Chapter 7: Exploration
I made the decision at this point, to take Battle Wagon down to Haktikvah's Faith. From there, I had two choices, west as I originally planned, or south into the Southern Paranid sectors. I flipped a coin, and swung south. It seemed an auspicious choice. But hidden windfalls are often found by trusting chance.
Naturally, as luck runs, I forget I should be hunting Argon, and not boron and almost immediately incur the wrath of the local Paranid Customs ships, by hitting a Boron weapons Dealer, rather than it's Argon Counterpart who escapes north. Heading towards the east gate, I find something very nasty, and do something very naughty. An Argon Military Heavy Centaur and it's escorts show up to try and kill me. Naturally being a Split Pirate, I take offense to their next move, which is all three of the Bombers flinging a single Tomahawk at me. Fortunately, I've got a bunch of Mosquitoes on board and three of them wing out to smash the incoming missiles. Launching Fangs from Battle Wagon, I send Battle Wagon through by remote then engage the tailing Gladiator. The barrage of HEPT and PAC is too much for it and the crew bails. The other two turn on me and open fire, but by the time they've come around for a firing solution, I'm clear through the gate and on into Third Redemption. I'll pick the Glad up on the way through back towards safety. If I'm truly lucky, it's got a jumpdrive, but for one I don't think I'm that lucky, and for two, I'm not counting on it. It'd be nice if it had some Tomahawks though.
A quick stop at the Paranid Equipment Dock nets me an Ore Collector, a Motion Analysis Relay System and Patrol Command software. Heading west, I see the efficacy of the MARS Goblins for my self. Through Perdition's End, and then south into Desecrated Skies. There I see a Paranid Nemesis trounce first a Duke's Freight Transporter, and then get trounced in the process of trying to take on a fully loaded Caravel. Oh well, I didn't want to capture it that badly. South into Priests Refuge it is.
Yes, yes, I could indeed have gone through the south gate of Moo-Kye's Revenge into Cardinals, but some little voice told me this was a better bet. Hard to say precisely why. Of course, if I knew, it wouldn't just be a feeling, but something definitive. Possibly the pointy end of a capital ship.
As I'm heading for the sanctuary of an SPP near the West gate of Priest Refuge, I have to jerk my ship sideways, and end up crossing the gate threshold. Why was I so close? Because I was being shot at by a passing Atreus Trader and it's escorts, and I was trying to avoid fire by closing with the gate structure. It worked well.
At least until I hit the threshold and found myself in Barren Shores. While the Zephyrus has many fine qualities, it does not in fact have a very tight turning radius. Finally I got it turned and slipped back through the gate, just as that stubborn Atreus trader appeared, seemingly intent on killing me as much as possible. Fortunately, it didn't follow me back to Priest Refuge. I hope the Priest doesn't mind that it's also My Refuge as well, at least for the moment. Finally docking at the SPP, I take a big, deep breath. On my way north, I am definitely going to have to stop and pick up a Docking Computer or two, one for Fangs, and one for Battle Wagon. At least.
Undocking from the SPP, I swung east, and shortly after, saw it was good that I had. Heading down from the north was a Boron Thresher. I suspect that was the source of the bad feeling about Cardinals Domain, since it certainly wasn't behind me in Third Redemption. So Good to Trust my feelings it is. Heading towards Cardinal's, I get tagged by an Argon High-Tech Trader, who launches escorts as if I did it. Buckethead.
Well, Buckethead without a ship. Using up a bunch of my missiles, and some judicious ramming, I cause it to bail. Now I just need to get my marines here from... where are they anyway? Oh, right, Rhonkar's Fire Military Outpost. And I have a grand total of 1 jumpdrive. Delightful.
Okay, so swap to Fangs, and then kick Battlewagon to an SPP up north in Family Rhonkar, then to the Military Outpost to transfer the jump drive to the Toucan. I hope this bird has a jump drive, or better, a Transporter Device. The Toucan arrives with my 4 available marines, and then it's all up to them. Fortunately, it's still got several 200MJ shields aboard, so it's relatively easy to control them, even with the reasonably meaty weapon configuration of 3 PAC, and one HEPT. The worst part is waiting for the marines to actually make hull contact. I must get an M7M soon.
I take the ship, but at the cost of three of my 4 marines. Nu t'Nnk has proven himself a more than capable warrior. As such, he will be sent back to the Rhonkar's Fire Military Outpost, and be transferred to my Toucan for further training. With that done, I've decided that the Magnetar is more valuable to me as scrap, considering it has a mere 39% of it's hull remaining. Selling a few other ships at the Family Pride shipyard, nets enough to both start his training in Engineering, as well as pick up a second marine. This one has 3 stars in engineering. He joins Nu in training. I'll pick up more, but for now, those two will be enough. Heading towards the Paranid Equipment Dock in Cardinal's Domain, I'm after a docking computer, since this is more convenient than stopping in Third Redemption. Arriving it turns out that I haven't enough Paranid Rep to purchase one, which is disappointing to say the least. Before I can leave though, I'm accosted by a Paranid. He's calling himself Wingnut, and insists he's Terran. I think he's bloody mad. On the other hand, it takes six of my ships security personnel, all firmly built ex-marines, to bring him to the ground.
He says he's a pilot, and that he can help. I'm not entirely sure if I should trust him, but I figure the worst that happens is that he doesn't do too well in his M5 and dies horribly. Best case he does a lot of damage, and I decide to bump him up. Possibly to that Medusa I snagged a while back. Since I only have one ship on me, that he's definitely not flying, I have him 'escorted' to the brig. I'll deal with him later. For now though, I take the Battle Wagon south to Friar's Retreat. There I find something nicely nasty. An Ares, defended only by a pair of M4's. I plot an intercept course, though I have no way to actually capture it, nor do I have the ability to get the hell then out of dodge after pissing off the authorities. It's compounded by two problems. One, it's more than just a pair of M4's defending it. Second it's very heavily armed. Third? It's bloody well being followed by a second Ares. This one is much less well armed, but is apparently piloted by a complete imbecile. It crashes into a Hercules as it's approaching the gate. The additional shields keep the Ares from going up, but don't prevent the Hercules from doing enough damage to cause it to bail.
This is perhaps the ultimate demonstration of piss-poor piloting. Ever. Of course, I still have no way to take it, nor do I have anyway to get it out of here. So for now, it will have to sit here and wait for my return. Instead, I continue east, heading for Patriarch's Conclusion. Rumor has it there's a Military Outpost in Contorted Dominion which is east of there. I suspect it would be a simple matter to pick up some more experienced Marines there. If so, it should bolster my ranks enough to take the ship. If not, well... What can I say? Perhaps I'll have to do it myself? For now I'm heading to Pontifex' Seclusion. From there, I'll see where I have to go. I suspect I'll find myself flying that Ares north manually. I do not suspect I will enjoy that. Ideally, a second jump drive would be a fantastic thing to have. It would mean I could bring just two ships. But for the moment I have places to be. There's a Paranid Military Outpost in Pontifex' Seclusion, so possibly a mixed group will be more useful than a straight Split Squad.
Picking on the Escorts of a Terracorp high-Tech trader nets me no goodies, but rank enough to get a Docking Computer. This is fortunate, since I end up smashing face first into a second Terracorp freighter, this one with a much better equipped fighter compliment, and several drones. I lose some hull integrity, and my Carrier Command Software. This is somewhat distressing. With Fangs out collecting cargo, I have to order it to defend me. I think I can definitely use 'Wingnut' and his 'talents' as a pilot.
And miracle of miracles, an opportunity presents itself. Entering Patriarch's Conclusion, I find a pilot offering a Scorpion Raider for sale. It's almost entirely intact, and frankly, since it was second hand, if it blows up and Wingnut dies, not much skin off my nose. If not well... I suppose I can think of something. Anyway, we dock at the local Equipment dock and I treat him to some speed and rudder upgrades. Along with a slap in the head and admonishment not to break my ship. Some fight software, and nav mk1 goes as standard equipment.
Meanwhile I replace my Carrier Command software. From there, we head to Contorted Dominion. I'd never been there before. With a Tiger in the background, highlighted against the nebula, it felt like a home coming. I was born after the destruction of Goto by Boron. Contorted Dominion is like pictures of Goto before the moon was broken up by Boron miners. It was beautiful.
Now, from the future I look back and understand the feeling again. That Tiger would later, much later, become mine. Indeed, checking logs now, I see Osan'gar is that Tiger. Perhaps that is why I feel so much at peace. I take two missions from the local military outpost. One from a Teladi, one from a Split. The Teladi gives me maps of the local Boron sectors. The Split wants a Scorpion. Retrieved from the local Boron sectors. Goody. Glad I bought the maps.
The actual retrieval is a bit of a doddle. The scorpion is in very poor shape, and so it takes a bit to dock, but when all is said and done, I succeed in more than enough time. Docking at the outpost, I decide I've had enough for one day. Wingnut is allowed to sleep in one of the state rooms, under lock and key for the moment and I retire.
Couldn't make Wingnut Terran or Argon, since they both hate my guts. Fortunately, I had an alternate plan. And yes, I did plan to put him in an M5, but if you've seen a Scorpion Raider, it's as fast as most M5's and as lightly shielded.