Creeping up on a Cheetah

10th August 2012 – 5.19 pm

Some Sleepers are coming back to the home system, with two anomalies already showing up on my scanners. It's well known that three's a crowd, so I leave my new guests alone by resolving our static wormhole and jumping to the neighbouring class 3 w-space system. My directional scanner is clear from the K162 in C3a, making me feel like it's going to be another quiet night. I launch probes, perform a blanket scan, and warp out to explore. Six anomalies, three signatures, and one ship shine under my combat probes, and I locate a tower on the far planet with a piloted Drake. And by the time I get there a Prowler transport has joined the battlecruiser.

The appearance of the Prowler is a little unsettling. The transport can fit covert operations cloaking devices, so it is possible he was in range of the wormhole when I appeared and launched probes, and he could know about me before I knew about him. It's also possible that the pilot's only just woken up, but the orientation of the transport shows that it has probably come back from collecting planet goo, and even if he knows about me he may not have been planning to leave the tower again anyway. So, with only two signatures I need to resolve, I may as well scan whilst I can.

As I scan the Drake goes off-line, to be replaced by a Mammoth hauler. The industrial ship will be much easier to catch and pop than the transport, but if one pilot saw me it would be peculiar for him not to tell the other one. Unless, of course, the first pilot has stepped out of his pod to get a snack. Still, I'm not expecting much, making it good that I resolve two wormholes out of two signatures. And with the system scanned I'm back to watching ships do nothing. The Mammoth moves to the hangar and just floats there, whereas the Prowler, well, actually, the Prowler looks like he's heading back to a customs office.

I am caught a little off-guard by the transport ship's new movement, but I follow behind as soon as I can. I'm at a distinct disadvantage, as the Prowler is more agile, faster, and knows where he's going before I do, and I manage to get to the customs office only in time to see him turn and warp back to the tower. The Mammoth is gone and replaced by an Iteron, but I continue to watch the Prowler, as it makes another trip. This time I'm more prepared, and follow sooner. Knowing my window of opportunity is short, I decloak and burn towards the transport as soon as I drop out of warp at the customs office, but the Prowler has good reactions and warps clear before I can catch him. The jig is up.

Maybe I should have waited for one of the basic industrial ships to have visited customs, but seeing as the Iteron has already been replaced by a Badger I'm supposing that none of the haulers are going to leave the tower. The Prowler warps out again, which is a little cocky but understandable given his agility and awareness, so I sit at the tower instead of chasing him. The Badger goes off-line and isn't replaced by a different hauler, so on the Prowler's next trip I follow him again. The transport isn't dilly-dallying now, flipping his ship around almost as soon as landing, and I suspect I have no chance of catching him. I'll leave him to it and see what the wormholes I resolved have to offer.

A static exit to null-sec k-space is accompanied in C3a by a K162 from low-sec empire space, which is dreary but a second option at least. Exiting to low-sec puts me in a faction warfare system in Metropolis, far from anywhere, and with two signatures that aren't wormholes. I'm ready to return to w-space when core scanning probes come close to the connection to C3a. I hold for a minute, but when the probes disappear and no ship comes I presume the pilot wasn't looking for wormholes. But d-scan now shows me a Wreathe hauler, and although there are active towers in the system I am curiously tempted to find the ship.

I use d-scan to ping some planets that hold towers, but can't find the Wreathe until he appears on a planet without a tower. Maybe this is the planet goo hauler I've been waiting for. I warp to the customs office and in to empty space, swinging d-scan around to look for the next destination. I find it and warp there, again too late and having to locate the Wreathe again. I find him and this time arrive near the customs office to see the Wreathe warp, and even though I'm getting closer I am too late. The next destination for the Wreathe is either a stargate or station, as the ship drops off d-scan. My security status thanks my tardiness, and I head back to w-space.

C3a is now empty, so I head through the static connection to null-sec without wasting more time watching stationary ships. And on the other side of the wormhole is a Cheetah, the covert operations boat thirteen kilometres from me and not moving. It's just him and me in the system, all praise the local channel, and with the session change cloak not stymieing me with a sensor recalibration delay I pounce.

I gain a positive lock on the Cheetah and start shooting as I disrupt its warp drives. Somewhat surprisingly, the Cheetah doesn't flee through the wormhole to w-space to escape my attention, and instead decides to stick around long enough to explode.

I clearly startled the pilot of the Cheetah, and destroying a cov-ops has startled me. I try to catch the pod, first by locking the wormhole, then trying to lock the territorial control unit elsewhere in the system, before finally remembering what a pod looks like on my overview. This naturally gives a slightly befuddled pilot time to get his pod clear, leaving me a wreck to loot and shoot. And, once clear, the pilot wonders where I came from, explaining that even once I started attacking I didn't appear on his overview, hence his confusion. Mick later points out that I should have told him I had an experimental cloaking device fitted, perhaps one salvaged from a Bird of Prey, but it doesn't occur to me to mess with the pilot's mind.

The Cheetah was actively scanning, which was why he didn't jump through the wormhole, but he could have got away from me, returned, and reconnected to his probes easily enough. It's got to be better than exploding. Even better, he could have been cloaked. Still, I'm not going to complain about an opportunistic kill in null-sec. Once my chat with the ex-Cheetah pilot is over I pick up where he left off, resolving two more wormholes, but one's at the end of its life and the other is an occupied but empty C3 leading to high-sec. I don't bother scanning for more connections and simply pop a rat in null-sec before heading home, having chalked up another kill.

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