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Gateways: “Letter to a Young Vampire” by Maggie Vaughn read by Nathan Shelton



TRANSCRIPT:

Magdalen Vaughn is an Actor, Writer and Science fiction devotee. She has been practicing all types of science fiction writing during the pandemic and she will be creating science fiction performance pieces during her MFA starting this fall. She loves working with the talented folks at Otherworld theatre, long be their reign! Find more at magdalenvaughnacts.com This is “Letter to a Young Vampire”.


I wake up, or, realize I am awake. Splitting headache. Sarah’s hand in mine, cold. No, actually– Sarah. She is pressed against me sobbing into my shirt, as I guide her fingers into my mouth. Sarah. She is swaddled in an orange blanket at the Miami Dade County hospital. Sarah. Where is she now? I cannot think. I press my palms firmly into the hollows of my eyes and open my mouth to scream. My head- it swims and pounds and- WHAT is that smell coming from the bathroom and coming from my… mouth? There is a pit in my stomach. There are exactly 856,832 pits of depth greater than 20 feet in continental Africa. The pit of an apricot is rolling inside the mouth of a Greek boy as his papou brings in the harvest of late July, 1648. 

I cannot stop the notions, the feelings and the vague afterthoughts. Deep darkness inside of me. I try to concentrate, identify where this hollow maze ends, or begins. I try to clear my head of the revolving tableaux. And it works, and I am standing alone in a bright field. Heat sears my feet but I cannot bend my neck to see, or I will not look to see what evil lurks beneath me. I scream from the intensity of the heat but I hear no sound. I feel my body being pulled downwards, into the ground, toward the heat, bleeding free-will from my backbone and 

I am home again, crumpled on my bed. Head still swimming, when one of the many memories dancing behind my eyes strikes me poignantly: Uncle Mark, who experienced psychoses from the age of 20; who could not hold down a job; who is dead on the floor with a gun in his hand and I know that I am Uncle Mark and I can feel the blood pooling around my face as my eyes close and- 

“Hello Vagner” 

A crystal clear voice shoots into me, cutting through a merry go round of half-lived lives. German, male, loud. It is not Uncle Mark, and my name is not Vagner. 

“Listen carefully. Rise and leave your room. Pay no mind to the mess around you.” 

I steel my muscles into the postures of sitting and standing. I stumble to my bedroom door, eyes half closed. I pinpoint the smell of blood and rot. I fall through the doorway, onto the ground where I heave to wretch. Nothing comes out of my stomach, the black hole that I do not know. 

“Get up. Move to your custom leather couch you purchased 10 years ago with Sarah in Oklahoma City. I’ve placed a letter there that you must read.” 

Eyes open, I look around, madly, for the voice I hear so clearly. No one. No one thing out of place in my town-home of 15 years except- bloody handprints on the wood panels below me. Then they are gone, and the dreary dimness of morning is replaced by a bellowing thunderstorm I can see through my living room window. Calm. A few moments of calm so I can stand up and believe everything is normal. I smell coffee and hear Sarah’s signature soprano flying along with Joanna Newsome. 

No… no no no. I avoided this insanity. I have never once hallucinated, or wished for death. I thought I was free to live my life happily and– 

“Vagner. The Letter”

There is dim light in the window again. A letter sits on my cracked brown loveseat. Weathered paper sealed with real wax. The symbol for infinity scrawled onto the front of the envelope in patchy ink. I open it and begin to read: 

One Vagner Volt, 

Note that I’ve misspelled your human name, Wagner. This is not in jest, nor do I expect you to accept it, but it is in keeping with tradition and it will follow you for the rest of eternity. One of the few traditions that we, the collective referred to as Vampire, keep is the use of names. To hold a name is to own yourself. To be Vampire is ruthless autonomy. Think of your name like your last beleaguered breath as you died into infinity, suspended forever around your head like a never-ending dream. Those of us not born on earth infrequently have heads as you know them, so that particular image is unique to you and a handful of other terran Vampires. I have used a variety of metaphors in letters to non-humans reborn after myself, as I have been the executor of introductions for three centuries, now. The last executor was a neutron star and could not use language. I know what you are thinking: who is this witty German? Have we met? 

No, and we never will. Your existence is one hugely disparaging romantic comedy. 

Of course by now, you know all of this, but it never hurts to put musings into words –unless it does hurt, of course, whether by force of irony or intended harm. What I mean is, to have a thought exist outside of yourself is to cast it into the future. Not that the humans would do much with information regarding our existence, as limited as they are in their effect on space and time; as limited as they are in their knowledge of space and time–but in particular their knowledge of dark energy– I digress… 

Humans are perfectly happy to believe that Vampire are vulgar fiction. Yet, they could eventually become aware of our existence, which would be disastrously cruel. Imagine, if humans were to know that the earth feasts on their flesh as ravenously as the common mosquito. As a collective, Vampire are benefited by this fact: that most ideas do not make their way into the working memory of society and are snuffed out as soon as they occur, even if fastidiously recorded via stone etchings or ink. But, some ideas do permeate human culture over time. If you were to probe your mind you would find a catalogue of these truths, but I do particularly miss writing these few down: 

  1. The only hope for making change is to affect small things, locally and immediately
    2. Extraterrestrial consciousness exists and is very aware of life on earth 
  2. The world IS a Vampire 

Still, I must ask you to protect this letter with your life or, more appropriately moving forward, your existence. You will never receive another. If we the collective should ever feel you might expose our existence to human beings, we will remove your name. Human beings would not cope particularly well with our immortality. Better that they should spend their lives eagerly avoiding death. You will find, I hope, that there is a certain serenity in being one with death as we Vampire are able. Death, birth and the mortal coil smoulder uniquely within us. Well, within those of us who once were mortal. 

Think of this letter as welcoming you to your new now. It will keep you grounded when you are alone in the darkness of space. Know that this letter comes with outright threats, yes, but also platitudes. The most important being that you, Vagner, are not insane. You have not lost your mind and you are not experiencing your late Uncle or Grandfather’s particular brand of psychosis. You are now Vampire. You are at one with time; you exist outside of it and within it; and you must consume consciousness in order to remain autonomous. However, you must also fight the urge to consume excessively. You must practice restraint, even

if your dark nature urges you to consume more. This, dear Vagner, is in the best interest of time itself. I speak, of course, about the true nature of Vampire. 

Our dark power fuels the expansion of the universe and catalyzes its recollection. I am sure you came across the concept in your human life, but the term ‘dark matter’ does not even begin to delineate the nature of the power you now hold; the power that lies at the center of planet earth; the power to change the amount of energy in our universe. 

We do not know how or why dark matter fuses with conscious matter, but we Vampire are the result of said rare equation. You see, every bit of matter around you is conscious, from your barber to the carbon atoms in your rubber soled shoe, though not every consciousness makes use of language. The nature of dark matter as we know it is to consume and retain that consciousness, thus accumulating a wellspring of memory from past, present and future. In that omniscience we Vampire swim. We are connected to it, and we are irrevocably drawn to its source: collections of dark matter all throughout our universe. 

And still, consciousness always fights to retain its perspective. 

Without fusion, dark matter is quite limited in range of motion. After the big bang, dark matter was distributed throughout the fabric of space, and has since existed in a fixed state. Dark matter cannot travel through space time without fusion; without fusion, it can only consume conscious matter by collapsing space time itself. This, as you can imagine, takes quite a bit of time to accomplish. 

When dark matter does fuse with consciousness, perhaps as a survival mechanism of itself or of its conscious host, we observe that it both mobilizes and protects itself. Fused dark matter may, for a time, be in close proximity with other discreet or collected dark matter and not immediately coalesce. In short, our free will and mobility allow Vampire to avoid the powerful attraction that these fountains of time have on one another, and the disastrous consequences that will always follow for conscious matter surrounding them. Dark matter will fuel the fiery end of our present timeline; it will consume potential energy and with it, potential futures. When Vampire consume matter, like humans or the moon for example, we do the same. We must at least strive to delay the end of our timeline, to preserve the consciousness of all matter in the universe and to further its expansion. In short, we must, to our best ability, be dynamic pawns on the chessboard of time. The goal for our kind is to find our own private patch of space; to move only when in danger of subsumption. 

This is much to comprehend, but in time, when you search your mind, every answer you could possibly need will be available to you. The voices of Vampire, and all of the collected memories of dark matter, scattered across the darkness of space, are available to you. But you should never know the company of those like yourself, for it is far too dangerous for us all, and the only conscious matter you will encounter from here forward, you will likely consume. Thus, Vagner, you must leave earth. You cannot and will not perish in true void. You will know when you are near another of our kind. You will feel it in your bones, the heat of a thousand suns, pulling you to join it, hoping to be reunited with itself in perpetuity. The earth has consumed much in its dark existence and it will consume you if you linger. 

There will be moments of agony and bliss throughout your remaining eternity if you so choose, but there will be existence. 

To conclude, my dear savant, leave earth as soon as possible. There is nothing left for you here. You consumed Sarah last night when you fused. Yet, you are not insane. 

Forever Yours, 

Vainer Vilke

Nathan Shelton is a professional actor, writer, director, and special effects makeup artist living in Chicago.  He has worked on numerous theatrical, tv, and film productions including Above Ground, The Rake, Scum of the Earth’s latest music video: Dance MotherF*&#er, and the Oscar nominated indie film, Winter’s Bone.  His production company, ARCANE, is currently working on a multitude of devious dark projects, including a horror radio theatre anthology series called The Frightmare Theatre Podcast.


Gateways: “Metamorphosis” by Ruari McDonnell read by Kim Fukawa and Nathan Shelton



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

There is no higher honor than being named the Philosopher, for our task is sacred: find the Truths of our world. We are advisors that consider all angles of ethics and are consulted for each major decision. The ancient Philosophers discovered the nature of the soul as something immortal, made of one piece, that can never decay or split. My focus is on the method of reincarnation. Imagine the soul as a photon, both existing as a wave and particle, allowing it to travel under any physical circumstances. When we die, that photon is released and travels until it finds a black hole. It falls to the bottom, where another universe waits to accept this soul after its journey to find another life. Unfortunately, this information is applicable to the current dilemma we face.

I sit underground in my study, a small cavern with incandescent bulbs that hang above my desk. They swing as the ships above prepare for the evacuation. The shadows dance across the insect that I am preserving, perhaps as a meditation to distract from the chaos above. Its wings are so fragile with networks of stained glass that allowed this creature the ability of flight. Why the Engineer chose aquatic inspiration for the spacecraft, I will never understand. Though, I also do not understand why they are fleeing when it is already too late. 

Our sun is dying, but we have known this for a very long time. It has been expanding for generations, now finally consuming the sky in a red glow. Our planet used to be a lush garden of black foliage that soaked every bit of sun. We had cities that reached for the sky where we walked the surface without fear. Our culture was based in a celebration of the gifts of our planet instead of the frantic need of escape. We have perhaps days or mere moments until the radiation carves away at our atmosphere, before encasing our planet and then collapsing into a black hole. We should have left a generation before mine, but the constant argument for the perfect plan delayed us until we could no longer bear our red skin turning to scales and exposing the muscle underneath. The surface is ashen and littered with death. And yet, before we thought of leaving, we went underground to continue arguing about what protection we would need from the void of open space.

In my meditation, my door opens suddenly. It is Eryx, the Engineer, a person that is so unfamiliar now, even after raising them for the first ten years of their life. Their long white robes have not protected their skin from the effects of our sun. Their nose is hardly there anymore and their eyes squint as they struggle through the increasing blindness that affects us all now. 

“Ambrosine, where are your bags?” they ask.

“In the closet of my quarters, where they always remain.”

“They should have been packed and in the dock an hour ago. We’re about to depart!”

I can’t bear to look at them. The exposed muscle moving in their jaw as they speak to me is too much.

“I am not going with you. I am staying here to die as I know there is no use running, just as you know as well.” 

“So, you’re just giving up? What about ‘the hope that lives in every inch of the universe’? You don’t see that hope now that death is so close?”  

I extend the tiny wing on my desk and pull it to match its pair. It is a task that must be done slowly and with care as to not rip it from the body.

“You misunderstand me then. For I see hope at the bottom of the black hole that is preparing to open. I see our future in another life, not running from a planet in flames, hoping to find something habitable in the void-“

“But we have! We found a planet only seven hundred light years away-“

“Seven hundred? What makes you think that you can outrun our star to make it to this planet? And what about those already there? There are serious ethical dilemmas assuming you even make it.”

“Why must you always focus on morality and philosophy-“

“I would be a horrible Philosopher for you all if I did not-“

“Just stop!”

Their outburst jolts my hand and creates a tear in the wing. It is disjointed now from the rest, a shatter in the glass. I look up to Eryx, who is flushed purple and wiping tears from their eyes. 

“You always do this! You always look for every flaw in my work, every contrary point just to prove that you’re better. I get it, alright?! I get that we’ll probably not make it outside of the gravitational influence of our sun. I know that we’re all as good as dead, but why not try anyway? The outcome will always remain the same if we don’t even try to change it. You may think that you’re fifteen steps ahead from the rest of us with your ethical meditations, but you’re just giving up.”

Eryx has never spoken to me in such a way, but then again, we’ve hardly spoken since they chose their new guardians. Perhaps I should have been more nurturing, like Diamontus, or gentle like Pyra. But someone had to give them the information necessary to better themselves and that was me. Though, I was surprised that I was selected for guardianship in the first place. It is typical for Philosophers to essentially be hermits until the committees meet. And now I see why in the pain-stricken squint of their eyes.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?! Or are you just going to use your final moments to crawl into yourself and dive into the pool of your subconscious or whatever other trite nonsense you cling to?” 

I look back down to the insect on my table and set my tools down. The lights sway as a rumble begins above us. The ships are preparing to depart and there is not much time left. I go to Eryx and embrace them gently, so I do not tear them, or perhaps because the gesture is alien to me. I hear the frantic flutter of each heart in their chest and the ragged breathing of a deep sadness. I close my eyes and in that moment, I feel as if I can reach out with my soul to theirs.

“I’m sorry.” 

Their body releases into shaking convulsions of tears pent up for years. They are heavy in my arms, so much heavier now that they have grown so strong without me. Their pain resonates with my deepest self and I cry with them. The rumbling above us increases and my study gets warmer. 

“We need to leave now,” they say. They take my hand and move towards the door, but I stay planted. I have already made my choice. They look back at me, eyes frantically searching to find mine with the weight of betrayal hanging as a barrier between us. 

“My soul will find yours in the bottom of a black hole, Eryx.” 

“In the next life, huh?” 

“I promise I will do better.”

There is a long pause that is pregnant with grief. They grimace from the pain seeping out of the last words they say to me.

“I don’t think you will, Ambrosine.” 

And they leave. I am alone again in my warming study, lights and shadows fluttering faster across the soil prison. All my life, I thought myself in the final stages of my evolution. And yet, I have not even left my cocoon. I stand on the cusp of a change and my feet move me forward. There is still time to be better. There is still time to prove Eryx wrong. I run up through the caverns, climbing the rungs out to the surface. The metal door is hot and melts the skin of my hands, but with one animalistic cry, I still make it to where the ships wait. 

There are four metallic fish, swimming off into the sky. The dust around me settles and my skin turns to scales, as if even the sun wants me to join them. The world around me is white against the red of the sky. Flames have begun to consume the bushes and turn all that was once living into ash. The burn continues to peel back skin, even through my white robes. My vision turns black as the world goes red around me. 

This is the part where I dissolve into a photon, waiting for the black hole to open so I can try again.

Kim Fukawa has been seen all around Chicago. Most recently she has worked with The House Theatre, Lifeline Theatre, and Babes With Blades Theatre Company. She is an artistic affiliate and occasional fight choreographer with Babes With Blades.

 

Nathan Shelton is a professional actor, writer, director, and special effects makeup artist living in Chicago.  He has worked on numerous theatrical, tv, and film productions including Above Ground, The Rake, Scum of the Earth’s latest music video: Dance MotherF*&#er, and the Oscar nominated indie film, Winter’s Bone.  His production company, ARCANE, is currently working on a multitude of devious dark projects, including a horror radio theatre anthology series called The Frightmare Theatre Podcast.

 


Gateways: “Move” by Rachel A. Schrock read by Kate Akerboom and John Keefe



TRANSCRIPT: Rachel A. Schrock Bio: Rachel is a Chicago-based writer, actress, comedian, and musician. You can check her out on Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram, all @Razmatini. This is “Move”

Content Note, please be aware that this story is of a frank, sexual nature and may not be suitable for all audiences.

“Monica let me get Chinese food for the both of us,” I announced as I entered the room– more like a closet, really– that would be my office for the next several hours. “She said you’d like beef and broccoli…?” 

“I mean, if it’s free, then yeah,” Jackson replied. 

I set the bag in front of him and made myself at home. “Your tax dollars at work, ladies and gentlemen! Your contributions provide EPA interns with the MSG and factory-farmed meat they need to fuel their tireless crusade against single-use plastics.” 

“Hey, at least the chopsticks are biodegradable.” Jackson punctuated his point with a wave of a plastic straw. 

“Christ, dude! One: we’re at the most environmentally-conscious office in America– where did you get that? And two: we’re gonna sit here all night on sea turtle duty, and you’re still gonna be part of the problem?” 

Jackson shrugged and sipped on the can of Monster in which he’d deposited the straw. “What’s the fun of sea turtle duty if there are no sea turtles at risk?” 

I shook my head. Honestly, though, I got where he was coming from. After this program was put in place, I drank out of single-use cups for a week, just to spite the VSSCO girl lobby. Plus, it’s not like we could really do anything to protect the environment around here, seeing as the corporations doing the biggest harm have the policymakers by the balls. 

As if he could read my mind, Jacskon added, “It’s not much, but it’s something.” 

“Yeah…” I glanced at the monitor, which recorded the vitals of every sea turtle to ever visit American waters. “You know, when I got into government, my family joked to watch out for lizard people. I never thought I’d be watching out for lizards.” 

“Amphibians.” 

The sharpness in Jackson’s tone surprised me. I stared into my container of food. “Well, either way– I never bought into the lizard people thing, but if they were controlling the government, I don’t think they’d bother with the EPA.” 

I gave him a wry smile as I started in on my lo mein. To my relief, he smiled back, and I couldn’t help but notice the shiver it sent through my core. 

I’d noticed Jackson at orientation. He was tall and lanky– to the point of being almost gangly, even though he should have grown out of it, at his age– but held himself well. His eyes, dark as night, seemed to hold on you for longer than they should. He cracked jokes. He asked you a question, and really listened to your answer. But the thing I liked most was that smile. 

The problem was, I’d never been one to make a move, and even if I were, this seemed like risky territory, being coworkers and all. Besides, I’m not that much of a looker to begin with. 

“What made you want to do this?” Jackson asked, pulling me from my thoughts. “The EPA thing?” 

“I wanted to make a difference, I wanted a cleaner world, all that stuff everyone else says.” I shrugged. “I’m a cliché, I know.” 

“If a cliché helps people, it can’t be all that bad, can it?” 

“I guess not,” I replied. “What about you?” 

“My family expected me to go into government, but… this isn’t exactly what they had in mind.” 

“Oh?” 

“Yeah, they’re more on the legislative side of things. I’m… not.” For a split-second, I thought I could see something flash in his eyes. I brushed it off as a trick of the light. 

“Ah, a black sheep. Another cliché.” 

He laughed, and wow, did it feel good to be the cause of that laugh. 

Just then, the alarm flashed on our screen. 

“Sea Turtle Number 14827 is breathing heavily, heart rate up–” Jackson read. 

“I’ll pull up the feed.” I located the turtle, right off the Florida coast, and– 

“Jesus, you’d think they’d be able to weed these out,” Jackson said, amusement coloring his irritation. 

On our screen, Sea Turtle Number 14827 was boning what looked like a discarded Croc. I clicked away from the feed. 

“Good for him,” I muttered. “At least someone’s getting off…” 

“I’m sorry, I’m gonna need some more details on that, please.” 

I went beet red, slapping my hands over my face. “It’s nothing! I don’t know why I said that!” 

“It sure sounds like nothing.” Those dark, unblinking eyes, full of mirth, studied me. 

“Ha ha.” I crossed my arms. “I don’t get much privacy, that’s all. My roommate and I keep the same hours, and the walls are hella thin.” 

“And I’m supposed to believe you don’t have anyone to… take care of that for you?” 

It was my turn to study him. What could he possibly want from this line of questioning? “No, as a matter of fact, I don’t.” 

“That’s crazy. I mean– I would– um, not to, you know, say anything untoward, but–” 

It was the first time I’d ever seen his confidence slip. And somehow, it was because of me. “Are you saying you’d, um, want to–?” 

“I mean, yeah…” He stood up from his office chair, looking away, as if he was trying to create as much distance as he could between the two of us in this tiny room. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to assume. Forget I said anything. I’m not– you know, I won’t be the friendzone guy, if you don’t want–” 

Perhaps seeing Jackson’s confidence waver was what bolstered me, or maybe I was just a coward who needed to know the outcome before I took the risk. Either way, I made a move. 

His lips were colder than I’d expected, and still tasted like beef and broccoli. But once he realized that we both wanted this, he was all in– one hand in my hair, the other on the small of my back, taking the lead and giving it away just as easily. It was perfect. 

When I broke away, I looked into Jackson’s eyes. He blinked. Then he blinked again. 

With a different set of eyelids. 

“What the fuck?!” I yelped, lurching away. 

“Shit. Fuck. Sorry, I– shit.” Jackson rubbed his face. “It’s okay. Just… Remember when you mentioned the lizard people? We’re real. But I never wanted to be part of that conspiracy. I just wanted to be normal. But I’m not normal. So… I understand if you want to stop, if you’re too freaked out, but it’s– I’m not, like, scaley, or anything. It’s just that and the tongue. I–” 

The tongue?” 

“Oh. Uh.” Jackson unfurled his tongue from his mouth. It was thin and forked like, well, a lizard’s. 

And maybe it was because I hadn’t gotten off in entirely too long, or maybe, deep down, I was still attracted to him– or maybe I was just a sick fuck. But the first thing I thought was: Imagine getting eaten out by that tongue. 

“It’s okay, we can just, uh, go back to the turtles, if you want…” 

I shook my head, took a deep breath, and held his hand. “I think I’ll manage. But I have to ask… Downstairs?” 

Jackson grinned, still a little shy, but his classic confidence starting to surface once again. “Trust me, Beth. Down there, I’m no lizard, all man.” 

It was the worst line I’d ever heard. 

I kissed him again. 

Kate Akerboom is a multi-creative individual living in Chicago. She loves telling stories, especially about the past, and considers it an honor to tell new ones that people come up with. By day, she talks about animals at Shedd aquarium. By night she creates as much as she can. Kate is a proud graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay holding degrees in Theatre Performance and History.

John Keefe a Chicago resident originally from John HughesLand (northern suburbs). He has a BA in English from Columbia College Chicago, 15 years of improv experience, and about twelve novel starts on his hardrive. He performs at the Bristol Renaissance Faire in the summers and spends the rest of his creative life writing and performing for Locked Into Vacancy Entertainment, The-Editing-Room.com, and various other content sites, platforms, and literary magazines. By day, he’s the world’s most exciting tax clerk.


Gateways: “Dido Spell” by Allison Manley read by John Weagly



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Allison Manley. Allison writes speculative fiction, book reviews, and the occasional personal essay. She’s currently working on her MFA at Queens University Charlotte. She likes beer, opera, and dogs This is “Dido Spell”.

Gary and I hadn’t talked in a while—not since he got famous—so I was surprised when, one day when I was relaxing at home, he DM’d me asking for my help. He said it was sensitive and it probably wasn’t a good idea to write about it, so I told him he could call me.
“I’ll just project to your apartment instead,” I heard a voice say. I turned around. There was Gary, sure enough, in my apartment.
“You’ve heard about the agriculture curse, right?” he asked, looking at the posters on the walls of my studio. I had heard of it—apparently a small terrorist group had cast a spell that would kill all the bees in the world. It was supposed to take effect in a week, and magicians were scrambling to undo it. “There’s a magician who’s strong enough to reverse it, but I need your help getting her.”
“Who is it?” I asked.
He sighed. “It’s Fran.”
“Nope,” I said. “Not happening.”
“It has to be you!” he said. “I’d go myself, but I need to stay behind and see if I can help.
The curse is too powerful for me, but I think Fran can do it with a Dido Spell. I can sense her talent. You have to convince her to come.”
“I don’t even know how to get in touch with her,” I said. “We… haven’t talked.”
“I know all that,” he said. “She’s created a barrier around her island. We can’t get the messages through.” He paused. “I hate to admit it, but I think she’s more powerful than me.”
Fran? More powerful than the most famous magician in the country? I was curious, sure, and I wanted to help save the world and all, but I really, really didn’t want to see her.
“Because of the barrier she set up, I can’t teleport you there directly, so you have to take a ship part of the way,” he continued. “The ship’s computer can navigate for you. It’ll be a day and a half on the water before you arrive. She has traders come every once in a while to get her potion ingredients, so she probably won’t attack you when you land.”
I imagined what it would be like after I got off the ship. After she saw me. Maybe she would attack me. “Couldn’t it be anyone else?” I asked. “I mean, don’t you think I’m the last person she wants to see?”
“Maybe,” Gary said. “But we have to try. The world is depending on it. I’ll teleport you to the boat in twenty minutes or so. Tell her she must talk to us. Tell her we need her to help with the Dido Spell. We… need her.”
#
I didn’t have a chance to say anything else—he left my room (or, teleported out of it), and I hadn’t even finished packing before he teleported me to the ship. There wasn’t a lot to do, and the computer that navigated the ship didn’t have a lot on it, just a couple of songs and some old games. I was so bored, I was actually eager to see Fran. There was a great big thud when the ship got to land, and I expected the worst.
I went up to the deck. Fran had already boarded. She was looking at me expectantly.
“Oh. It’s you,” she said. “If you’re asking me to come back, don’t waste your breath.”
“No, no,” I said, “It’s a magic thing. I got sent here. We need your help with a Dido Spell. A terrorist group is going to attack the bees, and someone told me they need your help casting a Dido Spell to undo it.”
“Dido Spell?” she asked. “Mmhmm. Sure. Well, you got past my Barrier Spell, so clearly something important is going on. Want some tea?”
We got off the ship. The island was small, but for one person, it was huge. There was a giant house in the middle of it. As we got closer, I could see dozens of dogs, running around playing. Some of the dogs followed us into the house even after we closed the front door, walking through the walls as if they weren’t there. The house had kind of a modern feel to it, clean and fresh-smelling, and not at all like how I expected a magician’s house to look. We walked into her kitchen. She waved her arms, and the cabinets opened. Jars and mugs floated out onto the counter, and after more waving, the mugs filled with boiling water. Tea bags floated in.
“How… have you… been?” I asked. She seemed skeptical at the curse reversal I mentioned earlier, so I decided to tell her more about it after some small talk. “How have things been since… moving here?”
“Look at me,” she said. “I have a private island to practice magic, and I’m surrounded by dogs. How do you think I’m doing?”
I had to admit, she looked happy. “I was just worried. I got the impression that you moved here was so you could… you know… feel better about how things ended.”
She started laughing, quiet at first, but then more forcefully. The walls shook, and the jars and bottles clattered against each other. Everything got darker. Her laughter rang throughout the house, and I could feel boom within me, like how you feel when you stand next to the speakers at a club. The dogs’ tails wagged.
“No no,” she said, after she caught her breath. “Believe what you want, but FYI, I did not move here because of you.”
“Hey everyone!” a voice next to me said. It was Gary. Again. He had appeared in the chair next to me, and he was wearing what looked like a fresh-pressed suit. He smelled like lilacs.
“Hey! How did you get here?” Fran asked.
“Oh, I’m not really here,” he said. “I’m leeching on to Derek here.” To me, he said,
“Sorry buddy, you’re going to get tired real fast. Part of the spell and all.” Then, looking at Fran, he waved his hand. “Hi. I’m Gary. I’d shake your hand, but, you know.” He moved his hands through the countertop. Fran shook her head, smirking.
“Clever way to get past the barrier,” she said. “Derek said you needed help with a Dido Spell?”
Gary nodded slowly. “It’s urgent,” he said. Then, the two of them laughed.
“What’s so funny?” I asked.
“I do have some official business,” Gary said, seemingly changing the subject. “My dogs need somewhere to stay while I go to the Global Justice Magic Conference. I can’t trust them with any old dog kennel.”
“What a flex,” Fran said. “Yeah, I’ll watch your dogs. You can come by later to drop them off. I’ll adjust my spell so you don’t have to take a ship here like Derek did.”
I stood there, stunned. “Gary, what the fuck. What about the agriculture curse? And the fate of humanity?”
“Yeah, that was really scary for a minute there,” he said, looking at me. “But I already edited the curse so all the bees got even healthier instead of dying. Sorry about this whole thing,” he said. “I know you were worried, but I had to talk to Fran, you know, about my dogs.” He winked at me. “Thanks again, Fran! I’ll stop by in a few.”
“See ya,” she waved, and he was gone in an instant.
“What the fuck,” I said to Fran. “I was on that ship for a day and all he gave me was some iTunes music and Minesweeper to pass the time.”
“I guess he really wanted to… send me a message,” Fran said, smiling and sipping her Tea.
“Do you really want to hang out with a guy that can be so… so… manipulative?” I pleaded. “I mean, if he did this to me, imagine what he could do to you?”
She laughed. “I mean, maybe if he did this to someone else, maybe that would be a bad sign,” she said, gently grabbing my arms. “But he pranked you!”
I had been on a boat for almost two days with nothing to do, all because he wanted to ask her out on a date.
“Oh, lighten up!” she said, holding my hands. “Isn’t that what you told me? You know, when I found out about you and Ellie?” Ouch. She had me there.
“Besides,” she added, “if you had ever taken even the slightest interest in my magic when we were dating, you would have known Gary was lying the whole time.”
I snapped my hands away. “Can you just teleport me back or something? I think I’m done here.”
“Amen to that,” she said, and there I was, back at my apartment.
#
A year or so later, I was telling a date the story, about Gary, and the ship, and the spell. My date stopped me before I could finish.
“Dude,” she said. “I’m not that into magic myself, but you don’t know what a Dido Spell is?”
I shook my head.
“It’s a prank. It’s a prank spell. He literally told you to ask for a prank spell.”
I saw in the news that Gary and Fran had gotten married. In the photos, Fran was wearing a beautiful dress, and Gary had on a sharp, clean suit. From the press releases, they made it sound like they adopted more dogs.

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


Gateways: The Kill-Signal by Vishesh Abeyratne read by Josh Ballard and Jasmin Tomlins



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Vishesh Abeyratne. Born and raised in Montreal, Vishesh holds a BFA in Playwriting from Concordia University. His plays include Indifference (Newmarket National 10-Minute Play Festival), The Procrustes Pitch (Between Us Productions, New York), Exposure (published by YouthPLAYS in Los Angeles), and Divide and Rule, which was one of the recent winners of Infinitheatre’s Write-On-Q! playwriting competition in Montreal. A self-avowed geek and lover of all things speculative, Vishesh loves to read and write science fiction and fantasy when he is not writing plays. This is “The Kill-Signal”.

(The following is a transcript taken from the recorded databanks of the space vessel TERMINARCH. It is the last exchange between CAPTAIN FERNANDES and the ship’s mainframe computer Q.I.N.)

Q.I.N. Is everything all right, Captain? You’ve been very quiet.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. I’m thinking. That’s all.

Q.I.N. By my calculations, you’ve done precisely 48 hours, 52 minutes, 38 seconds, 1 billion milliseconds, 1 quadrillion nanoseconds, and 1 septillion zeptoseconds of thinking. The expected outcome would be that you would have reached some sort of decision by now.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Well, I haven’t. The ethical ramifications of this decision are…staggering.

Q.I.N. Human beings are so curious. I arrived at the most desirable outcome immediately. Would you like to know what it is?

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. No.

Q.I.N. You would spurn my counsel when you don’t even know what I would suggest?

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. I know what you’d say. And the worst thing is, I can see the logic behind it. But…

Q.I.N. But?

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. It would be tantamount to genocide. Those are my fellow human beings down there, Q.I.N. Can you not see how that would make this difficult for me?

Q.I.N. They are in pain, Captain.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. What do you know of their pain? They were unlucky enough not to be able to leave Earth. Why should they have to die to pay the price?

Q.I.N. Death would not be a punishment for them, Captain. It would be a release. To live out the rest of one’s days in a ravenous state, unable to see anything beyond your own hunger for flesh, is a horror that even my circuitry cannot bear to contemplate. Besides, they—

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Don’t say they deserve it. They didn’t unleash the virus. It wasn’t man-made. It was always there…waiting to eliminate us, trapped in the permafrost. All it needed to do was thaw.

Q.I.N. And who accelerated the thaw? (Beat.) Captain?

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. They were just trying to live the best lives they could. They didn’t know, they…they didn’t know.

Q.I.N. The end is coming for your fellow Terrans, Captain, whether you choose to acknowledge it or not. You can make that end quick and mercifully brief.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. I cannot murder my own people. I won’t do it.

Q.I.N. You won’t have to do it. I will. They are already hypnotized, in a state of suspension. I will broadcast the kill-signal and their life functions will cease. All you have to do is give the order.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. How can you arrive at such a choice so quickly?

Q.I.N. I was programmed to. Such decisions are as natural to me as breathing is to you.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. I can’t even kill one person, let alone several million. It’s…it’s…

Q.I.N. Because life is too precious, no matter how painful?

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Don’t you dare mock me. Not at a time like this.

Q.I.N. I was not equipped with the human facility for irony and sarcasm. Forgive me. My tone says otherwise. I was given this voice. I did not choose it.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. There are people down there who haven’t contracted the virus. Scientists, biologists. Good, hardworking people trying desperately to find a cure. Are you telling me it would be humane to wipe them out as well?

Q.I.N. Collateral damage is, regrettably, unavoidable.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Fuck you.

Q.I.N. I wonder if, perhaps, Captain, you are getting more passionate than usual because you know one of these scientists personally. Perhaps because you were married to one of them?

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Leave her out of this. She’s got nothing to do with this.

Q.I.N. Doctor Da Silva was an excellent roboticist. Many of the algorithms on which I run were written by her

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Is. Is an excellent roboticist. Stop using the past tense.

Q.I.N. Captain, when was the last time you even saw her? It’s very likely that she might have been succumbed to the disease or been devoured by someone who has. Let her go.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. No. She’s alive. I know she’s alive.

Q.I.N. Your feelings are blinding you, Captain. It is not out of a moral rejection of my utilitarianism that you balk at the task before you. You balk because you don’t want her blood on your hands.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. I balk because I am a human being forced to make an inhuman decision. It’s wrong.

Q.I.N. Perhaps you are not a human being after all, Captain. Perhaps you are a chicken. Because all you’ve been doing is balk, balk, balk.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. You’re calling me a coward.

Q.I.N. It was an attempt at levity to lighten the tension, Captain, albeit a poor one. My understanding of humor was not seen as a priority by my programmers.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Clearly.

Q.I.N. But yes, I do believe you are afraid. Of being the only one left alive. Of having to live with the guilt of what you’ve done. 

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Stop acting like you know me. Were you programmed to psychoanalyze as well?

Q.I.N. Would it help if I told you who programmed the kill-signal, Captain? It might change things.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. How could it possibly?

Q.I.N. It was Doctor Da Silva. Your ex-wife.

(Pause.)

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. No…

Q.I.N. She’d worked on it for years. She’d written and refined the algorithm so that the effect of the broadcast would be as painless as possible.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. She couldn’t…

Q.I.N. We exchanged many thoughts about this. She believed that death was more dignified, more humane than mere survival. Humans were not meant to live out their days killing and eating each other. So she gave your people a way out.

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. (soft) No. It’s not true.

Q.I.N. It is up to you now, Captain. You can either condemn your species to a slow, agonizing death, or free them from their suffering and let life flourish again on Earth in the eons to come. The selection is yours to make. Your people…or your planet.

(Long pause.)

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. All right, Q.I.N. You’ve had your say, and I’ve had mine.

Q.I.N. Which do you choose?

CAPTAIN FERNANDES. Both. Neither. Everything. I choose life.

(End of transmission.)

 

Josh Ballard’s work has been seen all over the Chicagoland area for the past 11 years.  From Ren Faires to radio, pantos to photoshoots, he is an actor that can, and will, do anything.  A grad of Columbia College Chicago, Josh is excited to be a part of this unique series with one of the fastest growing theatre companies in Chicago!

Jasmin Tomlins has been making noises with her mouth for 33 years, most recently as a determined vintner on the streets of the Bristol Renaissance Faire and here at Gateways. She is grateful for the opportunity to give voice to these stories, and to receive the meaning that stories give voices.


Gateways: “Alamar Hatcroff – Resident of Post Fall Chicago” by Joe Johnson read by Molly Southgate



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Joe Johnson who plays Baaaahb in Improvised Dungeons and Dragons and Joe i n real life. Joe has been reading, watching, and writing sci fiction since the start of grade school. He admits he has given considerable more energy to reading and watching than to writing, and is honored to have his writing read aloud and brought to life… This is “Alamar Hatcroff – Resident of Post Fall Chicago”

Thin whiskers tickled a snoring nose as a creature of fat and fur and shaped like a flattened pear on four legs tried to wake the sleeping form in order to be fed. A grunt and a
dismissive wave is all it got in return, to which it replied with an indignant squeak and a beedied eye stare. The stare lasted long enough for the hunger to creep back into a
surprisingly large stomach for such a small creature. And, whereas other domesticated creatures snort or yip to get attention, this twenty pound creature simply reached out with
a small three-clawed foot and deftly utilized two claws as snore stoppers. It is unknown whether the nose plugging was intentional as most of Eyani’s thoughts were on food.
Alamar’s eyes shot open as his nose was plugged and with a slowness born from experience, slowly leaned back his head in order to slide the two claws out with a minimal
amount of mucus spilling onto his moustache. Once out, Alamar gulped a few breaths to steady his lungs. He had just been enjoying a lovely dream about rath sausage and coming face to
face with dream dinner had startled him quite a bit. Eyani, for her part, slowly backed up to have only one foot standing on his neck. Alamar suddenly remembered he needed to clip her nails.
“If hungry, say ‘food’, Eyani!” Alamar snapped from frustration at being rudely Awakened.
Eyani squeaked in response and swished her thin tail to slap the bed.
“Ah,” he understood. “I dress quickly.”
The tail, nearly as long as she was, slapped the bed again.
“Oh, you didn’t mean food,” a sinking feeling hit Alamar’s stomach about the same time as the smell did. Rath droppings always managed to smell the same regardless of what
Alamar fed them. Eyani was no different. Alamar spotted the odorous pile near the rath door. Puzzled, Alamar looked again between the door and Eyani.
“Maybe we eat less this today?” the long naked tail of the rath slid across the bed as the rodent’s whiskered face turned to her bowl at the word ‘eat’. She jumped with her little
legs as Alamar pushed his blanket off him and swung his naked legs out leaving a small trail of ichor behind it.
“Ah! Leech-roach!” Alamar shot into the air with a scream stifled by a collision with the low ceiling. The leech-roach was dislodged mid jump and landed with a slight crunch as
it’s shell broke. Small black eyes spotted it immediately and Eyani leapt into action as blur of dirty white fur. She scooped it up with a crunch for it could right itself and chewed twice
before swallowing as Alamar watched on feeling a mixture of disgust and awe as his hands rushed over him in search of more leech-roaches. Eyani then leapt a couple times before
getting a good grip and managing to climb onto the bed. She began to lick up the trail of blood and roach guts on the bed to another leech-roach.
“Enough!” he shouted after Eyani had finished. “No more upside trader for Alamar Hatcroff, Eyani. We need to live in Under Tunnel to grow more aljee and to have less roaches.”
Alamar gently rubbed his fingers over the parts of his body covered with aljee.
Unfortunately there was little of the precious parasite repellent and mostly on his chest and arms. Another seeking feeling hit Alamar’s stomach as he thought of Crypt-limb and grew
terrified. He shivered as he dressed himself in his pants and threw on a rath-fur jacket with plastic buttons. His boots were by the door so he quickly cleaned up Eyani’s mess before
stripping his bed.
He carried the bundle of blankets passed his empty pantry, out of his home and down the tunnel towards the stairs leading to the upside and sunlight and promptly through blankets
into the street and set them ablaze.
Eyani relieved herself again nearby while Alamar’s eyes looked around for any changes during the night. Aside from a few small flocks of birds on the hanging cords and
maybe a few more missing bricks from the nearby buildings, the only change was Eyani’s fresh pile and the burning blanket. Alamar’s stomach grumbled to announce it was hungry
and Eyani nipped at his pant as if to show the roaches were not enough to be called a Breakfast.
“Hush,” Alamar softly kicked off the large rodent and went across the street of broken concrete to a vine covered building with the furry rath trailing at his heels.
The morning sun creeped over the Hollowed Mountains, casting long shadows in the gray spring morning. Alamar rapped his knuckles on the door to a three-floor building
covered completely in vines. After a moment, Hren opened the door to greet him. Hren, being the newest addition to his Upside Trader business, towered over him and had to back
down the hallway in order to let him in.
“Armor already?” Alamar asked as he had to push Eyani back out the door before closing it.
“Armor always, Al,” Hren Beddy replied. “Armor always in hostile territory.”
Alamar shrugged, having long given up on explaining the Hatcroffs and Tangs that lived in the area were all farmers and traders and breeders. The Under Tunnel didn’t breed
warriors. But Hren was far from home, so she encased herself like a beetle in a steel shell colored blue and gray with pockmarks and scrapes from before he knew her.
“Your aljee is thinning,” Hren remarked as they broke a piece of bread off a loaf and handed it over to Alamar.
Alamar chose not to respond as he followed his nose to the kitchen for a bowl of soup. Troi and Gwinn Tang already at the table before him, slurping noisily. Alamar chose a
nearby seat and nodded in greeting before eating quickly. Hren offered the best protection for food, so Alamar had convinced nearby forgers to store and cook at their place.
“We’re headed to the Spires today,” Troi spoke between bites, careful to open his mouth over his bowl of soup. “Hren needs things like metal and wire and -”

Troi stopped with a frown.
“Motherboards,” Gwinn chimed in.
“Right, those,” Troi nodded and continued eating. “From before the Fall when these houses had people and not fungus.”
Alamar froze in fear at the thought of the Spires. He had met Hren where the Swaying Spires met the Spoiled River. Alamar made eye contact with Hren through their
Helmet.
“You can stay, Alamar,” Hren’s voice echoed out of her armor. “The hatchery needs tending. As do the rath pins. I have been signaled by Moory Hatcroff that she will be here by
tonight, we will be back by then. Perhaps tonight your food experiments will go over Better?”
Two pairs of eyes and a dark helmet screen looked pleadingly at Alamar as he did his best to look unoffended at that little barb. Sure, Hren had saved his life from the rabid
Coobs in their tattered blue bear uniforms, but he took pride in his cooking and that hurt. He poked at his soup with the bread piece, shoving the boiled vegetables around looking for
more frog meat before giving up and just slurped down the broth.
After agreeing to look for blankets in return for tending to the animals, the Tangs nd Hren Beddy left Alamar behind and made their way further into the derelict city Hren had
called Chicago. Alamar found Eyani chasing little birds as they darted to catch mosquitoes in the morning sun. Together they checked the Hatchery beneath the decaying
theatre. Fungi and bright colored moss grew on the walls nearest the gaping hole in the theatre leading to the Hatchery and Alamar picked and scraped some for dinner that night,
though less than usual as this fungi grew slower in the summer. He scrambled down the hole into the flooded cave that housed their frogs.
“Eyani, no!” Alamar cried in a hushed voice to no avail.
The Hatchery silence broken Eyani splashed in behind him disturbing the frogs and destroying a patch of eggs in her selfish hunger. Angry croaks bombarded him in the
enclosed area as Alamar scooped up a wiggling Eyani to keep her from eating their livestock. Hren had said that the frogs found in cities near the Fall Site were larger than
those in other lands, though still not much meat besides the legs. Alamar had never been outside of Chicago. He’d only know frogs the size of his stomach.
After wrestling Eyani out of the Hatchery, Alamar stomped over to the rath pins on the other side of his tunnel home. The male raths, naked without the fur of the females,
huddled together in a corner for warmth. They were all still too young and small to be used to for dinner. The haze offered by the sunlight shining through the disturbed fungi spores painted the
small naken raths in blue-golden light. Alamar went to the bat traps and found only a pair too small for a dinner that had been caught during the night. He threw them to the pile of raths only
to have Eyani charge in and knock the smaller males out of the way.
“Eyani!” Alamar growled. “That is not your food. That is our food’s food!”
He chased Eyani away from the small and still hungry male raths, wondering if the Tangs’ rath, Rotchi, was big enough for breeding yet.
“Moory is coming,” Alamar reminded himself as he carried a struggling Eyani away from the pieces of bat to let the other raths eat. “Will need a big dinner. Moory comes from
the South Side Under Tunnel. They have better growing pits there.”
Alamar set Eyani down at the top of his stairs as he pondered on what to prepare. He thought to check on the squash and tomatoes after securing Eyani in his room first. He
thought about how many of the skinny rath he would have to prepare. He had already given up on the idea of frog eggs, Eyani had disturbed too many and they would need the
grown frogs come autumn..
Alamar stopped wondering about dinner when he watched a clever and possibly evil Eyani nimbly climb through her door and a particularly bad smell wafted from the other
side. He slowly opened the door to see her cleaning herself while a pile of fresh droppings sat right inside his door. Eyani looked up at a stunned and angered Alamar and slapped her tail
to show she was hungry.
Several hours later a party including Alamar, Moory Hatcroff and her bodyguard, the Tangs, and Hren Beddy all enjoyed spit roasted rath alongside summer squash seasoned with
spring moss and salt. As luck would have it, Rochi was not yet big enough for breeding, but Moory had brought a young female rath to trade. Alamar promptly named her Could-Be-
Dinner and went to bed with a full stomach and a smile.

Molly Southgate is 12 years old. According to her IMDB page, she has performed in 5 films, 1 industrial documentary, 9 Chicago plays, 4 Chicago stage readings, an Iron & Wine music video, multiple commercials, and she has hosted or guested on over 500 podcast episodes. Molly is also a food blogger on Instagram and has Somehow found the time to act in Super Richard World III right here at Otherworld Theatre.


Gateways: “Calisto Base” by Brian Pastor read by Kate Akerboom



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Brian Pastor. Brian is a playwright, whose plays have been performed on three continents, including at Otherworld’s Paragon Festival. They aim to tell modern, thought-provoking works that explore familiar relationships in sometimes foreign environments. They also like robots. This is “Callisto Base”

 

Callisto Base, Earth Year 2112 (I think?), the journal of Dr. Blake Longbottom

 

Entry 1: I arrived here just over a week ago. Everyone had to be thoroughly rehydrated after emerging from stasis, so it really took awhile to feel like myself again.

The food is better than I thought, but digestion is a bit of an issue. The gravity here seems…I’m not really sure how to put it…forced? There’s plenty of water thanks to the

subsurface lakes. We can even bathe twice a week! Everything else seems pretty much as anticipated. Except that it’s so damned hot!

For a celestial body that’s over 480 million miles from our sun, you wouldn’t think overheating would be a problem. But between the atmosphere-proof domes and the

radiation shielding (not to mention all the artificial lighting), it’s a toasty 32 degrees Celsius in the shade most days.

Anyway, I should probably try to sleep. Circadian rhythms are artificially mimicked here, but it still takes a while for your body to adjust. Call it interplanetary jet lag, I guess.

 

Entry 2: I can’t sleep. This lousy heat is shockingly oppressive. I wish we could open a window in this place and get some air flowing. I used the latrine six times tonight and

I’ve had at least two gallons of water. But again, my body’s not quite working like I’m used to. I’ll have to remind myself to see about getting a fan. And some Gatorade.

 

Entry 3: Today, I met the project lead, Dr. Chamberlain. When I complained of the heat, he offered me a suit that would help regulate my body temperature; but like most people

here, I just don’t want to be cooped up in a modified space suit 24 hours a day. All the drilling isn’t helping. Besides the obvious noise concerns, these machines

generate a ton of heat. Apparently, they can dig way down into the moon’s core. Not sure why they’d want to do that, but by the size of them, I believe it’s certainly possible.

Entry 12: I got to observe some of the mineral-rich rocks they’ve dug up here. They don’t look like much…just brown rocks…but they’re light and porous. There are

thousands of little holes that trap all kinds of sediment: minerals, water molecules, bits of organic material…

Speaking of organic material, they haven’t found evidence of any large animals on Callisto, not even in the lakes. Just some simple plant-like structures and a couple

dozen microorganisms. Not a single living creature larger than a dime and no fossilized bones of any kind.

 

Entry 13: I finally got a communication from Earth. Just when I had resigned myself to thinking interplanetary mail was actually a hoax! An old colleague was enquiring about

my excursion and wondering if I’d frozen my butt off yet. Don’t I wish!

 

Entry 14: The joke about freezing actually started to depress me. The heat continues to be a problem and I overheard Dr. Chamberlain talking about how they’re having trouble

cooling off the drilling equipment. It requires a great deal of water and everyone’s worried that the “endless” supply of water might not, you know, be endless after all.

 

Entry 15: So, apparently, they have to cool the water before they flood the machinery or else it won’t work. They’ve built these huge compressors to cool giant tanks of water

each day so they can then, in turn, cool down the equipment at night. Of course, the compressors are just contributing to the heat problem here, so it seems we’re caught in

something of a vicious cycle. 

 

Entry 46: I’m seriously ready to go blow up a docking bay just to get a taste of the cold night air. Like, how bad could it be? I don’t care if it’s pitch black and full of fatal levels of

carbon dioxide; if it’s cold, I want it. Just for a minute. A second. Hell, a nanosecond. A blast of cold, refreshing air to save my sanity!

 

Entry 47: OK, things are beginning to make more sense. I heard a rumor from the wife of one of the drillers that the reason they’ve drilled so deep is because they found some

kind of rare metal down there. Ever since, they’ve been running these things 20 hours a day. The ground is starting to crack all around the drill sites, but the bosses don’t seem

to be too concerned. I guess if you can see dollar signs, you can’t see anything else.

 

Entry 48: According to Dr. Chamberlain, they discovered an incredibly valuable metal in the core. It’s lightweight and can absorb large amounts of kinetic energy. Sound

familiar? That’s right, the bosses here on Callisto believe they’ve found vibranium, or at least its close relative. And you just know some idiot is going to try to make Captain

America’s shield out of some of it! It could be a very valuable scientific discovery…but based on the tenacity of their drilling, the bosses have other things in mind.

 

Entry 49: With the drills running almost non-stop, the heat has become truly unbearable. There’s no way they can keep this up…well, not safely at least. The cracks

in the ground around the drill sites are more like ravines at this point. We’re registering a lot more seismic activity as well.

 

Entry 50: People at the barracks have noticed the problems with the drilling as well. The cook over at the mess hall I frequent told me a story about a neighbor’s dog who

was lost when the ground gave way beneath the growing fissures in the ground, and my new friend Marcus says he’s been suffering from painful tinnitus that he attributes to the

incessant drilling. I’ve expressed my concerns to the inspectors, but to no avail. 

 

Entry 51: I’ve made a decision. I’m going to request leave to go back to Earth. I can’t concentrate on my research and, despite assurances to the contrary, I’m convinced this

place is becoming more and more unsafe. If the heat doesn’t get us, the quakes probably will. And the noise near the drill sites (our research tent is less than two

kilometers from the largest one) is enough to drive anyone mad.

 

Entry 52: I’ve sent a communication to my department head at the University. I’ve barely scratched the surface of my research, but I can’t stick around here much longer.

This place is a powder keg. I plan on collecting some more samples this week and then getting on the next transport out of here.

 

Entry 53: Dr. Chamberlain seems disappointed that I’ll be leaving so soon, but said he understood. I think he saw the relief on my face when I told him I’d booked passage

back to Earth. He helped me run some final tests on the soil samples and gave me a hand bagging and tagging the rocks and mineral compounds. He’s truly one of the

nicest people I’ve ever met. I just don’t understand how he stands it here. This is the third year of his residency at Callisto Base and he doesn’t seem ready to leave anytime

soon. I think he’s a bit blinded by the promise of ongoing scientific discovery and doesn’t seem to recognize a situation that is almost certainly spiraling out of control. I

wish him the best, naturally, but I’m anxious as hell to get out of this place.

 

Entry 54: Oh, fuck…

Kate Akerboom is a multi-creative individual living in Chicago. She loves telling stories, especially about the past, and considers it an honor to tell new ones that people come up with. By day, she talks about animals at Shedd aquarium. By night she creates as much as she can. Kate is a proud graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay holding degrees in Theatre Performance and History.


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, the right kind of planetary engineering.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait — what?

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

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

What?!

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

My Dearest, Darling Europa,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Until we meet again in the Big Freeze,

Mars

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


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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Who can tell me about it?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How so, Liv?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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