Kevin J. Anderson is a Hugo nominee, the author of more than forty New York Times bestsellers, and recently became a publisher of WordFire Press. This is his fourth appearance in Galaxy’s Edge, and the second featuring his popular detective Dan Shamble.

A Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. Adventure
Kevin J. Anderson


“Come on, Shamble—it’ll be fun,” said Officer Toby McGoohan, my best human friend. He acted as if he’d gotten season tickets to his favorite sports team.

I was immediately suspicious, sure that this would not be typical police business. “I don’t even know what a cosplay convention is, McGoo.”

He had met me outside the offices of Chambeaux & Deyer Investigations, seemingly by happy coincidence as he walked his beat, but we both knew it wasn’t an accident. He’d been waiting for me.

“Cosplay—costume playing. It’s when people dress up as characters from their favorite movies, TV shows, comics, video games, whatever.” He had looked it up online, so he considered himself an expert.

“Oh. Trick or treat for grownups.” Every day in the Unnatural Quarter, I saw a parade of werewolves, mummies, vampires, zombies, ghosts, witches, and second-string monsters, so I wasn’t going to be impressed by a few interesting costumes.

“A lot more than that. These people think they are the characters. It gets a little intense. And weird. And fun.”

It didn’t sound any stranger than my usual cases, and McGoo and I often helped each other out. “So why do they need a zombie detective?”

He seemed exasperated that I was spoiling his fun by being such a hard sell. “They don’t need a zombie detective any more than they need a beat cop, but the hotel manager is nervous about having such big crowds—naturals, unnaturals, all those people running around in costumes. Thought he might need some extra security.” McGoo flashed one of those grins that had, over the years, convinced me to do things that would get us both in trouble. “Besides, he gave us two free passes to the con.”

He’s a redhead with a round, freckled face and a rough sense of humor (to put it mildly). We’ve been friends for a long time, even back when I was still alive, and our friendship had survived me coming back as one of the walking dead. If a friendship can survive that, it can survive anything (though he still makes jokes about the unsightly bullet hole in my forehead).

My caseload at Chambeaux & Deyer Investigations was light at the moment, so I shrugged and agreed to go. I had already been to the Worldwide Horror Convention when it was held in the Quarter last year. I assumed this would be the same sort of thing.

So, that was why the two of us found ourselves in the lobby of the Motel Six Feet Under and Conference Center standing next to two clattery silver-armored cylons from the old Battlestar Galactica TV show. They gleamed and hummed, red optical sensors in their helmet visors drifting to and fro.

“CosplayCon security,” one said in a vibrating synthetic voice that I could barely understand. He took his helmet off to reveal a young man with dark sweat-plastered hair. “Whew, those things get hot after awhile! Thanks for joining us, but I doubt you guys’ll be needed. We don’t expect any trouble. Everyone has a good time at the con.”

As I looked around the lobby and common areas, I saw Klingons with wicked-looking bat’leths, masked ninjas with curved swords, Star Wars stormtroopers with heavy blasters, Lord of the Rings orcs with large battle-axes.

“How could there possibly be trouble?” I asked. “Nothing looks harmful at all.”

“All the weapons are peace-bonded,” said the cylon. When I gave him a blank look and McGoo didn’t seem to recognize the term from his extensive Wikipedia research, the cylon security guard said, “Zip-tied. Everything’s strapped down so the bladed weapons are perfectly safe. And of course the blasters are just molded resin props. The Jedi lightsabers are neon tubes.” The cylon put his helmet back on and told us in his monotone robotic voice, “Have fun—and stay in character,” then marched off with a clatter of silver armor.

Tables had been set up in the hall with volunteer staff doing their best to register attendees. This was the first year of CosplayCon in the Unnatural Quarter, and they were glad for the added attraction of real monster attendees as well as cosplayers.

A banner over the registration area proclaimed, “We are all someone else inside!” and the program book cover said, “Find your inner YOU!” as if this was a therapy session. Maybe it was—costume therapy.

At the motel front desk, a lone vampire clerk shook his head at all the costumes. He muttered, “Bunch of weirdos,” then went back to a magazine he was reading. I didn’t see why costumed fans were any weirder than the socially acceptable sports fans who put Viking helmets or cheese wedges on their heads.

Normally on a slow Saturday I might have walked around the Quarter with Sheyenne, or helped Robin finish paperwork on cases. Like any workaholic, I had “fun” by doing my job—solving cases and helping clients. It was my reason for living, in a loose definition of the term.

Over the past decade since their reappearances, unnaturals tended to gather in this section of the city where they were accepted, where they felt right at home. But they still had problems, just like anyone else. While most unnaturals lived perfectly normal everyday lives, some were criminals; others wanted a divorce; others needed to find lost family members. A detective working in the Quarter had the same sort of cases as a mundane detective on the outside, but the clientele was a little stranger.

Back when I was living, and trying to make a living, I’d partnered up with a young firebrand lawyer, and I had a good run, a successful business, before I was killed. But, as I said, I like doing what I do. So when I came back from the dead, I just got back to work.

In the Unnatural Quarter, being a zombie is no handicap to being a detective, though I insist on maintaining my physical appearance, bathing regularly, going for scheduled top-offs at the embalming parlor, even seeing to it that I receive my monthly maintenance spell. I won’t let myself turn into one of those slobbering, shuffling embarrassments that make polite society turn up their noses at zombies.

I’m accustomed to seeing monsters in my everyday life, but I had to admit these costumes were amazing, even a little intimidating, when I started to think about the obsessive time and effort the fans had put into making them.

A squad of white-armored Star Wars stormtroopers marched past, representing the 501st Legion, led by an impressive black-caped and wheezing Darth Vader impersonator.

A group of Klingons had taken over the motel’s woefully inadequate coffee shop and sat around the tables, pounding fists and demanding more coffee. They grew louder and more unruly by the minute, while a harried-looking mummy waitress tried her best to serve them.

A drunk furry fan was coming on to a full-furred werewolf busboy, who didn’t know how to react to all the unwarranted and unwanted attention.

“See, told you this would be fun, Shamble,” McGoo said. “Look over there, it’s the Doctor. How many can you name?”

I looked around, but only saw a random assortment of eccentric-looking men. “Who?”

McGoo rolled his eyes. “Let’s not get into the Abbott and Costello routine. Dr. Who. The first one there with short dark hair—he’s the David Tennant Doctor. And the one with the scarf—you gotta recognize him—it’s a Tom Baker lookalike, probably the most classic Dr. Who. And the one with the bow tie—Matt Smith.”

Even after all this time, I was surprised to learn something new about my friend. “I didn’t know you were a fanboy, McGoo.”

“Not to this extent,” he said, gesturing around. “But I’ve got a TV, and I am culturally aware.”

One tall beanpole fan peered over the crowd, trying to reach the information table. Finally he gave up and just yelled, “What time is Van Helsing going to be on stage?” Some of the vampire attendees booed.

“Five o’clock in the main ballroom,” yelled an unseen person from behind the desk.

Four skinny guys in clinging red shirts from classic Star Trek walked by, and someone yelled in mock panic, “Look out, it’s redshirts!” I couldn’t see why they posed any kind of threat; in fact, the tight shirts emphasized how scrawny their arms and chests were. If that was the kind of security available to Captain Kirk and crew, no wonder the old show got canceled after only three seasons.

For my own part, I wore my usual sports jacket with crudely stitched-up bullet holes and my fedora—it’s my trademark, and what P.I. would be without one? McGoo wore his blue beat-cop uniform, and everyone seemed to think he was playing a part from an old police show. Several fans came up with very clever guesses from obscure programs that I hadn’t heard of in years. One fan marched up with a sneer, poked a finger at McGoo’s chest, and said, “T.J. Hooker—not Shatner’s best,” then walked away without waiting for a response.

Suddenly, we heard yelling from the mezzanine open area and the sounds of a growing altercation. McGoo glanced at me. “This is what we’re here for, Shamble. Come on.”

We ran up the stairs (and I use the term “ran” loosely, since my joints are stiff enough that it takes me a while to get up to speed). A group of rowdy Klingons yelled, “Star Trek is better!” One heavyset Klingon woman had the loudest voice of all.

Across the room, the 501st stormtroopers, who had made an uneasy alliance with costumed Jedi Knights and Mandalorian bounty hunters, took offense. “Star Wars is better!”

Star Trek!” insisted the Klingons.

“No, Star Wars!” The intellectual debate continued in that fashion for a few more exchanges before the groups ran forward and clashed in an all-out brawl. The Klingons struggled to draw their bat’leths against the peacebonding ties. The stormtroopers punched and pummeled with a clatter of white plastic armor. The Jedi Knights lit their fluorescent-tube lightsabers, but were careful not to damage them.

Before McGoo and I could break up the fight, the group of redshirts rushed into the fray, trying to drive the combatants apart. Eventually, the Klingons brushed themselves off and the 501sters adjusted their body armor. Somehow, the only ones genuinely battered, bruised, and injured in the fight were the redshirts.

“You’re right, McGoo. This is fun.” I smiled.

Wandering about to get the lay of the con, we walked past large and small panel rooms, costuming workshops, and autograph tables featuring bit actors from long-canceled programs. One large room hosted a “robot smash” where model-builders pitted a remote-controlled R2D2 against a more ominous-looking Dalek. The two machines clashed, with the Dalek crying in a synthesized voice, “Annihilate, Annihilate!” while R2D2 responded with a series of incomprehensible but clearly rude beeps and squeals.

Primarily, though, people wanted to show off their outfits (or lack thereof, in the case of some of the very scantily clad barbarian princesses).

A hard-faced Asian woman wearing a COSTUME JUDGE badge blocked my way. As she ran her critical gaze up and down my appearance, she looked as if she’d had her sense of humor surgically removed. In an officious voice, she said, “I’ve seen one or two of you already at the con, but your costume isn’t up to snuff.” She clucked her tongue, then tugged on the front of my sport jacket. “Wrong number of bullet holes on the left. That exit wound in your forehead is at least a centimeter off. And that makeup is terrible. It should be blended more.”

“But I’m the real one,” I said. “I am Dan Chambeaux.”

She rolled her eyes. “Right, keep telling yourself that. Getting into character is important, but you have to take the costume seriously, too. After a decade as a cosplayer, trust me, I know what I’m talking about. If you’re going to be a zombie detective, at least do it right.” She walked off muttering.

Loud enough to slice through the background noise came a bloodcurdling scream—and not the good kind of bloodcurdling scream. We hurried toward the source, as did all the other attendees, as if the shriek somehow signaled free beer for everyone.

McGoo and I shoved our way toward a small second-floor panel room, but a crowd had already clogged the door. We tried to jostle people aside, but they reacted as if we were just fellow costumers. So we got more aggressive and finally made it through the door.

A stormtrooper lay sprawled on his back on the floor—with a wooden stake protruding from his chest. It had been pounded right through the white armor plate.

A burly Klingon stood over him, raising both hands. His bronze skin was flushed and his mouth drawn back in panic. “I just found him like that!”

A young woman in the back of the room—a motel employee holding a pitcher of water for the next panel—screamed again for good measure, although her first scream had already accomplished whatever a scream could do.

By now, all the formerly brawling Star Wars and Star Trek fans had made their way to the crime scene. The man in the Vader suit came huffing up behind them all, gasping with real exertion that was louder than the sound of his respirator voice box. The stormtroopers reeled when they saw their murdered comrade. One of the troopers looked through the open door and cried out, “Oh, no! It’s TK-9399!”

I asked, “You can tell that just at a glance?”

The helmet turned toward me. “Of course, look at the red shoulder pauldron. It’s very distinctive. That’s TK-9399 all right.”

“Yes, I suppose it is.” I turned and called out, “Is there a doctor in the house?” The David Tennant, Matt Smith, and Tom Baker Whos arrived, drawing sonic screwdrivers and looking eager to help. I revised my shout. “Somebody call an ambulance.”

McGoo drove the spectators away. “Out of the way, all of you. This is a crime scene.”

“I didn’t do it!” yelled the Klingon, unable to tear his gaze from the body on the floor. “I didn’t touch him!”

McGoo turned to him. “I’m Officer Toby McGoohan from the UQPD. I need to ask you some questions. What’s your name?”

The Klingon composed himself and said proudly, “I am Ach-gLokh Heqht!”

McGoo had drawn a pad from his pocket, poised to take down the information, but didn’t know how to spell it. “Is that a name, or are you coughing up phlegm?”

“That is how I got my name!”

“Ach-gLokh Heqht didn’t do it!” claimed a loud and busty Klingon woman. “I was with him at the time.”

“No you weren’t,” I said. “I saw you in the altercation up on the mezzanine just a few minutes ago.”

“You would call me a liar?” The Klingon female strode forward as if she meant to tear my limbs off.

I’ve already been through having a limb torn off, though, and found it unpleasant. I backed away, trying to be calm. “Just stating a fact, ma’am. It won’t do for an alibi.”

The Klingons regrouped and tried to come up with something else. McGoo and I bent over the staked stormtrooper.

“Take his bucket off,” called one of the troopers in a sad voice. It took me a minute to realize that he meant the helmet.

McGoo shook his head. “Nothing gets removed until the coroner examines him.”

“What if he’s not entirely dead?” I asked. “Never can tell these days.”

Though it went against normal police procedure, McGoo couldn’t argue with that. “Right, Shamble. Better make sure.” He and I carefully lifted off the victim’s helmet without disturbing any other part of the armor.

Then we discovered an even greater surprise. The dead stormtrooper TK-9399 was a vampire.


The ambulance and the coroner’s wagon arrived together with a dueling set of screeching their tires in the motel’s designated “Coroner” and “Ambulance” parking spot. (The two spots saw frequent use.)

McGoo had called for UQPD backup, and now half a dozen uniformed officers swarmed through the Motel Six Feet Under and Conference Center … which was even more confusing because some of the cosplayers wore similar—some might say better executed—uniforms, including one dressed up as the T-1000 from Terminator 2.

The Klingons had commandeered the coffee shop again, where they demanded goblets of warm bloodwine to celebrate the life of TK-9399, whose soul had now gone off to some place called Sto-vo-kor … which sparked a lively discussion as to whether Star Wars fans could even go to Sto-vo-kor, or if that was exclusively limited to the Star Trek franchise.

McGoo and I went to the Con-Ops room, just off the registration area. We met the pot-bellied and balding con chairman named Phil Somerstein. He looked bleary-eyed, harried, and overworked with management details. The murder of one of the CosplayCon attendees seemed just one more hassle he had to deal with.

McGoo said, “This is an active investigation, Mr. Somerstein. I’m going to have to impose a lockdown. The murderer is likely still in the motel, and until we’ve had a chance to talk to everybody, we’ll need your help in insuring that all of your attendees stay put.”

Somerstein wiped a sweaty palm across a sweaty forehead. “Officer McGoohan, you don’t understand—this is con weekend. Nobody’s leaving the motel, with or without a lockdown.”

The elevator chimed, and the doors slid open to reveal two uniformed trolls from the coroner’s office. They wheeled a gurney on which rested the zipped-up body bag. They had placed TK-9399’s white bucket on his chest like a memorial, and as they rolled the gurney past, the other 501sters stood in a solemn honor guard, their heads bowed. Darth Vader also hung his helmet, flicking off the respirator in a sign of respect.

One of the stormtroopers shook his white helmet. “He never stopped trooping.”

The crime-scene techs had swarmed in with their kits, taking the necessary photos, although many of them spent too much time taking additional photos of sexy Xenas and Wonder Womans (Wonder Women?) who posed for the shots. The police detectives conducted interviews. Off in a quiet area they were taking statements from a Batman and an Indiana Jones.

McGoo looked overwhelmed already. “I may need your help with this, Shamble.”

“The cases don’t solve themselves,” I said. “And you did promise me this would be fun.” I was already starting to formulate a plan.

Ach-gLokh Heqht was the obvious suspect, and I’ve been a detective long enough to know that the obvious suspect usually isn’t the guilty one in the end. Besides, if all these cosplayers were really into their characters, why would a Klingon kill someone by pounding a wooden stake through the chest? TK-9399 was a vampire, however, so the murderer’s options had been limited. Still, I would have expected a Klingon to, say, decapitate him with a bat’leth and stuff his mouth full of garlic. Then I realized the white bucket would have posed a challenge to the garlic follow-up.…

“I can help,” said a cheery voice. “It’s what I do.”

I turned, and faced myself—or at least a reasonable facsimile of me. He extended his hand. “Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I.”

I was taken aback—he had the fedora, the bullet hole in his forehead (though shifted a centimeter closer to center than mine was), and his skin was pallid. His sport jacket had prominent stitched-up holes. His facial features even bore a strong resemblance to mine. “You dressed up as me?”

“It’s an honor to meet you, Mr. Shamble. I’ve read all your books.”

“They’re not actually my books,” I said. “Someone else writes them, and they’re just loosely based on my actual cases.” In fact, I found it embarrassing that Howard Phillips Publishing kept releasing comedic horror mysteries that featured the cases of a fictitious zombie detective, based on me. “Just as long as you remember that I’m the real one.” I paused to consider. “I’ll call you Fanble.”

He seemed disappointed. “But I have to believe I’m the real Dan Shamble. It’s cosplay. I’m in character. Cosplay means you are that character, not just dressed like him. It’s all about finding the real me inside.”

“Right. I saw the program book.”

McGoo looked from Fanble to me and back to Fanble again. “Usually one Shamble’s enough, but we have a lot of potential witnesses and a lot of potential suspects.” He raised an eyebrow, as if about to give a test. “Hey, Fanble, have you heard this one? A skeleton walks into a bar, says to the bartender, ‘Give me a beer … and a mop!’”

Fanble managed to stay in character by not laughing any more than I did. McGoo has an unfortunate repertoire of bad jokes.

McGoo shook his head. “Yeah, Shamble, he’s just like you.” He started off down the hall. “Let me talk to the crime-scene techs to see what they found.”

I nodded. “Meanwhile, I’ll go meet with the stormtroopers, learn more about the victim.”

“We’re on it, McGoo,” said Fanble. “The cases don’t solve themselves.”


After TK-9399 had been hauled away in a body bag, CosplayCon got right back into swing as if nothing had happened. The attendees waited all year for this event, and they worked on their costumes with obsessive attention to detail. They weren’t going to let a simple thing like a murder ruin their fun.

I didn’t know what to think about Fanble. He seemed earnest and more serious about being “me” than I was. He took great care to imitate my movements, my mannerisms. It was like having my own portable 3D mirror walking alongside me. I decided to accept the help, though. Two heads are better than one when trying to solve a case.

The 501st troopers were nowhere to be found. I looked around, frustrated. “How do you hide a bunch of fans in identical white armor or a tall man in a Darth Vader suit?”

Fanble responded, “It’s our job to find out. We are detectives, after all.”

As we walked down the hall, other con attendees gave admiring glances and complimented us on our realistic costumes. When I assessed Fanble again, I realized that the bullet hole in his forehead was in the correct spot after all. I must not have noticed it before. We looked like twins.

But the grin on his face made him appear immature and idiotic. Did I really look like that? “Don’t smile so much,” I said. “It’s out of character.” He immediately resumed a stern “I’m a PI and I’m at work” expression.

A young man impersonating Edward from Twilight—who didn’t look like any real vampire I had ever met in the Quarter—asked us if we knew when and where Van Helsing would be giving his talk. Fanble gave him the Crown Ballroom number, then asked if “Edward” knew where we could find the 501st members. I wouldn’t have expected a character from Twilight to pay much attention to Star Wars personnel, but the imitation sparkler directed us to an unused panel room that the stormtroopers had commandeered.

Fanble and I looked at each other. “Do you think they’re discussing the case? Maybe working out a retaliation against the Klingons?” he asked.

“Maybe they’re holding some kind of memorial for TK-9399,” I said. We found the door and pulled it open without knocking. In detective school I was taught that it’s best to surprise your suspects.

The surprise wasn’t exactly what I’d intended, though, because we came upon a group of half-undressed stormtroopers. Definitely not something I’d ever intended to see.

“Oh, excuse us,” I said.

Fanble added in a gruff, no-nonsense voice, “We’re investigating the murder of a Mr. TK-9399.”

The troopers had taken off their helmets and shucked out of their white resin armor. They stood around in skin-tight body gloves while they adjusted boots, butt plates, greaves, and shin plates.

“Come on in, but close the door,” said the troop leader, who identified himself as TK-6370. “We’ve got an important troop in an hour, lots of exposure, lots of attention. We wanted to check our kits.”

“I’m sorry about your fallen trooper,” I said. “We’re trying to determine who killed him and why.”

The stormtroopers grew solemn. “Poor TK-9399. Even after he died and came back as a vampire, nothing changed. I’ve never seen a fan so dedicated. Star Wars is a way of life.” That trooper identified himself as TK-7246.

Another trooper, TK-9754, said, “I’m going to miss TK-9399. Sure, he was a fan. Sure, he was a vampire. But he didn’t let that change who he was. TK-9399 always used to say ‘Star Wars is my life, and now it’s my unlife.’” He picked up a piece of white plastic and turned to the person beside him. “Help me with my codpiece, will you?”

The man in the Darth Vader suit flicked his respirator box on and off, fiddled with the sound effects, then unsnapped a compartment on his wide utility belt to remove a roll of menthol cough drops. “TK-9399 caused quite a stir by trooping as a vampire. He was an activist, even wanted to form an Unnatural Quarter garrison. He tried to round up Star Wars fans among the werewolves, mummies and ghosts.” He tugged on his black gloves. “He thought it would be cool to have a real ghost Obi-Wan and Anakin, maybe even a troll dressing up as Yoda. TK-9399 didn’t expect to cause trouble by expanding the fanbase.”

TK-6370 chimed in (and I was proud of myself for remembering the name/number), “Star Wars is a pretty diverse universe. Think of the cantina scene, or Jabba’s Palace. Gamorreans and Jawas, Twi’Leks and Trandoshans, Gungans, Ithorians—even Chiss and Khomms and Dathomiri.”

TK-5794 snorted. “Chiss and Khomms and Dathomiri are from the Expanded Universe. I hear even Disney’s dumping those now.”

“They still count,” insisted TK-6370.

“And don’t mention Gungans. I want a Jar-Jar free convention,” said another trooper; I was starting to lose track of the numbers.

“Point is, everybody gets along just fine. Why can’t vampire fans and human fans share a love of Star Wars? But TK-10625 certainly didn’t like it. He claimed it was ruining the purity of Star Wars, to which we all said, ‘Excuse me, Star Wars Holiday Special?’”

“And Greedo shooting first? Like that’s pure?” piped up another trooper, to a general groan of assent.

“TK-10625?” I asked, looking around.

“What really bothered TK-10625 was that TK-9399 had to wear a modified stormtrooper suit and armor once he became a vampire. Added sun protection so he could troop out in broad daylight as long as he wanted,” said TK-5470. “But TK-10625 said the modifications made the armor an unofficial variant and therefore non-canon.”

Several troopers groaned simultaneously. “Let’s not get into the canon discussion again.”

“But TK-10625 can be a stubborn and angry man. He didn’t like the idea of an Unnatural Quarter garrison at all, and he made no secret about that.”

Fanble stepped up. “Where is TK-10625 now? We’d like to talk with him.”

“Not here,” said TK-6370 with a sigh. “Just after the con started, he and TK-9399 got into a huge argument. TK-10625 stormed off, and we haven’t seen him since. I was surprised TK-10625 agreed to troop at CosplayCon in the first place.”

I glanced at Fanble, then looked at the troopers. “A huge argument? And TK-9399 was murdered right after that?”

The man in the Vader suit frowned. “Sure, but a lot of things happened right around then. I mean, the con was getting into full swing.”

TK-5794 glanced at the wall clock. “Time’s tight. Better get ready to troop.”

TK-6370 nodded. “Happy to help with the investigation, but we’ve got to be on stage in a few minutes.”

Fanble also looked anxious. “I have to go, too, Mr. Shamble.”

“It’s Chambeaux,” I said. “You should know better. What’s so important?”

“Van Helsing is about to take the main stage. Who wants to miss that?”

I had intended to miss it, but I let Fanble go, and he dashed off so he could get a good seat. The 501sters finished adjusting their armor components. TK-6370 said, “Buckets on!” and they all donned their helmets. I was now in a room full of identical stormtroopers (although one of them seemed a little short). The man in the Vader suit flicked on his respirator, seated his black helmet in place.

“What is this important troop you’re doing?” I asked.

Between gasping breaths, his words garbled by the cough drop, the Vader impersonator said, “We’re escorting Van Helsing in the main ballroom.”

“And … how can you tell each other apart?”

“We are supposed to be clones,” said one trooper, and they marched out.


Out in the common area, a Heath Ledger version of the Joker was comparing notes with a Cesar Romero version of the Joker as the crowds made their way toward the ballroom, ready for the main event.

Since I was alone for the moment, I took a few minutes to call the office—not because I had any important pending cases, but because I wanted to talk to Sheyenne. “Sorry, Spooky, this was our date day,” I said. “You would’ve enjoyed hanging out at this cosplay convention.”

I could picture her ethereal spectral form as she sat at her desk in Chambeaux & Deyer Investigations. She would hold the phone, smiling, her sparkling blue eyes lighting up. “You always take me to interesting places, Beaux.”

“Interesting … right. This time a murder’s gotten in the way. Star Wars fan dressed up in a stormtrooper outfit found dead with a stake through his heart. Turns out he was a vampire. We’ve got a Klingon as our main witness.”

“Oh, another one of those,” Sheyenne said. “Are we on the case?”

“I’m here helping McGoo. The motel’s on lockdown, but no one seems interested in leaving anyway.”

“Let me know if you need our help. Robin and I are here for you.”

“I’ve already picked up an unexpected sidekick,” I said, looking around for Fanble, but I didn’t see him among the crowds. “I’ll explain later.”

After I said goodbye to Sheyenne, McGoo came up, red-faced and harried. “I tell you, Shamble, this is turning out to be a full-fledged cluster-frack.”

“Cluster-frack? That’s a new one.”

“From the new Battlestar Galactica, Shamble. Get with it.” He mopped his forehead. “Ach-gLokh Heqht has gone missing—and the rest of the Klingons aren’t talking. He was our only suspect.”

“We might have another person of interest.” I explained about the internal dispute between TK-9399 and TK-10625.

McGoo looked interested. “All right, let’s have a talk with him. Is he with the other stormtroopers?”

“Unfortunately, no. He’s gone missing as well.”

“How do you lose a Klingon and a stormtrooper in the same day?” McGoo asked, then looked at the chaos of convention-goers and answered his own question.

I said, “I’m going to the main ballroom to see Van Helsing’s keynote speech. Since the man’s known for killing vampires, it’s worth a look.”

McGoo, meanwhile, had to get back to the crime scene. The techs had promised some preliminary results.

I entered the Crown Ballroom, where hundreds of chairs were spread out—and everyone was occupied. I worked my way through the costumed and uncostumed fans, many of whom were unnaturals: curious zombies and werewolves carrying comic book issues and limited-edition action figures. A burly bent-over hunchback clutched a pack of Magic: The Gathering cards, and a mummy held a first-edition papyrus scroll covered with hieroglyphics that he claimed was the “real” ashcan version of Action Comics Issue 0, available only in Ancient Egypt. He was excited at the prospect of getting it signed by one of the ghost comic creators.

Vampires comprised the majority of the seated audience, apparently having a love-hate relationship with Van Helsing.

Over the ballroom PA system, loud music started playing the thunderous notes of the Imperial March. The audience applauded and booed simultaneously as the costumed Darth Vader strode out from backstage, his black cape flowing, boots pounding on the rickety raised platform, respirator chugging. He reached the podium, lifted his black gloves, and waited for the crowd noise to die down. In his best James Earl Jones impersonation, the suited Vader said, “Some consider me a bad guy, a person who took a walk on the dark side of the Force and enjoyed it. But I did get better in the end.”

Several fans in the audience grumbled. I couldn’t tell if they disliked his original villainy or his epiphany.

“My exploits are nothing, however, compared to the man I’m about to introduce. The greatest villain known to monsters … the bloodiest serial killer in all of vampire history.”

The crowd grew more raucous. They screamed, yelled, and hissed. The vampires in the audience rose to their feet, shaking their fists.

“CosplayCon is proud to present our special guest: For one day only—Honest Abe Van Helsing!”

Vader turned and extended an arm in a dramatic gesture to the curtains at stage left. The vamps screamed and roared, then werewolves joined in, and finally everyone in the audience shared in the hate.

With a clatter of plastic armor, the stormtroopers marched in as an honor guard around a man in a trench coat and floppy hat. He had a narrow face, long dark hair, stubbly beard. I wasn’t familiar with this incarnation of the character, but he seemed to exude predatory evil and bloodlust. His eyes were close-set and blazing.

When Vader yielded the podium to the guest of honor, Van Helsing just stood there in silence, spreading his glare across the audience and basking in the anger he provoked. “Thank you for the warm welcome. It makes my blood boil, seeing all of you disgusting creatures out there. You think you’re safe. You think CosplayCon is harmless fun.”

A ghost in the audience yelled, “Boo!”

Van Helsing parted his trench coat like a lecherous flasher to show dozens of sharp wooden stakes tucked into his belt, as well as long knives and a bandolier of garlic bulbs across his chest. “I’ve only got an hour, so I’ll just hit the highlights of my career. Let me reminisce about some of the scumbag bloodsuckers I’ve slain over the years. Ah, there are so many.… Good times!”

The vampires howled so loudly they sounded like werewolves.

“Dracula was the one I killed most often, but that guy’s like a Timex watch—takes a staking and keeps on sucking!” He laughed at his own joke. A few audience members groaned. Van Helsing rattled off his favorite impalements, beheadings, or solar overexposures.

As the crowd grew angrier, I wondered if they remembered that this was just a guy in costume, a fan playing a character. Van Helsing seemed to be really getting into the spirit of his cosplay. Find your inner YOU!

Thinking of that, I looked around for Fanble, since he’d been so interested in the speech, but I couldn’t spot him in the packed ballroom. I did see a couple of other Dan Shambles, though not as well executed as Fanble’s costume.

Even so, I realized that Fanble’s preoccupation with me as an alter ego was nothing more than innocent fun. Van Helsing’s role-playing seemed deadly serious. If this guy truly believed his mission was to kill vampires, and if he happened to find a vampire stormtrooper alone in an empty panel room, maybe he wouldn’t have been able to resist.

I needed to find out if one of his wooden stakes was missing.

After the hour-long panel was over, the crowd filed out of the ballroom, while a few people rushed the stage to mob Van Helsing with questions and curses. Since I had a few questions of my own, I pushed forward, too. “Excuse me, coming through—zombie detective, coming through! Official business—zombie detective.”

When I finally reached the front, fans were pushing program books at Van Helsing for him to autograph while cylon security guards tried to herd people into an organized signing line. When I was within earshot, I introduced myself, which got Van Helsing’s attention. Although he had a grudge against vampires, other types of undead didn’t knot his undies quite so much. “Are you aware there’s been a murder here at the con, Mr. Van Helsing?”

Doctor Van Helsing.”

“Whatever.” I decided to let him stay in character. “A vampire stormtrooper was murdered with a stake through his heart.”

“Murdered?” Van Helsing raised his dark eyebrows. “If he was a vampire, wasn’t he already dead? I’d call that house-cleaning, not murder.”

The gathered vamps spewed more hatred, but Van Helsing ignored them. He looked me in the eye and said, “Vampires everywhere are fair game—even at a cosplay convention. They’d better watch out.”

His comment was greeted by more venomous ire … yet somehow his autographing line got even longer.


The initial report from the crime-scene techs did not contain any good news. McGoo let out a sigh. “Whenever I have a case like this, why can’t we just turn up a simple clue and an obvious explanation?”

“Whenever you have a case like this? When do you ever have a case like this?”

“When I’m around you, Shamble, more often than not.”

The crime-scene techs had dusted the wooden stake from TK-9399’s chest, but found no fingerprints. McGoo tried to draw conclusions. “That means it could have been another stormtrooper—they all wear gloves.”

“So does the Darth Vader guy,” I pointed out, then attempted to remember whether the Klingon Ach-gLokh Heqht had worn gloves as well. “And so do the cylons. And so do half the cosplayers here. And why limit it to that? Many con attendees are unnaturals, and a lot of them don’t have fingerprints at all.”

“Yeah, I guess the lack of fingerprints doesn’t limit the suspect pool by much.”

As McGoo and I talked, two full-furred werewolves walked by, laughing and bumping shoulders. Each wore a Jayne hat, an odd-looking orange-and-brown stocking cap that looked as if it had been knitted by a blind but well-meaning grandmother. The two were immediately adopted by a group of similarly-chapeau’ed Browncoat fans of Firefly, the long-ago canceled show from which the style derived. I realized that everyone seemed to be part of one big happy fannish family. All fun and games, until someone gets murdered.

The Motel Six Feet Under was still on lockdown, with uniformed police officers at all doors, but the attendees didn’t seem distressed, or even interested in leaving. As McGoo and I contemplated our next step, Fanble strutted up, looking as if he had just won some kind of costume contest. “I got a break in the case,” he said.

McGoo looked at me. “How did he figure it out before you?”

Fanble adjusted the fedora. “Never underestimate Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. I had a hunch and, getting into character, I convinced the con chairman to let me see the registration records. He thought I was you.” He nodded toward me, then continued his summary. “I discovered that Ach-gLokh Heqht and TK-10625 both registered under the same street name! They’re the same person in real life.”

McGoo looked at me. “Now that’s unexpected.”

Fanble nodded again. “Indeed. Crossover fandom doesn’t typically happen.”

I said, “The Klingon and the stormtrooper were our two most likely suspects. If they’re the same person, then it sounds like a slam-dunk.” I grudgingly added, “Good work, Fanble.”

Fanble grinned before he remembered to get back into character. “The cases don’t solve themselves.”

“So what’s his real name?” McGoo asked.

Fanble showed great pride as he revealed the identity of our likely perpetrator. “John Doe.”

Just knowing the suspect’s name didn’t help much, though. We had no idea what John Doe really looked like, not that anyone really “looked like” themselves at CosplayCon. Find your Inner YOU!

If Ach-gLokh Heqht/TK-10625 knew he was wanted for detailed questioning, however, maybe he would hole up where he wouldn’t be seen.

“Let’s check with the front desk and get his room number,” I suggested. “We might find some clues there.”

The desk clerk stood behind the front counter, using it as a protective barricade against the costumed fans. McGoo meant business as he strode up and flashed his badge. “UQPD. I need you to let me into a room.”

To show that I meant business, too, I held out my official private investigator’s ID card. “Zombie detective. I’m with him.”

Fanble flashed a fake ID which, I had to admit, looked pretty good. “Zombie Detective II, Cosplay Edition. I’m with them.”

The motel desk clerk, a rabbity little vampire who looked as if he currently regretted his choice of employment, fluttered his hands, mumbled, and turned the computer screen toward him. “And what name is it under?”

“John Doe,” McGoo said.

The desk manager keyed it in. “Yes, we do have a John Doe. He’s in room 1013. May I see your search warrant?”

McGoo smiled benignly at the officious request. “It’s a … welfare check, not a search. We have information that someone may be injured.”

“Oh dear, of course! I’ll make you a duplicate key.”

The three of us waited for an elevator. And waited. And waited. Each elevator stopped at every single floor. The doors finally opened at lobby level to disgorge a throng of cosplayers.

McGoo waved his badge and said, “Police business, we’re commandeering this elevator.” I pushed the button for 10, and we began to ride upward … but of course we stopped at every floor on the way up. Soon the elevator was jammed with imaginary characters. It was a relief to get off on the tenth floor.

McGoo pounded on the door of John Doe’s room. “Police! Open up.” When we received no response, he slipped the magnetic card into the key slot and opened the door. “Okay, we’re coming in.” Before entering, McGoo drew his revolver, and I pulled out my .38.

I was surprised when Fanble also pulled out an identical .38. “Is that real?”

“Part of the costume, for that added bit of realism.”

McGoo frowned. “Shouldn’t it be peace-bonded, like they said?”

He looked too much like me when he responded, “It would be if they knew about it.”

Together, we entered John Doe’s hotel room. The shades were drawn. A suitcase was open on the luggage rack. Clothes lay strewn around the floor and furniture, but the room was silent.

“Looks like nobody’s home,” McGoo said.

“Records showed that only one person checked in here.” I glanced at all the clothes.

“Fans often share a room at cons to save money,” said Fanble, picking up a long Dr. Who scarf draped over the back of a chair. “Maybe John Doe is more than one person.”

McGoo bent over to inspect a half-open black suitcase that contained all the components of stormtrooper armor. “There’s not enough normal stuff here, though. Only one suitcase of street clothes.”

I found a complete Klingon outfit tossed roughly in the corner. Behind the chair, McGoo was startled to come face to face with a polished silvery cylon suit.

Fanble was amazed. “You know, we never did see any of those characters together at the same time.”

“How could you tell?” McGoo went into the bathroom and studied the vanity counter—saw only one toothbrush and a set of basic toiletries. “No makeup here, no prosthetics or wigs. How did he manage that whole turtle head for his Klingon outfit, or the mop of hair for Dr. Who?”

As I went to the closet, I felt a sense of dread. Normally in the Unnatural Quarter you might find skeletons in any random closet, but this time I found something else. When I slid the door aside, I saw the complete Van Helsing outfit hanging there—the trench coat, the bandolier of garlic bulbs, the floppy hat, the belt loaded with wooden stakes.

And yes indeed, one of the stakes was missing.


TK-9399 had somehow made himself a target for either Ach-gLokh Heqht, or TK-10625, or Van Helsing. An intersection of motives. And if the killer had an entirely flexible murderous intent, then CosplayCon was full of potential victims.

We had to find John Doe—and soon. And among hundreds of disguises.

Fanble had had the bright idea to cross-check the registrations, discovering that the various suspect characters were all under the same street name. I had the equally brilliant idea of flipping that around: we could look up any registrations submitted by “John Doe” and find out what other characters he intended to play. Since we’d already found the Klingon, stormtrooper, Dr. Who, and cylon outfits discarded in the hotel room, John Doe had to be wandering around the con dressed as someone or something else.

As precious seconds ticked away, McGoo, Fanble, and I waited for the interminable elevator. Each time the doors opened, the car was going up, not down. Finally, when another upbound elevator opened on Floor 10, two of the costumed fans motioned us in anyway. “Dude,” said a Star Trek redshirt, “you have to go up to go down.”

So we rode the elevator up to Floor 14, then back down to the lobby (again, stopping at every floor). When we reached the lobby, McGoo bolted out, and the two of us zombie detectives—both the fake one and the real one—followed him to the con registration desk.

CosplayCon was in full swing, with attendees preparing for the evening’s big masquerade, though I couldn’t see how an official “masquerade” was any different from the rest of the day here. Natural and unnatural fans were grinning. Werewolves got their pictures taken with Wolverines and a too-scrawny-looking Thor.

We had a case to solve. I could enjoy the con after we captured the murderer.

The registration desk wasn’t busy this time of day, since everyone already had their badges and set about to enjoy the convention (at least those who hadn’t been murdered or were considered suspects). No one was going in or out of the Motel Six Feet Under because of the lockdown.

A woman sat behind the information table, happily knitting, while a forlorn cat sat in a zipped-up pet carrier beside her. The woman looked up. “How may I help you?”

“We need to cross-reference your database,” McGoo said. “One of the con attendees, Mr. John Doe, registered as several different cosplay characters. We need to know the full list so we can track him down.”

She frowned and set down her knitting close to the cat carrier; inside, the feline batted at the sidewalls, trying to catch the yarn. “Our computers are down right now, but fortunately, we rely on a more efficient analog system.” She pulled out a large plastic recipe box full of colored index cards. “I have every one of the attendees listed here. I can look up your John Doe and pull out his entries.”

I let out a sigh of relief. “How long is that going to take?”

“As long as it takes. I’ll flip through the cards and pull them out.”

“Aren’t they organized alphabetically?” Fanble asked.

“No, chronologically. By date of registration.” She began flipping through the cards one at a time, starting at the front. While we waited, I looked at the large banner at the doorway: “We Are All Someone Else Inside!”

Right, I thought. And one of the people here is a murderer.

A group of rowdy Klingons stormed through the lobby, chasing after a Captain Jack Sparrow who had insulted them somehow. A Mandalorian Boba Fett bounty hunter sneered at a colorful figure of Kenny from South Park, saying, “He’s no good to me dead.”

I picked up a spare program book at the registration desk. “Find Your Inner YOU!” Killing time, I flipped through the program listings. McGoo fidgeted, waiting.

Fanble seemed optimistic. “We’re on the verge of solving this case, I know it—and I’m proud that I could help. Is there any better way of getting in character?” He grinned, then remembered his serious expression again. I had to admit, he was doing a decent job.

The registrar’s fingers must have been nimble from her knitting. She flipped through all the cards quickly, pulling out every one that listed John Doe. “That’s all of them.”

McGoo, Fanble, and I turned as she spread the cards as if they came from a Tarot deck. “All these were submitted at different times, all registered to a John Doe. He’s a very ambitious costumer.” She flipped one down. “Klingon, name of Ach-gLokh Heqht.” I was impressed by how well she pronounced the name.

“501st stormtrooper, designated TK-10625. And a Dr. Who—Tom Baker Incarnation—oh, we have several of those here at the con.” She kept flipping down cards.

“Old series cylon, toaster variety.” She pursued her lips. “Hmm. Honest Abe Van Helsing … one or two of those at the con as well, but he claims to be the real one.” She rolled her eyes, “Don’t they all? And …” She held up the last card, squinting down at it. “This is strange … he’s also dressed as Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I.”

McGoo looked at me. “What’s that all about?”

A cold dread rose within me as I turned to look at Fanble. “You?”

Startled, Fanble raised his hands. His fedora was askew. “No, not me! How could you think it was me? It was one of those other guys!” He shook his head as if having a seizure. “That was someone else! They were all someone else!”

“But you’re the one who called attention to John Doe in the first place,” I said, though I liked to think I would have figured it out myself sooner or later. “If you’re the murderer, why would you put us on the trail?”

“Because that’s what Dan Shamble would do.”

McGoo pulled out his handcuffs, crouched, and prepared for a fight.

Fanble lurched away. His shoulders jittered, his arms flapped. His bullet-ridden sport jacket whipped about as he thrashed. His face blurred like melted putty, fuzzing, reshifting. He shook his head. “No, not me! Gotta stay in character … all the voices in my head!” He clapped both hands to his temples, knocking off the fedora. “Too many personalities. So many expectations!” His features shifted, twisted.

After the cosmic upheaval of the Big Uneasy, just about every form of legendary creature had returned to the world, from basic garden-variety vampires, werewolves, et cetera, to the more exotic mythical beings, even including Santa Claus. After all my years of investigating in the Quarter, I was beyond being surprised when I figured it out. “You’re a shape-shifter.”

“That would explain all the different characters,” McGoo said. “John Doe, you are under arrest on suspicion of the murder of TK-9399.”

Fanble backed away, still twisting and writhing. Somehow, he found the energy within himself to snap back into character so that his features looked just like mine again. He reached inside his sport jacket and drew his .38—which I suspected was very real.

The con chairman, Phil Somerstein, ran forward with an angry and annoyed look on his face. “Hey! That’s not properly peacebonded!”

A large number of cosplay fans had gathered in the main lobby, many in costume, everyone excited for the impending masquerade. They gasped to see Fanble wave his gun. He pointed the .38 at me again.

I took a chance, though. I saw how determined Fanble was, how hard he worked. His features were so eerily similar to mine it was like confronting myself in the mirror. Holding my hands up, trying to calm him, I stepped closer.

Fanble yelled, “Don’t come any closer. I’ll shoot!”

“I’ve been shot plenty of times.”

Then the shape-shifter swung the gun toward the fans in the crowd. “Then I’ll shoot them.”

I took another step forward. “But if you’re truly in character, as me, then you know I’d never shoot innocent people. Not humans, not unnaturals.”

The crowd grew thicker around the tableau, redshirts, numerous incarnations of Dr. Who, Klingons, stormtroopers, cylons, Jedi Knights, Browncoats, Visitors, and countless anime, superhero, and videogame characters, even another faux Van Helsing, whose costume was much less impressive than the one I had seen on stage—the costume John Doe had worn.

And it wasn’t just the cosplayers. The unnatural attendees from the Quarter were also caught in the crowd: real vampires, werewolves, even the dedicated mummy fan with his hieroglyphic Issue 0 Action Comics ashcan edition.

Fanble’s .38 wavered. He swung it around the gathered crowd, then seemed to sulk like a marionette with the strings cut. “You’re right—Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. would never do something like that.” He dropped the .38 on the floor, then shucked the sport jacket, stomped on the fedora—and his features began to morph in an extravagant transformation.

As the flaccid flesh, skull, and facial features reorganized themselves, Fanble shifted through Tom Baker, then into a burly Klingon, thrashed about, and finally settled on a powerful and murderous character, someone who would not hesitate to harm innocent fans: Van Helsing—Honest Abe, ruthless vampire serial killer. His eyes flashed, his dark hair writhed. He drew his lips back to expose his teeth in a glare. “I’ll kill you all!”

But despite his facial features, he didn’t have his full costume, didn’t have his tools or props.

Before McGoo and I could bolt forward to seize him, though, my doppelganger lunged toward the crowd like a quarterback in a game. The fans yelled, trying to scramble away.

Then I saw where he was headed. Van Helsing leaped toward the other Van Helsing cosplayer, knocking him to the ground and ripping at the wooden stakes thrust into his belt. He drew back, holding up one of the sharp projectiles.

Trying to get away, the vampires in the crowd screamed, “Watch out! He’s got a stake!”

Van Helsing’s hands blurred as if they were rapid-fire crossbows. He hurled his sharp projectiles at random into the crowd, and somehow every stake struck and injured a Star Trek redshirt, all of whom dropped to the ground, bleeding.

Drawing my own .38, I yelled at McGoo. “As Van Helsing, at least he’s human. We can take him down.”

Realizing his vulnerability as a human, Van Helsing blurred and took on a different form, sprouting fur and massive muscles. His face elongated into a fang-filled canine muzzle and he became a powerful bull werewolf.

I hesitated before I fired, but McGoo didn’t. He drew one of his two service revolvers. “I’ll just wing him,” he said.

McGoo’s shot struck him in the shoulder, which flung the shape-shifter backward to the floor of the lobby. He thrashed about like an earthworm on a hotplate.

“It’s just a flesh wound. I was careful—nothing to worry about.”

The shape-shifter didn’t react as if it were a minor injury, though. He wailed and spasmed, clearly dying.

“What did you hit him with, McGoo?” I asked.

“Uh-oh. Looks like John Doe picked the wrong cosplay creature this time.” He looked down at his service revolver. “This is the one loaded with silver bullets in case I get in a shootout against unnaturals.”

The shape-shifter moaned and jittered, shed his werewolf persona, and lay twitching—a formless thing like a store mannequin whose features had melted away, gasping out of a round toothless mouth.

He said something, and I bent close, still feeling a certain connection to the man—to the being—who had known and imitated me so well. John Doe gasped, “I couldn’t stand the pressure … I just wanted to be somebody … to be everybody.”

With a last writhing rattle, the shape-shifter lost even its featureless humanoid form and dissolved into a puddle of organic goo that seeped into the StainGuard carpet of the motel lobby.

I stood next to McGoo, and he shook his head. “I didn’t mean to kill him. Now there’ll be a lot of paperwork.” He sighed. “I can honestly say I’ve never seen a shape-shifter before.”

I turned to him. “How would you ever know if you had?”

The cylon con security guards came forward to help wrap up, and McGoo decided there was no further need for a lockdown. I realized that it was a good thing McGoo had coaxed me here in the first place.

I felt sorry for Fanble. He had been so earnest, wanting to be the best “me” he could be. I often wondered who I really was inside, just an undead guy who liked to solve cases—was that enough? I had a wonderful (if ectoplasmic) girlfriend in Sheyenne, a great partner in Robin, a true friend in McGoo. I didn’t have a need to be anybody else. Zombie detective suited me just fine.

Phil Somerstein announced that the CosplayCon Masquerade would take place in fifteen minutes, on schedule. He called out, “Photo opportunities in the side hall.”

McGoo looked at me, adjusted his cap, and I adjusted my fedora. Both of us had to remain in character, of course. “I told you this would be fun, Shamble. Thanks for your help solving the case.”

“It’s what I do,” I said. Maybe I’d call Sheyenne after all. She might enjoy this with me. The event ran all weekend.

As people passed, Phil Somerstein handed out pre-registration cards for next year’s CosplayCon. Almost everybody took one.

So did I.


Copyright © 2014 by Wordfire, Inc..





The Editor's Word

by Eric Cline

by Edward M. Lerner

by George Nikolopoulos

by Effie Seiberg and
Spencer Ellsworth

by Lou J Berger

by Robert Silverberg

by Patrick Hurley

by Emily McCosh

by Kevin J. Anderson

by Mercedes Lackey

by Larry Niven

by Joy Ward

Double Star (Part 3)
Heinlein's First Hugo Winner
by Robert A. Heinlein

From the Heart's Basement
by Barry N. Malzberg

Science Column
by Gregory Benford

Recommended Books
by Bill Fawcett & Jody Lynn Nye







Copyright © Arc Manor LLC 2017. All Rights Reserved. Galaxy's Edge is an online magazine published every two months (January, March, May, July, September, November) by Phoenix Pick, the Science Fiction and Fantasy imprint of Arc Manor Publishers.