"Darth Vader would so kick Kirk's ass."
"You're an ass. Kirk would wipe the floor with him."
"Wipe my ass. Darth Vader would..."
Joel moved past the arguing conference attendees, not about to get sucked into another Star Trek versus Star Wars debate. No one ever won those things and the TV shows and movies were long gone except for various new starts. The last altercation he'd seen, someone had gone mental with a plastic light saber over something said about George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars. Not a pretty picture. A Storm Trooper ala Star Wars had had to break things up.
He turned to find Baxter, one of his gaming buddies, practically dancing as he ran to catch up with Joel. As they'd just seen each other twenty minutes ago before the panel change, there must be something going on. Baxter didn't get excited most days. "What's up, Bax?"
"Guess who deathtron1 says is here?" deathtron1 was another gamer buddy of theirs. He always used the little d for his tag or gamer name of deathtron1. A bunch of the guys that Baxter and Joel played online games with were at the local gaming science-fiction convention.
"Who? Stan Lee?" It would have to be a geek icon like the creator of Spider Man and Iron Man for his buddy to get so excited. He didn't remember seeing anyone too exciting listed on the lineup. But maybe he had missed them among all the classes and gaming sessions or maybe there had been a surprise addition.
Now that perked his interest. "Really?"
"Really. deathtron1 says he saw Samatra300 this morning, and we'll be surprised when we see them for ourselves." Baxter cocked his head to the side. "Did you hear that Stan Lee would be here or something? Because that would be freaking awesome."
Joel shook his head. "Nah. One year we'll make it to somewhere where Lee is appearing. deathtron1 saw Samatra300? He's not just yanking your chain?"
"He said he saw it on their gamer tag." They all had nametags. Most of them had put their gamer handles on their tag somewhere. deathtron1 only had that ID on his nametag. Baxter Savage had both his name and poezzl20, his gamer tag. Joel had his real name, Joel Alton, and his gamer tag of crosscountry500. He'd chosen the name for his bike riding. Not that he'd ever gone bike riding cross country. But he would one day.
He and Baxter were in a group of game players. They'd started out playing the game, Halo 2, a few years ago in a group called a Clan and several of them still played together on newer games on Xbox 360 despite the doing away with Clans. They'd almost all met in person either at gamer parties or conventions. Except for Samatra300. It had almost become an obsession with them all to meet Samatra300.
"Maybe he isn't a super villain after all." Baxter laughed behind the comment, kidding around. But they'd all had their own thoughts as to why Samatra300 was avoiding meeting anyone from online. Ideas had ranged from super villainy to a horrific disfiguring accident.
"Let's see if we can find him." Joel rubbed his hands together. There was a gaming session of Halo 2 later and maybe they could all play. Halo 2 was due to be taken offline at some point soon so he'd better get some playing while he could. Samatra300 was one of the better shooters out there. Not to mention he'd finally get to meet the gaming buddy he'd come to call friend. Odd when your best friend wasn't someone you'd ever met. Joel was mostly a loner. It was why he and Baxter got along so well.
But even Baxter wasn't Samatra300. There had been times after talking, that Joel had thought if Samtra300 was a woman, she'd be perfect for Joel. They were different enough to have stimulating conversations and alike enough to have the same interests. It was a moot point. Joel wasn't attracted to men and Samatra300 wasn't likely to be a woman.
"And how do you propose we do that?" Baxter fell in line behind him. "We have no idea what he looks like and we can't read everyone's tags. Not to mention, well, they made the damn things at the wrong height to read women's names easily. You know--so you're not staring at their boobs."
"We'll use my detective skills."
Baxter snorted. "Just because you read Nancy Drew..."
He stopped and glared at his buddy, who flashed him a shit eating grin after mentioning the teenage detective. "Sherlock Holmes. And that..." He preferred the British solver of crimes to any teenager thought he'd read it, longer ago than he cared to think about. "...was when I was five." He'd been an early, avid reader.
"Well, no shit Sherlock, tell us how we'll find him."
Joel scanned the vendor room. Comic books, costumes, super hero paraphernalia and gaming supplies dominated the room. There were lots of people roaming all dressed up as their favorite character. There were lots there geekier than he and Baxter. One of them could be Samatra300.
How many nights online had he and Samatra300 talked about life? They'd often stayed around while the others had all left. Baxter and he were friends and they worked together, before finally becoming roommates. But he'd always felt a kinship with Samatra300. One that he'd never felt with any of the other gamers. It was why it had become so important to him to meet Samatra300.
He snapped his fingers, remembering a panel about to start and aligning that with one of his and Samatra300's many conversations. "There's a session on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly. They're deconstructing Joss Whedon. Samatra300 thinks that Whedon is God. Let's go see if he's there." Whedon was the creator of the two television shows that had become legend among certain circles.
Baxter shrugged and followed him again. "After Dollhouse people still like Whedon that much? Really?"
"Some people liked Dollhouse and still view Whedon as God." He'd watched a few episodes of Dollhouse, created by Whedon. Eliza Dushku in skimpy outfits? Yeah, he'd watched. Liked the storylines too, but it hadn't been Baxter's favorite. "That's where Samatra300 will go. I'll guarantee it."
"Guess that's why they pay you security guards the big bucks."
"I wish." As if. He didn't make a fortune playing building cop. Neither did Baxter playing code monkey. Baxter was a computer programmer in the building that Joel guarded. It had been how they'd met. Now, they roomed together. Gamed together. Conned together.
They made it to the panel with a couple of minutes to spare before it started. Joel scanned the room. He looked carefully up and down the aisles for anyone who might be Samatra300.
A decidedly feminine body bumped into him as she squeezed past him, brushing her full body against his. "Excuse me."
An erection popped up probably due to cramped quarters and that it was a babe who'd bumped him with curves aplenty. "Sorry." He muttered the words under his breath as he looked around. Didn't see anyone who looked like what he pictured Samatra300 looking like. He continued scanning, maybe he'd been wrong about where Samatra300 would go? No, Samatra300 had to be here. It was one of the few workshops talking about Whedon. He didn't see Samatra300 missing that chance.
The woman looked back and stared at him.
He didn't offer up anything. When he'd first started going to gaming conventions, there had been few women. Now, they were more prevalent. More were apt to say they were a geek. Probably why this bodacious babe was there. Now his boner popped up for real. Nothing like geek attraction. Joel had no illusions. He'd never find a woman who would understand his tendencies toward the geek world. Which was why he was a loner.
He couldn't help checking out her body. She did not have that waif-thin model look that made him want to force-feed her. No, this woman had angles and sides. She'd be fun to explore. She had blond hair pulled back into a pony tail. There was a pen stuck behind her ear. She wore a t-shirt that hugged her breasts like they wanted to spill out from under the material. Would be quite a sight if they ever happened to. She was gorgeous. Hardly a geek with the way she looked.
Yeah, she could play bad cop to his good cop anytime. Play Leia to his Han Solo from Star Wars. Any old time she wanted to.
A babe like that had to be taken. No way someone wouldn't have snapped her up, especially coming to a convention like this.
You should say something to her.
He took one more scan of the room. Why a babe now? When he was so close to finding Samatra300 and meeting them in person.
She cocked her head to the side, a habit Baxter had too. Her lips seemed to purse up in a fine line.
Where had Baxter gone anyway? Joel turned to see where Baxter had stopped. He was hanging back, checking out an easel with the schedule for the next session's choices.
He turned to face the voice. The feminine, sweet as a bell voice. It rolled across him like water. The woman, the babe, had spoken to him. "What?" She'd said his gamer tag. Asked if that was him? For her, he could be anyone. "Oh. Yeah. I'm crosscounty500." Huh, maybe she was a newbie to the online gaming community. He'd met a few women online in the last year. He couldn't wait to find out her gamer tag.
Before he could lower his gaze, a big smile broke across her face and sucker punched him. He'd never understood what the poets talked about with sunshine and comparing women to a summer's day. Now he could see what they crooned about. She was beautiful. Sunny.
"Do I know you?" He managed to croak out. "Do you play on Xbox 360?" Maybe he could hook up with her later. Stranger things had happened.
She laughed. "Yes, you know me." She moved closer and the scent of her perfume reached his nostrils. Light and airy, it suited her. "I'm Sam. Or rather you know me as Samatra300."
Baxter knocked over the easel.
Joel didn't do anything so clumsy but he stared. Couldn't form a word. Looked like stranger things were happening right now.
This was exactly why Sam had never come to these conventions or gaming parties before. Why she'd hid behind a male persona online for so long and was only now coming out as a woman.
She never should have come to this convention but the allure of meeting crosscounty500 had been more than she could resist. Why shouldn't she want to meet him? Now look at him. A man who couldn't believe that Samatra300 had been a woman all along. He looked thunderstruck.
Sam gazed at the man in front of her. He was everything she'd thought he would be. A few inches taller than her. Lean. Muscular. His dirty blond hair was tousled as though he'd just gotten up out of bed. He had a biker's body. He had posted his "real" picture and not some model or actor. The picture had gone to her and her only. He'd sent her his but never asked her to post hers. Her heart pounded as her eyes met his face.
A noise made her glance to the man who'd knocked down the easel. Both men stared dumbstruck at Sam with goofy grins on their faces. Grins that she could wipe away in any online game with guns but had to endure right now, standing in front of them like an idiot.
Yes, this was why she hadn't wanted to come here.
"Samatra300?" Joel croaked the words from lips that seemed to want to tremble. "You're Samatra300? I was looking for you." His eyes darted around the room again. "You can't be. You...can't be." He looked as disbelieving as someone who'd been told George Lucas was a fake.
Another reason she hadn't wanted to come.
She'd lied to her best friend for too long. Coming clean with him might not make him happy with her. Or forgiving. This could be the end of their friendship.
She didn't blame him for that. Her gaze skittered to the front where the seminar hadn't started yet. Much as she'd like to stay, she wanted to get some things straight with crosscounty500. Joel. He had every right to be angry. She only hoped they could work past her lie back to the friendship they'd shared. She couldn't lose that easy camaraderie that had come with midnight snacks and chatting online. "Can we go somewhere and talk?"
He still seemed baffled. "You're a girl." He shook his head as if to clear it and start over. "A woman."
Her eyes briefly closed. She liked his amendment of what she was. She hadn't been a girl in a long time. She nodded. "I am a female. With boobs and everything."
"Oh yeah." With that his voice softened and did a once over of her body. His eyes lingered and she felt them hover over her much like a touch.
She rolled her eyes. "Yes, I have boobs. Get over it." Couldn't help the little fluttery feeling that peaked in the pit of her stomach though at his once over. This was Joel looking at her. She was used to getting the "stare." Harassment from gamers when they'd see her in person and discover she had female parts, not that she'd revealed herself more than once. That had been a long time ago when she'd first started gaming. They hadn't seemed to get past the fact she had breasts. But somehow it felt different with Joel. Seeing his eyes on her made things happen down deep inside that she couldn't explain.
The Mountain Dew. Had to be the Mountain Dew.
Scraping noises came from behind them of metal scraping on tile that was like chalk going down a blackboard.
A thin man struggled to set up the easel behind them.
She cocked her head to the side, surveying him. He'd come there with crosscountry500. Could he be who she thought he was? As he'd knocked down the easel, probably so.
Joel saw her looking and said, "poezzl20. Baxter. My roommate." He shook his head, whether at her or Baxter, she didn't know.
"Ahhhh." She glanced back at Baxter as he finally got the stand to stay up and sauntered their way. "Hey poezz. I'm Samatra300. Sam." She held out her hand for him to shake.
He saluted instead of taking her hand. "Nice to meet you. Finally." His smile was as genuine as one could get. He'd always been nicer to the girls who had started joining than most the last year or so. She hadn't worried about telling him. Crosscounty500 had been nice to girl gamers too. But she'd agonized over telling him her secret.
An awkward moment of silence fell. Broken by someone at the front of the room clearing his throat as the panelists took their seats at the table. The seminar on Joss Whedon was about to begin, and they were staring at each other.
Her lips pursed. So much for the Whedon as a God seminar. She had to straighten this out first. "Let's go somewhere and talk." She motioned to Joel and by default, Baxter.
Both of them followed her.
Was it her imagination or did Joel's eyes burn her from behind? He seemed to have better than x-ray vision. She could feel the heat of him.
She swung her ass a little bit more than usual as they walked. Added a little jiggy to her step. After all, crosscountry500 was watching. She liked him watching a whole lot more than she ever thought she would. That was odd. He was only her friend after all. But she didn't stop the movement.
She sat down at one of the high tables at the hotel bar. Motioned to Joel to sit down.
Baxter seemed torn between sitting down and running for the nearest Star Trek uniform. Probably would puff out his chest as he put it on. He was a cute guy. Just seemed a little awkward in his own skin. He was probably much more confident when he was around computers. Joel had said he was an underrated whiz with them.
Joel cleared his throat. "Wasn't there a 'thing' you wanted to check out?" He motioned with his head.
Baxter looked back and forth between the two of them. His face lit up as he divined what Joel was trying to tell him. "Yes, I have that 'thing.' I'll see you guys later after that 'thing.'" He waved and scurried away from the two of them.
Leaving her alone with Joel.
The man who had become her confidant over the time they'd gamed together. She didn't know whether to be happy or scared to death to be alone with him. What if they couldn't find anything to talk about without a keyboard between them? Worse, what if he didn't forgive her for her deception?
He was the man who she'd told more about herself in the gaming universe than anyone else, even people in her real life. She kept her online life separate from her real life. She had to secure this relationship though. Couldn't lose it. Couldn't jeopardize it in any way. She needed their late night talks like she needed to breathe. He could always help her out with anything she had to figure out. He seemed to know her better than she knew herself.
He took his seat and stared at her as though he could imprint her face into his memory forever. "I can't believe you're...you."
She let out a cautious smile. "I'm me." She settled back in the chair. "I want to apologize first."
Yeah, other guys might have let her get away without the acknowledgement that she'd screwed up. Not Joel. She'd known he would stick to the letter of the law.
He always did. He was a leader in their gaming group. He enforced the rules and never wavered from making people play nice.
"I'm sorry I never told you I was a woman." She bit her lip. He was a huge reason she almost hadn't come. Why she'd been so reluctant to show up at anything that involved the group she'd been a part of for so long even after women had started being involved in gaming.
"Why didn't you? I mean we shared...so much." He took his time with his words, obviously considering them carefully. Maybe there was hope for them yet. Or maybe he just wanted to find out her motivations before he told her to get lost.
The waitress came over and after a brief interruption for drink orders, bustled away from their conversation.
"I've gamed for a while. Since I was a teenager." As soon as such a thing existed as a gaming system, she'd been on there playing. The social aspect of online gaming had appealed to her so she'd jumped on board that once it started.
"I can tell. You're really good."
Those simple words filled her with so much pride. He was complimenting her prowess as a gamer. Joel didn't often compliment, at least not on the computer. "Thank you." She continued, "I got tired of...the drama that came with being a girl. So I became Sam. Didn't tell people my gender unless forced, but a boy gamer got so much less shit from others, I eventually became completely Sam instead of Samantha." It had been a facade she'd lived for years before she'd even met crosscountry500. "I gave the impression I was a male."
No one called her that name. Except her mother. But somehow from Joel's lips it sounded better than it ever had. "Samantha. Sam. Samatra300. We're one and the same. I'm the same online as in real life. Only I'm a woman in real life." Her online persona was no different than her real life personality. She'd never understood how people could be one thing in one and something different in another, but some could. It just wasn't for her. From talking to Joel online, he was the same way. Or he'd given that impression.
"But you never told me you were...a woman. Why didn't you ever tell me?" He didn't sound hurt, but the idea was there. She'd told him everything else. Why hadn't she told him that fact about herself?
The waitress sat down the drinks and ran away. Maybe she heard the direction the conversation was taking.
"I became Sam online a long time ago. I...well, the longer I stayed in Sam mode, the harder it was to tell you that I was a woman." The truth. She'd started to tell him countless times but lost her nerve. Anyone would be easier to tell than him. She'd finally registered for the convention, knowing that this was something she wouldn't take back. She wouldn't renege on doing this again. No matter what. Telling him face to face had seemed better than telling him across a keyboard. At the time. But when he looked at her with those eyes, she wasn't sure of that now. "I am sorry. About the pretext."
He took a sip of his drink and frowned. "I think I understand why you started out as Sam instead of Samantha. I know girls get a lot of hell thrown their way when they start, especially when you did. Why come out now?"
She pushed a loose hair behind her ear. Found her pen. She'd been looking for that. She shoved it in deeper. "More women are gaming." She took a big deep breath. "And truth of the matter...I wanted to meet you. In person." She'd wanted to reveal herself in a way she couldn't seem to do online. Wanted to finally meet the man behind her late night chats. See him in Technicolor. She'd wanted to see crosscountry500 in her mind when the resumed chatting online.
He didn't smile, which didn't put her at ease one little bit. "You wanted to meet me? For real?"
Real seemed to be a popular topic. "Weren't you looking for me when I saw you? Why would you flock toward someone you hadn't even met? It's for the same reasons I had to come here to see you."
"I've met you. Online." He denied nothing, which made more warmth stream across her body. He had gone running to find her. She'd seen him checking out name tags. Before she knew it was him or that he was looking for her.
"Yes, but not in 'real life.' I wanted to see you. To talk to you. See your face when you smile so I know what it looks like when you type to me." Sounded corny out loud. Had sounded much better in her own head.
"We could always webcast..."
She laughed but took his hand in hers. "Then I couldn't touch you. Not like this." Her stomach dipped low as their skin met. Hot. Slightly sweaty. His hand was rough. Strong as he clutched hers. Her throat dried out. Heat rose up over her body.
Maybe the webcast would have been a good idea.