This is a short story I read in the late 80s or early 90s in an anthology or collection.

Here are the plot points I remember:

  • A human spaceship encounters a ship with hostile aliens (HA). There may be friendly aliens (FA) on board the human spaceship
  • A human (or perhaps FA) telepath scans the HA and finds they are hostile and bent on conquest of other races
  • The captain and crew decide on a bluff: pretend they are from a large federation of many species, one so big the HA will become discouraged and drop their plans of conquest
  • They invite one or more HA on their ship
  • To pretend that there are many (more) races in their federation, they do things like put a fake control panel in the ships aquarium and claiming the fish in them are one of the races in their federation
  • The HA can't conceive of multiple races cooperating and are convinced there must be some race on top controlling it all. If not, they can just be conquered one at a time
  • This goes on for a little while until, seeing their plan isn't working (via their telepath) the humans change their plan so that when

    the ship's cat (so far unseen by the HA) walks in the room, one of the humans loudly calls "The CAT!" causing everyone to stand rigidly at attention while the cat walks around more or less ignoring everyone and everything the way cats do. Having seen the "top dog" and the rigid discipline and fear he instills in everyone else, the aliens "realize" the humans are deluded into thinking all races are equal members in their 'federation", the cats are really in control of a huge empire, and they should not be messed around with.

  • 5
    Not so much a shaggy dog story, as....
    – Spencer
    Commented May 18, 2019 at 13:11
  • 5
    Reading this post gave me a laugh, my +1.
    – Hans Olo
    Commented May 18, 2019 at 14:28
  • probably the same as scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/215088/… (which is newer but has an accepted answer)
    – Otis
    Commented Jun 26, 2019 at 14:41
  • @cybernetic_nomad Is this your answer?
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Jun 26, 2019 at 14:55

1 Answer 1


"Trouble with Treaties" Katherine MacLean & Tom Condit

The story has all the mentioned elements: hostile aliens, fake controls inside the fish tank, and the human crew screaming...

It's The Cat!

...when the ship's cat enters the room.

enter image description here

  • 1
    Noob question: When people post links to ISFDB, and list information from the story, where are they finding the information? All I can ever see on ISFDB is lists of where the story has been published and other meta info, but no story content or even keywords/phrases. Am I overlooking something on that site?
    – Mughi
    Commented May 18, 2019 at 14:40
  • 5
    @Mughi that's about all there is in isfdb. Occasionally there will be a synopsis. I just routinely post a link there when I do a story id because it helps people track down the story if they want to read it. The information usually comes from elsewhere, in my case largely from memory, then I go pull the book and get a quote. Commented May 18, 2019 at 15:40
  • 1
    @Mughi: You may find this meta discussion interesting if you're trying to find works of fiction yourself.
    – Kevin
    Commented May 19, 2019 at 0:35

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