Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Fiction

Searching for Slave Leia

A slip, slide, falling through icy coldness, white noise like TV static. A breeze of hot buttery popcorn. Giddy laughter, sweaty bodies, fanfare music over the intercom, and what’s this? A ten-foot-wide movie poster of young, pale, undernourished Carrie Fisher, posed seductively in a gold metal bikini with a collar and chain around her neck.

You’d bet she didn’t have her period the day they took that picture. No Kotex pad safety-pinned to her underwear, no feeling bloated and yucky down there. You wish you’d taken more aspirin this morning. You hope you don’t stain your shorts in front of the hundreds of fangeeks jammed in the lobby of the Charles Cinema here in the middle of Boston. This is 1983, that is Slave Leia, and through some supernatural stroke of luck you have become a time traveler, because last you checked it was 2013 and you were perimenopausal and you were having a fight with Trevor, again, on the set of your latest series.

Your best friend Karen sloshes her soda against your arm and says, “Shit, hell, sorry!”

You look down at your white knee socks, cut-off shorts, and baby blue Empire Strikes Back t-shirt. It’s amazing the fashion police ever let you out of your house. Karen’s wearing a yellow Han Solo shirt and white shorts and wooden sandals, the kind that are supposed to tone your calves. Her hair is teased up two inches. You have a mullet.

“Sheila?” she asks, face creasing. “You okay?”

“Yes, fine,” you say, because the first rule of suddenly displaced time travelers is to fake it until you figure out what happened. It worked for Scott Bakula in every episode of Quantum Leap except the mental hospital episode—always one of your favorites; speaking of which, there’s an awful possibility: maybe you’re in the psych ward. Goosebumps ripple under your white bra, the one that always chafes your back. After twenty years of working together, Trevor has finally driven you into a complete nervous breakdown.

Behind you, someone argues about whether Biggs is the other hope that Yoda spoke of. Two guys speculate about how Han will be rescued from his carbonite prison. There’s no Facebook or Twitter in 1983, no websites full of Star Wars gossip, no clues except those printed in Starlog magazine. You and Karen both have a crush on Harrison Ford, and you listen to The Empire Strikes Back soundtrack on your turntable every day, and you write Han/Leia fanfic in your high school homeroom every morning, even though you don’t even know what fanfic is yet.

“You look pale,” Karen says. She juggles her soda and popcorn in order to dig into her pocket and produce a bar of brown taffy. “Eat some sugar.”

“I had a root canal last week,” you blurt out, forgetting the play-it-cool-rule. “Temporary crown.”

Karen’s frowny crease deepens. She’s not pretty, not yet, but she will be by the time you graduate high school. She’ll also have lost her virginity to John Marino in his car at Wonderland Race Track. You’ll be jealous but not for long, because by twenty she’ll have her first baby. You never have kids. You have cats.

“What’s a root canal?” she asks now, all braces and bushy eyebrows and that little dark beauty mark by the corner of her mouth.

Just then the ropes drop at the ticket stand and the noisy crowd surges forward, an ocean wave that’s been seeking dry land for three long years. Return of the Jedi! Return, return! You think, This is what I’m here for? Hardly seems worthwhile. You could be home watching the DVD on your big screen TV. Your cats Crichton and Moya would be curled up in your lap, and you’d be ignoring Trevor’s seventeen hundred messages in your voicemail.

Damn it, Jim, you’re a TV producer, not a time traveler.

“Come on,” Karen insists, dragging you by the sleeve.

Behind you, Slave Leia’s eyes are shrewd but kind. She understands your confusion. After all, she thought she was a hero of the Rebel Forces, a role model for young women who loved science fiction adventure. Then George Lucas took away her clothes, slicked her skin with oil, and chained her to Jabba the Hutt.

***

The script coordinator is crying. She’s crying because ten minutes ago, Trevor fired her for using gold paper instead of green for the latest script revisions.

“You’re not fired,” you tell her. “I’ll take care of it.”

Using the wrong color paper is a rookie mistake. If you’d caught it first, you’d have yelled at her too, but in that nice, nurturing, constructive-criticism way that people expect from you—the sane one. You respect everyone in the cast and crew, all the way from your B-list star to the assistant who walks his B-list dog and scoops up the soft little B-grade poops. You never scream or stomp your feet. Trevor is the showrunner but acts like a five-year-old child.

“He was really mad,” she says through tears.

“I’m sure it’s just the stress,” you reply, one of the standard excuses you give for Trevor, depending on the situation and audience. Others include: he isn’t feeling well, it’s the blood pressure medication, his wife just left him, his Narcotics Anonymous sponsor just died, it’s the narcissism. It’s who Trevor is. Like one of those big rolling machines that flatten asphalt on resurfaced freeways, a big diesel-belching monstrosity with a stinky cigar permanently jammed into the side of its mouth.

The assistant director pops her head in, says, “Sheila, Landon is looking for you,” and if the fact she’s size 2 and has shiny hair isn’t enough to hate her, you can see she still has that dreamy look in her eyes. It says I’m working on a network TV show and soon I will rule Hollywood. You’ll be secretly happy on the day that optimism is ripped out of her soul. How nasty is that? Your ex-friend Lena gave you this book once, about how women are cruel to one another—not just cruel but inhumane—and you’re sure it was supposed to be a pointed message because you’d fired her just a month earlier. Not for gold paper or green paper—not for being young and pretty (she wasn’t)—but because Trevor decided he hated her.

You’ve given Trevor the same book every Christmas for as long as you’ve known him: Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun. He always laughs. He’s the Attila who makes money; he’s the Attila who always has something on TV; he’s the Attila you’ve never had enough smarts or strength to leave.

“Where is Landon looking for me?” you ask the AD. “I’m right here.”

She smiles, all perfect white teeth. “In his dressing room.”

For a special snowflake who can’t really act, Landon Oaks can put the drama in even the most minor inconvenience: not the right bottled water, his dressing room’s too small, his make-up girl snaps her gum. But Trevor didn’t cast him for his temperament. He’s here because he looks good in a tight uniform, and he has high Q score thanks to his last show on the CW, and once in a while, like a comet blazing across the sky, he can pull off a scene that makes you stand up and admire him for more than that chiseled chin and pretty green eyes.

“Should I tell him you’re on the way?” the perky assistant director asks.

“Yes, I’m coming,” you say.

But first you send the script coordinator back to work and phone Steven, your network executive, who’s been calling all morning. He’s a good guy, decent, hard-working, has your back except when maybe he doesn’t. It’s not his fault he’s an aging dinosaur surrounded by his own sleek, hungry competition. The truth is that you trust him more than most women trust their ex-husbands.

“Say something good,” Steven says over your ear piece.

“Something good,” you parrot back, leaving your office for the corridor and the soundstage, along the way dodging assistants and a gaffer swinging a metal pole. Above you, grips are lighting the steampunk-ish bridge of the lost starship Edge of Infinity. Edge of Infinity is also the name of your series. An ethnically diverse crew of pretty twenty-somethings stranded on the other side of the galaxy. After years of Canadian television or direct-to-syndication, Trevor finally landed a big network show. It premieres tomorrow night. It’s the biggest budget you’ve ever had, big gamble for the network; is that a shooting pain in your left arm? Maybe you’ll have a heart attack today.

You say, “Steven, I’ve got more good news than you have messages on your call list. Good news streaming out the wazoo.”

“You only say wazoo when you’re freaking out,” Steven says. “Otherwise you say hoo-haa.”

You step over some cables. “Girls from Boston never say hoo-haa.”

“Maybe it was va-jay-jay,” he says. “How’s the latest script?”

“Awesome.”

“You’re lying.”

“Rewrote it myself until three o’clock this morning,” you tell him, total truth, which explains why your eyeballs ache and your head’s pounding and why you’ve downed two double espressos so far today.

“You’re the best genre writer I know,” he says. Does he mean it as an insult? You have thirty-five script credits to your name on IMDB but none for any show that’s ever won an Emmy. “Get some sleep, Sheila. You can’t do this thing all by yourself.”

“Gotcha,” you say, which is a pretentious way of saying goodbye but it’s your trademark these days, just as Trevor is known for his noxious cigars. On your last series, at the wrap party, the crew got him an expensive humidor. They got you a mug and T-shirt with “Gotcha” in big pink glitter. Thanks a lot.

The mammoth doors of the soundstage have been opened to move in some heavy equipment. Beyond them are the clean, orderly streets of this lot in Studio City. You prefer Bridge Studios, up in Vancouver, where you’ve spent most of your career, but Radford makes you tingle—this is where all of your favorite old shows filmed, like The Wild Wild West and Moonlighting and Will & Grace, and just down the street they currently shoot CSI: NY. All your dreams have come true, more or less.

Hard work is how you get anything, your dad used to say. It’s not rocket science. And then he’d always chuckle, because he was in fact a rocket scientist, how funny.

But what if hard work is killing you? No time to worry about that now. You knock on Landon’s dressing room door.

“Entre!” he calls out, because he thinks he can speak French.

You enter, wincing at the bright light . . .

***

It’s kind of cool, sitting here with hundreds of people as they watch the movie unfold for the first time. The music in Jabba’s palace is cheesy but that kiss between Han and Leia is everything you’ve been waiting for. You wish you’d had more kisses like that in own your life. That someone in your life looked at you the way they look at each other. Luke’s victory over the Rancor has the crowd cheering, but you’ve always felt bad for the monster. Chained up in a dark pit, forced to do Jabba’s bidding all your life—you can relate.

The seat doesn’t rock or recline. You’re antsy, restless. You wrote three time travel scripts for Forever Viking, Trevor’s show about immortal Norse warriors fighting crime in Vancouver. There’s something important you should be doing here in the past. Surely your mission—there’s always a mission, that’s the A-plot or backbone of the episode—is to do more than revisit the horror of dancing and singing Ewoks.

When you stand up, Karen whispers, “Where are you going?”

You tell her, “Trust me. It’s all downhill once they get to Endor.”

The lobby is cool and spacious now that it’s empty. You remember the way home: Walk to the Tremont Street subway station, ride the Blue Line through the blue-collar neighborhood of East Boston to Beachmont, walk up the hill to your parents’ house overlooking the Atlantic. In this strange world of 1983 young teens can wander at will, untethered by cell phones or helicopter parents. People on the train will have their attention buried in newspapers or books, not tablets or smartphones. Maybe someone will have a tape cassette Walkman. There’s a subway in L.A., but who rides it? No one you know.

You hope you have money in your little vinyl purse. Yes, there’s some shiny quarters, and a few loose dollar bills, and your inhaler, too, because this was the year you got diagnosed with asthma. But when you push open the lobby doors to the sunlit parking lot, Charles Street washes away to a slip, a slide, whiteness.

Now you’re dressed for winter, standing on a curb, your father’s blue 1978 Buick LeSabre idling in front of you. Around you is a rest stop on the westbound side of the Massachusetts Turnpike. The wind smells like pine needles and car exhaust. Your dad is in the passenger seat, looking at a map. He’s letting you drive. This is 1986 and you’re on your way to inspect colleges in upstate New York.

A drop of sleet falls out of the gray sky. The clouds above the pine trees churn with expectation.

You realize you’re not traveling in time at all. This is a different subgenre of drama: the limbo plot. Which means you’re in a coma somewhere, hooked up to machines, suspended between life and death while your soul meets old friends and family and decides whether or not to go into the goddamned light.

You know this must somehow be Trevor’s fault.

You hope someone’s feeding your cats, because limbo plots can take a while.

***

If you were twenty years younger, you might find Landon Oaks attractive. Dark hair, perfect skin, slim build with a nice ass—okay, forget the younger part, you do find him sexually attractive, but you’d never admit it. To admit is to show weakness. But if you were the type of Hollywood producer who would sexually harass an actor, he’d be your target. When he’s annoyed, the tips of his ears turn bright pink. He’s annoyed now because the newly distributed script revisions (which should have been green paper, not gold), have cut him out of two scenes.

“We had to cut those scenes because Jill called in sick,” you remind him.

“You could shoot just my half,” he says, pouting beautifully. “Do her half tomorrow.”

Which would totally work if you had all the time in the world, and if your lead actress actually shows up tomorrow, and if it wouldn’t put the episode even more over budget. Before you can explain, someone knocks on the door: it’s that AD again, bright smile and chirping headset. She has a beauty mark on her face, in the same place as your old friend Karen. She says, “Landon, the people from People are here.”

He panics and turns to the mirror. “Tell them to wait! I’m not ready!”

You take the opportunity to slip back to your office, where the phone list has grown longer and your assistant, geeky but smart Gay Tom (as opposed to your head writer, Sort-of-Straight Tom), has delivered your noontime frappuccino, along with a veggie wrap and French fries. There’s also a basket of gourmet muffins from one of your old friends at the Writer’s Guild with a good-luck note for tomorrow’s premiere. Gourmet dark chocolate pecan muffins, smelling so delicious they could bottle up and sell just the aroma.

You cram down two muffins and the French fries, everything washed down with frappuccino, and stare at the whiteboard on the wall that outlines the story arc for the first twelve episodes in your own secret shorthand: which characters live, who falls out an airlock, when Landon and Jill will first kiss. To get the female viewers, you’re going to need some kissing.

Around episode eight or nine you’re also going to need a bottle show to save costs. One or two sets, no guest actors. Some situation that keeps the characters trapped or limited so that you don’t have to spend money on anything. When you first landed in Tinseltown, the bottle show came in two varieties: either the clip show, with lots of flashbacks, or the limbo show, with some character trapped in purgatory. St. Elsewhere did a limbo show after shooting Howie Mandel’s character; Tom Selleck did a similar turn on Magnum, P.I. You don’t like limbo episodes. But at least they’re better than the latest contrivance, Groundhog Day episodes, with the same character repeating a time loop over and over.

In Limbo, at least, you get to meet the people you’ve loved and lost.

***

 “Why am I driving?” your father asks. “You said you needed the practice. You begged for practice. You said, ‘Practice, Dad, I need practice.’”

Because you’d be so busy gazing at him that you’d drive off the highway into the trees. Because the Buick is a tank of a car, so big you might as well be driving a bus. Because he died six months after you moved to L.A., but now he’s alive and well—skin flushed with life, thinning brown hair slicked back from the temples, and a long ski-slope of a nose. The upholstery smells like his Pall Malls—regular, no filter—but he doesn’t smoke around you anymore in deference to your asthma. He doesn’t know—neither of you knows—that it’s already too late for his own poor lungs, the tissue blossoming cancerous spots like little spots of mold.

In a time travel episode, you shouldn’t show your hand. In the land of Limbo, the protagonist is required to have emotional revelations.

“This is the last trip we’re ever going to take together,” you tell him, trying to keep your voice from cracking. “You, me, Syracuse, Ithaca, that’s it. Our last road trip.”

He is too busy passing a big rig to look directly at you, but his mouth turns down in a pout. “What, because I farted back at the tollbooth? I told your mother not to make beans last night.”

You touch the wool coat of his sleeve. He’s as solid as the bench seat underneath you and the FM radio playing Olivia Newton-John.

“I know why I’m here, Dad.” Beyond the sleet on the windshield, the forests of Western Massachusetts blur and recede. You wipe your nose with your fingers and wish the heater worked better. More likely, you’re cold with the kind of chill that only rises up from within. “I have to decide.”

“I made you a chart,” he says, because that’s what scientists who work at MIT do. “If you go to Emerson you can live at home, save that dorm money, but Ithaca offered you more of a scholarship and Syracuse has more facilities. Of course, if you picked a sensible major like physics or chemistry or engineering, I’d feel better about your career prospects. Television’s fun, sure, but will it pay the rent?”

“I have to decide,” you repeat. “Life or death.”

“There’s no need to be melodramatic,” he says. “Can you grab my Thermos from the back and pour me some coffee?”

You turn and reach over—in 1986 seatbelts are still optional—and grab the Thermos, which is half-in and half-out of the briefcase he’s been carrying on the train for years. He’s brought a book for the trip—Isaac Asimov’s Foundation and Earth.

“I forgot how much you loved Asimov,” you say.

“Love, present tense. Where’s my coffee?” he replies.

“And you hated Star Wars,” you say. “All of them.”

His grip tightens. “No one can make the Kessel run in twelve parsecs.”

He’s been complaining about that since 1977. He was always a hard SF kind of guy: Asimov, Larry Niven, Fred Pohl. You read Star Trek books, and Star Wars books, and those tie-in novels for Space:1999. Your mother chews through Harlequin romances, a dozen each week.

Your father goes on: “A parsec is a distance, not a division of time. If you’re going to tell a science fiction story, you have to get the science right.”

You’ve forgotten what it was like to have a big balloon of affection rising through your lungs, so much damn goodness it hurts. You lean over and kiss the warm dry skin of his cheek. He smiles, pleased.

“Dad, what if I told you that I’m going to spend the rest of my life making science fiction shows that hardly ever get the science right?” you ask.

Sleet comes down harder on the windows and roof. He flicks the wipers to a faster setting. “I would say I’d have to disown you. How about that coffee?”

***

“He wouldn’t have disowned you,” a voice says, disturbing the gray sleet around your head.

“Huh?” you ask.

“Your dad would not have disowned you.”

You blink at Steven. Who is sitting by the side of your bed. By the side of your hospital bed, how strange is that? Steven, wearing a white shirt and a black tie, looking as fit as ever despite the gray at his temples and the lines around his eyes. Behind him, a window shade filters out sunlight and a TV plays softly up by the ceiling. You’re clad in a beige hospital gown with an IV piercing the back of your hand.

It’s obvious that you and Steven are having some kind of conversation and maybe have been for a while, but you have no idea what you’re talking about.

“I want my dad,” you say. “Where is he?”

Steven leans forward, his eyes soft. “He died a long time ago, remember?”

It’s not fair—it’s too soon! You should be back in his car, watching him drive to the end of Massachusetts with his hands precisely positioned at ten and two on the wheel. He was stolen too early from your life. You never got to show him the first script you got paid for, or the first time your name appeared in the credits, or the set of your own series.

“I want him!” you yell, with strength that surprises even yourself, and now you’re ripping out the IV, you’re trying to sit up, alarms beeping in sudden electronic alarm, and Steven’s trying to catch you before you fall, but it’s too late. A slip, a slide, whiteness—

And you’re gone again, out of the hospital, standing under an ashy gray sky on a warm day, a scraggly palm tree on your right and a small office building on your left. You’re wearing pantyhose and a business suit. Who wears pantyhose in L.A.? College graduates who just moved to the Valley and are desperate for a job and have one suit—just one, navy blue—with which to make a good impression. You know this place. North Fairfax, where all the synagogues and delis used to be before redevelopment moved in with slick steel and glass. Your dad’s not here; no one is. The sidewalks and streets are empty. This is L.A. as a standing set, quiet and still, waiting for the actors and conflict to arrive.

You push open the frosted glass door of the office building and there she is, Rachel Edelstein, with her big blonde wig and rhinestone eyeglasses, seventy years old and a face like an old horse saddle. The Rolodex on her desk is crammed with cards from forty years of working in this town, she and her husband Robert, but all he’s good for is sitting in front of the TV these days, and she’s never going to stop until they shove her in a coffin and nail it shut.

“Shayna!” she exclaims, her gaze locked on the bright blue IBM Selectric typewriter in front of her. She types with two fingers. The machine clicks and hums. “You made it!”

You don’t know why she calls you Shayna, or Shayna Maidel, or sometimes Shayna Sheila—you think it’s a Jewish thing. You grew up Catholic. At least the set decorator has done well here. The typewriter is the same one you took your typing test on. On another desk is a dictaphone, and some sample files to alphabetize. Rachel never sent out a girl without making sure she could type, transcribe, and file. The walls are crammed with autographed photos from TV and movie stars from the dawn of celluloid, and maps of how to get to Paramount, how to get to Radford, how to get to Universal. The ashtray at Rachel’s elbow is filled with Camel butts, and beyond the ashtray is a can of Pepsi Free.

“I’m looking for my dad,” you say.

“Wrong office,” she says. “Besides, you’ve got more important things to worry about. This job, this man, what are you letting him do to you? Did I teach you to let these Hollywood assholes walk all over you? I always said, do what you have to do, but don’t let them break your spine.”

You steady yourself against a battered green filing cabinet and kick off your shoes. In your Limbo, you get to lose the heels. “My spine’s fine.”

Rachel pecks at the keys with her bright fed fingernails. “Your spine connects to your ribs and your ribs protect your heart. But look what you’ve done to your poor, poor heart!”

The frosted door behind you creaks open again. Fairfax Avenue dissolves into Stage 11 and the engine room of the Edge of Infinity: ducts and vents and big pipes made of silver cardboard. Your dad would hate it. Landon Oaks is in his chair, reading gold script pages while the director, Mario Azzopardi, peers through the camera lens. Production assistants hurry around, fixing up the last minute details. Some people find it tedious, all the long minutes spent preparing for a scene, but you grew up doing high school theater and the thrill, the buzz, still makes you smile. A set is an invitation to the imagination. In the distance are the walls and windows of the production offices, but there’s no joy there—only the sounds of arguing, of Trevor yelling.

“I fired her!” he’s shouting. “You don’t get to reverse me!”

A door opens and your perimenopausal self emerges, thirty pounds heavier, your hair gone frizzy, good Lord you need a better bra, why did you put on that gray blouse? It makes you look like Jabba the Hutt.

Trevor dogs your steps, waving around his big fat cigar. He knows he’s not supposed to smoke on the set. Fire laws, health ordinances—this is not 1983—and worst of all he knows you have asthma.

“Don’t walk away from me!” he yells, all red-faced fury now, and for such a small, trim, pale guy he really does know how to project his voice into Christian Bale-levels of ape-shitness. “When I fire someone they stay fired! I’m not shitting around!”

Movement at the corner of your eye as Rachel Edelstein shakes her head in dismay. “I should never have sent you on that job,” she says.

The assignment where you met Trevor, she means. You worked for her for five years, off and on, between stints as a production assistant and waitress, every free moment spent typing scripts in your hot little studio apartment. She would phone your Motorola pager and dispatch you to the Writer’s Guild, to Television City, to Disney Studios. Once, for three months, you answered Dustin Hoffman’s phone and walked his dog. Then one day she sent you to a little tiny production office in Burbank, some lunatic producer who liked shows about vampires, and little did you know he was the devil in disguise.

Devil or not, he taught you how to break a script down into beats, how to write arcs and cliffhangers, how to survive crazy actors and insecure writers and lunatic directors.

“I learned more from him in six weeks than I learned in four years of college,” you say to Rachel.

“You taught yourself.” Rachel waves her hand. “But look at the cost!”

Perimenopausal you stops at the craft services table. But you’re not reaching for a snack. You’re groping out for the edge of the table to steady yourself. Your face is as gray as your blouse. Your eyes bulge. Trevor keeps yelling, how dare you unfire someone, and Landon Oaks looks over with his pretty green eyes, and Mario the director says, “Sheila, are you—?” but it’s too late, you’re already collapsing gracelessly, first one knee thwacking into the cement floor, then pitching sideways—

Your younger self turns to Rachel. She is shaking her head sadly. The beauty mark by her mouth jiggles at the edge of her cheek.

And you realize you were wrong again. This never was a limbo story. Rachel Edelstein died two years ago in a nursing home in Reseda. You were in Vancouver and couldn’t make it to the funeral, but you sent flowers.

“I know what you are,” you say.

“Hmmm?” she asks, eyes bright behind her red rhinestone glasses.

“But I don’t believe in fairy godmothers,” you add. “They’re too cliché. No one writes them anymore.”

“Silly Shayna,” she says fondly. “I’m not your fairy godmother. I’m your guardian angel. That’s a different story arc altogether.”

Over on the floor, people are gathered around your body. Someone is yelling for 911. Trevor has gone utterly silent, which is a first in his entire life, and one of the production assistants is taking pictures with his iPhone (you make a note to fire him if you survive).

“And so young,” Rachel says sadly. “Did you know that heart disease kills more women your age than anything else?”

“I’m not ready to die,” you tell her.

“No one ever is, Shayna.”

Stage 11 starts to dissolve. You feel yourself floating upward, rising toward the lights and rafters. There’s a road up there, winding through distant trees, your father at the wheel of a car that never needs fuel. He’s driving with Isaac Asimov now. You reach down for Rachel, try to grab her like an anchor, but she’s gone back to her desk and phone and deals, and there’s only your big limp body, your limbs askew, someone pounding on your chest, and oh, look—Landon Oaks is blowing air into your mouth. He grew up in Tarzana and spent three summers as lifeguard in Malibu before a casting agent found him.

If you survive this, you’ll owe him a big basket of gourmet muffins.

***

Of course you survive.

Your hospital room fills up with flowers, balloons, chocolate-covered fruit arranged like flowers, get-well cards, and all manner of gifts. Steven takes some to your apartment for you when the counters get too crowded. Best of all are the reviews and ratings for the premiere of Edge of Infinity: glowing words from Entertainment Weekly, number one in your timeslot in the Nielsen overnights.

“I’m quitting,” you tell Steven.

“What?” he demands. “You can’t!”

“She just said she is,” says Claire, Steven’s new wife, as she bustles in with a carryout tray of juice smoothies from that trendy new spot on Ventura near Woodman. Claire used to be Steven’s assistant. She’s not the brightest bulb in the Klieg lights of Hollywood but she makes him happy. Besides, she loves cats, and she’s been feeding yours while you’re hospitalized. “Did you know that Meg Ryan is in the room down the hall? Some kind of allergic reaction to her Botox.”

Steven doesn’t care about Meg Ryan. He cares about his hit new show. “Sheila, you can’t bail now! After all your work—”

“I can’t work with Trevor anymore,” you tell him. “Doctor’s orders.”

Claire hands over your apple-celery juice. “Good for you.”

“What about the cast and crew?” Steven asks, looking as if he might be next in the heart-attack department. “You’re going to abandon them? Leave them all to Trevor? It would be inhumane.”

The juice is lovely. You miss frappuccinos, of course, but the doctor’s been pretty clear about banning caffeine, dairy, and fats in your diet. You’re going to have start going to the gym. You’re going to have to take care of yourself. Step one in the self-help plan? No more Trevor.

“Well,” you say thoughtfully, “I guess the network will have to fire him and make me the showrunner instead.”

Claire slurps from a carrot-apple juice. “They did it to Frank Darabont on The Walking Dead.”

Wrong network, but the principle’s the same.

“I need to go breathe into a paper bag,” Steven says.

Of course nothing is easy. Some slick lawyers will earn hefty fees; Trevor will throw a temper tantrum that gets him kicked off the lot; TMZ will air all the juicy rumors. But in the end you’ll be in charge of Edge of Infinity, which will go on to air for seven years and win three People’s Choice awards, though never an Emmy. Trevor will go back to Vancouver. He’ll make another show about Vikings.

***

One last scene: they call it the episode tag. On the day you get discharged from the hospital, as a nurse wheels you toward the elevator, you see a visitor heading for Meg Ryan’s room. It takes a minute for you to recognize her. She’s not as slim as she used to be, not as young, but who is? She’s a successful novelist and screenwriter. She still has the same wise look in her eyes, decades of hard-won knowledge that began with a movie about a princess and an empire.

“Aren’t you in charge of Edge of Infinity?” she asks, stopping, her arms full of yellow flowers.

You ask, “Aren’t you Carrie Fisher?”

“I loved the premiere,” she says with a quicksilver smile. “We should do lunch.”

This is Hollywood, after all. Any dream can come true if you dream it hard enough.

© 2012 Sandra McDonald.

Sandra McDonald

Sandra McDonaldFour of Sandra McDonald’s stories have been noted on the Tiptree Award Honor List, and her collection Diana Comet and Other Impossible Stories was a Booklist Editor’s Choice and ALA Over the Rainbow book. She is the author of The Outback Stars series of SF adventures, the Fisher Key mysteries for GLBTQ young adults, and stories that have appeared in Asimov’s, Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, Beyond Binary and War and Space: Recent Combat as well other magazines and anthologies. Once upon a time she was Hollywood assistant who worked at CBS Television and Disney Studios.  Visit her at http://www.sandramcdonald.com.

5 Responses »

  1. Sandra McDonald’s “Searching for Slave Leia” shows us how a pro writer can seamlessly blend time travel, life choices, moviemaking, culture notes, and societal changes in a very funny and highly entertaining story that, on the plus side, has a happy ending no reader in his right mind would question. (Am not ashamed to admit I have a weakness for nicely done, feel-good stories.)

  2. Great story, I’d particularly like to congratulate the narrator of the audio version, Gabrielle de Cuir, the impression of a later day Carrie Fisher is completely uncanny!

  3. Loved this. Of many gems, my favorite: “Of course you survive.”

  4. Absolutely delightful… satisfying on so many levels. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story. Thank you very much.

  5. I don’t know why I kept tearing up during this story, but I did. Very sweet.

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