Sleeve Sickness


bright_icon.gif swap-kara_icon.gif reeves_icon.gif

Scene Title Sleeve Sickness
Synopsis "Clara Kent" goes on a field trip with her fellow OEI agents to get to the bottom of the body swap.
Date July 6, 2021


The summer sunshine makes the six o’clock hour feel like late afternoon, but the office buildings and shops of the Elmhurst block are closed for the day. No one’s outside to hear the jingle-jangle of a bakery door, nor see three agents step through it onto the Elmhurst street that just yesterday was bustling with the activity of the holiday weekend’s street fair.

While the pop-up canopies, tables, vendors and their wares are gone, there are remnants of the fair to be seen on the street today – flyers still litter the ground, paper cups and plates rattle in the curb from those too lazy to find a trash can.

“… didn’t get to you sooner. We were over in Vermont yesterday,” Reeves is saying. “Davis was just- Davis?”

Agent Bright was, a second ago, happily munching on a giant black-and-white cookie pilfered from the bakery they came through (Reeves sighed heavily and left a five-dollar bill on the counter to pay for it). But now, he staggers against Kara, aka “Clara,” (still in Cesar's body). One hand grasps at the wall for support and his lids flutter. “Oh, boy.”

It's only a little jarring, these sudden transitions from places that shouldn't be linked together but are. Kara does her best with them, and notably keeps her hands to herself as they traverse the inside of the bakery before moving on to the outdoors. If it weren't for Bright being fine just a moment ago, she'd suspect perhaps he was undergoing the same.

Her motion is automatic when Bright loses his sureness of foot, reaching out to put a hand to his arm, ready to provide support if needed. The peer of her eyes as she studies the Agent is somehow less sharp than normal in this other body.

"A bit of instant food poisoning karma?" she asks in Cesar's voice, the joke spoken hardly without the proper inflection to indicate as much. Her head turns to observe the street, looking up and down it for signs of others, and then her attention comes back to Reeves, her concern reflecting in her eyes. "If it helps you feel any better," Kara tells Bright with sympathy, "It felt odd even to me here when I parked the truck yesterday… something in the air. I thought it might've just been the weather, some kind of storm on the horizon, but now…"

Bright pulls his glasses off so he can drag his hands over his face; Reeves deftly plucks them out of his hand before he stabs himself in the eye with one of the temples. “I’m going to grab him some water,” she tells Kara, reaching for the door once again before disappearing within, and not within – the clear glass doors of the bakery reveal an empty shop.

“We had a suspicion, but this, you know, this validates it,” Bright manages through gritted teeth. “We should have come here first, but figured you could use a field trip and it’s not like it takes any more time to-”

Beatrix steps through once more, holding out a bottle of water for Bright, who pats her hand and takes it. “We need to pull in a team to close this area off so the same doesn’t happen to anyone else. We’re lucky it hasn’t, or maybe we just haven’t heard about it.”

Reeves has already pulled out her phone to start typing in a request. Bright takes a sip of water, slips his glasses back on, and blinks over at Kara through a pained squint.

“You could feel something, you were, ah, saying?” he asks.

Could use the field trip is a phrase that gets an involuntary huff of amusement out of Kara. She likes being enclosed in a place without essential freedom to leave as much as the next person, as far as she figures. When Reeves leaves, she stays within arm's reach of Bright, looking over him without hopefully crowding him. Her brow furrows upward. "Suspicion… that…?" She begins to frown, fumbling with her understanding of the man's ability and her own interpretation of what likely happened.

She's not keen on the idea that what happened to her may be something that triggered his senses– and this badly, at that.

When he circles around to question her again, Kara-in-Cesar comes to attention, posture shifting up. "Right," she answers abruptly, coming back to the moment. Her head turns on a swivel, reconstructing what she saw on the street as best she's able. "Like I said, there was a feeling in the air. A build-up of something; half-expected to hear thunder even though it was clear weather. It– almost felt…"

Cesar's attention turns back between the two Agents as Kara recalls more slowly, "Like– buildup. The feeling you get right before you touch something that shocks you. Inciting event went that a dog got loose, charged at someone's pet goat, took down the tent we were all standing by and knocked plenty of us together like bowling pins. We touched one another, and–" One hand lifts, thumb and middle finger sparking a snap. "Only two in the immediate area who were fine were the goat's owner and the attendant helping him with his stand. Tent tipped after the former tried to grab onto it for support when he got knocked into." She looks back to where it all happened at and wonders, "Maybe it did have to do with static build-up. He discharged, and him and the kid were safe as a result, maybe?"

It all comes back to what worries her about Bright's reaction to the very area they're standing in, though. "Are you saying it might not have been a person that did this, so much as…?"

Beatrix glances up now and then as Kara goes over what happened, clearly multitasking even as she makes the request of the office. Bright studies the area, looking down the street one way, then the other.

“Let’s walk,” he decides, and when the British agent gives him a dubious look, he wags a hand at her. “I’ll be fine. Now that, you know, I’m prepared. I can gird my loins, so to speak.” When Reeves’ brows furrow, he puts up his hand as if in surrender. “Sorry, sorry. I forgot, loins is not appropriate to say in mixed company. Such as we are, anyway. My bad, as you young people say.”

When she opens her mouth to speak, he shakes his head. “Agent Kent will accompany me, Agent Reeves,” he declares, then begins to walk, his hands reaching behind himself to clasp behind his back like he’s on a leisurely stroll. “We need to find the perimeter,” he tells Kara, assuming she’s walking with him.

After a few steps, he nods, reaching back into his pocket and comes up with two butterscotch candies, offering one to Kara. “An anomaly. It’s strange it only impacted the non-expressive, but I don’t think it was caused by either of the two expressives in the mix. We could be wrong but… well. This whole area is making my fillings ring like a handbell choir.”

Kara only gives Reeves a sympathetic look as she's waved off, repeatedly. Her mouth firms into a line and she glances back to Bright with a look that's more side-eye than acknowledgement. I'll talk to him, she mouths, and turns on her heel to follow Bright after he takes off. She hopes, silently, that whatever is happening here, it's not some strange selection of her over Reeves given her current body.

When she catches up in only a few short strides, she shakes her head to the offer made to her. "Sir," Kara interject as he tries to carry the conversation on past the interaction he tried to brush off. "You shouldn't brush off your teammate's concern. Just because you can feel that the area's off doesn't mean you should stick your head as deep as possible into it. If you start to falter, I don't even know that it's wise to be within arm's reach of each other in this zone."

Cesar's head dips, chin going down as she glances ahead to the end of the block. "Assuming, of course, it's something ambient rather than driven by a person." To that end, she begins to let her gaze wander to the other windows on the street, as casually as she can at first before those looks become inevitably more pointed given she begins to look up, too.

The sir draws Bright’s brows up and the rictus returns. “You’re probably right, Agent Kent. Still, I’m going to be stubborn and stick my head in as deep as possible, nonetheless, and I’ll rely on you to aide me if need be,” he assures Kara, as he walks on. “I’m likely the only one who’s able to sense where it more or less stops and starts. If I faint, you can say ‘I told you so.’”

He continues to walk, heading down the street, east, and away from where the incident occurred. “SESA hasn’t had any other cases like this since yesterday, which is good news for us. Have you or your fellow, ah, swapees had any side effects other than being in the wrong bodies? Things that aren’t explainable by, you know, young women suddenly in an old man’s body and experiencing heartburn or a young man suddenly in a woman’s body and experiencing…” his hand gestures vaguely. “You know.”

Kara lets out a quiet huff, a ghost of a laugh when given the permission she is. "I would absolutely tell you," she assures him, then lets her gaze fall back streetside and catches up the half-step she's lagged behind. The question regarding experiences is considered for a moment before she begins to shake her head. "Nothing outside some expected dysphoria and adjustment, given the swap. Not heard anyone report headaches or anything else that would draw some concern."

A beat is hardly able to pass before she glances Bright's direction to wonder, "What's going on out in Vermont?"

“I like that about you,” Bright says cheerfully enough, despite the fact he looks like he might vomit out of pain any moment. Suddenly he stops, squinting. “It stops here,” he murmurs, reaching into his blazer pocket to pull out a piece of chalk. Bending down, he marks something an x on the ground.

Straightening, he steps down from the curb to cross the street, pausing to mark another x about halfway, then continuing onto the other sidewalk, where he takes a few steps west and then bends to mark another x.

“The curvature indicates it’s probably bisecting the buildings. Definitely lucky we didn’t get any more Jodie Foster wannabes today,” he notes, before heading up the street, eastward.

“Vermont – oh, a herd of cows went missing. Turned up a mile away. Floating upside down. Some real X-Files stuff,” Bright says. “So. How do we get everyone transmigrated back into their proper bodies, do you suppose?”

Kara's brow tics in– something. Amusement, dismay, she's not even sure. "Oh, how cliche," she remarks of the cows, and lifts one hand to run it back through her hair. It's the strangest feeling, that unexpected experience of being bald instead. She's gotten used to, mostly, the increased sensation of air when moving, but this still surprises her. Her hand moves to the back of her skull, scratching momentarily while her eyes narrow in thought about what they could potentially do to get everyone back in order.

"If I'm right, if we approached our initial triage of the situation wrong and this is… area-based rather than generated by a person, maybe it's a matter of getting us all back here again." She turns to look to Bright, supposing, "And then it's just a matter of setting up another–"

She snaps again, to indicate a recreation of what happened before. "Discharge."

“At least there were no crop circles,” Reeves’ British accent sounds behind them, from where she’s just stepped out of another shop’s door. “It was both a nice change, to not have many humans to deal with, and a little frustrating. Cows make udderly rubbish witnesses, one finds. Rather monosyllabic.”

She smiles, quite pleased with the little joke, but then adds more seriously, “That is an excellent idea, Agent Kent. Sameish time of day, same people… do you think we need the goat and the dog?” she wonders, as they approach the spot that it happened.

Bright’s eyes narrow, as if he’s suddenly been flashed by a bright light, and he glances over at Kara through his squint. “Here?”

Kara returns Reeves' smile, small but sincere at her joke. Rough witness fare indeed, she sympathizes, even if she still is relatively new at all this compared to the other two here. Bright's pained question draws her attention back, and she considers it heavily, trying to give it the weight of thought it's owed despite the inclination to answer quickly. She looks up the street again, trying to remember how the sidewalk felt when it was more crowded, and then considers the same glance back down in the opposite direction. Her eyes lift to the the buildings, remembering the people-watching she'd been engaged in at that moment.

"… Right about, I think," she finally answers with a look back to Bright directly.

A held breath begins to leave her as she considers the situation as a whole. "I hope I'm not putting too much stock into this theory. The thought of this all being triggered by someone's ability, someone who wandered off and we may never find them again…" Kara definitely wasn't kept up for some time last night thinking about this at all. Her tone lifts. "It'd be nice to have a hope of ending up back in my body some time before 2022."

Bright hands the chalk to Reeves, who looks at his face and can see he’s struggling with the sensations that anomalies bring the man, and she bends to make a mark – not an x but a set of concentric circles, like an epicenter marker. It’s a little larger than the x’s Bright made.

“‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,’” quotes Bright. “Which is to say, that you know, objects – or people – when pushed into a state that isn’t natural will try to revert to a state that is.”

He snaps a finger and points at Kara. “I like the idea of getting everyone back here and seeing if that triggers a the reversion. Given the uptick in anomalies of this type – not that we’ve seen this exactly –, it might be an isolated occurrence that doesn’t require anyone’s expressive ability to serve as a catalyst, but getting all the people who were at least in the immediate area, including the big cheese and the little cheese, would probably be wise.”

“And the goat and puppy,” Reeves supplies.

The strange cadence of the quote takes a moment to place before Kara remembers the author, but little more about the poem Bright recalls. She inclines her head to the logic, once again trying not to hope too strongly that the idea will bear fruit. "Even if we end up all swapping persons again, if we prove we could set things up after that to … game the system, so to speak."

Her head turns to regard Reeves as she suggests getting all of the cast back together again, and while Kara isn't sure one hundred percent that will be of true benefit, she can't argue with the logic either. "How quickly do we want to act on this?"

Agent Bright takes a moment to take a swig of water, and Reeves looks around, considering the street. “We’ll need to finish the mapping, then make sure it’s closed off to traffic and business, which is going to take us a few hours, because we don’t know what other things it might do. Honestly, we probably shouldn’t be standing in the midst of it, but, well, here we are, aren’t we.” She sounds rather cheerful, despite being in potentially imminent danger.

“I think we’ll aim for about the same time tomorrow as the incident occurred, if we can gather everyone together again. The important thing is to keep everyone safe and to make sure no one else gets zapped or ends up floating upside down in a neighbor’s orchard,” she continues.

Bright starts walking again, and a few yards away he stoops again, marking the invisible boundary with the x. “Do you feel that same sense of, you know, a storm brewing or whatever you said, Clara?” he asks, looking up at the sky and squinting a bit. “I don’t feel that, but if it only swapped the non-expressive, for some reason, maybe I wouldn’t. How strange – something new for the books, that it only impacted the SLC-N,” he murmurs, as if he’d forgotten he’d asked her a question.

Kara can’t feel that same feeling of pent-up energy ready to spark like she had the other day. But the longer she stands in the epicenter, she senses a wrongness – more so than just that her hands or feet are too large, or that her perspective is skewed slightly from being Cesar’s height instead of her own, a few inches lower. It feels more persistent. What was a slight itch or a dull ache of offness is almost overwhelming here in this place.

“The team’s ready to come through. I’ll meet you back at the bakery,” Reeves says, heading over to cross the street this time, taking the normal route of walking.

Kara remains where she'd been standing, a little off kilter, aware of how being near the center of the phenomenon feels different and trying to qualify it. She misses most of the exchange happening, distracted by the sensation of wrongness. Eventually, she steps away and belatedly answers Bright after Reeves has begun walking away.

"No static like before, at least not now, but if I stand near the center of it all, I feel… wrong. Like the usual discomfort, but on a level of eleven."

She blinks once, twice, flexing Cesar's hands as she looks down at them, trying to seal herself in the present, in this body. She touches her thumb to each fingertip and closes her hands into loose balls. "You ever read Altered Carbon? I did, when I was deployed. It feels… like sleeve sickness." She's not sure if the reference will go over his head, and Kara looks up to clarify, "Just an intense feeling of wrongness to the point of illness."

Bright shakes his head, but reaches out to pat-pat Cesar’s shoulder. “I haven’t, but I imagine it’s a bit of what I feel whenever I’m near something like this,” he says. “Or around someone like you.” His teeth flash in a grin and he puts up both hands. “No offense. The lot of you though – all together earlier? I wasn’t prepared for that. It feels different than when it’s the wrong timeline, though. And time travelers, they feel different, too. Hard to explain, but I imagine you’re feeling what I do, only on an extremely, you know, personal level.”

The older man looks around, squinting toward the front of the street, then back to the bakery. “Why don’t you head on over to meet the team at the bakery, and I’ll finish surveying the area,” he suggests, in a sort of grandfatherly way. “Good job today. Sleeve sickness and all.”

Kara winces visibly and sympathetically when Bright relates to her present state– except it's his everyday. "It's bad enough living in the wrong timeline daily, even without the supernatural sense behind it." For a moment, it seems like she wants to say more, but the specific words fail to come. In the end, she only lets out a tone of agreement.

"I'll keep an eye out for you, make sure those fillings don't rattle their way out of your head," she says before she heads off after Reeves. "Holler beforehand, preferably. As fun as it would be to say 'I told you so'…"

Kara looks back behind her to the other agent with a small grin, and purpose in her step as she prepares to meet the team.

There's something about this, even in her current state, that feels good. The world may be inescapably out of sorts these days, and tackling that problem may turn out to be impossible…

But there's something to be said about being on a team trying to do something about it, instead of waiting alone for the end to come.

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