The Forge Region – Ruomo Constellation
28 December YC 120
Annukka’s information was correct – there was just one drone in the area. I had never seen that kind of Seeker before; it was called Pacekeeper, and I soon found out why. All my attempts to get into the fall-off range of my Gatling Railgun, to say nothing about the optimal, were thwarted by the swift drone. It easily kept the distance of 8-9 kilometres and was pummelling me with missiles. The afterburner didn’t help either; even when my speed increased to 545 m/s I couldn’t get into 5,000 m orbit. Frustrated, I overheated the afterburner and squeezed 641 m/s out of Yatagarasu. The only outcome of that decision was 46-percent damaged afterburner, while the Pacekeeper continued chipping away at my shields. Ibis’s shortcomings were getting more and more obvious with each new mission.
Then a thought occurred to me: why was I even trying to get into an orbit around that drone? It wasn’t any kind of a battleship and it didn’t have turrets, so I wasn’t really gaining any benefit from maintaining my angular velocity. I changed the standing order from Orbit to Keep At Range and within a few seconds got close enough to start dealing damage to the Pacekeeper. Half a minute later the only thing it could keep pace with was stardust. Now it was time for sightseeing.
“Wow!” exclaimed Aura, “Look at that!”
“I see,” said I, “it’s impressive. Looks like a mini-stargate.”
The structure guarded by the Seeker resembled an engineering complex I saw during Measuring the Threat mission. The main difference was that the centre of the circular station was now occupied by a space rift. I wondered if it was created by the complex, or the complex was built around a natural wormhole.
“Nah, I don’t mean that hole in the sky,” Aura interrupted my thoughts. “Look at the mission reward.”
I checked NEOCOM and saw that Annukka did not disappoint me – my hangar at Science and Trade Institute School Station now housed a Merlin-class frigate complete with two 125-mm railguns and a supply of iron charges. For a while I didn’t have to worry which frigate to choose; the Navy made a choice for me.
Having arrived to the station I asked the hangar crew to assemble the frigate and mount the railguns. While the Merlin was being bolted together I reviewed its specs. First thing that caught my eye was that it was “the most powerful combat frigate of the Caldari”. That was encouraging, but the devil always lurked in the detail which I was going to thoroughly check.
I started with ship bonuses. Ibis had a diverse mixture of fixed role bonuses which made it a jack-of-all-trades, good at many, excellent at none. Merlin’s bonuses depended on Caldari Frigate skill – the higher was the level the more performance the pilot could squeeze out of the ship – and were focused on combat parameters. Having achieved level IV in my study of Caldari frigates I could count on 20% increase in Small Hybrid Turret damage, and 16% bonus to all shield resistances. The latter was already twice more than for an Ibis and I could get it up to 20% when I finished my course.
Then I reviewed my pet peeves: targeting and navigation. To my satisfaction, Merlin’s maximum number of locked targets, five, matched my current ability. The speed was a bit of a disappointment; it was higher than Ibis’s but only by 15 metres per second. I thought that a better afterburner was in order.
All other parameters, like hitpoints, power supply and CPU, were much better in Merlin and fairly represented a difference between frigates and corvettes. At the same time, Merlin’s specialisation as a gunboat came at a price – it couldn’t fit missile launchers and didn’t have a drone bay. I didn’t know if it was going to be a significant disadvantage as I had not used missiles and drones before.
The last but not the least difference was that Merlin was able to fit rigs. There was a multitude of rigs available on the market for all aspects of ship performance, but the trick was that they were not reusable – once you installed a rig you could not unfit it and store for later usage. Removing a rig meant scrapping it, so one had to approach the choice of rigs carefully. I didn’t know yet what parameters I wanted to improve and decided to leave the rig slots empty for now.
Soon I got a call from the engineers who told me that my frigate was ready, and I went back to the hangar. The ship was suspended above the deck and looked exactly like in the catalogue – elegant and dangerous. It reminded me of a small but powerful bird of prey which lived on my planet, it was called Ampuhaukka. I thought it would be a good name for the ship.
Impatient to try my new frigate, I boarded the capsule and loaded it into Ampuhaukka.
“Aura, how do you like it?” asked I.
“Mmm… Feels safer,” replied Aura.
“It does,” agreed I, “but something is missing. Look at all those empty module slots.”
“Then let’s go shopping!” exclaimed Aura.
And so we did. Can’t say it was a shopping spree, as I bought only two new modules. One was a 125-mm railgun which I installed into the third high-power slot; if anything, it would make my missions shorter.
The other was a proper military-grade 1MN afterburner, not the civilian version installed on the Ibis. I was quite pleased to see that my maximum speed with the active afterburner reached 800 metres per second, while overheating would increase it by further 215 m/s. I was looking forward to meeting another Seeker Pacekeeper and checking if Ampuhaukka was fast enough to orbit that speedy drone. But that could wait; Aura and I had enough excitement for one day.