Monday 29 January 2007

Boldly Gone, Part One

Boldly Gone is a story of nine chapters, posted serially by me, your dactylographically zealous host, Cheeseburger Brown.

This story is a tragedy, a comedy and a sequel.

Let's begin:


It was worse than catching somebody naked: they caught him broke. Nobody knew where to look.

The door to Henry's apartment was open just a little, and just a little was more than enough to be eclipsed entirely by Henry's buddha-like countenance. His arm was slung strangely over his forehead and his fingers played against the jamb in the world's worst approximation of nonchalance. "Wow, this is so cool," claimed Henry, smiling intermittently. "A meat-space visit, right out of the blue. Wow. Guys, hey."

The four friends were fresh from the convention. They still smelled like cotton candy and cigarettes as they hovered in the close corridor.

Aaron said, "Did we interrupt your penis time? I'm sure you can let us in -- your screen-saver will've come on by now. Whatever kinky shit you're into remains a safely guarded secret."

"Shut up, Aaron," said everybody else.

"A lot of shit's gone on lately," explained Henry, sweating a bit.

Even through the barely open door it was evident that Henry was wearing his usual outfit: a Romulan military uniform, silver and broad-shouldered. His eyebrows were typically shaved and drawn back in on a sharp angle, but today he had no make-up, and his eyebrows were a thick stubble. He wasn't wearing his ear extensions, either, but the tips of his lobes were pale from the habit.

Scott saluted in the Romulan manner and crisply declared, "Eugene wants to see the bridge, Commander."

Eugene nodded.

"That's just it," admitted Henry sadly. "The bridge is gone, man."

"What!" cried Lansing. He couldn't help it, and blushed after making the noise. He sidled over to hide behind Eugene, but Eugene was trying to hide behind him.

"Like I said, a lot of shit's gone on," repeated Henry heavily.

The next moment of awkward silence was broken by Aaron. "So, my socially retarded cherub, are you going to invite us into your non-bridge or do I have to hold my piss until we get to the airport?"

"Shut up, Aaron."

"Seriously, though."

Henry sighed and opened the door.

Henry's apartment was famous for being a lavishly appointed replica of the bridge of a Romulan B-type Warbird, as seen in Star Trek. It had twinkling banks of blinkies, a swiveling command console with arm controls, and an embedded giant-size Japanese plasma television serving in place of the standard holographic viewscreen. The lighting motif was green and everything was labeled with cryptic Romulan runes. At all times of the day or night hidden sub-woofers gave voice to a subtle rumble of shipboard ambiance.

"Cold damn," said Aaron.

Nobody told him to shut up. They were similarly stunned to see Henry's apartment torn out of the twenty-fourth century and dashed, bereft of imagination or dignity, into the ass end of the twentieth. His place kind of looked like a house in Whoville after a visit from the Grinch: screw-holes in the walls, sun-stains outlining vanished furniture, the dull echo of emptiness.

"Yeah," agreed Henry, sitting down on a milk-crate that bowed dangerously under his generous bottom. A second milk-crate in front of him held his ThinkPad. "I sort of had to hawk some stuff," he said, dusting crumbs from his command jersey.

"Oh man," said Scott sympathetically. "What happened?"

"Lots of shit," said Henry.

"I bet you got dumped by that girl, too," chuckled Aaron. "If she ever existed, that is."

"She existed alright," replied Henry somberly, looking up to meet their eyes with his, hooded and bloodshot. "She ran all my cards up to the limit and then disappeared. She screwed me over, guys. I'm totally, totally screwed."

"Dude!" squeaked Lansing, his brow creased with pity.

"My credit is destroyed," continued Henry. "I had to auction everything. My entire paycheque goes to collection agencies. I eat dinner at the homeless shelter."

"Jesus," said Scott, who was Jewish.

Aaron's parents were Presbyterians but his exclamation was Klingon: "Dor-sho-gha!"

Everyone nodded agreement. Even Eugene's heart ached for poor Henry, even though they had never before met in the flesh and only fleetingly brushed shoulders over Internet Relay Chat -- still, Eugene could not ignore the inconceivable pain of losing a woman. He had trouble, in fact, conceiving of having a woman in the first place: this made his compassion all the more acute, catalyzed by envy.

Eugene was dressed in the black slacks and stiff, rusty red tunic of a cinema-version Starfleet captain, and he solemnly undid the cream-white strap from his shoulder to let the double-breast flap open as a symbol of mourning. He said, "Truly, the worst of times," and then took a hit from his inhaler.

Henry nodded. "Thanks, man."

"Women are crazy," said Scott. Nobody would debate this wisdom, as they all knew Scott had had not one but two genuine girlfriends. Scott had blonde hair and bright, flecked brown eyes that looked like chocolate chip cookies. He wore the grey-epauletted jumpsuit of a Deep Space Niner, his collar crimson to indicate command. He was their indisputable Kirk, ever radiating an air of confident authority. "Better to have loved and lost..." he sighed.

"In the future," contributed Aaron, "I predict that women will be twice as powerful, ten thousand times larger, and so expensive that only the five richest geeks in Silicon Valley will own them." He was dressed as a Klingon warrior, complete with creaking leather, a mottled foam forehead ridge, and two long, greasy, black braids.

Lansing wore the classic Spock: blue tunic, black boots, elfin ears. "The convention was really good," he said, attempting clumsily to change the subject. "Nichelle Nichols spoke."

"Wow, cool," said Henry.

"It was awesome," agreed Scott. "She's an inspiring speaker. Really great speech."

"She's still even a little bit hot," said Aaron thoughtfully, stroking his fake goatee. "You know, for a mature."

"Cool," said Henry, who wasn't really listening. "Um, so you want to grab some sushi or something? How long are you guys going to be here in San Fran?"

Aaron shot the cuff of his furry Klingon sleeve and consulted an Indiglo watch. "About two more hours. Do you have the number for a taxi?"

"We thought we'd see you at the convention," offered Lansing by way of apology.

"Yeah, cool, no problem," said Henry quietly. "I've got a lot of shit to do anyway."

During the cab ride to the airport the four friends were quiet. They shifted their feet idly, making their bags of convention swag rustle. They stared out the windows, watching San Francisco slide by. Nobody wanted think of Henry but they couldn't help it.

They had all looked up to him because he was getting laid.

As they pulled up outside the terminal Eugene closed his Starfleet blazer primly and said, "If it ever looks like I'm about to screw up my life for a woman, you guys would stop me, right?"

Aaron snorted. "If it ever looks like a woman would look at you, Eugene, we'll tell you."

"Shut up, Aaron."

Lansing shook his head and chuckled. "I guess women are just trouble, huh Scott?"

Scott shrugged as he climbed out of the car. "I'd ride again, given the opportunity."

Lansing was a twenty-five year old virgin. To him, Scott was a hero. "Me too," he agreed.

Aaron rolled his eyes.

Their luggage did not levitate but it did have little wheels. The terminal doors split automatically before them, and sighed closed after. They pulled their wheeled bags along as they craned their heads in search of information screens, consulting their hand-held computers which tweeted and beeped in imitation of familiar props.

People around them snickered. They whispered things to one another like, "Hey, those nerds think they're on Star Wars." Women blushed and looked away while men stared them down with queer sneers.

A loud Texan with a deer-hide golf bag walked into Eugene while talking on a cellular phone, causing both of them to stumble. "Watch it, fag," said the Texan.

"Well, double dumb-ass on you!" retorted Eugene.

They almost missed their flight on account of the nosebleed Eugene got from over-exerting himself when he ran away from the Texan and hid in the duty free shop. Scott found him stuffed behind a display of snow-globes, wiping his bloody nostrils on a towel that said FUN IN THE SUN: CALIFORNIA STYLE!

"I guess I have to buy this now," Eugene said sadly.

"Make it so," nodded Scott, pointing to his watch.


Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Simon,

The idea for this story occured to me when that link of the guy who did up his media room as a TOS-era bridge was circulating through the Internets, and I saw all sorts of geeks of different stripes attacking this guy as a total loser.

I guess I find it sad how quickly some geeks will turn on their own as soon as they feel they're in the comfort zone of being the critic instead of the target.

I mean, people who've memorized every line of Babylon-5 dialogue were saying, "Whoa, buddy's got too much time on his hands!"

I thought that kind of judgementalism was short-sighted, and it got me thinking...

So, in some respect, this is a story of nerd solidarity as much it is about nerd in-fighting.

As for the Star Trek trivia we will explore: I don't know who ought to be more embarassed -- you for recognizing the references or me for being able to dredge them out of my memory for use.

Wait -- scratch that. I'm not embarassed. Being embarassed would compromise part of the meat of this story, which I'll not spoil now. The point is that as someone with an enthusiastic interest in all things related to space, there was a point in my life when Star Trek really caught my imagination.

Yes, the line is from STIV:TVH (which might or might not be the appropriate Trekker annotation, I'm not sure) -- your memory serves you well, Simon.

Cheeseburger Brown

Anonymous said...

With that pride that is also embarrassment, depending on who is in the room, I loved seeing "double dumb-ass" on the screen and read it with Shatnerian enthusiasm.

On an advertising note, it was amusing to see the drawing for this story with the advertising copy "ride like a girl" underneath. But I digress.

Anonymous said...

Loved "Bikes". However, it does feel like a weight has been lifted after starting this one. The days in my mind don't seem overcast like they did while I was reading Bikes. Henry will have to scream the name "Kahn!" as the tragedy unfolds. Can't wait for the next installment.

THE Danimal

Anonymous said...

Welcome, new story! Shouldn't Henry's cards have fraud protection by now?

Thanks for the colorful metaphor, CBB. I'll join the ranks of nerds who got it, with only a slight flush of the cheeks to betray my shame.

Still waiting to see what precedes this. There are several contemporary possibilities, but apparently not enough clues yet.

gl. said...

still.... reeling... from bikes of new york. may need to wait a while for this one.

(but i love your comments about fanboys turning on their own.)

Mark said...

Sandy's relentless, and it sounds like she's found that nerds have money, too.

If you've never been around people similar to the characters you've created here, I'd be very surprised. You nailed them.

Fan boys say things like that when they are jealous.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear gl.,

As Bikes served to clear the palette of Pink Santa schmaltz, this story is designed to clear the palette from the Bikes' sorrows.

It'll be mostly fun, I swear.

Dear Mark,

What can I say? I don't speak geek because I'm a jock, that's for sure.

Dear Simon,

Alas, I'm always in much too much of a hurry when I'm putting the illustrations together to be very picky about models -- I grab my references wherever I can find them.

The cleavage above is based on a camera phone picture from a series of similar pictures of some girl and her friends doing cheesy sexy poses on New Year's Eve, found through Google Images, posted to MySpace.

My derivative but novel image is not an exact copy, so it is unlikely the girl would recognize herself as the reference.

On a note of empathy: I miss the nuzzlin' most when I can't have it.

Cheeseburger Brown