The Recorder of Dr. Nikhil Sharma
written by Tau Zaman
[[SFX: tape recorder starts]]
NIKHIL SHARMA (NS): And so I recorded her voice pattern, called her husband, and told him: "Don’t ever speak to me again!"
FUTURE ODAR OFFICER (OO): I don’t seem to understand the problem here. It sounds like your mission was a success!
NS: If you can call it that.
OO: Be direct, Doctor Sharma.
NS: I just, I remember hearing her husband’s voice crack. And then he started crying. I could just see him sinking to his knees on the other side of the phone. He made this horrible, sad sound. It was like... like killing an animal.
OO: And how did that situation make you feel?
NS: I just remember thinking, this is a kind of power no organization should have.
OO: Doctor, you seem to sound like you’re unhappy here.
NS: No, it’s not that I’m unhappy here, it’s more that I have a hard time seeing how we’re making anyone else happy. It seems like all we do is cause more people pain.
OO: It sounds like you don’t appreciate our organization’s values.
NS: I do! But virtue #2 is honesty. I’m trying to tell the truth here about what I feel.
OO: Thank you for your honesty. I’m being honest with you in saying perhaps you’re just not the right... "values fit” here.
NS: Officer, with all due respect, “values fit” is just pretty HR lingo for “culture fit.”
OO: We’re going in circles here. Why don’t we... take a couple of weeks, see how you’re feeling, then re-evaluate.
NS: And what happens when we... re-evaluate?
OO: ...We’ll see.
[[SFX: radio tuning; sounds of hand-to-hand combat; Mateo throws Nikhil]]
NS: I...demand...a rematch!
MATEO MORALES (MM): We said best two outta three.
NS: At least gimme a hand.
MM: No can do.
NS: C’mon, Morales!
MM: What’s virtue #3 in the ODAR field manifesto?
MM: That’s more like it, soldier.
NS: "Soldier..." I’m pretty sure I’ve been in ODAR longer than you. No fair you get to be senior.
MM: And YET, Doctor Sharma, you’re the one on the ground.
NS: If I get back up can we rematch?
MM: Sorry. Try again tomorrow, young grasshopper.
[[SFX: radio tuning; Nikhil runs in the rain]]
NS: (out of breath) Have I mentioned that running... really isn’t my thing?
MM: (out of breath) Just remember, what’s virtue #5 in the ODAR field manifesto?
MM: Yeah... we’re gonna see this through! Or, y'know... we could just call it a day... no one has to know...
[[SFX: radio tuning; Nikhil and Mateo spar; crack of bone]]
MM: AUGH, my nose!
NS: Block your head, man!
MM: No I’m serious stop stop stop!
MM: You broke my nose dude!
NS: I’m sorry! I’m a doctor, I can fix this.
MM: I’ve got a mission tomorrow!
NS: Okay but I doubt you’re going to need your sense of smell so it's ok
MM: ...Dick. This isn’t funny.
NS: It’s kind of funny.
MM: No it’s... [laugh]
[[SFX: radio tuning]]
NS: See? Good as new.
MM: I dunno if this bloody mess on my face counts as "new."
NS: Well unless your mission tomorrow requires some good old-fashioned spy-like seduction, it’ll have to do.
MM: And what if my mission does call for the ol’ honeypot?
NS: Then goodness help you in finding some way to charm them.
MM: Damn. You’re saying you wouldn’t fall for this mug?
NS: I...didn’t say anything of the sort!
MM: Ah, so you think I’m handsome.
NS: Listen, all I’m saying is it doesn’t matter how handsome anyone is! I think anyone would have a hard time looking past a bloody nose.
MM: So can I ask you to look past it for a minute?
MM: I want to try something.
[[SFX: Mateo kisses Nikhil]]
NS: I... I wasn’t expecting that.
MM: Relax, just practice for the mission, that’s all.
NS: How long will you be gone?
MM: I dunno. A while. Hell, I’ll be gone as long as you need to stop blushing.
NS: Just...be careful.
MM: Aw, you caaaare!
NS: I most certainly do not care. Get lost, Morales!
MM: Call me Mateo.
NS: Mateo Morales Cervantes Moreno–get. Lost.
MM: That’s more like it. G’night, Doctor Sharma.
[[SFX: Mateo leaves]]
NS: Call me Nikhil. Try not to die or anything. I’m a doctor but I can’t fix the dead.
[[SFX: radio tuning; ODAR mess hall]]
NS: Diary of Doctor Nikhil Sharma, August 28th, 20█. I’m beginning to think I should use this recorder less, or at least take out the more embarrassing bits—
MM: (distant) Nikhil!
MM: It’s good to see you, man. I missed you!
[[SFX: Mateo hugs Nikhil, blocking the recorder]]
NS: I missed you too, but, I mean, I saw you just two days ago. And wow, your nose healed insanely fast!
MM: Uh...right. Yeah. Duh. Just feels like a while.
NS: It sure does. How’d you get that scar?
MM: This old thing? Oh, I’ve always had it.
NS: No you haven’t. It wasn’t there two days ago.
MM: So you’ve been checkin’ me out, eh?
NS: Mateo... it hasn’t just been two days, has it. You look...different.
MM: Nikhil, don’t do this—
NS: Have you been... time traveling?
MM: What! No! ...Okay, just a little.
NS: I thought ODAR abandoned time travel in the 90s!
MM: I mean, that’s what we said.
NS: Fucking ODAR. I knew it.
MM: It was more that we just... developed... better “anomalous resources.” Why bother going back in time, when now we have technologies to manipulate the present so much more efficiently?
NS: Yes, but the Timepiece is clearly not a thing of the past. You still go back.
MM: Yeah, sometimes, when we really need to. But for the most part we’ve already changed history as much as we need. So very rarely do we ever need to go back more than a year at a time. Minor tune-ups.
NS: ...So you went back a year. Completed your mission. Then you waited to catchup to our time, in the present, before walking through that door?
MM: And I had to remember what day I left here. So I could come back to HQ exactly one day later than that and act like nothing ever happened.
NS: ...My head hurts.
MM: Oh yeah? Try reliving this past year.
NS: And the world still sucks. Guess you failed.
MM: Hey, I did my best. Turns out the honey pot didn’t work.
NS: ...So this is why they still teach us to resist Butterfly Syndrome. In case they need to send us back.
MM: Well yeah. Can’t use CAGEs anymore.
NS: I can’t believe we’re still doing it. Tinkering with the past? Really?
MM: ...They say it’s safer these days.
NS: It’s NOT safe.
MM: I know. Remember that study? With the kids? There’s a reason nobody goes that far back anymore.
NS: Doesn’t it bother you that we even let that happen?
MM: Sure, but–
NS: No ‘but.’ It’s wrong.
MM: ...You’re right. It’s wrong. Actually, I was going back because... I wanted to see if I could put a stop to that too.
NS: So there was never a mission?
MM: No, there was, but it was a stupid mission. This other one I... gave myself.
NS: I don’t like the sound of this, Mateo–
MM: Look, we can’t talk here. But actually I could really use your help. How about my quarters, at 1900?
NS: Look if this is a continuation of what happened the other day—
MM: Relax, no funny business. I really just wanna talk to you.
NS: Right! I mean, I had no assumptions, I just... You know...
[[SFX: radio tuning]]
MM: Sally Grissom. The woman, the myth, the legend.
NS: She’s beautiful.
MM: She’s in danger. ODAR wants her gone.
NS: That’s why they sent you back?
MM: No, she was already dead by last year. They want her dead... sooner.
NS: How come?
MM: Hard to say, something’s got them spooked. But listen, you don’t exactly love it here, right?
NS: I manage to separate my ethics from the work we do on a daily basis, yes.
MM: When I went back, I ran into someone who wanted a put a stop to this. I mean all of it. Wanted to shut ODAR down for good.
NS: That’s impossible. They’ve already eliminated all historic threats to their existence.
MM: Except Sally.
NS: But she’s already dead!
MM: Something she does in her lifetime still paves the way for whatever threat she poses to ODAR now. That’s why she needs to die sooner. I’m going to recommend you for the mission.
NS: You want me to kill her?
MM: Think about it. ODAR thinks they’re still in danger here, in the present. It must be because she left behind some kind of legacy they didn’t know about. Something that could undo everything they’ve built.
NS: Why don’t you just do it?
MM: I... can’t. This was my last time travel mission.
NS: Oh, god. Mateo, no. They keep sending you back, we have no more CAGEs for recovery–
MM: I’m fine. I’m still me. For now. But Nikhil, you have to listen to me. This past year, this is what I was trying to track down.
[[SFX: Mateo unfolds a schematic]]
MM: For an anchor point. A second one, separate from the Eldridge.
NS: Meaning what?
MM: Meaning you could choose which point you want to travel to. And if we made one here...
NS: People could travel forward. To the future.
MM: Correct. But the anchor first has to be made in the past, with the Project Rainbow generator in the original ODAR facility in Colorado. We can map this point in the present as coordinates, such that you retroactively forge a new anchor and can come back here with an old Timepiece. But the first anchor has to be on the other side. It can’t be initiated from here. Our current technology was modernized to never emit the same level of radiation — a level we’ll need to forge the anchor point itself.
NS: Who... who gave you this idea?
MM: A lot of people actually. Across time. They’ve collectively been trying to design something to take down ODAR. Across decades, without ever even meeting each other, sometimes.
NS: Can I really make a jump this far back? All the way to young Sally Grissom and the retro Timepiece?
MM: What if you did it in smaller jumps? Like those kids?
NS: No, do not make me follow those kids!
MM: Think about it. It’s the perfect route. We know they end up in Sally’s time by the end, right?
NS: I can’t believe you’ve been working on this all this time. It’s maddening. Andwho the hell are all these people across time to take down ODAR?
MM: For most of history they never met each other. Those that bother with a label call themselves the Anchorites. Worked at ODAR in completely different times in history. But they’re putting their minds together and I think they can really put a stop to... all this.
NS: ...Are you one of them?
MM: It’s crazy. I know. I have no idea if it’ll even work. But if it can put a stop to ODAR, isn’t it worth it?
NS: ...I have no idea how to build this schematic! I can’t do it when I get to the other side!
MM: I’ll show you how. From now on, at dawn, we practice. Every day. Until ODAR sends you back.
NS: You really think they’re gonna listen to your recommendation?
MM: They...have to.
MM: When I go back to the past for a year, again and again...don’t you wonder what happens to the past me?
NS: Please don’t tell me you go all Prestige on him.
MM: No, no. The thing is...past me is just sitting on his couch, wondering what he’s going to do with his life. 30 years in the future.
NS: You haven’t been born yet.
MM: ODAR is under strict orders to take orders from future agents. The future organization outranks the past, every time.
NS: That explains why you get all the cushy treatment. I definitely joined way before you.
MM: Hey! I just so happen to have been deprived of “cushy” treatment for a good year of my life, mister. Speaking of... thinking you could help with that?
NS: You’re a pig!
[[SFX: Nikhil and Mateo fall back on the bed; radio tuning;
MM: So you land on the Philadelphia shore.
NS: Sally Grissom rushes to my rescue.
MM: She can get you to Point of Exile. She’ll take you back there no matter what. Gain her trust, find out why she’s so important, and one night...just do the deed, if you must.
NS: Must I?
MM: Maintaining the cover that you’re cooperating with ODAR is your number one priority. Remember: if you’re compromised, ODAR learns of our plans–in the past–and can undo our work, and memories, at any moment. All this will have been for nothing.
NS: But if ODAR wants her dead, it could only be because she’s of use to us, right?
MM: She’s not useful in any way that matters to shutting down ODAR on our terms. If you tell her about any of this, you risk compromising all of our progress until this point.
NS: Wait, problem here. You said in the original generator this circuit is all the way on the other side.
MM: Yeah. You probably won’t be able to reach it by hand. If you wanna make the anchor point, you’ll need an extra pair of hands. Just trick some guard. Don’t count on Sally to do it.
NS: ... Oh my god, ODAR is going to kill me for even thinking about trying any of this!
MM: You’re a Doctor. You’re too valuable. Still, don’t ever let them find out about this. They might just go back and make sure you were never born. But yeah, you’ll be fine. We need doctors. I wonder why we have so few with all our funding.
NS: Probably because we swore to do no harm.
[[SFX: radio tuning]]
OO: Doctor Sharma, come in.
NS: I thought my reevaluation wasn’t coming for another couple of weeks.
OO: Relax, I’m just going to ask you a question and we can evaluate from there.
OO: I take it you and Agent Morales are... close?
NS: I’m sorry, I—
OO: You know exactly well what I mean. You know, he doesn’t have many trips left him. His last was supposed to be indeed his last journey back through time. It’d be unwise for his health.
NS: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear a question.
OO: Would you like me to send your friend to his death? Or would you like to kill Sally Grissom?
[[SFX: radio tuning]]
MM: You know, one of the people who worked on this schematic? She had all these diary entries. I found one that she wrote towards the end of her life. She was hitting a wall with the schematics, nearing death, and she just didn’t know what else to do. She felt like ODAR was winning, no matter what. And she wrote... this.
NS: “I see the beacons, dotting the arc of time, lighting the way to dawn." June Barlowe.
MM: Trust me, when things get dark, just remember that image. It gets you home. That’s what kept me going. Now. Will you do it, Nikhil? Take us to the dawn?
[[SFX: radio tuning]]
OO: Doctor Sharma? Doctor Sharma. I’m sorry but time waits for no one in this case. I’m going to need an answer from you right away. Let me remind you this a great opportunity to prove you’re a “values fit” here. A real team player. Now. Will you complete the mission, or will we have to send agent Morales?
NS: ...Yes. I’ll do it.
[[SFX: tape recorder stops]]
ars PARADOXICA was created by Daniel Manning & Mischa Stanton.
The Recorder of Dr. Nikhil Sharma features –
Arjun Gupta (Nikhil Sharma)
Bernardo Cubría (Mateo Morales)
Jade Johnson (Future ODAR Officer)
Fight choreography and production help from Danielle Shemaiah. Original music by Mischa Stanton and by Eno Freedman-Brodmann.
ars PARADOXICA is brought to you by The Internet: Good news for people who love giving bad news.