26: Grip

written by Eli Barraza
directed & produced by Mischa Stanton

[[SFX: tape recorder starts; Sally and Petra climb a radio tower]]

SALLY GRISSOM (SG): And we haven’t fully explored the possibility that you might be the mole. You and your sister are wild cards, like the creepy twins in the Shining.

PETRA MARQUEZ (PM): UGH, shut up! Just... if I could tell my younger self that I’d side with June Barlowe and tell Sally Grissom repeatedly to shut the fu–

[[SFX: something on the tower breaks; Sally swings free]]

SG: Petra! Shit shit. Petra, I’m slipping!

[[SFX: Petra scrambles down to Sally]]

PM: Hold on.

SG: That’s kind of what I’m trying to do and you are taking too long.

[[SFX: Petra stops]]

PM: ...I could just let you fall, you know.

SG: What? That’s crazy!

PM: Is it?

SG: You know ODAR would send someone back to save my dumb brain or whatever!

PM: I think you place too much value on yourself, Grissom.

[[SFX: the tower groans; radio tuning; Petra absentmindedly stirs her tea]]

IDA: ...Petra? Petra, hello. Anybody there?

PM: Hm? Oh, sorry, Ida. Drifted off for a second there, huh.

IDA: You seemed like you were a million miles away. Is everything alright?

PM: It’s fine. I mean, it’s not fine. Clearly, if I’m here everything is not fine. I thought it was, but I guess it wasn’t.

IDA: Is this about Dr. Grissom?

PM: Yes.

IDA: Oh... I was rather hoping you had made up.

PM: Me too. We did. At first.

[[SFX: radio tuning; Lou sets down a stack of files]]

SG: Ugh, I feel like these government invoices are giving me Butterfly Syndrome. How do you think they keep track of costs across timelines? Is there some über-accountant who could crunch the timelines to see which vendor would be the cheapest?

LOU GAINES (LG): I wouldn’t put it past the government to take a chance to save a buck.

SG: Quantum physics, I get. God, this is worse than applying for grants.  

BRIDGET CHAMBERS (BC): I wish I could ask Charlotte for help. Or Priscilla. No offense, but they were on the Manhattan Project and this sort of thing… they’d take to a bit better.  

[[SFX: knock on the front door]]

BC: Just a minute.

[[SFX: Bridget exits]]

SG: I hope it’s pizza.

LG: Pizza?

SG: You mere mortals have never known the joys of thirty minutes or less delivery pizza.

[[SFX: front door opens; Petra enters]]

PM: It was only good if the pizza guy didn’t hold the box sideways. Stoners, am I right?

SG: That didn’t actually–

BC: Sorry, she just sort of… came in.

PM: I’m back on board. I thought a lot about what you said and while I am still… unhappy, I recognize that Esther’s impending… due date has affected some more than others and caused said individuals to make inane accusations despite their alleged intelligence and composure.

BC: I stand by what I said, Petra–

PM: Thus, I have decided to bestow my unending reservoir of forgiveness upon this individual for the greater good. But the thing is, we’re a team and we’ve been working like one team member’s strength is everyone’s strength. We’re not all top researchers, Bridget.

BC: You say that like it’s an insult.

LG: I think what Petra is trying to say is that if we’re going to find out who this mole is, we need to utilize everyone’s skills.

SG: Please tell me this means I can stop looking at invoices.

LG: Bridget, what if we went to Charlotte?

PM: Who now?

BC: What? And ask her for advice to hunt down a mole… like she had to help monitor things in Los Alamos, yes! Yes, that could work quite well. Ask her questions, nothing specific of course, just old friends catching up. I do miss New York.

LG: I’ll buy the tickets in the morning and cover my own ground. Divide and conquer!

SG: What did I just witness.

BC: A plan that sure as hell beats invoices.

PM: And while you two are off to the Big Apple?

SG: We... are going to tackle the science!

PM: Science, very specific.

SG: If the Blackroom was compromised, there has to be a logical explanation for it. We’re going to reverse engineer how someone could neutralize the Blackroom.

[[SFX: radio tuning; Ida sips her tea]]

PM: How have you been Ida? Last I saw you, you were all ears but hardly said anything.

IDA: Oh, you know how it goes. Small town, quiet life. That Sally Grissom sure makes it a bit more interesting though. Always people in and out and those gadgets she makes! I’m so fond of them.

PM: I know how Sally is doing, Ida. How are you doing?

IDA: Well, let’s see. I’ve been tending to my garden. Gossiping with the ladies at grocery store. We all like to sneak over to the diner and gab so long as milk’s not on the grocery list. Lotta talk about how the town’s changed. I’ve only seen some of it, you know.

PM: Oh are you not from here?

IDA: Ah, no, no I am not. One of the many transplants. I was looking around one day and thought “Ida, you need a change. You’re gonna pick a point on a map and you’re going to move there and that will be that.” And then I did. Point-of-Exile, I admit I was being a bit melodramatic when I picked it.

PM: We’ve all been there. I used to fake Butter... scotch candies. That I had them when my sister wasn’t paying attention to me. They were her favorite. Well, second favorite but it still worked anyway.

IDA: You and your sister grew up here?

PM: Um, yeah. I guess so. But this isn’t really the same Point-of-Exile I grew up in. Times change, you know?

[[SFX: radio tuning; Chet's office]]

SG: Okay, from the top.

PM: Option one. The soviets broke into the Black Room. Option Two. Anthony is dead. Option Three. The soviets tampered with the Blackroom transmitter. Option Four. The soviets tampered with our receiver.

CHET WHICKMAN (CW): Option five. The soviets are smarter than Sally and figured out an undetectable way to interrupt the signal.

SG: Hey, no comments from the peanut gallery. You’re only here to supervise the handling of top secret material or whatever.

PM: He might have a point.

SG: Don’t take his side!

CW: If the soviets broke into the Blackroom, we would’ve found out far sooner.

PM: They would’ve been there since 1943... in this iteration at least.

SG: Right, so option one is out.

PM: Chet, did ODAR put in some sort of contingency plan for when Anthony died?

CW: As far as I’m aware, we made sure to put in a detector for die-eth-el whatever–

PM: Diethyl disulfide.

CW: Yup.

PM: ...What? They trained us in all sorts of shit.

[[SFX: Petra examines the blueprints]]

PM: This right here, I was wondering what this gizmo was for. Basically when it goes off–

SG: Tachyons get emitted which set off an alarm that’s loud enough to hear basically anywhere, temporally-speaking.

CW: Esther and I have the alarms in our offices. We’d know immediately if he died.

PM: Which brings us to option three, did they tamper with the outgoing messages?

SG: Everything in here says otherwise. The Blackroom was built to be self sufficient, transmitting directly to ODAR without bouncing the signal. If they tampered with the transmitter, it’d be the same scenario as option one.

PM: Which leaves us with them sabotaging the receiver.

CW: I can’t have you poking around the equipment. Schematics was bad enough but–

SG: We’ll go to Philadelphia.

CW: Philadelphia?

SG: I added some of my own… flair to a radio tower there. It’s how I’ve been talking to Partridge. If the mole found out about it and cut me off too, they’d have gone there. That’s where I bounce my signal through.

PM: I smell a road trip!

SG: Yeah, last road trip I went on didn’t exactly go well, Petra.

CW: I’ll book you two tickets. Out of pocket. Just, try not to bring back any saboteurs this time?

PM: Not in the mood to use innocent people as target practice, Chet? You can keep your blood money, I have a friend who can fly us. Mum’s the word with him. Off the books, low profile, yada yada.

SG: Do I even want to ask?

PM: Nope.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

IDA: Is Carmen the only one you get along with, Petra?

PM: I get along with people!

IDA: Petra...

PM: Okay fine, people are… hard sometimes. I get along with you alright so far.

IDA: So far? You’re expecting this to go south?

PM: I don’t have a great track record.

IDA: When your heart is all fire, people fear getting burned. They don’t often realize that it can warm them as well.

PM: I used to have a friend I could talk to but I only saw him every few years and then…

IDA: And then what?

PM: He died. I keep thinking about how I could change that but…

IDA: It’s not your fault, dear. Everyone has their time to go. There's nothing you could have done. I know, emotions tend to disagree with that logic but there’s no use in mourning people forever. It’s not our responsibility to get into the tiny little details, about what we could have done differently.

PM: Ha, sure. I guess you could say that.

IDA: Well what about your sister? Can you talk to her about this?

PM: She’s… not here. She’s seeing the world, that whole thing. We went through some rough times but patched things up before she left. I can’t really blame her leaving. I spent plenty of time traveling myself.

IDA: Studying abroad?

PM: Something like that. But it was… I was hoping... This sounds so stupid, but I was hoping to find a face like mine.

IDA: I’m not sure I follow.

PM: I grew up here but I’m not from here. Like, I don’t really know where I come from. I was hoping that I’d find… I know it’s dumb, I had a really great dad. He was… he liked Arbor Day, and sneaking us music we weren't supposed to listen to. Sometimes he'd just let me sit in his office when I was having a bad day. I'd play with this puzzle until he finished and then he'd walk me back to my room and tuck me in even though I said I was too old for it.

[[SFX: Petra takes a final sip of tea.]]

PM: I miss him but he’s gone now so I thought maybe I could find out where I came from. Before he was my dad, I mean. There wasn’t any helpful paperwork so I kind of just hoped luck would be on my side. Like, do you know where you come from Ida? Your ancestors and all that, I mean.

IDA: I know my parents and grandparents. Beyond that, just the broad strokes I suppose.

PM: See, you can… move forward and you can do that with the love of your ancestors at your back. But me, I move forward with my ancestors by my side but their faces are strangers. Moving in parallel, not knowing the other exists and powerless to help anyway. That’s the way it feels sometimes, I mean. This is stupid, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything, I don’t know what’s getting into me.

IDA: It’s alright dear, you take your time. I’ll put on some more water for tea and you can have a minute. Nothing to feel embarrassed about.

[[SFX: Ida takes Petra's cup to the kitchen; radio tuning; Sally and Petra get into a plane; the door shuts]]

SG: And you trust this guy? With our lives. In the air.

PM: Yep.

SG: Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking.

PM: "Surely you can’t be serious."

SG: "I am serious and don’t call me Shirley."

PM: "What is it Doctor Grissom? What’s going on?"

SG: "I'm not sure. I haven't seen anything like this since the Anita Bryant concert."

PM: ...Yeah, the version I saw doesn’t reference Anita Bryant.

SG: Good, she’s the worst.

PM: You know, only Carmen could out-quote me when it came to Airplane?

SG: Really? She doesn’t seem the type.

PM: Yeah, well, you know us subjects of morally reprehensible human experimentation, we’re full of surprises.

[[SFX: the pilot exits the plane]]

SG: Where’d your guy go?

PM: Probably doing last minute checks and his good luck ritual. Superstitious type.

SG: You’re really making me feel better about this tin can we’re in, Petra.

PM: Relax, it’ll be fine! Let’s talk Philadelphia. We get there, we scale the tower, check for tampering and then make our merry way back?

SG: Yep.

PM: I hope there’ll be trespassing.

SG: I think Chet smoothed things over with them. Just two repairmen checking on things.

PM: "Repairmen." Right. They’re in for a bit of a surprise.

SG: We’re both smooth talkers, we’ll be fine.

PM: You’re many things, Sally, but a smooth talker is not one of them.

SG: Hey, I am great at the smooth talking! I can smooth talk the smoothest talker with my smooth… talks...

PM: Yeah, so I’ve heard. Just like Quentin Barlowe’s eulogy, right? You’ve got a track record for the smooth talks.

SG: That was one time! Anyway he didn’t stay dead. And turned out to be way more interesting than I initially gave him credit for.

[[SFX: the pilot re-enters, flips switches to start the plane]]

SG: Guess we better ixnay on the alktay...

PM: Nah, it’s fine. He’s hard of hearing and as soon as his headset is on, he won’t be able to hear a word we say unless we want him to. Why I like the guy. Discretion is his middle name.

SG: That why he called you Lydia Deetz? I love Winona Ryder.

PM: I haven’t the faintest idea what you’re referring to.

SG: Right.

PM: It was my friend Liam’s favorite movie. He was older than me and made sure me ‘n Carmen knew about all the 80s 90s stuff so we could keep up with the older kids.

SG: Oh.

PM: Yeah, we thought he was cool. Pretty sure Matthias and Fatima made fun of him for hanging out with us younger kids though.

[[SFX: The airplane moves down the runway, preparing for takeoff.]]

SG: I don’t think I’ve ever heard you talk about them.

PM: Don’t get used to it.

SG: Do you base all of your fake identities on things they liked?

PM: Now, why would I go and tell you a thing like that, Sally? Let’s just say that after this, Lydia Deetz is a dead woman.

SG: Petra. Is there anyone you can be… real with? Like, be yourself? Maybe Carmen?

PM: [sigh] Even with her, I’m just a version of myself. All of these versions of me and all of them are true, even the ones I think are lies. I stopped believing in objective truth a long time ago. Now it’s whatever the consensus is.

SG: Worldwide consensus is that time travel doesn’t exist but you and I know otherwise.

PM: Fine. Then it’s about whatever your frame of reference is! Whatever. Girl tries to say one cool thing….

[[SFX: takeoff; radio tuning; a kettle on the stove]]

IDA: We don’t have to talk about the why anymore but if you’d like to talk about the where and the what, I would love to hear about your travels. I thought picking up and moving states was a big deal but you have me beat by quite a ways.

PM: Ida, don’t sell yourself short. What you did is pretty damn commendable.

IDA: Please...

PM: Alright, alright. Well, let’s see. Mexico was easiest to get to off the bat so I hung around there for a while. Tried to find some artists I’d heard about.

IDA: Artists? I mean no offense but you don’t strike me as the type to take to art.

PM: You kidding me? Love it. Especially when it gives the man the bird.

IDA: Petra!

PM: Ah, sorry. I didn’t mean it that, that way. I mean, um, you know when a lady painter does her thing, men be… darned.

IDA: Mmm, did you meet Ms. Kahlo down there?

PM: I was about to then I got embarrassed and kept my distance. I met some people who knew her though. Interesting crowd.

IDA: Would you want to travel again? Meet more… interesting people?

PM: I’m… not sure. Sometimes the idea of starting fresh somewhere sounds so appealing but I’ve started fresh so many times, it’s kind of old hat now.

[[SFX: Petra and Sally ascend the radio station stairs]]

SG: Family business, huh?

PM: What? All of our brothers died so we had to take over and their usual contractor was already busy so they outsourced to us, local people, ties to the community blah blah blah.

SG: You whipped that accent out of nowhere!

PM: Yeah, it’s called being a spy, Sally. Geez. The Philly accent isn’t even that hard.

SG: Hah. Casual.

[[SFX: they reach the roof]]

PM: Hey, we got in, can take as long as we need to check out what might have gone wrong. I don’t see why you’re being so... Huh.

SG: What?

PM: It’s just that it’s… you know. Skyscraper tall.

SG: That’s what I said! Bright side is that this time, we actually have safety equipment. I still can’t believe I scaled this thing last time without any. Huh. I guess I am kind of a badass.

PM: Don’t meet your heroes, they turn out to be self-congratulatory dweebs.

SG: Numbskull.

PM: Poindexter.

SG: Nerd.

PM: Egghead.

SG: Hey, um. Before we possibly climb to our deaths to find out if a foreign power has tampered with a transceiver I illegally installed?

PM: What?

SG: The trial.

PM: What about it.

SG: Did you--

PM: I told the truth, Sally. I answered Hank’s inane questions, truthfully. I’m surprised it took you this long to ask, honestly.

SG: You hate her.

PM: That isn’t… that wasn’t relevant.

SG: You hating Esther wasn’t relevant at the trial?

PM: What do you want me to say? What she did to me, what that iteration of her did to me was relevant. My feelings didn’t matter when it came to the evidence. And right now, that’s what matters. Evidence. There’s evidence that Esther isn’t guilty of what they accused her. We’re looking for it. End of story. Later we can hold her accountable for…

SG: Crimes she hasn’t committed yet? How Minority Report of you.

PM: What’s Minority Report?

SG: Dammit, I keep forgetting you have an expiration date on references.

PM: ...Shut up and climb, Sally.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

IDA: Oh, I've never been the type of person to set down roots. I love the excitement of new places, and always new faces. Wandering the world is the ideal lifestyle for anyone... who isn't too afraid.

PETRA: I’m not afraid of anything! I’m angry, I’m just angry at what they did and I keep trying to convince myself that I’m not but it never works. Every new place, I can forget for just a little while but it never lasts.

IDA: What are you trying to forget? I’m so sorry Petra, I’m trying to follow.

PETRA: No, you’re not trying to follow, Ida. You are following. This whole time, you’ve been trying to get me to talk about my family, about my life, about ODAR. You’re trying to see if you can turn me against them, if I’ll go and work for your people.

IDA: I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about–

PETRA: Don’t play dumb with me, Ida.

IDA: I did want to get to know you, Petra. Like I did want to get to know Dr. Grissom.

 

PM: Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

 

IDA: I see.

PM: Yep.

IDA: I take it you are going to try to bring me in.

PM: Do or do not. There is no try.

[[SFX: A tense silence; the kettle whistles.; Ida flings her tea cup at Petra; she dodges, and it breaks; Petra grabs a knife and thrusts at Ida; Ida pulls a gun from a drawer and cocks it, but Petra knocks it away; Petra tackles Ida into the table, breaking it; they struggle on the ground until Petra restrains Ida]]

PM: You and me, Ida. We’re going to ODAR to have a little chat.

[[SFX: radio tuning; Sally and Petra climb the radio tower]]

SG: [winded] You know... It’s wild that... For two people... Who time-traveled... Against their will... From almost the same era... We don’t... Get along... Better.

PM: Did you want to rest for a second?

SG: I’m fine. I can keep up.

PM: I don’t know why that is to be honest.

SG: Maybe. It’s like. Magnets. Similar polarities.

PM: We’re not the same poles, Sally. And it’s not like I’m…. repulsed by you.

SG: Really? I could have sworn–

PM: I just… I have a hard time abiding by people who choose to look past their friends’ actions like you seem to.

[[SFX: they stop climbing]]

SG: Whoa, hold on. I do not just look past what my friends do. If you think that I’ve just been all smiles and snacking when it comes to what Esther has actually done, you would be sorely mistaken.

PM: Whatever.

SG: And another thing. Hypocrisy. You just look past the possibility that Carmen could be involved. You guys hero-worshiped me, I wouldn’t be surprised if you two found out about my transceiver and Carmen decided to play inter–

PM: Shut up!

[[SFX: they resume]]

SG: And we haven’t fully explored the possibility that you might be the mole. You and your sister are wild cards, like the creepy twins in the Shining. Didn’t you go to Mexico or something for a while? Hang out with Trotsky while you were there?

PM: Your grip on reality is slipping if you think I’d hang out with Trotsky after what he–UGH, shut up! Just... if I could tell my younger self that I’d side with June Barlowe and tell Sally Grissom repeatedly to shut the fu–

[[SFX: something on the tower breaks; Sally swings free]]

SG: Petra! Shit shit. Petra, I’m slipping!

[[SFX: Petra scrambles down to Sally]]

PM: Hold on.

SG: That’s kind of what I’m trying to do and you are taking too long.

[[SFX: Petra stops]]

PM: ...I could just let you fall, you know.

SG: What? That’s crazy!

PM: Is it?

SG: You know ODAR would send someone back to save my dumb brain or whatever!

PM: I think you place too much value on yourself, Grissom.

[[SFX: the tower groans]]

SG: You’re really freaking me out right now!

PM: Promise you and the others will stop looking into Carmen.

SG: You know I can’t–

PM: Then I can’t.

SG: Fine!

[[SFX: Petra grabs Sally and hoists her up; they catch their breaths]]

SG: Were you really just gonna long live the king me there?

PM: I really don’t know. Sorry.

[[SFX: radio tuning; ODAR archives]]

BC: Sally, that’s insane. She’s insane!

SG: No, she isn’t, she’s just hurt that we’d accuse her sister! I think. Look, we were climbing this radio tower, emotions were… heightened...

BC: You are not going to distract me with puns and finger guns at said puns, Sally–

SG: End of the day, we didn’t find any evidence of tampering and I made up an excuse why I couldn’t go with her and I booked a separate plane ride back because it was super awkward.

BC: Where is she now?

SG: Taking the day off I hope.

[[SFX: alarm; Petra enters]]

PM: Sally? Bridget? What’re you guys doing in here?

BC: We’ve been here, what are you doing? What the hell’s going on?

SG: It’s the lockdown alarm. Petra, hurry and get in here. That door’s gonna slam shut any—

PM: Wait wait wait Ida!

[[SFX: door slams shut; tape recorder stops]]


ars PARADOXICA was created by Daniel Manning & Mischa Stanton. Season 3 was also written by Eli Barraza, Julian Mundy, Danielle Shemaiah & Tau Zaman.
Episode 26: Grip features –

Kristen DiMercurio (Sally Grissom)
Lia Peros (Petra)
L. Jeffrey Moore (Lou Gaines)
Preston Allen (Bridget Chambers)
Reyn Beeler (Chet Whickman)
Maxximillian Dafoe (Ida)
with special thanks to Isabel Atkinson

Production help from Alexander Danner. Original music by Mischa Stanton and by Eno Freedman-Brodmann.
ars PARADOXICA is brought to you by The Internet: No no Mom, don't click there.

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