One lame duck

29th January 2011 – 3.30 pm

Scanning the home system is becoming involving again. Two new gravimetric sites and an extra ladar site need resolving whilst I hunt for today's static wormhole, and perhaps other signatures are disappearing. The changes are making it difficult to discern the new wormhole signal from the static cloud of bookmarked sites, and I suspect I'll be performing another full scan of the home system soon. Sooner rather than later, in fact, as I continue to struggle to find the wormhole, although eventually I do. With some relief, I jump through to our neighbouring w-space system.

The class 3 system looks quiet, even with eight warp bubbles on my directional scanner, as there are only those eight bubbles to see. One planet remains out of range of d-scan, although that doesn't hold too much promise for activity. I warp across to investigate, finding an off-line tower and a bunch of giant secure containers floating nearby. I wonder if perhaps the tower has recently been assaulted and the cans hold fuel or loot that couldn't be carried back by the raiders before their wormhole collapsed. I may as well take a look, but I'll do so by collecting the GSCs directly.

I jump home and board our Bustard transport ship, suitably fitted for cargo space, and return to the off-line tower in the C3. Scooping the GSCs I am a little disappointed to find them all empty, but they are still GSCs and will come in handy as storage at the tower or increased cargo capacity on fuel runs. I take all seven of them homewards as glorious leader Fin jumps in to the system across my bow, with a different take on how active the system is. Rather than see an empty, unoccupied system, Fin sees three Tengu strategic cruisers and a Noctis salvager. They're new.

I dump the Bustard, swapping it for my Manticore stealth bomber, and return to the C3. Not only are there now ships on d-scan but also Sleeper wrecks. But the Sleeper wrecks are also disappearing, no doubt the Noctis in action. Fin has been hunting for anomalies and found some, and I have my Manticore's passive sensors working too. I see the anomaly the Noctis is in, and that the Tengus have moved on. Fin jumps home and gets her own stealth bomber as I watch the last of the wrecks disappear in the site with the Noctis. But the Noctis remains at the site, at least according to d-scan, perhaps waiting for his colleagues in the strategic cruisers to clear another anomaly of Sleepers before he can continue salvaging.

It's a little risky to remain in an anomaly rather than head to a safe spot, or even the wormhole home. But I imagine the Noctis pilot is burning his micro-warp drive in an arbitrary direction, making it difficult to catch him, particularly if he is travelling along the z-axis. I warp in to the anomaly to take a look, Fin almost back in the C3 herself. Nope, the Noctis isn't moving. At all. He's about four kilometres from the anomaly's cosmic signature and simply sitting there. This is one fat target. Fin warps close to my position, we line up the Noctis as Sleeper wrecks are still being made by the Tengus, and let loose a pair of bombs.

Our previous two attempts at a Noctis kill were unsuccessful. Two bombs just isn't enough to obliterate the ORE-designed salvaging ship. Even as our bombs are in flight I am locking the Noctis and burning towards it, disrupting its warp engines to prevent it fleeing, and painting its hull to present a large signature radius for the bomb to affect. But the Noctis simply pops. I am momentarily confused as to why my torpedoes don't start firing, before realising that the bombs did the job. And then I am locking the pilot's pod, confusion cleared and instincts back, trapping him and getting my torpedoes to fire at last.

The pilot is podded. I burnt towards the Noctis when I decloaked, bringing me close to the wreck and corpse now, and I hastily grab what survived the explosion, leaving a couple of bulky tractor beams I have no room for. The corpse is scooped, wreck destroyed, and I cloak again, anxiously conscious of the Tengus that must be ready to come to their colleague's aid. Except they don't. I move away from where the Noctis once was, now nothing but empty space, and wait. But no one comes. I get forty kilometres away before I consider myself properly out of danger—forgetting again that I should warp out and let the anomaly despawn, lest my presence be inferred—and cut my engines, letting the Manticore come to a halt. And even then I have to wait a little longer before the Tengus warp in.

'Dude, where's our salvager?', Fin chuckles across our fleet communications, giving me her impression of the Tengu pilots, 'I thought you said he was here'. The Tengus sit in the apparently empty anomaly for a minute, perhaps wondering just what happened, not even the logs of the Noctis surviving to reconstruct the incident. They have little to do but warp away again. Their laggardly response suggests the salvager was a distant cousin of theirs, brought in to space to make up numbers rather than dedicate himself to capsuleer life. It makes sense, too. If he lacked even the core skills then his shields, armour, and structure would be sufficiently weakened than for more skilled pilots, which is why the Noctis popped so easily. Even so, a simple act of moving in an arbitrary direction would have made the task less predictable and, as a result, more uncertain.

I wonder if the Tengus are making a full retreat, but apparently not. They have returned to the second anomaly, the one they already started. I warp in to take a look and one of their number is looting as they go, grabbing the blue loot of the Sleepers even as they fight. It looks like they are making the most of what they can, and are probably not coming back to salvage the wrecks. I can't really blame them. They can't know that a squad of three Tengus would be a suitable deterrent for us, instead of a juicier target for bigger fleet. The Tengus warp out once the last Sleeper explodes and its loot is retrieved, leaving the system as judged by their disappearance on d-scan.

We could salvage the wrecks left behind, although, as Fin points out, 'this is where we get trapped, historically'. And she's not wrong. We have tended to get a decent victory and then get cocky, thinking we know exactly what is going on and what we face, throwing ourselves at targets that actually know better than us. And by 'we', I mean 'I'. We, I, need to be cautious, but the wrecks seem like an additional reward for destroying our first Noctis. I imagine the other pilots found this system, scanned it, noted no additional wormholes, and formed their fleet, only after which I opened our static wormhole to connect in here to give them a surprise. Fin even finds that we've encountered them before, the three little ducks having upgraded their battlecruisers since our last meeting. I'll give it a while and scan the system before salvaging. After all, we have a couple of hours before the wrecks decay.

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