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.”