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In this group, a winged alien would hardly be noticed.
Standing in a corner of the hotel lobby, well away from the floor-to-ceiling plate glass windows, Nigel Jamison watched a vampire and a green-skinned Martian perform an "After you, Alphonse" dance at the main entrance. Finally the Martian came through first, and the vampire, following, caught the hem of his cloak in the door.
Nigel swirled his own crimson-lined black cape, reflecting that he'd chosen his costume well–striking enough to compel attention if he wanted to do so, but not distinctive enough to stand out. The general style could fit in with any literary milieu from high fantasy through pseudo-medieval to Gothic. Not that Nigel planned to enter the masquerade later that evening, of course; that would violate his low-profile strategy. Many of the attendees, however, wore costumes for the sheer fun of self-expression. Watching the rather fleshy vampire stride up the broad stairway to the second level, Nigel wondered what could induce such a man to envision himself as a cadaverous prowler of the night. Despite his doctorate in psychology, Nigel often found the human mind unfathomable.
He shrugged off the thought. This weekend, while not precisely a vacation, should at least be a break from his usual concerns. He shouldered his way between clots of loitering people, breathing shallowly to inhale as little as possible of their perfume, aftershave, and perspiration. The registration table stood at the far end of the lobby, beneath a banner proclaiming "Sequoiacon IV." A hand-lettered sign admonished: "We are sharing this hotel with mundanes. Please don't freak themundanes." Behind the table sat a slender woman with glossy black hair, whose bronze skin and aquiline profile suggested Amerindian genes. When she reached out to shake Nigel's hand, silver bracelets inlaid with turquoise clinked on her arm. They matched a heavy pendant around her neck.
Nigel leaned over the table, not quite releasing her fingertips. He glanced at her name tag–Patricia Rainbow. "Tell me, Ms. Rainbow, how much is one membership at the door?"
Her brown eyes widened. "At almost six p.m. on Saturday evening? You sure you want to pay twenty-five dollars for less than half the con?"
"I didn't know about it until last night," he said. "Just happened to notice a small article about it in the paper, and this evening's program sounded entertaining."
The woman shrugged. "Your money. Welcome to Sequoiacon." Her eyes traveled up and down his black cape and lace-ruffled shirt. "You're too late to sign up for the costume contest."
"I would rather just watch." Money changed hands, and Ms. Rainbow gave Nigel a name tag to fill out.
"Art show open until nine, when the masquerade starts," she said. "Auction tomorrow at noon. The dealers' room closes at ten, and we have movies playing continuously all night in two different viewing rooms. Good place to sleep, for people who don't want to pay the hotel for a bed–but you don't look like that type."
"I was lucky," said Nigel. "They still had a few vacant rooms." While he didn't plan to do any sleeping in his overpriced quarters, he needed somewhere to retreat when the crowd became insufferable.
"Oh, and before the costume show, the Mock Turtles will be playing," she added.
"You must not get to many SF cons," she said. "Mock Turtle Soup–folk and filk band." She handed him a program and a hotel floor map, waving her hand to indicate the stacks of promotional flyers covering the table.
Uninterested in fanzines or upcoming conventions, Nigel glanced around to make sure no one lingered near enough to take an interest in their conversation. He sat on the edge of the table–gingerly, to avoid toppling it–and captured Ms. Rainbow's eyes with a steady gaze. "There's one particular thing I wanted to ask about," he said in a low voice. "The newspaper piece mentioned–well, it's almost too ridiculous to repeat, but I was intrigued." Reaching into his back pocket, he extracted and unfolded a clipping. The headline read "Sci-Fi Con Promises Out of This World Entertainment."
"Sci-fi." Ms. Rainbow snorted. "Sure, I saw that. Any publicity is better than none, or so they say."
"What about the winged alien?" he asked, his fingers again brushing hers.
She looked still more disgusted. "Oh, that nut–what's his name, Brewster. Gives the rest of us a bad reputation."
Copyright © 2003 by Margaret L. Carter