Dr Pheidippides checked the radar system hidden inside his shell once more, received the all clear, and then cautiously peered around the corner of the house and into the backyard. He couldn't see anything, but given he had deliberately picked a night with no moon and full cloud cover this was not entirely surprising. He scowled. Placing his full team, together, in an open location and vulnerable to attack was almost the worst thing he could imagine. Of course, the worst thing he could imagine was showing a whole group of strangers the way into his secret hide out. So, as the purpose of this evenings meeting was to meet a collection of new people, outside it had to be.
As the small tortoise walked slowly and deliberately into the center of the yard his scowled deepened. The more he thought about it the more misgivings (which means: 'thoughts that this might be bad') he was having. Not only did he not like where this meeting was happening, he was not sure it should be happening at all. He accepted that with the loss of Sylvester his team was too small and that he needed to recruit someone else. But the treachery of Sylvester had also warned him that having the wrong people in your team was worse than having too few in your team. Pheidippides didn't want to pick the wrong person again.
Suddenly Pheidippides froze; he could hear a faint scratching sound and a vibration (which means: quick shaking) in the ground. Ducking his head inside the shell also systems were still green: no visible threat. Pheidippides poked his head out again, eyes frantically scanning surroundings, nose sniffing for a predator that could be in camouflage. Nothing. But the scratching was getting louder and the vibrating was becoming a firm shake. Suddenly the tortoise found itself being lifted off the ground. Instantly Pheidippides swung all four legs in a scissor motion hoping to knock himself free from whoever had him; but his legs didn't hit anything.
Pheidippides mind raced. Could not be an aerial attack; radar was clear. Could not be a side attack; legs did not contact. Underground! A tunnel! The tortoise threw his weight to one side, moving him off of the thing holding him up. He spun around to face the intruder, opening his mouth for a quick attack whilst arming his internal weapons systems in case a heavier assault was needed. He was faced with six white whiskers and a small brown twitching nose. As covert (which means: hidden) attacks go; this one didn't look very serious. Pheidippides inched forward and said: "Who are you?"
The brown nose quivered and ducked back inside the hole. "Sorry sir, it's only me sir!" said a very scared little voice. "And who is me?" said the Secret Agent's much deeper and far more confident voice. "Brownie Sir" said the small voice. "Who are you and what are you doing here?" asked Pheidippides. He had softened his voice a little; but he still had all weapons systems fully operational (which means: "ready to shoot"). "I'm a rabbit sir, I've been assigned to one of your humans at their remote (which means: "away from home") base sir", said the small voice. "I only came here tonight so that if ever I needed to get here in an emergency I would know the way sir, sorry sir;" said the rabbit.
"Come out and let me see you." command Pheidippides. A small and very shaky rabbit popped out of the hole and huddled itself up in a small ball. "So, are you with the Agency?" asked Pheidippides. "Oh no sir. I'm just a messenger rabbit." replied the rabbit, "I couldn't do Agency things; all that fighting and sneaking and stuff ... it would scare me to bits!" said the rabbit and shuddered at the thought of how scary that would be. As if to demonstrate the rabbit suddenly squealed, leapt up in the air and hid behind the tortoise.
"What is the problem?" asked Pheidippides. "Please sir, the lake sir, it rippled sir," trembled the rabbit. Dr Pheidippides scanned the lake. At first he couldn't see anything, then after a couple of seconds the water parted and onto the bank strode an alligator: a very big alligator. Under normal circumstances the sight of a twenty foot alligator walking towards him would have been a source of concern for Pheidippides; even with all of the firepower he had hidden within his shell. A closer inspection of the alligator would normally have alarmed him further; the animal had large well developed muscles and was covered from head to foot in small triangular scars which gave him a very grim appearance. Pheidippides was not even slightly concerned, however, because striding beside the alligator was Poseidon the Snapper Turtle. Not only had Snappy won the last 8 inter-agency street-fighting competitions in a row but he was the only person Pheidippides had ever known to list "Biting through truck tires" on his list of hobbies.
"Good evening," said the Dr. "I take it you are our first candidate." "Yes he is." said Snappy in a pleased voice. "Meet Fred, the largest and toughest Alligator in the whole of South Florida." "Good evening Fred," said Pheidippides "and how do you think you could help our little team? " "Muscle" replied Snappy. "Fred isn't scared of anything or anyone, he knows the swamps like the back of his hand and he is one of the best fighters I've come across." said the turtle. "And you would like to join the agency?" said Pheidippides, "yeah" said Fred "anyfing to 'elp"
Pheidippides was about to open his mouth again when out of the corner of his eye he saw one of Brownie's ears twitch, suddenly the rabbit squealed again, leapt up into the air and this time hid on the other side of Pheidippides. "What's the problem this time?" asked the tortoise. "P-Please sir, the b-bush r-rustled" stammered the terrified rabbit. Pheidippides looked in the direction of the bush; he could not see anything but a blip on his radar screen told him that an object was approaching. Pheidippides smiled. An invisible object walking straight across an open field could only mean one thing: "Good evening Sergeant Cham" said the tortoise. The chameleon briefly flushed with rage before returning to the color of his surroundings: he hated being spotted. "You have brought a candidate for interview as well?" the team leader inquired.
"Indeed. Allow me to introduce 'Hiss' the stealth assassin," said Cham briefly turning himself bright Red so that they all could see as he pointed to the bush. From the undergrowth emerged a smallish snake which slithered towards them. Fred gave a small laugh, "assassin! Bu' 'ees tiny!" guffawed the huge alligator. The snake coiled back and rose in the air until he was staring Fred directly in the eye: "yessss..." said the snake "sssssmall but sssssstealthy. I do not blunder into a sssssituation. I sssssssslither in unawaressss ... and by the time they realizzzzze where I am, I have injected them with enough of my poisssson from my fangs that they are dead." "I see," said Dr Pheidippides, "and do you have any references? Anyone that can testify (which means: tell about) to how good you are?" "No" said the snake "that isss how you know how good I am!" the glint in his eye was enough to convince everyone that he really was as good as he said.
Without a slow motion camera it would be almost impossible to tell what happened next. Fortunately Dr Pheidippides does have a slow motion camera inside his shell and later investigation showed that the sequence was as follows: firstly the brown rabbit's nose twitched, then the rabbit squealed, leapt in the air, then two small dogs came barreling around the corner of the house, then the rabbit landed and hid down another side of the tortoise and then Winston and the third candidate stopped in front of Pheidippides and saluted.
"Good eve.." commenced (which means started) Pheidippides. "Hello Sir ... I'm Jemima" said the small dog with the blue ribbon "I'm so excited to meet you. Winston told me all about you. Well he didn't. But I can guess! You must be with the Agency! And I would be so good with the Agency. I'm a networking specialist. I'm on pawbook, yipper, mykennel; I know everyone. I'd love to work for you. I'd be so excited! I'd tell all my friends. We'd all be sooo excited!" To show just how excited she was Jemima ran around the yard twice, yipped, back-flipped over Winston, stood up and gave Pheidippides a huge lick.
"So when are we starting the interviews?" asked Lieutenant Winston. "Actually," replied the tortoise, "I already have more than enough information to make my decision. Not only do I have four good reasons for making my choice but I have at least one good reason for eliminating everyone else."
So - stop and think - who did Dr Pheidippides pick? What where his four reasons? And what reason did he have for eliminating (which means 'crossing off the list') the others?
"Firstly," said Dr Pheidippides turning to Jemima "the Agency is a secret Agency. You enjoy talking and you enjoy it so much that you talk rather than listening. We exist to gather information; not give it out. So I'm afraid you would not like the Agency." The poor little dog looked miserable. "However," continued Pheidippides, "as part of his cover Winston does have to attend quite a few parties. If you were willing to go with him to help wi...." "Yes! Yes! Yes, yes yes!" barked Jemima and she started running around the garden making yipping noises to show how excited she was.
"Secondly, Fred," said Pheidippides turning to the large Alligator. "Am I not correct in saying that Alligators normally eat turtles? If so why have you not eaten Poseidon?" The alligator glanced at Snappy who grinned back. "Well ... we ... er ... did have a little ... er ... misunderstanding once" said the alligator, "but no problems now." "I see" said the tortoise "and was it during this 'misunderstanding' that you acquired (which means: 'got') 218 triangular bite-marks?" "219 actually" said the alligator moving his tail a little to reveal what must have been a very painful bite-mark. "I see" said Pheidippides. "As I suspected, you are almost certainly the toughest alligator in the swamp, but it would appear that the toughest animal in the swamp is already on my team. So," said the tortoise, "I do not need you as a full time member of my team; but if ever Snappy needs back up we'll know where to come." Everyone shuddered at the thought of a fight bad enough for Snappy to need backup; but the alligator marched off in a happy enough mood.
Dr Pheidippides now turned to the snake that was looking very happy. "As for you" said the Dr. "the agency is about saving lives not taking them. Violence is sometimes required but never good. We have no place for you in the agency." "What!" screamed the snake, "Fool!" It coiled into a strike position and then rapidly lunged forwards with a furious gurgle and its fangs fully extended. This is, of course, exactly what Pheidippides had expected which is why his head was tucked safely inside his shell when the snakes mouth arrived. Unfortunately for the snake, it had not expected to get a mouthful of shell and it had certainly not expected its fang to snap on the hard shell releasing the poison into the snake's stomach. The tortoise poked his head out of the shell to watch the snake upon the ground. "You killed me!" gasped the snake. "No," said Pheidippides, "your own anger killed you. As the humans say - those that live by the sword, die by the sword."
"Which leaves us," said Pheidippides "with our new recruit: Brownie the rabbit." "What!" squealed the rabbit, "why would you pick me?" "Firstly, "said Pheidippides, "because you are very diligent. You knew that someday you might need to come here urgently; so you made sure you knew how. Always be prepared. Secondly, you are very cautious. You noticed the ripple on the water before I did; that will keep all of us safe. Thirdly you have excellent hearing: you were able to spot the best covert operations specialist in the agency. Finally you have lightning reactions: you were able to smell Winston and get into the air before he arrived. It is true you don't have all of the qualities of a secret agent; but you have all the ones we don't have - which means that you will be a great part of the team. Congratulations and welcome."