The corp members have had, collectively, kind of a crappy day, and that has crept into the emails that have gone back and forth talking about Worst Case Scenario planning. In short, I'm already grumpy when I log in, and rather than scanning the system straight off, as I usually do, I wander through the corp hangars spray-painting red Xs on the hulls of ships I've earmarked for removal from the system.
CB logs in and, seeing a lack of fresh bookmarks, takes a scanning frigate out into the void and scatters probes across the system. I finish my culling as he zooms in on one of the current wormhole exits and lighten his load by scanning for the other -- a highsec exit to Amarr space; not exactly the best option for taking our dust-collecting hulls back to our home in high sec, which lies in far-distant Gallente space. Maybe another night.
Gor arrives as we wrap up scanning. His time is short, but he's in the mood to shoot things -- I imagine we all are, given the day we've had, but CB surprises me by making his excuses and taking off for the night. Gor only has about an hour to with which to enact some violence, but "luckily" our system remains only sparsely populated by cosmic signatures of note -- there are only two sleeper anomalies to smite. (It's been so long since we've seen a mine-able asteroid field in the system that it's starting to bother me, and I don't like mining.)
Gor hops into his Harbinger battlecruiser, I grab Ty's Gila and we're off to anomaly number one. The fight goes smoothly enough, but it's one of the more annoying sites: the ships are spread out, refuse to close to more civilized ranges, and "feature" a pile of energy-draining frigates that all seem to think Gor's harby has been dipped in some kind of intoxicating syrup -- normally sleepers switch targets with annoying frequency, but these ships flat out refuse to leave the laser-toting battlecruiser alone, and Gor's left unable to run most of his lasers or any of the active shield resistance modules on his ship. The passive shield holds up under concentrated fire, but as I've said in the past, such "we won't know if it's going to hold until it's down to 33%" defenses are nerve-wracking for Gor, who prefers the comforting pulse of an active shield booster or a couple armor repairers.
We finish up the site, loot the wrecks, and see that we have just a bit less than a half-hour remaining before Gor turns into a pumpkin.
"Do you want to run the other site?"
"Do you have time?"
"... yes, but let me get a different ship."
What Gor pulls out of the hangar is a Rattlesnake-class battleship -- an impressive piece of Gurista pirate engineering that melds all the best parts of two different ship design philosophies; it's a massive thing -- a slow and powerful missile and drone platform that (unlike most larger ships) performs extremely well with the 'fast-regen' shield builds that work so well against sleepers. I don't particularly like battleships, but I like the Rattlesnake -- it's essentially the big brother to my Gila (another Gurista design), and a whole lot prettier.
It's also an extremely expensive ship, and not one that Gor pulls out for sleeper combat very often.
"The harbinger's shield held," he comments, "but I like it better when it doesn't move at all. The Rattlesnake's doesn't move at all. Plus it ignores the energy draining."
He makes a good point. I decide to speed things up as well, and get Bree into one of her Drake battlecruisers to bring her leet target painting skills in and buff up all the missiles we're going to hitting the sleepers with. I tend to avoid running two pilots in a combat site at the same time unless CB is along to keep an eye on the directional scanner, but needs must when you're trying to move fast.
Sure enough, the three missile-hurling, drone-dispensing ships start tearing through the sleepers with laughable ease, though I do have to scramble more than I like to keep my drones out of harm's way -- the sleepers seem to think they are the ships we've dipped in honey this time around.
I'm in the midst of another drone rescue when Gor says, "What are those Tengu's doing on?... get out. Get out!"
To my shame, I don't hesitate. The tiny Gila pivots toward out tower and enters warp in seconds -- the Drake takes only slightly longer; Bree has time to see several Tengu strategic cruisers, two Drakes, a Buzzard covert ops ship, a Blackbird electronic warfare cruiser, and several other pointy ships... all burning straight at Gor's Rattlesnake.
"Can you get out?"
"I'm trying -- nope, they've got a scrambler on me. And jammed: I can't target anyone. I'm screwed. Dammit."
Against NPC ships, even truly tough ones like Sleepers, the Rattlesnake's defenses are impervious; the simple fact is that those ships can't do enough damage to 'break' his tank. Player-flown ships can mass in greater and greater numbers or simply overheat their weapons, however, pushing hard enough to overcome the inherent regen of the Rattlesnake's shields. Like a surfer, once you've gotten past the crest of that wave, it's all downhill -- just a matter of simple subtraction.
It's all over surprisingly quickly; too quickly, really, for a ship that cost roughly half a billion isk.
Gor manages to escape in his capsuleer pod and get back to the tower, which I count as a small victory, but the mood that stayed with us throughout the day has stained our evening as well. A few minutes later he needs to log out for the evening anyway, and I send him off with several more heartfelt apolo-dolences.
I'm left alone in the system.
I wish I could say the bad news stopped there.
Left to my own devices, I get into my Cheetah-class covert ops frigate and quickly locate the wormhole Gor's assailants came in from -- a new wormhole connection from their system into our own; one that it seems they discovered and opened while we were running the first site; it simply wasn't there to find when CB and I had scanned earlier. I poke around their system to see if I can determine their plans, but they seem content to bask in their victory and float inside their tower shields.
I return to our system and reconsider the exit to highsec that I found earlier. Amarr space is (as I said) far from our Gallente stomping grounds, but at this point I just want to do something productive, so I get Berke to start loading our dustier hulls into his Orca and hauling them out to the nearest highsec station -- I'll worry about getting them home once they're not here.
This goes well; Berke drops off three loads of ships and heads back in for what should be his final trip of the evening -- any more jumps than that and the wormhole will collapse.
Sometimes, timing is everything. The massive Orca slides up to the wormhole and jumps through just as a small fleet of very pointy ships drops out of warp and follows it into the wormhole.
To my credit, I don't panic. The orca is a big ship, and can take a hit. It's slow, but unless I am very unluckly, I don't actually need to move to escape -- I should be within jumping range of the wormhole on our side, and just need to wait on the "session change" timer to let me go right back out into high security space.
The timer lapses, and I'm free to jump. I drop my session change cloak and watch as two Harbinger battlecruisers, a Proteus strategic cruiser, and an Arazu force-recon cruiser decloak and go weapons hot. Can I take that kind of punishment?
It doesn't matter, because I'm not sticking around to find out. I let the cool warble of the wormhole whisk me away, and I'm back in the safety of high-security space, where I am absolutely sure I can survive anything that set of ships can dish out long enough for CONCORD to arrive and turn them into tinier bits of space trash.
This is where I make a whole new set of mistakes. As with many of the major screw-ups I've been party to in my life, this cascade of failure can be traced back to a single point of ignition where I decide to do math. Don't try this at home.
It occurs to me that the repeated passage of Berke's Eclipse has heavily stressed the wormhole. I know to a nicety how much Orca-love this class of wormhole can take, because I've collapsed a fair number of them in the past with this very ship.
I run the numbers, and I realize that if I jump through the wormhole one more time, hold my session change cloak and then jump back (as I just did), I will collapse the wormhole and leave my attackers stranded inside.
WHY I would want to do this never occurs to me; all that matters is that I can. The hour is late, we'd lost Gor's Rattlesnake and I'd now run from a fight (albeit successfully, and in an Orca, which anyone with sense would call a major win), and all I can think is that I want to beat them somehow: not just escape, but win. Outmaneuver them. Shame them. Something.
So I jump back in.
Yeah: After I got away, I went back. I'm not as smart as I look, sometimes.
They see the wormhole activity, of course -- it's not a subtle thing, when you hurl a 250 million kilogram ship through a rift in space -- I start counting the seconds until my session timer elapses. Five... Ten...
Then a Maelstrom-class battleship that had not decloaked during their first attack does so, and jumps through the wormhole, it's mass more than enough to bring the overstressed exit crashing down, leaving me stranded with no way out, next to four very pointy ships.
Could I sustain that kind of damage and escape?
The answer was no.
Once they have ripped the Orca's shields and armor away, their leader opens comms and offers to release my ship in exchange for a ransom. It's a not uncommon occurrence; there are many in New Eden who actually make a living via this kind of 'catch and release' approach to PvP. I've had reasonably good luck on the receiving end of such things in the past -- I successfully negotiated a ransom to save CB's pod several months back, in fact, and Bree was, until recently, part of a corporation that frequently practices that kind of gentleman's brigandry in nullsec.
He names his price (which, at 200 million isk, was less than half the price of a new Orca hull), and I agree. Ty wires the sum to the spokesman.
Then they blow up the ship anyway.
"Really?" I ask the leader, as I watch the structure of the ship disintegrate and prepare to get my capsuleer pod to safety.
His first response is little more than sputtered epithets, uttered in all caps -- a kind of text-based ejaculate that doesn't do much for my opinion of the group.
"Whatever you say, mate," I respond. "Just seems like a pretty poor way to conduct business." The ship explodes and I warp my little pod away.
"I will sleep well," he cackles. "Resting on the pile of stuff your ransom will buy me."
"Split five ways," I counter, "that's a pretty small pile." I think for a second. "And in any case, you'd have gotten than money whether you blew up the ship or not, so all this gets you is a non-combat ship kill and..." I check the combat log that the game had just sent me. "A large afterburner? That's it? Wow."
"ARE THOSE TEARS I HEAR?"
"Hardly. I'll just buy another ship. But you need to think next time: this is EVE, and you're conducting bad business. How can you get expect repeat customers when everyone knows your product is crap?"
He has no reply to that, and I don't bother pursuing it. I'm busy contemplating our corp's second half-billion isk ship-loss of the evening. It never rains, but it pours.
Ty scans the new exit, only a few jumps from the old one, and I wrap up what can generously be termed a sub-optimal evening by picking up a new Orca (thank goodness we had the old ship fully insured) and leaving it under contract for Berke to pick up. Tomorrow, he can pick it up, fit it out, and haul those empty hulls back to their new/old storage hangar in Sinq Laison-- I think it'll be okay if the new command ship stays in highsec for a few days.
"I had a bad feeling," CB tells me the next morning in an email. "That's why I logged out; just had a bad feeling. A 'Don't Go After that Frisbee in Old Man Yaeger's Yard' kind of feeling. I should have said something. Next time, I will."
Oh yes, there will definitely be a next time. Otherwise, how will be apply what we've learned?
- We didn't scan diligently or often enough.
- I was distracted, trying to run two pilots at the same time, both of whom had to additionally micromanage drones against opponents who frequently switch targets, meaning that I was simply too busy to maintain situational awareness beyond the immediate Sleeper threat.
- Gor and I were rushing.
- With all those things going on, we just shouldn't have undocked the Rattlesnake; that kind of ship is like a beacon for opportunistic hunters, and requires heads-up play if it's going to be put on the field.
- I'd got back to the tower and had no real options available for getting Gor out of trouble. Bree has pretty decent ECM skills, but no appropriately-equipped ships in system. Ty has PvP brawlers, but as I've mentioned before, it takes ages before their shields are back up to combat readiness once I undock. There just wasn't much I could do with the ships I had.
And from the Orca Incident, let's add:
- If you get away, don't fucking go back in, you moron.
- Ransom deals sometimes work, but never when you're dealing with scumbags based out of lowsec.
An educational night. Let's hope we were paying attention in class.