Monday, May 18, 2009

Entry 06

*Logcam Activated*

Ethan is sitting at a small table. Behind him a huge plaza stretches out for several hundred yards -- a mix of green foliage and stone walkways. There's a small footbridge nearby that crosses over a gently flowing stream. At first he appears to be planetside, but high above stretches a matrix of steel girders and reinforced glass, a huge canopy that provides the viewer with an unparalleled look at the vacuum of space. The system's sun shines brightly into the plaza, the steel canopy beams casting stark shadows that move slowly as the station rotates. A planet looms close by, the only other object visible against the darkness of space. Frigates and transport ships occasionally shoot past the viewports, casting everything into shadow for the briefest of instants as they block the sun. People are scattered about the plaza, singly and in groups, some of them passing through quickly while others meander through the green space, gazing upwards at the stars.

Time for another update.

I'm back in the Rens system after my little excursion to Korsiki. The rest of the war was fast, intense, and draining, with many losses on both sides. As it ended, University leadership suggested that everyone take a break and suspended our normal classroom activities. After completing my last contract for the Sisters of Eve, they had offered me more work, so I decided to take them up on the offer. I already had a ship and crew in system (the Gambit), and the money was good. And I sort of wanted to get back into my old body . . . call it a foolish emotional attachment if you will.

The crew of the Gambit was happy to see me. Flying a ship manually is a lot of work, and even the most competently crewed ship just can't match the response times of pod pilot literally plugged into his vessel. Of course, they may have just been happy because I was bringing a new contract. Emmanuel . . . er, Mr. Romero now? . . . is calling himself "Captain of the Gambit"; apparently the crew member that they ran off had actually been the old captain. I'm beginning to realize just how informal the crew's organization really is -- it's less a chain of command and more a mob. Coming from a naval standpoint I don't understand how such an organization can even survive, much less function at a resonably competent level. Even the Gallentean navy isn't this rough around the edges.

Ethan laughs before continuing.

They do function, however, and pretty damn well. I hadn't noticed before, but beneath the Gambit's worn exterior is a ship in prime fighting condition. It's not apparent at first glance -- there are some rust spots on the hull, a few maintenance panels that are missing covers, and an accumulated grime in the machine spaces that defies comprehension. What this all hides, however, is that everything on the ship works (and at spec or above). Sure, the port dorsal turret mount's acutator sheath is missing, but that's because the turret was blown clean off the ship a month ago and rebuilt by hand in the machine shop (the sheath was lost in the vaccum of space). Sure, the reactor shielding has serial numbers from three different frigates, but that's because they burned through the orignal set running the reactor at 110 percent while running a gatecamp in Amarrian space. The ship has been worked hard, but it's also been well cared for.

Working for the sisters has been good for the Gambit and her crew as well. I found out that a few weeks ago one of the fusion thrust turbines had sheared a blade deep inside the engine, and it had gotten sucked immediately through the compression vanes, the throttling mechanism, and the heat exchanger before totally wrecking the nozzle gimbals on it's way out into space. In the Caldari Navy we would've called it a lost cause, pulled the engine and put in a replacement, but the crew of the Gambit couldn't afford a new one. They spent three days in drydock pulling the engine, stripping it down, grafting a new blade onto the turbine, truing the turbine and the rotor, and then reassembling, testing, and reinstalling the old engine. I was shocked by this, but apparently it's typical -- several vital components have been painstakingly rebuilt piece by piece not once, not twice, but three times! So far the record is held by the starboard wing thruster -- perhaps the only original component of the ship, it's been totally broken down and reassembled over six times!

With our new source of income from the Sisters of Eve, they've been able to start finally replacing some of the more failure-prone pieces of ship equipment. That's actually why I'm out here making this log entry -- they're flushing the new O2 circulation system with some sort of corrosive gas.

Anyways, I've only been learning about the Gambit because the crew seems to be opening up to me. At first I think they were caught off guard by a pod pilot who wants in on their nightly game of stakes (a card game popular here in Minmatar space). I was bored, I was around the ship, and I happened to hear one of the mechanics talking about it so I asked if I could join in later. His eyes went wide and he stuttered for a second, but quickly said yes before making some excuse about an adjustment he had to make and scampering off. It took me a bit that night to find the game at a shady pub four levels down named "The Dark Phoenix." When I walked in, I was greeted by abrupt silence . . . I found the crew, sat down, and put my credits on the table. Gradually things started to liven up again (the booze helped), and before the end of the night we were all laughing together at Emmanuel's story about a very surprised, fierce terrestrial animal that had gone to sleep in a cargo container on planet only to wake up adrift in deep space (the funny part was when the pirate opened the container). I still catch them looking at the metallic plug-in ports embedded in my skull sometimes, but less often now than before. I still don't know their history, but at least they know mine.

I don't know why the Gambit's crew was so surprised that I wanted to get to know them. Well, scratch that, I do know why. Pod pilots ARE effectively immortal . . . and it goes to our heads. We tend to consider ourselves above our fellow humans. I was reviewing some old recordings from the Gambit's bridge when my predecessor was in charge (what recordings I could find -- most of them are locked. I don't know why, I need to remember to ask Emmanuel). He was one of the worst . . . I won't go into it, but suffice it to say he had a bit of a god complex. I think he even wrote himself in to some of the hieroglyphics on the bulkheads in his cabin. Ugh.

Anyway, enough about me and the crew. We've been working for the Sisters of Eve again, mainly fighting pirates. It's been uneventful, usually they run as soon as we warp in but sometimes they're stupid enough to fight. It was after one of these brief fights that Emmanuel motioned for me on the bridge cam. Surrounded by wreckage, I brought the ship to a halt and turn up my audio feed. "Someone is following us," he said. The bridge crew had pushed the directional scanner's range out just past the edge of the grid and had found a contact. Moreover, the same thing had happened on our last three jumps. Whoever they were, they were tailing us.

I aligned the ship for the Sisters of Eve station and got ready to jump. However, instead of pushing us all the way there, I just pulsed the drive to push us out of this guy's scanner range. As soon as the warp field cleared I flipped the ship one hundered and eighty degrees and dialed up the scanner. Sure enough, the contact appeared at our last location almost immediately. I pulsed the drive again with guns hot, sending us right back to him. Whoever he was, he was about to be real surprised, heh. If he was smaller than us we'd have a little chat, and if he was bigger we'd run like hell.

We landed on a Gallente destroyer. I got ready to get the heck out of there as soon as I saw it -- destroyers are fearsome frigate killers, and the sight of a Gallente ship automatically makes me think hostile. Almost immediately, though, we got a plaintive hail from the ship, and so I looped back around (still on afterburner) to get a closer look.

Quickly I realized that this ship posed little to no threat. Normally a Catalyst-class destroyer can mount up to eight small turrets (more than twice the firepower than we can carry), but this particular ship had none. Four of the mounts had been rigged to carry tractor beam emitters, while the other four had a hodgepodge set of robotic arms installed, able to wield a myriad of strange tools. I could see places where armor plates had been cut or even removed to make room for several large, exterior cargo pods. The hull itself was generally rusty and pitted, even covered in graffiti. Most of it was illegible, but scrawled across the nost of the ship was the moniker "Morty's Revenge" and what looked like a crude picture of a pudgy man wielding an arc welder in a rather fearsome manner.

We were hailed again, and this time I answered it. The image of a grimy, greasy, overweight man with a rough beard and a pair of welding goggles perched on his head appeared in my overview. His name was Mortimer Scrude and he promptly surrendered to us. I "invited" him over to the Gambit to have the aforementioned "chat." The crew was surprisingly prompt and well organized when it came to escorting him to our ship's miniscule conference room . . . I didn't even know they had rifles. After I quick conversation between myself, Emmanuel, and Mr. Scrude we'd figured out most of the story.

"Morty's Revenge" was a salvage vessel. Mr. Scrude . . . er, Morty, explained how he'd been following us around, breaking up the wrecks of pirate vessels we'd destroyed and selling the material on the market. He had planted a tiny pulse beacon on our ship a week ago that emitted a tracking signal whenever we jumped (Emmanuel was not happy that this had escaped his notice) and Morty's Revenge had been doing pretty well. How well? Let me just say that it was more than we were making from the sisters. Yeah, that well.

Emmanuel was about ready to put the fat man out the airlock and be done with it, but I saw another opportunity and pulled him outside to explain. We would keep doing what we were doing, except we would openly broadcast our location to Mr. Scrude's strange vessel. Then, he would salvage and sell the material, except that now we would get a cut of the profits. It was the ISK that turned his anger in the end . . . when I told him how much 50% of Mr. Scrude's profit would likely be, he quieted right down. Coming back into the room, we made our offer and he promptly accepted, with the caveat that we protect his ship as he hauled in the loot. We signed the contract then and there.

So that's about the most interesting thing to happen lately. We've been down a couple days puting the new equipment in, but once we're back in space I'm excited to see what sort of money we can earn from cooperating with this Morty character. He's a strange guy . . . almost cheerful about surrendering to us, it was pretty odd. I also want to get a look at his ship, see what it could do if I was able to hook it up to my implants . . . he's running it mostly by himself right now, and Mr. Scrude is no capsuleer. I'll have to ask him about it.

Ethan pauses, looking up at space.

For now, though, I'm just going to kick back and relax a bit. The sisters sure know how to build a pretty station. Makes me miss home.

*End of Entry*

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Entry 05

*Logcam Activated*

Ethan is back in a Caldari vessel by the looks of his cabin. He is unusually pale, and there is a large cup sitting on his desk. He hesitates for a moment before being bent double by several wet, wracking coughs. Ethan then proceeds to spit some heavy fluid into the cup before beginning to speak.

It's been a while since I've been to cloning vats. I'd forgotten how long it takes to get the fluid out of your lungs. Goddamn I hate this shit. Pardon the cup --

Ethan spends the next several seconds coughing before spitting again. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and begins to speak.

We had a hell of a battle since my last entry. I'll try to start from the beginning.

As soon as I clone jumped to Korsiki I knew that things were serious. SAK was a beehive of activity -- students and their crews running around everywhere. People shouting, running, large pieces of equipment on hovercarts being pushed through hallways, all the stuff that comes right before a big battle. I was able to fight my way through the crowd to the docking bay to meet my Navy liason. He gave me a swift salute before taking me onboard the Hotspur II, a cormorant class destroyer that was going to be my primary for the battle. I only had time for a brief tour, but the crew seemed competent and ready. From there I was hustled off to an intel briefing. At this point it was about 20:00 hours, May 3rd, and I was feeling pretty disoriented from the jump.

There were perhaps thirty capsuleers at the briefing, all students. Hourly briefings were taking place as more and more students arrived at the station. From the very start, I realized things were looking pretty bad. Not one but three mercenary corporations had declared war on the university, and there was rumor of a fourth war declaration in the works. At the time I was pretty puzzled -- why would someone go to war with a teaching institution? Since the battle, however, I've been realizing that the university does represent a moderately powerful political entity, and while ostensibly neutral in corporate politics, is not without it's enemies. There's rumors in the student body of someone with immense resources and a serious problem with the University directors, but who knows. Not really my problem anyway.

As we continued to sift through the data, it only got worse. These mercenaries, the Seppuku warriors, weren't your average disorganized rabble. They were highly skilled and well funded, capable with fielding fleets of more than two dozen battleships. Two dozen! It turns out that the day before they had actually managed to put the University-owned starbase into reinforced mode with 25% shields. I was particuarly impressed at this -- I'd been to the starbase in the past, and had seen the heavy gun batteries and powerful shield generators that it possessed. They don't call it a "death star" for nothing, eh?

There were no details given to us in the intel briefing about the op. This didn't surprise me -- don't want to make it too easy for the spies, after all. They did give us a rendezvous time -- 14:30, an hour before the supply of strontium keeping the structure in reinforced mode would be depleted. With this in mind, I left to go see to the Hotspur and get more acquainted with her and her crew.

The ship was fitted for speed and firepower, the way a destroyer should be -- lots of railguns, afterburner, and minimal shielding. The cormorant hull is by nature a "paper tiger" with lots of turret mounts but not much more protection than a frigate, so I wasn't particularly surprised. After a brief conversation with her captain, we agreed upon some basic tactics. "Seppuku Warriors," the mercenary corporation, was expected to field heavy battleships and battlecruisers to bring down the starbase. This meant that the Hotspur's usual role as a frigate hunter would be largely useless, and we needed an alternative. I decided that we'd shadow the University's heavy hitters and try and supplement their heavy battery fire with whatever we could. Hopefully our heavy ships would soak up the return fire, and we could pound away unmolested. If we were targeted, I would warp us out, counting on the Hotspur's superior speed, maneuvability and small target profile to get us out of harm's way.

Fast forward to 14:30, May 4th. We rendezvoused at the station with the rest of the University fleet. Hotspur was assigned to fleet picket -- most of the ships were working on repairing the station's weaponry (it had been heavily damaged in the previous battle). I'm not qualified yet in remote repair systems, something that I plan on fixing soon. We remained on station inside the shield projected by the station -- it's an extremely strong, spherical force field that stretches out several kilometers in each direction. Things were all quiet for about an hour -- the station ran out of strontium just as planned, and the gunners began putting things back on line. We knew the enemy was out there somewhere, but everything was quiet.

I started taking stock of our fleet and my heart sank. We had plenty of hulls, but only a couple battleships. The vast majority of ships in the University fleet were cruisers and frigates . . . all of them piloted by brave University students, but willingness to fight won't put a 125mm small railgun round through 1200mm tungsten plating. The wait was maddening. Someone had just said, "Maybe they aren't coming?" when we got our first scout reports . . . 2 battleships . . . 6 battleships . . . 18 battleships . . . forty battleships at the Korsiki gate. I caught a short prayer from someone in the crew over my bridge microphones.

Sure enough, the next minute my tactical display filled with new targeting data. They already had a warp in point set less than a kilometer from the shield . . . it was a smooth bit of formation flying, if only they weren't trying to kill us. As they started pounding away at the shield, the fleet fidgeted a bit . . . we were safe behind the shield, but for how long? The command channels were silent, and I could only hope that meant that the fleet commander was really, really busy working on something that would keep us all alive. My targeting subroutines dully ran a tonnage comparison between the two fleets, and I tried to ignore it. It was ugly, trust me.

Finally the first orders came through. Tacklers, warp off grid, bounce off Korsiki I and Korsiki II, and then back in system on top of the war targets and commence web and scramble. The rest of the fleet was to hold position. We didn't understand -- our tacklers wouldn't last long in the face of that kind of firepower, so why weren't we being ordered into the battle? The tackling frigates dutifully warped right into the midst of the enemy fleet and started pinning down the larger ships, while the WTs (war targets) began returning fire with heavy weapons and drones.

The heavy weapons didn't seem to be doing much to the fast frigates (they're too hard to track), but the drones were another story, tearing through the light frigates with disturbing ease. At this point, however, I noticed something: numerous reports of targeting laser activation among our tacklers. Our fleet commander had ordered the non-standard fitting before the battle. I figured out the plan right as two things happened.

First of all, the station guns opened up with bright, incandescent streaks of heavy railgun fire. The tackling frigates with target painting lasers had marked specific WT battleships for focused defensive fire. Second, a bunch of allied contacts appeared at the edge of the battlespace out of nowhere. We had allies! It turned out to be a wing of stealth bombers from "Euphoria Released" . . . a ragged cheer went up from the fleet as we saw the missles hit home. Something exploded, but the WTs continued to pound away. This situation continued for some time . . . tacklers weaving between the hulking enemy battleships at top speed, stealth bombers decloaking at extreme range and dropping volleys of missles, and station-mounted weapons returning fire. It seemed to me that the stealth bomber tactic wasn't as effective in later attempts . . . I didn't see them lose anyone, but the enemy fleet managed to drive them off sooner.

Finally the bulk of the fleet got another order. We were to bounce off of SAK before hitting an enemy battleship that had strayed from the main group. The Hotspur jumped away, the crew glad to have something to do other than be shot at. We warmed up the railgun mounts, and I aligned for the station with warp drive spooled up. A cloaked scout gave us a warp in point, and we locked to his position before warping. It was a good jump, we ended up right on top of an Amarrian battleship. I don't know how much damage we contributed, but it was something. The larger ships ignored us, which was good because at that range we wouldn't have been able to take more than a shot or two from a heavy pulse laser. Being closer may make you harder to track, but it certainly doesn't do anyting good for my stress level. I concentrated mainly on avoiding heavy weapons fire, letting the Hotspur's gunnery crews handle the targetting and firing. We didn't see any drones; I found out later that someone had flown a stripped down battleship with skeleton crew into the drone swarm and blown it up like a huge bomb . . . braver man than I . . .

Eventually the target's reactor went critical, and we hotjumped out of the battlezone to await another target and warp in point. At this point my memory gets fuzzy . . . we were warping a lot, acquiring targets and warping out again very quickly.

Things were going alright until we got noticed. Someone in the enemy fleet was flying a heavy missle cruiser, which is about the worst thing possible for a destroyer pilot. The missles move fast enough to track you, and do a ton of damage. We had just warped in to target a Raven-class battleship that had strayed from the fleet when the first volley of missles came in and blew right past the shields. By the time I got us into warp, most of the armor plating had splintered off of the hull and I was beginning to have to dig into system redundancies to keep things running. I nursed the Hotspur to a safespot in empty Korsiki space and we stopped to do some damage control.

We got the fires under control pretty quickly, and the shields were coming up again nicely when another primary was called over the command channel. We could all tell that the University was not winning the battle . . . communications from the fleet commander were becoming increasingly garbled, failing althogether at some points (probably due to damage sustained by the commander's ship). Wing commanders and squad commanders were taking over temporarily, and the fleet was beginning to sustain serious casualties in the face of such overwhelming firepower. After a quick conference with the captain, we decided to return to the battle -- reasoning that the University fleet needed every bit of firepower at it's disposal, and that if the Hotspur were seriously targeted, it wouldn't matter how strong the shields were. As soon as we got a warp in location, I jumped the ship back into the fray.

Sure enough, as soon as we were in system the target locks began falling on the Hotspur again. I was able to single out the Cerebrus-class missle cruiser that had us locked, and the station gunners quickly went to work on him. The damage was severe, but our defense batteries forced him to break off his attack and for the briefest instant I though we had a chance. That's when the Hotspur's luck ran out -- one of the stray heavy laser blasts we'd been dodging all night finally connected. I looked at the tapes later -- it was a Tachyon Energy Beam turret on an Abbaddon-class battleship that wasn't even shooting at us.

The shields were totally down when the huge beam of coherent light smashed into our dorsal side from above and aft. All of my sensory feeds went down for a moment as the safety overrides kicked in, and as soon as it came back I knew we were in big trouble. You know that feeling you get when you've just broken a bone and your arm is bending in the wrong way? It doesn't really hurt, but you know instantly something has gone desperately wrong. That's what the Hotspur felt like -- the shot had broken her back and the bow was twisting inwards as we spun out of control. I tried to maneuver to take some stress off of the smashed frame members, but I had no thruster power -- the shot had pierced the reactor containment vessel, and the overrides had SCRAM'ed it immediately. With the reactor core a mass of frozen, radioactive slag, I had no choice but to sound "abandon ship" and activate my pod jettison.

I got away with that pod intact, docking again at SAK. I was tired, and sore at this point, but the battle was continuing, so I was shuffled quickly over to cheap tackling frigate courtesy of the University. As soon as my pod was sealed into the ship, we were back into the fray . . . one of the most surreal things about being a pod pilot, in my opinion.

Ethan pauses to cough up some more thick liquid.

At this point things start getting hazy. I know that we continued harassing the mercenary fleet, but in the end we just didn't have enough firepower to keep them from destroying the station. I remember the final order to abandon the starbase . . . I didn't actually see it explode. We continued combat operations even after that, harassing the enemy fleet as it attempted to withdraw . . . lots of fast hits and runs, with our covops pilots trying to get a good drop point on an enemy straggler while our battered fleet tried to keep from getting pinned down by the superior enemy force. It was on one of these that I got swarmed by drones and didn't managed to warp out fast enough . . . I was getting tired, I think, but didn't realize it. That's when I got podded, too, and woke up in the clone vats.

In the end, it was a spirited, if futile defense. We just didn't have enough firepower to keep a fleet that large from fulfilling it's goal, particularly once the station and it's defensive turrets were destroyed. The chain of command help up, and we had excellent fleet commanders, but the tonnage disparity was too great. The tone among University pilots in SAK that night was proud despite the loss of the station . . . we knew the odds, and flew anyway to defend what was ours. The university actually came out slightly ahead in the kill tallies by the end of the day -- they took the field, but at significant cost. Apparently this was due mainly to a small group of pilots acting in the background, scanning down and picking off damaged battleships away from the warzone. I haven't felt very close to my fellow students in the past, but as of right now I'll fly with them almost anywhere.

Most of our crews survived. I know that most capsuleers don't keep track of this sort of thing, but I think with clone jumping we're more isolated from the concept of mortality than we should be. Most pod pilot overviews won't even show crew member escape pods as valid targets, and rightly so. I tracked down the captain of the Hotspur yesterday and thanked him for the use of his ship.

Anyways, time to get some rest, and time to finish getting acclimated to this new clone. God, I hate this clone stuff so much.

Ethan coughs once before getting up to shut off the camera.

*End of Entry*

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Entry 04

*Logcam Activated*

The picture is obscured briefly by a dark shape which turns out to be Ethan's torso. As he sits back from adjusting the camera, it is quickly obvious that he is in a very different location. His black military issue jumpsuit contrasts harshly with the dulled, bronze walls and ornate detail of the furniture. There seems to be some sort of writing around the room at the top of the wall in a flowing script that is definitely not basic. In some place it has even been accompanied with illustrations of humanoid figures performing various activities. The cabin is not spacious, but it is larger than the previous one.

I don't have a whole lot of time, so this going to have to be quick.

Ethan stands up again, moving the chair so that his face isn't quite as obscured in shadow. He looks healthy, if slightly haggard and ill at ease in his new quarters.

I've been on more extended operations for the Caldari Navy since my last entry. My official affiliation is still neutral, so I guess that makes me pretty useful.

I'd been back in Korsiki for only a few days when I got the orders. I knew right away that it must have been urgent, because a sergeant pulled me out of the middle of a fusion reactor dynamics class. He explained the op for me on our way to the docking bay -- apparently the Sisters of Eve organization had found something that the corporate government wanted. When I asked him what exactly they'd found, he just smiled and told me not to worry about it. Because of my neutral status, I was the perfect capsuleer for the job -- the sisters would think they were hiring a freelancer when really I would provide a copy of everything I learned straight to fleet headquarters.

Personally, I don't think trying to fool the Sisters is ever really a good idea. If anyone knows anything about espionage, it's the Sisters of Eve, and I very rarely hear of people beating them at their own game. But I don't write the orders, do I?

The sergeant told me next that the Navy was providing a ship for my journey to help keep with the whole "neutral" image. Given my experiences with naval procurement, I immediately had a bad feeling about the op. When we got to the hangar, my worst fears were confirmed. The ship -- and when I say ship, I mean a ship in the loosest sense of the term -- was a heavily-used Minmatar shuttle . . . a floating scrap heap that was maybe one step above reprocessed salvage. At this point the sergeant told me that my Sisters of Eve contact was in the Rens system, deep in Minmatar space. Great.

To make a long story short, I made it to Rens without incident (excluding my almost continuous life or death struggle with the shuttle's subsystems). I was slightly behind schedule due to a blown-out drive coil when I arrived, so as soon as I popped the seal on my pod I hustled on down to the sister's office. Imagine my surprise when I discover I'm not the only capsuleer on the job -- three other guys turn and stare at me as soon as I open the door. It took me a minute to realize what's going on . . . one of the pod pilots had heavy Amarrian facial tatoos, one of them was a dark-skinned Minmatar tribesman, and when the third spoke up with a thick Gallentean accent I knew for sure that the Sisters had trumped our Intel department yet again. They WANTED our four governments to know about whatever we were about to investigate, and practically invited us in . . .

Ethan sighs.

Gotta remember never to underestimate the Sisters.


Sure enough, our contact Sister Zaserkherah came in all smiles. She gave us some details -- something about a strange ship being sighted in deep space. I wasn't paying much attention, I was more worried about the Brutor tribesman that I was sitting a scant meter and a half from. I've been through basic combat training, and I'm not small, but this guy was easily half again my mass, and all of it muscle. I grabbed my data cards and left as soon as possible once Sister Zaserkherah was finished. Being in a room with two potentially deadly enemies and one reluctant ally is not a situation I want to prolong.

Later, back on that dammed shuttle, I started investigating the job I'd gotten from the sister. I quickly realized that the piece of junk I was flying was not going to cut it -- there was a lot of deep space exploration and potential hostiles involved. I was going to need a new ship, something with some staying power and weaponry. And typical Caldari Navy op -- I was gonna have to pay for it myself.

After checking the market listings the next day, I headed out to the hangar levels. A Caldari ship wouldn't do . . . I was still trying to keep a low profile, after all. Also, I didn't have a whole lot of money to spend. Unfortunately that meant that there weren't a whole lot of options for me. After spending all morning looking for a cheap ship that I could fly yet wouldn't brand me as a Caldari spy, I headed down to the crew cafeteria for some lunch. That's where I finally had some luck.

It was lunchtime and the caf was crowded, so I couldn't get a table to myself. Most places were packed Minmatar crew members, but I found one table in a corner about halfway full with a scruffy looking Caldari bunch. I grabbed a seat on the far end of the bench -- they didn't pay me any heed, mostly due to an energetic argument that was taking place between two of them. As the volume increased, I couldn't help but to overhear the details. They were both bridge officers on a ship that had lost it's pod pilot rather suddenly -- a faulty clone or something. One of them wanted to set out to find their pod pilot's new clone, while the second, shorter man wanted to see if they could make a go of it from where they were now. Apparently the second person had the rest of the crew's support, because they joined in the argument on his side. The shouting continued until the lone crew member loyal to the old pilot left in a huff, shouting some very rude words that I won't repeat here.

Ethan chuckles softly before getting back to the story.

At this point I realized my opportunity. I introduced myself and mentioned that I was a pod pilot looking for a ship. At first they seemed slightly taken aback that a capsuleer was eating lunch in the crew cafeteria, but when I mentioned that I already had a contract with the Sisters they loosened up. The man who had been arguing for leaving the old pod pilot seemed to be their leader -- he introduced himself as Emmanuel Romero, First Mate of the Gambit, and graciously offered to show me to their ship to formalize a contract. I followed the disorderly group back to the docking bay, realizing exactly how rowdy they were and wondering if I'd made a good decision or not.

The Gambit turned out to be a Punisher-class Amarrian frigate. After a brief inspection she seemed to be in good enough physical condition. The paint job was the most interesting part -- it appeared as if fierce eyes and teeth had been painted on the forward hull at some point, but had been dulled by weapons fire and repeated cyclings of a hull repairer. When I asked them who their previous employer had been, Emmanuel just broke out laughing . . . I'm still not sure what that means, or how a bunch of Caldari ended up in Minmatar space with an Amarrian ship.

To make a long story short, we signed a contract, headed out into space, and started doing a bunch of sensor sweeps at the locations that Sister Zaserkherah had given us. The only hitch came when we were arming the Gambit. Amarrian ships are laser boats, and when I mentioned to Emmanuel that I'm not certified in laser weapons he said something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like a Minmatar curse. After some brief inspection, we determined that the weapon hardpoints on the Gambit could be rigged to run hybrid railgun turrets. The ship doesn't have an ammunition belt system, but we ran some portable conveyors up through a couple maintenance passages and it works well enough.

At one point during our scans we got a distress call from a stranded freighter in Rens that was being attacked by pirates. This isn't really much of an oddity in the Rens system, but the message we got thirty seconds later from Sister Zaserkherah offering a fifty percent bonus on the day's scanning contract if we could protect the freighter was pretty odd. We aligned and warped pretty quickly to it's location. I wasn't expecting so many pirates to be there, and neither was the crew of the Gambit. Observing from my bridge cameras, I saw them exchange some apprehensive looks -- and who could blame them, in a ship with jury-rigged weapons and an unknown pod pilot? I tried to quiet my own doubts as I jacked the ship up into a spiral at full afterburner.

It quickly became apparent, though, that our worries were unfounded. I'm pretty good with a small railgun turret, and the Gambit handles well. It felt strange to be flying a ship with so little shields and so much armor, but with the removal of the lasers the Gambit has so much extra capacitor power that I probably could have run the armor repair system the whole time. Emmanuel said later that it's a weird configuration, but one that works surprisingly well.

All that, however, has come to a stop with the most recent message I recieved from the university. They're calling all pod-capable students back for some sort of operation. We've been suffering from numerous mercenary corpations attacking our operations, and apparently they aren't unrelated incidents. Operating out of Rens, I haven't seen much of it, but it's been pretty bad in Korsiki. The university-owned research station has been threatened, something I didn't think feasible in high security space -- but if these mercenaries are as organized as I've heard, perhaps it is in danger. I've been cleared by Cladari Naval command to go back; with so many Caldari students, they've got a vested interest in keeping the University in business. They even arranged a jump clone for me in Korsiki, and I'll have a Caracal-class destroyer waiting for me when I jump. The jump's in an hour, so I need to wrap this up.

Ethan starts to rise, but stops.

We did find something, by the way. Some sort of strange drone with life signs. It warped before we could get close to it. Not really my problem, I'm leaving that one to the scientists.

Anyway. Gotta go get ready to switch bodies.

Ethan reaches behind the camera.

*End of Entry*

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Entry 03

*Logcam Activated*

The scene fades in again like the previous entries. The only differences are on Ethan's body -- his hair and beard have been recently shaved, and his eyes are slightly more sunken than before. There's also a medical bay identification tag wrapped around his wrist.

Begin entry 3.

You're probably wondering about the med tag. No, I haven't been to the cloning vats since my last entry -- but I'll get to that soon enough.

The university has been out of lockdown for several days now. It was nice to get out of the station for a change -- I plugged in, borrowed a shuttle and flew a couple laps around the system along with some of the other students. My studies are going all right -- I've been taking some engineering and microeconomics classes, nothing particularly interesting but all of it useful. The only really interesting thing that has happened lately was the set of orders I got from my Navy liason.

As part of my deferred enlistment, I'm still subject to the chain of command. This means that from time to time when they need something done and can't trouble the real navy to do it, I end up with the job.

Ethan leans back in his chair, tilting it up onto two legs with his feet propped against the desk.

This time I got sent to Nourvoukaiken -- we're actually docked at the Naval Assembly Plant around the tenth moon of Nourvoukaiken VII right now. My orders didn't say anything except to be at a certain local pub at a certain time wearing a certain color -- a little different from the usual official summons to the local fleet commander.

Ethan lets the chair sit back onto all four legs as he leans forward.

I'll admit to feeling a little nervous as I walked to the rendezvous -- the lift station was a long way from the pub and it was not in the most pleasant part of the station. I didn't know that space stations had ghettos, but I guess I shouldn't be that surprised.

It turned out that this time I was working for the fleet surveillance division, not command. I'll leave my contact's name out of this log -- security protocol, heh. He had a couple jobs for me -- mostly just the usual pirate hunting. As I skimmed through the datacards, he pulled one out and pushed it to the top. He was very excited about it, and the first line managed to get my attention pretty quickly. Apparently the Gallente found a loophole in the treaty of Iyen Oursta. Gallente corporations operating in our space are permitted to use armed spacecraft for security purposes, and my contact explained that the Gallentean government has been setting up fake businesses as an excuse to stage a military build-up in Caldari space.

The corporate government has only recently become aware of this problem, and currently is scrambling to find a diplomatic solution. In the meantime, my contact explained, one of the Gallentean front-corporations has been found in breach of the treaty due to a "filing error." The way he smiled at that part tells me all I need to know about how exactly that bit of paperwork got lost.

The plan was simple. Show up at the Gallente branch headquarters in Caldari space, declare them in violation of the treaty, and blast away. My contact wanted to come along for the ride, and I thought that was a little strange at the time, but hey, maybe he just wants to get out of the station for bit, right? So we jump to the Gallente's location and sound general quarters. The poor bastards aren't prepared at all -- we broadcasted our first warning about seven seconds after the first volley was away. I didn't even feel them going for a target lock until after the second volly. They didn't seem to be very well equipped -- there were about a half dozen frigates and a pair of destroyers, none of them with decent weapons or armor. The Moa I've been flying for the Navy (the Vincent) made pretty short work of them all. The bridge crew functioned well, nothing got past the shields, and the op was going smoothly -- until the last ship went pop. Then everything went to hell.

The station had been all quiet up to that point. All of a sudden I get four new red signatures -- retractable heavy missle turrets pop out of it's superstructure and start letting loose. It seems that someone on the Gallente side had finally realized what was going on. The Vincent is armed with blasters that have an optimal of less than 5km, and the station is about 25 clicks away, so I immediately jam her into full afterburner and start heading for the station knowing that this is gonna be ugly. The Navy Surveillance guy is screaming, the bridge staff is picking themselves up off of the deck scrambling to adjust the shield boosters, and missles keep coming in.

At this point I've had a sort of pressure building in my head through the entire op, and with the sudden increase in stress things started becoming really painful. I got us in close to the station and started blasting away at the launchers. Firing the Vincent's weapons didn't help things much, at least in regards to the pain I was feeling. At this point it was more than the normal burning from mangled shields -- this pain was coming from inside of me. I managed to keep it together long enough to finish off the launchers, but as soon as the last one melted into slag I blacked out.

Ethan fingers the paper medical braclet around his wrist.

I woke up in the med station -- still in my original body, thankfully. Apparently they didn't need to drop me into a clone. My contact person had assumed command when I passed out, and the crew had gotten the ship home safely. The doctors don't know why I felt what I did -- they're ruling it stress and over-work for now, and are ordering me to continue this log. I can't make any more sense of it myself -- I'd flown in a dozen combat situations between this one and last time I'd seen the medical staff with no problems at all. Maybe it is just stress.

Ethan pauses as if deciding whether or not to go on.

There is one other thing. I'd assumed that the station had surrendered after I blacked out. They had no weapons left, were crewed mainly by paper-pushing administrators, and the Vincent was still almost completely functional. Well, I reviewed the logs a day later and it turns out that that's only partly true. The station did surrender. They stood down and prepared to be taken into custody . . . and then my contact destroyed them. The Vincent fired on the station until it exploded from within, and then targeted any escape pods within range. He spent a half an hour hunting down escape pods.

Ethan is staring at the camera but his eyes are unfocused -- he is lost in thought. Suddenly he shakes himself back to the present.

I don't know why I mentioned that.

He pauses for a second longer, and then reaches behind the camera.

*End of Entry*

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Entry 02

*Logcam Activated*

The scene fades in more quickly this time and is very similar to the one previous to it. According to the timestamp on the video feed, only a dozen or so hours have passed since the first entry. Ethan sits back heavily into the chair at his desk before beginning to speak.

Begin entry 2.

The computer terminal beeps in the affirmative. Ethan takes a deep breath before continuing, this time looking directly into the camera lens.

Let's try this again. To be honest, I'm not really very comfortable with this kind of thing, so I'll get right to it.

I'm a pod pilot, or capsuleer as some like to call us, but I didn't start out that way. I was born on New Caldari. My family have always been soldiers, and so it was almost expected that I go into the military. I didn't mind -- fighting seems to come pretty naturally to me, and I'm not surprised considering the type of people that my parents are. Don't get me wrong, I love my parents, but they're not the most diplomatic of people. It was a . . . rocky . . . childhood, for me and for all of my siblings.

But that's all beside the point.

I joined the navy straight out of secondary school. Most of my classmates went into various corporate security internship and career training programs. I still remember "careers week" back on New Caldari. Corporate representatives were all set up in the gymnasium, all vying for the most promising candidates. My friends were all wowed by the flashy banners and loud music that was playing -- I tried to get them to look past the advertising to the infighting, corruption, and cutthroat competition that corporate life entails, but none of them would have it (even after two of the representatives got into a fight with one another over an alleged copyright issue that had been in the news). Of course the presentations were slanted heavily towards Liekshone, since our school is run by their parent Ishukone.

The Caldari Navy presentation, however, was much different. The representative spoke quietly and forcefully about our duty to the Caldari state as a whole, about how the navy was the only thing that stood between our lives and death at the hands of the Gallente. The brochures were realistic about one's chances of advancement in the Navy -- while possible, it was very unlikely that one would ever stride the bridge of a battleship as it's captain. I signed up then and there.

When I got home, my parents went ballistic. Corporate security jobs are better than Navy jobs in almost every way -- better pay, better equipment, and the chance for fast advancement if some corporate higher-up takes a liking to you. (It's only natural when you think about it -- aren't the corporations going to look after their own first? They all contribute to the Navy, of course, but strangely enough it's always the most flawed or outdated equipment.) "How could you do this to our family?" "Can you imagine what your grandfather would think?" "Four generations of service to Liekshone and you throw our family name away just like that?!?" They were only mollified when I told them that the Navy representative had told me that, given my test scores, I was right on the threshold to qualify for capsuleer training.

What he didn't tell me was that "right on the threshold" means "not good enough." I failed my first entrance exam to the State War Academy in spectacular fashion. I was even young enough to be surpised, ha -- having been the best student in school all through my childhood, failing at something was a new experience. I spent a year as a machinists' mate on a Drake, studying and perparing for next year's exams. Full of confidence this time, I went in smiling -- and failed utterly once again. It was at this point that my parents started with the "I told you so" routine. I started feeling bad about it until I realized that I could block their interstellar mail address. I guess there are some benefits to being in deep space for months at a time.

I failed the exams twice more. I told myself that my fifth attempt would be my last, and if I failed I would resign myself to a life of reactor maintenance. Lo and behold, I scraped by -- I was admitted to the State War Academy on academic probation. After graduation, I applied and won a scholarship to attend the Eve University, deferring my enlistment for my graduate studies. And that's where I am right now.

However, I'm still subject to yearly physical examinations by a Naval medical officer, and that's where this log comes in. Took me long enough to get around to the point, eh? I've been having some sudden, sharp pains in my head and body ever since I got the capsule interface implants. Most of the time it's not really anything worth mentioning, but occaisionally it can get pretty bad. I know that there's supposed to be pain involved when you're flying a ship in combat, it's only to be expected when you're neural net is wired in that closely to something that's getting shot at. However, I was . . . temporarily . . . convinced that maybe it was something else and made the ultimate mistake of asking the med tech about it. Two hours of lecture about the dangers of pod interfacing later, and now I have an official order to keep this video log as a record of pain I experience while flying. Sometimes I surprise myself with my own stupidity . . .

Not that I have had a chance to fly recently anyway. It turns out that the university, as a corporate entity, can be engaged in warfare just like any of the Caldari corporations. We've been in lockdown for the past several weeks, mercenaries or something -- I don't know. The war should be ending, though, so hopefully I'll have something to document soon.

Ethan pauses before laughing to himself.

Or, rather, hopefully I won't have anything to document.

Ethan reaches forward to a switch behind the camera's field of view, and the feed cuts out.

*End of Entry*

Entry 01

*Logcam Activated*

The darkness fades into static as the video feed initializes. After a few jittery bursts, the view stabilizes and a small, starkly furnished metallic room is visible. The unmade bed, desk, and closet fill most of the available space, and through an open doorway at the back of the room a cramped washroom is visible. A man is leaning over the camera adjusting something -- the image scatters again before finally coming into focus. As he leans back into the chair next to his desk, his face becomes visible. He appears to be in his mid twenties, with a sharp jawline, thick lips, and deeply sunken eyes. A Caldari citizen identification barcode has been tattooed on his right cheek. His hair has been buzzed off in the Caldari military style, but the bristles on his chin and scalp are ragged and numerous. He seems to have trouble looking directly into the camera lense for any length of time, and clears his throat nervously before beginning to speak.

Begin personal journal, Kragstar, Ethan J. Caldari Citizenship Identification Number 348159267. Password is bREh5Get. Confirm password: bravo, romeo captial, echo capital, hotel, five, golf capital, echo, tango.

The terminal on Ethan's desk beeps in the affirmative.

Begin entry one.

Another beep.

This is Ethan James Kragstar's personal journal. I don't really know what to say, I've never . . . done anything like this before. I'm a pod pilot . . . and a Caldari soldier. My original body is, uh, twenty six years old. Right now, uh, I'm in the Korsiki system . . . training for . . .

Ethan trails off, staring at a spot on the floor and seemingly unaware of the nervous tic in his leg that has been developing throughout his short monologue. Suddenly he looks up, reaching towards the camera.

This is stupid. I already know who I am. Why I let him talk me into this I have no-

The feed abruptly ends.

*End of Entry*