The siege went according to plan. I think. The first of two towers was put in to reinforced mode without much fuss, at which point the owners came on-line, bargained to save their w-space assets, and paid a multi-billion ISK fee to have us walk away. We don't get any ships directly from the small invasion, but the ISK is a decent reward for the effort. The temporary tower is dismantled, and our corporation leaves the class 5 system to head back to its own.
I hear about this second-hand, as I had to leave the operation before it got started in earnest. But it was still good to play my part. Back in my home system, all is quiet. The anomalies are building back up again, even if our sites are all gone, but there's still only exploring to be accomplished. I resolve our static wormhole and jump to the neighbouring class 3 system to see what's there. Just an off-line tower sits in directional scanner range of the K162, and with eighteen anomalies pulled up by a passive scan I am guessing the system lies unoccupied and holds a static exit to null-sec.
Wrong and wrong. A previous visit to this C3, this being my sixth in total, shows that only two weeks ago a tower was sitting on a planet, now out of d-scan range, and that the static wormhole leads to low-sec empire space. I'll just keep my assumptions to myself and scan. A blanket scan shows seven signatures to sift through, and warping to the tower actually reminds me of the system. The hangar and maintenance array are named 'Loki' and 'Broadsword', probably in an attempt to startle unwary pilots. I remember that, and it's still not working, even if it's a fair idea.
Scanning holds the usual gas, rocks, radar and magnetometric sites, and just the one wormhole. Exiting w-space puts me in a faction warfare system in Black Rise, where scanning finds nothing of interest. It's still early, though, so I'll collapse our connection and start again. Four big ships get thrown through the wormhole and back, and yet it survives the stress. I'll get a heavy interdictor to push it over the edge. And it works, but sadly on the way out. Even with three warp disruption field generators active, reducing the HIC's mass to almost nothing, the wormhole implodes on my exit, isolating me from the home system. What a git.
At least I've already scanned C3a. I point my HIC to the exit to low-sec, jump to the Black Rise region, and see how far I have to go to get safe. I'm prepared for this, having been isolated in similar circumstances before, and have modules in the HIC's hold to make it safer for stargate hopping. All I need to do is find a station where I can make the changes, which won't be in this system. I point my nav-comp towards a high-sec system and start hopping between stargates, the heavy HIC taking its time to align and enter warp after each jump. Thankfully, despite there being pilots in the systems, the stargates remain quiet, and I enter high-sec without trouble. I dock, modify the ship's fitting, and call Constance. I want to get home.
Constance wakes up on the edge of our system, and launches probes to scan. The home system is still bereft of signatures, making the first step simple, although the wormhole's signature identifier of RIP sounds ominous. Jumping to C3a shows her an occupied but inactive system, and one that's pretty big. Her core scanning probes, not quite having the range of the combat probes I use, don't have the range to stretch the 65 AU to the star, let alone 140 AU to the farthest planets. Constance scans systematically, planet-by-planet.
Scanning takes a while with only adequate skills, and the ten-second per-scan time would drive me crazy now. But a wormhole pops up nice and early, which would be better if it didn't turn out to be a K162 from class 4 w-space. Great for exploring, not for getting me home. Again, the signature identifier could have been a hint, with it being DUD. Scanning continues, thankfully without too many signatures to wade through, and a second wormhole appears. It's a second K162, this one also from class 4 w-space. Stupid w-space, giving us a decent constellation when I'm not around. The third wormhole turns out to be the static exit, and it leads to high-sec, which is nice. Thanks, BUD.
The wormhole flares as Constance approaches it, and a Loki strategic cruiser comes in and cloaks. That's good to know. What's better to know is the exit, and after waiting for the Loki to hopefully have moved on, Constance jumps out to appear in a system in Metropolis. That sounds a fair distance from me, and I'd say thirty-one hops is a long journey, but it is all in high-sec and it gets me home. I thank Constance, let her return home safely, and leave dock to start the tedious trip home myself. But at least it's only tedious, not tedious and stupid.
Eighteen jumps out, I see an orange in the local communications channel. He belongs to the same corporation as the Loki Constance saw in C3a, and he looks to be heading the same way as me. The pilot's taking it easy, though, relying on his autopilot instead of warping point-to-point, which is understandable. We have technology for a reason. It makes me wonder if I can get a jump on him when we get back to w-space, but as the wormhole to C3a connects to high-sec, the pilot will be considerably later to the destination than me, and I don't know which other system he came from, I doubt there's much point thinking about it. Being in a wormhole-collapsing HIC, unarmed and lacking in threat, and him being in a Cheetah covert operations boat doesn't help with an ambush either.
Hop, hop, hop. The stargates pass me by, slowly but surely. I pass some ducks three hops out from the C3, making me wonder if they inhabit one of the class 4 systems in our new constellation, but they probably wouldn't be this far from w-space if they were. I ignore them, get to the destination system, and as the system looks clear I jump to C3a. I blast my way home in the HIC, not seeing another ship on my way, and return to our tower without incident. Refitting the HIC for wormhole-collapsing duties, I stow it and get back in to my cloaky Loki. But that extended run in empire space makes me think about how my visited systems map is looking these days. Let's see where I've been recently.
There are a lot more visited systems than the last time I took a look at the map, but that was well over two years ago. Even though I've been in w-space nearly all that time, I've been spat out to k-space all over the place, it seems. And, on occasion, I've had to make a short trip here and there. I still have one or two gaps to fill out before I have visited every system in New Eden.