Unseen observations

9th October 2010 – 3.59 pm

Colleagues are baiting capsuleers mourning the loss of an Orca industrial command ship, but I have some Russians to check on. A fork in w-space led me through a K162 wormhole to a system holding three towers and, as I was leaving to join the action elsewhere, three piloted Drake battlecruisers at one tower looking like they were preparing for activity. I return to the system hoping to continue the hunt but instead find two of the Drakes unmoved in the same tower. The other pilot has swapped to a Stiletto interceptor but his swift ship sits just as still as the bulky battlecruisers.

There is another ship in the system, though. An Iteron hauler is visible on the directional scanner and isn't inside this tower's shields with the other ships, and having caught the Orca whilst it collected planet goo from customs offices the obvious thought is that the Iteron is doing the same. Before I go racing off on a wild goose chase to each customs office in my Manticore stealth bomber I quickly warp to the other two towers in the system, sadly finding the Iteron sitting inertly in the third.

It doesn't look like I'll be catching any more unwary capsuleers near customs offices tonight. Then again, I've got nothing better to do than lurk cloaked and wait for an opportunity. And these Russians are quite tempting, enough to keep my attention from wandering. A Mammoth hauler appears on d-scan separate from a tower but a quick check of the only planet coincident in the d-scan angle with the ship finds nothing, and warping back to the first tower finds it now nestled comfortably inside the shields. More vague activity sees the Orca pilot swap to an Exequror cruiser, suggestive of a gas mining ship, and warping off. I may have a target.

My Manticore doesn't have any scanning capability that would let me find a ladar gas mining site, so instead of rushing back to get a suitable scanning boat I exhaust my available options. The easiest option to discount is that the Exequror is now at another tower, which I can check whilst keeping an eye on d-scan for the appearance of any new cans that would indicate mined gas being jettisoned for collection. My anticipation of the hunt is quickly quashed, though, when I find the cruiser at another tower. But my interest piques when I realise that the Exequror isn't inside the tower, instead accesing a secure can floating outside the force field. He's a sitting duck.

Unfortunately, the sitting duck is currently far outside of my range. I could open fire with torpedoes but I would not be in range to disrupt the Exequror's warp engines. An alert pilot could perhaps escape whilst the torpedoes were in flight and certainly before a second volley hit. I begin to close the range but I roughly calculate that it will take a couple of minutes to get within range. I could warp out and back in, which would be slightly quicker, but I need a position to warp to. It is not possible to bookmark the position of ships directly, but it is possible to do so for other objects, like giant secure cans. Recording the position of the can is effectively recording the position of the ship accessing it and there is a planet neatly opposite my vector that gives me a good approach to the target.

I warp out, returning as soon as I can, and land within twenty kilometres of the Exequror. But now I have a new dilemma, to bomb or not. Launching a bomb generally puts the target out of range of my warp disruptors, but relying only on torpedoes makes me more at risk from the tower's defences, the high damage of the bomb blast allowing for a shorter engagement. But a bomb blast fifteen kilometres in radius exploding thirty kilometres away should hit a ship twenty kilometres from me, which also puts me close enough to get a quick lock and point on the target. An initial bomb strike is safer for me and more likely to destroy the target, and I turn my Manticore around to increase my range slightly. But just as I am being decisive the Exequror starts moving and warps off.

My wavering misses the opportunity, but I was close. At least I spotted the opportunity, realising the cruiser was outside of the tower's shields and being able to get in to a good position. The last few moments of uncertainty counted against me. I may have been better off locking and pointing the ship to launch a couple of volleys of torpedoes, at least to see how vulnerable a standard cruiser is to such fire for future reference. But I had the thrill of the hunt, with some unknown danger in the form of tower defences. Now it is getting late and the Russians have shown little activity outside of their towers, so I go home to rest.

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