Monthly Archives: December 2019

Gateways: “Backwards to go Forwards” by Zoe Mikel-Stites read by Scott Longpre



There is not currently a transcript available for this classic episode.

Please join us on January 14 for our next live reading at Otherworld Theatre.


Gateways: “Adventure is Still Out There” by Olivia Sack, read by Kein Onickel



There is not currently a transcript available for this classic episode.

Please join us on January 14 for our next live reading at Otherworld Theatre.


Gateways: “See You Later” by Allison Manley read by Christine Weisenburger



There is not currently a transcript available for this classic episode.

Please join us on January 14 for our next live reading at Otherworld Theatre.


Gateways: “Jeopardies of Other Times” by John Weagly read by Kein Onickel



There is not currently a transcript available for this classic episode.

Please join us on January 14 for our next live reading at Otherworld Theatre.


Gateways: “The Once and Future Jerk” by Cat McKay read by Jordan Piper



There is not currently a transcript available for this classic episode.

Please join us on January 14 for our next live reading at Otherworld Theatre.


Gateways: “Dr. Maladroix’s Advanced P.E. Class” by Richard Lyons Conlon read by John Weagly



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Richard Lyons Conlon. Richard is a playwright by day who's thrilled to be included in the Gateways story-writing series. A Resident Playwright Alumnus at Chicago Dramatists and proud member of the Dramatists Guild, Richard has written over thirty-five plays, which have won some prizes, had some productions, and been occasionally published.

Some theatres he’s worked with in Chicago and beyond include: Chicago Dramatists · Victory Gardens · Raven · Naked Angels · Theatre Evolve · Next Act · Santa Fe Playhouse · Actors' Theatre; and Urban Stages, Vulcan Theatre, and Rhino Theatre in New York.This is “Dr. Maladroix’s Advanced P.E. Class”

“You could even say it was humanity’s first true experiment in planetary engineering.” That was Dr. Maladroix, waxing all philosophic-like.

“So cool,” I pipe in unnecessarily. “Without even knowing what they were doing . . . ” Yeah, I had to be the brown-noser. I had nothing else going for me. This was a class for over-achievers; I was a student of shortcuts.

She happily picked up my prompt: “Sometimes, the greatest advances in science occur by accident.”

Doctor Maladroix paused. She thought she was about to pull the rug out from under us.

“Of course, this incredible — albeit unintentional — scientific endeavor destroyed our planet. But still . . . science!”

She looked us over imperiously. “The important thing is: We learned from the inadvertent alteration of climate that planetary engineering wasn’t merely possible. It would be essential for our survival.”

“Well, the right kind of planetary engineering.”

Me again. Adding to Doctor M’s complete, profound summation with a totally superfluous, sycophantic statement of my own. What can I say? Part of my grade was how much I contribute to the class.

This was Titan University’s legendary class in Planetary Engineering. In our world, P.E. was everything. Well, shit, our world was the result of planetary engineering. It was the closest thing we had to a religion. We’d all grown up laughing at the ridiculous ancient video theatric, “Search For Spock”, and its notion of a Genesis Project. For centuries, “Search” has been taught as true canon and yet we all know it was simple entertainment for the masses. Back when Earth had masses.

“As you know, this is a single-assignment class.” The doctor still had to lay it out. “You create your own project to advance our knowledge of planetary engineering. Independently. No teams. No checkpoints. I have no office hours. You’re completely on your own.”

She had to say that. But we already knew everything about the class. That’s why we were here. This class — and THE project — that would make or break our lives. The ultimate science project. I had no shot of going anywhere in life without a big splash. God knows, I was no Stephen Hawking. This was my only chance.

I’d known since I was thirteen what my project would be. It would make a splash alright. Definitely. It was also illegal. I think it was. Technically, it wasn’t even possible. So, could it be illegal?

I grew up in my family’s business, if you could call it that. We ran The Museum of Pseudo-Science and KiddyLand. Yeah, that one. The KiddyLand part you can figure out, but the museum, it displayed every crackpot pseudo-science idea and invention from throughout recorded history. “So many curios and so much fun!” read the half-lit, winking marquee over the front doors. There was a ton of really stupid shit in The Museum of Pseudo-Science and KiddyLand, but the only thing I was interested in had belonged to my great great great grandfather.

He called it “The Time Possessor”. Yep — it was supposed to be a time machine. Granddad made it an exact replica of the Spock pod/coffin in “Search”. He was a regular Ripley-Barnum-Kallashi huckster. The real black sheep of the family. He used to sell “trips in time” to gullible suckers that were nothing more than virtual reality with just a bit of hallucinogenic mist administered without their knowledge, allegedly as ambience. So naturally, when he was finally done with his time travel con game (i.e. brought to justice), my family opened this museum and made The Time Possessor the centerpiece. After a dozen decades, people lost interest in favor of the more lurid quackery my ancestors kept discovering to keep the biz fresh. The Time Possessor was relegated to a dusty storeroom. For all time. Get it? All time? Anyway . . .

Turns out the crazy thing actually worked. Yeah, I discovered that completely by accident when I was trying to turn the dusty old storeroom into my very own masturbatory man-cave. As I laid down in the pod — you know, just to have a quick trial wank — this ridiculous hologram pops up out of nowhere and there’s great great great granddad selling the Time Possessor like any carny barker. But after I walked through it, just to be a smartass, he instantly morphs into all-science-guy serious and started explaining how it really worked.

Because it really did fucking work! So, of course, I was going to have to get in and go “somewhen” — “anywhen”. (See what I did there?) Anyway, just as I was about to send myself back, ol’ granddad mentions there are some glitches to watch out for. Like you don’t actually go back as yourself. You end up occupying, or possessing, someone who’s already there. So you’re them and they’re you. Also, he mentioned you might get messed up physically when you get back — like your foot might be coming out of your ear or something. But, fuck! It’s a time machine! I’m thirteen — I’m invincible! Of course, I’m going to use it.

I made a few mistakes of my own. First of all, in ancient literature, we’d just seen this old-as-hell video theatric called “Back to The Future”. So, for my maiden voyage, I decide to go back and see when my parents first meet. How much fun is that? Well, when you end up in your mom’s body, and it’s Prom Night, and she and your dad . . . well, it was not good.

On top of which, when I came back, I discovered I now had . . . an honest-to-God vagina. Hey! I still got the man stuff, too, okay?! No problems there. Actually, having both is, kinda, you know — awesome! But the point is, you can come back physically altered. And it might not always be to your liking.

I decided I better save my next jaunt through the space-time continuum for my big life-making project. Each trip was a roll of the dice, apparently, so I was going to make it count and hope for the best.

You’re probably wondering how was I going to use my ancestor’s dilapidated time coffin to create the project to end all projects in the world-famous Planetary Engineering class of Dr. Maladroix?

Here’s what I did. Stay with me now. I got in the machine and said out loud the time and person I wanted to go to. There was this strange liquidy-stretchy sensation, like a rubber band. And then . . . snap! There I was, over three hundred years ago, 2018 to be exact. I found myself sitting before a large group of people in a mammoth auditorium. Bright lights burned into my eyes. Tried to cover them with my hands but couldn’t. My hands were not responding! In fact, I wasn’t able to move at all. The audience was applauding, though. Yes, for me. That never gets old, I must say. So, let’s see — to sum up, I’ve traveled back in time and am immobilized head to toe in front of a large group of adoring people. Fans? Colleagues? Believe it or not, this is exactly as I planned. A voice addressed the audience: “Ladies and gentlemen, now for the keynote speaker of the International Conference on Climate Change Emergency, it is my great honor to introduce: Dr. Stephen Hawking!”

Needless to say, the crowd went mad. Man, to feel that kind of admiration and love — that alone made the risk of time travel worth it. I’ll never forget that.

Okay, why go back in time to become, essentially, Stephen Hawking? Simple. Back in 2018, the “thinking world” had heeded his warnings on climate change, right? But the “NON-thinking world” was blocking progress. They weren’t going to listen to any intelligent human because they didn’t believe in intelligence. So, we — Stephen and I — had to give the ignoramuses something to believe in. And if that happened, we could stop climate change and save the world. How’s that for a science project? “See what I did, Dr. Maladroix? No thanks necessary. Just a big fat A-plus!”

The crowd quieted down completely to hear every brilliant electronic word the good doctor had to say. Now, back on Titan, we’d all learned about his magnificent speech that day, given just months before we died — I mean, before he died. His logic was perfect. His emotional pleas were devastating. There was no denying his assertions. But what came of it? Nothing! Not a goddamn thing. The powers that be actually doubled-down on poisoning the Earth.

But this time, I was Stephen and he was me, and I — we — had a plan. Of course, Stephen had known instantly what I was up to — and he was ready!

I took a deep breath and — here it comes! — I straightened our slumped body in the chair. That alone was enough to get a murmur from the crowd. When I moved our hands, there were exclamations of disbelief. Next, our rusted, withered arms pushed us up and out of our chair. Honest-to-God screams! And for the first time in 33 years, Stephen Hawking spoke. In a deep, sonorous, otherworldly voice:

“Citizens of Earth, I come to you from God, your Father. I have observed you for 76 years, thinking you will surely turn away from your planetary suicide, but you have not. I now appear in my full Angel form to make it crystal clear: Change your ways, love your planet, treat it as you would yourself. Cherish . . . or perish.” Yeah, we laid it on thick, Stephen and me. That’s when I cranked up my HD holographic PowerPoint presentation showing the videographic evidence, in minute detail, of the Earth withering and dying. It was irrefutable. Gut-wrenching. Gut-punching.

Within minutes, the entire event was streamed everywhere on the planet. It produced a profound moment of universal shame. Followed by a wave of relief felt by every living thing on the planet. It was pure hope. The future was secured.

Without warning, I felt the pulling, stretching of time travel. As I was disappearing from the auditorium, I saw Dr. Hawking collapse onto the stage, people rushing to his aid. Before I knew it I was back in my dark storeroom, overwhelmed by what I had just accomplished. I had saved Earth! I was the hero of the Titan colony. We would be able to go back to our original home. The blue marble! I did it — me!

I immediately transmitted the complete record of my adventure — my achievement — to Dr. Maladroix and collapsed into the deepest of sleeps.

“Titan student number one eight four two,” Dr. Maladroix was addressing me. I couldn’t help fantasizing about the praise she would heap on me. And the admiration. And the gratitude. I had changed the course of history and saved old Earth, just me, Stephen Hawking and my mom’s vagina.

She continued, “I am sorry to report you have failed the P.E. course.”

Wait — what?

“No! I stopped the destruction of Earth!” I cried out. “How is that not the ultimate project?”

“Your unsanctioned jaunt through time achieved nothing except to hasten Stephen Hawkings’ death.”

What?!

“Your stunt shocked the world. For a week. Soon, your theatrics were labeled a sham at best, a demon posing as an angel at worst. There is no turning the hearts and minds of those who embrace ignorance.”

You wanna talk crestfallen? You wanna talk disappointment? Needless to say, I was done at the university. Done with getting anywhere in life. Done with escaping from The Museum of Pseudo-Science and KiddyLand.

As a matter of fact, today I work in the family business. Actually, I’m the main attraction. The tourists all want to see the guy who time-melded with Stephen Hawking. The work is pretty easy. All I have to do is sit in a chair and blink at them. So they can stare at me sadly. You see, I’m also the first human in over 200 years to develop Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Yeah, that was something we’d cured a long time ago.

Now, every group that comes through, there’s always somebody who has to be a smartass and ask if I’m a super-intelligent genius. Takes me a little bit to spell it out, but I’m always eager to disappoint: “Well, I’m no Stephen Hawking.”

John Weagley has been heard as the voice of HarperCollins/HarperKids Publishers, Wendella Sightseeing and on multiple podcasts including High Country Drama and Lumpy & Sasquatch. Some of his favorite stage roles include Stefano in THE TEMPEST, Brother Matthew in MONASTERIES, Curley in OF MICE AND MEN, Marlowe in FORGET HIM and touring with Authorized Personnel: A Comedy & Improv Team. He can be heard in the upcoming animated film WOULD YOU RATHER I WAS DEAD?


Gateways: “On the Orbital Front” by Ruari McDonnell read by Alex B. Reynolds



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Ruari McDonnell. Ruari is a recent graduate from DePaul University with a BA in English that is finally being put to use. She narrates shows for the Adler Planetarium and throws axes for Ragnorok Axe Throwing in Chicago among various other strange jobs that support her cat’s instagram modeling career. She loves writing science fiction that is based on real astrophysics and will often consult the astronomers that she works with for her pieces. This is “On the Orbital Front”.

My Dearest, Darling Europa,

I am writing to inform you of a tragedy that has befallen me and has firmly placed me on death’s door. My orbits are numbered and I am afraid this letter will reach you in my penultimate year. I do not know quite how to express my dread and horror regarding what has ailed me, and I know this horrific news will terrify you to your core, but it is my sworn duty as your greatest admirer to inform you of what is to come in hopes that it will save you. My greatest fear is that our orbits shall not align in time for me to warn you or that the distance may be too great, but I pray to the universe that she reunites us one final time so I may say goodbye. 

My, I remember the first day I saw you through the asteroid belt, with your beautiful icy exterior. I envied the great Jovian brute for being so fortunate as to have such a beautiful moon. He keeps so many around him that I could not understand how your radiance was wasted on him as he continued to collect this system’s beauties. If I’m entirely honest with you, I didn’t believe you could love such a rusty planet like myself. In fact, during the early millennia, I thought you could not stand the sight of me. I would later learn that your cold demeanor was surface level, as deep down, you warmed up to my advances and I managed to melt your heart. However, I do believe that melting may be the reason why you are especially in harms way. I cannot help but blame myself for throwing you into the belly of the beast due to my unwillingness to admit defeat. But alas, here I am, writing to you of my most embarrassing loss. 

You see, my delectable lunar popsicle, I have realized that this illness that I harbor has brought me to my final days. I thought nothing of it at first. How could I, with how innocent and benign it was? It started with a metal object joining my two moons in an orbit around me. I could feel the tingles of pictures and scans, but that became common amongst all the neighborhood, so I paid no mind. Even you experienced these tiny metal admirers. But then, more started coming my way. It was incredible how many of these scanning asteroids would join every time I passed Earth. She was incredibly apologetic for what was happening, but I realize now that my casual attitude was deeply mistaken, as I did not understand the gravity of the situation. I figured these satellites would be the only thing I needed to worry my little ice caps over. By then, the gas giants were also experiencing these strange little contraptions. Even poor little Pluto had a close call with one that shot past (though he was probably thrilled to finally receive attention that all the other planets were getting, bless his heart). You were lucky that your giant managed to protect you from the majority of these strange invaders, but with all the moons or asteroids flying about, I am certain the fool didn’t even notice a few more interested spectators. I do wish there was some way for you to leave that nasty failed star, especially with how he neglects you. In our long plans to swing you into my orbit, I know we determined there was no way for us to manage such a feat. It breaks my heart that a collision strong enough to kill you would be the only way for you to leave his gravitational influence. I would give up every geological wonder I possess in order to have you as my moon. Though, I would have to keep Olympus Mons. I know how much you love a large volcano. 

This is not the most alarming part of my woeful tale. Something happened to me that has not happened to any other planet, no even Earth. These metal strangers began to land on me and stroll all over my dust. I felt tiny little pinches, not like a crashing asteroid, but like an alien probe, pardon my language. When I told you all those years ago, I felt horrible about how much I frightened your poor, delicate ice. I did my best to reassure you that things would be alright. And I did believe that things would resolve themselves as the probing bastards died on my surface. But, alas, I was wrong. More came every time I passed Earth in orbit. There were more of these tiny creatures that became bolder with their invasive procedures, but I fought them with the best dust devils I could muster, however all of my attempts to rid myself of this horrible disease were for naught. I had a feeling the end was near when a living organism stepped on my surface. They did not stay long. This new mutation was not any worse than the metal ones, but they were coming just as frequently after the first contact.

I asked Earth, the next time we crossed paths, “What is coming now that the fleshy monsters have stepped upon my dust? Have you heard whispers of my fate?” She coughed for quite some time before responding that she had good reason to believe that they were planning on residing permanently on me. These parasites knew their host was dying, so I was their next target. I cried for a full orbit. I had not only heard my fate, but I saw it in Earth. Her clouds were darker than usual and she was running a fever. It did not seem to improve after several orbits, but rather, worsen exponentially. Luna was covered in the tiny metals as well, but according to her, the monsters had not returned. It was clear to me that my fate would soon be sealed. 

Europa, do you remember the last time we saw each other? You commented on how different I appeared, and I told you that I was trying a new style? That was a lie to comfort you regarding the dramatic changes the carbon-based beasts were making. They planted seeds in me that created itchy green rashes and drilled deep under my surface to suck me dry. It pained me as they dug through my Surface, but there was nothing I could do to stop them. But as the green continued to grow, the oxygen began to fill my atmosphere, and the disease multiplied quicker. The green rash subsided as they constructed alien monuments until I was almost identical to Earth, now perished under the abuse of the extraterrestrials. She resembled her sister Venus, though her poor ravaged spirit could not handle the acid rains. It was a sad sight to see her distant blue glow turn to red. While I thought I had as much time as her to fight off the disease, alas, the mutations in this illness has expedited my demise. I am so warm, Europa.

This is why I write to you, my ocean beauty. I have heard whispers in my craters that they know that I am dying and have looked to you next. They have seen your water and they have decided that you could save them. I implore you, as much as it pains me to say this, to go to Jupiter for protection. If his gravity is great enough, he can pull the illness into him and destroy them once and for all. They cannot infect a gas giant like him and they know this. That is why they are now looking to terrestrials like us. While I am doomed to die a slow and burning death, there is still hope that you will be able to avoid this plague. My core shudders at the idea of you joining me in this horrific fate. If I should perish because of this illness, I want my death not to be in vain. Please, Europa, save yourself. And do not remember me as I died, but rather how I lived and loved you back when I was your rusty little terra.

 

Until we meet again in the Big Freeze,

Mars

Alex B Reynolds began their acting career as Sherlock Holmes in the second grade, and has since been seen around Chicago in such roles as Gandalf the Grey, Luigi Mario, and Skeletor. They are so grateful to return to the Gateways Reading Series, and can otherwise be heard on the “Meet/Cute” sitcom podcast, the Filmthusiast “Final Cut” podcast, and on whatever customer support line is paying their bills this month.


Gateways: “Vital Research” by Kate Akerboom read by Kat Evans



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Kate Akerboom. Kate tells us she is simply a writing enthusiast. She started telling stories as a child, and started writing things as a teenager. She enjoys writing realistic fiction with fantasy or sci-fi thrown in. Writing is a hobby, but a well-developed one for her. This is “Vital Research”

My head was pounding. The combination of the argument at the table next to me and the Environmental 101 exams I was grading were enough to make anyone rage quit. I mean, this is a library. Quiet is valued, isn’t it? I slammed my papers closed and huffed, marching out of the library. 

Being a science professor has its perks, some days. Everybody calling you “doctor,” endless research opportunities, and the ability to cancel class whenever you want. As a recent PhD grad, this was enough of an ego boost to get me through the mind-numbing freshman courses I needed to teach before I hit tenure. My only solace was my Environmental 335 class. It was a research-based course on climate. In the not-so-distant past, this was usually a depressing course about how humans were killing the planet and the animals. Now, 100 years after the climate crisis, species are thriving. Plastic, while still in use, was produced at a manageable rate, and very few people used it outside of necessity. Covering the climate crisis was always an emotional struggle, but seeing how we made it out was always inspiring. 

I made my way to the classroom for 335, nodding and smiling at students I recognized. This university was established on environmentalism nearly 200 years ago, as the first university in the state to have a widespread recycling program. Now-a-days, it’s the top environmental research institutions. Relics of the 1970s were still scattered around the building, with the concrete exterior and almost bunker-like design. They were so worried about nuclear fallout at that time. I wonder if they knew the biggest threat to their way of life was actually themselves? 

As always, my students were already filing in as I stepped into the classroom. A small class of twelve, the students were eager to discuss the world around them. I set my belongings at the head of the room, set up to be a group of four tables arranged in a square. A variety of “Hi, Dr. Pearson” echoed around the small room. I smiled in response, and when I had everyone I began. 

“How many of you are familiar with the climate crisis of the early 21st century?” 

Every single hand went up. This was standard history class material nowadays. Even 50 years ago, that would not have been the case.

“Who can tell me about it?” 

Allie began speaking as she pushed her dark curls behind her ear. “It was a point in time where, if humanity didn’t act, thousands of species would go extinct, as would humans.” 

“People didn’t care about what they were doing to their environment.” Piper was indignant, their face flushed in frustration. “If students hadn’t have stepped up, we wouldn’t be here.”

I nodded, encouraging further discussion. “Does anyone know when the events started?” The students looked at each other and shook their heads. Martin, head turned in confusion, said “the 1980s?” 

I shook my head, and started pacing the way I did when lectures were about to begin. “No. In fact, legislation was beginning to be passed around that time. Now, I’m not a historian, but scientists agree the negative effects of human impact on the environment was around the turn of the 19th century.” I watched as students looked at me in surprise. “Coal and oil were the ones that started us off. Then came plastic, which was in everything: clothing, technology, even food was wrapped in it. It wasn’t until students like yourselves stepped up and spoke out that things began changing.” 

Roberto’s hand shot up. He was the only one that did that. “But how is that possible? How could they spend over a hundred years poisoning our planet.” 

“Planets don’t change. People change planets.” I let that sit for a moment. “Now, what can we surmise from that statement?” 

My students were silent, thinking. I let them sit like that for a while, until, in a quiet voice in the corner of the table spoke. “Well, it’s kind of a glass half full thing, isn’t it?” 

“How so, Liv?” 

“It can be negative. Humans have the power to destroy, for sure. But don’t we also have the ability to build, and rebuild?” 

“Exactly!” My excitement was causing me to gesture wildly at Liv, making them flush and smile. 

“I mean, we built the modes for interplanetary transport,” Penelope said, beginning to gesture while she spoke as well. “We’ve learned a lot from other terrestrial civilizations. People can change planets for the better. We just need to use our powers for good.” 

“‘With great power comes great responsibility,’” quoted Roberto with a chuckle. I stood still for the first time all lecture. My students looked at me expectantly. I took a deep breath, and couldn’t help the smile that was creeping on my face. 

“Speaking of interplanetary travel, has anyone been to Tullian?” Everyone shook their head. Only people with wealth traveled outside of Earth, especially to our sister planet in a neighboring galaxy. “Well, who can tell me about it based on their previous research?” 

“It’s like Earth, but bigger,” Eli started, speaking for the first time. “The climate is essentially the same, but the human-like inhabitants are smaller, and more in tune with nature.” 

“They’re basically Hobbits,” Allie interjected, grinning at her old-timey reference.

“Basically, they are as advanced as we are, without plastic.” Eli looked at me. “Are we going to be studying the alternative materials they use?” 

I hadn’t disclosed the research topic yet to the students because I wanted to get to know them first. Besides, what we were going to be doing needed a lot of funding and I hadn’t been able to secure it until now. “Something like that. We are going to travel to Tullian and embark on a research mission. You all are going to assist me on applying the use of their alternative materials here on earth.”

All twelve students sat there in stunned silence. Allie was the first to break the silence. 

“We’re going to assist you on vital research?” Her eyes were the size of saucers, and a smile was threatening to break the corners of her lips. 

“Sure are. Now, I’ll discuss logistics later, but I’m going to leave you with this assignment: learn as much as you can about Tullian. I expect a 6 page paper in two weeks on your findings. Check your syllabus for details. See you next week!” 

The students excitedly grabbed their things and chatted about their new assignment and the coming semester. As I gathered my things, I thought about my hero, Greta Thunberg. Gone for almost 50 years at this point, her wisdom still lived on in the hearts of these students, who only knew hope and the passion to save and serve. After all, planets don’t change. People change planets. 

Kat Evans has been an actor in Chicago since 2006. Theatres Worked with :City Lit, Black Button Eyes, Promethean, Savoyaires, Hypocrites. Also voices a few podcasts: Our Fair City, Starlight Radio Dreams, Toxic Bag


Gateways: “Our Last Resort” by Connor Andrei, read by Mandie Greenwood.



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Connor Andrei. Connor primarily writes children’s fantasy and the occasional flash fiction piece for contests and for fun. He has also written a play that was a finalist in the Indiana Repertory Theatre’s “Young Playwrights in Progress” contest. More recently, I submitted (and was a semi-finalist) a sci-fi story to a flash fiction contest run by The Nature of Cities.He aims to bring engaging and accessible stories to children while feeling like a writer of “Serious Adult Fiction”. The natural deviation in “humanity” between the individual and the group runs central to everything I write. This is “Our Last Resort”

The rock spun at breakneck speed through the blackness of space. Despite wildly unfavorable odds, it was covered in plants and water and thousands of billions of thinking, breathing life forms. Their existence was exceedingly rare and exceedingly
fragile. If the rock spun just slightly slower or slightly faster or slightly closer or slightly farther from the burning ball of gas around which it spun, nothing would be alive on it. It would just be an empty, lifeless rock spinning in the nothingness just like 99.99% of
all the big rocks spinning around burning balls of gas in the overpowering emptiness of everything. Thinking, breathing life forms both large and small went about their lives on the planet. They were still too young and primordial to think that there existed anything outside of what they could see. To them the universe began and ended in the fields, forests and seas that covered their planet. The creatures of this world had no reason to think there was more to the universe than their own habitats. Unfortunately, they would soon learn that they were wrong.

A bulky, massive hunk of metal hurdled through the unfathomable distance of space. It was filled with the last surviving members of its planet’s most volatile beings. They called themselves humans and for them the universe was merely an infinite
sandbox full of things for them to see, touch, smell, eat, and burn. Many, many light years behind them sat the rock they had called Earth. That rock still spun around its star all the same, but nothing on it was alive anymore. It had been seen, touched,
smelled, eaten, and burned until it had become just like 99.99% of rocks in the night sky: empty and dead.

Jane grabbed onto the railing that ran along the walls of the bridge, steadying herself against the weightlessness of space. She checked the instrument panels that told her their best guess at where they were, and how long they’d been traveling. It had
been five years since they had left Earth. She buckled herself into her captain’s chair and looked through the window.
Specks of light from faraway stars flew past them. She couldn’t see it yet, but she knew that if her calculations were correct (and they were), today was the day that they would come upon a habitable world. This new planet was to become the new home
and new beginning for their species. The small contingent of humans were all that had made it out of Earth’s
crumbling atmosphere, and their survival was the human race’s last resort. Jane was determined to create a new era of humanity, free from the greed that had destroyed their old home. They would create a new society rooted in science and rationality, one that truly understood the value of the planet.

Two hours later, the spaceship touched down on the foreign planet, its large footpads digging into the ground and sending dirt and debris flying into the air. Trusting in her team’s research, Jane stepped out of the airlock first, without a space suit. The
atmospheric pressure was nearly identical to that of the Earth, and the air was breathable. She climbed down the ladder that lead from the ship to the ground and felt the force of gravity for the first time in five years. They had spoken so reverently of this
world as they floated around the tables of the ship, playing poker with Velcro playing cards. The survivors had agreed on their first commandment: Respect the Planet. Now Jane finally found herself there. She was determined to make good on that promise. She stood upon the ground of this new world and breathed deeply. The air was crisp and fresh. She found herself very much in the middle of thick, wild forest. She could hear the tittering sounds of small mammals in the trees and the chirps of birds
flying just out of sight.

The sun beat down on the planet below as the human settlers were hard at work setting up their camp and surveying the brand new lands around them. “Captain, we found a lot of ore in the foothills over there,” one of the men said. “Precious metals, and look! Coal too.” He was holding a big bucket of coal. “Didn’t even have to dig for it. The stuff is everywhere.”
“We already have the solar panels set up,” Jane replied. “It’s imperative that we do not negatively affect the environment of this planet.”
“Of course, but it’ll take a lot of energy to start a society. We might have to rely on coal for a short time.”
Jane took a deep breath of the clean, fresh air. “You’re right. We’ll have to burn some coal to make everything we need. But above all we must respect the planet,” she added with every ounce of authority she had. Some of the survivors had started fires with the trees that their ship had felled, and others had trapped some of the small mammals to eat. The animals would not have looked out of place on Earth. One of the men remarked that they tasted not entirely unlike Earth’s squirrels, but oddly spicy.
The birds and mammals retreated from the humans’ camp, spreading warnings about the newcomers. A new predator had entered their habitat. They took great care to stay out of sight, casting suspicious glances at the humans through the thick foliage of the forest.
One of the women came up to where Jane stood atop a hill, looking at the new lands rolling out all around them. “Captain, our scouts should be returning back to the ship any moment now,” she said.
“Good,” Jane replied, “how are the rest of the preparations coming along?”
“We’re restoring auxiliary power to the ship. There’s a good amount of sun and strong winds in this area. And we’re well on our way to building sufficient shelters. It’s beautiful here, isn’t it? What should we call it?’
Jane looked around at the untouched wilderness and at the small contingent of earthlings going about the business of creating a new life. “For now let’s just call it home,” she replied after a while.

Over time, the human population grew and spread out over the planet. They shaped the environment as little as they could, taking only what they needed to survive. The small settlement in the forest became a town, and then the settlers spread out towards the rivers and oceans of the world. The towns grew into villages and cities and the humans explored and settled from continent to continent until they had seen the whole planet. Humanity grew and their new society began to take hold. The metamorphosis of the planet was slow, but steady. As their society grew, resources became tied with their economy. Where once the humans were driven only by survival, decades later they were driven by greed. They obliterated forests and mountains in a constant conquest for the most profitable resources. Never satisfied with what they could find, never just fitting in to an environment, they molded the planet to fit their needs. Houses, stores, roads, and factories replaced the untamed wilderness, and the air gradually became less clean, less clear. The animals did not fare much better than the land. Their numbers dwindled and, species by species, they began to die out. They could not keep up with the changing ecosystems as the humans made the planet their own.

Many generations later, humanity had persisted, but the planet was nothing like the one that Jane and her fellow survivors had found. It still spun around its flaming ball of gas that gave it warmth and light. From the vacuum of space it looked as though
nothing had changed in the countless millennia since it had formed. But the surface was burning. Clouds of coal smoke blocked out the blue skies. Forests burned. Slime and gunk poured out of factories and turned the shining seas into black swamps. The
planet was dying With a deafening roar, the darkened skies lit up red as something streaked into the blackness of space. It was a giant, shiny, metal ship stuffed full of the last remaining human population, hoping to find the next habitable world, and promising to each other the next first commandment: “Respect the Planet”. Etched on the side of the ship in big, stark letters was the phrase: “Our Last Resort”.

Mandie Greenwood is a director and occasional actor, living the dream as a part of a team who creates immersive interactive performances across the US. When she’s not creating stuff for audience consumption, she’s caring for her newborn twin boys. Mandie is grateful for them and her incredible husband who supports all of her crazy dreams and ideas.


Gateways: “Talk About the Weather” by Kristina Ten, read by Rachel Granda Gluski



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Kristina Ten. Kristina is a Russian-American writer of short stories and poetry, and a 2019 graduate of Clarion West Writers Workshop. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lightspeed, The Masters Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, Pithead Chapel, and elsewhere. This is “Talk About the Weather”

When it finally snowed in Vermont Village, there wasn’t anybody around to see it. By then, the tenants were long gone—cleared out their condos in a hurry, left plates in dishwashers and holiday lights strung up on balcony railings. No, that year’s first flurry, it was just me and Serg from janitorial, sitting on the curb, watching those big, fat snowflakes drift over the parking lot in waves, like something from a dream.

Wasn’t, of course. From a dream, I mean. I ordered the artificial snow myself, wholesale from a precipitation supplier out in Fort Wayne. Screaming deal. Looked just like the real thing. And they never could prove that’s what caused the accident, at least not on its own. The driver could’ve been more vigilant. The crew could’ve been more thorough. Sure, the snow’s chemical composition could’ve been somewhat less combustible. Start doling out blame, though, and it’s not long till the tenants get their piece.

Because everybody wanted the seasons, and nobody wanted the weather to go along with them.

In the beginning, it was simple. A single, focused vision. Vermont Village: Experience the Seasons Again. For decades, every day in the tristate area had been sunny and windless, and temperatures hadn’t budged outside the range of seventy-three degrees Fahrenheit to seventy-five.

Meanwhile, the rest of the country had become virtually uninhabitable. Scientists had been talking about it for years, on the morning news and to anyone who’d listen: about the ozone irregularities and jet-stream anomalies and their anticipated effects on the planet’s microclimates. It turned out to be all they warned and worse. Temperatures fluctuated wildly. Railway lines froze and forests burned and even the hardiest crops died, rotting in the fields. 

People died with them, the ones who stayed because they were too proud to go or else couldn’t afford to. They died in their homes and schools and workplaces, together and alone, in the myriad ways people can.

If you had money, you relocated. The coasts were gone, but there were still a few areas with livable climates, and the more extreme the weather got in some places, the more temperate these others became. Eventually, you had the nation’s wealthiest citizens crowding under a cloudless sky, fighting over real estate on Warren, Ohio’s new stretch of oceanfront. 

Soon enough, they started missing the seasons.

“Remember when you could talk about the weather?” they asked one another. “Remember when there was something to talk about?”

That’s where Vermont Village came in. In Warren and other temperate-zone towns like it, where populations were suddenly booming, new housing subdivisions were going up as fast as developers could build them.

What we had that no other condo development did: autumn. Foliage in every shade of red and orange and yellow and gold, so beautiful you wanted to make up new color names because the ones you knew just didn’t cut it. Leaves the size of your hand, piling up on lawns, crunching underfoot. Sunlight filtering differently through slightly sparser trees—but no further than that. None of the negatives. No bare branches. No bitter cold. No shortened days and early nights driving children indoors.

Our promise: Everything you miss about the seasons. Nothing you don’t. 

Before Vermont fell into the sea, it was famous for its foliage. People would drive from hundreds of miles away to see the trees that time of year, and take pictures, and buy overpriced fall-themed souvenirs. That’s where we got Vermont Village. Tested off the charts with the focus groups, who said it evoked just the right amount of nostalgia. 

Those who remember the foliage in Old Vermont say it was so bright, it looked unnatural. No problem, we thought. Unnatural? We could do that.

In a perfect world, we would have had time to engineer a species of tree that changed color on the first official calendar day of fall, dropped the exact amount of leaves for optimal leaf jumping and held on to the rest. Just like, later, when the tenants wanted fresh, fluffy snow—but only on Christmas Eve and Christmas—in a perfect world, we would have done it right. Brainy researchers, lab and field tests, safety protocols, the whole nine. 

But we’ve established it wasn’t a perfect world. Far from it. Before we could hire someone to develop any sort of tech, we needed funding. And before we could get funding, we needed proof of concept. So we made a deal with the most interested investor at the time: Two years. Eight seasons. A pilot program to gauge interest. A few hundred thousand to get us off the ground, get those first condos filled, then let word of mouth take it from there. 

We would do it right later. First, we would do it right now.

How did we do it exactly? Two words: creative solutions.

And two more: independent contractors.

The contractors worked in the dead of night, quietly so as not to wake the tenants sleeping in their state-of-the-art one- and two-bedroom units, efficiently so as to be done by sunrise. They carried ladders from tree to tree, painting the leaves with meticulous attention to color dispersion.

Wasn’t a high-production affair, by any means. Good old-fashioned elbow grease. Dressed all in black to blend in with the darkness, scurrying around with brushes and paint cans, they would’ve looked—if you could’ve seen them—like stagehands maintaining a very large set. 

Tall ladders. Long hours. No flashlights. It was a dangerous enough job. That was half the genius of hiring contractors. We had all of them sign the liability waiver forms, even Serg from janitorial: fine print out the wazoo, “in the unlikely event of injury,” etcetera. Whatever happened, the company would be in the clear. Whatever happened, we couldn’t be held responsible.

What happened was this: Year one, everyone seemed overjoyed by their classic Vermont autumn. It ran the four weeks between Halloween and Thanksgiving, a compromise between consumer preference survey results and the amount we were willing to spend on paint. But by mid-December, the tenants were bored again.

“I don’t even know what month it is anymore,” they complained. Then came the petitions and letters to management. And what choice did we have? We scrambled to accommodate their requests, needing the pilot program to go off without a hitch. The artificial snow supplier in Fort Wayne was gray market but fast, and we didn’t have time for due diligence.

When March rolled around, the tenants demanded sixty full days of first-day-of-spring smell. Cue the contractors crisscrossing the Village dusk till dawn, spritzing a factory-made likeness onto every surface from spray bottles. Next it was flower blooms and dewy mornings, and the contractors bought all the tulips from the florist downtown, pulled them out of their bouquets, and stuck them into the soil lining the paths to the condo doors. They hovered eyedroppers over the delicate petals.

We went to great lengths to deliver an authentic experience, and the tenants either bought it or played along. No one asked how the leaves got to be that way, or how twelve inches of snow melted magically overnight. They just woke up, pulled back the curtains, and drank it all in.

By year two, we were in way over our heads. We had come too far to fail now. So when the tenants insisted that fall go longer and winter start earlier, so the holidays could really feel like the holidays, we said okay. Okay, fine. Just this once. Just this year. Next year, we’ll have our Series A. We’ll be able to automate. We’ll raise the rents and we won’t be at the tenants’ beck and call, and we’ll be laughing at the thought that we ever were.

With the two seasons being so close together, there was very little room for error. Thing about error, though, is it makes room for itself.

Several days into that second December, we realized we would need an emergency reup of leaf paint to get us through the extended season. It was too late to order from our usual supplier, so I sent a truck full of contractors to the depot in Dayton to get the closest thing they could find. Wasn’t the end of the world. I’d just heard that our first shipment of snow had arrived early and was sitting in a distribution center nearby. The crew could pick both up in one go. 

Take fifty gallons of (as it turns out) highly chemically unstable paint and a couple hundred pounds of (as it turns out) highly combustible snow, and put them in the same truck bed. Add three hours of mind-numbing Ohio road, one driver dozing off at the wheel, one highway guardrail jumping out of nowhere—and what do you have? 

Hazmat suits and a formal investigation, is what. They had almost made it all the way home, too. The truck exploded just before the Warren exit, so close to Vermont Village that the tenants later claimed they could smell the chemicals in the smoke. No survivors, and the truck blocked traffic for hours before someone finally came and towed it away. Funny to think we thought putting the logo on the sides would be good advertising. 

Weeks later, the condos abandoned and the court hearings scheduled, Serg and I made it snow. Everyone else broke their contracts after the accident, but Serg had always been especially loyal, had talked like the Village was his home.

We found a half dozen bags of the stuff in storage, along with the expensive blowers we had bought the previous year. It seemed like the right thing to do, to give the place a proper sendoff. Then we sat on the curb and shared the last bottle of champagne from the office fridge, the one I was saving for New Year’s, and we took it all in.

The snow swirled around us, dusting the empty parking lot, and we put ourselves on the other side of things for once. We marveled at the scene before us: the earth cycling through its seasons, as it always had, unchanging yet ever-changing, too ancient and important to be affected by the likes of us.

We let ourselves get swept up in the illusion. Red leaves in autumn. Snow in December. This sweeter, better reminder of the passage of time.

Rachel Granda Gluski is a Chicago based voice actor and movement professional. She currently enjoys working with radio play company Starlight Radio Dreams. She also performs every summer with the Bristol Renaissance Faire. When she’s not performing she enjoys being a huge nerd and hanging out with her cats.