Monday, May 11, 2015

Wars and Other Setbacks

        "The one good thing about repeating mistakes is you know when to cringe."

“So, who is he?”

Eta’s question caught me unaware, and I almost choked on my coffee.

“Who is who? The guy who war-decced us?”

Eta’s eyes gleamed. “No, the guy who you are having the hots for.”

I sighed mentally. It was always fun to meet my sister and catch up on the recent events, but she had a way of changing topics which always tripped me up.

I shook my head. “There is no guy.”

“Tut-tut,” she wagged a finger at me, “I know this expression of yours. So who is he, so that I can break his kneecaps if he doesn’t behave.”

I grimaced. “Can we please not talk about that?”

“I knew it!” Satisfied, she leaned back and took a sip of her drink. “Now this war of yours - what was that all about?”

“We weren’t sure at first,” I replied, happy to be back on safe terrain. “As we haven’t annoyed people recently - at least not too much - we thought: trade hub campers. But then my old corporation suddenly got a structure notification: somebody really wanted their POCO in Akhmoh.”

“Ah, that’s why you had me prepare some Scythes!”

“Yes.” I took a sip from my coffee. “Unfortunately the stars weren’t aligned for us: the POCO came out at an inopportune time, Akhmoh was too remote for us to form a good response, and worse: our scout told us that all POCOs in that system had been attacked. Our war-deccers were intent on controlling the system, while we weren’t, so it was an unwinnable situation.”

Eta nodded. “Kinda like the Flyers in their old home system.”

“Exactly!”

“But what did you do then? I don’t think that your boss would just roll over.”

“And you’re right on that.” I grinned. “Remember Aunt Xi’s operation?” Eta nodded, and I continued. “Well, she sent down an agent, and as soon as our POCO popped, her agent set up an empty gantry, away from the grid.”

Eta looked confused. “But what good does an empty gantry do?”

I counted off my fingers: “One, as long as the gantry is there, nobody else can claim the spot. Two, as the gantry has no subspace beacon, it needs to be probed out. And three, even the gantry has 15M structure to chew threw.” I smiled. “So you see: pure harassment, and it’s not too expensive either.”

She laughed. “So that’s why Auntie got war-decced as well - I was already wondering. They did take out the gantry, I presume?”

“Yes, they did. And a number of our other POCOs along the pipe as well, just because. But they kinda lost interest - some of our POCOs survived, as did another empty gantry.” I looked at my cup. “So in essence we now have an undeclared truce until the wars expire.”

“And then, will you rebuild?”

“Doubtful. The income wasn’t that great, and as this war has shown, they exposed us too much.” I sighed. “It was nice while it lasted.”

“Don’t I know that feeling.” Eta looked pensive for a moment, then gestured her drink at me. “So, when are you going to see him again?”

I rolled my eyes, but couldn’t repress the visual memory of a back vanishing into the crowds of a station.

“I really don’t know,” I replied quietly. “Maybe never.”

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Behind Hostile Lines

        “If you are going to kill me, then do so. Otherwise, I have considerable work to do.” -- Lennier (Babylon 5)

The warp drive of my Tristan fell silent, dropping me out of the warp tunnel back into normal space. A mere 100 km from me, the gate was gleaming in the reflection of the region’s nebula. I hovered there for a few seconds, orienting myself. There was a planet behind me, which put my warp-in point close to the trajectory between the planet and the gate.

I sighed mentally - this would be one of the more tedious gates.

With the routine of an action done dozens of times, I fired up my micro warp drive and directed my ship into a direction which would come no closer than 50km to the gate. Given the general emptiness of the region, it was an acceptable compromise between safety and time. Making tacticals wasn’t directly related to my objective, but since I was here anyway…

When I had embarked onto this little expedition, I hadn’t been quite sure what to expect. Sure, I knew that there would be lots of empty space, leaving me to do my thing, but when I ran into people, I had expected a bit more resistance.

Not that people didn’t try, and got some practice in out-flanking and out-boring potential hunters - because re-shipping out here was a pain - but so far only one pilot, going by the name of Sativa Angel, had been showing tenacity.

First I had seen her idling in an Executioner at a gate, while I was burning yet another tactical. For a moment I was tempted to engage her, giving myself a 50:50 chance, but then I reconsidered: I wasn’t here for fights. So I kept burning, while keeping an eye on her velocity. But she didn’t follow, and soon I could warp off, to enter the next system over.

But the systems were arranged in a loop, and soon we came across each other again, in a replay of our first encounter. This time she burnt towards me, but couldn’t quite match my own speed. When I explained to her that I wasn’t going to fight him, she sounded disappointed, but relented and went on to chase other prey.

Fate, however, wasn’t done with us. Many systems later, I jumped into what I knew would be one of the few busy systems - and there she was again. This time in a Heretic.

I could have crashed the gate, but I was in a promising position, about 20 km away. Turning my tail at her, I took the chance and ran. Almost immediately she launched a bubble and started chasing after me.

I hadn’t quite judged the distance correctly and ended up inside the bubble, even if barely. Leaving it took long enough that she could catch up a bit, and launch another bubble. And again.

With dismay I noticed that she was slightly faster than me, and would soon catch me. And worse, there was no warp-out point into the direction I was flying - the closest celestial was into the opposite direction. But maybe, if she was scram fit…

I started turning, trying to fly a wide turn too keep my speed up, every moment fearing that a new bubble would go up or that she’d have a long point after all. Finally my chosen celestial appeared in front of me, and I held my breath as I triggered the warp drive.

The engine caught! I had gotten away - with more luck than skill!

To her credit, Sativa took the lost chase well, and I made sure that I steered clear of her the rest of the night.

I wasn’t always that lucky - sometimes I got distracted, other times I passed out from exhaustion in an unsafe place - but knowing that this one time I outran a superior ship? Priceless.