Jasmine learns more about her new employer via Sterling Proof, Scarlet learns more about Jasmine, and Jasmine learns more about herself.
(CWs: Strong language, depression)
Check out our website for more info!
Join our Patreon for early access!
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.
Transcripts available in episode notes at somewhereohio.com
JASMINE: Scarlet, wait! You can’t just…she’s gone again. So I just need to explore this building and find the emergency stairs for this floor.
JASMINE: Stupid cat!
JASMINE: Power’s back! Whoa, this meeting room is fan-cy. Nothing like dad’s old office.
STERLING PROOF, informational video presentation style: Hello, and welcome to the Ohio Department of Variance. Here at the Department, we like to–as Steve Jobs said–think different…Ly. Different-LY seems better. Unless it’s a noun…Nevertheless, you’ll be working in the Bureau of Transnatural Resources. Say, that’s my bureau too! Our bureau’s specialty is the cryptozoological, the fictobiological, and the supernatural. You, like many, are probably thinking “Gee, Professor Proof, aren’t all of those just different ways of saying ‘made up’?” Well, just because something is made up doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist!
My crew collects samples from these groups and tests their properties and potential uses. These tests have made possible many fantastic inventions: elastic metal, self-forming sand, mid-range instantaneous conveyance. Why, we’ve even managed to engineer a sleek deep-sea diving suit that has NASA knocking on our door.
In the coming days, you’ll be acclimated to all of this and more.
During this probationary period, you will be forbidden from communicating with anyone outside the Department about your employment. On your paycheck, you will simply see “State of Ohio” as your employer.
You see, the Department likes to keep itself out of the public view. And with good reason! –
JASMINE: Shit, uhh…
STERLING, no longer presenting: –first one was…not a resounding success. I’ll admit that. Some of the early tests were…mismanaged. The bulb deal with Thanatech was a mistake, no two-ways about it. The Larks came out of my psychedelics lab, too. And Green…But there were positive developments. We managed to control the lab situation, and now we can induce partial lucid dreaming in conscious participants. With a few minor side effects. The sand experiment didn’t work out exactly as planned, but it did lead to the development of the Jaunts. We’ve seen how useful those devices can be, especially against our avian foes.
Our latest trial did produce two wash-outs, but our findings were fascinating nonetheless; temporal transference! Albeit quite limited. We’re still looking into it. Many of the Division of Fictobiology’s “failures” have been the Department’s boons. Hell, we just discovered a few new genders no one’s even conceived of yet! Now that I’m in charge of the division, I expect these good fortunes to only grow in the future.
I’m not the financial expert of the group, but I think you’ll agree: I’ve done my homework this time. The setup for this is minimal, the costs easily under ten thousand, assuming that it runs its course in the projected time frame. We only need patience and “patients” to participate.
STERLING: Yes, I believe so.
STERLING: I’m not sure when we would begin, it’s…circumstantial. We’re not confident, but we’ve got a decent window in which to prepare.
STERLING: Y-yes, we do have one on staff, but I don’t think it would be prudent to…complicate the test any further.
STERLING: I suppose, when framed in such a way, I can see it working. And with that inclusion, Red and yourself will sign off on the funding proposal?
STERLING: Very well, Prudence. My team and I will get to work immediately. Thank you for your magnanimity.
The projector whirred to a stop. Now in the buzzy glow of the office lights, Jasmine took in the office around her. She was standing in a wide meeting room with a long, ovular table, chairs lining both sides. In front was a screen, and behind the table stood a projector and speaker. The carpet lining the room was a pale green, finer than the pointedly dull gray flooring in the rest of the office.
JASMINE: Wow, so they weren’t messing with me. This stuff is real.
SCARLET: Hey, was that nerd I just heard Sterling? He’s okay?
JASMINE: Oh, you’re back! No sadly, just a recording.
SCARLET: Should have known. He’s probably under a desk somewhere.
JASMINE: You got away from that monster down there?
SCARLET: Yeah, I was able to hide out for a bit. When the power came back it went all haywire and ran off. I think we’ll be fine for a now.
JASMINE: Hey, Scarlet, it’s pretty empty up here. While I’m looking around, why don’t you tell me about yourself.
SCARLET: I’m no good at icebreakers.
JASMINE: It’s nice to know your coworkers.
SCARLET: Let’s see…I’m 5 foot 7, reddish hair, and could send your nose through your brain with one elbow. I don’t know. What the hell do you want?
JASMINE: Are you from here originally?
SCARLET: All right, fine. I’m not from here, but I’ve lived here for a decade or so. I think it’s pretty much home now, for better or worse.
JASMINE: I was born here. Well, not here here, an hour or so west. I’ve got an older brother. We don’t talk much anymore, though. How about you?
SCARLET: Only child.
JASMINE: Must have been lonely growing up.
SCARLET: Nope. I had friends, I could see them when I wanted. And when I didn’t, I was plenty happy to be on my own. Still am.
JASMINE: No spouses? Kids?
SCARLET: HA! Fat chance.
JASMINE: I guess that isn’t lonely either? I have a hard time on my own.
SCARLET: Look, I’m not good at relationships. Never have been. Doesn’t mean I don’t try, just means they don’t last long. By the way, have you noticed all the art hanging in this place looks like shit? Don’t think they’ve updated it since it started in ‘91. Never seen more pastel squares in my life. It’s like I’m working in a fucking orthodontist’s office.
JASMINE: So, when you’re on your own, what do you like to do?
SCARLET: Just gonna glide right over that misdirect, huh. *sigh* I like hiking, horror movies, I do muay thai on weekends. I like fixing up old machines; jeeps, cameras, pistols. Anything before like ‘86. And I cook some mean vegan mac. You gotta use hummus for the extra protein. How’s that for your little dating profile? Good enough?
JASMINE: Sounds pretty good. Any nice hiking trails I should check out?
SCARLET, sarcastic: Sure, if we get out of here alive, I’ll send you a pamphlet. Now it’s your turn.
JASMINE: Well, I said I grew up west of here. My hometown was tiny. There wasn’t much to do there, so I read a lot. I made up a lot of stories. My brother was into film, so I’d make little movies with him and his friends sometimes. Mostly recreating scenes from games he liked. But it was fun. I had a bunch of stuffed animals too. I still do, somewhere in the basement. Anyway, these days I still read a lot. I like cooking shows, crosswords, red wine. I don’t get out often as of late, but I’m a decent mixologist and can whip up a poem or two in my free time.
SCARLET: Oh my god, “whip up” a poem? Are you 90 years old?
SCARLET: Do you do anything like…fun?
JASMINE: Is this how you treat a poet and sommelier?
SCARLET: I’m going to leave you in this building, Control.
JASMINE, “just a little guy” energy: You wouldn’t leave such an elderly woman all alone here. On her first day.
SCARLET: Scarlet Jaunt, over and permanently out.
NARRATOR: That video stirred up a great deal of interest in Jasmine. Lucid dreaming, transference, jaunts. Was any of this what she had experienced with that creature and the colors? Or was that something entirely different?
Jasmine Control hadn’t planned for this kind of stress. She was approached with a job offer: a simple editorial position with a government agency. No more information was given in the initial email. She tried searching online for the agency name, then for the sender–“Yellow Access”--but couldn’t find anything relevant. Her first thought was that it was an obvious scam. If she responded, they’d ask her for her address, phone number, social security number, mother’s maiden name. Whatever they could get out of her. But something about the wording of the email gave her pause.
“We’ve been searching for candidates…”
“Your psychometric profile looks…”
“Profound interest in your skillset…”
“Your work history and side projects need not be extensive…”
It all seemed a bit more targeted than the usual junk mail; there was personal information that a regular scammer should have. The end of the email supplied an address to an office building downtown, and a time to meet. That could’ve been a misdirect, but it somehow felt real. And the emailer, though odd, did have an actual dot gov attached. She tried to reply, but was given an automated response from a Fern Daemon that the account could not be reached.
Whoever this person was, they must have been desperate. She’d never been cold called by a legitimate company before.
Despite all the oddity, she considered meeting up. More than anything, Jasmine was bored. She’d done fine in high school, went to a four-year college, graduated with honors. She moved, she got a job, she made acquaintances, had responsibilities. She kept at it for a few years. Life was fine, just fine. But there was always something clawing at the walls in the back of her mind: is this all there is?
Is this what the rest of her life would be like? To work to sleep to work to die? She felt, at all times, on the brink of disaster, whether such disaster was actually on the horizon or simply internal. She didn’t let it show, not often anyway. She kept hacking away at her job, at her days. A tiny part of her withered every morning when she was stirred from dreams of lush green, distant birds, gentle waves on sand. Even nightmares offered more to her than staring at a screen, biking before work, trying out a new recipe. Existence to her felt, in one word, dull. In four: maybe not worth it.
SCARLET: You know I was messing with you, right? It’s hard to tell without seeing your face.
JASMINE: Of course.
SCARLET: Good. I’m not here to be your best friend, but I didn’t wanna actually piss you off.
JASMINE: You didn’t. Look, I’m smiling. It’s fine.
JASMINE: So, here’s a question: what was that guy–Sterling, you said?--what was he talking about?
SCARLET: I didn’t catch it. What did he say?
JASMINE: He was setting up an experiment.
JASMINE: Know anything about it?
SCARLET: Nope. Say anything else?
JASMINE: He mentioned “fictobiology.” What does that mean?
SCARLET: He studies fictional things. Stories, mythical creatures, whatever.
JASMINE: Oh, like a historian, or maybe folklorist in his case.
SCARLET: No, he like studies them. Gets samples, records data, keeps some of them. He’s got a fucked up little zoo in here.
JASMINE: How is that possible? They don’t exist.
SCARLET: Did that big boy you saw up on 26 exist?
JASMINE: I mean, I did see it, so I guess it does.
SCARLET: Cool, that’s just as fake as any story, but it’s here.
JASMINE: So, fiction. Fake. They mean different things here.
SCARLET: The words mean the same. It’s like…dreams are “fake” but they exist.
JASMINE: Ugh. My head hurts.
SCARLET: I know. Feels like your brain’s ripping in half, right? That’s logic and imagination fighting over reality. If you want to work here, you’ll have to let one of them win.
JASMINE: I made a bad choice, didn’t I. To work here.
SCARLET: Probably! If you're a washout–and it seems like you will be–they’ll either set you up for a while so you don’t talk, or the Blank Commission will see if they can mindwipe you.
JASMINE: So all of this…everything I’m seeing, what you’re telling me…it’s not “real”...but it is.
SCARLET: See, you’re getting it!
JASMINE: I’ve got a howling pit in my stomach.
SCARLET: Feels like the end of the world.
SCARLET: Could be. But you get used to it.
JASMINE: Really? How?
SCARLET: You have to. You get used to it or you live in constant pain.
JASMINE: I can’t go back, can I?
SCARLET: You can. Well, not right now you can’t, but once this is over. Like I said: cash or brain tricks. You could pretend for the next few decades that none of this happened, that you had a bad dream. But could you really just walk out? Wouldn’t it eat at you forever, that bit of doubt?
JASMINE: I don’t know.
SCARLET: I didn’t have much choice. I had all this shit thrust on me. Couldn’t really forget it. I figured I might as well make the best of a bad situation. You, on the other hand? I don’t know why you’re here.
JASMINE: I…I was bored.
SCARLET: You’re fucking with me.
JASMINE: Bored! I was bored, okay? I felt like I was wasting my life. Or like life itself was a waste.
SCARLET: Ch’yeah, we’re all wasting our lives.
JASMINE: HOW are you this chill about everything?
SCARLET: Have to be. The other way of dealing with it leads to…something darker.
JASMINE: GOD you’re frustrating.
SCARLET: I can go if you don’t want me here.
JASMINE: P-please don’t hang up. I’m…I’m not brave.
SCARLET: I noticed.
JASMINE: *sniff* Is it okay if I cry for a minute?
SCARLET: Go for it.
SCARLET: *sigh* Yeah?
JASMINE: Too late. *sniff*
SCARLET: I know.
JASMINE: It’s just like…what was the point? I did everything right, I did what they told me, and it still all fell apart. It felt like nothing I did mattered. I feel so empty.
SCARLET: Very existential of you. Violet was into that stuff. Had a huge tome with the guy’s face on it. Nothingness and something.
JASMINE: Probably Sartre.
SCARLET: Well, we’re all empty, if you think about it. And the only way to fill that empty spot up is to give yourself something to do. Some purpose or project. I’ve got one.
JASMINE: Don’t tell me you’re going to give me a “come to jesus” speech.
SCARLET: Nah, nothing like that. Though for some people that does it. Not me. What’s yours?
JASMINE: I don’t know. I have hobbies, friends, family. I was okay.
SCARLET: Obviously you weren’t, or you wouldn’t be here. Some of us need more than “okay.” We need to do something. We need real action. That’s why I can’t leave. Every day I’m here is a nightmare. I could die right now, or tomorrow, or thirty years from now. I could be dead right now and not even know it. But guess what? I feel fucking electric. Check your pulse. Bet it’s racing.
JASMINE: Of course it is.
SCARLET: What, like 110, 120?
JASMINE: How would I know?
SCARLET: There’s a little bit of me in you, somewhere deep down, I think. You need something more, something bigger. Everybody here does. You think Sterling couldn’t go work for DARPA, or Lockheed? He could teach anywhere he wants. But he’s here, because–like me–he wants more. The Department doesn’t need us, we need it. There’s something you need that you didn’t have before. There’s a drive, an itch. Whatever that is for you, you’re close to it now. Check that pulse again. You know what it means? It means you’re not bored anymore.