Wray Nerely & the Spartanberg Spectrumeer
Wray Nerely frowned in concentration. This was going to take all his considerable skill. He’d trained for this moment for over a decade. He knew every inch, every millimetre of the battlefield. He reached for his weapon. Past the black (a noobie’s choice in this situation), past the gold (for show-offs only), his hand grazed the silver (it had its place, but not for the task at hand) but grasped its target: classic copper.
With the ease of long practice, Wray released the tip from its sheath. He held it close for a second. It was no longer a weapon. It was a scalpel, and before him lay his operating table.
He took one last look at the card before him and burned its challenge into his memory. Only then, when he was ready, did he look up and speak:
“You’d like it made out to Alanana Bostandjiev and the Spartanberg Spectrumeers?”
The fan before him beamed with pleasure at the sound of her name and nodded. Like a sprinter anticipating the starting gun, Wray brought his pen down to the glossy photo of his fresh-faced younger self.
It may sound ridiculous, but there is a bit of art to signing a photo. Maybe just a tiny bit. Seeing the basic shapes within the picture, judging the space, the proper order of the text. If you read left to right, top to bottom, your eye goes to the top-left so that’s where you start.
“That’s a cool-sounding name. Is it European?” Wray asked. Talking while signing was all part of the job, especially with the fans who were a bit more… awestruck. The alternative was a minute’s awkward silence as they stared at the ever so slightly thinning hair on the top of his head.
“Yeah! It’s Bulgarian,” Alanana replied with a sweet accent straight out of the Carolinas. She already had a big smile on her face, but now she lit up like a sparkler. Wray made eye contact and gave a quick grin back even while he carried on writing.
It was the shot of him at the controls, turned slightly, looking over his shoulder back to the camera. It was a tough one to sign, but it was his favourite. He was in the cockpit where he saved the crew week after week. He was at work. But there was still a trace of humour about him. A bit of the humanity he’d tried so hard to inject into Cash Wayne. He liked it far more than the stock photo of him just standing around, doing nothing, looking grim. ‘Grumpy Cash’ he called it, or ‘That Look My Mother Had When She Was Just So Disappointed.’
B-O-S-T-A… This name was tricky, but Wray didn’t want to look back on the card where she’d written it. He was pro, plus learning lines quickly was his trade.
N-D-… Bost… and…
“I pronounce it Boston-jive…” the fan continued, “I tell people just think of a dance at a tea party.” Alanana moved her arms a little to imitate dancing. Then she stopped and the smile dropped. Wray recognised it in an instant; it was the ‘I’ve just made a fool of myself in front of a celebrity, god I want to die’ face. He knew what to say, though.
“You nearly got me dancing there,” he replied quickly and grinned again. “Get it? Nerely?” And he pointed at his name on the desk.
It was the lamest of lame jokes, but being even more lame himself was just the right medicine for the occasion. Alanana threw back her head in peals of laughter and relief; Wray chuckled himself and carried on.
J-I-V-… no wait Wray caught himself J-I-E-V
Tricky spellings, tricky pronunciations and large doses of technobabble were all part and parcel of being on a sf show. On Spectrum, however, PJ Haars—the creator and lead writer—had a thing for mind-numbingly polysyballic swear words. No, not swear words. Swear phrases. Swear paragraphs. None of them anything close to English (all—in his words—to reflect how the whole ‘spectrum’ of humanity was included in the show).
Those Battlestar guys didn’t know how easy they had it. They were all: Frak this, Frak that, What the Frak is up with you? Why are you Frakking my wife? Well, maybe she’s a Frakking toaster! Well, maybe she’s a Frakking figment of your imagination. Well, maybe she’s a Frakking angel from god.
Frak, that show was messed up.
“And would you add ‘Keep soaring for another thirteen years’? It’s the Spectrumeers anniversary in September!”
“No problem at all,” Wray replied. An unexpected complication, but one he would conquer with relish. The fertile ground of the top-left corner was filled. The bottom-right, he had to leave for his name and glossy-signing 101 was to never ever write over your eyes. What was left? Aha! He touched down in the bottom left but then arced his script around his face, down over his shoulder and around the back of his head, giving the thirteen year younger version of himself a little copper aura. Right on the money, Cash!
Thirteen years, he mourned as he rotated the picture. A couple more years and it’ll be more years than they even did episodes.
“An anniversary, cool. Any special plans for it?” Wray asked, fighting his sudden gloom.
“Oh, yeah. We’ve got the whole day mapped out. We’re gonna watch the show obviously, all the way from start to finish.”
“Cool.” Wray nodded. And what are you gonna do after lunch?
“Then we’re going to read out some our favourite bits from the novels. Say, I heard a rumour that there was going to be a new one this year and that PJ might write the foreword. Do you know anything about that?”
“No, I don’t, sorry. I’m not really in touch with that side of things.”
“It would just be so amazing if he would say that it was canonical.”
“I think there were some issues with the network about saying that…” Wray began.
“Because it would be so great if he did that. Because, I mean, we get it. The show’s never going to come back. I mean, you’re never going to get Jack back. So wouldn’t the novels be the perfect way to do all those stories exploring everything between you guys?”
Wray had heard it before. Not these words exactly. But the passion. The frustration. If the show had had three or four seasons, maybe got lost up its own mythology or gone off the boil a little, then it’d still be remembered but not with nearly the same fervour. The way some of the fans talked, Spectrum wasn’t just a show that got cancelled, it was a victim. It was X or Y or Z who were out to kill it before it started. Spectrum had been wronged.
Get a life; it’s just a tv show. Isn’t that what Shatner said in that SNL skit? Trouble was… Spectrum was his life. The fans were pissed? They were nowhere near as pissed as he was.
Yeah, as everyone had told him at the time, it was ‘just’ a job. Trouble is, a tv job isn’t like a 9-5 office job. You spent twelve hours a day, longer sometimes, with the same group of people. If you didn’t get along then it could be hell, but when everything did click… that was something you waited your whole career for. Those months he had filming Spectrum with Jack, it was one of the happiest times of his life. And it was gone and there was nothing he could do to bring it back. After all, he was just an actor.
“One of the guys wanted to have a debate,” Alanana was still talking through her Spectrum anniversary plans, “about whether Rakker should have shot Marion Kolberoor not—I mean, there’s a forum thread all about that and it is huuuuge—but it was so controversial I think it’s better to keep the day light-hearted, you know, maybe finish with a sing-a-long?”
“You know what, Alanana,” Wray interrupted. She stopped instantly, again worried that she’d embarrassed herself somehow.
Wray signed with a flourish in the bottom right corner.
“I think,” he said, as he offered the photo up to her, “that canonical novels would be really cool. In fact, if a new one comes out then I don’t care what gets written in the foreword, it’s going to be canonical for me.”
Alanana was enraptured. “Thank you so much for saying that! That is just amazing. And what’s this you’ve drawn after the ‘soars’? Oh, it’s a leaf! That’s just too perfect.”
Wray leaned back in the plastic chair, enjoying Alanana’s jubilation. His endorsement meant absolutely nothing, but here and now it had made one person overwhelmingly happy. He arched his aching spine. She was the last one in line for this session, any moment now he could find somewhere to lay down and stretch it properly. As he sat back, though, he caught a glimpse of someone out of the corner of his eye. Someone he never expected to see again.
My god. Was she here?
He snapped his head around. His neck complained, but he ignored it. She was walking in the other direction, but that platinum hair, that silver dress with the plunging backline and the skirt cut all the way up the leg…
It couldn’t be her; she’d never wear that again. She was never even coming back to one of these things. That’s what she’d said…
Wray snapped back to the present. Alanana was still looking at him. Frak, the last thing he needed was to be caught in a mid-convention leer.
“Sorry,” he apologised. “That costume just…”
What, Wray? That costume just what? Gave you a Sharpie?
“… really reminded me of someone.”
“Yeah, of course. She’s here.”
Wray slammed forward in his seat. “That was her?”
Alanana blinked. “Oh no, there’s a whole troupe of cosplayers who came in her old costume to celebrate. I’m not sure that it’s the kind of thing I’d be comfortable wearing personally, but you really have to respect…”
Wray wasn’t going to be side-tracked. “Valerie Bright is here? In this building?”
“Yeah, well, in the screening room I guess,” Alanana nodded. “You know the ‘fan’ trailer Ilyana Wockowitz did of a ‘gritty reboot’ of Star Shooters? Ilyana invited her for that.”
Wray shot out of his seat and stood up. “Really! That’s… that’s…” He was talking too loud. “I don’t remember reading that in the con guide.”
“It was all under the radar. There was a code in a graphic on the ticket confirmation that, if you cracked it, sent you to a website where there was this brutal Star Shooters quiz and then it was only if you got all those right did it let you send in for a ticket. It drove me insane! It’s going to be so amazing!”
Wray had stopped listening a while back. He pulled his bag out from under the table and dumped his pens and spare glossies inside. His head felt hot; his hands cold and clammy.
“Say are you going to the screening as well?”
“Oh hum…” Wray prevaricated as he wiped his palms on his trousers. “I might stop in… say hi… just for old times’ sake.”
“Oh right! I loved that episode when she was on Spectrum. That scene with her and the captain ended up naked together, that was hilarious!”
“Yeah, yeah,” Wray muttered as he extricated himself from behind the signing table. All she’d done to him that episode was bop him on the back of the head while they were both fully clothed.
“Thank you so much for this! It’s just made my day.” Alanana stepped up to him. Ah, Wray realised, coming out from behind the table left him in perfect hugging range. She already had her arms out, no time left for evasive manoeuvres, sometimes you just had to ride it out.
Clinch, pat, release.
“It was great to meet you too,” he mumbled, “Good luck with the anniversary and er… you have a great rest of the con.”
Wray made his break for it, neatly stepping backwards around a stack of posters, a half-sized standee of James Rakker and a klingon window-shopper.
“Right on the money, Cash!” she waved as he turned and slipped into the crowds.
Valerie Bright. After all these years. Wow. Wray wondered if she still remembered him.