This, Jimmy Brodes thought miserably to himself, was really bad.
Like, so bad. Like, worse than he even imagined that getting fired would be, which – until recently – had been up there in his list of top fears. Now, however, it barely even made the list.
His fingers trembling, Brodes ran through that list again. Jameson Brodes’ Top Ten Emotions of the Moment – all fears, as usual – included:
#3, dying in a hail of gunfire as a dozen guards failed to collapse bonelessly from his attempted karate chops to their necks and instead pulled their very lethal assault rifles on him.
#6, he didn’t actually know when to pull the cord on his parachute, but only realized this after jumping out of the plane. Hell, this parachute didn’t even have a cord at all! And here came the ground, very very fast…
#7, a beautiful femme fatale seduced him, only to betray him as he lay, sweaty and exhausted, in the tangled sheets after they’d consummated their shared passion together.
Actually, Brodes admitted, that last one wouldn’t be quite so bad. At least he’d get laid before he got killed.
Still, death seemed very imminent. And to think, they’d told him that it was just a testing exercise!
He’d been on the brink of getting fired, even before this. He knew that, could see it in the way that his boss just shook his head at him when he arrived late, coffee stain evident on his wrinkled shirt. His reports had always been sloppy, but at least he got the right intel…
But as of late, all he could think about was Karen, how she left him sitting on his – their – couch, stunned and alone.
“It’s just not working out; you’re not the man that a woman really wants,” she said softly, sadly, before leaving the apartment that, until a week ago, they’d shared together.
Not the man that a woman really wants. Maybe that was why he couldn’t focus on his work. Sure, it was cool to work for the CIA, but doing analysis, sitting at a computer while big, swarthy men like Jameson Bryce, the best damn secret agent to walk the hallowed halls, went out and put themselves in the line of fire, using their incredible skills to keep America safe.
So when his boss’s boss – the very head of the CIA himself, Allen Swan – came to their floor and asked for a volunteer for a top secret mission, Brodes’ hand surprised everyone, including its owner.
“Are you sure, Jimmy?” his boss, Kyle, asked. No one had to strain to hear the skepticism in that tone.
Brodes glared back at his boss. “Yes, I am sure,” he said, although he didn’t know it until the words left his mouth.
But Allen Swan just nodded. “Right initials,” he murmured, although Brodes wasn’t sure what this meant. All he knew was that he needed to shave his head, report to a subdivision that he didn’t know existed until now, and do his best to clear his mind.
Whatever that meant. Brodes spent most of the night before this ‘experimental procedure’ fearing that they’d somehow scramble his brain so that he popped an obvious boner whenever a barista sneered at him.
But when Brodes arrived, the elevator accepting his thumb print and carrying him deep into the earth, a technician immediately stuck him with a needle. Brodes started at the prick, but didn’t panic quite as much as he normally might.
Instead, he giggled, and let the technician lay him down on a bed. The bed had wheels! Brodes giggled as they scooted through a building all in white, moving into a white room full of men in white suits, machines – and another bed.
And on that bed, a man lay dying.
Brodes could barely see the other figure – bandages covered him almost head to toe, and dozens of tubes snaked into his body. But he knew, from the rasping, shallow breaths, that the other man was dying.
For some reason, this was incredibly funny.
Brodes giggled and snorted as men in white, puffy suits poked him, moved him about, pressed cold metal things against his head, and then placed a plastic cup over his mouth, at which point he fell asleep.
When he next woke up, Allen Swan, as well as a short man with thick spectacles and crazy white hair, were both staring at him. He was in a different room, with a window, and a large horsefly buzzed in slow circles.
“Yes?” Brodes asked, feeling like his mouth was full of cotton.
“Jameson? Jameson, is that you?” the short mad-scientist-looking man asked, his voice deep and bubbly.
“Uh,” Brodes began, but then Allen Swan gave a short little cutting gesture with his hand, and Brodes shut up.
“Listen up, Jameson, or whoever happens to be inside that head right now,” Swan snapped. “The deal is this – you’re in a different body. Your cover was blown when the terrorists caught you lifting a sample of the fissile material, and you barely escaped with your life. We found some schmuck in our analysis division and Dr. Partridge here, with questionable success and methods, swapped your brain into his body.”
“What about his brain?” Brodes asked, confused. Or was it his brain? My brain? That fly’s buzzing cut into his head. His eyes roamed down, noting that he was still in a hospital bed, that a tray of scalpels and other surgical implements still stood near him.
Swan gave a shrug. “Your body passed away a few minutes after the procedure finished, so he won’t be filing any sort of ethics complaints.” He chuckled, dryly, and Partridge gave a clearly fake laugh.
“Anyway,” Swan continued, “we need you to go back in. With this new face, you’ll be anonymous – and although it should take some time for the nerves of this body to adjust to your levels of skill, it will return, Dr. Partridge assures me. Get on your feet, get acquainted with this new skin. You’ll be sent out in 48 hours.”
And with that, Swan turned and stalked out of the room. The fly buzzed in the air current left behind, and then resumed banging itself against the far window.
Brodes watched him go, the giggles fading quickly from his system. Instead, dread, fear like never before, crept in to take its place. He definitely wasn’t Jameson Bryce. He was still regular old, dull, not the man that women wanted Jimmy Brodes, and he was going to be sent out into-
Dr. Partridge still stood there, peering at him like a senile pigeon might inspect an off-color kernel of corn. Brodes looked at him, fear and dread clear on his face.
“It didn’t work, did it?” Dr. Partridge asked, although the tone of his voice indicated that he already knew the answer.
Brodes slowly shook his head.
Partridge sighed. “I thought as much. Swan rushed the whole thing. It wasn’t ready. And Bryce’s wave-form signal died halfway through the attempted transition. Some of him might have made its way in there, but not enough.”
“But if we tell him, he’ll kill me!” Brodes burst out.
Without much surprise or fear for him, Partridge nodded. “Probably.”
“But I don’t want to die!” The words came out of Brodes like a wail, and he felt panic rising inside of him. “God, they didn’t even tell me what I was volunteering for! I just wanted to do something because Karen left me, and I was alone, and they were going to fire me-”
Partridge tried to interject a couple of times, but Brodes felt panic seizing him, now, fully in control. He waved his arms around, his fingers snatching up one of those scalpels from the tray beside him. “This is all bullshit! I’m not Jameson, not some secret agent, I’m just an analyst! I can’t do anything!”
“Jameson, just take a breath-” Partridge tried to cut in.
“I’m. Not. Jameson!” Brodes took one last breath, and then, the buzzing of the fly sawing into his brain, let out a scream. “And shut that damn fly up, I can’t stand it!!”
His fingers twisted, and he felt the scalpel jump away.
A moment later, from behind closed eyelids, Brodes realized that he heard silence. Partridge wasn’t speaking.
And the fly had stopped buzzing.
Slowly, still fearing what he might see, Brodes opened his eyes.
Partridge still stood there, but his wide-eyed stare wasn’t focused on Brodes. Instead, the crazy-haired scientist stared at the horsefly, lying on the far windowsill.
The horsefly lay, dead and impaled on the flung scalpel.
Brodes’ eyes moved over to Partridge, who finally, awestruck, looked back. “Well, I’ll be damned,” the man whispered, his voice barely audible. “Something did make it over, after all.”
“What’s happening-” Brodes choked out, but Partridge had already moved, snatching up his chart from the foot of his bed. He scrawled something on it, glancing up at Brodes and reading aloud as he wrote.
“Patient’s skills seem to have become latent, less conscious,” he said slowly as he wrote. “Recommend intensive training regimen before deployment to recover conscious control. Partridge.”
He slipped the chart back into the tray at the foot of Brodes’ bed. “Good luck,” he told Brodes, and then gave him a bawdy, obvious wink!
And then, Partridge left the room, as Brodes tried to think, tried to reconcile his top ten fears with that dead horsefly on the far side of the room.
He reached over and grabbed another scalpel. For a terrified moment, he thought of using it on himself, ending this before it turned into one of those fears in his head.
His fingers trembled. And then, with a flick, the scalpel leapt like a fish, sailing across the room to stick perfectly in the far wall.
And then, for the very first time, Brodes found something else on his Top Ten Emotions of the Moment.
Hope. Wild, crazy, insane hope.