16: Greenhouse

written by Danielle Shemaiah

[[SFX: a breeze; wind chimes in the distance; Sally is digging in her garden; she wipes her brow; sighs happily; and resumes digging; radio tuning]]

ESTHER ROBERTS (ER): “ – Reports show that the Office of Developed Anomalous Resources has suffered from a number of hitherto unforeseen personnel changes that have resulted in a considerable decline in productivity. With few prospective candidates to fill the current vacancies, it would be wise, in my humble opinion, to reconsider the distribution of military resources if output does not improve in the next quarter. We would do well to heed the warnings the abrupt exits of Jack Wyatt, Sally Grissom, and the extra-jurisdictional asset Margaret Elbourne, lest we find ourselves captaining a sinking ship–“
CHET WHICKMAN (CW):  I’ve heard enough.  I thought you said your last meeting went well?
ER: I thought it did. “Unforeseen?” that lousy–

CW: Esther, what happened here?
ER: He’s a two-faced jackal, that’s what happened–

[[SFX: Chet knocks on table]]

CW: You should know by know that the walls have ears.

ER: Let them listen!  Hank Cornish is throwing his weight around. Reminding us that he’s after his own interests. He always has been, and [mocking the earlier quote] we would do well to look after ours. And frankly, if you want my opinion? We’d do well to remember that when we’re making him privy to every need-to-know item on the docket.

[[SFX: radio tuning; Sally in her workshop; radio drama plays in the background; a cricket is loose.]]

SALLY GRISSOM (SG): Oh shit, how did you get in here?

[[SFX: Sally swats at the cricket; she knocks something over.]]

SG: Archie, you are no help at all. 

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

CW: So, what part of your conversation with Hank-

ER: No one conversation led to Hank Cornish getting on a plane to Washington and recommending that “in his humble opinion” we should be gutted for parts. 

CW: I really didn’t ask him to be around, Esther. He kind of came with the job.

ER: But you’re in the job now, so take some goddamn control! Can you pretend, for one moment, that you have as much invested in this as I do?

CW: I am every bit as much invested, Esther. And I am intimately aware how much of this falls to me. But you’ve insisted on fixing the problem yourself, so what are you suggesting we do?

ER: You know what I need. We’re stalling out, and–

CW: Sally Grissom is still out of the question. On your own repeated recommendation, in fact. So what else have you got?

ER: I don’t know, yet.

[[SFX: radio tuning; Sally picks up the phone and dials; a data-sound and then a beep.]]

SG: Hey, Anthony. So it turns out the simple life can give you a strange kind of…hope? About the world? Those sound like famous last words. Maybe I’m overdoing it on the Vitamin D. Anyway, I think i’ve finally settled into a rhythm that I can live with. It turns out I’m actually kind of a maverick at this gardening thing. Well, I would be. Right now I’m battling bad sun and arid Coloradan soil. But I think I’m winning. 

[[SFX: techno-greenhouse whirring]]

Not to brag, but I’m developing kind of a–biodome, you could call it? There was a movie? Never mind. I should have just grown a little cactus and taken up stamp collecting or something, but I wanted a challenge. Anyway, the idea is to build a space where I can manipulate hyperlocal weather conditions using solar power and… okay, it’s a greenhouse. You know what that is. But long-term–and this is the coolest part–I feel like if I strike the right symbiotic relationship between the plant life and like, if I can figure out how to fabricate photovoltaic cells, I could take myself completely off the grid. Dream big, right? ...Yeah. 

Also, remember that one time when I talked about developing my own fertilizer? Well, I’m doing that too. All it really took was some light reading and more than a few trips to the florist to nag him with vague questions about ideal breeding conditions and plant behavior and obscure Coloradan… Colo… Coloradoan? Weather data for Colorado, that kind of stuff. But the most infuriating part is the waiting. Looking through a physical catalogue and ordering seeds and then waiting for months while they're shipped to you via snail mail. I guess there's something to be said for developing a sense of ...patience, but Jesus, where are the Amazon Prime Drones when you need them? So all that said, I've got pears and parsley and petunias and tulips and, yeah, a cactus growing outside and I should have some dragonfruit seeds to test out in about… six months. Ugh.

Today? Test one of “Dr. Grissom’s Miracle Elixir.” I promise I’ll come up with a better name for that–I’ll start on it as soon as I’ve tested this new batch against the control–at least now the chemical composition is past the place where it slowly ate away at the pottery. With any luck, Bellis Perennis specimen one should grow from seedling to full maturity in… approximately 3-5 days. So I guess I’ll check back in with you around then. Talk to you soon.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

CW: An explosive disguised as a cigarette? 

ER: Effective, but not entirely practical.

CW: It seems simple enough.

ER: Might be that it’s too simple, actually. It seems like there’s an impulse to light them–

CW: Esther, what are we doing here?

ER: We’re taking CIA reports about field gadgets and using the Blackroom to generate data on practical results. Sourcing out field tests to the rest of time. It’s remarkably effective.

CW: Seems like a remarkable waste of resources to me.

ER: I solved the problem, the way I always do. It’s a Band-Aid, but it’s the best we can do in a pinch, at least until the compound interest kicks in. 

CW: But we’re better than this. Esther, come on, you know we’re better than… this.

ER: Not really, Chet. Not since–

CW: Don’t say it. Don’t say her name.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: So I keep my hands busy. I garden. But when I need to keep my mind busy? Planting flowers is a fun hobby, Partridge, but it doesn’t scratch the itch. So I’ve gone back to building things. There was this nitrogen still, the timed sprinkler. Then I started on this quixotic biodome project–but that won’t get off the ground until I can figure out how to build halfway efficient solar panels, so it’s still mostly in the “glass box in my backyard” stage.

Anyway, I started rooting around for spare parts in the closet and… I found the bag with all of the stuff that came with me from 20XX. They locked away all of my stuff, but I snached it back when we were moving to Point-of-Exile, because, I mean, at that point ODAR was basically six people and a van. There’s the lab coat, still stained after my lunch Rorschached all over the deck of the Eldridge, my pens, in all their sweet, sweet, gel-inked glory, a business card, and a receipt for pizza I honestly do not remember consuming.

And I found my cell phone.

[[SFX: Esther knocks on Sally’s door.]]

SG: Gotta go, bye. 

[[SFX: harriedly hangs up her handset; another knock; she makes her way over to the door and opens it.]]

SG: Roberts.

ER: Sally.

SG: Hi.

ER: Hi. These are for you.

[[SFX: paper bag rustling.]]

SG: Uh, thanks? I thought you’d given up on stocking my pantry.

ER: It’s a small town. I haven’t seen you around, so I thought…am I interrupting? I heard you talking–

SG: To my diary.

ER: Your diary.

SG: Yeah. Well... come in. 

ER: You have been busy, Sally. Are those…  

SG: Pumpkins. Tiny for now, but come October?  It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, you’ll see–

ER: Charlie Brown the jazz singer?

SG: What? No, he’s the little… with the dog? The kid! Forget it.

ER: Wow, Sally, this is… impressive. How much of this is–

SG: –I’m not sure.

[[Sally and Esther talk over each other.]]

SG: Hey, listen, I’m sorry if/oh/Sorry I was just/um/maybe if

ER: Sally, I just came to say that/oh/no, you first/well I/ 

[[They laugh]]

SG: Go ahead.

ER: Thank you. Look. I just stopped by to say that… I’m sorry about the way things have happened. I know this isn’t exactly what any of us predicted–

SG: Irony of ironies–

ER: I’m serious, Sally. I’m trying to apologize here.

SG: It’s not your fault, Roberts. Is it?

ER: Probably. Partially.

SG: Well, that’s good to know, I guess. 

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: We used to be a lot better at this.

ER: There used to be four of us. We used to be a team. We used to be a lot of things.

SG: What are we now?

ER:  Friends, at least… I was hoping.

SG: Difficult to be friends with people you can’t trust.

ER: That would be a very astute observation.

SG: ODAR killed my friend. Whickman did it himself.

ER: I know.

SG: And you still work for him.

ER: I know. Look, I’ve already lost Jack. Just because there’s a whole slew of confidential things that I’m not at liberty to share with you anymore doesn’t mean I’m interested in losing the only other–the only other person who I don’t have to walk on pins and needles around.

SG: Does Whickman know you’re here?

ER: No, Sally.

SG: It’s a valid question.

ER: I guess I deserve that.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

ER: So what has Doctor Sally Grissom been getting up to? 

SG: I've gotten into radio serials, and, despite what it might look like, the plants make pretty good company. It’s my own little “Victory Garden”–though that might be a bit of a stretch. It is nice to do something with my hands, but I’m not sure I appreciate what everyone thinks it stands for–more than one person has asked me “when will my husband return from the war?” And there's this stray tomcat that comes around every so often–I've never been too good with animals, but he warmed right up to me - I'm starting to think there's catnip somewhere in this garden. He's a total… lap cat? or at least he's a bit of an attention hog. I don't know if he belongs to anyone, but I've been calling him Archimedes. Archie, for short. I’ve gone full Pleasantville... Anyway, the garden.

ER: The garden.

SG: It’s… peaceful. For the first time in a long time, I feel like I’ve got something I can call my own. I’ve got control over what happens in my life. Somewhere I can rest and… well, I'm developing this technology–

[[SFX: radio tuning; cards are being played]]

ER: (laughing) Honestly, I don’t think the poor kid believed us when we hired him. Suddenly he’s afraid of every blinking light and closing door in the entire facility. He’s sweet, he’s just… not the brightest bulb in the batch.
SG: How are you…doing this?

[[SFX: meow, knocks cards off table]]

SG: Damn it Archie!

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: Having Roberts around has been…nice. But I’ve got science on the brain now and tinkering with dirt and fake rain just isn’t cutting it anymore.

DR. FITZGERALD (DR.F): Hm. What is cutting it?

SG: I’ve decided to restore power to my phone. I don’t even know if it still works. Hopefully, all I need is the right power supply. I’ve started a teardown on it. I built my own special screwdrivers too. The battery is… I think the technical term is borked, but the board itself seems fine. Maybe a little dusty. I cracked the screen the day I went back in time, actually. Not on the Eldridge–you’d think that–but I was getting coffee and it slipped out of my hand. 

DR.F: [laugh] A portable phone? That seems like a worthwhile hobby. You’ve said before that the phone is precious to you.  

SG: The problem is, I really only get one shot at this. I mess up, it’s toast. I mean, this thing couldn’t even take being outside on concrete in the summer for a few short minutes...and I can’t exactly build a motherboard here, but I’ll need to replicate battery power somehow…

[[SFX: radio tuning; cards]]

ER: You’re getting the hang of this…but you’re going to have to think faster if you want to win.

SG: Um… Sevens!

ER: Damn! Halfway to El Dorado. Come on, let’s see them.

SG: Read ‘em and weep, Roberts.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: And I've got my projects, of course. You can take the Grissom out of the science lab but, you can't take the science lab–the science, out of the… you know what I mean.

ER: You could have your lab back if you wanted it, you know.

SG: No. We’ve been through this—

ER: I just had to do my due diligence… is it me?

SG: No, Esther, it’s not you. It’s…

ER: It’s everything I throw myself into, how far I go for it. So it kind of is me. Because it’s all my decision.

SG: ...Well, yeah, I guess so. But it’s not you alone, I promise. Other than the ODAR stuff. I really like seeing you. And I’d love to have you back beside me in a lab, just… not an ODAR lab. So as long as that’s the way things are, I’m gonna have to pass for the time being.

ER: An ex recently told me the same thing.

SG: Ouch, really? When?

ER: When we were in New York we met for drinks, and one thing led to another… But when it was done she told me that’s why we didn’t stay together. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I’m not ashamed of wanting things for myself. And if that means I’m losing friends… Well, that’s sad. It’s unfortunate. I hope… I hope we can stay in touch like this.

SG: She, huh?

ER: …What?

SG: You just said she.

ER: No– no I didn’t!

SG: You did.

ER: I said he, I–

SG: That explains… a lot of things.

ER: You can’t tell anyone, Sally. Please, PLEASE don’t tell anyone.

SG: Relax! You don’t have to worry about that with me. I’m asexual, I get it.

ER: You’re a what?

SG: Okay. You know how most ladies you meet are really into men? But you, obviously, are into women. I’m not really into anyone.

ER: ...Really? So, sex–

SG: It’s never really done it for me. Like, it’s nice, or whatever, but… I’ve got bigger stuff to think about, y’know? But that means I’m an outlier. Outside of the traditional system. So I get what it’s like. And it also means I don’t care who you wanna get it on with.  Get–Groovy with? What is the saying in this time period? Make the beast with two backs? Making… whoopie?

ER: Please stop. Good Lord.

SG: [laugh] Fine, I’ll stop. But deal.

ER: Deal.

[[SFX: cards]]

ER: …The answer’s “Backseat Bingo”, by the way.

SG:  Wow.

[[SFX: radio tuning; cards]]

SG: That’s five to my four. One more for the road?

ER: I’ve got to get going. I’m…happy for you, Sally. I–... What’s that?

SG: What, the radio?

[[SFX: radio off]]

ER: No, the black slab on your desk. Is that some sort of a… recorder? It looks like… I don't know what it looks like, really. Something out of a Huxley novel.

SG: My phone.

ER: Phone!? 

SG: Yeah, you–well, if it worked, you'd press this button here, and there'd be a... I suppose a television screen? pops up and the numbers would be there about…

ER: How would you dial them if they’re–never mind, it doesn't matter. Did you get this from Sharma?

SG: I brought it back with me. Can I… have it back now?

ER: Oh, sure. It’s just… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to–

SG: It’s fine, Roberts.

ER: Do you want to… talk about it?

SG:  I thought you had to leave.

ER:  I mean, I should get going but… one more game?

SG: Sure.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

ER: Amelia said you wanted to speak with me?

CW:  You took her on a business trip, told her all our secrets. And now, after informing all of us that the best professional course of action was to let her live her life without us–a direct quote from you–you're making house calls?  Esther, what the hell do you think you’re doing?

ER: Give it a rest, Chet. She already knows all of our secrets. She’s half of them in the first place. 

CW: I can't believe I'm having this discussion with you at all.

ER:  Why? because Hank Cornish isn't here to back up your ridiculous, paranoid military logic?

CW: This is not a bickering match. I don't intend to engage you in spirited debate about every single one of my decisions. I am not Jack Wyatt. Sally Grissom elected to leave ODAR. When I told you I understood and that I sympathized with her–about not belonging here, and about not being able to get back, about whatever the hell it is that happened to her while no one was watching–I meant that. I just didn't think we’d spend another two years babysitting her.

ER: She spent one of those in a coma!

CW: I am so tired of nothing being her fault! The Timepiece is property of the United States government–

ER:  She invented it!

CW: And Uncle Sam paid for it. And then, she brought a foreigner, an unknown agent into this facility on false authority, chased by open gunfire from enemy combatants. I'm not the one who didn't think this through. 

ER: Chet, the least you could do–

CW: She betrayed our trust! Repeatedly! I thought she was an ally to our cause, but she set us back years for petty, selfish reasons. She trusted a man she knew barely a few over us, Esther. And she knows us better than anyone! I want to make the right choices and… if she had just come to me I might have listened, I might have... 

ER: Sally has something we could use. It’s…a phone. But it’s more than that. Sally says it's a compact voice recorder, a camera, an… automatic wireless transmission arbitrator–digital wireless telegraphy. Instantaneous telecommunication. From unit to unit, from anywhere in the world, using artificial satellites. It’s a science fictional dream. Do you have any idea what we could accomplish with technology like this?  It could save us.

CW: If it worked. And it doesn’t. I’ve seen it before.

ER: She'll get it working. You know she will. She's determined and she's got nothing but time…

CW: And what if, given the circumstances, Sally isn’t too keen on handing over this “revolutionary technology?”

ER: Then we’ll find a way.

CW:  This doesn’t change the way I feel about your involvement.

ER: Are you suggesting that I'm incapable of this?

CW: I am saying that you've always had a soft spot for her. Thought her a friend. Saw fit to lie to your commanding officers for her when there was a choice to be made. 

ER: That was before.

CW: I am informing you that despite how capable you may be of carrying out any task that we set forth here, I am uncomfortable with the idea of you getting involved personally. No self-respecting commander allows his men to walk face-first into a mission that would expose their vulnerabilities. If you can't be trusted to know what yours are then you should be thankful that I do.

ER: You’re being unreasonable.

CW: That’s final, Esther. Cut it out. This is a matter of security.

ER: No Chet, this is not a matter of security. This is a matter of survival. And surviving is something we will not do if she doesn't. Not as an organization, and not individually. If you’ve got a better idea, I’m willing to hear it. Otherwise, this is well within the jurisdiction of the department you put me in charge of. I don’t need your permission. I need you to not stand in my way.   

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: Diary of Sally Grissom. August 8th, 1950. It’s the truth. I am charging my phone with my car battery, and crossing my fingers that I don’t fry the car or the only smartphone in all existence. I really wanted to build a potato battery, but I did the math and I’d need enough potatoes to get through a Martian winter, so that’s out.

You wouldn’t believe the work I had to do to get the USB connector to… [sigh] I missed this thing. I forgot the weight in my hand, the light of the screen. An extension of my body. At last, my right arm is complete again.

Part of me feels like I should have gone with Sharma when I had the chance. I was indecisive and it cost him his life–and now part of me that feels like I've lost mine too. I'm stuck here. I threw away my shot. 
The whole reason I wanted to stay is because I didn't want to feel so goddamn alone and... now look where I am. Surrounded by fucking exotic vegetables and a half-working cell phone and a great hobby and a perfectly generic, General Mills-life. In a town with friendly people and "Good Mornings" and breakfast and coffee that takes fifteen minutes to percolate on the stove and I have never felt more bored in my entire life. 

"Live the pastoral dream" I told myself. "Forget about time travel,” I insisted.  Thanks a ton, past me. That's working out real well.
I have this neighbor who brings me breakfast sometimes. She doesn't ask any questions. We share a fence. I can see her kitchen through the window in mine.  She just sticks her head out the back door sometimes and asks me if I'm hungry, like a stray animal.
There's an old man who sits at the bus stop on my corner. Every day at the same time. He straightens his tie, reads a newspaper. If I pass by, he takes his hat off, puts it down. Reads me the jokes out of the comic strips like they're the funniest things in the world. He's… sweet. He laughs too hard, and the jokes are stupid. But he's sweet.
He always looks at me to see if I'm laughing, too.  And I think about it a lot, what the equivalent of this would be if I were back in my time– and then I remember that I'm never going to find out.

[[SFX: phone turns on]]

Oh my god. It’s on. The last real remnant of 20█, the only proof of the world I came from.  It’s right where I left it! Cluttered home screen, texts from people I already hadn’t talked to in a decade BEFORE I went back. Oh, look at these photos! There was that party at Beth’s place, the Halloween costume Jamie was working on, I can’t… believe that all of this is here. [gasp] My voicemails. My literal, actual voicemails…

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

VM1: Hey, Doctor Grissom. It’s Kayla. Um, Rogers. One of the fellows? You told me to call if I ever–anyway, I wanted to let you know that I hit traffic on 35. GPS says there’s a collision, Puts my ETA at around 21 minutes, so I’ll be in the office a little late. Oh! And, um, I know you don’t usually come to these things, but Jamie and I and a couple of the others are going out for drinks on Friday. You should come, if you want. Hang out. I have to go. See you soon!

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

VM2: Hey there, Brainiac! I don’t know why I expected you to pick up your phone. Listen, I’m in town! Headed back south. Shoot me a message. We can catch up. I miss your face. You can tell me what’s got your head in the sand these days.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

VM3: Good afternoon, SALLY GRISSOM. We’re calling about your subscription to Popular Mechanics. We are calling to ask whether you have been enjoying your digital subscription–

[[SFX: radio tuning]]


SALLY'S MOM: Hey sweetie, it’s your mother. I know we don’t always talk as often as we’d like to, but–Sally, I want you to know that I love you, and that I think there’s greatness in your future. I am so proud of you, sweetheart. Give me a call when you get a chance. We miss you.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: Diary of Sally Grissom. Same day as before. I got what I wanted, but I–I’m getting rid of the phone. I definitely don’t want it, and Roberts is never gonna stop asking for it because holy fuck is that a useful thing for ODAR to have. 

[[SFX: Sally smashes the phone]]

It’s done. Now nobody gets it. It’s part of the past. Or it would be, if it wasn’t literally a part of the future. Part of my past. And I’m putting it behind me. And I know just what I’m going to plant over it: Chinese Chrysanthemums. Seeds just came in today. It’s gonna be great. It’s going to be great.  

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

CW: So did you get the device?

ER: I sent my people out to turn over her house while she was out. No dice.

CW: Get an agent to take it from her house while she’s in a coma. Now that we know where it is. Put it back before she ever goes looking.

[[SFX: intercom sound]]

ER: Yes?

AMELIA: Miss Roberts, you’re needed in the atrium. The children are here.

CW: … Children?

ER: Beats me.

[[SFX: buzzer]]

ER: I’ll be right there.

[[SFX: tape recorder stops]]

ars PARADOXICA was created by Daniel Manning and Mischa Stanton.
Episode 16: Greenhouse features – 

Kristen DiMercurio (Sally Grissom)
Reyn Beeler (Chet Whickman)

Katie Speed (Esther Roberts)
Richard Penner (Dr. Fitzgerald)
Fionna Thraille, Heather Auden, Thea Rodgers, Austin Beach (additional voices)
Jean DiMercurio (Sally's mom)
with special thanks to Isabel Atkinson

Original music by Mischa Stanton and Eno Freedman-Brodmann.
ars PARADOXICA is brought to you by the Internet: Shipping every character with EVERY character.

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