Friday, May 31, 2013

The Hunt

        ”Warping to a gate where you know there's going to be a fight...
         Kinda makes the blood sing, even after all these years." -- Charlie Fodder, Clear Skies 2

The small Caldari tower was hovering in space a tad of 100 klicks from me, basking in the glare of the distant sun. The electronics of my Purifier interrogated it and returned an unmistakeable result. I keyed comms.

"Indeed, Sis, it's truly and royally reinforced. Remaining timer... one day, twelve hours even."

Eta audibly sighed.

[ Well, we knew that this day would come eventually. I'll go and see if I can sweet-talk the alliance into forming a defense fleet. It probably won't succeed, but it should give the boys one of the good fights they are itching for. ]

I knew what she meant: small POSes like this one were extremely vulnerable to even halfway competent battleship gangs, especially in hi-sec wars - and the attackers currently at war with my former alliance were quite competent. So when I heard that my sister's POS was in RI, I happily came over to take a look, so that she could limit her exposure.

Economically it wouldn't even be that much of a loss for her: the fuel she had saved by not running a large deathstar POS was worth more than the whole setup here, but that of course wouldn't be reflected in the official combat records. Plus there was the little thing of Eta's stubbornness in face of adversity.

Idly musing how I could get myself involved into the coming fight, I kicked my engines into gear, and, after short indecision, set course towards the nearest lo-sec gate. Might as well quickly swing through the pocket here, see if any alliance war targets were messing around.

It was funny - going into these two systems used to be such a big deal for me. Granted, we had had powerful neighbors back then, but I had been also much more inexperienced, if not naive. Now, the pocket just felt... small.

My ship fell back into normal space in the lo-sec system, the gate looming large nearby, discharging the last remnants of the warp field energies. Some alliance members in local, running a standing fleet looking for war targets, and a neutral. That must be the Harbinger on d-scan. A bit too large for me take on, but a nice target to practice my scanning and probing on. After giving my ship a little nudge so that I could switch from gate cloak to my own, I went to work. Using a wide scan cone, I narrowed down his position to somewhere in the vicinity of a moon maybe 10AU from here, and engaged my warp drive. He wouldn’t be at the moon, of course, but the closer I got, the better I could pinpoint him with my directional.

As expected, the moon was empty except for a forgotten POS. Swinging my directional around, I quickly reacquired the Harbinger and narrowed him down to a 60° scan cone, and a distance of somewhere between 3.5AU and 4.2AU. The cameras showed nothing in that direction, so I switched to the solar system map: indeed, his location was in space away from celestials. I triggered the comms channel used by former alliance members (like me) to stay in contact with all the current alliance members.

        Druur Monakh> I think he’s at a safe spot
        Frodd> we can still combat scan him
        Bossalini> he’s running a mission
        Bossalini> centi wrecks on scan

Hmm, a mission would be as bad as a safespot: impossible to find without combat probes. But what if he was in a cosmic signature?

I risked uncloaking to launch five core scanner probes in rapid succession, pulsed my MWD to reach safe cloaking distance, and returned to the solar map display. Probes set to 2AU scan, arranged in a cross pattern, … and off they went.

No hit.

I had kind of expected that, and just told the probes to scan again, this time with a 4AU range.

Hit! A Sansha Dataframe, located just high enough above the ecliptic that my initial scan didn’t reach it. But now it was mine! Two more increasingly shorter ranged scans by the probes, and I had a warpable result. Quickly I recalled the probes and engaged my warp drive, hoping that he hadn’t seen the probes - if he was indeed in that signature.

The warp bubble collapsed, and I found myself at the bottom of an abandoned station, floating in space in a cloud of dust and debris. Only my habit of warping to signatures at distance had saved me from immediate decloak. And there was the Harbinger - atop the station!

A shiver ran through me - this could actually work! I still didn’t think of taking on the Harbinger by myself - even a mission-fitted Harbinger could make short work of my squishy Purifier - but if I could get close enough to provide a warp in for the others… It wouldn't be easy, though: there were no wrecks near to him I could have bounced to, and it would take time to circumnavigate the station. And time was running out, only six or eight ships of the formerly formidable Sansha defense force were still alive.

        Druur Monakh> Fleet Druur, quick! Target is at a signature, 80km above her.

No reply. Maybe they just needed a few seconds to notice my message, I tried to calm myself, while dodging random wrecks and containers. The number of Sansha ships dropped to five, then four, and a bemused voice in my mind told me that I had started to frantic, like a rookie on her first flight.

Finally - three Sanshas left - Fleet invite! But I was still too far away to provide a proper warp-in and pressed doggedly on. Suddenly a spatial distortion around the Harbinger caught my eye, and with shaking fingers I sent a camera drone to investigate. I could feel my pulse hammer in my ears.

No doubt: the Sanshas had closed up to him and had him warp scrammed. And, I noticed in the passing, he was using beam lasers with short-range crystals.

        Druur Monakh> Sanshas have him scrammed. 60km ahead of me.
        Terex193> gogogo?

I didn’t pay him any heed, debating with myself whether I should decloak and pounce him - but a nagging concern I couldn’t put my finger on convinced me to stay under cloak.

Then suddenly the tactical display lit up with the purple indicators of the rest of the gang members arriving - none of them in reasonable range!

Adrenaline surged through me - we would lose him! I deactivated my cloak, went to full engine power, and initiated the target lock-on sequence. Immediately I got targeted, pointed, webbed and shot at by the Sansha ships, who weren’t pleased that somebody would try to steal their prey from them. Which meant that they weren’t pointing him anymore, that he was free to go!

I might have panicked for a moment. I activated everything I had - DCU, Launchers, Target Painter, Coffee Maker, Warp Disruptor, MWD - and threw it at him, anything to keep him on the field until the gang could get into range! The first torpedoes were already on their way when I had time to look at the target analysis: the fight with the rats had already left him in half armor - but having flown a Harbinger in my own time, I knew how resilient they could be.

The gang closed in, more torpedoes belched from my launchers, and suddenly a bright explosion temporarily blinded my camera drones. The once proud Harbinger a wreck of twisted tritanium and alloys, life pods darting away, carrying its mortal crew to safety, the capsule of the pilot hovering nearby. Adrenaline was still pounding through my veins, and before the last rational part of my mind could suggest a ransom, or maybe even mercy, another volley of torpedoes snuffed the capsule and its shell-shocked pilot out of existence. I switched my targeting to the Sansha ships, who were starting to make headway on my shield, but I noticed that my attention was starting to fade fast, so I begged for help from the gang, hoping to conceal the shakiness of my voice.

        Druur Monakh> Sorry, I saw you coming in at range and was afraid he’d leave.
        Frodd > no worries
        Druur Monakh> If you could take care of the Sanshas, please; bloody bastards switched to me. Thanks.

The next dozen seconds were just the inevitable blur of an adrenaline crash. I piloted my Purifier aimlessly, shakily around the remnants of the datacenter in a state of bliss not unlike the one I knew only from more personal encounters. If somebody had dropped on us at that moment, I wouldn’t have cared less: I had pointed the target! It had been the worst warp-in I had provided in all of my history so far, but it had worked out!

Slowly reality began to trickle back in, and sounds made it past the still hammering pulse in my ears.

        Frodd> nice kill
        Azulrium> You got him
        Bossalini> Nice kill, Druur

Stupefied, I pulled up the combat record: the others hadn’t gotten a single shot off.

I had just accidentally soloed a Harbinger. Sort of.

It hadn’t been an encounter I would claim as above-class kill, though. Reading and re-reading the combat record, as I was still bad at picking out details, it became clear that the guy had been in way over his head. It hadn’t really been a fight - more an execution. Or maybe a mercy killing, seeing that the Sanshas had been well on their way to finish the job even without our interference.

I resolved to write the guy a mail, to at least help him fit his Harbingers better in the future.

Right after I would stop shaking.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Another Day, Another POS

        “If there is any more cheery information to come along my way, I’ll be happy to pass it along.
          In the meantime, just think of this as on-the-job training.”

My quarter’s door slammed shut behind me, and thankfully I nearly collapsed against the solid metal of the hatch. It had been a long day after I had spotted an unexpected Rorqual in my former Alliance’s stomping grounds, and the subsequent discovery of the control tower the interlopers had erected, seemingly just to create jump clones. Not the most welcome sight when all I had planned for the day was to just update my safe spots in the area.

Funny how the alliance had been reluctant to attack the tower, despite its vulnerable state, until I had fired the first shots. Maybe my story of ‘trying to bait the owners into attacking a lone neutral, while being trapped by a large alliance gang’ had been believed, maybe it hadn’t - but in the end, they all committed. Just what I had been looking for.

My embarrassment when we got dropped by an Archon in search of an easy Dread kill and I had told the fleet to bail, only to be educated afterwards on a comm channel that a lonely, unsupported carrier could have been dead meat if only I would have taken the fight. Smarter every day, right?

And for that matter, the fact that people were essentially following my orders, those of an outsider, even if both the fleet boss and Eta had just repeated them verbatim to give them more credence… What The Heck?

But all that was irrelevant right now. If I could only make it into the kitchen to finally have some breakfast, I’d be one very happy pilot!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Pieces to the Puzzle

        "As a slight aside: DOGFT changed the color of losses on our corp killboard
         to green, so yeah ... killboard still green!" -- LAWN alliance mail

Every pilot had their own ‘thing’ when they wanted to do something which didn’t require much concentration, while still giving them a reason to be around their fellow pilots. Many go mining, others search out agents for distribution missions, some just let a camera drone fly endless circles around the ships in their hangars. My thing, I mused while monitoring the charge display in the blaster cannons, apparently was shooting POSes.

The power readings spiked as the electric charge was shunted into the accelerator coils of my Neutron Blaster Cannons, hurling eight deadly bolts of roiling plasma downrange, taking another bite out of the POS shield. Before my inner eye I could see the extractors ejecting the now empty shells of the hybrid ammunition into space, and inserting new ones into the cannons, while the energy busses began refilling the charge capacitors.

I hadn’t planned it this way, but when Eta had contacted me, asking somewhat grumpily if I could lend some damage for a POS takedown, I didn’t need much convincing. I had gotten a couple more hours of sleep after my early wake-up call, but I still was far from peak condition, so unloading deadly fire onto an unresisting target while the pod’s systems removed the last remnants of last night’s excesses from my system was just what Dr. Druur recommended. Something was eating at Eta though - even though she was on comms, she spoke up only to deliver intel reports in curt, cold sentences. I knew that trying to pry the reason out of her before she was ready to divulge it on her own, would be an exercise in futility. Especially if it was what I suspected, namely troubles between her and her boy.

Another volley roared out, followed by the empty shells, and the cannons locked open, their magazines exhausted. But my gun crew was on the ball and had the replacement magazines ready to go: five seconds later, the breaches closed and the cannons began their fiery work once more.

Giving me time to piece together the events from last night. My memory neurons had woken up, finally, and under their direction I was digging through the various ship logs from last night, and something of a picture was emerging.

Seemed that I finally had managed to tag along with a small group of The Bastards onto one of their intoxicated roams. Though for me the roam had gotten of with a rocky enough start: First it took a while sort out comms, then my aging Punisher’s electronics decided to crash before we were even two systems out. It took me ages to get my electronics restarted, and then even more time before I could catch up with the gang. If they had thrown me off the gang at that point, I would have understood - but they were chill about it and just told me to take a couple extra drinks.

But even with the help of the logs, only a few details managed to stand out from the haze.

There was the lighting of a Cyno next to a gate, with the proclamation of an incoming Nyx, to draw a fight.

A pod hovering next to a gate, its pilot sound asleep in the knowledge that the Sansha combat vessels would protect him. It hadn’t helped that on my attack runs I had managed to twice shoot the gate instead.

Unsolicited, yet well-meant fitting advice after the fit of my Omen broke the heart of one of the attackers. Hopefully he did forgive me that I lead him on in our chat - New Eden needs more pilots like him.

Many deaths to CONCORD in Assietes, where an attempt to kill a Hulk went hilariously wrong. And what did I get for my hero shot at the accompanying Orca? The killright made available to all of their alliance. Miners simply had no sense of humor!

Our Caracal fleet scaring a battlecruiser gang into docking. They were probably too embarrassed about their outer appearance, seeing that we were sporting color-coordinated launchers. Other people were less self-conscious.

Getting shot in the back by a Caldari Militia pilot, who apparently didn’t like me sporting ECM drones. But he was the better pilot, so props to him.

Making somebody meow for me in local comms. Twice.

And in one log, finally, the solution to the puzzle why in the end I had been unable to arrive in Amarr in the same ship I departed in from Sasiekko, despite it being all friendly territory.

I giggled in my pod, log frozen at the crucial moment.

Awaken! Awaken!

        “I get the sense that you want plain black coffee."
        "Oh no. Not just black. Black-hole black. When the coffee has a ring of Cerenkov blue
         around it, you'll have gotten it right.” -- Userfriendly

An ocean. A deep ocean embracing me, favoring me. Cool water around me, streaks of sunlight highlighting the deep blue of ... nothing. I floated, on unseen currents, not caring where I was, or where I'd go.

Peace. Interrupted.

The ocean collapsed, vanished; bowing to the mandate of reality, as I woke up, involuntarily, to the sound of my data pad beeping. Finding myself in just a mundane bed. Comfy, though.

And still the beeping piercing the air. Somebody wanted to talk to me. My hand reached out, towards the sound, and touched the "Don't Bother Me For Another 10 Minutes" button.

The beeping ceased, but despite the renewed silence, all thought of sleep was gone. Might as well sit up.


I quickly closed my eyes again, so that I wouldn't have to see the room spinning. Feeling it spinning was bad enough. Carefully I extended my mental tendrils out into my body.

Headache? No. Seems that I did something right.

General feeling? Icky.

Had a great night? I noticed the warmth of a body behind me on the bed. With a pang of anxiousness, I peeked: Yes, he was still cute.

Check on "Great Night" then. I hoped.

Thirsty? Definite yes!

I stood up, dared to open my eyes just enough to give me directions. Sink... Water... over there!

But something was wrong.

As I padded barefoot towards the Fountain of Health, navigating more by touch than by sight, the cool air of the room sending chills over my skin, I finally realized what was bugging me: these weren't my quarters. I gleaned back at the bed, and the sleeping figure on it.

This had better been a fabulous night.

I don't remember how long I stood there, alternating between splashing water over my head, and simply drinking it, but eventually I found myself back sitting on the bed.

Draping the blanket haphazardly across my shoulders for some warmth, I picked up the pad and accepted the call. The holo emitters of my pad came alive and formed the image of my caller, hovering a few centimeters above the device.

Female. Dark hair and eye shadow, contrasted by bright red lips. Ni-Kunni. Not Eta, yet she looked familiar.

"Hello...", I tried to say, but what my larynx produced was just a croak. I cleared my throat, and tried again.

"Hello, Miss... ", finally my brain made the connection, "...Phage, right? Long time no see!"

[ Hello Druur, good to finally reach you. ] came the reply. She paused, and looked me down. [ Am I interrupting something? ]

Suddenly I was aware of the fact that my clothing was scattered across the floor of the room. All of it.

Not that I cared.

"No, not really." I replied lightly. "What's up? I haven't see you guys around for a long time."

[ Well, ] she hesitated, [ Things didn't go as well as planned, especially after our cap pilot left. ]

I nodded. Starting a corp from scratch, without friends, was hard. Nigh impossible. For every successful corp, there were dozens who didn't make it. Her's was one of those. I had worked with them in the past, briefly, but to be honest, I was surprised that they were still around at all.

"And now you're coming back?"

[ Unlikely. ] she replied with brutal honesty. [ But before fading into oblivion, there is one last thing I have in mind. A last hurrah, if you will. ]

"Go on."

[ It might not work out, ] she continued, [ but that doesn't concern you. What I hope would concern you is that I need intel. I know that you're good with Cov-Ops, so how does two weeks of recon work sound to you? ]

Well, that would depend on the payment compared to the loyalty point income loss I would incur for not fighting for the Empire during that time.

"I'll take the job." I heard myself say.

What? No. NO!


A realization dawned on me, that a thought had already made itself comfortable in my mind: The war could wait a while.

I blinked in surprise. What had happened last night?

A sleepy memory neuron opened its eyes and volunteered grumpily that there had been undocking involved, and obviously many drinks, but for any further information would I please consult my other memory neurons? Thanks.

[ Excellent! ] Miss Phage beamed, unaware of my thoughts. [ I presume you want to start not before tomorrow? ] The corner of her mouth twitched wryly [ You do look like you would want to take it easy today. ]

"Tomorrow.", I agreed. "The details...?"

[ ...will be sent to you in a separate data packet, as well as the formal contract. ] Her eyes briefly focused on something behind me. [ Pleasure doing business with you, Druur. ]

“The pleasure is mine.", I replied, and her holo image dissolved as the comm channel went dead.

"I sure hope so." said a voice next to my ear. I gave a start, and the blanket slid off my shoulders.

Great. The boy was awake, and had probably heard the tail end of our conversation.

He also had his arms wrapped around me, tickling my belly and planting kisses on my neck. He surely didn’t beat around the bush. Nor was I in much of a mind to put him into his place: a spark ignited in my chest, and I wiggled to slide my pad safely onto the floor.

“I hope for your sake that you didn’t listen in too closely.“ I said in my most stern voice while I still could. “Because if you did, I would have to ... mmhmmmmmm ..."

My train of thought derailed and my voice dissolved into a soft moan, as he played with my breasts with one hand and had moved the other down to tease me between my legs.

"I only heard that you have today off", he said, his voice a seductive baritone. ”Would be a shame to waste it.“


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Night of the Flying Fur

        “1. Milk.
         2. Nap.
         3. Destruction!” -- Cosmo Kittens activity cycle

Well… it seemed that this roam wasn’t going to happen after all. I was in the right system, I had joined the right comms channel - but nothing. Not that I had expected the roam to start exactly on the appointed time, but for sure there should be some organizing going on by now?

I checked local again - nope, still the same few regulars.

I would be lying if I claimed that I wasn’t disappointed. I still wasn’t comfortable with random strangers - pirate strangers, even! - and it had taken some resolve to show up here. Plus, to be fully honest, after past week I had been looking forward to some ruthless fleet-on-victim action.

I sighed in my pod, and initiated a transfer back into my Executioner, to head back to my staging station. Maybe I could do something useful for the war effort instead, so as to not completely waste this evening.

Without thinking, I let my disappointment spill over into another comms channel.

        Druur Monakh> I should have signed up for your Kitten fleet.

“Kitten fleet” was Sugar Kyle’s event of an all-Jaguar roam in Molden Heath - to happen this evening as well. “Rawrcat Doctrine” I think she had called it. The station’s tractors released my ship, my engines ignited, and I veered away towards the next gate.

I was just navigating Amamake, when a channel message came in.

        Sugar Kyle> You still can.

I could?

        Druur Monakh> Really? Sweet!

And even better: this, too, would be a pirate-run roam!

A few more question about place and time, and I changed my course towards Amarr, to equip myself with a Jaguar. I knew that Sugar was giving out free ones, as enticement, but not only I felt bad taking a free T2 ship when I could easily afford my own; the act of creating a fit for a ship was my way of internalizing how I should be flying it. Especially if it was the first time.

The detour via Amarr added an easy 13 hops to my original nine-jump journey, but as I discovered, the Jaguar was fast and nimble, making the journey to the Molden Heath a snap. Even the traversal of Heimatar, governed by the Republic, posed no problem. The faction navy sent threatening messages, but I always warped off before they could make an appearance.

Just once I was tempted to linger: I had just arrived at a gate, when I saw a hauler piloted by a Minmatar Militia pilot crawling towards the same gate. He was obviously on auto-pilot, and I wondered if I’d have the time to take him down before the faction navy interfered. In the end, better judgement prevailed, and I pressed on.

Note to self: Take a Velator into Minmatar space and test the reaction times.

Yes, yes, I knew that all this was documented somewhere, but I had found that I learned best by practical experience.

Molden Heath itself was … interesting. I had visited before, but not for long. I did remember its big circular structure, which made for some straightforward roaming.

The meeting point was in Bosena, but since there was a welcoming committee at the station, I used the spare time I had to move my medical clone to a station in a neighboring system, and bounced around making safe spots and undocks.

Slowly, the other members of the roam arrived, and finally the fleet invites were issued. And suddenly, the welcoming committee turned into soothingly purple allies. Voice comms activated, and I got to learn the voices of the people I’d be tagging along with.

It wasn’t all Jaguars - there was an e-war Maulus, three logistics Scythes, two warfare link ships, and a cloaky scout. And I reminded myself that unlike the null-sec fleets I had almost exclusive experience with, gate guns were not to be sneezed at once they took an interest in you, and that I’d be glad to have logistics with us.

Comms were busy with last-minute preparations, but then suddenly everything was taken care of. Diziet took command as FC, and a litter of Jaguars undocked.

And I learned first hand what it meant to have a ground war waging on the temperate planets: there were lots of pilots in space trying to support their ground troops with aimed orbital strikes. And from what I gathered, what they lacked in experience, they made up for in numbers, and it seemed that the MH inhabitants were still in the process of adjusting their doctrines to deal with the new situation.

And apparently successfully so: Our scout found a little task force, which the Rawrcats tore to shreds..

I loved frigate mobs!

By then, I had come accustomed to the way the fleet was run - it wasn’t actually that much different from the Agony roams I had participated in before. Despite my trepidations, I had to admit: these guys were pros. Granted, there was more idle chatter, sometimes it felt like there were multiple FCs deciding the course of action, and some specific commands were different - but when the action was imminent, everybody went to battle comms. Down to ammunition recommendations for those of us who usually didn’t use auto cannons (give me lasers any one day!).

Rationally I had known that my trepidations were more rooted in propaganda than reality, but it was still good to see them disproven in reality: you just can’t run a successful small gang without some level of professionalism. Ok, maybe I had just lucked out with the people on this roam, but still.

Just the FC was sometimes hard to understand - but upping the voice comms volume mostly resolved that particular issue.

Upward and onward we pressed, and we ran into a little Noir./Hashashin Cartel gang, including logistics of their own. Our FC managed to capture them at a gate, and with the Rawrcats split between both sides of the gate, fur went flying! Theirs, that is.

It was about that time that I realized that I was one of the few folks fitting a long point - wary of the short range of auto cannons, I had went with a normal disruptor to keep my prey from escaping, even if it meant that I couldn’t fit much e-war other than a web. I didn’t call attention to it in this fleet - too much I was still working on getting comfortable - but it was something to keep in mind for the next one.

But that was just a fleeting thought in the back of my mind - more urgent matters were pressing, and though being only five jumps out, the fleet was ordered to return to Bosena.

No, we hadn’t whelped. No, there wasn’t a larger group chasing us off. The reason was much simpler than that.

We simply were running out of ammunition.

I don’t think I ever got used to how auto cannons chew through rounds like a rabbit through a haystack, and I had gotten really nervous when I had only one reload left in my hold. Granted, I still had plenty for my lone rocket launcher, but it would have made for some pitiful combat performance. So it was with a silent sigh of relief when I could enter the course back to Bosena.

The respite was short: pilots took care of certain biological necessities, while the hangar crews hauled ass to load the cartridges into our cargo holds. They knew better than to slight a group of hyped-up blood-thirsty combat pilots. Plus, they got paid above-average salaries.

The FC came back online, a headcount was taken, and the undock command was issued: The Rawrcats were on the prowl again.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Live Performance

        “Override D: Nickname for the practice of modifying a pod’s life-support system to administer
         doses of alcohol to the pilot while simultaneously providing the synesthetic experience of taking
         a drink. Occasional attempts at outlawing this modification are invariably met with hearty laughter.”
         -- The Dummy’s Guide to Capsuleers, Glossary

‘Go to this bar - it’s charming.’ they had said.

‘It has good food.’ they had said.

‘And eclectic live music.’ they had said.

So I had went to this bar. And it was charming. If your definition of ‘charm’ included a low ceiling, air conditioners barely keeping up with the smoke, and the clientele consisting to a good deal of tough women and men from the darker sides of the law. And the food was good in a ‘last bite before staggering home’ kind of way.

But on the other hand the selection of drinks was extensive, and the music was indeed both live and eclectic, even if the sets were short. Right now the stage was occupied by a man playing a monstrous harp-like thing, augmented with subwoofers, while his co-performer did something which looked like a kata with light sabers. Surprisingly enough, so far each set had drawn applause from at least one group of the patronage, even this one.

In other words: the perfect place to kick back after yet another day of not being fit enough for real piloting, meds be damned. At least my cough was getting better. I leaned against the back of my chair, signaling the bar tend for a refill, when my gaze was caught by the public-access message board located next to the bar counter: somebody had just put up a new announcement. I couldn’t read the text from where I was sitting, but the headline contained the words “Bastards”, “Roam”, and a date, and my interest was ignited. I heard about these roams before, and always itched to participate in one - alas, schedule had been against me. But this one I might be able to make... and if my eyes didn’t deceive me, the Bastard member uploading the announcement was just finishing up detaching his pad from the message board.

I grabbed a couple of peanuts from the counter, aimed, and managed to peg him into the back of his head with at least one of them. Only when he turned around - hmm, interesting tattoo! but what was it with men and their obsession with beards? - I realized that my move may not have been the best idea for this locale. But I was already on my feet and pushing towards him.

Oh, good! He seemed more amused than annoyed.

"You know," he said with only slightly narrowed eyes, "usually people just shout 'Wait!' if they want my attention."

"Well, I'm not trusting my voice here.", I replied, nodding towards the stage. "Besides, it worked, didn't it?"

"In a living-dangerously kind of way."

"Uhm... aaaanyway," I tried to focus, "this roam of yours", I pointed towards the board, "is it open for all? And how many ships would I need to stage?"

“Well - if you had taken the time to read the announcement before launching your peanut barrage, you’d know that it is indeed open for all. And as to how many ships…”

He smiled deviously.

“That depends on how long you can last. Override D is mandatory.”

He mustered me with a sharp look.

“You think you’re up to it?”

I returned his stare, holding it for a few seconds before answering.

“Challenge accepted.”

He laughed. “We’ll see, we’ll see. I’ll believe you when I see you at the roam.”

A mock salute, and he vanished into the crowd. And after reading the full announcement, I returned to my stool at the bar, already trying to think of what I’d have to do the next days. Meeting point was Evati, which was factional warfare territory. Right now it was in our hands, but even though Amarr seemed to be on an upswing, Evati could change ownership any day, and it was three days until the roam. Staging ships in a station I might not be able to dock in would be a rather futile exercise.

It really seemed that the best plan was to take an overview of the sovereignty map the day before the roam, and then take it from there.

I took a deep swallow from my refilled glass. I loathed staging stuff, especially late at night, but it would be nice to be able reship quickly - and I had a feeling that reshipping would be a common occurrence. And if it saved me a handful of jumps from my usual hisec staging station, it would be well worth the risk.

I took another drink, noticing with satisfaction that the harp-something group had finally finished their set. In their place, I now saw holo-projectors being powered up, with the woman stretching in the background. It had to be the performer: not many patrons wore ankle-long pigtails of an indescribable blue-green color, and electronic control units on their forearms.

Now, what ships to use?

The roam asked for frigates and cruisers, but I wasn’t quite feeling ready for cruisers yet. However, I did have a number of frigate and destroyer hulls plus fittings staged, so maybe if I took four or six of them and prepped them?

I chewed my lip, and in my mind the plan came together. Get out there the next day or so, make some safe spots, and then...

A cheer went up around me, and crystalline synth sounds drew my attention back to the stage: the performance had begun. It took only a few seconds before I found myself tapping my foot: the tune was quite catchy, even if the nonsensical lyrics were too girlie-sweet for my taste.

And for some inexplicable reason the performer was waving a long leafy vegetable in sync with the beat.

I settled back. This promised to be interesting.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Goal, At Least

The hum of the engines of my Purifier dropped an octave as they synchronized with the warp fields generated by the stargate. My camera drones returned to bay, but the hull-mounted cameras stayed online, showing me the warp bubble pulsating in between the immense coils of the stargaze.

The bubble enlarged, engulfing my ship - or my ship was being pulled into it, it was hard to tell - and my Purifier was propelled through the warp tunnel towards its destination. And for the first time in years, I was able to watch the warp in process, thanks to a firmware update released to all capsuleer ships.

It was breathtaking.

Eventually I’d certainly grow indifferent to it, but even so, it was a great step forwards over the period of ‘frozen frame’ our cameras had afforded us in the past.

The vibrations in my ship decreased, and moments later the warp field collapsed, and my Purifier appeared in real space once more. Immediately, the system scanner activated, overlaying my ‘vision’ with with the nearby cosmic anomalies. Another neat upgrade to our ship’s firmware - it could be turned off, but for the more visually oriented pilots, it helped getting oriented in space.

I picked out the nearest Ice anomaly, and was just about to engage my warp drives, when a cough ran through my body.

My vision fractured and shattered, to be replaced by the teary-eyed image of my quarter’s ceilings, as the training system sensed my physiological distress and shut down.

I grabbed the sides of the couch in a death grip while my body convulsed in a cough attack, my will fighting to overpower my body’s reflexes.

Eventually, my will won, and I forced myself to relax, taking deep, but careful breaths.


It was the one souvenir from the Holo Convention I could have done without: a viral infection which did its best to outsmart the advances of modern medicine. That I wasn’t the only victim of that flu was of little consolation: when the docs just shrug their shoulders and tell you that the only options are to let the infection run its course, or suicide your current clone, the similar fate of other people doesn’t count much. …oh, yes, there was option three: get drunk enough so that the hangover pains overpower the infection pains.

I went with option one, thank you very much.

But that also meant that I was on light space duty only. While the amniotic fluid in my pod suppressed the outward effects of the flu, I was still left with a less than situationally aware brain, as it had been amply demonstrated. I could help with simple things like iHub attacks, or scouting, but not really much more.

And apparently I couldn’t even run the training software for the new ship upgrades either.

Dejectedly, I removed the neural connector of the training system from the receptacle on my spine, stood up and walked over to my terminal space. Might as well continue looking into fitness programs.

That was another thing I had brought back from the convention: a renewed urge to get in better physical shape. While I had done quite well in the Warrior Fitness session, I hadn’t been pleased with my performance. And looking at the other attendants, I could group them into three groups: pilots who didn’t care about their physical shape, being either too spindly or overweight; pilots who had just jumped into engineered clones, and pilots who had earned their muscle the old-fashioned way.

You could distinguish the last two groups by their poise: the latter owned their bodies, instead of just wearing them, and in their eyes you could see the mental steel they had to develop in order to see through their rigorous exercising programs.

It was doubtful if I could ever catch up with these folks, but I had come home with the conviction that I should at least try.

When I had told all of this to Eta, she had immediately teased me that I was just fooling myself, rationalizing a crush I had developed on the Matar pilot I had come across at the convention. Of course, she was mostly, but not completely, wrong: I would indeed be very embarrassed if I ever came across this Matar on the battlefield, and lost without him having to work for his win!

Good thing she didn't know that it was Matar exercise programs I was now researching. While the programs popular in the Amarr Empire (some of which I had practiced during my time in the forces oh so many years ago) were effective in their own ways, they did dedicate a lot of time on spiritual aspects, which only made you feel good, but didn't actually do anything. Gallente programs were too intricate for my clumsy self, so they were out, even though I admired their aesthetics; and Caldari programs all seemed to be an afterthought to a failed bribe. So Matar it was - no fuss, no muss. Trying to escape from slavery did tend to focus one on the essentials, it seemed.

Skimming through the potentials I had bookmarked the previous days, I was looking for a good one start with. The selection was large, and all promised incredible results, and I tried to look past the hype.

There! A program called “The Ripper”. Seeing it, I remembered that I had noticed it before, and somehow it had stuck in my unconsciousness.

Hmm… a good chunk of the exercises I didn’t even recognize, and others I would have to find a training facility nearby - which was scary all by itself, because … well … other people - and for most I’d have to add ‘or fail’ as completion criterium.

On the other hand, I did remember the Warrior Fitness workout, and how I had finished it with stars before my eyes and a barely suppressed urge to vomit - but I had finished it while still standing! Wouldn’t it be nice to come back next year and be able to smugly tell the trainer, “Bring it on, Sis!” ?

My chest tightened, and I felt another coughing fit marshaling its troops.

What was there to lose? In the worst case, I’d fail trying - which would beat not trying at all. A resolve hardened in my mind: I’d do it….

My lungs overpowered my will, and I grabbed the desk to steady myself somewhat, while the world again dissolved into a blurry mess.

… as soon as I could get through a day without being reduced to a coughing pile of misery, that is.