I ordered another round of stout, and Gerhardt continued, “The customer had put some thought into the breakout tactics. First of all, I noticed that there was another Victorieux in the fleet; I guess it was supposed to be used as a decoy. Secondly, the fleet was split into two wings with a Victorieux in each one. The other wing jumped through the gate first and engaged the campers on the others side.”
“And while the hostiles were busy with the first wing, yours could jump through and move to another gate without any interference?” I said excitedly.
“I wish it was that easy. The enemy fleet commander was no slouch too. He had eyes on our side of the gate and knew that there were two yachts in the fleet, and guessed the VIP was in one of them. He didn’t know in which one, therefore he had to destroy both. So when we jumped through the gate a few seconds later we found that while half his fleet was bashing the first wing, another half was waiting for us. Our wing commander, seeing such disposition, instantly changed the plan. All our ships, except me, immediately dropped the gate cloak and engaged the waiting enemy, trying to keep them busy with defence and to drive them away from the gate landing area. As soon as there weren’t any ships within 2000 metres, I switched the gate cloak to CovOps and warped to the next gate. By the way, LCQ controller worked like a charm, thank you, Vlad.”
“You are most welcome, Ger!” We laughed and high-fived. “But what happened to the friendly fleet?”
“No idea. To be honest, I didn’t give them a single thought during the rest of the mission. After the first gate I was totally on my own and neither had time to worry about them, nor expected their help. When I jumped through the second gate I found myself in a bubble.”
“It’s a sphere within which a ship can’t warp; usually generated by a warp disruptor – a favourite gate camper’s weapon. Aura and I just laughed when we saw it; the old girl was immune to such shenanigans, so we repeated the cloak switching trick and warped to the third gate. Judging by what I had seen on my inbound route, beyond it we should have encountered the third and the last gate camp. Jumping through the gate, I confirmed my guess, but then I saw the most terrifying sight in my life.”
“What?” whispered I holding my breath.
Gerhardt made a theatrical pause and then slowly pronounced, “Right in front of my viewport, not thirty metres away, there was floating… a corpse.”
I gasped and rather daftly asked, “Whose?”
“Dunno. Probably, some pour soul who unwittingly flew into the gate camp. But its identity didn’t matter. What mattered was that it was thirty metres away.”
“So what? You were afraid that it would break your viewport when you warped?” smirked I.
“No, not that! Because of that bastard I couldn’t use the CovOps cloak!” exclaimed Gerhardt.
“Wait, you told me about that minimal 2K distance for CovOps cloak activation, but I thought it applied only to other ships.”
“Nah, any object larger than stardust. Pretty much anything that can be detected by your radar and appears on your overview. ”
“Holy crap! And I thought my LCQ program had you covered. So what did you do?”
“What would you do?” asked Ger.
“I don’t know, I am not a pilot. Probably, I’d try to warp away without the cloak.”
“Hmm, in fact there are two schools of thought about escaping gate camps without a benefit of the cloak, and one of them advocates exactly the same approach as you just described.”
At this point I felt a bit smug as I finally managed to say something that was not completely off the mark. Meanwhile, Gerhardt continued his lecture, “The proponents of the other school are in favour of turning back and ‘burning to the gate’. Each method has its own advantages, but the problem is you can’t choose one depending on the situation. A pilot has to weigh his options while he is still in the dock, fit the ship according to his preference and then simply follow the chosen path.”
“And what did you choose?”
“In fact, I fitted my ship for burning to the gate. You see, warping-without-cloak school bets on the fact that they can warp away before the enemy puts enough points on your ship.”
“Points?” interjected I.
“Sorry, point is a warp disruptor which prevents a ship from warping.”
“But you said Victorieux was immune to warp disruptors.”
“Only to the stationary ones,” explained Gerhardt. “Still there is a way to counter ship-mounted disruptors by fitting warp core stabilisers. If you throw in inertial stabilisers you’ll be able to align to your destination and enter a warp much faster. So, a warping-away advocate would fit his ship with these two types of modules. This tactic is good for frigates, which are inherently nimble. Victorieux, however, is a cruiser-class ship; it turns much slower but it has its own advantages, for example, better defence. Thus, if I am caught naked after jumping, I have a better chance of surviving if I turn away and burn to the gate while taking enemy fire.”
“Sorry,” interrupted I, “you keep talking about ‘burning to the gate’. I guess it means flying towards the gate. One thing that I don’t understand is why you need to do it at all. If you have just jumped through the gate, can’t you immediately jump back?”
“No,” said Gerhardt, “After jumping your will be about twelve kilometres away from the gate, ten of which you will have to fly before you can jump back. And so I did. That’s when my other improvements paid off. Remember when you were hacking the controller in solitary confinement? I spent that time searching for and fitting the best defence modules I could find. I was well prepared for this situation but ultimately I wouldn’t have survived without certain elements of luck. Firstly, the third line of gate camps was not as dense as the first two. Make no mistake, I was pointed immediately after I dropped the gate cloak, but before they got close enough to scram me, my micro-warp drive gave me a solid head start towards the gate. Secondly, I was lucky that the group of chasers from the second gate camp jumped through this gate pretty much at the same time as I reached it and jumped back. If they arrived a few seconds earlier I would not have made it.”
“So, I gather that you were in a pretty bad shape when you reached the gate…”
“Yeah, 80% of the hull was gone. You should have seen the repair bill! I thought it might have been cheaper to buy a new yacht, but I’ll keep this one – it’s lucky,” winked Gerhardt.
“I guess, it is,” agreed I, “but how did you get out of that system?”
“It had other gates. I knew they were all guarded so I chose one randomly and jumped through it. As I expected, there was a gate camp but no corpses this time. Once again I used the cloak switching trick and finally broke through the blockade. Still, the pesky campers were chasing me all the way to the station. Even in hi-sec I had to use the LCQ program to switch cloaks. When we finally docked I felt a mixture of triumph and emptiness. That intense half an hour, – yes, the whole thing took just 30 minutes, – absolutely exhausted me. Never before, even in the most desperate dog fights, I felt such strain. Now I know how the fighter pilots in the pre-capsuleer era felt, but I still don’t understand how they could make themselves go through such hell time and again, knowing they had just one life.”
Gerhardt went silent and stared through the viewport. I didn’t bother him; it seemed that even recounting that experience was emotionally taxing. For a while we just sat and watched ships arriving to and departing from the station. Finally, Gerhardt took a deep breath, shook his head, smiled and turned to me. Then I knew he got over it and I was ready with my next question, “And how were your passengers?”
Gerhardt chuckled, “Oh, when I saw them, they were in a worse state than a ship. No, they weren’t injured but I guess they were scared as hell, all except Alf. He was a capsuleer and knew what it was like to be under fire in a spaceship. Before leaving Victorieux he approached me and silently shook my hand – that gesture expressed his appreciation more than any words. But also he didn’t forget about the financial part of our deal and we finalised it by touching our datapads. After that he escorted the VIP out.”
“Oh, by the way, who was that VIP?” I asked eagerly.
“Let’s see if you can guess. Listen to this conversation,” said Gerhardt and produced his datapad.