Saturday, January 31, 2009

Like Children to a Fly

They're nervous, but I don't blame them. They're in a thinly-shielded transport. They have attracted the attention by one of the more notorious mercenary corporations in the galaxy, and they are hunted by omniscient, immortal sociopaths to whom this ship is like a fly to be poked and dismembered, and the crew just.. blood to be spilled for momentary amusement. I know this because I'm one of those omniscient, immortal sociopaths. My sensors pick up every offhand comment, every mumbled curse and every whispered prayer. They're stuck playing an elaborate cat-and-mouse game, with stakes worth more than the organs and combined incomes of everyone they know.

The sound of directional thrusters reverb through the Silent Whisper as the ship turns towards it's destination. I hear a collective sigh of relief when AURA utters the words: "Warp Drive Active". The Whisper is whisked away from the Caldari stargate and towards the station. The ship is as silent as my pod for a moment, and then the pod becomes the proverbial eye of the storm as the voices of terror fill the ship.

"Enemy Astarte straight ahead! Brace for impact!"
Evasive maneuvers. Activate hardeners and boosters.
"It's deploying drones.. locking us.. firing."
A full volley of blaster bolts strikes the side of the Whisper. Start the microwarpdrive.
"Shields at 50%, 13%"
Realign towards the station. Contact the station and ask for docking clearance.
"Shields gone. Armor at 77%, 33%, 11%.."
"Clearance granted. Welcome to Umokka."
"Attention: Minmatar Prowler-class transport Silent Whisper is now under the protection of the Caldari Navy. Cease your attack or we will take appropriate measures in accordance of the Yulai Convention."

This time, my theatrical exit from the pod is met with a more polarized response than usual. Some are cheering, but I can feel the simmering hate in the air. I can almost hear them ask: "What right do they have to toy with our lives?"

I start walking towards the exit, and address the few crewmembers around me, talking to nobody in particular. I try to keep my voice calm and emotionless.
"I won't be departing today. Replace any and all parts not in perfect working condition. Load the cargo from the hangar and notify me when everything is ready."
"What about the crew?"
I stop, and the simple gesture gets the point across.
"Understood, sir. The Silent Whisper will be ready."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


The cruise missile market has been interesting in the last few days. Aside from myself, there are half a dozen manufacturers, all locked in a price war. While I did manage to sell the initial batches at 40% profit, one of my competitors has grown impatient and lowered his prices by 20%, putting them below my production costs. However, the difference isn't large enough to warrant buying his stockpile and either reselling it at a higher price or reprocessing it back into minerals. In any case, there are signs of the market overheating, so I have reassigned my factories to produce other goods for now. It's important to spot the trend early and not be dragged down by the vicious circle of undercutting.

In other news, my associates have reported that their re-alignment in the New Eden political landscape has been completed, and that the new production centers are ready. They did make some new enemies in the process, but the war declarations are of little consequence to me. I can continue to run my business, no matter whether I do it from a station or a blockade runner cloaked in a remote part of an uninhabited solar system. I'm sending mr. Parker to help my associates soon. While he cannot match the quantity of minerals that I require, maybe he can help my associates with the quality of minerals. He is a certified refiner, has been training on mastering ORE's top-of-the-line exhumers, and can handle most mining crystals. Of course, I'd have to persuade ms. Ashley to scout the route beforehand, a task that I dread in advance. I'd hate to resort to one of the more stronger clauses in our agreement.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Life of Tribulation

Desmond Fehr is a patient man. He was never the first to bow, but always the last to raise his eyes. He endured one master after another, never to complain. This perserverance and adherence to the doctrines allowed him to taste some measure of success in the countryside. He had a house and a family. Life was good.

But then the Valklear came. Like demons, they descended upon the village. The funerals lasted for days, and the next master made sure that nobody would even think of helping the Valklears the next time. For a moment, Desmond regretted not accepting their offer. He chose to stay behind.

Days turned into weeks, and months turned into years. The Valklears never returned. Desmond became the proverbial rock among the community. Distant wars started and ended, and even the Elders came and went. Their impact was only felt later. Taxes grew larger and larger, and the taskmasters grew more and more demanding.

Eventually, the master had no choice but to sell his servants. The golden ships descended from the heavens. Eventually, Desmond and the others were brought into a market. The buyers were a suspicious lot, and everyone was carefully inspected, and Desmond could see the uneasiness on the broker's face. Desmond's turn came and went. After the auction, they were loaded into a shipping container. The doors closed and they were engulfed in darkness. There was a rumble, and the container started to move. People started talking to pass the time. Most of it was meaningless, but one particular conversation sparked Desmond's interest.

"The holding pattern was a mess, so the Master sent us on the outer hull to replace some of the armor plates. He said that we would be cheaper than having the station crews have a look at the ship. So there I was, working on the outer hull, finishing the engravings on one of the new armor plates that we replaced. Then I saw it. It was an Armageddon-class battleship in an atrocious condition. Some of the outer plating was missing, and there was rust all over. I mean, keeping a divine ship in such a condition is a discrace!"
He was interrupted by one of the other Brutors.
"It wasn't rust."
"It wasn't rust, and it wasn't a divine ship."
"You mean.."
"It was blood. That was a Bhaalgorn."
"We were bought in bulk. Just think for a moment. I'm too old for honest work, and I was certainly not bought for my rugged looks."
"No.. no no no.."
"Yes. We're going to a blood farm."
"Keep your voice down! We don't want a panic!"
"Does it really matter? Maybe i'm lucky and get trampled to death."
"Shut up.. Shut up. Shut up!"

The old man got his wish. The blows echoed in the suddenly-silent container. After a few minutes, the doors opened. The guards dragged them both away, cleaned the stains and left the rest in darkness.

Desmond prayed.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Subcontractors, Liquidity and Missed Opportunities

Despite measureable improvements in mr. Parker's performance, the yields are still below what I need for sustained production. The first batch of my new products sold almost instantly and provided a hefty return on investment, but I'd need at least four or five more subcontractors to achieve the optimal production rate. I don't have the capital to maintain buy orders for a batch of materials while one batch is being sold and an another in production., so I have to waste my time with the Silent Whisper, hunting for bargains in the less reputable portions of space. It isn't particularly dangerous, though, just time-consuming. Furthermore, the lack of liquidity forbids me from taking advantage of other business opportunities. I did manage to snatch a shipment of underpriced missiles to be reprocessed back to minerals, but that's just a drop in the ocean.
There's also the products that I managed to get to safety before the Wicked Creek debacle. Those assets were worth billions, but that market is inaccessible now. My associates have been doing well in the north, but distractions here have kept me too busy to pay anything but superficial attention. Someday I'll have to take the Silent Whisper for a spin and get acquainted with the new neighbors. Surely there must be someone out there who values discreet and timely deliveries..
Miss Ashley's also been complaining that the frequent pirate intrusions into the core systems are becoming more and more serious. Sometimes it's even been necessary to call for backup. The Victim's Guilt is a sturdy vessel, built like a brick, but she has a point, though. A Raven-class battleship would be ideal, but the increased destructive power would also require me to upgrade to a Hurricane-class battlecruiser to keep the space lanes clear of valuable wreckages.
So much potential, and so few opportunities..

Thursday, January 8, 2009

On Ransom

During my travels, I have encountered several individuals and groups who take more active measures in acquiring wealth. Sometimes these people engage in what it's commonly known as ransoming: Capturing something valuable and demanding compensation for returning it. The valuable can be an item, an individual, a group of people or even a ship. Still, the decision-making process for all of these cases is the same.
So how would a reasonable businessman approach such a situation?
The first step is to identify all possible outcomes and the losses and gains associated with them.
  1. The valuables are retrieved without paying the ransom. The victim loses nothing, and the ransomer gains nothing.
  2. Ransom is paid, and the valuables are returned. The victim loses the ransom amount, and the ransomer gains it.
  3. The ransom is not paid, and the valuables are not returned. The victim loses the valuables, and the ransomer gains them.
  4. The ransom is paid, but the valuables are not returned. The victim loses everything, and the ransomer gains everything.
#1 is naturally the best option, but usually requires some form of leverage, like overwhelming force or credible promises of future revenue for the ransomer. But in contemporary Empire markets where profit margins are already slim, spreading the wealth around is not always an option. So in most cases, we will be dealing with #2, #3 and #4. It's noteworthy to realize that the decision-making process is two-tiered: The victim either chooses #3 or lets the ransomer choose between #2 and #4. This limited form of choice sometimes affects the victim psychologically and provides a powerful incentive to choose #3, if only to spite the ransomer. In many cases, this is counterproductive and such decision can carry a hefty cost.

A smarter businessman will take the time between capture and the deadline to perform research on his adversary, because understanding your opponent's motivations will provide clues on whether the opponent is more likely to choose #2 or #4. Many ransomers are independent. Such entities' primary forms of income are ransoming, non-aggression pacts and sometimes protection agreements. When it comes to ransoming ships, they will most likely have scouts in space and have researched you to evaluate your willingness and means to pay a ransom. If you are dealing with such individuals or groups, they are likely to choose #2. Their intention is not to stop a revenue stream, only to divert it to their own accounts. Their ultimate goal would be the non-aggression pact, where they are paid for not engaging certain targets, providing a steady stream of revenue for minimal operating costs. As such, any measures that provide a strong incentive for targets to refrain from risky behavior is counterproductive at best. Choosing #4 would make their next target more likely to choose #3 as their reputation spreads, cutting off their source of income altogether. 

However, there are also entities who engage in ransoming to drive their victims out of business. The more damage caused to the target, the better. A mercenary corporation hired by a competitor is a good example. Their contract probably has a one-time payment for a certain time period of activity, and any and all gains from such activity can be kept by the mercenary corporation. Thus they have a strong incentive to choose #4 as often as possible. A smart businessman should always choose #3 if dealing with said entities to minimize losses. Mercenary contracts are not cheap, and minimizing your losses is an important part of an overall strategy if a war of attrition is unavoidable.

To recap: Choose #3 when dealing with competitors or their subcontractors. Let independents choose #2.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Keeping Up Appearances

"Docking request accepted. Please stand by for remote control."
As the tractor beams pull the Overseer through the entry corridor, I recall the camera drones and begin shutting down the primary systems. After a few minutes, I feel the ship come to a halt and shut down the final sensors. For a moment, I am blessed by absolute silence as the pod re-initializes my senses. First I feel the pod fluids around me, then I hear my own heartbeat. I can see the pod's inner lights activate through my eyelids. I hear a series of rumbles as the armor plates protecting the pod cradle move aside. While the pod is being lifted to the dock, the plugs detach themselves and float away from my head and spine. A slight thud signals that the pod has reached it's destination, and I hit the switch.

I fall to the cold metal floor, and the docking crew sprays me clean of the pod fluids. To some of my crew, this is the first time they've seen me. Up until now, I've been an omniscient, disembodied voice of god and before that, a name in the recruitment ad. Many other capsuleers prefer to keep it that way. I slowly open my eyes and let them adjust to the light. I try to stand up, the floor still slippery from the fluids. I try again. A towel is handed to me. I dry myself and start putting on my clothes. I spot a few crew members whispering something to each other. I can't hear them through the rumble of machines, but I don't have to. This little bit of theatrics has served it's purpose. I put on my vest and start walking towards the door.