Chapter 104

               The sudden pounding on the front door of Melbrook made everyone except Chad jump. Alice, Hershel, and Vince all exchanged glances, each mentally preparing for whatever insane task or problem was going to burst through their door next.

                “Guys, it's Alex,” Mary informed them, not even looking up from the book she was reading as she sat on the couch.

                “Is something wrong?” Vince asked.

                “No. Now go let him in before he kicks the door down.”

                Hershel obliged, leaving the room and returning with Alex, who was nearly vibrating with excitement. The shaggy-haired young man was hopping excitedly from foot to foot, scarcely able to contain his evident joy.

                “Did you guys see? Did you see it yet?”

                “See what? Is there an announcement about the upcoming test?” Chad’s interest perked up at the possibility of HCP information.

                “What? No, who cares about that. The new Star Puncher trailer just got released online! It’s coming out in February which means we only have like three months to prepare.” Alex’s voice nearly sparked with energy as he spoke.

                Most of the dorm greeted this news with disinterest or confusion, but one Melbrook resident nearly lost his ability to stand upon hearing Alex’s words.

                “No. Freaking. Way.” Hershel's eyes were wide and his words filled with awe. “Are you sure this isn’t another hoax? We had that fake trailer three years ago.”

                Alex shook his head so quickly there was no way he didn’t give himself a headache. “That was my first thought too, so I went right to the studio’s site. They had the trailer loaded up, as well as information about the release. This is the real damn deal, no question about it.”

                “Excuse me,” Vince said, interrupting as politely as he could. “Could someone explain what this Star Puncher thing is? I grew up without seeing most movies and television.”

                “It’s not just you, I’ve never heard of it either,” Alice added. She’d been curled up in one of the chairs, working on her Subtlety assignment, but it was clear there wasn’t any way much work would be getting done until Hershel and Alex calmed down.

                “Ditto, not that I think that surprised anyone.” Mary gave up on trying to read and stuck her finger in the pages to mark her spot.

                “No one should feel bad, it’s sort of a niche thing,” Hershel told them. “Originally, Star Puncher was a television series in the late sixties. It lasted all of five episodes before going off the air. Then, four years later, it got revived as a movie and that’s when it really hit its stride.”

                “It was that good?” Chad asked.

                “No, that awful,” Alex said. “Cheap props, ham acting, and dialogue that was almost nothing but one-liners. Critics called it the worst sci-fi movie ever made.”

                “So naturally, a few years later, it turned into a cult phenomenon,” Hershel continued. “It gained enough odd popularity that in the early eighties they released a sequel: Star Puncher and The Nightingale Furies. Same actors, same special effects team, same director, and they knocked it out of the park.”

                “But by that you mean it was bad, right? This is kind of confusing,” Vince said.

                “Yes, they mean it was bad; just in a way that was still highly entertaining,” Mary clarified. She deeply loved Hershel after their years together, but this was a passion she’d never found a way to share with him. Instead, she merely did her best not to seem dismissive when he went into these excited frenzies.

                “It was enjoyable, let’s just put it that way,” Hershel explained. “As was the next one that came out in the early nineties, Star Puncher and the Black Matter Kick-Fighter. That was the last one to come out, though, because the director passed away.”

                “But rumors have persisted about a fourth one in the making, helmed by the director’s own daughter and with full participation from the cast. It’s been just a myth on message boards for decades now, the sort of urban legend that people joke about. That is, until today!” Alex actually jumped in the air and pumped his arm with joy at those last words, his admirable efforts to contain his excitement finally proving to be futile.

                “Here’s what I don’t get, why do you need months to prepare for a movie coming out?” Chad asked.

                Hershel and Alex stared at him, momentarily dumbfounded by the madness of such a question.

                “There’s a ton to do,” Alex said eventually. “Making costumes, finding out which theater has the best release party, searching for leaks online so we’re up to the minute on every detail, and of course watching the first three over and over to get ourselves psyched up for the big release.”

                “Is this… normal?” Chad asked. “I mean, is it an activity that a lot of people engage in?” Vince shrugged; he was on the verge of asking something similar. Alice pointedly turned her head to avoid making eye-contact; she couldn’t think of an answer that would be both polite and honest. Ultimately it was Mary who had to offer some perspective.

                “Normal may not be the best word; it’s just a pastime that some people enjoy. Others may like baseball or making paintings; our boys here get a kick out of old sci-fi movies. It’s what takes the stress of daily life away from them.”

                “Ah, I understand.” Chad looked over at the two enthusiastic nerds. “May I join in your activities?”

                Alice let out a sound somewhere between a cough and a choke, and even Mary blinked in surprise.

                “You sure you want to do that?” Hershel asked. “Mary was being nice; this is pretty nerdy.”

                “Perhaps, but I moved here to actively participate in life more. If this film series can excite you to such a degree, it certainly bears experiencing.”

                “Dude.” Alex jabbed Hershel in the ribs. “He would make a perfect Gelfrak. He’s even got the speech pattern down pat.”

                “Holy crap, how did I not see that.” Hershel nodded his agreement.

                “I think I’d like to tag along too,” Vince said. “I could use something a little more light-hearted to think about.”

                “Well then you chose wrong, because Star Puncher is a tale of determination, woe, and triumph. There’s nothing light about it,” Alex said.

                “There was that scene on the planet of giggle-creatures,” Hershel reminded him.

                “Oh, that is a good point. Wait, why are we sitting around talking about this? There’s an online trailer to watch. To Hershel’s room!” Alex led the charge, heading to the boy’s side, only to wait until Hershel pressed the button on the door to let him past. With that, the males were gone from the room, leaving only Alice and Mary remaining.

                “Be straight with me here,” Alice said once the door had shut. “What are the odds they try and rope us into this somehow?”

                “Technically, your odds are better, since unlike me you aren’t dating one of them.”

                “Why did you say technically?”

                “Because,” Mary replied with a somber expression. “I think we both know that if I go down, you’re coming with me.”

                “Cruel. Very cruel.”