The Great Beta-Reader Raid

by Henry Wyckoff
September 1998


It was the Dark Ages, and unedited fanfiction was being splattered all over the Usenet, and then the Mailing Lists, until all those oppressed by horrible spelling, bad grammar, and incomprehensible plots cried unto the Lord for light . . . and salvation from the long-line/short-line formatting.

God, in his infinite mercy, sent some very special souls to Earth; beta-readers.

(It was either that or a swift, universal mercy killing.)

By the grace of God, beta-readers spread throughout the corners of the Earth, but for some reason, they avoided Arizona like the plague.

This was quite unfortunate because one of the most prolific fanfiction writers of all time lived in Arizona. He would write crossovers of such size and complexity that a copy would land in every archive of every conceivable movie or television show, and even on the literary sites. His chapters would be cross-posted over all relevant newsgroups.

Though his work was prolific, and seemed to work, this author was oblivious to his errors. He didn't really mind, at first, because he prided himself on being one of the few live-posting fanfiction authors.

He realized that all was not well when Professor McCarthy, an English professor at an unnamed institute of higher learning, was said to have found this author's highly-publicized works, and in doing so, chewed off his own arms in order to save his sanity.

To make matters worse, this author was about to embark on his most ambitious crossover in all time . . . Forever Knight and Baywatch's mid-summer Hawaii swimsuit episode. In an attempt to save the universe from total destruction, his own hard-drive manufactured a virus that effectively cut him off from the Internet or any story writing for several months.

This author sat in a Flagstaff cafe, wondering what he could do about this, and then he heard about these 'beta-readers' that seemed to be getting thanked right and left. "It would be good to have the service of a beta-reader, or many, but how should I get one?"

His attempts to lure beta-readers to his site were in vain, because his stories made absolutely no sense at all, having been the product of a mind where there's always a carnival, but with more cheese.

That's when he had the best idea of all time; he'd launch a beta-reader raid.

For the first time in years, he did genuine research and found out where the highest concentration of innocent, unfearing beta-readers was.

He quickly found his Lindesfarne . . . the Kung Fu Fanfiction Mail List!

* * *

Chapter 1

Jane the Beta-Reader sat at her computer, doing what she did best; beta-reading. It was one of her favorite types; a Kermit romance crossover with Touched by an Angel.

" . . . and Kermit closed his eyes and whispered, 'Don't stop!' This very moment, he knew what it was to be 'Touched by an Angel.'"

Sighing, she wrote her response, "I'm not really sure you're writing Monica in the intended fashion of her creators, but I do like Kermit, so I'll have to say it's a 4-star fanfic, especially 'cause you can dance to it!"

It was a similar scene in the tall Toronto office building, where at least fifty employees sat working at computer terminals. Officially, they were office workers with various tasks that would make most working people say, "Uh-huh." But these weren't ordinary office workers. Whenever the boss or manager turned their backs, the office workers reverted to their true calling in life; beta-reading!

Some were checking web sites, but most were sighing in passion as they read about Kermit or Kwai Chang, or laughing in utter hysteria as they read about Peter's attempts to get a serious date or to insist that he really knew kung fu. Most were smiling knowingly every time there was a mention to Kermit's big gun.

Suddenly, a shadow fell over the building, and all of the beta-readers looked in dismay as they saw a Viking ship smash through the window. Nobody had time to wonder how a ship mounted on a moving skyscraper could pull this off, because a lone lunatic with long brown hair and a thick goatee leaped off the side of the ship, armed with a thick stack of paper.

"Oh, another submission?" asked one of the beta-readers. "Don't you know we accept e-mails nowadays?"

"You'll be accepting a lot more than e-mails by the time I'm through with you!" the raider chuckled.

Everyone went silent as they thought to themselves, "Wait a moment . . . isn't that an Arizona accent?" Then there was a collective scream; "GOD SAVE US! IT'S THE FANFICTION MANIAC FROM ARIZONA!"

"Yes. It is I, He Who Tells Bad Puns, also known as The Prolific Deliverer of Unspellchecked Stories!"

"No! Not He Who Tells Bad Puns, also known as The Prolific Deliverer of Unspellchecked Stories!"

"The same!" he smiled grimly.

There was another collective scream. "AAAAA!"

The lunatic continued his evil-villain monologue. "You shall all work for me now. There shall be no more editing of these trite, top-ten stories you seem to enjoy so much. No, you shall live in my world of surreal crossovers, serious dialogue, religious debates, and other material worthy of a whole season of Masterpiece Theatre!"

The thought of having to think even lightly serious thoughts that had nothing to with having a long, romantic evening with Kermit or Kwai Chang made everyone nearly faint.

"Yes, you shall all beta-read my newest work, a 1,342,123,424 kilobyte epic, a crossover between Barney and Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. I call it "Barney's Magical World of Kung Fu: The Singing Continues." In it, Barney has taken over the minds of Toronto's youth, enticing them to riot, using the secret skills of kung fu. Feel the horror as Barney has everyone in the precinct tied up and forced to sing mindless children songs. Feel the terror as you're forced to go through pages of these inane, corrupted childrens' songs!

"And this is just the beginning . . . " he chuckled insanely.

* * *

Chapter 2

Kwai Chang Caine entered the precinct building, his face a mask of worry.

As always, his son could easily be found at his desk. This time, he was trying to get dates with some of the hookers brought in on prostitution charges.

"My son," Kwai Chang said to his son.

The hookers immediately started making sounds of disgust. "Eww! You mean you have a father? Gross!"

"Hey! Don't go!" Peter tried to keep them from leaving but to no avail. When they were all out of arm's reach, he slammed his hands on the table. "Goddamit, Pop! Sorry . . . 'dad' . . . you blew my chance for a cheap date! All I had to do was spend $2.50 on cheap wine!"

"My son, you must calm down, or I shall utter the Poem of Death."

"Not the Poem of Death!" The Poem of Death. It had never been uttered, but rumor had it that this poem had been written by a disgruntled employee of the IRS. Suddenly Peter smiled quite falsely and offered his father a seat. "Have a seat, 'dad' -- care for some oolong tea? Or perhaps you'd like to do a Taoist poetry recital?"

"Not now. My son, there is a great evil afoot."

"Yeah, dad. There is a great evil foot. Right here." Peter pulled out a clear plastic bag out of his desk. "Some guy chopped it off and left it hanging from some telephone pole. Still haven't solved it after a year, and it's starting to smell evil too."

Kwai Chang shook his head. "No, my son, things are not as they should be."

"Of course not, dad. I've been doing this show for four years now, and I haven't had a single date that didn't involve some biker chick trying to control my mind or assassinate some schlep who guest-starred on Highlander the week before."

By this time, Kwai Chang had decided to use a method of last resort to get his son to listen -- the Shaolin Neck Pinch. Pulling out his pliers, he pinched his son's collarbone.

"Ow! Ow-ow-owowowow!"

Kwai Chang increased the pressure with each word he spoke, using a Brooklyn accent. "The fabric of time and space is being warped and twisted. Haven't you noticed how things are not as they should be?"

"Oh! You mean -- AH! -- that!"

"Yes." He released his grip on the pliers and returned to his mask of serenity.

"You ever think of working for the mob?" Peter rubbed his collarbone. "All right. Convince me."

"Take a look at Kermit."

Peter had to admit that it was an oddly peculiar sight; Kermit had a guitar and sat on one of the desks, surrounded by an audience of hookers. He was singing, "It ain't easy being green . . . "

Peter looked at his father. "What's going on here? How come Kermit gets all the babes?!" He grabbed at his father's lapels. "We have to do something! Aaach!"

Peter sank to his knees as his father bent back his fingers, speaking again in that whispery, Brooklyn accent, "Now don't be doing that to ya pops!"

Peter rubbed his hands, whimpering. "Sorry, dad . . . what now?"

Kwai Chang returned to his former self. "There can be only one thing that can explain this; something has happened to our beta-readers. We must find the Ancient and learn how to transcend the barriers of time and space and determine what has happened."

A moment later, without any coherent manner of transition, Peter and Kwai Chang found themselves in the home of the Ancient.

"You sensed it too?" asked Kwai Chang.

"Yes! Bad acting and cheesy dialogue permeate this world. You must save us, Kwai Chang Caine!"

Kwai Chang's face steeled. "I cannot transcend the barriers between time and space, Ancient."

The Ancient's face became intense. "You CAN do this, Kwai Chang Caine!"

"I must do this, or else we will be doomed to poor grammar, bad spelling, and incomprehensible plots!"

* * *

Chapter 3

"Where are we?" Peter asked as they appeared in a desolate wasteland of snow and ice. A shanty stood a little ways off.

"We are in the Northwest Territories." Kwai Chang's voice was a soft whisper.

"That's right, Kwai Chang Caine!" A man wearing a well-used trenchcoat and soft leather boots, with long hair and a thick goatee, popped up out of the snow, talking like a game show announcer . . . and just as loudly. "And what does he win -- Kelly!"

Appearing out of nowhere, a bored-looking Texas truck stop waitress (in the full uniform) took a drag off her cigarette and said in an even more bored voice, "The Chinaman and his son get a tour of the Mad Fanfiction Author's sweatshop."

Peter and Kwai Chang looked bewildered as the Mad Fanfiction Author led them, skipping and hopping, to the shanty. Entering, they were astonished. The outside was barely enough to justify $275 rent a month, but the inside was a giant warehouse full of cubicle dividers. In each cubicle was a computer with a full Internet connection and someone slaving away at each terminal.

The Mad Fanfiction Author narrated as happily as if he was on television, doing a report on the latest murder or tidal wave. "This is stage two in my fanfiction assembly line. Here, one hundred and fifty beta-readers examine each of my great works in minute detail!"

Peter could hear a lot of sniffling and crying. One poor woman who wore a white wedding dress was typing away and sobbing, "A husband . . . I have a husband . . . "

Next to her was an older woman muttering, "Family . . . my family . . . "

Peter muttered, "Man, and I thought my boss was strict!"

"I'm even better than that! I've forbidden anything even resembling a personal life!"

"What kind of stuff are you writing?" Peter asked suspiciously.

"Oh, all kinds of masterpieces. My latest one is a crossover between Barney, Walker: Texas Ranger, and Kung Fu!"

Most of the beta-readers were moaning in agony by this point.

Kwai Chang boomed in a powerful voice, "Your days are over! Your insanity must be stopped before it destroys the world!"

"I'm afraid that won't work . . . "

"Oh? And why is that?" Peter was full of himself.

"Look behind you."

They did, and gasped in shock. It was none other than . . . the Pat Boone and Duncan MacLeod Duo with their Karaoke Sound Machine -- dressed in leather!

"OH NO!" screamed Peter, Kwai Chang, and all of the beta-readers. Some of the beta-readers were vomiting.

Pat and Duncan looked at one another, smiling. "All right, let's HIT IT!" The sounds of Anthrax blasted out of the speakers, and they started singing.

Peter and Kwai Chang sank to their knees, groaning in agony. "No . . . "

The Mad Fanfiction Author laughed insanely, dancing around.

Kwai Chang whispered to Peter. "There is only one thing that can save us now."


"I didn't tell you this, but your mother didn't die. She's a beta-reader who had to return to this world."

"Pop! I didn't know! You told me she suffered from a bizarre gardening accident!"

"I know . . . but listen. I'll distract him, and you look for her. You have a photo of her."

"Yes, but what good will that do?"

"In order to counteract this lunatic's plan, I must lose my sense of hearing and vision, which can only be done if a man is asked repeatedly by his wife to take out the trash and fix the kitchen sink. I'll use my Shaolin powers to summon a TV with a football game on and a case of Sloshed Beer, and my plan will be perfect!"

Peter gasped, "That's the best plan you've ever come up with!"

Due to a shortage of beta-readers -- all of them were currently occupied in deciphering a nine-thousand stanza epic commemorating the moment that the Animaniacs tortured Tan and drove him to his evil ways -- the logical flaws in this plan were never really examined, and the plan quickly worked.

Kwai Chang quickly developed the symptoms of selective deafness and blindness, and with the help of Peter, chained the Mad Fanfiction Author to a terminal, where he began to scream, flail around in his chains, and beg for release.

"What did you do?" asked Peter.

"I used the Shaolin method of turning an enemy's forceful energies back at them. In this case, he's forced to stay tuned to the 'Highlander: The Animated Series' Web Site. I also took the liberty of putting on the Country Top Ten Hits station."

"You are so cruel!"

They laughed, patting each other on the back, and the beta-readers rejoiced.

Because they had done their task, Peter and Kwai Chang began to return to their own world, but before they had completely returned, they heard the Mad Fanfiction Author scream, "I'll do the Shaolin thing too and use this cursed cartoon as a weapon! Some day, I'll vomit on the monitor enough to block these accursed images, and when I do . . . "

They returned in their own world, and Peter cast a worried glance at his father. "Do you think he'll ever return?"

Kwai Chang nodded sadly. "A great evil such as that can never be totally defeated, only distracted or made momentarily homeless. But I took the other liberty of applying for credit cards in his name. If he ever escapes, he'll be tempted to run up a high credit card debt, and will spend too much of his time and money paying it off to be a threat to us. Trust me, the Shaolin are nothing compared to the Credit Card Collection Agency!"

Peter shuddered at the thought of such a powerful entity as that.

However, he quickly forgot his fears as he found that the beta-readers had been quite grateful for their rescue. Almost the moment after Peter returned to the precinct, his partner asked him out on a date.

Life could be good.

* * *

The Mad Fanfiction Author struggled in his chains and vomited one last time. The monitor was at last covered with vomit.

"I'm free! I'm FREE! HAHAHAHAA!"

Does this spell the return of insanity and madness?

END (?)

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