Talk to me, I'm all arms!  So what's the frequency, Kenneth?


by George McCann

Bloody bell rang and I reached out to shut off the alarm. Pitch-dark outside, but I had
set the wake-up for daybreak. Damn, this was 2094 A.D., and people still couldn't invent a
clock that worked properly.

But the bell rang again and the organism, benumbed by sleep, finally tracked the source:
the video-fone. I activated it, flicked on the screen and fine-tuned the sound.

"Swiller here."

"You're wanted at Top Base," from a voice I did not recognize. I jiggled the screen switch,
but it remained blank. So the caller was either an infiltrator or some HQ wallah testing
security at 0300 hours. If the latter, better humor him.

"Parole, please." Then the face materialized on the screen. Good God, it was Smithers,
among the nastiest of the base staff and a pouf to boot.

"It is a far, far better thing I do," Smithers intoned, "than I have ever done before or ever
hope to do in the future, so help me Henry Higgins and the Houses of Parliament," all of it
in a more than passable Mayan dialect. May they rip his bloody heart out, I thought.

Top Base has been making the paroles overlong and setting them in exotic tongues since
Goldberger came a cropper last June on the third moon of Jupiter. Fooled by a short
Yiddish parole, of all things. It was "Bupkis," and Goldberger thought the contact said
"Cupcakes." Never had a chance when the suspicious contact turned on his pocket

"Good. Now that's settled," I snarled, "you realize I'm not ready to go out again. Only got
back from Alpha Centauri Monday and I'm shot. We do a mission, we get the next six weeks
off; that's the rule. I'm off for Bournemouth in the morning. Get yourselves another
errand boy."

Nothing. "Did you hear me?"

"Of course, old cock," Smithers drawled. "Just making notes. Want to be sure to get it all
right when I tell Braun you're not up to the mustard anymore. Cutting it, you know. . .or
not, as the case may be. Heh-heh."

Braun, that bastard. He'll hand you a job for a defector extraction on the rings of Saturn
and while the opposition is setting charges at your safe house door he'll radio to ask you to
pick him up a jar of that jellied Kling-off squid he's taken a fancy to. Cold as ice, the man

"What's Braun got to do with this?"

"He's running the board on a hot mission, says you're the only man for it. Wants to give
you Goldberger for director in the field, says he's harmless now he's brushed up on the
Yiddish. But I'll be happy to tell him you're too played out, old boy."

I was dressed in five minutes and stepping into the MART (molecule assemble/reassemble
transporter). I'd be at Top Base in seconds, provided I organized my arrival correctly. In
the fluid molecular state, one must be rather precise about slotting one's entry into an
unoccupied spatial allotment. Not long ago, Jenkins, semi hung-over, pushed the wrong
button when he arrived at Top Base the same second as the charlady. Poor chap wound up as
some sort of cosmic Cockney hermaphrodite. Still a good intelligence man, of course, but
wants to wash the floor all the time. They've got him in Files these days, until the shrinks
are through with him. If they can't separate out the charlady poor old dear Jenkins
may be stuck with the cafeteria hostess job.

* * *

Braun's office is as intimidating as the man. Big, dark, over-furnished, with him
in deep shadow by the shuttered windows. He looked up from his desk, squinted and
acknowledged my presence tentatively.

"Er. . .Swiller?"


"Dreadfully sorry to abort your holidays," he tittered, "but we have a mission no one else
can handle and I entreat you to accept it."

No one else could handle, my blooming foot. Probably didn't want to pay the overtime to the
chap on duty when the signal came down.

"I'll have to know more, of course, before accepting."

"Understood. But what I can tell you is limited. You know better than I that the less you
know, the less jeopardy to the mission. If you're captured by the black hats, we wouldn't
want you to have to bite the capsule."

All agents are required to sign out a poison capsule before a mission for use in case of
certain capture and interrogation. The capsule is really a two-pound kielbasa, which is
bloody bulky to conceal on one's person. What's more, it must be cooked with fried chips
and sauerkraut before the poison goes to work. Deuced difficult.

"Understood, sir. No disrespect intended."

"None taken, old fruit. You'll appreciate hearing that the mission is Earth-based.
America. Washington, to be exact. You have Russian, Vietnamese, Basque, Urdu, Finno-
Ugric, Han and Mandarin, so you should get along famously in the States.

"The problem is a mole, maybe more, in the White House itself. Yanks asked our help,
since we just apprehended the 1,779th mole in our own MI5. Success rates like that merit
attention, don't you know. The new president is a Southerner. Good old boy, but Oxford,
too. Doesn't trust the Washington crowd, so he's come to us."

I wasn't quite sure how to phrase my next condition; wouldn't want Braun to see me getting
nervy. "I'd like some assurance I won't be left hanging if the mission turns sour." They'd
left Morton to his fate in the Tibetan nunnery when the Chinese rolled up his Lhassa
network and no one at Top Base will look you in the eye when his name comes up.

"Useless request, old fellow," Braun replied, almost too quickly. "All of you executives
accept the sacrifice condition when you sign on."

"You're giving me Goldberger for DIF?"

"Yes. Is that acceptable?"

"Acceptable. You're sure about the Yiddish lessons?"

"Absolutely, plus a new hearing aid."

"Fine. But I want no back-up and he's to stay out of my way."


* * *

We sign out various equipment once we're activated. I refuse, or course, to carry a
weapon. Hate the bloody things. So the lady clerk always tries to sell me one. Tiresome,
but brightens up her mean little life.

"Poison pill?" she simpered. I nodded.

"Hebrew National or Eckrich? Beef or turkey?" I put it in my briefcase. Always worries
me the foe will smell the bloody thing.

"As usual, no next of kin? Insurance to the Battersea Battered Husbands Relief Society?
And". . . she looked up at me knowingly. . ."one red rose for Sheldon?"

I caught the 9:30 a.m. TAR (Trans Atlantic Rocket), after checking for tags at the
spaceport. Bit of a delay there as a party of Kling-offs scuffed by in handcuffs and leg
irons enroute to their filthy ghetto in the Seventh Galaxy. Nasty brutes, stink like pigs,
and, with those four arms, nothing's safe around them, not your wallet, not your wife.

Kling-offs are 8 feet tall and covered with bright orange hair, but they keep slipping past
the Earth security belt because, under certain conditions, they can alter their metabolism,
reduce their bulk and stow away inside the smallest space on an Earth-bound space

Once they're here, they assume the appearance of humans, but we always catch them
because they must remetabolize after a year or so. Gives you a start, I must say, when
you're dining in Greek Street and your maitre d' suddenly inflates to 500 pounds and turns
orange. They plead persecution in their homeland and cry for asylum, but we ship them
back, and right away. The smell, you know.

We landed at Kennedy at daylight and a clean-shaven CIA agent was waiting for me at my
gate. He was, in every respect but one, your typical CIA spook. Neat. Subdued clothing for
lower visibility. Short haircut. Ankle holster. J. Press shirt with pocket protector. But
he was only 5 feet tall, so to talk with him as we went to baggage pick-up I had to carry
him. He was doused in a choking cologne.

"The chief wishes he could have briefed you more leisurely at our place," he said, "but it
seems you're wanted at the White House immediately. Not so tight; you're hurting me. The
president and secretary of state want to confer with our limey cousin who's so effing smart
he's better than the entire CIA."

I detected hostility. This was not going to be as easy as I had hoped or Braun had hinted.
The spook squirmed again; he might be short, but he was getting to be a heavy little sod. I
tried to improve my grip and in so doing scratched his hand. Must have gone through the
coating of cologne, for a whiff of pure Kling-off assailed my nostrils.

Quickly I dropped the little bugger onto the baggage carousel, as he began to remetabolize to
his natural bulk. Too late or too soon, he achieved full size and that beastly orange color
just as he came to the carousel's re-entry hole in the wall, sticking there while luggage
cascaded around him. I blew him a kiss, picked up my two-suiter and ran for the cab stand
as Kling-off mini-missiles exploded around me. Welcome to Washington, I thought, as I
ducked into the cab and told the Inuit driver to head for the White House.

* * *

"Dawg bite mah peckuh, Mr. Swiller, but it's good to hear a sissy Brit accent again.
Used to make out with mah economics professor at Oxford and she talked just lak y'all." C.
P. Bobbett, President of the United States, grabbed my arm and pulled me over to the far
side of the Oval Office. There were some fifty other people in the room with us, a press
conference, the president said.

"Didn't mean to get y'all messed up with the media, but don't worry about security. Thayuh
too interested in mah wife's Jovian commodities investments to ask any questions about
moles. What a bunch of peckuh haids. Here, Ah want you to meet the secretary of state,
Mortimer Tippietow, and my C- Ah-A director, Percival Skulk. Neither one's worth a
chicken's left foot, but Ah'm stuck with 'em."

Skulk moved right in, cutting off the secretary of state. "Here's the scoop, Swiller. We're
leaking badly around here. Eyes-only material from the State Department turns up in the
papers, so we know there's a mole. Maybe more. What's more mysterious, the files from
which the stuff was taken smell terrible afterwards. Takes us a week to get rid of the
stench. Problem is, no one has access to those files, except the president and Tippietow
here. I'm stumped."

An usher went by with trays of drinks and canapés and the president took out his
handkerchief to wipe his brow. The crowd was heating up the room. But I caught a flash of
something from the corner of my eye. Not anything definite so much as an anomaly,
something that set the organism to shivering and wheedling that it wanted to go home. Took
all I could do to restrain it.

The usher went by again and this time I watched him as he passed the president. I saw the
president seize a drink with one hand, snatch a canapé with another, wipe his brow again
with a third hand and, with a fourth, grab a large piece of the behind of the Chinese woman
who covers the White House for CBS. The newswoman was appalled and was about to knee
the president when the hand with the handkerchief blocked the blow, two more encircled
the correspondent, while the fourth rubbed her buttocks. I heard the president whisper
through pursed lips, "C'mon, honey, pucker up and Ah'll let y'all do mah shirts."

More quickly than I would have imagined, Tippietow was at the president's back, one hand
over the chief executive's mouth, one hand around his neck, one hand restraining an
encircling arm and a fourth hand hammering the president's back. Tippietow yelled: "Mr.
President, Mr. President, this is not diplomacy, this is barbarism."

"Hell with you, Tippietow," the president chortled, still trying to kiss the newswoman,
"get yo' own broad." The Secret Service were so addled by the sight of the multiple arms
that they were frozen in astonishment.

It was so obvious. Kling-offs somehow had appropriated the bodies of the president and
secretary of state and had leaked the top-secret files, probably only to sow mischief,
dissension and confusion, a favorite Kling-off pastime. But their natural need to
remetabolize had been set in motion, and the game was up.

"Stop it," I cried to the two disguised Kling-Offs, "or you'll get a double dose of Ivory suds."
This is a threat that will reduce any Kling-off to pleas for mercy, and it worked again. I
told the cringing aliens, "I don't know who you are, or what you've done with the real
president and secretary of state, but you're going back to your own miserable galaxy."

"Oh, no they're not," came a husky alto voice. I turned and there with a Pocket Patriot in
her hand, aimed at me, was Hillary Tonya Bobbett, the president's wife and the most
powerful woman in America. "I know he's not my real husband. I've known it since the
first time he ran all four hands over me. I want him. Now put down your gun.

"I don't care what he's done with my real so-called husband, Mr. Swiller," said the First
Lady. "I have no use for Old Corn Pone; I run this whole shop anyway all by myself. This
is a real man, whatever else he is. You can return to England now. The nation is safe."

"One question, ma'am." I said. "When their cologne wears off, how do you stand the stench?"

She laughed, a rather nice, tinkling sound. "Oh that, Mr. Swiller." she said. "You forget
that I lived for 20 years in Arkansas."

I didn't know what Braun would make of all this and frankly I didn't care. I was headed for
Bournemouth at last.  

Story copyright © 1994 George F. McCann
Illustration copyright © 1994 Andrew G. McCann

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