Justin left the garage door open and led Miranda––pretty name––through the laundry room and into the den. He hadn’t socialized with anyone on Bobwhite Lane since he was a kid, but the feeling of our houses are all the same or mirrors of each other came back to him on a wave of nostalgia. He packed that away quickly, since nostalgia had a funny way of opening the door to grief.
When his parents were alive, this room had been his dad’s den. TV, fireplace, Barcalounger, screen door to the back patio where the grill lived…To fill the massive void, Justin filled the room with his gaming equipment, leaving the room looking like a well-worn, Seventies-Cyberpunk villain’s lair.
In the middle of the lair, Marvin sprawled, delicately cleaning his paws and looking like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.
He turned to Miranda, shrugging an apologetic shoulder at the room. “The doors are all unlocked behind you, if you want to take the cat and make a run for it.”
Instead of running, she was peering at his 31.5-inch, curved monitor, displaying the launch lobby for Armageddon Impact, including his avatar, a lieutenant in the black-ops section of the Spectre Armada, who stood facing the camera, gently breathing, sidearm holstered while he waited to be sent into the game.
Justin stood a little straighter, tightened his stomach muscles; he suddenly wished he looked a little more like ComdrEllustin13.
“The cat seems fine.” Miranda was still squinting at his monitor. “Is that Armageddon Impact?”
“Yeah.” Okay, this was interesting. “Do you play?”
She snapped out of her inquisitive trance with a little laugh. “No, but Elliot––my son––he wants to get it. I was going to get him the download for Christmas, but his father says it’s too violent.”
“Nah.” He could hear himself dragging out his soapbox. “I mean, there’s some shooting, but it’s all futuristic sci-fi stuff, no gore, and kills aren’t the point. It’s kinda RPG, mission-based. You develop a character over time and complete objectives. You can play with a crew on a starship, or do solo stuff, so if you don’t want him talking to internet weirdos, chat and social stuff can be shut off in the settings.”
Miranda drifted toward the monitor. “Did Marvin interrupt you? Were you…completing an objective?”
He shoved his hands in his pockets. How lame was he, that he’d been planning to raid a syntholeum refinery on Clarisca Prime on a Friday night? “Not really. I was mucking around with my crew. I play with a bunch of people I’ve known from other gaming servers. We’re sorta between major campaigns right now, so we’re taking small quests and resourcing for this new map that’s supposed to come out in January.”
“I know this one,” Miranda said, turning to him with a broad grin. “Serentian V. It’s all Elliot talks about…” Her grin faded. “When he’s talking to me at all.”
Justin remembered the couple of years when he’d considered his mom the single lamest person on this or any planet. He also remembered a secret desire that she care about the stuff he was interested in, but she hadn’t wanted to hear about grunge music, Myst, or how actually awesome Philip K. Dick’s stories were.
“You want to crack the cool teen shell?”
She fidgeted with her fingers; the corner of her lip quirked. “Is that even possible?”
“I promised the finest boxed wine I’ve got. Let me grab you a glass and I’ll take you on a tour of the game. The next time it comes up, you just casually drop any knowledge you pick up here. If I’m right, you’ll have a foot in the door.”
He jogged upstairs and dispensed two cheap wineglasses-full of surprisingly palatable Cabernet, and carried them downstairs. Miranda had discovered his dad’s bookshelves, now a bit cluttered with his reading habits. The double bookcase housed his father’s collection of espionage and conspiracy fiction, from mid-century pulp novels to John LeCarré and Daniel Silva. Justin’s books were crammed into the spaces above his dad’s.
He really didn’t want to think about emptying those shelves.
“Your wine.” He crossed to her and handed her the glass. “Now, let’s explore the quadrant and give you some talking points.”
“To research,” Miranda said, offering a little toast.