"Stop," CB holds up a hand. "I don't have have a drink yet."
"You need a drink for this?"
"You got put in charge of a fleet 'by accident'?" He makes a face. "Yeah. I do. Where's your port?"
"Port?" I raise my eyebrows. "What makes you think I have port?"
"You might put the rum out where everyone can see and fly Ruptures til your pod goo turns orange," CB mutters, peering into a low cupboard, "but Gallente goes bone deep." He buries his arm up to the shoulder in the compartment, searching by touch.
"That is a crude stereotype, and I'm offended by the --"
CB pulls a small, dark, dusty bottle out and thunks it down on the table in front of me. "What was that? I couldn't hear you through all the being right."
I give him a sour look. "Corkscrew and shot glasses are up on the third shelf."
CB smacks his lips. "Fruity, with a spice finish."
"What does that even mean?"
He slides the empty glass across the table. "Means reload me."
"So this guy, I don't even know his name --"
"-- doesn't matter --"
"-- doesn't matter. He's screaming on milcomms that he's gotten the infrastructure in Haras down this close to vulnerable, but he's got to stop and get some rack time, and if he comes back and the system hasn't been broken down, the Hub taken out, and the whole system put back in Minmatar hands, we're all terrible and should self-destruct into the sun."
"And you listen to him because..."
I shrug. "It was something to do?" CB just looks at me, so I keep going. "Anyway, I wrap up the thing I was doing and when someone else asks what's going on, I say 'Well, I guess I'm going to go over to Haras and finish making it vulnerable for an attack on the Hub.' I don't make a big deal of it, but then some other guy opens comms and says "YES WE HAVE TO DO THIS IT IS TIME LET'S GO LET'S GET MOTIVATED LET'S FLEET UP SIGNAL ME FOR FLEET INVITATIONS I WILL ESTABLISH VOICE COMMS."
"So of course you signed up right away."
"No, I pretty much ignored him," I reply. "He was annoying." I take another drink. "But... when I got to Haras --"
"Where's Haras?" CB interrupts. "I feel like I know that one."
"We've hit plexes there before," I answer. "It's a dead-end system, kind of out of the way. Only one gate in or out, which..." I make a face. "Well, that's relevant later."
"So you get there."
"So I get there," I continue. "And there's probably a dozen of us in system, and they're all in the loud guy's fleet, and it sounds like more are on the way from all over. He's been organizing it on the public milcomms, so a lot of new guys who want to do something -- anything -- are heading over with all the key requirements for a classic kitchen sink fleet." I roll my head on shoulders. "I figure the only thing worse than being in that fleet is being the only guy in the system who isn't in the fleet, so I signal and get an invite."
"And they put you in charge?"
"Well, no." I pour another half-glass. "But it's a mess. The guy hasn't set up any squad commanders. Or wing commanders. Or, well, anything. There are guys in the group who have that level of training, and he's not using them." I shrug. "I mean, it's not his fault. I if I hadn't spent all that time in OUCH, I wouldn't know anything about how to set up the hierarchy for a fleet, but I did, so I do, and I start giving him suggestions on who needs to go where."
"And he just says 'Here I made you fleet boss so you can move people.'"
"And that's when you got put in charge."
I shake my head. "He was still Fleet Commander at that point."
CB makes a rude noise. "When the shit hits the fan, people don't listen to the new OFC; they listen to the sergeant who actually knows how to get shit done."
"Whatever." I roll my eyes, though in hindsight I can see he's right. "Anyway, I get everyone sorted out, and all the squads and wings are rolling, and we're up to about twenty, twenty-five ships, with more on the way, and someone says 'Now what?'"
"And they all turn and look at you." He smirks. "It's a burden being right all the time."
He tosses back his glass in one shot. "This is why I don't help people, as a rule. It leads to... things."
I raise an eyebrow. "Things?"
He waves his hand around. "Things. Shut up."
"Anyway." I shake my head at him. "Yeah. They say 'So what are we doing, Ty?', and I tell a couple of the guys in frigates to hit the complexes and bring the infrastructure the rest of the way down." I take a drink. "That actually works, and we start working on the Hub itself, trying to get at the guts of the thing the old fashioned way, but we have the wrong ships -- too many small fast things, and not enough big guns -- we probably can't even break through the Hub's shields, and even if we can it's going to take hours, not minutes, and some of these guys have never even been out to shoot a tower or POCO before, so they're already bitching it's taking too long and it's only been five minutes."
"You need different ships."
"Yeah, and it's ten or fifteen jumps to get anywhere were we can swap, and..." I tap the edge of my glass "... a bunch of them can't fly anything but the frigates they're in."
"Where are the vets?"
I shrug. "Except for one guy I can name, and two others who spend their free time shitting up the channel with hate and stupidity, they don't listen to milchat. Half the time I can't blame them, because it's bad; the other half, I think that it's bad because they never interact with anyone in there. Anyway, the guys that are going to answer an all-hands call for a fleet are going to mostly be new pilots." I lean my head back against the wall. "And by this point, there's the problem with the gate camp."
"The --" CB stops himself. "What happened?"
"One of the stragglers coming to join us tells us that there's about thirty ships on the other side of the gate -- our only way out, by the way -- and they're a pretty good composition for keeping us trapped in here for hours."
"That's a problem."
"That's actually half the problem."
CB rubs at his temples. "Keep going."
"Well, we had a hurricane on the out-gate, but far enough away from the gate itself that we think maybe we can drop on it and kill it before his buddies jump in and back him up, so I call for a fleet warp to the tackling frig that's right on top of him." I tap my glass again, and he refills my glass, then his own. "Just as we get into warp, the lead guy calls out multiple contacts."
"How many's 'multiple'?"
"I ask him that," I reply, "and he says 'sixty or so'."
"Sixty." CB tastes the port, then sets it down. "That is more than thirty."
"It is." I toss the drink back, and unlike CB I don't bother tasting it. "Turns out there was a cloaked up Arazu right off the gate, and the other thirty ships are a black-ops bomber fleet that just got cyno-jumped into the system, right on top of us."
CB hisses through his teeth. "You jumped into that?"
"And jumped right the hell back out," I reply. "Not everyone made it, but most of us did, and after that it was just cat and mouse for a couple hours. The one thing --" I held up a finger "-- the one thing that made it almost worth while is that they had about fifty pilots tied up with keeping us in the system or hunting after us, so we wasted wasted more of their time than ours."
CB looks at me, his face expressionless.
I look back, mirroring him.
"Did they buy that crap when you said it to th--"
"I have no idea," I smirk. "No one called me on it, though."
"So you play hide-and-seek for awhile."
"Yeah, and deal with spies."
"How do you know there were --" He cuts himself off. "Nevermind. Always spies."
"Yeah." I nod. "In this case, there were a few clues, like a couple of the enemy ships always knowing exactly where to warp to on our safe spots." I pause, savoring the next part. "And of course when war target pilots log into our voice comms."
"What --" CB catches himself. "Please be joking."
"Nope." I smile. "It was actually kind of funny. The voice comms were being run by that same guy who didn't know how to organize the fleet, and one of my squad commanders has just said something like 'You know, you REALLY need to put some kind of security on these servers, or anyone with the info could just jump on here and raise hell.' No sooner had he said it than we get fifteen simultaneous new connections to the voice comms server, all named some kind of variation of either Susan Black or Hans Jagerblitzen. Before we know what's going on, they all jump into our channel and start clucking."
CB shoots up from his chair. "You're shitting me." His voice is a mixture of laughter and disbelief. "You are shitting me right now."
"Some of them had echo effects on their voices." I'm struggling to keep my voice level, because it's funnier that way. "Some of them were autotuned, so it sounded like some kind of song, but yeah... clucking."
"That's..." he shakes his head, still chuckling has he sits. "That's actually pretty fucking funny."
I grin. "It took the guy in charge of comms about thirty seconds to get everyone blocked and lock down the channel, but after that?" I nod. "We all cracked up pretty hard."
"So'd you all die?"
"Nah." I pick up the port bottle, find it empty, and raise an eyebrow before tossing it in the bin. "We got a scout set up on the other side of the gate, and when another milita fleet roamed through and got their attention, we slipped out -- didn't even lose any of the shinier ships."
"So..." CB ticks points off on his fingers. "Didn't capture the system, got camped in, got black ops dropped, infiltrated by spies, comm security broken by chickens..." he presents his hand to me, five digits extended in all directions, then picks up his half-empty glass and raises it. "Successful fleet command?"
"Could have been worse." I pick up my empty glass and tik it against his. "Could have been boring."
95% of the time, I use dotlan's faction warfare maps, but they don't show mission agents in any useful way, so when I'm planning a route around a warzone to pick up a bunch of missions to run all at once, this (and the Minmatar/Amarr version of same thing) is what I use. Maybe you will use it. Maybe you won't. Either way, it's a thing that exists that didn't before. La.
Emboldened by my unprecedented two-solo-wins-in-a-row kill streak, I've returned to the Bleak Lands region in a Rupture-class cruiser, fit in a way that lets me pretend I'm flying a much more expensive Vagabond heavy assault cruiser. My plan (such as it is) involves roaming around the area, looking for war targets up to and including small (very small) gangs of frigates, destroyers, or maybe a cruiser or two of a favorable type.
It's a fine plan, and I locate a number of likely targets, but they are (wisely) capturing "minor" complexes, which restrict ship access in such a way as to prevent me harassing their frigates with my cruiser. This is the warzone functioning entirely as intended -- I'm simply on the 'prevented' side of an equation that far more frequently works in my favor, so it's hard to get very frustrated.
While I roam, I hang out, quiet and idle, in general militia voice comms. In the 'lobby' channel with me is one of the senior members of the militia, also quiet, and I'm inclined to leave things that way -- it's hard enough to find one of the vets to talk to without driving them out of the public channels every time they show up. I've no burning conversation topics to cover, anyway; it's not as though we're actually in the same system or any--
Actually? It seems we are. Now that's a weird enough coincidence that I feel like mentioning it, and strike up a casual chat with the other pilot as we both go about our business in the system.
The 'Lobby' doesn't usually see a lot of actual voice traffic -- it's really just a stopping point as you connect to comms and figure out what channel you actually want to use -- but our conversation encourages others to linger, and before long several experienced militia pilots are discussing their plans for the night, and I'm presented with something better to do than poke ineffectually at frigate-sized complexes I can't enter. Several veteran members of the militia are getting 'shot up' in the Huola and are asking for everyone in the voice comms to grab a ship and join them. The system's fairly far from my current location, but I hardly have anything better to do, and head that way.
It's another false hope, however. First, as the fleet forms, it's clear that it will consist entirely of battlecruisers and battleships -- my cruiser, while a great deal of fun to fly, has left me first over- and now under-dressed for the evening's festivities.
Second, the potential fight develops before I actually reach the system, and by the time I arrive it's all over but the clean-up, with ships exploding on both sides of the brawl. I'd finished the trip anyway, in hopes that some follow-up 'thing' might develop, but everyone seems content to drift about in their big ships, largely stationary.
I check the local channel, and notice that there's still a single war target in system. With nothing else to do, I proceed to investigate the various Minmatar complexes currently active in the system, to see if any are being vandalized by the enemy pilot. Pretty unlikely, given how many pilots we have nearby, but at least it gives me something to --
I land on a Complex gate and double take as directional scan shows me a Caldari Navy Hookbill frigate within. That's pretty ballsy by itself, but more surprising is the fact that this particular complex isn't a 'minor' -- it's actually large enough for cruiser-class ships to enter.
(Actually, now that I think about it, the pilot is probably still pretty safe, since all the other militia pilots in system are in big ships that couldn't get into this complex either. My Rupture is actually the only allied ship in system that can get inside. That's convenient.)
I activate the acceleration gate, but I don't get my hopes too far up -- the Hookbill is a quick, nimble ship, and I'll land inside the complex at least 60 kilometers from his location -- once he sees me come in, he'll have plenty of time to warp away before I can get anywhere near him. I'll chase off a war target and prevent some damage to the system's infrastructure, but it's highly unlikely that I'll get a fight.
Unless he charges me as soon as I land.
Which is exactly what he does.
The fact that he's charging straight into the fight actually gives me pause, and I check to make sure I haven't confused the Hookbill with some other ship -- certainly, a well-skilled pilot could use the frigate to take out a cruiser, but that's a bit unlikely (at least in the case of this particular Rupture, which is specifically fit to do well against smaller targets). Maybe the other pilot is one who's confused? Did he see a minmatar-made ship with an "R" class name and assume it was a Rifter frigate?
I don't have time to ask him, because he's dropped into an orbit and opened fire, at which point I put two cruiser-class energy neutralizers on him, drain his capacitor dry, shut off all his active modules, and blow up his ship -- all in approximately ten seconds. GF?
I'm not going to look a gift fight in the mouth, and it's a fine way to end what would otherwise have been a fairly frustrating night, but I can't help but be a bit confused by the whole thing.
My impression that I'm sneaking in through a less-used entrance is borne out by the level of activity I see in the systems I pass through -- it's definitely quieter, especially as I move into the clusters of systems equidistant from any safe harbor.
Since there's no one around, let along anyone interested in a fight, I kill some time (and Caldari grunts) capturing minor complexes as I move from system to system. I finish off three in three different systems, then jump and start work on a fourth before I finally spot a war target entering the system.
This is one of those times when I'm glad for the way the complexes are restricted based on the size of the ships trying to enter. Thanks to that, any ship (well most ships) that ridiculously overmatch me will be unable to get in through the door, so to speak. Also, if I pay attention to the scanner, I should have ample time to see what an opponent might be bringing to the fight, and decide how I want to handle it.
The new pilot shows up pretty quickly, and it seems he's flying a Kestrel. Like the Merlin, the Kestrel is a Caldari design, one that strongly adheres to the traditional Caldari "our missiles will blot out the sun" philosophy, unlike the turret-based Merlin. Fit with light missile launchers (as it usually is), the Kestrel can zip around out at ranges where most frigates can't hope to return fire, doing moderate to weak damage that nevertheless can get to you damn near anywhere on the field. Their downside is they are basically made from balsa wood and extra thick grocer's paper.
I think over my options and reload my guns with tech2 "Spike" ammo. Although the damage on the high velocity, long range ammo is far less than the heavier short-range options, it's the best option I have for the beginning of this fight, as it will let me hit the Kestrel from almost as far away as it can hit me -- something I'm hoping the other pilot doesn't expect.
Now I just have to see if he's going to come in and play.
Finally, he decides to take the plunge, and drops into the complex about 65 kilometers away. I turn and start to fly away from him like a good little scared rabbit, hoping he'll pursue, and he does. Thanks to the way I have the ship configured, I can lock his ship almost out to 60 kilometers, but I let him get closer, only pulsing my afterburner to make sure I don't pull away from him. Once he's inside 45 kilometers, I lock and start shooting, even though I'm outside the effective range of my guns -- I want him to see him hitting him for very little damage at the outset, to increase the odds that he'll discount my damage as a credible threat at this range. For him to reliably get missiles on me, he'll be inside 35 to 30 kilometers, and at that point, the Spike ammo should shine.
Everything pretty much falls into place, the only serious mistake I make being to leave my ancillary shield booster running instead of pulsing it intermittently. Regardless, my opponent doesn't seem to mind that my shield isn't moving, and continues to work on me. I burn straight away from him, watching his shields, and when they drop to just above 30% -- the point where a Kestrel pilot might seriously consider leaving -- I stop firing.
Like the pirate Merlin pilot from a few fights ago, the Kestrel pilot is trying to orbit me, and has thrown himself into a long elliptical, since I'm basically as fast or a bit faster than he is. As I shut down my guns, I reverse my path 180 degrees, overheat my afterburner to close range, ready my warp scrambler and web, and reload short range ammo in my guns -- a process that takes about 5 seconds.
That's almost exactly how long it takes me to get into range, since his ship has been thrown into a slingshot straight at me, thanks to that elliptical.
The Kestrel's autopilot - no doubt still trying to hold an orbit of 30+ kilometers, has thrown the ship around and is trying to pull away from me as I close in, but when the web lands, all chance of that goes out the window. I slide into an orbit of my own, resume firing, and convert the missile ship to a fiery explosion in four volleys.
This time, I manage to keep my ship from coming to a dead stop afterwards, too, so I can be taught!
The pilot tosses me a quick if somewhat half-hearted salute over the local comms as he warps his pod away to the nearest gate, and I have my second 1v1 victory behind me.
I shrug to myself. I hardly ever fly Caldari ships, unless the Gila counts (it doesn't), so I pull up some fitting schematics Bre had sent me and started reading off the module list.
"Three 125mm rail guns. Damage Control Unit, Magnetic Stabilizer, and Overdrive. All tech 2. Ditto for the afterburner, but we don't need tech2 for the warp scrambler or the web so just see what we've got in the closet."
I scan Bre's notes, which called for a shield extender, but there'd been some new tech released on the market that I wanted to try out. "Drop one of those new Medium Ancillary Shield Boosters on there too, and re-rig the shields for stronger resists to any damage type where it looks like I've got holes."
I watch the assembly drones do their work in my hangar, and like what I see. The Merlin isn't the fastest frigate out there, but the afterburner would push me close to nine hundred sixty meters per second if I treated it nice, and well over a klick per sec if I used the spurs a bit. The rails didn't hit that hard, but if I followed Bre's "instructions for not going boom as much", I'd be sitting pretty far outside any comparable enemy ship's ability to return fire, while still keeping it pinned and whittling it down.
"Ship assembled, Pilot."
"Register it with flight control as Radagast, and let's go."
I wave my hands. "Somewhere in the Bleak Lands. I don't much care." I'm tired of trying to fight pilots while Caldari troops throw missiles at me. If I could stay moving, Amarr troops assigned to complex defense would miss. A lot.
Thanks to the placement of our home base of operations, I'm in the warzone quickly (we're roughly equidistant from either), and start poking around a bit, until I find system with no complexes open and an Amarr war target in the local channel. No stations, only one star gate. I scan for and warp to the minor Amarr complex, which should restrict complex access to tech1 frigates like my Merlin, destroyers, and faction frigates -- just the thing to filter a fight.
I still haven't entered the complex, because I can see the other pilot on a 'short' d-scan (limited to a three hundred sixty degree scan with a range of 21 million km), but he's not dropping on the acceleration gate, and he's not already inside the complex. In short, I can't get him to engage, which probably means he wants me to enter the complex and get a bunch of Amarr goons shooting at me first. I understand: this is New Eden, where 'fair' means 'I have an advantage.'
"Whatever," I mutter under my breath and activate the gate that will send me into the complex. I'll take on the Amarr defenses if it gets me a decent fight.
Time passes, during which I largely ignore the Amarr ships who can't hit me and destroy the few that can. Sure enough, the enemy builds up to about twenty-five ships and here comes the other pilot, flying an Incursus, which is the main ship I've been flying in the Faction War, until today -- I feel like I have a very good idea what it's going to be able to do. It's scary, but it's usually short range, and I like this fight for me.
The other pilot likes it too, I guess, probably because my Merlin looks like a disco ball right now with all the Amarr lasers flying around me.
I let him get in to about 15 and try to keep him at about 8km, but I'm a bit faster than he is, so I'm getting away and out of range of my warp scrambler. I've been manually piloting up to this point, but right now it's just making things harder for no benefit, so I simplify.
"Aura, hold the ship at a range of 6.5 kilometers."
"Confirmed, 6.5 kilometers."
The merlin swings around, I drop the web and scram onto the other ship once I slide back into range, and go to work. The railguns aren't hitting too hard, but he really can't do much to me at this range, except for his drone, which I ignore -- it's doing a little damage, and the Amarr are hitting me a little because I'm matching his speed instead of maintaining my best transversals, but the Ancillary Shield Booster is easily keeping my shields up -- I just hope the fight's over before the thing runs out of charges.
"Guns are ready for overheat," Aura reminds me.
"Leave em for a bit," I murmur, watching readouts and keeping an eye on the Local channel to see if my opponent will get more back up. I've flown the Incursus a lot, so I know pretty much how it works. His shields are gone in no time, but the Incursus is usually an armor-tanked ship, often relying on energy-hungry repair modules. I dent his ship a bit, watch him rep, and keep the pressure on so he's got to use his capacitor booster to keep the lights on. Eventually -- sooner rather than later, he'll need to reload that booster, his repair cycles will lag a bit and --
"There! Overheat!" The rate of fire on the railguns increases dramatically as their barrels start to glow. Diagnotics tell me I've punched through the armor into the hull structure in a couple places by the time his reps get back online.
One more cap charger reload like that, and he's done.
Our speed is all over the place now; he's starting to think that maybe he wants to get out, but with the web on him and my greater speed even at the best of times, all he's doing is flailing. The only problem is, keeping range during his flailing means I'm taking more laser fire and my shield booster is working harder -- he's not the only one getting low on charges.
I don't see the signs of his charge reload yet, but I can feel it coming, so I keep the guns overloaded, push him as hard as I can...
And it's over. First solo kill. Ever.
"Bringing ship to full stop."
I blink. "What?"
"Target ship no longer on scan. No target from which to maintain requested range. Stopping engines."
"Wha- NO!" I flip the ship back into motion, hauling it into alignment with a celestial in the system -- I don't even care which one, so long as it isn't anywhere near the place where Aura has basically parked my ship in front of (now thirty) angry Amarr ships. "Align to warp!" The klaxon warning of imminent shield failure whoops behind me. "And overheat that damned shield booster!"
"That module is out of chargers. Reload?"
"HELL no!" The ASB's an outstanding defensive module, but the one-minute reload time for the charges would be the end of the ship. "Run it off our primary capacitors." The drain would be unsustainable, but it should last long enough to get us out of trouble.
It did. Barely.
By the time the Merlin gets into warp, the Capacitor is dry as a bone, and the ship had taken severe armor and structure damage -- embarrassing, since the pilot in the 'real' fight hadn't even managed to get through my shields.
Still... alive is good.
Alive is really, really good.
Boring fight for anyone else, I'm sure, but I was really really happy with it -- the ship did exactly what I was hoping, I didn't screw anything up too badly, didn't forget too many things in the middle of the fight (could have overheated the guns sooner, and forgot to overheat the ASB at all until the end), and got my first 1v1 kill. Achievement unlocked, and all that. Fine way to start the day.
If the crappy little Griffin wants to tackle you, solo, he has a plan.
As a matter of fact, the crappy little Griffin CAN jam your Wolf (and then kill it) 95.5% of the time.
If you rebuild an Incursus to counteract Griffin jams and head back for a rematch, the Griffin will avoid you.
If you take the time to buy a set of anti-ECM implants to increase your chances even more, you will not only fail to find the Griffin, you will get jumped by a Thrasher, shredded, and get your escape pod caught on the acceleration gate and destroyed.
You wanted this. You wanted to lose ships. You wanted to learn.
Ty sighed and let the pen drop to his desk. It had been a rough night -- lots of solo roaming looking for fights that consistently went poorly, followed by poor sleep and a lot of second guessing. He'd barely caught four hours of rack time, but there was no point in trying to get any more rest, because he wasn't resting -- his mind wouldn't let him.
"Assemble one of the Merlin flatpacks," he said, checking the clock. He had obligations today, but there should be just enough time if he got moving right now. "We're going to try something... different."
Yeah, that all happened. I let a Griffin tackle me because I figured "Eh, he's a Griffin, he's not going to perma-jam me, right?"
Not a great night. Let's see if it turns around...
"Boned?" I think about the question for a second. "Oh, the Goon-scam thing?"
I shrug. "I don't know if it's really going to make that much difference."
"Really." He doesn't sound convinced. I know he'd hoped to make a bit of ISK off of the rewards available via the TLF, so his doubt is understandable.
"Well, look at it like this," I explain. "Basically we get better payouts from the TLF if we control more of the warzone. A lot of that has to do with how much each of our systems are upgraded, and the Goon scam definitely affected that -- they pumped resources into our systems to push our net warzone control high, based on system upgrades." I pulled up the current-as-of-twenty-minutes-ago situation map of the warzone and spun my monitor around to face him. "But any upgrade scheme works a lot better and is a lot easier when we control more systems. Diminishing returns kick on those upgrades in a huge way -- it's a lot easier and less resource intensive to do minor upgrades to five backwater systems than it is to upgrade one system from nothing up to Gold Plated Faucets and Hot and Cold Running Escorts."
The screen reflected in CB's glasses. "All I heard out of that is that it's good that we control a lot of systems."
"It is." I turned the monitor back around and pulled up a few other displays. "I mean, we've got control of over fifty systems. The Amarr have 11.1 A lot of the system upgrade stuff was because of the Goons cooking the system, but that was five pilots screwing with the Jita market -- they didn't have anything to do with actually capturing systems in the warzone. Hell, as near as I can tell the Minmatar have controlled a majority of the systems for..."
I scrolled through the history of what some some called the Forever War, watching the dips and minor fluctuations in territorial control until it all started to blur together, then shook my head. "... a really long time."
"So this isn't going to affect anything."
"I didn't say that," I replied. "Overall warzone control is dropping right now, and if I had to guess, I'd say it's going to continue to drop for a couple more weeks. Maybe three. Here's why --" I flipped on the Militia Chat, which poured forth a never-ending stream of requests for fitting advice, queries about available fleets and -- a recent addition -- dejected moaning about the drop in warzone control.
"Because everyone's a whining bitch?" CB threw the barest hint of a scowl in the direction of at the wall-mounted speaker. "Turn that shit off."
I did. "Because people are used to the warzone control just..." I waved my hands like a conjurer "magically upgrading itself every weekend or so, at no cost to themselves. They've formed habits. Those habits will take about three weeks to break."
"Then they'll stop whining?" I looked at him, and he made a face. "Of course not."
"Everyone whines. All the time --"
"-- and they never stop." CB pushed himself out of the chair. "Sounds like normal. Let's go blow some shit up."
1 -- This conversation took place several weeks ago. The day after I got back from ComicCon this week, the Amarr were actually down to four systems. Like most people who pay attention to such things, my assumption is that the Amarr forces have turned their attention to the more lucrative Caldari side of the Caldari-Gallente war, rather than claw out of the fiscal hole they're currently in. Until some (more) changes to faction war go in, that's probably the best plan.
Fortunately or unfortunately, there are no war targets in-system, though I'm not entirely alone; there are couple neutral pilots around -- unaffiliated with the war, and (in my experience so far) fairly likely to simply ignore pilots out in complexes and carry on with whatever --
A ship warps into the complex, and Aura's recognition software immediately paints it a bright and flashy red in my overview display, indicating a pirate with a security rating so low they would be attacked immediately in high-security space.
So much for my experience so far.
The pilot is in a Merlin -- a frigate that, like my Incursus, has seen a recent overhaul and some very significant improvements in combat functionality -- and it's closing with some very good speed.
Normally, I'd be so damn happy to have a one on one fight on my hands that I'd probably fling my ship straight at the Merlin and forget to lock my guns, but it's one of those situations where I'm feeling a serious urge to leave a raincheck. I'm in the middle of a Caldari complex, and for whatever reason, the defenders of this particular plex are really stressing my ship's defenses; sometimes, I wouldn't care at all about adding another attacker, but the current flights of Caldari missiles are no joke, and I realize I need to disengage.
The pirate doesn't seem inclined to let that happen.
As I said, she's moving quite fast -- faster than my Incursus, at any rate, even with my afterburner overheating, and on top of that she's got a "long-point" warp disruptor fitted and can keep me from escaping from as far as twenty-four kilometers away. The good news is I'm able to keep her far enough away that she needs that long-range disruptor -- the bad news is she's firing railguns, and can still hit me from that far away. Rocinante II sports neutron blasters; far more damage, but something like a tenth the effective range of comparable railguns.
Not that the range of my guns really matters, as I'm looking to get out of the fight, not get further in.
Still, as I tear ass away from the center of the complex and out into open space, everything that's happened so far is actually giving me some good information and a few ideas. Once upon a time, I used to fly with OUCH - The Open University of Celestial Hardship -- a training organization focused on new pilots coming into nullsec for the first time. While with them, I flew a lot of Merlins, and while the ship's gotten an overhaul, a lot of its utility functions remain the same. Railgun-fit Merlins have always been more common than Gallente ships using those guns, and part of the reason is the fact that the Merlin can fit something like an afterburner, a webifier, a warp disruptor or scrambler, and a reasonably decent shield tank, and basically hold enemy ships at arm's length and plink away at them at a longer range where the enemy ship can't do nearly as much damage. It's called kiting.
Sometimes, especially in small ships, you'll see people using "orbit" and "keep at range" commands to stay in their sweet spot for maximum effectiveness, rather than trying to manually pilot in the small fast ships that often react too quickly to be handled by a pilot in the middle of combat. Usually, this is fine -- the ships will sometimes blow their orbit and readjust, but in general they come about so quickly that the readjustment isn't a serious problem.
Unless they're flying against another small, fast ship. Then you can try something called a slingshot.
I've been practicing slingshots for awhile, because they're very useful with a short range ship like the Incursus; the basic idea is to haul ass in a straight line (I was already doing that) and force an orbiting pilot into an elliptical rather than circular orbit -- once that happens, the autopilot in the other ship will try to readjust when the orbit sweeps too far out, and will turn and fly straight at you to reacquire the correct range.
That's when you turn around and fly right at them. If the other pilot doesn't react in time, you're right on top of them in a few seconds.
Again, that wasn't exactly what I was looking for right now, but it was close.
My guess was that the other pilot was fairly happy with the current situation, but that in an ideal world, she'd be bit closer, and I'd be futilely trying to chase her down, because that's how kiting works best. Given that, she's probably set the ship to orbit at what she'd decided was her ideal range, and the ship's autopilot was doing everything it could to obey.
I watched, waited for the ship to lag out an extra kilometer, watched its relative velocity to mine drop as the ship came around on me...
...and launched my single combat drone.
This wasn't such a huge offensive move on my part, but my hope was that it would distract the other pilot for a few seconds as they dealt with the change in our relationship. I was delighted to see that the pilot actually switched targets to the drone -- probably knowing it was the only one the Incursus could field and that my long-range offensive capability would be entirely gone if it was taken out -- if she was watching the drone, she wasn't watching me.
I flipped my ship a hundred and thirty five degrees, overheated my afterburner (again), and burned back the other direction with the Merlin forty-five degrees to port. If I'd been trying to close with her, I'd have burned straight at her, but I didn't want that.
I wanted to get just close enough that her autopilot thought I was too close.
Sure enough, just as I was about to pass by the Merlin, I saw the other ship react to our dwindling range by actually turning away from me and burning out.
I turned another forty-five degrees to starboard, putting the Incursus ass-end to the enemy, and watched as our range streeeeeeeeeeeeetched past 15km, 20, 22, 23, 24...
25, 26, 27, and then 3006, 1,015 and gone, as I warped away.
"Whoa," the pilot said in local. "Nice flying."
"Thanks!" I replied. "I would have stuck around, but those complex defenders were beating me up. Another time?"
"Sure," she replied. "I'm honestly kind of surprised you got away. I need to work on this kiting thing."
I thought back to my encounters the day before. "Let me give you the names of some pilots you can practice on..."
Rocinante's engine detonates a split second after my pod ejects and I fling it toward the nearest sun. "Okay, did you get out?"
"Yeah," CB's voice is flat.
"Your ship, or just your pod?"
"The pod. What happened back there?"
"Umm... you jumped the acceleration gate and landed on top of a Rupture, who was waiting for you."
"I thought you'd already gone."
I shake my head. We had a number of Overview options available, and sometimes I think the one that hides nearby fleet members causes more harm than good. "I hadn't. I didn't jump until I realized you had, and by the time I landed, you were --
"You're not dead. Your ship blew up. It's a cheap frigate -- we spend more on week of ammo than I did building that ship."
"I don't like losing ships."
"Then we should stop trying to find fights, because we're going to lose a HELL of a lot more fights than we win. Let's head back to the base, I have an idea."
The comms are silent for awhile. "Why'd you say you wanted to go looking for a fight if you thought are odds were so shitty?"
"Our odds are always going to be shitty, unless we start learning." I reroute my path through Old Man Star to get back to the home system faster, dodging a gate camp in the process. "Only way to learn is fight, and fighting means losing ships. Hell, just getting a fight that isn't a stupid blob of ships that make the whole thing meaningless is a win, as far as I'm concerned. Getting a fight is the point."
"Winning is the point," CB counters. "For pretty much everyone."
"Yes. Fine. True. Good point." I enter the home system and aim for the station docking ring. "Lots of guys will fly around with another guy somewhere in the system providing fleet boosts. Or they've got a Falcon buddy ready to drop cloak and jam out anyone stupid enough to engage. Sure. Lots of guys, the only reason they'll take a fight is because they believe they can win, and they won't take the fight if the odds aren't totally in their favor. Yes."
"And that's not me. All I want is a fight -- if I get one, I win. Period. Full-stop. Even if my ship blows up, because for me the hard part is just getting the fight." I look over my ship hangar. "You still have that Rupture you named Huntard?"
I swing the hangar arms over to unberth a Vexor. "Hop in -- we're going to go find that guy again."
"You're never going to find a fair fight," CB points out. "Not in New Eden."
"I don't --" I cut myself off. "I'm going after a guy in a Rupture with a Rupture AND a Vexor cruiser. I'm obviously not looking for a fair fight -- I'm looking for fights that aren't pointless and stupid, where I can learn something useful."
"Did we learn something useful in the last fight?" CB asks. "I blew up too fast to notice."
"We learned we need to communicate better and not make assumptions about what the other guy's doing."
"And to not attack Ruptures in frigates?"
"Well..." I shrug. "Not to attack them in a pair of frigates who are trickling in one at a time, yeah. Kind of figure we already know that."
The last gate looms ahead of us, and we jump.
"He's still in Local."
"Yup. Let's jump up to that acceleration gate again." We do, but directional scan is clear. I extend the range and swing the beam around. "Ah. He's down by the station. Stay here, let's see if I can bait him out away from dock range. I warp down to the station and wave to the Rupture with a couple of my guns, but the pilot ignores the invitation to a fight and simply redocks when his shields start to get low. "No joy."
"I've got another wartarget in system," CBs voice is already tense. "We should get out."
"It's just two," I reply. "That's still a good fight for us."
I get only a grunt in reply, then: "The new guy's in a Rupture, too."
"Perfect. 2v2 cruiser brawl. Sounds fun."
"Sounds like a good way to blow up."
The two of us warp from celestials to complexes to jump gates in a continual cycle until it seems as though we've managed to lure the two other pilots into some kind of action. It's right about then that a third war target enters the system.
"That's three," comments CB. "We should leave."
I let out a sigh that's half growl. "He might be travelling through. He might be in a frigate. He might be an idiot. People fight outnumbered all the time. 3v2 isn't a bad fight. We just --"
"Ruptures on scan," CB cuts in. "Both of them."
"Get ready." We're on the acceleration gate into a complex both our ships can enter, but I hold. In the few seconds I take to consider our options, I see no reason not to fight the Ruptures right where we are, rather than leading them into the complex.
As the rupture cruisers land, a Falcon force recon uncloaks and shows me why we should have jumped.
"Ruptures are locking me up. Targeting the first -- Fuck, I'm jammed." CB barks. "And scrambled. And gone. Fuck."
"Fucking falcon." I've managed to get a flight of drones out, and when the Falcon jams me, they take off after the ship in defense of their master, but since I can't lock him, I have no idea how much (if any) damage they're doing to the other ship. "Did you get your pod out?"
There's a second's delay. "Yeah."
I barely hear him. On the off chance the Falcon misses a jam or the drones drive him away, I'm trying to stay moving, my armor repair units working into overheat to keep my ship intact in case I get a real chance to fight back.
But I never do, and eventually my second ship of the night explodes.
"I'm out. Let's head back."
The local channel lights up.
No plex running in our systems, boys, comments one of the pilots.
"Oh, that'll work," I mutter. "Now say 'please'." I can't help but key the local comms. "We weren't looking for a plex. We were looking for a fight," I reply. "Pity you brought the Falcon."
We land on the star gate and jump, so any counter is lost on us.
"We should have just left," CB grumbles.
"We should," I reply, "have jumped into the complex. The accel gate wouldn't have let that fucking Falcon in, and we'd have had a chance." I grind my teeth, angry at no one but myself. "It was my stupid oversight. My mistake. Sorry."
There's no reply. We make the trip home in silence.
- Communicate. CB and I have known each other for 20 years, and sometimes that means we don't talk when we should be, and don't give each other heads up.
- Jump the accel gate. It helps filter down the opponents and control the fight, and if there's a Falcon, it takes them out of the equation.
- There's always a fucking Falcon.
- Fuck falcons.
- Ships are just ammo. Like ammunition, using a ship means losing the ship, either immediately or eventually. The only ship you'll never lose is the one you never fly, and what's the point of that?
Lastly: What you think of as winning is not going to be some other guy's version of winning. Do the thing you like, enjoy yourself, and that's winning, for you. It is a game, after all - fun is the point.
I don't mind losing ships -- if I lost an Incursus and Vexor every evening I logged in and never made a single isk the whole time, I could still fly every night for many, many months.
I do mind making stupid mistakes, like not assuming the third guy is flying a Falcon. In hindsight, of course he was in a Falcon.
Still, stupid mistakes are good, because making them means I'm extra motivated not to make the same one again.
It's a hard point to argue. The "fleet" assembled under Icarus's command is all of seven ships, most of them frigates: three Rifters, one Punisher, my Incursus, a "Jaguar" variant of the Rifter, and a single Thrasher-class destroyer.
"So..." one of the pilots is fresh into both New Eden and Faction Warfare, but makes up for it by asking lots of good questions. "We're going for single frigates we can gank and then get away?"
"We looking for Cruisers and Battlecruisers we can kill and then get away," Icarus replies.
The comms are silent, as if the pilots are trying to decide if he's joking, but I nod to myself. After flying with Agony and the Open University of Celestial Hardship, taking down big ships with wolf packs of smaller stuff is very familiar ground to be on.
The problem is, of course, finding a target. We're fast and nimble, but in faction warfare most of your opponents are as well; frigates, destroyers, and the fastest of cruisers are the order of the day, and the Amarr militia is out in force tonight, with our intel channel reporting at least three fleets roaming the warzone with twenty or more pilots, each. We spend close to an hour moving along the front, dodging forces far too big to engage, and having no luck finding our desired targets.
"Everyone hold on this gate," Icarus comms. "Rez and I will hop into the next system and see if there's anything good."
I land on the gate and, rather than sit still (never a good idea in a small ship), nudge the frigate into a close orbit around the gate. Something goes amiss, however, and Rocinante wanders too close to the automated gate, which activates and hurls my ship along its interstellar path.
"What?" Icarus responds.
"I j-" I stop myself before I say the one word absolutely forbidden on comms. "I... went through the gate. By accident. Stupid, stupid mistake."
"Yes," Icarus replies without rancor. I'm glad for his honesty. "But let's make something useful of it. There's still only three of us in system, and
there's a lot of complexes here, and a war target -- see if you can help find him."
I don't expect much -- probably a fast frigate that will rabbit as soon as any of us get close -- but I'm eager to make up for my error. I check my overview and start an in-system warp to the nearest minor complex to see what --
"Check." It's Rez, who's flying our lone destroyer. "I've got a Ferox on scan."
"That's a good target for us."
"Yeah. I'm -- I'm warping to where I think he is."
"Matar Minor Complex."
"Sure. He's probably camped the acceleration gate to kill any frigates that warp up there.
"Ty, where are --"
"I was already in warp there," I cut in.
"Is he there?"
"Yes." The answer comes from Rez and me, as we land and answer in unison.
"Get a tackle. I'm in warp." Icarus says. "Everyone else, Jump!"
'Get a tackle', he says.
"I've got a long point!" Rez calls out. His Thrasher is built for longer range combat, so his warp disruptor is able to affect the battlecruiser from over twenty kilometers away, though it's not strong enough to shut down his microwarpdrive.
"Ty, can you get a scram?" Icarus knows the Ferox isn't truly pinned down until we can get a proper short range warp scramble on him and shut down his MWD.
"Yeah." I'm spiraling in toward the massive ship in the Incursus, trying to keep my traversal speeds high enough to stay ahead of the battlecruiser's guns, but closing more slowly than I'd like and spending way too much time inside his optimal firing range. My overview is a sudden mess as the Ferox disgorges light combat drones -- ideal for killing smaller ships -- just as Icarus drops out of warp.
"Scratch that, get the drones, I'll get the scram," he snaps.
The Ferox’s close-range blaster cannons finally score a hit, shorting out my frigate’s shields and melting half its armor into slag. I let the ship roll with the hit, slipping into the tightest orbit I can manage around the battlecruiser and activating first one, then the second armor repair module. The Incursus may be small, but so are bricks, and the little ship can take a pretty good hit and keep coming, especially if it doesn't run out of power.
The drones -- as small to me as I am to the Ferox -- are not so durable, and vaporize almost as quickly as I can target them.
"He's targeting me," Rez calls out. Working at longer ranges, he's going to be an easier target for the bigger ship. "Shields gone. I'm going to lose the point when I drop."
"I've got the scram," Icarus replies. "Get out if you --"
The sky lights with the detonation of the thrasher's engines.
"Get your pod out if you can," Icarus continues as if that was what he meant to say all along. "We've got him pinned, everyone get in close."
Everyone? I look up from my targeting display and see the rest of our small fleet has made the field, using the distraction of the thrasher's explosion to get close orbits while the Ferox pilot was occupied.
"Drones are down," I call out.
"Everyone on the Ferox," Icarus replies. "Wrap this up."
It takes surprisingly little time.
"He's not even hitting me," says the new pilot, his tone half surprise and half suspicion.
"He's a good target for us," replies Icarus.
A much bigger, much brighter explosion lights up the sky.
"Well..." one pilot quips. "He was."
The Ferox battlecruiser's close-range cannons shorted out my frigate's shields and melted half its armor into slag with the first volley; the massive ship's bay had already disgorged a full flight of combat drones that were winging my way to finish the work their master had started.
By most anyone's estimation, even my own, I was looking at the final payout from a series of bad decisions.
The night had started off normally enough, with me and CB hopping from one system to the next in a pair of Incursus-class frigates, following a kind of agnostic target selection scheme that didn't care the least bit about whether a complex was aligned with Tibus Heth or Empress Jamyl. Unpredictability and the easy mobility of our ships paid off; we avoided the larger gangs and pushed away or annoyed solo enemies unwilling to engage.
Thirtyone Organism > Stop capturing our plexes!
CB snorted into our private comms. "Did he just... scold us?"
"I believe he did."
Thirtyone Organism > We've spent the last two days d-plexing. You're undoing all our progress!
"Aww, puddin'..." I murmur in my best 'calming down the toddler' voice. "It's okay... take a breath..."
"Now I feel bad." CB said.
I flipped the comms over to local system broadcast as we landed on the jump gate. "Thank you for your suggestion! We will definitely take it under advisement."
"I'm out," CB said as we slipped out of the contested systems of the war zone and back into Sinq Laison for the third time that night. "You gonna keep going?"
"Not exactly, no." I was only barely following our conversation as I scanned back through the militia channel.
"Yeah..." his voice says he knows me better than that. "Try not to lose too many ships in whatever fleet they're starting up. Or pods."
"I never said anything about that," I mock-protested.
"Uh-huh. Good hunting." The comms went silent, and I fully turned my attention to MilChat.
«Any fleets up?»
I didn't recognize the callsign on the pilot who'd asked the question, but it hardly mattered; in my limited experience, it was probably the most-asked question in MilChat, and definitely the one that went unanswered more often than not. The channel is open to anyone in the militia, from veteran members of well-recognized corporations to the greenest recruits in the Tribal Liberation Force -- an organization whose operational security would be mockable, if it existed. Due to the highly suspect nature of any TLF pilots, the channel is the main comms of the Minmatar war effort in name only, largely ignored by the veterans who seem to see any eager new pilots as potential spies at best, ignorant novices at worst.
By creating our own corporation specifically for enlisting in the war, CB and I had theoretically avoided the stigma associated with joining the TLF, but in practice we'd simply upgraded ourselves from "obvious spies" to "slightly better prepared spies" in the eyes of the veteran Matar pilots, and even with CB on my wing, I shared the rank-and-file's frustration with finding organized fleets to join.
«I hope so.» Another voice, this one identified on comms as "Icarus", a brand-new member of the TLF, though his corporate employment history suggested more than a little experience. (Senior Matar fleet commanders would probably read that as 'experienced-but-lazy spy'.) «I would love to tag along.»
I thought back on my recent patrol with CB and keyed the comms. "Anyone fighting near Oyonata?"
«I'm going to head over there right now,» replied that same voice, cool and calm on the comms.
«What's over there?» asked another pilot.
I shrugged, out of habit, and hit the comms again. "Dunno about now, but when I went through earlier the local scans showed a lot of purple allies, and a lot of orange war targets."
"Looked like a sunset."
«Should we get a fleet together?»
«Yes.» Icarus again, the calm, cool TLF pilot. «Please.»
In response, the comms went silent.
I felt my lips tighten down to a narrow line and pushed Rocinante into motion along the best route Aura could find into the warzone. My fleet command experience is mostly limited to wormhole system defense and listening to Mangala lead a sloshed RvB fleet into the jaws of The Syndicate, but better me than noth--
«Well, fuck it.» It was Icarus again, his tone matching my own mood. «Alright, call out for a fleet invite, and get on voice comms on the following frequency...»
"Huh," I said to my otherwise empty ship. It's a rare thing to see someone else step up when things get difficult, especially in New Eden. This guy was promising.
Still, if you looked at the situation the way a Matar veteran might, it looked bad. A fleet full of new pilots, heading into a warzone heavily patrolled by, at last count, no fewer than three fleets at least twice our size. Led by a completely unknown pilot just as likely to be planning a double-cross at the worst moment as he was to be woefully incompetent.
Smart money said 'flip the comms off and call it a night.'
Smart money is boring.
I sent my id ping into the channel. "This is Ty. Fleet invite, please."
"Copy that," my new FC replied. "Welcome to the party."