Crash-Test, by Regina Peters

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There's a shiny metal gadget lying on the lawn.

It looks like a headband, or maybe a visor, one of those virtual reality things that are getting so popular these days. As if our reality wasn't enough to deal with. Must be something my granddaughter left behind on her last visit. I'll have to have a word with her about being more careful with her toys.

Right next to my tulip bed, no less. She's lucky the rabbits haven't carried it away. I pick it up and polish it on the hem of my blouse, wiping off the dew and dirt, hoping the ants haven't gotten into it.

I hold it up to my face. It's a visor all right; I can see two lenses in the metal. When I take off my reading glasses, it just about fits. I wonder, could I see better with this thing? My eyes get worse every year, and all the optometrist can do is shake his head. But no – everything past the neighbor's fence is just as blurry as before.

Click. The gadget moves. It fits itself to my head more exactly than anything I've ever worn, including the hats I've knit for myself.

"State your identity," a robotic sort of voice says in my ear.

"Oh! Uh ... I'm Diane. Diane Murphy. Taylor's grandma? Is this hers?"

"Identity confirmed." Is it a man or a woman? I can't tell. "Species: Human. Origin: Earth. Commencing examination in three ... two ... one ... "

Oh my.

I can't see my garden anymore.

I'm in space. I can see the stars, planets, those whatchamallits – nebulae – and the endless darkness in between. This isn't like any computer game I've ever heard of. It's the most amazing thing I've ever seen, but it makes me queasy. I wonder if I'm going to be sick.

I throw out my arms for balance, as if that could help. That's when I realize that space isn't the only thing I'm seeing. Some kind of controls are in front of me, like on a car, but even more complicated. My husband's an engineer, but even he might have some trouble with this. Am I on a spaceship? Am I supposed to fly it somewhere? Is that the point of the game?

Just reboot it, Grandma, Taylor always says, rolling her eyes, when I'm having computer trouble. Nine times out of ten, that'll do it. The power button always looks the same.

I see a big green lever in the middle of the console. I grab it.

The spaceship – or whatever it is – jumps forward.

"Ha!" I crow to whoever's listening. "Did you see that?"

It's really not that difficult, as long as I don't think about it too much. Pull the lever right, the ship goes right. Pull left, it goes left. Up, down, fast, slow, same thing. Now all I have to worry about is not bumping into a planet or anything like that, and in the meantime, figure out what in the name of all that's holy this game is about –

"Whoa! Dear God, what was that?"

Another ship just whizzed past me. I'm not alone out here.

Another one zooms past, too quick for me to even see what it looks like, besides sleek and silvery, like some kind of space dolphin. And it came too close – much too

close. Another few inches, and it would've crashed right into me. If these were cars on the highway, I could've been killed. Cold sweat runs down my spine.

"Asshole!" I clutch the lever with one hand and lift my other one to flip him off. I never swear in front of my family – it sets a bad example – but sometimes it's a considerable relief.

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