The terrain sensor. The term flickered in her head and she suddenly knew what to do. Keeping her eyes on the sensor to the right of the windshield, she throttled her ship out into the storm and curved into a sharp roll. The simulation pod rolled with her, fooling her into thinking she really was flying. After doing a few serpentine maneuvers, she stopped playing and focused on the assigned task- hunting down the enemy.
Her sensors picked up unfamiliar movement at 60 degrees southwest and she pulled her ship in that direction, eyes glued to her terrain sensor. The fierce wind pushed her off course again and again. Her muscles were growing sore from the constant pull on the throttle.
There! The enemy ship appeared from behind a large smoking mountain. She was about to shoot when the mountain in front of her exploded with blinding force. Her ship was sent spinning out of control.
Ah, the volcano, thought Verity. She hadn’t been keeping a close enough watch on her miasma sensor.
Pulling against the throttle with all of her strength, she finally managed to bring her ship out of the spin. It was amazing how much of this piloting came to Verity with no effort at all. Here in this world, she had been learning this stuff since she was five years old. And she loved it!
Spying the enemy ship out of the corner of her eye, she whipped her ship around and fired without thinking. The enemy ship exploded with a satisfying rattle and Verity let out an involuntary whoop of joy. Instantly, the simulator stopped it’s vibrating and the cockpit lights came on. The screen wiped blank and her score appeared:
Pointed deducted for:
damage to star fighter
Briefly recalling that she had scored a 90 in her last simulation, Verity let out a sigh. Her arms were shaking from the effort of holding the wind-battered throttle for so long.
As she exited her pod, the door opposite opened at the same moment and Jaret walked out. His eyes tightened as they met hers and he quickly turned away. Verity couldn’t help herself.
“Jaret, how’d you do?” she asked, her stomach quaking. She would have never instigated a conversation with him back at home, but she was irritated by that dirty look he had given her.
He turned back, face still unfriendly. “97,” he said briefly and turned away once more.
“Nice! That’s a great score,” Verity called after him. He didn’t turn around again. She sighed in frustration. It was weird seeing such an unfriendly version of Jaret.
Ferryn came stomping out of her pod, her face dark with annoyance.
“That stupid, ridiculous volcano blasted my ship into a thousand pieces!” she hissed and kicked the wall of the hallway. The metal reverberated harshly and a young man exiting the pod next to her looked over warily.
“Yeah, I got volcanoed, too, but didn’t quite get blown up,” said Verity with some sympathy. She recalled that Ferryn was not quite the pilot that she was.
Ferryn held up a hand in protest. “Do not, do not, tell me your score. Just don’t. Let’s get lunch, k?” Ferryn turned and headed toward the exit, her small strong shoulders hunched in aggravation. Fervently wishing she had Biron here to cheer Ferryn up, Verity followed her out of the door.
As they walked through the labyrinth of metal hallways toward the mess hall, Verity thought once again about her father. His death had come as such a shock; seeing him alive again and cheerfully going about his business was overwhelming. Without thinking too hard, she realized that her mother, here in this place, was dead. It seemed she was only allowed to have one parent alive, no matter which world she was in. It made her sad, especially when the memories of her mother’s death swirled in like the unwelcome blast from the volcano. But she knew she would see her mother again when this bizarre adventure ended. She couldn’t be stuck here forever, could she?
Even as she had these thoughts, Verity felt her hands grow icy-cold. She glanced down at them, only to see the blinding lights rush up in front of her eyes. She closed her eyes as the chaos took her.
* * *
After the nausea faded, she opened her eyes once more to find a concerned Ferryn and Biron watching her.
“Ver, you coming? We don’t want to be late for math,” Ferryn said, looking at her in confusion.
Verity took a deep breath and sighed in relief. She was home! She was still standing on the dirt path that led to Hewitt High School. Apparently no time had passed at all. Verity though that was extremely strange; it felt like her hallucination had lasted for hours.
I’m good. I’m fine,” she said fervently.
The three of them slipped through the door of their math class mere seconds before their instructor. This was Verity’s favorite class for one reason: Jaret sat next to her. She usually managed to work with him when a partner was required, though she was never able to make any sort of conversation with him that wasn’t math-related.
Feeling apprehensive after her encounter with Angry-Jaret on the quantum ship, she chanced a brief glance in his direction. He had his head down and was writing, but when he felt Verity’s eyes on him, he looked up and gave her a charming smile.
Leaning over, he whispered, “The battle isn’t over. You won’t be able to knock me down so easily next time, Verity.”
His eyes had a mischievous sparkle in them, so she knew he was joking. She felt her heart lighten- this was a Jaret she knew. Relief gave her courage; today she would speak to him.
“I have other tricks- don’t get cocky,” she whispered back with a small grin. She had done it! Even though she knew her face was pink and she had only whispered one sentence, she felt like she had in the simulator, when she had blown up the enemy ship. She felt brave.
A thick math exam dropped onto her desk and Verity let out an involuntary groan; she hadn’t studied at all.
“Chin up, soldier,” Jaret whispered. “We’re in this together.”
He winked at her before turning back to his own exam. She sighed a little inside as she stared at his strong shoulders. His dark brown hair that was falling forward over his eyes a little as he concentrated on his test. Yes, Verity definitely preferred this friendly and charming version of Jaret.
Though her test sat on the desk in front of her, Verity felt her mind wander back to the baffling events of the morning. Had she hallucinated? Was something wrong with her brain? It had all seemed so completely real but there was no way it could be. After all, she had never actually physically gone anywhere; she had just paused for a moment on the path to her high school. There had to be some psychological reason that she had thought up all of that: her dad alive, Jaret angry and cold, Biron completely absent. Making a mental note to worry more about that later, Verity turned to the exam on her desk.