Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sore Losers

The mass of people was overwhelming, especially in contrast to the quiet seclusion of my quarters the last few days. But there was only so much fitting and module shopping I could do before turning stir crazy. So I had taken a break and gone for a walk.

Admittedly, my first destination had been my cargo hangar to take a look at my new possessions, but I was soon politely, yet firmly, shooed away. Something about the difficulties of wrapping up Small Focused Pulse Lasers for transport when the owner is climbing around on them.

To the general commerce levels then!

I let myself drift with the crowd, a spectator of the sights and sounds of this market hub. You could buy about anything here, from mustache wax to street-illegal performance gliders, from pets with their own clone contract for the discerning capsuleer, to Concussive Personal Defense Systems. And scattered among it all, at stands held in place by localized force fields, vendors of all kinds of exotic foods and drink.

Like this one: a vendor selling strangely formed sticks of bread, malleable, topped with all kinds of stuff. “The Original Alieman Bretz’ns", according to the holo sign. Of course, since no venture is without competition, just a few meters away stood another stand, that one offering "Traditional Alieman Bretz’ns". Same basic concept, but those bretz’ns appeared to have a consistency suitable to serve as knuckle-dusters in a pinch.

Unsurprisingly, neither vendor had any illusions about the ability of the common consumer to make up their mind when confronted with choice, so both employed a squad of professional Attractors. A nice smile and a hot body (only lightly covered) to draw you in, and a weight-lifter’s grip to make sure you stayed. Right now, however, both squads were mostly staring at each other angrily, grumbling insults, while medics were caring for two formerly-prospective customers.

Best not to get involved. My communicator signaled an incoming call, so I found myself a quieter spot around a corner nearby.

[ Hey, Sis! ] greeted me a small holo-Eta. [ I just wanted to let you know that I can't do any hauling for you the next days. ]

"No problem! I'm not done shopping yet anyway." I cocked my head. "Dare I ask why?"

[ Remember the folks we repelled from our WH? ]

Oh, I remembered! Those folks had really been an exercise in stubbornness. During our 'day' we incapped their guns, during their 'day' they brought out more. When their small POS finally came out of reinforce (before my 'day'), they had invited old buddies from Exhale to join the party - probably promising a capital kill or two.

Luckily Calcinus had kept a cool head and convinced the Alliance fleet to remain POSed up, until Exhale had gotten bored and left. However, then the Alliance fleet was gun-shy about the possibility of a cloaky scout left behind, so they held back their heavy ships even long after the interlopers themselves had called it a night. By the time I joined in, attacks against the hostile POS were flown using stealth bombers - without much effect.

I think my reaction had been along the lines of 'Frack this - let's shoot the damn thing!' I had taken my Apoc back onto the field, and when I wasn't ambushed right away, the others had put away their Hounds and Nemesi, and brought out their big ships as well. And not too soon: the POS shield had already recharged to 40%; waiting another night could have undone all the work we had put in at that point.

Shouting erupted nearby, some heated discussion was apparently taking place. I upped the volume on my communicator.

[ Well, ] continued Eta, [ Turns out, they are sore losers, and wardecced us. We did all the usual industrialist things: hardened our POSes, stored away our expensive ships, and ... ]

"... and accepted allies to help with the shooting.", I completed the sentence for her.

[ Exactly! Only that now I can't move your crap until this nonsense is over. ]

She frowned as the communicator relayed the gun shots ringing out from the main promenade behind me.

[ Where are you? ]

"Jita 4-4, 13th commerce level."

[ Ah, say no more. Den of stinking evil, and ... ]

The concussive shockwave of a minor explosion blotted out her words and threw me off my feet. As I propped myself up, the angry sirens of Station Security filled the air.

You did not want to be around Station Security when they used their angry sirens.

"I call you back." I mouthed, and terminated the connection.

Risking a peek back around the corner, I could now see only smoking debris where the bretz’n vendors had been. There were bodies strewn about, and security bots were establishing a preliminary perimeter.

In Jita, fast food was serious business.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Old Friends, New Enemies

        “A gold eagle, room and board. Six weeks gunning for some farmers.” -- The Magnificent Seven

Ship fitting - oh how I loathed thee!

It wasn't on the top of my "List of Things I Hate", but it did rate quite highly on it. It was one of the things when I could almost envy the null-sec grunts with their doctrine fits. Almost.

And it wasn't due to a lack of information; manufacturers were too happy to take out 10-page spreads in magazines with so illustrious names as "Ship and Pilot" and "Popular Nanomechanic". But putting a fit together and then digging through the market to buy all the components, was something completely different.

The thought alone made me shudder. And I had to do it for 120 ships of 30-something different types, more often than not ship types I had never fit for combat before. No wonder I had been procrastinating.

But eventually I had steered my good destroyer to the hovel known as Jita, gripped the terminal, and had started juggling modules on fit planners. I had just started to get into The Zone, when the terminal signalled an incoming call - audio/video.

It was Eta. Since she had promised to move my equipment if only I got it sorted already, I'd better be nice to her.

"Hello Sis!", I opened the call cheerfully, waving the latest issue of "Blasters & Charges" in the field of the video receptor. "As promised, I'm getting my fits sorted."

[ That's fine. ] She was visibly pre-occupied. [ This might interest you: we have intruders in our alliance wormhole. Intel is sparse, but it seems they have put up a small POS and caught some of our ships. ]

"Is that so?", I asked, intrigued, ship fittings forgotten. "What else can you tell me?"

[ Not much, I'm afraid. The person on scene is not very talkative. ] She sighed. [ However, I made contact with our ex-pat Lance in the WH, and he's flexing his CovOps muscles. I should have him on this channel in a bit, as well as Heloisa. ]

"Heloisa? Sweet! Just like old times."

Eta smiled briefly. [ Yep. Good times. ... ok, here they come - switching to audio only. ]

Her image cut out, and I noticed the slight echo indicative of a multi-person audio channel.

"Howdy everyone!", I greeted the new participants, already disrobing. "Most important question first: where is the exit?"

[ Good to hear you again! ], replied Lance somewhat staticky. [ The exit is in ... Sitanan, Domain. ]

Brilliant! I would be able to help without getting shot at by some faction's Navy. Jogging towards my pod while giving orders to the docking bay crew via my subcranial transceiver, I continued to listen in as Lance explained the situation as he knew it.

It seemed that one of our Alliance elders had recently moved into the WH, and while bouncing around the system, she had stumbled into a POS which hadn't been there the day before.

Literally stumbled. Count minus one Loki.

Getting useful information out of said elder had proven tricky (apart from a request for Guardians and Falcons), but Lance had found the bookmarks locating the interloping POS and had now his own camera drones in it.

The invaders were three: a Maelstrom, a Bestower, and a Falcon; with a Buzzard floating unmanned in the POS bubble. The POS itself was a small one, but armed with a dozen EWar modules, and bristling with small and medium autocannons and artillery.

Crucially, the medium batteries were not online, and the Bestower was apparently doing supply runs still. They weren't fully entrenched yet. There was still time!

More intel came in: the hostiles were a little seven person corp, active mostly in w-space. Just a couple weeks ago they lost a POS in another w-space system. ...hmmm...

Looks like this wasn’t a corporation to execute evictions, but more one to get a beachhead in WHs to execute raids on their locals. Well, we’d see about that! I hadn’t shot a POS in a while, but putting together a sniping Apocalypse in Amarr Prime shouldn’t be too difficult. Beyond that, it’d be a fight of attrition.

Undocked, I commanded my destroyer towards the next stargate.

Let’s do this!


Ten hours later, I called it a day. I was the last one on the field, and there were only a handful of E-War batteries left to incap - and it wouldn’t really matter until the POS came out of reinforce, like 30 hours from then. And while it was fun to play around with NEUTONIS, there was no way I could defeat him - not with him having the POS’ force field nearby for quick relief, and me having only large lasers fitted.

It had been a rather typical POS attack: while the owners had showed up (and even managed catch me in a weak position, but were luckily unable to follow through), in the end they were no match for the WH incumbent’s fire power. Especially not when the hostiles managed to collapse the WH exit to hi-sec onto themselves, and got caught in a bubble.

But the heroes of the day were the Frigate Mob!

Apparently, just a few days before, a new corporation had joined Redrum Fleet - full of rookies, and brimming with zeal. While predominantly miners and industrialists, they still had that exuberant “let’s mine in low-sec!” fearlessness in their hearts. So when they heard that the Alliance’s WH was under attack, they up-shipped into frigates and destroyers to the best of their abilities, and offered their help. They didn’t get any official kills, and suffered a number of losses to the POS guns, but without them distracting the POS’ E-War batteries, the job of us heavy-hitters would have been immensely more difficult.

Which only goes to show: Every Ship Counts!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Wee Free Ships

        “So whuts the plan, Rob?”, asked one of them.     
        “OK lads, this is what we’ll do. As soon as we see somethin’, we’ll attack it. Right?”
         -- Nac Mac Feegle planning session (Terry Pratchett)

So, why again was I waking up in Berta?

I was just about to mentally run down the possible explanations in a process of elimination, when a polite chime from my data pad interrupted. It was an appointment reminder.

    Agony Public Hangover Roam
    Berta IV-19 - Ammatar Consulate Bureau

    Note: Rookie ships

Technology to the rescue again! And I still had an hour left until departure. So, let's see...

- Up-to-date clone? Check.
- Empty head? ...touch...touch... Check.
- Hung over? Check. ...unfortunately.
- Rookie ships fitted? ... ehrm, I better get cracking at that.

Forcing my body into the vertical required some effort, but eventually it was accomplished. A splash of some cold water over my head, and I was able to leave the quarters towards the general direction of the hangar bays.

Slowly, the fleet came together. The 40-something participants ranged from grizzled PvP veterans with FC experience, who could no longer remember what ammunition the civilian weapons needed, to rookies whose pilot licenses were still oozing digital ink, and most in various stages of hungoverness. Due to this, and the ludicrously suicidal goal of the roam as such, the general atmosphere was much less serious than compared to your typical class roam. Jokes and banter lit up the comms, and while half of the fleet was still in station to put the final fittings on the ships, the other half was already out in space, practicing that essential tactical fleet maneuver known as the “Conga Line”.

But with only a few minutes delay, the gaggle of mostly rookie ships took off and headed towards Curse, anticipating a fiery death within the next couple of minutes. And death didn’t need to be asked twice: a Hound uncloaked at the RMOC gate in Hemin and welcomed us with a nicely launched shrapnel bomb, wiping out half the fleet. After a hasty reship and/or repair, our fleet returned to that gate, eager to lock weapons onto the hostile gang reported on the other side. A Huginn jumped through to us, and we piled onto it.

Imagine our excitement when the Huginn did not immediately jump back into the safe embrace of its friends, but stayed, even when its shield lost integrity and its armor flew off the ships in big chunks. Giggling in my pod, I noticed that my festival launcher had run out of fireworks, and I sent a command to the crew to reload it with the remaining snowballs from the magazine.

System crash!

Suddenly all my connections to the ship went dark, even comms. I could feel the vibration of the engines as they propelled the ship into emergency warp, but it would take several minutes for my fluidics and electronics to reboot. By the time I’d have control again, the battle would be over.

And I was right. When comms came back online, I could hear excited chatter that our gang had killed the Huginn. Oh, and they were mostly all back in Berta, reshipping.

My ship dropped out of warp right into the bubble the hostile gang had erected, and while I made an attempt to escape, my heart wasn’t in it. One fiery flash of overwhelming firepower, and I found myself falling out of a clone bay in Amarr station.


Crap! I had forgotten to update my home station!

I grabbed a new rookie ship, undocked, and raced towards Berta station, with little hope that I’d be able to arrive there before the fleet would depart again. Indeed was a race I didn’t win - the fleet undocked and steered towards Providence when I was still a number of hops out from Berta. All I could do was listen in enviously on comms when they attacked and killed a Sev3rance Harbinger in 4B-NQN.

However, the ensuing cat-and-mouse game with the rest of the hostiles finally allowed me to catch up - just in time to join in on an attack on a Loki, which desperately tried to crash back to the back. Its shield vanished almost instantly, and its armor started dropping precariously... 75%... 60%... 50%... 40%... and gate fire!

The Loki had de-agressed just in time to beat a hasty retreat. The skirmishers on the other side got tackle on him, but we were caught on this side of the gate for another minute. After a bit confusion as to whether the Loki would come back to us or not, the arrival of a Logistics-supported gang decided matters for us: we jumped into YWS0-Z as well.

On the other side, we discovered that there was a second half to that Logistics-supported gang, welcoming us with open fire. We lost the field - but not without taking a hostile Rapier with us.

Tally so far: one hour flight time, less than 100M lost in material for about 500M dealt in damage. Not bad for a bunch of wee ships.

The fleet regrouped in Berta, with a good number of pilots up-shipping into frigates and destroyers, and the destination was once again Curse - with the idea of taking the back entrance into Providence via Catch.

We didn’t quite make it.

An Outbreak gang presented us with the irresistible target in form of a brick-tanked Navy Dominix, and of course we were just too happy to take the bait. The rest of their gang jumped in, while half of our gang had accidentally warped to a safe, and slaughter ensued. In short progression, our fleet (now back to its full strength) took down two Vagabonds. FC Greygal died, but House2twist seamlessly took over command.

A short breather was had when the Navy Dominix jumped to the other side, but soon hostile reinforcements arrived. The fight was on again, and I was reminded of an important fact of life which I really should have remembered:

Rookie ships don’t react well to smart bombs. Neither do pods.

Again, I was relegated to following the fight over comms only, while I readied a Hydra-style Tormentor frigate back in Berta. Our fleet wreaked havoc, taking down in rapid succession a Dramiel, a cruiser, two battle cruisers, and two battle ships (sadly the Navy Dominix was not among them).

A general re-shipping followed, Outbreak wisely opting to bring out capitals and faction battleships to counter the threat which our unruly frigate fleet posed. Grudgingly, we took our ammunition and went on to play in Catch.

But opposition was growing sparse now - maybe our fame was preceding us?

After a small tussle at the HED-GP/SV5-8N gate - and a truly horrendous rendition of a birthday carol on comms - we eventually found ourselves in KBP7-G. Facing a group of Sev3rance pilots thirsting for revenge for the beating they had received earlier.

And revenge they got: we managed to kill another two of their battle cruisers, but in the end they held the field, and deservedly so.

At that point we had been out in space for a good five hours, racked up 2.4B in kills over 0.2B in losses, and our attention levels were dropping. Hence, the decision to end the roam with this fight was an easy one.

As we made our more or less direct ways home, chatter continued on comms, meandering between subjects. I was decidedly losing concentration at that point, and let most of the conversation flow by, but two topics peaked my interest.

One was that even though our fleet was decidedly unserious and kitchen-sink in nature, it had been run quite professionally. The skirmishers had done an excellent job, as usual, target callers stood forward when the main FC was neutralized, and for the most part people had been adhering to battle comms whenever needed without need extra instructions.

The other was the observation that this roam had found more fights than several of the previous class and alumni roams. Maybe it was because on this day more pilots than usual had been out in space with no other goal than to have some fights, thus giving us a larger target selection. Or the reason could have been that because of the unserious nature of this roam, we had been more willing to push the envelope, taken on more risk, and had gotten just lucky that we didn’t completely welp the fleet in the process.

Food for thought.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Inevitable Morning After

        It’s like a fellow I once knew in El Paso. One day, he just took all his clothes off
        and jumped in a mess of cactus.
        I asked him that same question, ”Why?“ He said, ”It seemed to be a good idea at the time.“
         -- Vin, The Magnificent Seven

Rolling over onto my side, I opened my eyes - and immediately realized my mistake. Even though the lighting in these Minmatar-style quarters was dim, every photon felt like a projectile hitting squarely my pain receptors.

Blindly I fumbled around the side shelf until found the pain killer hypo, and a bottle of water. Hypo into the arm, water into Druur, and I laid back again to give both some time to do their magic, all the while wondering what I had gotten myself into this time. Not that I couldn’t remember last night - I knew better than that - but right now my memories weren’t too keen on staying in the conscious part of my brain, and frankly, I couldn’t blame them.

I did remember that it had started in a bar - we had chatted, enjoyed the view, partook in exquisite food and beverages, and in general had had a good time. At some point the idea must have come up to end the night with a little roam into the closest-by null sec area, because the next thing I remembered was us heading out in the very ships we had come, still fitted with firework launchers and whatever else we happened to have on them.

From Umokka we had headed towards Daras, with Pure Blind as our destination of choice. Once we hit lo-sec, we had quickly established the pattern that I’d jump my slightly more agile Rifter into a system first, to check the gate, and then my companion would bring up the rear.

And as was my wont, I had kept chatting with people in various comm channels, and while I had been too excited to not say what I was up to, I had kept enough sense to not go into too much detail, in case the whole adventure would go not just horribly, but embarrassingly wrong (the former was pretty much a given). Looking back, this made me giggle - my cryptic chattiness must have driven some of the other folks crazy.

As far as roams went, our outing had been rather disappointing: system after system of nothing. The had been a brief moment of excitement when we entered Pure Blind, and an Ibis had jumped through the gate with me. He must have been in a similar state of mind as us, as to my own surprise I did manage to nab him - not that I was particularly proud of shooting a rookie ship, but at least it was something. There also had been a Sabre landing on the gate seconds later, just as we warped off, but when we had returned, the Sabre was already gone.

Eventually we had found ourselves in EL8, which also was strangely deserted. The daily subspace beacon maintenance loomed and we were about to call it a night, when suddenly an Algos had appeared out of nowhere. I had engaged, by sheer muscle memory, and the space between us had lit up with projectiles, rockets, blaster charges, and fireworks. But to no avail: the Algos had been at only half shield when my Rifter exploded - just seconds before the beacon shutdown.

When the subspace systems had come back online, I had been alone in the system.

Had it been a set-up, or just happenstance? I might never know.

I had made my way back to Amarr then, even receiving an express trip courtesy of the perma-camp at the Torrinos gate in EC-P8R, and that had been it.

Lying on my bed, I rolled the memories through my mind. Back in academy, Sensei Da’Yo used to say: ”No embarrassment too big is, for lessons to be learned not.“ In this case, I had gone out and fearlessly, but not recklessly, jumped into systems, truly at peace with the possibility of losing my ship - and it had felt good. Chemically induced or no, if I could hold on to that feeling and remember it next time I was hesitant to engage...

I snorted lightly. As if things were ever that simple - but at least it was worth trying, no?

Right. Now that that was sorted, and the pain killer had also done its job, it was time to address the next pressing question.

If I had returned to Amarr last night, why was I waking up in Berta?

Festive Truce

        “A new day is here, it should be a lot better. The old is behind, a fresh look at the front.
        It's hard to say just what it will possess - a new friend, an old enemy, a chance to progress.“

          -- Impulse Manslaughter

I remembered this bar - I had been here last year. It was still spectacular.

The drinks weren’t just served - they appeared in front of you, as if by magic.

And with good reason, as one of the major attractions was the panoramic window revealing the traffic outside the station.

After all, it wouldn’t just do if this view were spoiled by bar tenders or other personnel - if you wanted that, you stayed in the back of the bar.

Outside the window, ships were putting on light show. Traditionally, Amarrian battleships carried most of the show with their multicolored beam crystals - but this year, the newly developed ”Festival“ launchers and their equally newly developed fireworks charges certainly stole the show. I would be out there, joining the happy chaos, if I hadn’t run out of charges earlier.

Guess I’d have to make due with just watching while sipping exquisite beverages. The hard life of a capsuleer.

Speaking of beverages: my glass was exhibiting distinct signs of emptiness. I gestured towards the main bar for a refill, keeping my eye on the spectacle outside.

My gesture was staid by a hand lightly gripping my forearm.

...whoa. Deja Vu.

”Fancy meeting you here...“ I said, not taking my eyes off the spectacle outside.

The hand was withdrawn, a shuffling of a chair, and I was no longer sitting by myself at the table.

Nothing was said for the next couple of seconds, until I finally turned to finish my sentence.

”...what with your announcement of what would happen the next time our paths would cross.“

I had said it in a light tone, but I watched the body language closely (not that I had any illusions about my abilities in that regard). It was fleeting, but I did pick up on embarrassment. Confusion. Maybe even sadness. But only for a moment - then the all too familiar hard shell snapped shut again, and I could see the beginning anger.

”I thought that maybe you might like some company,“ the words were increasingly hissed, ”but if this is how you want to play it...“

A chair was pushed back, and it was my turn to grip a forearm in restraint.

”Hold on!“, I snapped, surprising myself. ”Considering how we parted ways, it shouldn’t surprise you that I don’t invite you with open arms now; especially not when I had no reason to expect you here! So I’d appreciate it if you could give me at least a chance to understand why you’re here, before you walk out on me.“ I cocked an eyebrow. ”Again.“

For a moment I feared that I had said too much.

Outside, a CONCORD police officer took offense to the use of real missiles instead of firework charges.

I felt muscles relax.

”You’re right. It’s just...“. A breath was drawn. ”I’m in the region on business, but since it’s New Year’s, I took the evening off. Somehow I found my way here, and when I saw you sitting here, I thought that... you know... maybe you would like some company. Put aside our differences for a while. Enjoy the things we do have in common.“

Interesting. But I needed to hear the ‘and afterwards...’ part explicitly confirmed.

”You mean, like ground stompers celebrating in no-man’s land, before returning to their respective front lines to shoot at each other?“

”Something like that, if it makes any sense. It’s probably a stupid...“

”Shush!“ I smiled warmly.

”I’d like that.“