Boldly Gone is a story of nine chapters, posted serially by me, your automotively nervous host, Cheeseburger Brown.
Yesterday on my way to work I passed a freshly spun-out three car wreck on the highway. This was real world foreshadowing, for before the afternoon was out twenty cars would be mashed into a burning pile in the eastbound lanes, some drivers dead, some just broken or mangled.
Note to self: no crashing.
Such things freak me out a tad, and I'm liable to have the images in my head for days which puts a damper on my driving hours. Nothing can be a completely positive experience when you suspect it's possible that at any moment some tardy yahoo could plow into you, shatter your bones, flip you around or make your legs come off. My wife says I worry too much but I think I worry just enough.
And now, let's continue with our tale:
Scott's condominium faced south, overlooking the stacked squares of Bay Street's tall financial fingers. The rows of greenish fluorescents inside them always made Lansing think of Borg cubes.
"Wow," said Melody. "Nice view!"
Aaron snorted. "It's just a matte painting."
Scott flipped a row of switches on the wall and banks of track lighting came alive, reflecting off the granite kitchen counters and casting a bright vignette over the glossy, blue and white computer on his desk. The screen displayed the machine's progress rendering blocks of telescope data for the SETI project, software for which Scott was a beta tester.
The hour was near so the boys scrambled into their usual seats in the livingroom. Scott turned on the television and hopped to the correct channel, then turned around and furrowed his brow. "Hey Aaron, why don't you scooch over so Melody can sit somewhere?"
Aaron frowned rebelliously, then shifted over on the couch.
Lansing went to the kitchen and dished out a couple of bowls of pretzels and chips from Scott's cupboard and brought them to the coffeetable, which was covered in old issues of Wired and MacAddict. Aaron lit a cigarette and put his feet up on the coffeetable, his red and white sports socks standing in stark contrast to his Klingon regalia.
"How did you get yourself a place like this, Scott?" asked Melody. "It's amazing."
Scott blushed, fumbling with the remote control. "It's a pretty affordable deal, actually. And my company's good to me, I guess."
"Plus he supplements his income by selling buttsex on Church Street."
"Shut up, Aaron."
"Don't deny it, streetwalker. I've seen how you work those glutes."
They hushed one another as the screen dipped to black to begin the second part of a cliffhanger, opening with a review of last week's drama -- the return of the Borg Queen, the kidnapping of Seven of Nine, the reedy vibrato of Captain Janeway declaring her fearless commitment to the poor drone's rescue against all odds...
Eugene and Melody reached into the pretzel bowl at the same time and their hands touched, which caused Eugene to knock over the bowl, scattering pretzels across the carpet. "Oh crap, I'm sorry," he mumbled, dropping to his knees to pick up the mess.
"Dude," said Lansing, "relax."
This was easy for Lansing to say because he was seated as far away from Melody as possible. He could, with minimal effort, pretend she wasn't there at all.
During a commercial break she got up to use the washroom, and the second the door closed the boys found themselves in a huddle. "Holy shit!" whispered Scott. "How did we somehow find ourselves in the company of the hottest girl in the world?"
Aaron shrugged. "She could stand to lose some weight."
Scott raised his brow critically. "So could you."
"Do you think she's into me?" asked Eugene, his forehead wrinkled with worry. "I'm trying not to say much so I don't ruin it by saying the wrong thing."
Scott groaned. "I don't think she's into anyone. She's just lonely."
Lansing was sceptical. "Hot girls don't get lonely, dude."
"Yeah, that's bullshit," said Eugene. "I mean, she's being really nice to me. I don't think that's coincidence."
"Coincident with what?" frowned Aaron.
"Just because a girl is nice to you does not mean she's into you, Eugene. It may just mean she's friendly. You know -- friendly? How people act when they want friends?"
"There is no word in Klingon for such behaviour," claimed Aaron.
"She said I was cute," argued Eugene, biting his lip and wringing his hands.
"That's cute as in pathetic, you fool."
"Shut up, Aaron."
Scott waved his hands for order, shaking his head. "Girls are human beings, just like us. Everything they say and do is not predicated on how it relates to your penis. They get lonely, they act friendly, they compliment people -- it's normal."
"But how do we know for sure?" asked Eugene.
"When the show comes back on try to cop a feel," suggested Aaron.
Eugene's eyes went wide, then he shoved his inhaler in his mouth and took a hard hit. The boys slowly turned around to see Melody standing right behind them, one hand on her hip. "I don't mean to interrupt y'all," she said, a wry little smile playing over her lips.
"We were just, uh, joking around," stammered Scott, breaking out in a sweat.
"I couldn't find the light in the bathroom," she said.
"Here, I'll show you."
As soon as Scott and Melody disappeared around the corner Eugene and Lansing started punching Aaron in the shoulder, repeatedly hissing, "You Klingon bastard!" When Scott returned Aaron was rubbing his arm ruefully.
"You do realize her naked ass is touching your toilet seat, right now, as we speak," Aaron said to Scott. "Got wood?"
Scott ignored him. "Listen, if she is into Eugene the least we can do is try not to screw it up for him, right? Let's get a grip, guys. Try to act like regular people if that's at all possible. I know that's a stretch for you, Aaron, but just try, okay? For Eugene's sake: try."
Aaron farted ponderously. "What's in it for me?"
"We'll keep being your friends."
"I'm not convinced. Can you sweeten that deal?"
They stared at each other for a moment, then Aaron began to nod. "Oh, alright," he conceded, ruffling Eugene's hair. "If it's for the little guy."
"I'm not little," grumbled Eugene, brushing his hair back into place frantically with his hand, inadvertantly covering his scalp with pretzel salt. "I'm just skinny. And I'm going to start working out soon. You know, build up some muscle mass."
"You will be so sexy."
"Shut up, Aaron."
Melody returned as the commercials ended and squeezed herself back onto the couch between Eugene and Aaron. Scott took drink orders, offering cans of pop or beer -- Jolt, Dr. Pepper or Heineken. At Melody's request he mixed up a gin and tonic for her, and then one for himself. Eugene looked at his can of Jolt sadly, suddenly feeling like a kid at an adult party. "Maybe I'll take one, too, instead," he said. "Um, Scott."
"Whenever you drink, you barf," warned Aaron.
"I'm not going to barf."
"Well, it's Scott's carpet."
"Of course you can have a gin and tonic, Eugene. Anyone else?"
Lansing shook his head. Aaron didn't answer, eyes glued to the screen. "Keep it down," he muttered. The episode wound to a climactic but familiar conclusion, the starship Voyager cruising off into space beneath the producers' credits, all members of her crew restored thanks to some strategic sub-atomic emissions from the warp drive.
The boys then debated the relative beauty of various starships, with Eugene coming down in favour of Voyager while Aaron argued that it looked like a "space fish." Scott, as usual, insisted that the pinnacle of starship design came with the Galaxy class 1701-D, while Lansing shook his head and chuckled sceptically. "From fish to whale," he weighed in.
Melody listened to rapt interest but contributed little. She sipped her drink and crossed her legs, watching each speaker attentively as they argued, giggling at their jokes and barbs. Finally, in a lull, she said, "I know you guys are really into the ships and stuff, but for me what makes Trek compelling are the characters."
"Oh yeah," agreed everyone quickly. "Totally."
"Take Seven of Nine, for example," she continued. "She's my favourite. She's such an interesting mix of human and non-human, but very different from, say, Spock's mix or Data's mix. She's out of her element and she wants to learn, but she has her own way of doing things and she's not going to change who she is."
"I think she's like a metaphor for the struggle of immigrants," said Eugene.
"Or lesbians," added Aaron.
"Well, I'm an immigrant but I'm not a lesbian," laughed Melody.
"That's good," said Eugene.
Melody laughed again. "Is it?"
"Um," said Eugene.
"I for one think you're integrating into Canadian culture very smoothly," said Scott boiterously. He raised his half-drained gin and tonic. "A toast -- to Melody's new life here in the country of real Trekkers."
They tinked glasses to cans and drank. "Cheers!"
Aaron bellowed, "ReH nay'meylIjyIn Dujablu'ja!" and then crushed his empty can of Dr. Pepper against his leather armour.
Eugene drained his glass, paused, and then got up and ran to the washroom. A moment later came the sound of enthusiastic retching. "Oh, crap," sighed Scott.
"I told you!" cried Aaron.
"At least he made it to the washroom this time," said Lansing.
"I'd better go see if he's okay," Scott said, getting up from his armchair. Melody followed him.
Scott knocked. Eugene's muffled voice sounded after a moment: "Don't open the door."
"I don't want Melody to see me like this."
"Are you covered in barf or something?"
"No," called Eugene. "...I just feel stupid."
Melody sidled up next to Scott and put her face near the door. "Don't feel stupid, Eugene. We just want to help. Are you okay?"
"I'm cool," claimed Eugene, and then he noisily threw up again.
Scott worked to maintain his focus despite the awareness of Melody's sweet, warm breath on his neck. "Can we get you anything, man? Water, a towel, Tylenol?"
"I'll be out in a minute."
Back in the livingroom Aaron and Lansing were watching The Simpsons, snickering as Homer was ludicrously injured. When Scott and Melody walked in Aaron said, "So is pukey catching a lift home with us or what?"
More noises of digestive distress sounded from the washroom. "Or what, I think," said Scott. "You guys can get going. I'll call a cab for him when he settles."
Lansing tossed his empty pop can into the blue bin and picked up his parka. Aaron wrestled himself into his coat and felt around until he found his keys. He looked up. "Am I giving her a lift, too?"
Scott looked to Melody. She shook her head. "I'm going to stay on to make sure poor Eugene's okay...so long as Scott doesn't mind playing host a while longer, that is."
"Of course I don't mind," said Scott.
Aaron looked back and forth between the two of them for a long moment, then shrugged, wandered over to the door and shoved his feet into his boots without tying them. "Let's go, asswad," he called over his shoulder to Lansing as he opened the door and stepped out.
"He's a charmer," noted Melody, smiling wrily.
"Live long and prosper," said Lansing, waving. He turned and scurried out after the grumpy Klingon. The door sighed closed as their footfalls thudded away down the corridor.
When Eugene came out of the washroom looking pale and forlorn, Scott escorted him into the bedroom and ordered him to lie down until he felt less dizzy. He put a plastic bowl and a glass of water on the night-stand and then quietly pulled the door shut.
Eugene slept fitfully for an hour and then sat up in the dark bedroom and struggled to remember where he was. All he could see were the numbers on Scott's clock-radio skewed and refracted through the glass of water. He picked up and glass and drained it, then spat some of it out as he noticed the time: it was past midnight and he had to get up for work tomorrow. "Shit, shit, shit," said Eugene, rubbing his temples.
He got out of bed and banged into the dresser, then moved slowly along the wall, feeling out with his hands until he discovered the doorknob. He released himself into the dark, silent apartment.
The television was still on but it was muted. David Letterman was going through his Top 10 list.
Eugene figured Scott had fallen asleep on the couch and when he peeked over he did indeed see an irregular human mass in the shadows. As quietly as he could he stole by to collect his parka and lace up his boots. He decided he should say thanks to Scott before disappearing, so he crept over to the couch and searched the darkness for a shoulder to gently shake. "Scott?" he whispered. "You awake, man?"
A sort of wet, smacking sound came from the mass on the couch. Eugene furrowed his brow. Then the mass groaned.
Eugene opened his mobile to shed a little light from its glowing blue screen just as a pillow dropped aside and Melody sat up, her long auburn hair in disarray. Without conscious effort Eugene tilted the phone down and cast the dim blue light lower, revealing her swaying bare breasts, beauty-marked and plump.
"Oh my God!" said Eugene, dropping the phone.
"Eugene!" cried Melody, pulling a pillow over her chest.
"Eugene?" echoed Scott, sitting up suddenly from the opposite end of the couch and then, mid-flail, falling off of it onto the carpet. He wasn't wearing any pants, his pale bum faintly blue from the dropped mobile's light. "Shit!" said Scott.
"What the fuck?" gasped Eugene. "Scott -- what the fuck?"
"Um, you fell asleep," muttered Scott.
Eugene knelt down, scooped up his phone, then turned on heel and starting walking to the door. "Eugene, hey -- wait -- don't go," Scott called, stumbling to his feet. "Eugene, man -- come on."
Eugene threw open the door to the corridor and paused, Scott blinking against the influx of light. Eugene turned calmly and looked into his friend's face with an expression of bilous contempt. "From Hell's heart, I stab at thee," he hissed icily. "For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee."
"What?" stammered Scott, one hand cupped over his genitals.
Eugene walked out and slammed the door in his face.