120 minutes before the truth is revealed
"They do say women tend to marry men who remind them of their fathers," the Middleman says. He doesn't look up from cleaning his plasma interrupter, and Wendy gets the impression that he's not taking her concerns seriously.
"There's reminding you of your father," Wendy answers, "and then there's--" she unfurls the cover of this week's Us magazine with a crinkle and a snap "--that."
"I don't know who either of these young ladies are," the Middleman admits, looking vaguely sheepish, "but they do appear to resemble each other."
"They could be sisters," Wendy says. "Twins, even." She looks at the cover again, and then at the Middleman. "Disney might be okay with their current beloved leading ladies being lesbians--"
"I doubt that," Ida interrupts. "If his head were in his grave, it'd be spinning with the rest of him."
"No doubt it's thawing from the great depth of his rage," the Middleman agrees.
"I thought that was just an urban legend," Wendy says, allowing herself to be distracted for second.
The Middleman shrugs. "That's what Michael Eisner would like you to think."
Wendy takes a moment to process that, compares it to the weirdness that is life as a Middleman in training, and then shrugs and continues her original thought. "But I don't think they're down with twincest."
"Twincest?" His voice is full of mild disgust of the sort usually reserved for people who leave their shopping carts loose in the supermarket parking lot, but no real curiosity, but Wendy still breathes a soft sigh of relief when he says, "I'm still not sure why you feel this is any concern of ours, Dubbie."
She picks up her copy of Weekly World News and flips it open to page six. I Dated My Own Clone screams the headline, and underneath, there's a picture of a man and a woman who look uncannily alike.
The Middleman shakes his head. "Married couples often grow to resemble each other over the years, Dubbie. Much like pets and their owners."
"They only began dating two months ago."
The Middleman gives an unconvinced hum and continues cleaning the weapons, so Wendy pulls out the big guns. "Ida, can you show us the middle segment of last night's Sick, Sad World?"
"The one about Liza Minnelli's latest wedding?"
"Got it in one."
"Boss, I think you might have to send me back to O2STK. I'm starting to think like Miss Mary Jane."
Wendy's eyeroll is more out of reflex than actual offense at this point. "I think it'd be less scary if I had been stoned," she says as the pictures flash on the monitor above the table. "Three times is a pattern, boss."
The Middleman finally looks up from where he's field-stripping the phase polaron cannon and his expression goes from disinterested to disturbed in half a second. "Friends of Dorothy, Dubbie! Who cloned Liza Minnelli and why are they getting married?"
Blue Sun Laboratories
57 minutes before the truth is revealed
"And how did you hear about our work?" asks Dr. Archibald Leach, the head scientist at Blue Sun Laboratories, as he leads them on a tour of the facilities. They totally need to use the Sick, Sad World cover IDs more often. They work nearly as well as the ones for NASA.
"Liza with a Z recommended you," Wendy says.
"Ah, some of our best work. The resemblance was remarkable, don't you think?" He beams at them like some kind of creepy, old, mad scientist, which makes sense because he is a creepy, old, mad scientist. "It took many years to refine the process," he says. He narrows his eyes at Wendy in a way that sends a shiver down her spine. "You look familiar, actually. Did you ever work at Drones Bar and Grill?"
"For about a week while I was in art school," Wendy answers before she can think better of it. The Middleman looks at her inquisitively. "I was a terrible waitress."
He nods. "I see." He's probably remembering her brief stint at the Booty Chest. Then he turns back to Dr. Leach. "I'm still not clear on the concept," he hedges. He has a little memo pad and a pen, and is wearing dorky black plastic glasses to complete his kind of stupidly adorable (not that Wendy will ever tell him) Clark Kent ensemble.
"Who knows you better than yourself?" Dr. Leach says. "We take your DNA and develop a clone of you. While it grows rapidly to your requested age within the nutrient bath, we imbue it with your likes and dislikes, so that when it's ready to be delivered, it is a perfect match for you in every detail." He's practically preening. Wendy expects him to start petting one of the cloning pods and whispering, my precious at any moment. Her skin wants to shrivel up and crawl away, but she's afraid they'd just use it to clone her.
"You mean you program the clones to be perfect mates for their DNA donors?"
"Jango Fett! That's--" the Middleman sputters.
"Taking the idea of matchmaking to its horrifyingly logical, and really, really creepy conclusion," Wendy says.
"Not to mention illegal in forty-nine states," the Middleman says, recovered from his brief bout of dented romanticism and full of righteous indignation.
Wendy cocks her head and looks up at him. "Only forty-nine?"
"How do you think Vermont's population remains so steady?"
Wendy blinks. "Actually, that explains a lot." In her peripheral vision, she can see Dr. Leach trying to sidle away. She aims her pen at him. "Hold it right there, buster. We're taking you in."
"That's a pen," he scoffs. "I have a clone army at my disposal!"
Wendy clicks the pen twice and it shoots a laser thingy at the console where Leach is pressing buttons.
"The pen is mightier than the sword," the Middleman says.
"Or, in this case, the intercom."
He and Wendy exchange a grin. "Indeed."
It doesn't take long to subdue and restrain Leach after that. They leave him cuffed to his console, surrounded by half-grown clones in their eerily lit pods. "I had a deal with all the major online dating services," he's ranting as they slip out past the incoming FBI agents. "I was going to make millions! Millions! My plan was sheer elegance in its simplicity!"
The hallway outside the illegal sublet Wendy shares with another photogenic young artist
5 minutes before the truth is revealed
Wendy lifts the elevator gate and steps out into the hallway.
"Yo, Wendy Watson. Sometimes I feel I've got to run away," Noser says.
"Hi, Noser. Have you lost your light? Do you toss and turn, unable to sleep at night?"
"I do," he replies, nodding solemnly. "Now I've got to pack my things and go."
"You're not moving out?" Wendy says, alarmed.
Noser shakes his head. "Nah. I've got a gig playing Stump the Band down at Morrissey's tonight. You guys should come."
Wendy grins in relief. "I'll check with Lacey and Tyler, but it sounds good to me."
"See you later, Wendy Watson."
"Sure thing, Noser."
The illegal sublet Wendy shares with another photogenic young artist
Time for the truth to be revealed. (OR IS IT?)
"Hey, guys," Wendy says, dropping her keys into the bowl on the bookcase and kicking the door shut behind her. "You want to go see Noser do Stump the Band at Morrissey's tonight?"
Tyler slips his arms around her and gives her a kiss. He smells like her soap and shampoo, and she presses her face to his shoulder and breathes him in happily. "Sound good to me," he says when she raises her head.
The shape of his face is right, she thinks, though his skin is too peaches and cream to be an exact duplicate.
"I made chili," he says.
"Of course, my asbestos-tongued lady."
"Vegan, too," Lacey chimes in, and Wendy decides to put Dr. Leach and his freaky cloning experiments out of her mind. She'd only worked at Drones for six days, after all.