Tag Archives: Black Holes

Gateways: “Lifting Water” by KJ Snyder- Reposted-



Release Note: This is a re-post of our first story as the first two episodes were not showing in some Podcatchers. Hopefully this will solve the problem as well as treating you to these excellent stories a second time.

Transcript: This story is by KJ Snyder. They told us “I don’t want to be a famous writer – I want to be an honest writer.” KJ is a member of the Writers Guild of America East for journalistic writing. Now they writing sketch comedy right here in Chicago. This piece is “Lifting Water”. 

Dr. Kelper’s hologram held his chin, scrutinizing me. “You know you can’t take a vacation, Leah.” He said. “We can’t.” “I’m not on vacation.” I said. “A different environment helps to-” “We’re ten years away from total annihilation. NASA says every hour we don’t set something in motion, our options become more and more limited.” He said.

“Do you honestly believe I’m not working as hard as I can to find something that-” Dr. Kelper interrupted me. “But this isn’t on you. This is on us.” “I believe I will be able to work better with some isolation.” Dr. Kelper interrupted me. “This is a team effort to stop the twins.” “Again, I am doing this because it will help the group,” I said. “I’m sorry, Leah,” Dr. Kelper interrupted. “I know that much of the blame the twins has been laid on you – that was a PR mistake we made – but I’m getting a lot of pressure to have something we can tell people we’re working toward. It’s mass panic.”

“Dr. Kelper, this meeting is a waste of time. I’ll be back on base in a week. I’m only here because it could help. If I determine that it doesn’t, then I’ll come back sooner.”

“The rest of the team is worried that you’re about to quit.” “If I’m not able to work on a solution, then I will. I’m singing off.” I removed my headset, and looked around my bedroom – the old wooden desk, the peeling canary wallpaper, an overly-full closet of the scientific journals I wrote in my adolescence.

I did need a vacation, but this wasn’t it. Eight years ago, my theory of co-orbital black hole configuration led me to discovering the twins, two black holes spinning around each other, propelling through space. I’ve worked toward finding something that could save us from them.

It was a desperate move to come back to my childhood home, but this is where I became a scientist, where my curiosity sparked. Here could be the inspiration for a solution on two black holes, hurtling toward our solar system.

In the kitchen, my mother sat in front of a bucket, plucking feathers from a dead chicken. “So, we killed Sandy?” I said. “Yep. Tomorrow, I want your help killing Carla. They’ve gotten too aggressive.” She said, not looking up. “Are you hungry?”

“I don’t need you to make me anything.” I said. I opened the refrigerator. On it still, my mother pinned two articles on me from the Lafayette Daily, Lafayette Teen Wins Prestigious MIT Scholarship from 2018, and Lafayette Native Given Research Grant with NASA from 2021. I had taken down the third article, Lafayette-born Scientist Discovers Threat to Humankind. I disagreed with that title. The twins weren’t a threat to humankind. They threatened everything.

“I was just watching the news.” My mother said. “How did that go?” I said. My mother didn’t usually talk to me about news. She prefers the rustic life. She makes her own bread, jars her own jams.

“She says she not hungry and starts making a sandwich,” my mother said, plucking feathers. “But, I was watching the news and the Catholic Church doesn’t think you’re lying anymore. The new pope says that when the twins lift everyone up, it will be into the arms of God.”

“We won’t get ‘lifted up.’ Once the twins get close, our atmosphere will-” “You’ve told me before, Leah.” She said. “I just thought you’d want to know.” “Well, I’m figuring out how to stop the twins. So, tell the new pope sorry for not letting everyone get wrapped up in God.”

“I thought you liked keeping up with the news.” She said, returning to her plucking. “The last time I opened my news portal, I saw there’s a mural of me, naked with the twin black holes as my boobs. I don’t need any more news, I need focus.”

My mother laughed and dropped a fistful of feathers into the bucket. “That’s kinder than some images people have made of you. Speaking of, since you got home, I have barely seen you. If you want to spend the rest of your days hiding in your room getting yelled at by Kelper, that’s your decision. I don’t understand it, but I won’t stop you. What I won’t accept is why you don’t let me make you a better lunch than a PB&J.”

“Doctor Kelper. And this is brain food, not lunch. It’s just to keep me going.” I said. “Let’s both take a break.” My mother heaved the bald chicken on the counter. “Can we go for a swim?”

We have a lake outside our house. It’s more of a watering hole – a crowded ecosystem of water spiders, frogs, germinating algae, turtles, snakes, and water flora. The lake, deceivingly small, introduced me to scientific observation. As a child, I stuck a metal pole into its mud to measure the water’s rise and fall. My mother encouraged collection of butterflies, but I went on to track butterfly population, their prefered conditions for reproduction and metamorphosis.

Despite my fascination with the lake, I avoided swimming in it as a child. It felt like a violation to enter its waters, an unnecessary disturbance to the ecosystem. I felt protective of it.

I stood on the dock, applying sunscreen. My mother treaded water. “What, Leah, afraid of melanoma?” She said. The Louisiana sun had never bothered her. “You said we were taking a break.” I said. “We are!” She waded toward the center of the lake. Across the water, I saw the metal pole from long ago. The water had risen higher than any notches from that first summer of scientific discovery. Even as far away as the twins were, their gravity was affecting the water on Earth, tugging at already rising sea levels. I didn’t want to think about the chaos of the coastal cities, the death tolls.

I lowered myself into the water.. “I remember you had a project for this lake.” My mother said. “Which one?” I said. “I have all my journals in my closet.” “This one was recent. Do you remember? A few days ago – maybe it was a joke to you – you said you wanted to study – what was it? Pupa of the butterflies? Something about gravity?”

“Just a passing thought.”

A little after midnight, I sat at my desk, pouring over theoretical models. Hours of wearing my headset had given me a headache. We still didn’t understand the basics of the twins. How could a black hole move? What stopped one from cannibalizing the other?

I took off the headset, slumped over and pressed my burning head to the desk’s cool wood. An impossible thought struck me, that if I could somehow keep my head pressed to the desk, I could make it through tomorrow morning’s conference with Dr. Kelper. He would again ask me what progress I had made, and again I would have to grind through the impossibility of a black hole, particularly two that had been somehow sent spinning through the cosmos, vacuuming up celestial bodies.

I needed some air. I looked out of my window, down at the lake.

Outside, the crickets hummed unaware of the inevitable end. Our chickens were asleep and quiet in their coop. I floated on my back in the water, gazing at the night sky.

What if an alligator ate me tonight? I thought. What would that headline be? Since the news of the twins broke, journalists who had hoped to achieve glory and prestige had given up mid-career to find other, more rewarding callings like birdwatching, mountaineering, or storytelling. The few journalists who remained felt held to their profession by a sense of duty to the public, or else were raving lunatics with nowhere else to go.

There would be two headlines. I thought. ‘Scientist who Discovered Twins Black Holes Dies from Alligator Attack,’ or; ‘Lying-Leah Eaten by Christ-sent Alligators, Thank God.’

Tears formed in my eyes. I wanted to talk to the lake. “I’m sorry, lake. I wish everyone would get lifted up. The twins can take all us humans. We’ve had enough time here. But it should leave you, your water spiders, your mud.”

I tracked mud into my room, and swung down the bucket my mother had used to collect feathers. I put on the VR headset and powered it on. Once it signed me in with a scan of my retina, I was ready to leave Dr. Kelper a hologram memo.

“Dr. Kelper, there is no earthly power that could knock the twins off their course. I’m not going to be available tomorrow morning, or any other morning. I’ll be killing a chicken, or starting a study on pupal butterfly development under nonnormative gravity. I’m ceasing communication and tendering my resignation. Find someone else to steal work from.”

I set the chicken bucket in front me, broke my headset in two, and let the pieces fall.

Karolyn Blake is an actor and improviser in Chicago with a passion for dogs, laughter, and inclusive spaces. She is a founding member of the Shrews Improv and proud to be a singer in the Shanty Shipwreck Show. You can see and hear her every month in Starlight Radio Dreams, recorded live at Mrs. Murphy and Son’s Irish Bistro and available wherever fine podcasts are downloaded.


Gateways: “Personal Void” By Conor McShane -Reposted-



Release Note: This is a re-post of our first story as the first two episodes were not showing in some Podcatchers. Hopefully this will solve the problem as well as treating you to these excellent stories a second time.

Transcript: Our first story is “Personal Void” By Conor McShane. Originally a Michigander, you may recognize his name from performances and staged readings in the Chicagoland area. He also writes reviews of Chicago theatre productions for PerformInk, and publishes literary and pop culture analysis on a couple different blogs. [beat] Some of us may really relate with his great success is (on the third attempt) completing the word count during National Novel Writing Month in 2016.

When the black hole appeared in Aaron’s chest, he didn’t feel much of anything. A tiny burning sensation, like someone touched him with a hot needle, woke him up out of another whiskey-induced sleep. He scratched at it irritably, feeling a small indentation in the center of his sternum. The spot seemed to pull at his fingertip, urging it inward like some strange magnetism. He sat up in bed, his eyes adjusting to the dim half-light of early dawn. He slid his legs up and over the sleeping form of his cat, Reginald, who opened a wary eye at him, setting his feet on the cool wood floor. He padded off to the bathroom, stepping over discarded clothes and beer bottles, and turned on the light.

He stood in front of the mirror, examining the small indentation in his baggy sleep shirt. Taking it off, he felt that pulling sensation again, holding the fabric over the hole like a piece of paper over a drain. He examined the spot in the mirror; it was small, no bigger than a pinky finger, with the skin curled around it in a perfect circle. There was no blood, no flaps of ruined flesh, no sign of trauma at all. Apart from that needling feeling that had awoken him, he felt no pain. The inside of the circle was impossibly dark, seeming to absorb all the light in the glaringly white bathroom. Aaron poked at it warily with his finger, then cautiously inserted it into the hole. Expecting to feel an organ or bit of bone, he was surprised to feel only emptiness. The hole tugged at his finger, as if a hand from inside had curled around it and was gently pulling. Aaron slapped a band aid over it and went back to bed, taking a glug from the bourbon bottle on his nightstand.

When he awoke again, the band aid was gone, and the hole had grown. The indent in his shirt bowed in, bowl-like, over a fist-sized chasm. Aaron cautiously touched at the edges, his heart beating heavily. He got up abruptly and ran to the bathroom, unconcerned by the grumbling of the irritated Reginald, and pulled off his shirt again. The hole stared back at him through the mirror, its immense blackness even more profound. He leaned into the mirror, trying to see inside, but nothing was visible. He went back out to the bedroom and grabbed his phone, turning on its bright white flashlight and returning to the bathroom. He held the light up to the hole, but even then couldn’t see anything. It was as if the light itself were being consumed by the vast darkness.

Aaron set the phone down and inserted his whole hand into the cavern. He felt around, spreading his fingers in all directions, but felt nothing. Where his lungs should be, his heart, his ribcage, it all seemed hollow. He reached further into the cavity until he was in up to his elbow. He expected to feel at least the back of his torso, the bumpy ridge of spine, but there was only more empty space.

Everything told him there was no way this could be happening, but there it was. He slapped himself in case this was some kind of unusually vivid dream, something brought on by the alcohol and the ugly thoughts, but he didn’t wake up.

He leaned on the counter and turned on the tap, hoping a splash of cold water to the face would rouse him. The stream of water from the tap seemed to bow outward, as if drawn to the hollow, before gravity pulled it back to its downward course. Curious, he leaned forward, inching towards the stream, until the water bent at a right angle and drained straight into his chest. As it flowed sideways in defiance of gravity, Aaron again felt nothing.

He could hear his ex-girlfriend’s words in his head. What is wrong with you? There’s a gaping fucking hole in your chest that disobeys the laws of physics. Go see a doctor, for fuck’s sake. But he was never very good at listening to her advice, and besides, the doctors wouldn’t know what to do any more than he did. He opened his medicine cabinet and pulled out an ACE bandage, wrapping it carefully around his torso, and left the bathroom, heading to his closet. He had to be to work pretty soon anyway.

He arrived at work an hour later, a large open-plan office space, rows of long desks with hundreds of computers, each one manned by a different body, all oblivious to their surroundings. He found his work station, identical to the others, and sat down, setting the cup of coffee he’d collected on the table next to him. In a few minutes he was lost in his work, unaware of the way the objects on the desk seemed to move towards him. A pen rolled slowly but determinedly towards his chest, a post-it note stuck to the monitor flapped as if caught in a stiff breeze, and the coffee cup slid towards the edge of the desk. Absently he reached for it, not expecting it to be as close to him as it now was, and the cup tipped forward. The contents, urged by this sudden motion, made a direct line for his chest, passing through his shirt and into the cavern beneath. A warm, wet, perfectly circular stain remained on Aaron’s shirt.

Aaron made it through the rest of the day, returning immediately home and pouring himself a full glass of bourbon. He downed it in one go, then poured himself another. He took off his shirt and unwrapped the bandage, staring down at the blankness in his chest. Had it gotten bigger? As the whiskey began to do its work, a thought came to him. Maybe something useful could come of this. He stood up unsteadily and opened the door to his storage closet. He’d tucked a box of his ex’s things in here a couple months ago. She hadn’t reached out to ask for them back, and he didn’t expect that she would. He pulled out the box and opened it. It was all odds and ends, things she probably forgot existed. Taking a big swig of whiskey, he began to pull things out of the box and, one by one, feed them into the chasm. It accepted everything readily. After the box was completely emptied, Aaron stumbled into his bedroom and fell on the bed, passed out. He didn’t awake until early the following morning, when he was startled by an immediate, pressing suffocating feeling, as if his clothes and blankets were trying to squeeze the life out of him. His shirt was stretched taught across his back and shoulders, the excess fabric pulled into the yawning crater, which now reached from his collarbone to the bottom of where his rib cage should have been. The blankets and sheets were piled up on top of him, and Reginald lay atop the pile at an odd angle, letting out a low and lengthy growl. Aaron pushed the fabric off of him, surprised at the effort it took, and ran into the bathroom. He clawed at his

shirt, finally tearing it away from him, and stared wide-eyed into the hole. It kept its perfect circular shape, its immense, all consuming darkness, which now engulfed his whole chest. He stared into it, breathing hard, his head swimming with a delirious mix of adrenaline, sleep, and the last vestiges of the whiskey.

All at once, the objects on the bathroom counter began to slip the grip of gravity and fly directly into the pit. First the toothbrush holder, then the soap dispenser, disappeared in the blackness. Then the medicine cabinet door flew open and its contents bombarded him: a pack of dental floss, a three-bladed razor, a bottle of Vicodin left over from an old injury that he’d been saving for a special occasion. As each item disappeared forever into the abyss, Aaron felt his fear being replaced with a numbness, a weary acceptance. Nothing he could do would fill it, it would continue to grow, continue to consume, until there was nothing left of him. It even seemed to exert its force on him, pulling his shoulders down and curving his spine inward, as if he could fold into himself and disappear. He was starting to hope that he would.

He stepped out of the bathroom and into the bedroom, his shirt still on the counter. Everything in his cramped room seemed to lean towards him, and small objects hurled themselves at him: keys, papers, beer bottles, socks, a 4 by 5 photo of him and his ex, all disappeared into the void. Aaron accepted it all with resignation, spreading his hands wide like a wizard bestowing life on the inanimate objects around him. He walked around the room, hoovering up anything that wasn’t nailed down. He opened his closet, and the clothes tore themselves from their hangers. He barely even reacted as the comforter lifted off the bed and funnelled into his chest, bringing the terrified Reginald with it. Aaron grabbed for him, but he wasn’t quick enough, and Reginald slipped into the darkness along with everything else.

Before long, the room was practically bare, the only things left were too big or too heavy to be pulled in. Aaron stood in the middle of the devastation, looking blankly at the room where he had spent so many nights, all evidence of his loneliness, his self-loathing, pulled like a tractor beam into nothingness. The realization gave him some comfort; when it was all over, when the void overtook him completely, there would be nothing left behind. Slowly, he walked out into the living room, not flinching as things flew at him from their resting places, and went straight out the front door, down the stairs, and onto the sidewalk.

It was early morning, and the world was just starting to wake. A few people were shuffling down the street, either heading to work for the early shift or returning home from the late shift. He stood on the sidewalk watching the life passing by, feeling even the air and the growing sunlight itself pouring into his chest. A garbage truck passed by, its exhaust pipe billowing smoke, which turned its course downward and flowed into him. A woman was jogging up the street, her ponytail swaying back and forth, and the gravity in his chest pulled her into him at she passed.

“Watch it, asshole!” she shouted, jogging on. He walked down the sidewalk, away from his ruined apartment, his arms outstretched, the trash on the street rising up to join him, the only sensation the cool tingle of the morning air as it rushed into him, disappearing forever.

Ben McCauley is a Chicago based writer, actor and improvisor. He is a contributing writer and performer with Starlight Radio Dreams, recorded live at Mrs. Murphy and Son’s Irish Bistro and available wherever fine podcasts are downloaded.


Gateways: “The Starry Floor” by Michael Strange



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Michael Strange. Michael was born a storyteller. His strength is in telling a story verbally and he has risen to the challenge of translating his skill to the page. Tonight, we are thrilled to take his writing and give it back to voice. This is “The Starry Floor”

Ilya had calculated the odds a hundred times. The ship shouldn’t be there. It shouldn’t be anywhere near them. The Universe was infinite—so wide and so vast that even their vaulted consciousness couldn’t fathom of the whole of it. But there it was on the huge C.R.C. screen: an Abromic ship. It hovered almost directly beneath the ringed planet the computer records indicated as LR81-16. Without magnification it only registered as a tiny metallic dot pulsing in the doleful light of the system’s Red Dwarf.

It was a little more than an heap of metal and a handful of life-support systems, but Ilya could feel them—all twenty thousand unaltered humans living in squalor aboard the ship. Those beings, like all of their particular faith, had refused the Mandates of Vega. Instead of doing what was sensible, their ancestors had fled old Earth on generation ships many thousands of years ago in one massive migration. Their prophets promised them a new Eden—a docile planet somewhere in the dark of space to replace the one they had murdered.

All sorcerers across the colonies knew that only 16 planets in all of Creation were destined to bear life that would bloom with higher consciousness. Humans had murdered their cradle planet, and matricide was not a sin the Universe would soon forgive. After the death of old Earth, no planet in any galaxy would give them further succor, nor any moon bear the weight of their civilization. Space was now a prison for mankind. The Mandates of Vega relegated colonies to the voids—the dark spaces between systems—and banned humans from exploration.
The computers of the Jiàn Liù detected damage to the Abromic ship. It had been hit by debris, its water tanks punctured. That was the only reason they risked coming so close to the shadow of the planet. Those twenty thousand souls were dying, would be dead in less than a week without the ice mined from the rings of LR81-16.  

The crew of the Jiàn Liù had come for ice too. Their mining vessels had been collecting ice chunks for months. Within another six, they would melt the stuff, scrub the water, and bring it back to the colonies at Shiu and Porgol. 

The Jiàn Liù had nothing to fear from the planet’s shadow. They were not humans; none of the crew was. The ship was comprised of 300 INOgana—artificial beings built from boron fibers and engineered souls—and although they had their own sort of consciousness, the INOgana were more extensions of the ship than anything else.

Ilya was the only thing aboard the Jiàn Liù of living tissue, but they were Many-Gendered—a perfect being. Their DNA and consciousness had been rendered on Vega by the most inspired artists and dreamers, their bodies perfected in virtual systems by genetic sculptors long before ever being printed. The Many-Gendered could seemingly pass as human, but they were as different as night and day. The curses of the Universe could not touch them, nor should they.

Jiàn Liù, please initiate commands 86-12, 86-13, and 97-60, Ilya intoned. Immediately the ship went to work closing the cargo hold and preparing for travel. 

Ilya then took four precious tallow candles from their metal tubes and placed them at the cardinal points along the bone-chalk circle they had drawn on the core deck. Each was worth a small fortune. There were only a few colonies that had enough resources to raise bees or cattle. Most animal protein came from V.A.T.s or was printed, yet the celestial sorceries required the candles be made of natural products, just as it was with the wine. 

Taking the castlyn bottle in hand, Ilya used a long glass pipette to draw the wine out, spilling seven precious drops onto the floor of the deck as a sacrifice to the Volg. Ilya placed the last drop on their tongue. They let the sweet, dark red wine spread and roll over every fold and surface of their mouth. It tasted like nothing else in the Universe—a spicy, complex flavor that was impossible to print.

Ilya took their place at the center of the chalk circle, immediately falling into a rhythmic breathing that would silence the mind and turn their perception inward. Then, with a clear, calm voice they invoked the names of the Volg, and with each syllable they felt the fabric of spacetime vibrate and begin to pulse. The four candles set upon the circle caught fire, their wicks shimmering with pure black flames—this was the sign that the Volg had heeded their words. In the presence of these benevolent, higher-dimensional beings, Ilya made the gestures.  They drew out the symbols in long, graceful motions, the tips of their fingers leaving traces of light in their wake.

To Ilya the path to the Starry Floor was like a song they had sung a thousand times, but now in the face of the planet’s shadow, it had become strange and unfamiliar. The proximity of the Abromic ship had awakened something sinister in LR81-16, a wrath all planets held for humankind. In lower-dimensional embeddings, the attack would seem subtle:  life systems would fail, communications would cut out. Mass delusions would take over, causing paranoia and chaos among the crew of the Abromic ship.

With celestial power, Ilya’s robes began to radiate, bleeding hues of pink, then ruby, and finally coming to rest in Stygian black. As the higher dimensions opened before them, Ilya uttered the final words of the incantation, and spacetime began to tessellate and fall in on itself.

The vacuum of the Universe and all it contained was repeated endlessly in every direction. This was an illusion, the husks of the lower dimensions peeling away, forewarning that they were quickly approaching the Mirrored Hall, the event horizon, the barrier between the infinite and those layers of reality that still bent to the forward flow of time. 

Urgently Ilya let go, their soul expanding outside of their body. Time, pain, joy, life, death, all of their opposites disappeared, frozen in the moment of their becoming. Memories and sensations reticulated and spun on white-hot atoms, whirling into a blurried frenzy before blowing apart and careening off into the furthest corners of the Universe.

To be nothing is to be everything. There was some truth to the philosophies of the Saejick Buddhists. Ilya felt these thoughts sputter and dance across the void that was opening inside them. Knowing is pain. Knowledge is the origin of pain. Nothingness is the cessation of pain. Oblivion is the path toward the cessation of pain.

A gulf within their consciousness bloomed, and Ilya’s perfected soul lifted the Jiàn Liù from the Mirrored Hall into the Starry Floor. Far below them in the lower dimensions, the Jiàn Liù rattled. The many tessellating ships, the countless copies of the Jiàn Liù swimming in a sea of infinity, began to bloat, their outlines becoming unclear and their steely hulls darkening, smearing into the shimmering purple and blue celestial light that hummed about them.

The Starry Floor took form around Ilya and the ship, a cube of indistinguishable, immeasurable distance. The Temple Masters had once told them this place was at once boundless and infinitesimal; the sum of the Universe contained within its smallest constituent part. On all sides of the cube, stars fell endlessly, flowing from edge to edge as if each plane were a waterfall of suns.

With a blast of phosphorescent green light, one side of the Starry Floor parted, and the shadow of LR81-16 arose from the lower dimensions. Beneath the pressure of the planet’s great wrath, Ilya’s strength began to ebb. It was monstrous—a colossal shadow of impossible tentacles that swirled and pushed against the folds of space. With each shove, the shadow squeezed more of its labyrinthine body through the breach in the Starry Floor.

Outside of time, Ilya’s perception covered every detail of the thing’s body, counting every wet, shimmering scale. They became lost in and devoured by its magnitude, a golden speck in a sea of black.  

In the lower dimensions Ilya could hear the ship ordering all INOgana personnel to report to the nearest maglock. Whatever was happening there required the crew to follow immediate emergency protocols. 

Move the ship, they felt their spirit plead. The command was given so serenely, yet Ilya could feel the weight of the rite beginning to form pressure cracks along the length of their consciousness. Move the ship to Vega. Do what we were trained to do.

Ilya willed themselves into action and reached out towards the wall of the Starry Floor that stood parallel to the shadow of the planet. They would need to breach the surface to reach Vega. Ordinarily this would be a simple extension of their consciousness, but the pull of the shadow was causing the floor to churn. The milky glass of a million star systems rolled and swayed within the tremendous gravity of the raging planet as Ilya reached out to connect with the edge of the Starry Floor, drawing a piece of it open. A tiny hole appeared and they sent their perception though. 

The wrong quadrant. An vacant system, devoid of life. A dying sun. Again and again, they opened breaches in the flowing wall of stars to send their mind through, each time finding another unfamiliar part of space.

Behind them, the planet roared. The sound was so loud and so terrible that it made the edges of the cube darken and momentarily blink out. 

Ilya turned back toward the wall, and with all of their resolve punctured a hundred keyholes in the Starry Floor, more than they had ever thought possible. One by one the keyholes burst open, black quasars tangled amidst the webs of undiscovered constellations. 

Then, with their strength almost depleted and as they neared the point of exhaustion, Vega’s familiar flashing red lights appeared through one of the rips in the wall. 

It is here, Ilya whispered, coalescing their focus to allow the other gates to collapse. In a fraction of a second, the other keyholes blinked out of existence. We are…moving us…now, Ilya struggled to intone as they pulled the Jiàn Liù across the vastness of the Starry Floor, lowering the ship into the reality surrounding Vega, a hundred trillion miles from LR81-16.

Karolyn Blake is an actor and improviser in Chicago with a passion for dogs, laughter, and inclusive spaces. She is a founding member of the Shrews Improv and proud to be a singer in the Shanty Shipwreck Show. You can see and hear her every month in Starlight Radio Dreams, recorded live at Mrs. Murphy and Son’s Irish Bistro and available wherever fine podcasts are downloaded.


Gateways: “Both are Infinite” by Irene L. Pynn



TRANSCRIPT: This next story is from Irene L. Pynn whose publications include plays, short stories, short plays, interactive plays, alternate reality games, and a novel. Her plays include I, Cockroach, The Church of Saint Bearer, and How to Field Dress an Android. You may even have heard her writing right here at Otherworld Theatre. This is “Both are Infinite”

The human body can’t survive long enough to comprehend the truths of a collapsing star, but as I stretch ever closer to one, I remember a mad theory that it can erase my past. What would that mean? 

My legacy, such as it is, would vanish. I suppose there’s no one to leave a legacy for, anyway. 

I served on the last official Earth expedition. It failed. The day our team set off, you kissed me goodbye and told me to keep my expectations low. “Everything ends,” you told me.  

Death doesn’t end, I said. If we let the Earth die, that’s permanent. 

You rolled your eyes. Semantics.  

I know you can’t hear me, by the way. No one’s comms survived the blast. But you know how I am. I want to remember the moments when we still had hope. Memory is one of the greatest things about sentience. It’s our innate ability to bend time. Something may be long past, but I can almost see it right now. I can even imagine it differently – better, if I want. Memory is magic. 

Yeah, there I go, again. Humor me today. 

We already knew it was dire, even then. The air grew noxious, the trees withered, and teams of humans raced out across the globe in all directions for hope. One by one, they returned with none. But I’ve never been good at reconciling myself to that type of news.  

So I joined the final expedition, the foolish one. The Hail Mary. 

“Onward I go,” I said as you shook your head. 

Armed with a copy of Herodotus, who once described the youthful skin of those who bathed in mythical waters, we set off for a fairy tale. Water – any at all – was precious by then. Perhaps, if we could locate the source of that ancient spring, recognize its power somehow, maybe the harsh sunlight would turn to ripples of rainbows on its miraculous surface… If we could direct such a healing force back into Mother Earth… If we believed in magic… 

I’ve just noticed there’s something wrong with my oxygen supply, but I can’t tell what. 

Closer to a black hole, spacetime behaves differently than we’re used to. At home, we’re born, we grow up, we fall in love, we invent ways to destroy our planet, and we die. In space, the rules play tricks on us. What we think we know about permanence gets sucked into oblivion. 

But at home, you were right. Everything ended, as everything does. Years ago, cities with false fountains of youth featured tours: Come take a sip from Ponce de Leon’s spring of eternal life! Then enjoy this ghost tour of local graveyards. 

We, too, were unsuccessful, though I never agreed to give up. My team dragged me home even as I insisted we hadn’t looked hard enough. Somewhere, hidden under the dusty remains of everything we’d destroyed, swelled a liquid more valuable than gold, with the power to turn back time and restore life. A bounty as boundless as the sea. 

But, of course, that wasn’t true. We had searched thoroughly. The fountain of youth doesn’t exist because magic isn’t real. 

So the last humans of Earth boarded our ships, and we left. 

Goodbye to the park where I had my first kiss. Goodbye to the birds that nested in our roof. Goodbye to my grandfather’s headstone. 

“This is what love feels like,” you told me. “It exists only because everything ends.” 

That can’t be true, I said, but you stroked my back in that soothing way a parent comforts a grieving child. 

Now I’m getting a notification that my primary life support system has switched to the secondary. I don’t know why. The explosion must have done something to – it hardly matters. I’ll be dead in minutes, either way. 

For the past few moments as I have been babbling to you about the past, I’ve caught something strange out of the corner of my eye. It’s distant and can’t really be there. Some kind of hallucination. 

The Earth ended. Then, after years of space wandering, even our ships couldn’t last. Faulty wiring, user error. Who knows what? Everyone on board had just enough time to help each other into our suits before the explosion. And then we shot out in all directions with no tethers, no plans, and no futures. 

Everything ends, you whispered seconds before we parted forever. 

Death doesn’t. 

It seems fitting that the blast shot me toward a black hole, the source of nearly every excuse for magic in science fiction. Anything is possible here. You can find foolish hope in the math for a collapsed star if you look hard enough. 

There it is again. That hallucination in the distance. I wish you were here so you could tell me whether you see it, too. I just wish you were here. 

I wonder what you are seeing right now. I hope it’s as beautiful and colorful as my strange vision. You’re probably calm and resolute, as always. I miss you. 

Love is hope. Love is memory. Love stops time and holds on to the best moments forever. It lets go of the worst. 

The theory that this sucking space event can stop time and erase my past suggests that the closer I come to death, the farther I get from our sad reality. Perhaps, when I arrive, I’ll find that we didn’t destroy our planet. We didn’t escape on aging ships. I didn’t hurtle, alone, toward the darkest point of the universe. 

It seems there’s something wrong with my secondary oxygen supply. I’ve looked for a way to repair the pack, but I’m spinning, and my body stretches uncomfortably into nothing, and what’s the point, anyway?  

In the distance, closer to the event horizon than I can survive, I swear I see something. Golden, rippling. 

Yes, I know. Light can’t escape a black hole. Nothing can. 

And yet, it can’t be imaginary. Something is there

All the time, even on land, we’re hurtling toward an end. I hear your voice in my memory reminding me that we cling to things we love because we know we can’t keep them forever. 

But, forgive me, my dear. I’m going to disagree with you again. Stubborn to the end.  

Love is infinite. And so is hope. 

Onward I go. 

Sandra Howard is an actor, combatant and generally incredible human being. She’s done several shows with Cave Painting Theater and you can find her at the  Bristol Renaissance Faire this summer. She’s also one of the most wonderful people I know. And I’m on the record with that now.


Gateways: “The Void Machine” by Samantha Schorsch



TRASNSCRIPT: This story is written by Samantha Schorsch. She grew up telling campfire stories at Girl Scout events. When writing short stories, horror and science fiction have been her preferred genre for the past six years. She strives to use her unique perspective on being a woman and person with mental illness in her work to broaden public thought on said subjects and experiences. This is “The Void Machine”.

“Stop! Stop saying that! You don’t mean it!”

“Mean what? That I don’t want you to die? That I don’t want you turned into spaghetti in the fucking event horizon?”

Cole and Sonya stared at each other in heated silence. Both of their eyelids were swollen, so red you would think they got the world’s most unlikely sunburn, and another three-hour fight’s worth of tears stained their cheeks. Through the wide window of their slowly rotating motel room, the vacuum of space they had grown up in and learned to love felt suffocating. 

“I thought this would make you happy,” Cole muttered. “Better than the alternative right? Better than going home and having to clean up my brains off of the wall, or cut me down off of a rope someday once I really can’t take it anymore.”

“Why the fuck would it make me happy?” Sonya shouted. “You alive would make me happy! You going back and getting help would make me happy!”

“We tried that-”

“No, you gave up and ghosted your therapist after barely a month.”

“It was stupid anyway, I’m not worth the trouble and it was never going to work. Besides, you deserve better than me. I’m a loser. I’m pathetic. I belong out there.”

“Cole…”

But he was already out the door, the hatch sliding shut behind him, the heels of his boots clanging on the steel hallway floor.

The uncertainty of floating into a black hole terrified him of course, but after how many years of panic attacks, lost jobs, and delirium, continued existence almost scared him more. Finally, after a month straight of him contemplating throwing himself out into the void with their weekly trash and walking in on Sonya crying to herself in the bedroom brought them out there to the last motel, to the end of everything. She had hoped some time away would do them both some good, some time together, no distractions. “Just think about the stars outside and the stars in our eyes,” she had said. “And in a little while maybe you’ll be able to think more clearly. You’ll change your mind, you’ll see.” He wished so badly that she could be right, but their time was drawing to a close and if anything, he felt worse than before. “I love you” felt hollow, making love felt numbing, the touch of her skin and her scent made him recoil in shame and fear. She deserved better, he thought, so much better. He had decided as much months ago, when he dumped all his meds down the pipes in their apartment in a manic fit while she was away on a business trip. Soon after, he saw new billboards popping up in the sky; neon monoliths advertising one-way trips into black holes, a new form of assisted suicide, no cleanup required. It was highly experimental, there was no way of knowing if the candidates really died or if they were spit out into a new dimension or plane somewhere or somewhen else, but the willing didn’t seem to acknowledge or mind either outcome.

“As long as I don’t have to be a bother or a burden to anyone anymore,” Cole told the project consultant during their meeting. “As long as I’m not a roadblock in her life anymore.”

Sonya had told him countless times over the past six years that he was anything but, but he never listened. Maybe his mind wouldn’t let him, or maybe wallowing in his self-loathing became so comfortable that moving past it scared him. Maybe a bit of both. She even went to the consultation clinic and tried to get his application rejected. The advertisements all specified terminal illness, the few cancers left, the new diseases that cropped up as people explored further and further into the universe. However, while all of the medical professionals Cole had seen over the years were adamant that he could live a fulfilling and mostly healthy life if he stuck to his treatment and stayed consistent with getting help, there they were nonetheless, in a shitty motel, the emptying of a private savings account and money reaching several high level pockets later, with two weeks left for Cole to change his mind.

“You have to understand though sweetheart,” the motel owner said to Sonya upon their arrival. “You being here, this whole thing, is mostly a formality; a chance for you to tie up loose ends with your partner and say goodbye. I won’t tell you not to hope, but I’ve owned this place since before the Void Machine project when people drove themselves into that thing on their own in the middle of the night. No one ever changes their mind. No one ever comes back.”

“Not even one…” Sonya murmured.

“None.”

At this, Sonya’s shoulders started heaving and the woman wrapped her muscular arms around her. “I’m sorry girl,” the woman said. “This is no place to spend your last days with anyone even under good circumstances, if I’m being honest. Faces like yours here, they break my heart. Just know I’ll be behind the front desk or just a button push away if you ever need anything at all, at any time. Poor girl…”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Sonya whispered through tears.

“Elsie, sweet pea, you can call me Elsie okay?”

Sonya nodded. Elsie gently kissed the top of her head, brushing down the matted mess of hair caused by lack of sleep and misery, before disappearing behind the front desk. A key jingled in a lock and a moment later, after making sure Cole was far down the hallway, she held out a small flask which Sonya eagerly accepted, taking a larger swig than perhaps she anticipated. 

“See, hon,” Elsie cooed. “I’m here for you okay?”

Two weeks later, Sonya’s finger hovered over the call button for the last time, but she didn’t need to press it. A heavy hand was already on her shoulder, the glint of the flask in the periphery of her eyes. 

“I saw him go this morning. I thought you could use someone.” Sonya nodded. “Did he even say goodbye?” Sonya shook her head. Elsie sighed and twisted the cap open. “They never do.” 

Cole sat in his single-occupancy pod and waited for the door to open. He felt almost naked without a proper space suit and a relatively flimsy helmet, but he guessed there was no need to throw out the more expensive equipment. The slow flight out took almost twenty minutes, and in his solitude he wondered a lot of things. What would it look like inside? Would he even be alive long enough to see? Would it hurt? Would he fall unconscious first like people who lived on gravity planets and jumped off of tall buildings? Then the pod stopped moving and a cold, automatic voice addressed him. “Patient, please state ‘yes’ for the blindfold screen in your visor to be activated. Please state ‘no’ to decline.” Cole, beginning to tremble, stuttered out an affirmative. A countdown initiated, Cole was ejected out of the pod, and before entering the void his visor was tinted black, but Cole still saw.

As his body stretched and contorted, he saw himself and Sonya at their university. He saw her beautiful, crooked smile, he saw himself cry in his dorm room the first night he decided he was unworthy. He saw her hold him and read him the stack of love letters they’d written each other. He saw them staring at a vast, deep sea, the only time he remembered feeling any peace at all. He saw Sonya in the motel, sobbing in Elsie’s arms, the empty flask discarded on the floor, Sonya holding one of his abandoned shirts to her chest. 

“Sonya…” he croaked, as he lost control of his muscles and his voice.

He saw her in an inpatient facility, in a circle of people going through their stories of PTSD and emotional trauma. He saw her struggling to clean out the memories from the apartment that used to be theirs. Long dead flowers. A hidden cabinet with a little velvet box. A white dress he never knew she had. The shiny pair of objects within the box itself.

Droplets of water were collecting in the compressing visor. He could no longer tell if it was moisture from the cheap air hose or the tears flowing freely out of his expanding eyes.

“I’m so sorry…”

Thank you, Sandra. Sandra Howard is an actor, combatant and generally incredible human being. She’s done several shows with Cave Painting Theater and you can find her at the Bristol Renaissance Faire this summer. She’s also one of the most wonderful people I know. And I’m on the record with that now.


Gateways: “Eternity” by Jake Baker



This story is written by Jake Baker, who mainly writes plays, one acts, and short stories but has started dabbling in television screenplays at the behest of friends. He tells us he is a cleverly dumbfounded writer with an existential overtone. He will forever be laughing at the moments most would find dark and humorless. This is “Eternity”.

“Do you hear that?”, Josie said as we turned the corner heading home. In truth, I couldn’t hear anything. The headphones in my ears blasting Smashing Pumpkins as loud as I could stand made sure of that. In truth, it’s a miracle I could even hear at all. The sound she was trying to draw my attention to turned out to be a high-pitched whine that preceded an explosion. In time, I would find out that it was a nuclear research facility in Grovesgrove that had undergone some sort of malfunction and instead of trying to fix the issue, a lab assistant threw his coffee at part of the machine. This turned out to be a bad idea. Hot tip: don’t do drugs and operate particle accelerators.

I would say that we had about a minute and twenty seconds before the wind from the blast hit us. Every leaf from the trees around us flew into the air and we got knocked on our ass. Before that happened, however, we saw a flash of blinding light from the east and a cloud of smoke rising in the air. Imagine a mushroom cloud from an atomic bomb, only right up close and about five times the size. We saw the cloud rise up into the air and after we picked ourselves up off the ground, we saw it get sucked back into the tree-line. What happened next can only be described in the following way: Imagine the color black. The black you see when you close your eyes and after all the noise goes away. The black you see when all of the sudden the lights go out in your city. The black you see when you open the basement door and peer down into the depths and think to yourself, “Yep, if I go down there, I will definitely get killed by something.” Now double it. Now triple it. You still have not come close to how dark this was. In seconds it was on us. Engulfing. All-encompassing. Black.

Next was a sensation of tingling that intensified into burning. Then it felt like a million people took tiny needles and poked me all at once. This grew and grew as if the needles were puncturing the skin and then puncturing muscle and on into bone. Then the needles grew to twice the size. Triple the size. Quadruple the size. Until butcher knives were carving me into a trillion little pieces. But the worst was the noise. It splintered into my ears at a register I’m certain humans aren’t supposed to hear. It grew louder and louder until I was sure my ears were bleeding. My head felt like it was being crushed by the weight of the noise all around me. As if the sound had grown into fifteen thousand bodybuilders all putting their weight into crushing my skull. If you can imagine a tenth of what that feels like, then I say that you madame or monsieur, have suffered in your life, and I truly apologize for anything and everything that has happened to you.

And then… Nothing. The black was still there, but I felt nothing. I saw nothing. I heard nothing. For a solid hour I waited weightlessly and weary from the ordeal I had just undergone. As if whatever was out there amidst the black knew that I needed some time to myself before coming at me with what was next. Slowly I started to feel something. It’s the feeling you get when you’re alone in a room, but you feel as if you’re suddenly not alone. You feel something at the nape of your neck. Something that breathes ever-so-slightly, but when you turn around? Nothing. For me, something was out there in the black, waiting.

When the hour was up, I started to feel like I was falling. But there wasn’t any wind. Just that sensation in the pit of your stomach. I tried to turn my body one way or the other, but I was still aching from everything that had happened, so even trying to move my fingers came with great agony. I fell, silently in the black for what seemed like millions of miles. Millions of seconds. This gave me some time to think. Because how else do you spend an eternity in nothingness?

I hadn’t been the best person. Especially to Josie. I mean, don’t get me wrong, she’s no Saint Theresa either, but she was nicer than I was. I couldn’t help but think that this was my punishment for being a little shit. I treated my sister like she was stupid, when I should have been loving life the way she did. Free and simple, never a care in the world. To a certain extent it really pissed me off that nothing could make her mad. Annoying, really, when you think about. Pretty sure the reason I started being mean to her was because I wanted to see if I could get a rise out of her for any reason. Only once did I manage this. It was her eighth-grade dance, and I told her date that she already left for the dance without him. I’m sure that was the last straw in a barn full of hay, but that night she kicked me in the vagina and punched me as hard as she could in the boob. Up until the incident with the needles I’d say that was the most pain I’ve ever felt. Mom said, “You get what you get,” and Dad chuckled while he helped me up off the porch and inside. My parents are great, but even they were like, “We told you so.”

Thoughts about how to be a better person came and went while I was in this freefall. I ultimately came to the conclusion that if Josie was still alive somehow, she’d be better off without me. It’s probably for the best. My death would make her even stronger and she would probably end up curing cancer or something. Me, on the other hand, I was never going to do anything with my life. Honestly, I was surprised I made it this far. Twenty isn’t a bad age to get booted off this mortal plane. I knew I wasn’t making it to twenty-five just based off the shear amount of drugs and cigarettes I was smoking. And the drinking. Oh, the drinking. Pretty much solidified that this gal ain’t sticking around to play in the big leagues, if you catch my drift.

It was about this time that the sensation of falling stopped. I had arrived, it seems, wherever this little journey was taking me. I could move my fingers and toes. So I moved onto other joints and limbs, moving them as freely as I had done while living. I sat up, as if there was a floor beneath me, but it was still so black, I couldn’t tell what it was. Felt solid, so we’ll call it a floor for now. I stood, wavy and bumbling about, for a total of three seconds, before I fell over. I tried to stand again only to fall over once more because my balance couldn’t be found. Push with hands, step with left foot, step with right, try to stand up, fall over. Repeat ad nauseum.

After a while I laid on my back staring up into the void. I laid there for another million seconds that turned into a million minutes. I started thinking again, but this time as I started to form thoughts, little specks of light began flashing throughout the void. It looked like stars twinkling just too far out of reach. After a while they started getting brighter and brighter. Lines began to form between some of the little stars, and before I could comprehend it, a flash of light burst through the nothingness and blinded me. I raised my hand to my face and peered through my fingers at the light show being created above me. Magnificent colors connected dot among flashing dot throughout the void until it was all around me. What looked like nebulas phasing in and out of existence. A billion little lights flashing like fireworks among the dark sky.

And then one blew up in my face. It was blinding and burned like someone had shoved a soldering iron into my eyes. I regained sight momentarily only to have another flash go off in my face again. Same burning, but now a thousand times worse. I gained enough balance to get my ass up and start running from the lights, but everywhere I went another one would go off in my face, making sure to let me know they were saying, “hey, look at me, I’m amazing! I’ll burn my image into your skull, just so you know how awesome and glorious I am!”

Again, this went on for so long I got used to it. Just like the falling. Just like trying to stand. I finally sat on the floor and watched as billions and billions of lights blow up all around me. Many of them in my face. After millions and millions of seconds this slowed. After that it was quite beautiful. I saw colors I had never imagined form in front of my burning retinas. Swirls of lights and patterns of color formed all around me. After a while the particles and colors started to meld together and form bigger globs of particles and colors. (I’m sure you see where this headed) The globs then formed with other globs, which formed a sort of swirling globular mass, which then started to swirl around one of the bigger swirling stars. Finally I got it. Obviously, a fucking solar system was being formed all around me. This was amazing, except for the fact that a fucking solar system was being formed all around me. After a while I started dodging debris from the mass hurling around and around at incredible speeds.

And then one of them hit me. Ripped clean through me. No blood was shed, but there was a burning hole left where the molten rock had shot right through me. I’m sure you can guess what happened next. More and more molten pieces of rock ripped through me. I tried to dodge as many as possible, but alas. A million little pieces ripped through my body and finally they converged into one giant piece that hit me so hard I shattered into a billion tiny fragments. Don’t worry, though, I was still alive, so to speak, as an anguishing consciousness that felt all the pain my body was going through as the planets were formed. I thought the needles were bad but having molten pieces of rock rip your body into billions of tiny pieces is much, much worse. After a while, the anguish my body was feeling subsided. Mainly because there was nothing left of my body to feel anything. “At least”, I thought, “I can’t feel any more pain”.

It’s funny, when you think you’re done with one thing, the universe just throws something else at you. Yeah, my body was gone, so physical pain was a no-go, but oh, buddy, that’s when the emotional pain hit me. I watched the earth form. From the first spin around the sun. To the moon getting ejected from the molten sphere. To the dinosaurs getting wrecked by that asteroid. To the middle ages. All the way up until the day I died and beyond.

As a floating consciousness you can pretty much go wherever and do whatever, so I poked around the day it all blew up. That’s how I found out about the drugged-up scientist, and the nuclear research facility, and what happened to make that explosion. Turns out, the drugged-up scientist got the drugs from my friend Fink. Not his real name. But he sold them to Jeffreys, the scientist, because I had said I was going to lay off the drugs for a while to “try to get my shit together”. So, crazy as it may seem, the reason a nuclear-powered particle accelerator exploded is because I didn’t buy drugs from my dealer. If he hadn’t thrown coffee on it, it would have been fine. A much smaller explosion would have happened. Some people would’ve gotten hurt, but it would’ve been fine. It wouldn’t have resulted in a mini black hole getting unleashed on the world. I saw the explosion happen and I rode the gust of wind all the way to where me and my sister stood watching the subsequent chaos. I watched as my body was vaporized by the blast instantly, and I watched as the same thing happened to my sister. Turns out she doesn’t live past the explosion, and neither does the world. After the surrounding life within the vicinity got vaporized, the rest of the world was sucked into the black hole. And so was Mars. And Venus. And Mercury. And Jupiter, the Sun, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto. The Milky Way

Somehow, I don’t know how, I got pulled into the black hole right as I was vaporized. And now here I am, watching as it devours everything in its path. Nine planets and a Galaxy down, trillions to go. And the only words I have at the moment are, “Black Holes Suck.”

Rachel Granda Gluski is a Chicago based voice actor and movement professional. She currently enjoys working with radio play companies Starlight Radio Dreams and Locked into Vacancy Entertainment. 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.


Gateways: “Black” by Cameron Evesque Davis



Transcript: This story is by Cameron Evesque Davis, a prolific writer with a novel, short stories, screenplays, and comic books already under their belt. Their favorite genre is actually Urban Fantasy, taking us out of the real world *just enough* to be exciting. This is “Black”.

There are two things you learn when you’re a scientist who ends up working in space. 1) Space is cold. And 2) Stay away from Black Holes.

Sadly, these rather straightforward rules had completely missed the guild in charge of the Excalibur V expedition. Myself and four other crew members on a mostly automated ship were sent far off into the depths of space to study a black hole up close.

And it was damn cold in space.

Our ship had travelled via the hyperspace gateways that were placed at strategic points across the galaxies, allowing us to find our way to the singularity in question after only a week of travel. We had supplies to last us for the three years our expedition was supposed to last, and we were lucky to have a ship equipped with a holographic entertainment suite, because otherwise I would have lost my mind only talking to the same four people for three years.

It was just when I was enjoying some…ahem…entertainment in said holographic entertainment suite that I felt a jolt in the ship. It certainly is bizarre when you’re…entertaining and the entire world shifts slightly to one side. It’s especially bizarre when the people you’re in entertainment with don’t react at all. Really removes the feeling of immersion from the experience.

That being the case, I said, “Ship, turn the simulation off, please.” The ship obeyed, and I was left lying on the floor of the suite. I sat up and sighed before standing and heading out into the corridor.

The hallways of the Excalibur V were tight, compact, uncomfortable, and ugly. The “functional” grey color of the metal walls always made me feel sad and homesick, and the fact that they were only five feet wide by seven feet tall didn’t help. It was a metal coffin for five foolhardy space adventurers. But we hadn’t had a choice as far as which expedition we were to go on. Such is the life of a member of the Layaway Mercenary Space Science Guild.

Yes, you heard that right. Mercenary Space Science. The economy of Earth at this point in history (5832 CE) was such that the only companies that existed were Mercenary Guilds of various kinds. There was the Archetype Mercenary IT Guild, the Scarborough Mercenary Biology Guild, the Fineline Mercenary Dog Sitters Guild, the Van Buren Mercenary Meme Generators Guild, etc.

As a member of any one of the guilds, and anyone could become a member provided one had the proper recommendations and certifications, you lose most of your free will and may only do jobs assigned to you by the higher-ups in the guild. Supposedly, once you moved up ranks, you could gain some ability to choose your own jobs, but I had no idea if that was true. All of my friends were low-ranking scientists like myself, and thus were thrust into the gaping maw of danger at every opportunity. A more cynical mind than my own might think that the guild didn’t like me and was trying to get rid of me, but I tried to stay positive.

And then I would look at those cold, grey, death-like walls of my prison and get sad again.

The ship jolted again, this time to the right. An announcement came over the PA System as the blue alert bulbs began flashing: “All personnel to the control room. All personnel to the control room.”

I made my way down the cold, shitty hallways, passed the mess hall, passed the crew quarters, and up to the front of the ship where the control room was. I was met on the way by one of my fellow scientists, Amy Wilfinger, who greeted me with a nod.

“Have any idea what’s happening, Mark?” She asked me.

I shook my head, “Not a clue. Although, being this close to a black hole might have something to do with it. Wouldn’t be surprised if the Guild didn’t plan for every problem that comes from being near a singularity.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me either,” she replied. We continued walking and eventually made our way to the control room proper, and there stood the last three members of our crew. Jacob David, the captain, Jacquelyn Maynard, our navigator, and Rachel Brown, our engineer. Amy and I were the scientists, meant to actually study the black hole, and honestly, we weren’t too used to travelling around in a spaceship, especially not for this long of a tour, and especially not with such boring wallpaper.

It was lucky, then, that we had our crack team of veteran space adventurers. Or I would have thought that, had they not been a shitshow of constant bickering, disagreement, and pretentiousness the entire trip. Amy was the only one on this ship that I actually got along with, and so I stuck by her as we entered into the control room.

“Ah good, they’ve finally showed up,” Rachel sneered, “Don’t you remember the bylaws we wrote up? ‘Any obvious problem, everyone should report to the control room.’ We shouldn’t need to announce it on the PA system.”

“Oh, shut up, Rachel,” Jacquelyn said, “We’re all here now, let’s just deal with the problem.”

“Thanks, Jackie,” Amy said.

I sighed, “So what is this problem? What caused the lurch?”

Jacob, who had been staring out the viewscreen at the terrifying singularity of doom we were in orbit around, turned to face us. He looked at us seriously, “We got some…anomalous readings off our friend out there. Something we weren’t prepared for. None of the documentation provided by the guild hinted at anything like it.”

“What kind of readings?” Amy walked over to the console to the right of where Jacob was standing and typed in her code. I meandered over and looked on the screen. She had brought up a chart which showed energy output and input from the black hole. She pointed at a couple spikes on the chart.

“You mean these anomalous readings? I can’t see a source.” Amy told us.

“No, nor could I,” Jacob said.

And then the ship lurched again, and this time the lights flickered. We heard a groan of metal being pulled and warped. I looked around to pinpoint where the noise was coming from, but it was coming from all around us.

More groans from the ship. Another lurch, huge this time. I had to grab onto the console to keep myself upright, and as I did so I caught a glance at the chart on the screen. Two large spikes of activity had appeared. And then another as the ship lurched again. I felt the ship starting to turn, its backside (where the engine was) turning to face the black hole.

“Uh…guys?” I asked, “What are we going to do?”

Jacob leapt into action, “Everyone to emergency stations! Buckle yourselves in!”

We all scrambled to our seats. Mine was to the back, right in the middle, and I logged into my console as soon as I was strapped in. Not that my science console could see that much more than Amy’s could. The ship creaked and moaned more, and swung all the way around. We all held on as the ship started spinning, whipping around through space and moving towards the black hole.

“HOLD ON!” Jacob shouted, “AMY, TRY TO GET THE DAMN STABILIZERS BACK ONLINE! RACHEL, GRAB ONE OF THOSE STABILIZER SUITS AND GET DOWN TO THE ENGINE ROOM! MARK, GO WITH HER!”

The alarms on the ships began blaring loudly, and red light flashed throughout the chambers. The noise of metal creaking and air whooshing and sirens blaring was almost deafening, and I shouted over it, “THAT’S NOT REALLY MY AREA!”

“I DON’T FUCKING CARE! RACHEL, GET HIM THERE!”

“AYE AYE!” Rachel shouted and unbuckled her chair. She timed her movements with the spinning of the ship and grabbed two of the Stabilizer Suits which hung on the wall to our right. She came back over to me and, as I unbuckled my seat, slapped the suit on my chest. The suit automatically wrapped around my body, its tight-fitting grey fabric hugging me closely, and suddenly I felt…well…stable.

My brain no longer noticed the spinning of the ship, and the suit held me in a stable position, and I was able to easily move through the ship, following along with Rachel down to the engine room. When we arrived, we were greeted with an unexpected sight.

The engines, normally glowing a brilliant blue color, the center spinning, and the energy whizzing about with pips and pops as it zipped back and forth throughout the ship, was now moving remarkably slowly. Not only that, it was covered in a black sludge-like stuff. It oozed and squelched as the slow-moving central orb barely shifted. The blue glow made it through gaps in the sludge, but it was clear it wasn’t going to keep the ship going.

“What are we going to do?” I asked Rachel. She shook her head.

The ship lurched again, this time accompanied by a squeal of metal breaking and cracking. We both felt a shift forward and we held onto the railing to our sides. Our stabilizer suits having their own internal gravity, it was clear that the part of the ship we were in was falling forward in comparison with where it had been.

The lights went out. I heard Rachel yelp and undo her stabilizer suit, the noise being unmistakable. I heard her feet land on the floor of the ship as I tumbled upside down. I fell towards the black goo and quickly undid my suit as well, falling with a bang onto the grated metal walkway. I groaned and pulled myself up to a seated position, my hands resting on the grate behind me.

“Rachel?” I called. No response.

I felt a weird feeling on the back of my hand, a slimy feeling. I looked behind me, but I could barely see, as it was almost pitch black except for some slight light coming through the sludge on the engine. And then I heard a voice.

“Black holes, what made you pitiful beings want to study them, of all things? That fascination. Foolish. Pompous.”

“What?” I heard myself ask, “Who are you? What do you want?”

“I am beyond your species comprehension. We have lived within the singularities of the universe for far longer than you have even been in this form. Long before you were even single celled protozoa in the primordial soup of your tiny planet.”

“Within the…singularities. Nothing could survive that.”

The voice seemed to smile, I could feel its grin in my mind, “Nothing you’ve ever seen, nor ever will again. Now sleep, my morsel. Just sleep.”

I felt my eyes grow heavy as the lights flickered back on.

There in front of me was a being, all black and tall, with spindly legs and four arms, each of which had long-fingered hands on the ends with eyes on the palms. Said eyes were bright orange, and its mouth was vast and wide, taking up all of what could be counted as the being’s head.

It grinned and then opened that horrible mouth, hand-eyes staring at me. I felt so tired. Impossibly tired. The mouth grew and grew, and I felt myself being drawn towards it. My organs lifted in my torso, my eyes felt like they were being pulled out of my sockets, and yet I felt so relaxed. I was stretched and pulled off the ground, straight into the monster’s mouth.

The last thing I heard was from the creature again:

“Black holes really…suck, don’t they?”

Ben is a Chicago based writer, actor and improvisor. He is a contributing writer and performer with Starlight Radio Dreams, recorded live at Mrs. Murphy and Son’s Irish Bistro and available wherever fine podcasts are downloaded. [Incidentally, I produce that show… so Conor if you’re looking for something to review… you get it.


Gateways: “I Love a Place I’ve never Been” by Amber Palmer



Transcript: Amber Palmer is an MFA Playwriting student at Western Michigan University. My play “It’s a Small World (or The Robot Play)” has received staged readings at the Activate Midwest New Play Festival and Flint Repertory Theatre. You may be able to catch some of her developmental readings this summer at Bristol Valley Theater and Pegasus Play Lab. Her work often involves fantastical elements and queer themes. This is “I Love A Place I’ve Never Been”.

Transmission number 8465: In response to last month’s Productivity Analysis.

The thing I wish I had been told before I started this occupation is how much black holes suck. Not actually in the literal sense. That’s actually a common misconception. I mean that, as an occupation, they suck.

When I first started my mission, it wasn’t the worst. I am predisposed to like solitude, so the idea of being in such a small space, alone, was appealing. The idea of adventure was, well, let’s just say I’m not one of those droids that ever wanted to try and play house. Like, I know that’s the cool thing to do nowadays, to try and get some human to make you a romantic companion, maybe buy some children and get a 2 bedroom apartment. But that’s never been very appealing to me. Like, the last generation was all about integrating into human society and all, but like, we’re droids. They’re going to treat us like droids anyways, no matter how many flesh exterior texture treatments we get, so—

Sorry, I got sidetracked. I’m supposed to be logging. For productivity purposes. Okay. Today I recorded the location of 20 stellar and 4 supermassive black holes. Maps will be included with this recording file specifying location. I know… I know that isn’t enough. I’ve read the emails about my productivity being low, and yes, I’ve tried what was suggested. I have uninstalled my dream simulator. Maintenance did come and restrict my movement, as suggested. I am adjusting.

This job wasn’t my first choice. Shocker right? Who wouldn’t want the thrilling occupation of tracking and mapping black holes until the end of time? But, I actually wanted to be an oceanographer. Growing up, it always felt like a noble occupation. Everyone is so fixated on the stars, but we have completely neglected our oceans. We lost ours. The only place left to be an oceanographer in my home galaxy is Enceladus. It’s a moon. You probably know that. Or don’t care.

I didn’t want to work on Enceladus. I say that like I was given the choice, I was not, but if I had been, they would’ve been privileged to have me on their mission. I’m really passionate about Earth. I love Earth. I know, how can you love a place you’ve never been, but I do. I always felt this connection to that planet and even though the oceans are gone, I guess I always thought…

My parent has been there, once. They work with soil for agricultural purposes and there had been a query that maybe Earth’s soil was still workable. So they were sent to investigate. They knew how much I loved the Earth and promised they’d bring me a souvenir. So they got me this globe. It’s a 3-D model of the Earth that’s so old it still has the oceans on it. I’ve spent my free time restoring it. I probably shouldn’t say this, because if you had your way, I would have no free time, but I promise it’s during my sanctioned breaks. It, of course, doesn’t actually look any different, but I found a mod for my optical program that lets me create visual layers and I’ve been very carefully creating different skins for it. It’s fascinating because—you don’t care,

sorry. But it’s fascinating because humans actually would change the size of continents based on political and social status on their maps, so making the transfer has been difficult, but it’s… my passion, maybe.

I know I should say that my passion is black holes. But it isn’t. I’m one of those intergenerational droids that are a huge pain to society. We’re the first droid generation that was raised being told we could be anything. Not designed for a specific occupation. A failed science experiment of “what if we give them true free will?” without wanting to deal with the repercussions of that. Humans didn’t want droids that could be better artists, thinkers, philosophers, historians, doctors, lawyers, construction workers, school teachers, social workers, ballerinas, computer scientists. They did what they always did and didn’t consider that we could and we would be better than them at everything. “There are some things droids can’t do”. Yeah, well, we proved them wrong. And that scared the shit out of them. I remember, halfway through my public school education that was mandated as part of an integration initiative, the laws started and suddenly there were restrictions on what I could be. My parent has few emotional capacities, but they were furious.

They were heavily involved with the Body Electric movement. I probably shouldn’t say that. But they were. Up until the end, even when our right to demonstrate was taken from us. They served their time for it, so… but, you know…They did it for me. They wanted me to have different chances than they had. So they never questioned legality or consequence. It was an act of love. A fruitless one, but still.

I’ll never forget the day my last instructor, the only droid instructor I ever had, told me that Oceanographer had become a human only occupation. I had missed the deadline to be grandfathered in by six months. They told me I could, perhaps, learn to love the black hole. The government needed black hole locators. It was honest work, deemed too dangerous and too demanding for humans, so I would never have to see another human again. That sounded appealing at the time.

My parent tried to console me. They gave me a Body Electric propaganda card. They said it brought them comfort when they were sent far away. It is from the poem of the same name. It reads “I have perceived that to be with those I like is enough. To stop in company with the rest at evening is enough. To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing synthetic flesh is enough. I do not ask any more delight, I swim in it as in a sea.”. I keep it in here with me. Not because the words give me comfort, but because the thought of them reading it on Earth as they collected soil calms me. They do not correspond with me anymore. I think they maybe have forgotten. They are often consumed with soil.

I know it seems like I’m dodging the issue, but… you’re the only one I talk to. Even if it is for productivity logs. And I know you have listened to all of this and it has probably made your job harder. Or, maybe you’re an automated device, and you’re simply searching for keywords in my transmission in order to receive and collect data. If you are, you are the future. My soul is an inconvenience and would be stripped from my body if laws did not exist to protect it.

I know I am woefully behind my productivity benchmarks. According to your last correspondence, I need to locate and record 10,000 black holes by the end of the month. Have you considered how strange it is that we still use these a unit of measurement that’s based on the movement of a planet that very few of us have ever visited?

I am dodging the issue again. I… there is this concept in human culture called a “quarter life crisis”. It is in essence an excuse for young adult humans to mess up a part of their lives, because they have that luxury. It is the only phenomena that I have found that expresses how I’ve been feeling. I have tried finding applications to ease this restlessness but none of them have been very effective.

I think I’m misplaced. There has to be a more productive droid in the universe that would love my position, and to keep it from them feels unfair. It would be simple if it was loneliness, but it’s more than that. It’s such a deep feeling of discontent that I can hardly bring myself to function. I’ve considered running my battery to zero. Just to see what happens. I always get too scared at 5 percent and plug in.

I would like… I am requesting reassignment. I can’t keep doing this. I can feel myself changing up here. Not in the way human bodies do, where their bones stop working correctly and their muscles become weak. I feel like I’m freezing in place, unable to move. Not physically, do not file a maintenance request. I mean, I… I am desperately unhappy.

I know this is an unorthodox request, but I also know you are unable to repurpose or destroy me without my consent. It’s one of the privileges of being created with a soul. But if I could be placed inside a new droid or an old droid that wants to be here instead, I would abandon this shell for that. For the opportunity to have a new occupation. To be able to walk again. I miss walking. My file uses the word “movement constraint” because it’s more comfortable to think of it that way, but this is the uncomfortable reality. I was bolted to the floor of the ship, in the name of productivity. Even if I was unbolted, I doubt my legs would be able to move anymore.

I know the associated risks. I’ve researched them and I am consenting. I know I would be traveling such a far distance that the likelihood of my soul finding a body would be… slim but I would be willing to take that risk.

My parent chose the wrong quote you know. I always wished they picked the right one. My favorite. “The universe is a procession with measured and perfect motion.” If I am destined to be part of that procession of measured and perfect motion as my soul is hurled into time, then that’s okay. It would be worth the promise of something better.

Please accept my request. Or consider it at least, but please do not reject me without consideration. If I can’t be an oceanographer, then I hope to follow in the footsteps of Curiosity, Opportunity— do we still send rovers to Earth? If I become a rover I want to be named Tranquility. Can I? Is that name taken?

I think I could be happy there. Out of this body and on the Earth. I think I could be.

End of transmission.

Kat Evans is a Chicago based actor and singer. She has worked most often with City Lit Theatre, Black Button Eyes Theatre and Promethian Theatre Ensemble. She is a performer and writer for Starlight Radio Dreams and spends a lot of time upside down and off the ground doing acroyoga.


Gateways: “The Preserve” by Amalia King



Transcript: This next story comes from Amalia King who is a freelance non-fiction writer. She describes her style as “Non-fiction by day, absurd nerd feminist fiction by night.” This is not her first foray into fiction, she’s had two staged readings of short plays and we look forward to hearing more from her in the future. This is “The Preserve”

The dappled sunlight seeped through the green of the leaves and left a ghostly color on our clothes and skin. We lay on our backs, pressing into the soft earth. Errett’s stomach growled loudly, and I counted the hours since we had eaten last. A guilty knot formed in my gut at the thought of my insistence that we leave straight from The Workplace Complex. If we had stopped at The Home Complex first, we could have gotten real supplies and maybe even lifted some gear. As it was, we’d be braving the elements in a matter of hours. Errett rolled over to face me. “How many times have you come out here?” I closed my eyes. This was all my fault. “A few.” Errett made a soft sound. “How many is a few?” I rolled over and positioned my head so that it was facing directly into Errett’s, our noses almost touching. “You trust me, right? You agreed to come with me? I’m taking care of it. I know what I’m doing.” I had no idea what I was doing. Errett, however, was preoccupied with our surroundings and turned back to face the leaves overhead. My stomach gave a sick lurch. There was no plan, of course, except to wander deeper into The Preserve. It was foolish to think we wouldn’t be followed, but as neither of us had given any indication of leaving, I hoped it might be a while before our absence was noticed. We would need to start walking again soon. I gritted my teeth. A bird chirped overhead. We froze. “Briney, did you hear that?” Errett clambered up and moved quietly toward the tree where the bird sat. “I think that’s a bird.” I could see it, too. It looked very small, much smaller than in the pictures. I got to my feet and followed Errett. The bird cocked it’s head. It could see us, watching it from the ground. Errett whispered in my ear, with lips so close that the warmth rattled my hair. “We should back away, so it knows it’s safe.” Slowly and quietly, we inched backward until my heel touched the bark of a tree and we stopped, hearts pounding, pressing into each other and holding our breath. The bird watched us for a moment, then seemed to decide we weren’t a threat. It chirped again, and Errett inhaled sharply beside me. I could see its wings tucked into its plump side. I couldn’t remember if birds had fur or feathers. It looked soft and round. The bird chirped a third time. In the near distance, an answering chirp rang bright and clean. Errett spun wildly in the direction of the second call. The sudden movement startled the first bird into flight. Errett looked crestfallen.

“It’s okay,” I said. “There’ll be more.” We walked for hours. The deeper we went, the more species we encountered, species we’d only seen in our History of Biology classes, back in The Education Complex. Errett was delighted. I felt a strange warmth in my chest and couldn’t help my mouth from turning up at the corners, even though I knew we were in an increasingly serious situation. My skin was getting sticky and I could feel a raw rub on my little toe. I couldn’t bring myself to think about food yet. Small, flying insects whose names we could not remember buzzed past occasionally. One of them landed on Errett’s skin and pricked a tiny proboscis into a blood vessel. We watched in amazement as it drew up the blood, swelling slightly in size, and finally removed the needle and flew away. Errett kept gazing in proud wonder at the growing red mound it left in its absence. After a while, the magic began to wear off. Even Errett seemed to be losing interest in the new creatures, some of which we didn’t recognize at all. The light was changing, deepening in color, and the trees were growing closer together. I could hear Errett panting along just behind me. “How much farther is it?” A cold sensation crept up the back of my neck. “What do you mean?” I asked, trying to keep my voice casual. Errett caught up and fell into step beside me. “How much farther to where we’re going?” The knot of guilt tightened sharply behind my navel. “I told you, we’re just trying to get as far away as possible.” “But how much farther to the place where we stay tonight?” I glanced sideways and found Errett staring earnestly at me. I stopped walking and pawed some mud off one boot, then the other. “There’s not a specific place we’re staying tonight. We’re just going to walk until we’re tired and we’ll sleep there.” For the first time, Errett seemed nervous. “So there’s… there’s not a shelter or something?” I shook my head slowly from side to side. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Errett itching at the red mound. “I thought you had found a shelter, or made a shelter or something. Where have you slept the other times you came out here?” The silence rang, and I made my decision. “I’ve never slept outside before.” There was a flickering behind the shock on Errett’s face. “Y… you haven’t? Then how do you know what we’re supposed to do?” I pushed sweaty curls back from my forehead. “I don’t. I know as much as you.” Errett’s voice began to climb in pitch. “But Briney, I don’t know anything at all. Nothing.”

I took a deep breath. This was a moment I had been dreading for months. As I had begun to consider life as an Outsider, I had noticed that Errett, too, seemed out of place in The Habitat and might make a strong companion. Errett was weird, but curious and resourceful; a hard worker who approached problems directly. Early on, I had wondered if I was being too subtle. Sometimes, an honest voice inside me admitted, I had been intentionally vague about the extent of my inexperience. In truth, I had never even met an Outsider and had no idea how they managed in a world beyond The Habitat. My mind ticked quickly and I tried to appear confident, sighing nonchalantly. “If we had a plan, it could be found out. Not knowing is our cover.” Something had shifted in Errett’s face. There was a harder jawline, a lower brow. “You told me you knew what to do.” I was beginning to feel a little faint, whether from nerves or hunger I didn’t know. “Maybe I did. Let’s just stay focused and keep moving. There will be plenty of time to talk about this later.” Errett’s eyes were narrow. “I’m hungry. Where’s the food?” With resignation, I reached into my back pocket and pulled out the two nutrient bars I had snatched from the cafeteria. Errett looked startled. “That’s it?” I sighed. “That’s all I had time to grab.” Errett began pacing back and forth. “This is starting to feel like a black hole” “What does that mean?” “Black holes really suck.” I threw the nutrient bar at Errett, who caught it easily. “Fine, go back if you want.” I meant it to sound defiant, but there was a quaver in my voice. Errett turned to me. “We can’t go back anymore. Neither of us.” It was true. Hearing the words outside my own head, they sounded bleak and eerie, rather than exhilarating. I looked up. Errett’s eyes had lost the sparkle I had grown accustomed to. “Then what should we do?” I asked. Errett blinked a few times and looked ahead. Our shoulders seemed to be growing wider, tenser, closer and more distant at the same time. “I guess we should keep walking until we’re tired, and we’ll sleep there.” Errett turned away from me and began walking deeper into the trees. The knot of guilt in my stomach was transforming into an all-encompassing shame. I fought my instinct to defend myself, to relentlessly seek Errett’s forgiveness. Instead, I put the nutrition bar back in my pocket, stomach rumbling, and followed my only friend into the darkening woods.

Rachel Granda Gluski is a Chicago based voice actor and movement professional. She currently enjoys working with radio play companies Starlight Radio Dreams and Locked into Vacancy Entertainment. 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.


Gateways: “Lifting Water” by KJ Snyder



Transcript: This story is by KJ Snyder. They told us “I don’t want to be a famous writer – I want to be an honest writer.” KJ is a member of the Writers Guild of America East for journalistic writing. Now they writing sketch comedy right here in Chicago. This piece is “Lifting Water”. 

Dr. Kelper’s hologram held his chin, scrutinizing me. “You know you can’t take a vacation, Leah.” He said. “We can’t.” “I’m not on vacation.” I said. “A different environment helps to-” “We’re ten years away from total annihilation. NASA says every hour we don’t set something in motion, our options become more and more limited.” He said.

“Do you honestly believe I’m not working as hard as I can to find something that-” Dr. Kelper interrupted me. “But this isn’t on you. This is on us.” “I believe I will be able to work better with some isolation.” Dr. Kelper interrupted me. “This is a team effort to stop the twins.” “Again, I am doing this because it will help the group,” I said. “I’m sorry, Leah,” Dr. Kelper interrupted. “I know that much of the blame the twins has been laid on you – that was a PR mistake we made – but I’m getting a lot of pressure to have something we can tell people we’re working toward. It’s mass panic.”

“Dr. Kelper, this meeting is a waste of time. I’ll be back on base in a week. I’m only here because it could help. If I determine that it doesn’t, then I’ll come back sooner.”

“The rest of the team is worried that you’re about to quit.” “If I’m not able to work on a solution, then I will. I’m singing off.” I removed my headset, and looked around my bedroom – the old wooden desk, the peeling canary wallpaper, an overly-full closet of the scientific journals I wrote in my adolescence.

I did need a vacation, but this wasn’t it. Eight years ago, my theory of co-orbital black hole configuration led me to discovering the twins, two black holes spinning around each other, propelling through space. I’ve worked toward finding something that could save us from them.

It was a desperate move to come back to my childhood home, but this is where I became a scientist, where my curiosity sparked. Here could be the inspiration for a solution on two black holes, hurtling toward our solar system.

In the kitchen, my mother sat in front of a bucket, plucking feathers from a dead chicken. “So, we killed Sandy?” I said. “Yep. Tomorrow, I want your help killing Carla. They’ve gotten too aggressive.” She said, not looking up. “Are you hungry?”

“I don’t need you to make me anything.” I said. I opened the refrigerator. On it still, my mother pinned two articles on me from the Lafayette Daily, Lafayette Teen Wins Prestigious MIT Scholarship from 2018, and Lafayette Native Given Research Grant with NASA from 2021. I had taken down the third article, Lafayette-born Scientist Discovers Threat to Humankind. I disagreed with that title. The twins weren’t a threat to humankind. They threatened everything.

“I was just watching the news.” My mother said. “How did that go?” I said. My mother didn’t usually talk to me about news. She prefers the rustic life. She makes her own bread, jars her own jams.

“She says she not hungry and starts making a sandwich,” my mother said, plucking feathers. “But, I was watching the news and the Catholic Church doesn’t think you’re lying anymore. The new pope says that when the twins lift everyone up, it will be into the arms of God.”

“We won’t get ‘lifted up.’ Once the twins get close, our atmosphere will-” “You’ve told me before, Leah.” She said. “I just thought you’d want to know.” “Well, I’m figuring out how to stop the twins. So, tell the new pope sorry for not letting everyone get wrapped up in God.”

“I thought you liked keeping up with the news.” She said, returning to her plucking. “The last time I opened my news portal, I saw there’s a mural of me, naked with the twin black holes as my boobs. I don’t need any more news, I need focus.”

My mother laughed and dropped a fistful of feathers into the bucket. “That’s kinder than some images people have made of you. Speaking of, since you got home, I have barely seen you. If you want to spend the rest of your days hiding in your room getting yelled at by Kelper, that’s your decision. I don’t understand it, but I won’t stop you. What I won’t accept is why you don’t let me make you a better lunch than a PB&J.”

“Doctor Kelper. And this is brain food, not lunch. It’s just to keep me going.” I said. “Let’s both take a break.” My mother heaved the bald chicken on the counter. “Can we go for a swim?”

We have a lake outside our house. It’s more of a watering hole – a crowded ecosystem of water spiders, frogs, germinating algae, turtles, snakes, and water flora. The lake, deceivingly small, introduced me to scientific observation. As a child, I stuck a metal pole into its mud to measure the water’s rise and fall. My mother encouraged collection of butterflies, but I went on to track butterfly population, their prefered conditions for reproduction and metamorphosis.

Despite my fascination with the lake, I avoided swimming in it as a child. It felt like a violation to enter its waters, an unnecessary disturbance to the ecosystem. I felt protective of it.

I stood on the dock, applying sunscreen. My mother treaded water. “What, Leah, afraid of melanoma?” She said. The Louisiana sun had never bothered her. “You said we were taking a break.” I said. “We are!” She waded toward the center of the lake. Across the water, I saw the metal pole from long ago. The water had risen higher than any notches from that first summer of scientific discovery. Even as far away as the twins were, their gravity was affecting the water on Earth, tugging at already rising sea levels. I didn’t want to think about the chaos of the coastal cities, the death tolls.

I lowered myself into the water.. “I remember you had a project for this lake.” My mother said. “Which one?” I said. “I have all my journals in my closet.” “This one was recent. Do you remember? A few days ago – maybe it was a joke to you – you said you wanted to study – what was it? Pupa of the butterflies? Something about gravity?”

“Just a passing thought.”

A little after midnight, I sat at my desk, pouring over theoretical models. Hours of wearing my headset had given me a headache. We still didn’t understand the basics of the twins. How could a black hole move? What stopped one from cannibalizing the other?

I took off the headset, slumped over and pressed my burning head to the desk’s cool wood. An impossible thought struck me, that if I could somehow keep my head pressed to the desk, I could make it through tomorrow morning’s conference with Dr. Kelper. He would again ask me what progress I had made, and again I would have to grind through the impossibility of a black hole, particularly two that had been somehow sent spinning through the cosmos, vacuuming up celestial bodies.

I needed some air. I looked out of my window, down at the lake.

Outside, the crickets hummed unaware of the inevitable end. Our chickens were asleep and quiet in their coop. I floated on my back in the water, gazing at the night sky.

What if an alligator ate me tonight? I thought. What would that headline be? Since the news of the twins broke, journalists who had hoped to achieve glory and prestige had given up mid-career to find other, more rewarding callings like birdwatching, mountaineering, or storytelling. The few journalists who remained felt held to their profession by a sense of duty to the public, or else were raving lunatics with nowhere else to go.

There would be two headlines. I thought. ‘Scientist who Discovered Twins Black Holes Dies from Alligator Attack,’ or; ‘Lying-Leah Eaten by Christ-sent Alligators, Thank God.’

Tears formed in my eyes. I wanted to talk to the lake. “I’m sorry, lake. I wish everyone would get lifted up. The twins can take all us humans. We’ve had enough time here. But it should leave you, your water spiders, your mud.”

I tracked mud into my room, and swung down the bucket my mother had used to collect feathers. I put on the VR headset and powered it on. Once it signed me in with a scan of my retina, I was ready to leave Dr. Kelper a hologram memo.

“Dr. Kelper, there is no earthly power that could knock the twins off their course. I’m not going to be available tomorrow morning, or any other morning. I’ll be killing a chicken, or starting a study on pupal butterfly development under nonnormative gravity. I’m ceasing communication and tendering my resignation. Find someone else to steal work from.”

I set the chicken bucket in front me, broke my headset in two, and let the pieces fall.

Karolyn Blake is an actor and improviser in Chicago with a passion for dogs, laughter, and inclusive spaces. She is a founding member of the Shrews Improv and proud to be a singer in the Shanty Shipwreck Show. You can see and hear her every month in Starlight Radio Dreams, recorded live at Mrs. Murphy and Son’s Irish Bistro and available wherever fine podcasts are downloaded.