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Game Armada Monthly Studio Report: May 2018

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Monthly Studio Report: May 2018

Welcome to Cloud Imperium Games’ Monthly Studio Report for May, bringing you insight into what all of our studios have been working on. This month, the team made updates to Alpha 3.1, and pushed forward on new systems, ships, and features for Alpha 3.2 and beyond. Work also progressed on various aspects of Squadron 42. With that said, let’s dig into the details.

Los Angeles




The Vehicle Features Team’s primary focus this month was working on scanning for the mining feature and making improvements to turrets, both of which will appear in the Alpha 3.2 release. Regarding scanning, the team worked closely with VFX, UI, and other teams to develop the pinging, scanning, and blob work needed for the launch of this feature.

The team also completed the implementation of cameras on remote turrets that can be controlled by players, allowing them to focus their turret target on a ship to see its relevant status.



The team, consisting of Vehicle Art, Systems Design, and Tech Art, developed vehicles for both Alpha 3.2 and subsequent releases. On the art side, the Anvil Hurricane completed its flight prep pass and has been handed off to the other vehicle disciplines for the 3.2 release. The Art Team has also wrapped up their pass on the Consolidated Outland Mustang Alpha and has begun working on its variants.

Work was also done on the greybox set-up for the Consolidated Outland Mustang Alpha, the RSI Constellation Phoenix, and the Anvil F8 Lightning.

Meanwhile, the Tech Art Team worked on their final flight prep passes, which included damage and landing gear compression on the Anvil Hurricane and the rest of the 3.2 ships: the Aegis Avenger, Aegis Eclipse, Origin 600i, and Vanduul Blade. Additionally, the team took a Tech Art pass in support of the MISC Prospector for the mining feature. Hurricane1.jpg Hurricane2.jpg


The Gameplay Features Team is working with the Spectrum and Backend teams to sync to the new Spectrum architecture, which will allow players to view and manage their contacts in the mobiGlas Comms app. The team is placing the chat feature directly into the mobiGlas, so players can communicate using both the visor chat and the mobiGlas Comms app. In addition to this, Group creation, destruction, rules, and interaction are now being implemented and improved as the team works alongside Turbulent. The ability to invite contacts to groups by selecting them in interaction mode is being added, as is identifying contacts by name in your visor.


A wide variety of tasks kept the Narrative Team busy in May. The month kicked off with a release of a Loremaker’s Guide to the Galaxy segment focused on the Oso System. They also recorded episodes for several upcoming systems. They wrote and released three new lore pieces, including part one of the Subscriber exclusive short story Hostile Negotiations. May’s issue of Jump Point focused on the Crusader Hercules Starlifter, game optimization, a Galactapedia entry on whiskey, and more. Two older Jump Point features also received wide release on the site, including the tragic tale of the Lost Squad and part one of the serialized story The Knowledge of Good and Evil.

The Squadron 42 Team spent part of the month working with Production to organize work on the remaining narrative tasks and started tackling a handful of set dressing documents. These kickoff documents focus on specific areas of the game and list ideas for props that could be used to sell particular story moments.

The team also wrote procedural text for new PU mission types. They drilled down into the specifics of some upcoming locations, which included creating posters to be plastered around Lorville and other locations. They worked with other departments to organize and streamline game documentation essential to inter-office communication, and collaborated with the Community Team on Ciera Brun’s Journal of a Volunteer, which was featured on the Hercules Starlifter sales page.


The Character Art Team showcased their work on the Legacy Armor sets for both the Outlaws and Marines in an episode of Around the Verse (both of which will appear in Alpha 3.2).

A considerable amount of effort was put into multiple Squadron 42 characters along with new weapon concepts. The upcoming Mission Givers for PU outfits have made tremendous progress, as have the clothing collections for both Olisar and Hurston. The updated flight suit continues to be developed, and R&D on the pipeline for delivering character heads (including realistic hair for all characters) also received attention. And, as always, bugs were fixed for the Alpha 3.2 release.






The team put together features and fixes for Alpha 3.2 and pushed ahead on content for future releases. They refined the recipe system to prepare it for future implementation – early iterations will be simple, but will form the basis of a more complex system that allows players to get into the nuts and bolts of what makes items in the ‘verse tick.

Quantum Linking progressed nicely. Soon it will be synced with the Group System to allow for various interactions between local players and those in a party. Once done, groups can easily Quantum Jump to a shared destination together.

Spline jumps were added, which allow players to travel from one side of a celestial body to another. The team can adjust the parameters to ensure a smooth experience while still allowing for future iterations and tweaks by the Design Team.

With the animations of Battaglia and Klim added, focus has shifted to a pair of new mission givers. The team is also building out the Bartender character, with the goal of instilling a level of life and dynamic activity fitting of a real, hard-working mixologist.


Feature creation and bug smashing kept Server Engineering busy in May. With the Persistence Cache being broken up and streamlined, several new features and services were created. Data Cache, Badge Service, GEID Broker, and Character Management Service were previously part of a larger Persistence Cache. They were broken out to allow for higher efficiency and scalability of the Backend Services, ensuring they work within the improved and more efficient Diffusion Service Architecture. The Generic Cache service can now be used by any other service to store data and contain persistence. The Persistence Item Cache grants game items for online players, and will organize and manage the associations of items between each other and provide optimized queries.

The team and Turbulent continue to modify the Gateway Service to support the bridge to Spectrum. This work ensures that Spectrum and Services won’t have trouble when Spectrum becomes integrated into the game. Work was also completed on creating a link from CMake generated services into WAF. Now, developers don’t need CMake to use services and can automate the process of building services using WAF for other developers to quickly integrate with their workflow.


The PU Animation Team finished their previous set of Mission Givers and NPCs and handed them over to Design for implementation. A new set of Mission Givers is now being worked on, and research was done on the Bartender’s animations to bring as much life to this NPC as possible. They also collaborated with other teams to get the Vanduul fully functional and ready for motion capture.

The Ship Animation Team continued adding a modular system for entering and exiting seats and turrets. By breaking up the existing animations into sequences, the character can use any of the enter/exit templates to interact with any cockpit type. For example, there can now be an animation that uses the Aegis Gladius enter animation, but then has the player grab a dual-stick control scheme. Previously, the team was limited to only using the Gladius enter animation for cockpits that used one specific configuration. They can now use thousands of different combinations, granting more flexibility when creating new ships.

The Ship Animation Team focused on completing the new ships for the 3.2 release. They created new animations for the Origin 600i and the refactored Aegis Avenger, as well as the Aegis Eclipse, Anvil Hurricane, and the Vanduul Blade. Plus, they’ve been fixing various bugs for the 3.2 release. They’re very excited about the improvements made to the ship pipeline and are looking forward to the opportunities that it provides.


Work continues with high polygon and flight-prep modeling of the Constellation Phoenix. In the last few weeks, the team focused on the exterior of the ship, getting it fully fleshed out and finishing the damage setup and LODs. They have also been getting the Constellation Emerald setup and modeled. Constellation variants share most of their parts with each other, but to accommodate the Emerald’s paint job, UV revisions of the original Constellation were required. Once the exterior is done, they will return to the interior to finish various parts such as the floor, guest quarters, and master bedrooms (and the all-important hot tub!).

The high poly and detail modeling phase is complete on the F8 Lightning, and the team have moved on to getting it flight-prep ready. The internal damage has been completed and work on LODs are next. Then they will concentrate on the last polish and efficiency pass before creating marketing material for the ship reveal.



On the Publishing side, QA wrapped up the last of the 3.1 incremental patches by testing fixes and changes to IFCS. In addition, they tested the new Launcher updates and monitored both PTU and Live to report any new issues to the devs.

After the devs wrapped up work on 3.1, QA focused on updating test documentation and processes in preparation for 3.2, continued verifying bug fixes, tested new tool updates, and trained new hires. As the month progressed, more 3.2 features came online for QA testing. These features included Quantum Travel improvements, new ship testing, Item Kiosk shopping, PMA/VMA improvements, and ship & weapon Power Allocation.

Leadership worked to better incorporate processes into the new development cycle. This includes dedicating testers to specific feature teams and having them create documentation and test cases. They have also been looking at new software to make testing more efficient as the game grows exponentially.

DevOps continued their work on the feature stream process and staging build system. Feature streams are a subset of the main development branches that allow the devs to maintain a tighter focus on specific features without their work interfering with others. DevOps was happy with the rollout, but it hasn’t been easy. The build system has grown so complex that minor updates and adjustments are risky, which is why they’re working closely with the Corp Tech team in Austin on a ‘staging’ build. This new environment will allow engineers to test changes in a safe location rather than apply them directly into the production environment.

The DevOps Publishing Team monitored the live service for stability and performance indicators, providing a constant flow of data to the dev teams. They also prepped the Evocoti and PTU servers for the next publishing cycle (which is right around the corner). The team provisioned more server capacity for all regions in anticipation of a very popular feature publish.

The Player Relations Team helped wrap up 3.1.4 this month, and have already started early preparations for 3.2 testing with the Evocati. The 3.1 publishes were the first of the quarterly testing cycle. It was a tremendous learning experience that will be used during further cycles.

The team was also proud to roll out over 80 articles to the new Knowledge Base – there have already been 25,000 visits in its first month. Players should check it out, as the team continues to add new ‘How To’ articles, patch notes, and live service notifications.

As always, Player Relations would like to remind and encourage everyone to use the Issue Council to help triage and rate bugs and functionality. The team uses this data to prioritize future updates. Plus, participation makes you eligible for earlier PTU waves.

Wilmslow & Derby




The Actor Teams have been carrying on with the ‘pickup-and-carry’ work, now concentrating on reducing the animations required for the different combinations of item sizes, grip types, and player states. They did a rough calculation of all these combinations and it came out at roughly 1700 animations. However, with the sensible authoring of assets, combining animations in blend spaces, and layering up, the team should be able to get this down to under 100.

They’ve also been developing new animation time-warping technology using player knockdowns as their test case. The problem with something like a knockdown is that the time the character spends in the air varies based on the force and environment. Normally, you would play a looping animation, but this can look unnatural. This new method calculates the airtime and stretches a single animation to fill it. Used sparingly, it produces much better results, and the technique can also be used on other features like jumping.

The Social AI Team has got a test setup of a ‘usable’ now fully working with the new channels in Subsumption. A ‘use channel’ describes what you can do in a particular ‘usable’ – examples could be eat, drink, mend, and so on. This is a great milestone as the Subsumption setup simplifies how the designers create ‘usables’, whilst at the same time giving them much more flexibility.

The Vehicle Team has implemented the ability to under and overpower ship components, and hooked it into the vehicle’s MFD UI. For example, when you underpower your weapons, they fire slower or the projectiles have less energy. Similarly, your shields will be more effective if they have more power.

The Tools Team has been working on a new check-in request tool. As they get closer to a release, they lock down what does and what doesn’t go into the build to improve stability and reduce the risk of new bugs appearing. To help, they’ve been developing a new tool that can track all change requests and give a nice interface for the leads to be able to approve or reject changes. With the number of requests going into a build every day, the overhead of managing them was becoming very large. The hope is this new process will reduce the workload on the teams and production, as well as giving better visibility on what is and isn’t approved.



The ships due for 3.2 have really come along with all the final polish and lighting work that’s gone into them this month. The Vanduul Blade has undergone a rework; mainly around the wings so that it can better accommodate weapons after it was decided the underslung position looked too ‘human’ and needed to be more aligned with the Vanduul aesthetic. It’s also had some extensive work done to the landing gear – previously the ship just rested on the wing tips, but with this change, the wing tips now deploy landing gear to accommodate compression under the weight of the ship. The team has continued to optimize the ship and make sure everything is done so they can switch focus to promo shots and trailers.


On the Audio Code side, the preload manager system was optimized to work asynchronously, so that the audio thread isn’t blocked when streaming audio assets. ‘Asynchronous caching’ was also addressed, which keeps audio events in memory after the game has finished with them. Thanks to this work, assets don’t need to be reloaded from the disk each time they’re needed, which will improve overall performance.

As well as bug fixing, debug info was added to the aforementioned preload manager. The music system was improved with a feature to add a further randomized recombination of tracks. The Audio Propagation and Room systems were extended to enable cheaper pressure lookups and allow for room and object-based reverb. Weapons 2.0 audio tech was worked on further, as were the IFCS 2.0 audio set-up and multithreading optimization. Finally, on the code side, the ATL build process was ported over to WAAPI to enable more incremental audio building, improving iteration times for everyone in the team.

In Dialogue, new content was delivered for Alpha 3.2 via an improved dialogue pipeline. Characters now have their vocal output processed in real-time through communication devices, via porting the audio and any local secondary sound and transmitting it much as one would find in the real world.

In Sound Design, the Scalpel sniper rifle underwent further work and is ready for final review. The FPS weapon system is ripe for refactoring and some work was done to improve quality and simplify the system. They also delivered sound design for the Gemini F55 LMG, the Klaus & Werner Demeco LMG, and the Associated Science & Development Distortion Repeater.

The shopping and mining kiosks were polished to increase responsiveness and synchronization. The mining mechanisms have been worked on extensively and are now ready for further implementation and iteration, with work on the fracture and tractor beams for the mining arm receiving a lot of attention. Hangars had some extra improvement work, and ambiance for the Lorville trash biome was prototyped.

On the ships front, the Origin 600i, Aegis Eclipse, Esperia Blade, and the Anvil Hurricane all had sound added for their thrusters, moving parts, and interiors. The conversion to IFCS 2.0 created a big project to bring everything in line with the modifications to that upstream system. Development of the ship-wide audio concept also continued, separating maneuvering and ‘cockpit feedback’ sounds from the thruster burn sounds, and adding more directionality towards rotation sounds. Room tones that react to ship handling and damage states were also added to the Constellation as a proof of concept. The new physics objects system had assets created to put it through its paces, which will give more behavioral fidelity across the game.

In Music, the Vanduul and Xi’an themes were pushed forward for Squadron 42. For the Persistent Universe, new music was created for derelict ship exploration (small, medium and large).


The UI Team primarily focused on feature work for the Item Kiosks, Mining, and QT Linking. The Item Kiosks wireframes were signed off and later implemented into Flash and hooked up on the code side. The team is now finalizing additional branding skins for the terminals alongside bug fixes on the code now that the QA Team have started testing it. The HUD design for mining was finalized and implemented too. The team is also working on a Kiosk terminal that allows players to sell the refined ore gained from mining. Finally, the QT Linking Flash work has been completed in the UK, with the code hookup for this being tackled by engineers in the LA studio.

In addition, work progressed on improving the UI Tech, with the relevant TDDs being written and a proof of concept being created for the building blocks system. Finally, the team supported the Art Team by providing a generic utilitarian branding sheet to be used within the upcoming Rest Stops among other areas.


Animation tackled the implementation pass for the trained combat set of FPS AI combatants. This included enter and exits from cover as well as combat actions like peeks, reloads, blindfire, and reloads. A previs pass on the untrained combat set was also completed this month. The team took raw motion capture to compare it to the trained set, so combatants would feel distinct and stay true to their character.

The team also worked on improving the looting system and added assets to improve the general look and feel of picking up objects, boxes, and items in Squadron 42 and the Persistent Universe. Work also continued on the weapon recoil improvements. As shown in the recent ATV, the team worked with design and code to develop the look and feel of all FPS weapons.

The team also made some important strides on the Vanduul animation, creating a behavior set to provide a visual guide on how they will move and operate in Squadron 42. Player locomotion sets have been updated to work with an entity-driven system to ensure that client and server animations are exactly the same. The team also made tweaks to some of the poses to allow for better blending between animations and minimize foot sliding.



This month has seen a similar pattern to last, with the team supporting the ongoing Mining and Scanning sprints. The effects for both are coming along at a rapid pace, improving almost daily – as evidenced by the various WIP footage seen in recent weeks.

Ship VFX received plenty of attention in May, including the luxurious Origin 600i. Work continued on weapons VFX, with visual improvements to legacy ballistic guns, as well as general fix-ups required since the conversion to weapons 2.0 was completed by the Game Code and Systems Design Teams.

Collaboration with the Graphics Team also continued, with spline emitter tech coming along nicely. This continues to open up new ideas, and is likely to prove useful in unexpected areas, such as in Quantum Travel.


The Graphics Team worked on multiple features this month, the main focus being mining, which required the expansion of the ship damage-map system to work on new types of assets. It also required completely new visuals to show the cracking and heating of rocks. This work also allowed the team to diagnose and fix some long-standing bugs that should lead to improved texture details.

The multi-resolution gas cloud work is complete, making it possible to combine several gas clouds together at different resolutions and scales. Memory, however, is still the limiting factor, so the team compressed the density fields to just 8 bits per voxel (down from 32 bits). However, the shadowing data is still too large and can’t be compressed as easily. Therefore, research has started on various forms of deep shadow maps that work in 2.5D to try and avoid the memory and performance issues associated with full 3D lighting data.

The foundations of the new multilayer shader system are finished and focus has shifted to adding visual features to the shaders. The first being a new clear coat shading model to achieve convincing paint and anodized metals – both important for high-tech materials. The next is a texture mode called height-variance blending which allows for realistic blending of natural materials (e.g. rock/sand/grass). It supports per-pixel-control of the blend and crucially works at any distance with no aliasing, which is obviously critical with the scale of the game.

Some other tasks included optimizations to the rendering in the editor, a holographic effect for use within Squadron 42, and improved temporal anti-aliasing stability.


The Environment Art Team started the final pass of the Common Element Utilitarian Hangars. The most critical aspect of this was the setup of the master material to give the artists a fully functional set of textures to pull from when taking the assets to final quality. Each piece used in the hangars will now go through its final art pass where, amongst other things, it will have its finished UVs, textures, custom normals, LODs, and physics proxies. There are lots of assets to get up to final quality, but when complete, the hangars will be considered finished from an Environment Art perspective.

Alongside this, work has been done to get future locations ready for production when the bulk of the Environment Team moves onto them later in the year.






The QA Team continued daily maintenance of their numerous checklists as well as Subsumption, Editor, and Page Heap regression. Additionally, they took some time to be trained by the Engine Team to better understand how to interpret a callstack, which will ultimately lead to quicker and more reliable bug assignments.

A new quick smoke checklist for the client was setup to provide the Design Team with an overview for specific systems in the Persistent Universe, such as AI turrets and their functionality. With the new checklist in place, when asked for the current state of a system worked on exclusively in the DE office, QA will be able to provide information much faster.

QA has also been working closely with the Cinematics Team to provide specifically requested support and set up test levels for easier reproduction and a quicker turnaround. Testing on a potential Test Case Management Software candidate was also started to determine if this new software would allow QA to more efficiently manage and track our test cases and reports.


The team added mechanics for NPCs to use grenades to flush their opponents out of cover if they remain stationary for too long. Also, more work was done on improving the way the NPCs react to incoming grenades – they now use a navmesh to determine where they can safely escape to. Combat ships now know how to fight as proper gunships and not just fighters. For example, if a ship with numerous turrets engages you, it may fly around while its turrets track you down, as opposed to flying directly at you.

Regarding Vanduul combat, a lot of work was done to previz the way they fight. The emphasis was to make them as different from Humans as possible, so players have a completely different experience when fighting the Vanduul. The team is happy with the current results and are approaching full production for the Vanduul enemies. General population NPCs are also being experimented with as the team tests small, almost cinematic vignettes that the player can experience as they walk around major landing zones. Mining is also progressing as it approaches the bug fixing and polishing phase.


The Environment Art Team continued their push on Hurston, and the second group of ecosystems had their first pass completed. One of the newest ecosystems is the Wasteland Biome, which was first shown during CitizenCon 2017 and will cover a large part of the surface of Hurston. The team took the time to properly update the Wasteland biome to take advantage of the newest planet tech completed this year. The second biome that received proper attention this month was the Strip Mining ecosystem, which too can be found around Hurston. Lorville is also moving forward, with the artists spending their time focusing on the various areas the player will be able to visit, refining the shapes and architecture, adding materials, lights, and assets to further bring these areas to life. DE_Update_May_2018_EnvArt_MiningPit_01.j DE_Update_May_2018_EnvArt_Hurston.png


The Tech Art Team continued to improve the deformation algorithms and asset pipeline of the v2 character customization system. Since the underlying tech for facial/head customization is working as intended now, the focus has shifted towards polishing the corresponding assets (head morph targets, head attachments such as hair and beards, etc.). R&D work on the technical foundations for body customization of both male and female characters has begun. Besides developing suitable deformation methods, the team also needs to determine what range of body shapes they can support without introducing clipping artifacts, and which body types they want to support from an artistic perspective. Time was also spent fixing existing bugs and improving the usability of the internal character editor, Character Tool.

For FPS weapons, they supported the Gemini Light Machine Gun, which is now ready for its final review and sign off.

They also completed Tech Animation work, such as implementing multiple animations into Mannequin for the Cinematics Team, improving the Playblast Tool to speed up reviewing, and improving the binder process to map animations from MotionBuilder onto our Maya rig. DE_Update_May_2018_Tech_Art.jpg

They also completed Tech Animation work, such as implementing multiple animations into Mannequin for the Cinematics Team, improved the Playblast Tool to speed up the process of creating playblasts for reviewing purposes, and worked on improving the binder process to map animations from MotionBuilder onto our Maya rig.


The AI Team worked on adjusting the AI components with the new API to allow a safer construction in different threads – it’s a fundamental step towards fully achieving Object Container Streaming. The Actor code has always been very dependent on Lua (it’s not easy to make a thread safe with good performance), so all the AI components are now being moved to either be fully C++ or Dataforge components. They also worked on a few core functionalities for Subsumption. Subsumption Missions can now define Event Callbacks: missions can receive and send Subsumption events and logic can be written to be executed in association with specific events as described by designers. This functionality is part of the overall effort to support designers in creating more modular missions, and enforce correct communication between modules that can preserve thread safety and avoid a ‘spaghetti code-like’ logic. They also extended the functionality of supporting multiple Mission Objectives for each Mission module. They continued work on improving the way ‘usables’ are defined and executed: designers can now create behavior logic associated with the different use channels of each usable type. For example, assuming there is a usable bed that might expose the following use channels: ‘Sleep’, ‘Rest’, ‘WatchTV’, ‘SitOnBed’. When an NPC uses a ‘use channel’, it will effectively use some logic written by the designers in a similar way to Subsumption functions: this allows a more modular definition of the actions allowed when interacting with a usable maintaining the context of the behavior that is currently running.

Human combat is progressing with improvements in the grenade handling during combat, so fighters can now react to incoming grenades and try to duck to reduce the damage received by explosions. Vanduul AI progress is also continuing along in the prototype phase. For Ship AI, take-offs and landings have gone through a small refactor to allow AI behaviors to utilize designer placed splines to be more robust and deliver a more cinematic effect. Work was also completed on improving the validation of the navmesh during spawning: this allows designers to easily request spawning of characters in reachable areas where there are multiple navmeshes present.



The Lighting and Enviroment teams have been working closely to add new whitebox-level lighting to the Lorville landing zone. The goal is to start blocking in a basic mood and ensure the entire location is lit consistently without areas that are unnaturally bright/dark while maintaining visibility along the critical player path. Alongside this, they’ve been continuing work with the Rest Stop’s modular lighting. They also recently received some updated holo-advertising assets from the Props Team in the UK and started to explore how these can drastically influence the lighting and mood wherever they are placed.

As the Hangars common element starts to move into the final art stage, they’ve been experimenting with some variations of lighting for each module, which have similar benefits and drawbacks to the Rest Stops modular system. Each module must be somewhat independently lit so that it looks consistent in every configuration. They also built a new test environment for the Character Team where they can balance skin and armor assets in a completely neutral lighting scene for greater consistency across our wide range of characters. DE_Update_May_2018_Lighting_Character_03 DE_Update_May_2018_Lighting_Character_02


The Weapons Team completed a full polish of the Gemini F55 Light Machine Gun, Klaus & Werner Demeco LMG, and Kastak Arms’ Scalpel sniper rifle in preparation for the 3.2 release.



The PU Level Design team spent a large amount of time working on flagship landing zones, pushing the ways in which they use procedural technology for layouts. They’re currently looking into customizing the various entry points into Lorville, as well as adding content for the immediate areas around the city. Time was spent revisiting Area18 to revamp and fully integrate it into the universe, taking advantage of the new procedural tools in place.


The Cinematics Team worked with the Level Designers on newly created whitebox levels to implement scenes that had not yet been featured in the game. They were brought to an initial implementation stage called PreVis to give visibility on runtime length, coverage of space, as well as the environmental interaction each scene requires. The process is important so that scenes taking place on a traversal path from A to B feel properly paced when level designers lay down paths. It also gives everyone working on a level an early preview of the narrative in that specific level. Since Squadron 42 is a narrative-heavy game, getting that in as early as possible helps ensure everything will work as intended.

The Cinematic Animators have been doing R&D on a sophisticated bit of performance capture manipulation called ‘feather blending’. This technique allows drastic changes to performance capture if needed, so animators can decide from which bone to ‘feather in’ the original performance capture on top of. In addition, they can add an additional animation of him holding his pilot helmet in his left hand at his hip and dial in a certain LookAt-range, so he can look at the player. In total, that means combining 3-4 different separate clips of animation at any given time and blending them seamlessly for a convincing result. The team also went back to a level that has a large cinematic and started overhauling the planet setup and vistas to the latest workflow standards. That level also includes Squadron 42’s way of customizing your character, so work was completed on some assets that will be at the core of that process.


The Engine Team generally work on several areas at the same time and this month was no exception. One long term task that was completed was the refactoring of the Entity Component Scheduler. The system is responsible for managing the ‘update frequency’ of the game logic. As more and more features were added over time, its design degenerated, resulting in a hard to use system. With the refactoring complete, each aspect of the scheduler is now orthogonal to each other, making the code easier to maintain and extend. They also decoupled the ‘IN_RANGE’ and ‘IS_VISIBLE’ events from their component updates, which allows components to receive and react to those events without having their update logic depend on them. More features are planned to be added to the scheduler over time.

The team also spent time improving the threading system. For the background job manager, they added a Fiber-based system. As the system was used more and more for Object Container Streaming, they took the time to clean up all out-threading primitives. Now all those are Fiber-aware, allowing them to schedule another job when a background job is blocked and thus a more efficient resource usage. In the same code area, they adjusted the scheduler to not block on submission to improve runtime performance by preventing the main thread stalling when submitting numerous jobs simultaneously. They also gave some focus to Object Container Streaming, making the 3DEngine loading code thread safe, allowing us to load large parts of our game world in the background. They made several improvements to the shader build pipeline and infrastructure code, started work on the vertex animation processing refactor and optimization (moving it to the GPU), and continued work on the telemetry system, amongst numerous other things.


The Engine Tools Team continued working on improving the general game editor stability and usability. New tools were added for designers to improve their workflows, including a new console implementation to easier parse the engine/game logging for warnings and errors, also adding better support for the massive amount of console variables and commands they currently have. Console variables and commands can now be filtered and saved out as favorites and shared between designers.

On top of that, a tool called the Window Outliner was added to make it easier for designers to setup, save, and share their favorite toolsets. Another tool, called the Universe Outliner, was added to better scale with the amount of content inside the universe, which replaces the entity outliner from Lumberyard, including additional information for Subsumption. The level layer handling was also replaced by the Layer Outliner, again for scalability and workflow improvement reasons.



Flexibility was added for the engineers to produce QATR test builds, either by building their code changes against major builds already distributed to the company, or against their own time. This was an engineer request as it gives them more freedom when building changes and handing off for QA verification. A bug in incremental linking was fixed which allowed us to reduce our output PDB file size by almost 50%, taking it down from 2.5GB for debugging StarCitizen.exe to 1.25Gb. They put finishing touches on unifying the DevOps codebases that are used by TryBuild and the main build system, Transformer, so that there can be one umbrella that covers the continuous integration monitoring. This codebase unification also leverages the tech in the Transformer main build system, which has a more straightforward layout in designing both tasks and jobs.


The VFX Team worked closely with the Graphics Programmers, Gameplay Programmers, Designers, and Environment Artists on the resource mining feature to create an entire suite of new effects. There’s a primary mining beam which heats up and fractures the rock. There are also effects that play on the surface of the rock to show it being cracked apart. After the rock is destroyed, an explosion effect is parameterized based on how well you did; if you add too much power, you get a much larger explosion than a successful operation. After you break the rock, a secondary extraction mode uses a tractor beam to collect the minerals into your cargo hold.

Platform: Turbulent



The team at Turbulent made some massive leaps in development for group services with several Spectrum releases to PTU, and provided platform support for the Community Team.



On May 24th a new release of Spectrum hit the PTU. This very early patch includes a ‘Friends’ implementation, allowing you to send requests and manage your contacts. Using this early rudimentary version, the team discovered functionality bugs and system limitations, and has been refactoring code to optimize the experience.

Currently, the Spectrum Team is in sprint 4 of 4, which is all about the notifications system. The notifications system will provide the necessary alerts for receiving and sending friends requests. This is the last missing piece to get the friends system feature complete. Calling all Spectrocati, expect a full release on PTU within the month.


On May 25th, a new European Union Law came into effect, protecting the use of personal data. Turbulent made substantial changes on the backend side to create new tools, ensuring that CIG was compliant with the new rules that came into effect.

The Backend Team also produced new tools for the roadmap. A new Import Console has been created on the backend so that production leads can now easily import all their Jira tasks without any requirements from the Platform Team. This has made the review and publishing of the Roadmap faster and much more efficient. Fankit.png
Turbulent supported the Starlifter launch, designing the page, and publishing the posts from Ciera Brun and Operation Sword of Hope. They really enjoyed working on this project as it included an exciting twist, and reading all of the community stories made it all more rewarding.

Turbulent’s Front-End and Design Teams have been working on building a page to host the FanKit. The Fankit is still being built, and will include a series of wallpapers, logos, possible 3D models, and audio. It will be an excellent tool for our community to build their personal fan projects, not to mention give out some exclusive items.


The team launched the Knowledge Base on May 10th, and the Player Relations Team has currently built over 82 articles with FAQs, known issues in patch releases, and many other self-help articles. Based on page views since release, the team already knows that the Knowledge Base has had a positive impact on the community, which will continue as the number of articles increases. Last week when RSI Platform unexpectedly experienced server downtime, the Knowledge Base jumped into action to get a post out and inform the community.

They also released a new series of Contact Us forms that will help optimize and prioritize requests. Ultimately, this will help Player Relations react faster to urgent matters.


Turbulent has been asked to participate in the build of game code for the Groups services, and the Backend Team has been working furiously to build it. The team has been concentrating on an API service to setup group invitations system and the concept of leadership within a group.

The two releases of the Groups service were completed last month, which included all the necessary calls for the invitations. The system is being implemented and tested by US gameplay teams. The next iterations of the service release will include a call for group leadership.





Taking into account player feedback and constructive input during Evocati and PTU phases, the Community Team supported a successful publish of Alpha 3.1.4 to the Persistent Universe, with improvements to Gravlev, flight controls, and more.

The public unveiling of the Crusader Industries Hercules was celebrated with a story contest where more than 500 contenders competed to win an M2 military variant. Make sure to check out all the Hercules stories, available to read on Spectrum, which feature the ship in everything from cargo runs to epic space battles. SSD_Giveaway_1.png

The team ran several screenshot contests, in concert with an Intel Streamer Promotion, giving away three Intel® Optane™900P SSDs. If you haven’t seen them already, head over to Spectrum now and check out the beautiful entries depicting the themes of space combat, scenic vistas, and lifestyle.

Also in May, another contest was held, aimed at helping new pilots jump into the verse by giving an overview of the Star Marine and Arena Commander game modes. In this contest, content creators had the chance to win game packages and leave their mark on the Star Citizen website as the winning entries will be added to the How To Play section. Devastator_centurion.jpg

Subscribers received limited edition finishes for their Devastator shotguns this month, continuing a series of weapon finishes exclusive to subscribers and commemorating the Imperial Cartography Center.

The Community Team is excited to announce a direct and organized process for creators to invite official CIG representatives to their podcasts, videos, streams, and talk shows, as the Invite a Developer form is now live and integrated into the ticket system. Check out the FAQ to find out more.

And don’t forget: on October 10th, the entire CIG team will celebrate current and future developments of Star Citizen and Squadron 42 at the Long Center in Austin, Texas. The first wave of CitizenCon tickets is gone, but stay tuned in the coming months for further details and more chances to get tickets.



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      A recorded hymn played as they sent Arun “Boomer” Ains­ley into whatever great adventure awaits in the everafter. Gavin set the service in the Rhedd Alert hangar, and the recording sounded terrible. The last somber note rebounded off the room’s hard surfaces and harsh angles.
      He wished they could have had a live band. He would have paid for an orchestra, if one were to be had on the orbit­al station. Even a bugle would have been a better tribute for the man who had brought Dell into his life. For the man who taught him and Walt so much about living a free life.
      Dell’s arm felt small around his waist and Gavin pulled her in close to him, unsure if that was the right thing to do. He turned to kiss her hair and saw Walt’s lean form looming beside them. Walt’s face was fixed in a grim mask.
      Gavin knew his brother well enough to know that Walt was berating himself inside. He didn’t deal well with guilt or re­sponsibility, and Gavin suspected that was a big part of why Walt always ran.
      The gathering started to break up. Pilots and the hangar crew busied themselves with tasks around Rhedd Alert’s battered fleet of fighters. Dell didn’t move, so he stayed there with her. Walt rested a hand on his shoulder.
      “Gavin. Oh gods, Dell. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”
      Jazza leaned in and spoke in a low tone, almost a whisper. “Landing gear up in ten, boss. Your rig is on the buggy.” She motioned with her chin to where his ship waited.
      Dell turned into him and squeezed. “Be careful.”
      “I will, babe.”
      “You come home to me, Gavin Rhedd. I’ll kill you myself if you make me run this outfit on my own.”
      He pressed his lips to the top of her head. Held them there.
      “Wait. What?” Walt’s jaw was slack, his eyes wide. “Tell me you aren’t going back out there.”
      Jazza bumped Walt with her shoulder, not so much walking past him as through him. “Damn right we are, Quitter.”
      “You know what? Screw you, Jazz. All right? You used to quit this outfit, like . . . twice a month.”
      “Not like you. Not like some chicken sh—”
      “Jazz,” Gavin said, “go make sure the team is ready to roll, would ya?” With a nod to Gavin and a parting glare at Walt, she moved away into the hangar.
      “Let it be, Walt. We really do need to go. After last time, we can’t risk being late for the pickup.”
      “Screw late!” Walt’s eyes were wide and red-rimmed around the edges. “Why the happy hells are you going at all?”
      “Walt —”
      “Don’t ‘Walt’ me, Gavin. There is a pack of psychopaths out there trying to kill you!”
      “Walt, would you shut up and listen for two seconds? We don’t have a choice, okay? We’ve got everything riding on this job. We’re months behind on this place and extended up to our necks on credit for fuel, parts, and ammo.”
      “They can damn well bill me!”
      “No,” Gavin said, “they can’t. Your shares reverted back to the company when you quit. But I’m legit now. You think we lived life on the run before? Just you watch if I try to run from this.”
      Walt turned to Dell for assistance, “Dell, come on. You gotta make him listen to reason.”
      “Boomer’s shares transferred to me when he died,” Dell said. “We’re in this together.”
      “Okay, boss,” Jazza called. The three of them looked to where she stood with a line of determined crew. “It’s time.”
      Walt watched the big bay doors close as the last of Gavin’s team left the hangar. His fighter and the few remaining ships looked small and awkwardly out of place in the big room. Standing alone next to Dell gave him a great appreci­ation for that awkwardness.
      “I’m so sorry, Dell. If I’d been there —”
      “Don’t,” she stopped him with a word, and then contin­ued with a shake of her blue-tipped hair. “Don’t do that to yourself. I’ve been over the tactical logs. He got beat one-on-one, and then they OK’d him. There was nothing you could have done.”
      “I still feel rotten,” he said. “Like, maybe if I hadn’t left . . . I don’t know.”
      “Gavin blames himself, too. That’s just the way you two are built. But believe me, there was never a soul alive able to keep my dad out of the cockpit. He was flying long before you Rhedd boys tumbled into our lives.”
      That gave him a smile. A genuine smile. It seemed to bright­en Dell’s mood, so he did his best to hang onto it.
      “Come on,” she said. “It’s been a long couple of weeks. Join me for some coffee?”
      He did, and for a time they spoke softly at the tall tables in the hangar’s kitchenette. Dell caught him up on life aboard Vista Landing since he had left. She was clearly exhausted and not simply from a sleepless night and her father’s funeral. Her shoulders sagged, and dark circles under her eyes were the product of weeks of labor and worry. The constant apprehension of the Hornets’ vi­cious attacks had apparently exhausted more than just the pilots. It seemed odd that the attacks felt strangely personal.
      “You know what I can’t figure out?” he mused aloud. Dell looked at him, tired eyes politely expectant. “What the hell are these guys after?”
      She nodded, “Yeah. There’s been a lot of speculating on that question.”
      “Hard to say, isn’t it? Could be political wackos opposed to the research in Haven. Or maybe it’s one of the old gangs that don’t like us going legit. Could be it’s a group of Tevarin lashing out against UEE targets. Who knows?”
      “Naw. If they were Tevarin, we could tell by how they fly.”
      “Then you tell me, if you’re so smart. I mean, you were out there. You fought them.”
      Walt shrugged and took a sip of cooling coffee. Something she said nagged at him. “Hey, you said you had navsat tac­tical logs from the fight, right?”
      “Yeah.” What remained of her energy seemed to drain away with that one word. Walt cursed himself for the insensitive ass that he was. He’d just asked her about re­corded replays of her father’s murder.
      “Dell. Ah, hell . . . I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”
      “It’s okay,” she said. “I’ve been over and over them already. Really, I don’t mind.”
      They moved to a console and the lights dimmed automat­ically when she pulled up the hangar projection. She se­lected a ship, and oriented the view so that the hologram of Boomer’s Avenger filled the display. No, Walt reminded himself, it wasn’t Boomer’s ship any more. Dell was his heir and — along with his debt — Boomer’s assets now belonged to her.
      Dell bypassed the default display of the structural hard­points and dove into the ship’s systems. Something caught his eye and he stopped her. “Wait, back up.” She did, and Walt stopped the rotating display to look along the under­carriage of the ship. He let out a low whistle.
      “That, Walter Rhedd, is a Tarantula GT-870 Mk3.”
      “I know what it is. But where did you get it?”
      “Remember those pirates that gave us so much trouble in Oberon? I pulled it before we sold the salvage.”
      He certainly did remember, and the bastards had kicked the crap out of two of their ships with their Tarantulas. “How’d you get it mounted on an Avenger?”
      “Hammer therapy,” she said. He gave her a confused look, and she held up one arm, curling it to make a muscle. “I beat the hell out of it until it did what I wanted.”
      “Damn, girl.”
      “Did you want to see the flight recorder?”
      They watched the navsat replays together in silence. It looked like one hell of a fight. Chaotic. Frantic. The Rhedd Alert fighters were hard pressed.
      Jazza had moments of tactical brilliance. As much as she rubbed him the wrong way, Walt had to admit that she made her Cutlass dance steps for which it wasn’t de­signed. Gavin orchestrated a coherent strategy and had committed extra fighters to drive off the attack. Some­thing was wrong, though. Something about the fight didn’t make sense.
      Walt had Dell replay the scene so he could focus on the marauders. It didn’t look like much of a fight at all from that perspective. It looked more like a game and only one team understood how all the pieces moved. The Hornets flew to disrupt, to confuse. They knew Gavin would send a force forward to protect the transport. He’d done it every time they had met.
      “See that?” he said. “They break apart there and get called immediately back into formation. They never leave a flank exposed. Our guys never get a real opening.” He pointed out one of the attacking Hornets. “That one calls the shots.”
      “That’s the one that OK’d Boomer.”
      Reds and greens from the navsat display sparkled in Dell’s eyes. Her voice was emotionless and flat. Walt didn’t want to see her like that, so he focused again on the display.
      The marauder he’d identified as the leader broke from the melee. Gavin gave chase, but from too far behind. Boomer intercepted, was disabled, and his PRB flashed red on the display. The Hornet took a pass at the transport before turning to rejoin its squad. Then it decelerated, pausing before the overkill on Boomer.
      “Why take only one pass at the transport? They’ve hit us, what? Six times? Seven? And once they finally get a shot at the target, they bug out?”
      “You said, ‘us’,” Dell teased. “You back to stay?”
      Walt huffed a small laugh. “We’ll see.”
      “We’ve been lucky,” Dell offered in answer to his question. “So far, we’ve chased them off.”
      “You really believe that? They had this fight won if they wanted it. And how do they keep finding us? It’s like they’ve taken up permanent residence in our damned flight path.”
      That was it. He had it. The revelation must have shown on his face.
      “What?” Dell asked. “What is it?”
      “Back it up to the strafe on the Aquila.”
      Dell did, and they watched it again. He felt like an ass for making her watch the murder of her father over again, but he had to be sure of what he saw.
      And there it was. Strafe. Turn. Pause. A decision to com­mit. An escalating act of brutality. And then they were gone.
      “She’s not after the transport at all. We were her target this whole time.”
      “Wait,” Dell said, “what she? Her who?”
      “Please tell me your ex hasn’t drunk himself out of a job with the Navy.”
      “Barry? Of course not, why?”
      “Because I just figured out who killed your father.”
      Morgan Brock called the meeting to a close and dismissed her admin team. Riebeld caught her eye and lifted one hand off the table — a request for her to stay while the others shuffled out of the conference room.
      Riebeld kept her waiting until they were alone, and then stood to close the door.
      “I take it,” Brock said, “that our Tyrol problem persists despite the escalation?”
      “I got word during the meeting” — he took a seat beside her at the table, voice pitched low — “that they should be making the jump to Nexus soon.”
      “Our discreet pilots? Are they deployed or here at the sta­tion?”
      His answer was slow in coming, his nod reluctant. “They are here.”
      Brock checked the time. Did some mental math. “Disguise the ships. We will leave at 1700 and meet them in Nexus just inside the gate from Min.”
      “Morgan,” Riebeld’s eyes roamed the room, “these guys aren’t taking the hint. I don’t know what losses we have to hand them before they back down, but . . . I don’t know. Part of doing business is losing bids, am I right?” She didn’t disagree and he continued. “Maybe . . . Maybe we ought to write this one off?”
      “A comfortable position to hold in your seat, Riebeld. Your commission is based on the contract value. I barely turned a profit on that job for years. I did it willingly, with the expected reward of windfall profits when traffic to Haven surges.”
      “I get that,” he said. “I really do. But at some point we have to call it a loss and focus on the next thing, right?”
      “Then suppose that we let the Tyrol job go, and Greely and Navy SysCom see what they want to see from bou­tique contractors. I can already imagine anti-establishment politicians pushing for more outsourced work. Hell, they will probably promise contracts to buy votes in their home systems.”
      She watched him squirm. It wasn’t like him to wrestle with his conscience. Frankly, she was disappointed to learn that he’d found one.
      “If Rhedd Alert won’t withdraw willingly,” she said, “then they will have to fail the hard way. Prep the ships, Rie­beld. We have done very well together, you and I. You should know that I won’t back away from what is mine.” He seemed to appreciate her sincerity, but Brock wanted to hear the cocksure salesman say it. “Are we clear?”
      “Yes, ma’am,” Riebeld swallowed and stood. “Perfectly clear.”
      “Any luck?” Walt pulled up Barry’s record in his mobiGlas and hit connect.
      Dell sat at the hangar console trying to reach Gavin and the team. Her brow furrowed in a grimace and she shook her head.
      “Damn. Okay, keep trying.”
      Barry connected. The accountant wore his uniform. He was on duty, wherever he was, and his projected face looked genuinely mournful. “Hey,” he said, “long time no see, man. Listen, I can’t tell you how sad I am about Boomer.”
      “Thanks.” Barry had known Dell and Boomer for most his life. He’d probably been torn between attending the service and allowing the family to grieve in privacy. Regardless, commiseration would have to wait. “We need your help, Barry. Please tell me that you have access to the propos­als for the Tyrol contract.”
      “Of course I do. And who’s we? Are you back with Dell and Gavin?”
      “I am,” he felt Dell’s eyes on him when he said it. “Anyway, we need a favor. I need to know the ship models and con­figurations proposed by the incumbent.”
      “Morgan Brock’s outfit, sure. No can do on the ship data, though. That information is all confidential. Only the price proposals are available for public review, and those only during the protest period.”
      “Come on, Barry. We’re not talking trade secrets here. I could figure this out with a fly-by of their hangar in Kilian. I just don’t have time for that. I need to know what ships those guys fly.”
      Barry breathed out a heavy sigh, “Hold on. But I can’t send you the proposals, okay? You guys are already on thin ice with this contract as is.”
      “Tell me about it. And thanks, I owe you huge for this.”
      Walt waited, throat dry. He scratched at a chipped edge on his worn mobiGlas with a fingernail.
      “All right,” Barry read from something off-screen, “it looks like they’re flying a variety of Hornets. Specifically, F7As. I can send you a list of the proposed hardpoints, and I hap­pen to know that Brock herself flies a Super Hornet.”
      The mobiGlas shook on Walt’s wrist. His face felt hot, and he forced his jaw to relax. “Barry, if you have any pull with the Navy, get some ships to Tyrol. It’s been Brock this whole time. She’s been setting us up to fail. And she’s the bitch that OK’d Boomer.”
      “I’m going, Walt. That’s final.”
      Walt rubbed at his eyes with the flat part of his fingers. How did Gavin ever win an argument her? Forbidding her involvement was a lost cause. Maybe he could reason with her. “Listen. When’s the last time you were even in a cockpit?”
      “I know this ship. I was practically born in these things.”
      “Dell —”
      She threw his helmet at him. He caught it awkwardly, and she had shed her coveralls and was wriggling into her flight suit before he could finish his thought. She stared at him with hard eyes and said, “Suit up if you don’t want to get left behind.”
      Dell was as implacable as gravity. Fine. It was her funeral, and he realized there was no way his brother had ever won an argument with her.
      They finished prepping in silence. Walt pulled the chocks on her Avenger when she climbed up into the cockpit. He gave the hulking muzzle of the Tarantula an appreciative pat. “You have ammo for this bad boy?”
      “I have a little.”
      “Good,” he smiled. “Let’s hope Brock isn’t ready to handle reinforcements.”
      Walt mulled that thought over. It was true that Gavin had split their team in each fight, but Rhedd Alert had never sent in reserves. Each engagement had been a fair and straightforward fight. Brock wasn’t likely to know anything about their resources, however limited, beyond the escort team. That could work to their advantage.
      In fact, “Hey, Dell. Hop out for a tick, will you?”
      “Like hell I will.” The look she shot down at him was pure challenge. “I said I’m going and that’s that.”
      “Oh, no. I’ve already lost that fight. But you and your cannon here got me thinking about those pirates in Oberon. Tell me, did we ever find a buyer for that old Idris hull?”
      “No. It’s buoyed in storage outside the station, why?”
      Dell looked at him skeptically and he grinned. “We’re going to introduce these military-types to
      some ol’ smugglers’ tricks.”
      Gavin held the team at the edge of the jump gate between Min and Nexus. “All right gang, listen up. You know the drill and what might be waiting for us on the other side. Jazza, I want you and Rahul up on point for this jump. I’ll bring Cassiopeia over after you and the rest of the team are in. Anyone not ready to jump?”
      His team was silent as they arranged themselves into position with professional precision. The pilot aboard Cassiopeia sounded the ready and Gavin sent Jazza through. The others were hard on her heels, and Gavin felt the always-peculiar drop through the mouth of the jump gate.
      Light and sound stretched, dragging him across the inter­space. Another drop, a moment’s disorientation, and then Nexus resolved around him.
      Without warning, Mei’s fighter flashed past his forward screen. Incandescent laser fire slashed along the ghost grey and fire-alarm red ship, crippling Mei’s shields and shearing away sections of armored hull. Mei fired back at a trio of maddeningly familiar Hornets in a tight triangular formation.
      Jazza barked orders. “Mei. Rahul. Flank Gavin and get Cassiopeia out of here. Gavin, you copy that? You have the package.”
      He shook his head, willing the post-jump disorientation away. He didn’t remember bringing up his shields, but they flashed on his HUD and his weapon systems were armed.
      “Copy that.” Gavin switched to the transport channel, “Cassiopeia. Let’s get you folks out of here.”
      The crew onboard the UEE transport didn’t need any more encouragement. Gavin accelerated to keep pace with the larger ship as two Rhedd Alert fighters dropped into posi­tion above and below him. Together, they raced toward the jump gate to Tyrol.
      The Hornets wheeled and dropped toward them from one side. Gavin’s HUD lit up with alerts as Jazza sent a pair of rockets dangerously close over his head to blast into one of the attacking ships. Her ship screamed by overhead, but the Hornets stayed in pursuit of the fleeing transport.
      Alarms sounded. They needed more firepower on the Hornets to give Cassiopeia time to get clear. He yelled a course heading, and Cassiopeia dove with Mei and Rahul on either flank.
      Gavin pulled up, turned and fired to pull the attention of the attackers. He spun, taking the brunt of their return fire on his stronger starboard shields.
      The impact shook the Cutlass violently, and his shield integ­rity bar sagged into the red. Gavin turned, took another wild shot with his lasers, and accelerated away from Cassiopeia with the Hornets in close pursuit.
      Navsat data for the jump into Nexus crept onto the edge of Walt’s HUD. Several seconds and thousands of kilometers later, the first of the embattled starships winked onto the display. His brother and the Rhedd Alert team were hard-pressed.
      Walt watched Brock and her crew circle and strike, corralling the Rhedd Alert ships. Gavin tried to lead the attackers away, but Brock wouldn’t bite. By keeping the fight centered on the UEE transport, she essentially held the transport hostage.
      Time to even the odds.
      Jazza tore into one of the Hornets. Walt saw the enemy fighter’s superior shields absorb the impact. He marked that Hornet as his target, preparing to strike before its defenses recharged.
      He killed his primary drive and spun end to end, slash­ing backward through the melee like a blazing comet. His targeting system locked onto the enemy Hornet, and his heavy Broadsword blasted bullets into it.
      Mei’s battered fighter dove through the streaming wreck­age, but the Super Hornet, presumably Brock, waited for her on the other side. A blast from her neutron cannon tore through the Rhedd Alert ship. Mei ejected safely, but their team was down a ship.
      “Gods,” Gavin’s voice was frantic. “Get the hell out of here, Walt. Form up with the transport and get them away from the fight.”
      Walt ignored him. He came around for another pass and triggered his mic to an open-area channel. “The game’s up, Brock.”
      His words cut across the thrust and wheel of close com­bat, and for a moment the fighters on all sides flew in quiet patterns above the fleeing Cassiopeia.
      “You know,” Walt said, “if you wanted us to believe you were after the transport, you should have saved your big guns for Cassiopeia instead of overkilling our friend.”
      “I suppose I should be disappointed that you have found me out,” Brock’s voice was a pinched sneer, and every bit as cold and hard as Gavin had described. “On the other hand, I’m glad you’ve shared this with me. I might have been content disabling the majority of your so-called fleet. Now, it seems that I will have to be more thorough.”
      She fired, he dodged, and the fight was on again in earnest. Walt switched his comms to Rhedd Alert’s squad channel. “Brock was never after Cassiopeia, Gav. She’s been after us.”
      “Maybe I’m a little distracted by all the missiles and the neutron cannon, but I’m failing to see how that is at all relevant right now.”
      “We’re no match for the tech in her ships. If she goes after the transport, they’re toast.” He rolled into position next to Gavin. Together, they nosed down to strafe at a Hornet from above.
      “Great,” Gavin said, “then why did you tip her off?”
      Walt suppressed a wicked grin. “Because,” he said, “she can’t afford to let any of us get away, either.”
      “If you have any brilliant ideas, spit ’em out. I’m all ears.”
      “Run with me.” For all Walt knew, Brock could hear every word they were saying. She would tear them apart if they stayed. He had to get Gavin to follow him. “Run with me, Gavin.”
      “Damn it, Walt! If you came to help, then help. I’ve got a pilot down, and I’m not leaving her here to get OK’d like Boom­er.”
      “This ain’t about doing the easy thing, Gav. Someone I truly admire once told me that this game is all about trust. So ask yourself . . . do you trust me?”
      Gavin growled his name then, dragging out the word in a bitter, internal struggle. The weight of it made Walt’s throat constrict. Despite all of their arguments, Boomer’s death and his own desertion when things got hard — in spite of all of that — his brother still wanted to trust him.
      “Trust me, Gavin.”
      Brock and her wingman swept low, diving to corral Cassiopeia and its escorts. Jazza redirected them with a blazing torrent of laser fire and got rocked by the neutron cannon in return. The shields around her battered Cutlass flashed, dimmed and then failed.
      Walt gritted his teeth. It was now or never.
      “Jazz,” Gavin’s voice sounded hard and sharp, “rally with Cassiopeia and make a break for it.”
      Walt pumped his fist and accelerated back the way he’d come in.
      “Walt,” Gavin sounded angry enough to eat nails, but he followed, “I’m on your six. Let’s go, people! Move like you’ve got a purpose.”
      Walt pulled up a set of coordinate presets and streaked away with Gavin close behind him. The two remaining Hor­nets split, with Brock falling in behind Gavin to give pursuit. Even together he and Gavin didn’t have much chance of getting past her superior shields. Instead, he set a straight course for the waypoint marked at the edge of his display. When incoming fire from Brock drove them off course, he corrected to put them directly back in line with the mark.
      Brock was gaining. Gavin’s icon flashed on his display. She was close enough to hit reliably with her repeaters. As they approached the preset coordinates, Walt spotted a rippling distortion of winking starlight. Correcting his course slightly, he headed straight for it. Gavin and Brock were hard behind him.
      “Come on,” Walt whispered, “stay close.”
      On the squad display, he saw Gavin’s shield integrity dropped yet again. Brock was scoring more frequent hits.
      “A little farther.”
      Walt focused on the rippling of starlight ahead, a dark patch of space that swallowed Nexus’ star. He made a slight course correction and Gavin matched it. Together, they continued their breakneck flight from Brock’s deadly onslaught.
      The small patch of dark space grew as the three ships streaked forward. Walt opened the squad channel on his mic and shouted, “Now!”
      On his HUD, a new ship flared onto the display. It appeared to materialize nearly on top of them as Dell’s Avenger dropped from her hiding place inside the blackened hull of the derelict Idris.
      Walt punched his thrusters. The lift pressed him into his seat as he pushed up and over their trap. He heard Dell shouting over the squad channel, and he turned, straining to see behind him. Bright flashes from Brock’s muzzles accompanied a horrible pounding thunder. Dell had left her mic open and it sounded like the massive gun was threat­ening to tear her ship apart.
      “Heads up, Gav!”
      Dell’s voice hit Gavin like a physical blow.
      He saw his brother climb and suddenly disappear behind an empty, starless expanse. Then Boomer’s Avenger materi­alized from within that blackness, and Gavin knew that his wife was inside the cockpit. She was with him, out in the black where veteran pilots outgunned them.
      His body reacted where his mind could not. He shoved down, hard. Thrusters strained as he instinctively tried to avoid colliding with her. A brilliant pulse like flashes of light­ning accompanied a jarring thunder of sound.
      Gavin forced his battered ship to turn. The Cutlass shud­dered from the stress, and Gavin was pressed into the side of the cockpit as the nose of his ship came around.
      He saw the first heavy round strike Brock. The combined force of the shell and her momentum shredded her for­ward shields. Then round after round tore through the nose of Brock’s ship until the air ignited inside.
      “Dell” — the flaming Hornet tumbled toward his wife like an enormous hatchet — “look out!”
      Brock ejected.
      Dell thrust to one side, but the Hornet chopped into the hull where she had hidden. The explosion sent ships and debris spinning apart in all directions.
      He swept around to intercept her spinning ship. Walt beat him there. Thrusters firing in tightly controlled move­ments, Walt caught her Avenger, slowed it and stopped the spin.
      Gavin rolled to put himself cockpit to cockpit with his wife.
      She sat in stillness at the controls, her head down and turned to one side.
      “Come on, baby. Talk to me.”
      She moved.
      With the slow deliberateness of depressurized space, she rolled her head on her shoulders. When she looked up, their eyes met. Dell gave him a slow smile and a thumbs-up. He swallowed hard, and with one hand pressed to his heart, he shut his eyes silently in thanks.
      Gavin spun his Cutlass and thrust over to where Brock floated nearby, his weapons systems still hot. He paused then, looming above her as she had hesitated over Boomer.
      Her comms were still active. “What now, Rhedd?”
      He remembered her from the meeting with Greely. Tall, lean, and crisp. She seemed small now, drifting not more than a meter away from the battle-scarred nose of his Cutlass.
      “Gavin?” Dell’s voice sounded small after the ruckus of the fight.
      Walt eased into view alongside him. His voice was low and calm, “Easy, buddy. We weren’t raised to OK pilots.”
      “She’s not worth it,” Dell said.
      Brock snarled, “Do it already.”
      He had studied Brock’s reports for months. She had more ships and more pilots than he could ever imagine employing. What drove her to harass them and kill one of his crew for this job?
      “I just want to know why,” he asked. “You’ve got other contracts. You’ve probably made more money than any of us will see in our lives. Why come after us?”
      He held Brock’s eye, the lights from the Cutlass reflecting from her visor.
      “Why?” she repeated. “Look around you, Rhedd. There’s no law in these systems. All that matters here is courage to take what you want, and a willingness to sacrifice to keep it.”
      “You want to talk sacrifice?” he said. “That pilot you killed was family.”
      “You put him in harm’s way,” she said, “not me. What little order exists in these systems is what I brought with me. I carved my success from nothing. You independents are thieves. You’re like rodents, nibbling at the edges of others’ success.”
      “I was a thief,” he said, “and a smuggler. But we’re building our own success, and next time you and I meet with the Navy,” Gavin fired his thrusters just enough to punch Brock with the nose of his ship, “it’ll be in a court­room.”
      She spun and tumbled as she flew, growing smaller and smaller until the PRB on his HUD was all he could see.
      A pair of Retaliators with naval designations were moored outside the Rhedd Alert hangar when Gavin and the crew finally limped back to Vista Landing.
      Crew aboard Cassiopeia had insisted on helping with medical care and recovery after the fight. The team scheduled for pick-up at Haven was similarly adamant that Rhedd Alert take care of their own before continuing. Technically, no one had checked with Navy SysCom.
      Did the Navy fire contractors face to face? For all he knew, they did.
      Gavin saw to the staging of their damaged ships while the others hurried the wounded deeper into Vista Landing. When he’d finished, he exchanged a quick nod with Barry Lidst who stood at ease behind Major Greely.
      “Major,” Gavin held out his hand, “I assume someone would have told me already if I was fired.”
      His hand disappeared in the major’s massive paw. “I sup­pose they would have, at that.”
      “Then to what do we owe the honor?” Dell and Walt joined them, and Gavin made introductions.
      “‘I’ first, then ‘we,’ ” Greely repeated, “I like that, Rhedd. I appreciate a man who accepts consequence personally but insists on sharing accolades with his team. Tell me, son. How’d you get Brock?”
      Gavin nudged his wife. With a roguish grin, Dell pulled her arm from around Gavin’s waist and stepped over to pat the Tarantula on her battered Avenger.
      “Nice shooting, miss.”
      Dell shrugged, “Walt pulled my tags, nav beacon and flight recorder before we left. I was sitting dark inside a decoy when the boys flew her right down the barrel.”
      Barry leaned toward Greely and in a completely audible whisper said, “It might be best if we ignore the illegal parts of that.”
      Greely waved him off. “This is what the ’verse needs. Men and women with the courage to slap their name up on the side of a hangar. A chance for responsible civilians to create good, honest jobs with real pay for locals. That an ex-military contractor tried to muck that up . . .”
      Gavin and the team got a good, close look at what angry looked like on a Navy officer. It was the kind of scowl that left an impression.
      “Anyway,” Greely composed himself, “not a soul in the ’verse would blame you for writing us off as a bit of bad business. I’m here to ask that you stick with it.”
      Gavin was reluctant to bring their financial situation up in front of their one paying client, but they were tapped out. Rhedd Alert didn’t have the cred to buy ammo, much less repair their downed fighters. “Actually, sir. I think we may need to find something a little more lucrative than getting shot up by disgruntled incumbents.”
      “About that,” Greely rested his hand on Gavin’s shoulder. He led him to look out one of the large hangar windows at the Retaliators buoyed outside. “My accountant tells me there may be some room to renegotiate certain parts of the Tyrol contract. But that job won’t be enough to keep your team busy now that Brock’s out of the way.”
      Gavin laughed. “On that point, I most certainly hope you are right.”
      “Well . . . I’ve got more work for an outfit like yours. I hope you’ll accept, because you folks have surely earned it. Tell me, Rhedd, are you familiar with the Oberon system?”
      Behind them, Walt dropped his helmet.
      The End
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