Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.Percy Bysshe Shelley, A Defence of Poetry and Other Essays
SIM CREDITS (and the relevant forum discussion):
Neala and Rhiannon Avery — IrishSong
Juliet Harrison — CitySimmer
Thora Shinigami (and her cat Lemmy) — VanPelt81
Jazz Deon/Jenny Trevalyn — Cathy Tea (Jazz has their own story here; this is parallel-universe Jazz)
Gorman and Aries Bellingham — also VanPelt81
Chantel Lucas and River Indigo — de moi
Thanks to everyone who contributed a character!
Despite being the first out of anyone’s respective houses, Neala was doing some sort of FILO-type thing where her natural organizational abilities drove her to place herself at the back of the group, like a sheepdog. And, given the repeated herding commands she was giving, she wasn’t unaware of this.
Neala waved her hands in a coaxing motion at the approximate level of everyone’s caboose. “Scoot, go on, scoot.”
Rhiannon was thirty minutes into her TikTok-makeup-artist-guided meditation when she got the command from her sister to spin change. “I don’t get why we have to be there 15 minutes early when you’re already so organized. You’d probably have everything ready to go in like, a minute.”
“It’s so we’d be on time even if something held us up.” You know the mainsplain stance where the ‘splainer points toward the sky? School-of-Athens Plato style? That one? That’s the gesture Neala was making. “If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late.”
By now, this exchange was natural and scripted, and Rhiannon didn’t need to waste any time thinking of how it would play out. It was her turn. She’d ask what would happen if something delayed them longer than 15 minutes. Then Neala would threaten to leave even earlier next time, and the interaction would end. It was one of several predictable interactions they had weekly and never talked about; Rhiannon’s favorite was the one where she yelled to Neala she couldn’t find something, and Neala replied it was in the last place she, Rhiannon, left it, and Rhiannon retorted that if it were in the last place she left it, it wouldn’t be lost, end scene.
But having recently identified this dynamic, Rhiannon hadn’t yet tried breaking the flow. This time she didn’t say anything about the quarter-hour rule being arbitrary. When she glanced behind, Neala did seem confused, but not enough to stop walking.
Ahead, Jazz skipped next to River, shoes leaving spritely divots in the Oasis Springs sand flooring Jazz had been so fond of when they last lived there. Or perhaps it wasn’t the sand so much as the flora Jazz could name from memory, scientific and common names, and tell any interested party which were edible. Not that they felt entitled to complain, but if they could change one thing about River’s apartment, it would be the lack of sustainable landscaping. This wasn’t a secret. Jazz lost track of the number of times they said ‘cactus’ before River got one, or rather three succulents in smiley-face pots. The initial plan was to have the succulents live in Jazz’s room, but Jazz had moved them to the south-facing kitchen window to better fulfill the sun requirements for a desert plant. Someone had got it into their head to track the succulents’ growth and so River’s phone was full of daily cactus pictures.
Grateful as they were, years of Stranger Danger training had left Jazz, a fastidious rule-follower especially in situations that involved bodily safety, unable to talk to the person who got them out of the campsite. So much had happened in the week after they’d been invited to live in a real tiny San Myshuno apartment with a real celebrity in it, a nice one, and they still had no clue what to say. This wasn’t a situation they could have prepared for. But Jazz could show gratitude; they weren’t a rude roommate, they cooked meals and tidied up common areas through River’s protests that this wasn’t necessary and that they could just focus on school.
Not that River seemed to mind Jazz’s perceived lack of social skills; they seemed to take it in stride like welcoming a runaway teen into their home was something anyone would have done and nothing worth remarking on. That, or they were so focused on ruminating they hadn’t noticed. Jazz had heard River call Aristotle’s Rhetoric outdated—and on some level, duh, but it stuck out in Jazz’s mind as a microcosm of who they were dealing with, that this had to be said in the first place.
When Jazz had asked River what they were supposed to do during this meeting, River had said something about “getting a feel for the band” and “needing an outlet.” Now what Jazz had really been asking about was what to do with their hands, like physically, because it did seem like the older band members would drive the conversation. That was partly why they liked the guitar, come to think of it. In response to the abstract answer, Jazz had brought a two-foot-long receipt that they planned to rip up into origami squares.
The community center door swung open with a blast of air conditioning. A familiar figure waved from the back of the hallway.
Having re-seated herself closer to the entrance, Juliet waved again, demonstrating that she indeed had five separate fingers and had not been waving a blob before; it was just a consequence of distance. “I got here at 5:45 so I wouldn’t be late,” she explained.
River opened their mouth only to be interrupted by a similarly-timed vocalization from Juliet, and this happened again within the same second. They waved toward Juliet, encouraging her even though she didn’t know where to look after the false start. “Go ahead. No, you go ahead.”
“So I didn’t want to be late—I guess I said that already, and I was planning to be 15 minutes earlier anyway, but what if something happened that took longer than 15 minutes?” Rhiannon had been sneaking into the conference room during this monologue, but poked her head out and nodded at this point, wrinkling her nose in tacit approval. “Like, I mean, for example, if the entire location-loading system just stopped and I had to walk there so it would take time—I don’t know how it would work but I assume it would work, walking makes sense but I don’t know how to get here—or if maybe my keyholders dropped by the apartment and I had to distract them so they wouldn’t leave empty juice glasses everywhere where I was gone, or something else. I don’t know.”
“Well, everything went okay and we’re glad to have you here,” River said.
“Yes! And I’m so excited! I wrote a bunch of lyrics last week”—she took out a folder covered in penguin stickers—“and I have some idea about the melody, but don’t know much about chords—the flute can’t play them—why am I telling you that? You know that. Anyway, so I was hoping you or Thora or Chantel could help me out there—or you, Jazz—and I was thinking about what accompaniment would go well with the flute, but you know, maybe flute is too light for the lyrics I have and I should just sit this one out on the flute. So I’m interested to know if you could come up with something that’s the opposite of what would sound good with a flute, but not the opposite of good-sounding chords, and I’d really like to hear it.”
River held out a hand. “May I see them?”
“Sure.” Juliet parted ways with the folder. “I’m a little scared to share them, and I’m not sure it’s as good as the stuff in my portfolio, but I still want to know what you think.”
“Thanks. I’ll skim them before rehearsal and we can talk then.” The penguin folder entered the conference room, and was able to do so because River was carrying it. The two band members in the waiting room heard some shuffling of papers and clicking of keys before the door closed.
“Do you know if we should go in there?” Juliet asked. Jazz shrugged.
A few beats passed. Beats as in Juliet had been tapping her foot, trying to get as close to 120 bpm as possible while occasionally checking her phone clock. She looked over to Jazz. It was unclear whether Jazz would want to have a conversation; they weren’t making eye contact but also weren’t sitting as far away from Juliet as possible on the opposite sofa, which Juliet took to be a good sign. But even if they were open to conversation, Juliet couldn’t settle on what about—something trivial about the impending rehearsal? No. That’d leave nowhere to go unless she thought fast. Or the environment—boy, these zigzags sure are green? No good either.
Meanwhile, Jazz had decided it was time to start messing with the receipt.
Juliet took her chance. “Whatcha got there?”
“What’s it for?”
“Gummy bears.” Careful readers who happen to correlate the receipt’s length with its contents may infer that Jazz bought them at a pharmacy.
The succinct answers may have discouraged other conversationalists, but Juliet was all gut and gumption and a quitters-never-win attitude.
“How many gummy bears?”
“A normal amount.”
“Do you have the gummy bears with you?”
With the remaining edge of their short nails, Jazz resumed creasing the paper in both directions for an even tear.
“Why do you have the receipt, then?”
And, just as Juliet had hoped, Jazz lit right up.
There was a bookshelf at the thrift store Jazz and River had gone to when Jazz needed more weather-appropriate clothing, where they had gotten the vest and what I think are water shoes with a big toe spacer so that A, Jazz’s big toe wouldn’t rub up against the other toes, and B, if they found a river—the kind that isn’t a proper noun—they could splash around without worry. Also maybe C, no need for socks. The V-neck was from a ten-pack of white V-necks. On that shelf was a modular origami book with all the squares taken out that cost §2, and River could hardly refuse to buy it after Jazz, who hadn’t smiled since moving in, examined every photo as if they were seeing the face of god in all its multitudinous forms.
But this wasn’t information Juliet had, and so she wasn’t prepared for the momentum at which Jazz’s knowledge of modular origami wanted to come out. The barrage Juliet received would cause a sternographer to yeet their machine into the ground and storm off, so rather than present it here in full, we assure you that it was a multimedia experience that involved the book, a recitation based on a cursory search of modular origami’s history and scope plus the book’s introduction, a live demonstration involving one piece of receipt that had been converted into a regular polygon and then converted further into a delightfully teeny construction piece that was destined to join its brothers and sisters in something bigger than itself.
“That sounds fun,” a voice to Jazz’s left said. The way it said ‘fun’ was delightfully tonal, dipping down before rising up to produce a tasteful amount of vocal fry. Some time into the geometric-origami monologue, Gorman and Aries had sneaked in. And Aries, unlike a YouTube ad, waited until Jazz was at the end of a paragraph rather than interrupting in the middle of a one-syllable word.
He sat down next to Jazz. “I like this one,” he said, pointing to a tricolor icosahedron on the back cover.
Jazz checked before nodding. “Me too. It looks like a plant I saw in a dream.”
“Did the dream tell you how it got that way?”
“I think the dream explanation was that it was growing in different soils, but with the color in blocks like this, I think Turing patterns may have been involved.” Jazz was met with blank stares. “It’s when natural processes start making patterns out of something that looks random or uniform to us.”
“Turing patterns? I’ll have to look that up.” He scanned the community center hallway, finding no one else. “Are they in there? Should we go in?”
Juliet looked toward Jazz, who in theory should have more information but who certainly wasn’t going to say anything. “I don’t know. I think they’re busy planning something.”
“Alright. It can’t hurt to wait out here until 6.” He stretched until he could read the cover of the book Jazz held in their lap. The title, Modular Origami, caught the fluorescent lights of the community center hallway in its gloss, creating a glint that moved diagonally across the letters when its owner shuffled their legs. “What are you making and/or have made from this?”
“I’m starting small. So far, I’ve made a bunch of these little squares, and I’m planning to get good at the little squares with scrap paper and things like that before trying anything else. These look best when you can get all the parts to look the same.”
There was some ooh-ing from Aries and Juliet at the little-squares section.
“It seems like it would be more fun with the colors,” Juliet said.
Jazz held up an unopened package of highlighters. “I have highlighters.”
“I think that design would also look good with two colors. More modern and not as busy.” This last voice startled the three sims on the opposite couch: if the word count alone was enough information for them to deduce Gorman didn’t say that, the voice was also female, and had a gruffness that his caramel tone lacked.
Aries yelped. “Whoa! When did you get here?”
“I turned into a bat, that turned into mist, that came in through the air vents, that got sucked back out again, that transformed back into human form and opened the door very quietly,” said Thora.
“Oh,” Juliet said, “that’s exactly how I got there, too.”
Thora chuckled; the way Aries threw out that line got her. “Should we”—she gestured at the conference room door—“should we go in?”
Aries waited for the three other band members to respond before answering. “I think they’re setting something up.”
Juliet nodded. “Is this everyone?” Counting on her fingers, she deduced, “No. We’re missing someone. The blonde one?”
Thora’s phone let out an enraged growl backed by what sounded like a weed whacker. Which is not to cast a judgement on her craft: this was more likely a result of the artist realizing the tool’s connection to a central metaphor about living in a world where your presence is perceived as inconvenient, and incorporating it as a sort of vehicle. She held up the phone. “One of mine.” When she turned her phone around to read it, the others may have been surprised to see the device naked, no Grateful Dead case or anything. “Scary Barbie texted me. She’s almost here.”
“Scare-Barbz is in the house.” All eyes went toward the door when Chantel stomped in, standing so desaturated against the vibrant background she may have been copy-pasted and forgotten to tell anyone.
Juliet checked her phone. “Just before 6. Everyone’s on time! That’s a good sign. I was so worried I wasn’t going to make it, you know, but we’re all here! You know, I just hope our songwriting skills are as on point as our being-on-time skills.” To clarify, she knows the word ‘punctuality,’ but it didn’t have the comic cadence she was aiming for.
While Juliet spoke, Chantel grabbed the last available seat on the couch block, next to Gorman and across from Juliet. “Where are our leaders?”
It was the other scary lady’s turn to answer. “Conference room. They’re setting something up.”
“We don’t know if we’re supposed to go in yet,” said Juliet.
“Fuck it.” Chantel got up from the couch. “It’s five-fifty and change. I’m going in.”
“Race ya.” Before any of the other band members could react, Thora spun around in a crouch, launching herself so that she could place one laced boot in Chantel’s path. The door registered the presence of both women and swung open.
Neala looked up from her computer. “Oh, hi. We were just about to get you. We’re not sure why everyone was waiting outside.”
“So we could have just come in at any time?” Thora took the seat furthest from the door, Chantel slouching down next to her.
“It doesn’t really matter.” She nodded toward five folding chairs, arranged haphazardly in a charming semicircle. “Next time you can come in earlier and help set up the chairs.”
Juliet was the next to arrive, repeating the point Thora had brought up, and turned around to deliver the news to Aries and Gorman. Rounding out the ensemble was Jazz, who hesitated when they found that all five seats were taken. It wasn’t until they looked toward River for guidance that they realized River was patting the fourth seat at the head of the room. A tad more prominent than Jazz would have liked, but it came tricked out with a computer.
River waited for everyone to get used to the new seats. “Right, now that everyone’s here, let’s get started.” Looking to their left, they gave Neala a slight nod. “We have some organizational stuff to go over before we start rehearsal. Make sure we’re clear on the expectations and all.”
It seemed like Neala was considering whether to stand, but decided against it. “So first things first, everyone remembers filling out the band agreement?”
Nods, nods. Some nodding.
“Okay, don’t hesitate to ask me if there are any questions about that. But right now, I want to talk over what has to happen and get a rough idea of the timeline. We’re going to spend most of today collaborating on a couple songs, talking about influences, and then having a small jam session—and we don’t know how long each is going to take, but I’d like a few songs to choose from at the end of the month.” If this seems brisk, recall that sims have a faster understanding of time than we do. “Then, the songs we choose will be mixed and mastered so we have a couple demo tracks.”
“We can work on that together,” River added, indicating Aries and Gorman.
“Anyway. Before we release an album, and after we have a dozen songs written—I hope that with everyone on board, that averages out to two per person, and Jazz can chip in as well, so we’re looking at three months at the absolute most—I’m going to start organizing gigs at local venues. Primarily San Myshuno. That way, Rhiannon and I can gauge audience reactions and determine what material needs to be edited, if any, before it makes it into the album. Don’t get discouraged if there are a couple duds. And then we can think about our first album!”
“Whee!” Rhiannon tippy-tapped in her seat.
“Before the album release, I’ll take care of copyrighting for anyone who worked on the writing process for each song, as well as payment and royalties. And that’s it! Just remember that we’re expecting you to practice on your own from 3–5 hours a week, work on songs for 3–5 hours a week if you have an assignment, and group practice is at this time: once a week on Thursdays from 6–9 PM.”
Rhiannon nudged Neala’s foot under the table.
“Um, yes. Rhiannon is in charge of public relations, graphic design, and the band website. She has some ideas she’d like you to think about for the promotional photo shoot.”
“Alright!” Rhiannon didn’t ask if everyone was pumped and then ask a second time to make them confirm it louder, but she looked like she was going to. “So this is going to be all about planning the band’s vibe. Now we know what general idea we’re aiming for, and that’s centering cooperation, camaraderie, and diversity. A demonstration of the ways femininity can be powerful. And the best way to do that, of course, is for you to dress in a way that reflects yourself! Soft or edgy, nurturing or intimidating, introspective or forceful.”
“But not commercial.” That was River.
“But not commercial. Secondhand clothes are not only acceptable, but encouraged.” Jazz, who was half-listening, pumped their fist. They were racing ahead of the pack in their water shoes. “And as for the particular type of clothing, wear what you would to the club. So does that make sense, or…?”
When Rhiannon faltered as if she was drawn in to the confusion her question had created, Neala leaned in to whisper, “Photo shoot.”
“Photo shoot!” She sprung up with renewed enthusiasm. “We do need some promotional pictures for the band’s website, as well as an album cover and whatever advertising we decide to do. Of course that’s going to include a group shot and some performances. But I also thought it would be a good idea if, like, we each picked someone to highlight who does important but invisible work. I mean, because the people who end up being praised for their contribution to society, or who end up being role models for young girls, are often people who do certain types of public-facing jobs, like actresses, writers, or musicians. And this is our chance to use that public image to boost up some of these under-appreciated people. Think of”—she moved her left hand as if aerating an invisible wine glass, where the wine was also invisible—“the lady who makes your favorite falafel sandwiches. A woman taking care of her elderly family members while working full time. Truck drivers. Lab techs.”
Thora raised her hand. “The maintenance lady at the vet clinic who always has really elaborate nails.”
“So this is looking far ahead, maybe not even until we’re ready to release an album, but what I want you all to do is brainstorm who you would want to feature. We’ll probably end up having you pose with them or a picture of them and have a blurb that lays out what they want to say about their experience. And that’s the plan! We start with that, and go bigger if it ends up being a success. Any questions?”
“I have one.” Neala waved, but it was a small one, from the elbow, given her proximity to the wave’s recipient. “What’s the deadline for this? Should we discuss early so that no one ends up picking people that are too similar?”
“Yeah, I guess so.” Rhiannon bounced as she moved her head from side to side. “I was assuming everyone would do something different, because there’s such a range of personalities in this group. But there’s no rush. Let’s say give it a month. Any other questions?”
Jazz raised their hand, then leaned over the table because Rhiannon couldn’t see them from that angle. “Can we take a picture with a female shark?”
Thora and Chantel shared a look and loudly expressed annoyance for not thinking of the idea themselves. Some context Jazz had that everyone else lacked: they didn’t want to use the pink computer, but it was there, so they had a very educational time learning about sharks. Indicating that the request didn’t come out of nowhere. For example, like, right now they were learning about the downfall of ‘ovoviviparity’ where, even though scientists are notorious for their tolerance of bitchwords, this particular bitchword wasn’t specific enough and so nobody uses it.
River patted the table next to Jazz. “We can go to the aquarium. I’ll take a picture of you next to a female shark there.”
“Any other questions?”
Chantel waved. “I want an answer to the shark thing.”
Rhiannon glared at her.
“People probably think of bison as male because of the name,” Thora added.
Rhiannon glanced toward Neala, hoping her sister would embrace this rare chance to commiserate, but the look she received was rather too smug. “Let’s just stick to female humans. Juliet, Aries, Gorman, any questions from you?”
A pause as Aries and Rhiannon had a silent exchange where he was trying not to laugh or raise his hand and she was trying to keep it that way. Ultimately, she won the staring contest.
“Alright, if there are no questions, I’m handing this thing over to River.”
“Alright.” River took stock of their bandmates before starting: Thora’s amused glances and raised eyebrows, Chantel’s impatience for this thing to start already, Juliet’s squirming and untamed energy, Aries’s concern at Chantel’s mental state, and Gorman’s inward gaze of full meditation. “I have a couple things to show you, but it’s a lot. So before we jump into that, I want to know what you all have been up to. Who’s got something to say?”
Anyone with the teeniest morsel of public speaking experience can predict the response River was going to receive, and it is only for the sake of those who have never asked an audience-participation question that we acknowledge the silence lasting for a good, awkward fifteen seconds.
“Well, don’t all jump up at once.”
The first to respond was Juliet, who politely rose her hand. “I already showed you what I have.”
Right; the contribution in the penguin folder. It had been placed on top of River’s own notes, and, to be honest, was also at the forefront of their mind. But not for reasons it was appropriate to discuss in this setting. If it were Thora’s work, maybe, but Juliet had too much at stake with this, her first contribution. “Yes, thank you. Let’s talk after the meeting.”
Juliet put down her hand with less confidence than when she’d put it up.
“I just wanted to say that for the first meeting, I’m sitting back. I think my role in a feminist band has got to be taking a role in the sidelines, at least for now.” He twirled the end of his ‘stache, a tic that came out when he felt vulnerable. “And Gorman has no earthly desires, including the desire to share his knowledge with the world. He has achieved enlightenment.”
Gorman nodded. “Yep.”
“Okay, but you’re both welcome to submit ideas if you feel like it,” River said. “Juliet, we’ve gone over. Thora, you write your own songs, do you have anything to add?”
“I’ve written a lifetime’s worth of songs. But I do want to get a better feel for the band’s vibe. This is a way different genre than what I’m used to.”
“We did take you on because there’s something to be said for drawing inspiration from a wide variety of styles.”
“Yeah, and”—Thora moved her palms up and down to mimic an equilibrating scale—“I’m sure I can do it, but I want an idea of what the baseline feel is like so I know where I fit in. I feel like sticking to the accompaniment right now.”
“And that leaves Chantel.”
Her hand shot up. “President!”
“Chantel. Did you tone this down like we talked about?”
“I most certainly did not tone it the fuck down.”
River was like this close to dramatically taking off their glasses. “Chantel, you gotta stop threatening violence. That’s not the vibe we’re going for here. How would your ex feel if he heard that song?”
“He’d probably say, ‘oh wow, she’s working on her career, good for her.’ You haven’t met my ex.”
“Still.” The glasses stayed on. For now. “If that doesn’t convince you, don’t think of it as being nice. Think of it as strengthening your rhetoric. Threatening your opponents with violence is a form of logical fallacy, and if you make weak statements like that it undermines your message.”
The bandmates appeared to be mulling it over, particularly Thora who looked even more curious than usual. Only Juliet appeared grounded in the real world, shuffling in her seat, bearing an expression River hoped wasn’t guilt. “What do you mean by that?”
“I mean just that. If what you’re saying is true, you don’t need to use logical fallacies to defend it. If you can’t defend what you’re saying without falling into those traps, you’re probably wrong.” River paused, knowing that if they spoke too fast, the message would be lost. “So what we want to do here is acknowledge that everybody makes these kinds of errors, and so it’s not necessarily evil in and of itself. What causes issues is when you think it’s okay for your side to argue their point using faulty reasoning, but when the other side does the same thing, you see it as confirming their incompetence.”
Juliet had stopped squirming, but now scrutinized River with intent. Contempt? Suspicion was more likely, River reassured themself.
“This isn’t performative, consumerist feminism. We’re going to say things a lot of people aren’t going to like, so our reasoning has to be”—they crossed their hands over each other to indicate a lid—“airtight.”
“So you’re saying there are no logical errors in any of your songs?” Juliet asked.
“No, I said anyone can slip up, and that includes me. That’s why I’m trusting you all to keep us on track with the messages. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or call me out.”
Thora leaned further forward, the monologue drawing her in, eyebrow raised in expectation of an interesting two hours. “And what are these messages we’re sending?”
River thumbed the papers in front of them, pushing Juliet’s folder aside. “I’ll show you.”