To: Marc and Elora. I put this here to show the ending. Less clean, more bitter. Hopefully the personalities and complexities show through more here. Forget the performance. This is it.
The Last Steps to Babylon
Setting: On a balcony, making a speech to her people standing in the streets. The crowd is the audience.
Penelope: The year is 3223. I am twenty years old. And I can not remember a time when we were not at war. I can not remember a time when the dirt of our land has not been stained with blood. When mothers would not cry with despair when they bore sons--for those sons would soon enough be drafted for war. When the screaming of the battlefield was not the lullaby that our children went to sleep to. [pause]
Our people have struggled for far too long. Every day the death count gets higher. Every day a little girl loses her father and every day a little boy loses his brother. As the heir to the throne, I have done all I can yet there is still more to be done. I know it is hard not to lose hope. But that is what I must ask you not to do. Keep it alive. Make it the most precious treasure in your heart. Otherwise there will be nothing left to fight for. And if that happens then truly, we are lost.
Setting: hallway of palace; council man is running after penelope
Councilman #1: [out of breath] Queen Penelope! Queen Penelope! Please wait!
Penelope [turning around]: I am not Queen. Not yet.
Councilman #1: But it is only a few days until your coronation.
Penelope: Yes. But as I have told you before until the day of my coronation I remain Princess Penelope and that is what you will call me. Do you understand me? There are to be no more slip-ups. [stern]
Councilman #1: Yes, Princess Penelope.
Penelope: Now what is it that you wanted? [brisk]
Councilman #1: Russo wanted to see you. In the meeting room.
Penelope: He does, does he. [muses]
Councilman #1: Yes.
Penelope: Well then, I guess I can't disappoint him now, can I. [lost in own little world, half-smile]
Councilman #1: [Penelope starts walking away as Councilman says this] --No.
Setting: Council Room. Russo is sitting at a long table, doing paperwork.
Penelope [after a long pause]: You know, it's bad form when the chief of the Council starts ordering the crown princess to see him instead of the other way around. [indecphirable look on her face]
Russo [looks up]: Penelope.
Penelope: Just Penelope?
Penelope: Not yet. Not for a few days.
Penelope [walking over to him]: What did you want to see me about?
Russo: I wanted to talk with you about your plan.
Penelope: Ah yes. So you're finally ready to give me an answer?
Russo: You already know what I'm going to say.
Penelope: I was hoping you would say yes.
Russo [slowly shaking head]: I will not. I can not say yes to what you want me to agree to.
Penelope: But you know it would work. [leans closer to him] I could make you say yes.
Russo: As you said so yourself, you are not queen yet. [Penelope leans back]
Penelope: Touche. [pause] You know the plan would work though.
Russo: I could not risk it.
Penelope: Yes, you can.
Russo: Do you really think I could risk the heir to the throne? If you died, that would leave this country that much more unstable.
Penelope: There's always Kaley.
Russo: Your younger sister has not been raised to rule as you have been.
Penelope: No? She took the same lessons that I did. In fact, she did almost as well.
Russo: Almost being the key word.
Penelope: So you agree that I am good? More than good, in fact. Excellent.
Russo: Where are you going with this?
Penelope: That my plan will work. I will make it work. I am good enough.
Russo: Penelope, there is no way I can support this!
Penelope [quiet and intense]: Is there anyway that you can't? Have you seen the streets today? They are littered with dead bodies. Men, women, children, no one is safe. Our soldiers are worn out and dwindling by the minute. Even if we did somehow manage to win the war, we'd still be in debt up to our ears. Do you understand that? There is nothing left for us to do. My plan is the only way.
(Russo shakes his head slowly)
Penelope: You only shake your head because you know that I am right. Did you tell the rest of the Council about my idea like I told you to?
Russo: You already know.
Penelope [pause and then exhales]: Yes. I knew they would support it.
Russo: Because they don't give a damn about you! They don't care if you live or die! They're just so desperate for a way to end this war they'll use anything they can to do it. I can't let you do this.
Penelope: Yes. You can. You've known me all my life, Russo. You know that I always get what I want.
Russo [laughs bitterly]: Especially from me. [pause] There is nothing I can do to change your mind?
Penelope: No, Russo. Nothing.
Russo [suddenly unsure]: What if…you had a reason not to do this?
Penelope: What are you talking about?
Russo [slowly]: Someone…to stay for.
Penelope: [pauses. Laughs.] Wait, are you talking about marriage? Who would I ever want to get married to? [pause while he stares at her intently] …Russo?
Russo [bitterly]: I would never have believed you to be so blind.
Penelope: I…[at a loss for words, reaches toward him. He moves back and stands up]
Russo: If you can not give up this asinine plan for me…at least do it for Kaley. [walks out of the room. Penelope stares after him]
Penelope: But…that's exactly why I can't.
Setting: Council room. Official Council meeting with Penelope staring out at audience as if they are the council
Penelope: Councilmen, you all should have finished reading over the papers that I have given you. They detail our last hope for our country. It is a simple plan but dangerous. I need all of your cooperation to do it.
We will act as the ancient Greeks did with their Trojan horse. Only this time, there is no horse. There will only be me. I will offer up a peace treaty that includes marriage to their King. And while we are discussing the treaty, our soldiers will infiltrate their palace and take over. When that is done, I myself will cut off their king's head. This is the way to ensure victory.
Any questions? No? Good.
You are all dismissed.
Setting: Penelope walking to her rooms and walks inside her door. She sits down and starts to read.
Penelope [without looking up]: Kaley, you can come out now. I know you're in here. [Kaley comes out]
Kaley: Pen, where have you been?
Penelope: I've been doing paperwork. Very boring paperwork.
Kaley: Then why do you do it if it's boring?
Penelope: Because I must. Who else would do it?
Kaley: …Russo would.
Penelope: I suppose he would. [shrugs] But he's a little miffed with me at the moment. [sounds a little uncaring]
Kaley: You turned him down, didn't you.
Penelope [suddenly looks at her]: Yes, I did. How did you know that? [a little intensely]
Kaley [shrugging]: I know things. I hear things. People don't pay that much attention to me. [slightly reproachful] You know that.
Penelope [smiling]: I'm getting old. I forget things. [a little flippantly but still playing dumb]
Kaley: Twenty is hardly old. And you don't forget anything.
Penelope: You know me well.
Kaley [as if correcting her]: As well as you want me to anyway. [Penelope doesn't respond] Don't deny it.
Penelope [humoring]: I wasn't going to, Kaley.
Kaley: Well then. Good. [pause] How was the Council meeting?
Penelope: As expected.
Kaley: What did the Councilmen say?
Penelope: Oh, they liked the idea and want to do it as soon as possible. I agree. The sooner the better. It's turning out to be a little more complicated than it seemed, but it should turn out well.
Penelope: Why do you ask?
Penelope: A good quality to have, I suppose.
Kaley: You suppose?
Penelope: Sometimes you may find out things that you never really wanted to know.
Kaley: What do you mean?
Kaley: [pauses] Penelope? Are you alright?
Penelope: How come you never call me Penny like you used to when you were little?
Kaley: [surprised] I-I don't know. I just…stopped, I guess. When you went away to train. [pause] Penelope, you don't look so good.
Penelope: I'm fine, Kaley. I just need some rest.
Kaley: Okay. I'm going to go eat now. I'll have the cook send up some soup.
Penelope: Thank you.
[Kaley walks out and Penelope puts her face in her hands--this whole scene, Penelope is a little flippant until the end when she is just tired]
Setting: Penelope is sleeping and tangled in her sheets when a hand over her mouth wakes her up
[Penelope struggles to sit up]
Young Soldier: I'm going to take my hand away from your mouth. If you scream, I guarantee you it's the last thing you'll do. [Penelope bites his hand]
Young Soldier: You bit me!
Penelope: I hope you really didn't think that I'd do what you say.
Young Soldier: Then why aren't you screaming?
Penelope: I can take care of you myself. Here, let me prove it. [maneuvers him onto the floor] Now who are you and how did you get in here? [soldier doesn't say anything. He's breathing hard] Answer me. Now. Or I'll kill you in the slowest, most painful way I know.
Young Soldier: And I bet you know lots of ways, don't you.
Penelope: What exactly is that supposed to mean?
Young Soldier: You act so high and mighty all the time. Like you couldn't do anything wrong. But you're just as dirty as the rest of us.
Penelope [quietly]: You don't know what you're talking about.
Young Soldier [getting passionate and close to tears]: I don't? Maybe YOU don't. You torture people until they die. You don't give a damn about them.
Penelope: I do it for my country.
Young Soldier: Liar! You should just surrender! Innocent people are killed because of you! Don't you care?!
Penelope: Quiet. I don't have to answer to you. Now I'll give you one last chance to answer me. Who are you and what are you doing here? [Young Soldier struggles to get away but Penelope stops them. The Young Soldier is breathing heavily but Penelope is calmer] And that was your last chance. [kills Young Soldier] Guards! [Two guards immediately rush into the room]
Guard #1: Princess, what is the matter?
Penelope: An enemy spy snuck into my room while I was sleeping.
Guard #1: Princess, are you alright?!
Penelope: I'm fine. I managed to kill them before they killed me. But I want to know how they managed to sneak in here. My room should be the most heavily guarded room in the palace. Find out.
Guard #1: Yes, Princess. [quickly walks out]
Penelope: And would you please take care of this? [looks meaningfully at Young Soldier's body]
Guard #2: …yes, Princess.
[picks up Young Soldier and walks off stage. Penelope stares after them and then at her hands as if in a daze. End scene]
Setting: Penelope practicing with her sword. There is a knock at the door.
Penelope: Who is it?
Penelope: Come in. [Kaley walks onstage and almost gets hit by Penelop's sword]
Penelope [relaxes and puts sword down]: Yes, Kaley?
Kaley [frowns]: Penelope…you're over two hours late to the Council meeting! They've been looking for you everywhere!
Penelope: And they didn't think to check my room? Honestly, I think we need to get better guards. Especially after the other night.
Kaley: You know very well you weren't in your room this whole time.
Penelope: I know lots of things, but I don't know if I know that.
Kaley [tries to tug Pen]: Stop playing word games. Come with me, the Council really needs to talk with you.
Penelope [yanks out of hold]: Well, they should have given me more than a few hours notice for the meeting. I'm busy at the moment.
Penelope: Yes, Kaley?
Kaley: What is the matter with you? You've been acting strange for days.
Kaley: Yes! Russo noticed first! You haven't been eating or sleeping. You've just been practicing with that damn sword.
Penelope: I need to be prepared, Kaley. The plan is being implemented tomorrow.
Kaley: Well, that is exactly what the Council needed to talk to you about.
Penelope: Oh really.
Kaley: Yes! So come on, quickly. [turns to leave]
Penelope: Hold on a minute. All the final details about the plan have already been made. What would they want to see me about?
Kaley: It's a last minute detail that they didn't foresee.
Penelope: Do you know what it is?
Penelope: Well then, why don't you just tell me now. It'll save trouble rather than having you drag me here and there.
Kaley: [long pause] You always think you know what's best, don't you. What's the most efficient, what's the best way of doing things.
Penelope: Kaley, what are you--
Kaley: You never stop to think what other people might have to say. You just run over everyone else with your grand plans. [bitter] Do you think you're so much better than everyone else?
Penelope: Of course not. But don't you see? There was nothing else left to do! This country is down to its last legs and if we don't stop it soon, we'll be destroyed!
Kaley: How do you know there's nothing else left to do?! Did you think to ask anyone else? Did you think to ask me?! I'm a princess of this country too, you know. I have some say!
Penelope: You are a child! You're barely fourteen years old! How could you know what's best for an entire country?
Kaley: I know almost as much as you!
Penelope: [quietly] No. You don't.
Kaley: You're just in it for the glory of it. You don't actually want what's best for your country. Or you wouldn't come up with a plan that's practically a suicide mission.
Penelope: And that is a child's way of thinking. Sometimes you have to sacrifice the individual for the majority.
Kaley: No, you just want a way to repent!
Penelope: [shock] …what?
Kaley: You always cry in your sleep for it. You have nightmares.
Penelope: How do you know that?
Kaley: I told you, you don't notice me! You never have. You were always too caught up in your plans. [says with hatred] [pause]
Kaley: sorry? A little late, don't you think? You've already been a murderer since you were nine and the bodies just keep piling up. [Penelope is severely shocked] How did I know that? I told you, I know almost as much as you. In fact, I know more. Like the young soldier from the other night. He wasn't an enemy. He was from our own military.
Kaley: They checked his background. Apparently he was just drafted into the military. His older brother was killed a few years ago while fighting for our country. But he blamed you for his brother's death.
Kaley [mocking]: Yes, oh. These are the things you miss when you're too obsessed with your own selfish goals. And you're not even going to be able to reach those goals yourself.
Penelope: What are you talking about, Kaley?
Kaley: If you had come to the Council meeting today, you'd know. You're not the one who will be infiltrating the enemy. I will be.
Penelope: There's no way.
Kaley: They decided to pick me. They say you've been acting too strange lately, ever since the young soldier snuck into your room.
Penelope: You're not even close to being ready to do something like this.
Kaley: You may not think so, but the Council does. And that's all that matters.
Penelope: I'll stop you.
Kaley: You're not Queen until tomorrow. And the plan will already have been put into action a few hours before your coronation. There is nothing you can do to stop it.
Kaley: --wants you safe. He doesn't care about me. [bitter]
Penelope [softly]: You….love him.
Kaley [trying not to cry]: It doesn't matter. After tomorrow, I'll be a hero anyway. Just watch me.
Kaley: Just watch. [takes sword from Penelope and jabs it ]
Penelope: I…will. I'll watch.
Kaley: That can be your penitence. Watching and waiting. Like I always have. And living with the guilt.
Penelope: That is a very hard sentence.
Kaley: You've done some very hard things.
Penelope: I know. [pause] I don't think I'll ever be clean.
Kaley: No. Some things can't be washed away. No matter how hard you try. [long pause and Kaley drops sword] I-I'm going to go talk to the Council now. To tell them that you know about the change of plan. [Penelope can't speak and just nods. Kaley leaves. Penelope sinks down into herself but does not cry]
Setting: Penelope is once again making a speech on the balcony to her people
Penelope: [pause] I spoke to you of hope a few days ago. Now I speak to you of a tower. [pause] Some say that once upon a time there was a group of foolish, arrogant men who thought themselves gods. Divine enough to reach the Heavens if only they built a tower tall enough. But in the end, the tower fell and the men themselves were scattered throughout all of the land, doomed to be unable to understand each other. Their grand plan, their tower, was a failure. [pause]
But just imagine this. What if the men, not arrogant but idealistic, built this tower for others? So that the poor, the sick, the aged, the unhappy, could climb it and finally reach a place of contentment. Yes, glory may have been a part of it, but their primary reason was to help others. I imagine they spent years building this tower. Years and years. Stone by stone. Season by season. Working their life away under a hot blazing sun and through the biting, winter winds. And their trembling hands making mistakes, leaving trails of blood wherever they walked. They suffered. In the end, it all amounts to the same. They suffered and sufferedin order to make their dreams come true. Yet it was never enough. All of the suffering in the world was not enough. [pause]
You might wonder what the story of this tower has to do with anything. After all, we are in a time of peace now, aren't we? Princess Kaley made sure of that when she sacrificed herself for her country. She is dead now. [starts to have trouble speaking but keeps going] And what is important to remember, is that…is that…it doesn't take a group to build a tower. Sometimes it only takes one person. And the tower may not be torn down but instead kept up. And everyone can climb up that blood-stained tower except for the person who built it. [pause and then slowly] Sometimes there is no justice.
Princess Kaley, my younger sister, died too young. But because of her, we have this most precious gift. A chance to start anew. So we will honor Kaley and everyone else who has died to protect this nation. We shall remember them always. But let us now move forward into a bright age of peace!
Everyone except Penelope: All hail, Queen Penelope!