Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Behind Hostile Lines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 17, 2015

Coffee, Black, And Keep It Coming

        "Hello world. You're looking painfully bright and a bit fuzzy today." -- @Gitte, FF 2015

The cup of coffee was a welcome warmth in my hands, the beverage doing its best to clear up the hungover haze in my mind. The events of previous night had been.... interesting, and involved a few drinks more than I cared to remember.

Taking a sip from my coffee, I rested my elbows onto the little table and looked through the window out onto the promenade. The din of the breakfast diner faded into the background as I tried to sort my thoughts.

It had been a curious three weeks which had led me here, ever since the recent capsuleer conference. In the previous years, I had enjoyed these conferences - mingling and partying with fellow pilots on neutral grounds, getting direct access to officials from organizations like the DED - but this year... even though there had been mingling, I had more vivid memories from my little field trip into the icy wastes of northern Yulai III than of the conference itself. I used to return from these conferences re-energized, eager to haunt the space lanes, but not so much this year.

Part of the reason, I mused, was that it’s hard to be enthusiastic when one's combat record shows hardly anything but losses. Granted, there had been high points, like chasing off a Navy Vexor after killing most of its drones, or the fight against a Sabre which against all odds my Vengeance survived in deep structure - but most of the time potential targets either warped off at first sight, or called in their friends to outnumber or outgun me. I kept undocking with a brave face, but inside I wound up ever tighter. Getting drunk with other pilots helped me sleep, but was only masking the problem.

The coffee was bitter on my tongue.

I had to make a change, even if only for a little while. Do something else. Maybe go undercover, or do some recon work. Our alliance did have a number of standing recon objectives which I could do without necessarily wading into losing fights left and right.


The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. It would give me a goal, something to do, while I considered my next steps.

Yes. Recon work it would be.

I emptied my cup, refilled it from the carafe, and finally dared to remember the previous night.

Because, in between the many drinks, an offer had been made. A very tempting offer. But going along with it would mean commitment, would mean deeply trusting someone, something which no longer came easy to me. Even worse, I would have to keep it a secret; even from Eta, who I usually was able to tell everything. And what if the offer had been just a drunken mistake?

…but on the other hand, the possible payoff…

The scraping of a chair pulled me out of my thoughts, and I saw my companion from previous night taking a seat across from me, looking about as ragged as I felt, sunglasses shielding the undoubtedly bleary eyes.

And suddenly I knew what my answer to the offer had to be, and I smiled.

"I'm glad you came."