Tragedy in Tibet
by Harry Harrison
(c) Copyright 1990
This was it. The year 2000 in Tibet. The Worldcon to end all Worldcons.
Unhappily it did.
It was going to be the best con, the perfect con. The rented lamasary had been repainted, refurbished, with toilets in every monastery occupied by the Americans. The grass was the best, pure Dalai lama gold. The drink the best, fermented yak’s milk. But, what the hell, that’s what fandom is all about. Unhappily, at the height of the celebrations there was a distant rumble as of a freight train going over a metal bridge. Or maybe it sounded like an avalanche. Which it was. The fen were safe, for there is a power above that looks down on every fan, from pimply comic fan to geriatric First Trekkie Fandom fan. They were safe. The avalanche missed the main halls and struck at the East Wing where all the pros were having a very exclusive party; no fen admitted. Which was perhaps a good thing for fandom. And even better for the poor SF hacks too broke to come to the con, couldn’t afford the trip, who now had rich new markets opened up for them.
For the pros were gone. Every one of them. Buried, crushed, snuffed under tons of snow in the valley far below.
“Gone!” a femfan groupie wailed, memories of many an illicit kinky encounter bringing tears to her eyes.
“Gone!” an avid collector wailed, thinking of all his books never to be autographed.
“Gone!” the con chairman shrieked thinking of the gigantic bar bills now never to be paid.
“What has happened to them?” a neofan queried.
You might very well ask.
“Where did all this damned fog come from,” Harry Harrison grumbled. “I can’t find my drink.”
“Me neither,” Joe Haldeman said. “Or see my hand in front of my face. Worse than Florida.”
“Like a bad movie from the Thirties,” Wolfgang Jeschke said. “You remember there was a car crash or something and they all die suddenly, but don’t know it, and wake up in heaven.”
The fog suddenly cleared – and that’s where they were. There was a great Golden Gate before them and an old guy in a bathrobe of some kind writing in a big book. But more important were the glad cries of recognition.
“Harry!” Brian Aldiss called out. “Sam Lundwall and I have been looking for you behind all the clouds.”
“Is this what I think it is?” Joe asked suspiciously.
“Either that or a damn good illusion,” Sam said with a solid Swedish phlegm. “Wasn’t Isaac Asimov here just a moment ago?”
“I was – and am. Just doing a quick test on the clouds with my pocket atomic analyzer. Very interesting.”
“What are they made of?” the massed voices intoned.
“Water vapor. What did you expect – malted milk?”
“Silence!” the man with the book ordered. “Don’t you know where you are?”
“On a cheap movie set?” Harry suggested.
“Or, if I read the props right,” Isaac said, being a student of the Old Testament as well as everything else, “we are in heaven, the pearly gates are there, so you might be Peter known also as the fisherman, a fisher of souls, San Pietro in Italian…”
“Enough!” Peter cried. “I have been warned about you lot. And boy!, have we been waiting for you!”
“And we are all here? En masse?” Brian observed. “Quite a coincidence all of us here at once. Timely timed avalanche.”
“Any of you guys set the timer?” Joe asked with heartfelt suspicion.
“Not my department,” Peter mumbled, flipping the strained pages of the book before him. “And that is old news as well. The new news and good news is that you are not my responsibility. You scruffy and undeserving lot – for reasons I cannot fathom – have the unbearable pleasure of being interviewed by someone whose name I cannot mention.”
“Let me see,” Isaac said, finger didactically raised. “Elohim, or JHVH, or even JHVH Elohim. 7000 times in the Old Testament you’ll find JHVH probably pronounced Yahveh…”
“Beware, mortal,” a thunderous voice rumbled through the clouds, which instantly parted to reveal, mistily seen, what appeared to be a gray-bearded man reclining on a golden dais. “Beware!” he thundered again, “My name is not bespoken.”
“Of course not,” Frederik Polh said, strolling over. “Because we haven’t been introduced. My name is Fred…”
“Silence!” This time the voice was so powerful that eardrums cracked and heads rang like bells.
“What did he say?” Poul Anderson asked, hand cupped to ear.
Instead of silence there was some quick conversation, opinions exchanged and plots confabulated as to what was happening, going to happen, should or might happen. It was Philip José Farmer who noticed that the old man’s face was turning redder and redder and out of concern, and not really wanting to watch a heavenly coronary, changed the subject.
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Riverboat Captain, Sir. I sincerely hope you won’t mind a few questions…”
“Not from you, Farmer!” Thunder rolled and lightning crashed. “You who have usurped my plotting privileges, doubted my word…”
“Not so much doubt as query,” Isaac said. “There are so many conflicting statements in the bible. This is a wonderful opportunity to straighten them out since if anyone knows I guess you should.”
“That’s enough from you – who even doubt the validity of my Heavenly Inspired astrological forecasts. You join Farmer…”
“Ridiculous,” Harry said. “Phoney, astrological self-serving crap for weepy widows. You can’t expect us to believe…”
“I expect that I expect you to join those other unbelievers.” Thunder, rumble.
“You do seem to be projecting the rather unattractive face of theism,” Brian observed. “I would have hoped for a little more breadth of mind…”
“Over with the others, Aldiss. You who first published that anti-religious drivel The Streets of Ashkelon. That alone gets you a couple of million millennia on the cooker. Wait, where are you all going, I haven’t spoken to the rest of you yet, ordered you! You just can’t walk away from me.”
“Watch,” Robert Silverberg said. “At about 2000 BC we invented you and now we don’t like what we see. So, in the name of the Jews, I turn my back on you.”
“The goyim as well,” Sam said. “Did I pronounce it right?”
“For a goy, not too bad,” Barry Malzberg said, taking Sam by the arm as they turned their backs on Old Thunderthighs and strolled over to join the others. This gives me an idea for a story…”
“Enough!” This time the thunderous words were so immensely loud that the ground stirred as in an earthquake and everyone was thrown down. “That’s better,” JHVH said, mistaking collapse for supineness, or at least faking it to save face. He rushed on before anyone could speak again, wishing that instead of this alcoholic bunch of freethinkers he could have a Pope and a lot of sycophantic cardinals.
“Tremble in fear! Do you not realize what is in store for you?”
“An elevator ride?” Wolfgang asked, just as a smoking, redhot elevator burst up through the ground thereby stealing JHVH’s punchline.
“Listen guys,” Joe said. “This penthouse party is pooping out. Let’s go see if there is any action basement.”
Strolling, chatting, plotting, lying, cursing – just like always – the massed science fiction writers of the world walked into the red elevator. The gate crashed shut behind the last heel and the floor fell away beneath them.
“Neat,” Isaac said. “Free fall. Must be a long way down. I estimate our acceleration to be…”
“Save it for your column,” Bob said. “Shouldn’t we be talking about this?”
“Why?” asked Fred.
“Good question,” Brian said. “Though I do have a certain interest in what we’ll see when that door opens.”
They crashed to a stop and the door opened.
“Still no surprises,” Poul said. “Looks like a bad Doré illustration.”
“Silence!” The red man on the smoking throne ordered. Lighting flashed from between his teeth while sparks oozed from his pores.
“Good effects,” Harry said. “Better than computer animation.”
Unlike his associate on the top floor this guy did not listen very much, was too carried away with the sound of his own voice.
“Woe unto thee! Shiver and quake and beg for mercy which shall be denied for eternity. Boiling oil, charcoal, grilled flesh…”
“Sounds like a barbecue,” Philip Klass whispered.
“… molten lava, oh, how you shall suffer and scream while I laugh, ha-ha, for all eternity and after.”
“Mutually exclusive terms. You can’t do anything after eternity,” John Campbell said, opening the door in the rock wall and waving them over. “You don’t have to listen if you don’t want to. I did, in the beginning, but after I pointed out all the errors of logic, even wrote an editorial for him to straighten him out, he gave us this room and would not talk to us anymore.”
John looked over his shoulder and called out. “Move some of the chairs back, Hugo. Robert will help you. Ted S. and Ted C. push that table on one side.”
John turned back to the waiting authors. “Come on now, you are just in time for the editorial lunch. I have some ideas I want to kick around.”