The Wanderer's Den, Horaka, Molden Heath: 1455 hrs
Another spectacular alignment of cosmic karma led to an opportunity, finally, to retrieve my Crow that I'd docked in ESOCI's citadel in the Horaka system some four months ago. The wormhole had manifested nearby a few times before but I was always out of position or there was something more pressing I needed to do.
I'd left the Crow there because it seemed a good idea at the time - to use it on expeditions into Drone space, which is close to Molden Heath. Then plans got changed, I got into wormholes, then I changed the plans again, because I have a short attention span or a low boredom threshold or whatever it is, so the Crow ended up idle in Horaka for nearly half a year. I did try selling it on a free contract to Signal Cartel at one point. In the contract description I put 'Free Crow in an inconvenient location'. There were no takers. Does Molden Heath really not register at all on Signaleers' consciousness? A free interceptor!
Anyway, I've got it back.
I ran some systems checks: months of idleness had caused a few leaks, brittle seals, blocked injectors. Flat batteries. Kaalakiota are usually better than this at shipbuilding. The engineers had stuffed the ship in a corner of the docking bay and let the tokamak run cold. I can't blame them for that as they hadn't heard from me in four months. I told them there was a case of Starsi in it for them if they fixed it all in an hour. Oldest form of persuasion going. Or perhaps the second oldest...
Cold starts take ages. I jacked in. I kicked the tyres, I lit the fires. I undocked.
A creaking hull. The sounds of flushing plumbing. Was the Crow complaining or was it waking again and rejoicing in the warm embrace of the cold void? At least I was the only biological in here. No crew to think about. I dislike crew.
I ran a few systems checks. MWD: fine, eventually. If I could have kicked it, I would have.
Improved Cloak II: slipped out of this universe into shallow hyperspace, then back out again. It worked, but it still seems wrong to do that sort of thing.
The all-important Scan Probes: I still get that weird, spurious error message that says something about there being 'not enough probes to fill the launcher' when I'm only carrying the one set so the auto-reload can't work. I mean is two sets a mandatory requirement or something? At least the set I had worked fine.
Satisfied, I set course for the wormhole that was seven jumps away. At 10.56 AU/s, I would be there in minutes.
Arek'Jaalan Site One
My route back to the 'hole took me through the Eram system in Metropolis. When I jumped into Eram, the Overview loaded and I saw a very interesting Beacon appear in the list, because the Eram system is the location of the Arek'Jaalan Site One facility. This is the scientific research laboratory that was founded by the late Hilen Tukoss. You'll remember him. Anyone who has an interest in exploration should have heard of him. It was Tukoss' dead body that was found floating, lifeless and shipless, in the vicinity of the first Drifter Hive to be reached by capsuleers a couple of years ago after Tukoss got there first. Remember the Scope vid featuring Tukoss' garbled warning 'Live from the Hive' before Drifters blew up his ship? Remember CONCORD's demands for the return of his frozen corpse under various threats of death to those capsuleers that were hiding it?
Backstory: in YC113, ex-Zainou employee Hilen Tukoss defected to the Republic from the State and set up shop in the Eram system, bankrolled by very large donations of ISK and infrastructure from Eifyr & Co., allies in the Fed, and by a number of capsuleers who were of a like mind. Site One was the result. Its name means something to do with either 'dissidence' or 'revenge' in the original Caldanese. Tukoss sounded like one of those types of scientist that are dangerous: driven as much by the need to get one over on those who have wronged him as by scientific curiosity.
Tukoss was still a wanted man in the State when he disappeared shortly after the site's completion. Two years ago he theatrically resurfaced somewhere in Anoikis, near what we now know to be a Drifter Hive, which sparked off the first series of capsuleer expeditions into Drifter space (through the 'Unidentified Wormholes'), which may or may not have incited the Drifters to do their thing, which, oddly enough, seems to have stalled lately, as if they're either bored with us, or worse, they're biding their time. Waiting us out.
Since that incident two years ago (and since the loss of its founder), the Arek'Jaalan project appears to have faded from visibility and hasn't published anything new in ages. You have to assume that Tukoss' disappearance is most of the cause of it. The facility has not shut down, as is obvious from the signs of activity present today; but all the literature and documents that can be accessed at the site pertain to projects that are several years old by now.
The site is just nine million km from the Eram primary, which is nothing. At a certain distance from the large Fed-template outpost structure, an automatic signal gives a short, pro-forma message about what this place is. That initial 'welcome message' is accompanied by a couple of documents that are automatically downloaded into your ship's databanks: explanatory texts on what Arek'Jaalan was and who contributed to its construction.
The site is still active, as evidenced by the few ships that can be seen shuttling around it - shuttles and industrials, mostly.
It is not a freeport so you can't dock in the Fed place or the Republic-built station nearby. There is a 'capsuleers quarters' section, which is a series of those standardised prefab units you see all over the cluster. You can't dock in any of that either. Permissions must be sought. From whom, I have no idea. I doubt that permission would be given lightly.
I programmed the Crow to make a slow tour of the facility at 185 m/s. The view is hypnotic. Eram's disc is vivid like an angry blister, and it should blow out everything around it in blinding red giant light, but the new cam drones we've been using since last month serve to confound your expectations by presenting you with a view an unaugmented eye cannot see.
While touring the site, I browsed some of the other published literature on this place: news reports from the years after it was built, the accounts from some of the capsuleers involved in its construction, and more recently the Scope vids on the Drifter/Tukoss thing. I realised from this information that all the Archive structures were interactive, and that if I made slow, close passes abeam them all, the Crow would interface with each one and download documentation that would detail whatever exotic research had gone on inside it (note the past tense there. I'll get on to that in a minute).
So that was what I did. As I passed each structure at what felt like a walking pace, some sort of automatic polling took place between the Crow and the archive structures. Documents started appearing in the Crow's memory.
Very interesting documents.
* * *
The Deepest Answers to the Simplest Questions
Anything that focused on the Sleepers and Anoikis was right down my flightpath. What stood out though, about all of it, was that it was all years old. Below is less than half of what's available.
Project Blueprint: investigating Sleeper constructs in Anoikis. I've done enough of this myself recently, as have the hundreds of capsuleers who live and work in Anoikis today. I could contribute loads of info to this myself, right now. I have tons of cam drone stills. I would like to know why those structures exhibit an iridescent quality when you get near them.
Project Common Ground: what's interesting about this one is how several years of capsuleer presence in Anoikis and the accumulated knowledge therein has proved how wrong its hypothesis is. Rogue Drones? Our designer of Signal Cartel's ALLISON AI construct would have a lot to say about that.
Project Compass: the one that found where Anoikis actually is. I met its lead researcher Mark726 once last year in the Jakanerva system. I wanted to ask him whether his name is actually his real name, or one of those oddball pseudonyms that some capsuleers give themselves. If it's his real name, then does the State really do that? Do the 'paternalistic mega corporations' give their newborn children employee numbers and put them on their birth certificates? I wanted to ask him that, but I didn't because he seemed like a nice guy and it seemed rude. In case you need reminding, Compass is the one that determined the distance to Anoikis as 1,300 light-years, which is ten-times the distance between the extreme points of the New Eden Cluster.
Project Enigma: interesting only because since this project was concluded, the Caroline's Star event took place in UUA-F4 and resulted in what we now believe to be the extinction of the Jovian Directorate, so its hypothesis about 'decline' was totally correct but for different reasons.
Project Huntress Green: this was the juice. Indisputable proof that some form of humanity existed in Anoikis before we got there in the present epoch. Thousands of years before we got there, during what we've always described as the Dark Ages.
Some of our ancestors were way ahead - if the Dark Ages ever affected them. We already knew this. None of it is a surprise to any capsuleer who operates in Anoikis, or any capsuleer at all. However after reading about Huntress Green and its research into bio on terrestrials in Anoikis, I thought about those robot mines I set up on two planets in [classified]. I really ought to get back there and get down to the surfaces of those planets and have a good look around.
You never know what might be down there.
A lost Talocan colony..?
The reference to the past tense up there: it's because all the research abstracts that can be downloaded at Site One relate to activities that took place not less than six years ago.
So what have they been doing here since?
The Arek'Jaalan collective's current status is not clear. Cursory research indicates the collective most recently did something called 'Project Heliograph', aimed at trying to communicate with a Drifter Hive. That was two years ago. You can read about it here. That document gives you the impression that Arek'Jaalan is discredited these days. Then I read another report on it that suggested at least half of the projects listed at the site itself have yet to be completed; likewise a defunct mailing list with a header entitled 'Emergency Summit - Abandonment of Arek'Jaalan'. Perhaps the disappearance and death of its fugitive founder robbed it of its direction; perhaps Tukoss was dictatorial and without him it is a rudderless ship. Other noted capsuleers publicly associated with Arek'Jaalan in the beginning have since left it, like Rhavas, attributed in some of the documents I've reproduced above, but who is now believed to have retired from the pod altogether and become a meathead again. Perhaps the collective is spread too thin now, and IKAME has picked up where it left off.
So is it done or not? If it is done, why is Site One still active?
Maybe I'm reading too much into it again. Living in Anoikis does that to you. It's all that D-scanning.
All things end. Arek'Jaalan was six years ago. A lot has happened since. To capsuleers, that length of time could encompass a thousand lifespans.
To the cosmos, it doesn't mean a damn thing.