05: Midnight

written by Daniel Manning

[[SFX: tape recorder starts; a muffled crowd]]

SALLY GRISSOM (SG): (out of breath) Okay... Diary... Sally Grissom... December 21, 1945... Time is, uh, 12:26? That can’t be right. I need to reset my watch. I guess that it’s about quarter, half past nine? I’m in the maintenance room. There was a backup power supply here but it hasn't been recharged in I don’t know how many weeks, so the Timepiece could only hurl me back a few hours. Unfortunately, not until after everything was in boxes. The Timepiece doesn’t move your position relative to Earth, so now I’m locked in a broom closet. Everyone else is at the Christmas party. They don’t know that they’ve been fired yet. And they definitely don’t know that the town is going to burn to the ground in about two hours. And I’m supposed to be trying to fix it by now but I’m stuck in this stupid closet!

As long as I’m here, I might as well go through the catastrophe we’re trying to avoid. It started at the party, a couple hours ago... Or, maybe not? Victor Lambert was explaining to me, Project Rainbow’s supposed to bend light...

[[SFX: radio tuning; party crowd, Christmas music]]

VICTOR LAMBERT (VL): ...Rainbow’s supposed to bend light, you know? We thought, if you could bend the light that goes around the ship, you would make it disappear from view, right? But after the Eldridge, after Philadelphia... hey, we had to give up the dream. So maybe we couldn’t make a ship invisible, but we still had all this really good research. So we figured, what if we bent the light into a container, you know, take for ourselves? Rainbow took one step back and two steps to the side. We worked our original designs into a system to harness the power of the sun. But Ivan and I bit off more than we could chew, trying to capture and store every photon in a given area. The challenge wasn’t taking in all that energy, you see. It’s holding onto it until you need it. People need their electricity all day, and studies have proven that solar energy collection rates drop to zero at night.

JACK WYATT (JW): Smart aleck.

SG: Wyatt, he’s not wrong.

VL: So we put in this big loop of wires that go around town. A massive network of copper. Remember a couple of years ago, there was that week when everything tasted like pennies? We were installing it.

JW: And you didn’t feel like you had to tell us?

VL: Are you unhappy with your free, unlimited electricity?

JW: Well... I guess not...

VL: The network is maintained by two solar collectors, one at either end of town. Since we installed the system I’ve been at one of them, while Ivan manages the other. Each one takes in sunlight during the day, and stores it as electrical charge in these massive cells. At night, the cells slowly discharge and trickle into your homes. And you didn’t even see it happen.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: Of course, if he had known that Ivan Maraczek would storm away from his station the minute everyone lost their jobs... That Ivan wouldn’t be around to do anything when an imbalance in the system caused the stored energy to build to critical levels... He’d probably have said all that with a little more urgency and a little less... Exposition.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

HANK CORNISH (HC): Excuse me everyone. Can I have your attention please?

ANTHONY PARTRIDGE (AP): Settle down, settle down everyone.

[[SFX: music cuts out]]

HC: Thank you. Hello, sorry to interrupt the party everyone, my plane encountered a spot of bad weather headed this way. My name is Agent Hank Cornish, I’m with the Central Intelligence Group. I’m here to thank you, on behalf of the President and the American people, for all the work you’ve done here in Polvo these past few years. The men and women in this room have made innumerable strides for science and technology, and you all personally helped keep America safe. So I want to thank you.

[[SFX: Hank claps; the crowd confusedly applauds]]

HC: Yes thank you, thank you. And it is on that high note that we’ll be shutting down operations of the Office of Developed Anomalous Resources effective immediately, and starting January 1st the assets here will be absorbed into the Central Intelligence Group.

[[SFX: distressed crowd]]

HELEN PARTRIDGE (HP): Wait a minute... What’s going to happen to the town?

HC: The State Department has set aside some funds for severance and relocation costs. Now you’re all very important to us and we value all of the work you’ve done, so we’ve got you taken care of. Now the town itself and what you all found in it when you moved here are property of the United States government and will be seized, as well as any active project resources.

VL: Did he say project resources—

HC: I’m sorry, I really didn’t mean to take up a ton of your time. Have a great party everybody, merry Christmas.

[[SFX: Hank leaves]]

VL: What is that supposed to mean?

AP: It means that we’re done.

ESTHER ROBERTS (ER): So, that’s it? We’re all fired?

AP: It means there’s no one to fire us.

JW: Well, what are we supposed to do?

AP: Start looking for new positions. I’m sure you can get a good reference from whoever we’re supposed to be, officially.

VL: And that’s just it?

AP: That’s it. We’re dead in the water.

JW: ...I don’t know about you all, but I came here for a Christmas party. I have resolved to wait until this glass is empty to think about whatever’s next.

[[SFX: crowd agrees]]

AP: I have been meaning to drink a bottle of absinthe I received a year ago.

ER: But absinthe is illegal.

AP: Not in Spain. A colleague snuck it across the Atlantic for me.

ER: How many of your colleagues moonlight as booze smugglers from war-torn Europe?

AP: Esther, there was a time when all of us were moonlighting as booze smugglers from war- torn Europe! But times change.

HP: Oh please. Esther, he bought it in Canada. Smuggled it out of war-torn Manitoba. It's moonshine with green food coloring.

ER: That does sound suitably depressing.

AP: Absinthe is a liquor best paired with sorrow.

VL: Who said that?

AP: Nathaniel Hawthorne, I believe.

ER: Do you? Do you think Hawthorne said that?

AP: No idea. Never read Hawthorne. But I’d like to think he said it.

[[SFX: tape fast-forward]]

JW: (very drunk) Do we drink to forget, or do we remember so we have something we can lose when we drink?

AP: (also fairly drunk) You’re already drunk.

JW: Am I! I should live it up now that I’m the newest face in the bread line.

SG: Do me a favor, Hooverville, go get another bottle from the supply closet.

JW: Yes captain! Away!

[[SFX: thunder]]

SG: Wow, it’s getting pretty bad out there.

HP: All the better to drown our sorrows.

SG: So where will you go?

HP: I’m not sure. Someplace green, I think. I’m done with the flat brown sand. I’d like to live somewhere with hills, covered in trees. And I think it’d be good for us to settle down. Living here is so... Stressful. I think a calm little life is just the ticket for us now.

SG: Sounds nice.

HP: But they said... “All resources.” Has anyone mentioned what that means for you?

SG: Not yet. But I’ve put in two years here, behaved for the most part. I think I can make them see reason.

HP: And what if you can’t?

SG: Then fuck ‘em.

HP: Oh, well... Ok! Cheers to that!

[[SFX: glasses clink]]

VL: Me, I imagine I’ll take the work I’ve done here and continue. Things I’ve done here will change the world! I’ll sell the patents, make a lot of money, and just live a little bit easier.

SG: Don’t be too sure—

JW: Dr. Grissom I found this bottle, is that ok?

SG: Excellent work my friend!

HP: Do you want me to put that on the drinks table for you?

SG: Why? This ones for me.

[[SFX: bottle sloshes, Sally drinks; thunder]]

SG: There it is again. Wow. That’s some heavy thunder.

HP: I wouldn’t worry.

JW: Yeah, look, don’t worry! We’re just out of a job, can’t tell anyone what we’ve been doing, tossed back out into the world like a mackerel caught in a tuna net–

HP: Okay Jack, I think maybe you’ve had enough... I’m gonna set him down somewhere, and try to find a restroom. Excuse me.

[[SFX: Helen leads Jack away]]

SG: Huh. Where would I go... That is if they let me go...

[[SFX: thunder; power goes out]]

SG: And on three... Hey Lambert, you’re the power guy, any ideas?

VL: I don’t know, I should be off for the... Ivan! Christ, he must be devastated...

SG: What do you mean?

VL: Well... He and I have known each other for years. I brought him into Polvo myself, but... He has a bad habit of getting run out of any place he went. Polvo was sort of a last chance to get it right. And now...

[[SFX: sci-fi electrical explosion]]

VL: That can’t be good.

SG: What was that?

VL: My best guess is, something at Ivan’s station failed and there’s a dangerous electricity buildup that’s causing the Rainbow generator to overload.

SG: Pretty specific guess.

VL: What can I say? I made the system, I’m pretty familiar with how it operates.

[[SFX: emergency siren]]

VL: And there it is. Right on time.

JW: Oh God, we’re going to die here. I can see it. I’ve seen it…. [cries]

AP: We’re not going to die here, keep your boots on.

SG: Lambert, what’s the timeline here?

VL: Not long. About thirty minutes until critical, another hour or so until the Eldridge Effect tears the town apart.

SG: The Eldridge Effect?

VL: It was before you got here. The Philadelphia Experiment went to pot after the Rainbow generator stopped bending light, but the fabric of spacetime itself. Luckily, it only ran for a second, but... Sally, hey Sally where are you going?

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: So I ran outside, to see what had really happened. There was a strange glow coming from the very edge of town, where Lambert had said the station was. If the effect like the one that brought me here ever occurred again, it could ruin everything I created. Hell, it might even ruin my first jump from 20█, and I'll have to deal with another one of me sitting among the ruins of the base. I'm not sure if I could handle another one of me around. I mean, different from now, since I’m the one... Never mind.

I ran back into the labs and grabbed the Timepiece. I figured, if I could go back and stop the explosion before whatever reaction hit critical mass it would all be over. But I admit… I hesitated. When I was alone with it, I don’t know, I just felt this urge to... Run. Just pack up everything, the Timepiece, all my notes, and get as far away as I could. But as I took the tarp off the device, I heard the voice of June Barlowe. In front of the machine, gun pointed at my head.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

JUNE BARLOWE: You’ve built this thing that promises to fix what once was broken, and you just let it sit there? Too afraid to do anything with that power, because you’re afraid that one day you might regret it?

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: I don't know if it was the drink or the adrenaline, but I looked at Timepiece and I saw, I knew that I could, in fact, save everyone. If not everyone, then at least my friends in Polvo. So I set it down, began to start it up... and remembered that the power in the lab was dead. Obviously. Fortunately there was this little backup supply. I grabbed that and came to this closet, to make sure no one would be able to see me when I arrived in the past... That’s pretty much where you came in.

I want to believe that just some kind of miracle will get me out of here. That, or I do the difficult thing and pound on the walls until someone probably talking to me right now can—

[[SFX: door opens, party sounds]]

JW: Dr. Grissom?

SG: Wyatt! Oh good.

JW: Did you use the Timepiece?

SG: How... why do you think that?

JW: Well, you’re standing in a closet that was locked from the outside, you're soaking wet and it isn't raining outside, and also we built a time machine and I might be drunk but I'm not an idiot.

[[SFX: thunder]]

SG: Oh! I remember that thunder! What time is it?

JW: Don't you have a wa- oh, right. It's 9:38.

SG: Only about two and a half hours...

JW: You left just after midnight?

SG: Twelve on the dial, actually. I didn’t exactly plan on it, but it sure does makes the math easy.

JW: You didn't plan this? So when you asked me to go get a bottle, you didn't plan on me finding you?

SG: Wait, when did I... The bottle! Hah! I am a genius! Past Sally for the win!

[[SFX: Sally gives herself a high five]]

JW: Did you just give yourself, like a high five?

SG: A girl's got to stay positive when the town's about to blow up OH RIGHT I forgot to tell you the town is about to blow up!

JW: Why did you not lead with that!

SG: Listen, you need to help me with this. The town's in danger, and we have a time limit and some clear goals, so you've got to walk yourself out of your green moonshine stupor and get with me here!

JW: Alright, okay, I’ve got it, I’m on it. What do you need from me?

SG: Let me think. Is Lambert still at the party?

JW: As far as I know, he's in there with everyone. And you! We all just found out we were fired... Wait that happened to you too right?

SG: Unfortunately.

JW: Any idea why?

SG: No! I'm from like, three hours ahead of you. Come on man, focus. One of the Rainbow solar collectors is going to overload and it's going to set off a chain reaction to–

JW: Destroy the town?

SG: That's the one. Oh, and it'll ruin the Timepiece, and possibly tear spacetime a new one.

JW: The stakes are pretty high, huh?

SG: C’est la vie. So you need to help me get out of the building, then warn Lambert. I'll try to get to the other station to see if I can stop this whole thing from blowing its lid. Sound good?

JW: Can I just ask–wha, why are we even saving this town? I don't even like it. I don't even work here anymore!

SG: You could try mounting a full-scale evacuation of Polvo in half an hour. Or maybe you’d just rather let thousands of people die.

JW: Yeah, ok fine, so we're going to fix the broken science thing?

SG: Or die trying.

JW: Not a great set of choices.

SG: Not really, no.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: This is the tricky part. If anyone sees us, we'll have to–

HP: Oh, Jack, there you are! And... Hello Sally.

SG: Helen, so great to... see you.

HP: I just left you in the other room, I swear...

[[SFX: static distortion]]

SG: No, I... went to the bathroom.

HP: Aren't the restrooms in the other direction?

SG: There's uh... a mostly unused one that way. I like the privacy.

HP: And you have the handsome Jack Wyatt to accompany you?

JW: I ran into her coming back... Just went to find a–

HP: [laughs] Don’t worry, you're not breaking any laws walking down a hallway together. I'm going to go look for Sally's mythical private restroom. I hope it's as nice as you say it is. Most ladies' restrooms in this place are an afterthought...

SG: It’s not really anything to—

HP: Well, enjoy your time anyway! Have fun tonight. This may be your last chance... but I think you two already figured that out.

[[SFX: Helen leaves]]

SG: That was weird.

JW: A secret bathroom tryst?

SG: I just want to get out of here. Grab Lambert and tell him that the power station needs attention. When you're out of the party, brief him on the rest. I'm going to make my way to Maraczek's station and see what I can do from that end.

JW: And you're taking Timepiece with you?

SG: I might need it again. Besides, you can't just leave two time machines around in the same place. Someone might get ideas to make duplicates.

[[SFX: thunder]]

SG: Come on.

[[SFX: radio tuning; Sally driving through rain]]

SG: I'm on my way to Rainbow-A, the station where Maraczek works... so he and Lambert, they were researchers, and now they're, what, glorified caretakers? Maybe getting out of the military industrial complex now is a good idea. I'd be free of hassles like this. I could disappear tomorrow. I could vanish. I'm in a time where it's easy to fake a new identity. Sally Grissom no more. I could be–WHAA

[[SFX: thunder, lightning strikes the station]]

SG: Well, at least I know what's going to cause Rainbow-A to fail. One of the high antenna on the station just got hit by lightning. It's 10:04, for the record. If this thing’s collecting energy, it probably just got more than it could handle in one punch. Lambert said something about a release lever, one that would shut off the entire station and discharge any excess power into the ground. But it might explode by the time I'm in there. It's getting pretty late. So if you're listening to this, I'm dead. Or maybe I'm alive and you're just listening to this recording. Either way, see you on the other side.

[[SFX: radio tuning; inside the station. It’s about to explode.]]

SG: Hello? Ivan, anybody home? [nope] Alright, what am I doing here? It sounds like a dying animal. At least it's being used for something noble, in theory. Noble and deadly. Like Argon. The failsafe controls should be right over... here! I've got about... oh, half an hour. Plenty of time. You got this, Sally.

[[SFX: Sally flips the switch, and the energy dissipates without exploding]]

SG: Excellent... Day saved! Cool! Huh... They’re probably going to box this stuff up in the morning. Maybe I can just sneak a look...

[[SFX: tape fast-forward]]

SG: —azing! It would absolutely crush solar tech from my time. I wonder why this never got developed, if I was ODAR I’d put this on the market as soon as possible. My time should have had this. I wonder what hap—WHOA!

[[SFX: explosion; radio tuning]]

SG: It's okay, it's okay! Calm down, I'm here to help!

IVAN MARACZEK (IM): You! Where did you! How did you--

SG: Shh, shh shh shh. Catch your breath, let me talk. You're Ivan Maraczek, right?

IM: ...Mm-hmm

SG: Alright, you're who I've been looking for. Maraczek, what time is it?

IM: Quarter after nine. You're wearing a watch--

SG: Okay, Ivan, in about fifty minutes, this building is going to get struck by lightning.

IM: How could you possibly know--

SG: This building is going to get struck by lightning, and I'm going to need you to stay here.

IM: That sounds like it might be dangerous.

SG: Stay with me, Maraczek. Stand just outside if you really want. But you need to stay here for when things go bottoms-up. No matter what happens. No matter if you lose your job.

IM: I'm going to lose my job?

SG: What? No! Well… yes. Whoops. Sorry I ruined the surprise. By like, fifteen minutes.

IM: I've seen you in Polvo, but I don't know why you're here. How do you know all this? What are you doing here?

SG: I'd rather not have to explain all of this again, but since you're doing me a favor and I can spare a minute, let me catch you up. It all started when—

[[SFX: tape fast-foward]]

SG:—and then there was this explosion outside, and I ran out there, and I could see the fire clear across town. I jumped in my car and drove there as fast as I could, but Rainbow-B burned to the ground. I think... I think Wyatt and Lambert were in there.

IM: What? Victor? No! I've known him the better part of a decade... He pulled me out of... No, you’re wrong, that can’t be true.

SG: It isn't. Not if I can do anything about it.

IM: I have to get to him. I have to save him.

SG: You have to stay right here. If you leave, then Rainbow-A is screwed too. You have to be here when lightning strikes the station, or we're all doomed, et cetera. I’m gonna fix this.

IM: Where are you going to go?

SG: Ever heard the phrase “where there’s smoke there’s fire?” I’m gonna go beat the smoke to the punch.

IM: No I’ve never heard this phrase! What are you talking about?

[[SFX: radio tuning; broken Rainbow generator]]

SG: Lambert! Lambert— what the hell happened here?

[[SFX: Victor destroying the machine with a pipe]]

VL: I'm not going to let them get away with this anymore!

SG: What are you doing? What happened to Wyatt?

VL: He got in the way.

SG: You did this to him?

VL: ODAR's been in my head long enough, I’m done with this town and everyone in it.

SG: Wyatt—Jack can you hear me? I think he's really hurt!

VL: If I can't leave with the fruits of my labor, then no one can!

SG: What did he say to you?

[[SFX: radio tuning; Jack and Victor enter]]

JW: All Sally needs is for us to make sure nothing awful happens over here.

VL: Well, in that case, I should pick up as many of my old patents I can find before I get out of here.

JW: You know they're never going to let you keep those, right?

VL: The hell they will. I had my nose on the grindstone for years at this place. I'm gonna take my plans and I'm going somewhere they'll appreciate it. General Electric, I'm thinking.

JW: Victor, that's not how ODAR works, and you know it. They’re shutting down this town, and everything in it. They'll bury your patents, and they'll bury you. You think Donovan won't notice when GE just happens to independently invent something that only exists in a triple dog dare super-secret science base? They'll be on you before you can say “let there be light.”

VL: No, I can fight it, I can—

JW: So you’re gonna fight the part of the US government that can hire thousands of people, ship them all to the desert, keep it a secret for four years and fire them without a word? That’s who you’re gonna fight?

VL: You’re right. There's no way they'll let me keep it...

[[SFX: Victor picks up Chekov's pipe]]

VL: Well... For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction...

JW: You’re just gonna smash it? No! that's not how that works! You can't just-

[[SFX: Victor swings at the machine, catching Jack’s skull on the backswing; radio tuning]]

VL: This machine is my greatest achievement, and I won't have it shipped off to some dusty warehouse until Uncle Sam needs it for another war!

SG: It's not like that! Think of all the good this thing can do! What it would do if it got outside these walls?

VL: Rainbow will never do good outside these walls! It'll never get out outside these walls.

SG: But you're getting out! You're being granted a reprieve from this! Some of us should be so lucky.

VL: There's nothing out there for me. ODAR has made sure of that. Oh, sure, they'll set me up as some tenured professor at some Tom, Dick, and Harry university. But they'll make sure and see to it that I'm not involved in anything of note... ever again. This is it. This machine is my contributions to science, and it'll disappear, without so much as my name on it.

SG: Listen, we need to get Wyatt to a doctor. He's unconscious and you really aren't supposed to let that happen.

VL: Let him bleed out on the floor, for all I care. Get him to the hospital if you must. I'm going to tear every last screw and bolt out of this machine, and then I'm going to burn all the plans.

SG: You're going to kill everyone here and yourself.

VL: Let it happen! I've got nothing left to stay for.

[[SFX: Sally punches Victor; they fight; Victor swings, misses; Sally jumps onto Victor’s back and chokes him out; radio tuning]]

BILL DONOVAN (BD): This was good work you did tonight, Sally. I'm proud that you got the Timepiece up and running in a pinch, even though you'll never hear me say that again and I have heard nothing about some sort of alleged unauthorized use of ODAR materials by a former employee.

SG: I couldn't possibly comment on something like that. It sounds positively treasonous.

BD: I'll have you know that I'm not letting the Timepiece die. I'm working on something, and there is a spot for you there, should you be interested. But otherwise you're free to leave, as much as anyone in your position could be. You have been locked away in a tower too long. Agent Cornish asked me to escort you to him. He's here to discuss your options.

SG: I'll be honest, after this week, I'm not sure if I want my job back. Or a new job. And not from you, to be a little rude. You hit the nail on the head with the tower metaphor. Wyatt's still recovering. This place destroys people.

BD: It does, but your best chance of doing something truly amazing is here. What else is out there for you?

SG: I can figure out my own path. And I don't want anyone named Agent telling me what I can and can’t do.

BD: It would be good to hear what he has to say. Agent Cornish is more interesting than you think.

[[SFX: door opens]]

ANOTHER SALLY GRISSOM: Well I appreciate you offer, and I’ll have to—

HANK CORNISH (HC): Ah, there you are. We've been waiting.

SG/SG: Is that—aaagh...

[[SFX: static distortion]]

BD: Sally! Sally!

HC: Dr. Grissom, are you all right?

[[SFX: static distortion; radio tuning; Jingle Bells on the radio]]

SG: unggh...

ER: Sally! Er, Doctor Grissom! You're awake.

[[SFX: radio turns off]]

SG: What time is it, I need to get back to the lab.

ER: No, it's over. You stopped Victor. The power stations are fine, I just left Jack is a couple of rooms down, he looks pretty shaken...

SG: What are you talking about?

ER: You know, when you drove like a madwoman putting out fires trying to stop Victor from destroying the town? It was like you were in eight places at once. Very impressive.

SG: I didn’t... When did I do that?

ER: Sally, honey, what day is it today?

SG: It's, ahhh... My head. It’s Friday, right?

ER: It's Monday. Christmas Eve. You've been out cold ever since you saved the town, the night of the party.

SG: I saved the town?

ER: You must have lost the memory from fatigue and stress. But you saved us, even though we all got fired.

SG: Oh my god, I'm so sorry. Let me talk to Donovan, I can work something out—

ER: Sally, Sally take it easy! It’s okay. It’s not anything you did. They’re shutting down the town. But it'll be okay! Donovan is moving our team elsewhere. Colorado, I think. You, me, Jack, I think they even got Doctor Partridge, too. We’ll all be okay.

SG: I saved the town and my job, and I don't even have the common courtesy to remember it? Figures.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

HC: She's awake.

BD: And how is she?

HC: Within expected parameters. Lost the entirety of the last two days, lucky for us. The one that made it to Lambert was getting... defiant. The one made it to Maraczek seemed to be going in the same direction.

BD: Well, you'd think. Which one did you keep?

HC: Does it matter? There’s only one Sally Grissom. But take a look at her autopsy report. Brain lesions, nerve damage... Her symptoms look just like yours.

BD: I don't have all the time in the world. Figure it out.

[[SFX: tape recorder stops]]

ars PARADOXICA is created by Daniel Manning and Mischa Stanton.
Episode 05: Midnight features –

Kristen DiMercurio (Sally Grissom)
Rob Slotnick (Bill Donovan)
Robin Gabrielli (Anthony Partridge)
Susanna Kavee (Helen Partridge)
Katie Speed (Esther Roberts)
Zach Ehrlich (Jack Wyatt)
Dan Anderson (Hank Cornish)
Eric Rafael Ibarra (Victor Lambert)
Julian Mundy (Ivan Maraczek)

Hannah Trobaugh (June Barlowe)
with special thanks to Isabel Atkinson

Original music by Mischa Stanton.
ars PARADOXICA is brought to you by the Internet: A magic glowing rectangle, right in your house!

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WEATHER: thunderstorms