Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On the Importance of Honor

All trade is based on contracts. In order to be able to predict outcomes and thus make wise decisions, a trader must be able to rely on contracts being honored. This holds true even when it's not goods that are being traded, but services. One of our acquaintances learned this lesson the hard way.

The transaction in question was a mercenary contract, where the service in question was military support. My associates had encountered these mercenaries already, and the monthly war declarations were late, so it was not hard to put two and two together and conclude that whoever that had been hiring the Privateers had switched to using Noir. With our current logistics arrangements, the client did not get their money's worth and switched to a more high-quality service provider. That is a very reasonable course of action, but higher-quality service also warrants a higher price tag. And one never, ever should agree to a contract that you cannot fulfill. Especially when your business partners not only wield financial and political power, but also considerable military power. An unfulfilled contract just might persuade them to to extract their fee using other means.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Choosing Which Bridge to Burn

My desk is a mess. Starmaps, sovereignty maps, NeoCom chat logs, intel reports, starbase loadouts, asset manifests, sales history charts and the recent draft of the new CONCORD directives. Risk mitigation is nonexistent, cost-benefit analysis is highly pessimistic and the political analysis is highly hostile. I hear a knock.

"Come in, Miss Ashley."
"Present as ordered, sir."
"Your new orders are to board the Value of Trust at the earliest opportunity and fly it to the staging area. Here is the flight plan. Upon arrival, you will scout the surrounding systems and prepare for the arrival of the Insatiable Ambition, which I will be piloting."
"How long do I have to wait?"
"The flight plan for the Ambition is still incomplete, so it'll probably take a day or two. After you've finished the preparations, you will clone jump back to the Forge region, and schedule a job interview."
"Job interview? For who?"

I hand her the intel report.

"An Amarrian? I thought you guys hate 'em."
"Prejudices are simply obstacles preventing otherwise viable business ventures. That's why I'm sending you. Our current political affiliations notwithstanding, you're still Caldari and the last time I checked, the Caldari State and the Amarr Empire were allies. You will represent me in all dealings with him, and you will not mention my name, ethnicity or any other information that could be useful in identifying me."
"So this is strictly business? No role-reversal fantasies involved?"
"I didn't say that. But yes, this is mostly business. Even if we don't factor in in this.. mess, I still need an unaffiliated third party to divest assets without attracting unwanted attention."
"Anything else?"
"Find mister Parker for me. He's probably in the entertainment district. If he seems unwilling, tell him that his.. supplies have already been relocated to the staging area."
"Will do, sir."
"Just.. don't smile like that when you tell him."

With the distractions out of the way, I can now focus on the real problem. I have a reasonable customer base here and a relatively large percentage of assets tied in the market operations. I'll need any and all assets in the new theatre of operations, but shutting down my ventures here will cause some political issues. And so would making a halfhearted attempt in the new venture. A complete divestment or hedging my bets would probably burn both bridges. I'm out of my comfort zone. This isn't just business, it's politics, and I'm no good in using smoke and mirrors in place of cold, objective numbers.

Still, this is a lesson that I need to learn.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Priority Delivery

"Yes? Calm down. Just repeat what the message said. To where? Now? How
much? Yes, I see how that could be a problem. Notify miss Ashley and
ask her to get the Cowardly Bee to the pickup point. Yes, this takes
priority over her current assignment. Yes, I'm aware of the standing
orders. No, I'll handle it. Yes. Notify the crew, I'll be there

I hurry towards the hangars at an undignified pace, my mind busy
evaluating half a dozen flight paths and scenarios. It's amazing how
far humanity has progressed, yet so few grasp the concept that items
do not magically appear where they are needed. Sizable infrastructures
are planned, created, operated, optimized and maintained to make it
happen. But this time there is no time to do it properly. The alliance
holdings are under attack, a cynosural jammer tower has been disabled
in a key system, and multiple enemy strongholds have been set up. And
now they realize that the replacement tower is sitting in a hangar in
an another region, in a system that attracts a lot of otherwise
welcome attention. But this time I'll have to use the the Invisible
Hand, so subterfuge is not an option.

I quickly greet the personnel and continue without breaking stride
into the locker room. Within a few moments I'm back in the darkness of
the pod. After a few clunks the camera drones activate, slowly
orbiting the freighter. I've never understood why the Thukkers decided
to use camouflage on a spaceship, but this is not a time to complain
about aesthetics. The traffic control gives the go-ahead and I set the
engines to full thrust.


"Miss Ashley?"
"In position as ordered, sir. Why am I here again? The fleet commander.."
"I'll deal with him. What's the status of the system"
"Small enemy fleet on the gate leading to State territory, no contacts
on the inbound gate. Intel reports a small fleet approaching, so it's
now or never."
"On my way."
"Standing by."

With a roar, the engines hurl the freighter towards the gate. During
the approach deceleration, the scanner reports first one, then two,
then six contacts. "Our guests are here. Be ready." With a flash, the
Invisible Hand goes through the gate.

As soon as the sensors recalibrate, I turn the ship towards the
station. On cue, the Cowardly Bee assumes a 10km orbit. Struggling
against the Bee's webification field, the engines roar and whisk the
freighter away.

"Gate activation.. two.. six.. eight hostiles. That was an
unacceptable risk, sir."
"But necessary, as you will find out after I retrieve the cargo. Do
you still have the sound profile I sent you?"
"Yes, but.. it's hardly dignifying to play that on open comms.."
"That's why it was made. It's alliance policy."
"I assume there's a humorous, yet ironic story behind it?"
"Naturally, but that was before my time, so I don't have the specifics."
"Playing it now."

I've heard this before, so I shut down the system communication
channel. While our guests try to triangulate which of my associates'
ships in the system is taunting them, I'm free to examine the cargo
manifest. One large tower, a dozen jammers and two dozens of guns,
fuel for a month.. and the all-important cynosural field jammer. After
the containers have been loaded, I open the comm channels again. Based
on the expletives, our guests are too busy to notice the Invisible
Hand obtaining undocking permissions and entering warp as soon as the
safety protocols allow it.

"That's enough, miss Ashley. Head to the first checkpoint, it's time
to enter the warzone."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

On Gouging

With the addition of several new associates, we now have a whole new region as our playground. Fortunately for me, some of the former owners of said region have started to gouge the market.

But the uncomfortable truth is that gouging is basically a one-entity cartel and thus can only work when all providers collude to keep the prices high. Any small, agile actor such as myself will be able to throw a spanner into the works by providing adequately-priced goods. In that situation, there are only three possible outcomes. First, the gouger could choose to ignore me and let me seize the market share while he gets stuck with unsold goods. Secondly, he could buy my goods and relist them at his price. This only gives me an additional incentive to bring in more goods, because his actions alone keep the demand up. I get my profit every time and can reinvest it into the market. And finally, he could abandon his price-gouging scheme and engage me in healthy competition. In any case, my associates get access to reasonably-priced goods.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Chicken and an Egg Problem

"There's more minerals here than I can keep track of!"
Mr. Parker's message was somewhat shorter than I expected. I did not know whether it's because he's been too busy or too stoned to count, so I made the trip myself.

Fortunately, it's the former. The total value of the minerals comfortably exceeds my planned expenditures.. assuming that I can get them sold. The corporation has put the production efforts on hold, because the majority of the alliance is busy up north assisting our associates. Thus there's no local demand. That leaves transporting them to Empire space to be sold. The problem is that delivering all those minerals would require a lot of trips with the Silent Whisper, presenting a too large window of opportunity for our adversaries. A Rorqual would be ideal for the trip.. but I can't buy one unless I get the minerals sold.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Among the Forgotten

The Fleeting Thought decelerates and stops next to the slowly drifting derelict. The spotlights sweep the hull and focus on the airlock.
"Time to earn your pay, gentlemen."
I stay inside while my crew makes their way towards the airlock.
"How does it look?"
"The door is offline. We'll get it open manually."
"Notify me when you're done."
"Will do."


"We're entering the bridge, there seems to be no obvious signs of damage. We'll know for sure when you get here, sir."
"How's the pod cradle?"
"Turning it on now.. seems to be working just fine."
"On my way."
My pod disentangles from the shuttle, leaving a dry husk of metal behind. I fly around the ship, towards the pod entry hatch. I've always found the Mammoth-class industrials to be unnecessarily ominous in low lighting conditions, and open cargo bay doors only amplify the effect. With all of the debris floating around, the ship looks like it was gutted, proverbially and literally. I circle around to the lit side. The pod locks into the guiding beacon and slides into position above the hatch.
The camera drones slide back into the pod, and I'm blind and deaf for a moment. As the pod makes contact with the ship, I hear the familiar series of clicks and rumblings as the series of hatches and armor plates close above me. The pod stops and gives the ship a proverbial breath of life.
"Running startup sequence.. self-diagnostics okay.. outer hull is sealed.. Firing up air recyclers.. it's safe to take off your suits now."
"Roger that."
As the sensor systems go online, I feel more and more like the ship. I can hear the crew walking inside me. The camera drones activate, and I can see again.
"Make your way to the engine room, I'm not getting any readings from there."
"Will do."

As the crew advances, I activate and unseal the sections to carve them a path through the ship. It feels like having blood course through a numb limb.

"It looks like whatever crew that was here left in a hurry. The powergrid cables were left hanging, and the afterburner is not secured properly."
"Get on it, then. The sooner we have working engines, the sooner we can get back to friendly space."
"Way ahead of you, sir."

While the crew works, I keep reactivating sections of the ship and explore my latest acquisition. Most of the ship is in a decent shape, but I make a mental note to get some drones and fedos to sanitize the crew quarters and get rid of the scratch marks before I let anyone in there. 

"We're done here, sir."
"Onlining the engines in 5.. 4.. 3.. "

With a rumble, I can feel the ship stabilize.

"Good work. Now, off to our real objective.."

I set an approach course to the crates floating nearby and begin transporting the ore into the cargo bay. Bistot, Crokite, Arkonor.. even Mercoxit. The ship alone is worth millions, but this cargo is a whole different matter altogether. There's quite a bit of veldspar and scordite as well, but those aren't worth hauling back. I align towards the gate and leave the rest behind.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

On the Precipe of Commitment

Three hundred and sixty million ISK. I've had used lump sums larger than that many times before, but this time I'm investing on a very unreliable enterprise: myself.

I have no idea when and how I'll recoup that investment, but I do know that it needs to be made. In a matter of a few days, Mr. Parker has mined a considerable amount of ore in one of the remote regions of the galaxy. I've been providing him logistics support so far, but it's clear that the Silent Whisper is not the right tool to move several hundreds of cubic kilometers of ore. With the Invisible Hand, I had a clear plan of recouping my investment, and the gargantuan freighter did it's job admirably. But that was in the safety of Republic space, where there was little chance of losing said investment. In here, unexpected consequences can arise quickly and not let go. Even worse, this investment is useless unless I invest about one-and-a-half billion more for the Capital Industrial skill and the Rorqual itself. I feel like I'm looking down on a cliff, getting ready to fly. I can feel both the thrill of freedom and the terror of plummeting already.