It's another day in w-space. Home remains clear, which is always reassuring, and I need to look abroad for activity. I scan and resolve our static wormhole and jump to our neighbouring class 3 system to see a clear return from my directional scanner. The j-number of this system looks familiar and it could be, but only from ten months ago. There were four towers then, when 'Legions engage Sleipnirs, bombers' for 'no kills, no losses'. I remember that. It's all changed now, though, as three of those towers should be in d-scan range, yet I see nothing. I launch probes and perform a blanket scan of the system as I warp across to see if the fourth tower remains.
One tower is indeed in the same location as ten months ago, holding now a piloted Anathema covert operations boat. The ship looks inactive, however, and I don't see any scanning probes in the system, giving me freedom to scan myself. I bookmark the two anomalies present and start sifting through the seven signatures, resolving a gravimetric site, a second gravimetric site, an industrial ship—what? I fling my probes out of the system, no doubt far too late for them not to have been seen, and wait to see what happens.
The industrial ship doesn't come to the tower to join the Anathema, and warping to the inner system finds it gone. I also see a second tower on d-scan, one I missed from the K162 on the outskirts of the system. That's lax scouting again, Penny. It's possible a hauler left that tower for low-sec empire space, although that doesn't explain why it didn't show up on my probes initially. But I would put iskies on the industrial ship having used a wormhole. I reposition my probes and, sure enough, resolve a wormhole after two scans, the position of the hauler giving me a good starting point.
Warping to the wormhole shows it to be the system's static exit to low-sec, and also that the connection is reaching the end of its life. I also see an Orca industrial command ship heading my way, how exciting! It's possible the Orca is the ship my probes picked up and that the pilot is trying to collapse the wormhole instead of waiting for it to die of old age. I maintain my cloak near the wormhole as the Orca warps in and jumps to low-sec, and wait with baited breath to see if the tempting target returns after the short session change timer. A polarised Orca by itself would be vulnerable indeed.
Of course, the Orca isn't coming back. Maybe I should have followed it to low-sec and attacked it there, but I've missed my first chance. Let's hope I have more than one. I am at least assuming the Orca's coming back, and that its journey will be brief, given the condition of the wormhole. I wait a minute in w-space then, armed with the pilot's name, jump to low-sec myself. I make myself a bookmark of the other side of the wormhole and check the list of pilots in the local communication channel. The Orca pilot's not amongst them, but a colleague of his is in the system. That might not be good.
There's his colleague, in a Helios cov-ops on the wormhole, returning to w-space. It's possible the Helios has been scouting for the Orca, but I don't know whether he saw my Tengu appear in low-sec before cloaking and can warn the Orca pilot of my strategic cruiser, or was travelling closer to the Orca and missed me. Either way, the Orca pilot is now in local comms. I wait until I can see the Orca itself on d-scan and then jump back to C3a, where I hope the Helios has—nope, he's still here. I don't suppose I have the element of surprise. Even so, d-scan remains otherwise clear, so I should be good to take a shot at the Orca.
I hold my cloak and hope for the Orca to jump home regardless, and when the wormhole flares it looks like that's just what he's done. The session change cloak drops and I have a whale of a ship as a target. I decloak, lock, and start shooting, taking care to disrupt the Orca's warp engines. The Orca's taking damage but he's also tanking it, a shield booster effectively absorbing all I can throw at the massive ship. Hopefully that won't last for long, otherwise we'll be here until I run out of ammunition. The Helios reappears, perhaps to distract me, but my eyes are firmly on the prize of the Orca.
Here come the ECM drones, the Orca launching its natural defence mechanism. I'm not surprised, nor really disappointed. It will take a lot of shooting to down this ship and it may be a better use of both our time for the drones to jam me and let the Orca get on its way. But I won't let him get away without a fight. The drones get a successful jam on my Tengu, so I order ramming speed and slam my ship in to my target. The bump I give the bigger ship knocks it a little off course, slowing its approach to warp speed enough for the jam to cycle and for my Tengu to regain its lock and point.
A second ECM jam is countered by a second bump, and when I am back to shooting the Orca its shields are definitely depleting. I think I've caused it to suck its capacitor somewhat dry, which is good. But the Orca makes a course change, heading in the opposite direction to before. I pull back to get a run up for my next bump, but the drones get another successful jam before I'm ready and, as soon as my warp disruptor deactivates, the Orca warps away. Oh well, it was a good little scrap whilst it lasted. And here's the Helios, returned from wherever, appearing to give me a new target just in time. He doesn't run either, and it is a simple matter to pop the smaller ship, although the pod flees before I can trap that too.
I loot and shoot the wreck of the Helios, and scoop the ECM drones left behind, taking care to watch d-scan for any more hostile ships but comfortable to be close to a wormhole for an easy escape route. As I clear the wreckage and drones I wonder why the Helios made himself an easy target. It could have been an accident, or a misguided attempt to recover the ECM drones himself, or he could have been a distraction. I favour the distraction idea, keeping my attention away from following the Orca, particularly now that it has loosed a flight of ECM drones that would leave it more vulnerable, letting the industrial ship return home safely at the cost of a much cheaper cov-ops.
Sacrificing the Helios is a good idea, even if the pilots aren't to know I haven't scanned the system completely yet. But it also highlights the option that I naively hadn't considered so far, that the ships are not local to this C3 but just passing through. That gives me another wormhole to find. I warp out and relaunch my probes, and I get to work looking for the source of the Orca, although I realise an ambush may be waiting for me when I find it. In fact, the capsuleers may not be content with my stumbling in to their ambush, as warping back to the wormhole to low-sec to keep an eye on the situation almost sends me right in to the path of two Golem marauders. Circumstances are escalating.