Stranger Things: Suspicious Minds
Hawkins National Laboratory
The man drove an immaculate black car along a flat Indiana road, slowing when he came to a chain link gate with a Restricted Area sign. The guard stationed there peered in the window for the briefest moment, then checked his license plate and waved him through.
The lab clearly anticipated his arrival. Maybe they’d even followed the directions and specifications he sent ahead about preparing his new domain.
When he reached the next guard booth, he cranked down the window to present his identification to the soldier serving as security officer. The soldier studied his license and avoided looking him in the eye. People often did. He
had nothing but attention for new people, at least at first—an assessment quick as a thought, cataloguing them: sex, height, weight, ethnicity, and from there a guess at intelligence, and then, most important, a guess at potential. Almost everyone was less interesting after the last. But he never gave up. Looking, assessing, was second nature, a crucial element of his work. Most people had nothing to interest him, but those who did… They were why he was here.
This soldier was easy to size up: male, 5’8”, 180 pounds, white, average intelligence, potential…fulfilled by sitting in a guard booth checking IDs with a sidearm he probably never used at his hip.
“Welcome, Mr. Martin Brenner,” the soldier said finally, squinting between the man and the plastic card.
Funny that his ID contained some of the information Brenner would have wanted if he were looking at himself: male, 6’1”, 195 pounds, white. The rest: genius IQ, potential…limitless.
“We were told to expect you,” the soldier added.
“Dr. Brenner,” he corrected the man, but gently.
The narrowing of a gaze that still didn’t quite look at
Brenner but darted into the backseat where five-year-old subject Eight slept curled against the door. Her hands were balled into fists under her small chin. He’d preferred to oversee her transport to the new facility himself.
Brenner,” the guard said. “Who’s the girl? Your daughter?”
The skepticism came through. Eight’s skin was a rich shade of brown in contrast to his own milky pale hue, which Brenner could have told the man meant nothing. But it was none of the man’s business, and besides he wasn’t wrong. Brenner was no one’s father. Father figure, yes.
That was as far as it went.
“I’m sure they’re waiting for me inside.” Brenner studied the man again. A soldier back home from a past war, a war they’d already won. Unlike Vietnam. Unlike the quiet escalation with the Soviets. They were already engaged in a war for the future, but this man didn’t know that. Brenner kept his tone friendly. “I wouldn’t ask questions when the other subjects arrive. Confidentiality.”
The guard’s jaw tightened, but he let it go. His eyes flicked to the sprawling multi-story complex beyond them. “Yes, they’re waiting for you inside. Park anywhere you like.”
Another thing that hadn’t needed saying. He drove on.
A boring part of the federal bureaucracy had paid for the construction and general maintenance of this facility, but more secretive arms of the government had paid for its outfitting to Brenner’s specifications. To be top secret, after all, the research couldn’t be advertised. The Agency understood greatness couldn’t always follow standard operating procedure. The Russians might be able to have their labs acknowledged by their government, but they were willing to suppress all the voices who would speak out in opposition. Somewhere right now the communists’ scientists were doing the same type of experiments this five-story brown complex and its basement levels had been created for. Brenner’s employers would be reminded of this whenever they forgot or had too many questions. So his work remained a top priority.
Eight continued to sleep as he got out and walked around to her door. He slowly opened it, pressing her back so she wouldn’t tumble out into the parking lot. He’d sedated her for safety while traveling. She was too important an asset to leave to other people. Thus far the other subjects’ abilities had proven…disappointing.
“Eight.” He crouched by the seat and gave her shoulder a gentle shake.
The girl shook her head, keeping her eyes shut. “Kali,” she mumbled.
Her real name. She insisted on it. Usually he didn’t humor her, but today was special.
“Kali, wake up,” he said. “You’re home.”
She blinked, a spark lighting in her eyes. She had misunderstood.
home,” he added.
The spark dimmed.
“You’ll like it here.” He helped her sit upright and coaxed her forward. He extended his hand. “Now Papa needs you to walk in like a big girl and then you can go back to sleep.”
At last, she reached out and slid her small hand into his.
As they approached the front doors, he put the most pleasant smile in his arsenal on his lips. He expected the current acting administrator to greet him, but instead found a long line of lab-coated men and one woman waiting. The professional staff of his group, he supposed, and all of them radiating a queasy case of nerves.
A tanned man with a lined face—too much time out of doors—stepped forward and offered his hand. He looked at Eight, then back at Dr. Brenner. His rimmed glasses were smudged. “Dr. Brenner, I’m Dr. Richard Moses, acting principal investigator. We’re so excited to have you here, someone of your caliber… We wanted you to meet the entire team right away. And this must be—”
“I’m Kali,” the girl said with drowsy effort.
“A very sleepy young lady who would like to see her new room.” Dr. Brenner sidestepped the man’s hand. “I believe I asked for one set apart? And then I’d like to meet the subjects you’ve brought on board.”
Brenner spotted the doors off the lobby that looked the most secure and headed in their direction with Eight. Silence trailed him for a long moment. His smile became almost real before disappearing.
Dr. Moses of the smudged glasses scrambled and caught up with him, the others a clattering rush right behind. Moses lunged ahead to buzz an intercom and gave his name.
There was an unsettled hum of conversation among the other doctors and lab associates who followed them.
“Of course, the subjects haven’t been prepared,” Dr. Moses said as the double doors swung open. He kept glancing at Kali, who was getting more alert by the second, taking in their surroundings. No time to waste getting her settled in.
Two armed soldiers stood matchstick straight just inside the doors, an optimistic sign that at least the security wasn’t subpar. They checked Dr. Moses’ badge and he waved them away from a similar check of Dr. Brenner.
“He hasn’t gotten his ID yet,” he said.
The men moved as if they might challenge Dr. Moses, and Brenner’s approval raised another notch. “I’ll have it next time I come through,” he said. “And we’ll get you copies of the subjects’ paperwork.” He nodded discreetly to indicate Eight.
The soldier inclined his head and the entire group passed.
“I specified I wanted to meet the new subjects when I arrived,” Dr. Brenner said. “So it shouldn’t come as a surprise.”
“We thought you’d just be observing,” Dr. Moses said. “Should we set some parameters? Prepare them for your visit? It might disrupt the work we’ve been doing. The psychedelics make some of them paranoid.”
Dr. Brenner held up his free hand. “No, I don’t think that or I’d have said it. Now where are we going?”
Light fixtures dangled above the long hallway, emitting the ghastly glow that so often illuminated scientific discovery in this shadow world. For the first time that morning, Dr. Brenner felt like he could make this a home.
“This way,” Dr. Moses said. He found the lone woman on the professional staff in the herd and addressed her.
“Dr. Parks, can you arrange for one of the orderlies to bring the girl some food?”
Her lips tightened at being sent to do the equivalent of woman’s work, but she nodded.
To his relief, Eight stayed quiet and they soon came to a small room with a child-sized bunk bed and drawing table. He’d asked for the bed to reassure Eight he was
searching for appropriate companions for her.
She spotted it immediately. “For a friend?”
“Sooner or later, yes,” he said. “Now, someone’s going to bring you some food. Can you wait here alone?”
She nodded. Whatever perkiness she’d gained from the excitement of arriving was fading—the sedative had been a strong dose—and she sank onto the edge of the bed.
Dr. Brenner turned to leave and ran into an orderly and the one female staffer. Dr. Moses raised his eyebrows.
“She’ll be okay on her own?” he asked.
“For now,” Dr. Brenner said. And to the orderly, “I know she looks like a child, but follow your security protocols. She might surprise you.”
The orderly shifted uncertainly, but kept quiet.
“Take me to the first room,” Dr. Brenner said. “Everyone else can go wait with your subjects, but there’s no need to prep any of them.”
The rest of the assembled team waited for Dr. Moses to concur and he gave a pained shrug. “As Dr. Brenner says.”
They dispersed. They were learning.
The first room housed a subject ineligible for the draft due to a club foot. He had the permanently fried look of someone whose disengagement tool of choice was marijuana. Average in every way.
“Do you want us to dose the next patient?” Dr. Moses asked. He plainly didn’t understand Dr. Brenner’s methods.
“I will tell you when I need something.”
Dr. Moses nodded and they proceeded through five more rooms. It was as he expected. Two women, neither exceptional in any way, three more men, completely unexceptional. Except perhaps in their lackluster quality.
“Gather everyone in a room so we can talk,” Dr. Brenner said.
He was left to wait in a conference room, with a last nervous glance from Dr. Moses. Soon enough, the group from before entered and arranged themselves around the table. A couple of men tried to make conversation in order to pretend none of the morning’s events were unusual. Dr. Moses shushed them.
“That’s all of us,” he said.
Dr. Brenner gave his staff a closer look. They would need work, but there was potential in their quiet attention. Fear and authority went hand in hand.
“All the test subjects I met this morning can be dismissed.” He waved a hand. “Pay them whatever they were promised and ensure they remember their nondisclosure agreements.”
The room absorbed this. One of the conversationalists from before raised his hand. “Doctor?”
“My name is Chad and I’m new to this, but… why? How will we do our experiments?”
“Why is always a question that moves science forward,” Dr. Brenner said. Chad the newbie nodded, and Brenner added, “Although one should be careful about asking it of your superiors. But I will tell you why. It’s important we all understand what we’re here to do. Does anyone have a guess?”
His treatment of Chad kept them quiet. He thought for a moment the woman might speak up, but she simply folded her hands in front of her.
“Good,” he said. “I don’t like guesswork. We’re here to advance the frontiers of human capability. I don’t want the common Mus musculus of humans. They are not going to give us extraordinary results.” He swept a gaze around the room. Everyone was intent. “I’m sure you’ve heard of some of the foibles elsewhere and your own lack of results are why I’m here. There have been embarrassments, and a great many of them can be sourced to inadequate subjects. Whoever thought prisoners and the asylum-bound would tell us anything we need to know were fooling themselves. Draft dodgers and potheads aren’t any better. I have a few more young patients transferring here for a related program, but I’d like a range of ages. There is every reason to believe that a combination of chemical psychedelics, people with high potential, and the right inducements can unlock the secrets we need. Think of the intelligence advantages alone if we can persuade our enemies to talk, if we can make them suggestible and exert control... But we can’t get the results we want without the right people, period. We need those with potential.”
“But…where will we get them?” Chad again.
Brenner made a mental note to have him dismissed at the end of the day. He leaned forward. “I will set forth a new screening protocol for identification of better candidates from our feeder universities, and then select the subjects we use going forward myself. Soon, your real work here begins.”
No one objected. Yes, they were learning.