Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Stretching old muscles

Khanid Region
Fekhoya Constellation
Tegheon Solar System (0.4) - Far orbit over Planet IX
15:32 EVE Time (Local System)

It had been so long since he'd flown in the deep black. Months stuck in station, his pilot license stuck in limbo between CONCORD's red tape and the multiple arrest orders out on him from Minmatar authorities, several for crimes he'd not actually committed. Or atleast, he felt he was no longer the man who'd committed those crimes. A strange moral compass true, but atleast he had one now.

That being said he was no saint. Not one of the holy men from the stories in his youth, who had led peaceful and philosophical lives for hundreds of years before allowing the technology anchoring them to existence to cease, freeing them to the great beyond. One last great journey. But the life of a saint was not the one he craved. Excitement and adrenaline were the drugs he was addicted to. But today, his first flight into space in months, he wanted to keep things slow and methodical. To reawaken his dulled senses and slowed reaction speeds from too long spent in station, drinking nights away.

As a result, his recently refitted Pilgrim hung in deep space near the ninth planet in the Tegheon system. Beautiful carvings in the gold embossed over thick starship armour plating showed her name to be "Ad Astra". New developments in energy transfer technology and power core management had resulted in huge increases in range for energy neutralizers fitted to Pilgrim class ships, and the capsuleer was looking forward to putting them to use. Reliable intel from his alliance had thrown "Tegheon" up as a potential hunting ground, and he'd been loitering in system for about three or four hours now. Annoyingly, the locals seemed content to sit in their tower, probably chattering over secure comms. Two ships were on scan off towards a nearby moon, but Seraph felt no need to observe them directly. The sophisticated sensors onboard his ship would detect any sudden warps away from the tower. He was content to wait silently, cloaked up, allowing his crew to rest and recover from the long flight here from Jita.

He toyed with the idea of decloaking several hundred kilometres from the tower, just to jolt the motionless capsuleers into some sort of action, but he knew this would be a pointless waste of the ease he was steadily putting his targets at. Experience hunting in wormholes with a past group of mercenaries had taught him that greed and boredom soon outweigh caution. Of course this was easier to come by in unknown space where a lack of CONCORD regulations meant there was no way to track how many ships were in system via the use of gate idents. LowSec was still constrained by these legalities, meaning his name would be showing up bright and clear on all "Local" comm channels. A blessing and a curse from CONCORD, but it was only a matter of time before one of the pilots was sure enough Seraph was no threat, and then they'd be vulnerable. It helped that his months stuck in station had meant his confirmed kill history, publicly available, was severely lacking.

15:48 EVE Time (Local System)
A quiet ping from the bridge sensors was the only sign anything had changed in the silent darkness of space. Lounging in his captain's chair, Seraph suddenly sat up, alert. A surge of energy had just emanated from the space surrounding the tower, an obvious sign of a ship dropping into warp. A mere thought from the now awake capsuleer started the Pilgrim's sensors on active directional scans, invisible fingers streaming through space attempting to locate what the ship was and where it was headed. A minute or so passed. A low tone from the sensor suite, followed by a blinking icon on Seraph's holographic HUD screen showed the ship to be a mining vessel, a "Retriever" class strip miner. Seraph tried not to feel too disappointed. A target was a target after all, but a mining vessel was hardly dangerous prey. Then again, it would serve as good practice for covert operations maneuvers, and perhaps would bring combat ships out in defense. The potential for a good fight perked him up slightly, and he worked quickly to locate the clueless miner. He had no need to wake his crew for a defenseless target, there was very little chance of any danger in this engagement.

Within the minute he had located the barge to an asteroid belt surrounding planet VIII. A little slower than he used to be, but much better than he expected after months away from the complex sensor systems found in all combat ships these days. A slight tug on engine power aligned the Pilgrim towards planet VIII, and the muted sound of low-energy covert engines hummed through the hull. The familiar split-second feeling of falling was the only indication that they were in warp. He nodded to himself in satisfaction. Warp technology had come a long way from throwing anything that wasn't tied down to the deck from sudden acceleration.

Deceleration was felt only as a slight pressure pushing him back into the seat. Viewscreens from tiny camera drones launched on landing flickered to life, displaying the surrounding environment, next to distance and speed indicators on surrounding monitors. Automated collision prevention fired microthrusters to float smoothly past gigantic spinning asteroids. In the distance, almost a hundred and seventy kilometres away, the Retriever was visible on the centre screen. Seraph flicked his eyes over at sensor readouts while plotting a short warp that would put his ship within a few kilometres of his target. A few last minute checks confirmed everything was ready.

Power rerouted to sublight warp engines, powerful ion thrusts flaring into visibility as the Pilgrim shimmered back into the visible spectrum halfway through the hundred and sixty or so kilometre warp towards her prey. Seraph had disabled his cloaking device, knowing the few seconds he'd save recalibrating the targeting sensors might make the difference in the barge being caught or slipping away. 

Ad astra had landed perfectly between the barge and her intended warp-out alignment, causing the barge to attempt emergency maneuvers, giving Seraph the dual advantage of surprise and time to act. Not that he needed much time. In one flowing action, energy neutralizers slammed into the Retriever's hull, Hammerhead combat drones launched from the Pilgrim's drone bay, and the warp disruptor pinned her down. He had her dead to rights. With no power for her shield arrays and no avenue of escape, the brutal hybrid rounds from the Hammerheads had torn holes through the lightly armoured barge in mere seconds. The light armour plating was designed to protect the crew from small asteroid impacts or a short fight with ill-equipped pirates. However it was about as effective as plastic against the military-grade ammo used by Seraph's drones. A slight flicker, then a blue flash washed over the camera drones as the Retriever exploded. An escape pod was blown from the wreckage and warped out before it could be locked onto by the Hammerheads.

Salvage drones quickly stripped the wreck of anything that could be sold on the open market while Seraph kept an eye on directional scans. No sign of retaliation just yet, but his comms system had already began decrypting a short burst of static from the Retriever before it had met its demise.

" - Miner Three to Home One, we are under attack from a Recon Class Cruiser
 // Roger Miner Three, we are sending reinforcements
 - Far too late for that, he's downed my shields 

Seraph smirked slightly. Despite the calm tones attempted by both pilots, he could hear their voices shake and hesitate. Clearly they were not expecting combat. His scanner beeped a warning, picking up two cruisers enroute. A Vexor and a Vexor Navy Issue were barreling towards his position. Time to move. A shimmer in space, a short warp, and he was gone. 

But he wasn't done picking off these pilots yet.