Jackdory could scarcely contain his excitement as Mally scrambled to complete the cabinet. Unable to bear the wait, he kept springing up to check on progress. The scientist bore these interruptions patiently at first, but with time turning against them, he eventually had to insist Jackdory leave him be so he could get the job done before the party.
After an half-hour that felt to Jackdory like an eternity, the machine was finally completed.
"Here's how it's going to work," Mally began. "I'll open up the cabinet, you go in, and I close the door. I enter this scanner here, which will use my body as a blueprint and connect to the parts of my brain where you reside - linking the abstract to the real world. The DNA sequencer kicks in, and all being well, you step out of the cabinet in a few minutes time in a human body."
"That sounds fantastic!" Jackdory cried happily... but then, he noticed the fear on Mally's face.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"I did say there were risks involved," Mally replied matter-of-factly. "I... I've never tested this machine before. There's... there's always the possibility something could go wrong."
"Well, the process might get interrupted part-way through. You could get trapped between the abstract world and the real world... which will mean you're lost forever. Or, your body may not be built correctly. Any number of things might happen. But you're my best friend, and I'm willing to take the risk to keep my promise. The question is - are you?"
Jackdory hung his head as he took all this into consideration. There really was a lot at stake here. But at the end of the day, humanity was all he'd ever wanted... and even if it came with a price, he was willing to pay it.
Turning to Mally, he nodded.
"I'm ready," he replied confidently. "Let's do this."
With a weak smile, Mally went up to the cabinet, and opened the door, gesturing for Jackdory to enter. As the blue figure did so, Mally closed the door behind him, and looked up at his dearest friend through the glass.
"See you soon," he said.
His hand trembling with a mixture of nerves and excitement, Mally approached the body scanner, pressed a few buttons on an outer touchscreen, and then stepped inside - beginning the process.
Now, there was no going back.
Moments later, within the cabinet, Jackdory fidgeted and sighed as he felt strange, but not unpleasant, sensations flooding through his form. He could feel something changing within him - a metamorphosis taking place, something hazy and immaterial becoming bulkier and more substantial. Sensing his dream was now within reach, he relaxed and enjoyed these feelings - both dreading, and yet unable to wait for, the conclusion of his transformation.
Suddenly, Jackdory sensed a mist forming in front of his eyes. At first, he was concerned he was losing his vision... but as he waved his hands frantically, he found himself slicing through the growing fog. All at once, he realised what was really happening.
Something was wrong. The cabinet was filling with smoke.
"Mally!" Jackdory screamed. "Stop the machine! Get me out of here!"
As Mally turned his head upon hearing the cry, the situation grew far worse. Sparks and crackles of electricity burst forth from the scanner, sending tortuous impulses racing through Mally's body.
Jackdory was powerless to help, stranded in the cabinet and banging on the door desperately as he heard his best friend screaming in agony.
The pain was too much. As Mally felt his knees buckling, he fell forward out of the scanner as everything around him turned black.
"Mally? Mally, wake up!"
As he felt his body being gently shaked, Mally's eyes slowly fluttered open. Blue and peach-coloured blobs hovered before him, slowly merging into a more tangible and familiar form.
"Ja - Jackdory?" he croaked.
The man before him had a perfectly normal skintone. However, his bright blue hair, not to mention his "crazy quilt" style suit, were the telltale signs of his origins. Looking down, Mally noticed that the fabric of his clothes was rumpled beneath the figure's grip. He was a physical being, capable of touch, and his body carried substance and weight.
And his face was beaming.
"You did it, Mally," Jackdory said brightly. "I'm... I'm human."
Mally managed a weak smile in response, before groaning loudly as he shuffled around on the cold laboratory floor.
"Are you all right?" Jackdory asked.
"Yes," groaned Mally. "Yes, I'll be fine."
"Here - I'll help you up."
As Jackdory grabbed Mally's hand, pulling him slowly upwards, Mally couldn't help but be stunned as he felt the grasp of Jackdory's fingers around his. He really had done it. Jackdory was as real and as tangible as any other resident of the Miskin house.
Once Mally was steady on his feet, Jackdory, unable to contain himself, threw his arms around him and hugged him tightly.
"You are a genius - a miracle worker," he cried in phrase. "I will never, ever forget this - what you've done for me. Thank you. Thank you so, so much."
As Mally returned his embrace, Jackdory's eyes slowly fell on the clock above them. Gasping, he broke away from his friend, and stared at it in horror.
It was five to seven.
"The party!" he wailed. "We'll never make it in time!"
"We can still try," Mally said, rushing towards the stairwell, with Jackdory hot on his heels. "And even if we don't, we're still going to be there. Better late than never."
As they raced up the stairs towards the front door, they passed Max - who was relaxing on the sofa, half-watching an action film on TV.
"Goodbye, Mr. Miskin."
"Goodbye to you too."
It wasn't until he heard the front door slam shut that the lightbulb in Max's head went on, and he sat bolt upright in utter confusion.
By the time the lift arrived on the fifth floor of the luxury apartment block, Mally and Jackdory had managed to get some of their breath back following a frantic half-hour run through town. A taxi probably wouldn't have been better, but Mally had absent-mindly left his wallet in the lab, and Jackdory, having only existed in the real world for less than an hour, didn't exactly have stacks of cash in his suit pocket.
As they approached the door of Morgan's flat, heading up a richly-decorated, ruby-coloured corridor, Mally noticed Jackdory had grown very nervous... running his fingers through his hair and smoothing down his lapels.
"Do... do I look OK?" he asked.
"You look fine."
"And Morgan... do - do you think she'll like me?"
"I'm sure she will. You're a great guy."
He paused as a thought occurred to him.
"Just... maybe don't let on about the whole "imaginary friend" thing just yet, OK?" he added hastily. "She might think I hired an actor as a prank, or something. Besides, even if she believed us, the shock might ruin her evening. Give her time to get to know you - we'll cross that bridge later."
As Jackdory nodded in understanding, Mally knocked upon the door. It was answered by a very stern-faced Morgan, who rolled her eyes upon seeing her brother.
"Well, well - look what the cat dragged in."
Noticing Jackdory, her eyes widened in surprise.
"And it looks like he has company. Without my prior agreement, I might add. Ah, well... I guess you'd better come in."
Sighing, she stood aside to let the pair in, and closed the door behind them.
"So - who's this?" she asked Mally, her gaze fixed on the blue-haired stranger.
"This is a friend of mine," came the reply.
"You... you have a friend?" Morgan said, stunned.
"Sure do. Allow me to introduce Ja -"
He stopped himself short as his friend turned to him with a panicked look, and quickly caught on. There was no way he could say "Jackdory Knickerbocker Glory". Morgan would definitely think it was a prank... and it didn't exactly befit someone of new-found human status. Awkwardly, Mally fumbled around in his head for a name.
"'Diamond'," his companion suddenly piped up. "My name is Jack Diamond. And you must be Morgan. You're brother's told me a lot about you."
"All good, I hope?"
"Anyone would think you wouldn't trust me," Mally chirped, grinning.
"Well, Mr. Diamond," Morgan answered, offering her hand, "it's a pleasure to meet you."
Jack took the hand gently, and raised it to his lips for a soft kiss.
Their hostess giggled as Mally clapped a friendly hand on Jack's shoulder. This Diamond fellow was certainly a bit eccentric, but he was kind and friendly. The perfect friend for her older brother.
"Jack's my new lab assistant," he told his sister. "The bosses think having someone around to help me manage things will really help me out when I get too distracted by work. I thought it was best to introduce him, since he's going to be living in one of the guest rooms at home until he gets himself sorted out."
Jack, shocked, stared at him.
"Am I?" he gasped.
"Of course," Mally replied with a smile. "We discussed all this at the interview earlier. You know, the one that overran? Which is why we were late?"
As Jack stared at him, he winked - leading his best friend to grin madly.
My God - he really had thought of everything.
"Oh, yes!" he cried, turning back to Morgan. "I am sorry about that. Mally told me about the party, but I was just so keen to know more about the job, so I kept asking him all these questions. Please don't blame him - the fault's all mine. Here... take this as a token of my apologies."
He reached inside his suit jacket, and produced a red rose. As Morgan took it gratefully, Mally stifled a giggle. That explained why Jack had jumped over the fence into his however-many-greats granddad Mordecai's garden, and why he'd heard a strange rustling sound before he'd re-emerged.
"I... I guess I can forgive you, just this once," Morgan said softly, her fingertips gently brushing the rose's petals thoughtfully. "Let me fix you a drink."
As she walked away, Jack began to follow her - until Mally pulled him back.
"Go easy on the booze," he said. "I want you on your best behaviour around my sister. Besides, you'll need a clear head for work in the morning - you start at 9am sharp."
"Wait... you mean... I really am going to work for you? And live in your house?"
"Of course. You didn't think I was joking, did you? Or that I'd make you real and turf you out? No! You're my best friend. I want to make sure you have a roof over your head and a way to earn a living. Plus,I could always use some help."
Jack quickly wiped his eyes as he felt tears welling up. He didn't want to cry in front of a group of guests - and especially not in front of Morgan.
"Thank you, Mally," he whispered.
"You're welcome. Now go and enjoy yourself."
The rest of the night went swimmingly for Jack. He spent most of the time in the company of Morgan, chatting away about mutual interests, and watching her with fascination as she played the piano for him: her profession being a role in the local orchestra, as well as teaching the odd music lesson.
Subconsciously, Jack even mirrored her when she ate and drank - being careful to switch to soft drinks after the first couple. Although he knew about bodily processes and the facts of life from his time spent alongside Mally in the schoolroom, taste was a new sensation to him, as were the feelings of hunger and thirst.
When Morgan excused herself to go to the bathroom, Jack attempted again to follow - but was stopped and pulled aside by Mally, who firmly reminded him that bathroom time was private, and that his body would tell him when he needed to go himself. Jack understood, and sat back down.
Clearly, being human was going to take some getting used to.
As for Mally himself, he also had a couple of drinks and made small talk with a few of Morgan's friends... but alas, there was no-one there who was like-minded to himself, and who could really relate to his interest in science. Despite being in a room full of people, he suddenly felt more lonely than ever - his best friend currently being utterly devoted to his sister.
Not that he begrudged Jack that. On the contrary - he was very happy for him. And Morgan certainly seemed to be enjoying his company too: sitting very closely beside him on the sofa as they continued to chat eagerly.
He'd done his duty, and had kept his promises to two people he deeply loved and cared for. It was time for him to return to his own raison d'etre: his work.
Finishing off his drink, he headed towards the apartment door.
"Morgan? Jack?" he called. "I'm just off now - I'll see you later."
They didn't respond. As they sat there together, closer than ever, it was becoming apparent that they now only had eyes for each other.
Content, Mally headed out, and walked home. Upon his arrival, he passed his father - who had fallen asleep on the sofa, the TV still blaring - and headed straight for the lab, determined to run some calculations through his computer.
As he typed, his eyes occasionally fell on the cabinet he had constructed. Although it had been built for one reason, Mally had realised early on in the building process that it would be foolish to waste an already constructed machine after the job was done, and that it could easily be re-purposed for something else. As such, it remained the focus of the planned realisation of his newest theory.
He was left undisturbed until 3am, when Jack finally arrived home, and popped his head around the laboratory door to check on his friend - and new boss. There was a large, red, bruise-like mark on his neck. When Mally questioned him about it, he merely burst into a fit of giggles, and raced back upstairs - humming the melody that had played on the stereo when all the other guests had gone home, and he'd shared a slow dance with Morgan.
Shaking his head dismissively, Mally simply carried on working. The fact it was now early morning meant little to him: he would take as much time on his project as he pleased.
After all, when it was done, time would very much be on his side...