Calm Under the Hell of the AFK Cloaker

When I joined Black Sheep Down [BAAW], I needed to gather up a few skills before clone jumping out to my old stomping grounds in Deklein. Once I got there, the rest of BAAW was deployed in Curse, which is an NPC-sovereign region of nullsec, engaged in basically a training exercise. (I trained to fly a doctrine Harpy, but I didn’t finish before the deployment ended.) So I spent several days puttering about my old stomping grounds, getting myself up and running. Of course, some nights there would be a hostile present in one or more of the systems I went through. They were what’s known as an AFK cloaker.

Often one doesn’t see the hostiles directly. Their ships have an IFF system, and so all in a system know everyone who is there. (This is not the case with W-space, which is entered via wormholes, but it is everywhere else.) So naturally, if you see that someone belonging to a neutral or hostile alliance/corp is in system, you are on your guard. The countering tactic to this is the AFK cloaker. Someone using this tactic will get a ship that cannot be scanned down, due to having a cloak. Then they will leave themselves in a system for hours on end just sitting there present.

They present a constant threat. At any moment they might appear and try to blow you up. Worse, they might “hot drop” on you, gating in a bunch of enemy ships that will tear you apart in seconds. More than one of my corpmates has lost an expensive ship to hotdropping, including a carrier (a capital ship, one of those expensive ones you’ve heard about, though not the most expensive.)

My first night encountering one of these, I simply quit the field. Docked back up, didn’t try to do anything with the threat present. This is one of the intended effects of AFK cloaking – suppression of the economic activity of your enemies, which reduces them in strength in comparison to your allies. Sovereign warfare in nullsec depends on strong finances – ships and ammunition are expensive.

After a couple nights, I got more back in the groove, remembering how to operate and get things done even when there are AFK cloakers about. And I remember, this is why I came to EVE. (That, and the new possibilities for fabulous stylings of my scarlet follicles that EVE presents.)

Let me try to unpack that.

I study martial arts, when I’m not playing EVE or tabletop RPG. My school, Danzanryu jujitsu, was created in the 1920′s in Hawaii by Seishiro “Henry” Okazaki. Okazaki was an American of Japanese descent. He conceived of jujitsu as a “do”, which was a recognized thing in the Buddhist church he belonged to. “Do” in this sense means “way”, the same as the Chinese “Dao” sometime rendered “Tao” as in “Tao te Ching” or “The Tao of Physics” or “The Tao of Pooh”. All of which to say is that he cared more about satori, which we in the modern West would call “personal growth”, than he did about kicking people’s asses.

In a short essay he titled “Esoteric Principles” he wrote

Whatever the trials or dangers, even “Hell under the upraised sword,” remain calm and remember the doctrine imparted to you by your teacher.

“Hell under the upraised sword” is a pretty good description of what it feels like to try to do something in a system where there is an AFK cloaker. It also describes the feeling I got the other night when trying to go to VFK to pick up a skill book and a ship fitting that I’d bought.

I jumped through our jump bridge just as 5 neutrals entered the system. (“Neutral” it turns out, is a mostly-irrelevant distinction made from “hostile”. In our space, if they aren’t allied, they are trying to kill you. And we are trying to kill them.) I reported them in the intel channel, jumped to a random planet and burned toward empty space while turning on my cloak. I thanked my lucky stars that I hadn’t opted for a larger, non-cloaked, transport. This falls under the category of “remember the doctrine imparted to you by your teacher”, since my corpmates on voice coms coached me to do exactly that roughly 5 seconds after I started doing it. Which was gratifying.

I waited patiently while the neutrals hang out jump back and forth to a neighboring system, and some allies come in and try to kill them. Eventually, they are successful, posting kills in the intel channel. However, another neutral comes into the system. After a long wait, I decide to chance it. He is reported to be in a Caracal, which is very dangerous, but not capable of putting up a warp bubble, which is the main thing I fear, so I warp to the gate and jump through.

He is waiting at the gate. He sees the jump fire, or maybe he sees me decloak briefly just before using the jump gate (this is necessary). I load quickly, grateful that I have the game on an SSD, and start aligning for my warp to the station. This is the most dangerous moment. After jumping, there a cloak applied to you (to give you cover while the new system loads). This cloak must be dropped before my own cloak is applied, and as soon as I start to align, the gate cloak will fade. There is always a few seconds of vulnerability, where you can potentially be targeted (this prevents cloaking) and scrambled so you can’t warp. Then you are killed, in my case, in short order.

But not this night. I start the align, and then apply my cloak. I did it quickly, he might not have loaded yet. My vulnerability is minimal, and I get away and dock safely. Again, this is “remember the doctrine imparted to you by your teacher”, though in some cases, my teacher has been the School of Hard Knocks.

What first interested me in EVE was this kind of experience. I came here to be podkilled, but I also came here to not be podkilled, to look shame and failure in the face, and not blink. It is a very wonderful feeling, in fact, to not be someone’s lunch.

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