Saturday, May 19, 2012

No Honor

The solo kill - holy grail of the combat pilot.

Not the honor duel, the tournament, or the cleaning up of leftover ships during an evacuation - the real deal.

Ever elusive, pilots of all levels seek for it, if they admit it or not. Some more successfully than others, but when it happens, it is one more story to tell when meeting up for drinks.

And of course the queen of it all - the very first one. The hunt. The decision to engage, despite all the previous losses. And then, unexpectedly, finally, the kill.

The story you’d always remember.

There was no such story for me. The ‘Solo Kill’ label emblazoned on my CONCORD record? Just mockery.

There had been no hunt. No clash of matched arms. No risk.

There had been just a shuttle, sitting idle at the gate, jump cloak long dropped. And me, moving a Harbinger after repairs. Still wound up from confronting Eta.

And I had lashed out.

No glory. No honor. No skill. Just pointless destruction.

My story was still out there, waiting to be discovered.

But yet... in that split second at the gate, when I could have just warped off, I had not just crossed, but outright barreled over the line I had drawn myself so many years ago.

And I had enjoyed it.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Chains of Command

*There. This should do it.*

I was usually not one for editing my own journal entries - as long as they triggered the right memories, they were good enough. But this one ... just didn’t live up to my own standards, plus in its original didn’t quite evoke all of the important memories from that day. The revision ... was much better.

Plus it helped me take my mind of the embarrassment which had been the honor duel just a few hours ago, which I had lost badly.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed Eta entering our common lounge, heading straight for the coffee maker - she was still working on her mineral pickups. Poor thing.

I was about done with a final proofread, when suddenly a padd skittered over the desk, coming to a violent halt when it impacted my own mug. Looking up, Eta was standing right over me, murder in her eyes.

“Would. You. Kindly. Tell. Me. What. This. Is. About.”

Her voice could have cut energized rolled tungsten.

I made a show of looking at the padd, but I already knew what it would display, and what unpleasantness was about to happen.

"I'm not sure what you’re getting at - that’s our corp info. Home system, alliance affiliation, CEO, tax rate...”

“CEO!”, she interrupted me with a hiss. “Namely, me! But last I checked, your name was there; and I definitely don’t remember ever running for the job!”

“But yet you’ve been doing pretty much all of work anyway - why should I take all the credit?”

“You never did!”. She paused for a moment. “ least not by intention! And without you holding the fort, we may not even lasted that long!”

“A) I doubt that, I’m not that good!” I snarled. “And B)...” - I gestured at our empty lounge - “Fat a lot of good that has done for us.”

“We’re in a good alliance! And we have good people still!”

“Yes, and yes - and they deserve better!” I was now shouting as well. “And at the same time, I’m effing tired! Tired of always having the worry about the corp’s future in the back of my mind! Tired of trying to be the voice of reason when I’d rather not to! Tired of balancing the effing books!”

Eta mustered me coldly.

“So, that’s the real reason then - you want to be able to skip out into the sunset whenever you feel like, probably to become the next hero combat pilot, or something equally stupid!” Her voice dripped with contempt. “Because we all know how well that worked out the previous times you tried to that.”

I took a breath, trying to calm myself. “Maybe it won’t work out. Heck, make that ‘most likely’.” - She snorted. - “But still - at least I would have nothing to blame but myself!” I changed my tack, and tried to let my voice sound reasonable. “Think of it - what would you have said if I had just asked you to take the job?”

“’NO!’”, she replied forcefully, and added: “Duh!”

“And why not?”

“Because it would mean that I ...”

She stopped mid-sentence, and I could see some of the fire leave her eyes.

“...I see.”, she concluded. “But don’t think that I’ll let you get off that easy!” She pointed her finger at me. “You could have given me at least a heads up!”

“I could have,” I admitted, “but that would have given you a chance to talk me out of it.”

“Fait accomplis, eh? Still, don’t expect a free ride!”

She snatched her padd back from the desk, stuffed it into one of her pockets after entering a few angry commands, and stomped towards the exit. At the door, she turned her head just far enough to throw me one last bitter remark.

“Congratulations to your promotion, Director Druur. Fail in your assignments at your own peril.”

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Rocky Roads around Home (revised)

I had to give it to the Gallente - even if the tensions between the Empire factions threatened to flare up again, they knew how to treat their paying guests. The beverage dispenser in my quarters made it quite hard for me to chose something healthy: the teas, pops and juices were vastly outnumbered by the more spirited beverages from around New Eden.
Frack it. This day deserved something hearty! An Arcturian Mega-Strawberry liqueur!
...don’t laugh unless you have tried one...
I poured out two glasses, kicked up some nasty beats on the sound system, hopped onto my bed and handed over one of the glasses to my guest.
“Thanks! - You look happy tonight!”
“And should I not be?”, I replied. I took the first sip from the liqueur, savoring the flavor which started as fruity sweetness on the palate and finished as a pleasant burn in the throat. I was just about to take second sip, when a quick punch landed on my short ribs.
“Your fault - you were stalling! Now tell!”
“Ok, ok.” I cuddled into the pillows. “In a way it began a couple of weeks ago, when I jumped-cloned back from Catch to join our cruiser roam into lo-sec. Originally I planned to return to Catch afterwards, but then the comforts and amenities of civilization conspired to make me stay longer.”
“Just like this morning - I was lounging in Corp HQ, chatting away on comms with Eta. She had finally decided to collect all the minerals she had bought the last weeks (while still staunchly refusing to look at the current market prices), and was welcoming any kind of entertainment during the endeavour.
“So life was good, when suddenly Calcinus sent a priority message on corp comms.”
I cleared my throat and tried to imitate Cal’s voice:

[ Help, please. ]

“That’s it?”

I nodded.

“A man of few words. What happened?”

“He had been hunting Sansha rats in the system next door with his Oracle like usual - but this time he didn’t warp off in time and was now shot up by two scram frigates and two cruisers. And of course by the time he told me that piece of information, I had already undocked in my Purifier - luckily I had a standby Harbinger out at our POS.”

“Still - that takes time. Did you make it?”

“I did - once I got there, the Sansha had no chance. But getting there - you should have heard him counting down... [ 60% Armor ] ... [ 35% Armor ] ... [ 10% Armor ]... I am not sure I could have stayed that cool.”

“...says the Queen of Structural Damage...”

“I have no idea what you are talking about!”

I took another sip from my liqueur, and continued: “But that little event only set the mood for the day. Just a few hours later, Cal had another priority message for us...

[ I’m tracking Jonah823 next door, trying to scan him down - he has engaged a neutral with his Myrmidon and is now at a safe. I might need backup - and I don’t mean your stealth bomber! ]

He knew me too well! But I did also have a personal Harbinger in my hangar which would do nicely. One gate-jump later, I took station at our POS.

[ Damn, his GCC ran out. ]

“Doesn’t matter, he’s flashy - kill on sight.”

I kept an eye on d-scan, while Cal continued probing.

[ I have his safe spot. Changing ships... and I am engaging. Warp to me! ]

He didn’t need to ask twice: my warp drive sprang to life and propelled my ship onto the field where Calcinus’ Armageddon was engaging the Myrmidon. I added my point for good measure, and unleashed the multi-frequency fire from my lasers onto the hapless Gallente battlecruiser. The Myrmidon exploded, and without a second thought we both pounced Jonah’s pod as well.

“That was surprisingly easy.”

[ Yeah, as if he was taking a nap - though I can’t imagine why anybody in his right mind would do that with a GCC running. Either way, serves him right! ]

"And then?"
"Well, we still were wound up, so we downshipped and went hunting for signatures - me in my Purifier, he in his Anathema. And very quickly we found a grav site, and two wormholes. Each of us chose one, and in we went!"

[ Nothing in here, only a crapload of CAs. ]

“Nothing in mine either so far, but I can’t see the outermost planet from here. Stand by.

“There’s a POS and an Orca here, but no other ships on scan.

“Wait - another Orca just showed up on d-scan. ... It’s gone again.”

[ I think I’ll get my Oracle and wait at the exit. ]

The occupants of this w-system seemed to be asleep - and had a very effective bubble shield around their POS - but apparently somebody else was using this w-system as through-fare. Time to make a safespot and put out my core scanner probes.

After a few minutes of probe herding, and habitually checking d-scan, I had confirmed a Grav site and a wormhole exit near the POS, a handful of weak signature returns from the center of the system, and five more scanner probes and an Anathema on d-scan.

Wait, what? Surely he’d cloak again...

...nope, he’s still there.

“I have an Anathema an d-scan, and his probes. For some reason he’s not cloaking.”

[ Maybe, if you have his probes on scan, he’ll check out our exit next. ]

“Possible. It’s a long shot, but I’ll take up position there.”

I instructed my ship to return to out exit at distance, while still continuing to work my probes. Fat chance that the Anathema would actually...

...I’ll be damned - there he is. And stayed. Uncloaked.

“The Anathema arrived on grid, 15km off the exit.”

[ Hm. The wh is end-of-life, be careful. ]

Ergh. While I was almost sure that the wh hadn’t been EOL when I entered, but I didn’t really check either. Meaning that it would be somewhat unwise for Cal to risk his Oracle.

[ Maybe you can engage him and force him to jump? ]


I thought furiously. I was 60 klicks off him - too far to make a stealthy approach within a reasonable amount of time. But if I did simply uncloak, he’d notice and take off as well. 

In a situation like this, what would Penny do?“

”Who is Penny?“

Another sip smoothed my throat which had gotten a bit dry from narrating.

A quite profilic w-space solo pilot. You’d like her.

”But anyway,“ I continued my story, ”seeing that I am not Penny, I had to improvise as well as I could.

A plan half-formed in my brain, and I started implementing it right away, fearing that I wouldn’t if I thought it through.

“I’m going to engage - I’ll to have bounce off a celestial though.”

I warped to the sun, recalling my probes on the way, and upon arriving, I immediately turned around and warped to the our exit at 10km, dropping cloak in the process.

Landing on grid - good, the Anathema was still there - I began triggering the targeting computer.

“Lock it already, dammit!”

Finally the electronics were able to break through the warp interference, the lock resolved, and I fired off my next instructions to the systems.

Point - orbit at 1km until I worry about it again - target painter - torpedoes.

The rocket engines of my torpedoes lit up the darkness around my ship, shrouding it in their exhaust, as they sped away at the Covert Ops.

Hit - 20% Shield! Another hit - 50% Armor! Hit again - 5% Armor!

An indicator caught my mental eye - he was pulling distance. I quickly changed the orbit command to a plain approach, but too late: he broke my point range and warped away, leaving my last torpedo volley perish uselessly in the void of space.

Embarrassed, I spoke up on comms again.

“He got away - I forgot to control range with my micro warp drive. ”

[ Aw, that sucks. ]

“I’m coming back.” There were still some signatures in this system, but it didn’t matter - our gig was up.

Disappointed, I approached the WH and returned to known space. Mostly, I was angry with myself - had I only remembered to use my engines properly, I could have kept him in point range and won the fight.“

”I know,“ I waved defensively, ”for a seasoned combat pilot, all this would probably not amount to much more than a warmup exercise, before undocking. But for industrialist me, it was quite something. Especially at the end of the day, when Keilidh had joined us as well, and we were watching a pirate corp attempting a POS takedown with stealth bombers.“

”You’re kidding?!“

”Nope.“ The memory made me chuckle - I think the liqueur started to get to my head. ”Well, they did bring in heavier ships after some time, but until then it was quite the show. Cal even tried to sell the POS owners some guns, as the POS itself didn’t have any.“

Another chuckle. ”They should have accepted the deal.“

”All in all,“ I concluded, relaxing back into my pillows, ”it was a good day. Especially because this had been the first opportunity since our ill-fated cruiser roam to fly with some of my folks again - I could think of worse ways to spend a day.“

”Agreed - everything is more fun if you have company...“

A firm, yet gentle, hand removed my glass from my grasp, and as I turned my head, I found my gaze locked by a pair of brown eyes only inches away from my own.

”...n’est-ce pas?“