Monday, 22 August 2016

The Price Of Safety In Aridia Is One Trillion ISK

Sisters of EVE Academy Station, Erindur VII, Metropolis Region, 8/16/118 - 23:44 hrs

A few days ago I received the feed below from the boss of my previous corporation, Outdated Host Productions [PHP1], over in Khanid. At the time, I was idling in the Sisters of EVE Academy station which orbits the second moon of Erindur VII, which is on the outer eastern edge of the Minmatar Republic: a region I have not spent a great deal of time in. There are semi-obvious reasons for that, namely that I originate from the Amarr Empire and this is the territory of its most deadly enemy, but more about that later.

I was in one of the station's lounge/bars which at this hour was populated mostly by identically-dressed SoE apprentices who all maintained a kind of passive exclusion zone around me as if I, a capsuleer, was too exotic to approach. In another time I might have engaged with them, but not today. I was thinking about my new ship. I was sat at an elaborately-carved wooden table adjacent to a large armoured glass picture window that facilitated a commanding view of the station's docking bay, where I could see the ship I'd brought here: a Caldari Buzzard. I hadn't used a Buzzard before because I'd only just qualified in it. This was a bit of a test op so I needed to prepare for it.

That test op was to be another relic-gathering excursion into null-security space, this time in the Buzzard. Erindur was my staging system into the 'far east'. From a cosmic perspective, the system is actually in an interesting area of space, being on the edge of the blood-red Metropolis/Heimatar nebulosity that is all around you everywhere you go in the Republic, and must be the fuel for Mataris' constant state of rage. The Konora system is also nearby, from where the miniature Ginnungagap Black Hole is supposed to be visible, (noteworthy: there is some dispute in the scientific community over whether the black hole has in fact evaporated and ceased to exist, or whether it is in a dormant and invisible state).

Something else that was new to me other than the Buzzard was the fabulous fish dish I was shovelling into this newly-jump-cloned body that I'd returned to after pre-positioning the ship here a few days earlier. Eating something for the first time in a new body is an odd sensation, because infomorph transfer reliability tolerance means your sense of taste always changes at a barely-noticeable level. Sometimes it is enhanced, sometimes it is diminished. They never tell you about that in capsuleer school. Matari cuisine, by the way, is universally dreck, which is one of the other reasons why I was not docked in a Matari-operated station...

There are actually two SoE stations in Erindur. The station I was docked in was an old Amarr Trade Post, no-doubt dating from the era of occupation, before the Minmatar Rebellion and the formation of the Republic. I expect it still survives today as the obvious edifice of a hated regime because it is in a relatively remote part of space, and also when the Sisters of EVE moved in at some point and established an Academy, it became effectively neutral territory.

Sisters of EVE Academy, Erindur VII - Metropolis

The consequence of the SoE's presence in here then, is an outwardly-Amarr station but with an overwhelmingly non-Amarrian population that has changed large parts of the station's interior design, like all the former churches and chapels being repurposed into lecture theatres. There is not so much strident architectural piety any more; corridors lined with empty plinths where statues used to stand; comfy chairs instead of pulpits; holovids instead of hymns; actual intoxicating beverages; former slave pens used as storage rooms or apprentice dormitories after considerable decorative improvement.

This bar I was sat in overlooking the docking bay was a former chapel library, and all the religious and scriptural iconography on the walls had been removed and replaced with various holofeeds, animated images of the cosmos, or portraits of noteworthy Sisters of EVE (thereby replacing one form of religious iconography with another). One of those portraits was of ex-Sister Silphy en Diabel herself and it didn't even have 'Wanted' beneath it. What was that about? Have the SoE forgiven her?

In accordance with its previous role, all the furniture in this ex-chapel-library-turned-bar was even made of actual wood cut from real trees in the forests of Erindur IV, instead of that ultra high-tech nano-assembler stuff you find in other stations that emerges from the floor on command ('chair please...'). It all had real grain in it and it had no embedded holo or tech or anything. The stone floor was something else entirely; a spectacular indulgence in a space station and a typically ostentatious statement by its previous owners.

However, a particular ambient vibe that this station's cultural fusion could not hide behind the usual station-noise you get anywhere, was the ongoing subtext of undisclosed secrets permeating its atmosphere that all SoE stations have, especially those in Thera (are they ever going to tell us how they got there first?). 

My other reason for being here in this Sisters of EVE station was because my former mentor, Aire Arryns (lecturer in Exploration at the Hedion University station in Conoban), once told my class in that fire-and-brimstone way of his: "At some point in your capsuleer careers, you're going to go to the Republic. I'd rather you didn't, personally, but if you do go there, do not ever, ever entrust your infomorph to a Matari, otherwise your consciousness could be transferred into a fedo. It's happened. I've seen it. They make it look like an accident, but it never is. It's always about reprisal.  Do not ever entrust your ship to Matari station techs, otherwise expect sabotage. Do not fly Matari ships either, because they are all garbage. Until we can Reclaim them again, Vitoc is the only way. It is the Amarr way!"

He went on to label all Matari stations in the Republic as enemy territory to an Amarrian capsuleer, which is technically absolutely true as we're still officially at war, although I've said it before: as capsuleers we're supposed to take a cosmic perspective and rise above all this nationalism. Not all of us do (not all of us want to), but at least we do in my line of work. In fact none other than Signal Cartel top boss and 'Space Mom' Mynxee is a Brutor, but she doesn't act like one (in fact Mynxee has this ultra-calm demeanour that belies a murderous Brutor past, and it comes across as if she's been to the future and has returned to tell us all not to worry and that everything will be OK. It's very reassuring...).

Arryns was merely trying to scare us into vigilance towards baseliners' default nationalist programming, so this is the real reason why I only dock in neutral stations on the very rare occasions I actually operate in this region, because when it comes to baseliners, you just can't be sure.

* * *

So I was chilling in this ex-chapel lounge/bar with its stone floor and wooden furniture, eating a specially-imported Luminairian javelinfish, which was Sister Alitura of Arnon's idea ("Tell them I sent you," she'd said, "be sure to ask for the fin spike, and let it sit for 13 minutes before you eat it otherwise it might kill you").

I was also reading Emekur's classic Origin of Life, Minimal Convergent Traits and Biosignatures on my datapad. No, that's not true. I can't lie: I was actually reading a trashy Impetus celeb feed called In Your Face, which headlined the acrimonious twelfth divorce of Synchellian film star Myriestene Mahatta. I can't get enough of it. I went for the top-level cluster-wide subscription so I'm gonna use it. It's expensive, but I can afford it so what's the problem? I can't always be into science!

So I was sitting here among the background station noise and subdued foreground chatter of all the SoE apprentices around me when the message below chimed in on my datapad. It was [PHP1] boss Crystalline Entity with an update on the constant changes in the Khanid-Querious-Delve-Aridia situation and [PHP1]/Darwinism's part in it. I'm still on excellent terms with my previous crew and I always look forward to updates from their part of the cluster.

Considerable attention has now been focused on this volatile sector of the cluster in recent weeks after the winding-down of 'World War Bee' and the defeat of Goonswarm. When information leaked out that Goonswarm were co-ordinating a massive move operation to the Delve region, feeds all over the entire cluster lit up with speculation about whether the region I used to operate in would become the next big conflict zone. When Goonswarm's planned route to Delve through Aridia was also leaked, my own personal take on it was a) wondering whether all the locals including [PHP1]/Darwinism would get in on this, and b) how in Divinity's Edge would Goonswarm get past the elite denizens of Aridia - LowSechnaya Sholupen - intact?

Based on Crystalline's bit of inside information below (it's the raw feed), it appears that every alliance really does have its price:

[AmarrCertifiedNewsTextFeed/Gehi IX/Royal Khanid Navy/In-Station Associate Corporation Channel:[PHP1] mode:public-feed/yes/no/.../NODE: ALL] [autoforward: NODE: Metropolis/soe/recipients:0022866cassandrahabalu/]

[msg: 8/16/118 - 1324]

[Subj: Goons! Querious!]

Over the mid-year period, Khanid was unsurprisingly pretty quiet. The usual unfortunate stream of hapless industrialists and mission runners attempting the Ashmarir run dried-up and the Darwinism pirates grew frustrated at the lack of action on all fronts. Even the Mid-Khanid Coalition of JIHADASQUAD (led by the renegade Musashibou Benkei) seemed unusually quiet.

Then the announcement spluttered over the fluid routers: ‘Goonswarm are leaving Saranen and heading to Delve!’ The wave of excitement was palpable, a slew of bookings at the Vezila III ice resort of Vritilia were cancelled as the capsuleers of Darwinism and Brute Force Solutions cancelled their planetside excursions and booked shuttles back to the orbiting spaceport.

Goon interceptors, transport ships and other vessels of war started heading south from Saranen to Sakht in southern Aridia. To the surprise of all capsuleers the infamous capital and supercapital hunting alliance LowSechnaya Sholupen (LSH) granted 'blue' status to Goonswarm. Persistent rumours and reports from reliable sources all say that Goonswarm paid LSH over a trillion ISK for this privilege.

Darwinism's capsuleers manned the ‘barricades’ of Ashmarir and Perbhe [entry systems into Khanid], and deployed cloaky hunting ships throughout the region. Goons started to die… oh-so-many dead. Wrecks and corpses littered those entrance systems into Khanid. Where Goons go, others follow: the latest arrivals are DARKNESS, Short Bus Syndicate and TEST alliance all on deployment. Circle of Two is reportedly on the way as well.

Two interesting developments in the nearby null-security space was that the Infamous alliance was haemorrhaging pilots, and the Play Hard and Pray Harder alliance was successfully dismantling the Querious Fight Club coalition [QFC]. Information on the collapse of QFC was hard to come by, as there was a propaganda war raging across the regional news outlets but it was safe to assume that QFC would not fold unless there was good reason to do so.

For Darwinism this led to an opportunity to take the H-6HGD constellation in Querious once again. The station in A2-V27 has been unable to be captured due to dreadful timers and other groups third-partying the station. However, 03L-95 and A3-LOG have been upgraded a little and pilots have used the opportunities to make ISK during quieter periods. Darwinism fully expects to lose this space in due course to Play Hard and Pray Harder or another one of the alliances that is headed towards the area.

The positive side of Infamous collapsing was that Brute Force Solutions spotted a Hel supercarrier moving up towards Khanid. Darwinism pilots responded and after a fruitless grid search in 0-W the Hel then jumped to Upt where it was probed and tackled by Darwinism probers and Heavy Interdiction pilots. Heavier assets were brought in and it died shortly thereafter.

Later LSH called upon Darwinism again to tackle and then kill Simon Riley of ex-Darwinism traitors Nekogami Band in his Aeon in Neda. [PHP1]'s Quantum Finish caught the ship with his Heavy Interdictor.

Khanid will never be at the forefront of cluster politics, because its inhabitants are dreadful pirates with a myriad of personality disorders, but it is their wasteful destructive personality that make transiting the region a dangerous experience for the careless traveller.


[this media release is brought to you by Amarr Certified News Capsuleer Liaison. Amarr Victor!]

One trillion ISK? One trillion ISK!!

The situation changes so fast over there that the feed above is already technically out of date, as other more recent reports indicate that the Querious Fight Club coalition has collapsed, making the region basically a free-for-all. 

Unbelievably, even Signal Cartel has interests in what's happening in Querious because until this week we had docking rights in the YB7B-8 constellation thanks to the Affirmative alliance (another Querious Fight Club member) holding sovereignty over it.

Just a couple of days after I received the above from Crystalline, and after I'd left Erindur and was deep into my excursion into the eastern nullsec regions, I got notification through the corporation's private channel that the instability in Querious had caused Affirmative to withdraw, and in the process of doing so they had transferred the sovereignty of the entire constellation to Signal Cartel!

Signal Cartel has sov! Without firing a single shot! Citadels! TCUs!

Signal Cartel Territorial Claim Unit! Actual sov!
(cam drone still: Ristora Arbosa)

Affirmative's transferral of sov to us was a political statement aimed at the other residents of Querious. Our sov will not last; in accordance with our pacifist credo we will not defend it, and Signal Cartel was never interested in holding sov anyway because everybody knows it's not our thing, so probably by the time you read this, somebody else's logo will be on that TCU.

But it cannot be denied: WE HAD SOV!

If Signal Cartel can have sov in Querious, then anything can happen. Expect to hear any time soon that Jamyl is alive and well, and living in Querious.

In 'Squirrel Central'.

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..??