12:37 PM EST
"Either the Clotharians are threatening to blow up Earth in order to put in a hyperspace byway, or they've got a very naughty proposition for us," the Middleman says, frowning down at the latest communiqué from Extreme Aldwyn. "Ida, please send me the updated Clotharian-English dictionary files."
Wendy hears the bleep-bloop of an email arriving in his inbox, and then, about thirty seconds later, the tinny strains of "Never Gonna Give You Up" blare from the speakers on the Middle-laptop. The Middleman rears back, making a face like a grumpy cat.
"What the heck is this, Ida?"
"Sounds like you got rickrolled to me," Wendy says. He glares at her. "It's a very old internet prank. Do I need to explain--"
"I know what the internet is, Dubbie," he says irritably. "I have a Netflix subscription."
Wendy holds up her hands in a placating gesture. "Okay, Boss. Didn't meant to touch a nerve."
"They have a very fine selection of classic TV shows," he says. "And I'm sorry, Dubbie. Ida's been a little cranky today, and I guess her mood is affecting mine."
"A little cranky?" Wendy asks incredulously. "How can you tell?"
"I admit that she's not always as professionally respectful to you as she should be, but she's never been that way to me. Not until today."
Wendy straightens up out of her slouch. "Do you think she's been compromised?"
He purses his lips and furrows his brow thoughtfully. "She does play an awful lot of online mahjong." He snaps the Middle-laptop shut and heads back upstairs to the main office. Wendy follows. "Ida, it's been a while since your last diagnostics and anti-virus update, hasn't it? I think you should run some scans, maybe do a defrag while you're at it."
"I don't need a defrag," she says. "I just came out to have a good time and I'm honestly feeling so attacked right now."
The Middleman looks immediately contrite. "I'm sorry, Ida! I don't mean to be a pain in the neck, but it would make me feel better, and make you feel better too if you did it."
"Uh, Boss, that was another internet meme."
"The thing Ida just said." Ida shakes her head and goes back to her mahjong game. Wendy bites back a sigh and does a little thinking. "You said this started this morning? A little while after you received the message from Extreme Aldwyn?"
The Middleman nods.
"Maybe it was infected," Wendy continues. "Last time, they sent nanobots. Maybe this time it's something a little more...insidious."
He nods again, this time with more of his usual firmness of purpose. "Ida, are you infected with weaponized internet memes?"
Well, okay then. Wendy wouldn't have asked flat-out like that, but Ida answers, "Bitch, I might be."
His lips thin. "Ida, you know how I feel about gendered slurs. I really must insist that you disconnect from the internet and search for signs of a Clotharian virus in your systems."
"As if," Ida says. "I'm in UR HEYDAR, corrupting UR data."
Klaxons wail as HQ goes into lockdown mode.
"Run Nakatomi Protocol," the Middleman shouts, hitting the big red button that pops out of the wall before Ida can stop him.
"All your base are belong to me," Ida screams as Wendy and the Middleman dive for the duct in the floor.
In the embiggened vents in Middleman HQ
12:52 PM EST
"Sorry, Tyler, we've just discovered the network's infected with some kind of virus, and the IT department is short-staffed, so I'm not going to be able to make it to lunch this afternoon. It's strictly Cheez-Its and peanut butter at my desk." Wendy leans back against the metal wall of the vent and makes a talky-hand motion at the Middleman. She can hear Lacey's voice in the background saying, "This is so important, Noser."
"All right," Tyler says. "I'll take a rain check. Maybe tonight we can watch Hackers and order in Chinese food instead."
"Sounds great," she says, and hangs up. The Middleman is giving her a disappointed look but she shrugs it off. "It'd be ruder not to call. Especially if the world's going to end in a few hours."
"I suppose that's true," he concedes. "These internet memes are more your area of expertise than mine, Dubbie. What do you suggest we do?"
Wendy grins. "Well, I am aware of all internet memes. What if we used Interrodroid 6000 to distract her and--"
Ida's voice comes over the intercom system. "You are aware that I can hear everything you're saying, right?" She cackles. "Oh wait, I forgot who I was talking to. Such smoke. Very weed. Much high. Wow."
"Hey, I'm not the one talking doge in Comic Sans right now, you bucket of bolts."
"Dubbie, please, she's not herself."
"Are you sure? This is not the first time she's gone crazy and tried to kill us. Maybe all Idas get infected and turn evil in the end."
The Middleman gives her a small, sly smile. "No, Dubbie, evil corrupted Ida is an outlier and shouldn't be counted."
Wendy laughs. "Hey, I have an idea." She pulls out her phone, ready to type it out so Ida can't hear, and then realizes Ida's probably got her phone bugged, too. She reaches into her other pocket and pulls out her notepad and a pen.
1:07 PM EST
Ida is ravaging Interrodroid 6000 for parts when Wendy slips into the room behind her.
"What is she doing?" Wendy whispers.
"Gathering silicon," Ida answers, wheeling around to face her. It's exactly what Wendy wants her to do and it's still spooky as hell. "I crave that mineral." She lunges at Wendy, who retreats.
Wendy signals the Middleman, and he drops out of the ceiling onto Ida's back, and before she can stop him, he hits the emergency off-switch located on the back of her neck. She goes down like a ton of bricks. It's kind of disturbing, actually.
3:07 PM EST
Two hours later, the Middleman straightens up, wipes the sweat off his brow with the back of his hand, and says, "Okay, Dubbie, I think I've scrubbed it all."
"Interrodroid 7000 and I are ready if you haven't," she says, aiming her Middle-gun at Ida's quiescent head.
The Middleman hits the switch again, and Ida powers up. Her eyes pop open (Wendy is unfortunately reminded of Chucky), and she says, "Surprise, bitch. I bet you thought you'd seen the last of me."
Wendy can't help it--she shoots.
"I can haz cheeseburger, Dubbie! You need to have better control than that."
"She was still meming!"
The Middleman nods reluctantly. "I suppose she was."
The doorbell rings, surprising them both.
"I'll go," Wendy says.
The Middleman draws his own Middle-gun. "We'll both go."
The lobby of the Jolly Fats Wehawkin Temp Agency
3:13 PM EST
"No," Wendy says, "we didn't order any pizza." But she pays the guy anyway. All this saving the world and being on top of pop culture references is making her hungry. It's only when she opens the box that she realizes Ida's had the last laugh.
"What's wrong with this pizza, Dubbie? Where's the sauce and the cheese?"
"She ordered none pizza with left beef," Wendy says with an impressed laugh. "Now I've seen everything."
When they return to the main office, a new Ida is there, and it's as if the whole thing had never happened. Still, when she gets a glimpse at what's in the pizza box, there's a pleased glint in her eye.