17: Plasticity

written by Eli Barraza

[[SFX: tape recorder starts]]

TEACHER: Could anyone like to share what their favorite movie will be in 1985?

LIAM (L): Labyrinth!

TEACHER: That is a good movie, but can someone tell me why that answer is incorrect? Ah yes, Jonah?

JONAH (J): Labyrinth came out in 1986.

TEACHER: Sharp! What would a more appropriate answer be?

J: Well my favorite is the Goonies, for sure but since we’re landing a bit before that came out in June, I’d have to be careful and say something like the Black Cauldron.

L: That one’s awful!

J: No, it’s not!

L: You’re just trying to defend the fact you cried when Gurgi died.

TEACHER: Please, let’s not argue in front of our guests.

AGENT GIBSON (AG): Oh, not a problem, I understand the passions of youth. Thank you for allowing us to sit in on one of your lessons.

TEACHER: Class, can we thank Agent Gibson for visiting with us today?

CLASS: Thank you.

AG: It’s been a pleasure. Van?

VAN (V): Yes sir, I’ll escort you out.

[[SFX: Van and Agent Gibson exit the classroom]]

AG: So that’s them, huh?

V: That’s our oldest age group, actually. We separate them into three tiers during lessons to ensure the education level is appropriate for their developmental stage.

AG: I recall the lesson plans that came across my desk. Quite the undertaking, were you there when any of them were acquired?

V: No, they thought it best for me not to be present during extraction so I wasn’t linked to the possible trauma.

AG: It’s my understanding it was supposed to be quite painless as they were taken before their deaths.

V: Oh, I was speaking more to the emotional trauma. Most of these kids came from foster homes, and some of them were not pleased to be selected for a “special program.”

AG: Oh, I see... This is why I prefer staying behind the desk. At least your arrival will be easier, everything already prepared for you.

V: The Blackroom has been alerted?

AG: Not yet. We’ll send the instructions when everything is finalized.

V: Understood.

AG: Thank you for allowing me to drop in on the lessons, but if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get to my next meeting.

V: Not a problem sir. Thank you for stopping by.

AG: Before I leave, what is your favorite movie?

V: Sir?

AG: From 1985 I mean. You’re going with them so you should have an answer as well, no?

V: [laughs] Oh I see. Let’s just say, it’s the reason I signed on for this project.

AG: Hmm. Very well. Good luck in your preparations, Agent Van.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

CARMEN (C): Petra.... Petra.... Petra!

PETRA (P): Stop poking me Carmen!

C: Are you scared about tomorrow?

P: I’m sleepy.

C: I can’t sleep.

P: Why?

C: I don’t wanna go to the new place.

P: I’ll hold your hand.

[[SFX: Carmen attempts to hold Petra’s hand]]

P: Not right now!

C: When?

P: When they push the buttons.

C: Kay. Can you sing the song one more time?

P: Okay. Arrorró mi niño/arrorró mi sol/arrorró pedazo/de mi corazón.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

V: Children, is everyone alright? Liam, please stop pretending you’re vomiting, you’ll make someone actually do it.

[[SFX: Jonah vomits]]

V: And there goes Jonah, perfect. Carmen, you can open your eyes, we’re here now.

[[SFX: door opens]]

V: Ah, there they are. Hello, I believe you’re expecting us? You must be Ms. Roberts.

ESTHER ROBERTS (ER): Yes, and it is my pleasure to meet all of you. We’ve got rooms prepared for you if you’d like to rest a bit before we run the tests

V: We woke up only a few hours ago, our time. I promised them we’d go shopping in town after being poked and prodded so I have a feeling they’d like to get that over with.

ER: Of course. (to the children) My team is very excited to meet you all!

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

V: Audio journal of Van ████. The date is May 19th, 1985. We left at 0900 December 13th, 1990, landed this morning at 0700 local time.

The kids were nervous at first, but they relaxed after the tests. They’ve seen so many doctors already, what’s a few more, right? None of them like the MRIs but I can’t blame them. I’m not a big fan either but if I’m going to be traveling with them across the century I’ve got to stay healthy.

At least they loved the yankee swap idea! Whenever we land in a new... time… Huh. I should probably come up with a name for it. Make it a proper holiday like New Years, or 4th of July, or Arbor Day. Anyway getting the gifts in town and then exchanging them, I think it helps with the initial cultural adjustment. And what kid doesn’t like presents, right?

I did have to confiscate Liam’s GameBoy. I told them nothing from 1990 and of course he didn’t listen. It’s hard to punish the kid though, I–­­

[[SFX: knock at door]]

V: Yes? Come in.

[[SFX: door opens]]

V: Hello Petra.

P: Hello Agent Van.

V: Please, you know you can just call me just Van right?

P: Okay.

V: ...Well? Did you want to talk to me, are you feeling alright?

P: I just wanted to give you this because you didn’t get a present.

V: h there’s no need for tha­-okay. Thank you.

[[SFX: Van unwraps the gift]]

V: [laughs] This is perfect, thank you Petra. Now, if there’s nothing else, you’d better get to your room. You really shouldn’t be wandering the halls alone without a buddy.

P: Am I in trouble?

V: Not this time, no. Off you go.

P: Goodnight Agent...­ Goodnight Van.

[[SFX: Petra exits]]

V: God, I’m terrible at Rubik’s Cubes, could never get them to–­­­

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

1984 ANNOUNCER 1: –Los Angeles welcomes the athletes of the world for the Summer Olympics–

1984 ANNOUNCER 2: –you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

TEACHER: And why is it important to be precise in our speech and how we think about time?

L: To mitigate any potential effects of BS.

[[SFX: kids laugh]]

TEACHER: Hush now, thank you Liam. Right, we’re still studying the effects of Butterfly Syndrome on the adolescent mind and thus it is imperative to ensure that thought processes–

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

1983 ANNOUNCER: –carried an American woman astronaut, Sally Ride, into space and into history–

1981 ANNOUNCER: –Washington Hilton hotel when shots were fired at President Reagan–

[[SFX: radio tuning; store muzak]]

P: his present is perfect, I can’t wait to show it to my teacher. Thank you ma’am!

STORE OWNER (SO): f course, come back any time young lady!

[[SFX: Petra exits the store]]

SO: Excuse me little girl, can I help you find something?

C: I’m looking for a present!

S: Oh I see... Well I’m not sure we have what you’re looking for here.

C: Oh I’ve been here before, you had different stuff last time but it was good stuff!

SO: No, I’m sure I would have remembered such a... precocious little girl as yourself. Why don’t you run along now and find a more suitable­­–

V: Carmen, there you are! Petra’s all done, have you­­–

SO: Sir? Is this your...

V: What? Oh yes, Carmen here is my student.

SO: Uh…

V: Uh, class field trip to learn the value of money.

S: Ah I see, well...

V: Is there a problem?

C: The lady was saying that I can’t find my gift here!

V: Is that so?

S: Well yes, you see I was simply worried that... Being so... young she might not...

V: Carmen, I think this lady might be right. There’s nothing here we’d like to buy. Petra is with the older students next door, I think we’ll find some nicer things there. Good day, ma’am.

C: Bye!

[[SFX: Van and Carmen exit]]

C: Petra already got hers? Darn...

[[SFX: footsteps approach]]

NIKHIL SHARMA (NS): Ah, excuse me madame. I’d like to purchase these lemon drops.

[[SFX: drops candy on counter]]

SO: Oh for heaven's sake, just take them!

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

1979 ANNOUNCER: –new Prime Minister, the first woman in Europe’s–

1977 ANNOUNCER: –Elvis’ death this afternoon–

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

P: Come on, Liam!

C: I definitely heard someone coming that time...

P: top being such a scaredy cat.

C: I’m just being cautious! If we get caught–­­

L: –Which we won’t!

C: Shut up! If we get caught we lose town privileges at the bare minimum. That means less time learning how to acclimate to new time periods! That could mean the difference between life and death!

P: I figure if we were gonna die out there, it would’ve been when we were 5 or 6 but we’ve got plenty of experience acclimating under our belt by now.

C: You realize we’re probably only 10, right? None of us can even drive yet!

L: I can drive. They estimated my age around 16, 1st Tier’s been taking lessons.

C: That’s not the point! We shouldn’t be going back to meet ourselves!

P: Name one legitimate reason why that’s a bad idea.

C: I don’t think I have to­­–

L: Callate, los dos!

C: I regret ever teaching you Spanish!

L: Seriously, shut up. There’s someone standing at the end of the hallway.

C: What if it’s one of the 77s?!

P: I don’t think an agent would just stand there.

L: Aaaand now they’re coming towards us. Shit!

C: Whatdowedowhatdowedo–

FUTURE LIAM (FL): Nothing, it’s just me!

L: Holy­­–

P: It worked!

FL: Damn right it worked! What up me from 10 minutes ago?

L: Jesus christ on a pogo stick!

P: And there it is, the proof in the pudding! He’s here because we sent him back!

C: This still doesn’t feel right.

P: If we don’t send him back now, you can explain to Van why we have two Liams.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

P: You ready?

L: Um, I think so?

FL: You’ll be fine. And by going back 10 minutes, that means there’ll be only one of us here, so they’ll be none the wiser.

[[SFX: computer powers up]]

L: I’m starting to think the pint sized one was right about this.

C: Pint sized?

[[SFX: Petra sets the Timepiece]]

P: C’mon, Liam. You were the one who pointed out we always travel to years before we arrive somewhere so we never meet ourselves. We breaking boundaries here! Boldly going where no one has gone before!

C: Yeah, but remember that mouse study from Dr. Carling when the little mice met themselves–­

P: Thank you for the history lesson, Carm! Bootin’ this sucker up!

FL: Said hi to past us for us! Saying, uh say hi–

[[SFX: static distortion]]

C: Liam are you okay? Petra, turn off the machine I think he’s bleed­­ing!

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

V: Explain. Now.

C: It wasn’t our fault! It was an accident! I told them it was a bad idea! I’m really really sorry­­–

P: Carmen, shut up!

C: [sobs]

V: Petra, you do not speak to a classmate that way!

P: But she... Ugh. I’m sorry.

V: [sigh] No, I’m sorry. I’ve grown lax with you kids. Sometimes I forget how... never mind. Petra, please wait outside. I’ll speak to you after.

P: Yes sir.

[[SFX: Petra storms out]]

V: Now, putting apologies aside: What happened?

C: Liam, he kept talking about how you could meet yourself, using the timepiece and Petra thought that’d be cool so she said she knew how to break in where they keep the field kits.

V: And why on earth would you go along with this Carmen?

C: Because I thought it’d be okay! And how Petra always said I was a stick in the mud so I thought it’d be cool! But then I remembered about what happened to those mice when they met themselves. So I got second thoughts so I told them what might happen. But they said that I said that we couldn’t be affected by breaks in causality because our neuroplasticity, and being raised in the opposite direction of everyone. But obviously I was wrong because I’m sitting here in front of you and Liam’s in a hospital bed in a CAGE and I don’t know what’s going to happen to him, and even though we can use things like the TAP to tell us exactly what the world will be like when we get there, it’s impossible to really know my own future let alone Liam’s! [sobs]

V: Take a deep breath. No one knows where they’re gone… [coughs]

[[SFX: Carmen goes abruptly silent]]

V: ...Going. Even us here at ODAR. You’re right. We just don’t know.

[[SFX: radio tuning; footsteps approach]]

NS: Hey kid, you okay?

P: What? Oh, yeah. I’m good.

NS: You don’t look so good. Mind if I sit?

P: Go ahead.

[[SFX: Nikhil sits]]

NS: What’s on your mind?

P: I don’t think I’m supposed to talk about it.

NS: What, super secret mission didn’t go so well?

P: Yeah, something like that.

NS: You’re a part of that class, right? Well of course you are, there’s only one class of ODAR kids I know about... Wowza, I am not great at talking to the youths, am I? [laughs; coughs]

[[SFX: Nikhil unwraps a lemon drop and eats it]]

NS: Look, as a grown up who can’t possibly know what you’re going through–hold on. It’s too hard to talk around this thing!

[[SFX: Nikhil spits out the lemon drop]]

NS: Ah, that’s better. As I was saying, it might seem like the end of the world right now. Actually, when it comes to you guys it might really be the end of the world! [laughs] Wait, that’s not helping much either.

P: [laughs]

NS: Ah, there’s the begrudging ODAR sense of humor. Kid, if I were you I’d “fly the coop” before whatever happened happens to you.

P: That’s not a very... ODAR thing to say.

NS: I’m as dedicated to the cause as the next person! But, I gotta say even I’m a bit adverse to the bigwigs taking children to turn them into... I don’t even know what.

P: But they saved us. We were gonna get stuck in foster care.

NS: So you traded one system for another. But did you have a say in any of it?

P: Well... I was really little.

NS: You’re still pretty little from my view!

P: Hey!

NS: What? How old are you? 10? 11? That’s still pretty darn young.

P: I don’t know.

NS: Don’t know what?

P: I don’t know how old I am. Everywhere we go, it gets harder to keep track.

NS: I’m sorry.

P: I’m not. I don’t really care anymore.

NS: Well here, have a lemon drop. My small gift to you for all the birthdays you’ve missed.

P: Thanks... You know, you talk funny. Not your accent I mean, it’s your slang. It’s all over the place. And your clothes...

NS: Yeah well, I never did too well studying up on that stuff. It’s the 70s, right? Guess I should be saying something like “can ya dig?”

[[SFX: They laugh; Nikhil stands]]

NS: I gotta get goin’, kid. Bossman still won’t let me use the Timepiece when I’m late for a meeting.

P: Hope I see you around.

NS: I’m always around.

[[SFX: radio tuning; heart monitor beeps; Liam wakes up]]

P: Hey there sleepy head. Carmen was here earlier but had to get some shut eye.

L: (unintelligible) You look like you need sleep too.

P: Uh, the nurse said it’s better if you try not to talk.

L: (unintelligible) Well that’s just dumb.

P: I know, it’s dumb but... what we did was really dumb Liam.

[[SFX: Liam sits up in the bed]]

P: Here, tap once for yes, two for no.

L: [one tap]

P: Have they talked to you about... about what’s gonna happen?

L: [one tap]

P: Are you... are you gonna be okay?

L: [one tap... two tap]    

P: Oh. Is it... are you gonna...?

[[SFX: Liam holds Petra’s hand]]

P: You know, I’m the one usually holding other people’s hands. What if we... what if we go back? You know, stop us from using the­­–

L: [frantic: taptap, taptap, taptap]

P: I’m just saying we could stop this, we could stop ourselves... oh. We’d have the same problem.

L: [one tap]

P: But it isn’t fair! Butterfly Syndrome wasn’t supposed to affect us! All that stuff about brain plasticity and using the right verbs and CAGE therapy and, and you’re in a hospital bed and we can’t do anything about it! But what if we got one of the agents to do it for us?

L: [firm: two taps]

P: Why? If we can save you then, why­­?

L: (barely intelligible) Let me died. Let me having my death.

P: I... I...

L: Please.

P: ...Arrorró mi niño/arrorró mi sol/arrorro pedazo/de mi corazón.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

RAY VICO (RV): No, these children do not get to make such decisions for themselves!

V: With all due respect Agent Vico, these... children haven’t been treated as such for a subjectively long time. Their training, this program has made sure of that!

RV: This program is a failure, Van! Look, we wanted to raise agents that were unaffected by Butterfly Syndrome, but there is a boy dying from it as we speak. I send one letter to the Blackroom and we stop all of this from happening. Give me one grounded reason why I shouldn’t.

V: Because they asked!

RV: I said grounded!

V: I’ve been with these kids since the beginning, sir. We’ve guided them every step of the way but I think it might be time to let them make some of their own decisions. They’ve seen so much of their past erased, what you want to do will erase their very selves.

RV: And they’ll be none the wiser for it.

V: Please, sir. The experiment isn’t over. Liam was... is only one case. He’s in Tier 1 and may have been too old from the outset. I don’t know if the others will be affected as such and if you send that order to the Blackroom none of us will! If there’s a chance that the others could develop an immunity, we should at least find out!

RV: Well I’ll discuss it with the others but Van, I will have to send something to the Blackroom and at that point, the decision will be made for us.

V: Understood!... Sir.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

V: Carmen, Petra, come with me now.

P: Whuh?

C: What? What’s going on?

V: Everybody up, we need to leave.

[[SFX: radio tuning; class walks down hallway]]

V: Alright, we’re going to be getting into the nuances of the science behind traveling as a group. Ah yes, hello, if you don’t mind I need to show the class the Timepiece.

GUARD 1: I haven’t been informed of any... group tour. It’s the middle of the night.

V: Sleep deprivation training. We want to ensure that they can recall even the most technical of details on little sleep. I’m sure you’re aware of the importance of training these children?

GUARD 1: Well of course but I was given strict orders­­–

V: Step aside. Please. I won’t ask again.

GUARD 1: Sir, without the proper orders­­ I can’t–

[[SFX: Van punches the Guard out]]

P: Holy crap!

V: Kids, inside, now.

[[SFX: they enter]]

V: kay kids, now Time Jump Day has come early, and we’re going back ahead of schedule. Everyone accounted for? Good.

[[SFX: Van sets the Timepiece]]

C: Aren’t we supposed to check the TAP to make sure that it’s clear back there?

P: And what about Liam?

V: e don’t have time, I’m sorry.

[[SFX: Van throws the final switch; the Timepiece spools up]]

P: Don’t have time? We’re about to use­­ a time machine!

J: Wait, that guy’s hand is still in the doorway!

V: Jonah, don’t!!

[[SFX: Timepiece activates; half of Jonah sloshes to the floor; children scream]]

P: Jonah!

V: Everyone, close your eyes right now!

[[SFX: someone attempts to open the door]]

V: Kids, behind me. We may not get the reception we’re used to.

[[SFX: door bursts open]]

GUARD : Hands where I can see them!

V: Do as he says, it’s going to be alright. Keep your eyes closed.

GUARD 2: What the hell happened here?

V: I am Agent Van, these children are a part of a sanctioned ODAR experiment. The Blackroom should have a file on us. Before I explain further, may I ask that someone come to escort these children to some rooms, I don’t think they should have to see any more of this.

GUARD 2: Right, right.

[[SFX: walkie squelch]]

GUARD 2: Jones to Smith, I need someone over here to escort some kids and uh... a clean up crew.

V: Would it be alright if they waited for their escort in the hallway?

GUARD 2: Yes, of course. Right this way, kids.

P: Carmen, don’t peek.

C: Too late for that!

P: Wanna hold my hand?

C: Maybe. A little. Yes!

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

C: Audio diary of Carmen... Oh. I don’t really have a last name.

P: None of us do.

C: Do you mind?

P: I’m just saying, none of us do. It’s a family signifier and since we don’t have a family or attachment to any personal history beyond ourselves­­–

C: Petra, this is a diary. A pastime usually done alone.

P: Right, fine. Sure. I get it, I’ll leave the room that we are supposed to share.

[[SFX: Petra exits]]

C: Like I was saying. This is my audio diary. I figured if keeping one was good for the legendary Dr. Sally Grissom then it might help me! The date is July 19th, 1969. We’re going to watch the Moon Landing tomorrow. Van thinks it’ll help raise morale! Eugh, that’s such a military way of saying but I guess it’s true after... after what happened to Jonah.

I don’t know how he convinced them to continue the experiment but he did. Everyone wants to see this through I guess. I think I do too but it’s hard. I’ve noticed little things, with the Tier 1’s. Felicity stuttered the other day. Jerome’s memory is a bit foggy. I overheard Hannah from Tier 2 coughing but I’m hoping it’s just asthma. Petra keeps getting mad at me because I keep staring at her all the time. The MRIs didn’t used to be so... heavy.

They put us in the CAGE now, even us ones that don’t show any symptoms! As if it wasn’t already hard to keep track of our real age! Some of the teachers look at us... like they pity us but are also a little afraid? I don’t blame them. I’ve tried talking to Petra about all this but she’s just so angry all the time now...

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

1961 ANNUONCER (JFK): –Of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth–

1957 ANNOUNCER: –a special report on Sputnik 1–

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

C: Van! Fatima just collapsed...

V: Help me lift her up, we need to get her… [coughs]

C: It’s okay, I think I can get her, just rest a moment.

V: Oh dammit… [cough] I’m sorry, I’m not quite as young as I will be... am have, used to be–

P: Lean on my arm, Van. You’re alright.

CLERK: Misses Petra and Carmen?

C: Yes, that’s us.

CLERK: And this’ll be Agent Van then?

P: Clearly. Do you–­

CLERK: Wheelchair’s just in the hallway.

P: Thank you.

[[SFX: radio tuning; office]]

ER: Uh, hello, Petra, Carmen. A pleasure to meet you. I apologize I couldn’t meet you upon arrival, I honestly didn’t know you were coming.

C: Not a problem. We were able to get all of our tests out of the way.

ER: And I hear you two were completely cleared, I’m looking forward to looking at all the test results.

P: [scoffs] I bet you are.

ER: I’m sorry?

C: And we’d like to thank you, for taking such care of Van.

ER: Of course, I understand that the journey aged him significantly. To be honest, I’m surprised he made it this far with you two.

P: We can thank the CAGE on both counts.

ER: I know, when Sally went through therapy it took a year...

[[SFX: radio tuning; sounds of a park; footsteps approach]]

NS: Hah! Do you know how hard it is to find one person in this place?

P: I’m sorry, do I know you?

NS: Oh, right, it’s been a while for you.

[[SFX: Nikhil takes out the bag of lemon drops]]

NS: Ring a bell?

P: No...wait. You’re... you’re the Lemon Drop Man?

NS: Actually I prefer Nikhil? Lot less creepy than Lemon Drop Man?

P: But you... I was... is that the same bag?

NS: Yep, tastes a bit off now though. Effects of multiple trips.

P: I know, things get... degraded.

NS: So, what happened? ODAR screw someone else over?

P: [snorts]

NS: Come on, you can tell me.

P: I’m not some kid anymore, Nikhil. I know that you probably just saw me 5 minutes ago­­, but–

NS: More like an hour, it took a while to find you here.

P: ­­–But as you can see a lot more time has passed for me. I’m not gonna take candy from a stranger and tell them all my secrets.

NS: If I recall correctly, you didn’t spill anything last time either.

P: What?

NS: Yeah, you… Mostly you just made fun of the words I use.

P: Oh. Right. You were terrible at fitting in.

NS: Rude!

P: Look at you, you don’t sit right in this time either.

NS: Okay, moving on from my apparent inability to blend in... How are you? Really.

P: Why should I tell you anything?

NS: Because I have a feeling no one has asked you that in a while. Or they have but they’ve only asked it to make sure you’re not showing signs of Butterfly Syndrome.

P: [sigh] I think I’m done, Nikhil. I think I might be done with ODAR. And that scares the living shit out of me.

NS: Why?

P: ...Why? You’re asking me why? The guy who kept going on about how messed up it was that ODAR experimented on kids in the hopes it could continue its dirty work with greater efficiency?

NS: Not in so many words...

P: I can’t remember Liam’s voice! I tried to remember Felicity’s handwriting. Or Jonah’s face... and it’s not because I have Butterfly Syndrome. They’ve checked, and my scans are fine. I don’t cough, my verb usage is normal. I can’t remember those things because that’s what human memory does! Without... anchors, those memories fade. Do you know what it’s like to have your entire life constantly rewritten? Jump, after jump, after jump? I’m adrift. I don’t feel connected to anything. The only things that I could hold onto were my class and our chaperone. Now all that’s left is me and Carmen and... and Van is on his way out. Soon I won’t even have him left.

NS: I’m sorry. I don’t think there’s much more I can say.

P: Then don’t! Unless you have a way that I could stop them, just... shut up and sit there with your candy.

[[SFX: Nikhil opens his pack]]

NS: What if there was something you could do, Petra?

P: Like what?

[[SFX: Nikhil writes a note]]

NS: I can’t say much more here but, if you’re serious about leaving, find this person when you do.

[[SFX: Nikhil tears paper]]

P: Why should I trust you?

NS: Quite frankly you shouldn’t trust anybody in this business. Find them, don’t find them, do what you will. But if you want to take back control of your own life, to help stop ODAR making decisions for everyone else, the name on that paper can help.

[[SFX: Petra takes the paper]]

NS: Unfortunately I’ve another stop to make a year or two back. Goodbye, Petra.

P: Goodbye Nikhil. I hope I see you around.

NS: What did I say last time? I’ll always be around.

[[SFX: radio tuning; heart monitor beeps; Van awakens]]

V: (speaks with great difficulty) ...Pe-­Petra?

C: She’s not here right now, she left for some fresh air.

V: Good. Good. Carmen?

C: Yes?

V: Ah, it’s… you.

C: Yes, it’s me.

V: Mm… Don’t... leave.

C: Of course I won’t.

V: Mm, mm… Don’t... leave…. ODAR.

C: That’s not even a question, I wouldn’t think of it.

V: They... Petra... Need you.

C: I know.

V: Don’t... allow... to happen...

C: Don’t allow what...?

V: Mm… ­I should have stopped...

C: Shh, it’s okay.

V: Over there. For Petra.

[[SFX: Carmen picks up the gift]]

C: ...A Rubik’s cube?

V: Not the same one. Wooden. Had made here… [breathes easier] Tell her I’m sorry. I’m sorry to you too. Both of you.

C: There’s nothing to apologize for… Get some sleep, Van. I’ll be right here when you wake up.

[[SFX: radio tuning; microphone in car]]

ER: I’m sorry about Van. None of us knew him though I understand you all knew us fairly well so... I’m sorry.

C: Thank you.

[[SFX: Carmen walks around to the driver’s side; Esther hands Petra papers]]

ER: Here’s your paperwork, Petra. Everything’s been arranged.

P: Much appreciated. Goodbye Ms. Roberts.

ER: Goodbye Petra.

[[SFX: Carmen and Petra get in the car; Carmen turns the ignition; tape fast-forward]]

C: What was that about?

P: What?

C: Don’t bullshit me, Petra. What is that paperwork for?

P: Pull over.

C: Pull over? I’m not going to just pull over.

P: The bus station’s coming up!

C: And why would that be relevant?

P: Don’t bullshit me, Carmen! You know why... I’m leaving.

[[SFX: Carmen pulls over, turns off the car]]

C: I don’t understand!

P: What is there to not comprehend? You’ve known for a while now I was gonna jettison as soon as Van... as soon as... as soon as there wasn’t anything left for me.

C: I’m still here!

P: I know. I have two bus tickets. I was hoping–

C: Oh Petra, I can’t.

P: Carmen, what do you see in them? They ripped us from our lives on some pretense of saving us, only to turn us into lab rats. Look, I don’t know who my mother was, just barely a lullaby. I can’t remember the face of my father.

C: We had a father, and we just buried him.

P: You know what I mean! What kid should be made to watch their friends, their family die over and over again? What kid should give up their goddamn birthday? All so, what? So ODAR could have agents without brain damage? No. I’m done doing what they say. I am going to live my life for once. I am going to move to some town and get some job, and live–forwards. And I want you there with me.

C: I can’t go. Not because I don’t want to. I do, that sounds... amazing but... ODAR can do a lot of good for a lot of people and I, we, could help with that! Think of the perspective we could bring! We could make sure that no kid goes through what we did.

P: You’re not even going to consider the possibility of coming?

C: What would I do out there Petra? Look at me. Do you know how difficult it’d be for me to find a job? To find a neighborhood that doesn’t mind me taking my dog for a walk?

P: What do you mean?

C: Jesus, you’ve never had to think about this because you don’t look Latina! I used to have people follow me around stores when we were kids. And as soon as we passed the 60s, it got even worse. So don’t tell me it’s as easy as getting on a bus, and finding some town, and getting some job, and living some life because that’s not the reality I live in!

P: Carmen, I–

C: –Didn’t know. I get it. I never brought it up because I didn’t want you to feel bad but there was a reason I didn’t go out as much when we got older and it’s not because I wanted to continue quizzing myself on Spanish slang of 19-fifty-­whatever!

P: And you’re okay with staying with the organization that’s responsible for taking you back to a time when people treat you that way?

C: Stop being so combative! ODAR isn’t perfect but they don’t see me as some brown girl who’s gonna steal something. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. I work at a place that respects me for me, and in return I can go into spaces other agents can’t. I’m not that little girl whose hand you held to lead her away from danger.

P: I was hoping to take you to something better.

[[SFX: Petra holds up the ticket]]

P: Will you at least take the ticket? You can exchange it for a later time in case you change your mind.

C: Okay.

[[SFX: Petra hands Carmen the ticket]]

P: I guess this is goodbye.

C: I don’t think I’ve ever said that to you.

P: Me neither.

C: Bye, Petra.

P: Bye, Carmen.

[[SFX: car door opens, Petra gets out]]

C: Wait!

[[SFX: Carmen picks up the Rubik’s Cube]]

C: Van wanted you to have it.

P: ...Don’t take anything with you, remember? Old habits die hard.

[[SFX: door shuts]]

C: (crying) Arrorró mi niño/ arrorró mi sol/ duérmase pedazo/ de mi corazón...

[[tape recorder stops]]

ars PARADOXICA is created by Daniel Manning and Mischa Stanton.
Episode 17: Plasticity features – 

Elyse Cain & Lia Peros (Petra)
Ai-Chan & Gabriela Milo (Carmen)
Ian McQuown (Van)
Katie Speed (Esther Roberts)

Arjun Gupta (Nikhil Sharma)
Richard Malmos (Ray Vico)
Katie Hume, On Shiu, Bonnie Williams, David Gallic, Billy Finn, Erin Bark (additional voices)
with special thanks to Isabel Atkinson

Production help from Danielle Shemaiah, Ryan Estrada, and David Rheinstrom. Thanks to Mykki and her kids at the Khan Lab School. Original music by Mischa Stanton and by Eno Freedman-Brodmann.
ars PARADOXICA is brought to you by The Internet: A collective dream we're all having, all the time.

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