Oh, nevermind, that's someone else's Iteron hauler, using our system as a route out to known space -- it seems like people would learn not to do that, but they never do.
In fact, the neighbors that lost the hauler doesn't seem genetically disposed to learning behavior. Despite the loss of a ship in a system to which they're still connected, Tweed reports quite a bit of continued activity in their system, including a Raven battleship... shooting sleepers? Solo?
Em would very much like to kill a Raven, but since our pilots shot their hauler at home, and we've only been stealthily watching them since then, their system is only partially scouted, and we don't have bookmarks for whatever obscure location the Raven is at. Tweed gets out of range of the tower, drops probes, and starts an initial scan.
"This is going to take awhile."
"How many signatures are there?"
"Thirty... one? Thirty-two."
I suppose one of the upsides to an incredibly messy system is that it conceals your activities and slows down newcomers to your system, but that's like saying hoarders have a good home security system. Seriously, clean up your crap.
Meanwhile, the Raven vanishes off d-scan, then reappears about five minutes later, which seems to indicate the pilot is running errands through a wormhole to known space, or collapsing said wormhole (very slowly).
"Or he's scouting out the exit so that Iteron pilot can get his new clone back into their system," points out Ichi.
Ahh. Probably that. I didn't realize the hauler pilot had gotten his pod destroyed as well.
Tweed scans, working over the area where the Raven seems to be located, where there are "only" 19 signatures to sort through. Most lowsec connections have a weaker signal strength on scans, but since there are so many sites, even that clue doesn't help much in terms of speeding up the process of elimination, and by the time we locate the exit, Tweed is fairly certain his probes have been spotted, as the Raven pilot has returned to their tower's force field. The small fleet of ships lurking on the other side of the entrance into his system are disappointed.
"What's he doing over there?"
"There's two of them. One's in a scanning ship, and the Raven pilot just reshipped into a... Manticore."
Now that is interesting. The stealth bomber looks like a show of force; somewhat more effective than the Raven, as the small ship can fly cloaked and dish out quite a lot of damage on an unsuspecting target. Too bad we don't have any unsuspecting targets for him to att-- hey.
"I have an idea," I say on comms. "I'll be right back."
I warp back to our wormhole connection and from there to our tower, where I swap out Twilight Sparkle for Drageron, the Gila-class cruiser I usually use for running anomalies. As a drone-boat, it's not a very common sight in wormholes, thanks to wildly exaggerated tales of Sleeper ships targeting and destroying drones within seconds of them of them being sent into combat. My estimation of our target's research skills are fairly low at this point, so it's my hope that he might take a shot at the cruiser if I go over and start shooting up their anomalies, taking it for an easy target.
As an added plus, the Gila is somewhat ridiculously over-tanked for class two wormhole systems, which lets me remove a couple of shield modules and replace them with a propulsion module and a Warp Disruptor, which should be enough to pin the Manticore down if he does take a shot, and still have more than enough tank to handle any active Sleepers. Thus refit, I jump back to the other system, then jump to the system's exit out to low sec known space and sit there for a couple minutes.
"Hum de dum. Here I am in my little drone-filled cruiser, completely inappropriate for wormholes. Clearly, I am from low sec, and those probes you saw, Mister Raven, were from my otherwise-harmless scanning alt. I am all alone, and most certainly not from that nasty class two system filled with all those pilots who killed your friend a few hours ago. All those people went to sleep."
"You know he can't actually hear you."
"Shut up. I'm Method, bitches."
I do a quick passive scan of the Sleeper anomalies in the system, and pick one that's within directional scanning range of their tower, but only barely, then I warp in at the worst range possible and proceed to run the site as inefficiently as possible. Wrecks are scattered across the starry sky as far as the Overview can see.
"Manticore and Anathema have both warped out of the tower and cloaked up. Probes on scan."
"Probes? He can find the site I'm in with passive scans!"
"They're combat probes. He must think he has to scan down your ship."
Time goes by. The probes very, VERY slowly converge on my location.
"Did you put a microwarpdrive on that thing?" asks Em. "Can you turn it on so your signature gets bigger?"
"Unfortunately, no," I reply, pulling my sentry drones back in and deploying the smallest drones I have in the bay, just to slow down the process and give this guy more time. "I'm going as slowly as I can."
"I think you'll need to go slower."
He may not be wrong, as the probes are still on scan and converging when I finish the site. Luckily, I only have to waste another minute before they disappear -- a sign that the pilot finally located me and pulled his probes back.
Unfortunately, there's no attack, and I can't linger in the site any longer without looking suspicious.
"Warp to another site and clear that one?"
"Move? He'd have to find me again. I don't have that much free time." I sigh. "I'll go get a salvager."
"Have you got one that can tank a bomber?"
I warp straight back to our hole, convinced now that any misdirection about my point of origin will be wasted, as the pilots in the system aren't picking up data fast enough to get anything but the most obvious information. Back at our tower, I reship into a Catalyst destroyer that we sometimes use for salvaging and move the Warp Disruptor from the Gila to my new ride, staring at the fitting window and trying to figure out how to tweak the rest of the modules to survive a bomber assault. The other pilots suggest a number of modules, none of which I have available, since our tower is woefully short on things like Frigate- and Destroyer-sized armor plates. I finally settle on a Damage Control unit to capitalize on the Catalyst's Gallente origins, and fill the other two low slots with a passive omni-resistance plate left over from fitting Twilight Sparkle and... hello what's this?
Down at the bottom of Gor's personal equipment hangar, I catch the gleam of an anti-kinetic actively-powered armor resistance module, which is quite useful, as the Caldari-born Manticore will very likely be doing almost all Kinetic damage. I borrow the module (offlining all but a few of ship's tractor beams and salvagers to give me the grid and CPU I need to make it fit) and hope Gor won't mind too much if I get it blown up.
"On my way back."
The system is quiet, and the site is clear of everything but wrecks, which I start to gather up. Thankfully, I did the site in such a way as to scatter the wrecks everywhere, which means I can take my time slowboating from wreck to wreck, leaving my microwarpdrive off in case the Manticore finally drops a bomb.
"Ichi, can you get in an interceptor?" I ask. "It may be useful."
"Want me out of the Hurricane?" asks CB.
I think about it. "On the very very slim chance that he's bluffing us, stay in it, in case he has cloaky friends."
I putter through the site, looking as vulnerable as I can, with only my damage control unit running -- the active armor hardener gives the ship's hull a distinctive glimmer that a knowledgeable pilot would recognize as a very odd addition to a real salvaging ship, and I don't want to tip my hand on something so simple.
"BOMB." Tweed calls out.
He's right. The bomb is lumbering toward me, and there's the Manticore, just on the outside edge of my Warp Disruptor's range. I start a target lock and head his way, flipping on the active hardener and waiting for the detonation.
My ship's systems tell me when the bomb goes off, screaming a warning about my evaporated shields. I have a lock on the Manticore, who is now lobbing torpedoes my direction, and (despite the incoming missiles) flip on my microwarpdrive to close the distance. The signature bloom from the propulsion unit ensures that the torps do their maximum damage to my little ship, but the actively-hardened armor takes it, thanks in no small part to that (currently overheating) kinetic resistance module. My destroyer sprints across the 20 kilometers to the Manticore and drops into a tight orbit 500 meters off the ship, at which point I shut off the microwarpdrive and stop overheating the armor resistance module.
"I've got him," I announce. "Come hit him. Warp to me."
Pilots in non-cloaky ships jump in from our system and get into warp, and I see them appear on my directional scan. The manticore pilot does as well, and seems to realize he's in trouble -- he wheels away (still tossing torpedoes at me over his shoulder) and lights up his own microwarpdrive to get clear of my Warp Disruptor's range.
Once again, I'm faced with the necessity of burning into oncoming torpedoes with a microwarpdrive lit, but after taking this long to draw the pilot out, I have little interest in letting him get away, so I flip the module back on, take off in pursuit, and start heating up the armor. The torps are beating the hell out of me, but it's holding... kind of -- I've got about 5% of the plating left before it's time to test the famously over-engineered Gallente ship structure.
"I've got him jammed," comes Em's calm voice, like he's ticking "avocados" off a shopping list. I see his Falcon on my Overview where it hadn't been before, and the torpedo rain magically stops falling.
Unfortunately, the nimble bomber is really pulling away from me, and I overheat my own Microwarpdrive to slow his escape, even if I can't prevent it. He's three kilometers from getting outside my disruptor's range.
My fellow pilots drop out of warp, but they're already twenty kilometers behind me and forty kilometers from the Manticore, as they warped to where I was at the moment their engines engaged, not to where I am now.
"Ichi, I need you to catch this guy."
Two kilometers... One... Ichi's Crow interceptor passes me so quickly I wonder if I burned out my microwarpdrive and am sitting dead in space.
My disruptor shuts down, Aura telling me that the target is no longer within range.
"Son of a..."
"Got him," calls Ichi. "I mean, Point. I have point. Got him."
"Kill him," murmurs Em, his voice still low and even. "And get the pod."
He does, and we do.
It's a good day.
I give my trusty little bait-destroyer a pat on the dashboard and review the blinking warning lights flashing up at me.
"Anyone have any nanite repair paste?"