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.

APHID HQ orbited the sixth and final planet of the J124654 system and was located very far away from any other astronomical body or anomaly, except one: the rich asteroid belt I had been mining the past few days. If I had two exhumers, a combat recon ship, and a deep space transport on scan, the only possible conclusion to draw was that some scum-sucking wildcatters were stealing my ore. Ain't no one got any right to mess with a miner's meal ticket.

I was in a tight spot, however. The only combat ready ship I had, a PvP fit Zealot, was docked in APHID HQ's ship hangar. If I were to board and launch that ship, I would have to risk their seeing me on scan and bugging out before I had a chance to send them back home the hard way. Furthermore, I wasn't sure how successful I could be taking on a Rook all by my lonesome. There are plenty of counters to an ECM ship, but my Zealot fit surely wasn't one of them. What to do...

I took a gamble, jumped into the Zealot, and warped back to the wormhole to Nani to get out of the wildcatters' scan rang as soon as possible. Obviously, these thieves had snuck in through a K162 exit wormhole that must have opened up some time in the past hour or two. So maybe they didn't know about the exit to Nani, meaning I had a place to sit tight and figure out a plan.

Help was what I needed, and there was only one place I knew to get it, though I dreaded setting foot there: Semso's Pub, the seediest holo-space bar this side of Jita.

My first thoughts as I loaded Holo-gram, and stepped my avatar over Semsopub's threshold were of my father saying, "It figures." If he had known that I used to be a regular here—well, the shame of it would have killed him. I don't think he would have even been able to stomach the god-cursed dopplegänger of his dead son—as he believes my thrice-cloned body to be—setting foot in such a den of ill repute.

Semso, the proprietor, was a being of indeterminate gender; s/he/it liked it that way for some reason. Some people said it was because s/he/it used the possibility that she might be female to con lonely male pod pilots. Others said s/he/it was just into some kind of quasi-gender fetish. Me, I liked to entertain the possibility that s/he/it was a he who had lost his "manhood" in a freak industrial accident of some kind.

"Rol is a whore," said Semso's gender-neutralized Avatar from behind a simulated bar.

"No time for sweet-talk, love," said I. "I'm in a hurry. I want you to put the word out that I have eyes on three juicy mining targets in w-space system. The exit wormhole's only a few jumps from Jita."

Semso put down a glass s/he/it was polishing. "Hey boys, any of you pukes want to take down some miners?" A couple of avatars stirred, looked up for a moment to mumble some obscenity, and went back to sleep. The rest were too deep in Mindflood-induced intoxication to manage even that much of a response.

"Sorry Rol. I guess there's you're answer," Semso said. "Most of these guys are just too burnt-out from alarm clock ops and pos-bashing to do any real killing. Goddam shame, it is. No one wants to do any small-gang work anymore."

An alcohol-soaked voice rang out from a pile of pseudoflesh lying in its own simulated vomit on the floor of the pub. "Ssssomody say small-gang work? Ssscrew th' loot, jes gimme th'pod!"

The voice belonged to Deitrlch, a combat-hardened vet I knew very well from my 4wing days, in campaigns ranging from Fountain to Cloud Ring. "You sure you're okay to fly?"

"Sscram, web, shoot, kill. That'ssa name of the game!"

"Good enough, I guess. Get your ass to Nani in a killer ship."

Deit mumbled something that sounded like "battlecruiser" and "26 jumps out." It was going to be a long wait.

I logged out of Semsopub and Holo-gram to wait for Deit's arrival and monitor Nani local, only to be surprised to see that a handful of blues were now in local—the LurkerZ were logging on. I opened up a convo with Tiger Cub. Let's see what kind of allies these guys are.

Surprisingly enough, a handful of Lurkerz were up for a fight: a couple more battlecruisers and another Zealot. Five ships versus two exhumers, a combat recon, and a transport were more than enough to jump in, kill quickly, and get safe before the wildcatters could muster any kind of response.

I've never been very good at waiting; nor were the LurkerZ evidently, as they kept pinging me with messages begging me to give the go code. Not until Deit gets here, I told them. Where are you, you drunken bastard? Not a moment after Deit finally poured himself and his Cyclone into local, I had him in fleet and waiting for the go-code at the wormhole.

"Okay, we do this nice and simple. Jump through the wormhole. I gang-warp us on top of the target. You focus fire on the Rook, but spread your points out among the other ships." I didn't need to bother saying it, not even with druken Deit. These guys had probably seen more combat than I ever had.

I admit the next minute or so was a complete blur. Obviously I must have given the go-code, because I vaguely remembered a sequence of static images suggesting a narrative: melting through the gossamer wormhole membrane into J124654; a pulsating warp bubble surrounding my ship; guns hot; primary calls; screams of "Point Point Point!" But every conscious thought—APHID, the Lurkerz, my father, all the quotidian realities of life—were covered over by a red tide of bloodlust.

The blinking of two messages from Concord woke me from my reverie—both killmails. I smiled when I opened the one, and smiled even more to open the next. Two kills for no losses on our side. One Hulk had gotten away, and the deep-space transport had been nowhere in sight or on scan. Deit, nevertheless, was sulking over comms: All the pods had gotten away. Better luck next time.

"Thanks for the assist, guys. The loot's all yours."

"Till next time," Tiger Cub said to me, he and his mates grabbing what they could from the wrecks before heading home.

I knew there probably wouldn't be a next time. In a few more hours, J124654's static wormhole would close its exit in Caldari space and most likely open up somewhere else very far from here. But who's to say? APHID's little travelling carnival show might show up in these parts again one day. If it does, I hope I have a few juicy targets to hand over to Tiger and his wolf-pack.

Because I'd hate for them to see me as just another sheep.

No comments:

Post a Comment