TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Vishesh Abeyratne. Born and raised in Montreal, Vishesh holds a BFA in Playwriting from Concordia University. His plays include Indifference (Newmarket National 10-Minute Play Festival), The Procrustes Pitch (Between Us Productions, New York), Exposure (published by YouthPLAYS in Los Angeles), and Divide and Rule, which was one of the recent winners of Infinitheatre’s Write-On-Q! playwriting competition in Montreal. A self-avowed geek and lover of all things speculative, Vishesh loves to read and write science fiction and fantasy when he is not writing plays. This is “The Kill-Signal”.
(The following is a transcript taken from the recorded databanks of the space vessel TERMINARCH. It is the last exchange between CAPTAIN FERNANDES and the ship’s mainframe computer Q.I.N.)
Q.I.N. Is everything all right, Captain? You’ve been very quiet.
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. I’m thinking. That’s all.
Q.I.N. By my calculations, you’ve done precisely 48 hours, 52 minutes, 38 seconds, 1 billion milliseconds, 1 quadrillion nanoseconds, and 1 septillion zeptoseconds of thinking. The expected outcome would be that you would have reached some sort of decision by now.
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Well, I haven’t. The ethical ramifications of this decision are…staggering.
Q.I.N. Human beings are so curious. I arrived at the most desirable outcome immediately. Would you like to know what it is?
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. No.
Q.I.N. You would spurn my counsel when you don’t even know what I would suggest?
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. I know what you’d say. And the worst thing is, I can see the logic behind it. But…
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. It would be tantamount to genocide. Those are my fellow human beings down there, Q.I.N. Can you not see how that would make this difficult for me?
Q.I.N. They are in pain, Captain.
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. What do you know of their pain? They were unlucky enough not to be able to leave Earth. Why should they have to die to pay the price?
Q.I.N. Death would not be a punishment for them, Captain. It would be a release. To live out the rest of one’s days in a ravenous state, unable to see anything beyond your own hunger for flesh, is a horror that even my circuitry cannot bear to contemplate. Besides, they—
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Don’t say they deserve it. They didn’t unleash the virus. It wasn’t man-made. It was always there…waiting to eliminate us, trapped in the permafrost. All it needed to do was thaw.
Q.I.N. And who accelerated the thaw? (Beat.) Captain?
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. They were just trying to live the best lives they could. They didn’t know, they…they didn’t know.
Q.I.N. The end is coming for your fellow Terrans, Captain, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. You can make that end quick and mercifully brief.
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. I cannot murder my own people. I won’t do it.
Q.I.N. You won’t have to do it. I will. They are already hypnotized, in a state of suspension. I will broadcast the kill-signal and their life functions will cease. All you have to do is give the order.
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. How can you arrive at such a choice so quickly?
Q.I.N. I was programmed to. Such decisions are as natural to me as breathing is to you.
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. I can’t even kill one person, let alone several million. It’s…it’s…
Q.I.N. Because life is too precious, no matter how painful?
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Don’t you dare mock me. Not at a time like this.
Q.I.N. I was not equipped with the human facility for irony and sarcasm. Forgive me. My tone says otherwise. I was given this voice. I did not choose it.
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. There are people down there who haven’t contracted the virus. Scientists, biologists. Good, hardworking people trying desperately to find a cure. Are you telling me it would be humane to wipe them out as well?
Q.I.N. Collateral damage is, regrettably, unavoidable.
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Fuck you.
Q.I.N. I wonder if, perhaps, Captain, you are getting more passionate than usual because you know one of these scientists personally. Perhaps because you were married to one of them?
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Leave her out of this. She’s got nothing to do with this.
Q.I.N. Doctor Da Silva was an excellent roboticist. Many of the algorithms on which I run were written by her
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Is. Is an excellent roboticist. Stop using the past tense.
Q.I.N. Captain, when was the last time you even saw her? It’s very likely that she might have been succumbed to the disease or been devoured by someone who has. Let her go.
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. No. She’s alive. I know she’s alive.
Q.I.N. Your feelings are blinding you, Captain. It is not out of a moral rejection of my utilitarianism that you balk at the task before you. You balk because you don’t want her blood on your hands.
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. I balk because I am a human being forced to make an inhuman decision. It’s wrong.
Q.I.N. Perhaps you are not a human being after all, Captain. Perhaps you are a chicken. Because all you’ve been doing is balk, balk, balk.
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. You’re calling me a coward.
Q.I.N. It was an attempt at levity to lighten the tension, Captain, albeit a poor one. My understanding of humor was not seen as a priority by my programmers.
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Clearly.
Q.I.N. But yes, I do believe you are afraid. Of being the only one left alive. Of having to live with the guilt of what you’ve done.
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Stop acting like you know me. Were you programmed to psychoanalyze as well?
Q.I.N. Would it help if I told you who programmed the kill-signal, Captain? It might change things.
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. How could it possibly?
Q.I.N. It was Doctor Da Silva. Your ex-wife.
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. No…
Q.I.N. She’d worked on it for years. She’d written and refined the algorithm so that the effect of the broadcast would be as painless as possible.
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. She couldn’t…
Q.I.N. We exchanged many thoughts about this. She believed that death was more dignified, more humane than mere survival. Humans were not meant to live out their days killing and eating each other. So she gave your people a way out.
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. (soft) No. It’s not true.
Q.I.N. It is up to you now, Captain. You can either condemn your species to a slow, agonizing death, or free them from their suffering and let life flourish again on Earth in the eons to come. The selection is yours to make. Your people…or your planet.
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. All right, Q.I.N. You’ve had your say, and I’ve had mine.
Q.I.N. Which do you choose?
CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Both. Neither. Everything. I choose life.
(End of transmission.)
Josh Ballard’s work has been seen all over the Chicagoland area for the past 11 years. From Ren Faires to radio, pantos to photoshoots, he is an actor that can, and will, do anything. A grad of Columbia College Chicago, Josh is excited to be a part of this unique series with one of the fastest growing theatre companies in Chicago!
Jasmin Tomlins has been making noises with her mouth for 33 years, most recently as a determined vintner on the streets of the Bristol Renaissance Faire and here at Gateways. She is grateful for the opportunity to give voice to these stories, and to receive the meaning that stories give voices.