Copyright Peter Rasmussen 1995
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Tim, about eighteen watched Helen leaving school. She was just seventeen if you know what I mean. He framed her in a rectangle that he made with the thumb and forefinger of both hands. As he did this he imitated a computer sound effect. “Deet, deet, deet. Ka-pow!” Tim slumped back where he sat. “What a honey. If only it was that easy.”
Beside Tim at the bus stop sat Rob. He was a year older. “It is,” said Rob.
“Tell me about it.”
“Girls like that are just as shy as you are,” said Rob.
Tim gave Rob a dirty look.
“I’ll show you how it’s done,” said Rob.
Rob dragged Tim under protest over to Helen.
“Let go, you bastard.”
Helen was aghast to be confronted by the two young men. Rob talked fast, like a used car salesman. “Excuse us, miss. If you want the experience of a lifetime you have to talk to my friend here. Say a few words, Tim.”
Tim groaned with embarrassment.
“Only Tim can deliver you to ecstasy in minutes.”
“It’s very real. You will believe a girl can fly. Only he has the Timothy Lloyd flight simulator.”
“I’m really sorry about this,” Tim said as he struggled to drag Rob away.
Rob persisted. “What do you say? Once Tim’s got you in hand you’ll be in the clouds in no time.”
Helen forced a polite smile and backed away. “I’ll have to give it some thought.”
“There you are – sold,” said Rob.
“Excuse us,” Tim said, putting a twist on Rob’s arm and forcing him to come away from Helen.
“Ahhh, Take it easy.” Rob waved back to Helen. Relieved to be left alone, she maintained her politeness and did a tiny wave back, She then made a hasty retreat.
Rob called back to Helen.
“Don’t forget. Timothy Lloyd 24 Kelly Street, phone 234 33.”
Tim increased the pressure.
“Ah. Let go of me.”
Rob broke free of Tim. “What’s the matter? You’re all lined up.”
“Prick!” Tim barked and walked on ahead.
“She was hot for ya’.”
“Leave me alone.”
Jolly as ever, Rob waved goodbye to Tim. “See you tomorrow buddy.”
Tim buried his fists in his pockets and trudged off home.
Later that night, Tim struck a solitary figure in his family’s large garage, which was dark except for his work light. His careful fingers handled the delicate components of an intricate circuit board. Wisps of smoke weaved up from his soldering iron and shrouded him in a fine haze. He worked with a peaceful, mediative focus. He tried to ignore the approaching footsteps and didn’t bother to look up. “My homework’s done already.”
After a moment he looked up to see a girl in the door of the garage silhouetted by the verandah light.
“Hello,” said Helen.
Tim burned himself on the soldering iron, which he dropped. He fumbled to unplug it and make it safe. Helen waited in the doorway.
“Ah, er, come in,” said Tim.
She came in and was not sure what to say.
“Sorry about Rob. He can be a bit of a geek sometimes.”
She smiled shyly at Tim. “He’s pretty full on.” She noticed the simulator. “Is this it?” she asked.
The outside of the simulator was a hodgepodge of bits of wood and wire. The backs of TV monitors stuck out of it at all angles. It stood five feet high supported on a forest of old auto shock absorbers. Tim glowed with pride as he slid back the canopy of the simulator.
“It sure is.”
Inside was a very realistic replica of the cockpit of a jet fighter. The TV monitors were where the windows would be.
“It’s mostly old car parts,” said Tim.
A single bucket car seat sat in the centre of the cockpit, with a joystick in front of it.
“Two washing-machine motors give you the orientation. The instrument panel is from a Mirage fighter. I blew up pictures from a magazine on a colour photocopier.”
One of the monitors sat in the centre of the instrument panel.
Tim dashed over to his computer and started up a program. All of the monitors sprang into life. The washing-machine motors started up and the hydraulics that supported the simulator adjusted and settled.
Helen took a step back. “Did you make this by yourself?” asked Helen.
“Mostly. I scored the program that runs it on the Internet. It’s the one they use to train RAAF pilots in their simulator.”
She smiled. “Scored?”
Helen looked earnestly at Tim.
“Stole?” he said.
They shared a smile.
“I’m pretty sure they’ve still got their copy.” he said.
Tim dusted off the seat and found an old fruit box for Helen to step up on.
“Couldn’t I watch first?” she asked.
“There’s only room for one. You have to get wet if you’re going to learn to swim.”
Helen got in. He pointed to the floor of the cockpit. “The racing harness is just down there.”
“Why do I need a seat belt? She asked.
“It does move around a bit. But it’s mostly just to help it seem real.”
Helen had a bit of trouble with the complex motor racing harness so Tim spontaneously grabbed it to help her. This brought his face very close to hers. She watched his face as he worked and smiled.
Tim realised how close he was to her and jumped back out of embarrassment. He snatched up a special motorbike helmet and offered it to Helen. It had been painted and modified to look like a jet pilot’s helmet.
“The microphone on the helmet and the earphones inside are so we can talk to each other. I’ll be at my computer.”
She put the helmet on as Tim plugged the wire coming from it into the cockpit instrument panel.
“Ready?” asked Tim.
She gave him the thumbs up. “Ready.”
Tim pulled the canopy forward and latched it shut. He dashed over to set himself up behind his computer. He briefly indulged in a sense of victory, silently mouthing “You beauty!”
Even though Tim only had one monitor he was able to switch between all of the images that were being sent to the monitors in the simulator.
Inside the simulator crude graphics on the group of “window” monitors that made up the canopy were synchronised to help create the illusion of a world surrounding the artificial aircraft. On her control panel monitor Helen had already lined herself up on the runway. “Is this right?” she asked.
Tim was impressed. “Exactly. Now throttle up. It’s the red one.”
The artificial jet engine sound rose in pitch. At his computer terminal Tim kept track of Helen’s progress using read-outs on his screen. “A bit more. Ease it on. Now you’re getting lift. Pull back on the stick.” he said.
The washing-machine motors and the hydraulic shock absorbers adjusted the simulator so its nose lifted slightly.
“I’m off the ground. Yippee!” said Helen.
Tim switched to an animated outside view of Helen’s aircraft as it left the runway behind. “Landing gear up. The green one. That’s it. Now climb to about twelve hundred feet. Very nice. You’ve done this before.”
“This is easier than driving mum’s Honda,” she said.
“To turn you have to tip the aircraft over a bit. You know how birds turn in the sky. Just pull the stick to the side and give it a bit more juice,” Tim said.
Inside, Helen pulled the stick to the left. The simulator banked slightly. “This is so much fun.”
“You’re really good. Most of the guys take weeks to get to your level of control.”
“You’re just saying that,” Helen said.
“I think you’re ready for your first mission.”
“What’s that?” asked Helen.
“To destroy enemy operations headquarters.”
“Do I have to? I’d rather just fly around.”
“It’s sort of programmed in. Next time I can take you up in an acrobatic aircraft. It’s much more manoeuvrable. You can get her into any position.” Tim clapped his hand over his mouth.
“That sounds exciting. So what do you want me to blow up?” On Helen’s monitor she could see a town in the distance.
“It’s coming up now. The tall building just to the right of centre.”
Helen lined up on the building.
“At the moment you’re set up for air-to-air missiles. Use the little silver switch.”
Helen hit the switch.
“Now you’re set up for air-to-ground. These missiles have a video camera in them to help you bring them to the target.”
“Like on the news,” she said excitedly.
“Exactly. But don’t worry if you miss. This tactic usually takes a few goes before people get it right.”
“Keep the cross on the centre of the roof,” he said.
Helen positioned the cross in the middle of her screen as instructed.
“Stand by to launch… Now!”
There was slight recoil in the simulator and a sound effect to represent the launch of the missile. Helen’s screen switched over to the nose camera of the missile. This was a grainy black and white image of archival footage dubbed from television.
“You sort of have to ride it in, keeping the target completely within your kill box.”
The missile punched through the roof of the building and the explosion inside ruptured all of its upper windows. They both cheered.
“Now pull up. That’s stunning. What a hero,” Tim said.
“I did it!
“Now, some of the next targets get a bit harder,” he said.
Helen looked at her watch. “It can’t be eight already. I was supposed to be home by now.”
“It’s ten past.”
She went to open the canopy but it wouldn’t budge.
“Just pull the eject lever,” said Tim.
She pulled on the eject lever at the front of the seat and the canopy unlatched and rolled back. Tim rushed over to help her down.
“That’s the best roller-coaster ride I’ve ever been on,” said Helen.
“Thanks. You were great.”
“I’m sorry I have to rush but… I’ll see you at school.” She gently squeezed his hand and rushed off home.
Tim watched after her in a dream. He went to an audio CD player and selected the Jupiter movement of “The Planets” suite by Holst. On the computer Tim started up a new program called “Jump Jet Special”. A complex sequence unfolded on the computer as Tim climbed into the simulator and closed himself inside. He did a vertical take off and rapidly accelerated, climbing to a high altitude. He headed toward a crude graphic representation of a thick layer of cloud. When he burst up, out of the cloud everything was suddenly completely and literally real. The windows were real windows looking out onto the real view of real clouds and a real sunset. Tim was no longer in school uniform but in a Royal Australian Air Force flight suit. He wore a high-tech helmet with his name on it. The interior of the cockpit was real in every detail. He dove back down through the clouds to take in a spectacular view of the now real countryside. Tim expertly performed sensational low-level acrobatics accompanied by the majestic music. His performance was as skilful as could be seen at any military air show.
The next day Tim and Rob were walking through the schoolyard. “You’re the best friend I ever had,” said Tim.
“Who says sex and technology don’t mix?”
They went over to talk to Helen.
“Tim tells me you’re a hotshot,” said Rob.
“I’m just a beginner.”
“We’ll see how good you are in combat.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Slow down, Rob,” said Tim
“Tim’s got a computer air-war competition. You’ve gotta be in it?”
“War’s not really my sort of thing.”
“Girls are okay when there’s no pressure but they’re no good in a fight.”
“Okay, buster. You’re on.”
The period bell sounded.
“See ya,” said Helen.
She left Tim with a big smile and went to class. With great satisfaction Tim turned to Rob. “You’re a dead man,” said Tim.
Rob was in the simulator struggling in a dogfight to keep out of the sights of his opponent.
Outside Paul sat at the computer terminal giving chase.
Tim’s garage was crowded with about eight over excited schoolmates. It was the finals of the computer air-war competition. A monitor was set up for the onlookers. One of the boys, Chris, sat by a whiteboard, which displayed the winners of the heats. The standing contestants were Rob, Helen and three others: Paul, Ian and Steve. Helen stood next to Tim as she watched on. Tim was enjoying being the grand master of the games. He lent over to Helen. “You’re doing all right for someone who’s only had twenty hours simulator time.”
She put her hand on his. “I have a good teacher.”
Rob manoeuvred with great cunning but Paul made a hit. The crowd registered in unison. Tim noticed Paul was momentarily distracted. By the time he got back to the game Rob’s craft was on top of him. A missile was fired.
“That’s heat-seeking,” Tim said to Paul.
The crowd chorused. “Eject! Eject!”
Paul suffered a direct hit. The animated representation of his craft exploded in mid-air before Paul could manage to eject. An alert came up on Paul’s screen reading “Aircraft totally annihilated. Pilot killed.”
Tim looked over to say something to Helen but he was surprised to see she was not there. He went over to Paul who was very annoyed.
“When are you going to build the second simulator?”
“It doesn’t happen over night,” said Tim.
Tim looked to see what Paul was distracted by. Helen was standing in the yard framed by the garage door. She threw her long hair forward to brush it.
Chris, the scorekeeper addressed the mob of boys. “That about wraps it up for Paul.”
Ian slapped the gormless Steve on the back. “You just fluked it last time. Now your number’s up.”
Ian clambered into the simulator and Steve sat slightly confused behind the computer terminal.
“Now it’s Ian and Steve in a fight to the death. The winner of this bout will go into combat with Rob and that brings us up to the main event.”
The garage was filled with the noise of the battle and the cheering onlookers. Tim’s reverie was suddenly destroyed by something he saw outside. Through a crack in the wall he could see Rob and Helen talking. He couldn’t hear what they were saying. She was very coy and smiling and giggling.
Steve was hardly in the air and was already taking a beating. The crowd was hungry for blood.
“Go for the kill.”
Rob put his hands on Helen’s shoulders and moved his face very close to hers. She smiled and became short of breath. She moved slightly avoiding his eyes but she melted in his arms and they finally kissed. The kissing became passionate.
An explosion was followed by a huge cheer from the hungry crowd.
Helen became very turned on and pulled Rob’s shirt up and put her hands up under it.
Tim’s senses were filled with the roar of battle coming from the game. He closed out the image of the two kissing and looked at Steve struggling to stay alive and then at the hysterical crowd. Tim breathed deeply, his head still spinning from what he had just seen outside. He turned coolly to his computer and surreptitiously made some adjustments to the game. The underdog, Steve, now made a miraculous recovery and with Tim’s hidden help destroyed the superior opponent, Ian. The crowd was ecstatic at the unexpected turn around. Ian got out of the simulator very angry and went over to Tim.
Chris yelled out the garage door. “Rob! You’re on.”
“What’s the big idea?” said Ian confronting Tim.
“What’s your problem?”
“That was fixed.”
The crowd howled him down. “Take it like a man.”
They began to chant. “Loser! Loser!”
Ian nearly bowled Rob over as he fled from the jeering of the crowd.
Rob was a bit flushed. He was confused to see Ian leaving and Steve eagerly climbing into the simulator. Tim eyeballed Rob and indicated the computer. “You’re on the terminal.”
Rob was very confused. “Steve?”
“That’s your combatant,” Tim assured him.
“This’ll be a piece of cake.”
Steve’s end came in no time at all. Rob’s thumb pressed down firmly on the kill button of his computer game joystick. A bloodthirsty roar erupted from the crowd. The simulator rocked savagely as Steve tried to elude Rob’s hot pursuit. Unseen Tim made his adjustments. Again Rob fired. Another big shout. Chris wiped Steve’s name off the whiteboard. A bewildered Steve handed the helmet over to Helen.
“Rob, you have the choice of the simulator or the terminal,” said Tim.
“I’m staying where I am.” He looked directly at Helen. “I’m hot.”
“It’s all the same to me,” said Tim.
“You’ll be a pushover,” said Helen. She climbed into the simulator and closed the canopy.
Rob whispered seductively into the mike. “I’m gunning for you baby.”
Tim cut them off. “No talking to the enemy.”
Helen was in the air. Tim selected the program Mirage Special. In exactly the same way as Tim’s jump jet special flight, it all turned real for Helen. She was amazed and frightened by the transformation. “Tim, how are you doing this? Tim?”
She was not watching carefully enough and allowed the craft to drift into enemy territory. Anti-aircraft fire broke out below. A shell exploded close in the air. Shrapnel caught her arm. Helen cried out in pain and clutched her bleeding arm. She bashed at the canopy and screamed. “Tim, let me out.”
She yanked repeatedly on the eject lever to no effect. Nothing helped. The anti-aircraft fire got heavier. Instinctively she took the controls and climbed to a higher altitude. “I’m sorry Tim. Please let me go.”
Everything was normal outside the simulator. Rob sat at his computer terminal. “Look out baby. Here I come.”
The gang of schoolboys cheered Rob on. Tim watched two radar specks approach each other on his computer screen.
Helen looked in horror as she saw the blip of another aircraft on her radar screen. A jet hurtled past at the speed of sound. It turned back in a big arc to find her again, this time it launched an air-to-air missile. Helen manoeuvred dramatically to sidestep the missile. She tried to put distance between her and the other craft but it caught up quickly.
Rob worked his controls. “This is no fun. She’s not fighting back,” said Rob.
“Just playing hard to get,” said Paul.
Rob fired a missile.
Inside the simulator, again a missile headed toward Helen. Again she narrowly slipped out of the way. Her face was wet with tears. She pulled the craft into a steep climb and came out of the sun at the other craft. She fired but it was too fast for her. She made a complex manoeuvre and was hot on its heels. With a vengeance born of terror she launched three missiles in rapid succession and decimated the enemy aircraft. She was relieved to find the cockpit had turned back into Tim’s home-made flight simulator. Helen caught her breath and wiped her tears. She pulled on the eject lever and the canopy slid open.
Helen climbed out of the simulator to find the garage in chaos. The screen of Rob’s computer had exploded. In the background Steve was vomiting. The wall behind where Rob was sitting was splattered with blood. A very shaky Chris put a blanket over Rob’s lifeless body where it lay, thrown off the chair.
Tim was on the phone. He was disturbingly calm. “Hello, emergency? We need an ambulance at 24 Kelly St Ryde. There’s been an accident.”
He hung up. Helen came over to him. “What happened?” she asked.
Tim turned to her.