1.12 Mina de Malfois and the Reality Check (part one)footnotesindex
[Many, many thanks to all of you've who've read, commented, linked and recced. Also, the author urges you to check out summercon].
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I spent the bus ride to Camp Silver Lake wondering whether I was experiencing full-blown paranoia, or if I really had caught a fleeting glimpse of some sort of behind-fandom machination. I mean, I’ve always prided myself on being sensible in spite of my BNFdom. I’d made rather a point of not falling for the more sensational fandom rumours and fads, and I’d always dismissed the whole ‘Secret Masters of Fandom’ wheeze as a slightly lame joke. After all, if a fanfic author as well known as I am wasn’t pulling invisible strings, then surely no one was.
But jouncing along the near-interminable highways, byways, and dirt roads I had plenty of time to ponder, and ponder I did. Assuming I survived the trip, I was about to embark on the strangest employment episode ever, and I speak as one who’s had to acquire experience in the, if you’ll excuse the phrase, service industry, which is neither as pervy nor as industrious as it sounds. The ‘information package’ the camp had sent me had included, to my bewilderment, application forms for a university called St. Scholastica’s. Further puzzled shuffling had disclosed a letter promising that the Computers and Creative Writing posish offered, along with the expected minimum-wage reimbursement, a full scholarship.
A full scholarship, that is to say, to a uni I’d never heard of but was now being invited to apply to, and all because of a job I’d only gotten, if I may be perfectly frank, because of Arc’s friendship with the woman running the camp.
It was all a bit peculiar. Peculiar in a good way, obviously. I mean, I was looking forward to the camp, and I’d filled out the uni app in a spirit of mild optimism; if I lucked out and they recognized my as-yet-undisplayed academic potential, naturally I’d be happy to accept the Camp Silver Lake scholarship. But I admit to being puzzled as to why I’d been offered it. I had the strangest sense of wheels within wheels, as though some unseen hand were reaching out through fandom to...
...to do what, though? Give out scholarships? It was an awfully benign conspiracy, if that were the case. Unless maybe I was being recruited for some sort of espionage, in which case I really must start exercising regularly, and learn to climb ropes and things.
I’d come to no firm conclusions beyond the necessity of losing a teensy bit of weight, we’ll say ten pounds, and then of toning up the remainder, when the bus pulled up at camp. We were hustled off, shown our cabins, and then started right in on a series of meetings about camp policy and responsibility and schedules and I don’t know what all--I was barely listening, honestly. My co-counselor wasn’t there yet; our chief of staff mentioned in passing that my partner was an ‘old girl,’ a former camper and junior counsellor, and so was being allowed to arrive later that day. And speaking of our chief of staff, Eva Hamill was disconcertingly cute, with bobbed black hair and a glowing tan. She bore a definite family resemblance to her photogenic son.
When we left the dining hall the parking lot had filled with cars and busses, all of which were disgorging horrifying numbers of girls. They milled around us like that scene in zombie movies where the few surviving humans are trapped by the brain-munching hordes, although I guessed that shooting my way out would be frowned on. It was more or less terrifying, though. Until that exact second I hadn’t fully understood that children would be involved. I’d always assumed I’d get on well with children, but I’d never felt much inclined to test that theory, and now the realization that I’d be amongst them for weeks hit me like the slap of a cold wave.
I set off through the sea of girls, charting a course back to Cabin 13. Cabin 13, I’d seen earlier, contained six bunks for campers and, in a small adjoined room, two beds, one each for self and counterpart. I’d already claimed one bed by dumping my luggage on it. When I entered the cabin now, I found an impromptu fan club had formed: a girl of about my age, presumably the other comp person, stood blocking my way, surrounded by a gaggle of young teen-things.
The girl standing in the doorway was boyishly slim-hipped, depressingly tall and slender, and had a mass of short, dark, curly hair that reminded me of fauns. What really caught my eye, though, was the Sanguinity t-shirt she wore. ‘Are you Mina?’ she asked, and I temporarily lost my head.
‘Are you one of my fans?’ I gushed, and impulsively hugged her. Several of the dratted campers giggled. The girl didn’t hug back. She didn’t stiffen or pull away in revulsion or anything, but she came as close to ignoring me as anyone can while actually being embraced. I realized at once I’d made some sort of ghastly error, and stepped back, trying but not quite pulling off an air of nonchalance.
‘No,’ she said, raising one eyebrow. ‘I was told my co-counsellor was here already, and that her name was Mina. I wasn’t told she had fans.’ She achieved a level of sardonic amusement on that last line that put me in mind of Mrs.Sev’s Dark Schoolmaster. I could have admired it in a fictional character, but it’s a lot less attractive when you’re the recipient, somehow. The campers giggled again. You know, those people who babble about the innocent laughter of children have probably never met a child. This lot were gazing at Sarcasm Girl with a kind of fearful, sycophantic devotion that filled me with foreboding. Visions of homicide danced in my head. I struggled to regain control.
‘My mistake,’ I said frigidly.
She shrugged. ‘No problem, doll,’ she said, sweeping me with a slow glance that lingered pointedly along the way. That glance couldn’t have been any more intrusive unless it had somehow sprouted tentacles. She reached out and shook my hand firmly, holding it just a fraction of a second longer than protocol required, and smiled knowingly. ‘I’m Jen,’ she said. ‘Ami Jenever. Let’s head over to the computer lab, shall we?’
The door to the computer lab had, we were informed by the deputy head, to remain locked at all times, not because of the value of the equipment--some of the computers were so old that in place of a scroll key you expected to see actual parchment--but to keep the campers from unsupervised net access. Jen and I accepted our keys, nodded agreement to the rules, and gazed over our domain proudly. Well, reasonably proudly. I’d lost better electronics than these, honestly.
Still, internet access was not to be sneered at. I missed everyone already. Of course, I wouldn’t be able to spend time in Sanguinity from camp, but I hoped to be able to touch base with everyone at Penn’d Passion regularly. They’d all been awfully nice about my summer plans, offering heartfelt congratulations and best wishes. One of the Tolkien purists had shared, at length, his tales of the ‘good old days’ (a phrase I assume he used ironically) when their summer vacation had consisted of playing tennis in somebody’s attic. The Girls’ Dormitory set, both Hockeysticksers and Hollidays, had been ‘no end of chuffed’ that I’d be at a real, live girls’ camp, and had made all sorts of predictions about japes and pranks that I hadn’t the heart to tell them were unlikely ever to occur outside of books. In fact I half hoped the camp infirmary would burn to the ground, requiring one girl to daringly rescue another, just so I could thrill the Jollies by confirming their fondest expectations.
But I didn’t get much time online. I was around computers for much of every day, but not able to give proper attention to keyboard or screen. The darling children, or little demons--usage varying according to whether you were a parent, or one of the people hired to care for their spawn--couldn’t be left alone for a second. I hadn’t had a clear idea of what sort of interests I expected girls from families well-enough off to afford Silver Lake to share, but I certainly hadn’t guessed the primary one would be porn. In the first day alone I had to block three sites I hope to entirely erase from my memory, and one I secretly bookmarked to look at later. Jenny didn’t help matters. The girls leapt to obey her every order usually, and fought for the privilege of making her bed and doing her chores, but her ‘don’t browse porn’ lecture lacked conviction, and they bloody well sensed it.
I swear, nothing they were supposed to be doing, like writing letters home or keeping an online camp diary, held half the fascination for them that illicit sex did. When I wasn’t pacing back and forth nervously and peering over their shoulders to monitor the level of filth on the screen, I was escorting herds of them to and from their other activities--a precaution I’d thought silly when I’d first heard it, but not any longer. Now I’d seen them in action I knew they were fully capable of charging a pack of gigolos to their parents’ credit cards and having them shipped up by express post. Jen’s frightening theory that the girls ‘needed their privacy,’ and her insistence that we ‘relax and enjoy ourselves,’ were entirely irresponsible. They couldn’t be left alone for a second.
Jen was a computer genius, though, and a much worse addict than I am. Every time I turned my back on her she was logged in somewhere. I could never quite see what she was doing, either, as she logged off and shut down the instant she sensed anyone looking. I fervently hoped it wasn’t too pornographic or illegal, and left it at that. On the bright side, she did seem able to write well, and the sessions where we helped the girls compose and edit stories were enormous fun. The Jenny-worship got old fast, but the girls were gratifyingly willing to like me as well. One grew fond of the campers in spite of oneself. They were such bright, enthusiastic, amusing creatures, determined to enjoy everything--a bit like our online selves, only offline. I envied them a little. They hadn’t learned to be insecure yet. Not that I was insecure. Not at all. But, you know...most other people are.
Speaking of which, I’d had an envelope from St. Scholastica’s.