I was lounging in Alison City station listening to to the Lauren Laverne show when the call came in. I say “when the call came in” to give you the image of a space rat in his natural habitat, feet up on the sensor monitor, drinking spiced wine and flicking the dust off the thruster in boredom until his screen lights up with “INCOMING MESSAGE” and he dives for the comms panel. What I really mean is: “when the bulletin board lit up”. The bulletin board marks all the jobs in Elite’s many space stations. My eyes fell from one job to the other – dead, fed-up eyes – then faltered and stopped as they saw a plain-looking advert marked “Light cargo transports required”.
I slouched closer to the screen, utilising the powerful hunch that would inevitably give me repetitive strain injury. This can’t be right, I thought. 174,000 credits for one job? That’s crazy. I’d be lucky to get 20,000 for a single gig. I clicked on the ad. The orders: take 18 tonnes of gold to Foucault Landing. Good lord, is that all? I instantly accepted the job and smiled an obnoxious, greedy smile. Then I looked at my mission screen. That’s where I saw the catch.
I had 14 minutes to get there.
Gold runs (and to a lesser extent silver runs, indium runs, gallite runs) are highly paid, desperately sought and tightly timed deliveries. They also carry a massive fine if you do not deliver. The gold con – a trick detailed in the last entry – is no longer free of consequence. It is a snappy delivery or nothing. When I arrived at Foucault Landing with 7 minutes to go, I thought I had this one in the bag. But the game had other plans. I brought up my contacts screen and requested docking clearance from the orbital. It was a low-gravity, low-population station and I didn’t expect any trouble. I started to glide towards the landing pads.
“Warning: Docking Request Denied”
What? I tried again.
“Docking Request Denied.”
No. No no no no no no. I tried over and over, hammering at the keys more fervently every time but the message still came back: No. We do not want you here. Be gone, rodent.
I looked at the timer on my mission. 5 minutes. I looked at the fine imposed for failure: 99,000 credits. I looked at the comms panel, a wall of hateful text: Docking Request Denied. I had been the victim of this before. It was not some part of the game’s faction system, nor a shortage of space in the landing bays. This was a different scourge. The scourge of Early Access.
I did eventually get past this bug with a lot of quitting and restarting, netting my money safely. But rather than go into that mundanity, let me explain why the game had been experiencing a lot of bugs and server problems in the first place. You see, Beta 3.0 had just been released. A blast of new things has been added in preparation for the official release in December. Understandably, the game was a little rocky at this point. I knew this was going to be a time of server hardship but, for someone like me, it was also an opportunity. I wanted to test some of the new features, partly because I feel it is my obligation as an objective space journo (fast going native/crazy) but also because I wanted to see if any of these features could make me money. That Asp was not going to buy itself.
The first thing I did was roll into a well-equipped station and buy two brand new mining lasers and an expensive refinery. If there was cash to be made, surely it was in the metallic rock belts of the universe, waiting to be chipped out. I set out in my fresh little Miner-Sidey and headed for the rings of Anahit, a scene of various crimes (assault, smuggling, attacking an officer – I deny all charges). When I arrive, there are a couple of ships floating around. I steer a wide path away from them. With no weapons I can’t afford any heroics this time. And caught in the ring’s gravity I won’t be able to jump away quickly, especially if I do something stupid, like forget to stow my cargo scoop. The best tactic is to stay far ahead. One of the ships is following me as I weave through the belt but after a few minutes it drops off my sensors. Now, it is just me and the rocks.
Mining works like this:
1. Deploy your special lasers
2. Get up close to a rock
3. Let loose
4. Scan the clump that peels off
5. Is it good?
The refinery does all the rest. You have to collect a lot of the same type of material – Gallite, Uraninite, Silver (if you’re lucky) – and then a cannister of it will appear in your cargo hold. But the asteroids also spin at different speeds and sometimes have awkward shapes. You can easily approach an asteroid and start cutting it up only to be bashed by its revolving ‘tail’, for want of a better astronomical term.
So, I bobbed around the belt, cutting and scooping. Often I would slice a bit of asteroid off only to find it wasn’t the metal I wanted. Rutile? No. Coltan? No. Bertrandite? No. I settled on grabbing four different types of mineral, leaving these others floating in my wake. I carried on through the field until, finally, I noticed the readings on my sensors. A handful of unknown blips behind me. I retracted my equipment and sped deeper into the field, hoping to lose whoever it was. Soon, the blips vanished. But after some more cutting and collecting, they returned, this time in even larger numbers. I turned tail and ran again. Settling down when the blips again disappeared. Who were these clowns? What the hell did they want with me? A third time I cut, grabbed some Indite from different rocks and a third time the blips returned. I was beginning to get frustrated. I churned up my thrusters and began to run away again. This was scary. Who would pursue a Sidewinder this deep into an asteroid belt? It didn’t make any sense. And how were they doing it? They must be following my trai —
I paused. I pulled the brakes and wheeled to face the blips. Slowly, I put the thrust up and went back the way I came. I looked at the ‘blips’ as they slowly came into focus and solidified on my radar. A piece of Rutile. A lump of Coltan. A fragment of Bertrandite. I had been running from my own breadcrumbs. The sensors had marked the leftovers as unknown because they were dropping out of range as I moved on. I never stopped to think of the rubbish I was leaving behind. I shook my head, embarrassed with myself, finished my mining and boosted out of the belt toward the nearest station. Bye bye, Anahit. Add littering to my charge sheet.
In the end, I only got 5700 credits for all the minerals I brought back with me. Not exactly an Asp-level haul and, honestly? A little boring. Fuel scooping is not so dull. Or rather, it is certainly more dangerous.
With fuel scooping you attach a device to your ship that collects energy from a star as you pass over it. There is a point at each of these billowing superhot giants that you will collect fuel automatically. But it will also raise the temperature of your ship dramatically, so you have to come away to cool down or your ship will start to fall apart. The idea is that you dip up and down above the surface, like some kind of solar dolphin, refilling your tank without ever having to pay a single credit to those greedy fuel barons. It’s a money-saving tool, rather than a money-making one. Since you literally navigate by the stars in Elite, jumping to a system’s centre and working your way out each time, a fuel scoop makes sense for those thrifty and brave enough to bounce over each sun as they travel.
I tried my hand at it once and, frankly, I would rather pay the barons. When your ship reaches critical heat levels, the systems start to break down. All it takes is for your thrusters to spark out and you will be spiralling uncontrollably into the sun like a doomed moth. I don’t want to take even that small chance of screwing up. As a recent article on the Galnet (Elite’s news network) stated: “Fuel prices are not THAT bad.”
Interdiction is a silly word. Yet it is one that flashes up remarkably often in your cockpit. Often, it is simply the cops pulling you over. Sometimes, though, you might be at the mercy of more unscrupulous characters. I have been pulled out of super cruise by zealous marauders who want nothing but to kill civilian passers-by. You now get a chance to steer your ship out of an interdiction, evading capture by following an erratic escape vector. When I was hawking stolen fruit and veg across the galaxy, I was putting a lot of effort into these manoeuvres.
But I have also been snapped up by a pilot who scanned me for cargo and said something like: “Let’s see what goodies you have.” When he discovered an empty cargo hold, he was disappointed but not violent. He left. I felt relieved but also slightly crestfallen. I looked at my status, where it still said “Harmless” and was immensely sad because, in all my Cobra-flying glory, with my seven kills and hundreds of thousands of credits, I was still not worth mugging. That’s okay. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would later do some mugging of my own.
I didn’t mean to get into piracy. No, really. It was those big gold deliveries that did it. They gave me a taste for a big paycheck. When those big courier jobs dried up and no systems were offering much in the way of the shiny stuff, I was at my weakest ebb. I sat in Brunel Hub, deep in Communist Alliance turf, when a skull mission caught my eye. It offered 92,000 credits. Ach. A skull mission. These are pirate booty runs. You can get a high payout if you get enough of something special to a buyer in time. This invariably means holding up a ship. I didn’t really want to mug anyone. But that little orange skull kept glowing. That 92,000, needling me, hovering at the edge of my vision. Maybe if I just take a look at it.
“Seeking special gifts,” it read. Some yet-to-be-added NPC deep in the station’s underbelly wanted six canisters of consumer tech delivered back to Brunel Hub within 55 hours. More than enough time, I thought. And wasn’t there a consumer good trade route nearby? I had seen it on the galaxy map, a little blue arc stretching from one star system into nearby Brahma. There was probably some shipments passing through…
Oh, what the hell, we space rats love to try new things. I clicked the accept button and ordered the ship down to the outfitting bay. It was time to get this Cobra back up to scratch. On top of the usual multicannons I added a cargo scanner, an interdiction device and something called a ‘Hatch Breaker Limpet Controller’. This nifty device would launch a small robo-jerk at my target, which would latch on and cause their cargo hatch to malfunction, spilling all their goods into space. Or, at least, that was the theory.
I dropped into the 59 Virginis system and decided to test out some of my new toys. A Lakon Type-6 Transporter veered across the space in front of me, flying (like me) in speedy supercruise. Type-6s are big, heavy and slow, and they can carry hundreds of tonnes of goods. This was my man. I kept my speed steady and followed him. His name was Churimaña.
I fired my interdiction tether too early and the ship’s computer told me to get directly behind my target. I turned carefully after him and realised something worrying. He wasn’t going for a docking station on the outside of the system. He was heading straight for the sun. Either he was fuel scooping or he was aware I had locked on and was giving me a runaround, either way, I would have to withstand the heat levels of the star too. Because if I detour off his trail I will mess up my speed and lose him. Getting behind someone in a dogfight is one thing but getting behind them in supercruise, while they skim the surface of a superhot class G star, is another. I won’t say much more, but there’s maths involved.
My ship sparked a little as the temperature levels peaked and I veered slightly off course. My Interdictor device marked the brave Churimaña ‘out of range’ as he disappeared behind the star’s horizon. I pulled my ship back and sweated out the last of the heat, getting Churi back in my line of sight. I levelled out my speed, got behind him and fired the Interdiction device.
“Interdiction Tether Established”.
Yussss. Now it was only a matter of keeping him in my crosshairs and not allowing him to break free. After a few seconds, the blue meter on the left (indicating my progress) filled up and the pair of us dropped out into empty space. Interdiction successful. My quarry popped in right in front of me.
Perhaps it was the shock, or Churimaña’s controls, or maybe even just lag, but the poor fella just chugged along and waited for me to start the party. If that were me, I would have been revving up and pulling all sorts of shapes as soon as I saw the makeup of this ship. Cobras are scary. Especially if they have just deployed their multicannons and are scanning your cargo bay for precious goods.
30 Gallite and 12 Beryllium. It wasn’t the consumer tech I was looking for, but it would do. Anyway, I had to learn how to use these limpet drones. I locked on and fired one at the Type-6, who had finally come to his senses and was dancing about like a fat space hippo. I stayed behind him, out of laser range. Hippos can be dangerous. The drone I had fired locked down on him just as I remembered an important point. His shields! The drone will only work if the guy’s shields are down.
“Siphon resource failed.”
I pulled my trigger finger back and let rip with my cannons. The Type-6 floundered – it just could not turn fast enough to get a shot off at me. Frankly, I was surprised it was trying to fight back at all.
With it’s shields down I launched another limpet drone. But this was the Little Lakon That Could. He must have pumped all power to systems because by the time the drone landed his shields had already come back online. He had also turned during that time and was blasting lasers at me. That was fine, I thought, weathering the lasers, I have plenty of drones left. I got back into position and started peppering him again. After a couple more ‘siphon failures’ (I never figured out the cause) I started to lose patience. I held down my multicannon fire and launched a volley of the drones all at once. I was barely paying attention when the blue message blinked across my info screen, telling me that one of my little robo-lads had been successful. Excellent! Now I could simply chill out and watch as the cargo fell out of poor Churimaña’s hold, like droppings. Here they come. One canister. Two canisters.
Uhhh. I slowed down on the thrust and came to a stop. I took a look at the debris around me. Churimaña had just blown up. It looked like, maybe, I should’ve laid off the cannon fire that last few seconds. I swore. All that trouble and only two canisters had made it out of the ship’s belly. You just had to do it, didn’t you Churi? You just had to make things difficult.
I scooped up the two canisters. Gallite, worth about 1k each on the black market. Bah. That was probably just enough to clear the bounty I earned for attacking the Transporter in the first place. Oh well. The consumer tech was still out there somewhere. I relaxed. Then they arrived. Three Vipers bristling for a brawl. The Fuzz.
It was time to go. I boosted out of there and kept on skimming the stars. I never did find that consumer tech I was looking for. It wasn’t in the hold of any of the ships I held up afterwards and the scum of Brunel Hub would mark me as an abject failure. I’m drifting now in the Brahma system, in the middle of nowhere. I have a system-wide bounty of 3826 credits and a galaxy-wide fine of 7707 credits. Kids: crime does not pay.
Next time: Can Brendan get the Asp he so dearly wants? Probably not, it’s 6 million quid. But find out for certain in the conclusion of our Elite diary!