Then, for a few seconds, nothing.
Suddenly, a Malediction appeared, close to the edge of one of the warp bubbles. The engines fired up, glowing with a painful blue tinge, the interceptor takes up speed towards a near celestial. A puff of vapor indicates the launch of a scan probe, then the interceptor cleared the edge of the bubble and warps off.
Fleet Comms crackled with a new message.
“Recon - Druur in 9M-. Gate bubbled, grid clear, Brutix on directional, four in Local, scanning for anomalies.”
While talking, I was already working on my next task: dropping a midway safe spot to double back to. As I dropped out of warp, the probe finished its scan of the system. Directional was still clear, and under my mental instructions, the interceptor aligned back towards my mid-safe, while I was checking the scan result.
Odd, just one Angel Yard in the system, even though this system had been upgraded to Military-7 level. Well, since I was here, I might as well check it out.
The Malediction nimbly responded to the new course and leapt into warp. I hit the directional scan again, completely forgetting to restrict it to my flight direction. Not that it mattered - it was still uneventful.
“Recon - 9M- update. Only one Angel anomaly in system, which is ... ” - my ship dropped out of warp - “... inactive. No other anomaly on scan.”
An indicator signaled that local comms had become active, but I ignored it - I didn’t speak the local dialect anyway.
[ Did you try moving your probe? ], inquired the FC and instructor.
Good point! And while I was sure that I had been scanning at maximum range, I hadn’t really verified it, hm?
The probe launcher burped and another probe sped away. A quick check - yes, it was set to 32 AU - and I triggered another scan while checking on the local map that the probe would indeed cover the whole system. The scan ended... again no further hits.
“I did that - the probe covered the whole system, and still nothing. And d-scan is clear.”, I reported back, and added with a bit of embarrassment: “I have no idea where the locals are.”
[ Hmm - ok, come back. ]
For a second I considered checking the belts, but by this time the locals surely had POSed up, if they had any sense. With a mental shrug, I turned my ship back towards the gate and entered warp. Back in QPTT-F, I met up again with our little fleet: 10 or so interceptors, flown by nervous students like myself, and a DPS wing flown by Agony Unleashed.
Our task: practice the art of skirmishing by finding and holding targets for the DPS wing to kill. And while the Instructor/FC did orchestrate our movements in general, scouting out the individual systems was fully up to us.
The roam had been uneventful so far - a few close misses, but mostly empty systems. Word from our little fleet probably had preceded us, but as the real goal of the class was the art of the hunt as such, we didn’t mind that much. Besides, just doing all the scouting tasks kept us more than busy - it was a far cry from our previous experiences as fleet peons, or as dwellers in the slower paced w-space.
Onwards we pressed, leaving Scalding Pass for the open spaces of Insmother. And there, finally, we got our first engagement - almost by accident, actually. One of us had warped to the Sun as part of his scouting procedure, when suddenly a Cynabal showed up on his grid. The cruiser was quickly tackled, and the fleet poured in to lay the killing blow. As the fight was going on, a Raven landed on grid as well. He, too, found his end at the hands of the DPS wing.
[ Maybe we should just wait here, and let the targets come to us! ]
But of course staying wasn’t an option. With renewed energy we moved on, scouting system after system, until about an hour later we came across a Drake and a Raven at a gate to 2-Q4YG. Disruptors were activated and found their targets, but these two pilots stayed calm and approached the gate to jump to safety. However, the FC had anticipated the move and sent a couple of interceptors ahead. Trapped on either side, both ships made valiant attempts at escape, but in the end both succumbed to our DPS wing.
But the tide was about to turn. The Raven pilot had just warped out his pod, when suddenly new ships joined our party: a small gang comprising of a Hurricane, a Sabre and a Huginn showed up. Absolutely deadly enemies for an Interceptor.
[ Burn out! Burn out! ] came the urgent command on comms, but the fleet was already scattering away from the gate, to re-assemble in a safe spot until the immediate danger was over.
But we knew that whoever was leading this gang wouldn’t stop hunting us, and the decision was made to head back home. Besides, we had been on the go for almost four hours at that point, and everybody was starting to lose concentration, which sooner or later would lead to a fatal mistake. The enemy gang continued to chase us for a while, but couldn’t really keep up with our speed; and once they took a wrong turn in 1V-, we no longer had to worry about them and reached MDD-79 without any further opposition. The class officially ended at this point, yet we kept the fleet going for those of us who needed to traverse the Hemin-Doril pipe towards Empire.
As I navigated my trusty Malediction through the gates, shaking inside my pod from exhaustion, I couldn’t help pondering how the last hours had changed us. When we started our roam, many of us had still been skittish to jump
[ RMOC gate in Hemin clear ]
into an unknown system, or even to speak up on fleet comms. But now, jumping
[ Be advised, Utopia gate in Doril is camped ]
through gates and providing informal recon
“Jorund gate in Doril: one Hurricane at a TAC”
was something we just did.
And knowing that I now had this experience at my disposal, should I ever need it - that was a good feeling.