I am determined to make a bit of cash this evening, and EVE's random number generator acquiesces; our previously barren system now boasts several sleeper anomalies and a tasty-looking radar signature that indicates a rarer site from which ancient technologies can be retrieved.
Tonight, however, my eyes are set further afield. The class one system we're connected to boasts a persistent connection to nullsec (whose inhabitants are - collectively - shockingly uninformed/uninterested regarding wormhole space and thus less likely to drop in for a visit), two abandoned and offline towers, and a shaggy garden full of good-if-not-great sleeper anomalies to run. Could I make a bit more money in our home system? Probably, but if I take the fight into the C1 instead, I can make decent ISK and let our system continue to recover from recent predations. Win-win.
Bre and Ty slip into a Drake battlecruiser and Gila cruiser, respectively, warp to the C1 wormhole, jump through, and warm up the guns for some money-making funtime.
Except there's a Drake on d-scan, and it isn't Bre's Fatbottom Girl. It seems our sleeper shooting will have to wait. Again.
Ty reships into his Cheetah-class cov-ops frigate and slips back into the C1 to take stock of the situation, while Bre stays put at the tower to see what ship choice is going to be most indicated.
I get back into the system to see the starry sky festooned with scanner probes -- I already know the pilot isn't a local to the system, and the probes seem to indicate that he's not looking to tangle with sleepers. What is he looking for? Apparently, the answer is "the wormhole leading back to our system."
The probes continue to close in on the wormhole, so I slip back into our system and make preparations. A Myrmidion-class battlecruiser designed for up-close brawling seems like a good choice for drake-wrestling; Bre supplements this with a Blackbird-class cruiser loaded to the gills with electronic countermeasures that should nicely castrate the Drake's offensive capabilities, and we both head off to safespots in the system to stay clear of the Drake's directional scan while Tira watches the C1 connection in a covert ops frigate.
Eventually -- after perhaps a bit longer than I'd expected -- the Drake emerges from the wormhole, takes stock of the situation, launches a handful of scanning probes, and cloaks.
Again, the probes are an interesting choice; if the pilot were looking to hit more valuable sites than those in the C1, they are easily located with a quick pulse of the on-board ship scanner. The fact that he's using probes indicates that he's looking for something else, and my guess is it's an exit to high-security space.
That tells me what I need to do.
Ty warps back to the tower, moving somewhat brazenly due to the fact that it's actually quite difficult for a pilot to both control the triangulation of the scanner probes while remaining diligent on directional scan. Odds are very good that a cloaked battlecruiser will simply ignore d-scan entirely while it searches for the exit, and that gives me a chance to set things up.
I grab a mobile warp disruption generator out of the corp hangar and warp to our current wormhole exit to highsec. The "bubble" is a tried and true tool that I'm fairly familiar with from my time in OUCH -- once anchored and activated, it creates a five kilometer wide bubble in space that yanks ships out of warp and drops them (hopefully) into your waiting grasp.
The main problem with the bubble is placement. Five kilometers seems like a lot, but it's something of a pinprick when set in open space (which is somewhat bigger). The two main ways to set it up are either between point A and point B (where it will act as a roadblock) or actually behind point B, along the same trajectory as A-to-B, where it will actually drag the victim past their destination and (hopefully) disorient them.
I opt for the "drag" placement, and burn 25 kilometers "behind" the wormhole to anchor the device. I could and in fact should set it up two or three times further back from the wormhole, to ensure that the Drake will be too far from the wormhole to realistically make a run for it, but I can see that the probes are closing in, and a Bubble that's a bit too close is, to my mind, better than one that isn't set up at all. Moving as quickly as I can, I drop the bubble, anchor it, and warp back to my safe spot.
Bre, on the other hand, warps in to within visual distance of the wormhole, and cloaks up. She'll be working this fight from comfortably long range, and the targeting delay that comes from decloaking won't affect her for long enough to matter.
Then it's just waiting. I shoot an out of game email off to Gor and CB to let them know there's violence in the offing.
It occurs to me that a Drake isn't really a very good exploration ship.
Or that the pilot isn't a very good scanner.
Finally, the probes vanish, and the Drake appears on scan, presumably warping to his newly discovered exit. Ty enters warp en route to the bubble to greet him.
Unbelievably, everything actually works as intended. The Drake overshoots the wormhole and drops out of warp just inside the wobbling warp-disruption field of our little tarbaby. Bre bravely holds her cloak until Ty can provide a beefier alternative target, and the Drake wheels, fires up afterburners, and starts burning back for the wormhole just as Ty lands and turns to pursue.
Keeping up is no problem, and the Myrmidon is fit with a single-target warp scrambler that keeps the Drake from warping away even after it escapes the bubble; the Myrmidon releases drones, sets them to attack, and starts chewing through the Drake's massive shield tank with a half-dozen 425mm autocannons, firing at all-but point blank range. The Drake starts to counterattack, but Bre decloaks and starts cycling ECM modules against the target, preventing a target lock.
There's only one problem.
We're too damn close to the wormhole, and the Drake is too damn tough to take down in the limited space we have to work with. Despite overheating everything worth overheating, the battlecruiser makes it to the wormhole and slips out into high security empire space.
Now, the casual observer might wonder why I even care about this guy. He's clearly on a road to somewhere else, and if all he wants to do is use a couple of wormholes to get from points A to point Z, who cares? I could just shoot sleepers and leave him be, right?
Probably not -- or at least, I have to assume not. Maybe he'd leave us alone as he ferries things back and forth, yes. On the other hand, maybe he calls in six to sixty of his best mates and they drop on us like a ton of bricks while we're getting our sleeper-shoot on. Given that that is a possibility, I have to assume it's the likely possibility, and react accordingly. Ideally, this would mean blowing up both his ship and his pod, then collapsing the wormhole so that he has no way of getting back here.
This result is fairly suboptimal. At this point I might as well--
The wormhole warbles, and the Drake reappears.
I'll be honest: I just sit there for a second. I mean... dude, you just got away from a bubble trap, and you came back? What are you, me?
My immobility is short-lived. I reestablish my target lock, Bre resumes her jamming, and my guns begin their comforting chatter. I don't know what he's up to, but --
He jumps back out to highsec again.
Okay. No. This is -- No. I don't have time for this kind of cr--
I'm getting a private comms request.
From the pilot of the Drake.
You know what? I'll take it; it's certainly not the first time I decided to talk to someone that EVE logic says I should be shooting at. I hop out into high-sec so I don't get jumped by fifty Drake-buddies and open comms, noting that the Drake itself is only a few kilometers away.
"Hi there. I was wondering if you would mind it if I ported some supplies through the wormhole here. I don't want any trouble, but I really need to finish the supply run, and I'd appreciate it."
I ponder this, and as I do, CB logs in.
For most EVE players, there are only a few options in this situation:
- Say no, and spend the evening harassing the guy, possibly killing one or more of his ships.
- Say yes, on condition of payment, and then spend all evening attacking him anyway, possibly killing one or more of his ships, and cackling about how you managed to get him to pay a fake toll.
- Say yes, take the toll, then collapse the wormhole on him and log out.
All of these options are built on a basic assumption: "If this guy gets what he wants, it will in some way make the game worse for me." Some players will tell you that the assumption is "If he gets what he wants, he'll take advantage of you somehow," and while that may be true, I don't believe it's the main reason, which is that many players will screw with other players simply because the option exists. Maybe that's fun for them, I don't know.
Personally? I think that's an exhausting way to think -- I can be careful without being a complete asshole.
"What's going on? Who's dying?" CB asks.
"One sec," I reply, and flip back to the private comms.
"Here's the deal," I say, "personally, I don't really want to hunt you all night -- I've got other stuff to do -- but all this business just got my corpmate online when he was going to take a night off, and that is a real hassle for him. I feel bad about pulling him online for no reason. I want to make it up to him."
"Specifically," I continue, "I want you to make it up to him, by paying us a reasonable fee for passage."
"That..." he replies, "sounds reasonable, provided you aren't just going to kill me anyway."
I take a breath. "You don't know me, obviously," I type, "but let me assure you (for what it's worth) that I don't do things like that. Ever."
I hit enter, then stare and screen and add. "Ultimately, you can either pay me and hope I'm telling the truth, or not pay me and know for certain I'll harass you all night. Up to you. Keep in mind I need to trust you not to be pulling some kind of doublecross as well by bringing in a fleet to wipe me out while I'm about my business."
He wires the money to me a few seconds later, with a bonus.
"Excellent," I reply. "You have free passage. I'll go take down the bubble so you can move around easily.
And that's what I do.
"What happened?" CB asks.
"Some guy is hauling supplies back to his hole, and we're the best route for him. He paid us a toll, here's your cut." I wire him most of the money. "Sound good?"
"I just got paid for logging in for two minutes," CB replies. "Sounds fine by me. Later."
He logs out, and I return to my original sleeper shooting plans. Four sites drop in quick succession -- fewer than I'd planned on, thanks to the interruption, but still decent -- and I proceed with looting while Bre goes back to the tower.
In mid-salvage-operation, I get another message request from the Drake pilot.
Could be a trap.
Could be a lot of things. Could be pie, for all you know. Answer it.
I do. There aren't so many people in our home system that I have a surplus of conversation opportunities, and in any case, this is another wormhole dweller -- a different breed from a lot of EVE players -- the odds of them being someone I respect are generally higher (even when they're trying to kill me).
"Hello. This is going to sound weird."
"I'm ready for anything. Shoot."
"I just have a really long, really boring supply run to do, and you're the only person I know who's logged in."
I laugh, almost loud enough to wake up my kid. "We do have to find our EVE-friends where we can, even if it's someone that was shooting at us an hour ago."
"Indeed. Feel like chatting about wormholes while I fly?"
"Sounds good. How long have you been out here?..."
And that was the evening. I wrapped up the salvage, hauled it to the nearest market, sold it off for a solid profit, and kept chatting with the lone Drake pilot, who lives somewhere out in wormhole space in a tiny little C1 system with a nullsec connection (like the one I'd just looted, but somewhere else). He'd been unable to do a supply run for almost a month, and was getting a bit desperate when he found tonight's route out.
I was also the first person he'd seen in almost two weeks -- he lived in his system solo; just him and his alts. Before he set up a tower, he'd lived out of his ships, roaming wormholes, and didn't 'touch ground' in known space for almost two months. I whistle softly.
"That's pretty impressive."
"It's what I enjoy."
"That, I understand."
I'll probably never talk to the guy again. I'll almost definitely never see him again in our wormhole -- the odds of getting that kind of connection between our systems again are vanishingly slim -- but I have a good chat during a slow part of the game with a guy who happens to share many of the same interests as I do.
And none of that would have happened if I'd done things "right" when the opportunity for betrayal and extortion presented itself.
Playing the way I choose to play is wrong, by many player's lights, and it will undoubtedly cost me at some future point when someone plays me for a sucker -- I will lose a ship, or ships, or maybe something even bigger.
But in the meantime (and probably even afterwards), as long as things like this evening continue to happen, as far as I'm concerned, I'm winning.