A Barmy Cats Adventure by Cheryl Morgan
The name is Cats, Barmy Cats, and I’m a secret agent. Now some of you folks out there might see that as meaning “spy” or “terrorist” or something, but I prefer to see myself as a Freedom Fighter. I belong to an organization called CORPSE Fandom. That’s the Committee Of Really Persnickety and Senile Elders. I don’t rightly know what all of those words mean, but they are good words. We are the founders of Fandom, and it is our sacred duty to protect our community against Evil and Infiltration. Our motto is “Fans Are Born, Not Made”, and what we mean by that is that if you ain’t one of us already then we sure ain’t gonna let you in, unless of course we really like you, that is.
Our mortal enemies are the WSFS, the World Society for Fandom Suppression, an evil bunch of lawyers, accountants and marketing executives who are trying to steal fandom from us and sell it to interlopers and newbies. The WSFS makes a godamn fortune out of running conventions that used to belong to us, and we mean to get those cons back.
The boss of our organization is grouchy old guy called Mr. White. That’s not his real name, of course. It is just a codename. Like in that there movie, Reservoir Dogs. But don’t let that get you thinking that we are just a bunch of criminals or anything. It is just a bit of fun. A game we play. My English counterpart likes to use what he calls a “military metaphor”. (“Metaphor” is an old English word for a game, I think.) He calls Mr. White “The Colonel”, and he calls himself Captain Ddu. (“Ddu means “black” in one of them old languages they use in certain remote parts of old England.)
I’ve done a whole load of missions with Captain Ddu myself, and I could really have done with his help on this one, but the poor guy still hasn’t recovered from last year. That was when the WSFS managed to raise the evil demon Scaltzathoth and send him against us. Poor Agent O’Brien was blown away by a Flame Waugh in seconds. Captain Ddu managed to fight the demon off, but he’s been in the nut house ever since. He just sits their drooling and muttering to himself, “whatever, whatever, whatever…”
So that’s how I came to be running this mission by myself. It began like this. Mr. White called me into his office.
“Cats! Cats!!! Get your godamn arse in here right away!”
“Coming sir. There ain’t no need to bark at me like that, you know.”
“Cats, if you don’t understand why I always bark at you then you are even more brainless that I thought! Now listen up, and listen up good!”
“I’m sending you on a mission, Cats! The WSFS are up to their old tricks again! Do you remember why we hate them!?”
“They stole our Worldcon, sir.”
“They stole our Hugo Awards, sir.”
“And their latest outrage is!?”
“They are instituting a Lifetime Achievement Hugo!”
“And they are not going to give one to ME!!!”
“Why, the godamn fiends, sir! What shall we do?”
“What shall YOU do, Cats! Listen up! The list of Hugo winners is kept in a safe in the WSFS headquarters in Boston! I want you to sneak in there, crack the safe, and replace their list with ours! Here, look, on our list, all of the Hugos are won by ME!!!”
And that is how I ended up here, in Boston, outside that lowdown fortress of depravity known only as… The Clubhouse!
Good old Mr. White would not send me out unarmed, of course. Before I left, I was sent to see our chief technologist, V. He fixed me up good with a whole pile of useful weapons, all miniaturized and cleverly disguised as business cards, airline tickets, bow ties and other sorts of pseudo-corporate gee-gaws that them WSFS folks so love to carry around with them. My favorite gadget is the iPhone, which is really a pocket hectograph(1). Armed with it, I can pub my ish(2) in five seconds flat. Though of course for tradition’s sake I would always take at least five months to do the job.
And so, well equipped for anything I might face, I walked confidently up to the door of The Clubhouse and wandered in.
I was met by a beautiful dame.
“Hi, I’m Geri”, she said. “Are you a WSFS member?”
“Sure am,” I said, showing her my Worldcon progress report envelope with my membership number printed clearly on it. V had forged this, of course. No self-respecting CORPSE Fandom member would ever be seen dead anywhere near a WSFS-run Worldcon. But Geri was fooled, poor dear.
“That’s great!” she beamed, “and the secret password is?”
Once again I was well prepared. This time it was not V but Chris who saved my arse. She’s one hell of a dame. To start with she’s the only member of CORPSE Fandom who is less than 90 years old. Indeed, she’s the only person we’ve let into the organization in decades. What’s more, she’s a right computer whiz. Most of us CORPSE guys are a bit flaky with new technology. We’ve heard about new-fangled computers such as IBM, DEC(3) and the rest. We know about these clever, so-called “user-friendly” systems such as punched cards and Unix. But for the most part we are happy to stick with our faithful Difference Engines. They’ve served us well for over a century. Why should we change?
But Chris, she’s a computer whiz. In no time at all she had hacked into the WSFS network, gotten past all of their wicked security software, and stolen their password right from under their noses. Ha! She sent it to me encrypted as a LOC(4) in one of those new-fangled e-fanzine things. There was a message on the front saying, “This fanzine will self-destruct in 10 seconds.” I couldn’t work out how to get it open in time. But knowing Chris, if she’d written one fanzine, she’d write another five minutes later, and another five minutes after that. And she did. Eventually I figured it out.
“I ♥ SMOFcon”, I said.
“So do I,” beamed Geri. “Come on in. I’ll show you around the con suite. It is really well stocked. It is amazing how much food you can buy with the profits we make from Worldcon.”
And it was. Amazing, that is. There were donuts. There were cream cakes. There were cream-filled donuts. There was cheese. There was cheesecake. They were having an ice cream tasting, and I swear to you there were more flavors than Baskin Robbins has shops.
The members of WSFS lounged around on their scooters, stuffing their faces and laughing at how much profit they had made this year. Every so often, they would drag some poor neo-fan out of a cage and then chase after him on their scooters until they ran him down. “Objection to Consideration!”(5) they would yell above the kid’s death screams. Eventually I got up the courage to go over and see the mess for myself. The woman who had won the race wiped blood from her face and began to cackle.
“That’s another one who won’t ask me for a program item on Battlestar Galactica again!”
I shuddered. These fiends had actually said something I approved of.
I ate the food. I had to. It was delicious, and I would have looked out of place if I did not. Geri kept feeding me cookies.
“I baked them especially for you,” she cooed.
“That’s funny,” I thought, drowsily, “How did she know I was coming?”
And then it was too late…
When I awoke I was in chains. Given the smell, I guess I was somewhere in the basement of The Clubhouse. The whole damn place reeked of the smell of dying conventions, and of fanzines that the WSFS had destroyed. I was hanging from a wall. Rats scuttled beneath my feet. At least I hoped that they were rats. Who knows what sort of unnatural creatures the WSFS Secret Police have at their disposal?
For a while I thought that I might actually meet their leader, the fearsome General Robert himself. But as it turned out he only sent his bully-boy henchman, Captain Standlee. That was bad enough, of course. Standlee is a rotten egg through and through. And he’s a known close associate of the most evil person in all of WSFS, Bitch Morgan. What she whispers into his ear, Ghu(6) only knows.
It was clear that he was going to torture me. What would it be? If I was lucky, it might be waterboarding. He might try to crush my typing fingers, all two of them. He might read to me from “The Eye of Argon”(7), or lock me in a cell with a group of hungry filkers. He could force me to enter a Masquerade, dressed as Sailor Moon. But no, he was far more ruthless than that.
Captain Standlee leered at me from behind his dark glasses and silly peaked cap.
“Cats”, he said, “you are going to tell me everything you know about CORPSE Fandom. If you don’t, I am going to subject you to Parliamentary Procedure!”(8)
“You’ll never get me to talk, you varmint,” I gasped. “Besides, Mr. White made me promise before I came out that I wouldn’t say anything without his permission.”
“Oh dear,” said Standlee sarcastically, “that’s so sad. And I suppose there’s no way you could get permission, chained to a wall the way you are.”
“Well,” I stuttered, “I guess I could always phone him. There’s an iPhone in my breast pocket.”
“An iPhone! Wow! General Robert hasn’t let me have one of those yet. Can I have a look? I love new gadgets!”
“Sure you can, buddy. Here, take it. And to call Mr. White you just have to press 1. I have him on that useful speed dial thing.”
What do you know, the jerk fell for it! V had told me that he had some sort of magical system whereby the pocket hectograph would produce exactly the sort of fanzine that the person I aimed it at would want to read. For Standlee, apparently, that meant an anime fanzine full of pictures of school girls with short skirts, big eyes, and even bigger boobies than Geri. No, wait, I had to stop thinking about her. She was the enemy, and I had a job to do.
While Standlee was distracted I wriggled my hand until I could touch the wrist watch that V had given me. A press of a button, and a blob of Corflu9 squirted onto the manacle around my wrist. It was special Corflu, of course, and in no time it had eaten through the metal. Before long I was free, and able to explore the basement of The Clubhouse.
Goddamn but it was a depressing place, full of the remnants of awful things that the WSFS had done. In one corridor there was a pitiful queue of fans still waiting to register for ConFranciso. In other a group of authors was wandering around in confusion trying to find out which panels they were on at Torcon III. A thick door with a massive lock was covered in radiation symbols. The sign on it read, “DiamondVision – Do Not Enter”. Another door read, “Chicon V Site Selection Count – Quiet Please.” I put my ear to the door. There was a lot of arguing, followed by a profound sigh. Then someone said, “well, I guess we’ll just have to start again.”(10)
Another door looked like it came from an old castle. It was made out of bright green stone. I’m sure that beyond it were the secret chambers where Bitch Morgan destroyed sacred fannish traditions, and tortured publishers who would not pay bribes to get their books reviewed. No way was I going anywhere near that place.
Eventually I found my way to a door just marked with a rocket. This had to be the right place. A quick squirt of Corflu from my wrist watch soon put paid to the lock, and I was in. It was dark inside. V had equipped me with a flashlight disguised as a laser pointer. As I was fumbling for it, the main light came on and a silky voice said,
“Good evening, Agent Cats, I have been expecting you.”
The other man in the room had long grey hair, wore black robes, and carried a magic wand. But as my eyes adjusted I could see that the robes were covered with dark green dollar signs. The wand wasn’t really a wand. It was one of those extensible pointer things that people use in lectures and business presentations. The real give away was the bow tie. Yes, this was Old Ben, the financial wizard whose genius lay behind most of what the WSFS did. I was doomed.
Old Ben sat in a huge leather chair. In his lap lay a huge, brutal-looking bulldog, which he stroked fondly every so often as if he was a villain out of a Bond movie(11). The dog snarled at me nastily.
“Down Seth,” said Old Ben, “you’ll get a chance to rend him limb from limb later. Right now, I want to talk to him.”
“You see, Cats,” he continued, “your mission was hopeless from the start. I am a genius. I can predict everything that you CORPSE Fandom people do. I knew that Mr. White would send you here. I knew that you’d escape from that fool Standlee. And I knew that when you did you would head for this room. It is all quite simple really; just a matter of deduction.”
“Wroaafff!” added Seth.
I tried to sound brave, but my voice came out as a squeak.
“We won’t give in, you know. We won’t rest until we have rescued Worldcon from your evil clutches.”
“Pathetic fool,” replied Old Ben, “I’d destroy the convention rather than let you have it back. And don’t think you have any chance at a Hugo Award either. Not while I control the voting. Seth, you stay here and guard the Hugo results. Mr. Cats and I are going to have a little chat.”
“Whoaah?” whined Seth, clearly disappointed.
“Go on Cats. Off down the corridor with you. And remember, I know what you are about to do before you even think of it.”
Hoping for a lucky break, I sent off the way he indicated with his pointer. He oozed after me, grinning in a self-satisfied manner. After a while I decided to try to make a break for it.
“Presumably you know that I’m going to phone Mr. White for instructions,” I said.
“Well you are not exactly bright enough to know what to do by yourself, are you?” sneered Old Ben. “Here, give the phone to me. It is about time White and I did some Negotiating.”
I ignored the menace implicit in his tone. “I have him on speed dial. Just press 1.”
This time the pocket hectograph spat out a Star Trek fanzine.
“Hey,” muttered Old Ben, “this thing is talking about an undiscovered pilot episode for the original series, one that I have never heard about. How can that be? I bought up every print of every episode of Original Star Trek that was ever produced. I own it all!”
While he became more and more agitated, I slipped past him and ran back along the corridor towards the Hugo room, hoping that I could figure out some means of dealing with Seth before I got there.
When I arrived, there was another fan there. He was sat in Old Ben’s chair sipping on a very large glass of beer. Seth was curled up at his feet, snoring loudly.
“Hello Cats,” he said, “good to see you. My name is Martin. Captain Ddu sent me. I often do little jobs on his behalf.”(12)
“What happened to Seth?” I asked.
“Oh, just offered him some of my beer. It is brewed in Belgium by an ancient sect of Trappist Druids who have been perfecting their recipe for the past 4,000 years. It is 75% alcohol, you know. I can take it, but Seth, well, these Americans; just can’t take their beer.”
“Thank Ghu!” I gasped. Quick, we have a mission to complete. Chris got me the combination of the safe. I’ll have it open in a few minutes. Then we can swap the Hugo results and get out of here.”
“Good chap,” said Martin. “Hurry along now. But I have a new set of results for you. Captain Ddu sent them. They are in this envelope here. See, it has his signature on it.”
I took the envelope from him. As it turned out, that is one of the worst mistakes I ever made.
Weeks later I was reading my copy of Ansible to see what the Hugo Results had been. There was something very odd about them. Best Fanwriter went to Dave Langford, of course. So did Best Fan Artist. And Best Fanzine, Best Semiprozine, Best Editor (short and long), Best Professional Artist…
Turning the sheet over, I saw a hand-scrawled note on the bottom. It read as follows.
Dear Barmy, thanks for all the help. All Your Hugos R Belong To Us. Your good friend, Twll Ddu(13).
P.S. The Colonel really ought to allow you to watch more media SF, especially Gerry Anderson. If you did then you might be a bit more suspicious of a character called Captain Black(14).
1. A hectograph is a venerable type of duplicating machine that relies on making an impression of the page on a pad of a jelly-like substance (see Wikipedia). Old time fanzine fans will claim that you are not a proper fan editor unless you have had to use one of these things. And in the true spirit of fannish silliness, Steve and Jenny Glover explain how to make your own hectograph from Turkish Delight.
2. “pub my ish” means “publish an issue of my fanzine”.
3. Digital Equipment Corporation, who used to make mainframe computers back in the days that such things were common.
4. LOC = Letter of Comment, which may be why, all those years ago, Charles Brown decided to call his fanzine “LOC-us”.
5. Objection to Consideration is one of Robert’s Rules of Order. It can be used to dismiss a motion without it even being debated. The primary purpose of the rule is to prevent time being wasted on frivolous motions, but the Evil WSFS uses it to get rid of any piece of business it doesn’t like.
6. Fans don’t invoke “God”, they invoke “Ghu” instead. No, I don’t know why.
7. The Eye of Argon – possibly the worse story ever written: see Wikipedia.
8. I’m not going to explain what Parliamentary Practice is, it is too horrible for words. I note, however, that the Bay Area Science Fiction Association indulges in “Recreational Parliamentary Procedure” – surely a sign of their utter perfidy.
9. Corflu = correcting fluid, a substance used to erase mistakes on mimeograph stencils back in the old days of fanzine production. Apparently also good for sniffing.
10. In the long and sorry history of Worldcon disasters, these are some of the most terrible. Yes, they really did all happen, though perhaps not quite as presented here.
11. Like this.
12. Usually collecting Hugos.
13. Twll Ddu means “black hole” in Welsh. Someone once used it as the name for a fanzine.
14. Colonel White and Captain Black are both characters from Captain Scarlet. Captain Black was a former Spectrum officer who was transformed into an agent of the enemy Mysterons.