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."