Monday, 30 November 2015

A Closed Gate

I was in Tash-Murkon doing missions for the House. I have no particular affinity for House Tash-Murkon although I do on the whole approve of their more tolerant attitude to life - in that respect, think of House T-M as a half-way House between House Khanid and House Sarum (what the next ruling lot will actually be like, only the granting of power after the Championships will tell).

What draws me here periodically is the desire to bathe in the hot bath of light from T-M Prime itself which paints a blue wash over everything in the system that I find rejuvenating somehow; along with the concurrent desire to face off against Sansha Kuvakei's minions who populate this sector in preference to the Covenant.

I brought Sid Vicious to this game and enjoyed taking down Succubi with a single shot, ending the torment of their occupants who allegedly make Amarrian slaves appear opinionated. My combat-mode datalogging recorded 'hit points' on Succubi in four figures once or twice, when the targeting geometry favoured it - when charging at them straight on (zero transverse velocity) and with Gleam S focusing the 100%-proof distilled power of the fusion reactor. To paraphrase something I saw on a holovid once, a light that burns twice as bright burns half as long and Gleam S burns so very brightly. With Gleam crystals, you have to be close enough to count rivets on Succubus hulls, but one shot is all it takes.

Imagine it: pure energy focused through the crystal and brought to bear with the turret, belittling shields, dismissing armour as an irrelevance and puncturing hull like the skin of a balloon. If an access corridor or gangway happens to be the other side of it, the focused beam will part the air in that corridor like a bolt of lightning - a shockwave will expand down that corridor at supersonic speed and kill anyone present long before any explosion, radiation, depressurisation or other trauma gets them. These gunnery implants I'm carrying in my head allow me to visualise like this and riff on it.

It's a beautiful thing.

I digress...

* * *

One of the missions the House sent me on brought me to a dormant, off-grid stargate of Minmatar template, right here in T-M Prime. I can't remember the exact details of the mission other than the gate being besieged by Sansha's Succubi and Phantasms, with crews all too strung out to recognise that the cloud of vented gas around the gate meant nobody was transiting through it any time soon.

This gate though, sitting there in a dormant state, was unexpectedly spellbinding.

The reason why is because there is never any time under normal operations for loitering at stargates in and around the mainstream network. There is absolutely no justification for hanging around them because to do so is to invite any number of dangers: being subjected to the attentions of either a gate-camp, CONCORD or gankers; being cargo-scanned by someone for future reference, being run-over by a decelerating freighter or just having your systems disrupted by the EM/graviton interference that manifests over your audio channels as that unholy choir you always hear when in close proximity - the signature of a power so great that it can reach down into the quantum foam of spacetime and pull open one of those bubbles big enough for you to pass through, into hyperspace, and back out again.

This Minmatar gate didn't make any sound at all. To paraphrase something else I heard once: you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone.

In being granted the leisure to look around this thing that can defy the laws of the universe (or could do, but has since been rendered inert for some reason), I discovered some aspects of stargate design that I hadn't fully appreciated before, including how damned big they are. 

The site was superficially well-defended and there was some power being supplied to the gate, but nothing moved and nothing twitched - there were no crew here. Maybe that Sansha blockade took them. In destroying those ships, maybe I killed them...

This stargate wasn't the work of Sansha's Nation despite them blockading it. This won't be the only clandestine stargate in the cluster either. There could be a whole sub-network of these things that operates under our noses. Unless the House gets hold of it, some other group is bound to come along and reactivate this thing.

Maybe [PHP1] should.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

The Forge, Jita, Freighter Roulette

I've been operating in and around The Forge for a few days because despite being a capsuleer for just under a year now, I had never visited the trade hub in Jita.

Reason: never felt any particular need to go there because for my purposes, Amarr is just as valid as a trade hub and is far more convenient given that I live in the Khanid Kingdom (the fastest route to Jita from Khanid is through Amarr, so why bother going the extra 20 light years?).

I selected Revolution for this trip, which I've optimised for speedy warp and fitted missile turrets (Magnates do not favour any particular weapon system so you can fit whatever you want) for the inevitable encounters with Guristas.

It's worth noting that the journey up here passed the notoriously heavily gate-camped systems of Ashab, Niarja and Madirmilire. Ashab in particular was on form. Anybody who leaves this sector to their autopilot systems is an idiot.

The Forge itself is far busier than our 'neck of the woods'; the sheer number of industrial facilities and orbitals is mind-boggling, even in the Jita system itself - as well as the trade hub there are 13 other stations there, which makes me wonder how that station in particular evolved into being the hub instead of one of the others, especially since its origin is military rather than commercial.

There are some celestials in the State with two or three stations in orbit around them. The Nonni system in Lonetrek has 22 stations in orbit around just six planets and is only 7 AU in diameter.

This is obviously the manifestation of the functioning of the Caldari State and it makes me feel like some sort of monosyllabic backwater hick who can't handle double-digit Locals.

The Forge is also full of incredibly vulnerable freighters all heading for Jita on 'roll-the-dice' suicide missions that the slathering hordes around the Jita undock are all looking to put their stamp on. Bowheads, Orcas, Charons, Obelisks, Providences etc. I saw them all. I safely avoided the slathering hordes of gankers too when I got to Jita, but that was probably only by dint of programming 'Instadocks' and 'Instawarps' into the navigation system and actively using them. There was double the number of capsuleers registered in the Local channel compared to Amarr.

The trade hub. The Capsuleer's Capital City Of New Eden:

The shattered dome icon near the hub - capsuleer anarchy. Surely all those metal fragments and detritus represent a Hazard To Navigation? 

Operating a Bowhead must be like steering an asteroid from the rear. All that space with just the small crew compartment aft. Imagine what it could do if you filled it with explosives?

By the time you read this I'll be back in Khanid. I wonder how long I've really been away, because now Darkness and TMA are 'blue' whereas before I left they were 'red'; the Khanid Coalition no longer exists and we are at war with Pandemic Horde. I'm not actually sure why though.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Interceptors Are Our Business And Business Is Good

I embraced the philosophy of the jump clone for the first time.

The principal, founding tenet of the capsuleer is the separation of mind from body: treating the body as merely a disposable vessel that carries the consciousness. If that body gets damaged or destroyed, just insert the consciousness into a new one and carry on.

The jump clone facility allows the capsuleer to maintain more than one vessel just as we all have a hangar with more than one spacecraft in it.

I was resistant to the idea of having more than one vessel for my mind, as I'd got used to the idea of there being more than one version of me consecutively, but having multiple iterations of me concurrently seemed like a passport to psychosis.


It's not like I'm inhabiting all of them at the same time with one mind in multiple bodies, like the opposite of schizophrenia. Also, having a bunch of exploration-focused cyberware in my head that is worth more than the GDP of half the provinces of Mishi IV had inadvertently made me risk-averse. I had become too comfortable with my 'back office' POS-maintenance role in what is actually a lowsec pirate alliance.

Then, one recent evening, in our corporation's comms channel, Nizzle Ma said: "Why don't you come on any of our roams?"

I couldn't, wouldn't, didn't want to get away with answering: "Because my head's too valuable and I don't want to get killed and besides you lot are always going on about doctrines that change every five minutes?"

Then the boss announced an upcoming interceptor roam. This I could do by using the jump clone which every other capsuleer does as a matter of course. I already had Infomorph Psychology (jump clone capability) on my training roster but had never used it. Interceptors were no big deal.

Fast forward a few days...

I now have two bodies. The expensive and intelligent one that can scan down relics-'n'-wormholes from light-years away in the blink of an eye, was now a void under stasis somewhere else. This unaugmented body that I was in now, a 'clean clone', technically a meathead and with a new willingness to do smack talk and take risks, was in Nandeza with a new Malediction, waiting to launch off to the deep nullsec of all points south of Khanid - Querious, Delve, Period Basis - in what is known as a small-gang roam. There was no fixed objective in mind, just the spreading of the word.

The word of Mortum Ravagers. We're here. In yo' face mo'fos 'n bitches of Southern Null. We comin' fo yo territory...

So, da crew: me, Tryce Jaor (FC/boss), Gettosmurf, Nizzle Ma, Marc Moonglow, nitereper, Gryndor, Serigil, MrTheGeoff and Sul Glass, all set off with fire in our hearts and a determination to not take any of it seriously. My job would be 'long point', otherwise known as the use of a Warp Disruptor module with 20 kilometres range. Maledictions are apparently very good at it. I on the other hand am not.

[Sidebar: quantum uncertainty produces some inconsistency in the generation of neuropathways in a new clone which can have personality-altering effects. None of the below was technically me. Or is that just an excuse to learn smack talk in Local?]

Delve and Querious

"a wretched hive of scum and villainy"
Nothing to report for the first few systems. Nothing even in the notorious choke-point/tollbooth of border system 1-SMEB. The interceptor routine: send someone through to scout. We dive in behind and fan out: check out asteroid belts and Cosmic Anomalies. Look for smug, complacent nullsec alliance fodder. Look for ratters, independents and 'neutrals'. Look for miners. Look for everybody.

There were a few brushes with possibility. Odds were weighed. Sometimes the strongest army elects to not fight.

In the meantime and during these fast-moving system scans, I found some extraordinary Covenant facilities. Predictable, since Delve and the OK-FEM region is the core territory of the Covenant, but I'd never seen anything like this before.

These non-standard stargates were something new too.

I lagged a system-or-two behind the crew a couple of times because of my compulsion to look at the scenery and document everything. The Cauldron, receding in my 'mirrors' with every stargate, was no bigger than my hand at this distance. The Cauldron is home, where my science-oriented and more sensible other body currently resided: the one that enjoys culture, fine ale, reads books without images in them, has a social conscience and is recreationally bi-curious with two women (Taltha in Conoban and Alisu on Mishi IV. You've read about them before). This body on the other hand, wants to drop 200 million ISK on a pair of those GDN-9 'Nightstalker' goggles that are so cutting-edge. This body wants to try boosters and insult people.

Eventually we tracked down a lone, unattended Mobile Tractor Unit. We shot it. It was a start.

We found a 'VNI' - a Vexor Navy Issue - trying to take down a Covenant facility. We rudely interrupted him and shot him.

Then we shot him again. He may have been 'afk' as he didn't seem to notice...

We moved on...

Period Basis

"It's not the end of the world, but you can see it from there..."

This is the region with one of the most southerly planetary systems in all of New Eden. The region extends out from the rest of the cluster like a swamp vine tendril. Its remoteness reminded me of something I'd read about during my time in Hedion University. An ancient expression: ultima thule. Something about 'the borders of the known world'.

Period Basis is also full of bubbles.

Warp Disruptor Bubbles: the visible manifestations of the over-inflated capsuleer ego that thinks it can outlive eternity. Newsflash: outside the capsule you're as mortal as any meathead. All I have to do is cap yo' ass in yo' sleep and you as dead as dead!

Then I got delayed again and arrived late to one of the parties in the form of this guy's capsule:

He had a lot of headware. This is exactly what I wanted to avoid.

Tryce found a target of opportunity in the form of a Prowler apparently chilling in orbit around Y-CWQY VI.

The Prowler's pilot had a cloaking device available to him, but he wasn't using it. Now he's chilling for good. A bio-tombstone. Orbiting frozen meat. Shame about the wasted planetary interaction equipment. A whole command center. Those skills!

Later, we negotiated the most committed of gate-camps using brilliant strategy and teamwork.

We evaded superior forces like ghosts -

  - and we reached the end of the stargate line in MVUO-F.


Now that I'm reporting on this roam from my other, more sensible augmented body, I can be more artistic and scientifically-literate about the experience.

There are other stars to the galactic south of Period Basis that are still within the gravitational bounds of the New Eden cluster, but they are few in number and not on the stargate network. We know virtually nothing about them except what we can discern through distant survey. Some may even be inhabited by an unknown pre-Dark Ages fragment of humanity that speaks no known language. There may be a generation ship inbound from one of them right now that is in for a hell of a shock when it eventually arrives somewhere like this and meets a capsuleer with a 'NBSI' policy.

This place is nothing like, for example, Domain with its warm, comforting and enveloping bronze nebula that you can barely see outside-of. Period Basis is also known for its high concentration of pulsars: ticking clocks that never slow down because their 'tick' is a lighthouse beam of deadly radiation emission. The Vapor Sea is the only lighthouse pointing the way back to civilisation. The Caroline's Star Remnant doesn't cover even a tenth as many arcseconds of diameter as it does from Vale of the Silent. The Cauldron is not even visible. This is the end of the road - the end of the world.

Pulsars are the product of core-collapse supernovae which also go on to form nebulae from which other stars are formed. Those ancient supernovae here in Period Basis may have triggered the formation of the New Eden cluster. We owe our existence to them.

* * *

Nandeza Or Bust - Last One Back Buys The Beers

We had set out in the full expectation of returning by way of hostile action and the pod express. Two of us ended the session as 'gate camp sacrifices' (because the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few), but the rest of us unexpectedly survived, which was actually inconvenient as we all had to get back to Nandeza in time to do mundane stuff like holovid boxset binges, do the laundry, clean the quarters and feed the fedos etc. etc.

On the way back to Khanid, Tryce experienced system malfunctions and fell behind, so the rest of us took refuge for a while in 'Barf's Burger Barn' in the C3N-3S system in Delve and waited for him to catch up. This station was under Freeport status as a result of its home system being contested, which, as it happens, is nothing new.

A bit of history: Barf's Burger Barn is actually a historic outpost as it was the focus of one of the biggest 'sov' battles in New Eden history during YC112. Incumbents Nulli Secunda and Southern Coalition fought Goonswarm Federation and Pandemic Legion for possession of this station among other system assets in a battle that involved capitals, Titans and up to 1,800 capsuleers. You can read about it on the EN24 service's archive.

In the interests of absorbing a bit of that history I would have taken a look around here, but time was against us so we docked in temporary berths and remained jacked-in. After Tryce caught up, we undocked and all went our separate ways in an informal race back to Nandeza.

At the notorious 1-SMEB border, I evaded a freshly-formed gate camp that wasn't there when we passed through two hours earlier (interceptors totally rule), and because I'd cocked-up my routing a couple of times in an attempt to program 'avoidance systems' into the nav system, it was actually me that was the last ship back to Nandeza.

Beers were on me.

* * *


The reason why interceptor roams work is that they are the purest form of piracy - fast, nimble vessels that operate under no political agenda, and in small co-ordinated raiding parties seeking out targets of pure opportunity. This doctrine is exactly the same as the method used by those pirate ships that used to sail the seas of Athra. If you're an Amarrian you'll have read about them in school.

Furthermore, now I've left my sensation-seeking, 200-million-ISK-goggles-wearing gung-ho combat head in Nandeza and I'm back in my rational and sci-curious explorer head in Danera, I'm lobbying the boss to make interceptors our 'go-to' ship. Because they rule. I've also done some recruitment propaganda which you'll soon see on holo-boards, forums, station dock atriums and even your favourite trade hubs. Come down to Khanid and join us!

Finally, the jump clone has liberated me from risk-aversion and eliminated the need to crawl light-years across New Eden in order to do something. Now I can go to sleep in one place and wake up in another.

I think of it as taking a holiday from myself.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Outer Ring, Fountain, Shattered Planets

Thera dumped me into 33FN-P in the Wield constellation of the Outer Ring region - another place where I find the remoteness appealing. I don't know why it is that I favour places like this, light-years from the eternal noise of central cluster politics where the players may change but the game remains forever the same. Perhaps I've just answered my own question.

This system, like so many others throughout New Eden, features planets in highly-inclined orbits around the primary. It is supposed to be a fundamental tenet of astrophysics that the more extreme this kind of arrangement, the younger the system is on the universe's calendar because tidal interaction between bodies always results in the system being 'ironed out' over the aeons. The prevalence of these systems throughout the cluster is therefore a rough guide to the cluster's youth relative to the galaxy around it, which in turn indicates why we've never found any evidence of non-human advanced intelligence in the cluster in either the past or the present.

Outer Ring is where the ORE company originated from. The spectacular Cloud Ring nebula is prominent. During the time of 'day' I was there, it was also quiet with very little traffic or trade of any kind, but I don't know how normal that is for the region. I found a Serpentis Relic Site and decided to hack it, a process which, in null security space, is not good for my nerves. This site also featured a circle of equidistant asteroids with an Amarrian dome icon at its centre, which was unfathomable given this site was of Serpentis origin. Maybe those Gallente-born Serpentis corporatised drug pushers went completely crazy out here amid the isolation of null, seeing ghosts where there was nothing to see and appropriating the icons of other races in order to cling on to something. Anything. 

The hacking process: orbit the wreckage at 2,500 metres. Hack it as quickly as possible while looking at either Local or the directional scanner (or both) every few seconds. If someone new appears on either, get ready to move. If your instinct tells you to move, listen to it!
I successfully hacked every wreck, in part due to my headware being optimised for the task. I now had 33 million ISK's-worth of loot in my cargo hold and decided to set myself the challenge of routing back to Danera with it the long way, through the nullsec of Outer Ring and Fountain and the lowsec of Aridia. Just for the hell of it. Just to see if I could. What were the odds against me... 

After a few jumps I arrived in the 3HQC-6 system. This is one of the notorious 'shattered' systems that were all laid waste by simultaneous novae as part of the Seyllin Incident during 3/10/111. The ORE mining facility that was resident here in 3HQ was vaporised during the event, leaving no witnesses in a dead system. Humanity's tendency to memorialise is entirely absent here.

Wormholes, Anoikis, Thera (where I just came from), Sleepers, Caroline's Star, Drifters, cosmic mayhem and imperial assassinations all followed this event. Nothing in New Eden will ever be the same as it was before these planets had their surfaces stripped away by either coronal mass ejection or the rumoured Isogen-5 substance, or [insert favoured rumour here].

For all we know it could happen again tomorrow. None of us is safe anymore.

* * *

Later on I docked in our allies Lowsechnaya Sholupen's outpost in BYXF-Q in Fountain, called 'e6acpaHck'.

It was virtually deserted. I was the only ship docked at a facility where almost every sign or notice on-board was written in a non-Standard language, even the pod gantry's ship status displays.

I understood nobody (not that there were many to speak to), and although, despite the language barrier, it felt like a relatively safe harbour at the time - causing me to contemplate basing some stuff here for explorations - I checked it out on the DOTLAN service and found it had changed ownership five times during this year alone.

This is nullsec, where if you are cursed with a vivid imagination, the quietest systems become the most dangerous of all...