Sunday, October 6, 2013

That Fight

        “Holy cow, that was just awesome!”
        “And not in a good way.” -- Gizznitt, Jalisco

One of the difficulties with being a combat pilot is that after some time, all the engagements start to blend together: you go out on a roam, you kill ships, you are killed. If it weren’t for the combat records, you wouldn’t even remember who you fought that day. Or that you even undocked.

But once in a while, there comes The Fight. You may still forget who was with you, or who was against you, but you won’t forget the fight as such. And you know that mere words would never be enough to communicate the intensity of The Fight as you experienced it, yet you try...

For me, it happened in the most recent Agony PvP Basic roam: after a mostly empty evening, for which be blamed Crossing Zebra’s FFA, we finally came across a gang of Fatal Ascension pilots willing to take us on.

Or maybe we were among the few willing to take them on?

After the initial offer for a fight had arrived, we took a break, to give them time to arrange themselves, which caused some fleet members to ask if we were heading into an arranged fight.

Well, the answer was ‘No, not as such’. An arranged ‘Leroy’, maybe, but compared to actual arranged fights, we were lacking a chunk of crucial information. First, while we knew the system where’d we’d meet, we didn’t know the exact location - giving them the position advantage. Second, we were a frigate fleet, composed mainly of rookies, facing a fleet of Algoses, giving them the advantage in material. And finally, we were an Agony Basic Hydra fleet, whose MO was well known - but none of us had any idea what the Algoses intended to do.

And one of the secret lessons of the Agony PvP Basic class is to present PvP fights in all their aspects - not just the fights where you know that you’ll win before you fired even the first shot, but also the fights where you go into the fight essentially blind and with a good chance to lose.

We undocked. I was in a Jaguar assault frigate - a ship I had taken a fancy for several months ago, intending to use it as fast secondary on-grid tackle - and some other pilots were sporting heavier ships as well, but the majority of our fleet were rookies who had just passed the theory portion of the PvP Basic class. Yet they were here, soldiering on bravely in their frigates, putting their trust into the FC.

It was but a short trip to the destination system, and quickly the skirmishers confirmed the location of the enemy fleet near planet 5. Fleet warp was initiated, and the command to ‘free fire’ was given: to grab everything in sight and shoot whatever has the most damage.

Except that the enemy fleet wasn’t where it ought have been. Instead, the gaggle of Algos-class destroyers was holding a good 100 km or more away, drones out, huddling around a number of Vigils. Just a Raptor and a Rifter strayed close to us, and they became our first targets.

Points were called, our weapons fired their first rounds, and quickly the Rifter exploded - as did three of our ships. And it began to sink in what was happening...

        Gizznitt> Those drones are insane.
        Gizznitt> If you are being attacked by drones, warp off, right away. They’ll alpha you.

A bounce pilot was called for, a command to damp out the Vigils given, and our fleet warped 100 clicks away to re-assess the situation. In the seconds it took us to execute this move, four more of our frigates died.

But how to get back into the fight? There simply weren’t good warp-ins near the main body of the hostile fleet, even the wrecks were too far off, and our fast tackle had difficulty staying alive. Even worse, the hostile fleet was happy to move around, anchored on one of their Vigils, to make warp-ins even harder. Having no other option, the FC selected a seemingly promising wreck, but the fleet warp fizzled somewhat when most of the rookie pilots were a bit overwhelmed as to which wreck to warp to.

Not that it mattered - we were still out of range. Damps were thrown at a Vigil, and an overly adventurous Dramiel drew our ire, but quickly we had to bounce out again.

        Gizznitt> That is a very interesting fleet concept, I have never seen that before.
        Unknown> I like it
        Gizznitt> I do, too.

And I finally caught up with the tactical situation: these guys had taken lessons from the slow-cat and drone-assist fleets of the major null alliances, and cranked it down a notch. All the drones were assigned to assist one or two Vigils, who simply target-painted their intended target, and the drones took care of the rest.

Simple. Ingenious. And absolutely deadly.

Gizznitt Malikite managed to speed his way into the bulk of the hostile fleet, and with a quick bounce in we took down a Coercer, and shooed away a Dramiel in low structure, and bounced out again.

So far, we had only lost half of our fleet.

A Jaguar made the mistake of getting into a brawl with some of our own stragglers, and our fleet descended upon him to put him out of its misery.

But we had lost the damps on the Vigils, and my Jaguar suddenly shuddered under the impact of hybrid charges, fired from the rail guns of some Algoses, and I realized that I had lost track of our bounce pilots. A warning signal intruded my field of vision - one of the Vigils was target-painting me! With no way out, I searched for and locked up the pod of the former Jaguar pilot as last act of defiance, but I shouldn’t get the chance to fire: 11 seconds after the target painter had been directed at me, the hostile drones came into range. Four seconds later, my own Jaguar was only a piece of twisted metal, my pod speeding to safety.

        Gizznitt> Ooh, they counter-damped - that’s brilliant!

And just a second too late, the Vigils were damped out again. The enemy fleet was moving now to take the fight to our remaining forces under the cover of their drone swarm. A move they could easily afford as only eight of our ships were still active on the battlefield.

Correction - make that seven.

        Gizznitt> Ok, time to pull out, time to pull out.

We had been defeated, thoroughly. But it was a defeat in the best possible way - in a fight which in this form none of us had seen coming.

Truly a fight to remember.

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