Boldly Gone is a story of nine chapters, posted serially by me, your toddler tuckered host, Cheeseburger Brown.
My boy has discovered how to play the piano, and now insists upon regular percussive concerts. When he's not at the bench he's running around it with his arms waving in the air, screaming. My daughter eggs him on, challenging him to discover the limits of his little vocal chords. He picks up any stray electronic device and speaks into it as if it's a telephone -- endangering television remote controls, iPods, mobiles and power supplies in equal measure. "Hi Papa!" he shouts into the phone, running away as he's called.
Excuse me a second while I chase him down again. Meanwhile, let's continue the story:
Aaron coasted his green Jetta to a shuddering halt behind the last car in line at the American border, then held out his hand and barked, "Your papers, please!"
Scott and Lansing passed him their birth certificates. Melody fumbled with her purse, keeping her card palmed. "I'll just hand it over myself," she said, unrolling her window and admitting a pungent breeze flavoured by automotive exhaust.
"Older than you look, huh?"
"Shut up, Aaron," said Scott wearily.
When they pulled up to the gate the customs officer appraised their identification critically, eyes flicking up to each of their faces with a hard look. "You folks headed for the Star Trek convention?" he asked.
Aaron looked down at his Klingon armour, the plastic ridge along his forehead flexing. "Yessir," he confirmed.
"Do you have any fruits or vegetables in the vehicle at this time?"
"Nossir," replied Aaron crisply. "Eugene stayed home."
"He's just making a joke," explained Scott. "He's not very funny, is all."
"Huh," said the customs officer flatly. He handed over the birth certificates, stepped smartly back and then waved them through. Aaron popped the Jetta into gear and accelerated, dangling the cards over his shoulder blindly. Lansing, Scott and Melody each took theirs and tucked them away.
They trundled along for a while in silence until Lansing said, "This has got to be the most boring road-trip in history. Doesn't anybody have anything to say? Dude! Let's have a conversation or something."
"So, Melody..." began Aaron, "are you a spit or swallow girl?"
Scott punched him in the arm. "Je-sus, Aaron. Were you raised by wolves?"
"Did you just call me a son of a bitch?"
"Yeah, I think so. Jesus fuck."
"I should kill you where you stand."
"It's a figure of speech, cock-knocker. Somebody hand me my bat'leth so I can cut down this human baktag."
"Keep your eyes on the road, dude," said Lansing.
Melody snickered and exchanged a glance with Scott in the front seat. Scott took a deep, frustrated breath and turned his gaze out the window. Lansing shrugged apologetically at her. She smiled, then leaned forward toward Aaron's seat and said into his ear, "I swallow."
Aaron nearly swerved out of his lane, causing nearby cars to honk in alarm. Everyone laughed except Aaron. "Don't distract the driver!" he bellowed angrily.
Melody smirked. "Don't ask if you don't want to know."
"Got wood?" teased Scott, tittering.
"Shut the fuck up, man," grumbled Aaron. "We almost died."
Scott did a passable imitation of Aaron as he said, "Perhaps today is a good day to die!"
"Seriously, though. Don't."
They eventually wound into Buffalo, cruising through the clone-stamp suburbs and into a decaying urban core dotted by the garish hope of big box retail. Aaron pulled onto Walden and ordered everyone to keep their eyes peeled for any sign of the hotel. "There it is!" cried Lansing, pointing. "Sheraton off the starboard bow, my lord."
They parked underground and filed upstairs through an echoey concrete well. Nobody said much while they waited in the registration line. Aaron gave Lansing a significant look, however, when Scott handed over his credit card to pay admission for both himself and Melody. Aaron silently mouthed, "Freeloader."
Once inside they carefully straightened their costumes: Aaron as a Klingon warrior, Scott in his Deep Space Nine command jumpsuit, Lansing done up like Spock, and Melody in her svelte Seven of Nine outfit.
"I'm totally getting Shatner's autograph this time," swore Lansing. "Come hell or high water."
"Good luck, Commander," nodded Scott. "Make it so."
"Do you guys want to meet back here for lunch?" asked Melody.
"Sure," said Lansing.
"Nah," said Aaron. "You kids go do your thing. I'll see you later. Call me on my cell when you're ready to leave."
Aaron turned his back abruptly. Scott, Melody and Lansing watched him lumber away. "Is Aaron always grumpy?" asked Melody.
Scott and Lansing nodded.
"Why do y'all stay friends with him?"
Scott and Lansing looked at one another and shrugged. Scott said, "We've known him since middle school."
"You do realize he's gay, don't you?"
Lansing blinked. "What?"
Melody bit her lip. "You couldn't tell?" she said. "He's in love with Scott. It's so obvious. That's why he's such a jerk to me."
Scott frowned sceptically. "Truthfully, babe, he's a jerk to everyone."
Melody did not look convinced. "Trust me," she said seriously.
An hour later Lansing had moved sufficiently forward in the line to see William Shatner that he could actually catch the glimpses of the actor's hair if he pushed himself up on his tiptoes. His heart started to beat faster, and the hand holding his cherished framed photograph became moist.
His first moment of crestfall came when he drew near enough to see the sign declaring the prices for Shatner's attention: $70 cash per autograph. Lansing peeled through his wallet, doing quick calculations to convert colourful Canadian to American greenbacks. "Shit," he muttered, realizing that if he paid that much he wouldn't have any cash left over for lunch. At least he could put his homeward share of the gas money on his credit card.
The second moment of crestfall came when he drew near enough to overhear conversations between fans and handlers at the front of the line: the talent would not be signing pre-supplied items, but only copies of publicity photographs on sale at the signing counter.
Lansing looked at his framed picture forlornly. It had been in his bedroom for over a decade, and he had always dreamed about how complete he would feel once it was signed by Captain Kirk himself. "Shit," he said again.
Suddenly depressed he sidestepped out of the line and fled. He wandered out of the crowded, noisy ballroom and into the hotel bar, hopping up on a stool and slapping his cherished photograph on the counter with a sigh.
"What can I get for you, Spock?"
"I'll have a Heineken, please."
"That's logical. Bottle or can?"
Lansing handed over his money and then took a hit from the cold green bottle morosely. He figured that when he was done he'd seek out an automated bank machine that understood Canadian debit cards so he could pull out more cash. The bartender was not helpful in this respect, but encouraged him to pester the front desk.
Lansing sighed, his chin in his hand, and retreated into a daydream about warp speed.
An older woman sat up at the bar next to him and ordered the special: a glass of whiskey with blue food colouring in it. "One Romulan ale coming right up," said the bartender, flipping the liquor bottle playfully.
She accepted her glass and sipped at it. Lansing sipped at his beer, staring over his own head in the mirror behind the bar.
In his peripheral vision he saw that she was wearing a coquettishly short red miniskirt as seen in the original Star Trek series, her brown hair done up in an era-accurate beehive. She saw his eyes move in the mirror and turned toward him. She said, "Having a good time, Spock?"
Looking in the mirror was like watching a movie, and it took Lansing a slow moment before recognizing that he was obliged to respond.
"Um, sure," he said, his mouth suddenly dry. When he looked at her more directly he was surprised how pretty she was. She must have been forty years old but her skin was creamy, her hazel-flecked green eyes bright, her lips drawn into a frank smile. Her good looks made Lansing nervous and he averted his eyes, a drop of sweat trickling down his torso beneath his blue tunic.
"Do you come to a lot of these things?" she asked. "Conventions, that is."
Lansing shrugged. "I've been to a few. I went to the San Francisco convention last year, and the Toronto one in February. What about you?"
"Sure," she said breezily. "Been coming for years. I've been a fan since TOS."
"Did you see Brent Spiner speak this morning? He's hilarious."
"No, I've been lined up to get Shatner's autograph since I got here."
The woman glanced over at the framed photograph on the bar. "This?"
Lansing shook his head. "I don't know if I can afford it. Apparently you have to buy one of the photos on sale there or he won't sign it. I think it's kind of a scam, if you ask me."
"Oh," she said, "I'm sure Bill would bend the rules for you. It looks like this picture's pretty special to you."
Lansing blushed. "It's just Star Trek. It doesn't really matter."
The woman gave him a look. "Hey, think about who you're talking to here. I'm a grown woman in a Star Trek uniform. And I think it matters if it matters to you."
"I didn't mean to offend you."
"You didn't," she replied quickly. "I'm saying it's a matter of perspective. It's just Star Trek but Star Trek can be a vehicle for our dreams. That matters, doesn't it?"
"So don't sell yourself short. If it matters to you, it matters. Does it matter? Do you care?"
Lansing smiled. "I care."
"Well then," said the pretty lady, "I say we march right back there and get him to see the light."
Lansing chuckled but from the expression on her face it was apparent that she was quite serious. "Um," he said.
She tossed back the end of her drink, stood up and held out her hand to him. "Come on, Spock," she said, her smile creasing fine lines around her eyes.
Lansing looked at his half-full beer and then back at the lady. He dropped off his stool, hesitated, and then took her hand. It was strong and warm. He picked up the framed picture and tucked it under his arm. "Okay," he said breathlessly. "Let's do it."
They swung their entwined hands like schoolkids as they strolled purposefully into the ballroom. She tugged him away from joining the end of the line, navigating right up to the side of the signing counter. Lansing's breath caught in his throat as they hovered at Shatner's elbow, ignoring the two handlers who were rushing over to them with frowns on their faces.
"I just wanted to say that you're awesome," said a fan as Shatner signed a photograph with a flourish. "Thank you so much."
"Thank you," he said with a jolly chuckle, then glanced up at Lansing and his new friend. "Why, hello," he said. "It's you!"
The lady in the red miniskirt smiled. "Hi, Bill."
Lansing opened his mouth but no sound came out. It occurred to him with strangely mixed feelings that Captain Kirk smelled like Polo after-shave.
"You're everywhere, aren't you?" continued Shatner as he put down his pen and massaged his signing hand.
"I'm hoping you can do me a favour."
"My friend here would like to get a signing, but he's brought his own picture. I know it's against the rules but it would mean a lot."
The handlers hesitated, watching Shatner consider. "I'd be happy to," he said. "What's your name, son?"
"Lansing," croaked Lansing.
Shatner held out his hand for the framed picture and when Lansing didn't budge his new friend pried it out from under his arm and passed it over. Shatner flexed his fingers, picked up the pen and dashed his name across the bottom. "There you go, Lance. Enjoy!"
Lansing looked down and started fumbling at his wallet.
"Forget about it," said Shatner, waving dismissively. "It's a favour."
"Thank you," whispered Lansing, taking the picture with shaking hands and then standing there with a goofy grin on his face.
"Thanks, Bill," said the lady. She took a hold of Lansing and hauled him away, his feet struggling to catch up.
"Holy crap," gasped Lansing. "You know Shatner? Like, personally?"
"Like I said, I go to a lot of conventions."
She laughed. "So, what do you want to do now?"
"Um, I was going to see the Enterprise model. I'm, uh, building my own virtual version and I want to take some notes on colour detailing. The ship's been repainted since the last time I saw her."
"Great," said the lady. "Let's go."
Lansing didn't have time to question it. They were on their way. Inside he nursed a giddy patch, allowing himself to fantasize that some lonely woman attracted to brains had come to scoop him up and rescue him as Scott had been. He was determined not to pull a Eugene, however, and thus kept himself grounded with a mental mantra of "she's just friendly, gender is irrelevant, she's just friendly, gender is irrelevant..."
And then there they were standing before it, the actual USS Enterprise built for Robert Wise's Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1978, a carefully engineered refit of the ship from the original series designed to bring an added level of industrial realism to the model. The spotlights hanging above winked highlights across the pearlescent plating of the hull as Lansing circumnavigated the display with reverence.
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" he said. "They never managed to produce anything this elegant ever again."
The lady smiled. "It's a work of art."
"Notice how clean the surface is -- it's not cluttered with a bunch of pointless gizmos like the later ships. It looks like the space shuttle. It looks like something people could really travel in."
"That's what it's all about, isn't it?" she said. "It's about being able to imagine that you're there. Out there, I mean. In actual space."
"Yeah," agreed Lansing emphatically. "That is what it's all about."
His gaze traced along the sweep of the narrow pylons supporting the warp nacelles, lingered on the tiny round decals outlining the shuttle ports, admired the miniature floodlights that served to illuminate the ship's registry. "The Motion Picture," he continued, "for all its flaws, was the only movie that actually enhanced the credibility of the Trek universe. Do you know what I mean? Everything after that was just a little more cartoon than it needed to be."
She pulled a disposable camera out of her bag and snapped a picture.
Lansing took a deep breath and let it out slowly, then slipped a little notebook out of his pocket and jotted down some notes as he studied the shade of tan applied around the manoeuvring thrusters. He tucked the notebook away again and looked up.
"Do you want to get some lunch?" the lady asked.
"Yeah," he said. "That would be nice."
In the commissary they found Scott and Melody sitting beneath a banner advertising the space as 10 Forward Buffalo. It was loud with babble, the various subjects covering all branches of the Star Trek panoply. "Lansing!" called Scott, waving them over to the table.
"Are those your friends?" asked the lady, holding Lansing's elbow.
"Yeah, that's Scott and Melody," said Lansing as he dodged a duo of irritable Ferengi. "I don't know where Aaron got to."
Melody narrowed her eyes at the newcomer suspiciously. "Who's this?" she asked, her voice bright.
"Oh, uh, this is my new friend. She helped me get Shatner's autograph," said Lansing, holding out the framed picture for their appraisal.
Scott examined the picture, grinning. "You finally got it, man; congratulations!" Then he turned and offered his hand to shake. "Nice to meet you. I'm Scott, and this is Melody."
"Your costumes are great. Do you mind if I get a picture?"
"For sure," said Scott, standing quickly. He shuffled around the edge of the table and lined up beside Lansing. "Come on, babe," he called to Melody. "We don't have any pictures of us together. Do you think we could get a copy?"
Melody dawdled over her club sandwich. "I don't really like having my picture taken."
"Don't be shy -- that's a fabulous Seven of Nine costume."
"I'm not photogenic. I always look dreadful in pictures."
"Pretty thing like you? I don't believe it for an instant. Come on, stand up now."
Scott dragged Melody to her feet and put his arm around her waist as he turned toward the camera and grinned. Lansing held up his signed picture. Just as the lady's finger moved down toward the contact Melody buried her face in Scott's neck to kiss him. The flash flashed, the camera clicked.
"Oh poo," said Melody. "Did I do that at just the wrong time?"
Before an answer could come she broke formation and sat down again, pulling Scott with her. "Are you from around here?" asked Scott, biting into a pickle.
"Can I put my purse here?" asked the lady, slipping it off her shoulder and kicking it over next to Scott's satchel. She sat down and raised her brow. "Where are you guys from?"
"Toronto," said Lansing, taking a seat beside her.
"Me too! Isn't that funny?"
"It's a Canuck party," agreed Scott, smiling. "Er -- I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name..."
Lansing flushed, suddenly embarrassed. How did he neglect to even ask her name? He wished for just one tenth of Scott's social skills, his easy ability to make people feel welcome.
The lady crossed her long legs beneath her short skirt. "Sandy," she replied breezily. "You can call me Sandy."