Aii's on-line, but doesn't look to be home. That wouldn't surprise me, as he was in empire space until late last night, and seeing the bookmarks not updated so far today pretty much confirms his status as locked out. I'd best scan to find him a way back. An unexpected signature at home is only gas, so I resolve our static wormhole and jump to the neighbouring class 3 w-space system, where I see ships on my directional scanner. Ships and drones, in fact. And a tower. But it's not so much the tower that makes me think the ships are inactive, or the lack of wrecks, but more the ship types.
A couple of stealth bombers would only be active if they were also being stealthy, so seeing them on my directional scanner makes me consider them likely to be empty. Three scanning boats aren't going to be using a flight of drones, and neither is the hauler, so I am confident no combat is currently occurring, and a lack of probes gives the impression that the scanning boats are dormant. The Badger may still be piloted and ready to haul, though, so I look to find the tower. Which I do, by accidentally warping to the right moon. That's a time saver, particularly as all of the ships but the Imicus are empty.
No probes visible on d-scan suggests the Imicus is taking a breather. I warp out, launch my own probes, and blanket the system. Five anomalies and seven signatures won't take long to resolve, and I ignore some gas and a radar site to bookmark two wormholes, all with no movement from the frigate. The static exit leads to low-sec, and it's yet another link to a system in Aridia, so thankfully the second wormhole is a K162 to more w-space.
Jumping through the K162 sees a very red nebula for a class 4 system, which is explained once the black hole pulsating in the background is noticed. Unsurprisingly, the system is unoccupied. I have another K162 to find, and find it I do, amongst the plentiful rocks and gas that litter the ten anomalies and seventeen signatures. It's another C4 K162, making this already feel like the beginning of an extended chain leading back through class 4 and, potentially, class 5 w-space.
C4b is also unoccupied, so I launch probes and start sifting through the twenty-six anomalies and fourteen signatures to look for more wormholes. Ah, chubby signatures, how I could cuddle you for being so easy to filter. There's a K162, and it's a relief to see it coming from class 2 w-space and not the C5 or C4 system I was fearing. The C2 with a C4 connection also will give us a high-sec wormhole with its second static link, which could help bring Aii home more conveniently than through Aridia. Even better, a second C2 K162 in C4b will double our options.
C2a turns out to be big, at 143 AU across, with four towers that remain from eight months ago, but, despite there being sixteen ships, seven of them Orca industrial command ships, there is no one home. Such a vast system gives me pause, as my probes don't quite stretch so far to blanket the system in one go, but a couple of passes shows there to be a mere four signatures to go with sixteen anomalies, which won't be a chore to resolve, once I have their rough positions. Gas accompanies the static exit to high-sec, which may not be that helpful given that it leads to the Genesis region, and a K162 from class 2 w-space that's at the end of its life.
The K162 may be EOL, but I happen to land on top of it when dropping out of warp. For some weird safety reason, I consider my best option to press on, and I jump to C2c. And already I think I should return. My notes tell me that, over two years ago, a wormhole collapses on a fleet operation, so I had best be wary of this capricious system. But I'm here, d-scan is clear, and two planets sit out of range. I'm sure I have time to check them. Yep, I do. One tower, with an empty Dominix battleship is all there is to find. I'll head back, through a wormhole that thankfully remains.
My glorious leader has followed behind me and split off to C2b from C4b, also finding a tower and empty Dominix, so I continue backwards, through C4a in to C3a. A single combat scanning probe and a few core scanning probes are working in C3a now, so maybe the Imicus pilot is awake. No, that sole combat probe becomes many, which makes two scouts active, and the Imicus hasn't shifted since I left the system. Suspecting tourists, I take my cloaking Loki strategic cruiser to the static exit to low-sec and loiter, hoping to catch whoever gets quickly bored with w-space and desires a return to empire space.
I look to be catching myself, if I'm after a quickly bored pilot. How long can it take to scan seven signatures, particularly with two pilots sharing the burden? Okay, the core probes disappear from d-scan, and are followed by a Helios covert operations boat appearing on my display. The cov-ops jumps to low-sec, and I let him go, the damned slippery eel. But he comes back. And even though he's polarised I still let him go, because I'm not going to catch him. Well, not with that attitude I won't.
The Helios, not orange and so of uncertain origin, warps in C3a, and in a direction that looks to be towards our K162. I follow and give the pilot a little while to get comfortable in our home before I jump through the K162 myself, to give our visitor a welcome. Sadly, he's not got himself mixed up in the middle of launching probes, still holding his session cloak when I arrive, so I haven't got lucky. But as my jump will have been registered, when the Helios appears I wave my targeting systems in its general direction anyway. You've got to have a go sometimes.
Naturally, the Helios evades my simple attentions, warping clear. But I see him warp to apparently empty space, so the new wormhole will be at home and not in C3a, which is good information. I warp out, launch probes, and blanket the system. There are no new signatures. That's odd, because how did the Helios warp to where he did otherwise? I have no idea, and now he's jumping back through our static connection to C3a. I follow again, but as I need a few seconds to recall my probes I am too late to do anything but watch the cov-ops warp away a second time.
I see the direction the Helios warps in C3a too, and it looks to be joining with a Tengu strategic cruiser and Scorpion battleship on d-scan. I ping the known wormholes and see none of the ships, yet they remain in the system. They don't come past me, don't go to low-sec that I can tell, and don't look to have come from C4a. And where from C4a would they have come anyway? I am convinced there must be a new wormhole in this system. Sadly, my probes aren't, as a new blanket scan sees the same number of signatures as before, the identifiers matching known sites. Nothing is new.
Where did the Helios come from? Where did he go? What wizardry does he employ to warp to empty space like he does? Whatever the answers are, not only do I not have them, I don't care to find them. The Helios, Tengu, and Scorpion have all disappeared, and as I can't tell where they came from I can hardly work out where they went. The best I can do is update my colleagues, after which I return to the home system to hide and forget I ever saw those ships.