“You can’t win! It is pointless to keep fighting! Why, Mr. Anderson, why? Why do you persist?”
“Because I choose to.” -- Agent Smith, Neo (Matrix Revolutions)
There was no denying it: I had lost my conviction over the last weeks. While I had been active, it was mostly to assist my sister with her logistics, or on one occasion double-checking the numbers of the PI setup by a number of former Flyers. But combat? Why get good at it, if your opponent just up and reships; if a system taken is just lost again soon after? What good is a high combat record if it’s all in gang, and you’re helpless on your own?
And yet there I was, plugged into a Hydra Punisher, engines on idle power, crew reduced to the minimum battle size, for we were about to undock and roam the skies. Until a few days ago I hadn’t even known that I’d be here, until the confirmation had arrived in my mail; together with the comment “Go undock and shot something, stupid!” . No sender, of course, but I strongly suspected that my sister was behind it - that kind of thing was right up her alley.
Nevermind - it had been ages since I’d flown with Agony, and even though on this for-fun Alumni Militia roam nobody would care that much, I was painfully aware of my rustiness with fleet operations. And that I had had only time to stage two ships.
The command channel came alive, FC Greygal issued her commands, and we were off! And I didn’t even scratch any of the other ships on undock!
Our mighty fleet of 40 or so frigate hulls pulled away from Berta station and set course to Sendaya first, where we’d pick up another 20 less reputable fleet members, and then towards VOL-MI.
Of course we didn’t make it.
A HAC gang in the border system of Doril proved to be a too-tempting target, and our roam found its first glorious end after less than half an hour. As I steered my pod back towards Berta to reship, an unexpected smile crept onto my face - this was more like it!
My second, and last, ship was a Crusader - the Amarrian combat interceptor. It was essentially a can of tinfoil with an oversized engine, and four laser turrets taped on. While I had owned this ship for years, I had never had the chance to take it out into combat, unlike its Malediction sibling. Well, first time for everything, learning by doing, and so on.
Quickly I caught up with the rest of the fleet, and we headed back into 0.0 . At first, we found nothing but empty space, but then opportunities picked up. A Tempest and Fleet Typhoon here, a Maelstrom there, an Agony member getting inducted into Core... At some point, I even had hostile web drones frantically trying to catch up with my ship - eventually I relented and stopped so that they would experience at least a little cybernetic job satisfaction before I pulled away again.
All the while getting more comfortable with my Crusader, adding secondary points and bits of damage where useful. I quickly learned that I couldn’t always follow orders like ‘align to the sun while engaging’ as my speed would quickly carry me out of the weapons range. The best I could come up with was orbiting a target until I was noticed as a threat, and then take advantage of my superior MWD speed to race away into whatever direction was most convenient at that moment before warping off to the fleet’s safe spot.
Eventually we entered 4B-NQN, on our way to a brief rest in Assah, and encountered a lonely Onyx at the gate. He dutifully put its bubble up, we dutifully attacked.
Then a Hurricane jumped in. And a Drake. A Blackbird. And I stopped paying attention to newcomers because I figured I wouldn’t survive long enough to see the demise of even one of the first four anyway. The Onyx’ resists were making for slow work, so primaries were changed, but it was too much: we had to bail, making best speed to Assah for repair and regrouping.
And then went right back into the fray. It was a different gang this time, but the composition was about the same: HIC, Hurricanes, some EWar and Logistics. We ignored the Onyx and attacked the first Hurricane entering the fight. As before, I concentrated on the primaries and secondaries, letting my lasers dance over which hull was closest. As before, eventually I got noticed, and both the shield and armor breach klaxons sounded almost as one. I laid in a course for the sun, our escape point, punched the MWD, and then looked at what was shooting at me.
O-ho! Oh-ho-ho! Every combat drone on the field seemed to come after me!
Ok, maybe not all of them, but at least three or four flights. And by choosing to go towards the sun, my course led directly through the battlefield - I wouldn’t be able to warp off until I cleared the bubbles!
My increased speed messed up the drones’ tracking, but enough shots landed to start evaporating the structure of my ship. Mere seconds passed, but it seemed like an eternity before I could finally enter warp to safety, and at that point my ship consisted mostly of forcefields and desperate hope, and only a smidgen of metal alloys. And I was one of the lucky ones.
Back to Assah. The Space Traffic Controllers made a few jokes about our repeated coming and going, but quickly shut up when we threatened to test fire our repaired weapons inside the docking bays. Some people had to leave fleet at this point, but new ones joined. We weren’t done yet!
For the next round, FC Greygal planned on being more tactical, splitting the hostile fleet around the gate - but the hostiles refused to play ball. After a good ten minutes of unpromising reports from the scouts, she called it.
Greygal> I am getting bored. Let’s do this.
Inside my pod, I wholeheartedly agreed.
Our hostiles were prepared: having gotten tired of losing valuable ships to a random gaggle of frigates, they had brought more firepower. We jumped in, shots were fired, and the command to align to the sun while taking pot shots came. I did my best to follow it, but my unfamiliarity with the Crusader came back to bite me: once breaking target orbit, I never got into range of anything, while at the same time providing a nice target to be shot at. It was sheer inertia which carried the wreck of my once proud Interceptor clear of the bubbles, allowing me to warp off in my pod.
Our fleet had been thoroughly routed, but spirits were unfettered: comms were busy with planning how to get everyone back to reship. Myself however, I had to call it a day:
Druur Monakh> I have to head out at this point. I’m outta ships.
Seeing that we had several other hostiles running around in the vicinity, I estimated my chances to come out unscathed to be rather low, but nothing lost by trying. I selected a possible route, and warped off. Just about when I was about to land, comms caught my attention again.
Unknown> Druur, what gate did you warp to?
Damn. I haven’t given a proper report in months. Before I could answer, my pod dropped out of warp and activated the jump sequence. When my senses cleared, I could already notice the shimmer of a bubble going up.
Druur Monakh> YW. It is bubbled from the other side.
And there were a lot of ships on grid. Some of which were targeting me. Did I bump something? Did I move by accident? Didn’t matter! I had only seconds left - screw proper recon reports.
Druur Monakh> On grid: Hurricane, Hurricane, Blackbird, Onyx, ...
and I rattled off the list of hostiles while frantically trying to crash the gate.
I fell out of my clone vat, blinded yet again by the neuro-scanner headache - but this time it was more bearable, more purposeful. “Cost of doing business”, as Eta would put it.
I more felt than found my way to the micro-galley, when my hands touched something unfamiliar. Opening my eyes carefully, I could make out a bottle of Arcturian Mega-Port, with a sign on it.
“You earned it.”
I was still too thrown for a loop to question this unexpected appearance, but I did manage to grab a glass and fill it without spilling too much. And I held it up in a silent salute to the pilots which had let me tag along on their roam this day, as well as those which had given us exciting fights.
While I still wasn’t sure about my conviction, those pilots had allowed me to remember why I had chosen this career in the first place.