Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Season of Love and Happiness

The station was quiet at this early time of day, so nobody was around to notice the unsteadiness in my steps as I returned to my own quarters, the memory of last night slowly fading. This Gallentean had been quite a good kisser, and knew how to use his hands, so it had been an enjoyable evening. Well, up to the point where his girlfriend suddenly changed her mind. The following minutes of yelling and bulkhead-slamming had been less pleasant, but it did save me from having to break it to them that making out had been all that I had been interested in anyway. That way, while their yelling turned into something less adversarial, I got to plunder their beverage stash and catch a few hours of sleep on their couch.

Holidays, huzzah!

Admittedly, I was still confused about the details of the various holidays people were celebrating at this time of year - at some point I think I saw two people shouting at each other while holding a metal pole - but it was fun to just go with the flow and enjoy myself.

Ah, my quarters! Finally! My access code was accepted, I stepped through the doorway, and the hatch fell shut behind me. Immediately, dim light coming from my main room told me that I wasn’t alone. Carefully, quietly, but not overly concerned I approached the room’s entrance and peeked inside. Yep - it was only Kitten, having fallen asleep in one of my more comfortable chairs.

Usually, she was off in her own circles, but we had an understanding that she was always welcome should she need a place to crash. I wondered what brought her here this time, but given the time of day and my state of mind, that was a question which could wait. I stopped briefly by her side, to gently stroke her cheek, then found the way to my own bedroom.

------------------

The smell of coffee finally woke me up. And not that weak excuse for coffee served with your average breakfast - this was hand-brewed strong coffee, Minmatar style. But as much my taste buds protested, I headed for a shower first - the hot water doing wonders for my well-feeling. Small wonders. Emphasis on ‘small’. When I finally entered my main room, I was greeted with the coffee I had smelled before, pastries, and a way too smug Minmatar punk.

“Look who’s back in the land of the Undead!”, greeted me Kitten.

I ignored her demonstratively, poured myself a cup and grabbed a pastry. It wasn’t until I was halfway into my second cup that I graced her with an answer.

“Ha!”

She giggled. “C’mon, don’t be coy. Given how late you came home last night, he must have been cute!”

“He was ok.”, I allowed. “But not that cute. And even if - there were complications.”

“Mhmhm,”, she nodded, “I should have guessed - after all, you did come home at all. So he won’t make your guest list for your ‘Festival of Burning’, or whatever it’s called? Which I think is still coming up?”

“’The Kindling of the Light’”, I corrected her, “and no, he won’t. But what about you - who is on your guest list for your New Year’s shindig?”

“You tell me.” Her demeanor faltered, and suddenly she appeared vulnerable. “Did you deliver the gift?”

“Yes, I did.”, I nodded carefully. “Though in hindsight I must say…”

“…I know, I know, it was a stupid idea.” She sighed, and slumped into her seat.

“Especially coming from you.” I pressed on. “I thought we were over this kind of stuff since ‘Princess’.”

She shot me a look as if she was going to say something, but then reconsidered. Instead, she replied “I thought so, too. But… One night of double entendres, months of nothing - but then suddenly Bam! I can’t get her out of my thoughts.” She shook her head. “Maybe it’s just my mostly-male Lance getting to me, because for all I know, she probably doesn’t even remember me - but what if it’s more?”

I emptied my cup. “Well, you cast your dice, and now you have to wait. Either she’ll figure it out, and you will have a whole new set of questions to answer for yourself, or somebody else is going to get lucky, in which case you won’t lose much.” I looked at her askance. “Though I suggest you find something to occupy yourself with in the meantime.”

“Way ahead of you.”, she managed a smile. “One of your Alliance mates has a problem with miners encroaching on his territory. But since it’s hi-sec, his hands are tied - so I thought I fly down there and buzz those miners. Which is why I’m here - to pick up my old Cheetah.”

I laughed. “Buzzing miners” was what we had called sitting in a belt and shamelessly cargo- and ship-scanning miners, hoping that the mere act would scare them away. It rarely worked, but when it did, it absolved you from the messy business of actually attacking said miners. Plus, if you negotiated smartly beforehand, you got to keep the ammunition expense budget.

“Speaking of which - I need to be going.”, she added. “But that also reminds me, my Cheetah has a bunch of heat-damaged blasters in its hold - are those yours?”

“If they also have dust worth almost two years on them,” I replied, “maybe?”

She chuckled and stood up, grabbing a pastry while doing so. “I’ll have them transferred to your hangars.” She gestured. “Thanks for letting me stay here tonight.”

“Anytime!”

At the door, she stopped and turned her head back to me.

“Listen… before I leave… when you mentioned ‘Princess’…”

“Yes?”

She hesitated, then convinced herself to speak freely. “You were right - but at the same time… you’re one to talk.”

“What do you mean?”, I asked, perplexed.

“Remember what you did before that Op?”

I nodded, slowly.

A pained expression flitted over her face.

“You’re doing it again.”

Monday, December 22, 2014

Last POS Standing

        “You think the way you live is okay
         You think posing will save your day”
         -- N.E.R.D., Rock Star

The carpet muffled my steps, as I strode towards the main office of my sister’s corporation. Sadly so, as the metal plates I had had fitted to the heels of my boots made for an impressive entrance in Minmatar stations, with their metal decks. But then again, there was no point in trying to impress Eta, even if I hadn’t been related - it took other things to do that.

With a discreet beep, my access code was accepted, and I entered the corp complex. Knowing my way from days old, I headed straight for my sister’s private room. At her door, I hesitated for a moment - hurtled calculators being a probable risk - but then pushed inside. For once, I was able to enter unassaulted - Eta was sitting at her desk, leaned back, and staring holes into the ceiling.

Oh dear - something was already beyond merely ‘wrong’.

She started when I kissed her on her forehead, but recovered quickly while I was making myself comfortable on her desk.

“You came.”

“For you, always.” I smiled. “Now tell me what’s going on - your message sounded urgent.”

She looked at the ceiling again, while taking in a deep breath.

“About 20 hours ago, our POS in Reyi was attacked and put into RI. It’ll come out in 16 hours.”

“So, no problem. Send word to your alliance, I’ll break out either my Talos or my Scimitar, depending on the opposition, and we’ll have it licked in no time.”

“That’s the problem right there.” She emptied her glass, then refilled it. “It’s not like the old times - there is no alliance. Redrum is for all intents and purposes dead.”

“Wait - what?” I grabbed a glass from a shelf, and poured myself a drink as well. “I thought Pan and Katsumi had taken control back of the alliance, ousted Vicious Idiots, or whatever they were called, and were turning the ship around?!”

She smiled ruefully. “That had been the plan, yes. But about a week or two later, there was the announcement about a change of plans: the alliance would be mothballed, the renters let go, the POCOs sold, and all corps dropped by the end of the week.”

“Too much damage done already to recover from?”, I guessed.

“Exactly. Except - all of the above happened, except of the dropping of corps.” She took a sip. “Meanwhile, the corp who bought the majority of POCOs in Reyi, got impatient and sent a mail to all former blues - including Redrum - to discuss standings. But since our exalted alliance leaders have taken time off for some holiday or other, we in the Flyers never got the message. So…” she smacked her right fist into her open left hand. “Boom!”

I took a sip - and coughed. Gods know that Eta was not big into spirits - something about the dangers of working in proximity of highly unstable reactors with no neuro-scanner nearby - but when she had a drink, she went all out.

“Ok, different plan then.” I said once I had my voice again. “I put a call out to Affirmative, we get some shooters down here, and…”

“…and then what?”, she asked coldly. “You stay here, and defend the POS from all the follow-on attacks? No. These guys intend to make Reyi their little kingdom, and you guys aren’t.”

I was at a loss for words - she was right. I emptied my glass, and refilled it. “So what now?”

“After protracted negotiations, we arranged a compromise: we take down the POS unharmed, they take the moon, and in return we get blue standings.” She chuckled into her glass. “You can imagine, the boss was not happy.”

“I was just about to ask…”

“You know how stubborn she is - and being pushed out of our home of eight years did not sit well with her.” She smirked. “She left the final ‘capitulation’ up to me. But you know what?”

“Uhm, no?”

She gestured with her glass. “I can't help but think that these folks deserve the moon. They are decent combat pilots, have a plan, and put in the space-time to achieve their goals. We on the other hand? We just fueled the POS, extracted the moon goo to pay for our offices, and that was the extent of our ‘activities’ here.” She took a sip. “In a way I am glad the POS is going to be gone - one pointless liability less.”

I hesitated, wondering if I read her tone right. “You know, you could join us.”

She looked at me earnestly. “Truth to be told - sometimes I am tempted.” She slumped back into her chair. “But I couldn’t do that to the boss - it would break her heart. She has to realize the truth herself first.”

Seconds stretched to minutes, in which we just silently enjoyed our drinks. “So, what’s the plan?” I finally broke the silence. “Repair the POS up to 50% shield, and then take it down? If there’s only the Flyers on deck, even with my Scimitar it will take hours.”

“It won’t be that bad.” She winked at me. “Remember our dinner last year, when you first met my boy? And the skill plan we laid out for me later on?”

I nodded.

“Well, I’ve been following it like the good girl I am, and now - ” she made a flourishing gesture, “ - I can fly a Triage Thanatos.”

“Nice!” I saluted her with my glass. “But - isn’t your carrier several jumps from here?”

“Yes, but your … friend of old had contracted me hers - ‘on loan, so don’t break it’, as she put it. It’s not the best fit for my skills, but it’ll do.”

I nodded again, briefly wondering how Mica was doing, but then I banished the thought.

“Anything we can do until then?“

”Well, if you’re feeling up to it, two of the large laser batteries are incapped. Calcinus said that he'd help, but the more, the merrier. If we could repair them now, it would save us time later. And if they decide to backstab us…“

She left the sentence unfinished, and I smiled at the inside. We were both trained POS gunners, and with the large batteries repaired, we could spread some pain around.

I emptied my glass, and dropped it upside-down on the desk. ”Well, let’s get to it then.“ A thought occurred to me. ”Are there any other Redrum POSes in the system which have been hit?“

She gave me a look. ”I was wondering the same thing, so I did a quick recon of the system - mostly to find their POS, just in case. And the result is: our POS is the last Redrum one - everybody else has folded and left some time ago.“ She raised her glass.

”To the POS that could!“

Monday, December 15, 2014

Late Night Squirrels

Our public lounge was slowly emptying out - today had been one of our more successful roams, and people had stuck around for a while afterwards.

It hadn’t been all roses and sunshine - in the beginning, glitches in the recently upgraded fluid router software had interfered with standard fleet maneuvers; and later on, one fleet member made his displeasure known about the fact that there were bloody rookies in the fleet. Not that he minded rookies - as long as they got some training in fleets with veterans before flying with him. The fact that especially this roam was one of such training fleets, had completely eluded him. Or something. Either way, he turned out to be one the few people we’d gladly not have on our roams, no matter how good a combat pilot he was.

Anyway. I had left the roam about four hours in, due to a sudden drop in concentration. Two hours later - I had taken a nap in the meantime - they were just about done docking up. Not bad for a roam with a large contingent of newly certified pilots!

But as much as we welcomed our rookies, the day had been long, and we were looking forward to spending some time amongst ourselves. So while we didn’t made them feel unwelcome nor ignored them, alliance members did start wandering out of the lounge in twos and threes, taking care of their own business, some returning, some not.

Our small group had commandeered a side table in our lounge, where we chatted about everything and nothing. I was having a conversation with Naava about catnip, of all things, and its effects on the various kinds of cat species on our home worlds, when suddenly my ears registered my name.

“…Druur might be more interested.”

I looked up sharply. “What?”

“I was just complimenting Rogue here,” Dai shot our scout a look, “about his new sexy looks, but I don’t think he quite got the hint. So I wondered, maybe I should see if you’re interested.”

Dai was a faction warfare veteran, and one of our latest recruits. And kinda cute.

*Uhm*

To stall, I took a sip from my arcturian mega-ale, but even so all I could come up with was: “You really don't know me, do you.”

She winked at me. “Perhaps I want to know…”

I was trying to form a response, when she suddenly chuckled. “I only jest. I can’t help myself.” She raised her glass, and I returned the gesture.

*Uhm*

The discreet vibration of my communicator saved me. I glanced apologetically at the people around me, and looked at my pad.

It was a message from Forttrain, one of our new recruits. [ Darth Yayo - does anyone want to come help me kill him? That’s the guy who killed me the other night. ]

Almost immediately, another message came in. This one from John, asking if I had seen Forttrain’s message.

Standing up, I excused myself and walked to the exit, while cracking my knuckles.

Nothing like a little revenge impromptu fleet to close out the day with!

---------

“…of course, it had been a long shot to begin with.” I mentioned on comms.

The plan had been sound - send in Forttrain to bait Darth Yayo out of the station, have him make the killright available to us, and we swoop in to pounce. Except - Yayo saw through it. Their corporation was new, but their pilots had experience under their belts. But it wasn’t a complete loss: we had gotten a little gang together quite quickly, and Forttrain got to see the improvised side of space combat - the one outside of planned roams.

But what the frack did Greygal think when asking me of all people, whether or not to bring an ewar or damage ship?

…but my thoughts were cut short when John spoke up, who had warped to the station to reship into a better ship.

[ There are sleepers at the station, scanning it. ]

“Sleepers?!” I piped up. “Can we go and watch?”

[ Sure! ] answered Greygal after a few seconds. [ Yayo will stick around, and right now he won’t take our bait. ]

And that was all I needed to hear - I turned my Malediction around and headed to the station.

Indeed, the sleepers were there - of a kind I hadn’t encountered before. They were armed, but they restricted themselves to scanning the station - and ourselves.

“That tickles!”, I giggled on comms, after three of them had scanned me at once.

[ I wonder if we can shoot them ], mused Greygal. [ I have tagged the primary - point and dps, go. ]

And thus we toyed with the sleeper drones, exploring their abilities. We quickly learned that their abilities were not quite up to par to their w-space brethren - but they did have warp core stabilization. We couldn’t quite determine if it needed two or three points to lock them down - those who didn’t warp off, died too quickly for us too conduct experiments.

Ultimately, they all fell to our weaponry. And not without a decent amount of satisfaction on my part -- too often I had had to run from their brethren with my ship on fire, and most of my crew perishing in escape pods nobody would ever rescue, so payback was a pleasure!

But just when we were ready to dock back up and call it a day, John - who had been diligently scanning the system - announced, [ I have located a Limited Sleeper Cache. ]

On comms, we couldn’t see each other, but if we could have, we all would have looked at each other, and nodded.

Squirrel!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Two Birds and a Shotgun

        "Bolt actions speak louder than words." -- Doc Nickel

For a moment, the world spun around me, and I sought purchase at the open hatch to my pod. The last days had been … interesting. And tiring. Unless I was counting wrong, I had flown more sorties in the last four weeks than in the four months before that - and I was one of the lesser active pilots in the alliance at that time even!

These last two days had begun, harmlessly enough, with a Survival Seminar, offered as free service to all the new pilots which had recently joined our alliance. Initially I had paid only superficial attention, since the exercises were in high-sec and about things I already knew. But soon enough the group ventured into null-sec, allowing me to join, and then things got interesting. And for once, our so far impressive pod-extraction record took a ding, as our pods were picked off here and there.

I expected it to end there, but Greygal had other ideas.

[ While we’re pretty much done here, I have received word that APOC is doing a structure shoot somewhat away from here. It would be a good idea to help them, especially since they helped us in our recent diplomatic … issues. Any takers? ]

And of course there were takers! Given our fleet members, we wouldn’t be able to provide large DPS - but stealth bombers are not to be sneezed at. So we began the long trek to Gyerzen, hoping that we would arrive in time to at least do some token damage to that POS.

And damage we did! And since we were there, we went on to help APOC in reinforcing a POCO in the same system as well.

And because we had reinforced it, why not stay around a little bit longer to finish it off?

And thus, bit by bit, a short trip to provide some firepower turned into a two-day engagement.

Luckily Eta had been gracious enough to ferry one of my old structure-shoot battleships to the target system, but even with the more sustained firepower of my sentry Dominix, it made for a long day. In fact, I didn’t remember the last time I had a proper night’s rest.

No wonder I was woozy.

Carefully, I opened my eyes, and found that the world had decided to finally settle down in a definitive place. Letting go of my pod, I walked towards the bunk in my Captain’s Quarters, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to make my way to my actual quarters on this station at that point.

But as I carefully took my steps towards relaxation, an unbidden thought rose in my mind: while all the recent sorties had been important, and exciting, and in certain ways influential, they were also blurring together. I used to be able to recall sorties by singular fights I engaged in - but not anymore.

Maybe it was just me growing up, looking at the bigger picture - but suddenly I couldn’t help feeling that I was losing something important.

And I was missing it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Fisticuffs - The Last Day

        “I am good at making tin foil hats. Please do not force me to use that skill.”
         -- Mike Azariah

“What do you think - will there be an operation today?”, someone asked.

It was good question. Ever since our POCO got re-reinforced, Greygal and Onslaughtor had engaged in a flurry of diplomacy, and even right then they were holed up in what we called A Very Dark Room. I sincerely hoped that there would be a peaceful resolution, as our numbers tonight were not quite as stellar as previously.

Though… looking around a room there were a number of faces I did not recognize - friends of friends, willing to lend a hand just because they could.

…hold on a second - that Gallente over there, he looked familiar. I got up and casually ambled over to him, to take a closer look. Indeed!

“Mike! Mike Azariah!”

The Gallente looked up. “Yes, that’s me; do I know you? …oh, Druur! It has been a while!” He paused, and cocked his head to look around me. “Are you…”

“…alone?” I completed his sentence. “Yep - no angry industrialist eager to punch you with me this day.”

“Why would anybody want to punch him?”, asked a pilot nearby.

Mike rose to answer, but suddenly the lights in the room dimmed.

The door to the Very Dark Room had opened, and darkness was spilling out. Out of the gloom, our intrepid leaders emerged. I relaxed - they looked somewhat calm, so things seem to have gone well. Chatter in the room died down, until everybody was looking at the two.

“Right,” began Greygal, “The good news is that the attack was - once more - not an officially sanctioned operation, nor was the fleet even listed on their boards. A truly private endeavor. Talking to the fleet commander, it was a case of mistaken identity.” She sighed. “I don’t quite believe that, but whatever let’s them save face.

”I got the assurance that their fleet won’t interfere with our repair operation, and in fact we may come to an agreement to not attack each other’s structures in this area.“ A smile crept on her face. ”I know, it’s a bummer, given how much we looove structure grinds.“

”The bad news,“ continued Onslaughtor, ”is that other people might interfere. It is unlikely, but we need a few combat ships to fly screen.“

I raised my hand. ”Rupture!“ Not that I had to think about it - I was horrible in Logistic ships.

Next to me, Mike raised his hand as well. ”Would you like a perfect Scimitar?“

Greygal scanned the crowd, and then beamed. ”Of course we’d like a perfect Scimitar, Mike. I’m glad that you made it!“

”How could I stay away?“

”Some of you may not know him,“ addressed Greygal the whole room, ”but this is Mike Azariah, currently on the CSM.“

One of our younger pilots had a question. ”What is the CSM?“

Mike looked at Greygal. ”May I answer that?“

”Of course.“

Mike took a breath. ”I have to go back in time a bit for this one. Several years ago…“

While Mike continued talking, I got up and made my way to the exit, to get my Rupture out ahead of the fleet. And fight or not, comms would be interesting that evening.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Fisticuffs - The Second Day (Evening)

        “What would we do in response to that?”
        “Oh, under the NATO treaty, we’d be obligated to respond by attacking soviet missiles inside the Soviet Union.”
        “And then what would they do?”
        “Well, by then we hope that cooler heads would prevail, and we’ll all sit down and talk.”
         -- Alleged conversation during the Cuban Missile Crisis

Cup in hand, I trudged into our Alliance lounge. The operation early this morning was still in my bones, allowing me only four hours of sleep, and judging from the looks, Greygal had gotten even less. Nonetheless she soldiered on through a quick briefing for us Affirmative members while we still had the time.

I missed most of said briefing, because first of all, I had been there this morning, and second, my coffee cup was empty and I definitely needed a refill.

“Ok,” she said, “before we head out on our roam, a quick update on last days’ activities.”
She looked around the room, before continuing.

“I have talked to our diplomatic contacts in Providence, and from what I have learned, that hit against our offices was not an officially sanctioned operation. In essence they said ‘it’s low-sec - do with those guys what you want’.” She smiled. “And since they hadn’t been very lucky last night, this might be the end of it.”

She took a draft from her cup, and then switched gears. “Right. We have a roam to run - let’s get to it.”

---------

Maybe it was just me, but to me this roam appeared to be quieter than our usual ones. One could lay it on the fact that many of our core Affirmative members were still worn from the op early in the morning - fleet invites happened more sluggishly than usual, questions were answered a tiny bit slower than usual - but at least our Skirmishers were awake and on the ball!

The payback however was meagre. A few tussles here and there, one of which offered us a chance to demonstrate our rookies the art of cross-jumping a gate with hostiles on the other side.

Myself, I didn’t care. Maybe it was a feeling of fey, maybe something else, but it caused me to pay more attention to our comm channels than anything else. And that is how I first noticed John’s messages.

John had been late to arrive, when we were already well deep into null-sec, but natural that he was, he lost no time catching up with us.

And provided recon on the way.

[ As I’m passing through here, do you want a recon our POCOs? ]

Greygal was busy herding our fleet around, so I answered. “Our POCOs are ok, but thanks. I took a look earlier.”

John was not convinced.

[ Well… Volition Cult just hit them, and CVA. ] He paused. [ Yeaaaah, holy shit, 110 hostiles hitting our POCO. ]

My thoughts tumbled - with the majority of our fleet still being in Curse , there was no way we could respond to this attack immediately. Nor did it seem productive to distract GG right away - better to wait until she had a chance to catch up on out-of-fleet events.

John must have thought along similar ways, as he’d already moved on.

But still, I couldn’t stop wondering: What was going on? A simple diplomatic misunderstanding? Somebody going rogue? Or us simply being used as pawns in a power struggle beyond our influence?

Fisticuffs - The Second Day (Morning)

        “Never Not Overplan for POCO Defence.”
        “Never!” -- Zak III, Greygal

[ Uhm, Greygal? They are in this system. ]

I wouldn't say that that report went almost unrecognized - we were trained better than that! - but it was definitely unexpected.

Usually structure defense events come in two flavors: One, you show up in respectable numbers and get trounced by an opponent with even more respectable number. The other, you show up in respectable numbers, and your opponent doesn’t even bother.

This morning, our lot had been the latter: while we had two or three of the Dark Knights in system when we rolled up in our POCO defense fleet of sixty cruisers and logistics, they didn’t cause any trouble. One had tried to peak his head out of the station, but unfortunately for him, he had done it just when Onslaughtor performed a live-fire test of his weapons systems.

Otherwise, we had been undisturbed - some of our damage dealers even patrolled the local Sansha and Mordus Legion strongholds in between POCO repairs, just to get some entertainment out of this evening.

And now this. Just when we were all about to get out on a roam into the local neighborhoods in our impromptu fleet.

[ Who is where, exactly? ] Greygal, taking command of comms.

Coll took a breath. [ The folks who attacked our POCOs - they are here in Bekirdod, next to Berta - and they are suspect. ] And after a few seconds, an afterthought. [ I took a wrong turn. ]

I could almost see the collective thought form: *So there is where they went!*

Oblivious, our hero logistics continued.

[ There is a cyno here now - and I think they are warping off. … Yess, they are warping… to the Gamis gate. ]

Gamis - that was only two hops from here… Greygal made a snap decision.

[ Everybody - make best speed to the Bekirdod gate in Gamis! Best speed to to Bekirdod gate in Gamis! Set up around the gate and hold. Only shoot when they’re suspect! ]

As my fleet members started warping off, I was left in a pickle - this could end up in a hi-sec fight, which I was unable to participate in (I knew - I had tried!). But maybe … maybe I could swing around and maybe make sure that none of them escapes through the back way? Yes!

It would give me something to do while the rest of our fleet waited to welcome the Dark Knights to hi-sec. And back to hi-sec they came.

One at a time.

And all I could do was listen.

[ One Vexor at the Gamis gate in Bekirdot, coming through to you. Another guy… ]

[Ok, we are landing… We need tackle - preheat your tackle … One scythe is friendly - or maybe not. Ok, tackle on Scythe ]

[ Point Scythe ]

[ Kill it! ]

[ I have several Vexor Navies, several Vexor Navies, a Scythe, coming to you guys. ]

[ Keep shooting! Pick ’em off. If they’re silly enough to come through like this… ]

I tuned out - this would not be my fight. The only contribution I would able to make would be that, yes, Bekirdod was back to neutral.

Ok, there were a number of neutrals in the system - and five carriers. A picture started to emerge.

And I recognized the locals - folks from the 107th. Good folks, just don’t get on the wrong side of their weaponry. So when they started acting skittish, I didn’t mind to defuse the situation.

Archeras Umangiar > Nothing to see here, move along
Druur Monakh > Yep - the folks I was looking for are gone.
Archeras Umangiar > The Vexors?
Druur Monakh > Yup, they gave us trouble yesterday. Much fun.
Druur Monakh > Good hunting!

And with that, I left the system. The last of the Dark Knights had already lost their suspect flagging anyway, so seeing that there was nothing else left to do in hi-sec, the fleet regrouped and set out on its new purpose: roam the nearby null sec!

But fate wasn’t quite done with me.

While we were hurtling towards a fateful confrontation with Pandemic Legion, a comms request suddenly demanded my attention.

Hmm - Archeras - the 107th guy whom I have talked to earlier. I acknowledged the request.

“Oi!”

[ What did you mean by ‘gave you trouble’? ]

I hesitated - how much to tell him without giving away op-sec or strat-sec?

“The DEKN folks RI’d two of our POCOs, as 'punishment for breaking NRDS rules in Providence’. But they didn’t show up to fight us today about the RI, instead they went to fight you guys.”

I sensed laughter. [ ’Fight’… they ran like chickens! ]

“..and died on the other side of the gate.”

[ Really? You got them? ]

I had only seconds left before we would drop into our engagement with PL, so I sent him the preliminary battle report, and then concentrated at the fight at hand.

Not that it would had made any difference: within seconds, my cruiser became primary for our hostiles, and I had my hands full just saving my pod.

But as my pod sped to temporary safety, Archeras finally spoke up again.

[ I love you folks! ]

Friday, November 28, 2014

Fisticuffs - The First Day

        “Why are they attacking it?”
        “Because it’s there, and it’s not theirs.”

It was supposed to be a slow evening - several of our corp members were out for some holiday or another, the others were lounging around. Some physically here in our corp lounge, the others virtually via comms. I was busy in a private comm with an old friend of mine which I hadn’t seen in a while, but whom I still had a soft spot for. ‘Busy’ in as such that I was also trying to answer questions from our rookie pilots in between chat pauses.

Questions like: “What is a POCO, and why is it being attacked?”

“A POCO is a ‘pilot-owned customs office’ - we use them to conduct planetary manufacturing and…” - the full question finally registered with me - “What do you mean with ‘attacked’?”

“Here, I got this in my mail.” Monique showed me her comm pad.

I looked at it - indeed: a structure notification from CONCORD: one of our POCOs was at 76% shield.

“I didn’t know that we had POCOs there.”, commented Monique.

“Neither did I - though I probably should have remembered.” I replied absentmindedly. The name of the attacking alliance didn’t ring a name - Dark Knights of Eden? - and right now we didn’t really have many of our fire breathers in vicinity.

“I’ll take a look.” Kitten dropped her book onto the floor and got up. “You’ll have eyes in five minutes.”

“Thanks!”

With a sigh, I apologized to my friend, and after the goodbyes I checked my hangar. Hmm, I had my Anomaly Stabber ready, but would it be able to handle a structure-bashing fleet? I’d have to improvise, possibly. Quietly I got up and went to board my ship.

A few minutes passed, and another notification came in: the shields were now at 56%.

[ 30 minutes to do 25% damage. They are hitting it with only a few ships - 1300 dps worth. ] commented a voice on Corp comms - somebody I didn’t immediately recognize.

[ Indeed. ] spoke up Kitten. [ Three Vexor Navies, and a Thorax - and they are using… scout and sentry drones. ]

I frowned - my Stabber couldn't handle that. I threw out a few ideas on comms - destroyers, flybys, etc - but I wasn’t optimistic. Even if we could muster the people and ships, we wouldn’t have had the training. I had a Tornado nearby, but without support, it would be dead within seconds as well. Besides, it was in Sasiekko, several hops through hi-sec from here. But maybe… I wavered, and turned my Stabber back to the station, to switch it to somewhat faster. Having my Tornado nearby would be a good thing anyway, and right now there wasn’t much else to do.

It was a depressing journey - Coll took a trip through the system and reported eight hostiles total, and every thirty minutes we got a new notification from CONCORD: the shields dropped to 42%, then 45%.

“Da frack?!”

[ Ok, there are now 14 of them in the system, and they have stepped up their game. ], reported Kitten. [ We are looking at more cruisers with Logi support, and two torpedo bombers as well. ]

I had just docked up back in my home station in my Tornado when the final notification came in: the POCO was now in re-inforced mode.

[ I feel abused by how long that took. ] piped up the unknown voice again. [ Can you please ask them to stop embarrassing themselves? ]

[ Maybe. ] answered Kitten. [ They are… yep, warping to our other POCO. Stand by.

[ Same setup - cruisers in one group, logi in the other - and the two bombers huddling together. ]

I perked up. “The two bombers - can you give me a fly-by warp-in and warp-out? Just to do some token damage?”

[ Hmm… ] she sounded doubtful. [ I’ll try - but with their increased damage projection, I may not be able to finish it in time. ]

“Good enough.”

Minutes passed in silence, while I boarded my Stabber again and found my way to the system next to our POCOs.

[ Ok, I have the warp-out, and … oh, interesting. Their leader convoed me - let’s see what he has to say. ]

I knew better than to ask unnecessary questions now. She’d continue to work on the warp-ins while trying to string their fleet leader along.

[ Oh-kay,… apparently this is a punishment expedition, because of us shooting neutrals in Providence. ]

If it hadn’t been for the amniotic fluid in my pod, I would have groaned.

“Geez, we were red before we even moved here - so technically we followed NRDS to the letter!”

[ …and apparently we shot fleet members? ]

“What?!”

I could imagine her mental shrug: [ That’s what he says - it was apparently investigated by the Magistrate for Proviblock. ] She chuckled. [ And I quote: ‘whoever that is’ ].

[ Hey! ] the unknown voice interjected. [ Ask them if they would like some help. It’s taking too long. ]

“And we hate getting spammed by Structure Notifications.” I added.

Kitten was quiet for a few minutes, then spoke up again. [ No reaction, except for the suggestion to turn off the notifications. I told him no, we might miss something important if we did that. ] She paused, then cursed. [ Crap! I was too slow! They were done just when I got to the warp-in position. ]

“You’re getting old, Kitten!”

[ So are you. ] she replied playfully, hiding her own disappointment. [ It has been a while. ]

“No worries, same here. Come back if they’re leaving.”

[ Roger that. ]

[ So, now, what is this about our POCOs? ] A new voice - Greygal! She must have joined just in time to hear the tail end.

And so we filled her in, including a full recording of the chat Kitten had had with our opponents.

[ Ok. ] She finally said. [ I rather not have a war right now since we have so many rookies, but hey, no better way to learn how to deal with a war. I am thinking: defense fleet. ]

“And play it by ear, be more flexible than they are.” I couldn’t resist adding, smartass I could be.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

After Action Reports

“Good gods.”

I stumbled over to the wet bar in my quarters and drew myself a large glass of water, before collapsing on a nearby comfy couch. Already today’s roams were starting to blur together, aiming to join the muddled memories of the other roams this month.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a vague movement, heard a barely audible meow coming from the next room, but I was too tired to rise to the bait, tempting as it was. When the first weeks after The Conference had been rather slow, the previous weeks had dramatically picked up in pace.

It probably started with Redemption Road’s anniversary roam, where the doctrine was “anything armor goes”. And unsurprisingly we had ended up with an amazing kitchen-sink fleet of ships, including two carriers. Two? Three? It was already getting fuzzy. But I’d never forget the recon report “I have a Wyvern 12km off the gate. I think he’s going to crash the gate.” Unfortunately for us, there were more capitals on the other side of the gate. Not that it mattered - we had long lost our own capitals at that point.


A “Newbro roam”, as our intrepid leader called it, aimed at freshly licensed capsuleers. We even had two actual newbros with us on that roam, and not only did they hold up quite well, their enthusiasm was infectious.

A regular Redemption Road roam, which ended into the most epic extraction in my memory: we spent almost more time escorting the few remaining members of our fleet (all logistics, if my memory lie to me again) out of null-sec into the warm embrace of hi-sec, than on the roam itself.

A sight-seeing tour, which ended up me being jumped by a Rupture when I wasn’t paying attention. Ironically, the Rupture had been piloted by the same pilot who had pod-killed me just a few days before.

Another roam which had ended in a welp, and when on our way back home we attacked a local pirate with a fleet consisting mostly of pods and rookie ships, we got accused of “blobbing”.

Today’s Agony public roam. After all these years, it was good to see them trying to be that Agony again with whom I first dipped my toes into combat flying. Fleet was a bit rough around the edges at the beginning, partly due to the much higher than expected attendance, but eventually the FC handled the fleet with calm confidence. And after that roam…

I took another swallow of my water.

We had taken a short break to replenish our nutrients, when our intrepid leader came up with another idea: “Let’s go to the nearby rookie training system, and see if we can some of them to join us for some real flying.” Due to my current disagreements with CONCORD, I couldn’t be with the recruitment, but I followed their conversation over comms. And my heart sank when I heard no reply to their offers.

But then one of the rookies took a chance, and signed up. And another one.

And that’s all we needed - a fleet was quickly formed, and our intrepid leader took the rookies into a whirlwind tour of low- and null-sec, eventually ending up in RF-GGF and facing a gang from the Center of Advanced Studies. They had downshipped in sight of the purpose of this particular roam, but were not willing to hold any punches - not that we wanted them to. A short, but bloody fight erupted, and our rookies got to taste their first blood.

CAS graciously offered free passage for our survivors, but unfortunately there was also a FIGL cruiser gang roaming the area, and quickly the roam turned into another of our epic extractions.

The fleet split, John Hexis field-promoted from skirmisher to FC, in order to get one of our rookies out safely; myself heading towards John to scout, losing another Talwar to a gate camp; Greygal shepherding her half of the fleet out on a different route; orders on comms criss-crossing.

But we made it out, with the rookies all excited - less than a week on their licenses, and they had already experienced actual null-sec!

And even though we disbanded the fleet after docking, one of the rookies accepted the invitation to join us as we headed for the nearest watering hole on Stacmon V station, and hung out for hours with us.

I emptied my glass, my eyes falling shut.

Op success, as they say.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Insomnia

“Fsck it!”

With a resolute motion, I threw back the blanket, and leveled myself off my bed. Sleep simply didn’t come, and from experience I knew that I needed to burn off whatever was keeping my mind occupied.

However, while slipping into my clothes, I had to wonder what exactly to do. The last days I had been mostly been occupied with catching up on my ISK-generating operations, and playing with kittens. But now I was caught up, and the kittens were asleep, so … what now?

…hmm, undock, maybe?

I did have this Stabber humming in my hanger - a rather vanilla fit, except for one modification to make it more suitable for the sparsely populated low-sec system I tended to operate in. Not the sturdiest or most capable of the Minmatar cruisers, but agile and amazingly-looking. Though… after months of flying Frigates, Cruisers were still a strange beast for me.

And as of where to go… a look at the map showed me only little activity in the nearby systems. But there was some - enough to warrant a look. At worst, I’d fly a 40-system roundtrip, and I’d be able to sleep afterwards.

I straightened up: it wasn’t the best of plans, but at least it was a plan.

----------

The drone of my ship’s warp engines increased, a warp tunnel formed, and my Stabber was hurled through the void of sub-space to the next gate. As expected, my tour of the usual low-sec systems had brought up nothing. In one system, one POCO would be coming out of re-inforced 16 hours later - I had no personal beef with either involved party, but an opportunity to interfere as dishonorable 3rd-party is not to be sneezed upon. But otherwise the space was empty.

… as was Sendaya, my destination for the evening. Several people in system, but - as a quick dock confirmed - all docked up.

Damn! That meant that I either would have to go back home now, or I did what I usually avoided to do: go into null-sec.

Null-sec is scary: bubbles, gangs, bombers - and even if you survived, there’d be no security status changes to record your efforts.

I hesitated … and then instructed my ship to head towards the Doril gate. Something my subconscious kept saying about beggars and choosers.

Doril was… empty.

I let out a breath of amniotic fluid I didn’t realize I had held. Jumping in null-sec is usually one of the critical parts of a journey, and all the times before it had happened to me, it was not before a flighty scout had given the all-clear. Yet here I was all by myself in a cruiser: no scout, no intel - just the seat of my panties. Well, might as well press my luck and head towards Catch.

…I didn’t quite make it.

Jumping into Utopia, the scanner presented me with a Sabre at the gate, and an Ares at a tactical which may or may not have been associated.

Sabre… that’s a HIC, right? Or just a ‘dictor? … doesn’t matter - if it can put up bubbles, it’s bad news.

        Druur Monakh> That’s not looking good.

A sane pilot probably would have tried to crash the gate, or done something amazingly smart, but I was sleep deprived. So I just punched it.

Breaking gate cloak, I kicked my ship to establish an optimal orbit around that Sabre, and began the targeting sequence for my weapons. When I’d go down, I’d go down fighting!

The Sabre targeted me back, predictably bubbled the area, and started shooting me with his auto cannons.

Three Stealth Bombers decloaked. And that made the difference.

They made me re-assess the situation, break the tunnel-vision I had fallen into, and made me realize that
I could try to make a run for it. I had long-range weaponry to keep the Sabre occupied - and those bombs, with those I’d just have to take my chances.

I turned, and I ran, for the nearest bubble border. I was tempted to pulse my MWD, but a bomb appeared on my overview, and drilled instinct took over and made me forget about my MWD. Target painters were playing over my hull, the bomb exploded, and took out half of my shields.

But I was clear of the bubble now, and I had a tactical bookmark near my current alignment. I punched the warp drive.

The second bomb exploded harmlessly some 300km behind my back.

I had actually escaped.

The daily downtime of the fluid router beacons was near, so while I headed to a safe spot, my opponents left the system. And it wasn’t until I examined the gun footage during the communications blackout, that I realized that I had killed that Sniggerdly Sabre.

I slept well that night.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Singalong

        “You are not expected to understand this.” -- (In)Famous comment in the v6 UNIX kernel source.

“Standing in line to see the show tonight / And there's a light on / Heavy glow.”

My voice raised over the sizzling - almost, but not really, keeping in tune with the singer’s voice blaring from my quarter’s audio system. But I didn’t care - after spending weeks in space with nothing but intravenously fed nutritients, or even worse: a hasty snack-and-drink in a random station, it felt good to be at home again and to cook something real.

But while dancing lightly on the balls of my feet, taking sips of an Arcturian Mega-Ale, and stirring super-heated vegetables, I had the distinct feeling that I wasn’t alone here. Not in the sense that there was an assassin waiting for me in the shadows, but more that of the presence of a feral kitten too shy to emerge from its hiding place.

…hmm. Kitten…

I faltered for a moment, memories of last night flashing through my mind, then I caught up with the chorus again. While also not-really-surreptuously pushing a paper bag of goodies to the far end of the table.

“Song bird. Main line. Cash back. Hard top.”, I crooned, but I couldn’t really pay attention anymore, as it all came to a boil. Literally. For a minute or two I was moving frantically to turn off the burners just in the right moment before burning, and not for the first time I wished somebody would implement a kitchen-pod - managing a solo-ambush was easy in comparison!

Slowly, the sounds reverbing through my quarters registered with me again, and I noticed that the paper bag on my table now contained fewer pastries than it did before.

Turning to hide my smile from my unseen guest, I spooned my dinner onto a plate, and joined in onto the final chorus.

“By the way I tried to say she’d be there / Waiting for.”

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Vision

One second.

In everyday life, you wouldn’t even think about a measly second. What would it matter if you got your drink one second later?

In space, it’s different.

In space, the second - or even half-second - between broadcasting a target, and shooting the target can be essential.

Essential to your own survival, that is.

And yet that’s what I had done - broadcasting target designations even when those targets encroached my own ship. And later, pod.

I slumped back against the cushions in my quarters, my hand lazily resting a glass on a table. Some robot would refill it, eventually.

This hadn’t been what I had signed up for, that many years ago. I had had images of being hero tackle in my mind, of being the bold pilot executing the kill shot on Titan. Not images of managing fleet composition, nor of handling the continual broadcasting.

But yet the FCs appeared to have appreciated my efforts.

The glass in my hand felt heavier now - thanks to the automated servitors in my quarters - and I raised it to my lips. For a moment I was tempted to open my eyes, to track the trajectory of the glass, but I already knew that this clone’s vision in her right eye had diminished. No need to rub it in yet again. And so what? What if I could no longer be the pilot I set out to be?

One second.

And many more seconds after that.

It wasn’t about how long they lasted, or how many there would be.

It was about making them count.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Long Distance Relationship

”Hey there!“

”Yes, of course it’s me - your sunshine from the other end of New Eden!“

”I know, I know, it’s been a while. Which is why I called today - I missed you.“

”Yep, I’m growing it out again. It...“

”Oh, really?“ chuckles ”You’re right - I didn’t even think of that when I chose the cut. My subconscious strikes again!“

”Maayybe - I can always dial it back to something more subtle. But I needed a change, so I went with it.“

”Oh, by the way, I got new ink as well - want to see?“

”That’s a longer story - I’ll tell you next time we get together.“

”Ok, ok, the nutshell version: remember when we last met? Couple days later acquaintances from my past contacted me, asking me to consult for two weeks with a planetside project. Security, hush-hush, that kind of thing. A break from losing ships sounded tempting, so I agreed. Well… two weeks became eight, and it ended rather badly; but somehow I had become accepted into their team of baseliners, and they insisted that I get it.“

”Thanks. I like it, too.“

”Well, where to begin…. you remember the Alliance Tournament?“

”Yes, that one, where I again almost didn’t get to fly, if it hadn’t been for the double elimination format.“

”Thanks, but really - I was just a grunt in that effort, due to various reasons. I’m glad that GG even let me fly in the first place…“

”…you’d think, and you wouldn’t be wrong either. But once the alliance got going, everybody had this energy. Like you have in a new relationship - active, googly eyed, and all that. So we deployed to Tasti - to give near-FW low-sec a try, bond, and all that.“

”Yes, for a while it really worked. Heck, even Kitten came back! …though she made it clear that she was there just for the sec tags.“

”… no, we’re good, but she’s seeing somebody else now. ...aanyway, while for a very short time we had control of the system, enthusiasm faded, mismatched expectations surfaced, and eventually people were doing stuff on their own again. You know how it is - people drop off, until you have a minimal core of pilots left.

“Which is good in one way, since you know who you can rely on; but also bad, in that you are at a point where you don’t have enough folks to get anything done.”

“Yeah, lessons learned, and all that. So, now we’re taking the lessons from Tasti, redeploy to a new area, and are going to be more discretionary in hiring new folks, and I intend to be more involved with any nublets.”

“I know - knock on wood, and all that. But enough of me - how’s it for you?”

“Again? Sorry.”

“They did? Jeesh, they are really hardline on war losses now, are they?! I mean, I can understand the rationale, but still…”

“Right, right, I left. But I still can have my jaded opinion, yes?”

“Oh.”

“Ouch. Really? Ever since the market liberalization act? But I thought you did so well there, with your Prospect effort?”

“I… I really don’t know what to say there. But if your CEO is really AWOL … coup d’etat?”

“Yeah, yeah, I wouldn’t either. Been there, done that.”

“Tell you what, I’ll keep some assets in your area. I was thinking of consolidating, now that I live elsewhere, but in your case…”

“No worries, you helped me enough already. I’m glad about every opportunity to pay some of it back. But - not to change subject or anything - how’s it going with the boy?”

“Glad to hear - that makes at least one of us.”

“Oh - you think it’s going to work out?”


“Well, I wish you the best of luck then.”

“No, nothing here. There was … but never mind. Less said, the better. Instead I've been flying more again.”

"I know, it's hard to believe!"

"Hit and miss - though mostly miss. But practice makes the mistress, right?"

"Hmm mhmm."

"'k - but it was good talking to you again."

“I love you, too.”

“Bye.”

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Change of Plans

        “Life is a hotel and you ain't about to check out yet
         Call for back up, it’s time to regroup and reload”
         -- Chaundon & Curtiss King - Be All You Can’t Be

The chatter and background music of the bar was flowing over me like a warm blanket, but I paid it no heed. Occasionally taking a sip from my drink - a very nice red from the wine yards of Jufvitte - I focused on the book in front of me. In an age of neural links and instant information updates, reading an actual physical book gave me a very tactile enjoyment.

Or at least, in general it did. That night however I had long lost track of the book’s plot. I was reading the words, turning the pages, but I wasn’t really paying attention to them. Instead, my mind replayed the conversation I had with my former corp mates just before.

My plan had been to follow my former corpies into their null-sec corporation and alliance, to dip my toes into waters unfamiliar to me. But my just flourished spark of enthusiasm had received a significant damper upon learning that my former corpies were already planning their withdrawal and move into a new corporation. Which not just meant that I had lost a reference to sweeten my application, but the reasons for their withdrawal were significant enough to cast serious doubts over the probability of me lasting more than a week in that environment.

I suppressed a sigh, and turned another page. Finding a new place to call home was turning out to be more difficult than expected.

So self-absorbed I was, that it took a discrete cough to alert me to the presence of two women standing at my table, mustering me with intent. One I had met before - Miss Phage, who had hired me the previous year for some shock and fear; the other one so far I had had only had comms contact with - Greygal, captain of the NEO-II team I had lent my feeble skills to.

Closing my book, I gestured both of them to sit, and we exchanged the usual pleasantries while a waiter brought them their drinks.

“So - how can I help you ladies?” I asked finally. Not the smoothest change of topics in the recorded history of conversations, but I wasn’t really in the mood for smooth anyway.

“Actually, we have a proposal for you.” replied Miss Phage. “A chance to chip in for a greater cause - without all the null-sec nonsense.”

“I liked what you did for our NEO team”, continued Greygal, “even if in the end you didn’t get to fly. I’d like to have to you on our Alliance Tournament team.”

“But…”, I rubbed my eyes, “to be in the AT, you need to be in an alliance, and I am not.”

Both women smiled enigmatically, and then realization dawned upon me.

“Oooh….”

Greygal leaned forward. “One question though: You’re in deep null-sec, of your original fleet only a couple of frigates have survived, but you have a clear run back to hi-sec, when suddenly one of your pilots announces that he could get point on a lone battleship. When he asks if he should, what is your reply?”

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Six Fights and an Undead Rose

        "Glad I was my own boss, even if my boss was an idiot sometimes." -- Rachel Morgan

I waited until the heavy door to my quarters fell shut behind me, then I boxed the wall right next to me.

“Crap!”

One of the wall panels seemed to mock me, so I did a half-turn and gave it a side way kick, for good measure.

“My my, somebody’s in a good mood tonight!”, came a half-mocking greeting from the main room.

I froze momentarily, then I recognized Eta’s voice. This woman always showed up in the most surprising moments!

Entering my main living room, I headed straight to my bar and poured myself an Arcturian Mega-Vodka, to chase away the taste of pod goo and disappointment. The strong liquid settled in my stomach and warm tendrils started to spread throughout my body, so I poured myself a second one and turned towards Eta.

“Sorry, Sis, but it had been that kind of week.” Managing a smile, I continued, “It’s good to see you.”

“Good to see you too.”, she replied, having made herself comfortable on my couch, a soft drink on the floor next to her. “Care to tell me what spiked your anger this time?”

I took a sip, and sighed. “Might as well.” I paused, collecting my thoughts. “It seems that I simply am unable to properly fit a ship; much less fly it properly.” I subvocalized a few commands, and the view screen behind started replaying my latest gun camera footage. “Behold, Exhibit A, and Exhibit B.”

She studied the footage for a while before speaking up. “I’m not quite sure what I’m looking at - except the Cap Recharger?”

I rubbed my eyes wearily. “That was a genuine mistake. But don’t you see?” I held up a finger. “One, the Incursus is bonused for armor repair, but I haven’t taken full advantage of it. And second,” I held up two fingers, “I fought the same guy twice in a row with virtually the same fit. Of course I lost.” I took another sip, savoring the flavor before swallowing. “I lost badly enough that Jamie sent me his fit for educational purposes.”

“And, did you use it?”


“Not yet - was out of Incursus hulls at that point. So I thought: might take a page from the play book of my previous opponents and head out in a kiting drone Tristan.” The picture on the view screen changed once more. “Exhibit C. I got trounced by a brawling Comet, who happily informed me that once more I had been doing everything wrong.”

With a last subvocalized command, the view screen clicked off, and I slumped onto the couch next to Eta. “I don’t know Sis - I seem to have a blind spot when it comes to fitting and flying ships. Which is quite embarrassing seeing that I’ve been flying for over six years.” I took a deep breath. “That, or I no longer care enough anymore.”

“Uhm…”. Eta was clearly uncomfortable - she knew that I wouldn’t respond to platitudes, yet she needed to say something. “Have I told you what I’ve been up to recently?”

I took a sip, the sharp flavor cutting through my funk. “No, you haven’t.” I looked at her. “What have you been doing?”

“Remember the Hauler Challenge I did some weeks ago?” She waited for me to nod, then continued. “Well, the organizers have extended the deadline, apparently because not enough pilots were manly enough to take it - their words, not mine.” She giggled. “So I thought, what the heck, and fitted up a Battle Badger.”

She took a swallow from her soft drink. “It is amazing how long you can fly around low-sec in a hauler unchallenged if you look suspicious enough! It took over an hour, but finally at one gate, a Tornado engaged me.” She grinned. “He found my shield boosters an unwelcome surprise, and when the gate guns started laying into him, he beat a hasty retreat.”

I chuckled. “I’d love to have seen that - a Tornado running from an Industrial!”

“You bet! And a few minutes later, a Vengeance engaged me, again at a gate. He didn’t run.” Eta’s smile reminded me of a cat who had just eaten her owner’s favorite canary. “He was damaged from a previous fight, but probably figured that he could off me before the gate guns got him. He didn’t expect me to not just have shield boosters, but also a point and a rapid light missile launcher.” I held up my glass in a toast, and she reciprocated with hers. “I don’t know if this would count as solo-kill, because of gate guns, but - yeah.”

“And, did you complete the Hauler Challenge itself?”, I asked, carried along by her good mood.

“Yup. I was scooping drones left over from a gate fight, when suddenly a Legion and Typhoon took an unhealthy interest into me. Op Success!” Her eyes narrowed. “Though I’m afraid it still doesn’t count as particularly manly piloting.

”Which reminds me…“ she gestured towards the table in front of us. ”What’s with that flower?“

My eyes fell on the rose, now shriveled and dried, a broken-off leaf lying before the decorative bottle I had put the flower into, and my mood dampened.

”Nothing.“ I replied quietly. ”It didn’t work out.“

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Comfort Zones

        "I'm scared about a lot of things that I do. [But] I want this more than I am scared." -- Rachel Morgan

*paw-thunk*

The sound of the ball bouncing off the wall echoed through the empty corp offices, my steps mute on the plush carpet of this Gallente facility.

*paw-thunk*

The corp had started (restarted?) out enthusiastic enough, two old members recruiting new employees for fantastic adventures in Gallente factional warfare, with a number of hi-sec war decs thrown in for good measure. They even managed to convince crotchety old me to sign up, after nearly two years as solo operator, both voluntary and involuntary.

*paw-thunk*

But it wasn’t to be - our cycles didn’t overlap enough to gel, to work together, mine included. Especially mine.

*paw-thunk*

The founders tried to keep it going, but after a month sensibly pulled the plug, themselves moving into a null-sec corporation.

*paw-thunk* *crash*

I almost didn’t catch the ball, it having smashed a forgotten mug off a table on its rebound.

Ironically, the weekend after The Announcement, we got into a marvelous fight with some of our hi-sec war targets, like a last hurrah

*paw-thunk*

I lost a number of smaller hulls in this fight, while trying to learn how much little help I could be in a hi-sec situation. At least that would be the official explanation; in reality, I was just excited to have at least one brawl at the side of my soon-no-longer corp mates. And hey, I helped killing a Thorax! In hi-sec!

*paw-thunk*

But that had been almost a week ago. Now I was an Amarrian pilot staged in a Gallente station, in an empty corp which had ceased active involvement, disliked by Gallente and the fuzz alike. Just when I had realized what I was looking for in a new home.

*paw-thunk*

I knew that the founders would put in a good word with their new corp if any of us desired to follow them, but I hesitated. Null-sec… that meant large fleets, strat-ops, strict doctrines, bubbles, no talking in local, the temptation of hiding your personal incompetence in the mass effort. All the things which I couldn’t get away with in lo-sec. I loved lo-sec.

In null-sec, I’d be totally out of my comfort zone.

*paw-thunk*

I caught the ball and stopped my steps, pondering.

Comfort zones - isn’t that what it all came down to? What I had tried to get away from ever since the Last Stand faded away, and I had left the Frequent Flyers?

I threw the ball again.

*paw-thunk*

Realization dawned that I had actually made my decision days ago, that I had needed just one more push to convince my conscious self. After all, what could the worst case be? Being turned down?

But I wouldn’t apply right away - a bit more research was in order, if only to be able to state clearly what I could bring to the corp. And in the meantime…

With an evil grin, I threw the ball with all the force I could muster.

*THOMP* *donk* *crash*

I was an Amarrian, staged in a Gallente hi-sec station right next to the factional warfare zone, and by now I was used to getting shot at by all kinds of officials anyway. And I was tired of moving my inventory.

Time to shoot back again.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Fly Reckless

        "Always be stupid for the right reasons." -- Roc Wieler, Rule #553

The evening had shaped up to be better than expected. While the original roam with my new corp had fallen through because of activity cycles (again), I had found an pleasing alternative: lounged back in a comfortable chair, bare feet propped up on a nearby desk, blaster pistol within gripping distance of my right, a steady supply of Jufvitte’s finest wine to my left. And Eta on comms.

She was out on a combat roam with her alliance, “to regain brownie points”, as she had put it, but I had a feeling that there was more to it. This interest in shooting ships was unusual for her - did I maybe rub off on her? But as it was, it made for entertaining comms, her relaying commentary as she navigated through space, occasionally getting lost.

Right then, she had dropped out of warp in low-sec Domain to gleefully engage a Caracal with her HAM-Cyclone, along with four or so buddies from her alliance. Smart industrialist she was, she had delayed her aggression until after their target had aggressed himself - a killright on herself being the last thing she could afford. Nicely FC’ed and everything.

Of course my blissful relaxation didn’t last: a sharp chirp from my comm pad demanded my attention just as I reached for my glass.

        [ All active pilots, if you’re still willing to go on a black-ops roam: pipe up. ]

Hmm…, there was at least one empty bottle rolling on the floor here, but on the other hand - I had hardly undocked for earnest in weeks, sadly never with my corp, and I was going station crazy. And didn’t I have a w-space fit Pilgrim on standby for a situation like this?

        [ Druur is available], I piped up while putting on my boots, only to follow it with an apology on my sister’s comm: “Sorry Sis, I have to drop; tell me tomorrow how it ended.”

        [ You’re good - I was thinking about extracting myself anyway. Happy hunting! ]

Smiling, I carefully made my way out of my quarters. I did remember doing a black-ops drop before - how hard could it be to do it again?

-----------

I chuckled as my Pilgrim carefully moved within bridging distance of the Panther Black-Ops battleship, remembering my naiveté just a couple of hours before. The basic principles I had still down, but little details like the 2500m maximum effective range of the covert jump bridge had slipped my mind. Oh well - embarrassment would help me not to forget it again.

The bridge fired and deposited me in Onne where the rest of the gang was indulgently waiting, and we warped to the gate where our scout had engaged a target. But the joke was on us: just as we landed, friends of our target jumped in, and it was only with luck that we managed extract ourselves without any losses. But now we were far from home in enemy territory - finding new targets without becoming targets ourselves might be tricky.

We didn’t get to leave Onne.

About an hour later, I spotted a lonely Myrmidon sitting at one of the gates. I snuck up to him under cloak, called in the cavalry, and FC Darius called for a bounce-trap: uncloak staggered, aggress, warp off to a bounce, and warp back in. This would get the gate-guns off our backs, and yet leave enough continued presence that he maybe forgot to jump out.

        [ Ok, on my mark. 3… 2… 1… Mark. Druur, uncloak. ]

My Pilgrim shimmered into existence, and my targeting systems started breaking their way through the remaining interference. Lock was established, and my 425-mils began their deadly cadence. My shield failed, and I activated my hardeners and armor repairer to keep me alive long enough to bounce out.

Around me, my gang mates materialized, the last one appearing just when my warp drive caught. Tense seconds passed as my ship sped to its bounce point, the unspoken hope on comms that our target would still be there when we came back.

He was. i settled into an orbit at optimal distance, disabled the safety protocols on my auto cannons and engaged. Habitually I also threw a sensor-dampener on him, and activated my hardeners. Around me, the weapons of my gang mates begun their work as well.

The Myrmidon pilot was good - he kept his calm, taking full advantage of the repair-abilities of his battlecruiser: we brought him down to half armor, he repaired it fully in the next cycle. Clenching my jaws, I launched a flight of Valkyrie IIs, chancing that even after tank his armor’s explosive resistance might still be the weak point. More drones swarmed out, and we finally saw some headway: our target still repped up, but bit by bit we out-damaged him. All the while, the Myrmidon hadn’t fired a single shot yet.

Then, a Miasmos hauler jumped in. Poor guy was probably stunned - he sat there for a number of precious seconds in the middle of the firefight. But while we perfunctorily locked him, our attention was still on the Myrmidon: we had to get his ancillary repairer to run dry of charges, so that the Myrmidon would either have to engage or jump out.

The Miasmos warped out to a belt, and the FC made the split decision to chase after the hauler… and I hesitated. I didn’t come out here to pop a hauler, who’d probably already be dead by the time I caught up - I wanted this Myrmidon!

Maybe I’m not that much of the team player that I used to be.

The Myrmidon pilot was on the ball: when the rest of the gang left to chase the Miasmos, he broke his passive stance and aggressed me. Quickly he closed the distance, my warp drive fell silent, a webbing field distorted the space around me, and heavy blasters started hammering at my ship. It was less than a minute that the gang returned from their brief excursion, and with their fire power to back me up I tried to pull range, but the Myrmidon's energy neutralizer began its work and I quickly had no cap left to even run my repairer.


I should have been devastated over losing such an expensive vessel, especially since I was now living on limited funds - but I was elated when my pod sped away to safety, and that wasn’t just the stimulants speaking. A nail-biting battle, and my Pilgrim had held up better than I had hoped for - there were worse ways to lose a fight.

As I directed my pod towards the nearest trade hub, its systems on my command pumping slightly increased doses of euphorants into my bloodstream, I started browsing the market, to put together at least a stealth bomber. But I needn’t have bothered - by the time I got all parts together, the gang was winding down.

But Fate wasn’t done with me yet - a friendly corporation was just starting a public gang, people I had always wanted to fly with. But Fate’s smile was as cruel as it was sweet, as I would have to death-clone to the staging system in order to make it on time.

As I undocked my pod and with gritted teeth initiated the self-destruct, a small voice in the back of my increasingly cob-webbed mind whispered to me that the next day I’d rue this night. All the things I’d say, all the losses I’d incur, all the bad decisions I’d make. But I quickly shushed that small voice - all of this would be the next day.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

YC 116

        “Es ist unser Bestreben, Zu seien wer wir sind
        Wir wollen mehr erleben, Zu schnell die Zeit verrennt.”
         -- Frontal, “wir sind wir”

It was with hesitation that I clicked off the hot water in the shower - it wasn’t very often that I got greet a new day with the luxury of nice hot shower. Usually it was a matter of getting up in a hurry, swallowing a pain killer followed by a measure or two of mega-coffee, and off I went. But not today - today, I had time. Sort of - there was a fleet waiting. And the smell of coffee coming from the kitchen. Reluctantly, I stepped out of the shower stall, grabbed a towel, and started searching for my clothes.

My nose hadn’t deceived me: Eta had probably woken up long before me and not just made coffee, but probably drank most of it as well. But maybe I could snatch the last cup while she was busy on her terminal, seemingly fitting - I squinted my eyes - a Sigil? With a mental shrug, I delegated that particular question to the back of my mind, and concentrated on my primary objective.

Coffee… Cup… Bliss!

“Look who’s back, being all undead!”, greeted me a happy Eta. “How are you feeling?”

I let the coffee settle in my stomach and send out its soothing tendrils before I answered.

“I’m good.”, I replied, cradling the cup. “Why shouldn’t I be?”

“Well, you did come home rather late last night.”, she pointed out, then paused. “Though you had traces of clone vat goo on you, so physically you can’t be hung-over.”

I smiled into my cup - it was one of the more confusing aspects of being a capsuleer. Your body might be fresh and clean, but your mind remembered the abuse you put your previous incarnation through. This sometimes made for … interesting … effects.

“No, I’m good. Really.” I confirmed, turning to face her. “Not even the usual headache.”

“Good… good.” She said the words, but her heart wasn’t into it.

“What?”

“Well…,” she began, then hesitated. “I thought that you wanted to spend the night… well…”

“With Mica?” I took a swallow of the coffee, knowing what she was hesitant to ask. But heck, she was was concerned about me, so might as well tell her. Even if it killed my good mood.

“Turns out that no longer being on shooting terms is not the panacea it is made out to be.” I studied my cup for few seconds, before returning my attention to her. “But we did have a good night: Good food. Drinks. Conversation.” I cursorily glanced down at myself. “Apparently even shopping. And later on we went out and shot fireworks at each other.” My eyes lost focus, reliving the night. “And then we went to see how far two intoxicated pilots could get into non-sovereign null-sec.” I giggled quietly when the memory came back. “The answer is: not very far. We died to a gate camp right away.”

A few seconds passed, then Eta cleared her throat. “And?”

“And?” I emptied the cup, and turned back towards the counter to refill it. “I woke up here in Sendaya, and she woke up wherever she had her clone.” Briefly my stomach clenched, and I busied myself with fiddling with the coffee can until I could face Eta again with a neutral face. “You know, having your clone contracts in different stations is a great way to avoid having to say awkward good-byes - I have no idea where she is now.” I shrugged. “It’s probably for the best.

She moved to respond, but I was faster. “But enough of that - what about you?” I asked with a bit of forced cheer, gesturing with my cup. “Why did you ask to crash at my place here in the first place? And are now fitting up this roly-poly excuse for a hauler?”

Her eyes narrowed, but reluctantly went along with the change of topic. “You remember that I mentioned how I was following GalNet during my hauls?”, she asked. I nodded and she continued. “Well, recently I came about one particular show which one night challenged industrialists to fit out a hauler, and take it into glorious battle.” She grinned at me. “They call it the ‘Fight Reckless’ challenge. And I thought - why not? So I came up with this.”

She turned her terminal towards me, and I stepped over to take a look, suddenly intrigued.

“Hmm, ok, Sigil, the tanky hauler.” I pondered at the fit on the display. “But an armor repairer instead of an armor buffer?”

“Power grid, or lack thereof.” She grimaced. “The way I see this, I’ll be the silly industrialist who jumps blindly into lo-sec, only to get engaged by a lone pirate or two at the gate. They aggress me, but suddenly - long point! They can’t leave! My armor repairer, fueled by my cap booster, keeps me alive while the gate guns rip them to shreds.”

“Ok.” In my mind, she didn’t have the chance of a deuterium pellet in a fusion reactor, but that probably was the point of this challenge. And in all truth, I wouldn’t have been able to come up with a better fit on the spot, so instead I let my eye get caught by her intended cargo.

“Tobacco? And Marines?”

“Well…”, she blushed slightly, “The original challenge asked for spirits and exotic dancers - but I couldn’t find spirits, and you know what I think about the dancers.” A nonchalant shrug. “But I found tobacco, which will keep the marines entertained; and the marines” - she winked at me - “will give me something nice to look at while I approach certain doom.”

I chuckled and ruffled her hair. “That’s my sister!”