The sleepers don't seem so tough. They may be more diligent in determining active threats and keen to pop drones but our simple two-man fleet recently managed to defeat a few waves of frigates, cruisers and battleships, and when we were bolstered with another fleet member we sailed through the complexes. Having some more time available I wake myself up in w-space again ready for some action. It isn't long before a few of us are heading through a wormhole leading to another w-space system full of sleeper sites to explore.
There have been some hints of activity in this new w-space system, the possibility of probes from other capsuleers being seen. We need to keep on our toes to make sure we aren't ambushed when in the middle of a heated battle, particularly as the local channel is ineffective at providing intelligence in w-space. In normal systems the local channel provides at least basic intelligence in the form of showing the number of capsuleers piloting a ship in the current system, so when local is empty you can be confident of safe travel. However, w-space interferes with some systems and capsuleers appear in local only after they first send a communication through that channel. If pilots keep communications silent it simply isn't possible to know who else is in the w-space system easily, needing instead to scan ships down manually.
Knowing that there may be others present in the system means a careful watch is kept on the ship scanner for incoming probes, which could inform aggressors as to our location. It is half-way through an encounter with sleepers that the alert is raised, combat probes appearing close on the scanners. The order is given to warp out and head back through the wormhole to the POS. We are collectively in w-space for profit and a strictly PvE corporation so we all immediately disengage the sleepers and fire up our warp engines, ships aligning to the distant wormhole.
But then something curious happens. Instead of dropping out of warp at the wormhole I find myself caught on the edge of two spheres of static some 68 km from the wormhole. This is clearly too far to pass through the wormhole and quite unexpected. As unfamiliar as the situation is, I think I know what is going on. Rather than continue my course through the energised sphere to the still-distant wormhole in my sluggish Drake battlecruiser I throw my field-of-view around until I am looking in a direction orthogonal to the intersection of the wormhole and the spheres. I find I am in luck as I spy a planet whose direction will take me towards the closest edge of the sphere, and I align myself immediately. Within a few seconds even my slow Drake has crossed the boundary of the sphere and I engage my warp drive to the planet, managing to escape from the warp bubble.
The direction of the planet I was quickly able to visually scan down has two benefits. The first is being able to escape the warp bubble, a tiny and localised ship-created ball of space in which warp engines cannot function. The second in that it should now offer me a clear path back to the wormhole, as warp bubbles need to be placed with considerable precision to catch ships travelling through warp and any unexpected path should be able to avoid them. As soon as I drop out of warp I twist the ship around and warp back to my bookmark for the wormhole, soon finding myself only a couple of kilometres from its horizon, where I expected to be the first time. I look back to where I had been a minute before and see two hostile ships, a Sabre and Arazu, attacking my colleagues who are thoroughly snared. I start to lock on to the two targets but caution gets the better of me. I head back through the wormhole and to the relative safety of the POS.
I have to admit that I am really quite proud with myself for recognising the threat so quickly, particularly one previously not encountered before, and being able to negate it calmly, getting myself out of serious trouble unscathed. It is only because I read journals of other capsuleers remember a recent tale of a capsuleer encountering a warp bubble near a jump gate, causing him to nearly lose a ship. Even though the technical details were light the description was clear enough to help me recognise the same situation and recover from it, for which I am most grateful.
I am not so proud at not being able to communicate this quickly or clearly enough to my colleagues to save them from harm, nor for effectively abandoning them. I made my decision knowing that my Drake would be quite ineffective in PvP combat, particularly against hardened capsuleers out for blood in superior and more appropriate PvP ships, and I don't think anyone would appreciate my losing an expensive battlecruiser just so I don't appear to be left out. I hope I made the right decision, as it cuts me to sit safely at the corporation's POS as the pilot of a Tech II ship, a colleague, is podded.
The communication channel fills with panicked information about who is safe and who is still under attack. Thankfully, the other pilots manage to get back to the POS safely. Although one more ship is lost the capsuleer is able to warp out in his pod. It is at this time the aggressor notices an earlier faux-pas in his accidental broadcast in the w-space local channel, announcing his presence mid-way through the combat. Having been unmasked, and mostly successful in his attack, he thanks us for the good hunt. This could easily come across as abrasive, considering our losses, but as the alternative is some confrontational and abusive victory cries I find it somewhat honourable.
The pilot points out that he had been watching us for quite a while, seeing us at the POS, heading off through the wormhole and then entering the sleeper site, before setting up his trap. I'm sure it is of no comfort to our podded colleague at this time but I find it technically interesting, at least to learn from. One important lesson that I will take away from this encounter is not to warp directly to an exit point if threatened. If we are in danger from other capsuleers and need to escape in haste, it may just save a clone to warp to an intermediate point first.
The sleepers may not be particularly tough, but we are able to encounter them on our own terms. Today was an important reminder that we are in frontier space, a lawless area where anyone can be hunted. Even though we were aware of the risks and vigilant we weren't entirely prepared. We were engaged on someone else's terms and became the sleepers ourselves, dangerous but ultimately unthreatening.