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!”

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Alle gegen Alle

        “Anyone want to help write ‘Survival for Dummies’? -
         ‘Don’t’ in large, friendly letters." -- Joe Moore

Ah, Orfroid. How have I missed you!

Well, not you personally, but the factional warfare zone in general. The orbiting of complexes to convince their inhabitants to switch allegiance; the fights against pirates trying to interfere with the Empire’s work; the dissatisfaction when a night’s work was undone a mere six hours later.

There was a reason why I had delayed my return to factional warfare, and instead taken to haunting wormholes again. While there was still a lot to learn for me in ship-to-ship combat, the purpose of the factional war had started to slip my grasp.

But yet… seeing Orfroid filled with both factional friendlies and hostiles, my fundamental allegiance refused to be denied. I was but a neutral to all of them, but gods help me, if I could help a righteous Amarr miltia member to achieve his objective, I would!

Remembering a few half-heard comments from veteran militia members, I sent my Pilgrim towards the nearest complex.

Sliding into a complex wasn’t that difficult: you only had to warp at 10km to the beacon, and start sending the gate-activation commands into the systems before you even landed. Easy peasy.

Except I also had to handle the fact that the Maller inside the complex might or might not be hostile.

As soon as the acceleration gate fired, I cloaked my Pilgrim again, and prepared myself mentally for the next steps: upon landing on grid, accelerate under cloak away from the current occupant. While gaining distance, check her allegiance - if she’s Amarr, just stay cloaked until she needs help; otherwise, wait for a good moment and pounce her.

I hadn’t accounted for the third possibility, that she’d have stayed right at the warp collapse point, and that she’d attack me as soon as my cloak failed in her presence.

Lasers were screeching over my hull, and I lost all sense for space and time as I went into mental overload. My drones streaked away towards my aggressor, my pulse lasers began their deadly rhythm, and I found myself frantically micromanaging my active tank, my micro warp drive, my capacitor booster - and yes, my lasers.

I hardly noticed the arrival of the five Gallente militia members in the complex - I knew that I was already dead, so the number of knives these Brutuses could bring didn’t matter anymore. The only open question was whether I could take the Maller with me before I died, or not.

Enemy drones were swarming around my ship, a small voice in the back of my mind mentioned that with auto cannons I could have shot those direct enemies of mine, alas my pulse lasers had run out of cap and were half-molten anyway, both my cap booster and my ancillary armor repairer had locked their breeches open as they had ran out of charges, and the various shield and armor and hull breech alarms were playing their cacophonic symphony.

Detachment took hold of me.

        Druur Monakh: Guys. this was a private fight!
        Druur Monakh pouts.
        p30pl3h4t3m3> then go save yourself
        Druur Monakh: Never! Win Amarr Victor, or something!

A surge ran through me when both the cap booster and the armor repairer resumed to do their work, and as soon as the board flashed green, I activated my hardeners as well. Surviving long enough was my goal at this point - any damage would have to be done by my drones.

When the Maller finally exploded, I barely noticed, to busy I was trying to get into a position to fight the GalMil members. Not that I expected much from that effort, but I felt that I should at least try.

…Nope. Barely ten seconds after the Maller, my Pilgrim met its demise as well. And as it went, I actually tasted the sourness in the super-fluidic transmissions which told me that this loss had went unnoticed by CONCORD.

I didn’t like to lose, but even more I disliked not giving my opponents the credit they were due. It was the only way I could keep myself honest.

But there was nothing I could have done about it at that point: my capsule sped away from the place of unintended slaughter, and right then, there was a more pressing matter on my mind:

        Druur Monakh> gf!
        Druur Monakh> …ehrm, now where is the nearest hi-sec which won’t shoot me on principle?