"With a fine, light touch, Alma gives us inveterate Sci-Fi con-goers a snarky "what if" would happen if a con got abducted by aliens who are trying to figure us out." ~ Kier Salmon
"This is truly one of the funniest SF books I've read in years." ~ Lenora Rain-Lee Good
"A highly enjoyable romp through the inner workings of an unforgettable sci fi convention...peppered with tropes and quotes that will keep the fen amused while wryly recognising each of the characters as realistic portrayals of con committee members and guests." ~ Biscutoria
"It's one wild ride when four androids from the future appear at a sci-fi convention and take them all, hotel included, on a trip around the moon while they try to find their inventor/god/creator. A laugh out loud romp that asks some serious questions..." ~ Emily>
“When’s the first official panel?”
“In about an hour,” Xander said. “I pasted up the program sheets onto the walls of the main corridor. And I plan on being out there with a loudspeaker to announce things if I have to. And I’ve actually had a bit of a brainwave, at that.”
“Being?” Andie Mae, who hadn’t slept much that night, said while trying to smother a jaw–cracking yawn.
“I’ll get the damned ‘bots to go on the panels,” Xander said. “They owe us that much.”
“They don’t owe us zip,” Dave said morosely. “All they want are some nebulous ‘answers’, and anything else – ”
“They do so,” Xander interrupted. “If they’re actually doing the ‘boldly go where no man has gone before’ move and taking us on an unscheduled freaking outing to the Moon…”
Dave snorted. “It’s hardly the final frontier, Xander. We’re just retracing some ancient footsteps. Or engine burns, anyway. To the Moon and back – once a small step for man – ”
“Engine burns,” said Lester Long, one of the volunteers, thoughtfully. “Er, just how are we performing this magical mystery tour, if one may ask? This is hardly – if I understand what you’ve said correctly – the most aerodynamic of shapes to sail around the cosmos in.”
This was an old argument. “Neither was the Borg cube,” Xander snapped. “Aerodynamic doesn’t matter where there isn’t, you know, air.”
“Fine out here – but how did we get out of our air – and if we plan on coming back, how do they intend to accomplish that little miracle? We’re a hank of rock, no better than a meteor, and we’ll probably do a spectacular re–entry. Come back in with a bang. A big bang. Tunguska will be nothing on us.”
“Boom,” Libby said faintly.
“Big badda boom,” Lester said helpfully.
“You’re still applying our physics to any of this?” Dave asked incredulously. “We’re just as likely to come back in and turn into a bowl of petunias on re–entry as we are to flame out.”
“A very warped Infinite Improbability Drive,” Libby said.
“Hell, yeah!” Xander said. “To Infinity, and beyond! That might be entertaining all by itself. But when we come back – if we come back – whatever that schedule is – we still have a con to run, and a bunch of people who paid good money to be here. Our responsibilities didn’t end just because we got hijacked, and I’m damned if I’m going to let the android crew just sit back and ignore us now. They have to entertain us. Seriously. I plan on having Sim’s guys stand guard on the panel rooms if necessary. But they will play.”
“Do they know that yet?” said Andie Mae sharply. And then relented. “Oh, Xander. I’m on your side. I’m on my side, on my con’s side. Of course I’ll back you. I just don’t know how it’ll work out. The only one with the gift of the gab in that sense seems to be Boss – the rest have been pretty monosyllabic thus far. But it’s worth a try and there will certainly be a measure of increased attendance because people might just come along to gawk and point. Fine with me. Go do.”
“Right,” Xander said. “I have stuff to see to. I’ll report back later.”
“Speaking of our guests or masters or our Tin Man greatgreatgreatgreatgranchildren,” Dave said, “anyone seen them this morning?”
“We’d better find them,” Andie Mae said. “If Xander gets his way he’s gonna want them, and I still want to talk to that Boss creature. And I emphatically don’t want them wandering around screwing with everyone else’s minds. Or listening to some of the drivel that they might get eagerly told by some of the fringe elements out there. I wouldn’t want them to get the wrong end of the stick about us. They might decide that we’re too bizarre by half to bother saving, after all – collateral damage, send the rock into the sun, be done with us…”
“You really think they’ll return us?”
“They’d better,” growled Andie Mae. “I still have to have words with Al, and he’s back on the home rock. Come on, Dave, let’s go android hunting.”
They got as far as the hotel lobby and had started down the corridor that wound between the two hotel ballrooms, the larger one which they had used for Opening Ceremonies and the smaller one across the hallway where the gamers had been ensconced, when Luke Barnes, the erstwhile Night Manager but now by default the Duty Manager for the entire resort, caught up with them. He looked like hell; clearly he’d had less sleep than Andie Mae, his eyes were bloodshot, and his blond hair was standing on end in a way that made him look endearingly like the Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz movie. He had two companions in tow, a bearded and bespectacled academic–looking type and an older man wearing a peaked hat and a jacket with gold braid on the sleeves.
“I need to talk to you,” Luke said. “About several things, really. This is Dr Cohen, and this is Captain William Lindstrom, he’s senior flight crew for Enterprise Airlines…”
Dave shook his head in disbelief. “Enterprise. Airlines. Who’d have thunk it.”
“We’re quite conveniently situated for one of the smaller regional airports,” Luke said, a shade defensively, “and the crews – ”
“Never mind, don’t take it personally,” Andie Mae said. “What’s the problem?”
Luke actually stared at her open–mouthed for a moment. The man introduced as Dr Cohen stepped forward.
“If I may,” he said. “You do realize, of course, that there is a reasonably sizeable contingent of guests at this hotel right now who are not part of your particular group, and who are very much in a bad way. I mean, some of them had plans for this morning – which were understandably made rather untenable when they realized that there was little out there but outer space. I’ve had to supply sedatives to one older woman who almost had a stroke when she made the mistake of asking one of your more ordinary–looking attendees in the corridor what was going on and was gleefully informed that she was on a journey to the Moon, quite literally, and most emphatically without her permission and against her will….”
“I’ve moved some of these people into a dedicated set of rooms on a single upper floor in Tower 3,” Luke said. “They will have to be kept calm and probably sequestered…”
“And yeah, quite understandably, probably sedated,” Dave murmured. “And there will be some of our gang who will have trouble with this too and may end up in your ward. I’m really sorry about this, Doctor, it was not of our doing.”
“I realize that,” the doctor said, “but you’re kind of in the hot seat, I am told, and you’re the ones at whom the finger points right now. For the time being I have a certain amount of the relevant medications which may become necessary – but I have no idea how long this whole thing is supposed to go on for, or if it has a planned conclusion of any sort that would make me feel a little more sanguine about our surviving the experience. And when I run out of supplies…”
“And speaking of those,” Luke said, “we were due a delivery of fresh foodstuffs for the kitchens for both restaurants this morning – and that, fairly obviously, isn’t going to happen now, is it? We have a relatively limited food supply, given the number of people at the hotel right now, and I am not at all sure about our drinking water…”
“May I be of any assistance?”
“Actually,” Andie Mae said sweetly, turning to Boss, who had just stepped up to the group, “we were hoping to run into you…”
“We have a problem,” Luke blurted, staring at the silver man. “Actually, more than one problem.”
“We’re people,” Dave said. “We need to eat.”
“And I need access to medical supplies,” Dr. Cohen said.
“We can deal with these things. Come with me.”
They all obediently followed him to where a dark rectangular object stood against the far wall of the hallway. It had a square opening at about waist level, and a mysterious light source providing a warm orange–tinged glow to the interior, highlighting a silvery platform in the middle of it which looked rather like a microwave turntable. An array of blinking lights twinkled beside this opening. Dave stepped forward and examined the thing thoroughly, and then turned back to Boss, frowning.
“Okay,” he said, “I’ll bite. What is it?”
“It is…” Boss began.
“Hi!” Xander said brightly, stepping around the airline captain’s side and pushing forward to stand beside Dave. “I’ve got something to tell you, but first – er – what…?”
“It is something that I have seen referred to in the context of your own history and fiction as a replicator,” Boss said.
“A replicator,” Dave echoed.
“As in, something that replicates something.”
“You mean, like food, maybe. Just like on Star Trek.”
“We have seen something similar on that show. Yes.”
“I’ll do it,” Xander said, grinning broadly. He stepped up to the opening and said, in his best Jean–Luc Picard voice, “Tea. Earl Gray. Hot.”
The opening in the obelisk opaqued for a moment, presenting a perfectly featureless blank surface, and Xander began to turn his head in consternation to ask if it was something that he had done – but then the opening reasserted itself and this time, in the middle of the platform, sat a tall glass cup containing a brown steaming liquid.
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