The shortest route from Derelik back to Arnon would take me through Domain and near to Amarr, which would under normal circumstances have required a visit to the trade hub for something or other.
That was off the agenda this time, because the Goonswarm Federation had announced a few days previously that they were going to ‘Burn Amarr’; a total blockade of the trade hub ostensibly as a political protest against what Goons call the ‘The Blasphemy of the False Empress’, but what in reality was a totally economically-motivated operation designed to hand the entire trade hub over to speculators for a few days. Why the Amarr Navy didn't put a stop to this is beyond me. Instead it was left to CONCORD to attempt to stop what was an infinite conveyor belt of immortal Goons who would keep coming back for more for as long as it suited them. The whole thing was ridiculous. Here’s a cam drone still of a CONCORD ‘blob’ in Amarr during the blockade courtesy of Amadius:
Amarr and the systems around it were therefore a total no-go area. By the time I needed to head back to Arnon, the blockade had already been underway for a day and you can see the effects on the map update from the period:
My chosen route took me back the way I arrived, through Heimatar and Metropolis, so I stopped in Hek and browsed the contracts database again. Something had caught my eye the other day when I was based here working for Keita Eslin: a Dramiel. It was still here. I dropped 50 mil on it. It was a second-hand Dramiel, whose previous owner had rigged it for speed with a bunch of warp drive mods that gave it a top speed of over 650 m/s and nearly 8 AU per second in warp. It also came with a bunch of exotic Tech II-class modules, some of which I couldn’t even use because of the required skill levels.
I had a look round it. I named it Swift Justice. Then in the process of reintegrating into the Tristan I thought about the coming endgame in relation to the Dramiel, which I was about to leave berthed here until this was over. There was bound to be major combat, and the Dramiel is entirely optimised towards it. Was it in fact the right ship to take back to Arnon instead of the Tristan?
I thought salvage, and thought loot, and drones, so I undocked the Tristan and set off back to Arnon…
I received word from Alitura that a capsuleer named Kritsan Parthus had been in contact with Dagan very recently, that the SoE wanted to question him, and that he would not cooperate. I had to go out there and bring him in.
This operation didn’t end well. I found Parthus, and engaged him at a distance at first by sending the drones in as he was in a Prophecy battle cruiser. He also had a couple of lackeys hovering nearby in frigates, so I elected to go in and get them while the drones were attacking Parthus. When I got inside 20 km from Parthus he activated an Energy Vampire on me and drained my capacitor! I started taking hits from the other frigates, and I couldn’t return fire and couldn't escape because I had no capacitor left to warp away. Not even my armour enhancements could stop the Tristan from eventually being destroyed!! Bastards!! Shrunken Head was dead! My beloved Tristan!!
Worse, the damned kill report made it abundantly clear how much quality equipment I’d lost, which was probably worse than losing the ship, to be honest.
Now here’s where one might say the Gods were actually looking favourably upon me after having taught me a lesson - should have brought the Dramiel.
I had to get back to Hek to retrieve it. The Dramiel was ready and waiting there, but it was several light years away.
No problem there either - the insurance payout guaranteed there would be an Impairor waiting for me at the SoE station when I got back there in my capsule. There was no time to waste here at all - I jacked straight into it and set off for Hek immediately. If you consider a ‘rookie ship’ a form of shuttle, then they’re actually useful. This one was a lifesaver…
At Hek, I de-integrated the capsule from the Impairor and had it installed straight into the Dramiel - time was running out and I needed to partially fit it out. This was another stroke of luck: Hek is a minor trade hub and consequently there was nothing that I couldn’t obtain there.
Then it was time to get underway, back to Arnon, in a ship I’d never flown before, and to take that ship straight into combat when I got there.
Back at Arnon, Parthus was still exactly where he was when I left. This time it was a totally different story. I had fewer drones to call on because of the Dramiel’s bandwidth restriction, but this time I knew what he was going to do. Sure enough, he drained my capacitor again but all I had to do was stay at a distance, fire missiles at him (because on the Dramiel - a Minmatar-designed ship - they have a self-contained power supply and are capacitor-independent) and let the drones wear him down, which took a while, but it worked. His mercenary lackeys/whipping boys were a non-event.
So back at Arnon, in a different ship and with Parthus being questioned, it didn’t take long before Dagan’s whereabouts were ascertained. I was offered assistance from all the four empires. One of the offers was from Lear Evanus, of all people. I accepted her offer - “get Dagan and bring him to me”.
I headed over to Lear’s Apocalypse in Manarq to speak to her, this time on official business instead of merely chatting like we did when I first came to Arnon a week ago. Little did I know at the time how this would end up…
Lear told me that Dagan was right here in Manarq, so this was it: the endgame!
When I arrived in the space where Dagan’s Society of Conscious Thought outpost was located, I sent the cam drones over to get a look at him as soon as I was in range - he was in a Gnosis! The last time I saw one of these was the first time I got killed. He had mercenary lackeys alongside, but they weren’t going to be the problem.
A Gnosis is a combat battle cruiser of Jove origin. I had to get in close and use my speed advantage to stay out of his guns’ tracking envelope, while letting the drones do most of the work. In theory that should have worked. I dived in and got into a position on him, but after a while it became clear that Dagan was using a massive shield tank. I couldn’t wear him down fast enough to overcome his shield’s recharge rate. His Gnosis on the other hand couldn’t get an angle on me. We were caught in a never-ending stalemate, just firing round after round at each other with no effect at all.
If I could have pressed a ‘pause button’ to reevaluate this situation, I would have. I had no choice but to disengage and withdraw.
Guns. Guns. What was wrong? I needed bigger guns!
Then I suddenly realised: in my haste to fit out the Dramiel in Hek, I’d forgotten about the Dramiel being optimised for projectile turrets instead of the rail guns I’d fitted, purely because that’s what the Tristan had and they’d worked fine…
On a pure coin-toss/50-50 decision I headed for the Impro Factory station in the Tolle system next door to Manarq, on a hunch that I might be able to re-tool again there. Again, the gods were looking down on me: two 200mm Autocannons as recommended by EVE Uni. No point in debating the issue. If they’re the best, then that’ll do me. That and some EMP S shells optimised for taking down shields meant if this setup didn’t get past Dagan’s shield tank, then nothing would (except a bigger ship) because I was now packing 102 DPS.
I re-engaged Dagan and his Gnosis. I spiralled in to a 2,500-metre orbit because of my projectile turrets’ short range, then opened fire with everything: shells, missiles and drones.
We got into the mutual orbit tactic - I spiralled-in closer: 1,500 metres, then 500 metres, each time seeing an increase in my damage output on the Gnosis and overcoming its shield tank. I was so close I could discern details on it. I even slowed down to get the transverse velocity minimised which increased my turret accuracy even further. Dagan hardly landed a single shot on me. I was basically in a targeting geometry/delta-v bubble of immunity - every system on the Dramiel was working perfectly in concert to take him down.
Nevertheless, it still became a pure combat of attrition. I fired over 200 shells and at least 80 missiles at the Gnosis before it exploded and I got Dagan’s capsule securely held in my cargo hold. That was it - game over!
I took a while to gather my thoughts and do a small amount of looting of wreckage. No salvage - the salvager died with the Tristan and the Dramiel is not a salvage ship: such a doctrine would be an insult to it.
I’m not sure if this is the most difficult combat I’ve experienced, because it was a verification of the theory that those who bring the biggest guns to bear for the longest time will prevail. We didn’t use countermeasures on each other for any duration so the decks were not stacked in anybody’s favour. It was certainly a long combat, but technically all I had to do was wait him out, even though he was in a cruiser and I was in a frigate.
My question is would the Tristan have taken down Dagan? ‘Shrunken Head’ had slightly fewer DPS than the Dramiel, but it could field five drones instead of the Dramiel’s three. All things considered, that should have translated into a higher rate of fire with which to overcome the Gnosis‘s shield tank, so yes, I think the Tristan could have taken down the Gnosis if I’d got in close enough to get under its guns - but without the close-range artillery, I wouldn’t have seen the need to…
I took Dagan back to Lear Evanus, who promptly announced she had no need for him, and that I should take him to a rendezvous with a prison ship elsewhere in Manarq. When I got there, I was met by a full ‘four course’ battleship fleet from the four factions All this just to transport one person, who based on this evidence, probably had the prison ship to himself.
One final message from Alitura, and that was it. This arc of missions from the Sisters of EVE was educational, interesting, informative and challenging. Despite the mission payments, I ended the arc with less ISK in the bank than when I started, for obvious ship-and-equipment-buying reasons. I lost a ship, and gained two (the Dramiel and the Probe - remember that? It’s still up there in Derelik). I mourn for ‘Shrunken Head’, in spite of all the arguments about ‘consenting to lose your ship every time you undock’.
The next day it would be back home to Danera at last. Familiar territory: The Cauldron, Agil, Ril and Teg, Nandeza. Familiar ships. The Corporation. The POS. The crew.
All that could wait until I’d docked back in Arnon for the night and got spectacularly drunk…