“May you live in interesting times”Unknown - Jovian Historical Codex
Since joining Signal Cartel I’ve been mostly tied up moving some of my stuff to the Theology Council Tribunal station that orbits Zoohen III and serves as one of Signal’s bases. It’s been educational: I never realised how familiar I was with Khanid. I could recite the name of practically every system in Khanid and recite the names of pipe systems in order of transit in either direction. Now I’m up here in the Genesis region, in the northern borders of the Empire and it’s like pressing the reset button as none of it is familiar.
|ZOOHEN III - THEOLOGY COUNCIL TRIBUNAL STATION aka THE ZOO|
I’ve quickly realised that the Zoohen system was a very wise choice by Signal, as this part of Genesis is close to the borders of five different regions as well as the more significant border with the Fed itself, so there is huge operational (and cultural) variety available within a short travel time.
In fact 'Zoo' is just three jumps from the Fed, so I have available, if I want it, the gigantic culture shock of going from Signal's office in an ultra-orthodox Amarr Theology Council station with its thought police, slave-whippings and its church-on-every-floor design; to the neon lights of Federation stations across the border, where I’m fully exposed to the Gallente and their militarised version of liberalism (“we can do whatever we like and you have to let us or else...”).
This also means that unless I'm in one of my more neutral ships, I take the risk inherent to docking in a Fed station, in Fed territory, in an obviously-Amarr vessel and, if I'm not extra-careful, walking around its interior wearing traditional Amarrian dress; otherwise I can expect judgemental glances from meathead Fed baseliners who will regard me as a tight-arsed Amarrian who needs to spend a week in one of their 'Pleasure Hubs', when little do they know that as a Ni-Kunni woman I could run one of those places better than they could.
As it happens I do actually prefer Gallente stations on the whole because they're into wide-open spaces which triggers my ancestral memories of the deserts of Mishi IV, but that institutionalised Gallente tendency to prioritise self-gratification above all-else starts to grate after a day or two. I'm not prudish - far from it - but there's a ritualistic elegance to be observed with that sort of thing.
In fact I don't know how the Fed get anything done because of their obsession with leisure.
I'm digressing again...
Anyway it's not that big a deal, because as Empyreans we're supposed to be above this sort of thing.
Supposed to be.
Far more interesting is that 'Zoo' is in an area of space where there are a number of historically-significant star systems that have been host to some of the most seismic shifts in New Eden politics. Orvolle is nearby (where the recent CONCORD/Upwell deal was signed), so is Villore (home of the Villore Accords group and their Assembly), so is the notorious death trap of Old Man Star; Luminaire isn’t far and even the New Eden system is a mere afternoon’s jaunt.
My father used to go on about how much better it was in the 'Yulai days' when he'd spend ages in his study, staring at volumetric holographs of the commodities trading he specialized in (some of the proceeds of which sent me to Hedion University). He'd manipulate prices and market orders with his hands and to the eight-year-old me it was like watching a magician. The volumetric display would emerge from a device beneath a wide, sunken pit in the floor of his study. I used to stand in it and let the numbers and graphs and squiggly-line things trawl across my face. This used to wind him up, so naturally I did it as often as possible.
Later, I remember how my father went on for months when Jita emerged as the dominant market hub, and how he visibly mourned when Yulai’s stargate ‘superhighways’ were shut down in YC107. This was still a few years before I entered Hedion University.
He would rail against “those damned money-grabbing Caldari corporate bastards who think they can take it all with them. They have no understanding of the artistry of a trade. The ritual of it. A successful trade - a transaction - is a ritual. The longer it takes, the more satisfactory it is. A week is an absolute minimum. Back in the Yulai days…”
You’ll have noticed that Ni-Kunni are very big on ritual.
Prior to the stargate thing and when Yulai was still prominent, my mother disappeared for a month in accordance with the Ni-Kunni Mourning Ritual when two of her brothers were killed during the Yulai Siege in YC106, when their hauler was caught in Yulai by the rogue fleet of smartbombing battleships that a notorious capsuleer group used to blockade the system in defiance of CONCORD. The Yulai Siege is also how I learned that my father’s business interests included a low-level smuggling operation into the Fed from Syndicate and Placid, as his brothers-in-law were in the middle of a run when they were killed. Yulai was crucial to this quasi-legal operation as the system is only a handful of jumps from Syndicate and Placid, both conduits to the wild west and the frozen north. This event caused a temporary but substantial rift between my parents after my mother returned from her ritual, and I know - although they rarely admit it - they almost divorced over it. It was a difficult period.
You would think an event like the Yulai Siege and its impact on my family would have had automatic negative consequences for my ambitions as a capsuleer (which had not yet formed back then because I was only 15), but they didn’t. My father’s business interests were only affected for a short time by either the deaths of his two brothers-in-law during the Yulai Siege or by the system’s later decline in importance as a trade hub. We Ni-Kunni adapt as per our primary hereditary trait.
In fact as Jita assumed its dominance, his business did better than ever because of the Empire’s alliance with the Caldari and their capitalist fervour, which saw my father conveniently set aside his prejudice against ‘those money-grabbing corporate bastards', because, as he would put it, "Adapt or die Cassie, adapt or die, because back in the Yulai days…"
* * *
So with this family connection to Yulai in mind, I took some time out from the hauling and logistics and flew the short distance from 'Zoo' over to Yulai in The Aridia Express. As soon I arrived in the system I found that today, the Yulai system is a shadow of its former self in terms of activity, with only a handful of capsuleers in the Local channel and not much else.
Those capsuleers were probably all here to see the same thing I was.
The Yulai system may be diminished as a market, it may still be politically as important as it ever was, but there is also a dark side to it in the form of the Yulai Graveyards site. This is another mass of starship wreckage that, like the Mekhios Graveyard at Sarum Prime III and the Kor-Azor Battle Site orbiting Eclipticum, all represent the aftermath of the same event: the Elder War of YC110. In Yulai’s case it was the Minmatars’ successful attempt to shut down CONCORD while trying to headshot the Amarr Empire and liberate all the Matari slaves within it.
The fierce battle that took place here in Yulai resulted in dozens of wrecks and a destroyed station. Wrecks on both sides too, with CONCORD battleships rendered inert where they are supposed to be infallible. It escalated when the Matari - Thukkers - brought dreads through an illegal cynosural beacon and it became a Dread Ball. Records show the whole exchange lasted less than fifteen minutes.
CONCORD was defeated. This site is a monument to a defeat. To an organisation that is so impenetrably secretive and arguably hubristic, there isn't much logic in that.
I crept around this 'monument' in Express for a while and took some cam drone stills as the blue giant of Yulai itself painted its cold, judgemental, hard ultraviolet wash over everything. Why do blue giant stars seem so cold when they are among the hottest of the hot?
The Matari dread wreckage was just the shrapnel that it is (because since when is a Matari vessel anything other than a collection of organised shrapnel?). The CONCORD ships appeared mostly intact; some even still evidently under some sort of internal power. Batteries? After eight years? There were no life signs - why would there be?
The derelict station over a hundred kilometres from the wrecks is further visible proof of CONCORD's moment of defeat; the station bisected - decapitated - by the Matari fleet. Thousands died in here, and out there.
For what? The Elder War ultimately failed (Jamyl!), and the status quo was preserved.
A Catalyst showed up here while I inspected the derelict station, so even though it was a hundred kilometres away, I left the field because the 'C-word' tends to trigger an automatic response (call it Explorer's Instinct). I decided to get right to the heart of it all and flew over to the CONCORD Inner Circle station - the new one - and docked in it.
The lack of capsuleer activity in-system meant that Express was the only non-CONCORD vessel in the Inner Circle station’s docking bay. After I unjacked from the pod and cleaned up, I took a walk along the viewing galleries and tried to examine the Jove-influenced spindly battleship-sized vessels up close - I’d never been this close for this long, and if you are ever this close, it’s usually because you’ve done something wrong and are about to be shown the error of your ways, which is down to that peculiarity of CONCORD doctrine where they’re into punishment rather than prevention, which is how gate camps proliferate like they do. Why does that doctrine never evolve? Why does CONCORD never comment on the Drifters? Why is CONCORD content to maintain a status quo rather than moving to shut down edgelords like CODE? Remember the bit about the 'Yulai Convention' in the pro-forma standard wardec notifier? This station is where it came from.
It was the earlier Yulai Siege that led to the ‘Jove Upgrade’ that manifests in CONCORD’s vessels today and their ability to one-shot anything - which did them no good in YC110 - along with the ability to insta-warp anywhere in a system in seconds apparently without recourse to the combat scan probes that we Empyreans are stuck with. What is that tech? Why can't we have it?
By looking at these ships with my own eyes instead of through the filtering firmware of cam drones, I realised that it’s true that their colour - that green/black combo - appears to shine as if it’s wet when it can’t possibly be so. It’s like you can’t bear to look at them for too long lest it induce nausea, like your brain can’t process the colour properly. Given the amount of Jovian influence on these ships, I have to assume they are also largely automated and crewed by a single capsuleer, unlike mainstream ships of similar size.
Given the Jovian influence, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if CONCORD ships were in fact piloted by a transhumanised disembodied brain in a jar; a brain with a serial number instead of a name, the serial number of the ship itself. Ship and brain merged into one. Maybe not even a brain but an uploaded mind like everybody says the Sleepers are. Capsuleer tech came from the Jove, and a brain in a jar is the ultimate evolution of the capsuleer - the non-corporeal clone-free endgame. Is this where we’re going? Is this why the Society of Conscious Thought have assumed the Jove’s seat in CONCORD? That seat - those Inner Circle seats - are right here somewhere in this station, with its humourless white strip lights, airless corridors painted in Standard Government Sterile, nameless doors, proscribed no-go areas and no shops. None. Not even a café. No Fed Mart, no nothing.
All those conspiracy theorists who allege that CONCORD is the visible part of a collective that steers humanity’s evolution from the shadows of Anoikis by maintaining that status quo that I‘ve referred to above: they may have a point. I may be about to join their ranks.
If you try to speak to any of the suits in here, their faces go blank for a fraction of a second, as if their answer is being puppeteered to them from elsewhere.
It's the CONCORD party line: "No comment".
A baseliner wouldn’t notice it; it’s only my headware that gives me the enhanced intuition that makes it detectable. One might say it’s also made me totally paranoid, but think about what’s happened over just the last few months: the Society of Conscious Thought becoming part of the Inner Circle; the formation of the Upwell Consortium from out of nowhere and the ultra-rapid development of Citadels; the thing with the Fed vs. the Serpentis Corporation and the stolen tech that has burst out into the open this last couple of weeks, with militant Caldari groups that may or may not be getting in on it; the legalisation of combat boosters. Have I missed anything?
Somewhere on this station is an event horizon behind which exists smoke-filled rooms where bribes, backhanders, secret deals, favours, plots and machinations are formalised. CONCORD is about as clean as a fedo burrow cluster.
There are two New Edens: ours, and the one inside this station where the members of the Inner Circle sit around a table and speak to each other without actually speaking. I don't believe for a second that The Scope is truly independent now either. There's no such thing. In New Eden, every man/woman has their price.
All this calm and peace and tranquility here in Yulai is deceptive. A storm is brewing all around it and the most significant event of all is yet to come: Empress Catiz Tash-Murkon's coronation.
Later on, as I prepped Express to leave and head back to 'Zoo', I messaged my father about the superficial lack of activity in Yulai in the modern era and his reply began with: “Back in the Yulai days…”