Boldly Gone is a story of nine chapters, posted serially by me, your harried host, Cheeseburger Brown.
I've slept in, due to babies in the night. I have a big presentation to make to my boss in, um, about two hours. Great Scott -- I really have to run!
Meanwhile, let's continue the story:
It started on a lazy Sunday.
Lansing woke up late and from his bed called out various pronunciations of the word "coffee" until the speech recognition software in his bedside PC finally decided to play along and trip the switch on the coffee machine. A few moments later the smell of warm brew wafted in from the kitchen.
"Radio," he called next, and then, "Ra-di-o!" The CBC clicked on: a concert of chamber music.
Lansing slipped out of bed and pulled on a robe with a faded Starfleet insignia on the lapel. It smelled a little bit like damp towels so he contemplated doing laundry. He pulled at the shade until it rolled up, admitting a bright shaft of springtime sunshine that illuminated a constellation of dust motes roiling slowly through the air.
He prepared his coffee and wandered into the livingroom, slapping at spacebars to awaken his machines. An overnight render of the Enterprise filled his largest monitor and he squinted at the latest tweaks critically, frowning over some geometric artifacting where two sets of facets were fused along the midline of the engineering hull.
"Goddamn non-rational B-splines," muttered Lansing.
He stretched and yawned, then stood over the toilet and peed while he thought about different ways to define the curves that were giving him trouble. As he always did when thinking about the project he found himself whistling Jerry Goldsmith's syrupy shiplove theme.
He was startled out of this musical reverie by a knock at the door.
Lansing frowned, shaking off his willy. Who would disturb him on a sleepy Sunday? The super?
He washed his hands, tucked his robe closed and crossed the apartment. He put his eye up to the spy-glass and saw a wildly distorted image of a brunette with a massive nose and tiny little feet. With a shock he recognized Sandy, the attractive older lady from the Buffalo convention.
Lansing opened the door. "Sandy," he said. "Hi."
"I didn't get you out of bed, did I?"
"Um, no. I was just, uh..."
"Don't be. Um, come in."
He escorted her into the livingroom and cleared a space on the couch, casting computer parts and starship blueprints into a pile beside a dead fern. In her civvies Sandy made an even sharper impression; she looked just like a legitimate grown-up citizen in her blue jeans and red silk shirt, open at the top to showcase a trinket of Star Trek jewellery at her breastbone.
Lansing felt very self-conscious in his natty robe. "Can I get you a coffee?" he asked. "I'm just going to run into the bedroom and change."
"I like your robe."
"Yeah, I'll just be a sec."
"Cream and sugar, please."
"Coming right up."
He returned a moment later, dressed, carrying a steaming mug shaped like the head of Lieutenant Jadzia Dax. Sandy was leaning over the computer monitor admiring the rendering. Lansing tried not to stare at her denim-hugged bum. "So, to what do I owe the honour?" he asked, trying to sound suave but failing in several respects simultaneously.
Sandy straightened and turned, accepting the mug. "Thanks. Well, first of all I wanted to bring you a copy of those photos I took at Buffalo," she said, slipping an envelope of duplicates from her purse. "I told Scott I would," she explained.
"That's very thoughtful," said Lansing. He opened the envelope and flipped through the pictures, noting absently how in every one Melody always managed to appear with her face buried in Scott's neck or hidden behind a veil of hair. "They're nice," he added dumbly.
"Second of all," continued Sandy, "I just thought you were a nice guy and my brunch date cancelled, so I thought you might consider filling in. Do you know The Senator?"
"Uh, yeah," said Lansing, blinking. "We go there a lot, actually."
"Are you hungry?"
"Great," said Sandy with a bright smile. "I'll drive."
Sandy drove a rust-speckled mustard yellow '84 Camaro with an engine that sounded like a rabid bulldozer. She pushed it hard through the narrow sidestreets, slamming it between gears expertly as she dodged meandering Sunday drivers and streams of pedestrians. The interior smelled like cigarettes and perfume.
"You smoke?" asked Lansing conversationally.
"I shouldn't," she told him, barreling around a corner and accelerating down Church Street. "Does that bother you?"
"No," lied Lansing.
The Camaro trundled over the curb into a parking lot across from the Pantages Theatre, greasy smoke billowing from its shaking tailpipe. She pulled into a spot, jammed the brake and killed the engine in one smooth set of motions. "Let's eat," she declared happily.
With minor effort Lansing unpeeled his white-knuckled fingers from the edges of his seat and hopped out.
They ordered poached eggs with ham, beans, and Challah toast. Their waiter was a chiseled-jaw homosexual with purposeful bed-head and extravagantly loose wrists. "Your necklace is fabulous, honey," he coed to Sandy. "Where's it from?"
"Vulcan," she said.
"Is that in Italy?" he asked.
"No, it's in space."
The waiter considered this for a moment, brow furrowed. "I'll be right back with your orange juice," he promised and sallied off.
Sandy took a soft package of Camels out of her purse and knocked one free, offering it to Lansing. For some reason Lansing took it. She knocked out a second for herself and lit it with a stubby pink lighter. Lansing put the cigarette into his mouth uncertainly and then jutted his chin forward as she held out the flame. She smiled. "You don't usually smoke, do you, Lansing?"
Lansing stopped coughing briefly enough to croak, "Just sometimes."
"You're cute," she said, and then paused when she saw the look on his face. "I'm sorry," she added. "Does that annoy you?"
"No," he wheezed, slapping his sternum and grimacing. "No, it's just that that's what Melody said when she first met us. I mean, she said it to Eugene and then Eugene got a bunch of stupid ideas in his head. It's nothing. It's not your fault. It has nothing to do with you."
"He thought Melody was flirting with him?"
Lansing nodded, taking another careful experimental pull on the cigarette. "Exactly. He's a spaz about girls."
"But maybe I am flirting with you," said Sandy with a smirk, her elbows on the table and her chin in her hands. She blew at a tendril of smoke as it wafted too near her face.
"Um," said Lansing before launching into another coughing fit.
"Maybe you should consider the fact that smoking just isn't for you," she said, plucking the cigarette from his fingers and squinching it out in a black ashtray. "Are you okay?"
Lansing nodded, eyes watering.
She drew on her own smoke pensively. "Have you ever wondered how hard it might be to find a man your own age who doesn't think you're a nut-job because you're into Star Trek?"
Lansing shrugged nervously. "I'm sure you don't have any trouble with men," he said. "Um, you're a very attractive woman."
"Hey Lansing, are you flirting with me now?" she laughed.
Lansing blushed. "Um, no -- no, no. I'm not some creepy guy who hits on anything that moves."
"You don't have to be defensive. What's so bad about flirting?"
"I'm not very good at it, for one thing."
"I think you're very sweet. I think you come off better than you imagine."
"Eugene always makes girls feel weird. I don't want to be like that."
"You don't make me feel weird."
"No," she confirmed, blowing a smoke ring. "Personally, I find it flattering when a good looking younger man tries to butter me up."
"I'm not good looking," mumbled Lansing.
"I beg to differ," she argued pleasantly. "For one thing your complexion is exquisite. Are you native?"
"Uh, yeah, but nobody ever guesses that."
"I'm good at sizing people up. Which nation?"
"I'm one-eighth Mohawk."
"That's cool. I went to school with some Mohawks from Montreal."
"Did you grow up on reserve?"
"For a while," said Lansing quickly, looking away. "Where's our food?" he wondered awkwardly. "I'm getting pretty hungry."
Sandy touched his hand tenderly. "You can tell me about it some other time, if you feel like it."
"Yeah," agreed Lansing, daring to look into her eyes. "Maybe I will."
In the afternoon they went to 80 Spadina and toured the art galleries, tromping up and down the creaky wooden stairs between floors and talking or laughing about what they'd seen. The highlight for both of them were the works of an artist who used shellac to seal lumps of real food onto the surface of paintings: fried eggs, rib-eye steaks, squiggles of noodles.
Lansing's phone vibrated a couple of times but he didn't look at it.
"Is that your friends calling?" asked Sandy.
Lansing nodded. "You can hear that? Yeah, it's probably Aaron. He probably wants everyone to come over to his place to watch Simpsons tonight."
"Don't dodge him on my account," said Sandy, holding open the door for the two of them as they stepped out into the sun.
"Oh, that's okay," shrugged Lansing, jamming his hands in his pockets. "I don't really need another dose of Aaron this weekend."
"It must be nice to have friends to do things with. Do you guys hang out a lot?"
"Well, we all used to until Melody came into the picture and sort of stole Scott away. We hardly see him anymore."
"A lot of people do that when they get into a relationship," opined Sandy. "They neglect their friends."
"I guess so," agreed Lansing.
"But we won't do that, will we?"
Lansing coughed. "...Are we in a relationship, Sandy?" he asked timidly.
She took his hand and held it as they walked back to the car. "We're on our way," she said. "Unless, of course, the age difference disturbs you too much."
"No, no no no," said Lansing. "It doesn't bother me at all. I mean, you're...no, it doesn't bother me."
"What were you going to say?"
"I was going to say you're out of my league."
Sandy stopped him, turned him toward her, and put her hands on his shoulders. "Lansing, you need to believe in yourself a little more. I don't know who convinced you that you're some kind of a loser, but they're wrong. Totally, totally wrong. You're intelligent, handsome and sensitive. Any girl would be lucky to have you, and I'd like to be that lucky girl."
Lansing began to sweat. His mouth worked for a moment and then he blurted out, "I'm a virgin."
Several of the passersby on Spadina paused to giggle. Lansing's face flushed, his cheeks feeling warm and tight. Sandy didn't even flinch. "Yeah?" she said. "I'm forty-three, single, and I love Star Trek. Who's more undatable? Another few years of this and I'll officially be ready to give myself over to becoming the crazy cat lady."
Lansing shrugged. "Cats are nice."
Sandy cracked up laughing. "I prefer the company of good people," she told him. "Even if for only a spell."
They picked up Thai food for supper and ate it in Lansing's livingroom while he gave her a guided tour of his virtual starship, clicking the mouse down computer-generated corridors and dragging the point of view into various locations of interest, like the transporter room and crew mess hall. "The thing that's frustrating about the officers' lounge," he explained, "is that there aren't any windows on the exterior that correspond to where the lounge is actually supposed to be, right here, at the front edge of the saucer section."
"They introduced that set in one where they go to see God, right?"
"Right, The Final Frontier. Shatner's baby. It's such a ridiculous movie." Lansing smiled self-effacingly as he struck a pose and cried out in his best imitation of Kirk: "What does -- God need -- with a starship?"
"I always liked it, actually," admitted Sandy with a giggle. "But I'm a sucker for camp."
"Even when it's not on purpose?"
Lansing had some liquor left over from Christmas so he mixed up some drinks. In an effort to create a more romantic atmosphere he spun the rheostats and yelled at the radio until it elected to turn on. He passed Sandy her glass and then flopped down on the couch, facing her. "Should we toast something?" he asked.
"Us," she suggested.
They knocked glasses and drank. Sandy asked if the second bedroom were an office but Lansing said it was a library, which Sandy then naturally asked to see. They carried their drinks in, bumping into one another's hips only half by accident. "Wow," she said.
The second bedroom of Lansing's apartment was stuffed from floor to ceiling with bookshelves, each shelf in turn crammed from end to end with dozens upon dozens of faded, dog-eared paperbacks. Sandy ran her finger along their spines, reading aloud random titles that formed a sampling through the annals of science-fiction grand mastery: The Caves of Steel, The Stars My Destination, Childhood's End...
"You have everything," marveled Sandy. "This edition has to be sixty years old! Where did you find it?"
Lansing shrugged, smiling. "Garage sale."
Sandy shook her head. "What an amazing collection -- The Weapon Shops of Isher, The Man Who Sold the Moon, Shakespeare's Planet, The Snows of Ganymede, Gateway, Wasp, Norstrilia, The Runaway Robot, To Your Scattered Bodies Go, The Elliptical Grave, Children of the Lens, Star Songs of an Old Primate, The Black Star Passes, The Endless Voyage, From the Dust Returned..."
Lansing shrugged again, simultaneously sheepish and proud. He sipped his drink. "I like my pulp."
She pulled a couple of random books from the shelf and turned them over, examining the gouache painted illustrations of silver cigar spaceships and Michelin Man spacesuits. "The cover art is hilarious," she said, shaking her head.
Lansing chuckled. "To me it doesn't matter how cheesy they seem now. They're a celebration of imagination. All these guys were amazed and overwhelmed by what was happening in the world, and their response was to imagine even wilder possibilities. They lived in a time when space was new, and they couldn't help but be ignited."
"They were optimists," observed Sandy, sipping her drink. "They thought we'd be living on the Moon by now."
"Maybe, maybe not. Science-fiction isn't an attempt at prophecy -- it's a way to cope with change. It's a way to underscore the dizziness that comes from having your world-view turned on its ear every decade or so."
"I think you're sexy when you're passionate."
"I think I'm just tipsy enough to take that comment in stride," replied Lansing smoothly, grinning. "The point is that science-fiction isn't about the future, it's about the present. In the sixties the only way you could get away with an interracial kiss on prime-time television was by setting it in space."
Sandy carefully inserted the paperbacks back on the shelf. "Whereas today we could have an interracial kiss any time we like," she said, batting her eyelashes playfully. "Wanna?"
Back in the livingroom they moved on to second and third rounds. They were both feeling flushed so Lansing cranked open a window, admitting a breeze that smelled like damp grass, hot grease and fresh pizza. Sandy undid a few more buttons on her shirt, then stumbled against the couch. "Oh my," she said and then laughed.
Lansing laughed too. "Oh crap, tomorrow's Monday, isn't it?"
Sandy nodded. She slid down the side of the couch and sat on the parquet flooring. "Call in sick," she suggested with a lopsided grin.
"I'm going to."
"I've never even asked you, Sandy -- what do you do?"
She cradled her glass, swirling the contents absently. "I'm a superhero," she said, and then cracked up laughing again and let her head flop back against the couch.
Lansing smiled uncertainly. "Do you wear a cape?"
"No," she said, lifting her head again and looking at him levelly. "The fact of the matter is boring as Hell, Lansing. It's boring to me, at any rate. I manage a Toronto Dominion branch."
"Oh come on, I've heard the banking industry is a laugh-riot."
Sandy giggled. "Ooooh yeah." Then the smile dropped off her lips and she grew serious. "Lansing, do you think I'm pathetic for wanting to date somebody twenty years younger than me?"
"My answer may be biased."
"I like the way you don't stammer when you're drunk."
"I feel good around you."
"Let's take a shower."
"It's stuffy in here. Take off your clothes."
"You're not going to rob me, are you?"
She paused, her brow furrowed. "Why did you say that?"
"No, really. Why?"
Lansing spread his hands apologetically. "I guess this just seems to good to be true. I keep waiting for the punch-line."
Sandy looked into her drink with a strange, faraway look and then decisively drained it. She met his eyes. "Lansing," she said, "I am not here to rob you. I promise. Like I said: I'm a superhero -- I toil for good."
"I thought you said you manage a bank. You toil for service fees."
"That's day-toil. This is night-toil."
"I still want to see your form-fitting super costume."
Sandy smiled again. "Sure," she said, putting her empty glass on the floor next to her. She unbuttoned her red shirt and shrugged it off, working her shoulders as she peeled her arms clear. "This," she explained, "is my super bra."
"It is form-fitting," admitted Lansing, his eyes wide and his mouth dry. He focused on not stammering. "Does it have special abilities? Like, is it bullet-proof or fire-proof?"
"It both lifts and separates."
"I'm shaking in a good way."
"Put your drink down before you spill."
When Monday arrived Lansing was no longer a virgin. After sun-up he groggily reached out of his bed and called in sick at work using a telephone shaped like a Starfleet communicator. Sandy nodded her approval and took the phone to call the bank, her voice husky, then settled her head back down on Lansing's smooth brown chest and fell asleep again. Lansing ran his fingers through her hair with a content sigh.
He'd forgotten to pull the shade. His eyes flicked up to the corner where a fresh span of spider's silk flashed in the dawn light, swaying faintly as its lithe owner crossed from one end to the other.
Spiders made Lansing uncomfortable, but he was unwilling to break the moment -- unwilling to separate himself from Sandy's warm nudity -- to deal with it.
He made a mental note to buy some Raid.