Sidling his way through Contingent HQ, Brad makes his way down to the fifth floor with an air of nervous excitation about him. Things have been on the up and up for him, and following the general success of the previous operation, he’d finally been given the chance to formally join a division of the Contingent. After some not-so-careful consideration, he decided to join Human Resources, specifically as a facilitator. This was partly because it gave him an excuse to see more of Director Mayo, who had strangely captivated him since his first visit to HQ, but also because it gave him a better chance at finding the source of the red eyes that had been haunting him.
More important than any of this, however, is why he’s currently heading to R&D. A few days earlier, he and James had returned from their mission to Madame Alexander’s Doll Museum, Factory, and Hospital with a number of crates containing pristine dolls. Unsure of what to do with them, yet knowing that they were likely related to the omni-limbed monstrosity of a mannequin they had defeated, the two delivered the boxes to R&D for further investigation. Wanting to know more about the dolls themselves, and potentially with some ulterior motives in mind, Brad had decided to pay a visit to Dave as he’d been assigned to the project.
Stepping out of the elevator, Brad wanders past a series of examination rooms, each containing engineers and scientists conducting increasingly mystifying experiments. He eventually finds himself standing outside of a surgical suite, and peering through the window, he sees Dave adorned in a full surgical getup standing over a table with a doll on it. Giving a polite knock before poking his head through the door, Brad gives a hearty smile as he says, “Mind if I interrupt ya for a moment? I got a couple of questions about the uh…assets…that James and I retrieved, and about a few other things.”
Looking away from the tiny plastic figure, Dave turns to Brad, his face partially obscured by a pair of surgical loupes and a face shield. “Oh, Bradley! Yes, hello, um…give me just a minute to wrap this up, and I’ll be right with you. Feel free to have a seat while you wait, though try to avoid touching anything. Cross-contamination is an ever-present adversary!” Dave replies chipperly before refocusing his attention on the doll.
Brad watches with mild bemusement as Dave begins to surgically dismember it, fresh emesis basins resting nearby, ready to receive the bits and pieces. As Dave removes the first arm though, Brad’s bemusement quickly turns to mild horror. Glimpsing the doll’s shoulder socket, he sees an unnatural combination of gears, flesh, and nesting material writhing within before the arm swiftly snaps from Daves’s grasp. Tendons eerily stretch out from the body of the doll, embracing the arm as it begins to reconnect with a series of sickening sounds.
Sighing, Dave sets down his scalpel in exasperation. “That’s the third time it’s done that. Seems like I just can’t find a way to keep that thing separated.” Standing and doffing his surgical equipment, he says, “I could use a break and some coffee, though, so why don’t we take this conversation back to my office?”, before heading for the door.
The two make their way there, Brad taking a seat as Dave begins spooning grounds into a filter. “Dr. Sandoval has had me at this since the two of you dropped them off”, Dave says he fills the coffee maker with water and starts it. Taking a seat across from Brad, he continues, “Surprisingly, though, despite the occasional setback like what you just saw, I’ve managed to make some headway, so I’m happy to share what I can”, a smile replacing his previous exasperation.
Leaning forward in his chair, Brad returns the smile before saying “I guess the easiest question, well, at least to ask I suppose, is what the point of the dolls even is? They were the only pristine thing in that nightmare of a factory. When I fell into a crate of ‘em, they all snapped to look at me, almost like they were alive”, as goosebumps form on his skin as the memory flashes in his mind.
Dave twiddles his thumbs, listening intently before replying. “Well, based upon the notes Chuck gave me, as well as the dolls themselves, it seems they’re essentially supposed to be watchers, but on a smaller scale. They’re like cherubs if that’s an easier interpretation.” Resting a hand under his chin, he continues, “The thing is though, these are sort of a blank slate. They have no purpose beyond what they were built to be, a doll. Now, I’m not sure if I’d be passing these out to my niece or nephew, but they’re pretty harmless…well, unless you take them apart, as you’ve seen.”
“Okay, I think I kinda get it. So the weird little things are made just to watch people? I think that only makes me feel even more creeped out by ‘em. And here I thought cherubs were supposed to be cute little baby angels", Brad responds, a hint of discomfort on his face.
A loud beep sounds through the room as the coffee maker completes its task. Dave stands and produces two mugs from a nearby cabinet, one with a black silhouette of bigfoot and the other with a picture of a proton framed by the words “stay positive!”. He swiftly fills both before setting the bigfoot one in front of Brad along with a bottle of powdered creamer and a bowl of sugar cubes.
Brad pours a healthy portion of creamer into his mug alongside three cubes of sugar, stirring it while saying, “So the next question I’ve got is about another fella that was there with us, a uh, Brad Zaggins. While we were leavin’, he seemed like he was almost…transfixed by the dolls. Like, he was stackin’ ‘em back up and his eyes were doin’ this weird clockwork thing. Any idea what that could be?” Brad says, fidgeting with his mug as he awaits a response.
Placing two sugar cubes in his own mug, Dave stirs it, lost in thought as he mumbles, “So that’s how you like your coffee, good to know.” Realizing he’s said this aloud, he quickly fumbles out a response, remarking “Hmm, oh! I’ve heard of this. Obviously, I haven’t seen Mr. Zaggins, so don’t quote me on this, but he’s most likely Stigmatic. Essentially, when a person…interacts…with a piece of ‘infrastructure’ and lives to tell the tale, they can become more sensitive to it in the future.”
Raising an eyebrow at the coffee remark, Brad replies “Oh okay, so he’s not possessed or anything like that, just easily influenced, gotcha. I just wanted to make sure he wasn’t in any immediate danger, so thanks.” Taking on a more serious air, he continues, “Speakin’ of danger, though, I have one last thing, more on a personal note. I think I mentioned it when you were asking me questions after I ate that mushroom, but I’ve been seein’ these red eyes a lot recently. I don’t really know how best to describe ‘em, but they’re the reddest things I’ve ever seen, and I can’t look away from ‘em when they show up.”
Having recovered from his momentary embarrassment, Dave takes a long sip from his mug and presses forward, replying, “Red eyes? Hmm, there are quite a lot of phenomena with red eyes. Really red is a new data point, though. I can do some digging, but this may call for field research. If you can think of anything that happens in conjunction with the red eyes, or where you were when the first occurred, it might help me narrow it down.”
Thinking over the words, Brad responds, “Yeah, both times I’ve seen ‘em, whatever they’re attached to has been flyin’. Like the first time, the time in real life, I was catching a cab back from JFK with Nathan, and the thing they were a part of looked about the size of a drone or a helicopter. It was huge. During my vision, it was pretty similar, but that time it was keeping pace with a whole ass plane. I dunno if that’s ‘cause it was like a dream or somethin’, but it was really unnerving.”
At the mention of this, Dave’s eyes narrow slightly. He starts saying, “Huh…you know what it sort of reminds me of? Those stories of Mothman. You know, big flying thing with red eyes? But that’s in West Virginia I thought, why would that be in New York?”, before his words trail off into muttering. Catching himself, he turns back towards Brad and says “Sorry, that just sent my gears turning. That’s all I’ve got off the top of my head, though, but I’ll update you if anything else comes to mind.”
Their conversation seemingly concluded, Brad stands and starts heading for the door, saying, “I appreciate all the help, Dave. It means a lot.”
Standing and collecting the mugs in turn, Dave replies, “Yeah, of course, it’s what R&D is for after all. Well, one of the things it’s for, at least. But feel free to send along any other questions that come up, I’m always happy to help.”
Pausing at the threshold Brad turns around and gives Dave a sideways look before saying, “Actually, I do have one more question for ya. I figure I owe you a drink from the last time we did this, and I’m not sure what time you get off, but uh…why don’t we get dinner together? I know a good Greek place nearby; my treat for the string of questions”, with a half-grin.
Setting the mugs down and leaning back against his desk, Dave coolly looks Brad up and down. “I suppose Dr. Sandoval wouldn’t be too upset if I call out for the rest of the day. I have been working a lot of overtime after all.” Donning a facetiously contemplative expression, he continues, “And I suppose it would be rude to say no since you’re so graciously offering to pay. Hmm, I’ll tell you what. Give me 15 minutes and I’ll meet you in the call center. I’ll try not to keep you waiting”, returning Brad’s grin.
Doing his best to contain his excitement, Brad stutters out, “Great, yeah, awesome, 15 minutes then”, before eagerly making his way towards the elevator.
As it rises to the top floor, he reflects on how different his life has been over the past several months in between thoughts of his encroaching date. From Angie finding him on the night of the zombie attack to Nathan risking his life to save he and Dr. Cartwright to the showdown with the mannequin at the doll factory, everything has been more exciting. Not necessarily enjoyable, but definitely exciting. More important to Brad, though, is that it feels like he’s really contributing to something greater than himself. Having seen what the Contingent is capable of, the understanding that he can contribute to it, even if in a small way, stirs a sense of pride within him.
As the ding of the elevator arriving at its destination interrupts his thoughts, that pride evolves into a modicum of contentment as he enters the call center, the first he’s felt in longer than he can recall. Taking a seat in the waiting room of the call center, Brad starts to count the minutes as he awaits his tryst with Dave, giving himself a moment to appreciate the resurgence of this feeling.