Knocking a Noctis

21st January 2011 – 5.17 pm

The popped Iteron pilot must have come from somewhere. I tried following him in to one of the class 3 w-space systems connected from this one, but only saw a few other pilots milling around. I loitered at a wormhole leading in to another C3 system from here, but the pilot still passed me by without using the connection. And he's not coming from the direction of our home system, or my Onyx heavy interdictor would have crossed paths with him. No, despite there already being a wealth of wormholes found, there must be another. Once glorious leader Fin has collected our plunder from the shipwreck I return home myself and swap in to my Buzzard covert operations boat to scan afresh. I need to at least satisfy my curiousity.

I don't have much of a bearing for where the wormhole might be. I only had one occasion where I saw the pilot warp away after returning from high-sec empire space. And as the exit wormhole is on the edge of the system my best guess is that the wormhole is near the middle somewhere, which isn't much help. But I saw his ship disappear above the ecliptic plane, which is a start. After narrowing down the search I indeed find a new wormhole, a K162 coming from a class 4 w-space system. Jumping in takes me to a system I last visited four months ago, which gives me a handy reference to the local tower. Checking the tower finds the podded pilot, or perhaps a close relative, already back and now sitting in a Helios cov-ops. Her appearance is brief, no doubt deciding that enough ships have been both moved and destroyed, and I think we have seen all the activity we're going to from here.

But hang on, before we snared the Iteron hauler I saw some other pilots, in one of the connected C3s. It's possible they are now active, and it's worth checking. I make my way to the system and warp to the bookmarked tower, where two Tempest battleships are nestled inside the shields, but two battlecruisers, a Drake and Myrmidon, are outside. I think it's time to get back in to my stealth bomber, and I get Fin alert and ready too. We probably can't do much damage before the tower's defences start shooting us, and we're certainly unlikely to destroy the Drake, but a couple of bombs and a few torpedoes could threaten the Myrmidon nicely. The only trouble is that they've got to stay where they are whilst I go home, swap boats, and come back.

By the time even Fin makes the one-way journey to the C3 the two ships are gone, the Myrmidon back inside the tower's shields and the Drake joined the Tempests elsewhere. Drones visible on the directional scanner, along with a single Sleeper wreck, suggest the ships are in an anomaly, which presents a new opportunity. We still can't do much against the Drake or battleships, particularly if Sleepers are present too, but a salvager following behind the combat will be a good target. I bookmarked all of the anomalies in this system earlier, when I was exploring, so it is a simple matter to locate the combat using d-scan and the system map. Warping in to the site is a little risky, but I don't hit any structures or wrecks and my cloak holds. I bookmark a wreck or two, those that look like good points for a salvager to warp in to, which will let me warp out and back at good bombing range.

Fin has remained at the tower and is monitoring any changes. The Myrmidon pilot has swapped in to a Buzzard and has warped away to scan, which removes the battlecruiser from salvaging duty. As it doesn't look like a salvager will follow immediately behind the combat I warp out of the anomaly, so that it will despawn from having no ships present. If I stay the site won't despawn, which will serve as a warning that a cloaked ship is waiting there. I align back to the anomaly, keeping a tight d-scan beam on it to get updates about the ships still there, which lets me see the Drake warp out and all the drones get pulled back in to the ships' bays. One of the Tempest battleships warps out too, as a Noctis salvager appears at the tower. It looks like we have our target.

I warp in to the anomaly at thirty kilometres, hoping to get in to good bombing range with no additional manoeuvring, and Fin follows from the tower. The Tempest remains, and a Broadsword heavy interdictor has been brought in too to protect the Noctis. These pilots aren't taking chances or making assumptions. But we aren't discouraged from taking our shot either. We will have time to launch our bombs and warp away, and will probably risk a volley or two of torpedoes whilst there, as long as we stay outside of the HIC's warp bubble, which is inactive for the moment. Fin and I are in range, and we launch our bombs.

Both bombs hit the Noctis well! The ship's shields and armour are stripped, leaving little but structure protecting the pilot's pod. Torpedoes are fired and the ship is soon reduced to 20% structure, without any return fire yet coming from its guards. We've got him! Oh, except we haven't, as it warps away a second before what should have been the final volley hits. We warp away and cloak, safe from the HIC, which wasn't going to activate its bubble when it would also prevent the Noctis from leaving, making it less threatening overall. Time in warp gives time for reflection, and I know what went wrong with the assault. The primary failure was my own, in not getting a point on the Noctis, being just out of range and not making sure the ship couldn't leave. Just a few kilometres and a second or two would have got us the kill. Alternatively, had I remembered to activate my target painter the missiles would have done more damage and the final volley wouldn't have been needed. Either way, I need to learn from this.

I warp back in to the anomaly to now see a Rapier recon ship with the Tempest, but not for long. The Tempest warps out and the Rapier cloaks. The Tempest returns to the tower, which Fin is monitoring, where the Noctis is apparently not repairing itself. That seems a curious choice. The Myrmidon returns and moves out of the shields again, to be followed by the Noctis, both motoring slowly under manual control instead of warping quickly to a distant point. The lack of repairs is explained as the Myrmidon starts to rep the salvager, probably believing it to be quicker and just as safe. Well, it's quicker. I urge Fin to interrupt them by launching another bomb, as I send my own Manticore stealth bomber rushing towards the tower, which she does.

The Noctis is still in one piece when I arrive, a little too close for a bomb launch, and Fin is now warped away. I realign myself and launch my own second bomb, locking the Noctis and remembering to activate my target painter. It is another solid detonation, hitting both ships but my attention focussing on just the one. I start throwing torpedoes again, getting the Noctis once more down to no shields or armour and deep in to structure, when the tower defences start shooting me. I'm prepared and have aligned my Manticore for a quick exit, but I still drop to 35% armour by the time I'm in warp and can cloak again. And still the Noctis lives. Again, the final volley of torpedoes should have destroyed the salvager, but the Myrmidon has a couple of remote reppers active and they cycle just before the torpedoes hit, repairing enough armour for the salvager to withstand the last blast.

And, with that, our carried bombs are depleted. And the locals are both sufficiently warned and aggravated that we should perhaps not be foolish enough to try again, even if the opportunity were to present itself. I think we should have got the Noctis kill, but a little lack of judgement went against us today. I should have got close enough to hold a point on the first attempt, or at least had my target painter active. And on the second attempt I should have perhaps urged Fin to wait for my arrival before bombing rather than taking a quick shot. But the two ships may not have been out of the tower for long enough, and the unrepaired damage already done may have weakened the Noctis enough for one bomb to finish the job. It could have gone either way. At least we have first-hand experience of how tough a Noctis can be, surviving a twin-strike from stealth bombers under normal conditions. We were close to a sweet kill, but for now we simply head home to reload and get some rest.

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