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The First Starfighter – Chapter One

Jamie Miller, Baltimore, MD, United States

I settled into my gaming chair and put my headset on, ready to get started. Work 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. It was sad that 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 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 co-workers. 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 and getting comfortable. Adjusted my headset. I picked up my controller in 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, Jaime. 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 Jaime 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 Jaime wins, she’ll have to give up Alexius 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, 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 Alexius. 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.

Not that I would have been more satisfied with watching video game love scenes. No matter what, it still wouldn’t have been real. But what a kick-ass fantasy. I wanted to run my hands over those hard muscles, feel his power. Feel him. Kiss him. Touch him. Let him strip me naked and… Yeah.

I sighed and took another sip of soda. I was insane, getting hot for a computer-generated hero. But he was mine. Lily and Mia had made their own custom sidekicks. As gamers, we’d chosen literally everything but their names. Which seemed weird to me but was a relief, too. Knowing myself, I would have named Alexius something boring… like John.

Alexius of Velerion was anything but boring. I couldn’t imagine a guy as gorgeous as him being into me outside of a game. I was a woman who never met a cheesecake she didn’t like. Who spent most of my work day solo. Read more than partied. Played video games. I spilled some soda on my pants, and I rubbed at the soft material. Yeah, I was sure Alexius would get hot and heavy for a woman in PJs decorated with cartoon penguins.

“I know,” Lily said, but I couldn’t miss the pout in her voice. “But Jaime’s going to finish tonight, and soon we’ll be done, too.”

“Remember that game when Jaime destroyed that entire squadron of Dark Fleet Scythe fighters to rack up all that XP?”

I smiled. God, that had been amazing. The Dark Fleet had set up an ambush. I’d been leader of my own Volantes II fighter squadron, but they’d tricked us into chasing them into a ravine and killed every single one of my squadron, except me.

I’d destroyed them all, every single Scythe fighter left, but I still felt guilty about it. I’d led my squadron into a trap. I’d been in command. And they’d all died because of my poor judgment.

I’d moped for a week until Mia reminded me that it was a game. Just. A. Game.

Damn, but sometimes it didn’t feel like we were playing. I got so deep into my headspace when I was in a battle, it felt real. Too real sometimes.

I’d doubled my score from that mission alone, pushing me to—tonight, hopefully!—beat the game or graduate before Mia and Lily. So, overall, as far as that specific mission, that disastrous battle had been a total win. But I still fell asleep thinking about it almost every night. Wondering where I’d gone wrong. How to prevent it for next time. Because I was going to play this game again. Unlike Mia, I didn’t even try to convince myself I’d choose any other part to play. I loved being a fighter pilot. I loved my speedy little ship, the Volantes II, the Starfighter fleet’s most deadly short-range battle fighter. I wanted to be one again. And again. And probably again after that.

“When we start over, all of our stats will be wiped out. Even worse, we’ll probably have to build new guys. I like Darius. I want to keep him.” Lily, bless her heart, was really, really stuck on Darius.

Like I could talk.

Alexius shouldered his giant rifle-looking weapon on the screen as part of the animated loop, and I practically drooled.

“I totally get that,” I agreed because she wasn’t wrong. I flew side-by-side with Alexius. He was tall, gorgeous, with eyes that sparkled like emeralds. His bright eyes were intense, and that jaw, it was so square it had probably been chiseled from granite. I, of course, admired his tight ass and broad shoulders in the charcoal gray Starfighter uniform. He had obsidian hair, gorgeous olive skin and a perpetual five o’clock shadow. He looked like a mythical warrior on steroids and the image of him standing next to the digital representation of me—full thighs, full breasts and all those curves made by cheesecake—he looked like a giant God on my computer screen. Although my matching black outfit did look slimming.

If he were real, I’d want to see under that uniform in a bad way. My nipples got hard just thinking about stripping him down and having him talk dirty to me.

“We have to finish. It will literally drive me crazy if Jaime doesn’t win tonight.” Mia’s objection was from her heart. She hated losing and got beyond frustrated every time we failed. She was an analyst for some computer company in Europe, and brilliant didn’t even come close to accurately describing her brain power. I had to wonder if she had a photographic memory. She kicked ass in the game and, I was sure, in real life.

The game was amazing, and playing with my friends… it was fun. Each of our Starfighter roles was important to save Velerion and defeat the evil and devious Queen Raya. We were all crucial to finishing that bitch. Yeah, it sounded hokey, but God, the game was incredible. I was emotionally invested. Big time. I actually hated the imaginary evil queen. How dare she mess with my peeps?

Especially my personal Velerion. She wanted to kill Alexius and all of his friends. So, naturally, I wanted to crush her like a worm under a steel work boot.

Tonight? Tonight, I was going to win with Mia’s and Lily’s help.

Well, them and our three completely fictional, sexed up alien hottie sidekicks.

“We know one thing,” I said, adjusting my headset one more time, itching to get started.

“What?” asked Lily.

I stared at Alexius. “The gaming industry finally figured out how to market to women.”

Mia and Lily burst into laughter, and I watched my monitor with anticipation as all six of our avatars, us ladies plus our three super-sexy aliens, filled the bottom of my screen. This part always took for-freaking-ever, but since this would probably be the last time we played together with these characters, I didn’t mind. And it would be the last time because I was going to beat this game.

Whoever built the game was really into words that started with a “V” and a whole lot of Latin. And I knew because I’d been on every wiki, fan page and chat I could find. The Vega star system? Real. The rest?

I didn’t care. The whole world was obsessed with Starfighter Training Academy, and the three of us were no exception.

“All right. Fine.” Lily gave in, as we’d known she would. We couldn’t keep replaying the same battle sequence forever. I’d finish the Training Academy. They’d soon follow in a game or two, and we’d start over. “I looked at all the player boards, and apparently these guys are one and done although I haven’t heard of anyone actually completing the program. It’s so unfair.” Lily was whining now. “I don’t want to give up Darius. I think I love him. I guess after all three of us win and start over, I’ll build a giant golden god with bulging muscles and dark brown fuck-me eyes.”

“Darius is not going to like that.” Mia was teasing Lily, now that we’d all agreed it was time to win this game and defeat the Dark Fleet once and for all.

“Again, fictional character,” I reminded not only Lily but myself. I was sad to see Alexius go. I read lots of romance books and was fine jumping from one hot hero to another, but in this game, I was stuck on my guy. I didn’t want a different wingman, either. I was seriously going to miss him. His perfect skin. His hard ass in those tight pants. The deep voice yelling at me to stop diving at an enemy fighter as we hurtled through space at near light speed. Apparently, even fictional alien men were bossy. I didn’t tell either of them that Alexius made me wet or that I fantasized about him when I pulled my vibrator out of my drawer and worked those batteries.

“I know. I guess I need to find a real man and get busy. I’m pretty sure my vagina has cobwebs,” Lily complained.

“You and me both.” I admired Alexius’s intense green gaze for one more moment and hit the start button. I had no doubt he could clear those cobwebs.

“I’m logged in. Let’s do it,” I said.

“Ready.” Mia’s character and her alien hunk popped up on my screen with green lights. Both Lily’s and Mia’s heroes looked nothing like mine, which showed how different our tastes were in men. That was the beauty of Starfighter Training Academy. It was as if it were almost real.

I laughed at how insane my thoughts were as Lily spoke. “If I have to give up Darius, the Dark Fleet is going down.”

“Amen, sister.” I watched my avatar and Alexius walk toward the starfighter on the screen. They climbed inside the Volantes II fighter as the mission introduction played in our headphones. I’d heard it hundreds of times. It was the same before every single mission, and we’d already won nearly a hundred training battles but not this last one. Yet.

“Welcome to the Starfighter Training Academy. You have volunteered to enter our training program. Should you succeed, you will become the best of the best, the elite among Velerion Starfighters. Complete your training, and you will earn your place in history. You, Starfighter, will be called upon to defend the Galactic Alliance under the command of Prince Aryk of Velerion. We need you now. War rages in the Vega star system. Prepare for battle. Your mission is to defeat Queen Raya and destroy her allies in the Dark Fleet before they reach the capital city. Should you fail, Velerion will fall… and Earth will be next.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I mumbled, waiting for the game to begin. “Cue the dark, creepy voice threatening humanity with total destruction by alien invaders.”

Mia chuckled. “Maybe the bad guys are those tall skinny gray aliens with the big eyes.”

“Oh, I hate those. They’re so creepy.” Lily sounded like she’d spent a little bit too much time on the internet looking up alien conspiracy theories.

“Come on, Lily. You know you want to be abducted and get one of those sexual probes.” Mia’s deadpan voice took me a moment to process.

Lily choked on whatever she was drinking as I laughed. Mia had no filter. None. 

“The only alien I want probing me is Darius. And since he’s not here at the moment, I’ll pass on the creepy grays. But I do wonder what the bad guys look like. They never show them in the game.”

“They probably have tentacles,” Mia said.

“We’re on. Let’s do this.” My ship lifted off and headed for orbit. My gaming screen changed to reveal the fighter’s control system I was so familiar with, and I set my soda down to focus as a swarm of Dark Fleet ships headed toward me. Us. Me and Alexius.

“Enemy fighters approaching.” That rumbling, sexy voice came from Alexius in the co-pilot seat beside me. A thrill shot through me at his deep timbre.

“Mia?” I asked.

“On it.” Mia’s commands came through the on-screen controls as if we actually were out in space. I was in the starfighter, and she was in some kind of control command center on Velerion.  “Lily, move your ass. You need to get one grid farther than last time in order for us to win. I think that will be enough to get you to their ground control. You need to smash them into tiny pieces so their ships become disoriented, and Jamie can finish the rest of them off in space.”

“Moving as fast as I can,” she said, her words clipped and focused.

I watched the blip that was Lily move from grid to grid on the display that represented Velerion. It looked similar to Earth. Blues and greens, reddish brown deserts and white clouds. But it was twenty times the size of Earth. Or so the game’s designers mentioned in the story details they’d published.

The enemy planet of queen bitch, Vendiri, was even bigger, supposedly eighty times the size of Earth and just a bit farther away from their sun. Star. Vega. It was called Vega. 

“Taking evasive action.” Alexius, in the seat next to me, looked over, his green eyes intense as he spoke. “You are not focused.”

Oh, how these game developers paid attention to every detail and somehow knew I’d been distracted. The headsets we played with must be tracking my eye movements, too. Alexius had roughly a hundred different dialogue cues he could say while we were in combat. This one was the most annoying. “I know. Shut it,” I snapped.

“That is no way to talk to that sexy man,” Mia scolded.

“Shut up, Mia.” I was focused now.

“I’m in! Grid twelve breached.” Lily’s victory cry made me jump in my chair as Mia whooped in victory.

“Yes. Smash everything,” I told her, sharing the thrill.

“This is going to be so much fun.” Lily’s voice was pure joy as she did whatever it was her giant fighting robot did to the Dark Fleet’s operational command center. I had no doubt her XP would be off the charts with that move.

“I’m going to take out their communications. They should be all over the place after that. Standby, Jamie, to take them out,” she ordered. “Aaaaand… now!”

“I’m trying.” My hands shook, my body so pumped with adrenaline I was choking on it. My fingers flew over the gaming controller. This was it. With their help, I was actually going to defeat the game. Win.

“We’re taking fire,” Alexius said, followed by a warning beep. The Beep of Doom, as I thought of it.

“I know,” I countered, leaning forward. I wasn’t distracted now.

“Critical system failure.”

“I know,” I repeated, snapping at my wingman. Every damn time our fighter had the same issue. These ships needed to be tougher if they were going to be shot at in space.

“Life support down to fifty percent.”

“Ahhh! Shut. Up.” I knew the game’s co-pilot couldn’t actually hear me, but I chose the appropriate response on the menu provided on-screen to tell him off and keep fighting. “There are only three of them left.”

“You’re going to run out of air.” Mia’s nervous energy was palpable.

Fuck that and the incessant Beep of Doom. “I’m either going to run out of air, or I’m going to blow up three more bad guys, and we’re going to complete this mission.”

“Do it!” Lily was fully on board now.

Everything faded as I leaned forward in my gaming chair, closer to the screen. My body flowed, my fingers flew over the control buttons. I knew the game. Knew my ship, knew where the enemy was going to fly before they did. I’d played hours and hours. Hundreds of hours to reach this moment.

I fired. Again.

Two down, one to go.

“Return to base. Oxygen level critical,” Alexius said.

“No.” I muted my co-pilot. Normally, I would not have done that, as his sexy voice provided half the fun of playing. But this time, I wanted to win. I didn’t want to be safe. It seemed as if his warnings were meant to keep me alive rather than win against Queen Raya. I was going to blow that last bad guy ship out of existence if my avatar died doing it.

“Holy shit!” Lily shouted.

“Focus. You got it, Jamie. You got it.” Mia’s calm voice grounded me in the familiar. It was only a game, but this victory mattered to all three of us.

“Almost.” I steered my fighter to follow the last enemy combatant, leaning to the right. “Almost.” I followed the Dark Fleet’s Scythe fighter back toward the planet surface, leaning to the left. He was headed toward a deep ravine. One I’d flown into too many times before. And failed. The same ravine that had been the site of an ambush that had killed an entire squadron. “Oh no, you don’t!”

I fired without mercy, moving fast, so fast I knew there was a chance my ship might not survive when I tried to pull up out of the dive.

The enemy ship exploded in front of me. Red flames filled my screen.

Mia shouted.

Lily screamed.

I tried to breathe as I pulled back on the controller and flew straight through the debris on the screen. I was winded, and I had barely moved. “Holy shit. I made it.”

“You did it! You maxed your XP! You finished the Training Academy.” Mia’s voice was shaky, and I realized how much she’d been holding back. “You beat the game! You awesome, badass bitch, you did it!”

I flopped back in my chair. Stared at the screen.

“Did Jamie just say holy shit, or am I hallucinating?” Lily asked, knowing full well I didn’t swear. Except for now. Lily, on the other hand, used curse words in every sentence, the way a baker put frosting on a cake.

“Shut up, you foul-mouthed wench.”

Lily and Mia were both laughing as the music coming from the game went silent. The screen changed, and we all stared in rapt silence to see what would happen next.

Alexius’s face filled the screen. This time he was smiling although for him that was just the corner of his mouth tipping up.

“Congratulations, Starfighter. You defeated Queen Raya and the Dark Fleet. Your victory returned the Vega system to Velerion control.”

The view expanded to show Alexius’s torso, and his hand came up, taking the crest from his uniform shirt and holding it out to me. “As stated in the training protocols, our Starfighter pair has been victorious. We have now been assigned a permanent partnership.”

“What?” Mia shouted, but I could hardly hear her over Lily’s squeal.

Next to him on the screen appeared the words Starfighter Bonding Ceremony.

Um, what?

“We have been paired through the Starfighter Velerion training program. We have spent many hours training together. Fighting together. Do you accept my crest as a sign of our permanent bond? Will you stay with me, Starfighter? Will you remain at my side and fight with me to the end of our days?”

“Say yes! Say yes!” Lily shouted.

I couldn’t say anything, my mouth hanging open. Alexius was giving me his crest. From what I’d learned about Velerions in the game, they didn’t do anything by half. If Alexius said this, he meant it. In the game, anyway.

“It’s just a game,” I murmured, feeling all of a sudden sad. This was just part of the game. Playing. He wasn’t real. I wasn’t real. None of this was real. I would have to go to bed, get up and go to work and load up my truck. Just like every other day. Alexius and his sexy eyes and hot muscles would forever be on a flat screen.

I wanted Alexius for real. I wanted to hear him tell me the same words himself. Mean them. I wanted him to want me. Love me. I wanted to be the awesome, amazing, kickass version of myself I saw on the screen. Not this… alone on a Friday night drinking soda in stained PJs me.

“Just a stupid game,” I repeated as the man of my digital dreams stared at me and waited.

“So?” Mia countered. “Accept. I mean, you made him. He’s your ideal, even if it is just a game. If you accept, then when we start again next week, he’ll still be your wingman.”

I did want to keep playing with him. The idea of having to make another pairing was sad. Although, I was sure I’d choose the exact same specs again because Alexius was my ideal. But according to all the gamer chat rooms online, it wouldn’t matter. No one had ever gotten the same wingman—or woman—twice.

I pressed the X button on my controller to accept.

A large crest appeared beside Alexius. As I watched, the holographic crest rotated, shrank in size and moved to emblazon the chest of my avatar’s brand-new Starfighter uniform. Both avatars turned to face the screen as an official sounding narrator’s voice filled my headset. “This is General Aryk of Velerion. Congratulations, Starfighters. Your successful bond has been recorded in the hall of records at the Citadel. It is my honor to bestow upon you the rank and privileges of Velerion Starfighters.”

On screen, Alexius pulled me into his arms and kissed me like there was no tomorrow. I had never wanted anything to be real more than anything in my entire life. Mia and Lily, who I’d screenshared with, were fussing and clapping and enjoying the moment with me.

A faint buzzing noise came through the screen, and I stopped to listen. Mia and Lily went silent as we waited.

The screen flashed. A moment later, General Aryk appeared in the middle, and the screen zoomed in on his face. He smiled, and I had to admit if I weren’t all about Alexius, Aryk was smoking hot as well. “Welcome, Starfighter, to Velerion.”

Huh?

The screen made a popping noise and went black.

I frowned.

“What happened? That was one hell of a kiss,” Lily complained.

“I don’t know.” I climbed from my chair and turned the game system off and on again. Checked the screen’s power chord. “That’s weird. It’s like my entire system shorted out.”

“That’s okay,” Mia said. “I have to get some sleep. Lily, I’ll see you in chat tomorrow to start a new game where it’s my turn to finish my training. Okay?”

“Can’t wait!” Lily called to her, but we both knew Mia had already disconnected.

I sighed. Relieved and a little bit wistful. “Well, we did it.”

“We did.” I could hear the smile in Lily’s voice. “Like Mia said, new game next weekend? We should all be official Velerion Starfighters by then.”

“Sounds good. Can’t wait to see if Alexius is still my wingman.”

“Lucky you! Maybe you’ll get some on-screen sexy times, now that you married an alien.”

“I did not marry an alien.”

“Bonded? Recorded in the hall of records? Sounds like you’re married to me.”

“You’re crazy. You know that?”

She laughed. We said good-bye, and I grabbed my empty soda can, chips and the water bottle I kept next to my gaming chair.

Now that the adrenaline rush of that last battle was wearing off, the long work day was taking its toll. My feet and shoulders ached, my hands were still shaking, and I couldn’t stop thinking about that on-screen kiss.

If only.

I made quick work of my bedtime routine and was asleep the moment my head hit the pillow. I was usually a light sleeper, and I wasn’t sure how long I was out when something loud woke me. 

Was someone at my door?

I rolled over and blinked at my alarm clock. Three-freaking-thirty in the morning?

I must have been dreaming.

The pounding repeated, louder.

No one came to my door this late. Ever. Hell, no one came to my door at all unless it was a delivery for a neighbor dropped by mistake. I threw off my covers and slipped my toes into cold slippers.

“Coming!” Was my apartment building on fire? Was it the police? Had the neighbors been screaming at each other again? She really needed to kick that dead-beat boyfriend of hers to the curb.

The pounding intensified, and it was very obvious that whoever was on the other side of the door had no problem waking up the entire building.

“I said, I’m coming!” I opened the door and stopped dead in my tracks. A huge man stood in the hallway wearing a helmet of some kind, as if he’d been riding a motorcycle. Which was crazy because it was cold and wet and not motorcycle weather.

He removed the helmet, and I stepped back. My eyes widened in recognition. Black hair, those familiar sparkling green eyes. Perfect olive skin. Full lips. Square jaw. A familiar uniform with a crest on his chest, the one I’d just seen on my gaming screen.

“Jamie.”

I stared, my throat and mouth frozen. Holy shit. That voice. I knew that voice.

He was as big as I imagined. No, bigger. Broader. More intense. That gaze, it bored into me, past my flannel PJs and to a place that left me speechless. My heart pounded, and I feared I was losing my mind. Hallucinating. This had to be a dream.

“Jamie Miller, you must come with me.”

“Um… what?” I finally said.

“You are the first Starfighter. And you are mine. Queen Raya has mobilized the Dark Fleet, and together we must save Velerion.”

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