Em needs to get back into the hole, but for that he needs a destination, and I'm the only pilot available to get it to him. Time to review my options.
On the one hand, there's my Proteus, which is reasonably tough and cloaky, and (especially in the sudden absence of my Cheetah) a go-to ship when I need to jump through a strange wormhole. The main problems with it are two-fold:
- It relies on stealth for a lot of its ability to get around unmolested, and if I make the worst-case assumption, the tower I'm sitting in and both the exits from the system are being watched, so any element of surprise the strategic cruiser might give me will be lost as soon as I board it.
- It's slow as hell, which makes it more difficult for me to slip out of a situation that turns hairy. The ship is meant to mug someone at point-blank range, and the odds of that happening at this point are slim to none.
Another consideration that isn't quite as pivotal is the simple fact that the Proteus is probably the most expensive ship in my hangar, and designed to be put at risk in PvP when the situation is in my favor and I know more about the battlefield than my opponent. To say that isn't the case here would be a laughable understatement, so picking that ship for this job is a bad bet. Also, the one pilot I know for certain is in the hole (the tengu) is also in a cloaky tech 3 cruiser, and matching like against like feels like a bad idea to me, especially if he's fit for speed and any kind of range at all.
Not that I'm adverse to putting a pricey ship at risk; the tengu probably went after my Cheetah because it was sitting there for so long, stupidly uncloaked, that it's destruction became a moral imperative. I actually want to get a better idea of the situation here, so a juicy target is a good idea -- something the tengu would want to take a shot at that (a) can deal with the thing on more equitable terms and (b) has a better chance of getting out if things spiral downward.
I jump into the Cynabal. Apparently, Cabbage is right: I'm a more likely to risk a ship I didn't buy. Aside from that, it feels like a better option. For one thing, I'm a better Cynabal pilot than Proteus in a couple of highly-relevant ways, and aside from that, the flying salamander of doom gives me exactly what I want: speed, the ability to get out a bad scene, and (depending on the relative skills of the pilots in question) a reasonable chance at a good fight with a cloaky-fit strategic cruiser if it turns out he's alone. (Cloaky tech 3s sacrifice DPS and sometimes a fair amount of tank, compared to pure-combat configurations that could very likely eat a typical Cynabal for lunch. This puts things -- theoretically -- on more favorable ground, which is all I want.)
At least, that's how I reconstruct it later. At the time, I think my whole thought process was "fast, pretty tough, and good damage: Cynabal." Once in the ship, I line up on the exit to lowsec and enter warp.
My goals, in order of importance:
- Get Em a route home.
- See if I can look tasty enough for the Tengu to take a shot at me, despite the fact that most solo cloaky t3s restrict themselves to a diet of softer targets.
- See if anyone else jumps out of the woodwork, and take stock of how bad the situation is.
I land on top of the wormhole and immediately jump into low-sec, then tell Em the system I'm in over voice comms, pronouncing the odd name as well as I can.
"Ugh. Can you type that into the channel?"
Behind me, I hear the distinctive sound of a ship jumping through the wormhole. "In a second. Things just got interesting here."
I'm still covered in the temporary cloak afforded any ship that jumps through a wormhole into a new system, as is my stalker, and while there's really no difference between fighting someone on the low-sec side of the hole, my preference is to get back on the 'home' side before I think about combat. There's still too many variables left unanswered, and I can't see what reinforcements might be on the way if I'm outside the home system and start a tussle. I jump.
Reinforcements? Oh yeah. Two lokis have landed (or simply uncloaked) on the hole since I jumped through to low-sec space, and while a cloaky tengu (who just jumped through after me, again) seems like a good fight, three on one starting at ground zero are odds I like a lot less.
The problem, of course, is that I need to get out, which means getting into warp before any of the three ships get a lock and tackle on me. Jumping back through the wormhole isn't an option for another four minutes, thanks to "secondary warp coil polarization" (a feature that, ten seconds ago, I was counting on to keep the tengu from easily jumping away from me -- ironic, that). My only real choice is to hit warp and hope for the best.
In a movie, this is the point in the story when the guy in the car realizes that his vehicle's been secretly fit with a big red button labeled "nitro boost".
Seriously, do you guys have any idea how fast a Cynabal can get into warp?
I'll give you a hint: faster than three t3 cruisers can lock it. I have yet to find any similarly-fit ship in its class that can come anywhere near it, and I'll be honest: I had no idea.
Once back in the tower, I get Em the name of the system, and he heads out in a covert-ops ship. The trip is a fairly long one, and we have time to do some research.
Going back to the kill boards (now that I'm safe inside tower shields and not floating out in open space), I'm able to find a number of situations where the tengu pilot I spotted was involved in kills with two other pilots, both flying Lokis, and from that I'm able to get a pretty good idea who's in the system with us. (No, I didn't take the time to write down their names when I was on the wormhole -- I was busy. I also forgot to take a screenshot I could look at later. :P)
Em has been digging as well, and his research goes a bit further.
"They're US timezones," he tells me, "and they've probably all got jobs. Almost all their kills are from 0000 to 0700, GMT. They fly a LOT of tech 3 cruisers, and do a lot of stuff in small gangs."
"So..." I squint at the math. "Sure. Log on after work, an hour to find something to shoot on the good nights -- longer on the bad ones." I glance at the clock. "Hopefully that means they're logging out soon."
"We'll see," Em replies. "You add them to your watchlist?"
I have, and watch the screen for any notification that my watchlisted pilots have disconnected.
Five minutes before Em gets home, they log out for the night.
"Welcome back," I mutter to Em as he drops out of warp in his own tower.
"Thanks." He sighs. "So, what are we thinking?"
"Option One," I say, "they're killing time for the weekend, and they bring in a whole fleet of ships and siege one of our towers, since that's what the alliance did over in that other system."
"Option Two is them doing what they're already doing."
"Yyyyup," Em says, popping the final consonant.
I update our shared comm channel's Message of the Day.
Hostiles in System, all in cloaked ships. Assume you are always being watched. Act accordingly. Inform Ty and Em of any ship sightings in system. More info when we have it.
"That's about all we can do with Option Two, for now." I turn to the tower controls and start offlining the small lab Gor and Bre have been using for low-grade research. "Off-lining and stowing all the non-essential modules and on-lining more of the pointy stuff."
"Same." The comms are silent for a long while as we work. It's gotten faster to manipulate tower modules in many cases, but when it comes to defensive and offensive stuff, it's still tedious and slow. "Which do you think it is?"
"I think..." I say, flipping on yet another module and watching the activation timer count down... "it's going to be a really interesting weekend."
Our towers modified, warnings set, and ships cloaked, we finally log out, many hours later than normal.
This will not be our longest night.
Not even close.