Well, here we are. The rickety, unsanctioned outposts of the Gamma Serpentis system, where dismantled shipwrecks lie opposite a huge skull mural painted, somehow, in Zero G. I’m sitting on landing pad number 1 of the Tepper Relay outpost, brimming with fury. Not because I have been blown up in some ridiculous crash, or because I’ve been mugged by an intergalactic pirate king, but because I have gone all across the starways in search of glory and this -- this! -- is all I have to show for it. A measly, pathetic, laughable 459 credits and a parking spot in the interstellar equivalent of South Armagh.
Sigh. Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself. It is possible to do that in the space-age era. (No, I mean you can literally get ahead of yourself, something to do with faster-than-light travel). Let me start from the beginning.
Last week I tried to do a little exploring, partly to make myself feel like more of a frontiersman charting the great unknown but mostly to earn some dollar. It didn’t go as planned. This week, I have a brand new Sidewinder and the correct shiny scanner required to explore properly. That was the plan. Get exploring, get the moolah.
I looked around the Aulin Enterprise, that high-tech hive of bourgeois spacejerks, and I looked at my ship. What a hateful piece of machinery. Luckily, I have seen videos that explain how to convert this rookie junkpile for exploring. You see, the more mass you remove from you ship, the further it will be able to travel in light years. I went into the outfitting depot and immediately stripped the Sidewinder down. Cargo hold? Don’t need that. Pulse lasers? Tear them out. Heat sink? Pfft. When I was through with it, the Sidewinder was a lean sheet of metal, perfect for exploring. Now, there was just one more thing I needed. A Detailed Surface Scanner.
I had picked up one of these devices from Aulin before, but there was no sign of one for sale now. I was going to have to check elsewhere. You see, one scanner is not enough. I want both the Basic Discovery Scanner (which I already had) and the Detailed Surface Scanner. If I use both, theoretically, the data I get will be worth more. I prepped for launch and took off. That’s when I saw her. The Asp Explorer!
She glided through the docking bay like a beautiful whale. The echoey London Underground voice of the station lady spewed out her rules and regulations.
“Avoid unnecessary destruction. Do not block the access corridor.”
I ignored the voice and spun around, manoeuvring carefully toward the Asp’s landing pad. It lowered itself toward the glowing mark and I watched as the blue flame of her little thrusters made my heart flutter. She’s so shapely, I thought. So curvaceous. I need her in my life.
Suddenly, the Asp jerked wide. I didn’t know if it was lag or a glitch or WHAT but she was now trapped between the girders of the station’s interior hull. Her shields began to take damage. No! This can’t be happening. The computer owner of the Asp yelled out in a final moment of terror. “My ship!” he cried, as her shields ran out and she exploded.
I frowned and contemplated the floating bits of metal as they curled past my windshield inside the station. Perhaps I should have a moments silence for the brave commander, I thought. The victim of this terrible tragedy.
“Loitering is a crime punishable by death.”
Ah, yes. I quickly fired up my thrusters and headed toward the door. There was no need to hang around. I set a course for the Stone Enterprise in the next system and took a look around. But curse my cotton socks if there wasn’t a single Scanner to be found. I left the docking bay, my impatience was cooled by the wonderful view.
It looked like I was going to have to hop across some unknown systems to continue my search for the super-scanner. It was not ideal, but it seemed like a good opportunity to try out the basic scanner I had on board while I was waiting for the extra component. I dropped into the memorably named LP 271-25 system and discovered a sun.
It is odd, how Frontier are doing this. Technically, a bunch of players have been to this same sun. It was not really ‘undiscovered’, only undiscovered by me. Internally, I ache for a game that has systems which are truly undiscovered, truly uninhabited -- places where nobody in the online world has even been. I hope that Elite’s ambition to be a 1:1 scale model of the Milky Way is fulfilled, but I want it fulfilled in a meaningful way, you know? It is possible, in this Beta, to visit a grey ‘unexplored’ system, collect the data about the planets within, and sell this data to the outposts already there, as if the scientists, traders and pirate scum of such outposts did not know which planet they currently orbited.
So, as I scanned the sun and received the results, it seemed a little phony, knowing dozens (who am I kidding? Hundreds!) of pilots had probably already done the same thing. But I was soon distracted from such worries. According to the system view of my map there was another object in this system. A gas giant, it looked like. I curled my ship around looking for signs of this mysterious planet. In the middle distance (does space have a middle distance?) I saw something bright. That can’t be a gas giant, I thought. It’s too… shiny.
I closed in and the object got larger and larger and I realised that this was not a gas giant at all. It was something else. A Brown Dwarf!
Brown Dwarves are "on the borderline between what might be considered a very large gas giant planet and a star,” revealed my galaxy map. They are also known as ‘Methane Dwarfs’ due to the high amount of methane in their composition. Gas giant. Brown Dwarf. Methane. I cannot say any more, because scientists are still studying the theoretical fart jokes which could be created from these disparate facts.
It’s time to head on, deeper into ‘unknown’ space. There’s a cluster of grey stars around this sector and if I hit them all, maybe I will make some money. The next system houses the star Ross 52-B. For a moment I wonder why the line tracing its orbit is so wonky. We don’t generally consider stars to even have orbits. But it seems Ross 52-B is in a binary system, which explains the weirdness. I zoom out to a bright point on the … I don’t know, the horizon? I zoom out, anyway, and discover the star’s partner. Can you guess its name?
It’s Ross 52-A.
I jest. I love that these things exist in Elite -- and that the game is so dry about them. The hundreds of star systems are based on actual stars and players are already building spreadsheets and galactic maps to chart the starpaths we pilots use. I can’t wait for the day when the galaxy expands and I can chart a course for Sol, carrying whatever cargo and doing whatever mercenary things I need to do to get there.
For the time being, I decide to stop in Federation space. I pulled up to CE Bootis and landed in one of the system’s stations called Moseley Park. I immediately brought up the menu for Universal Cartographics -- the people who buy and sell mapping data. That’s when I discovered the horrifying truth. The data I had collected on the Brown Dwarf and the Ross brothers was worth practically nothing. I was selling a ball of twine and some corkboard pins to a multistellar company that already knew everything. The data was worth 512 credits in total. I would have got more money hauling biowaste from one system to another.
I swallowed my distaste and went shopping. Moseley Park might have been cheap on the mapping data, but they at least had a Detailed Surface Scanner. This was bound to increase the payout rate. Right? I looked at my Sidewinder again as she sat in the docking bay.
8.02 light years to the jump. I wonder…
I stripped off the shields. The readout leaped. 8.50 light years! This was the key, I thought. If I can get further out, I can get rarer data and come back to known space with a haul of Good Shit. And with this super-scanner, the stuff I’ll be getting is bound to be more delicious to those post-grad brats in Universal Cartographics. Before I left Moseley Park, I made a mental note of the station’s shipyard. They sold Asps there.
I didn’t leave the system straight away. First, I scanned the planet CE Bootis A2, and my super-scanner told me it was high in metal content, which surprised me. Because looking at it, the planet of CE Bootis A2 looked like nothing but a giant cappuccino. No, really. It was beautiful.
Likewise, when I got to my next destination, Veren’s Stop, I was overjoyed to find a solar system housing these beautiful twin planets, orbiting each other while they travelled around their parent star, like a couple of ballet-dancing ice cubes sliding around a drinks tray.
According to all the space station rumours (internet forums), what I really wanted were some undiscovered Earth-like worlds. These net you more dosh than any other planet. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any of these on my exploratory romps through Veren’s Stop. Just eleven ice planets, orbiting a dying star that didn’t give a Brown Dwarf what I thought about anything. I swooped back up the arm of stars I had visited and rested my scrappy, unshielded Sidewinder in one of the docks of the iffy Gamma Serpentis system. Let’s see what my brave exploration of the ice worlds has earned me.
I sit. I breathe. I seathe. Either I was doing this exploration lark all wrong or there was simply no money to be made. I thought about that beautiful Asp that blew itself up in the Aulin Enterprise. What a waste! And me, will I ever be able to afford one of those beautiful machines at this rate?
So here I am, sitting in the South Armagh of space. The Gamma Serpentis system is so unprofitable it makes me feel sick. I sulk and flick through the station’s menus. Absentmindedly I check the Bulletin Board. This is where you get courier missions -- basic fetch quests that tell you to fly one or two systems for a modest fee. These are always propaganda runs: you take a message from Federation space to Independent space, or Alliance space, or Who-Fucking-Cares space and drop it off for all the plebs to digest. Folks take these missions because it doesn’t take up hold space and it earns them some cash just for getting a message across the border and ‘freeing minds’. Me? I wasn’t convinced. The payments on the Bulletin Board always look good, but they send you to so many different places that --
I look closely. Five of these missions are going to the same place. And all of them pay out 2000+ a turn. And in five minutes the bulletin board is going to refresh, so… The dusty abacus in my mind clicks wildly. I accept all the missions I can and wait. When the board refreshes, I fill up on a second round of missions and take off into the black.
It takes me two trips to earn 81,000 credits.
From pan-handler to propagandist. That Asp is as good as mine.
Next week: mercenary wetwork.