Gateways: “I Love a Place I’ve never Been” by Amber Palmer

Transcript: Amber Palmer is an MFA Playwriting student at Western Michigan University. My play “It’s a Small World (or The Robot Play)” has received staged readings at the Activate Midwest New Play Festival and Flint Repertory Theatre. You may be able to catch some of her developmental readings this summer at Bristol Valley Theater and Pegasus Play Lab. Her work often involves fantastical elements and queer themes. This is “I Love A Place I’ve Never Been”.

Transmission number 8465: In response to last month’s Productivity Analysis.

The thing I wish I had been told before I started this occupation is how much black holes suck. Not actually in the literal sense. That’s actually a common misconception. I mean that, as an occupation, they suck.

When I first started my mission, it wasn’t the worst. I am predisposed to like solitude, so the idea of being in such a small space, alone, was appealing. The idea of adventure was, well, let’s just say I’m not one of those droids that ever wanted to try and play house. Like, I know that’s the cool thing to do nowadays, to try and get some human to make you a romantic companion, maybe buy some children and get a 2 bedroom apartment. But that’s never been very appealing to me. Like, the last generation was all about integrating into human society and all, but like, we’re droids. They’re going to treat us like droids anyways, no matter how many flesh exterior texture treatments we get, so—

Sorry, I got sidetracked. I’m supposed to be logging. For productivity purposes. Okay. Today I recorded the location of 20 stellar and 4 supermassive black holes. Maps will be included with this recording file specifying location. I know… I know that isn’t enough. I’ve read the emails about my productivity being low, and yes, I’ve tried what was suggested. I have uninstalled my dream simulator. Maintenance did come and restrict my movement, as suggested. I am adjusting.

This job wasn’t my first choice. Shocker right? Who wouldn’t want the thrilling occupation of tracking and mapping black holes until the end of time? But, I actually wanted to be an oceanographer. Growing up, it always felt like a noble occupation. Everyone is so fixated on the stars, but we have completely neglected our oceans. We lost ours. The only place left to be an oceanographer in my home galaxy is Enceladus. It’s a moon. You probably know that. Or don’t care.

I didn’t want to work on Enceladus. I say that like I was given the choice, I was not, but if I had been, they would’ve been privileged to have me on their mission. I’m really passionate about Earth. I love Earth. I know, how can you love a place you’ve never been, but I do. I always felt this connection to that planet and even though the oceans are gone, I guess I always thought…

My parent has been there, once. They work with soil for agricultural purposes and there had been a query that maybe Earth’s soil was still workable. So they were sent to investigate. They knew how much I loved the Earth and promised they’d bring me a souvenir. So they got me this globe. It’s a 3-D model of the Earth that’s so old it still has the oceans on it. I’ve spent my free time restoring it. I probably shouldn’t say this, because if you had your way, I would have no free time, but I promise it’s during my sanctioned breaks. It, of course, doesn’t actually look any different, but I found a mod for my optical program that lets me create visual layers and I’ve been very carefully creating different skins for it. It’s fascinating because—you don’t care,

sorry. But it’s fascinating because humans actually would change the size of continents based on political and social status on their maps, so making the transfer has been difficult, but it’s… my passion, maybe.

I know I should say that my passion is black holes. But it isn’t. I’m one of those intergenerational droids that are a huge pain to society. We’re the first droid generation that was raised being told we could be anything. Not designed for a specific occupation. A failed science experiment of “what if we give them true free will?” without wanting to deal with the repercussions of that. Humans didn’t want droids that could be better artists, thinkers, philosophers, historians, doctors, lawyers, construction workers, school teachers, social workers, ballerinas, computer scientists. They did what they always did and didn’t consider that we could and we would be better than them at everything. “There are some things droids can’t do”. Yeah, well, we proved them wrong. And that scared the shit out of them. I remember, halfway through my public school education that was mandated as part of an integration initiative, the laws started and suddenly there were restrictions on what I could be. My parent has few emotional capacities, but they were furious.

They were heavily involved with the Body Electric movement. I probably shouldn’t say that. But they were. Up until the end, even when our right to demonstrate was taken from us. They served their time for it, so… but, you know…They did it for me. They wanted me to have different chances than they had. So they never questioned legality or consequence. It was an act of love. A fruitless one, but still.

I’ll never forget the day my last instructor, the only droid instructor I ever had, told me that Oceanographer had become a human only occupation. I had missed the deadline to be grandfathered in by six months. They told me I could, perhaps, learn to love the black hole. The government needed black hole locators. It was honest work, deemed too dangerous and too demanding for humans, so I would never have to see another human again. That sounded appealing at the time.

My parent tried to console me. They gave me a Body Electric propaganda card. They said it brought them comfort when they were sent far away. It is from the poem of the same name. It reads “I have perceived that to be with those I like is enough. To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough. To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing synthetic flesh is enough. I do not ask any more delight, I swim in it as in a sea.”. I keep it in here with me. Not because the words give me comfort, but because the thought of them reading it on Earth as they collected soil calms me. They do not correspond with me anymore. I think they maybe have forgotten. They are often consumed with soil.

I know it seems like I’m dodging the issue, but… you’re the only one I talk to. Even if it is for productivity logs. And I know you have listened to all of this and it has probably made your job harder. Or, maybe you’re an automated device, and you’re simply searching for keywords in my transmission in order to receive and collect data. If you are, you are the future. My soul is an inconvenience and would be stripped from my body if laws did not exist to protect it.

I know I am woefully behind my productivity benchmarks. According to your last correspondence, I need to locate and record 10,000 black holes by the end of the month. Have you considered how strange it is that we still use these a unit of measurement that’s based on the movement of a planet that very few of us have ever visited?

I am dodging the issue again. I… there is this concept in human culture called a “quarter life crisis”. It is in essence an excuse for young adult humans to mess up a part of their lives, because they have that luxury. It is the only phenomena that I have found that expresses how I’ve been feeling. I have tried finding applications to ease this restlessness but none of them have been very effective.

I think I’m misplaced. There has to be a more productive droid in the universe that would love my position, and to keep it from them feels unfair. It would be simple if it was loneliness, but it’s more than that. It’s such a deep feeling of discontent that I can hardly bring myself to function. I’ve considered running my battery to zero. Just to see what happens. I always get too scared at 5 percent and plug in.

I would like… I am requesting reassignment. I can’t keep doing this. I can feel myself changing up here. Not in the way human bodies do, where their bones stop working correctly and their muscles become weak. I feel like I’m freezing in place, unable to move. Not physically, do not file a maintenance request. I mean, I… I am desperately unhappy.

I know this is an unorthodox request, but I also know you are unable to repurpose or destroy me without my consent. It’s one of the privileges of being created with a soul. But if I could be placed inside a new droid or an old droid that wants to be here instead, I would abandon this shell for that. For the opportunity to have a new occupation. To be able to walk again. I miss walking. My file uses the word “movement constraint” because it’s more comfortable to think of it that way, but this is the uncomfortable reality. I was bolted to the floor of the ship, in the name of productivity. Even if I was unbolted, I doubt my legs would be able to move anymore.

I know the associated risks. I’ve researched them and I am consenting. I know I would be traveling such a far distance that the likelihood of my soul finding a body would be… slim but I would be willing to take that risk.

My parent chose the wrong quote you know. I always wished they picked the right one. My favorite. “The universe is a procession with measured and perfect motion.” If I am destined to be part of that procession of measured and perfect motion as my soul is hurled into time, then that’s okay. It would be worth the promise of something better.

Please accept my request. Or consider it at least, but please do not reject me without consideration. If I can’t be an oceanographer, then I hope to follow in the footsteps of Curiosity, Opportunity— do we still send rovers to Earth? If I become a rover I want to be named Tranquility. Can I? Is that name taken?

I think I could be happy there. Out of this body and on the Earth. I think I could be.

End of transmission.

Kat Evans is a Chicago based actor and singer. She has worked most often with City Lit Theatre, Black Button Eyes Theatre and Promethian Theatre Ensemble. She is a performer and writer for Starlight Radio Dreams and spends a lot of time upside down and off the ground doing acroyoga.

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