Revolution in the Time of Cyborgs: An American Tragedy in Three Brief Acts (screenplay) Katie is a queer, emerging author and visual artist of Persian descent in Los Angeles, Calif. Their work has been published in a variety of places, from “The Offing” to “The Maine Review” to “Autostraddle” to “Hooligan Magazine” to “The Belladonna.” They spend most of their days staring aimlessly into churning bodies of water, rereading Sophocles and talking to flowers.
REVOLUTION IN THE TIME OF CYBORGS: AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY IN THREE BRIEF ACTS
An American Tragedy in Three Brief Acts
by Katie Elconin-Donoho
Canadian-born experimental synth pop musician,
more commonly known by her stage name, Ophelia
Billionaire entrepreneur and romantic partner to Antonia
Aphelion, Nautilus, and Undine
The children of Antonia and Egon
The Ghost of Marie Antoinette
The deceased queen of France
The Ghost of Her Son, Louis Charles
The deceased dauphin of France
Time and Scene: A sleek, ultra-modern living room minimally furnished.The year is 2037, and Antonia Dupont is draped leisurely across a leather couch. Her makeup is elaborate and unusual, all vibrant neon shadow and cutting black lines. Her hair is mussed. Gazing through the sliding
glass doors that open up on to the veranda, she sighs, her expression impenetrable. Clarice is seated across from her, head quirked to one side.
It is not that I am unhappy, but rather that
No reality presents itself to me with any sincerity.
Clarice readjusts herself,
her brow furrowing. She
gestures for the younger
woman to continue.
There are moments when it seems okay, where I go
Quite numb, as though anesthetized in an operating chamber.
What beauty, my eyes have appraised—from the bursting
Conifers and alder that border the frigid sea, the sweet smelling
Maple retreats of my own native British Columbia,
To the glitter and haze of Los Angeles, and off again
To the dense jungles of South Africa where I spent
A thousand and one nights at the behest
Of my devoted partner. From recording studios to
Delivery rooms, I am my own historian. It is almost enough.
I don’t know if I follow.
There are times when it seems okay—when I turn myself
Into a time traveler, and go back to those early days
Of fame and extravagance. To a time of lovers and night
Magic. But then come the barbs and spars of intrusive thought,
Reminding me that nothing is as it seems. How many years have
Dissipated under my apathetic gaze! How many crowds
And camera flashes, five-star hotels, and coke-filled basements
Have I glimpsed, before abandoning them once more—never satisfied.
It had seemed to me always that beauty was a lie, nature the liar.
That personality was a hoax, mine paramount of all.
Ah—so in the same way that you are false, so is the universe?
You think I’m projecting.
No, I think you are merely in the possession of a complex mind.
And I believe that you slip into these funks whenever
Egon is away for long periods, and you are left alone with
The children. It’s been nearly six years since the release of
Your last album, which tells me you’re feeling a lack of motivation.
Tell me, have you had any more of your
No—no. Not since Undine was born. Post-partum
Did a number on me, but it was merely an altered state of
Consciousness that I managed to free myself from,
With your help of course. I realize that now. It seems
And you’re taking your meds?
How do the children feel with their father gone?
They hardly seem to notice. In fact, they seem to prefer
It. With Egon away, there is no one for me to fight with.
And Aphelion is hoping that his father will bring him something
Back from Mars—some dust or rubble that he might
Show other children at recess. The celestial bodies fascinate him—
It must be genetic. Meanwhile, Undine cares only for her
Sea monkeys. Theirs is the only fate that interests her.
And little Nautilus?
He is reading the Communist Manifesto again.
Always so precocious. What is he—seven?
Nine. Egon can’t stand it.
That there is someone as clever as he is loose in the house.
And that that someone refuses to buy into the ideology
That made his father a very wealthy man indeed. Egon thinks
Him ungrateful and hypocritical—to live off the coattails of
Capitalism and renounce it in a single stroke.
And where does their antagonism leave you? If I
Recall correctly, you were once something of a
Radical yourself. Anti-Imperialist, anarchist, a bit
Granola, honestly. When you were simply Ophelia, touring
The globe and eating men for breakfast, you had a
Great deal in common with Nautilus. What happened
To the left-leaning parts of you? Have you sublimated
Them, maybe to fit Egon’s agenda?
No, not at all. I simply grew up, and saw how the world worked.
Things are not nearly as black and white as I once believed.
Egon is living proof that you can be a billionaire with a conscience—
That absolute power does not corrupt absolutely—consider
What he has done to halt climate change, reducing CO2 emissions,
Pioneering batteries that don’t run on cobalt, all while venturing out
Into the great unknown above us—hurtling through space
Towards the future itself. I suppose that it is possible that I was
Seduced by nice things, but I have no shame in admitting that.
Clarice sighs, glancing at
her watch, and then making
a move to free herself from
the boxy seat she occupies.
I’m afraid that’s all we have time for today.
But if you find you need extra support while Egon is
Up in that space ship of his, I’m only a button away.
Antonia nods dully,
and reaches for a remote
on the glass coffee table.
She hits a combination of buttons
and Clarice’s eyes go dormant.
The older woman’s head folds into her
chest, and she recedes into a wall.
Clarice is a cyborg.
Is it any wonder that none of this feels real
When I am completely surrounded by the artificially intelligent?
How is it that Clarice, that cunning combination of circuits
And programming seems as vivacious as one of my own children?
She shudders, pressing
her palms into her eyes.
From off-stage, a
little girl enters.
This is Undine.
Mama, Aphelion wants to know where you put his telescope.
I haven’t touched it.
I told him that but he made me ask you anyways. Anyways,
Mama did you know that sea monkeys undergo a brief period
Of suspended death called crypto-biosis?
I had no idea, sweet one.
Yes! Brine shrimp have to go dormant in order to survive the
Prolonged desiccation periods that might occur in their pools.
So when you think about it, sea monkeys
Are like the vampires of aquatic pets!
A boy’s voice floats in
from off-stage. We can assume that
it belongs to Aphelion.
The vampire of aquatic pets? Do you even
Hear yourself Undine? Mom, can you get her to shut up
About her stupid sea monkeys?
Be kind to your sister. We don’t dismiss the passions of others.
Even if those passions are just novelty aquarium wastes of space?
Aphelion, you’re on thin ice.
Fine. Where’d you put my telescope, anyways?
Undine rolls her eyes
and darts lithely out of the room.
Antonia rolls over onto her side,
pushing another button on the remote.
A flat-screen TV appears from
a crevice in the wall and flashes to life.
A reporter’s face fills the screen.
And there you have it. Egon Nystrom, the billionaire
CEO of DeepSpaceQ and the primary product architect for Kepler
Has successfully exited the Earth’s atmosphere once again,
This time heading to his colony on Mars, which is currently
Under construction. Speculation that he is building an opulent
Vacation getaway was squashed by his long-term live-in girlfriend,
Musician Ophelia, who said the entire notion, was, and I quote,
What seems more likely is that Egon is planning to take advantage of the
Lack of labor laws and property taxes on Mars, in a long-term bid
To save capital, or potentially even extract resources from the planet.
The screen flashes with a
rapid succession of images: A close
up of Egon’s face, a photograph
of Antonia and Egon at the MET Gala
a few years before, footage of mars.
Antonia changes the channel.
Reports of rogue Artificial Intelligence rebelling
Against their programmers in a facility in Beijing
Are largely unsubstantiated, Government
Sources have assured--
Antonia changes the channel.
The screen is suddenly filled by
Egon’s face. It is an old
I think mankind’s interest in robotics is the
Symptom of a far greater kind of narcissism.
We attempt to reckon with ourselves through the
Imprecise act of recreation. In the same way, that
The Abrahamic god is said to have made man in
His glorious image, so to does man seek to make
Artificial intelligence in his. Ironically, in doing so,
We reduce ourselves: we prove that by the substitution
Property, we are nothing more than cyborgs.
Similarly, in polishing us, God has limited himself,
And gone ahead and become a man.
Antonia hastily turns the
TV off entirely.
The room is plunged into shadow.
Under her breath she sings
an excerpt from a song
on her first album.
Her eyes are glassy and her look
is distinctly unnerving.
I’ve stared into the abyss, but it won’t stare back at me.
My love is a void, and it can’t be seen.
End of Act I.
Time and Scene: Antonia shakes off her coat and enters her private recording studio, located in the east wing of the mansion (another gift from Egon). She has just dropped the children off at school, and seems slightly manic. Talking to herself, she shoos away the various cyborgs that occupy the studio with her, and they recede into the walls.
My last album is nearly as old as my youngest child,
And the world has not heard even the most half-hearted
Remix, or leaked, lukewarm single since then.
Why, I wonder, have the creative parts of me
Gone so desolate? I have been busy, yes,
But not so busy that I have lost my taste for
Melody. Music once sustained me, after all.
As surely as love saves, so do lyricisms. Perhaps it is
That oldest enemy of the maestro—self-doubt?
Or perhaps it is the knowledge that once rabid
Fans can turn on me with ease. I am no longer the
Starving artist I once passed myself off as.
My money alienates me from those who once
Hung eagerly on my every syllable.
Alas, my popularity has waxed and waned
With the highs and lows of public opinion.
I may not be Egon’s spokesperson, but they
Care little as long as I remain by his side.
She moves to
stand in front of
a microphone, with the
intention to begin
The sound of synth-pop
fills the air.
Antonia is transformed
momentarily, into Ophelia.
We were lovely and frightened and carried away
You got bored of me and
shuts off abruptly.
The shadow of Ophelia has
hangs her head.
Why does nothing feel right? I’ve forgotten
That intuitive intimacy I once possessed, the sense
That music was hot and alive and coming out of me.
Now rhyme seems to me a kind of tedium,
Rhythm a special sort of torture.
I used to channel powers more varied and intense
Than anything mortal, and now they have abandoned me.
From beside her,
an apparition flickers
to life. The specter has
hair, a regal dress, and
a pleasant face.
This is Marie Antoinette.
She speaks with an
intriguing French accent.
I doubt very much that you’ve been abandoned.
Occasionally, our mind shields us from truths we
Are in no state to contemplate or relate artistically.
With a jolt, Antonia turns
to appraise her visitor.
Who are you?
—Not a cyborg, surely!
I exiled those at the beginning of this
No, I am quite the opposite of that.
I’d prefer you think of me as a friend.
I don’t understand. The opposite of a cyborg?
How did you get in?
A robot is purely material, an exaltation
Of form over substance. I conversely, have
Nothing in the way of form, but ample in
The way of substance.
But how did you get in?
You let me in, darling one.
No, I didn’t.
When was the last time you took your lithium?
Oh please no. Not another hallucination.
I’m a ghost, not a hallucination. Don’t
I seem rather far away from what your
Unconscious would normally dream up if left
To its own devices? No, I am utterly supernatural.
A ghost? You do look terribly out of place here.
Modern architectural aesthetics leave much to be desired.
I envy much about the current moment, but not that.
So I’m not crazy?
Well, you might be. Refusing to take your
Meds and lying to your psychiatrist about it
Is a little diagnostic, I would imagine.
Antonia shakes her head
fervently, as though to
dislodge the thought, and the
woman before her. She
makes as though to
exit the studio.
I’ve come rather a long way to warn you. It is
In your best interest, I’d imagine, to listen.
Although your accent is very charming, and your
Look and demeanor even more so, I am rather tired
At the moment. And I fear I may be losing my mind.
Perhaps another time.
Mark me, Antonia.
And who are you exactly?
The ectoplasm of the late queen of France.
Surely you’ve seen portraits of me hanging in museums,
Or read about me in history books as a child, or
Enjoyed an afternoon at the theatre while I was
Channeled by the incomparable Kirsten Dunst
And Sofia Coppola for the silver screen?
Marie Antoinette? Of “let them eat cake” notoriety?
A misquote, dear one. You of all people should
Understand that the media cares very little
About verity in the face of intrigue.
I do, actually. Just the other day Egon tweeted
The most absurd little comment about pronouns
Out of context and it’s been doing the rounds
In the Daily Mail and New York Times.
Ah, Egon. That’s part of the reason I’m here, actually.
Why? Is he all right? Has something happened in space?
No, nothing like that. For the time being he is very much
Alive. As are you and the children.
I don’t like how you said, “for the time being.”
Egon has always reminded me of my own dear Louis—
My late husband, you know—albeit slightly more driven.
Both of them are always off in their own little worlds,
Quite enamored by their own power, oblivious to the
Destructive propensity of their native hubris. Louis, as you
Know was always ever the Dauphin, the heir to a sprawling empire.
And Egon was the heir to his own kingdom, one built on
Blood diamonds and Apartheid, hmm?
My dear one, your Egon is white, and was born in possession of
Intergenerational wealth in South Africa of all places.
What else needs substantiating?
But listen, darling, that’s why I’m here. You’ve been
No comment-ing your way through life for far too long,
Allying yourself, and indirectly, your children, with the
Wrong sort of people. I hate to be the bearer of bad news,
But a Revolution is coming, one that will make the one
I faced in 1789 look like child’s play.
The wrong sort of people?
Would you rather me say, “the oppressor?”
I don’t understand.
Of course you do. Somewhere in that
Infantilized, terrified expression is some—excuse the
Pun—ghost, of what you once were in your more radical
Days. Surely you read the headlines, and watch the news
Each night with baited breath, fearful of the end.
Animosity towards the super rich is nothing new, but
The amount of wealth that your husband is able to horde is.
At some point, the grumbling proletariat will be unwilling to let it slide
Any longer. And, I’m afraid their Marxist Revolution is set
To coincide with a far more deadly one: that belonging to
The ranks of the Artificially Intelligent.
You really ought to speak to Nautilus. He
Loves Marx. He’d probably be more receptive
Than I am—
Who do you think has been providing him with
His reading materials, exactly? I sent
My youngest son to befriend him to ease the transition.
Yes, Louis Charles. A perfectly charming boy, and
The ex-Dauphin. After his father and I were executed,
Bless his soul, he was tortured by the revolutionaries and
Kept confined, so he’s loving this opportunity to make
Friends his own age.
You sent a ghost to bombard my son with propaganda?
What is wrong with you?
I’m only trying to keep you safe, my dear. So
That you might evade the wretched fate I myself
Was forced to shoulder. The guillotine was fairly
Humane compared to what the masses want to do
Get out! Stay away from my children!
As you wish. But we shall talk again soon.
With a queer flash of light,
the apparition dissipates
into thin air. Antonia is left
gawking and livid, at nothing.
I’ll be taking my meds tonight, and then this mess
Will resolve itself.
End of Act II.
Time and Scene: Nautilus, who looks to be about eight or nine, sits
cross-legged on his bed. The walls of his room are lined with books and
photographs. As the sun sets through the open window, the child seems to
be deep in thought. Suddenly, his eyes return to the present, and he looks
around the room animatedly.
Louis, is that you? Have you come to visit me
The shadowy figure
of a boy about Nautilus’s age
materializes on the opposite
end of the bed. This is the ghost of
Hello again, Naughty.
Don’t call me that, I’ve told you it annoys me.
Then don’t call me Louis! That’s more my father’s
Name than mine.
Fine, then what do you want me to call you?
Charles is fine.
Okay, Charles it is. You’ve been gone a while.
I had begun to think I dreamt you up inside my head.
No, nothing like that. I was having one of my spells.
Like your mother has. Sometimes I get unwell in the head.
Because before I died my life was very frightening.
Tell me more about it.
Well after they took my father away to be executed, I was
Able to stay with my mother and elder sister for a time.
But then, quite suddenly, I was whisked away and sent to live
With a terribly cruel man, a cobbler, who told me I ought
To hate my parents, and that I had no more right to be king
Than anyone else did. He abused me horribly.
And then what happened?
Well, eventually I died. Tuberculosis.
Ah, yes I suppose that sounds rather traumatizing.
What happened to your sister?
Oh, she lived, in a way. The only one of us
To make it to adulthood. I think she married our cousin.
From off-stage, comes
the sounds of approaching
footsteps. Louis Charles
Nautilus? Who were you talking to?
Um, no one.
I can tell when you’re lying. I’m your mother, remember?
You wouldn’t believe me if I told you the truth.
I’m not your father.
Well, I was talking to my friend Louis—I mean—
Charles. He’s a ghost and—
Oh no no no no no no.
Louis Charles and
appear in a flash of
So we’re doing a family meeting, is that it?
You can see her too?
Of course I can. Why wouldn’t I be able to?
Because she’s not real.
[Snickers into his hand]
Says the woman who spends all her time on social media.
This is insane.
I know, darling, but the sooner you get used to it,
The better. The moment is grave indeed, and
We are running out of time. You must leave Egon,
Now, while he is up amongst the stars,
And go after his empire. With you at the helm, Kepler
Has a chance of being slightly more conscious. You
Could redistribute your own wealth, while there’s still time.
And then, collectively, you might be able to face the cyborg threat.
She’s right, mom. I’ve read all about it in the books that Charles
Let me borrow. Did you know that capitalism is inherently broken,
In its prioritizing of the whims of the few very wealthy, over the needs
Of the many impoverished? That structures of oppression are
Interlocking, and that what keeps one group disenfranchised keeps
Us all from being free? That our conceptualizations of the other are
Rooted in distance from the self, contributing to feelings of xenophobia
I love Egon. This is absurd.
Listen, you didn’t hear it from me, but if you leave him now,
You’re going to find a much cuter, ethereal bisexual partner
In the not too distant future. And you and your children will
Survive to see another, brighter world!
You must be joking. I’m not listening to another second of this.
She storms out of
the room. Marie
watches her go sadly.
She sighs dejectedly, before
turning once more
to gaze at Nautilus, her
Unfortunately, it seems that everything, per usual,
Falls to the younger generation. Nautilus, are you up
For the job?
Hardly, but someone has to do it, and I guess it is not
Going to be my millennial mother.
Undine has a good heart, and a solid mind. She can help.
I fear Aphelion is a lost cause. As the oldest, he’s been
Indoctrinated with a paternal contempt that is most
Right?! Yesterday he threatened to put Undine’s
Sea monkeys in the freezer. He’s the worst.
You’re preaching to the choir.
All right, that’s enough excitement for the evening.
To bed with the both of you. Tomorrow, Nautilus,
We’ll go over your father’s banking passwords, and
You can start redistributing funds. Oh, and Undine is going
To need to take over his twitter while there’s still time.
Nautilus nods determinedly,
snuggling under the covers.
Oh boys, before we rest. What learning might we take
From this evening’s events?
That white feminism is an insidious and pervasive
Threat to the general prosperity? That standing
Idly by while patriarchal and racist structures
Colonize planet after planet is unethical?
That there never ought to be billionaires.
Correct, and correct! The future is bright indeed,
With such brilliant young minds, tempered in
Sweetness, at the helm.
End of Act III.