written by Julian Mundy
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[Previously, on ars Paradoxica]
HC: Mister Gaines, I understand you and Mister Marian served in the same unit.
LG: That’s right. Three-Eighty-Eighth Mobile Infantry.
RV: My name is Raymond Vico. I will be in charge of shaping you into worthwhile ODAR agents, trimming the fat from you, body and soul.
RV: As of this moment, the six of you are members of our little circle.
DM: I don’t have much time. I just want to say that… Lou, if I knew you at all, you’re going to come find me one day. At least, I thought you would. Turns out I have to leave before you ever get the chance.
AV: Clock is ticking, my friend!
DM: Why am I running off with a Soviet agent? Because someone, anyone, has got to serve as a check to what ODAR can do. No one nation should have all that power. Learned that from… you, I guess.
SG: So you’re really from 20█?
TLM: I am. Born in 19█, Started at ODAR 20█, became acting director by 20█, and then relocated to 1953.
SG: I think I’m gonna tell her about Partridge’s archive. And maybe if I’m doing it above-board, I can use ODAR resources and actually make some headway with it. Man, this little thing is a tough nut to crack.
[[SFX: displaced air, a creaking floorboard]]
SG: What the–
[[SFX: Someone throws a bag over Sally's head and binds her; she struggles]]
SA: [RU] Give her the serum!
[[SFX: tape starting]]
[Int. ODAR Director’s Office]
TONYA LEMARTINE (TLM): Thank you all for coming.
[[SFX: door closes]]
LOU GAINES (LG): Yes, ma’am?
BRIDGET CHAMBERS (BC): Ma’am, has something happened?
PETRA MARQUEZ (PM): None of us have been able to get in touch with Sally.
ESTHER ROBERTS (ER): Do we know anything yet?
TLM: Please hold on to your questions, I will answer them in a moment. I must ask for your particular discretion, as in, no broadcast of any kind. The staff at large, should they ask, should be told that Doctor Grissom is currently taking a much-needed leave of absence. The truth is this: we have reason to believe that Doctor Sally Grissom is now in the custody of a foreign power.
LG: Wait a minute, how can something like this happen?
TLM: Although it is still too early to say for sure, the signs so far point to an operation by the agency that employs the services of Amelin Vasilievich. I share your dismay at this attack, but please know this: I can assure you that as of this moment, it is almost certain that wherever she is, she is alive and, most likely, well cared-for. Doctor Grissom is an asset of enormous value to whoever holds her, in this context. She will be safe, or some approximation of it.
PM: And what are we doing about this–
TLM: Please, Petra, I will answer what I can. We are still determining the exact circumstances of Doctor Grissom’s capture by these agents, and their means of access. They moved fast, planned it well, and found the blind spot they needed. Pay attention to the distinction: needed, not wanted. It was well-planned, but they had to put us on the defensive.
LG: Or bait a larger hook. You know that’s a possibility.
TLM: Petra, I am tasking you to lead the extraction team once we locate Doctor Grissom. Agent Gaines, I want you on that team as well.
LG: If you hadn’t said it, I would have volunteered.
TLM: I don’t doubt it. Okay, I believe that answers what you were going to ask, Petra.
PM: It does. But we still have to find her.
TLM: You’ll all be part of the process. But the faster we crack something in what Hank Cornish left behind, the faster we find Doctor Grissom.
BC: Understood. I won’t waste any time.
TLM: Very good. Ms. Roberts, please continue in your normal duties, but I will keep you briefed with new developments. I hope you’ll make yourself available as the need arises.
ER: Of course, Director. But let me just say, I think if anyone can track Sally back to where she’s being held, it would be the people in this room. They might be the most resourceful people I know.
PM: We’ve only had to be “resourceful” because nobody ever did us any favors.
TLM: Only this time, you have the full support of this office. Work smart, work fast. Save this one life, and we might save a lot more down the line. Thank you all for your time. Get to it.
[[SFX: radio tuning]]
[Int. KTNK HQ]
[[SFX: A door unlocks, opens, and Adler enters.]]
SG: Who the hell are you?
ADLER (AD): Doctor Grissom, I have some questions.
SG: You clowns always do. This kind of brings me back to old times, actually. Who are you?
AD: I am your handler.
SG: Do I look like a dog?
AD: I am quite familiar with your dossier already. You are, for the record, Sally Virginia Grissom, currently a resident of Point-of-Exile, Colorado?-
SG: Who are you?
AD: I am here to judge how best we proceed, Doctor Grissom. You are in a difficult situation. You travel such a long way from [20XX], only to wake up, face-down on a battleship with guns pointed at you. I mention this only because you will notice there are no armed guards present. You must be kept safe, and unharmed.
SG: You’re Russian, right? Or maybe not, there are a lot of other countries on the Red Team these days. So you kidnapped me for, what, a bargaining chip?
AD: You invented the Timepiece. You are very significant. I understand that altering the flow of time and space was not the intended function of the design, in the beginning. In your original frame of reference.
SG: Jesus, listen to you. So you had a direct line to Cornish, huh? Did he read my diary, too?
AD: I understand you prefer audio recordings to written journal-keeping. I confess, I would be curious to hear how a time traveler occupies her mind in moments of solitude. When was the last time you made contact with your coordinator? The Blackroom?
SG: No. You don’t get to do this. You might not have guns pointed at me, but I know you have them ready just a snap of your fingers away. You want to threaten me with torture? Death? Eat me. I’ve been there, done that.
AD: I can see your frustration, and your anxiety. This should have gone more smoothly. We wanted to approach you as we did Mr. Cornish. Your presence here was something we had little time to plan to satisfaction. You are quite safe here.
SG: More creepy shit dressed up like a favor. So you people grabbed me because your agency wants to tip the scales? You want me to win this thing for you?
AD: ODAR tipped the scales, with your assistance. We are merely trying to keep up. We have had help, along the way, yes. David Marian, Henry Cornish, what they did was very brave, but at best, they were but single steps towards stalemate. You could balance things, or help us end this.
SG: Have you ever thought about surrendering?
AD: Ah, but naturally, who could accept such a thing? We will speak again soon, Doctor Grissom. We are quite confident in your cooperation.
[[SFX: the door opens, Adler stands and leaves]]
[[SFX: radio tuning]]
[Ext. Petra’s Cabin (Night)]
PM: Be right back.
[[SFX: Petra goes inside as Tonya exits the car and approaches the porch.]]
LG: Evening, director.
TLM: Good evening. Thank you both for meeting me.
LG: We’re eager to get down to business.
[[SFX: Petra returns, shuts the door behind her.]]
TLM: Very kind of you.
PM: Ready whenever you are.
TLM: You wouldn’t rather continue this inside?
PM: I prefer the fresh air, if that’s okay with you.
[[SFX: Tonya hesitates, then takes a seat.]]
TLM: Then let’s begin. This is an unprecedented position we find ourselves in, so I am making Agent Vico’s team available to you. Petra, you may know them as the Seventy-Sevens.
PM: You’re kidding.
TLM: Not at all. Agent Vico will consult with you on the best potential fit for the two agents joining your team. Many are fluent in Russian.
PM: I thought this was a rescue, ma’am. I was hoping to avoid… I’ll just say it: wetwork.
TLM: They are versatile, Petra, among our strongest assets. I want them on-mission in case things go bad and we end up needing to use some plausible deniability. None of the Seventy-Sevens technically exist in this time period. As secret weapons go, you couldn’t ask for better.
LG: I’m a little lost, director. I was under the impression that Agent Vico was an instructor. He has a time-hopping kill team? I thought we were a little more elegant than that.
TLM: They are a well-kept secret, Agent Gaines, so I am trusting you with information that amounts to a bomb; one that triggers when you talk about it. With my apologies. But in short, the Seventy-Sevens are a group within ODAR comprised primarily of US military operatives from the year 1977, each highly trained and equipped with two decades worth of historical hindsight. They are trusted with the most dangerous missions because they are some of the best we have, and have given up their own futures to help fix our present.
PM: We used to hear about them like stories about the Boogeyman. Someone I knew swore he saw a Seventy-Seven talking to our teacher once.
TLM: They are just ODAR agents. But like you, they know what war is, and most of all, they want to remove the need for any more of them. Agent Vico trained you for some time, correct?
LG: Yes, ma’am, he did, just after Director Whickman signed off on my acting field status. We never spoke much beyond what was necessary in the intensive course, but he sometimes used slang I didn’t recognize. I learned early in my soldiering career not to make the drill sergeant take a special interest, so I left it alone.
PM: Smart move.
TLM: Agent Vico was one of the older candidates, and already had some experience as an ODAR instructor when the Seventy-Sevens program began. He will be consulting on this operation as well, so you will meet soon enough.
LG: Anything more we should know about the operation for when things start moving?
TLM: Miss Roberts will be coming with a secondary team, regardless of where the game plays out. As with yours, selection is still in progress, but you will be briefed as needed.
PM: You want to put another high-value ODAR member in play?
TLM: I need someone with specialized clearance present, should something happen we didn’t plan for. We’re down a Blackroom, if you haven’t heard. This is me planning for everything I can think of.
PM: So of course, you wanna send in Esther Roberts, your only competition to running this place. Rather than going yourself.
TLM: Whatever else you may think of me, I do not take risks without first running the numbers. Chet Whickman may have accepted second guesses, but I do not. Whickman was appointed director because he was in the right place, at the right time, answering to the right people. Luck of the draw. I was hand-selected to run this agency, and you’ll soon see why.
[[SFX: Tonya takes a swig of coffee]]
TLM: If there is nothing further, please enjoy your evening. Thank you for the coffee.
[[SFX: radio tuning]]
[Int. KTNK Headquarters]
AD: Did you have an interest in history, before you came to live in this time period?
SG: You want me to be your sherpa through the next few decades, is that it? That does sound a lot simpler than building another friggin’ time machine. I wish you’d been in the room when the question came up.
AD: The entrance you made seems to have left an impression. I remind you, Doctor Grissom, you are significant. But it is possible that, as soon as you landed on the deck of that aircraft carrier those many years ago, everything you knew since that moment could be unfamiliar to you. The traveler’s testimony is something personal, like a bedtime story told to them by a parent. Even if we were inclined to believe such a tale, doing so would require enormous trust on our part. Who is to say where you might lead us, in the end?
SG: So what then?
AD: The Soviet Union was not the one to invent the atomic bomb, Doctor Grissom, it was simply the one to answer America’s claim to dominance. You have heard the expression, “power must be a check to power?” Paraphrased from Montesquieu, who was so beloved by the writers of the American constitution. The world war didn’t end after 1945, it merely changed venue. We continued to fight. If we had not, the United States would simply have taken what it wanted because no other nation could have stood against a bully with a nuclear weapon.
SG: [tired, miserable] What do you want?
AD: To end the fighting, as quick as possible. To return to a world not constantly threatening to destroy itself. But that may take a great sacrifice, and I know the difficulty Americans face in accepting that to win, sacrifice is not only inevitable, but necessary to enact true change. I know you do not have the same difficulty.
SG: [flat, angry] You people will decide who deserves to die. You always do. Just get out.
AD: People are going to die anyway. That is what happens when a war is fought without a winning strategy. The only thing one can praise about a war is how soon it ends. We will speak again soon, Doctor Grissom. Please think about what I have said.
[[SFX: radio tuning]]
[Ext. SG’s House]
[[SFX: Archie growls]]
PM: Guess we’ll try this again tomorrow, you little freak!
[[SFX: Petra shuts the door.]]
BC: Good morning! I tried you at the cabin, so I figured you’d be here instead. Archie being difficult today?
PM: Yeah, a little. He doesn’t have to look so smug about it, is all. What brings you to the surface world? You look… happy.
BC: Well, we don’t have anything that looks like someplace they’d hide Sally. Not yet. But I think the late Mr. Cornish might have had somebody who could point us there.
PM: Everyone else already briefed?
BC: So far the only people who know are Director LeMartine, Lou, my little team of researchers, and now you.
PM: Okay. Well, let’s keep it that way until I can get to him. Got an address?
BC: Sweetheart, I left a whole care package on your porch.
[[SFX: radio tuning]]
[Int. Andrew Thurston’s Apartment]
PM: So what’s left over from the flight? Omigosh, dried peaches? I didn’t even see these in there.
[[SFX: Petra unwraps something]]
ANDY THURSTON (AT): [confused, muffled sound]
[[SFX: Petra pulls out a chair.]]
PM: So, Andrew James Thurston, Eleven-Twenty-Six Connecticut Avenue, Washington DC. United States Customs Service officer in good standing, with concerns in nine different countries, including West Germany. Where were we?
[[SFX: Petra holds out the bag of dried peaches.]]
PM: Did you want one?
AT: [defiant objection]
PM: Sorry. Bad joke. Already got you tied to a chair and gagged in your own dining room, so I shouldn’t poke at it like that. I am genuinely sorry, Andy. Sorry for all of this strong-arm garbage I’m pulling right now, but I can’t be sure what your level of involvement is. I need you to see how serious I am about getting some answers.
AT: [questioned pleading]
PM: You’re probably going over every story you’ve ever heard that starts like this. I know I used to. Still do sometimes, to be honest. It’s dressed up different ways, but it’s the same tired old power dynamic, every single time. So I won’t go any further than this. No threats, no head games to quote-unquote “break you,” no violence.
AT: [cautious optimism]
PM: I mean it. I’m just going to talk, until you let me know when you’re ready to talk. Talk, you understand, not scream for the police. I’d like to leave the place better than I found it.
AT: [affirmative grunt]
PM: Thank you. I think strangers sometimes have the best perspective on each other’s circumstances. My sister and I got “recruited” into a special school at a young age. That’s probably the polite way to put it. It’s this kind of government program, with an accelerated curriculum.
[[SFX: Petra bites into a dried peach.]]
PM: Mm. Those are really good. But what might interest you is how I came to meet a guy you know as “Francis Beck.” You see how I didn’t just say “your golf buddy” or “your work acquaintance Francis Beck?”
AT: [affirmative grunt]
PM: Hate to break it to you, Mr. Thurston, but I’m not the only person you know who gets up to a little mischief now and then. When my sister and I… graduated from our program, we had a falling-out about what to do with our futures. One of those arguments you can only have with a loved one who knows all the right buttons to press, and I kind of fell off the map. I’ve never actually told anyone this before, but I regretted it as soon as she was out of sight. So a few years pass, and I run into my sister while I’m in the middle of… you know what? It doesn’t matter what I was doing. Pretty soon after, I go to work at my sister’s office. Which brings us to Mr. Beck. He worked closely with our boss, only the name “Beck” was a wooden nickel. But it’s the name he signed his correspondence with you , Andrew James Thurston. My friend dug your name and information out of the supposed Francis Beck’s documents, and gave them to me included in a package with a bottle of lavender honey, kettle corn, some chocolates, and these excellent peaches.
AT: [kettle corn?]
PM: Chill out, Andy, I’m just explaining how we got here. Beck’s documents and other assets were seized as part of an ongoing investigation into acts of espionage he conducted on behalf of Soviet intelligence agencies. Everything he touched turned to shit, and it didn’t go the way he thought it would in the end. People have died because of Francis Beck, real name Henry Cornish, and he’s not around to say why he did what he did. I don’t know how involved you are, Andy. All I get is the occasional “thank you” for “that little headache in the West Germany” you helped him with.
AT: [rising panic]
PM: I don’t know how angry to be tonight, so I’d rather be calm. But it’s hard to be, when I’m so scared. Scared for the world, scared for my friends. I know you’re scared, too, and the worst part is, you don’t even really know why, not exactly. You can’t. I’m not allowed to tell you. I don’t know how you’d sleep any better if I did. But I have someone else who needs me right now, so at the end of the day, I’m not that worried about you. Whatever you did, you did because a snake in a black suit lied to you. He wasn’t State, Andy. He was CIA, and a grade-A defector. He needed what you could provide, so he made you his tool. I don’t want to hurt you, because I don’t think you would deserve it. Henry Cornish, sadly, is in no position to be hurt anymore. I want his masters, Andy. I want the location of anywhere I can smoke them out.
AT: [quietly sobs]
PM: It’s okay, Andy, it’s okay. Here, let me get that thing off your mouth.
[[SFX: radio tuning]]
[Ext. KTNK Headquarters (Day)]
[[SFX: Sally and Adler walk down a gravel road]]
SG: Gotta hand it to you, this isn’t what I expected. Where are we? Can you, like, tell me, or do you have to kill me afterward?
AD: We are a ways outside the city of Steglitz, in West Germany. There is no harm in telling you.
SG: Wow. Not a bad view. For a spook-house, I mean. [inhales deeply] It’s pretty awesome out this far. I never made the time to travel like this. Well, not “like this,” you know what I mean.
AD: Doctor Grissom, I had hoped to take this moment to clarify a few matters. To be entirely blunt, my agency would like to recruit you.
SG: Yeah, I kinda got that. So much so, in fact, you stole me.
AD: We have compelling evidence to suggest you wished to leave ODAR’s influence. These suggestions pointed to your joining ODAR under severe duress. We failed to make contact with you in the manner we hoped. You kept yourself so busy.
SG: I don’t like feeling helpless, or being bored. At the end of the day, spies and shit cause most of my “duress.” Hank Cornish was one of yours, and I have to say, all his bullshit really took me past where I thought my patience could go.
AD: But you endure it. Why?
SG: Because doing the work, trying to get it right after so many years of being wrong… It’s all still worth it. Innocent people don’t deserve to take a hit just because I think I deserve a vacation. If I don’t at least shepherd the thing I let out into the world, I don’t know if I would be fit to live in it anymore.
AD: So you stand with ODAR, in the hope that you can use this technology for the common good. Am I accurate in this much, at least?
SG: I would say that’s accurate, sure.
AD: Please, only answer this if you feel you are able. In your original frame of reference, do you feel that this would be likely of “your” United States, if they had an ODAR of their own?
[[SFX: They stop.]]
SG: To be honest, no.
AD: Could you elaborate?
SG: I think fear would have overpowered them. I remember being scared, all the time, for everybody. The only way out of that place that I could see was through the sciences, so that’s where I ended up. Now I’m here with you.
AD: Is your fear more, now you are here, or less?
SG: Christ, you really go for the throat. Where is this going? You won’t even tell me your name, I don’t owe you any answers.
AD: That is true. I am not permitted to share my name, for reasons you can assume. But around here, the German staff like to call me “Adler,” for my “proud beak” like an eagle’s. Will that do?
SG: Corny, but fine. So what does my level of anxiety have to do with this?
[[SFX: They continue walking.]]
AD: I know you still feel beholden to your home, however you have changed it. I spoke with you about war, and we came away at odds. But you do not want to be afraid anymore. Is that accurate?
SG: Yes. I don’t know how long I can live with someone’s boot on my neck.
AD: If you could end the war, would you want to?
AD: Then we may yet come to an understanding, Doctor Grissom, when the planets align. Please allow me to escort you back to the main building.
SG: Sure, as long as you escort me to some coffee in the process.
[[SFX: radio tuning]]
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[Ext. Military Airport]
[[SFX: plane flies by. Petra is on the phone.]]
BC: This is Chambers.
PM: Hey BC, it’s me. Your care package didn’t last long.
BC: What a nice surprise. How was the trip, are you back?
PM: Still taking care of the finishing touches, but our friend saw things clearly by the end of our talk. He’s turned himself over to us of his own volition, so I expect the bosslady will want a word with him.
BC: That is wonderful news, sweetheart. Great job. Heading home soon?
PM: My flight back’s in a few hours. Hey, is Lou handy?
BC: Just outside, I’ll give him a shout. You little go-getter, you.
LG: I hear we’ll have a new guest soon, nice work. What’s on your mind?
PM: Some details I won’t broadcast without you in the room, but I know this much. There’s a place in West Germany that the two-faced prick had our new friend do a lot of paperwork on. Heavy equipment, machining setups and other assorted hardware. Some visa tomfoolery tossed in, and we have a nice, promising first stop when we go take in the sights.
LG: Sounds like a date to me. We have a way in?
PM: Our new friend can help with that. Said he wants to, that he hates himself for what happened. I saw him make the decision myself; he’ll get us a way in.
LG: And a way out?
PM: Still our problem. Listen, I gotta go. Swing by the cabin in thirty-six hours when I’m back and an actual human again.
LG: Until then. Fly safely.
PM: Bye, Lou.
[[SFX: Petra hangs up the phone. Radio tuning.]]
[Int. KTNK Headquarters]
[[SFX: Sally and Adler eat uncomfortably]]
SG: This is weird. Is this weird for you?
AD: You are asking if I often eat with my charges? It is not common, no, but then, you are not common. It makes a good story to tell, at least, when everyone at the party has had a few to drink. “I had lunch with a time traveler.” I can leave you to eat on your own, if you prefer.
SG: Yeah, but then what else would I do with myself?
AD: I have been meaning to inquire about that. I can certainly arrange to find you some books in English, or perhaps a record player?
SG: Yeah, maybe, but… look, am I moving in, or what? I haven’t said I’m helping you yet.
AD: Perhaps the words are only slow to arrive. But no, we hoped to move you to a slightly more secure location, when you felt amenable. Our facilities here are adequate, and remote enough, but like ODAR, we prefer to know exactly who comes and goes. West Germany is high-profile, as you might say.
SG: Yeah, you might. When would I be moved, in that case?
AD: We anticipate a safe window to keep you here for two more weeks, perhaps less. But until we are both satisfied that we can work together, or until the window closes, I would prefer to see you comfortable. In fact, I know what might help you make a decision.
SG: And that is?
AD: When things have slowed down later tonight, I would like to take you to see the workshop.
AD: Indeed. Think of it as a professional appraisal.
[[SFX: radio tuner]]
[Petra’s Cabin (Night)]
PM: [journaling] The time is twenty-two-fifty-eight hours, Mountain Standard Time. Flight got in about 40 hours ago, with a blessedly quick onboarding for our new houseguest. Just got off the phone with someone I haven’t seen in a long time. Still not sure where he got my number, but somehow he also knows about the mission coming up. Maybe I knew he was coming. I finally got the last of the boxes unpacked, like, an hour ago, and made up the guest room. As soon as I sit down, the phone rings. Not like a “hey, I’m flying out to Colorado soon,” but more of a “hey, I’m at a payphone on Main Street, where’s your house?” Pretty crazy I guess, but I can’t throw stones.
[[SFX: cuckoo clock]]
PM: Oh shit. Well, that’s on the recording now. I can’t believe I live in a time where these are still considered pretty wizard. Heh. Oh God, I need more sleep. I can’t believe he would say yes to a plan as crazy as this, but he wanted to help Sally. It’ll be good to have someone else with his experience on-board. Lou is great, a total professional, but you can’t fake jumping back a few decades. Different perspective, right? I don’t give a damn what LeMartine says, those Seventy-Sevens give me the creeps, so he’ll be on the sidelines just in case things get too hot to handle. I’m not really sure what he wants out of all this, other than to look out for me. Maybe he’s just as worried about Sally as I am. He should be, insane long-shot that it is.
PM: But I think we can do this. Just barely. I think that’s him.
[[SFX: Nikhil knocks at the front door]]
NIKHIL SHARMA (NS): [through door] Young lady, I have been walking uphill for over an hour! I demand you open this door so I may collapse inside! I’m tired.
[[SFX: radio tuner]]
[Int. ODAR Briefing Room]
[[SFX: A light switch is flipped off. Tonya walks to the side of the room.]]
TLM: Miss Chambers, if you’d like to get us started.
BC: Yes ma’am.
[[SFX: slide projector switches on]]
BC: Alright then. After spending some quality time with Cornish’s files, the portion that remained, we have a name and address for the South Berlin facility where we believe Hank Cornish had been setting up an out-station for his real bosses in the organization we are, for the time being, referring to as “KTNK.”
[[SFX: Bridget changes slides.]]
LG: What’s that stand for?
PM: Do you speak Russian?
LG: Well, no.
PM: It’s the Russian ODAR, just leave it at that.
BC: The station’s cover as we understand it is an engineering and consultancy firm, “The Postfenn Fellowship of Engineering and Fabrication,” translated from the German.
ER: I’ve attended plenty of conferences and talks on engineering since hostilities ended in Europe. That’s the sort of thing you’d hear about, especially with everything that’s happened in Berlin. Funny how I’ve never heard of this before..
BC: The Postfenn Fellowship is located near Drachenberg (Drock-en-behrg), the hill making up part of the South Berlin locality known as the Grunewald (Groo-neh-vald). The area is quite affluent overall, an evolution of a mansion colony which began there in the 1880s. Everyone there values privacy, and having their view of the neighbors obstructed. If you’re there, the assumption is that you belong. Diplomats and dignitaries are known to attend parties at the grand houses in the area, and in general, the presence of a business would be unusual. In his correspondence with Andrew Thurston–our houseguest from the United States Customs Service–Cornish thanks Thurston for his helping to resolve several “time-sensitive” issues for friends of his at the Postfenn Fellowship.
[[SFX: Bridget changes slides.]]
BC: Thurston’s testimony, after remanding himself to our care, corroborates this. Thurston dates the first contact in November of 1950, when he got a call at work. He tells us that, at first, he owed Cornish a favor, for helping a drunk and disorderly charge on his nephew vanish. After the first two or three favors he returned, Thurston began to receive gifts of thanks from Cornish in what he calls “tasteful ways.”
[[SFX: Bridget changes slides.]]
BC: We know that the Grunewald locality has been on a list of intelligence targets by the NSA and other international agencies for the last year or so. Findings suggest a few networks currently running, but unproductive. The lion’s share of Cornish’s “favors” went through in ‘51 and ‘52. All this to say, Cornish and his group did a thorough job in putting down roots over the last three-plus years, with two during which no one in particular was looking. Grunewald locality sits within the American sector of West Berlin, so Cornish would have had no problem moving around if he decided to visit.
[[SFX: Bridget changes slides.]]
LG: Sweet little spot he picked. There a lot of foot traffic?
BC: Only if you count couples and small groups on “scenic jaunts.” There is a memorial site for Prime Minister Walter Rathenau (Rath-eh-now) in the area, since his assassination in 1922. People walking around tend to be quite visible, mostly because they want to see and be seen.
[[SFX: Bridget changes slides.]]
BC: The surrounding area is primarily woodland, with a man-made hill nearby called Teufelsberg (Toy-fells-berg), built on top of an unfinished Nazi technical college right after the war ended.
PM: Surveillance will involve kind of a ramble through the woods, then?
BC: Perhaps Agent Vico could help me answer that.
TLM: Ray, if you’d be so kind as to walk us through the structure of this thing.
RV: Ma’am. A lot of ground to cover here, geographically. That’s why we’ll have two teams in play; one will consist of four members, the other, two. Agents Marquez and Gaines will meet two Seventy-Sevens using the work-names “Alec” and “Gordon.” You’re the lead group, handling surveillance of the target location. You’ll have to confirm the presence of Doctor Grissom, codename “Limestone,” before any more pieces start to move. Alec and Gordon will be scouting ahead of your arrival for stake-out positions. In the event Limestone is confirmed on-site, we have the facilities to get you American military IDs and uniforms. That should cover your way in, but extracting Limestone and getting everyone out alive is something you’ll have to put together when you get there.
LG: And the other team, sir?
RV: Stationed nearby, in Wilmersdorf. That team will be comprised of Doctor Roberts, and Seventy-Seven Agent Christian. We have a safehouse arranged not far from the Berlin Zoo.
PM: Huh. Sounds nice.
ER: Not as much as you think.
RV: They will be there in case this thing ends in a meltdown, either figurative or literal. A Timepiece will be available, using a two-key system. Both Roberts and Agent Christian will have to agree to activate the Timepiece in order to put the failsafe in motion. Director, they both have clearance to do so?
TLM: That’s correct. That contingency is only in case of a catastrophic failure sure to cause widespread death and destruction. The Soviets also have a Timepiece, and we cannot yet confirm what they’ve done, or intend to do, with it. If you find it, or any materials related to it, your secondary objective is to destroy them as soon as possible. Am I understood?
PM, LG: Yes, ma’am.
TLM: I appreciate the enormous risk you are all taking. However, the reality is that we risk much more in doing nothing. Agent Chambers, thank you and your team for the sterling work done so far, but I want you to keep sifting. If this yields nothing, we may not have time to mount a secondary op. I want us ready for one, just the same. I know Limestone… Doctor Grissom, will be in good hands. Dismissed.
[SFX: radio tuning]
[Int. KTNK Research Lab]
AD: Some of the researchers have been asking me for an answer about this.
[[SFX: Adler hands Sally some papers]]
SG: Holy crap. I know these. Timepiece Field Kit power specs, field actuator blueprints. Not great quality printing.
AD: Enlarged from microfilm taken by David Marian.
SG: Yeah, I’m sure you’re very pleased with yourselves. What answer did they want?
AD: There is a note in the margins– which Doctor Brown is this you refer to? One of your mentors?
SG: I don’t really… Listen, it doesn’t make a lot of sense out of context. I must have had too much coffee that day.
AD: Ah. Time traveler humor. I will inform them so they can stop badgering me, thank you.
SG: Right, sure thing.
AD: And the device you were found with, the storage device? The... drive?
SG: The hard drive? What about it?
AD: We would very much like to know what it contains.
SG: I’d also very much like that. Not sure where I’d even start guessing. I don’t have the code for it, and I don’t know who would.
AD: You mean, you took a… hard drive, with no idea of how to access the contents, or even the nature of those contents?
SG: Pretty much. I wasn’t sure I was even looking at the right thing when I got it, and by the time I was, you guys had me in your clutches. Sorry.
AD: You don’t sound very sorry.
SG: Listen, are you sure–like, one hundred percent dead goddamn certain–that it’s okay for me to be down here, seeing all this?
AD: A demonstration of just how serious my superiors are about bringing you, and your expertise, into the fold. One of them is expected to arrive any day now, to judge your condition for herself. You are significant, as I have said. Nothing at all will happen to you. Anyone who treats you in a foolish way, well, they will not be heard from very often afterward.
SG: That’s… harsh. Quite a bit harsher than I’d ever want, probably.
AD: Doctor Grissom, I presume that you are familiar with Soviet ideology: that the state, that the collective, is all. But for the collective to be strong, it must have the best teachers. Science may be used for good or ill, but it is neither. It is nothing more than the understanding and responsible application of natural law. You know this well.
SG: Understanding is something you come by gradually. You want a swift end to this war, so you’re giving me what I have to assume is an unprecedented level of access into your business. I could wait you out. ODAR must be looking for me.
AD: It’s something we have considered. They might succeed in taking you back, like a prize or a favorite toy, and you would remain a state secret. We might not make your true accomplishments known, for such things would shake all of creation. Too significant. But you would be known as a scientific hero, a role model sorely needed in the times to come. No more living alone, feeling like an anchor around the world’s neck. No more being forgotten. What is silence worth, Doctor Grissom? What is inaction worth? Nothing at all.
[[SFX: radio tuning]]
[Int. KTNK Research Lab]
[[SFX: Sally scribbles notes on a pad.]]
SG: It’s a waste of time. Like, I don’t enjoy just stomping all over a good hypothesis, but CAGE fields are a dead end.
AD: So you understand everything about these fields?
SG: I thought I was the queen authority on this stuff. Was that not the point?
AD: It was, and is. A privilege, as always, to learn. But you did not make the advances you did by closing your mind to possibilities. That is all my superiors are doing. We follow every scant path in the hope it leads to treasure.
SG: But mostly what you find is a bunch of horse–
AD: Dung, too, is a valuable resource. Much comes from it, when applied in the right spot.
SG: I’m gonna shut that metaphor down right there, I refuse to take any part in it. If you don’t have anything else to distract me with, I need to figure what the hell your techs were thinking. They tried connecting this aperture control backwards, so down is up, and up is down. Chaos rules and somebody is going to get killed if you install that in a live apparatus.
AD: Duly noted.
SG: Listen, I give your bosses credit for keeping an open mind. I don’t have every potential application of the CAGE figured out, but the risk factor at this point is too high. What you’re talking about is a time bubble. You know how delicate a bubble is, right? How perfectly smooth a lens needs to be to work like a lens? You follow me?
AD: I believe so.
SG: It’s not a perfect metaphor. The conditions are so specific, and the decay is so severe by this point, I wouldn’t risk sending a person into a CAGE field under any circumstances. We’re talking about exposing people to highly unstable energy, which grows less stable every passing hour.
AD: This sounds like very responsible advice. I thank you.
[[SFX: Sally scribbles some more notes.]]
SG: Yeah, well, I just don’t want anyone else to get killed. Anyone, got me?
AD: Your position is well understood.
SG: Good non-committal answer.
AD: Oh, I am quite committed, Doctor Grissom, and so are you. To a peaceful world. Good night to you.
SG: Yeah. Same.
[[SFX: radio tuning]]
[Int. Steglitz Safehouse]
[[SFX: radio plays West German tunes of the day. Petra cleans her service pistol. There is a knock at the door. Morse code for OPEN.]]
LG: Got it.
[[SFX: Lou goes into the entryway and unlocks the door. Gordon enters, shutting and locking the door behind.]]
77 GORDON (77G): Hope you folks like danishes. Old lady at the counter was sweet and threw in extra.
[[SFX: 77G offers a paper bag]]
LG: Oh man, this is gonna hit the spot, thank you so much.
PM: Thanks. Coffee over there.
LG: Alec relieve you?
77G: I left him about thirty minutes ago. While I was waiting in line, I made some small talk and asked about Postfenn. The cover for the locals seems to be like this: the building got bought out from an old-money type who got scarce of Berlin while the getting was good. The Postfenn Fellowship is a private joint venture by some well-meaning Americans and Berliners, names not yet known to the public.
PM: Neat and tidy.
77G: What’s neat and tidy is, American military contractors stop in all the time to hire local techs from the fellowship. It’s not like there’s a revolving door, but with some IDs and a decent reason to consult in-house, we have ourselves a reliable way in.
LG: If we can bold-face our way through security.
PM: Semi-bold-face. Three of us are already combat veterans of one kind or another.
77G: Which makes you something else.
PM: You bet your ass, Gordon.
LG: Got an address for that Army connect of yours?
PM: We’ll need those IDs printed fast.
77G: Once we receive confirmation of Limestone, you’ll have it in your hot little hands. You put the cart before horse otherwise. Turnaround time on those will be about twenty-four hours.
PM: You guys ever get used to this hurry-up-and-wait bullshit?
77G: You could try composing haiku.
LG: Taking up chess.
77G: Or watercolors.
PM: Screw this, I’m transferring to the other team. They get to see lions and stuff.
77G, LG: Too late.
[[SFX: Alec comes in through the radio]]
77 ALEC (77A): [low] Come in, Castle, this is Alec. Brothers and sisters, Limestone is confirmed on-site. Repeat: Brothers and sisters, Limestone is confirmed on site. I have a visual as we speak.
PM: [pleased] No shit.
LG: Castle reads you, Alec. You’re 100% on that?
77A: You’d better move your asses, brothers and sisters. Over and out.
LG: You heard the woman. Gordon, get those IDs.
PM: Wait, um… if this is it, we should tell our backup. Esther and Christian. I’ll, um… give me one sec, I’ll make the call.
LG: Good thinking. It’s time, team. We’re going in.
[[SFX: radio tuning]]
[Ext. KTNK Headquarters]
[[SFX: distant thunder, wind]]
SG: First thunderstorm in another country. Looks like a big one.
AD: I do not expect us to lose power here, unless the wrong trees happen to go down. We have generators to see us through a night, in any case. Although, you may have to forego any work you hoped to do tonight. My superiors have told me of their satisfaction with the direction things in the labs have begun to take since you came to us. The director will almost certainly wish to tell you how pleased she is at your imminent meeting.
SG: Still a little ominous when you say it like that. I have to be honest, I’d be more comfortable with this if I were able to see the full specs of the project. Things like power draw would be easier to work out if I saw something comprehensive. All I know is, it’s modular and uses a series of CAGE emitters. That’s a little thin.
AD: Unfortunately, it is not within my remit to give you a full briefing on the project. I cannot give you much more information than I already have.
SG: I thought we were trying to build trust here. You can’t tell me your name, what you call your agency, your bosses, or what the full specs of this thing are. You can’t give me anything?
AD: I do understand. How about this? If you were, say, to find your way down to the main lab tonight after hours–provided we still have power–I may forget to cover up a blueprint for the completed device. On the drafting table near the rear corner. You may have five or so minutes before I realize my mistake.
SG: Um. Okay. I understand. Thanks.
AD: Pardon? I’m afraid you will have to speak up, the wind is making it very difficult to hear.
[the wind is doing no such thing]
[[SFX: radio tuning]]
[KTNK Research Lab]
[[SFX: Sally opens the door to the main lab.]]
SG: Hello? Handler… person? Adler?
[[SFX: The door shuts behind SG.]]
SG: Okayyyy. Back corner. There you are.
[[SFX: SG walks to the back of the room.]]
SG: Written in goddamn Cyrilic, of course– wait, what is this? (low, counting) One, two, three… Activation phases set to a… timer? This is bullshit. This is BULLSHIT.
[[SFX: The lab door opens and Adler enters.]]
AD: Doctor Grissom? Is something the matt–
[[SFX: Sally strikes Adler hard across the face.]]
SG: I take back everything I said about your bosses having an open mind, you walking tumor. You take my goddamn tech?!
[[SFX: a second slap connects hard enough to unbalance Adler into a nearby workstation.]]
SG: You steal my tech and jam it in a warhead, asshole?!
[[SFX: tape stopping]]
ars PARADOXICA was created by Daniel Manning & Mischa Stanton. Season 3 was also written by Eli Barraza, Julian Mundy, Danielle Shemaiah & Tau Zaman.
Episode 31: Control features –
Kristen DiMercurio (Sally Grissom)
Katie Speed (Esther Roberts)
Lia Peros (Petra Marquez)
L. Jeffrey More (Lou Gaines)
Preston Allen (Bridget Chambers)
Arjun Gupta (Nikhil Sharma)
Tina Huang (Tonya LeMartine)
Ego Mikitas (Adler)
Richard Malmos (Ray Vico)
Erin Bark (Archie the Cat)
Zack Libresco (77 Gordon)
Danielle Shemaiah (77 Alec)
Daniel Manning (Andy Thurston)
with special thanks to Isabel Atkinson
Original music by Mischa Stanton and by Eno Freedman-Brodmann. Additional music from Free Music Archive.
ars PARADOXICA is brought to you by ForHims.com, ZipRecruiter, and The Internet: You may already be a winner. But probably not.
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WEATHER IN MEMPHIS: skeleton
LUCKY NUMBER: four hundred ninety one