Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Alone in a Crowd

Fellow capsuleer Rettic has caught the Wanderlust bug himself, and he asks:
What do you think is the right situation for flying solo, if there is such a thing? Are there times when you prefer it?
This question brought me back to the beginning of my own experiment in dealing with ennui, which I've been attempting to chronicle lo these many (erm, just two or three) months. When I plunged into that first wormhole in Maut, I expected that, whatever happened, it would be a lonely experience. The record shows (and will continue to show as I get around to updating it) that it was not. If Rettic does it right, he can expect a steady stream of chance encounters that will weave a web of new relationships, both friendly and not-so-friendly.

Sure, these connections won't necessarily be as strong as the ones you've formed in a corp. That's why you need to make an effort to keep old friendships alive and create new ones: Join a public channel filled with old corpmates (for me it's Semsopub), or create your own channel, or sign up for one of the many profession-relevant channels out there - like WH Colonists, if wormhole exploration is your game.

The most important advice I can give to a capsuleer looking to go solo is to mix it up, leap before looking, dare to be stupid, etc. Sure, you'll lose some shiny ships, but you'll learn so much more than you will if you just play it safe. This is not an easy lesson; the Lord knows I'm still learning it myself. But the more you exercise your crazypants muscles, the more you'll get out of your pilot's license.

The answer to Rettic's question is that any time is the right time for solo work, if your ennui tank is full. So don't panic: When you've had time to work through these issues and empty that tank, your friends and enemies (and maybe even some new ones) will be waiting for you.

Friday, February 19, 2010


It seems I spoke too soon the other day about never having the need to hurry on Ahambra. Only a few hours after I wrote the last post, a treacly chime and flashing icon signaled the arrival of a message on my datapad. It was a DED mail: AEOS HQ was under attack by two members of a corporation called The Last True Socialism named Gameboy4ever and FitzTavi. It was pretty obvious from their profiles that these guys were outlaws in the business of preying on unsuspecting wormhole colonists and their facilities.

This turn of events shouldn't have really bothered me that much. I had already made more than a billion and a half in liquid isk for not all that much work. There was nothing of immense value there other than the structures themselves. No ore or minerals in the refinery; no Sleeper salvage in the corporate hangar. And before my vacation, I had unloaded the vessels stored in the ship hangar and re-loaded them into the Orca's ship bays. Amber had then parked the Orca, cloaked, in a deep safe spot.

Nevertheless, I found that I just couldn't let it go. Hour after hour, the Neocom chimed to alert me to the arrival of another DED mail—control tower at 75% shields, now 50%, now 25%, now in reinforced mode. Would they come back in two-and-a-half days when the shield reinforcement generators ran out of strontium clathrates? Somehow, I had a feeling they would.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

High Holy Days

As I write this, I'm lying on the beach, looking out across a wine-dark sea domed by a brilliant pink-orange sky. Way off in the distance, where sea and sky meet to form something that reminds me of a stellar nursery, the last light of Khanid Prime's sun is slowly sinking below the horizon.

Incidentally, the terra firma beneath my ass is anything but. I'm on one of the floating ice islands that form a part of our family estates on Khanid Prime IV (known to us locals as Ahambra). It was one of my forebears who had the brilliant idea to float the first ice islands here on KP IV.  About a century ago, he noticed a few things about life in the Khanid Kingdom:
1) High-sec real estate commands a high price.
2) Members of the Royal Khanid Family and noble houses aren't getting any fewer, and their estates aren't getting any bigger.
3) Khanid Prime IV is a oceanic world in high-sec space.
4) When water gets cold, it gets hard. And it floats.
From these points, it was only a simple matter of engineering to get where we are today. Thousands upon thousands of icebergs with refrigeration units at their cores and living quarters fit for a King on their surfaces. Oh, and just enough insulation between the two to push the otherwise sultry Ahambra days to this side of paradise.

It's damn strange I don't come here more often. The combination of Sotiyo-Urbaata Drive technology and Jump Gates means that any of New Eden's tens of thousands of planets and moons is less than an hour away by shuttlecraft. In fact, more than ninety percent of the travel time in almost every trip comes in its first and last stages—namely, getting to and from orbit.

Ah, but there's the rub: On fast-paced planets like those in Amarr Prime, Dodixie, or Jita, there are entire industries devoted to getting passengers from point A to point B, planetside. They've got high-speed maglev trains running through vacuum tubes, sub-orbital spaceplanes, you name it. Here, in sleepy Ahambra, however, luxury is the name of the game, and everyone travels by Airship. Sure, it means a significantly longer wait in order to get around, but hey...you're on Ahambra! Why are you in such a damn hurry anyway?

Monday, February 8, 2010

How to Win Friends and Influence Pod Pilots

One of the complaints commonly made against us wormhole colonists is that we're unduly antisocial, that we've cocooned ourselves from the rest of New Eden's civilization out of greed and selfishness. It's funny how the people who usually say this have an icon of a flashing red skull next to their name, along with a less-than-friendly relationship with Concord.

They also have a point, or half of one anyway. It's certainly true that the sense of ennui that initially pushed me and the rest of APHID through the wormhole was antisocial in nature. And, to be sure, there are also those who go to great lengths to maroon themselves in w-space. But our experience over the last few weeks in J124654 has been anything but a lonely one.

Excepting occasional dry spells lasting 24 to 48 hours, visitors have shown up in this system about once a day. Most commonly, it's a covert ops frigate from the low-sec static wormhole exit, whose probes are the first things I pick up on scan. Occasionally, a K162 exit pops up from a neighboring w-space system and disgorges a complement of pod pilots seeking to mine this system's Sleeper sites for T3 parts and salvage.

In all of the above cases, APHID follows the same standard procedure:
  1. All mining ops are immediately ceased.
  2. All non-essential personnel immediately disembark from their ships and pods, or warp in their ships to a safe spot and engage a cloaking device.
  3. A designated pod pilot (usually the one with the best scanning skills) endeavors to quickly scan the solar system for new or undetected wormholes.
  4. Said scout then quickly scans down the newcomers and warps to their location at range.
  5. Once we've evaluated the situation tactically, we then have to make a decision: ignore them and hope they go away, or initiate a conversation.
Some would say that a small, three-pod-pilot corporation like APHID should take the former course, hoping that our visitors either don't notice our HQ or don't care about it. After all, if they're not plundering our asteroid belts, then isn't a "live and let live" policy the wisest course?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Silent City

Quomodo sedit sola civitas plena populo facta est.
How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people!]

—Lamentations 1:1
It was the silence that woke me. The control tower at HQ is many things—but it's never quiet. I couldn't quite grok what it was I was supposed to do about it though. I guess that's why I had the Ex-1 "Executor" implant installed in the frontal lobes of my brain.

The nano-fiber semiconducting lattice of the Ex-1 "Executor" implant  forms a kind of catcher's mitt between the rest of my brain and the frontal lobes, which, as any neuroscientist (or Ex-1 salesman) can tell you, act to inhibit the more crazy-ass ideas that come from the depths of our still poorly evolved brains (Jovian company excluded, of course. Who knows how they've modified their meat computers, or if they even use them anymore?). Ex-1's nano-fiber lattice, paired with a femtoprocessor chip, also embedded in my gray matter, picks up on any brainwave pattern that the frontal lobes deem worthy of my acting out in the real world, and then it effects them itself, if the context is right.

Example: Let's say I decide to lower the thermostat, or convo an old friend; Ex-1 does it for me. The real neat part is that this all happens before I'm even consciously aware I wanted to do it. Thus the devices and ship modules all around me—in pod or out—know that I want to do something before I do.

All of this goes to explain how it is that Rol Prime had just accepted a convo that I wasn't even aware I had already sent.

"Look, I know you're going to say it is my fault, but it's not." His voice had already taken on a frenetic tone. Damn his eyes! I didn't even realize I was upset about something yet.

"Explain," I said, hoping the single-word response would give my frontal lobes a bit of time to catch up.

"You know how it is. I was getting bored watching the progress bars advance in the refinery, and I decided to listen in on Sleeper transmissions. I picked up on a data stream...a really interesting one."

"Define 'interesting'." I was beginning to see where this was going, and why my sub-conscious had immediately called Prime.

"I've never seen anything like it!" He was giddy. "Well, that's not true. It looked like the kind of instructions repper modules send out to the armor-repair nanobots crawling all around the hull of a ship, except these were more advanced than anything I've ever seen."

"And?" I still couldn't see how any of this explained the gnawing sense of unease in my gut.

"And I'll tell you." He was shaking now. "If we could figure out how to adapt a data stream like this one to our armor reppers, we'd have a module that would leave Tech II in the dust—maybe even beat out officer mods like Tairei's. We're talking a capital-class tank on a cruiser-sized hull!"

"So let me guess: You plugged the data stream into our mainframe to get a better look at it."


Deep in the recesses of my skull the Ex-1 implant sprung into action, sending an instruction to a robotic arm conveniently located right behind the chair where Prime was sitting in the refinery control room. The metal arm reached out and swatted Prime on the head.

"Oww! Whadid you do that for?"

"I didn't; the Ex-1 did. The real question is, why do you think my subconscious mind wanted to slap you?"

He rubbed his thumped skull and mumbled something inaudible.

"I didn't catch that."


As he shouted it, conscious thoughts caught up with unconscious ones. "Let me see if I understand. You let the Sleeper data stream through the mainframe's firewall."

"Right, and now the Sleepers are rewriting all of the programs controlling several of APHID HQ's basic automatic functions."

"Anything important?"

"Not really, unless you think breathing is important. That silence you're hearing is the sound of fresh air not being pumped through our ventilators. It's only a guess, but I'd say we've got only a couple of hours of breathing left before we begin to pass out from hypoxia."

The robotic arm twitched again but held still. "Prime, why don't you tell me what is working."

"The Sleeper signal is hacking everything. It's like it's reprogramming the whole base to turn itself inside out. But for now, sure, yeah, some stuff is working: Weapons, lighting, pseudogravity. I even think the johns are still flushing. Oh, and oddly enough, auto-docking functions in the hangar are all nominal."

"That's all I need. Rol out." I disconnected the convo, got out of bed, and stepped into the head. I had a plan, but if that plan was going to work, I'd want to do it with an empty bladder.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Posse, Part II

The convo was from a pod pilot called Tiger Cub of the LurkerZ Corporation, a sub-fifty-member outfit I had never heard of before. Tiger and I were the only ones in Nani local.

No point in being rude, thought I. I accepted the convo and we introduced ourselves, though I remained wary of revealing any details about myself or my w-space operations in the area. He didn't seem the piratical sort, but one can't be too careful about revealing operational details.

Much to my own surprise, Tiger Cub made me an offer:

"Why don't we set each other's corps to blue standings?"

It a sign of the paranoia that unknown space cultivates that my first thoughts about this offer were: What's his angle? After all, if you can't figure out who are the wolves and who are the sheep, then you're the sheep.

Maybe he's looking for hints about APHID's wormhole operations. Maybe he's trying to set me at ease before he and his gang drop in on my operations unannounced. Better to give him as little information as possible.

"Sure," I said, "but I don't know how useful standings would be to you; APHID tends to vagabond all around New Eden. In fact, I think we'll be moving out of this region in the next day or two", I said. No need to tell him how we'll be moving (that is, via a collapsing wormhole).

"Ah, I see", he replied. "But it never hurts to have allies, right?" True enough, I thought. So I set the LurkerZ to blue and he did the same with respect to APHID.

About an hour later, Tiger Cub was gone and Amber was back from her Jita-run. We jumped through the wormhole together and warped ourselves to APHID HQ, basking in the warm glow of the ISK we had just netted from the mineral sale. While consciously I was busy feeling very pleased with myself; quite unconsciously, I had initiated a system-wide scan. The results were as follows:

Scan Results:

  • Rook

  • Hulk

  • Hulk

  • Bustard
In a capsule, up to the gills in a bath of warm nutrient goo, a pod pilot customarily has all his motor neural functions temporarily switched off to prevent him from jerking an arm or a leg and disconnecting one or more of the numerous control wires jacked in to the skull. Aura later informed me that these safety protocols had temporarily (and quite harmlessly, in this instance) broken down, allowing me to silently mouth a single word: Fuck.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Posse, Part I

Over the past few days Rol Prime has efficiently overseen APHID's mobile refinery operations, transmuting massive piles of arkonor, bistot, and crokite ore into tritanium, pyerite, nocxium, zydrine, and megacyte. These refined minerals are 1/1,600th the volume of the ores they come from, which is a brilliant thing from the logistics perspective.

The APHID crews were able to load all of these minerals into the cargohold of a single Viator-class transport ship that was fitted for both speed and stealth. High-slots: One T2 covert-ops cloaking device. Mid-slots: One T2 1MN Microwarp Drive. Low-slots: an overdrive injector, nanofiber internal structure, and an inertia stabilizer (all T2). Rigs: Two T1 Polycarbon Engine Housing mounts. This sexy beast could warp like a frigate, which meant that the ship well-nigh untouchable in low-security Empire space—a good thing, as my accountant and APHID CEO, Amber Macx, tabulated this load of minerals to be worth a couple hundred million isk based on current Jita buy order prices.

As I mentioned last time, there are a few poor, deluded souls who turn their noses up at the minimum 25% waste a mobile refinery costs you. Granted, 25% waste is a big number, but consider the alternative: the volume of ore that had until recently been in APHID's hangars (about 750,000 m3) translates into about thirty trips in a flimsy, vulnerable Iteron Mark V fully fitted with T2 expanded cargohold modules. Not only is that tedious and time-consuming; it also increases your risk profile: Repeating a single cargo-run route thirty times gives a curious pirate or combat pilot plenty of time to set up an ambush.

This was a lesson someone was about to learn the hard way.

It all went down like this: While ensconced in my Anathema, scanning down the newest location of this system's wormhole to low-sec Empire space, I noticed a blip resembling something like the radar cross-section of a Buzzard flit across the scanner interface. It showed only for a fraction of a second, and subsequent scan cycles failed to detect it again. In most other contexts, whether in Empire or nullsec, you can shake off these things as radar ghosts or the product of a paranoid mind. But not in Wspace. Here, there's only one possible response: assume you're being watched by a force of unknown size and with hostile intent.

Not that I was going to let this wholly prudent paranoia put a stop to APHID's operations in J124564. No, I just had to play it coolly and carefully, as always. Warping to the wormhole and scouting it visually while cloaked revealed no further sign of the UFO, so I plunged into the wormhole, ending up in the Nani system, Lonetrek region of Caldari space—only a few jumps from Jita.

Nothing showed up on scan, and only a few souls showed up in Nani's local communications channels—certainly nothing to be concerned about—so I gave the signal to Amber Macx to warp to the wormhole, pass through it, and begin her trip to the market in Jita. Amber's trip, as one would expect from a cloaking transport, went through without a hitch—nothing interesting to report from her trip.

But something did happen to me while I sat in my cov-ops in Nani, scouting the wormhole back to the Wspace system. Aura informed me of an incoming comms request. Someone was trying to convo me.