The FC was new, as most in the corp were. The pilots in patrol gang (like Rhavas) were pretty green too, with a couple of exceptions. This FC was a likeable man, and a veteran pilot, but had never led a fleet before.
“This is how you get good,” the CEO was telling the new FC. “You have to learn by doing.” Rhavas felt a little comfort in the fact that the CEO seemed to have some confidence that the new FC could run the gang, and was coming along in an observer role on the flight.
The FC looked down at the ship roster and frowned. “No CovOps pilots? Recons?” The assembled pilots looked at each other, but no one said a thing.
“OK. I need two volunteers to scout.” One rookie raised a hand, and Rhavas did too. “OK, Recon 1, Recon 2, get out there – your orders are waiting for you on the neocom. Everyone else, to your ships and meet at the rendezvous point.”
The Castor II really wasn’t designed to be a recon ship. A Rifter was meant to fight, and with the equipment loaded on it, was the most expensive combat ship Rhavas had flown. Going uncloaked into nullsec space ahead of the fleet was probably a death sentence. But much like the FC needed to learn to guide a fleet, Rhavas needed to learn to fly in one. And he had put a lot of work so far into learning and investing to one day own a Cheetah covert ops scout ship, so this was good practice.
The run from empire space down through the pirate zones was largely uneventful. The Castor II was a fast ship, and most of the others he saw on his scanners were friendlies from other corps.
Recon 1 was up ahead of him, already in nullsec. He had noted a few ships in the area, but nothing either an obvious target nor an obvious danger. “Recon 2, at nullsec gate, no contacts,” Rhavas reported. “Jump through,” came the answer.
It soon became obvious what the FC’s plan was, and it was a good one. Recon 1 had gone on ahead, and the FC was sending Rhavas out in a pincer movement, through parallel systems. Then Recon 1 got a pair of solid targets, including a Tengu. You could hear a slight urgency in the FC’s communication messages – he wanted that ship. The scouts were in the perfect position to close around him, point him, and get the fleet where they needed to go.
“Recon 1, hold position and watch. Recon 2, jump.”
The Castor II moved through the gate, jumping into the system that was one jump behind the one that Recon 1 and the Tengu inhabited. On the other side, he checked his remote sensors. “Four ships in the system, sir.” Rhavas warped around the system. Motion was safety out here. He wasn’t sure what it was, but something felt wrong. He heard the FC order the fleet to jump into the same system as Recon 1 and the Tengu.
Rhavas soon had evidence that his intuition was right. “We have a rapid spike, sir. 9 ships. 12. 15. 18,” he reported. Rhavas scrambled to spin his directional scanner around the system. He really hoped this was a launch, or a group just moving through. The system was simply too big – the directional scanner had a limit of 14 AU, so he couldn’t reach most of the outer planets. As he listened to the orders positioning the fleet for attack, he realized there was no time left for guessing – he had to make sure the gate was clear. He turned the Castor II and warped toward the gate that was the back door to where the unsuspecting Tengu lay.
32 AU … 28 … 23 …
Rhavas watched, waiting for the magic 14, when he would be able to see what was actually there. He could hear the fleet orders tightening the noose to assault the Tengu, and knew there wasn’t much time left to get in on the kill, or to give the FC info on the gate’s backside.
21 … 18 …
The FC gave the order. “Primary the Tengu.” He could almost feel the noose closing on the Tengu. There was a chance it would jump through, and Rhavas would be all there was between it and escape.
The directional scanner display lit up with far too many contact signatures for their small gang to engage, much less defeat. Nearly 20 ships were at the gate. “They’re all over this side!” he blurted over the comm channel. Rhavas thankfully had aimed his gate warp to be 100 Km out, or he would have landed smack in the glowing blue warp interdiction bubble that wrapped the gate. As it was, he arrived just in time to watch the enemy fleet blink out in a flash of gatefire.
He heard the rest of the fleet over the comms, ambushed and being shredded. 80 Km from the wrong side of the gate now, with a bubble between him and it, he knew the fight wouldn’t last long enough for him to even engage. “Anyone left, disengage and return to base,” came the order. It was a small comfort that, from the sound of things, most of the pods got out.
Rhavas turned the Castor II, the last remaining ship of the fleet, and warped for home.