Shunting a shuttle

27th October 2011 – 5.10 pm

Empty system, empty heart. I need to scoop the corpses of innocent miners in to my cargo hold in order to cheer me up. And as the home system is empty I'll need to scan my way out of here so I can find those miners. I launch probes to look for our static wormhole. Damn those C6 spacers from yesterday! Nearly all our anomalies are gone, and our radar and magnetometric sites have been pillaged too. I knew collapsing the incoming wormhole would have kept our profit safe for ourselves, but we couldn't have achieved that without risk to our expensive ships. The anomalies will return, we'll get opportunity to make more ISK, it's okay. We have some new gas though, whoop-de-do and all that, and I activate the ladar site before jumping in to our neighbouring class 3 w-space system.

I have a tower visible on my directional scanner in the class 3 system but no ships. The wormhole has appeared, much to my surprise, at the edge of the system too, restricting d-scan's reach no further than the outermost planet. With no ships visible here I take the slight risk of launching probes at the wormhole and throwing them out of the system, warping to locate the nearby tower as I perform a blanket scan and consult my notes. It seems I was here four months ago, when I happened to miss catching a Cheetah covert operations boat in my Maledication interceptor. Yeah, that narrows it down a lot. My adventure the day after, shooting a Noctis under guard, makes it easy to find the missed interception attempt, otherwise it would be lost in the noise.

My notes make me confident of finding another tower in this system, which makes me glad I launched probes only in range of the inactive tower, even more so when the blanket scan reveals twenty-two ships here! I hope they're all not in combat, and I warp to where my notes indicate the second tower should be, after confirming the position of the first on the edge of the system. I drop out of warp around a moon with no tower anchored to it, but d-scan shows me that there are still two more towers to be found here and that most of the ships my probes picked up are merely shuttles. That still leaves a Drake battlecruiser and Iteron hauler to be accounted for, but I can see no Sleeper wrecks on d-scan and I doubt the Drake is doing anything interesting.

I find one of the towers easily enough, happy to find the Drake piloted and, hullo, outside of his tower's force field. He's not far out of it, close enough so that even if I could engage him he could retreat with ease, so I start looking for the third tower and the unaccounted for Iteron. Just as my warp engines kick in I notice the the Drake isn't casually sitting outside of the tower but is firing missiles, and I only get a quick glance of him shooting a couple of shuttles. Quite how the shuttles got there, or what affiliation they have to the Drake, I have no idea, and I am in warp before I can cancel the command. I locate the tower, getting a bit too close to the force field for my comfort, but thankfully remaining far enough away for my cloaking device to maintain integrity. I take immediate evasive action anyway, in case my momentum brings me too close.

The Iteron is inside in the shields of the third tower, and boringly unpiloted. I leave it behind to see what the Drake is up to, getting back to the other tower to see him gone and three shuttle wrecks left in his wake. I doubt the tower would let him get away with shooting those ships unless he were local and, sure enough, the Drake warps back in to the tower seconds later. Maybe he 'bounced' off a planet instead of crawling slowly back in to the shields. The pilot ditches the Drake for his pod, which he transfers in to another of the shuttles present, most of them from my scan being inside this second tower, before slowly manoeuvring the shuttle outside the shields, away from the other wrecks. Now this is interesting. If the pattern repeats, he'll bring a couple more shuttles out and then shoot them in the Drake, and that makes him a target. A target I want to shoot.

I warp my Tengu back to the K162 homewards, the strategic cruiser inappropriate for this task, and return to our tower at home to swap for my Manticore stealth bomber. I have to say that I really don't care for shooting a shuttle, it being meaningless padding for killboard statistics. What I'm after is the pod, hoping to catch the disorientated pilot vulnerable outside his tower, no practiced reference point to warp to, and catching a pod means I need a quick-locking ship. My Manticore has proven itself good at catching pods in similar situations, as well as being small enough to give tower defences a hard time locking on before I get my kill and flee. Of course, this all assumes I get back to the C3 before the pilot is back in his Drake.

I jump in to the C3 and warp to the tower, knowing that I'll need to bounce off a planet to get in to proper position. I only having a rough bookmark to the tower itself at the moment, which is more than adequate for monitoring activity, but I need to get in to much better position around the sphere of the force field in order to ambush the pilot. As luck would have it, it seems the pilot is flying his shuttles almost directly towards the fourth planet, which lets me bounce off that planet and warp back to the tower to land in good range of his already dropped shuttles. Good range, but not perfect. I am currently too far for my warp disruptor to affect the two abandoned shuttles but my luck is holding, as the pilot is still dragging the third towards the edge of the shields. Shuttles may be agile, but they're not fast, and my stealth bomber can almost match their normal speed.

My Manticore creeps closer to my prey, almost close enough to disrupt its warp engines and prevent an easy escape. I can close that gap quickly enough. It's time. I decloak, launch a bomb—an extravagance on a shuttle, but I feel my time is limited enough to warrant it—and burn towards the shuttle as I gain a positive target lock. BELAY THAT ORDER, CADET! ENGINE ROOM, FULL STOP! FULL STOP! Some time back I swapped the afterburner in my stealth bomber for a micro warp drive, putting my maximum speed high enough for my Manticore to burn in to the explosion of my own bomb. Colleagues have already self-destructed in such ways and I am glad I catch my mistake before it gets too embarrassing. I am also glad to see the short burn, and the shuttle's own momentum, has put me well within warp disruption range. The shuttle is going nowhere, just as its shields and armour are obliterated by my bomb.

One volley of torpedoes shreds the shuttle's puny hull, ejecting the pilot's pod in to the vacuum. This is the moment I was after and I take care to get it right. I look for the pod and target it, priming my warp disruptor in preparation. Positive lock, module activated! More torpedoes spew from my launchers as the pod is trapped by my electronics, and it is now just a few long seconds before a fresh corpse is floating in space. I'm aware of the time I've already spent in full view and close range of the tower's defences and, as I crack open the pod, am careful to aim my Manticore away from the two other shuttles, letting me cloak as soon as my successful ambush concludes. All that's left to do now is manoeuvre around the defences and wreckage to scoop the corpse to add to my collection. Job's a good 'un.

The C3 is quiet. I return home, drop the corpse in to my tea party diorama, and reboard my Tengu. Heading back to the C3 I launch probes once more and scan the system properly, already knowing about the seven anomalies here but adding rocks, gas, and a static exit to high-sec empire space to complete the exploration. Jumping out to high-sec puts me in Pimsu, which sounds more like a slightly naughty acronym than a system, but I'm there and in the Tash-Murkon region. I have little business in high-sec at the moment, although I should think about getting more fuel supplies at some point, so simply scan. In the four signatures I find a K162 from class 2 w-space that's reaching the end of its natural lifetime, but that's as far as I get before seeing a more interesting sight. The pilot I podded is in the system too.

I rush back to the wormhole to the C3 and jump in, not seeing my target's ship appear near the wormhole and hoping that he will follow me in a few seconds and be far too casual with the session change timer for his own good. But he's not completely stupid and probably saw me in the system too, thanks to the populated local channel, and is not about to jump in to another ambush, thank you very much. I hold on the wormhole until my session change cloak drops, then move away and cloak again, but the wormhole stays silent. That's okay, I can leave the pilot feeling paranoid and instead fall back to Plan B. The high-sec exit puts me close to our previous evacuation base, where a second Widow black ops ship sits, and as Fin has been training to fly one this is a good opportunity to collect it for her use.

I head home, park my Tengu and grab a shuttle, and head out to high-sec again. My victim still sits in the system and probably sees me again, but maybe he's cloaked at the wormhole and sees me warp off. It doesn't matter for now. I make the few jumps required to get me to the other Widow, the first one I bought in fact, and dock to get her ready for the trip home. I make sure she is fitted properly, and somewhat defensively, and leave the station for the journey back. High-sec travel is uneventful, my only concern, which is minor, is what will happen when I reach the C3 again. The pilot is gone from high-sec but I see no sign of him as I return to w-space. He could be cloaked but it's perhaps more likely that he got home and went off-line for the night, particularly as I warp the Widow across the C3, jump it home, and stow it in a hangar at our tower without sighting another ship. It's been a good evening.

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