Glorious leader Fin is in her Bustard, and is either sleeping or seeing how long it takes to walk from one end of the transport ship to the other. Either way, she'll be indisposed for a while, and as there are no bookmarks currently available I launch probes to scan our home system. Finding the wormhole is easy enough, but a second signature looks suspiciously like one too. In my experience, only wormholes appear quite so far from celestial bodies, with most sites of specific Sleeper interest sitting comfortably close to planets. Resolving the second signature indeed reveals that I was hasty to use the definite article above, and we have a K162 in our system.
I make rough bookmarks to the deadspace signatures of the wormholes and copy them to our shared can, in case I can get Fin's attention, and board my Manticore stealth bomber. I ignore our static connection for now and jump through the K162 to the class 2 w-space system connecting to us. I left my scanning boat behind on the assumption that I would have no further wormholes to find, and although the C2 will have a second static connection it will only lead to k-space and my assumption that the system will be the origin of whichever scout opened the wormhole may still be good.
Yikes. Nineteen ships and a single tower all appear on my directional scanner in the C2. I adjust my settings and see no Sleeper wrecks, so I am hoping they are all unpiloted, but locating the tower finds the reverse to be true. All four battleships, eight battlecruisers, four logistics ships, and the few assorted remaining ships are all very much piloted, even if their level of activity is dubious. Most of the ships are stationary, some are making lazy orbits around others, and it is only a defence being brought on-line that suggests any of the pilots is actually paying attention. And despite the number of ships here the tower is currently weakly defended, so seeing defences being activated makes me think these pilots are settling in to a new home.
Normally, a corporation moving in to a w-space system will be vulnerable to an ambush, or at least a cheeky bombing, but we may have missed the opportunity already. And besides the tower being on-line and force field active, warping around finds two off-line towers and a second on-line one belonging to a different corporation that I suspect will be off-line soon. As much as I like to be a disrupting influence, I think I'll simply leave these capsuleers alone. I still have our neighbouring class 3 w-space system to explore for adventure, and I can come back to scan for the second static connection here later if necessary.
On second thoughts, that incoming connection from the C2 will only be a cause of trouble. There are enough ships available to romp through our system and force us to retreat to our tower for the evening, it would be better not to ignore it. Thankfully, the Y683 class of wormhole has the same mass allowance properties as our C247 static, which will making collapsing it straigthforward. Fin's got back to the cockpit of the Bustard and agrees that collapsing the connection is the best option. We may even get away with it, as the C2 occupants are hopefully looking in the other direction, as more pilots are warping in to the tower from presumably the connection to k-space.
Fin boards her Orca industrial command ship and makes a return journey safely, although I am sitting some distance from the wormhole in my Widow black ops ship in case she is followed back. A second round-trip goes without a hitch, and the wormhole destabilises as expected as she jumps back. It looks like the C2 pilots haven't pushed too much mass through the wormhole yet, and we can collapse it confidently. But as Fin's Orca warps back to our tower the wormhole flares again, and a Buzzard covert operations boat moves away and cloaks. We may have been spotted. No other ships come through the wormhole, though, and as we only have one more coordinated jump to make we should be okay.
We wait for the polarisation effects to end, and as we do I take the time to move my Widow within jump distance of the wormhole, and prepare for the final push. Fin warps her Orca back to the wormhole and, as it lands, I jump my Widow in to the C2. That's curious, was that a ship I saw briefly as I appear in the C2, or a glitch in my systems? Whatever it was, we have a separate problem. When Fin jumps to join me in the C2 the wormhole destabilises to a critical level, indicating its imminent collapse a little sooner than we expected. Theoretically, the wormhole will allow a little under a hundred million kilogrammes to pass through it, and as my Widow masses fifty percent more than that it looks like one of us will be staying behind.
If one of us being isolated from the home system wasn't awkward enough, that really was a ship I saw on my overview. The Loki strategic cruiser decloaks as it is joined by a second dropping out of warp. We have definitely been noticed, and the Buzzard was not scouting our system but there to provide intelligence. Fin finds out that I don't have a probe launcher on my Widow and orders me home, although that now looks like a a death sentence for her Orca and, as we have no exit from the C2, her pod too. And whilst it may appear to be cowardly self-preservation to do so quite so readily, I jump back to our home system, just as more battlecruisers and battleships drop out of warp on our position. I leave just as a Machariel battleship surges towards me at ramming speed.
As I hoped, my Widow doesn't collapse the critically unstable wormhole on my passage through it. It wasn't a blind hope either, as we have seen this behaviour at least once before. Wormholes have engineering tolerances on them, making some more massive and others less, and there has been an occasion where my Widow has passed through a similarly critically unstable wormhole without collapsing it. I jumped back because the Orca definitely would have collapsed the wormhole, whereas there was a slight chance my Widow wouldn't. Now I'm calling for Fin to come home. 'If I can', she says, her Orca locked and warp engines disrupted, and a second Machariel having rammed her already, no doubt hoping to push her away from the wormhole. But I see the wormhole collapse and, after a few seconds, Fin's Orca appear in front of me.
It's not just Fin's Orca I see in our home system. The spying Buzzard has made a reappearance, and I suspect it was trying to flee back to the C2 when Fin collapsed the wormhole. I lock the Buzzard and start firing cruise missiles its way, watching it warp away before even the second volley can strike, even at this short range. I can't prevent it fleeing, not having any warp disruptors fitted on my Widow, as I never intend this ship from getting anywhere near enough to the target to use them. I was also in no hurry to run from the wormhole, as only one ship was coming back to join me, and if it hadn't been Fin I was confident my ECM systems would let me evade the threat.
It's been quite a start to the evening. A simple exploratory visit and defensive operation quickly became complicated. Thinking one of us would be stranded in the C2 and have to scan our way out seemed like a reasonable option for all of five seconds, before some very angry ships swooped down to our position to prevent any notion we had of surviving. It was only good coordination, experience, and a bit of luck that brought us both back safely and once again isolated from the threats. My biggest disappointment is that despite now having burnt in to my memory the image of a Machariel dive towards me, filling my screen against a background of strategic cruisers and battlecruisers, the only image I managed to capture electronically is a murky one of my Widow shooting a Buzzard.