23: Contact

written by Daniel Manning

[[SFX: tape recorder starts]]

SALLY GRISSOM (SG): Diary of Sally Grissom, February 27th, 1953. I feel like I haven’t done one of these in months. I’ve been a little lax on the diaries, sure, but maybe my life hasn’t been all that eventful since... well, since the Anchorites. In the three years after that, I formally rejoined ODAR, which is kind of a big deal. I haven’t been an official part of Team Time since my accident, and it felt good to trade in my trowel for a soldering iron again.

I know I’m always the one complaining about ODAR–I mean, not ALWAYS the only one, ask anybody–but I think they’ve turned some kinda corner, this time. There’s this new committee, Ethics & Oversight, they’re supposed to make ODAR less... terrible. Or more accountable. Some amount of something. I sat in on one of their meetings, it gets pretty trippy in there, even for me. I’ll understand the paradox bits, more or less, but the ethics stuff? Ugh, makes my eyes glaze over. Watching Gaines and Chambers and Whickman and the rest of them debate about who owes what to whom in whichever timeline... it’ll make your head spin. That’s the right tense, right? Yeah. It-It’ll make your head spin.

But with the good comes the bad, and with the bad, well... one of the things they’re looking into are Carmen and Petra and the rest of the Plasticity kids, and precisely where it ranks on a scale between “double parking” and “double genocide.” The thing is, somewhere, in some version of events, a version of Roberts in some future signed some paperwork that led to all of this happening, so that’s triggered an inquiry into the doings of the Roberts of the present day, and that’s caused its own mess. I’ve been working with her to prepare for her hearing, and it’s not exactly... easy.

[[SFX: radio tuning, tape recorder]]

ESTHER ROBERTS (ER): And you’ve arrived on a methodology to test this hypothesis, Dr. Carling?

DR. ALDOUS CARLING (AC): I believe that additional stress will amplify the effect of paradox on the mind of the subject. Having them implement the mouse tests forces the subject to directly visualize the contradiction.

ER: Isn’t there a risk of your own staff developing the sickness through the same second-hand mechanism you’re testing?

AC: We’ve found that in groups, the mind can offload the mental strain to others. In contrast to that, we would be isolating the subject. As the subject’s sole point of contact with the “project,” I can push her farther out of moral norms than she would ordinarily feel comfortable with.

ER: Saying “she” implies you have a candidate in mind.

AC: I know of someone qualified who desperately needs a position. If I tell her to jump, she’ll say how high.

[[SFX: tape stops]]

ER: ...I know how this looks.

SG: Bad! It looks very very bad! They’re gonna crucify you. Not literally. Probably.

ER: You don’t understand! It was a long time ago.

SG: Three years! Three years after you let Dr. Carling run his mad science experiments on Maggie Elbourne. You gave that poor woman brain damage.

ER: We were at war–

SG: With whom? The war was over before we moved to Colorado! You had the Truman administration in the palm of your hand! And now that you’re three minutes to midnight, you should get a free pass for your shitty choices that got us there?

ER: We saved lives , Sally. Dr. Carling’s research paved the way for safe, effective treatment of Butterfly Syndrome. You're welcome.

SG: So obviously, your logical next step was to kidnap a bunch of children! And you know what, I've got a tape for that too!

[[SFX: Sally rummages through a box of tapes]]

ER: That. Wasn’t. Me. But I gave them what they wanted. I let Petra leave. And Carmen’s expertise has improved the long-term viability of our field agents by an incredible margin!

SG: Great! So you’ve increased the amount of time you can use them before they’re a broken, disoriented husk you can replace–

ER: –At which point they have valiantly served their country and are well-provided for. You know the rigors of this job. You know that people sometimes take a backseat to science.

SG: Please don’t say “We’re not so different, you and I...”

ER: We’re not, Sally. You want a whole speech or something? Where I tell you all that I’ve done, all that I’ve worked for is for the greater good?

SG: [scoff] The greater good.

ER: You saw this century play out already, and unless you’re ready to surprise me with some utopian vision of the future, then you’re just as aware as I am that there is no greater good. There’s just shades of gray.

SG: So what shade of gray is sacrificing an innocent woman’s well-being? What shade of gray is kidnapping children?

ER: –That wasn’t my decision and you know it!

SG: You’re right, it wasn’t. So remind me again, where are Carmen and Petra now? Living a simple life on a comfortable stipend?

ER: They left! Of their own free will! You don’t ever have to deal with this! You get to go back to your lab and tinker with whatever the hell you want on the taxpayer’s dime, and I’ve got to justify it to Chet and the goddamn CIA!

SG: So, what, you’re just gonna pass the buck and say that you don’t have any agency in the matter?

ER: That’s not what I’m saying! What I do, I do for my country, my role in keeping the world safe.

SG: Jesus, you sound just like Donovan.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

KENZO SUGIMURA (KS): Relay, it’s Sugimura. I’m getting spooked they’re going to show up. Give me another update on arrivals, over?

ANTHONY PARTRIDGE (AP): (on radio) Spoke with Hollis. There’s nothing you don’t already know about for 72 hours in either direction, over.

KS: Doable. Hey by the way, remind him that they still have my Fleetwood Mac 33s, over.

AP: (on radio) Wait, that doesn’t make any sense–they’re from the ‘70s, you’re in ‘52, over?

KS: Are you gonna tell on me, over?

AP: (on radio) I guess not, Ken. Good luck, over and out.

KS: You better not.

[[SFX: Ken puts down the radio; a tea kettle boils; Ken pours tea; a pounding at the door]]

SOVIET CONTACT (CO): язык может скрывать правду– (The tongue may hide the truth–) 

KS: –но глаза – никогда! (–But the eyes – never!) You’re late.

CO: You should be suspicious if I arrive early.

KS: Would you like some tea?

CO: Да, пожалуйста. (Yes, please.)

[[SFX: Ken prepares another tea while they talk]]

KS: What’s the latest at the dacha?

CO: I am restless. I'm waiting and waiting. I do not know why you have me wait.

KS: Because patience is a virtue. And because we’re not ready yet.

CO: And who is we?

KS: You, me. My people.

CO: Heh. Your people. What a mystery. I could smell the West on you from first day we spoke.

KS: No. You didn’t notice until our fourth meeting. I misused an idiom and you tried to understand why. Then you realized you the road to treason is paved with pleasantries.

CO: That first day, I thought you working for politician. Looking for leg up. "A real agent would not slip, I think..." Everyone makes mistakes, no?

KS: [chuckles] Did you get what I asked for?

[[SFX: The Contact slides a file to Ken]]

CO: Maps, guard protocols, all is there. Some I write myself, but I swear is all true. And you? You will get me out?

KS: So long as everything goes properly, we will assure you passage out of the Eastern Bloc.

CO: To America.

KS: Yes. To America.

CO: I must have this promise. Will not be safe to stay after.

KS: I swear. After you complete your task, a plane will be waiting for you. I will be on it. We will fly together. But I need to know: are you ready for this? Truly ready? Taking a life is an enormous act. He’s the Premier of the Soviet Union... Your actions will echo throughout history, backwards and forwards.

CO: This is price I pay. When they take my sister, I realize my loyalty to regime would not spare my family from the violence. Do you have this? A person you would do for anything? Mother, eh... sister?

KS: My father. He worked his fingers to the bone for me. Even when... when things got rough back home, he made sure I was okay. I would do anything for him.

CO: So you understand. Love makes us do beautiful, terrible things. What would you have me do?

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

CO: (on radio) Final check. Everything is in place?

KS: For the fifth time, yes, everything is in place, and your routes are clear. As long as you follow the plan, the critical path has a 96% chance you never even cross anybody’s eyeline.

CO: (on radio) And four percent that I do?

KS: It’s a harmless glance, stay calm! You’ll do fine. I’ll be with you over the radio the whole time. Then you meet me back here, and we’ll get you extracted.

CO: (on radio) Together?

KS: Together.

[[SFX: Through the radio, The Contact waits]]

JOSEF STALIN: (on radio) Дай мне спать! Я не хочу от тебя слышать до утра! (Let me sleep! I don’t want to hear from any of you until morning!)

[[SFX: Through the radio, Stalin slams a door and collapses onto his bed; he snores loudly]]

CO: (on radio) Okay, Stalin is asleep. How you know this I do not know, but is not my place to ask.

[[SFX: Through the radio, The Contact climbs into Stalin's bedroom window; Stalin snorts, then returns to deep sleep]]

CO: (on radio) The Warfarin is in him. I will go.

KS: [sigh]

[[SFX: Through the radio, The Contact climbs back out and onto the street; he begins to walk away]]

SOVIET GUARD: (on radio) Остановитесь! Остановитесь, Эй! Эй! (Stop right there! Stop, hey! Hey!)

[[SFX: The Contact runs; Ken scrambles to pack up the safe house]]

KS: Oh shit... Relay, relay, relay! This is Sugimura! My contact's been made. I need you to get both of us a route out of Kuntsevo District, over!

[[SFX: static on the radio]]

KS: Uh, Relay? Second that for me, over.

[[SFX: static on the radio]]

CO: (on radio) Where do I go?

[[SFX: Banging on Ken’s safehouse door]]

KS: Relay, I repeat, need instru ctions for egress from Kuntsevo district in my timeline on March 1, 1953, at 0100 hours.

[[SFX: static on the radio]]

KS: Blackroom, are you reading me, over?

[[SFX: static on the radio; banging on the door]]

KS: Dr. Partridge?

PETRA (P1): (through the door) Agent Sugimura! I’m with ODAR!

[[SFX: Ken runs to the door and opens it]]

KS: You’re... you’re not...

P1: I’m close enough. Come on, we need to get you out of here!

[[SFX: Petra leads Ken down the steps, out of the building, and out into the snow]]

KS: What about Luka?

P1: Your contact? I got him.

A SECOND PETRA (P2): (on radio) Luka! Luka Ilych Ivanov!

CO: (on radio) Кто вы? Уходите от меня! (Who are you? Get away from me!)

P2: I’m with your friend, I’m here to help!

KS: That’s weird as hell, you know that?

P1: You’re assassinating world leaders, and I’m the weird one.

P2(on radio) This way!

P1: This way. My car’s up here.

[[SFX: Petra & Ken trudge through the snow to the car and quickly get inside; Petra turns the ignition and begins driving]]

P1: What did you say to Partridge?

KS: What? I don’t know!

P1: You’re the last person that Anthony Partridge talked to in all of spacetime. Luka, what’s your status?

[[SFX: Through the radio, gunfire]]

CO: (on radio) They are chasing! (to P2) Is that your sister on radio?

P2: (on radio) Don’t worry about it. This way!

P1: We’ll be there soon!

KS: That doesn’t make any sense. The Blackroom has been sending communications until the 1990s at least!

P1: Just because it’s not linear for you doesn’t mean it isn’t for him. And he’s been completely silent since you took a message from Anthony at 21:45 your time.

KS: Shit!

P1: What did he say to you?

KS: He just said something about the mission, I don’t know, it was–

SOVIET GUARD: (on radio) Остановитесь, вы окружены! (Stop, you're surrounded!)

[[SFX: Through the radio, guns trained on Petra and Luka]]

P1: It doesn’t happen like this!

KS: What doesn’t?

CO: (on radio) Where do we go?

P2: (on radio) I don’t–

[[SFX: machine gun fire; Petra and Luka hit the ground; the radio cuts out]]

KS: Luka!

P1: That’s not how this was supposed to work! I got away with your contact. That was me back there! Like, me me! Not some copy, not some variant, I just did this an hour ago.

KS: What the hell is going on?

P1 You tell me, Ken. Looks like we’re all off-script today.

[[SFX: radio tuning; a ticking clock in Chet's house]]

CHET WHICKMAN (CW): Four... Five... Six...

[[SFX: phone rings; Chet answers]]

AMELIA ARNAULT (AA): (on phone) Thunderstorms.

CW: [sigh] I’m on my way.

[[SFX: Chet hangs up; radio tuning; Chet's office]]

CW: How long has it been?

AA: Eleven hours and thirty... eight minutes,

CW: What’s the greatest interval he’s ever taken?

AA: Three hours forty-five. But that was due to a timing error.

CW: And this time?

AA: The wires are dark, Director Whickman. We’ve sent a series of emergency pings but... nothing.

CW: What about other times? Other us-ses?

AA: We haven’t heard from them. We can’t hear from them. But if the flow has stopped to us, it’s stopped for everybody.

[[SFX: phone rings; Amelia answers]]

AA: Mm-hmm?

[[SFX: she hangs up]]

AA: Ms. Roberts is on her way.

CW: When was Anthony’s last communication?

AA: The... the Moscow job, sir.

CW: Beans and rice! What’s the status on that?

AA: Real-time communication is down, but one of my contacts suggests that the mission was successful.

CW: We did it.

AA: But we haven’t heard from Agent Sugimura since.

CW: Well, find him, okay?

AA: Sure, but... there’s something else, sir.

CW: What is it?

AA: On your drive here I decided to pull all the records of Blackroom communications from the last hours and... I found something.

[[SFX: Amelia hands Chet a file]]

CW: Go on.

AA: An hour before the Blackroom went dark, Miss Roberts made a single document transfer to an unknown address. Did you know about this?

CW: Of course I don’t know! What do you mean, unknown? Do we not have a lid our own damn Blackroom?

AA: I’m telling you, sir, it was to an address that doesn’t correspond to any in my directory.

CW: And what was the document?

AA: I’ve only got the header code here, it’s going to take a while to narrow down the precise one, but it’s... it’s from the Moscow job.

CW: She’s... giving out secrets?

[[SFX: door opens, Esther enters]]

ER: Alright, what did I miss?

[[SFX: pause; radio tuning]]

ER: And so I’ve been instructed to not leave the cafeteria since then. They cleared everyone out for me and put guards at the door.

SG: An ethics investigation, then this... why did they put you here in the cafeteria, of all places?

ER: Chet knows that the second I’m formally arrested it’s going to trigger a cascade of process and problems and oversight, and without the Blackroom, he doesn’t know exactly what happened. I’ll be fine once they reestablish communication.

SG: Listen, I’m sorry about yesterday, I...

ER: No, it’s alright. I was being an ass.

SG: You were.

ER: Rude.

SG: But I wasn’t being helpful.

ER: You weren’t.

SG: [chuckles]

ER: ...Sally, I know you care about me, but I can handle myself.

SG: I get that you’re like okay on the inside with your whole lawful neutral mess, but this time I... I think it’s really going to be serious. You’re caught up in all this nefarious biz, and then this? I’m sure it’s a mistake, but if you realized the error of your ways, or something–

ER: Come on, Sally, do you know how condescending you sound? “Realize the error of my ways?” I am the woman that I am because I make difficult choices.

SG: Yeah, I know...

ER: It’s not that I don’t see why there are some ethical issues with the actions I have taken and the actions I have authorized. Believe me, I have doubted myself before, and I will do so again, but I don’t let my doubt get in the way of my decision-making.

SG: Okay, maybe it’s not that, but I’m concerned for you. You’re a queer Jewish woman–

ER: –It’s still weird that you people describe us like that–

SG: And you’re in kind of the most witch hunt-y part of the whole Cold War. There’s a play... is it out yet? Eh, doesn’t matter. What matters is that the heat is on, and you’ve got to deal with it. Senator McCarthy–

ER: Senator McCarthy isn’t here, it’s just our own Ethics Committee. Sure, Lou might not be the most sympathetic, but Bridget knows me, and Chet doesn’t want to make trouble, he’s on thin ice as it is. I might take some lumps, but to be honest I probably deserve them.

SG: So you do feel the error of your ways?

ER: No, Sally, I don’t. I just have the good sense to know that there’s always another shoe.

[[SFX: Chet and guards enter]]

ER: And it’s right on time.

CW: I’m sorry, Esther, but we’re going to move you to house arrest. Dr. Grissom, would you kindly?

SG: Yeah, yeah, I got it.

[[SFX: Sally gets up to leave]]

CW: Sally, I promise that we’re all working around the clock to get to the bottom of this.

SG: Are you promising that to me, or her?

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: And just like that, what was supposed to be some kind of quiet ODAR hearing is becoming a grand goddamn rigamarole. They’re flying everybody out to DC, they’ve got a whole lineup of witnesses. They’re even bringing in Allen Dulles, Director of Central Fucking Intelligence. They’re gonna name an airport after this guy. (Well, maybe it was his brother, who just became Secretary of State, because who ever said the aristocracy was dead...)

Point is, they’re pulling out all the stops. We’re in peak Red Scare and they’re out looking for blood, and all the signs point to Roberts, and... damn. If she wasn’t responsible, who was? Sugimura got back from Russia but for the grace of god and Petra, and like, who knows where she came from? The Blackroom is still silent, and they’re pinning that on her too. Everything’s a mess right now. I don’t know how it could get any worse...

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

P1: You tell me, Ken. Looks like we’re all off-script today.

KS: I’ll tell you everything I can.

SOVIET GUARD: (on radio) Что это за прибор? (What's this machine?)

KS: They found a... machine?

P1: Oh god they’ve got my Timepiece!

KS: They’ve been waiting for us.

P1: Somebody knew about this mission.

KS: The Soviets were warned.

[[SFX: tape recorder stops]]

ars PARADOXICA was created by Daniel Manning & Mischa Stanton. This season was also written by Eli Barraza, Julian Mundy, Danielle Shemaiah & Tau Zaman.
Episode 23: Contact features – 

Kristen DiMercurio (Sally Grissom)
Katie Speed (Esther Roberts)
Lia Peros (Petra)
Reyn Beeler (Chet Whickman)

Robin Gabrielli (Anthony Partridge)
Isabel Atkinson (Amelia Arnault)
Malcolm Montgomery (Dr. Aldous Carling)
Thomas Isao Morinaka (Kenzo Sugimura)
Briggon Snow (The Contact/Luka)

Translation by Mariya Yanusheva and Molly Phelps. Original music by Mischa Stanton and by Eno Freedman-Brodmann.
ars PARADOXICA is brought to you by The Internet: Twitch streams & dank memes.

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