I've made my decision. There's no point heading back through the wormhole that leads me to reds, not after I have taken a pot-shot at one of them and have concluded that they are waiting for me. That pretty much leaves me one direction to travel, although I suppose I have a choice of wormholes to choose. As the K162 from high-sec in this class 3 w-space system was opened from the outside, it's possible there are no more wormholes to be found in that high-sec system. The static exit to null-sec, however, may lead to a system with more to find. I'll go that way.
I exit w-space to appear in the Branch region, where one other capsuleer in the system is enough to deter me from ratting but not scanning. Having my probes return just the one signature, the K162 I'm sitting on, is enough to have me scuttling back to C3a, though. I suppose I have another option available to me with the high-sec connection, but I don't want to be dumb about it. Rather than looking for other wormholes in the exit system, and be visible to the reds that appear to be moving ships, I can hop one stargate across to look for opportunity. As the system is in a constellation arm leading to a dead end I can be sure which way the w-spacers are heading, and so I can go the other and be safely ignored.
Scanning the high-sec system one hop away from the exit has three signatures appear, and this time none of them will be the K162 I used to get here. And they are all wormholes. And not only are they all wormholes, they are all also outbound connections. Two lead to class 1 w-space, and one to class 2 w-space. I don't think I could have got a better result. Let's see if any of the systems gives me a juicy target. I poke in to a class 1 system first, knowing that it will likely terminate straight back to empire space, and see four drones on my directional scanner, but no ships, wrecks, or towers. A bit of exploring takes me to the only planet out of initial d-scan range, where a tower lacking ships lurks. That's good enough for me, and rather than potentially waste time scanning I head back to high-sec and across to the other C1.
Two towers and two haulers appear in the other class 1 w-space system, which has me scrabbling with d-scan to look for the Badger and Bestower. I find them, both at one of the towers, and both missing pilots. A third tower comes in to d-scan range when I warp to the tower with the haulers, but as no more ships appear on d-scan I am content to ignore it and consider this system inactive too. Now I can check the class 2 system, which I leave to last because that one will offer another w-space connection and will be worth taking time to scan for.
It's good that there is more w-space to find, because the Impairor and Ibis frigates visible on d-scan along with a tower in C2a don't hold much hope for activity in themselves. I don't hold much hope in my notes being particularly relevant either, seeing as my last visit was over two years ago. But seeing that I have the static connections listed as leading to class 1 w-space and high-sec perks me up, and, to my surprise, the tower is in the same place as it was the last time I was here. The ships at the tower are unpiloted, of course, and scanning the single anomaly and seven signatures only throws up the two expected wormholes, so I continue through the constellation to C1c.
D-scan is clear from the K162 in C1c, but a blanket scan reveals two ships to go with the two anomalies and four signatures. The ships appear to be huddled together on a distant planet, far from a signature or anomaly, and even though that suggests they are in a tower together they may still be piloted and pondering activity. But, no, the Loki strategic cruiser and Cheetah covert operations boat are floating empty inside a tower's force field, leaving me with low-class w-space systems with probably just empire connections to resolve. Still, I'm here with probes launched, it would be churlish not to take a look around.
Hello, that Mackinaw is new on d-scan, and in range of the tower. And an Iteron hauler appears too, which is also a nice sight for it being new, even if the Mackinaw has gone. That just means I need to find it, which I was going to do anyway. The Iteron drops from d-scan too, but my probes are still in the blanket-scanning configuration, and I can see one ship in the system. Maybe he's from C2a and using this system's static exit to low-sec as being more convenient than their own high-sec exit. It sounds unlikely, but possible. Warping to the wormhole finds neither ship, but the Iteron is on d-scan somewhere. Is he at a customs office?
I think the Iteron is indeed collecting planet goo, which seems like odd behaviour for a tourist, but I won't question it if I can catch him. D-scan has the Iteron loitering near one planet, and warping there sees the ship just long enough to peg his next destination. I follow behind, confident that I shall get there with time to spare, only to arrive with no Iteron in sight. Surely my ship is not that much faster in warp than a hauler, and indeed it isn't. Either the pilot lined up his flight lazily or he likes to bounce off moons. The Iteron warps in from another direction, which whilst still brings him in to range makes him far enough away to be inconvenient. Never the less, I line him up.
I decloak and activate my micro warp drive, wanting to get close as soon as possible, and activate my offensive systems when the recalibration delay ends. The Iteron's warp drives are disrupted, his shields are being peppered with projectiles, and a cloaky Loki is burning towards him. But the Iteron doesn't care, as he just turns and runs. The damned ship has warp core stabilisers fitted, and his esoteric path put him too far for me to give him a gentle, ramming-speed nudge. I have little option but to cloak and accept his escape, until I get back to the tower and see the Iteron on d-scan but not inside the force field.
Maybe if he's not local and collecting planet goo he tries to hide when not active. But I have combat probes available, and I bring them in to scan his position. One hasty scan is corrected for a better second scan, and I warp to his position, decloaked and weapons-hot, only to see the ship inside the force field of a second tower. How did I manage to miss that? Something should have registered when updating d-scan from the first tower and seeing defences and hangars in range but not reporting a distance. Or, if not that, the second force field was a dead giveaway. Okay, Penny, missing a stabbed Iteron was unfortunate, but not scouting an obvious tower was careless. Time to go home.
Back to C2a, across to high-sec, and a stargate hop to the exit system. A single red pilot is in the system, in a pod according to d-scan, and is joined by two more red pilots. Neither come through the wormhole from C3a, as I'm sitting on it and see no flare. I jump in to w-space before the pod arrives, so that I can pretend I haven't been seen, and watch as the pod follows behind and warps away. Now to see what the other two pilots are bringing in, and maybe catch them on the next wormhole along their route home, where w-space meets w-space and there's no easy exit. But the other two pilots are also in their pods, and I don't think I stand a chance of catching them without a bubble.
I am ready to ignore the reds and go home to get some sleep, seeing a Drake battlecruiser, Manticore stealth bomber, and Proteus strategic cruiser all appear on d-scan for long enough to cross C3a and exit to high-sec. I would either be vulnerable to those ships or not be able to catch them. But a Retriever's appearance makes me pause, turn my Loki around, and loiter on the K162 to C4a, in the hopes that another harmless industrial ship will come this way. A Devoter heavy interdictor doesn't count, and I already ignored an Impel transport ship at the start of the evening because of its increased warp core strength.
A Merlin frigate jumping with the Impel looks tempting enough, though, but that could be because I'm tired. I decloak, and watch as the frigate warps clear of the wormhole before my recalibration delay dissipates. Good job. As I am visible and the Impel is still in front of me I take a shot at him instead, but the transport merely warps away at its leisure, ignoring my piddly single point of warp disruption.
I would say that's it for the evening, but curiosity gets the better of me again, as pods come back the other way. I can't possibly catch one warping away from a wormhole, but I know my cannons can pop a pod in one volley, so can I lock one in time as it lands on a wormhole? No, not even when I'm primed and ready, with my sensor booster active. Okay, then. It really is time to head home and get some sleep.