I was cleaning the residence sitting room. As usual, I was tripping on how many McDonald’s wrappers there were and where I found them. As usual, I heard all kinds of clicking and whirring sounds behind the door. But who thought twice about that in a place as wired as the White House? This time, though, I heard something a little different.
“Click, whir, click, meat suit, whir, whir, click.”
“Meat suit” was definitely M’s voice. But what could it mean? That’s when I started to suspect something.
M unzipped with a sigh, pulling her long, elegant arms free, admiring the greyish-mauve skin that always looked normal, even though nothing else ever did.
D wasn’t ready, as usual. He was a little too fond of those French fries, and clearly determined to cram all of them into his mouth before the call with HQ in — five minutes!
“Lieutenant,” M said, “activating the field now. Ready for you in four minutes Earth time.”
D wiped his greasy hands on a wad of paper napkins and levered himself out of the easy chair, ready to unzip. He was liking this orange color more and more, but like M, catching a glimpse of his original body was always comforting, a reminder of home.
He came to her side. Each of them opened a small flap on their left lower pseudopods, and counting down from ten, activated the field simultaneously. Both of them would now be undetectable to any humans who happened into the Lincoln Bedroom.
I was sitting around with some friends that weekend, just sipping and chewing things over, when my husband laid down a pronouncement. “People keep saying how divided we are,” Emmett said, “and I can’t argue with that. Just look at the mob of candidates. Politics is an ego festival.” He leaned back. “There’s only one thing that could bring us together,” he said, “and that’s an alien invasion. I’m not talking about climbing over Trump’s border wall. Talking about the spaceships, little green men and whatnot. We’d all come together to fight that.”
“Maybe they’re already here,” I said. “Maybe we just don’t know it.”
Everyone was quiet for a minute, thinking this over. I got a little scared seeing how seriously they were taking the prospect.
“That would be one explanation for how crazy things are,” said Linda, looking thoughtful. She turned to me. “You’re the closest in of any of us, Di. Don’t they say something about how a man’s butler knows all his secrets?”
“I’m no butler,” I told her, “but I did read Fanon back in the movement days, and I do agree with his point that the enslaved knows the master in a way the master will never know the enslaved.”
Everyone stared. It might be a little showy of me, but every once in a while, I like to remind people that even a woman who cleans the big house knows how to read and has a brain. “I’ve heard a thing or two.”
“Like what?” They all said it at the same time.
“Like ‘meat suit,’” I said.
“Meat suit?” Emmett looked like I might be crazy.
I explained that the two of them take no notice of the people who serve them and clean up after them. I have to do their bedrooms every day, but we wait until they’re gone to tidy up their private quarters. That day, though, I was dusting and polishing the sitting room, paying no mind to the usual whirs and clicks, and that’s when I heard M’s voice clear as day, “meat suit.”
Robert said “I’ve heard that before.” He told us about an old friend who used that term for his body. “The guy was way religious. He said these bodies are just meat suits for our souls.” But why would the First Lady be talking that way?
“You need to find out.” Emmett looked me right in the eye. “If they weren’t talking about their immortal souls” — Linda laughed at the unlikeliness of that, thinking of the way Trump had put her cousin in detention at the border — “they may have been saying their bodies are some kind of disguise. Is there a way to look into it?”
“I guess I can nose around.”
D stared at himself in the Lincoln bedroom mirror. “These humans are idiots,” he told M. “The Supreme Commander was right. It really doesn’t matter that HQ got the scale a little wrong — the hands and all that — or the color a little off. As long as I stand and speak with total confidence, millions are only too happy to line up behind me. I never would have believed what they’re having me do: the camps, the border wall, the Suleimani assassination, the rollbacks of regulations, the insults, this ridiculous tweet thing….”
He zipped out of his meat suit and stood admiring the long sweep of his grey-mauve limbs. He turned to M with an expectant look. “Reporting for duty, General.” She gave him an icy glance. “Report to your regeneration pod, Lieutenant. And remember to turn the light off this time. The servants may not be idiots. I saw the one they call Di staring in the direction of the pod the other day. She may have seen light leaking out.”
I did nose around the next day. The usual housekeeping protocol was pretty tight: dust, wipe, vacuum, trash, etcetera, every single day. But that day I made it tighter, being sure to vacuum under all the furniture, tidy the closets, inspect the trash as I dumped it. And I found some weird shit. Nothing big, but a little pile of grayish-purple scraps at the bottom of the wastepaper basket, things that looked like toenail clippings off a strange bird. Some of that creamsicle-colored hair on the floor in front of the bedroom mirror. I swept the clippings into a fresh Kleenex and the hair into another one and shoved them into my uniform pocket. Security was high here, so we were always searched when it was time to go home. But no one was going to notice a couple of wadded up tissues.
Emmett and I stared at the clippings a long time. We couldn’t figure out what they might be. His brother El is a lab tech at GWU. He might think we were crazy for asking, but if he agreed to analyze these mysterious scraps, we might learn something that would unlock the mystery of “meat suit.”
The next day, Emmett texted me that El was in. The day after that, El told us that he could say the scraps were some sort of organic matter, but they matched no known human or animal species.
We started to add things up. The President’s loose grip on spoken and written English: the made-up words, strange capitalization, the repetition of words and phrases that didn’t necessarily bear repeating. Emmett’s a programmer, and he told me he’d been thinking for a while that the President’s language reminded him of the Turing test. Alan Turing was this brilliant, persecuted British scientist who had the idea that if a human and a computer were tested, both giving written answers to a series of questions, if the computer were programmed with enough answers, it might be impossible to tell which was which. He said there’d been many times he thought Trump spoke more like a badly programmed computer than an actual human being.
“Or like a programmed alien,” I asked, “like you were saying the other night?”
“I said an invasion. Aliens won’t unite us unless we know they’re among us.”
“So how do we know?”
When D returned to the bedroom, M was disconnecting from HQ. As the field dissipated, her form came back into view. He knew the humans preferred the surgically altered perfection of her meat suit, but seeing her at the dressing-table like this, bending over to seal the flap on her left pseudopod, he had to push down the feelings that swelled his reproductive pouch. He knew it was against regulations for a lieutenant to engage a general that way. But he could dream.
“New directives, Lieutenant,” M told D, all briskly businesslike. She held out a small holophone, instructing him to play the message. “We’ve reached the endgame,” she said. “HQ thinks we can’t stack any more on top of the chaos we’ve already created. They think emissions are reaching a level that will sustain a large number of our people. They’re not sure where this impeachment thing will go. Our orders are simple: limited nuclear war in the Mideast, more fuel on the fires in Australia, trigger one reactor breach in the Western hemisphere, and the landing will begin.” She stepped into her meat suit, zipped it up, and returned to her own bedroom.
I was torn. I was scared. But I needed more to go on. Some suspicious sounds and non-human toenail clippings weren’t going to cut it. I’d inspected the President’s bedroom pretty closely the last time, but this time, I was bringing my fine-toothed comb.
I didn’t need it. When I pulled out the cushions on the President’s armchair to plump them up, something was stuck between the arm and the seat cushion. It looked like a small iPod in a strange blue-green shade that seemed to absorb the light. I thought “what the hell” and pushed lightly on the screen. The thing lit up. Whirs and clicks sounded, and the screen showed an image of a strange being with long purplish arms and a small, stony-faced head. It seemed to be saluting, then leaning forward to fiddle with something.
After a different kind of click, the image blurred for a second, then showed me something my eyes couldn’t believe. A purple arm reached out and picked up something sagging and heavy, something with the heft of an old-fashioned fur coat. The other arm thrust itself into a sleeve. The screen blurred briefly, then it was hard to understand what was happening until the image came into sharp focus as a purple hand tugged at the First Lady’s hair as if fitting a wig, then disappeared into what I’d thought was a sleeve but I now saw was an arm.
I had to sit for a minute. I had to think fast. Emmett was right. This wasn’t an invasion, but if people knew that POTUS and FLOTUS were some kind of alien creatures, it would become one. I didn’t think I could smuggle the iPod out of the White House, but I could use my own phone to capture the footage. It would be a little grainy, but legible.
You know the rest. I came home and told Emmett. I called Linda and Robert to come over right away. It didn’t take long for us to figure out what to do. The hashtag #IMPOSTUS had been trending (Impeached President of The United States, as you know), so we just added to it: #IMPOTUS #IMPOSTER #AlienInvasion.
We made a bunch of new Twitter accounts and sent the footage out to everyone we knew, plus all the reporters at the Washington Post and New York Times, all the news networks and the big news websites. We had to stay up all night to get it done. At about 5 a.m., we tried to get some sleep. We were too excited to sleep, though, and too scared. Before I tried to close my eyes, I called in sick. Then I lay awake till the sun came up.
#IMPOTUS tried to laugh it off as a deep fake, but he kept tripping over the words and saying “deek fape” or “feep dake.” Despite the anonymous Twitter accounts, the FBI and CIA had no trouble identifying me, so when a bunch of burly men in black suits showed up at the door that morning, I went quietly. But before I left the house, I put the alien nail clippings in my pocket. The Feds sent them to NASA, as you know, and the rest is history. Pence has been verified as 100 percent human, much to my surprise, but his chance of being actually elected President is a little worse than a snowball’s chances in hell. Alien invasion headed off, and honestly, whomever gets elected in November, I’m expecting the Congressional Medal of Honor. In the meantime, I’ve got a book contract (working title: Inside The Alien White House) and the only house I’ll be cleaning for the foreseeable is my own.
D felt like he was shrinking, his own grayish-mauve skin shriveling with every word M uttered.
“You think the humans are idiots?” she said, “but you are the stupidest being in ten universes. You dropped the device while you were watching Fox News and eating a Big Mac? Your tiny hands got greasy and you put it down for a second rather than rouse yourself to stand and return it to the secure anti-gravity chamber? You are the reason the invasion has to be aborted. With this kind of advance warning, humanity will mobilize every force and technology at its disposal against us. We haven’t got the troop strength, the ships, to defeat them. HQ is scouting for a new planet. I only hope I’m not demoted on account of your incompetence. Your new home will be the farthest prison asteroid in our system. Now get your tech together and meet me at the departure point in ten Earth minutes. If you try to escape, I’ll use my remote deactivator to shut down your nervous system. Dismissed!”
She was magnificent, D thought. But five minutes later, as he rushed to the departure point, he was thinking of those French fries he’d never taste again. Of everything he’d experienced on Earth, he’d miss those most of all, even more than golf.
“Political World” performed by Bettye LaVette and Keith Richards.