Abyssal (first draft)
TECH, RESEARCHER and DIRECTOR are preparing to eat. The cafeteria isn’t large, but with only the three of them left it feels empty. There is a big screen, once used for briefings and other mass communication with the staff, and of course it is showing the death count. DIRECTOR eats happily, while TECH stares at his food as he eats and RESEARCHER, plate already empty, scribbles notes on loose paper. DIRECTOR also has a tablet, from which he is reading his own research. The emphasis while he is talking is on the others’ discomfort and the isolation.
DIRECTOR: It’s a long protein strand, which provides extra lining for the axons in the brains of…such-and-such species of octopus, I didn’t write that down. But we were looking into it, in the old days, for all kinds of applications. Treating Parkinsons’s disease, we thought. Skin creams, beauty products, that sort of tripe. But what was so fascinating was the way it had some of the properties of an inorganic polymer, and that was what my division was gearing up to look at. Biodegradable plastics, alternatives to many petroleum products. Of course, directorship here put an end to that. I’ve no regrets, but I’d love to get my hands on the material, maybe I could crack it. Now that…
RESEARCHER glowers at him. TECH eyes her. DIRECTOR is contrite, but only somewhat genuinely.
DIRECTOR: Oh, you know what I’m going to say. You hate when I say it. [PAUSE] But I’m going to say it. Now that there’s time enough.
TECH visibly tenses at it. Clearly it’s a refrain of DIRECTOR’s that wears on the other two. Closeups while DIRECTOR talks on RESEARCHER’s hand tensely writing notes, and TECH stimming with his thumb on the edge of a butter knife.
DIRECTOR: All this time to work, and total freedom. We’re bound to solve all the problems we were working at before, yet whom for? Say I find the perfect cure for Parkinson’s, meanwhile a whole other solution to that old riddle is working itself out up there, and even if we ever saw the sky again there’d be no one to inject, or drink, or apply it. It’s beautiful irony.
He cuts a rehydrated meatloaf. The wrappers of vacuum-sealed meals are scattered on the table.
RESEARCHER: You said you’d change the screens.
Focus on the death count. Still no explicit information about what it refers to.
DIRECTOR: (genuine) But I have.
RESEARCHER: You didn’t.
DIRECTOR: I removed the labels, there’s no written reminder left.
RESEARCHER: (struggling to be patient) It needs to come down. It’s everywhere. I don’t want to see it.
DIRECTOR: (put out) Alright. I can set it to follow me, so it isn’t on every screen. It’s important to me, you understand?
TECH: It hurts.
There is quiet for a moment.
DIRECTOR: So. It’s day two hundred and seventeen. Where are we?
RESEARCHER clicks her pen closed.
RESEARCHER: I have nothing to report.
DIRECTOR looks at TECH, who blinks as though he’s having trouble concentrating.
TECH: Everything’s…working condition.
DIRECTOR: That’s all? Please, I urge you, indulge! We have food, we have air, there are no new instructions coming. You know what I’m going to say. Tell me you’ve been up to something. How are you spending the days!
RESEARCHER: No response.
RESEARCHER shoves her loose papers forward a little. Close up on them, showing that they’re covered in lists of coordinates and diagrams of communications devices, on which she has scribbled thoughts for modification to get more power and range. DIRECTOR is somewhat distressed.
DIRECTOR: You’re still –
RESEARCHER: Yes. I’m still.
DIRECTOR: But there’s no one –
RESEARCHER: How do you know? Because of that? [the screen]
DIRECTOR: Ninety percent –
RESEARCHER: It’s a model. It’s not counting anything. It’s just following the last trajectory it had. You don’t know.
RESEARCHER stands up but leans against her chair, looking away. TECH has been staying out of it, but he looks up at her.
RESEARCHER: I have to find somebody. I have to – try.
DIRECTOR: You’re setting yourself up for disappointment. You’re risking getting all of our hopes up.
RESEARCHER: If I could use the sonar –
DIRECTOR: [jabs a finger at her] No! You won’t touch it.
RESEARCHER: Then turn the damn model off.
She takes her papers and leaves, having hardly touched her meal. TECH and DIRECTOR sit quietly for a moment longer. TECH closes the plastic lid over RESEARCHER’s plate.