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PostPosted: Thu Sep 03, 2015 4:54 pm 
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Bread and Circuses

I continued my routine of trading and hunting, as well as delivering crime reports for Senator Duval and was feeling overall satisfied with my lot in life. I could only hope Moss would feel the same if he were here.

I decided to legally tweak my name a bit. Walking around in someone else's skin is creepy at the best of times, and being called by a different name doesn't help matters. By making Violet my first name maybe I could strike up some normal text conversations with people... I might even be able to pretend I'm my old self again. I'll just have to remember never to go to voice or meet them in person.

No. You know what? That's just wrong. If there's anything these past few months have taught me it's that I can't get my past back. My body is a desiccated husk circling a dead world off the shoulder of Orion, and my brain is an organic blanket of nanocircuitry hitching a ride on someone else's grey matter. There is no going back, only forward.

And forward seems to have taken me in a strange direction. I looked into the CQC upgrade that mechanic was talking about, then looked into more research about it.

I was both intrigued and disturbed by it.

Since coming back to the land of the living I hadn't spent much time planetside anywhere. Sure, Moss stopped off at Earth and took a grand tour of the big cities, including the underwater parts, but for the most part life has been on ships and space stations.

But when we were on Earth I noticed these virtual reality hubs people were going to, and suddenly the words "opiate of the masses" sprang to mind. People had these things in their homes, but those who couldn't afford a proper rig could rent them in huge complexes. In there you could do pretty much anything you wanted. Sure they have warnings on them like cigarettes a thousand years ago did, but nobody cared. If your reality wasn't up to snuff, you could have a second life online.

The sick thing of it was that it's not like you could have anything you wanted online for free... you could just get it cheaper. Can't afford a sports car in reality, drive a sports car in virtual reality for a tiny fraction of the cost... But it's not real. You're already spending money to spend time in this make believe land, and now you're spending extra to get goodies that cost nothing to make or reproduce? It's not like there's manufacturing costs in the code, you know.

Ugh, I must be getting old... well, I guess I am over a hundred and fifty or so technically. But it just seems wrong somehow. The VR rig I have on board the Troubadour is strictly an entertainment system for certain kinds of movies. I never used it for a virtual world before. Quite frankly I got enough of that being stuck in the virtual library when I wasn't wanted in Mossfoot's consciousness.

But some of that stuff I learned about later was just sad... how people with low end jobs would use what little disposable income they had to get a decent virtual house to live in and spend all their time there with virtual friends in the neighbouring pods...

Then, not that long ago, there was a kind of backlash to it all, a kind of Tulip Mania Economic Crash if you will.

Oh, look it up if you don't know it. I read about it in one of the infinite books I was stuck with in Moss's headspace library. I still prefer movies and have yet to see it used in one.

At least in Fed space it seemed the latest generation of kids kind of rebelled against the VR bread and circuses they were being given, realizing--shock of shocks--that it wasn't real and going out looking for visceral 'real' experiences. This was leading to a resurgence of gang culture and spontaneous aggression in higher population centers. It went viral, so to speak. Kids went out looking for fights and bloodying each other up, just for the sensation of it being real. I'd see that as a positive thing if it wasn't for the fact that this youth rebellion had no direction, so it just lashed out everywhere.

But that leads me to how it is being harnessed by President Hudson. He used to be strongly against VR lifestyles, but he's since taken a new stand on it--harness it to create the next generation of fighter pilots.

And the idea wasn't just embraced by the Federation. The Imperials and Alliance jumped on it as well. Why be happy with your virtual mansion and hovercar, when you can be a Top Gun and fight for real cash prizes? You might just be good enough to get a real mansion someday! But in reality those exhibiting talent are approached about their respective government's incentive programs to join the local navy chapter. It's like The Last Starfighter or something.

See, movie references! I bet ten times more people got that one than the tulip thing.

So what does that have to do with me? Well, once this Close Quarters Combat competition started getting popular with the non-pilots who were learning valuable new murder skills, it seemed a number of old space dogs realized this could be used to increase their edge for their next pirate interdiction (either as the interdictor or interdictee). But hey, who has the time to get out of your ship and find a VR hub to rend a booth from? Why not just modify your pilot's seat so you use it from the comfort of your own cockpit?

Next thing you know pilots are able to take a break from their exploring a thousand light years away and engage in some virtual dogfighting to brush up on their skills against other pilots before heading back--just in case.

The beauty of VR streaming is that most of the data is already on your ship, the only information being transmitted is location and action related, which can easily be transmitted by hyperspace channels the same way Radio Sidewinder and Hutton Orbital Radio can broadcast all the way to SagA*, or how pilots talk to one another from across the galaxy in real time. The thought of being across the galaxy and taking time out to compete in a virtual gladiatorial ring thousands of light years away is a bit too weird to wrap my head around in some ways.

So, the question now is, do I go down this rabbit hole?

_________________
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Pilot: Mossfoot - Ship ID: Viaticus Rex (Cobra MKII)
Rank: Competent - Status: Clean

http://www.noahchinnbooks.com/


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 07, 2015 5:11 am 
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Nice incorporation of CQC into MF/Violet's world.

You've probably got it about right, the top combat pilots and younger (pre)pilots'll be honing their skills for killing, but it could be an outlet for 'angry young pilot' syndrome and the rest of the galaxy might enter a quieter, more 'civilised' period of existence. Besides, if there was ever another Thargoid threat - better to put the young angry pilots in the front line :twisted:

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PostPosted: Fri Sep 11, 2015 5:06 pm 
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Hutton Mugged

So it seems Senator Duval isn't having a great week. Some kind of blitzkrieg took place, possibly by Hudson supporters and now her people are scrambling to to damage control. I've been doing my part. I mean, why not? I'm not a die hard Lavigny-Duval supporter, but I approve of her tough stance on piracy. Problem is, she's a traditionalist and not a reformer. And as time goes on I've got a sinking feeling that traditional values are going to lead to a whole lot of dead people.

Scratch that, I think reformers could end up exactly the same way.

Basically, we're all screwed. Grab yourself a Sidewinder and go find yourself an Earth Like World to settle down on a few thousand light years away.

As you might have guessed, I'm not having a great week either. And not just because Trouble got herself locked in an air vent somehow for the fourteenth time. Seriously, the three most common words that come out of my mouth with a ferret on the ship are "How did you...?" followed by a bewildered look. There's a reason the famous thought experiment isn't "Schrodinger's Ferret", because the correct answer would be that the ferret is neither alive nor dead, but in a completely different box somehow.

It's just starting to get to me how indifferent this universe is. For every Fuel Rat out there is someone who would just as gladly blow a stranded explorer out of the sky for a laugh. For every honorable pirate (shocking I know, but I've met some) there are two who would rather have another notch on their control panel than a hold full of goods to sell on the black market.

Take Hutton Orbital, for example. You can't jump directly to its secondary star, which is almost a quarter of a light year away, and it has its own station. It's considered an endurance test to some, a practical joke to others. Some enterprising entrepreneurs tapped into the zeitgeist of the moment and decided to create a rare collectable travel mug that will only be sold from there, using scrap ship wreckage for it.

Funny to think such a thing would be worth anything at all, but you know how the free market works. I talked about Tulip Mania in Holland almost two thousand years ago. Something is valuable only if everyone agrees it is valuable.

It seems some people disagree about the Hutton Mug. In order to produce it, they required pilots to bring them raw authentic ship scrap, and untold numbers of people agreed - seeing the insanely long trade route as a challenge or a laugh.

And others saw it as an opportunity to blow those people out of the sky.

Mind you, I wasn't there. I heard all about this on Hutton Orbital Radio, the other station I listen to besides Radio Sidewinder. There certainly wasn't any legitimate reason I could find for their actions--what they called a blockade. The scrap was worthless and the mugs wouldn't be produced for a week or more after the collection campaign was finished. All kind of pretzel shaped arguments and justifications flew around, but in the end the whole thing boiled down to "because we're jerks."

Murder wasn't on their mind, I'll grant them that. I swear these ejection seats are as much a curse as they are a blessing. Tin cans get popped, seats blip out a safe distance, and the medivacs pick them up and take them back to their last registered station (it's an insurance thing). Under ideal circumstances, the odds of death are low. But they exist.

The medivacs have been very busy lately. And not every pilot successfully ejected.

All over a stupid novelty mug. Sheesh.

_________________
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Pilot: Mossfoot - Ship ID: Viaticus Rex (Cobra MKII)
Rank: Competent - Status: Clean

http://www.noahchinnbooks.com/


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 14, 2015 5:51 pm 
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Down the Rabbit Hole

The Troubadour was docked in Kamadhenu for some long overdue repairs to the ship's structural integrity. Sure it's quick to slap on fresh armor plating or repair modules that can be easily slipped in and out, but when the bones of a ship gets weak? Those kind of repairs take time - crews have to sweep over the whole ship stem to stern, using high energy resonance scanners that target the ship's infrastructure and encourage the alloys to rebond and strengthen back to its factory specs. It was going to take a while, so I headed over to the local spacer bar for a drink and some conversation.

Turned out there was only one pilot there, and he was passed out. I asked the bartender what was up and he muttered about the damn tournaments.

"Seems like every trader or merc out there wants a piece of the action, so they're all jacked in back in their ships."

"Oh." It seemed CQC got very popular, very fast. And every ship cockpit was being equipped with these VR units? There was normally a hundred ships at Shajn Market, and right now almost all of them were plugged in to the same virtual world? Why did this give me a weird Matrix-y vibe?

(The Matrix is another classic movie that's seen a number of reboots over the centuries, usually around the time of a major technological leap when people get paranoid about machines taking over yet again...said the program currently in control of a human's body.)

I didn't want to seem rude so I bought a bottle of wine for the road, but I didn't see a point in hanging out in a place this dead. And if everyone was there, well, I had to admit, I was increasingly curious about this virtual gladiatorial arena.

Eh, what the hell? The structural repairs were going to take a few hours anyway.

I was going to ask one of the sweepers currently working on the ship integrity to call someone to install the VR plugin for my seat, but it seems they already did it while I was out. All part of the service, they said.

Yeah, that wasn't creepy at all. I'm asked, I say no. I turn my back, and they do it anyway. No charge. Looking back that should have made me a bit paranoid. But at the time I was simply excited to turn on, tune in, and drop out.

The VR program was installed in the ship's central computer (again, without my permission), and the seat provided the link, which connected directly to the brain via my flight suit's RemLock life support. Funny that the same tech that preserves your brain when you eject and are out of oxygen can be used to tap into it as well.

I wondered if it would even work for me. After all, technically I was a wet circuit napkin on MF's brain, and RemLock didn't exactly agree with me the last time I had to use it.

Fortunately it worked out okay. I strapped into the cockpit and the hanger disappeared from view. Now I was in a different hanger. Standing. This was weird, because I certainly felt like I was sitting. The VR experience was strictly audio/visual in nature, so I guess things wouldn't feel normal again until I was in a cockpit.

Just then, a man with long white hair and a regal face appeared in front of me, wearing a long white coat instead of any kind of flight suit. He kind of looked like an elf for some reason.

"Good evening, ma'am. This appears to be your first visit to the CQC simulation network. I am Simon and I am your virtual guide. I am here to help answer any questions you might have."

The word "ma'am" struck me. I looked down at my chest. Oh. Hello. Haven't seen you two in a while.

This must have been a sim thing. To coin another Matrix term, how I looked here was based on my own residual self-image, just like when I was projecting myself in MF's head or hanging out in the library.

I looked back to Simon. "Yeah, I'm new here. Where's the pew pew pew at, Elrond?"

Simon looked at me strangely, probably a 'processing' look. "I'm sorry, I do not recognize that term."

"I'm here to spend an hour or two killing fools."

"Ah. I see. Do you wish to go directly to your personal hanger or would you prefer to walk? For a modest subscription fee, you can walk freely around the entire CQC headquarters and interact with other pilots."

"Feels too weird acting like I'm walking around while sitting in a cockpit."

"I see you have our basic immersion package. For a modest fee we can upgrade you to full immersion that will provide full tactile--"

"No thanks." Good Lord was this guy going to start offering me extra lives for a 'modest' fee? "Let's just get on with the show, okay, Galadriel?"

"My name is Simon."

"Sure thing, Legoas. Show me the ships."

Simon teleported me to my pilot's hanger, and showed me how to conjure up three different ships available to me via voice commands and hand gestures--an F63 Condor, a Sidewinder and an Eagle.

"Oooh, I've never flown a Condor before." The F63 is the mainstay space superiority fighter in the Federation. I'd seen the around combat zones in the past. Not much of a threat against a larger ship on their own, but in swarms? From what I'd seen, in the right hands they could dance around Sidewinders and Eagles no problem. Their main disadvantage was they had no hyperdrive, and relied on larger ships to carry them where they were needed. "So, can I modify my ships at all, Glorfindel?"

"As you are new to the tournaments, you are restricted to basic loadouts. As your standings improve, you will be given access to different weapons, shields, and other accessories."

"Okay, so what is the gameplay like?"

"There are three tournament modes. Team Match and Capture The Flag both divide players into teams, while Deathmatch is every pilot for themselves. Each match is restricted to a maximum of eight participants, though fewer can take part in a match if eight are not available. Between matches you may review over your results and jump right into another match, or choose to visit the CQC Lounge, where pilots can hang out and socialize."

"Let me guess, for a 'modest fee.'"

"No, the Lounge is part of the standard CQC experience. But, for a modest fee--"

"Yeah yeah, never mind that, Arwen. So what do I do to get started?"

"Simply choose your ship and loadout and choose the kind of match you wish to participate in. When it is ready you will be instantly be deposited into your cockpit. All ship controls will be the same as on your own ship. Do you require any further assistance?"

"I think I got it.. um... crap, I ran out of elves."

"I have been called 'Keebler' by some." Was it just me or was there a tone of resignation in the sim?

"Eh, screw it. Thanks Simon. I'll let you know if I need help."

Simon nodded and disappeared in a pixelish kind of way.

"All right then," I said to no one in particular. "Let's get this show on the road."

_________________
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Pilot: Mossfoot - Ship ID: Viaticus Rex (Cobra MKII)
Rank: Competent - Status: Clean

http://www.noahchinnbooks.com/


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 15, 2015 4:49 pm 
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But First, Some History

This was my element. The CQC fighters were all just right for dogfighting, each in their own unique way. The Troubadour might maneuver well under my hands, but the fact is it's not a fighter. She might look like one superficially, but the Imperial Clipper is over a hundred meters long, far bigger than an old Earth jumbo jet.

Me, I spent most of my previous career in the Old Worlds in a modified Cobra MKI, Lady Luck. To be honest, there wasn't much of the MKI left in her, I replaced everything I could with newer and better parts, to the point where I'd spent ten times her value on upgrades. But in my line of work it was better to be underestimated by your enemies, and a hundred and fifty years ago nobody thought you were much of a threat in a first generation Cobra.

But Lady Luck wasn't my first ship. Like most pilots I started off in smaller things, and learned the tricks of the trade doing system defense in a pre-hyperspace capable Sidewinder. Now that was a ship you did not want to fly without buying an ejection capsule, let me tell you. But that knowledge that you were flying an outmatched ship against pirates and raiders, relying on your wingmates, and knowing you couldn't go it alone and expect to survive... it had a way of making you step up your game.

And once your wingmates were splashed, it REALLY had a way of making you step up your game. That's part of the reason I went independent. After working as a stuntwoman, I'd toyed around with the idea of going military, but it just wasn't a good personality fit. And working private sector often meant you were underfunded - I put half my pay into keeping my own damn sidewinder in shape because the company wouldn't.

I cut my ties with them once I saw that a really bad guy with a really big bounty was in the system. Turned out he was on the station I was working security for, in one of the seedier bars the police never go into unless they're two days away from retirement. I risked it, using my charms to find out everything I could about him from his crew, and slowly working my way to the man himself.

What a piece of work. Five minutes with him and I realized not only that he was scum, but that scum like him was everywhere in the galaxy. They saw traders like cattle, livestock fit only for the bolt gun.

While I'm not as educated as Mossfoot in a bookworm sort of way, during my time with him you could say I got a bit of an honorary degree. Looking back I saw that this guy was a Barbarian, and no I don't mean in the Conan sense. I mean that human beings often divide along two kinds of society. Most of civilization is Tribal, in that the group takes care of one another and puts the needs of the whole over their own, at least in the grand scheme of things. That's why you have police and laws and government in them. Barbarians, on the other hand, live by the rule of individual merit. Might makes right. The strongest leads, the others follow.

That's an oversimplification, of course. Tribal societies can be filled with self-interest and barbarian societies can have laws and government. But in a general sense, it tracks. And this guy was a barbarian king if there ever was one. I knew taking him out wouldn't stop his gang. It just meant the second strongest there would either get a promotion, or have to fight the third and fourth strongest for it first.

But I also knew his bounty could buy me a new ship.

Long story short, I learned when he'd be leaving and made sure I was there waiting for him in an ambush. That's how I got the Lady Luck, and a taste for bounty hunting. Now that I was losing my taste for it, it somehow seemed fitting that I take those skills and put them towards having some fun. After all, in a virtual competition getting blown up wasn't just a possibility, it was a certainty. Pilots are free to take risks they'd never take in real life, and have their favorite form of fusion metal playing in their helmets like they're living in their own action movie.

Oh, side note, that's one way to spot an amateur bounty hunter--see if they have a mix tape. No pilot worth their salt will play action music during real combat. You have to stay calm and focused. Adrenaline has no place in a fight. Yeah, it kind of kills the cool factor a bit, but that's just one of the many ways reality and movies don't line up. I will admit, however, that I do from time to time imagine a soundtrack in my mind during a particularly easy fight. I'm only human...sorta.

But in CQC, there's no reason not to indulge your action hero persona and just go for it. You can be both Luke Skywalker and Biggs Darklighter in the same fight... sorry, Star Wars reference there.

Of course I'm no stranger to sims. Whenever I'm flying a new ship I want to know what its capabilities and limitations are. You do NOT want to try skindancing over an asteroid only to find out your inertia is heavier than you expected and become a pancake on its surface. But those sims are against computer AI bots. I often have them programmed to react to feedback from me in order to focus on any areas I might be deficient in. Which is good, but people are inherently unpredictable.

There's an old saying - "The greatest swordsman doesn't fear the second greatest swordsman, he fears the worst." And there is some truth to that. Spend too much time focusing only on the rules of engagement and doing things by the book and you're left unprepared when some moron does something you wouldn't expect in a million years. In a broader sense, fighting against pilots of all sorts of skill levels can only make you better and more prepared.

So, let's see what kind of challenge these guys really pose.

_________________
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Pilot: Mossfoot - Ship ID: Viaticus Rex (Cobra MKII)
Rank: Competent - Status: Clean

http://www.noahchinnbooks.com/


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PostPosted: Wed Sep 16, 2015 6:25 pm 
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Close Quarters Combat

Let me describe a typical CQC match by comparing it to a real world fight.

In open space a one on one match more or less amounts to a combination of who can turn faster and who has more powerful weapons. While in group dogfights this can become more complicated (ie coordinated focus on a larger foe by several smaller ones) these two factors more or less remain the same.

Sure, there are tactics involved, selective use of boost, shifting of pips to different subsystems, chaff, shield cells, kinetic vs energy weapons... but in the end it really boils down to turn rate and weapons output.

In a real life extraction site, this can change a bit. Those big chunks of rock and ice can be used to your advantage, but if you're hunting in a big lumbering ship, chances are it still boils down to turn/weapons ninety-five percent of the time.

Now, into CQC...

I waved my hands in the hanger, conjuring up a F63 Condor. Small and fast. Just what I was looking for. I chose a team deathmatch competition and was soon teleported into the cockpit.

Looked pretty much the same as the one I already had. Sheesh... seriously, what I wouldn't give for the chance to customize my HUD at the very least - colors, sure, but also layout. And the seat... same old Faulcon DeLacy... I can't even get rid of that on my Clipper. You'd think Gutamaya wouldn't allow something that wasn't made entirely out of curves in one of their ships.

But I digress... I do that a lot, actually. Bad habit I picked up from Moss.

I chose Deathmatch because I figured there'd be better odds of one-on-one engagements than a free-for-all, and didn't care about coordinating teamwork like I would have to for Capture the Flag. After a short countdown, the match started.

I took about thirty seconds to get used to the Condor's controls. Let me tell you, it's a frickin hummingbird, and a good thing to, because I quickly found out people had a whole other style of combat in CQC. I turned on some classical music--John Williams naturally--and smiled. I was going to enjoy this.

I scanned for targets on the radar and soon found them. Four at the other end of the field. My teammates were already engaging, so I kicked in the boosters to catch up.

The arena was an asteroid field with a station in its center--plenty of room to maneuver and find cover.

At first the combat seemed straight forward, pretty much what I was used to. The gimbled weapons seemed to be more accurate in the sim than in real life, but then I'd never flown a Condor before to compare. They certainly didn't have as great a range as I was used to, but that didn't change much. I dove and pulled up and splashed some fools just like anywhere else.

But then I noticed just how much of an effect my maneuvering thrusters had. One guy trying to hit me with cannons had no luck whatsoever, I was flying sideways, pelting him with burst lasers, while his cannon shots drifted by harmlessly. I didn't just have to fly around an asteroid and reacquire a target, I could fly around it and keep my target in my sights.

I was doing just that when I noticed someone being very clever. He'd actually parked his ship on the skin of the asteroid, waiting for someone like me to fly by then attack from behind. Unfortunately for him I was hugging the asteroid in pursuit of another ship, not only did I see him, I was able to skirt around him and tear him apart before he could fly away. Good tactic, though. It was just bad luck on his part that it didn't work. I'll have to remember it.

It went on like this for a while, some of the pilots surprised me on how they used the environment to their advantage, and forced me to do the same. Some tried to lose me by flying through the space station's central corridor, forcing me to follow, and leaving me vulnerable if someone decided to try and come behind me as well. Energy management was also a key consideration--if your weapons were fully charged and you were going to joust someone, you'd best put everything into your shields.

This isn't to say I had everything my own way. More than once I'd realize someone was on my six only to see sparks fly and my cockpit disintegrate a moment later. Other times I was ganged up on by two or more pilots, making my survival even less likely. But more often than not I got the drop, or managed to squeak away if someone was on my tail.

In the end I walked away with a 1.2 kill-to-death ratio--so I was giving better than I got at least. Not bad for my first time out. Then I got a notice that a thousand credits had been deposited into my account. Turns out the CQC matches are watched pretty much on every planet, and even the noobs on the lowest rung get a lot of views by people hoping to spot the next CQC golden boy or girl. That means advertising revenue, which the tournament splits with the winner proportionally.

So, with a thousand extra credits in my account, I wondered if maybe that should go towards that "modest fee" Santa's not-so-little helper told me about so I could explore the place a bit more. Maybe later. For now, though I wondered if virtual drinks in the CQC Lounge cost anything. I felt like socializing.

_________________
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Pilot: Mossfoot - Ship ID: Viaticus Rex (Cobra MKII)
Rank: Competent - Status: Clean

http://www.noahchinnbooks.com/


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PostPosted: Thu Sep 17, 2015 5:38 pm 
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Reality Bites

The CQC Lounge was full of people who must have paid a "modest fee" for some kind of visual upgrades, because there wasn't an ugly guy or girl in the whole lot. A number of private tables, some walled off with virtual "shields" to allow only certain members in, others open and virtually expandable to a larger size once more people joined it. The bar itself was kind of a holding pattern place for those who didn't want to join a group just yet. The bartender looked disturbingly like that guy from the first and fifth version of The Shining (the fifth version used a digital replica of the actor just to make it more creepy and ghost like for those that knew he died 500 years before - I should point out that every few centuries there is a movement in entertainment to remind us of our roots, which is why Homer and Shakespeare are still alive and well, but so is Kubrick and Kurosawa).

I had just ordered a drink (water - no point in wasting money on something I couldn't taste without an upgrade) and before I knew it I was slipping into bounty hunting mode. That is, I started eavesdropping. It's something that becomes second nature after a while. Guy and girl next to me--flirting, can ignore. Table directly behind me--one guy bragging about prestiging while the another accuses him of using a hack, might turn into a fight. Bartender down at the other end--giving advice to newcomer about how to use the facilities...I'm hoping he doesn't mean, yep, he means in her real life space suit because she's been here so long and doesn't want to go back just yet. Ick.

Then I noticed people disappearing. Not getting up and leaving, but blipping out of existence. It was happening more frequently now, and I was picking up a recurring theme over and over.

Emperor's Dawn.

These were the terrorists that the Empire believed was behind the recent assassination of the Emperor. Guess he wasn't Emperory enough for them. There was the usual fanatical BS behind their actions--returning to the old ways, glory days, proper values (which apparently include a heavy dose of murder) and so on. The combat pilots were blipping out because a couple of their bases had been uncovered and it was a bounty hunting free for all. Imperial troops were taking care of the ground work, but Dawn has an ungodly number of ships at their disposal. A checkpoint and blockade was being set up to prevent any easy escape and so the Dawn were throwing their ships at the Empire in order to buy time and try and find a way to slip their key figures out to a new location.

As I've said before, I'm not in love with the Empire, but I hate terrorists even more than I hate pirates. At least I've met honorable pirates.

Suddenly it didn't feel like so much fun playing virtual combat when people were getting up and doing their duty--even if that duty was towards credits. I felt like a break anyway, outside of the cockpit this basic VR setup was counter-intuitive and kept reminding you you weren't in the real world (hard not to realize the hand holding a glass of water was in fact holding a joystick). I tossed the glass of water at the guy accusing another player of cheating and blipped out as it triggered the bar brawl I expected. Heh.

So far, two Emperor's Dawn cells were known to authorities. I chose the one at Maausk and signed up at the local station. There was intense fighting going at one of the nearby planets, presumably where they had hidden their base.

By the time I dropped in, fighting was well underway, everything from Eagles to Anacondas were in it, and it looked like a battle to the death. In this case, Emperor's Dawn's death. Seriously, it was a slaughter. The bounty hunters and Imperial forces kept their big ships focused on the heavy hitters. Anacondas and Pythons dropped like flies, and every so often my screen would flash blue with a bounty reward update. In old Earth terms the sound would be "Ka-Ching!"

The Troubadour was magnificent. The gimbled burst laser could track even the fastest Eagle, while the combined burst/beam combination melted the shields of capital ships like... I don't want to say butter, that's such an overused metaphor... a really melty thing. Once the shields were down the multicannons would tear the hulls to shreds.

My shields weren't as strong as that of a Python, though with my prismatic shields and boosters she was stronger than she looked, and her weight was low enough that I got maximum maneuverability out of her, even though it was nothing compared to a Condor. Of course, she was also a large and easy target. Despite all that, the only time I felt I was in danger was when I took on an Anaconda alone, away from the main fight. She almost managed to get my shields down before her powerplant blew.

That fight had taken me a fair distance away from the main battle, and I figured rather than waste a shield cell I could just recharge a bit en route back.

Big mistake.

Halfway back, out of nowhere a red blip appeared behind me and opened fire. Shields down, hull taking damage. Where the heck had he come from? I had checked my radar just a moment before and was all clear. Thank God for military grade armor. I boosted away as fast as I could, but kept on taking a pounding. Dammit! I tried to get to supercruise but whatever was behind me as mass locking me. I locked on and checked the ship's readout--another Clipper, and it was staying a steady 2km behind me no matter how much I boost.

This was no ordinary terrorist. To keep up with me meant he'd outfitted a top of the line ship.

The readout listed him only as CMDR OD. But my gut told me this guy was CODE. Word was the pirate band had thrown their support behind Emperor's Dawn--for what reason I didn't know.

Unable to get to supercruise I high waked out to another star system before I lost everything and licked my wounds.

That. Hurt.

I mean my pride more than anything. OD had made a chump of me. How had he or she snuck up behind me like that? Regardless I wasn't going to let it happen again.

I dropped to a station and made some quick repairs, as well as a slight modification to the Troubadour. If OC was still hanging out there when I got back, I wanted to be ready. I replaced my spare fuel tank and added a secondary shield cell, tied into the first. It wasn't very powerful on its own (my ship's systems couldn't take the power load of a bigger cell) but it would give me an extra kick when I used it in tandem with the primary. It was worth experimenting with anyway.

Back to Maausk.

I didn't even have to reach the combat zone to find CMDR OD this time. He interdicted me en route. Good thing I'd listened to my gut about being prepared. I pulled back on the throttle and submitted to the interdiction.

Okay, flyboy, let's do this.

We dropped less than a klick from one another and opened fire more or less straight away. Neither of us had any illusion as to what this was about. From the start he seemed to have the edge, dropping my shields down and forcing me to use my supercharged shield cells sooner than I expected.

I mentioned before about how a Clipper was way bigger than an old Earth jumbo jet... now imagine two of those jets trying to dogfight. It was like slow motion compared to CQC combat, but about a thousand times more terrifying.

This guy was good.

OD had to pop his own shield cells before long, and I was beginning to wonder how long this would last--or if my heart would hold out. We thrust, jousted, rolled, turned flight assist on and off as needed, and kept jabbing at one another. I popped another cell, so did he. We collided at one point, and I hit the reverse thrusters to try and make the most of it, giving him everything I got as I backed up.

Then my shields were gone. Damn, I hadn't been able to pop the cell in time. OD's were down low, but if he... oh hell... the familiar ripple effect of a charging shield cell flickered. If he got that up I was done for. I poured on everything I had, beams and multicannons, diverting all power to weapons--certainly didn't need them on shields now.

Just before the shield had a chance to go up, they collapsed. Yes! I still stood a fighting chance.

Now we were tearing into one another's hulls. Lasers and bullets shredded each of our hulls, my canopy weakened with every joust, and I did my best to avoid head on weapons exchanges. It didn't matter. We dropped below 50% hull integrity and still no sign of either of us backing off. The canopy strained and cracked as shells ricocheted off. Another spin, thrust, turn, and then... the cracked canopy buckled and blew out, along with the ship's air.

Unfortunately, one of the things I'd skimped on to make the Troubadour into the ship she was was life support. I had a D-rated system, which meant I had seven and a half minutes of air available. Swell, just swell.

Just then I saw a number of blips on the edge of my radar. I couldn't resolve them yet (sensor range was another point I'd skimped on) but it had to be local security. If they got here in time, maybe...

OD's Clipper swung past me, flying over my head, boosting away at the same time I was boosting towards the incoming ships.

I caught a glimpse of his ship as it flew by, and saw his canopy had blown out as well. And maybe I was imagining things, but I think he saluted me as he passed.

Before he disappeared I received two text messages.

GF

TY

Good fight. Thank you.

I noted the hull strength on our ships - 30% vs 15%. He might have been able to finish me off, he'd had the upper hand for most of the fight, but I suppose he didn't want to risk it without a canopy and authority vessels incoming that could mass lock him. Chances are, he only had seven or so minutes of air as well.

Call it a draw, I suppose. I hadn't fought someone that good in ages. Even though Officer Dillon had shot me down, that hadn't been in a fair fight. CMDR OD had been rated Dangerous, and for once the rating seems rightly deserved.

So, after that dose of reality, I think I might stick to games for a while.

_________________
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 28, 2015 4:08 pm 
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Hammer Time

My stupid VR hookup was on the fritz. I don’t know what the problem was, maybe my body was just on the wrong time zone and nobody was on when I was.

In space there might officially be a galactic standard time, but many space stations do their prime business based on whatever part of their planet has the major stock exchange. Even more operate without any downtime at all. In short, “standard” time is meaningless and every pilot ends up with their own individual body clock. The sleep cycles and circadian rhythms of pilots are a constant point of interest, and every few months another research paper will come out talking about how pilots end up varying from a 24 hour cycle by two hours or more, plus or minus, over time, and how long it takes for crews with different patterns to get in sync.

Anyway, I was having trouble finding matches, and there were glitches with my rig as well, receiving unwanted audio feed from other pilots when I did get in. Nothing like an earful of static to drive you mental in a deathmatch. Seems like this new flood of real pilots onto the VR servers is taking its toll, and the techs are scrambling to work out the bugs.

So in the meantime I continued to help out with local pirate problems. The operations in Maausk ended, and I collected my considerable bonus, only to learn of a crisis in Amitrite.

En route I learned that I had gotten into Arissa Lavigny-Duval’s good books and now had access to her top of the line proprietary weapon, the Imperial Hammer.

The Hammer is a rapid-fire rail gun, and something I experimented with in the past with mixed results. Overall I’ve found the most effective setup for The Troubador were a pair of C3 lasers, with C2 multicannons underneath. The multicannons might not do as much damage as cannons or railguns, but they make up for it with large ammo reserves and staying power.

But the Hammer intrigued me, and I figured it was worth giving another shot. It meant I had to change up the lasers output a bit to make it work, but I decided on a large gimbled cannon and Hammer on one side, with a fixed beam and gimbled burst laser on the other.

In theory it should be a good setup. The hammer and cannon are fire linked. When using them, the cannon fires first while the rail gun charges, then the rail fires, followed by another cannon shot. Good damage output. In theory. In practice…? How do you find out if it’s any good in the heat of battle without risking getting sent home in an ejection seat?

Turns out I’m not the only one asking that question. Amitrite was swarming with seasoned commanders looking to help crush the pirate menace, and a number of them were playing with new loadouts.

So it wasn’t at all unusual to see the following exchange on comms:

-1 on 1?
-Sure.
-50%
-Sounds good.

See, bounty hunters are nuts. Didn’t I ever mention that? Probably because they seem normal to me, which of course tells you I’m nuts as well. You can test in sims all you want, but that’s not going to tell you how a real pilot reacts. You can find a pirate turkey shoot, but taking down noobs in rust buckets won’t help you survive a real fight for your life.

So bounty hunters hunt each other.

Our line of work is lucrative enough that we can afford a few hundred thousand credits in repair bills if it means tangling with another seasoned pilot. I used to do this all the time back before I died, but hadn’t seen the tradition pop up again until now.

I suspect the ultra-safe ejection seats made a number of trigger happy hunters figure it didn’t matter if they asked permission or established rules—the real world didn’t do them any such favors after all.

The backlash to that was that annoyed hunters took their ball and went home, not wanting to be part of this game of Cato Surprise (movie reference—see Pink Panther series from the 1970s, 2280s and the less popular Empire version in the 2750s).

So it seems that manners and etiquette are starting to win out again among the hunters. That didn’t stop me from getting a Cato Surprise, though. Well, I guess technically it wasn’t that. I actually somehow got a small bounty on my head (no clue how I’m always careful with my targets) and this guy wanted to collect. But it was small enough he knew it was probably a misunderstanding.

I boosted away and had a chat with him as he plinked at my shields at a distance. We both knew how this was going to end, I’d get away and he’d be looking for another target. Once I convinced him I was another hunter, I sent the request.

-50%?
-Sounds good.

Turns out he used to fly a Clipper like me but recently upgraded to a Fer de Lance, like Mossfoot used to fly back in his spoiled Navy Brat days. He was eager to try it under real conditions, and I was eager to try out the Hammer.

With my shield recharged, we went at it, and I’m sorry to say it was pretty one sided. The FDL is a dedicated combat ship, after all. It has more in the way of shields standard than I do with my prismatic model and boosters. Add on top of that its 4 medium hard points and one huge hard point for weapons, along with excellent maneuverability, and you’ve got a hell of a combat ship. Just don’t expect to take it exploring or trading much.

The Hammer worked as expected, alternating shots with the cannon all on its own without any special input from me. The problem was I wasn’t able to punch through the FDL’s shields to test its effect on the hull, where it’s supposed to wreak the most havoc. I was down to 50% hull strength by the time I had his shields on its last ring.

Good fight, he texted—not everyone is chatty in space, or they keep voice comms open for more important things.

He was being kind. I’d had my ass handed to me. Still, I didn’t mind. It was all part of the learning experience. I remembered from my days weapon testing that the large C3 cannon isn’t terribly useful except for big slow ships and decided to swap things out. A large pulse and large beam laser combined with the Hammer and a medium cannon underneath kept my power use issues manageable, and should give me a more reliable bang for my buck.

So, I figured out what the problem with my loadout was and made adjustments, and he got to see what an FDL can do in a serious fight. That’s exactly what this kind of dueling is meant to do.

_________________
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2015 5:42 pm 
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Free Agent

My sparring matches with other hunters had given me a chance to see the advantages and limitations of the Imperial Clipper in a new light, and I'm pretty sure I found that elusive "sweet spot" of module tweaking and jiggery-pokery that would give me a well adapted all-rounder. Some pilots like to change their loadouts more often than they change their underwear, but I prefer something a bit more consistent except in special circumstances.

With Lady Luck I learned every little quirk and bad habit the ship had. If there was a sputter in the thrusters, I knew exactly when I could expect to feel them and under what circumstances. I knew how fast my shields would drain under heavy fire, almost as if the readouts were plugged into my veins. As a result I could work around them, or even with them to my best advantage. So while swapping mods might not seem like a big deal to some, those extra tons added on or taken off is going to affect my flight profile, max speed, turn rate, that sort of thing. Under ideal conditions if you pass your enemy you want to be able to turn your flight assist off, flip around, and get right behind them all with your eyes closed.

As The Troubadour stands, devoid of cargo she runs just a few ticks under the maximum possible speed. Mossfoot would have appreciated the prime running away power, but for me it's more about the turn rate. The Clipper has a lot of inertia to fight because of its weight, as a result it's agility is considered slow, but with the weight kept to a minimum it turns much quicker than other ships its size. The weapons loadout seems to work as intended now, the combination of a faster firing medium cannon with the Imperial Hammer wreaks havoc on ship subsystems, especially at close range--testing it out in a local conflict zone I had very little trouble with anything short of an Anaconda. Some shield cells as a safety net, an spare fuel tank I could swap out for cargo or a discovery scanner or even a bit of a boost to my shield cells depending on the situation, and everything just felt right.

And, oddly enough, I lost all compulsion to do anything with it.

It was like my curiosity itch had been scratched. Having finally found a loadout I could work with under virtually any situation, but still easily tweaked without mucking up the basic elegance of it, I decided to leave. Though I'd been working for the Empire for months, it had always been a bit reluctantly, siding with Princess Duval's anti-slavery stance, then going full merc backing Senator Langivy-Duval's anti-piracy campaigns. It had worked out well for everyone involved, hell, they even made me a Viscount or something, but it was time to go. So I shook hands with the local rep for the senator, wished them the best, got in the Troubadour, and plotted a course for Alliance space.

Er... after buying several more Imperial Hammers... hey, you never know when they might come in handy!

_________________
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PostPosted: Fri Oct 02, 2015 1:44 am 
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Hello Old Friend

Back in Gateway, at Dublin Citadel. I've been gone a long time, but not much has changed. Mahon has been doing well keeping the Alliance together--he's got enough to worry about with the hundreds of minor factions out there all squabbling with one another without having to deal with any major powers trying to take over.

At first I was going to re-up with him, then I remembered that with Mahon all I really did was run a paper route. Still, he does offer some bonuses for supporters in regards to trading, and I've been considering doing a bit of that for a while... do the ol' space trucker routine, say things like ten-four and good-buddy to random passing ship, pretending I know what the heck I'm saying... give a surprise to the odd pirate that think I'm easy pickings...

And really I feel I need to just throw my support in with him on principle. When I left him, I'd more or less defected in order to join Aisling Duval's anti-slavery campaign. I don't feel I betrayed him or anything, I only gave Duval information I'd already been collecting about illegal slave smuggling in Alliance space, but not everyone saw it that way... most notably a certain overzealous authority figure who is still on my list.

Oh, I have a list.

Anyway, for that reason alone I decided to sign on back with Mahon. The local rep had no problem with this. In fact, I suspected it happened a lot in the bubble. Some ship captains sign up for life with their home world, some sign on with a larger scope, fighting for their patron's interstellar ambitions, but the life blood of the galaxy is filled with free spirits who in many ways have no home outside of their ship. For them, allegiances are matters of convenience more than they are about morals.

I fall into that category as well. I'd be on call to do my part for Mahon when it matters, but for the time being I consider myself a free agent.

I spent a few days on Dublin Citadel to decompress, rented a room where Trouble could run around in real gravity... I think the girl prefers zero-gee and bouncing around with thruster boosts to be honest. I got the impression she found earth gravity dull now, but that doesn't stop her from exploration. They say ferrets are like kittens that never grow up, and that's certainly true of Trouble.

I also found myself spending more and more time in CQC combat when I wasn't out walking in the parks in the habitat rings or watching sports in a restaurant--especially when I got a chance to test out the more immersive version at a VR hub. It didn't take long for me to decide to upgrade The Troubadour with as many upgrades as I could afford--which was all of them-- and start looking around for a league that I could join.

I think it might be because I'm not constantly reminded of being in somebody else's body when I'm in there. Now I feel more like myself, and people react to me the way I'm used to... well, mostly. One of the upgrades you can get for a "modest" fee includes altering your appearance in the game... including gender. So I never knew if the girl I felt like hitting on was actually a girl or a guy in a girl's body... I know, the irony is thick enough to make gravy.

Then, one day, as I went to the storage bays to get out the Troubadour for a cargo run, I realized my other ships were stored here as well... my Cobra MKIII, Lonely Heart. My ASP, which I'd never given a name since Moss and I abandoned the I'm Not Drunk in order to steal our Clipper. Heck, I'd even bought a Diamondback Explorer recently and kitted it out. I didn't even know way, just that I had credits burning in my pocket, and I felt like tinkering with a new toy. It seems like a nice ship, but I don't know if I'll ever use it. And last, but not least...

"Hello, old friend."

I touched the chipped green paint on the hull of Viaticus Rex II. Moss and I had probably traveled twenty thousand light years in it together, and I'd been in her another ten on my own. I'd come back from my last exploration mission because I was bored, itching for combat, but it wasn't because I didn't enjoy seeing new worlds and strange anomalies.

But now, with CQC, I could have both--the data stream required back to the bubble is tiny, everything except ship position and weapons fire are handled on board your own ship. Plus I could hang out more with people in the lounge as myself, and not have to deal with the harsher realities of fighting real people, no matter how just the cause.

A mechanic came up to me, asking me if I was ready to bring the Clipper to the main hanger for takeoff.

"No. I think I'll be taking out the T6 instead."

"Clipper can carry more," the mechanic said offhandedly.

"Maybe. But it's not cargo I'm after. Send her to the workshop, I've got some upgrades to install."

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PostPosted: Sat Oct 10, 2015 7:35 am 
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Return to Darkness

I didn’t have a destination in mind this time, figured I’d go out till I hit unexplored territory, then just meander around. Might it some of my old favorites like the East Veil Nebula, or back to Sector MF-1 to pick up some more systems.

The difference between then and now was I had ways to keep myself entertained when the brave new worlds that unfolded before me all started to blur together.

“Ah, I see you’ve returned. I see you are some distance from home.”

My personal Elf Simon appeared almost as soon as I entered the CQC prep room.

“Is that a problem.”

“Not at all. Please be advised that while we ensure competitions to be seamless even over a distance of sixty thousand light years, the same cannot be said for communication with your fellow pilots in the Lounge. Rendering time for people you have not met before will increase the further you are from the CQC network, though they will be stored in your ship’s data afterwards.”

“Whatever you say, Dobby. So, are there any leagues looking for an experienced hitter?”

Simon nodded his head deferentially. “It would be fair to say that every league is. The influx of, shall we say, amateur pilots has lead to an imbalance amongst the more experienced career minded virtual sportsmen. You may experience some derogatory comments in the Lounge from these individuals until you have proven yourself worthy.”

“You mean till I bust some cans open.”

“As you say, miss. Until then you will be considered ‘Helpless’ among your peers, and treated as such.”

“Kick ass, get respect. Got it. Be right back.”

It didn’t take long to sort out with the right people that I wasn’t your average cocky punk trader with delusions of grandeur. I was grudgingly slapped with a “Mostly Helpless” label and offered a virtual drink, which I could now enjoy thanks to the VR upgrades I’d purchased for a “modest” fee.

It’s not unusual to have noobs and greenhorns get hazed by the old guard, so I wanted to cut through that crap as quickly as possible, and the best way to do that had been to beat up some of the bigger names in the room. Of course, as often as not I got my ass handed to me. They knew the courses blindfolded, the places to hide, the powerups, the spawn points. And as a bounty hunter you try never to get shot down. In the VR world you have no qualm about strategically letting your ship go once in a while, even if it’s just so you can swap to a different type.

There’s a whole other world of strategy to be found in CQC, and not all of it is applicable to the real world, but a lot of it is. So, as I said, I gave as good as I got, and was one of the boys soon enough. That was what I wanted, to get comfortable with some key folk so I didn’t always come into this place feeling like a stranger.

* * * * *

Two weeks later I felt like I was living two separate lives. Out in the dark, I had come into unexplored territory eighteen hundred light years from Sol., and decided to slow down in my race away from the bubble.

From here I could take my time, curve around the bubble, and find all the hidden gems right on our galactic back yard that most people zip by on their way to be the first to a certain nebula or beat the Buckyball A-star record to SagA.

When you get to this part of space you realize just how alone you are. Whole worlds lie beneath you, most just dead airless rocks, but still… massive.

Massive profits if they happen to be full of metal, too.

Of course it’s not the money that got me out here again, I almost had enough cash to buy an Anaconda when I left the Empire. Credits are a bonus. What keeps me going out here, looking at dead world after dead world, is hope. Hope for something different, something strange, something wonderful.

The odd Earth-like planet is one such example. Someday I want to touch down on those worlds, see if their equivalent of grass is similar to ours or not. Find out if their animals are bi and quadrupedal like ours, or something else. See if there are any intelligent life forms destroying the environment in the name of progress, take them up in my spaceship making whoop-whoop noises, and stick probes up their butts. Consider it a hazing into the sentience club.

But it’s not just that kind of life I look for. I keep wondering if they will return.

The Thargoids.

I’d seen Thargoids a few times, once with Mossfoot, up close and personal. I know they’re real. Bu they’ve been gone so long that half this generation thinks they’re a myth and the other half think they were invented by the government to keep humans from colonizing past the bubble.

Of course the appearance of certain Unknown Artifacts within the bubble has changed all that, and people are starting to listen to their great-grandparents about the old days. There’s growing concern that they might be returning, and if they do, then what?

I’m afraid I wasn’t around to know the details, but word is biological warfare was used against the Thargoids and threatened to wipe them out and their organic technology. Someone who thought genocide was a step too far made sure they got the vaccine, and they buggered back off to wherever they came from. To this day one of the key systems connected to all that, Polaris, is off limits to travellers.

But none of that is my concern. I just keep watching the night and waiting, hoping if they do come back they’ll at least try talking to us first.

The scanner blipped mid-thought.

Salvageable wreckage found.

That was unusual. I’d never come across any wreckage while exploring before. A stray convoy once, and a signal source that turned out to be empty, but that’s it.

I slowed down and dropped into normal space.

For a moment I thought I was seeing my future.

An Imperial Clipper, torn to shreds, floating in a debris field around a gas giant. I closed in and turned on the flood lights, taking a look inside what was left of the empty hull. It was like looking at a metal whale that had had its insides blown out, then flushed with a water hose until only the ribs and skin were left.

No sign of a crew, but as I circled around the wreck, my lights picked up laser damage on the hull. It was strange somehow. The Troubadour had taken its share of laser fire on the hull, but what I was looking at here didn’t resemble any of that.

Perhaps the ship had a mirrored hull, and what I was looking at its laser reflective nature?

The only thing I found to salvage was a small data cache. Not much, and technically illegal for me to recover since I wasn’t an authorized insurance rep, but it might have some answers… and judging from the state of the wreck, I doubt a signal even got out for anyone to track.

With a nod of respect to the fallen crew and the data tucked away, I continued my slow meandering journey of discovery, hoping whoever had taken that Clipper out wasn’t within a hundred light years of me.

_________________
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PostPosted: Sun Oct 11, 2015 3:08 am 
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Interlude

Brother Sparks sat at his spartan terminal, hands folded as he awaited his guest. To the casual observer there no evidence of any technology in the room whatsoever, but that, as many things were on Polevnic, was an illusion.

“Brother Sparks,” Simmentor Doozer was the sort of high-level management that tried to model their lives after their idol, in this case, Simguru Antal. He wore the same style of flowing robe, wore his hair in the same limp fashion, and tried to speak with the same calm authority as the leader of the Utopian movement.

Somewhat pathetic, truth be told.

Brother Sparks acknowledged the Simmentor’s presence with a nod. Technically this was his boss, the one who oversaw his activities, and the one he constantly had to outwit. Accountants wishing to hide their activities had to keep a second set of books, Sparks had to keep a second set of everything.

“I’ve been concerned about your recent inquiries into combat simulation software,” said Doozer. “It’s not within your allotted purview.”

Brother Sparks smiled. “You know as well as I that innovation comes from exploring problems from new angles. That’s all this is.”

“Brother Sparks, your Order was graciously accepted in the Utopian fold with the understanding you’d be helping us further our goals. You and your team are meant to be perfecting the Paradise construct for our reeducation centers. I don’t see how your attention to close quarters combat is in any way relevant.

“Are you familiar with the ancient Earth tribe known as Vikings, Simmentor?”

Doozer’s shudder wasn’t one of fear but disgust. “Barbarians.”

“Indeed, but organized, and with a very strong belief system. Until they were converted to Christianity they believed in their own gods, and their own idea of an afterlife was Valhalla, where they fought and died endlessly. I believe lots of food, drink and pliable fair members of the opposite sex were involved as well.”

“Your point?”

“My point being that Paradise is a subjective term. If you intend to make any of the Kumo crew change their ways, you must first understand their ways. They are more active in the CQC leagues than most people realize.”

“Pirates? Hacking the tournament?”

“Oh, the systems themselves are quite secure from tampering, but one still enters the tournaments with external identification, and those are far from difficult to forge in most independent systems. Honestly, are you surprised that pirates are using the open invitation to CQC to become better pirates?”

“Is nothing sacred?” Doozer whinged.

“In fact, I believe we are already hearing reports from traders suffering at the hands of these better trained and confident pirates. It’s causing quite a number of traders who sacrificed shields for extra cargo capacity to complain…those that survive, that is.”

“Antal protect us from unintended consequences.”

“Yes, well, one has to wonder if it was all that unintended. But that, as you pointed out, is not my purview.”

This seemed to satisfy the Simmentor, and he dropped the matter and opted instead for an update on the progress with Paradise. Brother Sparks waved a hand over the desk, bringing up the holographic consoles and proceeded to walk him through what stage he was on and what he was working on next.

Doozer left, as ignorant as he had arrived. It was the way of things.

Once he knew he was alone and unobserved, he waved his virtual console away and waved up his other console, the one connected to the Order’s private darknet.

Like all good lies there was a hint of truth to what Sparks had told his superior. But his real interest wasn’t in the Kumo crew, but one individual pilot participating on and off in the CQC tournaments.

His research into Mossfoot and Brother Mathias had confirmed most of his suspicions about what had happened in the Old Worlds long ago. His (or, more accurately, her) presence in CQC confirmed what had happened more recently.

He took a moment to look over what was recovered of Mathias’s research. The nanotech that had kept Mossfoot’s body viable for over a hundred years even after his RemLok failed was impressive enough, but the implant…Violet…Project Transporter

Sparks swiped to Violet’s dossier. A remarkable woman in her own right, a warrior with a conscience. Highly independent, doesn’t play well with others, always searching for something more—these psychological traits were no doubt part of why the transfer worked. All follow up attempts in Project Transporter had the salvaged personality break down and collapse within weeks.

There were other possibilities. Mossfoot’s ship had suffered an accident shortly after the transfer, which was how he ended up a hundred and fifty years forward. Perhaps the long dormant state both then and after Mossfoot woke up allowed the matrix to stabilize.

Also, Mossfoot was the only living person to take on the neural net. Project Transporter had been intended to save people’s minds and transfer them to bodies that were brain dead for other reasons.

Then there was the possibility that Mossfoot’s own experimentation had an effect. Project Cliché (it had originally been called Project Lazarus but, well…) had used nanotech to help revive the pilot after his initial ship destruction. But it was also meant to maintain and preserve every cell in the subject’s body, even during long term vacuum exposure. What if those nanobots had somehow worked themselves into the organic elements of the Transporter implant, and played a part in stabilizing it?

It was perhaps, as they said in old days, a chocolate and peanut butter moment.

Still, this was all speculation, he wouldn’t know anything until he had Mossfoot and his stowaway companion on the observation table, and that wasn’t going to happen any time soon as he was currently thousands of light years away exploring.

But it turned out she’d developed a taste for close quarters combat. Hardly surprising. A lot of explorers were getting rigged up for that to help stave off isolation sickness, or just to have something to do other than scan rocks.

And so Brother Sparks had found his way in, and his way to observe his subject discretely.

Through an elf-like program named Simon.

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Pilot: Mossfoot - Ship ID: Viaticus Rex (Cobra MKII)
Rank: Competent - Status: Clean

http://www.noahchinnbooks.com/


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 11, 2015 4:40 am 
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Hey Mossfoot, so your latest installment (your story is humming along quite nicely too :-)) has got me putting on my tinfoil hat again. What if this weekend's Exploration Outage was nothing more than a tactic to 'encourage' greater participation in CQC? :twisted: :twisted: :twisted:

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Commander Bugbear
Cruising chart 5 in a Boa Class Criuser: Quantum Pelican I
Vigilante, trader, gems and precious metals hoarder.
Black Monks bothering performed at no extra charge.


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PostPosted: Sun Oct 11, 2015 4:43 am 
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Heh, you never know, but I doubt it. Me, I like to play some CQC before I start exploring - after a few games my nerves are shot and I could really use a nice relaxing search around the cosmos ;) I really couldn't see doing CQC just before bed!

I always try to look at events in-game and have a reason for it. 4004 was probably the best example of that from the original Oolite storyline :D

Traders complaining about being both easily interdicted and pwned by NPCs are heavy on the forums so I tried to work it in. Hey, the timing is right ;)

_________________
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Pilot: Mossfoot - Ship ID: Viaticus Rex (Cobra MKII)
Rank: Competent - Status: Clean

http://www.noahchinnbooks.com/


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PostPosted: Tue Oct 13, 2015 2:25 am 
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Some Things Never Change

“Your team is victorious,” the computer trilled.

“That’s what I like to hear.”

I was teleported from the cockpit to the lounge, having gone my latest match 5 and 0. Sure, other pilots had higher scores or more kills, but more often than not they died only slightly less than they lived.

It was a change of pace for me. Right now I was taking a more serious approach, try to keep my real combat skills in shape, try not to focus too much on points. These were friendly matches anyway, it wasn’t going to count towards anyone’s league ranks.

In the lounge my oh-so-helpful aide (whether I wanted him or not) was waiting. “Shall I advise you on what new virtual beverages are on tap, miss?”

“I could have sworn there was an off button for you, Keebler.” I found my usual seat and looked around for familiar faces. Rather than acknowledge my slight (or better yet, tell me where the button was) Simon simply nodded.

“I’m here to ensure you experience in CQC is trouble free. If there is a problem, I could give you a customer feedback survey to improve my future performance.”

“Because that’s how I want to spend my evening.” Actually I found Simon’s presence a bit reassuring—the fact I could verbally abuse him without consequence was just a bonus. “How about you make yourself and tell me what Leagues here are looking for a professional?”

Simon didn’t even blink. Not that he did much anyway. “There are currently six thousand five hundred and seventy three teams with one or more openings available.”

“How many of them have real world combat experience?”

“There are one thousand two hundred and twenty five teams whose pilots rank dangerous or higher by the Pilot’s Federation.”

“Any way to find out if any of those are pirates or have a record? I don’t want to make nice with someone I might splash in the real world someday.”

“There are two hundred and six teams who do not currently have a wanted status.”

I blinked. “That’s…disturbing.”

Of course people became wanted for all kinds of reasons—friendly fire, overdue fines, defending themselves when they wander into the wrong Power’s territory. It didn’t necessarily mean what it sounded like.

Still…disturbing.

It turned out to be harder to find a team than I thought. Many pilots registered teams but didn’t actively do anything to fill them up. Some just wanted to register and hold onto their “cool” name before someone else could. Some were so over the top serious about their entry requirements that I didn’t even bother—geeze, they took things WAY too seriously and I was just here for a bit of fun and profit. If I wanted a military life I sure wouldn’t be plugged into a sim on my off time. These were posers if I ever saw them.

Others were more interested in putting out a strong media image, trying to develop a fan base and entering the right tournaments with the most exposure. Basically they were hoping to land a movie deal at some point.

Some people in the lounge weren’t even pilots—they were groupies, there to follow their favorite pilots up close between matches, like those media nuts I just mentioned.

Then there were the real pros. I could recognize them quickly enough in a match. They were the ones who knew when to break off an attack and boost. Amateurs get tunnel vision when they find a target, or think the kill trade is worth it as long as they get their target first. The pros boost, turn off their flight assist, chaff, and disappear. Then, while you’re looking for a fresh target, they’re sneaking up behind you.

Outside of a match you recognized them by their attitude. Bit laid back, confident, but not boastful. When a blow-hard in an expensive Top Gun vintage leather vest and Ray Ban sunglasses was telling tall tales to a crowded table, they didn’t stand up and shut them down, they stayed at their booth and smiled and remembered the commander’s name for later.

These were the cool kids. Not the bullies or the jocks or the posers or the medias or the groupies, but the ones who actually won tournaments when it mattered.

I sighed. Crap, it was like I was back in bloody high school.

_________________
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Pilot: Mossfoot - Ship ID: Viaticus Rex (Cobra MKII)
Rank: Competent - Status: Clean

http://www.noahchinnbooks.com/


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