Damocles Trigonometry

Editor’s Note: This week we’re featuring Signaleer Yankee Sullivan and his first blog entry. To summarize in his own words: “An in-character take on returning to flying in EVE, discovering new dangers and perhaps finding a new home…”

Yankee Sullivan

Damocles Trigonometry, no one told me about them.

Wait, that’s not what they’re called is it? Drama Thespians, no one told me about them.

I mean, I knew that some group had come along from dead space or the abyss, that they had come on the heels of the Drifters or were Drifters of some kind or another. But what nobody had told me was that these jerks would come and blow you up in High-Sec.

I can hear you ask now: “Well Yankee where have you been? They have been attacking for a couple of years now. You’ve been a capsuleer since YC-113. What were you doing?”

Well I was drunk, for about five years. After some adventures and fights I ended up involved with a fire haired pirate who roamed Low-Sec. I began running hulls and guns for her. Then that stopped, the work and the involvement. So, I began drinking. That was around YC-116. If you have four jump clones, and the right training you can drink almost non-stop and never really have that much of a hangover. So that’s what I did, I drank for five years. Drank in the ways that I had only dreamed of when I was still a mortal, fighting bare knuckle in the back rooms that had cost me both my natural eyes and earned me the favor of the man who repaid me with capsule compatibility tests. The kind of drinking that a man like me can be prone too when the heart is shattered, and purpose is lost.

If I am being honest, the purpose had been lost long before Reese podded my heart. Though I am not sure I really had a purpose before then.

Never mind, this isn’t about why I wasn’t paying attention for five years. The point is, I wasn’t. Then one day, when one of my clones had to be replaced because it had suffered catastrophic liver failure, I hit bottom. As close to bottom an undying Capsuleer can get. That and a brief communication from Reese: she had gone to fight the Amarr and help free her fellow Minmatar from the shackles of slavery or some such thing. She said that she realized that was her purpose and she knew I could find mine somewhere out deep in the black.

Paying out for a new clone and looking at that communication right next to my shrinking bank account made me realize I needed to do something. I won’t give her credit; it was a fiscally based decision I swear. I looked over the assets I still had and outfitted myself an Imicus with a probe launcher and a full suite of scanners.

We all know there’s no fortune to be made in High-Sec. But if you’re in a cheap ship and you’re looking for lost sites to exploit, no other capsuleer is going to risk the swift and complete wrath of CONCORD to blow you up. So maybe I admit I was being a little lazy. I’m no stranger to the art of safes, deep safes, perches and jump clears. But as I said before, no one told me about the Donation Tricycles.

So, I went, and I warped myself over to a star and began to leisurely fly away from it while I launched my probes. I’d never been great at probing down signals or ships. Plus, I think maybe the map and probe interface have been changed, it all seemed different than I remembered. Soon I forgot about all my other sensors and scanners. I was focused on guiding little probes around the system while I searched for Angel or Serpentis treasure. Getting that signal percentage up to one hundred percent in those moments became my sole obsession.

That was when the little buggers popped up, and I didn’t catch it, because in all my time in High-Sec the only things that had ever posed a threat in open space was another Capsuleer, and there weren’t any around. By the time I realized what was happening my power capacitor was being neutralized and an alarm told me my shields were down. I watched for a second…a stupid peer had decided shooting an Imicus was worth losing their ship to CONCORD. I waited another second and I was still being attacked. Too late I switched my readouts filters, it was no Capsuleer. That awful shrill sound filled my ears as the last of my ship’s armor was blasted away. Then a moment later the old familiar sensation of my pod being hurled out of my dying ship. I warped immediately away and put into the nearest station.

A short time later I was getting my insurance pay out sorted. Over and over I thought to myself never had I ever been attacked by something like a Domestic Troubadour in High Security space. My lips curled up as I realized I needed to catch up. That years of drinking and lonely heartache hadn’t just cost me ISK and a clone, it had cost me my edge, my awareness. A new determination filled me to become not just competent with probes, but a master. I would also learn who the Dental Triumphs were and where they came from, and how to fight them. I began to cycle through the GalNet when I saw an advert for Signal Cartel and saw that they were a group of explorers who eschewed aggressive action and sought the riches of both relics and knowledge throughout space. Not really the type of people I figured to want a former bare-knuckle fighter turned capsuleer gun runner. But I figured they could at least tell me who the Dancing Triglycerides were, so I hit the apply button.

Now, some small corner of myself feels a glimmer of hope that maybe this is where I belong.

For anyone else like me, maybe crawling out of the bottom of a bottle, or some sort of prolonged sleep, perhaps a decadent vacation, let me tell you this: Damavik Triglavians exist and they will kill you if you’re not paying attention in even the safest corners of space.

Stuck in a Clone Jump

Editor’s Note: This week we’re featuring Signaleer Vladimir Korff and an entry from his blog titled “Stuck in a Clone Jump”. If you enjoy this story then please be sure to check out his blog, Encapsulated which has been going strong since 2018!

The Forge Region – Onirvura Constellation
Poinen System – Planet IV, Moon 13
Nugoeihuvi Corporation Development Studio

10 September YC 121

Vladimir Korff

After leaving my body with expensive implants in the safe hands of clone bay workers at Expert Distribution Retail Centre I came to at NOH station and went to the dock to board the capsule. On my way there I woke up Aura to let her know that the clone jump was successful. Before I could utter a single word she overwhelmed me with a stream of blabber.

“Vlad! Where have you been!? Are you okay? What happened!? What took you so long!?”

“Long?” I asked, surprised. “It’s been just half an hour or so.”

“What half an hour? Look at your watch! No, look at the calendar!”

I checked my datapad – it showed 20 February YC 122.

“What the f—?” muttered I.

At first, I thought there was something wrong with my datapad but then I checked a few GalNet news sites and they all had the same date. That could mean just one thing – my clone jump, instead of minutes, took almost half a year!

20 February YC 122

Five minutes (and 163 days) later I was standing in the clone bay and screaming at the tattooed guy behind the counter. I don’t remember all the swear words and their combinations that I used but the essence of my expletive-laden tirade boiled down to a simple question – why did my clone jump take so long?

The guy was not offended (I guess, he expected a reaction like that from me sooner or later) and said good-naturedly, “Oh, it’s all bloody auditors. If they didn’t delay the audit we would have brought you back much earlier. They planned to come to us in December but what with the festive season, most of their employees took leaves and they only managed to come back in the new year.”

I stared at him blankly. What he had said made zero sense to me. It was like he was talking to someone else on a completely different topic.

“What in seven Hells does the audit have to do with it?”

“But it was them who discovered that your clone jump was not completed. You see, the brain snapshot went through fine but then as the brain imprinting job was queued there was a power outage and the whole system went down. When we brought it back the job was gone. It was only when the auditors compared the list of brain transfers and imprints, that the discrepancy was found. As soon as they produced the report, we ran that job on your clone and woke you up. So, you see, if they came to us in December we would have finished your imprint much earlier,” he concluded triumphantly.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, “But aren’t you supposed to deliver your service in time without audits?”

It was a stupid question to ask but I wanted to plumb the depths of this cheerful idiocy.

“Oh, of course, of course. Since then we have implemented the end-to-end, what’s the name,” he knitted his brow, “recollection… relocation… Hey, Yoshiro, what is that thingy that the audit asked us to do?”

A dishevelled young fellow who was playing a video game in the corner of the office replied without turning to us, “End-to-end reconciliation.”

“Yes, reconciliation,” brightened the tattooed receptionist. “That’s our computer whizz-kid,” whispered he. “Now, if something like that happens again we will know straight away.”

“But… what about me? I’ve lost half a year of my life!”

“Yeah, right… that wasn’t pretty, was it? You know what, as a token of our apology, next time you jump from us I will offer you not one hundred year warranty but, say, one hundred and fifty! How about that?” said the guy and beamed at me.

It felt surreal. It was like I didn’t really finish my clone jump and was stuck in a dream. A bad dream.

“What are you talking about? What 150 years? The average clone storage time is just one month! No, you are not going to get off that easy. Do you know how much a capsuleer earns a month? You will have to compensate me for the loss of my income caused by the breach of the service level agreement!”

The receptionist looked nonplussed, “Breach of agreement? What agreement? All we promised was to store your clone for a hundred years but there is no defined timeframe to revive it after we receive the brain snapshot.”

“Doesn’t matter. Surely, you have to execute a reasonable duty of care and any court would consider a five-month delay excessive!”

The receptionist shrugged, “These are standard SCC terms; we didn’t invent them.” Then he leaned over the counter, put his heavy hand on my shoulder and said confidentially, “My advice – don’t waste time on court proceedings. You’ll spend more time on hard court benches than you’ve spent in our comfortable clone bay, and to no avail.”

I threw his hand off my shoulder and stormed out of the office.


An hour later I was sitting in a bar, looking mindlessly through the rows of bottles behind the counter, again and again replaying the conversation I had at the clone bay.

“Ha, a capsuleer, a pod pilot, an empyrean, a god of the skies!” scoffed I, “And all that glorious existence can be paused or even terminated by a press of a button by some snotty baseliner.”

I shot a glass of whisky, put it on the bar with a thud and gestured the bartender to refill it. I heard a similar thud to my right and turned to see what caused it. The next bar stool was occupied by a male Achura capsuleer who also finished his drink and was demanding a top-up. I recognised the look on his face – it was a mirror reflection of myself. That guy was not enjoying himself.

Feeling my gaze the capsuleer turned to me and acknowledged my attention with a faint polite smile.

I raised my glass by way of greeting and asked a straight question, “Lost something?”

The guy sighed and replied, “A Loki.”

I whistled – that was an expensive loss.

“To Loki,” said I and downed my whisky.

“To Loki. She was beautiful,” repeated the Achura capsuleer and shot his glass. Then he extended his hand and said, “I am Null.”

I blinked. Well, I knew that capsuleers took some crazy names on graduation but Null was rather special. Outside programming languages its usage was normally confined to legalese such as ‘If you peel off this sticker then the warranty will be null and…’

All those thoughts, it seemed, plainly reflected on my face (and I was not in the mood to control my body language anyway) because Null raised a corner of his mouth in half-smile and said, “I know what you are thinking, but Void is another capsuleer in our corp.”

I blushed and protested lamely, “I didn’t think anything like that,” and then shook his hand, “Nice to meet you, Null. I am Vlad.”

“Nice to meet you, Vlad.”

After the introductions my thoughts returned to what Null said earlier.

“I’ve never had a Loki. In fact, never had enough money to buy one. How much time do you need to recoup its cost?”

Null shrugged, “Dunno. Maybe a month or two. And what’s your loss?”

“Five months,” I replied glumly.

Now it was Null’s turn to whistle, “And you’ve said you have never had money for a Loki! What were you flying? Naglfar Justice Edition?”

“No, this is not a money equivalent; it’s pure, irreversible loss of five months of my life,” said I and told him my sad story.

“Yeah, nasty business,” nodded Null and patted my shoulder sympathetically. “And I agree with that receptionist – don’t try to sue them. You’ll probably waste more time and, even if you win, money won’t be able to return your life. By the way, how come your corp mates didn’t try to find out what happened to you all that time?”

“Corp mates? I hardly know anyone in that Science and Trade Institute.”

“Oh, so you are in one of those default government-run corporations? No wonder they didn’t care about you. But then you probably didn’t miss much – fleets, corp functions…”

“True,” agreed I, “but I missed the New Year fireworks in Jita.”

“Oh, so you like fireworks…” Null made a pause thinking about something, then smiled and asked, “What if I told you I knew a corporation which specialized in fireworks? And did it much better and more frequently than the Jita crowd.”

I looked at him with disbelief, “Is there such corporation? What’s its name?”

Null turned towards me and pointed at a round badge on his chest, “We call ourselves Signal Cartel.”

Courage

I had spent the day of celebration at the Katia Sae Museum in Saisio where my journey was memorialized. I found the layout of the museum pleasing. A patron would enter the globe shaped museum from the bottom and walk up a spiral ramp where they could view my log entries and pictures in chronological sequence. Projected onto the inside of the globe were the New Eden stars and an animated holographic ship that would start at Saisio and progress through all the systems I had visited in order changing ships as needed along the way. In the center of the globe was a scaled down replica of the Journey of Katia Sae Memorial statue and the Abagawa gate. Suspended within the museum along the spiral ramp in the order in which I flew them, were the actual ships displayed for all to see.

The Achura Stargazers Society held the celebration on my one year anniversary of completing my journey as the final stop on my New Eden cluster tour. The past year had flown by with the shaking of a great many hands, speaking at various engagements, and answering questions from interview to interview. For the most part, I enjoyed each and every engagement, but I was exhausted. Being an introvert and having been alone for the most part with little interaction with others for nearly ten years, to all of a sudden be thrust in front of large crowds of folks that I didn’t know, seemed to take far more energy, courage, and determination than my actual journey had. Not that I had any regrets doing the tour, I’ve always found that no matter how difficult it was initially to find the courage and engage in social activities, I was thankful that I had afterwards.

Todays celebration was different however and it was a wonderful end cap to the tour as the event was limited to my family, friends, corpmates, and my fellow Achurian’s. I may not have known each and every one that attended, but the Achurian culture is one that’s all about family. Still exhausting, but it was a good kind of exhaustion. The day had been long and had ended with a fireworks display around the statue that could be seen through the now see through globe of the museum. There was no bad view to be had from anywhere within as the famous Signal Cartel hugs fleet demonstrated their expertise with fireworks as they often have done before.

With the fireworks exhausted and the end of the evening coming to a close, visitors had started to make their way to the docking bays for departure. Many had stopped by for one final hand shake, pat on the back, or saying congratulations and farewell. I kept the smile on as long as I could, before slowly disappearing deeper into the museum to find a quiet place to wind down and reflect. Absentmindedly wandering, I found myself before Voyager, my Astero class frigate I flew for a time in Empire space before starting around Null Sec. This particular ship held a special place in my heart being my favorite, but I also had a surreal event that to this day, I’m still not sure if it was real or a dream.

Faint footfalls approached from behind me which brought my thoughts back to the present. They stopped so I didn’t turn around, but waited instead as I could hear them whispering. Closing my eyes, I tried to focus on what they were saying. It was young girl, perhaps ten, twelve, and an older gentleman, presumably her father.

“Go ahead.” The father said.

“But, but, she doesn’t know me,” She replied. “and… I’m scared.”

Normally I would turn around to make things easier for the child, but I felt it was important for her to find her courage, so I waited, acting as if I didn’t know they were there. The father was a good man, reassuring his daughter, and offering encouragement as needed until she found her inner strength. After a few moments, I felt a hand touch my arm.

“Ah, Ms. Sae?” She asked.

I turned to face her and offered a smile to ease her fears, “We’re family here, call me Katia.”

Her brow furrowed and she frowned ever so slightly, “You look so tired.” She said, I guess she could see the weariness in my eyes after all, but then her face lit up with a thought and a smile, “Could you use a hug?”

I must confess, I did, and I found it hard to keep the tears from welling in my eyes. The end of the journey then the tour had finally caught up with me and here was a child, someone I didn’t know, seeing my weariness and offering comfort. Before the drops could pool and fall, I quickly knelt, opened my arms, and received the best hug I think I’ve ever had. In the end, I was glad and thankful that I too, had found the courage to engage in these social events. After all, I would never have received such a wonderful hug if I had not.

OOC:
I was fortunate to be able to attend a couple of the stops on the EvE World Tour last year at Toronto and Las Vegas. I have a love/hate relationship with large gatherings of people that I don’t know. I knew in particular these events would add another level of complexity in that there would be people who would know me or know of me because of EvE Online and my achievement. There’ll be others who understand this, but it takes a great deal of energy and ultimately courage to put myself out there. But usually, when all is said and done and even though by the end of the event I’m exhausted, I’m glad that I did find the courage to go.

So, I would encourage you to find a local EvE meetup or if you’re able, attend one of the bigger Fanfest. Trust me, you’re among friends and family and others who feel just as you do, you won’t regret it. And, should we find ourselves together at an event in the future and you want to say hello, please find the courage to do so. I’ll be just as nervous as you, but believe me, we’ll both be glad that you did.

The Spider

Editor’s Note: Featuring Ray Cosmic again this week not only with another work of art, but a short story to go with it. Special thanks to Scort for editing this week!

Ray Cosmic

I had played EVE online before, but this time around, I wanted to focus on exploration. To do this, I sought to learn from the best people practising it today, so I joined Signal Cartel. Then, having recently acquired a new Heron from my exploration career agent, I took to the skies.

After running a few high sec sites to get back into the swing of things, I jumped into the first wormhole I managed to scan down. Luckily, the lower class wormhole was quiet, and held two data sites. Allison, the AI co-pilot, kept reminding me to check my directional scanner. Thanks to her, I got into the habit of alternating between clicking on a node and mashing the dscan shortcut. It was exciting to be so vulnerable in the unknown. The tension made me fail the hacking minigame several times. Even though I detonated more than one can, I managed to get roughly twenty four million ISK worth of loot from the two sites. Feeling rich in accomplishment, as much as in wealth, I flew back through the wormhole from which I came. Once in the relative safety of high security space, I stored my treasure in the closest station.

The next day, I undocked again in my trusty Heron, confident in my ability to gain riches from the depths of wormhole space. I set off through high security space looking for connections to the distant Anoikis galaxy. The first few systems found were empty of exploration sites I could easily run. Either my beginner’s luck had already run out, or I was playing at a busier time. Hoping the afternoon would be more fruitful, I docked and went about my day.

After the next downtime, I undocked from the station and sent my probes out. The first signature scanned down revealed a wormhole leading to unknown space. Upon jumping through, there it was. Jxxxxxx. A shattered system. Class 2, said Allison. There were almost twenty signatures showing up on my probe scanner. I first set up several safespots, triangulating between the remnants of shattered planets. I then safely logged off to do a little reading on shattered wormholes before calling it a day.

Due to the impossibility of setting up structures in such a place, I felt I would be safe. There would be no locals to disturb me, and the large number of cosmic signatures would surely amount to billions of ISK from the data and relic sites. It felt like I had stumbled upon some deep space Eldorado.

The next evening, I set off to scan down every single signature in Jxxxxxx. The plan was to live in this wormhole for as long as there would be sites to run. I also bookmarked all the sites so I could observe any daily changes in the system.

I didn’t yet fully appreciate how poor my scanning skills were. It took over an hour to identify every single mysterious signal, although I did find myself in an enjoyable, meditative state during this work.

Once the scan list was all green, I noticed that there was only one good site to explore amongst a multitude of gas reservoirs. Though I had expected more of them, I was overjoyed to finally find a relic site. I had read that they could yield the most valuable loot.

This time I concentrated on the hacking. I carefully plotted my advance on the network of nodes. My poor skills and tech one modules left only a thin margin for error. My focus was paying off. I managed to open cans on the first or second try. On the sage advice of my co-pilot, Allison, I did not stop checking my directional scanner. It had been clear the entire time apart from my own probes. As I opened the last container, an astero suddenly showed up on the overview. It had been invisible right up until the opportune moment, and was now only a few thousand meters from me. Panicked, I tried to warp to one of my safespots. My onboard computer informed me that my ship was prevented from entering warp by external factors. I then tried to move away as fast as possible to get out of the range of those external factors. What stopped me from entering warp also prevented my microwarpdrive functioning. I was now a sitting duck, and a very slow one, at that.

The damage alarms of my ship started ringing. A flight of drones was tearing my shields and armor to shreds. This all happened quite fast. Before I knew it, I was in my pod, the remnants of my first Heron floating in space next to me. The destruction of my ship meant that my escape pod was free to warp away. I did so, aiming for one of the recently bookmarked wormholes. I warped back and forth between them until I found one that led to high sec. Once out of there, I caught my breath at the nearest station.

I started to rethink the modules I had fitted on my exploration ship. Would warp core stabilizers have helped me escape the Astero’s tackle? My logs only showed that I had been scrambled.

I went to look for my killmail on zKill. From there, I went to see if I could find a ship loss from the pilot that downed me. Maybe looking at one of their wrecks would teach me how to escape next time. Indeed, their only two losses were of Asteros with similar fits. Both times, fitted with dual warp scramblers. So, even with a higher warp core strength, I would not have escaped. I also discovered something else while looking at the kill reports of my foe. This Astero pilot was indeed hunting explorers. With over seven hundred confirmed kills, the vast majority had taken place in Jxxxxxx. My ship logs also revealed that during the combat, I had been energy neutralised. On an Astero, it would mean that no probe launcher was fitted. It was made only to kill, waiting patiently cloaked in the shadows. My theory is that his alt probably scans the wormhole down and runs all the sites, leaving only one as a perfect trap for an unsuspecting explorer.

I went from being a little frustrated by the loss, to be completely fascinated by this capsuleer. They had found their niche, and lived in wormhole space like a spider.

I love EVE Online !

Pollyanna

Void Raven

“Well, that was uneventful,” I say, relieved. “My kind of trip. We got your new Guardian safely back to Zoo, T’ali.”

T’ali and I have returned from Dodixie where she had bought a Guardian for her Signal Cartel fleet activities. She had initially planned to get an Augoror, but, as so often happens, she had upgraded her ride to something sweeter.

“That we did. Thanks for scouting ahead. You did well. Although, to be honest, that’s what I would have expected from someone focused on explo in Signal Cartel.” T’ali smiles and thumps me on the back as we walk out of the ship hanger. Caught off-guard by both her exuberant display of camaraderie and the vigor by which she delivers it, I stumble, and she grabs my arm to keep me from falling.

“Woah…careful there. Seems you are as fragile as a bird, Void Raven,” she says, emphasizing my last name and flapping her arms for added effect.

I glare at her. “What the…? Not funny T’ali, okay? And I’m not the one who needs to be careful.”

“Oh, have we become grumpy? Lighten up, will you? It’s all in good nature. Hey, want to go back to the bar for another drink before we call it a night?”

“I’ll skip. I think I’ll just go back to my apartment and get an early night.”

“So… sulking now, too? Well, if you change your mind, you know where to find me for the next hour or so.” We only met a few hours ago, but already I’ve come to realize that she can be so damn annoying. We walk a little further together, before I turn to go my separate way. As I walk away from her, T’ali says, “You still got that angst about the future after our discussion at the bar earlier tonight, Void Raven?”

I look back at her, “Yes. Of course I do. Deep-seated concerns that have built up within one over a period of several months don’t simply evaporate after only a few minutes of conversation with a stranger.” T’ali motions towards a bench nearby, sits down and with a tilt of her head invites me to join her. “For the record, T’ali, I think you are underestimating the threat posed by the Triglavians and are overconfident in your – in our – capabilities. We downplay their arrival to our peril. Have you watched that message from the Triglavian Collective? It’s downright ominous. I have recurring nightmares in which they are speaking directly to me in that haunting asynchronous voicing of theirs and they brand me as a ‘Narodnya lacking in fitness’ and expel me from the Flow of Vyraj.” I look down at the ground and continue, “The red darkness is coming, and I fear it won’t be stopped.”

“Yes, I have listened to it. So what? Some ancient fools trying to sound spooky to frighten us? Sure, there’s lightning in the distance and thunder rumbling on the horizon and the winds have picked up. But I say, ‘Bring it on.’”

I shake my head, astonished by her unflappable manner. While I’m glad to have finally found someone in T’ali to talk to about my concerns, in truth, I’m not receiving much in the way of understanding or empathy from her. She is outwardly so carefree and projects confidence at a level that I can only dream about.

I lock the fingers of my hands together. “There’s also something else, but I hesitate to bring it up. You’ll laugh at me.”

She looks taken aback. “Hey, that’s not fair, Void Raven. I’m the first to admit that I joke around and make light of life. But I have never laughed at you for any of the concerns you shared with me.”

I nod my head. “Sorry,” I mumble.

“So…?” she presses.

“Never mind. It’s stupid.” I stand up from the bench.

“Hold on. You’re not getting out of this so easily,” she says, firmly pulling me back down. “Tell me what it is.”

Now she’s like a slaver hound with a bone. “The Society of Conscious Thought,” I reply.

“What of them?”

“There have been rumors in the past; allegations that they provided the Jove technology used in the development of the slave implants that enabled Sansha Kuvakei to establish his Sansha’s Nation. And over the past few years the SoCT has handed out Jove ships in large numbers for free. Why? From nowhere, a crazy thought comes to me. What if similar tech has been surreptitiously embedded in those ships that are now spread all over New Eden? And then one day, a switch is flipped somewhere by someone, and these ships suddenly take over mind control of the Capsuleers piloting them, and they become like rogue drones in service to a hidden agenda that SoCT have been patiently planning for years?” Taking a deep breath, I study T’ali, trying to gauge her reaction to my, admittedly, wild conjecture. But all I see and hear are her inscrutable face and a stunned silence. Now, though, it is my chance to press her. “Well…? Fedo got your tongue?”

“Umm…I think you’re stuck so deep in a conspiracy theory, that we’d need a Titan to pull you out.”

“See? You’re laughing on the inside. I knew I shouldn’t have mentioned this.”

“Oh, I’m not laughing. I’m not entirely sure what the correct response is to what you said. But I will give you credit for originality of thought.”

“And now you’re mocking me.”

“Okay, listen to me, Void Raven. You’re all doom and gloom. You’re filled with inner stress and turmoil and you see monsters lurking wherever you look. And I can see that my lighthearted attitude is adding frustration into the mix. Look, you need a distraction; something to take your mind off things. Now, there’s one thing that works like a charm to reduce pent up frustration and stress. One thing. Works every time. For everybody. What you need is a good f….”

“T’ali!” I exclaim, suddenly wrenched into a completely different frame of mind. “Language! By the Sisters, watch your tongue. Credo, remember?”

“fleet outing.” She creases her forehead. “What… what did you think I was going to say?” She holds out her cupped hands to me as if they are holding something valuable, a mischievous mien upon her face. “Here, I think this is your mind. I found it languishing in the gutter.” She pauses briefly, before continuing with that disarming smile of hers, “Although that would work too. And with fewer people and less travel involved, there’s not as much planning required. But seriously, a fleet outing would show you just how capable we are and would boost your confidence.”

Even though I’m chuckling inside, on the outside I’m squirming uncomfortably in the intensity of her gaze upon me.

“You definitely do blush in Triglavian Red, Void Raven. Quite the shrinking violet, aren’t you?”

“Can we just change the subject? Haven’t you embarrassed me enough yet? Well, anyway, now I won’t be able to go to sleep, so how about that drink you mentioned earlier?”

T’ali smiles and nods her head approvingly.

“You’re a real Pollyanna, you know,” I say.

She shrugs. “Well, I’ll be the Pollyanna to your Cassandra. Sound about right to you? Does to me,” she says with a wink.

That brings a spontaneous smile to my face. T’ali can be so direct and exasperating, but there’s also something about her that suggests friendship between us is not out of the question.