The Big Green Cheese’s language was extra-salty today, but Wendy Watson couldn’t muster the gumption for a witty rejoinder for two distinct reasons. Reason number one? Two adamantine thoughts currently raging like an electrical storm in her brain:
Thought number one: an intense calculation of the tangled path of clues and conspiracies that had led her to this present, and precarious situation. The winding and dangerous intrigue of the past few days included but was not limited to: a. the kidnapping of a genetically-enhanced, superintelligent dolphin from a children’s waterpark in Dubuque, b. the sudden manifestation in a Bhutanese monastery of the Vitrioplasmoid Consciousness - an alien entity comprised of pure hatred expressed as a small pool of malodorous brown bioluminescent ooze and c. the HEYDAR’s discovery of a not inconsiderably large rift in the fabric of space and time emanating from this location.
Thought number two: a certain yearning for her aunt Margarita’s Ropa Vieja, a thick and vinegary Caribbean stew of meat, peppers, and onions whose preparation inevitably filled the house with a. a delicious and savory aroma and b. the irresistible strains of Miguel Bosé’s signature 1980‘s hit single Amante Bandido.
Thought number two always intruded into Wendy’s mind during moments of extreme danger... and may have been the key contributing factor to her trademark serenity in the face of overwhelming odds.
Reason number two for Wendy Watson’s lack of a witty rejoinder? She was - indeed - experiencing a moment of extreme danger when she heard the voice of her employer: hanging upside-down, her legs magnetically shackled to a shining steel girder over the Coliseum-like lair of yet another egomaniacal-male-chauvinist-pig-supervil
...and beneath her, an army of somewhat comical salt-and-pepper-shaker-shaped robots... all sporting plunger-shaped manipulator arms and lethal gunsticks... all crying out the same word with shrill and excruciating homogeneity:
“EX-TER-MI-NATE! EX-TER-MI-NATE! EXTERMINATE!”
The Middleman and Wendy
THE WIBBLY-WOBBLY, TIMEY-WIMEY JIGGERY-POKERY
While The Middleman’s wide stance and arms-akimbo gave him the necessary heroic demeanor as he leaped from a sparkling Tesla coil onto the ramp leading to the current supervillain’s coliseum-like lair, the truth of the matter is that he had very little idea as to what expected him on the other side...
...aside from an appropriately grandiose architectural enclosure, a doomsday device of unfathomably Byzantine construction, a robotic army, and a sidekick in peril.
“What is that thing beneath you, Dubbie?”
In spite of the distracting thoughts and blood rushing to her head, Wendy somehow gathered the strength to turn to her boss and give him the lowdown:
“While you were fighting the Tesla-powered mechanical octopus -”
“You mean defeating the Tesla-powered mechanical octopus,” corrected The Middleman with a tooth-gleaming smile to complement his usual meticulous exactitude.
“- I discovered that Kanimang Kang has gathered the necessary elements to open the Cinderellica!”
“Sweet singing mice! Not the Cinderellica!” Declared the Middleman - but no sooner had he made his distress clear that a Jumbotron (because, after all, what coliseum could ever be complete without one) flared into light and motion on the far wall of the coliseum...
“My plan is sheer elegance in its simplicity!”
“Shoulder of Orion!” Snarled The Middleman, recognizing immediately the face of his arch-nemesis, “it’s Kanimang Kang!”
...and indeed, across the screen blazed the dark-lensed-Shuron-Sidewinder-bespectacl
Behind Kanimang Kang snivelled the gorilla-suit-and-necktie-clad, twin Tommy gun-carrying form of Manservant Neville: the often-believed-to-be-dead-at-birth older evil twin brother and namesake of a business leader once renowned as the greatest new technology visionary in the world!
“Ha-ha!” chortled Manservant Neville, “Middleham’s about to hear a monlogue!”
“Indeed, Manservant Neville,” declaimed Kanimang Kang, “how else will our enemy know what he gave his life to fail to stop.”
Instead of marshaling the final ember of a consciousness about to black out to execute the most epic eye roll in the history of contempt, Wendy simply blurted out the following -
“They are using the hyper-intelligent dolphin to perform the ongoing calculations that keep open the rift in time and space, with which they punched out a window to the planet Necros, through which they teleported the salt-and-pepper shaker dudes, whose combined weapons will blast open the Cinderellica, inside which is trapped the M.P.T.I.T.U. - “
“The Most Powerful Thing In The Universe,” confirmed The Middleman as Wendy drew a tortured breath to finish briefing her employer:
“ - which they will corrupt through exposure to the Vitrioplasmoid Consciousness into a weapon of unspeakable power!”
Her last thought before passing out? “Amazing, what a girl can learn while the boss is out defeating a Tesla-powered mechanical octopus.”
“Oh, phooey,” came The Middleman’s response.
“Damn you, sidecar!” Shouted Kanimang Kang - clenched fists shaking with the impotent frustration - his once-magnificent rant now sanctioned with extreme prejudice: double-tapped execution-style in the back of its metaphorical spine by the lethal weapon of brevity.
Having now duly cursed his opponents - and been vexingly deprived of a gordian explication of his nefarious scheme - Kanimang Kang exchanged befuddled looks with his sidekick. After a vaguely dispirited shrug, Kanimang Kang casually reached over to his control panel and flicked the tin toggle that engaged the nuclear-fusion reactor powering the brobdingnagian clockwork holding shut the gargantuan bellows maintaining the seal on the dauntingly large hatch of the sarcophagus containing the Cinderellica.
“KAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANG!” cried out The Middleman.
And while the unveiling of the Cinderellica - entombed in all of its transparent, slipper-shaped, crystalline vastness from the Beginning of Time Immemorial beneath what was now Kanimang Kag’s Coliseum-like lair - may sound like so bombastic and operatic-in-magnitude a process as to take hours to complete, in truth, it took a mere fraction of a second.
The shattering of the foot-formed glass crypt by the fire of the thousand gunsticks mounted on the salt-and-pepper shaker cyborgs took no longer.
Neither did the corruption of the M.P.T.I.T.U. by the dark thoughts and tortured soul of the Vitrioplasmoid Consciousness.
By the time The Middleman reached for his utility belt, the hybrid life force resulting from the corruption of the M.P.T.I.T.U. by the Vitrioplasmoid Consciousness had long-ago decided it was better off without the stewardship of Kanimang Kang, Manservant Neville, the legions of F.A.T.B.O.Y. and the salt-and-pepper shakers, and all had been smitten in a series of lightning strikes punctuated by a. eruptions of bimechanical offal (in the case of the salt-and-pepper shaker dudes) and b. far messier eruptions of purely biological offal (in the case of the humans).
By the time The Middleman fired his grappling gun and was halfway through his arc over the ball of light and dread where the salt-and-pepper-shaker dudes had once stood - hoping to make the final, desperate act of his life the simultaneous rescue of his sidekick and dropping of a Hydrogen Atomizing, Incendiary Load, Multi-Armament-Radiating Ypsillon (so named for it’s Y-shaped form-factor) into the opening maw of the Cinderellica, the fate of the world had already been signed, sealed and delivered.
The Middleman’s final desperate act of self-sacrifice was to have been in vain.
Had he not heard - over the clamor of exploding cyborgs and henchmen - an aural phenomenon he had many years ago vowed to never forget... an echoing, pulsating mechanical howl best described as the animal husbanding of the arooga-horn from a Ford Model-A and a 1930’s Parisian hotel elevator inside one of the vacuum tubes of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop circa 1963.
By the time The Middleman’s swashbuckling trajectory had taken him to the spot where Wendy Watson hanged unconscious - but before he was able to flip the switch arming the Hydrogen Atomizing, Incendiary Load, Multi-Armament-Radiating Ypsillon - both he and his sidekick were in a different place altogether.
Inside the cobalt blue police call box which had inexplicably materialized over the late Kanimang Kang’s Coliseum-like lair and briefly hovered in space before vanishing with a final echoing AROOGA-THUMP!
MERE MOMENTS LATER
The journey back to Middleman HQ took a mere flick of a fly’s wing, but that was enough time for Wendy - even in her groggy state - to exhaust every possible variation, innuendo and entendre - both double and single - about the “box being bigger on the inside.”
As The Middleman punched his way out through the front door of what was clearly a ship designed to travel through time and relative dimensions in space, all that was left were his ongoing protestations:
“Who are you? What have you done with him?”
The jolly young chap who followed him out seemed deeply unconcerned with The Middleman’s flaring anger:
“AAAH! Middleman headquarters - I can practically smell the history!”
Wendy Watson - holding up the rear as usual - could not help but check out her savior’s tight, hipstery jeans, the ever-so-rumpled tweed blazer, the peeking collar of his Paul Smith shirt, and - of course - the finely-sculpted mane of hair partially hidden by the viking helmet.
This man looked no different from the legions of cute artist wannabees who served her lattes at the Java Applet coffee house a block away from her surprisingly spacious yet unrealistically affordable loft on a daily basis... yet he had not only just saved her - and the boss’ life... he also seemed strangely familiar.
“But I am him, Clarence - you just have to look a bit closer... or we could just skip the pleasantries and go about saving the planet as you know it.”
The Middleman had already made his decision on that score - he spun on his boots, simultaneously unholstering the B.T.R.S. scanner, which responded to his touch with its signature “BORP!”
At the same time, their jolly savior reached into his jacket and pulled out a device similar in size to a compact bicycle pump...
... with a little blinky thing on the end, and a room-filling trill.
The two heroes stood off for a moment, each of their signature devices making its own unique and annoying noise - borp/trill-borp/trill-borp/trill - until a numinous cloud appeared in the space between them: a magical apparition of smoke and technology manifesting a series of images...
...a white-haired grand-dad, a coot in a fur coat and a Moe Howard hairdo, a dashing lothario with an aquiline nose and a sweeping crest of hair, a floppy-fedora-wearing hippy wrapped in an impossibly long scarf, a nordic youth with a celery buttoniere, a wide-faced and imperious rake in an impossibly tasteless coat, a heavy-browed gentleman under a Panama hat, a dewy-eyed pre-Raphaelite, a leather-clad geordie straight out of the Red Riding Trilogy, and - finally - a dapper, bespectacled mod.
“Caves of Androzani!” hissed The Middleman as he stood down, “you can turn off the slide show...I get it.”
“I don’t - ” chimed in Wendy Watson - intending her voice to snap, but the courage snatched from her conviction by the undeniable cuteness of the hipster sexgod standing before her...
“- and I would appreciate it if someone - anyone - could tell me what just happened.”
“What just happened,” tattoed the hipster sexgod as he turned to face her, a cute little bowtie framing his Easter Island face and massive yet strangely sensual nose, “is that your Dirk Squarejaw employer is put off that I conveniently stopped him from giving up his life in absolute vain!”
“That is NOT true,” countered The Middleman, “I was just about to -”
“To what? Try to stop the Most Powerful Thing In The Universe with a mere firecracker?”
Hipster sexgod draped himself on the central console, crossing his legs as he tucked his signature device into his jacket before adding that:
“You G.I. Joes are all the same, thinking that there’s no problem that can’t be solved with the careful application of high explosives.”
“I don’t care if you are the man I knew - you are NOT the man I knew,” retorted The Middleman without any seeming awareness of - or desire to reconcile - the contradiction in his words, as his mind was busy background processing a way to salvage this debacle - “now God knows what Kanimang Kang has brought about!”
“Hey, boss, how about you give skinny-jeans a break... the man did save our lives.”
Before The Middleman could explain himself, a familiar voice filled the room...
“You cheeba-suckers really pinched a loaf in the hay this time!”
Wendy Watson buried her face in her hands. Though by now she was completely used to Ida’s ongoing accusations of drug addiction, incompetence - and her endless wellspring of euphemisms for defecating on the bed - this was not anyone’s idea of a good first impression.
“Oh great,” croaked Ida with weary familiarity as she bustled by the blue box and the mysterious guest, giving neither a second glance, “it’s you.”
“Hello, Ida,” intoned hipster sexgod with an unsettlingly casual tone, “you remain as sweet as apple cider.”
“Oh, shut the front door,” exasperated the cranky android, “you looked a lot better with the capes and the kung-fu and the white hair and the puffy shirts and the crushed velvet smoking jackets and the criminally age-inappropriate companion... now THAT was a doctor.”
Wendy turned to hipster sexgod, “wait a minute - wait - you’re a doctor?”
“I. Am. The Doctor.” Declared hipster sexgod, fixing his bowtie.
“Whats with the viking helmet?” rasped Ida, plugging herself to the HEYDAR.
“I wear a viking helmet now,” shrugged The Doctor.
“Viking helmets are cool,” colluded Wendy Watson.
“Well hang on to your helmet, motherhumpers, ‘cause this world is about to end, no thanks to any of you donnie-pumpers.”
With a flare of a mechanical nostril, Ida activated the many screens of the HEYDAR...
... and all of them depicted horrible scenes of destruction across the planet!
Big Ben in ruins.
The Washington Monument a pile of rubble.
The White House a cinder.
Hoover dam underwater.
The Eiffel Tower melted.
Detroit strangely unchanged.
“Sweet mother of Roland Emmerich!”
The Middleman rubbed his temples as The Doctor restrained himself from quipping that he served as an uncredited technical advisor on the august film-maker’s disaster epic Time Tsunami (coming to theaters July of 2018) out of respect for his American friend’s intense distress over the devastation roiling before them.
What else could he do? It was exactly this profound sense of empathy - this uniquely human quality of caring for the lives of others - that kept bringing The Doctor back to Earth to recruit his traveling companions.
“Well, it’s a good thing we have a time machine at our disposal, now, tell me, Ida... just how is Guy Goddard?”
“Don’t get me started,” eye-rolled Ida, “how’s Captain Jack?”
“Don’t get me started,” The Doctor threw up his hands, “I mean, really.”
“This is no time to mince around reminiscing about past exploits,” barked The Middleman, “we have a bad man running around with the M.P.T.I.T.U., how do we stop him?”
“You Americans - so concerned with structure and the proper order of things... I could have sworn you just took a dramatic pause for a commercial break!”
“My boss does have a point,” peace-brokered Wendy Watson, “there is a bad man and an army of salt-shaker-thingys -”
“Daleks,” corrected The Doctor, “the very reason I chose to pop in when I did... right after my sixth regeneration materialized in a puff of improbability inside my TARDIS to warn me that a rift had opened above the battle of Necros - and rather insolently informed me that it was up to me to find out the disposition of the Daleks who were teleported from the fray... and almost gave me a black eye. I was a violent sort back then.”
“Right. Daleks,” concluded Wendy Watson, trying to disguise that she was completely unmoored by all of this new information.
“We do not have to worry about the Daleks, love... or your arch-nemesis Kanimang Kang,” purred The Doctor as he leaned closer to Wendy Watson’s confusion-and-annoyance-streaked face... a state of mind compounded by her heart’s fluttering in a way she had not felt since young Tyler Ford had been packed off to Greenland a few months ago.
“See,” continued The Doctor, his tone soothing, “they were destroyed when the Vitrioplasmoid Conscience merged with the M.P.T.I.T.U.”
“I never met a deus ex machina I didn’t like,” nodded The Middleman, stroking the five o’clock shadow on his chiseled chin.
“Right there with you, dear boy,” chirped The Doctor.
Ida. About to spoil the party. She excelled at that.
“Don’t know if this has occurred to you hoolies... but just because the bad guys are all croaked doesn’t mean we still don’t have to figure out a way to destroy a little something that just happens to go by the name ‘The Most Powerful Thing In The Universe’!”
“I’m working on it,” whispered The Doctor as The Middleman stepped up, shaking his finger - one of his trademark contingency plans clockworking its way through the sharp corners of his methodical brain:
“The M.P.T.I.T.U. is not de facto an evil being, it is merely powerful. Kanimang Kang knew this, which is why he used the Vitrioplasmic Consciousness to corrupt it into a force of unspeakable power.”
“So,” jumped in Wendy Watson, if we can get in there before the Vitrioplasmoid Consciousness compels the M.P.T.I.T.U. to destroy the world... but after the Daleks are destroyed...”
“We will only have the Most Powerful Thing In The Universe to contend with - as opposed to the Most Powerful Thing In The Universe AND your arch-nemesis AND all of his minions AND an army of genocidal hybrid life-forms!”
The Doctor was almost giddy - but it was not long-lived...
“But how... howhowhowhow... do we turn the M.P.T.I.T.U. back to the side of good after it has already been exposed to a life form of pure, all-corrupting evil?”
“Will a Buddha Fish do the trick?” Quizzed The Middleman.
“A Buddha Fish?” The Doctor repeated, his tone mocking as he made a John Cleese-like silly walk straight into The Middleman’s personal space before making a wildly exaggerated show of his turning-away-aggravation:
“A Buddha Fish? You might as well ask for the thirteenth regeneration of Rassilon!”
The Doctor’s tone then turned to a pensive whisper as he spun his back on Wendy Watson, Ida, and The Middleman - cradling his ample chin in the palm of his hand...
“It might take me some time to figure this one out... perhaps the three of you should come with me aboard the TARDIS and flee the coming devastation... have some adventures...”
...his features then darkened with a brooding romanticism that made Wendy Watson want to jump his bones immediately.
“...and have all of your lives devastated by sheer measure of your contact with me.”
“I have a Buddha Fish in the Middlevault,” offered The Middleman, his broad shoulders pulling back as he broke into a determined stride across the main hub of Middleman H.Q.
“Why don’t I just go ahead and get that,” he added, “and then we can go right on over and save the world.”
“You do NOT have a Buddha Fish!” Exclaimed The Doctor.
“Wah-wah-wah!” Interjected Ida, “you watch that attitude when the Jolly Green Giant’s on a roll!”
“Actually, I do have one, and it’s a funny story how...see, your first... uh... regeneration? Incarnation? Anyway, some other version of you borrows it from me six years from now and then loses it in a simultaneous competitive chess match against sixty-seven Grand Masters of the Clotharian Rebel Fleet... of course, that only turns out to be a distraction tactic to keep their best military strategists busy while Wendy and I stop Extreme Aldwyn from invading the planet...”
“Extreme Aldwyn? You mean ‘High’ - I mean ‘Maximum Aldwyn’.”
“No, Dubbie, I mean Extreme Aldwyn, he got... uh gets... will have a promotion...”
“I hate that guy!”
“...anyway, six years ago, The Doctor came back and we went on a grand adventure to get back the Buddha Fish from the Clotharian Grand Masters - then in exile and working as towel boys at the pleasure hive of Eroticon 6 - the end result of which was that he, uh - the then-Doctor -”
“The first Doctor,” came the Eleventh Doctor’s definition.
“Right - the first Doctor entrusted the Buddha Fish to me for safekeeping in the Middlevault... only back then, he was a kindly old grandfather-type, as opposed to the beatnik you see before you.”
“Weirdly, that made absolute sense,” said Wendy Watson, her head not spinning at all.
“You know, Dubbie,” The Middleman said in his most “the more you know” tone, “everything that’s happening to us right now is exactly the reason why The Middlelore explicitly forbids this kind of timey-wimey, higglety-pigglety, jiggery-pokery.”
“Timey-wimey, higglety-pigglety jiggery-pokery?”
The Doctor rolled the words in his mouth as if taking them for a test drive, “I’m not sure I like the sound of that...”
“Anyone want to come up with a plan to stop the deaths of billions of people?” Shrieked Ida from her desk.
“Right. I take my TARDIS,” schemed The Doctor, successfully concealing his growing and unnatural dread of the unpleasant, superannuated female android, “land at the exact point in space and time and then find a way to safely deliver the Buddha Fish into the maelstrom of death and destruction - thus ending the M.P.T.I.T.U.’s reign of terror. Neither one of you can do it, of course, as I’d rather you not come face to face with yourselves in an alternate timeline... but otherwise, this is a cracking good plan!”
“As much as I live to volunteer for the ultimate sacrifice,” began The Middleman -
“ - and he does,” finished Wendy.
“The risk of a time paradox resulting from my meeting myself - even in the recent past - is just too frag-warbling high.”
“Really?” Head-tilted Wendy Watson, “I always wanted to walk up to myself and say ‘I’m YOU... from THE FUTURE!'”
“Sorry dubbie - but if you - or I - were to cause a fabric of space-time-unraveling paradox after all we've been through... well, that would just be a flipsy-flopsy.”
“Oh stop beating around the burning bush, ya pansies, I have a combat-forged Tilonium Battle Chassis and a full complement of defensive shielding: let me at ‘em and I’ll save the freakin’ planet, seeing as none of you have the cojones to man-up and take the plunge!”
The Middleman, Wendy Watson and their honored guest all exchanged glances, and then:
“Let’s wax this duck!”
THREE AND A HALF SECONDS LATER
As The Doctor cut a high-spirited jog to the Middlevault, and Ida slumped at her desk - folding the final origami of this iteration of her existence, knowing that O2STK would immediately send down an identical model - a new Ida with an even more visually assaulting dress and all of her memories - and wondering how she got stuck with this rat-bastard bunch of panty waists for heroes - Wendy Watson quietly buttoned her boss at the mouth of the corridor leading out of the Main Hub.
“What’s a Buddha Fish?”
“Well, Dubbie... The Buddha Fish is a unique organism bred by the High Transuniversal Lamas of Samadhilon 5. It acts like an ichtyo-psychic lens, focusing all the good will of the universe into a single unified grain of consciousness. Any sentient being that comes into contact with the Buddha Fish immediately gives up all ambitions and material concerns in exchange for a life of quiet contemplation without any expectation of outcome.”
“OK. And - uh - who’s the guy in the viking helmet?”
“The Doctor? Oh... he’s the last of Time Lords of Gallifrey.”
“Strangely,” shrugged Wendy Watson, “that makes complete and total sense.”
The Doctor popped his head back into the Main Hub:
“How would you feel about ‘wibbly-wobbly’ instead of ‘higglety-pigglety’?”
SOMEWHERE IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC
The details of how Ida was delivered into the glowing jaws of death and architectural carnage by the timely manifestation of the TARDIS are - frankly - tedious and academic.
Suffice it to say that The Doctor arrived just in the nick of - well, he got there the at the exact and appropriate moment.
He then pushed a crotchety old woman out the door to his time ship (because even he knew that - deep down inside - she was not a crotchety old woman, but a combat-forged Tilonium Battle Chassis wrapped up in the burlap-like skin, hideous house dress, and loud costume jewelry of a crotchety old woman... which may have been why he had by then grown so afraid of her... or maybe it was merely that she was just. so. mean.).
All the way down, the crotchety old woman shouted the following words...
“COME GET SOME YA PRIMORDIAL SCUM!”
At the moment the crotchety old woman’s outer layer of skin, combat-forged Tilonium Battle Chassis, and, lastly, her awful frock, melted in the sweltering heat of the supermassive outer layer of the M.P.T.I.T.U./Vitrioplasmoid Conscience hybrid - revealing the most-exalted form of the Buddha Fish - the erstwhile Kanimang Kang’s lair, as well as all of his plans for world domination, vanished swiftly in a puff of inner peace and kindness toward all beings.
The TARDIS then vanished... its distinctive AROOGA-THUMP noise signifying to all that the plan had come together, the day belonged to the forces of good, and all was right with the world.
THE ILLEGAL SUBLET WENDY WATSON SHARES WITH HER EQUALLY PHOTOGENIC ROOMMATE
The genius brains behind O2STK may have manufactured the latest-generation Middlemobile with an obsidian coat of the Mikheyev/Smirnov/Wolfenstein automotive finish (a type of paint designed to capture runaway solar neutrinos and use their free and clean energy to run the electric engine underneath the hood without polluting the environment)... but they also gave The Middleman’s conveyance the adequately muscular body of a 1967 Pontiac GTO and a speed-responsive sound-and-vibration mechanism that gave the car the appropriate road feel and vulpine thunder of a true American Muscle Car.
The Middlemobile, then, idled noisily outside of Wendy Watson’s loft.
Inside, The Middleman and Wendy Watson congratulated one another on a job well done... though neither of them truly - or entirely - understood how exactly the Hydrogen Atomizing, Incendiary Load, Multi-Armament-Radiating Ypsillon had succeeded in destroying the Most Powerful Thing In The Universe... especially after its melding with the Vitrioplasmic Consciousness had rendered it into an absolutely destructive force of ultimate evil.
But The Middleman never met a Deus Ex Machina he didn’t like... and Wendy Watson was starting to see the wisdom behind his philosophy.
Kanimang Kang - or at least this latest holder of the mantle of Kanimang Kang - was gone. Manservant Neville was once again presumed dead. Most importantly, Kanimang Kang’s Rube Goldberg device of death was no more.
Schlepping the dolphin back to Dubuque had been a chore, but it certainly beat the living meatballs-and-tomato-sauce out of being killed.
As the freight elevator door to the hallway leading to her bizarrely spacious yet annoyingly affordable loft opened, Wendy Watson looked ahead to see the familiar shape of Noser... no doubt once again seeking refuge in the hallway from the depredations of his roommate, Anvil.
“Yo, Wendy Watson.”
Noser’s voice was sweet and welcoming.
“Hey Noser,” replied Wendy Watson, “how you doing?”
“I’m breathing, Wendy Watson, but it’s become a chore.”
“Now that I’ve seen The Doctor, don’t call me anymore.”
Noser smiled as Wendy Watson pushed open the door to her loft.
WENDY WATSON’S BEDROOM/ART SPACE
While the hard work of this - or, really, any - day in the service of O2STK generally insured a good night’s sleep, Wendy Watson found herself unable to summon the sandman, and thus busied herself with a new painting...
...of a man with a distinctive nose, pronounced brow, geometric jaw and a cascade of shiny brown hair. The portrait took shape quickly, the man’s image calling to her with the vivid urgency of a relevant memory; even though nothing in her past indicated the intersection of this man’s life with hers.
The colors followed quickly: the saturated earth tones of his Paul Smith shirt and the dark burgundy bow-tie popping against the warm inner glow of his pale, but not even remotely pasty skin.
Wendy Watson painted furiously but precisely: her every brush stroke capturing the elusive character of a man she had never met but was sure she knew... a moment in a time she was certain had never happened but felt as alive in her mind’s eye as any remembrance...
...and when the painting was done:
“That’s my imaginary friend!”
“How do you know what he looks like, dub-dub?”
Wendy Watson swiveled her stool to see her equally photogenic roommate - still in the fatigues and beret she habitually wore to her Occupy Wall Street protest... and, thankfully, bereft of the swelling and redness she often brought home as a result of the sustained pepper spray attacks from the local police.
“What are you doing home?” Asked Wendy Watson.
“Oh,” she shrugged, “it got a little ripe inside the tent again, so we’re all going home to shower in shifts... how do you know what my imaginary friend looks like?”
Wendy Watson swiveled back and forth between Lacey and her newest work of art - head spinning:
“This is your imaginary friend? The guy who showed up in the fireplace of Doctor Barbara Thornfield M.D., Ph.D.’s mansion all those times and kept you entertained with wild stories of time travel?”
“Yes, dub-dub, that’s him!”
“Your imaginary friend was a time traveling hipster sexgod?”
“No - it was nothing like that - I mean, yeah, I thought he was cute and all... but he was just an imaginary friend.”
Lacey’s voice took on a faraway tone as she completed her thought:
“I know that now.”
“Wait a minute - now you know that?”
“Oh, dub-dub... it’s not like Doctor Barbara Thornfield M.D. Ph.D. didn’t already have me work all of this out with a team of psychotherapists when I was a tween... anyway, the last time I saw my imaginary friend... I was twelve: he promised he would come get me on the day of my graduation from art school...”
“You mean our graduation? And you never told me?”
“Like I said... I’d already worked this whole thing out with a team of mental health professionals.”
“Weird,” replied Wendy Watson, “I just thought I was painting one of the new baristas over at the Java Applet... I think that’s where I saw this guy anyway... he does look so strangely familiar.”
“Yeah,” Lacey replied dreamily, “must be a coincidence... and I have a world that needs to be saved, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go shower...”
Lacey turned to walk down the spiral staircase, but not before having a final look at her best friend’s work.
“If you ever do see that guy? And it turns out he isn’t just a cute barista, but a time traveling adventurer from parts unknown?”
“Tell him I’m over him.”
CHESTERTON SCHOOL OF THE ARTS
TWO YEARS EARLIER
The passage of time had only made Lacey Thornfield’s intelligence and inner strength brighter.
As she walked across the dais to collect her diploma - her cap and gown hand-painted with Guy DeBord slogans - The Doctor knew that she would make for a brilliant companion: the sort of beacon of innocent compassion that he direly needed to remind himself of what was truly important... of the simple truths that a creature of his 953 years could so easily forget.
The TARDIS would keep for a few hours undetected in the scenery shop of the school’s theater building. All The Doctor had to do was wait until she was alone, make eye contact, and the magic would return... off they would go...
...but The Doctor’s thoughts needle-slipped to a halt with the intrusion into his mindscape of a sound he had not even thought about for almost a decade and a half.
A harmonic resonance years-ago dismissed as no longer relevant to his existence.
The Eye of Harmony.
Could it be?
The Doctor rushed back into the TARDIS - bounding through corridors and mezzanines, peeling back layer after layer of trans-dimensional architecture to reach a remote and neglected room: a piece of his own mythology he had long since discarded as no longer relevant to his day-to-day existence...
...and there, in the echoing chamber, the Eye glared up at him... and a numinous cloud of smoke and technology manifested over the storm at the center of the black hole that powered his ship.
At the center of the cloud?
A strapping man in an Eisenhower jacket - clear-eyed, full-hearted, and sporting that can’t-lose look so common of heroic human males; all of them always endearingly unaware of the vastness of space and time.
The man in the Eisenhower jacked seemed familiar - maybe from a long-forgotten episode of a past regeneration.
“Do to her what you did to Sarah Jane,” said the man in a flat, affectless mid-western American voice, “ and you will have me to answer to.”
And with that, he was gone.
CHESTERTON SCHOOL OF THE ARTS
THEATER ARTS BUILDING
FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER
Now perched on a scaffold, The Doctor watched Lacey Thornfield - this time through a window high atop the shop.
She bounded across the quad, carefree, with a group of friends - among them a dark-haired beauty with a focused and determined look in her coffee-colored eyes.
The Doctor trained his eyes on Lacey Thornfield’s friend for a moment... and her visage transported him to time he was certain had not yet happened, but which felt as alive in his mind’s eye as any remembrance.
He knew what he had to do.
Bowing his head, The Doctor climbed off the scaffold and returned to the TARDIS.
On the quad below, Lacey Thornfield fell behind her friends, slowing down to a walk for a moment to look up at the theater arts building.
For a moment, she could have sworn she heard the “arooga-thump” that always accompanied the appearance of her childhood imaginary friend... the one her mother paid an army of psychotherapists to dispel back when she was twelve...
...but the sound soon dissipated into nothingness, and Lacey Thornfield looked ahead to see Wendy Watson, beckoning.
Lacey Thornfield broke back into a run and joined her friends in celebration. The future was wide open.