Monday, 5 February 2007

Boldly Gone, Part Four


Boldly Gone is a story of nine chapters, posted serially by me, your snowed-in host, Cheeseburger Brown.

The world looks like it's made of marshmallow: a glorious winter highway killzone. I think I'm going to drive the Volvo to work today. If you don't hear from me in the comments section by noon, please dispatch a St. Bernard with a quart of rye.

Meanwhile, let's continue our tale:



4/9

Spring executed. The slush turned to rain, and then the sun came out and dried up all the rain.

Lansing, Aaron and Eugene wandered down sunny, gum-stained College Street, popping in and out of cramped Chinese shops chocked with bins of low-priced computer components as they sipped tall coffees and argued about which Linux distribution was the least user-friendly to install.

"Slackware," claimed Aaron, "is the mark of a man. You sweat trying to wrestle that fucker into shape, I swear."

Eugene shook his head. "You're a baby. Slackware installs like butter."

"Install, yes -- compile without borked dependencies, no."

"You're retarded."

"I think I'm going to go with Debian," said Lansing thoughtfully.

In the next shop Lansing bought a graphics card for the machine he was building and was almost ripped off before Aaron slipped it out of the box, scrutinized the components on the circuit board, and then complained that it carried only half the promised onboard memory. "Oh so sorry I make mistake," said the proprietor, quickly swapping the box for another.

"Yeah, same mistake every chinsy crook on this strip makes," mumbled Aaron, examining the new card. "You guys are sharks."

The proprietor frowned. "You call me chinky?"

"No, chinsy. It means cheap. It means you're a grifter."

"Ah okay, ha ha," chuckled the proprietor. "I give no gifts, I am a business man. Nothing for free, hey? Ha ha ha."

Aaron rolled his eyes. Lansing slapped his cash on the counter, replaced the graphics card into its box and slid it into his already strained plastic bag of hardware goodies. "Let's go to Active Surplus next," he said.

"No no Active Surplus -- I have everything they have there here," gushed the proprietor. "You buy from me I give good deal, okay? I have what they have but better, and less expensive."

"No thanks," said Aaron, leading the way out of the dark little store. Eugene and Lansing followed, squinting against the sunlight.

The boys were dressed in their civvies: T-shirts and Dockers, button-down shirts open and billowing in a warm breeze that smelled like soil. They tucked down sunglasses that were the wrong shape for their faces, adjusting the positioning by making their noses squirm. They wore bright white sneakers and had electronic devices hanging from their belts.

"I've started working out," said Eugene, palpitating his own stick-like bicep. "Can you tell yet?"

"Maybe," said Lansing supportively.

"No," said Aaron.

Active Surplus Electronics was crowded, clusters of geeks hovering over every bin and quizzing or debating one another on form, function and price. The three friends pushed in from Queen Street's glare and shoved their sunglasses up on their foreheads, making their hair stick up goofily. They wormed their way between the aisles in search of an Ethernet interface and cabling for Lansing's new machine, stopping to cluck over the piles of discount parts and drawers of shiny, tiny sub-components suitable for self-soldering by the geek's geek.

Lansing turned to say something to Eugene but stopped short as Eugene spun on heel and suddenly squirmed away, disappearing hurriedly around the end of the aisle. Lansing raised his brow curiously. "Eugene?"

Someone tapped him the shoulder. Lansing turned. "Scott!" he exclaimed.

"Look what the cat dragged in," declared Aaron.

"Hey guys," said Scott sheepishly.

Lansing hovered, feeling awkward. "Um, how've you been, dude?"

"We're fine, we're good," said Scott.

"We?" echoed Lansing.

"Are you a Borg now?" asked Aaron.

"I mean me and Melody," explained Scott, gesturing to the next aisle where Melody was browsing through the bins, carrying a glossy tangerine iBook by its plastic handle. "Uh, we're just looking for parts to mod her new laptop," concluded Scott lamely.

"You bought her an iBook now?" said Aaron, shaking his head. "Tell me, Scott, what is it like being a woman's bitch?"

Scott started to say something that started with "shut" but stopped. Instead he said, "Look man, her job kind of fell through and we were always fighting over who got to use my G3, so it just made sense."

"Is she living at your place?"

"We live together, yes."

"She paying you rent?"

"That's none of your business. Come on. Why do you always have to be such an asshole, Aaron?"

Aaron snorted. "I'm the asshole? You're the dick who dropped all his friends to be full-time salt vampire feed."

Scott groaned. "I haven't dropped anyone --"

"You didn't even show up for my big season finale TiVo party," accused Aaron.

Scott blinked. "What's TiVo?"

Aaron looked sideways at Lansing. "You see, Lansing? A guy gets sucked into pussy-space and he loses his edge. He's totally out of it. His finger is so far from the pulse of technology that he doesn't even know what TiVo is." He shook his head and smirked. "It might be a lost cause, but I have to try..."

Scott flinched as Aaron reached over and placed his fingers splayed out on the side of Scott's face, then leaned in and whispered, "Remember."

Scott knocked Aaron's arm away, irritated. "Give me a break, man. I've got a lot of shit going on right now."

"You know who you sound like?" asked Aaron belligerently. "You sound just like fucking Henry, man. And you know what happened to him: he got womaned to death."

"Henry was robbed," argued Scott. "That didn't happen to him just because he had a girlfriend."

"The only difference between Henry and you is that you're enjoying being sucked dry."

Scott pinched the bridge his nose, closing his eyes for a moment. "Guys, we've been friends for years. I feel badly that you're upset, and I want to make it up to you. Let's not fight."

"You're no friend of mine, foul taHqeq," spat Aaron. He turned around and escaped the aisle, heading over to Eugene.

Scott looked at Lansing sadly. "Is that how you feel, too?"

Lansing shook his head. "Whatever, dude. We've missed you. Aaron's just kind of bitter and Eugene...well, truthfully, Eugene hates your guts. He's hurt."

"I know, I know..." mumbled Scott.

Lansing put a hand on Scott's shoulder. "I know you didn't mean to piss everybody off," he said. "It's not the same without you. Aaron keeps getting into trouble because you're not there to tell him to shut up." Lansing cleared his throat awkwardly and looked down, saying, "Scott, dude, you have to know -- I have been, and ever shall be, your friend."

Scott rubbed his eyes. "Thanks, man," he said quietly.

"Why don't you come to the Buffalo convention with us next week?"

"Oh, I don't know..."

Lansing fidgeted, casting a quick glance over at Melody's turned back. "You can bring her. It'll be okay."

"I'll ask her," promised Scott. "Look, I should probably get going."

"Yeah."

"I'm glad we bumped into each other."

"Yeah."

"I'll mail you about Buffalo."

"Cool."

Lansing watched as Scott dipped out of the aisle and walked up beside Melody. She looked over at Lansing and waved, so Lansing waved back timidly. She smiled which made it hard for Lansing to ignore her beauty, so he looked away. Scott took up her hand and they left the store together, the tangerine iBook swinging at her side, her waggling bum a siren call to every set of eyes in the place.

When Lansing turned around Aaron and Eugene were close by again, the latter's face brooding and pinched. Aaron was shaking his head. "What did the traitor have to say?" he grunted.

"He might come with us to Buffalo," said Lansing.

"Oh yeah? Is he taking the bus?"

"Um, no. We'd go in your car, like always."

"Is that a fact? I'm so glad you're here to volunteer my services to our enemies."

"Don't be like that, Aaron. Scott's not our enemy and you know it."

Eugene grimaced. "I'm not coming to Buffalo, then. Fuck that. I'm not riding with that dickweed."

Lansing sighed, his shoulders dropping. "Eugene, stop it, seriously. I know Scott pissed you off but you've got to take a moment to remember this is the same Scott who pulled you out of that dumpster at the semi-formal. Remember? This is the same Scott who took a punch in the face for you after you spilled your lunch on Trowhill in the caf that time. This is the same Scott who --"

"Enough, enough!" said Eugene, holding up his hands. "I don't want to hear you defend him. I don't trust Scott, and I never will. I can never forgive him for stealing my girl."

Lansing's eyes popped open wide with incredulity. "Are you joking? Eugene, you're crazy. She wasn't your girl -- you just thought she was into you when she was actually into Scott the whole time. Get over it! I've been listening to you complain for two months and, seriously dude, it's got to stop."

Aaron said, "Lansing, why are you grinding him down for sticking to his principles? You know as well as I do that Scott crossed a line. He sucker-punched his friend in the balls so he could be a cunt-slave. That's not friendship. Scott has no honour."

"Yeah," agreed Eugene, jaw tight.

Lansing looked at them both, his eyes riveted despite being continuously jostled as people tried to squeeze past him in the narrow aisle. "Fine," he declared at last. "You losers do whatever you want. I guess I'll take the bus with Scott."

He pushed by his friends and left the shop, hurrying aimlessly along Queen past punks and skaters, buskers and madmen. He didn't care that he hadn't bought an Ethernet interface. He didn't care if he never spoke to Eugene and Aaron again.

A few blocks later Lansing bought a hot dog and a ginger ale. He sat on the curb beside a sidewalk chalking artist who was outlining a large square illustration of lovers kissing under a full moon.

By the time he had finished his hot dog he felt like a heel. He flipped open his phone. "Aaron," he said. The phone dialed.

"What?" crackled Aaron's voice.

"I'm sorry I freaked out," said Lansing. "I don't want you guys to be mad at me. You're...you're like my only friends."

"Oh, I thought Scott was your big gayness friend now."

"Come on, dude. We shouldn't let that shit come between us. If Scott wants to disappear into girl-world, that's whatever -- we can't let that fuck up our friendship, too."

There was a long pause, the receiver muffled by Aaron's pudgy palm. At last Aaron returned, saying, "Eugene's a pussy so he wants to forgive you. I don't forgive you, but I'll let you hang around me anyway because my Klingon heart has been tainted by human ways."

"That's, uh, real big of you, dude."

"Meet us at Seven West. We're getting beers."

"Okay. Lansing out."

Seven West was crowded. Seven West was always crowded. Lansing wormed past people much cooler than himself with downcast eyes until he found the dark, corner table where Aaron and Eugene sat hunched over their pints. Speakers hidden in the fake plants played an unspeakably glib pop song.

"Hey," called Lansing, sitting down.

Aaron nodded to him and said, "Eugene and I have been talking, and we think maybe it'd be alright if Scott came to Buffalo."

"Really?" said Lansing. "How come?"

"I've decided I don't even care anymore," said Eugene. "Like, why should I? If Scott's a backstabbing dick then he's a backstabbing dick. At least I know now. And besides, I've pretty much got my own girlfriend."

Lansing blinked. "You do?"

"Yeah, Cassie-Ten."

Aaron rolled his eyes. "You mean that guy you talk to on IRC?"

"She's not a guy," snapped Eugene.

"So why won't she send you her pic?" asked Aaron sceptically.

"I already told you, it's because she's embarrassed about her weight."

"Or her penis."

"Shut up, Aaron."

Lansing ordered a pint of Creemore and when it arrived he spent a moment swirling his finger around in the thick cap of foam riding on the surface. "So, hypothetically, what if Scott did come, and he wanted to bring her along, too?"

He looked up, brow open.

Aaron was glaring at him. Eugene's expression was blank and robotic. Lansing tried to smile, faltered, and then hid behind his beer as he took a swig. "Hypothetically," he repeated, putting the glass down on the table again.

Aaron sipped his own beer thoughtfully. "So, what you're telling us is that you, Lansing Mississauga, are hoping that if you're nice enough to Scott he'll let you touch Melody's boobs or something?"

"Not at all! Jesus, Aaron. What's wrong with you?"

"Cassie-Ten says she has pretty big ones," opined Eugene.

"Yeah, man boobs."

"Shut up."

Lansing closed his eyes and ran his fingers through his hair. He sighed. "Dudes, Scott is my friend. I don't want to never talk to him again just because he did something stupid. So he's hypnotized by a girl, so what?"

"She's going to bankrupt him. She's a predator," said Aaron.

"Again, so what? Let's say she did screw him over. Doesn't that just mean that Scott'll eventually realize how dumb he was being and apologize to us?"

Aaron smirked. "Will he buy us iBooks?"

"I don't want an iBook," said Eugene. "Macs suck."

Lansing shook his head morosely and took another pull of beer. "If you guys are just going to act retarded..."

"No no," said Aaron. "Seriously, we won't. Right, Eugene? We can handle it. We're big boys. Who gives a shit if Scott wants to bring his slut along?"

Lansing winced. "Do you think you can avoid calling her that when she's around?"

"Only if she fucks me."

"Wouldn't that just reinforce the assessment?"

"Maybe, but then I wouldn't care anymore."

"You're a class act."

"You can touch me for a dollar."

"I don't want to touch you, dude."

"Are you sure? The peasants say it's a blessing."

"What peasants?"

"Like Eugene and shit."

"I don't want to touch you either, man."

"Ghay'cha'," swore Aaron. "My kingdom for a holodeck."


15 comments:

orick of toronto said...

Active Surplus! Damn, I was trying to remember the name of place last week because I need to fix a power supply. It's been years since I lived downtown and couldn't remember it. Thanks CBB.

So I am guessing there is a lot Star Trek quotes in this one too. Maybe you guys can start a game of seeing how many you can spot in each chapter. Winner gets a free cheeseburger point? :)

Simon said...

CBB, dude, that second sentence was fuckin' brilliant. Mind you, I have a toddler and we sing a lot of songs, so perhaps I have an advantage.

This has been a really fun ride so far, but more exposition than the ups and downs of most stories. I sense a change of direction in the air...

I seriously hope they accidentally run into Henry at this next con.

"dazod" -- Given a choice, Romulans would worship him over Superman any day of the week.

Moksha Gren said...

I'm hoping, for Scott's sake, that Henry makes an appearence at the upcoming convention. Let the geek revenge begin!

Also, I think you missed a "you" in "If guys are just going to act retarded..." toward the end of the chaper

Mark said...

Nice chapter. I sense an inevitability coming up. Well, a contrived one, but an inevitability nonetheless.

Still laughing along with the ST references.

Mark said...

It hit me AFTER I read Simon's comment. That second line refers to the "Itsy Bitsy Spider." We all know from reading CBB that "Sandy is a Spider."

If intentional, then yes, that was brilliant.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Orick,

A run-down of Star Trek quotations, first direct and then less so:

"I have been, and always shall be, your friend." -Spock to Kirk as he 'dies' in the dilithium chamber, The Wrath of Khan

"...salt vampire." -Alien succubus from the original series episode The Man Trap

"Remember..." -Spock to McCoy as he installs Vulcan malware in the latter's mind as a precautious against Spock's 'death', also from The Wrath of Khan.

"I don't trust Scott, and I never will. I can never forgive him for stealing my girl." -Recalls Kirk's overheard confession to his log in The Undiscovered Country, "I don't trust Klingons, and I never will. I can never forgive them for the death of my boy."

...Um, I think that's it for this chapter.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear all,

ANTHOLOGY UPDATE: I spent my weekend arguing with Microsoft Word (OpenOffice didn't like Lulu's templates), and the good news is the manuscript for the anthology is now 99% complete. Some notes:

1) This anthology will contain stories from 2006. Stories from this year will be included in the 2007 collection.

2) No bonus story will appear, as the more I thought about it the more it seemed like that would be the big obstacle that would delay this project for weeks if not months. Also, I don't want a story containing major points of connectivity to take a miss on the blog.

3) All I need to do now is bang out some cover art and finish up a few missing illustrations and we're good to go. Expect the anthology to go on sale before the end of this month.

Also: yes, the spider reference is intentional.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

Sheik Yerbouti said...

Simon,
...more exposition than the ups and downs of most stories.

With one glaring exception. I'm still dying to know how Justine went from vengeful vigilante to malicious geek destroyer (if this is really she, and not just some connected person, of whom I could name one that would make this story's conclusion REALLY unexpected).

Other than that, count me in on the train to wherever this plot is going.

Simon said...

Shiek,

Do we know the timing of this story? Would it have fallen before or after the resort episode? That consideration may play into it. I'd say it almost certainly does. (And I'd totally forgotten her real name was Justine.)

I can only assume, given the appearance of Shiek's comment here, that CBB did not, in fact, succumb to some tragic end on the highway en route to work, his mangled corpse ejected from the Mini and spattered across four lanes of highway in a tragic smear of creative waste.

I'll just wait a bit longer for today's episode, then. :)

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Simon,

It's Tuesday -- you'll have to wait until tomorrow for the next installment.

Yes, I did survive the drive: I took the Volvo.

Right now I'm doing a bang up job of simulating work while I actually try to pull together the cover art for the anthology.

Love,
Cheeseburger Brown

Simon said...

Man, I can be a git. Must be distracted by the fact that I'm going to a reading by my favourite author (er, of non-free words) Wednesday evening when he visits Edmonton. I'm assuming temporal powers where I have none.

orick of toronto said...

Of the top of my head, I seem to remember there is a character in common - Lorenzo (and Coriander)- between Sandy is a spider and Night Flight Mike.

Night Flight Mike is present because the story where Mike is MIA - The Reaper's Coleslaw - happens in the future when he is grown up. And Pink Santa is present or very near past.

Sandy is a Spider takes place before Night Flight Mike because Lorenzo was still in Mexico. Which means Spider is recent past.

Boldly Gone takes place in 1999.

So this means - this story is about the same time as Spider, which means.. Nothing. Sandy could or could not be the same girl. :)

I am betting this is a different girl.

Sheik Yerbouti said...

Ooh, what great fan speculation! You must be enjoying this, CBB. Also, I'm glad you made the journey unscathed.

Fun fact: when you post the seventh installment, my son will be either (a) already born or (b) in the process of being extracted.

Moksha Gren said...

Sheik - Congrats!!

As for the discussion of timeline, I remember the Cuthbertsons were down in Mexico trying to adopt their first during Spider. I had been thinking that that put Spider a few years before this story, but now that I start thinking about it...it probably more closely puts it in the same time frame if we assume Night Flight was present day.

I had also been assuming Melody was Justine/Sandy/Spider...but this jog down memery lane is making me rethink that. So, if Melody isn't the Spider, but the Spider does have a connection to this story (the "dried up all the rain" bit), then I'm starting to lean toward the idea that the Spider will again be a vengeful force for good in this tale.

orick of toronto said...

Sheik, congrats. You gonna name him Frank?

I will bet a whole shiny penny that Melody isn't Sandy.