Home > The First Starfighter

The First Starfighter
Author: Grace Goodwin




Jamie Miller, Baltimore, MD, United States


* * *


I settled into my gaming chair and put my headset on, ready to get started. Work had passed so slowly today because all I could think about was getting back to the game. It was sad that I was more eager for time in front of a screen instead of being outside in the sunshine, but my friends were here, inside the chat room where we could talk to each other through our headsets and play together in real time. My BFFs were in different countries, but they felt close. As if we were in the same room. As if we were a team.

Well, we were that. A team that had me on my final mission. We had been trying to defeat this level on the same mission for two months. Two months! Every Friday and Saturday night we played Starfighter Training Academy together, the hottest new multiplayer game on the market. I’d even splurged and upgraded my Internet to be lightning fast.

All of that said everything anyone needed to know about my social life. I was an introvert, able to befriend strangers whom I’d never met instead of coworkers. I was more into books and video games than trying to meet new people. I hated parties. Bars. Shopping.

Although if Lily or Mia said they were coming to visit, I’d be so excited. And nervous. I only knew what they looked like based on their video screen images—and their game avatars.

“Ladies, are we ready to take down some Dark Fleet scum in the Vega System?” I asked, shifting to get comfortable. Adjusted my headset. I picked up my controller with eagerness. Finally… it was time to play. My excitement made my palms sweat, and I alternated wiping them on my flannel PJ pants I’d put on as soon as I’d come home.

“Let’s do it. You’re so close, Jamie. You’re going to win the game and graduate from the training program,” Lily agreed, although I didn’t hear a lot of eagerness in her voice.

I was the only one who had reached this level, accumulated enough XP—or experience points—and successfully completed every mission… except one. The last one I needed to reach full Starfighter rank. Lily and Mia weren’t far behind in their own game stats. A weekend or two and they’d run their last training missions as well. The goal of the game was to finish every mission assigned to one of the ten different fighter types. I was a Starfighter pilot. Mia ran tech operations for an entire team, coordinating ground and space forces during large-scale missions. And Lily? She had one of those giant robot bodies that went around and smashed everything in sight with indestructible fists. Lily had a berserker streak that made both Mia and I laugh.

Me? I just liked to go fast. Really freaking fast. And fly. And blow stuff up.

When I played, I was the exact opposite of the person I was every day at work. As a delivery driver, I spent most of my time alone. It was boring, but it paid well when I included tips, and I didn’t have to talk to a lot of people.

Mostly I rang doorbells and ran back to my truck so I could get to the next stop. I always felt like I was playing a grown-up version of Ding Dong Ditch.

But not tonight. Tonight I was going to kick Dark Fleet ass and take names. “Queen Raya is going down,” I vowed. “I have a hunch that last group of Scythe fighters is protecting her command ship.”

“I totally want you to kick her ass, Jamie. But I don’t want the game to end,” Lily continued.

“What?” Mia’s shouted objection came through my headset, making me wince. I adjusted the volume. “Why not? We’ve been trying to beat this crazy game for months—this mission alone has taken weeks.” She drew that out as if it had been torture instead of fun for all of us. “What do you mean, you don’t want it to end?”

Mia’s German accent was nothing like Lily’s, which screamed upper-crust British boarding school, but I’d grown used to both of them. We’d met in the game, started playing together, and clicked as a training team. Been best friends ever since, even if the only time we connected was with our headsets on and controllers in hand.

“We can’t let Jamie win,” Lily reaffirmed, and Mia sighed loudly as I took a drink of my soda. I frowned, but they couldn’t see me.

“Why not?” Mia asked. “If Jamie finishes the game, we’ll be right behind her. I’ve got one mission left after this. You’ve got what? One or two? And once we’re all done with the game, we can just start a new one.” She paused, but I knew she wasn’t finished. “Maybe next time I’ll go for a fighter pilot or a spy. One of those really dangerous scouts or rescue teams.”

“You’d have a heart attack,” Lily teased. Mia liked to be in control with a capital C. Flying blind into enemy territory in a scout ship or flying full speed at an enemy destroyer would not make her happy, and we all knew it.

“Shit. You’re right. I totally would.”

We all laughed, and I was still smiling as I booted up my player stats on my big flat-screen TV. The bar across the bottom that showed my mission completion—like the temperature on a thermometer—was almost full. The XP tally too. I was literally this one last mission shy of academy graduation. I was almost there. While I played with Mia and Lily, their training program—and game experience—was customized by their other fighter types, but we all had to work together to be successful. Once I graduated, they would have to recruit a new pilot from one of the game’s chat rooms to help them win their final battles. Once I won, I couldn’t play my character anymore. Which was sad and yet not enough to stop me from wanting to beat the game.

Game after game, mission after flight mission, I’d honed my skills to be the best Starfighter pilot. To make it even better, I had a wingman. A Goose to my Maverick, if I put it in Top Gun terms. A gorgeous wingman.

I admired the full-body image of my fighting partner—whose avatar filled my TV’s dark background. I grinned, loving the hot-as-hell alien I’d custom built to be my sidekick when I’d first started the game. Every player had one—a hunky fighting partner—and they were all different. Customized and designed using attributes chosen from the game menu to match each game player’s personal preferences. I’d gone with tall, dark, and handsome. Times ten. There were men and women. Short. Tall. Every size, shape, skin tone, and facial feature was represented. I’d basically built my dream man inside a video game. I understood Lily’s hesitation.

If we started the game over, I’d have to give him up.

Lily practically read my mind. “Look, if Jamie wins, she’ll have to give up Alex when we start over. Same goes for both of us when we graduate.”

“Bist du bescheuert?” Mia shouted in her headset. Both Lily and I had spent enough time online with Mia to know exactly what she was saying. Are you crazy? Or stupid. Or something along those lines. “My Kassius is sexy, but he’s not real. Not. Real.”

I stared at Alexius—who I nicknamed Alex—my custom-built hottie, and frowned. Yeah, he wasn’t real… but I wanted him to be. To look at me and talk to me as he did in the game. While he only spoke a limited number of programmed responses or orders because we were… in… a… game… I dreamed of that deep voice talking dirty to me in real life. There were some outtakes that teased me with a romance between my character and Alex. Usually I was treated to one romantic scene where there would be a brief kiss between us. Sometimes his character would ask mine to go with him after a mission for some private time. But the game makers always took what happened next off-screen. Damn them.

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