Saturday 2 September 2017

Seyllin: A Decade On

'Shattered worlds were once terrestrial planets, torn asunder by some immense cataclysm. All such worlds in the New Eden cluster are products of the disastrous stellar events that occurred during the "Seyllin Incident". However, reports continue to circulate of similar planets discovered in the unmapped systems reached exclusively through unstable wormholes. How these met their fate, if indeed they exist at all, is unknown.'
CONCORD Aura Database
Prologue - Cause and Effect

I'm back in the Zoohen system for the first time in a month. I arrived here by way of three wormholes, emerging in the Kador region in a system only six jumps or so from our head office, so it seemed as good a time as any to dock here and find out a) if I still have a job, b) if I still have a quarters of my own because I could not remember whether I'd locked it when I last left, and c) what the hell happened to my pirated, subscription-free Impetus feed that had stopped working a fortnight ago.

I'd got it rigged up through several fluid routers so I could receive it from our citadel in Anoikis over a thousand light-years away. But a fortnight ago, while I was chilling in my quarters in the citadel and watching a new episode of UUA Is So Far Away, right at the point where the heroic exiled Jove is about to get cornered by a load of Society of Conscious Thought agents who want to silence him, the damn screen went black, then a load of noise and random symbols flashed up on the screen, then 'NO SIGNAL', which I thought was ironic.

It can't have been the fluid router(s), because that's quantum entanglement so it's not like you can switch it off. It wasn't the citadel's own comms systems because I had the citadel's engineers check them out, so I had to wait for wormhole geometry to arrange itself favourably enough for me to return to 'The Zoo' and get it fixed, so I could catch up on the show and also avoid finding out what happened until then.

But then I mentioned this the next day to Quinn Valerii while we were in the lounge in our office in this huge citadel, and she said that she had her own Impetus feed and, because she's a Jin-Mei it was totally legit and that she was also a big fan of UUA Is So Far Away and that actually all I had to do was ask.

So back in Zoohen, I got to my quarters and found that the only reason why my special pirated Impetus feed router had dropped was that the damned cleaners had been in my quarters and unplugged it. It blew my mind to think that something as trivial and insignificant as that would have consequences in another location over a thousand light-years away.

But why am I even telling you this?

Because just as a river always finds its course, humans always become accustomed to our surroundings and eventually take everything for granted. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with that; if we were constantly amazed by everything around us then we would go insane. Becoming familiar with something is a natural process. Then there's the one about filling our lives with trivial superficial inconsequential ephemera that only wastes our precious, short window of time (unless you're a capsuleer in which case there will always be a tomorrow, I mean I could have travelled to Zoohen just by running a TEBS cycle and self-destructing in the capsule outside the citadel, but I refuse to engage in behaviour like that as it is wasteful and vulgar in its self-indulgence).

Thing is, we frequently ignore the universe trying to tell us how insignificant we are, so we continue to go prodding around in places where we shouldn't, and things happen that remind us of who's in charge; that something happening here can have consequences elsewhere.

The Butterfly Effect.

The Original Shattered Planet

A few days earlier, before I returned to Zoohen, our 'highsec static' manifested one jump away from the Seyllin system. This coincided with me needing to travel to a trade hub to resupply. In this case the Dodixie system was closest and the Seyllin system was on my route, and since I'd never visited Seyllin before it seemed like a no-brainer.

Eight years ago, half a billion people were killed in a single day when Seyllin I was blow-torched by a focused coronal mass ejection from the Seyllin primary. That CME was so violent it destroyed the planet and permanently reduced the mass of the star that produced it, so the Seyllin primary of today is a kind of mutant dwarf blue star that should not exist; but it does exist, and today it sits there and kind of taunts us by making us wonder why it happened and whether it will happen again.

Nearly a decade later, we still don't know exactly, conclusively, why the Seyllin Incident happened. We know that an unstable isotope of Isogen was involved somehow; we know that the exact same stellar disruption event also happened on nine other stars in New Eden simultaneously - to the second - on that day with varying degrees of loss of life; we also now know that of those nine systems, two of them were uninhabited star systems that are not connected to the stargate network; we know that it also happened to at least two systems in Anoikis. The reason why Seyllin is the one everyone remembers is obvious: it had the biggest body count, it was the only event in regulated, populated space - 'empire' space - and it also nearly caused the State and the Fed to go to war again.

Anyone with a cosmic perspective also remembers what else happened in conjunction with this event: immediately afterwards, the traversible wormholes started appearing all over New Eden that allowed us to (re)discover the Anoikis Cluster, to find the remnants of the Sleeper and Talocan presence that somehow made its way there millennia ago, and to start using those wormholes for typically-human selfish desires, ignoring the bigger picture. Only a minority of us are interested in finding the answers, joining the dots, learning the truth about all of it. The rest just want to blow things up.

So for this trade hub run I was using my Astero frigate, a ship that I use as a high-speed, uncatchable frigate-class blockade runner, so I knew that transiting through the Seyllin system would be relatively safe even though it is still low-security space, which I find bizarre, because with the ongoing significance of this place and what happened here, you would think it would be upgraded to a 1.0, especially since Seyllin I is under permanent quarantine.

I arrived in the system and warped straight over to Seyllin I. It's not the first 'shattered planet' I've ever seen (for the record, that was the one in 3HQC-6 in Outer Ring a couple of years ago). I held station well clear of the extensive debris field that encircles this and all of these ex-planets: the remnants of crust, melted, displaced into orbit and resolidified into asteroids and other detritus.

Seyllin itself casts its calming blue light over this scene of overwhelming devastation with a kind of innocence, like it wasn't really anything to do with it. The star appears benign now, today, but since we don't know exactly why it happened, then we don't know if it could happen again tomorrow.

As I held station, I called up some documents from the extensive-but-inconclusive archives on the whole Shattered Planets thing and refreshed my memory of it.


- There was a system of stellar monitoring satellites in the Seyllin system operating under the designator 'Cassandra', which is a cool name if ever I've heard one. If it wasn't for this system detecting the exact trigger of the Seyllin event - a bizarre and still mostly-unexplained explosive event halfway between the primary and the planet - then to this day we'd all be under the impression that the star itself started it, which it didn't. This explosive event acted as a focus and as an amplifier of some kind, causing the star to erupt towards both it and Seyllin I.

- The exact same process happened on all the others.

- One of the most scariest things to come out of the Seyllin Incident was the Sisters of EVE issuing a now-legendary statement that predicted the commencement of cluster-wide spontaneous wormhole formation that has persisted to this day and that we now live with as if it's no big deal (see above about humanity taking things for granted). How the hell did they know? Of course we now know they were in Thera years before any of the rest of us found that peculiar subcluster that Thera sits in, a system with its own shattered worlds, and a subcluster that we believe contains a considerable number of  'shattered systems' that may have all been laid waste, not years earlier during the Seyllin Incident, but during the Caroline's Star event at the end of YC116.

- Today, eight years later, Seyllin I is still largely in a molten state. It also still emits huge amounts of off-the-scale radiation, so lingering here is not recommended. In the case of Seyllin I, it is like loitering over a mass grave; it's ghoulish and morbid to stay here and look at it for too long. Some of the radioactive half-lives involved here measure in the thousands of years. The heat from radioactivity that intense means Seyllin I is on slow-cook and won't be done until we're all long dead.

- Then there's the primary. Since myself and the ship are one and the same, I warped over to it. According to the (revised) catalogue, it's a small blue star. That can't happen, but here it is. It lost a load of mass during the Incident, but it still seems to have retained enough mass to remain hot enough to be blue. I still think this thing could go off again at any time; it represents a discontinuity in physics and this sort of thing has happened before: scientists have compared the event's violence to the collapse of the EVE Gate. The similarities cannot be ignored. Go and visit New Eden. Tell me how many planets you see.

- There was another possible precursor to the Seyllin Incident in the form of the bizarre event during YC109 when a nova occurred that was named the 'Bootini Star'. Just like Caroline's Star during YC116, it was visible all over New Eden for a short time before fading. At the time, speculators even declared that event as the visible manifestation of the collapse of the far side of the EVE Gate, its light finally reaching us 15,000 years later. That theory was eventually disproved. I mention the event here because nobody's ever definitively said it wasn't an event like Seyllin in some other distant part of the galaxy.

- The ex-planet Seyllin I is quarantined, but the rest of the system isn't. You can travel here freely. People still live here. Seyllin III is temperate and inhabited. There is a Roden Centre in the system with a load of those obnoxious holo-billboards surrounding it. There is another Roden Shipyards station and a CreoDron station. I don't know whether it's like a kind of denial or something.

After an hour or so I'd seen enough. More than enough. I left the Seyllin system to head to the trade hub, humbled. 

Half a billion people in one day... 

Ignorance is Bliss

I've seen other shattered worlds both here in New Eden and in Anoikis. If you live in Anoikis, like I do now, you're constantly surrounded by the implications of the shattered worlds and the events that caused them.

We now know there are over a hundred shattered systems, the vast majority of them in Anoikis. The five Drifter Hives and Thera are also classed as shattered systems. It is not possible to determine if the hundred of them in Anoikis were all destroyed at the same time, although we know that two definitely were.

Here in Signal Cartel, we've been running a mass test for a few months now of an AI construct called ALLISON, designed in-house by our own quantum programming genius A.D. Parrot (who calls himself 'A Dead Parrot' in informal circles...). ALLISON is a navigational aid, developed from a project that Parrot was involved in when he worked for CreoDron years ago. It is designed to operate in conjunction with the Aura program, to act as a data and intel-gathering aggregator which enhances the capsuleer's knowledge of what's going on in the space around them, improving the ability to navigate safely and accurately and greatly increasing survivability, particularly in openly hostile space like the Anoikis Cluster. 

In the process of testing the ALLISON construct in the field with many of us carrying iterations of 'her' on our ships, Parrot has assembled navigational data that implies that Thera, the five Hives and the 100-or-so shattered systems in Anoikis are not actually in Anoikis at all; they're in a separate 'sub-cluster of sub-clusters' that is situated as much as a hundred light-years away from Anoikis. I know all this because Parrot asked me to co-author a document about it so I had privileged access to the data:

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With this information, if it is accurate and verifiable, it seems logical to assume that the Drifters are the New Sleepers, who migrated from Anoikis to this other, new sector of space at some point in the deep past when we were still emerging from the Dark Ages. Perhaps the Talocan went with them. Perhaps there was a deal done where they all lived there together in ultra-high-tech utopian harmony, merging virtual and real worlds in an enhanced cybernetic hyper-euclidian paradise. Then something disrupted them - us, Caroline's Star, Seyllin, all of those things, whatever - and laid waste to most, if not all of the systems in this subcluster, and now they want to kill us all in response.

Here's what else I think. Here's what else I know: those wormholes are a system. That system got reactivated during the Seyllin Incident. Something is running it, but not correctly, because there is a limited amount of randomness to their manifestations. Conversely, they're not random enough to be occurring naturally. I have no proof of this theory whatsoever. But then nobody else does either.

This is the torture of knowing something about impending doom, but not knowing exactly what it is, and knowing nobody will believe you because you're up against the wilful ignorance of vested interests - politicians, corporations, power-crazed immortals.

It's times like this that I don't want to know too much. I want to reach for my brain-numbing media feeds and immerse myself in the trivial again, like a baseliner who lives on a planet and has a job. Maybe I should return to Kor-Azor Prime and open a skateboard shop and be a nobody.

It's times like this that I don't want to know anything at all...