It was only a few minutes by hoverbike to Austin’s home. He lived with his grandmother on the southeast side of Maxxim City, just two blocks away from Joyland, the local amusement park, now closed for the winter. The Tretower home was a stone block colonial that, like a number of houses in town, had been brought from back east. A good portion of the front was covered in ivy that stayed green even through the winter, thanks to its new surroundings.
“Good morning, girls,” said Mrs. Tretower. “I wasn’t expecting company.”
Austin’s grandmother had her silver hair cut almost as short as Astrid’s. She was trim and athletic and was the youngest-looking grandmother that any of them knew. She was wearing a red tracksuit.
“We were invited,” said Valerie.
“Oh, I have no doubt you were. I’m sure Austin just forgot to tell me about it. That boy would lose his head if it wasn’t screwed on…” She stopped and looked at Robot Valerie, no doubt wondering if comments about parts being screwed on were appropriate when talking to a robot. “He’s in the back room with his video games. Go right on in. I’m off on my run.”
The girls went in the front door and then Mrs. Tretower went out, leaving them at the entrance to a cozy living room. They could hear loud explosions and gunfire coming from beyond. Following the sounds, they found Austin in the family room, sitting in a recliner and attempting to defeat a string of zombies in Cannibal Apocalypse.
“No!” he shouted as digital blood splattered across the screen, indicating that he had lost.
“You know,” said Astrid, “eventually the zombies always win. There’s really no point in even playing.”
“I could say the same thing about Ms. Pacman,” said the boy, looking over his shoulder. “Eventually the ghosts get you.”
“Yes, but Inky, Blinky, Pinky, and Sue are a lot less horrifying that your game’s monsters.”
“If you say so,” said Austin, flipping the game control first to the main menu, and then selecting Ms. Pacman. “Grab a controller off the coffee table and have a seat.”
They played Ms. Pacman, followed by Tetris, Mappy, and Burger Time. Ms. Pacman was Astrid’s favorite game, and she set a new high score on Austin’s system, though it wasn’t her highest of all time. Robot Valerie excelled at Tetris. By the time they worked their way to the other two games though, they weren’t really paying attention to who won. They simply enjoyed playing, and laughed as the cat and mice chased each other around the screen in the former game and the chef raced to build burgers in the latter.
“I wish you guys would play some of my new games with me,” said Austin. “I just got Psycho Bloodbath and Deathknight: The Gruesome. I bet you’d really enjoy Ninja Deathwish Armageddon. The main character’s a girl.”
“Hmph,” said Regular Valerie. “I’ll bet she goes around slaughtering people, half naked.”
“No,” he said. “She’s half naked, but the people she kills mostly have their clothes on.”