Saturday, 27 December 2008

The God-Makers

Lu Tien Hannarad fastened his coverall securely at the shoulder and paused to check in the mirror. Pale blue and spotless, it gave the young man a distinguished look, or so he felt. He hoped. He rubbed his hands together in an attempt to stop their trembling.

This was a big day.

At the door, he paused, taking a deep breath and allowing it to rattle his narrow frame on its way out. 'Relax,' he whispered. 'You can do this. It's just like the exams.'

He was shaking.

In the next room, a man and a woman were waiting, seated at a table and looking over holograms projected into the air above its surface. The man, Alric Takiri, looked up.

'Ah, Lu Tien, we're just reviewing the procedures for today's subject. Take a seat.'

The woman, Vienne Miyental, keyed up another image. 'I realise this is your first procedure outside of the exam holos, Lu Tien, so you'll have both of us keeping an eye on your progress today. Alric will be assisting you, I'll be back at the control desk watching on camera while I keep an eye on her vitals.'

Lu Tien nodded, not trusting his voice. Vienne rested her hand on his. 'Relax. There isn't much that can go wrong here which can't be fixed quickly and easily with minimal impact. Our subject today is in good health. She's prepared herself for this day for the last five years, and now it's up to you to bring her dreams to life.' Her fingers squeezed his momentarily and released.

The young man gave his superiors a wobbly smile. 'So no pressure, huh?'

They reviewed the procedure step by step over the next hour, and Lu Tien began to relax. It was like in the exams, except this time he would have living flesh and blood under his hands. Vienne and Alric would be there the whole time, he wouldn't be alone, and despite the complexity of the procedure, it wouldn't be life-threatening.

She was waiting in a comfortably-furnished room just outside of the surgery, looking neat and official in her Academy undress uniform. They shook her hand and Alric introduced Lu Tien as Doctor Hannarad, the cybernetics technician in charge of the procedure; Lu Tien bowed and expressed his pleasure at meeting her and the honour he felt at being the one to work on her. She smiled and said the honour was hers. An assistant came and led her away to the prep room while the three technicians returned to the surgery to make certain all was in order and ready.

Lu Tien's shakes had returned. 'I don't know if I can do this...' He surveyed the array of equipment laid out on tables and trolleys and platters before him: the tools of the trade he had so long hoped to excel in. Alric's hand gripped Lu Tien's shoulder.

'You can. We'll catch you if you stumble, but we're not here to hold you up.'

Soon, too soon, the young woman was wheeled in on a surgical trolley, already sedated and laid facedown with her hands resting on shelves below the level of the table-top to prevent circulatory disfunction; she was naked but for the open-backed operatory gown and a paper-fabric sheet draped over her legs. Vienne plugged in and started the bank of computers monitoring the woman's heart rate, brain function and neural network. Assistants swarmed around Lu Tien and Alric, faceless in surgical masks and caps, ever-present, never intrusive, prepping the technicians to work their craft in turning an ordinary pilot into a capsuleer.

Alric took up a position on the opposite side of the patient from Lu Tien. 'While this procedure is not risky in the sense that it could potentially maim or kill the subject, there is a chance that minor damage may be done to the spinal structure. In that sense, we must be cautious. She already has the initial training jacks and wiring; what we're doing is merely upgrading the system. Lu Tien: begin.'

He'd feared the nervous trembling would cause him to falter, but as he prepared to work, the shakes eased. By the time the first incision was made, a sense of peace had stolen over him, his mind and body settling into the familiar rhythm of a procedure he had performed a hundred times before in simulated scenarios. As he worked, Alric kept a steady, low-voiced monologue, as if weaving a story into the movements of the young technician's hands.

'There was a time when the single contact point in the skull was not considered enough for a capsuleer to have contact with even the training setups. The jacks were crude, heavy, plainly visible to anyone and had to be located at multiple points throughout the body for total nervous systems interface.'

'First socket is in place and anchored,' Lu Tien murmured into his microphone to Vienne at the control desk. 'Connection is secured. Begin interface sequence.'

The third technician tapped a command into a terminal; signals pulsed through the wires slotted into the new and old jacks. Suddenly awakened nanofilaments stirred within the hardware and began travelling along preexisting neural pathways, interlinking and spreading throughout the pilot's systems.

'Eventually, advances in the technology were made,' Alric continued. 'The hardware became smaller, finer, more capable of managing the demands of capsule command. Corporate competition drove the design to further refinement until the standard became what is in use today.'

'Second socket in place and anchored. Connection secured.'

Each implant was carefully mounted on the vertebrae of the woman's spine, nanofilament connections binding them into her nervous system and to each other. The flesh was sealed around the implants with a protective, flexible medical foam which would deteriorate as the healing process progressed.

'It's the initial ordeal of receiving capsuleer implants that can make or break a pilot.' The implants ran the length of the woman's spine, now, and the final stages of the surgery were in process. It was mostly Vienne's scene as she monitored progress and status, making adjustments as necessary.

Lu Tien looked at Alric. 'How so?'

The older man gestured to the sleeping pilot. 'When a capsuleer's clone is grown, the implants are developed with it. There's no invasive surgical procedures, and everything is meshed perfectly. It's this first step, where the pilot becomes more than human, that's the biggest and hardest. Imagine being in her place, waking up after this. Even with all the testing, all the training, nothing quite prepares you for the feeling of something alien inside you.'

Vienne gave the thumbs-up as the final test completed. 'Green. Get her to the recovery ward. Good job, people.'

'It's the reason we don't leave them alone from the moment they awaken. A small percentage can't handle it. They lose it entirely and all that can be done for them is care homes and lots of therapy; some kill themselves within the year.'

Lu Tien stared at his mentor, shocked at the notion, then at the pilot as she was carried away. 'I never... I never thought of that.'

The omnipresent assistants removed the technicians' masks and gloves; Alric rubbed the end of his nose with the back of one hand. 'Finally!

'Look at it this way. Nearly everyone has some minor cybernetics, these days. Optical repairs, audio implants, maybe a replaced or repaired internal organ or bone. Those are minimal things. Capsuleer implants hug the nerves so tightly, a pilot can feel it at first. Sort of a tightness, maybe a burning sensation, like a vague, sourceless pressure in every limb. That's how one described it for me, once. The feeling of it can be devastating if they're given time to think about it.' He glanced at Lu Tien. 'Becoming a god is neither easy nor painless. It's up to us to ease that transition as much as possible even as we initiate it. You did well today.'

Lu Tien looked around the operating theatre; assistants were bustling around cleaning up and shutting down various pieces of equipment. 'Becoming... a god?' he murmured. He thought about the pilot as she'd been when he'd met her. 'She's beautiful.'

Someone clapped him on the shoulder; he turned to see Vienne, looking tired but happy. 'Wait til you see what she becomes.'

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Farewell, Old Friend

On this day, my Hyperion battleship was destroyed in Evati in defense of an alliance-mate.

In itself, this event is nothing special: ships are destroyed every day, and indeed, as each of us will someday fade into the past, so too do our starships have a day where they come to return to their base elements.

But the Uninvited Ghost was more than just a ship, to me. When Kai Lomu was building her, I helped collect some of the rarer minerals through hunting and killing rogue drones in pockets of lowsec nearby, gathering and reprocessing the salvage. It was a labour of love, and in return, she paid me back by outliving two insurance cycles. Had I bothered with a third run, she'd have outlived that, as well.

For over nine months, the Uninvited Ghost served well, surviving a BoB primary attempt, a Moros in seige mode, and participating in multiple heavy-class actions in A-ZLHX, Arzi, Decon, Goudiyah, Hagilur, Irmalin, Katugumur, Mafra and Todifraun. I came to know her like an old friend, her quirks and foibles, her strengths and specifics. Commanding her was a joy and as instinctive as breathing. The men and women who served on her, those who live and those who did not survive her death throes, were her lifeblood, and worked together to make her better than the sum of her parts.

Despite hardships faced, the Uninvited Ghost remained a steadfast companion. Other of my ships have lived but fleetingly and died unmourned; yet she survived beyond expectation.

So it is with sorrow that I now commend the Uninvited Ghost to the stars. Perhaps after her death, she was looted and salvaged greedily by her killers. Her spirit, however, will not be so easily wiped from memory nor taken and kept to be sold or hoarded.

To the Uninvited Ghost: my friend, and my guardian.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Blog Banter #3

This month’s EVE Blog Banter idea comes to us by Roc Wieler of Roc’s Ramblings. Roc's asked us to “write a story about a fellow EVE Blogger, or an EVE player whom has inspired you or affected you in some tangible way. After your story, describe why you chose them, and any Holiday wish you have specifically for them“.

I slouched in front of the monitor, bored out of my skull, and checked my mail for the umpteenth time; nothing, as usual. I'd lost track of the number of days I'd been stuck in this hellhole of a system; and all because our CEO had decided that a move would revitalise the corp. She couldn't have been more wrong: every day, fewer people reported for duty or stayed online for very long. People were quietly moving out, without a word, to other systems; some people had left entirely. Of the twenty-odd members there'd been when I joined a couple months ago when we were based in Placid, less than half remained.

Part of the problem was the system itself. Not the features: the locals. They were vicious in a way that I had been only a few months before, and not for the first time I wondered what had happened to me. I lurked around the system, cloaked always, not giving them the chance to jump me and pound me gleefully into a cloud of dust.

Today, I just couldn't be bothered. I sat in the lounge near the hangars, keeping an eye on the Local comms and drinking tea. The downfall of a pirate; reality was a harsh mistress, and I could barely afford to support what ships and crew I had left. We were all feeling the pinch.

The doors opened, and I glanced up, half dreading it was another of the locals come to mock me for not being an easy target for them yet again.

It wasn't.

I didn't recognise her: a tall, athletic Brutor a bit older than myself, dressed in leather with a bearing only a capsuleer can claim. She ordered a bottle of wine from the lounge staff as she plugged in to the Local channels herself. Wine in hand, she raised a toast to the locals who had quite clearly chased her into the station, as they did so many others. Their response was typically playful-aggressive as they invited her to come out and demanded what her business was in the system.

Making my mind up, I rose, walked over to where she sat, and smiled when she glanced up.

'Mind a little company?'

The woman twitched a sceptical half-grin at me but waved to the seats nearby. 'Why not?'

I claimed a chair and squinted at her. There was no mistake. 'You're a pirate, huh?'

'That I am.' She studied me over the rim of her glass, then said, 'I think you are, too.'

'Lapsed,' I sighed. 'But a health to you. How'd you get stuck here?'

The rims of our glasses clinked and she settled back, crossing long legs in front of her. 'I'm based in Decon, but I got bored, figured I'd do a little exploring. Boy, was this place a mistake!' She laughed. 'This doesn't look like the best place to leave my jump-clone!'

I grinned back. 'There are better places.'

'Why are you lapsed?' When I hedged a second, she arched an eyebrow at me. I slumped back on the padded leather.

'I don't... I dunno. My first corp started to get quiet, people started leaving, some people made rotten decisions... I wasn't having fun anymore, so I thought to bring my sec status back up in a nullsec corp. You can probably guess how well that went.'

'Mmhmm.' She eyed me carefully. 'And now you're here.'

Nodding, I said, 'Now I'm back in lowsec because I don't know anything else, but this corp is dying and, well, you've seen how hospitable the system is. They're no friends of mine.'

The other pilot polished off her glass and refilled it from the bottle on the low table next to her. 'Sounds like you need a fresh start.'

'Fuck, yes,' I snorted. 'I tell you, if I don't get one soon, I may actually give up piloting. This is getting ridiculous.'

'Hmmm.' She savoured a sip of her wine, staring through the glazed outer wall at the distant stars, the curve of the planet the station orbited just visible to the lower right. 'Sometimes you just end up in bad places. Question is, are you gonna do something about it? Or are you gonna let it defeat you?' She finished her second glass of wine and stood.

'Time for me to make a run for the gate.' She handed the wine bottle to me. 'Finish it off and give me a call sometime. I've got a plan in the works you might like.'

I looked at the bottle, feeling bemused; red wasn't my preference, but I could probably mull it to drinkability. 'I'll do that, I think. What's your name, mate?'

She was already at the door; pausing, she glanced over her shoulder. 'Mynxee,' she said, and then she was gone.


When I first met Mynxee, I was in a very bad state, indeed, and things were only getting worse. It wasn't actually until I discovered that her CEO was a guy I had known only a short while but still respected and admired, that I got back in touch, first through him dragging her into our convo.

You know the rest.

I wouldn't change this. I don't know if I would be so happy anywhere else in Eve, with such awesome and amazing people to fly and hang out with, if Mynxee hadn't come through Antem that day. I certainly would never have started blogging; I can't say for certain, but I may well have quit playing altogether, things were so bad.

So thank you, Mynx. I owe you a lot, and if there's one wish I could have for you, it's that you always remain tops on the killboard, because you are the most formidable and admirable person I've ever known ^_^

Friday, 19 December 2008

God, I love my work...

You know you're in the right line of business when you walk into the alliance lounge in time to hear someone asking:
'Hey, you want to pay me for that hulk we stole over a month ago?'
...and it gives you the warm fuzzies.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

To IC or to OOC...

I find I have a dilemma when it comes to role-playing.

No, not that kind of role-playing. Jesu.

I don't often RP with Shae; I do more with my second main, and then I'm really only RPing by pretending to be a different sort of Eve-player. The last time I brought Shae into an interactive RP situation was when I was in Atrocitas and we were at war with Stimulus; I ended up in one of their less-private RP 'pub' channels after spending the hours preceeding the war chatting with them in Local. Being a newbie RPer (and a newbie in Eve, as well) facing the experienced who are -- for lack of a better description -- your enemies, and having to set yourself up so that you don't offend them in-character, is NOT an easy experience. That being said, the guys I met from that corp were fantasic people and went easy on poor li'l me.

Over the year since then, I've come to know Shae Tiann much better as an ingame character, which has made writing blog posts from her perspective increasingly easy. Hence the dilemma: when someone posts an in-character blog post, I feel any response I might make really ought to be in-character as well. I feel kind of bad about spoiling the atmosphere, even if the writer has indicated they don't mind. However, I'm aware this could cause confusion among the non-RP community.

What to do?!

Well, with the number of in-character posts I've written, I've decided, what the hell, why not? If someone writes an IC post I feel compelled to respond to, I'll write it IC, too. And you can probably expect more IC posts appearing here in the future.

A Warm Welcome

I'd like to introduce former alliance-mates (and current Bastards applicants) Kalazar and Azadeh Lawliet to the blogging community.

Update: Havok Pierce has also joined the fun!

:*'."\o/;"*.; *throws confetti*

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

That Meme Thing

I've been multi-tagged for this by Mynxee and Sarah Conna.

And I'm kinda screwed on the tagging part since everyone else I know has been tagged already, so just no going to bother (this is why doing something like that in a small community is silly).

The Rules:
  • Link to the original tagger(s), and list these rules on your blog.
  • Share 7 facts about myself in the post - some random, some weird.
  • Tag 7 people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  • Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs and/or Twitter.

:Seven Facts About Shae:
  1. I'm the oldest of three kids in my immediate family, the third-oldest of 16 grandchildren, and the oldest unmarried child in my extended family; cue all my rellies expecting me to settle down and sprog sometime soon :p (but not my parents! \o/)

  2. I was trained to be a racing swimmer by the time I was 12, but I wasn't competitive enough to want to join the team. I just loved swimming, and I miss it now.

  3. My family are relatively conservative northern Baptists. Because I had nothing else to rebel against when I was a teenager, I went hardline pagan. These days, I consider myself areligious and borderline spiritual: I research about other religions to understand them, I accept that some people need their religion, and let the issue stop there.

  4. If you really -- really -- want to put me in a bad mood, leave me in a room with the television on. Most shows annoy me because they seem lame and contrived, and the commercials turn me into a raging anti-society maniac.

  5. I've been using Photoshop7 since I first got a ripped copy from a friend in 2001. My current copy is legal (yes! I bought the whole thing, box, manuals, disc and all... for £25 off eBay...)

  6. I'm largely a self-taught artist, with only a few techniques learned from Saturday-morning art classes when I was in high school to supplement. I tried to attend a fine-arts academy after I finished high school in 2000, and after six weeks of being told I was drawing a box (The. Same. Goddamn. Box. Six. Bloody. Weeks.) 'wrong' and being sneered at for suggesting that Photoshop is as valid and effective an artistic tool as a paintbrush, I walked out in the middle of a class and never went back.

  7. I'm FAR too polite and have a hard time getting out of conversations where the other person won't shut up, even if I'm bored and running late. This includes drunken corpmates on comms at stupid o'clock in the a.m, total strangers who are deliberately trying to offend me, and my relatives when they're being ignorant and closed-minded.

  8. Extra! Because I was tagged twice :p
  9. I have an incredibly vivid and active imagination. It's why I write so damn much, why I draw so damn much... and why I don't touch drugs harder than alcohol and caffeine, because I'm deathly afraid of what the contents of my head might do to me.


No tags! Jump on the bandwagon if you want to!

Monday, 15 December 2008

On Balance

The trouble with doing art and Eve: I can't do both at the same time.

Unlike my stories and many of my blog posts, which are written during particular classes I have where I can get away with splitting my attention between writing and listening, art consumes a hell of a lot of my biological RAM. While I may have Eve running on the PC and Photoshop open on the Mac beside it (or be sketching manually, for that matter) I can spare little more attention than what is required to keep up with light chatting.

Which is why I got pissed off because an alliance-mate got pissed off at me for not being around to save his ship from destruction on a gate last night. I wasn't even on comms at the time because it was late: I was working afk and had no intention of getting dragged out into runs which could take longer than I can afford (I'm late enough to class because the bloody bus schedules are still iffy due to construction on the route, never mind the all too frequent days I happen to sleep clear through my alarms. Like today).

I really have no defense: if I was serious about my work, I'd have Eve off and be wholly focussed with something I can sing along to running on the sound-system. But I like being able to chat with people; the friends I've made through Eve are as real as the people I hang out with in the pub.

Lesson 1: if you're going to be logged in to idly chat on Eve, use an alt you don't mind people knowing about

Lesson 2: if there's someone logged in who isn't in the fleet or on comms, do not assume they will be there immediately to pull your arse out of the fire

I've been reworking my website in prep for using it as an online portfolio in my search for a job. Alas, this means other non-degree work has to take a passenger seat for a bit: attempting to get a job after I finally finish college is kind of an important priority, even if most of my apps will be going to games-design companies. With a long holiday off from classes coming up at the end of this week, I should hopefully be able to get everything done which needs to be done. And my laptop and tablet will be coming with me on the train down to London for the Bastards meetup this weekend; hopefully I can find a place to plug into the wall so I can get a little more work done on the Hellcats pin-up calendar (the pencil-works are looking fantastic, by the way, and if you want to see a scanned-quality low-res untouched prelim, I could be persuaded to drop you a link for, say, a million ISK...)

I can't tell if I'm joking there. I suppose if Mynxee threatens GBH upon me for that, it's a joke; if not, then the offer stands ;)

In addition to that, my writing style has come around to bite me: rarely do I plot stories out in advance, and Thicker Than Blood is far from being an exception. It's reached the point where I'd damn well better know what's going on, which means I have to sit down, take what I've written so far, the bits of plot I do have already in place and the ending I have planned, and find the clearest possible route using all that as a sort of orienteering map. Hopefully, what already exists won't need to be altered any; but my writing philosophy stands: If it's too good to be changed to better the whole, it wasn't worth writing in the first place. I have the same approach to art. And hopefully, you won't all be disappointed with the results ^_^

In related news: the Hellcats has a corp logo, now. It will be appearing on merch in the Hellcats store (maybe in The Bastards store, too, but that's being discussed still) once I get the high-res version done. It's already appearing on our corp-standardised forum sigs.
Update: now in high-res!

I know I'll be claiming a t-shirt for myself ;D

Sunday, 14 December 2008

All Tomorrow's Parties

Laser light, red, blue and violet, stabbed and sliced through the darkness towards me, tracing arcane patterns through the nebulous haze. A deep, rhythmic pulse thrummed in counterpoint below the shriek, settling into my bones and pushing me faster, barely a heartbeat ahead of the lasers.

It was Saturday night in Evati, and I'd found a club to chill out in.

It wasn't too crowded, but there were enough people to let me know the place wasn't considered a dive, either. The beats were heavy and pounding, the melodies grating square-waves, the vocals by turns sensitive and anarchic. Long-haired men in heavy boots and leather trousers stomped in time while women in tight dresses swayed on platform heels strapped up to the knees. Thin ribbons of incence-laden smoke trailed from burners suspended from the high, arched ceiling.
You don't have to change your mind
'Cause you're beautiful
No matter what you say and what you do
Created for a plastic world
I spent half the time dancing to anything that sounded good, whether I could identify it or not, and the other half people-watching, sipping vodka mixers and resting my feet -- it had been a couple months since I'd last worn these boots, and the height of the heels put a lot of pressure under my toes. In order to conceal the line of capsuleer tech running up my back, I'd opted for a short, high-collared purple dress with gold tracery stitched into the gauzy outer sheath; it covered the tattoos I'd had done on my back, which I was a bit disappointed about, but it was a small price to pay for anonymity. It may have looked strange in a room where most people wore black, but I'd been attending clubs like this since I was old enough to get in the door; there's a level of self-confidence you attain through acclimation which allows you to get away with the most outrageous breaks in custom, and as long as you're having fun, nobody else cares.
One thousand milligrams searching for you
Day turns to night
The dawn meets the sun at the sky
I need you to try
While people would dance with me, nobody made any propsitions -- just as well, since I'd have turned them down. A club like this was the sort of place where people went to see and be seen, to enjoy the music, drink and socialise; walking home with a one-night partner was at the bottom of the priority list. At one point I spotted an old friend of mine, Mebrithiel Ju'wien, among the crowd; we caught up a little and danced to a song before she decided that she preferred the harder music being played in the room downstairs and left with a promise to drop me a convo later.
The rain that falls for weeks
Painting pictures on the streets
Twisted stars beneath my feet
I cruise the crowd
It was a good night, four hours of solid music, the deejays swapping off sets behind the control panels like mad scientists over a fiendish creation. By the time the lights came up, I ached from head to toe, had made a few new acquaintances, and caught up on news with Meico and Metus, neither of whom I'd seen for a while. I staggered back to my quarters feeling happily mellow and plugged into alliance comms while I settled down with a cup of hot chocolate and checked messages. That may have been a mistake, since by the time I actually got to bed the daytime lights were coming on in the station, but hey... it's the weekend, right?

Thursday, 11 December 2008

We Did Warn You...

We may have paid ME4N a visit with intent to play a little off the station.

They may have decided to return to their base system to roll out the big guns.

We may have laid a little smackdown.

Yarr >=3

And BOOYAH! for my Ninjaperion kicking Annapolis off the station on the second run. Tha's fer jamming me t'other night! Get in!

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Unholy Union

Carebears, beware! Tremble in terror, for your worst nightmares have been made flesh and set to stalk among the lawful, consuming ship and pod alike in its march of destruction.

Forged in the abyss of Decon and tempered in the fires of Vitrauze, the Hellcats have come at last to join in a fearsome alliance with The Bastards, that unstoppable force shaped in the crucible of Evati and honed to deadly precision throughout the depths of outlaw space.

May our union be as the burning annihilation of the final apocalypse, and may we leave nought but a wake of destruction in our shadow.

A Summons

I spent the morning and part of the afternoon in my favourite station cafe working on pinup calendar designs, pleased with the results I was getting. Art is such a temperamental hobby: sometimes it's there, sometimes it isn't. Today was proving to be a good day for the Muse, and the flow was pure poetry.

At last the urge to drop into space won out over the draw of painted lines. I finally wandered into the corp office about half-two to find it still dark and the door locked. Mynxee keeps slightly different hours than I do, but she'd obviously not been in since last night. As I keyed up the lights, a blinking icon on the computer caught my attention. A message?

It was encoded for directors only, but Mynxee'd given me access ages ago. I read it twice, frowned thoughtfully, then dropped a message to my CEO.
[Roc Weiler called. See Fwd. Think something suitable can be arranged. Call him back ;)]

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Morning Messages

After a late night of tangling with a Southern Cross Alliance gang in nullsec (and what, my dears, were you doing in Warp To Desktop space, hmmm?), I allowed myself a luxurious lie-in this morning, enjoying the warmth and knowing there was nothing I had to do today. I rather missed Chu, but he'd finally been pressured into visiting his family for a week and it was doubtful I'd escape notice from the highsec planetary police for that long.

So I lay there a while, curled up and happy and lulled into a doze from the hum of the station around me. It was much better than yesterday, where a nightmare about being trapped in Yulai in my Taranis with CONCORD on my heels, the gates closed and the stations denying me docking rights, left me hauling myself groggily out of bed at insane o'clock and just going right to work because there was no way I could sleep after that. At last, the quiet grumblings of my caffeine addiction lured me out from under the duvet and into the kitchenette to make my morning coffee. As I waited for the Blessed Liquid to percolate, I fired up the computer and checked my messages.

My old alliance, Atrocitas, had gone to our industrialist mate's defense in wardeccing both the corporations -- hulks r us and Virtual Eclipse Industrial Technology -- who had laid claim to the system they'd been harassing him in. By their own admission, these miners have a reputation for griefing outsiders until they no longer want to stay in Kakki, and Atrox doesn't stand for that sort of highsec wanker nonsense. It warmed my heart to see my old mates, their sec cleaned up and highsec-capable once more, going right back into the habit of griefing the griefers. It's a small-time, unpaid sort of fresh start for them, but it'll be something fun to do while they get back into the swing of mercenary work after nearly a year outside of Empire space.

Normally, I don't bother with the news unless something catches my eye. Today's headline did. 'Mistake Costs Pilot Billions'. These are worth reading, sometimes, if only because you learn not to do what the other guy did. Oh, alright, you also get to laugh about the other guy's stupidity. A quote towards the end snagged in the back of my head, and I found myself saying, 'Wrong!' out loud.

The quote? 'Had the Obelisk been piloted by a BoB pilot, I would have helped him out and given all the items back without blinking ... you pick a side, even if you are not in the Big War.'

Maybe it's just me and the company I associate with, but had it been me nicking the loot, I'd not have given it back no matter which side they were on. Who says you have to pick a side? If I went into their space and they would shoot me without a second thought, then why should I support any of them? I've been shot at by PL, by Goons, by Snigg, BoB, Razor and RA; I've had friendly chats with people from all of them, too. As the saying goes, I'm not prejudiced: I'll shoot anyone, and save a few rare exceptions, it's never personal.

Why is it people feel they have to choose a side? I grumbled. Nobody is wholly in the right or the wrong, ever; what I understand of the conflict is that it's just a massive contest to see who can piss on the other's cake the most while still leaving an edible slice they can swipe afterward. Let them beat each other up until there's nobody left, while we play in their back gardens and steal their pies. It's all good.

Though that could just be because I'd not yet had my morning coffee.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Thicker Than Blood: Chapter Four

Six weeks ago...

The coffee sitting in the mug at his elbow had gone stone cold; Valar hadn't touched it in over an hour. He was absorbed in compiling the data he'd collected over the past month and a half. Many people had recalled his sister, some fondly, some with a touch of annoyance or disgust. Only one, a scary-looking Sebiestor with a sepulchral complexion under his black facial markings, had any clue where she might have disappeared to with her corp.

'You should maybe try Amarr space? She said something about a move to Genesis, I think.'

'Genesis...' he muttered. Val pulled up the map, his previously-used settings for system populations casting a golden glow on his face. Life away from the strict military regimen had thinned him a bit, and he'd experimented by growing a short goatee. Val had allowed his hair to grow in order to present a less military appearance; the total effect was one of a rogueish charm that women seemed to find appealing, a realisation which bemused him. Changing the map settings to system security, he focussed the hologram on the Genesis region.

'You're still up?'

Sati's voice, unexpected, caused Val to start. He turned his chair on its pivot to face her and stretched, hearing his shoulders and spine flex with a series of pops. 'Yeah.'

She stood silhouetted against the dim light from the sitting-room, leaning against the doorjamb. Her dressing-gown was secured loosely and revealed a delectable flash of skin from throat to waist. The Caldari woman had surprised him by staying after that first night, and the words Your place or mine were often the first he heard after leaving his pod for the evening. Val had long since lost his wartime wariness of her background: she was just another person, albeit one who was sexy as hell and could drive him crazy.

'You're a machine, Jack. This obsession can't be good for you.'

He shook his head. 'It's not an obsession. I need to find her.'

'Well, why don't you just bloody call her, then? I've been trying to figure you out from the start, Jack, and that's one thing that makes no sense. If your cousin or whatever is as nice as everyone says, there's no reason she'd refuse to talk to you.' Sati crossed the small room, picked up his coffee-cup and sniffed experimentally, wrinkling her nose.

'It's not that easy, she's killed everyone else who went looking for her and disappeared right afterwards. I don't want to spook her.'

'It is that easy, Jack.' Sati put the mug down hard in exasperation, sloshing a little tepid liquid over the edge onto the desktop. 'Who gave you the idea this is the only way to go about this? Someone's put you up to it, and you're just heading further down a road that leads nowhere. Who's made you do this?'

'I-' Looking up, Val saw her lips pressed into a thin, angry line; her eyes met his with all the warmth of a glacier, and just as immovable. He sagged. 'The Navy. They want her brought in.'

'The Navy.' Her tone was frosty. 'What the fuck are they holding over you?'

He looked away, staring through the holographic star-map. 'They don't trust me enough to offer a better command while my sister is running around playing pirate.'

Sati slapped him.

'I don't believe you. I thought you were better than this.'

His face stung, but he resisted rubbing the place where she'd struck him.

'Look at you! A better command? You're going to trade your sister's life for a better command from the people who will destroy her? They'll torture her for information, then publicly execute her as a warning to other pirates; if you believed the soft lies they fed you about mercy, you're a bigger fool than you look right now.

'And as for a better command? How much better can you get than what you have here? You can afford to buy a battlecruiser of your own! No waiting for somebody to tell you you're worthy of it. Personally, I'd say you aren't, but that couldn't stop you if you wanted it.'

There was little Valar could do but bear the brunt of her ire: she was right.

'The only thing holding you back right now is yourself, and I hope that's because somewhere in the back of that pretty, empty head, you recognise that you're being an idiot. I can't believe you're such a tool,' she sighed, suddenly sounding tired and sad. Val glanced up again, the mark of her hand still hot on his face. She looked close to tears.


'Somebody's using you, Valar. That is your name, yes? I looked Shae's background up, but... the face in your profile isn't yours.'

'Yeah,' he muttered, 'they changed it.'

Sati sighed, then sat on the edge of the desk, pulling her robe around herself. 'So somebody's got to a lot of trouble to send you out here... why? Who's pulling your strings, my dear puppet?'

He shook his head. 'How do you figure that?'

'The Navy never takes pilots back once they've left, Valar. No official military does; the closest you could get is joining one of the militias. Anyway, do you really want to go back, after all you've known out here?'

Val looked thoughtful. 'I don't... I haven't really thought that far ahead. I don't know, anymore.'

She reached over and stroked his hair. 'I thought as much. They didn't expressly say they'd take you back, did they?'

Frowning, he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. 'No... I asked and they said if I failed, it would be because-' Val stopped, a horrible realisation dawning.

'You'd be dead?' Sati finished. 'Strong choice of words there, don't you think? No specific rewards for handing your sister in for a jumper trial, and termination if you don't. Why do they want your sister so badly? They never actively stir themselves to discipline outlaws unless one is sitting right in front of them with his pants down.'

Valar rubbed the back of his neck. 'Our father's involved... they said it was part his request that Shae be found.'

Sati snapped her fingers. 'Your father, what's he up to?'

Gerard Tiann was a minor functionary who'd risen from blue-collar worker to government official through determination and the sacrifice of his family life. The prestige of having both children become capsuleers in the Navy had given him a recent boost to the position of...

'He's on the Security Council.'

A grim smile spread across the Caldari woman's face. 'Sounds to me that someone doesn't like him there. This isn't about you or Shae. Imagine what it would do to him if his daughter was revealed in a public trial to be an outlaw? Even if you managed to salvage some honour from it, your father's credibility would be lost. Quite a dirty family secret, your Shae.'

Val finally allowed himself to massage his burning cheek. 'What a fucking mess. And I walked right into it.'

'You're too naieve, sweetie.' Her voice was gentle, and her smile had softened; she leaned over and kissed his forehead. 'So what now, Valar Tiann?'

The young man's eyes narrowed as he looked at the three-dimensional projection of Genesis slowly turning in the air above the desk.

'My name's Jack. And I'm tired of being played. Let's find out what's really going on.'

Next Chapter

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Dreaded Pirate

The showers in the station were acting up again, giving five minutes of hot water followed by a minute's worth of icy blast. Some sort of pressure issue, they said. Ordinarily, this wouldn't bother me, but this is the one day of the week that I actually spend more than five minutes under the water.

It was dreadlocks-washing day.

I had my hair put in dreads out of sheer rebelliousness after I left the academy and joined the mercs. The picture that shows on my file is old, taken upon graduation, shiny as a new-minted penny, ready to fly in the Federation's honour. That didn't last long, did it?

It's weird, the reactions I get. People see a Minmatar with dreadlocks and they say,'Awesome hair!' But with anyone else -- Gallente, Caldari, I've even met an Amarrian with dreads -- people seem to think they'll smell, or be greasy and unwashed, or... you know, that's just stupid. It's the same damn process, it's the same damn care cycle, that everyone uses to make and maintain their dreadlocks. If someone with dreadlocks smells, it's because that person smells, not their hair. We're all human, it's not like one person has special 'dreadlocks genes' and another doesn't.

I bet nobody asks a Brutor how he gets pod goo out of his dreadlocks. I get that question all the bloody time. Pod goo dissolves when mixed with water; it's why nobody else ends up with their nice, shiny, normal hair matted with dehydrated nutrient muck after a long day.

And then of course people ask to touch your dreads and are amazed that they're in good condition. Biologically speaking, washing your hair every day isn't that great for your hair or your scalp; it's why you have to go buy that fancy conditioner to put all the nutrients back in after you've gone and scrubbed them out. Synthesised chemicals do a nasty job on your biochemistry. My dreadlocks do feel like ropes -- it'd be hard for them not to -- but they're soft, and the ends remind me of my paintbrushes (yes, shock-horror, a pirate who paints. Deal with it).

You make dreadlocks by sectioning hair at the scalp, teasing and backcombing each section together, and rubbing in a mixture of beeswax and vitamins to hold the strands together until the roots begin to grow out and lock. There's no using glue, cow-shit or other questionable materials -- those are vile myths. You can swim with them in, dye or bleach them, trim them short, and no if you no longer want them you don't have to shave your head. They react best if washed once or twice a week, and you just leave them alone the rest of the time. Spend a little time every few months making sure the roots are growing together properly, and they're happy.

Of course, the worst time is the first month of having them, when your scalp wails, 'Heeeeyyyy! You're not taking care of meeeeee! I want a maaassaaage! Where's my soooaap!' It takes time to adjust, after a lifetime of being pampered, and for the first couple weeks it does smell and it does itch and it does look horrible because your hair is full of beeswax and you can't wash it because the water runs off and you wake up with it stuck to your face in the morning and leave residue from it on your clothes. It gets better afterwards, but you have to get accustomed to not smelling like a florists' shop every day.

In the end, despite the cold outbursts, I did get my hair washed. The other women in the locker room gave me the oddest looks when I stepped out squeezing water from my dreads with a towel, and somebody muttered, 'I didn't think you could wash those...'


Saturday, 6 December 2008

Miners, '49-ers

I have a friend who's an industrialist. He's a fantastic guy, was in Atrocitas with me for a bit, and was kind enough to build my second Hyperion for me.

Today, while he was mining in his Hulk in a 0.8 system, a bunch of noobs decided to try to strongarm him.
[13:35:32] Kai Lomu > telling me i have to seek 'mining rights'
Beg pardon?

As far as I can see, it's practically impossible to stake exclusive mining rights to a system in highsec. Unless the corp is prepared to wardec or hire someone to wardec anyone who challenges them, there's really not much they can do about it.

Virtual Eclipse Industrial Technology, from what I can tell, is a corp of half-year-old nubbins getting too big for their britches. They've target-locked Kai using a Mega, a Brutix, a Wreathe and, most recently, a guy from Mercenary Raiders has joined in the fun in a Drake.

I'm actually quite protective of my Kai. So far, VEIT's antics haven't crossed any lines, but they're getting close, if the DEF3 Drake is a part of it. It's tempting to move one of my alts into his corp in order to back him up if need be ^_^

Friday, 5 December 2008

Eve Has Sound?

When I'm not on comms for deadly important reasons (see: combat, purposes for hearing the FC) I usually have some music playing. I live for music: I'm a professionally trained mezzo-soprano, perfect pitch, etc, etc. I get depressed if I've got nothing playing during the quiet times, and what I listen to can affect my mood. On my iTunes, I've set up different playlists with mood themes and specific ones for each story I'm working on.

Eve has its own soundtracks: one for travelling, one for combat. I mostly only use these when I'm on my alts, since they give me the freedom to roleplay a little, to view Eve as if I were an actor in a sci-fi drama.

Well, that is essentially what each of us is ^_^

Eve, for me, has a tribal feel: lots of djembes and doumbeks, irregular rhythms and complex patterns, overlaid with grungy guitars, airy synthesizers and introspective or rebellious vocals as appropriate. Sometimes it goes drum'n'bass or even jungle, sometimes it's more ambient with a bit of a sad touch.

My Eve playlists include tracks like Arianrhod and Sredni Vashtar by Faith and the Muse, Papua New Guinea by Future Sound of London, Above&Beyond's Indonesia, multiple songs from Loreena McKennitt, Hybrid, Fields of the Nephilim, Opeth and The Prodigy, Junkie XL and Dead Can Dance. I use other soundtracks to add an orchestral touch, mostly The Crow, The Fifth Element, Firefly (betcha didn't see that one coming ~_^) and most recently, Iron Man.

What's your Eve Soundtrack?

Thursday, 4 December 2008

An Intrepid Crossing For Mr Frog

I spent this evening out in the cold taking pictures of the city with my bf, so when I finally logged in on Eve, I discovered I was nearly late to a party.

It was to be a nullsec roam... anyone who knows me will know I despise nullsec, and generally tend to take small, cheap ships since I know I'll get caught in a bubble and popped (it doesn't matter if my last few times there haven't ended that way; it's just resignation to the worst-case scenario). However, when I asked in gang what sort of party dress I should wear, the response was, 'Tank'.

Tank? In nullsec? Hokayyy...

I dusted off my sexy Myrmidon. She's not seen much action since the last patch, but if it was tanks we needed, my Volcano Girl was the logical choice -- she can shrug off sentry-fire for up to ten minutes, solo. A quick check of her drone-bay contents reminded me that I'd borrowed the Warriors for my Ishkur, so I restocked and went out to join the others on the undock point aligned for the first gate... then realised the ship wasn't insured. Yes, I insure my ships, if they're worth insuring. Docked, sorted that issue out, and emerged just as the gang was starting off.

Shortly after we were underway, we got a call for help. The Bastards' own Mr Frog, it seems, had decided to go ratting in nullsec and was being stalked by a handful of locals.

Away we went, tacking against solar winds for Mr Frog's ratting system, popping a hapless Raven pilot on the way -- he had the cheek to suggest we 'hang' there on the gate 'for a while', about a nanosecond before his pod suffered the wrath of pirate munitions.

Who says you can't pirate in nullsec, anyway? Ransom is as ransom does...

Our objective to scare off Mr Frog's stalkers was successful -- they ran as our arrival in the system spiked Local by nine, and we pursued for a bit, mostly just for lolz. Then, as Mynxee and Jorge sat on one side of a gate, with the rest of the gang on the other, their Local started to spike.

It was The Blob, stirring itself from its long slumber, congealing slowly from various nearby systems; some of them had even been ratting, to judge from their ship fittings.

But I'll get to that in a minute.

They started reporting the ships coming in on their scanners: Onyx, Ishtar, Ishtar, Malediction, Domi... Their Local spiked at an additional eleven pilots, an Astarte on the gate started locking them, and FC Kulmid ordered everyone back into the system as the rest of the pursuing fleet hit the gate. We ran before them for a couple of systems before deciding to make a stand on the gate in 1W-0KS.

The Onyx and Malediction followed us in. The HIC the first to decloak, dropping a shiny blue bubble of warp-scrambleyness +10 and getting itself called primary in the process. That melted, while the Malediction decloaked, then ran (it returned later after we were all engaged -- probably the smartest pilot of the lot). The rest of the gang from Intrepid Crossing were appearing around us, like in one of those nightmares where evey time you kill a zombie, two more take its place and there seems to be no end to them. Kulmid called the next primary.

I'm not going to go blow-for-blow through the fight, since to be honest I can't really remember. By the time the Zealot was down, I was being locked up by first the Astarte, then one of the Domis. Four IRC losses later, they finally took me down -- it wasn't until the Raven joined in that my tank couldn't carry through. Keep an eye on that fitting; I have two more in my hangars just like her >:)

According to the Bastards killboard (which doesn't show Mynxee's and my losses) the fight looked something like this.

ISK for ISK, number for number, a gang of nine pirates kicked eleven nullsec warriors' arses, and as soon as we realised what the total outcome had been, there was cheering on Vent, followed by laughter as we pored over the setups on the hulls IRC had lost.

And while our remaining ships collected the spoils from the field, IRC came back... with two Thanatos and an Archon.

By that time I was calling it a night, so I missed the Boss Fight and have no idea how it turned out, but since there are no additional losses on the Bastards' boards, I'll assume the carriers were ineffectual and everyone got out safely.

That run was so totally worth logging in for :D

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Eve Life Meets Real Life, Round Two

One of the guys my boyfriend and I run around City of Villains with added us as friends on Facebook earlier this evening. When I went to confirm, somebody else had added me, some total stranger.

He'd left a message, saying he was an Eve player, himself, living in Scotland as well, and that I could drop him a message if I ever felt like flying together.

My first reaction was a fiendish hurrhurrhurr laugh... but since there's nothing I've left visible to strangers on Facebook that indicates I'm an unrepentant rogue (apart from a little comment of 'Flyin' Hellcat, rawr!'), I added him back and responded that if he didn't mind losing sec, he'd be more than welcome to join us in lowsec....

To be continued, eh? ^_^


I'm still working on the Hellcats Pinup Calendar; due to UK Borders shit hitting the Student Visa fan, and a load of coursework which takes priority, it's taking longer than I'd like. Real Life does that. On the other hand, the quality will be so much better for the work not being rushed ^__^

The next chapter of Thicker Than Blood is the one I'm really excited to share. You'll just have to wait to find out why ;)

I changed the banner for my blog. Let me know what you think! I think it's much more 'me', now; I'm quite chuffed with it.

As a side note, I noticed the other day that they've finally fixed the CONCORD billboards. It only took them a sodding year to get around to it :p

Friday, 28 November 2008

On Writing Eve Fiction

I want to take a moment to apologise for the abominable length of the third chapter... I really didn't want it to go that way. Alas, the Muse, harsh mistress that she is, kept me working on it til it was 'finished'. What I have learned is this:

Never, ever attempt to write a fictional roaming op again.

I don't know why I decided it was a good idea. I have no head for tactics (one reason why I refuse to FC) and really am not good at visualising situations like that. It ended up a twocked mishmash of several of the more unpleasant ops I've been on in the last year (though with a far more sensible FC than we had on that first Irmalin incursion; I still hold Inz and OAM responsible for that Utter Failsauce event which saw our entire fleet decimated); the Eris is a nod to ExM who forced us through a gate into its bubble and proceeded to squish us with all the passion of a kid stepping on ants (ahh, Exquisite Malevolence, how I miss being on uncertain standings with you).


This chapter really does sum up my earliest Eve experiences, including the pants-shitting terror of my first nullsec excursions. I'm pleased with how I was able to keep all names fictitious (no existing characters or corporations were abused in the writing of this story), and I was trying hard to translate Eve -- complete with crazy character names, text-chats and random system crashes -- into an in-character experience.

This story is set well before the speed-nerf. People have probably noticed I've given support crews to frigates -- as I responded to Ombey's post on the Eve Library forums, it seems foolish to assume that nothing will break that a pilot enclosed in a pod cannot fix: I figure a minimum is four crew plus someone to keep an eye on the capsule and make certain everything is interfacing properly. It doesn't matter to me if the Devs finally admit that there's only a capsule in a frigate -- a ship the size of a Boeing 747 jet cannot function safely with one person alone :p

But anyway, apologies for any of the glaring errors and stupid tactical decisions I put in Chapter Three. I'm trying!

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Thicker Than Blood: Chapter Three

Eight weeks ago...

She's not down here. She was in Syndicate for a while, joined another corp and moved into Placid. Her current corp cleared out of nullsec not too long ago, maybe a month, and left for parts unknown. I went into the lowsec system where her old corpmates had an office, and they were happy to talk to me when I started asking questions. Their enemies were happy to destroy my Ishkur on my way out.

I'd never been pod-killed before, for all the hulls I've lost. Raw terror, frustration bordering on a blind, red rage at my own helplessness and their lack of compassion. Not pirates -- there were no ransom demands issued, not even a comment in the Local comms; I was nothing more than a neutral target of opportunity. Just pounce, pop, pod, while they tanked the sentry guns. And it hurt, worse than anything I've known before: the most intense, stabbing headache ripping through behind my eyes in the instant before I woke up in a cloning bay on the edge of Empire space.

I didn't even know who I was, at first. How awful would it be if the transfer failed, sometime? I felt sick, afterward, physically ill from having to adjust to a new body which didn't quite feel like it belonged to me. It was so much worse than emerging from the pod after a long trip; like wearing a shirt that's just a size too small. These muscles had never been used, and moving awoke a complaint in every joint, leaving me leaning on the tech's shoulder and dribbling vat-fluid over his blue coverall. He was nice about it, at least; I guess he'd be used to it.

The corp reimbursed my ship, leaving me enough from insurance and my own funds to replace the modules. I thought this was awfully generous of them, until Sati pointed out how little an Ishkur costs compared to her Raven, and said it was just as well I'd stayed with smaller hulls, since modules for larger ships cost more, too.

It's been an eye-opening experience, the life of a semi-independant capsuleer. Yes, there's a CEO and directors I answer to, but I can choose when to be active, and for how long, what to fly that day and where. There's rarely any corp-wide activities; I time in for the day, do some work for an agent or go hunting Serpentis, log my earnings and deduct the corp's percentage at the end. It leaves me asking 'why bother?', but there's a bit of protection from being able to call on people for support, and the corp tax goes towards things the group needs. I had a hard time adjusting, at first; the lack of structure left me feeling like a loose cog until Flaschmann, one of the wing commanders, sat me down for a heart-to-heart over a pint which became several -- nobody warned me not to match a Brutor drink for drink -- and explained that if I wanted to be an effective pilot, I would have to take initiative.

Initiative is a scary word. It means you alone are responsible for yourself and the safety of your crew. There's nobody else to blame when everything goes tits-up; you can't use the excuse that you were only following orders. But since then, my reflexes have got faster, and I've been testing new loadouts against willing corpmates' hulls. They have advice to offer from their experience, and I listen, but at the end of the day it's only me making the decisions.

Flasch decided it was time to introduce me to a new aspect of the corp the other day: capsuleer combat. It's as different from the Serpentis-baiting I'd been doing as ocean-swimming is from an indoor pool, and the guys cheerfully tossed me in the deep end on a fast roaming op deep into Syndicate. The ultimate targets, I discovered, were the corp whose pilots had podded me the week before. I was scared. Serpentis don't have access to capsule technology and the enhancements it affords. The targets had been flying for years and had the benefits of experience and further training.

'Jack, if you don't start hitting back at the people who attack you, you'll be a target the rest of your career.'

That was Miska T'onik, a Khanid with a heavy accent and a ravaged face that showed he'd been through hell and back, genetic damage caused from being caught by one too many Titans in deep-nullsec conquests. If there was one person whose respect I wanted to earn, it was Miska -- the man suffered no fools and dealt levelly with everyone, even the people he disliked.

So, heart hammering, palms feeling sweaty despite the surrounding fluid in the pod, I sent my assault frigate plunging after them, the fleet of thirty small ships forming up around me as we warped. The feeling I got from that was nearly enough to make me forget my fear; it wasn't the first time I'd been in a gang-warp, but there was something different about it, this time. It felt good.

The scout running ahead of us in her covert-ops ship reported back that the nullsec entry was camped. 'Phobos, Falcon, Manticore, Ishtar, Claw,' Embryn called off. 'They're on the ball, Claw nearly decloaked me.'

Flasch cackled. 'We'll rape them. Squad one, primary the Phobos; Squad two, the Falcon is yours. Squad three gets the Ishtar; pop his drones first, if you please. Emmy, they got backup in there?'

'It's just them.'

'Jump-jump, everyone in!'

The interdictor on the far side lit up a swirling blue sphere of drive-scrambling pulses as the gate flared. They couldn't have missed the insane spike on the Local channel, however.

'Drop cloaks, hit 'em before they run!' Flasch barked.

My jump-cloak dropped, and I'd never felt so naked. I powered towards the Phobos and dropped into a tight orbit, opening up with the blasters as a cloud of drones swamped the field and a swarm of interceptors detatched from the main group and buzzed the recon ship. I was shaking hard, nearly in siezure.

The campers hadn't been ready for a thirty-frigate fleet. The interceptor jumped out and the stealth bomber disappeared -- cloaked or warped, I couldn't tell -- while the larger ships melted under the assault. The Ishtar made it to the gate and jumped, venting fire and vapour; the Phobos and Falcon died and we were through into nullsec. The Falcon pilot lost his pod

Lower Syndicate... echoed. There was virtually no one down here other than the Serpentis and the capsuleers who fought them for the resources. Save a distant blip on the scans, we were the only ones there. It was a long way down into the area our targets inhabited. A long way. The only others we encountered were single pilots moving fast to get out of our way.

I was in a state which would probably have been similar to that of any pilots picking up our frigate swarm on longrange scans, suffering from a perpetual adrenalin surge which the nutrients being pumped into my body couldn't ease. It was nearly painful and I had a vague sense that I was curled up tightly within my pod, quaking hard. A text message from the capsule tech popped up in my HUD, saying he was growing concerned with my elevated breathing and was boosting the oxygen mix. It was mostly a rodent-in-traffic reaction, anticipation of being run over by something so much bigger than myself that there would be no point in fighting it. I had no idea what to expect down here.

A private chatbox opened -- Flasch dropping a text-based query.
[How u doin jack?]

[Scared shitless.]

[Rlx. Ur in a frig in a load of other frigs. No 1 will notice u unless u do sumthin rly dumb.]

[Is that last part tht worries me.]

[0.0 safer than hisec, jack. Fllow instructs ul b fine. Rmbr ur down here in combat ship n combat fleet. Ppl will engage but we got ur back. Jus do wut ur trained 4.]
The scout's transmission cut through the casual banter on the comms. 'Check-check. Target contact, got a twenty-man gang toward ZVN gate in PVH.' She rattled off a list of shiptypes from frigs to battleships.

'They grow 'em big down here,' someone commented.

'Who are they, Emmy?' Flasch asked.

'Third-parties, red to the guys we're after. I'm getting a lot of Local smack from them.'

'Noobs in our way. Hang on.' There was a moment of tense silence while we huddled in our safespot, the only beacons of life in a dead system.

'Right, come back here, we're going to loop around through EZA. There's a few people in there, so watch yourself.'

'Roger that.' Comms had gone dead silent. 'Embryn here, part of that gang's already on my exit gate.'

'Can you get through?'

'I live for running gatecamps.' A moment later she laughed. 'They didn't like me getting past them. You should move before they get in here.'

'Roger that, scout us around, darlin'.'

Syndicate was clear until we hit PC9. 'Fifty-seven in Local, looks like something big is going on. In space... Tempest, Geddon, Mega-Mega, Domi, Maelstrom... Thanatos. Revelation. They're duking it out on a station. No reds.'

'Are the gates clear?'


'Right, get to the next system.' We raced through without stopping, conscious that any waiting would give someone time to notice us and rally a gang. An empty system later, we were on top of our targets.

'Squad three get in there, set up bubbles, look like you mean business. Everyone else spread out around the gate here, go to optimal.' Flaschmann anchored a large warp-disruption bubble in the centre of the gate as the bait squad jumped through. The bubbles were a risk, since they couldn't be removed quickly. I set my Ishkur to orbit the gate just beyond the range of the disruption field so I wouldn't be trapped.

'Embryn here, they've spotted the bait.'

'What've they got?'

'Eight... ten, eleven. Couple inties, hacs... Eris, they have a 'dictor. Dominix, Astarte.'

'Oooh that's going to be nasty. Anyone packing ECM?'

There was a small chorus of 'drones' and 'I'm in a Kitsune' before Embryn's voice cut across the comms again. 'They have a Falcon, Falcon just undocked. Damnation. Fuuuuuck... I don't think we can take this.'

'All that for ten frigates, goddamn. Democratic vote: who wants to give it a shot and who'd rather try a different approach some other time?'

This was a new experience for me: the FC asking the gang's opinions about a potential engagement. By that point I would have cut and run if a can happened to bump me, so I remained silent.

'We'll just be one fantastic LOL-mail if we try it, Flasch,' Miska said.

'I hear that. Anyone else?'

'We've got enough jammers to swamp out the recon-'

'But not the command ships. Squad three, get back in here. Leave the bubbles if you have to.'

'Falcon on the gate, two hundred off,' the Squad Three commander reported. 'Desh, wake up, get back on the gate-- shit. His system's offlined.' The fleet channel count had already dropped by one as the pilot's ship went dead and emergency-warped away.

'He'll have the sense to restore comms before bringing full power back online. Get back here. Emmy, you stay there, prep to scout Desh back. Jackal, you're the fastest, scout us out the pipe. Destination is broadcast, we'll dock up in M2.'

We retreated quickly and docked up, blending into the masses of people in the station there. It was rather anticlimactic, for all the stress and how worked-up I'd got.

'Big gang coming up the pipe,' Flasch broadcast openly once we were safe. 'If you're going to fight, we can assist.' The response was a general laconic yawn from the local pilots and someone replied, 'Tell us something new.'

So we sat in the station, waiting for the heat to die down. Deshpati and his crew got his systems working again after a coolant failure of some sort and Embryn brought him out safely. We waited for an hour, chilling out in a bar with cups of coffee and tea to hand -- still on duty, and Flasch swore he'd pod anyone who undocked drunk.

I survived my first encounter with nullsec feeling like I'd been sucker-punched in the back. Glancing around the bar on our way back to the hangars, I wondered if Shae had ever spent time in here; her old corporation had offices in the station, so it seemed likely. How had she been able to stand Lower Syndicate? It was a hellish place, and I was happy to finally see the Reblier gate and Empire space.

Next Chapter

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Eve Blog Banter §2

I know: I'm not on the official list. Well, >:p I'm a pirate, I can get in on the action if I want to!

What drew us into EVE, what keeps us playing the game and what brought us back if we've ever left?

What drew me into Eve is a tough question to answer, simply because there were a lot of factors involved. I grew up with a father who disapproved of computer games unless they were the educational sort, but mum brought me into loving sci-fi early on. I didn't play out sordid romantic scenarios with those Barbie dolls the grandparents gave me -- I re-enacted Star Wars with them, and I was prone to swiping my brother's Ice Planet Lego sets (well, he never used them, anyway...) I was always intrigued by the Star Wars games and Wing Commander, but dad's disapproval and our lack of a suitable gaming PC -- we were an Apple-Mac family for 17 years -- stopped me from buying the games. Then my brother started playing Diablo and dad lost the clout he had against non-educational gaming; I got into tabletop rpgs like Shadowrun and Spycraft, then into HalfLife: Counterstrike and other multiplayer fps games at LAN parties. I remember seeing the first advertisements for Eve Online on some of the webcomics I read, and I remember being interested until I saw it was an MMO.

My only issue with MMOs was really that I preferred LAN situations where we could shout insults at each other across the room; playing a computer game alone seemed strange and did invoke those stereotype images of the basement trolls which survive on cold pizza and Mountain Dew (it didn't help that much of my acquaintance matched that image point for point).

But Eve had everything I was already interested in: the sci-fi, the shiny ships and amazing space vistas. The covert operations, sneaking around and frontal attacks of pvp. The depth of an interactive world to find your place in -- because as fun as it was to imagine being another face in the Star Wars and Star Trek universes, they're so much the creation of others that they keep you at arm's length despite your desire to get closer. I had known Eve players for a few years, but it wasn't til I met Cerys Magente, another of the women players, that I really started thinking that I should give the free trial a go.

I nearly quit in the middle of the newbie 10-part storyline mission. The logistics drove me nuts, and I have to admit that I ragelogged once. But my head is a stubborn thing, and Eve was providing a challenge I had to tackle. I kept at it, despite the frustration and my own nervousness at confronting the universe outside the station walls. I met some other players who encouraged me, offered help and suggestions, and whom I quickly came to consider friends. Halfway through the second week, I paid for my subscription, and I haven't looked back.

Over a year later, I'm still playing. What keeps me going are the same reasons I started in the first place: a virtual world I never get tired of looking at and can immerse myself in as much as I choose to (why stop at the surface, anyway?), a chance to get in on some awesome fights which involve real tactics and strategy rather than button-mashing, and the community I've become a part of. It's so much more rewarding to be able to help build the world everyone else experiences, and to experience what others have created, whether it's a virtual empire or just a role they've created for theirself in the game. Unlike the other games I was intrigued by, there's no lame scripting and no linear plotline to follow, no toy-soldier-stiff characters to 'interact' with. Everyone writes their own script here, and makes the world that much more full just by being there.

I've not left yet, though I did consider taking a break when I found myself not having as much fun. All I had to do was take initiative and the fun returned.

See you in space.

Just a bit ago I was chatting with Abbel Nightroad, one of those first close friends, the recovering pirate who first took me into lowsec at a fragile 5 days old, and who served as teacher and corp director for me until I left Under the Wings of Fury and Atrocitas back in May. We were discussing Thorax setups, and when I said I'd already tried something he was suggesting, he responded, 'Arr no fun any more! Nothing left to teach to Shae'. I'll take this to be a good measure of how far I've progressed as a player ^_^ Felt good to have him suggest we go for a roam together again, sometime; nice rewards for sticking to my guns ;)

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Tickled Red

I logged in a couple days ago, and in one of my channels two of my friends cracked up laughing.
Freyya > yay! shae's red now too :P
Shae Tiann > what'd I do this time?
Tavon Wulfe > Hehe I find it amusing to see Freyya's alliance blue to KOR... and Shae's red to KOR
It seems the movement of Doom Armada to Derelik has opened up a whole new brand of targets; namely, CVA and friends.

Now, see, I like being neutral in the larger issues of Eve politics. No diplomatic stress, no land-grabbing POS wars. I mean no offense to anyone who does care about it, but the larger player-based issues mean little to me (except when I heard BoB pets had forced Atrocitas out of Arzi -- you used to be able to look at ship-kills for the past hour and that system glowed red, man, it was beautiful! And now it's dead... makes Shae a sad kitty) and anyone who wanders through is a potential target unless deliberately set to blue for us or the Bastards.

I love a good story, so I asked Sicks, our alliance CEO, what had happened:
Shae Tiann > Sicks, Doom Armada is set red to CVA and friends
Shae Tiann > jsyk
Sicks > woohoo!
Sicks > that was quick
Shae Tiann > how long you been out there? a day?
Shae Tiann > :p
Sicks > like 3
Sicks > but so far i've received like 4 or 5 mails about people wanting their ships refunded
Sicks > and last night some guy was yelling at mattu for 'performing an act of piracy, which is against CVA rules'
Sicks > he asked me to join a channel so i could see who we're allowed to shoot and who we're not allowed to shoot
Sicks > and when i told him we didnt give a shit about cva's rules he asked me to join a different channel so i could speak to a diplomat and get my standings sorted
Sicks > it was like, cmon buddy, i think you're missing the point
No offense intended to CVA, but that attitude makes me want to stick a jumpclone out there and join the party. It's the same attitude that started the war in Arzi between Atrocitas and Mashen T'plak nearly a year ago. I don't know what it is, precisely. Maybe it's the assumption that everyone is there to play 'nice' and will gratefully join the happy little Barney & Friends troupe when given the option. It makes me want to shoot things. Their things, to be precise. Just for spite.

I'm a nice girl, really...

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Thicker Than Blood: Chapter Two

Nine weeks ago...

'I hear you're looking for someone.'

Valar glanced up from his notepad. The station bar was quiet and rather empty at this time of the afternoon, and he'd chosen an out-of-the-way table to do his work at. His pint sat at his elbow, empty with a sticky film of dried foam at the bottom.

She was tall enough to be at eye-level had he been standing, a trim Deteis in a dark jumpsuit, straw-blond hair pulled back in gamine bunches just below her ears and an equally gamine sparkle in her brown eyes.

Carefully setting the swirling passive-use animation active, he put the notepad down and sat back in his chair. 'I am, yes. How would you happen to know?'

The Caldari woman clasped her hands in front of her. 'You asked with one of the agents here; he contracted me to help. My connections are good.'

Val's eyebrows arched. 'Did he. And you are...?' He stood and offered his hand as he spoke.

'Sati. Satitha Mbaari, Perkone. My agent gave your Global ID as Madjack Rackham, but that can't be your real name, surely.' Her grip was firm without crushing -- she was trying neither to impress him nor put him off -- and she dropped casually into the other chair as Val resumed his seat.

'It's how people know me. You can call me Jack.' He'd changed his Global as so many pilots did upon leaving their training services. His sister was one of the few who had continued to work under their birth-name, much to his detriment.

'Jack. Very well.' Sati produced her own notepad, switched it on and scrawled something with the stylus. 'If you can give me what you know of this person, I can get started tonight, probably have more info for you by tomorrow morning.'

Val squinted at her, then rubbed the corners of his eyes tiredly, wincing as a finger pressed too hard over the fresh tattoo that marked his cheekbone. His new corporation, the Blackball Rocketeers, were a mixed bag of combat pilots and industrialists, and the few friends he'd made among them had encouraged the facial markings. 'Her Global is Shae Tiann. Twenty-six years old, former Gallente Navy Special Forces. Worked as a mercenary from early September last year, went pirate and outlaw a few months later. She was based in Arzi, in Kor-Azor, for a while, then moved down here into A-ZLHX. Disappeared a little over a month ago.'

Sati was scribbling furiously. 'That's like... half the info you should have. You got precise dates? Corp names, alliance names? Known associates?'

Taken aback, Val stuttered for a moment, then said, 'I can mail you the list-'

The woman responded by unreeling a thin fibreoptic cable from the side of her notepad and twirling it between her fingers so the end waved wildly. 'Secure connection, your pad to mine. No sense wasting airwaves, eh?'

'Oh. Right.' He plugged the jack into his notepad and transferred a copy-paste of the base file, removing the Navy identifiers. Sati, despite her relaxed attitude, was all business, and it threw Valar off a bit. He caught himself watching her as she worked. There was a cute scattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks, interrupted by the green-gold plate of an implanted marking which curved under her left eye. If she was wearing makeup, he couldn't see it. And something else....

'You're a pilot, aren't you?' he asked, before he could stop himself.

She nodded, not taking her eyes from the page. 'I fly for Federal Intelligence, it's why your agent called me in.'

Blinking, he said, 'You work for- the Gallente Navy?' He'd narrowly avoided saying 'us', and kicked himself mentally whilst breathing a sigh of relief that he'd not slipped.

She looked up, an impish gleam in her eye. 'Just because I'm from Tasabeshi doesn't mean I'm exclusive. I've made a point of working with every intelligence service in New Eden to get the connections I need to start my own. A capsuleer-based intel corporation, without all the factional biases, eh? You're fresh out of the Navy, aren't you?' Sati grinned at his embarrassment. 'I've been out of academy a couple years; old habits take a while to fade.'

'Two years? Working for intelligence services?'

'Well, I did run pirate for a bit.' She had dimples, and she put her notepad down. 'A lot of pilots try it, at least once. Any time you profit from another pilot -- looting and salvaging their wrecks or the wrecks of others they've killed, stealing their ore, ransoming, whatever -- it's a criminal act. Me, I went into lowsec and ganked a miner or five.'

Val couldn't cover his shock. 'How could you do that? What did the miners do to you?'

Sati shrugged. 'Nothing. They were just dumb enough to make targets of themselves. It's just what I did. I have no head for the market and no patience for mining. I shot three times as many Guristas as I did haulers while I was out in the belts, tangled with some proper outlaws a time or two. You haven't known real terror til you've seen a force recon decloak forty klicks off and wipe your systems out before you can warp.'

He smiled a bit uneasily. 'I've not had that experience, yet.'

'Stay in the Syndicate a while, you will. There are some ruthless hunting alliances down here.'

'One of our miners lost his Hulk in Covryn. Station-camping carrier with smartbombs,' Valar supplied. For some reason, he felt the need to show that he at least had some experience, even if it was only second-hand.

'Oh, them? That station exit is in line with a planet, your miner could have got out if he'd kept his head. No, no, go down into nullsec. If you make it through the MHC-Harroule chokepoint, you're halfway there. Your target probably used to run that camp all the time, if she wasn't part of the gang sniping passers-by.'

The idea that his sister might have helped to blockade a system entry-point bothered Val.

'Well, CONCORD database is saying she's K.O.S,' Sati said as a green light on her notepad flashed. 'So Miss Tiann is still outlaw even after spending over two months in nullsec. Wonder why that is,' she mused, half to herself.

Valar sighed. 'Maybe I'll ask her when I find her.'

'Who is she to you? If I may ask. If it's none of my business, you can tell me to piss off.'

He sat silent for a second, debating what to say.

'Friend?' she asked, then, 'Lover?' with a quirk of a smile.

'No! No. No, she's family.' He frowned at the morphing fractal on his notepad's screen for a moment, then shook himself back to the present. 'How much will I owe you for this,' he asked, cringing inwardly in anticipation.

'Nothing. Your agent is paying me, you pay him. However...' Sati eyed him appraisingly. 'You could buy a girl a drink.'

'A d-' Val stopped: the look she was giving him was practically predatory.

Oh. Right.

'What are you having?'

Next Chapter

Monday, 17 November 2008

It's Only A Blob if You Die

One of the medals Hellcats awards is the Strength in Numbers medal. It was my idea -- a lot of awards seem to favour the strength of the solo pvper, but the ability to work in a team effectively is just as valuable, if not moreso. The Strength in Numbers award is intended to honour any member who has, whilst in gang, helped defeat an opponent who is piloting a ship larger than any of those in the gang.

And tonight, thanks to The Bastards' roaming op, both Mynxee and myself definitely achieved it.

Behold, the Frigate Gang of Impending Doom (using the Bastards' board because it gives a better breakdown of the fight)

We got a lot of Local smack for our 'blob' which didn't really feel like a blob compared to my past experience in Syndicate. I still can't believe we accepted that challenge when the battleships presented themselves to part of our gang on a planet -- there were actually two Falcons, but the second one booked it when the first went down. I lost over half my drones to friendly fire when people started taking them out, and was practically shitting myself trying to keep moving to avoid being an easy target. And when I logged earlier, it was still sinking in among those involved that our sixteen t2 frigates and rifter took out three battleships and a force recon. From what I heard, someone managed to get the entire fight on Fraps; I'd love to see that!

Quantum Rise has given a lot of love to frigate-sized ships, and to be honest, this is more what I thought piracy would be like when I first started playing: gangs of smaller ships taking on larger targets, succeeding through cunning and skill and seat-of-the-pants flying. It was a seriously epic fight -- ten minutes of wracked nerves and near-chaos -- and we'd likely have suffered far more losses had we attempted it before the expansion. We even took it into Amamake and managed to swat an Ishkur, though the only epic part there was that we were in the top belt, half-expecting the backup to come calling at any second.

Here's to our mates in the Bastards: may the good times roll.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Thicker Than Blood: Chapter One

Three months ago...

The office was respectably-sized, synthwood-panelled walls adorned with certificates and awards, with the central display being a large original painting of a ship of the line drifting above a planet; the artist had done a superb job capturing the ice-rimed gleam of the Navy-Issue Megathron's armour. The desk was also synthwood, purpose-trained and -grown in a single piece, with computer panels and a holo-projector inset into its surface, comfortable chairs placed before and behind. The wide bay of windows behind the desk filled the curve of the fourth wall and looked out on a spectacular view of the moon and its planet beyond, broad rings glittering from reflected solar radiation. The planetary glow and the station's diffuse lighting left the room bathed in a bluish light which cast few shadows.

Facing one another across the desk, two men saluted.

'Thank you for coming, Commander. Please take a seat.'

The younger man dropped his salute crisply and sat, looking tense in his pressed uniform, the creases so sharp you could cut your hand on them. Valar was just on the short end of average height, coppery hair slicked back in the sort of style used by younger adults who want to be taken seriously by their superiors, well-built in a military-trained sort of way. The chromed gleam of capsuleer-grade neural jacks showed at the base of his skull above the high collar of his green dress jacket.

Commodore Isaar carefully placed his hands flat on the desktop in front of him, fingers spread. 'The reason I asked to see you is that I have received your request for a performance review. This is the third such request you have filed in as many months. In case you're wondering why the first two haven't been seen to, I am authorised to inform you that they were: your performance was assessed upon the initial receipt and found to be exemplary.'

As Isaar's words dropped into the space between them, Valar's face had darkened; now he ignored naval decorum and blurted, 'I've run the training courses, I've received the requisite certifications, and I've served loyally since graduating from the academy six months ago. If my performance is exemplary, why am I still commanding a transport cruiser ferrying tourists and superiors who have served half as long as I have?'

'Commander, you will remember your place, next time.' Isaar's partial Vherokior heritage had built him large for Gallente, tall and broad without excess flesh; he spoke quietly with measured tones out of trained habit, because any stronger tone tended to come across as threatening. 'The reason for your lack of advancement in the ranks is not any fault of yours; the admiralty has concerns that your ties to a known outlaw and pirate will affect your judgement.'

The younger man's lips thinned. 'So I'm being penalised for the actions of my sister? I've not seen her in over a year, nor spoken with her since she left the academy.'

Sighing heavily, the commodore said, 'I understand this, but despite speaking with them at length, the admiralty remain unconvinced. And that is why you have been stationed well within Federation borders doing menial services which would ordinarily be handled by non-capsuleer ships.'

Valar closed his eyes; a muscle in his cheek flexed as he sought to compose himself. 'Sir, I mean no insubordination, but if that is the case, why should I even bother remaining in service? I joined the Navy to defend the Federation. What I'm doing now is, to be honest, a waste of my training and capabilities.'

His superior raised his hands in a placative gesture. 'I am aware of this, Commander, as are the admiralty. However, their concerns are valid, and the decision is final.'

The younger man's posture sagged a little. At a tender twenty-three years, he had left the academy with top marks and distinction. He had hoped for more: a chance to protect and serve his people, especially in these deeply troubled times. Like his older sister, he was a fighter; unlike her, however, Val possessed a deep-seated loyalty to the Gallente Federation, and where she had left service for mercenary work and eventually more antisocial pursuits, her brother had remained. He had been decorated for his service during the Battle of Luminaire alongside so many others, but even then he had been largely overlooked by the naval hierarchy.

'Commander, I have been authorised by the admiralty to make you an offer.'

Bringing his focus back to his commander, Valar saw the older man was holding a datacard between his fingers, its bottom edge resting on the desktop. Isaar looked cagey, as if unwilling to take responsibility for what he was about to say. 'It involves great personal risk to yourself, but if you should fulfill the mission objectives, you will recover both your honour and your reliability in the eyes of the admiralty.'

Val straightened, eyes wide, paying care to both what his commanding officer was saying and how he responded. 'Risk is to be expected sir.'

'This goes well beyond the normal call of duty, Commander.' The Commodore placed the card face-up on the desk and tapped a button. A hologram of the Federal Navy's logo appeared in the air above it, followed by the insignia of the Offices of the Admiralty and the Ministry of Space and Stellar Warfare.

'In short,' Isaar said, as a blob of dense, small text scrolled upwards in the holographic field, 'they want you to pursue and bring in your sister, in the interests of seeing justice done and in part by request of your father wanting to see her safe. She will be treated fairly, with all considerations due a human being,' he added, when Valar looked alarmed, 'and a proper trial will be held. But she needs to be brought in alive. Willing, too, if you can possibly manage it. I'd make assurances for her rehabilitation and eventual release, but your sister is a criminal and has perpetrated countless acts of violence and theft against innocents. At best, she may be released under house-arrest; at worst, she will be executed.'

The young commander looked troubled. 'Is that... the only way?'

The datacard's display finished with the same official symbols it had started with. Turning it off, the commodore pushed it across to the midpoint of the desk. 'Look at it this way: if she is captured by any other Navy captain, she may easily suffer worse, and it would undoubtedly come at greater cost to the Federation than if you could successfully persuade her to turn herself in peaceably. This way, a known criminal will be brought to justice and your request for greater responsibility in the Navy will be approved.'

Valar's green eyes locked on the card. 'You mentioned personal risk.'

'Indeed.' Commodore Isaar rose and paced before the bay of windows. 'Your sister's last confirmed location was in Syndicate nullsec; before that, she narrowly evaded capture by Amarrian police in Aridia, though she lost her Helios covert-ops ship. Based on what we know of her movements in the last twelve months, we know that she has no objections against moving to new areas far afield of each other; once there, she tends to remain in one place, though she has used jump-clones in the past to move between several different bases. Finding her will not be easy; doubly so if you are seen acting on behalf of the Federation. Information will be sent to you as and when it arrives, but you will be on your own.'

Commander Valar Tiann stared agape at his commanding officer. 'I'll have to leave the Navy? And then what? Disguise myself as a pirate, sneak through Syndicate in the ranks of the Serpentis?'

The commodore was shaking his head. 'Nothing so extreme. Join an independant capsuleer corporation with a base there. Tell them the truth: you're a disgraced commander who needs a new start. No need to tell the rest. Most corporate CEOs don't care, as long as an employee can fight and take orders, and won't sabotage the corporation.'

'Can't they send someone else?'

Isaar paused, closed his eyes for a moment, then resumed his seat, leaning forward over the desk with his hands clasped before him. 'The man who last located your sister in Syndicate disappeared shortly thereafter, and she dropped from sight. Other agents hired jointly by us and your father have similarly disappeared shortly after making contact; we assume she's killed them.'

Val looked shocked. His older sister, in his memory, was a sweet, caring -- if somewhat wild and willful -- girl, creative and mischievous. That she would knowingly cause someone's death was unthinkable... and yet, the lives ended at her hands totalled in the millions.

If anything, she needed to be saved from herself.

He reached out and placed his fingertips on the datacard, but did not yet draw it to himself. 'If I fail this... will I be accepted back?'

The commodore's face set in grave lines. 'If you fail, it will be because you're dead.'

Valar Tiann nodded once, took the card, and left without another word.

Next Chapter

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Thicker Than Blood: Prologue

The blackness fogging your senses slowly drops away, after innumerable hours spent screaming into its muffling silence. It might have only been half a day, it might have been a month, spent drugged into the depths of your own subconscious. The dreams were no better than the nightmares and you feel exhausted, mentally, from the futile struggles to escape back to reality.

A reality where the physical exhaustion outweighs the weariness in your mind. Your skin feels hot and tight, like the first stages of a fever, and your limbs too heavy to lift. The pulsing aches of strained joints and fresh bruises tell you that someone has been moving you, and none too gently, since the girl--

The girl, the girl! Damn, how did she know!

-- doped your drink. It must have been the drink, you remember feeling dizzy and wondering if you'd had more than you'd thought, right before the world spun down to nothingness. Your neck aches and your shoulders burn from being propped upright in a chair; your head has fallen forward, and the teeth on one side of your mouth have bitten into the flesh of your tongue. Removing them hurts more than ignoring it.

There's someone in the room with you: you can smell the light perfume she prefers over the pervasive station tangs of warm metal and electricals, hear the soft movement of fabric against skin. She's moving her fingers in time to a song only she can hear through her implants, the way she always does when she's waiting for something, and the clicking of her silver rings against each other sounds loud in the silence. You know her well enough by now, you think you could actually identify the song from the rhythm.

'You can stop pretending. I know you're awake.' Her voice, soft and low and husky, like the whisky she drinks, lightly accented still from a planetside childhood. You struggle to open your eyes against the weight of the chemicals still buzzing in your blood. Her delicate fingers appear before you as she takes your chin and tilts your head up to rest against the high back of the chair.

'No, no, don't try to talk. You're still so doped you'd go crosseyed if you stood up.'

Her freckled, heart-shaped face, pixielike whether in the bedroom or in the run-up to battle, regards you dispassionately. Her expression could be carved in ice, for all the warmth it contains. Red hair tied back in a plait makes her look younger, innocent, belying the blood on her hands; green eyes glitter like distant stars in the dim light, cold and alien. She's wearing a plain grey jumpsuit which lends an interrogation-chamber atmosphere to the room.

'My father sent you after me. Didn't he. He hired you to find me and bring me home, alive, in exchange for twice what's on my head right now. I can't say I blame you for accepting. That's a hell of a lot of money for an ordinary person like you. That'll keep you and your family cosy for the next generation, at least. What's funny is that he couldn't have made that offer before I left the pirates. That bounty was more than his entire bloody estate is worth.'

She's only stating the obvious, telling you what she knows. And what she doesn't -- her father served as the contact, true, but the money was a donation from an outside source. You glance around the room and try to ease the tension in your shoulders from having your hands cuffed behind you. Your pockets have been searched, and you note with resignation that they even found the hidden ones with your lockpicks. The room, you realise, is an airlock, the pressure doors sealed shut. Black space is visible through the outer window; you think you can see a person silhouetted against the inner window, but beyond the bulkheads, nobody can hear a word of what's happening.

'I can't even imagine how happy he must have been when he learnt I'd decided to go legit. How much do you think it cost him to find out I'd moved to Syndicate?'

You don't have to speculate. It was your search algorithms and your own painstaking research which finally picked up her trail a week after she'd vanished from the lowsec system in Kor-Azor where she'd been living. But even if you want to volunteer that revelation, your throat isn't working enough to do so.

'Poor daddy.' Her tone is harsh, bottled rage directed at a man whose distilled family values had turned to vinegar after too many years at the bottom of the rack. 'He was so proud when I tested highly for capsuleer qualities. It was a big step up the social ladder for him, you know? And when I graduated into the Navy, it was even better. Too bad for him I didn't stick around very long. He didn't approve when I joined the mercenaries, but out here? I'm in control of my own life, now; the old man has lost his grip on my strings and can't accept he's never going to get them back.'

The old man wasn't that old. A minor functionary still in touch with his lower-class roots, insisting that his children find work while in higher education in order to appreciate the struggles of others, he'd spoken with pride of her achievements and those of her younger brother, and with sadness at what he'd seen as her betrayal of his bourgeois Gallente ideology. His obvious concern for her safety and security had driven you to your work with perhaps more urgency than you might otherwise have used.

'I've got to give you credit, sweetheart, none of the other spooks he's hired in the past did such a good job at getting close to me as you did. Of course, you're a professional, aren't you? Not some rookie pilot thinking to make a quick isk towards his first cruiser. Props for your backstory, by the way.'

She ruffles your hair affectionately and affects a theatrical stance:

'A simple Caldari mechanic, stranded tragically in hostile Gallente space after surviving the destruction of his last captain's battleship, propping up the bar in a null-sec station until some wonderful, trusting, compassionate pilot might accept the risk of taking him on until he reaches his home space again -- very sweet, tugs all the right heartstrings. The cat was a nice touch; father told you I have a soft spot for them, didn't he?

How many pilots really looked that far into the background of their crews, you wonder bitterly. You've done this before, but never with such disastrous results. It strikes you that this one did seem to care more for her support than many of the others. Had any other pilots ever treated a gunnery ensign to birthday drinks, or sent an engine-room tech home on paid leave when his wife went into labour with their first? An interesting amount of empathy for someone who'd chosen the way of the outlaw.

'Too bad for you being good in the sack wasn't enough to make me fall asleep the first night.'

Oh. Bollocks.

'Yeah, that's right. I heard every word of that report you made to him, started recording them after that. It's been fun toying with you the last three weeks, hearing you get the old bastard's hopes up for my... oh, what did he call it? Rehabilitation?'

Her laugh is little more than a quick exhalation as she leans close.

'Don't make me laugh. As funny as it was, it got old fast. I'm sick of playing games. This place...'

She sighs as she straightens, takes a step back and casts a glance towards the inner door. There's definitely someone on the other side, at least two of the security detail from one of her larger ships.

'The whole Being Good thing has too many strings attached. Too much political bollocks. It's been a nightmare for me, just trying to get used to not being able to trust, not being trusted. Where's the fun in jumping when another alliance you're not even part of tells you to jump? Where's the camaraderie, the satisfaction of being on equal terms with your allies? It ain't here, I'll tell ya that. Bad enough to be hunted for having low security status, now I'm hunted because my alliance is associtated with people I've never even met. It's ridiculous.'

She stalks around the small space as she rants, long strides thudding bootheels hard on the bare metal flooring, prowling like a caged feline. It's nothing new, what she's saying. You've heard her discussing as much with her warrant officers over drinks with increasing frequency; many of them had been in agreement, and the ones who weren't had been offered transfer options.

'You think I'm weak for it, don't you. "Girl, if you can't suck it up and bear the load that comes from responsibility, maybe you shouldn't be in a pod if you can't grow up." Yeah, you said that. You were wasted. Maybe you're right. But you know what? I don't take orders well. It's why I left the Navy in the first place, and it's why I've made my decision now. I'm going back to where I belong, where I feel valued for my part in the group, rather than just being another meat-shield. Where I come to know my mates so well, it's like telepathy when we fly together and we take care of each other. It's pure magic, the best feeling in the world, and I miss it so much it's like a hole in my heart that the blind obedience expected of us out here just can't fill.'

She looks at you, green eyes burning with the passion of the terminally rebellious, the fire of every reactionary dissident and anarchist through the ages. The Gallente Federation can take care of itself; she is a child of the stars alone and beholden to none.

'And as for you, my sweet? You betrayed the trust I offered you, and I cannot forgive you for that. I could do a little... selective amputation, leave you as a warning to my father, hmmm? Ha, made you squirm there, did I? I'm not joking; the thought crossed my mind long ago. But I've decided I'd much rather disappear. And I'm sorry to say that you must disappear, as well.'

Your shoulders tense involuntarily as the fight-or-flight response tries to kick in, but the drugs are still active and interrupting the signals.

'No, I'm not going to leave and cycle the airlock open. That was your first thought, wasn't it? When you woke up here? I love playing with your head, darling, your expressions have been priceless. Don't scowl at me. You brought this upon yourself.'

From her pocket, she removes a crude syringe, the type cheaply available on the street to junkies the universe over for millennia.

'You see this? Yes, it is a drug, a lethal toxin available through the right connections on Intaki. We injected you with this to wake you up, and it's already going to work destroying your central nervous system. I'm going to leave you here to consider what you could have done to avoid this end, starting with never having dealt with my father. Don't worry about your cat, I'll take good care of her. Farewell, chéri. It's been fun.'

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