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.'

Next Chapter

Monday, 10 November 2008

Who do you think we are?

About a week ago, I spent a day simply chilling out in Decon: not hunting, not even thinking of popping the odd pilot who passed through occasionally. I made safespots; I probed out a few of the clutches of lost and abandoned drones which litter the system; I lazed in space simply because it was quiet and I could.

Towards the end of the evening, as I was preparing to turn in for the night, a rookie pilot entered the system. I'd spotted her a bit earlier on the scanner: fresh out of the academy a couple days before, flying a Velator and spending long minutes in a belt. One thing I try not to do is attack raw rookies without being aggressed by them first -- for starters, it really isn't fair to them as they have so little in the first place. For another matter, losing ships so early to a callous bastard who really doesn't care that they've just destroyed another pilot's only possession of worth, can discourage a rookie into leaving the capsule permanently; at the very least, it can give them a jaundiced view of pirates.

So I left her alone to her mining or whatever. This time, though, she started speaking in the Local channels.

'Excuse me? Anyone here?'

Perhaps it's my mothering instincts, largely beaten into submission, which encourage me to help people -- I used to leave the Rookie Assistance comms channel open, paying careful attention to find the serious pilots whose genuine questions were being drowned out by the mewling masses. There weren't many people in Decon by that point, and since nobody else responded, I did.

The rookie wanted to know about mining, bless her. Mining in a Velator in lowsec... she said someone had told her to go there, and my first thought was You bastard, sending a newbie into a kill zone, though for all I knew, she could have been working with a gang of antipirates to try to draw the evil denizens of Decon out into a firefight. So I was honest. I told her she was welcome to try mining and advised she see about acquiring an Imicus frigate as soon as she could, but warned that I could make no guarantees for her safety, and explained why lowsec is called 'low-sec'.

At which point one of the randoms in Local suggested that I had a gang prepping in the next system, and didn't believe me when I honestly said they were all off duty.

This is what I mean by people having a jaundiced view of pirates. I'm speaking politely and being helpful, and someone suggests I'm trying to lull the rookie pilot into a false sense of security so my 'gang' can stomp on her with hobnailed boots!

Now, firstly, had I actually wanted to kill the rookie... I'd have done it myself, in something frigate-sized. Don't need a bloody gang for a two-day-old target in a Velator, and suggesting otherwise is insulting.

But what offended me more was the implication that I was the kind of cad who would stab someone in the back as soon as their guard was down. I may be a pirate, my security status may be nearly as far down as it can go, I may shoot freighters and take advantage of a combat-prepped opponent's moment of inattention and not have my conscience too bothered by it, but... deception is not my style. The few times I've been involved with someone who has used deception as a tactic, I've felt dirty for it. I'm a bastard, but an honest woman at the same time.

It's not the first time I've been accused of this, either. When I was in Atrocitas, for a few nights a friend and I went to another system to run missions, and someone there called us cowards, informed us that we would never survive in proper nullsec, then undocked a carrier on my friend's battleship whilst staying within dock-range. When I was in Tygris Alliance, one member of another corp mentioned that I had surprised him by 'not being another lame-ass pirate and resorting to smacktalk'; with Universal Securities, there were times I wasn't certain I could trust my own corpmates to not turn on me simply for my outlaw status.

Are other pirates truely so bad? Or is it an unjustly-earned reputation based upon the expectations of others?

In the experience I've had in the last year, since Atrocitas returned to piracy from their mercenary stint, I've received more verbal abuse and enmity from non-pirates and antipirates than from those who, like myself, make our living from successful ransomings and selling off loot. I do realise we are disliked and mistrusted for our means of survival, and that certainly there are pirates - both individuals and groups - who resort to deception and cowardly tactics to make their living. But on the whole, the pirates of my acquaintance have been a likeable lot, and honourable in that rogueish-highwayman sort of way which so many songs romanticise. They socialise, care for their corpmates and associates, and have as keen a grasp on Right vs Wrong as anyone else. Their approach to their work, illegal though it may be, is nonetheless professional and possessing of a certain level of decorum.

It's not the being hunted that I mind -- that part is to be expected, and is even welcomed, as it assures a regular stream of targets. It's the attitude with which we are approached which is disappointing, and based on my personal experiences, I have to wonder if we pirates have genuinely earned such vitriol, or if those who love to hate us are ascribing to us values -- or lack thereof -- which are not our own. It's refreshing to encounter an antipirate who is pleasant and has a good attitude towards his quarry: the fights are fun, genuine tests of a pilot's mettle, and we feel they can be trusted to honour a 1v1 challenge in the way a more bad-tempered hunter cannot.

Perhaps it's simply the basic human need to feel that one is better than another, a mindset responsible for millennia of conflict. Perhaps it is simply bad PR and the actions of the few tainting the reputations of the rest, or in a few cases, an issue of self-projection -- 'I would do that, therefore I believe you would, too, if given the chance'. Whatever the reason, it should be noted that pirates, like everyone else, will respond better when approached as human beings rather than wild animals.

...Although if someone does feel the need to vent their rage, such conversations can and will be saved off in pirates' logs, to be shared later over drinks with friends for a hearty laugh!

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Hellcats Office Tack-Board: Gang on the Move

Got bored with the smack in Vitrauze Local last night, so I clonejumped out to spend some quality time with my favourite Bastards. They were all out playing silly buggers, or some strange space-based version of capture the flag, and comms were lively. After that excitement, a remote-rep bs gang formed up for some roaming action, and I decided to be the lol one out in my favourite Thorax. I'm really starting to love flying that setup - she's a face-melter, and that Caracal didn't have time to call for help before it reduced to an expanding cloud of shrapnel. Don't sit at zero on planets, kiddies, it's not conducive to a long lifespan.

Caught this shot as we were aligning on the run home after a nice little gate tangle I didn't manage to get involved in - bloody Global Criminal Countdown from that cruiser tackle kept me a system out as the fun kicked off.