Heart rate: 46 beats per minute.
Blood pressure: 120/70.
Blood composition: normal.
All monitored body systems working within normal parameters.
Heart rate spike: 59 beats per minute. Warning: adrenalin response. Body systems working within safe parameters.
-What's happening? Am I dreaming?-
Full consciousness achieved, heart rate 65 beats per minute.
Jaime couldn't see anything. He tried to open his eyes. No response. He... felt... somebody move in front of him. The person quickly pulled themselves upright in bed and then sat very, very still.
Silence. Then, his own voice whispered back, "Jaime Reyes?"
That was... interesting.
-What's happening? Who are you?-
"You call me 'Scarab'."
-And what's... –
"I do not know." The person... the Scarab... moved about, seemed to be rubbing his own arms and legs. Jaime felt his adrenalin surge higher.
-Wait a minute. Don't tell me we've... oh, no. Nono, this is bad.-
"Indeed. I appear to be in control of your functions and you of mine."
-There is no way that this will end well! And I can't see a thing!-
"Yes, you can. You must access the... you must..." Jaime felt the Scarab shake his head. "It does not have a word in either of your languages. There is a function for it among your monitoring systems."
Jaime poked around with the monitoring systems a bit. He could measure the concentration of seventeen hormones and hundreds of trace toxins in his blood. He could measure blood pressure, pulse, breathing, and voluntary and involuntary nerve responses. He could diagnose common infections, read bone and muscle density... suddenly, the world lit up and Jaime was staring at a picture of his own bedroom wall. The image wasn't good quality; it was fairly grainy, with the peripheral vision in black and white and barely distinguishable.
-I got it. Why is the quality so bad?-
"That depends what you are looking at. You are probably accessing an image that has gone through very little processing. The image you are used to is heavily edited by your own mind. You should be able to access that too."
Jaime poked around until the wall looked pretty much as he remembered. -Okay.-
"We must resolve this issue as quickly as possible."
-Yeah. What caused it?-
"I am uncertain. Most likely our fight with the magician."
-Klarion? Mierda. I hate magic! Can you fix it?-
"Unlikely. I do not have access to my diagnostics and control systems and you do not know how to properly utilise them. Besides which, I doubt that my systems are equipped to handle this type of problem."
-We'll need help, then. The Team or the League.-
"Negative. Our vulnerable state cannot be known. It would put us in danger."
-No, being in this 'vulnerable state' puts us in danger. Getting some help from our allies gets us out of danger.-
"And do you have any allies that you can trust enough to divulge such information to, Jaime Reyes?"
The Scarab shook his... Jaime's... head. "It is too great a risk. We should attempt to resolve this ourselves."
There was a knock on the door. "Jaime?" Jaime's mother called. "Are you up?"
Jaime felt a strange tingle. Familiar, but... inverted. He fought back. -Are you trying to summon the sonic cannon?-
"Our condition cannot become known."
-I'm not going to let you kill my mother!-
"Jaime, you have school in half an hour."
-Tell her you're sick!-
"That ruse will be ineffective!"
"I'm sick!" the Scarab called.
A pause. Then his mother walked into the room. "You haven't been sick since you became Blue Beetle," she said. "What's going on?"
The tingle again. Jaime fought against it. The Scarab instead bunched his hand into a fist.
-No! You will not hit my Mum! Calm down and repeat exactly what I say.-
Reluctantly, the Scarab relaxed his hand and parroted Jaime's words. "I'm having some... problems... with the armour today. It's not responding properly and I'm worried about hurting someone or blowing my cover."
His mother raised an eyebrow. "Huh. You know, I bet I'm the only mother in El Paso to have ever heard that excuse. How long do you think it's going to be a problem?"
"Hopefully not very long."
"Well, alright. I'll stay out of your way, miho, but don't let your grades slip."
"I won't. Love you."
"You too." She kissed him on the forehead and left. Jaime detected minor chemical changes in the Scarab's bloodstream. Not dangerous. The Scarab sat very still, staring after her, then slowly reached up to run the spot where she'd kissed him.
"I told you the ruse would be ineffective," the Scarab muttered.
-Yeah, well, you also wanted to kill her, so I'm not listening to you. No weapons for you until you stop trying to kill family members. And whatever you do don't tell her the details of what's happened. She would freak out.-
"I am not the one intending to advertise our vulnerability."
-Well, the longer we sit here, the more vulnerable we are.-
"Agreed." The Scarab stood up, wobbled for a second on his feet, and Jaime felt a different kind of tingle. This time he let the Scarab have his way, synthesising fabric around his body. Together, they snuck around his mother, successfully avoiding a second conversation, only to be stopped my Milagro in the front doorway.
"Are you gonna walk with me to school today, Jaime?"
"I... can't," the Scarab parrotted Jaime's words. "I have stuff to do."
Milagro narrowed her eyes. "Stuff?"
"You know. Hero stuff. I'll tell you all about it later."
"Oh. Okay. Good luck!" She trotted off happily.
"I assume you are not actually going to tell her the truth later," the Scarab muttered quietly.
-No, I'll make something up. Or knowing our luck, tell her about a totally true but unrelated thing happening today.- They walked a few blocks away from the house and armoured up. -We're not zeta-ing?-
"It is difficult to know the effects that zeta teleportation are likely to have on our current condition," the Scarab explained as they took flight.
"Our armour has successfully protected you at the bottom of the ocean, it is capable of a cross-country trip."
-That's not what I'm worried about. I'm worried... about that, right there. Exactly that.- Jaime would have sighed if he still had lungs. Below them, a few young men had cornered a middle-aged woman. They seemed to be trying to take her purse. She was trying to stare them down. Jaime had no doubts about his ability to resolve the situation. He just had doubts about the Scarab's ability to resolve the situation.
"It is not important. We have a higher priority problem on our hands."
-No, we... we need to get down there. She needs help.-
"I do not understand why that is relevant."
-You wouldn't. But it is. We need to help her.-
"Very well. Scan for concealed weapons or technology."
Jaime poked around a bit and found that function. The men all had switchblades, but otherwise carried nothing more dangerous than a mobile phone. The Scarab landed and summoned the sonic cannon. Jaime found the blueprints and built it around his forearm.
"I thought you said no weapons?" the Scarab asked as he aimed.
-No killing!- Jaime dragged the power level down to nonfatal levels. The Scarab fired, pushing a sonic beam into the gut of the nearest thug, then pulled the cannon to the side to take out the other two. It only took about three seconds. Then he turned, aimed at the first man again who was curled up on the ground. He'd forgotten about the switchblade, now lying by his head – it wouldn't have hurt Blue Beetle anyway. Jaime started to disassemble the cannon. The Scarab fought. Took aim.
Jaime had fought the Scarab for control before, but usually from the other side. He wasn't sure if he could win as the Scarab. He pulled, willing the cannon to disintegrate, the metal to fragment and pack away into the armour. It didn't. Slowly, he felt his control over the power slipping.
-Wait. No killing! He's already down!-
"We have fought this one before. He will continue to cause problems. We cannot afford these distractions." They struggled further. "If you insist on resisting me, I will simply use his knife to save time."
-You think I can't take control of this armour?-
"That is exactly what I think. You are inexperienced and now, I have the advantage."
-I said no killing!-
"In case you did not notice, Jaime Reyes, making that decision is no longer your role."
Jaime felt his control slip further. The man at the Scarab's feet was starting to recover. He looked up, into the barrel of the sonic cannon. Slowly but surely, the power level increased.
-You'll give us away!-
-Blue Beetle doesn't kill, right? If you start leaving a trail of bodies, people will know something's up. Our enemies will figure out that we're vulnerable. We don't know how long this'll take to fix; we can't afford suspicion.-
Scarab glanced from the man on the ground to his companions, who were trying to get up and run, and then to the terrified woman. "You make a good point," he muttered, and put the cannon away. "I will attempt to emulate your strategies for secrecy." Louder, he said, "Do you need me to walk you home, ma'am?"
"N... no. No, I'm fine. Thanks." The woman clutched her bag and all but ran out of the alley.
"So who, exactly, are we requesting assistance from?" the Scarab asked when they were once more in the air.
-A magic-user. Zatanna, perhaps? Or Dr Fate?-
"The Nabu is more likely to have knowledge specific to this problem, given the perpetrator," the Scarab reasoned. "But may be difficult to contact without alerting the entire League."
-Yeah, this is... a problem I'd rather keep to ourselves as much as possible. Maybe Nightwing or M'Gann would know how to contact him. They both have pretty strong League ties.-
"I do not trust the Nightwing. He is... secretive."
-You don't trust anyone. And you're secretive. What about M'Gann?-
"I would prefer to avoid mind-readers in our current state."
-Nightwing it is.-
The Scarab activated their communicator. "Blue Beetle to base. Is Nightwing around?"
"Right here. Go ahead, Beetle."
"I'm approaching the base now. Can we talk? Privately?"
A long pause. "I'll meet you in the foyer."
The building that the Team had co-opted as temporary headquarters since the loss of the Cave was large and usually felt unnaturally empty. With just Nightwing waiting in the foyer, it felt doubly so. As the Scarab strode across the room towards Nightwing, Jaime went to put the armour away. The Scarab resisted. "We may need to defend ourselves," he muttered.
-No, if you walk over to him and tell him who you are armoured-up you're gonna look hostile,- Jaime insisted. -We don't need a fight with our allies right now.-
"We cannot trust him not to attack."
-We need his help, remember? And we want to keep this secret?-
"Very well." The Scarab let him put the suit away. Nightwing smiled and walked over. Without really thinking about it, Jaime scanned his vital signs as he approached; heart rate and blood composition were inconsistent with his relaxed persona.
"Hey, Blue. What's up?" Voice pattern was inconsistent with body language. Nightwing was hiding something. Possibly just stress at their unusual request, but the Scarab had been warning him for some time that Nightwing had secrets...
"Who else is here?" the Scarab asked.
Nightwing casually placed one hand on his hip. Slight blood pressure spike. Atypical arm orientation. He was positioning himself so that a weapon was within easy reach. Jaime fought down his immediate reaction to armour up against the inevitable attack. The Scarab didn't seem to notice.
"Just Mal," Nightwing answered in a voice that probably sounded sincerely relaxed to human ears. "But he can't hear us, obviously."
That, the Scarab did notice. He glanced briefly at the security camera to their left.
-Please don't start a fight,- Jaime pleaded.
The Scarab turned his head to that the camera couldn't catch his lips and said, "We have a problem."
"What is it, Jaime?"
"I am not Jaime."
Nightwing adjusted his stance. Toes forward, easy to spring from. His heartbeat suddenly slowed. He was going into combat mode. "What do you mean, exactly?"
"I am the artificial intelligence bonded to Jaime Reyes. We appear to have encountered... magical trouble." He paused a second. "Jaime wishes for me to tell you that we have a 'body swap scenario'."
"So... you, an artificial intelligence, is in control of Jaime's body. And Jaime is... inside the Scarab?"
"That appears to be the case. We would prefer to keep this as secret as possible."
"And how, exactly, did this happen?"
"We believe that it resulted from an encounter with the one called Klarion, but it is impossible to establish cause with certainty."
"Klarion." The disgust in Nightwing's voice was sincere.
"We believe that Dr Fate may be able to help us, but we do not wish to alert the Justice League at large."
Nightwing nodded. "I'll try to contact him."
-Say thank you,- Jaime prompted.
"No problem." Nightwing, Jaime noticed, didn't take his hand too far from his belt until he was out of the room.
-That was... unexpectedly diplomatic.-
"I attempted to gain his cooperation with the minimum amount of debate."
-You did well.-
"I imitated you."
Back in the hurriedly assembled temporary ops centre, Nightwing was talking to Mal. "Hey, how much do you know about Jaime's Scarab's artificial intelligence?"
"It has an artificial intelligence?" Mal's eyes widened. "I thought he was talking to himself this whole time!"
"What's wrong with it? Can I help?"
"I doubt it." Nightwing bit his lip. Keep it secret, the AI had said. Nightwing was good at keeping secrets.
The question was which secrets should be kept.