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Harmon paused, letting the moment hang upon the breathless anticipation that filled the bridge of the starship Diversity. He was bathed in light, the focus of every eye, of every glittering alien sense organ, every camera in the crowded room. He let the pause linger on... three... four... five... before opening his clenched fist and letting it relax in an open-handed gesture of benediction. "... without recourse to the foul evil of war!"
Elena stared up at him from the crowd, lips parted, eyes adoring, breasts straining heroically against the fabric of her star-emperor's harem girl's bra. Grandly, Harmon extended his hand, indicating the wrinkled, droopy, insect-faced thing standing next to the fair Elena. "No matter how strange, how alien the outward form," he continued, "always we can reach out and touch the minds and hearts of our new-found friends among the stars! There are no aliens! Aliens are only the friends whom we haven't yet met!..."
"Cut!" Elliott Blake, the director, called.
"Hold it, everybody," Jeff Hearny, first assistant director, said. "Sound, are you good?"
A voice called out from across the sound stage. "I'm good."
"Checking the gate... it's good."
"Okay!" Blake said. "That's a wrap, people!"
Magically, the air of suspense and drama and tightly focused attention evaporated with a distinct sigh of relief as the crowd of talent and extras relaxed. Suddenly, they were humans and aliens on the deck of the star cruiser Diversity no longer, but tired people in a bewildering array of costumes and dress. "Thank God!" someone called out, and the crowd laughed, then broke into spontaneous applause. Technicians moved in to begin striking the set. The mighty starship Diversity was, once again, no more than a cluttered collection of studio sets on Stage B.
Richard Devon Faraday, as always sweating with a marathon runner's enthusiasm beneath the heavy ambassadorial robes and the high, molded foam-latex prosthetic forehead of his Harmon-the-Eldar alter ego, stepped back and looked down at the bit of masking tape a stage hand had placed there moments ago. Yeah, he'd managed to stay on his mark this time. Still, you'd think the director and camera crews would allow for a little artistic improvisation. Richard liked getting some action, some movement into his monologues. Sometimes, as much as he disliked admitting the fact, his longer speeches could come across as stultifyingly wooden. Hell, with the scripts he'd been given lately, it was next to impossible not to be wooden. He wished Roger Spaulding would find some decent scriptwriters, writers worthy of his talent....
"Nice job, Richard," Blake said, coming up to Richard, script and call sheet in hand. "Nine pages tomorrow, and I think we can get this puppy back on schedule."
"Elliott, if that's a crack about how many takes we had on that last setup-"
"No, no!" Blake said, holding up one hand. "No, not at all! I mean, it was such a complicated scene, with all those extras... anyone can miss their mark once in a while."
Richard reached out and flicked the script in Blake's hand with a forefinger, the corner of his mouth tugging at his makeup in a wry sneer. "It would help if I had some decent material to work with," he said. Briefly, he let his voice slip back into character, shaping Harmon's mellifluous tones. "`... Without recourse to the foul evil of war!' Give me a break!"
"It used to be `black evil,'" Tracy Edwards, the show's script girl, said, joining them. "Standards and Practice shot that one down. Politically incorrect. Mr. Blake? Mr. Spaulding says he has some changes coming for tomorrow's script. They'll be down late tonight."
"Okay, Tracy. Thank you." Blake gave Richard a hard look. "If you have problems with the script, Richard, my man, I suggest you take them up with R. M. Spaulding."
"I intend to do just that, believe me," Richard said. "`Foul evil.' Ha! What garbage!"
He could feel their eyes on him as he turned to make a dramatic exit, but he didn't really care. He'd been complaining about the dumb story lines and dumber dialogue ever since Star Peace had begun its season, nine weeks ago, now.
He'd gone no more than three feet when he heard Blake say something about "bag banger" and heard Tracy and Jeff laugh. He pretended not to hear; bag banger was an old expression on film sets, a reference to putting sand bags down on the floor to help an actor particularly prone to wandering off his mark find and keep it in a tight or difficult shot. Bag banger! Bag banger! He'd show them! He'd...
He kept walking, clinging to the shreds of his remaining dignity. What could he do? Star Peace was a syndicated one-hour sci-fi drama, and a low-rated one at that... meaning it couldn't afford big-name Hollywood talent, the mega-stars who always seemed to make it into the pages of Variety and People and the National Enquirer. All of them, from Jeremy Winston to Patricia Leigh to, well, to him, were expendable. If he decided not to show up on the set tomorrow, the damned writers could have him written out of the series by afternoon and Spaulding would be looking at head shots and resumes of a hundred hairless greenies by next Tuesday.
"Okay, people!" Jeff Hearny called out behind him. "Don't forget your call sheets. Have a good evening!"
"What's left of it!" Jeremy Winston called back, and everybody laughed.
Everybody, of course, except Richard. Fools. Idiots....
"Great job, Richard!" "Nice take, Richard." "Liked your speech, Richard." The compliments floated after him from the stage crew and technicians, but he scarcely heard them. Of what possible importance or interest were the critical opinions of a gaffer or a grip, for God's sake? Richard Devon Faraday had more important concerns, and right now the chief of those was getting out of these stifling robes and makeup.
It was after eight p.m. when Richard stepped out of the soundstage building and started across the parking lot for the makeup trailer. Cast and crew trickled from the building around him, talking to one another, cracking jokes, laughing. Exhaustion dragged at him like a ten-page monologue, and his stomach was grumbling with that reach-for-an-antacid scratchiness that had been plaguing him more and more frequently of late. His ears were ringing, too, a sign of high blood pressure, his doctor had told him. "Take it easy," his doctor had told him. "Cut back on the stress," his doctor had told him. Yeah. Right. Like he had a choice. Elliott had been driving them all like Simon Legree himself.
Elliott. Pah! Richard really didn't like the guy. Normally, the directors working television series showed up for only a week or two at a time... and they knew enough to let the actors do it their way. Blake-precious-Elliott, though, had been Spaulding's director on EBE and some of his other feature films, and R. M. had brought him in to direct a number of the Star Peace episodes as well. The guy was artsy... and he didn't know how to handle television talent. Hell, he'd even read some of Richard's lines at him the other day, to show him how he wanted it done. That sort of thing might work for feature films, but it just didn't cut it in television.
And, God, the scripts they were giving him...
As he mounted the metal steps and banged through the door of the trailer, Johnny Krantz, his makeup man, started violently, brushing a scattering of fine white powder off the counter top and rubbing some more off his left nostril. "Oh! Ah!" He moved to block Richard's view of the countertop as he scooped unidentifiable somethings into an open drawer, then turned, smiling and a little too bright. "Gosh! Done already, Richard?"
"Why? Were you expecting me to work all night?"
"Uh, no, sir." He sniffed loudly. "Not at all. Have a seat, man. Let's get that stuff off you."
Half of one long wall inside the makeup trailer was taken up by a brightly lit mirror. Richard slumped into one of the barber chairs with relief. An alien face stared back at him from the mirror, the eyes small and tired-looking beneath that huge dome of a forehead. Richard's character was supposed to be one of the great and ancient Eldar, protectors of life throughout the universe who looked a little like the Rylans in The Last Starfighter... or Exeter in This Island Earth. High forehead with a receding hairline that would have made a great before-shot in a Miracle Hair Restorer ad; long mane of white hair falling down behind; bushy, silver-white sideburns; bushy, white, upswept eyebrows... except for that big dome of a forehead that was supposed to show how intelligent the wise and ancient Eldar were, the character was human enough. Richard decided that he'd been lucky there. Some of the series regulars went through their shooting schedules wearing so much in the way of latex and prosthetics that you couldn't see enough to identify them, even if they were your best friends. Every morning he was on the set, Benjamin Emrich spent even more time in makeup getting into his Thrask character than Richard did becoming Harmon, and when he was done, it was impossible to tell that there was a man in there. It was damned hard to build your career when your agent had to say things to casting agents like, "Yeah, he played that ugly thing that looked like a spotted, hairy turtle with terminal mange on Star Peace."
"So!" Johnny said, still in that too-bright tone as he started to apply solvent and peel back the rubber skin that seamlessly blended the skin of Richard's forehead to the foam-latex prosthetic precariously balanced above it. "Tough day on the set, huh?"
"Idiots," Richard replied. "They're all idiots, every last one of them! My dog could write better dialogue! And as for Elliott Blake..."
Star Peace was generally considered to be a happy set, but it wasn't for Richard. Cheryl Craig, his agent, and Barney Rafferty, his manager, both had seen Star Peace as a way to build him up to name-actor status, but the damned ensemble structure of the thing conspired to keep him down, to keep him from really getting the exposure he wanted. Lately, he'd taken to counting lines, a normally reliable if somewhat anal way of determining how much time on camera he was getting compared to the rest of the cast, and what he'd found troubled him. In the early weeks of the series, Harmon had been on camera nearly as much as Jeremy Winston, the twenty-three-year-old pretty boy from New York who played the series lead. The alien being he played had been envisioned by Spaulding, the show's creator, as a representative of an advanced, highly intelligent, and ancient race from another galaxy who'd come to the Earth Federation to stop a senseless war. It had looked like a pretty good deal, with Harmon having a chance at becoming Star Peace's equivalent of the legendary Mr. Spock.
Lately, though, Winston-as Captain North-had been getting the good lines, and more of them. Spaulding was developing a romantic angle between ruggedly handsome North and the lovely Elena, played by Luci Lacroix, and there'd been several episodes lately where Harmon had scarcely appeared at all.
And the scripts...
The problem there, as Richard saw it, was Roger Spaulding's ongoing infatuation with this warm, fuzzy alien shtick. Ever since his box-office success with EBE Abduction-A Love Story, cute aliens with big eyes and warmly fuzzy save-the-Earth motivations had been hot again. The syndicated television SF series Star Peace owed its popularity entirely to EBE's success. Each show followed roughly the same formula: heroes meet ugly, scary aliens; ugly, scary aliens threaten heroes, heroes prepare for all-out war and mayhem; heroes discover that ugly, scary aliens are really simply misunderstood, that they're quite lovable if you get to know them, and everything works out right in the end.
Yeah, Roger was approaching the whole question of benevolent aliens from the stars with the lively zeal of a used car salesman turned born-again amen-shouter. Some people believed in God and angels and miracles. Roger Spaulding believed passionately in little green-or were they supposed to be gray?-aliens who would save the Earth and the whales and the rainforests and would deliver humanity from its war-, greed-, and pollution-ridden sins, and he preached that gospel to whomever would listen.
Well, Hollywood was that kind of town, full of passion, fringe-element obsession, and messianic attempts to save the world.
But Hollywood was also still enjoying a boom in nasty alien movies. Good oldfashioned invaders from space. Monsters. Valiant humans fighting alien warmongers. What was popular at the box office would be on series TV any day now, and compared to the heroes of the valiant wars of Man versus the invading alien scum, poor old Harmon came across as downright wimpy. Like that series starship captain a few years back who was always surrendering his vessel and making speeches about equality and peace. Richard wanted a heroic part, with heroic lines, not this weak and watered-down, politically correct... pap.
With makeup removed and his own face restored, he checked out with the sweet- faced Asian girl who bore the incredible job title of second second assistant director.
"Take your turnaround, Richard," she told him, referring to the twelve hours actors had from the end of one day's shoot to the beginning of the next. She looked at her watch. "It's 8:33 now.... We'll see you tomorrow at, let's say, 8:40. We'll probably be working late again."
"Maybe," he told her, signing her sheet. "And maybe I'll just retire to Mexico instead. Or get abducted by aliens."
She laughed. "Oh, you're such a kidder, Richard!"
The studio limo, attended by Janice, his usual driver, was waiting for him. "Evening, Mr. Faraday. Tough day, today?"
"I wish people would stop asking me that. Take me home."
He was beginning to hate bright and cheerful people with a passion normally reserved for perky early morning DJs and commercials for antidiarrhea medicines aired at dinnertime.
The driver began chattering away as she eased out of the studio lot. Some wit in props had erected a warning sign by the main gate: caution-alien crossing.
Excerpted from Diplomatic Act by Peter Jurasik William H. Keith, Jr. Excerpted by permission.
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