Predator and prey

22nd November 2012 – 6.39 pm

Launch, cloak, blanket. Flying solo leads to familiar practices. No fleet. No back-up. Just static in the local comms. It would be enough to drive any pilot crazy, but the lack of other capsuleers is probably what keeps me in w-space. And no ships are picked up by my combat scanning probes, making the system empty. That's no guarantee, though, as cloaked ships are not detected. And cloaked ships are common in w-space for just that reason. In this case, being in our home system, I would be happy assuming I am actually alone, but two extra signatures picked up by my probes resolve to be two wormholes. Wormholes bring company. I'm surprised we haven't lost our remaining anomalies to visitors. Maybe their fleets are forming up at this moment. I should check. Not through the K162 from class 4 w-space, though, as the connection between the two systems looks pretty unstable, like it won't last for long. But, lucky me, the K162 from class 6 w-space is in rude health. I suppose I'm exploring through that one.

Just as I have a standard procedure when waking up in the home system, I have a standard procedure for entering new systems. I ping directional scanner to see what's visible and in range. Core probes, two Hurricanes, and a jet-can. If I didn't know any better, I'd say d-scan is showing me a pair of gassers. I can't think what else a couple of battlecruisers could be doing away from a tower in a C6. Then again, I can't remember being here two days ago, which my notes suggest. It's probably just space madness, a result of crashing our static connection twice in quick succession last night. But my reasoning seems sound, based as it is on experience. Hurricanes have a lot of fitting points for gas harvesting modules, there are better ships available to chew on rocks, and there is no way the battlecruisers would withstand the viciousness of Sleeper drones in class 6 w-space. There's a reason C6 systems are classed as deadly.

If there are gassers in the system, then I have gassers to hunt. I move from the wormhole and activate my cloak. As the Hurricanes will be in a ladar site I'll need scanning probes to find their position, and you can't just launch probes anywhere when hunting. The targets will be watching d-scan more diligently than the hunter, and it will show them my ship and my probes if I am careless. I have to get out of d-scan range. I also ought to see if there are other pilots on-line. It wouldn't do to be counter-ambushed. Not again. I warp across the system, ostensibly to find occupation but making a safe-spot in the process, and spy multiple capital ships on d-scan. That jogs my memory. Three towers, a bunch of dreadnoughts, a couple of carriers. Other ships too. Yeah, I was here. Nothing beyond general maintenance was occurring then, just some ships milling around, but that was a few hours later in the day. It seems I've appeared today during prime time for the locals. That's good for me. Maybe not for them.

The only other capsuleer I see is piloting one of the Moros dreadnoughts in the tower, which I find out at about the same time as my hopes in hunting gassers drops slightly. A pair of Hurricanes warps in to the same tower. But I don't think I've been spotted. One of the Hurricanes turns around and heads back to apparently empty space, giving me a good view of his vector as he leaves. That's useful. And I don't suspect a Moros will come out to provide cover for a gassing operation. I should be okay to hunt. Warping to my safe spot shows it to be in a good position: out of range of the tower, out of range of the gassers. I don't loiter for long, though, not even remaining decloaked to reload my probe launcher. Any ships passing this way could update d-scan and serendipitously see my Loki strategic cruiser, and that would be the end of my fun. I launch probes, throw them out of the system, and cloak. With my probes out of d-scan range of any possible site, and the ability to move their virtual positions freely, I head back to the rough volume of space the gassers are so I can locate them more accurately.

I pick a planet to lurk around and convert d-scan to its hunter's configuration. The standard full-range, 360 degree d-scan that shows everything is great for seeing what could be looking for me. But to do the looking I need to narrow its beam. I drop its angle gradually, starting at 60 degrees, and pinging to see that I have d-scan pointed towards the location of the Hurricanes. Three of them now, suggesting the one I saw at the tower hadn't returned but had perhaps just come on-line, warping out to join the operation in progress. No, five. I hope they're all sucking gas, that a pair aren't an armed escort, or this will be a short ambush. I reduce d-scan's angle, to 30 degrees, 15 degrees, 5 degrees until I'm in a small bind in locating the site. My ship's representation of the system won't rotate to a completely vertical view, stopping at maybe 85°, and it looks like the ships are almost directly below the planet I've chosen to orbit whilst hunting. That's unfortunate, but I get a good enough bearing and range that I think I can account for the minor inaccuracy.

D-scan doesn't just work in degrees. The range gate can be adjusted too. I drop the range gate to 1 AU and ping d-scan. Nothing. The ships aren't that close. 2 AU, 3 AU, still nothing. 4 AU and the ships appear. But that's still a bit too rough for what I'm doing. A bit more tweaking, however, shows that the ships are sitting at a distance from me of almost exactly 4 AU, which is a great result. A distance of 4 AU below the planet is easy to gauge using the sphere of a scanning probe. I have been shifting the virtual boxes of my probes around to keep track of my readings, and now I line up the distance datum with the bearing datum, adjusting both until I'm happy they are in the right position. I hunt this way regularly, but now I consider what I'm hunting, which isn't typical for me. Five Hurricanes are in a site in a class 6 w-space system. How much does it take to hold a C6, and does this colour how the locals perform even mundane tasks? D-scan still registers core scanning probes in the system, so I can assume they are looking for new connections, which is a prudent defence. Then again, gassing with their own static wormhole opened seems careless, particularly without a scout monitoring the connection. Maybe I'm over-thinking the situation. I call my probes in to scan.

I get a solid hit on all five Hurricanes, even if the site itself is a little fuzzy. I've come to expect that from gas clouds. A split-second after the result registers I'm recalling my probes and warping in to the site. Time is of the essence now, as the scan I just performed would have my probes visible and obvious on d-scan to anyone paying attention. It's the first time they'd be obvious, but being spotted once is enough to thwart the hunt. Knowing this, I'd normally be flying in for the kill, but with the class of w-space and five battlecruisers waiting for me I want to be cautious and reconnoitre the site first. Being cautious with ladar sites means approaching as horizontally as possible, as the clouds tend to sit above and below their association deadspace signature. Sitting vertically above the site is perhaps the worst place to be when wanting to warp in cloaked to a ladar site, which is why I returned to my safe spot, many AU horizontal to the site, before scanning. As it turns out, entering from above would have been safe, as the Hurricanes are clustered kilometres above the cloud, in a successful bid to prevent the particularly nasty Sleepers from engaging them by staying out of range.

Now that I'm here, this looks like a normal gas harvesting operation. But I can't say for sure from this safe distance. I want to get closer, which means backing off a little first. I made a tactical monitoring point as I entered the site, which I retreat to now, taking me far enough away so that I can warp directly to the canister the Hurricanes are using either for a reference point or to store the harvested gas. The reference point is convenient to me too, letting my warp drives lock on to it for the closer approach. But still I don't warp to engage, as I am remain cautious for now. I do, however, get close enough to get my sensors working on the ships, poking around them looking for weapons systems. I see gas harvesters firing, and other turrets dormant. They may have enough pilots that each ship can spare some hard-points for armaments. This could help me ethically, as shooting ships that can shoot back is probably easier to square with my conscience. But shooting ships that can't shoot back is easier to square with my accountant.

I take a closer look at those dormant turrets. They're unmistakably gas harvesters too. They're not firing simply because of the ship's orientation. I would say I'm safe to take a shot at the ships. Or one of them, at least, as I only have one warp disruptor module fitted to my Loki. As long as there isn't a cloaked escort nearby... No, I won't double guess the situation. Sometimes you've just got to take circumstances at face value. But I can assume help is nearby, or help will come, and still give myself better odds at survival without sacrificing time or sanity. I approach from my current position thirty kilometres away, with the space seconds before I get inside optimal range, and interrogate each pilot's known information, looking specifically for the date they became a capsuleer. The youngest is my target.

Harsh, perhaps, but I want to be quick and am not particularly looking for a challenge. The younger the pilot, the less training they will have under their belt, both book-learning and flight experience. Weaker shields, armour, slow reactions, perhaps more panic. All will work in my favour. I approach the young pilot, set my ship in to a gracefully slow orbit, and decloak. I'm not expecting any return fire from the benign gas harvesters fitted to the Hurricanes, so don't need to be particularly close or moving with any great speed. As long as I don't make any mistakes this should go smoothly. It definitely starts that way. The recalibration delay of my sensors dissipates and I get a positive lock on my target battlecruiser, activating my warp disruptor, to prevent its escape. With nowhere for the ships to go, my autocannons start shredding its shields. The other ships are free to leave, however, and within seconds the other four Hurricanes warp out of the site, scattering as wildebeest pounced by a lion.

The other ships leaving is a good sign, as my intelligence that they aren't armed looks good. But there's no guarantee they won't return, with appropriately pointy ships, and their quick reactions could be dangerous for me. This is why I want the ambush to be quick and clean. The Hurricane's shields drop with little persuasion, my guns rip through the armour, and tearing through the hull becomes a minor inevitability. A bright blue flash of flame heralds the Hurricane's transformation to a rusted wreck of melted metal. The capsuleer's pod is ejected in to space, a position the pilot has clearly prepared to be in at about this time, as I can do nothing but watch it warp away to a nearby planet before my sensor-boosted systems can even attempt to gain a positive lock. Quick and clean.

D-scan looks clear. A cloaked ship could be headed my way, of course, but that isn't likely. A full response would demand the best ships, and the best ships generally don't allow cloaked flight. And although I am probably safe from immediate retribution, I don't take my time in looting and shooting the wreck, crushing the jet-can nearby, and warping back to my tactical monitoring point, where I re-activate my cloak to disappear. No one returns to the site, and the pod drops from d-scan as it presumably bounces off its escape-route planet and back to the tower. I follow it in order to gauge the response.

Actually, never mind the response. It could be nothing, or it could be whatever might a corporation living in a class 6 w-space system could muster amongst five or six active pilots with access to multiple capital ships. I got a good result with a gasser kill, even if dropping a heavy interdictor's bubble on top of them would have been better, and I think I'd like to leave whilst I still can. It isn't unusual for wormholes to be collapsed as a form of passive-aggressive behaviour. I turn my Loki away from the tower, and warp towards the wormhole home at best speed. Seeing no ships waiting for me, or trying to close the connection, I jump through without pause. Back home, I move my ship away from the wormhole and cloak, loitering nearby for a while, waiting to see what repercussions await. None, apparently. No ships come follow me through to scout, or to stress the connection to collapse, and I'm left alone. I like that. It's a good way to start a day. A kill with no consequences.