by Kris Schnee
©2003 Kris Schnee -- all rights reserved
He had vowed to spend the convention weekend in character as 'Akki', to challenge his acting skills. As soon as he reached Philadelphia and parked at the hotel, he hauled out the costume's suitcase and took it to his room first, grinning. The wetsuit, the main piece, took time to wriggle into. He left the back zipper open for ventilation and for a latex dorsal fin. The fluked tail was harder to attach but looked realistic; he'd even included two motors and two pairs of cords inside to pull it according to controls hidden in his neoprene shoes and gloves. The mask had been tough to design. He couldn't alter his eye position, but the rubbery beak and 'melon' fit smoothly into his wetsuit and covered his hair. He faced the mirror, adding grey goop to the last exposed skin, and whistled. "Akki!"
Ten AM already! 'Akki' strode downstairs and found conventioneers already confusing the hotel staff. A fat man wearing rabbit ears and a plastic lightsaber stood in line between him and an ordinary geek.
"Hey, nice costume!" the geek said.
'Akki' whistled as if confused. "Costume?"
In the convention area, two dozen people milled and picked up name badges. He scanned them, looking for Net acquaintances, but saw mostly names like 'Starclaw' and 'Harrier'.
"And where might you be from?" he asked one of the few girls, a goth.
'Sunshadow' answered, "New Jersey. Neat costume you have."
'Akki' dipped into his character's backstory. "New Jersey, ma'am? I thought it was destroyed in the 2040 War."
"Huh?" She wandered off to speak with a man wearing a collar. 'Akki' sighed.
At noon he dozed in a boardroom while someone gave a lecture on science fiction. The mask and wetsuit overheated when he moved.
A fully costumed person tapped his shoulder, whispering "Excuse me?" Her suit's otter texture and the way the brown fur and whiskers moved when she talked made him whistle in tribute, but her clothing looked slipshod, just blue overalls with a price tag still attached. "You're Akki?"
"I found you! Could we talk over lunch? I just arrived." Her nametag read 'Teo'.
For lack of taste, he took her to the Denny's next door. She grimaced at the dirty carpet and sticky menu. "I can see why you don't take off your gloves," Teo said. "But there's not even any fish."
He shrugged. "May I ask how you know me?" Some Net game? A friend of a friend?
"I was told to give you this." She unrolled something from her overalls: a green gadget like a Faberge egg. An abstract engraving made intricate patterns he felt even through his gloves.
He barely noticed when a waitress double-taked and approached. "You two those 'furry' people at the hotel?"
"Huh?" 'Akki' said, examining his hairless, smooth tail. Teo said, "What do you mean?" The waitress scratched her head, and 'Akki' grinned under his mask. He ordered water and she left.
'Akki' stared at the green egg. "How'd you make this?"
"It was the base's engineers. Akki, you might say I'm from your future. There's trouble at the Caribbean colonies. The All-Shores Party..." She spun a tale of political intrigue between Man and genetically uplifted animal races.
'Akki' felt a blush. Her backstory was straight from his own future setting! She knew details scavenged from his hard drive. He tried to look past her whiskers and guess, "Are you Anna?" Damn! He was dangerously close to breaking character.
Of course she denied being his dorm-mate. "I'm Teo. Forget already? We need you, Akki. History says you died before my time, but -- what?"
'Akki' pounded the table, laughing, getting bizarre looks from non-convention-goers. "Sorry." I can do this! he thought. In character! Find out if she's a stalker, or what! He coughed. "Thinking of the Atlantis Treaty." Which appeared only in his handwritten fiction notes.
She grinned. "No, I'm not talking about cryonics."
He mentioned the Sealand Invasion, the Rig-13, and other things never put to paper. She knew them. He whistled. "So... this egg is a time machine?"
"Short answer, yes. Didn't you use one?"
"Actually I fell through a temporal rift --" He reached out and tickled Teo's shoulder hard, through the fur. Unlike Anna, her shoulder didn't twitch that certain way. She was a stranger, and one of them was crazy.
He made a time-out sign. "You win! Enough role-playing. Who are you and how did you swipe my ideas?"
Teo stood from the table, backing up. "They told me you were Akki, hiding out with costumed humans --"
He was up and in her face. The restaurant went quiet. "Who told you? Damn it, quit acting!"
"But aren't you him?" She pressed the egg into his hands. "They said you were a diplomat, kind and intelligent."
"I don't know if you're nuts or just persistent, but look! I'm --" 'Akki' reached one hand to the seam of his dolphin mask. He didn't lift it. If she were... unstable, it could hurt her. "Confused. Let me take you to some people --"
"No! Look. The egg's keyed to work this day of the year, any year. Use it or not! I don't care!" She stalked out of the restaurant. He followed but she turned a corner and was gone.
For a moment -- just a moment -- he felt her brush against his tail, and the sun scorched his dorsal fin...
'Akki' weighed the engraved egg in his hands. A single button stood ready, but it was just a toy, right? Still he hesitated to press it.
He resolved to try it, to put this delusion to rest or... what?
Nah, he thought. I'm not Akki. I'm too much of a jerk.
He removed his mask, finally feeling cold on his face. His hair itched mightily. He tossed the egg up from behind his back and pocketed it, thinking, But hey -- I've got a year to practice the role.