DATE: 08/11/18 LOCATION: L-14 "The Field", general research halls ASSET: Dr. Cody Redd, A-Class-D, location head of research EQUIPMENT: ACF-255 "Redd Medal"; 16.9 oz bottle Mountain Dew: Code Red; clipboard of notes; red pen [gift from Leviathan] PURPOSE: Daily Research Overview, part 32/?
The Mountain Dew wasn't going to cut it today. Cody could feel it in his aching feet. He still had it anyway, something that had started as a joke here at L-14 when someone bought him a case of it, and then it eventually turned into a weird signature over the years. Then again everything had become weird over the years, and the weird just had to be classified into normal-weird and anomaly-weird and sometimes just out-of-the-ordinary. Everything got classified these days, too, and that was more important than ever right now.
L-14 was taking spillover from Level-1 locations. Risky-Class anomalies that had needed less specific protocols but were no less security risks, researchers that needed a lab to resume their work since theirs had been destroyed, all that crap. That wasn't a redactable expletive. Paperwork was going to be important, and Cody didn't want to put one more ounce of effort into paperwork than he absolutely had to.
None of that was even touching on the anomalies that had been lost. The sudden vacancies that Level-1 location Riskies were going into had come from somewhere. There were some anomalies that were higher priority from others, although everyone had different priorities. ACF-390-A was gone, for example. And while that was very low on Cody's list, someone was going to be sorely missing her. And Cody was doing his very best to avoid that somebody by mingling with the other researchers under the premise of doing audits and overviews. There was a lot of research being done here, after all, and it wasn't being done where it belonged, so obviously that person would be more worried about security than whatever all this was.
His achy feet found their way down a hall into the part of the location that was still, mercifully, dedicated to Household-class objects. He hadn't spent much time here yet, making sure that all the higher-level researchers had made themselves comfortable. Most of his researchers were here, and he hadn't had much time to say hi to any familiar faces besides Isaac, who'd been just as busy as he was. For his current circumstances it was the best he could ask for.
A handful of conversations, the bottle of soda, and most of a second can that someone had found for him later, and he'd taken a decent chunk out of the work to be done here. He had notes on his paper, because that was what researchers did, even ones who were heads of locations, and it seemed to be going swimmingly. Most of the research hadn't even been paused after the Breach, since Household-class objects obviously couldn't go very far.
With one significant exception.
Kallie Juniper Reed was in lab 17 with a clock that always displayed "relevant" movie titles instead of the time. Cody wished he could remember the number, but he'd been cramming too much into his head. He remembered interning with Dr. Reed, who'd been one of the people excited to hear he was staying with the Foundation as a researcher. She'd always been supportive, and had a good heart, even though some of her interns could be trouble. She was also very big on paperwork, and Intern Redd had learned the hard way about the Foundation's standards of paperwork to follow. He'd managed to reach some of the standards, except with ACF-255, which he'd always kept updated. With that in mind he scribbled a quick note in the crammed handwriting he'd adapted at L-7, and stepped in. Since then her hair hadn't lost its partial grey, nor her face lost the gentle touch.
He'd changed a bit, though. He'd grown his hair out - not long, but enough to not quite be out of Foundation standards. He'd also finally managed to get a bit of a beard started, although now it just looked like the result of days of being much too busy to shave. His ID badge now read R-Class-D instead of B. And now, technically if he really wanted to be a jerk, he could dictate what research she got done and what paperwork needed to be run where.
Not that he'd ever do that. He'd always liked Dr. Reed.
"Hey, Dr. Reed," by way of announcement as he stepped through the door. "Just checking in on how the research is going. How've you been?"
DATE: 8/11/18 LOCATION: L-14 ASSETS: ACF-7823-A, ACF-9001 “Uncookable” EQUIPMENT: Two notepads, two ballpoint pens, a lighter, a toaster, a hot plate, a skillet, and a tabletop grill PURPOSE: Testing of a newly acquired anomaly.
Life at the Foundation had always been very strange, to say the least. Well, Pepper assumed it was strange. She had been so young when they had taken her in that she had never really known anything else. Living surrounded by anomalies was just her life. That was why she’d been so excited when they had told her at eighteen that she could intern for Dr. Kallie. Being surrounded by so many wondrous things all the time, but being unable to really interact with them, had been really difficult for the inquisitive young woman. She’s only recently been promoted to assistant researcher, but she was more than proud of the accomplishment. Assistant researcher! At nineteen! Well, almost twenty.
But that was beside the point. The point was she was working with Dr. Kallie, her surrogate mother, and working they were. A brand new anomaly had been brought in earlier that day, designated ACF-9001. This was the first anomaly that Dr. Kallie was allowing Pepper to completely manage by herself. She was standing there, tall and smiling, at the end of the table as she watched Pepper. The young woman was staring at the anomaly, trying to decide where to start. After all, there were many methods of toasting a piece of bread. The point of their experiments that day was to confirm that the anomaly was actually anomalous.
She’d just picked up a pair of tongs and the charcoal lighter when the door to the lab swung open. Pepper didn’t pay it much attention until a somewhat familiar voice rang out across the room.
“Hey, Dr. Reed. Just checking in on how the research is going. How've you been?”
She looked up from what she was doing to see a young man, one who couldn’t be much older than herself, standing at the door. He had a somewhat shabbier-than-average appearance for the Foundation. Pepper set down her tools and tucked the free strands of her blonde hair behind her ear. At the head of the table, Dr. Kallie turned to look at the door, a mild look of surprise on her face.
“Dr. Redd. How nice of you to join us. I wasn’t expecting you to come by. Surely there are more pressing things going on than the examination of new Household anomalies?” Pepper walked around the table to stand beside her, eyeing the man up as she tried to place why he looked familiar. “As for myself, I’m quite alright. We’ve been busy as ever.”
There was someone with Dr. Reed, a young woman Cody was pretty sure he almost-recognized in a way that you almost recognize someone you haven't seen in a very long time. It hadn't been all that long since he'd worked here... large-scale. But it felt like forever, given the circumstances. And it didn't help that he couldn't quite see her name tag from here without staring, which was rude. He could've just asked, but that would've been the mature thing, and even as location lead Cody didn't have enough confidence (or maybe just energy) to be that mature, so he just smiled and nodded in her direction.
They were working with a different anomaly than the one they had on file, but then again, files were being slow now that the Foundation's resources were spread out. This one looked like sliced bread, or maybe the best thing since. Did that - work? He thought it did. Isaac would've found it funny. He didn't share it, though. It was a good joke for a 23 year old, it wasn't good for an L-14 manager. At least not until he figured out his location.
"If the Households weren't important, you wouldn't be here, either." He smiled again, in a way he hoped was warm and professional. "With most personnel pulled for recontainment procedures, I can only imagine how crazy it's been down here."
He glanced at the spread (breadspread?) and noted the objects on hand. Various forms of fire or cooking implements. Bread that wouldn't toast was the obvious guess, but guessing and obvious weren't what the Foundation did, especially not grown-up researchers who filled out their paperwork. Asking about someone else's experiments wasn't something that Cody did, even though he was a grown-up researcher, even if he didn't always act or think like it. He had to pretend to, and maybe he'd fake it until he made it.
"I hope the two of you don't mind if I stand in and just observe?"
“Of course, Dr. Redd. Stay as long as you’d like. It’s been crazy like you wouldn’t believe. We’ve gotten such a backlog of Household anomalies that need testing and filing that I’m training Pepper here to handle them on her own. They have requested that I join the team cataloging new Risky level anomalies for the time being.”
Dr. Kallie stood at the head of the table again, right near the man she was calling Dr. Redd. She gave them one last look before picking the tongs back up. She caught the slice of bread, then picked up the lighter and flicked it on. Bringing the open flame to the bread, she twirled it around under the carb-loaded slice, waiting for any kind of reaction to happen. Instead, it almost seemed as though the flame parted around the bread, as though it had an aversion to touching it. She turned off the torch and set it down, removing a glove. She poked the piece of bread and frowned. Soft, pliant, cold. As though it hadn’t just been hovering over an open flame.
Pepper jotted down some notes about her observations, mostly noting that the flame had seemed to part around the anomaly, before dragging the toaster forward. She flipped it up to the highest setting and pulled out one of their control slices from underneath the table. She slid it into the right slot and placed the anomaly in the left slot. She popped them down and set the timer for the maximum allowed time. Between maximum heat and maximum time, the bread should come out scorched.
She allowed herself to look back over at Dr. Redd. She was sure she knew him from somewhere. Unable to contain her curiosity, she took her chance during a lull in the conversation to ask,”Do I know you? Do we know each other? You look really familiar.”
Pepper. That was a start. It fit, but Cody couldn't remember an "Intern Pepper" from his own lab assistant days. She looked like she knew what she was doing, though. Her experimentation was thorough, and she took notes. Cody also noted how the fire seemed to part where it touched the bread. His paper notes weren't so much on the process, however, as the one performing it.
She was being thorough, although that could just be Dr. Reed's supervision. Or Cody's presence, for that matter. He wrote some other identifying notes on the clipboard and a few personal ones in a much more shorthand method, for his own use only. Whether they were relevant enough to find their way into a research report remained to be seen.
Then Dr. Pepper - he kept that one to himself too, for now - turned on the toaster, and in the interim turned to him. Apparently she shared his vague sense of recognition, which was a relief. She'd just been the one to ask first.
He set the can down on a counter near the door, then stepped across the room to extend his hand toward her, eyes finally lighting on her name badge. As he extended his arm, ACF-255 slipped out of his lab coat, dangling in a way it normally wouldn't be allowed to in a research setting so it didn't get caught on anything. He'd resumed the warm-but-polite smile as he went down the list of names of interns he knew, searching for an Elizabeth.
"Where's my manners. Cody Redd. R-Class-D. I'm the new head of research here, but this was where I trained as a research intern a few years back."
He was actively trying not to make a big deal of that revelation. There wasn't much out there that he hated more than people suddenly starting to get nervous that one of the two location heads was in their lab. He wasn't here to judge her work, after all, just make sure everything was in order and that they didn't need extra personnel or resources. He just had to hope that's how it came across. And that he seemed mature enough to handle it.
Pepper extended her hand and shook the one that was offered to her. Her grip was gentle but firm, relaxed in a way that tended to surprise other researchers. Most of the people she met at this point were stressed or too busy to even meet her, so their handshakes were always short, brief, and strained. Pepper had long since adjusted her own handshake to counteract that, to try and put people in her presence at ease.
“Aha! You interned here! I grew up here. I’m actually anomaly 7823-A. My full name is Elizabeth Krasniqi. I grew up in the facilities. We must have seen each other before.” She snapped her fingers at the realization, flashing Cody a wide smile as her face lit up with the realization. ”In any case, congratulations on the promotion. Or transfer. We’re glad to have you. It’s been chaos around here, just like Dr. Kallie said.”
Leaning against the wall, her surrogate mother nodded and sighed. ”The Breach has, if you don’t mind me using some laymen’s terms, really fucked us over. This was definitely not the environment that I was meaning to teach Pepper in. Sure, she’s learning a lot and is definitely excelling under the circumstances, but I had been hoping to have Marie teach her, God rest her soul.”
The toaster popped and out came the slice of bread, completely untouched. It was still as white as the paper on Pepper’s clipboard. She frowned and reached out with her gloved hand and plucked it from the toaster, abandoning the tongs. She could feel no heat coming through the gloves, which meant the slice of bread absorbed no heat. In fact, it seemed to repel it entirely, if she took in mind her previous notes. She jotted this down before dragging forward the tabletop grill. From under the table, she produced a stick of butter and a knife. She slathered the bread in butter while she spoke.
”Poor Marie. I wish I could have found her that day. I checked everywhere but she wasn’t with any of the groups I managed to get out.” Her brow furrowed and her smile fell away as she remembered running around the facility, trying to find any of the research teams she could and walking them out of the building through her dimension.
”Pepper, you weren’t even supposed to be there that day. You were supposed to be in France with me on vacation. I sent you to go give Marie a letter that day. You had never even been to L-6 before.” Pepper stuck the buttered slice of bread on the grill, turning it to high heat. She turned back to them with a smile, clearly an attempt to keep the air from becoming awkward.
”Anyway, it’s really nice to formally meet you, Dr. Redd.”
Ah, so that was why she didn't match up with either of the R-Class-B Elizabeths he remembered. Cody really needed to get better at knowing containment file numbers - this was his location, after all, he should've been able to recognize what went where in a snap. Then again, he might've only worked with 7823-A briefly before he shifted his attention over to anomalous disease study and control. Nonetheless his smile became a little more natural as she gripped his hand. She had a confident handshake, but gentle enough not to be the overeager action of a recently promoted intern. Her attitude seemed to be infectious in a way ACF-255 couldn't stop him from contracting.
"Mix of both, and thanks." He let go of her hand to let her get back to work, and joined Dr. Reed by the wall to keep clear of (Dr.) Pepper's work.
The subject turned to the Breach - it always seemed to, these days - and Cody didn't need to know who Marie was to feel the sense of loss between the other researchers. It seemed like he wasn't the only one who was having to grow into a new role too fast. All things considered though, Pepper seemed to be doing really well. At her - well, rank, not age, since they seemed really close in that regard, Cody hadn't been quite as serious about documentation unless it came to 255 and related experiments. He watched her make notes without being distracted by background conversation, and the thoroughness seemed to come naturally.
"Nice to meet you too, Doctor Pepper." Her smile was less natural as she turned back to them, although it was no less disarming, and he returned it lopsidedly as he held up a hand and finally let the joke slip. "Cody's fine, really. Dr. Redd's just for the paperwork."
The idea of her being at L-6 during the Breach did concern him, a little. It wasn't the worst Level-1 location to be at during the period, but then again, neither had L-7, and his experiences were no picnic. Everyone seemed to have lost people that day. But that was a breach for you, wasn't it? A memory flickered through Cody's mind, the bloody kind that no amount of low-level amnestic therapy was going to fully cure.
He shook it off before it could have any effect, and instead tried to problem solve. Distraction was almost good enough to forget for a while. Maybe he could ask the newly instated Councilman HACK about a Marie who'd been lost at L-6 at the time. Possibly a transfer from L-14, probably a researcher. He may not remember the man's name but he sure recalled his work ethic and attention to detail. Anything that might help Cody's staff sleep just a little better would be worth the trouble. Anything that would feel like doing something besides basic management.
"I'm just sorry I couldn't make it down here sooner," he said, by way of apology to Dr. Reed. "I knew the site would be a mess given it was under temporary management at the time, but dare I say our field recontainment teams are too good at their jobs. The Errand Boys have always been good, but I almost miss when the Lepidopterists were acting as an STRH team."
FCRT-14-1 "Lepidopterists" was L-14's elite collections team. Good enough that they could act as a spearhead for a Surface Team of the same name, though with way more assets and manpower in that capacity. They had the assistance of ACF-707 "The Butterfly Effect" for field work, and they put it to good use. They were effective, and were therefore both a blessing and a curse - on top of spillover, a lot of the lost anomalies were either coming back here or making a stopover. Down here in Households, FCRT-14-2 "Errand Boys" was mostly shuffling obtained items between locations, driving by so researchers could confirm some new things and then moving on. Their job was to do what they were asked, when they were asked it, and their focus was more on "don't let the anomalies you're transporting get discovered" than "collect and recontain." Both were good teams. And their being good teams was becoming the bane of Cody's management duties, on top of the other 18 or so FCRTs in action at any given time.
"If there's anything you guys need - additional therapy sessions, spare interns, actual vacation days - you let me know and I can at least get the ball rolling. I know most staff is trying to be accommodating but I really would like to do more than answer emails and random inspections."
“Dr. Pepper, haha. I haven’t heard that one yet. No one calls me Doctor. It’s not like I have years of training or a degree like most of the researchers here. I’ve just learned by osmosis.” Pepper laughed freely at Dr.Redd– Cody’s– joke. She had to remind herself these days, that despite all the doom and gloom, she was allowed to still be happy. That they were all allowed to be happy even if it was rough going. “No, no, I’m just Pepper.”
She smiled to herself as she flipped the bread with the pair of tongs she had discarded earlier. She frowned when she realized that the butter had completely melted off the bread and was now sizzling in puddles on the grill top, but the bread hadn’t even taken on the indents from its shape. Once again, it hadn’t absorbed anything, it wasn’t hot, and it wasn’t particularly changed in any way. Her running theory was that the anomaly generated its own protective field that prevented its state from being altered by external forces. She jotted down some more notes, including a potential idea for future testing when they had more open facilities and moved on to her final device, a big kitchen knife. She laid it on the table in front of her as she exchanged a look with Dr. Kallie.
“Well, speaking of the Lepidopterists…”
“Yes, speaking of the Lepidopterists. There is something that you might be able to help us with. We’ve been getting stonewalled on this for a while, what with the temporary management and all, but now that you’re here, maybe you could take a look and give us an actual response.” Dr. Kallie tilted her head to the side and looked at Cody, then looked back at Pepper. “I want to transfer Pepper to field agent training. Have you read her containment file before? It’s alright if you haven’t, Pepper can explain.”
Pepper wanted to give the conversation her full attention, but she decided to finish the documentation first. She picked back up her knife, laid it across the top of the bread, and pushed it down. The knife skidded off the bread and into the table, leaving a small gash. Pepper scrambled to keep her grasp and looked at the slice in surprise. She’s expected some pushback, but not for it to slide off the anomaly like it was made of ice. She lifted the knife and brought it down to stab it. Once again, it skidded to the side, embedding itself in the table. Well, that just confirmed her theory. She finished jotting down her notes and turned her full attention to the conversation.
She laughed at the joke, to Cody's relief. There was a lot of value in laughter. People tended to take themselves too seriously around here - and yeah, the work was serious, and there was a lot of danger, but humor was one of the best medicines he'd found for that. One of the benefits of not having a formal education, it seemed, since it was usually the people who like him had a looser research education that didn't just understand the sense of humor, but laughed along with it.
The bread, for its part, was not nearly as cooperative. Cody watched the knife attempts and follow-up records while he listened to Dr. Reed's request. It would be clear from his face that he was paying attention. From what he was seeing here, Pepper already seemed to know a lot about the procedures behind in-lab experimentation. Cross-training wouldn't hurt - but right now, the teams that immediately came to mind weren't suited for training right now. There were a few new teams that hadn't figured out their details yet - but that wasn't good for new members, either. Still...
"If you can spare the hands," he finally said, looking to Kallie. "I'm not familiar with your file, Pepper, and I think the issue previous management might've taken with it is that you have to train teams specifically to work with anomalous assets. Everyone's going to have a learning curve unless you're temporarily put with an experienced team."
He sighed a little, then looked back to Pepper.
"Go ahead and describe your file to me, Pepper. I'll see if I can come up with ideas based on that."
”Of course, I completely understand that. We both feel that with my unique anomalous properties, I would do really well in fieldwork.” Pepper wrapped up her notes and set them to the side. She started resealing and packaging up the slice of bread, prepping it for storage. It was incredibly unlikely it would need actual containment, so she was opting to send it to the lowest containment facility possible. “As for my file… gosh, it would almost be easier to show you. I’ll do my best to explain. I can travel through another dimension to anywhere in the world. All I need is coordinates and I can go from wherever I am to wherever I want to be, even if I’ve never been there before.”
She set aside the final package with her notes and turned her full attention to Cody and Dr. Kallie. She knew that there were many ways that her abilities could be better utilized than rolling out of bed five minutes before her shift was set to start and running through her dimension to get to work on time. Dr. Kallie agreed with her on it. That was what had prompted them to originally submit the paperwork before the big Breach. Of course, it had been shelved until now.
“I’ve done some transportation of other anomalies before as tests and they’ve always worked out well. I can take as many as five people with me with ease. There’s a lot of potential for such an ability in the field, though I know that it would take a lot of training for me to join a real team. And I’m willing to put in the time and effort for that. I just think that I can be of more help in the field than I can be in a laboratory.” She wrung her hands nervously and smiled, lifting her protective goggles off her face. They settled on top of her bangs, pushing them out of her green eyes. “Don’t get me wrong. I love working in the lab, and I love working with Dr. Kallie. But I don’t feel I’m best utilized here. I think, especially after helping out during the Breach, that I could be put to better use in the field.”
She took in a sharp breath, and it dawned on her how much she was rambling. She immediately stopped and clasped her hands together. As much as she loved new people, she still got nervous sometimes. Not to mention, Cody was her boss- and that made it all the more worse. “Sorry, I don’t mean to ramble. I get excited sometimes and my words get ahead of me.”
"Please, do not apologize for the enthusiasm. I get it." Cody smiled again, easily. He didn’t want to make Peppers nervous, and besides, enthusiasm was one of his favorite traits in researchers. "It’s clear you’re genuinely invested in this, which is a good sign. And it’s a good thing that you’re already experienced with lab research. It’s usually a prerequisite for taking to the field."
He turned the actual contents of what she’d said over in his mind, meeting her eyes in casual glances, never making the contact uncomfortable but not avoiding it, either. A dimension for quick travel was… complicated. It required people who were qualified for extraplanar travel, and while there was one team that always had that clearance…
"Sounds like the kind of thing Errand Boys would find useful." Cody reached over for his can of Mountain Dew and took a sip while he thought about it. "They don’t really have a research emphasis, though. On the other hand, most of the research teams are pretty specialized."
And putting a researcher on a primarily collections team often resulted in conflicts of interest, so while they were probably on the table for training procedures, Errand Boys and the like were off the table for anything long-term. Lepidopterists, too, although Cody did have a proposal in mind for 707’s primary researcher and for Agent Richards already. Dimension hopping was a coin flip for Lepidopterists – whether they could bring 707 with them or not would determine whether they could help with training. Cody really wanted to consider them for it, especially with several senior researchers on the team.
But that actually brought around another issue. "Given you’re not already on a team, there’s some kind of catch, isn’t there? What’s with the dimension you go through?"
He didn’t ask it like it was a bad thing, because it definitely wasn’t. Details were important when making decisions like this. There was no shame in an anomaly being potentially dangerous – heck, that defined well over half the anomalies in the Foundation, maybe more. It was a question of what would interact with the anomaly, how, and whether amnestics would be needed when everything was said and done.
Pepper and Dr. Kallie exchanged a look, one that was certainly not going to go unnoticed by Cody. Pepper’s face held a plea, as though begging Dr. Kallie to take over for her, but Dr. Kallie simply smiled back. The good doctor knew that Pepper was nervous about explaining the procedures regarding her dimension, but Dr. Kallie was trying to encourage the fledgling researcher to “find her voice”, so to speak. Pepper had no issues when it came to talking to people and making friends with everyone she met. Her issue lay in her nervousness.
Pepper’s shoulders sagged a little but she took a deep breath and clapped her hands together in front of her. “I do want to say, before I explain, that I’m okay with helping the Errand Boys out as well if we decide that's the best place for me. I’m okay with being part of an extraction team if that’s where you want me. I just want to help wherever I can.”
She looked at the ground and took a deep breath before looking back up at Cody’s face and gesturing with her hands. “My dimension isn’t exactly safe for other people. Uhm, the only way we’ve been able to have people travel with me is with full face masks, eye coverings, or tinted goggles. Something that obscures their face as much as possible. Otherwise, well. My dimension has… inhabitants. And they don’t like other people’s faces. I’m not entirely sure why, because all they say about it is that they’re a ‘profane and imperfect heresy.’ So whoever I transport has to cover their face in some meaningful way or they uh. Well, Dr. Hillary wasn’t injured, but she said they tried to injure her during that two-day period where she got lost.”
Pepper clenched her teeth, cutting herself off. She was rambling again, but then Cody had asked about it. So maybe rambling was okay when people asked you questions? Eventually, she would figure out the rambling thing. She just hoped that she had gotten enough of the proper information across and that she had come across as well-meaning as she felt.
The look was definitely noticed, but not in the manager-seeing-weakness-in-an-intern way – in an I-remember-giving-someone-that-look-once way, right when he was learning how to Researcher.
It was notable that Cody did not seem to find the description of the realm or the procedure to be particularly distressing. Maybe he had a different, messier idea of distressing, or maybe this was actually a solvable problem. But he actually seemed to relax at Pepper’s winded explanation. The fact that it didn’t even seem to be something that a standard field team might request amnestic therapy for. Categorized as weird, and avoidable.
"Plenty of field agents will wear their standard Foundation-issue armor," he reassured Peppers, when she finally stopped to breathe, "which includes most of a face mask and a clear visor. We don’t issue it to researchers, because it gets in the way of work. We could also experiment somewhat and have Smith work on specific alterations if you’re going to be on a permanent field team."
Helena would love that, he was pretty sure. Finding a way to make armor flexible enough to fit under normal clothes and helmets that were somewhat less clunky, without losing their integrity? It’d be a dream come true. Not that Peppers or even Dr. Reed needed to know about that part – let them be pleasantly surprised.
"Agency teams are Isaac’s department, but I’m sure I could convince him. Errand Boys could definitely use the shortcut right now, once we’ve got the mask thing handled." He scratched the back of his head. "The biggest issue is they’re not big on questions. They’re specialized in ‘go in quiet and come back unnoticed,’ and the team’s almost exclusively agency. It’d be an adjustment,"
He let that settle. That was that, but there was also…
"How come they didn’t harm Dr. Hillary?"
It was almost a question to himself, like the others, except that it wasn’t, because he was looking at Peppers when he asked it.
“Because I asked them not to.” Pepper immediately slapped her hand over her mouth. Dr. Kallie sighed and shook her head.
“Well, you might as well tell him everything. If you hadn’t brought it up, I would have.” Dr. Kallie stepped forward finally and removed the goggles from Pepper’s head, setting them on the table. She scooped up the package with the attached notes and turned to look between Pepper and Cody. She gave each of them a nod. “I’ll be back after I walk this down to the storage room. Our conclusion is that the slice is Household in level and definitely anomalous. I will file it as such. Pepper, tell him… everything.”
“Everything.” With that, Dr. Kallie left the room, leaving Pepper and Cody alone. Pepper looked up at Cody and swallowed hard.
“Okay. So the research team in charge of my case had been keeping this on the down low because, well. It’s weird. I can talk to the inhabitants of the dimension. They sound like strange screaming sounds to most other people, but to me, they just talk.” She paused to take a breath, wondering how to explain the rest. After a moment, she started up again. “I asked them not to hurt Dr. Hillary. They kept asking me to let them eat her, but I told them no. Eventually, they just said ‘as the Heraldess of the Dead God wishes, so we will do.’ None of us know what that means, but as the years have gone on, they’ve referred to me as ‘the Heraldess’ many more times. Dr. Kallie thinks it has something to do with their dimension’s religion, and that it’s more than a pocket dimension. She thinks I might be hoping between realities and universes. She thinks I might be able to access other realities if I tried to.”
She let the words settle in the air, shifting uncomfortably as she looked at Cody. So far, she had no reason to worry about telling him any of this. He would have found the information easily if he had decided to access the restricted part of her file. They weren’t keeping it a secret, necessarily. Dr. Kallie had just instructed the team not to spread the information until they could prove its validity. Having a pocket dimension was one thing, but being able to hop through realities was a different beast entirely.
It wasn’t anything he couldn’t have found out by rummaging around in her file, but Dr. Reed made sure to spare him the time.
"Let me break that down for my sake. It helps if I talk through it."
He set the can aside, and the clipboard, too. One hand went into his pocket, the other wrapped around 255 and started to tug on it. There was an energy around him – not fury, but he needed a second to pull his researcher back in and leave room for the location manager. Suddenly he looked young, even younger than he already actually did, and when he spoke it was with a signature smile.
"Okay, let’s table that last part. Might bes aren’t relevant, and dimension hopping raises way too many questions that aren’t my dimension. Department! Department. Or dimension! But I meant department. Going back– okay, dimension, that’s actually relevant to Lepidopterists, if it’s another plane SV-2 won’t want 707 brought somewhere else without a lot of paperwork, so still doable, but hard. That brings us backwards – a herald of a dead god. Your face isn’t an abomination, but the rest of us? If you were the god sure, but a herald? And how's the god dead? What killed it? Can it come back? Why worship it if it’s dead? Okay, again, not my department, that’s closer to L-9. And I know why Kallie doesn’t want L-9 told until you’ve figured some things out with your primary researcher. They’d have a [EXPLETIVE]ing – sorry, freaking field day with this. I’m just glad they’re busy."
A deep breath, but only for air.
"So, on to relevant questions. You’re a herald – of what? Is it a misconception, or do the creatures of a dimension that doesn’t have anything resembling humans worship something that does resemble a human? Why are you a herald but the rest of us are abominations? Is the god something you’ve interacted with? Is it there? Is it here? Do we have it in a box somewhere and just don’t know it yet? Why screaming? Could we use reality-bending or other anomalies to understand them? Could we take samples and research them as part of your extended research – has anyone taken samples?"
One more deep breath, this one to calm down. Re-center. Researcher back in the neat little box, he’d had his daily allotted freakout.
"Okay, fine, fine. I’m cool, I’m fine." He smoothed his lab coat, tucked ACF-255 into the “think like a proton: stay positive” t-shirt, and ran one hand through his hair as he settled next to Pepper again. He picked up the clipboard and then clicked the pen.
"Most important question. What do you think we should do with this information? I mean, you knew it already, but why would Dr. Reed have you talk to me about it now? I’ve got a couple theories but I’m open to yours."
The pen clicked again, and then again to reopen. While he wasn’t vibrating anymore, it was suddenly like life had been breathed back into the overworked doctor. Maybe it wasn’t his department. Or dimension. But it was now his location and maybe he could make it at least one of those things.
Pepper simply listened as words poured from Cody. A slow smile broke across her face as he broke down the information dump that she had given him. She let his final question sit in the air for a moment before she straightened out herself and fully turned her body to face him. “Okay, let me answer as many of these questions as I can.We don’t have any answers on the question of what I’m supposedly a herald of. But, we do have an answer as to why they don’t see me as an abomination. I’ve asked them why I’m different before, as part of the research, and they did say that I don’t have a face. Our current theory is that I glow in some way. They’ve had high energy readings off me when I travel, and I see the path as a path of light. So our current theory is I actually glow in some light wave that they see, but we can’t. Dr. Kallie has been trying to find a camera capable of capturing it, but all of our cameras stop recording properly when they cross the barrier.”
Pepper’s hands were moving rapidly as she relayed the information. She talked with her hands, sometimes too excitedly. She’d knocked over samples and equipment before swinging her hands. And she was extremely excited about this, so her hands moved wildly. It had been years that she had been under an order not to speak about this, so this flood of discussion was almost overwhelming to her. “I’ve asked them about their dead god, but all of their answers have been, well, nonsensical. From what I can understand, it is dead, but not dead, and I am its chosen. They won’t explain anything further than that to me”
She took a moment to think about all the research that they had done so far. Then she carefully continued. “We’ve tried to bring other reality-bending anomalies in to test their effects, but we’ve been having a hard time requesting access. Dr. Kallie is never specific enough about why she wants them, since she wasn’t ready to tell anyone about the heraldess aspect. They always deemed understanding their speech to be, uhm, a low priority. Which I understand completely. We’ve taken some samples over the years, but we haven’t convinced one of the beings to return with us. From what we can tell, the planet is, uhm. Composed of flesh and bone? It’s complicated, and it’s hard to explain without all the data in front of us. We’ll have to go over that later. We have about twenty samples in all, and they deteriorate with time.”
Pepper paused to take a little breath, similar to how Cody had. She still had one question left to answer- and to be honest, she had to give it a lot of thought. Dr. Kallie’s reasons weren’t always clear. She tended to be cryptic with some of her research and requests. Pepper had a pretty good idea of the answer in this case, but she wasn’t entirely sure how to phrase it to Cody. “Okay, so. I think one of the reasons Dr. Kallie wanted us to talk about this is that she’s hoping to get clearance for a more expansive study of the dimension. She’s really convinced that there’s something else going on there that we don’t know about yet. But also, I think she wants me to. How do I put this? She’s the one who pushed me to become a researcher when I showed interest in it. I think she wants to put me on your radar. But her motives aren’t always clear to me, and I’d love to hear your theories as well. You’re her superior and you’ve worked with her before. I think because I’m her ward, I have a different view of her motives than others do.”
She shuffled her feet a little, a bit uncomfortable at the admission. People always thought she knew the inner workings of Dr. Kallie’s mind, but sometimes she wondered if she knew the woman at all. It was like growing up and realizing your mother was an actual person with interests and hobbies. You began to wonder if everything you had ever known about them was wrong. That was what it was like to go from ward to co-worker with the researcher.
Cody’s grin took on an impish cast as Peppers matched his energy.
"Kallie wants you to be your own primary researcher. She doesn’t want more clearance – she wants you to get clearance." That was a fact, not a question, but it was an important clarification.
"My reasoning’s less about how well I know Kallie – you gotta remember, I’ve only been her manager for a month, and when she and I worked together I was an intern, too. But the people at Level-1 locations did the exact same thing to me when I was figuring out 255. There’s only so far you can go with a researcher who’s tied to an anomaly like I am – and even more, how you are – before they have to let us try our wings. But they can’t tell us that, because that’s way too much pressure, y’know? We’re fully capable, and they can see that – but we’re not always ready to admit it until we’re on our own." It hadn’t taken Cody very long to fit into his niche, once he admitted he had one. But he did take a while to get to the admission point. A little bit of overdoing it, some bad attempts at overcompensating with comedy. He thought about something – someone, he couldn’t really remember who – had once said to him.
"Once you’re on someone else’s radar, it gets so much more complicated for you, because you’re trying too hard to impress them and not thinking too hard about – well, about how the best way to impress people with you is just be yourself. Don’t worry about being too weird, weird is our baseline. Let things happen. Go with it, and save your formality for when you write a report or, powers-that-be forbid, talk to somebody on the Council. Then just be ready for them to outweird you by a mile while you have to smile politely." He emulated his best polite smile, which he already knew from mirror practice was hilariously impractical and wasn’t the smile he actually used when getting lectured by someone weirder than him. Still, he wanted to keep the mood light. "So, O Herald of the Dead God, Dr. Pepper, what do we have? We have an extradimensional space, or even alternative dimension, viable non-human life. This life worships you as some kind of messenger, but everybody else hears them as screaming, so nobody else can interpret their language, let alone their culture. You need clearance to maybe bring in an ontokinetic entity – ideally ACF-707 and one or more Lepidopterists, since we know that they like us, but you have to convince a Councilman to let you."
Manager mode activated, although not to the highest degree. He wanted to tell her his ideas – but he didn’t, because that wouldn’t be her research anymore, would it? It wouldn’t be advice, it could be taken as an order, and they couldn’t have that. Even if it wasn’t what Kallie wanted, it was important to let Peppers spread her wings and get a feel for the flow of real Foundational work.
That’s how Cody had really gotten started, after all.
"So. If I let this be your project, how would you go about it? No wrong answers, we’re drafting here."
Pepper beamed slightly at the realization that Dr. Kallie was trying to get her to spread her wings and fly on her own. Something about that filled her with pride. Of course, she could have told her that. She hadn’t needed to do all of this without communicating it to Pepper. She was fully on board for this new adventure. She also appreciated that Cody seemed to be on board with the choice as well. So far, he seemed like he was a great location manager. Maybe a new friend?
"If this was up to me… well I’d want to convince one of the creatures to let us run tests on them. If they won’t come back, maybe they’ll let us do the test there. I’ve already done tests to see how long I can stay there, and it seems to be indefinite. I’d want to involve other anomalies until we found one that lets others hear them speak. I think there’s a lot going on, and to understand it, we need to understand why these guys think I’m their Heraldess. We need to understand what that means."
She paused for a moment as she thought about how she would go about convincing a Councilman to let her do this. She would be requesting the free use of several ontokinetic anomalies, the potential use of the Lepidopterists, and a lot of equipment. What could she promise them to get them to let her do this? She leaned back against the table, her expression changing to one of thoughtfulness.
"There’s… the possibility of convincing them that the plane could be useful? Having an entire reality where we test out the more difficult-to-test anomalies would be great for research on said anomalies, while also providing research on the dimension itself. We could also try the age-old [EXPLETIVE] around and find out- err, I mean, engage in consequence analysis. They would like that a lot."
She thought for a moment and then continued, "I would rather not have to go this route, but if it’s in our reality, it could be a threat. There are creatures there who aren’t welcoming, even to me. We could make the argument that we need to prepare in case my portals end up not being one way. It's highly possible something there has the ability to come through to here."
After a moment she looked up at Cody, trying to judge the look on his face as she finished, "My ideal choice would actually be to brainstorm with whatever team I wish to put together before approaching, uhm, any Councilman. I think that the best ideas aren’t always found in one mind, but in many put together. It would make sense that someone else, someone not me, would come up with the best argument."
Cody never quite lost the smile, but he could look professional, when he wanted to. Sometimes the only way to tell that he was having researcher-not-manager thoughts was to recognize the twinkle in his eye.
"In my professional opinion," he said, professionally, "with a little reworking, that plan could convince…Butterfly, Jupiter, and possibly Hack, if a little more evidence could exist for a potential extradimensional threat. Consequence analysis would definitely convince Strings, but he’d probably want some of his people involved, and um…yeah, we’ll put a pin in that, I think. That’s a whole other tangle of problems." He looked about to say something else, then frowned as if having trouble remembering something, then nodded like he thought of something else. "Leviathan’s hard. They’re new, so we don’t really have much to go on with them. They might not have figured themself out yet. We’ll need time for that part."
He sat back, his hand idling with 255. The gears in his head were clearly working overtime, and he was keeping in mind how young he was for his position. He did consider it largely luck, but that wasn’t Pepper’s issue. She’d been working with the Foundation longer than he had. What she needed was– well, to stretch her legs, figure out her research, because there was another issue.
"The Council would want at least a Class-D researcher spearheading this. Kallie isn’t going to want that position, she’s made that pretty clear. I’m talking about you, but you’re going to have to work hard for a promotion like that. Consistent use of and study of your anomaly would be one of the best ways to go on that front, as well as continuing to help out here, maybe start a few research projects, volunteer to train a few newbies. That buys us some time for Leviathan to get his footing and possibly convince Butterfly to let a couple of the Lepidopterists travel with you before a full FCRT can be assembled."
Cody was pretty sure Butterfly would be amenable as long as 707 was. He momentarily considered the idea that Pepper should see how receptive she was to the bugs, then decided against it. If that crossed her mind, she could go down to CU-14-707 and test it out for herself, with appropriate research notes.
"And you should get to know the people you want on the team. Work with Errand Boys, hang out with Lepidopterists in your down time, see if you can find people outside Kallie’s group that specialize in extradimensional research. Review the files for any anomalies you’d want to involve, too. Like you said, multiple minds – but they’ll need someone to manage it, present it, someone at the heart. I could definitely work to get you assigned in the right places to get started, but I’d need to know what your preferences are, if there’s anyone you don’t like working with, what kind of anomalies you’re good with. Again, professional recommendation, get into low-class riskies. I know they’re begging for help with those, and we could use the bodies, if Kallie’s willing to spare you. Talk to her before making this decision. She’s your mentor, she can guide your interests better than me."
This job was a lot more about people than most people realized, Cody knew. That was part of the reason why “good with people” was an important aspect of management. Sure, you could be an observer, but don’t be weird or intimidating. You could be outgoing but don’t get naive. That wasn’t something that could be taught, but he was pretty sure Peppers would have that well in hand, if she let herself.
“So let me see if I’ve got this straight. Before we can consider any kind of exploration, I need to focus on obtaining a promotion to Class-D? I don’t mind taking on more responsibilities and potentially training new personnel. I’m definitely willing to use my anomaly to its fullest extent and prove its usefulness. Then, I need to scope out the people I want for the team- researchers and security, and other faculty. I’m good with people, so that shouldn’t be a problem. I actually have a few ideas of who I’d want to be involved in this. I’ll need to talk to Dr. Kallie, and see if she has any advice on who I should pursue in the extradimensional research department.”
Pepper smiled as she began to brainstorm her plan. A promotion to Class-D would need some dedication, but Pepper had never had any desire to leave the Foundation. Not for a long time, anyway. A small pang in her heart reminded her of a time when that had been quite a different story. She tapped a finger to her lips and thought about his other recommendation.
“My only concern is actually the work with low-class riskies. Uhm, I’m going to guess since you don’t have a lot of time, you’ve probably skimmed my containment file at best, and haven’t reached it at worst. You would have to authorize me to work with them. When I was a bit younger, one of the risky level anomalies convinced me to let it out for a walk. The situation was contained and I helped to contain it, but ever since I’ve had a restriction on what I’m allowed to work with.” She smiled a little sheepishly. ACF-109 was known for it’s ability to convince people to do whatever it wanted, and she had simply gone back into the room without her earbuds on. Honestly, a rookie mistake, but she had been kind of a rookie.
She looked up at Cody again, gauging his response to this information. Her heartbeat picked up slightly from her nerves.Was it just nerves? Hopefully he didn’t take this as a serious risk. She had been just over eighteen at the time, and it had been her first experience with a risky level anomaly. Unfortunately, the at-the-time location manager had taken it as a sign of her being irresponsible. He had taken the opportunity to make it an integral part of her containment to make it so she wasn’t allowed to interact with any anomaly defined as “risky.”