Home is looking bare. Visitors stole our sites, our own industrialists have harvested the resources. That's according to my dwindling bookmarks, though, as my probes show that the Sleepers and resources are already returning. Everything looks normal. All I need now is a hauler floating idle inside a tower in our neighbouring class 3 w-space system to watch for a couple of hours.
Jumping to C3a has nothing visible on my directional scanner, and although the presence of fourteen anomalies makes me wonder if the system is unoccupied my notes suggest otherwise. Whilst out of range of anything I launch scanning probes, then warp off to see if either of the two towers listed from three months ago remain. The first does, empty of ships, and the blanket scan has three ships light up my combat probes along with six signatures, all of which are at the also-remaining second tower.
The Iteron hauler and Viator transport are idling on a technicality, being pilotless, but the Heron has a capsuleer inside it doing nothing. I can scan. There aren't many signatures and, as it turns out, the few present are all out of range of the Heron, so I can scan covertly. Not that doing so results in much, just some rocks, gas, and the static exit to low-sec. The Heron refuses to move, forcing me to head through the wormhole to low-sec, appearing in Metropolis. Dullopolis, more like. Have I used that one before? Never mind, I'll scan for more wormholes.
Five extra signatures don't start out promising, with two Rogue Trial Yards, some rocks, and a crappy dying K162 from class 3 w-space. But the last signature is weak, and a wormhole. Could it be the fabled outbound link to class 5 w-space? My probes give me a solid hit on the signature, I warp to it, and drop next to a wormhole of type N432. Back of the net.
Entering C5a doesn't look particularly positive, with a couple of capital ships on d-scan obviously floating unpiloted in either of the two towers in the system, but at least I have more w-space to look for. I launch probes and scan, except that's not me scanning. It's a Cheetah covert operations boat. I get confused sometimes. But where did he come from? Low-sec, behind me? A new wormhole? I doubt he's local, as the cov-ops looks to be at the star, which seems like an awfully careless place to launch probes in a system where you should have a chunk of safe spots available.
I warp to the star to see if I can catch the Cheetah, but he's not here. Not here, but close. I have combat scanning probes launched so set them on a minimum-range scan pattern and call them in to hunt the cov-ops. 99.6% isn't quite good enough to warp to the tiny ship, and wiggling my probes around and trying a couple more times doesn't seem to help. But the Cheetah looks to be at the first planet, so rather than waste more time I warp in that direction and hope I get lucky. Almost. The Cheetah's right next to me, but only on a cosmological scale.
The Cheetah sits a hundred kilometres away, unmoving, uncloaked. I bounce off a planet in a bid to get closer, but utilising a sixth sense the pilot enters warp just as my cloaky Loki strategic cruiser returns to be within ten kilometres of the cov-ops. He warps in the direction of one of the towers too, making him local. Being tagged as orange kinda gave that away, Penny. Pay more attention.
I follow behind the cov-ops, not yet having broken my cloak, only to have the Cheetah warp back to the first planet. I follow again, aiming to drop short to where the Cheetah was the first time. But this time he cloaks, and I have no idea where he is. Not only that, but I also have no idea why I'm even looking for him any more. Still, I find him, when he decloaks less than five kilometres from me, but I don't follow suit. He's aligning to warp, and I don't stand a chance of stopping him.
Okay, sod it. I'm scanning. I have no idea what the Cheetah is doing, particularly as I can't even see probes that may belong to him, so I'm moving on. I ignore gas, rocks, radar sites to get to the static wormhole on the final signature, and jump to class 4 w-space. Class 4 w-space with a Noctis salvager and single Sleeper wreck visible on d-scan from the K162. I think I played with the Cheetah for too long.
There are no anomalies in C4a, not that finding them would find the Noctis, and warping away to launch probes only bumps in to tower with plenty of ships. I don't really mind, as a single wreck won't take the Noctis long to salvage. I've missed him already. Instead, I locate the tower, note the piloted ships, and start watching for further movement. The piloted Badger hauler interests me, as does the Heron scanning frigate sitting over two hundred kilometres above the tower.
The Noctis returns to the tower and swaps tantalisingly to a Bestower, but not for any real purpose. Not much is happening, and I am left wondering if I should aim for the Heron. I'd need scanning probes to lock on to his ship to reach him quickly, as sub-warp speeds would bore me to tears before I even got close. I return to the now-empty inner system, launch probes, and hide them as I warp back to the tower. My only concern now is how long I'll have to ambush the Heron before the tower locks on to me. Or, I suppose, his colleagues in strategic cruisers come to save him.
Wondering whether the Heron is being used specifically as bait, or if it's protected by the tower, are answered as I am interrogating my databanks to calculate the range of the tower's warp disruption batteries. The frigate cloaks. Okay, I think I've determined that my timing is off tonight, and that I'm only going to get more frustrated. Rather than continue forwards I head back, passing through empty systems to get home for the night.