The Forge Region – Anttanen Constellation
14 January YC 121
In a training video where some guy demonstrated how to scan cosmic signatures everything looked so easy. You just needed to centre your constellation of probes on the apparent location of the signature, analyse, and repeat until you got 100% signal strength. In practice, manipulation of the probes in 3D space was a finicky business. If centring was less than perfect you could end up with a weaker signal strength than on the previous attempt. It took quite a few scans and quite a lot of curses before I finally got a solid reading and a warp location.
When I arrived to the training data site I was greeted by a lonely container and Rulie Isoryn. She explained that I had to use Civilian Data Analyser to inject a virus into the container security controller and then guide it through various defence subsystems to the core. In real data sites one could expect to find valuable resources used for invention of Tech II ships and modules. Here, at the training site all I would get was a Proof of Discovery document that I had to return to Chigas.
The virus control screen reminded me of some ancient turn-based dungeon-crawling video game where every step discovered a new location and nasties that inhabited it. But the hacking procedure wasn’t nearly as difficult as some of the games I used to play. In the hindsight I realised that I couldn’t possibly fail. Disappointed, I called Rulie.
“Hey, Rulie, do you have anything more challenging than that?”
“No,” replied she, “but you’ll find more difficult containers at real data sites.”
“So, supposing I have decent equipment and good skills, this looks like a quick and easy way to make money, huh?”
“Depends,” smiled Rulie, “in null-sec and low-sec it may be quick but not easy – you may get blown up by pirates and the loss of the ship will offset previous gains. Conversely, in hi-sec you don’t expect expensive loot, but you’ll be relatively safe,” here she smirked, “unless you find a ghost site.”
Despite the carefully controlled temperature of pod goo, my skin got covered in goosebumps, “What, with real space ghosts?”
“No, it’s just a poetic name,” laughed Rulie. “Your probe scanner will identify it as Lesser Covert Research Facility. But you know, it’s better to meet a ghost than to spend more than a minute inside that site.”
“What will happen if I do?” asked I, wide-eyed.
“Basically, two things. Firstly, pirate security forces will warp in and explode all cans. It is almost impossible to survive the blast in a frigate, but if you fly something more solid, like a Stratios, and tank the damage then the pirates will scramble your warp drive and try to blow you up. They usually succeed.”
“Okay,” said I slowly, “and what if I manage to hack a can within a minute?”
“Then you’ll get extremely valuable Shattered Villard Wheels used for ‘Ascendancy’ implant set manufacturing. The total cost of loot can go into tens of millions kredits.”
I was astounded – millions of kredits in less than a minute! Exploration started looking like a really worthy career path. I thanked Rulie for the information, warped back to the Academy and spent the rest of the day reading all I could find about hacking techniques, exploration ships and their fits.
15 January YC 121
On Tuesday I requested another mission from Chigas; this time he sent me to a relic site. I can’t say I learned anything new compared to the previous mission – same scanning, same hacking. The only difference was that I had to use a Relic Analyser but again its virus control interface was exactly the same as for Data Analyser. Having retrieved the Proof of Discovery I returned to the Academy.
“That was quick,” said Chigas. “I see you are getting a hang of it.”
“Yeah, it’s not really rocket science.”
“Haha! No, it’s not. Rocket Science takes a whole month to learn with a skillbook. I don’t know how people managed to study it before the skillbooks were invented. Anyway, are you ready for your last mission?”
“Last? Is that it? The whole course?” exclaimed I in astonishment.
“I’ve told you it was a short one,” shrugged Chigas. “Now, your last mission is about gas sites.”
“Do I need to fit anything to harvest the gas?”
“No, just like in the museum the gas is not real Mykoserocin; it would be too expensive. The main purpose of this exercise is to acquaint you with a rather peculiar navigation technique – secure acceleration gates.”
“Are they somehow different from regular acceleration gates?” asked I.
“They are. To go through a secure gate you need a key.”
“And where will I get that key?”
“I’ll give you one,” beamed Chigas.
“That simple?” I was disappointed. “You, guys, could have made it a bit more interesting, for example, put the key into the relic container in the previous mission. Just as you did with the exploration equipment – I got it in one mission and that enabled me to complete the next ones.”
“Hmm… I didn’t think about it. But you are right, retrieving a key for the next mission sounds like a more motivating challenge than just getting an otherwise useless Proof of Discovery document. I’ll talk to my supervisor about it.”
“Okay, I am ready. Give me the key.”
“Oh, let me send a message to the warehouse crew – they will deliver and load it in your cargo hold.”
“Deliver? Load? How big is it?” asked I.
“Um, about one cubic metre.”
“One cubic metre? Why is it so large? I thought it would be something like a remote control for a garage door which fitted in a pocket.”
“I don’t know where a capsuleer would keep such key in the pod unless he was a marsupial, hehe,” giggled Chigas but quickly stopped, seeing that I was not amused. “Erm, but honestly, I have no idea why it has to be that big.”
I shook my head and went to the docks.
As anticipated, the mission was boring – scan down a gas site, warp to the location, go through the acceleration gate and get a Proof of Discovery from the unsecured container. I didn’t even have to do anything special about the key; it worked remotely and automatically. Why the Academy bothered to include this last mission in the course was a mystery to me.
Actually, there was one unexpected encounter during that mission. Shortly after jumping through the acceleration gate I saw another capsuleer warping in. She was flying a roughed up Merlin, which looked like it just escaped a fight with Drifters. Having arrived to the gas site she immediately headed to the container. I was a bit ahead of her and probably faster, if she didn’t use a prop mod, so I looted the only container in the area first. Then I saw her approach the can, inspect it and then warp away. I was curious what she found inside. I left the container empty but given it’s a training one, it could have been equipped with some kind of dispenser which refilled it. I wanted to ask the girl, but thought her abrupt departure meant she didn’t want to talk to me.
When I returned to the station I found a nice surprise waiting for me there. Grinning Chigas congratulated me on completion of the course and said, “Remember, you complained that Bantam was an unsuitable reward for an exploration mission? I discussed that with my manager and we found a way to replace your cash reward for the last mission with a proper exploration ship, a Heron-class frigate.”
“Chigas, I… I don’t know what to say. Well, thank you, this is most unexpected, I mean, in a good way. You certainly went above and beyond your duty. But where did you get that frigate? I don’t think you had time to order it and arrange the delivery.”
“Aha, that’s the most interesting part! That Heron was actually surplus stock. We ordered it long time ago for an exploration instructor but Rulie Isoryn prefers to fly in her industrial ship; she actually lives in it. So that Heron has been gathering dust in a hangar for a few years. And you know, I hate when things are wasted but now I hope you’ll put it to good use.”
“I most definitely will. Thank you again, Chigas,” I shook his hand. “I really enjoyed working with you. And listen, if you ever need a lift to your home system, don’t hesitate to contact me. I appreciate everything you’ve done for me and if you want to count favours, consider I owe you one.”
We parted best friends, or at least I thought so.