Friday, May 31, 2013

The Hunt

        ”Warping to a gate where you know there's going to be a fight...
         Kinda makes the blood sing, even after all these years." -- Charlie Fodder, Clear Skies 2

The small Caldari tower was hovering in space a tad of 100 klicks from me, basking in the glare of the distant sun. The electronics of my Purifier interrogated it and returned an unmistakeable result. I keyed comms.

"Indeed, Sis, it's truly and royally reinforced. Remaining timer... one day, twelve hours even."

Eta audibly sighed.

[ Well, we knew that this day would come eventually. I'll go and see if I can sweet-talk the alliance into forming a defense fleet. It probably won't succeed, but it should give the boys one of the good fights they are itching for. ]

I knew what she meant: small POSes like this one were extremely vulnerable to even halfway competent battleship gangs, especially in hi-sec wars - and the attackers currently at war with my former alliance were quite competent. So when I heard that my sister's POS was in RI, I happily came over to take a look, so that she could limit her exposure.

Economically it wouldn't even be that much of a loss for her: the fuel she had saved by not running a large deathstar POS was worth more than the whole setup here, but that of course wouldn't be reflected in the official combat records. Plus there was the little thing of Eta's stubbornness in face of adversity.

Idly musing how I could get myself involved into the coming fight, I kicked my engines into gear, and, after short indecision, set course towards the nearest lo-sec gate. Might as well quickly swing through the pocket here, see if any alliance war targets were messing around.

It was funny - going into these two systems used to be such a big deal for me. Granted, we had had powerful neighbors back then, but I had been also much more inexperienced, if not naive. Now, the pocket just felt... small.

My ship fell back into normal space in the lo-sec system, the gate looming large nearby, discharging the last remnants of the warp field energies. Some alliance members in local, running a standing fleet looking for war targets, and a neutral. That must be the Harbinger on d-scan. A bit too large for me take on, but a nice target to practice my scanning and probing on. After giving my ship a little nudge so that I could switch from gate cloak to my own, I went to work. Using a wide scan cone, I narrowed down his position to somewhere in the vicinity of a moon maybe 10AU from here, and engaged my warp drive. He wouldn’t be at the moon, of course, but the closer I got, the better I could pinpoint him with my directional.

As expected, the moon was empty except for a forgotten POS. Swinging my directional around, I quickly reacquired the Harbinger and narrowed him down to a 60° scan cone, and a distance of somewhere between 3.5AU and 4.2AU. The cameras showed nothing in that direction, so I switched to the solar system map: indeed, his location was in space away from celestials. I triggered the comms channel used by former alliance members (like me) to stay in contact with all the current alliance members.

        Druur Monakh> I think he’s at a safe spot
        Frodd> we can still combat scan him
        Bossalini> he’s running a mission
        Bossalini> centi wrecks on scan

Hmm, a mission would be as bad as a safespot: impossible to find without combat probes. But what if he was in a cosmic signature?

I risked uncloaking to launch five core scanner probes in rapid succession, pulsed my MWD to reach safe cloaking distance, and returned to the solar map display. Probes set to 2AU scan, arranged in a cross pattern, … and off they went.

No hit.

I had kind of expected that, and just told the probes to scan again, this time with a 4AU range.

Hit! A Sansha Dataframe, located just high enough above the ecliptic that my initial scan didn’t reach it. But now it was mine! Two more increasingly shorter ranged scans by the probes, and I had a warpable result. Quickly I recalled the probes and engaged my warp drive, hoping that he hadn’t seen the probes - if he was indeed in that signature.

The warp bubble collapsed, and I found myself at the bottom of an abandoned station, floating in space in a cloud of dust and debris. Only my habit of warping to signatures at distance had saved me from immediate decloak. And there was the Harbinger - atop the station!

A shiver ran through me - this could actually work! I still didn’t think of taking on the Harbinger by myself - even a mission-fitted Harbinger could make short work of my squishy Purifier - but if I could get close enough to provide a warp in for the others… It wouldn't be easy, though: there were no wrecks near to him I could have bounced to, and it would take time to circumnavigate the station. And time was running out, only six or eight ships of the formerly formidable Sansha defense force were still alive.

        Druur Monakh> Fleet Druur, quick! Target is at a signature, 80km above her.

No reply. Maybe they just needed a few seconds to notice my message, I tried to calm myself, while dodging random wrecks and containers. The number of Sansha ships dropped to five, then four, and a bemused voice in my mind told me that I had started to frantic, like a rookie on her first flight.

Finally - three Sanshas left - Fleet invite! But I was still too far away to provide a proper warp-in and pressed doggedly on. Suddenly a spatial distortion around the Harbinger caught my eye, and with shaking fingers I sent a camera drone to investigate. I could feel my pulse hammer in my ears.

No doubt: the Sanshas had closed up to him and had him warp scrammed. And, I noticed in the passing, he was using beam lasers with short-range crystals.

        Druur Monakh> Sanshas have him scrammed. 60km ahead of me.
        Terex193> gogogo?

I didn’t pay him any heed, debating with myself whether I should decloak and pounce him - but a nagging concern I couldn’t put my finger on convinced me to stay under cloak.

Then suddenly the tactical display lit up with the purple indicators of the rest of the gang members arriving - none of them in reasonable range!

Adrenaline surged through me - we would lose him! I deactivated my cloak, went to full engine power, and initiated the target lock-on sequence. Immediately I got targeted, pointed, webbed and shot at by the Sansha ships, who weren’t pleased that somebody would try to steal their prey from them. Which meant that they weren’t pointing him anymore, that he was free to go!

I might have panicked for a moment. I activated everything I had - DCU, Launchers, Target Painter, Coffee Maker, Warp Disruptor, MWD - and threw it at him, anything to keep him on the field until the gang could get into range! The first torpedoes were already on their way when I had time to look at the target analysis: the fight with the rats had already left him in half armor - but having flown a Harbinger in my own time, I knew how resilient they could be.

The gang closed in, more torpedoes belched from my launchers, and suddenly a bright explosion temporarily blinded my camera drones. The once proud Harbinger a wreck of twisted tritanium and alloys, life pods darting away, carrying its mortal crew to safety, the capsule of the pilot hovering nearby. Adrenaline was still pounding through my veins, and before the last rational part of my mind could suggest a ransom, or maybe even mercy, another volley of torpedoes snuffed the capsule and its shell-shocked pilot out of existence. I switched my targeting to the Sansha ships, who were starting to make headway on my shield, but I noticed that my attention was starting to fade fast, so I begged for help from the gang, hoping to conceal the shakiness of my voice.

        Druur Monakh> Sorry, I saw you coming in at range and was afraid he’d leave.
        Frodd > no worries
        Druur Monakh> If you could take care of the Sanshas, please; bloody bastards switched to me. Thanks.

The next dozen seconds were just the inevitable blur of an adrenaline crash. I piloted my Purifier aimlessly, shakily around the remnants of the datacenter in a state of bliss not unlike the one I knew only from more personal encounters. If somebody had dropped on us at that moment, I wouldn’t have cared less: I had pointed the target! It had been the worst warp-in I had provided in all of my history so far, but it had worked out!

Slowly reality began to trickle back in, and sounds made it past the still hammering pulse in my ears.

        Frodd> nice kill
        Azulrium> You got him
        Bossalini> Nice kill, Druur

Stupefied, I pulled up the combat record: the others hadn’t gotten a single shot off.

I had just accidentally soloed a Harbinger. Sort of.

It hadn’t been an encounter I would claim as above-class kill, though. Reading and re-reading the combat record, as I was still bad at picking out details, it became clear that the guy had been in way over his head. It hadn’t really been a fight - more an execution. Or maybe a mercy killing, seeing that the Sanshas had been well on their way to finish the job even without our interference.

I resolved to write the guy a mail, to at least help him fit his Harbingers better in the future.

Right after I would stop shaking.

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