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

Wray Nerely & the Bright Revelation

Wray Nerely was in the back of a car heading to the airport after a signing session at a con. Sitting next to him was Valerie Bright.

No, wait, that’s wrong.

Sitting next to him was Valerie Bright!

Those words kept running through his head. He didn’t want them to stop. Valerie had played the exiled Queen Dahlia, the best thing to come out of an atrocious space-bikini show by Sam Spencer called Star Shooters that somehow carried on running even when better shows like Spectrum got cancelled.

She’d stopped coming to conventions years ago, but come back under the radar this time to see a ‘fan’ trailer for a gritty reboot of Star Shooters directed by Illyana Wockowitz, a young Hollywood wunderkind getting some serious heat. Wray had traded part of his soul to a devil named Marty Kazoo get in to see it, but had missed Valerie. But, he realised, she hadn’t missed him.

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

Or to the moon, or even further; at that moment Wray would have been quite happy to sign a two-year commitment to sitting in the back of that car with the option for three more.

“No, no, not at all. Be my guest. Mi casa es su casa. Do you need any more space? Let me just get that bag out of the way and put it under my feet.”

Wray attempted to shove a 12 inch deep bag into an 8 inch space in defiance of the laws of physics, all the while never breaking eye contact with Valerie Bright.

Okay, all hyperbole aside, she didn’t look exactly the same as she did when they first met on the set of Spectrum. Nobody would, but it didn’t matter. She smiled that smile and lit up the inside of the car like it was the Superbowl (not the 2013 Superbowl in New Orleans, Wray’s brain pedantically amended, but the other ones).

“I didn’t expect to see you,” Wray gasped, finally giving up with bag and leaning back, legs crossed awkwardly and trying to sit casual.

“Well,” Valerie began, glancing down. Was she nervous? The thought flashed into Wray’s head, “I saw you were signing here and I knew my schedule was going to be really tight, and so I asked whether I could carpool with you on the ride out. I thought we might catch up. That’s okay, isn’t it?”

A look of concern crossed her face. Had she crossed a line? My god, it was just like that fan from Spartanberg. Wray would do anything to get that sad expression off her face.

“No. I mean, yes. Of course it’s okay. It’s more than okay. It’s lovely. It’s a lovely thought. Wonderful some might even describe it as. It’s perfect. Perfection.”

Valerie stopped him. “For me, gum would be perfection.”

She grinned as though he should realise something, but Wray’s mind was as empty as Jack Gleeson’s Christmas card list. “You want gum?” he managed.

“It’s from Friends… the scene when Chandler was trapped in that ATM vestibule… I probably didn’t remember it right.”

“Oh right,” Wray said in relief. “Yeah, of course I remember it. Oh my god that’s funny.” He burst out laughing and Valerie did the same. Then they paused for breath and the awkwardness was gone.

“So, are you coming back to the con circuit? There were a ton of fans there delighted to see you.”

“Oh, they very sweet, but no,” the light faded from her for a moment, “I was nervous enough just coming back to watch the trailer. And when they asked me to say a few words beforehand to introduce it… eek!

Wray nodded supportively. “I guess Marty knows which levers to pull, right?”

Valerie shook her head and Wray watched her beautiful hair dance in the light.

“No,” she said, “It wasn’t Marty. It was Illyana. There I am, at home, and I get this phone call. And it’s her, not her assistant, and she tells me that she’s a big fan of me and that she’d love to take me to lunch that week and talk about Queen Dahlia and Star Shooters.”

“Wow,” Wray muttered. That was a big deal. As much as fans chased actors, actors chased hot directors. Getting a call from Illyana, well, it would have been like he called up the Spartanberg Spectrumeers and asked to come to their Spectrum thirteenth anniversary party.

“And so I said of course. And we spent the whole afternoon talking about the show and how it was that show for her when she was growing up and she starts going on and on about my character and her arc over the seasons and I’m just sitting there, nodding along and with that treacherous thought in my head:” Valerie gave a fixed grin and spoke through gritted teeth, “any chance of a job in one of your movies?”

“Hey, we’d all be thinking it.”

“She told me about this fan-trailer she was making and that she was funding it all herself. I thought she was crazy. I didn’t tell her that, obviously! I ended up doing some voice-over for it and she said it was really great and how it would be really important to her to have me with her when she showed it to fans for the first time. I told her that I couldn’t believe it would matter, but she insisted and I wasn’t going to say no.”

“Well, I – for one – am really glad you didn’t.”

“Me too… everyone was really great to me today. It felt really different from the old days. Just a lot nicer.”

“They have changed,” Wray reassured her. “Maybe you should think about a signing. Or a panel.”

“Oh, no, the fans were lovely today, but I don’t have anything new to tell them about Star Shooters or anything else. I have my music, but I can’t believe any of them would be interested in that. I just wouldn’t be worth their while.”

“Hey,” Wray tried to bolster her up, “I’ve had nothing to say about Spectrum for ten years and they still come to see me!”

Valerie touched him briefly on the shoulder in gratitude. Wray felt a little blush coming to his cheeks at the contact.

“You’re sweet, and very funny,” she said, “that’s why they come to see you. That’s not why they’d come to see me. But, tell me, what are you doing at the moment?”

“Oh…” Wray started, wondering how far he could stretch the truth and still be plausible. “I’ve got a few projects in the works.”

“What’s next?”

An audition for a toothpaste voice-over. “I’m up for something with a dental theme… I don’t know the details, got a pile of scripts to read through.”

“Like you’re a dentist? Do you go rogue? Is it like Breaking Bad or maybe Dexter?”

“Maybe, maybe… there’s certainly a lot of decay. Moral decay.”

“You’d be great for that kind of role. You’re always so human.”

Wray raised his eyebrows and adopted a robot voice. “Are-You-So-Sure?

Valerie laughed at that. Wray smiled, but didn’t laugh; he preferred to listen to her.

“It’s such a shame that Spectrum didn’t last longer,” she began.

“Too soon…” he agreed.

“I would have loved to have brought Tarragon back for another visit.”

“Really?” Wray was puzzled. “You don’t think she kind of burnt her bridges the first time around.”

“You can always bring people back, Wray. Say that the crew was desperate for something, and only she could get it for them, but they had to do a job for her first? Or what if they get ordered and have to guard her for some secret mission? We got all of her act in that one episode, we never really got to see who she was.”

“That’s… that could work.”

“The captain could be like, we’ve got to do this, and the rest of the crew were like no no no you can’t trust her, but she wins them around. But then she double-crosses them, but actually someone on the crew was onto her since the beginning and there’s a triple-cross and she gets her comeuppance somehow.”

“Sounds like it would have been great.”

“I think Cash would have been a good person to get the better of her.”

“Really?” Wray sounded surprised, and then was surprised at his own surprise. Why not Cash?

“The audience would never suspect him,” she continued, “plus remember, he was the only one who she couldn’t get her way with the first time around. That’s why I had to hit you in the back of the head.”

“Yeah. By the way, the 2002 version of me says Ow!

They shared a smile again. Please, please let the driver take the scenic route.

“You really like it? We should write it.”

“Err… what for?”

“To tell the story.”

“Listen, the network owns the rights. Plus, I’m not a writer, I’m just an actor. There’s nothing I can do.”

Valerie didn’t look satisfied with that answer. She shifted and looked out the window. “I would have loved to have been remembered as Tarragon. She’d get a lot more love than Dahlia at these things. But, like it or not, that’s who we are. You’re Cash Wayne, the lovable pilot from the long-gone but fondly remembered short-run Spectrum, and I’m Queen Dahlia with the adolescent-fantasy silver costume from Star Shooters which – when it got renewed for a second season – had fans start a letter-writing campaign to get it cancelled.

It had been years ago, but it was obviously still an open wound for her. At the time, Wray had been too busy helping chase down phantom offers to move Spectrum to another network and – to be honest – being able to point to the reviled Star Shooters getting renewed only strengthened their case that Spectrum had been screwed over. But Wray recalled that the hatred towards Star Shooters was pretty visceral. And it wasn’t just on the internet; back when he was drumming up support at the cons, a lot of folk vented their disdain to the Star Shooters cast in person and anyone foolish enough to identify as a Star Shooters fan. Wray never had to winder why Valerie had quit cons back then. But it sucked that she thought she would still be punished for it.

“You know what, Valerie? You don’t need to worry about that anymore. So, you were on a crappy tv show that people only watched for the jiggle-physics. So what? Hasselhoff did Baywatch and that didn’t stop anyone buying his records. You can’t let Queen Dahlia hold you back. You’re a wonderful person and you have so much to offer. And the fans would be lucky to get a chance to get to know you, not the dolled-up silver glitterball Barbie, the real you. You’re going to come back to conventions and you’re going to blow them all away with who you really are. I know you will, because that’s what you do to me.”

Wray stopped, his heart in his mouth. Maybe he’d said too much. Maybe. Probably. But, dammit, he just wanted to put right every wrong every fan had ever done to her. Because she wasn’t Queen Dahlia; she was gentle, she was funny, she was kind.

Crappy tv show?!”

She also had a face of thunder right now, and the storm was heading straight for Wray.

“Is that what you thought of it? I understand that intelligent people can differ in taste and preference, but in my personal opinion the work I did on Star Shooters was the best acting work I’ve done in my life. Did you ever actually watch the show?”

The awkwardness was definitely back.

“Sure. Of course… I watched some of the… some of the promos.”

Valerie smacked her hand against her forehead.

“Augh, I hate that! You’re so quick to join the mob; you never even think of forming your own opinion. The show was nothing like Baywatch!

Evasive action, Wray, evasive action!

Baywatch,” he scrabbled, “was one of the most-watched shows in the world…”

She lasered in on him. “And that’s what you meant by comparing it to Star Shooters? It’s popularity?”

Wray had to admit that no, it wasn’t.

“We had an amazing story. Sam had laboured on it for a decade before he finally got traction with the network. He had a five year arc planned out, and he condensed the last three years into the mini-movies just to give the fans a sense of closure. And yes it had plenty of fans. Not maybe the fans who come here, but just those fans who sat down each week and – you know – watched the show. And they weren’t just watching it for the jiggle-physics!

“But… but…” Wray floundered. Mayday, mayday, going down, going down.

“Don’t you remember the clone arc? No, of course you don’t, you didn’t watch the show. I got cloned and it caused a constitutional crisis and there was nearly a coup? And then we captured her and it turned out she was a complete innocent and she was like a little girl. But there was still going to be a civil war if she stayed alive and it was going to cost thousands of lives. I’d already lost all my family years before, but by this miracle I’d gotten a little sister and I had… I mean, I had to kill her. And so I went to her and she was playing a game, she loved playing games, and so I made it all a game and I made myself stand there and watch just so she never knew we weren’t still playing, even when she was gone. I got hundreds of letters of support after that, real people, who really felt for Dahlia because I’d made them care.

Valerie paused and breathed out her anger instead. Wray started eyeing the door, how fast did he think they were going and how badly would it injure him if he jumped out? Tuck and roll. Tuck and roll.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m sorry, that was really not meant for you.” She let her pent-up breath go. “I guess you’re not the only one living in the past.”

“Wait, I’m not living in the past. I’m living in the now. I’m practically in the future,” his mouth babbled while his brain scrabbled to regain control.

“Come on, Wray, I’m sorry I vented like that. You absolutely didn’t deserve it. But come on: I’m just an actor, there’s nothing I can do? That hasn’t been true for years.”

Wray held up his hands as a sanity check. “Wait, wait a minute, how did this become about me?”

“You said it yourself. You come to these shows for the Spectrum fans, but you’ve got nothing new to say to them. Do you like that? Just turning on the charm and answering the same old questions about stuff that happened nearly fifteen years ago?”

“I can’t invent new things about Spectrum!”

“And why not?”

“I don’t own Spectrum, I can’t put it back on the air.”

“Then make a new show, call it whatever you like, but there’s a nod and wink to the fans.”

“I can’t just create a new tv show.”

“Why not?”

“Well, where would the money come from?”

“How many signatures do you sell a year? How many emails do fans send you asking for one? That’s how many people are still willing to give you money for something you already did. Just imagine how excited they would be, how much more would they be happy to give to let you do something new that they’re going to love?”

“I… that’s ridiculous. I wouldn’t even know where to start.”

“Talk to Illyana, she knows this stuff inside out. She funded her first movies that way. And talk to Jack, he’ll help you out. You don’t think you’re enough of a draw yourself, you know damn well how much buzz he’ll bring even if he just does a cameo. Anyway, this is us.”

Wray hadn’t noticed, but the car had pulled up outside the terminal. Valerie opened the door and got out. Wray paused a moment, his head still spinning.

There were a couple of loud bangs on the roof. “Hey, Nerely!” she said. “Get out so I can hug you properly.”

Wray got out and she did. Actors hugged each other, it was just part of the territory, but Valerie’s hugs… wow, she made them count. They declinched and he looked at her. She was as full of light and happiness as she was when she got in the car. How did she do it?

“I don’t even know much about science fiction,” he admitted.

“You need to find the story you want to tell, Wray. Don’t worry about the fans, they’ll come with you. They’ll help you make it happen. But it’s not for them; it’s for you. Don’t know sci-fi, don’t make it sci-fi. Make it about the people. You sure know them. Even-If-You-Are-Not-One.”

Wray laughed out loud at that. Even her robot voice was adorable. She headed to her check-in and he headed to his. He’d planned to try and get some sleep on the flight back, but he felt too awake. He felt more awake than he’d done in a while. What story did he want to tell? He took out his phone and started making notes. Just before the steward asked him to switch it off, he checked one last thing. It was the one-day rush price of the complete series of Star Shooters.

It was a little high. He went for the free saver delivery instead.

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