PLEASE NOTE: This story contains profanity, and some adult situations. Reader discretion is advised.
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."
"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."
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.