Relaxing by making ISK

15th April 2014 – 5.51 pm

I've calmed down a little about yesterday's Epithal encounter. A little. Okay, not really, because nothing's changed. It's just best not to dwell too much on it. An evening spent blowing the crap out of Sleepers would probably offer some light relief, though, so with glorious leader Fin available and no incoming wormholes, we prepare a small fleet to fend off the indigenous population.

Once again I board a Golem marauder, but screw torpedoes. I'm switching to cruise missiles this time. Don't get me wrong, I much prefer the involvement in maintaining range on Sleepers that naturally engage us from further out than torpedoes hit, it's just that there are other circumstances to take in to account. Mostly, the vulnerability of the marauder, particularly when in bastion mode.

Nothing much changes between a torpedo Golem in bastion mode and a cruise missile Golem in bastion mode, apart from the stupidly long, order-of-magnitude greater range of the cruise missiles. It is this increased range that I want to exploit, naturally, but not for the range itself. Rather, the range lets me keep the Golem in a less risky location within the anomalies.

The torpedo Golem has to be close to the Sleepers, which puts it close to either structures within the anomaly or wrecks of other Sleepers. This makes it easy for an ambushing tackler to get close to the marauder, prior to a fleet warping in for the kill. Warping the Golem in to the anomaly from an arbitrary direction and keeping it sat well over a hundred kilometres from any wreck or structure, on the other hand, significantly mitigates the risk from proximity.

Mitigates, not militates against. Bastion mode still immobilises the ship for a minute at a time, which keeps the marauder an attractive target, as one that can't immediately move when threatened. But we do what we can, and early detection of new signatures combined with an awkward positioning of the Golem should go some way in to keeping it safe from hostile intruders. That, at least, is my reasoning.

So off with the torpedo launchers, on with the cruise missile launchers. We apparently don't have a decent stock of expensive cruise missiles, standard ones will have to do, but the damage should be consistently applied between waves, with no intra-site positioning required. My main concern is with how slow they'll cycle, but I think that is more a reaction to using low-quality launchers previously. Now that I can use the Tech II variants I am hoping I won't be frustrated. Let's see.

Golem in the blinding cloud of a w-space anomaly

In to the first anomaly, with Fin besides me in a Tengu strategic cruiser, and in to bastion mode. Probably. I've managed to warp us in to a blinding gas cloud. Still, activate the launchers and hope the missiles can find their way to the target. The Sleepers won't know what's hitting them. Yeah, they're not quite as satisfying or devastating as torpedoes, but the damage is decent, the range projection is stupidly good, and not having to gauge micro jumps certainly saves some aggravation. One wave goes down, just select a new battleship as a target from the new wave and continue shooting.

Exploding Sleepers with cruise missiles

It's almost relaxing, like fishing in space. Simple target selection, my picking off the battleships as Fin's Tengu works on the smaller ships, and checking the discovery and directional scanners. No moving required, no following, just sitting and shooting. The lack of messing around gives me time to once again ponder on the relative squishiness of the first wave of battleships. Whether there is a reduction in mutual remote repairs between the Sleepers, or they are a kind of bait to lure us in to the stronger second wave, I can't say. Either way, it's an easy pair of kills.

Three anomalies cleared already. This is going smoothly and efficiently, I have to say. I'm glad I've experienced the torpedo Golem too, but sticking the marauder in bastion mode far out of the site does seem a more sensible option, one that requires the range of cruise missiles. Four, five, and we even have time for a sixth, pretty much clearing our system of profit. Well, nearly.

Swapping the combat ships for Noctis salvagers does the clearing up, leaving behind them a much tidier system to bring back a healthy collection of loot and salvage. Once we get all of this out to empire space to sell it will all pad our wallet with another half-a-billion ISK. That's a good result of a quiet evening, and should help fund some future foolish adventures.

Falling foul of a standard fitting

14th April 2014 – 5.22 pm

A super-simple start to this evening. My glorious leader has left a trail of bookmarks for me to follow, in to our neighbouring class 3 w-space system and out to empire space. No scanning required. So, what's out there? Nothing is on our K162 in C3a, or on my directional scanner, but only one planet is in range. It may be worth sweeping the system, just in case of changes, and I launch probes and perform a blanket scan as I warp to where a tower was ten weeks earlier.

The tower remains, no ships or pilots are to be seen. There's nothing else of interest beyond the two bookmarked wormholes either. Checking the static exit to low-sec first sends me to a system in Derelik, where the presence of plenty of pilots is probably explained by the pair of cynosural beacons. The lack of obviously hostile activity and five extra signatures in the system looks welcoming to me, and I launch probes to scan.

Three wormholes, two gas sites. That's a decent result. Two of the wormholes are disappointing outbound connections to class 3 w-space, but one is a K162 from class 3 w-space and my best bet for finding activity. Jumping to C3b sees a tower and no ships on d-scan, with nothing out of range, but that may just mean I have more wormholes to scan for amongst the sixteen anomalies and four signatures. Like, for example, that one signature floating far from any planet, almost obviously a wormhole. It is, a K162 from class 2 w-space. That looks good to me.

D-scan is clear from the wormhole in C2a, with plenty of space out there to explore. A blanket scan reveals three anomalies, eight signatures, and no ships, with a cluster of structures around the furthest planet. Warping in that direction finds the expected tower, and sifting through the signatures resolves only one other wormhole, the second static connection leading out to high-sec Kador. That's pretty dull, more so than exploring through outbound wormholes. Back through C3b to low-sec, and out through one of the X702s.

C3c has an Orca industrial command ship and Epithal hauler visible on d-scan, along with a clutch of six towers that will make finding the ships a little awkward. On top of that minor frustration, the discovery scanner is clearly blinking just the two signatures in the whole system, so my presence can be obviously inferred by any active paying attention. Never mind, I'll look for the Epithal anyway, because why not compound the frustration of one oversight made to the w-space environment by trying to hunt a second?

Looking for the towers with d-scan doesn't find the one with the Epithal. Thankfully, I make a sanity check early on and realise that this is because the Epithal is no longer around. Or maybe the hauler's no longer in range. Two planets are too distant to be covered by d-scan, so I pick one and warp to its customs office in case I catch the Epithal at large. I don't, but instead find two more towers holding a couple more ships, a Buzzard covert operations boat and Tayra hauler.

Locating the Tayra finds it empty, but now two Buzzards and a Retriever mining barge are floating alongside it inside one of the towers' force fields. It smells like bait is being readied, what with the scanning ships piloted and the discovery scanner hardly being coy with announcing new signatures. One of the Buzzards warps away and launches probes, suggesting they're not quite sure what's out there, making me more interested in whether the Epithal is still active.

I would say the Epithal is active, given that the ship is back on d-scan, but on d-scan by this distant tower and not where I first saw it. Of course, it could be in the second tower around this planet, but I'm already warping my cloaky Loki strategic cruiser to the local customs office. No time for d-scan. The Epithal is here, currently stationary, but thirty kilometres from me, having warped in from the opposite direction. I've only recently been in the same situation, so I know what to do.

Closing the distance to the gooing Epithal

I crawl cloaked to get in to a decent range from which to pounce, and today decide that twenty kilometres is good enough. I decloak, burn towards the Epithal, and activate my sensor booster. Gaining a positive lock I start shooting but have to try my warp scrambler twice, still not quite in range the first time, but only by a kilometre or so. Now I have him—perhaps. I keep burning towards the hauler, overheating my guns just in case I need to, and try to bump him out of alignment. The customs office gets in my way a little, but I give the hauler a nudge anyway. It's not enough.

Ambushing the gooing Epithal

Epithal warps clear with no trouble

I turn to try to shunt the Epithal properly, but only succeed in watching the hauler warp clear from my super-advanced death-machine, guns delivering 110%, expensive faction warp scrambler the best ISK can buy. It's disappointing how a basic, tin-can hauler can be easily and cheaply fit to survive and evade a dedicated combat vessel without even needing to compromise its hauling capacity or ability.

There's nothing wrong with giving a hauler a dedicated cargo bay or the concept of warp core stabilisers by themselves. But ignoring that the low fitting slots used to force a choice and compromise on haulers between warp core strength and expanded cargo space apparently was completely ignored in the redesign, which is compounded by the drawbacks inherent in the warp core stabiliser module have no real impact on a hauler's role. Slap them on, carry as much as usual, and suffer no negative effects during your normal routine that might make you compromise your fit. Add some extra tank to that, and you can survive a couple of nudges as you align to warp clear.

Needless to say, my positive attitude has been somewhat deflated. Previously, if a hauler escaped my clutches by using warp core stabilisers I would shrug it off, given that the pilot must obviously be continually frustrating his own efforts for the occasional times he's ambushed. I'd also get a shot at another ship sooner or later, one whose structural integrity was compromised by expanded cargoholds. But now it's just too cheap and easy, there is almost no risk in hauling in a w-space system. There's no point in my staying in this system, and I've lost the desire to see what's through the other X702. I'm just going home.

Static hauler

13th April 2014 – 3.13 pm

Okay, I will scan. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I first resolve a wormhole that is near to this class 5 w-space system's static connection, which leads to our home system, but it's just a K162 from null-sec Feythabolis, judging by the winged sprite nebula colours visible. Two more wormholes crop up as I continue scanning: a second K162 from null-sec, this one at the end of its life; and a K162 from class 4 w-space, which looks a little more interesting.

Exits are generally a good idea to have, though, so I dip out to null-sec a couple of times before exploring deeper w-space. Leaving through the dying wormhole takes me to a system in Great Wildlands, and shows me a corpse floating nearby. Maybe the C5 locals did indeed find a target and corpsified him, explaining their heading off-line soon after returning. Or it could have been earlier, and their recent expedition came up empty handed. Don't ask me, man, I'm just speculating.

Finding a corpse on a wormhole in null-sec

Back to w-space, and in to C4a. I still doubt I'll find anything happening, because surely the C5 pilots would have found it before me, but I often just like a look around for myself. My directional scanner is showing me occupation, at least, albeit without any ships to hint at activity. There's also a ghost site in the system, which is awfully tempting to want to exploit, but definitely not with potential pilots around. I will still deny anyone else the opportunity to benefit, though. I am nothing if not an arse.

I warp in to the ghost site, checking the overall integrity of my cloaked ship, wary of the impending explosion. I only need to appear in the site to panic the empire rats in to destroying the site, but I'm going to stick around to make sure they do it. Cloaked, of course, once I've shown myself. That reduces my ship's overall strength, not being able to run my damage control unit, but hopefully that won't be an issue. It isn't, not at this range. The rats warp in, the site explodes, and the rats warp out. My Loki strategic cruiser is unharmed.

Wanton destruction of a w-space ghost site

Job done, I get back to scouting, locating the local tower and scanning the system for further wormholes. My probes pick up nine signatures, six of them chubsters, whittled down to one wormhole amongst the gas. It's a K162 from class 2 w-space. Neat. Jumping through and updating d-scan sees towers and a ship this time, an Epithal. I'd quite like to find that hauler, in case it's piloted and active, knowing full well that its short-sighted redesign has made the glorified space van almost impossible for my military-spec death machine to catch. You never know, I may get lucky.

The task of locating the ship is eased somewhat by my notes, my last visit to the system being three months ago. That was when I podded an Iteron V hauler on a high-sec wormhole, and scared off its two escort ships. Good times, but I need to concentrate on today, and pointing a narrow-beamed d-scan at noted tower locations finds one holding the Epithal, letting me get my Loki in to warp in the right direction. Or so I think. The hauler isn't actually in the tower. So where is he?

My first, best choice to look is the nearest customs office, which I can do with d-scan. The Epithal does indeed seem to be there, maybe was there when I looked this way from the wormhole. I warp there as fast as I can, hoping to at least see where he goes next, and drop out of warp to see the Epithal just sitting near the customs office. The hauler is stationary, and must have been there a while, as he's twenty kilometres from me. The ship must have warped to the customs office from a different direction.

Epithal stationary outside a w-space customs office

Can I get close enough to get in to the range of my faction scrambler? Will the three points of warp disruption be enough against this silly ship? I start crawling forwards to find out, paying close attention to the integrity of my cloaking device, in case I get too close to the customs office, and watching for movement from the Epithal. I should be able to see where he goes if he does warp, I suppose, but once I am fifteen kilometres from my target I decide that's close enough.

I decloak, surge forwards using my micro warp drive, and activate my sensor booster. I gain a positive lock with no movement yet from the Epithal, and disrupt his warp drives—or try to—and start shooting. Woah, the ship pretty much implodes. I aim to bump the hauler with my Loki, knock it out of warp-alignment, but my strategic cruiser simply sails through an exploding cloud of debris.

Exploding Epithal

Reacting to the destruction of the Epithal, I manage to grab the ejected pod of the pilot too. Perhaps he got distracted by something, making this rather easier than expected. Whatever, I make a new corpse for my trophy cabinet and blow up the wreck containing a large chunk of collected metals that I have no desire in trying to haul back home. As it turns out, the ship was cheap and pretty much unfitted, which is why it was so squishy, but the pilot's head was worth fifty million ISK. That's something.

Wreck and corpse of Epithal

Launching probes whilst reloading my guns lets me take a quick poke around the system. Four anomalies, three signatures, and a single ship are revealed, the ship just a Nemesis stealth bomber piloted but inert in the force field of another tower on the edge of the system. The signatures give me gas and the static exit to high-sec, showing the devil man of Heimatar, through which I find nothing of interest. Returning to C2a has the Nemesis disappeared, and I'm sensing that I should return home before the whole universe disappears with it.

To scan or not to scan

12th April 2014 – 3.48 pm

Our old sites have died. Viva the new sites! I'm tempted to call the abundance of new sites a result of a signature explosion, but there being only four of them doesn't sound too explosiony. Then again, we only occasionally see even a couple of new signatures appear overnight in the home system, and with four being almost unheard of I'm going to throw my normally stoic nature to the wind and go ahead and exaggerate for effect. Hell, I'll even abbreviate it. There's been a sigplosion!

That's my minor excitement for the evening over. Or is it? The four signatures hold a mere three pockets of gas, the last been an extra wormhole to explore through. K162s are generally more interesting than outbound connections, and this one from class 5 w-space is probably no exception. I jump through to take a look, updating my directional scanner on the origin-side of the wormhole to see a tower, Flycatcher interdictor, and some ECM drones somewhere in space.

I doubt the Flycatcher is going to do much by itself in C5 w-space, and d-scan places it at the easily located tower, making it simple to check for a pilot and to tag the corporation. And I suppose the interdictor is piloted, given that it's no longer at the tower when I get there. The ship remains on d-scan for a minute before disappearing. Where did he go? Through a wormhole, most likely. More importantly, why did he go there?

There's nothing more exciting than warping in to trouble, so I should probably scan for that wormhole to see what's happening. I warp out, launch probes, and start looking for a connection, stopping almost immediately when the Flycatcher is back. That was quick. The interdictor doesn't appear to be on a wormhole either, so I hide my probes again as the ship warps in to the tower, now joined by a Brutix, the battlecruiser slipping under my probes.

The Flycatcher is swapped for a Buzzard covert operations boat. That could be a response to my probes being visible, or, because the cov-ops is named 'Hack' and Brutix is renamed to 'Blap', maybe the pair are getting ready to hit a relic site. Not here, obviously, so I'll need to scan at some point, but when the ships have gone to wherever they are going to go.

There they go. The Buzzard goes first, the Brutix afterwards, and once off d-scan I call in my probes once more. And send them right back out of the system immediately, as the first scan detects the Buzzard's return. The cov-ops comes in to the tower, the Brutix behind it. You know, I don't think they actually did any hacking or blapping, as much as I did any scanning. Now I'm back to sitting and watching. Doing nothing, in other words.

Brutix is swapped for Flycatcher, Buzzard warps out of the tower and disappears, Flycatcher goes off-line. That is probably it for activity in this system. I give it a minute anyway, just in case someone else turns up, perhaps to collect planet goo before getting some rest, but all I see is the Buzzard decloaking some two hundred kilometres from the tower. Dunno what he's doing out there, or why, but he's still around. Maybe I should scan.

Buzzard appears far outside its tower's force field

Or should I scan? If the ships hit a K162 they either found nothing of interest or a fleet the two of them couldn't handle. I doubt I could do much better in either case. Then again, no fleet appeared under my probes or on d-scan when the local ships returned, so it couldn't have been too threatening. That just leaves the 'found nothing' option, which isn't any better.

But that was nothing then, and even if that then was five minutes ago w-space circumstances can change quickly. There could be something now. Or maybe there was something now, a pilot or two that stopped the pair collecting space relics. That would actually be a good reason to scan, having someone to shadow. Dammit, I don't know what to do!

Scanning gas

11th April 2014 – 5.23 pm

The Helios pilot swaps the covert operations boat for a battlecruiser and disappears. The pod of the pilot whose Epithal hauler I just destroyed is plonked in to a Viator transport, but even I can't be that lucky, even after catching an Epithal, and the pilot doesn't try to finish collecting his planet goo. That's fine, as it gives me a little time to bask in the glory of the kill of an over-designed hauler.

Basking complete, and nothing else happening in this class 3 w-space system, I wonder what's happening in the other systems connected from here. Probably not much through our K162; I'm not expecting the T405 outbound link to class 4 w-space to offer anything, what with the discovery scanner active; and the three I have yet to visit are a K162 from low-sec, the static exit to low-sec and, bah, a dying K162 coming in also from low-sec.

Low-sec is probably my best option. How disappointing. Almost as disappointing as jumping out to a faction warfare system in Sinq-Laison with just the one extra signature. That's not enough to make me launch probes. The three extra signatures through a K162 from low-sec would be, but this is through the dying wormhole and I'm not going to risk it collapsing behind me. The healthy K162 from low-sec doesn't have any signatures beyond the wormhole I'm sitting on, which leaves me little option. I'll go through the T405.

Jumping in to C4a and updating my directional scanner sees nothing. That's about right. Two planets sit out of range, in opposite directions, so I launch probes, perform a blanket scan, and warp to one of the distant planets. My probes reveal twelve anomalies, four signatures, and three ships at the planet I'm not currently heading to. I chose poorly. Once I stop moving I turn my Loki strategic cruiser around to investigate these ships, which d-scan shows me are an Anathema cov-ops, Buzzard cov-ops, and Tayra hauler, probably all in the tower also on d-scan.

Naturally, it's the two cov-ops that are piloted, the hauler empty, giving me nothing to shoot at. At least, not until the Buzzard pilot swaps for a Venture mining frigate and warps out of the tower. He can't be using the ship as a shuttle, surely, and there doesn't appear to be any hint that the locals are trying to bait me. I may actually have a hunt on my hands. I don't know why. Checking my logs, I first visited the T405 around forty minutes ago, so the pilots must be aware of it by now. Maybe the pilot of the Venture thinks he can escape in time. Maybe he can.

The Venture has warped right across the system, to be near the other distant planet, and appears to be staying there, according to my combat scanning probes. I go to the planet to get closer and start using d-scan to gauge where the frigate is. I narrow down my search until I have the ship in a five-degree beam, and adjust the range gate to determine that he's around 1·8 AU away. That's pretty close, making it relatively easy to cluster my probes around the estimated position. I'm confident enough that I use an almost-minimal range for my probes. That should pick up the small ship's signature.

Checking d-scan one last time shows that the Venture is still in the same place, my probes nicely surrounding him. I warp back to the K162 from C3a where my glorious leader waits, calling Fin to jump in to the system. The Venture probably could evade my slow-locking Loki, which is why we've got Fin in a Flycatcher interdictor. Dropping a warp bubble over the top of the Venture should surprise it.

Combat scanning the gassing Venture

The K162 is out of range of both the planet with the tower, and the site of the Venture. This lets us align towards its position in readiness of warp without being directly detected. We're ready. I call my probes in to scan. Perfect. 100% hit on the Venture and the site. I recall my probes, warp us towards the Venture's position, and bookmark both hits for reference. Let's see how much attention the pilot is paying.

Gas, but no Venture sucking on it

I was hoping Fin's interdictor would accelerate faster than this, but we are a fleet and our fastest speed is governed by our slowest ship. That's me. As I needed to scan the Venture's position and warp immediately I don't think I can change this, but hopefully we'll still be fast enough. I update d-scan on my way in, looking for the Venture, but not seeing it. That's odd, because we are definitely in range. But, sure enough, we drop in to a gas site with no one sucking on the gas. The pilot must have been paying plenty of attention to d-scan.

Back to the wormhole with us, not wanting to remain vulnerable in a known site, and I re-launch my probes to take a full look around. Four ships are now in the tower, and warping there sees the empty Tayra now accompanied by a Zealot battlecruiser, Thorax cruiser, and one more ship that warps out before I can identify it. I tell Fin to get clear, but she has other ideas and jumps back to C3a and drops a bubble on the wormhole. That's a cool move. Sadly, it doesn't catch anything.

The combat ships in the tower look more like an idle threat than a response, although, to be fair, there isn't any obvious threat to respond to any more. They could warp to the gas site, but no one's there. Or at the K162. The locals revert to scouting mode, with Zealot swapped to Anathema cov-ops and the Thorax to a pod. That's not so bad, not with an interdictor on our side. Maybe we can actually catch a cov-ops today. Probably not if they don't explore through the K162, though. And why would they? It looks like the locals are sensibly just monitoring their system, and our fun is over. It's time to call it a night.

Grabbing at a gooer

10th April 2014 – 5.14 pm

I'll have another go at finding ships to shoot in w-space. There are no incoming connections to our home system this evening, making it a straightforward start, if one not holding much promise. Resolve, warp to, and jump through our static wormhole, where updating my directional scanner sees two towers, a bunch of drones, and no ships. Ah, but core scanning probes are already out.

I'll loiter by the wormhole for the moment, see if anything comes my way. My notes tell me my last visit to this class 3 system was fourteen months ago, when there was no occupation, and that there is a static exit to low-sec. Well, that's about all I can do from the wormhole, except wait for a ship that may not even come my way. I ignore the scout, warp away, and launch probes to scan the system for myself.

Warping back to start locating the towers, performing a blanket scan as I do, has the other scout's probes disappear from d-scan. That's unfortunate, but perhaps not too unfortunate. Covert operations boats are difficult to scan, and he may not actually be aware of my presence. I'll press on, mostly ignoring the scout but still curious as to which direction he went. I'll probably find out by scanning the seven anomalies and ten signatures. No, eleven signatures.

Call me irrational, but I imagine that new signature in the scanning results is currently the most interesting. I resolve it first, warping to the unsurprising result of a wormhole to find, oh, only a K162 from null-sec. Even so, a ship may come through, so I orbit the connection as menacingly as a cloaked ship can as I continue scanning, my probes havind detected two more wormholes when resolving this one.

Nothing comes through the null-sec wormhole, and I resolve three more in total in the w-space system. My probes also detect two ships at one of the towers, and when they were clustered over the planet too. I cross the system to see pilots in a Helios cov-ops and Prophecy battlecruiser inside the tower's force field, pilots I can only assume have seen my combat scanning probes. On top of that, a final blanket scan reveals another new signature. It's all go.

Oops, those are ships my probes are detecting

I resolve that new signature, that new wormhole, and as there is no movement from either ship in the tower I decide to reconnoitre what I've scanned. If only I'd updated d-scan before initiating the command to warp I may have spotted the Epithal new to the system before warping away from the tower, the tower the hauler warps in to. All I can do is let my Loki strategic cruiser take me to a disappointing T405 outbound connection to class 4 w-space, before turning it right around to head back to loiter outside the tower.

Of course, the Epithal won't be collecting planet goo, right? Because the system isn't secure, what with all the wormholes, and the probes whizzing around, right? So explain to me, hot-shot, why it's not at the tower where I get back there. The Prophecy has gone too, but updating my probes, reverted to their blanket-scanning configuration, has one of the two still in the system. Taking a punt that the Epithal hears the call of the goo, I warp towards a customs office out of range—that's all but the closest, so plenty to choose from.

The Epithal is not at this customs office, but the hauler is now visible on d-scan. So it's not the Prophecy, and he does appear to be gooing. All I have to do now is be at the same customs office, at the same time, and stop a ship that can routinely fit four warp core stabilisers. Sounds easy enough. Bouncing to another customs office, hoping to get ahead of the route, doesn't help, and the Epithal drops off d-scan. That may be good. If he's dropping off goo at the tower, and I catch up with him there, I may be able to see his next destination.

I drop out of warp outside the tower with no Epithal to be seen. At least, not on my overview. D-scan has the hauler, and with just the one customs office in range I think I have a fair idea where he is. And at least this time I am able to cancel my warp command as the ship returns to the safety of the force field a second later. Thankfully, he's not quite finished. Not so thankfully, we are so far away from the inner system that many of the planets lie on coincident vectors. All I know is that the Epithal is aiming for a customs office around one of them.

Epithal aligns to a distant planet

I make my best guess at the Epithal's destination and enter warp behind it. A bit of luck, a bit of skill, a bit of experience; all mixed together, I drop out of warp near to the Epithal, but perhaps lagging by a few seconds. There's no time to waste. I decloak on decelerating, get my sensor booster working, and am ready to lock on to the ship as my Loki exits warp. The lock is positive, my warp scrambler maybe does something, and autocannons start chattering. I'd better overheat them too, because whatever the outcome here, it will be quick.

Catching up with the Epithal

The Epithal turns to flee, I surge forwards, micro warp drive active, slamming in to the hauler to prevent it aligning for warp. It seems to work, but it's a temporary measure. I back off and line up for a second ramming manoeuvre, but my target lock drops. Has a full rack of warp core stabilisers thwarted me again? Not this time. The Epithal's shields are gone, armour depleted, and there is no more structure. The hauler explodes in front of me. It's a glorious victory.

Aiming to bump the Epithal

Epithal explodes!

The pod flees, sadly, leaving me a wreck full of toxic metals to destroy, and a dust cloud to analyse. Only two warp core stabilisers fitted? Well, that's peculiar, and it's made me waste a chunk of nanite repair paste on my heat-damaged guns. I had him in my grasp all along. Damned silly ship design, if you ask me. But I got him all the same. I reload, activate my cloak, and start to repair my guns, warping back to the tower as I do.

Tale of two Iterons

9th April 2014 – 5.33 pm

I see no change in the constellation on my way home. It's all quiet on the w-space front. Or the w-space behind, considering I've only explored through a K162 connected to our home system. I'm hoping I can find something better, anything really, through our static wormhole. A decent exit, for example, one that Fin can use to come home after getting isolated last night when getting fuel. Speak of my glorious leader, here she is.

The backwards arm of the constellation has provided us with a few exits already. One goes to Khanid, but as the replacement high-sec exit to Khanid yesterday was poor I'm guessing this low-sec one will be worse. Another exit to Aridia would be bad enough by itself, made worse by it being at the end of its life, and not helped along by my not passing through it to get the exit system. The other side of the dying wormhole could be anywhere in the region. Null-sec Fountain probably isn't even worth mentioning.

Our neighbouring system holds another hope for a good connection, given that class 3 w-space always exits w-space. I jump through our static wormhole to find out, although seeing a tower and Iteron V hauler when updating my directional scanner on the K162 has my pausing to resume scouting for activity. Sweeping d-scan around to locate the tower finds it, but not the Iteron. Is it out collecting planet goo? Maybe not, as d-scan puts it in empty space. D-scan also shows me the Iteron's name, 'Try to catch me'. Challenge accepted! But I'm doubting the ship is even piloted.

I'll just scan for the Iteron. It's a fat old ship, this won't be difficult. Indeed, two scans later and I have its position, as well as identifying a wormhole near to the ship. Near to, not coincident with, so the Iteron isn't loitering on a connection. I resolve the wormhole as I warp to the industrial ship, dropping slightly short to see that, yep, the ship is empty. Well, empty of a pilot, but I imagine that means it is also empty of cargo. Still, I should probably nick it.

Empty Iteron in class 3 w-space

I finish scanning, given the apparent lack of activity in the system, plus my notes informing me that there should be a static exit to high-sec to be found. That bodes well for bringing Fin home. I think I just resolved it too, identifying and resolving a second, chubbier wormhole in the process. A third wormhole, skinnier than even the high-sec exit, and a fourth also-chubby wormhole round out my scanning results.

The exit to high-sec is first, and it looks good, the colours shimmering through almost certainly showing me a connection to the Tash-Murkon region. I have also resolve a K162 from null-sec, an outbound link to class 5 w-space, and a K162 from low-sec Khanid. Naturally, the high-sec exit looks like the best option for Fin, so I jump through that first and relay the exit system to my colleague. 'Twelve jumps, on my way.' Excellent, and w-space is inactive. But I have just opened a wormhole to a C5.

I probably ought to check the other wormholes in C3a, in case there are hostiles that could intercept a returning industrial ship. The null-sec system first, because it's probably empty. Yep, the system in Pure Blind has no pilots, no other signatures, and I can't even find a decent rat to pop. Back to C3a and on to C5a, with the perverse hope of not finding anyone still, but with my hopes dashed before even getting there. D-scan has combat scanning probes in C3a.

I wonder. Will the scout look for that abandoned Iteron too? Will they send someone to collect it? Rather than get a low-value industrial ship, maybe I can get a low-value kill out of already having scanned its location. I warp back to the hauler and loiter with intent. With any luck, this scout will think the Iteron being bait to be as ludicrous an idea as I did.

Keeping d-scan updated, to catch sight of any wormhole transitions or incoming pods, sees a different sight. A Miasmos hauler is in the system. Using the high-sec wormhole? Nope, he's at the tower. I doubt he'll do anything with combat scanning probes whizzing around, but I've seen pilots act with rather less care to their environment. I can probably loiter by the tower and watch d-scan for possible Iteron-jackings, so move my ship to do that.

Fin makes it to the high-sec exit, notes an orange pilot in the system, but makes a dash for home. As she does, a new Iteron appears on d-scan. I can't find it, it doesn't warp to the tower, and it's gone. That's almost certainly because it was Fin passing through, apparently not in the Orca industrial command ship that I expected. It gave me a minute of excitement, though. Ignorance really can be blissful.

Fin collects the errant Iteron

Still the Miasmos does nothing, still the combat probes are scanning... something. There really aren't that many signatures. As we now have a spare pilot, Fin drops to her pod and comes to collect the abandoned Iteron, with me shadowing her movements. It's a simple collection, though. Fin warps in, boards the Iteron, goes home. 'There's nothing in it, but it's fit for cargo.' I'm sure we can make use of it. And with Fin home, the Iteron claimed, and the Miasmos remaining stationary, I think that's a good time to call it a night.

Mirror constellation

8th April 2014 – 5.46 pm

We need to get rid of some of these sites. The home w-space system is getting awfully cluttered with gas, rocks, Sleepers. What must visitors think? Maybe I can ask them, all I have to do is pop through this K162 from class 4 w-space. But jumping to C4a sees a tower with no one home, my directional scanner detecting no ships. I may as well be in class 3 w-space.

If anyone were home I bet they'd be berating me for our system. This one is much neater, a blanket scan revealing only four anomalies and four signatures. I'm frankly a little surprised that the locals aren't in our system tidying Sleepers away. That is, of course, assuming the locals were the ones who opened the connection to our system. It's just as likely there rabbit hole goes further back.

I'm not convinced there's a wormhole to be found, though. None of the signatures look strong enough to be a K162, not that this stops me from poking them anyway. Besides, I spot that one of the signatures is split under my probes, which means both that it is stronger than it appears, and that it is a fair distance from the centre of my probe cluster. Only the signatures of wormholes tend to loiter so far from planets, and this one turns out to be no different than the rest.

I drop out of warp next to a K162 from class 3 w-space, giving me a weird mirror sensation of going both backwards and forwards at the same time. Jumping to C3b—saving C3a for the system through our static wormhole—adds to the weirdness, with ships appearing on d-scan as well as a tower. Okay, but I bet I find no pilots in them, and I don't. The Nereus hauler, Merlin and Heron frigate, and pair of shuttles are all empty inside the force field.

Back to scanning. My first impression is that the system is a bit messy, but the sixteen anomalies and sixteen signatures only look bad compared to the previous system. It's not much for w-space, not really. From the signatures come three wormholes, as well as a second Heron that comes and goes before I realise what d-scan shows me. It's probably from a wormhole, it probably won't sit up waiting to be caught like the one from the other day.

The Heron launches probes somewhere in the system and settles down to scan. In that case, I'll reconnoitre the wormholes. The first is the system's static exit to low-sec, Khanid by the looks of it. The second wormhole is a K162 from class 3 w-space, and, hello, the Heron is decloaked again, a quick update of d-scan in the system map putting him on the U210. Back I go, naturally nowhere near in time to actually see the Heron, but as his probes have gone I think it's safe to assume he jumped out. I wonder if he'll come back again.

I decloak, activate my sensor booster, and get cosy with the exit wormhole to low-sec, waiting for the Heron's return. He should be back by now, if he was just taking a look at the exit. Or now, if he is cautious enough to wait for polarisation effects to expire. Nothing. Well, I'm here, I may as well poke out to low-sec myself and see what's there. One pilot, young, not obviously in space. No Heron, no probes. Never mind, back to w-space.

The third wormhole in C3b is a K162 from class 5 w-space. That's mildly interesting, but the C3 K162 is more likely to terminate sooner, so I head there first. D-scan is clear in C3c, a blanket scan only being used to look for ships. The discovery scanner is already showing me one other signature. But I suppose I was right that this arm of the constellation would terminate quickly. My probes show no ships, exploring finds a tower, and scanning the static wormhole sees it exiting to Aridia. I can't say I mind, not when the wormhole is almost dead.

Back I go, C3b and in to C5a for a quick peek. A lone drone on scan looks a bit depressing, without even a friend to talk to, but a blanket scan reveals nine ships that could come to pick it up at some point. There are also five anomalies and six signatures, one of the anomalies being a ghost site that looks rather less tempting with the occupation and ships in the system. Locating the tower and seeing no pilots in the mix of scout and combat ships doesn't put me sufficiently at ease to consider the easily found ghost site either.

Maybe if I scanned C5a and found this system to be a dead end I could risk the riches of the ghost site. A couple of wormholes pop up, one is just a K162 from null-sec Fountain, but the other comes from deeper class 5 w-space. Checking C5b for occupation and activity finds neither, which probably means more K162s wait to be discovered, but I think I've had my fill of exploring empty w-space. And assuming it's empty doesn't make the ghost site a better prospect. I'm going home.

Death of a wormhole

7th April 2014 – 5.58 pm

Maybe we can get fuel. The K162 from class 4 w-space coming in to our home system has been collapsed, halting the passage of mostly uncatchable covert ships, but the connection to class 2 w-space remains healthy. Of course, ships have been coming and going from there too, but as they belong to the 20-Minuters maybe we can work out some kind of agreement.

'Are you suggesting WHEN and the 20-Minuters do not shoot each other tonight?', says Bjurn Akely, when asked if we can safely take an Orca industrial command ship through his system. I think he remembers our first meeting, when I accidentally tried to kill him. But he's cool with the idea, as we haven't tried to shoot them so far tonight, and as their exit is only two hops from Jita it would be churlish to deny another w-space corporation such convenience.

The only problem now with the exit to high-sec is that it is also dying. Fin thinks that perhaps we have a couple of hours left, confirmed at first by our new temporary allies, but that estimate gets dropped down to 'could die at any minute'. Yeah, we'll probably be okay. Fin heads out to high-sec to get some fuel, I turn the other way to see what's through our static wormhole to class 3 w-space.

My directional scanner is clear when I explore through the wormhole, and launching probes and blanketing the system reveals nine anomalies, ten signatures, and some drones. My last visit being only a month ago lets me warp directly to where the towers should be, and one tower has been torn down in the past few weeks, the other two remain. Obviously, there are no ships.

Sifting through the signatures gives me gas, a data site, and three wormholes, one skinny. A K162 from class 2 w-space is interesting, but before I can get too interested in it Fin tells me she's returning from Jita and needs some guidance getting back in to w-space. The bookmark to C2a's high-sec K162 is missing. That's not a problem, mostly because the wormhole isn't there any more. It's dead.

I'd better scan the replacement high-sec exit, although it's not guaranteed to get Fin home tonight. I also marvel at the 20-Minuters' home system. It's vast. There are also towers dotted everywhere, which, given that I've no need to be covert, I find using a more efficient method than d-scan. I clump my probes over a planet, zoom in close, and see what moon the structures are all on. But, yes, wormholes.

The only new wormhole in C2a is the re-spawned exit, this time leading out to a system in Khanid. 'Eighteen hops.' That's a lot of distance to cover in an industrial ship this late in the evening, and Fin decides to call it a night. We can get her back again soon enough. I turn around and return to reconnoitre the other wormholes in C3a, where warping to the static exit to low-sec sees the colours of The Forge rippling through. Well, damn.

Still, the wormhole leads to low-sec in The Forge, which isn't a great environment for industrial ships. I don't try to wake Fin up. Instead, I wonder who's woken up in C3a, as scanning probes that aren't mine are active. I doubt they belong to an Eris interdictor that blips on d-scan, and although I consider taking a peek in to C2b I decide against it when a Proteus strategic cruiser appears somewhere in the system. I'd rather not make a mistake because I'm tired, and decide to get myself safe in our home system, ready to get Fin home tomorrow.

Border patrol

6th April 2014 – 3.32 pm

My glorious leader is keeping a watch for activity. Fin has even tried to catch a ship, but it was one of those annoying Kryos haulers and so naturally failed, leaving us with a connection to class 2 w-space coming in to our home system and some active pilots who know we're around. Well, they know Fin is around, not me. Not yet.

Fin also reports some cloaky strategic cruisers as being active. Most notably, when she waited in an interdictor for the Kryos on the high-sec wormhole in C2a, she was a little surprised when the wormhole crackled and brought in to the system Loki, Loki, Tengu. 'I ran to high-sec', and so did the Kryos she was shooting. The pair chatted whilst waiting for polarisation to end, then went back to their respective home systems. Sounds entertaining.

Now Fin sits and watches the C2 K162 in our home system, having so far only seen a Buzzard covert operations boat come in and go out again. And it's back in to the system as Fin finishes her sitrep. I think I should scan this signature unaccounted for by our current bookmarks, so launch probes and get them working. I resolve a wormhole, not much of a surprise, as a Manticore stealth bomber comes in from C2a and cloaks.

Warping to the other connection in our home system sees a K162 from class 4 w-space throbbing with the stress of sitting at half mass. Either Fin got distracted by the C2 K162, or this wormhole is actively being collapsed. I approach the connection and loiter, knowing that if it is being actively collapsed I should see another jump soon. I don't, so it isn't.

I'm on the C4 K162, Fin the C2 K162. A Probe frigate warps to my wormhole, turns, and warps out again before I've barely reacted. The ship jumps past Fin to C2a. The Probe jumps past a shuttle too, curiously sitting on top of the C2 K162. It's an odd choice of ship for bait, assuming it's trying to flush out Fin again, because anyone with experience knows it is too small to be locked quickly enough to be caught without a bubble. We ignore it.

We sit and we wait. We're really just monitoring our borders, not even enforcing them, just waiting for our w-space profiling to pick out a good target to haul aside for questioning. A cloaky Loki from C2a is perhaps a decent target, if we could catch it, and as it doesn't come my way I think we might struggle to do that. I also think Fin's seeing all the action. At least, until the Manticore makes a reappearance, dropping on to the C4 K162 and jumping through. Still nothing we can catch, though.

Manticore jumps past me to class 4 w-space

I think my minor excitement is over, but apparently not. A Proteus jumps from C2a past Fin, who tries to catch the pilot's name as the strategic cruiser cloaks. 'Bjurn Ak... something.' No way. Bjurn Akely is poking around our system. I wander in to a channel he lurks in and say hi, in my inimitable way, to see what's happening. Oddly enough, he's trying to catch some ships, but the ones coming from the C4 connecting in to us. Maybe we can help.

Or maybe we can't. More activity comes from my location, an Astero frigate jumping past me to C4a, followed by a Probe frigate. But the timing of the latter jump and the wormhole's crackle doesn't feel right, particularly when the frigate's jump apparently drops the wormhole's mass to critical levels. And so it shouldn't feel right.

Orca crashing the wormhole

A Tengu appears from C4a, but I'm expecting another ship, a bigger ship. There it is. The Tengu jumps back as an Orca industrial command ship sheds its session-change cloak. The Orca follows the Tengu through the critically destabilised wormhole, collapsing the connection. That's our source of ships gone. Now what do we do?