I haven’t been doing as much free writing lately to focus on other things, but something I’ve done lately is exercises in developing plot summaries. This is one I wrote based on a few prompted themes.
The setting is a deep-sea lab in the near future. Far out in the ocean, in the abyssal zone, albeit a plateau in its highest reaches. The exterior walls are all thick glass and magnify the minimal light so that it looks like twilight from the inside, but if you leave it’s pitch black.
The lab is in two modules: the administrative and research module, and the staff module. The former houses laboratories, active equipment, and offices, and the latter has staff dormitories, extra equipment, and everything required for keeping the lab self-sufficient, including a hydroponic farm and an entire field for growing crops. Both modules draw power from a generator built over a hydrothermal vent.
The lab was evacuated when a state of global emergency was declared several weeks ago, as a plague reached pandemic levels. There are only three staff members left aboard: The Director, who chose to be the last one onto the escape shuttle but it ran out of space; a Researcher and a Lab Tech, who were unable to get to the shuttle. Another shuttle never came, and now there is no contact with the outside world whatsoever.
The three survivors spend their time trying not to lose it in the isolation. It has only been weeks, and it could be decades still. They could be the only human beings left alive. From their first conversations, the viewer learns that they all took the job working on the lab station for reasons involving a need to be isolated, though this situation is far too much.
The Director though a pleasant and kindly (if absent-mindedly insensitive) middle-aged-to-old man, is deeply cynical to the point that he is torn apart by a deep-seated disgust for humanity. He has taken to conducting research into everything he has ever hoped to, and wryly quotes the Twilight Zone episode “Time Enough At Last” all the time. This includes a long-unindulged fascination with dark matter, and a conviction that true psychic communication is possible.
The Researcher has a complex built on a conviction that every problem is her fault, and therefore she is overly intense with everyone around her, paranoid and pushy. She spends most of her time trying radio frequencies and other ways of seeking contact with the surface, and studying what little is available to be known about the pandemic as if she could find a cure. The lab has access to one of the super sonar devices the military has developed to track everything in a wide stretch of ocean, which she wants to activate to alert anyone who might see it of the survivors’ existence, but the Director won’t allow it, since it would cause massive ecological devastation.
The Tech is nervous and depressed, has social anxiety that leads him to antisocial behavior, and tends only to form relationships that will eventually become codependant. He spends most of his time performing routine maintenance on lab equipment, working the fields, harpoon fishing out the pressurized submersible pen, blasting music, helping with the Director’s research, and reciting quotes from old self-help books to himself. Sometimes he thinks he sees someone else in the lab, but there is no one there; Director thinks he hallucinates, and he probably does. He has a tendency when hurting to make sure others know, in a way that will make them hurt too. He is also verging on suicidal.
Sometimes none of them see each other for days.
Researcher and Tech were in a relationship previously: the reason they missed the evacuation was that they had hidden away in a private place to break up when the alarm sounded, and so were last to it and out of luck. Neither is happy about the other being one of the others stranded down here, but neither will talk about it. They both try sometimes, but never succeed.
The computer system in the lab is able to run a simulation predicting the spread of the pandemic and the total death count, based on trends established before communication was lost. The Director likes to keep an eye on it and sardonically celebrate at milestones. It is at almost 90% at the start of the movie, and exponentially increasing. He has also set it to be the default screen on every display in the lab, so he can always keep track of it. He promises to set it to follow him, but never gets around to it.
Director explains that dark matter is called that because it doesn’t interact with electromagnetic radiation like normal matter, but is thought to account for most of the mass in the universe. He thinks there is some kind of wavelike pattern, however that affects dark matter’s interaction with EM, and that at points where multiple of those waves intersect there will be a node in which it is exponentially more visible and affected by it. This is based on old theories and some exciting research he has done since the evacuation. He often has Tech go out in the submersible to collect samples of water, soil, and abyssal lifeforms to study for any evidence of this.
The submersible has a light-amplifying cockpit, only one seat and just a little space behind it, and has a battery life of just a few hours (hence why it is useless as a means of escape). Whenever Tech takes it out, he is tempted to push out beyond fifty percent of the battery life, so that it would be impossible to make it back to recharge, so that he will die. Usually, he turns back.
One time, when going out for samples, Tech falls into a dissociative state, and doesn’t emerge until well past fifty percent. He panics, but not for long. Much as it is distressing, he has also been hoping to die and not have to deal with the isolation. Deciding that he has apparently just committed suicide, he keeps driving forward. Near the end of the battery life, he finds a strange ruin, almost like tendrils of corrupted sprite graphics, which reflect absolutely zero light, leading to a central structure that may have once been a tower but is now piled high with thousands of years of seabed rising. Tech pilots the submersible up inside, and finds a place where submersible can surface, which will allow it to charge by using the air vs water pressure differential.
Inside he finds what looks like a gateway or portal. He looks all around, in a dreamlike state, in part because oxygen had been getting low before he reached the open air. He sits to collect himself, because it will take a long time for the sub to charge. After a while, an Alien appears in the portal behind him. It can’t cross over or communicate in any way. Tech, fascinated, tries to communicate by sign language, but it doesn’t mean anything to the Alien. He runs down a long corridor that spirals probably all the way to the base of the ancient tower, and all the way there are more portals every ten yards or so, at which the Alien meets him. But eventually, Tech has to decide that he can’t do anything himself, and he just sits down to watch the Alien, which sits down opposite him, until the sub is charged and he returns.
Excited but awkward and nervous, Tech tries to bring himself to tell the other two about what he has discovered. In the end he goes to Researcher and just tells her the direction to go and how far. She doesn’t know what to make of his behavior. A while later, however, Director announces a dinner to celebrate the death toll crossing over 90%, and she decides she would rather avoid it. She looks at the sub’s log and sees that Tech did in fact take it out that distance, charge it, and come back, so she tries it.
When she arrives at the tower, the Alien is not present. The only thing there is what appears to be a comatose person, though very strange looking, lying on the floor in front of the portal.
Researcher sounds an alarm when she gets back, carrying the comatose person with her, that brings the others to her. She and Tech, with Director’s help, get the person into the medical bay in the administrative module, and while Director goes to initialize the infrequently used medical system, Researcher chides Tech, hard, for leaving someone in a state like this and just trying to pawn the problem off on her. She batters him with questions until he shuts down.
All three of them look over the body, with increasing interest and worry. What Researcher had thought was a skin disease turns out to be something other than skin; instead of appearing to be wearing strange undergarments, the flesh is actually somewhat segmented, and there are no genitals or orifices at all, aside from mouth nose and ears. But everything responds more or less like a human body would when tested. They all have to sit and think.
Eventually, they get to speculating what this thing is. It is the first time they have enjoyed one another’s company at all in weeks. They propose ideas such as: an entire body made up of prosthetic parts, waiting for a brain implant (except that it has a brain, or what appears to be one); a colonial lifeform that formed inside a dead body as it decomposed like a forming in and around a bone; actually someone from Atlantis, and Atlantis exists.
After a while, Researcher and Tech step aside, so that Researcher can apologize and try to get more answers out of him. After some prodding, which helps reveal how their relationship had been and why it had to end, he gives in and tells her what he saw, allowing for hallucination. She doesn’t believe it, but she tells him to go back, because they can’t go together. He does, and Researcher locks herself in her room, anxious at the multiple world-changing events she might have to accept here.
When he gets back to the tower, Tech finds the alien standing at the portal, while a second body is halfway pushed through it. It takes some time, but eventually it falls to the ground, where Researcher found the other one. This is Artificial Human 2 (Art2).
Meanwhile, Director is looking at Artificial Human 1, talking to himself the whole time. He uses various instruments to study it, including getting EEG readings. After a while, he decides to use his psychic communication testing device, which involves electrodes on his head and on Art1’s. He sits for a long time, watching slight changes in brain activity but not much else. All the while, he keeps one eye on the pandemic monitor, which is creeping up to 95%.
Tech watches Art2 on the ground, having given up on communicating with Alien. Art2 begins to spasm, and then wakes up. When Art2 is conscious, it has to get its bearings. Alien demonstrates that it is controlling Art2. Art 2 has to purge fluid from their lungs, but then they indicate that they can talk, though they aren’t ready yet. Also, that it’s okay to take them along in the sub.
Still wearing his electrodes, Director gets some champagne to celebrate the death count reaching 95%, but while he’s drinking, he starts hyperventilating and breaks down. He starts cursing people and their ways but doesn’t get much out. All this time, he hasn’t been noticing a steady increase in Art1’s brain activity. Art1 gets up, to the gasping Director’s surprise, fascination, and soon horror, with disgust and rage in its eyes. It kills him brutally. While Tech is bringing Art2 back, it howls and clutches at its head in anguish at its knowledge of all the flaws and crimes of humanity, and smashes the medical bay. In the midst of its fury, it sees the pandemic monitor, understands it, takes some comfort, and knows what its mission is.
Tech arrives with Art2 at the sub pen, where Researcher is waiting. Her eyes are wide when she sees another artificial human, conscious and alert. In Tech’s room, which is a big empty dormitory, she paces while Art2 talks. It explains that the aliens live in what we might call another dimension. Matter in that dimension is perceptible in this one as dark matter, and vice-versa. It is one of a community that was ritually banished to a cavern underground, for reasons that could not possibly be explained. Many generations ago, a previous banished community tried to tunnel to freedom through into this plane, but found that they could not survive in it. Now they have the technology to create a vessel like this one (the body), but only just now did any lifeform approach for them to imitate with it. The first they sent through disappeared while they were discussing how to use it. There are hundreds of aliens, and they pilot the body one at a time; all have taken a turn so far.
While Art2 is explaining, this, Art1 is reading the files of the people left aboard. It focuses on the negatives in their psychological profiles and histories, such as how they have failed others in the past. It is also learning about the lab and how it works.
Researcher has a fit and walks away. She pauses a couple times on the way but can’t manage to say anything. She ends up crossing the bridge to the administrative module and locking herself in her room. While struggling with her new knowledge, she remotely retracts the bridge between the two modules.
Tech is distraught, but Art2, piloted by a very sensitive alien, comforts him. There is evidence of an intense connection growing.
Art1 begins pulling plugs and disrupting systems in the lab, and the remaining survivors are too distracted to notice lights flickering, the light-amplifying display struggling, and so on.
Tech goes and finds the bridge out. He doesn’t know what to do, and just sits there. Eventually, Researcher comes out and stands on the other end. They’re too far away to see anything, just enough to tell who they’re looking at and a little body language. Researcher pulls out a tablet and sends some simple text to all the screens, overwriting the death count. She says she isn’t ready to talk, but explains a little about why she’s distressed. Aliens change everything, right? And yet, we make contact right when there’s no more humanity. Tech types a message but doesn’t send it, indicating that he is well familiar with her complex.
Then he sees Art1 behind her. Art1 smashes her against the wall, holds her by the neck, and demands to know how to get to the surface. Tech, powerless, bangs against the glass. Art1 decides she is useless to it and starts to strangle her, but then decides to give her a slower death.
It takes her a level down, to a storage closet whose transparent outer wall is visible from across the bridge. It throws her inside and seals the door, and uses her tablet to reroute all oxygen from that room into a storage room in the field. It then stands outside and explains a little of its hate, using language Director has used throughout, and muses about the possibility of destroying what is left of humanity and taking their place. Researcher tries to break the glass, which would be a bad idea, but can’t anyway. She does, however, wrench it out of place just slightly before she gives up and then passes out.
Tech goes back to the sub pen and finds that Art1 disabled it remotely. He goes to Art2 for help. 2, superhuman, swims in 500+ atmospheres of pressure to the other module, and passes out in an antechamber on the other side. 1 sees them there, and doesn’t know what to think, and hesitantly leaves them and goes back to exploring Researcher’s tablet, getting closer and closer to finding the option for the sonar blast. Art2 gets up and they face off, and 2 gets the tablet away and extends the bridge. They fight, but then Tech shoots 1 with his harpoon gun.
All this does, however, is trigger physical defenses that involve 1 developing heavier armor and rougher features. 1 goes after Tech but he flees, 2 holds it back and 1 hurts them badly, but makes a point of not killing them because they aren’t human. It finds the option to sound the sonar and activates it.
The pulse cracks the outer shell where Researcher broke the wall and water gets in with enough force to knock her through the door, quickly rising to flood the rest of the module. Tech, hiding, finds her and helps her as she catches her breath. They evacuate to the other module and try to retract the bridge but don’t manage to before 1 gets across. They barricade themselves in the dormitories.
Researcher tells the others what she was able to hear of what 1 said. There is a pall. The lab receives a message from a distant submarine that traced their ping, and wants to know if there are survivors. 1 tries to answer it, but the survivors tearfully shout over it that there is disease in the lab, don’t come for them.
1 knows it has to kill them if it wants any chance of getting to land. It comes tearing through the locked doors, and they have to scatter. Both artificial humans have progressive defenses that activate as danger to their bodies increases, and soon the fight comes down to the two of them, the humans irrelevant. They run through the field, and the fight follows them there. The oxygenated storage unit then explodes, setting the field ablaze.
Tech is knocked out. The last thing he sees is the grappling, increasingly bestial artificial humans. When he comes to, there is only one, in silhouette against the flames, and it is standing over him.