PLAYING SOLO Henry fired a mortar
round at the cluster of aliens. Perfect! It hit their group dead center, and blew them up in a geyser of brown soil and green flesh.
“Nice!” Stan said. “I’ll flank the other squadron while you distract them.”
“Got it,” Henry said into the microphone of his headset. He pushed the right thumb stick to rotate the camera toward the other group of enemies. Then he tapped the D-pad to switch weapons. No use wasting mortar shells. He fired short bursts from his plasma rifle, knocking chips of stone off the broken statues that sheltered the enemy. They responded by sending a hail of blind fire in his direction.
“Almost there,” Stan said.
Henry panned the camera back, but couldn’t spot his friend.
“As soon as you attack, I’ll move closer,” he said. “Okay?”
Instead of answering, Stan screamed, “Aliens!”
“Ouch! Stop that.” Henry lowered the volume. “Of course there are aliens. That’s the whole point of this game—to fight the aliens.”
“No. Real ones!” Stan yelled.
Henry rotated the view all the way around until he got back to the starting point. He didn’t see anything that hadn’t been there before. No new enemies had shown up on the radar map, either.
A message scrolled across the top of the screen.
CONNECTION LOST. STANROCKS720 HAS DROPPED OUT.
“Very funny,” Henry muttered. He had no idea why Stan had quit, but he was happy to play the game by himself. He switched back to the mortar, slipped closer, and took out the second group of aliens with another perfectly placed shot. Then he headed over the ridge, where he suspected he’d find ammo crates and health pickups.
“I knew it,” he said when he saw the stockpile of supplies. Now that he had full health and plenty of ammo, he decided to keep going. According to the walk-through he’d checked before starting this session, there were only five levels left. It would serve Stan right if he missed out on the ending.
Half an hour later, Henry felt someone tugging on his sleeve. “Can I play?” his little brother, Ruben, asked.
“Go away.” Even if Ruben had any chance of lasting more than five seconds in the game without getting vaporized by an energy whip or blown to pieces by an omega mine, Henry wasn’t going to put up with a split screen, which was the only option for two players on the same console.
“Please…” Ruben said.
“I mean it,” Henry said. “Go away!”
Ruben stormed off. Henry didn’t even look up. He couldn’t care less about his little brother at the moment. He’d just discovered a stash of mini-nuke proximity grenades. They’d be perfect when he attacked the stronghold at the end of the level.
Ten minutes later, Ruben started screaming. “Aliens! Help meeeee!!!!”
Henry heard footsteps race through the living room, along the hall, and into the kitchen. The back door slammed as Ruben ran into the yard. There was another scream, but Henry didn’t pay any attention to it. His little brother was always screaming. Henry had more important things to deal with.
Finally, two hours later, Henry watched the credits scroll down the screen. “I did it.” He’d beaten the game on his own, clearing the last five levels without any help from Stan.
Henry dropped the controller from his half-numb hands and staggered to his feet. His back ached from sitting in one spot for so long, and his legs tingled. He didn’t care. He’d finished the game. That was the important thing. He needed to brag to someone about his accomplishment. Not just someone—he wanted to brag to everyone. But he’d start with the most convenient, and easily impressed, person.
“Hey, Ruben, where are you?”
Henry walked out to the backyard. Instead of grass and a swing set, he found an enormous crater, like someone had set off a bomb. He went around the house to the front yard and looked down the street. Half the houses were on fire. A bunch of others were just gone, like a giant had scraped them up with a spatula.
Henry didn’t see any people at all.
“Hey,” he called, in case someone could hear him. “I beat Alien Warfront.
All by myself. On the hard setting.”
After a moment, Henry gave up and went back inside. Might as well play another game,
he thought. There was no point wasting the day. He called a couple of his friends, to see if anyone wanted to play online, but nobody answered.
So Henry played by himself and he was totally happy, until the electricity went off, the water stopped running, and the invaders made a second pass through town to wipe out any stragglers.
Despite all his gaming skills, Henry didn’t turn out to be a very challenging opponent when he fought against real aliens. The battle was brief. And then it was GAME OVER forever.
Copyright © 2012 by David Lubar
DAVID LUBAR created a sensation with his debut novel, Hidden Talents, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults. He is also the author of the Nathan Abercrombie series, True Talents, Flip, and five short story collections: In the Land of the Lawn Weenies, Invasion of the Road Weenies, The Curse of the Campfire Weenies, The Battle of the Red Hot Pepper Weenies, and Attack of the Vampire Weenies. He lives in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.