Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Holiest of Holies


Emperor Family Academy Station, Amarr VIII (Oris), Amarr. Waiting…

'Where is it now?'
'Lonetrek.'
'Again?
'Yep.'
'Too far away.  Not interested. Talk to you tomorrow.'
'K.'


 21 hours later...

'Where is it now?'
'Still in Lonetrek. It’s EOL. Sit tight.'
'100 mil says the next one is in Domain. It needs to be in Domain. This place is doing my head in.'
'You’re on.'

19 hours later...

'Call it.'
'Is red your favourite colour?'
'Say it isn’t so.'
'Metro.'
'Damn it.'
'Easiest 100 mil I ever made.'
'Put it on my tab.'



The next day...

I’m sitting here like an addict waiting for my next fix, with every waking moment consumed by the thought of it. I'd gambled, as is normal practice for wormholers, that the access hole would not shift too far away from where it was when I arrived here. That gamble had failed this time, so that's why I was sort-of willingly detaining myself here, at the trade hub in Amarr – nobody bothers to call it by its proper name anymore - killing time, watching the rest of New Eden go about its business while I, the wormholer, sat apart from it all, as if inside my own bubble of shallow hyperspace like a personal cloaking device. It would be more convenient if others couldn’t see me either. This facility I’m sat in now is like a communal plaza, with a huge picture window several decks high overlooking the station’s greatly-enlarged docking bay, and this plaza is like a kind of atrium/mezzanine thing with several floors above me that are arranged like terraces, but set back from the window so everyone gets a good look at the mechanisms of interstellar commerce. This is an unusual level of consideration from its Amarrian designers who institutionally prefer the oppressive monastic theme because it‘s more pious.



If you want the full-on Amarr Experience in here, you have to go to the station's upper decks (closer to God), where it's still the Emperor Family Academy and you can have all the Amarr Experience you want. In the rest of the station, gradual cosmopolitanisation through cluster-wide interstellar trade means that this station is the least Amarrian and most obviously diverse station in the whole Empire, the irony being how close it is to the Empire's very core. It is the second-closest station to Amarr Prime itself. I wonder if the byzantine workings of the Theocracy ever considers the significance of that?

Noteworthy: rumours perpetuated by the students of other universities like my own Hedion U, allege that the gravity up there in the 'Upper Third' i.e. the EFA's cloistered seminary, is increased by 25% over Standard in order to test the faith of its novitiates. I wouldn't know [1]. It's enough that at either end of the concourse that runs across the base of the window here in the plaza, are two identical larger-than-life three-metre-tall animated holographic likenesses of Empress Catiz. Her movements are on a kind of seamless ten-second loop which gets disconcerting after a while, like you're suffering continuous deja-vu. It adds to the sense of timelessness in a place where there is no day/night cycle.

This trade hub is the definitive example of how sections of Amarrian society have embraced a form of religio-capitalism, i.e. 'you will make money and be prosperous if you follow the word of God'. The progressive mercantilist Empress Catiz and her alliances within the State mean this philosophy is now totally legit and will only grow. You have to remember that growth and progression are not normally core Amarrian traits. But this is the Empyrean Age, where traditional cultural definitions are more blurred with every passing day. I sometimes wonder whether there is such a thing as an Amarrian, a Gallente etc. anymore. Especially when I come to this place. The common Amarrian architectural signature of the prolific use of gold plate takes on a different significance to me these days, like it's no longer suggestive of power, opulence and wealth; instead it's more like sunset - an ending, a progression towards something else: change.

What comes after a sunset?

Darkness.
 
It always amazes me how the docking bay in here is a masterpiece of four-dimensional orchestration. So many ships that never come into conflict with each other until they get outside. Then it’s a free-for-all. And then it continues to amaze me how nobody does anything about it.



So I sat here in the plaza, watching ships in the docking bay, listening in on other people’s convos. There was something interesting going on behind me:

"You know what the Jovian Disease really was don’t you? It wasn’t any kind of genetic depression like they tell you." 

"What was it then Mr. Big Know-All?"

"OK you know how Jovians were into considering emotion like a form of personal pollution? Well nobody realised you need emotion in order to make a decision, yeah? Like they were all blind to this one crucial fact. Every decision you make is founded on emotional response, yeah? You either like a course of action or you don’t. You have to favour one course of action over another in order to decide on it. Wanna eat that Fried Long Limb over there? Do you like the Fried Long Limb? If you have no emotion, you can’t decide. You become paralysed by indecision. You become unable to function. You die of passivity. I’m telling you, that’s what it was."

"What are you, the Empire's most knowledgable janitor?"

"What can I say man? What do you want me to tell you?"


* * *


My market status and ‘wallet’ on my datapad is currently exhibiting a solid block of green, which is nice. The reason I’m here at all is because I brought 139 million ISK-worth of artifacts and salvage out of [classified] here to the trade hub, to sell on to those who would recycle it all into the means to go and create more of it.

Cargo manifest (Legion-class): [classified] - Amarr 4/21/119

This infinite cycle never stops. More purist interpretations of Signal Cartel’s neutral pacifist credo would infer that selling salvage to shipbuilders is facilitation of aggression further down the line. Our management does not hold with this belief, and nor do I, although I can see what they’re getting at. Regardless, thanks to the fragments of 'Enhanced Ward Console' and what amount to Sleeper AI brains that I salvaged, I'm minted again.

Ker-ching!

I opened a channel on my datapad.

'Where is it now?'
'Molden Heath.'
'Damn it. Tomorrow.'
'K.'


* * *


The chairs in this place by the big docking bay window are like big bags on the floor that you lounge in. You sit in one, and it actively moulds itself to your shape so well, and pushes back against your weight with such subtlety that you feel like you’re sat on air.

There are holoprojectors in the floor that manifest square panels at eye-level (because this is a trade hub and eye-level is buy-level) that are a metre on each side and display any number of feeds on them. There is one projector in front of each chair, so you can imagine the blizzard of moving images. As a capsuleer I could plug in and control the projector through my head if I desired (connectors provided for my convenience - who cleans them?), but I elect to be more discreet as is the Ni-Kunni way. I've been in this clone now for long enough that it has a baseliner's normal skin tone instead of the cherubic purity of fresh meat, so I pass for a mainstream Ni-Kunni easily now. Nobody bothers me unless I want to be bothered. Children don't point at me.

Then, totally unsolicited, this guy came out of nowhere and sat in the chair next to me who kind of looked Amarrian (the nose, the jawline) but like he'd spent too long in the Outer Ring playing with rocks so his essential Amarrianity, that racial trait they describe in encyclopedias, seemed dormant. Whatever he did out there, he must have been well-fed, because he had a kind of hemispherical drum-tight fatbelly that made him look 15-months pregnant through his tunic. I don't think he had a neck either. He was like a caricature of ex-Chamberlain Karsoth [deceased], who was enough of a caricature as it was.

Then he turned and looked at me through Starsi-fogged eyes as if he'd only just noticed I was even sitting there, and he opens with 'Hey listen to this, this is a good one. An Amarrian, a Gallente, a Caldari and a Minmatar go into a bar,' he said. 'Bartender says "what are you drinking?" Amarr says "Holy water!". Gallente says "Everything on the menu!". Caldari says "Anything made by my paternalistic corporate benefactor."' Then he leaned towards me and said 'Minmatar looks at the Amarr and says "Am I thirsty master?" Geddit? Minmatar slavery, yeah?' 

My impassivity made him turn and look into the middle distance (or into the past). He sighed and said 'Things were much simpler back then. Everybody knew where they stood. Especially with them...'

The light changed as a Megathron drew alongside in the docking bay beyond the glass. It blocked the view.

'You can't say things like that in public anymore man,' I said. 'Not in the new era. You can think it, but you can't say it'.

He turned back to me and squinted. He said 'What are you anyway, one o' them eggers?'

'Me? No, not at all. Just minding my own business.'

He took the hint and got up and went looking for someone else to tell bad jokes to. I knew he'd never leave this place. It was beginning to feel like I never would either.


* * *


The next day...

'Where is it now?'
'Black Rise.'
'What the hell is it doing there??'
'How should I know? While you're still in Amarr, could you get me some Caldari Navy Mjolnirs?'
'Heavy or Light?'
'Heavy, of course.'

In the morning I went shopping for new outfits (what do you think capsuleers wear on the outside? Just the one thing? I certainly bloody don't). I ate a very expensive lunch, then spent the afternoon in one of the station's State-imported fully-immersive holotheatre suites where the scenario was that I was a secret SoCT agent attempting to infiltrate the Angel Cartel in order to find out what happened to the remains of the Second Jovian Empire in Curse. I considered it part of my ongoing personal research project.


The game involved nested multiple realities and I played it on 'hard' mode because I'm a capsuleer and I'm used to virtual reality as my day job, but I died just before I reached the final boss. At least I'm in the top-100 high-scorers. I obviously have far too much time on my hands.


* * *


The next day...

Now, this morning, I'm back at the docking bay viewing plaza (where the footfall is reduced at this hour) and using one of the seemingly hundreds of square holoprojector devices to catch up on some back issues of In Your Face, freely available here despite being a Gallente gossip rag catering towards the trashy celeb end of the market, which is right down my street. Apparently, Synchellian holovid star Myriestene Mahatta is divorcing again, citing her twelfth husband's unwillingness to engage in threesomes as 'irreconcilable differences'. Typical oversharing/overexaggerating Gallente. I don't know how these people get anything done.

I people-watch for a while. Everybody looks purposeful and fierce, chasing ISK. People with nothing to do, like me, seem rare. Who has nothing to do in a trade hub? Who comes to a trade hub to do nothing?

But it's not like I can go outside and take the air.



When you live in a station you get used to limited sightlines, no sky, no horizon, no weather and artificial light. Some people live their entire lives in stations, like the bad joke teller I saw two days ago, who is the embodiment of how people get trapped in these places, their lives in a permanent limbo, where either they can't buy passage out of here for whatever reason or they just get too used to the range of freebies on offer so it becomes a lifestyle choice. They live, they die, they get scooped up and biomassed as waste, and end up as incinerator exhaust or fusion catalyst. Maybe it's too much choice - option paralysis - like that bizarre Jovian Disease theory I overheard yesterday.

I could book a passage to the Throne World itself and pay homage to Empress Catiz, but I drag my feet. 'Saying hello to Catiz', by the way, seems to be the dissenter's euphemism of choice for checking your bank balance. I didn't start it. Don't blame me. For the record I do have enormous respect for Catiz and I do approve of the new era despite reservations I may have expressed earlier in this journal. After all I've named my favourite and most expensive ship after her.

Anyway I'd rather do culture. I got a notification on my datapad this morning about a live broadcast from within the Fed. The noted Intaki tenor Antomien en Divalone was in residence on Intaki V performing a new, purist interpretation of the operatic cycle The Burden of the Intaki, which in this version is the full 78 hours without a break. I'd heard of it. I'd also heard that some sections of the Fed media dismiss it as pompous propagandist dreck, because one of its essential requirements is that it be performed outside as its narrative is synchronised to Intaki V's diurnal cycle.

It had already started yesterday, so I'd missed the good bit. I could have stayed here in the plaza and watched it on the square holofeed thing, but the background noise in here would have killed the tension in the guillotine scene. I could have rented a Captain's Quarters and watched it there, or watched it from the lounge on Empress of Amarr (where I'd been basing myself the whole time I'd been here. I could see her over on the far side of the docking bay), but I needed to be able to move as soon as I got positive word on the whereabouts of the hole back to the dreamworld. So I passed. If I'd watched it, I'd have been compelled to finish it, because I'm a completist.

I opened a channel on my datapad instead.

'Tell me what I want to know.'
'Genesis. Sigga. Fourteen from you and only seven from Zoohen.'
'Thank God for that. I'm coming in.'

I sent a message to Aura: I'm on my way. Prep the capsule and submit a flight plan to the dockmaster. Request priority. Pay him whatever he wants. Destination: Sigga, Ekrin constellation, Genesis. We're going home.





 [1] I never told anybody this before, but when I was at Hedion University in Conoban, there was an exchange student from the EFA who came to us for six months. He was hardcore. He was built like the front end of an Abaddon and was curiously of below-average height. He wore the same elaborate robes every day, he never spoke unless he was spoken to, and as much as we tried to turn him to the dark side by testing his faith with excessive leisure, he wouldn't budge. We even tried kidnapping him for one of our monthly shuttles to the Mora Mosh Pit Club in the Ishukone place in the Mora system one jump over from Conoban. We planned this operation for a week, but when we tried to carry it out, the one of us who got near him ended up with a fractured skull as the exchanger deployed some kind of extreme martial art and shouted in an obscure archaic dialect while he used it. He scared the crap out of the rest of us and we ran away. The excessive and unfeasible strength he used during this incident is where the rumour about the gravity sort-of made sense. I mean if you're used to 25% higher than Standard, then it would be a formality to deliver an ass-kicking in Standard. The hard-as-nails, pious exchanger left shortly afterwards. We never saw him again and I never did get to the bottom of the gravity thing. The rumours persist. If somebody ever mentions it (which is not often), I just say 'I wouldn't know'...


Thursday, 30 March 2017

Sotiyo


The entire economy of the State is predicated on three assumptions: that the State's resources are infinite; that as a result there is infinite capacity for population growth within the State; therefore there is infinite capacity for economic growth within the State. All three of those conditions are knowingly false, but you try telling them that.
Munorina Quevari - Business Series #24, Hedion University Guest Lecturer Series Holovid Archives


Our wormhole has spent the last few days in the Republic.

By the time you read this, it will have gone somewhere else. Anyone who lives in a wormhole will know this is entirely normal, as is the bizarre terminology itself - we don't live in a wormhole, we live in a planetary system in the Anoikis Cluster that is accessed through a pseudo-randomly occurring wormhole. I still believe these things are being controlled from somewhere, but there remains no evidence of of this beyond the statistical patterns of manifestation. I believe it, and I'm sticking to it, because belief is all I have in that place.

Belief is my greatest defence.

Against them.



Anyway, our wormhole manifested separately in Heimatar, Molden Heath and Metropolis. It's last few manifestations have been highly karmic, as the wormhole has appeared in incredibly convenient locations for resupplying our citadel.

When the wormhole was in Molden Heath, we were one stargate jump away from the minor, tertiary trade hub in the Teonusude system, so I jumped over to it to obtain some consumables: ammo, reconnaissance and scanning equipment, ship components (ships lead very hard lives in wormholes), cutting-edge holovids, decent coffee, and other catering supplies that are not illegal in space that has no security status.



In that system, there is also a Sotiyo Engineering Complex, which, as is common these days, is openly competing with the established trade hub, to the point where I actually ended up docking there instead of the hub. It's all about the tax breaks and the brokerage fees. This has become such a thing over the last year that both economic and actual warfare has broken out between capsuleers over it in the State, as well it might in that capitalist hell-hole - that monument to the myth of endless economic growth. I live in a wormhole now, so it all seems so juvenile and futile.


So anyway, the real point of this journal is that I've never seen a Sotiyo complex before in the flesh/metal, so I thought I'd document it. These are the biggest structures that the well shady Upwell Consortium produces and I wanted to find out how tall the letters are in the logo on its outer hull. What stood out about this one was that its owners must have had a developed sense of scenery when it came to selecting its location.


When I saw it, it was on the dark side of the moon it orbited. Since Molden Heath in general is as dark as the hearts of the tribal masses that administer it, the Sotiyo and its war machine seemed completely appropriate here, surrounded by all that blood-red nebulosity.


It's always difficult to get a sense of scale in space. With structures like this, your Overview and its distance readouts seem to play tricks on your mind. A Sotiyo is so damned big because it is designed to house capital ships inside it. It would take a week to walk from one side of it to the other. You could even fit President Jacus Roden's ego in it. There are so many docking bays that it's impossible to see the big picture when you're in one.


In any case, the wormhole's clock was ticking. Someone in our comms channel mentioned the term 'EOL' - End Of Life - imminent expiry within a couple of hours. I did the trading I needed to do from within my Prorator's capsule by staying jacked-in, got all the cargo loaded on board, and departed, back to the hole, back to the dreamworld. 


I doubt that 'Sotiyo', one half of the Caldari inventors of the Sotiyo-Urbaata Jump Drive that was the prototype of warp drives used throughout the whole of New Eden today, ever imagined that his name would be on the side of a giant space station, over half a millennium later.

Or maybe he did - Caldari corporate megalomania and all that.

And now, this last week, I heard about Upwell's development of a new type of 'refinery' installation that will be able to detach a piece of a moon's crust and tractor it bodily into orbit, where it can be fragmented into a temporary small-scale asteroid belt and set upon by squadrons of mining lasers. There is an inherent laziness to this technique that is tantamount to environmental terrorism. Speaking of terrorism, it wouldn't be too much of a leap for a capsuleer's imagination to think of using this scorched-earth mining technique as a weapon against an inhabited terrestrial - a grand extortionist's greatest achievement.

The universe is going mad.

Where will it end?

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

The Frontier Dreamstate of Anoikis


Prologue: The Limits of Knowledge

In my last entry, I described going to the edge of known space and learning what it felt like to be at the edge of the galactic abyss.

Thing is, it felt real enough, but I knew I'd been much further than that on a number of occasions beforehand.

I've felt increasingly done with known space, on the premise of 'been there, done that'. Cluster politics has heated up again of late with the plague outbreak and another possible Gallente/Caldari escalation and I just think yeah, whatever. Very little of it impinges on my bottom line now, which I find is a common progression among capsuleers who have a cosmic perspective. I periodically go planetside to refresh my palate, which always works very well, but it remains that after two years as a capsuleer, I've found out what I like to do and for the most part I stick to it. The ISK still flows, I could retire now and buy my own world if I wanted to, but there would still be those unanswered questions that ISK cannot buy the answers to.

Then, last month, Merkato Cesaille, boss of Signal Cartel's elite group of wormhole explorers and 'Ambassadors to the Sleepers' called the Anoikis Division, announced a new recruitment initiative as new facilities were coming online that would permit an expansion in the Division's limited numbers. I saw this as an opportunity not to be missed, because recruitment into the Anoikis Division doesn't happen very often and because I've become attuned to karmic synchronicity more than ever.

Anyway, I'd actually set the precedent for this new curiosity quite recently on one of those planetside excursions. Bear with me on this. A scene needs setting and it will all make sense eventually.




Desert Is A State Of Mind

The last time I visited my ancestral homeworld of Mishi IV, I went on a road trip with my friend Alisu in her husband's vintage, demilitarized Amarrian hovertank - a relic of when the Empire actually noticed Mishi IV instead of abandoning it as a passive fief of House Kador who are two regions away from here.



Alisu's husband, the noted Ni-Kunni sculptor, portraitist and surrealist Arshadru Serrasus-Abana-Cataalio, acquired the tank years ago and had the interior converted, optimising it for leisure rather than blowing things up, so it became a kind of camper van. You wouldn't know it from the outside though, because the tank retains its active camo. He'd taught Alisu to drive it, which was both generous and risky. Being a famous artist, he affected the attitude that every day of his life was a performance art installation. I don't know how he gets away with it.

* * *

Alisu and I headed out in the tank from her residence in the capital, along some highways through Mishi IV's more verdant and populated regions, then headed north across the southern continent's tundra, then through a minor mountain range and eventually to an ancient trade route across the Greater Western Dune Sea, which led to a small, incredibly remote settlement in the deep desert called Al-Dadashiri, a full 2,900 kms from the capital. The town was on the junction of several of the old trade routes that the caravans of pre-Amarrian occupation would use, so the town became established long ago as a place of trade in whatever goods it took to stay alive out there.

Today, in the modern era of high technology when almost everybody travelled long distances by aircraft and skimmer, the town of Al-Dadashiri survived as a kind of symbolic focal point for all manner of sages, seers, ecstatics, shamans, artists, depressives and paranoiacs who all saw the desert as a place of escape; the unremitting harshness of the environment turning this indigenous population towards a different kind of mysticism from the prevailing Amarrian orthodoxy. Our reason for coming all the way out here was somewhat more grounded in reality: according to Alisu, there was a cafe in Al-Dadashiri which produced the best chai on the entire planet (and by extension the entire cluster). The problem, she said, was the owner only brewed it on one night every year, and attendance at this brewing session was by invitation only. Alisu assured me the invitation was taken care of. We just had to get there. Travelling overland in the hovertank instead of flying there, she said, would delay gratification and only enhance the pleasure of the end result.

I saw the logic in that, and it gave me an opportunity to explore more of my ancestral homeworld anyway, so I went along with it. I felt her other unspoken reasoning was to give us more time together. I wasn't going to object to that either.

* * *

It took Alisu and I six days to get to Al-Dadashiri in the tank, four of them while crossing the desert, which was a huge contrast to my normal working day where I speed round the galaxy at multiples of c. There is a lot to be said for slowing down and taking in what's going on around you.



By day, we would make a steady traverse across mostly-unmarked piste, with the music and the air-con on maximum and grateful for the tank's retrofitted precision navigation kit, which eliminated the uncertainty of where the hell we were. We didn't see a single other person during the traverse except for one time when we caught sight of a long caravan about 15 kms away. As a precaution, Alisu energized the tank's active camo, which was a form of crude cloaking device, rendering us invisible to anyone that far away.

Some people have long memories, and this tank is a symbol of something they spend their entire lives out here trying to forget, she'd said.

We'd park the tank in the lee of sand dunes at night, grounding it on short, stubby struts that would extend out of its base when the repulsorlift engine was inactive. We'd then cook sizzling steaks on the hot metal exhaust of the tank's fusion reactor's heat exchanger, which was something I doubt the tank's designers ever envisioned it being used for.



We never worried about the time as we embraced the methods of the ancients by using the sky as our clock and our calendar. It was such a novelty to view the stars without the luminosity-enhancing algorithms of cam drones. You can't beat the unaugmented reality of it: the density of the cluster, the pulsing EVE Gate, faint at this distance but still unmistakable; the Cauldron Nebula, dim and diffuse as nebulae really are, but covering a quarter of the sky and visible for half the night until the planet rotated away from it - not the tranquil blue pool that you see from Kor-Azor: from the Aridia side it looks angry like a kind of hairy tumour.

Occasional bolides would leave their silent marks on the sky; then maybe once or twice per night we'd see the same apparition but slower, sort-of in reverse: a ship decelerating out of warp and into orbit. There are few satellites orbiting Mishi IV, the brightest and most obvious being the automated Customs Office warehouse (I destroyed one of those in Khanid once - a lifetime ago) that we would observe each night either side of sunset and sunrise. The planet's tiny moon would appear a few hours before dawn, a static point of light, bright, but easy to miss among the myriad constellations of the cluster.

When the desert night got too cold we'd retire to the tank. Alisu would energize the active camo (just in case), so if there actually was anybody in the vicinity, they'd hear us but not see us, which was weird...

Then on the morning of the fifth day I got temporarily scared out of my wits when I was awakened by the inbound weekly InterBus trans-atmospheric shuttle, laying down double sonic booms across the desert as it effected a re-entry high above us on its way to the capital. I'd ridden that same shuttle the previous week. Now it just seemed alien, intrusive and in fact incredibly rude. I mean how dare it interrupt the sanctity of this pristine environment?

* * *

Our reverie, our dreamstate, ended when the settlement of Al-Dadashiri emerged from the shimmering desert heat near the end of the sixth day, by which time I'd become fully immersed and had largely forgotten about what was going on in the rest of the cluster. Actually, not so much forgotten, but no longer cared.



We parked the tank on a small, unmanned airstrip just outside the town, alongside two other vehicles: one land-based, the other a skimmer which carried a registration mark indicating it had also come from the capital, like us. I suspected both vehicles belonged to people I would meet later tonight in this mythical cafe. I wondered who had had the better deal: the skimmer driver who would have got here in just a few hours, or us, who had taken our time and immersed ourselves in the journey.

Alisu and I put on our hooded robes for the two kilometre walk into town. The sun was setting quickly as it does this close to Mishi IV's equator, so the desert air would rapidly chill again.

From a distance, the town looked like it did not want to be found, with no building being more than two storeys high. For the most part, the town's appearance was as if we'd regressed in time a thousand years as we'd crossed the desert, but a couple of the buildings - simple blocks with no pandering to style - had some concessions to technology stuck to their flat roofs in the form of 10-metre parabolic antennae, all pointing in the same direction, up, towards what I already knew to be the CONCORD station orbiting Mishi VII, which will have risen from the eastern horizon a couple of hours previously. They would be receiving either entertainment broadcasts or standardized footage of government hearings. Quite likely the former. This place was not so hardcore and devout after all.


As we got closer to the town, I broke the comfortable silence we were maintaining as we walked.

'Is this place safe after dark?' I said.

'Of course not', Alisu said.

'So why did we park the tank back there?' I said.

'It's no use bringing it into the town. We'd block half the street. Besides, if you're worried about danger, then don't. You're not in space anymore.'

'Er, I'm in the middle of the goddamn desert, out of contact with, like, everyone. The only difference is I can breath the air?'

Alisu took my hand as we walked and said 'Listen, I've kicked more ass than you've sat on. Chill out. You know for a death-dealing immortal you're quite the over-thinking neurotic aren't you?'

'Don't tease me,' I said.

After about twenty minutes, as it was getting dark, a few dim yellow lights passing as street illumination flicked on as we walked down one of the town's wider streets. There was only a small number of other people outside as nightfall appeared to have driven the population indoors.

We turned off the main drag into a narrow street, then turned again into a series of alleys that progressively narrowed until we could no longer walk side-by-side. I could smell exotic spices, chai, dung, fusion waste disposal, oils, all kinds of scents I couldn't even name. It was so evocative.



By now it was almost dark. I caught glimpses through open windows: a gambling den with five different languages in play; every other house seeming to be either a bar or a cafe; the noise of a too-loud holovid; dogs barking; domestic arguments; the sound of a discharging sidearm that was probably on the holovid but I couldn't be sure.

The maze of side-streets made the town seem bigger than it was. None of the buildings had numbers or ID or anything. You either knew where you were going or you didn't. Alisu clearly did as she stopped abruptly at an open doorway. The muffled sounds of voices came from inside and above us somewhere.

'This is it,' she said. Then she turned and grabbed my arms excitedly and repeated 'this is it Cassie, this is it! The chai!' I couldn't see her eyes for the huge hood over her head, but I could tell she meant it.

We walked in through the narrow doorway and up a badly lit stone staircase, our heels loudly betraying our presence so there would be no element of surprise even though I could hear those voices now from the room at the top of the steps.

At the top, Alisu turned right, and I followed her through a heavy curtain covering the doorway, into a room that was much warmer than outside and misty with exhaled hash pipe. The smell was unbelievable.

This did not look like a cafe full of chai connoisseurs. My Ocular Filter implant told me in less than a second that there were twelve other people in here, all of them swarthy desertified men, which annoyed me. I don't think any of them knew what a razor was. They were mostly all sat at several tables of varying sizes, which all had a number of one-hitters on them. Two of the customers had cybernetic arms (one may have had a cybernetic head); at least three were open-carrying, and everyone spoke strong Ni-Kunni dialect except one who looked like an Achuran, who spoke hushed Caldanese to someone in front of him whose back was turned to me, and who must have also been Achuran otherwise how could one understand the other? A low-ranking Amarrian priest sat in one corner on his own, his unblinking gaze fixated on a portrait of Empress Jamyl on the opposite wall, his lips moving but making no sound. There was a radio on somewhere broadcasting a sermon from the Ministry of Internal Order, which was just background noise in here and mostly drowned out by conversation. The walls were a faded orange, kind of like the desert outside, and had probably not been repainted since the occupation, and there was a hissing, smoking, bubbling machine on the counter at the far wall which I took to be the mythical brewing device.

Five seconds after we entered the room, and in timeless stereotypical fashion, they all stopped what they were doing and turned to look at us. The radio clicked off.

Alisu theatrically removed the hood from her head, so I did the same, like we were a double act. A few more seconds passed, then one of the randoms got up and walked over to us.

'Ladies, can we help you with anything?' he said. He spoke with excessive politeness for the situation, so he was obviously hiding something. His breath smelled of hash pipe and vehicle exhaust. His glazed eyes suggested he was off his gourd already even though the night was young. This was going to be fun.

An invisible mist-shrouded voice from the back of the room shouted 'Hey, the strippers are here!' followed immediately by the sound of someone's nose breaking and a kind of yelp like a dog, followed by 'what the hell was that for?'

Hash Pipe did not break his stare at us two. He bowed slightly and said 'I apologise, ladies.'

Alisu surveyed the room again, then looked this guy in the eye. With the funereal seriousness of a mistress of ceremonies, she said: 'We're here for the Sacred Nectar of the Sand Crab.'

Hash Pipe said: 'Who sent you?'

Alisu was not yet done with the performance. She raised her arms like an evangelist and announced to the entire room in a loud voice: 'The Mother of the Desert herself!'

Hash Pipe looked over at me, then turned to the rest of the room, where my Filter detected a virtually imperceptible nod from some red-headed weirdo at the back of the room who was obviously Mr Chai Man, Mr Big, Mr Kingpin. Then the room relaxed all at once as Hash Pipe outstretched his arms and said: 'Welcome ladies, please take a seat'.

Somebody turned the radio back up, then changed the channel to something with a tune. I noticed a brief, half-smile of acknowledgement and a nod between Alisu and Red-Headed Weirdo, so he knew exactly who she was and knew her style - that the desert evangelist schtick was not to be taken seriously.

The rest of what became a colossal all-night bender passed in twenty-eight courses of the spiciest chai I'd ever known, accompanied by serial one-hitters, all handed out ceremonially by Minmatar slaves who would appear on cue from a side-room. In-between, it was about noisy card games, some live musical breaks from the Achurans every hour on the hour - it turned out there were four of them - and being hit on a few times ('I've kicked more ass than you've sat on' was the perfect rebuttal). The whole gig ended abruptly when the first rays of dawn broke through the window. That would be it for another year. Some of the clientele were in tears when we left.

It was an epic session. You couldn't buy experiences like it. This clone I was in had no tolerance for booze and hash, but I didn't care.

* * *

When Alisu and I returned to the capital in the tank, she let the tank's AI take us autonomously back to the capital in half the time, as it could drive itself through the desert night while we slept our hangovers off. As the fog in my head cleared, I did some thought-experimenting about turning some of my ISK into hard currency, buying out Red-Headed Weirdo and turning his place into the definitive epicentre of Ni-Kunni cafe culture. People would travel to it from all over New Eden just to experience my chai. But then would keeping it secret, like he does, be more authentic?

I also had a series of insights into how this semi-forgotten desert settlement perfectly embodied the frontier wilderness philosophy - and the desire to escape - that is one of humanity's default states. I could find a version of Al-Dadashiri on every inhabited planet in the cluster.

In places like this, the minutiae of cluster politics seems a thousand light years away.

Just like it does in Anoikis.





Cosmic Wilderness

So last month I joined Signal Cartel's Anoikis Division on a bit of a spur-of-the-moment thing, but with the higher purpose of addressing an imbalance in my experience. It shouldn't be the case that we have newly-qualified rookie capsuleers that have more knowledge of operations in the Anoikis Cluster than I do.

The Anoikis Division has three citadels in three systems in Anoikis: one in [classified], one in [classified] and another in [classified]. Not only are they [classified], but they are [classified]. If they were [classified], then they would be [classified].



This means operational secrecy is at the heart of everything we do there. Membership of the Division is limited to a handful of personnel, and operational comms are restricted. There is none of the exuberant curiosity of our Alliance channel. Codewords and cloaking devices rule. The pseudo-random nature of the entrances to the systems our citadels are located in, means access can't be controlled (actually it can up to a point, but that's a technicality), so we're at constant risk of rapacious scumbags coming in here at any time and 'evicting' us - as if the local indigenous population wasn't dangerous enough.

The system I selected as my operational base: I don't know exactly where it is. Nobody does. Nobody knows where any of them are. Attempts to map Anoikis have only resulted in vague dissatisfactory approximations. Only the Caldari scientist-capsuleer Mark726's Project Compass has identified the Anoikis Cluster at 1,300 (+/-100) light-years to the galactic south-east of New Eden. There is no way to confirm this observation visually. The thick gaseous nebulosities that dominate Anoikis render visual confirmation of its location in the galaxy impossible. There is a dim view of the galactic plane available in one direction, but that's away from the direction New Eden is believed to be located in, so it proves nothing.

The system I'm residing in has a relatively benign yellow dwarf primary. This is probably as safe as Anoikis gets as the cluster as a whole bathes in the complete catalogue of death-dealing hard radiation served up by pulsars, magnetars, black holes etc. etc.



The wormholes that facilitate travel to and from and within this cluster are the only way in or out of here. I've read many scientific papers on the analysis of these things. They've manifested between here and New Eden ever since the Seyllin Incident, so it's accepted as fact that the two events were related. The wormholes come and go, always within the same 36-hour (give-or-take) time-frame. The crucial fact is that they tend to lead to the same limited set of destinations and never anywhere else in the galaxy.

When you're aware of this fact, as everybody is by now, the question naturally arises:

What if they're not naturally occurring phenomena?

Who built the generating mechanism?

Who is controlling them now?

If the wormholes were to stop manifesting one day, then we would be trapped here, 1,300 LY from home.

On somebody else's territory.



It is well-known now that humans in the present epoch were not the first to get to Anoikis. Those circular black refrigerators are all over the place, along with their drone guards that shoot on sight. I wish they didn't. Some of us just want to talk.



The presence of Talocan relics here - weird structures, dead ships - is obvious evidence of humanity's knowledge of Anoikis in the ancient past. Why did we lose that knowledge? Is that knowledge still residing in a database that lies undiscovered on a planet somewhere in New Eden, waiting to be discovered by a data archaeologist?



That's why this place is so scary: there is a power at work here that doesn't exist in New Eden and we can barely comprehend it. It's ancient, but still far ahead of us in its power and capability. And yet some capsuleers treat this place with an unbelievably casual squatter's disregard for somebody else's house.

Not us, though.

I've only been here a couple of weeks, so I'm just scratching the surface. New doctrines are being worked up that require a heightened and sharpened Sense Of Paranoia ( Level V) and a Complete Divesting of Trust (Level V).

None of this is anything new to anyone, but this is what I've discovered:

You can learn to use those wormholes and their non-specific destination criteria in a particular way. The entrance to the system from known space moves around, so I find it easy to adopt the mindset that the entire system moves around with it. It's a compelling vibe and I prefer to live with it as it feels more exciting and adventurous.

If I'm back in known space on business and decide to linger, the system's wormhole will expire. It will then manifest in another known space system somewhere else, but the stress inherent to finding it is eliminated because our intel channel will always report exactly where it is, so I can look up the system's new 'location', and if it's nearby, I can head over there. If it isn't, if I can't be bothered to fly that far, I can just wait it out - live with the normals again, do some deals, build some stuff, go back to working on eliminating Covenant scum. When the system passes close enough I can head to the entrance, which will be in a known space system whose capsuleer occupants will be mostly oblivious to the entrance's presence, so I can slip out the back door of spacetime, right under their noses, and back to the dreamstate.

Back to our own ultra-high-tech version of Al-Dadashiri. A citadel in the wilderness.


Conversely, if I remain in Anoikis, every 36 hours or so the system will have 'moved' and I can leave it and go and visit somewhere new in known space, totally exempted from the limitations of the stargate network and its dangers of camps, gangs, 'deccers etc.

This method of conducting flight operations is actually incredibly liberating, and makes me feel as if I'm part of a secret society of capsuleers who have invented our own way of doing things and are beholden to nobody. Since the act of transiting a wormhole is instantaneous, the concept of distance travelled between Anoikis and New Eden becomes meaningless and irrelevant. It really can engender the belief that Anoikis is not really anywhere at all.

That Anoikis is a state of mind.




I can ride an elevator to the top of each of the twin spires in our Astrahus citadel in [classified]. In one of those spires is an observation loft where I can look out upon the cosmos. I've quickly adopted this as a regular routine. I can linger on the planet that the citadel orbits: an oceanic, with shallow seas barely covering huge impact craters probably formed by the ice comets that brought those seas with them.

This citadel, by the way: the clone bay doesn't work properly (at least it didn't when I tried to use it), and somebody didn't pay for the entertainment package upgrade in the holovid suite so if I want my favourite Impetus Studio feeds and FedMart shopping channel, I have to rig up a wireless feed to my datapad through the fluid router on Empress of Amarr, which is linked to my pirated setup in the Theology Council station in Zoohen, a mind-boggling distance away.



Also, the coffee machines all serve up standard Upwell freeze-dried dreck that must originate from the Caldari State where they know the price of everything and the value of nothing. I was forced to redress this totally unacceptable situation by bringing my own supplies:

Deep Space Transport 'Quantum Mechanic': cargo manifest: 2/27/119: routing: Tash-Murkon Prime - Jxxxxxx


From the observation loft up here, I can watch my trashy holo dramas while getting wasted on quality Al-Dadashiri hash (because I kept some and brought it here), after which Anoikis seems benign. Or I can watch news reports and recognise how far away their origin is. What a contrast it is between that smoke-filled cafe and the observation loft here in Anoikis, but it's exactly the same frontier, wilderness mindset that humanity takes everywhere it goes when it seeks the limits of knowledge and the edge of awareness; where the only laws are those we take with us.

The difference here is the quality of the neighbours, who in Anoikis are trans-humanized, quasi-extraterrestrials who I suspect just want to be left alone to do their sleeping.



But when the hash really takes hold, I start riffing on the most mind-boggling and crackpot theory of all: that the Anoikis Cluster is actually New Eden several billion years in our New Eden's future. Apparently some of the mappers have declared similarities in the arrangement of star systems here. It seems so, therefore it must be so.

It is of course the highest of all dreck. If Anoikis is New Eden in the future, then New Eden is Anoikis in the past. However it is a fundamental tenet of physics that you cannot travel backwards in time and you cannot communicate with the past. The fact that our fluid routers still work in Anoikis and we can communicate with New Eden in real time, proves that they are separate locations in the same epoch.

There is another reason why it's dreck: if Anoikis was the future - if we were time-travelling during transit - then how come nobody who lives here knows the lottery numbers..?




 [This journal has been cleared for dissemination after appropriate redactions in accordance with current operational guidelines. AD Policy document ref:0024788/4651/4170098]

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Postcards From The Edge Of The Known World



I've spoken before about the 'awesome visual wealth of New Eden' and how accidents of cosmic geometry produce 'transient moments of hypnotic beauty'.

It's truer than ever.

I was in the low security space in and around the Kador region. I stumbled upon another naturally-occuring wormhole in the Mod system. I sent the cam drones over to look through its bubble horizon and I saw evidence that suggested the Drone Lands. I dived in on impulse.

1-EVAX - Malpais

I arrived here at something like 01:50 NEST (don't ask me why I was up and active at this hour) and was met by this captivating vista which detained me for ages, so I had to document it.



Sometimes cam drones can produce an image more like a painting than a pixel-fest.

That cloudy white/quicksilver nebulosity that dominates the Drone Regions is not visible from anywhere in high security space, or for that matter any of the space belonging to the four major powers, so anybody who spends their operational lifetime in that part of space is missing this.




I brought one of my interceptors fitted out as a 'scannerceptor'. I should really be in Empress of Amarr, however for a reconnaissance in this part of space, I need agility, speed and immunity, and I must also look good doing it. Empress of Amarr only has immunity, and is neither fast nor agile. It is of course heavily-armed and armoured, but that isn't really enough out here.

I need the odds stacked further in my favour here. The Crow gives me that, because with interceptors, the engine is mightier than the sword.




HB-5L3 - Cobalt Edge

So then on further impulse I decided to explore deeper in the expectation of unearthing a few Drone data caches.

I worked my way up through Perrigen Falls...



...then Oasa...




...then into Cobalt Edge and the end of the stargate road: the edge of the known world. The last time I came out here was a well over a year ago.




The white nebulosity that defines this region is now far behind and vastly reduced in apparent size and significance, like the rest of the cluster. No more highsec chatter. No more queueing at gates. The emptiness and nothingness out here is terrifying and it messes with your head. 

Obviously you get the clearest view you'll ever get of the galactic plane beyond this outer rim of the cluster. I left a not-entirely-serious post on our corporation channel about 'finding the edge of the known world as the path to self-awareness'. I found it alright. The comfortable familiarity of Zoohen is 59 light-years from here.




On the other hand, in the thirty-odd systems I passed through on the way, I found not one single Rogue Drone data cache. That is bogus. As I progressed, I had the rolling 24-hour news feeds on in the background which headlined the disease outbreaks that have occurred in several locations in highsec during this last week. It served as a distraction from all the emptiness for a while, but then sometimes you have to switch all that noise off and embrace the silence (although if that really is Kyonoke Plague, then I might have to find a reason to stay out here).

I saw a handful of other capsuleers transiting through. A couple of them hailed me. One of them even told me I'd been 'pinged on intel', but then they wouldn't have been able to catch me anyway. I saw some Rogue Drones that my Overview designated as the equivalent of the 'officers' you see in some of the deeper parts of pirate faction space . If I was in Empress of Amarr I might have taken them on.



I eventually arrived in the border system that possesses one of the most powerful stargates in the entire cluster: one of the so-called 'Smuggler Route' gates that can send a ship a full 35.9 light-years in a single jump, all the way to the Tenal region. The attraction to the scientist-explorer of this gate is that it transits right through Jove space en-route to Tenal.

Jove space...




But then I balked at the prospect. The Caroline's Star Remnant is at its most prominent here in Cobalt Edge. When that thing blew up two years ago it was visible from every point in the cluster simultaneously, which is a clear violation of the natural laws of the universe, so God knows what sprites and demons and gargoyles are lurking in the contaminated space that this super-powerful gate can push a ship through.

After my last journal, you'd think I was looking to retire and never fly through a stargate again. I gave it some thought. I still do. But then that sense of unfinished business takes over.

I went for it.





SF-XJS - Tenal

I arrived, intact.

Thank God.

The first thing you see - the only thing you see - out here in Tenal is the Jovian Nebula. Tenal is every bit as remote as Cobalt Edge, so the vibe is the same but the universe torments you by changing the scenery.



Nobody has heard anything significant from the Jovian Directorate for years. The Society of Conscious Thought has assumed the role of the Jovian Directorate in CONCORD. All published evidence suggests the likelihood that the Caroline's Star event caused the Jove race to cease to exist in a functional capacity.


What few of them must be left are totally isolated from us and each other because there are believed to be no active stargates in Jove space, although the map indicates a few in the far north, close to the track that the Smuggler Route gate takes (not that you'd be able to pull over and take a look because it's through hyperspace, which is everywhere and nowhere, where distance has no meaning - so whether you pass through anything at all is the unanswered question that I discussed last time).




Lingering here in Tenal wasn't on my agenda. If I stay out here too long with nothing to do, it starts to scare me and I want my FedMart shopping channel. I certainly had no intention whatsoever of trying to return to base by heading south from here, because that would take me through several regions of actively-contested nullsec, which would be suicidal.



I had an escape route. I'd seen it in Cobalt Edge.

I went back through the big gate (crossing my fingers and screwing my eyes tight shut even though I was in a capsule, so the intent was there even if it didn't actually happen).



Back in the border system in Cobalt Edge that I'd just left, I'd seen a marked and designated Drifter Hive entrance, so I dived into it.



In the act of doing this, I invalidated the concept of remoteness I just riffed on by travelling the 1,300 light-years to Anoikis, to the 'Sentinel' system. I can't get my head around that inconsistency: that Cobalt Edge feels more remote from home than this place does. I've said it before, I know, but I'll keep saying it because it keeps blowing my mind.




When I eventually regained Known Space, I was only a handful of jumps from Signal Cartel's other office in the Gelhan system in Derelik.

I headed over there. While Zoohen is our main administrative and operational base and Thera is more of a symbolic HQ ('cos, y'know, weird), Gelhan is the substitute/standby. At least that's what it feels like. I assume management chose this system as a base because of its proximity to the Providence region, but only a few nonconformists live here. To my shame, I even had to look up which of the three stations in this system was ours.



I docked. There was nobody else home. There is no FedMart shopping channel available here because this is the Ammatar Mandate, and this Amarr-template station belongs to the Directive Enforcement Department. It is a police station. I think this must be why so few of us operate here.



This is what I know: every time I go out there to the outer rim, I remember that humanity suppresses its knowledge of its own insignificance in the face of an indifferent universe by embracing banal, trivial short-term ephemeral self-gratification as a means of manufacturing a sense of self-importance.

As soon as I get back to highsec, I forget about it again.

The cycle repeats.