28: Adversary

written by Daniel Manning

[[SFX: tape recorder starts; hum of the Blackroom]]

ANTHONY PARTRIDGE (AP): I suppose you’ve got some questions. To answer most of them, in short: I quit the Blackroom and saved you all. I’m sure you feel hurt, or betrayed... or maybe you have no idea who I am and you found this tape on the street. If you did, I guess you’d be very confused.

But just so we’re clear, I don’t owe this to you, I don’t owe anyone on the outside anything anymore. My debts are all paid up, and then some. You sent a man into the black to disappear and he disappeared. That’s what I owe you. But, as I am a generous fellow with a rather inordinately large amount of time on his hands, I’ve chosen to dedicate hundreds of hours in order to deliver this to you. You can thank me in Hell.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

HANK CORNISH (HC): I’ll see you all rot with Ms. Roberts!

IDA: Come on, let's go!

BRIDGET CHAMBERS (BC): Quick, don’t let them get away!

[[SFX: Hank and Ida run down the hall; Lou pursues them at a sprint, breathing heavily]]


[[SFX: A vent bursts open overhead]]


[[SFX: Petra jumps down out of the open vent and tackles Ida; the two struggle on the ground]]

LG: What the-!

HC: Ida!

[[SFX: Ida slides a large folder across the ground toward Hank]]

IDA: Take them! Go!

PM: Lou, I got her, you get Hank!

LG: Mhm.

HC: Don't let them take you alive, Ida!

[[SFX: Hank runs off; Lou pursues, leaving Petra and Ida on the floor of the hallway]]

IDA: [sigh]... Goodbye, Petra.

[[SFX: Ida cracks a poison capsule in her mouth and begins to seize]]

PM: Fff- no! Don't you– c'mon, no! Stop, no–

[[SFX: Despite Petra's efforts, Ida chokes and dies, Petra gives a frustrated, disappointed sigh. Action moves to Lou in pursuit of Hank; Lou runs past a sizzling, crackling door, giving off sparks; distracted, he falls down the steps]]

LG: Woah–oooof!

[[SFX: Sally bursts through the crackling door, now free; she runs down the steps to help Lou]]

SALLY GRISSOM (SG): Gaines, are you alright?

LG: I’m fine, Cornish is the mole, go!

SG: –Dammit, of course he is! Alright, I don’t know how much help I’ll be with my arm, but I’ll do what I can!

[[SFX: Sally sprints down the stairs and rounds the corner into the basement hallway; Hank is trying unsuccessfully to open a security door with a keypad]]

HC: Sally don’t trust them! Lou’s been compromised by David Marian! It’s a trap!

SG: No it’s not!

HC: Alright, worth a try.

[[SFX: Hank types in the correct keycode and pulls the heavy door open]]

SG: Shit, the workshop!

[[SFX: Sally runs in after Hank, then pauses to listen for him]]

HC: [distant] Where is it, where is it, there's gotta be one here...

SG: Give it up, Cornish!

HC: Got it!

[[SFX: Hank flips a switch; a Timepiece spools up]]

HC: I’ve always hated you, you know that?

SG: What else is new?

HC: You were always a thorn in my ass, but not this time! This time you can’t stop me!

[[SFX: Sally runs toward Hank, but too late: the Timepiece spools up to full power and Hank is gone.]]

SG: Shit! Shit shit shit fu–

LG: [laughing] I wouldn’t worry.

SG: Lou?

LG: I pulled out the navigation circuit.

[[SFX: Lou tosses the Timepiece part onto a worktable]]

LG: I don’t know where he went, but it’s not where he thinks.

SG: How... How did you get here so fast?

LG: Hold on, stand back here with me. Hurry up!

[[SFX: Sally and Lou hide; a second Lou enters the workshop]]

LG-2: Cornish! Cornish? Sally?... All right, okay I can do this, okay, okay, he took this one, the second from the left, great. Ok, now, uh, okay, lemme use this one over here, so...

[[SFX: Lou activates another Timepiece and fiddles with the controls as it spools up]]

LG-2: Turn this dial, push this button, and...

[[SFX: The Timepiece activates, taking that Lou to the past]]

SG: ...Huh. Quick thinking.

LG: I’ve picked up a few tricks since I’ve been at ODAR.

SG: So it was Hank this whole time.

LG: I think. There was someone else too, a woman. I think her name was Ida.

SG: Ida, like my neighbor Ida? Like, makes me breakfast and asks about my– [day] Oh god, Ida. I need to sit down.

[[SFX: Sally stumbles]]

LG: I’m sorry, Sally.

SG: ...Could I have, like, one friend?! Like one, regular friend that doesn’t try to kill me to take secrets or is secretly from the future or just SOMEBODY that isn’t fucking involved with all of this?!

LG: ...If it’s any consolation, my best friend is working for the Soviets too.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

AP: There’s nothing you don’t already know about for 72 hours in either direction, over.

[[SFX: Anthony sends off the message; a beep as he receives the reply; he presses "play"]]

KENZO SUGIMURA (KS): [on radio] Doable. By the way, remind him that they still have my Fleetwood Mac LPs, over.

[[SFX: Anthony types in the key command to respond]]

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

[[SFX: the reply]]

KS: [on radio] Are you gonna tell on me, over?

[[SFX: key command to respond]]

AP: I guess not, Ken. Good luck, over and out.

[[SFX: Anthony sends the reply]]

AP: Jesus. He’s killing Stalin in three hours and he wants to know about his records? These people...

[[SFX: the alert beep of a new message; Anthony opens the file]]

AP: Huh.

[[SFX: Anthony picks up a cup to drink; a second message comes in; Anthony spits out the drink; radio tuning]]

AP: Seems like ODAR can’t keep a secret to save our life. Someone’s trying to leak basically everything they know to–well, right now I’m not sure but I have my guesses... namely, our friends in the East. You should see what’s being requested in this document transfer. It’s everything! Well, practically everything. And so now, ol’ Anthony is going to have to step in and save the day. So, thanks so much Chet once again, you’re running a real tight ship here. You’re welcome.

Now, this is a ultra high priority request. The whole system grinds to a halt. It’s immediately sent to the top of the queue to be automatically processed. Not my idea, let me tell you. They stop using these in the early days because of how much trouble you can cause, but here we are with “Esther Roberts” trying to check out every file we had on the Timepiece. I say “Esther Roberts,” and you can’t see it, but I’m doing air quotes. It’s not from her office, it’s not her usual workflow. Someone got ahold of her correspondence code. I’ve been seeing that pop up in a few places it shouldn’t along this iteration... the first one got through, but the second request on Timepiece derivatives and all of our research on Butterfly Syndrome and everything on... those kids, I was able to stop. But only by shutting the whole thing down. Hopefully it’ll only have to be for a little while, and no one on the outside will notice a thing.

[[SFX: radio tuning; Lou, Bridget and Petra explore Hank Cornish's house]]

LG: –working?

BC: Yeah, it’s on, I had to change the battery.

PM: Is the recorder really necessary? I thought the joke was that you guys were all under insane levels of surveillance... There’s gotta be at least a few mics in Cornish’s house.

BC: I checked the reels. I thought they were fine, until I heard him have the exact same phone conversation on three separate occasions. He fed us a loop.

PM: [scoff] Amateur hour. If it was me, you never would have noticed.

LG: [laugh] Good to know I can’t trust any evidence you leave behind.

PM: You certainly can't!

LG: [laughs]

BC: Oh god, that means they could be anywhere!

PM: I know it sounds scary, but we stay vigilant.

BC: Who’s we? We’re untethered from an earlier ODAR that could have stopped him. Soviet spies could be anywhere! Lurking, scheming! Amelin almost killed Esther, and Hank Cornish was five minutes away from actually succeeding. And Sally’s next-door neighbor is somehow involved! Is everyone in Point-of-Exile an enemy spy? The Soviets have a Timepiece and they’re free to just sow destruction wherever they want! Next, they’ll frame me for racketeering! Sally gets twenty-five to life for tax evasion! What are we supposed to do when we can’t even trust our own history?

PM: Hey, Bridget, can I...? You know what, it’s going to be okay.

[[SFX: Petra walks over and hugs Bridget]]

BC: Is it?

PM: [whispering] I’m going to tell the others about what happened. They’ll do something.

BC: [whispering] I’m sorry, what did you say?

PM: You heard me.

BC: Are you still in contact with–

PM: Not now.

BC: You can’t just tell me that–

PM: It isn’t the right time.

[[SFX: Meanwhile, Lou finds a false panel in a bookshelf]]

LG: Hey, I’ve got something! False panel in the bookshelf!

BC: Huh.

PM: [normal volume] What’s in there?

[[SFX: Lou starts pulling sheets of paper from the hidden compartment]]

LG: A couple passports, these are, blueprints?

PM: This one is for the Timepiece. This is the CAGE...

LG: There are entrance logs, memos...

BC: They’ve got everything.

LG: This... This can’t the only cache in here. He’s got to have more secrets.

[[SFX: Footsteps. The three pace around the room, and periodically step on a false panel in the floor.]]

PM: Hey, Bridget, hold on a second.

BC: Yes?

[[SFX: Petra walks over to Bridget and tests the floor around her. It makes the same hollow shifting noise.]]

PM: Step off this rug?

BC: Oh, uh, ok...

[[SFX: Bridget steps off the rug; Petra peels it away to reveal a hidden trapdoor underneath]]

PM: Hah! Gotcha. Crowbar?

LG: Mmm, here you go.

[[SFX: Lou passes Petra the crowbar; she pries the trapdoor up]]

PM: Jackpot! I’m gonna climb in to see if there’s anything else in the foundation.

[[SFX: Petra jumps down into the bowels of the house; Bridget takes one of the document bundles and leafs through]]

LG: What do you have there?

BC: I’m not sure yet... it’s from the Blackroom, but it’s not ODAR. “Justification for U.S. Military Intervention in Cuba. Top Secret.”

PM: [under the house] I’m sorry, did you say Cub–

[[SFX: Petra thunks her head on the floorboards]]

PM: ...OW.

LG: Wait a minute, why go to war with Batista? He’s too small a target.

PM: Yeah, but it’s not about him. A lot changes between now and then.

[[SFX: Petra climbs out of the hole.]]

PM: For one, the revolution succeeds in overthrowing his regime.

BC: Good. The last thing the world needs is another dictator.

PM: And then the new Marxist government cozies up to the USSR.

LG: Wait, Cuba’s a strategic ally. 100 miles off the coast of Florida.

PM: And that brings us to Operation Northwoods. The CIA stages a fake attack on a fake civilian plane carrying fake Americans, and blames it on Cuba. Or they assassinate some Cuban expats. Or sink a naval ship off Guantanamo Bay.

BC: I "remember the Maine."

PM: Whatever it takes to justify war.

LG: Jesus, Mary Joseph... another war with Cuba.

PM: They were just plans. Only the wildest dreams of paranoid patriots... in my timeline.

BC: So who knows what happens to us?

LG: Yeah, and if Hank knew about this, that means the Soviets do too.

BC: What is the diplomatic response... when your adversary proposes to attack an ally you don’t even have yet?

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

AP: So, it’s been three days and I still don’t have a good answer. Still can’t talk in or out either. Not like there’s a lot of people to talk to out there. Even my back channel to Sally is down. I suppose the good news is that if this goes on much longer, Chet can’t send me any more haunting reminders of my past mistakes. The bad news is, I’ve been spending my time running some predictive simulations and, with ODAR’s data out in the wild like that, things get worse. I’m waiting for the results to finish processing, but here’s a few picks out of the early predictions:

[[SFX: Anthony picks up a sheet of paper]]

AP: A 71% chance of severe economic downturn within eighteen months, a 28% increase in the likelihood of violence against VIPs, and get this: Communist insurrection in South Vietnam.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

AP: The results were worse than I predicted! ODAR secrets in the hands of the Soviets would make direct conflict between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces practically inevitable. The predicted death toll is enormous, soldier and civilian alike. If I turned that transmitter back on, the packet containing all the data goes out, arrives at the specified time, there’s some geopolitical turmoil, the superpowers go to war! Sure, I could restart the transmitter, maybe save a few variations on the timeline from mutually assured destruction, but you know what?! Maybe Chet doesn’t get to keep his fancy communications nexus when using it is going to lead to the end of the world!

[[SFX: radio tuning; Chet types a letter in his office; Amelia enters]]

AMELIA ARNAULT (AA): Director Whickman, can you sign these discharge papers for Ms. Roberts?

CHET WHICKMAN (CW): I’ll be right with you, Amelia.

[[SFX: phone rings; Chet steps typing to answer; the other side is unheard]]

CW: Yes? Of course, sir. I’ll send it over immediately. Yes, sir. It’s been an honor.

[[SFX: Chet hangs up]]

CW: One minute.

[[SFX: Chet finishes typing, pulls out the letter, then Timepieces it away]]

CW: Okay, bring it here.

[[SFX: Amelia approaches and hands Chet the documents to sign, which he does]]

AA: Wh...What was–

CW: And... there. My last act as Director.

AA: Sir?

CW: I signed my resignation letter eight minutes ago.

AA: Resignation?!

CW: My position for Esther’s life. That was the deal. And an agreement that I go off somewhere deep into the wilderness and never return... I couldn’t let her die. Not after everything I’ve done. Not after... everything.

AA: And the Timepiece?

CW: The day I got this job, after Donovan died, a letter appeared on my desk, about right here, right about where this Timepiece is, and it told me how long I had, here in this job. Right down to the minute. 14:25.

AA: Actually, the time is 14:32.

CW: Huh. I bought myself seven minutes.

AA: An admirable gain, sir.

CW: Is it? Why? ODAR has been the last ten years of my life. Probably the last twelve if you count off-calendar. And what have I accomplished? Have I made us any better? Have I saved the world yet?

AA: I don’t know sir.

CW: That makes two of us, I suppose.

AA: I, er... forgive me, sir, I don’t mean to come off as selfish, or... Should I start packing my desk?

CW: I can’t imagine they’d want to get rid of you. You know where all the bodies are buried.

AA: [chuckles] Well, I don’t actually... no, nevermind, I do know a few.

CW: Hopefully, my successor will put you to good use. You’ve performed impeccably. Every extra second I earned is because of you. Thank you for your time, Amelia.

AM: It’s been an honor, sir.

CW: I’m not sure it was.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

AP: So it’s been three months. The Blackroom has been down for twelve whole weeks, and I am LOVING it! I don’t think I’ve had a real vacation since I got to the Blackroom, and I don’t think I took one the entire time I was at ODAR. I’m retired, bay-bee! I mean, the rations aren’t any better, but I can finally relax! And I can probably play Tee-tris forever!

[[SFX: Gameboy turning on; radio tuning; Tetris victory music]]

AP: Well, I beat Tee-tris.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

AP: So I’ve been tinkering with the Tetris cartridge, and I’ve completely rebuilt the randomizer to increase the number of unhelpful pieces and decrease the number of frames per row. I’m calling the new game “Tony’s Blocks.” It’ll make for a far more difficult game! It should probably keep me going for–

[[SFX: radio tuning; Tetris victory music]]

AP: Well, I beat Tony’s Blocks.

[[SFX: Anthony turns off the Gameboy]]

AP: Hmm... What if I–

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

AP: Nope. Beat that too.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

AP: Two years without contact with the outside. How we doin? [manic giggling] Cracking up maybe a little? Eh, who can tell... Exercise regimen in tact, through what can only be a will as strong as Damascus steel! I’ve already burned through most of my books and media. It’s not like I could just call up some new titles with a Catbox... actually, now that I think about it...

[[SFX: radio tuning; Anthony opening wooden crates with a crowbar]]

AP: Now, you see, in some other version of reality, I made requests to ODAR HQ and they put them in these boxes. I never got the chance. Let’s see what I was going to ask for.

[[SFX: he pries the boxes open one by one]]

AP: Well, we’ve got what looks like a new oxygen recycler in this one, always handy. In here, there’s some more books, that’s good, a couple more Game Boy games, thank the Lord. Then we’ve got a copy of The Stand. Didn’t I already have one of those? The cover’s different. Maybe it’s an edition from a different timeline.

And next one? Huh. There’s a tiny little doohickey in here. I wonder what it...

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

AP: Alright, so our final haul includes the backup oxygen recycler, the replacement record player, more books, more games, the curdled milk (can’t believe I thought that would work), the suit, and this little... it looks like a magnetic storage device. Let’s see what’s on it...

[[SFX: Anthony plugs the device in, then types on the computer keyboard to access it]]

AP: Huh. It’s a computer program. For processing and editing audio, it looks like. I asked for this? Specifically this? That’s... an absurdly specific call to adventure.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: Diary of Sally Grissom, May 25th, 1953. I didn’t expect Cornish to be a mole. A snake? Of course. It’s not like Cornish was, like, the most trustworthy person, but the twist is never supposed to be the aggressive dick who’s been responsible for like, 40% of my problems since I met him. Fucked up my arm real good, too.

The blanks that Hank Cornish left behind posit even more questions. They ransacked his house, and, you know, found out that he was informing the Soviets, and got all those documents... but nothing about what happened to the Blackroom! I had assumed that Partridge’s untimely silence was Cornish or Vasilievich or Ida or SOMETHING connected to the USSR. But right now, it’s just a big blank. A huge, open, question mark.

There’s a... there's a pretty grim option here. And I don’t want to think about it, but I’ve gotta seriously consider the possibility that... Partridge is dead. I mean, if you look at it from any other vantage point than the weird one that I’ve got, then yes, he dies on October 28, 1943. I know that there’s some death gas alarm failsafe somewhere, but... But what if it broke? What if the Soviets disabled the Blackroom some other way? I mean, there could’ve been a fight or something in there, and I’d never know. And I’d be really mad that Partridge would let me miss something so cool. Also, you know... he’s gone. He’s gone and he’s never coming back, and I’ll never know why. And that sucks. I mean, I don’t... I don’t think I “deserve” something, or whatever, but... I just assumed he’d be there, forever. He wasn’t here, but... he was safe. And I’ll never get to know... [on the verge of tears]

Fortunately, with real, verifiable Soviet agents on our hands, there was more than enough evidence to exonerate Esther. Of course, it’s never that easy. They had deep hooks in her. But she’s coming back, and that’s the important part. I guess I’ve lost one dear friend, and saved another.

[[SFX: A knock on Sally's door]]

SG: [sniff] One second.

[[SFX: Sally gets up and answers the door]]

SG: Petra? What do you want?

PM: Hey, I uh, um... I got a package that I think is for you.

SG: What does that mean?

PM: [sigh] It's a long story, I'll tell you about it some other time. Um, most of them are encrypted, I haven't cracked it yet, but... I think you'll want to listen to this one.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

AP: I’ve been busy. Back at ODAR, when I worked for the Predictive Mechanics department, I thought we were going to be able to peer into the future as simply as a spyglass with little more than a spreadsheet. Of course, my hopes of perfect clairvoyance were dashed after Sally appeared over there. But I’ve had a lot of time since then to think. And work.

[[SFX: the audio distorts and picks up later in the tape, static obstructing throughout]]

AP: ...and with the reconstructed sociopolitical heuristics there’s a standard 50-60 point improvement in accuracy across the board for timeline mutations A-G, and despite the abnormal agricultural stochasticity in mutation H I was able to get 198 points, a professional best, if I say so myself. Of course, when you combine it with the pattern weighting method I outlined earlier in this tape, you’ll see that the results are even more pronounced...

[[SFX: static overtakes the tape, then recedes]]

AP: ...The point is, I now have a toolbox where I could craft what comes next. Everything that comes next, actually. I’m targeting a timeline. Your timeline, if I’ve done my job right, which I know I have. One where my legacy survives. If you’re listening to this, then you’ve made it to the end. Well, an end. My end.

[[SFX: radio tuning; a distant buzzer; a distant door slams shut; footsteps approach down a long gravel path]]

BC: I thought you’d never show up.

ESTHER ROBERTS (ER): Paperwork issue. I’m all sorted.

[[SFX: a pause]]

BC: Sally’s in the car.

SG: [behind glass] Hi Roberts!

BC: ...I don’t think they ever planned on letting you out.

ER: I know. And I won’t soon forget. But here I am now, a free woman... As free as we can ever be.

BC: Ettie, come here.

[[SFX: Bridget takes Esther in her arms; they kiss]]

BC: I missed you.

[[SFX: Esther breathes softly; the moment hangs in the air; then, they break their embrace, they walk around and get into the car]]

SG: Yeah, that’s right, got Roberts out of jail! WOOOOO! Alright, who wants ice cream?

ER: ...You know, I was hoping for whiskey, but now that you say it out loud, yes. That is exactly what I want. Can I scream? Can I scream for ice cream?

SG: Scream as loud as you want for as long as you want! You're going home.

[[SFX: Esther whoops and laughs as the car drives away; radio tuning]]

AP: So you are listening to the archive–just about every single tape that’s crossed my desk from 1943 to 1993. I’ve got discarded pasts, unrealized futures, and messy presents. It’s almost done, actually. All I have to do is finish this recording.

I’m sorry if this wasn’t what you expected. I’m sorry if you wanted more answers. I didn’t want to be put in this position. But if this is the grenade I must jump on, so be it. I’ve been a dead man walking since I got in here. I can take this last one for the team. My team. If you’re wondering why the Blackroom stopped working, it was because of treason and a software bug. I saved the world and nobody’ll ever know. Well, you will. Because you heard it.

Anyway, this is my last communication. Once I send out the archive, my little corner of nowhere has no way of contacting out. I’ve accepted my fate. I hope you can too. Least I’ll die in a suit.

Oh, and Sally? Sally Grissom? If you end up hearing this, somehow? Thanks for sticking by me. Even at my lowest point, you stayed. You made me believe that... maybe someone could do some good with this. I think... there are worse people who could have invented time travel. I’m glad it was you.

[[SFX: radio tuning; Timepiece spooling up in the ODAR workshop]]

HC: I’ve always hated you, you know that?

SG: What else is new?

HC: You were always a thorn in my ass, but not this time! This time you can’t stop me!

[[SFX: Timepiece activates]]

HC: Woah!

[[SFX: Hank splashes down into the ocean; he breaches for air once, then is dragged under; he struggles to surface, to breathe, but to no avail. He drowns. Underwater bubbling gives way to the surf, lapping against the shore. Then, in the distance:]]

CW: Director Donovan! I found another body!

[[SFX: tape recorder stops]]

ars PARADOXICA was created by Daniel Manning & Mischa Stanton. Season 3 was also written by Eli Barraza, Julian Mundy, Danielle Shemaiah & Tau Zaman.
Episode 28: Adversary 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)

Robin Gabbrielli (Anthony Partridge)
Maxximillian Dafoe (Ida)
Isabel Atkinson (Amelia)

Production help from Dennis Connors. Original music by Mischa Stanton and by Eno Freedman-Brodmann.
ars PARADOXICA is brought to you by The Internet: Hack the planet. Hack the planet.

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