We've made some iskies, now we can look to destroy some. Our static wormhole has been scanned and resolved but kept unvisited, so that we could rake in the profit from some local Sleepers, and with the profit made it's time to explore. Jumping in to our neighbouring class 3 w-space system has a promising start to blowing up innocent industrialists, with an Iteron hauler visible on my directional scanner, along with a Heron frigate, shuttle, and tower. Locating the tower is straightforward enough, as d-scan shows it to be around a planet with only one moon, and I warp in that direction. Unfortunately, there are no pilots to go with the ships, so my hope that the Iteron would collect planet goo will go unrealised for now.
I warp away from signs of occupation to launch probes, where I see signs of old occupation. A dead True Sansha tower sits on the edge of the system, which is an expensive toy to lose, but there's not much we can do about it any more than the locals can. Scanning finds ten anomalies and thirteen signatures, which turn out to be mostly gas. In fact, I get a bit of a thrill when I find a gravimetric site amongst the many ladar sites, but it's the second wormhole that is more interesting. It means we aren't coming back here to shoot more Sleepers for a start, but I prefer exploration anyway.
The two wormholes are a static exit to low-sec empire space and a K162 from class 2 w-space. I like the looks of that K162, so jump through to see what lies beyond. Targets, that's what! Out of range of any tower, d-scan shows me a Retriever and Covetor mining barge, two Hulk exhumers, a Badger hauler, and four cans presumably being stuffed with ore as the Badger tries to empty them. The additional presence of muscle, in the form of a Naga battlecruiser, is a little worrying, but it's probably nothing Fin and I can't handle. My main concern is what other pilots are here and available to protect the mining operation. If it's just the Naga we should be fine. If it's more we could fly in to trouble.
As a second Covetor appears on d-scan, I warp away from the wormhole, hoping to find somewhere to launch probes without being seen, as well as looking for a local tower. I find two towers, in fact, with four more ships split between them. A Noctis salvager and Iteron hauler are piloted at one tower, the second hauler indicating just how much ore is being mined, and a Helios covert operations boat and Harbinger battlecruiser are piloted at the second, where the Badger presumably from the gravimetric site warps to as I reconnoitre it. That's a fair few pilots. But we have some potent ships at our command, and the element of surprise. That is, if I can scan the site without being noticed, and I still don't have probes launched.
I cross to the far side of the system in the hopes of simultaneously dropping off d-scan of the towers and the mining operation, but can't manage both. I will either be in range of the tower or the operation, wherever I sit in the system, so I choose the tower. The odds are the miners and escort will be watching d-scan avidly, whereas the few pilots at the tower may be twiddling their thumbs or dozing off. And it looks like I'm right. I get my probes launched and sent far out of the system, and return to the inner system to see the mining operation still in full swing. All I have to do now is scan their position quickly and quietly.
Using the system map, I start swinging d-scan around until I get a good bearing on the ships, at which point I... well, I would reduce d-scan's bearing to narrow down their location, but what I actually see is the ships warping away from the site. The Naga is first to leave—a noble reaction from an apparent escort—followed by the haulers, then the mining barges, and finally the exhumers. I don't quite understand what's happened, as my probes are certainly not visible on d-scan, and the delay in their leaving means they didn't see me launch them. Ah, but my inactive cloak has my Tengu show up quite obviously, and the appearance of an unknown strategic cruiser was bound to spook the miners.
Holy crap, I have no idea how my cloak deactivated. I burn away from my probes as I launch them precisely so that I don't get tangled up and can cloak immediately afterwards. But however it happened, the hunt is off. Damn it, that's embarrassing. A Drake battlecruiser now sits on d-scan, presumably in the gravimetric site, as does a pod. Actually, the pod is fifty kilometres from me, which makes me think that they got a good look at my Tengu when I was clearly visible, but he may just be bouncing around the planets checking each one in turn. He doesn't find me, as I have thankfully managed to get my cloaking device working now. And as the jet-cans are still in the site, and I have probes launched, I may as well get some more hunting practice.
I get a bearing and range on the cans, and move my probes in to position for a scan. My first attempt only bags me 99·63% on the site itself, but I get a solid 100% scan on the two Scorpion battleships and Tengu now sitting there. Thanks, chaps! You're in the site for no good reason, and I couldn't have done it without you. I get a single scan hit on the site, letting me recall my probes with them having been visible for as short a time as possible, and I warp in to take a look. The three combat ships have left by the time I get there, but three jet-cans remain. It looks like the locals will be collecting their ore, regardless of who has wandered in to their system.
Maybe it's good that I scanned, and scanned well, if it means haulers are coming and going from the mining site still. Mind you, if the haulers get combat escorts with each trip then there's not much I can do. Fin, on the other hand, can throw a spanner in the works. I may have unintentionally scuppered her plan to drop a heavy interdictor on the miners but she has brought a stealth bomber this way, which is the perfect ship to surprise a flimsy hauler. Fin enters the system and warps to the rather convenient position in the mining site I find myself in, where we sit and wait. Well, where Fin sits and waits. I should probably reconnoitre the towers.
There's not too much happening. It looks like most of the pilots have gone off-line, leaving the Harbinger and haulers at the towers, and the Harbinger may not be part of the operation. But the Drake seen earlier is now back in the gravimetric site and hovering around one of the cans. It seems a good bet that the next hauler will warp to that can, to be protected by the Drake from my nasty Tengu. What they won't expect is a bomb to be launched their way. Fin warps her Manticore in to a good position for an ambush, as I call an Iteron warping away from the tower. This should be good.
Yes, this should be good! I want to see it happen, not sit at the tower. I warp back to the gravimetric site myself, although at the safe spot far from any action, to be an observer. But the situation doesn't always work as we plan, and Fin is dismayed to see the Iteron land at the two cans far from the Drake, and far from her. Whether this was miscommunication between the locals or a bluff we can't say, but it has prevented Fin taking her shot. It may not stop me, though. My decision to warp back to watch the carnage may be to our benefit, as long as there are no cloaky surprises waiting for me.
I warp in to the jet-can the Iteron is crawling towards, the hauler having chomped the first, and decloak when close. I'm far enough from the Drake for it not to be a direct threat, and close enough to the Iteron to scare the crap out of its pilot. Or, rather, to blow the pilot out of the Iteron. I lock on, disrupt its warp drives, and start shooting. The hauler, optimised for cargo space, takes little encouragement to disintegrate, and neither does the ejected pod to warp back to the tower. I'm still quite agitated about the possibility of being counter-ambushed, what with all the ships recently seen flying around, and am happy to warp back to my safe spot in the site, rather than looting and shooting the wreck. I'd only find expanded cargoholds and ore anyway.
Well, that was fun! A single Iteron wreck is not quite the carnage of multiple mining barges and corpses, but disrupting the operation and still managing to pop a hauler is a fair result. It's a cheap kill, but a satisfying one. I don't think there's much more we can do, particularly when another look at the towers sees a Proteus strategic cruiser get prepared and warped towards the gravimetric site, disappearing before it gets there, no doubt cloaked. It's time to go home. We leave the system behind us, seeing no ships loitering on either side of the wormhole, and reflect on the hunt. Decloaking was unfortunate, but scanning the site anyway worked to our advantage. The stealth bomber was an excellent choice of ship, it was just a shame that the Iteron didn't warp to the guarded can. Finally, it can be good to see what's coming, but there are advantages in having options at the pointy end of the action too. Despite the hiccups, it's been a fun evening.