(Yes, this really is for August 12, 2000; I wrote it down while on vacation.)

I'm the new guy at a governmental agency that investigates all the stuff that's too secret - or too damn weird - for anyone else to touch.

Somehow, Ah-nold has begun tagging along. Maybe he's playing himself, an actor in a movie about this agency, come for a few "ride-alongs" to get a feel for what it's like.

I'm against it. He didn't earn his clearance, he got it because he was Ah-nold. Plus he's really annoying, like wossname - Joe Pesci? - in Beverly Hills Cop. Always asking questions, which we tend to think of as a grave character flaw.

The rest of us have just passed through the security airlock, and Ah-nold has just entered it. The airlock is a brushed stainless steel sphere, and its doors are round like those on a front-loading washing machine. I look to my supervisor, pleading with my eyes: do I HAVE to let him inside? Couldn't we just let the security system do its lethal magic by "accident"?

"Let him in," my supervisor sighs reluctantly. "Do you know how much paperwork you'd have to fill out if you killed him? Besides, he's probably going to get himself killed on the next assignment."

I open the hatch and haul him through. He doesn't say thanks; instead he asks me, "So how do you get really high clearance?"

"Experience," I say.

"It all depends," my supervisor adds, "on how gruesome a death you're willing to risk. Cut up by knives? Drowned in a vat of organophosphate pesticide? Bleeding from your eyes, shitting yourself, feeling every cell in your body burst open as your body becomes an undifferentiated and leaky bag of fluids?"

Ah-nold looks shocked. I don't look too pleased myself.