Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A long journey home

Our week had been building up to this.  Cassius strolled in casually to the meeting room, ahead of me, a smallish but once empty bar up on the capsuleer decks of mid station of Reynire.  Now filled over capacity with pilots from the assembled corporations of Rote Kapelle.

Truth was Rote Kapelle had been absent from it's adopted home in TXW for close to two and a half months now, working to strew seeds of the revolution from Pure Blind to Providence.  Taking our lumps and giving them against the monolithic NC and New Providence in one place or another.  During these months spirits and morale had been up and down in quick succession but nothing compared to the current feeling in the room.

It wasn't tension but anticipation, for blood, for home, for a fight.  We were all quiet as our leaders and assembled FC's broke the news of our plan to the rank and file, in person this time, ensuring no confusion.  I moved to the back of the room, looking back towards our brief.

"As we stand here, your Remote Repair BS are being delivered to your hangars, from station storage and prepped for combat.  Our token force in TXW will attempt to convince the new locals," smiling a bit at the comment, "into combat.  The rest of the fleet, meaning you, will stand by in Vestouve, with light cap support for backup."  There were some involuntary nods around the room, one of those reflexes you gain from years of briefings.  I was one of the nodders.  I scanned the room quickly with slight embarrassment.  Of course there had been no need to nod, this was hardly the first time we or rather I had heard this plan, but it would be the last.  None had noticed, fortunately enough saving me the casual barbs passed around like candy in these meetings.  When the briefing broke up short seconds after that a light murmur of voices filled the room as the pilots of Rote Kapelle moved towards the doors.

Some had already remotely jacked into their hangars, or comms systems, ordering cargo in or out of their holds, prepping their delivered battleships for combat before arriving at them, joining the fleet, chatting on their communicators.  I stumbled slightly, still getting used to this new clone after my recent clone jump, and my foot careened off the floor from my misstep and then down right on the outside foot of Usagi Tuskino.  I tried to recover some, but my tall frame was already overbalanced, somehow I was able to remain upright although nearly falling into her, I started to apologize quickly.  Looking down to meet her eyes, those shocking blue eyes unnerved me instantly, as every time I saw them, making my already awkward apology stutter from my lips.  She waved dismissively, a small smile sliding over her lips as she moved away, her mind obviously on something else.

Once I stepped from the bar, I grew in confidence with each step closer to my hangar I got.  It was like I could feel the power there.  I set my body more or less on autopilot, moving instinctively, quickly towards my pod and waiting tempest-class Battleship.  The sweet feeling of becoming something greater, bigger looming ahead.  I joined the fleet channel, placing quick orders to move some large cap boosters into the waiting injector, my mind meshing with the comms channel, quiet now, assigning me to the second squad of the first wing of the fleet.

I broke the mental connection and refocused as I entered the room housing my pod, already inside my tempest, only marginally aware of how I got there.  My excitement grew, a smile spreading over my face as I disrobed.  I guess some people said you never got used to submerging in pod fluid, giving up control, that was never true for me.  I had always been a dreamer, meant for something greater, to be something amazing, my voluval mark reinforced the popular view that I was below notice, just another man, ugly man, but inside.  No matter the number of times I had been warned that I was the bloated and stupid rock I had never given up hope, even if their world was the mountain, my hope didn't die.  It was one of the few things that had kept me alive as a slave was this hope, carefully guarding it, clinging to it fearfully like a secret that could be taken away at a moment notice.  It had survived that and still it lived on.


Connecting to a pod was like being reborn into that thing I had always wanted to be, something greater.  While Battleships were ponderous and slow the simple feeling of power could overwhelm the untrained senses.  While I could still feel myself in the pod it was a distant and largely unconscious feeling, I simply was the ship.  I twisted the camera drones around my ship, prepping my guns with Barrage L and powering up all systems.  I had barely settled in when the order to undock came from our FC.  I had already cleared for undock, placing me next in line and then suddenly pushed out of the station.

Relying on drilled in precision I set destination for home, my tempest turning towards the first gate with a touch of my will.  The order to warp was not long in coming, and I was once again one of the first into warp, jetting towards the low security gate ahead, TXW a short 6 jumps away.  I kept my ship on course, laughing at myself as if I was some other person looking back at the meeting in the station.  I thought to myself that surely had not happened to me, it was a memory from another life, filing it away I jumped through the gate on command.

Reports were not encouraging as we made our way, only 5-6 of the new inhabitants were nearby, but our friends in the station as well as pilots on scene had seen none of them in space.  Determined not to waste any further time, our commander pushed us ahead, a very unfortunate Vexor meet it's timely end with a small section of our fleet removing it from space, our large ships near invulnerable for a time against the "peacekeeping" gate guns employed in low sec.

The Concord ding to my security was hardly worth noting, even lower than caring about the loss of life and money for our victim.  We waited briefly in Vestouve hoping for a fight in TXW, but none came.  With assured speed we moved back into TXW, orders already circulating for the formation of another, smaller, nimble fleet to assemble in TXW 8-8.  It was set to leave in 1 hour.

Leaving the pod was another matter entirely, I ended up feeling very alone.  On the floor of the same room, my consciousness collapsed into the small shell that was my body, my thoughts battering around inside my head, as if it was suddenly too small for me.  I dry retched, gripping at the floor, tears filling my eyes as I did.  I struggled to my feet, grabbing a simple towel to wipe the goo from my eyes, already headed to my next ship.  I didn't notice if people saw me, naked, awash in the glow of my hangar, approaching the sleek monstrosity of my Scimitar.  Like the Tempest the Scimitar was powerful in it's own way, able to project shields across the vastness of space, all while moving too fast to follow.  In the shadow of the vast cruiser I left the towel, repeating the process of connecting to the cruiser, as always, opting to spend my time inside the hull of the powerful ship, viewing it as a whole rather than as a simple man.


The hour passed quickly, maybe even too quickly as I scanned the fitting of my ship, making last minute changes and bantering in the new fleet for parts, all the while passing sarcastic we have returned comments into the local FTL channel.  I was slower on the undock this time, forcing my cruiser through the mass of ships at the undock point and then getting it pointed out toward the gate took a bit longer than needed but being back out in space, powerful once again was it's own reward.

The cruiser leaped into warp, feeling even faster and reckless as my blood rose to a near audible hum in the pod of my ship.  Our first challenge was to find a fleet willing to face us.  After several attempts and even more half fights and quick kills, we arrived in MHC, seemingly finding a interested party.  In fact the fleet we were able to find was made up of only CPU/Tabula Rasa, scared to fight against the trappings of their imperialistic and wanton needs, they left the field quickly, leaving their mate to die under our hammer.  Behind us they slunk back to the gate, catching a straggler before we could return to save him.

A few jumps later a hostile force that best matched our own was detected.  We were forced to redeploy hastily, blocking their route.  Our scout reported their fleet launching drones and throwing up a bubble, it was time to fight.  I stretched my will across the fleet, mentally marking members of the fleet to follow through the fight, hoping to catch those in need of repairs before their ships buckled.  We jumped, space buckling at the number of ships moving across space.  We found them in place on the other side, the battle was already on.

Usagi and her blue eyes was one of the first to go down in the fight, her Rook removed from the field before I had finished locking her for repairs, she had been foolish to reveal herself so soon into the fight.  From there things seemed to stabilize.  We were still taking a fair amount of damage, Scimitars burning for range while the rest of our light and speedy fleet attempted to lay down fire on the requested ships.  They were dying, but not fast enough.

FALLGUY was one of the next to go down, his Vagabond crumpling under reps, at the same time my lock failed after another lucky jam from EC-300 drones swarmed around me like insects.  I burned hard, trying to maintain range and escape from under the net of EC drones in vain, they would stay on me for much of the fight, until their owner was removed.  We might have lost a Vagabond but they were dying as well, 0458 proved to be a bloody minute, 4 of their ships lost for just two of ours.  My reps were working overtime to keep BlackFalcon01 alive but another lucky jam and distance allowed him to fall to the guns of our opposition.  But he was the last.  Their heavy ships tanked our fire best they could and disengaged the other side of the gate.  The battle was bloody, but ultimately we were victorious, holding the field

Returning to TXW with half our fleet seemed oddly like a loss.  We had come to expect to lose few ships in a battle, but even so we once again proving ourselves strong and our fight was motivation enough to be stronger.  The bloody fight fresh on our minds moved the CPU gang once again out of our way, despite their now similar numbers.  The rest of the flight home was more or less uneventful, never once stressing our gang to the point our fight had.

Our FC moved the fleet into dock, dismissing us as we entered station.  I sat there for a bit in my Scimitar, spinning camera around the outside of the ship for moments before disconnecting.


Sometimes it's worse than others, and you find yourself on the floor minutes later, coughing, unable to form thoughts, wishing vaguely for just one more moment in the pod.  At least that's how I felt right then, weak, out of sorts, unable to think clearly.  Luckily, my body was moving, working off years of completing the same task, I gripped a new towel and pulled it slowly over my body, cleaning it as I left the ship, the previous towel either removed by some unseen employee hired in one of my smarter moments or swept out into space like so much junk.

I walked into the quiet dressing room in TXW, my mind more or less settled now.  I pushed to get myself through the quick routine of a shower, getting dressed and doing short work on my hair.  I stepped out of my section of the Hangar Bays, long strides taking me the shortest route to the local capsuleer pub we all tended to favor after well just about any fight.  Even pilots who had lost ships had made it there before me, but one knowing look was all it took for almost everyone to understand.  I guess not everyone has such a hard time leaving their pod as I do, but at least they understand it.

I was happy to have missed the "AAR" as our FC's called them where pilots mistakes were pointed out and shamed.  I felt I must have made some, possibly costing people their lives, or ships.  Each loss weighed heavily on my mind as I looked up at the simple cork board in the bar that had hard copies of kills and losses listed.  Right now it was more kills than losses but I felt as if it could change at any moment.  Often times it would be updated before the pilots even returned home from a fight.  Nobody was quite sure who did it or why, but there were plenty of comments tacked to the side of kills before they dropped off the bottom of the board.

A pair of unsolicited shots slid down the bar towards me, I looked up to see smiles all around, I took the first shot quickly, the faint buzzing of responsibility, fatigue and loss slowly wiped from my mind as the smile spread to my lips after a few minutes.  I could barely keep up with some in the bar, but I managed to catch up at the very least... I think.

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