Field Tests

I didn’t know how to use a jetpack, so Gerhardt packed me in a spacesuit, put another one on and towed me to the yacht. That unusual mode of travel was caused by the lack of in-space docking facilities on the little “runabout”. Victorieux, being a luxury yacht, was equipped with a ship-to-ship dock, but it takes two to dance.

Inside, Victorieux was even more impressive than outside. That’s where the saying “to be on velvet” took a literal meaning. All the furniture was upholstered in royal blue velvet, the walls were lined with panels made from rare and precious Corellian birch, soft music and lighting created a relaxing ambiance and a fully-stocked bar with expensive Amarrian crystalware was waiting for the customers.

Having traced the direction of my wistful look, Gerhardt said, “Help yourself while I am getting the pod back, but don’t get too enthusiastic – we still have work to do.”

I was still shaken by the revelation that we were in null-sec and were not going to leave it too soon, so I needed a drink badly.

“Thanks. Just for medicinal purposes,” muttered I and headed to the bar.

While I was sipping my medicine, Gerhardt returned to the small ship in a spacesuit, boarded the pod and moved it back to Victorieux. Then we flew to the “nice quiet place in null-sec”. There, near one of the gates Gerhardt positioned six modified combat probes which were continuously scanning the surroundings. Their goal was to detect the yacht as soon as it dropped the gate cloak and determine how long it was visible until the CovOps cloak was activated. Those probes were the reason why we had to do the testing in null-sec – the safer regions had too much traffic which would interfere with measurements. Also, the probes could have been nicked by any passing ship – they did not have registered ownership and, thus, were not protected by CONCORD. In this case, the problem was not the cost (they were cheap as dirt, according to Gerhardt), but the time it would take to customise another set of probes and precisely position them around the gate. Having considered all this, Gerhardt took a calculated risk of conducting the tests in a null-sec system controlled by his mates. The choice was good as during all our time there only once we saw a stranger on an exploration ship who was probably as jumpy and cautious as we were. All other traffic through the gates consisted exclusively of the ships of the local corporation with a golden-blue circular logo.

The field tests were a chore. Each test cycle followed the same routine:

  1. Gerhardt would jump through the gates out of the system and then jump back.
  2. While the gate cloak was on, he would activate the new LCQ function that I developed and wait until the controller automatically replaced the gate cloak with the CovOps one.
  3. We would receive and inspect the test results from the probes.
  4. Gerhardt would go outside to rearrange sensor position, or sometimes would bring the sensor back for tinkering.
  5. I would reprogram the controller based on the new position and sensitivity level of the sensors.
  6. Then go to step 1 and repeat ad nauseum.

The problem that we discovered during the very first test was that the gate cloak did not disappear at the same time from all parts of the ship. For that reason, cloak sensors fired at different times. Probes, however, detected the ship the moment the cloak disappeared on any part of its body. So, the challenge was to find a typical pattern of decloaking for this ship and position the sensors in those places which normally lost the cloak first.

We were lucky that such pattern existed, and using a method of gradient descent we were able to discover all local extrema points. Then, Gerhardt went through multiple iterations of sensor calibration until the time gap between two cloaks was consistently under 13 microseconds – that’s the time it takes light to travel 4 kilometres. Gerhardt explained that 2 kilometres was the minimum distance to another ship which allowed us to use the CovOps cloak. If we were closer, then the cloak would be useless, but if we were farther then the scanning beam would have to travel at least 4 kilometres from the scanner to our ship and back, hence the 13-microsecond target.

At last, after what seemed like an eternity in a hamster wheel, Gerhardt declared the field tests finished. I suggested to put the bar to a good use and celebrate the success, but Gerhardt had no time to lose. He flew me back to the nearest hi-sec station where we settled the bill. Before he left I managed to ask just one question.

“Look, mate, there is a bonus clause in the contract. It says that the amount will be set at your discretion contingent on the successful completion of the field tests, and will be paid on September 7, YC118. If the test results are the only condition and you are happy with them, why not pay me now?”

“Ah, but there is another condition,” replied Gerhardt, “I have to be alive on that day, and that depends on the quality of your work.” With that, he turned around and headed to the dock.

I was wondering what an immortal being like a capsuleer could mean by that, when I remembered his words “It’s complicated.”

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