I’ve woken up with a bit of a spring in my step. I didn’t even mind so much that I was in the same glossy prison cell as always. I stand at the bottom of the walkway leading up to the hangar balcony and take the time to remind myself that there was always one escape route to the stars.

I feel good today, I might even do something constructive. What was on the slate?

Oh yeah, Airlock-Face and his insulting errand. With a reluctant sigh, I slump onto the couch and idly bring up my NEOCOM mission journal. So this Ni-Kunni dipshit, who somehow holds a high position in the Amarr Ministry of Internal Order, has lost one of his agents and wants me to go find him, or more importantly, find some reports. Oh well, it passes the time.

I attempt to call Airlock-Face up for a conversation, but once again he snubs me, instead choosing to repeat his banal pre-written message from earlier. I swallow my pride and accept his offer – the destination system of Annad is only a couple of jumps away and there’s over 2 million ISK on the table, so what the hell.

As I prepare myself for the reality-jarring experience of touching those undock chevrons, I wonder if I should grab some breakfast first. I shrug and accept that the hydrostatic capsule might not be a top chef, but it must sort out my nutritional needs. After all, I can’t remember the last time I ate, but I’ve not starved to death yet. I wonder if I can reprogramme my pod to mainline some stims to wake me up a bit too. Mental note: add boosters to the shopping list.

One more thing occurs to me as the pre-launch darkness invades my brain – the station hangar in which my docked ship floats is gargantuan. Yet I’ve never see another docked ship or even another pilot standing on his own hangar balcony. I’m pretty certain there can’t be too many chambers that size inside a station and it ain’t that space-contorting planck technology shenanigans at work; as we’re constantly reminded by the smart-arsed NEOCOM, you can’t put a planck container inside another one or the universe ends. So ships carrying planck containers wouldn’t be able to dock if that was the explanation. Even weirder, if I switch to my camera drone hangar bay view, there’s no evidence at all of my balcony (which should be right next to my ship) or any part of that station superstructure. Perhaps they cloak parts of the station interior to protect capsuleer interests.

Taking a quick spin around the massive station makes me realise it might be possible to fit a fair few frigates and cruisers in. My ship’s overview records the impressive structure at 96 kilometres in size, but I still can’t figure out where all the ships might go at busy trade hubs, especially the hulking great freighters. There must be some clever wormhole trickery going on somewhere. Either that, or our NEOCOMs are lying to us. Maybe they’re messing with my head using that Neural Inhibitor Matrix business I’ve read about. Bloody mind-shroud conspiracy theories.

I arrive in the Annad system. It’s a 0.8 high-security system, the jump gates are all crawling with local customs enforcement and I know the long arm of CONCORD can easily reach my location, but even so, I activate my cloak. I know how these things can go…

As I make the short jump across system to the last known location of the missing agent, I’m not surprised that my NEOCOM presents me with some ominous and mysteriously unattributed (and clumsily written) information. How many millennia of software development are needed to make an effective word processor?

“As you come upon the battle sight [sic], you immediately see why the previous investigator was so late. His ship has been reduced to wreckage. The Sansha’s Nation ships responsible are picking it over. 
Eliminate the Sansha ships and retrieve the investigator’s reports they surely salvaged.”

Wouldn’t you know it, the ever intimidating sight of a Sansha’s Nation fleet drifts idly through the battle site littered with shattered fragments of their prey, including a wrecked Archon carrier. If I’d come in one of my appropriately fitted battleships, these spike-loving perversions of human nature wouldn’t be a problem, but the Manticore stealth bomber I’d chosen for the trip would likely not withstand a single direct hit from one of those Nightmare battleships, and there were four of them. Arguably even more of a problem were the four supporting Succubus frigates, whose speed and small weaponry would be a more immediate threat.

I wondered if I might be able to lure the frigates away to deal with them first. It was worth a try and still safely cloaked, I drifted lazily away from their position to a distance close to the edge of my maximum targeting range.

I locked and target-painted the closest of the frigates and let loose my first salvo of torpedoes. The Nightmares quickly returned fire and the sky was streaked with violet laser fury. Fortunately, their huge laser arrays and inept gunners were barely able to register a hit. However, my ship rocked as electromagnetic fury crackled across the shields – one of the frigates was already close enough to be hitting me with light missiles.

By sheer luck, it was my current target, but both he and his high-velocity wingmates were already bearing down on me. Even with a target painter, the damage from my torpedoes was woeful as they were designed to inflict damage on much larger vessels. As one of them closed to almost tackling range, I was left with little choice but to active my microwarpdrive and pray the resultant signature bloom didn’t make me an instant victim of the incoming heavy fire from multiple battleship laser batteries.

I burned away from the encroaching frigates, waiting for the sudden wrenching feeling of massive ship damage. It never came. My shields held and my first target fell under the continual torpedo barrage. This might actually work.

I patiently skimmed the perimeter of the battle site, picking off the frigates and staying well clear of the slow-moving battleships. When only one Succubus remained, he started behaving oddly. It was understandable that the Centii Loyal Scavenger pilot had realised that he was outmatched, but some strange Sansha technology seemed to suddenly empower him to break my lock and reposition himself back with his battleship associates. Microjump drive? I didn’t think so. He did this more than once and the cooldown period didn’t stack up. Maybe he’d just warped.

Nonetheless, eventually I pinned him down and a breathed a sigh of relief as his ship exploded. All that remained was to take on the Nightmares. Stealth bombers were perfect against this kind of prey, I steered by vessel back toward the battleships, still ineffectively firing in my general direction, but I’d strayed much closer than I’d planned, having been lured by that last Succubus.

Suddenly an alarm sounded. My shields had been all but stripped away by a lucky hit. Dammit, I’d grown complacent and allowed my transversal to drop, making me a viable target for battleship-sized weapons. I adjusted my orbit angle but a second shot left my Manticore shattered and belching flame. Mentally wounded, I attempted to align to escape, but the third shot seared my synapses and I felt the nerve-searing pain as every connection I had with the ship was torn forcibly from my mind.

Momentarily stunned, I couldn’t help but notice that the Secure Commerce Commission notification had blinked onto my NEOCOM before my ship’s hull had even been completely breached. Suspiciously efficient, it’s like they knew what was happening before my eyes did. I warp away to safety before those Centus Savage Lords could move close enough to have their kinky way with me.

Well. That was embarrassing. I hope whoever the crewmen are that handle the torpedo itinerary in the cargo bay and the fellas who polish the modules got out okay. There’s never been any way I can tell. They tell us folk are running the canteen and stoking the furnaces, but I never see or hear from them. How can I be sure they’re even there?

Docking my capsule at the only station in system – a Hedion University facility – I’m grateful for the SCC regulation issue Reaper. I wonder if I might be able to go recover whatever survived the explosion. A quick check of my nearby assets show that my nearest fitted ship is a humble Kestrel frigate six jumps away. I’d have to go a lot further to grab something suited to taking these Nightmares on. I suppose I could buy something quick and dirty on the market, but I’m impatient. I want to grab my equipment before some opportunist looter swoops in.

Returning to the site of my Manticore’s demise, I attempt to give the loitering battleships a wide berth, but they spot me nonetheless and predictably don’t take kindly to my return. The laser crossfire begins again, but proves ineffective. Far more effective however, is the occasional scourge missile that streaks across the battlefield, significantly depleting my shields. I bullheadedly continue, praying that somehow I might survive even though my subconscious had already done the maths. The fourth missile strike was the one that saw me explode.

I limp back to station in my pod again. Determined not to be made to find another ship tonight, I resolve to try once more. I take my SCC-approved suicide Reaper and undock again. On arrival at the Sansha fleet, this time I take more care to circumnavigate them. This was a slow and uninteresting task and I begin to realise the time it was taking me would probably have been better spent acquiring a suitable ship. Nonetheless, I persevere.

Thankfully, the Nation ships manage to out-stupid me by ignoring the same target that they had shot at twice previously and who had killed their frigate support. Perhaps they’d realised I’m not really worth assimilating and are concerned I might infect their implants with a virus of uncontrollable mega-stupid.

I take the time to check the kill log on my NEOCOM and realise almost nothing survived the explosion. I was wasting my time for a single Torpedo Launcher, a Target Painter and some ammunition. Why bother? Then I remember, there are some theories that surviving crew occupy a lifeboat section of the emergency wreck container, so I’d best make the effort just in case.

I try not to think about the 45 million ISK of Tech II ship and equipment that has been reduced to scrap and left floating in the void. See, this is what happens when you wake up with a spring in your step. Its an over-rated state of mind which gets you into trouble.

I dock up at Hedion University for some sulky reflection of my ineptitude. I’d go find the student bar and get drunk on cheap booze, but I still can’t get this damn door to open.

Irritating. I can’t even pin Airlock-Face’s picture on a dartboard and then play spin the Khumaak with a bunch of clueless students. Sometimes I think I’m not cut out for this life.

Stupid door.