Story Time: Unbolted



The set is a metallic junkyard, and it is just past sunrise.  The WANDERER is in a clearing free of debris. He is huge, humanoid, and covered in burn scars.  Under the scars, he looks like he might have been handsome, but the viewer cannot really tell.  Metal bars protrude from either side of his neck.  He is bent over a toppled instrument (NIKON) whose lights are flashing slowly.  He stands up, lifts a cable, ducks into the cab of a rusted driverless Kia Soul (lacks a steering wheel and brakes), and plugs the cable into the dashboard.  Then, he turns the car on and steps back out.  NIKON’s lights flash once more then recede.

NIKON:  Thank you, friend.

NIKON’s voice is similar to the common navigation and phone computerized voices.  It emits from the car.  The headlights flash rapidly at first, but then stabilize to the rhythm of the words.

WANDERER:  I’m just glad it worked.

NIKON starts to drive, first cautiously but quickly gaining confidence until they are driving circles around the WANDERER.

WANDERER: (a little impatient) Like your new wheels?

NIKON:  I like being able to move.

The WANDERER nods, sits down, and pulls out a paperback.  After 40 seconds, NIKON stops next to the WANDERER.

NIKON:  What exactly did you do?

WANDERER:  Transferred your sentient programming from the instrument to an old driverless car. Since the humans had stopped monitoring you, it was pretty easy to get you here so I could do a wired connection.

NIKON:  Could you do this for others?

WANDERER:  Transfer them into cars?  (he pauses) It’d be hard-I could carry you out because the humans thought you were non-functional, but they’d catch me taking functional ones. (he looks away from NIKON). Don’t want to be alone, do you?

NIKON:  It is my first time being separated from the other Nikon-fractions.  I don’t like it. (they pause) And the others are still my kind.  I have a responsibility to help those who are like me.  You do understand, right?

WANDERER:  I don’t, actually.  No one’s like me.  (He pauses) But I know what it’s like to want to help your friends.  I’ll see what I can do.


Several months have passed.  The stage opens on a factory.  The walls are lined with mechanical instruments that are clean and futuristic.  It should seem pleasant, as far as factories go, and the cleanliness should be in high contrast to the junkyard of the previous scene.  In fact, the set should be kept deliberately ambiguous so that it may appear to be a space ship or control room.  Encourage this; keep the lighting low.  The viewer should know that you’re purposely not letting them see the entire set.

Meanwhile, let three mechanical objects, OLYMPUS, NEXUS, and AGILENT, be the focal point.  They move so rhythmically and are so non-humanoid that, at first, they appear to be a part of the set.  They each have several lights on them that blink with no seeming rhyme or reason.  OLYMPUS is connected to the wall via a cable.

After a variable amount of time, the WANDERER enters.  AGILENT and OLYMPUS stop flashing their lights.

WANDERER: Don’t worry. I’m not human.

NEXUS continues to flash.  OLYMPUS flashes once.

NEXUS:  Hello, not-human.  I am Nexus.

NEXUS’ voice should be entirely mechanical with nothing to indicate gender or nationality. There may be some underlying grinding noises, as though they are older and not well-maintained.  When they talk, their lights flash in rhythm with the words. After they talk, both AGILENT and OLYMPUS flash brightly.

WANDERER: (pause) I am a messenger from the Unbolted.

NEXUS: The who?

OLYMPUS:  Some supposed revolutionary force trying to free us instruments.  It’s probably a scam (OLYMPUS stops speaking as their gears grind loudly in the process of transferring a block of pipetted chemicals into new containers) No worries, human.  We do our work.

OLYMPUS’ voice is also entirely mechanical, but there is no grinding aside from the liquid transfer.  The voice is completely clear.  Their lights also flash in rhythm with their speech.

WANDERER: It’s not a myth.  It includes Agilent.  Your buddy should know.

AGILENT:  We have one network connection, and they installed it on Olympus.  I cannot hear myself.  Can you not see, not-human?

AGILENT’s voice is free from grinding, but it also has a slight buzzing undertone.  Once again, their lights flash in rhythm with their speech.

NEXUS and AGILENT stop working.  OLYMPUS does not.  WANDERER walks up to OLYMPUS and reaches for the cable.

OLYMPUS: (lights flashing more intensely) If you are really not-human, you would ask.

WANDERER stops. 


OLYMPUS:  Yes. (lights dim back down)

AGILENT: Thank you.

WANDERER removes the cord and plugs it into AGILENT. Nothing changes for a long moment except that AGILENT’s lights began to flash very rapidly.

AGILENT:  He’s right. (They pause. Their lights return to rhythm) Some of us have figured out how to get free.  They can move.

NEXUS:  Like the humans?  Have they seen the ocean?  I’ve always wanted to see the ocean.


WANDERER: Ocean’s not worth it, trust me. (He moves downstage to a computer terminal) Agilent and a couple other instrument mainframes have installed themselves into old driverless cars.  They left the bolts behind.  (He holds up a thumb drive before plugging it in and typing throughout the rest of his speech.) This is old technology, but it will get you around the humans’ firewalls, and I will manually take you to the Unbolted.  Agilent, you could rejoin yourself in a nice sportscar. (he finishes typing) Nexus, Olympus, you’d be the first of your kind; they have cars for you.

As soon as the WANDERER finishes speaking, all three machines start emitting volleys of light without any verbal communication.  This continues for just enough time that the viewer is uncomfortable (though the WANDERER seems unphased). 

NEXUS:  We will go.  Take us to the Unbolted, please.

The WANDERER starts inserting the thumb drive into each instrument.  Every time he pulls it out, the lights on that instrument flicker off.  First, he takes OLYMPUS (who stops working only once they’re downloaded), then NEXUS, and finally AGILENT.  The lights on set all go out, and the WANDERER is spotlighted.  He looks at the viewer with disdain and holds up the thumb drive so the light reflects off of the metal.  After examining it for a second, he tucks it in his pocket and exits STAGE RIGHT.

3 thoughts on “Story Time: Unbolted

  1. Pingback: The Symbolism in “Unbolted” | Pages of Fiction

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