Note: the audience sits where the stage normally is, looking down to the setting of the play: a black box. At times, the scenes will involve actors speaking both from inside and outside of this box towards the group on the other “side” of the box, or towards the audience.
Throughout, it is as if the audience is watching the actual experiment from a control room.
Lights on NOGINO, a very pale female, outside of the box. She talks about Helium syndrome, an illness that makes inflicted patients unable to maintain body balance, thus cannot function normally. She also talks about what is “normal”. Light out.
Lights inside the box on LY, a Vietnamese female with a gag on her eyes, and JODE, a Caucasian male wearing large ear blocks, both attached on top of strange looking poles – Ly’s look like a very tall throne with planets attached to it and Jode’s like a dead tree. They talk to the audience as if writing their diaries, some parts of which involving the other person. From here we know that they are both Helium patients. Some information on their personal lives are shared: Jode lives in a tree house that calms him; for Ly, not only she can’t see but anything she perceives becomes an item in a universe that she perpetually “look at” with her eyes closed. They are on the last day of the preparation for their treatment: a satellite-voyage into space. We also learn that they have feelings for each other. Light out.
Lights on MIKA, a mixed-race male, on a pole that looks like it’s emitting lightning. Tourettic, he talks about his condition: Helium illness makes his brain sends all sort of wrong signals to his locomotive outposts so he ends up like a marionette of himself though having extreme intelligence. He shares his understanding of the Boron project that he’s part of – the third of a series of extravagant experiments to treat Helium syndrome. We see that he is actually more curious about the entire thing than the treatment of his own illness. Light out.
Lights now on NOGINO on her pole, a white worm-like structure with her at its mouth. She has an oxygen mask on her face and cannot talk much. We see that she is severely sick. Light out.
Sound interferes with Nogino’s laboured breath. The scene moves to the outside of the box: enter THE DUKE, a tired looking old Indian male and THE CAPTAIN, an East-Asian looking male. Their conversation also spins on the last day of the preparation, giving us more information of how this program has been planned and now before the launch, who is expecting what from it. It appears that this Boron program is so grand in scale that the whole world will be watching this autopilot satellite launch tomorrow. At the end of the conversation, there are mentions of the Duke’s sons, who we’ll understand to have passed away from Helium illness. Light out.
Launch of the Boron satellite. The outside of the box looks very busy: many STAFF, uniformed in black tights from head to toe, station and monitor the progress; some are inside the box, pushing 4 poles together. The Captain addresses the press about this historic moment. The old Duke silently watches the countdown. We see the 4 patients are finally pushed together, still on their poles but inside egg-like capsules, ready to be launched. As the whole box shake and the missile sound is heard, we know that the satellite is launched.
From outside of the box, Nogino speaks again on how life in space gives the patients one thing they did not achieve on earth: the balance of their body. Weightless, they are actually in control. The experiment is showing marvelous results. Nogino opens the stage to Jode and Ly talking, to Mika and the Captain discussing the ship, and from outside of the box, she glides inside and lies down on her bed. We see that her health has improved from before the launch.
Ly and Jode talk about how their bodies change, the very new sensations only now available to them: sense of touch, undisturbed hearing, fixed vision for Jode. Ly hopes she can see “normally” soon. Their conversation reveals what makes them attracted to each other: Jode, unable to hear, has an image of a lion in his head. Ly, unable to see, perceives such a lion in her vision of the universe. While they talk about the possibility of actually seeing a lion running in space, enters Mika who speaks much less tourettically, and who’s excited with the progresses of this program. The Captain joins, agreeing with Mika. Only Nogino hasn’t been well enough to stand by herself – we see her attached to her bed in one corner with a light smile on her face. They talk about the possibility of coming back to earth, healed and healthy.
Light switches to the Duke from outside the box. He has been watching them. He judges their happiness – it is not acceptable that they are happy or hopeful in their treatment, since his sons have gone under miserable conditions and he is the one who propels this treatment for this Boron group. He wants them to feel what his sons have felt. We see that he gives order to the Captain, who leads the group to see the two preserved corps inside the satellite: they are the Duke’s sons, who after the first attempt to treat Helium syndrome with parabola flight, have both transformed into trees and ceased to exist. It is now known that the second experiment has seen the patients transformed into different matters (water, dust, metal, and micro-organism). Both transformations are the result of them coming back into earth gravity. We now see that a part of the Duke’s plan from the beginning is to recreate his sons’ experience. The Boron group will have to return to earth instead of orbiting it and – in the Duke’s hope – also transform into something that the program can analyze and in that way, the Duke hopes to reverse the process and bring his sons back to life.
We see Jode, Ly and Mika react to this news: confused, angry, despair. At one point Ly says if she can see the shared universe with Jode it would be ok. Mika develops the second personality, a mischievous joker who feeds on what Mika knows of the ship and the program to devise a certain plan. Nogino has recovered fully, now functioning like a normal person, much resembled the Captain, showing little interest in the news. The 2nd personality of Mika confronts her. We see here that Nogino has actually prepared herself to die in the experiment, and she has known of this plan all along. She wasn’t born with the illness like the other 3 but develops it at one point in her life, and it has been unbearable. She thinks participating in this experiment is her way to die with meaning, not to live anymore. She lets Mika know that even if she is that ready to sacrifice herself for a cause, it is not her nor anyone here that is desired. The only one that they’re watching is Jode, for he is the most likely to turn into trees like the Duke’s son. At this point, the two are joined by Jode, who informs them that Ly is deteriorating from inside – her cells are dying at a rate she will soon dissolve into thin air.
Light on Ly wearing oxygen mask. She describes her own death, which is very similar to her illness condition but now she experiences it with affection because she has Jode and his lion in her universe. Jode joins her, saying that he doesn’t mind the state of dying or transforming but he wants to experience it with her. Mika devises a plan.
Nogino speaks from outside the box again. She knows Mika’s plan – she does not divulge it to the audience – and she’s torn between just letting things go and helping Mika with that. We also see the Duke giving order for the satellite to come back to earth. From upstage, the two personalities of Mika talk to each other, both are excited of the plan and of the possibility of change because they have been so drown in the Helium world, that is so lonely and has no exit. It seems like the two personalities see each other as friend. This brings Nogino to realize deep down she does not want to be alone; it is not the illness but the loneliness that is unbearable. She decides. Nogino goes into the box to look for Mika. They agree on the plan. We hear the Captain announces to the Duke that Ly has already started her transformation and by the time the satellite reaches earth she will be no more. The Duke says just bring Jode back. We see the capsule of Jode closing with him inside.
A monitor shows the audience that the satellite has come back down to earth but the press is not allowed to access what’s inside it. An ANCHOR PERSON says the world awaits further news from Boron Program Headquarter.
Outside of the box, all Staff are out again to coordinate the fetching of the returned satellite. The Duke watches the capsules open. The one with Nogino has her in it. The one with Ly has nothing. The one with Mika has a mass of brain (a deformed hippocampus). And the one with Jode has the Captain in it. Lights down, only spotlights showing the Duke looking at the four capsules, intently, with hatred, sorrow, and a desperate hope. Light diminishes slowly to black.
From the monitor, the Anchor person reports that it has been four months since the satellite has come back but still no news from the Boron Program. Lights on the Duke at the same spot, watching Nogino in her oxygen mask. He looks old and defeated. The Staff dances around, analyzing her.
Light down on the Duke, now only on Nogino. She opens her eyes. She looks for something.
Light up on Mika’s pole, now with his hippocampus attached on top. Nogino smiles. With difficulty, she talks to the hippocampus about how genius Mika has been in hiding Jode and Ly in the emergency capsules and pushing them out of the satellite before it comes back to earth. She says now they are just floating up there, maybe really never to return at all. She says she’ll die soon and might turn into a worm because she has dreamt of worms her whole life. She thanks Mika and bids farewell. She drops the mask.
Light up on two capsules hung from the ceiling with Jode and Ly sleeping inside. The background shows the galaxy with a little lion running from planet to planet.
Lights down to black.
image by Phunam 🙂