We raised glasses of Amarrian Imperial Stout, said ‘Cheers!’ and for a few moments appreciated the rich velvety brew.
“It’s a bit ironic that we celebrate the success of this mission with Amarrian beer,” smirked Gerhardt. “You’ll soon understand why. Let’s start from the beginning.”
“About a month ago I was approached by an agent who said he had a customer who was looking for the best courier in the Universe. That tickled my self-esteem, but wasn’t a blatant flattery – on the market I was recognised as, maybe not the best courier, but definitely as one of them. So I told the agent that the sweet talk wouldn’t get him anywhere and asked bluntly why me. The answer was simple and no-nonsense – because I had Victorieux. That immediately told me a few things about the mission – that the assignment was in null-sec or wormhole space, that the cargo was human and that they were desperate. First of all, you don’t need a luxury yacht to move goods; there are cheaper ships that can do that. Victorieux, on the other hand, is designed to move people, and rich people for that matter; it is mostly used by big wigs in hi-sec. The fact that the ship can fit a CovOps cloak is more of a coolness factor than a necessity – ‘Hey, you can’t see me!’ There are a lot of transport companies that can get you from point A to point B in hi-sec on a Victorieux, and their fee is much lower than capsuleer’s. At the same time, I was the only capsuleer courier who had a proven track record of breaking through blockades and avoiding gate camps in null-sec on Victorieux. So, in a sense, I was the best pilot for that mission. Naturally, I expressed my interest and the agent arranged that fateful meeting with the customer’s representative.”
“The representative introduced himself as Alf. He said that the mission was of utmost importance, that the mission could not fail, and that is why they were looking for best of the best. Then he gave me the mission outline: I had to pick up a Very Important Person with entourage in one of the null-sec systems; I had to pass through several null-sec and low-sec systems and safely deliver the passengers to Minmatar hi-sec space; I had to avoid Amarr space at all costs; there would be strong opposition to this mission; the system of departure was safe but there would be hostile gate camps along the whole length of the route; I would have assistance with the first gate camp but after that I would be on my own. Having drawn this picture, Alf asked if I still was interested? I replied that the mission was difficult but not impossible, and my interest depended on the expected remuneration. At that moment I was absolutely sure that they were desperate, and I could smell money, big money, Vlad. Alf produced a datapad and typed a number.”
Gerhardt made a pause, sipped his stout and stared out of the window at the planet below, as if it was difficult for him to continue. Finally, he looked at me and said, “Vlad, in all honesty, I should have declined the mission straight away. The figure that I saw on the screen was ridiculously large. It should have occurred to me that if the price of success was that high, so was the cost of failure. But with a typical capsuleer’s arrogance I thought that all I could lose was a ship and a life, not the life – after all, there was always a clone waiting for me! I was proven wrong just a few minutes later; you already know that part of the story.”
“I found myself in the same position as the pilots of airplanes,” Gerhadt smiled humorlessly, “they don’t have parachutes; if the plane crashes the pilots share the fate of the passengers. Having realised that, I received an incentive that no amount of money could have provided, and I wholeheartedly shared my customer’s conviction that the mission could not fail. I knew I had to do my best to prepare the ship for the mission; I ordered a few rare and expensive components which gave me every possible advantage in a cat-and-mouse game of null-sec courier missions. But I also knew it might not be enough. The ship may be fast, nimble and cloaky, but there is such thing as instalock. What it means is that your ship gets locked the moment it drops gate cloak, and then it is unable to use the CovOps cloak and is unable to warp. From that moment on you have two choices: either wait until the attackers blow you to smithereens or initiate self-destruction to at least deprive your enemies of bragging rights. Neither of those was acceptable for me. But I had one idea which could completely neutralise instalock.”
“CovOps cloak automation!” I exclaimed.
“Exactly,” agreed Gerhardt, “and I needed the lowest possible latency which could only be achieved with LCQ controllers. That’s where you came into the picture.”
“Strange,” mused I, “the program I wrote wasn’t something really unique. If we could solve the problem in three weeks, surely other people would have thought about such solution for that instalock problem before. By now, I’d expect it to be a standard, albeit expensive, option.”
Gerhardt chuckled, “You forgot about the sensors. You program might not be unique, but my sensors are. As far as I know, I am the only one who managed to implement automated detection of gate cloak, or rather of its absence.”
I looked at Gerhardt with renewed respect. Then I had an idea, “Ger, if we package your sensors and my program and sell the patent, we’ll become billionaires!”
He smiled, “I already am. Besides, I’d rather keep it to myself. The competitive advantage I have now is worth more than any patent.”
I couldn’t understand Gerhardt: if he indeed was a billionaire, why was he still interested in working as a courier? Meanwhile he continued his story.