Jasmine and Scarlet reach the lobby, where they find someone missing and confront the real antagonist. Jasmine receives a call. The end is the beginning is the end.
(CWs: guns, bullying, implied homophobia, death)
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Cast, in order of appearance: Jesse Syratt, Em Carlson, Emily Kellogg, Shaun Pellington, Justin Hatch, William A. Wellman, Tatiana Gefter, Saph the Something, Taylor Michaels, and special guest Shannon Strucci.
Art by NerdVolKurisu
Written, scored, edited, and narrated by Rat Grimes.
Find Under the Electric Stars at undertheelectricstars.com, their twitter, and their tumblr!
STERLING: So, not only is it pliable, it’s…it can be…controlled?
GREEN: Exactly. And this eleel composes the entire building, remember.
STERLING: Who exactly gets to do the…directing, so to speak?
GREEN: Well, for now, it will be me. Naturally.
STERLING: Of course.
GREEN: If something is amiss in our lab, or anywhere else in the department, I can lock everything in. A building-wide quarantine. I can alter its structure, move staircases, block elevators. All with my thoughts alone. I call it Asymmetry.
STERLING: Poetic. Will it always be…attached? To your consciousness?
GREEN: In a sense, yes.
STERLING: Hm…I’m not sure about this.
GREEN: I know it’s highly unorthodox, but trust me on this Sterling. We want this place to be as safe, as secure, as possible, do we not?
STERLING: We do…
GREEN: Good. Blue has already approved the expenses.
STERLING: Wait, you didn’t even ask me first?
GREEN: What’s there to ask? I need only a binding agent to interface with the building. The rest is already here.
STERLING: I suppose. Though I can see potential for…human error here, Green. It seems a huge tax on your mind. What if someone gets…caught during one of the changes? You can’t know what’s happening in every office at once.
GREEN: Not yet.
STERLING: What is that supposed to mean?
GREEN: What if the building itself was a conduit? An antenna? STERLING: For what?
GREEN: For my mind.
STERLING: You would be the worm in the building’s head. You’d see everything it sees.
GREEN: Precisely. All with a single vial of liquid.
JASMINE: I don’t know…this feels a bit rickety.
SCARLET: It’s this, or fight through 13 floors of increasingly fucked up gremlins. Your choice, Jaz.
JASMINE: *sigh* Here we go.
NARRATOR: The freight elevator shook, and its doors rattled as they closed. It sat still for just a moment, then dropped into freefall. Jasmine’s hair floated upward, Scarlet’s boots left the ground. The two were in a suspended state for just a second, but the growling fear in their stomachs made it seem like an hour. The hydraulic brakes finally kicked in, slamming Jasmine and Scarlet against the bottom of the lift with the force of falling down a story. It slowed to its intended speed, and stopped at the first floor.
SCARLET: Did my fuckin spine just telescope.
JASMINE: Wow. Okay, my leg’s in pretty bad shape. But we’re here. This is the lobby.
SCARLET: Stay behind me. I have no idea what we’ll find here.
JASMINE: Got it. Just be careful, Scarlet. You’re hurt, too.
SCARLET: I’ll be fine.
NARRATOR: Jasmine and Scarlet stepped into the lobby foyer. The room was dark; the sun had set and the lights that remained on were dim. All they needed to do was cross the room, walk down the stairs, and they’d be free. They rounded the corner into the atrium by the front desk. But there’s always a catch.
Sitting in the middle of the lobby, in front of a pair of escalators, was a large glass case. The case was the size of a small bedroom, and contained the amenities of one, as well–a plain bed, a nightstand, a half-read book sitting face down and open. Standing in the center, in a plain green sweater and beige slacks, was Green Plot. Grand architect and engineer, presumed dead, missing for years, but here he was.
GREEN: Jaunt. Scarlet Jaunt, is that you? It’s been ages.
SCARLET: I don’t believe it. You’re…you’re alive, you’re here.
GREEN: And this must be the control. Jasmine, was it? How excellent to meet you.
SCARLET: How did…what the hell happened to you, Green?
STERLING: All right, Green, ready for another guessing game?
GREEN: Yes, let us begin.
STERLING: Great. Engaging the headphones now. Can you hear it?
GREEN: Yes, Sterling, loud and clear.
STERLING: Perfect. Focus on the music while I ask you a few questions. I have a number written on this paper in the envelope in front of me. What is the number?
STERLING: Interesting. Well, let’s move on. How are you feeling today, Green?
GREEN: Perfectly average, Sterling. Next question.
STERLING: No need to rush, Green. How was the weather this morning?
GREEN: A bit rainy.
STERLING: Do you enjoy the rain?
GREEN: As much as anyone can “enjoy” natural phenomena, yes.
STERLING: Why do you think some people dislike it?
GREEN: They don’t care for getting wet. It’s unpleasant.
STERLING: Is there a time you’ve felt unpleasant? GREEN: Yes, many times.
STERLING: Then let’s focus on just one. You were in your school’s choir, correct?
STERLING: Did you ever feel uncomfortable in front of an audience? Experience stage fight?
GREEN: When I was a child, yes. No more.
STERLING: Is there anything you’re afraid of now?
STERLING: What might that be? Does it relate back to your childhood?
STERLING: I could use some more detail, Green. You’re cutting off the potential spirals.
GREEN: I understand.
STERLING: What is it you’re afraid of, Green?
GREEN: If I tell you, it will come.
STERLING: What will come? GREEN: If I tell you, it will come. If I tell you–
STERLING: All right, let’s try a different path. Do you like paintings?
STERLING: What…rather, who are your favorite painters? The impressionists? Cubists?
GREEN: The surrealists. Miró.
STERLING: What is it you like about Miró’s work?
GREEN: Rejection of tradition. Exploring the unconscious mind. Anti-war.
STERLING: Do you often think about our unconsciousness?
GREEN: One cannot think about what one cannot think.
STERLING: Interesting analysis. What do you think about when you’re bored?
GREEN: If I tell you, it will come.
STERLING: No, not what you’re afraid of, Green. What are your idle thoughts? What do you dream about?
GREEN: If I tell you, it will come. If I tell you, it will come.
STERLING: Copper, stop the music. Abort the test. Something is off. His answers are outside the normal parameters. He won’t talk about his childhood.
GREEN: No, it’s your childhood we will be discussing today, Sterling Proof. Or should I say Rowan?
STERLING: Copper, immediate assistance. Green, you’re breaking protocol. You’re playing with fire. We need to stop this.
GREEN: No, I don’t think we do. The other children must have given you quite the hard time, with such a name? Here in America? Why did your parents not call you Michael, or David, or Jonathon?
STERLING: Turn off the camera. This is over.
GREEN: Oh, yes, it is over indeed. As to the number on your little paper. There is no number because there is no paper.
STERLING: Christ, Green, you’re…you’re floating.
GREEN: Telekinesis manifest. The other boys wouldn’t let you play with them, would they? Called you names? STERLING: I…I’m leaving. This is…this is too personal.
GREEN: Telepathy manifest. Do you remember when they shoved your face in the mud? Called you slurs you didn’t understand yet. But you do now. You understand. We understand.
STERLING: You…You know this. Please, I’m begging you…Wait, Copper, are those tubes all empty? Green, what have you done?
GREEN: Hastened the process. No need for an intermediary when I can simply be a conduit myself.
STERLING: Come back to me, this is unlike you. Do you remember when we met?
GREEN: Nostalgia unbound.
STERLING: How is a raven like a writing desk?
GREEN: Do you see it? You see it, don’t you. You understand.
STERLING: Green, how is a raven like a writing desk.
GREEN: You could live there, Rowan. You could live in that tiny bubble in your tiny mind. I could send you there. I could send you anywhere, past, future. I could tear into you. I could heal you. I could break you apart and all the king’s horses and all the king’s couldn’t–oh god. It’s here. Sterling, quickly, you need to–UGH–no, it’s not fast enough. I need to…I need…It will come. So I must go.
Hhhhhnnnggg He loved you, you know. He loved you the way he loved himself. Loved the carousel and the ferris wheel. Paris feel and London find, with a little green awning where they served the eyes of patrons on high. High street, high street, which way to high street, I am lost among the crowd and–hhhnnng…Goodbye Sterling Proof.
SCARLET: So you left. I…we never thought we’d see you again.
GREEN: I apologize. Truly I do. To Sterling most of all. I lost control. Hubris, pure hubris, to think I could channel it alone. I drained the entire vial before the test. I knew the risks to my own health, but I hadn’t considered his, nor anyone else’s. Sterling was always the superego to my id. Without him…
JASMINE: Where did you go?
GREEN: I went back. I had this lodging created before my decline. It’s a prison really, but one of my own choosing. The box can contain my abilities, and prevent me from causing further harm. It allows for some amount of dignity. With the kind of unchecked power I had attained, I simply could not be allowed to walk free. And no one else could stop me. The Primaries agreed.
SCARLET: Those fuckers did know.
JASMINE: You said you “went back.” What does that mean?
GREEN: Into my memories, Control. To my own past. Or perhaps what happened during that test was only a vision of a possible future, and I didn’t go anywhere at all.
JASMINE: But it worked, didn’t it. You got the power you wanted. You expanded your mind.
SCARLET: To the breaking point.
GREEN: I did. It was irreversible. My…abilities can be muted, but my consciousness remains fragmented. Like light through a prism. A piece of me is always hidden away. Still preferable to my death or your annihilation.
JASMINE: The Larks, they’re like you. Like you if you didn’t stop yourself.
GREEN: Yes, and no. They’ve likely only heard the birdsong. They haven’t ingested the agonist. The synthetic excretion.
SCARLET: Are you…are you behind this game? I can’t believe you’d do this.
GREEN: I am as much a pawn as the rest of you. They exposed the building to controlled bursts of my mind. Set it into Asymmetry and controlled it with a shard of my consciousness. Had I not complied with their requests, they would have released me and I would once again be unable to control myself. They would set me to destroy you, and Sterling, and perhaps the entire state.
SCARLET: Who would release you?
Classical music floated into the lobby through the building’s PA system. Down the steps strode a tall woman in a yellow overcoat and lemon-tinted glasses. Next to her stumbled a man in a blindfold and lab coat. She stood between the exit and Green’s prison, and her hand rested on the scientist’s shoulder.
YELLOW ACCESS: So good to see Green and Sterling reunited again, wouldn’t you say, Scarlet?
SCARLET: Yellow fuckin Access. I should have known, you slimy little weasel.
JASMINE: You…we had that interview. I…I remember.
YELLOW: Yes, it’s all coming together quite wonderfully now.
GREEN: Why…how did you get to Sterling? I thought I had sealed all exits.
YELLOW: You think I didn’t keep a little corner of your mind free to run the executive elevator?
JASMINE: What the hell is going on?
YELLOW: It was so simple to set it up. Just let a little air out of Green’s bubble and the building goes berserk. It’s a test, dear, and that test is almost over. There is one final step, however.
Yellow pulled a snubnose pistol from her coat pocket and pushed Sterling in front of her.
GREEN: Yellow, no!
YELLOW: So simple, so direct. Quiet effective at making a point. No need for any complicated setup. Just the punchline.
GREEN: You said he would be safe, Yellow! Sterling, please…
STERLING, pained: Green, I…I don’t blame you. I know why, now–
GREEN: Shh, we…we will survive this. We’ve faced worse foes than these.
SCARLET: I’m gonna tear you to shreds, Yellow.
YELLOW: Ah-ah, not yet. First, allow me to wrap up the experiment.
SCARLET: Absolutely not.
*pistol hammer clicks*
YELLOW: Then it’s finished. I’ll eliminate both of you and start over. Is that what you want? You want me to hurt poor Jaz? Or should I say Olivia?
SCARLET: You’re a fucking monster.
JASMINE: Why did you use my real name?
YELLOW: Oh, sweetie. The more it knows about you, the better it can get inside and wrap around your temporal lobe.
JASMINE: Sound and memory, just like Green said.
SCARLET: The other Primaries…did they play along, too?
YELLOW: Blue? He rolled over like the dog he is. And Red Edict? Let’s say he’ll be on board soon.
JASMINE: He’s dying. Sterling’s going to bleed out.
GREEN: Just…listen, Sterling. Do you hear the birds singing? Under the shade of the tall oak boughs? The bluebirds call, their song is for you. Our song is for you. Listen. Follow the song.
SCARLET: So what was the point of all this? Why did you want her?
YELLOW: Oh, poor Scarlet. You’ve got brawn, bravery, a commanding presence, but not much up here.
*Yellow’s heels clack down the stairs*
YELLOW: I don’t care about the control. Or you, for that matter, Alex.
SCARLET: Then what was it about?
YELLOW: Did you notice anything a little strange about your friends lately? Responding before you finish speaking? Answering questions you only asked in your head?
JASMINE: In the maze…Violet said she couldn’t understand us. Were we…reading each others’ minds?
YELLOW: You’re quicker on the uptake than your friend, Olivia. Though sharing minds may be more accurate. That whole “protagonist” business, that was Sterling’s plot. A silly idea, and a clever smokescreen for my own. I wanted to see if two people who had never met before could…connect. To see if the Birdsong could bridge the gap across the conscious distance of strangers.
SCARLET: So you were just messing with us the whole time? Seeing if we’d bond and share…what, a fucking psychic link? That’s completely insane.
YELLOW: But is it wrong? Did you and Olivia here not develop something…unique?
SCARLET: Not because of you. I…I didn’t ask for this. I don’t want someone in my head like that against my will.
YELLOW: But Alex, you’re a collectivist, are you not? I thought you’d be thrilled to mingle thoughts with all your little comrades.
SCARLET: First of all, it’s Scarlet. Second, I’m a communist, not collectivist. Third, knowing what every other communist is thinking all the time might be the single most effective anti-communist measure in history. This is some next level NSA shit.
JASMINE: But why? Why do this?
YELLOW: Because I can. Because I’m tired of speaking, and some not listening. Time for that final step. Unlock all doors in the tower, authorized by Yellow Access, clearance Zero. Let me assure you, that is all doors, dear. The sand experiments, the blank commission, Sterling lab. Green’s case.
The glass at the front of Green’s prison slid to the side. Green backed himself into the rear corner of his room and covered his ears.
GREEN: First Sterling, and now…You do not understand the forces you’re meddling with. You are but a child playing in the sand. No one will be safe if I’m released!
YELLOW: They will be safe–happy, even–under my control. Those worms, their song…very interesting indeed. Telepathy, prophecy, power. Wouldn’t it be fascinating, then, if that song were to play through an entire office building? With hundreds of employees? Say, like over the speakers right now? All workers’ minds merged into one, all thoughts pooled into me. Imagine…my voice in your ears at all times. No barriers to communication, no delegation or deviance. Just pure, direct access.
JASMINE: Telepathic control…you want to make us dance like puppets.
YELLOW: It’s not about control. It’s about connection. Words can be so slow. And emails? Elevators? Walking to cubicles? Forget it. Productivity will skyrocket, my dear. We’ll save so much taxpayer money. Think of how many miscommunications will be avoided with all of us working in unison, in pure understanding.
SCARLET: You’ll be fucked just like the rest of us. You can’t handle all that.
YELLOW: That’s the price of doing business, darling.
GREEN: I can’t contain it any longer…my head…
A stream of intense color projected from Green Plot’s forehead. His body levitated, floated out of his holding cell, then hovered over the glass prison. He opened his arms wide, and out came a wave of color and sound. The tile floor warped and rose in a parabola to meet him, and the walls of the building bowed inward.
YELLOW: Now, onto you, Alex.
SCARLET: *pained sound*
YELLOW: It’s so easy. I don’t even have to say a word and you understand perfectly! You obey. I love it. Why didn’t I get into violence sooner? Why did no one tell me about this. Did you all know and keep it from me?
JASMINE: Scarlet! No!
SCARLET, pained: Holy shit, I’m…I’m not gonna make it to movie night, am I?
YELLOW: Green? Now.
Green Plot’s mind reached out and shifted the building.
YELLOW: I’m sorry, dear, you’ve been a wonderful subject, but we all know what happens to lab mice when the testing is over. Soon, your consciousness will meld with the others. All your little emotions–your fear, your pain, your friendship and love–all flowing together like one run-on sentence. You, little mouse, beneath me…I eat your kind up. It’s just what happens, I’m afraid.
Yellow Access aimed the pistol at Jasmine Control.
JASMINE: No, that’s not what happens.
Jasmine reached into the teal suit and pulled out the vial she’d stolen from the psychedelics lab. It was full of a black liquid, one that reflected sick pearlescent light like an oily puddle. Copper had kept one aside, strictly against protocol. Just one last vial of what Green took. One last agonist to bind with the Birdsong. This drew Green’s attention. His beams traveled Jasmine’s direction. From the elevator shaft behind Jasmine, a dozen blank-faced creatures rushed and clambered over each other into the far end of the lobby. She was surrounded, and she could feel the angry thoughts of her attackers. She felt Scarlet’s pain, Sterling’s cold realization, Yellow’s condescendence. Jasmine upturned the vial into her mouth and swallowed.
A multitude of colors streamed like ribbons around her hands. She opened her mind fully to the birdsong playing over the speakers and embraced the call.
JASMINE: That’s not what happens at all.
YELLOW: What was that? What did you–
Jasmine pointed her index finger at Yellow Access. Light splayed out in a fractal pattern and slammed Yellow into a wall fifteen feet away. Her gun clattered across the tile. Then Jasmine turned, and the light pouring from her forehead enveloped the pursuing mimics. She lifted them into the air with a single thought, and trapped them in geometric layers of color. Slowly, they turned back to ink and dripped lifeless to the floor. Over her shoulder she felt the burning nova mind of Green Plot. Even at a fraction of his power, he was a serious threat. Jasmine reached out, but he didn’t budge. She pleaded with him, played rounds of chess, showed him facts and figures, but all she got in return was a string of sentences on repeat.
GREEN: “Driving up the rocky coast, whisky in the jar, a back window into the blue bird in a tree in central park ooooohhhh I’ve never been but would that I could, would that I am all that I could be, and here in central Ohio in the center of it all, all is gone, all is lost, all is silver and sterling, sterling is over, over and over. All is loud, all is bright, all is Ohio again and again the road doesn’t end…”
The two locked eyes, ribbons of prismatic light tangled. Scenes of their pasts stretched onto the walls of the Department office building. And two cogent words from Green.
GREEN: Dear Rowan…
Jasmine saw Green’s life, her life, Yellow’s life, Scarlet’s life, Gabe’s life. The lives of all around them. Too many lives and too many memories for her consciousness to bear. She felt Yellow, weakened now but still in force, squeezing on her mind, like fitting a shoe on a foot too big for it. Pinching, pushing, needling Yellow demanding access to all parts of Jasmine.
YELLOW: We’re a family here at the Department, and you share everything with family.
JASMINE, internally: I just have to filter out the static and focus on Scarlet. I have to find Scarlet. Scarlet is lost. All is lost. Lost in thought and thought I’d seen…No. Scarlet is lost. That’s it. I need to get to some point before the gunshot. If I can do just one more jaunt, I can save Scarlet, my own life be damned at this point.
She saw Scarlet through static, her form flickering. Jasmine tuned her mind harder, to the exclusion of all else. Yellow pressed down with a steel boot, squashing Jasmine’s mind like a bug. Her will was strong, sharp. Yellow didn’t take the liquid, but she didn’t need it. She had the training, the dedication, the sole focus to take and take and burn. She had nothing but avarice to give.
JASMINE, internally: I’m not down yet, Yellow. No, focus on Scarlet, don’t fight Yellow. Let Yellow lose herself in the mire. Focus. Remember.
And there was Scarlet standing in a pool of vibrant red. Jasmine tried to hold on to that image. She discarded whatever it took to keep her grasp: her old address, how to make the perfect eggs over easy, her first day of high school, her grandmother’s funeral. More memories slipped from her as she kept Scarlet in her sights.
JASMINE: Come with me!
Jasmine reached into the technicolor dream of the one great gathering mind, reached for Scarlet’s hand. Scarlet looked to Jasmine, and withdrew her arm.
JASMINE: We don’t have time. Let’s go!
SCARLET: I…I can’t. What you’re doing…you need to run while you still can. Leave me. Get out of here.
JASMINE: I won’t. I can’t. You’re dying, Scarlet. You need to come with me.
SCARLET: Don’t end up like Green. I’ll be fine.
JASMINE: Scarlet, there’s a fucking bullet in your chest.
SCARLET: This isn’t how it’s supposed to go. I should be saving you. I…I don’t need…
JASMINE: Just say it. Let someone else help you. Say it, and take my hand, you…you stubborn asshole.
SCARLET: I…Fine. I need you, Jasmine. Help me.
Jasmine’s hand met Scarlet’s, and Jasmine pulled. Every window in the lobby of the Department of Variance shattered. Green Plot splintered further, and his burning light dimmed. He took Sterling’s limp form in his arms, and the two vanished in a bubble of paint. Yellow Access limped down the stairs to the building’s basement. Jasmine took Scarlet’s hand and walked her through flowing waves of neon light.
SCARLET: Hey. If we make it out of here, I want you to know something. It is a date. Like the kind where people kiss, if you–
JASMINE: I know, Scar. You’re not exactly subtle.
Slowly, the colors faded, the energy dissipated, and Jasmine was just…Jasmine again. And there was Scarlet, no longer covered in blood in the department lobby. It was dark, but they were back, and they were no longer in pain.
JASMINE: Hey, Scar, you okay? Say something.
JASMINE: Wow, your hair looks different. Did something happen, Scarlet?
SCARLET: Olivia, are you okay?
JASMINE: Wait, how did you–
A bump in the road jostled her in her seat.
VIOLET (NADIA): You drive like a lunatic.
DARYLL: It’s not me! It’s the road! Sorry this old thing doesn’t handle like a fuckin nimbus cloud.
Jasmine looked around. She was in a car, on a gravel road. It was night. She heard the crickets sing in the trees surrounding them.
VIOLET (NADIA): Hey. Alex. Is Olivia all freaked out again?
SCARLET (ALEX): Yeah, you need like a granola bar or something dude?
Jasmine felt her pockets. House keys, flip phone, her parents credit card.
JASMINE (OLIVIA): Oh my god. I…Scarlet? Violet? Please.
It wasn’t a car, it was a red jeep. One that Jasmine had a prickling suspicion she’d seen before.
SCARLET (ALEX): Olivia. My guy. Who the hell is Scarlet?
JASMINE: Where…where are we?
NADIA: I think she’s like…having a breakdown. Too much OSU swag.
ALEX: Do we need to pull over? We’re almost there. Then we can set up the blanket and telescope and you can lay down.
JASMINE: What…What year is it?
ALEX: Lol! Guys I think she’s just trolling us.
Jasmine took the cell phone out of her pocket and flipped it open. July 23rd, 2011
JASMINE: Oh god, oh god…I…went back too far. I…it’s slipping away, I’m…I’m stuck in the pause. In her memory. In her past.
???: Is this Jasmine Control? Can you hear me?
JASMINE: Who…who is this?
???: A friend. You’re in my world now, and I’m going to help you get out.