SEASON 2, EPISODE 11
RELEASE DATE: 06/26/2021
It’s almost time. As boundaries get pushed and hit, Liam has to do his least favorite thing: make a choice.
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.
VALENCE is brought to you by Desperado, a podcast by Aeaea. You can find information on Desperado on their website: https://www.aeaea.co/desperado
- Discussions of suicidal ideation and familial trauma from 19:20 through the end of the episode.
- Our theme was made by Travis Reaves,
- With production by Raul Vega.
- Additional music provided by Loyalty Freak Music and Kai Engel.
- VALENCE was created by Wil Williams.
- VALENCE is edited and sound designed by Wil Williams.
- VALENCE is directed by Katie Youmans and Anne Baird.
- VALENCE is produced by Anne Baird.
- This episode was written by Wil Williams.
Performances by, in order of appearance:
- Jordan Cobb as Sarah Harris,
- Caleb Del Rio as Flynn Velasco,
- Josh Rubino as Liam Alden and Liam’s Inner Voice,
- John Westover as Nico Salvai,
- Maddison Dabbs-Petty as Elisha Dawes,
- Katie Chin as Grace Chen,
- Ishani Kanetkar as Mahira Varma,
- and Alex Welch as Noel Alden.
[[A door handle turns and clicks open. Soft wind chimes tinkle.]]
ANNE: Brought to you by Hug House Productions
AD (ANNE): This episode of VALENCE is brought to you by Desperado — a podcast that takes place in a world almost like ours, but if myths and witchcraft were alive and thriving. Desperado follows the story of three misfits from across the world, chosen by their culture’s god of Death, as they try to survive and protect their heritage.
You can learn more about Desperado on their website at A-E-A-E-A dot C-O slash Desperado, and catch their first season now wherever you subscribe to podcasts. Here’s a taste of the show with their Season 1 trailer…
Int. Vault – Night.
…A whisper, deep down below. And then a voice.
JOAN: Obey, Mother, to the voice of another.
Widen your embrace,
Or remain in disgrace,
To the Blood of a stranger.
Power surges. Something breaks, bleeds… Then screams. To the witch delight’s.
NARRATOR: Blood magic, voodoo magic, old gods, new gods – we’ve got it all. This, is
Wil: 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 dot 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 – bright, synthy beat with airy, flowing strings that fade into a brief moment of a darker synth more reminiscent of the Season 1 theme]]
AXIS PARK – AFTERNOON
LIAM, NICO, FLYNN, and SARAH are hanging out in Central Park, just trying to enjoy a Saturday afternoon.
SARAH: Flynn, pass me one of those drinks, the–ooh, yeah yeah, the strawberry one.
FLYNN: (To Sarah) You got it.
(To Liam) I mean, I think it went well.
LIAM’S INNER VOICE: It won’t change anything though.
LIAM’S OTHER INNER VOICE: Shut up.
LIAM: I hope so. You okay, Nico?
NICO: Huh? Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine.
(To Flynn) I hope she’ll come around. I don’t think–I can’t just keep working there to no avail. I don’t have that much patience in me. But I just–I need her to. And if she doesn’t soon, I don’t know.
SARAH: [frustrated sigh] I thought we were supposed to be letting ourselves relax today. Get our minds off of everything.
LIAM: Right, of course. I just worry that I haven’t earned that.
NICO: Ha, surprise surprise. Hey uhhhhh what if we all got the fuck out. What if we went, what if we went over there?
FLYNN: Over where?
NICO: Who cares?
SARAH: That’s nothing.
NICO: [hushed, intense] Listen. I’m not saying I’m being followed, but I’m not saying I’m not being followed.
LIAM’S INNER VOICE: And now he’s even more in danger too.
LIAM: Someone you recognize?
NICO: No, but that doesn’t really mean a lot.
LIAM: Here, just–is it okay if I—
NICO: Oh. Yeah, sure, ok.
LIAM does the “don’t look at me” spell on Nico.
NICO: Thanks, Vamps. We should still move, though.
SARAH Right. Let’s head back over by the lake.
The group gets up and starts walking.
SARAH: Liam, not to make you freak out in case you didn’t realize what you did—
LIAM: Well, now I am certainly going to freak out.
SARAH: –but good job doing a spell like that in public.
FLYNN: Yeah. That’s a big deal, dude.
LIAM: Oh. Huh. You’re right.
FLYNN: And I think it made an impact. The dinner, I mean.
LIAM: I hope so.
NICO: Hopefully at least the food sent a message.
LIAM: What? Wait–did you—
LIAM’S INNER VOICE: He magicked your sister.
NICO: Me? Oh, noooo. Just, you know. Some secret ingredients maybeee. A dash of “reflect on what you’ve done.” A pinch of “think about who you’ve become.” Nothing, like, gigantic. And nothing that would, you know. Like, I didn’t implant ideas in there. Just wanted to give her a little nudge.
LIAM: Huh. She was wearing her Halo, though. Do you think it would still affect her?
NICO: No fuckin clue.
An old-sounding phone buzzes in a pocket.
SARAH: Don’t like when that phone goes off.
Sarah rummages through a bag.
FLYNN: Which phone?
SARAH: Not that one . . . Not that one . . .
LIAM: How many phones do you have?
SARAH: (joyless chuckle) On good days? Enough. Not that one either–ah. Okay.
Sarah gets out the buzzing phone, turns off the alert, then starts scrolling.
SARAH: Oh my god, it worked. Liam, it worked!
LIAM: What worked?
SARAH: Our code! For–for the, um . . . the freelancers.
LIAM: Oh–oh my god! It worked? Wait, if you found out, that means—
FLYNN: [hushed] Who’d they try to attack?
SARAH: And it worked! They tried to scope out the one based in New Poppet.
FLYNN: Oh, come on. They’re a kid!
SARAH: I know. But it didn’t work, and I got pinged about it. Liam, this is amazing. We did it.
NICO: What the fuck are you kids talking about?
LIAM: Back when Flynn first started the blog–for, you know. The one with some trade secrets in it? We wanted to make sure that our freelancers wouldn’t be . . . identified by their companies. So Sarah and I developed a code to help make sure that wouldn’t happen.
SARAH: Thanks to your contribution, we shouldn’t have to worry about them finding a way around it, unless they start playing dirty like we did. And given, I don’t think that’s gonna happen.
NICO: Well shit. I wasn’t really listening to all of that but maybe signing up with you all wasn’t as big a death wish as I thought.
LIAM: You literally did it because I forced you not to have a death wish.
NICO: Eh, same thing. Listen, I don’t want to burst a bubble here, but like I said, I think we should skedaddle. Or at least I should.
SARAH: No, you’re right. Liam, this isn’t–they’re not going to be happy about this. They’ve let us get away with way more than we expected, but I don’t think they’re going to let this one stand.
I don’t just think we should get out of here–I think we should call the others up. Liam, I hate to say this, but we need to talk next steps.
LIAM: (Sighs) No, you’re right. You’re right.
LIBRARY MEETING ROOM – AFTERNOON
THE TEAm sits assembled in the meeting room, the atmosphere tense. ELISHA, on speakerphone, calls NICO out.
ELISHA: And you thought that was okay? I’ve talked to your boyfriend more than I’ve talked to you! It’s been like six years!
NICO: [Earnestly] I know. You’re right.
ELISHA: We thought you died! Just disappearing with no word like that. We were best friends for years!
LIAM: Shouldn’t we be talking about next steps?
GRACE: (chuckle) You think I’m going to stop her?
ELISHA: Don’t you dare. I’ve earned this!
MAHIRA: This is gold.
LIAM: Right, right, sorry.
ELISHA: I always thought, ok, you’ll be back one day, but no! And then the next time I see you it’s on some news report and your hair is green, and you’re running around like some Joker wannabe—
LIAM’S INNER VOICE: Wait, Nico didn’t have green hair when they knew each other? Does Nico even have a natural hair color?
NICO: Hey, come on.
ELISHA: Okay, yeah, maybe that one was uncalled for. But still!
NICO: I know. I know. I really fucked up. And I’m . . . embarrassed about it. I was hoping you’d just forget about me and call it a day.
ELISHA: Well, I didn’t! We didn’t! Have you even contacted the others yet?
NICO: (Sighs) Obviously not. But I will once this meeting is over. I promise? I promise. Okay?
ELISHA: I don’t trust your promise for one second, but that’s on you, not me.
(takes a deep breath) Okay. Let’s proceed with the meeting.
GRACE: Great! So, now that we know Halo is probably done with our bullshit, what’s our next step? I think what we have to do is work on extracting data.
SARAH: I’m with Grace. We know what their data looks like and how it’s stored now that Liam’s worked in actual tests. I’ve had something planned for us since Liam started working there. Liam, all you’ll have to do is get us in after hours and make sure we’re not seen.
NICO: I can help with that.
MAHIRA: Me too.
ELISHA: What about the other writers?
LIAM: Because I helped with it, they should only be able to get past our code if they use magic–and I don’t think Reilley would know how to do that. The muses who work for her know how to use magic like a hammer, but not like a scalpel.
SARAH: And I’m working on figuring out adjustments to the code as a failsafe until then.
ELISHA: So what do you all want to do with the data?
LIAM: Make sure everyone’s safe. Warn people, do something. I wish there was a way to just–not just to extract it, but to get rid of it from their records. Sarah, I know that’s a long shot, but . . .
SARAH: No dice. They’re too solid on their backups.
MAHIRA: At least using the data, we can figure out other ways of getting everyone immediate support. Elisha, Flynn, can we schedule a follow-up after this to brainstorm?
ELISHA: You got it.
FLYNN: Definitely. We need to figure out whether we should pause publication for a few days, too.
GRACE: And all of this leaves the elephant in the room.
LIAM’S INNER VOICE: They mean Noel, you failure.
FLYNN: Noelephant . . . ha! You get it?
LIAM: I know. I know. If I–it–if it comes to it, it just can’t be me. And I can’t know which one of you it was. I know you won’t understand this, and I know there’s no excuse for what she’s done. I know. It’s just–I feel like she’s been held hostage her whole life.
No, I don’t just feel like that. She has. I think something I’ve come to realize is that from the outside, it seems like I made the worse choice for myself, but I don’t think I did. I think she did. I was locked up, but I wasn’t brainwashed the same way. Every single part of her life has been controlled by someone else, but she’s–the real Noel is still in there.
I know I can’t risk everyone else for her. I know she probably can’t be forgiven. I just can’t be the one to do it.
MAHIRA: We get it, Liam.
FLYNN: We do. I promise.
GRACE: Well, folks, let’s start moving. Mahira, Elisha, and Flynn, schedule a follow-up to talk about next steps for the blog. Sarah, you keep working on the new code as a back-up. Do you need Liam for that?
SARAH: Mmm. That would help, yeah. And actually Nico, if we can get your help, I wouldn’t say no.
NICO: Hell yeah.
GRACE: I’m–I’m going to reach out to Sol and let them know the plan. I promised I’d let them be a part of this. I don’t know how, but–it just–I can’t go back on that.
MAHIRA: I’ll think of ways we could use their help. Even just a getaway ride could be huge.
GRACE: And Liam?
GRACE: If you want to give your sister one last call . . . tonight would be a good time.
LIAM: Okay. Yeah. Okay.
SARAH’S ROOM – AFTERNOON
LIAM, SARAH, and NICO sit in Sarah’s room as she types on her keyboard.
LIAM’S INNER VOICE: One last chance. You’re going to waste it. You’ve already wasted it. If you hadn’t, she’d already be on your side.
LIAM’S OTHER INNER VOICE: You can make this chance count. There’s still hope.
LIAM’S INNER VOICE: There isn’t. There never was.
SARAH: Liam, can you try again, like last time?
LIAM: Right. So, Nico, for this, I’m more or less just doing what I did on you earlier, but on the code itself.
LIAM does the “don’t look at me” magic on the code. It takes easily.
NICO: Hmm! Okay, Vamps. Got it. But we need to make it more better now.
SARAH: Just in case they get through.
NICO: What if we . . . hmm. What if we do the, uhhh, like the opposite of a mark.
LIAM: How do you mean?
NICO: Man, I dunno, I just kinda said something. Uhhh. What if we make it so that, like, if any kind of mark comes their way, this code is just like, “Mmm buzz off I hate you.”
LIAM: Is that even possible?
NICO: Uhh, it’s fuckin’ magic, Vamps.
LIAM: Right. What if someone wants to mark them in, uh, a good way?
SARAH: Is that even a thing?
NICO: [defensive] Uh, yeah it can be!
SARAH: Ah. Got it. Well, this won’t affect them during their day-to-day lives, usually. Wouldn’t be okay with not getting consent for that. This is just about making sure the site won’t make them easier to find. So that sounds like it’s doable on my end as long as it’s doable on yours.
LIAM: Do you think it will be?
NICO: I dunno. That’s what makes it fun.
SARAH: (uncomfortable, stressed grumble) Is it going to hurt the code if it doesn’t work?
NICO: Probably not. How do we test it?
SARAH: We’d have to try it on someone we know, probably.
LIAM’S OTHER INNER VOICE: It’s time. It’s been time for too long.
LIAM: I’ll do it.
LIAM: I’ll do it. I should have written my post ages ago. If we’re really–if this is really our final chance to do something, I need to.
SARAH: If you’re okay with that, sure. Nico, would you try to mark Liam when he’s done writing? Or, uh, re-mark him, I guess.
NICO: Can do.
LIAM’S INNER VOICE: You have to do this.
CWs: Familial trauma throughout, panic attack
A LIMINAL SPACE – EARLY EVENING
LIAM writes his blog post in its first draft on paper. The scene starts with scritching noises of his pen, but it quickly fades out. The audience is now in Liam’s inner voice, in Liam’s memories.
LIAM: I didn’t think I’d ever write this. I didn’t know what benefit it would have. I worried it would just do more to endanger the people around me–which I always feel like I’ve done more than enough. But it’s time to tell this story. Not just to the people I choose to trust. To everyone. If it happened to me, it’s happened to others. And people need to know.
When I started exhibiting signs of magic at the age of eight, I was locked in a room in my family’s house, shut away from everyone else. I was removed from other family members I could have helped. It was pure luck that I eventually escaped. That story is like so many other stories we’ve featured here, and everything still applies. But what I want to talk about now is what happened after–what happened when I accepted a position at Halo, Inc.
I don’t know why the offer was given to me, but I assume it was to keep tabs on me, as other muses have been observed in the past, but amplified. I accepted the offer to observe them in turn. What I was expecting was an office filled with hateful, malicious people, out to willingly oppress and dismantle a group that made them afraid.
What I actually found was somehow even more sinister. The offices of Halo. aren’t some evil lair. They’re so normal.
When I put on a Halo for the first time, a requirement for a muse employee like me, it felt normal. I was one of the only two muses working at our office. This seemed normal. We had fair-trade coffee always available, complete with several different types of milk alternatives. Most employees shared long, sleek desks. There were Happy Hours, and there was typical water cooler chit-chat. Everyone seemed content. When questions about ethos were raised, the response was always sheepish, but clear: everyone was just doing their job. Who were they to say no to a well-paying position with good benefits in a large city?
It felt normal when we received emails with new marketing campaigns telling muses how lucky they were to have tech like Halos. It felt normal when our training modules conditioned us to dehumanize not just muses, but who we are, in order to better serve the company. It felt normal when employees were told over and over again about how they were working to make the world a better place.
It felt normal to everyone that at a company so concerned with muses, only two known muses were employed. And they were employed to do something completely separate from everyone else, something the others knew was a dark secret they weren’t to discuss. It was normal that we weren’t asked to weigh in on decisions that regarded our own people. It was normal that one of us, constantly exhausted and uncomfortable, was consistently made to be the butt of the joke, laughed at for being exhausted and uncomfortable.
And my job started to feel normal, too.
Halo claims they don’t test on humans. Does that sound plausible to you? Should it? My entire job was to conduct that “nonexistent” human testing for Halo.
A muse would be brought in from somewhere by a security guard, and I would test how well they could use their magic with the new tech employed. It felt normal when I referred to them as codes instead of their names. It felt normal when they did the same to me. It felt normal when I asked them to do things not knowing if they’d be hurt. It felt normal to view them as less than human–just a subject. Another cog in the larger wheel. For the greater good.
I was only allowed a small, small portion of what Halo does behind the scenes. What I did, and what I saw, were the tip of the iceberg. We already know that the iceberg contains irreparable damage, prison-like testing centers in other locations, kidnap, monitoring, and depths of violence. Does that feel normal to you? Do you read this, thinking that this is a small price to pay for the greater good? Does it feel normal to you not to question what that greater good is?
The horrors done to people like me are not just done with malicious individuals. It’s done by a system that thinks how they treat us is normal, a system that encourages others to participate through generations of manipulation.
This is not normal.
Liam’s phone buzzes.
Liam picks up the phone and unlocks it.
NOEL: [sounding fragile, shaky] Hi.
LIAM: Hi. Ah–how are you? I was just going to call you.
NOEL: Ha. I don’t know, Liam. I don’t know.
LIAM’S INNER VOICE: This is your last chance.
LIAM’S OTHER INNER VOICE: Listen to her.
NOEL: I just wanted to say thank you for having me over the other night. It was–it was nice. Really.
LIAM: I’m glad to hear that. It was nice to have you over.
NOEL: Your friends are so . . . normal.
LIAM: Ha! Are they?
NOEL: Well, hahaha, you know what I mean. They’re . . . they seem kind. And they care about you. They’re weird, obviously, but they’re a kind of weird that makes sense. It, ah—mm. It was nice. To see you with. With people who–who clearly have you, um. Your best interests at heart.
LIAM: Are you alright?
NOEL: I don’t know.
LIAM: Do you–do you want to talk about it?
A long beat. Gentle, melancholy classical music fades in very gradually.
NOEL: I missed you. I missed you every day. I realized after I left the other night that I don’t know when I stopped knocking on your wall. I just stopped.
LIAM: I . . . didn’t know you remembered that.
NOEL: I tried not to.
NOEL: I didn’t keep tabs on you for such a long time. I knew Morgan and dad would know if something had happened to you. Mom wouldn’t but she was never really present anyway. When you first left, dad tried to tell me you’d died, you know. He used it to–he used it to scare me to keep me in line. But I knew you hadn’t. I don’t know how, but I knew you hadn’t. But I couldn’t bear looking up any of the information. Sometimes–sometimes, Liam, I wished you had died.
NOEL: Not–not like that. It just seemed . . . it seemed more humane. It seemed better to have just happened instead of dragging it out. I’d have nightmares about it sometimes. You were always still just a kid. And I’d imagine you completely alone, terrified, just waiting for someone to come find you.
A beat. The music swells with gentle strings.
LIAM: I didn’t realize you still cared. I know–I know how much it hurt when I left.
NOEL: (Choking up) It did. Part of me still hates you for it. But part of–part of me is–I . . .
LIAM: Are you crying?
NOEL: (Absolutely crying) No. I just–how did you do it? How do you do it? Don’t you constantly hurt? Aren’t you constantly afraid?
NOEL: Then how do you do it?
LIAM: I–it’s–sometimes, I don’t. Sometimes I just want to stop existing. Often. Often, I want to stop existing. And I don’t think that’s ever going to change. I think if I hadn’t found Flynn, I don’t–we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. For several reasons.
NOEL: (forcing the words through tears) I’m glad you have a real sibling.
LIAM: I have two. Or–or, at least, I have space for two. And I hope you still have space for one.
NOEL: I don’t know, Liam. I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to have what you have. I don’t think I’m–allowed.
LIAM: You can have what I have. And we can both have even better things with time.
NOEL: I can’t. I can’t.
LIAM: You can. I had Flynn, and now you have me. And you have my friends, too. You just . . . you just need to–you need to do what’s right, Noel.
NOEL: Who am I to say what’s right? God, what am I even saying—
LIAM: I know it’s in you. I know it’s always been there.
NOEL: I can’t have this conversation right now. I just wanted to say thank you.
LIAM: Noel. Please. I can’t keep seeing you like this, like a bird in a cage. Please. Please.
NOEL: I just–I feel like I can never breathe. I feel like there is something inside me trying to claw its way out of me, and if I let it, I’m just going to die, and if I don’t, I’m going to die. And I don’t even care. Isn’t it easier to just do nothing?
LIAM: It is easier.
But it isn’t right. And it isn’t what you want.
NOEL: Did you miss me?
LIAM: Every day. I still do.
NOEL: Do you–do you think I–I could be something else?
LIAM: I do. I love you, Noel. Whatever choice you make, you will always be my little sister, and I will always love you.
NOEL: I . . . I don’t want to be like this anymore. I’ve never wanted to be like this.
LIAM: It’s okay. You still have time to change.
NOEL: Then I need to . . . I need to show you something. Tonight. As soon as possible. But I can’t talk to you about it. I am not able to.
LIAM: Okay. That’s okay. I know putting things into words can someti—
NOEL: No. Liam. Listen to me. I’ve been trying to tell you this the whole time but now you really need to listen to me. I. am. not. able. to. talk. about. It.
LIAM’S INNER VOICE: Oh my god it’s an NDA. Maybe a magic NDA?
LIAM: OH. So–oh my god. Oh my god. This whole time?
NOEL: Yes. But we need to do this fast. We can talk about all of that later. Or, well. Whatever, just–we need to do something tonight.
LIAM: Of course.
NOEL: I need you to meet me at the office.
LIAM: Do I bring the others with me?
NOEL: No. [hesitates for a beat] Y-yes.
LIAM: Okay. Are you sure about this?
LIAM: That’s alright. I’ll be there as soon as I can be. I trust you.
NOEL: Okay. I–I trust you too. I’m sorry.
Noel hangs up.
LIAM’S OTHER INNER VOICE: This is it. This is it.
Liam calls Grace.
LIAM’S OTHER INNER VOICE: You did it. She did it.
Grace picks up.
LIAM: It’s time.
END OF EPISODE 11
Valence is a Hug House production. You can find more information at Hug House dot Productions.
VALENCE is created by me, Wil Williams. This episode was written by Wil Williams. This episode was edited and sound designed by Wil Williams. This episode was directed by Anne Baird and Katie Youmans, and produced by Anne Baird.
This episode was performed by, in order of appearance:
-Jordan Cobb as Sarah Harris,
-Caleb Del Rio as Flynn Velasco,
-Josh Rubino as Liam and Liam’s Inner Voices,
-John Westover as Nico Salvai,
-Maddison Dabbs-Petty as Elisha Dawes,
-Katie Chin as Grace Chen,
-Ishani Kanetkar as Mahira Varma,
-and Alex Welch as Noel Alden.
-Our theme music for season 2 was written and performed by Travis Reaves,
-with production from Raul Vega.
-Other music is provided by Kevin MacCleod, Loyalty Freak Music, and Kai Engel. You can find links to more information on them in our show notes.
-You can find our full cast list and information on how to support this indie podcast on valencepod dot com. There, you can find a link to our Patreon, where you can give us some support.
-Until next time, protect your magic.