Flotsam

This is the draft of a 10 minute play I am submitting to the Northern Arizona Playwriting Showcase. Deadline for submission is July 1, 2016. I plan to submit this on June 28 to allow for technical difficulties. I would love to have your comments, either posted here or onto the Conqueror Bristleworm Press Facebook page.

Flotsam

June 17, 2016 draft 10 minute play for the Northern Arizona Playwriting Showcase

Characters:

The Astronaut – a woman in her late 30’s or early 40’s

MILOS – Mars Interrogative Logical Operation System is the voice of the computer artificial intelligence system that comes from off stage. He speaks with flat intonation in a cartoonish artificial eastern European accent

Setting:

A cave on Mars (a lava tube at the base of Olympus Mons). The theater is dark. A single light shines upward from the floor. The astronaut (assumed to be wearing a space suit with her helmet on) stands with her back to the audience facing the wall of the cave (a chalkboard will do here) which displays numerous carvings (again, chalk will do here) with random bits of human knowledge. Numbers from zero to 14 are carved along the top, with a cluster of dots under each numeral corresponding to the number. The Cyrillic alphabet trails off the right hand side into the darkness, a short phrase in Arabic is written on the left, assorted Chinese characters are found along the bottom. In the center is a circle with a horizontal line representing the diameter labeled “d”, the circumference is labeled with a capital “C”, and to the left is the formula C = πd. To the right is π = 3.141

Action:

The woman is tapping the stone (piece of chalk) in her hand immediately to the right of the numerical value of Pi. She taps slowly at first, then gradually more rapidly and loudly until she finally turns and throws the rock (the piece of chalk) off stage.

She slowly turns to face the audience, raises her hand and appears to pull on a lever. The floor light fades to black while a spotlight bathes her in a small pool of light. She pantomimes entering an airlock, removing her helmet, and stepping into a small Martian portable habitat. She flips a switch and watches while a camera (imaginary for the purposes of the play) slowly drops down to eye level. Staring into the camera she speaks:

Astronaut: “Begin recording.”

She clears her throat.

“We all knew we were going to die on Mars. But not like this, and not this soon.”

MILOS: “GWAP! GWAP! GWAP! Carbon dioxide critical. GWAP! GWAP! GWAP! Carbon diox…”

The astronaut violently waves her hand and MILOS falls silent. She takes a deep breath.

“Forty six sols since the entrance to the cave collapsed. Still not sure why. Food and water nominal, but Cee oh 2 scrubbers are toast. This … my last chance to tell the story. Have used every format, every device in this cave. Even carving on rocks. (pause) That might prove the best in the end.”

“Certain I’m the last one. Twelve of us escaped the plague – two at Habitat Beta repairing the weather station, ten of us here at Delta prepping for another round of exploring this cave. Screw ups, accidents, bloody Mars. Now only one left.”

She shakes her head, takes another deep breath.

“A one way trip to Mars. Permanent colony. Maxed out at 136 colonists. The best and brightest from all over Earth – but that was the problem. A dozen astrophysicists for God’s sake! (pause) You can always tell an astrophysicist, but you can’t tell her much …”

She shakes her head again.

“We needed women with broad hips and sturdy wombs, not PhD’s.” She spreads her hands wide apart. “And young men with high sperm counts.” She holds her right arm across her chest, then raises it above her head.

“Sven and I went through three miscarriages before we gave up. Stale eggs and limp, mutant sperm were no match for this beast of a planet. 15 Martian revolutions, 30 earth years and not a single grandchild from the whole colony. Virginia Dare Lefkowitz, the first native Martian. (she pants) Beautiful frail little thing, dead before tenth Earth birthday. Jimson Hong made it longest, that laughing scoundrel. Fifteen Earth years old when beheaded by the harvester in Agridome 3, screwing around as teenage boys do.”

MILOS: “GWAP! GWAP! GWAP! Carbon …”

Astronaut (waves arm violently): “Alarm off! Override, cancel future atmospheric alarms, code 5 Tango 37 Zeta.”

MILOS: “Negative on override. Essential function protocol forbids override. Repeat, negative on override…”

Astronaut: “Ok, ok.” (deep breath) “MILOS, who picked that gawd-awful accent for you?”

MILOS: “Doctor Flinders”

Astronaut (struggling for breath) “Figures.” She shakes her head vigorously.

“This place? We found this place just 8 sols after the Earth went dark. The greatest discovery in human history and nobody there when we tried to phone home. Still don’t know what happened. We trained our only telescope, a little 10 cm job on the home planet, but nothing seemed unusual.” Her voice trails off.

“Right, this place. Long before the colony this lava tube was occupied by an intelligent alien life form. A friggin alien life form! Flinders was working on exposure ages before he was killed in a rover crash. Complex problem, but he was pretty sure the artifacts are at least 1 million earth years old, and probably no older than 5 million. We found deep gouge marks in the tightest sections of the cave, and great mounds of this material stuffed into the deeper recesses.”

She stoops and picks up a handful of material that looks like lavender cotton candy.

“It’s a quasi-crystalline aerogel … um … after some debate we’re pretty sure this stuff is alien excrement. Not much else. A few metal shards of some titanium alloy, and a few dozen of these things.”

She reaches down and holds up a purple crystal about an inch in height in front of the camera.

“Seems to be some sort of memory storage device, each with damage of some kind. No luck decoding them – not for lack of trying.”

Suddenly an obnoxious alarm horn starts blaring. She reaches to her left and punches a button.

“Carbon dioxide levels are critical,” she stifles a yawn. “This is going to have to be the last recording. I’ve tried every format we have, just in case someone or something finds this place a million years from now. MILOS? How long will your power last if you enter into standby mode?”

MILOS: “98,282.36 sols”

Astronaut: “So, roughly 275 earth years.” She briefly looks down, then back into the camera. “Could happen. Chance somebody will wake up MILOS here. Still, better bet with the rock carving. Just wish … 3.141 … 9? Damn! Can’t remember Pi past three decimals. After entrance collapsed realized math processors are all centralized in Hab Delta outside the cave. Other than basic counting, MILOS is basically a digital moron.”

MILOS: “Moron, neuter of the Greek moros, foolish, dull or sluggish, probably cognate with the Sanskrit murah …”

The astronaut waves her hand repeatedly to silence MILOS. She’s now panting heavily.

Astronaut: “So nutshell history of end of Mars colony, Project Incendium. Earth goes dark, 95 sols later resupply lander 169 arrives, seven sols after that disease suddenly breaks out in main colony, um, originally called Habitat Alpha. Renamed Uruk, first city on Mars, by a close vote. Roanoke might have been more fitting.” She shakes her head again, trying to focus. “In three sols everybody in Uruk was dead. 10 sols later resupp 170 landed without incident, then nothing. Had to be contaminant in resupp 169. Engineered disease vector? Sabotage?

We dozen survivors stayed clear of Uruk. Agridome 4 was isolated, still functioned, though crickets were the only animal protein. Never thought I’d miss iguana burgers – no chickens survived trip from earth. No contact with the home world, our one city out-of-bounds, we elected to continue our explorations. The apostles of science and reason, spread thin but defiant. 320 sols later mistakes, accidents and natural calamities had whittled us down to one. I returned to the cave, our single greatest discovery, to scour for clues. And then the roof collapsed.”

MILOS: “GWAP, GWAP …”

The astronaut waves her hand to stop MILOS, then stares silently into the camera for 20 seconds before mustering one last breath.

Astronaut: “Perhaps … perhaps some intelligent thing will find this place in a hundred, a thousand, a million, a hundred million years, after all surface traces of our great colony have been ground to dust by Martian storms. Here they will find … a small inflatable hab, odd carvings on a rock, a few bags of poop added to the giant mounds of alien excrement, and one desiccated skeleton shrink-wrapped in a space suit. Flotsam from the highest water mark of the great storm surge of human civilization. And maybe, just maybe, they will …”

The astronaut staggers, and begins to mumble, “3.141 … 9? 5? Think odd num …” She sways, then slowly collapses onto the floor.

MILOS: “Standby mode in 10 seconds. Six, five, four, three, two, one.”

A soft whirring sound fades away as the lights dim and the stage goes black.