15: Butterfly

written by Daniel Manning & Mischa Stanton
produced by Mischa Stanton

[[SFX: tape recorder starts]]

SALLY GRISSOM (SG): Diary of Sally Grissom. November 18, 1949. First diary on the new recorder. I haven’t really talked to anyone except this diary since... since a while. Uh… Still can’t bring myself to, um, to step outside. I don’t... I don’t want to mess anything up. Again.

Sometimes I think the universe has it out for me, y’know? It’s like the past pushes back at me because it’s angry at all the stuff I’ve done since I left my proper place in time. I think of all the things that have gone wrong, and how everything that gets thrown back in my face. Then I remember that the past can’t push back and instead, the grand dumpster fire of life and the tragedy of physics just more or less suck! At least the universe doesn’t give a shit about me!

God, even when I think I can finally do things for the right reasons it all goes to hell! I try to do some good, to bring a little right to world with so much wrong and I...

It wasn’t just Sharma. I mean, who knows where Partridge or Barlowe or Wyatt or Whickman, or any of them would be, how much better off they might have been without me. Wow, am I this much of a downer in public? Jeez.

Roberts has been to see me a couple of times. Despite what I’ve said about her, despite whatever Esther­-genda she may have, it is nice when she checks in on me. But lately she’s been on me to see this doctor, some psychologist she’s had on file. And I know. I know that mental health is serious business, I know seeking help is nothing to be ashamed of, and yeah okay maybe I’m a little... frayed at the edges. But I can’t, I just can’t take the responsibility of touching another person’s life. I can’t keep throwing stones in the pond when all the ripples turn into tidal waves! I have to do everything I can, from here on out, to contain my effect. To minimize the damage. To not rope anyone new into my world.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

MAGGIE ELBOURNE (ME): This is Maggie Elbourne, I am a research assistant to Dr. Aldous Carling. And these are my notes on the new behavioral analysis report commissioned by the US Office of Developed Anomalous Resources. I’ve been instructed to record detailed notes about the study as well as my own thoughts on the process. So, here is Tape 1: Description and Background.

ODAR has commissioned us to design and run a series of tests to examine the effect of a new piece of... equipment, on the human psyche. This machine, codenamed Timepiece, I... Even now I hesitate to put my full faith in the documentation, but I suppose I must if we’re to get anything done. They have sent along the pieces of a machine which, when activated, will transport objects backwards in time. I expressed my disbelief to Dr. Carling that such a thing was even possible. I would rather be stuffed back into Records & Archives than have my time wasted on a fool’s errand. However, Dr. Carling reassures me that this machine does indeed do what it says on the tin. And I can’t very well design an experiment around this machine without first accepting its premise as truth. So I shall.

I should state again that this study was commissioned by a government agency, for the purposes of examining the efficacy of this machine for use during wartime. I wish that... That this were not the case. But science is the sails, not the rudder, and I can only research what I’ve been asked to research. At least... For now.

The agency’s documentation refers to, and here I quote, “adverse effects on the mental state of the operator over prolonged or heavy use.” And it is here that I begin. I must observe these adverse effects if I am to present a detailed report.

[[SFX: radio tuning; writing; stands, opens door; “Primavera”]]

SG: No, I should just go–

DR. FITZGERALD (DR.F): Miss Sally Grissom?

SG: Doctor–ah, dammit...

DR.F: Of course, excuse me Dr. Grissom. I’m Dr. Fitzgerald. Come in.

SG: Actually, Dr. Fitzgerald, I was just thinking that.... I didn’t need to see you anyway.

DR.F: Sally, We are often unaware of how much help we truly need until it’s offered...

SG: No no. I’ve said too much already. I shouldn’t even be here, I’m sure–

DR.F: Sally. You’re already in my office. You have an appointment. I’ve got nothing but time for you.

[[SFX: Sally enters the office]]

SG: You’ve got no idea how right you are, Doc.

DR.F: What do you mean by that?

SG: ...I don’t want to talk about it. I’m sorry I brought it up.

DR.F: Okay. That’s fine. We can talk about whatever you like. Is it alright if I call you Sally?

SG: I guess so.

DR.F: Sally, what brought you in to see me today?

SG: Well, um... I...

DR.F: Take a moment to compose your thoughts.

SG: ...I’ve been afraid to leave my house lately. Or rather, my house and front porch and driveway up to the mailbox...

DR.F: And yet, here you are.

SG: know. I know! Here I am. This is the first day in... A while. Days.

DR.F: How many?

SG: I’m not really sure–

DR.F: Sally. I appreciate that you’ve got your own secrets. Things you’re not willing to share with me. Why would you? We’ve only just met. But if you’re going to lie to me, then this is not going to work. Remember, all of this stays strictly between us.

SG: ...Three weeks.

DR.F: That is... that is quite a while. What changed your mind today?

SG: Roberts threatened to stop bringing me groceries.

DR.F: I remember speaking with Ms. Roberts. She’s... very thorough. Do you think she would do it?

SG: Yeah. Yeah I do. Roberts is sweet, but she’s... Got a cold streak.

DR.F: I believe you.

SG: And truth be told, I can be a little stubborn.

DR.F: You wouldn’t be the first person to hesitate pursuing psychotherapy.

SG: Yeah, but at least I’ll admit that I could use some help. So I’m here. But I wish I wasn’t.

DR.F: Why is that?

SG: I wish I wasn’t taking your time. Displacing your time.

DR.F: That’s called “scheduling.”

SG: No. I’m not making myself clear. What would you be doing right now, if I hadn’t made my appointment for today?

DR.F: Well, I imagine I’d be working on my notes for other patients here at my desk.

SG: Okay. So you would’ve gotten notes taken care of, and your day would have ended an hour earlier. Say, 6 instead of 7.

DR.F: That’s alright Sally, I’ve got plenty of time–

SG: You’d get out of work at 6, then you get home around 6:20, cook yourself some dinner. The heat rising from your stove mixes with the air and creates a thermal pocket. A hawk flying over your house catches the thermal pocket and rides it up over the treetops and sees its own dinner, a field mouse. Hawk hunts the mouse, mouse is dead. Hawk is eating dinner, you’re eating dinner. Everything’s nice. But: you’re here with me. Your notes take you an extra hour. You won’t cook dinner until 7:20. The hawk misses the thermal, the mouse survives to run inside a house, some gingham-­clad white-­picket housewife jumps up on the table, slips and breaks her neck. Bang, my presence in your office has killed another innocent person!

DR.F: ...Another?

SG: I’ve already got enough blood on my hands. Enough for a lifetime. I don’t need any more.

DR.F: ...I’d like to revisit the blood thing later, but I’d like to ask you a question. What if during my late drive home, I run over the same mouse with my car?

SG: Huh?

DR.F: Maybe, if I go home earlier, a truck that runs a red light hits me on the highway. What if the hawk’s full belly further devastates the mouse population here? What if that housewife was just he worst, and deserved a quick death?

SG: [chuckle] She would have to really deserve it...

DR.F: What I’m saying, Sally, is that there is much that’s out of your control here. You didn’t just appear in the world today, out of the blue. You’ve affected the people around you throughout your entire life. You can’t control everything, and you shouldn’t let yourself worry about what you can’t control.

SG: Hah! You know what happened to the last person who said that to me? He ended up locked in a CAGE for the rest of his life.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

ME: Maggie Elbourne, experiment #1. December 14, 1949. I have with me here my first subject, Kronos. Say hi, Kronos.

[[SFX: mouse in cage]]

ME: To begin, I have conditioned Kronos’s behavior over the past week to press a button when he is hungry. Over the week he has simply received food when the button is pressed. Today, I will be modifying the mechanism. Instead of releasing food, the button will now start a timer, set for 1 hour. Once the countdown reaches zero, the Timepiece will activate and emit radiation back through time, as I understand it, with a unique radiation signature. I have rigged up a sensor to the food release, and the food will be released only when it receives the signature. The intent is to create a version of events where Kronos is not fed and remains hungry, and a rewritten version of events, wherein by the estimation of our little pioneer here, all will proceed as usual. Hopefully this is enough to induce the adverse effects of time travel, and then I can proceed from there.

[[SFX: mouse in cage]]

ME: Come on, it’s been nearly an hour by now. Is this thing even worki–

[[SFX: Timepiece activates; radio tuning]]

ME: Experiment results. After 1 week of button-­activated Timepiece activity, Kronos seems no worse for wear. His mood is stable, he remains full of energy. His weight is the same. By all accounts, Kronos is as healthy as when he came in. I conclude that it takes more than a simple change in one’s temporal environment to induce ill effects. Now with the basics out of the way, I’ll have to try a different tactic.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

DR.F: How was your week, Sally?

SG: It was okay. I guess.

DR.F: Did you do what we talked about?

SG: Yeah. I did.

DR.F: And?

SG: It kinda... backfired.

DR.F: What do you mean?

SG: Well, I was trying to get out and talk to people, like you said. Just ordinary conversation. Listen to people. Learn about their lives, see that people could interact with me and not get... derailed. But I went to buy groceries, and the cashier... Well, he was one of my Callers.

DR.F: Hm. And how was your interaction?

SG: He said he phoned me, and missed hearing my voice.

DR.F: And how did you feel about that? Meeting with an ex-­boyfriend can be very stressful.

SG: ...What?

DR.F: Well, you said that he was one of your gentleman callers...

SG: Oh, hah, no no no. I don’t really go in for that sort of thing.

DR.F: You don’t go in for what, love? Or romantic relationships?

SG: That’s never really been my scene.

DR.F: Sally, we all deserve–

SG: I’m gonna stop you right there, Doc. I’m perfectly happy without somebody in my life. I’m not “incomplete” just because I don’t feel like having a man telling me what to do. He wasn’t a “gentleman caller.”

DR.F: Then what did you mean?

SG: Up until a few weeks ago I had this machine, the Answertron,. I recorded messages for me whenever I couldn’t come to the phone. And it was this novelty in town. People would call my house just to hear it. Apparently this cashier was one of those guys.

DR.F: Okay. So he used to call your Answermajig–

SG: Answertron. Yeah. During the coma, I guess he used to call it a bunch. He met his wife when he overheard her talking about it. While I was out in the coma, they got hitched.

DR.F: ...Oh.

SG: Yep. I guess I... introduced them, in a way. They’d have never met if I wasn’t here, in the...

DR.F: In the past?

SG: ...Roberts told you.

DR.F: She considered that the last time you saw a psychologist who didn’t know about your, ah, “unique position,” that he ended up trying to have you committed. I was waiting for you to tell me on your own. I hope you don’t mind.

SG: It’s my burden. I’ve been here six years now. I’ve mostly gotten used to it. How do you feel about it?

DR.F: I’ll admit, I thought that either she was delusional, or you were. But our mutual friend was able to back up your story, so either you are, or this is an episode of The Candid Microphone and I’d like it very much if Mr. Funt would reveal himself.

SG: If this is an elaborate hoax, that’s news to me and also quite possibly the worst thing anybody’s ever done to me. I must be an oddity among your patients, huh?

DR.F: Actually, Sally, what you’re going through seems highly relatable. You’ve been exiled from your homeland–

SG: Point­-of-­Exiled–

DR.F: –And you’re cut off from your culture, from seeing your old friends and family. Your language is different, your ideals and values are alien to us. You might have a more complicated history than a foreigner you may pass on the street, but it’s no less a familiar narrative.

SG: So you’re saying I’m boring?

DR.F: I don’t know. Perhaps you could tell me the story of how you came to be here in the past?

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

ME: Maggie Elbourne, experiment #2, January 3, 1950. With me today is my latest subject Hermes. Hermes has been trained to run this maze. At the center of the maze is a button, which will activate the Timepiece. The Timepiece is set to send radiation back 15 minutes from the time the button is pressed. Once the sensor detects this, synchronized of course to the specific radiation signature, it will open the cage door and Hermes will begin to run the maze. In the control testing, Hermes’ average maze time was down to 2 minutes and seven seconds.

This experiment will track Hermes’s maze completion time when exposed to minor fluctuations in personal history, namely the variable gate time of the maze. The Timepiece’s fixed transmission interval will allow me to record the maze completion time no matter what iteration of the test is being run, as I myself will not be able to distinguish between the iterations. These experiments sure do get complicated quickly.

I will instigate a manual release of the time­gate at 4:30 PM.

[[SFX: tape fast-­forward; stopwatch ticking]]

ME: Okay, it’s almost time... T-­minus 5...4...3...2...1...

[[SFX: buzzer]]

ME: 4:30 mark. And there he goes!

[[SFX: radio tuning; buzzer]]

ME: Oh, and he’s off! Mark gate time at 4:17 and 10 seconds. That’s 2 minutes 10 seconds for the first run.

[[SFX: radio tuning; buzzer]]

ME: Oh, and there he goes! Mark gate time at 4:04 and 28 seconds. That makes this the second run, average 2 minutes 14 seconds.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

ME: –Third run, average 2 minutes 21 seconds–

[[SFX: radio tuning; static distortion]]

ME: –Fourth run I think?Average... 2 minutes 30 seconds.

[[SFX: radio tuning; static distortion]]

ME: –Would be the fifth run... He’s... Hmm. Hermes seems to bumping into the walls quite a lot. He…

[[SFX: Hermes bumps into walls]]

ME: Oh my, that was rather hard, I... Oh Hermes!

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

ME: That makes this the fifth run, and... No, it can’t be five, with only a 5-­minutes gain? He can’t have solved the maze 5 times in less than 5 minutes...This must be... Oh my, Hermes!

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

ME: Oh, and there he goes! Mark gate time at 3:13 and 25 seconds. That makes this the... Hermes? He... He’s not moving...

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

ME: Experiment results. By my calculations, Hermes was able to run the maze seven times before becoming incapacitated, with an average run time of 4 minutes and 3 seconds. Even this average is well beyond the control data, and I have to assume that the decay became worse over time– that is, each iteration of the maze run, until Hermes became overwhelmed. Well, I’m looking for tangible results of the adverse effects of the Timepiece... I suppose finding Hermes dead at the starting line is exactly what I asked for.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: –And he looks at his hand, and it’s like, slowly fading away? And nobody gets what he’s playing, except the guitar player who calls up his cousin Chuck, and he’s Chuck Berry, and you–

DR.F: Sally, Sally, I know how important movies are to you, but do you think you could answer my question?

SG: Which was?

DR.F: Why do you think your presence in the past has made the world objectively worse?

SG: What even is “worse,” anyway? Listen, an optimist hopes this is the best of all possible worlds. A pessimist knows it is. And as much as I try to op that my time machine will make the world a better place, I no that it’s brought nothing but pain to anybody. Including me! Especially me!

DR.F: You said “your” time machine. Do you still feel ownership over the Timepiece?

SG: Of course I do! All of this happened because of me. I built the damn thing in 20█, and then built it again in 1945. I pored over obscure orbital mechanics equations for hou– ...oh my god!

DR.F: What?

SG: When I was building the Timepiece I never factored in the expansion of the universe!

DR.F: I don’t know what you mean… You made a mistake building the Timepiece?

SG: Yes! Of course! How did I not catch that? How did Roberts not catch that? Wow, I... I can’t believe it worked anyway. Sorry, got distracted. Where was I?

DR.F: You were talking about feeling like the Timepiece is yours. Does it feel like a burden to you?

SG: So many people have gotten hurt because of me. Some of them died. Bill Donovan would be alive today if it weren’t for me. So yeah, it feels like a burden.

DR.F: From what you’ve said, it seems like the conflict between Bill and Anthony had nothing to do with you. They worked together before you came here. Is it possible that similar events could have happened without you?

SG: Yes, but I made it worse. My presence might not cause harm, but it certainly catalyzes it. [[SFX: radio tuning]]

ME: Maggie Elbourne, Timepiece experiment #3, February 8, 1950. With full proof that time travel has a nonzero effect on the behavior of mice, I have struggled to design an experiment that will allow me to further explore the cause and effect (if it can be so called) of the symptoms without causing harm to an astounding number of lab mice. I am... Uncomfortable with hurting a living thing if it can be avoided. I have raised my concerns to Dr. Carling, but he seemed unperturbed. He “advised” me to continue the work. He told me very succinctly that I won’t get anywhere in this world if I’m not willing to get my hands a little dirty. Believe me, Dr. Carling, the veiled threat did not go unnoticed.

I don’t know if he expects me not to talk about this on the record. But I don’t scare that easily. So, for whatever authority to whom this is reported: If I do not continue on with these experiments, my career will be buried. I don’t know if anyone listening to this cares much about that. But I won’t roll over and be told to abandon my life’s work. And so... I hope that serves as justification for what I am about to do.

This experiment was instituted in three phases, on 3 subject mice: Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, the three Fates, as well as 3 partner mice.

Phase 1: I trained each of the mice to receive food after pressing a button.

Phase 2: For each subject mouse, a partner was introduced in an adjoining cage. The button placed in the partner cage would reward the partner with food, but the subject mice would receive a small electric shock.

And now, during Phase 3, I’m going to remove the partner mice and replace them with future versions of the subjects, sent back in time. I plan to observe the behavior of these new subject mice, the “Second Fates,” when they see their past selves receiving the shocks that they remember receiving.

[[SFX: Timepiece spooling up; handling rat in cage]]

ME: Okay girls, here we go...

[[SFX: Timepiece activates; radio tuning]]

ME: Maggie Elbourne, Timepiece experiment #3, February 1, 1950. I’m beginning Phase 2 today. I’m about to introduce the partner mice into their cages... The shock mechanism has been tested, and I... I don’t like it but–

Oh. There’s... There are already mice in these cages. This is I suppose, Phase 3.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

ME: Phase 3 results. Subject Clotho spent this week as she spent her first week: pressing the button and receiving food, thereby shocking the younger Clotho. She seemed very indifferent to the pain of her past self, but whether this was inherent to Clotho’s personality or was induced from the time displacement is hard to tell.

Subject Lachesis definitely recognized her past self. She actually refused to press her button, despite starving herself. There were moments when she would look outside the cage, as though... As though she were pleading for help. However, she has successfully changed her own experience: the younger Lachesis has now never received any shocks. I wonder if, when I send them back this time, she will still know not to press the button. She may well have saved herself.

But Subject Atropos... True to her name. I believe she also was able to recognize the button’s effect on her past self. Rather than stop pressing her button, however... Atropos began to press her button rapidly, ignoring the food she received in favor of pressing it over, and over, and over. I had to disconnect the cage’s button mechanism. She would have... But I need to keep the integrity of the experiment, so I couldn’t let it get that far. Suffice it to say, I think Atropos will continue to remember the button’s effects. I know I will.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: Thanks for seeing me on such short notice.

DR.F: Of course, Sally. Is everything alright?

SG: Yeah, I’ve just been... It’s hard to sleep.

DR.F: How long have you been having trouble sleeping?

SG: The past week. Um, two weeks…. Month... The entire time I’ve been seeing you... Since Sharma.

DR.F: Why haven’t you said anything about this before? You were forthcoming about your agoraphobia!

SG: I thought I could handle it on my own. I’m no stranger to sleepless nights. But in seven days I have gotten nine hours of sleep, and I can’t keep going like this.

DR.F: Do you know what’s keeping you awake?

SG: What do you think? Has anyone ever died in front of you before?

DR.F: No, and certainly not in such a violent manner as Mr. Sharma–

SG: Dr. Sharma. I watched as he was brutally gunned down in cold blood by one of my dearest friends. I felt the last gasps of life choke out of him.

DR.F: That must deeply distressing. What happens when you try to sleep?

SG: I don’t know, what do you think happens? I don’t sleep. I just... Can you give me like some Ambien or something? Wait, I don’t think you don’t have Ambien. Heh, do you have quaaludes? Are quaaludes a thing? Can I hit you up for some ‘ludes?

DR.F: I don’t prescribe medication, Sally. I try to help you understand for yourself why you have trouble sleeping. Maybe give you some techniques to try.

SG: No but I don’t wanna make myself sleep, I need something to hit me over the head so I don’t have a choice in the matter. Like, do you have NyQuil? I could do NyQuil.

DR.F: How much sleeping medication do they have in your time?

SG: There’s a lot. If you was from where I was from, you’d wanna be asleep too.

DR.F: Are you saying that you don’t “want” to sleep despite knowing that you have to?

SG: I mean, I an to sleep. I don’t know. But the idea of being asleep... I just don’t want to go away again.

DR.F: What do you mean by “going away?”

SG: I know it’s dumb, but since I woke up from my coma I feel like I’m going to miss things.

DR.F: That isn’t dumb. It’s perfectly normal to fear that a traumatic event will recur.

SG: When I was gone, I missed so much. Every time I close my eyes I wonder if I’ll wake up again.

DR.F: I understand that anxiety. A recurring theme of our sessions is a feeling that you’ve been wronged by time itself. Sleep must feel like you’re being robbed.

SG: Okay, it’s crazy, I’m crazy, I know, but... I’m constantly afraid of what will pass me by.

DR.F: Again, Sally, while your existence is certainly atypical, your hopes and fears are shared by many other people. You’re not crazy.

[[SFX: radio tuning; static distortion; mouse in cage]]

ME: This is Maggie Elbourne. It’s been 4 months since I began this rather appalling course of study. In that time I have littered my workspace with mice driven dead or mad by what I’ve done to them. I have now repeatedly requested that Dr. Carling hand the project over to another researcher. He has refused me, each time.

And he knows. He knows I’ll do whatever he hands me, because I can’t afford to lose my position here. Because if I refuse to do what he tells me he’ll blacklist me, and I’ll never work in a laboratory ever again.

So. Now that you know why I can’t stop these abominable experiments. We move on to number 4. Today we... Jesus, I hesitate to even give them names I just…

Today I have two subjects: The Mother and... and the Child.

The plan is to let the mother raise the child in isolation until the child is mature, about one month. Then I’ll send the child back, so that the mature Child will exist while the immature Child is reared. Based on Atropos’ reaction to her past self, I hope that when the two Children are housed in the same cage together, that the older do everything in its power to protect the younger. I hope.

I plan to send the mature Child mouse to March 3, 1950 at precisely 11am. Three, two, one, mark.

The Child has not appeared, which makes this Iteration 1.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

ME: Three, two, one, mark. And... There he is. He seems calm enough for the moment... What...

[[SFX: static distortion; mice in distress]]

ME: No no no, don’t!

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: I just can’t believe he... he didn’t tell me!

DR.F: That Whickman didn’t tell you why he killed Dr. Sharma?

SG: He came in with his... goons and look, I know he was kind of a traitor or something and I know that he’s got like, other spymaster things to do or whatever but I’m not other people! It’s me, Sally! Everyone-­loves­-her­-cause­-she-­loves­-science-­and­-talks-­weird Sally! I shouldn’t be out of the loop like this. I just... I thought I had control in my life. For about 45 seconds I had done a Thing and it was a Success and then Nikhil Sharma had to fall out of the future and bring a mountain of questions with him. Questions that’ll never get answered. Questions that’ll bother me forever.

DR.F: Questions don’t always matter, Sally. Real life is not a radio serial. Things aren’t always tied up in neat little bows! I understand that you’ve been through a lot these past few months, but this kind of obsession is unhealthy. And I think you know that.

SG: You don’t know the half of what I’m talking about! I dedicated my life to knowledge, to the Timepiece. You couldn’t begin to understand the cosmically inscrutable bullshit that I have to live with every goddamn day!

DR.F: You on’ live with it, Sally! You’re not a part of it anymore. I don’t know how forgiving Mr. Whickman is, but it seems like you seriously breached his trust. Have you thought about the stress he might be feeling? If your friends are who they say they are, then they’re having to make immensely stressful choices with no right answer on a day-­to-­day basis, and you’re running around saying it’s unfair that you’re not part of the club anymore!

SG: I know it must be hard, but they need me. I know as much. And I need them. But this got­damn year-and-a-half of distance keeps holding me back. Doesn’t matter with Partridge. Hell, he’ll always be a voicemail away. But it was because of some damn accident that I still don’t know anything about. Who knows? Maybe it was my fault! Maybe I delved too greedy, too deep and I paid the price! Honestly, that kind of does sound like me.

DR.F: Do you not see a pattern? I don’t necessarily think you had anything to do with what happened to you, but your compulsion to know has taken you down dark roads. I know the kind of person you are, Sally, so I know this must be difficult to hear, but it might be time for you to move onto something simpler. Have you tried gardening?

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

ME: To whomever it may concern, this is Maggie Elbourne. Former research assistant to Dr. Aldous Carling. Under his coercion, and commissioned by the US Office of Developed Anomalous Resources, I recently performed a series of experiments concerning time travel and its effect on the behavior of several mice. The effects ranged from minimal to severe to... Extreme. Very few of the test subjects survived.

Throughout the process I became increasingly uncomfortable with the amount of violence the experiments seem to incur. Unsatisfied with the results of these experiments, and utterly refusing to heed the advice of the very researcher andpicke for the assignment, Dr. Aldous Carling–that’s C-A-R-L-I-N-G–threatened my career and my livelihood in the scientific community if I did not continue to obey orders. And so I continued, until I was witness to some... Truly horrifying... I’m going to make myself sick to even remember it. Confusion. Violent behavior. Suicide. So much blood...

And then Dr. Carling brought me one last experiment. Up until that point I’d at least been given the freedom to design my own experiments. To try to minimize any harm! But this one... They wanted me to take 12 mice and create time­-duplicates. A massive amount of them. Copies upon copies, all living together in a massive colony. They included a colony design in the materials, and it... It was a prison. A prison for mice to reverberate off of their duplicate selves, until they no doubt tore themselves apart. No colony designed in such a way could ever be sustainable.

It was too much. I... I ran. I could not in good conscience stand by and allow such havok. And that was just on the mice! Can you imagine if they’d actually let people operate this thing?

[[SFX: ???]]

ME: I left behind my notes, but I managed to sneak out Pandora. Say hello, Pandora.

[[SFX: mouse in cage]]

ME: I hope that when whoever finds this, they’ll have believed me. Have… [cough cough]

[[SFX: static distortion]]

ME: Hope they’ll believe me. As for what lays ahead of me... I don’t care. As long as I can leave that callous world behind me.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

DR.F: (on tape) Have you tried gardening?

SG: (on tape) [sigh] You might be right. Maybe I have been going too hard on myself. Maybe Sharma was a sign that I’m not cut out for this work. I think... I think I’m going to try to have a life. Outside ODAR. Outside this nonsense.

[[SFX: tape stops]]

HC: Glad you finally started reading my playbook, Esther. Did you take notes on the chapter marked “disrespecting doctor­-patient confidentiality?”

ER: I’m not even going to dignify that with a response, Hank.

HC: [laughs] So what’s the word from the shrink’s mouth?

ER: She’s not stable. Everything she’s been through is having a profound effect on the way she interacts with people. But whether or not we can attribute it to the effects of paradox exposure—

HC: —Or whether she’s just an irresponsible sociopath.

ER: —We don’t know why she’s unstable.

HC: Isn’t that why you commissioned that study? What’s her name, Elbourne? Where does that one go: animal trials or human ones?

ER: I’m keeping an eye on her as well. Aside from Dr. Elbourne’s... “outburst,” she’s not significantly worse for wear. It seems delegating exposure to the logical Gordian knots goes pretty far in diminishing the symptoms.

HC: She seemed like a bleeding heart to me, I’m not even sure quitting the project was so out of character for the Rat Queen.

ER: They were mice. And you can’t handle one loose end?

HC: Don’t start, Roberts. I wouldn’t be running around giving classified information to such unstable elements were it my call. Stop making Sally Grissoms. You and Whickman keep letting your personal life make the big decisions.

ER: Do we really need to have this discussion again?

HC: What will it take to convince you she’s a liability? She’s put our operation in jeopardy before. And then she brought a wolf into the henhouse. They said Sharma told her they were going to “democratize” time travel! She had no idea what he was really trying to do.

ER: I understand. You think I can’t see it Hank, but I do. We need her, she’s still the best expert on anchor field physics we’ll ever see, but she’s too unstable to be of use to us like this.

HC: So?

ER: So... look at my results from the Elbourne study. Distancing herself can help stabilize Sally. Give her some time to get her mind right. Let her start a farm or something, and retire. Let her find the most fulfilling life she can without us. And eventually... Boredom and curiosity will drive her back. Ready and willing.

HC: ...That’s a little dark for you.

ER: Maybe. Maybe not.

[[SFX: tape recorder stops]]


ars PARADOXICA is created by Daniel Manning and Mischa Stanton.
Episode 15: Butterfly features – 

Kristen DiMercurio (Sally Grissom)
Katie Speed (Esther Roberts)
Dan Anderson (Hank Cornish)

Lauren Shippen (Maggie Elbourne)
Richard Penner (Dr. Fitzgerald)
with special thanks to Isabel Atkinson

Production help from Danielle Shemaiah and Andy Goddard. Original music by Mischa Stanton and by Eno Freedman-Brodmann.
ars PARADOXICA is brought to you by The Internet: A universe inside the universe.

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