The Forge Region – Okkelen Constellation
10 September YC 121
While we were flying through the artificial hole in the fabric of space-time I peered intently at the local channel window. Usually it showed the list of inhabitants before the jump was completed and gave an early indication of how busy the destination system was. The walls of the hyperspace tunnel were still whizzing past Haikarat when the ship established communication with the fluid router in Ihakana and informed us that the system contained the grand total of two pilots! That was good news – at least I didn’t have to face an armada on the other end. Still it was too early to relax as those two ships could be waiting for me.
When we finally were expelled into the normal space I immediately checked the grid and D-scan; both were absolutely empty. I shot Aura a triumphant look meaning “See, I told you!”
Aura rolled her eyes and muttered, “Boys.”
Notwithstanding the safe arrival, there was no time to lose, so I immediately willed the ship to jump to Otomainen. It was actually the most dangerous part of the low-sec travel – shedding the gate cloak and aligning to the destination. That’s when the campers could drop their cloaks and either smartbomb or instalock a clumsy tourist. As soon as I started the manoeuvre the silvery sheen of gate cloak disappeared and I was visible and vulnerable. My eyes were riveted to the overview where a hostile ship could appear at any moment… Four torturous seconds later Aura said “Warp drive active”, and I started breathing again. We were safe.
A quick look at the probe scanner in Otomainen drew an involuntary gasp from my throat – there were 13 (thirteen!) signatures in the system. That was a true treasure trove and it was all mine. I rubbed my hands gleefully and, after customarily establishing a safe spot, started scanning. The very first signature turned out to be a relic site – Crumbling Guristas Crystal Quarry. I recalled my probes and jumped to the pinpointed location.
The view was mind-blowing. Imagine dozens of half-opened geodes tumbling in space; their empty excavated bellies are still covered by a coating of crystals which sparkle and coruscate under the bright rays of Otomainen sun. One such asteroid would be a curious thing to behold; a flock of them was mesmerising. I was watching them wide-eyed when my reverie was unfortunately interrupted.
Aura, who was still a bit sore after travelling through low-sec, smirked and said, “Nice find. Shame we aren’t flying a Venture though.”
“Why would I need a Venture?” asked I, confused.
“Look around. It’s full of… rocks! And you aren’t going to persuade those rocks by pointing a Relic Analyzer at them. You need a Miner.”
“But this is supposed to be a relic site.”
Aura raised her brow ironically, “Do you see any?”
I checked the overview – it was filled with ‘roids. My first thought was that someone had already hacked the site. But then there would be empty cans, unless that someone was so conscientious that he took his rubbish (or rubble) with him. I peered at the Neocom again and noticed that the overview window had a vertical scrollbar. Giving it a gentle nudge I scrolled the list down and discovered several intact cans classified as Guristas Debris.
Turning to Aura I asked indignantly, “Why didn’t you check the rest of the list?”
“Why should I do it if I have a human to do all the scrolling?” was the cheeky reply.
I guess, that was her little revenge for going through low-sec against her wishes.
“Oh, thank you for putting me in my place,” said I with mock humility.
“You are welcome,” replied Aura with her best imitation of ‘we aim to please’ smile.
Having finished with pleasantries I turned to hacking and some minutes later I found myself the ‘whopping’ 800,000 ISK richer.
Aura rolled her eyes and muttered something like “Vladimir Korff, a famous tomb raider.”
I decided to ignore her until she gets over it. Working my way down the list of signatures I scanned down one wormhole and a couple of pirate bases which thrived in this isolated hi-sec system. The next sig was significantly harder to scan but eventually it revealed itself as Limited Sleeper Cache.
“Look, Aura, another Sleeper Cache!” exclaimed I.
“Yeah, a limited one though.”
“Does it have any active defences?”
“No, not active,” said she with a strange glint in her eye.
I was too excited to pay much attention to her body language and enthused, “What are waiting for then? Let’s go and crack it!”
The entrance to the site was the same as in Standard and Superior caches – a Hyperfluct Generator with red core. Hacked it easily in two minutes and opened a spatial rift which took me to the Cache. The scene was chaotic – debris, gas clouds, containers and storage depots were littering the area. The list of objects in the overview was long so I had to scroll through it… and then scroll again just to be sure – no hostiles! I was as happy as a puppy in a shoe drawer. I randomly chose a hackable container and willed Haikarat to orbit it at 2500 metres.
“Hey, where are you going?” asked Aura and then screamed, “Stop! Don’t go into the cloud! It’s to…”
At that moment I stopped listening as I had to scream myself, “Ouch! What’s that? I’m burning!”
“…xic!” finished her warning Aura.
I made a U-turn and ran full speed to the safety of pure, unadulterated vacuum. By the time I left the cloud I lost 25% of the shield.
“Why? Why on earth did you go into that bloody cloud?” scolded me Aura.
“But… but there was a container, and you said there were no active defences,” stammered I, lamely trying to find an excuse for my recklessness.
“That’s right! I said active. I didn’t say there were no defences.”
“Okay, okay, tell me what I am supposed to do here to avoid being burnt again.”
Aura gave me a heavy look, then relaxed a bit and said, “Right, first of all, don’t go into the clouds. They will eat through your shield, your armour, your hull and your capsule in no time.”
I dutifully nodded my head.
Mollified by my display of contrition, Aura continued didactically, “Secondly, you can hack any depot outside the clouds except this one,” she pointed at the overview.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“It’s protected by a force field.”
I peered at the screen, “I don’t see any force field around it.”
“That’s because it hasn’t been activated yet. See,” she pointed at another object, “this is a Remote Defence Grid Unit. You need to hack it before hacking that can. Okay?”
“Okay. And how do I get the depot in cloud?”
“Ah, this one is the toughest. You are not fit to sustain the cloud damage, so you’ll have to hack the Remote Pressure Control Unit first. It will deactivate the gas emitters and the cloud will dissipate for 2-3 minutes. You’ll need to rev up your MWD real hard and quickly approach the can.”
“Er…” interrupted I, “I don’t have an MWD.”
Aura looked at me pitifully and said, “Bad luck. If you can’t move fast, then you have to hack quick.”
“I’ll do my best”, I assured Aura. “Let’s go and deal with that Unit first.”
“Wait a second,” stopped me Aura. “See those Unstable Plasma Chambers? Don’t go near them. They tend to explode in the presence of a warm body.”
“Sure, sure,” nodded I and approached the Remote Pressure Control Unit.
RPCU hack went smoothly and the cloud disappeared but then, without an MWD, I spent a precious half a minute getting closer to the exposed depot which left me just about a minute for a frantic hacking attempt. Yes, with my luck, out of 2-3 min range I got exactly two minutes. Thirty seconds prior to the cloud reactivation I abandoned the hack and ran for my dear life. Just as I left the area of damage, the space behind me silently exploded with poisonous gases.
“Whew, that was close,” said I. “Let’s hack the unit again and retry the depot.”
Aura shook her head, “Nah, it doesn’t work like that. You had just one attempt and you’ve burnt it. Forget about that can.”
I bit my lip, “Hmm… And what if I hop to Jita, buy some shield boosters and tank the cloud damage?”
“If you leave the site, the spatial rift will disappear in a minute or two and this deadspace pocket will be lost for you forever,” smirked Aura. “But nice try. Next time take the boosters with you.”
I looked wistfully at the unreachable depot, sighed and then resolutely turned my attention to other cans. All of them, including Remote Defence Grid Unit had red cores but I took my time and didn’t bungle a single hack. In fact, the biggest challenge was not hacking but safely steering the ship through the site. So far my navigation experience was limited to choosing a destination and willing the ship to go there in a straight line. Here, as I manoeuvred between the obstacles, I had to change the speed and direction all the time. Twice I clipped the edge of the clouds and was burnt; that resulted only in minor damage to my shield. But once, when I thought I had a clear flight path away from all hazards, I felt a mighty jolt and saw my field drop to 50%.
“What the hell was that?” cried I.
“It was a plasma chamber,” replied Aura. “I told you to stay away from them!”
“But I did! It was more than 5 klicks from me.”
“That’s not enough. The distance has to be at least 7 kilometres and your speed must be below 300 m/s.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that?” asked I, furious.
“But I…” started Aura and then shouted, “Hey, watch out!”
I turned to the viewport and discovered that I was going straight into another toxic cloud. Only emergency braking saved me from further damage and made me stop dead a few metres from an ominously glowing gas tentacle. For a while I was just sitting there, shocked, and watched streams of deadly gas form intricate evanescent arabesques.
For the rest of my time in that site neither Aura, nor me uttered a single word. Once bitten, twice shy, I took full 30 minutes to restore my shield and extremely carefully slow-boat to the last storage depot. Having hacked the container I scooped its contents and immediately warped out without looking back.
When I later assessed the loot from the Sleeper Cache I found it was worth 32 million ISK, not counting the price of the blueprints – not too bad for a T1 frigate whose total cost was below 6 million. And there was still one can remaining. Next time, I thought, I’ll make sure there is an MWD and shield boosters in my cargo hold.
The rest of Otomainen exploration was pretty mundane. Most of the signatures were pirate bases and gas clouds that I ignored. The two exploration sites, Local Guristas Shattered Life-Support Unit and Crumbling Guristas Stone Formation, felt tame after the Sleeper cache, both in terms of the loot and the challenge that they presented.
“You know, Aura,” said I, “those regular hi-sec data and relic sites look like a waste of time to me. I am not sure I want to explore them anymore. I would rather focus my efforts on Sleeper Caches and maybe pirate bases. Even gas clouds are more lucrative than all those Guristas ruins.”
Aura looked uneasy, “Er… Vlad, I know what you mean and I mostly agree with you. Relic sites are worthless, but data sites… I think there is more to them than we see on the surface. There is something bigger hidden in all those datacores and decryptors than a chance to invent a blueprint.”
“Well, you had an opportunity to examine them. Did you discover anything?”
She lowered her eyes, “No, not really. But that is why I think we must continue gathering artefacts from those sites. We need more information.”
I considered the situation.
“Hmm… On the one hand, I have all the time in the world to explore as many hi-sec data sites as you need. I am immortal after all. On the other hand, if we continue sifting through those green-cored towers and shards, I am afraid that my tenure in this universe may be cut short by my being bored to death. Hmm… You know what, let’s time-box this endeavour. We will spend one more month hacking every data site we find. If at the end of that period you have no progress, then we’ll move on. How is that?”
Aura looked up, “I am not sure I have a choice, but this may work if you commit to hacking at least one data site a day.”
“Deal,” said I.
“Deal,” confirmed Aura. “Let’s start.”
“Oh, wait a moment. First of all, I need to change the body. My recent experience at the Sleeper site was… er… suboptimal. I don’t want to risk my implants, so I am going to jump back into my previous clean clone.”
“No problems. Where do you want to jump from?”
I gave it a thought and then said, “Let’s go to Expert Distribution Retail Centre at Poinen 4-6 where my current clone was made.”
“Aye-aye, Captain,” saluted Aura. “Warp drive active.”