Sunday, 31 May 2015

Schrödinger's President

Federation President Halsey is missing.

Or dead.

Quite possibly both.

It very much depends on who you listen to, or want to believe. Factions within the Federation are each telling wildly different stories; with an investigation that seems to lead to more questions being asked than answered.

So I have to go there to investigate on my own.

Dropping back into normal space in Azaleach finds it busier than usual. Much busier. A small cluster of ships break out of tight fuel scooping orbit around the sun, and begin the 20,000Ls long run out to Leoniceno Orbital. Two more ships jump in and turn immediately, apparently more confident in their remaining fuel, and follow close behind.

“12 hours ago, following entry into hyperspace, Spaceflight One went dark. All attempts by the President’s security team to trace the vessel have met with failure.” - Secretary of State, Felicia Winters.
Missing! They can't find the ship.

The system is huge. Azaleach B and C stars glimmer faintly, orbiting each other and barely visible at over 220,000Ls away. They almost, but not quite, fall into the background of nearby stars. They've already been picked out by an advanced scan of the system along with their orbiting asteroid belts so there's no problem finding them.

It's a damn trek out there to go take a look, and precious little chance of finding anything.

"We exited hyperspace uncontrolled and in deep space – something I’ve never seen before... We first searched the deep space around our positions, then jumped to the destination point rendezvous as quickly as we could. Nothing. Not even wreckage.” - anonymous escort of Spaceflight One.
A misjump then into a dark and uncharted volume of space and lucky to get back out alive. Almost unheard of these days with the safety features built into these drives.

How exactly do you force a misjump?

The system is full of security patrol ships as the system is in a state of semi-lock down. Searching for a piece of wreckage, a transponder, any signature that could be Spaceflight One. Any clue on what happened.

There's nothing here to see, and nothing found. They are searching in the same way that I am. They carry a hope of finding a clue that others might have missed, and have a palpable sense of something most definitely lost.

Having ensured that the tumbling rocks around Azaleach B remain protected these two security ships jumped out.

The background to these events don't stop some of the wilder speculation making it out onto the comm nets either.
“Learn your history, people. It wasn’t all that long ago that our ancestors were being plucked out of the black right into the belly of bugs ... Weird, pulsing, alien things. I don’t know where they came from ... You think it’s a coincidence that the President went missing just weeks after those THINGS turn up?" - Alex Snoori, host of Beyond Top Secret.
This one sounds like the rantings of a conspiracy theory.

Except for one thing.

When you do go a check your history books it's clear that Spaceflight One made a detour that took it within 300Ly of a known base of operations for the Thargoids.

There, I've said it. I'm almost ready to buy into something as imaginative as that. The history books are full of commanders that went missing, and some that even came back with wilder stories. Jameson himself claimed to have survived more than one witch space encounter, bringing back technology that would have made its way into the research laboratories.

"But the idea, the very notion, that our best and brightest out there on Starship One would have let that bird fly with a busted engine... No way. Those guys are military. We need to be looking for who did it. We need to nail them NOW. The assassin is busy covering their tracks while we speak." - Shadow President Hudson, Federation Congress.
The Shadow President seems certain it was an assassination. Is he grasping at straws, or does he have some inside track?

In any case the call of a vote of no confidence in the President, missing and believed dead, is brutal and callous. With Vice President Naylor also on board Spaceflight One (against all the usual travel conventions for senior leaders) there is no-one to answer to the vote, or hold to account should it pass. Hudson is making his powerplay and the Secretary of State is meekly letting it go ahead.

“Starship One’s disappearance appears to have been caused by a major malfunction in the Frame Shift Drive’s safety systems. It looks like there was a major power surge, followed by four separate system failures in quick succession according to the data we have, resulting in a catastrophic explosion. We do not believe this explosion would have been survivable by anyone on board.” - Lieutenant Barringer, Federal Transport Safety Administration
The story has changed. As they were originally searching for a missing ship, then the catastrophic explosion must be inferred from the consequences of the system failures. I keep on coming back to the question of how to perform a mis-jump. Was it a deliberate act of ... intent... or sabotage?

Perhaps Hudson was right about such an accumulation of chance being malicious: the Federation leadership on one ship, the power surge, the sequence of safety system failures...

Neither the Empire nor the Federation now has a credible and unifying leadership to maintain the peace, and the known human space is accelerating into a turmoil not seen in recent history. Major powers fracturing along internal divisions of ideology and ambition, and openly competing for hearts, minds and territory.

What really happened to Spaceflight One?

Monday, 25 May 2015

An act of powerplay

The incursion into Quivira space has taken its toll, and there is a growing unease amongst the Federation of pilots.

The first wave of assault sent in waves of mercenary pilots to weaken the infrastructure and prevent the departure of the civilian population. With this comes a greater latitude in the way that the mercenary pilots conduct operations and some of the more extreme kinds of attack that can take place. Overall there there is less coordination, less strategic thinking, and the intent is quite simply to inflict more psychological damage to the enemy.

There is also plausible deniability.

A golden fist inside an iron glove, and one intent on weakening spirits before an occupation force rolls in to assume command and control operations. Something didn't quite go right for Patreus this time though.

The population simply wasn't cowed by the naked aggression. Mercenary support as shock troops did not fully commit having already seen the naked ambition of this Senator in action, and the Quivira government had put in place a contingency plan for evacuation.

A mercenary force was waiting, and held the line.

There is speculation on how much of the interest on that debt is used to fund the war machine's operating costs, and a coalition of defaulters might do more harm than a thousand war ships. The iron first must squeeze tightly or others will default with a sense of impunity.

The cost of control of a system like Quivira will always be high. This powerplay by Patreus may still overextend himself, and the tower of cards may collapse in on itself as the iron first is a recruiting sergeant for rebellion. The Senate has also noticed the destabilising effect of a displaced population of Quivirans, and is concerned about the consequences.

Most of the civilians have escaped to nearby systems, and the displaced will place burdens that might themselves create a domino like collapse of nearby economies. The Senator's personal fleet has also arrived in Quivira, dominating the system in a way that can no longer be deflected.

There is some satisfaction in having deflected the intended blow of the iron fist, however the Quiviran's can no longer support operations, and so it is now time to move on.

The efforts here have allowed me to invest in a combined trade/combat vessel - the renown and reliable Python. Less agile than the Debitum Naturae, but a much more powerful gun platform. She'll participate in future action.

In the meantime I'll have to learn to fly all over again.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

An act of strategy

An anaconda rumbles overhead, slowing under navigation guidance and nudging off the centre line towards a large landing pad. It twists to line up against the blinking focus of guiding lights, and for a moment there's a clear view of melted metal battle scars around the power plant. A battle hardened ship and fresh in from combat.

That one will be in repair for a while.

Direct line of sight with the Vestigial Echo is interrupted for a moment while the secure comms channel reacquires from a partial lock. Although it is difficult to intercept direct line of sight comms, this also makes it sensitive to what is happening in the surroundings. The pulses from the anaconda's thrusters are distorting the beam path and the software struggles to stabilise the data stream against the disturbance.

A monochromatic hand pointing at the data map flickers and de-rez's for a moment, and the sound breaks up like something is struggling to breath while gulping in water.

The Quivira military planners have given the Pilots of the Federation a relatively free reign to come and go at whim. The usual combat missions for a war zone are available on the bulletin boards, about the only advice on where reinforcements are needed and pointing the way to where combat zones have spilled up within close orbit of the nearby planets.

Scouts find a small group of enemy ships that are awaiting reinforcements in an unidentified signal source. If the scout escapes then an attack fleet is assembled from nearby forces and, guided from the intel, jumps in for an assault. The reinforcements that were called for arrive though not always in a timely way that can sway the battle decisively, and so the intensity ramps up to a bloody furball.

System wide tactical scanners identify the volume of space from the arrival of ships and outpouring of intense weapon discharge. The unmistakeable signature and number of power plants losing containment will mark it as a combat zone.

A profile emerges and battle lines are drawn. Appear strong where you are weak. Show weakness where you are strong. Moving to shore up this battle will hold those loyal to the whim of Patreus at bay. Applying an overwhelming force over there to force a local retreat that draws enemy forces away from elsewhere to create a weakness.

Time and only time allows more civilians to escape to relative safety.

The convoys of civilian ships leaving the station need protection and a chance to escape to adjacent systems. A nearby combat zone looks likely to spill over and allow the forces of Patreus to gain control and expand out into supercruise. That would dominate intersystem travel and lock down reinforcements.

The hologram rendering of Gearwright moves around the small tactical display and points at a volume of space around Quivira One. A natural staging area for ships jumping into the system that don't have capital ship assistance.

Gearwright and I are in agreement that this is a worthwhile place to apply effort to a containment operation.

The ship's computer chirrups the arrival of a message and, with a short nod from me, summarises its content.

"An update from station logistics: delivery delayed."

Pulling up the manifest and looking at the restock ETA for the Debitum Naturae raises a groan, and it's taken longer than originally estimated to find some shield cells for my Vulture. Credit where it is due though: the Quivira system government have opened up their stockpiles of ammunition and essential combat consumables to the pilots that have signed up. Those crews are very much overworked and will probably stay up until the end, on the understanding that their families departed to safety first. Brave souls.

An opportunity to talk about secure communications then. I must admit to not being too happy about the content of the private message from Gearwright that brought me here. It contained location details and a holiday invite to a system known to be in trouble with Patreus.

The conversation is short and Gearwright listens patiently. It's been a while since I've done this and the message cleanup protocols for secure comms over a channel that is assumed to be monitored and broken are a bit rusty.

"...And so the use of imprecise language and strong hints of past conversations will obscure the message to a heuristic scan. When our previous engagements with an adversary are a known factor then a system with known adversary activity will raise a flag."

Gearwright nods. He's noticed I've avoided naming names and fallen into the same pattern of talking.

"A few tweaks here and the message has picked up a banality that should look like a natural banter between friends, rather than a statement of intent." 

The computer chimes in again helpfully: "Message analysis: 97% probability of match against message rejection filters."

The hologram flickers and dies again as another ship passes overhead, though I'm pretty sure that the corner of his mouth tightened up in a smirk first...

Monday, 18 May 2015

An act of terror

There's a lot of traffic going through Quivira these days.

Civilian ships duck and dart in between the weary combat vessels. Shuttles pour up from the planet's surface bringing more people to the station, full of families separated under duress and carrying their precious lives with little else to speak of. Fearful of the unknown and frightened of what the future holds.

The luxurious Orca passenger ship emerges from the depths of the station and wobbles as it launches from the pad. Such ships are normally commissioned by the rich for tourism and luxury trips through safe systems. As the ship passes by I look across. The view panels are transparent, forgotten in the rush to leave and there is no privacy. Frightened children cling to their mothers. One young face drawn haggard with fear looks up, finding my gaze and seeking what from me I do not know.

A nearby pad that has been holding quietly picks up a sudden flurry of activity as a viper war machine launches rapidly. Station navigation control scream at the ship to move to a safe holding area within the station, they were just as surprised and try to reason with the pilot. The exit is already busy and nearly overloaded, and another ship vying for the same space as the Orca would just be too much.

The shields of the viper glow a brighter reinforced blue and the engine thrusters bleed white as the boost kicks in. Heading straight for the passenger vessel at ramming speed there is no room left to manoeuvre, and the collision spins the Orca into the side of the entrance. The hull snaps in half and bodies start to pour out. Some back into the station while others drift helplessly out past the atmo shields and out into the vacuum of space.

Klaxxons sound and a quick witted tech has started lowering the blast shields. Somehow the viper manages to escape out of the station and the stunned weapon crews struggle to bring their external station weapons into tracking arc.

Ships stop dead inside the station. Hospital shuttles and jetpack crews scramble to recover those floating inside the station. Those left outside turn to scan the wake of the viper, posting their data feeds back to the station before jumping out in pursuit.

Chaos reigns and the co-ordinated escape is disrupted for several hours while the Patreus war machine moves ever closer.

Scanning the bulletin boards has some new missions arrive from system command: fight in this combat zone, hunt that command officer, more supplies needed. Urgently. Always urgently. For once though a delivery time of tens of minutes through the blockade will make a difference here. A special mission has been raised for that viper pilot. I'm tempted.

The Quivirans have surely lost their home world; the Patreus war machine won't be stopped here and now. Help the people flee. Help the people survive.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Neutering the gang

The Alliance has slowly woken up to what is happening on its own back door. The Old Worlds have been suffering at the hands of pirates and brigands and the rot needs to be halted and reversed. Why it takes so long for a consensus to be reached on this is beyond me.

The Zaonce Jet Gang have been identified as major contributors, and a mission profile set up for the independent pilots to take them down. This is bread and butter for a mercenary.

Its also a chance to try out a new combat configuration and settle into a ship that I haven't properly flown before.


Three light security Eagles start nipping at the heels of an anaconda. I have to admire their bravery but this clearly isn't going to go far or for long. One limps away to a safe distance with collapsed shields, while the others press the attack.

Boosting into range and opening fire catches the brute by surprise. Those Eagles are nimble and need focus to take down. Turning towards me to engage is too little and too late though, and the hull pops a few moment thereafter.

The police drift off without even acknowledging the debt, searching for the next target.


Returning from an R&R at Ridley Scott, the drop into the RES wasn't as smooth as I'd hoped for. Two eagles pounced on me after egress and gamely tried pounding at my shields. How they knew where I was I'll never know: perhaps one of those fortuitous opportunities for a desperate act.

Deploy weapons. Boom. Boom.

Shields barely scratched.


The confidence of the local sec forces is visibly growing by the hour. Patrols are larger and, if possible, engage gang members even more aggressively.

The miners continue on, rarely troubled by a pirate or brigand now.


Desperation sometimes catches you unaware though, as risks are taken and small groups of pirates can work well together as a team. Multiple ships are thrown into the fray and an Imperial clipper with an anaconda in tow make for harder targets when they're in the same volume of space. Not impossible though as I commit to the engagement.

Bait for a trap however.

Two vipers and a cobra jump in and, with the Zaonce Jet Gang trying some tactics for once, I've actually got a fight against the odds on my hands.

Ducking and weaving around an asteroid and out of the line of sight buys some time. Forcing the pirates to stare into a star creates options and more room to manoeuvre as well. The brief respite gives me some thinking time, and almost at the point of deciding to fall away from the battle using asteroid cover, when something makes me glance towards the blinding light of the sun.

Three security eagles race out of the sun and across my weapon's line of sight, one with heavily scarred and very recent hull damage.

Four ships emerge from behind the asteroid and out of the brightness of the nearby star, where only one had sought concealment. The vipers both peel off in a panic and leave the cobra exposed to withering fire.

My turn not to acknowledge a debt repaid.


Finally. Its over.

The space around Zaonce has been reclaimed for the Alliance and the local criminal elements, which have been a significant hindrance over the past few months, have been driven back into their dark hiding holes.

A discreet light blinks on the console signifying an incoming message. I've missed it in all of the combat and hope its nothing too important.

An invite from Gearwright to a tourist market opening up in Quivira. Eyebrows furrow for a moment as there is a lack of... understanding... on my part. It seems to be going on about a holiday.

A quick catch up on GalNet and its clear our old friend Patreus is building up more of his war chest again. So I'm in need of a break after all.

Also a few quiet words to someone about being so bloody obvious!