The stack of paper glared at me with the intensity that only ink and expectations can give.
I leaned back in my chair, rubbing my tired face with stained hands. The damned black stuff got everywhere, no matter how careful you were. It didn’t even seem to matter most of my work was done at the keyboard these days.
A cheery beep from my terminal reminded me of the half-dozen deadlines for tomorrow.
Take some time to appreciate the situation, I told myself. You’ve got a family to feed, and students who rely on you. And you wanted the shift from teaching language to hard science. Better prospects all around. All you need to do is push through these months of truly hard work, and everything will be better.
Don’t think about that government service job you applied for on a whim. Doesn’t matter you’re through to the second round. You have to think of a secure future.
All good points, I agreed with myself.
The stack of assignments and training plans shifted its glare to impatient gloating.
I need to get out for a while.
I left the sombre, confining office, and wandered out to the living area, my wife conspicuously absent. It wasn’t safe enough to bring her to Ardar yet. She was busy being pregnant with our first child back on Hek. Just a comm call away, but our schedules had fallen out of synch. She should be asleep by now.
I fled the empty, claustrophobic quarters, meandering aimlessly around my small section of the station. My corporation had a few levels rented out for members, but I was the only current occupant, footsteps clanging down the darkened hallways. Had to save power on the lighting bills these days.
I stopped abruptly outside my personal hangar. Three sets of key cards hung on the rack, each coded for a different frigate. Just two Rifters and the Prospect here. A fraction of the fleet gathering dust in Hek. Two Rifters.
I didn’t bother with the furtive glancing around. They were my ships, and if you can’t take your own damn ship out whenever you wanted to, what was the point in shelling out the ISK for it?
I grabbed the card for the Rhys Tai; a little project before I started training for my new job. Standard fitting, with plate and ancilliary repper, 200s and trinity tackle. The devil was in the details for this one. Two projectile ambit extensions instead of the standard nano-pumps.
I was of two minds about it. The nano-pumps were a nice, safe, and easily quantifiable advantage, based on the sound military principle of being on the positive side of damage in versus armour repaired.
The ambits, on top of the Rifter’s already impressive range, gave a much more incalculable advantage. Distance against hard firepower was always tricky, but I was confident the Rifter could exploit this advantage well.
Within moments the little Rifter prowled out into space. Its butch form was a façade. This frigate needed a delicate touch, and a careful, considered mind. But still, by looks alone, it is one of the more empowering pod sheathes.
I jumped a few systems, leaving the paperwork to glower in my ion wake. Just an hour or two away. To fly amongst the stars… And then I’ll be good. I’ll willingly press my face to the grindstone.
The various low-sec denizens fled before me, like startled pigeons. The pirate colours I fly tended to have that effect. I don’t begrudge them it. When I fly the Prospect, I act in the same way. Prudence over bravado is my usual running order.
A Slicer on scan.
He who dares…
I warped to the complex gate, slightly changing my initial contact tactic. I tend to gamble on warping in on top of my opponent when using Rifters, a habit born from my early days of flying brawling frigates. Today I started 30km out.
The Slicer probably couldn’t believe his luck! A clapped out old Rifter, flown by a pilot so rusty he melded into the Matari penumbra, and right at his optimal range! Incredible!
Pulse fire came in stripping shields with ease, and chewing through armour with equal abandon. Reppers cycled, but the inevitable stream of fire began melting holes of vulnerability.
But it wasn’t going all his way. It wasn’t, in fact, going his way at all.
My own projectiles had punched through his shields, even as he orbited at 20km, the ambits casting the hail of radiated metal across the gulf between us. His micro-warpdrive made him an absolutely massive target, his signature bloomed out like a waiting flower, my own, Matari engineered radius needle thin in comparison.
I managed a text book slingshot manouver, something I’ve never been able to pull off before, and his incoming fire dropped to a trickle. I was neatly under his guns.
Victory was nearly mine when both my rocket launcher and auto-cannons burned out, melted to slag through over use. I made some efforts at escape, but the inevitable happened, and the Rhys Tai erupted into flames.
I set my pod back to Ardar. Just twenty minutes since I left.
It was… perfect.
Well, not the exploding part. But that was a minor set-back, caused by a little inattention to heat levels, and clumsy, out of practice hands at the controls.
The slingshot perfect. The theory behind the ambits verified, at least in this one test. The Rifter could easily match most mundane kiting frigates, and some navy specials, whilst still brawler fit.
I attacked the stack of papers with renewed vigour, its glare reduced to a morose stare.
Everyone needs a little slice of life every now and then.