Some gas has drifted away, some new clouds have appeared. That's all the excitement in the home w-space system accounted for, is it any better next door? Not obviously, with my directional scanner clear from the K162 in the neighbouring class 3 system, although the black hole sits imposingly in the background. A single planet out of d-scan range doesn't provide any local occupation either, leaving me an empty and inactive system to scan.
My last visit nine months ago shows the same lack of occupation and activity. Unsurprisingly, the static exit is noted to lead to null-sec. Black hole systems aren't much liked, and neither are those with null-sec connections. It's no wonder this C3 remains unoccupied. I don't really mind looking for the null-sec wormhole either, except for its weak strength, as it will hopefully help me progress my current project. I launch probes and sift through the twenty-three anomalies and ten signatures.
Half the signatures are gas, all ignored after one general scan. It's good to be skilled in scanning. The rest will be weak wormholes, and relic and data sites, requiring a bit more effort to identify. My first choice is the null-sec exit—probably. Do I keep going, looking for a second weak wormhole, a definite outbound connection, or assume the other signatures are simply relics and data? I keep going. It's what I do. Data, relics, data. Oh yeah, I'm going to null-sec!
Exit C3a lands me in a system in Cobalt Edge, alone and ready to rat and scan. One extra signature, one drone battleship. I pop one, resolve the other; but which way around? Either way, the signature is a wormhole, an N432 outbound link to class 5 w-space. That's pretty neat, and is potentially the start of a decent chain of w-space. I jump in, curious to see what I can find, and see a tower, some big ships, some small ships, and a full set of scanning probes. I'm not sure I like this.
The increasingly frustrating discovery scanner makes new wormholes painfully obvious to anyone not asleep at their controls, and an active scout with probes launched can almost resolve the K162 as quickly as it is opened from the other side. This terrible iteration to w-space, coupled with the availability of a Dominix and Scorpion battleship, Orca industrial command ship, Thanatos carrier, and Moros dreadnought makes me think the local pilots could be aggressively isolating their system. I hope I'm wrong.
I loiter on the K162. I am wary of moving from it, in case the scout has resolved the wormhole and massive ships are already heading my way to collapse my connection homewards. Opening the system map and sweeping d-scan sees the tower is straightforward to find, anchored to the single moon of a planet, and curiosity gets the better of me. I warp to the tower to check how many pilots are available and see just how founded my fears are.
The Thanatos and Moros are at the tower, piloted, the Cheetah and Scorpion missing. The covert operations boat returns moments later, the Thanatos warping away afterwards. The Cheetah pilot swaps to the Orca and follows behind the carrier. They aren't heading towards the wormhole I came through. I should be safe for now. Both ships drop from d-scan, the pair so unlikely a coupling that they must be collapsing an unwanted wormhole. Mine must be next.
I wait at the tower for the massive ships to return, but they are gone a suspicious amount of time. My first thought is that they are lurking by the wormhole they are collapsing, waiting for polarisation to end before finishing it off, but that's a rather risky move and not one I'd credit to pilots that appear capable. Moreover, it wouldn't take many passes from the Thanatos to kill a wormhole. They must be up to something else.
Well, of course they are up to something else. The ships aren't returning to the tower because why would they? They have warped from one collapsed wormhole directly to the next one to be killed. It's how we do it, it's surely how others do it. I can't believe it took me so long to deduce. Now I need to rush, or I'll be isolated from the way home. I turn my cloaky Loki strategic cruiser around and warp at best speed to the wormhole back to null-sec.
I still cautiously drop short, because I don't know if the wormhole is still there, or if I'll bump in to a ship. All looks clear, although the wormhole is resonating with the pulse of a stressed connection. It's not long for this system. I decloak and burn towards the half-mass wormhole, hoping to squeak through, but abort the manoeuvre almost as it begins, jinking and cloaking. The wormhole may look like it's still there, it's just that I've been in this position before. It didn't end well.
The situation clarifies in an instant. The wormhole is below half mass, the Thanatos is not in this system, and it has no need to stay out of the system for long. Within a few seconds the Thanatos will return, a carrier jumping through a wormhole in this state will surely cause it to implode, and a wormhole's collapse can take a few seconds to propagate across the two systems. This all gets processed in the moments it takes to decloak and pulse my micro warp drive, hence my almost-immediate jink and re-cloaking.
Sure enough, a couple of seconds later the wormhole crackles, returning the Thanatos to class 5 w-space. And, sure enough, the wormhole dies with the carrier's reappearance. Although I wasn't quite close enough to try, I would bet iskies that the wormhole had already disappeared from null-sec and wouldn't have let me through. I am isolated. But at least I am not isolated and heading pell-mell in to the hull of a Thanatos carrier.