I read a short years ago (somewhere between 2007 and 2013). I want to say it was in one of the Year's Best Science Fiction anthologies, between 2003 and 2013, but all I can remember is that I found it in a library in either high school or college. I just read Swanwick and Gibson's "Dogfight" and this old memory forced its way to the front of my brain.

A guy, either teenaged or young adult, is trying to beat someone in this popular game. It's either a VR fight or they're remotely piloting special robots. The guy gets more and more consumed with trying to beat his rival, who maybe has a nickname like Medusa or Gorgon and makes a big deal out of never showing their face.

He keeps getting better at the game as he keeps trying to beat the rival, who clearly enjoys the challenge. It's a full obsession to win at any cost and it eventually leads him to discover his opponent is a woman with scars or burns on her face that she's very self-conscious of.

He finally tries to beat her by hacking her webcam and broadcasting her real face to the audience. She had pretty much fallen in love with him by that point and felt a little betrayed.

I remember really liking how the gambits and tactics are described as the two gamers try to trick and outmaneuver each other. I think the nature of the final fight was something like two robot bodies on search-and-destroy, trying to find and then get a good firing angle on each other.

I also liked how the woman is shown falling for the guy, because she thinks he appreciates her as a worthy opponent and wouldn't care if he knew she was scarred. But then he goes ahead and cheats by trying to distract or humiliate her, because his whole identity is wrapped up in this game and he needs to win.

  • 3
    Welcome to the site. You have a good start here. If you could take a look at this guide to help jog your memory and edit in any more details you can remember, that would be great. Every little bit helps us.
    – amflare
    Dec 29, 2017 at 17:06
  • 2
    That was a useful guide, thank you. Dec 29, 2017 at 17:29
  • I recall reading this, but I'm pretty sure it was a book, not a short story. I am checking my reading history and will get back to you as soon as I find it!
    – user112267
    Apr 14, 2019 at 16:09
  • Does your story involve the Pentagon becoming a taller tower with the pentagon twisting as it goes up to make the structure?
    – user112267
    Apr 14, 2019 at 16:11
  • Reminiscent of "The Girl Who Was Plugged In" by James Tiptree, Jr.
    – Spencer
    Apr 14, 2019 at 16:37

1 Answer 1


Insignia by S.J. Kincaid

Helpful Links

This is not, in fact, a short story, but a book which I read several months previously. It matches your description perfectly! This is most certainly what you were looking for. Here is the link to it on Goodreads, on Wikipedia, and Common Sense Media.The name of the other fighter is Medusa and the protagonist is Tom Raines.


Tom is a virtual-reality gamer who is recruited by the Pentagonal Spire (an innovation of today's Pentagon) to fight in World War Three. This is where he "meets" his rival, Medusa. This is a series, by the way, and Insignia is its first book.

Parts that clearly match from this summary:

...rival has a nickname like Medusa or Gorgon
"[Tom, the main character] has a showdown with Medusa."

...[discovers] his opponent is a woman with scars or burns on her face that she's very self-conscious of.
"Tom figures out Medusa’s a girl, and is utterly impressed by her."

Happy reading!


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.