December 29, 2014

Battlysts Burn Oto

A strange thing happened to my killboard on my way into the end of the year.  After all the rush of the holiday preparations I hadn't gotten into nearly as many fights as I had hoped.  But after Christmas I got some time to log on and found that a battle was raging for Faction control of the system of Oto.  The next couple days highlight a lot of what I see as the FW experience for a line pilot.  As a spoiler, check out this YouTube video.

Solo Fiddling, Farming, and Podding

When things are quiet FW pilots go off and do a lot of things.  I keep meaning to do more hacking-type skills for exploration sites in low or in wormholes.  I haven't tried FW missions yet and I don't do PI, though both of those things that I hear good things about in terms of ISK/LP generation.  FW missioning is tough for Gallente because the preferred method (running Lvl4s in stealth bombers) doesn't work due to the Caldari NPC combination of missiles and ECM.  I do have to wonder if that actually has contributed to Gallente war success though - other faction such as the Caldari can get swarms of farmers who won't contribute to the war effort below stabbed plex-running and FW missions.  Yeah null-sec Caldari guys, I'm looking at you.

I've toyed with solo plexing, though I think the biggest risk there isn't so much the local Caldari as the local pirates.  We have three major "pirate" groups in our stretch of lowsec that would be glad to pick up some quick kills.  One of them (YUHU - a branch of Overload Everything) has settled into the same station in Fliet as Aideron Robotics and likes to camp the undock and local gates.  We're all familiar with seeing their neutral T3 booster hanging around on gates, supplying links and ready to jump the gate if threatened.  Mark that one as another vote for seeing boosts forced on-grid.

A 1:1 with a local pirate can quickly turn into a blob, but honestly that's not really different than when I was in Rifterlings or what we see in general baiting around.  One thing that does seem to be different is how quickly people will go for pods, and how sebo'd ships are a more central part of the fleet comps that make that possible.  As a group that enjoying camping, it isn't too surprising that having an instalock ship is a fixture in YUHU fleets for instance.  Since Jakob is my main, I tend to always have at least two learning implants in, which is certainly more painful to lose than the empty clones that I see that are presumably more the hallmark of an alt character.  Nullsec readers won't be particularly sympathetic to this, I'm sure.

These small/solo fiddling around is very similar to what I did with Rifterlings.  You get some good fights, they can be quite intense, but you can also have long quiet periods unless you're really willing to roam long-distance and hope you can run any camps you stumble into.  So in that sense I'd argue that FW in lowsec can offer all of the opportunities for small-scale PVP than you'd see as an unaffiliated lowsec (i.e. "pirate") or nullsec roaming group.  If I don't see a fleet up in Aideron and I don't feel like roaming solo then I've recently been hopping on the comms of Rapid Withdrawal (RDRAW - also Gallente FW) and joining their fleets.  And that's how I got particularly more involved in the fight for Oto.

Oto Burns

There had been a couple stabs at Oto over the past month, mostly half-hearted things to bring fights as best I could tell.  I'd get on a fleet some night and we'd drive down the plexes in between leaping out to chase things our scouts found.  Sitting in any complex below Large is a relatively safe way for your fleet to hang out, and one that doubles for LP generation and system control.  If some pirate group roams through in HACs or somesuch you can just watch them go past, but people of your ship class or down can come and jump on you if they're interested.

That changed a few days ago - apparently because of a rash bet made between two of the FW corp leaders in the area.  Dom Pender made a bet that Oto could be flipped in four days, and RDRAW was bent towards this mission.  No longer could the Caldari casually undo the plexing damage done.  Fleets would range from kitchensink Dessy-down to Armor Cruisers and then last night: Battlysts.

The Battlyst is a very simple, cheap ship and there's no real secret to it.  Aideron's kill (and loss) boards have been full of it for quite a while.  Hull tanked, railgun Catalyst with an MWD and a Sebo.  For close range work you load Faction Antimatter and a Scan-Res script.  For long range work you load the range script and Faction Iron.  You get a pile of those together and you have an alpha that lands every second that pops frigate hulls in two volleys.  Here's a video from last night - you'll see that the enemy ships are dying pretty much as fast as the FC can call them.  In fact, Dom practically gives up calling them verbally and just broadcasts them as fast as he can.  Frigates, Destroyers, Assault Frigates, even a Stratios and a Confessor go down quickly.  As the targets scatter we burn after them, our tackle ships (ranging from Atrons to Keres) keeping them on the field, and the range of the railguns meaning they can't easily range-mitigate the damage.  Contrast this to the classic gank-Catalyst, whose blasters require it to be sitting on the target for maximum effect and thus doesn't work as well for fleet action.  It's also an interesting contrast to the other Aideron doctrines which focus on drones, which means there is a delay as the drones travel from target to target.

Basing out of Oto over the past few days we chased after a group of Omen Navy Issues (twice that I've been around for) who kept running from us, killed a Rattlesnake, broke multiple Caldari FW fleets, and at tangled with a pretty heavy YUHU fleet (I didn't see the end of that one after getting podded).  Oto became one of the hottest systems in the Gallente FW effort.  RDRAW is the top corporation for kills in Gallente FW this month.  My personal killboard for December basically doubled in the past two days (which I know isn't saying too much compared to many folks).  More importantly I was in a lot of exciting fights in a range of ships from frigate to cruiser and from solo to 5-6 ships to 30+ ships.

Lessons Learned (or to be Learned)

  • FRAPS.  We're on a big kick to record everything in Aideron to learn from the fights.  I've been fiddling with my FRAPS lately - I seem to keep getting my hotkey to start recording either superceded by Eve's hotkeys or not working.  I think this will be particularly big for making sure I'm keeping at the right ranges for the targets and when I should or should not be running my prop mod.
  • Implants.  Given the nature of fleet fights, I'm debating the value of implants.  Having 3% more armor or 3% more damage may well help the overall fleet effort, but the 3% better agility perhaps is only useful when in more solo/small-gang situations.  I have to weigh that against the costs when getting podded.
  • Pods.  I've lost a lot more pods after joining FW.  That may just be a natural match with being in more fights and larger ones.  Experienced pilots repeat that you shouldn't lose your pod in lowsec (barring lag and such).  I think an entire blog on "how to lose your pod" may be needed from the little bits I've learned over time.  Ex: You incur a session timer when your ship is destroyed that keeps you from taking a gate, which explains how I lost a pod while spamming jump on the gate I was crashing under fire from a YUHU camp.

This morning Oto fell to the Gallente.  Next!

December 27, 2014

Eve Podcasts of 2014

Back in August I wrote about the (then) current state of podcasting.  At the time the bittervet disease seemed to be sweeping through the podcastiverse, making formerly great podcasts a downer.  Since then CCP has moved to six week releases, started shaking up the meta of Eve, and generating a huge amount of enthusiasm.  I've definitely seen this in the podcasts, so it's only fair to revisit what's out there.  And since this is Eve, let's do it competition style with a top three:

Most Improved: Declarations of War

Declarations of War was in a real drag in August of 2014.  I said: "This used to be one of my favorite podcasts, but recently it's seemed like Alekseyev Karrde is succumbing to bittervet disease."  The Pheobe release has marked a turnaround for DoW, and the most recent episode was one of the best I've heard from DoW perhaps all year featuring a discussion back and forth between Alek and a recent contract target: Thaddeus Drake of Violent Declaration.  Alek is clearly energized again - it's good to have DoW back.

Most Consistent: High Drag

Even when the recording software isn't turned on, somehow High Drag manages to get their podcast out thanks to their Twitch-stream format and their loyal fans.  Coming out regularly and constantly having good stuff to talk about - what more do you want from a podcast?  I particularly liked Fintarue's recent piece on flying the Firetail as a good trainer towards a Dramiel - that's an idea I'd love to hear more about.

Most Timely: Hydrostatic Podcast

Hydrostatic podcast exploded on the podcasting scene with a tight format and a focus on lore - just in time for CCP to really start ramping up the internal plotline that had laid dormant for so long.  When HP put out the Rhea Lore Panel it was quickly recommended and linked across the Eve blogosphere and podcasts.  Until putting together this blog I hadn't even noticed that they've kept a constant mailbag going on lore questions too, so check it out.

Beyond these great podcasts here's one more I can't let go of:

Most Awaited: Fly Reckless

Real life has been conspiring to keep Fly Reckless down this fall, to the point where by the time the podcast hits the air it will be discussing an "upcoming" release that has been out for a week or two.  This is a real shame, since it means that Connall's speculations are shy of one last tweak from CCP and implementation.  I've always enjoyed hearing Connall Tara talk about ship rebalancing, so I feel like I've missed his enthusiasm with the Confessor and the Recon rebalance.  Here's hoping that in 2015 real life will let up a bit and bring the podcast back into sync with Eve.

And to close things out...

Since August I've also started listening to Derping Through War.  This one is particularly relevant to me as a Gallente Faction Warfare pilot.  The strength of the podcast is in discussions of fights, fits, and tactics.  The downside is that it can be awkward in the ego-driven boasting that is not uncommon around the Eve community.  It's definitely staying on the list.

Also still on the list, but less to say about them:
* Broadcasts from the Ninveah.  Kirith Kodachi is a wonderfully stable presence between his podcasts, running public fleets on Aideron, and generally contributing all over the place.
* Cap Stable.  This podcast is focused on what's going on with the HERO Coalition, and for a few episodes even billed itself as the official podcast of that coalition (though not the latest one I noticed).
* Crossing Zebras.  Of all the podcasts on my August list, CZ is the one that has managed to get the lease bounce from the huge upturn in Eve.  Perhaps it's because Xander and crew are still bound down in null-sec and haven't been able to enjoy the changes.  For some reason Xander keeps HVAC around even though he isn't playing Eve and just has a constant downward pressure on the mood of the 'cast.
* Down the Pipe.  Lots of turmoil back and forth here, and I expect the podcast is going to go on hiatus as I hear Bronya is taking a break from Eve.  It's a shame - I've always enjoyed the Storytime theme of DTP.

December 19, 2014

D-scan - towards a unified scanning and probing system

We have some big changes to D-scan coming with the Proteus release, as announced in the Recon Rebalance thread.  There is a lot of … let's just say "feedback" … from the community on the impact of making Force Recon ships invisible to D-scan.  Really I think this is an opportunity for CCP to do something much more deep and interesting with D-scan.  Right now we have a D-scan that provides perfect information.  That takes away ambiguity, which is a shame in a game that is as complexly nuanced as Eve.  What if we change that to provide a fog of war?

Current D-Scan

Let's recap briefly before we launch off to the proposal.  D-scan currently reaches out to 14.3 AU or 2,147,483,647 km (which probably not coincidentally is the maximum value of a signed 32-bit integer).  You can change the angle of your D-scan from 5 degrees to 360 degrees.  Recently the user interface changed to make both of these values (range and angle) more easily manipulated with sliders.

If a non-cloaked vessel is within the range and angle of your D-scan then you see exactly what the ship is but not how far away it is, unless it is already on grid.  You do not see pilot information nor indeed if there even is a pilot in the ship, leading to what many people call "POS trash" - ships that are unpiloted but inside of the force field of a POS.

So we've identified a couple things here to play with.  Let's consider if we changed the level of precision that we see with two of them: ship information and distance.

Directional Scan Strength

Consider if the baseline for all ships was 1 D-scan strength.  This allows scanning to 14.3 AU - we'll call that 1 "bracket".  What if some ships such as Force Recon, Interceptors, and Interdictors had a D-scan strength of 2, allowing them to scan 28.6 AU (2 brackets)?  These ships would then be a valuable asset to fleets, allowing them to more rapidly scan down distant gates and plexes.  What if a module such as a "Directional Scan Booster" allowed you to add additional D-scan strength to your ship, adding an additional D-scan bracket?

(Credit where it's due: the original idea here came from Kyle Yanowski both on the forum and in our corp chat)

Stealth Rating

Consider if the baseline for all ships was a 0 stealth rating.  This would mean that they had no ability to avoid being d-scanned.  But then perhaps Force Recons had a stealth rating of 1.  When the D-scan algorithm hits a possible target ship, it compares its strength to the stealth rating and the distance bracket.  So at less than 14.3 AU, a baseline ship will see another baseline ship, but would not see a Force Recon (+1 Scan, -1 Stealth = 0).  A Force Recon (+2 Scan) would see a baseline ship at 28 AU (2 brackets) but not another Force Recon, but would regain the ability to see that target Force Recon at 14 AU (1 bracket).

What if there was a "Stealth Booster" module that allowed a ship to increase its stealth rating?

Partial Information in D-scan

When you use Combat Probes, you get progressively more information about a ship.  I've often wished we saw that kind of progressive disclosure in D-scan.  Consider if we saw this:
1 bracket to 0.75 bracket = Ship Hull Size  (ex: Cruiser, Frigate)
0.75 bracket to 0.50 bracket = Ship Hull Type (ex: Vexor hull, Punisher hull)
0.50 bracket to 0.25 bracket = Full Ship Information (ex: Ishtar, Retribution)
0.25 bracket to 0.00 = Full Ship Information, Pilot Name, actual distance at time of scan

Note that your bracket is independent of the scan range you've selected on your D-scan interface, so if you're tuned down to 1 AU then the first time you see a ship you'll have full information on it.  Again, ships with higher D-scan strength rating become valuable to be able to more accurately scout out opponents.

Interaction with Combat Probing

The Proteus-proposed changes already have introduced an new dynamic here.  In order to see if there is a Force Recon somewhere, you will have to combat probe where you think they may be (ex: in a FW plex).  There is also an interaction already that I personally find disconnected - that the sensor strength of a ship (otherwise only used against ECM) provides protection against being probed (see also Slippery Pete doctrine).  What if instead we keep the sensor strength to its combat role against ECM, and use Stealth Rating?  Given "Stealth Booster" modules, we still allow the possibilities of Slippery Petes, so we haven't taken away that niche.

Interaction with Cloaking

What if we consider cloaking part of this unified proposal of scanning and stealth?  Perhaps a cloak provides additional Stealth ratings, but it could be overcome by a sufficiently prepared counter?  For instance, let's consider that a T2 CovOps Cloak provided a +5 Stealth, and perhaps other Meta Cloaks provided a lesser (or greater) benefit?  As before, modules could increase the stealth rating of the defender and the scan strength of the scout.

Another possibility would be that being under a cloak decreases your scan strength - so a CovOps scout tracking an enemy fleet might need to do so uncloaked in order to get the best possible information, making them vulnerable to being scanned and dropped on.

If we really want to keep going, we could then complete the unification of the system by saying that being on grid with a target gives you an additional level of scan strength.  This is how we suddenly see the actual distance on our D-scan when on grid, and how we will see the Force Recons on d-scan (as mentioned in CCP Rise's follow-up comments on the thread-naught).

I think there are a lot of possibilities here to bring a more unified, coherent system of scanning and probing to Eve, and I hope that CCP is able to entertain these idea.

December 17, 2014

Is Rhea placesetting the capsuleer stargates?

I'm pretty happy as the lore develops that my pod'n'planet story might be reasonably close to what will happen.  One thing that I've seen around is the idea that the capsuleer built stargate will end up being either in Thera only, or in the shattered star systems.  I don't think this is a good idea.

(I'll call this thing just a stargate, though we'll really need a new term and I won't be so self-centered as to recommend that my "throw-gate" from the story be that term.)

Following The Prophecy too closely?

It seems like it would be a lost opportunity for the stargate to only be buildable in Thera.  Capsuleers combining forces against the empire sounds great, but it goes against the player-generated content theme of Eve.  Do we really expect that CCP staff will have an ongoing grand event to command a series of fleets to attack the player-built stargate to fullfill the Prophecy trailer?  Do we think that CCP would rally Empire-loyal capsuleer corporations to do their proxy work?  We've seen what happens when CCP led player groups try to achieve an objective and the null/low powers decide to interfere - I wouldn't put much ISK on the Empire if they were actively opposing a nullsec/WH player group.

Sidenote: If The Prophecy trailer is literally a prophecy then of course we know that the capsuleer stargate cannot be in Thera or any wormhole, since the trailer shows an Avatar Titan coming to the attack.  But I think that's a bit too far to ask of the trailer.

Construction in the war zone

In either of those cases we'd be talking about building a huge structure in a system which has no moons and thus no POS for manufacturing.  So all components would be either built in the stations or flown in.  Unless of course the new starbase design allows these to be more freely anchored.  And of course we're talking about building this thing of unprecedented cost in the system with the most ISK destruction per day of any system in New Eden.

Why limit the great land rush?

Limiting this to Thera only also would imply there is only one such capsuleer stargate.  That misses the opportunity for a race to the great land rush that would motivate the building of the gate in the first place.  What motivation will a group have for building this massive project if there is no competitive advantage that they will gain?

Limiting it to only the shattered systems means more than one capsuleer organization can undertake it, so that's good.  However there is still the matter of being able to control the location of the stargate.  Perhaps it is too much to let the great nullsec powers (who are the ones who will have the resources to do this) bury their stargate system deep into their own defended systems.  I would expect that when coming into operation every gate heading to the stargate would be bubbled and defended to reduce the ability of a cyno ship to slip in.

On the other hand, there is something to the idea that such big nullsec powers would have to stretch their forces out to claim a shattered system and defend it to build such a thing.  As we read recently, nullsec forces don't quite have this WH thing down yet.  But if you're a WH dweller, do you really want the great null alliances moving into the neighborhood and bringing all their baggage with them?

December 11, 2014

On the Second Day of Rhea, My FC brought to me...

Rhea has been good to me.  Phoebe was good to me too.  Seriously, the latest couple sprint releases have just been a lot of fun.  Nonetheless, I've definitely had some things to learn from.  One of them cost me 3.6B worth of pride.

On the First Day of Rhea - Bacon and Thera

I log in and Marcel is calling for ships to undock.  Vexors with enfeebling ECM.  Scramble - I have that mod, I'm in, I'm undocked I'm warping.  Enemies in a plex in our home system.  This is pretty much as "push button, receive bacon" as I've ever seen.  I've barely had time to settle into my chair and I'm plugging away at primaries and finding a Scythe to try to scramble with ECM.  Caracals backed by Scythes - as we weigh in we're starting to lose ships.  Somehow we balance - I don't know if it's the Logi wing catching up or the Caracal's getting out of sync or just being too fragile, but soon it's a rout.  Farewell, CalMil and thanks for the fight.  Later I look back and see they were mounting Rapid Lights - so the initial burst started off great, but once we got into their reload cycle it was over.

So then there's chatter on what to do next.  Thera!  Thanks to Eve-Thera and Eve-Scout he have an entrance, but ... it's in highsec.  With all of us less than reputable types we pile into frigates so we can avoid the police, and soon enough we're in there.  There is some weirdness with the grid since there are two nearby stations - there's a target near us but we can't see it because it's on the other grid.  We play warp-tag for a bit until we land near a Vargur and pile on.  Soon the skies are crowded and we're having to bail.

The fleet is ready to try again after upshipping to cruisers, but I know that by the time we reship and try to get through highsec it's going to be late for me, so I step out.  Very nice first day of Rhea though.

On the Second Day of Rhea - Confess your Sins

I hop into the fleet chat and undock to a pretty much immediate fight again.  There's someone moving too fast for our Tristans, so I dock back up and hop into my Retribution.  We start hunting around and in an unusual situation we have someone up with Skirmish links.  I must say I like to look of my overheated Warp Disruptor having a 31km range.  We bang around a bit and then head out roaming.

A Confessor is spotted on dscan.  It's unclear if the Loki nearby is boosting him, or just hunting him like everyone else.  Sard Caid is around in a Thorax, so that's keeping us on our toes since any slip and he'll probably find some way to down a straggler or anyone foolish enough to engage him on a gate.  I keep looking for the Confessor, but I figure that I must be pointing my narrow-band D-scan in the wrong direction.

Our fleet is split over a gate and suddenly there is excitement.  Scram + Web on the Confessor.  Jump, Jump.  Am I on the right side of the gate to see the Confessor or not?  I think I am, but I can't see the damn thing.  Then it dawns on me that my overview isn't updated to see Tactical Destroyers.  I have all brackets on, so I start locking, Scorch'd lasers overheated and pre-loaded... but just as I've almost gotten him locked he is reduced to a capsule.

Yup.  Confessor Kill Number Three in all of New Eden, and the most expensive fit to date.  I missed it for my own damn fault.  Yup, you followed that link right - if I had gotten in on that kill them my killboard would be green for a long time.  I don't know if I could lose enough of what I'm flying nowadays to drop my efficiency below 99%.  Yes, all the usual disclaimers about the twisted logic of killboard ISK efficiency and all, but still.  Bummer.

The Reddit thread on the kill is amusing.  Connall Tara is beside himself at the fit.  I can't wait for Fly Reckless to get back to its ship fitting/balancing geekiness with all that's happened since they were on break.  Come on, Connall, you know you want to!

On the Third Day of Rhea - o7 everyone

The o7 show lands in late afternoon of the workday in my timezone.  I block my work calendar so I'll be at my desk.  Honestly, it's a pretty quiet show compared to recent ones - particularly the last one.  Some teasing about Caroline's Star, some general promises about the coming year, some entertaining sweaters.  Ah, maybe tonight is a good night to take off from Eve.

Or maybe I should get that Amarr Tactical Destroyer skillbook shipped down to my home.  You know.  Just for the future.

Fly Reckless everyone, 'cause flying safe is no damn fun.

December 3, 2014

PnP: Author's notes: Wishing on a Distant Star

My entry for this year's Pod and Planet is set in that future time at the end of CCP Seagull's roadmap.  That time and place no longer feels like a dreamy myth.  Indeed writing this story faced a new challenge: Eve is changing so fast right now, and particularly in areas of lore that could impact this story.  Between when I started the story and now there has been so much announced and hinted at that sometimes I feared I would just have to scrap it because the concepts it was built on would no longer be my speculative projection of CCP's future plans but instead found to be in direct conflict with some newly-released tidbit.  So setting that aside (and hoping there isn't a new Dev Blog I haven't seen yet), let's talk about the wish-upon-a-distant-star I make here.

Throw Gates

These huge gates allow travel from one cluster to another.  While not "throwing" in a literal sense, the idea here is that there is a manual process not unlike a jump bridge where a capsuleer (i.e. player) action is needed.  Launching the fleet requires locking down the target much like probing down a signature, but instead of looking at a display of the star system you're looking at a display of a larger span such as a region.  The idea here is that using this massively expensive gate is an event, something that people will want to be logged in to be a part of, even if just to watch.

The farther future implication would be that once you can built two throw-gates synchronized to each other than you can get the more conventional, automatic gate without a manually-created cyno beacon.  Continuing to need fuel would mean that the distant systems are still a special preserve that are not trivial to roam back and forth to.

The scattering upon landing is also harkening to the wormhole changes, but also I liked the idea to get the feel of a lack of control over such a long distance, matching the "throw" metaphor.  Similarly the concept of "throw damage" is there for that lack of control.  This also means that throwing into an enemy-player controlled space would carry an additional risk.

The lack of conventional CONCORD gates to use for communication of the capsuleer brain upon death is obviously another vital aspect to the story.  This additional risk is part of the new space, much like the risk of flying a T3, though it would be overcome as soon as you have a cloning bay in the new system - assuming you don't lose it.


The prospect of new space, and in general the way the lore is developing, seemed to call out for a new opponent.  Of the ancient races, the Talocan seemed the most interesting.  Recent events and discovers as we line up to Rhea put this aspect at serious risk of being made retroactively incorrect, but it seemed a reasonable risk to take.

The Talocan ships are intended to imply the next generation of PVE that the advanced sleeper and burner missions presage today.  Capsuleer-level power, better AI, and opponent ships that work together.  The willingness to warp away from a losing fight is another aspect that seems hinted at, which would force PVE players to mount points just like PVPers would, thus continuing to close the gap between the two.  Players should see these as a challenge, much like the Sleepers sound like they were right after WH space opened up (which is before my time).  The Talocan being interested in podding players is just some extra danger-spice, which we do see today with CCP's more recent exploration sites.

Ideally I'd want the Talocan to be a mystery, thus the reference to the players FRAPSing the fight so they can analyze it later.  This implies they aren't already obvious in the database, which I grant is perhaps a step to far since it would imply a huge change in Eve - though one perhaps CCP will need sooner or later.

The Talocan are also described here as having a cloaked base and the willingness to attack player structures.  My dream here would be something along the lines that more Talocan are spawned at this base on a countdown timer.  If the players don't find and destroy the base (or allow many to escape back to it) then the forces will continue to grow.  If they destroy the base then not only do they have the riches there, but it will become feasible to mine and such without facing attack.  Normal ratting-level of enemy ships could remain indefinitely, just as current known space has apparently no end of pirates to be hunted down by capsuleers.

Ships and Stations

Station Zero is a modular POS, as I hope was clear, which is another thing we know is on the roadmap and the dream of many a veteran player long before my time.  I don't get into this too much in the final scenes, particularly since its defenses are compromised before the attackers even show up.

I couldn't help but throw in a line implying rebalancing of Recons, and I figure that the T3 line would be rebalanced by then as well.  I intentionally keep the number of ships in the capsuleer fleet vague since I didn't want someone to come back with some calculus on how many Rail-gus it would take to do X amount of damage in 10 seconds.  Tomas's Vulture in the middle of the fleet is a hopeful wish that the on-grid links problem will have been handled as well, allowing command ships to become truly the place to command a fleet from.

Customized ship-skins are another item I'm hoping we'll see by the time this story could happen in Eve.  Special units such as a Black-Ops team would gain all the more cache by having their ships be distinct.

Pod and Planet: Flags on Far Distant Stars

In the not-too-distant future, in a New Eden much like our own... a New Eden that could be.

The Throw

The comms channels buzzed amongst the ships that danced in a long conga-line around the massive structure.  While it was clearly a gate, it had none of the elegance of Amarr or Gallente designs.  This was a massive utilitarian artifice besides which mere regional gates would be swallowed whole.  Propped off to one side was the gate command, a small bubble of steel reinforced by shielding elements that guarded it not from the hostile deep of space, but from the central aperture of the gate itself.

"T-space virgins, ready to pop your cherry?"
"Hell, if they're unlucky their cherry isn't the only thing that'll get popped.  This is my second time on this roller coaster. I don't even remember what happened last time."
"Well Gellar, don't fuck up again this time, then. Keep your pod intact until we can finish the broadcast unit."

A calm voice cut across the chatter.  "Tomas here, Battle comms everyone.  Shut the fuck up.  Taki, get those freighters snuggled up to zero.  We can't leave you behind.  Gerald, is the gate Go?"
"Gate is Go, Tomas."
"Joli, is target cyno Go?"
"Target cyno is fueled and ready to go.  No rats here or on the POS. Go."
"Okay everyone listen up.  As you've probably heard, we now know Goonswarm has their own throw gate and their own T-space foothold, maybe not too far even from ours.  They're pissed that we're here and that we've made more throws than they have.  Hell, if it wasn't for the Schism War, they would be way in the lead, but now it's a fair race - and we know how they hate "fair".  As soon as the target cyno is lit and we spool up we should assume that they'll start spooling theirs and trying to lock down on our cyno in T-1.  That means as soon as that gate opens you need to go go go, because we need to close it down again before they can throw a fleet into our system."

"These freighters are vital. We have so much we need to build that we're used to having: a real station, a proper receiving gate, a broadcast station so you can get back to another clone without losing anything. And we need to have our defenses up before another coalition tracks us down - you all know that fight is coming.  So have your finger on that button."

The ships ceased their conga line and joined alongside the four immense freighters that carried the irreplaceable cargo that would be needed by the far distance forces.  The chaotic chatter turned to a cold, nervous silence across the channel.
"Transport, Logi wings - confirm?"  Tomas flicked his gaze back and forth across the scene, looking for anything that might possibly be out of place.  His Vulture command ship was nestled in the middle of the combat wing, not that it would mean he would still be there once their ships were thrown out of the cluster to a distant star.

"This is Taki, Transport is Go"
"Maria here, Logi is Go"
Tomas let out a long breath, then keyed his comms.  "Joli - go for it."
Over 100 light years away a massive cynosural beacon flared.  It rushed out from the hull of the unmanned ship that had leapt in tremendous pre-calculated warps to reach this cluster.  Now that hull was a rough fixture along the spine of the partially-built receiving gate, a collection of panels and projecting beams that would make any Minmatar shipbuilder blush.  The wavering, ethereal lights of the cynosural beacon spread out beyond the farthest reaches of the gate, a titanic expenditure of fuel compared to any cyno lit in New Eden.  But to the distant sensors of the throw gate, despite the mixture of technology both ancient and new, the cyno was a tiny spark nearly lost in the depths of space.
"I see it.  I'm trying to lock it down now."  Gerald stared at his screen in the tiny command quarters of the gate.  His fingers flew as he adjusted the sensors to get a hit on the target cyno, his expensive implants giving him insight within the conflicting feedback.  In his Helios he could probe down a tiny enemy frigate or slippery T3 in seconds, but despite the similar interface locking down the cyno from T-1 was a struggle.
"This is Joli.  Are you guys coming?  This beacon's going to be calling all the rats any moment now…"
"At 87%, I'm trying. I'm getting shadow hits."  Gerald adjusted the sensor beams built deep into the throw gate by minuscule fractions, trying to resolve the distant cyno.
"The Talocan are going to see us." Joli's words were coming rapidly. "You're going to land hot."
A anonymous voice exhaled, breaking comms discipline.  "Shit."
Tomas cut in, his voice even and factual.  "Remember everyone, these are not like Guristas or even Sleepers.  Assume every one of the Talocan ships is the equal of a capsuleer.  Strong shields and they will have logi..."
"Break break.  I have you locked.  Throwing in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ..."

The huge capsuleer-built ring pulsed with energy.  A roar of static filled the communication frequencies, briefly blotting out even the CONCORD-run local channel.  There was a blinding light that outlined the ships arranged around it, from the slender T3 cruisers to the huge freighters.  And then they were gone.

Talocan Welcome

Overwhelmed sensors struggled to compensate for the burst of electromagnetic energy that writhed over the ships as they emerged back into normal space.

"You've seriously scattered." Joli's voice was shrill over comms. "Freighters align for us before the Talocan get on you. Shit, you're all over the place, burn for the gate."
"Joli, pipe down."  Tomas's voice was even and calm.  "We're here now and I'll make the calls.  Freighters align to POS bookmark.  Align, Align.  Anyone with webs should web the freighters.  Michael, burn away from gate, then warp to me when you hit 150 clicks.  Gellar, just burn back towards me.  Logi, lock each other up and repair your throw damage, then start on the combat ships."

The scattered ships began to angle around, Tengus swinging around gracefully compared to the lumbering mass of the freighters.

"Talocan ships decloaking.  Ten battlecruisers, two cruiser logi."  Maria called.
"Shit, they're right on top of me."
"Gellar, overheat your MWD and burn for the fleet.  Get the fuck out of there.  Logi, get reps on him. Everyone who can should be recording this fight for later analysis - we need to learn what these ships can do."
"Maria here, Gellar is 25km out of range of reps. Closing."
"I'm scrammed.  Gellar is scrammed."
"Gellar, align to the POS, get your pod out.  Freighters, status?"
"Freighter 2 and 3 are about to hit warp."
"Combat wing form up on me. Load Lead. Lock the nearest battlecruiser as soon as you can. Maybe we'll draw attention."

The Tengus started to pull together around Tomas's Vulture from their scattered positions. Sporadically their railguns began to pulse, spitting high-speed metal at the distant alien ships. The rhythm of their fire increased as each Tengu reloaded and got into range, until the full fire of the fleet played a constant tattoo against the heavily shielded Talocan.

"Broadcast as soon as you start to take damage.  Maria, don't get too far behind in case they damp you."
"Gellar is about to go into armor."
"We have you locked, just a second Gellar and we'll have reps on you."

The beams playing from the spindle-shaped Talocan vessels ruptured through the shields of the Tengu, cutting through the armor swiftly.  With a burst of ruptured structural fields and power systems the billion-ISK Tengu was reduced to a wreck.
"Gellar is down, minus one Tengu.  Dammit.  I can't believe these rats... oh shit."
The dancing lights of a warp disruptor held the pod in place, if only for a moment before a beam sliced the capsule in half.

Tomas cursed silently before reopening his comms. "Keep on the primary. Taki, status?"
"Freighter 1 and 4 will be warping momentarily."
"Let's get to the POS", a voice piped up, "all we need is the freighters."
"Negative." Tomas cut in quickly. "The Talocan have tried to incap the gate before, we have to put them down.  Primary is broadcast as Target 1.  Secondary will be the logi, Target 2. I want those Huginn webs and a Lachesis point on the logi as soon as the freighters are away."

"They're pulling away, probably trying to keep at the edge of their beams optimal."
Tomas watched the display of the Talocan battlecruiser, its shields only slowly waning under the fire of his fleet, surges of shield transfer undoing much of their offensive work. Caught up in the work of his fleet, he almost missed that his own ship's shields were now being eaten away by the beam fire of the Talocan fleet. He keyed a broadcast for reps, trusting Maria would catch him without needing to speak up on comms, and turned his attention back to offense.

"Reload to Antimatter and switch fire to Target 2.  Overheat.  We want that thing dead."
The Talocan logistics ship twisted in the stasis webifier, suddenly pinned by the bright points of high-intensity railgun fire.  It turned towards a distant point on the opposite side of the solar system.  Its shields began to break as it started to build up speed on its new alignment.  The maneuver was for naught though, as a warp disruptor engaged around it from the distant Lachesis, and the alien logistics ships quickly succumbed to the firepower of the fleet.

Tomas smiled, a silent thanks to the retrofit that Roden Shipyards had made to their Recon ships and the comparable adjustments that the other builders had made to keep up.  The specialists ships allowed his fleet's Tengus to focus on durability and firepower.

"Web them up and we'll run them down.  Target on my broadcast."

The Talocan ships began to fall more rapidly and after a few more went down the rest aligned out and warped. Tomas stared into space - somewhere out there was a cloaked Talocan base that they would need to find and destroy if they really wanted to claim this system for their own. But now it was time to get the fleet to their new home. Tomorrow they would lay down the station egg nestled secure in the freighters and truly plant a capsuleer flag by this distant star.

Station Zero

"I thought for sure that you were going to be able to catch Gellar." Tomas paced across the small quarters, his eyes hard.

Maria held her ground.  "He was just on the edge as we got into range.  If he'd burned straight for you instead of aligning for the POS we could have saved him, if he had warped when he popped he would have saved himself.  He just failed to GTFO."

"Damn.  We need every pilot and every ship.  And now even once they unscramble his brain he won't be back until they can re-align the throw gate."

"One loss - acceptable losses.  And Gellar was an idiot.  We'll be fine.  You have plenty enough to keep your mind on without Gellar."

He stopped, a smile growing on his face.

"I can't believe we're here.  It's not even really New Eden anymore, is it?"  

Maria shrugged, "I'll leave the definition of the cluster boundaries to the scientists."

"Don't you feel it? "  Tomas slapped his hand on the bare metal wall. "This isn't another station dropped in Null."

"Don't hit it too hard."  A smile curled on her lips.  "This modular thing was thrown up so fast in a lot of ways it's weaker than a old-style moon base."  She took a long stride towards him, her eyes fixed on his.  "But I hear you.  Soon we'll have a proper station beyond New Eden.  Beyond the Empires.  Beyond CONCORD."  She curled one hand behind his head, fingers tracing the metal port at the base of his skull.  "A station truly under complete capsuleer control."

"And the Talocan to discover.  What they brought here, what they've left.  Now that we know how to detect their cloaked bases..."

"We can do anything we want here."  She slid her other hand up his inner thigh.  "And I intend to."  Maria pulled his head down to hers.

Midnight in Unknown Space

Maria disentangled herself from Tomas's sleeping grasp, careful not to cause the bed to shift.  His sleep should be deep given how enthusiastically she'd ridden him, but always better to be stealthy.  She briefly considered re-attaching the restraints from their earlier play, but that might just wake him up enough to want more.  Playtime was over; Maria had work to do.

Her bare feet were silent on the tight carpet of the captain's quarters.  The whole place still smelled of new construction.  She paused by the scattered pieces of their clothing at the bedroom door.  The air had a chill to it, but if he did awake it would be useful to have him distracted by her nudity.

With a practiced hand she keyed in Tomas's security code, sweeping through the functionality of the modular starbase and making adjustments. Pulling up the hangar controls, she ordered her Tengu to be refit in preparations for a scouting mission that the records would show Tomas assigned to her just this evening. Everything had to be carefully put into place...

"Maria?  Come back to bed, babe."  His sleepy voice proceeded a shuffling step. "What are you doing up?"

She turned, smile on her face, chest out, eyes narrowed to that mischievous look he fell for every time.  "Just playing with some ideas.  Unless you'd rather play something else..."  Behind her back Maria's fingers played over the console and the ship fitting display winked out. Not fast enough.

"Is that your Tengu?  Why did you have a covert cyno... "  Maria's hand lashed out in the tight shape of a ridge-hand strike.  Tomas reflexively blocked to protect his temple, but her hand instead slammed into the meat of his upper bicep.

"Ow.  What was that for?"  His eyes hardened as he pulled back into a boxer's stance.  "What the hell?"  He wobbled, head tilting loosely as he stared over at the small bloom of blood on his arm.

"Goodnight, Tommy."  Maria held up her right hand so that his eyes could just make out the glint of the injector protruding from the side of her first knuckle.  She relaxed her fingers from the ridge-hand and the injector withdrew just as Tomas's knees gave way and sent him slumping to the floor.

"Oh Tommy-boy, why couldn't you just stay sleeping."  She shook her head as she rose out of her fighting stance.  "Better not be trying to be clever..."  She shifted her weight subtly as she considered a quick kick to his head.  "No, we can't have you go and die and set off a medical alarm."

She half-carried, half-pulled his naked body back to the bed.  "Everyone knows you like it rough, right Tommy?"  She whispered over him as she fastened his arms into the restraints.  "You like a dangerous kind of woman: a certain attitude, a certain shape, a certain set of skills..."  She fastened his ankles and pulled the straps tight.  "You'd think that an experienced FC like you would have learned how to recognize bait."

"Now just in case your neurotoxin training gets you ahead of the curve, let's make sure you don't go crying to Aura."  A ball-gag went into his mouth, leaving him helpless on the bed.

She straightened, looking down at him.  "I admit it has been fun." She ran a hand from his jaw down the muscles of his chest. "You like being fucked, Tommy?  Well, now you're fucked."  She stepped back and started pulling on her clothes.  "But I am looking forward to resculpting back into a body whose shape I chose."  She zipped up the front of the top.  "These boobs are just too big."

"Here, I wouldn't want you to miss the show."  She activated the large console screen to show the undock camera.  "Be seeing you!"

A Distant Light, a Deeper Darkness

In the lonely place between orbits, a Tengu-class cruiser shimmered into sight as its cloak deactivated.  Station Zero, and indeed all of the celestial objects of the system, were sufficiently far away that the ship's presence would not be given away on directional scans from anyone there.

Maria opened a secure conversation channel.  "In position now."
"Confirmed.  Hold."  A distant voice replied.  "Okay, we're ready."

Only someone who know where to look, how to look, would see the covert cynosural field that bloomed from the Tengu.  If the deep-space cyno was a brilliant beacon to guide a horde of friends across far reaches of space, this was a shielded candle beckoning shadowy figures to an unlocked back door.

"Cyno is up."

Moments later the Tengu was surrounded by Redeemer blackops battleships, their jet-black skins broken only by the image of a ninja-suited bumblebee on their flanks.  As the Redeemers turned away from each other and burned to cloaking distance, two Proteus strategic cruisers appeared before the cyno winked out.

"Welcome bros.  So glad you were in the neighborhood."  Maria set her Tengu aligning towards a distant planet. "Guess it's time for me to get on with my scouting."
"Yup, nothing to see here.  Move along."

As Maria's Tengu entered warp a new covert cyno field erupted from one of the Proteus cruisers, even as the Redeemers vanished under their cloaks.

Old Wars Under New Suns

Alarms sounded as the battleships decloaked and the first salvos of lasers began to land on the small starbase.  The klaxons awoke Tomas, his mind swiftly alert even as his muscles ached with the side effects of the toxin.  His jaw worked uselessly against the gag as he screamed his muffled curses.  He enjoyed the restraints for the feeling of danger they brought to bed play, but now the familiar leather bound him all too well.  He stared as the video screen of his quarters showed him the brilliant lances of pulse lasers pounding into the modules of the base.  His eyes darted back and forth for the shimmer of the force field that should be there, until his personal comms sounded with the answer he already knew.

"Tomas!  Respond please.  Someone changed the base forcefield password.  We need your override to change it back."

His muscles strained against the bonds, his jaw working at the gag.  All he needed was to be able to give the order.

"Attention all pilots."  Maria's voice over the comms stilled Tomas in his struggles.  Bitch!  "All pilots get to your ships and warp free of the base.  Warp to Maria.  We'll need to hit them together."

Nooo!  He shouted against the gag and wrenched as hard as he could with his right arm.  Comms quickly became a mixture of calm and panicked replies.

"Roger, warping to you Maria ... 80AU?  This is a really long warp, where are you?"
"Crap, Goon Proteus decloaking.  They must have probed me down."
"If you're not in warp, abort, abort."
"Somebody call primary, maybe we can pull this off."
"We're about to hit structure on the command module.  Someone.  We need someone to force off those Redeemers."

Pain exploded through Tomas's and at first he wasn't sure if he had broken the restraint or his own arm.  His shoulder and elbow throbbed.  He held up his hand, the broken metal of the bed-frame still attached.  He had a moment of triumph right before the bulkheads melted under the laser fire and the vacuum took him.

Reunion and Consolation

Her first conscious breath came in a quick gasp, her brain racing as if from a nightmare.  Maria forced herself to calm.  The steady warmth, the sterile smell - the cloning bay was a false comfort that she associated with failure.  Perhaps not this time.  She threw the release with rushed fingers.   Techs would be here momentarily to run their tests on her, summoned by the animation alarm, but she had to know first.  Date and time, date and time.  The medical display showed only one day after the throw mission.  She had been podded, but she had no memories since throw so...

"Maria!" his familiar voice was now very dangerous indeed. She looked up to see Tomas rushing from the next cloning room, still naked and pink-skinned.

One arm covered her breasts in the false modesty he would expect of her in this less than private space, while her right hand slid to the latch of the personal effects storage chest.  If things had gone wrong, the waist-high storage unit could provide cover and the covert blaster pistol hidden in her effects might be enough to get her to a ship.

"Maria, the Goons, the fucking Goons. Joli was able to report back before they incap'd the target gate." He came to a stop just before her. "We've lost T-1."

Her hand relaxed on the locker's latch.  His guileless face told her everything she needed to know.

"We're very sorry Commander."  The med-tech's voice was clinical as he approached before stopping at a respectful distance.  "We've recovered both of your brain patterns from the imaging we made before you undertook that mission.  Since this is an experimental technique you may experience more pronounced gaps in previously encoded neural responses than with the traditional burner-scan method.  We'd like both of you to report for scans so that we can determine if any follow-up treatment will be required."

It was all she could do not to smirk.  Here he stood naked and vulnerable before her.  This alliance was now worked over more even more than she had ever done to his physical body.  And when he learned, as eventually he surely would, then the fullness of her mission would be complete.  Now she needed only to play our her final scenes before departing the stage.

"Tomas...." tears filled her eyes.  "All that we worked for..."  She opened her arms as she stepped out from behind the storage chest, an invitation for him.  His eyes made the predictable darting glance as he rushed forward to wrap his arms around her.

"It's okay Maria."  He whispered in her ear.  "There are two other deep-space cyno probes en route now that we haven't told anyone about."  Her eyes widened.  "There will be more T-1s."

She sighed into his shoulder. Still more work to be done.

(for those interested, author's notes)