Captain Edgar Lightfoot of CIA said, "Darn it, the Fnools are back again, Major. They've taken over Provo, Utah."
With a groan, Major Hauk signaled his secretary to bring him the Fnool dossier from the locked archives. "What form are they assuming this time?" he asked briskly.
"Tiny real-estate salesmen," Lightfoot said.
Last time, Major Hauk reflected, it had been filling station attendants. That was the thing about the Fnools. When one took a particular shape they all took that shape. Of course, it made detection for CIA fieldmen much easier. But it did make the Fnools look absurd, and Hauk did not enjoy fighting an absurd enemy; it was a quality which tended to diffuse over both sides and even up to his own office.
"Do you think they'd come to terms?" Hauk said, half-rhetorically. "We could afford to sacrifice Provo, Utah, if they'd be willing to circumscribe themselves there. We could even add those portions of Salt Lake City which are paved with hideous old red brick."
Lightfoot said, "Fnools never compromise, Major. Their goal is Sol System domination. For all time."
Leaning over Major Hauk's shoulder, Miss Smith said, "Here is the Fnool dossier, sir." With her free hand she pressed the top of her blouse against herself in a gesture indicating either advanced tuberculosis or advanced modesty. There were certain indications that it was the latter.
"Miss Smith," Major Hauk complained, "here are the Fnools trying to take over the Sol System and I'm handed their dossier by a woman with a forty-two inch bosom. Isn't that a trifle schizophrenic -- for me, at least?" He carefully averted his eyes from her, remembering his wife and the two children. "Wear something else from here on out," he told her. "Or swaddle yourself. I mean, my God, let's be reasonable: let's be realistic."
"Yes, Major," Miss Smith said. "But remember, I was selected at random from the CIA employees pool. I didn't ask to be your secretary."
With Captain Lightfoot beside him, Major Hauk laid out the documents that made up the Fnool dossier.
In the Smithsonian there was a huge Fnool, standing three feet high, stuffed and preserved in a natural habitat-type cubicle. School children for years had marveled at this Fnool, which was shown with pistol aimed at Terran innocents. By pressing a button, the school children caused the Terrans (not stuffed but imitation) to flee, whereupon the Fnool extinguished them with its advanced solar-powered weapon. . . and the exhibit reverted to its original stately scene, ready to begin all over again.
Major Hauk had seen the exhibit, and it made him uneasy. The Fnools, he had declared time and time again, were no joke. But there was something about a Fnool that -- well, a Fnool was an idiotic life form. That was the basis of it. No matter what it imitated it retained its midget aspect; a Fnool looked like something given away free at supermarket openings, along with balloons and moist purple orchids. No doubt, Major Hauk had ruminated, it was a survival factor. It disarmed the Fnool's opponents. Even the name. It was just not possible to take them seriously, even at this very moment when they were infesting Provo, Utah, in the form of miniature real-estate salesmen.
Hauk instructed, "Capture a Fnool in this current guise, Lightfoot, bring it to me and I'll parley. I feel like capitulating, this time. I've been fighting them for twenty years now. I'm worn out."
"If you get one face to face with you," Lightfoot cautioned, "it may successfully imitate you and that would be the end. We would have to incinerate both of you, just to be on the safe side."
Gloomily, Hauk said, "I'll set up a key password situation with you right now, Captain. The word is masticate. I'll use it in a sentence. . . for instance, 'I've got to thoroughly masticate these data.' The Fnool won't know that -- correct?"
"Yes, Major," Captain Lightfoot sighed and left the CIA office at once, hurrying to the 'copter field across the street to begin his trip to Provo, Utah. But he had a feeling of foreboding.
When his 'copter landed at the end of Provo Canyon on the outskirts of the town, he was at once approached by a two-foot-high man in a gray business suit carrying a briefcase.
"Good morning, sir," the Fnool piped. "Care to look at some choice lots, all with unobstructed views? Can be subdivided into --"
"Get in the 'copter," Lightfoot said, aiming his Army-issue .45 at the Fnool.
"Listen, my friend," the Fnool said, in a jolly tone of voice. "I can see you've never really given any hardheaded thought to the meaning of our race having landed on your planet. Why don't we step into the office a moment and sit down?" The Fnool indicated a nearby small building in which Lightfoot saw a desk and chairs. Over the office there was a sign:
" 'The early bird catches the worm,' " the Fnool declared. "And the spoils go to the winner, Captain Lightfoot. By nature's laws, if we manage to infest your planet and pre-empt you, we've got all the forces of evolution and biology on our side." The Fnool beamed cheerily.
Lightfoot said, "There's a CIA major back in Washington, D.C. who's on to you."
"Major Hauk has defeated us twice," the Fnool admitted. "We respect him. But he's a voice crying in the wilderness, in this country, at least. You know perfectly well, Captain, that the average American viewing that exhibit at the Smithsonian merely smiles in a tolerant fashion. There's just no awareness of the menace."
By now two other Fnools, also in the form of tiny real-estate salesmen in gray business suits carrying briefcases, had approached. "Look," one said to the other. "Charley's captured a Terran."
"No," its companion disagreed, "the Terran captured him."
"All three of you get in the CIA 'copter," Lightfoot ordered, waving his .45 at them.
"You're making a mistake," the first Fnool said, shaking its head. "But you're a young man; you'll mature in time." It walked to the 'copter. Then, all at once, it spun and cried, "Death to the Terrans!"
Its briefcase whipped up, a bolt of pure solar energy whined past Lightfoot's right ear. Lightfoot dropped to one knee and squeezed the trigger of the .45; the Fnool, in the doorway of the 'copter, pitched head-forward and lay with its briefcase beside it. The other two Fnools watched as Lightfoot cautiously kicked the briefcase away.
"Young," one of the remaining Fnools said, "but with quick reflexes. Did you see the way he dropped on one knee?"
"Terrans are no joke," the other agreed. "We've got an uphill battle ahead of us."
"As long as you're here," the first of the remaining Fnools said to Lightfoot, "why don't you put a small deposit down on some valuable unimproved land we've got a listing for? I'll be glad to run you out to have a look at it. Water and electricity available at a slight additional cost."
"Get in the 'copter," Lightfoot repeated, aiming his gun steadily at them.
In Berlin, an Oberstleutnant of the SHD, the Sicherheitsdienst -- the West German Security Service -- approaching his commanding officer, saluted in what is termed Roman style and said, "General, die Fnoolen sind wieder zuruck. Was sollen wir jetz tun?"
"The Fnools are back?" Hochflieger said, horrified. "Already? But it was only three years ago that we uncovered their network and eradicated them." Jumping to his feet General Hochflieger paced about his cramped temporary office in the basement of the Bundesrat Gebaude, his large hands clasped behind his back. "And what guise this time? Assistant Ministers of Domestic Finance, as before?"
"No sir," the Oberstleutnant said. "They have come as gear inspectors of the VW works. Brown suit, clipboard, thick glasses, middle-aged. Fussy. And, as before, nur six-tenths of a meter high."
"What I detest about the Fnools," Hochflieger said, "is their ruthless use of science in the service of destruction, especially their medical techniques. They almost defeated us with that virus infection suspended in the gum on the backs of multi-color commemorative stamps."
"A desperate weapon," his subordinate agreed, "but rather too fantastic to be successful, ultimately. This time they'll probably rely on crushing force combined with an absolutely synchronized timetable."
"Selbsverstandlich," Hochflieger agreed. "But we've nonetheless got to react and defeat them. Inform Terpol." That was the Terra-wide organization of counterintelligence with headquarters on Luna. "Where, specifically, have they been detected?"
"In Schweinfurt only, so far."
"Perhaps we should obliterate the Schweinfurt area."
"They'll only turn up elsewhere."
"True." Hochflieger brooded. "What we must do is pursue Operation Hundefutter to successful culmination." Hundefutter had developed for the West German Government a sub-species of Terrans six-tenths of a meter high and capable of assuming a variety of forms. They would be used to penetrate the network of Fnool activity and destroy it from within. Hundefutter, financed by the Krupp family, had been held in readiness for just this moment.
"I'll activate Kommando Einsatzgruppe II," his subordinate said. "As counter-Fnools they can begin to drop behind Fnool lines near the Schweinfurt area immediately. By nightfall the situation should be in our hands."
"Gruss Gott," Hochflieger prayed, nodding. "Well, get the kommando started, and we'll keep our ears open to see how it proceeds."
If it failed, he realized, more desperate measures would have to be initiated.
The survival of our race is at stake, Hochflieger said to himself. The next four thousand years of history will be determined by the brave act of a member of the SHD at this hour. Perhaps myself.
He paced about, meditating on that.
In Warsaw the local chief of the People's Protective Agency for Preserving the Democratic Process -- the NNBNDL -- read the coded teletype dispatch several times as he sat at his desk drinking tea and eating a late breakfast of sweet rolls and Polish ham. This time disguised as chess players, Serge Nicov said to himself. And each Fnool making use of the queen's pawn opening, Qp to Q3. . . a weak opening, he reflected, especially against Kp to K4, even if they draw white. But --
Still a potentially dangerous situation.
On a piece of official stationery he wrote select out class of chess players employing queen's pawn opening. For Invigorating Forest-renewal Team, he decided. Fnools are small, but they can plant saplings. . . we must get some use out of them. Seeds; they can plant sunflower seeds for our tundra-removal vegetable-oil venture.
A year of hard physical work, he decided, and they'll think twice before they invade Terra again.
On the other hand, we could make a deal with them, offer them an alternative to invigorating forest-renewal activity. They could enter the Army as a special brigade and be used in Chile, in the rugged mountains. Being only sixty-one centimeters high, many of them could be packed into a single nuclear sub for transport. . . but can Fnools be trusted?
The thing he hated most about Fnools -- and he had learned to know them in their previous invasions of Terra -- was their deceitfulness. Last time they had taken the physical form of a troupe of ethnic dancers. . . and what dancers they had turned out to be. They had massacred an audience in Leningrad before anyone could intervene, men, women and children all dead on the spot by weapons of ingenious design and sturdy although monotonous construction which had masqueraded as folk-instruments of a five-stringed variety.
It could never happen again; all Democratic lands were alert, now; special youth groups had been set up to keep vigil. But something new -- such as this chess-player deception -- could succeed as well, especially in small towns in the East republics, where chess players were enthusiastically welcomed.
From a hidden compartment in his desk Serge Nicov brought out the special non-dial phone, picked up the receiver and said into the mouthpiece, "Fnools back, in North Caucasus area. Better get as many tanks as possible lined up to accept their advance as they attempt to spread out. Contain them and then cut directly through their center, bisecting them repeatedly until they're splintered and can be dealt with in small bands."
"Yes, Political Officer Nicov."
Serge Nicov hung up and resumed eating his -- now cold -- late breakfast.
As Captain Lightfoot piloted the 'copter back to Washington, D.C. one of the two captured Fnools said, "How is it that no matter what guise we come in, you Terrans can always detect us? We've appeared on your planet as filling station attendants, Volkswagen gear inspectors, chess champions, folk singers complete with native instruments, minor government officials, and now real-estate salesmen --"
Lightfoot said, "It's your size."
"That concept conveys nothing to us."
"You're only two feet tall!"
The two Fnools conferred, and then the other Fnool patiently explained, "But size is relative. We have all the absolute qualities of Terrans embodied in our temporary forms, and according to obvious logic --"
"Look," Lightfoot said, "stand here next to me." The Fnool, in its gray business suit, carrying its briefcase, came cautiously up to stand beside him. "You just come up to my knee cap," Lightfoot pointed out. "I'm six feet high. You're only one-third as tall as I. In a group of Terrans you Fnools stand out like an egg in a barrel of kosher pickles."
"Is that a folk saying?" the Fnool asked. "I'd better write that down." From its coat pocket it produced a tiny ball point pen no longer than a match. "Egg in barrel of pickles. Quaint. I hope, when we've wiped out your civilization, that some of your ethnic customs will be preserved by our museums."
"I hope so, too," Lightfoot said, lighting a cigarette.
The other Fnool, pondering, said, "I wonder if there's any way we can grow taller. Is it a racial secret preserved by your people?" Noticing the burning cigarette dangling between Lightfoot's lips, the Fnool said, "Is that how you achieve unnatural height? By burning that stick of compressed dried vegetable fibers and inhaling the smoke?"
"Yes," Lightfoot said, handing the cigarette to the two-foot-high Fnool. "That's our secret. Cigarette-smoking makes you grow. We have all our offspring, especially teen-agers, smoke. Everyone that's young."
"I'm going to try it," the Fnool said to its companion. Placing the cigarette between its lips, it inhaled deeply.
Lightfoot blinked. Because the Fnool was now four feet high, and its companion instantly imitated it; both Fnools were twice as high as before. Smoking the cigarette had augmented the Fnools' height incredibly by two whole feet.
"Thank you," the now four-foot-high real-estate salesman said to Lightfoot, in a much deeper voice than before. "We are certainly making bold strides, are we not?"
Nervously, Lightfoot said, "Gimme back the cigarette."
In his office at the CIA building, Major Julius Hauk pressed a button on his desk, and Miss Smith alertly opened the door and entered the room, dictation pad in hand.
"Miss Smith," Major Hauk said, "Captain Lightfoot's away. Now I can tell you. The Fnools are going to win this time. As senior officer in charge of defeating them, I'm about to give up and go down to the bomb-proof shelter constructed for hopeless situations such as this."
"I'm sorry to hear that, sir," Miss Smith said, her long eyelashes fluttering. "I've enjoyed working for you."
"But you, too," Hauk explained. "All Terrans are wiped out; our defeat is planet-wide." Opening a drawer of his desk he brought out an unopened fifth of Bullock & Lade Scotch which he had been given as a birthday present. "I'm going to finish this B & L Scotch off first," he informed Miss Smith. "Will you join me?"
"No thank you, sir," Miss Smith said. "I'm afraid I don't drink, at least during the daylight hours."
Major Hauk drank for a moment from a dixie cup, then tried a little more from the bottle just to be sure it was Scotch all the way to the bottom. At last he put it down and said, "It's hard to believe that our backs could be put to the wall by creatures no larger than domestic orange-striped tomcats, but such is the case." He nodded courteously to Miss Smith. "I'm off for the concrete sub-surface bomb-proof shelter, where I hope to hold out after the general collapse of life as we know it."
"Good for you, Major Hauk," Miss Smith said, a little uneasily. "But are you -- just going to leave me here to become a captive of the Fnools? I mean --" Her sharply pointed breasts quivered in becoming unison beneath her blouse. "It seems sort of mean."
"You have nothing to fear from the Fnools, Miss Smith," Major Hauk said. "After all, two feet tall --" He gestured. "Even a neurotic young woman could scarcely --" He laughed. "Really."
"But it's a terrible feeling," Miss Smith said, "to be abandoned in the face of what we know to be an unnatural enemy from another planet entirely."
"I tell you what," Major Hauk said thoughtfully. "Perhaps I'll break a series of strict CIA rulings and allow you to go below to the shelter with me."
Putting down her pad and pencil and hurrying over to him, Miss Smith breathed, "Oh, Major, how can I thank you!"
"Just come along," Major Hauk said, leaving the bottle of B & L Scotch behind in his haste, the situation being what it was.
Miss Smith clung to him as he made his way a trifle unsteadily down the corridor to the elevator.
"Drat that Scotch," he murmured. "Miss Smith, Vivian, you were wise not to touch it. Given the cortico-thalamic reaction we are all experiencing in the face of the Fnoolian peril, Scotch isn't the beneficial balm it generally is."
"Here," his secretary said, sliding under his arm to help prop him up as they waited for the elevator. "Try to stand firm, Major. It won't be long now."
"You have a point there," Major Hauk agreed. "Vivian, my dear."
The elevator came at last. It was the self-service type.
"You're being really very kind to me," Miss Smith said, as the Major pressed the proper button and the elevator began to descend.
"Well, it may prolong your life," Major Hauk agreed. "Of course, that far underground. . . the average temperature is much greater than at the Earth's surface. Like a deep mine shaft, it runs in the near-hundreds."
"But at least we'll be alive," Miss Smith pointed out.
Major Hauk removed his coat and tie. "Be prepared for the humid warmth," he told her. "Here, perhaps you would like to remove your coat."
"Yes," Miss Smith said, allowing him in his gentlemanly way to remove her coat.
The elevator arrived at the shelter. No one was there ahead of them, fortunately; they had the shelter all to themselves.
"It is stuffy down here," Miss Smith said as Major Hauk switched on one dim yellow light. "Oh dear." She stumbled over something in the gloom. "It's so hard to see." Again she stumbled over some object; this time she half-fell. "Shouldn't we have more light, Major?"
"What, and attract the Fnools?" In the dark, Major Hauk felt about until he located her; Miss Smith had toppled onto one of the shelter's many bunks and was groping about for her shoe.
"I think I broke the heel off," Miss Smith said.
"Well, at least you got away with your life," Major Hauk said. "If nothing else." In the gloom he began to assist her in removing her other shoe, it being worthless now.
"How long will we be down here?" Miss Smith asked.
"As long as the Fnools are in control," Major Hauk informed her. "You'd better change into radiation-proof garb in case the rotten little non-terrestrials try H-bombing the White House. Here, I'll take your blouse and skirt -- there should be overalls somewhere around."
"You're being really kind to me," Miss Smith breathed, as she handed him her blouse and skirt. "I can't get over it."
"I think," Major Hauk said, "I'll change my mind and go back up for that Scotch; we'll be down here longer than I anticipated and we'll need something like that as the solitude frays our nerves. You stay here." He felt his way back to the elevator.
"Don't be gone long," Miss Smith called anxiously after him. "I feel terribly exposed and unprotected down here alone, and what is more I can't seem to find that radiation-proof garb you spoke of."
"Be right back," Major Hauk promised.
At the field opposite the CIA Building, Captain Lightfoot landed the 'copter with the two captive Fnools aboard. "Get moving," he instructed them, digging the muzzle of his Service .45 into their small ribs.
"It's because he's bigger than us, Len," one of the Fnools said to the other. "If we were the same size he wouldn't dare treat us this way. But now we understand -- finally -- the nature of the Terrans' superiority."
"Yes," the other Fnool said. "The mystery of twenty years has been cleared up."
"Four feet tall is still suspicious-looking," Captain Lightfoot said, but he was thinking, If they grow from two feet to four feet in one instant, just by smoking a cigarette, what's to stop them from growing two feet more? Then they'll be six feet and look exactly like us.
And it's all my fault, he said to himself miserably.
Major Hauk will destroy me, career-wise if not body-wise.
However, he continued on as best he could; the famous tradition of the CIA demanded it. "I'm taking you directly to Major Hauk," he told the two Fnools. "He'll know what to do with you."
When they reached Major Hauk's office, no one was there.
"This is strange," Captain Lightfoot said.
"Maybe Major Hauk has beaten a hasty retreat," one of the Fnools said. "Does this tall amber bottle indicate anything?"
"That's a tall amber bottle of Scotch," Lightfoot said, scrutinizing it. "And it indicates nothing. However --" he removed the cap -- "I'll try it. Just to be on the safe side."
After he had tried it, he found the two Fnools staring at him intently.
"This is what Terrans deem drink," Lightfoot explained. "It would be bad for you."
"Possibly," one of the two Fnools said, "but while you were drinking from that bottle I obtained your .45 Service revolver. Hands up."
Lightfoot, reluctantly, raised his hands.
"Give us that bottle," the Fnool said. "And let us try it for ourselves; we will be denied nothing. For in point of fact, Terran culture lies open before us."
"Drink will put an end to you," Lightfoot said desperately.
"As that burning tube of aged vegetable matter did?" the nearer of the two Fnools said with contempt.
It and its companion drained the bottle as Lightfoot watched. Sure enough, they now stood six feet high. And, he knew, everywhere in the world, all Fnools had assumed equal stature. Because of him, the invasion of the Fnools would this time be successful. He had destroyed Terra. "Cheers," the first Fnool said.
"Down the hatch," the other said. "Ring-a-ding." They studied Lightfoot. "You've shrunk to our size."
"No, Len," the other said. "We have expanded to his."
"Then at last we're all equal," Len said. "We're finally a success. The magic defense of the Terrans -- their unnatural size -- has been eradicated."
At that point a voice said, "Drop that .45 Service revolver." And Major Hauk stepped into the room behind the two thoroughly drunken Fnools.
"Well I'll be goddamned," the first Fnool mumbled. "Look, Len, it's the man most responsible for previously defeating us."
"And he's little," Len said. "Little, like us. We're all little, now. I mean, we're all huge; goddamn it, it's the same thing. Anyhow we're equal." It lurched toward Major Hauk --
Major Hauk fired. And the Fnool named Len dropped. It was absolutely undeniably dead. Only one of the captured Fnools remained.
"Edgar, they've increased in size," Major Hauk said, pale. "Why?"
"It's due to me," Lightfoot admitted. "First because of the cigarette, then second because of the Scotch -- your Scotch, Major, that your wife gave you on your last birthday. I admit their now being the same size as us makes them undistinguishable from us. . . but consider this, sir. What if they grew once more?"
"I see your idea clearly," Major Hauk said, after a pause. "If eight feet tall, the Fnools would be as conspicuous as they were when --"
The captured Fnool made a dash for freedom.
Major Hauk fired, low, but it was too late; the Fnool was out into the corridor and racing toward the elevator.
"Get it!" Major Hauk shouted.
The Fnool reached the elevator and without hesitation pressed the button; some extraterrestrial Fnoolian knowledge guided its hand.
"It's getting away," Lightfoot grated.
Now the elevator had come. "It's going down to the bomb-proof shelter," Major Hauk yelled in dismay.
"Good," Lightfoot said grimly. "We'll be able to capture it with no trouble."
"Yes, but --" Major Hauk began, and then broke off. "You're right, Lightfoot; we must capture it. Once out on the street -- It would be like any other man in a gray business suit carrying a briefcase."
"How can it be made to grow again?" Lightfoot said, as he and Major Hauk descended by means of the stairs. "A cigarette started it, then the Scotch -- both new to Fnools. What would complete their growth, make them a bizarre eight feet tall?" He racked his brain as they dashed down and down, until at last the concrete and steel entrance of the shelter lay before them.
The Fnool was already inside.
"That's, um, Miss Smith you hear," Major Hauk admitted. "She was, or rather actually, we were -- well, we were taking refuge from the invasion down here."
Putting his weight against the door, Lightfoot swung it aside.
Miss Smith at once hopped up, ran toward them and a moment later clung to the two men, safe now from the Fnool. "Thank God," she gasped. "I didn't realize what it was until --" She shuddered.
"Major," Captain Lightfoot said, "I think we've stumbled on it."
Rapidly, Major Hauk said, "Captain, you get Miss Smith's clothes, I'll take care of the Fnool. There's no problem now."
The Fnool, eight feet high, came slowly toward them, its hands raised.