The Forge Region – Onirvura Constellation
14 July YC 121
Although there was still a whole lot of stuff and ships remaining in Uitra, I decided against investing my time into moving it all to Poinen. If I needed something, I reasoned, I could always go there and bring another load to the new base. Besides, I was keen to start exploration in earnest and I had everything I needed, or so I thought.
“Where do we go today?” asked Aura when I boarded Haikarat.
“We don’t really need to go anywhere,” said I. “Let’s just kick this frigate out of the dock and start with exploring Poinen. Then we can visit the rest of Onirvura Constellation.”
“Sounds like a plan,” agreed Aura.
After we undocked I bookmarked a safe spot, warped there and launched the probes. The scanner showed four signatures which was more than I had seen in any other system so far. I rubbed my hands and started signature analysis. The first one that I managed to scan down was Sunspark Nebula Gas Site.
“What a beautiful name,” said Aura. “Let’s warp to it.”
“Err… I thought we were exploring, not gas huffing,” objected I.
“And that’s exactly what I propose to do – exploring, which means flying around and seeing things. The fact that you have identified the coordinates of a place doesn’t mean that you have explored it.”
“Well, if you insist…” I shrugged and warped to the site.
The view was, to use a kind word, unremarkable. Have you ever seen a cloud? If you have, then you don’t need to go to the trouble of procuring an exploration frigate, training your scanning skills and analysing cosmic signatures in Poinen system. Just picture a fluffy amorphous object in your mind and you’ve got it – a Sunspark Nebula.
“And where are the sun sparks?” asked Aura in a disappointed tone.
“I guess, the surveyor had a hyperactive imagination,” replied I hiding a smile.
Aura sighed, “That’s another reason for us to never get into mining – the aesthetics of asteroid belts and gas clouds is totally lost on us.”
“Not completely,” I said teasingly. “Look, for example, at these asteroids. I find their composition intriguing and their shapes evocative. Don’t you think they resemble a giant’s fingers?”
Aura rolled her eyes, “Vlad, please, don’t. I believe you have skills to become an art critic, but you will hang yourself before you achieve any sort of fame.”
I made an innocent face, “Just trying to find a bright side.”
“Better try finding another site,” retorted Aura gloomily.
“As you wish, ma’am,” barked I and warped back to the safe spot.
The next signature turned out to be a wormhole. This time I didn’t need Aura’s invitation to visit the place. Her remark about the meaning of exploration finally sank in and I realised that, although I had scanned a few wormholes before, I had never visited one. Boy, was it beautiful! The photo I took cannot start describing the strange attraction of an opalescent pulsating wound in the space-time continuum. Mesmerised, I subconsciously willed Haikarat to approach the entry which was getting closer and closer and closer… when I heard Aura yell, “Vlad, stop! It will suck you in!”
Startled, I aborted the approach. Reluctantly turning away from the wormhole I said, “You know that there are built-in safeguards in the ship. It won’t get close enough until I explicitly will it to jump through.”
Aura scoffed, “That’s what you were about to do. You should have seen your face – you looked like a rabbit marching into a python’s maw. Do you want me to playback the camera recording of your gaping mouth?”
“No, thank you. I don’t know what I was going to do, but what I know is that some day I will return in a Buzzard and see the world at the other end.”
I glanced for the last time at the wormhole and warped away. Out of the two remaining signatures, I selected one called VVS-981 for scanning. It was an easy one and soon I had coordinates of Local Guristas Virus Test Site.
“Cool,” said Aura. “There may be datacores.”
“Hey, don’t do anything silly there,” I warned her. “I don’t want you to get infected.”
“Don’t worry, hon. I have the latest AV software installed.”
I shook my head and warped to the signature. The place was smaller than the backup server I looted in Tuuriainas – it had only two Info Shards hidden between asteroids. I didn’t expect much loot but at least we wouldn’t spend too much time in this dangerous, for Aura, place. Both Shards were easy to hack (core strength 50) and soon I became a proud owner of a Symmetry Decryptor and… some carbon.
“Carbon? What do they do with carbon?” asked I.
“Dunno,” replied Aura. “May be it was the last of the coal-powered space stations.”
“Or they used it in a stove to make pizza and achieve, you know, that ‘real’ wood-fired aroma.”
“Or they pressed it into diamonds!”
“But here are no diamonds,” noted I.
“And no pizzas, and no datacores. What a waste of a place! Let’s check the last signature.”
And so we did. It was a bit harder to scan but soon we pinned it down and identified the site as Guristas Scout Outpost.
“There won’t be any datacores there, only a lot of uncouth pirates with murderous intentions,” said Aura. “Let’s jump to another system.”
“Wait a moment. Aren’t you curious what a Guristas Outpost looks like?” asked I.
“But you’ve said yourself that exploring is not just scanning. It’s sightseeing.”
“I have nothing against sightseeing but I have a problem with people seeing me through the scopes of their railguns,” objected Aura. “Haikarat is not equipped for that kind of ‘tourism’.”
“Oh, we don’t have to come close to those guys. We’ll keep our distance while I send the camera drones to inspect the ships and the area.”
Aura folded her arms, “Do as you wish but I warn you – it will end in tears, for you and for Haikarat.”
“She’ll be right,” I dismissed her concerns and warped to the Outpost.
The coordinates marked an unguarded acceleration gate. As soon as we arrived there I received a message from DED:
This small deadspace complex was built by the militant Guristas pirates. It serves as a scout outpost and a minor rendezvous point for reconnaissance teams.
DED Threat Assessment: Risky (4 of 10)
“You see,” said I, “it’s just four out of ten.”
“It says ‘Risky’,” pointed out Aura. “Besides, flying an exploration frigate, where do you put yourself on the threat assessment scale?”
“Don’t worry. We’ll just have a peek at the place and be out before they know it.”
We took the gate and soon found ourselves in a deadspace pocket with more hostiles than I could count on the fingers of both hands.
“O-kay, let’s build a bit of a distance between us and those unfriendly characters,” said I and willed Haikarat to fly away from the enemy fleet at full speed.
While I was manoeuvring, the pirates acquired target locks on me and started firing.
I checked the damage reports scrolling on my HUD and told Aura, “You see, nothing to worry about – the Guristas are hardly able to hit me from such distance. And if…”
I was interrupted by two explosions which violently shook the ship. I looked at the damage indicator and found that a third of my shield was gone!
“What the hell was that?”
“Get the fuck out of here!” screamed Aura.
At that time the pirates scored two more hits which felt like someone walloped my backside with a wooden plank.
“Good idea,” agreed I and started aligning to a random celestial.
All that time Guristas kept firing Scourge missiles at me which hit harder when my speed dropped to 75% of the maximum. I watched helplessly as my shield was completely obliterated and then half the armour was destroyed. The cameras showed that a new volley was approaching fast and I instinctively raised my arm, as if to protect myself. At that moment I finally heard Aura say “Warp drive active”. A bluish haze of warp bubble enveloped the ship and it passed harmlessly through the explosion of pirates’ missiles.
I don’t remember what was our destination – it was probably some moon or asteroid belt. The important thing was that there were no pirates. For a few minutes I just stared into the space, breathing heavily as though I just finished an intense cardio workout. When my heart rate was back to norm, I gathered enough courage to look at Aura.
She gave me a hard stare and said angrily, “I’ve told you, I’ve told you it was dangerous. Why didn’t you listen to me?”
I raised my arms admitting I was wrong, “Yeah, sorry for that.”
“Let’s never do it again. Not in a Heron, at any rate.”
“Sure, sure. Now we know that DED rating of 4 is too tough for us. But if, for example, it is rated 2 or 3…”
“Don’t you even think about it,” interrupted me Aura.
“Okay, okay,” acquiesced I thinking that it was not a good time to argue about the finer points of DED treat assessment scale, and changed the subject. “By the way, we need to restore the armour before we continue exploration of Onirvura. Let’s find a station with a repair shop.”
“Do you ever listen to what I say?” exploded Aura. “I’ve already told you that CEP decreed that every hi-sec station must provide repair services. You don’t need to ‘find’ one. Just dock up at any station!”
I decided it was high time for me to shut up, and warped to the base.