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Day 50: Courtyard (3rd Shift)
colors seem brighter when you're high
toxicspiderman wrote in damned
Getting up before the 7-11s opened on Sunday was anathema to any right-thinking man. Sangamon Taylor was no exception. When he wasn't on a field trip to Nowheresville. Where the locals were unconvinced that the Pope was going to personally write them a strongly worded letter if they had fresh Coke with their pancakes. Moving from bed to couch was therefore a lofty achievement, one he was celebrating with a triumphant snore.

Until the couch started to lurch towards a giant screen. He squinted at the LaserDisc cover -- King Kong. Just because he'd voted for it, didn't mean he wanted to watch it. Like Jimmy Carter. Fake animal torture was only cool on MTV. He declined to assist the nurses aside from moving two hundred pounds of biomass off their hands under its own power, and cleared out.

The courtyard was quiet. He swung a leg over a bench, set his notebook down on the warm wood, and pulled out a half-drawn map. He pulled a pen out, uncapped it, and looked at the damn thing. What the fuck would it do? Get a rhythm going and they reprogrammed the fucking building. He laid back, put the map over his face, and worked on his skin cancer instead.


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With a farewell nod to Remy and Meche, the Scarecrow stood and took a quick look around the cafeteria as people were ushered in all directions, trying to pick a familiar face from the crowd. He didn't see Abe anywhere, or Depth Charge- at least he could ask the latter about the movie during dinner. Something in his middle shifted uncomfortably again as the voice of the Wizard Landel's voice boomed into the room, mentioning something he'd been dreading: visitors. A part of him wanted to see Dorothy again, make sure she was all right out there; the other part wanted to solve one puzzle before taking on more doubt. There was only so much about the entire situation he was willing to question at a time- if he tried to handl everything simultaneously, he'd never get anywhere.

Deciding to dodge his nurse for now, the former strawman headed outside, thinking he'd enjoy the feeling of the grass beneath- oh! Conveniently enough, he spotted Sangamon resting on a bench. Surely he'd know about movies and why they were created. Why someone would want to make some sort of a visual record about his friends? Was it to keep an eye on them? Or was it for historical purposes? Something about it just didn't seem right.

The Scarecrow approached Sangamon slowly, worried he was asleep and didn't want to be disturbed. His face couldn't be seen from under the paper he had covering it. Well, it couldn't hurt try. "Sangamon?" he asked tentatively from a few steps away, craning his neck to see if there was any response.

A voice disturbed S.T.'s pseudonap.  Familiar, too.  He tugged the map down enough for a chevron of eyebrows and nose to clear.  "Hey, man.  How's the shitty side of the rainbow treating you?"  He grinned, showing well-fluoridated teeth.

Scarecrow looked OK.  Great, compared to the last few times, but exenuating circumstances, man.  Alive and able to look confused on a scale measured in comparison to tourists rather than bomb shelter residents. Or maybe it was just the effect of turning a painted sack into a live human. However the hell that worked. Now that he'd seen it with Genius Boy, it was hard not to look for the seams. And that led to S.T. wondering if Scarecrow'd gotten the no place like home treatment last night -- looked like a bunch of people had. He was probably staring blankly by this point. Oops. "Sit down if you want.". He sat up, making room. And blinked. Moving that fast was distinctly reminiscent of last night. But his blood pressure equalizes almost instantaneously, bringing the unchanged world back into focus.    

The Scarecrow gave S.T. an appreciative nod before having a seat on the bench beside him, unsure what to make of his first comment. He could feel the strange look of worry etched into his face- it seemed smiling couldn't mask it well.

He clasped his hands before him, trying to think of exactly what he wanted to ask. "I hope I'm not being a bother," he prefaced. "I'm glad to see you in one piece, though. After last night, I was concerned- with the doors enchanted and all, it occurred to me my friends could have ended up in some dangerous places."

"Naah, I'm not busy." Besides, it was the Scarecrow. Dude probably exuded technicolor friendship pheremones or something. Whatever it was, he was easy to talk to, even if easily bewildered. Sort of like Bart, without twenty-something years of marinating his brain in anything he could find. Smart, but not usually bothering to apply it. Sangamon wasn't sure what that felt like; even when stoned off his ass, he couldn't help trying to think. Music was better. Drowned out some of the noise. The sunlight and the great outdoors wasn't too bad either. Perfect day for a cookout, preferably with the Head Bastard on a spit.

Then again, some of the real crazies here might take him at face value. Then he'd have to explain about toxins buildup and do the whole Toxic Spiderman gig. Shit, touch the untouchable bastard and your hand would probably fall off. So much for the BBQ.

Conversation and/or a job would be better, though. Bunch of people had been looking for a biochemist on the bulletin, but none had gotten anything specific past the censors. They didn't, for once, sound like an all-explosives request hour, which was a pleasant change. Or it meant the fuckers had gotten creative last night with more than just the doors. "We got dragged back before things could get more than a little interesting. You?"

"Our group was taken to several places," the Scarecrow started, his eyes glued on his hands as he recalled the various locales they'd visited. "Nowhere particularly interesting or dangerous, thank goodness. We went as far as town a few times- we were trying to make it to the kitchen, but we kept being taken to filing rooms and a couple of places in Doyleton, including a tool store and a, uh, movie store."

He paused a moment after those last words, trying to gauge what Sangamon would say in response, a question he wanted to ask on his tongue; he honestly wasn't sure he wanted to know the answers. He instead asked something safer: "Do you know much about movies, Sangamon?"

"Yeah.   Seen tons of them."  There could be a simple explanation for the question.  One printed and stuck to the bulletin with an easily-rigged poll. Then there was the other one.  That required a certain amount of guile on Scarecrow's part.  S.T. wasn't sure he had it in him.  

Or someone had leaked something on the bulletin.  Wouldn't be the first time.  Fuck, half the obvious code names could really be the rebel alliance stuck in this low-tech Death Star.  And the other way around, though S.T. could swear he'd seen Harrison Ford walk past at least once.  "You're not missing much in there.  A lot of celluloid smoke and mirrors.  Square jaws and blonde hair and as much misogynist ultraviolence as the censors would allow.". Which was heavy on the former and light on the latter given that it predated women's lib and technicolor.  If Scarecroe wanted toast, he'd ask.  Otherwise S.T. was happy to play Statler and Waldorf's felt-free stand-in on a guided tour of film history minus Judy Garland. 

Selluloid? Miss Ojenist? Ultraviolence? The Scarecrow had a vague understanding of that last one, but wasn't so sure on the other two; however, it seemed Sangamon knew a good bit about movies and what they entailed. He rubbed the back of his neck, feeling a dull ache in his head- whether it was caused by the worries on his mind or the fact that he felt completely brainless when talking to Sangamon escaped him.

"They sound complicated," he noted, looking back toward the building. "I heard they're some sort of a picture record and often tell stories of people and animals in far-off places, but how are they made, exactly? It it some sort of magic?"

"No magic. Little bit of physics and a lot of chemistry." He tore a sheet of paper out of the notebook and started sketching. First, a tree. (Or two straight lines and what could also pass for an afro made a tree.) Then a lopsided starburst of lines representing light rays, and a tiny, upside-down, second tree. He spread it out on the bench between them, and started pointing things out with the tip of his pen.

"So the light -- making an image of whatever you see -- comes in through the lens, and hits the film here. Just like your eye. Lens on the front, and something on the back that the light hits. In your eye, rods and cones trigger nerves. In a camera, film. Which is basically plastic with a cocktail of toxic chemicals. They react to the light, you close the lens back up to stop it. Then dunk it in more chemicals, and you end up with a perfect record of what was out there." Except for the crap you had to use to make it. Polaroid had just racked up its first Superfund site. But there were things GEE couldn't try to make people boycott. Hollywood was one. News was another. Next crop of wanna-be documentarians to show up in the office, he'd point them at their own cameras and see how long it took for one of them to get pissed off enough to dump developing fluid on his desk. Information economy, blah blah blah. Pictures were outstripping text. One of these days he was going to open a newspaper and a hologram talking head was going to have replaced each byline, and everyone would forget how to read.

There had to be an easier way to explain this. He poked the pen through the center of the starburst, and hopped off the bench, landing in a crouch beside it. Then he went hunting for the sun. A blurred dot of light followed the paper around, shimmying up and down like a misplaced sequin. It didn't look like much -- but if you looked closely, it wasn't a perfect circle. Not even close -- one side was cut off.

"Look up." A tree was cutting off a similar fraction of the sun's diameter. "Use a real lens instead of diffraction effects, and you'd have a real image. Then you take a lot of them." He waved a hand in front of the pinhole. "Run them one after another on a screen, and the human eye can't tell it's not moving. Anything you can get in front of a camera, you can make a movie out of. Real life, actors, whatever." And then it gets cheap enough that everyone and their dogs think they'll be the next MTV chart-topper with a guitar and a gallon each of hairspray and fake blood.

The Scarecrow hunched over S.T.'s notes as he started explaining how movies were made, nodding throughout his speech, trying to make note of all the technical terms he was using in relation to his drawing. From the sound of it, there was some sort of device that used glass lenses (like from a pair of glasses? All the ones in the Emerald City were green, so that didn't seem very practical) and something called film to take a series of pictures, which were then shown quickly enough that the human eye perceived them as a single, "moving" picture. So that was how the moving picture he'd seen the night of his experiment worked! There were still a lot of holes to fill in his understanding of cameras and film, but he felt incapable of fully understanding S.T.'s explanation with only his damaged, human brain. Besides, his curiosity was getting the better of him. One could make movies of anything with a camera- that was incredible!

The question was now who would want to make a movie about Dorothy's trip to see the Wizard of Oz. The Wicked Witch or the Wizard himself came to mind, but what would they do with such a thing? And how could they use the camera without being noticed? Oh, if only he had his diploma! Surely he'd know all the answers!

"I think I understand," he said, putting a finger to his head, a wry smile crossing him as his brow furrowed. "I don't see why some people would make movies about certain topics, though. I'd think some subjects would be very dull to most people. I mean, some people and animals could be interesting, but what about someone trying to get home?"

Yeah, someone had told him. The grenade had been tossed, and now everyone was wondering if they had enough time to throw it back or if they should just kiss their asses goodbye. Or if it was a fake that some kids thought would be funny. "Guy or girl stranded amidst interesting people, on a quest to find home -- that's like the oldest story in the book." In moving schools, he'd had to read the Odyssey twice. Hell of a story to throw at teenagers, for whom fidelity was something they promised monthly to different girls. "Stories work because people can empathize."

Or because they were full of explosions. S.T. had the advantage of explosions in real life, generally from a safe distance. They looked better on-screen, because no-one would believe a little puff of smoke or waterspout was a major concrete plug (courtesy of GEE, Inc) going boom.

He couldn't keep up the bullshit evasions any longer. Scarecrow had to find out eventually. "You're talking about Dorothy, aren't you? Dorothy and The Wizard of Oz." He wasn't sure if the italics were audible, but they probably were.

Shock hit the Scarecrow so squarely that it caused him to bolt upright, nearly knocking himself off the bench in the process. He found his grip on the seat and regained his balance, the look on his face still a tangled mixture of surprise, alarm, unsureness, and blind curiosity. "Y- you've seen it!" He had to have- how else could he know?

The former strawman lowered his voice to just above a whisper, suddenly aware that the Wizard Landel might have his nurses listening to the conversation. "When we were taken to this movie store in Doyleton last night, I saw it sitting there on a shelf with a bunch of others: this box that said 'The Wizard of Oz,' and it had a drawing on the front of everyone- Lion and the Tin Man and Dorothy and Toto and- and myself! Well, not me like this, but me as a scarecrow- it looked just like us! The Emerald City and the Yellow Brick Road were on there, too. I couldn't believe the resemblance! I felt bad for it, but I had to take it. Oh, I didn't know what it was, but I had to find out. I just had to!"

He paused for a second, realizing he'd blurted everything out all at once in his nervous excitement. The thought that someone had been watching them the whole time without their knowing was undeniably spooky; the idea that the box had some solid proof he really had been a scarecrow and wasn't imagining the whole thing was encouraging. "So you're saying that movie has one of these movin' picture records of our trip, and that just anyone can watch it and see what happened to all of us?"

Edited at 2010-07-04 05:55 pm (UTC)

S.T. nodded, and kept nodding along at each half-blurted, half-conspiratorial whisper. He waited until Scarecrow's reaction seemed to have died down to a dull bubbling simmer.

"Yeah, I've seen it. I don't know how accurate it is," he said as a cover-his-ass introduction, "but it's out there. You and Dorothy and the Tin Man and the," Cowardly, "Lion. And the Wicked Witches and more poppies than Afghanistan."

"As I said, I don't know how accurate the movie is, but she makes it home safely." It was a backasswards reassurance, but it might help. "Maybe we could hunt down where they put the player at night and watch it. If you want." S.T. was used to seeing himself on the small screen, with wildly varying degrees of accuracy. No-one had decided to make a movie (yet), which he avowed out loud was just as well but would be a nice ego-boost. Which everyone who knew him had probably figured out.

Unless it was already a movie somewhere else. Though none of the Boston he remembered looked suspiciously like Toronto with a Citgo sign painted in at odd intervals, so maybe not.

This had been one of those conversations during which the Scarecrow actually hoped the clever little thing would start working so he couldn't feel that look of concern he knew was etched on his face. How long had Sangamon known about the movie? Had he been keeping his knowledge of Oz and the Emerald City to himself on purpose? Or was there some other reason he didn't connect the dots between the Scarecrow and the one he'd seen in the movie? Maybe he'd only seen it recently, or the change in appearance threw him off. Being human was a horse of a different color from being made of straw and scraps. The strawman had to admit he didn't look much like the figure on the box anymore.

Still, it was comforting to know there was a record of his constructed existence, some way to prove he'd once been who he claimed to be. It was the proof he needed to settle some of his doubts: he'd been right all along that Dorothy had been brainwashed into believing the Wizard Landel's lies. Oz did exist- it wasn't just some dream from a sick mind. If only he could show it to her!

He nodded, a determined smile appearing. "I would like that very much," he said, thankful for Sangamon's help. "I think I'll get started looking for the player tonight, in fact. And I'll let you what I find, if I find anything."

He leaned in, lowering his voice again. "Now, in the happenstance that the doors are enchanted again and I do find the room where this player is, what does it look like? It'd be a shame to find it by luck, but never know because I didn't know what I was lookin' for in the first place."

Edited at 2010-07-04 09:28 pm (UTC)

The look that said Sangamon had just gone past general rudenesss and into baby-seal punching territory was even more disturbing from a silver screen hero than from a girlfriend. Though less likely to get himself slapped or left to finish two plates by himself.

"Look, the last guy I mentioned the movie thing to got" -- his panties all in a bunch -- "kinda pissed off about it." Comic book, not movie, but close enough. "Sorry."

He hadn't taken a good look at the laserdisc player -- the box the nurse had been holding was way too small, but technology, unlike fast food portions, shrank as time went on. "It'll be a black box, and so will the projector. I'll come with you if you want." VCRs were a source of confusion to otherwise intelligent people; S.T. didn't relish the thought of trying to walk Scarecrow through setting one up sight unseen. Even if he did have more of a brain than he was willing to admit to.

The Scarecrow nodded, making a mental note of the description. He was grateful for Sangamon's knowledge, even it was a little unsettling in certain topics. "There's bound to be a lot of black boxes out there, so maybe it'd be a good idea of you did go with me tonight. I'd rather not overlook this player by mistake, or accidentally break the movie trying to get it to work, and I know for certain I couldn't figure it out myself without my brains."

Something caught his eye- he spotted Abe sitting a short distance away with another man, a nurse approaching them to take them to the next shift. His own would be along shortly. He lowered his voice. "Let's meet in the main hallway- it's easy to get to, and we can decide where we're going from there."

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