24: Dilemma

written by Danielle Shemaiah

[[SFX: tape recorder starts]]

...It is our purpose and object to secure a jury that has no feeling, no bias, no prejudice as to either side of this controversy.  To put it another way, the minds of the jurors should be the same as a white sheet of paper with nothing on it, with respect to this case, and you should only take the testimony as it comes from witnesses and from no other source.

[[SFX: radio tuning; a fireplace; Esther's soft footsteps]]

BRIDGET CHAMBERS (BC): Ettie, you’re pacing again.

ESTHER ROBERTS (ER): Huh. I never did send this... “Dear JW, I hope you’ve been well. The weather in Colorado is still pretty unforgiving. My mother always did say I was never meant to live in the countryside. I suppose you and Penny don’t have that to worry about, wherever you are–"

[[SFX: Esther crumples up the letter, tosses it into the fire]]

ER: And screw you too.

BC: Oh, honestly, I don’t know what that is going to accomplish, other than the awful burning smell.

ER: The prosecution doesn’t have our technology. What they do have… is enough kindling to start a fire. And I’d like to think I’m entitled to what little of my private life remains.

BC: [laugh] Ettie, I doubt they’re in tune with all of your private life.

ER: Well, you are the expert.

BC: I never said that.

ER: No, my mistake, tell me - where in the Library can I find the Big Book of Government Secrets?

BC: Don’t make me the enemy, here. If you’d just take a moment, and focus on anything that might really cast a shadow over your innocence—

ER: Oh, I have no delusions about “shadows cast over my innocence." My being brought to trial isn’t about whether or not I’m a Communist, after all.

BC: Is that what Director Whickman said?

ER: [a dark laugh] Chet said that “Everyone” was working “around the clock” to “get to the bottom of this."

BC: …And you don’t believe him.

ER: Well, there would be a lot of that going around, wouldn’t there.

BC: Ettie–

ER: What, Bridget? Why do you keep saying my name like that? Over and over again? What on earth do you want me to say? I’m being dragged into this farce as some sort of scapegoat, like... Like my contributions to our efforts here mean absolutely nothing. All because someone with a seat in Washington doesn’t believe I could possibly–

BC: Damn it, Esther, would you stop?

ER: Bridget, if I’m going to have to defend myself I need to be able to–

BC: Stop. Ettie. Look at me. Look at me. 

ER: [sigh] ...What?

BC: It’s alright to admit that you’re afraid.

ER: I’m not.

BC: Your hands are shaking.

ER: ...I’m a fool.

BC: Well that I won’t argue with.

ER: I’m serious. Every test, every string I’ve pulled, every bent rule and compromise... and I mean as far back as Polvo. Bridget, did you know that we were only fifty miles from the Manhattan demonstrations? And fifty miles in the other direction, Americans were being held in internment camps only a hair’s breadth away from Majdanek! Agent Sugimura’s family was there. Did you know that? And I just kept at it, I–

BC: You couldn’t have known-

ER: No, you aren’t listening! I did know, Bridget. That’s the problem.

BC: ...What is it you aren’t saying? Just tell me. Straight out.

ER: The only thing I can say for certain is that I have no idea what we do here, anymore. I cannot say to any degree of certainty just who I’m working for. Hell, I would perjure myself saying I even knew what we were working towards! And, well, if I don’t know... Who does, Bridget? Does Chet? Does the President? Do you?

BC: ...Alright. That’s a first.  

[[SFX: an authoritative knock at the door; Esther nervously shuffles papers]]

ER: [gasp] Shit…

[[SFX: door opens; Hank and Chet enter]]

HANK CORNISH (HC): Miz Roberts. You’re being taken into custody under the direct orders of the Secretary of State, to await trial in lawfully provided quarantine under the rules of the Federal Espionage Act of 1951.

[[SFX: Esther picks up a bag]]

CHET WHICKMAN (CW): Leave that. You won’t need it. Miz Chambers.

HC: Follow me, Ms. Roberts.

[[SFX: radio tuning; a crowd mills inside a courtroom; gavel]]

DIRECTOR OF CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE ALLEN DULLES: [clears throat] I suppose we can call all of this to order.

CLERK: The United States in cooperation with the Central Intelligence Agency versus Ms. Esther Roberts. Are both sides prepared?

HC: The prosecution is at your disposal, Your Honor.

CLERK: Mr. Cornish, if you would like to begin.

HC: Ahem. Ladies and Gentlemen gathered here today, we understand that every criminal prosecution, especially those within our own ranks, has grave implications. Not only for the defendants, but for the civil servants and for the people of this great nation. And none more serious than the charges brought before you today: that Ms. Roberts did repeatedly collude and conspire with the Communist party to forward their subversive interests, leading to the untimely assassination of Joseph Stalin by one of her known subordinates. Through these actions Ms. Roberts has plunged our country into uncertainty and made possible the acquisition of certain classified technological materials entrusted to her, which are now available to the Soviets for their own use. The evidence and testimonies presented here in the coming days will prove that the loyalty and allegiance of Ms. Roberts is not to our country, but to Communism, and the advancement of the Communist Agenda throughout the world. 

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SALLY GRISSOM (SG): Diary of Sally Grissom, March 3, 1953. To the point. Roberts is… she’s in trouble.  After the mission went to bunk there were…maybe 12 hours before Cornish and a hangdog-looking Whickman showed up at Roberts’ door and took her. The transport out of town was four cars long and completely silent. The lights were enough to wake everyone on our street, though. My neighbor looked like she’d seen a ghost.

So of course I came out to DC with them. What else was I supposed to do? It’s one thing to not want to interfere with the future. It’s another thing entirely to pretend that you don’t know exactly how this plays out for people like her. I…I just can’t. Anybody but Roberts.

And maybe that’s stupid. Maybe she deserves this and I shouldn’t meddle. I’m not saying she shouldn’t answer for her actions–I’ve said that much to her face–but there’s a difference between being brought before an Ethics Committee and... this. 

I want to say something about positive ions in recirculated air and about how there was this feeling of dread that could be explained away by science. That sinking feeling was undeniably unscientific. It was straight up history, repeating itself. And this is the first time in a while that I’ve felt like I’m standing in anything close to the textbooks I read in grade school.

It’s some seriously scary shit, dude.

Roberts is my friend. She’s the best friend I’ve got around here. Or at least, the best friend I’ve got that isn’t trapped in a timeless void. Anyway whatever Cornish and the rest of the suits have to say, it’s…I just don’t see a timeline where she’s working for the Communists! She might be batshit insane, but if anyone stands to benefit from it, it’s the United States of America. Greater good, and all that... Ugh.  It’s definitely not the fucking Soviets.

Predictive Mechanics would be pretty helpful right about now. I don’t know where we go from here. There’s no way this trial happens in a history without me in it. I feel like we’re going off script, like we’ve scrubbed through to the end of an old VHS and somehow the tape is still running? You keep waiting for something else to appear – something you recorded over a long time ago and forgot about, but it’s just those lines, and a screen that’s not quite black… We could rewind it, but, mostly there’s that niggling curiosity about…what’s at the end of this thing? If I keep going, what… y’know? The minute they took her we just… I don’t know, it felt like time froze. Timelines converged, everyone ground to a halt. I mean, that’s not how time travel works, I’m just saying that’s what it felt like. You know what I mean.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

BAILIFF: Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

ER: I do so swear.

DULLES: Your witness, Prosecutor.

HC: Good Morning, Esther.

ER: Hank.

HC: The sooner we start, the sooner this will all be over.

ER: That is how time works. I’m something of an expert.

HC: Certainly... Why don’t we start there, then? Walk us through how you joined ODAR.You began in research and development, correct?

ER: I was shoved into a Computing basement when I first began, but yes. I was stationed at the Polvo Research Community for two years.

HC: And then you were part of the relocation to Point-of-Exile, Colorado in 1946?

ER: Do I really have to answer that? You were there.

HC: For the record and for the Committee, Ms. Roberts, I ask that you be detailed and specific.

ER: Yes, I was moved to Point-of-Exile in January 1946, where I continued to fine-tune the Timepiece project with reduced resources.

HC: The Timepiece was the only thing you worked on?

ER: In my official capacity, yes.

HC: So you weren’t involved with the CAGE project?

ER: I… Well, I mean, it’s the same device, really––

HC: Answer the question, Ms. Roberts.

ER: Yes, I worked on a number of Timepiece derivatives.

HC: In point of fact, you were one of the first test subjects for the CAGE project, is that right? You spent a relative 24 hours inside it with Mr. Chet Whickman?

ER: Uh, I–

HC: And isn’t it true that upon exiting the CAGE, you then proceeded to enact a plan made by you and Mr. Whickman to wrest power of ODAR from William Donovan?

ER: ...His health was in severe decline, a succession plan had to be put in place–

HC: Did you or did you not conspire to take control of ODAR from its director and your superior officer?

[[SFX: crowd murmurs]]

ER: You’re really not pulling any punches, are you Hank?

HC: Ms. Roberts, we’re only just getting started.

[[SFX: radio tuning; outside the courthouse; Petra approaches]]

SG: Hey kid, what kept you?

PETRA (P): Took me a second to slip my handler. What, um... What did I miss?

SG: Not much. Tense in there. Deciding whether or not we’re going to be allowed to sit in on the important bits at all.

P: It’s because they want me to testify, isn’t it?

SG: Wait, what? You’re not on the witness list...

P: It was redacted. Apparently my existence is a higher level of state secret than ODAR and the Timepiece? They’re gonna clear the room of nonessential personnel during my testimony.

SG: ...Well Jesus, what am I, chopped liver? Have you thought about what you wanna say?

P: I think they just wanna know what my impressions of her are. Her signature is on my ID forms, after all, even if she hasn’t signed them yet.

SG: If that’s the case, why wouldn’t they call me? I’ve known her longer than you have, I’ve got years of potential Roberts dirt.

P: Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? They probably think you’re biased. Which, let’s be fair here, Sally, you kind of are, I mean–

SG: –I’ve been on both sides of it. She’s my friend, but… I dunno. But still, have you seen the witness list? It’s not even just you. Griggs, Whickman, one of her neighbors from Polvo... they’re beating the weeds on this one. And Jesus, after everything Roberts has been through already, I’m not surprised to see her rattled.

P: That’s... not what I mean. At all. Look, I know she’s your friend, and you’re everyone’s hero, and whatever, but you weren’t over there. You didn’t see what happened. Don’t you think the fact that Esther is being investigated is cause for, I don’t know, concern rather than outright relief? I mean, how can we be so sure we’re on the right side?

SG: ...You’re gonna testify against her, aren’t you.

P: No – Yes,  I – I don’t know. I just think that it’s probably for the best that I tell the truth. About everything. That’s what Carm would have done.

SG: And where will that lead the Committee?

P: ...How should I know?

[[SFX: Bridget and Lou approach]]

BC: You know, if we’re handing out accusations of espionage and collusion based on looks alone, two sore thumb loners standing just outside a courtroom whispering amongst themselves doesn’t exactly leave the pair of you smelling like roses.

P: The gang really is all here.

LOU GAINES (LG): Looks that way.

P: I’ll see you all inside.

[[SFX: Petra ascends the courthouse steps and goes inside]]

BC: Something we said?

SG: She’s just nervous about testifying.

BC: And what about you?

SG: What, am I nervous about Petra testifying? ….Yeah. Kinda.

BC: Comforting.

LG: You know what you’re gonna say up there?

BC: Spare me a smoke and I might tell you.

LG: Didn’t know you smoked.

BC: I don’t make a practice of it.

[[SFX: Lou digs through his pockets for a cigarette and a lighter; he lights Bridget's cigarette]]

BC: Well, whatever there is to say, I’m obviously not here to see her walked out in chains.

SG: This entire thing is a clusterfuck. It’s good that you came, though. To speak up for her.

BC: ...I didn’t say that.

SG: What do you mean?

LG: She’s not sure she’s going to testify at all. That’s why you didn't–

BC: Lou, please. 

SG: No. No! Chambers, what the heck? You’re one of Roberts’ oldest and... best friends–

BC: Ettie disappeared for years, Sally. I know now what she was doing for at least part of that time, but I won’t perjure myself to say we stayed in contact, and I know the rest.

SG: So you’re drinking the Kool-Aid now, too?

BC: What is that supposed to mean?

SG: You’re buying into this lunacy! You’re one of the few people who can actually speak to her character, and you’re just rolling over?

BC: And what about you?

SG: Not the world’s most reliable source at this point, am I? Whickman’s obviously off the table, and Wyatt’s in the wind... This isn’t about you! It’s no time to be selfish about–

BC: I didn’t say that I wouldn’t testify... What I meant, was that it’s complicated. You know why it’s complicated.

SG: It’s not like you have to say–

BC: Don’t.

SG: Don’t what?

BC: You know exactly what, Sally Grissom, and I’ll thank you to keep your voice down. You have absolutely no idea what you’re saying. Whom you’re defending. You don’t live inside my head and, in the words of one June Barlowe, you are not always the smartest person in the room, despite an overwhelming belief to the contrary.

SG: ...You’re a coward, Chambers.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

ER: We were at MIT together, and then we worked together at ODAR. He was my lab partner.

HC: Would you say Jack’s opinion was one that you held in high regard?

ER: I’m not sure where you’re going with this.

DULLES: It’s not your job to understand why the prosecution is asking you what he’s asking you, Ms. Roberts. It’s your job to answer him, to the best of your ability.

ER: [sigh] Yes. Jack was a well respected engineer in his field, he was smart and did good work, and I trusted him with my life and safety on a daily basis.

HC: He’d say the same about you?

ER: You’d have to ask him about that.

HC: Gentlemen of the Committee, if you will turn to page 4b of your evidence packets, you’ll find an excerpt from the file of one Mr. Jack Wyatt. He has been AWOL, considered missing, for nearly a decade now. And in his last communication with ODAR facilities, on the night of December 25th, 1946, you said (and I’m quoting the transcript here), Wyatt: ”If they think they can use you to bring me back in, they’re dead wrong.” Roberts: “I wouldn’t let them… I owe it to you. I told them you were headed east… I want you to be free of all this. You of all people deserve it.” Does this ring any bells for you, Ms. Roberts?

[[SFX: Esther is silent]]

HC: How about the surveillance tape obtained via portable recording device from that night, where Jack Wyatt’s destination was hard-scrubbed from the record?

[[SFX: Esther is silent]]

HC: Ms. Roberts, were you aware that Jack Wyatt was under breach of contract with the US government when he fled Point-of-Exile? That because we were unable to properly debrief him, we have no way of knowing what secrets he may have taken with him–

ER: He didn’t take anything!

HC: As you said, Ms. Roberts, we’d have to ask him.

[[SFX: radio tuning; gavel, a recess; the crowd mills about outside the courtroom]]

SG: I’m gonna try to track down a vending machine or something. You want anything?

BC: A vending machine? In a… government building?

SG: Never hurts to try. I’ll catch you inside.

HC:  Ah, Ms. Chambers, a moment?

[[SFX: Sally exits; Hank approaches]]

HC: Good Morning, Bridget. I’m glad you could make it. I hope you’re well.

BC: I wasn’t aware that attendance was voluntary, but good morning all the same, Mr. Cornish.

HC: I don’t think any of us wants to be here any longer than we have to. I know I’m running this into the ground, but I really do want to get to the bottom of this, whatever that truth may be.

BC: Glad to hear it.

HC: Have you given any thought to your testimony?

BC: With regard to...?

HC: Well I know you’ve been “in the fold,” shall we say, for a few years now, is it? But there is a… discrepancy regarding the timeline of your recruitment.

BC: A discrepancy?

HC: Well, there is a question about how you two reunited after so many years apart?

BC: She was an old college friend who’d been out of touch. She told me she was in town, and I met her at a bar.

HC: You two talked the whole evening away at that bar?

BC: I can’t say I remember.

HC: [laugh] Well, you’d remember if you exchanged any classified information, government secrets, anything like that, so I guess it really doesn’t matter.

BC: Obviously not my area of interest, unless you all are hiding the Library of Alexandria or the Dead Sea Scrolls in your archives, somewhere, and I know I haven’t heard anything about that. You are aware I’m essentially a librarian, right?

HC: I’ll bet you had no idea what you were stumbling into when you saw your old college friend again, did you?

BC: I can’t say I know that much more now, Mr. Cornish.

HC: So Esther never mentioned to you what she did? Not even in passing?

BC: Again, this was quite some time ago, and a lot has happened since then, I can’t say I remember what we spoke about.

HC: You don’t remember the night at all?

BC: Of course I remember the night–

HC: But you don’t remember what you talked about. That’s strange, isn’t it? Especially since we know you visited Point-of-Exile, only weeks before the security breach at the ODAR prison facility? What was it, Ms. Chambers? Family nearby?

BC: ...Well am I under oath, Mr. Prosecutor?

HC: It’s only fair, since I asked you here, that you be prepared for some of the things that you might be asked on the stand.

BC: You’re too kind.

HC: Of course, Mrs. Chambers. I’ll see you inside.

[[SFX: Hank walks away; radio tuning]]

DULLES: Director Chester Nathaniel Whickman the Second, do you swear under oath to be truthful in your responses to the best of your ability, as you did so swear in taking your oath to serve and protect these United States of America during your time in the Armed Forces?

CW: Yes Sir.

DULLES: Well alright, then. Let’s get down to it.

[[SFX: Chet sits]]

Dulles: Now, we already have a prepared, written statement from you (you all can find that in your evidence packets if you have not already perused it), so we really are just here to get some clarity, as I said, for the record. So. Mr. Whickman.

CW: Chairman Dulles.

DULLES: What was your initial impression of Ms. Roberts as relates to the Office of Developed Anomalous Resources?

CW: Esther Roberts has been an integral part of every step of our organization, almost since the beginning. She’s a brilliant mind, sir. Undisputably.

DULLES: Do you think of her as a trustworthy individual, Whickman? Is she someone that you can put your faith in, as a commanding officer?

CW: Absolutely, sir. I’d have never made Esther Roberts Head of Research and Development if I didn’t think her not only qualified, but dedicated to the duties that the position would come to demand of her.

DULLES: And how would you say that Esther measured up to those expectations?

CW: I’d say she met and exceeded them, sir.

DULLES: Were you ever given any reason to believe that your trust in Ms. Roberts might have been betrayed? Or that your initial assessment of trustworthiness may have been misplaced?

CW: When do you mean, sir?

DULLES: Hm. Well, that certainly is one way to answer the question, I’d say. That’s a good question, Chet. When would you say is the first time you had reason to question Esther Roberts?

CW: Listen, sir, if I’m being honest, I question everyone. Everything, all the time. It’s a part of my job. I keep informed.

DULLES: Fine. It is evident as we sit here today that the woman before this court is not the one you entrusted to be your second in command when you took office. So: what changed?

CW: [sigh] Esther Roberts and I had our fair share of disagreements, that much is well documented. I stand by my statement that she has the mind of a visionary. She was a civilian scientist, The way she did things was never going to be completely in line with my training in the Armed Forces and the work we do here at ODAR. I’m not here to sound an alarm on Esther Roberts because we butted heads. I respect her, though I may have missed the mark when it comes to making it apparent in our day to days. When I say I trusted Esther Roberts, I absolutely mean it.

DULLES: It sounds like you’re coming up on a “but” there, Whickman.

CW: Trusting your team...sometimes means taking it on faith that they’re doing what’s best for all of you in the moment, and not asking those questions even if they’re biting at the back of your brain like ants on an old apple core. And y’know, the things you’ll see there written in the testimony are just... There were times when I had questions, you know? It wasn’t like I never had any doubts. I just chose to believe we were on the right track. Now, looking back...

DULLES: ...You’re not so sure.

CW:  I’m saying that there are blank spots. Gaps I wish I’d had filled in. That I take full responsibility for. And I don’t know what they all have to do with each other, I’ve admitted as much. But I do know that what they’ve all got in common–and I’m sorry about this, genuinely–is Esther Roberts.

DULLES: Please, Mr. Whickman, can you be specific?

CW: Of course. Well, for one, it was never clear to me why she paired the two prison cells that were breached the night of the prison incident. In the end, that countermeasure did more to get the both of them out that night-

[[SFX: Dulles flips through his packet]]

DULLES: I believe Ms Roberts was injured that night, correct?

CW: She was. But that never sat right with me, either. And... I’m sorry, Esther, but I have to admit  it did occur to me that yes, it’d be a convenient way to make sure no eyes came drifting back over to you when it was time to place the blame.

It’d be nothing if that were the first time, but... Why did you insist on going to New York yourself when we had that supply issue? And why’d you need to take Sally with you? She wasn’t working for us at the time, and she came back with a hostile who went directly for our equipment. She just... walked him through the door. She never would have been in a position to do that, were it not for you.

Hell, if you knew what Donovan was doing, why didn’t you say something? Why didn’t you stop it, Esther? Huh? And why’d you let that damn machine spin up that day after I’d told you all to stop those tests? Did you know I’d get stuck in there with you? Once we’re asking all these questions, what’s to stop me from believing that you didn’t have that planned, that you knew exactly what to say and what not to say to get me on your side by the time we made it out of the CAGE?  

[[SFX: Esther stands]]

ER: Chet, how the hell would I–

DULLES: You’ll speak when addressed by the court, Ms. Roberts!

[[SFX: Esther sits]]

DULLES: Please continue.

CW: I... I can't get my head around how you add up all those zeroes and come up with anything other than a question. We used to have a way to hedge our bets on this kind of uncertainty, but the Blackroom went dark on the day of the assassination! And then the Soviets recovered our Timepiece, and... I tried to take your word, Esther, but… I just don’t know.

DULLES: Would you say, given the events you have brought to light here and in your written testimony, that you stand by the statement made earlier today, that you totally, without reservation, trust Ms. Esther Roberts in the position to which she’s been appointed?

CW: Not without reservation. No.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

P: Marquez.

HC: Excuse me?

P: Petra Marquez.

[[SFX: Hank searches through his paperwork]]

HC: That’s not your legal name, is it?

P: Well, Hank, you’re about to start questioning me, and I’ve been sitting here this whole time watching this go down, so I figure what’s about to happen is: You make a big deal out of my name, even though you’ve known me for years and know I don’t have a last name. I respond, you snowball the fact into an emotional sob story–

HC: Objection, witness is making presumptuous accusations–Petra, can we stick to answering the questions?

P: Well, stop me when you hear something wrong! Sob story about the inhumanity of my not knowing my parents, growing up the way I did, having everything including my name taken away from me when I was barely out of diapers. But I’m not a character witness, Agent Cornish, I’m evidence. And as well as I know that? I’m not going to sit here and let you call me “Miz-Twenty-Nine” for the next four hours. And there’s plenty real issues to talk about without digging in on the “Little Orphan Annie” angle.  So yeah. Petra Marquez. It’s the name I’ve chosen for myself. If the court doesn’t mind.

DULLES: Proceed, Mr. Cornish.

HC: Fine. Miss Marquez, since you’re so far ahead of the rest of us, why don’t you start by telling us where you’re from, and how you found yourself under the employ of Ms. Roberts.

P: [sigh] I was raised as part of an experiment to improve neuroplasticity and raise tolerance to the damaging effects of repeated manipulation of causal events. AKA Butterfly Syndrome.

HC: And when you finally made it back to your arrival point, and you encountered the defendant Ms. Roberts for the very first time, did she tell you what your job description was? What you and the remaining members of your program would be doing while there, and working for ODAR?

P: Our job was to survive. To make it to the end point. That was all.

HC: Why?

P: So they’d understand how Butterfly Syndrome worked, and could figure out how to beat it.

HC: I see. How’d your classmates die, exactly, Miss Marquez?

P: Colorful and varied ways. You’re gonna have to be more specific than that.

HC: How did Liam Seventeen die, Ms Marquez?

P: ...Complications from a stroke.

HC: Related to Butterfly Syndrome?

P: I wasn’t allowed to see the report–

HC: Page 47c of the evidence packet. According to that report, Liam was no older than 15. How did watching your friend die affect you emotionally, Petra?

P: Probably a lot, I’m not a shrink.

HC: Have you ever seen one?

P: Have you?

DULLES: Miss Marquez, please.

HC: Gentlemen of the committee, if you will turn with me to the back of your evidence packets, you’ll find the files pertaining to these experiments, authorized by Esther Roberts and her subordinates. I once again ask the court’s understanding, as these documents are dated far into our future. Is that consistent with what you know to be true, Petr–Miz Marquez?

P:  I guess, technically?

DULLES: It either is or it isn’t, young lady.

P: That’s... Alright. I was born in 19█. The papers from that year, before our first jump, have Esther’s name on them, yeah, but that isn’t... why are you making me explain this? It’s Esther, but it isn’t this Esther, because it hasn’t happened yet, and now that she knows she can choose a different path! It’s my past, but it’s not yours.

HC: You make an excellent point, Miss Marquez. But it remains your past. You know her, in a way no one else in the world possibly could.

P: Except for Carmen–

HC: Yes, and if she hadn’t been allowed to leave ODAR, never to be heard from again, I’d have her on the stand too! Now then. Your arrival at the end of the experiment was the first time Esther Roberts met you, but it wasn’t the first time you’d met her, isn’t that right? You knew she was behind the experiment even before she did?

P: Yes.

HC: Would you say you resented Ms. Roberts for her part in your... well, shall we say mandatory participation in the experiment?

P: You could say that, yes.

HC: Why? If she hadn’t signed off on your experiment yet, if she was capable of making different choices with the information gained by your arrival, why did you harbor such resentment toward her? Enough so that you abdicated your position at ODAR–

P: Uh, am I on trial here?

HC: Not today, Ms. Marquez, you’ll get your turn. But I have to know: if Esther never made the choice, why didn’t you trust her?

P: Because… Because I had met her before. I’ve seen what ODAR becomes, with her at the wheel. More than I was cleared to know, that’s for damn sure. And when I got there, to that end point, and I saw the youngest Esther Roberts I’d ever met… Just because she didn’t sign the papers, doesn’t mean she isn’t the kind of person who would.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: [sigh] That’s where we are, now. Petra was Cornish’s last witness, but she was just the cherry on top of a mountain of evidence. They have brought in every big hitter they could, uncovered every red mark in her ledger, and the worst part of it is that I can’t say anything Cornish has said is entirely outside of the realm of possibility. Damn, even I’m saying it now.

If the gravity of this whole mess wasn’t clear to you before, it should be now. Whatever she’s actually done, this isn’t... You can’t be okay with this, Partridge! I mean, I get it. You’re caught up in this too, you disagree. Partridge, she doesn’t deserve this. I know she’s not your favorite, but now would be a really great time to step in if you’ve got... really, literally, anything.

[[SFX: the crowd returns inside]]

LG: Sally, you may want to come inside.

SG: Okay... I gotta get back. Come on. Say something. Please.

[[SFX: no reply; Sally hangs up; radio tuning]]

HC: You’re a Jew, aren’t you, Esther?

ER: Yes.

HC: Are there a lot of Jews in Point-of-Exile, Colorado?

ER: I wouldn’t know. We don’t all know one another.

HC: Fair enough. Is there some kind of synagogue or temple, a place of worship that you go to?

ER: No.

HC: Why not?

ER: Since 1946 I’ve occupied a rather demanding position. Unfortunately, I tend to work on the Sabbath.

HC: Isn’t that against one of your commandments?

ER: You’re a Christian Man, are you not, Hank? They’re your commandments too, I’m pretty sure.

HC: Hey, let’s get through this together, hm? We’re almost done here. Eyes up.

[[SFX: Hank takes a drink of water; Esther rolls her eyes]]

HC: You pray often, Ms. Roberts?

ER: What does this have to do with–

HC: Just answer the question.

ER: Sometimes.

HC: So, you don’t attend synagogue–

ER: I work on Saturdays! I work for the United States government on Saturdays–

HC: –and you pray “sometimes,” you say. We have limited records on your contact with your family, and nothing on your involvement in any religious groups, institutions, anything like that for almost all of you tenure, it looks like.

ER: Is this a bad thing?

HC: It made you a pretty good candidate at the time of your hiring, I can say that. You’re your own, Esther Roberts, through and through, that’s for sure. But if you don’t mind my asking–and I don’t mean this to sound rude–what kind of Jew does that make you?

[[SFX: silence]]

ER: A living one, Mr. Cornish. 

[[SFX: awkward silence; Dulles clears his throat uncomfortably]]

ER: I’m an American, Hank. I was born here, I’ve spent my entire life here. Everyone that I know and care about is here.

HC: So you’d say you don’t see yourself as a Jew at all.

ER: The two are not mutually exclusive! I did not say that.

HC: If you were forced to put them in an order–

ER: Are we here to interrogate my status as an American woman, or my status as a Jew, Hank? How about you put them in an order, and then maybe we can get somewhere?

HC: I’m... taken aback, Ms. Roberts. There is no need for that sort of tone.

ER: No? You think I haven’t heard this line of questioning before? “Am I a Jew, or am I an American”–is this the horse upon which you wish to mount your prosecution, Mr. Cornish? Is she “Jewish enough” to harbor resentment about our country’s handling of the Holocaust? American enough to set aside her personal beliefs for Truth, Justice, and the American Way? Is that the freedom our government works so hard to ensure? Freedom to be shoved into a choice between my blood and my beliefs? Do you think you’re the first man who looks the way you do, to stand before a court and demand  that answer from someone who looks the way I do? Because you aren’t. Burn me to the ground if you wish, but at least have the stones to be explicit about why. I’m not here to plead the case of my humanity. I won’t. Next fucking question.

HC: Since it may enlighten you beyond your vast but still yet limited perspective for my doing so, Ms. Roberts, I will tell you that my purpose here is to ascertain your allegiances. If you don’t attend prayer services, and you’ve shut yourself off from your community, and you left home and family at the first chance you got, and your closest friend fled your side under cover of night, and you have perverted–

DULLES: Cornish–

HC: –perverted the power and purpose of the United States Government without oversight to pursue hidden agendas, and you’ve lost faith in God Himself, I am trying to figure out, Ms. Roberts, who you serve!

[[SFX: the crowd mumurs wildly]]

HC: No further questions, Mr. Chairman. 

[[SFX: radio tuning; faucet running]]

BAILIFF: (outside the door) Excuse me–

BC: (outside the door) You won't keep me from using the facilities, unless you've somehow managed to manifest another ladies' room somewhere closer to the proceedings.

BAILIFF: (outside the door) ...Sure. Go ahead.

BC: (outside the door) I thought not.

[[SFX: Esther turns off the faucet; Bridget enters]]

BC: Ettie?

ER: ...Hi.

BC: Oh, Esther…

[[SFX: they embrace; Esther sobs]]

BC: Are you alright?

ER: I don’t know anymore... I don’t know anything anymore. My head’s spinning.

BC: Oh, honey, look at you…

ER: I’m fine, I’m fine. Bridget, you have to know–

BC: Shh, I know. I do. I promise I do.

ER: They’re asking about my family, Bridget. What does my mother have to do with any of this? Even if I were... what they said I am, what do my Dad, and my sister have to...

BC: Nothing, Ettie. Nothing at all.

[[SFX: Esther cries; Bailiff knocks]]

BAILIFF: Hey ma'am, are you done in there? It's time to get back.

ER: Bridget, I’ve got to ask you something –

BC: Esther?

ER: ...Reconsider?

BC: What, running away together? After all this time?

ER: Not that. Don’t think I haven’t thought about it... You’ve seen enough of this to know what’s going to happen at the end of it, you keep up with the newspapers. I know you have your reservations but... I don’t know if there’s a way out of this for me if you don’t say something, Bridget. The deck is pretty stacked against me.

BC: A real dilemma. [laugh]

ER: [laugh] I’m serious.

BC:  Ettie... I don’t know if I can.

ER: I wouldn’t ask if I thought there were other options.

BC: Wouldn’t you?

ER: Bridget, you know me. Better than I’d like. Maybe I am all of those awful things you think I am but you know I’m not a... you’ve been to my home, for heaven’s sake! You’ve met my parents, you’ve met my sister! You know everything there is to know about ODAR at this point Bridget, you know–

BC: I know your heart, Esther. I do. And I-believe me, I’ve been fighting myself on this since the moment they took you away in the middle of the night. But Ettie, if I swear under oath, and I tell the truth, the whole truth about you…

ER: ...You think they’d lock me up and throw away the key. [long sigh] I know how this looks. I refuse to pity myself, I just thought–

BC: You can’t give up, Esther.

ER: I have no intention to. That’s... I’m not giving up, but… Look. If you won’t speak, please, do something for me?

[[SFX: Esther takes out an envelope]]

BC: What is-

ER: I need you to give this to my mother, if I don’t see her again. Knock on the door, their house is the same. The next time you’re in the City. My sister will answer the door, but don’t let her read it. It’s for my mother’s eyes only. Can you… please?

BC: Esther, I don’t think this is–

[[SFX: Bailiff knocks]]

BAILIFF: (outside the door) Ma'am, I need to insist. You need to come out right now.

ER: Bridget, please. Promise me.

BC: Esther, what does this say?

ER: ...It’s a letter for my mother, Bridget, what–

BC: I’ve never known you to write letters in Yiddish.

ER: My Mother’s reading is stronger in–

BC:  Esther Roberts, what is in my hands? The truth. There’s no one here but me. What does this say?

ER: ...Don’t take it, then.

[[SFX: Esther grabs the letter; the two women struggle over it]]

BC: No! Read it to me.

ER: ...I’m not going to do that, Bridget.

BC: Esther, I can’t–

[[SFX: Bailiff knocks]]

BAILIFF: (outside the door) Ma'am, you’ve got five seconds or I'm coming in there, ladies’ room or not!

ER: I’m coming! Wait a few minutes before you follow me out. Fucking Cornish…

[[SFX: Esther exits; radio tuning]]

HC: Ladies and gentlemen, Chairman Dulles, members of the Committee. We as representatives of the American people, decided to go where no one had dared to before. Daring to do so only on the understanding that a trust had been struck between the United States, and the agency tasked with the research and development of this new technology. “God Forbid,” we said to ourselves, “this technology be replicated or created by a country less moral than our own!” Our deepest fears, I fear, have now been realized, because of Ms. Roberts’ actions and temperament in a position of unprecedented power in our nation, as we have proven in this court. I respectfully submit to the Committee that this betrayal cannot be overlooked or undersold, and advocate not only for the removal of Ms. Roberts from her position and her immediate termination, but for the disbanding of the gaping wound of an agency called the Office of Developed Anomalous Resources as a whole.

CW: Now wait just a minute there–

HC: You had your chance to speak, Director Whickman–

CW: Now I never said–!

DULLES: That’s enough, Mr. Cornish. Director Whickman. I’ve heard–

HC: If you’ll pardon my–

[[SFX: gavel; a commotion, which then settles]]

DULLES: I said, I’ve heard enough! Ms. Roberts. Understanding the allegations we have been put forth here by Mr. Cornish, and the findings through evidence and witness testimony presented in this trial... Do you have anything to say for yourself?

[[SFX: silence; tape recorder stop]]

ars PARADOXICA was created by Daniel Manning & Mischa Stanton. This season was also written by Eli Barraza, Julian Mundy, Danielle Shemaiah & Tau Zaman.
Episode 24: Dilemma features –

Kristen DiMercurio (Sally Grissom)
Katie Speed (Esther Roberts)
Lia Peros (Petra)
L. Jeffrey Moore (Lou Gaines)
Preston Allen (Bridget Chambers) 
Reyn Beeler (Chet Whickman)

Dan Anderson (Hank Cornish)
Todd Faulkner (Allen Dulles)
Alexander Danner, Donna Semel*, Dennis Connors (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: [[SFX: Law & Order sound]]

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