Could I be so lucky? Popping the gassing Moa cruiser and heading backwards to more unexplored w-space puts me in directional scanner range of seven Retrievers and a Bestower. But there is also a tower visible on d-scan in this class 2 system, and a quick check puts the hauler and all the mining barges where the tower is. I perk up a little on warping to the tower to see that each of the eight ships holds a capsuleer, but as a refinery is on-line and running, and two of the pilots drop from Retrievers to pods, both actions indicative of the end of a mining operation, I suspect I've arrived too late.
It's a shame I've missed the chance to hunt some Retrievers. But as I'd only probably have caught one, as evidenced by my recent ambush of three Procurer barges, this C2 being three jumps from home, and I've already successfully hunted one ship today, I don't really mind. I remain interested in the pilots at the tower who aren't steadily going off-line, though. One of them, in his naked pod, even warps away from the tower, returning a couple of minutes later. He drops off d-scan when he leaves the tower, and as there's not much space beyond the range of d-scan in this system, I imagine he's going to empire space. I could perhaps still catch a ship on a wormhole.
I warp out, to one of the few points out of d-scan range of the tower, and launch scanning probes, taking care to watch the pod come and go once more before decloaking. No anomalies are present, and only six signatures, which would be a better result if the local pilots were likely to continue mining tonight, but they're already down to five Retrievers and the warping pod. Four, even. It's not looking positive. Maybe I should scan. Three. I'll scan. Two.
Three wormholes and two gravimetric mining sites are dotted around the system. The pod has been coming and going through a K162 from high-sec empire space, which is apparently more convenient than the exit offered by the system's static wormhole to high-sec. And both are connections to Concord-protected space. But the second static wormhole is rather more interesting, being a connection to class 1 w-space. Maybe I can find something soft wandering around lost. I jump in to find out.
D-scan is disappointingly clear from the K162, and although one planet sits out of range, and my notes place a tower there from only three months ago, the system is unoccupied and inactive. Only a bubble trap remains, one that is no longer even monitored. My notes also indicate that the static wormhole will lead to more high-sec space, but with two anomalies and eight signatures in the system I think I can spare the time to look for other connections. Nope, just the static wormhole, which takes me to a system in the Derelik region. It's boring, but another safety net in case of trouble, I suppose.
I return to w-space and in to C2b from C1a, where the two remaining Retrievers sit stationary in the tower. The convenient K162 from high-sec leads out to a pretty good system in The Citadel, only seven hops from both Jita and Amarr, but there are no oranges around and so no one to wait for. I still have more space to explore, however, with an outbound connection to class 5 w-space being in C2a, which I have been avoiding because of the potential of scanning deeper and deeper down a chain of C5s. But now's the time to do it.
I jump back from C2b to C2a, ignore the C6 K162 I've already visited, and jump to C5a, where I'm spat out over eight kilometres from the wormhole. That's not encouraging. Exploring the system also finds a lack of occupation, which could make for a cluttered system indeed in a C5. Thankfully, a blanket scan has only four anomalies and fifteen signatures, although at this time of night I still need to take a run-up to sift through them quickly. And my efforts are rewarded with three resolved wormholes. The outbound connection to null-sec will be one of those random wormholes that crop up to help space-mad w-spacers from time to time, the H296 static wormhole to more class 5 w-space is almost inevitable, but the K162 from class 2 w-space is a nice surprise, and my obvious next destination.
Fifteen shuttles and a Badger hauler is the weirdest mining operation I've ever come across. But there is no tower in d-scan range, and two cans floating around, so I'm not quite sure what else to make of the sight. I think it's safe to ignore the ships at the moment, so warp out, launch probes, and blanket the system. My probes reveal twenty-seven anomalies, fourteen signatures, and no towers, not even any off-line. I'm beginning to think the ships aren't piloted, and go looking for them to sate my curiosity.
Sure enough, none of the shuttles or the Badger are piloted, and as they are floating near a moon I would think that they are simply abandoned. Whatever corporation lived here tore down their tower to move and realised that taking all the shuttles with them was a waste of time and effort, so just left them behind. Now, I could artificially inflate my kill statistics and pop each of them, but even though I'm not averse to picking on unarmed vessels I can't find it in me to shoot so many empty and abandoned shuttles. I don't even care to peek inside the obviously empty Badger. I'll leave this gaggle of ships for other pilots to come across.
Leaving the abandoned ships also has me leaving C2c for C5b. A clear d-scan lets me launch probes, and blanketing the system shows me three anomalies, two signatures, and fifteen ships. I suspect occupation, most likely two towers or more. And it is more. Quite a few more. Four towers around one planet, holding a couple of empty industrial ships and a piloted Scimitar
recon logistics ship; a fifth tower around a second planet; and another three towers where some active ships appear to be congregating. Combat ships too, according to d-scan, and they are moving around and adding to the ship count under my combat probes. More excitingly, the locals are reds.
The red pilots are exciting for the wrong reasons, sadly. There are many more of them than there are of me, and they are in ships styled for fleet operations, rather than individual combat. Mind you, it's the appearance of an Anathema covert operations scanning boat that has me most concerned. There are quite a few pilots active and available, they live in a class 5 w-space system where collapsing wormholes is a necessity for security, and there are big ships floating inside local towers that can be used for such security operations. With only two signatures in the system, the K162 I entered through will glow like a beacon to the Anathema pilot, and the locals may mobilise a fleet to kill it quickly.
I really don't fancy being stuck in a C5 chain of w-space so late at night, and particularly one where active pilots look to be roaming for kills. Backwards I go, at best speed. I make it to the K162 with no one obviously there or on their way, and return to C5a unmolested. Maybe the pilots aren't yet looking for stray signatures, or would prefer a fight to come their way. But I'm heading home. It's not far from here, with just a pair of jumps to C3a and then through our K162, where I can hide to go off-line. Hunting a gasser, stalking miners, and scouting through a dozen systems has made this a fun evening.