2011 Yuletide Gift for Smercy
My Yuletide friend's first choice was Aquaman from Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Our choices intersected at the Middleman, which was my first choice, but my Yuletide recipient's fourth. I thought I'd watch the Aquaman episodes of the series and try a semi-crossover, treating Aquaman's adventures in The Brave and the Bold as animated stories based upon the actions of a real person. The Brave and the Bold episode which inspired this is Season 2, Episode 4: Aquaman's Outrageous Adventure. Also noted: I am not making up the part about why some people claim whales get beached, nor the dance to put the world back in place. Truth is stranger than fiction. Spoilers: For Middleman, this takes place after the Doomsday Armageddon Apocalypse.
THE COOPERATIVE CETACEAN EXTRICATION
The illegal sublet Wendy shares with another young, photogenic artist
Oh-dark thirty a.m.
Wendy Watson trudged down the steps from her loft, homing in on the scent of coffee. The Middleman's ETA was four minutes, thirty-seven seconds. With luck, she could slug down her first dose of caffeine and be ready to meet him with ten seconds to spare.
"Off to solve exotic problems?" asked Lacey.
Wendy's sleep-sludgy brain managed to process the fact that there was something off about her roommate's tone, but not just what. She poured herself a cup of coffee and took the first reviving sip.
"Yeah, another day, another temp-related emergency." Boss had been vague on the details, but a call at this hour of the morning was never good news. "What are you doing up so early?"
Her roommate tossed what looked like a wad of tied-together weeds into the box on her bed. "Nothing exotic enough for you to worry about, DubDub, don't worry."
The first wave of caffeine shock troops reached Wendy's brain and slapped it awake. Lacey sounded hurt. More facts ground slowly through her mental gears, and she groaned. "Oh, [bleep], Lace, the candlelight vigil for the whale last night. I totally forgot. I'm so sorry."
"Not a problem." Every line of Lacey's posture was stiff and brittle.
"Yes, it is a problem. I didn't mean to let you down. We had a job that required a lot of overtime, and I was so tired I just came home and fell into bed."
"Hey, I know the line by now. The boss calls, and you go. I told you once before, I've moved some of my eggs out of my DubDub basket." Lacey threw more bundles of weeds into the box and added a pair of fair trade, cruelty-free, scented soy candles. "I've learned to expect you when I see you."
Wendy glanced from her watch to her coffee to her roommate. Console Lacey or get the rest of her fix? Friendship won out, but only just. She put her cup down and gave Lacey a hug. Lacey sniffled and hugged her back.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't get upset at you, DubDub. I know it's not your fault your boss has no concept of a personal life. It's just this poor whale must be suicidal. He's been swimming around the inlet for days now, and we're afraid he's going to get beached. We've done a circle and sent him positive thoughts and sung whale songs to encourage him. Nothing's working. I just don't want him to die."
Whale songs? Wendy was so not asking about that one. "Tell you what, Lace, if I get off work on time, can I come to what you guys are doing today instead?"
"You'd do that?" Lacey brightened. "We could really use some more people to help us with our ritual to put the world back in balance."
"To do what?"
"We've got an animal psychologist whose says her great-great grandfather or something used to be a shaman." Lacey frowned. "Or was it a spirit dancer? I forget. Anyway, she says the whale's not going back out to sea because it's depressed and because the world's off balance. We're all bringing cleansing smudges of mugwort and lavender and she's teaching us a dance that'll help nudge the world back in place. If we can do that, maybe the whale will cheer up, turn around and go back out to sea and won't get beached."
Too bad she couldn't get Lacey to explain this to Ida, Wendy thought. The fireworks show from the Paranoid Android simultaneously blowing all her logic circuits would be spectacular.
Always three miles under the speed limit
"Outstanding work, Dubbie." The Middleman patted her shoulder. "A perfect Stoning the Butterflies throw. That alien didn't know what hit him."
"Thanks." Wendy slouched in her seat, digging her toes into the carpet.
"Is everything all right? You've seemed a little pensive today."
"I've got an exotic problem I wish we could solve, is all."
The Middleman raised his eyebrows. "What might that be, Dubbie?"
"A whale that's about to get beached over on East Inlet. Lacey and her whale rescue group have been trying to get it to turn around and go back out to sea. I'm supposed to go help them do some kind of balancing ritual today, but it's not going to be anything more than an aerobic workout. I think Lace knows it, too. She was almost crying when I left." Wendy sighed. "I was supposed to go to some vigil thing they were doing last night, but we were so busy I completely forgot about it. It's like the fifth or sixth time I've had to blow off something recently because of work, and I know she's getting upset about it. I just wish I could kind of say I'm sorry by getting the whale to go back out to sea or something, you know?"
To her surprise, when she looked up, the Middleman was smiling. "I think we can solve this one, Dubbie, and make two friends happy at the same time."
"What, do we have whale Prozac darts in our arsenal or something?"
"Better." He raised his voice. "Ida?"
The android's sour visage filled the car's monitor screen. "On it already, Boss. Who knew the stoner's hippie friends would be useful? Fish Boy's been bugging me for the last week, wanting to know if there's something he could help us with. Maybe this'll get him out of my hair for a while. He says he'll meet you at the Seaquarium near East Inlet, but stay out of sight. He's got to run some evasion maneuvers before he can come help you."
A Center of Watery Adventure and Great Popcorn Shrimp
Bait and Switch Time
"So who's our contact?" Wendy asked.
"Him." The Middleman nodded to a an immense blond man staring into a nearby tank. Though he wasn't speaking, he was gesturing at a group of fish in the tank as if in animated one-sided conversation. His behavior was earning him a number of wary looks from passersby, which he seemed not to notice.
"I'm really going to regret asking this, but why is that guy talking to the fish, Boss?"
"I'm sure they spoke to him first, and it's rude to ignore anyone who's speaking to you, Dubbie, be they fish, fowl or human." The Middleman shrugged. "In his case, I imagine it's a touch of noblesse oblige as well."
Some days, Wendy thought, there wasn't enough caffeine in the world to make her job make sense. "We're asking advice from a guy who thinks he's a fish whisperer?"
"Can you think of someone better to ask for assistance with a beached whale?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe someone who actually has a grip on reality instead of hanging from the edge of it by his fingernails?"
"Trust me, Dubbie, he's no faux fishmongering Freud. Perhaps this little goodwill mission will reap some unexpected training rewards. It occurs to me you've met few of our business contacts outside of our immediate consultants." He raised his voice. "Arthur? It is I, the Middleman."
The giant jerked away from the tank, a broad grin splitting his bearded face. Nutcase or not, Wendy thought, he was good-looking in a Thor-on-steroids kind of way. Next to him, Boss almost looked small, no mean feat. Maybe if she introduced him to Lacey, she could induce Lacey to dump Perfect (or as Wendy preferred to think of him, Perfectly Annoying) Warren. Lacey would be all over someone who thought he could talk to fish, and that would keep her from hanging out with the primate liberationists again. Since the monkey poop incident with Spanky the Gorilla, Wendy didn't even like Curious George anymore.
"My formal uniformed friend!" the big man bellowed. "A pleasure as always." He grabbed the Middleman's hand and shook it, then followed the gesture with a slap to the back that almost made Boss stagger. Wendy blinked, wishing she could see what would happen if this guy took on Sensei Ping. Whoa. "And who is this lovely young seaflower with you, old chum?"
The Middleman surreptitiously flexed his hand. "Arthur, I'd like to introduce you to my partner, Wendy Watson. Wendy, this is Arthur Curry."
Wendy recovered from the still-unaccustomed glow of pleasure at being called partner instead of trainee just in time to do a double take as the man's name registered. "Wait, Arthur Curry? The Arthur Curry? As in Aq—"
"Ssh!" Arthur peered around the room and leaned towards Wendy, his voice lowering to a mere sonic boom. "I'm traveling incognito."
Wendy eyed the somewhat scaly-looking, tight orange top stretched over six miles of chest and decided not to comment. "Nice to meet you. I didn't know what I'd read about you was real."
Arthur's face lit. "A fan of my adventures?"
Somehow, Wendy didn't think it was wise to admit she preferred Superman and the Flash. "Ah—"
"Let me tell you about some others, then. Those stories and shows, they leave out so much, of course. So much action, so little time! I'm particularly fond of one adventure which they simply couldn't do justice to on the screen. I call it Aquaman's Outrageous Aquanautics. It all started with –"
"Not to interrupt you, Arthur," the Middleman cut in, "but you did mention to Ida that you had a time crunch, right?"
Wendy shot her boss a look of gratitude.
"Ah, yes." The giant cleared his throat, looking guilty. "I'm traveling with my wife and son this week. We're on vacation."
Wife and son? It figured. Wendy mentally relegated her getting-rid-of-Warren plan to the recycle bin.
"Vacation?" the Middleman asked. "Why have you been calling Ida and asking if we needed help if you've been on vacation?"
"Have you ever spent an hour and a half examining the world's biggest ball of postage stamps? Or toured the Museum of Cheese?" Arthur asked plaintively. "All that surface dweller leisure gets boring very quickly, old chum. I crave adventure! Excitement! Something to keep my superheroing skills sharp!"
"We've got just the thing for you, then."
Arthur rubbed his hands together in anticipation. "You have to foil a dastardly plot by aliens to take over the world?"
"No, we –"
"Need to destroy a supervillain's machine to alter reality?"
"That's so last month," Wendy said under her breath. The Middleman shot her a warning look.
"No, we have a whale who seems about to beach himself, and we hoped you might be able to help him."
"Oh." Arthur deflated. "Well, it's a worthy cause, if not quite the skull-crushing crimefighting I was hoping for. Lead on to the denizen of my domain." He whacked Wendy on the back. "And just for you, my petite plankton, I'll tell you about the time I foiled my nemesis, Black Manta, from destroying Atlantis. I call it, The Time Aquaman Kept Black Manta from Destroying Atlantis."
Wendy wheezed. "Catchy."
"I've got Mera and Arthur Junior signed up for a tour over at the Museum of String. Let me make sure they've started it, and I'll catch up with you. Let's move with porpoise!" He sprinted off through the crowd.
Wendy would have groaned if her lungs had been functioning. "He didn't just say –"
"I suggest we move quickly, Dubbie."
Wendy noticed the Middleman was still flexing his hand and grimacing. "Can you drive? That's a wicked handshake."
"That's nothing. You should see his left hook," the Middleman deadpanned.
Wendy glared at him.
Site of Off Balance World Dance and Fish Anti-Depression Ritual
Wendy had no trouble spotting Lacey when they arrived. Her friend and the rest of her group were by the water's edge, jumping up and down and waving lit smudge sticks.
"Blessed Beluga!" Arthur exclaimed. "What are those people doing out there?"
"I'm guessing that's supposed to be their ritual to sending positive thoughts to the whale so it won't be depressed and commit suicide by beaching itself. Oh, and the world's out of balance, and jumping up and down's supposed to nudge it back where it's supposed to be." At Arthur's incredulous look, Wendy shrugged. "Don't look at me, Captain Ahab. I don't make the news, I just report it."
"Outrageous! I'm sure that whale's being there is just a fluke." Arthur cracked his knuckles. "I'll just go see what's wrong."
He charged out into the surf and swam up to the whale. As Wendy watched, he did more animated hand-gestures and touched his temples. The whale spouted, putting out all the smudges, drenching the vigil group and splattering Wendy. The Middleman, of course, was untouched.
Grumbling, Wendy stole her boss's handkerchief and mopped off her hair and uniform. As she finished, Arthur put his hands against the whale's side and gave it what appeared to be a small shove. The whale shot back ten feet in the water and emitted a long, low bloorg before submerging. There was a moment of stunned silence from the crowd, then wild cheering.
"Wow," said Wendy, impressed in spite of herself. "You know, I really thought we were going to have to go out and help him or something."
"I may be a former squid, but I'm still only human, Dubbie," said the Middleman. "Part of the job is knowing when to call in the experts."
"Yeah, but you do all right." She nudged him. "Thanks, Boss. That's going to make Lace's week." She hesitated. "You want me to tell her you were behind this?"
"No need, Dubbie." He smiled. "Just balancing the scales for you, that's all."
"So help me, Boss, any more fish puns and I'll –"
"That does it!" Arthur bellowed, splashing up to them. "My subject's seaweed has been saved."
"Wow, you talked him out of his depression that fast?" Wendy asked.
"What depression?" Arthur frowned. "He just needed directions. Wandered away from his pod, got into an area with no GPS and got lost."
"Wait." Wendy held up a hand to stop him. "Whales have GPS?"
"Grouper Positioning Song."
"Of course." With difficulty, Wendy managed not to smack the heel of her hand into her head. "Next thing you'll tell me is that you had to get the Jaws of Life to get him out of there."
The men stared at her blankly. Wendy sighed. "Get it? Jaws, as in the...never mind."
"Arthur!" shrilled a feminine voice. "What are you doing?"
Arthur jumped. On the cliffs over the point, a tall, striking woman stood, arms folded, beside a large Winnebago. She radiated annoyance.
"Ah- coming, Mera, my auburn-tressed anemone!" Arthur called, then added in an aside to Wendy and the Middleman, "Neptune's Beard! That tour must have wrapped up early. Let me talk to her."
The Middleman glanced over Wendy's shoulder. "I think I'll go with him," he said as Arthur charged up the hill to his wife. "Perhaps a few diplomatic words can save our friend a household hullaballoo."
Wendy followed the direction of the glance to see Lacey. Her roommate beamed and hugged her.
"Hey, DubDub! You came! Did you see that? That was awesome! Who was that guy, anyway? "
"Too bad. He's kinda hot." Lacey sighed. "All the best ones get caught so fast."
Smiling, Wendy looked up at the Middleman, who was talking earnestly to Mera. "I don't know about that, Lace. I think there're plenty of fish in the sea."