Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Act II Scene 1

(The setting is the Marine Officer Training School at Quantico, Virginia. The left half of the stage is set up as a classroom, the other side is impossible to make out. All the lights are off as a slide show on biological and chemical weapons is in session. SIX JOURNALISTS, including TED and ONE FEMALE - each in desert camouflage fatigues - are listening to a lecture in progress by the decorated Lieutenant Colonel, TAYLOR.)

(TAYLOR stands behind an impressive looking podium that is micro-phoned for sound though the classroom itself is small. The room seems to have employed the same interior director who helped design the CENTCOM media room in Qatar.)

(The journalists sit with their backs to the audience, but the room is set at a slight angle. TED is seated in the most left seat in the corner. To TAYLOR's left and right, standing guard are two MARINES, both African American, as still as statues with their eyes focussed dead ahead.)

TAYLOR - That's what a smallpox victim looks like without the benefit of Nuclear Biological Chemical protective gear and without the Center of Disease Control recommended inoculations for the theater. LIGHTS!

(The room lights back up but the slide of the smallpox victim remains on display until the end of the scene)

TAYLOR - Before I take us to the next stage in this arena, I'd like to introduce you all to a deputy from OASD (PA), the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. One of the inaugural architects of the Embed Program, he's the guy to thank for allowing you this unprecedented opportunity of a lifetime. Please join me in a salute for a true patriot, Mr. Adam Walters.

(WALTERS enters, dressed in desert camouflage fatigues, and stiffly takes his place to the left of the Lt. Colonel at the podium. TAYLOR doesn't actually give up the podium and remains at front and center.)

WALTERS - Good morning, future embeds. I trust that the slideshow has succeeded in adducing your undivided attention. Have no fears, Lieutenant Colonel Billy Taylor will soon instruct you on how you can safely avoid such a horrifying fate. But I want to take this brief moment in time to more fully explain the neat little program we have here to you.

(TAYLOR nods his head vigorously in approval.)

WALTERS - Embed. Embedded. Embedding.

(WALTERS pauses as if he were turning to the next page in a script)

WALTERS - You've heard the word embed an awful lot over the past few days, but there is no better word to describe this organism, so forgive me if I insist on continuing to stubbornly deploy it. The word "embed“ is defined in Webster's Dictionary "as to enclose closely or to make something an integral part of surrounding matter." Such as the sweet pulp that embeds a plum's seeds or a diamond embedded in a wedding ring.

(WALTERS coughs)

WALTERS - For our purposes, embedding means living, eating, sleeping, working, travelling and daily breathing with the unit that you become attached to. I call it embedding for life.

(TAYLOR wraps his right hand around WALTERS and clasps his right shoulder.)

WALTERS - In order for our aggressive and ambitious program to efficiently work and for you to achieve maximization of opportunity we must insist on a demanding degree of discipline within the system. No prior Administration has ever been so forthcoming. This will be the most minimally restrictive access that has ever been granted.

(WALTERS pauses dramatically.)

WALTERS - Our strategic objectives are, firstly, to strengthen Military/Media relations, secondly, to build up trust, and thirdly, to further the basics of reporting. Last, but far from leastly, our goal is for you civilians to gain familiarity with SOP - an acronym that stands for Standard Operating Procedure - so that in the event of rapidly approaching hostilities none of you endanger our mission.

(TAYLOR pulls his hand back and doesn't shy from frowning at the bureaucrat's definition of the Military acronym.)

WALTERS - I call it embedding for life because to make the most of this, I think, requires a long-term commitment and it shouldn't really matter if the hypothetical war lasts two weeks, two months or two years. (pauses for effect) We are committed to allowing you to become an integral part of a unit. You'll ship out with your team whether by sea or land or air.

(WALTERS pauses)

WALTERS - You'll be in a perpetual state of close-quarters. Each member of the unit linked together composes a support system. You'll be there beside the men during any eventual skirmishes or battles. You'll march on whatever-the-hell capital we happen to march in with them. And if you wish to further remain with your unit, even better. You can join them on the long way home and return back with them to whichever base from which they've originated. We'd love for you to also come home and cover the soldiers of your unit in the inevitable victory parades. Our greatest wish is that you last throughout the duration. That's what I meant by embeds for life.

(TAYLOR winks with his right eye.)

WALTERS - Now if you for some reason decide to make the decision that your unit no longer interests you or you somehow deem your access insufficient, why then of course you may opt for retrogression. But consequently there are no guarantees that you'll be blessed with another unit. Of course some units will get to see heavy combat. Some will move towards the unnamed capital. Some will be patrolling bridges over the river Euphrates. Others might only be in charge of protecting the supply lines. But I just want to put it out there to you that the worst thing in the world that you could do is to sell short any particular embedded opportunities. At first, what you might not deem sufficiently newsworthy, looking back may wind up having played a key role in the actual overall operation. Although, I positively assure you that our units will all play key roles in the coming victory.

(WALTERS lifts his right arm high.)

WALTERS - Our soldiers will prevail not by the strength of their weapons but by their sense of mission and by their consciousness of the justness of their cause.

(WALTERS lowers his arm and smiles broadly.)

WALTERS - For the record, for consideration, and please, especially for my dependent family's sake, I never named any bodies of water in specificity.

(The JOURNALISTS all laugh.)

WALTERS - I'm glad to see that I haven't killed you with boredom. Now, thankfully, I'll be returning you to the safe hands of Lieutenant Colonel Billy Taylor. Thank you, good day and God bless. All of us are praying every man makes it back home alive.

(WALTERS exits the stage as the JOURNALISTS reward him with a hearty round of applause)

TAYLOR - And now...

(TAYLOR smirks as he glances, conspiratorially, at the two MARINES, who retain their icy postures without so much as a blink.)

TAYLOR - We come to my favorite portion of the session.

(TAYLOR adapts a wide grin)

TAYLOR - The part where we get to gas you!

(The JOURNALISTS chuckle nervously. TED runs his fingers along the back of his head with his right hand.)

TAYLOR - Before we introduce you to the Confidence Chamber, you’ll have to acquaint yourself with the necessary safety equipment and learn how to properly utilize it, as it might one day save your life. CORPORAL!

(The CORPORAL – an African American woman in her early twenties – enters the classroom from stage left, carrying a large box in her hands. The CORPORAL opens the box and extracts seven gas masks, then slowly, yet methodically, distributes each to the JOURNALISTS and TAYLOR. When finished, the CORPORAL stands at attention and holds a salute for the colonel to properly dismiss her. TAYLOR swiftly returns the salute, allowing the CORPORAL to exit the classroom back the way she came.)

TAYLOR - I’ve already stressed to you the importance of NBC – Nuclear Biological Chemical protective gear. The suit fits snugly in a vacuum-sealed pouch attached to your hips and can be donned in seconds flat, if need be the case. Don’t worry. You won’t have to search for a phone booth to change into.

(The JOURNALISTS chuckle.)

TAYLOR - NBC’s offer twenty-four hour protection in a contaminated environment and will standardly retain their protective qualities for 45 days in a clean environment. When worn, the jacket-and-pants suit surrounds the soldier with a layer of microscopic carbon spheres that filter out toxic chemical agents such as VX or mustard gas. Before reporting in for future engagements we recommend that you receive your CDC recommended inoculations, which we will also cover. We’ll be in touch with each of your respective news bureau chiefs so you’ll know where to go. Don’t go off on your own and get your shots because, trust me, we bought the best medicine in the market for you. In addition, each of you will be furnished, free on temporary loan from the Pentagon…

(TAYLOR holds his mask high in the air for all to see.)

TAYLOR - The trusty M40 Field Mask. It is a state of the art safety device able to withstand all known noxious vapors. The M40 offers full respiratory system, eye and face protection. It contains a silicon rubber face piece with an internal peripheral face seal and a binocular rigid lens system.

(TAYLOR pulls back the mask’s strap.)

TAYLOR - The M40’s strap stretches around your head and it’s been calibrated to fit even the swollen heads of the Media Elite. (pauses) That was a joke. You each have permission to smile. If you don’t, though, then it’s an order.

(The JOURNALISTS, at best, titter.)

TAYLOR - Forgive me for my folksiness. (pauses) It’s time for everyone to don the masks.

(The JOURNALISTS do as told. TAYLOR continues displaying his mask but doesn’t put it on himself.)

TAYLOR - You are about to learn what the Marines refer to as the MOPP, short for Mission Oriented Protective Posture. Number One, the top priority is to certify that you have a sufficient amount of suction in play. The mask must be tightly locked in place so that it is airtight. (pauses) Otherwise the M40 will be unable to fulfill its commissioned function and. as a result you will wrongly blame the manufacturer or a certain personable colonel for your untimely checkout. It is vital that you develop confidence in all equipment outfitted by the Services. That way you don’t become a burden to your units and a flea on your commanding officer’s unit. Now, take off the masks.

(The JOURNALISTS comply but emit slight gasps.)

TAYLOR - I must confirm that there is nothing untoward about the controlled atmosphere of this classroom so try your best to refrain from gasping or wheezing at this juncture.

(The JOURNALISTS cease all breathing sounds.)

TAYLOR - Unless, of course, one of your comrades has exuded WMD from his…(scans the faces in his audience.)…or her respective posterior’s aperture.

(This time, all the JOURNALISTS share a hearty laugh.)

TAYLOR - Great. In the past you may have derogated Military Intelligence to an oxymoron but now, at least, you’ve learned that it’s not devoid of mirth.

(The JOURNALISTS are enjoying themselves. TAYLOR reaches into his pocket, extracts a military stopwatch, then displays its face to his students.)

TAYLOR - Now that you’ve all familiarized yourself with the recommended procedure for properly utilizing your M40 field masks, it is time to apply your knowledge to applicable use. When the appropriate order is issued…

(TAYLOR stops for a second to eye the only female in the room)

TAYLOR - Don’t worry your pretty little heads. The appropriate order will be intelligible to the meanest capacity. Then you must immediately equip your masks…(pauses) Within the space of nine seconds. Why nine?

(TAYLOR stares directly at TED before providing his own answer.)

TAYLOR - Because at ten, you’re dead and that sucks to high heaven.

(The JOURNALISTS eat up the gallows humor. TAYLOR holds the stopwatch high in the air with his finger on the trigger.)

TAYLOR - Ready…Set…(at the top of his lungs) GAS! GAS! GAS!

(The JOURNALISTS frantically attempt to equip their masks.)

TAYLOR - Eight…night…ten. You’re all as good as fucking dead.

(All the while chuckling, the JOURNALISTS disengage their masks. They eagerly await the next alert so they can prove their worth.)

TAYLOR - (at the top of his lungs) GAS! GAS! GAS!

(This time the JOURNALISTS improve their times.)

TAYLOR - Eight…nine…much better…(at the top of his lungs) GAS! GAS! GAS!

(The JOURNALISTS finish with seconds to spare.)

TAYLOR - Excellent job, squad. Now we’ll see how you fare in the Confidence Chamber.


(The JOURNALISTS follow orders like well-trained Marines. MARINE #1 marches to the rear of the line and MARINE #2 heads the front. TAYLOR marches authoritatively until he reaches MARINE #2.)


(TAYLOR leads his troops out of the classroom and to the still darkened right area of the stage.)

TAYLOR - (at the top of his lungs) HALT! REMAIN AT ATTENTION! AT EASE!

(EVERYONE stands and patiently waits.)

TAYLOR - (spoken like a game show host) Boys and girls, welcome to the Confidence Chamber.

(TAYLOR flicks a switch to turn on a pair of naked light bulbs that barely illuminate a cinderblock room with a low ceiling. The front of the room is composed see-through glass. There is a long wooden bench situated at the rear of the chamber. Ominous looking hoses, whose nozzles are pointing upwards, and snake along the cinderblock walls of the room. There is a desk located outside the chamber, in front of the glass, that holds on its top a telephone and a switch, both painted red.)

TAYLOR - Inside the chamber you will be subjected to C5 Gas. C5 Gas is merely a non-toxic chemical agent generally used for crowd control, whose most hazardous effect would be a bad case of the runs. Of course, in the battlefield, the weapons you face will probably not be so benign.

(The CORPORAL races back on to the stage and approaches TAYLOR. She doesn’t say a word, but TAYLOR nods at her presence.)

TAYLOR - Squad, you must excuse me for a moment. An urgent matter is awaiting my engagement. Kindly remain at attention until I return.

(TAYLOR exits stage right with the CORPORAL in tow.)

(One of the JOURNALISTS turns to TED behind him to tell him something. But MARINE #1 grabs him and pushes him back around. Everyone stands and waits for TAYLOR to return, staring at the gas chamber. The wait lasts at least two minutes.)

(TAYLOR returns onstage from the right side, taking his sweet time.)

TAYLOR - I’m sorry about that but I just had to go telephone an officer and his beautiful young wife and inform them why he has to ship-out in two days. That’s the second toughest job I have.

(TAYLOR lets this soak in on the JOURNALISTS, who have been affected by his words.)


(The MARINES open the door to the chamber.)

TAYLOR - Make your way inside, and commandeer a seat, ladies – whoops - I guess that’s not a disparaging term for all of you.

(The JOURNALISTS enter the chamber and take seats on the wooden bench.)

TAYLOR - By now, you know the drill, about how to react to the alert. But this time, after you’ve worn your mask for sixty seconds I want you to break the seal of your masks and suck in a few vapors of the non-toxic C5 Gas, then quickly reseal your masks. This exercise will impart to you the awesome power of your M40 field mask.

(The MARINES seal the chamber shut. TAYLOR picks up the phone and holds it to his mouth.)

TAYLOR - (at the top of his lungs) GAS! GAS! GAS!

(The Confidence Chamber instantly fills with gas creating a heavy cloud in which nothing can be seen, at first. Then the smoke clears and the JOURNALISTS, one-by-one, remove their masks and struggle to breathe. They each reseal their masks, which work perfectly, to their evident relief. The gas and leftover smoke is then sucked up the hoses.)

(MARINE #1 unseals the chamber and, one at a time each JOURNALIST emerges from within and doffs their mask. On each of their faces a cheek-to-cheek smile is embedded.)

TAYLOR - Excellent job, troop, I’m mighty impressed. But there’s no fooling a United States Marine Lieutenant Colonel. I bet you know-it-alls assumed the masks wouldn’t work. But it worked for even the Arabic fellow we hosted from Al Jazeera.

(The JOURNALISTS laugh.)

TAYLOR - Hoo-ah!


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