13: Signal

written by Daniel Manning

[[SFX: tape recorder starts]]

JOHN BEVERLY (JB): Hi, this is John Beverly, calling from Speedy Message Service, Inc. I have a message for you from a... Anthony Partridge–

[[SFX: voicemail rewinds]]

SALLY GRISSOM (SG): That can’t be...

JB: Hi, this is John Beverly, calling from Speedy Message Service, Inc. I have a message for you from a... Anthony Partridge–

[[SFX: voicemail rewinds]]

SG: But they said...

JB: –Speedy Message Service, Inc. I have a message for you from a... Anthony Partridge–

[[SFX: voicemail rewinds; tape distorts]]

JB: –message for you from a... Anthony Partridge–

[[SFX: voicemail rewinds; tape distorts]]

JB: –message for you from a... Anthony Partridge–

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: –I couldn’t believe it!I thought I would never hear from Partridge again, but... here comes this message. Was this a trick? A goof? Am I going crazy? Probably that last one, but if I was going to hear from Partridge again, I needed to get to the bottom of this.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: Hi, my name is Sally Grissom, and I think I got a message from you earlier? ...No, I don’t think. I did get a message from you. Well, I need to know who sent it… It’s the only message sent to this number. Well, If that wouldn’t be too much trouble, I... hello? Did you hang up on me?

[[SFX: Sally slams the phone down]]

SG: Dammit!

[[SFX: phone rings; Sally picks up]]

SG: Hello? Hi, I... just called you–you do?

[[SFX: Sally grabs a pen and paper]]

SG: Can I send him something? Can you give me his... telegraph number? Telegraph address? Uh… Morse... code... thing? Let... me... write... that... down... OK, got it. Thank you!

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

ANTHONY PARTRIDGE (AP): Thank God she received it. It took her eighteen months to receive it. Of course, on my schedule I sent it about eleven minutes ago, but I was getting concerned. Half of me expected it would languish unheard on her Answertron forever. The other half of me knows that I’m a genius, and that she’d eventually figure it out. It’s hard enough programming signal out of the Blackroom in Morse code as some kind of twisted cosmic joke and spoofing a signal to that service, but it got her where she needs to be. Let’s see if we can’t make something out of this.

SG: And so, for the first time in eighteen months, Partridge and I could exchange minor pleasantries. Over the telegram. I sent out “HELLO WORLD” and he–

AP: So she sends me “HELLO WORLD,” and I’ve got no idea what that means, so I send back–

SG: –And he sends back “Hi world, it’s Anthony.”

AP: She says “I know, you dingus.” That gave me a hope I haven’t felt since I got here.

SG: –And we went back and forth like that. We got to work on this receiver, one that could let Partridge send more than dits and dahs out of the messed-up bubble that he’s in... But it’s hard to get substantial communication done talking like this.

AP: You ever worked with someone who’s multiple time zones away? It’s kind of like what Sally and I have to deal with, only with one person in Mountain Time and the other in a nonsensical timeless void, it’s a little difficult to speak. Especially considering–

SG: Whenever I get something from him, I have no idea how long it’s been. I got a response that said “SORRY FOR TWO WEEK DELAY” less than ten seconds after I sent the original message. It’s all so finicky, since I’m in real time and he’s in... whenever.

AP/SG: It’s so nice to have something to do again...

SG: Since I stopped working for ODAR after my accident, I felt like I lost a part of myself.

AP: When you’re in a place like this, you’re like a corked bottle, waiting to explode.

SG: I was lost. Unable to do the work that has defined my life for almost a decade now.

AP: Speaking to Sally again, working together on this transceiver, even though I’m so thoroughly distant... it’s reminding me why I agreed to do this in the first place.

SG: If not for the Timepiece, for these weird physics, I’m just trapped in a century with more reruns and less comfortable pants.

AP/SG: I mean, she’s/he’s the better off one...

AP: She gets to live! Like people do!

SG: He gets to watch over the rest of the 20th century all at once, and I have to wait while newspapers drip out of history’s leaky faucet.

AP: I know this is the sentence for my crime. And bad mistakes, I’ve made a few, Lord knows, but...

SG: I don’t have any family here!And my friends are all gone...

AP/SG: I’m just so lonely.

AP: Doing this gave me faith back. It gave me the willingness to do the mission.

SG: My head’s been so cloudy since I woke up, but I feel like this little task helped my brain get back on its feet. Its li’l brain feet.

AP: We tinkered for weeks, which is a lot for me.

SG: It took us a month or so to build the thing, and I had to cannibalize my voicemail to do it. I’m sorry Answertron, I’ll rebuild you soon!

AP: Sally had this idea about a wireless telephone, but I suspect it wasn’t her idea.

SG: So basically I took a few bits from how I know cell phones work, spliced it with my voicemail and used the same kind of relay design they use in the Blackroom to relay messages. So now, Partridge has his very own time voicemail thingy!

AP: I’m not quite 100% on her explanation, but I think it’ll allow me to record telephone messages that she can pick up. I trust that she’s got her math right.

SG: I have no idea if my math is right, but it should work. I just need an antenna that exists now as well as in 1943. Which means I need an atlas, a phone book, and a trip to Philadelphia. All things that were obsolete in my day. Except Philly. I’ve got nothing against you.

[[SFX: radio tuning; sounds of an airplane in flight]]

SG: So as you can probably hear, I found my route to Philly. I was talking with Roberts, when she came to me with a problem…

[[SFX: radio tuning; diner]]

ER: –So I get a call from them, and it turns out the fault was actually an intentional part of their manufacturing process.!

SG: You’ve got to be kidding me.

ER: My team spent days error-proofing everything up and down–you should see the paper cuts all over Pitts’s hands–and they’re the ones to blame. Now because of their error, I have to go to New York to inspect the entire production line because I don’t want to see another $100,000 computer go down the drain. And I certainly don’t trust them to get it right on their own.

SG: Can I come?

ER: ...To inspect the production line?

SG: No, I don’t care about that. I mean, like, come to New York. With you.

ER: With me?

SG: Oh my god I need to get out of this town it is so boring!

ER: ...Are you sure? I’m not taking a glitzy jaunt down Broadway. I’m there for 72 hours tops, and you’ll be on your own. Sightseeing can take a lot out of you, are you sure you can handle it?

SG: Can I!

[[SFX: radio tuning; airplane]]

SG: –And that was how I badgered Roberts into letting me come with her on a work trip. Philadelphia is about two hours south of New York, by my count. I’ve just got to slip away from her (shouldn’t be hard), rent a car, drive down there, sneak into a radio station, attach this transceiver on the top of the antenna... baby stuff, yeah? Anyway, so right now I’m in an airplane bathroom while smoking a cigarette and holding a makeshift classified time travel cell phone radio. Suck it, TSA!

[[SFX: Sally takes a defiant drag]]

SG: I think this break'll be good for clearing my head. The last time when I was on vacation, there were five of us and I wasn't hiding my diary from the likely only person in a thousand miles whom I could conceivably call a friend. Well, there's Whickman, but... Things were so much easier back then, before I spent a year and a half in a coma and everybody I knew either left or died...

I’m scared, you know? I’m not sure if I know Roberts anymore. I’m not sure if I can trust her anymore. She’s part of this enormous secret machine, and I can’t tell where her loyalties lie. Was that always true? Am I missing something? I can’t ever tell what’s going on in her head. Like, I don’t think she’d leave me to die in a ditch, but when it came down to the job versus losing her best friend, she went with the job. How did she feel about that? About not standing with Wyatt? I’m allowed to ask that, right? I can ask her how she felt? I don’t like dealing with this whole Other People’s Emotions thing...

Roberts is an enigma. I mean, she always has been. It’s probably why she’s perfect for this kind of job. But, you know, it makes it hard to be friends with her sometimes. You talk to her, and you’ll experience a Generally-Pleasant Genuine Esther Roberts Interaction, but you’re never sure if she’s actually generally pleasant, or just good at looking that way.

Does it matter in the end? I don’t know, but why am I hiding this receiver from her? Do you think she knows about my plan? I feel like I can’t trust her the way I could two years ago–

[[SFX: door knock]]

PASSENGER: Excuse me, miss?

SG: Just a minute.

PASSENGER: You’ve been in there for–

SG: Just a minute! (rushed) Trust her the way I could two years ago, but I’m not sure whether that’s true or I’m just projecting onto a person who has grown and changed without me okay bye.

[[SFX: radio tuning; Sally and Esther enter the hotel room]]

SG: Ugh, let me out of this... thing!

[[SFX: Sally undresses]]

ER: I like dressing up for air travel. I get to feel fancy.

SG: You say that now. Just wait a few decades, and you’ll be begging to wear a sweater and jeans.

ER: Jeans?

SG: ...Waist overalls. Whatever.

[[SFX: Sally sits on the bed]]

SG: So when are you telling these people what for?

ER: I have a preliminary meeting with them in the next few hours. Are you sure you can take care of yourself while I’m gone?

SG: Really, Roberts? I’m an adult woman, not a puppy-dog.

ER: I worry about you, Sally. I’m still worried about losing you again.

SG: Because I might finally go off the deep end? Or because I’m not a valued asset anymore?

ER: You were in a bad way, Sally. Nobody was sure for the first month that you were even going to live! And then... and then we thought you might never wake up.

SG: I didn’t–

ER: I know it wasn’t your fault. I mean, it wasn’t, right?

SG: [non-committal shrug]

ER: I don’t want to go through that again. I don’t want you to go through that again.

SG: Thank you.

ER: Now are you sure there isn’t...

SG: No! Go I want to see Times Square before it gets covered in advertisements.

ER: Well, it kind of already is...

SG: I’ll be fine! Go chew out an incompetent manager or five. You won’t even notice I’m gone.

ER: Okay, if you’re sure. Take care.

[[SFX: Esther exits; Sally picks up the phone and dials]]

SG: Hi, yes. I’d like to rent a car? ...Yes, if I could.

[[SFX: radio tuning; cars pass on the side of the road]]

SG: October 27 1949, part two. I’m about ten miles out of the city, and I’m getting everything ready for this... whatever I’m planning. The transceiver’s in the back, and I’m taking it to a station I found in the yellow pages a couple miles away from the Naval Shipyard. It should work for my purposes. Also, the call sign is W.H.A.T. and that makes me so happy. Oh! Oh! And I got something else before I left New York. These! ...Right, you can’t see. They’re lockpicking tools. I got a set of lockpicking tools in the city. Now, I might be a little rusty, but I got pretty good at picking locks while I was an angsty teenager who thought it’d make her edgy and mysterious but really just reinforced that I was an enormous nerd. I had one of those practice locks encased in Plexiglas so you could see the interior and everything! Hooray for a little bit of breaking and entering! I mean, uh... I’m not going to commit a crime, that would be...

I should be a little bit more careful about what I say on these things.

But will I? Probably not.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

ER: As I said, the recording is a formality. I just want it for my notes.

PLANT MANAGER (PM): Of course, Miss Roberts.!

ER: Shall we get started?!

PM: Of course.!

[[SFX: tape fast-forward]

PM: The pipeline goes through here. And here is where the additional zinc content you spoke about was being introduced into the batch.

ER: And you do this intentionally?

PM: Well, yes! With it, we can replace a third of the aluminum with zinc and pass those savings onto you with only a six percent reduction in overall tolerance.

ER: I’m not paying you to deliver my specifications less six percent. You're replacing that part of the pipeline.

PM: Of course. We are committed to giving Mr. Whickman anything he wants. You can tell your boss that he can rest easy on future orders, Miss Roberts–

ER: –You are not working for Mr. Whickman, Mr. Maharis, you are working for me. Don’t you forget it.

PM: Uh... of course, ma’am.

ER: I could have made my contracts elsewhere, and I chose you over your competitors. Don't make me regret it. I won’t tolerate incompetence like this pipeline issue again—have I made myself clear?

PM: Yes ma’am! Uh, thank you, ma’am. I apologize for the inconvenience.

ER: Thank you. Now, could you tell me where a girl can get a strong cocktail around here?

[[SFX: radio tuning; on top of the radio tower]]

SG: So here we are. In the myriad of times I’ve been in danger during this whole thing, never have I been challenged by a for as mundane as falling. But because I am short on both safety equipment and patience, I am making due with what I've got.

This is... tall. Like, light skyscraper tall. I probably should reconsider, but when Sally Grissom makes a plan she better damn well go through with it. I'm going to climb this radio tower, start up the transceiver, and then... the all-important climb down. Assuming that I am not a broken puddle on the ground by that time, I will still be alive! And in the event of that miracle I should be able to just call 215-████ and leave Partridge a voicemail, and hey, that's it. I've just brought a man back into contact with the real world. Take that, meaninglessness of the universe!

If not, and this serves as my last words or something... I’ll miss you all. I mean, I won't. I'll be dead and won't have the capacity to miss things, but you know what I mean. Whickman, I'm sorry about the mess you'll have to clean up. Then again, you’ll take all my tapes and notes and inventions so maybe not so bad in the end. And Esther, I leave you my... you know what? Since I'm probably not going to die here I'll skip this weird bequeathment and let you fight over my stuff, what little there is to have. Partridge, if I don't switch on the transceiver before I… [pop], I'm sorry you don't get to contact the outside. Then again, you probably won't hear this so this will is basically useless on all counts. Good to know that my wishes in death don't matter. Take that, meaninglessness of the universe...

I'm leaving this recorder on the ground. See you later.

[[SFX: Sally puts the recorder down]]

SG: Ohhkay. Okay okay okay. All right.

[[SFX: Sally climbs the antenna; she slips, almost falls, then resumes; attaches the device; climbs back down]]

SG: Hah! Piece of cake!

[[SFX: radio tuning; Esther makes a call in a phone booth]]

ER: Uh, hello, can I speak to Bridget Dreyfuss? ...Bridge? Hi, it’s… it’s Ettie Roberts. Yeah, it's me. I know, it's been forever. I was in town, and I heard you were working at the New York Public Library. Do you want to catch up? I owe you a drink. ER: Meet me at the ██████ at 8. I’ll see you there, Bridget.

[[SFX: Esther hangs up; radio tuning]]

ER: Gin and tonic, please.

BARTENDER: You got it.

ER: Bridget! You came!

BRIDGET CHAMBERS (BC): Oh god, it must have been...

ER: Don’t do the math, it’ll depress you.

BC: I don’t, that’s why I stayed in the liberal arts.

ER: I was headed back to New York and the alumna newsletter said you were still here! And I couldn’t miss a chance to meet the incomparable Bridget Dreyfuss.

BC: Chambers, actually. I got hitched.

ER: I know, I heard, that’s so... how is that supposed to function?

BC: Ted and I tackle the problems of life together–of which there are many–but we, you know… We have our own pursuits. It helps that we have a similar mindset.

ER: Was that a metaphor for...?

BC: Yes, it was a metaphor.

ER: Gosh, we both went so far, you got married, I finished grad school...

BC: Right, about that! What brings you out here?

ER: Work. I had to take a few meetings.

BC: What do you do anyway? I heard that after you left for grad school you ran out west.

ER: Oh, I suppose that’s more or less the truth.

BC: So you’re not going to say...

ER: The government. I work for the government.

BC: Doing science? Wait, were you one of those people who worked on the bomb?

ER: [laugh] No, I wasn’t!

BC: Yes you are! You’re working on the bomb!

ER: It’s not that!

BC: Your secret’s safe with me. I always knew your genius would catapult you to great heights.

ER: Alright, you got me. Don’t tell anybody.

[[SFX: tape fast-forward]]

ER: [laugh] And Cynthia never knew!

BC: She never found out?

ER: Whenever she asked about me going out I’d just tell her I was off to the library.

BC: You were off to the library for days at a time!

ER: Do you remember the way I studied?

BC: I just can’t believe you broke the bank being a bookmaker in Atlantic City and your own roommate never knew about it!

ER: It was easier than tending bar in a place like this.

BC: Okay, working at The Sidecar paid the bills. Besides, I wouldn’t have met you.

ER: You could have met me in Professor Sampson’s class.

BC: Bah, I was afraid. But when you walked into that bar you were on my turf.

ER: I’m glad I did. Everything was different back in college. It was Bridget and Ettie Vs. the World. It all felt... brighter, you know?

BC: ...That was the delirium from working 70-hour days.

ER: ...So you're working at the city library now? It said in the alumnae newsletter.

BC: I’m an archivist for them. The Lenox estate uncovered a large collection of rare books that supposed to go to us, but nobody knows what’s a part of them–

ER: So they called the greatest American biblio-anthropologist this side of the Mississippi?

BC: Still a charmer, Ettie...

ER: Guilty as charged.

BC: So they open up this house in Queens, and it’s filled with stacks upon stacks of unsorted texts. It’s going to take ages to properly add them to the primary collection.

ER: You’re pretty busy.

BC: It keeps me engaged.

ER: That used to be my job.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

BC: ...Wow, that was a lot. I need a...

[[SFX: Bridget grabs a cigarette and a lighter; lights up]]

BC: Cigarette?

ER: Yeah.

[[SFX: Bridget lights one for Esther]]

ER: Oh, thank you.

BC: So you wouldn’t mind if I started calling you “the female HG Wells?”

ER: I would deeply mind if you started calling me “the female HG Wells.”

BC: You know, I felt so vindicated when you told me I figured you out, Ettie.

ER: Yeah, and what do you think now?

BC: That the rabbit hole goes deeper than I ever imagined. I thought the bomb was crazy...

ER: Here’s a fun fact, Bridget: I am one of the highest-ranking women in the United States government.

BC: No shit! I always knew you were destined for great things.

ER: What ever happened to us? I thought we had something special.

BC: Don’t, Ettie. Can we not? This is nice, just let it be.

ER: I feel like after I went to graduate school you never called or wrote. We just sort of... fizzled out.

BC: That’s how you remember it?

ER: I mean, I remember that it got a little ugly, but that was more than ten years ago.

BC: I was hurt, and you didn’t care.

ER: I cared! What we had meant a lot to me!

BC: You’re... You said I was a “burden” to you!

ER: Jesus, Bridget, I never thought of you like that. I... I said a lot of awful things back then.!

BC: It’s okay, I’ve accepted it. I was relieved to hear it.

ER: What is that supposed to mean?

BC: You weren’t going to give up your life just to live a schoolgirl fantasy. What were we going to do, get an apartment and tell everyone we were just “unlucky in love?” Esther, I was relieved because you were free to not care about me, and I was finally out under your thumb.

ER: This is the first I’m hearing of this.

BC: You were there! Ettie, you are a sweetheart but only because you feel like you have to.

ER: I don’t know what kind of person you think I am, but–

BC: I know what I remember. You like to think you’re always the good girl, but... I don’t think you see how you hurt people.

ER: I’ve dedicated my life to helping people. My job–

BC: Your job is in service of the same warmongering tautology that’s going to push us and the Soviets into nuclear annihilation.

ER: How progressive of you. Maybe you could convince the senator from Wisconsin to stand down.

BC: Ettie, it’s not that you’re a bad person. It’s that your own ambition gets in the way of you being emotionally available.

ER: Bridget, I can’t believe you think this poorly of me!

BC: I don’t think poorly of you! I’m just a realist. I know who you are and you’re not going to change and that’s fine. But it means I’ll never have you.

ER: You know, this wasn’t just a social call. We need someone at my organization. Someone with your skills–

BC: Are you serious?

ER: Bridget, your grasp on the American collective unconscious is unparalleled. We need somebody like you who can track and plan for possible outcomes for when we change things.

BC: No.

ER: That’s it, just no? The opportunity of a lifetime, and just no?

BC: Yes! No! I mean—Ettie, I’m not going to come work for you!

ER: But why?

BC: Because–I mean, what the hell was all this? You called me up, out of the blue, act like everything’s fine, and then somehow we end up back in my bed? And then you say this was all for a job? Why do you keep doing this to me! I thought I was free of your damn games.

ER: Bridget, I...

BC: Get your clothes and leave, Ettie.

[[SFX: Esther gathers her clothes]]

ER: It was... It was really nice to see you, Bridget.

BC: Just get out.

[[SFX: Esther exits]]

BC: [sigh] Alright, she’s gone. I’m going to edit that first part out of the record for decency’s sake… but you were right. She wanted to recruit me. When you pick up the tapes tomorrow, leave a signal if you want me to follow her companion as well. I'm sorry I doubted you, █████. We'll talk soon.

[[SFX: radio tuning; the shipyard; Sally dials a payphone; it rings]]

SG: Here goes nothing... Hi. It's me. This... this worked, I guess. Otherwise you won't hear this. Maybe the sound is messed up. I dunno. This pay phone's number is 215-████. Call me back.

[[SFX: Sally hangs up; the phone rings; static on the line]]

AP: It works, Sally. It's fine. [sniffle] I’m okay. Thank you. It’s just... you’re the first voice I’ve heard that isn’t my own in so, so long. I just listened to your message three times in a row! Thank you.

[[SFX: recording ends; Sally hangs up]]

SG: I did it! I did it! It has been so long since something went right. So long since something I did didn't end in disaster!

I can see the dock where the Eldridge was from here. It's the same as it ever was. You wouldn't know that it's where I started my new life here. It's where all of this began. Well, it started in my lab, but whatever. Language wasn’t built for this! The last time I was at dock 47, I was broken, delirious, and had 273 unread emails. Now I don’t have any of those things.

Do you think anybody remembered? Do you think anybody realizes that today is the sixth anniversary of all this? It's been six years since I was reborn in Philadelphia, and nobody cares! Where's my cake? Where's my party?

[[SFX: splash]]

SG: What the... someone just fell in the water!

[[SFX: tape recorder stops]]

ars PARADOXICA is created by Daniel Manning and Mischa Stanton.
Episode 13: Signal features –

Kristen DiMercurio (Sally Grissom)
Katie Speed (Esther Roberts)
Robin Gabrielli (Anthony Partridge)
Rebekah Allen (Bridget Chambers)
Zak Stevens, Amanda Bailey, Brock Bivens (additional voices)
with special thanks to Isabel Atkinson

Original music by Mischa Stanton and by Eno Freedman-Brodmann.
ars PARADOXICA is brought to you by The Internet: Sure, there are legal parts of it, why?

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