written by Daniel Manning & Mischa Stanton
Produced by Mischa Stanton
[[SFX: tape recorder starts]]
SALLY GRISSOM (SG): Hello? Testing, one two… Okay! This is the audio diary of Sally Grissom. The date today is… Hell, does it even matter? It’s October 29th. 1943, I guess. For me, that’s the day after August 14th, 20█. So, whatever that means.
This recorder is [laugh] enormous! When they were getting my room here set up for me, they asked if I wanted a journal– “for my thoughts.” I don’t much like written journals, so I told them I wanted to record my voice instead. I much prefer hearing my thoughts out loud. I guess I was imagining some kind of handheld deal, not like this monstrosity on my desk! But I’m glad they brought it. I need to keep a record of my thoughts here. They’re more jumbled than they’ve ever been.
Let me start from the beginning: I was in my lab at the SSC. I’m a resident physicist there, the face in front of a small team of other researchers working to build an array of these generators that cancel out the Higgs mechanism. This thing was our baby. We had poured countless hours, sleepless nights, and about nine figures into this thing. After a solid year of work, we were finally ready to test it. So there I am on the day of the test, and my hands are shaking with anticipation as I placed the test mass–a kilogram of platinum–on a pedestal in the center of the array.
[[SFX: machine spools up]]
As the array began to spool up, vibration knocked the cylinder onto the floor. I left the observation room to go put it back on its pedestal. I remember one of my assistants asking if I wanted them to stop the test. I told them not to waste time letting the generators spin down and then back up. I actually said that, “It won’t do any harm!” Yeah, sure, won’t do any harm…
The generators hit critical energy faster than they should have. Just as I placed the test mass inside the array, I heard this loud hum, and a crackle of electricity–
[[SFX: electricity arcs]]
I remember this smell, like ozone, and the taste of iron in the back of my throat. I tried to look out to my assistants, but their outlines had gone blurry. A bright light crashed across the whole room. For just a second, the world went black, and white, and red…
[[SFX: machine grows in intensity]]
Then the light got brighter, hotter, whiter and whiter, it filled my whole vision…
[[SFX: time machine activates]]
The next thing I knew, I was lying on the deck of a huge boat. My head was full of white noise, I was dizzy, and shivering cold. The contents of my breakfast were spread out in front of me. It wasn’t my best moment. I must have stayed a good five, six minutes half-conscious on the cold metal floor before anyone found me. I remember a pair of hands checking my pulse, making sure I was breathing. That first pair of hands called for a second, and before long I had a whole… What do you call a bunch of Navy guys? A crew? A squad? A sloop? A swearing-- yeah that’s it. A swearing of sailors surrounded me. Most of them spoke in hushed tones to each other. One of them, with authority ringing in his voice, came and ordered the rest to “take me to the brig.” At least, I think that’s what he said? Something like that. I don’t remember the exact words, I was pretty out of it. But that was definitely his tone.
The first sailor, the one who checked to see if I was alive, he refused. Said I should be taken to the sick bay. One of them asked if I could walk. “Walk?” I meant to say. “I can barely stand! Who are you people, anyway? I demand to talk to someone in charge!” Well, I meant to say all that. As I was, I sort of wobbled on my feet, mumbled a bit, and puked. All over the nearest sailor. A few of them scooped me up and carried me down to the lower depths of the ship.
So, sidetrack: when I was young, my parents took me to see the USS Intrepid in New York City. It’s a docked aircraft carrier from World War II that had been retired and then renovated into a sea, air and space museum. The Lunar Lander was there, and my parents had wanted me to see the capsule my grandfather had landed on the moon in.
[[SFX: static distortion]]
But, back to the ship: once my vision cleared a bit and I could finally see where I was, I remembered thinking that this ship looked almost exactly like what I remembered. Except that here, the controls weren’t sealed behind plexiglas? The one thing I couldn’t recall was the holding cell. It was just a cage. A closet, with bars, stuffed in the corner of one room, no more than five feet across. The sailors put me down as gently as they could, locked the door shut, and left.
I lay there for a while, moving as little as possible, holding my throbbing head, trying to stop the room from spinning... Maybe even trying to wake myself up from this terrible dream. Finally, after what seemed like an hour, but was probably more like ten minutes, I heard a voice from inside the room. Evidently, one of the sailors had stayed behind. That first one, the one that cared whether or not I was still alive. He was quiet, and calm, like the sea after a storm. He said to me…
[[SFX: radio tuning]]
CHET WHICKMAN (CW): Ma’am? Excuse me, ma’am? Can you hear me?
SG: I uh…
[[SFX: Sally vomits]]
CW: Take it easy, just take it easy. Don’t worry ma’am, you’ll be all right. The Director’s on his way out here now, and he’s gonna wanna talk to you. Rest up, save your strength.
SG: [dazed] Where…. Where am I?
CW: You’re in Philadelphia, ma’am. Or, I suppose, just off the coast of Philadelphia.
SG: On a… ship?
CW: Yes ma’am. You’re aboard a cannon-class destroyer escort. Most days we’re running men and materials to the Allied fronts. Today we’re… Well we’re doing something different.
CW: Well ma’am, I can’t tell you much, it’s all classified, way above my pay grade, but I guess you must know. Some army scientists have taken over operations this week. Run over the ship like ants on a picnic.
SG: Must… know?
CW: Well sure. Isn’t that what you’re doing here?
SG: Not… um… I’m not sure what I’m doing here.
CW: Well you went through an awful lot of trouble getting past our security. How’d you manage that by the way?
SG: No, no! I was… I was in my lab. My machine… There was a bright light, and I–
CW: You should save your story for when the Director gets here.
SG: It’s not a story! It’s true! I’m a scientist, a physicist, I was working in my lab, and this generator, it must have–
[[SFX: Sally falls, hits the bars]]
CW: Shhh, calm down, please save your strength. Here, drink some water.
SG: Thank you.
CW: What’s your name?
CW: Petty Officer Chet Whickman. Nice to meet you.
[[SFX: Sally drinks]]
CW: Now listen, ma’am–
CW: Sure, okay Doc. Listen, whatever your story is, I believe you. I saw what happened, I was there on the deck when we turned our machine on. There was a big flash of white, our thing did its thing, and then the light faded and you were lying on the deck. I saw you appear outta nowhere. I don’t know enough about it to know what they were doing, I just sail the ship, but I know it’s something weird. For all I know you’re some ordinary lady minding your own–hell, maybe you’re working for us on some other government science project.
SG: I’m not with the Army, I told you–
CW: But it doesn’t matter. Because the Director, he’s got to act as if you’re a spy that snuck onboard to steal his project. You dropped yourself into a whole mess of top-secret, ma’am, and you’re not leaving the Eldridge until he talks to you and finds out everything you know. So take it easy. I’m real sorry, but… I’ve got a feeling you’re in for a long day.
[[SFX: radio tuning]]
SG: They kept me in that cell for five hours. I couldn’t stretch my arms, and my head was still spinning and pounding from the inbound trip. I asked for a dramamine, and all I got was a confused look from Whickman. Apparently, they don’t have that here.
They carried me up to the interrogation room, and just about the time that my head stopped spinning, in walked the Director. He was the utter image of a G-man. Large build, square jaw, hair slicked down to within an inch of its life, well-worn black suit/white shirt/black tie. Like someone out of a movie. His smile never wavered. And the lines on his face told me he’d practiced that smile a million times before…
[[SFX: radio tuning; door opens, closes; footsteps; a long chair scrape; shuffling papers]]
BILL DONOVAN (BD): What’s your name, little girl?
SG: Fuck you. That’s my name.
BD: [laughs] See? And here I was, perfectly ready to assume your cooperation. I was gonna sit here, smile politely, ask a few questions, and we’d be done. You’d be off on your merry way. But you’ve decided to be hostile. So now I have to treat you like a hostile captive. And hostile captives don’t get treated well on my ship. They get strung up, like a carcass in a butcher’s shop. They get questioned at the end of a hot poker. And they leave screaming in agony, or quietly sobbing, broken and torn. Now, does that sound like very much fun to you? No. Me neither. So, should we try again? What’s your name?
BD: Nice to meet you, Sally. My name’s William Donovan. Friends call me Bill.
SG: Nice ship you got here, Bill.
BD: See? Friends already. Thank you. It’s a modest little escort, but it was on-hand to do the work we needed. Where are you from, Sally?
SG: The US.
BD: Can you be a little more specific for me honey?
BD: Now I’ve told you what happens if you don’t cooperate–
SG: Not if you’re going to keep calling me “honey” and “little girl.” It’s Dr. Grissom. And I’m not just gonna sit here and be talked down to just because I’m a woman and you’ve got me locked up.
BD: I… I’m sorry, Doctor. You’re absolutely right. Now please, can you tell me where you’re from?
SG: I’m from all over the country. Grew up on a farm in Iowa, went to school in the Northeast. I’ve been working in Texas for the past few years.
BD: Where in Texas?
BD: [laughs] Wock-a-what?
SG: Wa-xa-ha-chie. Near Dallas.
BD: And what do you do out there in Waxahachie, TX?
SG: I’m a physicist. I’m working on the SSC.
BD: What’s that?
SG: The… The Super-Conducting Super Collider?The big particle accelerator? Biggest in the world, right near Dallas? Isn’t this a military science division?
BD: Who told you that?
SG: That sailor. The one that brought me up here. Whickman.
BD: Good kid. Smart. Sure does talk a lot though. Where’d you go to school, Dr. Grissom?
BD: MIT, as in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology?
SG: I’m not sure how many other MITs there are, but yeah, MIT. Why?
BD: I’m just impressed. I’ve never met a woman with a doctorate from MIT before. Very impressive.
SG: Um… Thank you?
BD: So, Doctor. In your expert opinion, how do you think you ended up on my ship?
SG: I’m not sure. I was working with a machine in my lab. It was supposed to negate the Higgs field localized to a specific–
BD: In English please, Doctor. Not all of us have degrees from MIT.
SG: It cancelled out one of the fundamental forces of the universe. And I kind of… got in the middle of it. So I get why something happened to me, but why I ended up on your ship? I don’t know. Can you tell me any more about what you guys are working on here? Maybe something between the two–
BD: Nice try.
SG: Bill, I–
BD: Listen, Dr. Sally Grissom Iowa, or whoever you are, I’m done playing games here. Who are you working for?
SG: I told you, I work for the SSC.
BD: The SS… C. I see. And how much would they have paid you if you had brought our plans back to Germany?
SG: Germany? What are you talking about?
BD: Doctor, I know for a fact that what we’re doing here is on the bleeding edge of scientific discovery. The stuff we’re doing here, it sounds like something straight out of Astonishing Tales. It’s amazing, it’s powerful… It’s dangerous. And I will see myself burning in hell before I let Adolf and his Kraut goons get his hands on this technology!
SG: [laugh] Adolf? Krauts? What is this, World War Two?
BD: It sure ain’t the Revolution, sweetheart. And we have come a long way since then. Plenty of new ways to keep someone locked up. To keep them in agony. Until we learn every Nazi secret that you’ve got in that pretty little head–
SG: What’s the date?
SG: The date. The date today, please. Before you lock me up and throw away the key, torture me until I’m a bloody goddamn stump rotting away in a cage for the rest of my days, just tell me... What is today’s date?
BD: An odd last request.
SG: Please…. Bill, please.
BD: It’s October 28th. 1943.
SG: ...Oh no.
[[SFX: radio tuning]]
SG: Its official designation is “Project Rainbow” but I’ve only ever heard it called “The Philadelphia Experiment.” An urban legend, or so I thought. The story goes that the military was testing some kind of cloaking device to shield ships from enemy radar. It went back to some of Einstein’s formulas. But when they turned it on, there was a bright flash of light… And then the ship was gone. Some said it had turned invisible, some said it had disappeared all together. In any case, clearly some weird science happening. And so, their weird science plus my weird science equals time travel? I don’t know. I’m still working it out.
Once I had the Director convinced that I wasn’t a spy, they took me back to shore and put me on the next flight out west. The plane was so noisy, I could barely hear myself think, let alone ask any questions about where we were going. When I stepped off the plane, it was like I was slapped in the face with a wall of hot air. The sun was beating down on us from a cloudless blue sky, and the reflection off the desert nearly blinded me, and I just started baking.
I was pushed into a Jeep, and we drove for about another two hours. And as much as I would ask, I couldn’t get a word out of the Director or the driver in that whole time. We just drove. In silence. For two hours. We drove for miles and miles, further into the flat desert. Further away from civilization. For maybe the barest second or two I wondered whether they had decided to drag me out into the middle of nowhere and shoot me after all…
Finally, about ten minutes before we arri–
[[SFX: radio tuning; Sally snoring]]
BD: Here, read this.
SG: OHSHI– you scared the hell out of me!
BD: Fall asleep?
BD: Not much to the scenery, I know. Flat for miles, makes you sleepy. No shame. Not long now. Here, read this.
SG: What is it?
[[SFX: folder flipping pages]]
BD: It’s a highly-classified military profile on your new home.
SG: My new… what do you mean?
BD: We are rapidly approaching the town of Polvo, New Mexico. Population about ██ hundred, ██ square miles. It’s not a town you’ll find on any map. That’s because the US government built it two years ago. Now the purpose of this little town is to provide a think-tank for clever scientists. All run by the Office of Developed Anomalous Resources: ODAR. Here, removed from the rest of the American people, they can be free to think up new ideas for the war effort. Ideas like the machine we were testing today.
SG: So you want me to join your scientist think-tank?
BD: Well, it’s not that simple. You see, this town, the work that’s done here, the people that live here, even the babies that are born here… It’s all classified on a level so deep, barely a handful of men in the entire country know it even exists.
SG: … And that includes me.
SG: So I’m a hostage.
BD: A house to yourself, three squares a day. A town full of people just as smart as you are, and all the new gadgets the US army can buy. If that’s a prison, sign me up.
SG: But I can’t refuse.
BD: No. You can’t.
SG: And how long will I be kept there?
BD: Win the war for us, and then we’ll talk.
[[SFX: radio tuning]]
SG: And that was it. Now I’m trapped here, caged up like a zoo animal. Or one of those little grinder monkeys you see on the street? “Dance, monkey, dance…”
There’s a whole town out here, in the middle of the desert. It seems kind of like what I’ve read about the Manhattan Project, for other discoveries beyond the Bomb. I don’t know what everyone else is working on, but Donovan says he’s particularly hopeful about my work. Which is great, but super creepy the way he says it. He says he’s going to put me in charge of my own project, even get me some staff when he can pull them away from other projects. And I won’t lie, that makes me nervous. I mean, I’ve read books about going into the past, changing small things… I just don’t want to pull anyone away from anything that was going to have an impact on my history.
[[SFX: radio tuning]]
ANTHONY PARTRIDGE (AP): It’s good to see you again, Director Donovan. I didn’t know you were back in town. How did the Rainbow test turn out?
BD: I’m sorry if I’m curt, but I’m a bit busy today.
AP: Uh… all right. What can I do for you, sir?
BD: You’re doing some really good work here, but–
AP: Thank you, we’re getting more precise every day.
BD: And I don’t want to get in the way of your progress–
AP: Well, that’s why you brought us all on, because we’re the best at what we do!
BD: Exactly, but–
AP: And I really appreciate the freedoms you’ve given us here. I know some things need to stay classified and compartmentalized, but I appreciate the chance to collaborate with experts in fields I only barely understand, practically the whole town has a hand in the project–
BD: Anthony. Can I finish?
AP: Yes sir. I’m sorry, it’s just… I know I’m not going to like what you have to tell me. You wouldn’t have brought me in like this if it wasn’t bad news.
BD: We’re cutting funding to the Predictive Algorithms project.
AP: By how much?
BD: It’s being re-classified as a Tier 3 project.
AP: Tier 3?! Director Donovan, sir, I know we’re taking a bit longer than our original estimates, but… We’re a Tier 1 project. Hell, we are the Tier 1 Project! This is the cornerstone of ODAR operations!
BD: I’m sorry. We’re handing off the top tier to something new.
AP: Something new? Something new since last week?
BD: I’m afraid so. I’ll need a list of non-essential personnel on my desk by Wednesday.
AP: Non-essential? You’re not just cutting our funding, you’re firing people too.
BD: Actually, you’re firing them.
AP: You can’t do that. These people signed a contract with the United States government that they’d be employed here until the end of the war. We’ve been working on this for an entire year!
BD: The terms of the agreement have changed. Contracts can be terminated. Think of it as sending troops home early.
AP: They’ll have to move again. Find new jobs. What are they supposed to put on their resume? Worked 1941-1943 at the Organization Too Secret to Know, don’t tell anybody?
BD: We’ll make sure they can get any job they might want. Honestly, Anthony, they probably don’t even need our help. Your boys are the best of the best. And they’ll land on their feet. But we will charge them for treason, espionage and conspiracy to murder bald eagles if they talk to anyone. Just as we would now.
AP: What in God’s name did you find in Philadelphia that could justify this?
BD: A new researcher brought us a new project.
AP: Oh, and he’s replacing me?
BD: She’s replacing you.
AP: I’m being ousted by a woman? Are you kidding me?!
BD: She gave us the answer.
AP: What are you talking about?
BD: What she’s made… It will end the war. And it will end every other war before they even happen.
AP: That’s what you said about Predictive Algorithms!
BD: I was wrong! Anthony, what you have is an idea. What I have now is a fact. Reality. Something I can hold in my hand, something I can point to and say, “this is the answer to all our problems!” Every threat that our country will ever face. All you can give me is possibilities.
AP: ...But you’re not scrapping the project entirely.
BD: Never have a plan without a backup plan. Prepare for every eventuality. Isn’t that what you’re going to help us do?
[[SFX: radio tuning]]
SG: –be all bad. And I really do want to figure out how I got here. More than anything. Maybe figure out how to get home. I just wish I had some kind of choice. As long as this project is a secret, he’ll keep who I am a secret, at all costs. Which means I’ve got to keep who I am a secret, too.
Which… I guess, might be okay? In the end, I’m always going to do the work. And Donovan’s resources seem like the best way to do it. There’s just so much more to the universe than I ever understood before. And I can’t wait to figure it all out. So as long as this experiment is running, let’s treat it like one.
Ahem… Subject one: Sally Virginia Grissom. Age 27, born February 19, 19█ in Adams County, Iowa. Graduated 20█ with a Doctorate in Theoretical Physics from MIT. Resident physicist SSC for two years.
█ years after this recording is made, an unknown spacetime anomaly occurs involving a Higgs inhibitor array and a cloaking device known as Project Rainbow. Consequently, subject appears on the deck of the USS Eldridge on the afternoon of October 28th, 1943 with nothing but the machine itself, one wallet, one cell phone (fried by the trip), and a one-kilogram platinum tube. Subject is the universe’s first time traveller.
...No, that sounds too melodramatic. Besides, I don’t think I can really call anything “first” again. So, let me start over.
My name is Sally Grissom, and I think I accidentally invented time travel.
...This is stupid, wow. Hold on. This is really dumb. I hate all of this. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to live in some secret town in the middle of the desert. I don’t want to live in the 1940s, I just want to go home. I want to worry that I left the oven on. I want to get stuck in traffic. I want to stand paralyzed in the grocery store aisle, unable to tell the difference between Cheerios and the generic brand. I want my life back. And I want to charge my goddamn phone!
But the rub of it is, I’m not even sure I can get home. Not unless I take the long way. Just in case anyone from my time finds this, and you’re wondering where I’ve gone... This is where I am. If you’re looking, I’m not saying don’t try to find me, but I will say that the odds are against you. And I hope you won’t mind if I take a crack at getting home myself.
I’m a smart girl. I’ll figure it out.
[[SFX: tape recorder stops]]
ars PARADOXICA is created by Daniel Manning and Mischa Stanton.
Episode 01: Hypothesis features –
Kristen DiMercurio (Sally Grissom)
Reyn Beeler (Chet Whickman)
Rob Slotnick (Bill Donovan)
Robin Gabrielli (Anthony Partridge)
with special thanks to Isabel Atkinson
Original music by Mischa Stanton.
ars PARADOXICA is brought to you by The Internet: Everything you could ever want to find… And some things you don’t!
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