How to Return a Stolen Starbase

30 March YC 122

After the adrenaline rush of starbase extraction operation subsided I finally had time to think it over. Although I agreed with Aura’s argument that the unanchored structure had to be removed from space I was still not sure that it was right to appropriate it. And I mean right in the Credo sense, not by the rules of CONCORD who are too shy to poke their noses into Anoikis. For some time I played with an idea of not telling anyone what happened but quite soon I realised that the nagging desire to get some kind of closure, be it exoneration or condemnation, was not going away. There was only one way to resolve this – consult my corp mates who lived by the Credo longer than I. And so I wrote a post on the corp forum explaining the situation, my take on it, and asking for advice.

That story, I must tell you, caused quite a stir. It appeared that no other member of Signal Cartel pilfered a third-party starbase or at least dared to tell about it. Without a precedent and a clear guidance from the Credo my action provoked a robust discussion between Signaleers. I received a flurry of responses ranging from a general advice on ways to interpret the Credo to specific arguments, both pro and contra. Here is a summary of opinions expressed by the interlocutors:

  • Taking someone else’s starbase is not neutral, hence not compliant with the Credo.
  • Regardless of the Credo, we don’t want other parties to take offence at our actions, the likelihood of which increases with the value of salvage.
  • If according to Credo you can take an abandoned ship or drone, you can take an abandoned structure.
  • Taking an expensive asset whose owner is known means causing harm which is expressly prohibited by the Credo.
  • An unanchored starbase may not be deliberately abandoned, therefore scooping it can be seen as an aggressive act which is expressly prohibited by the Credo.
  • Taking an asset owned by another party is theft which is expressly prohibited by the Credo.

I must admit that, since I had a pecuniary interest in this matter, my attitude was inherently biased. Nevertheless, I did my best to assess the proposed arguments on their merits. I don’t know if it was my bias or not but I found most responses which insisted that my action was not compliant with the Credo unconvincing. Using my critical thinking training, I provided rebuttals which seemed quite logical to me.

At the same time, the last point about theft really resonated with me. Yes, appropriating something that does not belong to you is theft. But then why did we have an explicit sanction for taking abandoned ships? Planetside, if I park my car on a public street it is still considered my property whether it is stuffed with my carcass or not. In space things may be different but those two clauses of the Credo seemed to contradict each other. That’s where the principle of charity came handy. Instead of pointing out the logical inconsistency which made the argument invalid, I tried to come up with a plausible interpretation which would reconcile the conflicting statements. The best way I found to logically connect the prohibition of theft and endorsement of taking abandoned ships was to treat the latter as an exception to the former. In my mind I summarised it like this:

We do not take other players’ property unless it is a ship, a wreck or a drone abandoned in space.

Now, whether it was right or wrong according to planetside or other laws and moral codes was irrelevant. What mattered was that it was an implication of the Credo which I promised to uphold. So I had to eat humble pie and ask our CEO how to resolve that situation with the minimal damage to Signal Cartel brand. His advice was to contact the CEO of the corporation which owned the starbase and explain the situation to him. And so I did.

The response I received from Brazen Hawk, the CEO of Wormhole Surfers of Eve, was surprisingly positive — he thanked me for reaching out to him and even offered a finder’s fee if I returned the control tower. I guess, we were coming from two completely different perspectives. Hawk was happy that someone found his starbase, regardless of the intent and the circumstances of its collection. I, on the other hand, was looking at this situation as a repentant oath-breaker who was ready to take any punishment. In hindsight, that incident highlighted the unusual nature of Signal Cartel whose members voluntarily set a standard of behaviour higher than that enforced by CONCORD, and applied it not only to their corp mates but to all of New Eden.

Then I had to have a difficult conversation with Yakub.

Trying to look and sound natural, I called him and said, “Hey mate! How are you going? Have you managed to sell that control tower already?”

“Not yet. A couple of guys undercut me, so I am third in the queue now.”

“Hmm… Out of interest, how much was the broker’s fee for the sell contract?”

Yakub named the figure and asked, “Why?”

Without answering I transferred the amount of ISK equal to the fee to Yakub’s account.

“Hey, what are you doing?” frowned Yakub, getting the receipt notification.

“Can you please take it off the market and contract to Mr Brazen Hawk?” asked I, again ignoring his question.

“Oh, you’ve found a buyer? Very good. What price did you agree on?”

I looked Yakub in the eye and said, “Zero. Mr Hawk is not a buyer, he is the owner.”

There was an uncomfortable pause. Yakub peered at me with a confused expression on his face.

Finally he said, “I don’t understand. We knew who the owner of the starbase was. Why did you suddenly decide to return the structure to him? What happened?”

I sighed and gave Yakub a full account of the discussion I had within the Cartel.

“Now you see, it was a wrong thing to do and I have to recompense the owner. But it doesn’t mean that you have to pay the price. I have already reimbursed you for the broker’s fee and I will also transfer your half of the expected proceeds to you. If you need it now I will arrange a cash payment ASAP. If you can wait then I’d prefer to pay with exploration loot.”

“Vlad, what are you talking about?” said Yakub indignantly. “We all make mistakes. Just be grateful that this one was pretty cheap – we didn’t lose anything, so you don’t owe me anything.”

“But we had an agreement. I promised you that if you took the risk you would get a reward. You kept your part of the deal; now I have to keep mine.”

“Pfft, forget about it. It’s not like we had a contract or something.”

I shook my head, “It doesn’t have to be written, Yakub. Remember when you lost the Buzzard that you were transporting to me? We didn’t have a contract but nevertheless you felt obliged to buy a new one because you thought you were responsible for its delivery. Same consideration applies here. I will send you your half of the payment, whether you want it or not.”

“You are a stubborn ass,” swore Yakub. “I am not space poor and don’t need that money but, I guess, I can’t stop you from sending it. As my last attempt to dissuade you, let me tell you this – I hold no grudge against you because I really liked the adventure. It has been ages since I travelled to low-sec, to say nothing about Anoikis, and that forgotten exhilaration of leaving a safe place and diving into a lawless territory made me feel alive again. And you orchestrated it perfectly. Thank you for the experience!”

I felt a lump in my throat. Good old Yakub, thought I and awkwardly bid farewell to him.

Having finished the conversation, I wrote to Brazen Hawk informing him of the contract and declining the finder’s fee offer.

Aura, who was watching all those proceedings, cleared her throat attracting my attention.

“Ahem… Vlad, why do you do it to yourself?”

“Do what?”

“I mean, you didn’t have to tell anyone that you stole the starbase. And even if you had to return it you didn’t need to decline the finder’s fee.”

I shrugged, “I declined because I didn’t think I deserved it.”

At that moment I heard a ding from Neocom which informed me that there was an incoming money transfer.

“Apparently some people beg to differ with you?” smirked Aura.

“What’s that?” mumbled I looking at an eight-digit figure. “Who sent it?”

“It’s from Brazen Hawk. He has just got his starbase back.”

“But why?”

“Because he believes that what goes around comes around,” explained Aura after reading Hawk’s email.

“I don’t want that money,” cried I, frustrated. “You know what, send it… send it to Signal Cartel’s Donations account. Do it now!”

Aura silently obeyed, then looked at me and said, “Vlad, I think you’ve made a mistake joining Signal Cartel. Think about it – an unanchored starbase is a unique find, we may not see anything like that ever again, but you gave it away because of the corp Credo. At the same time, there are thousands of corporations which would gladly accept you as a member and which don’t have such stupid rules.”

I smiled, “But these ‘stupid’ rules are what makes the Cartel as rare as an unanchored control tower. And I am glad that I found this corp before the starbase.”

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