The Other Con

by Gerardo Horacio Porcayo

My wish was fulfilled; against all odds I arrived at Worldcon. San Jose was not the one described by Philip K. Dick in The Game Players of Titan, although a game of chance had brought me here; the lotería cards, painted by John Picacio, were the key to The Mexicanx Initiative. But which one was my winning card? La Valiente? La Campana? It didn't matter.

I attended the first events. Everything was bright and new. I tried to find the big masters in the crowd. Eventually I gave up and went to find something to eat. In a bar, with a burger in front of me, I caught the first glimpse of her. It was impossible; she died back on January 22nd. But there they were, her short hair, her features, her smile. I gave into temptation and went to the restroom to walk near her. A waitress blocked my view. Only when I’d gone through the door did I get a blurred sight of her. My Pavlovian conditioning delayed me, and when I came out, she was gone.

I minimized the phenomenon as overcharged imagination and kept my tourist schedule. I went to our Reception Party. I enjoyed it like crazy, until we had to move to the bar. And there, I saw her again, surrounded by many smiling people. I tried to approach her, but when I reached her spot, she was gone.

So it went, every day. Always outside of the Convention Center, always in public places with drink and food, tables away from me.

The day before my last one, I noticed that every writer was exactly as their photographs: Martin, Haldeman, Niven, Silverberg, Rucker, Cadigan, Gunn, Robinson, inside Worldcon; outside, I discovered a homeless person who resembled Butler, and a second one, Sturgeon. I gave him a quarter and when he thanked me, I barely understood him. In a restaurant, surrounded by people, smiling and unreachable, was Ursula, again. My card was La Sirena, I concluded.

That night at the party, I tried to tell Gaby about my unusual sights. “I don't understand your English,” she said, “you're too drunk,” but I was speaking in Spanish. We went from one room to the next, and again. At the end, even the bar was closed. Suddenly, I discovered I was alone. Everything was quiet and empty. I walked many deserted blocks to my hostel.

In the morning I was afraid to leave my room, but the city was as the first day. I attended panels alone. I tried to speak to strangers, only to find shocked faces. I ate alone, and there she was, away from me, smiling to some other people.

The Hugo Ceremony was the climax. We went together to the Losers Party, and nobody missed my voice. With the delivery of the Alfie Bester Award to Picacio, I went up to the dais with my friends and after a long photo session came my turn to hold the trophy.

“This is the closest you're gonna be to this kind of award,” she said in my ear, I turned and saw the back of her neck. I gave up the trophy and followed her as she left the party. Her steps were amazingly quick. I almost reached her next to an alley, where Ellison, Dick, and I don’t know who else were holding bottles. I hurried across the street.

Then I saw the blue and red lights. “You can’t cross in the middle of the block,” said the policeman. I opened my mouth and what came out made him ask me for my papers. Of course, I'd left my bag at the party. They put me inside the patrol car, and as we passed the alley, there were more writers with her. I made out Farmer, Heinlein, and Del Rey.

They interrogated me all night long, unable to understand me. They put me on a plane.

Today I woke up in this hospital. Out the window I can see the city in ruins, and I'm almost sure it's my place of birth. A handful of people pass by on the sidewalk. I recognize them as some of the victims of the earthquake last year. I turn to find the fallen ceiling, the cracks in the wall. I put my hand in my pocket and find La Calavera, the very Death that Picacio painted.

Pablo Defendini