"Oooo, big mission tonight, you guys excited?" Guybrush and Nelson had stopped by where Eddie and Manny were working to say hi.
After reports of people going brainless overnight had reached the Motherlobe, the two had been tracking the culprit for weeks. They had no idea what he ultimately planned to do with the brains, or why he wanted them in the first place, but either way they'd traced his next move to a warehouse a few hours away. With any luck, they'd catch him in the act and finally bring him in to face justice.
"Hell yeah, man! After tonight we'll finally be able to close this case and move on," Eddie said. "Plus, how hard could it be? It's a sting operation for one guy who doesn't even have any powers. We'll be in and out in no time."
"Let's not get cocky, mijo. He could still have a few tricks up his sleeves, and then we'll spend another month hunting him down again." Manny was reviewing the documentation for the case, including the rundown for the mission tonight.
All intelligence indicated the man wasn't a psychic, he was just a very passionate scientist who'd gotten his hands on some enhanced tools made by those with powers. Judging by the lack of any damage to the victims' heads, one of those items was super sneezing powder. They'd have to be careful.
They'd travel to the warehouse with an extraction team. Eddie and Manny would go in first to neutralize the threat, then the rest of the agents would start collecting the victims, their brains, and any other evidence they could find. Everyone would then return to the Motherlobe, where they would have trained professionals on standby to recranialize those without brains. All in all, it really wasn't that complicated a plan.
They left the Motherlobe at sunset and arrived on site a few hours later, when darkness had fallen over the area. Leaving the extraction team nearby waiting for their signal, the two Psychonauts slipped into the warehouse silently and started creeping through the rooms, keeping an eye out for any unusual activity.
At last, they found him in a large room adjacent to the main storage area. Approaching the door, they could hear several people already droning on about various mindless activities, and a woman was pleading with someone to leave her alone. Too late to stop the scientist, Manny and Eddie heard a strong sneeze followed by a wet thump as the madman claimed another brain.
They kicked the door in just as he was putting it into a large glass jar. There were several others nearby, both empty and full. At least a dozen people were sitting around, tied up and empty-headed.
"Put your hands where we can see them!" Manny demanded. The scientist turned around and the skeleton could see he was wearing a gas mask to avoid any accidents.
"Of course… of course… but why look at my hands, when you could look at this!" He'd pulled a confusion grenade - a real, physical grenade that spewed green clouds of confusion - and charged through an unlocked door on the opposite side of the room. Eddie and Manny drew their mental barriers tighter around themselves and ran after him, stopping for a moment on the other side to clear their heads.
Continuing on into the darkened storage area, the two realized at the same time that the rows upon rows of shelves were too much of a maze to navigate with any accuracy. As one, they agreed to split up in the hopes that they'd have a better chance of finding him. Manny took a left fork, and Eddie took the third one on the right.
Eddie snapped his fingers and brought a small flame to hover above his palm so he could see where he was going. He kept his eyes peeled for movement and other things that didn't belong, like overturned boxes or his target. In the silence, he could hear a soft electric whirring, like someone was running an electric pepper grinder over and over again. He followed the noise two aisles over, then turned a corner. Out of nowhere, the scientist was suddenly in his path and throwing a handful of… sand(?) directly at Eddie's head.
Realizing what was happening too late, Eddie buried his face in the crook of his elbow, but the damage was already done. Terrified, Eddie could feel the dust doing its work; the itch in his nose and throat was intense, and, most disturbingly, he could feel it as his nasal cavity dilated painfully wide to get ready to accommodate his brain. The mad scientist was giggling, approaching Eddie with a jar and waiting expectantly like this would only take a moment.
Eyes wide, shoving past the scientist, he ran.
His sinuses were screaming. Don't sneeze don't sneeze whatever you do don't sneeze-
He was stumbling through the darkened warehouse, trying to put as much distance between himself and the madman he was supposed to be capturing. He just… he just… man, not sneezing SUCKED. He pinched his nostrils together, catching himself before he could give in to the temptation. His diaphragm was spasming, trying its mutinous best to get Eddie to sneeze his brains out all over the floor. He just had to hold out until Manny caught up to them.
He moved past boxes upon boxes, trying to take the most winding and unpredictable path possible to throw off his pursuer.
Finally, rounding an aisle into a dead end among the rows upon rows of stacked shelves, Eddie slid down the wall and sat defensively in the corner. Hiding was his only option now. He could hear the criminal out there, pacing around and looking for him, but with any luck Eddie had lost him. Realizing too late that he'd been focusing too hard on his surroundings, Eddie buried his face in his arms and stifled a sneeze so forceful it gave him a headache. He didn’t know how many more of those he could take; eventually he was going to slip up. Come on, Manny, where are you?
The unsuccessful sneeze hadn't lessened the urge, and Eddie could only hope that his partner found him before he lost his mind.
Creeping down one of the aisles, Manny was keeping his eyes and ears open for any sign of the mad scientist. He had to be around here somewhere, Manny just had to find him and take him out before he could use another of his psychically-enhanced gadgets.
He turned a blind corner before he realized too late how easy it would be to get the drop on him in the darkness. The sound of the electric pepper grinder was followed by a small puff as the sneezing powder clouded the air.
"Ooooh the skeleton now! I lost your partner in the darkness, but hopefully you'll be more entertaining!" The madman was cackling, smugly believing he'd won from behind his gas mask.
Manny ignored the cloud of dust entirely. For one thing, he didn't have a nose to be irritated by the attack, and he'd also stopped 'breathing' as soon as it became apparent this guy was going to try something like this. He didn't know if super sneezing powder could even affect him, but he didn't want to find out.
"That all you got?"
The mad scientist was taken aback; he'd probably never seen someone just shrug off a faceful of sneezing dust before. He'd started to stammer out a response, reaching into his coat for some other weapon or gadget, but Manny was faster. Summoning his scythe, one good strike with the flat of the glowing blue weapon was all it took to knock the guy completely unconscious.
Manny poked him once or twice with the scythe's handle, then cuffed him. He called in the extraction team. Soon, he could hear them storming the building; collecting evidence, the villain's brainless victims, and eventually the criminal himself. Manny followed them back to the area the scientist had set up shop in to supervise the end of the clean up.
Only one thing remained - what had become of his partner? Manny hadn't encountered him in all the time it took him to navigate the maze-like warehouse, and now he was starting to worry. The longer the skeleton waited, the more a creeping suspicion started to come over him. Wanting to be prepared, Manny picked up one of the empty brain jars and went in search of Eddie.
At last, Manny found him curled up and shaking in a remote corner of the warehouse. Approaching cautiously, Manny set his jar down and stood next to the roadie.
"He got you, didn't he." Eddie nodded, his hands locked over his mouth and nose. Manny could hear his carefully measured, shuddery breathing being forced through his fingers.
Manny regarded him for a moment. To have withstood a sneezing powder attack for this long was very impressive, if futile in the end. Still, it was good his brain wasn't lying on the floor in some dusty corner, this would make things simpler when they eventually recranialized him. Eddie's eyes were watering, and if the tracks down his face were any indication, they had been for a while now.
"You know it's gotta come out sooner or later, right?" Eddie couldn't speak, but the look of aggravation he shot Manny through narrowed eyes spoke volumes. Dude, not helping!
This momentary shift in focus was enough of a distraction that Eddie involuntarily geared up for another sneeze. Manny watched as his expression shifted to pure panic, before burying his face further and stifling the powerful convulsion. Concerned, Manny knelt next to him.
"Eddie, you're gonna give yourself a concussion doing that, maybe even bruise ribs. If you have to sneeze, just do it." Eddie's attention on him was much more sporadic, but the look in his eyes was scared and unconvinced.
Sighing, Manny just looked at his frightened partner in sympathy. There was no way around this, but Eddie would fight it for as long as he had to if he thought he could get away with it.
"It's going to take hours to get back to the Motherlobe, mijo, and even then there's not really a way to fix this. Honestly, it's probably better to just get it over with." Manny moved in front of him, to look him in the eyes head on. "Look at me - I'm your partner; I'll keep you safe, I promise."
There was desperation in his eyes now, mixed with just a bit of hope and uncertainty. Clearly, he didn't want to give up control over himself but the idea that he could be released from this torment was very appealing. Eddie was wordlessly pleading with him, still unsure about just letting his brain leave his skull, and Manny didn't need to read his mind to hear what he was trying to ask. The skeleton laid his hand on Eddie's shoulder reassuringly, softly gripping the leather of his vest.
"Really Eddie, it's okay. We got him, and you're gonna be fine. Just relax."
He stared past Manny, wrestling with himself, before squeezing his eyes shut. At last, he came to a decision. Manny moved to the side. Releasing his face, Eddie exhaled, before beginning to breathe deeply; in through his nose, and out through his mouth, faster and faster until finally-
His brain never touched the floor. Manny had caught it gently in one of his glowing blue TK hands, and deftly slipped it into the jar for safekeeping.
"Theeere we go, much better." All the tension had drained out of Eddie's frame, and the relief in his face was clear; he might be brainless now, but at least he wasn't in extreme discomfort anymore.
"Teeveeee…." Eddie's face had become dazed and blank. Drawing a handkerchief, Manny gently cleaned up his face and brushed his bangs out of his eyes.
He then telepathically called over a member of the extraction team to help him move Eddie. He hefted the large jar as the agent settled Eddie's arm around his shoulders, and on the way to the van he and his zombie partner had a rousing discussion about the merits of television and hacky sack.
Despite multiple offers and attempts by the extraction team, the jar had never left Manny's arms. He made a promise; no way was he letting Eddie's brain get mixed in with those of the other victims. When they reached the transports Manny refused to let them put Eddie in the crowded van of brainless civilians. Logically, he knew the members of the extraction team were professionals and would take good care of Eddie. It was also probably more efficient to keep everyone together, babbling in one place and waiting patiently for their brains to return. However, accidents could always happen and Manny didn't want to let his partner's brain or body out of his sight until the infirmary could reunite them.
Eventually he was buckled into the back of the same transport as Manny, sitting across from him and staring unseeingly out the back window. "Teeveeeee…."
This was going to be a long trip home.
Nelson and Guybrush were waiting in the garage, no doubt wanting to be the first to congratulate them for a job well done.
"Heeey, how'd it goooo?" Guybrush had wandered over to the back of the transport, leaning against the doorway and smiling.
"Great. We got him, finally, but," Manny indicated Eddie and the jar he was holding, "we had a little accident."
Nelson hissed in through his teeth in sympathy. "Oooooh no, is he gonna be okay?"
"Ah, he'll be fine," Manny said, "We just gotta put it back in as soon as possible."
"Teeveeee…." Eddie added, insightfully.
Carefully, with Nelson and Guybrush helping to steady him, Eddie and Manny made their way directly to the infirmary. Once or twice, Guybrush asked Eddie a random question about things like his opinion on the latest office gossip or how many coins he thought he could sneak into Elaine's purse before she noticed the sudden influx of pocket change. Every time, he treated Eddie's unthinking response as though he'd said something extremely profound. Nelson was smiling and shaking his head at his partner's antics, and honestly it was helping to lighten the mood, but after he'd asked about the state of Tween Melodic Rap Metalcore in this day and age, Guybrush apparently decided he'd had his fun and let the roadie be.
At last, they walked through the infirmary doors. Many of the other victims were already here, and a nurse directed them toward the area they were receiving patients in. Orderlies helped them settle Eddie onto one of the gurneys, and another nurse started taking down vital signs and tying his hair back in preparation for the procedure.
When she held out her arms for the jar, Manny hesitated for a moment; he'd been safeguarding the container for several hours now, and part of him didn't want to just hand it over. And then the rational part of his mind kicked in and told him this was exactly the person he needed to give it to. Somewhat reluctantly, he relinquished his responsibility to the infirmary staff and let himself be directed toward the waiting area. Watching as they wheeled Eddie off to be recranialized, his last view of his partner's expressionless face still brought him nothing but apprehension.
Nelson and Guybrush kept him company in the waiting room. It was a relief to finally be told that the procedure was a success and Eddie would be perfectly fine.
When they were admitted to the recovery area, Eddie was lying on his back with an arm thrown over his eyes. His hair was still in its ponytail, and if it wasn't for the look on his face Manny would have assumed he was asleep.
"Dizzy?" Manny inquired by way of greeting.
Eddie nodded his head wordlessly. Manny was picking up on something else though… Something more than just mild disorientation. Something like… guilt. Eddie's shields were lowered in the wake of the procedure, and he was radiating his emotions in every direction. Examining the waves closer, Manny could also pick out shame and embarrassment among the broadcasted feelings, and it was more than enough to tell him Eddie felt pretty terrible about the whole incident.
Manny laid his hand on Eddie's free arm, opening his mouth to reassure him, but before he could say anything his partner's composure started to crack. Eddie was shaking, mentally exhausted, and barely holding himself together.
"Hey now, what's all this?"
" 'S my fault…" Eddie whispered. "My fault for getting dusted, my fault for making you deal with him alone… my fault for making you deal with me…"
That was far more open and honest than Manny was expecting. Eddie was probably going to be mortified when he realized how vulnerable he'd just been. Standing near the door, Guybrush and Nelson hadn't heard what he'd said, but they'd realized pretty quickly that Eddie wasn't okay and moved closer to try to help.
"C'mon mijo, none of that. What happened was an accident." Manny gently gripped his bicep. "There's no reason to feel bad about any of this."
"Besides," Guybrush interjected, "now you have a cool story to tell. Manny says you held out for ages. That's pretty cool if you ask me." Nelson was nodding at his partner.
"Plus, what kind of friends would we be if we didn't look after each other when our brains almost got stolen?" Manny punched Guybrush in the arm. That was not helpful.
Rubbing his arm, Guybrush left the floor open to Nelson. "What he's trying to say is, we didn't mind helping you out tonight, and we'd gladly do it again. Don't worry about it."
Eddie didn't respond for a minute or two. Then, he seemed to get some kind of tentative hold on himself, and sat up. Looking at the floor, he said, "Still… I'm sorry. I messed up tonight."
"Yeah," Manny agreed, "you did. But the mission was a success, and you're still in one piece, so I'm gonna count it as a win. And now you'll be more careful in the future."
At this point, they were interrupted by a nurse with discharge paperwork. Eddie was physically fine, and they didn't need to keep him for observation. They needed the recovery room for the next recranialized victim, so Manny took the papers and started filling them out while Eddie finished recomposing himself.
By this time, it was very late at night. As they left the infirmary, the two partnerships said their goodbyes and parted ways. They'd known from the beginning that the mission would probably run long, and so Manny had made plans to stay with Eddie in the dorms instead of finding someone to drive him home to his apartment. As they walked through the quiet halls, Manny could tell that the night's events were still bothering Eddie. And then he got an idea.
"You know, I heard from a pretty reliable source that Sasha had to get recranialized once."
Eddie snorted. "What? No way."
"Yes way! I'm serious. You can ask Raz about it tomorrow if you really want to, and we both know that kid doesn't lie."
The thought of an agent as highly respected as Sasha Nein making a mistake like this seemed to cheer Eddie up a bit, although it was hard to tell if it was the reassurance that even the best agents had missteps or just the image of an empty-headed Sasha that made the difference.
At last they reached the dorms. As Eddie unlocked the door and stepped inside, Manny could tell from his demeanor that his partner was feeling better, at least in some small way. Before they'd gotten too far in, Eddie stopped.
"Thanks." And with that, Eddie headed off to start getting ready for bed.
"Oh, actually Eddie, one last thing?"
Eddie stopped and looked back over his shoulder.