It was a partly cloudy day in East Dundee, IL.
There we were, three youngish women, frolicking in the flower garden, drinking tea and entertaining toddlers, when all of a sudden, a shadow moved over the sun.
It was Black Gate’s zeppelin, the Harold Lamb, on the descent.
“Ef!” Ms. Templeton twirled her stealth parasol in alarm. “The Gee-Dee thing’s coming down on the roof!”
“Not my roof!” Ms. Redding shouted, a baby on one stylishly jutted hip and a chaenomeles speciosa (a nasty and ubiquitous shrubbery, recently uprooted by dint of chain and pickup truck from her front garden) brandished high in her free arm.
For myself, I was convinced Ms. Redding was set to hurl the shrub (or, at the very least, the baby) at the Harold Lamb in an effort to knock it off its fatal course. Thankfully, at the last moment, the zeppelin veered, mooring itself between two surviving elms. A rope ladder unfurled. A familiar voice over the loudspeaker boomed down:
“Will the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood please climb aboard?”
“As I live and breathe!” I exclaimed. “It’s John O’Neill, Robot Overlord and Master of Black Gate, come to bear us away to our badass feminist science fiction convention in Madison, Wisconsin!”
“WisCon rocks,” Ms. Templeton agreed. She straightened her bandoliers, checked the grenades on her belt, and sheathed her stealth parasol in a secure holster strapped across her back, where, if danger came upon us unawares, she might reach it quickly and use it to greatest advantage.
[The Critic suggests that those who are interested in the use of vicious parasols examine the adventures of one, Amelia Peabody.]
Ms. Redding kissed her bouncing baby boy goodbye — “BYE, BABEEEE!!!” — and, handing him off to his father, dashed up the rope ladder with the dexterity of a nubile spider monkey. Ms. Redding’s climbing skills are famed throughout the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood.
Ms. Templeton, on the other hand, scorning the ladder, had simply powered up her jet pack and ascended in that fashion, whilst I clambered slowly, huffing and puffing like the Wolf of legend, after Ms. Redding.
O’Neill greeted us with a waggling brow and a veiled innuendo. Were it not for this piece of impudence, carefully encrypted with secret codewords that the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood had worked out with him via carrier pigeon in the preceding weeks, we would have suspected O’Neill of having once again been swapped out for his evil robotic doppelgänger, Lord “Yes, as in Tennyson” Alfred.
After the mess last time, we can never be too careful.
[The Critic suggests examining the history of Chicago on Sunday, October 8, 1871 in reference to “the mess last time.”]
The flight went smoothly, with only a little brangling.
Understand, Ms. Templeton had been granted the temporary title of Navigator, as Navigation had been one of her duties last year on this very same air-road. But the wicked Lord Alfred, thwarted of all other mischief, had corrupted O’Neill’s Google Maps program to such a degree that it had, upon being asked the way to Madison, WI, spurted out directions to “Oz,” “Neverland” and “Bordertown” instead.
O’Neill, not suspecting treachery from his Evil Other, had merely printed out what he thought to be normal, straightforward, easy directions to our westward border state.
Ms. Redding perceived the problem immediately. “These directions are BUNK!” quoth she. “Turn here.”
There is no mistaking that tone of command. O’Neill capitulated immediately, and from that moment, the agreeable Ms. Templeton was Navigator only nominally.
Ms. Redding’s sense of direction being unerring, the mood cheerful, and the winds favorable, we arrived in good time.
“Oh, well done!” I complimented my comrades. We cheered.
But our self-congratulation came too soon.
Perhaps it was a rogue current, perhaps it was enemy ingenuity, or perhaps we were all distracted by the festive fairgrounds stretching below us (“Look! A rolly-coaster!” squealed O’Neill), but no sooner had we attained the city center than we crashed the Harold Lamb into the capital dome and dashed it all to pieces.
Ms. Templeton had the presence of mind to grab me as I tumbled from the deck, and though it overloaded her jet pack safety functions to do so, she managed to bring us both unbruised to the ground. O’Neill, naturally, never leaves home without a parachute in the fanny pack which he always wears around his waist. He, too, floated — in a billow of pink silk — to safety.
It was Ms. Redding, who, having been flung from the zeppelin, slid partway down the white bethel Vermont granite of the capital dome and landed hard on the observation deck.
As later events laid out, she remembers nothing of her trauma, but woke up from her black-out some hours later, feeling refreshed as from a nap, left the capital building, found us nearly out of our minds with worry at the Madison Concourse Hotel, and announced her desire for Indian food at the Maharani on Washington Street.
“You’re safe!” I sobbed, flinging my arms around her.
“Of course I am,” she said. “What did you think happened?”
“When the Harold Lamb crashed…”
“It never did!”
“It did too!”
“No,” she told me patiently. “For I recall quite plainly how we parked the zeppelin on top of the Gov Club garage, and then helped O’Neill unload all those boxes of Black Gate Magazines and musty old vintage paperbacks onto the dolly, and then set up the two tables in the dealer’s room.”
“Alternate universe theory?” O’Neill guessed.
“Demonic delusions,” Templeton corrected him.
“Merely a concussion!” I assured them. “She’ll be fine as soon as she has some chicken tikka masala in her.”
“But we have photographs!” Ms. Redding insisted. “I have one of John O’Neill with a dolly! I remember that dolly particularly!”
[The Critic suggests whenever a dolly is present you say hello to it and it will allow you to ride upon it, to the jealousy of many others.]
“Photoshop?” suggested O’Neill. “They can make anything look like anything these days.”
“Big Brother,” Templeton said darkly.
“But,” Ms. Redding protested, “I remember we arrived before noon. We unpacked. We met Catherynne M. Valente by the elevators and a group of us went out for lunch at Noodles and Company. Claire, you had mushroom stroganoff with braised beef! We split three ginormous rice crispy treats! I remember it all perfectly!”
“Oh, let’s not fight!” I begged them as tensions mounted. “Let’s leave O’Neill with his paperbacks and magazines, which mysteriously made it here from the wreck of the Harold Lamb –”
“The magazines are partly robotic too, of course,” O’Neill explained. “The teleportation chip comes standard these days. It’s in the binding glue. The latest editions are, in fact, so advanced that they’re sentient! Issue 14 tells me it considers my collection of vintage paperbacks in the light of little country cousins, and believes it a bound duty to let them piggyback on its dematerialization wave.”
So we abandoned O’Neill to the dealer’s room. Thankfully, he was kitty-corner with the PM Press table, so he was in good company.
Thereafter, Ms. Templeton and I attended a panel entitled “Immigration: Fictional and Non-Fictional.” That’s where we met Viceroy Chang, part panda, part steam-engine, and an assassin named Ay-Leen the Peacemaker (later the Viceroy switched allegiances and started hanging out on panels with Jaymee Goh, as depicted in the photo yonder), as well as the awesome Mary Anne Mohanraj, the amiable Suzanne Alles Blom and… and… our very own Amal El-Mohtar.
“AMALFACE!” I yelped, catching sight of her.
“Hush, Cooney,” Templeton bade me. “Or the whole world will know that Ms. El-Mohtar is a member of the super secret Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood too!”
But Amal (like myself), a Sagittarius, could no more contain her jubilation at the sight of two such good friends than I could. Her training, however (unlike mine), was of such a sophisticated level that before giving vent to her natural feelings of glee, she conducted herself with grace and dignity and well-articulated, polysyllabic passion throughout a very tricky panel on the subjects of Assimilation, Immigration, and Refugees, and only upon its closure did she fling herself into our arms.
[The Critic suggests the adding of “FACE” to one’s given name is an endearment originating in Canada between the years 1890 and 1910.]
Many caresses and ecstatic endearments were exchanged, but I shall not bore the readers of Black Gate with the humbler details of our affectionate and deeply sororal bonds.
Not long after that, we whisked O’Neill free of his dealer’s room labors, reunited with Ms. Redding, and walked a little ways to the Maharani, where we celebrated O’Neill’s forty-somethingth birthday in style, ate a great deal of garlic naan, and told very dirty jokes.
[The Critic suggests that for a good time, call John O’Neill to dinner and ask him to recite Shakespeare. Much yelling of monologues will be had.]
The last hours of the night are a blur, because it was a Karaoke Dance Party.
I vaguely remember dancing with Ms. Templeton and a whole seethe of other friendly strangers to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” We met many beautiful people and heard still others sing. We constructed a boat out of folding chairs. (Ms. Templeton at the helm and a fellow named Jake acting as our dinghy. I was the Anchor. Naturally.) Ms. El-Mohtar rapped out “Roll a D-6” with Misters Rosenbaum and Moles, based on the song, “Like a G6,” and of course that brought down the house. You might’ve thought the Harold Lamb had crashed into the Madison Concourse instead of the state capital building for all the roaring that ensued.
At some point in the early morning, we all collapsed into our collective beds; “Collective” being the operative word, as it is one of the focal tenets of the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood to share and share alike.
And that, as they say, rather sums up the first day of WisCon. MORE TO COME! (Part Two, by Patty Templeton, is FOUND HERE!)