Monday, 27 April 2015

Strippers and Mercenaries

I swear I have an alarm clock in my head. My capsuleer sixth-sense (an implant?) woke me from a dream about Empress Jamyl that I can no-longer remember, about two seconds before a message arrived on my datapad while, I should add, I was in a hotel suite in Dan's second city of Centralis.

The mail was from an agent in the Royal Khanid Navy:

See this backs up exactly what I said previously about the Navy taking notice of Talos Coalition in response to our response to the alliance wars over territory going on in the regions surrounding Khanid. I thought this was as good a reason to go back to work, so I caught the next intra-system shuttle back to the RKN place and my hangar.

Now the Navy mission described above was no problem, it merely involved a bit of mining; but I knew it would lead to something much bigger and more profitable. Sure enough, after this I was contacted by another RKN agent - Anark Bandu - about suppressing some pirate activity in the area.

So I prepped Sid Vicious and headed out to the deadspace near Bomana to take down a Guristas outpost and 'rescue' some mercenaries.

This is where things started to escalate. I had to stash 40 angry 'Militants' into Sid's cargo hold and take them through the stargate back to Ishruna (Danera IV), through the stargate, through hyperspace, without medicating them with anti-cynosis drugs first. The techs at the other end said the stink in the hold from puke and piss was unbelievable. Then Bandu said he only wanted half of them (he had a list of names) so I was stuck with 20 pissed-off, angry, stateless 'Militants' in my hangar.

Of course the mission payment made it technically worth it (only just...) and when Bandu asked me to head out again and deal with some Sansha's Nation operatives in the area I thought I'll deal with the mercs later and headed out again. Fighting Sansha ships was entertaining, if only because their ships look as angry as Sansha Kuvakei himself. Such anger. Everywhere. I bet these pirates just need a big hug from time-to-time.

After this I thought I'd go and deal with the 'Militants' but Bandu offered me another mission involving the rescue of some politician's daughter from a pirate ringleader called Kruul.

I had to get the Omen out for this because I was outnumbered about 20-1 and needed the firepower and force-multiplying effect of drones. Rookies: get drones. Treat them like pets. They'll save you more times than you'll ever know.

Now this one took some time. Partly because I fitted a salvager to the Omen's spare high slot and used it on all the wreckage I created. Because of this, these low-level missions were still hugely lucrative because of all the quality loot, and particularly the salvage, which is essentially free ISK.

So I rescued the politician's daughter, killed Kruul, got the proof of his death in the form of a DNA sample, and salvaged/looted a load of miscellaneous hybrid turret ammo that will be worth playing with at some point.

Then, Bandu called with another mission about shutting down a pirate-run brothel out in some nasty deadspace pocket right here in Danera, so I headed out with the Omen and cleaned that deadspace right up. We can't have that sort of degeneracy in Dan. We just can't.

Since I'm such a nice person, I ended up rescuing everyone left alive in the wrecked brothel and took them all back to base along with a load of holovids that one of them said were 'important'. Yeah, right. Holovids in a brothel? Wonder what kind of holovids they are then..? Home-made?

Bandu then said some garbage about how rescuing people wasn't part of the mission, so I was left fuming, because in my hangar now I had 20 angry Militants who never say exactly what it is they're angry about, the DNA of a local pirate kingpin, 10 low-level station rat/janitor types that had come along for the ride, and 10 'exotic dancers'.

Just think about that combination for a minute...

Now if my mentor Aire Arryns from Hedion U in Conoban was here, I know what he would say:

"Vitoc them, Cassandra", he'd say. "You have a ready-made starship crew right there at your feet. Administer the Vitoc to all of them and you will have them worshipping you as if you are Empress Jamyl herself - they will be grateful for their service to you, Cassandra. Vitoc! It is the Amarrian way!"

I'm not Amarrian. I'm a Ni-Kunni.

If Taltha was here, I know what she would say:

"That's sick, don't you dare turn them into your slaves", she'd say. "Bring that guy Kruul's DNA over here and we can clone him without a brain and have some fun with him; but you have to deal with those others now, straight away, otherwise you'll have a riot on your hands. Strippers and soldiers in the same room? It's not as if you've given them anything to do in that hangar of yours except watch those porn films you found with them either. Sell them. Sell them all."

"But you just said no to slavery", I'd reply.

"No to you. Let someone else have them!" she'd say.

Not sure about the logic there...

I checked the markets. It turns out you can't sell 'Militants', because they can only sell themselves. Janitors are in infinite supply and therefore valueless, but strippers, sorry, exotic dancers, most definitely were in demand up in Palas. I loaded all ten of them into the passenger cabin of Sexy Beast and ferried them up to Palas, where I got nearly half a million ISK for them - after tax - in some poxy club where the owner openly advertises a huge demand for them. What a sicko.

So I started the day working for the Royal Khanid Navy, and ended the day dealing with a minor refugee crisis and dabbling in amateur people-trafficking. 

Welcome to New Eden...

I dread to think about what will happen to those girls now. Note to self: sentimentality is fatal in this game...

Sunday, 19 April 2015

War's Over So I'm Going Planetside

I bought another Venture and ferried it to our new base in [classified], with the idea of doing some mining in the deep lowsec in Southern Khanid and basing this Venture there permanently.

I fitted it to a sort-of ninja speedy Venture spec: combat drones for defence, microwarpdrive for high-speed getaways and a cloaking device as a last resort.

A few problems materialised:

- all that lovely exotic lowsec ore is pointless if nobody will buy it. I have to ferry the bloody rocks light-years to bring it within range of others' buy orders.

- my Ninja Venture was defenceless against what NEOCOM classified as a 'Blood Raider Clone Soldier Cruiser' that I caught lurking in a belt in Gousoviba (0.1). A Maller, no less, that lit me up from 80 km away and one-shot me with pin-point accuracy. Seriously. A sniper job. The damn thing carried a bounty of 1.75 million ISK. Clearly it's been operating there for some time. If you see it, say hello from me before you kill it.

So my lowsec mining strategy needs work. I need something more substantial than a Venture.

In the meantime, the nuisance over the 'wardec' reached farcical levels with no less than eight alliances/corporations wardeccing us at the peak. Intel reached us that 'Space Warriors', the instigators of this thing, started losing members at around the same time for some reason - an exodus by all accounts, and that all the other war declarations were some sort of bureaucratic consequence of this, so it meant nothing. Then a mass of messages from CONCORD arrived that stated all the 'wardecs' were invalidated and cancelled due to an unspecified violation of the Yulai thing. In reality, they'd all failed to pay the fee. Some of these 'wars' lasted less than a minute...

So now we can go to Amarr and Jita again, and life in Khanid is, er, exactly the same as it was before.

I'm going offline for a few days as I've got a trip to the sand dunes of Danera V arranged. Since I've been based here in this system I've found out that Dan V is an unexpectedly interesting world:

- it's classed as temperate, so you can walk around outside without a pressure suit. You'll need a breathing mask if you're outside for more than half-an-hour or so as the pressure is lower than standard, but gravity is only slightly lower. The climate is even stable too as its year is 4.7 standard years long with no axial tilt. Not much changes except on a cosmic timescale that may see the large ocean sublimate away in the low pressure. At 11.2 AU, Dan V should be an ice ball, but it generates a lot of internal heat through tectonic activity associated with the tidal effects of having previously had two moons, so the average ambient temperature is only slightly lower than standard, hence the liquid water.

- there's not much in the way of vegetation because of the thin air and that tectonic activity, combined with what in the past must have been a period of bombardment from the remnants of the shattered moon that created Dan V's asteroid belt at only 90,000 km distance. So today it's mostly tundra, some mountains, large flood basalt traps and desert; with the remaining moon exerting weaker tides than before, resulting in a more benign environment. Liveable.

- here's the interesting bit: there are loads of archaeological remains spanning several thousand years. It seems that in the deep past, starting before the Dark Ages, Dan V had a human civilisation that dated from the Terran era that may have persisted on some basic level up until the time of the Reclaiming. Unearthed temples, relics and other artefacts have been found on Dan V that indicate the planet was known as 'Al-Kaukab' for a long time; that the Danera primary was, during the same period, known as 'Said al-Akbiyah' and that the two nebulae visible from the planet - the Cauldron and the Vapor Sea - were called 'Al-Khiba' and 'Al-Udhi'.

Fast-forward a couple of thousand years and the star was known as 'Dhanab al-Asad', by which time the population had almost died out. Then sometime around the arrival of the Amarr, the name 'Danera' appears for the first time and the standardised 'Danera V' designation sticks.

Today, it's a relatively unspoiled and underpopulated world that is away from a main trade route and home to various strict religious retreats and temples, amid small low-rise cities that are a product of the tech and personnel pipeline to the three Khanid Navy facilities elsewhere in-system. If I was describing Dan V in a tourist brochure I'd say it was a 'compelling fusion of ancient architecture and modern high-tech amenities - cave dwellings with holovids".

Time to go planetside and breath some real, albeit rarified air instead of oxygenated capsule fluid. Here's where I'll be for a few days - I'll send you a holopostcard:

In fact if the ongoing thing with the Drifter faction, the Sleepers and the Jove keeps on escalating, Dan V will be the perfect place to ride it out for a few years.

May you live in interesting times...

Friday, 10 April 2015

Point Genesis: The EVE Gate

Everybody knows the legend of the EVE Gate. It's taught to us in school; it's part of the foundation of the Amarrian religion; it's the reason for humanity's presence in the stellar cluster that's named after the system it's situated near: New Eden. It's not in New Eden, but more about that later.

Such an important celestial object should be a natural destination - a form of pilgrimage even; at the very least a massive tourist attraction, especially for any capsuleer who has a cosmic perspective and a scientific background by default. Knowing what the EVE Gate is and why it persists, raises more questions than it answers.

Visiting the New Eden system and the EVE Gate was the third reason I became a capsuleer, which is a hell of a commitment to make - having your body cyborgized and implanted, and getting killed a few times along the way 'just' to see a unique cosmic spectacle, but the state of regional and cluster politics in the current epoch means that becoming a capsuleer is almost the only way to see it. The reason why is that the New Eden system is at the end of a long 'pipe' of  sparsely-populated resource-poor systems that have no regular transport services and yet, ironically enough, all carry names that imply a previous era of optimism and hope that failed to materialise, no doubt due to the 'abomination' that's at the end of this particular line, and how history itself panned out.

This 'pipe' to New Eden, to paradise, is all low-security space, so it should be a haven for gate camps and gankers, pirates, freelancers etc., but it isn't. It's that dead end: there's no reason to come down here unless you're visiting the EVE Gate. But that perception of a lack of threat does not mean you're exempt from the usual rules of lowsec conduct. In my case, I waited two months to train the skills necessary to get a Covert Ops frigate with an advanced cloaking device. A Purifier, no less (a stealth bomber on an exploration mission? Hell yes! It's my ISK. Why not?).

Transiting down this lowsec pipe towards the EVE Gate is different from any other part of space. It's like EVE is drawing you to it. An accident of galactic geography means the New Eden system is one of the most northerly systems in the cluster in respect to the galactic plane, so as you progress towards it, there is a commanding view of the region's three major nebulae: Verge Vendor, Domain and The Cauldron; the Domain looks like a hollow-eyed skullmask.

The last accessible orbital station is in Angur, a full six systems away from New Eden itself, and after Angur it's either gas giants or irradiated desert worlds with automated weather stations and hardcore agri-settlements that don't want to communicate and where people go to disappear.  Cluster politics will have passed them by.

The theme in every system is abandonment and desolation, presenting an unsettling contrast against those systems' names: Promised Land, Access, Gateway, New Eden itself.

I passed long-abandoned orbitals, half-hearted Covenant gate camps, and tantalizing indications of pre-Dark Ages human presence in the form of fragments of unidentifiable wreckage or a derelict stargate-like structure that has to be Old Earth in origin. I was the only ship in the last three systems on the pipe, which meant that I was the only ship for several light-years in any direction; so when I got to the New Eden system and came face-to-face with the EVE Gate - Point Genesis - it felt like I was having a one-to-one communion with it.

The flaw in spacetime that the failed EVE Gate is assumed to be, projects a visible luminosity that far exceeds that of the New Eden primary, yet the object is not actually in the New Eden system at all; it's another 3.3 light-years beyond it. It pulses organically, like a beating heart. EVE is alive, and the Amarrian in me appreciates how this thing became the foundation of a religion.

On the other hand, the scientifically-literate capsuleer in me asks questions like any good scientist: what incredible forces are really at work here? Why, when the universe constantly tends towards entropy - when even a black hole evaporates eventually - has the EVE Gate persisted like this, in this flawed state, for over 15,000 years? It can only be because it is being fed - supplied by something. What power is feeding it? Who is behind that power?

The EVE Gate decided to show me a hint of a possible answer...

I was holding station near the automated customs satellite orbiting New Eden I. I heard the 'thump' of an arriving vessel - four Roaming Sleeper Cruisers! I cloaked up immediately and disappeared, mindful of the recent changes in Sleeper tactics. The Sleepers started their bizarre scanning routine on the customs satellite instead.

While they were busy, I noted the presence of another Jove Observatory, here, in New Eden. I decloaked and warped over to it, to see if the Sleepers would follow.

Sure enough, they did.

So I'm station-keeping, here in New Eden, and I'm within sight of the EVE Gate, a Jove Observatory and four Roaming Sleeper Cruisers.

The Sleepers.

I would have felt a shiver down my spine if I wasn't jacked-in and floating in neuro-embryonic fluid.

* * *

I made my way back to the station in Angur to dock for the night. The entire seven-system pipe was deserted. The lack of activity gave me plenty to think about:

Established wisdom/dogma tells us what EVE is and what it may have looked like. Listen to any capsuleer conversation in any bar in New Eden and they'll all talk about the same legend - that EVE is co-located with remnants of Old Earth pre-Dark Ages human tech: ships, stations, detritus that fell victim to whatever caused EVE to fail. The Jovians have apparently seen fit to hide much of it from us in our own best interests, and besides, EVE is supposed to be a radiation environment that is off-the-scale hostile, so we can't go anywhere near it to find out for ourselves. Sisters of EVE have an ongoing interest, basing their entire faith around it, but they aren't telling.

The Jove Observatory: this system is otherwise completely deserted and rarely visited, so the Observatory can only be monitoring EVE. Why?

The Sleepers are believed to be an ancestral offshoot of the Jove race. They will have come through the EVE Gate the first time round. Jove, Sleepers, an SoE 'research' presence somewhere round here...

Then, after the events of Caroline's Star (which was an event similar in spectacle to what the EVE collapse would have looked like) , you can't discuss the Jove and Sleepers without discussing the Drifters. Drifter Battleships are known to be responsible for the structural damage to the Observatories; damage which is also present on this example, so Drifters have visited this system too.

I believe the Drifters are associated with EVE - that their battleships use tech that is openly acknowledged to be in advance of ours, and that the tech is recovered from Old Earth remnants found around EVE, or maybe even from the far side of it; and that the Sleepers - rumoured to be the 'body snatchers' behind the Drifter faction that is a means for the Sleepers to return from their virtual world - are in turn behind the whole damn thing.

Since the rise of the Drifters, everybody has been watching Jove space for another sign following Caroline's Star. Could it be that we are all looking in the wrong place?

Meanwhile, the EVE Gate patiently watches us all go about our business from its position above the centre of the cluster, and has done so for at least 15,000 years. Any visitor to EVE must be prepared to leave with more questions than they arrived with.

We may not have to wait much longer for the answers.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

The Corporate Dividend, Luminaire and the Aftermath of Operation Highlander

Outdated Host Productions [PHP1] is one of the minority of capsuleer corporations out there that pays a monthly dividend to its members. The flat tax we pay on those bounties and other transactions actually comes winging its way back to us at the end of the month, so we share the goods equally. This corporation is therefore the socialist workers' paradise that the Caldari State is supposed to be, but isn't, and never will be, despite Tibus Heth's tiresomely endless rhetoric.

My novice status also meant the dividend I received last week tripled my net worth overnight, so now I know how Heth felt when he assumed control of Caldari Constructions in a day.

I'm digressing...

This influx of cash-ola relieved me of the need to do any mining, or anything at all, for a few days. In fact I was no longer bothered about my Maller, and all those lost Ventures became mere footnotes. At the same time this was happening, the 500 IR freq crystals I had on sale in rookie land - Conoban - were selling out unexpectedly quickly with people buying batches of 50 at a time. Somebody on the alliance channel said something about 'Jita selling out of everything' at around the same time. Was that true? Was there a connection? No point in wasting time worrying about it: I did another run of crystals, then loaded up the Sigil with them and headed straight over to Conoban.

That evening in Conoban I met up with the Ni-Kunni lot again in Hedion U for a bar crawl, some substances, a bit of art & culture in the mosh pit; some fights with passing freighter crews etc. Late on, back in the quarters that I still keep in Conoban, I did that thing where you browse the markets under the influence of booze. I remembered how in an earlier time I had a thing for the Imperial Navy Slicer, resolving to get one when the Navy occasionally releases them into the private sector. According to the market interface, there was a single Slicer for sale over in the Imperial Shipment Storage place in Amdonen. It was relatively cheap, almost suspiciously so, because it was a one-off, not part of a batch as is usual with Slicers when they get retired from squadron use and come up for sale.

I hit 'Buy', then went to sleep. I dreamed of knives, of cleavers, of thin slices of meat on the butcher's slab. Slicer!

Next morning I hatched a plan. I would take the Sigil over to Imperial Shipment in Amdonen, load my new Slicer into the Sigil's hold (because as a ship-for-sale it would still be in its de-rigged and 'cold' state so it would fit easily), and take it to the trade hub in Amarr to fit it out, because whatever I wanted for the Slicer, Amarr is where I would find it.

The Imperial Family Bureau Station @ Amarr VIII/Oris - 18 hours later...

I rented a berth in the trade hub for four days and parked the Sigil. My plan: rig up and fit out the Slicer, call it Sid Vicious after a musical movement one of the Ni-Kunni lot had told me about and that I'd listened to on the way up here (Anarchy in Amarr...); then I'd leave the Sigil parked in the berth and head 'up north' for a couple of days in the Slicer, and explore some of the territory I'd glimpsed on the corporation's roam last week.

I had a good look round the Slicer when it was reassembled. The Slicer was the typical Navy-surplus ship: de-militarised by stripping certain insignia from the outside and removing classified parts from some of the internal equipment racks. I was expecting that - it's standard practice for ex-Navy stuff. Most of the ship's history and log details had either been deleted or redacted with the word classified all over it, which was annoying. I also found that the Slicer had been parked in a hangar for two years as a reserve ship before being sold off in Amdonen, and that its previous name was The Pious Wrath of Lord Falek Grange. Typical Amarr.

When I jacked into the Slicer for the first time though, I didn't expect this:

It took another hour to clear all that disclaimer crap - layers of it. Either I'd bought a hangar queen cobbled together with a load of time-expired parts on it and flogged-off to make room for something new, or I hadn't. Time to find out:

The Sinq Laison & Essence regions in the Gallente Federation, six hours later...

This ship is quality:

This ship is mint:

This ship kicks Guristas and Serpentis arse:

 This ship looks good even in proximity to the stunning snowball world of Chainelant IX:

In fact this ship looks good in any situation, even among the garbage-infested dump in the Deltole system:

I had no idea how colourful this part of space on the far side of Domain really was. The Verge Vendor nebula is a rival for the Cauldron in my home region.

Later on...

The Luminaire System in the Gallente Federation, 21:00hrs

Note to rookies: the easiest way to find landmarks for sightseeing is by selecting 'DED Agent Site Reports' on the Star Map. This is what drew me into Gallente space and towards the Luminaire system where I planned to dock for the night. If you listened in class, you'll know that Luminaire is the ancestral home of both Gallente and Caldari. The system as a whole is under Gallente administration, with Luminaire VII (aka Caldari Prime) currently administered by Mordu's Legion after the catastrophic events of YC110-115 that reshaped New Eden's politics forever along with reshaping Caldari Prime's surface.

The five-year siege of Caldari Prime by the Heth regime's Titan Shiigeru is well documented, as is what happened to it during what the Gallente called 'Operation Highlander' in YC115. I was in my second year at Hedion U in Sehmy when it happened and I remember us all fearing a return to the - albeit brief - horrors of YC110.

Just a few short years later, the sense of precarious stalemate is expressed in Caldari Prime's status as a 'demilitarised zone', along with the typically-human tendency towards memorialising disaster, which of course is what drew me here in the first place.

There are three major sites. The 'Luminaire Graveyard' is a collection of the floating wreckage of Megathrons in a semi-synchronous orbit that produces its own eclipses.

The Caldari Monument, self-explanatory, and tolerated by the Federation presumably only because of the presence of CONCORD, is a deserted standard Caldari station accompanied by what is very obviously an Amarrian dome icon, which is an extremely bizarre diplomatic statement - openly flaunting Amarrian backing of Caldari, right here, in the spiritual capital of the Federation and over one of the most controversial planets in the entire cluster. It makes zero sense to me.

But the most disturbing 'monument' of all is the visible aftermath of Operation Highlander and the downing of the Titan Shiigeru:

I saw the vidfeeds in Sehmy; I saw it happen live just like everyone else; we all discussed in class what the physics involved in a Titan hitting a planet at orbital velocity would be - that it would be equal to an asteroid strike and an extinction-level event. When all comms on Caldari Prime went down for the hours immediately afterwards, my class were all sick with regret and shame.

We now know that the Titan split into several pieces before it hit, each still with sufficient mass to penetrate the planet's thin crust and cause massive lava pools to form that are visible from orbit to this day, along with scarring that will no doubt persist longer than any human occupation of this world.

Today, a population still attempts to forge an existence on this permanently-changed world; its only reason for staying there being ultimately about power and diplomacy. The Ni-Kunni in me, whose ancestors learned to respect the land and to live with the sparse resources of Mishi IV otherwise they'd have starved, is disgusted by what happened to Caldari Prime.

* * *

After seeing this, I needed a beer. I elected to dock for the night. This is where I realised how very real those political implications of being Amarrian in a Gallente system actually are.

Caldari Prime has several stations in orbit around it and its moons. Some of them are overtly Federation military, so they were out, because I was in a ship that could not be more Amarrian if it tried, and no Fed pod gantry jock would be able to tell the difference between Sid Vicious and a fully-commissioned Slicer, because all the differences are on the inside.

I headed for the Fed Bureau facility - harmless soft-shelled apparatchiks, accountants etc. - and docked without any problems except I swear it took a bit longer than normal to get the clearance...

I got through the indignity of unjacking from the capsule in the prep bay; I showered and dressed OK, but when I went to leave the facility the pod techs were giving me filthy looks. I was in an Imperial Navy ship and wearing a tunic with decorative Amarrian script on it. In their eyes I might as well have worn a crown.

"Aren't you a long way from home? What's one of you doing here?" one said. The pod tech moved to block my exit from the facility.

I thought there are two ways to play this. Either I explain the diplomatic process to him by smashing his face in now, or I lie my way out of this.
"Did you really fly that?" he said.  

Condescending bastard.

I walked right up to him and stood an inch from his nose:
"Get out of the way!" I shouted. "I am an emissary from Her Majesty's Trade Delegation to Luminaire and I am here on a fact-finding mission. Yes, I did fly that ship, and if any of you grunts touch it while I'm gone I'll have your balls for earrings!!"

I stared him out for five seconds, then he glanced at the other techs, moved aside and said: "Yes ma'am...".

The prep bay's door swished open, and I strode off down the corridor towards my temp quarters and started breathing again. I don't like confrontation...

Suite #262 Observation Balcony, Caldari Prime Fed Admin Info Center, 00:25hrs

I sipped a beer while checking out Sid Vicious docked in its berth nearby. The ship looks great. You can't tell from a distance that it isn't a commissioned ship anymore. Back in the lounge I was met by a giant Guristas head on the holovid. Enough to give someone nightmares, that is.

I sat down and watched the news with more beer. It had been a day of days. I've only owned the Slicer for a day and I've already had an adventure in it, and I had another three days to go before I had to get back to the Sigil in Amarr. This was like being on holiday. But seeing the Luminaire system and what it represents brought a sobering end to the day.

The damage to Caldari Prime brought to mind the second reason I became a capsuleer: I remember what it was like during that brief period in -110 when the Elder War came to Eclipticum. I remember the dropships and the bombardment by the Elder fleet that appeared in orbit over my own world. Even though, luckily, my family and I were on a part of the planet that the brief invasion didn't get to, therefore missing the worst of it, I remember the feelings of helplessness and dread that we all still felt. I swore then I would never again be stuck on a planet without the means to get off it when one of these Titans shows up and places an existential threat over the population's heads, because I know exactly what that's like.

I retired for the night and decided that Sid and I are going to get on just fine...