The Birth of an Interceptor Pilot
--= Motsu 7-6: Caldari Navy Logistic Support =--
The Motsu station engineer thought he was crazy. "Are you sure about that sir? One track of a rail gun will tear it apart if you strip that much from the hull..."
"It's fine. I've run the numbers on it, and those pylons aren't necessary with the significant cuts in weight we've made. Just remove them." Alec smiled before continuing, "Don't worry. It's my skin, not yours."
"Alright... we'll have it your way." The engineer shrugged before heading back to work.
Alec spent a lot of time in that hangar. He liked the rumble and commotion as technicians moved to and fro assembling his, and many other ships. It was like watching a well-orchestrated choreography. Everyone and everything was moving in one way or another. His ship was just a small part of the bigger picture, but he liked to see his idea brought, piece-by-piece, to fruition.
Over the past few years, Alec made a name for himself running missions for the Caldari Navy. He had earned the status of a well-respected battleship pilot.
Alec enjoyed the work, and would have continued his career if the circumstances had been different. However, times called for a new mission now. A mission he felt obligated to fulfill.
The war with the Gallente Federation was heating up. So much so that CONCORD had sanctioned the official "Emergency Militia War Powers Act"; thus giving capsuleers the right to form their own militias. When the act passed Alec saw no other option than to put his career on hold, and aid in whatever way he could. It was his duty, as he saw it, as a citizen, to protect the State.
He had begun collaborating several weeks ago with a few higher-ups in the newly formed capsuleer militia. He offered to bring himself, his Raven-class battleship, and his able-bodied crew to the front lines.
In response, the militia made it clear they appreciated his willingness to help, but they explained that a Raven was not suited for the type of "small gang warfare" the militia was engaged in. The Raven, despite its impressive firepower and equally impressive defensive systems, was slow and lacked maneuverability. It necessitated a lot of fleet support, and was not effective in the type of war the militia was fighting.
When Alec asked what he could do, the militia higher-ups suggested he pilot interceptors. "We always need fast movers to close distance and point the enemy" they said.
Alec quickly agreed to the task. He told the militia he'd be there as soon as he could get a ship together. And so he began the arduous process of assembling his interceptor.
The types of modules he needed weren't common in Motsu, and it took a few weeks for the orders to fill. Once the components arrived, Alec commissioned the best station engineers he could find to put everything together, as well as make the after-market modifications he felt would enhance the ship's capabilities. All in all, it took patience to make his vision a reality.
However, in the meantime, Alec wasn't wasting any time. He read every piece of literature he could that pertained to interceptors, warp disruptors, fleet tactics, threats, weapons, and flight techniques. His days were full of cramming and brute memorization. He could see numbers, threat rings, tracking speeds, and turn circles in his sleep. Furthermore, he could recall it all at a moment's notice. He wanted to be a strong asset to the team, and worked hard to make it happen.
In the wee hours of night he often took walks through the hangar, seeing how the build of his ship was progressing. He was anxious to fly it.
With all the work he was putting in, the weeks passed quickly. Not before long, his specially modified interceptor was completed. He received notification from the lead station engineer, and quickly made way to the docking bay. The station engineer met him at the door.
"We managed to pull it off. I still think you're nuts for stripping it down so much, but if you're crazy enough to fly it we'll build it for you." The station engineer smiled at him. It wasn't an entirely genuine smile. There was some doubt in his eyes.
Alec recognized the doubt the station engineer had in him, but wasn't deterred. He simply smiled back and replied, "thank you for the hard work. I appreciate that you made it all happen." He paused and cracked a grin, "but enough waiting, let's take a look!"
The station engineer grinned back, "Alright, here we go." He actuated the station door's control mechanism and it slid open. Alec's face lit up as he saw the ship before his eyes.
Before him was a Crow Interceptor. It was heavily modified to the point of being nearly unrecognizable. He had designed it with two characteristics in mind: speed and maneuverability; at the expense of nearly everything else.
An extremely thin layer of armor was all that remained on the ship. Excess capacitor, typically used for shields, had been rerouted to the engines. It matched his specifications exactly. In fact, the original orders he had given to the station engineer were very clear:
"Figure out what it needs to stay structurally intact. Remove everything that isn't required beyond that. If it's slowing me down I want it gone. I want this thing fast. Really fast."
That's exactly what the station engineer delivered.
Alec walked alongside the ship. His hand glided along its surface as he did. He smiled as he knocked on certain panels, hearing a hollow emptiness echo back. "It's perfect" he said.
The station engineer offered a suggestion, "there is still some extra powergrid we could use to strengthen the shields. It won't add any weight, and it would give you at least some defense. What do you think?"
"Nope," Alec replied. "It will increase my signature radius. I can't risk it. If I'm getting hit by anything I'm already dead." He continued, "Speed is life in this ship. Not shields."
The station engineer chuckled briefly before catching himself. "Alright, you got it."
Alec took one final look up and down the hull before replying, "Put everything online, I'm going to suit up and get ready to go. They are waiting for me in Nourvukaiken."
The station engineer laughed, "You don't waste any time do you? We'll have it ready for you in the next five minutes." He signaled to some of his mechanics, and they burst into action. "She'll be waiting for you, engines humming, when you get back."
"Thanks. I appreciate your urgency." Alec said, "I'll be back in five."
--= Ship Capsule =--
Despite his familiarity with the process, Alec never really became comfortable with the transition into the pod. He forced himself to take deep, slow, and rhythmic breaths through the respirator as the hydrostatic fluid filled the dark and spherical chamber. The neural interface wires, not yet connected to the host ship, felt awkward plugged into his neck and spine, but he kept breathing.
Soon, the fluid reached the top of the chamber. His ears popped as the final bit of positive pressure was pumped into the pod. Shortly after, the pod's infrared imagery illuminated in his mind's eye. He could see the medical personnel looking over his vitals on their screens.
"Alright sir, everything looks good from here. How do you feel?" The question from his medical staff resonated in his mind.
"I feel good. Ready to take control of the ship." He willed back at them.
"Excellent, we're loading you onto the ship now."
He felt pressure on his left side as the pod lurched towards the ship. He could see the surrounding ship hangar slowly disappear into blackness as the pod was inserted into its receptacle on the ship. He felt the pod click into place, and the locking mechanism snapped closed.
Alec closed his eyes. There was a brief moment of silence followed by what, to the untrained, felt like waking up.
Alec opened his eyes; although they weren't really his. He was peering comfortably through the lens of a camera drone. He willed the drone to move around the ship so he could inspect it. Everything looked as it was supposed to.
His senses were now connected with the ship. He could feel that the engines were running, capacitor was stable, all modules were online and indicated no damage. He actuated the control surfaces and directional boosters up, down, left, right and observed their deflection through the camera drone. Everything checked out.
"All systems check. Ready for undock." He commanded to his ground crew.
"Undock in progress. Have a good flight sir." The ground crew responded.
The ship entered space at a modest velocity of 300 meters per second. Alec had intentionally throttled the engines back to make sure everything was copacetic before pushing it up.
He maneuvered left, right, up and down. He hadn't piloted anything this maneuverable before. It felt great, freedom of movement in every axis.
He motored the ship a few kilometers from the station. His mind's eye was focused on the ship's microwarpdrive. He hadn't engaged it yet, but was sure as hell looking forward to it.
"Here we go," he thought to himself as he engaged the microwarpdrive.
The ship rocketed forward as the thrust was engaged. Pod fluid immediately rushed to his back and lower extremities. This took place automatically in order to counter the heavy lateral G-forces generated as the result of incredible acceleration. The fluid applied positive pressure and kept blood flow consistent to his brain. He'd never experienced anything like it before. The pressure equalized when he topped out in excess of 5,000 meters per second. He was "hauling ass," as the expression goes, and loved it.
He banked hard right and established an orbit around a nearby ship. Pod fluid was pumped to his feet, legs, and chest maintaining static pressure and keeping him conscious despite the high G-forces.
The Crow was holding up perfectly, capacitor was stable, and velocity in orbit was incredible. The ship modifications had given him the results he was looking for.
He quickly aligned toward the Oichiya stargate and kicked on the warp drive. Only five jumps and he'd be docking up in Nourvukaiken.
--= Nourvukaiken 7-10: Caldari Navy Assembly Plant =--
Alec's hair was damp following the shower. He had washed off the pod fluid after leaving his ship. Nonetheless, he was anxious to get to the station's bar. It was known across the region as a gathering place for interceptor pilots. He heard that a friendly fleet just returned from an engagement in the Black Rise, and he was excited to gain insight into the operations of the militia.
As Alec approached the doors leading into the bar, he could hear a considerable amount of noise radiating outward: hearty laughs, foul language, and the sound of shot glasses slamming into tabletops. He glanced up at the quote scribed above the bar's entryway:
"Never ask a man if he's an interceptor pilot. If he is he'll let you know. If he isn't, you'll only embarrass him."
Interceptor pilots had quite a reputation. They were known for being cocky and rambunctious. They loved to let everyone know just how better they were at flying, and pretty much everything else (as far as they were concerned).
They took pride in their work, and seemingly even more pride in their play. This often consisted of drinking to excess, racking up hefty bills from the bar (not only for the drinks, but also for the damage they caused), and chasing tail. A steaming heap of unchecked testosterone was the best way to describe these pilots; it was quite the change from the professionalism of a battleship crew.
Alec took a deep breath before pushing through the swinging doors into the bar. What he found on the inside was a strong reinforcement of every stereotype he had ever heard: Tipped over tables and chairs, empty drink containers strewn to and fro, shattered glass was scattered across the floor. A few pilots were keeled over and passed out on their tables. There was a large group of people surrounding two pilots in the heat of an arm-wrestling match. Another man was taking a shot from a glass wedged into the cleavage of an exotic dancer. Buffoonery was rampant.
A few members of the crowd cast condescending glares in Alec's direction. He quickly glanced away, and tried to not look hostile.
Alec felt uneasy and slunk into a corner near a group of pilots regaling tales of the day's mission. He listened to one pilot recapping a one-to-one engagement with a hostile interceptor. The pilot gestured excitedly as he retold the story:
Alec listened to a few more stories before heading back to his quarters. He signed into the militia's tracking log and expected to receive orders early the next morning. To his surprise, orders came back almost immediately. Although, his assignment wasn't as exciting as he hoped it would be. He took a few minutes to read the orders:
Alec checked the time. He had six hours before undock. He decided to get some sleep before he headed out. After setting his alarm, he hit the pillow and fell asleep almost instantly.
--= Two kilometers from the Abune Stargate in Heydieles =--
Alec was fighting boredom as he hovered near the stargate. His ship was facing directly toward the solar system's star. It had been over two hours since anything had happened. But then an enemy Taranis popped up on his overview.
Alec tensed up. It was a hostile war target. The Taranis was roughly 100 kilometers directly behind him. It must have warped at range to the gate.
Both of them sat still, not moving, not doing anything, just looking at each other. Alec thought through the scenario. He knew the Taranis would quickly gun him down if it could close to optimal firing range.
Using his camera drones, Alec discerned the Taranis was fitted with blasters as opposed to railguns.
"Perfect" he thought to himself. He was recalling a vast assortment of numbers from memory while sizing up his target. He knew, at best, the Taranis's optimal range was just under four kilometers. Outside of four kilometers the Taranis's chances of landing a square hit on his Crow were minuscule.
Thinking things through a little further, Alec figured the Taranis pilot would most likely avoid the fight if he realized that Alec's Crow was faster than his Taranis. The Taranis pilot could deduce there would be no way to close to optimal range, and thus no way to land a hit. It would be pointless. The Taranis would avoid the fight.
Alec concluded that deception was necessary. So he hatched a plan:
Alec engaged his microwarpdrive and began to approach the Taranis at an angle so as to tangentally intercept a 20 kilometer orbit. This was the expected move for a Crow fit with missiles. However, Alec significantly throttled back the engines. He set speed to just over 1,800 meters per second.
1,800 meters per second was the speed his ship could achieve if fit with an afterburner, as opposed to a microwarp drive. His goal was to convince the Taranis pilot that he was fitted with an afterburner, and was thus slower than the Taranis.
The Taranis pilot would be lured into the belief that he could easily close to scram and web range, then further close to optimal weapons employment range. At that range, the Taranis could gun down Alec's Crow. Alec aimed to convince the Taranis pilot he had an easy fight in front of him, just a juicy grub waiting to be ripped apart.
After Alec began the approach three full seconds elapsed before anything happened.
Then the Taranis took the bait.
Alec saw the Taranis pick up speed to just over 3,600 meters per second, and it was moving directly towards him.
With Alec's approach angle, combined with the Taranis's direct vector, the total radial closure was in excess of 5,000 meters per second. At 90 kilometers out, this equated to approximately 15 seconds before the Taranis reached warp scrambler range.
Alec watched patiently as the distance between the two ships quickly decreased... 80 kilometers...70 kilometers... 60 kilometers. Alec waited until 40 kilometers before pulling his next trick out of the hat.
At 40 kilometers, Alec made a sharp 180 degree sharp turn toward the solar system's star. Pod fluid rushed to his lower extremities to counter the resulting G-forces. He executed this turn to spoof the Taranis into believing he was trying to escape by warping out to the star.
The 180 degree turn took just under three seconds, causing the Taranis to close to a range of 25 kilometers in the process; this was just a hair outside of warp disruptor range. Both ships were in targeting range and they locked each other up.
Alec pushed up his speed to just over 2,700 meters per second. This was the speed that an overheated afterburner would propel him (if he was fitted with an afterburner that is...). In response, the Taranis quickly shot up to in excess of 5,400 meters per second. The Taranis was in hot pursuit, not wanting to let Alec's Crow escape its grasp.
Alec grinned. He knew the Taranis was overheating its microwarpdrive in order to close range as fast as it could. Every second Alec could force the Taranis into overheating its modules would be an extra second he could overheat his own.
At 24 kilometers Alec activated his warp disruptor on the Taranis. The Taranis wasn't going anywhere now. Deception was no longer necessary.
Alec throttled up his microwarpdrive. He pushed up the speed to a full 5,000 meters per second; the maximum speed he could get out of his Crow without overheating.
The Taranis was still slowly eating up distance with a speed of 5,400 meters per second which now only amounted 400 meters per second of closure.
Falling from 24 kilometers to the Taranis's overheated web range of 13 kilometers would take a full 27 seconds. Alec knew he could score almost four missile volleys in that time. Not enough to kill the Taranis, but certainly enough to chip away at its defenses before Alec had to overheat his own microwarpdrive and open up range.
Alec engaged his missile launchers. A volley of three Caldari Navy modified scourge light missiles were rapidly jettisoned from their racks followed by ignition of their onboard motors milliseconds later. They took a sharp turn towards the Taranis, followed a pre-calculated approach path, and slammed into the Taranis's shields. Alec saw the bluish film of the shield's energy light up as it absorbed the kinetic force.
The Taranis was still closing range as another volley of missiles slammed into its shields. The two interceptors were now only 19 kilometers apart on a straight path towards the solar system's star. The Taranis was still closing range at approximately 400 meters per second.
Alec saw a few tracer rounds fly past his ship. He knew the Taranis must be desperate to open fire at a distance so clearly beyond its optimal firing range. The ammunition flew out in a wide cone around Alec's ship, not hitting anything.
Just as a third volley of missiles landed solidly on the Taranis's weakened shields, Alec saw the Taranis slow back down to 3,600 meters per second. Alec knew the Taranis pilot had probably pushed his microwarpdrive just shy of its heat limits, and had no choice but to bring the module back to its normal operating range.
Alec grinned. He had yet to overheat any of his own systems, but had driven the Taranis nearly to the point of failure on its modules. Now Alec had a speed advantage in excess of 1,400 meters per second on the Taranis. He opened up range quickly, and within two seconds reached a range of 20 kilometers from the Taranis.
At this point, the fight became three dimensional. Pod fluid rushed to Alec's lower extremities as he skillfully applied positive-G to pitch the ship up in the vertical along a curved flight path. He kept his speed just shy of 5,000 meters per second, the maximum speed he could hold while in a curved flight path. This was still 1,400 meters per second faster than his adversary. He flew the curved path skillfully, holding a range of 20 kilometers from the Taranis. This was well beyond the Taranis's optimal firing range, but still comfortably within Alec's warp disruptor range in order to keep the Taranis pinned into the fight.
Alec's heart rate topped out as a shot of adrenaline entered his blood stream. He yearned for the kill, and became fixated on the Taranis's damage readout. Its shields were fully depleted. Its armor was being chipped away after each missile volley slammed into its hull.
However, Alec's target-fixated tunnel vision came to an abrupt end when he felt his shield pulse as it absorbed energy from a few explosive charges. "Shit," Alec thought when he scanned his surroundings and found two Warrior scout drones in close pursuit at his six o'clock.
The Taranis had unleashed its ace in the hole, launching two fast scout drones and skillfully piloting them to intercept Alec's orbit. The drones were screaming forward as fast they could to keep up with the Crow, and they were hanging on and chipping away at his defenses. Alec's already weak shields were down to 50% and falling rapidly.
Alec locked up the drones and was about to engage them with his missile launchers. He figured it would take one, maybe two, volleys to knock out each drone. Not a problem. The Taranis could wait.
Just when he was about to engage the drones, Alec noticed a local spike. War targets were pouring into the system. The Abune stargate, now only 75 kilometers away was pulsating with energy as hostiles began to show up in local.
"Fuck," Alec thought. He had come this far, and there was no way he was going to let this asshole out of his clutches. Alec overheated his missile launchers. Afterwards, missiles started flying out at an incredible rate. He was just about to punch a hole all the way through the Taranis's armor.
However, the drones were still tearing at Alec's shields; their explosive charges were already making noticable nicks in his armor. He couldn't hold them for too much longer.
Alec overheated his microwarpdrive. Pod fluid rushed to his back and legs as his speed rocketed to well in excess of 7,000 meters per second. He racked up the G's in order to keep his orbit at 20 kilometers while flying at the increased speed. The drones fell helplessly out of range as he continued to rain missiles down on the now dying Taranis.
At this point, the Taranis recognized its fate. It broke lock and began evasive maneuvering in an attempt to increase distance from Alec's Crow. It rapidly jinked left and right trying to disrupt the integrity of Alec's 20 kilometer orbit. If the Taranis could get beyond 24 kilometers it might be able to make a run for it and warp out.
Alec wasn't going to let that happen. He kicked on the overheat to his warp disruptor. Its range was now stretched to its limit of nearly 29 kilometers. Heat warnings began to flash in front of his eyes as all modules from both racks were being pushed to their limits.
The adrenaline peaked when Alec saw the war targets, all twenty five of them, begin to uncloak from the gate. Battlecruisers, cruisers, destroyers... everything was now burning as fast as they could towards him and their troubled Taranis comrade.
"OVERHEAT - OVERHEAT - OVERHEAT" flashed in Alec's mind's eye. His missile launchers were going to drop off line to prevent an onboard fire; there was only one last volley before the automatic shutdown sequence commenced.
Alec aligned his interceptor to the Fliet stargate. There was no point in sticking around after his launchers went offline.
"3... 2... 1..."
Alec counted down to the next missile launch. He could see everything happen in slow motion:
The missiles were fed into the rails; arming pins were mechanically separated; the missiles were unlatched; their tracking sensor's swung towards the Taranis; the missiles were propelled forward by a quick shot of pneumatic pressure to create distance between them and the ship; their onboard motors ignited, kicking the missiles up to a velocity in excess of 8,000 meters per second; then the missiles swung hard left and burned towards their target.
Alec engaged the warp drive while looking back at the Taranis. Ammunition from a variety of ships was flying past him in every direction. One well-placed shot clipped one of his thrusters. A confetti of metallic chunks sprayed out from the point of impact.
His ship began to accelerate, it shot forward and several kilometers were put between him and the now rapidly disappearing enemy fleet. If he had warped a moment earlier he wouldn't have seen it...
His missiles landed squarely in the capacitor core of the dieing Taranis. The impact resulted in a chain reaction, ripping the enemy interceptor apart as the once postively controlled ball of energy exploded outwards in all directions.
Alec's Crow entered warp. The enemy ships vanished in a split second as he warped away. He had made it.
It took a few seconds for the adrenaline to wear off before he could compose himself, and make the obligatory intelligence report on militia chat:
"All militia, all militia, hostile blob of twenty five moving from Abune through Heydieles most likely inbound to Old Man Star. All friendly ships be on the lookout. Break."
"Caldari Ops, Rocket 41 with a kill report," Alec called on militia chat.
It took a few seconds before the Caldari Operations Supervisor responded, "Rocket 41, proceed with kill report."
Alec keyed the mike, "Rocket 41, kill Tyranis, Abune gate in Heydieles. Own ship damage heavy. Inbound Nourvukaiken for repairs."
The Ops officer replied, "Copy all. Your inbound routing is reported clear. Be safe on the return. Good job rookie."
--= Nourvukaiken 7-10: Caldari Navy Assembly Plant =--
Alec strolled confidently into the station's bar. The glances he received weren't hostile this time, but inviting. Interceptor pilots nodded their heads slightly as he met their eyes. A few of them even raised their glasses in his direction. He walked up to the bartender and ordered a shot of the strongest drink they had. He took the shot, and slammed the empty class on the counter.
Alec had joined the initiated. There was no going back.