Jasmine enters the Psychedelics Lab. Scarlet grows frustrated as Jasmine expands her mind and a new threat emerges.
(CWs: drug mentions [weed, lsd], brief allusion to torture, voice modulation, 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.
SCARLET: Welcome to the Psychedelics Lab, Control. You ever heard of Project Bluebird?
SCARLET: CIA op, was intended to see if those goons could get info out of people using uhh nontraditional methods. Hypnosis, LSD, whatever. Led to worse shit with MKUltra.
JASMINE: Oh god, I have heard of that.
SCARLET: Right. Mostly all the CIA does is commit crimes against humanity. But 60s nostalgia was all the rage in the early 90s, so this agency decided to see if they could…learn from it. Make the tests voluntary, forget about interrogation methods, what have you. A more humane op, I guess.
JASMINE: Still sounds…pretty scary.
SCARLET: Groovy, baby. That’s why I’ve never been. If I wanted my brain poisoned by some warmed over CIA mush, I’d play Call of Duty.
JASMINE: What can I expect here?
SCARLET: Remember the sounds that Lark made?
JASMINE: I’ll never forget.
SCARLET: Well, that came out of the psychedelic labs. The Birdsong.
JASMINE: How am I supposed to deal with it?
SCARLET: You’ll find another rubbery suit before you actually get in there. Put that on–maybe just keep it on this time? There are probably noise-canceling headphones, too. Designed by the Department. They really cancel that sound. So leave the helmet and grab the headphones.
JASMINE: But then I won’t be able to hear you.
SCARLET: You can live without me for 5 minutes.
JASMINE: You can’t see me but I look concerned.
SCARLET: Just carry them with you, and if you hear the Birdsong, put ‘em on and crank it up.
JASMINE: I can do that.
SCARLET: Great. Let’s get moving.
JASMINE: Wow, this place is nothing like the rest of the building. And it’s not just the paint. The floor layout, the design. This foyer is very…mid-century modern. There’s even a big hanging chandelier that looks like an atom. Most of the lights are off, though. And the reception desk is empty. Sleek orange couch, too.
SCARLET: I think Green was trying to go for that old school “science” look, mixed with ‘60s psychedelia.
JASMINE: So what exactly did they do here? Looks like it hasn’t been used in years.
SCARLET: I don’t think you have the clearance…
JASMINE: Oh, come on! Is now the time to worry about protocol?
SCARLET: All right, fine. The lab was mostly full of nerds. Sterling and Green were the biggest nerds, and the first volunteers most of the time.
JASMINE: I guess if you’re doing unethical research, the least you can do is be your own guinea pig.
SCARLET: Yeah…anytime we found some type of variance, they would study it. Usually wouldn’t amount to much: like what do you do with giant sloth fur? A chef who cooked himself?
JASMINE: Ouch, brutal.
SCARLET: There were a few interesting ones, though. Not that long ago, they teamed up with a company to study some weird light and sound readings they’d been getting in the office.
JASMINE: What, like background radiation?
SCARLET: Kind of. They had this data, a bunch of tiny jumps in the lines, and they sent them to the company to see if they could make something that would replicate them. The company never got back to us, but soon they shipped a bunch of new light bulbs out west. From what I’ve heard, things got a little scary out there.
JASMINE: What happened?
SCARLET: Reports are inconsistent, but my debrief said there were…people…made out of sound.
JASMINE: What does that mean?
SCARLET: Something to do with frequencies of light and vibrations in the air.
JASMINE: Like the sand experiments.
SCARLET: That’s what came next. We got word of what went down, collected all the bulbs, and Sterling got to work seeing if he could make it happen again. They sort of did, and it led to the jaunts, and the sand.
SCARLET: A lot more went on here, too. Hopefully you won’t need to know about it.
JASMINE: I’m out of the foyer now, going by some lab rooms. So far, so good.
SCARLET: Great! You’ll be out of there in no time. Take some of the wallpaper on your way out, we can make the break room look like the inside of a lava lamp.
JASMINE: Wait, that room’s not a lab. There’s a red light over it.
SCARLET: Is it the exit already?
JASMINE: No. It says “Observation Room: No unauthorized entry.” ID locked.
SCARLET: Hmm. I say you ignore it and look for the stairs. Since you don’t have an ID or keycard yet. We’ve got some stairs to find.
JASMINE: Maybe there’s still one around.
SCARLET: Ehh, that would be nice, but I doubt it. They cleaned the place up pretty good when they shut it down. Human rights violations and whatnot.
JASMINE: I’m going to check the front desk again real quick.
SCARLET: I’m not gonna talk you out of it, am I?
SCARLET: Damn it, all right. Just make it quick.
*folder open, papers ruffle*
JASMINE: There’s a clipboard, some old pens, and a folder. There are instructions in case of emergency in here, but no badges.
SCARLET: Cool, can we move on now? I’m umm…I’m dying of…carbon monoxide poisoning. We gotta go.
JASMINE: Sure, you can go. Get out while you can, Scarlet. I’m going to read through this for a sec.
SCARLET: No survival instincts in that brain of yours. Maybe that’s why they hired you.
JASMINE: Shhhh, don’t be rude. It says that there’s a button somewhere under the desk to engage and release lockdown for the lab. What would happen if I unlocked it? Would the stairs be easier to find?
SCARLET: I don’t think so. At best, you’d open a few empty rooms and turn a few more lights on. Probably better to–
SCARLET: You already hit it.
JASMINE: Right! Wow, this place is really enchanting with the chandelier on. The way it glides over the colors…
SCARLET: Don’t get distracted. Look for those stairs, Control.
JASMINE: All right, all right. But first…
JASMINE: But first.
SCARLET: God I wish I was there so I could throw you in the trash and wheel you out. Doing this over the radio is like pulling teeth from a fucking tiger.
JASMINE: It’ll only be a sec. I gotta see what’s in that observation room.
SCARLET: I can tell you right now! Two chairs, a table, and a two-way mirror. Maybe a camera. Great! You’ve basically seen it now. Leeeeeet’s go.
JASMINE: Close, there’s also a video camera, a clipboard, and a tv/vcr combo, too.
SCARLET: So what, now you’re gonna take a seat and watch the Lion King?
JASMINE: Listen, Scar, getting out of here is my number one priority. But understanding what’s going on can only help our situation. The more I know, the safer I am. How am I supposed to deal with all this variance nonsense if I don’t know what it is?
SCARLET: *sigh* Fine, you’ve got a point. You’ve got five minutes before I come through this watch and drag you to hell with me.
*tape loaded into vcr*
STERLING: Okay, Green, I’ve laid three cards face-down before me. Can you describe what’s on them, left to right?
GREEN: Sterling, you know as well as I that I cannot.
STERLING: Take your best guess.
GREEN: Circle, waves, square.
STERLING: Excellent, just setting up a control. All right, I’m going to begin the music.
STERLING: Now, can you see the back of the cards?
GREEN: Yes, of course.
STERLING: What do they look like?
GREEN: Concentric diamonds, or squares, of various colors.
STERLING: Perfect. Now, if I were to ask what they remind you of, what would you say?
GREEN: I suppose the symbol looks a little like Brigid’s Cross, or a baseball diamond.
STERLING: Have you seen Brigid’s Cross before?
GREEN: Of course. My grandfather was Irish. He had one hanging in his house, and my father had one in ours.
STERLING: Where did the cross hang in your home?
GREEN: Somewhere above the television, if memory serves. High on the wall.
STERLING: What did your father watch on this television?
GREEN: Many football games, the news, Gilligan’s Island. Sterling, I’m not sure this method works on one who knows it’s taking place.
STERLING: Please, just listen to the music and answer the questions, Green. Now, have you heard this music before?
GREEN: No, but it sounds like a song I often heard when I was young.
STERLING: Where were you when you heard it?
GREEN: I believe…It was in the car. We were driving…up the coast, perhaps.
STERLING: Perhaps you rolled the windows down. You could see the ocean from the back seat. It was splashing against the rocky shore.
GREEN: Yes, deep woods ran along the road on the other side.
STERLING: Where were you going on this trip?
GREEN: We left Connecticut for Portland, Maine.
STERLING: You took some books along with you. Why weren’t you reading them?
GREEN: Reading in the car makes me feel ill.
STERLING: But you had been reading something recently. A book, with colorful illustrations throughout. It sparked your imagination. What was the book?
GREEN: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
STERLING: And on this trip, you found yourself restless after hours on the road. To keep you entertained, your father asked you something related to this book. Do you remember what he asked you?
GREEN: Why is a raven like a writing desk.
STERLING: And what is on the cards before me?
GREEN: A light bulb, a mug, a blue bird.
STERLING: Okay, Green. Let’s stop here.
GREEN: Okay. *heavy exhale* How did we do?
STERLING: Just fine, Green. Go ahead and take a break. I’ll clean up the testing room.
GREEN: Thank you for indulging me, Sterling.
STERLING: Any time, Green.
STERLING: No, zero for three. Worse than the first. I believe he was in partial state, but his answers don’t contain much meaning. It’s likely he was unconsciously transferring things he was seeing in the room to the cards. My mug, the lights overhead, the raven in question. This method needs further tuning, or perhaps should be abandoned altogether. I worry that he’s focusing on all the wrong aspects of our Bureau. We have designs, theoretically proven, that are far more practical and–
STERLING: Hold on. *leaning away from mic* Copper, can you fetch a flashlight? The backup power should come on in a few moments, but I’d prefer not to sit in the dark if it doesn’t. *back on the mic* Pardon? No, the storm just knocked us offline briefly. I–
*mug falls over*
STERLING: *leaning away* Copper, bring a towel, as well. *back on mic* Yes, I bumped my cup in the dark. Coffee on my new white shirt. Just perfect. Green won’t be too pleased. *leaning away* Copper, are you almost here? I could really use that towel… *back on mic* Hmm. That’s odd, I thought we discontinued the music. I can still hear it. Very light, like a sparrow calling. How is it playing without power? I should go see what’s going on. We’ll speak later.
JASMINE: Hey, Scar? Who’s Green?
SCARLET: Green is…was…the head of the Dead Letter Office, and later ran the Bureau of Transnatural Resources. He was an engineer before he joined the Department. He did a lot of interior design and architecture work. Dude was brilliant, and always curious. But that got him in trouble.
SCARLET: Well, that brings us to the other big focus of this lab: altering the mind. Green moved on from drawing floorplans to messing with his head. Rapid hypnosis, lucid dreaming, telepathy studies, and memory. I think he had a lot of nostalgia for the hippie days, even though he was never there. Somehow got it in his head that all of this was connected–sound, memory, variance, even wild shit like telekinesis and time travel–and that if he could just figure it all out, he could do anything.
JASMINE: What happened?
SCARLET: He was kind of right. Took him years, but he found something. The birdsong was his baby, but it got to him in the end. Nostalgia’s a strong drug; way too easy to look into your past and stay there.
JASMINE: Oh no. That’s a shame.
SCARLET: Yeah. That’s why we stopped these tests. This was all right around when I joined. I…I really liked Green. He was amazing to talk to. The way his brain would jump from thing to thing. He really could have done anything. And Sterling believed in him so hard. I think we all did. But then everything blew up, and we’re still dealing with the fallout.
JASMINE: Did he do any design work in the building?
SCARLET: The whole thing was his project. With the eleel–sorry, that’s elastic steel, some biology pun–we could go into extreme lockdown if anything ever went wrong. Asymmetry. The building could alter itself to keep threats from getting out. Sterling and him cooked up.
JASMINE: Incredible. Is any of their research still here?
SCARLET: I doubt it.
JASMINE: Not even like…a test tube in a fridge or something? Could that be anything?
SCARLET: If so, it’d be super dangerous. They definitely would have taken it and burned it. Why, you planning on taking some government-grade acid there, Control?
JASMINE: Hmm. No, just curious.
SCARLET: Well, satisfied now?
JASMINE: I have even more questions than before. But I think I’m done here.
SCARLET: Good. Let’s scout around for the stairs.
JASMINE: Sounds good. I like the tone of the instruments.
SCARLET: What instruments?
JASMINE: The music playing in the foyer.
SCARLET: Oh fuck. There’s music? There should not be music of any kind in the lab.
*birdsong fades in*
JASMINE: It is. Music in the foyer. He’s in the foyer and I’m in the foyer and I can never decide if I should say it the french way or not. I’ve never been to Paris, but my mom told me about it when I was a teen. There’s a monster in the closet and my mom says it’s not there but I see it right now and–
SCARLET: Jasmine, put on the headphones.
JASMINE: Headphones, the noise canceling studio monitors my brother had…the black tar monster approaches he called it. His first movie.
SCARLET: Now. RUN.
SCARLET: This is Scarlet Jaunt. Immediate assistance needed in the Psychedelics Lab.
New hire’s there. We need a Waveformer. Now.
If anyone’s listening, I’m sure you’re worried, too. But I don’t give a shit who that thing used to be, it’s going to kill her.
If none of you find a way to do it, I’m going to do it myself.
Seriously, are none of you going to respond?
SCARLET: Violet, I need your help. You still here? Violet? Shit.
Get away from her, you fucking brute!
God damn it. *sigh* Jasmine, I hope your survival instinct finally kicks in. For both of us.
NARRATOR: This Lark was even bigger than the last. Twice Jasmine’s height, hunched, arms hanging to the floor and knotted with oily muscle. Color beamed from the center of its forehead like a slide projector. The rectangle of swirling light swept the room, looking for any sign of conscious life. Long tendrils slithered around its ears and neck, leaving slick trails of black. The Lark staggered forward on its massive hands, dragging its legs behind. With each movement, it dripped tar black to the floor as more of its body was covered in thick ink. For all its bulk and horror, the Lark’s expression was serene as its face was submerged in squirming dark. Jasmine ducked in front of the reception desk and quickly slid on the Department headphones. She fumbled for any kind of lever or switch on the side, eventually pushing the right sequence of buttons to start the music.
The beast lumbered around the lab, head swiveling back and forth. Jasmine hid for a time, but the fear growing within her alerted the beast. It suddenly lurched back toward the desk and bound in her direction. She took one look at it before dashing. A badge dangled from its long neck: Copper View, Psychedelics Lab, Clearance Level 3. She darted into the observation room, slammed the door behind her, and frantically pounded the lock button next to the entrance. The light above the door went red. What was once Copper View threw itself at the door, a spray of color and asphalt leaving its body with the impact. Its mass alone wouldn’t budge the door, so it scratched, clawed, and grabbed at what was in front of it. Jasmine backed into the corner between the two-way mirror and the vcr. What was once Copper View went quiet for a moment, and Jasmine allowed herself to breathe. But it was only a moment. Jasmine heard something beep, and the light above the door went green. Whatever was left of Copper View had remembered the keycard. It squeezed its dripping form through the small door and towered over the cowering editor. One massive hand wrapped around her teal suit and lifted her to meet the creature face-to-face. The light from its head splayed across her face. She was compelled, staring wide and unblinking. She could see her entire life playing out in the dancing colors, and then what was once Copper View’s life. She could see far ahead, too. Years of her life yet to come, buildings crumbling, oceans rising. Death. So much death. Tears streamed down her cheeks and her lips parted. But that was less saturated, farther away. Then she saw a figure coalesce in deep red: Scarlet, or who Scarlet might be, holding out something for her to take.
She reached into the light on the Lark’s face, and when her hand returned, she was holding streams of pure shimmering color. She blinked, and shoved her palm hard against what remained of Copper View’s forehead. The impact connected, and a bubble of oil paint distorted the space of the room. Then all light vanished, the room went grayscale, and the black tendrils wormed their way behind the creature’s body, out of view. Its hand went limp and slowly lowered Jasmine to the floor. She shivered in place as the thing collapsed in on itself. She waited, maybe too long, to see if anything remained in Copper View. Usual vibrance slowly trickled back into the observation room. Jasmine looked down at her shaking palms, and saw a faint circle of light. Indigo, teal, pink, yellow, scarlet. A pearlescent rainbow rippled in her hands, then grew dim and disappeared entirely.
JASMINE: Scarlet? Are…are you there?
SCARLET, massive sigh: Holy fuck, you’re alive. Something must be watching over your shoulder, Jasmine. Something pretty damn strong. I can’t believe you’re all right.
JASMINE: I’m…yeah. I’m all right.
SCARLET: What happened up there? It sounded like another big guy.
JASMINE: It was…
SCARLET: You okay? That thing looked massive.
JASMINE: I’m…yeah, I’m okay.
SCARLET: How did you get away?
JASMINE: I didn’t.
SCARLET: What does that mean? I know there was something up there.
JASMINE: I…I think I killed him.
SCARLET, nervous: N-no way, that’s not possible. I can’t even kill them. Even with a jaunt, it’s only temporary in the long run. They’re like a force of nature: you’re basically telling me you just killed gravity.
JASMINE: Maybe this was temporary. I don’t know. But it’s not a threat anymore.
SCARLET, quivering: What…what the fuck did you do, Jasmine Control?
JASMINE: I don’t really know. You…I…there were colors in my hand.
SCARLET: After something like this, your thoughts are all muddled. I get it. Sounds like you cleared the place, though. Take a minute to rest while it’s safe.
JASMINE: Right, yeah.
NARRATOR: Jasmine turned off her watch and spent a moment lying on the orange sofa in the foyer. She knew it had only been seconds, but she felt as if she’d lived two lifetimes in the Lark’s–Copper View’s–hand. She could dissect that experience for the next ten years and still find more to uncover–about herself and about Copper. But there wasn’t time for that now. There were two things she needed to do before moving on. Two things she saw in Copper’s mind. Two things to take.
JASMINE: It’s…none of Scarlet’s business. Just a keycard and a vial. Then I’ll find the stairs. And maybe some answers.