Boldly Gone is a story of nine chapters, posted serially by me, your bookmongering host, Cheeseburger Brown.
Please consider purchasing a copy of the new I am a Cheeseburger anthology, entitled Hot Buttered Something, a collection of blog-yarns from yesteryear and hopefully the first in a series of regular compilations. The book includes twelve original stories and illustrations in a 6"x9" 200-page format, and is available now through Lulu.
As a gift it makes an ideal introduction into the world of Cheeseburger Brown for those less willing to risk the potential eye-strain involved in screen-reading. If you choose to buy a copy, let me thank in advance for your support. There are plenty more tales to come.
Meanwhile, our current story continues:
The pot-luck dinner party was set to kick off at seven. Lansing and Sandy were the last to arrive.
Scott opened the door with a flourish and pinned them with a red laser attached to the side of his face. He said, "We have analyzed your dietary distinctiveness and it shall be added to our own. Your dish will be adapted to service us."
"Well, resistance is futile," reasoned Lansing.
Sandy obediently handed over the tinfoil-sealed plate of sugared yams, which Scott awkwardly balanced between one arm encrusted with electronics and the other encased inside a bulky prosthetic with a clamp on the end. "Come on in," he smiled.
Sandy followed the Borg drone into the kitchen to lend a hand.
Aaron was sprawled out on the couch, smoking a cigarette in his familiar Klingon garb. Melody as Seven of Nine was passing out cups of blue punch. Commodore Eugene balanced on the arm of an easychair filled amply by a round-faced girl whose corpulence strained against her tight costume: she was dressed as a green-skinned belly-dancing slave from Orion. Everything she had recently touched, including parts of Eugene, were clouded by muddy green fingerprints.
"Cassie Ten, I presume?" said Lansing with a courteous bow.
"Greetings, Commander Spock," she giggled, then gave Eugene an affectionate slap. "Hey, Eugene didn't mention that you were brown, huh."
Lansing tried to smile. "Yeah, well. He didn't mention that you were green."
"I'm not really green," Cassie Ten explained.
Lansing nodded politely. "Nice to meet you," he said, looking around for somewhere to go.
"Eugene!" she barked suddenly, startling everyone. "I need more punch, huh."
Eugene scampered off the arm of the easychair, scooping up her cup. "I'm on it, smoochikins."
Lansing exchanged a look with Aaron, whose eyes rolled with such severity that he seemed briefly possessed. He blew out a cloud of smoke disdainfully and put his brow up. "So I see you brought your pet cougar, Lansing. Nice. Now I'm officially the only man in the joint who still has his balls."
"There's cheese sauce on your armour."
"That only enhances my manliness."
"If you say so."
Melody sauntered over and gave Lansing's arm a squeeze. "I'm glad you came, Lansing," she said, her cheeks dimpling. "We're going to watch The Undiscovered Country on laserdisc, extended cut."
She snuggled up against him, her bosom pressing on his hand, but Lansing wasn't disturbed the way he would have been a couple of weeks ago. In light of Sandy Melody was less of a goddess and more of a girl, tethered safely to Earth by Lansing's newly found sense of security and confidence. "Can I get y'all a drink?" she asked with a saucy drawl.
"Sure -- thanks, Melody," replied Lansing easily. "Oh, and could you get a cup for Sandy, too?"
Melody frowned briefly but recovered in a blink. "No problem," she said brightly.
Sandy and Scott came out of the kitchen laughing, and Melody quickly inserted herself between them in order to hand Sandy her drink. "We've got quite a feast lined up," said Scott jovially. "I hope everybody's hungry."
"I'm sure it's good but I'm not going to eat," piped up Cassie Ten. "I'm on a diet, huh."
Scott muttered quietly, "That would explain why she didn't bring anything, I suppose," and then in a louder voice invited everyone to sit up at the diningroom table.
"I'm just going to stay over here," said Cassie Ten, patting the easychair. "No point in sitting at the table if I'm not eating."
"Um, okay," said Scott.
"Eugene!" called Cassie Ten. "You come sit here with me."
"But I'm hungry, smoochikins..."
"You can eat later. Don't make me sad."
"I wouldn't dream of it."
Aaron stabbed out his cigarette, lumbered to his feet with a grunt and squeezed past the happy couple on his way to the diningroom, leaving a smear of cheese sauce on Eugene's tunic amid the green fingerprints. Melody and Scott fetched the final dishes and added them to the spread as Sandy and Lansing found their seats beside one another. "Dig in!" commanded Scott, and they did.
For a few moments all anyone said was "please" or "thank you" as they exchanged bowls or platters and served themselves or their partners. Cutlery clicked and napkins rustled.
Scott opened with, "I read a Usenet rumour that Data dies in the next movie. Somebody said there's been a script leak from Berman's office."
"Rick Berman is killing the franchise," declared Aaron. "I would cut his heart from his chest with my daqtagh, were it not for the fact that he is a hu-mon coward whose death whines would be too pathetic to bear."
Lansing said, "We're all grateful for your restraint."
"And let's be fair," said Scott, wagging his fork, "the man did some good things with DS9."
"I would eat your liver, were I not bound by Federation law."
Melody held up a hand, smiling sweetly. "Let's not fight, boys. Come on now: why don't we just talk on something other than Trek for a while?"
There was an awkward silence.
"Hey," said Scott, "last week at the Molson Amphitheatre we saw Cherry Nuk-Nuk live."
"Indeed," replied Aaron with an effete, effected lilt. "I do so hate it when you show up for a concert at an amphitheatre and all they do is play a CD."
Scott ignored him. "She was awesome -- I mean, totally wild on stage. Do you know her music, Sandy?"
Sandy shook her head as she ate a piece of barbecued chicken.
"Don't worry, that doesn't make you seem old," said Aaron. "I don't follow that pop crap either."
Scott dragged his hand down his face. "I'm glad you're an asshole, Aaron, because with tact like that you'd make a lousy anything else."
Lansing said, "I think you're misquoting the line, dude."
"I stand by my interpretation."
"We didn't get to see Cherry's encore, though," interjected Melody sharply, "because Mr. Professional here was all worried about staying out too late."
Sandy washed down her food with a slug of blue punch. "Speaking of which, how's your job hunt coming along, Melody?"
"Oh, fine," replied Melody dismissively. "Have you tried the yams?"
"I cooked the yams, actually," said Sandy. "So, when do you start?"
"Well," admitted Melody with an annoyed flick of the eyes, "it isn't going that fine. I don't, as such, have a new job to be starting at. But I've handed out a million resumes and I'm just sure something's going to work out for little old me sooner or later."
"Maybe I could pull some strings and get you an interview at my bank," offered Sandy, smiling toothily.
"I don't know if I'm cut out to work in a bank," said Melody. "But thank y'all for thinking of me."
"Don't be so quick, babe," said Scott, helping himself to a second serving of cheese-coated broccoli. "Work is work, after all."
"Numbers aren't really my strong suit."
"Don't worry about that," Sandy assured her. "The counting's all done by computer these days. The support positions are mostly clerical. You know -- filing, processing forms, that sort of thing. It's dead easy. I'll put in a call for you tomorrow."
Melody approximated a smile. "Wow, thank you so much, Sandy."
"Don't mention it."
The telephone rang and Scott glanced at the handset. "I have to take this," he said apologetically, putting his napkin beside his plate and standing up. "I've been having some trouble with my credit card lately and the investigator's finally calling back. Please excuse me for just a sec."
Melody's arm whipped out and snatched his elbow. "Honey, y'all know it's rude to take phone calls over supper. Let's be civlized -- it's our dinner party."
"Babe, this is kind of important. I told him he could call late if he needed to. I said I'd be home."
"He'll call back, silly. Sit down. Let's enjoy everything while it's hot."
Scott hesitated, then nodded and sat back down. "You're right, you're right," he said, putting the handset aside. "Of course, with my luck he'll call right in the middle of the movie."
"We'll unplug the phone," suggested Melody.
"You don't understand -- I want to talk to him."
Aaron snorted. "You can stop dancing around it, Scott. We're already well familiar with your life-crippling gay phone-sex habit."
"Shut up, Aaron."
"Do you picture white guys or Asian guys? I always had you pegged as being into Asian guys."
"Shut up, Aaron."
Cassie Ten shouted, "Hey, can you guys speak up or something? We can't hardly hear you from over here. You're making Eugene and me feel excluded, huh?"
Scott glowered. Aaron made a bovine sound and Scott elbowed him. "Sorry!" he called over to the livingroom, his expression darkly sardonic. "We'll try to shout."
"Thanks," Cassie Ten called back, oblivious to his tone.
"Eugene's found himself...a special lady," observed Sandy quietly.
"She's a prize," agreed Lansing with a mischievous smile.
"I still can't hear you!" bellowed Cassie Ten.
Scott's head drooped wearily. "Jesus fuck," he mumbled.
Aaron chuckled. "It sucks when a friend becomes a pussy on account of some skenk, doesn't it?"
All eyes turned silently toward the Klingon.
"What?" he said. "I'm just saying what we're all thinking."
"Shut up, Aaron," said everyone at the table in chorus.
"Dor-sho-gha," he muttered, wilting a bit and seeming to melt into his armour. "Tough room."
After dinner came another round of punch as everyone lined up their seats to face the television. Scott fussed over the sound settings and then fed the silvery platter into the laserdisc player. Melody dimmed the track lighting and then squirmed in next to him on the couch. Scott held the remote aloft like a wand, asked "Is everybody ready?" and then hit Play.
Babble died as the Paramount Pictures logo rolled on screen. They became immersed, hypnotized by Cliff Eidelman's ominous opening march, snare drums and cellos on stars, slowly mounting toward the lensflare-cracked explosion of the Praxis moon, computer-generated ejecta blasting outward in sizzling rings...
Somewhere in the second act Lansing turned to whisper something to Sandy and realized that she wasn't on the couch anymore. He blinked, confused. "Is Sandy in the washroom?" he asked out. "Maybe we should pause the movie."
"We've all seen it before," argued Eugene, eyes glued to the screen.
"Stop talking, I'm missing it."
Lansing got off the couch and shuffled past Scott and Melody. He found the washroom empty so he wandered around to the bedroom where a line of lamp-light was projecting out into the dark hall. "Um, Sandy?" he called. "Are you back here?"
He pushed open the door. Sandy was sitting at a small desk, peering into the screen of Melody's tangerine iBook. She looked up. "Oh," she said, smiling, "it's you."
Lansing walked in and put his hands on her shoulders, rubbing gently. "What's up?"
Sandy closed all the windows on the desktop with a quick key combination. "I just thought of an e-mail I forgot sent the woman who's opening the branch tomorrow morning. It's her first time unlocking."
Lansing kissed the hair on the top of her head. "Shall we go back?"
She rotated around in the swiveling chair, nodded and stood up, taking Lansing's hand. They both stopped short, however, when they turned to face Melody standing in the bedroom doorway, her face pinched in anger. "What the devil do all y'all think you're doing here on my computer without asking any kind of permission of me?"
"I'm sorry," said Sandy.
"She just had to check her mail," added Lansing. "It's no big deal, Melody."
"That is so arrogant," snapped Melody, pointing a shaking, accusatory finger. "This is an invasion of privacy. I'm asking you to get out of my private bedroom this very second, you hear? I can't believe your nerve. Get out!"
"I'm sorry for any misunderstanding --" began Sandy, sidestepping toward the door.
Melody blocked her. "What's wrong with you anyway, lady? First it's pestering me with questions and trying to take my picture, then it's trying to make me look foolish in front of my own guests, and now it's this -- snooping into my things when my back is turned. Are you after my boyfriend? What's wrong with you?"
"Calm down, Melody," urged Lansing desperately. "You're blowing this all out of proportion."
Scott came to the door, his brow furrowed and his drink in his hand. "What's going on, babe?"
"This bitch," said Melody acidly without looking away from Sandy.
"Jesus!" cried Scott.
"I'm honestly really not sure what you're upset about," plead Sandy.
Melody seethed, her gaze locked, hot and burrowing. "Let's us not play dumb. I don't know what your game is, but I'm telling you now you had better quit, honey. You do not want to be in my bad books, you hear?" Her eyes narrowed. "You do not want to be in my way."
Sandy smirked, but said nothing.
Scott put his arm around Melody's shoulders. "Take a deep breath, babe. Can you explain to me what you're so mad about? What happened?"
"I'm feeling ill," replied Melody, leaning into Scott's side. "I'm going to have a lie down. Would y'all mind leaving the bedroom?"
Scott looked to Lansing, who shrugged, perplexed. They all started to move toward the door and Melody sat down on the edge of the bed. Sandy snapped her fingers and said, "Oops, I left my drink on the desk," as she scooted over and scooped it up from beside the computer.
Scott closed the door after them. "What was all that about?" he whispered.
Lansing explained. Sandy shook her head sadly. "I'm very sorry, Scott. I didn't mean to cause any upset. Please tell Melody I'm sorry, won't you?"
"Yeah, for sure. This is so weird. Maybe the punch is hitting her the wrong way or something."
Lansing scratched his head. "Is she usually so touchy about people using her computer?"
"No," said Scott. "I use her computer all the time and she couldn't care less. It's not like she's got a stash of child-porn to hide or anything."
"I feel badly," said Sandy. "Maybe Lansing and I should just call it a night, to remove the source of irritation."
"I don't want you guys to have to do that."
Lansing touched his friend's shoulder. "Don't worry about it, dude. We've seen the movie. Melody has clearly got something against Sandy -- at least tonight she does -- so maybe she's right and we should just head out. I hate to leave you stuck between Aaron and Cassie Ten, but..."
Scott sighed. "Shit. Did you guys drive or do you want me to call you a cab?"
"We cabbed it so we could drink."
"Okay, okay," said Scott, picking up the telephone handset as they walked back into the livingroom. He toggled it on and held it up to his hear, then frowned. "No dial tone?"
After grumbling on his hands and knees for a moment in the corner of the diningroom he found that the unit had been unplugged. "Jesus, Melody," he muttered. "I told her not to do that."
"Quiet down!" yelled Aaron from the livingroom. "There's a movie on, you inconsiderate pigs."
"Shut up, Aaron," Scott called back wearily. He ordered a cab and then tossed the handset aside. "This evening is working out splendidly, wouldn't you say?"
"Please note," said Lansing, "Romulan ale no longer to be served at diplomatic functions."
As they passed through the livingroom again Aaron was having a smoke while wearing a repulsed expression as he watched Eugene and Cassie Ten make out in the creaking easychair. Aaron looked up. "It's like watching Fox," he claimed, his cigarette ash tumbling down his arm onto the carpet. "Hoo, hoo, hoo!"
"Well," said Lansing drily. "We'll leave you to this, then."
Scott looked pained. "I'm sorry Melody flipped out on you, Sandy. I really don't understand it."
Sandy leaned in and gave Scott a peck on the cheek. "Don't worry about it. People have mood swings. Thanks for a wonderful dinner."
"Yeah..." said Scott absently. "Are you sure you guys want to leave?"
Lansing nodded. "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Take it easy, dude."
They took one more look into the livingroom where Cassie Ten appeared to be wetly consuming Eugene's face. Aaron farted and lit a fresh cigarette. Scott turned back to his friends. "Maybe I'll walk you out. I think I need some air."
In the elevator Lansing said, "Are you sure you're good, Scott? This really seems to be bumming you out."
"It's not just tonight," said Scott quietly.
"Do you want to talk about it?" asked Sandy.
"Not now," he said. "But thanks."
They waved from the backseat of the cab, watching Scott standing alone by the bushes with his hands jammed in his pockets. He gave them a friendly nod as they pulled away, his eyes clouded with thought an instant later. "Do you suppose he's okay?" Lansing asked Sandy.
"No," she said glumly. "I don't think he is, no."
Lansing sighed. "I just wish there was something we could do to help."
Sandy nodded but said nothing, the lights from the streetlamps playing across her face in alternating bands of tint and shadow.