This article was originally published in the September 2005 issue of PC Gamer UK.
5 AM, April the 18th, 2005. Mirial, CEO of the giant Ubiqua Seraph corporation, warped into the Haras solar system with her most trusted lieutenant. And at that moment, a single word was sent silently, secretly and simultaneously to operatives of the Guiding Hand Social Club across the galaxy: "Nicole". Mirial would not leave alive.
She was piloting her prize ship, a Navy Apocalypse worth billions of ISK, Eve's currency. Her lieutenant, Arenis Xemdal, flew an Imperial Apocalypse, of which only two were known to exist in the entire game universe.
"Nicole" was the go-code for a hit that took ten months of infiltration to set up, and by 6am it was over. Every Ubiqua Seraph office in the galaxy was raided, the contents of every shared hangar - not to mention their corporate coffers - gone. Mirial's prize ship was annihilated, her escape pod nuked and her vacuum-frozen corpse sucked into the cargo bay of a Guiding Hand Social Club vessel.
Mirial, CEO of major corporation Ubiqua Seraph
The simultaneous ambush and galaxy-wide hangar theft inflicted financial damage upwards of 30 billion ISK - $16,500 US dollars at IGE.com's prices at the time. The value of the stolen assets utterly dwarfed the original fee for the job. And yet the only item the Guiding Hand's anonymous client requested for himself was the cold, dead body of the target. It's safe to say this was personal.
"At the time of the contract's signing, we requested one billion ISK," says Guiding Hand CEO Istvaan Shogaatsu, "which was quite a sum so many months ago. We could never have foreseen, however, the gains upon its execution... we found ourselves staring at Fort Knox with the key in our hands."
Not that there was any question of the spoils distracting Guiding Hand's operatives from their objective. "The contract above all" is their philosophy. "The financial compensation becomes secondary to the recognition we garnered for our strike."
Et Tu, Arenis
By April 18th, the Guiding Hand had operatives in every level of Ubiqua Seraph's organisation. Several were on the board of directors, and primary agent Arenis Xemdal "rose to a rank sufficient to challenge the CEO's decisions."
"Multiple vector infiltration is a trademark of GHSC," Shogaatsu adds. "We feel one spy is rarely enough."
It took extraordinary effort, meticulous planning, and one moment of spectacularly orchestrated treachery. Xemdal had convinced Mirial - referred to as 'the objective' by Guiding Hand operatives - to fly her ridiculously valuable Navy Apocalypse alongside his even more ridiculously valuable Imperial Apocalypse "as a show of UQS (Ubiqua Seraph) might".
"The early-morning strike against Mirial's battleship was fraught with concern." Shogaatsu recalls. "One tense moment occurred when a pilot belonging to an unaffiliated third party hostile to UQS entered the system where our operatives' trap for Mirial lay. Another came soon after, when Guiding Hand operative Uuve Savisaalo - tasked with assisting the kill on Mirial - was spotted arriving in system by an Ubiqua Seraph pilot. These events spooked the objective, who made a short jump before being set upon by Uuve and - in a moment of 'Et tu, Brute' if ever there was one - Arenis Xemdal's Imperial Apocalypse."
The ambush was an unprecedented clash of the titans. A Navy Apocalypse is one of the most powerful and valuable ships in the galaxy, but even so, an Imperial Apocalypse is overkill - a few cheap Battleships would suffice. To use an even more valuable ship was an act of absurd bravado, and one with enormous risks. It's also typical of the Guiding Hand's flair for theatrical excess.
But the hard part, according to Shogaatsu, was to then 'pod' Mirial. Podding is the usually spiteful, some say dishonourable act of destroying a victim's escape pod when you've already destroyed their ship. The pod is no threat, and if it's destroyed the victim has to revert to an earlier clone of themselves - sometimes losing skills that take weeks to learn, and in this case losing an incredibly valuable set of cybernetic implants. For this reason some players log out on ship-death in an attempt to avoid being podded - Mirial included, the Guiding Hand say. Successful podding was the only way to attain the physical body of the victim, however, and Arenis pulled it off.
The moment the go-code was uttered, every Guiding Hand double-agent within Ubiqua Seraph unloaded the contents of their assigned Corp hangar - a communal storage area for trusted corporation members - into their own cargo holds and left. The assets were replaced by a note in each, stating simply that this was an act of the Guiding Hand Social Club.
Istvaan Shogaatsu, CEO of the Guiding Hand Social Club assassins.
That afternoon, Istvaan Shogaatsu posted on the Intergalactic Summit - a section of the official Eve forums in which posters are required to stay in-character, and content is monitored by CONCORD, the in-game police.
Greetings, everyone - it has been some time since I last stood behind a podium and made a public announcement, so you'll have to forgive me if I'm somewhat out of form. The reason I stand here before you is to announce that my mercenary outfit, the Guiding Hand Social Club, has completed its most ambitious contract to date.
Our target was assigned to us many months ago - Mirial of Ubiqua Seraph. Our task was to carry out that which the GHSC has now become known for - to utterly demolish Mirial and bring all who followed her to their knees in one fell swoop. For those many months, we toiled, secreting our operatives among her ranks, steering her organization through a number of insidiously engineered events meant to engender trust and divert their attention from where it should have been.
Early this morning, our hard work bore fruit. Executing a meticulously planned, thoroughly flawless concerto of simultaneous corp-hangar heists, attacks in open space and facility invasions, the Ubiqua Seraph came to know the wrath of the GHSC first-hand. The result shatters any previous records for sheer scale of such an endeavour:
Hostile assets acquired:
- Modulated Deep Core Miner II BPO
- Covert Ops Cloak II BPO
- Armageddon BPO
- Prophecy BPO
- Malediction BPO
- Arkonor Crystal II BPO
- Scordite Crystal II BPO
- Numerous lesser tech II BPOs
- A few billion ISK in minerals.
- 717 million taken from corporate wallet.
- Two billion taken under the guise of a loan from the executor.
Our net gain from this massive heist is roughly estimated at over 20 billion ISK.
Hostile assets destroyed:
- One Amarr Navy Apocalypse.
- One capsule, belonging to Mirial, known to possess a head full of +4s.
- One dream.
Total damages inflicted are estimated at close to 30 billion ISK.
Further information pending - stay tuned. Thank you all for your time.
Terms Of Endearment
The same forum thread contains a curious post from fellow Guiding Hand operative Zeraph Dregamon, saying simply "What have we here?" and linking a screenshot which is no longer online. According to Shogaatsu, the shot was of Mirial's personal info page, and showed it to contain the sentence: "Friends of the Guiding Hand Social Club."
Gaining a corporation's trust enough to rise to a the upper echelons of its hierarchy is hard enough, but this seemed to be evidence of Guiding Hand operatives actually altering the Ubiqua policy even in the eyes of its own CEO. The name Guiding Hand was starting to make sense. But how could a double-agent exert so much influence over a corporation's political stance?
Arenis Xemdal, the Guiding Hand Social Club's key operative.
"Arenis Xemdal is what we call a Valentine Operative." Shogaatsu explains. "Essentially his job is to seduce and entice an objective into a state of trust and confidence. As such, we'd call Mirial's relationship to him moments before the strike... 'endeared'."
Of course, we only have the Guiding Hand's word for this; at time of going to press, Mirial had not responded to our attempts to contact her for comment. It should be noted, too, that Ubiqua Seraph members role-play. While it's certain that players belonging to Ubiqua Seraph genuinely trusted the Guided Hand double-agents, claims of a relationship beyond that are likely to be attributable to role-playing fun. Still, it's a hell of a job title.
Naturally the forum thread exploded with reactions. This was one of the single most devastating acts ever performed in Eve - in fact, it was at the time the largest monetary value of any in-game theft we'd heard of. It was an act of such staggering audacity and duplicity that it calls into question the very distinction between gaming and reality. Is it really still just a game when you inflict this kind of damage? At what point does an in-game act become morally wrong in real life?
Opinion was divided between the impressed, the disgusted, and the impressed but disgusted. But a few commenters hint that Mirial herself has engaged in scams similar to those perpetrated against her - a few even express satisfaction at what they see as deserved revenge. For the Guiding Hand's part, they've heard similar stories but aren't concerned as to their veracity. "Allegedly, she is herself a corp thief, and escrow scammer. This is a large part of why we were hired, although I have not personally verified it - it is simply not my business to."
The personal nature of the contract - particularly the request for Mirial's frozen corpse - would certainly be consistent with the client having fallen afoul of Mirial's actions in some way.
"The client requested Pearl Harbor," says Shogaatsu. "Specifically a single, surprise strike designed to cause as much pain to a heavily fortified target in as little time as possible. The contract was the result of a vendetta between the primary target and our client, who, while certainly satisfied with the outcome, never expected the utter destruction we wrought."
"While Ubiqua Seraph was our way of getting at Mirial, and their reliance on shared assets meant that each member likely lost a fair share of hard earned possessions, we do not believe they sustained any irrecoverable damage - save for, perhaps, their sense of security."
The Intergalactic Summit Responds
Khaldorn Murino, Freelance Unincorporated
I am but a simple warrior, and the great galactic game of espionage and politics are but a closed book to me.
But even I have heard of the mercenaries that are the guiding hand social club. I have no doubt that Istvaan Shogaatsu's ego will be boosted to an even greater size as a result of his actions.
I have no pity for the slavers, they deserve no mercy. But the guiding hands? I wonder if they are any better. For enough money I am sure they themselves would become slavers and attempt to destroy any opposition to it.
Be careful what you feed, for it is a dangerous person who will do anything for isk. Even the slavers have their moral code, as wrong as screwed as it is.
I can't help but wonder about what they did that asked for so much wrath.
I also can't help but wonder if the person who hired the GH-SC is having regrets, not knowing just how much wrath he paid for.
RageChild, Rona Paratwa
I can attest that Mirial is well known for robbing hangers and using escrow scams. Karma.
Whoever the target maybe, whatever moral or political standing towards them may be, I have to say that no-one deserves that.
Viqer Fell, The Peoples Front of Minmatar
Quite quite pathetic. Podding someone is one thing robbing the entire corps assets thereby stealing from every pilot member is the act of losers. Contemptible.
Zhou Yu, Yu Excavations Ltd
People work very hard for months to save up to buy things like battleship BPO's. A lot of personal time and effort is put into things like that.
By all means, lead a sustained empire war against them, hassle thier mining ops, gank them everywhere, but don't be *****. To infiltrate a corp for months with the sole intent to steal its BPOs is the most disgusting act that could ever be commited.
Nanus Parkite, BoB0 MONKIES INSURANCE VENDORS
I see theres a number of people congratulating them on a such a good operation, why? Is it tought to earn someones trust over a matter of months? I don't think so. Once you've gained someones trust in this game is it hard to get hangar access? Not normally. So so far I don't see an awful lot to be proud of. Bob0's fight wars all the time but we fight them within the bounds of the game mechanics. We don't cheat people out of the effort they put in like this. You my friend are the kind of person I would happily face a court for beating 7 multi-coloured kinds of **** out of. To me the original post is on a par with gloating about having worked in a concentration camp, or how it was so funny when you stole an old ladies savings. I hope you rot in your own filth.
Zaridin, V I R I I
I can't help but express my awe at the precision and completness for which this operation occured having read about it.
Eddie Gordo, Masuat'aa Matari
It seems you have achieved a near fatal blow to UQS and for that I applaud you. You have done the minmatar rebels a tremendous favour.
As a small-time thief and villain, this kind of thing could happen only in my evil dreams.
I kneel in awe at this incredible story of deception. I stand in the cool shadows of giants.
For other corporation CEOs suddenly feeling vulnerable, Shogaatsu let us in on how his corporation avoids being penetrated itself.
"The Guiding Hand relies on distributed assets, rendering us impervious to theft. Since every module and warship belongs to someone, nothing is shared and thus nothing can be taken. As for infiltration with the intent to gather information, we are almost neurotic regarding the compartmentalization of any knowledge we have. The identity of clients is usually kept to the contractor who signed them, with the rest of GHSC never knowing who they're working for. Regarding new members, we rarely recruit, doing so strictly on an invitational basis and preferring to rely on an old guard of players who know each other well."
"Beyond common sense," he adds, "I'm afraid sharing any other 'tricks of the trade' would be counter-productive for my corporation."
For my money, the Ubiqua Seraph infiltration was an act of despicable brilliance. An operation as cruel as it is astonishing, it serves as a simultaneous testament to both the virtues and the evils of a truly open-ended massively multiplayer game. Players crying for developers CCP to step in and redress the balance miss the point - this is exactly the kind of extraordinary player politics that you can't find anywhere else. CCP been very vocal in the past about their intention to simply create a world - a galaxy, in fact - and let people do what they may within it. If you stop people from doing horrible things to each other in it, you lose the full scope of what a game can be.
Shogaatsu confirms that many of the Guided Hand Social Club's operations have caused players to leave Eve Online for good. But there will be many more - myself included - who get an irrepressible urge to play it when they read about the dark machinations of this extraordinary universe. If there's another game in which 'Valentine Operative' is a viable occupation, I've yet to play it.