Thursday, 24 December 2015

Thera Is A Harsh Mistress And So Is Paragon Soul

The Set-Up

The call came right out of the blue:

Drop everything! If there was anyone who could track down a wormhole for this job, it was me.

The financial incentive helped too.

With Hayabusa's Vmax/warp of 12.78 AU/s I made it from Dan to Nand in record time (sidebar: Danera and Nandeza are less than six light years apart, yet to travel there the 'normal' way requires a detour of 15 jumps well to the galactic south and back up again in the manner of traversing a valley between mountains. It's just the way it is).

For the record: I found a superb route to Geminate and the Eastern Drone Lands via the 1,300 light-year Anoikis Detour (J110121 - a Wolf-Rayet system - below).

In Nandeza, I also found a direct shortcut to Stain and another one to somewhere in Aridia. The decision that came back later on (along with 50 mil in the bank) was: Stain. For the record again, I'd have preferred to go east. For reasons that will become apparent, I suspect the others now wish we had too, now that we know what we now know...

The Warm-Up

I did the jump-clone shuffle, left my science head in Danera and emerged in Nandeza in my 'empty' head. The one that likes to shoot first and not even ask questions. The one that still finds bad sitcoms funny.

We set off from our station at Nandeza IX and headed for the wormhole to Stain. We found that it had disappeared. Evaporated. I swear it looked stable when I'd scanned it and reconnoitred it just five hours earlier, and nothing in the records suggested it was reaching the imminent end of its life. When I found it, it wasn't even wobbling (did you know you can tell how unstable a wormhole is by looking at its event horizon? The closer it is to collapsing, the more 'wobbly' it gets).

This is the risk with actively using these things to get around. They don't do as they're told and they can ruin your night. This would not be the only one that ruined ours...

Plan B: Thera. Thanks to the excellent work of the Signal Cartel and their 'EVE Scout' service, we merely had to look up where the nearest route to the Thera system can be found. On this particular evening, Thera and its hub of 'magic doors' was facilitating a route to Feythabolis from Ashmarir, which was not far from us.

Ashmarir: gateway to Querious, gateway to the feared Khanid Lowsec Pipe and part of the region's central 'desert' where you can travel through up to eight systems without seeing a single orbital. There are only 38 orbitals in the whole of Khanid for that matter, and only five between here and Aridia; yet we have one of the most spectacular scenic views in the whole of New Eden. I didn't notice until now just how undeveloped Khanid actually is.

Once again, we set off. Endiir brought the means to find the wormhole to Thera in his Hecate destroyer, and sure enough, we found the magic door.

Some of us made it through to Thera, including me -

- then the wormhole collapsed!!!!

So now, two of us (FC/boss Tryce and wormhole scanner Endiir) were still in Khanid while me, Gaybrushki, Nizzle Ma and Nitereper were trapped, 1,300 light-years away in the Thera system. Just take a minute to get your head around that: our two groups were separated by a distance that is more than ten times the north-south extent of the New Eden cluster. Without wormholes - which, let's face it, are capricious, mercurial zephyrs of the cosmos that are not meant to be used as a transport network - it would take several hundred thousand years to transit back to New Eden at sub-warp speed, even if we knew exactly which direction it was in, which we don't.

We were really in the shit now...

...unless we could procure the means to scan wormholes ourselves, or if Tryce and Endiir could locate another entrance from their side.

Cue suspenseful music...

Will they make it? Who survived and who got blown up in a ball of fire? Tune in next week to see if our intrepid heroes can find their way out of Thera and continue their small-gang roam!

Actually we did both.

Thera is in no way a trade hub and doesn't possess a functioning industry because its planets are quarantined. Nevertheless, I knew there was some token trading going on here in the Sanctuary facilities, mainly in armaments. Signal Cartel's activities indicated a strong likelihood there would also be scan probes for sale here, albeit at a substantial and predictable markup. Sure enough, there were.

Note: if you ever get trapped in here like we did, then this is your way out. Don't worry about the inevitable price-gouging. Just remember it for future reference: bring your own stuff here and sell it to trapped capsuleers like yourself. Capsuleers like us.

Fast-forward about half an hour by which time Tryce and Endiir had found another way in via Genesis...

I found the wormhole that led to Feythabolis with what was now my hybrid explorer/interceptor.

But then...

This wormhole was camped by some group looking to interdict gangs like us, probably just for fun, possibly because this was a premium shortcut to distant nullsec territory. Bubbles blew up, ships appeared, Nitereper was destroyed, and Endiir and his Hecate were destroyed. We jumped back and forth through the hole a couple of times to try and shake them off.

The Roam...

We made it through to Feythabolis, but just a handful of us were left -

- a handful of disparate stragglers, in damaged ships, stranded light-years from home, left to wander Southern Null with no hope of rescue etc. etc. Cue even more dramatic music in the background...

We did the lot: Feythabolis, Esoteria, Omist, Paragon Soul. We found nothing except occasional neutrals, Blood Raider enclaves (one of which was the domain of the Covenant officer Mizuro Cybon), Angel Cartel gate camps near non-standard stargates, other faint signs of human habitation, but nothing else -

- except a noteworthy scenic view.

There were more clusters of disruptor bubbles that may have been here for years.

I lost count of how many systems we searched for a suitable target. Every neutral we saw registered in the Local channel appeared to be docked in a station.

We even passed through the most southerly systems in all of New Eden when we got to Paragon Soul -

- home to featureless ice worlds and gas giants that display no history and answer no questions. Does anyone know how many human settlements there actually are out here other than Kuvakei's sick experiments in artificial totalitarianism? Have all of them been subsumed by Kuvakei? 

Then, in 2I-520, we found a Harbinger. It was doing that standard nullsec tactic of planet-hopping between stargates as a means of avoiding disruptor bubbles and scanning the gates in advance to see if there is any 'trade' there. In here the 'trade' was us lot.

Now here's the thing: if we hadn't been depleted in numbers, if Endiir's Hecate was still here and we had the full complement of interceptors, we could have taken the Harbinger down. But we couldn't bring enough firepower to bear. The 'Harby' just sat there and the capsuleer inside it probably laughed as he mentally sent the command to his ship's AI to release two waves of drones upon us.

Tryce's ship was destroyed; so was Nizzle's. Nitereper was killed a second time. Gaybrushki and I retreated and let the Harbinger go on its way. Then we had the indignity of 'killing' the boss and Nizzle in their capsules to facilitate the pod express.

This roam was over - put out of its misery. That Harbinger had done us the favour of administering a coup de grace.

Now I was stuck in Paragon Soul, in hostile territory and without a meaningful human settlement for light-years. I had to get out of here as it would only be a matter of time before Kuvakei's minions found me.

I chilled for a bit and considered my options for getting home.

- I could have self-destructed and taken the pod express myself. I would have woken up in Hedion University in Conoban and probably been subjected to considerable verbal hassle from clone bay boss and occasional lover Dr Taltha over this new failure. Not to mention wasting a Malediction.

- I could have just set course for Nandeza by the most direct route, but didn't feel like risking the notorious gate camps in Delve.

In the end I took advantage of a political situation - our recent (and ultimately short-lived) alliance with Darkness - and headed for the P-ZMZV system in Querious. Darkness had a major facility there that we had docking rights in. That would do for an overnight stop.

I powered up again and set off. As I progressed north through all that ocean of nullsec, each system seemed to merge into the next to form a seamless blur of sameness. Delve, Querious, Period Bloody Basis and its pulsars. All the same. Madness is the only endgame for anybody who lives out here.

I was glad when the Cauldron Nebula and the Vapor Sea finally emerged from the void. The Cauldron was home.

After what felt like years, I arrived in P-ZMZV and found the safe harbour of 'blues' I was looking for. 

I docked and decided to use the pod gantry to get unjacked in order to cleanse myself of the total failure of this roam along with the sticky capsule fluid, with artificial gravity washing both away down the drain.

I spoke to nobody while I was here. Nullsec stations don't have the cosmopolitan mix that even the most devout Amarr facilities have. Here it's all cliques and hushed tones. Suspicion is the default state, especially when one's hosts are at war.

The only reason I could dock here at all was because the previous week our alliance had agreed some diplomatic thing with Darkness involving us establishing a presence in Querious. We started getting all manner of comms and mails telling us - ordering us - to go here and there and everywhere, telling us what we could and could not do, and achieving nothing other than total confusion. It was obvious even to my inexperienced eyes within just a few days of the agreement that there was no coherent plan behind any of it and that it could not last. I resolved to get planetside as soon as I could and just wait it out; to see how the dust settled.

By the time you read this, our temporary alliance with Darkness that allowed me to dock here will have reached the end of its short noisy fuse and exploded, taking Mortum Ravagers with it as collateral damage. Some of the ex-Mortum lot are still in Querious now. What they are doing there is - who cares? We in [PHP1] on the other hand, have aligned ourselves with Darwinism - our third alliance in a year - and now have what amounts to the Freedom of Aridia. My beloved Aridia: home of my ancestral homeworld.

From the standard issue couch I sat on in the standard Gallente-template Captain's Quarters here in P-ZMZV, all that confusion and low signal-to-noise ratio still lay in the future. From this couch, over a few beers, I considered the essential truths that not every roam can be a success; that I was lucky to escape with my ship intact on this one thanks to learning when to make a tactical withdrawal; and that most alliance politics is garbage.

Postscript: I left P-ZMZV the next day and routed back to Khanid via the Sib constellation. I found the regional border gate in Efa being camped by the first of a new wave of Drifter Incursions.

So that lot are back now too...

Monday, 30 November 2015

A Closed Gate

I was in Tash-Murkon doing missions for the House. I have no particular affinity for House Tash-Murkon although I do on the whole approve of their more tolerant attitude to life - in that respect, think of House T-M as a half-way House between House Khanid and House Sarum (what the next ruling lot will actually be like, only the granting of power after the Championships will tell).

What draws me here periodically is the desire to bathe in the hot bath of light from T-M Prime itself which paints a blue wash over everything in the system that I find rejuvenating somehow; along with the concurrent desire to face off against Sansha Kuvakei's minions who populate this sector in preference to the Covenant.

I brought Sid Vicious to this game and enjoyed taking down Succubi with a single shot, ending the torment of their occupants who allegedly make Amarrian slaves appear opinionated. My combat-mode datalogging recorded 'hit points' on Succubi in four figures once or twice, when the targeting geometry favoured it - when charging at them straight on (zero transverse velocity) and with Gleam S focusing the 100%-proof distilled power of the fusion reactor. To paraphrase something I saw on a holovid once, a light that burns twice as bright burns half as long and Gleam S burns so very brightly. With Gleam crystals, you have to be close enough to count rivets on Succubus hulls, but one shot is all it takes.

Imagine it: pure energy focused through the crystal and brought to bear with the turret, belittling shields, dismissing armour as an irrelevance and puncturing hull like the skin of a balloon. If an access corridor or gangway happens to be the other side of it, the focused beam will part the air in that corridor like a bolt of lightning - a shockwave will expand down that corridor at supersonic speed and kill anyone present long before any explosion, radiation, depressurisation or other trauma gets them. These gunnery implants I'm carrying in my head allow me to visualise like this and riff on it.

It's a beautiful thing.

I digress...

* * *

One of the missions the House sent me on brought me to a dormant, off-grid stargate of Minmatar template, right here in T-M Prime. I can't remember the exact details of the mission other than the gate being besieged by Sansha's Succubi and Phantasms, with crews all too strung out to recognise that the cloud of vented gas around the gate meant nobody was transiting through it any time soon.

This gate though, sitting there in a dormant state, was unexpectedly spellbinding.

The reason why is because there is never any time under normal operations for loitering at stargates in and around the mainstream network. There is absolutely no justification for hanging around them because to do so is to invite any number of dangers: being subjected to the attentions of either a gate-camp, CONCORD or gankers; being cargo-scanned by someone for future reference, being run-over by a decelerating freighter or just having your systems disrupted by the EM/graviton interference that manifests over your audio channels as that unholy choir you always hear when in close proximity - the signature of a power so great that it can reach down into the quantum foam of spacetime and pull open one of those bubbles big enough for you to pass through, into hyperspace, and back out again.

This Minmatar gate didn't make any sound at all. To paraphrase something else I heard once: you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.

In being granted the leisure to look around this thing that can defy the laws of the universe (or could do, but has since been rendered inert for some reason), I discovered some aspects of stargate design that I hadn't fully appreciated before, including how damned big they are. 

The site was superficially well-defended and there was some power being supplied to the gate, but nothing moved and nothing twitched - there were no crew here. Maybe that Sansha blockade took them. In destroying those ships, maybe I killed them...

This stargate wasn't the work of Sansha's Nation despite them blockading it. This won't be the only clandestine stargate in the cluster either. There could be a whole sub-network of these things that operates under our noses. Unless the House gets hold of it, some other group is bound to come along and reactivate this thing.

Maybe [PHP1] should.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

The Forge, Jita, Freighter Roulette

I've been operating in and around The Forge for a few days because despite being a capsuleer for just under a year now, I had never visited the trade hub in Jita.

Reason: never felt any particular need to go there because for my purposes, Amarr is just as valid as a trade hub and is far more convenient given that I live in the Khanid Kingdom (the fastest route to Jita from Khanid is through Amarr, so why bother going the extra 20 light years?).

I selected Revolution for this trip, which I've optimised for speedy warp and fitted missile turrets (Magnates do not favour any particular weapon system so you can fit whatever you want) for the inevitable encounters with Guristas.

It's worth noting that the journey up here passed the notoriously heavily gate-camped systems of Ashab, Niarja and Madirmilire. Ashab in particular was on form. Anybody who leaves this sector to their autopilot systems is an idiot.

The Forge itself is far busier than our 'neck of the woods'; the sheer number of industrial facilities and orbitals is mind-boggling, even in the Jita system itself - as well as the trade hub there are 13 other stations there, which makes me wonder how that station in particular evolved into being the hub instead of one of the others, especially since its origin is military rather than commercial.

There are some celestials in the State with two or three stations in orbit around them. The Nonni system in Lonetrek has 22 stations in orbit around just six planets and is only 7 AU in diameter.

This is obviously the manifestation of the functioning of the Caldari State and it makes me feel like some sort of monosyllabic backwater hick who can't handle double-digit Locals.

The Forge is also full of incredibly vulnerable freighters all heading for Jita on 'roll-the-dice' suicide missions that the slathering hordes around the Jita undock are all looking to put their stamp on. Bowheads, Orcas, Charons, Obelisks, Providences etc. I saw them all. I safely avoided the slathering hordes of gankers too when I got to Jita, but that was probably only by dint of programming 'Instadocks' and 'Instawarps' into the navigation system and actively using them. There was double the number of capsuleers registered in the Local channel compared to Amarr.

The trade hub. The Capsuleer's Capital City Of New Eden:

The shattered dome icon near the hub - capsuleer anarchy. Surely all those metal fragments and detritus represent a Hazard To Navigation? 

Operating a Bowhead must be like steering an asteroid from the rear. All that space with just the small crew compartment aft. Imagine what it could do if you filled it with explosives?

By the time you read this I'll be back in Khanid. I wonder how long I've really been away, because now Darkness and TMA are 'blue' whereas before I left they were 'red'; the Khanid Coalition no longer exists and we are at war with Pandemic Horde. I'm not actually sure why though.