Last Stand of The Nebula Commandos - By Kevin N. Haw
"Nebula Commandos, stand ready!" shouted Ingrid. "The enemy may attack at any moment!"
From atop the monkeybars, Chad readied his cap pistol and searched the horizon for Dr. Dark’s mutant horde. The other six Commandos hung from the edges of the jungle gym, their arsenal of cap guns and water guns Earth’s last defense. Here, they would make their final stand against Dr. Dark’s monsters. They would never surrender, never retreat. The heroes would stand firm, forever vigilant against--
"Chad," came a faint shout. "Time!"
"Whoops! Mom’s calling me. Dinner."
"No sweat," said Ingrid. At ten years old, the senior Commando took great pride in her uniform, straightening her tablecloth cape before continuing. "You wanna play Commandos tomorrow or something else? Maybe Pirates or King Arthur?"
"Let’s decide then. We’ll make something fun."
Chad gave his farewells and pressed a button on his watch, disappearing in a flash of light.
Chad relaxed as his natural senses awoke, the computer simulation of the playground dissolving as he logged out. The vast window of the family room slowly appeared, as if coalescing from smoke. The faint ozone tang of the life support system danced in his nose as he rose to stow the simulator headset in the cabinet across the room.
The boy gazed out the window at the sparsely populated surface of Mars, trying to make out the scattered settlements his friends called home. A tiny gray and green star at the base of Olympus Mons was the dome farm where Ingrid and Pavel lived. Silver dots along the rim of a crater to the south were the massive radio telescopes that Magdellena’s family helped maintain. The tiny mining complexes where Roger and Alexis lived, however, were invisible, lost in the ruddy Martian landscape.
Being the only kid on the orbiting power array could be lonely, but the view was always phenomenal.
"You have fun with your friends?" asked Dad, looking up from his newspad.
"Yeah. We used the Mayberry program again. ‘Spent most of the afternoon playing Nebula Commandos, racing around town on our bikes."
"Hmm… Why didn’t you guys use the Nebula Commando program I bought for your birthday? Up to ten of your friends can log in."
"We tried that when I first got it. At first, it was kinda neat actually being the Commandos. But later, I dunno. It didn’t work right, somehow."
"Was it broken? We can fix it."
"That’s not it. Somehow, those Commandos didn’t match the ones in our heads, the ones we’d dreamed about. It was kinda, well…"
"Yeah. I guess the Commando program can’t keep up with our imaginations. Heck, we really only use the Mayberry program as a place to play. Never use the special effects. We just race bikes and play make-believe on the playground. Should I use my birthday program instead?"
"No. Use whatever you want. You won’t hurt Mom’s or my feelings."
"Good. I like playing make-believe like that. You know, the old fashioned way."