Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Chapter Eight Eta

The Long Run

ISK Balance: 7,115,417.90

I have a love-hate relationship with chokepoints. Specifically, those singular systems that adjoin low security to no security regions. Even if the no security region itself - Querious, for example - is known for its relative lack of population, the entry systems are always glowing with Pilots in Space and Ships Destroyed. While most of 0.0 is characterized by vast emptiness interjected with the odd awe inspiring, thousand-ship fleet battle, these bottlenecks and their immediate neighbors have always struck me as the home of consistent skirmish warfare. Maybe a roving band of mercenaries or an elite anti-logistics strike team terrorizes enemy supply and transit lines before a hastily assembled response gang charges headlong into the system to break up their gatecamp. There's no time or real incentive to build up a hundred-strong fleet, and so the small gangs of low security are somewhat preserved at these chokepoints while still introducing all the novelties of no security combat. It's a bit of a hybrid with its own intricacies and rules of thumb - it's also likely my personal favorite flavor of combat.

But without dedication to either side of the great galactic conflict, it's hell breaking through into a region like Querious. For this reason, it took me three days of constant observation to build the courage for an attempt to run the blockade.

My style of observation strangely pleased me. I scanned from afar, watched gates from sniper spots, cloaked incessantly, and recorded who came into the system along with all the wheres and whens. Perhaps it's because in any game I've played, I've always taken an affinity towards the watcher - hoarding information, patterns, strategies, ideas - and the accumulation of an impossible volume of information before I take action.

And so it went for three days, the RZR and AXE and FIX and AAA and PURE alliance tickers coming and going; and me staying behind to see who came next and guess where they might go. I entered into sprees of wild speculation and storytelling for some of my subjects.

This person was carrying this, furtively hoping their intelligence channel was up to date. This person was their scout. That person was chasing them, having scanned them at the last gate. These four were going to set up a camp on the other side of the gate. This one was their Covert Ops pilot. This one was watching the gate. This one was watching the watcher. And so it went on, an increasingly compounded orchestra of this singularly ever-important system with its jump gate into no security.

For a while, the system - Efa - became my EVE. It was the entirety; the no security beyond it and the high security behind it were only fantasy lands.

Eventually, I tired of watching. I thought I could predict the ebb and flow of things well enough. Of course, with such boredom comes a strange kind of courage. So, when I felt it was right - at peak hours, no less - I made the jump of faith.

There was a RAZOR Alliance camp on the other side, and the interdictor bubble was staggered off the gate just perfectly so I coincidentally wound up far too close to the center.

Although the campers hadn't quite reacted yet, I could see I was a dead man. I thought I might have had a chance, until I saw the Claw.

I was just about to decloak and make a futile run for it when the gate activated - with a familiar blue flash, a FIX pilot appeared in system.

"I'm toast," the pilot typed in local as her ship decloaked. The RZR pilots swarmed her and I tried hard to keep myself under control - she was dead, but maybe I wasn't.

Now I had approximately two seconds to decide between using my microwarp drive or not. My memories hearkened back to the bubble I would have escaped from if it had not been for the added sluggishness of a MWD's acceleration.

But I was too deep in the bubble to simply fly out. I depressed the hotkey as I had done so many times before and hoped for the best.

The FIX pilot was dead. I was locked. Scrambled. Shot at. And then, somehow, I coasted out of range. My warp drive was activating. Those three magical words appeared at the bottom of my GUI - a ship's equivalent of "I love you." My accelerometer surged, and I was saved.

I still don't understand the ineffability of my luck and its insistence upon delivering me from the worst of fates. But really, it's not luck I should be thanking. I wouldn't be surprised if that FIX pilot - Anette Plathe - probably had a far more expensive ship than mine. What if I had jumped in after, or decloaked first? Would that be noble or foolish? Chivalrous? Would it be an odd thing for a neutral stranger to do for a former enemy, or has it happened before? I could deliberate for hours, but the truth is I'm fifteen jumps into my journey thanks to that pilot. So much can be summed up in one simple emoticon that has long been one of my favorites:


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