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Gateways: “What We Do In The Cosmos” By Alex B Reynolds read by Ryan Bond



TRANSCRIPT:

Alex B Reynolds has been writing and producing comedic theatre in Chicago for 15 years. They have been a contributing writer for The Flaming Dames burlesque troupe, the Meet/Cute sitcom podcast, and the Paragon short play festival. Full-length plays include Old Hobbits Die Hard, Kings & Thrones & Shit, and The Incredible Hank for New Millennium Theatre Company. They are spending quarantine as dungeon master for a family DnD campaign, as a writer for Gateways, and a sleepless puddle of anxiety. This is “What We Do in the Cosmos”.

It wasn’t long into the 21st century that two things happened almost simultaneously – vampires were outed to humans as real, and space travel became commercialized. Anyone who was alive during that time remembers that it was…pretty rough. People were conditioned by enough natural and man-made disasters by that point in the early 2000s to accept our presence, but people were also scared to death and desperate to leave the planet. After a while, a combination of scientists, conservationalists and capitalists got together and educated the public on the benefits of not only our existence, but our contribution to the human condition. One of these contributions came in the form of space travel. It wasn’t feasible to send a human astronaut on a mission to Jupiter or beyond, because that would be at least a 10-year round trip. Vampire immortality came in handy for exploring the far reaches of space. Within a decade of the Space Vampire program’s inception, Earth was also given confirmation of life on other planets. The reaction of the humans that a Vampire made First Contact was…less than patriotic. And, to be completely honest, the reaction of the hungry Vampires coming across a living being after years in space was less than exemplary, either. But regardless of circumstances, making First Contact legitimized the Space Vampire initiative back on Earth, and suddenly a new class of our species was born. 

Here’s the thing about Space Vampires: I don’t hate them. I envy them. They can be great explorers in the cosmos, not stuck down here in dank, dark castles hunting humans or eating rats. They get to be out in space! Exploring new planets, traversing new galaxies, meeting new alien species and feeding on them. Did you know that the USS Adventurer 2 vampires went to Rigel 7, fed on some of the aliens there, and ended up with flame powers? So cool. And the vampires on the USS Adventurer 4 went all the way to Marklar, fed on the Marklars, and within minutes could manipulate the fabric of time? No wonder most of the Space Vampires never come back – if i could bend time and shoot fire out of my hands, I wouldn’t want to come back to Earth, either. Feeding on humans just gives you, what – nourishment? A blood gut? Boring! And hey, another bonus – Space Vampires are all that much farther away from the Sun. The first Space Vampire mission found out that it’s only the Earth’s Sun that hurts us. It’s like Superman, only the opposite, and terrible. Space Vampires are up there traversing literally every other star in the galaxy and loving it because it’s not searing the flesh off their bones. I don’t understand how one star can do that to us while another star won’t, but that’s probably why I wasn’t a specially-selected NASA Space Vampire…until now. 

Because space travel was so accessible, a person (or vampire) didn’t require a career of training in order to be approved for a mission. NASA never took vampire volunteers, however. Like with most things, we had to be invited. And I was. I received the embroidered invitation in the official government envelope, and even though I wasn’t due at Cape Canaveral for another week, I packed up and left that very evening. My

head was filled with possibilities. I couldn’t stay one more minute in a drab, dusty castle any longer. That being said, Florida is not a great place for Vampires. First of all, it is sunny all the time. That was definitely first on my list in terms of reasons to get off this planet and join the ranks of Space Vampires. So long, Sun. That kept a lot of our kind out of Florida, to be honest, which made the other significant problem the locals. When a person is as pale as we are in Florida, and wearing long sleeves and pants in 90 degree weather, the game is given away pretty quickly that there’s a Vampire walking through town. There was quite a lot of staring, screaming, but only a few slaying attempts. In general, the world had turned its back on the idea of slaying – it was definitely considered cruel and inhumane and akin to any other kind of vigilante justice enacted on humans by other humans. That didn’t stop some people from trying it anyway, but they were usually older and easy enough to put down. All that being the case, though, Florida was the best place on Earth to be right before leaving the planet forever. 

When Orientation Day finally came, I was seated in a large conference room with 5 other Vampires that would be traveling with me on this particular mission. A mission briefing was placed in front of each of us. Apparently, there was a suspiciously rhythmic radar signal coming from a planet called Remulak. I could have sworn I heard the name before. Before I could think too hard about it, I read on: It was presumed that not only was the planet able to support life, but that it was already inhabited by a rich and intelligent culture. This was very exciting. For all the advancements and alien contact that has been made on Space Vampire missions, the statistic is that only 35% of the missions actually result in contacting intelligent life. The rest find remnants of what was once intelligent life, or they find only microbial life, or vegetation. After hearing about all the glorious accomplishments of other Space Vampires, we all secretly laughed behind their backs. More often than not, those Vampires also chose to stay on the new planets they found, too. What were they eating? Were these vegetable planets full of blood carrots or something? That actually didn’t sound so bad. But it didn’t matter, because I was going to Remulak with my team to engage with intelligent life. And feed on them for superpowers. 

Our Orientation was led by a very official-looking member of the federal government. He was there to go over the bureaucratic nonsense involved with the mission, and most of us tuned out. He made us all sign release forms that I don’t think any of us took the time to read, but that ultimately boiled down to us not holding the government responsible for any space-related injury or death — the same kind of thing a person signs before they go horseback riding or bungee-jumping. He called us heroes and told us that our country thanked us for what we were doing, and once he collected the forms from all of us, he left. After a few more minutes, we were ushered out of the room by a Scottish brunette in a lab coat who brought us to a medical wing where we all had our blood drawn and rapid-tested. Whatever they were looking for, they found – or didn’t find – because the next step was fitting us all into our space suits. This whole process seemed to go rather quickly. I was expecting to spend a week or two doing training exercises, floating around in a zero gravity simulator, learning about what all the

buttons do on the space shuttle we would be in, but ultimately the Orientation took about 5 hours with a break for lunch. They had pig blood in little boxes with straws. I thought that was very charming, and I was told there would be more of those on the shuttle to last us the trip. After another speech by another official-looking government human in a suit, we boarded our shuttle: The Adventurer 20. My compatriots and I were strapped into our seats by technicians in overalls, the observation windows were all closed so that the Sun wouldn’t hurt us on the way out of the atmosphere, and soon it was just us and the shuttle. We barely spoke a word to each other before the countdown began. This was it. No more Earth. No more hiding from the Sun, no more humans trying to slay me, no more dark caverns and castles, no more eating rats or getting fined for hunting a human. Our time had finally come. The shuttle shook violently. I was pressed hard against my seat. Liftoff. 

I don’t know how much time passed before things finally returned to normal. My head was throbbing. My muscles ached. I looked around, and the other Space Vampires – because that’s what we were now – were all breathing heavy sighs of relief. We had made it out of the atmosphere. A voice came on over the communication speakers in the cockpit telling us that the craft was traveling fast enough that we had already cleared the Moon. It would be safe for us to move around the shuttle, and even take in the view. We would reach Remulak in approximately six years. I took off my restraints. I wanted to open that observation window and see the stars that I had been avoiding all my life. I wasn’t the only one. One of the other Space Vampires was already at the window, holding the shade and looking at us with a showman’s grin of anticipation. Once we were all gathered around, he lifted the shade. And suddenly, I understood everything. 

I saw three different stars at varying distances from our shuttle, two of them closer than the Sun had ever been. Scattered in open space between us and them floated almost a dozen other shuttles, each in different states of frost and decay, and each marked Adventurer 2, Adventurer 12, Adventurer 17, etc. I understood. Earth still had not made First Contact with an alien life form. Space Vampires never came back because they were here. In space. These other stars had the same effect on us that the Sun did, which meant NASA was, simply put, in the vampire slaying business now. As the fire filled my chest, I suddenly remembered: The Coneheads from Saturday Night Live. They were from Remulak. I laughed. And I burned.

Ryan Bond is a life long geek who is very active in Chicago’s genre-based performance and experience community. He currently serves on the Board of Otherworld Theater where he helps to bring high quality stories to life on-stage and on-line.  In the past has served in leadership positions for Wildclaw Theatre, EDGE of Orion Theatre, Hartlife & Our Fair City. Ryan has helped to create Guardians of History (a family friendly voice-activated immersive educational game for Alexa/Google enabled speakers & screens), leads as a Cub Scout Master and Eagle Scout, been an SxSW panelist, appears on podcasts as a gaming/geek expert, an infrequent theater performer, a 3x NaNoWriMo winner, a marketing director for a Firefly-based board game and even opened a geek-themed bar!


Gateways: “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne read by Ansel Burch Pt 3



This is part two of a special three part reading of the classic short story Rappaccini’s Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This is one of the first ever speculative fiction stories to be published in English and has shades of some characters you may recognize from the pop culture of today. This story is a fascinating look into the fiction of the mid-nineteenth century as well a wonderful mirror to use for looking at the stories we still tell today.

You can find the full text of the story here.

As we come to the close of the story, let’s discuss how the story relates to the ones we still tell today of people gifted with power and the challenges they face. This story is, of course a tragedy. One in which the viewpoint character makes a terrible mistake and in who he trusts and who he blames. 

Do you think Baglioni was manipulating him as part of his rivalry with Rappacini?
Why would Rappacini do this to his daughter?
What do you think Giovanni did after the story ended?

More importantly, this story has a serious problem at its center. Beatrice is given almost no dialogue until the end and her main character trait is “purity”. How would you re-tell this story to account for Beatrice’s choices, viewpoint and options? If you wrote this story from her point of view without changing the ending, how would it be different.

A conversation thread will be going on our facebook page at facebook.com/GatewaysOtherworld/. You can also leave your thoughts on this story in the comments on the shows homepage at https://otherworld.blubrry.net/.

This story is read by our series curator, Ansel Burch. Ansel also produces and hosts for the comedy variety show podcast Starlight Radio Dreams which performs and records live every month here in Chicago. Check it out at http://www.starlightradiodreams.com


Gateways: “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne read by Ansel Burch- Part 2



This is part two of a special three part reading of the classic short story Rappaccini’s Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This is one of the first ever speculative fiction stories to be published in English and has shades of some characters you may recognize from the pop culture of today. This story is a fascinating look into the fiction of the mid-nineteenth century as well a wonderful mirror to use for looking at the stories we still tell today.

You can find the full text of the story here.

This story is read by our series curator, Ansel Burch. Ansel also produces and hosts for the comedy variety show podcast Starlight Radio Dreams which performs and records live every month here in Chicago. Check it out at http://www.starlightradiodreams.com


Gateways: “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne read by Ansel Burch- Part 1



This is part one of a special three part reading of the classic short story Rappaccini’s Daughter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This is one of the first ever speculative fiction stories to be published in English and has shades of some characters you may recognize from the pop culture of today. This story is a fascinating look into the fiction of the mid ninteenth century as well a wonderful mirror to use for looking at the stories we still tell today.

You can find the full text of the story here.

This story is read by our series curator, Ansel Burch. Ansel also produces and hosts for the comedy variety show podcast Starlight Radio Dreams which performs and records live every month here in Chicago. Check it out at http://www.starlightradiodreams.com


Gateways: “Chicken is Served” by Irene L Pynn read by Kat Evans



TRANSCRIPT: This story is written by Irene L Pynn. Irene’s plays include I, Cockroach, The Church of Saint Bearer, Enter, Pursued by a Whale, The Train, How to Field Dress an Android, and several ten-minute shorts. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild, and her work has been produced throughout the United States and abroad. Irene holds an MFA in writing from Seton Hill University and a PhD in Texts and Technology from the University of Central Florida. Her other publications include short stories, short plays, interactive plays, alternate reality games, and a novel.  This is “Chicken is Served.”

It’s not that I have trouble controlling my emotions. What I really lack is willpower. Maybe, if I’d been stronger, I could have prevented this whole thing. 

I sat in my car at the corner of Church and 5th Avenue. Yeah, you’ve been there: The chicken fast food restaurant that shall not be named. The one my ex said was contributing to my thighs. 

“Please drive around,” the metallic voice commanded. It spoke to me, disembodied, through a box painted to look like a pig’s snout. You know their slogan: Eat Chicken, Save Pigs! Everything is absurdly decorated to resemble what a pig might create in a fast food restaurant. 

I think the narrative they’re going for is a dystopian hellscape where pigs rule the world and want people to forget how delicious they are. Some half-baked attempt to graft human thought and personalities onto animals. I guess hog logic leads them to recommend chicken meat as a diversion. 

They’re pretty violent, too, these humanoid farm animals. You’ve seen the commercials. Pigs with crazed eyes and bloody axes, chasing mindless chickens across a field. A pig catches up to one of the stupid birds. The screen goes black. For two full seconds, we hear the gruesome sound of metal hacking into guts. Then a red font bleeds onto the screen: Chicken Is Served. 

Hilarious, sure, but I’m not sure why tofu and other options haven’t occurred to these little, pink, axe murderers. Whatever. They’re pigs. They’re also, it seems, unrepentant misogynists. News broke yesterday about the chain’s support for a certain mayoral candidate. You know which one. Apparently they’ve sent him bajillions of dollars in campaign contributions – all after he made that speech about women needing to control their emotions. 

“Please drive around,” the pig voice encouraged again, but I didn’t obey. I idled there in the drive through, my foot still resting on the brake. Through the sole of my shoe, my car rumbled gently. The low-key tension resembled a growing conflict in my heart. 

I’m a vegetarian, but I still eat at this restaurant every day for lunch. Don’t judge me; they have amazing salads and waffle fries. Their main menu attraction and bizarre marketing tactics never bothered me. 

But the campaign contributions did. As I stared at the rusted piggie snout of the voice box, I realized I felt betrayed. Betrayed by my city for voting that lunatic into office. Betrayed by my favorite fast food restaurant for making it happen. Betrayed by the homicidal piglets I’d come to feel really affectionate toward. 

Most of all, I felt betrayed by myself for learning about these political leanings yesterday and still coming back for waffle fries today. 

That, I think, was the moment I became a super villain, or whatever they’re calling me in the news. I’d like to say it wasn’t my fault. I’d like to say they pushed me to this point. But… 

There is nothing quite like the anger that grows inside someone who is, at least in part, battling a guilty conscience. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned by herself.

“Ma’am?” I scowled at the pig box. Was there a camera? Could some poor part timer see me projected in fuzzy black and white on her indoor monitor? 

“You’re a woman,” I snapped at the snout. 

“Sorry?” 

“Don’t apologize for that,” I said. 

“No, I mean, I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Do you need to add to your order?” 

Behind me a man in a huge, red pickup truck leaned on his horn. BEEEEEEP. Why did it sound like my ex boyfriend’s voice? “Haven’t you had enough to eat?” I heard “Eaaaaaaaat” in the truck’s aggressive BEEEEEEP. 

I moved my left foot to the brake and pressed my right on the gas. The tension increased as my engine revved loudly. 

The snout spoke again. “Ma’am?” The horn behind me sounded, this time staccato bursts of lunchtime impatience. BEEP. BEEP. BE-BE-BE-BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP. 

Now it was my boss. “Don’t. Touch. The Thermostaaaaaaaaat.” I took a deep breath. “Do you still want your fries, ma’am?” “Excuse me,” I said as calmly as I could, and I stepped out of my car. “Ma’am?!” Now the man in the truck beeped longer. I saw him there in his perch, like a puffed- up Jersey Giant, pink arms with massive fists flapping on his steering wheel like processed meat still somehow remotely sentient, still trying to get a message across. BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP! 

Inside my head, a voice was screaming, It’s not the mayor. It’s not Jason. It’s not the restaurant. It’s not your boss. It’s not even this truck guy. It’s you. Why are you here at all, handing these people your money? I hated that voice most of all. I strode toward the pickup, my anger a barbeque fire blazing out of control, higher and hotter, the longer that man beeped at me. 

Now he shook his pink arms from the safety of his driver’s seat. Some classic symbols of anger, some obscene hand gestures, and the rest was wild waving accompanied by mouthed words like “bitch,” “slut,” and other things related to my anatomy that I don’t care to repeat.

Get out of that truck and face me, coward. It wasn’t rational. I know that. But neither are pigs who butcher chickens to avoid becoming bacon. Neither are politicians who believe women occasionally want to be attacked. And neither was this guy’s reaction to me holding up the line. 

You’ve asked whether I feel remorse for my part in what happened next. The simple answer is yes. Of course I do. And if you ask the guy in the truck whether he feels remorse for rolling down his window and spitting on my dress, the truth is he probably wishes he hadn’t taken it that far. 

But human beings aren’t like other animals. We’re complicated. We say and do things we shouldn’t. We make mistakes. We regret them, and then we fall into the same patterns again. 

Especially when we’re angry. And, on that day, with spittle sliding down the front of my flower print to drip, steaming, on the concrete, I was angry. 

In most ways I’m ashamed of what I did. But, as this was the first day I realized I had super powers, I wasn’t in full control. That’s probably to be expected. 

They say women can’t control our emotions. They say we’re ready to explode at any moment, at the slightest thing. Any slightest thing. 

The days of all these slightest things. The years of lower salaries. The decades of oppression and violence and the growing, nagging sensation that we’re being told we’re useless, crazy, needy, even when we aren’t. Herded into a corner, farmed for our meat. 

Yeah, sure. Eventually some of us may find it difficult to control our emotions. So I exploded. Literally. Apparently that’s something I can do, though I’ve never been aware of the ability before. 

I knew it was going to happen, but only seconds in advance. There was a moment when I was going to cuss out the dude in the truck, and the next moment I knew I had to get away. I had to go somewhere safe where I could burst without hurting other people. The closest place was the back door of the chicken restaurant, the one with the squiggly door handle that looks like a pig’s tail. I dashed to it, gave it a yank, and ran inside. There was a thin hallway – it’s dirtier than you want to know – and to my right was the door to the freezer. I slipped in there, closed myself in, and that was that. 

All around me, chicken wings flew into pieces, flailing and flapping as if they were trying to escape even now, naked and dead in cold storage. I don’t know what I looked like. I’ve heard a few employees peered through the freezer window to see something that resembled a person on fire, my body stiff, my arms out at my sides. Head tilted back. Mouth open in a silent scream. 

“Possessed,” the headlines read. “Hysterical.” It was bright. I know that. The light that burned out during my explosion was nearly blinding, and it hurt my eyes even though I was the source. 

Afterward, there was a calm like the quiet you feel when you duck your head under cool water. Everything was muted. Slowly, my senses returned, and I was aware of three things: A mess of destroyed meat, a collection of shocked faces, and a long, loud beeping coming from a car horn outside. 

“You brought this on yourself,” they said as they drove me away in handcuffs. “You should be ashamed.” 

And I am. I don’t know what activated my powers that day. Maybe it was some chemical in the months of super-sized waffle fries. They’re hardly a healthy lunch choice. I should just have stayed away. You’d certainly think that, after learning about the politician they support with their profits, I could have. 

If only I had more willpower. That’s what I tell myself. If only I could have exhibited a little more control, maybe none of this would have happened. 

Kat Evans has been performing in Chicago since 2006 with theatre companies such as Promethean, Black Button Eyes, The Hypocrites, and City Lit. You can see her onscreen in feature film NONTRADITIONAL, and Web Series: Lucky Jay Seasons 1 & 2, Geek Lounge, and Why Don’t You Like Me? You can hear her opinions as a guest on Fox Valley Film Critics and Reel Geek Girls. Kat is part of the performing and writing ensemble of Starlight Radio Dreams, and is the creator of the audio serial comedy, Truth Kittens. In addition to Starlight, you can hear her in podcasts Our Fair City, and Toxic Bag.