TRUE BELIEVERS: Chapter 14 — Enter The Negative Zone

True Believers is a full-length novel by Thom Dunn, based on his play of the same name. It’s a satirical tale of star-crossed lovers, aspiring comic book creators, crazed fanboys, cybernetically enhanced humans, women in refrigerators, real-life superheroes, and girls who dress like Slave Leia as their lives intertwine over a whirlwind weekend at a comic book convention in the early 2010s.

The book will be serialized on Medium throughout the month of April 2020. Here is the first chapter. Check back every day for more chapters!

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Chloe Long looks up the at the clock between baggage terminals 3 and 4 at JFK International Airport for the forty-second time in nineteen minutes. To be fair, some of those counts are double-takes, as she has to keep reminding herself how to read the analog numbers and remember which hand is which hand without getting distracted by the constant fluctuations of the second-hand.

By now the effects of the room’s poorly-contrived comfort colors have worn off, and all that Chloe sees is the cold, hard linoleum and cold, hard conveyor belts that carry no luggage. She is mesmerized by their metal curves in between her clockward glances, but it’s not enough to free her mind from the cold, hard truth:

Her luggage is definitely gone.

She pushes up her shoulders as she zips the small white hoodie up to her neck. The artificial air in the room is thick and suffocating, but she’d rather be too warm right now than deal with the uncomfortable stares from everyone. Isn’t New York supposed to be all cool and weird and accepting and stuff? Chloe’s left hand keeps instinctively going to her pocket like it always does when she’s nervous, and each time she’s disappointed when she remembers that her cell phone died mid-flight while she was playing Candy Crush.

And of course her charger was in the bag, which is like so definitely gone by now that it’s not even funny. Ugh.

After a while a nice black woman in a TSA uniform with short, spiky hair comes over and says, “Miss? Is everything all right?” She directs Chloe to the baggage claim office, where all she can do is fill out some paperwork for the bald, grumpy white guy behind the corner. “Long? Doesn’t sound Chinese,” he says, then peers over his thick wire-rimmed glasses and adds, “Hawaiian?” but doesn’t actually wait for an answer, which, if she’d given it, would have been “I’m Japanese, you shiri.”

As such, it’s no big surprise that he’s not particularly sympathetic to Chloe’s problem. He does offer to take another number down when she mentions that her cell phone’s dead — but how is she supposed to remember someone else’s phone number off the top of her head?

Not that her and Ted ever talk on the phone. But that’s another issue. You’d think by now that airports would figure out how to communicate with people in MMORPGs.

Fortunately, the bald jerk does point her towards the Starbucks in the airport, which at least has free Wi-Fi. Of course Chloe kept her laptop with her for the duration of the flight — her stupid flight, which was already stupid delayed from stupid yesterday.

Chloe wanders through the public parts of the airport for a while before she finds the cafe. When she gets there, she tries to buy a Mocha something or other, but it’s all very confusing and nowhere does the menu explain what any of the strange words even mean and all she really wants right now is a hot chocolate (and but also to find her bags and maybe just finally be with her man and have it not be like a huge big thing?). Not that any of it matters, because she doesn’t have any money with her anyway, and her credit cards are all in her luggage. Were in her luggage? She’s not even sure if she should cancel them yet or not, assuming she can find a way to call the bank and let them know.

Once she finds a table that’s not too sticky, or too wobbly (the pickings are slim), Chloe pulls her laptop out, logs onto the game, and leaves a message with the courier for ReturnOfTheTEDi, trying to speak softly and inconspicuously into the mic clip on her headphones:

“Hey babycakes. So um, good news and bad news. I guess I’ll start with the bad news: the airport lost my luggage? I tried to give them your number to call in case they find it but then I realized that I don’t know your number off the top of my head, so. Oh, but that’s the other bad news, is that my cell phone died while I was on the flight — which extra sucks because I was like 200 points away from my high score on Angry Birds. But that doesn’t really matter because my charger was in my luggage, which is obviously lost, so then that’s why I’m leaving you a message in the game.

“Oh, but I almost forgot the good news! My flight landed early. I mean after it was delayed last night. With the luck I’m having so far, I hope it’s not an omen of what’s to come with us (lol). I’m kidding, of course. I just need to keep reminding myself that I’ll soon be in the arms of my sexy Tiefling, and that you’re not actually blue IRL (hehe).

“Anyway, I’ll see you soon. Can’t wait. Love, Chloe.”

Chloe closes the computer, then realizes that she can’t hail a cab without money, so she opens it again and orders one online, then goes to wait for it.

“I can’t believe that asshole!” Billy says as Calvin clips him into the blue plastic body armor they made together. They’re in a handicap stall in the bathroom across the convention hall from Room 1A14, but even that’s not spacious enough to make this comfortable for either one of them. Calvin’s just relieved that Billy hasn’t made any cracks about “crippled queers” or something. Not yet, anyway

Once the chest piece is secure, Calvin moves behind Billy (still no jokes still no jokes) to tighten the purple skirt top around his waist, while Billy himself secures the gauntlets that cover his shaking fists. “I don’t know what else you expected to happen,” Calvin says. “I mean, you were baiting him, right? Isn’t your whole point here to ‘destroy Chad Mailer’ or whatever?”

“Well yes, but — “

“So your cyborg stunt made him look like a jerk. Isn’t that what you wanted?”

Billy turns abruptly and faces Calvin, causing the the purple skirt top to fall from his waist and splash in a small puddle of — water? urine? gatorade? — on the floor of the stall. “Did you touch my ass?” he says.

And there it is. “I was trying to fix the skirt. You can’t be the Devourer of Worlds without a purple scale mail skirt,” Calvin replies. “It helps protect from radiation blasts. Or something.”

Billy nods solemnly, the arc of his head growing larger with each successive bob. “You’re right.” He picks up the dripping-wet skirt without even flinching and wraps it around himself. Calvin watches as he tightens the belt, and hopes that whatever liquid it landed in doesn’t corrode the rubber cement they used to affix the plastic scales.

Best case scenario, it was something radioactive and it’ll transform Billy into the real-life Galactus. There’s no way he could turn into more of a radioactive asshole.

“I guess I was just expecting a little more support from Kt and Box,” Billy laments. “And it wasn’t until that last moment that Mailer really made an ass of himself. It was almost like he was trying to understand. Like he actually cared about Cyborg rights.” Billy swings his armored arms at stiff, robotic angles and makes mechanical whirring noises with his mouth which echo awkwardly against the bathroom’s shiny, sticky surfaces.

“It was when he questioned my cyborgness though. It would have really hurt, if I was capable of feelings. As it was, it…malfunctioned my mechanical heart.”

Calvin doesn’t need Billy to punctuate this thought with a power-down sound to understand how much it hurts when someone questions your identity, when someone else decides for you who you are and what that means.

Of course Billy makes the strange sound anyway. He leans forward loosely and hangs halfway over for a moment before bolting back upright with another fake hydraulic sound effect. “What time is it, Calvin? We must return to the panel for the Final Revelation! For I am but the galactic messenger, a herald for the Godhead of the universe!”

Without even waiting for Calvin to answer, Billy grabs his duffel bag, kicks open the door to the stall and stomps out of the bathroom with loud robotic steps. Calvin hides behind the metal wall for a moment; he doesn’t want anyone to see them leaving the stall together. But then, what could be more embarrassing than Billy’s melodramatic cybernetic antics?

That’s when Calvin realizes that the separation starts two feet off the ground, and that people could have easily seen both pairs of their legs under the stall if they wanted to. So he walks straight out with his eyes closed. Because no one can see him if he can’t see them. Right?

<< Go Back to Chapter 13 | Read on for Chapter 15 >>

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Writer of fiction, article, songs, and more. Enjoys quantum physics, Oxford Commas, & romantic clichés, esp. when they involve whiskey. HATES Journey.

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