Scene: A figure is running steadily. She wears a vibrant indigo blouse and trousers. The stage is suffused by shifting lights of the same indigo, representing many similar running figures. The background is the dark orange of a sky when sunset is imminent, perhaps streaked with a single gleaming white cloud. The air is full of a mournful Malian blues music, instrumental, on a loop…
YOSS: (Sings softly, flat and breathless, out of tune/synch with the background music): We are nature, defending ourselves, we are the ones, we’ve been waiting for. Time to act, to draw a red line. We know the way. Disobey, disobey!
She casts a glance at the darkening sky and makes a visible effort to speed up but stumbles, evidently close to exhaustion, maintains her pace. Yoss sings another verse.
YOSS: (Keeps singing) We need it all, we need the space. Our moment’s now, we must seize the day. Act as one, demand it all. We know the way. Disobey, disobey!
Yoss pauses in her singing, visibly striving to get her breath. A second figure enters behind her, also running and gaining on her by degrees, very slowly, head occasionally slumping forward as he makes the effort to catch up or perhaps almost gives up. Yoss resumes her singing in the same style, verse three.
YOSS: Climate games are played for keeps, there’s no way back from four degrees. No more stalling, no fossil fuel. We know the way. Disobey, disobey!
BARR: (Shouts, but it emerges a barely audible croak) Facilitator Yoss!
Yoss, pauses singing but not her exhausted running, cocks an ear, looks around but not back, shakes her head, shrugs slightly. Resumes singing, fourth verse.
YOSS: Jeux Sans Frontières, reality TV. Watch the Earth become the sea. We are human, nature, all. We know the way. Disobey, disobey!
Yoss smiles a small, fleeting doleful smile. Barr is close behind her now, he reaches out with one hand, stretching for contact…
BARR: (Croaks) Facilitator Yoss!
Yoss turns her head just enough to catch sight of Barr as he falls in just behind her right shoulder, on the sunset side of the set. Barr’s reaching hand falls away: he does not dare touch her; may not stop her or slow her down. They turn to face the audience, continuing their exhausted, sometimes staggering or stumbling, run. Both their faces are sheened with sweat. The background music never lets up; the sky darkens almost imperceptibly, the blue lights continue to move on the stage.
YOSS: Oh hello, lovely evening!
BARR: It’s hot.
YOSS: Always hot, but I fancy there is a slight breeze, no?
BARR: I must talk with you.
YOSS: You don’t feel the breeze?
BARR: I’m afraid not, Facilitator…
YOSS: Please, just call me Yoss, I’m not working, not tonight, not…
BARR: I must talk with you.
YOSS: You said that, didn’t you?
BARR: Before it’s too late.
YOSS: It’s later than you think: enjoy yourself!
YOSS: Yoss. You know where that comes from?
BARR: (Puzzled) What?
YOSS: That saying: ‘It’s later than you think: enjoy yourself’?
BARR: No, I…
YOSS: Many of those of your generation who even know the saying (She sniffs disapprovingly) think it’s from an old song by The Specials, a ska band, from one of the surviving vinyls in the Nature War Museum.
BARR: (Desperately) With all due respect…
YOSS: (Sings cheerfully) Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think. Enjoy yourself, while you're still in the pink…
BARR: I must…
YOSS: (Muses) Oh yes, it’s actually that way around: Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.
YOSS: (Sings again) The years go by, as quickly as you wink. Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself, it's later than you think!
BARR: I don’t get it, I…
YOSS: (Recites gaily, cool) Hello, I'm Terry, and I'm going to enjoy myself first.
YOSS: Terry Hall. He was lead vocal. Left to form the Fun Boy Three, mostly dreadful songs, then back to The Specials. Music, young man. Plato said: ‘Music gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything. It is the essence of order and lends to all that is good, just, and beautiful.’
BARR: (Waves a hand, indicating their environment) Beautiful? But this music is inescapable, it’s…
YOSS: You’ve heard of Plato, the mentor of Aristotle?
BARR: I think so, yes.
YOSS: You think so?
BARR: I must ask you…
YOSS: Of course, Jerry Dammers was the real song-writing talent.
YOSS: In The Specials, that is, not the Fun Boy Three.
BARR: Really, I…
YOSS: He didn’t write ‘Enjoy yourself’, though. Actually, I don’t know who did.
BARR: Facilitator Yoss, please, this is not about music?
BARR: No, it’s all about music!
YOSS: You could check out who wrote ‘Enjoy yourself’ if you were of the mind, learn something.
BARR: Yoss, please, my petition is urgent – beyond urgent!
YOSS: Anyway, that’s not the point. It wasn’t them.
BARR: It’s Barr.
YOSS: (With exaggerated patience) Rudyard Kipling, the author?
BARR: I’ve never heard of him.
YOSS: A genius, a peerless chronicler of empire. Every student of history should…
BARR: This is no time for history!
YOSS: And brilliant novels, classics, that’s why we still have them: Kim, especially, The Jungle Book… Very popular poems in their time too.
BARR: (Pleads) This does concern the lateness of the hour…
YOSS: (Recites) If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster. And treat those two impostors just the same.
BARR: Facilitator Yoss, I have a request from my neighbourhood to stand aside.
YOSS: He may be best remembered for his poems, actually, that one in particular. It there was anyone to remember, that is.
BARR: We wish to stand aside from this action!
YOSS: The quote was on Kipling’s sundial in the garden of his house in a place called, Sussex – odd name don’t you think? Not Success nor even Suck-Sex (Yoss looks sideways at Barr, grinning), but Sussex.
BARR: Our Spoke on the Council did not agree with our current course.
YOSS: (Her brow furrows, finally engaging) But I well recall that we took a temperature check on the proposal?
BARR: Yes that’s true, but our Spoke registered a low approval.
YOSS: Still, we then checked that all Spokes could live with the decision…
BARR: Not live with the decision you mean!
YOSS: What choice did we - do we - have?
BARR: Our Spoke was not empowered by the neighbourhood to decide on a matter of this – er – gravity.
YOSS: (With a wry chuckle): Gravity, yes, very good.
BARR: We didn’t realise…
YOSS: But you sent her – or – him to the Council…
BARR: Her. Ruth.
YOSS: And you had discussed the music - the pull - in your neighbourhood before you sent Ruth?
BARR: Of course, but we had no idea the Council would be asked to decide on a life or death proposal.
YOSS: More now or then than life or death, don’t you agree?
BARR: Perhaps, no, I, we…
YOSS: No one knew this thing would come to a head. It was a long and tortuous meeting…
BARR: And Ruth was exhausted by it, overwhelmed. She’s young, she…
YOSS: Did you hear me singing as you approached?
YOSS: Yes. It was an old climate-folk song, a protest song of sorts by the sound. I don’t know where it came from. Not the Museum. But it helped. It helped so that the pull of the Earth music was a little less painful, you know, less sharp…
BARR: Do you know where it comes from, the Earth music?
YOSS: Nietzsche, who you’ve probably never heard of, said: ‘Without music, life would be a mistake.’
BARR: But he’d never heard music the like of this!
YOSS: No, I don’t suppose he had, but I think he would have understood it. You didn’t hear my climate-folk song, you say?
BARR: Perhaps I did catch the odd word…
YOSS: These days those few of us who know it call it ‘Be the change’ but I think originally it had a French title: ‘Tout Changer’ – Change Everything!
BARR: (Considers) Both titles are good…
YOSS: It’s the kind of song Nietzsche would have approved of, full of hopes and dreams, a will to power, taking action!
BARR: Does it end well?
YOSS: I could teach you, if you like? It may help with the pain.
BARR: Facilitator Yoss, I am so very tired. Please, about our stand-aside…
YOSS: Too late now, your Spoke had her chance to stand aside. There were three blocks in the meeting before we renegotiated and came to a decision: unprecedented; the longest meeting in recorded Council history since the Eight Degree Summit, generations back, when we’d lost thirty-three neighbourhoods to flooding in twenty-four hours.
BARR: Yoss, it’s difficult to explain, but at the day of the end, Ruth couldn’t stand aside precisely because of our neighbourhood’s grounds for standing aside.
YOSS: In Tout Changer there’s a line ‘Climate games are played for keeps, there’s no way back from four degrees’.
BARR: They got that right!
YOSS: This year the temperature rise from that historic baseline datum of Celsius fourteen degrees is not four degrees but Celsius ten degrees. The average temperature on Earth this year was Celsius twenty-four degrees.
BARR: I know but…
YOSS: The highest recorded daytime temperature was Celsius seventy-eight degrees, the highest ever.
BARR: The previous record was just the year before, I know. But...
YOSS: Meantime, the lowest recorded temperature this year was Celsius minus one-hundred and one, also a record.
BARR: (Recites) This year also set records for most rainfall in one minute, sixty-nine millimetres, the most in one year, sixty-one thousand millimetres…
YOSS: Different places.
BARR: This year matched the highest wind-speed ever recorded, seven-hundred kilometres per hour. We had more hurricanes or tornadoes or cyclones than any twelve month period in history. This year was also the deadliest in history with more than eighty-thousand human lives lost and countless injuries.
YOSS: Then there’s Not-Us-But-Us.
BARR: Of course, but…
YOSS: Nature is perishing. It is little wonder that the Earth music summons us. And how could we choose not to answer the call?
The two are silent for a moment: listening, contemplating and, of course, running…
BARR: Yoss, if you would just listen to me…
YOSS: Come to think, I’m not sure ‘Enjoy Yourself’ was even on Kipling’s sundial…
BARR: (Screams) JUST FUCKING LISTEN!
YOSS: (Turns her head to Barr, mouth open, clearly shocked) Ursus Ghost!
BARR: I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe that the people of my neighbourhood are truly experiencing empathy with a wider nature...
YOSS: You feel it?
BARR: We do.
YOSS: You have the perspective?
YOSS: And you understand the… The suffering? Of all?
BARR: Not only do we understand it, but we think we know how to act to counter it.
BARR: To try, we must step aside from this decision to follow the music.
YOSS: You could do that?
BARR: I think we could, yes, but not unless you – everyone else – lets us stop, together. Unless everyone knows, they will drag us onwards, carry us onwards…
YOSS: It would be our duty, our commitment.
BARR: So, please, let us stand aside and spread the word. We must stop running.
YOSS: I… I’m lost for words.
BARR: In other circumstances, Facilitator, I might be grateful for that, but time is of fear sense, as they say.
YOSS: The essence.
YOSS: The expression is ‘Time is of the essence’. Your generation just repeat what you think you hear, like mynahs or chattering monkeys; you don’t write, can’t spell…
BARR: We do like mynahs and monkeys! Ours is a young, rural neighbourhood, an agricultural resettlement scheme.
YOSS: Only the young and strong can stand the heat.
BARR: Precisely. Perhaps being close to the Earth and its remaining creatures everyday…
YOSS: You think that makes you special, invests you with your empathy?
BARR: I can’t imagine an urban-nature empathy, can you?
YOSS: I can’t imagine a non-urban polity, that’s for sure.
BARR: (Measuring his words) Time is of the essence?
YOSS: Now, that phrase is, I believe, derived from the Oil Age: ‘essence’ was a word for the gasoline, gas or petrol that they used as vehicle fuel.
BARR: That is so sick.
BARR: Will you allow us to stand aside?
YOSS: Young man, I don’t have that power. We would have to reconvene the Spokes Council and that is impossible. Even you must see that.
BARR: I could carry your word of an amendment. My brothers and sisters could move to communicate it to the Spokes of all the neighbourhoods.
YOSS: I… I suppose… It’s possible that…
BARR: They are ready. Please, while my strength lasts, and theirs…
YOSS: Impossible. No!
BARR: But you must!
Their conversation pause. Yoss hangs her head as they both struggle to keep going, both staggering more than running now, but inescapably drawn…
YOSS: (Pronounces) No grounds, sorry. I’ve reasoned it through. Your proposition is flawed.
YOSS: Ursus… Look, you say you are have empathy with a wider nature?
BARR: Down to the grains of quartz in the sand we run upon, the Wind Scorpions who live in it and the Chocolate Flowers that lie dormant beneath it for years, waiting for rain.
YOSS: Then, you will know what the greatest threat to this wider nature is and has always been?
BARR: Us, of course, we are.
YOSS: We are: I am, you are; the people of your neighbourhood.
BARR: No. Not any longer. We…
YOSS: That doesn’t matter. It’s not important that you differentiate yourself from me, your people from others. What matters is what is best for all of nature.
YOSS: And if you truly empathise, you’ll know. Think about it.
BARR: It’s best if… But… I…
YOSS: It’s best if we all follow the music.
BARR: But we, the people of my neighbourhood, are empathetic.
YOSS: So you reason you should be excused from following?
YOSS: But you cannot be empathetic if you ask to be excused from this run, this journey.
BARR: We are… We…
YOSS: If you are empathetic, you’ll understand that anyone who wants to stand aside from this decision cannot, because of its very essence, be empathetic. You must feel that?
BARR: I feel…
YOSS: Even if, and I hate to point this out, but even if you take only the example of our own species…
BARR: We can’t empathise with you unless we run with you.
YOSS: There you have it.
BARR: A double whammy.
YOSS: If not triple, yes. In ancient literature, it’s called a Catch 22.
BARR: Joseph Heller!
YOSS: At last!
The music has grown perceptibly louder, more bassy. The sky has darkened. The blues lights continue to move.
YOSS: (Points ahead, into the audience, beyond…) There!
BARR: Is it…
YOSS: It has always been later than we think.
BARR: The cliff!
YOSS: Our ends of the Earth.
BARR: I am not enjoying myself.
YOSS: (Re-energised, manages to speed up) One for all!
Barr swallows hard, makes a last desperate effort, and manages to close the gap and draw close to Yoss.
BARR: Yoss, please, won’t you tell me about Jerry Dammers, The Specials and Ska music?
The background blacks out. The blue lights spill over the edge of the edge of the stage and extinguish. The stage is left in complete darkness, Yoss and Barr are gone. The music breaks out of its loop and voices sing the chorus…
THE FINAL CURTAIN.