Docked back in the bubble after several weeks. Data is sold, the Survey Campaign successful and complete...
BUT.... yet I have to think about a few things. Things that went wrong. Things that shouldn't have happened - but they did. And I was slow to catch them. Too slow.
Time to have a look at the Mirror and have a little discussion.
I've made several trips in the TEV Douglas. A Krait Phantom, good and reliable Ship and used by many Explorers. Never ran into any problems. Until 10 Days ago.
It all started completely harmless, routine had long set in when I left the Inner Orion Spur and entered the Elysian Shore.
At first, the problems seemed spurious and I neglected them. They seemed irrelevant. The Ship had started to exhibit an occasional tendency to roll right.
Nothing to worry about, it was easily corrected and didn't present me any serious problems. I remembered such mild out-of-rig conditions from my old days on Atmospheric Fighters. All routine.
Fast forward just a mere 2500LY further out and I found myself fighting the very Controls of this same Vessel. Battling what I deemed "routine" just days earlier.
And now it was bad. Really bad. While I was thinking about what I could do about this issue, I realized I was 10000LY into Deep Space.
In a Vessel that now presented me severe
Flight Control Problems.
And soon after, it seemed as if the Ship had developed a mind of its own - or was trying to give me a hint - when the entire FCS channel failed a few jumps later.
Imagine a Krait Phantom in the middle of nowhere, making uncontrolled rolling motions to the right. Permanently.
Now I've dealt with FCS failures due to Battle Damage and Module Malfunctions before... but this was different.
Procedures from old days on those Atmospheric Fighters came to my mind. "Hard-over Rudder".
There were Checklist procedures for that type of FCS failure - but not now
. Not in a Krait Phantom, reduced to 471 tons of Flight Control malfunction. Great.
I battled the Controls in SuperCruise after performing rolling Fuel Scooping at the main star. Thank god stars can't talk - or laugh. Or both.
While the Ship was spiraling onward on its Vector, the local System Map indicated a larger landable Planet. Not a low-G Planet I'd have preferred - but Options were very limited at this point.
The Douglas wouldn't go anywhere, at least not until that FCS malfunction was fixed. Somehow.
The SuperCruise Assist - originally a pure convenience factor - did a good job maintaining the Course, all while I tried to heavy-handedly force the roll motion to stop.
It worked... to some extent. Using nothing less than brute force
on the crippled Controls, the uncontrolled roll motion ceased and I found out I could force some minimal roll authority to the left.
Nothing to count on, though, too little for comfort with the large Planetary Body getting closer.
A random Geological Site had to serve as an Aimpoint Marker, thankfully the DSS operation happens to be self-contained - and it's stabilized. Wasn't always happy about that but this time it was a gift.
So with nearly full-deflection Control Inputs, the Douglas was set down onto the mapped Planet surface.
About 1.6g and the landing clearly wasn't the smoothest one. Just settle it down, let Gravity do the rest and have Landing Gear and the Shields absorb the remaining kinetic energy.
Frankly, I can't remember ever being so glad to see the Engines winding down and the HUD standard Message I've happily ignored thousands of times.
Time to investigate. "Exterior Inspection". Sounded familiar and again like old times.
However, it also rang a bell with me. Pre-Flight Checks. Exterior Inspection, Interior Inspection. Before-TakeOff checks. All the good stuff from the distant past.
And when was the last time I actually did any of those? Exactly.
It was all routine, right? As always. And always in a hurry, no time for these checks. Ship will fly, it has proven it can, thousands of times.
And now - 10000LY out - that omission, that rookie mistake comes around to bite.
Damn. I'm getting old.... but at least I admit it. No choice though, with Reality laughing into my face and asking "What now, Hotshot?"
With no other Options, I did what I should have done in the dock. Exterior Inspection.
However.... it seemed fruitless. No visible damage, no failure or warning indications, no mechanical blockage. Nothing. Plus, the trip so far did not include any form of Combat.
So apart from looking at some degraded Paint, the Equipment looked good. Hmm....
Again, oldschool experience from old days tried to help out. "If a problem is visually confirmed not to originate from outside of the craft, re-check Instrumentation, Circuit Breakers and Internal Systems"
Alright, Internal Systems it was then. Looking around at all possible Panels didn't yield anything though.
So with most failure scenarios ruled out, what else could cause partial FCS failure of this magnitude?
Right in front of my eyes, in plain sight. It was right there all the time. I looked closer at the stick and indeed something seemed wrong. It was the stick itself.
Dangit! And double-whammy, since that's not the type of Device I could fix, even with redundant AFMUs carried.
Stuck on a random Planet, 10k LY out with an ugly FCS malfunction. Great. And - again like in old times - confronted with a System failure that shouldn't even exist.
I guess I'm cursed.
Back in these old days, my unique experience and handling of "This should never happen - but it just did. So now what do we do?" situations not covered by any Checklist eventually made me a Maintenance Test Pilot.
Now that's the type of continuity I'm not excited about...
Anyway, looking around, I needed to re-assess Options. Not many came to mind, though. Another CMDR with Repair Limpets couldn't fix such an issue and my AFMUs were useless.
And looking at the Panels inside the Ship, I had to admit myself that there'd be no way I could do anything productive. I didn't manufacture the Ship and I'm not an experienced dock chief either.
I double-checked the right Panel and the only thing left came to my mind. Ask for help. Ask an Engineer. If these guys don't know - noone does.
A polite question wouldn't hurt... but would an Engineer even pick up the Comms for a stranded Explorer? Engineers are busy guys and this clearly wasn't a standard Engineering request.
But given the lack of Options, it sounded like being an idea worth exploring.
Exploring.... Hmm..... I could only think of one. Best Reputation, always seemed friendly & helpful (can't say that about all Engineers) and hopefully not too busy for such an unusual request : Lori Jameson
Her Bio indicates an Exploration history, so my hope was that this "Distress Signal" could at least spark her interest or sympathy.
And to "extend operations in Deep Space" clearly was my business at the moment.
Took a while for the Comms to patch through and the initial reaction was as expected. I'd say irritated would fit it.
She checked my credentials and calmed down a little - my Reputation helped I guess. Then told me to hurry up with stating my request.
I explained my whole ordeal as concise as I could and could hear her starting to think. A stranded Explorer with an unusual FCS malfunction.
After a short while she transferred a batch of protocols and a modification procedure I had to follow by the letter. She also told me the modification would require Firmware.
Luckily, I was all set, enough Data to misuse for a noble cause.
Upon my confirmation of having everything that was required, she wished me the best of luck and we closed Comms. Didn't even have time to thank her. Busy Engineer indeed.
Interesting... The solution was just behind my seat. I never paid alot of attention to that Console - but now it had all my attention.
With no time to lose, I went to work on the unusual task.
The procedure ended up working. The faulty FCS channel from the malfunctioning stick was disabled and the function fully re-routed to Auxiliary Controls.
Shortly thereafter, the TEV Douglas was back in business. On makeshift Auxiliary Flight Controls... but back in business!
One thing was clear, though - any Hostile encounter wouldn't result in me deploying Hardpoints, not on these unusual Controls. I'd make a runner, plain and simple. Even against a Sidewinder Pirate. C'est la vie.
Unfortunately, after thinking just how lucky I was to repair the Ship, it didn't take long for the next problems to set in. 2 Days to be precise. Murphy's Law.
Again, it started out more like a minor annoyance. Unexpected but not an issue.
The HUD started giving out spurious Warnings about Emergency Drops, that was it. I was convinced it was sloppiness on my side or being a bit tired. Plain old "Finger trouble".
Then - in retrospect completely logical - it happened. A loud bang, followed by the TEV Douglas tumbling through Normal Space. Annoying, some work for the AFMUs - but no serious harm done.
However, the exact same thing happened again within hours. And again. And again. I couldn't believe it.
Upon investigation, it turned out the FCS had developed yet another channel malfunction.
Slowly creeping in but then culminating in a total malfunction, resulting in erratic FSD Inputs. And this time, the malfunction kicked me straight out of SuperCruise at any random moment, 100% unpredictable.
Remembering the procedures Lori handed me, all functions controlling the FSD and HyperJumps were as well re-routed into Auxiliary Controls.
But as Reality was laughing me into the face - once again - I remained idle in Normal Space for a moment... because something dawned on me. Something nasty.
While I wasn't exactly traveling on any real Neutron Highway, I >did< use quite a few Neutron Boosts.
And this nasty malfunction could have crash-dropped me deep inside any
of these deadly cones. Literally at anytime. ugh. That realization was... not good. At all.
I've conducted successful Neutron Cone Egress Trials in the past, so I know what to do - but that was in the TEV Maximon and not in the Douglas.
A DBX handles different than a Krait Phantom, especially under such extreme conditions.
Unthinkable what could have happened, very easily.
Looking at my collected Data, I had essentially completed the planned survey. Plenty of ELWs, almost a Billion Cr worth of Data.
And a last time - remembering old times - old key words "Abort Criteria" came to my mind.
Now, for the first time, I did the right thing. Honor an oldschool wisdom and - carefully - head home. Call it a day.
My job was done here and the idea of settling down onto a Landing Pad truly sounded awesome by now.
All in all... That discussion with the Mirror... Yes, I'm not a youngster anymore. I make mistakes. I'm getting old.
One of the first lessons I learned back in my very early days on Fighters was an old wisdom :
"When a Pilot is young, it's like a glass that is filled with only a little experience but alot of luck. When that Pilot grows experienced, that glass will be increasingly filled with alot of Experience and a little luck".
Well, turns out I'm apparently not >that< old. I still got a little luck in my glass. Good to know. Not yet, Kameraden! Not yet!