Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Conflux: Pulsar

Lately a pattern has emerged with the 'Unidentified Wormholes' that we all know lead to the five systems in Anoikis that are occupied by the Drifter faction. The pattern is that two of those wormholes have started to appear in any given system in New Eden at the same time.

It's explorer heaven.

Last night I found two of them in Dimoohan in Khanid. One led to the Sentinel complex, the other to the Conflux complex. There was nothing in either of them that hadn't already been documented extensively by others: destroyed planets, Sleeper objects, Artemis Tyrannos etc.

The Conflux complex in J200727 is overseen by an extremely active pulsar. Never mind what else was happening in this system, the pulsar and its irregular pattern of visible emissions detained me for ages. I couldn't take my eyes off it - eyes that hard radiation would have burned out if I'd regarded the pulsar through anything other than the filtering algorithms of camera drones.

As always I get into thinking about implications and possibilities. It is not clear whether the pulsar and this system's A0 blue giant are a binary pair. Since pulsars are neutron stars, and since neutron stars are only ever formed from core-collapse supernovae, then this pulsar is visible proof that whatever event destroyed this system's planets was not the most violent thing that ever happened here.

It is often the case that the most beautiful objects in space are the most deadly.

Do not look directly upon the demon.

Monday, 11 January 2016

The Ni-Kunni Capsuleer Development Foundation

1.1.118. Drinking establishment in a side-street off Avenue Of The Water Barons in the city of Grava-Kunstler, on Mishi IV

Year Crossing is celebrated in a number of ways across New Eden. For me, I went planetside, back to the homeworld, my adopted home town and my apartment. Alisu even went to the trouble of abandoning her own obligations during this festival - her famous artist husband and his entourage - in order to join me, which I was really pleased about.

We were sat in the corner of a bar, partly to shelter from the abysmal weather outside. A planet without axial tilt or elliptical orbit is seasonless; but Mishi IV generates most of its climate from internal heat through tidal interaction with its single moon and the system's other planets.

A rotating planet has diurnal variation of temperature and therefore weather. The oceans, artificially-created by the Ancestors during the pre-Dark Ages era as a terraforming attempt, generate weather just like they do on any other planet: heat causes evaporation, water vapour builds up and moves inland somewhere because the thermal ascent of air masses over the tundra causes a vacuum at the surface that must be filled, and eventually one of the 'seasonal' storms occurs: massive cyclonic systems that dominate the hemisphere and release torrential downpours of the morbidly salty ocean water that eventually becomes part of this planet's economy (you know where Aridian Black Salt comes from, right?.

I saw this latest storm from orbit when I arrived here in The Aridia Express two days previously. It was sat right over the top of Grava-K.

The storm was still active when I reached Grava after the requisite 41 hours transit time from my hangar at Mishi VIII (non-warp-capable transatmospheric shuttle etc.). The storms take days to work through, then that's it for rainfall for about eight months because on a seasonless planet, nothing changes quickly, then it happens again.

So from the safety and warmth of the small side-street bar that Alisu and I were sat in, the soundtrack from the band in the corner carried a background hiss caused by the heavy rain splashing on the tiled pavement outside and forming small streams in the concave drainage channel carved into its centre. What few people there were outside studiously avoided going near it while running for shelter. What few children there were still out at this hour after dark, joyfully ran down the centre of it, kicking its contents all over everybody else they saw. The drainage channel stream reflected and distorted the image of the multi-coloured neon sign above the entrance to this place in a manner that made its name resemble another word entirely: a Caldanese swear word. Knowing Alisu's artist set as I did, one of whom owned this bar, I expected that was fully intentional.

Bar name as art installation, visible only a few nights a year.

The night after Year Crossing should have seen a seamless continuity of partying, but the weather had made most of the lightweights call time early. Servitor drones wheeled around the bar's floor instead of the servile, Vitoced-up Minmatar you would find in establishments like this on worlds closer to the core i.e. anywhere east of Aridia. At the centre of that floor was a fountain that was symbolically dry; something to do with respect for the rarity of usable water on this planet. In contradiction, there was no shortage of booze and chai though. Equally incongruously, there was a large fish mounted on the wall that had been subjected to an averagely-skilled taxidermy, a plaque underneath it announcing that this was the largest fish ever caught in the saline seas of Mishi IV; seas that should be devoid of life altogether but for an evolutionary quirk involving blood and acid or something or other.

The rest of the patrons in here were unambiguously middle-class Ni-Kunni: women not wearing the traditional veils because the sun had set an hour earlier, and men with weather-worn faces that betrayed lifetimes of forging a living out of the planet's deserts. Here among this crowd was me, the conditionally-immortal capsuleer, and Alisu, whose father was a Holder which made her a noblewoman, socially-outranking everyone in the city. Not that you would notice given her understated dress tonight. A keen-eyed observer might notice the self-assuredness with which she conducted herself, a trait unique to those on this planet exempt from an economic bottom line, but in here, tonight, that didn't matter.

31.12.117. 21:35 hrs.

The previous night - Year Crossing itself - we'd met in my apartment again. Alisu had redecorated it in the sparse style of a temple while I was away and without me asking her to. Alisu later commented on the extraordinary smoothness of my skin while we were in bed.

"I should confess something", I'd said. I could have just told her a lie of convenience about some new formula of neuroembryonic fluid.
"Remember me telling you about jump clones?" I said.
"I'm in one now. That baby-smooth skin you're talking about is a by-product of regeneration."

Alisu hesitated and raised an eyebrow at me as if I had just arrived by materialising before her as a ghost. She followed this inquiry by sweeping her hair away from her eyes as if to get a better look at me.

"You're a clone. I know how it works," she said. Just then, as she rolled off me, the golden light of the magic sunset hour flooding in from the slatted blinds in the window to our right, fell upon her body in a manner that made me never want to leave this place. Alisu was awesome. She was a walking work of art. She had an elaborate vine tattoo that went the full length of her right leg, up around her back and ended at her left shoulder, and every inch of it was on display right now, in the evening light, where it occurred to me that Alisu had planned this - that she'd redecorated my apartment in order to place herself at the centre of this tableau of her own design. Her famous artist husband had done the tattoo himself and signed it in a signature small enough to be invisible unless you knew where to look. I wasn't sure whether his signature was a statement of ownership. I was appalled by that possibility because of all that it implied about Amarrians.

I continued with the thread of confession I'd started: "This time I travelled to Chibi from Danera by jump clone -"
"I love it when you talk shop."
"- and I travelled from Chibi to Mishi in my Astero."
"So? You're here."
"I mean I'm in a different body from the one you saw every time before."
"I wish I could do that," she said. She started looking me up and down as if making mental notes. "I could get up to all sorts of trouble, and travelling around this planet takes so damn long these days, and I could renew my body every six months, change all my tattoos, and -"
"Are you saying you're not concerned about, you know, the religious, or metaphysical aspects of it?"
Alisu propped her head up on her elbow and laughed.
"Oh come on, you know I hardly practice, and when I do it's just for show like the rest of them. All of them. This jump clone thing is no different from what you already do. Besides, I've told you before I find you capsuleers fascinating. You're not the only capsuleer I've met you know - my own brother, remember? The 'Goon', you called him. You know half the people in this city would worship you as a goddess if they knew what you did for a living. All you have to do is show them what's on the back of your neck."

She was referring to the upper cervical socket at the base of my skull. The one that would be visible if I didn't wear high-collared outfits outside. I hide the visible manifestations of my status because I come here to immerse and be indistinct.

I should have changed the subject. "No well the reason I brought that up is because my mother only recently started talking to me again after about eight months, because she couldn't handle the idea of her daughter not being dead when the body she gave birth to doesn't exist anymore."
"That's awful. That's actually some twisted logic. You'd think she'd be extravagantly grateful for her daughter's inability to be die. Your immortality."
"Yeah well it's all resolved now thanks to my father's insistence. Only now though, after I've been doing this for a year."
"Good. That's good. "
"I just thought it might come between us. Between this."
Alisu smiled. "No way."
There was no point in arguing with her. Ni-Kunni women are neither reticent nor prudish. I had underestimated Alisu again, and was about to do so a third time.
She got out of bed, walked over to the wall, and retrieved bottles from a shelf. She carried them back to the bed conspiratorially.
"What are they?" I asked.
"They're oils. Your friend Taltha told me what she uses on you when you regenerate. She sent some bottles of it by way of a friend of a friend who was passing this way. The shuttle brought them in the mail from VIII. Now turn over."
In a reflexively-indignant manner, I asked her: "How the hell did you know about Taltha?"
"I read your journal that you publish for all to see, remember? How many Dr Taltha Romeros do you think there are in the clone bay in Hedion University? I contacted her. We had quite the chat."
This was another example of how Ni-Kunni women can get anybody to agree to anything. There was no way Taltha would normally tolerate the idea of me being with someone else, because she's a True Amarr and occasionally behaves as such. The next time I regenerated in Taltha's clone bay in Conoban would be an interesting experience and potentially combative...
Alisu returned to the bed and said: "Right then, turn over."
I did as she said and replied: "Yeah, OK, well, just don't get any of that stuff in my implants."

An hour later, Alisu said offhandedly and incidentally: "This new body of yours tastes different."


* * *

1.1.118. 19:54 hrs.

In the bar, the next night. The same night as when this journal started. Our reunion of last night's Year Crossing had given way to the risk of becoming a couple. That wasn't part of the plan at all...

We'd asked one of the servitor drones to deliver every form of chai on the menu at twenty minute intervals and to send the bill to Alisu's husband. We sat listening to the band in the corner for most of the time. They weren't much good, but everybody appeared polite and tolerant. I put my datapad on the table next to an empty bong a previous customer had left there and which still smelled of the house specialty.

The datapad chimed occasionally with a message from the Trident mailing list our alliance used. More News From Khanid Again. Capsuleer stuff. Doctrines, fits, yada, yada, yada. Which alliance was I actually in this week?  More fights, A2-V27, Gehi, Pandemic Horde or Legion or whichever it was. Something about 'r64'.The failed nullsec roam of last month (last year?) and my solo dash back to Khanid through the worst parts of southern null seemed a lifetime ago. Another clone, another lifetime.

A ground car splashed to a stop outside in the rain. It was a taxi. Three people got out of it and pushed each other through the bar's front door. They looked like students. A loud crash announced them as their chaotic arrival knocked over a servitor drone. Glass, beer, chai and people scattered everywhere. For a moment a fight looked imminent.

Another notification arrived on my datapad telling me the corporate dividend was in.
"Hey, I'm a billionaire now!" I blurted out.
One of the women on the table next to us turned and looked at me. Ooops.
Alisu raised a curious eyebrow at me again: "Interstellar Kredits?"
"That means you're the wealthiest person on this planet by a factor of about five, right?"
"ISK means nothing planetside Ali. All I can do with it is buy space stuff with it."
"So? Convert it into hard currency. Give me some of it." As she said this she winked at me.
"Actually I was thinking about how I might give some of it away. I've been thinking about this for a while. It's not like it's all I'll ever have. What do I need a billion ISK for?"
"Invest it here? You'd become a goddess twice over. They'd name cities after you. As long as you get it past the Kador Family and the Ministry of Internal Order. Actually the amount of bureaucracy there - they don't like change and they don't like people stealing their thunder. I don't think the Kador bunch would notice though."
"No. Not here. I'm talking about other Ni-Kunni out there in space."
"The Solitude Enclave?"
"You've heard of them?"
"Of course."
"Something I did think about was the Body Resculpting Certificate."
"What's that?"
"It allows a one-time regeneration in a body with different features that you determine beforehand, and that becomes your new clone from then on."
"You can change your appearance?"
"Yeah. I thought about changing gender. Becoming male for a year or two, just to see what it's like."
"That could be interesting", she leant towards me and whispered: "Very interesting." Alisu was only thinking about sex. 
So was I.
"Actually I don't think they let you change gender," I said, "- which is odd given that capsuleers were a Jovian invention and that lot are genderless hermaphrodite freaks."
"- and hairless", Alisu said.
I looked at the wall momentarily and imagined the image of the mythical Miko Bour staring back at me: Bour, the archetypal Jovian and the only Jovian anyone actually knows anything about.
Alisu said "Why is it that in every image of a Jovian you ever see, they all wear black? How boring."

I momentarily drifted off into making mental notes involving a plan to explore the Curse region, the seat of the Second Jove Empire. The Heaven Constellation and the Utopia system being at the epicentre of this fading legend. I could pre-position the Astero nearby then jump-clone into it at the right time. It should be teeming with undiscovered Jove relics - even after all this time - that would look great on my shelf back at Danera IV; my growing souvenir shelf that currently features, among other ephemera, the grotesque, burned and flash-frozen head of a Covenant 'Foreman' in a jar; the distilled, orange capillary fluid of a rogue drone in an ornamental glass flask with a large rubber stopper in it to prevent what is essentially the drone's cyber-blood and the nanites within it from getting out; a box full of Sleeper cruiser shrapnel that is of a colour that there is no word to describe (the colour of Anoikis...); a copy of the hilarious comic 'Max Amarria'; an example of the -
 "Hello?", Alisu rapped her knuckles on my head. "You were away again. You were out there weren't you?"
"Sorry Ali, pardon? What were you saying?"
"Tell me more about this plan of yours to divest yourself of your wealth in the manner of a saintly benefactor. Are you going to just hand it out on the street or in stations?"
"No. Other capsuleers. About twice per month I have cause to return to Hedion University in Conoban. Or at least pass nearby. It's only slightly more than a year since I graduated from there but I see all those rookies undocking in their Impairors and there's a form of pathos about it. I think about how awesomely inexperienced they all are - how inexperienced I was - and how some of them go on to quit because their expectations and, I don't know, the burden of reality I suppose. There's an inequality."
"Why would you quit after all that training?"
The servitor arrived with another shipment. Right on time. I think by now we were both somewhat tipsy. The band in the corner had finished their set and now the ignored full-height holovid on the wall had regained people's attention. The news was the weather interspersed with Year Crossing clips from places other than Aridia. The bulk of it was centred around Dam-Torsad on Amarr because it was Amarr Certified News.

I turned back to Alisu and said: "So I'm thinking of hanging out there and anonymously donating moderate amounts of ISK to capsuleers that identify as Ni-Kunni rookies. Only us, mind. And only for a limited period of time too."
"How much?" Alisu said.
"A few million. Maybe ten or twenty. Too much would blow their minds and lead them down a path to indolence. Laziness. ISK should still be earned, Ali. You should still die a few times for it."
Alisu looked at me like she still didn't quite believe that I clone myself and have done so multiple times, despite what she'd seen the previous night and all those nights beforehand. Despite it being damned well obvious because it just was. Did she not believe me? Did she not take me seriously?
"What will you call it, this thing you want to do?" she said.
I thought about this for a moment, then it came to me in a flash: "The Ni-Kunni Capsuleer Development Foundation."
Alisu stood, turned to the rest of the bar and shouted: "Here's to the N-KCDF!"
She raised her glass. Nobody batted an eyelid. At least two people were still engaged in clearing up the mess from the fallen servitor.
She tried again by shouting: "I SAID, HERE'S TO THE N-KCDF!"
A wet, heavy cloth flew through the air at her and she caught it. It had come from the guy behind the bar who knew Alisu well enough to get away with shouting at her to shut up.
She laughed and returned to her seat.

N-KCDF sounds like a nullsec system designator. Perfect

Alisu leaned in towards me again. "You can stay for a few more days, right?"
I looked down at my glass and saw, in the still liquid within it, a window into the unending bickering of alliance politics. It never bloody ends. Ever. It's all based around property and 'kills', yet none of them seem perturbed by the essential truth that there is no victory without a defeat, and when nobody dies, nobody is defeated. Thus the cycle repeats indefinitely without resolution.

At that moment a collective groan sounded out across the bar. I looked at the giant wall-filling holovid opposite, which was showing a news report on how the storm we were enduring had reached Mishi IV's sole spaceport, so flights off-planet were grounded for the duration - which would be at least three more days.
I leaned in towards Alisu, took hold of her hand and spoke softly:
"Yes, Ali. I can stay as long as you like..."