08: Cage

written by Daniel Manning

[[SFX: tape recorder starts; Jack and Esther play cards in the breakroom]]

[[Jack and Esther are sitting around a table, playing cards. AP watches them. We hear nothing but the sound of them playing for some seconds. JW slaps the table.]]


[[SFX: cards]]

ER: Oh, yes!

JACK WYATT (JW): Dammit.

ANTHONY PARTRIDGE (AP): Was that good, or...?

[[SFX: cards]]

JW: You sure you want to do that?

ER: Sure as the sunrise.

JW: Okay...

[[SFX: cards]]

ER: Huh. Interesting.

[[SFX: Sally runs into the breakroom]]

SALLY GRISSOM (SG): Oh my god oh my god oh my god...

AP: Sally?/JW: What’s going on?/ER: Oh my goodness, Sally, what’s wrong?

SG: There was a time bubble, that I… uh...

[[SFX: Sally faints]]

ER: Dr. Grissom!

[[SFX: tape recorder stops; THEME SONG; tape recorder starts]]

JW: Sally, what happened?

SG: There was... it was so dark... I was screaming. You couldn’t hear me?

AP: What do you mean? We didn’t hear anything.

ER: I’m going to get her some water.

[[SFX: Esther stands, gets water from the sink]]

SG: Something went wrong... something went wrong with the Timepiece... wait, what year is it?

JW: Oh, no.

AP: Sally, it’s 1946. It’s August 2nd, 1946.

SG: That’s good. I’m still in today.

ER: Here, drink this. Take it.

[[SFX: Sally drinks]]

ER: Check her watch.

JW: She’s ahead of us by about, I don’t know, an hour a half?

ER: We just saw you a minute ago.

[[SFX: radio tuning; a loose circuit sparks]]

SG: You go on ahead. I’m just going to finish installing the new focuser assembly, and I’ll catch up with you later.

JW: Don’t take too long. I’ve got a feeling our next Dilemma round is going to be one to watch.

[[SFX: Jack and Esther exit]]

SG: (under her breath) I'm sure, if anybody understood it.

[[SFX: Sally tinkers with the Timepiece; the circuit completes; the CAGE spools up]]

SG: Whoa, no no no, what the f–

[[SFX: The CAGE zaps, only for a moment]]

SG: (screaming, tortured) Help!! Help!!... oh my god...

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: I don’t know what happened. It activated all of a sudden and the room went dark, so dark...

ER: You know what this means?

SG: I’ve never seen anything that dark...

AP: She got stuck in null-time for an hour and a half and was totally fine.

SG: Fine?!

ER: Maybe not ship-shape. But it stopped external photons, just like we predicted!

JW: And she didn’t get shredded by the micro-jumps!

SG: Come on!! You guys, I... I appreciate your attempts to theorize, but, uh... I’m going to take a half-day.

ER: That’s understandable. Feel better, Sally.

JW: Are you sure you don't want to let a medic take a look at you? We're still not really sure what the null field even does to a person–

SG: I’m going home.

JW: Okay, but...

AP: Jack, just let her go home. Besides, if something bad happened to her, it’ll stay with her. Time travel isn’t contagious.

JW: But it is bad for you?

AP: I... never said that...

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: Diary of Sally Grissom, August 3, 1946. Yesterday was almost 26 hours long for me. How weird is that? The team has been working on using the Timepiece to generate a null-time field. We weren’t anywhere ready to get inside it, but there was an incident... I guess I must’ve switched something, or crossed some wire, and the thing turned on. I was trapped in a time bubble for, like, an hour and a half. It was terrible. You’ve never known true darkness until you’re stuck in an place where even light can’t get in.

I only escaped after the generator wound down; I tried to cut the power, but something about being stuck in a single moment makes this version of the Timepiece incredibly energy efficient. Converts 99% electricity into 100% psychological torture. Heh-heh{.}

Donovan might be happy to hear about that... except that he hasn't been reviewing our reports anymore? For a guy who fought tooth and nail to keep us working, Donovan is sure taking a hands-off approach. But I've learned not to ask where he's concerned.

Despite everything I had to go through, the null-time field worked better than we could have ever expected. Of course, now we have to learn, and test, and improve. We need to figure out more about how the null-time field works—

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: —of Sally Grissom, September 8, 1946. So after my somewhat-successful accident with the Timepiece’s null field generator last month, we’ve been trying to take the technology to the next level, and I think we’re ready. Oh, remember last week when I said I was working on a new name for it? I think I’ve settled on “the CAGE.” Controlled Asynchronous Generator Environment. Get it? I worked on that for... like, hours, probably. You may call it frivolous, but I firmly believe in the efficiency of descriptive backronyms.

So ever since I started working for Donovan, we’ve had trouble showing off a practical use for the Timepiece technology. We tried a dozen ways to show off the uses of time travel, but without a perspective that follows an altered timeline, an observer could never see that anything had actually changed. But I think the CAGE is what I’ve been looking for. After three years of working on the Timepiece and a year and change working on the original Higgs Inhibitor Array in the 21st Century, I finally stumbled into something actually demonstrable! I admit that it’s too little too late to save the rest of ODAR, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t know that I would have been able to help them anyway. There’s a reason no one in my time remembers Polvo, NM. The Manhattan Project had them beat. A big bullet in a big gun to end the big war. But a time bubble? That's got finesse, it's got style... And a ton of different uses. I’m not sure what we do first, but the team filled a couple chalkboards with ideas.

[[SFX: radio tuning; Sally writing ideas on a chalkboard]]

SG: Come on, guys, no wrong answers. I know manufacturing is the obvious answer here, but there’s more to this.

JW: Alright, you could... grow a fruit orchard on a moment’s notice?

SG: You’d need a real big warehouse or something, but I like your style! What else?

AP: A computer could give you an answer as fast as you needed it to.

SG: I like it. You’ve got vision, Partridge.

AP: That's literally my department. But thank you.

ER: What if you could... age wine faster?

JW: Really, Esther? Your idea is “let barrels sit for a long time?”

ER: Oh, well excuse me—

SG: Hey, Wyatt! No wrong answers in brainstorming.

ER: ...What is brainstorming?

SG: You know, whisky works too. Perfectly reasonable use for the CAGE.

AP: Sally, I don’t think we’re all on board with that name.

SG: My machine, I get to name it.

JW: (aside) Told you.

ER: Shut up.

SG: Ooh! I’ve got one! Nap as long as you want! Nap for days! Who doesn't like naps?

JW: Hey what about instant movie theaters?

SG: Love it!

AP: Big private reading rooms. Take as long as you need with any book.

SG: Time enough at last! What next?

ER: How about the world’s fastest oven?

JW: That’s just my fruit idea again!

ER: Kitchens aren’t farms, Jack.

SG: I like that one. Did you guys know that you can use radar signals to cook food?

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: —but most of those ideas are going to require people inside the CAGE. And even though I spent some time in there, it wasn’t a) on purpose; b) very long, relatively speaking (and technically not very long objectively speaking either): and c) collecting data was the last thing on my mind. So tomorrow, our very own Esther Roberts is going to voluntarily spend twenty-four hours inside. We drew straws, well, they drew straws. I made myself exempt, and Partridge was going to be the lucky one to go in there, but Roberts confessed she was actually interested in doing it herself. She said she wanted to be "a pioneer in emerging science"-- which, y'know, good for her--and Partridge was more than willing to step aside. He says the idea of the CAGE is eerie enough, let alone actually being inside it. So tomorrow is going to be Roberts’s big shot, and we’re all excited to see what happens. She’ll be fine! Heh… She’s going to be fine.... Yeah.

[[SFX: radio tuning; computer running calculations]]

SG: –corder is tuned to pick up the frequencies we’re looking for.

JW: So are you ready for this, Esther?

ER: You’ve asked me that a dozen times already. Maybe my answer will change after the thirteenth try.

JW: So are you ready f– ow!

[[SFX: Esther hits Jack]]]

AP: No horseplay, kids. This is serious.

ER: Dr. Grissom, what was it really like in there?

SG: Well, outside of the endless darkness, pretty boring. I hope you brought some books.

ER: I’ve got a flashlight and some stuff in my bag to keep me from getting bored.

AP: And there’s food and water and extra batteries in that crate, so as long as things go as planned you won’t starve.

ER: As long as it goes as planned...

AP: Plans are the best I got.

ER: ...You can’t make an omelette without cracking a few eggs, right?

SG: I’m just hoping none of the eggs in question are your brain. I’d hate to lose the only other woman in this damned crew.

JW: Ok. So we're clear, with the current mass calculations I’ve calibrated the Timepiece controls to generate the null-time effect at a three-meter radius for twenty four hours.

[[SFX: Chet enters]]

SG: Whickman, right on time.

AP: Alright Esther, I’m going to start up the condenser coils. We’ll be right here the whole time. Literally.

ER: You guys are lucky. You’ll only have to deal with this for maybe thirty seconds, tops.

[[SFX: the CAGE spools up.]]

CHET WHICKMAN (CW): So Doc, what’s this you wanted me to see?

SG: We built the Timepiece to generate a time bubble. Roberts is going to spend a day in there while only a moment passes out here. Pretty cool, right?

CW: Wait, she’s going inside the machine?

SG: No, she’s just going to be hanging out inside that tape circle on the floor there.

CW: No, she can’t! You have to stop this.

AP: This isn't the time, Chet. The machine is already running. If we cut the power there’s no telling what would happen–

CW: Esther! You need to get out of there Esther!

ER: (yelling over the noise) What?

[[SFX: Chet runs to Esther]]

CW: Esther! It’s dangerous!





[[SFX: the CAGE opens up around them; the voices of Sally, Jack and Anthony trail off]]

ER: Great, now you’ve done it.

CW: I’ve done it! You’re gonna kill yourself.

ER: Wow, it really is dark in here. Hold on.

[[SFX: Esther rummages in her bag; clicks on a flashlight]]

ER: Much better. You didn't have to do that. We've been running the numbers for days, we knew what we were doing.

CW: Miss Roberts, I’m not normally the kind of man to swear in front of a lady, but you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.

ER: Oh{!} What brutish words{!} Whatever shall happen to my delicate ears now they’ve been pierced by your cursed profanity{!}

CW: How long are we trapped in here for?

ER: When we thought it was going to be just me, the trip was planned for 24 relative hours–

CW: 24 hours?!

ER: –but now that you tackled me and we're both stuck, who knows.

CW: I was trying to push you out. This place, it’s dangerous!

ER: We had it calibrated for a single subject and supplies. You just made it more dangerous. Nice work. Regardless, we’re stuck here for the next day. I hope you like reading, I've got a whole stack of Astonishing Tales, Detective Comics, a deck of playing cards… and a few crosswords, but those are just for me.

CW: Shouldn't we have a protocol in place where if your security officer starts screaming “Stop! Stop!” you’re supposed to stop? This was a terrible idea.

ER: We’ll be fine. We’ve got four days of rations for a 24-hour stay. Well, two days of rations with you, I'm not going to let you starve, but we’ve got books and lights and... everything I needed for this expedition. There's only one sleeping bag, but I think there's a blanket in there you can use.

[[SFX: Esther rummages through the supplies]]

ER: Nope, there isn't. Hope you don't get too cold on the floor.

CW: It’s the Timepiece. It’s not safe.

ER: Its as safe as we can make it. What do you think you're paying us for? Unless... you know something we don’t.

CW: The most I can tell you is that it’s... poisonous somehow?

ER: Like, “bee sting” poisonous or like “a heavy dose of cyanide” poisonous?

CW: Neither of those. Using the Timepiece... it poisons the mind, but not physically. It’s like knowing that the chain of cause and effect is all messed up in your head starts eating you from the inside.

ER: How do you know all this?

CW: Can't tell you.

ER: Because, wait, don't tell me, it’s classified.

CW: –Classified, yeah.

ER: You’re going to do this here? Look around, who am I going to tell? Hey everyone! Time travel is bad for you!

CW: I’m not concerned about you telling anybody while we’re in here. It's once we get out... If we get out...

ER: And whom would I tell about this on the outside?

CW: Your team, obviously. Sally, Jack.

ER: What, I can’t keep a secret? Besides, why shouldn’t they know? ....Actually, wait a second, why didn’t they know?

CW: I can explain–

ER: You’re going to just spring this on me that this is dangerous? We've been working with this thing for three years! How long have you known about this? If you didn’t know about our experiment today you would’ve never said anything, would you?

CW: It’s not like that!

ER: Then what is it like?

CW: Knowing about it makes it worse.

ER: [laughs] What is that supposed to mean?

CW: From what we can tell, finding out what the Timepiece does to you only makes your condition get worse. I shouldn’t even be talking to you about it.

ER: What are you basing this on? Why do you know about this? Give me one shred of evidence on this.

[[Chet is silent.]]

ER: Okay, fine. You want to act like a child, be my guest. I’ve got all day. I’ve got books and puzzles. I'll be fine.

[[SFX: tape fast-forward; Esther reading]]

ER: Want to tell me what you know?

CW: Nope.

ER: Fine.

[[SFX: tape fast-forward; Esther doing a puzzle]]

ER: How about now?

CW: I’m comfortable right here.

[[SFX: fast-forward; Esther shuffling a deck of cards]]

ER: Ready to talk?

CW: Yup.

ER: Really?

CW: Nope.

[[SFX: tape fast-forward]]

ER: Hey, Officer Whickman?

CW: I'm still not talking–

ER: No, it's not... Can I ask you something?

CW: [sigh] Sure.

ER: Do you think we’ll get out of here?

CW: ....Why are you asking me? You're the scientist. Aren’t we supposed to?

ER: Yeah, but... what if we don’t? What if you running in here threw off something and now it’s stuck on? What if Sally getting out was a fluke? What if we died in here, and a second later all our friends see are two person-shaped piles of dust?

CW: It’s possible, but I don’t think so.

ER: Why? You’ve got no idea how this thing works. Our team could write volumes on the Timepiece and never scratch the surface. What makes you so sure?

CW: I’ve got faith in you. And Sally, and Anthony, and Jack. You’re the smartest people I know.

ER: But we’ve failed so often in the past. What if we just end up like Quentin Barlowe?

CW: You guys have failed before because of poor planning and vengeful spouses, but never for being smart. That you can rely on.

ER: ...Thank you.

[[SFX: tape fast-forward]]

CW: It’s Bill Donovan.

ER: Finally talking?

CW: You want to hear this or not?

ER: I’m sorry, go ahead.

CW: Bill is sick. He’s got... He’s developed this condition. Call it whatever you want. Timepiece disease? Whatever. He’s... We’re not sure how much longer he’s got.

ER: Okay, how did he contract this condition?

CW: He’s been using the Timepiece. To go back in time. A few times... A bunch of times.

ER: Nobody has used the Timepiece. It only works to send things back in time, nobody has actually done it themselves–

CW: You may have... missed out on some things. While we were in New Mexico, Director Donovan, he.... He had one built for his own personal use.

ER: ...Are you serious? Does he know the harm he could have caused? To us? To spacetime? To–

CW: I’m sure he’s become acutely aware of the damage he’s caused.

ER: Because now he has, what, the time travel shell shock?

CW: That’s the theory we’re working on.

ER: Okay, who is “we?”

CW: I’ve had some of Donovan’s contacts in the intelligence community working on it, even though they don’t know he’s the patient. And I’ve got Dr. Partridge pouring through all the Timepiece documentation to figure out what exactly is causing all this.

ER: Why not talk to Sally? Why not Jack, or me?

CW: You two would tell the Doc.

ER: And we can’t tell Sally because, what, she’s been exposed to the Timepiece more than we have? Jack and I have logged just as many hours around that thing in the past three years.

CW: Sally’s a... special case.

ER: What the hell does that mean?

CW: Has she told you anything about what she did before she started working with us?

ER: What does that... I don’t know, something about a lab in Connecticut, where she developed the Timepiece by accident, then got contacted by Donovan and moved out to Polvo?

CW: That’s eighty percent of it.

ER: And what’s the rest of it?

CW: She was working in that lab █ years in the future. Something went wrong, and now she's here. She was the reason things didn’t end up working out in Philly.

ER: Huh... I feel like I should be more shocked at that.

CW: [laughs] It does explain some of her oddness, right?

ER: ...Now I kind of have all these questions for her, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to ask, or if I’m supposed to know... I feel like I need to get to know her all over again.

CW: Well then, you're in luck. As you know, it isn’t hard to get Sally to speak her mind.

ER: So what I don’t understand is... what did the Director do with the Timepiece?

CW: What would you do with it?

ER: Nothing. I wouldn’t use it.

CW: Aren’t you a saint. Pretend to have less noble intentions.

ER: Uh… fix my past mistakes and set myself up for future success? ...Sally said something like this would happen when we moved here!

CW: By that point she was a bit late by at least half a year. Maybe more.

ER: Why are you telling me all of this? What happened to your web of secrets?

CW: Well it’s like you said, it’s not like you can tell anyone for however many hours we’re still in here.

ER: And what about when we get out?

CW: When we get out... You aren’t going to say anything.

ER: Or what?

[[Chet is silent]]

ER: Oh.... I mean, I know you could kill me, but... Whenever I thought about it, I never thought you would do it... To any of us, I mean.

CW: I would. If I had to.

ER: I see.

CW: But honestly Esther? What I need right now is someone in my corner.

ER: Threatening to shoot me, then asking me to be your friend... you really know how to charm a girl.

CW: Listen, with Donovan out of the picture for the foreseeable future, I’m in charge of our little operation. I already have been, for a little while now. And I need someone I can go to who isn’t generating more chaos. Someone like you, Esther. This is an opportunity. To do some good. For Bill Donovan, for... For everyone.

ER: To do what? Keep secret from my friends and help fix my boss’s weird case of hubris-itis?

CW: Bill isn't the only one who’s exhibited symptoms.

ER: ...Sally?

CW: Not all of that oddness comes from the future.

ER: Chet, you could just say yes. You really need to learn how to be more straightforward.

CW: [laugh] Sorry... Force of habit. Comes with the job, I guess. So, Miss Roberts, what’s it going to be? Can I count on you?

ER: Shouldn’t I not un-disagree?

CW: Very funny! You’re catching on quick. Never use one definite word when four ambiguous ones will do.

[[Esther laughs]]

CW: I’m serious. You could do this. I think of all of us here, only you can do this. Help me use what we've got to help people. Isn't that what you want? To be a pioneer? Isn’t that why you signed up to live a whole day in the blink of an eye? To be bold? To do what’s never been done?

[[SFX: tape fast–forward; Esther and Chet play cards; the CAGE begins to collapse]]

ER: okay, after you’ve done that, you build the river with a run of cards–

[[SFX: the CAGE dissipates]]

JW/AP/SG: (overlapping) Are you all right?/Thank goodness/What happened?

ER: It’s over. We’re back.

SG: They were both in the null field and they're both still alive and sane! That’s a good sign.

ER: Ooooor we’ve come back to haunt youuuuu as tiiiiiime ghoooooosts—

JW: Well, as sane as when she went in!

AP: Chet, what the hell was that about?

CW: I, uh, uh–

ER: –There was a misunderstanding about the parameters of the experiment. I cleared up all the confusion while we were in there. In… wait, in then?

SG: In that?

JW: During then?

ER: Yeah, in there.

AP: And what does the timer say?

ER: It shut down at twenty-two hours, thirty-eight minutes and zero point four zero nine seconds.

SG: So the extra mass didn’t throw off the effect significantly! Neat.

JW: So are we just all shucks-n-smiles here now? Nobody cares what just went on? Esther, what even happened in there?

ER: Nothing unusual. We chatted, talked about books, the weather–

CW: The lack of weather–

ER: And I taught him Dilemma–

CW: Started teaching–

ER: Pretty mundane.

[[SFX: tape rewind]]

CW: —you signed up to live a whole day in the blink of an eye? To be bold? To do what’s never been done?... Do you want to know a secret?

ER: You must be full to bursting with them.

CW: I killed him. I killed Quentin.

ER: I thought his wife did!

CW: Mostly. She fired a bullet that kills him in our next timeline, and from there it becomes that... tragic cycle. But the first bullet that shot him came from somewhere... somewhen else. Back when the Director was using the Timepiece, he came across this one audio wire. Gave it to me. It came from another timeline. That we don’t remember.

ER: Because that’s how timelines work.

CW: Right. But it turns out I killed Quentin the first time. That version of me fired the bullet that hit our version of him.

ER: And what were you aiming at?

CW: That's the weird part... I was actually trying to shoot Quentin. You see, right around when he died, I was doing an internal review of our staff. Once he was dead I skipped over him. But in a timeline that he hadn’t, I guess I must have found out he was some kind of a double agent? His whole file was a fake.

ER: You're kidding...

CW: The weirder part was when I asked the Director about it. Turns out, Quentin was never Quentin. And he didn’t work for the Axis, or the Russians or anything, he worked for us. He was spying on us for a version of the Director in the future. And the then-present... wow, this is complicated, hold on... the then-present Director had no idea until he started using the Timepiece to manipulate things, but that other version of me didn’t know that. He just had orders to eliminate spies on sight. So one of the bullets he-me shot hit the Timepiece as it was spooling up, went back and hit the Quentin we knew.

ER: That’s... he’s insane. Why would Donovan send someone to spy on himself?

CW: He likes to keep tabs on his enemies. And the Director is his own worst enemy.

ER: So all that grief with June, that was his fault?

CW: You could put it that way.

ER: Why?

CW: Just his paranoia—

ER: Why tell me this. All this, it's.... It's too much...

CW: Because I'm in charge now. And with your help... I'll make sure nothing like that ever happens again. You told me you wouldn't use the Timepiece. I'm telling you, it's going to get used. I'm going to use it. That’s why I need a saint like you. To help me use it the right way.

ER: ...Okay.

CW: Okay?

ER: Okay.

[[SFX: tape recorder stops]]

ars PARADOXICA is created by Daniel Manning and Mischa Stanton.
Episode 08: Cage features –

Kristen DiMercurio (Sally Grissom)
Reyn Beeler (Chet Whickman)
Robin Gabrielli (Anthony Partridge)
Katie Speed (Esther Roberts)
Zach Ehrlich (Jack Wyatt)
with special thanks to Isabel Atkinson

Original music by Mischa Stanton.
ars PARADOXICA is brought to you by The Internet: You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. (Seriously though, go see the new Star Wars. It's great.)

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