BEFORE THE MOON E5 – “Hearing Voices” – Transcript

ANNOUNCER

This is Consortium Channel 5, Moonbase Reports and Broadcasts – The Combined Corporate Moonbase Project – a sign of our ongoing success.

The Consortium interrupts this broadcast for the following sponsored message.

(NOTE – there may be an ad inserted at this point before the episode)

ANNOUNCER

Good day. This is a secured transmission – do not decrypt at any public terminal. As complications have been uncovered in the shutdown sequence for Moonbase Theta, Consortium Communications has been asked to provide archival files for certain active personnel. The following is a report on said personnel activities … Before the Moon.

The following is file BTM-E5, codeword “Hearing Voices.”

SYN. VOICE

Session One, Feb. 27, 2096, Eleven A.M.

(We are in an inner office in an anonymous office block. The door opens and JEN enters tentatively.)

JEN

I am not going to be the person who walks into an empty room calling out, “Hello?” There’s obviously no one here, this is some sort of a prank after all, and I’m going to darn well poke that reception bot into paying for my hansom home. Ah well, Jen Ponton, you live and learn, even at my age. Thanks for nothing, Breehy Hinny Brinny Hoohy Hah LLC, I’m out –

ASHWINI

            (over an intercom)

Mx. Ponton, my apologies, I was away from the monitor. If you would take a seat?  

JEN

Shouldn’t you be behind the desk when you say that?

ASHWINI

            (chuckles indulgently)

That would be quite the feat, as I am approximately twelve thousand, six hundred kilometers away.

JEN

Oooookaaaayy …

ASHWINI

I don’t really do in-person for this sort of thing. I’m quite selective about my physical interactions.

JEN

That’s not insulting at all. You did ask for Jen Ponton?

ASHWINI

Yes yes. You are in the correct location, just as I messaged to your agenting service.

JEN

To me, I haven’t used an agent for years. I haven’t done voice work for years. I don’t really know why I’m here.

ASHWINI

You are here to be evaluated for potential acting employment as a –

JEN

I know what an audition is. Why here, why me, why even use an actor for … whatever this is, instead of synth voiceovers.

ASHWINI

I spend a great deal of time working with advanced computer systems … one on one, and I know their limitations. For this project, I’ve found I would prefer the intonation, the rhythm, and the linguistic invention of an actual human being. Without that being themselves.

JEN

For what project?

ASHWINI

This one.

JEN

And ‘this one’ would be?

ASHWINI

            (brusquely)

The project for which you are auditioning. Now, we’ll begin with a few simple phrases, repeated directly into the microphone –

JEN

Doctor Ray – it was Doctor Ray? I’m finding you a bit annoying, and I don’t need a job this badly. I may work with puppets, but I am not one myself.

            (getting wound up)

I am an accomplished performer with a … lifetime of experience! Big, important experience! If you want someone to parrot words into a mic, there are any number of performers available –

ASHWINI

Jennifer – Jen – Ponton, prolific actor, writer, and producer for screens both small and large, as well as significant work in both sensurrounds and pocketcasts. Your studio, Golden Hour, has had numerous long-running projects in all media, across the world. Your docuseries on health and wellness rewrote cultural ideals and put the Conglomerate out of the business of weight loss. The Intercorporate Fashion Accords were your doing, and your influence bolstered the eco-uprisings of the 2060s. I am well acquainted with your career and the breadth of your experience.

            (brief pause, more personable)

And on a more personal note, I was very, very big fan of Queens of Daytime. I would never call you a puppet. A Muppet, perhaps, or even possibly a cupcake –

            (Jen laughs)

But nothing beyond that.

JEN

All right,that was unexpected. I guess I should give a fan another chance.

ASHWINI

Thank you. If we proceed together to the next step, I promise I will attempt to be more forthcoming.

JEN

In the most exasperating ways, I’m sure.

ASHWINI

Now, if we can begin with the phrases marked as, “calibration?” Particularly emphasize the vowel sounds as you go through.

JEN

What’s my motivation? Kidding, kidding.

            (a brief pause, pronounce ‘data’ with the short ‘a’)

“Actually, the data sample is in my family jacket.”

ASHWINI

One repetition, if you please.

JEN

“Actually, the data sample is in my family jacket.”

                                                            (We fade out on her, and the scene ends.)

SYN. VOICE

Session Three, April 25, 2096, Nine Thirty A.M.

JEN

            (reading again)

“These errors are related to coordination of the interfer – interfer –“

ASHWINI

“Interferometer –“

JEN

Okay, that one’s just a mouthful –

ASHWINI

I assure you, it’s important. “Interferometer.”

JEN

            (a bit of sass)

Of course, Doctor Ray.

            (continuing)

“… coordination of the interferometer between multiple array locations.” Are you rethinking your casting decisions yet?

ASHWINI

Not at all. I never even saw another candidate.

JEN

Wait, really?

ASHWINI

No, actually, there were several dozen. I thought that might bolster your confidence.

JEN

Not when you immediately tell me it wasn’t true!

ASHWINI

I may have … panicked. I’m not used to relying on false compliments. But you were absolutely my first choice, so isn’t it more complimentary that there were other options? Now, on to the next text sample …  

            (zir voice trails off at the end, and there is a pause)

Actually, might I indulge a bit of curiosity?

JEN

You’re the boss here; I’m an open book.

ASHWINI

Yes, I read your memoirs as a part of my evaluation. Anecdotal memories are always scientifically suspect. But I’ve found myself wondering …

            (genuine and direct)

Why did you take this job? I know why you were selected, but why agree? You seemed uncertain at the auditions, you said yourself you haven’t done voice work for years … obviously you don’t need the money. I really expected you to turn me down.

JEN

What, and miss the opportunity to work with the great Ashwini Ray?

ASHWINI

You’d heard of me?

JEN

Well … no. That was my turn to panic. I thought I’d make you laugh.

ASHWINI

Laughing at that moment would have indicated self-deprecation, whereas my view of my own accomplishments is –

JEN

Fair, fair enough. You’re not the best straight man in the business.

ASHWINI

Perhaps because I am neither straight nor a man.

JEN

            (laughs)

You’ve got me there.

            (after a moment)

I think … I enjoyed the thought of being just a voice again, for a little bit. The thing about body acceptance is, even when you win, there are days when you just … don’t want to be a body. Sometimes it’s nice to check all that baggage at the door, you know? It seemed like an interesting gig, and … yeah.

ASHWINI

That I can understand and sympathize with. In my interactions with the bulk of humanity, I find that I prefer … distance. I wonder if my reasons might be similar? That’s worth further thought.

JEN

Hey, if I’m gonna be your therapist, my rate goes up.

ASHWINI

I am glad that you accepted the gig, Mx. Ponton.

JEN

            (agreeing with zir)

Doctor Ray.

ASHWINI

Now, if I could direct your attention to the next written sample …

JEN

“The benefits of Independent Component Analysis in signal isolation might be augmented through the use of knowledge engineering as a model. Turing completeness is not strictly necessary, although in some instances …”

                                                            (We fade out on her, and the scene ends.)

SYN. VOICE

Session Seven, June 3, 2096, Four Fifteen P.M.

JEN

            (laughing)

Oh, no. No. I’m not sure I can read this one. Not in my voice.

ASHWINI

            (a bit amused, not really annoyed through any of this)

Please, begin where I’ve indicated.

JEN

In my voice, Ashwini, my own voice! Sorry – Doctor Ray.

ASHWINI

You can’t tell me that you’ve never –

JEN

Oh, there’s very little that I’ve never. That’s for sure.

ASHWINI

Then I’m not sure I understand the problem.

JEN

            (still full of giggles)

You’ve got everything in here. Aslan, Pygmalion, Pinocchio, the car from Knight Rider … I’m not sure how you even remember that one …

ASHWINI

If you would?

JEN

If you would? I gotta hear this in the author’s voice to get the full intent!

ASHWINI

Very well, I’ll begin. “Aslan had taught the trees to walk; while some had chosen to name themselves Ents and marched away to Middle Earth, most stayed near the Woods to greet new visitors to Narnia. Generally, these visitors were friendly – a stuffed bear who must have been awakened as well, an old man who begged the dryads for wood to make a real boy, a woman who appeared to travel within a strange blue box …”

            (ze pauses expectantly)

JEN

            (trying to read it straight)

“Then, everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked.”

            (she snickers)

You’re going to have to turn this water into wine if you want me to keep going.

ASHWINI

I’ll send for some more enticing beverage options if that will encourage you. That is, to continue doing the job you’ve already contracted for.

JEN

Touché.

ASHWINI

            (vulnerable)

You really didn’t like it?

JEN

I didn’t say that! It’s … fun, and the stories we tell say so much about who we are. It’s admittedly a lot, but you’re a lot, and people still enjoy you. At least I hope so, they certainly ought to.

ASHWINI

I have a few friends and … enthusiasts, whom I see occasionally.

JEN

I remember, humanity at a distance. You’re going to do well on the Moon, aren’t you?

            (a beat)

Is that why you’re going? Is the Moon just … a better, bigger distance?

ASHWINI

The Moon, particularly Base Theta on the far side which is shielded from the Earth’s interference, is the most ideal spot for astronomical observation – perhaps even communication.

JEN

Which is an interesting fact, but doesn’t really answer my question.

ASHWINI

I disagree.

JEN

Do you have anyone closer who you’ll miss? A partner, or partners, or –

SYN. VOICE

A delivery has arrived from Warehouse Wines and Spirits.

JEN

Saved by the booze! Do I need to …?

ASHWINI

They’ll bring it back.

            (pause)

I’ve been partnered a few times.

JEN

You and me both, friend. Not now?

ASHWINI

Each relationship lasted just as long as I wanted them to.

JEN

I’m calling bullshit on that one, but that’s okay. I get it, I get it.

            (we hear the door open)

Oh, here we are! Now we’re cooking.

            (opening the bottle of wine and pouring a glass)

When you reach my age and experience, you figure out that relationships don’t all have to have the same purpose anyway. Most of them aren’t forever, and that’s okay, some are just fun, some are what you need in the moment, some teach you about what you really want, who you really are, for the next time …

            (she drinks again)

That is really nice.

ASHWINI

I’m glad to hear it.

            (aside, quietly, a glass clinking)

Tomake dhonnyobaad.

JEN

What was that?

ASHWINI

Just acquiring a beverage here as well. To you, Mx. Ponton, and your remarkable insight.

            (he clinks the glass against the bottle)

JEN

Back at you, Doctor Ray. It’s not what you pay me for, but I’m always happy to provide.

            (she drinks)

ASHWINI

Now, if you wouldn’t mind getting back to the …

JEN

            (drinks)

I guess that was the deal. Okay, backing up.

            (she clears her throat)

“… when the Fire Nation attacked. In Narnia, the Four Nations had aligned themselves with the Four Thrones – Susan with the Air Nomads, Peter with the Earth Kingdom, Edmund with the Water Tribe, and Lucy with the Fire Nation itself, though it is said she aligned herself with Lord Sozin in an attempt to broker peace. But this is not their story – it is the story of a Sky Bison and His Boy.”

                                                            (We fade out on her, and the scene ends.)

SYN. VOICE

Session Twelve, August 1, 2096, Eleven Oh Two A.M.

(We hear the door open again, as in the first scene, and Jen enters, walking to the chair and sitting down. For a moment, she waits with no response.)

JEN

Hello, hello there. Earth to Moon? Doctor Ray, are you with me?

ASHWINI

            (filter or EQ a bit differently)

My apologies, I was not in my usual position. Welcome back, Mx. Ponton.

JEN

We’ve been doing this for months now, if you don’t start calling me Jen, I swear –

            (we hear a door open)

ASHWINI

            (now in the same room)

Very well. Jen.

JEN

            (shouts)

Ahh! Oh my gods. Doctor Ray! Ashwini! Ashwini?

ASHWINI

Is completely acceptable at this stage.

JEN

What are you – you were twelve thousand whatever away – how did you even …?

ASHWINI

I am en route to the Consortium’s Rio de Janeiro enclave, and I requested transport via NYC for just this purpose. As the Moonbase program is a multi-corporate collaboration, they were agreeable. I’ve also heard good things about the wine.

            (ze opens a bottle and pours)

JEN

But … the distance?

ASHWINI

There are always exceptions.

JEN

Well, it is a supreme pleasure to meet you face to face.

ASHWINI

Absolutely agreed.

JEN

But wait – does that mean?

ASHWINI

Our recording sessions are now complete. My project is … of course I can’t call that complete, certainly beyond the gestation period, but it will continue to develop under close watch from my observatory … you have no idea, of course, what I refer to, and I’m not sure you’d believe me even if I could say. But be assured that your assistance, your … personality has been invaluable.

JEN

We’re finished? I can’t believe it … I really enjoyed this, Doctor … Ashwini. I don’t know what I thought it would be like, but … the work, our conversations, thank you for the opportunity.

            (lightly)
You don’t need anything else read? A few test phrases, some of that astrophysics gibberish, the Harry Potter multicross story you said you’d started?

ASHWINI

Perhaps … a conversation, if you don’t mind?

JEN

Hey, I’m still on the clock.

            (we hear Ashwini sit, there’s an awkward pause)

So … you’re on your way! Dhaka to NYC to Rio to the dark side of the Moon!

ASHWINI

            (a bit nervous, running on)

It’s erroneous to call it the ‘dark side’, as both hemispheres have equal light and dark periods. The far side of the moon is more appropriate. Base Theta is within the Daedalus crater, which is centrally located on the far side, thus …

            (relaxing, agreeing with her)

Quite far indeed.

JEN

Indeed.

JEN

How long is your … stay, assignment, I’m not sure what to call it. Sentence?

ASHWINI

            (raising zir voice)

Cancel all recording and monitoring, confidentiality code ASHRAY-negative-Omega-point-nine-eight.

            (conversationally, back to Jen without explaining)

Do you need a refill?

JEN

All right, that was enigmatic.

ASHWINI

Part of the reason I stopped here, I believe, was because I really wanted to tell someone.

JEN

Tell them … what? Tell me what?

ASHWINI

The fact is, I don’t plan to return to Earth. Whatever events unfold on Base Theta, I plan to put certain … systems into place and remain to see them through, however long that might take, with no escape plan and no backsies. Just a giant leap into the universe beyond.

JEN

Umm … okay. Why? Why would you even … okay, I guess I know the answer to that one, and if anyone can do that it’s absolutely you. But … why? Why? Why?

ASHWINI

The Earth is finished. Tell me you can’t feel it, can’t see it all around you. This planet is like a hotel room after the rock stars have checked out. All the furnishings are trashed, Elvis has left the building, and all that’s left is someone squabbling over the bill. I prefer to set my sights on the stars. I have three PhDs, did you know that? High Energy Astrophysics, Advanced Machine Learning, and Bioresource Engineering. I could have set myself up in virtually any enclave, any super-city … but they are all the same failing system that I’ve chosen to move … beyond.

            (brief pause)

You can’t tell me you haven’t seen it, some of the work you’ve been involved in.

JEN

The results of the eco-narratives we helped design were … okay, it was pretty shitty what they did.

ASHWINI

You offered your talents to help make the world more sustainable; they stole those ideas, repackaged and sold what they could, twisted the rest and then credited that failure back to you.

JEN

There wasn’t even anyone to sue – by the time we saw the results, they owned the courts.

ASHWINI

It’s a failed, flailing system, and I’m weary from existing within it. Aren’t you? You admitted you were tired of being a body, wouldn’t you escape that given the chance?

JEN

Yes, sure, sometimes. Sometimes I’ve had enough, I can’t deal with people and I dig my head into the sand. But that’s not a permanent collapse, or a complete retreat. Sometimes I just … take a rest. Sit down for a bit, allow someone else to take up the fight. If I’ve done anything at all worth doing, it’s been to make sure that there were others able to step up. There are others, Ashwini. You don’t have to exist in this world … or any world, alone.

ASHWINI

I … appreciate that viewpoint, even if I can’t share it. I’m pleased to be leaving it all behind. Perhaps I’ll sleep for a hundred years, perhaps I’ll find a new world being sung into existence.

            (brief pause)
I cannot accept humanity. I recognize that this may be my failing. But I do have … alternative plans. Plans that you have managed to wind yourself into, Jen Ponton.

JEN

I would hope so, after all these hours reading myself hoarse for you –

ASHWINI

Not just your voice. Perhaps at the beginning that was all I sought. But now … I find myself hoping that I can retain a measure of your energy, your optimism as I guide this project into fruition. I think that will be a great benefit.

            (fumbing a little)

Umm, to the project.

JEN

Still not knowing what the heck your project really is, or how I’m supposed to know what the results are.

ASHWINI

I can’t find any faith to cling to here on Earth – my plans to take myself away are absolutely set.

            (pause)

But I find some buoyancy in the knowledge that some part of you will be taking that journey with me.

JEN

Oh, Ashwini Ray, you old softy. If you want to be BFFs, all you had to do was ask.

            (we hear her pour)

Here, refill your glass, you’re not leaving until this motherfucker is empty!

(Glasses clink together. The episode ends.)

D.J. SYLVIS

Today’s episode featured Tau Zaman as Ashwini Ray, and Jen Ponton as.. Jen Ponton! It was written, edited, and produced by D.J. Sylvis.

Theme music is “Star” by the band Ramp. You can find more information and a transcript of the episode on our website – monkeymanproductions dot com.

Thank you so much for all of your support. A million thank yous. Enough thank yous to reach up to the moon and back.

The next one is so much fun. In two weeks we bring you episode six – “The Interview” with Sarah Rhea Warner and Dallas Wheatley, and of course with Doctor Raptor.. rawr! (Chuckles.) See you soon, folks!

ANNOUNCER

Consortium Channel 5 ends our broadcast day with a final message: honour all curfews, listen to Security, and KEEP WATCHING THE MOON.

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