Get Off My Lawn!

The bulletin in our alliance chat channel for our new anoiki — affectionately referred to as “Moejo” — was terse:

Channel MOTD: We have a major C5 alliance — Verge Of Collapse — in the 5a1. USE CAUTION or you will pad their killboard.

VoC has quite a reputation in Eve: Always eager for a fight. Effective. Lots of members. They destroy a ton of ships, and lose a ton of ships, but in general tend to end up winning more than they lose at a ratio of about 2:1 to 3:1. As far as scale? Well, put it this way: in June 2013, VoC killed and lost more than half a trillion worth of ships.  Based on my humble estimating capabilities, that’s probably more than the net worth of our entire alliance.

Despite our alliance’s enthusiasm and reasonable numbers, our tactical position in our new Class 5 wormhole was less than ideal.  Having just taken over our new C5 a few days earlier, our alliance forces were still heavily invested in logistical tasks. We were basically just a day or so past the “POS, Fuel, Stront, and POS Mods” phase of our deployment.  Translation:

  1. Set up Player-Owned Starbases,
  2. Ensure we have at least a month’s worth of Fuel on hand to power our towers.
  3. Ensure we have sufficient Strontium Clathrates in each tower to allow a reasonable reinforcement timer to defend ourselves if we get attacked.
  4. Install the Mods for our towers for maximum defense and reasonable utility for the alliance and corporation.

Although our defenses were adequate against all but a determined attack force, tactically, we were in an unsound position to engage a corporation that’s part of a major alliance like VoC.  Many of our pilots were out of our anoiki in one of several “old” systems, figuring out routes to bring in ships, ammo, additional POS mods, materials for capital ships, ship assembly arrays, and the like.  Additionally, the assembled alliance forces from various corporations had to go back to their “home” anoikis to tend to their ISK-earning enterprises that allow them to converge with decent ships for alliance events like our C5 takeover.  In short, we were scattered to the four winds, with only a skeleton crew manning Moejo starbases.

Despite the new-ness in our home, I still feel a bit territorial about it. When other corporations invade — even if they are peacefully shuttling goods — I feel a bit like the stereotypical old man longing to shout, “Hey! You kids! Get off my lawn!”  It’s instinctive: find a way to drive the foreigners OUT and keep a perimeter around your home. We mark off our territory a variety of ways. Dogs pee on things. Cats claw them. Humans build fences.  And in Eve, we build player-owned starbases and sometimes plant useless Territorial Claim Units to announce to the neighborhood that this is OUR yard, and you better keep yourself and your kids out of it.

However, part of the challenge of living in W-space is the constantly-shifting landscape. Each wormhole has mass and time limits, meaning that often a “good route” is hard to find. Additionally, once found, any “good route” has a maximum time and mass limit; the more popular it is for shuttling equipment through, the more likely it is to collapse out of existence sooner rather than later.  That means it’s almost impossible to keep a tight lid on the routes into and through your system all the time, unless you have 23/7 coverage. The neighbourhood kids are going to come trampling through. It’s not a question of “if” it happens, it’s “when”.

I logged on, and was the only member of our alliance online in Moejo. I updated my Planetary Interaction setups — I came up with a really nice, easily-maintained four-planet arrangement that fits well with my modest PI skills and our 5% tax rate — and was about to go haul some goods around before I remembered the warning and thought the better of it. Instead of hauling PI, I re-shipped to my stealth bomber: a Purifier.

The Purifier is not a particularly great scout ship. It has no probing/scouting-related bonuses, really. But equipped with a covert ops cloaking device, torpedos, and a core probe launcher, it can do the job in a pinch as well as be ready to deliver some serious damage if required and stay concealed until called upon.  Even though it scans a bit slowly compared to my dedicated Anathema scouting ship, I like it for its versatility and stealth.  Given that I did not intend to leave my home anoiki, I left the bomb launcher equipped rather than the core probe launcher. You never know when a bomb might be useful; having never yet launched a bomb from any ship, I remain quite eager to give it a try.

It appeared that none of the cosmic signatures had changed since the warning posted to our channel went up. Basically, our wormhole was extremely vulnerable, with several null-security entrances, a Category 6 inbound wormhole with a high-security connection, a Category 5 inbound which had not been adequately scanned yet, and our usual Category 3 outbound “static” wormhole with a low-security connection.

Upon hitting D-scan, I saw some “interesting” ships. A Legion. A Falcon, uncloaked (weird). A Tengu. Thinking the VoC guys were the most likely candidates, I set up a tactical bookmark for my stealth bomber 30km “behind” the wormhole relative to our static 3A.

And was promptly almost decloaked by a Loki warping in from “behind” my spacecraft, far too close for comfort!

Not just one Loki, either. Another. And another. And yet another.  All told, six Lokis landed on the Moejo side of the 5a1 hole in rapid succession.  It was like a Loki conga-line, dancing around the 5a1 wormhole.

Lokis are a “tech3” cruiser.  They have the range and punch to reach out and touch stationary targets at 30km easily, are extremely tough for a cruiser, and punch way above their weight. They are a common sight in Class 5 wormhole “escalation” fleets (what an “escalation” is is a topic for another day), as their ability to web and slow targets at long range is invaluable for Dreadnaught-class ships to be able to demolish Sleeper ships in a reasonable amount of time without constantly missing.

It looked like the VoC guys were performing a Loki resupply. Which makes sense, I suppose. Lokis are tough, but compared to the carriers and dreadnaughts they assist, they are quite puny. And compared to a Loki, my stealth bomber in turn was also quite puny.

True to form, I chose the brave route and stayed cloaked to watch what they were doing.

Over the course of the next hour, I watched dozens of cloaky haulers and tech 3 cruisers navigate their way to the 5a1 hole. Moe was an absolute transit hub, and I felt powerless to do anything about it with only myself in a stealth bomber to try to get in their way.

I suppose I should look at the bright side: VoC was not intent on mayhem in our new home. They were intent on resupply, and went at it with a will. I carefully catalogued over a dozen pilots so that I could give somewhat accurate intelligence to my alliance-mates.  Eventually, a few logged on. But nowhere near enough — nor skilled enough — to engage a dozen tech 3 cruisers next door.

I took a break for a bit. I discussed our tactical situation with my father-in-law who was visiting, describing our situation in some detail. As a former sergeant in the US Army, he grasped most of the tactical implications intuitively.

“You don’t have a big enough force to engage them head-on,” he suggested.

“Obviously!” I responded.

“Really, a head-on confrontation is rarely your best choice.  It leaves you few options and commits too much of your forces. Given the overwhelming force you are facing with a very modest but highly-mobile and concealable force of your own, your only choice, really, comes from a variety of guerilla actions.”

“Go on,” I suggested.

“In that kind of a situation, you can do a few things. You can simply wait them out. You said eventually this supply line to mutually-friendly territory will dry up. It may not be a bad idea to remain hidden until they’ve finished whatever they are doing, and live to fight another day.  You could ambush them at choke points, but given the forces they can bring even if you have the advantage of surprise they may just annihilate you. Or you could figure out some way to choke off their supply line,” he finished.

I thanked him for his insights, and eventually returned to the game.  While I’d been away, several more corp-mates had logged into Eve, and although we still lacked sufficient force for any kind of head-on confrontation, our tactical options had opened enormously. Most of us were still in cloaky ships, but a brief lull in the supply chain running through the 5a1 meant we might have an opportunity to re-ship.

I parked my Purifier on the 5a1 side of the Moejo to 5a1 hole and watched for activity, reporting intel to my corp-mates over Teamspeak.

Apparently, our neighbors had noticed our increase in activity, and had run a tech 1 frigate out to several planets — uncloaked! — and the wormhole. Having watched this same pilot pilot cloaky haulers and his own tech 3 cruiser through the hole earlier, however, I and my corp-mates easily recognized this little frigate for what it was: bait. The goal of such a frigate would be to determine the strength of our forces and the pilot names in order to return with a superior force.  We planned to catch the frigate while exposing less of our force than actually existed to try to win this bluffing game, but before we’d fully finished discussing how best to take him down without exposing our lack of numbers, the bait-ship had returned to his “home” system in the 5a1 and re-shipped to a Buzzard: a cloaking scanning ship.  Opportunity lost.

So back to more talking.

A few — unfortunately, I forgot the names! — agitated for bubbling the hole to try to catch a tech 3 cruiser and take it out with battleships.

Another argued for rolling the hole with battleships.

One corp-mate — let’s call him “Mr. Quiet” — argued we could close the hole due to mass limits with just our lone Phoenix dreadnaught-class ship, and should do so. This had the advantage of being hilarious; in the game of rock-scissors-paper that is Eve, tech 3 cruisers are the paper to a dreadnaught’s rock, and it had the advantage of both surprise and elimination of their reaction time even though it would be very weak should we end up in a proper engagement with the neighbors.  It would be totally unexpected, as we had not revealed the existence of a dreadnaught-class ship to them yet.

Eventually, we decided on a modified version of that final proposal: a proper battleship-supported fleet for the Phoenix. We roughly calculated mass limits based on the reduced-size hole and proceeded.  I jumped my stealth bomber through the wormhole to watch the other side to ensure our fleet would not be caught by a prepared force there.

While in warp to the hole, however, Mr. Quiet announced to our small force, “I was just doing the math. We need to change plans. I am going to jump the Phoenix through and back. That should close it without worrying about stranding any battleships.”

Our FC responded, “Uhh, Quiet, isn’t this a little late to be changing plans? I mean, maybe you should have mentioned this a couple of minutes ago…”

“I know,” responded Mr. Quiet, “sorry to change plans last-minute, but it’s the right thing to do.”

The fleet landed on the hole.

Most in fleet were still objecting to Mr. Quiet’s new plan.

Meanwhile, I announced “hole fire”.

“Get back through the hole now, TXG!” came our FC’s urgent command. I de-cloaked, lit my afterburner, and burned at maximum speed toward the hole.

The glorious, gigantic Phoenix dreadnaught de-cloaked, gleaming in the Magnetar sky as it aligned back toward the wormhole and began its slow journey to jump back through to our home wormhole.

A Buzzard within 2,000 meters of the Phoenix was de-cloaked by its enormous bulk and — apparently recognizing its insignificance next to the kilometers-long Dreadnaught — burned straight toward my Purifier, hoping to catch me before I reached the wormhole.  As my stealth bomber would be the paper to a battleship’s rock, such a covert ops frigate would be the scissors to my paper if he managed to web me and tear through my paper-thin armor.

A moment after the Buzzard pilot’s web and warp scramble landed on me, the wormhole fired and I was back through. A split-second later, the imposing Phoenix leapt into system behind me, and the inbound 5a1 hole whimpered away into nothingness, its mass limit exhausted.

Mr. Quiet began quickly justifying his actions to the FC. The FC, unamused, nevertheless acknowledged that all was well that ended well, but asked Mr. Quiet to do the right math a bit earlier next time.  We proceeded to uneventfully roll the remaining holes in the system.

A private conversation window opened up from the Buzzard pilot.

“Nice to meet you. We were surprised to see your Buzzard!” I began enthusiastically.

“hi,” responded the Buzzard pilot — named ‘fueron’ — unenthusiastically.  “Our static :(” he continued, expressing his displeasure with our action.  Recognizing his EMEA origin and Cyrillic description and corporation, I assumed these short statements were near the limit of his broken English.  But — as always — I could be wrong.

“Understood. Wishing you all the best with your new static!” I cheerfully continued, “Have a nice day :)”

“you too,” fueron finished, and closed the private conversation window.

“Hey, you kids! Get off my lawn!” I chuckled to myself as I closed the window.

Sometimes it is the small victories in which not a shot is fired that matter.  I strongly suspect we are making a name for ourselves in C5 and C6 space. I just hope the name we are making is a good one.

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