Moskva 1995: Igor's Campaign
Several puffy red faces wavered in front of me, and an equal number of fleshy hands extended beakers of clear liquor. I blinked as vigorously as I could, reducing the images to one and a half, all of which looked remarkably like Boris Yeltsin.
The hour was disastrously late. Red and gray hints of dawn came through a dusty window, illumining the smoke-heavy air. Hours ago I had resolved to go back to my hotel, sleep off my inebriation and be ready for tomorrow's— today's—preliminary session of the Worldcon business meeting. Somehow, though, I had been unable to find a door. At every turning the way had been blocked by cheerful, red-faced strangers, each eager to drink one more joyous toast with a fellow science fiction “van”.
“Nah-ah-ah-astro-ve-ve-” My return of the greeting erupted into a sneeze, and my flailing hand looped the proffered vodka free from the stranger's fingers. The floor was a hard, unyielding species of wood, against which the glass smashed enthusiastically, splashing all trousers within several feet. No one took any notice.
The stranger, as oblivious as the others, found a replacement and maneuvered it firmly into my grasp. We interlocked arms, toasted again and drank.
“I like you, yankee,” the man gasped. “I like all yankees—” He gestured expansively, sending a neighbor's glass to the same fate as mine. “All you vans. This confention great moment— greatest in history of vandom.”
I nodded blankly. He took that an encouragement to draw closer and throw a bear-like arm across my shoulder.
“You like me, too, da?”
“Er — da,” I mumbled.
“Good, good. We friends. I giff you big chance. Because we friends, I help you get rich.”
My head, having begun nodding, kept on through the force of inertia.
He fumbled a hand into his jacket pocket. All of the Russian fans, so far as I could tell, were wearing jackets and ties. I supposed that the females had some other uniform, but I had yet to see any of them.
The hand emerged, grasping a large sheet—somewhat bigger than legal size—of a variety of paper that would have drawn sneers from the cheapest American newsprint. He spread it out for me to view.
I had intended to learn the Cyrillic alphabet before coming to Moscow, but, had I kept that vow, it would have been impossible to glean any sense from the fuzzy smears that passed for printing. (But maybe I would have done better if the letters had stopped trying to wander off the page like a breed of calligraphic lemmings.) What I could make out was an effusion of gold lettering surrounding a gaudy illustration of—of what? A space shuttle firing rockets as it approached the moon? A dragon breathing fire in the direction of a circular castle? A witch stirring a cauldron with a lighted broomstick? The picture might have been any of those or something unimaginably different.
I stared, which had the effect of stopping my nodding.
“I sell to you,” proclaimed my new-found buddy. “For no one else would I do this. But for you... You ask, why? Why does Sergei Vsevolodovich make you this offer? Da, that good question. And I answer: Because we friends and yellow vans.”
He moved closer yet. As his chest came near to touching mine, the instincts born of years of American urban living kicked in with a torrent of adrenaline, sloughing away enough of the night's vodka to make rational thought possible, if not easy.
I swiveled my eyes. The crowd was too close-packed to give me room to flee, too obviously indifferent to come to my aid. The man was half a foot taller than me and twice my weight. Those fists and biceps, I realized nervously, might include constituents other than flab.
I let rational thought take over. “How much?”
“Two American dollar. No rubles.”
I had a wad of currency in my pocket, not trusting the security of my hotel. Much relieved, I fished out two bills and exchanged them for the neo-pulpish certificate.
“Spahsiboh! Spahsiboh!” He pumped my hand energetically. I hadn't been mistaken about its lethal potential—and shouted a few more Russian phrases.
Whatever he said, it dashed my chances of slipping inconspicuously through the maze of bodies and out into the night. The word cynosure, not part of my working vocabulary since freshman English, leaped to mind, and I discovered at once that being one is no fun at all.
Every Russian in the room, it seemed, had one of the same bizarre certificates, and every one of them was eager to sell. A tide of offerors pushed against me. I tried to stem it with dollar bills, handing them out as fast as I could, accumulating greasy paper in return, handing out more bills....
Market forces took hold. The first few sellers insisted on two dollars, but, as it looked like I might reach the door, panic emerged. The price fell to one dollar. Then each bill brought in two, three, four sheets. As I at last hastened out an exit, dropping a fiver to hamper pursuit, an inch-thick pile slammed into my hand in return. I clutched the collection against my chest and ran with more velocity than I had achieved since adolescence.
* * * * *
An annoyed guard answered my banging on the hotel door, glanced at my room key with a sleepy grimace and let me pass by. The elevator, needless to say, was not running at this hour, so I trudged up seventeen flights of stairs, my adrenaline boost ebbing as I progressed. By the time that I reached the door to Room 1701, my bundle was weighing me down and I could barely lift the key to fit it into the lock.
As I struggled with the bolt, I became aware that I was not alone in the hall. A man was watching me. I tried to study him through a bloodshot corner of one eye while keeping track of events involving the key and lock.
His features were unquestionably Russian, with a Tartar touch that I had noticed so often during the past few days. Unlike every other Russian whom I had seen, he was wearing blue jeans and a t-shirt; moreover, a t-shirt with a pirate motif and the motto “Baltimore in 98”.
“Do you need help?” he asked, with no more accent than Colin Powell.
“Da— I mean, yes, thank you.”
He came over, deftly twisted the key, and the door swung open.
I opened my mouth to ask his name and thank him again. I didn't get that far. He pounded a fist into my jaw.
As I slumped back in a daze, he grabbed—not for my wallet or the roll of bills in my pocket, but for my newly acquired pieces of paper. With reflexive stubbornness, I gripped them tight. He raised his fist again.
The blow never landed. There was a noise behind me, from inside the room, then a few quiet, menacing Russian words. My assailant swiveled and was off down the hall before I could comprehend what had occurred.
I turned to look into my room. A woman stood there, looking quite composed. She was red-headed, wearing pajamas, and fingering a small, feminine revolver. I would have mistaken it for a toy. The man who had just run away was probably a better judge of firearms than I.
“You needn't thank me,” she said, “though I am curious to know which of you was breaking into my room.”
“Breaking in? I—that is—no one was breaking in. This is my room.” I held out my key as confirmation.
She sighed. “That explains the bags here when I checked in. I just assumed that the staff was using this place as a hidey-hole for their loot.
“Well, this is inconvenient, but the front desk clerk won't drag himself in for another four or five hours, assuming he makes it at all, and you look like a man who can't remain awake longer than four or five more minutes.”
She may have said more. I hope that it wasn't important.
To say that I awoke several hours later would be an exaggeration, but some degree of consciousness took the edge off my sleep. I had a sense of lying on a bed and of seeing someone else in the room. She was sitting at a table, scrutinizing my haul from last night.
After gurgling for a while, I attracted her notice. She rose and brought me a glass of tepid water, which moistened mouth and throat enough to make speech possible.
“Annjanette Stockwell. I'm also here for the convention.”
She wore a bright, airbrushed “Seattle in 2002” t-shirt highlighted by color-coordinated buttons. If my brain had been less fuzzy, I would have identified her at once as a glamorous international spy working under cover. She was too slender, too well-dressed and too unselfconsciously poised to be a fan, clearly not a girl who had coped with high school acne and obesity by sitting in a corner and reading her heart out.
She had gone back to the table and picked up one of my sheets. “Just out of curiosity, where did this come from?”
I gave a capsule account of my adventure, up to the point where she had rescued me from physical confrontation.
“No idea what they are,” I admitted.
“They're somebody's notion of a stock certificate. It says” she pointed at a block of Cyrillic—”WORLD SCIENCE FICTION SOCIETY, INC., 100 shares, par value 1 ruble.”
“A peculiar joke. Having a couple of them would be a nice souvenir, but what am I going to do with a hundred?”
“A joke?” And now the suspicion that she wasn't really a fan wafted through my mental fog.
“Of course a joke. There's no such thing as the ‘World Science Fiction Society, Inc.’ And never will be.”
She peered more closely. “There isn't yet, but whoever printed these believes that there will be. The line's a bit smudgy, but it looks like it reads, ‘Incorporated, Moscow, Russia, 28 August 1995'.”
“Next Monday? Well, unless those documents arrived via Tardis Express, it's impossible. Even if there were the slightest chance that the business meeting would approve WSFS, Inc., the amendment would have to be passed by two successive Worldcons, and—”
Uttering those words jogged my mind. I looked about for the clock. It read two minutes to ten.
“Ghod! I'm late for the business meeting!”
Running all the way to the Moscow Convention Center, I arrived while the conclave was still in the early, passing-out-papers stage. I plunged into reading as many as I could, though I knew that the subjects would be boringly familiar: majority report of the Committee on Standing Rules (4 pages), minority report of the Committee on Standing Rules (14 pages), motion to amend the rules for Best Semi-Prozine Hugo to increase the circulation threshold, motion to alter the boundary between the Central and Eastern Zones, motion to incorporate the World Science Fiction Society....
The last was printed in both English and Russian. I skimmed it, chuckling, until I came to the final paragraph:
Under the procedures of the Convention's parliamentary authority, this amendment will be presented for retroactive adoption by the preceding Convention. If approved on behalf of both that Convention and this one, it will have satisfied all conditions for adoption laid down by the WSFS Constitution and will take effect immediately upon the close of this Convention.
Though I had scarcely noticed her, Miss Stockwell had quietly accompanied me from the hotel. Now she tapped my shoulder.
“I see that our friend from last night will be joining us.”
She pointed toward the podium. The figure ascending to the chairman's place and about to call the meeting to order was indeed the same one who had battered my jaw a few hours ago. He had changed into corduroy slacks and a “Boston in 1998” t-shirt.
Genially, he waved a gavel that looked more like a truncheon, banged it lightly on the lectern and proclaimed, “The business meeting of the fifty-third World Science Fiction Convention is now in session.
“As you all know, the host committee has the privilege of appointing the presiding officer of the meeting, who will be I, Igor Alexeivich Strudelorski, and of selecting the parliamentary authority, which will be the procedural rules of the Zemsky Sobor, as reconstructed by myself.
“For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Zemsky Sobor, copies of my book are on sale in the hucksters' room. In addition to the official Russian text, translations into Ukrainian, Serbo-Croatian, Bulgarian and Finnish are available.”
“Strudelorski,” Miss Stockwell whispered. “Of course. How could I not have recognized him?”
“Head of the Russian space program. Allegedly has privatized the whole business and is trying to peddle boosters to Third World nations that've bought nuclear weapons from the Strategic Rocket Forces.”
“So what's he doing here?”
“Let's start with how is he doing it. Have you noticed what the Russians in this room have in common?”
There were a lot of Russians in the room. They had been entering in a steady stream while Strudelorski spoke.
“Jackets and ties,” I ventured. “Wait! And stock certificates!”
Yes, every one of those drably garbed muzhiks clutched the same colorful sheet of newsprint.
“I think I see it now,” she whispered. “This explains why there was the huge Russian vote at the 1992 convention. Didn't you find it puzzling when you were counting the ballots?”
I wondered how she knew that I had had any connection with site selection at MagiCon, but what she said was correct. There had been no weirder enigma that the deluge of supporting memberships from the Russian Republic—all accompanied by site selection ballots, none purchased with consecutively numbered money orders.
“Someone—and I would lay heavy odds on I. A. Strudelorski—undoubtedly put out the tale that convention members were entitled to stock in WSFS, Incorporated, which would make them fabulously rich.”
“And the gulls are getting restless,” I concluded. “That's why they wanted to sell to me last night.”
“Exactly. It's the only possible explanation... It's too bad that it doesn't make any sense. Why would a high Russian official...?”
While we were speculating, the meeting was getting under way. “The first order of business,” the chair intoned, “is the constitutional amendment to incorporate the World Science Fiction Society.”
From fifty voices around the room: “OBJECTION TO CONSIDERATION!”
“The objection is out of order. Under the rules of the Zemsky Sobor, only the presiding officer may object to the consideration of business. We will now put to a vote—”
“POINT OF ORDER!”
“The gentlemen really should read our parliamentary authority. Only the presiding officer may raise a point of order. We shall now proceed to vote on whether the fifty-second World Science Fiction Convention adopted the proposed amendment.”
Five minutes later, by a show of Russian hands and the grace of the rules of the Zemsky Sobor, the World Science Fiction Society, Inc. was enshrined in the WSFS Constitution.
* * * * *
“So what can we do? SMOFdom is helpless against the rules of the Zemsky Sobor.”
All feuds put aside, all quarrels about zone rotations and Hugo categories forgotten, a grim phalanx of the Western world's leading convention runners had assembled in the Convention Center's cafeteria.
I gnawed on a kielbasa while the others jabbered. Wild, impracticable plans floated from floor to ceiling. We would sue! In the Russian courts? We would hold our own Worldcon! When WSFS, Inc. owned all of the Worldcon's service marks? We would boycott! Who except ourselves would notice? We would resist with physical force! Against twice our number and four times our mass of Russians?
At last silence settled across the room, the silence of glum defeat. I chose that moment to present the idea that had formed in my mind. To this day, I credit it to the kielbasa.
“You're all overlooking one point. WSFS, Inc. is a corporation, and even in Russia corporations are run by the majority of shareholders.
“Those Russians are clinging to stock certificates. They don't know or care what this guy Strudelorski has in mind. They just want to make a quick profit. If we buy up their shares, we'll be in control, and WSFS, Incorporated can go back whence it came.”
Fifteen seconds of contemplation, followed by a stampede to the convention floor. I was too exhausted to follow.
“I did my part already,” I said to Miss Stockwell, my only remaining companion in the cafeteria.
“Right,” she said. “Have a pirogi. Then go back to your room and sleep.”
Monday morning arrived. I had avoided the convention since that first day, unable to tolerate the frenzied buying and selling that had turned the Worldcon into a cross between the Chicago Board of Trade and an oriental bazaar. The SMOF's were buying. Strudelorski was buying. Speculators hoping to catch the upward spiral of prices were buying. Russian fans were selling and reinvesting the proceeds in vodka.
The hotel had quite a decent little restaurant, once one learned what bribe would induce the cook to prepare breakfast before noon. I was sitting there with Annjanette when Igor Alexeivich Strudelorski walked in.
He looked weary but not quite beaten, a milder soul than when he had first confronted me.
“May I?” He sat down without waiting for an answer, lit a cigarette and looked at me with a thousand years of Russian woefulness in his eyes.
“So now it all comes down to you, Thomas Eduardovich,” he said.
“What comes down to me?”
“Control of the corporation, of course. All of the independent shares have been purchased. The SMOF block holds 49 percent. I hold 49 percent. And you hold the balance of power.”
“Then the SMOF block, as you call it, holds 51 percent, Igor Alexeivich,” I answered as brusquely as I could with pirogi in my mouth.
“Thomas Eduardovich, I appeal to you. Do not judge a man without a hearing. Look at this—my fanzine.”
He thrust forward a mimeographed stack of pages, of the same grade of paper as the WSFS, Inc. stock certificates. I couldn't read it, of course, but Annjanette scanned the cover.
“Slovo o Polku Igoreve,” she read. “A clever title.”
“You would English it, The Song of Igor's Campaign, Thomas Eduardovich. And what is my campaign, you ask? It is the dream that I have had since I was a small boy— reading contraband copies of Hyphen and Amra by the light of candles—yearning for a brighter, happier universe.”
He paused dramatically and took advantage of the moment to swipe my last pirogi.
“Thomas Eduardovich, Annjanette Sethovna, my dream is—to UNITE FANDOM!”
His eyes glazed over in a mystical stare, and his voice grew hushed in ecstasy. “Da! Just as God laid His hand on Mikhail Fyordorovich to unite Holy Russia under the sacred house of Romanov, so did Ghod select me, Igor Alexeivich Strudelorski, to close the divisions of fandom under the World Science Fiction Society, INCORPORATED.”
I stood up.
“Then Ghod will have to wait, Igor Alexeivich. He's known for His patience, or so I've heard. Annjanette, where did I pack my shares?”
“Nyet! Wait, Thomas Eduardovich. Let me have one word more.”
I crossed my arms and waited.
“Just as I have a dream, I know that you do also. And just as you can make mine come true, I can do the same for yours.
“You see, I own a corporation of my own....”
Our negotiations took the rest of the morning, with Annjanette employing a device that seemed to combine a cellular telephone, a Web browser and a fax machine to verify the authenticity of what Strudelorski said and to ensure that his agreements were legally binding, even in Russia.
At a few minutes before noon, I handed over my shares in WSFS, Inc. to Strudelorski, and he reciprocated by endorsing a stock certificate to me.
It was a turning point in my life. I would be banned from the NESFA and LASFS clubhouses, exiled from WSFA's First and Third Fridays, excoriated at Midwestcon, mocked by Mimosa and Stet, never again invited to a Bruce Pelz wine-tasting session.
But - I would have a space program of my own.
Kapustin Yar is no Chicago—not so much as a Gary, Indiana, but I'm coming to like it. If nothing else, living here is a good step toward acclimating to life on the Moon.
Annjanette Stockwell resigned from the C.I.A. (at least, that's what she told me) and is now CEO of Cosmodrome Ventures, Ltd. We have our pick of ex-NASA scientists to bolster the Russian staff. Last quarter was profitable, and we have an IPO scheduled for early next year.
Watch for the Luna City in 2007 Worldcon bid! And if Slovo o Polku Igoreve snags the Best Fanzine Hugo some year, that won’t bother me a bit.