"Again?" exclaimed Aasif, opening the break room microwave to find that his instant korma had exploded out of its little plastic tray all over the interior. "It had to be the one time I didn't put a plate under the stupid thing, didn't it?"
"You want some paper towels or something?" asked a pleasant voice from behind him.
"Yes, thank you, Wyatt," said Aasif briskly, accepting the roll and tearing off a couple of sheets. "Now the question is, is it too hot to touch, or...?"
He poked at the nearest trail of yellow-orange sauce, here and there sprouting a bit of carrot. Yeah, that was pretty hot. Now he was going to have to sit around for ten minutes while it cooled off, and that wouldn't leave much time to clean it up before he had to get back to editing, because Jon had said to cut two minutes from his field piece, which was frankly absurd because this piece was golden, Aasif had spent the whole thing nailing people left and right...
...wait a second.
What was Wyatt doing here?
Aasif whipped around, doing his best imitation of the Colbert-patented Interrogative Eyebrows. "What are you...?"
The four-foot-tall Wyatt puppet cocked its giant, floppy-haired head at him. "What am I what?"
"Uh," said Aasif.
The puppet held up its hands. "Sorry, buddy, can't help you with this one. That stuff gets in my felt, it's never coming out."
The places was set, the wine poured, the candles lit. In the back of the restaurant, a man on a piano serenaded the room with smooth jazz, including a couple going all-out for their farewell dinner.
"Baby, I promise, it's not you," said Wyatt on one side of the table. "This week has been awesome. Crazy awesome. But I gotta move on. The road just keeps calling to me, you know?"
The beautiful young woman across from him looked away, eyes swimming in the light of the chandeliers. "I guess you did warn me," she said, sniffling a bit. "It's just...I thought maybe you could be the one."
"Right now I can't be anybody's one," said Wyatt sadly. Anyone who knew him would have been struck by the deep and soulful look in his dark eyes. (Anyone who didn't know him would think he looked half-asleep. They usually did.) "Not until I figure out how to be my own one."
His companion bit her lip and nodded.
"Tell me the truth now, baby," added Wyatt. "Are you gonna write a song about me?"
Taylor blushed. "I admit, I have spent the whole day thinking up phrases that rhyme with 'beard'."
Jessica nearly had a heart attack. Or nearly would have, if she hadn't had the youngest and most vital heart of anyone in the office. "Omigod. Are you real?"
"I dunno," said the puppet good-naturedly. It looked down at its hands, patted itself all over the head, and picked up one leg to examine the soles of its boots. "I seem pretty real? Although if I wasn't real I guess I wouldn't be the best judge of reality."
"But how do you move?" demanded Jessica, circling it like a suspicious cat. "Where's your puppeteer? And how can you sound exactly like Wyatt when I know for a fact that Wyatt's in Japan right now?"
"Oh, you mean the other Wyatt?" asked the puppet. "Yeah, he gave me his voice, and I kinda kept it. You don't think he'll mind, do you?"
"Uh. I guess not." Jessica waved her arms over its head a few times, just to make absolutely sure there weren't any too-fine-to-see strings. "Oh, wow. You're legit."
"Good to know."
Stopping in front of it again, Jessica dropped into a low to bring them eye-to-felt-eye, and lowered her voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "Does this mean Kermit's real too?!"
"Him? Sure, he's a great guy."
"I KNEW it!"
After the final shoot, Wyatt ducked into the star's dressing room to congratulate him once again. He'd even picked up enough Korean by now to do it without sounding like a total moron.
"It's been a pleasure working with you," he said, offering a hand to shake. "And who knows? Maybe next time we meet, you'll be a backup dancer for me."
The rap sensation shook his hand without smiling. "Perhaps you will."
"Whoa, man, I was kidding! I'm a humble student, here," stammered Wyatt.
"Haven't you ever heard that one day the student must surpass the master?"
Wyatt shrugged, sticking his hands in his pockets. "I guess. Isn't that a Japanese saying, though?"
Rain tilted down his sunglasses to raise his eyebrows at Wyatt. "You think we don't get dubbed samurai movies in South Korea?"
"Oh, right," said Wyatt. "Anyway, all I wanted to say was, you've been great, and if I ever come around this way again it would be an honor to do another video. In whatever role I ended up in."
"You would be welcome to it," said Rain. "And Wyatt? Next time you see Colbert, tell him that if he feels ready to be humiliated again, I will happily challenge him to a rematch."
"I guess I just have commitment issues," said Jon, lying back on his couch. "Or the opposite. When you have issues around people committing to you. Trust issues?"
"I mean, obviously everybody leaves sooner or later. Except Sam." Jon folded his hands over the stomach of his grey T-shirt. "And back in the day we used to burn through people like fireworks. But we had this long stretch where anyone who became a correspondent would stay on for years, and it was great!"
City traffic rushed by outside, while the afternoon sunlight filtered through the blinds.
"And now? We're all prestigious or whatever, so we have to hire really good people — but we aren't actually good enough to stretch their skills the way good people want. Seems like the minute I pick someone up, they're running off to do Broadway or Sorkin or whatever those Hobbit bonus features are Wyatt's working on in New Zealand. I mean, granted, Wyatt did stay for years, but that just means it hurts in a different way."
"Is that so."
"I think it's starting to screw with my judgment," added Jon nervously. "Think about it. I hire Olivia, the Internet explodes with people who don't approve of her résumé, she's left in tears and six months later runs off to NBC. So what do I do next? Go and hire a 22-year-old! What if the pressure's too much for her? What if she doesn't take all her vitamins and her parents come after me for negligence?"
"I think you may be overreacting just a teensy bit."
Jon sighed. "You're probably right."
"Hey, can I ask you something?"
"Sure, what is it?"
"Why are you telling all this to me?" asked the puppet, kicking its heels, because even Jon Stewart's office chair wasn't low enough for its shoes to reach the ground. "It's not like I'm a licensed therapist or anything. Plus, you know, my head is stuffed with cotton."
"I don't know," admitted Jon. "Somehow you're just really easy to talk to you. You must have one of those trustworthy faces. And you don't blink a lot, which is a sign of confidence. Did you know that?"
"Really? I thought it was just a sign that my eyelids are sewn in place."
"I don't honestly know why I'm telling all this to you. I suppose you must have one of those trustworthy faces."
"Yeah, I get that," agreed Wyatt. "Plus, it's always nice to be able to get stuff off your chest to someone who isn't involved."
Of course, if they were doing this the usual way, Wyatt's face wouldn't have made a difference. But Wyatt wasn't really a dark-enclosed-box kind of guy, so the two men were sitting on a couple of fancy chairs in a sunny room that was basically the library from Beauty and the Beast, only with more of it covered in gold.
"Listen, I think this would be hard on anyone," Wyatt continued. "Heavy is the head that wears the crown, right? Or the...you know." He sketched a hat with his hands. A tall hat. "And you seem like a guy who is genuinely trying to do the right thing, so please don't take this personally, okay? I'm just wondering if it would help if maybe you thought about putting the dignity of the office ahead of yourself."
The penitent on the chair across from him frowned. "This isn't like your American elected offices. I am the role. I embody it, by definition."
"You're telling me not one of you guys has up and quit before?"
"Then there you go!" said Wyatt. "I mean, I'm not trying to order you around or anything, I'm just saying...sometimes you gotta ignore the rules and listen to your heart, and go with what it, or God, or whoever, is telling you is right."
With a furrowed brow and a thoughtful frown, Larry took the puppet's hand and turned it palm-up. (It was hard to tell, but for the sake of convenience he was going to call this side the palm.) He then gave it a further half-turn, until it was palm-down again. Then a half-turn more.
The puppet cocked its head curiously and studied its elbow, where the fabric of its suit had been twisted enough to press against itself, squishing the stuffing away on either side. "Weird. Never tried that before."
On the other side of the desk that had been in the middle of his and real-Wyatt's office, John Oliver cringed. "Doesn't that...hurt?" he asked faintly.
With the arm Larry wasn't holding taut, the puppet shrugged. "Not so far."
"Uh-huh." Larry twisted it another three-sixty. "How about now?"
"This is cruel," said John, trying to be crisp and authoritative, or at least to keep his voice from shaking. "Cruel! To conduct your vicious experiments on a poor innocent creature who never did a thing to you...."
"Still nothing," said the puppet.
Another twist. The cloth tube was starting to bulge near the shoulder and wrist with the squishing.
John had to fight down a dry-heave. "I can't watch," he croaked.
One twist more.
John's eyes rolled back in his head, and he slid to the ground in a heap.
Larry and the puppet both turned level gazes (Larry's because he was perpetually unruffled, the puppet's because he only had one expression) on the poor correspondent's prone form. "He's kind of high-strung, isn't he?" asked the puppet.
"Yep," said Larry, with a sigh that said, but what are you gonna do? "It's too bad you're not still around. You did the super-mellow thing, he did the super-tense thing, and somehow it all worked out."
The puppet looked down at itself, then back up. "I am still around."
"No, I mean, the other you."
It was cool to be back in the States, and this city in particular. Adventures were great and all, but sometimes you needed to get a refresher in good old-fashioned standup.
He waved one last time to the standing ovation, then headed offstage....
"Mr. Cenac? Someone came in to see you. They're waiting in your dressing room."
"Hey, thanks," said Wyatt with a grin. A bunch of his friends were pre-approved to be let in, obviously, but none of them had told him they would show up tonight. It was fun to be surprised. "Can you tell me who it is?"
"Um," said the aide. "To the best of my understanding, it's...you."
The puppet was sitting in front of the mirror when the real Wyatt showed up, chin in its hands, swinging its feet and tilting its head back and forth.
"Yo," said Wyatt. "What's up? How've you been?"
"Oh, the usual," said the puppet. "Hanging around the office. Having kinda weird interactions with all the people who know you. Working on an existential crisis about my place in the world. Nothing special."
Wyatt pulled up a chair and joined it. "Did I make a mistake here, leaving you behind? I figured the studio was where you'd be happiest, since you weren't created to represent all of me, just the fake-news-reporting part. I mean, your suit doesn't even come off."
"Hey, I'm not blaming you. It was pretty fun for a while." The puppet leaned on its folded arms and looked up at Wyatt. "But I'm starting to feel like a one-note joke that ran its course. Figured since you were in town, I'd come by and ask you for advice."
Wyatt thought about it for a minute. "You want to come with me?"
"You think I could?"
"Sure you could! How do you feel about figure skating? Because I was planning on heading up to Ontario in time to catch the 2013 world championships, and maybe sub in if any of the Americans get a last-minute broken ankle. Preferably for the dudes, but I picked up the ladies' parts too, just in case."
The puppet bobbed its head, mouth hanging open in the universal Muppet expression of excitement. "Let's do it! This will be awesome! We can call it The Wyatts Take Ontario."