DP FICTION #40A: “Tank!” by John Wiswell

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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Con Report: WisCon 2014

written by Shane Halbach

Despite trying to be a serious writer for more than 5 years now, it has never occurred to me to attend a con. Writing has always been a very solitary activity for me, and sometimes I have this thing where going to do something just sounds like so much work (I think it’s called laziness). On the other hand, I’m a raging extrovert who is energized by being around people. Enter WisCon.

WisCon 38 logo

WisCon was a very easy “intro con” for me because 1) I live in Chicago and Madison is very close by, 2) I could crash with my brother, and 3) everyone kept repeating over and over again what a kind, small*, welcoming con WisCon was. I’m happy to report, the experience was absolutely wonderful, and I would be more than happy to attend again, or perhaps branch out to other cons.

*Note, did anyone actually say it was a small con? Because it totally wasn’t, at least by my definition, but that was certainly the impression I had been given! But kind and welcoming were accurate at least.

On the other hand, we do have a longstanding commitment for Memorial Day, which conflicts with WisCon. This meant that I attended the con without Sara and the kids, which was probably best for all of us. (Side note, holy childcare Batman! $1 per kid for the entire con??)

To show how absolutely committed I was to attend this con, I rode the bus from Chicago. It was very crowded, but it wasn’t nearly so bad as it could have been. However, though I did get *some* writing done, it wasn’t as much as I had hoped. Turns out bouncing around in the dark, shoulder to shoulder with strangers, is not the conducive writing environment you might think it would be.

In David Steffen’s WorldCon 2012 report, he spoke of “finding fandom”. That’s definitely how I felt. I met so many writers that I’ve known online for years. It felt like everywhere I looked I saw nametags of people I recognized. “Hey, I enjoy that guy’s stories!”, “Hey, that woman sends me rejection letters!”, and “Don’t I see that name in my twitter feed a lot?”

Being as this was my first con, and never having attended any panels, it didn’t seem right to sign up to be on any panels. I didn’t know if I would have anything to offer on a panel. That was a mistake. In the very best panels, I was dying to chime in on everything. I will not make that mistake again. (Did I mention I’m an extrovert?)

I found myself wearing a lot of different hats at the con. Some panels I attended as a writer, some as a blogger, and some just as a fan (a Welcome to Night Vale panel? Say whaaaaat!?). When I didn’t find a panel that sounded interesting, I attended readings, wandered the dealers’ rooms (print of a tiny dragon snuggling with a kitten for Evie’s birthday? Check!), or grabbed a coffee in the con suite. Oh con suite, you were exactly as advertised: stuffed full of free pop and coffee, frozen pizzas, and those hot dogs on rollers. With dusseldorf mustard! DUSSELDORF MUSTARD!

The biggest and best part of the con is that it made me feel like a writer.

The first part of that was the reading I did as part of Clockwork Lasercorn on Sunday morning.

clockwork lasercorn

(Sorry Catherine, we didn’t think to take a picture until you were gone!)

Considering that I hadn’t actually met any of the others in real life until about 15 minutes before the reading, and considering that we were slotted at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning opposite a lot of other great programming, it all could have gone horribly wrong. But it didn’t! At all! Our group totally meshed, everybody’s stories were awesome, and mine seemed to be well received. I got compliments afterwards. I don’t think anybody knew I had never done a reading before.

Our reading was at a coffee shop, which I kind of liked, because anybody could just come in off the street and listen. It was pretty dead when we got there, but it actually filled up. I think we had about 18 or so, plus the 5 of us. And best of all? Ann “Ancillary Justice” Leckie came to my reading! Little did I know, she’s friends with my co-readers, and also super, super nice. This was the closest to my fanboy moment of the con. She just beat Neil Gaiman out of a Nebula for best novel, what, a week ago? And now she’s listening to my story? Awesome.

But! But! That was not all, oh no, that was not all.

I dropped by the Crossed Genres booth to pick up a copy of Long Hidden (which sold out after their excellent panel, so I’m glad I grabbed a copy early!) and to see if I could say hi to Bart and Kay who published me in OOMPH. Not only did I get a chance to chat with Bart for awhile, but he asked me sign all the copies of OOMPH they had on hand.


I can’t tell you how much that made my con. I’ve never done any kind of book signing before, and it was pretty cool. They even put a little “author signed” tent on top of the books later. The only downside is that I kept bumping my head on the door after that, since I was walking around 10 feet tall. The thing is, Long Hidden is blowing UP right now (for good reason! I just started reading it and it’s already so good!), and Bart had a lot going on this weekend. Yet I felt like he really was enthusiastic about meeting me and went out of his way to make me feel good whenever I bumped into him at the con.

Now, since I was staying with my brother, I didn’t have the “true” con experience of hanging out in the bar, attending any of the con parties, or signing up for any of the tabletop gaming sessions (I missed a chance for both Last Night on Earth and Small World). The fact that there was a Jem party that I did not attend is outrageous. Truly, truly, truly outrageous. On the other hand, while I would no doubt have had a good time doing any of those things, I think I would enjoy them more if I had “con friends” whom I was anxious to see. Maybe in years to come.

However, I did get a chance to experience some of the general Madison ambiance, such as drinking liters (that’s plural) of beer out of a boot to the tune of polka music, attending the world’s largest brat fest, and grabbing a to-go lunch from a place that offered to substitute your fruit cup with a “cheese cup” (yeah, that’s pretty much what it sounds like).

beer boot

I did want to make one final note about WisCon. As you might have guessed from the logo at the top, WisCon is the “world’s leading feminist science fiction convention”, with a strong focus on embracing people traditionally left out of science fiction fandom: women, people of color, people with disabilities, gay people, transgendered people…you know, the vast majority of everybody in the world.

Now, I must admit, as a white, cisgendered male, this made me a little nervous. Not because I feel uncomfortable around these groups of people (which is good because, you know, they’re the vast majority of everybody in the world), quite the contrary; I believe anybody who knows me would tell you I am fully prepared to rock a feminist science fiction convention. No, I was nervous because I was worried about intruding.

As a person of undeniable privilege, I kind of thought, “Maybe this one’s not for me. I can go a lot of places and be comfortable doing a lot of things that many of these people can’t. Maybe I should let them have this one, since us white, cisgendered men already kind of have all the rest of them.”

However, I have to say, it wasn’t an issue at all. Not only was everyone wonderful and welcoming as only a crowd of people who know what it feels like to be unwelcome could be, but there really were people of ALL stripes present, including people like me. And honestly, when I looked around the con, it didn’t occur to me to see women, people of color, people with disabilities, gay people, or transgendered people. What I saw was just a lot of people. The best kind of people: science fiction and fantasy nerds.

MY kind of people.

Head ShotShane lives in Chicago with his wife and two kids, where he writes software by day and avoids writing stories by night. His fiction has appeared on Escape Pod, Daily Science Fiction, OOMPH: A Little Super Goes a Long Way, and elsewhere. He blogs regularly at shanehalbach.com or can be found on Twitter @shanehalbach.