It was the morning after a successful Art Crawl. Not only had Wendy sold a couple of paintings to people who were neither friends nor relatives and had a couple of gallery owners express tentative interest in seeing more of her work in the near future, but the previous night had been a great success in many other ways as well. Attendance had been at an all-time high, and seeing as how a few of the event's other participants had sold works as well, despite a policy that no money was allowed to change hands unless the buyer could pass the mandatory sobriety test randomly selected from six possibilities with the roll of a die, at least some of that increase in numbers seemed to be unrelated to the fact that this season's Art Crawl happened to coincide with Thursday Night Drunk.
Also, Lacey had gotten one of the most enthusiastic responses ever to her multimedia performance piece about the moral and environmental evils of industrialized poultry farming. Noser and Tyler had teamed up for an epic rendition of Stump The Band as well as two separate hour long sets of playing actual music. Joe-90's latest series of sculptures looked like somebody must have taken him aside for a long talk recently, because while they were still phallic, at least now they seemed to be like that on purpose instead of creepily ending up looking suspiciously penis-like regardless of what he claimed the subject was supposed to be. And, best of all as far as most people were concerned, Pip had been a last minute no-show, so everyone could enjoy their evening without having to listen to his latest version of "Hey, Mr. God!" which would have most likely sounded just like the previous version only longer and whinier, just like every new version did.
Best of all for Wendy Watson, though, was the fact that no life threatening emergencies had arisen either before, during, or after the event, for once allowing the artist, event co-organizer, and Middleman in training on call twenty four hours a day, to hang her paintings at a leisurely pace, be present for the entire event, and then get a decent amount of sleep afterwards. All of these aforementioned factors, plus a hefty dose of freshly prepared fair-trade caffeine and the anticipation of a training session with Sensei Ping, combined to give Wendy a spring in her step as she headed off to work. Unfortunately, that sense of happiness and overall wellbeing took off for points unknown as soon as she exited her apartment and stepped into a group of several boilersuit-clad maintenance men and the landlord of her illegal sublet. And here Wendy had been hoping that Pip's absence from last night's Art Crawl meant that either he had run off to try to make it big in Hollywood or he was temporally bedridden with plague.
"Hey, Loser," Pip said, spinning around to face her but not stepping away from the men who looked like they would have appreciated a little more elbow room with which to perform their task, whatever that was. "It's nearly noon. I know you're just a temp, but I figured that still required, you know, getting up and going to work occasionally."
"Hardy har har, Pip, like you've ever done a day of work in your life." So much for the great start to her day. Wendy couldn't even counteract the irritation of Pip-related interaction with her morning dose of banter with Noser, because the musician, usually the only occupant of the hallway at this hour, was nowhere to be seen, having probably taken himself off to someplace more conducive to songwriting than the current location.
"I'll have you know I'm working right now."
"You're standing around watching other people do something with a metal box and wires, most likely because you don't trust them not to triple bill you for the time if you let them do it without supervision, because you expect everyone to have the same vanishingly low level of ethics as you do." If Pip heard the quiet, disgruntled mutters of agreement with that statement coming from behind him, he pretended not to notice. Wendy took a step around Pip to get a better look. "What are they doing, anyway?"
"We," Pip emphasized the word with a sneer as he took a step to block her view, just to be obnoxious, "are updating the building's electrical system."
"It's about time!" And it was, too. The only thing that had kept the building's assorted tenants from running a betting pool for when Pip would willingly have any non-legally-required maintenance done was the fact that everyone kept fighting over who got the coveted 'When hell freezes over' spot. "While you're at it," Wendy added. "can you install some more outlets in our apartment? It would be nice to be able to stop making such ridiculously branching chains of outlet strips that I feel the need to shout, 'Release the Kraken!' every time I plug or unplug my phone charger."
"Only if you pay for parts and labor and don't mind me permanently raising the rent to take into account the improved amenities." Pip's accompanying smirk made him look like Robert Pattinson and the Grinch had gotten together and had a baby.
"Ugh, never mind." Wendy turned and headed for the elevator.
"Yeah, that's what I thought you'd say," Pip called after her. "Now can you get out of here? Time is money, and you're wasting it by distracting my employees."
Fortunately, Sensei Ping was able to sympathize with her about crappy landlords, because even celibate martial artist monks couldn't go around introducing disrespectful lessors to Pain's River without being chastised by their peers for giving their venerable order a bad reputation. Of course, Sensei Ping's version of sympathy came in the form of stepping up the intensity of the practice exercises and extending the session by several hours when world ending dangers continued to not interrupt them. Wendy figured it was a great alternative to going home and punching Pip in the face, because even though she now knew a chokehold that would induce two day amnesia (with much greater reliability than what those luchadores did to Tyler) so Pip would never remember who hit him, she did still have a conscience. The whole 'with great power comes great responsibility' thing meant that she couldn't go around beating up guys just for making her mad anymore, even though she only had awesome hand to hand combat skills instead of actual super powers.
Sensei Ping ended the session by teaching her the Chengdu Knuckle Of Vague Flu-Like Symptoms. He claimed it was the first step in the forty-year-long process of learning the skills necessary to perform the Wuhan Thumb of Death without breaking more than half the bones in your upper body, though he may have only been saying that to make her feel better, or because he thought it was funny. Sensei Ping prided himself on having an incomprehensible sense of humor, but Wendy was not going to argue if that sense of humor resulted in her learning awesomely weird martial arts moves that she could hypothetically use against certain individuals without it qualifying as assault.
Due to the lack of a current crisis, Wendy was able to get changed back into her street clothes and leave at a normal hour for once. She made a quick check on the Middleman and Ida and found them sitting around, reading an old Lucky Luke comic in the original French and doing paperwork respectively, so she continued on her way out the door and made good her escape. She even had plenty of time to stop at her favorite burrito place and pick up some dinner for her and Lacey without being subjected to the haughty death glare the employees usually gave her for running in two minutes before closing. Food in hand, she headed for home.
There was no sign of Pip when the elevator reached Wendy's floor, thank goodness. The brand new industrial grey electrical box was a bit of an eyesore, but nothing that couldn't soon be fixed by a building full of artists. It would probably be unrecognizable within the week.
"Hey, Lacey," Wendy called as she stepped into their apartment and headed for the kitchen area. "I'm home and I come bearing edible gifts!"
The warbling reply that Lacey seemed to yodel from somewhere deeper in the apartment was unintelligible.
"I stopped at Burritoville and got you one of their seitan, soy cheese, and mushroom burritos, but I can throw it in the fridge for later if you brought leftovers home from work."
Lacey peeked warily around the edge of the doorframe. When she saw Wendy holding out the burrito in the green wrapper with little flower drawings which Burritoville used to signify their vegan offerings, Lacey gave another warble, this time longer and more complex, as she hurried over, smelled the burrito, discarded it, and then started smelling Wendy's hair.
"Uh, Lace," Wendy said as Lacey pulled away from her a moment later, looking disgusted, "One, are you okay? And two, stop making that face, because I do not smell that bad! I just showered less than an hour ago."
Lacey warbled something unintelligible yet again and kept going for over a minute. Or, at least it was mostly unintelligible. This time, in amongst the seemingly random ululations was a string of phonemes that sounded as close as you could get to the words "Wendy Watson" while yodeling like that. When she finished her impromptu musical performance, Lacey gave a decisive, 'And that explains everything' sort of nod, then picked up the burrito in the pink wrapper with little animal drawings which Burritoville used to signify their decidedly non-vegan offerings, smelled it, smiled, tore open the wrapper, and began eating.
Wendy frowned. Lacey had had some trouble adjusting to life as a working adult, and had gone through a whole string of bad jobs, many nearly as bad as the quarter of a shift she had spent working at the Booty Chest, the pirate-themed sports bar with the scantily-clad waitresses. However, last month, Lacey had gotten a job at the Meatless-Patty Wagon, the trendy new solar-powered vegan food truck which was the darling of all the local food blogs, and she actually seemed to enjoy working there, so if this was some sort of nervous breakdown, then the timing seemed odd. Also, the teeth which Lacey showed off every time she took a bite of Wendy's intended dinner looked sharper than when Wendy had last seen them yesterday.
Though the burrito she was eating was full of meaty goodness, it was also full of rice, beans, cheese, and salsa, and there shouldn't be more than trace amounts of cooked blood in it, so it probably was not any of the known forms of vampirism. Had Lacey been replaced by some sort of succubus doppelganger?
Wendy wished she had her portable scanner. It would have been really useful for checking for supernatural energy signatures right about now. She usually kept a spare in the apartment, but it had been one of the casualties of a truly spectacular cooking accident last week, and she hadn't gotten around to replacing it yet. Still, Wendy was not completely without technological assistance. She raised her Middle-watch to her mouth and hit the call button.
"Hey, Boss," she said, "I don't want to call it an all-out emergency yet, but I have some kind of a situation here. Can Ida use the Real Time Situational Recorder to run a scan on Lacey or do I need to bring her back to HQ?"
"On Lacey? What's the matter with her?" came the Middleman's worried reply. Lacey leaned in to investigate the new voice emanating from Wendy's watch but returned to her meal with little protest when Wendy took a step backwards and waved her away with her free hand.
"Her teeth are inexplicably pointy, she's deliberately eating meat and other animal products, and I haven't been able to get her to speak a word of English since I got home. All she's done is smell things, take my dinner, and yodel, though at one point the yodeling sounded kinda like my name. Well, Ida? I know you're listening in on this too. Can you scan Lacey or not?"
"The scan's already done, Missy," said the perpetually cranky android, "and wow, for once your junky roommate's behavior can't be attributed to her THC levels! You, on the other hand, must have had a double helping of magic brownies with lunch, because you really should be able to recognize a lizard person when you see one. The muscle fiber structure, carbon dioxide output levels, and microscopic scaling which shows the hair strands are actually modified feathers are all dead giveaways."
"Ida, in Dubbie's defense, muscle fiber structure, carbon dioxide output, and microscopic scaling aren't actually visible to the naked human eye, no matter how well trained."
"Oh, right. I forgot how limited your senses are due to being made out of meat."
"Forget about insulting or defending me for a minute," Wendy shouted, which earned her a confused look from Lacey. "Are you telling me somebody turned Lacey into a lizard person?"
"No, not turned into a lizard person, replaced with a lizard person," said Ida. "Can't you hear the... No, never mind, of course you can't hear the sub- and hyper-sonic sympathetic vibrations she's giving off, because that would require human sensory anatomy to actually be good for something for once. You'll just have to take my word for it that this girl is singing right now in more ways than just that yodeling you were talking about."
"Land of the Lost, Ida!" exclaimed the Middleman. "Do you mean--"
"Yup, somebody managed to hit the transdimensional displacement resonance. Again."
"Clearly you two have an explanation," Wendy said. "Can you maybe skip ahead to the part where you fill me in on what's happening? Lacey is almost finished with her burrito, and when she runs out of food, I'm not sure if she's going to go looking for a rock in the sun or if she's going to start eyeing me up as the second course."
"In layman's terms, Dubbie, if you hit the right combination of vibrational frequencies, a person will begin to resonate to those vibrations. If the same thing happens at the same time to a transdimensional counterpart of that person, the two of them will be vibrated into each other's universes, and once the initial resonance has been established, the people can't be switched back until the source of the vibrations has been neutralized."
"I have all the math for why it doesn't matter how far from the source an effected person travels," Ida added, "but it would take about three years to bring your hippy art student education up to the level needed to understand any of it."
"What it boils down to," continued the Middleman, "is that we need to know everywhere Lacey may have been since you last saw her."
"She works in a food truck, MM. She could have been pretty much anywhere in the city today."
"Which food truck? I can't work with information I don't have," Ida said. "Give me the name, and I'll run it through all the local traffic cameras and spy satellites."
"It's the Meatless-Patty Wagon," supplied the Middleman before Wendy could say anything, because of course he paid attention to everything that had anything to do with Lacey.
"The trendy new solar-powered vegan food truck which is the darling of all the local food blogs? Figures," muttered Ida. "I guess this means I also need to cross-reference meta data from Instagram photos of falafel. Give me a minute. The owners of some of these servers really need to upgrade their bandwidth."
Wendy started to pace, which had the added benefit of discouraging Lacey from trying to start smelling her again or trying to eat her, though Wendy supposed there was only a low probability of that happening anyway, given how disgusted the lizard woman had looked after that first whiff. Lacey, now that she had finished the burrito, seemed happy to occupy herself exploring the kitchen cabinets, much to Wendy's relief.
"Search complete," Ida finally announced. "The Meatless-Patty Wagon spent an hour and a half at each of the three nearby university campuses, and an hour at the Metro Mall. College campuses are prime locations for both vegan food trucks and mad science, but none of them have the necessary acoustic environments to facilitate an instance of transdimensional displacement resonance. In fact, the only place along the truck's whole route that comes close to fitting the bill would be the mall's main foyer, but even that would only work if somebody removed the escalators and reshaped the ceiling for more even sound reflection. I'll widen the search parameters to include anywhere Junkie's roommate could have potentially gone today, but this going to take a while."
"At least I don't expect you're going to turn up very many places we need to search," Wendy said with a sigh. "Noser says this town is really short on places with perfect acoustics, that's why he's always hanging out in our-- Son of a bitch!"
"Now, now, Dubbie, I'm sure Mr. Noser hasn't done anything to warrant you directing that kind of language at him."
"Not Noser, but Pip sure has! He had a bunch of guys installing a new electrical box in the hallway this morning," Wendy said as she rushed out of the apartment, happy to finally have an excuse to introduce Pip to Pain's River. She didn't even bother trying to answer Lacey's questioning yodel that was cut off by the slamming front door. Wendy skidded to a halt in front of the offending object. "I bet this is where our transdimensional vibrator is stashed. The little creep probably answered some super villain’s ad on Craig's List looking for weapons' storage space, not caring if he helps start a lizard person invasion as long as he gets some extra rent money. When I get my hands on him, I'm--"
"Hold your horses, Kiddo," Ida said, interrupting Wendy's rant. "As much as I look forward to watching some junky on junky violence, there might be another explanation for this. You said it's an electrical box. Does it have a part number visible on the underside?"
Being careful not to touch anything, just in case there was some sort of booby-trap, Wendy leaned over and looked at the underside of the box. There was indeed a part number.
"It says it's a Dardenbergtronics residential grade medium sized junction box, number three three seven five dash nine eight nine eight--"
"Dash seven seven two four point nine, or point seven" completed the Middleman.
"Yeah, point seven. How did you know?"
"Middlemen have been dealing with these things since the nineteen seventies. A contaminant in one of their batches of paint resulted in some very unique vibrational characteristics for the medium and large sized residential boxes, which did not become apparent until the paint had been allowed to cure for five years. Even though the problem only manifests when the boxes are installed in areas with exceptional acoustic properties, Dardenbergtronics junction boxes are believed to be responsible for at least twenty percent and maybe as high as fifty percent of all transdimensional displacement resonance incidents. Gosh darn it all to heck," he said, and Wendy could easily imagine her boss glaring with righteous indignation at the video image of the electrical box provided by her watch's Real Time Situational Recorder. "Every time we think we've taken care of the last of them, somebody finds one stashed in an attic or old store room and decides make a few bucks by selling it to some homeowner who's too cheap to shell out for brand new equipment."
"So how do we deal with it? By smashing the box and hoping Pip doesn't replace it with one just like it, starting this all over again?"
"Fortunately, the situation does not require quite that much destruction of private property. Removing at least three percent of the paint from the exterior should do the trick."
"With pleasure. Over and out, Boss." Wendy fished a small knife out of her pocket, paused for a moment to study her blank canvas, and then went to work. She was halfway through scratching baby Godzilla fighting a lightning monster into the paint when there was a sudden, undefinable change in the air, followed by a faint bzzzt-thoomp sound from inside her apartment. Wendy rushed back inside to find Lacey unsteadily propping herself against the kitchen counter. "Lacey, are you okay?"
"Dub-Dub?" Lacey looked up and then ran to give Wendy a hug. "I just had the weirdest few hours. I got home from work and was walking towards the door, when it felt like the whole world shifted just a little bit, and everything in the apartment was just a little bit different. I went outside to see what else had changed, and everybody was yodeling at each other instead of talking, and people kept pointing and smelling me, and when you got home you were a lizard person, and Pip was a lizard person, and Noser was a lizard person! Everyone kept yodeling at me and occasionally trying to get me to eat meat, and I couldn't figure out how to explain veganism nonverbally, but maybe that should totally be my next performance piece," she said with a laugh. "Eventually, Sexy Boss Man, who was also a lizard person, showed up when you yodeled into your watch. Then there was something with knives and the electrical box in the hallway, and suddenly I was here again." Lacey paused, released Wendy from the hug, and looked around. "And I can't find the falafel kebabs I brought you from the Meatless-Patty Wagon. I think lizard you and lizard Sexy Boss Man may have taken them for testing because they couldn't figure out what they were."
"That's okay, I brought you a burrito from Burritoville. Lizard you didn't want anything to do with it, though she stole mine," Wendy said. "But first," she added, throwing an arm around Lacey's shoulders and steering her towards the door, "let me show you what I've been doing to the electrical box in the hallway. I have plenty of knives, so you can even join in if you would like."
Lacey smiled. "Yeah, that sounds like fun."