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Game Armada Monthly Studio Report: August 2018

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Monthly Studio Report: August 2018

Welcome to August’s monthly report. It’s been an exciting few weeks throughout the CIG studios with Gamescom coming and going, CitizenCon 2948 planning in full swing, and Alpha 3.3 content is getting closer to completion.

Everyone’s been working hard to make our upcoming release the biggest and most exciting one yet. A big part of this is taming the beast that is Object Container Streaming. This is one of our biggest tech hurdles to date, and the team is heads down and focused on burning down remaining tasks and issues.

Los Angeles




This month, the Character Art Team improved upon Hair and Head tech, which will increase the visual quality of the current characters while revising the core tools used in the character wearables tech setup. The team has started testing vertex cloth simulation to allow more realistic clothing movement on all characters. They also continued the reworks of the Odyssey Flightsuit, Virgil TruDef Pro Armor, and Hurston Collection. This content comes with material variants to give Hurston a lively and realistic setting. Additionally, the team carried on with S42 costumes.



With several teams working together, the team made good progress on the VoiP/FoiP feature. Turbulent, Faceware, and Audio were able to transmit voice and face via WebRTC. In addition, voice can now be sent and received from any WebRTC enabled device, such as a PC web browser, phone, and tablet. A major risk in the project has been eliminated as getting audio and face synchronized was a major hurdle.

The team is now moving onto server work to add player entities to the entire framework so that they can know who is talking and map them to players in-game. With integration wrapping up, they are at the stage when the US-1 Gameplay Team can transition to front-end UI work.


August saw the Narrative Team deliver On The Run, a new short story that introduced criminal data runners Alex Dougan and Mas Houlan who could later be tracked fleeing across the Starmap as part of the Crusader Mercury reveal. They also published to all backers a Galactic Guide focused on the Gurzil system and the final chapter in the serialized story The Knowledge of Good and Evil. Loremakers paid a visit to the Banu system of Bacchus, while subscribers were treated to another issue of Jump Point and an exclusive portfolio that explored how Rest & Relax became the most popular rest stop in the UEE.

Behind the curtain, the team tackled a wide variety of tasks for 3.3 and beyond. They wrote mission text, dialogue for a wide variety of characters, named new weapons, and advised on signs to be found around Lorville. The team also participated in reviews for the PU and Squadron 42, and continued their work on the Galactapedia.


As it relates to their areas of code ownership, the Vehicle Features Team spent a lot of time on Object Container Streaming (OCS). When OCS is complete, it will allow ships and other items to stream out at greater distances, which provides improved performance and reduction in network bandwidth.

Additionally, significant progress was made on the ongoing turret improvements and Ping & Scanning for Alpha 3.3. For turrets, the team is close to completing work on gyro stabilization and improvements to mouse and joystick controls. For Ping and Scanning, they’ve moved the scanning infrastructure over to the server, have been working to extend its range, and have been expanding information received from scanning vehicles.


A lot of progress has been made towards the completion of several vehicles going out in Alpha 3.3. The new Tumbril Cyclone variants and the Consolidated Outlands Mustang are art-complete and in their final phase with Systems Design. The team is also in the final phase with the RSI Constellation Phoenix. Tech Art is working on the damage pass for these vehicles too. Meanwhile, post Alpha 3.3 vehicles move forward in production – the Art Team is in the greybox phase for the Anvil Hawk, while System Design is currently wrapping up the whitebox phase. Hawk2.png Hawk4.png


Like many other teams, OCS was the top priority for Gameplay Features. Also, of high importance was the second iteration of the Group System, which is due in Alpha 3.3. In particular, they’ve been implementing mobiGlas and Visor Chat System features and UI, along with replacing the legacy Group System and interface with new backend systems. Completing this iteration will enable the team to start the integration of VoIP and FoIP.

They’ve also been supporting the Gameplay Feature Team in Austin with their work on improvements for Quantum Travel, and the Gameplay Team in the EU to implement REC Rental in Arena Commander and Star Marine.





Ship Art got deeper into the greybox phase of the Origin 300 series refactor by detailing out the landing gear, headlights, and other features. They made another pass on the cockpit and pilot chair and are closer to getting that area to a satisfactory level. Next up is a test of the interior collision with a character in-game, as well as testing the enter/exit animations.

They’re also wrapping up some last modeling, lighting, and material tweaks on the interior of the Constellation Phoenix. When finished, they’ll move onto the LODs for the interior and exterior. PH_Int_Wip_009.png PH_Int_Wip_008.png


Animation continued to push through a few more Mission Givers (like Darneely in the image below) and are almost finished with a further three. These characters will be found at places like GrimHEX, Levski, and Lorville, so look forward to traveling around to meet with them in the future.

The team is working closely with Design on the Bartender to help flesh out the flow – soon players will be able to walk up and order tasty drinks from a believable barkeep. Players will also see NPCs sitting at the bar or ordering drinks to help the environment feel full of life.



This month was a busy one for ATX Design, with plenty of work done for various portions of Alpha 3.3. First up, they supported getting rentals working in Arena Commander and Star Marine to ensure players don’t need to go too far to rent a favorite gun for your ship or character.

They worked with the LA Engineering team to make great progress on implementing some new improvements to Quantum Travel. These include displaying the status of party members during QT (including when a player drops out) and laying the groundwork for Quantum Travel Route Planning.
Headway was made on the Economy features for this quarter, with efforts to allow the economic status of resources to affect pricing reaching a significant milestone. Recipes for all items were completed so that, as the price of resources or parts fluctuates, players will be able to see a noticeable difference in the pricing of items. However, the change won’t be instantaneous and will develop over time.

They’ve also been working on creating new shops for Lorville and look forward to bringing players new items from the latest locations.


Several Services have been written under the new architecture while support for the legacy architecture continues. This month focused on improvements to the Persistent Database, Badge Service, Leaderboards, Encryption, Security and more.
Services that have received some attention or are being entirely created from scratch to provide logical and efficient micro-services are:
*Badge Service: This is a simple caching service that pulls account badges from the web platform when a player logs in. The Diffusion Badge Service provides an API allowing other services, game server, and client to query individual or sets of badges.
  • Leaderboard Service: The Leaderboard Service caches player leaderboard stats.
  • PDB/SQL API: The new SQL API Diffusion Service provides a very simple interface allowing for Services to add, set, remove, or update data sets. It is specifically designed for persisting Ooz data structures in an SQL Database. A No-SQL solution is in the works as well.
  • Transaction Service: A general transaction Service is being created to manage rental and store purchases, as well as currency/service transactions for missions and service beacon contracts.
  • Loadout Service: The Loadout Service is a cache which provides an API to other Services allowing them to create, modify, and request specific loadouts for players or ships.

Backend Services have also been helping the Web Platform with their work on the Group Service and integration of Spectrum into the PU.


The Player Relations team helped wrap up Alpha 3.2.2, essentially completing the second quarterly release for 2018. They’ve now turned to 3.3 and CitizenCon preparation (and what always turns out to be a very busy last third of the year!).

They added a couple of new faces and will continue growing across the various studios. As the backer base and games grow, so do the needs of running the service.

The Evocati are also growing. Invites were sent out to some of our most diligent players and those most active on the Issue Council. This will help the team immensely with some large-scale testing in the coming months.

“We’d like to point all players to our growing Knowledge Base, which now has over 100 articles and has seen almost 120,000 visitors since its launch. We’ll continue to grow it by adding new ‘How-To’ articles, patch notes, and live service notifications. 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 use that data to prioritize for future updates, plus your IC participation will make you eligible for earlier PTU waves.”


On the Publishing side of things, QA has been preparing for Alpha 3.3 by updating the current test plans and documentation.

Game side, work continues on the internal dev stream, where the testing focus has been on Object Container Streaming. Testing priorities were coordinated with counterparts in LA, UK, and DE, and the new TestRail software was updated to help make testing more efficient moving forward.

Wilmslow & Derby




This month, the Graphics Team have been working on two main areas. The first is on improvements to the tech for space landscapes, which includes more realistic particle movement and lighting, GPU spline-based lightning effects, multi-threaded asteroid creation, and improvements to the volumetric gas cloud tech. Also, work was done on volumetric point light shadows for gas clouds, which are crucial to convincingly lighting our more complex space scenes. These shadows are computed in a single render pass and stored efficiently in 2D deep shadow maps, which can then be used to quickly evaluate the shadowing at any distance from the light. Keep an eye out, as many of these changes will be demonstrated soon.

The second major area of work this month was on shader improvements. The layer shader system can now support the cloth shading model and sub-surface-scattering. While these features were previously available using specialist and expensive shaders, the new changes can be used on a wide variety of assets with no noticeable performance penalty.

“We should start seeing wider use of cloth materials and materials that exhibit scattering such as plastics and ice.”


The UI Team has been busy iterating on the RTT item preview system, which allows for a generalized method to display 3D items anywhere in the UI as part of a scrolling list component (such as kiosks, MobiGlas, MFDs, etc.). The team has also been busy conceiving the necessary changes to the flow and layout needed to support renting ships and items through the Electronic Access customization menus.

They have also been working on the UI design for the spectrum app functionality housed inside mobiGlas. They’ve also been working in conjunction with the design team to previsualize what approaching a restricted area in a city might look like to the player and continued supporting the environment team in crafting propaganda posters & signage for Lorville.

The team has also made additional headway on the core tech & tools, with a recent successful prototype of the bindings system on the mining HUD display to enable a much more streamlined interface for exposing game data to the UI frontend. Rental_ShipList-05.jpg Rental_SM_ItemList-01.jpg


Throughout August, Animation worked on improving player stances and locomotion assets and used motion captured data to replace placeholders in the AI combat set.

They also updated ship character animations to new sequenced animations for more flexibility when moving forward with new ship & cockpit designs.

Going forward, they’re looking to finalize assets for looting and pickup now that the technical details are mostly resolved.


The Gameplay Story Team continued implementing high-priority scenes for Q3. This involved editing all the separate animations in a scene so they can play together in the correct order without any pops. They had to set up idle animations every time the game waits for the player to make a choice.
Lastly, they need to ensure that the ‘look at’ is animated correctly so the character looks directly at the player at the right times.

“It has been good to get stuck into detailed animation work and to cooperate closely with design on the setup and testing of these scenes.”


Throughout the past month, the Facial Animation Team has been hard at work developing the facial animations for Mission Givers, such as Darneely and NPCs like the race announcers, derelicts, shopkeepers, and admins.

Looking forward to next month, the team will continue to deliver facial animation results for the Mission Givers such as Pacheco and other NPCs, such as security, as well as more incoming NPCs for the new landing zones.


The Network Team extended Bind Culling so that, instead of only culling out dynamically spawned entities such as ships and players, it can now also cull entire parts of the solar system. QA has been putting these changes through their paces and the programmers have been keeping on top of the bugs coming back. The Network Team has also worked on converting networked entity spawning from blocking synchronous spawns to asynchronous non-blocking ones. Combined with their Bind Culling work, these asynchronous spawns should allow Object Container Streaming to work smoothly in multiplayer.

PU-based feature teams worked on restricted areas, which will be used to stop players flying into planetside civilian locations. This is being complemented by an update to the landing UI. They also extended the mining feature to work with asteroids.

The Social AI Team have been working on the new usable tool in the editor, designed to make creating and debugging usables as intuitive as possible. They’re also creating functionality to mark up the paths used by the AI to allow subsumption events to be triggered. This is part of the work needed for our Walk and Talk feature.

Squadron 42 feature teams have been looking into triggering dynamic Track View cutscenes from conversations, including participant synchronization. This feeds well into the Walk and Talk feature work that the AI Actor Team is working through.

From their work on overclocking/overpowering, the Vehicle Feature Team has been improving vehicle power distribution and heat setup. Cooler overclocking now works and per-item power throttling is being developed.

Also, a big milestone was reached as the last of the old-style game objects were finally removed from the codebase. These have been replaced by component-based entities which are more efficient in terms of performance and sharing code. This also permitted the removal of a lot of now-redundant code from the codebase.


The Ship Art Team has been busy with final optimizations and polish on the Aegis Hammerhead to get it ready for its Alpha 3.3 release. The Banu Defender continues with the majority of its interior now at final grey box stage, while the Origin 890 Jump is starting to take shape in the lower decks with most of the ship receiving a grey box pass.



The Audio Code team has been working hard to integrate the new backend for FoiP/VoiP data transmission and to optimize the data compression used by this feature. Trackview support has seen some improvements in the way audio is handled to offer more options for cinematic sound.

The dialog guys hunkered down to record new content for the Alpha 3.3 release and Lorville.

Progress is being made on new weapons sounds and, as always, the procession of new ships is being given plenty of audio love.


The team has now completed the art for a host of smaller locations for Lorville, including the new habitation modules, lobbies, and the interiors for Lorville’s bar, admin office, and shops. The first iteration of a security checkpoint and a transit platform (complete with train car) have also been finished. As well as this, they’re almost complete on the Teasa Spaceport interior with its new shop archetype, the Ship Rental store.

Work continues on the Underground Facility and Crashed Relay, with both moving into the final art stage.



This month was very much a continuation of the team’s work from last month, including polishing the VFX for Hurston’s diverse range biomes, Lorville’s modular areas, and the new weapons and ships due to be seen in the 3.3 release.

As well as that, the team threw themselves firmly into Gas Clouds (not literally!), forming a mini ‘strike team’ with Art, Design, and others to really flesh out the requirements of this ambitious task. Working so closely with the other disciplines helped the team to maintain momentum, with several improvements coming to fruition as the month progressed.

They also began to clean up some of the older ballistic weapon effects, making use of new GPU particle improvements and adding more visual consistency on a per-manufacturer basis.






Work on Lorville continues with the team looking to modify the arrival area with a few additional shops and features to make it feel more like an active spaceport. The end goal is to have an area that quickly brings the player into the city, but also offers a few select amenities for those who need it.

There will also be a few minor changes to Levski to reflect the content added to Lorville. Although the rework is minor, it will add a few new things and bring Levski closer to its intended purpose and full potential.

Both the Transit System and procedural tech is progressing, and the team is close to adding a new and more stable version of elevators along with moving trains/trams. Level Design also gained a new team member this month, so time was spent onboarding and getting them acquainted with our tools and best practices.



Frankfurt System Design focused mainly on AI improvements. They worked on populating Lorville with an assortment of civilians, engineers, guards, workers, etc. In general, they’ll exhibit similar behaviors as the NPCs that already exist in PU, but with more depth and flavor to help them better match the lore of the area. A lot of design work went into having the AI interact with one another and respond appropriately to events and stimuli generated by other NPCs or the player. For guard NPCs, they worked on designing a patrol system from the ground up. This should allow them to quickly map interest points and connect them with probability paths to define a patrol route that can change dynamically based on rules the designers control, or on game-driven events. At the same time, they are improving the existing simple patrol behaviors and prototyping more features in order to have an initial implementation for future releases before the actual system comes online.

FPS Combat AI had numerous improvements which will hopefully be in players hands in the near future.

For mining, they worked on getting some well-needed improvements to how the instability, resistance, and optimal window size are calculated. They decoupled the window size from instability, so now players can have unstable rocks with a large window and also stable rocks with a very tiny window. This allows the team to better control the difficulty of a rock without having to clamp its values artificially. Work was also completed on the asteroid side of mining and the team’s close to having things working as initially intended. A lot of work has gone into how rocks are spawned in space using the existing procedural asteroids.


The Engine Tools Team worked on general usability improvements and game editor stability. The OCS and Prefab workflows received enhancements and fixes along with Trackview (the tool used by the Cinematics Team) getting general Data Core properties support. This was needed to get rid of a big chunk of the old Lua scripting dependencies used by game entities and to get one step closer to the implementation of OCS.


Polishing and bug fixing are still ongoing for Hurston and its four moons, and preproduction has started on the two moons orbiting Stanton 3 (ArcCorp). Beyond the roadmap, they’ve also started looking at Stanton 4 (MicroTech), which will be a significant challenge for the Art and Tech teams as they’ll be looking at frozen oceans, snowy mountains, frozen vegetation, and other elements that require technology and shaders to be modified and developed. The City or Lorville is entering its final stages as the team completes the outer boundaries of the city and the entry point from the planet’s surface.

Florian_hurston_wastelands_04.png DE_Monthly_Update_August2018_EnvArt_01.j


The Engine Team completed the first part of the physics command queue refactor. The goal is to allow the move of physics away from dedicated threads and towards our system-wide batch model so that it can scale and perform better with the number of available CPU cores.

They also continued progress on new solutions for cloth/soft body simulations, with several optimizations and improvements, and continued work on moving the skinning computation to GPU compute shaders.

They made load time improvements that addressed some inefficient code, which should reduce load times by up to 20 seconds (depending on PC specs). Lots of work was done on generating height map cascades of planet terrain which will be used for various effects in the future. In tandem, work started on large-scale planetary soft terrain shadows. These will replace the current implementation via traditional shadow maps, improve image quality, and the visibility range of terrain shadows.


The Tech Art Team worked on tools and the pipeline for authoring true next-gen cloth simulation setups for all dynamic attachments such as skirts, trench coats, jackets, and other loose-hanging clothing and equipment. The new softbody solver, which our Engineering department developed, is functioning as it should and will enable us to create all kinds of interesting secondary animation effects such as jiggling, sliding, and collisions. The authoring of such complex and advanced setups is just as important as the solver itself – it needs to be intuitive and provide maximum flexibility to the tech artists, hide the underlying complexity as much as possible, but allow access to it if needed.

While the authoring pipeline is based on Maya, changes to the setups are streamed live to the game engine through our LiveLink plugin and can therefore be previewed in WYSIWYG fashion, which is extremely important. The general workflow mimics the way Maya’s own cloth simulation setups (nCloth) are authored, thereby allowing Tech Artists and Character FX TDs familiar with the software to become productive and creative as efficiently as possible. The goal of these efforts is to make all the in-game clothing move naturally, look less rigid, and to enhance the PCAP primary character animation with a layer of physically-based secondary animation wherever possible.

For Tech Animation, they made further progress on the FPS weapons rework, including updating the rigs and bringing everything into a structure that’s easier to work with. They started working on a batch exporter for weapon animations that will make it much easier to iterate on existing weapons whenever a rig is updated, or new features are added to it. They also updated the AnimEvent lists for both the PU and S42 and removed a long list of old animations that were either no longer needed or moved to an updated location.


A significative part of this month’s activity was spent working on a performance pass concerning two crucial components that heavily impact the behavior of our NPCs – Subsumption activity updates and NPC visual perception:

Subsumption: When hundreds of NPCs are active simultaneously, their activities need to update and respond to events or change in subactivity, depending on the internal or external state of the game. Updates of the Subsumption components are therefore always running each frame, thus creating a sensible performance issue as the number of active NPCs increases. Most of the time, the update is not truly needed as the NPC is just waiting for an event of some sort to determine the ‘next’ state of a behavior (e.g. walking on a path and waiting for a ‘destination reached’ event). We can therefore take advantage of that and suspend the updates whenever the running tasks allow it. Internal tests in a heavily crowded scenario confirm that when allowing suspension, the impact of the Subsumption updates is dramatically reduced.

Visual Perception: One of the most useful senses belonging to NPCs is their visual perception. Visibility checks are continuously performed by every NPC to assess the clearance of their line of sight between them and all other NPCs or players in their field of view. Visibility checks are raycasts ultimately performed by the physics system. Up to now, we relied on a legacy module of the AI system provided by the Lumberyard system, called VisionMap. In VisionMap, all checks were handled in a centralized place and updated each frame in the main thread (as a synchronous update). The new system handles the visibility checks directly in the individual NPC vision components and makes good use of the entity component update scheduler (ECUS) by using multi-threaded updates in a time-sliced fashion.

The team was also busy finishing work for OCS related to AI systems (Navigation & Cover). The navigation and cover data will not be part of a central manager anymore, instead there will be entity components (inside object containers) that will contain that data. This will help the OCS since the AI data is kept internally for each object container.


The Weapons Art Team started production on a handful of new Hurston Dynamics ship weapons and a new knife designed for the ‘bad guys’ in-game.

Here’s an image of the ‘Sawtooth’, which is manufactured by Kastak Arms:



This month, DevOps focused on tooling out a test area for the Audio Team’s build processes, so the Audio Team has more autonomy in augmenting and testing their own build tools. The Perforce submission pipeline has been refined to remove redundant MD5 hashing of verified content; previous verification checkpoints relied on a custom MD5 hashing implementation, and these nodes of verification have been updated to check with digests that have been cached by the Perforce server, cutting down submission times for heavy changelists from hours to seconds.


The Cinematic Team’s main priority has been to go through the kick-off and implementation pass phases of a large number of scenes across several S42 levels that are currently being worked on by the Level Design Team. The implementation pass is the first production pass on a scene where the animation is broken up into the different states that are needed for that particular scene to work.

The process goes from a pre-vis of the animation (pretty much the raw PCAP playing out) to a scene functioning as a conversation with starts, idles, pauses, branching options, and resolves. Iterations by the Level Design Team often change the layout of, for example, an asteroid base or other level environments, so the team needed to come up with an easy way to keep our scenes transportable.

They can now use each scene’s sequence object (the object the scene is defined in) as a root and when they move that sequence object around, the whole scene with its nodes animated within it moves with that root. This way, they can quickly accommodate a room being moved 50m down the corridor and can keep scenes up to date easily. It also helps level design to know they can adjust their level layout without having to request a big rework of a scene just to fit with a particular change.

Work was also completed on the tool side of things to keep the cinematic workflow compatible with the growing tech. An example of this would be the component-based entities that are replacing the old entities. A Tools Engineer wrote a new API so animators can still animate an entity’s properties via the cinematic timeline tool, Trackview. This is necessary if a cinematic designer wants to change a light’s properties, for example, or wants to dial down sun intensity for a specific shot.


OCS related testing continued into August with changes to test from the AI team. More specifically, a Navigation System refactor to support it. The main change for this refactor is the way navigation mesh data is saved and exported. They focused on testing navigation mesh generation in the Editor, saving levels with Navigation Area objects, and exporting the Object Container levels with Navigation Area objects. They also needed to ensure that all levels that had existing Navigation Areas could still be re-exported and that the AI was still able to move around in the level and pass through doorways, etc. The cover system and usables were also monitored to ensure they were still functional with the newly exported areas.

The team worked together with ATX QA to test the new 1.003 version of the Subsumption Editor, which contained a lot of necessary fixes needed by the design team for better stabilization. Work continued with the Cinematics Team, with dedicated support for any Track View or Editor issues preventing the team from progressing on their sequences. In some cases, QA created simple test levels to better convey the issues they were encountering.

They also started the process for Automated Feature Tests for the current Feature Teams, with the first meeting to go over the specific setup and requirements at the end of the month with the Ship AI Feature Team. These tests will run for each build and will focus on testing systems that would be deemed risky and prevent usage of that particular build. The goal is to keep on top of features and ensure if they do break a build that the issue is brought to the relevant developer’s attention as quickly as possible. They also continued to provide support for any general Editor specific issues as well as the monthly (sometimes weekly) CIGPhysics smoke test, where new changes are checked in by the Physics team as part of the refactor of CIGPhysics.


The VFX Team continued to work on the environmental effects for the new moons as well as working on how the effects function with the new biomes being introduced.

They also continued working on destruction sequences for Squadron 42. This involves bringing the new workflows previously developed in the first quarter of the year into production shots.


Progress is on track to finalize all the new Alpha 3.3 locations. The schedule is closely tied to when environments are finished by the art teams, so the focus this month has been on Lorville habitations, including prototyping a few lighting setups for each of the hab room layouts. They’ve also been finishing work on the security checkpoint common elements, tweaking the atmosphere and colorgrading for the Hurston moons. They also started work on an upcoming underground bunker location. Hab2.jpeg DE_Monthly_Update_August2018_Lighting_01

Platform: Turbulent



The features of Spectrum 3.8.1-rel.8.1, including Friends and Notifications, received a positive reception from users. For this month, internal milestones were hit on the new Spectrum editor, ‘Quill’. This editor is currently undergoing testing to be released next month and will solve several bugs related to Android by replacing the old editor.


CitizenCon Microsite: The CitizenCon Microsite had an exciting update this month to include the presentation schedule. Other updates have been made as well, including the FAQ and ticket pages.
If you currently hold a standard or premium ticket, the option to purchase a Junior Co-pilot ticket is now available for all guests between the ages of 13-17 years. CitizenCon tickets contain a QR code that will be compatible with the ticket-scanning app at the event.

If you’re interested in attending the event, you can still grab a ticket before they run out here.


Crusader Mercury Star Runner: Turbulent supported the release of the Crusader Mercury Star Runner. This release included an interactive mini-game chasing two wanted fugitives, Alexandria Dougan and Mas Houlan, across the ARK Starmap. During the game, that lasted several days, players followed clues posted by the UEE TipLine on Spectrum to locate the ever-changing coordinates of the rogue Star Runner. Players would then take note of these coordinates at certain times and enter them into the form on the site. If the coordinates entered were correct, the player could choose to alert either the UEE Advocacy or the fugitives. For playing the game, a mystery skin was added to the player’s hangar. Based on the collective choices made, more players chose the Advocacy, and so the skin awarded was of the UEE Advocacy.

Free-Fly: We released the Alpha 3.2 Free-Fly which gave everyone a chance to jump in and explore the Star Citizen universe. This Free-Fly granted access to the Prospector, Cutlass Black, Avenger Titan, and Dragonfly Black.

Issue Council: The Issue Council is our public bug reporting system used by the community to report issues. The upcoming version, Issue Council version 1.1.0, is scheduled to be deployed to the PTU during the first week of September. To meet this goal, the past month has been full of updates such as improved profile, more details in report creation, and newly mobile-friendly features. Plus, all known issues were fixed.


Group: On the Group System side, work this month focused on the development and integration of a major piece of the game backend: The Event Bus. Through this Bus, multiple services can communicate through domain events and affect their own relevant domains (like groups, chat or voice). With this new piece in place, we were able to integrate a fresh new lobby/chat API to replace the current in-game chat services (which were limited per instance). This will allow groups and parties to have chat lobbies that span the universe.

VOIP/FOIP: One the VOIP/FOIP side, the team completed the integration of the Voice Client libraries based on our initial transport prototype within the game engine, allowing testers to have a multi-way conversation from the game client. This initial set of tests from within the game context were very helpful in confirming the approach since the technology involved with the VOIP transport layer automatically gave support for echo cancellation, bandwidth throttling, QoS, and support for transporting the encoded facial data.

Work is now focused entirely on expanding the scalability of this infrastructure and adding capabilities to the game backend to create audio channels for groups, attach the sound elements to the proper in-game entities based on who is generating the data stream, as well as ensuring the voice infrastructure properly shards the audio channels across a fleet of voice servers.




CitizenCon 2948 is right around the corner! It was only last week the latest wave of tickets hit our store, so make sure you secure yours to celebrate Star Citizen live in Austin, Texas on the 10th of October. Find out more on our CitizenCon website and, while you’re there, check out the event schedule and enjoy the retrospective video with memories from past events. Hammerhead1.jpg

The month of August was also full of remarkable events, with Gamescom in Cologne, Germany being the highlight. There wasn’t a Star Citizen booth on the show floor this time around, but the team traversed the halls representing the game and chatting with the community. Some very special pins were distributed amongst the crowd and every evening saw a Bar Citizen. An exclusive Town Hall Q&A was recorded in front of a live audience, giving attendees the opportunity to ask questions about the newly revealed Crusader Industries Mercury Star Runner. You can catch up on YouTube if you didn’t attend the Town Hall, or find yourself in the video if you did. Do you have more questions about the latest data runner from Crusader Industries? Keep an eye out on the Comm-Links, as the answers to the Spectrum Q&A will be posted very soon!

Speaking of events, the team held an RSI Apollo contest, asking for quotes that players think might be heard on board an RSI Apollo. It was tough to pick a winner, as we received so many excellent entries, but eventually, this won the competition:

♬ The hip bone’s connected to the, thigh bone, the thigh bone’s connected to the, knee bone, the knee bone’s fused to this medium ablative/ballistic armor plate, please, pass the bone saw. ♬

As said before, the Community Team has been planning a wide variety of activities for this year, so there’ll be more exciting opportunities to leave your mark in the Star Citizen universe. In fact, another already started alongside the 3.2 Free-Fly event – the commercial contest is giving all producers, editors, and camera operators the chance to create a commercial video for the MISC Prospector and rewards the top three entries with sweet prizes. You have until 11:59 PM PDT on September 9th, 2018, so read up on the contest rules and start creating now!



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    • Przez Game Armada
      Hello everyone,
      Hopefully you all had as great of a weekend as those who attended BritizenCon in Manchester. The team members fortunate enough to visit the Museum of Science and Industry, where the event took place, are still talking about the fun they had, and the amazing members of the community they met. A big thank you to the organizers for putting on such a great community-lead convention.
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      *Screenshot by Angaeda

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      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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