The Concord station in the Friggi system was an unwanted layover; but when the Empires-spanning police organization gives you an invitation to stop by and talk, even a demigod like myself gets the hint. The local detachment had a problem, and word came that I was going to be passing through; so the constable commed me. I settled into a lazy-seeming orbit outside of warp-scrambler range, decloaked and moving fast enough to immediately leap into warp before sending the my holographic avatar into the stations’ public comms network. While some little fleshbag clerk put me on hold, I started cycling my torpedo launchers through test cycles; not exactly subtle, but it got the station chief on the line quickly.
“I’m sorry for the delay, I…”
“Get to the point.” The holographic Deathwidow flexed its mandibles impatiently.
“I see. Very well. One of our patrol frigates got a long-range scanner hit on an anomaly we believe to be the base of Guristas presence in this system. Normally we’d use one of our rapid-response squadrons; but they’ve pulled out to deal with the cleanup of a recent Sansha assault. Frankly, we’re understaffed at the moment.”
“Well, we can’t go much above the base bounty payments on ship class; however we’ve determined that there’s several cruiser-mass class ships present; so payout should be worthwhile.”
“Why the hell are you asking me? I’m a fucking Black Ops, not a Ship of the Wall. I’m not particularly well suited for the front lines.”
“You’re still the only battleship in three jumps, and the Guristas are using our current manpower shortage to increase their attacks on mining operations in the belts.”
“Tell the goddamned carebears to harden the fuck up.” I hesitated a picosecond “Give me the anom ID code, I’ll see what I can do. No promises.”
I lept into warp as soon as the coordinates were downloaded.
I cut the drive early, riding the collapsing spatial gradient back into realspace a hundred kilometers out from the calculated center of the Guristas base and immediately cut in my cloak; a maneuver I’d mastered years ago before the Manticore was upgraded to properly utilize a Covert Ops cloak. Done right, it looks like nothing more than a passing ship; perhaps with a faulty warp sustainer. I knew they weren’t going to get anything more than perhaps a hull type. Nonetheless I twisted off onto a tangental approach while my passive sensors began cataloging active emissions from the target. I wasn’t about to send a camera drone spiraling in for a closer look, but I did begin preflighting the Hobgoblins in my ventral bay.
I was getting active emissions consistent with what the Concord deskjockey had said; a small number of frigate- and destroyer-sized active ships and two sentry systems, and a large number of launch pads that more than likely housed the larger ships. If I’d been aboard a Ship of the Wall; a Raven, perhaps, or a Navy Scorpion, it would have been a no brainer; just stand off with cruise missiles. If I’d had a Rattlesnake, I’d have been able to add in a wave of drones to make a Gallente envious. Instead, I had to work to my advantages.
Establishing a hyperbolic course, I cut the cloak and fired up the dual targeting systems just as I reached perigee 90 klicks off. With my optical dispersion field still derezzing, I launched my ready drones and started dumping ECM towards the sentry systems that were already locking me up. Personally-tweaked communications arrays aboard the combat drones started receiving targeting feeds immediately, and I tasked them to close and engage the oncoming destroyer first. Being a capsuleer means being an expert at multitasking; your brain is running an entire starship at once, after all; so it didn’t take much for me to keep a mental ‘eye’ on the semi-autonomous drones doing my fighting while I sent a disposable camera arcing in on a ballistic course past the Guristas base.
The ready patrol had their attention focused entirely on me; burning their engines at maximum to close to within weapons range. With a thought, I slugged a target priority list to the drone control subsystem and devoted more processing time to the base itself. Two sets of Sentry systems surrounded a small cluster of prefab hab modules, a couple of cargo containers that looked to at one point belonged to an Iteron, and a bog-standard Hangar Array rounded out the construction. I let an intel-autosoft share the various sensor feeds long enough for it to spit out a result: the pirates wouldn’t be able to ready all their ships simultaneously; instead I’d be facing four waves, with the other two sentry systems comming online in time to augment the third, and the heavier assets, 4 Cruiser-class hulls, making up the last.
For a capsuleer, in a combat ship, a cakewalk. Why they wanted a Battleship baffled me.
My drones reduced the last frigate in the initial patrol to an outgassing wreck, and I sent the command to return them to my bay, my attention shifting to the sentry systems. One was a missile launcher who’s ordinance was exhausting its maneuvering delta-V long before it got to me; the other a railgun system that seemed to have trouble tracking my only mildly evasive course. I sent a surge of power through my ECM systems, temporarily blinding the emplacements targeting systems. It would only last a few seconds before the computers restarted, but those few seconds were all I needed to drop back into cloak and change course.
The alert wave, three more destroyers backstoping a pair of frigates finally got off the launch rails; but I was ghosting below the plane of the ecliptic. The smaller ships scrambled towards my last recorded position, hoping to get close enough to pick up enough of a trace of me to get an active sensor return; but I was faster than they were expecting and had ‘dove’ clear. Passive sensors tracked their vectors as I began the next phase of my assault.
Like a Doomwhale swallowing a fishing boat, I lunged up through the heart of the complex, cloak distorting and failing as I flipped my active sensors to full power and relocked the sentry positions. Again drones lept off the rack in pursuit of the pirate vessels desperately turning to race back and defend their base. Kinetic screens rang with the impact of short-range railgun and missile fire, but even at this short range the defensive emplacements couldn’t overcome the state-of-the-art shield systems protecting my armored skin. Perhaps in time they could have worn me down; but time was something I wasn’t about to give. Exhaust gasses blossomed into the void as I let loose with a computer-synchronized volley of military grade torpedoes. The Ballistic Control Systems performed beautifully, the five-part harmonic blasts of high-energy plasma warheads stripped the shields protecting the battery. Before the breakers could reset, before emergency power could be shunted, a second volley slashed into the armored side; reducing titanium plate to so much boiling vapor.
A pinged alert brought my primary focus back to the battle being fought between my drones and the doomed pirate ships. Two of the Destroyers were down, but one marginally intelligent frigate captain had started engaging the hobgoblins working on the third. I threw enough ECM at him to blind a battleships’ sensor arrays. I was fighting this battle on automatic; tactical simulations of this difficulty had literally been childsplay to me. Launchers were cycling on the sentry guns, drones were finishing off the frigates… It was almost too easy. And the first rule of survival in New Eden is that something too good to be true is a trap.
The third wave got off the station before I slammed a volley of torps into the hangar array and reduced the deck crew desperately preparing the Cruisers for launch into so much ash. At close range, the swarm managed to nibble my shields down a surprising amount; leaving me with a sensation akin to a headache even after the last defiant frigate was reduced to a hulk by my drones. I hadn’t asked for their surrender, and they hadn’t offered it. A broadcast to the hab modules ordering a stand-down, combined with an active target lock kept things nice and civilized until the Concord boarding craft could arrive to begin clearing the facility.
The thought nagged, however; why had it been so easy? Why were the famous Guristas Pirates, renowned for their tactical acumen, behaving like poorly-coded videogame AIs?