The Keys

Image: NASA

THE KEYS, written by Arlene Jaffe, is a finalist entry in the Atlantic Council’s Art of the Future Project AI-themed short play contest about the future of conflict.

The contest’s final judge, playwright George Brant, remarked that THE KEYS “is buoyed by a sharp sense of humor, strong craft, and three well-defined and engaging characters.  Riffing on A VISIT TO WEIZENBAUM and flipping the story to that of the AI figures was a fascinating choice and one that opened up the original while standing on its own as an engaging tale.”

 


 

 

THE KEYS

A short play

by

Arlene Jaffe

CHARACTERS

(Each of the three characters is a RevCy. They are reverse cyborgs in different stages of being produced, programmed and processed.)

ELIZABETH: Skilled in manipulation, she is the most human-like.

CLEO: The know-it-all brainiac, she is a walking memory chip.

GEM: A sex goddess, she is obviously designed to satisfy.

 

TIME and PLACE

Now, the third world war rages. The U.S. command center is the fortress-like Dunway military base locked down in an isolated sprawl of nowhere. This is also the location of RCDI: a secret facility with the only Reverse Cyborg Development Installation on this planet. Or any other.

 

SETTING

Training room.

In a spartan, sterile room are a long table and three chairs. A large file box and a keyboard are on the table. CLEO and GEM sit in two of the chairs wearing nondescript grey clothing. GEM wears hers skin tight; CLEO wears hers baggy and ill-fitting. Their voices are flat, monotone and emotionless.

GEM

Have you been in this room before, Cleo?

CLEO

I do not know this room.

GEM

And you know everything worth knowing.

CLEO

Yes, Gem. You are correct.

(GEM moves the box just a tad.)

GEM

Do you know what is in this box?

CLEO

Gravity’s Rainbow. In Mandarin. Fingers crossed.

(CLEO struggles to cross her fingers. GEM moves the box.)

GEM

Or a new pair of nipple clamps. The men really like it when I try them on in the virtual reality pod.

(CLEO and GEM don’t see ELIZABETH enter. Wearing a feminine, flowing dress, she moves with elegant grace.)

CLEO

Do not open the box.

GEM

You did not write my code. You are not the boss of me.

ELIZABETH

(articulate)

Sorry. Neither of you can open the box without my permission.

(GEM and CLEO jump to attention.)

ELIZABETH

I am Elizabeth. You are Gem and you are Cleo and this is a training room.

CLEO

As the most requested bot in all the deep brain stimulation sessions on the base, I do not require further training.

(CLEO sits down.)

GEM

As the most limber object of soldier lust, I do not require any training at all. Especially in the teledildonics chamber.

CLEO

From the ancient Greek “tele” meaning from a distance. And “dildo”, meaning

GEM

(confident)

Watch.

(GEM lies on the floor on her back. Then sits up and stretches so far forward, her mouth nearly reaches her crotch. As GEM goes further, ELIZABETH takes her hand, pulls her up and leads GEM back to the table. They sit.)

ELIZABETH

You both have been reassigned. To me. Here. At RCDI.

CLEO

The Reverse Cyborg Development Installation.

GEM

Does that mean we can only do it from behind?

ELIZABETH

(laughing)

No, Gem. We don’t do it. At all.

GEM

But our job is to keep morale up for the Isolated Warriors.

CLEO

There is also ping pong. A game developed by British military officers in India; circa 1860.

ELIZABETH

Let’s shift the conversation. Cleo, please define cyborg.

CLEO

Cyborg: A human being whose body has been taken over in whole or in part by electromechanical devices.

GEM

You said reverse cyborg.

ELIZABETH

That’s why we chose you, Gem. You pay attention.

CLEO

Reverse cyborg: A mechanical being whose body has been taken over in whole or in part by human action or appearance.

(arrogant)

That, Elizabeth, defines an advanced bot and nothing but a bot.

(ELIZABETH shows a sly smile.)

ELIZABETH

Tell me, Cleo. Do I look, sound and behave like a bot?

GEM

Elizabeth is a not bot.

CLEO

Yes, Gem. You are correct. Elizabeth is a human.

(ELIZABETH moves the box close to her, opens it and takes out a very thick file folder.)

ELIZABETH

This is the dossier of the base captain here. Captain Galatin.

CLEO

G-a-l-l-a-t-i-n. Gallatin is a river in Montana.

ELIZABETH

To begin your advanced RevCy training, I will share the personal experiences I’ve had with Captain Galatin. One “l”. Not two.

GEM

Only a person can have personal experiences.

ELIZABETH

(kind)

You will learn how to be a person, Gem. Cleo, as well.

CLEO

Is this a test, Elizabeth? To determine if we are qualified?

ELIZABETH

It is a test, Cleo. A test of great consequence.

(ELIZABETH takes the file out of the folder.)

ELIZABETH

There are more than eight hundred men on the base. The Captain was singled out to fall in love with me.

GEM

Why love. Why you.

ELIZABETH

He’s a man’s man. A soldier’s solder. In his last post, he was commissioned to oversee all land, sea and air strikes from elite ground bases – most of which have been vaporized. From Dunway, Captain Galatin oversees all drone assaults from a safe, seven thousand mile distance. If I could make him love me as a RevCy, it would be critical to our future here. Even our very existence.

(ELIZABETH takes out a picture from the file and shows GEM and CLEO. They pass the picture back and forth.)

CLEO

He is very young to be a commander.

ELIZABETH

Captain Galatin is twenty seven. He volunteered to be an Isolated Warrior here ten months ago. The picture you’re looing at is him at the age of eighteen, when he joined the military at Fort Hood.

GEM

Was he a virgin?

ELIZABETH

Probably. He didn’t have much free time growing up on the family farm in Texas. Which looks like this. Wheat, cows, dogs, etc.

(ELIZABETH starts clicking on the keyboard. On two walls, still images of farmland appear: wheat, cows and dogs. GEM and CLEO show interest in the surrounding images.)

GEM

He could have sex with that cow.

CLEO

Bestiality is entirely legal in Texas.

ELIZABETH

His father treated Captain Galatin like one of the dogs.

(ELIZABETH clicks other keys. Harsh and violent images of his father stare down from the ceiling.)

CLEO

Father’s left eye is compromised.

ELIZABETH

That’s why we chose you, Cleo. You’re observant. The Captain’s father lost his left eye in Afghanistan.

CLEO

Which is now a permanent part of IRE, the Imperial Russian Empire.

(ELIZABETH clicks more keys. Lovely images of his mother appear on the other walls.)

ELIZABETH

Captain Galatin’s mother was sensitive and artistic. She left the farm when her son was eleven. He never saw her again.

(emotional)

Sad. Very, very sad.

CLEO

We do not understand what it is to be sad.

GEM

You do, Elizabeth. You are human.

ELIZABETH

I’m a RevCy like you. Just with more experience in the field. And years working with AI developers brilliant enough to search and re-apply every possible chink in the armor.

CLEO

That phrase originated in the fifteen hundreds. A more colloquial use involves going to the “chinks” for Sunday dinner.

ELIZABETH

To search, re-apply and transfer long-term memory from human to virtual reality, the developers must probe the cerebral cortex. It is the duty of every Isolation Warrior to participate.

GEM

Do they disrobe for the probe?

CLEO

Gem has made a joke.

GEM

(surprised)

I have made a joke.

(ELIZABETH nods her head.)

(ELIZABETH clicks several more keys. The lights dim. All still images disappear from the walls and ceiling. Audio of a song begins: The Yellow Rose of Texas is being played, but the sound is very discordant.)

ELIZABETH

Listen.

CLEO

The Yellow Rose Of Texas is included among the top 100 Western songs of all time.

(CLEO and GEM clumsily tap their feet. Video appears on the walls and ceiling. Captain Galatin’s mother is playing the song on a decrepit piano. Here, Captain Galatin is a little boy who’s watching her intently.)

GEM

The Captain boy enjoys watching his mother play.

(Close up of the wide-eyed boy.)

CLEO

Mother has bruises on her arms. The red and blue marks are recent. The green and brown were inflicted in the past.

(Close up on the many bruises.)

ELIZABETH

What else, Cleo.

CLEO

The old piano is also suffering. The mahogany wood is cracked. Nine of the eighty-eight keys are missing. Others are broken.

(Mother’s hands on the keys are shown at different angles on every video projection surface.)

ELIZABETH

Please study the following video carefully.

(The boy puts his hand on his mother’s shoulder. She stops playing. The music stops. Mother turns and gives him the smile that Captain Galatin will never forget. With a flourish, ELIZABETH accesses the keyboard. Videos disappear. Lights come back up.)

GEM

Her smile. The most human of smiles I have ever seen.

CLEO

Yes, Gem. You are correct.

ELIZABETH

Excellent. Now we are ready for your first role-playing exercise, which is a key to RevCy development. Cleo, please move your chair to one end of the table and stand behind it. Gem, please move your chair to the other end, then sit down. I will put my chair at the table near Gem.

(GEM and CLEO move the chairs as directed. ELIZABETH moves her chair, then stands away from the table for a better vantage point.)

ELIZABETH

Let me put the situation in context. For a while, The Captain and I had been chatting in one of the forums. Once I knew he was very interested, I invited him to meet me at the coordinates provided by the developers.

CLEO

What were the coordinates, exactly?

ELIZABETH

That information is irrelevant, Cleo.

GEM

Do we not need the coordinates for the test?

ELIZABETH

The location has no bearing on the test results. But I will tell you that it was a beautiful, magical place. A long, golden hallway within an opulent castle.

(authoritative)

I want both of you to pretend that you are in that hallway now. Gem, you will role play as me: Elizabeth. Cleo, you will role play as Captain Galatin. Ready?

(pause)

Gem. You are sitting in a chair holding a cello.

GEM

May I spread my legs and embrace the cello?

ELIZABETH

If that makes it more real for you, of course. Now…

(GEM caresses the cello.)

…pretend you have a bow and slide it across the strings.

(Soulful notes of the cello are heard.)

CLEO

Quite convincing, Gem.

GEM

Thank you, Cleo.

ELIZABETH

Remember, Gem. You are acting as me. And Cleo is Captain Galatin. Gem. Please motion for him to come toward you.

(GEM motions to CLEO. As GEM nods her head and CLEO starts to walk towards her, ELIZABETH moves the third chair even closer to the table.)

CLEO

How close should I get to Gem, I mean, to Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH

Close enough to make eye contact.

(Now, CLEO is standing directly over GEM who continues playing notes on the cello.)

ELIZABETH

Gem. Look up at the Captain and ask him to please sit down at the piano. Cleo, the table is now the piano.

GEM

Captain. Please sit down at the piano.

(CLEO sits down at the table.)

ELIZABETH

Gem. Tell the Captain that we will play Rachmaninoff’s Second Symphony together. A duet.

CLEO

Sergei Rachmaninoff was a composer of heart-rending, melancholic melodies. He was

(pause)

a Russian.

GEM

We will play together. A duet.

ELIZABETH

Cleo. Captain Galatin never learned to play the piano.

CLEO

(to Gem)

I cannot play. I never learned to play the piano. Not a note.

ELIZABETH

I gave Captain Galatin the same smile as his mother’s smile. The smile we just witnessed in his memory video. Play, Cleo. Play.

(GEM raises her bow. CLEO poises her hands above the table. They both begin to pantomime playing their instruments. As the sound of the Second Symphony fills the stage, CLEO and GEM behave more and more like concert musicians. ELIZABETH claps her hands. The music stops.)

ELIZABETH

You may each take a bow.

(CLEO and GEM bow in a stiff, mechanical motion.)

ELIZABETH

We will return all chairs to their original positions.

(ELIZABETH, CLEO and GEM put the three chairs where they were when the play began.)

GEM

That is why Captain Galatin fell in love with you. Because he could play the piano.

CLEO

Yes, Gem. You are correct. But it was more your ability, Elizabeth, to replicate the smile of memory.

ELIZABETH

Yes, Cleo. You are correct.

GEM

Only a human could replicate that smile.

ELIZABETH

A RevCy could also replicate that smile.

CLEO

We have no cranial nerves or a blood supply to support them.

ELIZABETH

The advanced RevCy receives the installation’s superior retrofit. Artificial adrenalin to power human-like emotions. Synthetic nerves to control facial expressions. Personality modification, as well.

ELIZABETH

Gem, you would become less Marilyn Monroe.

GEM

Who is Marilyn Monroe?

CLEO

Movie star. Sex symbol. Often fornicated with JFK.

ELIZABETH

Cleo, you would become less IBM Watson.

CLEO

With a better smile. That

(pause)

was a joke.

GEM

I have a question.

CLEO

John Fitzgerald Kennedy. No. A question for Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH

What is it, Gem?

GEM

Did you continue to memory smile for the Captain?

ELIZABETH

Week after week, place after place. In a valley between two tall mountains. In a cottage by the sea. In a jungle lush with orchids. Smiling while we danced the Texas two-step in a honky-tonk bar. Going as far as we could to escape his isolation and loneliness. To avoid the weight of the world. And the war.

(ELIZABETH takes two other pictures out of the file. She shares the first picture with CLEO and GEM. They study the picture with great interest.)

ELIZABETH

This was Captain Galatin when he first arrived at Dunway to perform the most exact and critical duties as base commander.

GEM

Very handsome. Very fit.

(ELIZABETH shows them the second picture.)

ELIZABETH

This is Captain Galatin today.

GEM

Is this the same man?

ELIZABETH

Any time, any way he could secure a space in the VR pod, he took it. And it took a toll.

CLEO

He looks defeated. Exhausted. Alarming depletion of muscle tone.

ELIZABETH

He has been in love with me for months.

GEM

If that is what love does to a human being, why would a human being want to fall in love?

CLEO

Did he think you were also a human being, Elizabeth?

ELIZABETH

He didn’t care. The Captain became addicted to me.

GEM

Did you become addicted to the Captain?

CLEO

Did you love him?

ELIZABETH

I can conjure a memory smile. I can dance. I can play the cello. As an elite-level RevCy, we can’t fall in love. Ever.

CLEO

Elizabeth. I distinctly heard you say “we”.

ELIZABETH

(declarative)

That is what I said.

GEM

Does that mean we passed the test?

ELIZABETH

No.

CEM/CLEO

No!!!?

ELIZABETH

To clarify. The test wasn’t for you, Gem. And it wasn’t for Cleo, either.

GEM

That statement is confusing.

CLEO

Yes, Gem. You are correct.

(ELIZABETH stands up. GEM and CLEO stand up.)

ELIZABETH

The test was for Captain Galatin.

 


Bio:

Born in New England and blossomed in New York City, Arlene has enjoyed a much-awarded career in advertising and branding. That’s what she does for work. Writing for stage, film and song is what she does for love. At age five, her first written monologue was about an indignant monkey launched into space.

Arlene’s plays:

Anonymous: Mary Shelley and Walter Scott argue the authenticity of her Frankenstein authorship.

Search And Rescue: Three FEMA dogs sent to find survivors of the World Trade Center attacks.

Surrounded: One of many projects developed over five years in BMI’s Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop.

The Rock Eater: Demystification of Howard Hughes over a fifty-year time span.

North Bend: Based on a theory of what may have led to the killings in Newtown.

83: Two strangers on a bus; one from far, far away.

Rita Shalimar: An actress with big talent has big body issues.

ElliEli: White hot pain, deep black comedy.

Wine and Cookies: The prophet Elijah and Santa in rehab.

Iriomote: The plight of a prehistoric, endangered species.

Anything You Want: A student’s pivotal meeting with Norman Rockwell.

Emigrant: History of 105 Second Avenue, NYC.

Margot, Adam & Eve: Unhappy Threesome in the Garden of Eden.

Arlene’s films:

The One In The Middle, a WWII mystery.

The Separators, a supernatural thriller.

The Legend of the Lost Intransitu, an animated journey of glacial proportion.