Compayn was having a difficult time persuading his team-mates to try something new.
“We’ve done this before. It works,” he said.
“Are you sure? It looks like a good way to mass-suicide. You’re just going to throw away your ships.”
“He’s right. My Tengu has trouble with the alpha in those sites. The thin tank on that attack battlecruiser will never make it.”
“This works? Seriously? I mean, you’ve tried it and you didn’t just die in a fire?”
There we were, sitting inside our starbase’s 60km shield in a Scythe, three Oracles, and a Drake. We didn’t really look like much as far as expensive, blingy fleets go, but we were trying something new. And it showed. Despite that the models on the screen didn’t change at all, I imagined my teammates squirming uncomfortably in their ships, feeling much more exposed than they were used to in their other, much tougher, more-expensive ships. Like a new wool suit, these ships simply did not fit them quite yet.
Or perhaps I was simply projecting onto them how I felt.
“So Sync,” started Compayn, “Remember to keep up your transversal in that Scythe. Speed and transversal are your tank while you rep us. And those of us in Oracles, remember to keep your transversal low.”
“You mean high,” piped in Dongjelly.
“No, I mean low,” answered Compayn. “The Oracle cannot hit what it cannot track. Try to destroy as much as you can while the Sleepers are burning toward us, then focus on the battleships because they’ll be the only thing you can hit. In the Drake, your job is just to focus on frigates.”
“I’m confident we can do this, guys,” I piped in. “Today’s Class 3 is a Pulsar, which means we’re going to have extra shields compared to normal. No time like the present.”
Pep talk over, There were grunts of agreement on Teamspeak. We jumped through the hole, aligned to our first site, chatted with a couple of late-comers who wanted to join us running sites and security, then jumped through the wormhole.
This was kind of an awkward anoiki for us. You see, the locals in the C3 were “home”. They were sitting in their ships in their starbase. Watching us. But they had made no aggressive moves all day. It was kind of eerie, knowing that the presence of our fleets in their hole throughout the day had apparently derailed their regular ISK-making activities. The Hulks sat, manned, at the POS waiting patiently for us to leave so they could harvest the ore which did not interest us. Their Hurricane Fleet Issue remained stoically unmanned after briefly being dragged out of their Ship Maintenance Array, as if to make a statement to us that the residents were able to defend themselves, but were choosing not to be aggressive.
That kind of active nonagression was unsettling. And Local — per the norm in most wormholes — remained resolutely empty of any attempt at communication.
Despite my misgivings, we forged onward.
It was a new ship, and I was doing something new to me in it. However, it all seemed pretty routine. I was used to sitting in a logi boat (more or less; it’s a tech 1 repair cruiser, but who’s arguing semantics?) and had my alt parked and cloaked up at the “5a2”, or the Class 5 wormhole that wasn’t our home which was also attached to this system. We already had a Legion kill from that system today, and I had a suspicion that they wouldn’t mind a little payback. We worked our way through most of the anomalies, and in truth they were much easier than I thought they would be with this fleet composition. Then we started the data sites.
“OK, so be careful on this wave,” began Dean as we landed on-grid and began targeting, speaking for his alt in the site. Dean is a very experienced player, and an absolutely bloodthirsty but dead-calm PvPer who has the respect of the entire alliance for his mastery of tactics. “I can’t remember if this site spawns the next wave when you kill the trigger, or when you…” He trailed off.
The list of reds — enemies — in my overview exploded into a veritable bloody sea of hostile ships. We were suddenly facing an enormous number of combined frigates, cruisers, and battleships, and I was still in the process of locking up my teammates for repairs, unable to take any other action for a few more seconds.
“…or when you shoot them,” finished Compayn. “Sorry, I shot the trigger.”
The “trigger” is the ship that — if destroyed, in some cases, or simply shot as in this case — spawns the next wave of enemies. Bob, the god of wormholes, saw fit to immediately reward Compayn for his lack of discipline. As my remote-shield-repair units spooled up in counter-cycles, Compayn’s Oracle bore the full brunt of the alpha strike from the assembled Sleeper fleet.
His shield and a third of his armor disappeared in an instant under the initial volley. He was obviously receiving repairs from more than just me — the Drake and Tengu flying with us had also equipped remote repair units — and his shields fluctuated wildly during the follow-up shots. Shields dropped to fully empty, eating away even more armor. Then he was back to full shields. A few tense heartbeats later, the Oracles finished blapping a couple of the high-damage battleships, and Compayn’s shields gradually settled down into a manageable pattern of minor, consistent damage.
I tentatively touched my push-to-talk button. “Compayn, let’s not do that again. I am having a heart attack back here. Do you think we should finish the sites with you at half armor?”
“I’m utterly confident in this fleet composition and your ability,” responded Compayn. “We can run the rest of the sites, and none of them are as hard as this one.”
With a shrug and a click of d-scan, I aligned my Scythe to the next site with my fleet-mates and waited for Dean’s orders to warp. Our confidence was bolstered as we conquered several more Sleeper sites without further incident.
A few minutes later, with several combat locations left unconquered, I heard the unmistakable sound of a wormhole opening in my earbuds. Since my main in the Scythe was nowhere near a hole, it had to have come from my alt, parked in a cloaking scout ship nearby. “Hole fire,” I said. I watched the overview eagerly to see what arrived. Nothing but a scanning ship. “Cheetah.”
“I’m not worried about a Cheetah,” said Dean. “Let’s keep going.”
A few minutes later, again the 5a1 opened. “Hole fire.” Pause. “Helios.”
“Not a big deal. We’re almost done,” assured Dean again. Looking at our list of sites, we weren’t really “almost done”, but more like halfway.
As we were polishing up the last combat anomaly in this extremely-rich system, again I interrupted our chatter in teamspeak in response to the wormhole speaking to me across the system. “Hole fire.”
The pause while I waited for the invisible yet assumed hostile pilot to appear seemed extra-long. Clearly, this pilot was taking his time assessing the situation, taking advantage of the cloak granted by the wormhole’s energy vortices, making himself aware of what was going on in-system. I tapped D-scan.
Our Oracle fleet at the current site was clearly visible on scan from the hole.
A name and ship appeared in my alt’s overview at overwatch on the hole. Push-to-talk. “Proteus.”
Dean immediately replied. “OK, guys, that’s it. Align to our home hole, we’re done in this site and we’re re-shipping to PvP.”
We were polishing off the last few straggling frigates at the site, then again the wormhole told me it was time to speak. “Hole fire,” I squawked. A shorter wait this time. “A second Proteus.”
“Warp off, repeat, everybody in site-running ships warp to zero at the home hole and jump on contact back into our home system. Re-ship into PvP and cloaky ships.”
We followed his instructions. The battlecruisers piled through the hole, but the Tengu and a Falcon remained back in the 3a1 to help run security for our salvaging Catalyst.
“Should I go back too?” asked our salvager from his destroyer.
“No, you stay here,” replied Dean. “I’ve got your back in my Falcon. There’s hundreds of millions of ISK in salvage from this fleet. I don’t want to just give it away.”
While they were talking, I reached our Player-Owned Starbase (POS) and quickly re-shipped into my stealth bomber — a Purifier — to jump back into the 3a1 to watch for activity from or to the high-security wormhole. Most of the rest of the fleet was back at the POS. A Proteus is a scary beast in PvP, and two of them doubly so. Both Proteuses had cloaks, but we saw them appear here and there on D-scan as they warped around the system, apparently visiting sites we’d already run which they’d bookmarked in their scouting ships earlier.
A corp-mate appealed for help bringing in his expensive Tech 3 PvE ship from hi-sec. I indicated the high-security wormhole I was guarding seemed clear. The scout on our home hole on the 3a1 side indicated his looked clear. The mate took the chance, jumping into the 3a1 with me and immediately warping toward our home hole. Then we heard over comms — not entirely unexpectedly — “There’s a Proteus on-grid with me at the 3a1 hole. Jumping through to home.”
I acted instinctively, warping my Purifier back to the home hole to try to provide some screening cover for my teammate. I jumped through right after they did, and saw the Proteus targeting our largely-helpless, PvE-fit Tengu. I dropped the cloak and targeted the Proteus, my lock time on him much shorter than his would be on me, bidding my ship’s torpedos to rip through the intervening kilometers into my opponent’s hull.
“Sync, Sync, jump back through the hole. Your Purifier is no match for a Proteus,” came Nylon’s voice over my headphones.
The torpedos hit.
That’s…. not very much.
The Tengu managed to finish aligning and warped toward our starbase. Meanwhile, I was several kilometers from the wormhole, unable to jump back without at least a brief burn toward it. And the Proteus had me in its sights. The overview symbol began flashing, indicating he was targeting me.
“Jump back through, sync!” shouted my teammates on Teamspeak.
Time dilated into slow-motion. I hadn’t started burning back toward the hole yet. Images of losing several ships recently — haulers, mostly — by jumping back through the hole in futile escape attempts burned behind my eyelids.
I knew another Proteus waited for me on the other side of that hole. Likely death there. Fear gripped me, and in my fear I knew I had only one real choice to save my tiny, fierce ship.
I clicked a celestial in my overview.
I smashed Warp.
The Purifier takes about six and a half seconds to align and warp if the afterburner is off. If the afterburner is on — due to the mass increase of relativistic speeds — it’s more like nine seconds. I take a deep breath. I start counting quietly to myself. The voice of Aura chimed in from my console, “Warp Drive Active.”
“One.” I desperately turned off my afterburner in hopes that it would finish its cycle before the Proteus killed me. It had just barely started a cycle. I didn’t think that would do any good, but I had to try anyway.
“Two.” Oh, right. I had Sensor Dampers on my ship. I realized I should turn them on to the Proteus and reduce its sensor strength and range. I mash the buttons, praying to Bob for luck and a slow lock time.
“Three.” I waited. My breathing stopped. I could feel my forehead break out in hot, nervous sweat. While a Purifier is not terribly expensive in Eve terms, fight-or-flight had grabbed me by the heart again, and there was little I could do but wait out the rush of adrenaline-induced chemistry surging through my brain. Meanwhile, the next queued volley of torpedos left my Purifier. Faintly, I heard my teammates still shouting at me to jump back. My heartbeat pulsed in my neck, the whooshing sound of blood in my ears.
“Four.” I idly wondered how much time it will take for my torpedos to reach the Proteus. Meanwhile, the first volley from the Proteus landed, stripping away all of my ship’s almost-irrelevant shields, immediately gouging deeply into my ship’s armor. I was surprised that I was not startled by the sudden damage.
“Five.” Plink. Another 128 damage delivered by missiles. Apparently, battleship-class torpedos are not meant to be used against small, cruiser-sized hulls. I wondered if I should perhaps use some rigs or work on my skills to hit smaller targets more successfully.
“Six.” What’s he doing?” I clearly heard over Teamspeak. I didn’t reply. This was now in Bob’s hands. Death awaited on the other side of the wormhole, and death was glowering down at me, his fetid breath on my forehead here, too. I wondered why I didn’t have any tackle landing on my ship from the Proteus, though. Meanwhile, the next volley from the Proteus demolished all my ship’s armor and most of my hull. “Good thing I equipped that Damage Control II”, I thought to myself.
“Seven.” Prompt as always, the insistent squeal of the “low armor, you’re going to be destroyed” alert rang from my console. I began repeatedly hammering the warp button in preparation for being in my pod instead of my ship.
The Proteus dropped from my targeting window. I warped off in a teeny-tiny little ship.
I thought it was my capsule.
I was wrong.
I was still in my Purifier. With just a sliver of hull left.
I enabled my cloak while in warp and finally began to breathe again.
“Holy shit,” came a reverent whisper over Teamspeak, “He warped off.”
“He didn’t jump back through the hole,” said a second voice.
“That took balls,” responded another.
“The Proteus has jumped back through to 3a1.”
I accepted the congratulations and virtual back-slapping with aplomb as I landed at the planet I’d targeted in my overview and aligned back to the POS, secure in the knowledge my ship was safe and I’d have time to repair it later.
The congratulations, however, seemed hollow. I knew that what I had ultimately chosen was not the result of courage. It was the result of fear: the certain knowledge that, had I jumped back through the wormhole, my destruction would have been assured.
Ashamed at my inability to admit my fear to my team-mates, I re-shipped into my Augoror and slunk back to help guard the hole, which at some point in this exchange had become critically low on mass.
To be continued…