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
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,"
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 groaned with embarrassment.
"Only Tim can deliver you to ecstasy in
"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
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
Tim buried his fists in his pockets and trudged off home.
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
She smiled shyly at Tim. "He's pretty full on."
She noticed the simulator. "Is this it?" she
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
"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
One of the monitors sat in the centre of the instrument
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
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."
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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"Keep the cross on the centre of the roof," he
Helen positioned the cross in the middle of her screen as
"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,"
"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
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.