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:
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."
"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."
"I'm glad we bumped into each other."
"I'll mail you about Buffalo."
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?"
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."
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."
"Like Eugene and shit."
"I don't want to touch you either, man."
"Ghay'cha'," swore Aaron. "My kingdom for a holodeck."