Science Fiction: Stories about aliens and zombies

This week, we take a journey into science-fiction to find out if aliens can master the science of empathy and zombies can bring a couple closer together.

Part 1: Chase Masterson's role on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine inspires her to think about how she can help others.

Chase Masterson is best known for her five-year breakout role as Leeta on Star Trek DS9 & the Doctor Who Big Finishaudio spinoff, VIENNA. Seen Guest-Starring on The Flash, Chase is a fan-favorite for her roles starring opposite Bruce Campbell (SyFy'sTerminal Invasion), as well as opposite Jerry O’Connell, Tom Baker and Sylvester McCoy, and Co-Hosting with Ryan Seacrest and Scott Mantz. Feature film roles include starring in Stephen King’s Sometimes They Come Back for More, Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles, and e-One’s critically acclaimed sci-fi noir, Yesterday Was a Lie, as well as playing herself in Miramax’s Comic Book: The Movie, directed by Mark Hamill, and an early role in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, directed by Mel Brooks (SQUEEE!). During the run of DS9, TV Guide Readers’ Poll named Chase Favorite Sci-Fi Actress on TV.  A devout feminist, Chase has consoled herself from being listed in AOL’s 10 Sexiest Aliens on TV, Screen Rant’s 15 Most Stunning Aliens on Star Trek and in Femme Fatales 50 Sexiest Women of the Year by creating a dizzying list of charity initiatives with ChaseClub: fundraisers for the firehouse most affected by 9/11, Caring for Babies with AIDS, Hurricane Katrina, and a long-standing relationship with Homeboy Industries, where she has mentored women and men coming out of gangs for the past 9 years. Chase is the Founder of the Pop Culture Hero Coalition, the 1st ever non-profit organization to stand against bullying, racism, misogyny, LGBTQI-bullying and cyberbullying using comics, TV and film. 

Part 2: Bethany Van Delft and her fiance reckon with the zombie apocalypse.

Bethany Van Delft’s “hip & grounded, laid back delivery” has earned her the honor of performing at the prestigious Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal, San Francisco Sketchfest, as well as appearances on Comedy Central, TV Guide Channel, NickMom, and 2 Dope Queens podcast. Her "series at the Women in Comedy Festival "38/7%" was a huge hit, and monthly show, Artisanal Comedy, has been named “one of the top indie nights to check out”. Her latest project, a hilariously cringeworthy storytelling show/podcast with Nick Chambers “Starstruck: Close Encounters of the Awkward Kind” is becoming a fan favorite. Unashamedly in touch with her inner nerd, Bethany has been a panelist on “You’re The Expert” and “Literary Death Match”. She hosts MOTH mainstages around the country, MOTH storyslams & Grandslams, is thrilled to have a MOTH story re-posted by SULU! (aka George Takei) and honored to have a story included in The MOTH's 2nd book "All These Wonders".


Episode Transcript

Part 1: Chase Masterson

Back in 1995, Deep Space Nine was the one show I really wanted to be on.  That is not because I watched the show of my own accord.  No, no.  I watched the show because I had a boyfriend who was such a Trekkie that I was only allowed to call him during commercials.  Who’s sorry now? 

So I watch the show and I thought, yes, I love the concepts in that, and so I wanted to meet the casting director.  I went to one of these showcases where you can pay $30 to meet a casting director except for I didn’t have an extra $30.  I was really broke.  So I asked the woman running the workshops if I could do some work for her in exchange for letting me meet some casting directors. 

So I met the right guy, the casting director for DS9 and he called me in shortly thereafter for the role of Mardah.  Now, Mardah was a Bajoran-Dabo girl in the second season dating Captain Sisko’s son Jake.  So you know how it goes.  We went back for callback after callback after callback and, finally, they went with the other girl.  It was down to two of us and they picked her because Jake was sixteen and she's nineteen and I’m not. 

I thought, “Oh, how close and yet so far away.  I just really wanted this.”  Then I heard that based on my audition, the producers wrote the role of Leeta for me.  It’s a huge honor. 

I knew that this was a special role, too, because Bajorans are very spiritual.  They are from a planet that has been taken over by an extremely brutal race.  And Dabo girls are fun and I thought, well, shouldn’t those two be combined? 

So I started thinking a lot about the power of this show and the combination of fun and pathos.  And I started thinking about Gene Roddenberry’s concepts of infinite diversity and infinite combinations and empathy and the show’s concepts of justice.  One phrase stuck out in my mind.  It was when Captain Kirk said, “Let me help,” in an episode in the original series.  I started thinking how much that mattered and how this was interwoven into the fabric of what Star Trek has become. 

So from the very beginning, my fan club has supported various charities but we started with a really powerful cause.  It was a nonprofit called Caring for Babies with AIDS.  My club raised money to help them build a whole other house for kids that didn’t have anywhere else to go. 

Through the years of going to conventions, I was evangelized by Trek fans into the world of kindness and empathy.  I can’t tell you how many times I would go to a little town in the deep south or somewhere where in the mid-nineties they weren’t so understanding of people with AIDS or children with AIDS.  And these Trek fans would greet me at the airport because they couldn’t wait to say, “Here.  We had a bake sale and we raised this money for those kids.”  Or, “Here, we had a carwash and here’s a check for your charity.”  Or, “Here, this is something that we raised at my office.”  Trek fans care. 

So I was raising money with my fan club pretty closely then in 1991 that vulnerable period where you go from one job which ends and, hopefully, to the next the unthinkable happened.  A member of my fan club who I worked with closely to raise money for these kids decided he wasn’t getting as much out of his fan club membership as he wanted.  He listed me on a huge international dating service without my knowledge or consent.  He listed pictures of me and a list of my acting credits and my home address.  He also listed disgusting sexual lies.  I was one of the first people doxed without the support of social media, and I say that both honestly and ironically. 

We contacted and asked them to take it down but they said that they couldn’t take it down because I wasn’t the one that posted it.  My point exactly.  So I was vulnerable and out there. 

He had also listed an email address where you could email me.  He would get it and he would correspond with people as me.  And we found out that each person that he was corresponding with who thought that they were emailing with me, he would say my name, address and home phone number and the words, “You think you are the right one?  Prove it.”  A blatant invitation for someone to come to my house and get me. 

I subsequently received a threat from someone saying that they were going to brutally stalk and rape me and kill my son.  My fear and terror and rage knew no bounds. 

After a period of time, I sued Matchmaker.  I lost the lawsuit and I lost the appeal because the courts said that we have the right to free speech on the internet.  And while I contended that my home address coupled with disgusting sexual lies was not free speech, they won.  Then Matchmaker sued me for their legal fees, and won. 

Again, my rage knew no bounds.  I was angry, I had hatred, I was furious and I was terrified.  A friend of mine saw that my anger and depression was eating me up and she said, “Why don’t you go work for someone else?  Why don’t you go and help someone else who really needs help and get out of your own head?”  I felt like my own head was a warzone so I went to a warzone thirty minutes from my house. 

Homeboy Industries is the largest prevention program for gang membership in the world.  We’re talking Crips and Bloods and MS-13, and all of the men and women that land at Homeboy come straight out of prison and all of them are heavy-duty felons that Homeboy is sure no one else would hire. 

So Homeboy helps these kids with job placement, get housing and become better parents and parenting classes and all of that, but when I got there I didn’t get there as some white savior.  I got there broken and vulnerable.  I got there telling them that although there was no way I could understand all that they had to carry, I knew what it was like to be afraid to go home, to have my life threatened, to have my family’s life threatened.  I knew what it was like to have rage and anger so potent that it was destroying me.  I knew what it was like not to want to ever be awake. 

Somehow, I held up my hand to those Crips and Bloods and they held out theirs and I found safety and comfort and belonging with the despised and the outcast. 

One of the kids that we started working with, well, we worked with a lot of kids where there were not very happy stories.  Yes, it was rewarding but it wasn’t fun.  One of the kids, Smiley, I went to see him.  He was one of our best kids.  I went to see him just before they pulled the plug after he had gotten shot and he was on life support. 

Another of our kids, Omar, was shot six times.  He was one of the most absolutely rebellious kids and we didn’t have very much hope for him.  Now, he's great.  He had his wakeup call and he is right on track living a beautiful life with two beautiful children. 

Another guy that we worked with, his name was Vance.  I call him Ad-Vance because his life is so fully transformed.  Ad-Vance was the head of the Crips both outside and inside Fulsom State Prison.  I asked him one day, “Ad-Vance, how did you get involved in this life of incredible pain?” 

He told me that when he was a kid, he was bullied on the playground and he and his friends formed a little gang to get after, get back at the bullies and they grew, and they grew, and they grew, and they grew and everybody started getting worse tactics.  Vance’s gang was absorbed into the gang Avalon because of the street that they live in in South Central and absorbed into the Crips. 

I started thinking about how bullying is all the same dynamic in the world, whether it’s on the playground or grade school or relationships or the workplace or war.  I started thinking about the different kinds of war, the war on women, the war on the poor, the war on our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and I started thinking isn’t there a way that we can make kindness and helping and inclusivity more mainstream? 

About this time I would go to San Diego Comic Con and I would cross the street and I would look at the incredible power of pop culture.  I would look at this phenomenon and I would think, yes, these stories are potent.  They're powerful.  But isn’t there some way we can use them more directly?  Isn’t there some way we can harness them for real-world good? 

About that time, I heard about a little girl named Katie who was bullied in first grade for bringing her Star Wars water bottle to school.  All the boys were saying, “Katie, you can’t like Star Wars.  You're a girl.” 

Well, Katie told her mother Carrie Goldman that she was having this problem at school and Carrie, who has a very well-travelled blog, put the word out and said, “If you are a woman and you like science or like pop culture, please send some encouraging words for my daughter Katie,” and thousands of people responded. 

Huffington Post picked up the blog and people were giving comments.  There was support from Lucas Film #MayTheForceBeWithKatie.  Do you remember?  Well, there was such an outpouring and Carrie realized that the issue of bullying was very severe and very potent. 

She decided to write a book.  I was one of the people that posted and she asked me to do an interview for the book.  And she asked me to put her in touch with other actors who could do an interview for the book.  So I put her in touch with my friend Peter Mayhew.  Now, little Katie getting bullied in first grade for liking Star Wars is friends with the real Chewbacca.  Don’t fuck with us. 

Harper Collins bought Carrie’s book.  It’s called Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.  It won a lot of awards and rave reviews and Carrie asked me to get her book into Comic Con.  That’s when it all clicked. 

I said, “Yes, let’s get your book into comic con and let’s do more.  Let’s take the power of pop culture and get everybody involved that we possibly can.  Let’s address this issue of bullying and end it in every way that we can.  Let’s form a coalition.” 

Then I got off the phone and I thought, “What the hell have I done?  How do I form a coalition?  What even is a coalition?” 

So I looked up the word and I made sure that I got it right then I started thinking.  I had to deliver so I called the place that you would want if you’re forming a coalition.  I called the United Nations.  I looked up their number online and I called then and now I’m on the phone with the president of the United Nations Association of San Diego and her team is there. 

It’s a big conference call and I’m saying, “Hi.  This is Chase Masterson from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and I’m forming a coalition to end bullying at Comic Con.  And well, you know, you guys, you guys end bullying, right?  With countries.  So would you like to join us?”

And the voice on the other line, the United Nations said, “Oh, my God.  We've always wanted to go to Comic Con.” 

So that’s how Pop Culture Hero Coalition was born.  That was in 2013.  In 2015 we partnered with the team of incredible activists who would go on to produce the Women’s March on Washington.  In 2016 we partnered with Yale School of Psychology Center for Emotional Intelligence.  And now we’re doing a 30-point curriculum to bring into schools with the intersection of pop culture and social justice. 

All of this started without a plan.  All of this started with only a hunch that empathy and compassion and social activism is teachable.  I’m no captain.  I’m no first officer.  I’m no doctor and I’m no educator.  But I believe that the science of empathy is worth pursuing.  It’s all we've got for our next generations.  I know this.  I’m just a lowly Dabo girl trying to make the world better for herself and for other people, and isn’t that the most Star Trek story of all?  Thanks. 


Part 2: Bethany Van Delft

So me and Jayme, we’re sitting on the couch in our living room watching TV and a commercial for a movie, a zombie movie comes on.  Shaun of the Dead.  When it’s over I say, “I don’t understand this whole like fighting-for-your-life-in-a-zombie-takeover thing.  Like what are you fighting for?  To be the last human in a world full of zombies?  Because that’s what’s going to happen.  They're going to totally take over and then you're going to be the last person fighting for your life in an undead world.  Like I’m not doing that. 

I’m going up to the first zombie I see, I’m going to stick my neck in his mouth, I’m going to get bit and I’m going to amble all over the world until a human fighting for their life knocks my head off.” 

And he whips around, grabs my shoulders and he goes, “What the hell is wrong with you?  We’re getting married.  Take that back right now.  Say that you will not get bit first.  Tell me right now that you will fight for your life against the zombies with me.  Like we’re in this together.” 

It’s true we were engaged, but, until that moment, I hadn’t really thought about the difference between living together and being married.  I wasn’t a little girl who had dreams of weddings or dressers or seating plans or anything.  I didn’t even have a wedding plan, except for the one with my first boyfriend wherein we would marry at Studio 54, because we would be loaded enough to reopen Studio 54, and we would both be dressed in flowing white kiyana and we would dance down a lit-up runway to Grace Jones’s “I’m Not Perfect (But I’m Perfect For You).” 

But when he found his husband that plan didn’t seem like it would work as nicely with anyone else, so I ditched it. 

I'd been in relationships before, good ones.  I'd even been engaged before.  But anytime I saw a little fault or a crack in the foundation, I'd dash for the exit every time.  But there was something different about Jayme’s type of love and patience.  I knew this by the way I grew with him and the way I missed him and the way I started believing that every fight was not the last fight. 

I would hear people say, “You'll know when it’s the one,” which I thought was a load of hooey because I never knew it was the one, but this time I did.  Like Jayme was the one so we were getting married, which I thought was living together with matching dishware. 

But that night on the couch, I realized that maybe being married is having a commitment that’s so strong that you might have to reconsider fierce convictions, like whether or not you'll fight when the zombies come. 

So I looked at him and I said, “Oh, my God.  I’m so sorry.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  I won’t get bit first.  I promise.  I won’t leave you with the zombies.  I promise that I will fight the zombies with you until the very end.” 

We went out and got How to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse and we read a chapter everyday and we studied like our lives depended on it, because hypothetically they did. 

First things first.  To slay a zombie you have to know a zombie.  So we learned that zombies, 99.9% of the time, are not created by magic.  They're created by a virus called solanum. 

Here’s how it works.  The virus invades the brain, shuts it down and all other bodily functions and then it uses frontal lobe cells to replicate and then it destroys it.  And that’s bad because the frontal lobe is the control panel of your personality.  It controls things like memory, emotion, language, judgment.  It regulates your emotions to fit societal norms, like curb your desire to eat people.  Damage to the frontal lobe makes it hard to assess risk and danger.  That’s how come a zombie is still going to try to eat you even if you're swinging a machete at it.  The primary motor cortex is there and that’s responsible for voluntary movement, like walking. 

So without your frontal lobe, you can’t form simple thoughts, you can’t reason, you can’t move on your own.  And they're like zombies walk. 

Well, after the mutation, the brain becomes a brand new organ.  It’s completely independent of the body but it uses the body like a tool.  Like it’s the pilot of the body like Voltron or something.  It uses the body to get its one and only desire, which is to eat.  That’s why you have to chop a zombie’s head off. 

Nobody knows yet what drives a zombie’s instinct to eat so there's no way to control it.  You can’t reason with it, therefore you cannot domesticate a zombie. which led to really heartfelt conversations between me and Jayme. 

Bethany Van Delft shares her story at the Oberon Theater in Cambridge, Mass., in January 2018. Photo by Kate Flock.

Bethany Van Delft shares her story at the Oberon Theater in Cambridge, Mass., in January 2018. Photo by Kate Flock.

In the beginning of our studies, we both believed fully that we would keep each other when we turned.  But after learning the true nature of zombies, how they're just going to keep coming at you and trying to eat you, we changed it to, “Okay.  I’m going to keep you if you turn but you have to kill me when I turn,” because we don’t want to cause harm to each other. 

But well, well, well into our studies we realized that what we’re really facing here is we might come upon the day when this person who we love and loved us is not that person anymore.  They're gone.  We had to think about how are we going to let go.  It’s crazy. 

Zombies don’t have superhuman powers.  Sometimes people say that, but they don’t.  The brain can only make the body do what it did in living life.  For instance, zombies aren’t super fast.  A zombie can only go as fast as their leg length allows them, which I used as support in my argument that he's got to kill me because my inseam is 34 inches.  So he has to kill me or I'll run him down. 

It was super fun.  It was really fun doing this but, somewhere along the way, our preparation for living in an undead world actually unwittingly prepared us for living together in the real world.  Like when the zombies come they're going to take over and that’s it.  How do you live everyday knowing that? 

But in the real world, forever is not forever.  The end is always coming so you have to learn to live together, stay together just one day at a time.  This was really fun and it brought us close together like dance lessons do for some people, except we were going to survive the zombie apocalypse and they were going to dance into the arms of zombies. 

Jayme was totally into weapons and war and tactical things.  I was into home comforts and downsizing for life on the run.  I became the Marie Kondo of zombie apocalypse packing.  We packed our zombie bag and we planned our wedding. 

We both wanted to get married with our toes on the sand and the sky and the sea as our decorations.  And another night on the couch we saw the perfect beach in a Corona commercial.  We found that beach and we got married there with sixty-six of our very close friends and family, all of our toes in the sand in front of radiant turquoise water. 

Our officiant said, “Do you, Bethany, take Jayme?  Do you, Jayme, take Bethany the old-fashioned way?”  He spoke into a microphone because the ocean was roaring so loudly and beautifully you couldn’t hear anything.  But you still couldn’t hear when Jayme and I said ‘I do’ to each other and no one could hear the last words I said after ‘for all of our lives’.  The last words I said which were, “and I promise I will fight the zombies with you until the very end.”  Thank you.