Mark Finn has submitted the first chapter for One in a Million the third (and final) installment of the Con-Dorks series. As part of the Clockwork Storybook 30 Day Writing Challenge, Mark has submitted the complete first chapter for you to read, after the jump!
NOTE: If you are not up to date on the story, the first two novels have been run in their entirety at revolutionsf.com.
The Transformation of Lawrence Croft: http://www.revolutionsf.com/article.php?id=1827
Chance of a Lifetime: http://www.revolutionsf.com/fiction2/condorks2/condorks2_00.html
One in a Million – Chapter 1
Another Monday Night Down
Fred “The Turk” Terkington slammed the door to his apartment as hard as he dared. It was only ten o’clock at night, but his neighbors on either side of him were old retirees and dead asleep. He couldn’t even play music above a three on his stereo lest Mrs. Chin or Mr. Sanders start banging on the wall with their canes. The building was called the Addison Arms, and it was three stories of converted offices from the thirties: Wooden walls, trundle windows, high ceilings, steam heat, and sliding partitions. It was charming, looked like something from the set of any decent film noir movie, and in the right hands, it could have been an amazing, cool, bachelor’s pad. Turk’s hands were not the right ones.
He was the youngest person in the building by two decades, a fact that he never failed to mention to his friends, Larry, D.J. and Burt. “I mean, I’m a junior at the most liberal college in America. I’ve got my own apartment. Where are the chicks?” he would sputter.
The truth was simple: no “chicks” or any other euphemism for the female of the species, could get near Turk for the self-generated wall of desperate pity he kept in constant repair around himself. Tonight’s spackling job came courtesy of Larry Croft.
It was bad enough that Larry had, in the six months since their epic adventure to Arizona and back, managed to re-kindle and actually keep his relationship going with Holly Day, one of the hottest women he’d ever stood next to at a convention, but now their kissy faced antics were intruding upon game night. Game Night? Wasn’t anything sacred? And this particular betrayal carried extra sting in that it was Larry himself, one-time slave to the polyhedral dice, who kicked them all to the curb. “Holly’s coming over at 9:30 guys, so…” He let the meaning hang in the air.
“You’re going to do it. Again.” Turk couldn’t help himself.
“Actually, no,” said Larry, his brow darkening. “We’re going to have…a talk.”
“Uh oh,” said Burt Vaughn as he slid his character sheet into his backpack.
“What?” D.J. McGuinness demanded. “Why is that bad?” D.J. was the manager at Comix Comix Comix, and was as socially awkward as his job title implied.
“It may not be bad,” said Burt. He was used to this; he was height-weight proportionate, and while he was really interested in the various worlds and activities offered up to him by his three friends, he could go for weeks at a time without reading a comic book or playing an MMO. This gave Burt outsider status, but the fact that he had managed to date a number of girls in his lifetime elevated him to something akin to the first monkey who touched the moonlith and gained knowledge.
“Did she say, ‘We need to talk?’ or did she say, ‘I’ve got something to talk to you about?’” Burt asked.
Larry frowned again. He could tell that Turk was dying to be the center of attention, and his brain fought for a suitable squelch as he strained to remember Holly’s exact words. “She said, ‘We’ve gotta talk.’”
“Uh oh,” said Burt again.
“There you go with ‘uh oh,’” said D.J. “What does that mean?”
“Oh, who cares,” said Turk. He grabbed his backpack and lurched for the door. “You’ve all got so much to talk about, with your relationships and your little codes. Screw this, I’m going home.”
“Fine, go!” yelled D.J. “You’ve been acting like a little bitch all night!”
Turk stared at them all in turn, waiting for them to say something. No one spoke. “Fine, whatever.” He grabbed the door and slammed it.
Before he could move away, he heard Burt say, “And he wonders why he doesn’t have a girlfriend.”
Turk seethed all the way home. Burt, of all people…his friend. He introduced him to the rest of the group. They were his friends first, and now he’d been usurped by a turncoat gigolo. He knew that wasn’t the word he was looking for; “Cassanova” implied too much. It was obvious that Burt just got lucky. Lothario? No, that wasn’t it. There wasn’t an unflattering word for a man who wasn’t a virgin. He ruminated on that thought as his BART stop was announced and he walked the two short blocks to his apartment.
Now inside, and with the gilded fragments of his friend’s imaginary conversation swirling around in his head, he needed to blow off steam. The steam gurgled in the radiator under his living room window, but otherwise, his world was dead quiet. Let’s see, what are my options, he asked himself. This question was also delusional, as Turk already knew the answer, even though he pretended to scroll through such choices as “Work on Movie screenplay,” “Watch Kill Bill Vol 1 and 2,” “Level up on World of Warcraft,” and “practice tai chi.” There was only one real option, but he was sure to list it last: masturbation and sleep. Resentful, tearful masturbation.
Turk made sure his headphones were plugged in and his shades drawn before waking up his computer and clicking on Sno-Cone Girl dot com. Rhonda Halsey’s website. His greatest, and most spectacular failure of all.
Rhonda was a friend of Holly Day’s, and she was brassy, flamboyant, spoke in this strange third person syntax, and had bright fuscia hair. Turk thought that she was the most wonderful, exquisite thing he’d ever seen in his life. Even before the girls (known in fan circles as “The Wyrd Sisters” or just “the Sisters”) descended upon his group of friends following their daring Arizona heist, he had often considered what kissing a girl with a tongue stud would feel like. Now, in their mutually overlapping circle, she thought enough of him to actually continue their email correspondence past the point that their website was set up and making them money.
Elated, Turk immediately hit all of the social networking sites and befriended her, and like any good Geek-Stalker, followed her digital trail right back to her website. Her monthly pay-to-watch website. Turk could not believe his good fortune! He wasted no time in signing up for a trial month. Once access to Rhonda Halsey was granted, he was profoundly disappointed.
There was no sex, not even any promiscuity. There was only nudity. And there wasn’t very much of that, either. At least once a week, Rhonda would do something mundane in her apartment like washing dishes or folding clothes, only topless. Rhonda had these scenes staged so that they resembled those old cheesecake paintings from the 1950s. She’d even make “Whoops!” faces if she needed to bend over to pick up a sock or something. It was like a burlesque show. More artsy-fartsy than anything.
To make matters worse, Rhonda’s email correspondence suddenly and completely dried up. It took Turk a while to connect the dots between his joining her website and her silence, but when he did put it together, it was too late. The bridge had been burned. Turk let his one month subscription run out, and then, in a moment of clarity, rejoined under an assumed name. TheTurk would no longer be a member of sno-cone girl dot com. Instead, he haunted Rhonda’s cams, as well as her message boards like a digital Phantom, as TrancersFan. It was a persona carefully chosen, because Turk did learn enough about Rhonda to know that she was a fan of schlocky 80s movies, and there were few movies more wonderful in their schlockiness than Trancers. But also, the “T” and “F” in the screen name were his own initials, reversed. It was beautiful, subtle psychology. And while this online persona gave The Turk a voice he otherwise would not have had in a face-to-face encounter, it was more comfortable to him to merely chime in with brilliant comments and flattery on the various message threads than it was to start a new conversation with Rhonda and start over. But make no mistake, every “LOL” that preceded his snappy repartee went straight into his spank bank, where it magically came to life as Rhonda’s girlish giggle. Or, at least, what he imagined Rhonda’s girlish giggle to sound like. He could no longer remember.
Fred “The Turk” AKA “TrancerFan” Terkington sat down in his computer chair, took a deep breath, and launched. Rhonda’s face filled his screen. Her hair was blue now, and he didn’t like it as much. She was at her desk, chatting with some of her subscribers. The Turk’s mouse wavered briefly over the icon marked “photo shoots,” but the residual anger from the evening surged up in him again. He dropped the mouse pointer down to “Join Chat Now!” and clicked.
It had been another one of those days. Rhonda had sent out another round of head shots to the casting agencies, gone to two auditions, one of which didn’t even let her read, and on the way home, she spilled her mocha latte all over her favorite jeans. This was no way to start a media empire, she reflected, as she applied a stain-removing stick to the oval of coffee and milk now threatening to take up permanent residence in the crotch of her jeans.
Her mailbox contained no good news; lots of bills due, and no new subscribers to her website. This was the third month with no new subscribers. Granted, she hadn’t lost any subscribers, either, but it was just a matter of time, now. She had officially plateau-ed. It was just a matter of time, now. Rhonda stood in her kitchen, pantsless, eating ice cream out of the carton with a fork, and gave silent thanks she still had a working metabolism. Well, she said, self-consciously touching the pooch of her tummy, mostly working. “This isn’t helping, for damn sure,” she said, throwing the rest of the ice cream into the trash. “Time for some abject validation.”
Rhonda sashayed down the hallway, waving mechanically at the Hall-Cam, and plopped down in front of her laptop in the bedroom. She put on her headset, adjusted her glasses so she could look over the tops of them, and said into her mic, “Hello, my Pretties! Rhonda is online for a little worship. I’m currently pantsless in bed, and if you play your cards right, I’ll be topless, soon, as well. Hit me with your best shot, and I will reward you all.”
The chatroom buzzed to life, as BIGBAREJONES, ETXTE2010, TATERNUTZ, MIGHTY8, DAVZNUTHEAR, RANDYPANTS, and several other regulars joined in the virtual conversation. Rhonda watched as greetings, good cheer, offers for sex, and other platitudes spilled down the screen so fast it was hard to read them all. It brought a smile to her face. “So nice to see you guys,” she said. “I need cheering up, people. It’s been a bad day.”
A name appeared: TRANCERFAN. She smiled. It was Fred Terkington, a person she actually somewhat knew in the real world. A friend of a friend’s friend, Fred, or “The Turk,” as he was known for some unfathomable reason, was part of a group of geekboys she and her friends had helped out on not one but two separate occasions. This resulted in her friend Holly Day hooking up with a guy by the name of Larry Croft, AKA “Stercutus,” who made a name for himself at MagicCon last year and who also recently brought forth an actual artifact from the hallowed past of role-playing games: a misprinted LegendMaster adventure module that was strangely and terribly pornographic in nature. Buried by time and a justifiably cautious company, Larry and his friends, including Fred, literally dug them up and have been selling them online for a while now—an endeavor that the Sisters whipped up for them, from domain name to shopping cart.
Seeing that Holly was hooking up with Larry and Linda had made goo-goo eyes at Burt, she thought she’d better nab one of the two remaining Con-Dorks if she was to stay abreast of things. Looking over D.J. and Turk, she chose the least objectionable of the two. Everything had been going well until she saw he’d signed up for her website. That put a damper on things at the time. Then he did something really cute. He let his old subscription run out, and the same day, rejoined under a new name, apparently unaware that his IP address was logged and easily identifiable.
In his new role, she found TrancerFan to be much more fun, more interesting, and far less uptight than Fred had been. Okay, Fred, she thought, you want to be someone different, I can roll with that. And so she subtly encouraged him to post, commenting on his banter, and occasionally dropping him a few extra “X’s” and “O’s” when the comment warranted.
And now, here he was. Right in the middle of it. Giving as good as he was getting. Running verbal rings around the other guys. Why can’t you be like this in real life, Fred, she thought. Out loud, she said, “TrancerFan, you are cracking me up tonight. I’m this close to having a crush on you.”
This made the chat scroll jump and freak out as the rest of the guys tried in vain to grab the same attention from her. In the midst of all of the verbiage spilling down the page, a Personal Message popped up. The regulars knew that she ignored them; she usually disabled them beforehand, but in her haste to connect, she’d forgotten.
It was from TrancerFan.
She opened it up:
Sorry you had a bad day. Me too. Let’s work it out together.
She smiled, and started to type something flippant. Then she backspaced over it and wrote:
Do you really want to hear about it? It’s not Rhonda’s usual glamorous life.
Fred’s reply was nearly instant:
Yes. Yes I do. What’s up?
While the chatroom carried on, oblivious to her reactions, she started conversing with Fred—TrancerFan—for the first time in six months.