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The Meatball Fuzzy-Wuzzy Conundrum

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Ida was more or less incapable of being moved – emotionally – by things. For that matter, she was relatively incapable of being moved unless she was willing. She didn't want to be a soft touch because the current Middleman had that covered and then some. He was a good man, a fine leader, but he was sentimental. He got attached and took in strays.

As she dusted around the splayed outline of Wendy Watson's body dirtying up the conference table, the android sighed. The meatballs were amusing at times, but at other times they were just messy. She knew the purpose for all the excreting and emoting and she didn't think much of it. There wasn't a thing wrong with repression a little controlled substance couldn't fix. They could hold it in until their days off, for her sake.

She knew of the human hangups; intimacy, drugs, liquor, sex, failure, loneliness. She saw how much effort her boss and his apprentice put into being good enough for each other. She watched as they tried to be one another's human shields. She didn't bother to tell them how stupid they were.

Her beef with Wendy was real enough. She was barely qualified and it was an honour to be taken into the Middleman organization. The time spent getting her over her problems with authority could have been difficult to manage. Sensei Ping was good but even he couldn't take a lump of clay with no prospects and make it an ass-kicking machine.

In one, teeny way, the newbie was slightly impressive.

Hiring Wendy Watson because she turned his crank could have been the error that killed The Middleman. The fact that it hadn't was only luck. The leeway of an average mission was small, and The Middleman and his apprentice fought like the old marrieds they might never survive to become.

It was – to coin the human phrasing most accurately translating from her programming – fucking annoying.

The capper of that day's labours had been an hour and a half of them yelling at each other about who went left and who went right. His position was that he took point and Wendy covered whichever direction he told her to cover. Her position was a long diatribe about eventually having to deal with being him, and needing some autonomy to develop her skills. There was a lot of banter about women's intuition versus the honed impulses of a trained soldier. That switched them from battle strategies to feminism, which led naturally into a dissertation from the art school graduate on sociology.

Boss should not have called her on being an art school grad, she nodded to herself, lowering the duster.

Ida knew it was all bunk, but she'd rather have them yelling than screwing. Screwing would happen, but it might be all on a mission so she wouldn't have to witness it. Then the humans could have their awkward period and get over themselves.

It did occur to her sometimes that there had never been a stable marriage of an active Middleman. Maybe a nice mail order bride would clarify the office tensions.

She had let the prodigal Dubbie in five hours after the big fight ended in her strutting out. The Middleman had gone to bed, probably not to sleep. The apprentice was going to do some overtime. She dug into the archives like a Uraguay Swamp Bookworm, finding a list of preventative measures for a secret society's annual pagan rites successfully raising the god of corn and bloodletting. Unbeknownst to them, every year The Middleman visited their sacred circle first. He scattered the cockamamie things Roxy Wasserman gave him to scatter. They didn't get a raised god.

The Chimneysweep had solved the problem without the succubus this year. She was randomly useful if you had time to wait around for the blue moon.

The mussed brunette had whined something about one for the road and Ida turned away for a moment to get the coffee. When she turned back, the artist had toed off her shoes and crawled onto the table. She was nearly comatose. After overcoming the temptation to put ice down her shirt, Ida decided to leave her be. There was no need to get The Middleman wound up again. His big, explanatory gestures hit the HEYDAR and she didn't want to recalibrate it. There was a whole lot of pouting on the way, but a few hours before it was a respectable time to be wandering down.

Shrugging over the prone young woman, Ida went to press a new uniform for the underdressed apprentice. Pajamas and a hoodie weren't going to cut it, and they didn't have much time in the morning before the cultists arrived.

The locker room was blissfully silent and still, gleaming from the happy absence of people. Pain wasn't part of her circuitry, but Ida could admit clutter and unnecessary noise pained her. There was so much drama in being human. She knew they pitied her sometimes, and she pitied them right back. They had to be so tired of it all, yet incapable of living without it. Sensei Ping was the most disciplined human she'd ever known. He had a hissy fit if you carded him.

All signs pointed to hopeless for the poor fleshy things, she mused. They did try very hard. They were brave. They cared about each other in a way that was perhaps a little enviable.

She hung up the uniform in Wendy's locker. As she was deciding whether to vacuum the submarine or add to the logs, a shout rang out.

“DUBBIE?! DUBBIE!!”

The android rolled her eyes and hurried back to stop The Middleman from shaking the pothead to death or hauling her to the infirmary and putting the paddles to her. Fried apprentice took years to really clean out from the ducts. At least they'd make up faster, but with no less pouting.

She missed her Boss from before he learned to stick out his lip.