Sunday, 29 March 2009

The Skin That We're In

Dykes and dwarves and blind men
Zealots, bats and aliens
Fakir, the Fraud and the Freak
Say can you embrace and love this human race when
Bedlam is here on the street?
-- Mad Agnes

When I was growing up on Athinard V, I was trained as a racing swimmer; by the time I was twelve, I was already competition-grade. Not dedicated enough to beat the hardcore racers, but good enough to do the local league proud. I still go swimming two or three times a week, both to stay in shape and because I just love to swim. Before things got messy and mum moved out, she called me her 'little dolphin'.

I'd just finished a comfortable set, followed up by showing some inquisitive kids how to do those underwater racing turns at the end of each lap, and was in the showers washing the pool chemicals from my hair when I overheard two women in the locker room complaining about an Amarrian crew which had just entered the gym. The language used in reference to the newcomers was incredibly offensive, and the speakers weren't even Matari.

Perhaps it's just me and the way I was raised: one of Dad's grandmothers was Deteis, Mum is half Sebiestor, and my brother and I were raised to look for the person in everyone rather than focussing on the exterior. The amount of racism I encounter every day simply stuns me. If it's not anti-Caldari or anti-Amarr for their methods and cultural practises, it's anti-Matari and anti-Gallente for supposed inferiority and barbarism. I laugh it off when it's directed at me; most people do, when they don't fly into a rage at the insult.

I do not approve of the Amarian mindset on slavery and conquest. I'm not a fan of Caldari governance through business. Some Minmatar customs seem primitive. And I will agree that the Gallente as a collective are decadent and hedonistic. Does this mean that everyone fits the mould? Does that mean every individual needs to be held accountable for his or her empire's failings?

Jorge wasn't permitted to attend Ombey's retirement party. It didn't matter that he has only the barest cultural ties to the Amarr; he was marked for his appearance alone. More than once, I have been told that I have done something to prove the 'rumours about Gallente women' true; what these rumours might be, I can't imagine. When we were based in Vitrauze, I met a Caldari pilot who dressed in popular Gallente fashions when he left his ship simply because he'd grown tired of having bottles thrown at him; never mind that he fought for the Gallente militia.

Do we deserve this? Does anyone?

And so often, it seems it's only because somebody wishes to feel superior to another. If someone can't find something spectacular about what they support and believe in, then the next-best tack is to find something inferior about someone else. One can look down one's nose at others, but does that really make them any better when they can't spare the time to look up?

In the end, I could only finish my shower and leave as quickly as possible before my resolve could crack and become embroiled in a nasty argument. Even the peaceful can only hold our tongues; and mute acceptance is as bad as agreement.

Friday, 27 March 2009

I hear they have some good parties there...

A lot of other people have begun broadcasting their intentions regarding FanFest 2009, so I might as well, too.

I've missed the last two FanFests since I started playing, due mainly to being a student. The kind of courses I'm taking are the sort where it's incredibly difficult to catch up if you miss one day. BUT with any luck, I'll have a job by that time this year and will be able to grab a few days' holiday. My bf and I have already discussed the possibility of making it a week in Iceland to walk around and take pictures -- I'm pretty certain I could cajole him into attending FF, too, since he's a former player.

Looking forward to it!

Monday, 23 March 2009

The Feeling of Doing Something You Have Done Before

Wrapped comfortably in my Arazu's golden skin, I drifted in space, feeling lost and wondering why this suddenly felt so familiar. Not the hanging about cloaked keeping tabs on the potential targets in the system -- I've been doing that for ages, since before I could fly covert-ops ships. But the feeling of stagnation, of not going anywhere... that, I found unpleasantly familiar.

It hit me with all the subtlety and cosideration of a breeze-block in the face: I'd been here before. I'd been here with Atrocitas, with Tygris, with UnSec. Feeling trapped, going nowhere... that, plus the reconnaisance work always had come right before I realised it was time to leave. It was a predictable cycle, one I was coming to recognise too well. I'd stopped caring so much about what the others did, stopped even caring if I insulted them; I wondered if I'd get pulled up regarding what I'd said the night before and realised I didn't care about that, either. This had ceased to be fun a while ago.

'This' being our time spent in Evati flying with the Bastards. They are briliant guys and amazing pilots, there are members I care deeply about, members I like, but the group dynamic has undergone a massive shift somewhere in the last few months, and it is no longer a group I feel at home with.

I have neve felt any desire to leave the Hellcats, and that was what kept me here, I realised. I was proud to call myself a member. It wasn't even as if they were holding me back; Mynx had no problems with members doing their own things elsewhere. My base out in Molden Heath was still there, barely used because I spent so much time back in Evati still. Maybe it was time I made a more long-term jump.

I don't think Flashfresh understood why I'd hugged him good night as he left for the evening; he just kissed me back and said, 'See you later'. But somehow, it felt more final.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Care and Feeding of Your Pet Rookie

A friend of mine dropped me a message via Facebook, saying that he was considering giving Eve a try, and could he contact me ingame if he did? Of course I said yes, and this evening he sent a text with his ingame name.

But before that, it got me thinking. The New Player Experience (NPE, as we shall henceforth refer to it here) has changed a lot in the introduction of the latest patch. I've played with it a bit, but not actually to the point of creating a character; my only open slot is on Shae's account, and I've been hesitant to sacrifice Shae's training time.

Now, though, I felt kind of an obligation to at least sit through the beginning of the NPE so I could help my friend work through it if necessary. So I created Rani Estrella, put Shae's long-term training on pause, and sat down, prepared for the grind.

Oh, what a grind. I was going loopy by the time I logged Shae back on and resumed her training queue. I'm not particularly enthralled with the new NPE.

But lest I taint everyone else's impressions of it with my jaded older-player perspective, I have created an in-character blog for Rani at in order to document the experience.

My intention is to log in Rani for an hour or so every day (there may be days I don't; we all have Real Lives which must bet tended, too), train her up during that time only so as not to munch too much of Shae's SP, and go through the rookie experience a bit at a time, with accompanying blog entries to keep track of how things go. She's receiving no monetary assistance other than what she earns through the game, and the IC bit is to force myself to leave my previous experience to the background and produce an unbiased account.

This should be interesting.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Friendly Fire (Dark Omen)

This is a continuation of this post and is connected to Chapter 5 of the short fiction 'Dark Omen' by Jorge Belda. The series starts here.

I hit the hangar deck running, shouting at Maura, the crew chief on duty, to get my Taranis prepped. Heading straight into the ship's capsule chamber, I shed my clothes without bothering to hang them up, and even before the ambiotic fluid had filled the pod I was hooked in and broadcasting a demand for Jorge's departure log from The Bastards' ops control.

The man on duty responded a moment later, 'I'm sorry, he didn't log a flight plan, and I can't find him in space. He may have disabled his CFL connection.'

The Corporate Flight Link was what each group used to track and record their pilots' actions and was tied directly into the Aurora systems. I cursed roundly as my pod onlined and my body became just another piece of operational hardware. Flight prep seemed to last an eternity.

A yelp split through the alliance comms. 'What the fuck, Jorge?! Cut it out!'

'What's going on. Mynx?' I broadcast.

'It's Jorge, he's attacked me on Todi gate. Bastard's not on comms.'

'How are you holding up?'

'I -ugh- I'm alright for now, but he's going to break my shields soon. I'm in the Jag.' She sounded pissed-off.

My control HUD lit up: all systems online and ready. 'Hang tight, I'll be right there.'

I cleared the force fields and hit hard vacuum with a burst of steam as the interceptor's skin cooled instantly. The roar of the warp-drive lighting up reverberated through my hull, my crew strapped in securely as the gee-forces dropped the bottom out of the floor and shipboard gravity generators kicked in.

'This is a fight, ladies, prep for combat,' I announced tensely, hoping Mynxee could hold out long enough. As the ride smoothed out, confirmations lit up on my HUD. For the first time, I really wished I had taken the time to train for thermodynamics.

Too late now. My warpin bounced me off that damned piece of debris which floated just off the gate before I was able to correct my trajectory and I swore as I tried to compensate. Flipping my overview to show friendlies, I spotted the fight and powered in, turrets, web and scram hot and going live the instant lock resolved.

The Succubus rocked as my first salvo slammed into its shields; Jorge reacted instantly, veering away, and the high tone of a target lock rang through my head.

'...when I’m in ‘Darkness’, my Succubus. I go into this zone, like a frenzy, when I’m in that ship. I’m just scared… that I’ll lose control...'

'Mynx, fire on him.'


'Do it. There's something weird going on here.' I flipped comms to the rarely-used open Local channel. 'Jorge, what are you doing? Talk to me.'

There was a long pause, a tense moment as I felt a stasis web attempt to pin me down; my afterburner-fit inty shrugged off the worst effects from the warp-scrambler without noticing.

'...Shae?' Jorge's softly-accented voice finally broke through the broad-band static. He sounded like a man just waking up, and I began to wonder just how aware of his surroundings he really was.

His ship, however, didn't slow, and my shields were disappearing fast under the onslaught. At least he'd stopped shooting Mynxee.

'Shae, we're going to hit his armour soon,' Mynx said. 'Are we going to destroy him?'

'If he doesn't stop, we'll have no choice.' On the open channel, I broadcast, 'Jorge, stop firing. Don't make us do this.'

There was no response, and I began to feel the sunburn-prickle of lasers nibbling at my armour.

'Take him down, Mynx, and catch his pod if you can.'


'Remember what I told you last night? I don't think this is Jorge we're fighting, but he's in there somewhere.' A pang of guilt shot through me but I pushed it away; I could hate myself for this later when I had the time. Right now, what I hated more was whatever had driven us to this point. 'Just don't pod him; he'll die.'

The prickle became an aching burn as a blow-through hit my interceptor's structure. Flying erratically had helped me last longer than a basic orbit would have allowed, but it might not be enough.

The Succubus was deep into structural damage when its icon on my HUD flickered and doubled-up on itself. 'He ejected!'

'On it!'

Lock resolved on the egg-shaped craft even as Jorge's Sansha frigate exploded without his skills holding it together. The fight had moved well off the gate; I dropped a web and scram on the capsule to keep him from moving.

'Jorge, are you...there?' I half-dreaded the response I might receive. 'Are you alright?'

Very faintly, I heard his choked voice say, 'Help me.'

'Jorge...? Jorge! Yuria, get me a scan on that pod,' I yelled. 'Tell me his condition.' Ships don't come equipped with medical scanners, so I'd had them installed for my crew to use. They were incredibly useful for determining how much a poential ransomee's pod was worth in implants.

'Checking... he's unconscious. Not going anywhere,' Yuria reported.

'Thanks, patch a call in to Kaalakiota 9-4, get a capsule recovery team out here and tell them to not shoot the outlaws near it, this time. Mynx, how're you doing?'

'Lost half my armour but we're fine.'

'I'm sparkin', here.' My camera drones showed me the small flare towards my engines where something was burning off. 'I'll dock at 9-4, myself, for repairs and to tell them about Jorge.'

Mynx sighed. 'Ronin's gonna be pissed.'

'Crap.' The adrenalin rush was fading, leaving me feeling shaky -- always a risky state for a pilot, since structural damage could increase if the pilot couldn't hold it together. 'What do we tell him?'

'Think he knows about Jorge?'

Nervously, I eyed my directional scanner; engaging on the gate with a wardec live had been risky, and I was feeling insanely exposed out here now, with holes in my hull and relative safety so far away. 'I doubt it. System malfunction? Under investigation?'

'He won't buy it. We're going to have to tell him.'

'I think that's Jorge's decision to make, Mynx.' The capsule-retrieval team finally showed up on the scanner, and a moment later dropped out of warp at the gate, immediately turning to approach.

'And what if he's unable to make that decision?'

'Let's not go there just yet. See you at the bar.'


I found Mynxee sitting at a table toward the back of The Hub a couple hours later, looking over new applicants' details. She shut her notepad down as I sank into the other seat, a bottle of something very alcoholic and dangerously drinkable in my hand.

'Hitting the hard stuff already, are we?'

'I like cider.'

She looked at me for a moment, then sipped her own drink and asked, 'So do they know what's wrong?'

'They're keeping him sedated; doc said he'd be in "acute agony" if he was conscious, something to do with neural pulses his implants are sending out.'

My CEO winced. 'They have any idea what's causing it?'

I rested my elbows on the table, cupping my chin in one hand and idly rolling the base of my bottle over the pitted surface. 'They have a vague idea, but they're calling in a specialist in Sansha technology to work on him. One of the boffins picked up a signal Jorge's implants appear to be receiving, the encryption is Sansha. What we're guessing right now is that it's sort of a recall, kind of the way companies recall faulty products.'

'That's... that's fucked-up.' She tucked a stray dreadlock behind one ear. 'You think they want him back?'

'Considering how many years they spent creating him? I can't see them letting him go so easily; maybe they found a way to... well, "fix" what didn't work.'

I felt uncomfortable thinking of Jorge as just some... machine, a biological drone commanded by a greater consciousness. He had had perhaps a year to actually have a life, barely enough time to even begin to experience what the rest of us took for granted every day. He was like a mannequin, dressed in the rushed ideology his Amarrian rescuers probably force-fed him to make him socially presentable, and propped in a window for display, too far removed from the depth of human experience to see beneath its fragile surface. Remembering his words the night before, I felt myself blush a little; he'd openly confessed having feelings for me, but how well did he understand them? We barely knew each other.

The rhythmic hum of the base of my bottle rolling on the table stopped abruptly as Mynx stuck her finger in the way.

'You're way out there, Shae. What's up, girl?'

'Feeling a bit guilty, I guess. It's because of me he got upset, and then all this... crap happened.' I sat back in my chair, gesturing to indicate the events of the last several hours.

Mynx reached out and poked my forehead.


'None of that. It was probably just coincidence. Or he could have unconsciously noticed the signal he was picking up and felt the need to confide in someone, trying to explain things. I do know that he went from hiding in the shadowy corners to spilling his guts to you in a very short time, so something must have been going on. Don't blame yourself. Oh, shit.' This last she added as we spotted RoninData, the Bastards' CEO, stalking toward us through the bar, his expression darkly unpleasant.

He stopped at our table and loomed over me, blocking out the light; it was probably intended to be threatening, but I was accustomed to being head and shoulders below everyone else. The tattoos running from the corners of Ronin's eyes made his heavy scowl more pronounced.

'What the fuck, Shae.' Ronin was one of those unique people who didn't have to raise his voice to tell people off.

'Heya Ronin.'

'You destroyed Jorge's ship. That's friendly fire, Shae, you know our policies on that.' He flashed a glare in Mynxee's direction. 'You, too. You do not fuck with my pilots like that. You're only here because we like you, but you're pushing the limits, the both of you.'

'Ronin, we had our reasons-'

'Shut it, Mynx. I want to hear it from Shae. Now.'

I slowly pushed my chair back and stood up calmly to face his wrath, nose to... well, breastbone. 'Jorge attacked Mynxee on the gate, Ronin. No warning, he wasn't on comms. I went to defend her and he turned on me. When I managed to raise him on Local, he didn't seem to know where he was. Technically, he destroyed his ship when he ejected, but he's unconscious at KK 9-4 medical just now, so it's not like we can ask him what happened. They're trying to figure out what's wrong with him, they've called a specialist in.'

Ronin seemed to relax a little as I explained, his mood shifting from outraged to a sort of grim foreboding, like a thunderstorm that hasn't quite passed. 'You're paying for that.'

'I didn't assume otherwise. I'll take responsibility for it.'

With a harsh exhalation through his nose, Ronin went back to business mode, taking a step back and folding his arms. 'Neither of you lost ships? No? Send me the repair bills, the corp will cover it. See you later.'

We watched him leave, then I resumed my seat. 'Well, that could have been worse.'

'Is it just me, or is he damn sexy when he's mad?'

'Hot like a summer's day. Rawr.'

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

PROJECT LEEROY: A Roam in Three Acts

Every op begins with an idea. It could be as simple as kill everything we meet! but it's still an idea. I'm not normally an ideas-person when it comes to ops, but this time I had a brain-wave.

We've been at war with GiS and Com-Star for... I've forgot how long, actually, and I can't be arsed checking. At least a month, maybe two. It all blurs together after a while. We took heavy losses before we 'decced, before we learned to not attempt to out-blob the blob. Our primary guerrilla-style skirmish tactics -- get in, pop one or two and get out before backup comes down on our heads -- has been working fairly well, but it's little stuff, t1 frigates vs t2 frigates, as General Coochie demonstrates in her latest video. It puts limits on what can be engaged and what can't. And as much as we despise the use of electronic warfare in combat, our targets utilise Falcons more than any other vessel, so must we run in gangs with ewar support.

One of the things I learned early on with the Bastards is that they put together a mean wolf-pack. It's one of our big strengths, but it's a tactic we hadn't really used in the war. GiS and their ally alliance Cloud 7 Nebulosa are the type of fighters who bring a hammer when a screwdriver is more appropriate; Com-Star are the screwdriver in that particular toolbox, but when offered even numbers or more in opposition, they tend to fall back.

I went to the Bastards' discussion forum and left my proposal for others to consider:
I say as many of us as possible fit up our best destroyers, name every one LEEROY JENKINS, then run around GiS/Com-star territory in small hunter-killer gangs for a couple hours.
The idea, I felt, would serve well to get under our war-targets' skins and cause severe consternation trying to keep track of that many small hit-and-run gangs.

I didn't actually expect people to like the dea, much less suggest running one so soon.

Last night was a slow one, despite numerous targets flitting about the area. I missed getting in on an awesome ransom by about thirty seconds. Somebody noticed we had a good sixteen or eighteen people online, and the call went out for a Mark 1 run of PROJECT LEEROY. The Bastards have a gift for spontaneity like that.


I'd not been able to get the Catalysts I'd ordered earlier delivered that evening, but RoninData was kind enough to let me borrow one of his. As I was directing my crews to pull modules off some of my small fleet of cheap-fit frigates, Ronin and the tacklers had already charged in and were several systems into hostile territory, probing out some GiS-friendlies who clearly thought they were safe enough from the local predators in their mission-site. As I undocked, someone called tackle, and the race was on: could I and the other destroyer pilots get there in time to lay the hurt on?

Keeping pace with the venerable Flashfresh in his Thrasher, I bolted through the gates, passing numerous pilots with extreme negative standings. One, a Hawk, turned on the gate as I shot past, and was hot on my trail for the next couple systems; as I reached Ualkin, he passed me, clearly expecting me to warp on to the next gate.

Warping instead to our tackle, I found the enemy Maelstrom floundering as our pack wiped out his Coercer support and moved in for the kill. We'd chewed halfway into the battleship's shields when more backup arrived in the form of a Thorax. The more deadly of the two threats, we left the Maelstrom tackled as we melted the cruiser, then finished the job. Somewhere in the middle of it all, the Hawk warped in, then booked it to safety.

Three Cloud 7 down, no losses for PROJECT LEEROY. We warped to a safe spot to wait out our GCC timers.

The Long Pursuit

Our probers in Gukarla spotted a Jaguar in a deadspace whilst some of our fleet were still waiting down their timers. The rest of us dove in, leading to the longest chase I've ever been involved in. Our tackler, Hera, could easily keep up with the speedy assault frigate, but couldn't get close enough to do damage without getting chewed up by the Jaguar's turrets.

Over the course of half an hour or so, we warped back and forth between a cluster of wrecks the Jaguar had caused and Hera in an attempt to get close enough to slap webs on the target and bring it down. Even with a single web, the AF was moving faster than my afterburner-fit destroyer, which really did my nut in. The closest I ever managed to get was maybe 15km, at which point I let off with my seven neutron blasters in a futile attempt to do damage, any damage, since my single drone had been destroyed by Angel Cartel pirates in the Maelstrom's mission.

I was starting to suggest we weren't actually going to get this particular kill, with Ronin insisting that after giving us this much trouble the fecker had to die, when someone managed a close warp-in and slapped dual webs on the Jaguar, whereupon it died in very short order. Congratulations were exchanged in Local channels as the pilot warped his pod away, having led us some 1350 kilometres in his bid for freedom.

The Lions' Den

The point of PROJECT LEEROY was, in the end, to annoy GiS and Com-Star. At last, an hour and a half after setting out from Evati, we entered Egmar, the heart of GiS operations, taking the fight to the enemy. Our fleet warped in on the undock-point of GiS' main base station and waited. Spirits were high, and everyone was cheerfully ready to see what our targets would bring.

The first ship to arrive was a Drake, flown by the same pilot who'd been following me in his Hawk at the start of the operation. Not being outlaw nor an actual war-target, we couldn't shoot him, so instead we playfully bumped his ship around on the station. Props to him for restraining himself and not aggressing; I can't begin to imagine how great the temptation must have been. Other Cloud 7 ships showed up but made no moves toward engaging.

At last, a viable target undocked... in a Deimos. Quite possibly the biggest mistake he could have made. There was a general round of sinister laugher on comms which boded no good for DeMoLiScHeN as his heavy-assault cruiser was subsequently pointed and melted on his own base under the eyes of his allies.

Another war target undocked in a Vulture; licking our chops, we began to circle him like a shiver of sharks smelling blood. Alas, the heavy backup showed up as we started to bite into the command ship's shield-tank, and the order was given to warp out to random celestials. Objective accomplished: we'd given GiS a bloody nose, time to GTFO. Sitting at a safe-spot I'd made on my last incursion into Egmar, waiting to see if any more targets of opportunitty presented themselves, I was cheered to realise I'd scored the killing blow on the Deimos.

But our targets' backs were up now, and we withdrew to Evati, leaving GiS to lick their wounds.

Every op begins with an idea. PROJECT LEEROY turned out to be a surprisingly good idea. We've been analysing our experience and picking apart the issues we encountered. LEEROY may well make a Mark 2 appearance at some point in the future.

Thursday, 5 March 2009


Because I have been insanely busy with RL stuffs this week, I present for your amusement a little snippet from Bastards alliance chat.

[17:54:42] Jorge Belda > its your fault :P i'm just sitting here doing my college work dancing around in my seat to Hybrid
[17:54:55] Jorge Belda > makes me all happy and silly :P
[17:55:58] Shae Tiann > Hybrid is good shit
[17:56:00] Jorge Belda > need to get I choose noise
[17:56:09] Shae Tiann > yes you do
[17:57:50] Jorge Belda > ah you twisted my arm Shae - its being purchased now
[17:58:08] * Shae Tiann didn't touch Jorge
[17:59:15] Shae Tiann > tempting to play with his hair though...
[17:59:28] * Jorge Belda blushes
[18:00:04] * Jorge Belda sits quietly in the corner
[18:00:41] Shae Tiann > tsk, you're no fun
[18:01:03] * Jorge Belda sits quietly in the corner waiting for shae to approach
[18:01:38] * Jorge Belda pushes himself up off the floor and walks to the bar for a strong drink
[18:01:39] Shae Tiann > lol
[18:03:50] * Jorge Belda feels a strong feminine presence behind him
[18:04:11] Shae Tiann > (psssst, it's Flash)
[18:04:32] Jorge Belda > *snorts*
[18:04:43] Shae Tiann > heehee
[18:04:43] flashfresh > LOL
[18:04:55] Jorge Belda > dammit, you just made me shoot coffee out my nose :(