The c4 is blessedly free of other wormhole connections, since its persistent connection is the one I just used to get here. C2d, on the other hand, has statics to both known space and a class 1 system, which tells me that the wormhole back to c2b is a randomly generated connection -- it happens. The c1 connects to lowsec, as does c2c, which also has a connection to yet another class2 system ("c2e", also known as "c2omgIgiveup").
Finding and visiting all these connections has chewed up a lot more time then I'd planned to spend on scanning, and I still don't have the whole constellation mapped out. Nor shall I: with the discovery of the connection to c2e, I figure I've found more than enough stuff to do for the rest of my time online, and cut my exploration short. The final (though incomplete) constellation map looks something like this:
Whew. I retreat to the tower, opening a private comms to the fleet commander of the alliance's POS-bashing, Wormhole-IQ-increasing op coming up this weekend, and verify that the typhoon fitting I've come up with will suffice. He suggests a few tweaks that fall under the heading of 'personal preference', all of which are easily made, and the end result seems quite satisfactory to the both of us.
The home system is still quiet, so I decide to take a break and come back when there are more hands on deck.
My patience is rewarded when I return, as both Bre and Berke are lounging in the tower and muttering about how someone did a lot of scanning and forgot to leave bookmarks for anyone else. Oops.
I give a rundown of the local constellation, and since the closest system (c2b) is pretty barren, we decide on a kind of 'remote op' into c2c. It's something we've done in the distant past -- running sites while Berke's orca acts as a kind of mobile base. A bit more risky, but cuts down on the number of times we have to run back and forth between systems to grab salvaging ships and the like.
With this plan in mind, we load up the orca with a couple scanner ships (just in case), a Catalyst-class destroyer built for salvaging, and a Blackbird-class cruiser meant to bodyguard the destroyer. This leaves us quite a lot of free space in the Orca's ship hanger, which means it will be no problem for us to swap even Bre's bulky Drake into the Orca and pull out smaller ships.
Ty drops bookmarks for a number of safe spots he scouted out in c2c, all of which Berke gobbles up, and we make our way to that system, with Ty in one of his Gila cruisers and Bre in the aforementioned Drake.
Once we land in system, the first order of business is to get the Orca to a safe spot. Once there, Berke cloaks the orca and drops into the role of overwatch -- keeping an eye on d-scan and running a single scanning probe far above the plane of the system to make sure some new wormhole doesn't open up in the system.
Once that's done, Ty and Bre set to work on Sleeper sites, using a new method I've been experimenting with to speed things up. In brief, the initial warp-in to the site is nothing but a scouting trip. Once we land, I quickly bookmark one of central structures in the site, then warp out of the site, turn around, and warp back in right on top of said structure. It seems like a small change, but selecting one of the central locations in the anomaly puts us within a dozen or so kilometers of every new wave of sleeper spawns, rather than having them warp in at their preferred (and often annoying) 80+ km. This saves us a ton of time that we normally waste closing to more optimal ranges, and the end result is that we're able to finish off four sites in the time it would normally take us to do one. Outstanding.
Ty warps to Berke's location, swaps his Gila for the salvaging ship, and starts in on the first of the combat sites, which has despawned by this point, leaving nothing but wrecks floating in empty space. Meanwhile, Berke has moved to a different safespot in the system and recloaked.
The salvaging goes almost as fast as the combat (one of the other advantages of the structure warp-in method is that the wrecks are grouped quite close together), and Ty is already at the fourth site when Berke notices a Hound-class stealth bomber on d-scan. He gives warning, and both Ty and Bre warp to safes and cloak up. (It may not be the most efficient way to fit a ship, but when working farther from the home system, I like to have a cloak on all the ships to give everyone an easy way to 'get safe'.)
We wait, watching d-scan, but spot no further activity. The fact that the Hound (which can warp while cloaked, unlike most ships) showed up on d-scan at all indicates that it probably entered the system from another wormhole -- the local corporation's tower is still completely quiet.
I'm not a naturally patient person, so the only way I can hope to out-wait a potential ambush is to step away from the screen entirely. I go AFK and see to other activities while Berke and Bre continue watching.
There's still nothing going on in the system when I get back, so I decide to risk finishing up the salvaging and see what happens. The site had despawned long before the Hound was spotted, and you can't scan down wrecks, so the only way the bomber will be able to find me is if he deploys combat probes, which really isn't something that particular model of covert ops ship is good at - it seems a safe bet.
And it pays off. I'm able to clean up the last site without incident, and immediately get to a safe and cloak up again.
Now comes the harder decision. Do we call it good and head home, or try to hit a few more sites? I could go both ways, and the only thing that finally decides matters is that we continue to see no activity on d-scan during the not-inconsiderable time we we spend dithering, which would seem to indicate that the Hound has moved on.
Given that, Bre and Ty reship and head to the next site while Berke jumps to another safe spot and recloaks, returning to his overwatch.
And a good thing he does, actually, because we're just wrapping up the last of the sleepers when Berke spots both the Hound and Manticore (another stealth bomber).
Now things get trickier. Bre and Ty both warp off, and we're back to the waiting game. This is where a hunting ship may make a mistake by hiding out next to our wrecks and waiting for our return -- the site itself only despawns if there are no active ships 'inside' the anomaly, so if the site remains for more than a few minutes after we've killed all the Sleepers and left, we know that there's someone laying in wait, and we simply write off the last site and head home. The only way to avoid this is for the bombers to sneak into the site, bookmark something that they can warp to later (as we did), and then leave the site. They'd have to be reasonably veteran wormhole hunters to even know that trick.
A few minutes pass, and the site despawns, right on schedule. Excellent.
Ty warps to Berke, grabs the salvager, and jumps into the site to begin cleanup. Likewise, Bre warps in and cloaks, and after a little deliberation, Berke warps nearby as well (100 kilometers distant) and cloaks. Normally, he'd never do that, because it puts him on-grid when he has no reason to be, but our thought is that once the salvaging operation is done, we can warp as a group to a safe and get organized for the trip home. (Foolish thinking, really, but live and learn.)
Meanwhile, of course, Berke and Bre are both hammering d-scan as hard as they can, watching for combat scanning probes, but none show, and Ty finishes up almost anticlimactically; Bre and Berke decloak, and Ty initiates warp. His quick destroyer warps, followed by Bre.
That, of course, is when the Hound, Manticore, and a Keres electronic warfare frigate decloak and attack the Orca. The bombers are first to commence hostilities, since their ships do not suffer from a targeting delay for fitting cloaking devices -- both ships lock the Orca with Warp Disruptors and torpedoes (optimized for top damage against big ships like the orca) start to claw chunks out of the Monolith's shields.
To his credit, Berke doesn't panic. He's been in this situation before, and he's had MORE than enough time to think over what he did wrong last time and what he could do better. Electronic Countermeasure Drones are readied while he waits for his larger, slower ship to get locks on the bombers.
Then he gets a message indicating that the bombers are no longer within his targeting range, which has apparently been cut drastically. The Keres has joined the fight, its EWAR modules dampening the Orca's targeting sensors to the point where locking the bombers is impossible. Things do not look good. Ty and Bre can't even turn around to help yet, because they're still in warp to the distant wormhole exit.
Then Berke notices a curious thing; despite the two destabilization effects on his ship from the bombers, his warp drives are still spooling up.
The orca's fitting flips up on his screen, and provides some explanation -- after the last ambush and the destruction of the Eclipse, Berke put two warp core stabilizers ("stabs") on his new Orca; just enough -- barely -- to counteract the effect of the Bombers.
Assuming they don't realize what's going on before the Orca actually gets into warp; the Orca spools up SLOWLY.
10 seconds. The Orca's shield is at half.
20 seconds. The shield is at one-quarter.
30 seconds. The shield is a bare red sliver, letting some of the damage bleed through onto the Orca's armor.
And then he's in Warp.
It's possible I may have done a little cheering.
Even our attackers are moderately surprised.
Berke safes up and Ty and Bre race home to pick up ships better suited for bodyguard work (Bre in another Blackbird, and Ty in a bomber-killing Jaquar-class assault frigate), and we're lucky enough in our timing that Gor and Wil log in just as we're heading out -- they provide heavier support in the form of a pair of Harbinger-class battlecruisers.
Four ships race back to our besieged (if hidden) corpmate, and five align and warp out again, this time letting the Orca go first. A few minutes later, we are back in the tower, safe and sound.
"That," I mutter, "could have been bad."
"But it wasn't," says Gor, "and that's really the important thing."