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Game Armada Monthly Studio Report: July 2018

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Monthly Studio Report: July 2018

Welcome to the Cloud Imperium Games Monthly Studio Report for July. This month, the team patched Star Citizen Alpha 3.2, pushed forward on Squadron 42, and continued developing systems, ships, and features for future releases.

Let’s explore the details…

Los Angeles




This month, the U.S. Vehicle Feature Team focused their efforts on fixing turret bugs and making improvements to the Alpha 3.2.1 patch. After it went live, they reviewed turret feedback and began working on additional improvements for the upcoming 3.3 release.

They also continued their work on Ping & Scanning, including moving the scanning infrastructure over to the servers, generating signals via blackbox entities, and implementing the various information that will be provided by transponders.


The Art, Design, and Tech Art Teams worked together to push the Consolidated Outland Mustang and Tumbril Cyclone variants through the greybox stages. Design and Tech Art worked on the final stage of the RSI Constellation Phoenix, and the Mustang’s landing gear compression was also completed. Tech Art also completed their greybox pass of the Anvil F8 Lightning and supported the mining animations used on the MISC Prospector. The teams collaborated with Animation on R&D and test cases for sequenced animations in vehicles, which will allow greater flexibility for future enter, exit, and cockpit animations.

In early August, the Art Team will move onto the first stages of the Anvil Hawk.

Beta05.png A_01.png


To support the 3.2.1 patch, the Gameplay Feature Team spent the first week of the month fixing Group System bugs on both the code and UI fronts. After the patch, the team continued to work on the next iteration of the Group System for Alpha 3.3.

Finally, they focused on removing some of the legacy systems, updating the three-pane mobiGlas chat widget, and setting up the chat to come from a new backend service.


The Narrative Team began July with an episode of Loremaker’s Guide to the Galaxy about the Cano system. They wrote a Discovered piece about an archaeologist using a Vulture to salvage and explore a debris field, and delivered the July 2948 Shubin employee newsletter filled with tidbits about the company’s past and hope for the future. A history of the Imperial Cartography Center and the third episode of The Knowledge of Good and Evil also became available for all to read.
Subscribers received an exclusive Galactic Guide on the long-lost Oretain system, while July’s Jump Point covered the Drake Vulture, improved combat AI, and the mysterious Vasli fragment. And to top it all off, Jared honored the team by inviting them to appear on a very special RTV to play a spot of Alpha 3.2.1 and answer narrative questions.

The team tackled details about the moons of Hurston and ArcCorp, worked on mission giver design briefs, and fleshed out the Bartender and Patron line sets. They worked with the Character Team on Hurston Security loadouts and the System Design Team on Security behaviours and NPC placement. There were several syncs with the Live Design team focusing on expanded mission content for Alpha 3.3. Team leads participated in multiple reviews for Squadron 42 (S42) and the Persistent Universe (PU). They wrote some fun new marketing material, including the lore behind the successful Astromedics vid series that was tied to the RSI Apollo. Finally, work continued behind the scenes on the Galactapedia that will be shared further down the road.


The Character Art Team diligently worked on new Hair and Head tech, which will improve the appearance of current characters and revise some core tools used in the character wearables tech setup process. The team worked on the Hurston clothing collection, Virgil TrueDef Pro Armor, and reworked the Odyssey Flightsuit. Alongside the new content, material variants will be made to help fill out the NPCs found on Hurston. Plus, progress was made on a variety of Squadron 42 costumes.






Throughout July, the Design Team further experimented with how to make a bar feel like a living breathing environment, instead of static NPCs serving and consuming drinks. The intent was to give the bartender and others enough character, life, and flexibility so that they can deal with multiple patrons at once, including the player, while looking as lively and realistic as possible. They also began building out the AI logic in Subsumption, started rounds of feedback with Tony Zurovec, and worked with the Narrative Team to get lines written for the Bartender and Bar Patron characters. The aim is to get these lines, along with the placeholder animations provided by the ATX Animation Team, added into the game for internal review soon.

In an effort to allow the economic status of resources effect pricing, the team is constructing recipes for items so that, as the price of resources fluctuates, the players will be able to see a noticeable difference in the pricing of items. The change won’t be instant but will develop over time and can be influenced by the player base.

Work is also happening on getting the ship rental shop working in the PU to coincide with the ability to rent ships. Work on additional layouts for Truck Stops will lend a bit more variety to the shops that players will encounter when traveling to far-away locations.

On top of all this, the team took a moment to review how their data is structured and are finding ways to make things more efficient and organized for ease of use in the future.


The Animation Team continues to research and develop animations for the PU’s female character. Very different animations are needed when the character sits in a ship versus moving around in the ‘verse, but progress is being made and the fidelity of female animations are getting closer to those of the male characters.

Placeholder block-out animations were sent to the ATX Design Team for the Bartender character to help them see the results of some of the AI R&D they were working on.

Alongside this, they continued to move several characters through the various stages of the pipeline, such as mission givers like Constantine Hurston, Clovus Darneely, and a new character of interest, Tecia Pacheco.

On the Ship side, animations were completed for the new Tumbril Cyclone variants. Specifically, the turret operator animations were reworked and polished.


The Ship Team is deep in the concept phase of the 300i re-work and are currently fleshing out the new shape along with integrating many of the ‘wish list’ features that have been accumulating over the last few years, including new cargo options. They recently showed off the first round of concepts on ATV, with the community generally feeding back positively. However, a few concerns were voiced about the new design, which the team will be taking into consideration for the next and final round of concept presentation.

The final pass of the Constellation Phoenix’s modeling and lighting is currently underway. When finished, the team will move onto the final flight prep setup and polishing tasks. Then, they’ll create the LODs to complete the art pass for the Phoenix.



This month, the Backend Services team finished up support for 3.2.1 by fixing some critical bugs that were discovered after 3.2.0 went live. Specifically, they rectified issues with currency and fixed a bug that prevented the player from purchasing items from shops and inventories.

They also continued efforts to create Services using the new Ooz/Diffusion framework. This is part of the refactoring of the Persistence Cache to make it more scalable. Another accomplishment this month was finishing up the new Entitlement Processor service, which is far more robust and efficient than the legacy solution. The legacy Friends Service was also written into this new framework.

The other Services created so far are:
  • Character service: provides an API for character specific runtime and persistent data.
  • Wallet service: responsible for managing player currencies.
  • Item Loadout Service: manages player or ship default and custom loadouts.
  • Insurance service: manages all insurance claims.


Dev Ops have been supporting the additional publishes related to 3.2 this month while also making great progress on the various feature stream enhancements to the build system.

“One of the most satisfying aspects of our publishing effort is to see the new gameplay features showing up on the various live streams and we’ve been enjoying many of those.” – Dev Ops

They’ve also worked very closely with the feature teams to add more gameplay analytics to help track game performance and resource consumption on a regional level, as well as on the individual game servers themselves. This additional data will help them tune server density to deliver the best possible compute and memory performance.

Feature stream work progressed this month as well. This project breaks source control branches down to the individual feature level to help the developers work more independently without potential conflict. This effort was well received by the devs and will be expanded. However, it was not without challenges, as these streams create an additional load on the build system and storage subsystems. The team worked through most of these issues and are now closing in on the final details that will allow them to scale the build system much wider than its current capability.


The Player Relations team helped wrap up 3.2.1 this month. This is the second such quarterly release, and the team is really hitting their stride with the new publishing cycle. They also wrapped up the Live Release Production Summit in Austin, Texas which dealt with subjects such as improving the publishing process and how the team can grow the Evocati volunteer group for future releases.

“We’d like to point all players to our growing Knowledge Base, which has over 100 articles and has seen almost 100,000 visitors since its inception. We will continue to grow this by adding new ‘How To’ articles, patch notes, and live service notifications here as well as on Spectrum.

As always, we’d like to remind and encourage everyone to continue to use the Issue Council to help us triage and rate bugs and functionality. We’ll use that data to prioritize for future updates, plus your IC participation will make you eligible to get into earlier PTU waves.” – Player Relations Team


Last month 3.2 and 3.2.1 went live. For the QA team, this included publishing checklists for build testing and testing patches in the PTU, along with testing all the fixes as they were implemented.

On the Game side, they moved back to their internal dev stream and started testing the initial implementation of Object Container Streaming. They also shifted focus slightly to make sure all test plans and QA processes are updated and ready as more Object Container Streaming testing comes online.

On the Leadership side, it’s been business as usual with focus on coordinating testing priorities with their QA counterparts in LA, UK, and DE.

Wilmslow & Derby




The Graphics Team completed the work required to make the renderer ready for Object Container Streaming. In addition, the team made the new surface shaders more efficient and easier to use, maintain, and improve. You’ll see the benefits from these updated shaders as the artists transition to them in Alpha 3.3 and 3.4.

They also improved the room culling system to allow for more complex level setups of rooms within rooms, which had previously resulted in rendering the entirety of the smaller room. This new feature allows the Art Team to build more elaborate interiors in both Squadron 42 and the PU with improved performance. The next focus will be on features to enhance the quality of lighting in and around gas clouds and large interior spaces where large lights would normally result in very low shadow resolution.


The UI Team further developed the RTT item preview system that allows for a generalized method of displaying one or more 3D items anywhere in the UI as part of a scrolling list component. This works on things like kiosks, mobiGlas, MFDs, etc.

The team implemented the necessary changes to support renting ships and items through the Electronic Access customization menus and worked on the UI design for the Spectrum app in the mobiGlas.
They also collaborated with the Design Team to pre-visualize what approaching a no-fly zone might look like to the player. Work continued with the Environment and Narrative Team on crafting propaganda posters and signage for Lorville.

Additional headway was made on core tech & tools, with a successful prototype completed of the bindings system for the mining HUD display. This enables a more streamlined interface for exposing game data to the UI front-end.


The team created animations for the reload and firing states of the upcoming Karna plasma assault rifle. To finalize assets for the SpecOps combat AI, they held a motion capture shoot to update the placeholder assets for hit reactions and the various threat level reactions to sights and sounds. They also improved enemy SpecOps AI combat poses with better blending between motion states.

Other tasks included supporting the ‘carryable system’ with a wide range of assets and a general clean-up of the animation database. They revamped the player’s ‘no weapon’ and ‘stocked’ locomotion forward assets.

Finally, a high-level review assessed the implementation of animations for Squadron 42 scenes featuring Master-at-Arms Duncan Chakma in the armory.


The Story Team began the month with pre-viz for all remaining scenes, which went well and took two weeks instead of the scheduled three. They then began to fully implement 16 scenes that the Design Team prioritized for Q3. The implementation pass is a slower process than pre-viz, but the team is delighted to work closely with Design and see the scenes come to life in-game.


The Actor Feature Team has been developing an animation motion warping system, which gives each animation a variable distance it can travel without the need for a unique asset for each situation. The vaulting and mantling mechanic is being developed alongside this and comes into play when the prop being vaulted over has a variable depth and height. The new technology takes these dimensions and modifies the vault animation so that it seamlessly adjusts for the additional movement. This creates a better result than having multiple animations to cover all eventualities. It also frees up the artists from adhering to strict sizes and metrics when creating environments.

The way Subsumption sets up missions for Squadron 42 means the team often has to play through part of it just to get to a certain point in the level. There is functionality inside the editor to manually run parts of the Subsumption setup, which fast-forwards the flow, but it was fiddly and not exposed when running the standalone game. So, the team created a system to record a sequence of Subsumption steps into a single macro that can be played back in either the editor or game client. This allows the team to skip through a mission to an intended place, which will speed up development and testing.

The Tools Team has been creating a way to link Shotgun (assets for artists and animators) with Jira (production and scheduling). This new tool monitors Shotgun for changes and then reflects them in Jira. This allows content creators to continue using Shotgun while producers and supporting teams can see all the information they require from Shotgun within Jira.

The Network Team finished the entity bind culling functionality to allow more optimal networking based on how far away entities are from the player. They also did prep work for Object Container Streaming alongside other teams working on that technology.


The Ship Art Team worked on the MISC Freelancer base model by adding a few extra comforts to the interior, such as a toilet, shower, and food dispenser. The variants (MIS, MAX, and DUR) went into the updated art pipeline to get them looking as good as the base version.
The Origin 890 Jump also went into production this month. It already cleared the whitebox review and advanced to the greybox production phase. Some areas even went beyond to establish the look and style of the ship’s interior. Finally, the Banu Defender finished its initial R&D phase and is partially through the white box phase. ScreenShot0256.jpg ScreenShot0255.jpg


The Audio Team supported Object Container Streaming and progressed with FOIP and VOIP features. They made great strides with the IFCS 2.0 system and physicalized object audio. Alpha 3.3 is the next major goal, so they generated audio mockups and prototypes to ensure they’re on track with the look and feel of the new features. Ship audio also kept the team very busy, as they supported a wave of new ships in the pipeline.


The team completed their work on the PU hangars, with only final lighting tweaks left to complete the two archetypes needed for the first release. They focused on developing new habitation modules and security/customs common elements. The habitation modules are coming out of the white box phase with their footprints, layout, modularity, and basic art determined. Now begins the process of making them pretty! The security archetype involves a lot of systems and designs that must be tested and iterated on before art can finalize it. As with the habs, these issues have been largely solved and the team began the next level art pass. The early white box design of a new location type was signed off, the Underground Facility. These will be something the team hasn’t tried before and are very excited to develop! Security_01.jpg Security_02.jpg


With 3.2 safely in player’s hands, the team jumped into 3.3 content tasks, including a first pass at the Aegis Hammerhead’s effects and a new plasma assault rifle along with the many biomes, landing zones, and modular areas of Hurston.
Work continued on Squadron 42 tasks. Without revealing any spoilers, the team tackled included a visual polish of a screen interference and kicked off several experimental R&D sprints.





The VFX Team worked on several moons for the PU, including various new biome types. This required them to expand the planet editor tools to allow for more unique and varied particle systems to be spawned procedurally using the object scattering systems. They also continued their work on the cinematic simulation assets, such as rigid and soft bodies for the Squadron 42 cinematics.



The AI Team determined the tasks remaining for Object Container Streaming and worked on them accordingly, adjusting AI logic if necessary to handle the current streaming requirements. Work was also completed for flight AI, creating new behaviors and changing existing ones, with a focus on making ship combat engaging and fun. Tasks were completed to improve performance, which is routinely done to ensure things are optimized as much as possible. Work has also been done on the flight pathfinder, taking it a few steps closer to having AI traverse the entire ‘verse on their own. FPS AI work focused on NPC tasks for the 3.3 release, including new behaviors, features, and optimizations.


The DE Dev Ops Team continued to work with the Austin teams on both extending and finalizing the toolsets that govern synchronicity between central game-dev and feature streams. The API for controlling the central auto-integration system has been rolled out to accommodate the client-side feature-stream merging tool currently in development. This gives feature-stream owners control over how current their stream should be in relation to main central development in game dev, based on their preference and workflow style. The current feature streams are battle-testing these tools as they prepare to scale up the number of feature streams needed for the project.


The Weapon Art Team primarily focused on Vanduul weaponry and finished the first pass of both modeling and texturing on the Plasma Lances, as well as a handful of scavenged knife variants.


The Engine Tools Team focused on stabilizing the game editor after the Alpha 3.2 release. Usability improvements were added to increase the overall workflow quality for the designers when setting up the game entities. The new layer and universe outliner plugins received improvements based on the designer’s feedback, along with a general stabilization and performance improvement pass. The Look Development Mode, which is meant to improve in-game material setups, received an additional light mode to show assets under split light conditions, called Eclipse Mode. This helps artists improve their material setups for all possible in-game scenarios and makes it easier for them to compare the material under bright and dark conditions, for example, how an asset will look on a bright planet versus in outer space.


The Environment Art Team made substantial progress on Hurston’s four moons, with each becoming a visually unique location for players to explore. While working on the moons, the team also spent time improving the wind simulation on vegetation objects, which will breathe more life into the locations as wind moves through the grass, bushes, and trees. Hurston will be quite a visual change compared to the other locations currently in the game. The Lorville team moved onto the outer districts, shifting focus on the view of the city while flying above and around it. Lorville has received many improvements since it was first shown at CitizenCon. DE_Monthly_Update_July2018_EnvArt_02.jpg DE_Monthly_Update_July2018_EnvArt_03.jpg


The Lighting Team worked side-by-side with the Environment Art Team on Lorville. Lots of progress was made on the environment art, which gives the Lighting Team plenty of locations to bring additional life, mood, and atmosphere into. The core landing zone received an initial lighting pass, with work still to come on the shops, spaceport, habitation, and security.

With the procedural layout generation tools receiving improvements, the team took the opportunity to further polish the upcoming Rest Stops. They improved the look and positioning of 2D and holographic advertisements, as well as fixed various issues with light leaking and other consistency issues between connected rooms.

Finally, crashed and derelict ships found in space and on planet surfaces were fixed due to previous setup issues which resulted in broken or missing lighting in most locations. The improved setups will provide a better foundation for the Lighting Team to create more interesting moods in these locations.


The System Design Team laid the foundation for combat ship AI improvements, specifically giving AI ships the awareness of an enemy tailing them. They will build on this with further maneuvers, like enabling the AI to abruptly decelerate to cause the tailing ship to overshoot or wildly change its break-away angle to shake pursuers. Progress was also made on advanced civilian/security guard interactions and patrol behaviors, which will be implemented in future landing zones. These behaviors will work in sync with one another and will allow NPCs to react accordingly to different types of stimuli from the world around them. The behaviors are scalable to allow for more stimuli to be added if and when needed. It will also determine how NPCs react to their surroundings, such as Security Guards reacting differently to certain crimes in one location than they would in another.

The new transit system received attention as well. The team focused on the debugging capabilities of the system, laying an important piece of groundwork for complex elevator and train networks. On the FPS side, they began populating Security Outpost Kareah with combat NPCs. They also worked with the Mission and Level Design Teams to create additional facilities fit for combat encounters.


This month the Level Design Team focused on the PU. They completed work on Lorville and explored how the Restricted Areas tech will be implemented into the full world. They also looked into the general areas around Lorville to ensure they have the correct content and points of interest.
Development advances with the procedural tool allowed them to return to the Rest Stops. They used the tool to generate a series of stations and verify their layouts, as well as to look into transferring old functionality of CryAstro into Tier 0 of the refuel/repair/rearm system. They also investigated early Tier 0 versions of Habitation, Refineries, sub-surface content, and more.



The Cinematic Team updated the animation production pipeline to better communicate with the Design Team and make the overall structure more efficient. They also worked on chapters for Squadron 42, which consisted of numerous tasks depending on the current state of the cinematic, from animation and camera blocking, to animation polish, lighting setups, and TrackView work.

The team also completed some technical tasks: They implemented ‘Player Entity’ into Trackview and can now trigger ‘Mannequin Fragments’ which will allow the team to accurately use the Player and the new ‘look control’ while building their scenes. They’re also working on a technical solution for Subsumption to takeover player control in cutscenes when needed.


The Engine Team generally works across multiple areas and is called in to address potential code issues at any time – this month was no exception. They progressed on moving skinning computations to GPU compute shaders (dual quaternion skinning, blend shape, as well as tangent reconstruction submitted), and continued work on improving hair shading. They made significant progress on new solutions for cloth and volumetrics simulation, which they hope to show off soon. They added support for OC Streaming (entity aggregates) and exposed GPU load and memory stats directly from the Windows Graphics system. They also made advancements in the physics system refactor (queue refactoring, batch jobs, etc.) and revamped the exception handling code to improve the consistency of reported crashes.


The Tech Art Team worked on the ‘Maya to Sandbox Editor’ live link for synchronizing animations between the two applications, giving real-time, in-engine rendered graphical feedback to the animators. They consolidated the head to head attachment asset pipeline for the next gen character customizer – a crucial requirement to achieve 100% consistent topology on the head meshes once they are converted from the Maya-internal format to the engine’s format. Once consolidated, they stress tested it to find any bugs in the resource compiler tool (RC) and addressed them accordingly. One large bug remains, but once it’s resolved they can switch to the newly revised system.

Tech Animation focused on restructuring the weapons pipeline, modifying elements to make it easier to work on files and find them in the future. They added an additional meta system to the weapon rigs to enable animators to batch export weapon animations and moved nearly all files into a new folder structure to separate multiple weapons of the same type by the same manufacturer. They also addressed a variety of bugs across multiple departments.


Besides assisting the in-house development team with Editor and client reported issues, the QA Team focused on performance and system refactor testing. Client and server performance took a significant hit with the introduction of Mining, so they worked with the UK QA Team to gather performance RAD captures during a Mining specific playtest. Captures were obtained from a build containing changes that would improve performance centered around Mining. Captures were also done on an existing build that did not have anything extra included. Engineering then compared the captures done on each build, identified where there were improvements between the two, and noted what other areas would benefit from further optimizations.

They also worked on a QA test request for the AI Cover System to be refactored to support the incoming Object Container Streaming changes. The main goal was to ensure that not only existing cover systems within an Object Container level still worked, but that the newly set up Cover Systems did as well. They re-exported levels and then tested in-client to ensure that cover was generated and the AI used it the same way they did in previously. There should be no visible difference between the two, and they needed to confirm that no new issues were introduced. The same principle applied to an IKSystem refactor QATR that they did for Animation Engineering. Multiple lines of code were removed to improve overall performance, and testing was done to ensure that this did not break any other new and/or existing systems or features. QA also started regular performance testing on the PU test map, which contains the new Rest Stops, Hurston, and Lorville in order to get a head start on identifying issues that these new locations may introduce.

Platform: Turbulent




On July 4th, the team deployed Spectrum 3.8! This build is now available to everyone and contains the latest features: Friends, Notifications, Quick Access Sidebar, and Message of the Day. You can sort friends by status or alphabetically and see information about their activity. You can also group friends by common orgs. Including pending friend requests, you can now have a maximum of 800 friends.

“Your in-game friends will be linked to your Spectrum friends in the future. Currently, your Spectrum friends list and the list of your friends in-game exist independently. When the game integrates the Spectrum friends system, your in-game contacts will not be copied to over. You should use this transition period to add your in-game contacts to your Spectrum friends list.” – Spectrum Team

Additionally, they refined the Settings page and slightly altered the display of embedded media in messages. Also, the member profile popup can now be accessed from the blocked users list by clicking on a member’s avatar.

After this major release, they deployed 3.8.1-rel.7 with minor bug fixes. You can refer to the Spectrum Knowledge Base for further details on using the new features



CitizenCon Microsite: Turbulent launched the CitizenCon microsite this month. The new microsite serves as the information hub for everything CitizenCon. From here you can purchase tickets when available, read more about the wonderful city of Austin, and plan your trip to CitizenCon. Eventually the microsite will contain information about the event, including the presentation schedule and the live stream itself. Stay tuned to keep up on the latest details for CitizenCon.

RSI Apollo: Turbulent supported the release of the RSI Apollo, which included a mini-game designed by CIG’s Oliver Hughes and Sam Child. The game was a homage to King Kong, a game Chris Roberts developed as a teenager. Players that achieve a high score of 100,000 points receive a special Guardian Angel Badge and are entered into a contest to win an RSI Apollo package.

Free-Fly: The team updated the page design and interaction for upcoming free-fly events. Stay tuned for the next chance to participate in a Star Citizen Free-Fly!


Group: Turbulent continues to iterate on Group services and are currently working on a feature that generates a claims token. This token can be used by other services to validate group membership, permissions, and the ability of a user to join. They additionally worked on a series of tests to increase stability in the code base as services continue to grow.

VOIP/FOIP: The Backend Team collaborated with the UK Audio Team to build voice services in-game. They overcame a huge hurdle by successfully piecing together a prototype with one user in-game having a conversation with another on a web platform interface.





Scan, Fracture, Extract. The community was hard on the rocks and dug deep during the past month. While Prospectors were busy mining, the team didn’t stop after introducing this gameplay feature with the 3.2 update. The recently released 3.2.1 patch brought reduced mission spawn timers, ship cannon changes, turret improvements, and more. Have you had a chance to check them out yet? Jump into the game and share your feedback with the developers on Spectrum.

The RSI Apollo was revealed as the latest concept ship, filling the gap between the Cutlass Red and the Endeavor for all medics-to-be. Learn more about the space doctor career path by checking out The Shipyard post covering medical gameplay as it works today and how it’s envisioned for the future.

The team celebrated the introduction of the Origin Jumpworks 600i with a video contest that asked content creators to devise a commercial for the luxurious ship. As shown countless times, the Star Citizen community has a wealth of talent and passion that delivers amazing videos, and they didn’t disappoint this time either. The quality of the submissions was mind-blowing, and the team wants to thank all the participants for the work and time put into creating the videos.


The Community Team has been planning a wide variety of activities for this year and next that are, of course, coupled with sweet prizes. So even if this contest wasn’t for you, there’ll be more exciting opportunities to leave your mark in the Star Citizen universe. Outside of these events, the team is glad to see more players sharing fantastic content and are proud to regularly highlight them. FPS battles, trouble at CryAstro, mining challenges, and races were all featured this month. The team can’t wait to see what August will bring.

Cloud Imperium Games will not have a booth or presentation at Gamescom this year, but some team members will be visiting the show in Cologne, Germany, from August 22nd to 25th. There will be a variety of activities and opportunities to meet up during the week, so keep an eye out for future announcements. While they’re excited to meet you in Cologne, don’t forget that CitizenCon 2948 is almost here, too! After launching the all-new CitizenCon website, where you can find all the event info, the team continued to plan for what promises to be an unforgettable event.



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      This week we played though the Pacheco mission with Lead Designer Luke Pressley and Senior Live Designer Gareth Bourn along with a few guests.

      To watch Reverse the Verse LIVE each and every week, tune into
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      Jump Point Now Available!
      Attention development subscribers: the April 2019 issue of Jump Point is now available in your subscription area. You’ll learn all about developing the updated flight model which premiered in Alpha 3.5, track the history of flight controls in the RSI Museum and find out everything you ever wanted to know about Leyland’s Tortoise in an all-new Galactapedia. Plus a lore featuring MaxOx!
      Interested in becoming a development subscriber? You can learn more here.
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      Welcome to Inside Star Citizen, the triumphant return of our weekly development update show. In this episode we learn about a new particle lighting system, public telemetry, Crusader’s city in the clouds, and upcoming improvements to a classic ship.

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    • Przez Game Armada
      Writer’s Note: Brothers In Arms: Part Four was published originally in Jump Point 3.8. Read Part One here, Part Two here, and Part Three here.
      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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