Sunday, April 18, 2010

Horrible Agony

It was quieter now, here in our settlement in w-space.

Over the last couple of weeks, we had a few new alliance mates joining us out here, but it soon became obvious that we had crossed the point of diminishing returns: even exploiting our daily neighbors, we were no longer able to extract enough profit. Plus, folks were starting to get stir crazy, so the new course of action is to move out of this w-space system, and find a higher class one to settle.

And if there is a thing the Frequent Flyers are good at, it’s getting things done once they have been decided: within just a few days, the majority of our combat and mining ships, as well as most of the ore, had been moved out.

But w-space didn’t intend to let us go that easily, as over the last days we just didn’t get any good exits, leaving us with naught to do.

Yesterday was another one of these evenings - all possible exits had been scanned out, and all that was left to do was shooting the breeze on Alliance comms. As people traded references to obscure pieces of modern pop culture (at some point there was even singing!), I dug up the video footage from our Agony roam last month. I had shot it primarily to evaluate my performance afterwards, so it wasn’t really visually appealing - but maybe I could make something out of it anyway.

And come to think of it - what was the song again which had just been “performed” on comms? Hmm..

...I really shouldn't be allowed near video editors late at night :) (Click on the above preview to get to the actual video page).

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Grand Night Out

Caldak: What do we have to be careful of?
MoHawk Nephilium: An Agony Basic class :)

“Yo! D!”

I stopped in my tracks, hearing that familiar voice from behind. The other pilots pushed past me, eager to get into their pods.

“Heloisa? What are you doing here?”

“Same as you: Agony Advanced class, shiny explosions, more pew-pew goodness.” She cocked her head. “However, I am surprised to see you here - aren’t you supposed to be bravely crumbling the ‘roids in your w-system?”

I rolled my eyes. “There are only so many Sleepers and asteroids you can put down before you go stir crazy. Besides, I need the practice.”

“Indeed you do...”, she grinned, “ yesterday’s fleet exercise showed. Well, see you out there!”

And off she was before I could think of a reply. Oh well, time to get podded up.


About an hour later, the ambient noise of the Impro Factory station in Stacmon gathered an urgent note as the engines of 60-some cruisers sprang to life. Pilots ran through their last checklists, while the Intel channels in the region were probably buzzing with the news of our imminent departure. Not that we had much time to think about details like that - too anxious we were to put yesterday’s theoretical instructions to the test, while hopefully not messing up too much in the process.

[ Hey, D. What squad are you in? ], asked Heloisa over comms.

“Echo, why?”

[ They made me SC of Golf - don’t you want to do that? ], she asked, adding [ You have better skills. ]

I hesitated - while on paper my leadership skills were better, I had never commanded a squad before, whereas Heloisa has quite some experience in 0-sec gangs.

[ Oh, c’mon, do-it-do-it-do-it. You know you want to! ]

“Ok”, I relented. Free-Move was enabled, she demoted herself while I took her place, then I took a quick look at my little group: two Ewar/Artillery Arbitrators, two Ruptures, a Thorax, and my Maller. Not bad for a squad - if only it had a real SC in charge.

[[ Right, everyone undock. ]], ordered Caldak, our FC and instructor.

Good thing we had practiced this yesterday: all cruisers undocked almost simultaneously, accompanied by a few Agony Interdictors and skirmishers. A few seconds later, we fleet-warped to an undock point. Our scouts moved out, and after making sure that our little fleet was complete, we followed them.

Through Ostingele and Harroule our way led to Syndicate, and in MHC we already had our first hostile contact. In fact, the Falcon, Harbinger and Hurricane were defeated so quickly that it was over before I could even target the my own weapons. After a short break to replace a few lost ships, we pushed deeper into Syndicate - UM-Q, T-LI, V4-L... all names I had always marveled at in GalNet news, imagining how it must be to fly there. And now that I was here, I found myself fully occupied with following the commands and recon reports on comms, while trying to keep up with the fleet.

From the ongoing conversation I gathered that a hostile fleet was suspected to be somewhere ahead of us, possibly even connected to the Loki which showed up occasionally to taunt us. We held in V4, and Caldak started ordering squads to split off the main fleet. Looking at the map, he appeared to trap the enemy fleet in AAS...

[[ Golf Squad...]]

Golf Squad? Damn, that’s us!

[[... go to KTH, 1-N, QWF and hold at the gate to AAS.]]

Good thing I had already checked the map - we were to cut off another avenue to our suspected hostile fleet. ...uhm, did I need to acknowledge the order?

“Acknowledge. Golf to move to KTH, 1-N and close the backdoor to AAS.”, I replied over comms, followed by my very first order as SC: “Golf, align KTH gate.”

I gave my squad a few seconds to align, then I warped us all to the KTH gate. We jumped on contact, and moved on - trying to find a compromise between good speed while making sure that we didn’t get separated. Luckily it was only a few systems, and we arrived in one group and took up position.

And waited.

And waited.

Listening to comms I could deduce that the hostiles had eluded us - Delta and Echo were moving somewhere to the north, but apart from a small skirmish in T-LI had no luck. Finally, the order came to move up on our own to Poitot. Relieved, we left our position and got on our way. We were halfway to Poitot, when comms became very lively again: the group with our FC had run into a gate camp and were engaging.

I was unsure: should I divert and have my squad join the fray, or continue as ordered? It was only a few systems away, but in all likelihood the fight would be over before we got there - so I had my squad continue towards Poitot. We had just entered our destination, when word came through that a squad coming from the north had made contact just one system over in X-BV, and was in need of assistance. Our group in Poitot didn’t need a second invitation - we jumped into X-BV and made short work of an Astarte. As we returned to Poitot, two Nighthawks met an untimely end at the hands of the last groups arrived from the south, and we all docked up for a short break.

As the engines of my trusty Maller fell silent, I was able to relax for the first time since our departure from Stacmon. While my little group had seen only little combat so far, just following the fleet had been surprisingly demanding. At the same time, I have had an easier time following the fleet comms than in Basic class. Maybe because we had a slightly smaller group, or maybe I really had learned a thing or two in the meantime.

EVE System > Channel changed to F67E-Q Local Channel
Apathetic Brent > EVERYONE LOG OFF NAO!
Apathetic Brent > wrong channel soz

Twenty minutes later, our fleet was back in space. After a short circuit through the south, we moved to the north of Syndicate, but this time we had no luck: whereever we went, the systems were deserted - obviously the news of our class had spread. We were contemplating looking for alternative areas to visit, when a recon report caught our attention: a battlecruiser fleet of the Dead Terrorists (IKILU) was spotted coming from the Outer Ring in our direction.

Cautiously we moved to meet them, from PF-349 through FD-MLJ, X-M2LR and onward to 8V-SJJ. From the reports of our scout it became clear that IKILU had set up camp and was waiting for us jump into it. Obviously, that wouldn’t do: even though we had the numerical superiority, we were still only in cruisers - we had to get them to engage on our terms. Our only chance was to bait them into moving towards us.

Our fleet jumped into 3KNK-A and held there, except for one squad which was to move ahead towards the system leading to the IKILU camp (RL-KT0?). Their orders were to linger around the gate, pop a bubble and in general look juicy, but to not aggress - IKILU surely had a scout in that system and would relay their presence.

Minutes passed - then the bait squad reported a spike in local: IKILU had noticed them and was sending a group to investigate. The bait squad jumped back to C0T-77, holding at the gate to 3KNK-A, waiting to see if IKILU would follow them.

And follow they did! Our scout reported that the main body IKILU was abandoning their camp and was moving towards us - now the trick would be to keep them moving.

As IKILU entered C0T-77, our bait squad waited just long enough to be seen again, before jumping into 3KNK-A. The same time, our main fleet moved back into 8V-SJJ to set up station at the 3KNK-A gate. And again, our bait squad lingered at the 8V-SJJ gate in 3KNK-A - as IKILU arrived, the bait squad jumped through to 8V-SJJ, signaling the immediate begin of hostilities.

And then - nothing.

What was going on? So far IKILU had seemed to be willing to play ball, were they now backing away, afraid to jump into our camp? Did they need a few minutes to get organized? Or was this now a game of chicken, each side waiting for the other to lose nerve first? We bantered on comms, to easen the tension, but everybody kept an eye on the gate.


IKILU had blinked - I switched my weapons hot.

A Harbinger appeared just 10 km away - I put my weapons on him, as did several others of our fleet, and for good measure a tracking disruptor. As our weapons made short process of the Harbinger’s shield and started biting into its armor, the rest of the IKILU fleet decloaks: I see a Manticore, an Arazu, a Prophecy, and hordes of Drakes and Harbingers.

The first Harbinger goes down, and I target a nearby Prophecy and another Harbinger - three Lasers on the Prophecy, and two Lasers plus the Track on the Harbinger. The Prophecy goes down - not very quickly, I shouldn’t have split my weapons - and I target a third Harbinger, while now aiming all five Lasers at the second Harbinger.

Klaxons shrill, signaling the loss of my shield. I am taking damage, but I can’t immediately see from where, so I turn on my small repper and warp to our designated escape point.

That is: I intend to warp out, but too late I realize that I maybe should have maneuvered clear of our own bubbles. Well, if I have to go down, I will go down fighting - six enemies are now tearing my Maller apart, but I keep my Lasers focused on Harbinger #2. My armor is gone, the enemy lasers and missiles are ripping my structure to shreds - and I find myself in my pod, floating in the middle of a pitched space battle. I set course for the border of the bubble, and for a few seconds actually make progress - but then a lance of fire approaches my pod, and I opened my eyes in Stacmon.

As I exited the stations’ clone bay, more and more vats began to activate - the battle must have turned against us. I hastened to get podded up and plugged into my spare cruiser (a Thorax), but by the time my systems went active, our fleet had lost 90% of its offensive force and all of its ECM, so the survivors were ordered to fall back and regroup in Stacmon. To my delight, Heloisa was under the survivors - I had seen her Arbitrator well away from the main battle, so our enemy probably had underestimated the danger an Ewar Arbitrator can pose even over longer distances and didn’t target her until the very end.

It would take some time for everybody to return, so I took the opportunity to look at the battle statistics. On the surface it looked like a rout: we had lost 42 ships out of 62 vs. IKILU’s 19 out of 43 - but that was only half the truth. All of our lost ships had been cruisers, cheap to buy, yet we had managed to take out almost half of a fleet comprised of more powerful (and more expensive) battlecruisers. Heck, we even managed to take down a command ship and a battleship in the fight!

Caldak> Nothing like killing pirates to make you feel good.

It took about half an hour to get the fleet re-established - as some pilots chose to end the roam at this point out of exhaustion, our fleet halved in size. Again we were headed into Syndicate, this time entering from the South through TXW and then working our way into the Cloud Ring.

This time around, targets were rare - most people were smart enough to stay well clear of us - and to Heloisa’s annoyance most of the targets we did find happened to be allies of hers. While this was not very satisfying for the adrenaline junkies amongst us, it provided a lot of opportunity to practice the art of the hunt: fleet movements, independent squad maneuvers, pincer movements, shotgun entries into systems - and all the time following the reports sent back by the skirmishers to try and anticipate the fleet’s next move. It became a running gag that the FC announced the wrap-up of the op within the next half hour, only to be sidetracked by yet another possible target just a few systems away. But all good things had to come to an end eventually, and we left the Cloud Ring for Alsavoinon and our 8-Jump journey back through Placid. Given that we were in lo-sec now, we could relax and fly our own best speed back home.

It was on the last leg, in warp to the Stacmon gate in Ostingele, when suddenly one of our skirmishers spoke up on comms:

[ This is Aether at the Agoze gate in Ostingele - I have a tackle on a flashy-red Navy Slicer. He’s trying to run, but I am keeping up. ]

Orders were given, but not really necessary - everybody knew what had to be done. As we dropped out of warp, we immediately turned our ships around and accelerated back the way we came. Those fleet members who were still behind us stepped up their pace, racing towards Ostingele. All the while Aether’s reports grew more urgent:

[ I still have a tackle on the Slicer, but I am in armor now - you better hurry up. ]

The warp bubble collapsed, releasing me some 70km away from both Aether and the Slicer. Around me, a handful other cruisers popped back into normal space. Afterburners and Microwarpdrives flared up, all of us burning as fast as we could towards the Slicer. Our Ewar ships got in range first, dropping their Damps and Tracks onto the Slicer, reducing its effective combat range to about nothing, saving Aether’s ship just in the nick of time. Behind us the gate fired, admitting a Republic Fleet Tempest into the system - a friend of the Slicer’s pilot, coming to help. But too late - our target locks resolved, and the Slicer exploded under an onslaught of missiles, turrets and drones. The Tempest, seeing that it was outnumbered, made the smart decision to reapproach the gate and leave before we could get back to him.

It was the perfect end for the roam - elated, chatting excitedly, we made our way back to Stacmon and docked up, only now noticing that we had spent nine hours on this roam, only now noticing how exhausted we actually were. Yet we were loath to leave just yet, too much adrenaline was still in our systems, and for most of us it was the first chance to look at the whole of the battle reports. Eventually, however, tiredness got the better of me, and I left for my quarters in the station, lest I’d fall asleep on my feet.

The way to the quarters led me past the ship hangars, and here I stopped, looking at the majestic ships which just a short time before hurdled us through the depth of space. Suddenly the prospect of returning to our Wormhole was much less appealing to me than it was just one day ago - it just didn’t compare against the excitement I had just experienced. Yet I knew that I had to go back, if only to make sure I could continue to afford excursions like today’s.

Maybe I could delay my return a bit - our Alliance was interested in renting a system in 0-sec space, and while we had done our research, none of us had actually found the time to take a first-hand look at the possible systems. With my Covops I should be able to get down there without too much trouble, and collect some bookmarks on the way.

Yep, that sounded like a plan - the Sleepers could wait a little longer.