Thursday, 17 November 2016

Legion: Shakedown Trials in the Drone Lands

Prologue: Morning - The Ni-Kunni Tea Ritual

My alarm clock goes off at 06:37 NEST. It's actually more of a gentle, benign chime through the oversized holovid on the wall opposite which is all cutting-edge multi-purpose media centre with no expense spared. It currently displays the time in the top right corner in faint green numbers a metre tall. I ignore it. It doesn't stop.


Silence, except I can now discern a gentle, faint humming in the background that my foggy and semi-awakened brain attributes to traffic noise outside. I lie there in bed with my eyes shut for a few more minutes. Then the snooze alarm triggers and the lights in the room begin to grow in brightness. No escape now.

"I said cease."

I sit up in bed and look around. I welcome the quiet since I'm not jacked-in and my implants are banded-down and not functioning, so there is no cluster-noise being transmitted to my head whether I want it or not. I feel grounded.


My bedroom is only the size of a small lounge and has a low ceiling. I went for various shades of 'warm' with the decor: pastel oranges and reds that suggest sunrise or sunset. I've furnished the room with some ancient Ni-Kunni artifacts like a thousand-year-old tapestry rug that I've hung on the wall behind me and opposite the holovid; a kind of cultural juxtaposition that makes me feel less like a capsuleer and more like a normal person who has a normal life. There is a bookshelf by the bed with some actual books in it, such as a hardcopy of The Achuran Book of the Dead (Translated & Unabridged) because I'm riffing on Caldari-lit right now. The wall to my right has a couple of other small displays with some random wall art completing the decor. I have a walk-in wardrobe in here too, which is awesome.

I turn my head in the direction of the holovid and say "Scope News, audio only, low volume. Summary."

Alton Haveri's disembodied dulcet tones emerge from the wall. It's something about the Sisters of EVE again. I get out of bed, do a few stretches, then walk round the end of the bed and out of the door that swishes open as I approach it, then enter the kitchen next-door. The small bathroom is opposite. The lounge area is over there to the right. Lights activate in each part of the apartment as my presence is noted. Haveri's voice follows me from room-to-room.

The kitchen is full of seamless doors and is all sleek metal utilitarianism everywhere, except for the fifty-year-old boiler that I bought in one of Mishi IV's many bazaars, and which now sits on the shelf by the sink. A day started without a properly-brewed fine chai is a day wasted, and synth-chai is totally unacceptable. Haveri is still talking about the SoE as I switch the boiler on. Ahead of me and the sink is a large, closed, slatted blind that is set into the wall and merely an affectation - a style statement - because behind that is a window that is currently electrochromically opaque, so I don't need a blind; but since when did necessity outweigh style?

Then I reach up and open the blind in front of the window and say: "Kitchen window, clear, medium shade." In a nanosecond the window changes from opaque to clear, so quickly that its previous state seems like a false memory.

This is the view out the window:

The vivid torchlight from the blue giant out there is startling. This is the captain's lounge in Empress of Amarr, in high orbit above a gas giant in some system-or-other - I'm not sufficiently awake yet to remember where this is.

"Aura, status please."

Alton Haveri is muted.

[Good morning Cassandra. All systems and subsystems are nominal except for the Scorch frequency crystals' critical serviceability status. I estimate they will become unserviceable by the end of this day based on rate of use. Tactical: no threats observed otherwise I would have woken you. In any case we are cloaked, so we are as invisible as a Caldari's conscience]

I like this new Aura. She could present Scope News with Haveri.

"You're learning..."

[I already know everything that has ever been known about everything there is to know]

"There are always unknown unknowns."

[The unknown is merely a known that is yet to be discovered]

"Never mind. Prep the capsule. Give me thirty minutes and then I'm jacking-in. We have a busy day."

The boiler starts to whistle like the ancient kettle that it is - it's that thing about staying grounded again. This ship is the most exotic kettle in New Eden. A Tech-III-class chai machine. My father always said make no big decisions before chai.

The Molden Heath Sessions

It wasn't long before I moved Empress of Amarr from Mista over to the other ESOCI citadel in the Horaka system in Molden Heath.

There is nothing wrong with Mista. At nine light years it is 'close' to Amarr, yet still quiet and underpopulated except for its fair share of industrialists, but the geometry of the stargate network in the Heath is more favourable for access to a better - lower - classification of space for the sort of operations I was conducting. The biggest bonus is that hardly anybody else lives here so it's easy to get around without attracting attention, which is good when you're learning to operate a ship worth half-a-billion ISK.

In a very short space of time I've developed a fascination with the Heath. I assume the general lack of activity here is in part due to the Republic's position on the Heath being 'open to all and claimable by none', so in consequence nobody bothers with it. I say 'nobody', but I really mean nobody legit. There is a large mining presence because of the prevalence of ancient cometary ice fragments and asteroids; there are some settled planets in the highsec constellations; there is some general industry, and a lot of ruined and derelict ex-industry, but that's it.

I saw all this industrial detritus all around me. Evidence of speculators and of fortunes won and lost. Shattered dreams.

In Horaka, The Wanderers Den is largely empty for most of the time except for the token support staff that live there, so I can do what I like. I can even get my favourite Impetus feeds more easily from here in the Den than I can from Zoohen because the Republic is the Fed's closest ally in New Eden, so FedMart shopping channel still rules, although shipping to here would be problematic (lowsec premiums).

I know that some of our current 'war targets' patrol this region because I've seen the occasional lone roamer show up in Local. They're no big deal - all I see there is the desperation of the unfocused wandering opportunist. The dominant criminality in the Heath is the Angel Cartel, which is a new breed of antagonist for me. I've even seen a new class of vessel here. I know the Dramiel because I owned a civilianised version for a while, but I've never seen one of these before:

I skirmished with the Cartel as part of my weapons workups. Brief encounters lasting less than a minute each. Thing is, Legion vs Cartel is never a fair fight, not when I'm packing Tech-II-class Heavy Pulse Lasers and nanobot-enhanced armour with explosive and kinetic resistances up around 90%. Empress hardly noticed.

'Tis but a scratch, especially when you're carrying nanobots & a repper

Sidebar: do you know what a Matari Hummingbird is? It's spent projectile ammo fired at relativistic speed that misses its target and disappears off into interstellar space, forever, unless it finds someone else, maybe even a millennium from now, when orbital mechanics dictates that some other unfortunate is in the way. It might be you. You'll feel a ting on your hull and put it down to micrometeoroids.

This is why energy weapons are more pure. They're cleaner. There's enough pollution in New Eden already.

But that red nebulosity: it's everywhere.

You see it reflected on the interior walls of stations where those walls face a window.

You see it on the back of your eyelids even when you're jacked-in. You start seeing it in every possible facet of your own future. Amarrian ships always reflect their surroundings better than any other faction's designs because of that armour plate. In Domain, the Legion is yellow. In the State, it is blue.

Out here, it is bronze.

I couldn't even get away from it when I took Empress into the centre of a hollowed-out asteroid to test the finesse of its manoeuvring thrusters.

This is no cave

The frontier vibe that I've mentioned previously is deceptive because the Heath is, in stellar cartographical terms, at the very centre of the New Eden cluster. Even though that 'frontier' is merely a political boundary, abandonment is everywhere. The long-discarded, massive solar harvester arrays in the cam drone still below, summed up the region. Long-since powered-down and without station-keeping capability, orbital precession has turned them away from the star they're supposed to face. Now they're looking in the wrong direction, towards decay.

And yet in spite of that, I could grow to like this vibe, where you can sit in a system for an hour and know you're the only starship for three light-years in any direction, because there are no intra-system shuttles, hardly any InterBus and just the occasional supply ship for whatever it is that passes for settled planets out here. It always activates my inner ancestral homeworld memories and makes me think of the wastes of Mishi IV, which is a full thirty-five light-years from here.

But in low-security space it's always a false quiet. I did think that Molden Heath was to the Republic what Khanid was to the Empire: mostly lowsec, with a quiet that could shatter at any minute if you betray your own vigilance by getting complacent. However Khanid doesn't labour under the contempt of its overseers like the Heath does.

Molden Heath is a lot like the nullsec that borders it; two regions of which are right next-door in stargate terms, but they're both across the other side of the huge cluster-bisecting void known as Divinity's Edge.

To stay on schedule with the Legion's workups, I needed to go there next.

Etherium Reach - Face-to-Face With Several Demons

The aftermath of Operation Spectrum Breach and the rise of the strong-AI Rogue Drones saw the eventual genesis of the Drone Lands. Once capsuleers started going in there, all the regions to the galactic east of the Republic have invited mostly contempt from the Empyrean community for various reasons: either a dearth of exploitable resources or a lack of people to do crimes against. It doesn't stop many of them living there and establishing 'sov'.

Etherium Reach is accessible from Molden Heath through the disputed Skarkon system: controversial after what happened on Skarkon II when the Cartel spontaneously orchestrated the equivalent of a sov grab there.

The Rogue Drone collectives that are to be found in Etherium Reach attack on sight, just like they all do everywhere they occur. One wonders why. Do they just want to be left alone to do their Drone thing? Whose territory is this? Is it really the Drone Lands now or, in the case of the constellation I daytripped in, is it the territory of 'Hells Pirates'?

There are occasional oases of tranquillity in nullsec but very few of these benign-looking terrestrials have anybody living on them other than capsuleer 'PI Colonies' or isolationist weirdo setups that are escaping from something. The planets are deserted partly because these are (supposed to be) the Drone Lands, and partly because not all of them are habitable. Just because an ocean is blue doesn't mean the air is breathable.

In fact I might set up an operation of my own here. A mine, run by bots or contract temps shipped-in. How long would it be before anybody else noticed it? With easy access from the Heath, how can it fail?

I'm digressing. The thing that disturbs me the most about Etherium Reach is that thing over there: the Ginnungagap Nebula. Etherium Reach is close enough to it that you feel like you're staring it in the face. Whatever process is at work in this active bipolar emission nebula that is forming stars like a conveyor belt, casts an enveloping ambience over the region like a warm fireside glow that reflects in every facet of the Legion's armour.

That's what this thing is: a cosmic furnace. It's totally unlike the giant blue pool of The Cauldron that dominated my home planet's night sky for five years at a time. That spectacle felt reassuring and its return to Eclipticum's night was always celebrated by massive festivals.

Not this.

Out here you even get a glimpse of what's behind it: the ghostly white nebulosity in Outer Passage.

Here be more Drones.

As I travelled around the 1VN-XC constellation, I looked out for sporadic Drone presences and exercised the weapons system on them wherever I found them. Some of them are as big as battleships.

And yet for some reason I felt bad about killing them. Do they hit us because we hit them or is it the reverse? 

Are they as bad as Sleepers, or Drifters, or post-Jove or whatever in Divinity's Edge those people really are? I don't believe so. Maybe I should configure Empress to hack into one of these things again before they fall apart: 

All these distractions made it easy to forget why I was really here in nullsec: to fine-tune the ship's antennae and scanning subsystems by tracking down some sites.

Here in the Drone Lands, any sites of archaeological interest have long since been corrupted and absorbed by Rogue Drone infestations and turned into something else entirely.

These sites can still be hacked with a Data Analyzer module. The Legion is effective - better than expected - at hacking sites, although some of that capability is enhanced by my own cybernetic connection to the ship. A Hacker-Legion doesn't match the capabilities of a covert ops frigate (nothing does), but with the subsystem optimization it is close enough to be reliable and exactly what I need for the long-duration excursions I commissioned it for.

The other essential system for hacking sites in a Legion is a large-capacity, battleship-class 'prop mod' for crossing the often large distances between hackable containers, which otherwise would take forever and leave you fully exposed; but my God it gives the Legion the acceleration and manoeuvrability of a Titan. Definite downside there; some more tactics need to be refined.

On the whole though, these tests were a complete success. I even scored some quality Augmented Drone blueprints in the process along with most of the components needed to build them.

On this basis I called an end to the workups and decided that Empress was ready - that I was ready - for its first excursion. 

Apart from the drones, no other entities saw me while I was here, and nobody found me. Covert ops subsystem rules.

I'm a Signaleer, so I enjoy a kind of freedom of the cluster where not everybody wants to kill me. If I operate in a nullsec region like this, no doubt I'll be reported on somebody's intel channel and the 'nv' code will be issued in my name. It means 'No Visual'.

Some of you might say she's with Signal Cartel and leave me alone. Some of you might try to hunt me down anyway; but with Combat Probes on board too, I'll have seen you long before you ever find me, and you'll never find me anyway because I conduct ops when most of the rest of New Eden is asleep.

Sweet dreams, boys...

Back to the Heath

I flew back to Horaka and conducted some final tests with a Mobile Depot facility outside the citadel's front door. Then I docked, and declared the Legion fully serviceable and ready for action.

I needed a few days to take care of some loose ends before launching in the Legion again, so I headed back to Mista in an Ibis 'rookie ship' - known as a Corvette now - that I had found abandoned near the Horaka - Orien stargate and taken possession of.

I do this rookie-ship-repo thing often. I just keep them and use them as shuttles. Although I do wonder whether this is in fact Grand Theft Ibis and is strictly credo-compliant.

This ship's designator said 'Dave Stark's Ibis'. I looked up Dave Stark and checked out his history. Turns out he's ex-Pandemic Horde, ex-WiNGSPAN, and appears to be a 'wormholer'. I don't really care to be honest, which means some of Molden Heath must be rubbing off on me.

I mention this because I flew from Horaka back to Mista on the day that the first generation of 'Alpha Clones' was announced, along with some other info on new sightings of Drifter activity in the cluster. If the Drifters are back, then that is perfect justification for disappearing into nullsec for a while. From what I've heard about this new incursion, I may be gone some time.

Alphas: welcome to New Eden. Your timing is perfect because space is about to get very busy. My advice: be careful what you wish for, because there are plenty of other capsuleers out there who are willing to give it to you and then take it away again.

We're heading for interesting times...

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Legion: Empress of Amarr

Where The Hell Have I Been?

I'll start with a few Signal anecdotes from the last few weeks. Then I'll segue into some major new shipbuilding developments.

The capsule is the womb. The womb is supposed to be safe. The capsule is not safe.

First of all, I had this nostalgic exchange on our Alliance text-only channel with my previous crew, relayed by Signaleer Jen Outamon who was in the Ashmarir system at the time:

That was very cool, and is proof once again that your conduct as a capsuleer - your rep - both precedes you and is left behind. Some of the juniors could do with remembering that. Speaking of juniors, Empress Catiz' inaugural address included a reference to a 'new generation of capsuleers' for which the initial eligibility and training requirements will be lowered. This new regime, called 'Alpha Clones', will be introduced at the tail end of YC118, and it concerns me because the effect it will have on the Empyrean community could be similar to that of lowering the legal drinking age in a bar. Standards may drop. Decorum, for what it is, may be shattered. Signal Cartel top management has already clarified and tightened our recruitment policy in preparation for it.

While we're on the subject of decorum, around the same time that the above happened, I caught the conversation below in our public text-only channel between two capsuleers who were debating the merits of the 'pod express', neither of whom were themselves Signaleers and neither of whom would give way. I stitched the archive together in a popular editing program. It starts on the left and gets better:

Calm down boys & girls!

Meanwhile, Cali Estemaire was conducting operations in Guristas space last week, minding her own business and keeping a low profile, when she happened to disturb a fleet of Pandemic Legion supercarriers who obviously perceived her Astero to be such an existential threat to them that the entire fleet attacked her. All of them. The report is below just in case you didn't really believe such a thing was possible. I've heard about the phenomenon of 'killmail whoring' but this is totally ridiculous:

Bunch of bullies, the lot of them.

This is the Signal. Not even a fleet of supercarriers can stop the Signal.

ESOCI and the Molden Heath Question

A couple of months ago, Markus Vulpine's sister Eris announced she was creating a new corporation called 'The Evesploratory Society', otherwise known by the ticker [ESOCI]. The Evesploratory Society's principal objectives are to act as a focal point for New Eden's scientific community by deploying citadels around New Eden, where explorers and scientists can avail themselves of neutral ground for repairs, resupply, study, chillout, jump-cloning etc.

The first of those citadels, called 'The Explorers Club', was built in orbit shortly afterwards around the inner moon of Mista VI in the Domain region. Mynxee opened an office in the citadel and it was quickly pounced upon by several of us as a forward operating base for the nearby Providence region. A couple of industrialist corporations moved in too, and I occasionally sit in with them on mining ops if I'm in the area, because, you know, mining is chill.

It's clear that Eris put a lot of thought into the aesthetic qualities of The Explorers Club's location, for which she is to be commended, because you can't take your eyes off the scenery. Mista VI, or Big Orange as I've named it, is by far the strangest-looking gas giant I've ever seen. The literature always goes on about Kador Prime IX and its atmosphere of green clouds as a tourist attraction, but it's got nothing on Big Orange. The planet's entire southern hemisphere is various shades of orange cloud, most vivid at its equator. Planetologists would have a field day over why the planet's atmosphere is so stratified like this.

Not only that, but the quality of light given off by the Mista primary in conjunction with the all-surrounding ambient glow of the Domain Nebula (as filtered and enhanced through cam drones), gives a dreamy quality to the view outside. I could look at it all day and night to be honest.

If you and your corporation wants to gain access to any of ESOCI's facilities, then send Eris Vulpine some comms and ask for the qualifying criteria (be advised that references will be checked).

* * *

Eris has since opened two other citadels, one of which is in the Horaka system in Molden Heath, called 'The Wanderers Den'. The first time I visited it, it blew my mind.
The Horaka system is ancient. The remnant white dwarf at its centre must be one of the oldest stars in the cluster -

- which is in stark contrast with the vicious-looking, active star-forming bipolar emission nebula in Ginnungagap that is visible from here.  This nebula is scary because it looks like a cosmic disaster unfolding at the preferred pace of the universe. It's the first thing you see when you undock because all the citadel's hangarage faces it. It's ironic that something which looks like so much death is actually the source of creation.

There is a real sense of the frontier about this citadel and its location on the edge of the Republic.

It's darker out here.

Very dark.

It's also very dark in the citadel's docking bays, which makes me wonder where Eris's lighting budget went.

For reasons I've elaborated on before, I haven't spent a lot of time in the Minmatar Republic because of the effect the region's blood red ambient stellar background has on my equilibrium. The whole sector is a giant culture shock to me, like the presence of Republic Fleet 'Trash Cans' as gate guardians instead of the Armageddons that I'm so used to. I'm an Amarrian in an Amarrian ship: they should open fire on sight, right? Yes, I know, standings etc., but we're still at war regardless of CONCORD's bureaucratic refereeing system.

Then there are the ice asteroids and cometary remnants, which are plentiful out here whereas during my time in Khanid I barely saw any.

You'll have noticed that the ship I used here was my Malediction interceptor. Incredible machine, and even more so after Khanid Innovations sent me a mail saying they were going to visit the location of my Mal and competely rebuild it from bow to stern in accordance with a 'mid-life upgrade' programme, all free-of-charge and without me asking for it. Must have been in the small print.

Now it is just as fast as before but with two fewer engines. Most importantly it looks much better.

Never sacrifice style for speed.

* * *

There is a collective within New Eden's scientific community which asserts that Molden Heath carries some special cosmic significance or resonance with Anoikis; something to do with Seyllin, the alleged pattern of wormhole distribution thereafter, and the simultaneous disappearance of the Lakat-Hro caravan in the Great Wildlands (a derelict part of which turned up later near one of the Sisters of EVE wrecks in Thera - if you haven't seen it yet, you need to check it out).

Molden Heath has not yet manifested anything suspect beyond those wormholes and yellow-flagged capsuleers. However Molden Heath's true position with respect to the wider cluster and the galactic plane is noteworthy. It sits above the huge void that stretches from Divinity's Edge to Ginnungagap, a void that nearly bisects the cluster and that no stargate has ever been able to penetrate.

There's something going on in there. Something very bad.

With the citadel in Horaka available, it is time for me to take more interest in this region of space and for my Republic No-Fly Zone policy to change. The Wanderers Den is close to nullsec. It is a gateway to null. Pay the admission fee, come on in and enjoy the ride.

I must be more prepared than ever before.

Empress of Amarr

For the last month or so, Signal Cartel has been 'decced by a revolving-door of up to five different highsec ganker outfits at one time. For the record, here's the current list which is probably already out of date:

Only one, possibly two of those outfits could be considered one level below CODE. The rest are hobbyist edgelords with 'born to lose' tattooed on their perma-immersed foreheads.

I didn't need this level of hassle, and I saw this as a sign: to use this period of partially-enforced downtime to go shopping. It was time to graduate to the apotheosis of Amarrian starship engineering: the Legion.

Behold the Empress of Amarr:

Tech-III-class strategic cruisers: constructed with technology and materials derived from the denizens of Anoikis themselves, so nobody seems to have a full and complete idea of how these ships do what they do. Look at the specs on the configurable subsystems and you see lots of references to 'reverse engineering'. That means the ship is more powerful than the people who designed it.

It has a mind of its own. Aura, evolved. Nanobots everywhere.

I spent a week in the trade hub in Amarr, buying the brand-new hull and specifying the five different subsystems I wanted the Legion fitted with during its construction; the most important for my requirements being the Emergent Locus Analyzer subsystem that requires the entire front half of the ship's fuselage and superstructure from the bow to station 228ex116 to be rebuilt, and fitted with a huge, segmented-dish wideband sensor array that makes it look like a junior Avatar, or one of those long-extinct animals called an 'elephant' that I used to read about.

A fuselage plug is also fitted at the engineering section which lengthens the ship, opening enough space to fit the Interdiction Nullifier and Covert Reconfiguration subsytems. Nanobots course through the ship's armour, giving up to 90% resistance to incoming rudeness. There is enough fusion reactor on board to power a battleship twice the size. The multi-role, reconfigurable modular design is the foundation of the 'T3' and it means no two Legion are alike. My own cybernetic implants even give my Legion a Vmax/warp that is 10% higher than standard so it will outrun other Legion.

The Legion was originally designed by Amarrian naval architects to make a public statement. My specification was based around it making no statement at all. Covert ops: unobserved, unseen, optimised for detecting and hacking sites, slipping in and out of hostile space without let or hindrance and being immune to the warp disruptor bubble, while retaining the credo-compliant option to take down the occasional scumbag. I also specced it up with a cross-capsule-variant modification** that will facilitate the long-duration missions that I want to use it for, negating the requirement to stay jacked-in the whole damned time.

It means I can get out of the pod and walk around my own ship. I can have furniture. I can decorate.

So while the trade hub's engineers were busy installing and configuring the ship's subsystems,  I left Amarr and spent another week back at the family compound on Eclipticum because I had to do some serious studying for this ship. This meant I even missed the recurrence of the Covenant's 'Crimson Harvest' that happened the same week. I could have been at the forefront of it like I was a year ago, but this time I felt a higher imperative.

The Legion's fitting-out completed around the same time that PIRAT decided to look elsewhere, so I returned to the trade hub, spent two hours outside the Legion just looking at it, then I jacked-in from inside the ship, and went through that wonderful novelty of cycling-up a brand new starship for the first time.

[Good morning Cassandra]

I swear she sounds different.

"Hello Aura. Cold start initialisation protocols please. "

[Procedure already complete. I took the liberty when I saw you arrive in your Crow from Kor-Azor as I sensed you would wish to depart immediately. We are ready to undock at any time subject to clearance, all critical systems are nominal, although my almost complete lack of any other system modules are a concern to me] 

"This is a positioning sector. Our destination is the Mista system. The Explorer's Club citadel. Your fitting-out and full commissioning will take place there, where it's safer."

I'm jacked-in, so I'm not really speaking to Aura, more like thinking to her.

[I see. Systems and capsule integration complete and optimal. Final subsystem tolerances yet to be achieved but if, as you say, this is a positioning sector, then we are within limitations for getting under way]

"Yes I do say. Why would I lie to you when I've invested half a billion ISK in your creation? Ask dock control for final route clearance. Undock us as soon as we have it. When we get outside, get us clear of the station as fast as possible and engage the cloaking device."

Metaphorically speaking, I don't have to lift a finger. I let Aura do her thing.


[Intel indicates there are no asshat 'deccers between here and Mista. No other threats observed. No CODE, nothing. Just freighter jocks, shuttles and mercantilists in T1s]

"Makes a change. Initiate warp."

[Warp drive active]

Smooth and effortless, slipping through the boundaries of spacetime like a knife through butter.

[You're not flying one of those crappy frigates anymore]

"Are you reading my mind?"

[In the capsule it's all the same]

Mista is only five from Amarr, just under nine light years away. A short sector in a busy shipping lane. Once out of the Throne Worlds constellation I left the cloaking device off and let the ship bathe in the stellar wind for a while. Out in its native habitat at last.

The psychologist in me likes to riff on why we consider a distance of nine light years to be 'not far'. Speed diminishes our concept of distance. Our ancestors would take hundreds of years to make the same crossing. It's why the Sleepers first started sleeping.

The citadel in Mista came up on time. The vast sweeping arcs of Big Orange's ring system led me in like a runway. I brought the Legion from warp speed to zero delta-vee within 10 metres of my desired position relative to the citadel.

[Docking request accepted. Dock control says they've never seen a Legion here before]

"I'll do this manually."

I took us in and berthed the ship as smoothly as if I'd parked a Legion a thousand times. The magnetic clamps were barely necessary. I could balance this thing on the head of a pin. It's that accurate.

[Berthing protocols completed. Systems to idle status]

Hmm.. Incredible machine. Turn up the lights Eris! I want to look at it!

"Power down and initiate capsule disembarkation procedure."

[You can just say you want to get out]

Aura has an edge now. I like this.

This time there was no drawn-out capsule removal procedure, but there was still the horrible sensation of unjacking (imagine having your hair pulled out by the roots while momentarily drowning). When the capsule's clamshells opened, I waited the usual ten seconds or so with my eyes closed to let the headrush subside, then I stepped out to an empty compartment with no pod techs stood there perving at me. Neuroembryonic fluid drained away through the grating in the floor, to be recycled in a giant tank and reloaded when I get back in again.

No more indignity of the pod gantry.

I even left my own ship by walking through an airlock while actually wearing clothes.

* * *

Now I had the Legion safely docked in The Explorer's Club, it was time to get serious about fitting mission-specific modules to it. Basing it here in Mista meant I could take as long as necessary to run shakedown trials and learn to fly it; and learn to fly it I will.

Empress is so powerful, it can do the work of ten other ship classes a hundred times better. It also has a sumptuous quarters and other facilities that I have all to myself because I can jack-in-and-out while remaining on-board - the only limiting factors are the food supply and six months'-worth of neuroembryonic fluid. It is fully-automated, with a small complement of multi-purpose servitor bots instead of a crew. I have a galley. I can sit in a system for a week, cloaked-up, making other capsuleers think I'm up to something, when all I'm doing is sitting in my lounge and watching a box set on the wall-sized cinematic holovid while sipping a fine chai. The huge sensor array on the bow means I might even be able to watch Impetus feeds from anywhere in the cluster.

Here's a message for all you gangstas who might read this and think it would be lulz to hunt me down and kill me in my big new expensive ship:

You won't ever find me.

I'll be an unformed suggestion in your head. I'll haunt your dreams. I'll sit perma-cloaked 10k off your ship's beam and watch you ragestroke in your own fluids while you try to probe me down, and I'll laugh.

And laugh. Hard.

I am Legion.

[So am I]

**OOC bit: the term 'cross-capsule-variant starship' was invented (as far as I know) by Tony Gonzales in the novel EVE: The Empyrean Age. I therefore consider the concept to be canon. As a capsuleer, you're not supposed to be able to leave the capsule while in space, but plot-wise that is seriously limiting and basically sucks. I've gone along with it until now, but it's time for a new direction in the narrative.