There was no reply from the overhead speakers to which I'd routed the caller's voice.
I waited, then: "Fel?"
"Umm. Yes. Sorry. I'm here." I could almost hear the other pilot shake himself. "I just... well, not to raise too many alarm bells or anything, but I'm a bit surprised you accepted me so soo -- umm. Quickly."
"Ahh." I thought about that a moment, letting my eyes drop to my hands, resting in my lap. "You know what CB said when I told him about your original message asking to join?"
"The first one? That was months ago."
"Yup." I cleared my throat, wanting to get the phrasing right. "He said: 'If he wants in the wormhole, fuck no. If he wants in the war zone, fuck it.'" More comms silence. "Don't take that personally..."
Fel's laughter came with a rush. "Are you kidding? I'm from a wormhole too -- paranoia, I understand; I practically tell the new pilots to fly in front of me when we go on ops."
I chuckled along with him, nodding. "Well, that's half of it, then. The other half... " I shrugged. "There's maybe three hundred million isk worth of ships and ship modules in our shared hangars. I only keep enough liquid ISK around to ensure that the station rental bills are paid automatically --" I cleared my throat -- "after a little mishap a few months back."
"Point is," I interrupted, "you really can't do much harm down here in known space, because this corp's got no real assets to steal. Hell, even if you awox one of us for fun, we're only going to be out a cheap clone and a cheaper frigate. And frankly we could use another couple good pilots. Paranoia is fine, but new blood helps keep people awake."
"Well... okay then."
"Okay then," I repeated, letting a small smile creep into place. "Get some rack time. Odds are we'll be roaming tomorrow night, either with friends in cheap ships or acquaintances in expensive ones. Welcome to the asylum."
"Glad to be here," he replied, then cut comms.
I stared at the overhead speaker for a few seconds, my thoughts drifting, then popped up to a standing position, stretching one arm across my chest and rolling my neck on my shoulders as I walked out to the balcony overlooking the hangars. "No breaks today." I blinked. "Tonight. Whatever." My eyes itched, and I rubbed at them while I tapped the commands that would swing the Malediction into the launch bay. "Little more scouting to do before everyone gets here."
I'd been out of a ship for almost a week -- visiting the University of Caille to talk about, of all things, my writing -- apparently, as a combat pilot, I made a decent journalist. Since I'd gotten back, I'd done little more than scout new safes throughout the war zone and write a half-dozen briefings on the key systems and hot spots that a new pilot -- or at least a pilot unfamiliar with the War -- would want to know about.
I was itching for some actual combat, even a frustrating loss, but war targets would go unmolested tonight, at least by me; we had new pilots coming to join us, and I wanted everything as smooth as I could get it for the transition.
New pilots for the war. Old friends for the fleet.
"Aura, set course for Avenod. Let's map out some safes in the Eugidi cluster."
... before everyone gets here.
My voice sounded tired, even to me, but I could feel that same small smile creep back onto my face.
I practically jogged to the piloting pod.