Written by Sophie Zhu
Choice Keller (15): Social outcast, only child. Her parents and an android are her only friends. She wears a necklace with a key on it.
C.H.I.P. (Computer Home Integrated Program): The android built into Choice’s laptop.
Ford Keller (48): Family man, who has always been there for his daughter. Currently on trial for his involvement in the murder for his wife.
Robin Keller (46): Murdered by her husband due to a torn bible page. She kept this page in a locket she wore around her neck.
Judge (72): Male. He wears a judge gown, white and minimalistic. He always frowns.
The year is 2157. The stage is split into two halves; stage left is Choice’s bedroom while stage right is a courtroom. The two rooms are futuristic-looking with modern white furniture and fluorescent lighting. The girl’s desk is facing the audience, like the judge’s bench faces the defendant. The characters in this play all dress in plain, stainless white clothing. The characters are all caucasian. All hair is straight and sleek. Behind Choice is a large screen that projects what she sees on her laptop for the audience. The only jewelry Choice wears is a necklace with a key on it.
The courtroom side of the stage is dimmed but not pitch black. JUDGE sits at the desk in the front. FORD and the guards stand facing him. FORD is not cuffed; he looks distressed. CHOICE is sitting at her desk, packing up the things that remind her of her “past” life into a cardboard box. However, the package is not fully closing. Her phone is placed beside her laptop on the desk. After a while, CHOICE pushes the box aside, revealing a photograph of them as a family. She stares at it for a while.
CHOICE. (ripping the photograph) Facades break.
(CHOICE flings the torn photo across the room, then buries her head in her hands.)
C.H.I.P. Excuse my interruption of your privacy, Ms. Keller. The Cloud’s records show that the photo you were holding was taken around 5 years ago. Day 167 of Year 2152 at the time of 14 hours, 46 minutes, and 25 seconds. The Cloud’s record of this photo is 4582 pixels by 11249 pixels. Would you like to retrieve that photo from my photo library?
CHOICE. No thanks. (beat) I can do without.
C.H.I.P. Closing Cloud Image Records now.
CHOICE. (beat) Hey, C.H.I.P.
C.H.I.P. Ms. Keller.
CHOICE. Have you ever lost something — no, of course, you haven’t.
(CHOICE picks up the last thing on her desk in front of her: a video chip. She pauses and then inserts the chip into her laptop.)
C.H.I.P. Would you like me to play the video, Ms. Keller? It is aged, beginning on Day 122 of Year 2148 at the time of 17 hours, 13 minutes, and 56 seconds, and ending on the same day at 17 hours, 14 minutes, and 43 seconds.
CHOICE. Go ahead.
(The screen behind CHOICE projects the video. The video begins in front of the Capitol Building. There are people dressed in business attire walking behind CHOICE, FORD, and ROBIN. CHOICE is dressed in a plain white dress and seems to be around 5 years old. FORD and ROBIN are both behind the camera. The next section of dialogue comes from the laptop video as CHOICE watches.)
FORD. Smile at the camera, sweetheart.
CHOICE. (Stomping her foot) But today wasn’t a good day for me, Daddy!
FORD. (demanding) Choice, smile. I need this photo. Now pose in front of the Capitol Building.
ROBIN. On the count of three now, Choicey.
CHOICE. (pouting) Okay then.
BOTH PARENTS: 1…2…3!
(Camera shutter clicks right after CHOICE presses her mouth into a straight line.)
FORD. Now that wasn’t a pretty smile.
ROBIN. (Strict) Choice! No candy for you if you don’t smile.
CHOICE. (Folding her arms) But Mommy!
ROBIN. No arguing, Choice.
CHOICE. (Whimpers) Fine.
(Camera shutter clicks. CHOICE’s smile looks forced.)
ROBIN. There’s your beautiful smile.
(The projector dims.)
C.H.I.P. Video played. Would you like me to replay the video?
(CHOICE stares at the laptop.)
CHOICE. No thanks. (beat) Hey C.H.I.P., can I ask you something? It’s a simple something.
C.H.I.P. I have not been programmed to answer colloquial inquiries, Ms. Keller.
CHOICE. (Thoughtful, as if she didn’t hear him) Do you have blemishes C.H.I.P.?
C.H.I.P. I’m not sure I would word any untouched bugs in my system as blemishes, Ms. Keller. Every android has partial program malfunctions. However, we are an updated version of Adaptable Artificial Intelligence, so bugs are usually fixed with the gaining of new information. You can always be confident that I am clean.
CHOICE. Have you ever felt wrong, C.H.I.P.?
C.H.I.P. I’m not sure I understand. Androids do not have feelings. Even so, how is a human capable of “feeling wrong?” According to my system, the term “wrong” can be either an adverb, a noun, or an adjective. I cannot process the phrase “felt” or “feeling” “wrong.”
(CHOICE seems to consider C.H.I.P.’s words.)
CHOICE. Wouldn’t that be nice? No feelings. No complications. Everything already set in stone. (beat) I know that we have The 77 Capitol Commandments, but — I wish I could be apathetic for one day. Just to feel how you feel. See what you see. Comprehend the way you do.
C.H.I.P. There are upsides and downsides to every situation, Ms. Keller. If you are referring to your father’s trial, I see an upside being that you don’t have to decide who your favorite parent is. The decision has been made for you.
(CHOICE’s eyes fill with tears, but she quickly wipes them away.)
CHOICE. (Indifferent) I would prefer it if we didn’t discuss the trial. (beat) Do you know what it feels like to be alone, C.H.I.P.?
C.H.I.P. Technically speaking, all Androids are alone once we are installed onto human software. We cannot communicate with other Androids, and interactions do not make us feel anything at all.
CHOICE. Even so, I’m sure you’ll understand me now. I feel as if I’m stuck in a game of tug-of-war. Mother read me a book on that game when I was 7. No, it wasn’t much of a book. More of an instruction manual with step-by-step guidance. That game, it seemed real. Much unlike my life right now. Have you ever heard of the game, C.H.I.P.?
C.H.I.P. Yes. This game has been recorded in my archives. Tug-of-war is an interactive strength contest in which two teams are pitted against each other by pulling at opposite ends of a rope until one team pulls the rope over the centerline.
CHOICE. Precisely. Can you see why I think this game is like my life now? (beat) There’s the logical side of me saying, “Give him a break. He did it because of The 77 Capitol Commandments. Don’t you think he deserves his daughter’s support?” But then, there’s the ethical side of me saying, “He doesn’t deserve it. He deserves nothing but darkness. How could do that to his wife” Am I wrong for even having thoughts like this?
(CHOICE fiddles with the key around her neck.)
C.H.I.P. According to my data on the human brain and psychology, there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. You are experiencing a deep sorrow caused by your mother’s death and are in the first stage — denial.
CHOICE. I just don’t get it, C.H.I.P. Parents love each other. They don’t…harm each other. They don’t slaughter, murder each other. They’re not vigilantes. I must hate him, right? For breaking the trust of a family? Or is that just entirely ridiculous?
C.H.I.P. There is nothing wrong with feeling emotions you would perceive as “unwanted” or “immoral.” This is a common emotional state among stressed humans.
CHOICE. Maybe. But maybe —
(Phone rings. Stage right lights up. ROWAN sits at a desk in the corner of the stage closest to the audience, typing on her computer and balancing her phone between her shoulder and cheek.)
C.H.I.P. The caller is Rowan Allen, located at the Capitol Youth Adoption Services. Would you like to answer the call?
(CHOICE stares down.)
C.H.I.P. Call answered immediately.
(CHOICE looks drained as she picks up the phone.)
ROWAN. Hello, is this Choice? I am Rowan Allen from the Capitol Youth Adoption Services. I would like to speak with you about the possibility of your adoption.
CHOICE. I don’t want to speak about this with you. Or anyone for that matter.
ROWAN. Choice, I’m simply passing on the message to you. The Services have already completed your documentation.
CHOICE. (Eyes teary) That can’t happen.
ROWAN. I understand you’re troubled, but this is something we need to take care of. We have the obligation to make sure that you are in a safe environment.
CHOICE. (Angered)I don’t need to be put into a foster care system. I have parents. (Whispers) Or at least, I did.
ROWAN. Your parents do not have the capability to take care of you at this moment. As the Capitol Youth Adoption Service, we must place you in a loving household.
CHOICE. (Tired, and to C.H.I.P.) I understand they are not in an ideal situation, but I —
C.H.I.P. (Robotic, prerecorded voice used when you degrade the Capitol)Do not question the Capitol’s decisions.
CHOICE. Could you hold?
ROWAN. Of course, Choice.
(CHOICE covers the bottom of her phone and leans toward her laptop.)
CHOICE. (Looking at her laptop) Please, C.H.I.P. I cannot kill my only connection to them. (beat) Not that I know who they even are anymore.
C.H.I.P. I am in no place to change the Capitol’s preparatory measures.
(CHOICE turns away from her laptop, defeated, and removes her hand from her phone.)
CHOICE. (Weary) Has the Capitol already made the arrangements?
ROWAN. Yes. Here at the Capitol Youth Adoption Services we are always thorough and meticulous in our planning. No mistakes are to be made when dealing with families.
CHOICE. I understand.
ROWAN. Of course, now —
(CHOICE hangs up the phone and seems exhausted.)
ROWAN. (Into the phone)Choice? Ms. Keller?
(Stage right dims, leaving the desk in shadow and refocusing on the courtroom behind it.)
CHOICE. This is it for me C.H.I.P. The Capitol has already made arrangements for me to go into foster care and eventually be adopted. Do you think they already know my dad is going to get prosecuted? Will he be shot by the firing squad in front of the Capitol building? He’ll be annihilated, won’t he?
C.H.I.P. I am in no place to answer these questions and inquiries. The data stored in my cloud database is limited to what the Capitol wants the androids to know. Although I am an Adaptable A.I., there is still information locked away from me. It is encrypted in a language we androids cannot read or comprehend.
(CHOICE fiddles with the key around her neck.)
CHOICE. C.H.I.P., what time is it?
C.H.I.P. The time is 00 hours, 1 minutes, and 2 seconds.
(CHOICE clutches the key on her necklace.)
CHOICE. (Whispering) C.H.I.P., search up my father’s hearing.
C.H.I.P. Initiating “Ford Keller Trial” Cloud search results.
(CHOICE leans back in her chair, looking troubled. C.H.I.P. whirrs.)
C.H.I.P.. Pulling up “Ford Keller Trial” Cloud search results. (beat) There is media coverage in the results. Would you like to take a look?
CHOICE. (Squeezing her eyes) Pull them up.
C.H.I.P.. As authorized.
(CHOICE looks down at her feet. Lights go up on stage left where her father sits waiting for the Judge’s verdict. The Judge is moving his mouth, however we cannot hear him speak. The projector shows a media article of the verdict. There are other members of the jury sitting beside the judge.)
CHOICE. (Leaning into the computer) “…it is a tragedy, from different perspectives…” What does that mean?
C.H.I.P. This sentence fragment doesn’t tell much about the Judge’s sentence.
(The Judge motions for FORD to stand, and the guards around move closer to him. Cameras flash.)
CHOICE and JUDGE. (CHOICE sounds cautious while the JUDGE sounds firm) Superior Court of the Capitol, in the matter of the people of the Capitol vs. Ford Keller case number BA097211, we the jury in the above entitled action find the defendant Ford Keller not guilty of the crime of murder in violation of Penal Code Section 187-A, a felony, upon Robin Combrey Keller, a human being, as charged in count 1 of the information. Signed this twentieth day of October, Juror 5089.
(FORD’s head hangs and CHOICE leans back in disbelief. All color drains from her face. Lights down on stage left.)
C.H.I.P. According to my calculations, the probability of him being not guilty was 12% higher than that of him being convicted. He was following Section 1 of Commandment Number 14 of the 77 Capitol Commandments: “You shall notify the Capitol of all practices or conspiracy to the practice of religions. No persons shall refrain from this amendment furthermore bringing harm to the Capitol’s citizens.” This commandment alone is enough to keep him from conviction. It is a rather simple estimation.
CHOICE. What do you think about all of this C.H.I.P.?
C.H.I.P. I do not think, Ms. Keller, unless you tell me to.He was doing a good deed for the Capitol. He is ridding us of those religious practices that cause dissention and confusion.
(CHOICE reaches for her key necklace.)
CHOICE. (On the verge of tears) Do you have to say, “rid”? It makes him sound like a…a…
C.H.I.P. It is normal human behavior to experience feelings of shock after a verdict has been announced.
CHOICE. I don’t know what to think, C.H.I.P. (beat) Is this a good thing? I have a parental guardian now. I’m not going into foster care. (beat) No. This is wrong.
C.H.I.P. It is not how your human mind judges the inquiry, but rather how the Capitol deals with it that matters in the vast expanse called time.
CHOICE. I guess, it doesn’t. That’s how the Capitol treats cases like these anyways, right? No mercy for the victim. Just the Commandments. If this were a play, the Commandments would be the leading protagonist.
(CHOICE is limp.)
CHOICE. I don’t think that I could forgive either of them, C.H.I.P. (beat) Did they ever consider how I would feel? How I would react to losing not one, but both of them? (beat) I have no idea who my Dad is anymore, C.H.I.P. Is he a good guy? A bag guy? There’s a lot of gray area in the nomansland between the two, isn’t there?
C.H.I.P. Correct. The concept of “good” and “bad” is more vague than we often see. There is much uncovered land in complicated situations. Take your father’s case. He can be seen as a hero to some humans for demolishing any connection to fictional gods, preserving the nature of our society. On the reverse, he can be seen as a villain as he has committed a homicide. “Good” and “bad” are simply not adequate ways to describe any given situation.
(CHOICE stands and begins pacing.)
CHOICE. (Frantically) So he’s a good guy? I mean, just like you said, he followed the Capitol’s commandments. (beat) No, but he can’t be. He killed. (stops pacing) That’s not right either. But the Capitol must be right with their conviction. They wouldn’t mess something like this up. Right?
C.H.I.P. There is always a chance of human error. 70 percent to 80 percent of mishaps are due to human error. Your father’s verdict could be that case, however, according to my data, the chances are low.
CHOICE. (Turns to C.H.I.P., still standing) Of course.
(CHOICE leans down to pick up one half of the photo she threw away in the beginning. This half is of her mother.)
CHOICE. Mom. (Turns away) Dad.
C.H.I.P. If I may offer my advice, Ms. Keller. Your mother is dead. Your father is alive. The studies shown in my Cloud archive shows that dwelling means reading the same chapter over and over again while expecting the ending to change. In your situation, there is no possible way to change the ending.
(CHOICE clutches onto her necklace. After a pause, she rips it off.)
CHOICE. (Balling the necklace in her fist) She’s gone, isn’t she?
(CHOICE turns to C.H.I.P.)
C.H.I.P. There are extensive scholarly articles and research papers done on this topic: the Denial of Death. The loss of a loved one is life’s most stressful event and can cause significant emotional trauma. After the death of someone you love, you experience bereavement, which means “to be deprived by death.” Conceivably the best way to cope is to uphold their legacy. This division apparently includes finishing their book, a funeral, et cetera.
CHOICE. I want to be fair, C.H.I.P. I want to give him a chance to redeem himself. (turns away) But I can’t find it in me to do so.
C.H.I.P. Excuse my interruption, Ms. Keller, but if he was let go at around 00 hours, and took the Capitol air tram, he will be arriving to your room soon.
CHOICE. I guess I have to forgive him. That’s what the Capitol wants me to do anyways, right? (beat) Wait, no, they don’t care what I think. Why don’t they ever give us a choice?
C.H.I.P. Why is there a demand for a choice when you have the Capitol to make all of the decisions for you? They are superior to all of mankind and machinery. You are not immune to the Capitol.
CHOICE. (Under her breath)Choices.
(There are muffled voices outside her door followed by footsteps. CHOICE faces the door of her room and throws the necklace at the door. Just as she does, the door opens, and in steps Ford.)
(CHOICE turns from him and sits at her desk.)
FORD. (Takes a step forward, arms out)I’m free.
(The stage dims.)