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Interlude Thirtytwo point Three point One, Alden's New Assistant

Alden had practically been vibrating in place. Mara, astute as always, ran him away from the autograph table. "You don't come to many of these things with me, do you? I'll be stuck her for a while longer. Why don't you go have some fun? There's a science track you might enjoy. I'll catch up with you later."

Taking her advice had proven frustrating. The 'science nerds' lecturing knew enough to get by, but Alden had no interest in the quantum physics of UFOs in the X-Files. Nor did he really care about the artificial gravity of Babylon 5 and Star Trek. He had experienced real artificial gravity in real orbit. Their take was just tiresome.

Wandering through the art show had been more relaxing. It was far from the fur-bikinied barbarian women he had expected. Some of the art was very experimental and some was very risqué. He had a wonderful conversation about computers with an artist running a digital art booth. They discussed holography and the necessary computing power to maintain a stable matrix.

As the afternoon wore on, Alden began to see more and more people in costume. He had always loved Halloween, so he decided to slip off to the hotel's bar. He could watch people safely from behind a glass. Bonus to the plan was the ease Mara would have finding him.

Minutes became hours as Alden learned his first lesson in 'Convention Time.' A soft drink became a cocktail. One became two. Two became several. Before long, he found himself returning from the public restroom through a sea of costumed conventioneers. Perhaps it was the vodka and rum in his bloodstream, but he suddenly understood the giddy pleasure these people had to feel.

Then, to his utter surprise, he staggered into the Wanderer. What small buzz the nanites allowed him quickly disappeared as adrenaline raced through his system. Reality, most foul, now invaded his semi-lucid mental wanderings. He would have been less shocked had he walked into his entire design team or high school English teacher. The Wanderer's presence signaled trouble.

"What's... what's the situation?" Alden asked in a hushed tone.

"I'll tell you what the situation is," came a very un-Wanderer-like voice from beneath the shadow of the hat. "The dealer's room's run out of Fire for Effect."


"Oh, come on." Sting called from behind him. Again, the voice did not match Alden's mental database. "You promised me you'd pick me up a couple of boosters."

Alden looked at this addition. He wore Sting's costume, but was half a foot shorter than the man. Looking back at the counterfeit Wanderer, Alden could see the uncovered facial features were all wrong. The last Alden had checked, the Wanderer did not wear a scruffy goatee. He tried to close his jaw, until he saw other members of the Protectors joining the group. There was at least one camera flash as the group came together. Alden would not look good in that picture. There was a second Sting, a chubby Beggar King, and a resin-cast White Knight with a 'Have You Seen Me' sign around his neck. Most astonishing was a man wearing a Ka-sador costume. They had even gotten his skin tone fairly close.

"Go easy on him, Liam," a female voice called from behind Alden. "The WizKids booth was swamped."

Alden turned to come face to face with himself, sort of. Standing before him was a female version of Defender. There were more flashes as the faux-Protectors began posing for photos. With a big smile, spurred on by the shocked look on Alden's face, Defenderette draped an arm around his shoulder for several photos.

"Uh... yeah. Nice costumes," Alden finally managed.

"Thanks," Defenderette said, leaning in to see his convention badge. "The guys give me crap about doing Defender. They all think he's the dork of the team. Alden Bryce, huh. That sounds familiar. Anyway, so I'm a girl. Big deal. They wanted me to play the mysterious PC. Yeah, right. No one even knows what she looks like."

"Wrong hair color," Alden muttered. "So, Defender's the 'dork', eh?" He did not want to let on how hurt he was.

"Yeah, well... what do they know? Matt called Ka-sador 'Chickenman' for months. I like Defender. He's the sexiest. Have you ever seen him up close? I did once. He took out a bunch of drug dealers near my old apartment. He was amazing in action."

"Defender's a fag, Karen." The faux-Wanderer said. "Why else would he wear those colors? And that dorky crotch drape."

"He wears the colors to attract attention, doof. He wants the bad guys to attack him instead of some innocent victim." Karen/Defender said. Alden smiled and motioned his agreement.

"What-EVER," faux-Wanderer responded. "He even has stupid superpowers. Super-jumping. He should call himself 'Frog-boy' or 'The Amazing Flea.'"

"Don't pay him any mind, Alden. He's just pissy because he got shot down by one of the Buffy's earlier. Wait, Alden Bryce? Mara Bryce's husband?"

Finally over the shock of the situation, Alden smiled at the mention of his wife. "Yes, I'm that Alden Bryce."

"I LOVE her stuff. She is one of my favorite writers. Her panel on 'Women in Speculative Fiction' was great. I just wish I'd brought something for her to sign. I had to rush out of the apartment this morning and nearly left my tights behind. Like that would ever happen to the real Defender."

"All of the time," Alden said, quickly adding, "Or so I would assume. Look, here's my business card. Give my assistant a call and we'll get you an autographed book or something."

"Really? That would be great! You're a sweet guy, Mr. Bryce. Hey, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"

"Go ahead."

"Back at SuperCon, Mrs. Bryce was escorted to the premiere of that god-awful movie by Defender. How'd that happen?"

"Oh, that," Alden had long forgotten the incident. "I got called away for business. Turns out that he's also a fan of my wife's work. So, he offered, she accepted. I can't begrudge her that."

"That's too cool. Look, we've got to get to Masquerade pre-judging. It was great talking to you. Tell your wife I'm doubly jealous of her. She's got a sweet husband and got to sit with Defender in his spiff tux and mask combo." She kissed him on the cheek before walking after her friends.

Alden watched her walk off, oblivious to Mara's approach. "That's the strangest case of public self-love I've ever seen."

"Uh?" Alden said, starting.

"It's okay, dear. It's not everyday you get a kiss from Defender."

"Yeah, that's normally your privilege," he responded with a kiss. "Did you know the dealer's room is out of 'Fire for Effect?'?"

"Oh yeah, most popular item of the convention. When did you develop an interest in such things? Wait. Do you even know what a 'Fire for Effect' is?" Alden shook his head. She smiled at his dorkiness. "Come on; let's go get a spot for the Costume Contest. We can cheer your new friends on."

"Am I a dork?" Alden asked.

"Yes, dear. But you're my dork."

"That makes it worth while then."

Last Updated 21 July 2003