Sacrificial Badger

13th February 2011 – 3.06 pm

It's time to hunt. I resolve our static wormhole only to find it to be curiously a gravimetric mining site. A second new signature turns out to be a ladar gas harvesting site, further hampering my exploration beyond our home w-space system. But the third new signature is our static wormhole, letting me plunge cockpit-first in to our neighbouring class 3 system. Nothing shows up on my directional scanner in the C3, so I launch probes, move them out of d-scan range of the system, and warp away to explore.

A blanket scan of the system reveals three anomalies and seven signatures, but no ships. My exploration locates a tower, where obviously no one is home, as even a pod would show up on the blanket scan I performed with combat probes. The tower is surrounded by bubbles, though, making an approach from any direction awkward. I move above the bubbles until I am both sufficiently clear of them and close enough to the tower to observe directly any ships, should they appear, and I create a bookmark. I should now be able to warp to and from this point without being dragged in to the bubbles.

Scanning resolves a couple of wormholes, which could be interesting. But the first is the system's static exit to low-sec empire space, and is reaching the end of its natural lifetime, and the second is an inbound connection from null-sec. That only leaves gravimetric sites to find, which is no fun. As glorious leader Fin has arrived we decide between us to collapse our static wormhole to see what else we may be able to find. Our operation goes according to plan, my Widow black ops ship critically destabilising the wormhole on its way home, after two-and-a-half round trips from Fin's Orca industrial command ship, giving me time to make a quick scan of our home system before Fin returns, collapsing the wormhole as she does.

A subsequent scan, with all previous signatures ignored, lets me find and resolve the new static wormhole quickly and easily amongst the mess of our home system. Jumping out, I see that I have been in the class 3 system now connected to us before, almost a year ago. It was unoccupied back then, but much can change in a year and the system now has capsuleers claiming it as a home. None of them are around, though, despite there being seven ships in the system, as all of the ships are unpiloted in the local tower. But what I also notice is that the tower is woefully undefended. One medium gun battery and one torpedo battery are all that deters an assault, the tower not even protected by shield hardeners.

The tower is medium-sized, which I'm guessing is bigger than the small tower Fin and I put in to reinforced mode a little while back, but without hardeners it may be a softer target. Before we get carried away and bring in the big guns we ought to check the security of this system. Nine signatures amongst the fifteen anomalies won't take long to check, and it's good that we do as there is more than only the one wormhole in the system. Fin and I both scan a different one, and they merit visiting to see where they lead or come from. The wormhole I visit turns out to be an outbound connection to another C3 system, and as that probably makes Fin's choice the static connection—and leading out to null-sec in this case—she chooses to keep it closed.

In a way it's a shame the second wormhole is an outbound connection, as it was posing no threat before I warped to it and we could have spent another evening shooting a tower. But it also offers more opportunity to find moving targets, so maybe it's not all bad. It depends what, or who, is on the other side, so we jump through to find out. C3b, as I will refer to it, is quite a big system. Sitting at the wormhole I am only within d-scan range of one planet, which lets me launch probes discreetly again. A blanket scan shows five anomalies, eight signatures, and a bunch of ships. From that, I am able to warp around and use d-scan to find the tower, where all sorts of combat and utility ships sit inside the shields, a Drake battlecruiser even being piloted.

A second pilot warps in to the tower as I watch, turning up in his pod and staying that way for the time being. The Drake moves, its pilot swapping ships to a Badger hauler before warping out. I call for Fin to swap her scanning boat for a stealth bomber, and she zips back to our home system to do so. I try to follow the Badger, assuming he is collecting planet goo, but he's quick. Without seeing where he went I am reduced to flicking my d-scan around and trying to place him at a customs office, but that only shows where he is before I enter warp. By the time I get to that office he's moved on, and I have to start the process again. Fin gets her Manticore in to the system as I chase the Badger around but she too can only lag behind. I know I am on the right track when I catch sight of the Badger moments before he warps off, but the only time I see the ship stationary is when he's back at the tower, apparently finished with his rounds.

The pilot ejects from the Badger, and the second pilot boards it and warps off. I'm not quite sure of these tag-team tactics, but I am close enough to see the Badger head in the direction of the fourth planet. I assume once more that he's going to the customs office, so I bark a direction in to fleet communications and I am off, hoping Fin is close behind. I decloak in warp, fully aware I will be visible on d-scan, but want to avoid the sensor calibration delay that will prevent gaining a lock on the target for several seconds. The Badger's been ahead of me so far, I'm not letting it get away now that I'm right on its tail.

I land at the customs office to see the Badger already there. I lock on to the hauler, disrupt its warp engines, and start shooting. My single rocket launcher is doing a surprising amount of damage, but I am still relying on Fin to turn up with her superior firepower in the Manticore, which she does. But not before the capsuleer takes the surprisingly sensible option of ejecting from the hauler and warping his pod back to the tower. I see him eject but simply am not quick enough to lock on to the agile pod, so he gets away. We still have the Badger, but we're not going to destroy it just yet. We leave it floating near the customs office, as we move away and re-activate our cloaks.

It's not likely the pilots will come back to claim a rather cheap industrial ship, not with a hostile ship or two in the system, but they might. They could be really stupid and just think that a clear d-scan means a clear system. Or they could be smart and send in with the pod an escort ship capable of melting a Buzzard covert operations boat and Manticore without breaking a space sweat, and we need to bear this in mind. Seeing the first pilot back in his Drake is predictable, in that case, but I don't quite expect the second to board an Orca. Maybe they are stupidly smart, sending an escort with the Orca to scoop the Badger instead of risking a pod directly. The Orca would make a fatter and more expensive target than the Badger, making us consider options.

Fin's okay guarding the Badger, and making the autonomous decision whether to engage or not should another target warp in, so I head home to get a different ship. I think my best choice is my Falcon recon ship, fitted for ECM, which should let us get the kill on an industrial, Badger or Orca, and maybe a pod, if only by denying the Drake escort the chance of targeting us. I rush back, hoping that the pilots are still mulling over their actions, or perhaps refitting their ships, and send my Falcon to the tower only to see them both still sitting silently in the shields, not looking like they're going anywhere. We have time, though, particularly with the Orca as lure, so we wait.

And we wait. But after a little while it seems obvious that the pilots aren't that stupid, and are happy to sacrifice the Badger. So Fin makes sure it is a sacrifice, not a stranded ship they can maybe collect the next day, and sends a volley of torpedoes pounding in to the Badger's hull. Sifting through the wreckage only gets us a couple of expanded cargoholds, the Badger clearly having been emptied of planet goo before the earlier pilot swap occurred. That probably further explains why they were happy to leave the ship behind, as it was empty of any items of value too. It's not quite the kill we wanted, but at least it is a successful hunt and was rather more involved than shooting a tower.

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