14: Anchor

written by Tau Zaman

[[SFX: tape recorder starts; the recorder bobs below water; Sally drags Nikhil to the shore]]

SALLY GRISSOM (SG): What the hell?!

NIKHIL SHARMA (NS): Sally Grissom? You’re Sally Grissom!

SG: What the shit? How do you know who I am?

NS: God… You aren’t even going to ask me if I’m alright?

SG: I just saw you appear from thin air. If you know who I am, then you know I have every right to be just as paranoid as I damn well please. What are you doing here?

NS: How rude... I’m from… One moment­­

[[SFX: Nikhil vomits on Sally]]

SG: At least... turn your head away!

NS: I’m sorry I’ll try to–

[[SFX: Nikhil vomits on Sally again]]

SG: Ugh…

NS: Okay, I’m done. Heh. Sorry about–

[[SFX: more vomiting]]

SG: OH MY GOD. There can’t be anything left in you in you at this point! Wait a minute...

[[SFX: Sally grabs Nikhil’s recorder]]

NS: Hey, that’s mine!

SG: What the hell is his?

NS: It’s my recorder!

SG: I know that, but it’s too nice, too… New.

NS: Yes, well I was trying to explain­­–

SG: Where are you from? Or should I say, when are you from?

NS: Okay, if you could see yourself right now you’d be looking at the craziest eyes you’ve ever seen. Can you please just settle down and let me explain?

SG: Fine. Sorry. I just… I just always wanted to say that. ­­ When I first landed here, I was throwing up everywhere too ­­and Whickman was a lot nicer to me about it.

NS: Whickman?

SG: Okay, I’m going to need some answers right now unless you want to go back in the drink.

NS: Dr. Nikhil Sharma, at your service. And at your mercy as well. Thank you for not letting me drown. And um, I landed here because… Sorry, my memory is suddenly lacking...

SG: Time travel’s a bitch. Doctor, this recorder, your clothes... are you from­­ 20█?!

NS: Yes!

SG: Landed here... nobody else has ever come here from that far in the future...

NS: And you’re... Sally Grissom. I remember the pictures.

SG: Um, please don’t touch my face?

NS: Is this Point­-of-­Exile?

SG: We’re in Philadelphia. Why are you here? How do you know who I am?

NS: Listen, I’m happy to answer all these questions in due time, but first can you get me some­­–

[[SFX: Nikhil vomits yet again, then faints]]

SG: Doctor? Dr. Sharma? ...Happens to everyone their first time.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: Partridge! Partridge, you won’t believe this, but I just found someone! He just landed here from the future. Like me. He had a recorder on him. I think the water messed it up, I can’t tell if it’s still recording. Maybe you could look into getting it working again? I wanna see what’s on it. I need to know what this guy’s up to before he wakes up again. I’ll call you when I find out more.

[[SFX: Sally hangs up; puts more money into payphone, then dials]]

CONCIERGE: Thank you for calling the Gold Anchor this is–

SG: Hi, room 222 please.

CONCIERGE: ...And a very pleasant hello, to you, too, miss. Please, hold for just… one… moment…

SG: [sigh]

[[SFX: phone rings]]

ER: This is Esther Roberts.

SG: Roberts! I’m so glad I caught you.

ER: Sally? Where are you?

SG: Yeah, that’s the thing. Roberts, I’m sorry, I’m really glad you brought me out here and all, but, um... I can’t come back with you just yet. Um, well, you see, it’s just that, um, I want to spend a few extra days in New York!

ER: Huh?

SG: Yeah, you know. See some plays. Go see Times Square before it’s covered in–

ER: Didn’t you do that already? Sally, where have you been?

SG: It doesn’t matter, listen, please just go. I’ll be back in Colorado soon enough.

ER: That’s fine, Sally.

SG: ...Roberts? You sound...are you alright? Did something happen?

ER: [sigh] It’s fine. It’s nothing. I can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do. Goodbye, Sally.

[[SFX: Esther hangs up; Sally follows; Nikhil approaches]]

SG: Okay, that was weird....

NS: So you’re free!

SG: You bounce back fast.

[[SFX: Nikhil produces a flyer]]

NS: Sally, look at this! Bobby Castellini at the Library Bar, Rittenhouse Hotel. Do you like jazz?

SG: Listen, we really don’t have much time­–

NS: Look, I’ll tell you everything you need to know, but I’m going to faint–again–if I don’t get something to eat. Besides, we’re in 1949! We could be listening to the greats in real time! We could go find young Sinatra!

SG: No, I don’t think he’s a thing yet. But we do need a place to stay, and I’d like to rinse all the... this... off of me.

NS: Sorry.

SG: Everyone does it their first time. I think you may have set a record though… A hotel might not be a bad idea.

[[SFX: radio tuning; hotel bar]]

NS: And as far as I can tell, the geospatial target failed so the system defaulted to send me to the spatial coordinates of the anchor point.

SG: Fancy. You’re lucky it didn’t send you into the upper atmosphere. Or worse, like deep space.

NS: Oh that doesn't happen anymore. The Timepiece has benefitted from the extra seven decades of work.

SG: So you’re an ODAR agent. Huh, I guess they really do stick it out for the long haul. Why were you sent back here?

NS: That part… is a little harder to recall. You know, trying to remember is like grasping at fog. You get trained for this kind of stuff but wow! I really don’t know how anyone remembers! I’m sure it’ll come to me.

SG: ...You really don’t remember?

NS: I can tell you about the cereal I ate this morning. Other than that... nothing.

SG: I know the feeling. The Timepiece puts you through a blender. But you’ll be pining for the future soon enough.

NS: I won’t miss it. Not much left for me in 20█.

SG: That’s what I thought too. But you will. Trust me.

NS: You’ve been here, what, six years now? You don’t seem a total wreck. Yet.

SG: You get used to the day­-to-­day, but, I dunno, sometimes you just, remember things, little things. I would be working on the Timepiece and start looking for a sticky note to quickly write something down, and of course we don’t have those yet. You can’t just put on whatever music you want, whenever you want. I miss being able to do that. And it’s so quiet...

NS: I don’t know. If this one bar here in 1949 is any empirical evidence, the music’s a lot better. Plus, they don’t make drinks nearly as strong as hi in our day. I choose the here and now.

SG: To the here, and now.

[[SFX: tape fast-forward]]

SG: –Hand­held calculators! Who knew I would miss those so much. Couldn’t you have brought some of those?

NS: I’ve got some lemon drops, if you want candy… [laugh]

SG: [laugh] ...What’s the deal with that waitress?

NS: What do you mean?

SG: She keeps scrunching her nose at you.

NS: Oh. I get that face from all kinds of people. I guess I’m the only one here who, well...

SG: Looks like you?

NS: That’s one way of putting it.

SG: So. Dr. Nikhil Sharma. Where’s that accent from? Kinda British, kinda Indian?

NS: I was born in Lahore, studied at Oxford. But the accent? It’s kind of a hodge-podge of all the places I’ve lived, you know?

SG: ODAR goes worldwide, huh?

NS: You don’t stop talking about work, do you?

[[SFX: tape fast-forward]]

NS: (drunk) –Honestly? Honestly, if my only time traveling legacy was to erase whoever decided to invent Internet comment sections, I could live with that!

SG: [laughs]

[[SFX: Nikhil falls over]]

NS: ...You’re drinking me under the table!

SG: ...Excuse me, you’re way ahead of me!

[[SFX: tape fast-forward]]

SG: (imitating) Oh, my dear, you haven’t been to Chichen Itza? Dahling, you simply must go to Chichen Itza!

NS: She was trying so hard to sound (imitating) Continental. I studied haberdashery under Deveraux in Milan! [laughs]

SG: [laughs] Well, um… This is my room.

NS: Oh, and this one right here’s mine.

SG: Well, look at hat! We should get some sleep, we’ll have to drive back tomorrow.

NS: Drive? Why not fly?

SG: You know how expensive plane tickets are these days? I’m not made of money, and it doesn’t seem like you brought a sports almanac with you.

NS: Haha, that’s a good one. You know now that I think on it, driving might be preferable to flying after all. A small road trip of sorts. It would give me some time to get my memory back before I see the folks in charge.

SG: You’re just making excuses!

NS: No but you’re right. Let’s just drive. It can’t be more than a couple of days. We can see the great American Midwest! Besides, we’re having fun, right?

SG: You know what? You’re right. I can’t remember letting loose like this since, like, Vegas!

NS: All the more reason.

SG: Yeah!

NS: Why don’t you get out more?

SG: I don’t know, people just... I can’t believe I’m even telling you this,­­ this is definitely the booze talking, but… I dunno, sometimes I feel like everyone always handles me like...like I have to be carefully kept. I can’t tell who’s being nice to me just because they’re nice, and who’s being nice to me just because they’re trying to milk whatever’s in my brain to keep building the Timepiece. They treat me like I’ve got… sharp edges.

NS: Really? That can’t be true! Well I, for one, just so happen to like your edges.

SG: That’s… oddly sweet.

NS: I mean maybe they could use little sanding?

SG: Jerk.

NS: Hey! I am coming with you on a road trip.

SG: Because you don’t have a choice!

NS: It’ll be just like one of those road trip movies!

SG: Ugh, I hate that genre. Corny music, clichéd stories...

NS: I love road trip movies! The characters always end up back at home where they started, but as people they’re forever changed! I can’t get enough of them. I even liked Crossroads.

SG: With Britney Spears?

NS: Uh–Crossroads had Mandy Moore.

SG: Not in my timeline… whoever! Love ‘em all you want, I’m just saying that going on a road trip might be kinda nice, despite it being our only choice.

NS: Hey, what’s that?

SG: Oh. My recorder. Not as fancy as yours.

NS: It looks like it’s still on.

SG: Yeah. Oops, I must’ve accidentally hit the button or something. I guess–­­

NS: Maybe we could, um… Maybe we could give this recorder a break for a bit.

[[SFX: Nikhil approaches Sally]]

SG: Um. No, why would I do that?

NS: Oh. Sorry, I­­–

SG: Oh, uh… No. Thanks, but... No, I’m... I’m just gonna take a look at a map and get our route started!

NS: Of course. I’ll let you work on that. Catch you for breakfast?

SG: Yeah, sounds good. Get some sleep.

NS: I will. You should too, when you’re done with all that, er, mapping. And thanks for saving my life again, by the way. So. Sweet dreams, Sally Grissom.

SG: Goodnight, Dr. Sharma.

[[SFX: radio tuning; car radio plays “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”]]

SG: Today is October 30, 1949. Dr. Nikhil Sharma and I are on day of our drive from Philadelphia to Point-­of-­Exile, Colorado. I have to say, this actually isn’t a half bad idea. I’m getting to see this whole side of America I never really got to see. Ever since I landed on the Eldridge I was kind of just getting shuttled from one prison to the next. It really is a whole ‘nother world out here.

Pretty sparse on the road. Most of the time it’s just us, not another driver in sight. And trees, and hills, and plains for miles. It’s...beautiful, really. Feels strange saying that, but that’s the only way to describe it.

That’s not to say it’s been all sunshine. It rained pretty hard yesterday, and, frankly, my road trip partner isn’t the best navigator.

NS: Hey!

SG: We ended up taking a wrong turn and, instead of making our way through the great state of Indiana, we found ourselves accidentally driving through the… adequate state of Kentucky.

NS: If we hadn’t done that we wouldn’t have gotten to try old­-school Kentucky fried chicken! The real deal! Before they add all those hormones.

SG: Personally I’m of the suspicion that Doctor Sharma here is actually trying to detour us to stop at very single tourist trap he sees advertised on a billboard.

NS: Excuse me, they’re not tourist traps; the correct term is "roadside attractions."

SG: It’s been a lot of sightseeing, and grabbing meals at truck stops and hokey diners.

NS: [laughs] The last one ­­­

SG: Okay that last one was definitely­­ the worst!

NS: –My favorite!

SG: Wait, wait, just do the voice again!

NS: Which one, that boy who walked up to us or his mother?

SG: The kid!

NS: (imitating) Gee, mister. I know about white men and black men but a brown man? Now I’ve really seen ‘em all! [laughs]

SG: [laughs] You were so nice about it! I would have no idea how to respond to that.

NS: I had no idea how to respond to his other!

SG: Oh you mean when she saw you? (imitating) Well aren’t you just a hot plate o’curry!

[[SFX: something slams into the windshield; Sally swerves]]

SG: What the–

NS: The hell was that?

SG: Something hit the windshield. I couldn’t see it in time.

NS: Did you catch where it came from?

SG: It must’ve been pretty big, look at that crack.

NS: Wait, I think it’s coming from that car in front of us. Look out!

[[SFX: another impact; Sally swerves]]

SG: A beer bottle? re they trying to kill us or something?

NS: ...That is a distinct possibility.

SG: ...Oh COME ON Sharma.

NS: So, this isn’t exactly the best time to tell you this, but maybe I haven’t been very forthright with you, Sally?

SG: Literally the first thing I asked you! Come on dude!

NS: You know how I couldn’t remember my mission from ODAR? Well, my mission was supposed to be to kill you.

SG: You’re here to ill me?

[[SFX: Sally breaks; punches Nikhil]]

NS: Hey! Hey! Calm down! I’m not gonna do it!

SG: How am I supposed to believe you?

NS: I don’t know! They want me dead, too! I didn’t leave 20█ on such good terms, I’ll have you know.

SG: What are you talking about?

NS: Listen, I’ll explain everything, but this is not the time for exposition!

SG: Do you have anything we can use?

NS: Um, just some packets of crisps and a large abundance of lemon drops!

SG: Sharma! Of all the things to stuff your pockets with before jumping back in time—

NS: Excuse me, I didn’t expect to be in a car fight!

[[SFX: Sally shifts gears; accelerates]]

NS: ­­Sally, what are you doing! Turn around!

SG: They want to kill me, they better not miss!

NS: Do you have a death wish or something?!

SG: I don’t know, let’s find out!

[[SFX: Sally accelerates toward the oncoming car; the other car swerves off the road; Sally continues driving]]

SG: Aw, hell yes! Suck it, ODAR! I made you! You wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for me! Literally! Because of physics! Whew! What a rush. Anyway, about this trying to kill me business?

NS: Uhhh.... uhh...

[[SFX: tape fast-forward]]

SG: What do you mean, not anymore?

NS: Well I don’t know about now, but by my time ODAR is not the most ethical of government agencies.

SG: Hah! Let me guess. Like the NSA and the FBI all rolled into one, spread across time like butter on toast?

NS: What’s the NSA? We don’t have that.

SG: Yeah, that tracks.

NS: I found out some of the things they were doing, and why, and I just... couldn’t abide that anymore.

SG: It’s ODAR. What did you think you were getting into?

NS: Protection! I thought this was about course correction. Fixing disasters, last resort sort of deals. Not...

SG: You better not even tell me. I thought Roberts was supposed to fix this!

NS: Who?

SG: Esther Roberts, she’s head of R&D now? Chief advisor to Director Whickman?

NS: Chet Whickman is dead.

SG: Oh... Yeah, I guess he would be.

NS: I planned to leave about a year before departure, but... I was approached by this group. Listen, Sally... ODAR sent me here to kill you, but... I’m here to bring you back with me.

SG: Nope. Bullshit. Actually not possible. Don’t pull that–

NS: Listen, just listen. We just need a second anchor point, like the Eldridge. Believe me, this could really work!

SG: … I’m sorry, I just can’t take your word. You’re gonna need to explain the physics on this one if you want my help.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­[[SFX: radio tuning]]

NS: This is Dr. Nikhil Sharma. Today is November 2nd, 1949. Here it is. The very end of the road. And this might be my last recording ever, if I die here. As long as our plan succeeds, I can live with that. Do we need to go over it again?

SG: No, I’ve got it. The hardest part will be these guards out front. Once we get to the Rainbow generators, I can lock us in.

NS: Okay, just barrel into there, get out of the car, and speak confidently.

SG: Relax, I can do this.

NS: Fine, no fine! It’s just...

SG: Just what?

NS: You’re not a very good liar, is all.

SG: You wouldn’t know! You’ve never seen me lie!

NS: Haven’t I?

[[SFX: Sally pulls up]]

SG: ...We’re not far now.

NS: Sally, you’ve been here six years. The fact that you’ve been able to last this long without going utterly mad is a testament to your resilience. I can’t say it’ll be easy, but I’m sure of it: once you come back to 20█, you il adjust. You il find friends again. Think about it. Friends who get your jokes! And understand your references! And can actually match the breadth of your scientific knowledge!

SG: Sometimes when I think back on my life before, working on my research at MIT... It all just feels like a dream. Like this is the real world now.

NS: This is the dream. Your world is waiting for you. When the time comes, just be ready to leave behind whatever you’ve got here.

SG: I can’t believe it. I’m actually going back. If I want to return to 1949 though, why can’t we just make an anchor point to come back here whenever we want?

NS: Traveling across time is sure to kill you, if done too many times. We’re just making this anchor point so that future agents can use it, one at a time, and build out new ones.

SG: Okay... You ready?

NS: Yes. I don’t mean to rush you, but there’s no way those agents wouldn’t know we’re coming here. They may still be coming for us this very moment.

SG: It’s fine. I can do this. Here we go!

[[SFX: Sally drives up to the station, then brakes hard; she exits the car and storms up to the guards]]

SG: No time to explain. The generator is going to blow any minute. Get Chet Whickman here, right now!... NOW! What part of “blow any minute” don’t you mindless grunts understand?! Doctor! With me!

[[SFX: Nikhil exits the car as the guards run past]]

NS: That was really nice work!

SG: I hope ODAR never gets smarter than this.

NS: They do. By a lot.

SG: That’s it right there in the window.

NS: Wow, look at that old thing. Hey, troublemaker!

[[SFX: Sally picks the lock]]

SG: Lemme just this door open... You really think you can make this work?

NS: We’ve had years to work it out, Sally. Don’t worry.

[[SFX: gunshots in distance]]

SG: No way. They’re here already? I’m still working on this door! Dammit.

NS: They’re happy to make any mess in Point­-of-­Exile to get to us.

SG: I thought they didn’t wanna kill anyone but me?

NS: They’re clearly ready to kill a lot of people now! The plan’s changed. I haven’t exactly been getting the more up­-to-­date briefings!

[[SFX: Sally throws the lock]]

SG: Okay, got it! Get in, get in, quick!

NS: Hurry, that desk over there. Block the door.

[[SFX: Sally and Nikhil drag a desk in front of the door]]

SG: The generator! Go!

NS: I’m on it!

[[SFX: Nikhil sets to work; pounding at the door; gunshots]]

SG: Dr. Sharma, they’re here. You need to be done in 10 seconds because they’re gonna be–

NS: I’ll be done in five…

[[SFX: Nikhil throws a switch; the generator sparks]]

NS: Got it! Okay, Sally, I need you to close this circuit on the other side.

SG: I can’t, I’m trying to keep this door closed!

NS: It’ll take only a second. Just run here, you can make it!

CHET WHICKMAN (CW): (behind the door) Sally? It’s Chet. What on God’s green earth is going on? Open this door!

NS: Sally. NOW!

SG: Okay, okay, okay!

NS: That cable right there!

SG: Got it.

NS: Sally, close the circuit.

[[SFX: Chet pounds on the door]]

NS: Sally!

SG: I can’t do it! I can’t leave. I’m not ready yet.

NS: Sally, this is not the time to be having second thoughts! Do it now!

SG: I’m sorry! But there’s still work to be done in the past. This s home now! Roberts and Whickman… whatever ODAR becomes, I need to make sure they don’t let it turn out that way!

NS: Sally, this is the way! You make the anchor point, and bam: ODAR loses its grip over history. They’ll no longer have a singular point in history to keep revisiting every time they want to make a change. Other people can tamper with it, from anywhere on the timeline there’s an anchor! We free the world from ODAR’s clutches! Please, Sally, close the circuit. Come home.

[[SFX: Chet bursts through the door; shoots Nikhil]]

SG: [scream]

CW: Sally, you’ve got some explaining to do!

SG: Sharma!

NS: Call me...Nikhil.

CW: Get the hell away from him.

NS: That’s...quite the shot...

SG: I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I just, I’m responsible, and I...

NS: The-the anchor...

SG: Please, we can get you patched, we can try again.

NS: ...It’s not done.

SG: You’re right. I can still close the circ­­–

[[SFX: Chet fires three rounds at the generator, which spins down]]

SG: What the fuck Whickman?!

CW: Sally, you need to back away now.

NS: Find...

CW: Sally, I said, step aside!

SG: Whickman will you shut the hell up! I can’t hear him. You win! Plan foiled. I just want to hear him. Nikhil, find what?

NS: [gurgle]...Barlowe...

SG: What?

NS: [gurgle]...Barlowe...

CW: Barlowe? Quentin Barlowe is very dead.

NS: I see the beacons… dotting the arc of time… lighting the way to dawn.

SG: Beacons, arc of time, way to dawn. Got it. And you can tell me what that means tomorrow. Come on, Nikhil, come on, don’t die...

NS: Sally...?

SG: Nikhil, just hold on, okay?

NS: ...When I dropped in the water...

SG: Y-yeah?

NS: ...I knew...I had to kill you....

SG: Save your breath.

NS: ...But then you pulled me out...and there you were....

SG: Whickman, get a medic in here!

NS: ....all sun, and salt, and sand...

SG: Nikhil, just stop talking, please.

NS: .....what luck. [fights for breath] Sally?

SG: Whickman, please!

NS: Some...road trip, huh...?

SG: Nikhil...? Nikhil! Stay with me. Don't fall asleep...

NS: At least… you’re home.

SG: Whickman, why are you just standing there? Move! Come on! Nikhil, Nikhil stay with me, don’t fall asleep. Stay with wme. Nikhil! Come on!

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: (on phone) ...I’ll call you when I find out more.

ANTHONY PARTRIDGE (AP): You found someone? Who’s from the future? What’s his name. I can look him up.

[[SFX: tape fast-forward]]

AP: Hi, Sally. Just checking in, you should get this a day after we last spoke. Oh! Happy belated “reversary,” I guess. If you could get me the name of the guy who had a Timepiece, I’m pretty sure can give you relevant information. Otherwise, I’m just gonna sit here. For the rest of my life. Like… forever. Anyway. Get it to me when you can.

[[SFX: tape fast-forward]]

AP: So you’re not dead or vanished, or I’d have heard, but I’ve got no clue where you’re supposed to be these next few days. Anyway, I’m here. So you know.

[[SFX: Anthony types]]

AP: What’s keeping her?

[[SFX: alert beep]]

AP: Finally!

SG: (on phone) [sniff] Um, hey. Made it back to Colorado. Everything is... everything is the worst. I’m in a bad place. Think I’m gonna talk to Roberts about that shrink. I’ll call you later.

AP: ...Well, shit. Now I need to know about our mystery man from 20█. Where he came from. Other than 20█, I mean.

[[SFX: tape fast-forward]]

AP: So I went through every correspondence, every piece of tech in here, every memo and label stuck on furniture. You know what I found? Nothing, not a single item, was from 20█. I found a dossier in here marked ‘96... but….

Why doesn’t anyone from ODAR communicate with me past the nineties? It’s as if Sally’s time is the farthest out I can see, even with my best predictions and guesses. Not a sound from anybody out there. It’s a bit eerie.

What happens in the two thousands that blocks even my view into it? Something big. Something must have happened in ODAR to make them radio silent. I don’t know what it is.

Throw that on the pile of mysteries.

[[SFX: tape recorder stops]]

ars PARADOXICA is created by Daniel Manning and Mischa Stanton.
Episode 14: Anchor features – 

Kristen DiMercurio (Sally Grissom)
Reyn Beeler (Chet Whickman)
Katie Speed (Esther Roberts)
Robin Gabrielli (Anthony Partridge)
Arjun Gupta (Nikhil Sharma)
Conrad Miszuk (additional voices)
with special thanks to Isabel Atkinson

Production help from Danielle Shemaiah. Original music by Mischa Stanton and by Eno Freedman-Brodmann. Additional music by the US Army Blues via the Free Music Archive.
ars PARADOXICA is brought to you by The Internet: Not quite the Matrix, but pretty close.

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