Fernweh, Part II

If you are like me and have almost completely forgotten what happened in Part I (I know, I know, I am the one that wrote it), check it out here!

Ankhora had fallen asleep, her head resting uncomfortably against the shuttle wall. For the first half of the journey, her waking moments were spent with her face pressed against the glass of the too-small window, desperate for a glimpse of Earth. Of course, they were still in the middle of the junk field, and the planet below was still shrouded in ash and smoke, so she wouldn’t have seen anything anyway. But she was moving toward the planet, toward something she had always longed for, so even though her vision was clouded, it felt momentous nonetheless. 

The recruitment process was easier than she had dared hope. Expeditions to the planet’s surface were rare, and oftentimes fatal. Short journeys fared better, ones that had a singular purpose, that landed, got what they wanted, and came back before anyone could incur serious injuries or succumb to radiation poisoning. But Ankhora could count on one hand the number of successful recovery missions in her lifetime. She was determined to be on the next. 


The recruitment officer looked bored. Likely she wasn’t coming on the mission, and only in charge of weeding out the less suitable candidates for the more vigorous interviews. 

“Riz Ankhora,” Ankhora replied, her voice quivering. 

The officer didn’t even look at her as she questioned Ankhora about her work, her personality, her sex life. Ankhora was a nurse, a position vital to any long-term mission off-station. She was calm in emergencies, underwent regular psychological screenings, which she always passed. She was single, only seeking companionship when she felt like it. No children. In short, the perfect candidate.

The final interviews were more difficult, only in that they were more vague. The panel of interviewers included the medical officer and several members of the leadership team, although the captain was absent. Ankhora answered all their questions with a calm indifference, despite the excitement and nervousness buzzing inside her. Here, her skill was more important than her passion. 

The two weeks before she received her acceptance letter were insufferable, particularly to Palamane and the other medical staff, who couldn’t understand Ankhora’s desire to leave. Her boss was reluctant to let her go, but she gave Ankhora a small smile of encouragement on her last day. 

“Nurse Ankhora.”

Ankhora smiled, feeling none of the sadness and regret the acceptance letter warned her about. 

“Nurse Ankhora.”

She shifted in her sleep, her arm slipping between the wall and the chair.


She jerked awake, shaking out the needles in her arm as a tall woman plopped down into the seat next to her. Ankhora lifted her hand to her mouth and, embarrassed, wiped away a remnant of drool. The woman didn’t seem to notice, only beamed at her.

“First time off-station?”

The woman’s voice was big, like her, deep and jolly, as though she was about to laugh. Ankhora nodded. 

“Me too. I was raised on station twenty-six. You?”

“Station nine,” Ankhora replied, sitting up and blinking away the sleepiness that lingered in her eyes. 

“Oh cool. I’ve been to some of the older ones. Real vintage.” The woman grinned, but Ankhora didn’t get the joke. Sure, some of the older stations’ layouts were outdated, but they all had the same tech. It was just a little harder to integrate into some of the original equipment. 

“I’m Telissa Greene. You can call me Tee.” 

She reached out her hand and Ankhora shook it. 

“I’m in engineering. Mechanist,” she continued. “But I looked at the roster. Trying to get to know everyone before we land, right? Before we all go crazy.”

She laughed as Ankhora gave her a horrified look. 

“I’m just kidding,” she said, standing abruptly. “Only some of us will go crazy.” 

She winked down at Ankhora, who still stared silently up at her. 

“Anyway, I just came to tell you grub’s on. I heard the cook’s pretty good. You’d have to be, with the rations they’ve sent us with. Come on.”

Ankhora stood and stretched, following Tee toward the galley, for the first time feeling a twinge of uncertainty. As they approached the galley, Ankhora noted with interest that the craft they were in seemed to be made of a new type of building material she didn’t recognize. She tapped the wall lightly, and was surprised to feel the surface give way. It trembled and then settled back into place. Ankhora shuddered. It felt more like a membrane than a wall, and she found she wasn’t interested in finding out exactly what it was made of. She was glad she was walking behind Tee. She imagined the other woman would know what the substance was and be more than happy to tell her all about it. 

Indeed, Tee was talking about something, but Ankhora hadn’t been listening. She quickened her pace sheepishly, catching the tail end of Tee’s sentence just as they reached the entrance to the galley. 

“So really you shouldn’t be too worried,” Tee was saying. “They’ll only rib you a little bit, and even then not too bad, because you know, you could let them die if you didn’t feel like doing your job.”

Ankhora stared at Tee’s back, almost grateful she had missed the previous statements. 

“And anyway, I’ve only met some of them. Here we are!”

Ankhora peered around Tee’s substantial shoulder into the galley, which was almost a perfect square situated in the exact center of the ship. Five circular tables were anchored into the floor throughout the room. About half were occupied. Ankhora quickly counted eight people, about two-thirds of their entire crew. Ankhora had glanced at the roster too, more out of curiosity than from any desire to get to know her crewmates.  

Tee waved and strode over to a table with three people, who smiled broadly and welcomed her as she joined them. There was another table of three, serious-looking people who weren’t speaking with one another, and at the last table, two people arguing quietly but intently. 

Ankhora tried to match their faces with those on the roster, but she only remembered two: North Ingall was seated eating silently with two others she only vaguely recognized, and Juniper Rosencourt, who was laughing as Tee spouted off some joke at their lively table. 

North was an established historian, whose work centered on speculating about the years just after the Final War by piecing together information from records of the Final Evacuation. Most recordings and memories were corrupted or scattered, and North had spent years piecing together tiny bits of information to form a coherent chronicle. Ankhora had read some of his work, and although it was a little too stiff for her taste, it nicely watered her thirst for all things Earth-related.

Juniper Rosencourt was notable because she was the youngest member of this expedition at only 23. Raised on the newly built Station 046, she won an engineering prize at the age of 11 and contributed to the building plans for the next scheduled Station. It was likely she had a hand in the design of the very ship they were in. Ankhora made a mental note to steer any conversation with her away from the building materials used. 

The only other person Ankhora knew on the ship was the doctor, Bryce Thurman-Santiago. Ankhora had met the multi-disciplinarian when she first arrived so they could become familiar with their work space. Ankhora found the doctor/surgeon/anthropologist, a tall, stately woman in her late fifties, to be firm but kind. Ankhora hoped that their place on the mission would remain more expeditionary and less functional. 

But Ankhora didn’t see the doctor in the galley, and lingered in the doorway feeling unsure. If it was up to her, she would get her meal and eat at a table on her own, or even better in her quarters. But Tee had sought her out and invited her, so she supposed she ought to at least make an effort to mingle. 

Before she could decide, however, Tee straightened and came toward her. 

“Come on, let’s get some food and I’ll introduce you!”

Ankhora put on a smile and followed Tee to the counter at the edge of the room, where a variety of meals were prepared. She chose one at random and walked back to the lively table with Tee. She sat down, Tee on her left, the other three crowded on the other side of the table. 

“I’m sure she needs no introduction, but that’s June. The genius of the group.” Tee pointed to each person as she introduced them. Juniper winked, grinning broadly.

“I don’t even know why Wyatt is here, he’s just a hacker,” Tee laughed as she pointed, and Wyatt batted her hand away with a grin. He was the oldest of the group, Ankhora guessed, in his mid to late forties. 

“Not a hacker, a programmer,” he clarified, and held out his hand for Ankhora to shake. She did so and he gave her a nod of solidarity, as though to indicate they were the only real adults at the table. 

“And that is Everly,” Tee completed her introductions with what Ankhora interpreted as a rather cooler tone. 

Everly was perhaps a few years younger than Ankhora herself, and very beautiful. She was picking at her food quietly, but there was a gleam to her eyes that made Ankhora felt she was more than capable of handling herself in this raucous group. 

Wyatt leaned toward Ankhora.

“Everly is the biologist,” Wyatt said, with a pointed look at Tee, who just shrugged. “She’s here to make sure we don’t die of some mutant virus.”

“I thought it was my job to make sure you don’t die,” Ankhora said lightly, and was rewarded with a hearty laugh from the table. She smiled a little, feeling a little more comfortable. She supposed it would make the trip more enjoyable if she had people she could talk to on the way. 

As they ate, they shared stories about their previous work or speculations about the expedition. During a lull, while Everly was engaging Wyatt and Juniper in a conversation about the benefits of molecular evolution, Tee leaned in toward Ankhora. 

“Those three over there?” Ankhora glanced over to the table where North and the other two were still silently completing their meals. She nodded. 

“That’s North Ingall, the historian. I’ve never read any of his stuff…too dense for me. The tall one is the pilot, Briton Kelleshevarian. Don’t really know anything about them. And the other one at that table is Veran Gilbrin, head of security. She’s tough, which is good for us, and also bad for us, if any of us ever gets out of line.”

Ankhora studied them closely. North was fairly nondescript, with brown skin and kind but weary eyes. The pilot was tall and terribly thin, with light hair. The way he was tucked around the table, his hands before him holding his food, reminded Ankhora of a praying mantis. 

Veran, on the other hand, was as hard as Kelleshevarian was delicate. Ankhora suddenly remembered she had been at her final interview. Her grey hair was cropped close, and there were substantial wrinkles around her severe eyes. Her mouth at rest was grim. No wonder there wasn’t any talking going on at that table. Ankhora was surprised she hadn’t recognized her cutting gaze.

“The one arguing is Alder Barata. She’s in charge of Operations, and judging by her looks, a complete badass.”

Tee interrupted Ankhora’s thoughts and she turned her attention to the last table. She could see what Telissa meant; Alder’s hair was dyed a bright purple and it looked as though she had piercings in most of her facial features.

“And you of course know our noble captain. Apparently they’ve never really gotten along. God help the poor bastard who assigned them on this mission together.”

With a start Ankhora realized she did recognize the captain. She had seen his image in her orientation materials, but hadn’t studied it in any great detail. And anyway, she had a feeling the picture didn’t do him justice. In person, Quill Solari radiated presence, even when his attention was directed so pointedly elsewhere. He was listening to Alder, shaking his head, but suddenly lifted his head and glanced over at Ankhora, as though he sensed her eyes on him. 

Ankhora blushed and looked away, and Tee chuckled and slapped her hand on her shoulder.

“Yeah, we all get like that around him. Except for Alder, apparently. But that’s why he’s the captain, I guess.”

Tee turned back to the table’s conversation, which appeared to be wrapping up. Ankhora stole another glance at Solari. It was true he seemed to embody the word “command.” She realized she knew next to nothing about their leader and made a note to read up on his background later. She only half-listened to the group around her as they finished up their meals and went their separate ways. Lost in thought, she made her way to the infirmary to work.

Time Capsule

“There’s something I should have told you.”

I stood next to Kristi on the grass, nervously clutching my beer. We had been standing together in silence for a few minutes, watching the kids play soccer with an ancient and balding ball. The chatter of the others filled the warm summer air around us as people laughed and ate. Kristi and I were representative of an age demographic that was in the minority; younger than most, older than the kids, old enough to have kids but didn’t. Olive and Paul were the only others of our group, and they were nowhere to be seen. I suspected they had gone off together somewhere.


Kristi lifted her own beer up to her mouth and kept her eyes on the kids.

“I, uh…”        

I floundered, suddenly regretting my decision to share the secret I had been keeping.

She turned toward me, an eyebrow lifted.

“Remember when we buried that box under the bridge? Over by the factory?” I blurted out the questions as though their speed would distract from their meaning.

Kristi merely watched me impassively and didn’t reply.

“Well, uh, you know how I said I put the locket in there? The one from your grandma?”

I swallowed, took a deep drink from my bottle, cleared my throat.

“I lied.”

Kristi’s expression didn’t change.

“You lied.”

Her voice betrayed nothing of how she was feeling. I was beginning to sweat.

“Uh, yeah. I…um, I sold it. To pay for…well, I just, I still feel bad about it. That’s all.”

Kristi turned away from me, her eyes returning to the playing kids. She took another sip from her beer. Her continued silence was making me skittish. Finally, she shrugged.

“It was going in the box anyway. It’s not like I was planning to ever see it again.”

I stared at her, feeling both relieved and somehow disappointed. All the guilt I had been carrying for so long…it was all for nothing? It was worthless? I shook my head, took another sip, turned back to watch the kids. I guess that was easier than I had thought, despite feeling somewhat unsatisfied by her response.

When Kristi turned back to face me, she had a small smile on her lips and a strange glint in her eyes I couldn’t comprehend.

“Let’s go get it.”

“The box?”

She nodded, her smile deepening.

“Let’s go dig it up.”

I glanced around the gathering, at all those who were enjoying themselves and not paying attention to us at all.

“Right now?”

She nodded again, finished her beer, and deposited the bottle in the recycling bag. She began to walk away. Feeling lost, and feeling a need to earn some kind of forgiveness, I drained my bottle, dumped it, and followed her out of the park.

It was late afternoon by the time we reached the bridge. The factory had already been closed for many years when we were kids, and now nature was reclaiming the property. The chain link fence was almost completely obscured by vines, and the road hadn’t been maintained. The bridge itself led nowhere.

I had never seen anyone other than Kristi out here. We used to come and drink, or talk, or just sit on the bridge, dangling our legs above a dirty river. There was no romance to the place. It was just old, and it was not our homes.

Now it seemed to hold a tantalizing dread as we approached. The setting sun was finding its way through the trees in golden slivers, and there was a continual sound of rustling branches and birdsong. It would be beautiful if it didn’t hold so many memories.

Kristi led the way down the embankment of the river into the cool shadow of the bridge. There was the sour smell of stagnant water and the air was musty. She led me to the spot, at the base of one of the bridge’s supports. The ground had sunken in a bit after years of changes in the riverbed.

Kristi snapped open the collapsible shovel she apparently kept in her car at all times. I chose not to question her about it. I don’t think I had cleaned out my car in all the years I owned it, so I was sure there was something in there others would find questionable. She looked silently down at the spot where we had buried our treasure so long ago, then without looking at me held out the shovel.

I stared at her for a moment, but she didn’t look at me, so I sighed and took the shovel. I shoved it into the soft ground. The handle was short and I had to bend awkwardly to get any leverage. Kristi stepped out of my way, watching, thankfully not offering any helpful commentary.

She was mad at me, for sure, but to what extent I wasn’t clear. Hopefully when we unearthed the box she would remember why she hung out with me.

Then again, she didn’t have to like me to hang out with me. Maybe she just didn’t have anyone else to spend time with. Sounded familiar.


I was preparing for another thrust of the shovel when she said my name, and I nearly lost my balance as my momentum carried me forward. But I was rewarded with a sharp metallic clonk as the shovel hit the box. I knelt and used the shovel as a trowel until I had unearthed all its edges. Excited, I handed the shovel back to Kristi as I used my hands to pry the box out of the cool earth. 

I continued to kneel as I fumbled with the catch. We hadn’t locked it, assuming either no one would find it or no one would care about the random trinkets we had placed inside. I felt a nervous excitement as I flipped the lid back. 

I stared down at the box resting on my knees, bits of different feelings running through me, like the various twigs and leaves slipping by on the river. Longing. Exhilaration. Agitation. Confusion.

I looked up at Kristi.

“It’s empty.”

She looked down at the empty metal box, its emptiness bleak and exigent. 


I saw her raise the shovel, but before I could compel my body to move, she brought it down, and everything went black. 

5 Things That Made Me Gay

Pride flag fluttering on flagpole


Listen, I know nothing can make you gay. I believe it’s a combination of nature and nurture, and we still don’t understand the nuances of sexual orientation, gender identity, and all the other aspects of ourselves that make us who we are. But one of my favorite podcasts, the Male Gayz, did a similar exercise a while back, and I thought it was fun and funny. And it was entertaining to think back on my life and discover what I thought was influential to who I am today. I didn’t come out until I was 19, and I’m still figuring some things out, so a lot of these reflections are connecting the dots many years after the fact. But, as many queer people have done before, a lot of understanding yourself is thinking back on your life and going, “ooooooooohhhhhhhhh.”

And so, in no particular order: 

  1. “Let Me Be Good to You” from the Great Mouse Detective: This film is excellent. Distinctive animation, killer soundtrack, thrilling story, and probably wildly inappropriate for children. There is drug use, kidnapping, attempted murder, actual murder. A mouse gets eaten by a cat on screen (in shadowed silhouette, but still). And there is a scene which amounts to a burlesque show that takes place in a seedy rodent bar. One of my favorite parts in one of my favorite movies. Formative, you might say. And if you need a refresher: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=la0jHFe4GYU
  2. Shakespeare: There is some controversy about who Shakespeare really was, and if he was even one person, but until I have definitive evidence otherwise, I believe Shakespeare was a real person (not some Duke or whatever), and that he was a literary and theatrical genius. And Shakespeare is hella queer. Cross dressing, fairies, forbidden love? It’s all there, and my sister Liz and I used to recite passages with one another when we were kids. Nurture, anyone?
  3. Mulan (1998): Another one of my favorite films, this movie, while not historically accurate, was hugely influential to my queer identity. A woman dresses up as a man so she can fight in a war and defend her family? Yes please! And I was (and remain) obsessed with the song “Reflection.” It perfectly captures some of the things I was and am feeling but didn’t really have context for yet: “Who is that girl I see, staring straight back at me? Why is my reflection someone I don’t know? Somehow I cannot hide who I am, though I’ve tried. When will my reflection show who I am inside?” And “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” still slaps.
  4. Harry Potter: This is less about the story itself than it is about how my love for Harry Potter changed how I saw myself and interacted with others. I don’t have much love for the franchise now, and JK Rowling has revealed herself to be a TERF and a piece of sh*t, but when Harry Potter first came out I was hooked. It also came out at a time when my family moved to a different school district over winter break when I was in 6th grade. I went from being at a junior high to going back to an elementary school, and it was a difficult adjustment. The “friends” I first made there turned out to be a bunch of jerks, and the way I made new friends was by discovering others who shared my love of HP. We would talk it over endlessly on the playground, discussing what house we would be in, our favorite characters, and our ideal magical animal companion. This time period, while difficult, helped me learn how to be my authentic self with others, something I am continuing to learn to do today. 
  5. Star Trek: Ah, Star Trek. That glorious, bizarre, enlightening, thrilling, philosophical, groundbreaking and sometimes absolutely bonkers franchise. Star Trek means many things to me: wonder, adventure, friendship, leadership, consequence, the dilemma of choice, the hope of humanity. It explores race and gender and sexuality, sometimes very well. Some episodes make no damn sense at all. But the spirit of Star Trek is the ideal of inclusion, and that was imprinted deep into my soul. I have learned to be more open and accepting of everyone, including myself, and that has been deeply impactful to my own coming-out journey. 

Could I go on? Absolutely. Will I? Not today. But it’s fun to think back on how the things I consumed and what was meaningful to me influenced my queer identity. Maybe it made a huge difference. Maybe it shaped my preferences and tastes. Or maybe I would always have been like this. Who knows?

*Honorable mention: when I was young (maybe 7 or 8?), my sister and I were playing with our friends at Alameda beach. The tide had gone way out, and we were playing and exploring the shallows. I cut my foot on a piece of glass, and our friend Rachel carried me back to shore so my wound could be tended to. To this day I have a thing for big strong women. Swoon.