A Convention ~ and Other Things
© 2010 by Mr. David R. Dorrycott
Songmark and Songmark characters copyright Mr. Simon Barber.
Used with permission.
Charlene woke in a hospital bed with no one around. Carefully she tried to move, only to find herself with tubes in her shaved arms and rather private places. “Nurse!” the vixen called several times. Since the room's door was open an otter nurse did appear, after only a minute or six.
“Please to take easy?” the otter asked, hurrying to check Charlene’s pulse. “You’ve been in that bed two days now; you were very ill.”
“With what?” the vixen asked. There were very few diseases that bothered healthy foxes, and most of those were terminal. The idea of being ill frightened her.
“Food poisoning,” the nurse answered. ”Combined with your period, it almost killed you.”
“Food poisoning? From where?” the vixen asked, her voice very weak. “I only ate at the McGee resort, and food I’d brought with me.”
The nurse wrote something on Charlene’s chart, then deftly slipped a thermometer into Charlene’s muzzle, easing it gently under her tongue. “Quiet now, I need a reading. Your friend Miss Ullrich and Mrs. McGee examined everything. It was bottle of olives. They had enough Salmonella bacteria to kill a healthy horse. You are very lucky girl. Miss Ullrich visited twice, will be back today. In afternoon. Now you rest. Liquids, rest best thing for you. You be out by Friday. Back to old self by Saturday. Just little weak.” She withdrew the long glass thermometer, reading it. “One hundred seventy two. Perfect.”
“If you're planning on slow cooking me for dinner,” the vixen managed weakly. “Really, what temperature?”
“You are full fox or half-breed?” the nurse asked seriously.
“Full fox,” Charlene answered, knowing the why of the question. But still not liking that it had to be asked.
“It is normal then,” the otter answered. “You be on your feet, out by this afternoon. But take things easy. If Ullrich not act fast, you may have died. Oh. You owe Song Soda ten shell for clean up. You vomit, pee, diarrhea, and blood. Think you even drool from eyes. Bad time for you. Very bad time. Songmark teach smart girls. Ullrich not even pause, she carry to school nurse still vomiting. You must be special her do that.” She gave the vixen a smile, then hung up the chart and left.
Looking around Charlene found a glass of water, one that she emptied rather quickly. Food poisoning meant diarrhea, which meant loss of body fluids, which meant death by dehydration. That explained the bottle of clear liquid currently dripping into her left arm. She had been lucky, the vixen knew. Had she been in her bed at the resort, chances were that she would have been found as a cold slab of meat in the morning. At least all her problems would have been over. As she replaced the now empty glass with its glass straw on the end table she noted an envelope. It took a couple of tries, but she managed to snag it.
It turned out to be a letter from Lucy. After reading it Charlene felt a lot better. Not only were things looking up between her and the cougar, but Jean had arrived yesterday afternoon with the entire expedition. Safe and well. Exhausted, but safe. And at the moment that was the best news that Charlene had been given in a long time.
“Trying to kill ourselves are we?” a well-known voice asked several hours later.
Charlene opened her eyes from her light nap, to stare in fascination at the mouse standing by her bed. “You're fat!” she exclaimed.
“The word is 'pregnant'.” the mouse shot back. “Five-months' pregnant, thank you very much. My husband must have gotten me on our wedding night, which for me is perfect. You, though. You look dead.”
“Worn out,” Charlene admitted. “Still getting a few cramps, but I’m okay. You’ve talked to Lucy?”
“And Miss Devinski and Miss Blande,” the mouse answered. “You want to buy Republic Studios, it seems.”
Charlene blinked, then forced herself to sit up. It was hard lifting her head to look at her friend. Jean stepped forward, sliding a pillow under the vixen's head, then returned to where she had been. “I’m told it's expensive,” she said. “But that, under certain circumstances, it could be done.”
Jean pulled the insides of her shirt pockets out. “Sorry. I think that between my husband and I we have a couple of dollars. But Leroy has that. May I sit?”
“Be my guest,” the vixen answered, pointing to the room's only other furniture. A metal stool.
“Better than the rocks we sat on for months,” Jean admitted. “And bugs do not taste better after eating them for months.”
“What happened?” Charlene asked.
“Earthquake. Cave in, stuck several hundred feet underground. One aging, randy old Professor of Ancient History, three nubile, hungry young Songmark girls and a very hot young graduate student. Unfortunately, our backup on the surface didn’t survive. So we wasted three days trying to contact dead people. After that, it was search the caverns until we stumbled upon a way out. That only took three and a half months.”
“How did you survive?” the vixen asked, amazed.
“We ate the graduate student,” Jean answered, then she smiled. “Well, we did. Eventually. But not that way. Bugs, moss, anything semi-organic. Ran out of supplies in three weeks, thank God for Songmark training or we would have died down there. What’s bad? There wasn’t even a death trap. Just a bunch of old libraries. Basically walls filled with scrolls sealed in clay tubes that looked like honeycombs. A couple of streams with blind fish and insects and an altar where ‘the virgin’ was supposed to be sacrificed. When Jaspir translated that it took about ten seconds to make certain that the last virgin among us wasn’t. We’ve all -- Songmark girls, that is -- we’ve learned that strange things hover around ancient altars, and chancing one of us being demon chow wasn’t in the cards.”
“I take it that the young lady in question didn’t put up a fight?” Charlene asked.
“Actually, she helped. She’d been eyeing Leroy for years. He was her instructor at university after all. Then, after we escaped, we discovered that whatever had been around that altar was long gone. Waste of effort. What was worse, the virgin was supposed to be an unintelligent animal.”
“I see, and the girl?”
Jean Marklin shrugged. “I now have a co-wife. One who is about three months along. At least she’s pleasant company, intelligent, and a damn good poker player. Now, enough about me. We’ve been discussing this studio mission of yours, and we think that it can be done. As long as you don’t mind a little collateral damage.”
“Explain!” Charlene demanded.
“Simple enough. Pick off the weaker parts one by one until only the two strong ones remain: Then crush them.” Jean reached into another pocket, taking out a paper. “Devinski offers 200,000. Kart-Tombs 21,000. Your fiancée 31,200. That’s a quarter of a million, with two requirements.”
“What?” the actress asked, stunned at the numbers.
“You are head of this consortium, and you marry Lucy the day after Songmark lets out next summer.”
Charlene blinked before she answered. “Head? The second item, yes. Yes yes yes! But business isn’t my strength.”
“Doesn’t have to be. Any Songmark graduate could run a business. But you know the movies inside out. You know who’s good, who’s not worth keeping. You know a good project from a flop. We need that. If we are going to get involved, Charlene, it's to make a profit and expand as fast as possible. Not just break even.”
“Oh. Well, I will sell my land. That will raise about two or three thousand. Not much, but its all I have.”
“And that’s another point,” the mouse continued. “You're willing to put everything into this. Everyone else has a fallback. Just never ask where the money came from. It's all legal, but it's everyone’s secret.”
Charlene remained silent for a long time, her eyes closed as she thought. Take Republic Studios with only at best a third of what its real value was? “Preferred stock cannot vote. If we control only fifty-one percent of voting stock, common stock,” she said, her eyes still closed. “Six million shares of common stock are outstanding, at a current value of ten cents a share. Stocks are sold in blocks of one hundred, so not counting brokers' fees, it would cost ten dollars a block. Brokers' fees are seven percent, so add a dollar-forty, if you buy in blocks of 1000.” She opened her eyes. “Can’t be done.”
“'Never say never',” the mouse reminded her vixen friend. “Carmen Velasquez will return tonight. Her family has quite a bit of money, so I will talk to her myself, though I’ll have to have her wife with me. Maybe that will add in enough. It just might appeal to her, to own part of a movie studio. After all, her own country is heavy into movies, and you have to admit that Hollywood hardly puts any Mixtexaians in their films.”
“Still, how are you planning on doing this?” Charlene asked from her bed.
“Simple. Delicate, but simple. You make a complete list of the talent worth having. Then we start rumors, release real information, a few choice lies. Most is real information. Say what Haster’s kid did to Petunia, and what he plans to do with that movie. Then a few choice, unconfirmable lies. Undeniable as well. We hit them on their flanks. Where it hurts: The pocket books. How much does an actor's contract cost?”
“Variable,” Charlene answered. “Mine is supposedly worth eighteen-hundred. That is the amount of money I would have to pay the studio to get out of my contract, at this moment. I am a B talent, and have five projects yet to go. It can swing from a hundred dollars to forty-thousand for someone like Tom Mix. But that’s fair auction value. Actually, the truth is: Until we have completed our contracts the actual value to the studios, can’t really be determined. It could be nothing, if all our projects are flops. Its just a piece of paper promising that so-and-so will do such-and-such work for X amount of dollars. If a studio is hurting for money, the other studios are the only people who would bid. Then it depends on if they want said talent or not. And just how bad that they want to hurt the other studio. If DAKA wants you, you can kiss your career goodbye. They make nothing but cheap adult movies.”
“Ouch.” Jean leaned back until her shoulders touched the wall. “And things like film, land, buildings and stuff?”
“Land has a specific value assigned by the county or city. Film is a stock cost from Kodak, Republic process film in-house. It’s how Yade took over Monogram and the rest. They owed so much money for processing that he told them ‘Join up or face foreclosure on outstanding lab bills.’ It was win-win for him. He got the businesses either way. But every business has its outstanding debt. Its how they run, on credit. It's almost all open records. Some is in the dark. Mob money, mainly.”
“Not Songmark, or Kart-Tombs,” Jean replied. “They have no debt. So we find out who Yade owes, then scare them into thinking he’s about to default. They scream for their money, and it's tight because of this Haster kid, so he dumps his less useful talent. Right?”
“Pretty much,” Charlene admitted. Abruptly a light went on in her head. “And having sold contracts, you have others thinking he’s running short of ready cash. Stockholders sell short, and that causes the value to drop. The more it drops, the less stable that Republic looks. No one advances credit, he has to sell his own voting stock for operating funds, it lowers the value....” She smiled. “You are a devious woman, Jean. If I wasn’t already in love....”
“I’d still say 'no'. Who told you that you didn’t know anything about business?” she asked.
Charlene blinked. “I don’t. I’ve never taken a business class. But when you start the ball rolling, it just goes. You know this wouldn’t have a chance, except for the Depression and Haster's kid at the same time. You could put someone out of business if you had three things: Enough of their stock, the ability to accept a loss, and the willingness to sell short. So how low do we have to go to get the stock?”
This time the mouse sat up. “You're doing so well,” she said. “You tell me.”
Charlene closed her eyes again, thinking. “With 125,000 to start. Two cents a share to get it all, but you never will. Four cents to get a majority. And I’ll throw in my 2000 or so and that gives us a better buffer. Plus whomever else you can get involved.”
“But at two cents, they would go bankrupt. Right?” the mouse asked.
“They could,” the vixen agreed. “But Yade is greedy. He’s power-hungry. Republic stock has hit bad times before. At one point it was a penny a share -- that’s how Haster got so much. But that was at the very worst of the Depression. When everyone was struggling. He’ll sell preferred stock to keep that from happening. We can ignore that for now, because he has to sell it to the other founders. I’ve seen a copy of the agreement. If they haven’t much free cash, or don’t want it, he’s going to hurt. He’ll have to go to the market. But even at two cents a share, that doesn’t change the fact that Republic owns free-and-clear their land, buildings, equipment and other gear. It just means they have no cash flow for new projects. They could wait it out until the funds come in from theaters. Plus Yade will keep his best talent. I’ll go, probably in a lot, but I’ll be sold off. And at two cents the stock's still a hundred-and-twenty thousand. He started the whole thing for less than half that. We’d be fighting others to buy it at four cents, unless we could 'poison-pill' the company. Or better, make people believe the company's a poison pill. We would have to hit hard and fast so Yade won’t have time to think of it or react. Say, if we could get him out of the country, then hit while he’s in-route and out of communication. Say, on a plane over the Atlantic. He likes to go to Europe. But will he when we need him to?”
“Isn’t Yade a stallion?” Jean asked softly.
“Yes, purebred Marwari. Proud of his heritage and has an insatiable hunger for purebred mares,” Charlene admitted “Burns through ‘em and God help the occasional little woman that happens to catch his eye. Its been rumored he accidentally killed a mink when he was in High School with his rough lovemaking. Nothing was ever proved, and he stays away from minks no matter how approachable they make themselves. But who are you going to find and get to Europe in time?”
“Does Republic get unsolicited screen tests from other countries?” the mouse countered.
Charlene laughed as deeply as she could. “Hon! Dozens a day. All the studios do. But Yade doesn’t look at them. Not unless....” She paused. “...They are of a really sexy mare. Innocent and purebred. Jean, who do you have in mind? And how?”
“Nikki, and by trickery,” the mouse explained. “You ever meet Nikki?” She took the slowly shaking head as a 'no'. “Lets just say that when the Gods poured Nikki’s mold, they poured in a whole extra bottle-or-three of sex appeal. It's just too bad she likes girls, because there isn’t a straight male who’s ever met her that hasn’t wanted her. She’s also known as the Red Lily.”
Charlene just shrugged. “I’ve heard the name around Jean, from you mainly. But I’ve never met her.”
Abruptly, the otter nurse walked in, interrupting the two's conversation. “You two have had enough time. Now, Mrs Marklin. If you will please leave, the Doctor would like to see if Miss Van Pugpug is still alive. She should be leaving Friday morning, so you can see her then.”
“Her accent's slipping,” Charlene stage whispered, then snickered. “This whole nation is nothing but B-actors.”
“You just guessed?” the mouse laughed.
“Tomorrow morning, and we will have a plan.” She nodded to the nurse, then stood and left.
“Now, let's just take your blood pressure,” the otter said as Jean left.
“Take yours!” Charlene quipped. “I wanna keep mine.”
At Kart-Tombs later that day the black mare known as Nikki Ibarra Lily Benevedo laughed. “Me? Screen Test? Oh yeah. Sure. “ She took a drink of the hot coffee that her feline wife Malou had poured for her. “You're serious, right?”
Jean nodded 'yes', thanking Malou for her own cup of coffee. “I can’t do it,” she admitted, patting her growing belly. “And truth be told, I wouldn’t interest him. Being a stallion, he has a serious thing for mares. Preferably purebred, innocent and pouring sex appeal.”
“And just where am I supposed to be living?” the mare asked, patting her lap for the Siamese to settle into. “Red Russia?”
“I thought that the Fillypines would be a good choice,” the mouse countered. “For two reasons. One, you do know the area and high society accent. Two, if we started the main assault two hours after he left Hawaii, it’d be a day or two before he could hope to react. Much less return. Nikki, when you put on all the charm, and you can, its hard for a straight man to say 'no'.”
“Yeah, but you still managed. Seriously, though?” Nikki asked. “All this to keep one non-Songmark girl employed? What’s next, take over the American government?”
“Thirty Songmark can do,” Malou giggled, folding her own lithe body deeply into the mare's impressive breasts. “Own all USA. Take over world.”
“Don’t bet on it,” Nikki countered as she sat her oversized coffee mug aside. She had no desire to accidentally burn her wife. “It’d take thirty-five girls to do it. Really, Jean: I agreed to put my ready cash into this, just as Katherine did. A chance to own part of an American movie studio? Certain income if war does come and we have to un-ass Spontoon for a few years. But take it over?”
“Really,” the mouse agreed. “Normally I wouldn’t even try, but things are lined up perfectly: One: There is a civil war going on inside Republic. It's still low-key though. Second: It is the Depression. Money is tight and any weakness makes backers pee their pants. Third: This Haster, who’s starting the civil war, is using his kid. And that kid is about as talented as a dead rock. Finally, Yade’s own weakness. You're perfect. We set up a screen shoot, you in the sexiest outfit you own. Acting as innocent as you can, but enough sultry to light the fires. We start our probing attack the day before your film arrives. Being as they screen the films at night, Yade won’t see it until the next day. Two, three days, he’s off for this hot mare. We are still releasing nothing but the truth. Until zero hour. And I said 'hard', Nikki, not impossible. Truth is, if you’d push a little harder, I would have fallen like most others.” She held up her paw as the mare started to open her mouth. “Too late, you lost your chance. I have my own pet man now. And he is very good at fulfilling my own special needs.”
“My loss. So who’s our inside man?” the mare asked.
“That will be dangerous,” Nikki stated. “She’s not Songmark. They catch on. Hon, it may be Hollywood, but she’d be found floating in a sewer with her throat cut, just as fast. Or dropped off a speedboat fifty miles out, with an anchor bound to her feet. She’s got guts, though.”
Their conversation and planning went on until long after midnight.
Saturday morning Charlene van Pugpug carefully got up from her bed at the McGee resort. She was still weak, but her body no longer wanted to just lay down and die. Plus her moon had ended last night, so she felt like she would live. Since the resort had but one shower for each sex, she found herself sharing her morning cleansing with a rather nosey hedgehog. More than once she explained that no, she wasn’t an actress. Yes, she had seen "Petunia's Perils". Yes, it was uncanny how much she resembled the lead actress and yes, she was already engaged, so no, she didn’t need to meet the woman's son. It was easy to lie to the nosey little woman. She was an actress, after all. Breakfast, she had paid extra to have in her room. There had been no argument from Butterfly, certainly not after the first young guest had run around screaming that there was a real live actress staying in the same resort as he was.
Finally, Jean and Lucy arrived. Jean's husband Louie was at her arm, and though the mouse agreed to wear her eye patch there was no way her costume would fit. Certainly not her belt of necessaries, so Lucy agreed to wear the belt. She absolutely refused to try on the costume though. They met their photography team at the water taxis and traveled across together. Charlene’s crate was already pre-positioned at the Koerker home that they were heading to, having arrived very early in the morning to be greeted by a very excited set of grandparents.
Nineteen Cantaloupe Way turned out to be a nice, two-story stone-and-timber home. It was painted various colors of blue, with two giant smiling yellow suns to each side of the front door. There were at least half a dozen bicycles in the front yard, indicating that the ‘convention’ was well under way. Getting up her courage, Charlene went up and rang the door buzzer. Almost immediately the same elderly basset hound from the customs shed arrived. “Great, their in tha' back. I can get into costume,” Mr. Koerker said, just before vanishing. His wife, another basset hound, quickly took his place.
“Oh my, so many. I must make more lemonade,” Mrs Koeker said in greeting. Opening the door wide she waved the group in. “This way please, come along. Oh, this will be such a surprise for the children. Come come come!”
Silently following the elderly hound, Charlene and her four companions soon found themselves stepping out into a makeshift alien planet. There were eight-foot-tall painted canvases of a landscape that must have come from magazines, along with the eight-foot-tall ‘base’ of a needle-style spaceship sitting on broken terrain, its fins painted in excellent three-dimensional detail.
“Somebody's got real talent,” Lucy commented. She stepped closer to the nearest canvas as it blew gently in the morning breeze. She inspected the short brush strokes for several minutes before giving judgement. “Darn good.” She decided, stepping aside as Jean joined her.
“Its as good as what we’ve had in the series,” the mouse informed her group. “This ship is better than anything I’ve ever seen. Now this is real talent.” Sounds of laughter caught their attention, reminding the group why they were here. “It’s a maze!” Jean realized. “And they should be coming out... over there.” She pointed at an opening blocked with colored ribbons. “Let's say we set up.”
Charlene turned around to the elderly Mrs. Koerker, asking the Basset hound about the crate she had sent.
“Oh, that! Behind here,” the woman answered, pulling back a painted cloth to expose the crate. “We not open but have wrecking-bar ready, so you could get into it easy. Nothing touched.”
“Thank you.” Charlene pulled the cloth closed, staring at the space-suited hero holding a ray-gun that faced her. “Amazing,” she whispered before turning to the photographers. “Shoot everything!” she ordered. Immediately the two began setting up their cameras.
Those voices were getting louder, but being in the native language the vixen couldn’t understand what was being said. She finally turned to the mouse, who had a rather strange expression on her face. “What is it?” she asked.
“Their recreating ah Flash Gordon escape,” the mouse answered. “Right after tha' aborted wedding. Ahn Dale.... Dale is bein' played by an Honored Mother.”
“A priestess?” Charlene asked, shocked. Since when did religion and science fiction mix? “Which one?” the vixen asked.
“Iff'in I am gettin' it right,” Jean answered. “That mouse, Oharu. We’ll know in a moment: Here they come.”
An oversized teenage polar bear stepped through first, his back to the adults as he pointed a wooden ray gun back the way he had come. He yelled something, then added “ZAP ZAP ZAP!” The sound of a body falling came soon after, followed by a campy, over-acted groan of pain. A moment later a shorter, adult mouse fem stumbled out, falling against him in a badly-played swoon. “DALE!” the bear gasped, easily snatching-up the ‘unconscious’ mouse.
Charlene stared at the amount of chest fur the mouse was showing. Butterfly McGee had taken quite a bit of liberty with that outfit. It might, though.... Just might pass the Hays Office. But not in that position. Abruptly the bear noticed the five adults, and yelled again. When he did the mouse opened her eyes, studying the visitors from upside down.
“Welcome!” she said in a voice that was sweet. A voice anyone who had met her when she had first arrived on Spontoon over a year ago would never have believed. “Are for convention fun?” she asked. Then looking up at the startled bear she said something, and he almost absently eased her down to the ground. Straightening her costume Honored Mother Oharu Wei came forward. “You,” she said, pointing at the vixen. “Charlene Van Pugpug: 'Petunia'. You, Jean Morris: 'Silver Star'. You, Lucy Ullrich: Writer.” Turning to her hosts, the mouse held out her paws. “ 'Petunia’s Perils' come to visit!” she called in bad English. “All speak English, please!”
What followed was a madhouse. In moments the three were surrounded by ten teenagers while the Priestess mouse slipped away, going into the house to help with refreshments. Charlene found herself bombarded with questions, as did Jean and Lucy. It was almost impossible to make any sense until one of the teenage girls gave a screech, causing everyone to look. What they saw caused an explosion of laughter as the top-hatted, cape-wearing Basset hound was apparently having lunch from the young hound's throat.
“Granddah!” another hound called, slowly making his way over to the busy ‘vampire.’ “If you kill Reesah, who’s gonna make fudge tomorrow?”
“Oh yes, fudge,” the ‘vampire’ echoed. He stood up, helping the mixed-breed girl to stand. She was, Charlene noted, bright red from laughing. Turning to his three visitors the ‘vampire’ appeared to study them. “Songmark, Songmark,” he said, then his eyes went wide. “LUNCH!”
His advance was stopped by Lucy stepping between him and the vixen Charlene. “My woman,” the cougar announced.
A second later the basset hound stomach growled. “But I’m so hungry!” he whined.
Giggling, Charlene placed a paw on Lucy’s shoulder, pointing at the other, slightly older girl. An Ocelot. “What about her?” she asked.
“Alliacea! Yes!” Holding his cape with open the play actor rushed to the Ocelot, who quite perfectly swooned, landing on her back across a covered picnic table with a great deal of neck exposed. A moment later her body was covered by the cape wearing play-actor.
Meanwhile the polar bear managed to get everyone else quiet. Turning to his visitors, he looked at the photographers who were busy ‘catching’ everything on film. “One of you eggheads find some chairs!” he ordered of his friends. “The good ones!” Then he smiled at Charlene. “Welcome!” he said in greeting. “We never really expected anyone to come. Certainly not real live actors. But you're more than welcome here.”
“Thank you,” Charlene answered, though still feeling weak herself, she made certain that Jean had the best seat before she sat. “I came to work with Lucy on a script, and Jean happened to be passing through on her way to meet her husband's family. So we thought that we’d see what a Science Fiction Convention was all about. I’ll be honest, I was expecting to find everyone discussing books. Not actually having this much fun.”
Just then the ‘vampire’ walked between them, an obviously dead Ocelot held in his arms. “Ah, lunch was sweet. Now to turn her into my Thrall!” He managed a respectful burp, and the girl he was carrying giggled. “Fresh virgin Ocelot, nothing better for any old vampire.” Then he very carefully eased the girl Alliacea down onto her feet, patted her head and went inside. “Must help with the refreshments,” were his parting words. Alliacea made her way over to Reesah, settling down on a stone beside her. She giggled again as she pulled out a fur comb and began straightening her neck fur.
“I’m Carlos,” the Polar Bear explained. “Leader of this motley crew. You’ve met Honored Mother Oharu, Reesah and Alliacea. The rest are Brian, Twobirds, Lance, Ricky, Fredrik, Ken and Simon.” As he spoke each boy stood, then sat again. “Lance and Reresah are siblings. They live here with their grandparents. Simon and Alliacea are twins. The rest of us are just us.”
Understanding that it was her turn Charlene spoke. “And as your Priestess said, I’m Charlene, this is Jane and that’s Lucy. Lucy wrote two of our best serials. The two men with cameras are here to film everything. K.L., my boss, wants to do a special release about your convention. If it's all right with you.”
Looking at his friends, the bear shrugged. “Can we have copies of the photographs?” he asked.
“Done!” the vixen agreed with a smile. “Now, we want to know as much about you and your group as you want to know about us. So lets switch questions, and first names only. Please? First, who painted those amazing backdrops?”
It was Alliacea who answered. “Honored Mother Oharu and I sketched them out. I painted them in because she didn’t have the free time.” She swallowed. “Jean: Everyone believes that you and Charlene are in love. But its obvious you're pregnant.” She left it there, embarrassed a bit by her noisiness.
Jean, though, laughed. “Okay,” she said, having noted that Reesah had found a notebook and mechanical pencil. “Let me get this set right, and on record. I haven’t any interest in girls. In fact I’m married to a very wonderful professor of Archeology named Leroy Marklin.” She patted her swollen abdomen. “And this is our first pup. We are hoping for a boy. Now, Petunia and Silver Star are in love. In fact, they are married now. But secretly, so please don’t tell anyone.” She looked to Charlene, who bit her lip, glanced at Lucy then shook her head 'no'. “Now Charlene, she and I tend to chase the boys at bars when we’re on location. Something I won’t be doing any more. But if you boys are interested in chasing her, I won’t stop you.” She silently giggled at the hungry look all the boys gave Charlene. Not one made a move or sound though.
She leaned back, easing the stress on her back before asking her next question. “So what do you guys normally do back here?”
This went on for over two hours, not slowing even while refreshments were served. Even Honored Mother Oharu answered her own questions, surprising the three adult women by admitting that she thought Flash Gordon was a twit, and that Dale should really marry Ming.
“But Ming’s the bad guy!” Jean gasped.
“Yes!” the mouse agreed. “And how many women like little bad in their mates? Belle has little darkness inside. She is great fun when lets free. I have little darkness. All do. If take all darkness away have disaster. If take all light away same thing. Ming has daughter. If all dark, he kill her long ago. Yes?”
“I guess so," the other mouse admitted. “But it's just a radio show.”
“Tell me!” Oharu ordered, her voice abruptly changing. This the three realized, was the true voice of a Spontoon Priestess. She was teaching, and she was serious. “Silver Star. She just fictional character? Or have part you in her?”
Jean blinked a few times. “I guess I have tah agree. But, yer ah Priestess. Ahn science fiction. It says other worlds. Other peoples. Tha' doesn’t cause you problems?”
Oharu held a paw up to her mouth stopping herself from laughing. “Silver Star. I Priestess Shinto and Spontoon. There no law either that this only world with intelligent beings. I look up at night. So very many stars. Cannot believe that no other worlds out there. People out there. Would be horror if we only planet with life. Would be what Christians call 'Hell'. To be alone, among so many stars. Yes?”
“Tha',” the Songmark mouse admitted, “was not what I expected.” She turned her attention to Charlene, who was herself mulling over the priestess’s words. “About time tah give out tha toys. Right?”
“What? Oh, yes. Lucy, will you help me? Seeing as Silver Star has gone all sofa girl on us and gained so very much weight.” She smiled at her friend. “Silver Star will not be capturing me tonight!”
That caused a great deal of laughter, then the teenagers went silent as the crate was unveiled. After the two had opened it, and started taking things out, one could hear the soft wind whisper above so silent it had become.
“Since I was coming K.L. arranged a few things to give out. They're just junk; things that the studio has earmarked for the garbage. And not all is Science Fiction related, but he did the best he could.” With Lucy’s help the vixen began giving things out. The scripts she discovered were well received, and she found herself and Jean signing each one of the Petunia’s scripts. Lucy signed the ones she had written, adding little sidelines to each signature. When the ship model came out the 'oos' and 'ahhs' were nearly overwhelming.
“Honored Mother should have that,” Carlos announced, though it was obvious that he really wanted it. So did the rest.
“Have one. Ming's ship,” the mouse priestess announced. “And dress. Not need two ship. No place for.”
“Then who should we give it to?” Charlene asked. There were still a dozen or so items to dig out, and it was the only ship model. It was Carlos who came up with an answer. “When does Lieutenant Wilma Deering first show up?” he asked.
“1928, the book Armageddon 2419 A.D” Reesah answered almost instantly.
“We have a winner,” the polar bear announced, “of our first trivia contest.” Though the others groaned and playfully complained, no one argued the point, as Charlene carefully placed the wood and tin Flash Gordon ship-model into the hound's paws. The look on the young girl's face was of absolute astonishment. It was as though she had been given the world. Of course, of hardwood and at twenty-four inches in length, it wasn’t light, either.
“They all have costumes on,” Lucy noted. “Yah got anything special in there, Charlene?”
“One of Silver Star's first belts, a robot head and ray-gun from The Phantom Empire. And a bunch of never-used movie posters for various mystery and science fiction movies.”
“Right, then this is what we do. You, me and Jean. We decide whose costume is best, and tha' top four get those things.”
“Add talent, too,” Charlene added. “You kids up to it?” The response was overwhelming, so while the teenagers prepared themselves Charlene set everything out. “Each winner get to pick what they want,” she explained. “First place goes first. Forth place gets the leavings. Only one item each. Except of course, the posters. They all go as a lot. Honored mother?”
“I must not,” Oharu answered. “This is a real costume, I did not make it. These adventurers made their own costumes. And I have enough. This dress, the model. To ask for more would be show greed. I have time with them. That most important to me.”
“I guess that goes for the art as well?” Charlene asked, thinking of that nickel-plated statue of Petunia still hidden in the box.
“Yes. Very!” the mouse agreed. “This day is for them.”
Charlene nodded in agreement. “You're nice people, Oharu. I need to find time to talk with you.” She turned to the group. “Okay, everyone come out one at a time from that exit,” she pointed at the fluttering ribbons, “Do your Shtick, then have a seat. When we have been bribed enough... I mean, tallied the scores, we’ll announce the winners. We are looking for costume, acting, and vocals. Oh, Brian. Is that a Petunia script I saw in your jacket?”
“Uh. Yes, Ma'm,” the coyote admitted. “But it's no good. Really.”
“May I read it before we leave?”
“Uh... Sure. If you want,” the boy agreed. “But it's really no good.”
“Thanks. But let Jean, Lucy and I decide if its no good or not. All right, Carlos, you send ‘em out. You're last, please.”
So the three women sat, watching children from fourteen to seventeen try their best to act as their favorite character, made notes and broke up laughing when Twobirds came out. He stood right at the entrance and announced “I am a guard of the glorious Emperor Ming the Merciless. Nothing will ever get by...” Abruptly a very female figure stepped out of the entrance, wacking the feline ‘guard’ on his head with a rolled up newspaper, then she dragged his ‘unconscious’ body back into the hidden corridor.
“For a Priestess,” Lucy commented. “Oharu does get into the action.”
Jane shrugged. “Priestesses have to take time off. To recharge their batteries. Playing the linen limbo isn’t the only way to get rid of stress. You’ll learn.”
Lucy turned to look at the vixen Charlene, who was still laughing so hard she was having trouble sitting up. “I see what you mean. But there’s a lot to be said for the limbo.”
Jean shook her head side to side. “'Second-years',” the mouse said softly. “You’ll learn. Eventually.” She looked back at the ‘stage entrance’, noting that Ming's guard was now sitting in the audience area and Oharu had again gone inside. This time to help clean up. One just did not expect that from a religious figure. “Next please,” she called.
Once their little impromptu contest was over and the prizes awarded, Charlene removed the very last item. It was that statue, and though not anatomically correct, it was in the still popular art deco style. It had probably cost the studio eighty dollars to make, and she had seen the one Haster's son had kept. That one was anatomically correct, and unlike this one, completely undressed. For the first time she felt that she would like to beat that kids head in with his private little fantasy statue. ‘Instead’ she thought. ‘We’ll just steal his studio. And his damn statue.’ She noted that Jean and Lucy were pouring over that script, and making notes in its margins. Poor kid, he’d probably never write another thing in his life.
“All right, last item,” she announced, catching the attention of everyone but Jean and Lucy. “I’ve decided to give this to the person who created these wonderful backdrops. Since Honored Mother Oharu has declined anything, it goes to Alliacea. And may I say this, young lady: When you hit eighteen next year, send me a letter. Studios are always looking for a talented artist and you certainty are one. I’ll be happy to sponsor you at Republic."
When the ocelot stepped forward to accept her prize, she gasped. “It's you!” she said in delight.
“Well, we didn’t have a spacehip, which would have been a whole lot better fit,” the vixen admitted. “You can always use it as a nut-cracker.”
“Oh no, never!” Alliacea gasped, running her fingers over the object as though it was the most precious thing in the world. “And thank you.” She abruptly kissed the vixen on her cheek and hurried back to her seat.
Amused, Charlene looked at her watch. “We better do the last photographs,” she announced, “since this thing was supposed to be over almost an hour ago. So, who wants to have their photo taken with a bunch of old ladies?” She laughed as every paw went up, including one of that priestess's paws, who had silently returned. Such a strange woman, but so easy to talk to.
The last thing they did before leaving was to give Mrs. Koerker Silver Star’s eyepatch. The old basset hound slipped it on only after being heckled by her grandchildren, looking into a wall mirror to see what it was like. “Oh, I am the naughty pirate Queen. Aren’t I!” she laughed, slipping off the patch and hiding it in a pocket of her dress. Then it was time to leave.
Later that afternoon after Charlene said goodbye to Jean, who was headed for her hotel room, her husband and of all things... an 'expecting' co-wife. A little later she settled down for dinner with the cougar, Lucy. “How bad did you two rip up Carlos’s script?” she asked as she opened the menu. They were at Parry's, mainly because they had eaten there before.
“Noh too bad,” the cougar answered. “Lotta notes tho'. Stuff ah felt he should expand on. Liked that he didn’ make ah big deal about Petunia ahn Silver Star bein' involved.” She looked up as the waiter arrived. “Coffee, black,” she ordered. “Ahn tha' chef's-salad please. Vinegar.”
“Very well, Madam,” the Russian answered, accepting her menu. “And you, Madam?”
“I think the same,” Charlene decided. “I really don’t feel like a heavy meal tonight. I think I laughed too much today.”
“Very good, Madam.” Taking Charlene’s menu, the waiter seemed to vanish.
“He’s good,” Charlene noted.
“Yeah. This was ah fun day. I’ve never met people tha' really read mah stuff. Just that occasional letter. Ah need to do this more often.”
Charlene reached across the small table, taking both of the cougar's paws into her own. “You need to write full-time Lucy. I know writers with a tenth your talent who make more in a month than Songmark charges for a full school year.”
“I’m not givin' up Songmark, Charlene. First, ah already paid tha' full cost, and I don waste money. Second, ah really do want tha' education.” She looked at the delicate paws encircling her own, Songmark roughened, paws. “Yer right though. I do love tah write.” She broke away as their coffee arrived, feeling the tingle in her paws from Charlene’s touch. She still wasn’t sure, and was really happy that Jane hadn’t spilled the beans about her own feelings at the convention. “Ah just don’t know. I was so sure when I arrived. What I wanted to do. But tha' more I learn, the less interesting what ah planned is.”
Charlene silently sipped her own coffee. They were in uncharted waters now. Oh, the vixen knew exactly where she was going, but would the cougar be there when she arrived? And what was before them.... The teenagers' convention, their energy, their imaginations had been a breath of badly needed fresh air. But ahead waited a battle. One the vixen knew she was unready for, but could never dare to lose. Perhaps tomorrow would give her the answer. For now, it was enjoy a light meal, and the company of the woman she now was certain that she loved.... But was uncertain if the emotion was reciprocated.