In pursuit of planet goo

31st March 2011 – 5.11 pm

Hooray, no scanning today! A bookmark labelled with our static wormhole is waiting for me in the shared can, letting me warp right out to get a jump on exploration. Except I drop out of warp in empty space, the bookmark being a day old, and I need to scan after all. At least the latest round of site depletion has taken effect, another dozen bookmarked locations can be removed from my system map, no longer interfering with finding wormholes. Glorious leader Fin appears as I resolve the static wormhole amongst a thinned group of signatures, and she warps to my position to bookmark the connection directly.

Fin jumps in to the neighbouring class 3 w-space system as I prudently make a quick check for any other connections, too often assuming that the static wormhole is the only one present. And I find a second wormhole, too. With Fin scouting the C3, finding a few towers but little activity, I jump through the K162 to further class 4 w-space. My directional scanner reading is interesting, seeing nothing but celestial objects and a Bestower hauler. The hauler may well be collecting planet goo from customs offices, making him a target! Oh, if only I weren't in my Buzzard covert operations boat.

My Buzzard has a warp disruption module and is armed, so technically could prevent the Bestower from warping as well as shoot it, but the single rocket launcher would take a while to whittle down the ship's defences. Without knowing what other ships are elsewhere in the system that could come to the hauler's aid I may end up only revealing myself and leaving no more than a gnat bite on the Bestower before being swatted away. On top of that, the Buzzard's targeting systems will suffer a recalibration delay on decloaking, giving the Bestower pilot time to react, and perhaps long enough to escape before I can stop him.

I should have brought my stealth bomber in here. Regardless of relying on foreknowledge of the presence of targets, jumping through a K162 has the distinct possibility of landing in a dead end, with no other wormholes leading out that require scanning. A prelimary check in a cloaked combat ship negates the need to swap ships for a simple ambush against a salvager or hauler collecting planet goo, whilst providing a good enough tool to reconnoitre larger combat ships. It may be too late now, but I jump home to swap in to my Manticore, knowing that I'll have to wait a few minutes for polarisation effects to dissipate before I can head back to the C4.

Idling at the tower I can check my notes, showing that this is my fourth visit to this particular class 4 system. My last visit was six months ago, when it was unoccupied, so it is possible the Bestower was just passing through, but the customs offices visible on my overview suggest some kind of occupation, which could be hidden around the planets out of d-scan range from the wormhole. Polarisation problems avoided, I jump back and warp away from the wormhole to explore, finding a tower easily enough, where there are two Bestowers and a Buzzard piloted, along with an empty Prorator transport ship. I have probably missed my chance at catching the Bestower.

My hopes are raised when the pilot of the Buzzard swaps to a Badger industrial ship, making me think there is some tag-team planet goo collection occurring, but this is merely a feint. A Bestower warps out of the tower instead, and it looks like he's heading to a customs office. I try to get a bead on his exit vector and make a quick guess as to which office he's aiming for, sending my Manticore in the same direction, but the angle is narrow and there are several planets close together in the inner system. As my ship enters warp, and I am powerless to stop it, I realise I am heading towards the wrong customs office.

I drop out of warp at the first planet and fling the Manticore towards the second, but I am too late, the Bestower has moved on. I swing d-scan around, looking for the hauler's next collection point and rush towards the third planet, dropping short of the customs office to see what looks like the Bestower landing here too. I am short of the customs office but close enough to disrupt the Bestowers warp drive. Even so, I don't engage immediately, wanting to be sure the hauler isn't moments away from entering warp, which would likely evade my point whist simultaneously revealing my ship. I am happy to see my target remain stationary, so I decloak, lock, and start shooting.

Industrial ships are pretty flimsy, this one being no exception. My torpedoes rip through its shields and armour in no time, which is why I chose not to waste an expensive bomb when none was needed. But maybe I should have used a bomb, as it would have destroyed the ship even more quickly, perhaps disorientating the pilot long enough for me to trap his pod as well. But the three volleys of torpedoes alerts him enough to align and get his pod out a split-second before my warp disruptor stops him, leaving me with nothing of significance to recover from the wreck. That's not to say nothing was in the hauler, as judging by the debris it looks like a hefty load of planet goo was destroyed in the explosion. That's not much consolation to me, as it is all lost profit, and I simply shoot the wreck and warp cloaked back to the tower to monitor the reaction.

There is a little scouting performed by the local pilots. An Anathema cov-ops warps to the static wormhole leading to our home system, but it doesn't look like he jumps. Fin comes back from the rather less interesting C3 to plant her Crow interceptor on the K162 at home, ready to catch any ship that comes through, just in case. But it looks like the locals just want to know where I came from. Scanning probes are launched and ships warp in and out of the tower, but to no locations I can easily discern. If I didn't know any better I'd say that there was another K162 here, this system being used as a bridge for a different corporation elsewhere, but even when Fin comes in to take a good look around there are no other wormholes to find.

I would guess that the locals are simply being vigilant in checking for new connections themselves, which is wise. I have seen enough pilots assume that the active connection they know about is where my ambush originated, not taking time to consider that I opened a second connection in to their system. I think these pilots are showing good practice by not simply assuming I am from their neighbouring C4. We even get a welcome in the local communication channel from the director of the corporation, apparently not too bitter at losing the Bestower. But there is no further activity of note, at least nothing we can shoot, so we head home to continue exploration in the other direction.

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