Prologue: Theology Council Tribunal station orbiting Zoohen III - 1900hrs
Signal Cartel is incredibly professional. The outwardly-informal, communal, inclusive, egalitarian and chilled-out vibe that the corporation projects externally, has a deep specialist knowledge of the craft of exploration at its core. Signal Cartel therefore manages the rare feat of walking the walk and talking the talk. Then there is the strict non-aggression ‘credo’ that is enforced by the velvet-glove/iron-fist policy of the boss, reformed pirate Mynxee. Flight data recorder telemetry aka the ‘killmail’ tells no lies and if you appear on one that is not your own, then it’s tea & biscuits with management. If you don’t believe me then check the feed below:
As well as access to an unparalleled knowledgebase, members also have access to hangars full of exploration-equipped frigates provided at the corporation’s expense and much more. This means we also act as an education and training facility for new capsuleers that is far more effective than the cookie-cutter syllabi of the basic training academies. Here in Signal it's all about the practical operational advice that does not appear in any instruction manual. Yet in no way does access to any of this resource imply an obligation in return. Members are entirely free to base themselves anywhere and do their own thing if they want to so long as they refrain from killing people, which is fine by me, because as I’ve said many times on this journal, I’m a lover, not a fighter.
I became a capsuleer for science: to learn, to discover, to see parts of the cluster that my long-dead baseline self would never have experienced.
This is why I fit right in here.
So I was excited when shortly after I joined Signal, management announced an expedition to the Devil’s Dig Site in The Forge. It would be a fleet exercise, focused on exploring and investigating an archaeological site in the Otitoh system that is known to contain evidence of human occupation of the cluster in the pre-Dark Ages epoch, possibly even pre-dating the collapse of the EVE Gate.
This was exactly what I joined Signal for: not just doing my own thing, but playing an active part. I signed up for the expedition immediately.
In the meantime, since I started operating from Zoohen I've found that having a base in an outlying system just a few light years away from the Fed means it is far easier to procure trashy holofeeds from across the border, even in this Theology Council station which conveniently does not have its own Censor.
It's easier because there is a Core Complexion station right here in Zoohen that receives the feeds direct, so thanks to corruptible comms engineers and several untidy hacks through that station into this one, I’ve got into this drama series from Impetus (who else?) called UUA Is So Far Away, about an exiled Jovian trying to return to his homeland but discovering that it no-longer exists; so it's got historical accuracy, existential crisis, philosophical quandary, a torrid love triangle and totally inaccurate science.
For my sins I was binge-watching the seventh series of this compulsive dreck when a familiar chime sounded the arrival of a message. New corp, new message. It was the Devil’s Dig Site Expedition Briefing from expedition leader Markus Vulpine.
This is what I mean about total professionalism:
After reading the briefing I decided to raise my game. I joined the ‘Hacker Wing’. I would bring another Anathema; not my regular Hayabusa, now docked in Thera, but a new, purpose-built Anathema. The comprehensive briefing ensured the liberating certainty of a known objective, so unlike a standard exploration/investigation fit where contingency is everything, with this operation there was no need for either a cloaking device, a suite of Scan Probes or a Data Analyzer, because we were hiding from nobody, we knew exactly where we were going and exactly what was there. I could specialize my ship’s fit around the required Relic Analyzer and the need for some armor tank against an expected hostile intervention from Rogue Drones known to inhabit the site. Even then, the Hacker Wing had at least ten combat-equipped vessels to call on as a defensive screen - the ‘DPS Wing’ - some of which would be battleships and Tech-III-class cruisers.
This would not be amateur night.
So I resolved to spend some time equipping the new ship (which would be named Hacker Republic), before starting the long transit to the Okkelen constellation in The Forge, where the fleet was due to assemble in a few days' time at the Lai Dai station orbiting Otitoh IV's tiny 500km-diameter moon.
I would have time to kill because I intended to arrive early, however from this Caldari megacorp station there was no way I was going to be able to receive Impetus broadcasts, so I couldn’t finish the seventh series of UUA Is So Far Away.
This was probably a good thing.
Part 1: Gods Walked Among Us
Two days later…
The expedition fleet assembled in the Lai Dai place. Some had rushed over here that afternoon from the first day of the SeyCon5 conference in the Seyllin system. All of top management were here and there were nearly 30 of us in total. The docking bay was a fabulous sight, with far more than its normal share of exotic ships that are designed to be neither seen nor heard, using the language of curiosity rather than death. I’ve seen a Nestor precisely once before and here there were two in one place. Several examples of the ubiquitous (to us) Astero, some Stratios, a Navy Omen, three Tengu and a Drake, and a ‘Logi Wing’ that was assigned to repair the Hacker Wing if any of us were attacked by the Drones. Conversely, my Anathema was the sole example of its type.
Unlike in Darwinism where a fleet departure time was always an abstract concept that was communicated to nobody until after Jzma and Mechoj had already left, here in Signal we had a precise zero-hour and we damn-well stuck to it. At the exact appointed time we undocked from the Lai Dai station and assembled at a pre-determined safe-spot elsewhere in the system.
[sidebar: it was good to see Kobura Juraxxis in this fleet. He won’t remember, but a year ago I crossed paths with Kobura somewhere in Cobalt Edge and we did comms in an otherwise empty Local channel for a while. This is how I knew about Signal Cartel back then, and how I knew it was meant to be.]
At this staging point we finalised briefings, at least four of us took some cam drone stills and we set up the live broadcast feed (!) for the rest of the corporation to tune into from afar. Then we set off for the site. Being part of a fleet, this was where I got a chance to see the new instantaneous vector symbology at work on tactical, which is another of those mandatory capsuleware upgrades that fall into the category of 'solutions in search of a problem'. At least it looks nice.
The nominal entrance to the Devil's Dig Site was where the baseliner scientists, academics and archaeologists live in those standardised hab modules you see all over the place. They appeared to be guarded by Caldari warships who didn’t see fit to bother us, probably because it wouldn’t have lasted long (for them).
We briefed some more while slowboating over to the acceleration gate at the site entrance, then we hit a point-of-no-return. This was it: it was on.
When we activated the gate and warped to the first part of the Devil’s Dig Site itself, we split up as briefed and the Hacker Wing got to work. There were a large number of artifacts to investigate. A couple of times I got to the required distance from an artifact and discovered somebody else was already hacking it, so that wasted some time, but I found one eventually and went through the usual drill with the Relic Analyzer. All of this while under constant threat of attack from hostile Rogue Drones.
These were difficult hacks that were full of restoration nodes, and I thanked God that I’d had the foresight to fit Hacker Republic with an Emission Scope Sharpener modification otherwise I would not have completed them.
The artifact I found contained the expected evidence indicating this site’s builders were the Talocan civilization, which dates this site to at least 15,000 years-old. This site in Okkelen was where the first evidence of this pre-Dark Ages civilization was ever discovered; a civilization that is now suspected - believed - to have attained a higher level of technological achievement than we have now, even surpassing the Jove, and going on to inhabit Anoikis an unbelievably long time before we ever found it by accident.
You’ve heard the rumours about what Anoikis is; the feeds about Caroline’s Star; wondered what all those Talocan structures are doing in Thera and elsewhere in Anoikis; the arguments, theories, papers about not only what Anoikis is, but where it is and when it is. Anoikis was manufactured they say. Anoikis is New Eden in the future, they say. Caroline’s Star was no accident of nature they say. The spacetime metric in Anoikis was modified by the Talocan to suit their purposes they say. The Talocan could remake the universe in their image. The Talocan are Gods and we are not fit to look upon their likenesses.
Rumours, not answers.
If I’d had more time - with less external risk - to riff on the significance of these objects being tractored into Hacker’s hold, I think I might have put them back. I have some small-scale Talocan stuff in my own collection of hangar artifacts along with Sleeper Data Libraries and other related, incredibly ancient and utterly inscrutable relics. Sometimes it scares me. I look at the alien symbols on them and I swear they say don't get too close because you are not yet ready for the truth.
Then again, my own ship contains tech derived directly from relics appropriated from this location. The databases classify the object I retrieved from here as a ‘Solid Atomizer‘, which is used in the production of cloaking devices. I’m already flying around with Talocan tech. What kind of explorer-scientist would I be if I didn’t follow this experiment through to its conclusion?
While I was once again taking a cosmic perspective, the Hacker Wing cleared this part of the site with no failed hacks and a complete take, but sadly, Cali Estemaire’s Catalyst got the full focus of the Drones’ attention and was destroyed before the rest of the fleet could intervene. We knew that the Drones would deploy this focus tactic at some point so we were ready for it, but now the DPS Fleet was one ship down.
After clearing this section, the rest of us gathered our composure, made repairs, recharged, re-briefed, and got ready for the core of the Devil’s Dig Site. To her eternal credit, Cali stayed on the field in her capsule and did some media when she had every right to leave the site.
Part 2: The Ancient Temple and the Sun Reader Monolith
We warped into the site’s centre and saw for ourselves how the ancient Talocan temple based here has been desecrated and transformed into a monstrous Drone Hive. There were even more hackable artifacts here with correspondingly greater opposition from the Drones, which one must assume have all learned to adapt and absorb the Talocan tech into their own architecture. What in Divinity's Edge will eventually emerge from that obnoxious mashup?
This part of the site is also the location of the ‘Sun Reader Monolith’. There is, to our knowledge, precisely one other example of this bizarre structure in the whole of New Eden: the monolith in the Dead End system more than 30 light years away in Genesis. There are known to be considerably more of them in Anoikis. The monoliths emit nothing, reflect everything EM including visible light and are, to us and our tech, essentially gigantic dead mirrors. I was sad that I didn’t get chance to view this one close-up because I was so busy hacking and busy not getting killed, but then if I had, who knows what it might have done to me?
The scientific principle of the simplest-explanation-being-the-truth would dictate that the Sun Reader Monolith is also of Talocan construction given that it is co-located with the ancient temple. It could be anything: a monument, a tomb, a nav beacon or even a transit conduit of some kind, and if it is, can it be activated? Would anybody want to? Where the hell would it lead to? To the other monolith in Dead End? To Anoikis where the others are? To wherever the Talocan went? Did they transcend themselves out of this reality into one of their multiple dimensions of hypereuclidian mathematics?
Maybe the monolith is just an inert lump of material, taunting humanity’s dislike of an information vacuum. Maybe seeing this thing from afar means I just became a more ardent believer in the Old Earth Myth. The implications of this place, its contents, and the ancient, long-extinct culture that built it here are that our civilization is playing around in somebody else's house. One day its owners might return and take it back.
Sometimes I get scared by this career path I chose. Possession of knowledge requires responsibility.
As before, the DPS Wing drew the attention of the cruiser-sized Drones and kept them away from the hackers, although one of the Drones got within 6km of me - thank God for the Anathema’s low observability and signature otherwise, even with armor hardeners, I would have been toast. The hack during this phase was more difficult and took three attempts to get through another forest of restoration nodes. I may even have been the last of us to finish the operation, which meant for a short time I had every defensive ship in the fleet watching my back, which was nice.
By the end of the operation we had successfully hacked every single artifact. A 100% success rate, with just one ship lost to the Drones. With more Drones arriving on the grid, we wasted no more time and returned to the safe-spot outside the site.
Part 3: The Aftershow Party
As is usual when I visit scientifically-important places, I left the Devil's Dig Site with more questions than I'd arrived with, and with answers to none.
What were you?
Where are you?
On the other hand, a fleet of ships in one place is always an impressive sight.
Time for a post-op photo op:
Then we invoked the standard post-op fireworks procedure:
We returned to the Lai Dai place and docked with the collective satisfaction of a job well done: our raid on the Devil’s Dig Site was a resounding success, a testament to sound planning and perfect execution. The whole thing took less than an hour too. A speed hack in every sense.
Hacker Republic had performed perfectly. I was never targeted even once by any of the Drones, not even during that close pass. Covert Ops ships are awesome.
So are fleet warps:
We even laid down some more fireworks outside the Lai Dai station. This is why the Zkillboard service - that ceaseless accountant of competitive killing - rates Signal Cartel as 98% Snuggly.
Some of us (including me) stayed at Lai Dai and didn’t leave the Otitoh system until the next morning, with the safe knowledge that capsule neuroembryonic fluid cures hangovers. A few of us left immediately to head straight back to Seyllin for day two of SeyCon5. Some more left for parts as-yet unknown.
We don’t hang around. We only look forward.
Because the explorer's path never ends.
Because you can’t stop the signal.