Author:Kathy Reichs

    It’s safe to say I’d never seen anything like it.


    Nerd Nirvana. Geek Paradise.

    The entertainment event of the year, every year.

    And the boys and I were at ground zero, strolling the packed exhibit hall floor.

    “Check out that guy.” Ben nudged my arm, nodded toward a gawky teenager dressed in a puzzling assemblage of red-and-blue-cardboard boxes. The pimple-faced boy was leaning against one of the room’s massive pillars, scarfing a slice of pizza. “I didn’t know Optimus Prime was a fan of pepperoni.”

    My nose crinkled at the sight. “Robots need fuel, too, I guess.”

    Ben shook his head, a smirk framing his dark brown eyes. “No. Just, no.”

    I was forced to jump aside as a gaggle of black-robed ninjas stormed past us, intent on a free T-shirt line forming at the video-gaming station just ahead. My fourth near-trampling of the morning.

    “This place is crazy!” Edging farther from the cavernous chamber’s main thoroughfare, I ran fingers through my tangled red hair. “I might buy one of those Hunger Games bows for personal protection.”

    “Crazy awesome, you mean.” Hi’s voice. Somewhere behind me. “I’m never leaving this convention. Ever. Tell my mother. I live here now. How come no one ever mentioned Comic-Con before? This is the sum total of everything cool in the universe.”

    I sighed, turned. Abandoned my effort to make it look like we weren’t together.

    Hi’s chubby face beamed as he took in the fanboy glory surrounding us. He wore an unlicensed Iron Man costume purchased online. The full-body red-and-yellow spandex left little to the imagination. A dozen people had asked for his picture already.

    Shelton stood beside Hi, in a daze, dressed like Obi-Wan Kenobi: tan robes, black leather utility belt, flowing brown cloak. And his boxy black specs, of course. We’d just passed the Lucasfilm floor display—complete with Han Solo frozen in carbonite—and he’d yet to recover the ability to speak.

    Ben rubbed his face with both hands. “I told you guys not to talk to me in those . . . outfits.” He was wearing his standard jeans and plain black tee. Shocker.

    Hi snorted. “This is Comic-Con, bro. You’re the one that looks out of place.”

    Frankly, he was right.

    The exhibit hall was packed, with more visitors rocking cosplay than not. The giant room had been divided into sections, then rows, then booths, each packed with the weirdest stuff imaginable. I’d never seen so many bizarre things crammed into one place. “Geek Paradise” was putting it lightly.

    I’d made a token effort in the wardrobe department: Wonder Woman tank, blue shorts.

    I’ll fly my freak flag, but only a smidgen.

    After all, the whole reason we were there was to see Tempe.

    Can’t look the fool in front of Dr. Temperance Brennan. No, ma’am.

    We’d stopped beside a wooden pirate ship rising twenty feet from the floor, complete with swashbuckling actors brandishing cutlasses and handing out promotional hats. Across the aisle, zombies in prison uniforms were locked inside a chain-link fence, mumbling about the new season of their show, returning Sundays at ten.

    We’d been there an hour and barely crossed a third of the convention floor. The room stretched on and on, jammed by endless rows of comic-book vendors, TV and film promotions, memorabilia displays, novelties sales, and every other oddity under the sun.

    More madness per square foot than any other place on earth.

    And 100,000 people to go crazy over it, of course.

    I was about to forge back into the herd of wide-eyed weekend superheroes when noise exploded around me. Lights began flashing at one of the towering movie studio booths just ahead. Ominous piano music boomed from its massive speakers as celebrity faces appeared on a bank of giant TV screens: the cast of some vampire show on cable.

    “Nobody move!” I warned, my danger sense tingling.

    Sure enough, a herd of teenage girls thundered down the walkway, fangs exposed, black leather jackets flapping, their white-painted faces contorted by screams of ecstasy.

    “Let’s get out of here,” Ben shouted through cupped hands to be heard over the thumping music. “Where are we meeting your aunt Tempe?”

    “Her panel ended ten minutes ago.” I pointed beyond the crush of jabbering supernatural creatures to a less congested area of the exhibit hall. “She’s signing books at her publisher’s booth, somewhere over there.”

    Tempe had spoken in one of the conference rooms upstairs, where the lunacy was slightly more contained. The second floor of the convention center hosts earnest discussions on topics of all kinds: YA fiction. The legal rights of zombies. LARPing. How to master Dungeons & Dragons. You name it. And that’s not even mentioning the bigger ballrooms, which present the major TV show panels, movie launches, and celebrity appearances. But those events are next to impossible to get into, so we didn’t bother. No way I’d stand in line all day. Not when there was so much else to see.

    “I’m making a break for it.” Tucking his black hair behind his ears, Ben shouldered his way into the crowd. “See you on the other side.”

    I waved at Hi and Shelton, who’d stumbled into a group of costumed superheroes.

    “Let’s go.” I pointed beyond the bloodsucker traffic jam.

    “I just photo-bombed the Avengers!” Hi cried, red-faced and glowing.

    Thumbs up. I try not to be a hater.

    Tempe’s presence at the convention explained ours. A year earlier, she’d written a section of a nonfiction book examining the exploding popularity of forensic science in pop culture. To everyone’s surprise, the work had become a national bestseller.

    Attempting to maintain sales momentum, the publisher had booked Tempe for a Comic-Con panel entitled “Forensic Science in Entertainment: The Effects of New Scientific Principles on Old-School Mystery Writing.”

    A free trip to San Diego isn’t something my great-aunt will turn down.

    After some googling, Hi had insisted we tag along.

    Surprisingly, Kit had agreed. Or perhaps not so surprisingly—a few days without the daughter around must’ve appealed to Dad. His girlfriend, Whitney, had seemed positively delighted at the prospect.

    Hi’s mother took some convincing, and Shelton’s parents made him promise to call twice a day, but both eventually granted permission. Ben had no trouble at all. So Tempe secured the badges, and here we were. Sunny San Diego in mid-July. The epicenter of media rollouts.

    We wormed into the slow-moving press of bodies, pausing occasionally to whisper and point. I swear, some girls will use any event as a chance to show too much skin—if I never see another slave Princess Leia costume again, it’ll be too soon. Though I doubt my male companions would agree.

    Eventually, we reached the book section, a slightly quieter neighborhood.

    “Look!” Hi elbowed Shelton’s ribs. “Those chicks are dressed like Khaleesi! The Mother of Dragons! We. Need. That. Pic.”

    “Those are Night’s Watch dudes with them.” Shelton raised both arms, smiling ear to ear. “That crew might be our best friends!” The two took off without a backward glance.

    I glanced at Ben, who shrugged. “I’m a Sansa man.”

    My eyes rolled. “Let’s just find Tempe. You can hunt cosplay fantasies later.”

    Ben’s eyebrows quirked into an “innocent-man” look. “I didn’t just run off to Westeros. Lead the way. Maybe Tempe’s in that Ewok village up ahead.”

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