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Stone Temple/Ekoo’s Stop

My head swam from the smell of incense and my knees ached from kneeling on the hard stone floor of the chapel. Deeply troubled by the turmoil created by recent Synergy actions against our Brothers, I spent most of the last couple of days in solitude, looking for answers. Some things had resolved themselves to some degree . . . others had not. Synergy had been moved to WAR status, but did not seem to be flying in any organized fashion, there were simply random acts of piracy and violence from individual Synergy pilots.

I walked down a deserted hallway from the Chapel towards ST Control. Upon entering the room, I first made myself a cup of strong coffee and then sat down heavily in my well-used leather chair and swiveled it towards the Cartography Holo in the center of the room. Using the control pad and trackball on the arm of my chair, I set the display to show beacon status. As usual these days the beacons were in complete disarray, most of them completely offline and showing gray. I quickly overlaid squad status on the holo and saw just one Brother in-flight — SlimPickns was in-flight . . . probably finding artifacts by the dozen as usual.

I finished my coffee in two scalding gulps, coerced my body up and out of the comfortable chair and headed for the hangar deck, ordering my Ranger to be prepped with a few key clicks on my wrist-comp. I strode out of ST Control and around the corner to the turbolift, then down three levels to the Hangar Deck.

The servos has just finished prepping my ship and is sat waiting for me, canopy open. Climbing up and into the cockpit, I strapped on my helmet, lowered the canopy and began pre-launch sequencing. As my ship was being lowered into the launch tube I opened the narrow-band squad comms and hailed.

“Hey, Ambro,” replied SlimPickns.

“Anything going on, Slim?”

“Nope. Been real quiet so far,” answered Slim.

“Hope it stays that way — at least until I get these beacons taken care of.”

I was shoved back into my seat as my ship was ejected into space. Swinging the ship around with practiced, almost unconscious movement, I headed toward Ring View. I had decided to tackle the back route down to TriPoint first. Jumping into Ring View I did a quick radar sweep and saw Winnkin (-=MACK=-) in a freighter, and then noticed a green blip . . . Elgamal, in a Ranger, with pirate tags! Unfortunately, he jumped out before I could get a fix on his position. I queried Winkkin, but he had not even seen the pirate. So I decided to escort the MACK freighter into The Gurge in case Elgamal was camping there.

I waited a few seconds after Winnkin jumped through to Gurge before following him. I wanted to give the pirate a chance to show his hand. But jumping in about 10 seconds later, the sector was clear except for Winnkin and a few low-level conflux.

Opening up squad narrow-band again, I broadcast “Elgamal … pirate tags.”

“Where?” This was a new voice — GrimGriz.

“Hey Grim. I made a brief contact in RV, but was unable to get a fix.”
Suffice it to say that we did not see Elgamal again. He probably either disappeared into unregulated space or docked at one of the many private stations that littered just about every sector these days.

While I was preoccupied with Elgamal, someone (I think it was GrimGriz) had flipped the beacons around TriPoint, so I headed back through Ekoo’s Stop and down into Omni V. Suddenly a TRI alert flashed on my HUD: “A pilot with a bounty from your faction has been spotted in Ring View.” I thought perhaps it was Elgamal, but over squad comms, GrimGriz said “Aslan.”

Over the years, Aslan had gone from being a staunch Octavian factionalist to once of the most hated pilots in TRI space. He seemed to thrive on disdain. Hearing the name, I flipped my ranger and headed back to Ring View, but by the time I got there . . . nothing.

“If it’s Aslan, he’s probably headed into The Gurge,” said GrimGriz.

“This is RIDIC,” a new Brother had come on, “I’m headed your way from QC and will assist as soon as I can.”

“Roger, I’m headed to Gurge. Not sure how long I can delay him with this Ranger,” I answered. In the few minutes it took my Ranger to fly the 60,000 kliks to The Gurge, I rechecked the status of all systems and armed my two Purgatory Missiles. As soon as I jumped through the gate into The Gurge I saw the red blip on the radar. Cycling as quickly as possible, I targeted Aslan. He was in a heavy miner — which mean he was mounting some serious firepower and major shielding, but almost no maneuverability. I took a wide sweeping course, easily catching up to him, and keeping away from the miner’s front-mounted guns. As I got within 5k I fired off my purgs and got ready to start hitting Aslan with my twin Spitfires.

As soon as he got the missile alert, he began burning for Evening’s End, but that gate was a long way away. I began pounding him and one of the missiles hit. Aslan’s shields were down to 53%, but he had plenty of shield and armor to go. Another missile hit. Bingo! With shields nearly gone, he slowed and started turning to fire at me. I kept firing my twin Spits rapidly until I saw him start to get a bead and then I burned away. Aslan turned back towards EE and resumed burning toward the gate — but I had succeeded in slowing him down. This sequence of events re-ran two more times. After the last time, RIDIC was on-radar and burning towards us, so Aslan went back to ignoring my peppering fire and headed to Evening’s End.

Try as we might, RIDIC and I were not able to take Aslan’s miner down before he was able to land at EE. Amazingly, though, Aslan decide to launch again just a minute later. We were out after him, and by this time, GrimGriz had arrived with his Vant Monsoon. Now, with heavy-mortar power, Aslan was done-in quickly.

After a momentary pause to enjoy the victory, RIDIC, GrimGriz and I departed from Evening’s End. RIDIC had a project awaiting him back at QC, Griz went off to do one of the many things that Griz does, and I decided to try to tune a few more beacons.

After just a couple of beacons tuned (and a couple of unreg sectors claimed), Singleshot got on squad comms and was asking about the improved V.A.P.O.R. lasers. I told him I would run down to Hyperial with him to check them out (since the TRI market network was still on the blink and we could not check their supply). We met at Stone Temple, where I switched ships to a Monsoon, figuring I’d use the extra cargo space to bring a few V.A.P.O.R.s back.

On the way down I continued my regular task of beacon maintenance. Tuning Hyperian-space beacons to Quantar frequencies always gave me a special kind of pleasure. Sadly, after running all the way to Hyperial, Singleshot and I found that, due to some Hyperian intrigue, production of the new V.A.P.O.R.s had been delayed. Disappointed, Singleshot decided to grab a room in Hyp station and check again the next day (personally, I hate sleeping in that place. I figure if I ever closed my eyes there they’d never open again).

Brother JackLord- happened to be at Hyperial grabbing some equipment. Jack stocks . . . I tune . . . it’s just what we do. I continued beacon tuning through Far Gate, then up into Hyperian Hook, and then back through Rear Gate up towards home space. The first few sectors were uneventful, but as I was about half-way through Reaches, Jack called over comms: “Oh no, Rebound is in here.”

I burned for Main Gate, where Jack was, knowing he was a sitting duck for the Synergy Pirate. I was still smarting from the Synergy-induced turmoil over the last couple days and the very last thing I wanted was another Brother going home in a pod because of them. I burned a flashfire (only two left since I had Duely and BCU installed). In a few seconds I was through the gate. Rebound was about 20,000 kliks away and vectoring towards Jack’s freighter in a Dragon. With that firepower on his tail, Jack would not have a long time if I didn’t get there quickly.

I was just a few seconds behind Jack and Rebound as they jumped into GVB sector. As my ship materialized in the GVB gate, suddenly I felt boom, boom, boom . . . my teeth rattled from the impact of the Flail ammunition on my shields. I burned out of the gate and went evasive, pleased that Rebound was firing at me rather than Jack. As my shields began to regain strength, I started circling in preparation to engage Rebound.

He was just over 4k away as I simultaneously flipped and flashfired on a vector to engage. Unfortunately my angle was too sharp , too close to a joust. I got in a few shots, then boom, boom, boom shields melted away again. I flashfired away – last one. I was armored and Rebound had only minimal shield damage. Damn those Dragons. The only thought on my mind at this point was giving Jack as much head start as possible. Rebound flashfired after me and I went ammo-evasive. Finally he started to hit with a few shots. I didn’t have much time, so I decided to make one last run. It ended in a blinding flash and the immense pressure of pod ejection. My stomach flipped as the pod sped back through Hyp Gate, Round and finally Home – The Stone Temple.

I wanted to know how Jack had fared, but was afraid to ask. Then came a transmission . . . Jack’s voice: “I’m in Rounds headed to Ekoo. I’ll be in in about 30 seconds, Rebound should be about 20 seconds behind me.”

Relief flooded over me, but I had no time to spare. My pod had been installed in a new Monsoon hull and I quickly began the process of installing and checking all of the systems. 40 seconds . . . next I ordered up armor check and refuel – the servo droids seemed to take forever . . . 25 seconds . . . I did a final pre-launch sequence and checked the power grid to make sure everything was online and operational and then mashed the launch button.

My ship was lowered into the launch tube . . . 15 seconds . . . and finally, stars. My ship was in space and I hit the afterburners as I scanned for Rounds Gate.

Jack was in sector already, burning for QC. Seconds later, I saw the tell-tale red blip in the Rounds of Quantos gate – Rebound. “I’m on him, Jack,” I said.

“Launching from QC,” came RIDIC’s voice. “Bring him to Omni V if you can, Ambro.”

At first, Rebound seemed to head towards JackLord-, but then he must have seen me and changed direction. I tried to take a wider vector, but he closed the gap quickly. Boom a flail shot lit up my shields – but just one. So far so good. But I could not get a good vector on him. I lit off a flashfire to get room, but he was right behind me. Boom . . . boom . . . boom. Shields nearly gone. I let go of a few Morningstars – didn’t want to die with them on the racks – and then flashfired in a wide arc, trying to get him to slow down and try to turret me. It worked as I saw a flash and a big dent in Rebound’s shields. I went on the offensive again, even though my shields had only recharged to 50%, letting loose with my FeatherFires and a couple more missiles.

Boom . . . boom . . . “Warning!” announced the computer’s metallic voice, announcing that I had taken armor damage.

“I’m in Omni V if you can get him in here,” said RIDIC.

“Don’t think I can,” I replied. “Totally defensive.”

My thumb was white from pressing on the AB button. Glancing at my H.U.D., I knew that I couldn’t burn for much longer. I corkscrewed wildly, evading the powerful Flail ammo. Rebound was less than 4k behind me and gaining. He was flying straight which meant he was faster than me.

“Hurry up, RIDIC!” I yelled. “Can’t last much longer . . .”

Rebound was now closing in on 2,000 kliks away. At that range, no amount of corkscrewing was going to save me. Desperate, I flipped and burned hard. The slower-reacting Dragon was clearly caught by surprise and I was able to gain about 5,000 kliks. Miraculously, I was vectoring toward Omni V As Rebound burned another flashfire, I began corkscrewing again.

“I’m in!” C’mon, RIDIC. I kept my radar locked on Rebound, measuring the distance and varying my evasion. I knew RIDIC would be on him quickly as I was less than 12k from the Omni V gate. Rebound must have been completely focused in on me as well, as I saw his shields begin to melt away from RIDIC’s attack.

Seeing that Rebound had refocused his attention on RIDIC, I flipped and headed back in case he got into trouble – which can happen rapidly against a Dragon. But RIDIC had taken Rebound by surprise and now had him on the defensive. I use the last of my AB fuel to head back into the fray and opened up with my four guns at long distance, but quickly was blinded by the explosion of the Synergy ship.

“Woooooohoooo! I thought you were gonna steal my kill,” laughed RIDIC.

Great job, RIDIC. Thanks for getting my back.”

“No problem, boss.”

I exhaled. Not sure how long I had held that breath, but it seemed like an awful long time. Cutting throttle, I slowly scanned for Stone Temple. There it sat – less than 20k away, and looking quite welcoming. I looked forward to letting go of the control stick (if I could pry my fingers off) and then finding a space-cold Q Ice. After a couple of quiet cruises and a period of isolation and meditation, it had been quite a cruise.

Stone Temple/Ekoo’s Stop

I had stopped at Corridor for a bite to eat and was shocked to see a veritable throng of young Quants milling around. Apparently the TRI network problem has resulted in the shutdown of the “alteration process” that all pilots must succumb-to before being able to traverse a jumpgate (alive). So the numbers of prospective recruits shuttling up from the planets and getting stranded on stations (they buy one-way tickets) was growing at an alarming rate.

A few of the recruits saw my ship come up the lift to the hangar floor and jogged over for a closer look. I gave them a quick tour but stopped short of letting any of them into the cockpit.

After the tour and a barrage of questions, a few of the rookies asked me to join them in a sporting contest — one which had been “discovered” from one of the tens of thousands of DSS that had been recently recovered. This one, alternately called “b-ball” and “hoops” was becoming popular with the young Quantar. To make a long story short, the game involved quite a bit of running, jumping and shoving people around (I excelled at the latter and had some most impressive statistics on something called “fouls”). It quickly became clear that I have spent far too much time in the cockpit and not nearly enough time keeping in shape. But I rather enjoyed the game and have been invited to come back and join the young initiates for a weekly contest.

After a brief recovery from the “hoops” and a quick shower at Stone Temple, I prepared to head out for a brief cruise. Again, this night, there were no Brothers in flight, so I checked one beacon status and found that, again, there was quite a bit of maintenance necessary. I wondering loudly to myself (since no one else could fit in the cockpit of a ranger anyway) what happened to the good old days when rookie pilots handled this duty.

The beac duty was completely uneventful and I tuned in to a new subspace broadcast band that is starting to transmit music and TRI news (and, of course, commercials). It helped fill the void a bit with the squad comms (as well as other public channels) being deadly silent this night.

ShyTown/Ring View

After a day filled with reports and paperwork in the aftermath of our successful blockade action, I decided to take a short cruise. Quantar beacons had been completely disrupted — must have been an ion storm running through our quadrant. Some Oct has even had the audacity to tune a few of the beacons near TriPoint red!

I left the Stone Temple in a boostered Ranger to try to make the chore a bit quicker — but it was still dreadfully boring work, especially with no Brothers in-flight and on the comms to chat with.

The beacon re-synchronization round went fairly uneventfully. I warned off a lower-level Oct from squad PBJ & Milk who had tuned Inner Roh, and I had to kill a manta in the Dark Path with stock size 1 shield and no duelist because Chains/Arcadians was in there already fighting four mantas. It was not a problem — just took a bit of patience.

I headed back toward Stone Temple via Ring View, but decided instead to stop here at Brother KodaShy’s station. Koda was out so I decided to avail myself of his hospitality, make this brief journal entry and crash for the night. I still have not quite recovered from the grueling two-day blockade and a good, long night’s sleep here away from the bustle at Stone Temple sounds like the right idea.

Spork’s Phoons/KH

Still bleary after a tough night of fighting just about every ship we saw last night. What a night! Our Brothers fought with the valor of Orus running again and again into the teeth of the enemy — Lions of Hamalzah, all! From the limited data I have been able to gather, we were successful in our endeavor, with the Hyperial mission advancing very little over the course of the battle.

Brothers SingleShot, RIDIC and SKillelea were all on blockade duty (Brother Windstar had been there, too, but had to leave after receiving an emergency call from family at Corridor) when I joined them after a long flight from Château Marquis (where I had been rad-mining) and brief stops at QC and Stone Temple (to register as Honor Guard and pick up my Phoon).

The log of the battles is too long for me to record here. Suffice it to say that we were often outnumbered. But with the faith and courage of our group — which grew to include RangerW, JackLord and PGShadow — The Brotherhood was able to seriously impede the progress of the misguided “mercy mission” spearheaded by TRI Marshals. Through the progress of the night, our losses mounted, but there were even more pods marked “TRI Marshals, DragonEye, Lapis Lazuli, Solicidal and Synergy” this night.

Thank Hamalzah that our unintended allies, ISU, chose to make their stand against the mission down in Hyperial, while The Brotherhood and Mujahedin fought bravely in GVB, KH, Main Gate and (occasionally) The Reaches.

Now it’s time for some rest and meditation, as I suspect the opposition will return with renewed vigor and new tactics this evening.

RangerW’s Beer Hall/Quantar Core Sector

I awoke in the cockpit of my Phoon, in the hangar deck of RangerW’s station. Neck stiff . . . back sore . . . completely disoriented. Then I remembered: Beer Hall . . . last night . . . DAMN, what a headache! The headache only got worse as I reviewed the squad logs from last night. ISU had run a remarkably underhanded “sting” on RangerW and had cost him in a big way. I abhor politics almost (but not quite) as much as I abhor egotistical bullies — and this mess was going to involve both.

I brought my Phoon out of stand-by state and prepared to launch, first checking in on BH comms to see who was active. As it turned out Spork and Singleshot were just under way on a Faction Mission. I finally caught up with them in Greater Arm where Spork was getting roughed-up by some flux. It was my turn to look the fool in Outer Gyre where a manta-gank took me down to 3% armor. Brother SingleShot got quite the laugh out of that one.

After a quick stop at Stone Harvest for repairs, we were back on our way to Amananth. SingleShot got sidetracked at the Nacho Bar there, but after a bio-break (and a quick beac run for Spork), Spork and I set out back to QC with the mission of collecting beacon data on the way. Singleshot, now stuffed to capacity with nachos, rejoined us before we got too far and the rest of the flight back was uneventful.

Once I had turned the memory disk containing the beacon data over a to the QC Station Master, I flew back to The Stone Temple to try to rid myself of the Beer-Hall induced headache and the ISU-induced knots in my stomach.
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The headache had mostly subsided, but I could not get the whole ISU deception off my mind. I was unable to get into a deep meditative trance — even with the aid of prayer-spice.

Brotherhood communication channels were quiet so I decided on a long, solitary cruise with a little beac-tuning and a little ISU-hunting to boot. The main hangar area of the Temple still had an “earthy” smell from two loads of ore that I had transferred to the refining silo just yesterday. It was a good smell — one I had not smelled in far too long.

I did a quick walk-around my Typhoon, double-checking that my Purgatory missiles were mounted properly. All looked good, so I climbed into the cockpit, gave the order to seal the canopy, ran through my pre-launch checklist and plotted a course where I would flip beacs over to GVB where I would swap-out my BCU and cruise unreg.

The cruise was completely uneventful — boring in fact. I flipped my Quant beacs and then headed up into Zealots refuge, then over through Light Lost to GBS — empty. I launched from GBS and headed up to Lothar’s Landing — not a single ship encountered. The last leg of my journey brought me down through Dark Gateway and Diluted Reaches . . . Stith, Connexion, Ring View and then, finally, HOME!

The mission was completely boring — yet successful. The headache was gone. The ISU problem had receded, temporarily, to the back of my mind. And I was completely ready for sleep.