Could Have Been Real

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Xanadu story universe

We've heard a bit about those affected by the curse at Kublai Con. Here's a tale about one who wasn't affected...

[Xanadu] It could have been real

By Albedo.

Billy hit the remote, killing yet another glossy-haired talking head yammering on about the strange happenings in Orlando. Magic was loose, fantasy was reality... and he had missed it. Missed it!

He punched the sofa cushions in frustration. He had spent months building his costume. Costumes. The first version was waaaay to heavy to move in, the second one broke up when it was put on for the first time. The third one, ah, that was just right. He could move in it, but it would withstand some rough handling. He could even get it on and off without extra help. And then...

Charlie had phoned a week before Kublai Con to give him the bad news.

"Uh, Billy?" Charlie's voice was low. Billy's heart sank. Trouble.


"Uh, my van, it's, uh, it's gonna need work." Charlie's voice sank even lower. "Transmission."

"Shi-!" Billy covered the mouthpiece and glanced around to see if his parents were within earshot. Nope. He took a deep breath.

"How long to fix it and how much?"

Too long and too much, it transpired. Billy had been depending on Charlie and his van to transport him and his costume down to Orlando. Now he had the costume all ready to blow their socks off, and he couldn't get it there. Aargh!

He called a couple of freighting agencies, but once he told them how big the costume was, the prices they quoted made his eyes pop. All his spare cash for a year had gone into the Mk III, and then some. He checked the truck rental places, but when they found out he was only seventeen, they refused him a rental outright. Too young, no insurance yadda yadda. He *could* rent a Neon, but there was now way the costume was going to fit into one of those shoeboxes. By Thursday he was a nervous wreck. A burned-out nervous wreck. On the Friday morning, it was too late, and he gave up trying.

His parents were heading off that weekend for a family affair in Colorado, so they couldn't help, even if they wanted to. His dad had taken an interest in the costume's construction, even giving him one bay of the garage as a construction yard, and helping out on a couple of weekends with some of the trickier engineering problems. Mom had never understood his fascination with SF and fantasy, but she put up with it, figuring it was a phase he was going through. They gave him last-minute instructions and emergency telephone numbers before driving off, leaving him with a cheery wave that did nothing to lift his spirits.

He was stuck at home with a prize-winning costume. Gods, it had to have been in contention for some of those big money prizes the con flyers talked about. The money would have been neat, sure, but he wanted to show off his creation, especially in front of other costumers. He wanted to make them go Wow! He wanted the satisfaction. He consoled himself with the thought that there'd be other conventions, and Charlie would get his van fixed, eventually. He took a quick look at one of the convention calendars on the Web, trying to spot a likely candidate for the costume's debut, but there was nothing until next year, an eternity away. Ah well. He wanted to do more work on the costume anyway. Clean up the wiring harnesses, for one thing. Dress the skin a bit better. He'd had an idea or two...

He was sketching on his big yellow pad when the first news of the "disaster" at Kublai Con came on the teevee. The pictures were not very clear; the police and city authorities had established some sort of quarantine zone, and the cameramen were working at the limits of their zoom lenses, but there were people *flying* around down there! There were lions and tigers and bears, and Barney... Barney? The shots were poor, yeah, but he watched, dry- mouthed as several cops man-handled a large struggling purple dinosaur wrapped in tape into a city truck. Barney's mouth was moving as he (it?) fought against its restraints, and Billy reckoned that he wasn't singing his signature theme song.

By evening, the news had confirmed what had happened, and the professional speculators were trying to come up with some sort of explanation. They were failing. The simple answer was magic, but for those people, magic wasn't real. Hey guys! Billy thought furiously. Wake up and smell the potions!

He fell asleep in front of the goggle-box, and woke the next morning with cramps and stiffness in his joints. The news channel had reverted to traffic and weather reports. He flicked desultorily through some other channels, but there was nothing new, nothing he hadn't seen the night before. He dragged himself into the shower and made himself something to eat, before going out to the garage, to console himself again with what he had achieved, and what could have been. He shivered at the thought. It might be irrevocable. The quick snippets on the morning news had informed him that the strange events in Orlando were still going on, unabated. Nobody else had changed, it seemed, but nobody had changed back, either. If he had been there, he'd be stuck. Forever? Still...

He went into the garage, and lifted the dustsheets from his creation. Fifteen feet long, it unhinged in the middle to allow him to get into it. With an ease that came from long familiarity, he dropped the black skirt that hid his legs and hoisted the carrying frame onto his shoulders. A couple of adjustments to the straps, and the seventy-odd pounds of styrofoam and aluminum tubing came alive around him. He thumbed on the electronics suite; motors whirred quietly as he looked out through the vision ports in the superstructure. He checked his appearance in the mirrors propped up against the wall, watching the turrets traverse, and the neon light in the Wave Motion Gun started to glow as it prepared to fire, and he let out one little sob, before he raked the battery switches and the costume died around him. He let it drop almost carelessly onto the supporting trestles, and wriggled back out of the harness and the costume.

At the garage door he looked back, bitterly, at a years work, and every buck he had, and triumph and disappointment in equal measure (but the triumph was *sooo* good...)

Space Battleship Yamato. One fiftieth scale. Turrets that traversed and elevated, and a Wave Motion Gun with a neon flash firing effect. So much work...

"It could have been real..." he sobbed again, before he reached over and switched out the light.


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