R.L. Akers contributed this excerpt to Space.com's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
"Prometheus Rebound" (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013)
By R. L. Akers
The monitors begin winking on around her as Kara settles into her acceleration couch for the training exercise. Each hand on the opposite wrist, she squeezes an activation switch for three seconds to initiate her VR gloves, then flips a switch on the integrated goggles. She leans back in her chair as the program's calibration routine launches.
The control sphere materializes bright green in front of her, semi-transparent and a bit ghostly looking. Following the instructions of an ethereal female voice, she grasps the yoke with her right hand, spins it a few times in varying directions, then throws her arms out in a sequence of test maneuvers. What the system is doing is determining her arms' range of movement, saving this data for future use in determining how sensitive the craft's controls will be.
Yoke calibration complete, Kara's virtual control board appears just below the sphere, not quite the same shade of green. She grabs the board with her left glove, pulling it to a comfortable position near her left hip. It's an unusual position, but she knows the controls well enough that she doesn't really need it in direct line of sight. She taps the far corner of the board repeatedly until she finds the control layout she prefers, then locks it into place. Reaching over and waving her right hand through the board satisfies her that the VR intersection matrices are set properly.
She exhales and rolls her head to get the kinks out. A quick punch of the proper key on her virtual board signals her readiness to the server. The mission countdown appears, and when it reaches zero, the screens transition to a simple representation of a hangar, little more than a wireframe model.
Kara recognizes the hangar immediately; it's part of a military base positioned in the midst of a tight asteroid field. Hmmm, tricky. The presence of so many small bodies will make detecting other craft difficult. Not only that, but she's a bit limited in terms of opening moves; there's only one way out of the hangar, and there's a good chance her opponents have already taken up a rotation around the entrance.
Firing her maneuvering jets, Kara pushes her craft gently into the back corner of the hangar. Might as well get a running start. She slams hard on the main thrusters and leans forward, hands wide open on either side of the disconnected yoke, feeling it lightly upon her upper palms. The calm blue grid lines fly past in her visualization, and then she's blasting out of the hangar, two bright orange tendrils of weapons fire burning past immediately on either side.
As soon as she's out, Kara jerks her hands off the yoke in opposite directions, twisting as she goes and throwing the sphere hard in the direction of her feet. As the yoke returns to keel in front of her, the perspective shifts to show a crazily spinning and bucking grid. What the other pilots see makes a lot more sense, even if they can't follow it — her craft is whipping about in an unpredictably widening spiral, gaining speed and distance from their ambush.
Kara adjusts her orientation with a small thumb-and-forefinger twist of the yoke, which has no effect on her inertial drift. She shakes her head at what she sees. Amateurs. So sure were they in their ambush, her opponents parked their craft in stationary positions. She pumps the nearest full of lead but fails to complete the kill before a large asteroid passes between their craft. No matter — now that she's out of the kill zone, she shouldn't have any trouble turning the match to her advantage.
By default, the software renders most solid bodies in a shade of red. Being in an asteroid field, Kara is closely surrounded by dozens of constructs in varying shapes, sizes, and shades of crimson. Keeping one hand on the yoke, she taps out a simple sequence on the control board, prioritizing target acquisition on objects whose speed are above a certain threshold relative to their surroundings. Several dozen results appear on her primary display, and Kara dials up the threshold until four obvious matches remain. She assigns these bodies a blink rhythm, then releases them to her display.
With a twist of her wrist, Kara propels her craft back towards the engagement. She dodges around a small asteroid with a spastic move of her arm, then goes on the offensive against the target designated H-002 — hostile #2. She doesn't move straight in, but rather puts a subtle spin and a strong slew on it, in essence swinging around in a circular strafing motion as she squeezes off a steady stream of fire with her left hand. After just a few hits, H-002 goes dead in space, which is to say that all course corrections cease and he continues flying along the same vector until he collides with another body. Either she hit something vital, or Two was the hostile she capped coming out of the chute.
Three streams of gunfire stitch across empty space towards her craft, and she slips out of the way. These three bozos are working together in that they're all firing at her simultaneously, but fortunately they're not really cooperating. With a minimum of three fighter craft, a commander who knew what he was doing in space would come up with a firing solution to corral her into an ever-shrinking pocket, where the crossfire stands a better than even chance of ultimately shredding her to pieces.
Her craft slips around another small body, and she throws the yoke hard forward. She stops its spin once it returns, orienting herself back towards the battle she just left. A blinking red construct labeled H-003 drops over the floating rock in a mimicry of her maneuver and lines up straight on her tail. At least, he clearly thinks of it as her tail since inertia is carrying her craft directly away from him. He's still carefully lining up his shot when she opens up point blank with the main gun. A wrist twitch shifts her trajectory, which Three fails to match, continuing on his merry way right out of the asteroid field.
The remaining two hostiles — the two she's identified — have re-formed into a wing pair and are maintaining their distance. Now that she's got a little room to breathe, Kara focuses on programming a more sophisticated pattern match on her surroundings while keeping up an erratic flight pattern. To the uninitiated outside observer, it might appear as though she's punching randomly into the air, her attention wholly absorbed with the control board. That's clearly not the case, however, as the landscape is so densely packed with moving bodies that two wrong moves in a row could prove fatal.
She completes her algorithm and assigns the results to her northwest monitor. Her focus returns to H-001 and H-004, which have been steadily leap-frogging their way closer, keeping some of the bulkier rocks between them and her. Each time they disappear for seconds at a time, her targeting reticules leap out to track possible trajectories and highlight the most likely. The longer the craft remain invisible, the more extrapolations appear.
Kara smiles. These two are a bit more talented...
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