Location: Heart of Pyerite Proving Grounds, Saikamon

Everyone wanted to be a hero, a genius; to see what others could not or did not see. In doing so, they would elevate themselves above their peers and bask in the glory of discovery. The most common arena for such talents lay in Heart of Pyerite’s corps of engineers. The corporation boasted many ambitious engineers within its ranks, each one seeking to improve the effectiveness of a particular hull. There were myriad traits to consider and blend: versatility, cost-effectiveness, specialization, utility, firepower, staying power, agility, speed. But the Ametat and Avetat of any designer was to create an improvement that increased firepower and allowed a hull to sustain more damage while increasing its speed.

And yet, if Reginald had received ten ISK for every “improved” fit, he would have quadrupled the family fortune.

He was resting his head on his fist–a terrible position for posture but one he had picked up as habit in recent months. A lukewarm cup of tea sat untouched on his desk, the backdrop of the proving grounds behind him through a large observation window. He tried to maintain a look of interest as he listened to another bright-eyed engineer rattle off the benefits of adjusting the list of approved corporation doctrine ships to accommodate his design.

“… and as you can see, my design gets an additional forty meters per second in top speed. In conclusion, my design is faster, inflicts more damage, and can last on the battlefield longer than the current design.”

Reginald raised a brow as he finished. It was the dozenth or so in a long chain of suggestions that had inundated the corporation’s inbox, but it was rare for someone to be able to claim improvements in all three attributes.

“All right, let me see the modules,” Reginald managed a smile, mildly interested.

The engineer nodded then provided a list, “You need to use Imperial Navy Energized Adaptive Nano Membranes in order to reduce the stress on the CPU and I’ve also went with the Gistum B-Type…”

Reginald suppressed an urge to smash his face into his desk. It required a great deal of restraint, but that’s what his Holder upbringing was for. Restraint. Calculation. Self-control. He picked his words carefully.

“This is for an Omen, correct? Not the navy variant?”

“Yes! It will last longer, hit harder, and fly faster than anything the Minmatar can cobble together.”

“One of these ships is worth thirty of the current design.”

“Well, that’s true, but cost shouldn’t really be an issue when considering victory,” He added, “And if you think this Omen is durable, then wait until you see my Imperial Navy Slicer–the pilot would need a full understanding of Advanced Weapon Upgrades, the two Genolution implants, and an implant to increase powergrid, but with its DED-space armor modules, it makes for the best fleet brawling frigate in the warzone.”

Reginald massaged his temples. It was a wise man who said “The bureaucracy expands to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.”

He looked up at the engineer, then glanced down at the list in a show of interest, “Yes, I’ll send these to the fleet commanders and we should get back to you in due time.”

The engineer beamed, then strutted out of Reginald’s office like he had just defeated the Jovians at Vak’Atioth. Reginald wondered how far from reality the theoreticians actually were, laboring away in their laboratories, churning out “improvement” after “improvement.” No design, it seemed, lasted more than a few weeks before someone made a major “breakthrough.” Unfortunately, most of those consisted of removing propulsion modules or, as in this latest case, required a pricetag so large that the Minmatar would consider killing even one a major victory.

He stood up from his seat and wandered over to the observation window; outside were arrayed a number of vessels that had passed scrutiny. He wondered if Lady Lianne had the same issues in her own corporation, of crash program engineers vying for acclaim with their “ingenious” improvements to pre-existing designs. He wondered if she cared for their interests at all. She was a very difficult woman to read behind her blue eyes, noble expressions, and pretty smiles. His Holder upbringing constantly warned him of her duplicity and yet her actions seemed genuine enough.

As he watched two frigate test pilots duel each other in the proving grounds–no doubt checking the maneuverability of the Federation Navy Comet against the Imperial Navy Slicer–he felt worn. There were still things that needed to be taken care of that he simply hadn’t had the time to attend to–market orders in Jita, reaction towers that needed to be resupplied, mining installations that had to be checked for rogue siphon units, messages to answer, invitations to respond to, and, above all else, a campaign that required planning. All of that, however, was professional work.

In his personal life, issues were abounding–spreading like Drop addicts through an undercity. He could feel his family’s plots manifesting against him with his sister at the helm, leading them forward as their savior against her older brother’s detachment and indifference. L’s reports on their activities were becoming a little less detailed, a little less precise. And into all of that he was planning on bringing Katerina.

He felt selfish for the request. But it was the only way he knew how to protect her honor. His family’s approval, coupled with her own family’s, would allow him to make a public declaration that he was courting her, thus dispelling all erroneous claims of impropriety. He knew he had already acted improperly. Their interactions should have been in public or one of her family members should have observed them as a chaperone. And for this failing, he was forced to forgive Lady Lianne’s statement–even if only an outburst–that he had been “bedding” Kat. Inviting Kat to his quarters at Cerra Manor had been impulsive, a mistake, and he should have considered her honor and public image even if the precious moments they shared were innocent.

And then, far off in nullsec was Vlad. He felt too exhausted to even contemplate the possibility of apprehending the robot. What would become of it? But then, how many letters had he received from the families of the fallen? Each one implored him to take action.

He felt as if he hadn’t thought clearly in an eternity. His thoughts were jumbled, pulled to other corners of his mind before he could properly analyze them. Half-finished musings tormented him as new ones sprung up, the subjects always disjointed, their juxtaposition providing no rhyme nor reason.

He reached for the lukewarm cup of tea and took a sip.

It was cold.


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