I hate conventions.
If you've ever gone to one, you'll understand exactly what I mean. I'm not real to them. I don't exist. Well, I do, and that's why I'm there. They all want to see me, touch me, assure themselves that I'm some physical thing, but that's the point at which my interest for them fades. I'm not a person in their eyes. I'm a fantasy made flesh. I'm a celebrity, of a sort, and that's what they want. They want the embodiment of their dreams.
I knew my arrival at the hotel would be noticed and propogated to the crowd milling in the dealers' room, the video room, and the rest of the fan-infested areas, so I didn't bother dropping into them. I'd have been crushed in the wave of well-wishers that wanted a lock of fur or something if I had, anyway. When I signed my name at the desk, I waved over the clerk and spelt out, in rapid ASL, if he could please do me the "courtesy" of informing someone in charge of scheduling that I had arrived and was in room 319, but that I wanted to lie down for a while? He nodded and said he would, and I slung my duffel over my shoulder and made my way up to the room, key gripped tightly between my fingers.
Three-nineteen was an executive suite, as befitting my status as the guest of honor for the umpteenth year running. My presence alone generated who-only-knew how much revenue for the convention and the hotel itself. At just under three thousand of us world-wide, we were still pressworthy, though the news media had grown bored with us after a few years of living in the limelight. They'd probably want to do a ten-year reunion in the near future. I wondered sardonically if they'd want Albert in the group photo, humping someone's leg wearing a straitjacket.
The bed was king-sized, made with a thick comforter and soft pillows, a small piece of chocolate resting on the pillow. I snickered and threw it in the trash; telling them that it was poisonous would have them scuttling about in a frenzy of apology and asskissing, but they meant it in the best of intentions. The road to hell, I thought.
I lay back on the bed, duffel tossed across the clothing rack, and closed my eyes, ticking off the seconds internally, waiting for the inevitable. It didn't take long. Four minutes, twenty-two seconds after starting the count, I heard the telltale rap of knuckles against my door. I rose and padded to the hall, tail flicking, peeking out the security port. Male, human, probably early twenties. Glasses, short-cropped spiky dark hair, a wisp of stubble on his chin and cheeks. I sniffed, but the only thing I smelled was a hint of soap and fresh sweat from the California heat, a pleasant shock to my nose. I stood upright and, tail held high, unfastened the chain on the door and pulled it open, cocking my head to one side in the universal gesture of inquiry.
"Hey." He was wearing a black shirt with a stylized wolf's head on the shoulder and a pair of khaki bermuda shorts, with sandals over his socks, all of it apparently freshly laundered according to my nose. His voice was low, but still shaking a bit. I could hear his heartrate jump when I opened the door, and the scent of his sweat changed, taking on a metallic tinge. Nervous, I knew, and I fought back the urge to sigh openly.
Instead, I waved him into the room, trying to smile charmingly and then turning and walking back to the bed, my tail flicking back and forth behind me, reaching behind me to crook my finger at him. When I looked at the door from my perch on the bed, though, he was still standing in the doorway with a puzzled look on his face, his nervousness gone to confusion.
I cocked my head to one side and smiled, tilting my head forward to give him the big brown eyes; I knew they loved that. Why're you still over there? I signed rapidly, still in ASL, ears and tail raised.
He raised his arms, and it actually took me a moment to realize he was signing back, in clumsy furlan, I want talk?
Since he started it, I switched to furlan myself; it was a lot easier than American with three fingers. I could do it with two, if I were hoofed; it'd been designed for use among furries, after all. Of course you do. You could talk from here just as easily, right? I patted the bed for emphasis. I could already feel my insides churning and tried to force it back into its box. Four hours and already I was feeling nervous and edgy. Another and I'd be crawling the walls.
He shrugged, a gesture that meant the same in every language, and walked over to the bed. As he sat down, I scooted over and rested my paw on his knee. He stiffened and jerked back. "Hey!" he said aloud, returning to
I withdrew the paw and inclined my head backwards, baring my throat for a moment, the furlan shortcut apology. A show, I guessed. Some of them just want to see me, but don't want to be involved. Probably he's got a mate already and doesn't want to feel like he's cheating on zim. "What did you want to discuss?" my paws asked as he settled back onto the bed.
Want meet Todd Messner, he replied in his awkward gestures; he probably only barely knew it, but it was endearing so I didn't say anything. Want talk court case, most of all.
Just talk? My paws fluttered a bit, then rested on the bed as I leaned over them, gazing into his eyes, hoping he would just hurry up and let me know what he wanted so we could get around all the foreplay.
He looked surprised again. What else?
Hard to get. I sighed internally but had gotten too good at the game to let it show. Oh, you know... a little of this... a little of that... I traced one claw around on the bed, my tail slowly swaying behind me, still studying his eyes while the fingers on my other paw spelled rapidly what I wanted to say. All you have to do is ask.
At that, he looked genuinely startled. "Say what?" He had slipped back into English.
Oh, don't be so coy. I signed, perhaps a bit testily, my fingers jerking. I know why you're here; it's not like it's any real secret....
"You sick fuck, is that all you're here for?" His words shocked me into dead rigidity, even as he rose off the bed and stormed towards the hall. "Christ, there're some sick people here and you're one of'em!" The door slid open on silent hinges and caught itself after he slammed it, whispering shut with a hiss of escaping air.
The insistent demand of my loins eventually broke through the numbed shock of my unnamed guest's departure and I ripped off my clothes, grabbing for myself. Fortunately, someone else was along presently who was more than willing to help me satisfy my needs. We danced between the sheets, then, each of us using the other for our own benefit, a beneficial exchange to all involved.
I made the rounds of the dealer's room at 18h00 as I was scheduled in my appearance contract, and afterwards I served as a model for several local artists, the pictures from which would be sold to help pay for the con itself, the artwork to be signed by both artist and myself. The whole time, though, my mind kept hauling itself back to his outburst. His outburst. I didn't even know his name.
Why did it bother me so much? I found holding the pose difficult, even though I was supposed to be relaxed. In truth, I was tense, irritated over what should've been a passing issue. I was here because I needed it and they wanted it. It's not my fault he misunderstood that. I tried telling myself that, but I couldn't make the words ring true, even in my own head. By the end of the session, my paws were sweaty and I was fighting not to pant, even as my body was telling me it was time for another fix. The suggestion of a nude modelling session with one of the artists, and some quick research into vulpine anatomy solved that problem, but it left me with an even bigger nagging doubt.
I couldn't to sleep a wink, just tossing and turning in bed. The sheets seemed starched to cardboard and the comforter irritated my fur. Curling up on the carpet was worse. In the end I gave up and went roaming the hallways, not really sure what I hoped to find but knowing it wasn't in my hotel room. A few people asked me if I was alright, that I was up really late, but for the most part they were just so glad to see me and have my attention for fifteen seconds that a plastic smile and a few pat gestures got me past the need to interact.
I found him sitting in the all-night restaurant attached to the hotel around two in the morning. He wasn't with anyone, just sitting alone, watching the news on the television over the counter, sipping coffee and picking his way through a plate of eggs and ham. He looked up as I entered and rose but I held out a paw to him, looking at him, trying to give him the big eyes without overdoing it.
He stood out of his chair and dug in his pocket for a moment, then sighed and dropped back into it heavily, looking back down at his plate. Ignoring the obvious turn of heads, I walked over and pulled out another chair at his table. When my tail was through the back and I was almost comfortable, he said, "First you think I want to fuck you and now you think I want to talk to you," punctuating his words with a jab at his plate.
I froze again and some part of my mind rose up in indignation at being addressed like that. I stuffed that part of my mind back down and bared my throat to him, holding my head back, my eyes looking up at the ceiling.
He shook his head and looked down at his plate. "Stop it already, you look like somebody just kicked you."
I lowered my muzzle to gaze at him, and I lifted my paws to start talking, but suddenly I had no idea what to say. I sat there, waiting for the words to come to me. You wanted to talk about—
"Hey, hey, slow down," He snapped, then sighed. "I'm sorry, your paws are shaking and my furlan's not that good."
I sighed and nodded once, another universal motion, then pulled out a palmtop and scribbled on it for a moment, passing it to him to read. WOULD THIS WORK BETTER?
"Yeah, sorry." He nodded. "About earlier, too. I... I lost my cool back there."
I shook my head, writing fast. THE FAULT WAS MINE. Seeing the words on the screen, I had to admit their reality. I THOUGHT THAT WAS WHY YOU WERE THERE.
"Shit," was his only reply for several seconds. "You must get hit on a lot here."
I shrugged. IT SERVES A NEED. WHY WERE YOU THERE, IF NOT FOR THAT?
He read the screen, then looked up at me. "I wanted to talk about the court case. I was a poli-sci major in college, wanted to be a lawyer but didn't pass the pre-law exams. I'm doing grad work right now, and I thought your court case would be a great basis for a thesis. I tried to email you but all I had was your public address."
WHY DIDN'T YOU WRITE ME?
He shrugged, picking at his congealing eggs with his fork. A waitress came by and filled his coffee, then asked if I wanted something to eat. I looked up at her and shook my head; either she was oblivious to who I was, or she didn't care. Either way, I was grateful. She wandered off and he continued. "I didn't figure you read that address; it was the one on your site, so I thought it probably just dumped to some lawyer or secretary for scrutiny, so I didn't bother. I knew you worked the con circuit." He smirked darkly. "I didn't know you worked the con circuit. I was... I dunno. I had this vision of a statesman, of a young revolutionary fighting for freedom. I wasn't expecting a gigolo." He spit the words, mocking us both.
I sighed, my ears drooping. MAY I EXPLAIN? I THINK I CAN SATISFY BOTH YOUR INTERESTS AT ONCE.
I passed him the pad and waited for him to read, trying not to look hopeful. I couldn't believe what I was doing, and yet his words had so badly burned me that I found myself wanting to unburden. It seemed almost religious, confessing my sins to a stranger.
He looked up from the PDA and shrugged, passing it back to me. "Whatever."
PLEASE. FINISH YOUR BREAKFAST; THIS WILL TAKE SOME TIME. I held out the screen so he could see it, waited for his nod, and than began writing, scrawling the loops and whorls of the palmtop's native recognition software.
WHEN UPLIFTING BECAME A REALITY, THE SCIENTISTS WENT CRAZY, OVERGROWN KIDS WITH THE BIGGEST TOYBOX IN THE WORLD. WE WERE CREATED, AT FIRST, WITH EVERYTHING THEY COULD WANT. INTELLIGENCE, WIT, CHARM, LIBIDO. WE WERE THEIR FANTASY PLAYMATES COME TO LIFE. WE WERE WHAT THEY WOULD BE IF THEY COULD BE US. THEY WERE PROBABLY IN THE FANDOM.
THEY STARTED OUT MAKING US DEPENDENT ON SEX. THEY WIRED OUR NERVOUS SYSTEMS TO REQUIRE SEXUAL STIMULUS ON A REGULAR BASIS, ENGINEERED PHEROMONES INTO OUR SWEAT, BUILT US SMART, AS CLEVER AS THEY COULD, GAVE US PERFECT BODIES. THEY TANK-RAISED US TO SIXTEEN IN TWO YEARS, CRAMMING US FULL OF THEIR IDEA OF WHAT WE WERE SUPPOSED TO BE. I CONTACTED A LAWYER WHEN I LEARNED WE HAD BEEN BUILT TO NEED SEX TO FUNCTION NORMALLY. THEY TRIED TO ENGINEER A RACE OF SEX SLAVES.
I paused, tapping the pen against the side of the case. WE LEFT MESSNER WHEN WE REALIZED WE HAD THE FREEDOM TO DO SO, AND WE TRIED EVERYTHING WE COULD TO CURE OURSELVES. DRUGS, MEDITATION, COUNSELLING, EVEN SURGERY. NOTHING WORKS. ALBERT, ANOTHER MEMBER OF BATCH ONE, CASTRATED HIMSELF HOPING IT WOULD GO AWAY WITHOUT THE STIMULUS. HE'S IN THE CLARK INSTITUTE NOW. I closed my eyes, remembering. Albert had been even more harder hit than I had; his eyes looked haunted when he wasn't in the throes of passion, and his days had been spent masturbating or looking for partners when he wasn't eating or sleeping. In the end, he'd taken a knife to himself and called 911. They fixed his body, but they could never fix his mind. The last time I went to visit him in the ward, there was nothing left of him, just a crazed wolfman grinding himself against the wall, the floor, anything that moved. They'd declawed him after the second time he'd tried to kill himself. They would've been more humane if they'd shot him.
I resumed writing while he ate. AFTER SIXTEEN MONTHS, TWO SURGICAL OPINIONS AND TONS OF GOVERNMENT MONEY SPENT ON FAILURE, WE SUED OUR CREATORS. IT WAS MY IDEA, SO MY NAME WAS THE ONE ON THE SUIT. IN CREATING US THE WAY THEY HAD, THEY HAD DELIBERATELY CRIPPLED US. MESSNER DIDN'T SEE IT THAT WAY, BUT THE COURTS DID. BATCH TWO WAS TOO LATE TO SAVE OR ABORT, SO THEY CAME OUT AS DAMAGED AS WE WERE, BUT THE HIGH COURT AND LATER THE U.N. PUT DOWN RESTRICTIONS ON THE DEGREE OF ALTERATION TOLERABLE BY LAW. THEY ALSO RULED THAT WE WERE FUNCTIONALLY DISABLED AND DUE COMPENSATION FROM MESSNER FOR BEING UNABLE TO WORK. THEY HARDLY NOTICED THE PAYOUT, BUT IT WAS THE THOUGHT THAT MATTERED.
I hesitated a moment, chewing on the back of the stylus, then finished the thoughts, explaining the rest. I HAVE TO HAVE SEX ABOUT FOUR TIMES A DAY OR I SUFFER. My ears grew hot as I wrote, holding the equipment with slick paws. THE FANDOM PROVIDES THAT. THEY DON'T WANT ME; THEY WANT MY BODY. I NEED THE CONTACT. I HATE IT BUT IT'S BETTER THAN NOTHING. YOU'D THINK I'D GET TIRED OF THE SEX. I DON'T, AND THAT'S THE WORST PART OF ALL.
I put the stylus away into the palmtop and passed it over, drumming my claws against the tabletop, listening to the soft rhythmic clicks while he read my impromptu essay. "Jesus," he muttered, looking up at me. "Is this for real?"
I nodded and he continued reading. "So that's why you thought... shit."
I nodded again, my ears perking a bit. At least he understood.
"Jesus," he repeated, shaking his head. "Why not just fuck each other? If you all need it that badly...?"
I sighed and nodded. WE TRIED, I wrote slowly, trying to ignore the pain in my paw from too much writing. IT FELT LIKE INCEST TO ME, OR LIKE I WAS AN INVALID, UNABLE TO GO ANYWHERE. SOME OF US DID THAT, ACTUALLY. I TRIED, BUT I COULDN'T. I WISH I HAD. I set down the pad and passed it across to him, massaging one paw with the other.
He winced. "Ouch. I'm sorry, man. I didn't know."
It's alright, I signed slowly, not wanting to write any more. You didn't know. And... I'm sorry too. I'm so used to—
He held out his hand. "No, I read it. I understand." He stood up, dropping his fork. "C'mere." And he held out his arms to me.
In all the encounters I'd had, male and female alike, I'd been asked to hug people before, but it never felt like this. I had always been the object of affection, literally. I was the receptacle for someone else's fantasies. This time, his arms carried not desire, not lust, not even envy or childlike innocence, but genuine tenderness and concern. I sunk gratefully into his arms, resting my cheek on his shoulder. My cock stirred, briefly, then subsided.
An eternity of moments later, I stepped back and smiled. Thank you, I flashed with my fingers.
"Thank you," he returned the gesture. "You gave me my thesis topic." The corner of his mouth turned up in a smirk.
At that, I laughed, a short repetitive bark that did turn heads at the counter. Is there anything else I can offer you? I signed. Oh! I grabbed a napkin, dug a pen from my pocket and wrote my email address on it. "The real one," I wrote below, and passed it to him.
He snickered; it was the same as the one he had. "Thanks again. Nah, I should sleep. Alone." He dug some bills out of his pocket and dumped them on the table, then waved. "I'll see you, Todd." He smiled and waved to the counterclerks on his way out of the restaurant.
As I stood there, it occured to me that I still didn't know his name. I wondered if I would see him again around my schedule.
Maybe at the next convention.