It’s been a strange, strange day at Vegas outpost.
They’re just now getting word in from the rest of the area; Reno’s down but Carson held out against the Chinese, just like they did. But Jack doubts any private at Carson pulled a brilliant plan out of his ass at the last moment. At least when he saved the unit’s collective rear end, he had three years’ experience and a lifetime of listening to his gut on his side.
He’s got a bad feeling about this.
The private in question’s got himself quite a fan club now; in a way, it’s only to be expected after that bit of military genius, but it makes it that much harder for Jack to ask the kid a few questions. But he does notice something unusual - something that’s still there in the mess the next morning, when the fan club hasn’t really convened yet, so he takes the chance.
“That’s a nice pair of sunglasses, Johnson,” he says. “Where did you get them?”
Johnson doesn’t salute, barely pulls himself to attention - and he’s not someone Jack knows well enough to let that slide. “What’s it to you, Sarge?”
“Maybe I want a pair of my own. At any rate, I can’t help wondering why you’re wearing them in the mess if you had the good sense to remove your cover. Indulge me.”
Jack sighs; he hates having to be the hard-ass, he really does, but it looks like this is one of those times it’ll be the only thing that gets through. “‘I found them, sir,’ Marine,” he corrects. “Where did you find them?”
“In the office when I disembarked. Sir.” The ‘sir’ smacks of extreme reluctance, and Johnson barrels on, “Anyway, once I got out in the light and needed them yesterday, I figured out what we needed to do.”
“That you did, but one good strategy does not make you God’s gift to the Marine Corps. You’ll do well to remember that. Now, take off your sunglasses, Marine, you’re indoors.”
Johnson takes off the sunglasses, and the second he does, a funny thing happens; he goes a bit pale, and pulls himself to attention properly. “I’m sorry, sir. Don’t know what came over me, sir.”
“At ease,” Jack says, frowning at the sunglasses - not that he knows how it would even be possible, but he thinks they’re what came over the kid. “Apology accepted, Marine. Go about your breakfast.”
He goes about his own breakfast, and forgets all about the encounter until two years later, when a black woman materialises in his apartment, thanks him for his help in tracking down General MacArthur’s sunglasses, and offers him a job now that he’s done with his enlistment.
Rebecca can’t help thinking of what this must look like to the townspeople they’ve talked to so far; two white government agents getting into a predominantly black community’s business rarely ends well for the community, after all. She’s still not sure why Gus couldn’t come along on this particular case, or someone else who might put the locals more at ease on first glance.
But he couldn’t, and the Artifact still needs finding, so here they are, suffering through muggy heat that has Rebecca determined never to move to Alabama. Jack ran off half an hour ago, probably chasing one of his damned ‘vibes,’ leaving Rebecca to keep the local doctor’s six-year-old daughter company. Elizabeth’s a sweet girl, and very proud of what her mother’s doing; she says she wants to be a doctor herself, though whether that’s earnest ambition or a little girl idolising her mother is impossible to say.
“Mama helps people,” Elizabeth says, swinging her feet off the edge of her chair. “Last winter a lot of people got sick and the other doctor wouldn’t take any colored patients, but Mama took care of everybody and got a lot of people better.”
Rebecca smiles. “That’s wonderful. Do you remember what happened?”
“A lot of people had fevers. I don’t remember what Mama said they all had, but she stayed up all night with a lot of people to get them better. Most of them couldn’t pay her much for it but she said that was okay.”
“She’s losing money hand over fist, in fact,” Jack says, making them both jump.
Rebecca turns to glare at him. “Would it kill you to knock when - what on earth is that?”
“Oh, this old thing?” Jack holds up an out-of-fashion woman’s jacket, done in a very loud plaid, with one gloved hand. “I think it’s the Artifact.”
Elizabeth gasps. “That’s Mama’s jacket! You can’t have Mama’s jacket! She says it helps her help people!”
“It’s also keeping her from making any money off her practice. Not that she’s seeing much of that anyway, but--”
“Jack, shut up.” Rebecca sighs, trying to figure out how to put this to Elizabeth so that she’ll understand. “It’s not that we don’t want your mama to help people, Elizabeth,” she says. “We do, but we also want her to have the best chance she can at making things better for her own family. I know it’s very hard for her to do that, but - you said she’s been a doctor for a long time, right?”
Elizabeth nods. “Long as I can remember. She bought the jacket two years ago and then found out it helped her.”
“Then I think she’ll keep helping people without it. In some cases, she might not be quite as good, but she loves her job, so she’s not going to stop. It’s good that she’s helping people, but it’s not good that she’s using this to help her.”
“And I just talked to her about it,” Jack adds. “She said we can take it with us when we go.”
“Oh.” Elizabeth looks at the floor for a long moment, then says, “As long as Mama knows.”
After they leave what passes for Elizabeth’s mother’s office, Rebecca says, “Do we have a story to match the jacket yet, or not?”
“Charlie said Phyllis thinks it’s Mary Seacole’s riding habit.”
“That’s what I said, Becks.” Jack unlocks his trunk, pulls the can of neutralizer out, and dunks the jacket; after they’re through ducking away from the sparks, he adds, “She was a nurse from Jamaica. Apparently, when Florence Nightingale wouldn’t take her to Crimea, she paid her own way.”
“I see.” And, for perhaps the first time since she took this job, she can almost see how it adds up - except for one thing. “Then how on earth did her riding habit end up for sale in Alabama?”
“No idea. Isn’t it great?”
Rebecca sighs. “There are other adjectives that spring to mind first.”
“How are we supposed to get a door back to the Warehouse, anyway?” Rebecca says, eyeing the door in question.
Jack shrugs, and pulls a screwdriver out of his jacket pocket. “Well, for a start, we’re going to have to take it off the frame.” Fortunately, he follows the screwdriver with a pair of gloves; the last thing they need is a door falling on someone because of its Artifact properties affecting the person taking it down.
“Still, that thing is far too big to fit into your car, and I’m not even sure we can lift it once you’ve got it down. In case you weren’t aware, they built doors to last quite a long time in the seventeenth century.”
“Believe me, Becks, I noticed. I didn’t think they built their doors to do this, though.”
Rebecca shrugs. “I’m not sure a door driving people to throw the nearest Catholic authority out a window really surprises me, at this point. In fact, in some ways, it makes more sense than some other things we’ve dealt with - if you open the door every time you go through it, the effect has time to build up.”
“Maybe, but I think I prefer the hats. They at least don’t need dismantling first. What did Phyllis have to say about where this thing’s from?”
“As you would know if you’d listened to the conversation--”
“Well, excuse me for trying to save the Archbishop of Hartford from an untimely three-story drop--”
“--the door originally led to the room where the Second Defenestration of Prague occurred.”
Jack drops the screwdriver; Rebecca counts her blessings that he’d started with the bottom hinge. “Second defenestration?”
“That’s what she said, between being highly amused that it ended up in her hometown.”
Jack shakes his head, and picks up the screwdriver before standing to work on the top hinge. “Who knew the Czech had a thing for throwing people out windows?”
“I certainly didn’t. But we still haven’t solved the problem of how we’re going to get a door from Connecticut to South Dakota.”
“Mrs. Frederic will think of something, Becks. Don’t get your panties in a twist.”
“The state of my undergarments is absolutely none of your business, Agent Secord,” Rebecca says, trying to pack as much venom into the words as she would into a proper glare, if he were looking at her.
Becks clears her throat for what feels like the fifth time since they left the preschool. Jack is doing his best not to have a bad feeling about that - they have a case to get to the bottom of, one with a lot of sick kids to boot, and he can’t do that without her.
Besides, he only just got her to admit she likes him. He can’t lose her yet.
“There’s absolutely no pattern to this,” she says. “Yes, five children are in the hospital, but none of their family members got sick after they brought it home, and non-contagious tuberculosis just doesn’t add up.”
“That just means there is a pattern, but it’s not medical,” Jack counters. “The illness is part of the Artifact, and once we snag it, the kids should all be fine.”
“Well, obviously, but what would a preschool even have that would cause this? Who was famous and died of tuberculosis?”
“I don’t know. Seems like everyone was dropping dead of it in the Victorian era.”
Becks clears her throat again. “Everyone was dying of everything in the Victorian era, Jack, that’s hardly basis for a lead. If this were an opera house, I’d wonder if something from La Boheme got into the mix, but that’s rather unlikely with four-year-olds.”
“Not to mention, these kids aren’t exactly singing arias.”
Becks laughs, but it turns into a nasty-sounding cough that makes Jack think he should have let himself have a bad feeling about it - and when she pulls her hands away from her mouth, they both stare at the blood on her gloves.
“Shit,” Jack says, before all but shoving Becks into the car and speeding her to the hospital; he’s just got her in to see someone in the ER, and is trying to settle down in the waiting room with a cigarette, when the Farnsworth buzzes.
“Phyl, thank God,” he says, after answering the call. “Tell me you have something good. Becks is down for the count.”
Phyllis frowns. “Oh, no. Did she get hurt?”
“She got the mystery consumption. Just - tell me you have something.”
“I do, actually. Was she playing with the children while you were at the preschool?”
“What kind of question is that?” Jack says around his cigarette. “You know how Becks is with kids, of course she was.”
“Then I recommend you get back to that school as quickly as possible and see if they have any of these around.” Phyllis holds a picture of some wooden toy soldiers up to the Farnsworth screen. “The Bronte family owned them; the story goes they’re what really got the children’s imaginations going.”
“No, don’t tell me, at least one of them died of tuberculosis.”
“Try all six of them, assuming the disease killed Charlotte rather than pregnancy complications. Please, go see if the school has them, and quickly - I don’t know how long we’ll have before the children who came down with it first...”
“Got it. Thanks.” Jack snaps the Farnsworth shut - under the circumstances, he’s sure Phyllis will forgive him - and heads back to the preschool.
Turns out not only does the school have the wooden soldiers, they’re some of the most popular toys in the place; the first kids to get sick were the ones who got to them first and played with them the most often. The teachers are sad to see something that fired up the kids’ imaginations so much go, but enough of them survived things like scarlet fever themselves or have relatives who did to understand that toys can be carriers, just like anything else.
Jack feels a little better after he gets the soldiers bagged, but he doesn’t truly relax until he gets back to the hospital and finds Becks waiting in the lobby.
“You could have told me you had a lead,” she says, without so much as a trace of a cough.
Jack grins. “You would’ve done the same thing to me and you know it.”
Honestly, this sort of thing is why Rebecca sometimes thinks both partners in a team having a Farnsworth would be a good idea. She knows the equipment isn’t there for it, not if they have to call the desk girls via Charlie, and she knows that even if they did have that luxury, there’d be no guarantee that Jack would be in any position to respond. But as she has no other way to get in touch with him when they split up, the thought’s crossed her mind more than once.
And it’s times like these, when she only has a vague idea of where he was headed and half of Augusta seems to have turned into a briar patch, that she really wishes it were possible.
She eyes the briars that she’s sure weren’t in front of their hotel when they got there for a few moments, frowning. She can’t Tesla them, not without running the risk of setting the building on fire, and she doesn’t have the equipment to cut them all down.
On the other hand, if their mysterious appearance is tied to the Artifact they’re hunting - and she’d bet her bottom dollar that it is - the neutralizer just might do the trick. She’ll have to be very careful in that approach; Gus sent them out with a new bag that he thinks can contain Artifacts, but even he wasn’t sure if it would work. If she uses all the neutralizer trying to get to the Artifact and the static bag fails, they’ll be in a world of trouble.
Fortunately, a small, well-placed splash of neutralizer makes the briars part like the Red Sea. With that, Rebecca heads into the hotel, only to find everyone fast asleep. That clinches it; the spindle’s in here somewhere.
“Jack?” she calls again, though she suspects it’s a bit useless; if this thing is strong enough to take down everyone in the building, he’s likely been affected as well, if he’s there. Still, she has nothing else to go on, so seeing if he’s somehow stayed awake seems like a good place to start.
He doesn’t respond, but she does find him in short order - in their room, static bag in one hand and spindle in the other, which is also sporting a nasty-looking scratch.
“I keep telling you to put your gloves on before you go trying to handle the Artifact,” she says, before taking her own advice and grabbing the static bag. She checks Jack’s hand for splinters first, as much to make sure she bags the whole spindle as because she doesn’t want to hear him complaining about it when he wakes up; when she finds nothing, she picks up the spindle and drops it in the bag.
The bag starts sparking almost immediately; she closes her eyes and takes that as a good sign. Before too long, sounds of life from the rest of the hotel filter into the room - but when Rebecca opens her eyes, Jack’s still asleep, though the scratch on his hand is healing.
Rebecca sighs. “You have got to be kidding me,” she says to herself, then leans down to kiss him - but Jack responds far too quickly to have actually been asleep, so she pulls back and slaps him.
“Jeez, Becks, what was that for?” he says, sitting up and rubbing his cheek.
“I was worried about you, you idiot. Besides, you know you don’t have to play games to get me to kiss you.”
“I couldn’t resist an opportunity like that. Besides, I thought we were milking this thing for all it’s worth?”
Rebecca rolls her eyes, but she can’t hold back a fond smile. “That doesn’t mean you impressed me, dear.”