The tank hates revolving doors. They’re petrified watching the doors whoosh by, trying to imagine anyone getting into the convention center through these things. The curb crumbles beneath the tank’s treads, and commuters honk for them to get their back-end out of the road. Two tweens sneak around the tank’s chassis, carrying a rack of brightly colored cosplay wigs, and slip into one of the revolving glass chambers.
“Be brave,” the tank tells themself.
The tank nudges their barrel inside, getting barely halfway in before the door clanks against their barrel. Instinctively they try to back up, rending steel frames and shattering glass everywhere.
Sighing, they tell themself it’ll get better. They’re going to make friends this time.
The Pre-Registration Line is so long that they miss the morning programming. Once they reach Registration, the lady frowns up at them like she was a landmine in a previous life. She says, “You didn’t fill in a gender.”
The tank rumbles. “I don’t associate Male or Female.”
She points at the tank’s cannon. “With that thing?”
“Are you calling my turret genitalia?” It wasn’t, and even if it was, they had the equivalent of a vasectomy and filled it with cement years ago. They lower their cannon, showing the orange safety cap protruding from the muzzle.
“I don’t care what you call it. Guns aren’t allowed, and you have to pick a gender.”
A Marceline from Adventure Time leans around the tank’s treads, squinting at the registrar. “They’ve got the peace bonding cap on there. And the gender crap on the form was optional.”
The registrar says, “Since when?”
“You want me to complain to Con-Ops?”
The registrar grouses and forks over the badge, while the tank turns to Marceline. Her badge reads ‘XIAO.’ They want to tell her that they love Adventure Time, but they can’t word it right. A moment later Xiao whisks away with a plastic-fanged smile and a, “Have a good con!”
Small-talk is hard for tanks.
They get in line for the Cowboy Bebop Cast Reunion, and the hallway is too narrow. Human con-goers have to climb over them to get by. Even though they have no eyes, the lack of eye contact stings. They scooch over, and accidentally cave in the wall to a Men’s Room.
A minute later, gofers come out of the panel room and wave everyone off. “We’re full! Sorry!”
The show’s opening theme blares as the gofers shut the doors. Ironic, but the tank loves that song.
They sulk over to the food court, feeling at least a little companionship with all the other disappointed con-goers. The crowd dissipates to watch an inter-fandom mock battle. MCU Avengers cosplayers desperately fend off assorted Crystal Gems.
A couple of Iron Mans ask for a picture, but they just want to pose like they’re blowing up the tank. The tank revs up to leave.
That’s when they see a Princess Bubblegum with a plastic pink wig, her shoulders hunched, looking around for someone who plainly isn’t there. But someone plainly is: a tall guy in a Red Hood graphic tee.
“The show went off the rails when she didn’t get together with Finn,” Red Hood Fan says in the tone of someone who might never have enjoyed anything in his life. “I don’t see why people ship her with Marcy.”
Her badge just reads ‘PB.’ PB cranes her neck around Red Hood Fan, still avoiding eye contact with him. “Uhm…”
“Wouldn’t it be weird to have gay characters on a kids’ cartoon?”
The tank rolls up behind Red Hood Fan, brushing his shoulder with their cannon. Red Hood Fan cringes away, looking as uncomfortable as PB has this whole time. “Hey, thanks for waiting for me,” the tank lies. “Ready for lunch?”
PB arches a brow, then says, “Yeah!” and sidesteps around the guy.
PB and the tank get out of there quickly, heading south along the titanic line for George R.R. Martin’s autograph. The tank asks, “Were you looking for someone?”
“My girlfriend. We got separated at registration.”
The tank lets PB ride on their turret so she’ll be more visible. This earns thousands of photos from strangers, and halfway down the endless pilgrimage of Game of Thrones fans, they spy a familiar Marceline. PB hops to the floor and kisses Xiao in front of everybody. The tank could blush.
Xiao gives the tank a plastic-fanged smile. “You get around.”
The tank tries to be funny. “Anywhere without revolving doors.”
Both PB and Xiao tilt their heads. Small-talk is hard for tanks.
They chatter, and Xiao balls up her fists at the story of Red Hood Fan. “Why do we even come to these things?”
PB raspberries at her. “You know why.”
The panel doors fly open behind them, and the theme from Cowboy Bebop rings forth. They pivot to get out of the way of the exiting crowd. Missing the panel wasn’t so bad since they made these friends.
Except when the tank looks again, Xiao and PB are gone in the flood of people headed to their next panel. People promptly complain that the tank is obstructing the hall, and they roll along, alone, wondering why they came here at all.
Exiting the building is the only way to avoid people, but the first one they find is another revolving door. The tank heaves a sigh through their chassis. Are they going to have to smash through this one, too?
“We almost lost you!” someone calls, and tugs on their mudguard. It’s Xiao, gesturing toward the adjacent corridor, where PB is waving for them both. “We’re going to the dance party. Want to come?”
The tank is so happy they almost commit several hundred cases of vehicular manslaughter. They roll very carefully to BALLROOM B, where PB and Xiao drag chairs aside to make more room. That lets the tank spin some doughnuts without fearing crushing any dancers.
Xiao whispers something to the band. As houselights dim and glowsticks crack, the band plays the theme from Cowboy Bebop.
PB says, “You know what the song is called, right?”
The tank can only muster a, “Thank you.”
PB laughs. “This is why we go to cons.”
© 2018 by John Wiswell
Author’s Note: At a convention one year, Max Gladstone and I were joking about the problems a tank might have at such an event. That’s what you do when you’re like us. For the same reason, I couldn’t help writing about the poor non-binary tank trying to overcome their social awkwardness.
John (@wiswell) lives where New York keeps all its trees. His fiction has appeared at Fireside Magazine, Flash Fiction Online, and Daily Science Fiction. He has never had a cosplayer ride him across a convention center, but he does try to help where he can.
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18 thoughts on “DP FICTION #40A: “Tank!” by John Wiswell”
Poignant. And sadly all too familiar.
Made me a little sniffly, actually. Thank you.
This was so good for so many reasons. Only you could have non-cisgender, lesbians, body-shaming, and gun-control wrapped in a fish-out-of-water story that wasn’t really about any of those things at all. Also, I’m the worst at small talk.
Greetings from BoingBoing!
I love the way you captured accessibility so naturally, too. I think I have a new mental heuristic for inclusiveness that works on so many levels. “Would tank enjoy our con?”
Liked it. Especially the ending 🙂
My wife’s first con in a wheelchair was emotionally brutal and ran very parallel to the start of this story. I know it wasn’t the intention of this read, but it’s where my mind went. Also, just saw the AT finale last night, so I guess I was a little extra squishy while reading it.
Very much enjoyed. Thank you.
Fantastic!! I love this and will share. Thanks for sharing this lovely story.
Nice, i kinda always thought about cosplaying as a tank or just deadass driving a tank into a con (If i could even go to one). This was a nice story. I like it a lot. I also imagined the tank as a Tiger I in this story. Which Tank did you imagine in the story when you wrote it? This isn’t really important, but how did the tank fill out that form and how did it get a ticket? Does the tank live somewhere? Maybe a restorer’s garage (since i imagined it as a Tiger I) where it watches television? Is there a complex back story? I doubt it, but my personal backstory for it is that it was a normal tank during WW2 that was knocked out in 1945 when the Americans were pushing into Germany. The rest of the crew had enough time to escape the tank before the Ammo rack exploded, but the commander stayed inside dying of a horrible death which turned him into a ghost. Since, he was inside the tank he ends up haunting up, but can’t really do anything since it’s partially destroyed and for a while there it’s a relic forgotten by the world in this german forest or field, until this American finds it and restores it. The tank then ends up living the rest of it’s “life” coming to grips with it’s new reality and learning about the ever so evolving culture of the world to eventually have an interest to go to a con. Since, it can’t really do it itself. The American who restored it buys it a ticket to the con and then arranges a transport to get it as near as the con as train trails can get it. It then goes to the con and the rest is history. Maybe, the reason why it’s socially awkward is because it was constantly vandalized throughout the years that it spent as a destroyed hulk in the forest. So, it still is kinda afraid of other people. I don’t know. This was all to say i really liked the story. Thank you for making it.
Everything about this story is wonderful.
And the ending was just perfect. (Up until then, I actually had forgotten the name of that song. Made that line even more perfect.)