“So what’s the deal with this one?” Wendy asked as the Middleplane zoomed them over beautiful Pacific Northwest scenery too fast to appreciate it. Actually, it kind of looked like abstract blobs with bands of color that Wendy did appreciate, but it was hard to make abstract art out of abstract images. Too much abstraction was bad for abstract-art making.
Seriously. It made sense if you thought about it.
“Deal? There’s no deal with this one,” the Middleman replied.
He was so totally lying. Wendy could tell. Sure, he was wearing his typical uniform, complete with typical slicked-back hairstyle, but he looked neater than usual. Like he’d dressed up, except for the part where he was wearing the same outfit.
“Sure, lie to your teammate,” Wendy said, shaking her head. “And then when the mad scientists suck out my brain with a vacuum-powered pump, you’ll scream, ‘why, oh why didn’t I tell Wendy the deal?’ just like Kirk in Wrath of Khan. But it’ll be too late.”
“Kirk merely screamed Khan’s name in the classic scene you reference,” the Middleman said. “Besides, nobody in Eureka will remove your brain with a vacuum powered pump. Well, perhaps Fargo, but they also have the ability to…never mind, Dub-Dub. I assure you, there is no deal.”
“You’ve been here before?” Wendy asked.
“It’s a town of cutting-edge governments sponsored by the US government,” the Middleman said with his totally aggravating calm in the face of wacky situations. “What do you think?”
“Oh, so you’re a regular,” Wendy said, rolling her eyes as expressively as she could manage just as the plane touched down. “I bet this’ll be fun.”
“Resistance to finding joy in the line of duty is the refuge of a closed mind, Dub-Dub,” the Middleman said. “Who knows? You might find a kindred spirit here in…oh, cracker-jack.”
It was raining flowers. Beautiful, golden, pink, and purple flowers that were shooting rainbows out of their petals. Before being pulled back into the Middleplane and handed a gas mask, Wendy even thought she’d seen little pots of gold at the ends of those rainbows.
“Why do you hate flowers and rainbows, MM?” Wendy asked with a raised eyebrow. “Did a leprechaun beat you up one time?”
The Middleman was not impressed. “Don’t be sarcastic for the sake of scoring points, Dub-Dub. Clearly, the images we saw were the result of hallucinogens. Now breathe deeply so the face masks can neutralize any chemicals we may have been exposed to.”
“You saw the flowers with rainbows shooting out of them with the little pots of gold, didn’t you?” Wendy asked. He grimaced, and then nodded. “We saw the same thing, right?”
“Perhaps the hallucinogen is programmed to make those affected by it see the same thing,” the Middleman countered.
“That’s not how they work,” Wendy said. “Or so I have heard.”
“Hush, Dubby, my mask has just informed me it is safe to proceed,” the Middleman said. “When yours does the same, follow with caution.”
“Or the flowers with the rainbows shooting out of them might hurt me, right?” Wendy quipped.
“That they might,” the Middleman said, striding out into the sunlight just as Wendy’s mask announced in a chipper voice, “Hostile air filtered. You are now free to leave the Middleplane.”
“Well?” Wendy asked, stepping into the fray. “Ew. I kind of hate that you’re right about this one.”
The rainbow-and-gold-shooting flowers appeared not to be so much flowers as gross little doohickeys with laser beams emerging from them, buzzing together and reminding Wendy way too much of tentacle monsters.
“Subliminal generators,” the Middleman said with an air of total satisfaction. “Processed through the olfactory sensor directly into the brain.”
“That is so twisted,” Wendy said.
“But with many wonderful commercial applications,” the Middleman replied as Wendy took pleasure in crunchy the nasty doohickeys under her boots when she could. “Imagine a perfume that let you see the world as a land of unicorns and smiles.”
“Or made everything look like maggot-eaten corpses full of plague,” said Wendy with apocalyptic calm.
“I did mention once or twice that the government funds the town, did I not, Dubby?” the Middleman asked in a voice that implied Wendy was ruining his fun, and obviously, the point was to create the bad, military-industrial applications just as much as the ice-cream crapping taco applications and anyone could mention the bad ideas.
“Do you think the townspeople are being affected by the tentacle monster generators?” Wendy asked, by way of overture.
“As the answer is, most certainly, the more pressing question for us is, are these subliminal generators intelligent?” the Middleman asked. “For example, if a whiff made us see flowers and rainbows, what could they make us look like if we’re thwarting a plan?”
Wendy almost snapped on the Middleman, because damn it, why could he never mention the risks before they got out of the Middleplane? “By the way, Dub-Dub, subliminal generator worms have infected the townsfolk, so they may think you’re a 12-foot-tall zombie werewolf!” would be totally fair warning.
“No comeback?” he asked.
“All my comebacks to this are obvious and angry,” said Wendy. “I can wait until the local librarian brains you with a copy of Atlas Shrugged to laugh.”
However, it appeared most of the town was locked up tight in their houses while the subliminal generators rained down upon them, and even the crunching was getting boring now. Wendy was really looking forward to some action; mad scientists, frightened local law enforcement…
Large raft-looking dealy rolling down the middle of the street, staffed by a lady in a plague suit holding a really big gun.
A hot lady in a containment suit, who immediately made the Middleman perk up. Oh. So she was the deal. At least the Middleman wasn’t all excited over the idea of fighting possibly intelligent subliminal generators. At least, not only excited by that.
“Pete Tyler, EPA,” said the hot lady. “I’ve been wondering when you’d get here.”
“Detective Lupo, what a surprise,” the Middleman said with a brilliant smile. “I see you have a problem with subliminal generators that work via the olfactory nerve. This is my junior partner, Watson.”
Detective Lupo gave Wendy the once over, and held out a hand. “They don’t just work via the olfactory nerve, unfortunately,” she said as she helped them into the raft. “But the good news is that they’re not intelligent. They’re botnetted — some obnoxious kid trying to impress Global and his girlfriend, we think.”
“Hence the flower-rainbows with gold,” Wendy said. “They were kind of cool. I’d dig them if my boyfriend was trying to impress me.”
Lupo shrugged. “Maybe the first ten thousand times some punk kid tries it,” she said diffidently. “So what have you been up to, Pete? Besides training Watson here, of course.”
“The usual,” the Middleman said. “Protecting the world. Fighting evil polluters.”
“We recently prevented a major polluter from raining fire on us,” Wendy added, wondering why she was trying to impress the detective in the containment suit. So MM like, liked her. It meant that he wasn’t necessarily so into Lacey that he’d make a pass at her, and that was only to the good.
“Raining fire? Wow,” said Lupo. “That’s never fun.”
“No, sir, it is not,” Wendy said, wanting to slap herself. There was NO REASON for her to start sounding like her boss. Especially not in front of the hot girl who clearly dug right back on him. “So you were saying the generators work even when you can’t sniff ’em?”
“Skin absorption. Slower, but harder to fight,” Lupo said. “So I would probably get inside the raft before you two start seeing the pretty flowers again. We’ll decontaminate you once we get to Sarah.”
“Sarah? Oh, honestly, Jo-Jo, she’s a dreadful nag,” the Middleman protested. “Must we set up camp there?”
“Sarah is the only one good at keeping all the generators out. Global, as usual, is a sieve,” Detective Lupo… Jojo?… replied. “Into the raft. Both of you!”
They were in the raft in short order, and the Middleman was gazing at Jojo Lupo as if she were made of milk and candy. Wendy was getting a toothache from the syrupy looks, even.
“Who the heck is Sarah, anyway?” Wendy asked.
“You’ll see,” Lupo said. “All right, boys, let’s get these two to decon, stat.”
Wendy just had time to glimpse the two suit-clad assistants driving the raft before it zoomed into overdrive. She gave the Middleman a very, very dirty look.
“You could think of masks, but not suits?” she asked. “What sort of EPA expert are you, huh, Pete?”
“One who can see pretty, pretty colors, Dubby,” the Middleman replied, holding up his hand and shaking it back and forther. Wendy felt cheated: if he was seeing tracers, why wasn’t she? “Jo-Jo, these are potent little buggers, aren’t they?”
“‘Fraid so,” Detective Lupo replied with a little smile. “How about you, Watson? Seeing the colors yet?”
“No,” said Wendy, crossly.
“You will,” Lupo said. “Don’t worry. You will.”