him from a table in the far corner, and when he made his way over there he discovered to his surprise that Kevin, he of the green eyes and the garrotte knitting, was already seated.

Chris wondered if he was in trouble for that crack about the willy warmers, but Kevin seemed pretty chill, and by the time they had the first round of drinks inside them and the food had arrived—basic pub fare, but good—conversation was going along very nicely.

"Have you read your con programme yet?" Kevin asked.

Chris shrugged. "Haven't seemed to need it. Joey here gave me some good advice, and apart from that I've been following your suggestion to wander into things. The convention is amazing—if you had a time machine you could go to it a dozen times and never meet yourself." That, of course, led into a discussion of whether being duplicated in time would lead to deleterious physical consequences, and naturally Doctor Who, Harry Potter and a handful of other sources had to be brought into consideration. Then, somehow, it wound round to 1950s sci fi movies, which Chris maintained were awesome and should be mainlined with popcorn and copious amounts of beer.

"In fact," he said, "if you guys are interested, come to my place for a marathon. Next weekend, if you like. I got a popcorn machine for Christmas last year."

"I'm in," Kevin said at once.

"Promise me one thing," Joey said. "You'll read Dead Seven before Friday. This guy—" he elbowed Kevin in the ribs—"won't have anything to do with it, but you, you are the kind of man who appreciates a good zombie apocalypse."

"I appreciated a good zombie apocalypse as much as the next man," Kevin said.

Chris grinned. "Sounds like I get the deciding vote," he said, and somehow that moved the conversation on to the novels of Stephen King.

"We should probably head back to the hotel," Kevin said at last. The pub was heaving, and someone would be glad of their table. "There's a double panel in the LGBTQ stream at seven thirty about queer characters in fantasy. They have another one tomorrow on queer characters in SF."

"I didn't even know there was an LGBTQ stream," Chris said, pleased and yet frustrated with himself for not reading that wretched booklet. "That sounds like a panel I need to go to."

"We were hoping you'd say that," Joey said, with a lascivious flicker of his eyebrows.

"Is that right?" Chris said, because it sounded too good to be true, which in his experience meant that he was almost certainly reading way too much into things.

"I was hoping you'd show up in one of the Room 19 discussions this afternoon," Kevin said. "I was moderating in there."

"I thought you said you were teaching people to knit octopussies, or something," Chris said, indignantly. Not that he regretted the sessions he'd been to, but if he'd actually read his con booklet—

"Octopets were this morning," Kevin said, calmly. "Nice and easy. I like to save my energy for the late-night sessions." They were out of the pub now, walking back down the road against the tide of other con-goers in tribal T-shirts and cosplay heading out to eat.

Joey leaned down to murmur in Chris's ear: "He's very good at late-night sessions."

*

The discussion on queer characters in fantasy was terrific, although Chris found he wasn't paying it quite the attention it deserved. With Joey on one side and Kevin on the other, his thoughts just kept wandering. Did they really—could they really mean what it sounded like they might have meant?

As the room emptied, and a couple of resident moderators began tidying the disarrayed chairs back into lines, Joey led the way out and Kevin followed Chris, along the corridor and towards the big hall where tonight's party (theme: Space Pirates and Fantasy Freebooters) was about to kick off.

"So," said Kevin, "do you want to get sweaty on the dance floor?"

"Or," Joey leaned in, "do you want to get sweaty on the fourth floor?"

"That is a terrible line!" Chris was laughing too hard to be nervous. "Seriously, that's what you're going with?"

Joey's bedroom eyes turned in an instant to the eyes of a sad and reproachful puppy. "Don't you want to come play with us?"

"It's okay if you say no," Kevin put in. "We'll still be around in the morning."

"I—I—" This had to be too good to be true. "I mean….me?"

"It's the hair," Joey said. "Can't speak for Kevin, but I just can't resist. Also, you liked the outfit. I worked hard on this 'tache. It deserves to be appreciated."

"You should twirl it more," Chris said. He couldn't help himself.

"And we really would like to get to know you better," Kevin said. "Whether you want to get naked or not. You're exactly the brand of lunacy we appreciate. Although speaking for myself, I have to say it would be a crime to pass up the opportunity to get better acquainted with that perfect butt."

"I, actually, I don't know—" Chris began.

"I'm sorry!" Kevin said. "I—we—didn't mean to be crass. We can meet up at breakfast and tell you what not to miss tomorrow, if you'd like to spend some more time with us."

"Company at breakfast would be good," Chris said. "Otherwise I might get stuck with the Klingon again. But, you know what, I think I should probably check out that session on the fourth floor. Sounds like it might be my kind of group."

*

It was easily the best session of the convention. Until Saturday night, which was even better.

*

And Monday morning did not bring with it the post-con depression that Joey had warned him about, because Chris was going to see them again on Friday for a movie marathon. With, he thought, a really good double feature to follow.

Sometimes, you had to do a bit of planning.

 

 

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