Thursday, March 28, 2013

Have Lasers, Will Travel

        “I’m feeling good, walking around my neighborhood
        I’m having fun, with my machine gun.”
         -- Christian Death, Neighborhood Watch

What a month.

It had started out harmlessly enough with an Agony roam on account of St. Patrick’s day - an informal holiday whose roots had long been lost in the past. Nowadays all that remained were generous intake of libations, shenanigans, and an inexplicable preference for the color green. And it had been a great day out: our band of frigates and destroyers took on not just one, but two Logistics-backed battlecruiser gangs back to back, did a sight-seeing trip to C9N-CC to visit the wreck of Steve, relieved a Tengu pilot from the shame of fruitlessly engaging one of our interceptors, and to finally die in a glorious fight in K-B2D3. In the process I got acquainted with this particular Dragoon fit which I had never used before - specifically I learned a lot about its limitation. Energy neuts would be a good thing against other frigates and destroyers, but for our gang, they were rather useless against the larger prey we were facing.

But while it had been great day, it had also been a case of “you had to be there” - much to the dismay of Eta who liked to live vicariously through my roam narrations. She wasn’t too happy that all I did was to refer her to the official AAR - but she was somewhat mollified by the picture of Steve.

My return to the war zone was then delayed by logistics - I was running out of frigates, had to arrange for replacements to be shipped, and before that, I had to arrange for ISK to enter my wallet in order to buy said replacements. Subsequently, I could spend only one night on de-plexing Sosala, which incurred the inevitable losses. The only thing which I really regretted was to not remember Xyon Xero quickly enough: he got me with the same fit as before, and I stupidly engaged him not remember the counter-tactics I had brainstormed. That is not to say that my counter-tactics would have worked, but it would have at least counted as “nice try”.

But there had been no time to dwell on it - already I was en-route to my former Alliance’s stomping grounds, to help in POS takedown. And embarrassingly enough, I was an hour late - I had confused the timezones…

So while I was making best speed, Heloisa Lemarq filled me in - text comms only, because something was interfering with her voice channels, outgoing and incoming.

Seems that while the fleet had been forming up, a small fight had erupted between Alliance members and some randoms at a gate - in the process the Alliance lost number of battleships, but managed to kill a Scorpion Navy Issue in return. Subsequently, the Alliance had been cautious about possible repercussions and proceeded to attack the POS with just battleships.

Correction: battleships, and one dreadnought. Althalus Dweios took the risk of bringing out his dread, primarily for the purpose of springing the trap if there was one. I didn’t get the impression that the FC - Calcinus - was very happy with it.

But hey: I was just a guest lending some firepower. While we had a shared past, I was no longer a member, for better or worse. That meant that today, I’d just be following orders.

I arrived in the neighboring hi-sec system, boarded my Pulse-Apocalypse, sporting an old-school remote-repair fit capable of surviving a moderately defended POS, and headed into the system Next Door.

The POS in question was not just undefended, but also offline, so I just fell in with the group, loaded my short-range ammunition, and settled down for a leisurely couple of hours of shooting the POS and more-or-less witty banter on comms, while keeping an eye on local, and occasionally checking d-scan.

Of course it didn’t work out that way. I was just looking at a live feed of space kittens, when a subtle change in the corner of my eye demanded my attention. Local had gone up by a few neutrals.

        [ Everybody, warp off. Warp off. ]

Almost too late I remembered that Heloisa was still hobbled by text-only comms, and relayed the command to her. And this fraction of a second of delay was sufficient to give me second thoughts. If there was one thing I had learned from previous engagements, it’s that sub-caps protect the caps. Bait or not, the sub-caps won’t leave the field unless there’s a plan to bring the caps to safety.

I spammed the warp cancellation command into my ship’s systems, in case a fleet warp order had been issued, knowing full well that I was going against FC orders. But what could they do? Expel me from alliance?!

The other ships left just as the hostiles warped in, and suddenly my Apoc was facing four Dominixes.

Uhmm… what now? I really should have thought this through.

I engaged the nearest Dominix, while having my non-capsuleer crew abandon ship. All I could hope for was to draw the hostiles attention long enough for the dread to exit siege and cyno off. A very long shot, but the only option available.

And, of course, recon.

        “Four Dominix on field, I have aggression on one, they are all within 10 klicks of the dread.”

Damn! Don’t use the the “I” word!

        [ Did they engage? ]
        “One has engaged me.”

One quickly became two, then three. My shield collapsed, and I engaged my armor repair mechanisms, to delay the inevitable just a bit longer.

Oh, look! Newcomers!

        “Typhoon on field. Typhoon on field, and a cyno.”
        [ Dweios, Do you want support? ] - Calcinus
        [ Negative.] - Dweios

The cyno pulsed, depositing an Archon carrier amidst us, 3200 meters of hull bristling with angrily glowing armor transfer arrays. The battleship which Dweios had managed to put into deep armor? Good as new. The Dominix I was fighting? Even the paint was restored.

        “The Dominix is receiving reps - I am not making headway here. I have to bug out.”

Too late: I had just finished my sentence when the last hull supports buckled under energies directed at them, and my Apoc ceased to exist. I limped off the field in my pod, back to the hi-sec staging system.

        Druur Monakh > Nice drop
        Althalus Dweios > o/ good drop

…Apoc, Apoc - I thought I had another Apoc here… ah, there it is! Same bad fit, but it’s all I had left. And this time I’d insure the ship!

While I negotiated with the insurance agent, I kept an ear on fleet comms where options were weighed. Dweios, the dread driver, was very matter of fact. He had no illusions about coming out of this situation alive - and the attackers sure knew how to handle a dread. But while listening to him was very educational, it wasn’t very motivating.

Oh, well - guess it’s just me again then.

I initiated the undock procedure, letting the comms chatter flow past like the murmur of a creek on a pleasant afternoon. The stars swung around me as I laid in course towards the lo-sec system as soon as the station force fields let me.

        [ Do you want to fight, Gentlemen? ]

I raised an eyebrow. A fleet is not a place for democracy.

        [ Let’s go for it! ]
        [ Let’s do this! ]
        [ Heck Yeah! ]

Well, maybe in this fleet it was.

        [ Where do you want us? ]

And commands took over fleet comms once more - after a brief confusion about who was giving the commands.

I smiled. That was more like it!

The warp back to the battlefield took only seconds, but it seemed like eternities. When I finally dropped out of warp, the fight was in full swing, Calcinus alternating the damage of the 21 battleships between the carrier and the support ships, to keep the Archon both busy and guessing.

I settled down just 10km off the Archon, and added my damage to the fray. The Amarrian doctrine being to sit in the middle of the battle and relying on the gods to protect you, this left me free to quickly
switch targets while transcribing the commands for Heloisa.

Space became a deadly lightshow of lasers, projectiles and blaster charges. The exhaust of missiles created a haze, eerily lit by the impact explosions. And suddenly, in the middle of the energetic firestorm, a rookie ship.

        Otaki Akashi > o.0
        Otaki Akashi > WTF !!!
        Druur Monakh > Enjoy the show!
        Otaki Akashi > thats my tower

Oh. How nice of the POS owners to show up as well. At least one of them.

        Otaki Akashi > kill that faggots xD

I frowned, annoyed. Yes, that tower was a big investment, but there was no need for such kind of unprofessional behavior. Even the grammar was atrocious.

        Duur Monakh > language, please

But killing us they did. Our lack of both ECM and logistics support meant that they could pick us off with impunity - within minutes, our fleet had lost half its strength, the ships either being destroyed or forced to warp off, including my second Apoc.

On comms, people were starting to offer to throw their capitals into the fight. … well, you had to give one thing to industrialists: they do tend to be able to buy big ships, and itch for a reason to fly them. But it was a risk that Calcinus wasn’t willing to take.

        [ If we can not kill their support, then we have a problem. ]

Could additional dreads have killed their support? Maybe their carrier? Could carriers of our own have let our fleet survive long enough to kill theirs?

Maybe. Maybe not. Fact was: the Light Brigade had ridden, and now it was time to return to the tents and contemplate the losses.


I couldn’t let that snot-nosed punk Otaki just get away with his language. I still had the Executioner I had used to get here before the op went live, and over the last weeks I had learned a few things about what it was capable of. For starters, it could outrun battleship weaponry. And that was good enough for me.

I went back. After all, I was in Factional Warfare, and running from a fight was not in the Manual of Arms!

Ok, maybe for the Minmatar, what did they know about righteous warfare?

Back on the field, I found desolation. The space was littered with wrecks and abandoned drones, and the hostiles were pouring their firepower into the dread, tearing off chunk after chunk from the mighty ship. Two local fighters were plinking away against the hostile battleships, but ineffectually so. And Otaki sitting in the middle of it all, aiming his civilian pea shooter at the dread as well. Probably smirking while doing so.

I wiped the smirk off his face and almost got his pod, just before the hostile battleships resolved their target lock on me. But they knew better than to waste their ammunition on me, as I quickly drew distance from the fight. Minutes later Otaki was back, but quickly fell again, this time to the fire of the dread.

It would be Althalus’ last act of defiance for that night. Too much damage had his Revelation taken, and finally the containment of its reactors failed, the ship exploding in a flash bright enough to temporarily blind my sensors. When my vision returned, the hostiles were leaving the battlefield, ignoring the sea of wrecks and drones as well as the salvaging ships now arriving on the grid.

They had been here for the Dread and its support, and for that alone. And with a victory like theirs, they could afford to be gracious.

Though, if you listened to our fleet comms, it would have been hard to tell that we had just had gotten our asses handed to us: people were in a good mood, excited even! Not too surprising, actually: many of them had not ever been in a fight before - and getting to fight capitals right off the bat?

Totally worth it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Occupational Hazards

The cold air in the hangar had cooled me out more than I had thought - I was still slightly shivering even after I had put on my snazzy station outfit. Nothing a hot cup of tea wouldn’t be able to fix! Coming out the kitchen, cup in hand, an image on the wall-mounted video screen caught my eye: the cycling feed from my the security cameras, currently showing one of my storage bays, filled with rows upon rows of cryostatic pods.

Cryopods were how baseliners often travelled the big void, passing the time asleep. You could often find them in the wrecks of ships, lucky survivors in the harshness of space. For us capsuleers, they were mere trade goods, if that much.

These, however, were special. The official manifest listed them as unspecified “Livestock” - but I knew their actual contents.

The big ones - Slavers. The small ones - Slaver Hounds.

I hated them.

Just because slavery was part of my culture, it didn’t mean that I necessarily agreed with it. Or disagreed. Culture is never that easy. Personally I didn’t think it was worth the trouble.

But slavers themselves? Hated them. Where the actions of us capsuleers were mitigated by the fact that our opponents were immortal demi-gods themselves, these creatures took too much delight from the fact that their victims were very much mortal.

And they had the enforcers of the Theology Council behind them. And the Council had its ways and methods with dissenters, capsuleer or not.

So every time I undocked in a new ship, I loaded up a Slaver and its Hound, hooked up the slaver’s pod to a sensor feed, and initiated the reanimation procedure. Nobody wondered, nobody questioned - just another Amarrian doing her thing. By the time I arrived on the battlefield, my guest would be awake, kept alive by their metal coffin for a couple more days, even if only barely.

My ships didn’t last days. And when the inevitable end came, my guest had a front row seat - and nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

The lucky ones would vanquish together with my ship. Just another unfortunate victim of the war.

        Xyon Xero > WTF! *laugh*
        Xyon Xero > Slaver, Slaver Hound
        Xyon Xero > Haha, so Amarrian, I love it!

Not all got lucky.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The First

        “You must die! I alone am best!” -- Bloodhound Gang

With a final shudder my Thrasher nestled into the stationary grav field of my hangar, as the station tugs disengaged their tractor beams. My connections with the ship went dark, but I could tell from the shifting vibrations the various phases of my pod being extracted from the innards of the Minmatar destroyer, willing myself to be patient.

It felt weird to return to the station in the same ship I had undocked with.

Finally my pod opened, and I could step out and cough the amniotic fluid out of my lungs. An annoying procedure, even after all this time. But instead of heading into my quarters as usual, as soon as my vision cleared somewhat, I put on the first piece of clothing lying nearby, and headed back out to my hangar.

A maintenance glider brought me up to level with my Thrasher and I let my eyes wander over its tortured hull. This ship had been with me for years, carried me through wormhole space, basked in the radiation of faraway nebula, and kept on going. Now its hull was scorched and torn, small fires still leaking from holes where the both armor and structure had been punctured, half of the signature heat sinks mere, the cannons mere molten heaps of slag.

I commanded the glider closer until I could touch the hull, and leaned my head against the metal. Already the details of the events were beginning to slip away from me.

It had been about a week since my return to the war zone, to active space duty. At first I had a good reason for staying docked - consulting work for a defense contractor. But then weeks turned into months, and it became harder and harder to even think about undocking. Until something - I didn’t even remember the exact trigger - convinced me last week to get a grip and find out once and for all whether I could hack it in the war zone, or if I’d never be more than a meddling weekend fleet member.

It hadn’t exactly gone well. Not that I had expected to gain wins any time soon, but to perform this badly? That I learned a little bit in every fight was only of little consolation - I had noticed that I no longer had the unbridled enthusiasm of a newly minted pilot.

And today had started out in the same vein. At first it had seemed to look up when I managed to hold myself against Toterra’s Incursus for much longer than usual. Of course I had exploded in the end, but for once my survival time clocked in at two whole minutes instead of mere seconds. But my spirits, just raised, had been quickly crushed when a Thrasher first kited me, then volleyed me into oblivion.

It had been late, I was dismayed, so I had decided to just go for it and up-ship into a destroyer as well. The only fitted destroyer at hand had been my wormhole destroyer - a ship so old that it still sported Tech-1 ‘Scout’ cannons and a probe launcher.

I had hastily removed all unnecessary modules from the ship, undocked, and hurried back to the plex - but too late: Nilina Wulf had moved on. Instead, Jay Bonarta now was in the plex.

Oh well - Thrasher was Thrasher, right? Never survive, never surrender! and all that.

I engaged.

With a resounding whomp! my cannons spit out their first volley, the recoil brutally slamming back their actions to pull the next rounds from the magazines, while I settled into an optimal orbit.

He responded in kind, his return volley taking the first bite out of my shields.

Grimacing, I disabled system safeties and pushed my cannons into overload. Just like in the old days of sail, we were two fighting ships, slugging it out with broadsides. No trickery, no fancy flying, just brute force at point blank range.

Alarm klaxons shrilled as my shield was breached and armor was stripped away. I turned them off.

Fire broke out in several compartments, but my structured wasn’t harmed yet - I let them burn.

I was dishing out as well as I took, but it wasn’t fast enough. I was barely through his shield, and my guns were reaching critical temperature.

Keenly eyeing the temperature readouts, I had readied myself to re-enable the cooling systems at moments notice - but too late! The guns cycled one last time, sending off their deadly payload like a last kiss goodbye, and then seized up, their innards glowing white-hot.

It was over.

Now all I could do was to try and get to safety. Frantically I changed course towards my safe spot and routed full power into my afterburner, burning out even more energy rails with abandon. Anything to escape the fatal grasp of the warp disruption effect.

A message came in on militia comms, but I dismissed it unseen - I could read it later.

The warp drive rumbled to life, and caught! Space folded around me and I was whipped to relative safety, leaving a trail of smoke and flames behind.

Now what had been this message about…

        “In recognition of your effort to shoot down Jay Bonarta, a despised enemy of our militia,…”

No way - my implants must be acting up. I pulled up the message again. Yup, still the same words.

I had won?!

The combat log confirmed it - it must have been that very last volley my guns had sent out, which had decided the fight.

If his guns had cycled before mine… If he had fitted a shield extender… If if if.

In a daze I had piloted my ship back to Sasiekko, forgetting even the courtesy of the ‘good fight’ … my very first 1v1 win! After five years as a pilot!

A violent shiver shook me out of my reverie - I realized that I was wearing only a light robe, which wasn't quite hangar bay-grade clothing. After a last look over my battered ship, I steered the glider back towards the hangar exit.

I knew it would be a while before I would be able to score my next win, maybe even a long while, and that I still had tons to learn - but for tonight I felt like celebrating a bit.

Yes! Some Arcturian Mega-Vodka would be quite appropriate!

And Blood Orange Juice. I was getting too old for hangovers.