Wednesday, December 25, 2013


        "Never let a good crisis go to waste." -- Winston Churchill

I walked slowly around the holographic image of myself the mirror in the dressing room had created. I knew that my ‘personal purchase experience specialist’ was trying to sell me more stuff than I actually wanted or needed, but Damn! the belt did look good! Formal or non-formal dress, it would add a note of intent whenever I would have to do negotiations. Hmm, maybe also get a second one in a different color?

My comm pad vibrated, and without taking my eyes off my mirror image, I touched the right buttons to answer the call. Only few people were allowed to bypass my ‘do not disturb’ setting.

        “Hello, Sis!”

        [ Are you happy now? ] , she asked with a bitterness that made me pause.

No greeting meant that she was really pissed. At me, of course.

        “What do you mean?”

        [ You know what I mean: the little stunt you and your friends pulled two days ago. You almost got me booted from corp and alliance! ]

Frowning, I sat down, ignoring the furtive knock on the door from my ‘specialist’. This was more important.

        “I don’t understand - ok, I should have known that that tower was one of your renter’s and stayed out of it. But still! It was offline, and we didn’t even kill it!”

        [ Not just any renter. ] I heard her take a deep breath. [ This renter had friends, who had friends, who then dropped by with a little capital fleet. I only heard about it afterwards, but apparently they were gung-ho to take out all the alliance’s towers. If our alliance hadn’t been repping the tower as the big boys arrived, all kinds of bad things could have happened - these are the same guys we usually bat-phone in times of need. ]

My gut clenched - that was not an outcome I would have anticipated. Under other circumstances, the image of being a catalyst in bringing an alliance to the edge of a costly war would have thrilled me; but endangering my sister’s operations… I really had messed up this time.

        “And?” I finally managed to ask.

        [ We dodged the bullets - barely. Our CEO did some rapid talking, I groveled, and since no actual property damage was done, we got away with a stern warning. ] She paused. [ I have to admit: the alliance boss handled the situation better than I would have given him credit for. He was the bigger person this time. Didn’t even remove your blue status. ]

Crap. While I didn’t truly care about the blue status with them anymore, it did make a few things easier. And him not removing it over this incident… dejectedly, I hung my head. I hated it when I failed my own standards while others exceeded them.

        “Guess I owe him a thanks.”

        [ At least an apology. ] Her voice softened. [ On the positive side, one good thing did come out of this. We’re taking down our big POS next door as we speak. ]

My head snapped up.


        [ The threat of my possible expulsion lead to some straight talk in our corporation, formulation of alternative strategies, and all that. And it allowed me to voice that I’m sick and tired of running that large POS. So we’re taking it down and replacing it with a smaller, self-financing one, with less need of handholding. ]

        “But - your reactions? I thought you loved them!”

        She sighed. [ I do love them. But they also have become routine - and I never really liked the market aspect of them. And I definitely have started to hate the damn fuel running. ] She sighed again. [ Pity about my Jump Freighter project, though - I’ll have to put it on hold. ]

I shook my head in disbelief.

        “But what are you going to do now? Especially to make ISK?”

        [ I don’t know yet ], she admitted, [ and frankly, the prospect scares the heck out of me. Travel, maybe - I have hardly left Domain in the last couple years. Maybe do PI for a while for income, or inventions - things I haven’t tried enough to know whether I’m good at them or not. I might even come back to reactions in the end, on account of being broke. But until then… ] It was an audio-only connection, but I hear a crooked smile in her voice. [ We’ll see. ]

        “You never cease to surprise me,” I said warmly.

        [ I aim to please, ] she replied jokingly, [ and unlike you, I use a high-precision sniper rifle instead of tac-nukes. ]

I laughed.

        “Well, if there’s anything I can help you with, let me know.”

        [ Actually… if you could be here in a few hours, that’d be awesome. We could use some scary-looking people in combat ships on the field when we do the actual tower switch.] She paused for a moment. [ You do have ships left here, right? ]

Good question. I quickly pulled up my asset list, and nodded.

        “Yep. My trusty Talos. And I need to drop a JC over there, so I wanted to come by anyway after I’m done shopping here.”

        [ Shopping? What’cha buying? ]

        “Accessoires, of sorts. For my outfit.”

        [ Clothing? ] Now it was her turn to disbelieve. [ I’ll believe that when I see it! ]

        “Not exactly clothing.” I grinned. “You’ll see.”

        [ Ok, ok, I shall suffer from curiosity in silence then. ] She cleared her throat. [ I’ll see you in a couple hours then. Eta out. ]

The connection closed, and stood up, strangely enough feeling as if a weight had been lifted from me. Shutting off the holo-mirror, I stepped outside the dressing room, finding my ‘purchase specialist’ waiting for me.

“Sorry about that,” I said apologetically, “I had to take that call.”

“No problem at all, I fully understand.” he replied with a studied polite smile. “Our customers are usually busy people, and it is our goal to provide them with the best environment while they are making their decisions.” His eyes dropped briefly to the belt I had been trying on. “And, what does Ma’am think?”

“I take it. And a second one in black.”

“Excellent choice!” His smile brightened. “It'll go nicely with the rest! Anything else I could interest you in?”

I thought briefly, then shook my head. “No, nothing I can think of… wait.” I snapped my fingers. “Ammunition - Antimatter and Iridium.”

“Of course.” He gave me a tiny, knowing nod. “After all, it is a dangerous world out there.”

Monday, December 23, 2013

Brandy and a Dreadnought

        "I am going to show them a world,
        A world where anything is possible.
        Where we go from there, is a choice I leave to you."
         -- Neo, The Matrix

“Tell me again: why did we do what we did last night?”

She looked just how I felt: horrible. I nursed my coffee before answering.

“Speak for yourself.”, I finally managed. “I just came to aid a friend who had bitten off more than she could chew - you on the other hand were doing something… how shall I put it…”

“…uncommonly stupid?”, she finished the sentence for me, blushing slightly.


I took another sip from my mug, the sharp taste biting my tongue, but doing nothing against the cobwebs around my brain.

“So, you tell me - why did you attack a POS all by yourself? In the home system of my sister’s Alliance? With friends of the Alliance around? While insulting the locals?”

“I wasn’t all by myself!”, she protested, but I waved dismissively.

“The lone Hyperion at your side hardly counts.” I frowned. “Who was that guy anyway?”

“Actually I’m not quite sure.” She stood up to refilled her own mug. “I met him when we went shooting IBCOs last month, and I have kept in loose contact since. But I can’t say that I really know him.”

I nodded. “A mercenary, just like you.”

“Something like that.” Both hands around her cup, she took a deep breath of the steam emanating from the hot liquid. Exhaling, she sat down across from me.

“And as for last night…”, she shrugged, “I think the whole year simply had come to a head. And when your sister grumbled about her Alliance’ latest stupidity, I just had it.” She grimaced. “The brandy might have played a role as well.”

I rubbed my eyes. “Yeah. I may have made the same mistake.”

“Really? I couldn’t tell!”, she teased, but then quickly became serious again. “Say, will your sister be in trouble?”

“Maybe.” I leaned back, pondering. “Well - technically she didn’t do anything wrong. It was us doing the shooting, and it wasn’t even Alliance property.” I took another sip and closed my eyes, savoring the taste. “Though I sometimes wonder what she’d do if she didn’t have the corp to run. I think she might move on, if it weren’t for the others.”

Opening my eyes again, I looked at her quizzically. “What are you going to do now?”

“I don’t know. Find a new area of operations. Save up for another Moros, maybe.” She stared into her mug, as if it contained the answer. “Or maybe not. It’s not that I really need one; and with you gone, it was the only reason why I even stayed in this area.” A weak smile played around her lips. “In a way, losing it is a relief.”

“A relief with a Billion ISK price tag!”, I snorted.

“I try not to think of that particular detail.” She took a deep drink of her coffee, then put down her mug and reached across the table to take one of my hands into hers.

“Listen,” she began, her voice suddenly soft, “I know we had had our differences, and this is not how I pictured meeting you again - creating a mess instead of patching things up.” She gave my hand a light squeeze. “But I ‘m glad that you came.”

Surprised, I looked up, and saw her looking at me intently - in her eyes words she didn’t dare to say. And after previous night, she no longer had to.

I intertwined my fingers with hers. “It’s good to be back.”

Friday, December 20, 2013

Someone To Listen

        “You're a lone wolf in a sandbox.” -- CCP Soundwave

Smooth jazz flowed from the sound system and filled the air above the few late night patrons and their hushed conversations. It wasn’t my favorite style of music, but it matched my zen-like mood as I sat at the bar, watching a couple slow-dance on the deserted floor. It had been a couple of weeks since I had returned from that outpost in Catch, and slowly normalcy was creeping back into my life - I even had started flying regularly with a group of pilots again, some of which I knew from old, others I did not. Just sleep was still slow to come, my sub-conscious wound up too tight to relax, unless pure exhaustion overcame it.

I turned to set my empty glass onto the counter and pick up the fresh one the Bartender had already prepared, reading me like a book. Swirling the deep red liquid in the glass, I thought about everything and nothing, when a sudden commotion from the entrance drew my attention.

A group of people in ship’s uniforms entered, their chatter and demeanor a fresh spark in the room. Behind them, a capsuleer, likely their pilot. The group commandeered a table, and while a waitress walked over to take their orders, the pilot approached the bar counter. A brief conversation, the passing of a credit chip, and the pilot settled onto a stool. Taking sips from the drink which appeared in front of him, he occasionally glanced towards the table where his crew was starting to have a good time. Even taking his true Amarrian lineage into account, his expression was too grim for his young age.

Making up my mind, I grabbed my virgin Bloody Gurista and walked the few steps over, sitting down next to him.

“Why don’t you join your crew?”, I asked, skipping unnecessary things like introductions.

He took a sip before answering. “I’m not sure they’d like me there - seeing that I’m the one who almost got them killed today.” he said darkly, and I recognized his mood. I shifted into a slightly more comfortable position, not by accident making sure that he got a glimpse of my neck connector, and smiled encouragingly.

“Tell me.”

And bit by bit, his story came forth. He was a young, budding industrialist in New Eden, and considering that he had only recently been certified, he was doing quite well: member of a small bustling corp, gift with a sense for leading the market with his products, his net worth had increased rapidly. Until a bad call left him with almost all his assets tied up in sell orders while the prices dropped.

“I had a choice: hole up in a station until my products moved again,” he explained, the potent drink having made him more talkative, “or branch out for the time being. So I took up tramp-hauling - courier contracts, small stuff trading, the like.”

“I remember doing one or two stints like that.”, I threw in.

“Then you probably know the crucial factor,” he sighed, “Location. Location. Location.

”It went well until earlier this week, when I accepted a courier contract - hi-sec to hi-sec - with a reward above average. Only after I had already paid the substantial collateral, I actually looked the route.“ He took a drink. ”Pickup was in a hi-sec pocket, surrounded by low-sec two systems deep. And all I have at hand is a regular hauler, none of these fancy Blockade Runners.“

”I could have failed the contract, but the money was Too Good! So I did my homework,“ he continued, ”kept an eye on the systems, sussed out the traffic patterns. And today, with only two days left on the contract I made my move.“

His eyes lost focus, reliving the memory.

”I had timed it well: I had chosen a lesser used entrance system, and the route was clear. Easy-peasy - I hop into the hi-sec pocket, pick up the cargo, and make best haste back. First system - clear. Second system - a cruiser and a HAC awaiting me on the gate, both outlaw.“

He focused again, and he set his glass onto the counter. ”Ok, imagine this is the gate. Then these…“, he pulled up two empty shot glasses, ”…were the two outlaws, and this here…“, he pulled up another shot glass and turned it upside down, ”…was me.

”The HAC was at 10-ish klicks distance from me, the cruiser was about 7km away, both orbiting the gate. I know about the Cloak+MWD maneuver, but all I had was a Cloak and Afterburner.“ He picked up the ‘gate’ and drank a sip before putting it down again. ”Crashing the gate was not an option, and I wasn’t sure that I’d last long enough for the gate guns to take down both of them.

”So, I waited as long as I could, and when both were moving sort-of away from me, I fired up the engines, dropped gate-cloak, kicked the Afterburner and engaged the cloak. Immediately the cruiser turned and sped towards where I had briefly appeared, but he had actually overestimated my speed and passed 5km in front of me.“ He moved the shot glasses for illustration, then looked at me with deep grey eyes.

”I thought that I had gotten away, but then I saw him turning and heading back towards me.“ He nudged the cruiser shot glass a bit. ”And this time he came right at me.

“Panicking, I changed course, heading straight down, hoping that crawling along at 10m/s would make a difference - and he still came barreling at me.” He lifted up the cruiser shot glass and moved it towards and above his industrial, to allow for the 3D nature of the movements. “And all I could watch was the distance between us - 8km… 5km… 3km… 2.8km… 2.5km… 2.1km…”

His hand stopped at the moment of closest approach.

“The bastard came within 2030 m from me.” He dropped the shot glass and picked up his drink, taking a large sip, and I whistled through my teeth: regular cloaks failed when other objects came inside a 2000 m radius. A close call - too close.

When he continued, he spoke without looking at me. “Had he angled his course just a fraction of a radiant differently… had I turned just a fraction of a second later…,” he turned his head towards me and jerked a thumb towards the table with his crew, “… all of them would be dead.”

“It’s funny,” he said, looking into his glass, “I shouldn’t be so upset about it - I have more riding on the market than on this lousy shipment. But when this cruiser came running for me - I was paralyzed. Scared shitless.”

He fell quiet, and I waited a few seconds before encouraging him on. “But you got away.”

“Yeah.” He emptied his glass. “We drifted for like half an hour until they got bored and left, then we made it into hi-sec. Delivered the goods, got our money. Another day in the life of an industrialist.

”And that is most annoying part!“ He gestured with his empty glass. ”I almost got them all killed today - but nobody will ever know! Nor care! There was no battle, no combat record, no dramatic gun camera footage, no triggering an avalanche of events - it’s not even enough to go pondering profoundly about larger meanings. All I did was running away.“ He tried to take a drink from his glass, but finding it empty, set it onto the counter. ”And who is going to want to listen to something insignificant as that.“

”Well,“ I said softly after a moment, ”I listened.“

He looked up. ”Heh - that’s true.“

I nodded towards his crew. ”You should join them - show them that you still care.“ I said, a bit ruefully, not remembering the last time I had spent time with my crews. ”After all, today was quite significant in their lives.“

”Hmm,“ his voice pensive for a moment, ”maybe you’re right.“ He stood up, but held up for a second. ”Thanks. For listening.“

”You’re welcome.“ I smiled. ”Go.“

He hesitated, as if to say something, then nodded and headed towards his crew. I watched his retreating back, knowing that I’d never see him again, and I wished him well.

I finished my drink, set my glass next to his onto the counter, and signaled the Bartender for another.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Suicidal Tendencies

        "You have to look at the bright side." - " Which is...?" - "A figure of speech." -- Archer

The pain cut through my brain white and hot, tearing up my neurons like an army of nanite buzz-saws. Slumping forward until my head came to rest against the plast shell, I opened my mouth, but no scream would emerge. Oxygenated amniotic fluid surrounded me and filled my lungs, rendering my vocal cords useless. I boxed the shell, desperate for any sensation which would distract me from the spike in my mind.

And suddenly the shell vanished and I fell forward onto a cold floor, the impact lighting new fires behind my eyes. Trained reflexes took control of my body, and I convulsed to expel the fluid from my lungs, no matter what it did to my head.

Damn it - I would not cry!

But it had become harder and harder every time. Mr. Burning Neuroscanner and myself had never been friends, but ever since I had moved out to this backwater outpost in Catch, our relationship had drastically worsened. The docs said that it was psychosomatic - which didn’t change the fact that the pain was very real.

A prick in my arm - a hypo injecting a bipartite drug cocktail into my blood stream. I clenched my teeth and willed myself through the seconds the topical painkiller needed to become effective. But finally the pain started to subside, and I allowed myself to relax, still lying on the floor.

Warm hands glided over my body, took hold, helped me up. I felt a robe draped around my shoulders.

“How often more?”, asked a voice, touched by pity.

I turned my head towards the voice of the med-tech, still not being able to see anything but shapeless blobs.

“Once more.”, I whispered. “I think.”

The med-tech grunted noncommittally, knowing better than to ask why I was putting myself through this. Heck, I could hardly remember myself.

Back in Empire, the plan had sounded so … well, sound. Jump-clone out to this station, where I still had ships stored, left over from yet another of my former Alliance’s unsuccessful null-sec endeavors. Sell the small stuff, evac the more valuable ships one by one. All of it deeply symbolic even - cutting what hopefully would be the last ties to my former Alliance and what had happened the previous year. All that would be left afterwards would be manning the turrets for my sister whenever she needed help - strictly a family affair.

A good plan - except that I had forgotten that I no longer had docking rights at this outpost. So once I took a ship out, there was only one way for me to re-enter the outpost to get the next one.

A bitter chuckle bubbled up through my throat. The painkiller was working, now I only needed a drug to get me to symbolically cut ties in more traditional ways - like getting a tattoo, or cutting off my hair. Life could be peachy.

Yeah, right.

Resignedly, I laid a hand onto the med-tech’s shoulder, and let him lead me into Recovery.


“You are fit to be released, but you are not fit for space duty.”, the chief resident said sternly. “You need at least a day’s rest, and for God’s sake - eat something!” He leaned back and briefly rubbed his face. “Not that I have any illusion that you’re going to do any of that.”

“Sorry, Doc.” I quietly confirmed. “You know I can’t. But - thanks.”

He nodded. “Out with you then!”, he ordered gruffly. “Before I forget my oath and tranq you personally.”

I smiled at him and stood up, light headed, bemusedly noticing that my knuckles were scraped. The painkiller had done its job, the cloning pain a mere memory throbbing in the background of my mind; now the euphorant was taking over.

The Doc wasn’t wrong, I had to admit when I almost stumbled in the doorway: I really should get some rest and real food. But if I did that, I’d just start screaming at the walls again, or worse, hit the bars on the station. And I knew far too well how that’d end.

No. While there’d be hell to pay once I got back to Empire, for now it was the better choice to just push through.

Friday, November 22, 2013

I Wasn't There

        "If it's not hazardous, it's not worth blowing up." -- Khori Renalard


        “... Empires demand full compliance with the following directive: Illicit access to…”


        “… two thousand customs offices lost. InterBus refuses to comment, but sources…”



Click! Click! Click!

        “…offices are now under control of Redrum Fleet. A spokesman for…”


        “… first test flight of the Astero and Stratios. Will the two new ships hold up against…”


Frustrated I turned off the view screen and threw the remote onto a chair. For once, high security Empire space was where the action was, and I could no longer go there. I didn’t regret my decisions leading up to this, but it was a reminder that everything had its costs.

I stood up and walked over to my quarter’s bar to fix myself a drink, when I noticed a discreet indicator blinking on my comm terminal. Who would send me a message today of all days? Beverage in hand, I pulled up a chair and called up the message.

Curious - it was a pre-recorded holo-mail from Miss Phage, notionally my boss. I instructed the terminal to replay it, leaned back and sipped from my drink.

        “Greetings, Myra and Druur.”, said the holographic Ni-Kunni.

I studied her expression. On previous encounters, I had experienced her as collected observer, always in control of the situation. This Miss Phage was slightly different, a weariness in her demeanor.

        “Since you two stubbornly refuse to join corps more worthy than mine,” continued Miss Phage, “I might as well keep you informed about our latest happenings.”

An amused smile curved her lips, unusual for her.

        “You surely have noticed the land grab over the customs offices going on. I got interested myself and did a little fly-around in this neighbourhood, seeing what the locals were up to. Which is how I came across these two fine pilots.”

She gestured to her side, and the camera zoomed out to reveal two pilots sitting next to her. I sighed. While I didn’t recognize the male, I recognized the woman far too well: we had had our run-ins, and apparently even two regions away I still couldn’t escape her. The only thing unusual was that her smile for once wasn’t mocking, but almost - wistful.

With the wider angle, more of the room had come into view as well, revealing them not so much seated, but slumped into their chairs, drinks in weary hands. Comprehension dawned - these three pilots had just spend a triple shift in their ships and were exhausted, which also explained Miss Phage’s less-than-calm behavior. I leaned forward, having an inkling of what had transpired.

        “They both were plinking away at an InterBus custom’s office, with not much hope for completion.”

        “I was just curious if it was possible,” interjected the male Gallente, with the woman nodding agreement. “And maybe put enough damage on it that I’d be listed on the combat record once a real attacker came around.”

        “Well, I made them a deal.”, said Miss Phage. “I’d provide them with standings, ammunition and slightly better weaponry…”

        “And dinner with drinks!”, added the woman.

        “…and that,” acknowledged Miss Phage, “if in return they only kept shooting.”

She smiled happily.

        “Long story short: eight hours and one quick Amarr run later, HZRDS became a landlord.” She smirked. “Not bad for a failed corporation.”

        “I don’t know how long we can hold on to this CO,” she admitted, “and my hope is that if the local powers decide they want it, that they are smart enough to simply buy it from us, instead of wasting time and resources to grind it down - but there is no telling.

        ”But until then, we’ll collect the PI taxes, maybe enough to even have a corp picnic or something. And should we find ourselves under a war-dec - now you know why.“

She chuckled.

        ”Though I imagine that neither of you two would be heart-broken about the opportunity of legally shooting people in hi-sec Empire space.“

Sunday, November 17, 2013

One Hour To Finish Preparations

The ready lounge was a muted bustle of activity: pilots were entering and leaving the room, fitting manifests were checked and updated on data pads, orders were snarled into communicators - all the usual activity you have before heading out on a roam. Compounding was the fact that this was going to be Redemption Road’s first public roam, and while most of the pilots actually had flown together before, there were a couple of new faces in the crowd who tried to find their bearings.

Myself, I had joined a group of pilots in one of the quieter corners of the lounge. After the obligatory introductions - it hadn’t been easy, but I had managed to not introduce myself as “Monakh. Druur Monakh.” in my best actress voice, since that usually only resulted in awkward silence and embarrassed coughs - we took it easy, enjoying our drinks, occasionally commenting on the going-ons, or swapping an anecdote.

All the while I kept an eye on the entrance to the lounge. I tried to be surreptitious about it, but as time passed and I was growing concerned, it was noticed.

“Waiting for somebody?”, asked the Sebiestor next to me, shifting comfortably in his seat, his faded Quafe T-shirt clearly having seen better times.

I tore my gaze away from the entrance. “Yes, matter of fact I do.” I sighed, and forced myself to relax. “See, a couple of weeks the authorities and myself got into a little dispute as to the morality of my actions, and let’s say, they are sore losers.”

“You’re an outlaw.”, he translated with a smile.

“Yup, and still green at it.” I admitted.

“I thought you folks meet up in Sendaya?”

“That’s where the ‘green’ part comes into play.” I suppressed a sigh. “All my stuff is still here in Berta, and I am not sure my undocks are good enough.” I took a sip from my drink. “I can probably high-tail it, but this being RILED’s first public roam, I didn’t feel like throwing yet another spanner into the works.” I shrugged. “So I arranged for a support pilot to help me out a bit - but she’s running late.”

“You don’t by any chance mean her?”, he said with a nod towards the entrance.

A Ni-Kunni pilot had entered the lounge, her black hair cut to chin length, and, upon spotting me, firmly walked over to us.

"Good afternoon, pilots.“, she announced. ”I am Eta Monakh, but you can call me Ma'am. I will be your support pilot for today.“ She smirked. ”That is, if you are one of the lucky ones who paid for my services.“

She beamed around the group, then a frown crept onto her face and she fixed her eyes on me.

"What, of all the people who hired me only you showed up?", she said with a hint of annoyance. "I'm afraid that I will have to charge you extra then - you know, opportunity cost and stuff. ... Why are you laughing? This is serious business!"

I stood up and hugged her tightly. "It's good to see you! ... Ma'am.”

She giggled, dropped her stern 'business woman' mean, and returned the hug as affectionately. "Glad that I can help."

"Same last name," noted the Sebiestor with curiosity in his voice, "so you are..."

"Her sister," replied Eta happily, an arm around my waist. "Adopted. Why, what did you think?" She rested her head against my shoulder and, giving me her best bedroom eyes, gently caressed my cheek with her finger tips. "Say, how much time do we have?", she almost purred.

I smiled wickedly and kissed her on her brow. "For you, all the time in the world. At least 40 minutes."

"Then lets not waste it!", she exclaimed, disentangling herself from me, and hooking her arm into mine. "It's been days since we last did it!"

Momentarily resisting her pull, I turned towards the other pilots. "Gentle-beings, if you excuse me, but as you can see it is hard to resist her when she's this excited." I grinned mischievously. "I'll see you in fleet."


About an hour later, hovering in my pod just a couple hundred klicks off the Mifrata star gate, the moment in the ready lounge kept popping into my head. The looks on some of the pilots' faces - priceless! I giggled again, forgetting that I had an open comms line with Eta.

[ You think they fell for it? ], asked Eta, amusement in her voice, her Orca blocking out the sun.

"I think some did. You are an evil person, you know that?"

[ I didn't lie! ], she protested. [ It has been days since I last flew support for you! ]

I went to answer, but fleet comms interrupted me:

        [ Fleet - jump, jump, and warp to Mifrata gate. ]

Local spiked, and a few seconds after, the force field guarding the Orca's ship hangar flickered and expelled an Algos-type destroyer into space. A gentle command to my pod's engines, and I began moving towards the destroyer, engaging the boarding sequence.

[ Here's your ride, ] came Eta's voice over comms, while my virtual vision flickered momentarily as the pod was pulled into its rightful place inside the Algos.

"Thanks!", I replied, finalizing the last connections with my pre-flighted ship, and immediately firing up the engines before the local navy would pay me a visit. "I'll see you on the flip side."

[ Happy hunting! ]

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Improvised Strike Force

        “Remember, proper call escalation involves at least doubling one of the
        following: 1) caliber, 2) mass, 3) velocity, 4) weapon yield” -- Joe Thompson

“Some more coffee?”

“Sure!”, I replied promptly, holding out my mug. As the Civire poured the black nectar out of the self-heating carafe, I let my eyes wander over his naked upper body. Buzz-cut black hair, a subtle facial tattoo, and a muscular build. But not bulky - he had the wiry build of an endurance athlete. I liked that in a man, and if the light fell on it just right, it was also a feast for my eyes.

I was pulled out of my reverie when his fingers touched my hand holding my mug, gently pushing it towards me.

“While I appreciate the admiration, the coffee won’t drink itself.”, he said with a glint in his eyes.

I laughed softly and took a sip, savoring the flavor of the coffee as much as the tingling feeling his touch had left in me. He was good with those hands, as last night and that morning had shown. Seeing my expression, he blew me an air-kiss and went to refill his own mug.

Of course all of this was pretend - once I walked out of his quarters, our paths would never cross again, and we both knew it. But we had gotten along quite well last night, and it felt nice to have a cosy start into the new day.

I should take vacation more often.

With a discreet buzz, my comm pad demanded attention. I sighed and took another drink of the coffee before reaching for the pad. Only one person would have reason to contact me, which meant that I should take the call.

“Good morning, Eta!” I greeted my sister as the miniature holographic display formed.

[ Good morning? It’s almost noon! ]

Across from me, the guy was mouthing the question whether he should leave, but I shook my head.

“You’re just jealous that I have a few days off, and you don’t!” I smiled at her. “But I have a feeling that my time off is about to end.”

[ Your feeling is correct. ] She sighed. [ Boss caught an interloper in Reyi setting up an unauthorized POS. He destroyed the hauler, but the tower is anchored and online. No defenses - yet. ]

POSes. Why did it always have to be POSes! But my sister made her living in that constellation, so I helped her whenever necessary.

[ Boss tried to negotiate with him, to either pay the rent, or take down the tower right away, with guarantee of safe passage, ] continued Eta, [ but to no avail. So we’re now going to attack the POS before he can bring in reinforcements. And if I remember correctly, your Talos is quite effective at this kind of thing. ]

“That it is.” I confirmed. “How many people do you have, and will we have Dreads?”

[ Seven so far - luckily it’s just a small POS. And we will have two Dreads - Lord Grim’s, and I took the liberty of reaching out to your friend as well. If that’s ok with you. ]

“No worries on my behalf. This is your op, your system, you hire whichever gun you can reach!” My eyes narrowed when her full sentence registered. “Wait - did you say ‘Lord Grim’? He is back? Since when?”

[ Yup, he is back! For about a week now - at least I think it is him. ] A frown crossed her face. [ He looks like him, he remembers the things which are his - but his pattern of speech is different. And I can’t quite decide if I just misremember how he used to talk, or if he had a cloning accident, or something else. ]

I nodded thoughtfully. Lord Grim had been the leader of the Frequent Flyers when I was just a rookie, until one day he had simply vanished without a trace. Having him showing up out of the blue was bound to raise some concerns.

[ Anyway, that’s a question for another time. ] Eta straightened. [ How soon can you be here? ]

“Well, I need to get to medical and jump clone over, but then I have a ship already fitted and ready for launch. So about ten minutes.”

[ Sounds good. Do you need me to move the ship for you? The navy doesn’t like you very much here. ]

Rriiight! I had completely forgotten about that! But I shook my head: “Thanks, but not necessary - I have good undock bookmarks.”

[ If you say so… ] she clearly wasn’t fully convinced, but let it go. [ I see you in ten then. Eta out. ]

The connection broke, the holographic Eta dissolved, and I looked up at the guy. “Sorry, I would have loved to stay a bit longer, but … you heard.”

“No problem,” he replied, “you do what you need to do.” He didn’t offer to come along to help, knowing that it wasn’t his op, just watched me gather my belongings. It didn’t take long - I travelled light. Finally I walked over to him, and, holding the back of his head in one hand, gave him long, lingering kiss, enjoying the warm feeling spreading in my midst.

“I had fun last night,” I said quietly when our lips parted. “Thank you.”

He reached up to lightly stroke my cheek. “My pleasure.” He smiled. “Good luck out there!”

I straightened up and made my way to the exit, leaving vacation, coffee and cosyness behind.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

That Fight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple. Ingenious. And absolutely deadly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Correction - make that seven.

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

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

Truly a fight to remember.

Planning the Future

        "Doesn't matter, I'll get run over by a car anyway." -- Suicidal Tendencies

“Come on, I want you to meet someone.“, she had said.

While my first impulse had been one of overwhelming dread, of being set up with a blind date, reality quickly re-established a mental beach head and conquered my mind from there.

It was only her boyfriend which she had kept in the shadows for so long.

“Call me Sean”, he had said, which was a near-certain giveaway that that wasn’t his actual name. But since Eta looked willing to go along with it, I didn’t pressure the issue any further. And luckily for her (not that I’d ever actually do that!), he wasn’t my type either. Nice physique, for sure, but long hair which was already turning grey in parts? Call me picky, but… No.

But he was a pleasant enough guy - former combat pilot, now semi-retired flying for a freight company - and he seemed to really work well with Eta, so I just gave him the benefit of the doubt and simply enjoyed the evening. Of course, the Arcturian Mega-Port may have helped as well.

And while the foods were consumed, the conversation drifted around many topics during dinner, with a longer stay at the immediate building project Eta had in the wings.

Which she wasn’t fully happy about.

Just a few months ago her alliance had decided to establish a foothold in Catch as ‘preferred guests’. Eta herself, not being interested in ratting or mining at all, had decided to build a Jump Freighter for herself, to supply the local 0.0 market, figuring that she could write off most of the production costs from her ongoing moon goo reactions, while eventually being able to participate in her alliance’s operations for once, even if indirectly.

Except that a few weeks later her alliance decided to pull out of Catch because of an impending .-A-. invasion.

She tried, but she couldn’t fool me - that decision had hurt her, especially since she had learned about it only second-hand. She had decided to nonetheless go ahead with her Jump Freighter project, somehow, but her enthusiasm was notably dampened. Knowing this, her recent emotional outburst became a bit more understandable.

On the bright side, the T2 materials she was producing finally started moving on the market again, providing a much needed cash influx for her wallet - some of her lots had been on sale for a good two months now. Not for the first time I was glad that it was her playing the market, not me.

And somehow, talk came around to skill plans - which in the last days had been a problem in the back of my mind.

“You see,” I said, “I am running out of sensible skills to train. I can either start pushing more skills to V for the sake of it, or start training for ships I won’t have opportunity to fly, or which I can’t afford to fly.”

“Speaking of which,” interrupted Eta, “Jaana has your Legion ready back home - whenever you have time to pick it up.”

“Well, think of what you’re doing right now.”, said Sean, clearly used by now to Eta’s flights of mind. “What are you currently flying?”

“A Pilgrim, which by common opinion apparently is ‘shit’.” I replied. “And I recently I … uhm … came across a gift package holding a Tengu and its subsystems, alas, all my relevant skills are at I only.”

“I think your short term plan should be clear then - train Recon to V,” suggested Sean, “Recon’s in general benefit from it anyway, and if the Pilgrim is indeed shit, I presume you can fly all the others as well?”

I nodded confirmation.

“There you are.” Eta took up the topic. “And since you now happen to have this Tengu, might as well get at least competent in it before you do anything.”

“Good points.” I took some notes. “But what long-term?”

“Well…”, Eta pondered, “considering that you hardly ever fly even Battleships, I don’t think capitals are your alley. Even if it would be handy at times.” She winked. “But you like to be sneaky, right?”

“Guilty as charged.” I admitted, remembering the friendly ribbing I sometimes received for my preference.

“So how about…”, she exchanged a look with Sean. “… Black Ops? Battleships, yes, but sneaky ones.”


I pulled out my data pad and started making up a plan.

“Hmm…”, I said again, talking to myself. “I’ll need Jump Drive operations for this one, which essentially means JDC V, or else I’d be useless. And Jump Portal Generation of course. And thinking of the tactical situations…” I grumbled to myself and added Cyno V to the plan as well. Some more support skills, and I had the result.

“380 days!” I proclaimed with dread in my voice.

“Well, let’s take a look at it. May I?”, Sean asked, and after a moment’s hesitation, I handed him my skill plan. He hemmed and hawed a bit, and then asked: “How many neural remaps can you stand?”


“That makes it so much easier.” He smiled, and worked for a few minutes before handing me the pad back. “There. That’s how I’d do it.” He winked at me. “I took the liberty of adding High Energy Physics IV as well… you’re going to need it.”

I looked at the plan - it was still long, but by grouping the skills by attributes and setting up remap points, he had cut out over a month of my total training time. Which meant…

With a bit of futzing, I managed to add a number of ‘would be nice’ skills to the plan without blowing the original estimate - in particular HAC V, a ship class I actually could see myself flying once I ran out of Recons.

Looking up at Sean, I raised my glass. “Thanks!”

“You’re welcome!… Ouch!” The latter was the result of Eta demanding his attention with a quick elbow jab.

“Well, Mr. Smartypants,” she said teasingly, pushing a data pad of her own to him. “Tell me what I should train!”

“Well…”, he picked up the pad and studied it for a while, before looking up again. “You realize that in a month’s time, between you two, you could fly almost all ships in New Eden?”

I almost dropped my glass. “You’re kidding?!”

“I’m serious. You,” he looked at me, “can fly almost every sub-cap - except non-Amarr Marauders and all of the Black-Ops. Ok, and T2 Haulers. And Miss Radiation Hazard here,” - Eta just showed him her tongue - “is only a week away from flying all carriers and super-carriers. Add another month, and she’ll be able to ferry all Dreadnoughts. All the other capitals she has down already. Except, of course, Titans.” He checked something. “Add another month and a half to fly all the other T2 industrials.” He leaned back, a smile on his face.

“But…”, Eta was surprised as well. “I could never afford to even learn all the capitals - that’s Billions in skill books!”

“I think I know what he’s after…”, I said slowly. “He doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to learn the capitals themselves right away - only that you could learn them within an hours time. So next time one of us comes across an abandoned wormhole POS, with a hangar full of neglected ships…”

Sean just grinned at me.

Eta looked between the two of us, then snuggled up to her honey, blowing a soft kiss on his cheek.

“Hello, handsome,” she stage-whispered, “Tell me more.”

Dinner Invitation

I noticed the smell immediately when I entered Eta’s quarters. Not that it was a bad smell, but it was unusual - even more so than the invitation to dinner itself. I knew that she was still angry with me, even she had calmed down somewhat in the last weeks, so maybe this dinner invitation was her idea of peace talks.

But now this smell… could it be… I followed my nose towards the kitchen.

“You are cooking?”

Eta looked up from the inductive cooking field where she was stirring in three steaming pots, and smiled. “Hello to you too, Druur! I’m glad you came!”

You are cooking. You, Mistress of all the Reactors!”

“You didn’t know that?” She chuckled. “Everybody needs a hobby! You shoot hi-sec miners, I cook. Sometimes.”

“About that.”, I began, a bit uncomfortably, putting the bottle I brought as present onto the counter. “You see…”

She cut me off, a stern look on her face. “Not now. We talk about that another time. For now, I just want to have dinner with my sister. Deal?”

“Deal.”, I agreed, somewhat relieved, and walked over to her. “What are you making?”

“Nothing fancy.” She gestured at the pots. “Pasta boiled in water until soft, standard tomato-based vegetable sauce, and of course, the Universal Sauce. Two servings each.”

“’Universal Sauce’?” I peeked into the pot. “All I see is a chopped onion sautéing in some oil on medium-high. And some green bits.”

“A bell pepper, chopped into small bits. And of course you don’t see more because it’s not done yet!” She peeked into the pot as well. “Ah, good, the onion is starting to glaze. Can you hand me the bacon and chilis please?”

I looked around, and quickly found the little bowl with the prepared ingredients; about two slices worth of chopped bacon, and a mixture of red and green chilis, chopped really fine. I handed the bowl to Eta who unceremoniously dumped it into the pot and gave it a vigorous stir.

“The chilis are the tricky part,” she explained conversationally, “it took me quite some time to find a good balance between heat and flavor which I liked. Right now I’m using a dried Habanero, a fresh Jalapeño and half a fresh Anaheim. Ok, this can now sauté for a couple of minutes.” She looked up, and her eyes fell on the bottle I had placed onto the counter. “You brought wine, excellent!”

“Arcturian Mega-Port,” I corrected. “I didn’t know what to expect, and this one goes with quite a range of foods. Plus, I still owed you one.”

“Well, open it! Let’s see if it’s really as good as advertised!” She took two glasses out of a cabinet and handed them to me. “But I don’t know what you mean with ‘owing me’.”

Last year, you remember?” I answered filling the glasses and handing her one. “I was in a funk, you brought me out of it by signing me up for an Agony roam; and when I came back, there was a bottle of this port waiting in my quarters. I still don’t know how you had managed to arrange all that, but it had been the right thing at the right time.”

“Hmm…” She took a sip from her glass, and nodded appreciatively. “Not bad, not bad at all. Good choice.” She looked at me. “But that thing last year, that wasn’t me.”

“But who…”, I stuttered, “how…”

She took another sip. “I don’t know - but appears that you had an admirer, with connections.

“I say,” she continued, “don’t worry about it for now. Let your sub-conscious puzzle over that problem, while your consciousness takes a drink and enjoys it.” She stared at me until I dutifully drank from my port as well.

Boy, it was good.

I savored the warmth starting to spread out from my stomach, while pondering Eta’s suggestion. I could go back to that station and start digging into the security logs, but on the other hand, it’s been a year. Maybe she was right, and should let my sub-conscious do the work for once.

“Why ‘Universal Sauce’?”, I asked Eta, who had set down her glass and now chopped up a clove of garlic to add to the dish, followed by an 8oz package of sliced mushrooms and more stirring.

“Because it goes with, or on, almost everything.” She chuckled. “And in fact, you’re the reason I found this recipe in the first place.”

“Me? How?”

“One of the things I do on my Jita runs is trawl GalNet for interesting things to read, and on one run I had ended up somehow on a foodie discussion forum. … broth cube, broth cube, where did I put the broth cube? Oh, there it is. … And while I was scrolling through the posts, suddenly a name stuck out: ‘Freedom Front of Intaki’.”

Eta interrupted her stirring briefly to look at me. “And the reason the name stuck out was that I remembered you telling me about them when you came back from the Holoreel Convention - you had met some of them there.”

Taking another sip from my port, I frowned. “Freedom Front… Freedom Front… Oh! You mean the Intaki Liberation Front!”

“Yes, that one. Anyway, the name stuck out, so I got curious and looked closer, and behold: a recipe by the boss of the ILF.” She pursed her lips. “Or did she just comment on it? Don’t remember.” She shrugged. “In true Intaki style, the recipe looked quite spicy, so I gave it a try. And here we are. Speaking of which…”

She examined the contents of her pot. “Hmm, usually I add some water at this point, up to half a cup, but I think this time the bell pepper and mushrooms produced enough liquid.” She winked at me. “Can’t have water dilute the flavor, now, can we.” She grabbed a pitcher and poured a white liquid into the mixture.

“Cream,” she explained when she saw my questioning look. “About half a cup. And now: spices. Black pepper, paprika, cayenne pepper - hmm, I think I’m going to skip the dried chilis today - ooooh, let my try a pinch of cumin as well.”

Eta gave the now white’ish mixture one more stir and then used her spoon to taste the sauce. It must have been good, because she nodded and reduced the heat.

“This now has to simmer for a bit, to thicken somewhat,” she said, “but it’s not that critical to get it really thick, because I’ll also dissolve a good handful of shredded cheese in it, right after turning off the heat. So I guess 10-15 minutes from now.” She picked up her glass again. “And until then we can…”

I never heard the end of that sentence because suddenly we were interrupted by a voice from outside the kitchen. A male voice.

“That smells good!”

I gave a start and almost dropped my glass. My hand went to my side arm, and I started scanning the kitchen for defensive positions when I suddenly realized that Eta was just standing there, with a grin on her face.

“You should see yourself!”, she laughed. Her eyes sparkled. “Come on, I want you to meet someone.”

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

That Could Have Gone Better

        “Thank for flying Agony Air.
         Please keep the guns in the overheat position.” -- Fleet member

I opened my eyes. And while inside my pod I couldn’t really see, because immediately my optical nerves were shouted out by the implants routing my ship’s sensor information into my brain, it did serve as a signal to the rest of the ship that I was awake again, that it was time to activate all the systems.

The warp drive rumbled into life, to propel me back to my safe spot where I had passed out this morning from exhaustion, the warp giving me time to check my bearings.

System information crawled through my virtual view - I was in Providence, by myself, deep in hostile territory. In a cruiser fit for kiting engagements with logistics support. But this being Providence, I should have a good chance getting back to Empire and into a better ship unscathed.

I laid in the course and started the trip back to so-called civilization - it was far enough that I’d have time to piece together what had happened last night. Because once I was in Empire, I’d be too busy dodging CONCORD - for some reason they had taken a disliking to me over the last days.

Funny that.


        9 hours earlier

Agony had called, and I had answered, as did several other people of negotiable reputation. The latest bunch of Skirmisher trainees had passed the theory portion of their class, and it was time for them to prove their mettle in a live-fire scenario, to find and hold targets for our cruiser fleet to eliminate.

The invite had called for kiting cruisers, but when I rummaged through my hangars in Berta, I had found something I had completely forgotten about: a Curse hull, bought years ago, and still in its original packaging. And I knew that if I didn’t take her out now, it’d probably be another couple of years before I had another chance. Carefully peeling off the price sticker without looking, I broke the seal on the package and sent it down for assembly, while I went to find modules to fit it. Being an alumnus had its advantages.

0815 rolled around and the fleet undocked, just 15 minutes after planned departure time, much to the
chagrin of the bookies of the local betting pools. Up ahead sped the Interceptors, shining darts of light across the stars, followed by the more stately hulls of the cruisers - damage dealers, logistics, and E-War. And a gold shining Curse with a rather nervous Druur piloting it.

Our first destination was VOL-MI, a familiar route which would take us through a couple of usually quiet lo-sec systems, so I took advantage of the calm before the storm and continued my mental mantras while piloting from muscle memory.

*You’re not a brawler, nor a sniper.* I repeated to myself. *You’re here to neutralize hostile capacitors. Like a Vampire Chick, who latches onto her victims to suck them dry, while a small cloud of fluttering bats tears to shreds anybody coming too close. And if somebody tries to shoot, you’re going to sprinkle some glitter dust into their eyes.*

Another gate jump, and I sighed inwardly as my Curse slowly accelerated to warp. If I was a Vampire Chick, then apparently I was a somewhat portly one - even with a Nanofiber for the right lacy look (black of course) I wasn’t exactly nimble on my feet.

The Doril gate loomed big before us, the first Skirmisher reports came in through comms - hesitantly still, unsure - and I snapped back into reality. A surge of euphoria ran through me as the life support system injected me with another dose of stimulants. That was the other thing: not only was I flying an unfamiliar ship, I had also been awake for about 20 hours at that point, and I knew that without some chemical help I wouldn’t make it. There’d be a price to pay, of course, but that’d be long after the roam would have ended. I hoped.

        Naira Isimazu > "RMOC and Jalad at Tanagra, when the walls fell"

The command to jump to Doril came, and our real work began. At first, apart from an abandoned Sabre which was quickly liberated, targets were sparse. There were the odd pod or assault frigate, but it wasn’t until KLMT-W that we ran into organized opposition. The gang of logistics-supported tier-3s fought well, but had to clear the field after losing half of their strength. Yet that fight showed me the limitations of my Curse: I had a hard time getting into range of anything, the damage projection from my Heavy Assaults was poor, and I had to micro-manage my capacitor more than I had expected. Even a simple power-align left me dry in just a minute or two!

Our roam continued, but it turned into a blur as my sub-conscious started working on the problem of how to make my Curse more useful. Maybe I needed to think even more like EWar and seek to disable nearby Logistics, Laser- and Blasterboats whenever the Primary wasn’t in range. And next time I'd take a out a Curse, definitely no Heavy Assaults - they were near useless in our fights. Maybe a Sensor Booster instead - my lock times couldn’t keep up with the damage output from the rest of our gang. And of course … Recon V.

Our Skirmishers at that point had settled into their role, their recon reports coming with confidence, and they were roaming far and wide, providing us with the occasional unfortunate victim.

.-A-. didn’t like that.

It began with a small skirmish in the systems of WD-VTV and 9KOE-A, including a narrow escape through a bubbled gate, but the daily subspace beacon downtime forced a temporary cessation of hostilities. When the systems came back online, both fleets scrambled to re-organize and race into position. It was neck to neck, and the fight was on!

.-A-. had brought a gang of tier-3 battlecruisers, supported by logistics, and our FC went for the logistics first - just what I had been hoping for: a chance to test my earlier musings. I lumbered, I pre-locked, I neuted, I pulsed my MWD for that extra kick into the pants, my drones buzzed about like the angry Hammerheads they were … but it wasn’t enough. And I learned first hand how scary the combined alpha of multiple Oracles can be: my Curse exploded faster than I could beg our Logistics for help.

Our fleet was routed, but while we made best speed back to Berta to reship, our spirits were high, and comms reflected it. And I remembered my own Skirmisher class, how I had been timid going out at the beginning, afraid to speak up on comms, only to return with confidence. I hadn’t fleet-skirmished since then, but it had helped me navigate the depths of w-space, provide warp-ins in lo-sec, ... or to just take a chance and fly out with an unfamiliar ship without the FC handholding you in its use.

        Mr Slant > x - got inlaws around so I'm staying :D

I had no second Curse, but gleaming in my hangar was a Rail-Thorax, and people were ready to enjoy what Greygal called the “after party-party”, so we set out again. This time it was not the fair folk of Curse which we asked to dance, but the righteous citizens of Providence. G-5EN2 welcomed us, and soon we were deep in the territory of the Yulai Federation.

But I couldn’t keep up anymore. The stimulants, which had carried me through the most of the roam, were now showing their evil side. It is bad if you no longer trust your voice enough to speak up on comms for possible intel; it is worse if you start falling asleep while guarding a gate.

It was a first, and I felt embarrassed, but I had to bail - I was no longer contributing. It was also too late to leave Providence; I would had to risk roughing it where I was. A fitting end to what had been a good night, even if I hadn't been on the top of my game.

A last command to my ship, and as the engines fired up once more to propel me to my safe spot, I gave in to my exhaustion and closed my eyes.

I fell asleep before my ship even dropped out of warp.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Good To See You Too

        [ It’s all your fault, you know that?! ]

Eta was pacing in front of the video pick up, a drink in her hand. I had never seen her restless like that before. Nervous. Unsure of herself even. Of course I couldn’t ask her now, this being a prerecorded video mail. I could only hope that she would divulge details on her own.

        She took a sip from her glass before continuing.

        [ I mean, all I meant to do today was to have some easy times - take care of the market, try out the new hacking technology, spend some quality time with my boy. ] She waved towards someone outside the range of the video pickup. [ But noo… ]

        Another drink.

        [ There I was running a combat site in Reyi - something which I hadn’t done in years - when suddenly Nicholas from Dire Wolfs showed up in system.

        And I remembered that Dire Wolf had been causing troubles in our constellation recently, and were rumored to start to take an interest into us for the control of our low-sec systems. ]

        She looked at the floor before continuing.

        [ So I was sitting there, a potential hostile in the system, and all I could think of was: “What would Druur do?” ]

Heh. that was a question I could easily answer: I’d taunt the hostile in local, trying to get him to play his cards openly.

        [ I didn’t know, but what I did was close enough. I don’t know why, but I started taunting him in local, that if he wanted to find me, he could stop wasting his time with combat probes, and just fleet me. And he did. ]

She took another drink, and I gave her unseen thumbs-ups.

        [ It kinda went downhill from there - we bantered back and forth, warped around the system, a lady-friend of his entered the system and was having a standoff with other alliance members at the gate…

        [ Anyway, at some point I was warping - in my mission drake - to an unsafe spot and wasn’t paying attention, so when Nicholas in his Rapier and Mary-Jane in her Typhoon warped in, I almost didn’t notice. ]

        She looked at me sheepishly over her drink. [ I have not much practice at using my own fleet to bait, and unsurprisingly it did go south. ]

        Her eyes dropped down at her glass, then back up, apologetically at me: [ Sorry, I need a refill. ]

While she was rummaging around outside the range of the video pickup, and exchanging incomprehensible words with someone I couldn’t see, I was waiting patiently. I had an inkling where her story might lead, but still, it was too out-of-character for her, so I needed it to hear it from her own mouth.

Eventually, she appeared again, her glass filled to the brim.

        [ Sorry about. Uhm, … where was I? Right… I was in an unsafe spot with my mission drake, this Rapier showed up because I had forgotten that I was still in fleet with him, and then his lady-friend in a Typhoon joined the party as well And commenced to reduce me to mince meat. ]

        She took a significant sip.

        [ It wasn’t so much the Drake itself, which by then was three years old and uninsurable - it was my lapse of mind which is bothering me. But as it were, I screamed in Alliance chat, and frantically fleeted everyone willing to to step up. ]

        She almost blushed.

        [ I honestly didn’t expect it, after my wanton cockiness, but they showed up. My Drake died, but they killed Mary Jane, and I just managed to get back in time to pick up the drones I had left behind. ]

        Another drink from her glass, leaving it half empty, and she spent some time pondering a detail on the floor in front of her. Eventually, she looked up again.

        [ I don’t know, Sis. How do you do this? How!?! I really don’t know. ]

        She gestured at the universe at large.

        [ Was I just being stupid, and this was just one of the many daily insignificant events at the frontier? Did I just manage to push my alliance one step closer to a war with a true enemy? Did I maybe manage to instill some caution in the minds of Dire Wolf? ]

        She paused for seconds, then looked straight into the video pickup.

        [ I don’t know, but I know that it’s for me to figure out. And I will. But still, I know this...]

        Her hand, holding the glass, pointed straight at me.

        [ If it weren’t for you, I would have stayed docked. ‘ss your fault! ]

The video feed cut to black - that was all she had recorded. I was looking at the dark screen, yet smiling.

“I love you too, Sis.”

Breaking and Entering

        “And there it was, sitting innocently in the rays of the red giant.”

I waved my glass at my captive audience, knowing full well that most of their captivity was based in the rounds of free drinks I was paying for. But hey, if even some had any interest into the matter at hand, it would be a worthwhile investment.

Plus, the sooner I got tired of telling the tale, the sooner my closer friends and acquaintances would start answering my calls again.

        “A perfectly normal Amarr tower, bristling with lasers, e-war batteries, and hardeners. Except…”

        I paused for effect.

        “None of the modules had been online during the days before. The owners of the other POS in the system even had taken the effort to anchor containers with Amarr tower fuel outside their force field, in an effort to help their neighbors.

        “And this morning... not only were all modules offline, so was the tower itself!”

I think I heard somebody going “Ka-Ching!”, but even if nobody actually did, it was a too good of a cue to ignore.

        “Exactly. Except there was one problem - I was in but one Pilgrim, and I had never faced a tower or its modules by myself before.”

A brief silence fell, which I used to moisten my throat.

“If I’m not mistaken, POS modules have just a few dozen thousands of HP. Any ship worth its while could hack that.”

I looked into the crowd - the speaker was a one-eyed Detei, who seemed to be as embarrassed to have to point out the obvious, as I should be to hear it.

I took another swallow.

        “You’re perfectly right, Sir. It’s just that I never had run the numbers, plus I am inexperienced at using drones, so it actually took the encouragement of some random to get me to try the attack.”

“A random, you say?”, the Detei asked, and now that I was looking at him, he looked eerily familiar, but I couldn’t quite put him. No matter, though.

        “A random pirate, if you really must know.” I raised an eyebrow at him. “Never turn down knowledge, or attitude, just because of its origin, is my stance.”

“I see.”, he paused, then continued, “well, go on.”

        “I finally took a heart, uncloaked, and sent my Hammerhead IIs against the Large Ship Assembly Array, all the while hogging d-scan. And of course nothing happened.

        “I relaxed a bit, and when the LSAA exploded with nothing to show for, I relaxed even more, and sent my drones after the Ship Maintenance Bay, Ammo Assembly Array, the Corp Hangar, and the Refinery Array. And that's when it happened.”

I ended on a leading tone, and took a deliberately slow swig from my glass, waiting for the inevitable response.

“And? What did happen?”

I looked at the speaker as if trying to remember.

        “I was halfway through the Refinery's shield, when suddenly an Anathema showed up on d-scan , so I pulled in my drones and cloaked up for a while.”

I have to admit - I liked this part of the tale. People grumbling amongst themselves, knowing that I was withholding something, but reluctant to mention it, yet it might cut off their access to free booze. But it takes only one…

“Cut to the chase.” Once more the Detei spoke for the crowd - of course it’d be him. “What did really happen?”

I nodded in theatrical defeat, and discreetly gestured to the Bartender to give the Detei another one of whatever he had right now.

        “Very well.” I took another sip, only to find my glass empty, so I signaled the Bartender for a refill of my own. “I had actually missed it at first, what with the background radiation from the giant, but when I resumed my work on the refinery, I realized that there was this cargo container floating next to the POS.”

I leaned forward. “At first, I ignored it, what with the Anathema possibly still in the system, but then I thought: To Heck with it! I can take an Anathema by herself, and anything heavier I will spot on d-scan. So I went for it, and opened that can.”

        I took another deliberately slow swig. “It was a bunch of crap - the stuff you expect from a bear’s WH operation. Minerals, mining crystals, ship modules. Blueprints. Packaged frigates. Sleeper loot. T2 modules. Faction modules. A full set of Tengu subsystems.”

I leaned back, watching my audience starting to do the math. The first mouths started to drop…

        Nonchalantly I took a drink from my glass before engaging my listeners again. “Yessirs, I was suddenly looking at 890M in loot, coming in at a measly 22000 m3.” I grinned at my audience. “And there I was, flying a Pilgrim with maybe 100m3 spare cargo left.”

“And how…?” I couldn’t make out the speaker. “How?!?”

        I grinned again. “I think the Loot Fairy was trying to make up to me. Or make out with me, I’m not quite sure yet. Either way, there happened to be a hi-sec exit from the wormhole at that time, and while it was reaching the end of its lifetime, I knew that it had at least six hours left on it.”

“Unfair! That’s cheating!”

        Taking a sip, I continued with more levity than I remembered feeling at that moment when I looked at that cargo can in space: “Maybe so, but you don’t argue with the Loot Fairy! Especially not while she’s french kissing you! So I walked out into hi-sec, bought whichever unpronounceable industrial the Caldari consider their biggest, threw a couple of extenders and rigs on it, and came back into the wormhole to haul it all out in one go. And got away with it!”

        And died a hundred imagined deaths in the process. But that wasn’t something you could tell admirers. So instead, I just smiled at the group. “My biggest concern actually was that somebody would notice the public kill rights on me. One observant White Knight in the right place, and you’d be paying my drinks tonight, instead of the reverse.

        “And the best thing…”

I smiled maliciously at the crowd, knowing that only a few would get the joke.

        “…when I came back into the wormhole, the owners of the other POS - the active ones - had put out a third fuel container for their brothers in need.”

        I drained my glass.

        “Aren’t they just the cutest!”