“Team Player”

I took exactly one screenwriting course in my undergrad, and this was the final product. I had a ton of fun writing this story, but I was also painfully aware the entire time that screenwriting is just not my genre. I’m sure my professor would agree. We had a strict page limit, so it’s pretty short.

I wanted to write something funny and a little dark. My parents raised us kids on The X-Files; they carted around boxes full of episodes recorded from television to VHS for years, before the invention of DVDs (and later, streaming). My parents would tape and watch it before we could, so they could vet the episodes that they deemed “too scary,” which we just watched later when they weren’t home. We probably sacrificed quite a few home movies and recital tapes to the preservation of that show each week. It remains one of my favorite television series to this day. I wanted to write a screenplay that had a similar weird-but-cheeky, doesn’t-take-itself-too-seriously kind of feel.

I recently stumbled across this again while organizing computer files (isn’t adult life thrilling?) and it’s definitely not going anywhere else, so it might as well go here.

“Team Player”

EXT – DR. AARON BRIDGER’S RESIDENCE – DAY

Seated inside a modest sedan idling in the drive of an equally modest townhome, DR. AARON BRIDGER, a short, paunchy, and overtly earnest man in his mid-fifties, fastens his seatbelt and meticulously adjusts his rearview mirror. He puts the car in reverse.

CUT TO:

The sedan rolls slowly backwards off the driveway. An expensive imported roadster peels around the corner, gunning down the sleepy suburban lane. The sports car narrowly whips past the back end of Aaron’s sedan, the anonymous driver laying on the horn and flipping his middle finger out the window.

DRIVER

FUCKERRRRRRRRRRRRRR— (fades with distance)

CUT TO:

Aaron cringes in his seat, sheepishly smiling, waving the driver on. His fingers unconsciously straighten the color-coded row of pens nestled inside the plastic well of his shirt pocket.

AARON (to himself)

Sorry, sorry.

INT – COFFEE SHOP – DAY

Aaron waits in the queue of a bustling big-chain café. An apathetic TEENAGE BARISTA punches buttons at the register.

TEENAGE BARISTA

Hi. Waddylitbe.

AARON

Pardon?

TEENAGE BARISTA (with exaggerated inflection)

What. Will. It. Beeeee.

AARON

Oh—yes, uh—my apologies. Ah, dark roast, please, size medium, with cream. Please. Thank you.

TEENAGE BARISTA

Medium dark roast. Milk or cream?

AARON

Uh, yes. Cream. Please.

TEENAGE BARISTA

Three thirty-six.

Aaron pays with a five, and the cashier looks quite expectantly from the tip jar to Aaron as he begins to slip the dollar bill and change back into his pocket. Aaron awkwardly removes the bill and drops it into the plastic bucket. As he does, the next in queue—a HANDSOME PATRON in a sharp dark suit—nudges his way past Aaron.

HANDSOME PATRON

Dark roast. Size medium. With cream.

TEENAGE BARISTA (flirtatious, smiling)

Would you care to sample a muffin today, sir? Freshly baked.

Aaron sidles to the pickup counter and waits patiently. Patrons peck drinks off as they’re called by an equally indifferent adolescent barista.

TEENAGE BARISTA #2 (yells, deadpan)

Medium dark roast with cream on the bar.

As Aaron reaches for the cup, Handsome Patron swoops in to snatch it off the counter.

AARON

Oh—uh—I’m sorry, I think that’s my drink—

HANDSOME PATRON (examines side of cup)

Medium, dark roast, cream. Nope, mine. Thanks for the concern, though, pal.

AARON

Well, yes, but I—

Handsome Patron turns on an expensive Italian leather heel and makes his way to the exit, leaving Aaron gaping and stammering protests in his wake.

CUT TO:

EXT – LUNAR AND PLANETARY INSTITUTE (PARKING LOT) – DAY 

Aaron emerges from his sedan, briefcase and coffee in hand. The car is parked with a dozen or so others in a large rectangular plot of packed earth. Fields of dull yellow grain, sporadically punctuated by wandering cattle, expand in every direction. A handful of dusty golf carts are lined next to a small security office, the arm of a barricade blocking the pathway to a sprawling white mansion on top of a low hill. A sign in front of the small guard post is emblazoned with the NASA logo.  

As Aaron approaches the security office, BILL HAMM, a jovial African-American man in his early twenties, emerges from the opening and gives Aaron a friendly wave.

BILL

Hey, Doc. You’re late! I was starting to wonder if you called off today. You wanna ride?

AARON

No, Bill, though I appreciate the offer.

Aaron glances down suspiciously at the paunch above his belt line.

AARON (wearily)

I, ah, could use the exercise.

BILL (grins)

Ha! Well, couldn’t we all. You sure, though? Not the best day to be strolling into the office at half-past nine. The Director was in rare form this morning. All but screaming at some poor soul on the other side of his phone. Something ‘bout that Caltech project you mentioned.

AARON (alarmed)

Caltech? Do you know—Uh. Never mind. No, no ride today, Bill, thank you. No doubt that mess will be waiting for me upstairs. All the more reason to put off my arrival a few minutes more.

Aaron sighs and takes a sip of his coffee, then grimaces.

BILL

Something wrong, Doc?

AARON (wearily)

No cream.

CUT TO:

Aaron trudges up the dirt path, breathing heavily and visibly sweating under the blazing Houston sun. He pauses by the fence lining both sides of the quarter-mile stretch of road leading to the mansion. A few yards from the fence, a black HEIFER regards him with beady suspicion.

AARON (quietly and a little self-consciously)

Moo. Moooo.

The cow continues its stare, unmoving.

AARON (louder, with greater effort)

Moooooo.

HEIFER (pauses)

Moooooo.

Aaron, now smiling, turns and continues his way up toward the mansion. The cow turns and walks away from the fence, and as it does, the audience sees a complex brand—a series of small connected shapes reminiscent of common crop-circle patterns—burned on the Heifer’s rear flank.

CUT TO:

INT – LUNAR AND PLANETARY INSTITUTE – DAY

Aaron stands in an extravagantly built but governmentally furnished break room—plastic tables, cheap white fridges, microwaves, an industrial double coffee-pot—an odd juxtaposition to the silk wallpapered walls, chandeliers, vaulted ceilings. Aaron frowns at a plastic container of powdered non-dairy creamer in his hand.

JOHN DEARBORN—a bearded and burly man, frenetic with energy, 40-something and business casual—bustles into the breakroom.

JOHN

Bridger! Just the man I was looking for. You making your own hours these days or what? Haha!

John slaps Aaron meatily on the back. Aaron looks from the creamer to John, equally displeased to see them both, and says nothing. John’s slap has inadvertently knocked Aaron’s rimless bifocals halfway down his nose, and he carefully readjusts them.

JOHN (as he snatches the creamer from Aaron’s hand)

Our government repossesses a sixty-million-dollar mansion for Space Flight Simulation but can’t find the budget for real milk. Horseshit! Haha!

John slaps Aaron on the back again, seemingly serving as punctuation to each joke. John adds the creamer to his own coffee and puts it away in the cupboard without returning it to Aaron, who looks on with strangled exasperation.

JOHN

Listen, I hate to do this to you, Bridger…

AARON

I can’t work late for you, John.

JOHN

…But the girlfriend and I are headed to Surfside for the weekend…

AARON

I already covered your lab three times this month—

JOHN

What? No, Wilson’s got the lab. The fuck else are interns good for? Haha!

AARON

So…

JOHN

But I do need you to cover the past thirty days’ data entry for the Edelson test before Monday.

AARON

The past thirty days?

JOHN

You got it. Before Monday! Don’t forget! I owe you one.

John slaps Aaron on the back again as he heads briskly out of the break room.

AARON

No! John—

JOHN (waving out the door)

No doubt this’ll earn you some points with Lansing! Thanks a ton!

Aaron throws his coffee cup in a blue recycle bin.

CUT TO:

INT – DIRECTOR LANSING’S OFFICE – DAY

Aaron sits in a plastic swivel chair, across from DIRECTOR DARRYL LANSING, a sharky man, mid-sixties, with oddly oversized features. A wooden desk—not plastic, denoting his rank—separates the two men, and Lansing leans forward from his leather chair, regarding Aaron with thinly veiled disdain.

LANSING

Everyone has to pitch in a little more every now and then, Dr. Bridger. I do not think my request is unreasonable.

AARON (sulkily)

No, sir, it’s not unreasonable. It’s just… I’ve already got Dearborn’s data for the last month to get compiled—

LANSING

No one likes a martyr, Dr. Bridger.

AARON

That’s really not the—

LANSING

I think you would understand by now, Dr. Bridger, that I do not readily suffer whiners. In fact, I might go as far as saying that I hate whiners.

Lansing stares down Aaron. Aaron looks away sheepishly and goes to work straightening the pens in his pocket protector.

LANSING

I would think you would understand by now that what I need are team players. People who are team players move up in the ranks, Dr. Bridger. Your inability to properly manage your workload makes me seriously question whether you have the commitment to move onto something as big as, say… the Caltech project. I know you’re the current sweetheart for Head of Research, but my recommendation—or lack thereof—will have significant impact on your consideration for that position.

Lansing leans further over the desk, his eyes narrowing.

LANSING

So, are you a whiner, Dr. Bridger, or a team player?

CUT TO:

EXT – LUNAR AND PLANETARY INSTITUTE – NIGHT

The heavens are dark; this far away from the city, a hundred thousand stars blaze across the big Texas sky. Aaron, looking somewhat disheveled, dark circles clinging to the bottom of his eyes, raises his arms above his head in an exaggerated stretch, cracks his back, exhales heavily, and begins to shuffle down the track to the parking lot.

Aaron appears to be quite lost in his thoughts as he walks.

HEIFER (O.S.)

Mooooooo!

Aaron jumps and shrieks, quite girlishly, drawing his briefcase up to his chest for protection. He quickly realizes the origin of the disturbance and flushes with embarrassment, straightening the collar of his button-up and absently tidying the row of pens in his pocket protector. He adjusts the rimless spectacles on his face as he walks toward the fence, where the Heifer is standing.

AARON

Good god, Bess. Gave me a start. We’re both up late tonight then, eh?

As Aaron approaches the Heifer, he can see that the animal’s eyes are rolling in their sockets. Her nostrils flare wildly. Aaron places his briefcase on the ground, and approaches the animal cautiously, but with concern.

AARON (squints, whispering)

Now what’s got into you, girl?

As Aaron reaches the fence, he is abruptly surrounded by a tight circle of blindingly white light. He screams, throwing both arms in front of his face. The Heifer brays sounds of terrible, screeching panic, but does not move, her beady pupils now fixed directly above.

CUT TO:

INT – THE ALIEN SHIP – SPACE

A close-up of Aaron as he mutters in his sleep, his head cradled in some sort of firm but pliable white foam. The movement of his eyes is visible beneath the tissue of his eyelids. He starts, and as his eyes fly open, he attempts to sit up, screaming repeatedly. Aaron realizes he is restrained from the neck down, the length of his body encased in a hard, glimmering, plastic-like sleeve. His screams go up an octave and the cords on his neck grotesquely bulge as he struggles impossibly within the capsule.

A FEMININE VOICE, cool and even—nearly robotic and vaguely British—hails Aaron from an unseen intercom.

FEMME (O.S.)

Aaron Henry Bridger.

Aaron continues on his screaming.

FEMME (O.S.; monotone)

Aaron Henry Bridger. Aaron Henry Bridger. Aaron Henry Bridger.

AARON (yelling)

Yes! Where the hell am I! What happened! Where am I!

FEMME (O.S.)

Hello, Aaron Henry Bridger.

AARON (continuing to yell)

What! Who are you! Please, I don’t know exactly what happened—

Aaron gapes, his mouth gulping like a fish, as his jaw works but no sound emerges from his mouth.

FEMME (O.S.)

We apologize for the inconvenience, Aaron Henry Bridger. It is imperative that you listen attentively, so we have temporarily disabled your vocal mechanism, more for your benefit than ours. You need to be undistracted. We are also administering a mild sedative to slow your heart rate and temper your emotional stress response, which can create unnecessary confusion during direct communication—

Aaron’s expression slackens as the hysteria dissipates. The cords on his neck begin to melt back into his skin, and the flush of his face fades.

FEMME (O.S.)

—“telepathically,” as you so quaintly refer to it. The sedative will not hinder your cognition. There is a monumental decision to be made, and not much time to make it.

Aaron blinks a few times and peers curiously at the capsule around him, taking in the various displays, panels, lights.

FEMME (O.S.)

Aaron Henry Bridger, you are under the medical supervision of a Mikardian crew, currently aboard a Class 4 Research Vessel orbiting approximately 86 million miles away from your Earth. You were intercepted during a routine stop of an unlicensed interplanetary transport. You were subsequently passed into our care by the overlying authority of Quadrant 4.1.867.

The incorporeal voice pauses for a short measure of time.

FEMME (O.S.)

The release of urine is merely a physiological stress response; feelings of shame are wholly unnecessary, Aaron Henry Bridger. Perhaps a slightly elevated dose of sedative is warranted. (pause) May we continue?

Aaron closes his eyes and nods almost imperceptibly.

FEMME (O.S.)

We regret to inform you that you have been the victim of an unauthorized abduction. A group of what you would call… adolescents. Generally, they stick to unregulated species, though human abduction remains a prevalent issue within this particular galaxy. You were discovered along with several specimens of Bos Taurus, so there is a possibility you were picked up unintentionally. A prank in its nature, but a serious infraction nonetheless.

Aaron’s eyes have widened perceptibly during this exchange, more an expression of astonishment than alarm. He then furrows his brow in an expression of puzzlement.

FEMME (O.S.)

We will arrive at that point shortly. As mentioned, we are aboard a medical research vessel. We have explored your background, education, experience, and genetic history, Aaron Henry Bridger, and we believe that you would be an invaluable asset to the Human Abduction Field Team, which focuses on both the rehabilitation of unauthorized human abductees and the streamlining of authorized human abduction, as regulated under the parameters of… intergalactic law would be the closest approximation, in Human English.

Aaron’s eyes squint and he juts his chin slightly upward, an expression requesting clarification.

FEMME (O.S.)

General mischief is a common motivator—particularly among pubescents. Sexual deviancy is another. Humans are a highly regulated species, but exotic, and those with the means and connections occasionally seek out a specimen for… domestication, similar to many of your feline or canine species. And, less commonly, more nefarious desires—torture, murder, infliction of fear—are observed. (pause) Yes. “Serial killer” is an appropriate comparison.

Aaron cringes, his grimace baring his teeth.

FEMME (O.S.)

We digress, Aaron Henry Bridger. In few moments, we will link your mind with the necessary information to assist you in making the most rational decision regarding contractual employment. The choice remains yours. If you wish to be returned to your Earth, there will be little to no recollection of your experience here. Your acceptance of a role within the research community will be contracted for the entirety of your life—which will be considerably longer and more readily sustained under our care than on your planet. You will age at a fraction of your accustomed rate, and much of the deterioration of your current health can be improved or reversed entirely. We can benefit each other, Aaron Henry Bridger.

Aaron’s eyes are wide, and his mouth hangs slightly open.

FEMME (O.S.)

There may be initial discomfort as the simulation begins, but only of the psychological nature—the link can be somewhat disconcerting for those with only peripheral experience in direct communication, such as human beings. We assure you that the sensation will dissipate quickly.

CUT TO:

INT – BREAKROOM – DAY

Aaron is tucked comfortably in a sleek chair against a small white table, reading a book. His rimless bifocals are absent from his face, which has perceptibly slimmed and radiates with good health. The space he inhabits clean and modern, filled with golden syrupy late-afternoon light, emanating from rows of translucent white panels. Aaron pours thick white cream into a steaming cup of black coffee from a delicate china saucer, picks up an ornate silver spoon, and stirs.

PAN OUTWARD:

DR. CLIFFORD “KIP” RUSSELL enters, a Clark Kent lookalike of somewhat undeterminable age, dressed in slim grey separates, reminiscent of hospital scrubs. He grins and lifts a hand to Aaron as he approaches a refrigerator-sized black panel, recessed into one of the walls. Aaron returns the gesture with a lift of his coffee cup.

KIP

Aaron! Surprised to see you around the lab this hour. Are you on your way out?

As he speaks, Kip touches his fingers to a few different places on the panel, invoking superimposed digital images of different food: grilled cheese, turkey club, ham and swiss. He swipes through the first few rapidly, discarding the images with his fingertips. He stares at the floating image of an impeccably assembled Monte Cristo and nods his head.

AARON

No, no, think it’ll be a late night for me. I’m heading out on leave next week. Got a few projects to tie up loose ends on.

A small, previously invisible door rises upward from the black panel where Kip stands with a soft whoosh, and he removes a perfectly crafted sandwich, beautifully plated with a pickle and chips on a gleaming white plate.

KIP

Vacation! Good for you. Earthside?

AARON (nods, grinning)

You got it. Two straight weeks on the white sandy shores of Antigua. Booze, bikinis, and boats galore.

KIP (exiting with sandwich)

Ah, man, heaven. I’ve got two weeks until my next off-rotation. I might just have to follow your lead. In the meanwhile, I’ve got to go track down Mansfield and get my culture results before he shrugs off for the day. (waves) See you at the port, man.

Aaron waves and returns to his coffee.

CUT TO:

INT – SHIP LAB, MED DECK – NIGHT

Aaron, dressed in grey separates identical to those of Kip, dips his hands into a metal basin of viscous blue liquid. He removes his hands carefully, fingers splayed, and the blue liquid coating up to his forearms dries and seems to shrink or tighten, creating a tissue-thin blue layer, like a surgical glove. The room around him is cold, steely, sterile; various instruments, tables, and computer panels line the walls.

Aaron seems to take inventory of a nearby tray of gleaming surgical instruments, touching and straightening each tool as he goes. He selects a long, thin needle with a tear-drop shaped steel bulb at one end—something that has the appearance of an oversized antique hat pin. His index finger touches the bulb, and a drop of clear serum emerges from the end of the menacing-looking needle.

Aaron walks briskly across the room to a smooth, plastic-like capsule, identical to the one he was housed in while under medical supervision. He touches his fingertips to a few places on a nearby glowing wall panel, and the top of the capsules glides slowly downward, revealing the face and naked chest of DIRECTOR LANSING.

Lansing’s mouth gapes open and closed like a fish, but no sound emerges. Aaron leans over the capsules, the long needle raised next to his face. Lansing’s eyes threaten to bulge out of their sockets as he recognizes the face of his long-missing former employee.

AARON

So, are you a whiner, Lansing, or are you a team player?

CUT TO BLACK.

THE END

Copyright E.J.R. Webster, 2016, all rights reserved.

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