Wray Nerely in 'What A Con' - (the collected Star Shooters)

Wray Nerely & the Star Shooters Deboot

Wray Nerely went with the flow of the convention crowd. He was in a hurry, but there was no point trying to push through. The effort you went through to gain a step or two wasn’t worth the commotion you caused and commotion was the last thing he wanted right now. He kept his head down in a copy of the con guide. One of the benefits of not being Jack Moore was that he could actually get from one place to another without causing a riot. That time Jack had tried to go out wearing a full Varcan exoskeleton just to buy a Darth Vader bathrobe… sheesh… Only having fifteen minutes of fame had its compensations sometimes. Once or twice, out of the corner of his eye, he could see people do a quick double-take. The I know that face from somewhere… but in the time it took them to recall an obscure actor from an old sf show that was cancelled too soon… the crowd moved on and taken Wray with them.

His signing session ended at same time as over a dozen talks, seminars and workshops and so hundreds of con-goers were now spilling out into the trade area, taking the chance to check out some of the stalls or heading through to the food court. He was doing neither though, he was remembering a woman: Valerie Bright.

Valerie had been one of the leads of Star Shooters. Star Shooters – or Star Hooters as it had been known to ‘true’ sf fans – was one of those shows you could tell had been designed by the network suits. It had come out just after Spectrum and it had been basically Hey, every other network has got these space shows, we should have one too. In order to appeal to the female demographic they’d cast three women as the leads, and then for the boys they made the three of them spend most of their time running around in tight-fitting bodysuits, space chainmail bikinis or costumes made of gauze, glitter and tape. They tried to justify it by saying that one was a ninja-acrobat and another was a cyborg sex-slave accidentally given the mentality of a military genius. The network loved it, though, because it was their idea and so kept it running for two full seasons, with a few bare-bones mini-movies to get them up to fifty episodes.

The critics and serious fans dismissed the show as exploitation T&A masquerading as missed-the-bandwagon ‘girl power’ and the cast as air-headed models out-acted by the scenery. But not Valerie Bright.

Wray made a beeline for a fire exit behind the traders’ stalls. One of the con volunteers came up to stop him, but Wray held up his VIP pass and tugged at his collar.

“I just got to get some air. I think I’m going to faint!”

The volunteer, ashen-faced at the thought of some VIP keeling over right in front of him, waved him quickly past. Wray hit the bar across the door and then was out of the swelter and into the fresh air. The screening room was across the square.

Valerie Bright, Wray mused, was different. He’d met her when she’d done a guest spot on Spectrum as Tarragon – a sexy, devious, morally ambiguous, sexy, calculating, merciless, sexy, backstabbing, sexy con-woman who nearly stole the ship right out from under them. Her main plotline had been with the captain, but Wray had one scene with just the two of them – which, sadly, involved the aforementioned hitting him in the back of the head.

He hadn’t thought much about her when she arrived on set; it was just before she landed her role on Star Shooters and so she was just another guest star. But when they got together to read lines, he realised how really really good she was. When she read Tarragon she had this heat, this allure. He didn’t need to act his attraction at all. Then they stopped and she was Valerie again and she was so different. Kind, gentle, unsure of herself, so grateful to be on the show, ecstatic with even the smallest compliment he gave her. She was a musician as well, could play a bunch of different instruments (including, as she demonstrated at his urging, the glockenspiel) and she still wasn’t certain which way her career would take her.

But then filming was done; she said her goodbyes while the Spectrum cast headed off into the field to do some grueling day-shoots in a whole bunch of bogs that were apparently part of the ‘spectrum’ of life that PJ Haars wanted to portray. After Star Shooters started (and Spectrum folded) their paths crossed at a few conventions, but never long enough to say more than hi and to congratulate and commiserate over the fates of their respective shows. And then she said no more conventions and stopped coming. Until today.

Valerie Bright, so the Spartanberg Spectrumeer hold told him, was in that screening room right now. Returned as the special guest of the Hollywood director who’d shot a ‘fan’ trailer for a gritty reboot of Star Shooters for fun. All Wray had to do was get inside.

Around a hundred Star Shooters fans were queued outside. About a dozen were dressed as Valerie’s character, with platinum wigs and revealing silver dresses, and most of them were women. The rest were either cosplaying one of the show’s other two stars or wore shirts or carried bags with a variety of slogans and mottos from the show. Back when Star Shooters was on, it was a fandom pariah; you couldn’t admit to liking the show online without a horde of irate Spectrum fans descending on you. But now it’d been gone ten years, suddenly it was okay. It was even cool. Wray even spotted a few tags with Give a Hoot! Vote Star Shooters Movie for 2016! What with this trailer, there were rumours that the creator was going to kickstart a new feature. Wouldn’t that have been nice, Wray grumbled to himself, getting to be in a big damn movie as compensation for getting cancelled too soon.

The door to the screening room opened and the velvet rope – the convention equivalent of a chainlink fence – was moved aside. The excitement in the chatter of those in the queue rose a few notches. Con Security started checking tickets and letting them in.

Wray didn’t want to push his luck too far. Walking past a volunteer out an exit was one thing, Con Security was another. They did not like anyone upsetting their order of things. Best to play it cool. File in at the end. Hey, I’m just going to stand at the back. Won’t be any trouble. Professional interest. What? This badge? Yeah, I was Cash Wayne. Do I know Jack Moore? Still good friends. We’ll chat some more later, but don’t want to miss the start right?

“Ticket.”

“Hey, I’m just going to stand at the back…”

“Ticket.”

“Won’t be any trouble…”

“Need to see your ticket.”

“Hey, it’s not a problem.” Wray held up his badge. “I’m Wray Nerely, you know.”

“Sir, it’s a ticket-only event. Step to one side.”

Wray did so as the last fan headed in, the door closed and the velvet rope got drawn again.

“As I’m trying to say. I’m a VIP. I played Cash Wayne… a little show called Spectrum. The producers here, they know me.”

“Sir, please wait here.”

“… I know Jack Moore…”

The Security guy spoke into his sleeve and Wray tried not to roll his eyes. Come on! Seriously? A mike in your sleeve? Are you sure you’re not cosplaying a Secret Service agent?

“Like I say, I’ll just stand at the back.”

“Sir, I’ve called one of the organisers. They’ll be with us shortly. Until then I’ll have to ask you to wait here.”

Wray thought about walking away. This was getting too humiliating. But now he’d make it seem like it was perfectly a-okay for him to pass through, he worried that beating a retreat would make him look like a crazy stalker type (of which he was already showing a few more characteristics than he’d care to admit).

It felt like hours standing there in front of the security guys who were visibly sizing him up like he was a freaking assassin or something. What the hell was he going to say to the organiser? Please let it be someone who knew him. Please let it be someone who knew him.

“Wray Nerely! How the frak are you?! You still piloting a signing booth every Saturday?”

A meaty hand smacked him on the back and Wray turned and looked into the face of Marty Kazoo. Of all the people who knew him, Wray cursed, why did it have to be him?

“Marty! Hey…” Wray tried to smile with a sincerity that didn’t reach any part of his face.

Marty was a professional executive producer. Now, there were many good, hard-working executive producers out there who deserve the title – either because they’re funding the show or because they created the show – but Marty was neither. Marty called himself a seed investor, giving young writers some money to make their first dream project – which was true – what that didn’t include though was the price he attached. You see, Marty didn’t like to invest in projects; he liked to invest in people. That sounds great until the young writers realised that – even when they’d finished the project that Marty funded – they still had to put his name on every future project they worked on and give him his cut. Wray had met Marty first on the set of Spectrum. The creator, PJ, had taken some funding from Marty for one of his early shows in the distant past. Even though PJ had mainly bought him out, Marty had held onto a stake in one of PJ’s most popular characters and, for Marty, that gave him free access to anything PJ was working on.

“What on earth are you doing here?” Wray said through his fixed grin.

“Looking after my investments, what else?” Marty spoke out of the side of his mouth, like he was gripping a cigar in his teeth.

“You invested in Star Shooters?”

“I helped Sam out back in the early days.” He meant Sam Stewart, the real creator of Star Shooters.

“I thought this was a fan trailer…”

“Not when it’s made by Illyana Wockowitz. She’s a clever girl, doesn’t want to get sued, so she asked for Sam’s blessing and he asked for mine.”

“Good thing you’re such a generous guy.”

“Good thing I am.” Marty smacked Wray on the back again. “We made her splash the trailer with all the usual disclaimers: ‘completely unauthorised’ ‘no challenge to rights’ etcetera, but she’s so hot right now as soon as this goes viral the production companies are going to come begging to reboot the show for real.”

“Yeah, well, I’m really looking forward to seeing it myself.” Wray started edging around Marty towards the door. With Marty’s hearty welcome, the Security guys had backed off. They’d done their job; Wray was obviously ‘somebody’. All he had to do was get past Marty with his soul intact… but then he felt Marty’s hand on his shoulder.

“Come on, you don’t want to cram in there with the mouth-breathers and the costume-freaks. I sent Jack a link to it. You’re still buddies with him, right?”

Ah, Wray realised, Marty wasn’t after his soul of course not, why would he be? He wanted a piece of Jack.

“Oh, it’s really no trouble. I can just slip in, stand at the back, see it on the big screen. I’m a big fan of Illyana’s work.” Keep it light, keep it casual, make it sound like no trouble at all.

“You dog!” Marty exclaimed. “You’re after Valerie, ain’t you.”

“Oh, is she here?” Wray said, fooling nobody.

“Oh yeah, she’s here. And let me reassure you, lover boy, she looks just as fine as she always did.” Marty’s tone made Wray want to take a shower. “But if you want to get in to this highly-restricted ticket-only event then maybe we should talk about what have you done for me recently?”

“Come on, Marty, I’m just going to stand at the back!”

“Uh uh uh, Wray,” Marty wagged his finger. “Those noble Star Shooters fans worked long and hard to get those tickets. I can’t betray their loyalty to the show and just to let you in… unless you were as committed to show as they are?”

“What? What do you want, Marty?”

He pulled out his mobile. It was gold-plated, just like the bullshit he was pushing. “Jack’s phone number. For some reason, we’re just having trouble connecting.”

That’s because he didn’t want to touch you with a ten-foot pole even before he was a movie star.

“Fine.” He and Jack had a plan for such eventualities.

“And not his fake number. I know all about that.”

Wray screamed in the safety of his own head. Just take a pint of blood like your kind normally want!

“She’s giving the introduction to the trailer,” Marty continued. “She’s talking right now. She’s only back for this con… and she’s heading straight out after the screening through whatever door you’re not watching.”

“Fine! Take it then.” Wray gave him the number. He was going to have some explaining to do to Jack after this. But he’d understand… it was Valerie Bright after all.

Wray went to move past him, but Marty held him up another agonizing thirty seconds while he dialed the number. He got Jack. He smiled broadly, started his chatter, Yeah, got your number from our good buddy Wray, and finally let him past.

Wray was going to have a lot of explaining to do. But that was done. Ahead of him was his goal. He opened the door and slid inside. The screening room was dark; the trailer was playing. The audience wasn’t making a sound; this was their moment of the con, they knew it and they were drinking in every single second. Wray looked to the front, that’s where she’d be. He started to edge forward. He started hearing complaints from behind him. He was blocking their view.

“Sorry, sorry,” he whispered back and bent over. What the hell was he going to do now? Crawl on his hands and knees? That wasn’t going to look weird and stalkery at all. Then the trailer was done and the lights came up. The audience went crazy, applauding and hooting. Illyana stood up at the front and took a bow and as she straightened up, there she was. Valerie Bright. She was smiling. She was happy. God, just seeing that smile took Wray back to the set of the Spectrum, the first time they ran lines together. The first time he made her laugh. She hugged Illyana and beamed and waved at the fans who stood up and cheered.

“Okay! Okay!” Illyana had a mike but still had to shout over the noise. The audience quietened. They wanted to hear what she had to say. Valerie was still standing beside her, looking out into the audience. Wray knew she’d be half-blinded by the lights, but could she see him?

“I’m going to take your questions,” Illyana continued, barely able to speak for smiling herself at the overwhelming reaction, “but first I’ve got a question for you… do you want to see it again?

The crowed roared its approval and in the cover of the cheering fans, Wray stepped forwards closer and closer. Illyana cued the lights and the audience sat back down. Wray realised he was going to stand out again; he looked around for a spare seat, but of course there were none. He would have to step back. And then, as the trailer started to roll, he caught a last glimpse of Valerie Bright as she took advantage of the distraction to slip away.

And that was it. Another path crossed too quickly. Could he even say that? Can a path cross if it never even sees the other?

Wray went back out the way he came, but she’d gone out a different exit and he couldn’t find it. He mooched around the green room and the VIP holding area for a half an hour in the vain hope that he’d catch sight of her, but he figured Valerie would be ensconced with Illyana’s retinue in some VIVIP area. Probably with caviar and truffles. None of them appeared and then his time was up. He had to catch the con’s car service to take him back to the airport. He knew that the con-goers would be having a big party – probably several big parties – that evening, but he had an audition for some voice work back in LA in the morning. It was for toothpaste, but it was a job and it was money and that was what it was all about.

He could call her, of course. No harm. He could just call her and say How are you doing? Just this guy you only met once years ago? How about I cross over the country and we meet for brunch?

Yeah, Cash, that wasn’t going to fly.

He sat in the backseat of the car, waiting, fuming. What a con. In both senses.

He checked his phone. He had a few missed calls and… expressive text messages from Jack around the theme of what the hell was he doing giving his real number to Marty Kazoo. Wray slumped back. He’d reply later. He’d make it good somehow. The car still wasn’t going.

“Hey,” he called forward to the volunteer doing the driving. “Are we waiting for something?”

“Got told to wait for another passenger.”

Great, just what his misery wanted: company.

The door opened.

“This heading to the airport?” a voice said. A female voice.

The driver said yes and the person slipped into the backseat next to him. Wray barely dared to look up.

Well, space-shoot me down…

Looking back at him, with that smile that made him feel young again, was Valerie Bright.

“Thanks for waiting. I hope you don’t mind, Wray. I thought we might ride to the airport together.”

Wray tried not to grin like an idiot. He failed.

Maybe it hadn’t been such a bad con after all.

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