The warm hydronanite compound flooded into the pod like air into a vacuum, filling every nook and crevice with it's warmth. It's viscosity inhibited movement, but not in a forceful way. It was like being suspended in slow motion, stuck in a time warp where everything happens gradually, a bubble where everything slows down, echoes.. The natural instinct is to fight it, to panic, but as you grow accustomed to the change in atmosphere, it becomes comfortable, natural, easy.
The inside of my pod glowed a gentle amber, not unlike how you'd imagine a womb would look from the inside if a bright light were placed directly on the mother's belly. Tubes and wires, like villus in placenta, snaked throughout the small vessel, providing video feed to my optical interface, voice coms, food for my belly.
It wasn't always that way, though. The first few times you enter a pod are extraordinarily disconcerting, especially for those born planetside or, for that matter, not Jovian. The process is automated, quick, not entirely painless; tubes and wires, interfaces robotically plug in rapidfire, without a hint of hesitation, without warning. Machines lack that certain finesse inherently possessed by organic lifeforms; a pleasant side effect, no doubt, of untold millenia of bumbling our way through the various stages evolution. Though they can be tempered with tactile sensitivity programming, their intuitive senses are simply not on par with those of man; a fact never more evident than when the waste and feeding tubes are installed, or when the optical interface is patched in via temple jacks. One can only wonder how much different the mounting process would be if the pod experience had been engineered by the luxury loving Gallente rather than Jovian/Caldari utilitarians.
The first time in you feel like you're drowning. After being skewered by tube after tube, the chamber floods with a whoosh, almost instantneously, the hydronanite compound, pushes out all the air, forces itself into every possible space. You feel oppressed, trapped, and assaulted, but, above all, panicked. In some ways, drowning is an apt description of what happens. Your natural process of respiration is suppressed, the fluid is far too heavy to move in and out with the ease you're accustomed to, your lungs fill with liquid, and you arrive at that placid, peaceful place the near dead report just before blanking into nothing. Except, it's there you're sustained by the nanites. The fluid allows for respiration, forming a protective shell around the alveoli and feeding you with a steady stream of pure oxygen processed and delivered by the miniscule machines, and only when you've given up, resigned yourself to a terrible fate, made peace with yourself, with God, you realize you're not dead, you realize you're sustained, alive. Happens to everyone. We all see the face of God (what that idea means to us, anyway) as we swim for the first time.
TQ whirred. I refocused on the GUI. DBastards blinked furiously. Round 2 was 40 minutes away, and the Bastards were all business. Ronindata, our CEO, was in the process of running through an inventory of the fleet.
"Good, now that we're all here... Mahn, I want you to go over your fit with me. Tell me what you've got."
The fitting screen popped up on TQ with a gentle whirr.
"Okay, in the lows I've got a DCII, 2 BCS II, a gravimetric ECCM mod. Mids; 2 LSE IIs, 2 invuln IIs, a Y-T8 MWD, and a sensor booster with a range script. Highs; seven arby heavy missile launchers and a small vehemence smart bomb. Rigs; 3 core defence field extenders. Drone bay; 5 light ecm drones."
"You have your invulns spaced between the LSEs?"
"What's in your cargo?"
"I've got Caldari Navy missiles, all four types, 300 nanite repair paste, FoFs, and defenders."
"Cool. Let's get these implants sorted before we move on."
"Okay, well I already plugged in the PG4, and I'm just waiting on the okay from you for the rest of them."
"All right, go ahead and plug them in. Because if you can't plug them in, you've got one of mine."
"Right. So we've got Mahn and his ship sorted. Next Drake pilot, Kulmid. Roll it back, tell me what you've got."
Each member of the fleet inventoried his fit with Ronin in turn. We intended to leave nothing to chance. A win would guarantee us entry into the elimination rounds, a loss put us in the unenviable position of competing for a spot with the other 1-1 corps. Despite the pressure, everyone seemed relaxed, ready to go. We'd been there before, we knew what to expect, this match is in the bag. Next round we're going live in New Eden. Conversation continued sporadically in Fleet, underneath the lively voice coms.
VB Sarge > there we gizzo
Tibberg > lol
Tibberg > rock has some heavy kick ass metal going on
Tibberg > \m/
VB Sarge > got my smart bomb on, fully fit
Tibberg > \0/
Ard UnjiiGo > i'm the free willy
Ard UnjiiGo > "Free Willy"
RoninData > just Free Willy
RoninData > no "
Ard UnjiiGo > Free Willy!!
Ard UnjiiGo > grabbing quick smoke
killing chixor > jack daniels??? try lagavullin and glenmorange yum
Ard UnjiiGo > back
flashfresh > <--unabummer
Fleet chat blinked.
"All right guys, that's enough, that's enough! Everyone, shutup," shouted Kulmid over the chatter.
GM Xamother > Greetings pod pilots! :)
Mahn AlNouhm > o/
Kulmid > hello there
Tibberg > YAAAR
flashfresh > 07
Kulmid > just waiting on one person
Kulmid > hes loggin in now
RoninData > logging in now
GM Xamother > Great. You have about 10 minutes before I move you
Kulmid > ah, excellent
Mahn AlNouhm > rgr that
Kulmid > we are all here now
Coms went silent. We waited.
GM Xamother > Please do not dock, undock or jump, change ships, log out/in, leave/join gang, before you are moved as this may result in you being left behind due to a session change...
He continued with the same rule spam as last round.
GM Xamother > Any questions and is the team ready to be moved?
A pause. We made sure that those who hadn't flown in the last round were on the same page. Consent.
Kulmid > we are ready, no questions
GM Xamother > Moving you to the system now
We blinked out of and back into being again. Seven Drakes, a Kitsune, a Griffin, a Vigil vanished from the station and reappeared thousands of AU away at the Jovian arena, owned and operated by the Caldari Gaming Commission. The fleet floated in space, drakes spun about like tops, pointed in evey direction.
Kulmid > we will be at beacon 2a
GM Xamother > Once you're at the beacon that you've picked, allign to Battle Arena 2, but do not warp to the arena until I give the command.Please let me know when you're alligned and ready.
Each of us made our way to the the beacon, spamming the scanner the whole way, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Cry Havoc fleet before we hit the field.
"Looks like they brought Drakes," mused Kulmid.
"You're joking," Andrew replied.
"I got a looot a lot of Drakes on scan," said Kulmid with a nervous chuckle.
"That's what I'm seeing," I said.
Andrew: "Someone's told 'em."
"I don't think someone's told 'em." replied Kulmid. "They would not bring Drakes to a Drake fight."
"Nobody would." I replied.
Sarge, who'd tuned in to the Tourney channel, observed "Electus Matari had five Drakes on the field, as well."
"Okay, well we might have the upper hand here cause we have ECM drones," said Andrew.
"Five Drakes, two Ishkurs..."
The fleet arrived in spurts, dropping from warp abruptly, changing velocity the way bullets do when hey hit water. All present and accounted for, aligned to Arena 2.
Sarge: "Okay, check this out: one of the Cry Havoc guys warped to us. Is that right?"
"Yup." said Kulmid.
"That's fine. Just ignore it." asserted Andrew.
We all continued to scan feverishly.
"Okay, that's a Hawk. I guess they're not in Drakes..." said Kulmid.
"That's not right..." said Sarge.
"Oh.. Paladins." said Kulmid. This was not good news. Marauders. Amarr marauders. Those Paladins spit EM and thermal damage, the worst possible combination for the heavy shield tanks of Caldari boats. The aplha from four of those behemoths would absolutely wreak havoc on a fleet of Drakes. We'd be banking heavily on our ECM drones and the griffin.
Ten minutes from go time.
"Okay, if they're flying Amarr, what's the lowest resist on them things?" asked Andrew
"Thermal," stated Kulmid. "But we'd be better off using scourge."
"Okay. So should we load up scourge, then?"
"Yeah," Ard acknowledged, "so, the Ishkur and the Hawk are going to make troubles for your support ships, so would you primary them?"
"Yeah, we're going to down them, and get an orbit on the Paladins. They're going to have 90 percent webs on them, so it shouldn't be a problem. What do we have for ECM, all multi specs?"
"On the griffin, all Caldari, on the Kitsune, multis," replied Ard.
"Well, just try to get those Paladins jammed."
The Cry Havoc Hawk continued to float alongside the fleet. No doubt, using a passive scanner on each of the drakes to see which ones should be called primary.
Kulmid > there is a Cry HAvoc guy here
GM Xamother > Who?
GM Xamother > at your beacon?
Mahn AlNouhm > cuny
Kulmid > yes
Tibberg > KILL HIM
Tibberg > RIGHTCLICKDOUKEN
flashfresh > Cuny
GM Xamother > Did he warp out?
Kulmid > yeah
Kulmid > still got to see our fleet though, no so happy about that
"That's a bit shit, right there, how they warped in on top of us," said Sarge.
Tibberg > yeah
Tibberg > bit of an advanteage
"That's why I'm making a big stink about it in local."
GM Xamother > You can see the fleet with your scanner
Kulmid > he got ot see what kinda guns we have etc.
Tibberg > haha. almost got away with it
VB Sarge > he got to see pilot names though as well
Kulmid > we can't see what kinda guns they ahve to decide what range to warp into
Tibberg > haxxors
GM Xamother > Hmm, you have guns on the drakes? :)
Kulmid > some ships do
Kulmid > not us
Ard UnjiiGo > civilian
Tibberg > i have an autocannon
Kulmid > they have more intel than us pre-warp in
Kulmid > that's the point
Kulmid > if I warped to their beacon and saw their fleet
Kulmid > I'd know what range to warp in at
GM Xamother > You can use the scanner to see what ships the other team has
Kulmid > alright, whatever
RoninData > s'ok
"Doesn't matter, it's okay. Doesn't matter. They fucked up," said Ronin.
"Well, if I we can get something for it, I'll take it," said Kulmid.
Kulmid > the point is if I warped to his fleet, saw they have beams fitted and so I warped in close, or saw they have pulse I'd warp in far
Kulmid > that's my point
"Fair play. Well, not fair play, but" Ronin chuckles, "I see his point."
GM Xamother > I understand your point. However in this case as the fleet consists of Drakes with launchers the damage is very minimal
GM Xamother > As the Frigates dont dominate what range you would warp in
"Well, that's about the shittiest reply to that situation... " said Sarge.
"Just, don't fight with them about it. Leave it be."
"So, what exactly is their fleet? cause, I'm seeing a lot more than ten ships," asked Joe.
A quick run down of the scanner revealed the answer. "Looks like Four Paladins, two Hawks, two Ishkurs." I looked carefully. "Three Ishkurs, my bad." I did a double take. "Four Ishkurs. Holy fuck, that's a lot of Ishkur." I said.
"Yeah, four battleships, six AFs. It fits."
Fleet blinked again.
GM Xamother > Please warp in now, and remember not to move once here, then keep an eye on local for CCP Claw to give a 60 second warning, then a 10 second countdown, and after that start the fight.
"Okay, warp in to battle arena 2 at 50. That's 50 km," said Kulmid.
Our warp drives spun up, and each of us dropped into the arena exactly where we'd intended to. The Cry Havoc fleet had opted to warp in at zero.
"Yup. Okay, what we're going to do is burn back toward to team 2 a beacon. We're going to kill the support ships first."
"What's going to be primary?" asked Ronin.
"The Ishkur, Kel Solaar, will be primary. Secondary, will be Tomski Ruslav. Tertiary will be Seasi Bomba. Everyone got that?"
A cacophany of affirmations flooded coms.
"Again, that's Kel Solaar, Tomski Ruslav, and Seasi Bomba."
"Who do you want me to put jams on?"
"The Paladins. If you've got Caldari jammers, put them on the Hawks."
CCP Claw > 1 minute until match begins in Arena 2
CCP Claw > we are in hold for a second
CCP Claw > ok, we are good, match begins in 30
"30 seconds, guys," I say. The adrenaline is started to pour into my veins.
"Okay, get ready to burn away," said Kulmid. "Try to stay about 60-70 km from the Paladins, but remember to be aware of the boundaries. Make sure you've got large collidable objects on your overview."
CCP Claw > 10 seconds until match begins in Arena 2
CCP Claw > 5
CCP Claw > 4
CCP Claw > 3
CCP Claw > 2
CCP Claw > 1
CCP Claw > go
The 19 MWDs on the field roared into action, moving the massive hulks of engineering and technology in roughly the same trajectory. We locked the primary, secondary, and tertiary targets, spewing heavy missiles at them with everything we'd had.
"They're smartbombing, the ishkurs," said Kulmid.
"Okay, pull in your drones." said Ronin.
"I'm going down fast guys," said Ard.
An explosion rocked the arena.
"Maltrox is down."
Another explosion. Hulks of shrapnel filled the arena, bouncing off the shields of nearby Drakes. One Ishkur down.
"Okay, Tomski Ruslav is primary."
Another flash lit up the arena.
"Kitsune down," said Ard.
"Who was tertiary? Seasi?"
"Okay guys! That's far enough. Don't mwd any further. Hit orbit on that second beacon. We don't want to hit the edge of the arena."
The Paladins were bearing down on us like grizzly bears, a steady stream of beam and pulse laser fire tore into the drakes like massive claws, slicing through shields, melting and burning through the armor. They'd fit MWDs and were closing fast. Drones were all we had for ECM support now, and they were being rapidly chewed up by the smartbombing Paladins.
"I'm jammed." said Sarge.
ECM drones. The Paladins, evidently, had fielded them, too. Another Ishkur flared up, engines smoking, faltering. It lit up the sky like lightening. I squint my eyes. The Ishkurs drones go dead, careening, hurtling through space like so many pieces of rock. 2 down, 4 AFs, 4 Paladins to go.
"Okay, Cuny is now secondary. Saesi is primary."
"I'm being damped! Now I'm being ECMed! Smartbombs away!" shouted Ronin over the sound of another, much larger explosion. A pod warped out.
"Sarge is out," said the venerable VB Sarge.
Tibberg's Vigil went up in flames.
"Who's next?!" shouted Ronin.
"Saesi Bomba primary, Cuny secondary!" asserted Kulmid. "Hawks have damps on me. I can't lock anything."
The Paladins continued to move forward relentlessly. The bulk of the fleet was now well within range of their fearsome pulse lasers. Shields began dropping fast.
"Can we get some jams on?" asked Ronin
"They're all dead," I reply. Shit. "I'm being jammed."
Another massive explosion lit the sky. Another Drake, no doubt.
"All right, Ronin's out. Pleease try and get one of them battleships down."
"I can't lock anything." I stated with a hint of resignation.
Voice coms went silent, each member of the fleet trying hard to pull some sort of miracle performance from their ships, but to no avail. Laser fire came relentlessly. The combination of ewar from the AFs and the ECM drones of the Paladins had gutted our sensors. We couldn't lock, couldn't hit them, couldn't jam them. Another explosion. Another Drake.
My boat jolted suddenly as the first volley from the four Paladins burned into my shields. I could feel the heat from the lasers in my pod, warming the hydrostatic fluid. My shields were dropping fast. Still jammed. Still damped. 1/4 shields. 2/5. 1/5. Into armor.
"I'm going down" I announced to fleet.
Another powerful volley from the Paladins melted into the structure of my ship, incinerating deckhand after deckhand, burning through the vessels vital systems. Life support on the ship was now gone. The power grid was working overtime to keep everything, anything online. The ship groaned, it's crews resigned themselves to their fate. They would wake up in a clone vat in Evati moments from now. Oxygen sprayed into space like a mist, then dissipated like a cloud as new holes burned through the hull. The ship rocked violently as the focused laser heat melted into the missile payload. My optics went black to guard against the searing blue white light of the explosion, the hydrostatic gel hardened to absorb the shock. A massive shockwave pulsed out from the core of the ship, spitting my pod into the arena. The Drake, Bush Dodger, was done.
"I'm down." I declared to the remainder of the fleet. I warped my pod to exit 2. Six other members of the fleet sat waiting for the outcome. We'd taken down 2 frigs so far. No hope for a battleship. The best we could do was take down one or two last frigs. With the way things appeared to be going, one would be a thrill, two would be a miracle.
"Have you managed to get a battleship down yet?" Asked Andrew over coms.
"No. We're not going to get a battleship down."
"We should have focused on them instead of the Ishkurs." I state.
Someone breathed a sigh into voice coms.
"Flash is down."
"Fuck, the dps output of them things is disgusting." said Ronin.
"We should have primaried the Paladins as soon as our support went down."
"Well, I don't know about you, but I couldn't lock the Paladins.
"Dan Mart is down."
Another pod warped in.
"So they just lost 2 AFs." said Ard.
"Fuck," said Ronin, "Fuck."
"That's, what, 8 points?" I asked semi rhetorically.
"Looks like DanMart popped one just before he died."
"So, 12 points?"
"Yeah, well there wasn't much we could do."
"Good work guys."
CCP Claw > gf
Kulmid > gf guys
RoninData > gf
CCP Claw > Ok guys
Deja Thoris > gf
VB Sarge > gf o7
Kel Solaar > gf
CCP Claw > please warp to your exit beacons
Mahn AlNouhm > gf
Tomski Ruslav > gf
Ard UnjiiGo > gf
CCP Claw > your GMs will be back online shotly
CCP Claw > shortly too
CCP Claw > and get you moved back to where you need to be
Tibberg > gf 07
DanMart > gf
The fabric of space-time stretched once again, pulled up and at an angle as I popped back from the arena to Kaalkaiota station in my pod. The Drake I'd hoped would carry us to victory smoldered in Jovian space, a shattered, twisted agglomeration of alloys and plastics. The chemical fires ignited by the unhappy combination of Amarr lasers and a hefty payload of CN heavy missiles hemorrhaged plumes of flame into the field of debris. The arena was cluttered with the remains of seven Drakes, a Griffin, a Kitsune, a Vigil, and three Ishkurs. Four Cry Havoc Paladins, engines thrumming gently, slid gracefully through the detritus like killer whales through a murky harbor. A torn and wrenched section of bulkhead from the Kitsune bounced off the hull of the forward Paladin.
We miscalculated, badly.
I watched the chat window of DBastards blink with a steady stream of "good fight"s and "well done"s. The support pouring from the rest of the corporation was encouraging, but the pall of disappointment was palpable. Last round, we'd shoehorned ourselves into position as a sleeper pick for the tourney due to our manhandling of KIA Alliance Ishtar swarm, picking up 125 points in the process. This week we scored a paltry 12 points, the result of taking out just three of the six assault frigates fielded against us. We were now white knuckle, hoping for hell death after hell death from the teams tomorrow, hoping that our 137 points were enough to give us one more chance to fight on. It wasn't to be.
We ended up 39th of 64 teams, 7 positions out of qualifying for the elimination rounds. Next year.
My pod docked, and the hydrostatic fluid drained as quickly as it was flooded in. Amazing fluid. Leaves you completely dry. The tubes, the wires, were all unplugged as unceremoniously as they'd been plugged in. I stepped out into the docking bay, cold steel, and turned towards my personal quarters. My android greeted me at the door with a glass of Vatian single malt whiskey.
"Would you care for something to drink, sir?" she asked.
I took the glass from her and sighed. Lifting it to my lips, the oaky, spicy flavor of the malt hit my lips and cascaded down my throat. It burned warmly in my stomach. The bright light of the station beaming in through the window was harsh.
"65 percent opacity," I tell the droid. She complies and the room cools, dims. I sit on the leather couch, sip again from the glass of whiskey. The whiskey reminds me of the interior of my pod. Another sip, and I place it on the end table.
"No coms tonight."
"Yes sir," she replies.
My head is pounding. I kick my shoes off and recline. The world fades out to the distant sounds of the star dock.