When he was younger, Laurence flew ships to Molden Heath and he remembers seeing capsuleers playing on the acceleration gates. In his mind these young warriors were lions, they were brave and powerful and people from far and wide would be talking about the lions. As he grows older, these memories become dominant in his mind. He is somewhat confused about this, but when he dreams about the lions, it brings him comfort.
...he began to dream of Heild again, the acceleration gates glistened silvery-blue under the dying early evening sun. He saw the first of the lions warp down onto it in the early dark and then the other lions came and he rested his chin on the console of his capsule where he lay floating in the warm void and he waited to see if there would be more lions and he was happy.
For eighty-four days, Laurence, an aged Caldari capsuleer, has set out to space and returned empty-handed. So conspicuously unlucky is he that the wealthy backers of his young, devoted apprentice and friend, Cosmo, have forced the boy to leave the old man in order to hunt in more prosperous ships and fleets. Nevertheless, the boy continues to care for the old man upon his return each night. He helps the old man tote his gear to his ramshackle hangar, secures food for him in his quarters, has replacement ships ready for him and even discusses the latest developments on live battlefeeds, especially the trials of the old man’s pvp heroes. Laurence is confident that his unproductive streak will soon come to an end, and he resolves to roam out farther than usual the following day.
On the eighty-fifth day of his unlucky streak, Laurence does as promised, flying his Loki far beyond the region’s systems and venturing into deep and unknown space. He prepares his modules and overheats them. Just after downtime, a large ship, which he knows is a Rapier, lights a cyno off of one of the stations.
The old man expertly scrambles the ship, but he cannot finish it off in time. The cyno goes down and the Rapier pulls the Loki into its webs. A great struggle ensues.
The old man bears the strain of the fight with his shoulders, back, and hands, ready to give chase should the Rapier make a run. They fight all through the day, through the night, through another day, and through another night. They fly steadily northwest until at last the Rapier tires and they fly east. The entire time, Laurence endures constant pain. Whenever the Rapier lunges, leaps, or makes a dash for freedom, the weight of expectation cuts Laurence badly. Although wounded and weary, the old man feels a deep empathy and admiration for the cyno Rapier, his brother in suffering, strength, and resolve.
On the third day the Rapier tires, and Laurence, sleep-deprived, aching, and nearly delirious, manages to pull the Rapier in close enough to kill it with an autocannon thrust. Dead beside the cruiser, the cyno wreck is the largest Laurence has ever seen. He lashes it to his ship and sets course for home. While Laurence is excited by the price that the loot will bring at market, he is more concerned that the people who will read the killmail are unworthy of its greatness.
As Laurence flies on with the catch, the Rapier’s blood leaves a trail in the black space and attracts pirates. The first to attack is a Great Gatecamper, which Laurence manages to scare off with his autocannons. In the struggle, the old man burns out his autocannons and uses all of his remaining cap boosters, which leaves him vulnerable to other pirate attacks. The old man fights off the successive vicious predators as best he can, slowing them with a crude webifier he makes from the wreckage, and even ramming them with the ship’s nose . Although he scares off several pirates, more and more appear, and by the time night falls, Laurence’s continued fight against the scavengers is useless. They devour the Rapier’s precious cargo, leaving only a skeleton. Laurence chastises himself for going “out too far,” and for sacrificing his great and worthy opponent. He swears and cusses and thinks that he might as well throw himself into the biomass grinder. He arrives home before downtime, stumbles back to his quarters, and sleeps very deeply.
The next morning, a crowd of amazed capsuleers gather around the skeletal carcass of the ship, which is still lashed to the Loki. Knowing nothing of the old man’s struggle, tourists at a nearby faction warfare complex observe the remains of the giant Rapier and mistake it for a Bellicose. Cosmo, who has been worried sick over the old man’s absence, is moved to tears when he finds Laurence safe in his bed. The boy fetches the old man some coffee and the daily papers with the latest killboard scores, and watches him sleep. When the old man wakes, the two agree to roam as partners once more. The old man returns to sleep and dreams his usual dream of lions at play on the acceleration gates of Heild.