In an early release preview of the Not Saf For Work podcast network, join your new hosts and friends Mike and Maia in their first episode of The Lasso Podcast as they discuss & review the new Wonder Woman film directed by Patty Jenkins, starring Gal Gadot and Chris Pine! Follow on Twitter @TheLassoPod.
This is a special preview episode of The Lasso Pod and the Not Saf For Work podcast network, set to launch on July 1! For more information follow @nsfwpodcasts or sign up to the mailing list!
This story was a short fiction commission. More info can be found here.
Christina breathes in the spiced scent of growing herbs as she stares out into the star-streaked space beyond the glass. Her breath, caught by awe, reminds her where she is with startling clarity: leaving home in a metal pocket of air, with only the starry void ahead. Of course she’s been on ships before, but never anything long-haul. Not like this. Prepared for six months of life, the spaceliner she’s found herself residing in is massive—and even, she quickly discovered, fitted with a large communal garden filling a dome that faces out onto space.
She’s not alone in the garden. A robot, pale blue and asymmetrically almost-humanoid, crouches beside a green tomato plant nearby, an electronic humming floating from its vocalizer. The robot seems to notice her attention, though it doesn’t look up.
Content warnings for alcohol, suicide, allusions to sexual violence.
If there’s one person I never want to see when I wake, it’s Sam. So when I open my eyes to her sitting at an unfamiliar desk in an unfamiliar room, her back to me, my first reaction isn’t confusion. It’s a sudden exhaustion at the unfairness of the world to place me somewhere so obviously hers.
The room is a mess. Creased clothes tossed over every surface, at least three mugs on the desk, photos peeling from where they were stuck to the wall with gaps showing where pictures have already fallen into the chaos of the room. What sticks out most of all is a jar filled with half-dead flowers beside Sam. There’s enough life in them still to justify keeping them, but I can’t help but feel that the room itself is pulling the flowers closer to death. The limp, purple blossoms lean away from Sam as if trying to escape her anger—her room’s atrophying presence.
Or maybe that’s just how things are when you’re organic. Flowers die. Sam loses Lissa. I continue existing.
I’ve been a little (a lot) absent from my site (and other places) for the past month and a half for a couple specific reasons: travel, health, and organizing podcast things. I went to Canada, USA, Wellington, Australia, and then came home to be diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. It’s been an intense few weeks! But more on that stuff later.
For now, here are the recordings of the talks and panels I did while travelling and some little write-ups about the events I was lucky enough to experience. Travelling for a month and being accepted to speak at multiple events was a huge privilege, and though I’m paying for it now with my health, I wouldn’t have had April any other way.
Play By Play
First up is my talk from the lovely Play By Play festival in Wellington, in which I spoke about the different types of choices players are given in games and what they mean for the themes and narrative structures of the games. Basically, it shows a little of how I personally think about narrative, player agency and choice. It also shows that I’m always ready to fight people about the endings of choice-based games.
Side note: never try to make a powerpoint on a tablet, just don’t do it.
Play By Play itself is one of the highlights of my year since it first began last year. It’s cozy, friendly, and organized by some impressive folks. I’m heartbroken I missed the exhibition this year especially since there was a game there I really wanted to check out.
The conference was filled with all kinds of niche and inspiring talks from many different parts of game development. Because there’s only one talk stream, you end up listening to people speak about things you never would’ve gone out of your way for otherwise, which I think is a great thing. I would highly suggest going through the whole playlist, there’s a lot to learn in there no matter your expertise.
I was on five panels at GX Australia, a small and super-inclusive convention in Sydney, in which I spoke about robots, sexuality, mental health, and writing. To think I almost didn’t go! I had such a blast in Sydney and at GX, it had the friendliest vibe of any convention I have ever been to and gave me the chance to speak with people I adore and idolize.
Besides that, I could see how positively the convention and the talks affected the people who went. From seeing tweets about feeling included, discussions with other fans, to the emotional closing ceremony, it’s pretty clear that spaces like GX are sorely needed for many of us. What a beautiful sight, to see people able to be open and happy without fear.
And now, of course, I kind of want to start a podcast jumping off that springboard. Again, more on that another time.
Why Do Queers Love Robots So Dang Much?!
In what is possibly the most Saf thing I could have possibly done, I wound up on a panel about why queer folk seem to love robots, AI, and synthetics in their fiction so much. It wasn’t something I’d ever thought too much about before this panel, but turns out I have a lot of thoughts about this subject.
Representations Of Mental Health In Games
Mental health representation and awareness is obviously something I’m a huge advocate for, and this panel discussed a range of mental health issues that are sorely under-represented or mis-represented in games. I went on a bit of a rant about a huge issue I have with Life is Strange, so warning about spoilers there.
The A Is Not For Ally
Probably my favourite panel of the weekend—which is saying a lot, because I loved every panel I was on—because Snow is an amazing moderator and all the panelists are hilarious and sincere people. For being the least sexy panel at GX, we sure managed to find a lot of innuendo in our material. Obviously, asexuality is a topic close to my heart, being ace and all, and this panel seemed to resonate with a lot of people. It felt important.
Queerly Represent Me And The Underrepresented
Queerly Represent Me is something I’ve written about before, and is a resource I’m a huge fan of. Being asked to be on this panel by Alayna Cole was a huge honour, and it was interesting to learn more about the statistics side of things and hear the POVs of my other panelists. I know I look like I was on my phone a lot instead of participating, but I was just in the panel’s hashtag talking to the audience, I swear!
Modern Visual Novels
A panel in which we talked about how visual novels have become a place for queer creators and gamers, and in which I realised I was totally out of my depth because I mostly write visual novels, rather than playing them. I learned a lot about visual novels and had a blast talking with Lauren, Snow, and Tina, who are all totally amazing people.
Star Wars Celebration Orlando
I also, uh, went to Celebration in Orlando, which now feels like a million years ago. I was on three panels and spoke at the Carrie Fisher Memorial Gala. As far as I know, only one panel was recorded. The convention itself wasn’t very well-organized, and I was a little too exhausted to fully engage socially a lot of the time so I feel like I missed more than I wanted. The panels I saw were all really good though, and it was a lovely time finally catching up with my Star Wars and podcasting pals.
Bless Steele for recording How To Podcast Like A Jedi Master, a panel on the podcasting stage including me and other well-known Star Wars podcasters talking about how to get into podcasting. Two years ago I never would’ve dreamed I’d be invited onto a panel with these folks to talk about podcasting, yet here we are!
UPDATE: We have a recording of LGBTQ+ In A Galaxy Far, Far Away!
Meg and I arrived late because our Uber dropped us off on the WRONG SIDE OF THE GIANT BUILDING but gosh, this was such a fun panel with a full room and heaps of audience interaction. I get a little salty about some things, but in all honesty, this is up there as one of my favourite panels to have been included on. I just need to learn to not say “don’t ask me about this” because people will absolutely ask me about it.
Stay tuned for more info about the launch of my upcoming podcast network, the new Tourist chapter, a few photography galleries, and even a blog post or two! Getting back into the swing of things now that my flare-up has flared down.
Also, my site hit its third birthday in April! I can’t believe it’s been three years already, I’ve come so far.
Hi all! Tourist will be on a month long hiatus while I travel, and will return on the 5th of May for its final two chapters (+ epilogue)! In the meantime, I’ll try to update the site with a gallery or two from my travels. Hope you all have a great April, and look forward to Tourist’s conclusion in a month!
“I’m so tired, all day, every day. I could sleep for a week and still need more. It’s as endless as the night sky, and about as bright. Everyone’s always like, ‘Wow, you look so tired!’ Yes, well, I sure feel tired, too. Even moreso now.
Today was the day: I got my results from school. Guess what? I failed! I completely blew my chance at getting into biomed next year. Completely knocked myself off of my future path in one fell swoop. All at once the ground is falling from beneath my feet, and I—
I don’t know what to do anymore. What do I do with myself now? This is everything I’ve been working towards, and I couldn’t even do it. I couldn’t do it!
On the way home I bought a bottle of rum from the store. Don’t judge me—what else do I have going for me now, anyway? I won’t drink much, I know I’m already spiralling. I’ll be good, I’m even going to Chase’s later, and he’ll cheer me up and make sure I don’t accidentally hurt myself. So much for Sam saying he’s a terrible influence, at least he tries to help me. What does she do? If I tell her about failing my classes, she’ll just rub it in my face, maybe start another fight with me. I don’t have anyone left to turn to except Chase and Audrey, not even my parents. It feels so long since Grey was Dad and we could actually talk about things that made me sad. Now, I’m just scared of him.
So, I don’t know, I’ll tell him later. Next week, when I’m feeling better, maybe. If I ever feel better again.
What do I do now? Where do I go? How do I fix this? I know I can fix this, if only someone would tell me how.”
“They’re lying,” I say. Sam blinks at me, her foot tapping beneath the table.
“Who’s lying?” she asks.
“Chase.” I sigh, her foot stills. “And Audrey. They’ve both been lying to me.”
She takes a moment to figure out what I’m saying, her lips pressing together tightly. “You’ve been talking to Chase?”
“I thought it would help me figure out if he did it.”
She laughs. “Of course he’s been lying to you. Lying is what he does, even if he seems all nice and charming as he does it. Don’t know who Audrey is, but if she’s his friend I bet they’re the same.”
“Audrey was Lissa’s friend, too. She’s an artificial,” I say.
“What?” Sam asks, her tone flat and dangerous. “Lissa didn’t have any artificial friends.”
I wave a hand at her, saying, “Hang on, we’re getting away from what I’m trying to tell you.”
“Chase and Audrey have both been lying about why Emily attacked Lissa. They said it was because she was friends with Audrey, and because Emily thought Chase was in love with Audrey.”
“What does it matter who Emily thought Chase liked?” Sam asks. Her foot has gone back to tapping, more furiously than before.
“It matters because that’s not true, Emily never thought it was Audrey. Chase knows Emily attacked Lissa because he liked her. He’s lying either to protect Emily, or to protect himself. Both scenarios beg the question of why he’s lying to me.”
Sam tilts her head, her eyes catching the sunlight through the window. “Okay, you’ve lost me. For one thing, how do you know that Chase is lying? For another, how do you know Emily thought he was in love with Lissa?” Her hair bounces with a head-shake. “Besides, Chase never loved Lissa. This whole thing is stupid.”
“I know because of this,” I say, and I place Lissa’s phone on the table between us. At the sight of it, Sam’s eyes widen, her hand flying to her chest.
“What—?” she asks, choking on her words. “That’s—?”
“That’s Lissa’s phone. Her mother gave it to me,” I say. I keep my hand on the phone, worried Sam will grab it and run far away. Her eyes flash.
“You’ve had her phone this long and didn’t tell me? You had no right!”
“Actually,” I say, forcing myself to stay calm in the face of Sam’s rising anger, “I had every right. The phone was given to me by her mother. It only unlocks with my fingerprint. You’ve shown me every step of the way that we’re not friends, Sam. You’re not the only one who gets to hide things.”
“You didn’t even know her,” Sam says. “Why should you get her phone? You’re nothing but a lying ersatz, just wanting to steal her life.”
“I don’t want her life,” I say, keeping my voice soft. “I want my own life, as does every other ersatz. You dragged me into this, and now I’m here, and—” I raise my voice slightly “—I’m trying to tell you that Chase is lying about why Lissa was hurt.”
“Fuck.” She slams her hands on the table. “What the fuck? I see why people say your lot don’t have any empathy.”
Pressing my thumb and a finger to my temples, I let out a deep breath. Cruel, heartless words spring to the tip of my tongue, and I think of how good it would feel to say them, of how delicious it would be to let some of this anger free. Lissa didn’t want you around anymore. Lissa thought you were ruining your life. Lissa wanted Chase more than you.
“Lissa needs you still,” I say. “She kept an audio journal, and there’s a recording she took the night she got home from the hospital. It proves what I’m saying—maybe it shows that Emily had something to do with her death. She was at Lissa’s house the night she died, right?”
Sam fumes for a moment more, her nostrils flaring. I pull earphones from my pocket and place them beside the phone as I pretend to not notice the tears lining her eyes.
“Just listen to this with me, okay?” I ask. “You can hate me all you want, but I need you to help me with this, because I’m still trying to help you.”
She exhales sharply, then grabs one of the earbuds with a quick, “Fine.”
Pressing the other earbud into my ear, I unlock the phone and press the play button for the file. Lissa’s voice bursts to life in my head. Sam gasps, her breath catching with the sound of heartbreak.
“I can’t keep doing this,” Lissa says—she said, long ago, into the phone’s microphone. Her words slur.
Written for an assignment, an experiment inspired by the novel Version Control. Somewhat of an homage to the ideas that the novel handles with far more eloquence.
She knew the world had gone wrong, had flipped upside-down. She could taste it in the air, feel it in the soft vibrations of the car’s engine—like being barely-aware in a dream. It had been like this for months, as if she were perpetually poised with her foot held high, expecting another stair but finding only thin air.
The first and only time Amelia tried to talk to her mother—the scientist, Dr. Tima—about the feeling was the night before her graduation, half an hour before the dinner party. Her mother, a woman without much love for feelings over fact—the latter of which Amelia lacked—looked up at her distractedly from her notebook.
“I don’t understand,” said Tima. She rubbed at her temple, her sleepless nights staining her eyelids with dark pigments. She was on a deadline, the machine she’d spent the last decade on still stubbornly refusing to work. It weighed her down. “Are you sick?”
“I’m not sick.” Amelia picked at her fingernails. “It’s the world that’s sick.”
“Oh. Global warming, then.”
“That’s not what I—” She threw her hands up, feeling too much like a teenager. “It’s like when you go to fix your glasses on your face, but you’re not wearing them.”
“Honey, I don’t wear glasses,” Tima said idly, barely paying attention to her daughter anymore. “Maybe you just need some more sleep.”
You’re the one who needs sleep, Amelia thought, bitterly, remembering her mother of a year prior, before Astoria died. A mother who didn’t spend her entire life at the lab working on a time machine, a mother who smiled and laughed and took the sisters out for brunch on Sundays.
Those three words cut through the air like a knife. Amelia instantly wished she could go back in time to take them back. Face contorted with a pain still too intense to hide, Tima laid down her pen and fixed Amelia with her metal-grey eyes.
“Amelia,” Tima started, but her daughter was already out of her seat and halfway out of the kitchen. “Honey, come back—”
“I’m going to finish cleaning the lounge,” Amelia said, her back turned to hide her brimming eyes.
Not another word was spoken between mother and daughter until the guests arrived, and even then their conversations were terse. While Tima’s co-workers spoke to her about her work, Amelia pretended to listen with rapt attention as if she didn’t resent the machine for Tima’s distance—or for her twin’s death. When her mother’s colleagues shook Amelia’s hand and patted her shoulder, congratulating her on a successful graduation, she hid her bitter anxiety behind a practiced smile. One she had learned in the weeks following the crash.
Her friends noticed, but they knew better than to ask.
Only once the house had cleared and she’d buried herself in blankets did she let her mind drift back; a summer day, hair blowing in the motorway wind, excitement from seeing her mother’s work bubbling within her chest. The steering wheel was hot beneath her hands, though she didn’t actually need it, the car drove itself—but it never hurt to be too careful. A phrase Tima had murmured to them since they were young.
She remembered it all with more clarity than any other moment in her life: the moment the dog bounded out into the road, followed by a child. When the cars before of them swerved to avoid the child and Amelia’s fingers tightened around the steering wheel, yanking right.
After, as she lay half-sedated in a hospital bed, they told her, “It wasn’t your fault.” They: nurses, police, therapists, her own mother. There was nothing you could do, as if that lifted the guilt crushing her lungs.
“Who is Chase, really? When I knew him in high school, he didn’t seem like a nice guy—Sam told me he wasn’t, and that was enough for me back then.
But now, I’m not so sure. I’ve talked to him a few times, because he runs laps around the park, and his route intersects where I like to sit and read. He used to just wave and smile, but the last couple weeks he’s stopped to chat, asking me how my study is going, admitting he wouldn’t stand a chance in med. I guess he and I have at least one thing in common, then.
Today, he asked if I wanted to grab coffee. Not in a date way—I’m pretty sure he and that girl Emily are a thing, if they weren’t already one back in high school. He offered in a way that said, ‘I want to be your friend.’
It’s strange, I’m so unused to having friends. Friends other than Sam, I mean. But she’s at work and I’m at uni, and when do we ever really get the chance to talk anymore? I didn’t realise how lonely I was until he asked, how utterly empty I’ve felt from barely speaking a word to anyone every day.
I admit, I was very anxious. Like I was heading into an exam, all cold and shaky and a little sweaty. He either didn’t notice, or he pretended not to, just kept talking and listening with this open, warm friendliness. So many people must exist in his life, he draws you in with those big, blue eyes.
Upon closer inspection over coffee, I noticed the way his eyes would avoid mine when he lost his focus. As if he had to force himself look directly at me. I wonder if he doesn’t like my face, or if he struggles with eye contact in general. And yes, I know, I shouldn’t analyse people like that, but sometimes I can’t help it. It’s my anxiety: I need proof that people don’t just hate me, that there are other reasons for their actions.
He wouldn’t have wanted coffee with me if he hated me, right? I have to keep telling myself that, or else I’ll turn and run and never speak to him again. Chase is someone I can go see movies with, grab lunch with between lectures, someone who will invite me to parties to help me make more friends.
I like him. He makes me laugh, and that’s something I really need these days.”