Anna Tambour presents 


The virtuous medlar circle
thoroughly bletted
Cat Flap
Chuck McKenzie


I’ve got two words for you,” said Fletch.

“Cat - analogues!” He sat back in his chair, grinning, as if that explained everything.


The Vork Diplomatic Consul nodded wisely and activated its cerebral netlink, initiating a low-level identiscan of the human sitting on the opposite side of the desk. The results of the scan scrolled across the Consul’s ocular monitor almost immediately. It made interesting reading:

Aaron Edgar Fletcher, aka ‘Fletch’, aka ‘Edgar Aaronson’, aka ‘Aaron Smith’. Human. Australian. Age: 42 (Earth years). Outstanding warrants issued by the Australian Federal Police on numerous charges, including Fraud, Obtaining Monies by Deception, Failure to Pay Debts … the list went on. There was also a fairly long list of Fletcher’s various unsuccessful investment schemes. And an even longer list of extremely unhappy investors and creditors.

So - a confidence trickster, thought the Consul. Or, at best, a businessman with a very poor grasp of ethics and … well, business. Still, there was nothing listed to warrant ejecting Fletcher from the embassy: no record of violence, political subversion or flatulence. And perhaps this so-called ‘business proposition’ would be worth a few laughs, at least.


“Cat analogues.” The Consul paused, while its psyche implant advised it on the safest reaction, then nodded encouragingly. “Do go on.”


“Okay, let me explain what I’ve got in mind,” said Fletch.




Fletch leaned forward, and looked compellingly into several of the Consul’s eyes. “I,” he began, grandly, “am an entrepreneur -”


In fact, ‘entrepreneur’ was probably the nicest thing Aaron Fletcher had ever been called in his life. According to the Australian Federal Police, Aaron Fletcher was a criminal, pure and simple. But as far as Fletch was concerned, that was all in the past. He’d put it all behind him – the failed schemes, the creditors, the angry investors, the outstanding warrants - and had fled out into the black beyond, looking for something new. Something better. Something that would make him wealthy enough to pay off his various debts and fines, and still have enough left over to buy a couple of planets to retire to in his old age. And perhaps a nubile young companion or two. And a gumball machine. He’d always wanted one of those. All he needed was a low-risk, high-return investment.


And it looked as if he might have found it on the Vork homeworld, Vork.


“– a very successful entrepreneur,” Fletch continued. “And d’you know why I’m successful?” He raised an eyebrow.


The Consul’s psyche implant decided that the question was rhetorical, and advised silence.


“Um … it’s because,” Fletch continued, “I see lucrative markets where others only see … stuff. And I know how to exploit those markets to their fullest – possible – potential!” He punctuated each word by tapping a finger on the Consul’s desk. “And I reckon I’ve found the mother-of-all-markets right here on Vork!” His eyes glittered excitedly as he spoke. That was Fletch’s real talent as an entrepreneur – the ability to radiate an almost contagious sense of enthusiasm, which seldom failed to excite potential investors.


“I see,” said the Consul, who, far from being impressed, was already tiring of Fletch. It stretched luxuriously, then leaned across the desk, displaying razor-sharp mandibles in a friendly grin. “Well, why don’t you tell me about this market you’ve found?”


Fletch sat back involuntarily. It wasn’t just that the Consul looked like a three-metre-long, upright funnelweb spider with far too many teeth, legs and eyes. It wasn’t just that the Consul’s ‘friendly grin’ looked more like the last thing a shark victim sees. It was that whole reputation the Vork had – a highly-intelligent, artistically and philosophically advanced, space-going race, who had an unfortunate penchant for enslaving other inhabited worlds. During the forty years since first contact between the Vork and Humanity, no fewer than three sentient races had been enslaved by the Vork, to whom slavery was merely one of the less pleasant cornerstones of civilisation. The Vork didn’t like doing it, but as far as they were concerned slaves were a necessary evil. Which didn’t really excuse the way in which the Vork treated their slave-planets like larders. And although they maintained amiable diplomatic relations with Earth, it was understood by everyone that, given the opportunity, the Vork wouldn’t hesitate to add Earth to their collection. Which was why human authorities had one simple policy with regard to allowing the Vork to visit Earth: Don’t!


This exclusionist policy was aggressively enforced, and further extended to cover all Vork produce - technology, flora and fauna, native artwork - everything. The rule was simple – no product of Vork civilisation or evolution, whether or not it presented an obvious or potential threat to human security, would ever be allowed within 20,000,000 kilometres of Earth. There was even an embargo on sharing information about certain aspects of human existence with the Vork – particularly those aspects with a military connection.


The Vork, not unreasonably, imposed their own information restrictions. While much was known about Vork social structure and psychology, almost nothing was known about their technology or biology. And the obvious reluctance of the Vork to share this information made human authorities even more determined to obtain it, by any means necessary. Which the Vork were only too aware of, of course, since they too were engaged in various programs of espionage aimed at cracking Earth security. And so the two races remained locked in a sort of interstellar Cold War – a state of tense, yet outwardly amiable co-existence, maintained only by the inability of each to compromise the security of the other.


Oddly enough, despite this healthy atmosphere of deep mutual distrust, human visitors were welcomed on Vork with open appendages, although their movements were restricted to specific secure areas of the capital city. But then, the Vork weren’t particularly worried by the notion of a few individual humans running amok amongst the local populace. And why would they be? Soft little pink things versus big spiky killing machines. No contest.


All of which ran briefly through Fletch’s mind as he gazed up at the Consul. But whatever else they were, the Vork did have a strict moral code (of sorts) regarding visitors. Slaves were for eating, but visitors were sacred, and devouring one – especially here in the embassy – would have represented a shameful display of social ineptitude. So Fletch swallowed his fear, and related his scheme.


“Okay, first things first,” he said. “Do you know what a ‘cat’ is?”


“No,” the Consul admitted.


Fletch leaned forward again. “A cat is a small domesticated Earthly mammal.”


The Consul didn’t even bother to nod this time, instead turning its attention to a speck of imaginary dirt caught between its claws. Sensing the Consul’s mood, Fletch pressed on.


“Cats are a popular companion animal on Earth. They’re pleasant to touch and hold, generally have an agreeable disposition, and express deep affection for their human owners while maintaining a high degree of independence.”


“Mm,” said the Consul, idly toying with the antigrav executive toy hovering above its desk. “And what does all this have to do with your new ‘market’?”


“I’m just coming to that,” said Fletch, trying not to sound desperate. “See, the problem with cats is that humans have become too used to them. They’ve been with us since the birth of human civilisation -” he ignored the Consul’s snort of amusement, “- besides which, after 500 years of genetic tampering, the gene pools of many species of cat are beginning to collapse. Whole breeds are becoming extinct. Now, it occurs to me that some other planets must be home to species analogous to cats – animals to which humans will respond in the same way. There’s a totally untapped market for an animal like that, and whoever taps it first stands to make an absolute fortune!”


The Consul held up a claw. “I think I can see where this is going - you intend to search Vork for local cat analogues, am I right?” It shook its head. “A commendably ambitious venture, but unfortunately, a totally impractical one.”


“But -”


“Let’s just consider the obstacles.” The Consul paused to lick daintily between its claws, then went on. “For a start, many species of Vork flora and fauna are unspeakably deadly, even to ourselves. Which means you’d require heavy personal security during your search, and the government simply hasn’t the funds to provide it.”


“I could pay!”


“You couldn’t afford it. Trust me, the sheer extent of the security you’d need … Then there’s the question of our security.”


“I’m sorry?”


“No need to be. It’s just that your species does have a rather aggressive attitude towards anything that poses a potential threat. Nuke first, ask questions later.”


“We’re not that bad!” protested Fletch.


“Oh, don’t be modest. Of course you are. And you shouldn’t be bashful about it – Vork and humans are both dangerously aggressive in their own, special ways. It’s an evolutionary imperative - nothing to be embarrassed about. But we still can’t let you just go traipsing around our planet. After all, even though the amount of physical damage that you personally could do on Vork is … well, laughable, there is still the possibility you could compromise our security.” The Consul held up a claw, smiling. “Not that you’d do any such thing, of course. But for security’s sake, an unsupervised tour of the planet is out of the question. And since we can’t afford to supervise you…” It shrugged. “And that’s without even considering the fact that there may not be any cat analogues on Vork.” The Consul shrugged apologetically. “I’m terribly sorry to have wasted your time like this,” and mine, it thought, “but as you can see -”


“But I’ve seen them!” cried Fletch, jumping to his feet.


The Consul sighed, hoping that Fletch wasn’t going to make a scene. It reached beneath the desk, claws hovering just above the security alarm. Not that the Consul couldn’t have slung the human out of the office all by itself, but the unions insisted that slinging was a job for Security. And you didn’t mess with the unions. Not on Vork. “Seen what?” it asked, wearily.


“Cat analogues! I’ve already found them here!”


“Of course you have,” said the Consul soothingly, pressing the button. Behind Fletch, the office door slid back and two huge Vork security guards scuttled forward.


“I have!” insisted Fletch. “Just outside the embassy! There was an old Vork standing by the gates, begging for foodscraps, and holding this big grub -”


The Consul made an abrupt gesture to the guards, who paused, claws inches from Fletch’s shoulders. “Grub?”


“Yeah, a big white grub. Fat, lots of little white legs, big toothless mouth, big brown eyes … lots of ‘em…”


The Consul waved the guards away, and regarded Fletch carefully. “And?”


“And it was looking at me with those big eyes, and making this purring sound - ‘roop-roop’ – like that, and I just had to stroke it! And when I did, the thing rolled its eyes and nuzzled up against my hand -” Fletch resumed his seat, smiling dreamily, “- awwww, it was so cute!” He shrugged. “Then the old Vork hissed something at me and jerked the grub away. But it was definitely a cat analogue! And if it could make a jaded old bastard like me go all ga-ga…” He raised an eyebrow. “Well? How about it?”


The Consul chewed its feeding palps thoughtfully. “You’d be looking to sell these cat analogues primarily on Earth, I gather? Not the outer human colonies?”


“Yes, I -”


The Consul made a gesture of mild bemusement. “And how do you propose to do that, exactly? Let’s not -” it consulted its netlink, “- beat around the bush, Mister Fletcher. You’re a wanted man on Earth. The moment you land, the local authorities will swarm over you like…politicians over a free lunch.” The Consul hadn’t needed to consult its netlink for that one. Some aspects of life were universal.


Fletch smiled weakly.


“None of which is of any concern to the Vork government, of course,” the Consul continued. “Frankly, we couldn’t care less if you make a living by swindling members of your own race. But it does beg the question of how exactly you propose to get the grubs to Earth. And aside from the problems posed by your popularity with federal authorities, there’s also the little matter of the Vork Exclusionist Policy -”


“Yes, yes, I know,” Fletch interrupted, “but, look, I’ve got it all worked out, okay? Just let me run the plan by you, and see what you think, huh?”


The Consul fixed Fletch with a piercing stare. “Very well. But I sincerely hope this isn’t something you’ve cooked up while sitting in that chair. Because I have no patience with time-wasters.” It made a show of consulting an ornate timepiece mounted on the wall. “You have exactly -” the netlink whispered softly, “- two Earthly minutes to dazzle me with your plan.” The Consul smiled pleasantly, folding its claws together on the desk in front of it. “Your time has already started.”


Fletch cleared his throat. “Ah. Um … okay. Well, see, I have this friend -”


“Oh dear. Better make that one minute.”


“No,” said Fletch, desperately, “see, this friend of mine owns a huge tract of land near Alice Springs – Central Australia, middle of nowhere … breeds camels -” He waved his hand dismissively. “Anyway, camel-farming isn’t exactly a boom industry, so my mate earns a little on the side by cultivating and selling marijuana – an Earthly narcotic – and one of his biggest markets is the Telstar orbiting spacedock. Now, it’s primarily the Telstar staff who are buying the stuff – God knows, there must be fuck-all else to do up there! Ha-ha-ha…”


The Consul gave the timepiece a pointed look.


“Um … anyway,” Fletch continued, “in return for a steady supply of drugs, the customs officials on both Telstar and the local Earthside port turn a blind eye to some of my mate’s other dealings – black-market offworld goods, that kind of stuff - and that includes an automatic OK on anything he brings on or off the ‘dock. No scans, no searches, no questions asked.”


The Consul nodded thoughtfully. “I see… So if a sizeable unmarked shipment arrived on the Telstar addressed to your friend, nobody would touch it.”


“Exactly!” Fletch thumped the desk excitedly. “And then my mate could return to Earth with the shipment – again, with no problems from customs – and stash the goods on his property.”


The Consul drummed its claws against the desk. “Hm. Sounds feasible. But how would your friend go about selling sufficient quantities of the grub to make it worth his trouble? And yours. And ours.”


“Breed them, of course!”


The Consul shook its head. “It wouldn’t work.”


“Why not?”



The Consul hesitated for a moment, then smiled regretfully. “Even on Vork, the grubs are difficult to breed in captivity. Even the most natural-looking artificial habitats tend to upset their natural cycle.”


“Bugger!” Fletch looked downcast.


The Consul scratched lightly at the desktop. “Of course…”



“Well, you could just keep importing more grubs. Assuming, of course, that there was sufficient financial benefit for the Vork in providing a steady supply.”


Fletch brightened. “Does that mean … you’re in?”


“Mmmmmmm… Possibly,” admitted the Consul. “I’d like to hear the rest of the plan first. Particularly what’s in it for us.”

“No worries!” Fletch grinned, rubbing his hands together. “Okay, so we keep importing the grubs on a regular basis, for a couple of years at least -” he paused. “Do these things – these … what d’you call ‘em?”

The Consul hesitated again. “Chuusa.”


“Okay, chuusa. Do they live longer than two or three years?”


“About -” the Consul consulted its netlink, “- four Earthly years.”


“Okay, so after about two years we should have, say, ten thousand chuusa on Earth. Now, at this point my mate moves the chuusa into a ‘natural’ enclosure – say, a dried up reservoir, or something - then files a claim on these funny little critters he’s found on his property. The authorities’ll check them out, find them harmless -” Fletch gave the Consul a wary look. “They are harmless, I gather?”

The Consul nodded. “Completely.”


“Okay.” Fletch didn’t sound convinced. “Well, we can take a few months to run some tests before my mate reports ‘em, just to make sure they don’t carry any bacterial nasties. So then the authorities check out the chuusa, ‘discover’ what we already know – that they’re harmless - and because there’s no sign of any artificial habitat, and because my mate’s the one who reported them – which puts him above suspicion - they’ll assume the chuusa were brought in by accident. On the bottom of someone’s shoe, or something. And since there’d be no reason to suspect they’re from Vork, my mate’s claim on them would be completely legal.” Fletch adopted a conspiratorial tone. “Maxwell’s Clause – if you find an alien organism on your property, and it’s not intelligent, dangerous, or harmful to the ecosystem, it’s yours. Maxwell made a fortune out of Sirian Glow-Worms -”


Anyway…” prompted the Consul.


“Sorry - anyway, my mate starts selling the chuusa off as pets – as exotic cat-analogues. ‘Be the first on your block’, etcetera. I’ll be directing the whole operation from somewhere close by with no extradition laws. Titan, maybe. Possibly Ganymede. I’ve always wanted to see -”




“Sorry, getting ahead of myself. Anyway, we start off by selling the chuusa solely to the rich, to recover costs. Then we drop the price and sell to Mister and Mrs J. Citizen. Everyone’ll want one, and if we keep a steady supply coming in we can meet that demand for as long as it lasts. And if people start to ask where this endless supply’s coming from, my mate can tell them the chuusa are breeding – and he’s legally under no obligation to let anyone come on to his property to confirm the claim!” Fletch leaned back, grinning. “A plan with no flaws. And within a few months I’ll be able to pay off all my debts, return to Earth, and oversee the operation personally.”


The Consul nodded slowly. “I see.”


A pause.


“Um..?” Fletch raised an eyebrow.




“Um … well, don’t you want to know what’s in this for you?”


“Oh, of course! Er..?” The Consul made a gesture of encouragement.


“Okay,” Fletch leaned forward again. “I reckon we can sell chuusa for at least five or six grand initially – I’m not sure how that converts into local currency -”


The Consul consulted its netlink. “78,000,000 stukk. Approximately.”


“Sure, okay, and then about half that when we drop the price for the plebs. Now, I figure my mate’ll go for a fee of around 20% - subject to negotiation, of course – and then there’s my fee as operations supervisor – say, 40%, and the remainder goes to your government.”


The Consul scratched idly at the desktop, regarding Fletch silently. Fletch began to fidget nervously in his seat.


“Um,” said Fletch eventually, “look, I know 40% doesn’t sound like much, but what you’ve got to remember is that me and my mate are taking all the risks here, and besides, 40% of … let’s see … minimum yearly return for the first year – 10,000 units, six grand each – that’s … 50,000,000, increasing in subsequent years … and 40% of 50,000,000 is -” He looked up. “What are you doing?”


The Consul had picked up a stylus, and was busy scrawling something on to a piece of hand-spun parchment. It glanced up, still writing. “I want you -” it finished writing, and handed the parchment to Fletch, “- to ask the guards outside the door to escort you to the Office of Trade and Services. When you arrive, ask to see the Minister of Trade Relations and show him that document.”


“What is it?”


“It’s a letter of authority, signed by a duly appointed proxy for the Vork government – that’s me – stating that the government has entered into a contract with one Aaron Edgar Fletcher to assist in the exportation of chuusa to Earth. The Minister is further instructed to … get the ball rolling immediately.”


A grin spread across Fletch’s face. “Really? You mean it?”


“Absolutely.” The Consul reached across the desk with a razor-sharp claw. Fletch took it automatically. “And to put your mind further at rest,” the Consul continued, “40% will be quite satisfactory. I’ll transmit a recording of our conversation over to the Trade Relations office for them to reformat into a contract. No need to slow the process down with signatures – the handshake constitutes full acceptance.”


“Oh, I accept! You bet I do!” Fletch sprang from his chair, gave the Consul’s claw a final warm squeeze, and backed towards the door. “Thank you! You have no idea what this means to me! Thank you. You won’t be sorry!” He turned to leave.


“Oh, and Mister Fletcher..?”


Fletch turned. The Consul kept its smile pleasant. “As I’ve said, we don’t care what sort of ‘dodgy deals’ you’ve pulled on members of your own species. It’s none of our concern. But -” the smile vanished, and the Consul leaned slowly forward, “- if you even think about trying to swindle the Vork in any way, shape or form … we’ll have you for breakfast.”


The way the Consul said it, it didn’t sound like a euphemism.


Fletch smiled nervously and placed a hand against his chest. “I … well, of course not! I’d never…” He trailed off. “Look, you can trust me, okay? No need for threats.”


“The Vork don’t make threats, Mister Fletcher.”


“Oh, I’m sorry!” said Fletch, instantly apologetic, “I thought you meant -”


“We make promises.”


Fletch paled.


“Good day, Mister Fletcher.” The Consul smiled warmly. “Nice doing business with you.”

Fletch nodded slowly, and left.


As soon as the door had closed, the Consul reactivated its netlink. “Message to Security Central. Apparently we’ve got a vagrant parked outside the embassy gates – with chuusa in tow, no less! In plain sight of visiting extraterrestrials! I want someone here quick-smart to take it back to a secure area -” It paused. “But be … nice about it. In this case, the security breach may turn out to be to our advantage.” Another pause. “Okay, new order - transmit a complete record of conversation with human visitor to the Office of Trade and Services. Then patch me through to whoever’s in charge of Offworld Incursion. Tell them it’s important. And have my shuttle brought to the office window. I’ll be going home early today. I think I’ve earned it.”



 They were waiting at the door when it arrived back at its burrow – the whole clutch, all looking up at the Consul, rubbing against its legs, purring expectantly. The Consul dutifully pulled a bag of dried food from its satchel and sprinkled a clawful at its feet. It stood back and watched them feed, marvelling at the way in which they bumbled about so amiably, scampering across the floor on tiny white legs, scooping up morsels with their wide, toothless mouths.


Such a wonderful time in their lives, the Consul thought. A time of innocence. Enjoy it while you can, little ones. In just a few short krinn (around four Earth years, the netlink whispered), the Growth Fever would hit, and the chuusa would rapidly transform into their adult form, incessantly shovelling food – any food – into their mouths, as razor-edged teeth erupted from their gums.


The Consul’s eyes twinkled, as it considered what ten-thousand chuusa in the grip of Growth Fever could do to the human population of Earth. And afterwards, an Earth-born occupation force of adult Vork. It was just too perfect. After years of public frustration at the inability of the Vork government to compromise Earth security, a back door had presented itself from out of the black.


A catflap, whispered the netlink.


The Consul tilted its head to one side and regarded its children. Its eyes shone, half-closed in utter contentment.


“Ahhhh, my lovely chuusa,” it purred. “You’re going to make Daddy so proud..!



"Cat Flap" was first published in Aurealis, June 2002
and is one of the stories in
Confessions of a Pod Person
Chuck McKenzie's first collection,
published by MirrorDanse Books
November 2005
Chuck McKenzie was born in Melbourne, Australia, in 1970, and still spends much of his time there, he says. Despite his BA in Professional Writing & Literature, he really only turned to writing professionally in order to avoid getting tied down to a 'proper' job - having also worked as a pamphlet distributor,  commercial artist,  performing waiter, tele-marketer,  entertainment consultant, restaurant manager, Amway rep (sorry),
'rat-wrangler' (don't ask), TV actor, retail store manager,  club DJ,
writing tutor, and a strip-show MC.
Chuck's publishing credits include the SF comedy novel
Worlds Apart, and (as co-editor) AustrAlien Absurdities: Comic Tales of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror by Australian Writers,
as well as sales of short fiction and articles to The Age, Altair, Aurealis, AntipodeanSF, Agog! Fantastic Fiction, Daikaiju!,
Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Borderlands,
Orb Speculative Fiction, Passing Strange, Planet Relish, InterNova, Elsewhere and Simulacrum.
Read an interview of Chuck here.
And what is it about Chuck and Giant Monsters?
Chuck's website
Chuck McKenzie can be contacted at
chuckmck1 (at)

The virtuous medlar circle

is part of
Anna Tambour and Others

"Cat Flap" copyright © 2002-2005 by Chuck McKenzie, first appeared in Aurealis, June 2002
This short story appears here with thanks to Chuck McKenzie, whose payment was less than a brass razoo.
This story is part of a series of invited pieces by people I find deliciously inspiring, always a hoot, and who write like a bletted medlar tastes. A.T.
The Virtuous Medlar Circle © 2005