“No plan of operations extends with certainty beyond the first encounter with the enemy’s main strength.”
–Helmuth von Moltke the Elder
The wormhole was critically mass-reduced. The superluminal phenomenon vibrated and shook, hurling waves of ejecta in all directions, rocking the hulls of the fleet surrounding it. The slowly building crescendos of the waves of matter and energy blasting from the wormhole resonated against the hulls of the surround ships, the engines of which groaned and strained under the forceful onslaught. The cycling of engines holding position against unimaginable forces beating on their respective cocoons of steel and tungsten sounded like a giant, mortally injured rabbit squealing helplessly in a perverse, oversized basso profondo at the uncaring void.
In Eve, space has sound because “silence is boring”. I like to think that humans find silence unnerving, and therefore Eve space-ships pump sound throughout their corridors as a feedback mechanism, to ensure that their caretakers get subtle queues as to the status of their portable defense against the vacuum of space.
The operation was still proceeding. The bulk of the fleet had retreated to our erstwhile home, swapping ships at the starbase and surrounding the dying wormhole, unwilling to travel back through it lest it collapse behind them. And in the Class 3 anoiki beyond the wormhole reaching the end of its capability to transport mass, a small, nearly-stranded fleet of a Force Recon Falcon cruiser suitable only for jamming an opponents targeting ability, an utterly defenseless Destroyer-class Catalyst equipped to salvage combat sites and carrying hundreds of millions of ISK worth of wreckage and nanoribbons in its cargo hold, and Tech 3 cloak-equipped Cruiser Tengu with relatively weak offense and defense.
A brawl with the two Tech 3 Proteus cruisers hunting for us would be unlikely to end well for our side. We had destroyed their teammate flying a Hurricane Fleet Issue earlier in the day, and I was pretty certain they were eager for blood.
As the Catalyst continued to salvage, we debated the order of the return. Finally, we decided based on mass that our best bet once salvaging was complete was for the destroyer to come through first, the Falcon second, then the Tengu. With less than 100,000 tons of mass available — and largely unknown from recent combat in, around, and through this wormhole — it might be very, very close bringing in the remaining fleet. This order of ships returning home would assure us of the best chance of obtaining the loot even if the hostiles on the other side chose to pursue.
I listened to the Teamspeak chatter, unable to peer into the other side.
“Hole fire,” came Dean’s voice on overwatch. “Looks like another scanning ship, same corporation.” A few seconds later, he followed-up, “Combat scanner probes are out.”
For those unfamiliar with the mechanic, there are two kinds of probes in Eve (more or less): core scanner probes, and combat scanner probes. Core probes locate natural phenomena in space: wormholes, combat sites, unusual phenomena, etc. Combat probes, on the other hand, locate those things too but are primarily designed to locate player’s ships. The release of combat probes in W-Space is usually an announcement: “I’m coming for you.”
“Dean, we have about 400 million in the hold. Should we just call it?” asked our salvager.
“No way,” Dean replied. “There’s at least 90 million ISK more sleeper loot left. And I’m not leaving it to these guys just because they showed up to play.”
Tense minutes trickled by. More alliance-mates logged on, and soon the home side of the static wormhole was surrounded by cruisers, battleships, and battlecruisers. Our alliance had only recently decided upon our core home-defense doctrine — which I won’t spell out here due to security concerns, this is a public blog after all! — and I was excited to see that everybody had joined the fleet in appropriate-doctrine hulls. We’d recently had some PvP success with this fleet doctrine, and I was certain that with less than 100,000 tons of mass left, no enemy could bring in a fleet to threaten us through the front door.
“One combat scan probe on D-scan,” Dean reported.
“OK, aligning out,” responded our salvager.
“Don’t warp yet, though,” Dean replied. “Keep salvaging. We want the ISK for our hard work.”
“Dean is NUTS,” I thought to myself. This was cutting it so close. His voice continued to relay information over Teamspeak.
“A couple more combat scanners on D. Not yet.”
A few more seconds ticked past.
“OK, all eight combat probes are on close D-scan now. Warp out and cloak up.”
The salvager complied, warping to a celestial object and firing up his cloak.
“The core probes disappeared. I’m waiting to see if they warp here or not.”
Minutes ticked past. A few more updates, some speculation on Proteus movements.
“OK, there are no wrecks left in this site and nobody has showed up to try to gank the salvager. Let’s keep salvaging.”
“Really?” I thought. “After such a close call, we’re going to keep salvaging?”
And they did. Another two sites. No further combat scanners appeared. With more hostiles arriving in system, we expected a fight.
“OK, align to the home hole. Warp at the same time, I want us through the hole in order but quickly.”
The Catalyst, Falcon, and Tengu warped. They landed on the hole within a split-second one of another.
“Proteus uncloaked, proteus uncloaked, I’m jumping through,” came the Catalyst pilot’s voice. The hole quaked and trembled from the mass of the destroyer, looking likely to collapse at any moment.
“Falcon jumping through.”
“Tengu jumping through.”
The Catalyst appeared and raced back to the starbase with half a billion worth of loot in its hold, soon to be hauled out and sold for a tidy profit. The Falcon de-cloaked and burned away from the wormhole, ready to jam any opponents following it.
“Come on, close behind the Tengu,” I whispered into my push-to-talk button. “Come on, you can make it.”
A second ticked by.
With a shudder, the wormhole ejected a gasp of matter and energy, rocking the hulls of the ships surrounding it, then slammed shut, vanishing into the ether.
Amidst the tenuous wisps of rips in the space-time continuum racing at light-speed in all directions, a shadow appeared. But there was nothing on my “Hostiles” overview tab to indicate who it was.
I clicked over to my “friendlies” tab.
And there was Dean, proud and a brilliant purple square in my overview in his Tengu. Cheers erupted on comms.
“Way to go!”
“Holy shit! It closed right behind him!”
“That was amazing!”
Dean remained silent, briefly pausing to bask in the adulation of his teammates. He had brought the salvage home, making our fleet’s efforts worthwhile. And better yet, he had returned with style and drama.
“This,” I said, smiling into my microphone, “is gonna make one GREAT story.”