Summary of Events
Following a system assault conducted by members of our alliance, some of the corps involved in defending that system decided it would be fun to keep shooting pilots wearing our alliance tag. While the regular inhabitants of our home system know not to lead enemy pilots back to our home system, we had very recently added a new pilot to the system who apparently grew up in some daisy-filled corner of Romanian Legion nullsec space where no one's ever heard of OpSec, and who thinks the idea that someone might ignore Drake sleeper-killers to instead blow up the noctis salvager following them is Crazy Talk.
As a result of that pilot's actions, an enemy alliance got an unknown number of pilots in the system, mostly in covert-ops-cloak-fitted Tech3 strategic cruisers.
The first two losses to those pilots were, karmically, ships flown by the pilot that led them back to the system. The kills were approximately six hours apart, by two different pilots, and went unreported, the intel not getting to the other pilots in-system until almost 20 hours later (thanks to night-cycles and downtime), when one of the enemy pilots took down a covert ops ship that was sitting uncloaked in open space, because his pilot was stupidly distracted.
At this point, the only awake pilot in the system was Ty, with Em in known space. Knowing only that the Tengu was active, Ty reshipped into a Cynabal (figuring it for both enticing killmail bait and dangerous enough to handle a stealth-fit T3), and jumped out to the low system to get Em a route home. The Cynabal proved to be lure enough to get the pilots to show their hand; the Tengu jumped into the low after him, and when Ty jumped back into the home system, the tengu was joined by two Lokis, landing on the hole. Ty was able to escape, thanks to a combination of the Cynabal's agility and the targeting recalibration delay most cloak-fit ships suffer.
Now with more intel, we hit the killboards and were able to work out pilots who were most likely to be in the system, based on the enemy alliance's use of t3s, combined with observing who tended to group up in small 3 to 4-pilot gangs for kills. Em also determined the activity cycle of the enemy pilots by looking at WHEN they got kills (luckily -- or unluckily -- we had a lot of kill-data to work with) -- we determined we were dealing with pilots from the US, probably the Midwest, with almost 100% of their activity from 0000 to 0700 GMT.
We added this information, including both suspected and verified pilot names to our system channel MOTD, with instructions to add all those pilots to watch lists, lock down all non-essential activities in system, and if at all possible to say cloaked and safed up.
Non-essential tower modules were offlined, unanchored, and stored, and we filled the active tower grids back up with ECM modules and weaponry, with backups already armed and ready to be onlined.
We considered it equally likely that this was either a forward force for a full fleet invasion or a smaller 'grief' fleet, meant to pop soft or poorly-defended targets. Appropriately, we prepped for the full fleet invasion (the worst-case scenario), while denying the enemy opportunities for the latter.
A few days of staying cloaked-up and generally offline-during-enemy-active-cycles followed, and as the weekend approached, Bre tried to find an exit through our C2 static to bring in an armor-tanked Scorpion for potential fleet action, but while she were able to locate an exit, she got pinned between a polarized wormhole and a heavy interdictor flown by the very aggressive pilots in the neighboring c2. Upside: she got to a market where she could buy that Scorpion a lot faster than expected.
That afternoon we began the process of retaking control of our static exits, starting with crashing the current lowsec exit. We began with the returning Scorpion battleship, but were only able to get the hole about halfway crashed before the process was interrupted by the inhabitants of the neighboring C2, who were looking for a two-fer on Bre. We avoided this and waited for more pilots. Our second attempt had better support, and our scouts reported that while we'd been waiting, two of the enemy pilots inside our system had, for some unknown reason, left our system and taken off through known space. We obviously had to bring that lowsec exit down before they got back, interference or not.
The occupying pilots tried to interfere with the process, but they vacated the field when the neighboring C2 pilots showed up again -- there were far too many guns around, and the occupying pilots' cloaky tech3 ships were a much more enticing target for our neighbors than our heavily warp-stabilized, hole-crashing battleships. The hole crashed, and everyone got back to safe spots and/or towers. Left with no targets, the C2 pilots retreated to their hole.
We've crashed and/or rolled a lot of wormholes -- I don't think there are many wormhole pilots who haven't -- but it's a different sort of experience when there are enemy ships around and you're under time pressure. It was very difficult waiting for Tweed to resolve the new wormhole location and warp to it.
"Let us know when you're there," I say.
"In warp," says Tweed. "Okay, I'm there."
I try to warp to his location, but the navigation systems can't lock on. "It says you're not in-system."
"Oh... I... jumped through. Do you want me to jump back?"
"We need to get big ships down there to weaken the hole, so yes please."
"Right. Right. Sorry, in a rush."
"It's okay, totally understand."
Tweed jumps back, and reports that an "occupy" Loki is on the hole, then jumps out to low-sec.
"Let's get down there. Are you warpable?"
We get into warp, but land over 10 kilometers from the hole in big, slow ships.
"Sorry. Sorry... I didn't know what you were warping down here in."
"No worries. We'll get it sorted out."
We crawl towards the hole and, finally, jump a couple battleships out to the lowsec, then back again, starting the wormhole crashing process. It's now another four or five minutes before we can perform another jump.
"My polarization is done," Tweed says. "Should I jump out into the lowsec?"
"Yeah, tell us where we are and if that Loki is still around."
I look at the deceptively empty space around the wormhole, knowing that we had a number of cloaked up combat ships nearby, and expecting that the occupying pilots had the same -- the reason that we were using battleships to close the hole rather than the far more massive Orca industrials we had on hand.
"This situation has got too many people involved," I say to Em. "Let's get that C2 connection killed off too, so we don't have to deal with those guys."
We get a scout into the Class Two, who reports no ships on scan, and we jump the battleships through and back to weaken that hole, then return to the low-sec exit just in time to begin another jump sequence. This part of the process goes relatively smoothly, but slower than we're used to, due to using less than optimal ships for the process.
"The Loki pilot is out in here in the system," Tweed says. "He's not leaving and he's not going back in. I can't figure why he isn't he going back in."
There's a pause, then Em speaks up. "Polarization. If he waits long enough out there, then jumps in, he won't be polarized on the inside, and can either cloak and slip away, or jump back through if that doesn't work."
"Huh," Bre murmurs. "That's... really smart."
"It's like they've done this before," I deadpan.
We run a couple more jumps, and get close to closing both the C2 and low-sec holes.
"Okay, Tweed, get on back in here and get probes out, so you can find the next sets of holes."
Tweed jumps, and is followed only a few seconds later by the Loki pilot, who is easily able to cloak and warp away.
"Man..." I mutter, "if we could close these faster, we might be able to get it killed before he was done waiting out the polarization timer."
We crash low-sec #2 the rest of the way, and crash the class two connection a few minutes later, which lets Tweed know at a glance which new signature is the low-sec and which is the new class 2 connection. Once we have them, we put a scout on the C2 to watch for any enemy activity, and started crashing the Low-sec. Just as we land on the Low-sec hole, Tweed (who is already out in Low-sec after giving us a much closer warp-in point) reports that the same loki pilot had jumped out into the low to provide a route for his allies -- he didn't seem to have interest in the class two connection.
"Makes sense," says Shan. "In the c2, he'd have to scan the way out to actual known space -- no way he could do that and get them here before we closed the hole behind him."
This time we bring in two more battleships, and start moving them through the hole in earnest, trying to get the hole down before the Loki is ready to come back in, but all these added ships has complicated our math, and we're left with a critically unstable wormhole that is, unfortunately, not dead. This is problem for us, because while the unstable hole probably won't be able to handle more than a single battleship going through in one direction, it may still have more than enough strength left to admit not only the Loki pilot, but all of his friends.
"I'll go get the Onyx," Em says, and warps off to swap into a Heavy Interdictor. As I've said, wormholers have figured out lots of ways to manipulate the mass limitations on a wormhole, and one of them involves using a cruiser-sized Heavy Interdictor. If you set up the ship with an otherwise-useless fitting, it's possible to activate a number of Warp Disruptor bubble generators on the ship, reducing the ship's mass to almost nothing. Then, on the far side, you shut off the warp bubble generators, activate some oversized ship modules, and come back through the hole almost as massive as a battleship. This "go out tiny, come back huge" trick is one of the ways to finish killing off difficult wormholes like the one we're currently dealing with.
Em gets back to the wormhole, we recall Tweed, and Em activates his "make me seem tiny" modules, jumps through, then buffs up his mass and jumps back.
The wormhole doesn't die. Great. Now we have to wait out the polarization. Time is wasting, and with every second, we're sure the loki pilot is going to come back in -- he's had time to.
"Maybe his friends are getting close, and he's waiting on the outside to give them a fleet member to warp to."
"That... does not make me feel better."
Em keeps trying to jump through the wormhole, while cloaked (which doesn't work), to get an idea of how long he has to go before he can jump, and as soon as the polarization messages go away, he uncloaks and starts turning on his 'make me small' modules aga--
His ship jumps.
"What just happened?"
"I... dammit. I jumped. It... jumped me through as soon as I decloaked. I didn't have any of the warp disruptors running."
"Well, at least the hole didn't --"
The hole collapses.
"Okay... well, shit. Okay. I'm going to warp down to the local station." There's a pause. "Oh, that loki pilot is grumpy that I warped off instead of fighting him."
"Mmm. We'll send him a card. How far into Low-sec are you?"
"Eight jumps? I'm not going to fly this thing out right now, that's for sure. I'll clone-jump to a market and buy a different ship."
"Okay." I think things over. "Tweed --"
"Awesome. That's our third pilot out. Maybe we've run out of bad guys."
"Well..." murmurs Shan "unless Tweed just launched fourteen scanner probes, we haven't."
"Dammit. Okay, everyone back to the towers, we need to speed this crashing process up." Things went smoother on the second hole, but the snags and hiccups still slowed us down and cost us a pilot. "Let's get some Orcas in play."
"Nope, but I'm going to try it anyway."
Tweed gets us a warp-in, and both Berke and Si warp down to the hole in the lumbering beasts of industrial burden.
This time, we have a new Loki pilot, who apparently hasn't been keeping up on current events, because he turns at the wormhole, targeting and shooting at Berke's Orca as soon as the big ship lands, apparently thinking it has no support. Other, pointier ships start landing on the hole, however, and he jumps through the wormhole to low-sec, followed by the big ships, who lurk while cloaked just long enough to jump back, then do so and retreat to their towers to wait out the polarization timer.
"You have your ship built yet, Em?"
"Yeah. Where's the new connection?"
Tweed tells him, and Em groans. "Nineteen jumps away. Damn."
"At least they have to do the jumps too."
"Yep. On my way."
As he jumps, Em catches us up on some of the research he's been doing while waiting out in known space. It looks like the first two pilots who left the system participated in a couple kills somewhere else in New Eden this evening, as part of a large group of ships.
"They... they snuck out to do a Fleet Op?"
"It looks like it. I guess they figured we'd stay quiet, like we had been all week."
"So I guess that worked."
The second set of jumps is done with only a single battleship paired with Berke's Orca. In this case, both ships jump out, but only the battleship jumps back. Berke cloaks up his Orca and waits, ready to follow Em back in and kill the hole once he's home.
Minutes tick by, Berke can see the the Loki pilot in the low-sec local comms channel, but that's --
"Tweed, get back in the hole. We have company."
"Em, those other pilots just showed up in local. They're here. I have to --"
"Close it," Em says. "Close it. Don't worry about me."
Berke, human drawbridge, jumps through the wormhole, which crashes behind him, leaving the returning pilots with no entrance and stranding a fourth pilot outside.
"Scanning for the next hole."
"Reshipping into the Orca."
"D-scan is clear -- no probes besides Tweed's are out yet."
I say nothing, because I don't need to. The first few times, there were questions, missteps, and corrections to be made, but everyone knows their jobs now, and despite the long hours, we're getting faster instead of slower.
"Enemy probes on scan."
"Copy that. I have them too. And a loki. MAN they like lokis." A pause. "It took this guy a lot longer to get scanner probes out."
"Maybe he's the bad scanner in the bunch."
"Sure," I say. "Because lucky things happen to us, and because they have any bad pilots."
Still, it really does seem as though this pilot is moving a lot slower than his brethren, and we are able to get to the hole well before him, get Tweed out to known space to give Em a destination, and start weakening the hole with the same Orca-pair, battleship-pair as before.
While the first polarization timer counts down, the loki lands and jumps through.
"I wonder if we're ever going to run out of these guys."
"Eventually, we have to, there's only 35 thousand pilots logged in right now. They can't all be in here."
"Oh, sure, jinx us."
Again, we weaken the hole and leave Berke cloaked up and floating outside, ready to crash it.
"Guys, I just..." Em pauses. "I just PASSED them, heading your way."
"How far out are you?"
"Eight jumps," he answers. "This is going to be close.
It is, though Em is able to get a two-jump lead on them thanks to the smaller, faster ship he picked out for the run home. He arrives in system, warps to the hole, and jumps through, quickly followed by Berke's Orca.
And the hole doesn't close.