Monday, October 27, 2008

Building the Supply Chain

The ammo market continues to prosper, so it is time to ramp it up. One can either increase volume, expand the market, cut costs or increase prices. I'm planning on doing all of the above.

First, the volume and the cutting of costs. While browsing the markets can satisfy short-term needs, it's very easy to exhaust the reasonably-priced sell orders, so I need my own source. And preferably one that'll allow me to prevent costs from increasing. So I started browsing contracts for suitable blueprints. I know that the Empire laboratories have month-long queues, so I need a well-researched one. After some searching, I find a suitable Havoc Heavy Missile blueprint at material efficiency of 150 for sale at 5.5 million, with one bid already made. I finish checking the rest of the contracts and head out with the Silent Whisper, my blockade runner. I wasn't expecting trouble, but the contract is in the Forge region, deep within Caldari space. A fast ship such as the Whisper is ideal for this task.

Eventually I arrive on one of the border systems of the Forge and made the bid. A few moments afterwards, NeoCom alerts me that one of my Gallente associates was back in Empire space and needs a Hulk. Perfect. Jita is only a few jumps away, so I got one with fittings and started heading back to Republic space. Having an in-house miner will help with the costs.

About halfway back, NeoCom notified me that I had been outbid. I deliver the Hulk and after making sure that my associate was satisfied and was at work, I head back to the Forge. The bidding war was on, and would probably continue for the remainder of the auction's duration. I make my last bid shortly after NeoCom reminded me of my preset sleep schedule. Trading requires an alert mind, and only a fool lets his weapon lose it's edge.

On the next day, NeoCom reports that the auction had expired, and as expected, I was outbid. The final price was around 13.5 million. I'm sure that the seller will appreciate that. I dismiss the notice and head out to the docking bay. That bidding war successfully held my competitors' attention, and thus they failed to notice a similar auction which offered various missile blueprints with material efficiency of 50 and a pricetag of merely twenty million. That's more than enough to attain optimal manufacturing efficiency. I pick up the set of blueprints from Jita and head back to Republic space. This set of blueprints will allow me to both do business in Republic space and in the independent territories. Residents of the independent territories have lots of money, but not many opportunities to spend it. Being the good samaritan that I am, I intend to help them with that problem.

Back in Republic space, I hand over half of the blueprints to my Gallente associate, who examines them and submits them to be replicated at a nearby Ammatar station. There's a five-day queue, but I need to be able to run several manufacturing jobs in parallel to ramp up the volume to levels that my remote customers expect. Meanwhile, I board the Middleman, my Mastodon-class deep space transport, load it with minerals and take the other half of the blueprints to a nearby Imperial Armaments station for manufacturing. It seems that I'll be able to undercut my competition and still attain a 40% return on investment even in Republic space, but I need to gauge market demand first. The recent surge in Minmatar production has left this station relatively quiet, so I'm able to start manufacturing immediately. I don't leave my pod, though. There's no need to rub their noses in the fact that they're doing business with me. The test runs are scheduled to be finished in three days, which frees up the blueprints for replication right on time. But while the proverbial wheels of industry are grinding, all that is left is to wait..

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Change of Plans

According as circumstances are favorable, one should modify one's plans.

The ammo business is gaining momentum, and my brokers are reporting that I'm in danger of having one of my market orders expire due to insufficient goods. I seem to have underestimated the market demand, but I won't let my loyal customers suffer due to my oversight. I spend the rest of the evening enjoying the station's amenities, but my mind is busy evaluating different options. One of my associates casually mentions that there's a loophole in safety regulations that allows any ship in a carrier-mounted ship maintenance array to contain ammunition. Naturally, this loophole was intended for deploying combat ships prepared for extended skirmishes, but it has other uses as well. I'm probably not the first to think of this, but I won't be the last, either.

After making sure that I've passed the safety limit for consecutive clone jumps, I head to the cloning station and jump back to Republic space. I buy an used Mammoth at a bargain and have it stripped down to the bare minimum, maximizing cargo space. It's now basically a few engines and a cockpit strapped to several cargoholds. Perfect Minmatar design. All it needs to do is to hold together until I reach the drop-off point.

The pickups go without incident, but now I'm on an approach vector to the last stargate before the drop-off point in low-security space. Miss Ashley reports that there is one friendly contact on the overview, leaving the system and several neutrals in the system according to the gate logs. I send the activation codes, and me, my ship and my highly combustible cargo are pulled through the gate.

"I'm here. Prepare the web."
"Standing by."

As soon as I deactivate the cloak, I hear the familiar locking alert and Miss Ashley's Buzzard appears next to me. The stasis web engulfs my ship and the engines rev up in a futile attempt to compensate.

"Engine output at 75%. Ready for warp.", I hear AURA's voice chime in. I send the command.
"Warp Drive Active."

The arrival to the station is uneventful. The dock crew unloads an unmarked crate from the Mammoth while I detach my pod and make the proper arrangements. I approve the contracts. The Mammoth is towed away to an another hangar to wait for pickup. The crate is wheeled away. A few minutes later, the Silent Whisper arrives to my hangar. While's it's sleek by Minmatar standards and can rival some of the cheaper interceptors in speed and maneuverability, it's also a relatively rate sight and thus would have attracted undue attention. After all, when someone uses a blockade runner, they usually have a good reason to expect trouble. I maneuver my pod towards the ship and open the pod bay door. The pod slides down and locks into place, and my viewpoint changes to the ship's camera drones. I start the pre-flight checks.

"How's the vicinity of the station?"
"No contacts on scanner, all clear."
I notify the traffic control and get clearance for departure. The vicinity of the station is indeed clear, so I set my destination and warp towards the gate.
"Is that all? I thought that.."
"Yes, that is all."
"What about the ship?"
"That was the ship. The Gambler's Compulsion will be transported at a later date. I humbly suggest that you use the time productively."
"I still don't like the idea."
"Duly noted. Just go through the textbooks and you'll know how to go through the diagnostics yourself. Contact me when you're done."
"Activating the gate. I suggest you do the same, the natives are getting restless."


"Let's go through this again."
"Why? I already told you what happened!"
"Why indeed. I'm not particularly interested in the How."
"What good does it do? It won't bring the crew, or even the Trader's Folly back."
"It won't, but this will help prevent such avoidable expenses from occurring in the future. I just want to make sure that the name was not a self-fulfilling prophecy."
"You named it assuming it would be destroyed?"
"I like to keep reminders of my shortcomings around me."
"Your shortcomings?! Let me tell you about your shortcomings! First of all..."

This particular character trait is one of the reasons why her employment opportunities in the Caldari State are rather limited. But I don't mind, because she has a point. I did bring her here without informing her about the political situation. The Tau Ceti doesn't particularly mind their allies picking off some of their customers. War is good for business, but it can have some externalities.

"...So there I was, minding my own business when I detected an unknown signature right before it appeared on the belt because SOMEONE..."

And a Drake is not exactly one of the most agile ships out there. If an enemy appears, there is indeed little time to detect the enemy and escape.

"..I ordered an alpha strike, but the enemy outrun the blasts and there was nothing on-board to slow the bastard down because SOMEONE has no clue.."

Not to mention that missile launchers that I ordered were designed for killing cruisers and battleships, not frigates. A stasis web would not have hurt, either.

"..eventually the structural integrity gave way to the infernal drones' barrage, causing hull breaches and spacing my crew! Their frozen blood is on your hands! You sent them to battle ill-prepared!"
"Indeed, I did. I'll arrange for a new ship to be delivered, properly fitted and provide a threat assessment of the neighboring systems. Is that all?"
"All? Hundreds dead and that's ALL you can say?"
"It's just business."
"GET.. OUT!"
"Fine, fine. Oh, one more thing? Why did you return to the belt?"
"What? How did you.. Are you blaming.."
"I wouldn't dream of it."
"Don't worry about your employment. As I said, I like to keep reminders of my shortcomings around me."
"Good day, Miss Ashley."

The door closes behind me, and I start making notes. One battlecruiser, minus insurance plus fittings and ammo.. Half a day's setback at most. While walking back to the club I make the necessary adjustments to the prices of my goods. A trader always gets his money.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


"You want me to do WHAT?"
"I want you to kill yourself. Look, I already said that all of the arrangements have been made. All that remains is you."
"Isn't there any other way?"
"Of course there is. You could try to fly through Curse or the Great Wildlands. Should you choose to do that, I am obligated to take the Trader's Folly back, as per our agreement."
"You want me to fly through a warzone in a frigate? Are you mad?"
"I don't. And I'm not. That's why I proposed to use more.. cost-effective means of transportation."
"But I like my body. My mother gave it to me."
"I'll buy you a new one."
"It's not the same."
"She won't know the difference."
"I'd love to chat, but I have a schedule to keep. I need to be back tomorrow for the next shipment."
"I'll meet you there."


"Jumping again, sir?"
"Indeed. Tau Ceti Central, as usual."
"Very well. Your vat is ready. This way, please."

The metal floor feels cold beneath my feet and the smell of disinfectants is prevalent. I step into the vat and the technician starts plugging in the life support equipment. The clamps approach and gently grip my skull. I relax, and the machinery gently tilts my head to the right angle. The technician attaches the mask and closes the vat door. He returns to his console and the pod starts filling up. I hear a servo whining and a series of clicks behind my head. The fluid reaches my head and I close my eyes before I inhale the fluid. Some leave their eyes open, but I had once overhead the technician complain about feeling paranoid when in room full of pod people with their eyes open. There's no cost in being considerate.


My eyes are open, and the Gallente technician is making notes next to my pod. The fluid recedes, and I hear a sequence of clicks behind my head. The clamps let go, and I look to my right. Her clone is still inert.

The pod opens, and I force myself to gag to get the rest of the fluid out. The technician starts going through his list in a monotone voice.
"Contract number 53673093, client ID 092813-32, subject Shirrath, Male Vherokior, born.."
"I know who I am, thank you."
"Are you aware of your current whereabouts?"
"Wicked Creek, constellation R-M719, system Q-GQHN, Tau Ceti Central."
"Very well. It seems that everything is in order. Sign here, please."


While I'm dressing, I hear a scream, followed by a few thuds. I carefully finish buttoning my vest and walk towards the vat room. She's struggling against the restraints and banging against the pod door.

"It's okay, let her out."
She slumps into the cold floor, slimy and puking. The technicians try to give her a towel, but she lashes out, forcing them to back off.
"There's no need to be rude. You're here as a guest, remember."
"Wh..wh..where's here?" She's shivering.
"Tau Ceti Central."
"Tau Cet.."
"I heard where. I want to know why you brought me in the middle of roe-suckers' territory!"
"They're not affiliated with the Federation, and there is no need for that kind of language. I told you that we'd be working with..."
"I'll use any kind of language I please, you glorified sherpa!"
"Now you're getting personal. I have to remind you that you're only immortal as long as the fine people here keep your clone ready and you keep your well-formed behind in a pod."
"I think we're done here. Get miss Ashley some clothes, and I could use a clean vest."
"This isn't over, you smug bastard."
"We'll talk afterwards."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Unexpected Income

The beeping of my NeoCom wakes me and starts listing market transactions before I even get my eyes open. A bunch of drones sold, some hardeners, an implant, ammo, a rig.. I hit the showers go wake myself up for good.

While finishing the rest of my morning routines, I realize that my account balance has a pair of extra digits. While I was sleeping, someone apparently bought all of the grossly overpriced Republic Fleet ammo that I had for sale in one of the seedier parts of the Republic. I have a hunch that whoever bought them must appreciate the irony of killing someone with their own ammo. I don't plan to be that someone, so I'll have to make some modifications to my travel plan. There's some market orders that are about to expire, and there's some deliveries to be made, and assets that are not in motion are assets that are not generating income.

While income is always good, these unexpected large sales tend to have a disruptive effect on my revenue. Normally, I have an investment plan ready for every ISK I earn, but finding a suitable use for an extra hundred million ISK takes some time. And that means time that my assets are not "at work". But what to buy? A Raven to boost the junk acquisition business? Some minerals? Half a dozen rigs? A set of implants? A shipment of drones? Choices, choices..

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Planning Ahead

With the next shipment is waiting to be picked up by one of my associates and my new employee familiarizing herself with the nooks and crannies of her brand-new Drake, it's time to evaluate the current status of my ventures.

The salvage business has so far proven to be a bit less successful than I had estimated. After triaging all of the parts, the junk container seemed too full. Even though I have good relations with the local Brutor brokers and can run proverbial circles around Republic accountants, some items are just too cheap to sell. One of the brokers "helpfully" suggested that I reprocess the junk into minerals. However, the neglected to mention that the Tribe would receive all scrap metal that my butter fingers couldn't reprocess. So, the junk container keeps filling for now. Fortunately, some of the rarer items did sell for a rather nice price. Some of my customers are gear heads who want to squeeze the last bit of performance from their ships, others are simply people who equate cost with quality. Naturally, the latter are my favorite customers.

While following a random discussion about missile shortages on NeoCom, I noticed that the prices they're citing for certain types of missiles seem awfully high, sometimes even three or four times higher than usual. So I bought some missiles and contracted them for transport. If the demand continues and this is not just a short-term shortage, I may need to find a subcontractor or get into manufacturing myself. However, the manufacturing costs are not really the issue. In order to justify the jump fuel costs and hazard pay, the profit from a shipment needs to go past a certain threshold. There's no point in hauling stuff halfway across the galaxy for pocket change, when daytrading can accomplish the same with less risk and much less hassle.

I take another look at the titanic container labeled "Junk" and start browsing through my list of associates. Surely there's someone around who would be interested in a small joint business venture..

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Pocket Change

The first rule of trading is to make your money work for you. Always have something to buy, something to sell and something in transit. At least, that's what they told me at Pator Tech. What they didn't tell is that sometimes business is slow, leaving all your market capital stuck in assets and you stuck inside a station. Peace is not good for business. When there's no ships getting destroyed and pods popped, there is no need to buy fittings and implants.

Educating myself on the finer points of Jump Drive calibration can keep me entertrained only for so long, so I've been amusing myself by browsing job applications. Poverty is relative, and that big plug at the back of my head is worth more than many men will ever make in their lifetime. It's amazing what so many people are willing to do for pocket change.

Of course, sometimes they have very good reasons to be desperate. For example, there was this State War Academy graduate who kept posting job applications on Heimatar NeoCom channels. Of course, my private inquiries did reveal the reason why she wasn't employed by the State or the Empire, but there was no need to mention it during the interview. All she needed to know that I had a job for a combat pilot.

I introduced her to some of the local Brutors and asked her to show what she can do with her Kestrel. Even in the core Republic worlds, there's always some pirates, disgruntled employees or slaver patrols whose wrecks are worth some money. So while she was busy pumping missiles and giggling like a maniac, I was salvaging her leftovers with my Thrasher. We kept doing that for a while, and she seems happy. I pay her expenses and provide her with things to shoot, and she provides wrecks to salvage. The extra income has allowed me to start purchasing the next shipment, which also includes a fully fitted Drake. She'll need it where we're going.