Learning to Fly

Unable to sleep in the deep of the desert night, Rey got out of her hammock and made her way to the computer she’d jury-rigged from wrecked freighters. The flight simulator program – old as it was – was the only thing that saved her from boredom on days when the scavenging was plentiful and she earned a bit of a break. She pulled the thread-bare blanket along with her and wrapped it about her shoulders as she powered up the old Imperial equipment.

With a sigh, she sat down on an upturned rusted out drum and blinked her eyes against the bright glare of the screen and into focus. She selected her favorite – a standard A-wing fighter – from the array of ships when the program booted up and donned the old Rebel helmet. She couldn’t see the readouts as well through the scratched visor, but the helmet made everything more real, made it easy to get caught up in a world that streaked by at incredible speeds. A world far away from Jakku.

It wasn’t long before she was lost in the pitch and roll of the program, zooming after a TIE fighter around the far side of a small moon and through an asteroid belt. Sometimes she was the hunter. Other times the TIES chased her into caverns and pushed her alarmingly close to the event horizons of black holes. The cat and mouse game sent a rippling thrill through her and honed her reflexes until her world narrowed to the fine exquisite flow of an adrenaline rush.

Suddenly, the simulated TIE vanished. “Woah!” she pulled back on the thruster controls, blinking. In its place a twin-engined repulsorcraft streaked ahead. “Where’d that come from?” she muttered as her ship hugged the cliff of a low mesa.

She’d been chasing a lone TIE through the canyon of a desert world much like Jakku, although she’d never seen red sandstone arches like those onscreen. But it wasn’t the scenery that had caught her attention. It was the ship ahead.  She blinked again. The TIE tore across the flats, speeding for the cover of an outcropping. Rey fired her thrusters to the max, took a shot at the Imperial craft and missed.

The repulsorcraft reappeared. “What in the….” She punched a few controls, putting the simulation on hold and pulled up another screen to check the old Republic manifest of ships. “How can that be?”pod-racers

She knew the specs of every ship in the simulation by heart and this odd beast was not on the list. A subroutine she’d never accessed before? That could be interesting.

“Well, all right then!”

She resumed the simulation and sped after the repulsor pod down the shadowy crease of the canyon, grateful to be out of the glare of the sun. Out of nowhere, a second pod roared overhead, clipping her cockpit as it yawed and blew past. Two more screamed by on either side, engines shrieking off the canyon walls, pods whipping through the tight ravine in jagged line.

A quick look behind told her there were a dozen more on her tail, but no one was firing. None of these pilots were interested in making scrap metal out of her. She frowned. “I don’t get it.” A glance at the control display told her that her craft no longer had laser cannons – only three circular readouts and a confusing bank of switches.

In an instant, the whole line shot out of the canyon and under a series of arches. Alarms beeped and blared. One of her engines was on fire. She deftly worked the switches to snuff it out, but the engine wouldn’t restart. The fuel supply was exhausted. Frantically flipping more controls, she finally managed to transfer reserve fuel from the other engine as her pod slowed and drifted on single engine power. She watched, fingers itching over the controls, as the transfer completed. She punched the ignition switch. The engine fired up and her pod shot ahead.

And the desert was gone.

She stared at a screen of empty black space and stars. A lone TIE fighter disappeared from view.

“Simulation over,” a computer voice said.

Rey removed the helmet and sat there a moment, breathing hard. “What was that?”

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