There was a catch, though: the ship was still in our old hunting-grounds in Kor-Azor. Seventy-six jumps is a long way to go for one ship. I could easily pay a friend to travel the comparatively short run through highsec and bring it back, and I'd be out little more than a million in exchange for a t2 frigate.
But it was early in the day, there was nothing else happening, and I'd not been out there in nearly a year. So I packed a full inty fitting into the hold of an Incursus, plotted my route to Schmaeel, and plugged some good tunes into my personal audio player. A brief map check showed there'd been some heavy casualties in the past hour in Sakht, but I figured any fighting was more likely to be either on the 1-SMEB gate or over the dysprosium moon in there, and would probably have petered out by the time I would be passing through. I let Mynxee know where I'd be disappearing to for the next three hours, and set out.
Travelling around New Eden, despite what many people think, does not actually take that long. I suspect a great deal of the impression of long distances and time-consuming travel comes from people flying on autopilot and/or in slow haulers. In my Incursus frigate, I'd calculated a minute's travel between gates. Unless I went through an exceptionally large system, the trip out and back would take two and a half hours, and I was planning on a cup of coffee in the bar in Schmaeel and a little hunting in the inty on my way home.
The riskiest part of my trip would be at the start, which took me through Egmar, where our neighbours GiS and Com-Star tend to base from. Our pilots had frequently reported gatecamps there, along the route towards Amamake, so I trod cautiously. There was a GiS Phobos on one gate, and another pilot pursued me for a few jumps beyond, but by the time I reached Frerstorn, I was on my own again.
Because I'd arranged my course to keep me as much in low-sec as possible, my route bounced back and forth between Metropolis and Heimatar, with a quick skip through Devoid and the Bleak Lands and another bounce between Sinq to Everyshore and back, until I reached Amarr space. It was a straight route through Domain to Kador, Genesis and then Aridia. Aridia was my biggest problem now, I figured, since there was a nice little highsec pocket in the middle of nowhere which extends clear across the route. The last time I'd tried to avoid that, I'd ended up on a massive detour through 0.0 which had left that particular clone with more than a couple premature silver hairs.
But that clone was long dead somewhere deep in Syndicate, and when I hit the next gate in Van I flew straight through a fight in progress involving several pirates and a hauler of some description. It was tempting to ninja in on the kill, but I had sentry guns and the high-end interceptor fitting in my cargo to think about; I jumped without pause, briefly wondering if that kill would be worth the attackers' efforts.
Aridia, so far from highsec proper and riddled with pockets in which outlaws dare not linger, is a desolate place. You may go several systems before seeing another pilot or tower on scan. So it was to my surprise that I jumped into Yehaba only to notice a pilot who looked vaguely familiar. An instant later, he invited me into a private comms channel.
Shae Tiann > can I help you?It was about then that I recognised him as the outlaw Arazu pilot who'd given me a start on the Evati gate in Arnher at the very beginning of this trip.
Izo Azlion > Hey there
Izo Azlion > Random question!
Shae Tiann > go for it
Izo Azlion > Did I see you in metro?
Shae Tiann > um, probably
Izo Azlion > I've just popped through a wormhole from there in the last 20 minutesWe chatted for a bit, mostly about wormholes and the difficulties involved in finding them before signing off to go about our individual business.
* Izo Azlion grins
Izo Azlion > Figured I'd seen you there and down here, thought I'd say hey seeing as I had a bit of a deja vu!
* Shae Tiann laughs
In the midst of my chat with Izo, I'd passed through my one highsec jump in Sazilid; the police threat had blared across my comms, momentarily drowning out the other pilot, but it was little more than an automated alarm system and the few police cruisers who appeared were too slow to catch my ship. I've often wondered if they're always deliberately slow to lock the outlaw who chances into highsec and if the MO isn't simply to speed the evildoer from the system before he gets too comfortable. Only in CONCORD-sovereignty systems have the police ever pounced with extreme prejudice.
I'd been right about Sakht having calmed down; there was still an unusually high number of people in the system, and the sheer numbers of wrecks on my scanner gave me a headache. The scavenger in me cringed at the thought of so much tech-2 salvage going to waste.
If Izo had thought he'd had deja vu seeing me twice in an hour, it was nothing compared to how I felt upon entering the kingdom of Khanid. Chitiamem, Nandeza, the idiotic fight in Goudiyah which cost us a fleet of battleships. Arzieh, where I'd spent so much down-time running missions and being called a coward by some null-sec dweller who'd undocked his carrier on us. Vezila, Ashmarir and the Querious gateway in A2-V27 Icefox and I had used on our trip to see the ruins of the first titan. I knew these places so well, it was a wonder I hadn't been through in nearly a year.
I docked in Schmaeel, remembering when we'd first moved to Kor-Azor and I'd opened my first cyno field to bring our gear in, not realising at the time that the system had been taken over by the BeachBoys in the time since Atrocitas had last moved out. Oh, the nights spent sneaking around the towers watching dozens of capital ships returning from fights in nullsec; sitting cloaked a hundred kilometres off the Oguser gate counting fighters from Omega Alliance and Nex Eternus as they came looking for easy targets. I have so many bookmarks around that little cluster of lowsec systems, they don't all fit on one page in my NeoComm.
I checked that the Taranis was in the hangar, ordered her prepped and fitted with what I'd brought, and went in search of a cup of coffee and something to eat. It was a typically Amarrian station, all towering arches and gold accents and people in robes eyeing me suspiciously without once dropping their kindly smiles. I was raised to be polite, and despite having no religious belief to speak of, when an Amarrian bids 'God be with you', I return the favour. As long as they don't try to evangelise, it's all good.
The little verses printed on the take-away coffee-cups are kinda patronising, though.
Most of the pilots in this system were nothing but haulers, I realised. The sort who never seem to take a break, continuously back and forth for some agent or other hauling rubbish and support staff; but then, why would you need a break when you're only flying from point A to point B on autopilot? Might as well get a 'bot to do it all for you, in the end. On my way back to the hangar, I spotted a couple faces whose uniforms sported the BeachBoys insignia; I guess they didn't all move out, after all. They left me alone, and I ignored them.
These systems used to be fucking hazardous. What's happened to this area?
My Taranis was ready by the time I returned, and I wibbled a little over a name for her -- I dislike flying a ship without a proper name. It's like denying each unnamed hull its soul, and without a good, fitting name, you can't trust it to return your love and respect. Eventually, I called her Little Missile, despite lacking launchers of any description; the Taranis' DPS output is high enough that I felt the name was justified.
I'd intended to go hunting on my way back, but every system was either depressingly empty, every pilot was docked, or any likely targets were on gates. The one cruiser I attempted to tackle in a belt was already aligned and was hitting warp as I landed; he had too much experience, and I mused on how frustrated enemies must have been trying to nail down my anti-Serpentis Myrmidon in Syndicate.
Egmar, when I went through, was hosting what appeared to be a mining operation, but I'd had enough by then and merely wanted to get the Taranis back to my hangar in Evati. Nobody seemed to have even noticed I'd been gone; quiet day all around, but it had been a good morning for a road-trip.