Monday, 8 August 2016

Southern Null and the Wreck of Steve

Prologue: Back At The Zoo

So I eventually returned safely from Outer Ring in the contract Heron with a load of loot after just over eight days. I totally overestimated the frequency of wormholes in Outer Ring, so by the time I eventually found one it was a case of 'I don't care where it goes, I'm taking it', as it got to the point where being forced to linger in Outer Ring was like being under house arrest.

I was, to coin a phrase, gagging to get out of there.

A 'C5' finally materialised: another detour to one of the non-places in Anoikis. Mark726's 'Project Compass' determined Anoikis' location to be approximately 1,300 light-years away from New Eden, but the wormholes that we use to get there and back render that mind-boggling distance irrelevant and meaningless. It takes less time to travel to Anoikis than it does to walk from your lounge to your bathroom, so Anoikis feels like a non-place; like it doesn't exist in our universe (which is why so many people are certain that it doesn't despite Mark726's obvious evidence to the contrary). You can still get killed in there though.

This system was under the influence of a face-frying magnetar, so while I was safely cocooned in my capsule, the Heron's skin would have endured an invisible sleet of hard gamma and X-rays from this active neutron star that is smaller than a Fortizar citadel. You can guarantee there will be no bio on any planet anywhere in this system. Unprotected bio within sight of that thing would be fried by it in gothic ways. Factoid: magnetars are believed to expire and become dead neutron stars after about 10,000 years, so if that's true then this one has only formed since the Dark Ages and after the period when Anoikis is believed to have been occupied by the Talocan and/or the Sleepers.

I'll let you ponder the implications of that...


I emerged from the C5 in a lowsec system in the Devoid region, so returning to Zoohen from there was a formality. The Heron performed brilliantly, so while calling in at the trade hub in Amarr to flog all that loot (ker-ching!), I rewarded it with a Super Kerr-Induced Nanocoating which makes it look like a ship from the Suukuvestaa Corporation. The Heron's uniform battleship grey is now a fetching black and silver combo which will look great with my Mordu's Legion shirt - if I got to wear it while jacked-in, which of course I don't.


So that episode was brought to a close. As I said last time, T1s are still valid and can be made to perform as well as a Covert Ops ship when you know exactly what you're doing. In fact the Sisters of EVE's Astero and its capabilities may have rendered Covert Ops ships redundant in the exploratory role, because when you're ready you can go from a T1 straight to an Astero, as so many of my corpmates in Signal Cartel do.

You might see where this is going...

Not A Single Kill In The Whole Of Impass

Another thing I've said before is that I have a tendency towards impulsivity. Within 48 hours of docking at Zoohen in the Heron, I was back at my hobbyist manufacturing facility in Tash-Murkon Prime, performing a few fitting experiments with Hacker Republic, the Anathema I used on the Devil's Dig Site mission a few weeks earlier.

I got somewhat obsessed with comparing the capabilities of Tech I and Tech II-spec hacking modules when used in conjunction with my implants, the ship's relic-specific Emission Scope Sharpener upgrade and the Anathema's overall capability as a Covert Ops exploration ship. While I was doing this, karma and the superb work of my Signal Cartel colleagues manifested a convenient 'Thera Hole' nearby with compelling links to parts of southern nullsec that I'd never been to before, so in retrospect it was inevitable that I'd disappear into nullsec for another week of testing.

Unfortunately I ended up in Impass.

Yes I know, there's a software upgrade with a new map, but I prefer this one. It has a nice soothing soundtrack.

The Impass region is a small sub-cluster of stars that projects south from Catch and acts as a barrier between Stain and the regions surrounding the Immensea Nebula to the east. This was its description in the DED database:

"During the initial expansion of Sansha’s Nation, some factions in the Imperial Court foresaw the coming conflict with that which they once supported and began formulating plans for an invasion. It was clear right from the beginning that the inability to penetrate into Esoteria without running the gauntlet of Stain would play in Sansha's favor, so they commissioned a military expedition to search for an alternate route in. Its leader, Commodore Barius, made good progress initially but soon ran into a great empty expanse blocking their path. His ships roamed high and low through the wall of stars marking the void's eastern edge, mapping many systems but failing to make any forward progress. Eventually, admitting defeat, he sent a single blunt transmission to Fleet Command: 'Sir, we have reached an impasse.' "

Whoever he was, Barius was right. I knew exactly how he felt after my fifth day in this highly-appropriately-named region, hacking sites and searching for an exit wormhole. I don't know what it is about the pseudo-random nature of wormhole manifestation in the cluster that appears to make them occur less frequently in nullsec. At least that's my experience anyway. I mean, you are virtually guaranteed to find one in any given system in highsec and lowsec, but in deep nullsec they appear to be rare.

Is that actually true? More experienced explorers than me will know the answer.

On the plus side, I did find a greater number of archaeological sites here. I found something to investigate in almost every system I visited (because I've found that I am a completist who has to do every system in a given region, which is why I was here for a week), and it meant that with the Anathema's slightly greater hacking capability I accumulated 72 million ISK's-worth of artifacts. This was proof then, as if it was really needed (as if I was discovering anything new), that a Covert Ops ship is superior, but the difference is nowhere near as great as you might think. I still insist that with high levels of skill training, experience and the right implants, a T1 can do the job.

Some of my more experienced Signaleer colleagues may only take one day to cover an entire region and unearth a greater quantity of artifacts in the process; but not me, because for me exploring is ritualistic, like brewing a fine chai. It takes time. Besides, I like to get one over on the local sov-fodder by waiting them out and denying them.

There will always be a tomorrow...

That local 'sov' down here in Impass is controlled by a coalition of capsuleer alliances that are noteworthy because they all speak the same non-Standard language. This coalition also cultivates an isolationist policy that in many ways suits the remoteness of the environment. I saw the impenetrable language on all the capsuleer bios that I checked out whenever one of them appeared in Local. It was pointless trying to communicate with any of them, which was a shame, because it's part of our credo to spread the Signal and be nice to people and live up to our 98% Snuggly rating on the Zkill.

The geometry of the stargate network in Impass means the region possesses a number of what capsuleers call 'ratting pockets'. Another assumption you have to make when operating in nullsec is that your presence as an independent capsuleer in someone else's sov space will be noted, logged and tracked in a private, encrypted intel channel. It means that if you're in one of these dead-end ratting pockets, minding your own business, hacking sites and gathering relics, then if the locals can be bothered, they can just camp the pocket's chokepoint and kill you when you emerge. This is partly why you see ridiculous and absurd numbers of warp disruptor bubbles clustered around certain stargates in regions like this:

The obvious solution here is to use an interceptor which has engines that are immunised from the effects of disruptor bubbles, which are in any case nothing more than monuments to the futile impermanence of 'sov' itself (because even Goonswarm's bubble was burst eventually), but an interceptor is most certainly not optimised or even designed to explore sites, so a balance has to be struck if you decide to use one. I have yet to deploy an interceptor in this role, so watch this space...

Steve: A Decade Later

While plotting a way out of Impass and back to highsec, I remembered there was a particular landmark in the approximate vicinity of this region that I had logged a long time ago and resolved to visit if I was ever in the area.

It was in the C9N-CC system in Esoteria, which karma dictated was only ten jumps from my location thanks to the network of so-called Smuggler Route stargates that form the network's outer perimeter.

Now was the time.

The complete absence of any traffic in any of the ten systems I traversed en-route to C9N-CC reinforced the sense of distance, remoteness and isolation that I perceived when I arrived there and found 'Steve'.

Steve is not a person, Steve is a ship.

A big ship:

Steve was the first Titan to be constructed by an independent capsuleer alliance and was completed ten years ago during YC108. Three months later it became the first Titan ever built by a capsuleer alliance to be destroyed, right here in C9N-CC. This was such a significant event that the wreck was left in-situ and memorialised, so now it has a marker beacon which designates the 'Wreck of Steve' as a historic location.

'Historic' is a bit of an understatement. Whereas Titans are relatively common now (four of them are still parked in orbit around Oris at the time of this writing), this one really was unique at the time and represented considerable political and military power, because the construction of Steve was a clear announcement to the major powers of New Eden that capsuleers were now a legitimate force and must be recognised.

Steve set a precedent.

Steve was built by the Ascendant Frontier alliance (ASCN) and was piloted by its leader Cyvok. Historical records show that the Band of Brothers alliance (BoB) engineered an elaborate plot to track down and destroy Steve by trapping it in this system.

When it happened, the kill was announced on message boards, holofeeds and comms all over New Eden within minutes. Such was the significance of Steve and its perceived strength as a supercapital ship, the announcement was initially met with disbelief, not least by members of Ascendant Frontier. In response, Cyvok's dead clone was tracked down, recovered and produced as evidence of the Titan's destruction.

The wreck's location further reinforces the sense of remoteness: it is fully 95 AU away from the C9N-CC primary and is a considerable distance beyond the boundaries of the planetary system, so technically it's not even in the system at all and is part of its cometary halo. How and why Steve ended up all the way out here when it fought that final battle is not well documented, but all those records agree that, orbital mechanics aside, this is the place.  

It is symptomatic of the ever-shifting nature of alliance politics that in the ten years since Steve was built, both the alliances involved in its destruction have passed into history. In fact it was Steve's destruction that precipitated the cascade of events that led to the demise of Ascendant Frontier and Cyvok's self-styled 'enlightened dictatorship'. At the time, Band of Brothers was the second-largest alliance in New Eden, but everybody knows what eventually happened there: Goonswarm Federation.

How times change. Ten years ago I was a teenager just starting to form ideas of maybe cultivating a career in space in some form or another, probably working for my father's business, operating a hauler or something. Although I wasn't doing it so frequently because of other teenage distractions, I still used the dumb telescope my parents bought me for my tenth birthday to watch starships pass through the Kor-Azor Prime - Amarr stargate that orbits high above Eclipticum. Actually using that gate was still eight-and-a-half years in my future.

I have a vague memory of the news of the time reporting the destruction of Steve. I certainly studied the event in detail later on in Hedion University. Now here I was, a decade later, in my own ship, face-to-face with Steve - who is, unlike ASCN and BoB, still extant as a memorial to capsuleer hubris, and Steve's unperturbable position out here on the extreme edge of C9N-CC ensures it will still be here a million years from now.

As long as Sansha's Nation doesn't use it for target practice: 

We Empyreans may have detached ourselves from the arrow of time and the biological consequences of entropy, but we still have two existential threats: obsolescence and arrogance. 

BoB, ASCN and so many others have risen and fallen; even Goonswarm were not immune in the end.

None of us are.

The universe will have the final say on all of us, and Steve's remains will still be around to witness it when that happens.

As I left Steve alone with its four Sansha guardians and headed back into C9N-CC in order to head out of it again, I decided that this historically significant location should be a pilgrimage for all capsuleers, because there will be a significant number of us active today who could do with being reminded of its existence. As memory gives way to digital record, physical monuments like Steve's wreck become ever more important to living history.

Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.

Barbican, Essence, Home

On the way to see Steve, I passed through a system which betrayed unequivocal evidence of an exit route back to highsec via one of the mysterious 'Unidentified Wormholes' that designate the entrance to a Drifter Hive.

Thanks to the other principal advantage of the Covert Ops ship - its ability to cross systems at the speed of an interceptor - I covered the several light years from C9N-CC back to that system in about eight minutes.

Remarkable, really.

I found the wormhole and jumped through it into the 'Barbican' system. I've been here before, some time last year. Those weird Sleeper gatekeeper constructions still persist, as if they are there to induce and control the entrance wormhole somehow.

If only we could do that...

I did not linger in here, and I knew my karma was still in good shape when the first exit wormhole I scanned down - the first one! - was a highsec exit. I warped straight over to it and sat right on the event horizon so I could do that thing where you can use the gravitational lensing effect to look through it and deduce where it leads to. I could see a diffuse white fog in the centre with a hint of green and yellow at the perimeter, which meant that it would bring me in somewhere within the Gallente Federation.

I dived in and emerged in Essence, just eight jumps from Zoohen and 49 light years away from the nullsec I'd just left.

Absolutely perfect karma.

[For the record, I discount the distance to the Drifter Hive because not even Mark726 knows where the hell it is. Best to not even acknowledge I was ever there. That non-place thing.]

A few short highsec hops later, I arrived back in Signal's base - my base - in the Theology Council station in Zoohen, with 72 mil in the hold and another couple of the boxes of achievement ticked. I'd survived another week in nullsec, gathered a load of loot, seen something new, and made it back in one piece.

What a result.

Unjacking from the pod was particularly nasty this time though. I resolved not to do another long-duration immersion like that for a while as the sticky and slightly-discoloured (yuck!) neuroembryonic fluid rinsed off me in the shower, but I know that resolve won't last. It never does. The unpleasantness of the transition process is just part of the price we pay to gain the freedom of the cosmos, and anyway it's easily forgotten. Most of the time...

I dressed, then went over to the balcony overlooking the cavernous docking bay. After being jacked-in for so long, I welcomed the sensation on my face of the subtle trace of a breeze which shouldn't happen in here, but the shafts of light through those 'cathedral windows' on the far wall cause localised heating effects on the docking bay's partial atmosphere that the station's designers never accounted for, which causes a faint, barely noticeable turbulence. Spending a week in a pod and living in a virtual environment makes one notice simple things like that, like the sounds of activity in the docking bay - actual sounds instead of AI-generated signals channelled straight into my auditory cortex. I closed my eyes and just listened for a while.

Verdict: the mission was another resounding success. In fact I'm on a bit of an ISK-streak at the moment. If only these pod gantry techs, docking bay engineers, slavemasters and robed-up Theology Council apparatchiks in here all knew where my Anathema had just been. Hacker Republic: Queen of Impass, Empress of Southern Nullsec, seeker of knowledge, unseen by any sov-fodder and impervious to all scrutiny.

Covert Ops still rules.

I retired to my quarters. I began the ritual for brewing a particularly cutting-edge spiced chai that I keep in reserve for marking the formal end to a mission and which I knew would take over half an hour to infuse correctly, so I settled on the couch, fired up the holovid on the wall and started scrolling through some channels to see who was about, immersing myself in the noise of the cluster again. My pirated Impetus feed was still up too, so that was a bonus, because I still had FedMart Shopping Channel! Yay!

Then I called up the databases on Steve and refreshed my memory of New Eden as it was a decade ago. The files, images, holovids and reports on New Eden's first independent Titan all left one critical question still unanswered:

Why in Divinity's Edge did they call it Steve..??


  1. Great article, great writing, awesome story.

  2. I really enjoy reading your missives. Thank you for sharing.

  3. As always, great article man :)


    1. Thanks mate, it was good to visit the old stamping ground yesterday...