1.10: Recalibrate

VALENCE
SEASON 1, EPISODE 10
“RECALIBRATE”
RELEASE DATE: 07/04/2020

The team shifts focus. It’s time for everyone to reset their mindset.

VALENCE is a serialized fiction podcast meant for adult listeners. You can find more information, including our full cast list and transcripts, at VALENCEpod.com. You can support us on Patreon and get access to inspo images, bonus audio, and more.

This episode of VALENCE is brought to you by Unwell. You can find Unwell right here on your podcatcher, or at https://www.unwellpodcast.com/.

Credits:

Performances by, in order of appearance:

Shoutout to the real Firecreek Coffee in Flagstaff, Arizona. They didn’t pay us or anything. I just really love it and miss it.

Special thanks to:

  • Andrea Klassen
  • Fox Cooper
  • Ian Flower
  • Jimmy Chann
  • Keegan Knoll
  • Liam Belson

TRANSCRIPT

WIL: This episode of VALENCE is brought to you by Unwell, the midwestern gothic audio drama, by Hartlife NFP. I’m a podcast creator, but I’m also a podcast critic, and Unwell was an easy choice for my Best Podcasts of 2019 list for Polygon. Unwell is a gorgeous, strange story about a woman who returns to her Ohio hometown, only to find that things are . . . stranger than she remembers. It’s heavy with themes of memory, community, and history, and the sound design is some of the best I’ve heard, ever. You can find a link to Unwell in our show notes for this episode, and we here at Hug House hope you enjoy. 

VALENCE is a serialized fiction podcast with discussions and depictions of struggles with mental health. You can check our show notes, or the transcripts on VALENCEpod.com for a full list of content warnings and their timestamps. It’s important to take care of yourself — especially here in New Candler.

[[theme music]]

SCENE ONE

Lobby of the building where TEA has its offices. Small, shabby with worn carpet that hasn’t been changed out since the ‘80s.

SARAH: Hey, Liam! You’re here early.

LIAM: Oh, I–I suppose I am. The thought of sitting at home and waiting had me-

SARAH: Antsy?

LIAM: That’s a word for it.

SARAH pushes the button for the elevator–there’s one already at the ground floor. The doors ding open. SARAH and LIAM step inside and SARAH pushes the button for their floor.

ELEVATOR VOICE: Going down.

SARAH: It seems like you’ve been antsy a lot since Luis.

LIAM: You haven’t been?

SARAH: Oh, I definitely have. I just don’t have time to do anything about it. They’ll expect us to go to ground because of this, which pisses me off.

The elevator dings and the doors open. LIAM and SARAH step out and walk the few feet to the TEA offices.

SARAH: I don’t like expectations like that, so I’ve been working overtime to find out everything I can based on what information you all have been able to tell me. I know the priority is stopping Reilley, but . . . I need to know who killed Luis. Don’t you?

LIAM’S INNER VOICE: What if we already know who killed Luis? You have your suspicions. Your father and sister were both at the benefit, they both saw you, they both knew about his connection with you, they’ve both proven themselves comfortable with atrocities. What’s one more dead muse to them?

SARAH: Anyway, that’s how I’ve been keeping myself from sitting and stewing.

They open the door and walk in. GRACE and MAHIRA are already there, MAHIRA clacking away quietly on her laptop and GRACE staring off into space, hands wrapped around a to-go cup of coffee. Neither look like they have slept recently.

MAHIRA: (attempting humor, too tired for it to come across right) You’re late, you two.

LIAM: We’re forty-seven minutes early?

MAHIRA: No–I know, I was jo–never mind. It wasn’t very funny to begin with.

LIAM: . . . oh. I hadn’t–I’m sorry.

GRACE: Yes, well, seeing as we’re all here early, we might as well start now. Since the benefit, we have gained new information regarding Reilley Industries and their labs. We have learned how they are developing their technology. And because we gained this knowledge through channels that were extremely unorthodox and not approved by our supervisors, we can do nothing about it. Until someone can devise a way to explain how we gained this intel while making it seem like we discovered it legally, my hands are tied.

SARAH: (scoffs) Bureaucracy at its finest.

MAHIRA: . . . I hate this. I hate everything about this.

LIAM: What other options are available to us right now? Is there another course of action we could try that might–

MAHIRA: No.

GRACE: No?

MAHIRA: No, I’m tired of living my life as instructed by one face of the government after another. The DOJ, Agent Berkowitz, and now you and TEA. I’m tired of wanting to do good and being told it would be too much paperwork, that it would make somebody higher up uncomfortable, that somebody with more power than me wouldn’t like it. I’m tired of having the tools to do good and being told it’s against regulations. Grace, I’m so. Fucking. Tired.

GRACE: I think it fair to say that the last few days have thrown us all a little off of our usual rhythm–that’s to be expected.

SARAH: Off our rhythm?

GRACE: Yes. And as tragic as this loss is, we can’t afford to devote more time to grieving at the moment.

MAHIRA: . . . Grace, are you hearing yourself?

GRACE: I don’t like it any more than you–

MAHIRA: Listen, this loss affected you too. Luis was important to all of us. Yes, we still have a mission we need to remember, but we can’t just sweep his memory under the rug. We need to make sure we go forward without leaving behind . . .

LIAM: Humanity?

MAHIRA: Exactly. If you treat us like toy soldiers to line up and point at an enemy, then what is even the point of this? What is the point if both sides of this fight forget that we’re still people?

GRACE: I see. Sarah, do you have any thoughts on this?

SARAH: I’m not a muse–I’m not about to try and talk over them when it comes to conversations on how to treat them or what they can and can’t be ok with.

LIAM’S OTHER INNER VOICE: God, I’m glad Flynn found someone like her.

LIAM: Our mission does remain the same. There is still a job that needs to be done. But . . . I’m not sure the way we’ve been doing it will still work. In the weeks to come, we may have to do things that your superiors won’t like, Grace; that’s how making actual progress works, isn’t it? We’ll certainly need to do these things using methods that your superiors won’t like. So if we continue to ask for their permission every step of the way, I am not optimistic about our chances for success. Or survival, frankly. They don’t care about us succeeding. You know that. Only we do.

MAHIRA: Reilley’s people won’t be stopping to ask for permission, or following endless bureaucratic chains of approval. To them, Luis was a warning shot. They want us to leave them alone to do what they have been planning all along.

GRACE: If you’re suggesting we all go rogue–

SARAH: Grace, come on. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve done that. It wouldn’t be the first time you’ve done that.

LIAM: (surprised/interested noise)

SARAH: A few years back, we got nixed from the budget during that back-and-forth about pointless government spending on programs that weren’t in the greater public interest.

LIAM: Then how are we still–oh.

SARAH: Exactly. I am very good at what I do.

GRACE: Be that as it may–

MAHIRA: What? Do you have a better idea? Grace, you started this. You got the ball rolling. I don’t think any of us want to see this to the end without you, but we also can’t keep going the way we have been. Not if we want to accomplish anything real. Luis died trying to save those people–real, living people–who are trapped right now, being tested on, and overlooking that would be monstrous.

A beat as GRACE weighs her options.

GRACE: (sighs) I’m not comfortable with this–

LIAM: But–!

GRACE: But there is nothing that is comfortable about our situation. And I will need to accept that to move forward.

SARAH: Are you saying you’re really considering going against regs? Gonna “go rogue” right alongside us?

GRACE: . . . yes. I have been . . . dissatisfied with being told to wait for men in suits to sign a permission slip. I thought I was making decisions in your best interests, and let them have control over you without knowing what you were getting into. I went along with it because I thought it would keep you all as safe as possible.

LIAM: And now?

GRACE: And now, I see that it played no small part in . . . in all of us choosing not to support Luis. To him, and to all of you, my insistence on following procedures probably felt like indifference. But it was ignorance. And I’m sorry that it took the loss of one of my oldest friends for me to understand.

GRACE takes a long breath out.

GRACE: (More casually) So, I mean, I guess now we lay out our cards and see if we’ve got rummy somewhere. Or at least if we can trick the dealer.

MAHIRA: What do you mean?

LIAM’S INNER VOICE: Literally what did that mean

GRACE: Sarah, can you–

SARAH: (Excited and impressed) Yeah, Grace, you got it. How much time do you think we–

GRACE: No more than, what, two weeks, probably? And we’re going to need–

LIAM: Wait, are you two figuring out how much money we’re gonna–

GRACE: Need to sneak out from under them, yes. How much do you think we could reasonably get away with?

MAHIRA: (Laughs)

SARAH: (typing furiously) They didn’t notice us skimming for all those months before I, ah, fixed the budget. I really don’t think they’ll notice now. It’s just a matter of taking a little here and a little there, and . . . ta-da.

SARAH turns her laptop around to face the rest of the team. There’s a moment of silence as they read the figures she’s come up with.

LIAM: (Laughs) What the entire fuck!

SARAH: Think that’ll do us for now?

MAHIRA: Y’know? I think it might.

SARAH: Then, if no one has any other business we need to square away today . . . ? No? Excellent, because I didn’t sleep worth a damn last night and I need coffee.

LIAM: Oh, I–

SARAH: Yup! (laughs) Oh hell yes, you’re coming too. You’re looking a little more undead than usual. 

GRACE: (Laughs) Leadership suits you, Sarah. But yes, I’ll see you all later. 

SCENE TWO

Interior of Firecreek Coffee. It’s nearly empty at this time of day.

BARISTA: Hi, welcome to Firecreek, what can I get for you today?

SARAH: The largest, blackest coffee you have, please. And a triple cappuccino for my friend, here. Unless, Liam, are you feeling adventurous today?

LIAM: Oh, no, a cappuccino sounds perfect. Thank you.

SARAH: Alright, so that and one of those croissants I saw coming out of the kitchen just now?

BARISTA: Coming right up!

SARAH: Thank you!

SARAH stuffs a couple bills in the tip jar, accepts the croissant being handed to her, and she and LIAM walk over to a corner table. 

SARAH: Flynn mentioned you haven’t been getting much sleep. I have a theory on why, but I’d like to hear it from you.

LIAM: (flustered) I–well, we’ve all–there’s been considerable stress on us lately and–well, I–

SARAH: Is it Nico?

LIAM: What? No! He’s–he’s just a friend and in spite of what you and Mahira have said I think it’s best we remain such for the time being but I certainly have no excuse to–

BARISTA: Large black coffee and a triple cappuccino for Sarah?

SARAH: Uh-huh. Yeah, I’m gonna go get our drinks and give you a second to listen to yourself. Be right back.

SARAH pushes out her chair and crosses the room to get their drinks. She and the BARISTA talk briefly, but LIAM is too lost in his own thoughts to hear them clearly.

LIAM’S OTHER INNER VOICE: There’s no shame in being invested in someone. It’s ok to admit it–especially to Sarah, who’s already noticed anyway.

BARISTA: Here you go!

SARAH: Thanks, you have a good day, ok?

BARISTA: You too!

LIAM’S INNER VOICE: Of course, it might cause some problems if Noel killed him. Would you regret never acting on this hopeless crush of yours more or less if you found out he’s gone because of your own flesh and blood?

LIAM’S OTHER INNER VOICE: There are a hundred other reasons for him not responding to your texts that don’t involve being horribly murdered in an alley by your sister and at least half of them are more probable. And another thi–

SARAH: Here you go, piping hot caffeine ready to go. And look, she threw in a couple shortbread cookies for you. Said you looked a little paler than usual today.

She sets the cups down on the table, the oversized mugs clinking against their saucers. She slides back into her chair and scoots forward.

SARAH: . . . so?

LIAM pointedly ignores the prompt and picks up his mug, taking a long sip and sighing contentedly.

LIAM: Thank you for the coffee. And I’ll have to thank her for the shortbread.

SARAH: Deflection. Real cute. You’re welcome, but if you keep avoiding the question, I am stealing one of those cookies.

LIAM: Oh, go ahead. It would be rude of me not to share.

SARAH takes one of the cookies and sighs dramatically, increasingly annoyed with LIAM’s brattiness.

SARAH: Ok then, here’s my theory: Regardless of whether or not you and Nico are a thing or going to be a thing or even compatible enough that a thing would end in something other than catastrophe . . . you’re worried about him. And you’ve got this weird guilt/shame combo going on that makes me think you feel bad for worrying about him.

SARAH takes a sip of her coffee.

SARAH: You’re allowed to worry about really competent, powerful people too. This shit we do is dangerous, and the shit Nico does is every bit as bad, and with . . . everything. All I’m saying is quit beating yourself up about it. You’ll hear from him when you hear from him, and until then, worry or don’t. It’s your call. But it doesn’t make you good or bad if you do. It makes you someone who gives a damn.

LIAM: That’s the problem.

SARAH: (groan) Liam! I am not here to be your therapist. Oof. Too soon. Sorry. But you’ve gotta figure out that shit on your own time. I am here to buy you a coffee and steal another of these killer cookies and try to pry out some information about you and your crush on our favorite disaster criminal.

LIAM: (startled laugh) You–you’re–I’m very genuinely glad you and Flynn found each other.

SARAH: I–what?

LIAM: (still laughing) I’m not deflecting, or–or maybe I am, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are both far better people than I deserve in my life.

SARAH: If this is about to turn into you putting yourself down–

LIAM: No, no, it isn’t. I was going to say you’re both better than I deserve as I am now. But I’m trying to be better, I think. I’d like to be able to feel I’ve earned your friendship, rather than just lucked into it.

SARAH: . . . well. Ok. That’s better than what I’d been expecting. Also you should have the last cookie before I eat it. Since they were for you, and all.

LIAM takes the last of the cookies and munches thoughtfully. They both sip their coffees.

LIAM: I am worried. And that did feel like it meant I wasn’t confident in his abilities. I–I became accustomed to his presence in my life–in our lives. He carves out a space for himself very quickly.

SARAH: He definitely does that.

LIAM: And to have that space be empty so suddenly, with no warning and no follow-up . . . it’s unsettling. I don’t care for it. And I don’t have any practice missing people, because I haven’t let myself care about very many people in my life. And after–

SARAH: Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense.

LIAM: So you can see why I haven’t been sleeping well.

SARAH: You sure there’s nothing else to it? Nothing else rattling around in that head of yours? Just you missing Nico and beating yourself up over it?

LIAM: Well, I–

LIAM’S INNER VOICE: What would she think of you if she knew your family included potential murderers? Would she look at you the same way? Would Flynn? Because she would tell him, you know. And then where would you be?

LIAM: –I just worry. That’s all. . . but I’m working on not letting my anxieties get the better of me.

SARAH: Ok . . . well, I’ll keep an eye out for anything that could give us a heads up on your boy and what he’s been up to.

LIAM: He’s not m–(sighs) Thank you. I appreciate that.

SCENE THREE

FADE IN: INT APARTMENT – NIGHT

LIAM and FLYNN sit on the couch in the apartment as a storm brews outside. FLYNN is explaining The Lion King to him, and LIAM is trying to pay attention to something other than his brain.

FLYNN: (Fading in) . . . and so then the dad is there, up in the sky, like giving sage wisdom about what he has to do. He’s not really a ghost, but he’s not not a ghost?

LIAM’S INNER VOICE: You don’t know it wasn’t her. You don’t know she didn’t kill him. She probably did. She probably killed Nico, too, and that’s probably why he still hasn’t shown up.

LIAM’S OTHER INNER VOICE: Shut up. Pay attention to your best friend.

LIAM: So–is–ok, wait, so this isn’t Hamlet, then?

FLYNN: Nah. Well, okay, yeah, kinda. But like, yknow, if Hamlet were, like, great and had great cool songs and no humans, and also, Whoopi Goldberg was there as, like, a hyena. So, oh! Yeah, so then his kind-of-ghost-dad, like, up in the sky is like, “Simba, hey, you need to actually go do shit. You can do it. You’ve got this.” And then, like, Simba’s like, “Pops, I don’t know if that’s the case, and also you’re dead,” but then his dad is just, you know, ghosting off.

LIAM’S INNER VOICE: Or maybe it’s just that he finally got annoyed with you and bailed and doesn’t want to be bothered by you anymore. There’s still a Cabernet in the kitchen, you know. Maybe a Malbec, too. Noel probably killed–

LIAM’s phone buzzes on the coffee table. He clamors to pick it up. When he sees the message, he huffs in frustration.

LIAM’S INNER VOICE: Really pathetic.

FLYNN: So. Still no word?

LIAM: Hm?

FLYNN: Don’t play dumb.

LIAM: Yeah, no. Still no word.

FLYNN: Are you worried?

LIAM: Perennially.

FLYNN: Okay, fair. Are you worried that something happened to him?

LIAM: Yes, but–but not really. Like, I know nothing happened to him, even if my anxiety wants me to think something did. It’s hard not to wonder–it–I keep picturing it being her.

FLYNN: Reilley?

LIAM: No. That would be–that would actually be easier, I think. Noel.

FLYNN: Oof.

LIAM: I keep picturing it being her. Standing over him–Luis. But then Nico. 

FLYNN: You’ve really got it bad for him, huh?

LIAM: I . . . I don’t know. You know I don’t know. Yes, kind of. But–I know it isn’t what happened. To Nico. The–Noel. I know nothing bad happened to him, and I know that if it did, it wasn’t Noel who did it. But it’s what my brain wants to think happened. Or that . . . and I keep having to stop myself from opening another bottle. But. That’s. Hm.

FLYNN: Yeah, remind me to send a fruit basket or something to Mahira.

LIAM: I’m sorry it took someone else having to tell me.

FLYNN: Mm. I’m not gonna say it’s okay. But I’m gonna say that what I care about most right now is that, like, I’m glad you’re working on it. And I’m here to help.

LIAM: Thank you, Flynn. I love you.

FLYNN: Ooohhh, I love you too. C’mere, you big dumb crow. My li’l chicken nugget.

LIAM: (Laughing) Ugh. Repulsive.

FLYNN pulls LIAM into a hug.

FLYNN: We’ll get through this.

LIAM: I hope so.

The two stop hugging. Thunder crashes loud outside. Magic crackles around LIAM’s hand.

FLYNN: You good?

LIAM: Hmm. I think I am.

FLYNN: Huh! Well, neato.

LIAM: It’s been getting easier. It’s–when you look at it, you know, it’s kind of pretty.

FLYNN: Huh. I think I’m actually kind of speechless right now.

LIAM: I think–I think I’m going to go on the roof and see what I can do.

FLYNN: That sounds dangerous and dumb.

LIAM: Probably.

FLYNN: You gonna be okay?

LIAM: Probably.

FLYNN: Okay.

SCENE FOUR

EXT. APARTMENT BUILDING – NIGHT

LIAM stands on the roof of the apartment building under an umbrella. He takes a deep breath in and a deep breath out. Thunder rumbles.

LIAM’S OTHER INNER VOICE: You can do this.

LIAM’S INNER VOICE: No, you absolutely cannot–

LIAM’S OTHER INNER VOICE: Shh. Yes, you can. And you need to, you’re going to have to be able to defend yourself and the others soon.

Magic crackles around LIAM’s hand.

LIAM’S INNER VOICE: Don’t you remember the first time you did this? The first time you shot a bolt of lightning? That’s what got you locked up in the first place. Because it’s dangerous.

LIAM’S OTHER INNER VOICE: Remember what you’ve learned from Luis’s book. Remember what you’ve learned from Luis. And Mahira. And Nico.

LIAM manifests a small ball of light, then dispels it. The magic crackling gets louder.

LIAM’S OTHER INNER VOICE: You can do this.

LIAM extends his hand. Energy builds, but just as he’s about to cast, he interrupts himself.

LIAM’S INNER VOICE: Monster.

The spell bursts back onto his hand in a sizzling, stinging shock.

LIAM: (Hisses in pain) FUCK. OW. FUCK.

LIAM’S INNER VOICE: See? You–

LIAM: Oh my god, shut up. I get it. I get it. I hate myself. It’s understood. It’s fucking understood. But you’re getting fucking boring. This–this is boring me. I don’t have to keep listening to every fucking self-defeating thing I say. Christ. Shut up. Haaaahahahaha oh my god, I sound absolutely crazy. I probably am.

LIAM laughs.

LIAM: Okay. Okay, Liam, you’re just going to speak to yourself out loud and accept that, and you’re not going to worry about anyone’s perception of you, because it is raining out and you are alone on a roof. And because it’s not as though people speaking to themselves in New Candler is anything new oh my god I sound crazy.

Right, right, right, Luis would tell me that the word “crazy” doesn’t mean anything and is probably just harmful, and . . . right. Right right right.

And it’s probably just the storm, got me . . . hahahaha, got me all “jazzed up,” right. Right right right. Just too much energy. Which should make things easier– Fuck it.

LIAM closes the umbrella and puts it on the ground. He laughs. The magic starts building and crackling again.

LIAM: You can do this. You know what you’re doing.

You just. Need. To stop. Holding. Yourself. Back.

LIAM takes a deep breath in. The crackling becomes more urgent.

LIAM’S OTHER INNER VOICE: Alright. Take aim. 1. 2. 3.

LIAM shoots off a bolt of lightning. He laughs a genuine laugh, proud of himself.

END OF EPISODE 10

[ending theme]


WIL: VALENCE is a Hug House production. You can find more of our work at HugHouse.Productions.

Shoutout to the real Firecreek Coffee in Flagstaff, Arizona. They didn’t pay us or anything. I just really love it and miss it.

Special thanks to:

  • Andrea Klassen
  • Fox Cooper
  • Ian Flower
  • Jimmy Chann
  • Keegan Knoll
  • Liam Belson

Until next time: protect your magic.

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