I call on Constance again to get me home. She finds the home system clear of all but our static wormhole today, and all looks good for the return journey until she jumps through to the class 3 w-space system beyond. The C3 is familiar to me, having visited it four months ago, and it supposedly has an exit to null-sec k-space, which is unlikely to offer a convenient way home. But Constance knows that systems can hold more than one wormhole and scans anyway, hoping to find an extra connection that could lead to a better route.
Sure enough, out of the bundle of signatures in the system, a second wormhole is found almost immediately after the first, neither of them looking much like a null-sec connection from their return strengths. A third wormhole reveals itself too, which should give enough options for now, and Constance warps to each in turn to see what she's found. Two of the wormholes are outbound connections to class 3 w-space and both reaching the end of their natural lifetime, and as Constance is my lifeline to the home system I don't want to risk her getting isolated. The third wormhole is what looks to be a static exit to low-sec empire space. It seems I mislabelled this system in my notes, particularly as Fin later confirms the exit from her own records.
Constance jumps out of the C3 to find herself in the Genesis region, in a one-system low-sec island only eleven hops from where I am currently basing myself. That's pretty good, and she makes the one jump to high-sec to drop off the bookmarks heading home, although she has already given me the signature identifiers to allow scanning my way home as a safety measure. Bookmarks contracted, Constance heads back to w-space and hides herself away once more, and I undock my Tengu strategic cruiser to make the relatively short journey homewards.
The passage is uneventful, and I collect the bookmarks and jump in to low-sec to head towards w-space. I am feeling safe in my covert configuration, letting me cloak and warp cloaked, but Fin is bringing her Tengu fitted for Sleeper combat and would like a scout to guide her in to low-sec. I can do that, and loiter a short distance off the stargate in the low-sec system, noting arrivals and pilots currently in the system. There is a little activity here and there, but no combat and no ships lingering on the gate itself. As Fin prepares to jump I call her in, the gate still clear. But just as she jumps a Tempest battleship, glowing with what could be boosted sensor systems, warps in almost preternaturally.
Fin tries to warp clear before the battleship can gain a positive lock, but is snared and held in place, warp engines disrupted. A Harbinger arrives to add to the firepower, and a second battlecruiser appears soon after the first. I crawl closer, holding my cloak for now, knowing that my short-range launchers will be entirely ineffective out here, but I know I need to help Fin. To hit with my missiles I would have to get close enough to be in range of warp disruption effects, and I realise that my engaging would almost ensure my own ship's destruction. This is because if I fired any shots at the other ships an aggression timer would be activated that stargates use to limit piratical traffic and prevent me jumping clear.
Unfortunately, I am not quick enough to alert Fin to the danger of shooting back. She panics, shield dipping to dangerous levels as her webbed Tengu tries desperately to reach the stargate. And w-space has spoilt us, being conditioned to jump through wormholes with far less restrictions, and it is only too late that we realise we are not dealing with Sleeper technology here. It is also too late for me to realise my primary aim was to help Fin get home, not to sit on my backside and watch her get shot. I should have gone back to w-space, swapped the Tengu for a Falcon recon ship, and sat some distance off the stargate ready to use my ECM systems in case of such an ambush. Instead I watch helplessly as another of our strategic cruisers explodes.
At least Fin's pod gets away cleanly, warping to the wormhole and getting to our tower safely. But getting home is small consolation when the journey started in a ship that thankfully survived the ambush that got us stuck out in empire space in the first place. We've got used to mostly empty space, I think. Clearly the pirates had a scout in the high-sec systems either side of the low-sec island and were primed to warp in when a juicy target presented itself, and we should have been prepared for this. But we're home now, if a little deflated, and hopefully can get back in to the swing of normal operations again, pushing our paranoia levels suitably high once more.