Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Holiest of Holies

Emperor Family Academy Station, Amarr VIII (Oris), Amarr. Waiting…

'Where is it now?'
'Too far away.  Not interested. Talk to you tomorrow.'

 21 hours later...

'Where is it now?'
'Still in Lonetrek. It’s EOL. Sit tight.'
'100 mil says the next one is in Domain. It needs to be in Domain. This place is doing my head in.'
'You’re on.'

19 hours later...

'Call it.'
'Is red your favourite colour?'
'Say it isn’t so.'
'Damn it.'
'Easiest 100 mil I ever made.'
'Put it on my tab.'

The next day...

I’m sitting here like an addict waiting for my next fix, with every waking moment consumed by the thought of it. I'd gambled, as is normal practice for wormholers, that the access hole would not shift too far away from where it was when I arrived here. That gamble had failed this time, so that's why I was sort-of willingly detaining myself here, at the trade hub in Amarr – nobody bothers to call it by its proper name anymore - killing time, watching the rest of New Eden go about its business while I, the wormholer, sat apart from it all, as if inside my own bubble of shallow hyperspace like a personal cloaking device. It would be more convenient if others couldn’t see me either. This facility I’m sat in now is like a communal plaza, with a huge picture window several decks high overlooking the station’s greatly-enlarged docking bay, and this plaza is like a kind of atrium/mezzanine thing with several floors above me that are arranged like terraces, but set back from the window so everyone gets a good look at the mechanisms of interstellar commerce. This is an unusual level of consideration from its Amarrian designers who institutionally prefer the oppressive monastic theme because it‘s more pious.

If you want the full-on Amarr Experience in here, you have to go to the station's upper decks (closer to God), where it's still the Emperor Family Academy and you can have all the Amarr Experience you want. In the rest of the station, gradual cosmopolitanisation through cluster-wide interstellar trade means that this station is the least Amarrian and most obviously diverse station in the whole Empire, the irony being how close it is to the Empire's very core. It is the second-closest station to Amarr Prime itself. I wonder if the byzantine workings of the Theocracy ever considers the significance of that?

Noteworthy: rumours perpetuated by the students of other universities like my own Hedion U, allege that the gravity up there in the 'Upper Third' i.e. the EFA's cloistered seminary, is increased by 25% over Standard in order to test the faith of its novitiates. I wouldn't know [1]. It's enough that at either end of the concourse that runs across the base of the window here in the plaza, are two identical larger-than-life three-metre-tall animated holographic likenesses of Empress Catiz. Her movements are on a kind of seamless ten-second loop which gets disconcerting after a while, like you're suffering continuous deja-vu. It adds to the sense of timelessness in a place where there is no day/night cycle.

This trade hub is the definitive example of how sections of Amarrian society have embraced a form of religio-capitalism, i.e. 'you will make money and be prosperous if you follow the word of God'. The progressive mercantilist Empress Catiz and her alliances within the State mean this philosophy is now totally legit and will only grow. You have to remember that growth and progression are not normally core Amarrian traits. But this is the Empyrean Age, where traditional cultural definitions are more blurred with every passing day. I sometimes wonder whether there is such a thing as an Amarrian, a Gallente etc. anymore. Especially when I come to this place. The common Amarrian architectural signature of the prolific use of gold plate takes on a different significance to me these days, like it's no longer suggestive of power, opulence and wealth; instead it's more like sunset - an ending, a progression towards something else: change.

What comes after a sunset?

It always amazes me how the docking bay in here is a masterpiece of four-dimensional orchestration. So many ships that never come into conflict with each other until they get outside. Then it’s a free-for-all. And then it continues to amaze me how nobody does anything about it.

So I sat here in the plaza, watching ships in the docking bay, listening in on other people’s convos. There was something interesting going on behind me:

"You know what the Jovian Disease really was don’t you? It wasn’t any kind of genetic depression like they tell you." 

"What was it then Mr. Big Know-All?"

"OK you know how Jovians were into considering emotion like a form of personal pollution? Well nobody realised you need emotion in order to make a decision, yeah? Like they were all blind to this one crucial fact. Every decision you make is founded on emotional response, yeah? You either like a course of action or you don’t. You have to favour one course of action over another in order to decide on it. Wanna eat that Fried Long Limb over there? Do you like the Fried Long Limb? If you have no emotion, you can’t decide. You become paralysed by indecision. You become unable to function. You die of passivity. I’m telling you, that’s what it was."

"What are you, the Empire's most knowledgable janitor?"

"What can I say man? What do you want me to tell you?"

* * *

My market status and ‘wallet’ on my datapad is currently exhibiting a solid block of green, which is nice. The reason I’m here at all is because I brought 139 million ISK-worth of artifacts and salvage out of [classified] here to the trade hub, to sell on to those who would recycle it all into the means to go and create more of it.

Cargo manifest (Legion-class): [classified] - Amarr 4/21/119

This infinite cycle never stops. More purist interpretations of Signal Cartel’s neutral pacifist credo would infer that selling salvage to shipbuilders is facilitation of aggression further down the line. Our management does not hold with this belief, and nor do I, although I can see what they’re getting at. Regardless, thanks to the fragments of 'Enhanced Ward Console' and what amount to Sleeper AI brains that I salvaged, I'm minted again.


I opened a channel on my datapad.

'Where is it now?'
'Molden Heath.'
'Damn it. Tomorrow.'

* * *

The chairs in this place by the big docking bay window are like big bags on the floor that you lounge in. You sit in one, and it actively moulds itself to your shape so well, and pushes back against your weight with such subtlety that you feel like you’re sat on air.

There are holoprojectors in the floor that manifest square panels at eye-level (because this is a trade hub and eye-level is buy-level) that are a metre on each side and display any number of feeds on them. There is one projector in front of each chair, so you can imagine the blizzard of moving images. As a capsuleer I could plug in and control the projector through my head if I desired (connectors provided for my convenience - who cleans them?), but I elect to be more discreet as is the Ni-Kunni way. I've been in this clone now for long enough that it has a baseliner's normal skin tone instead of the cherubic purity of fresh meat, so I pass for a mainstream Ni-Kunni easily now. Nobody bothers me unless I want to be bothered. Children don't point at me.

Then, totally unsolicited, this guy came out of nowhere and sat in the chair next to me who kind of looked Amarrian (the nose, the jawline) but like he'd spent too long in the Outer Ring playing with rocks so his essential Amarrianity, that racial trait they describe in encyclopedias, seemed dormant. Whatever he did out there, he must have been well-fed, because he had a kind of hemispherical drum-tight fatbelly that made him look 15-months pregnant through his tunic. I don't think he had a neck either. He was like a caricature of ex-Chamberlain Karsoth [deceased], who was enough of a caricature as it was.

Then he turned and looked at me through Starsi-fogged eyes as if he'd only just noticed I was even sitting there, and he opens with 'Hey listen to this, this is a good one. An Amarrian, a Gallente, a Caldari and a Minmatar go into a bar,' he said. 'Bartender says "what are you drinking?" Amarr says "Holy water!". Gallente says "Everything on the menu!". Caldari says "Anything made by my paternalistic corporate benefactor."' Then he leaned towards me and said 'Minmatar looks at the Amarr and says "Am I thirsty master?" Geddit? Minmatar slavery, yeah?' 

My impassivity made him turn and look into the middle distance (or into the past). He sighed and said 'Things were much simpler back then. Everybody knew where they stood. Especially with them...'

The light changed as a Megathron drew alongside in the docking bay beyond the glass. It blocked the view.

'You can't say things like that in public anymore man,' I said. 'Not in the new era. You can think it, but you can't say it'.

He turned back to me and squinted. He said 'What are you anyway, one o' them eggers?'

'Me? No, not at all. Just minding my own business.'

He took the hint and got up and went looking for someone else to tell bad jokes to. I knew he'd never leave this place. It was beginning to feel like I never would either.

* * *

The next day...

'Where is it now?'
'Black Rise.'
'What the hell is it doing there??'
'How should I know? While you're still in Amarr, could you get me some Caldari Navy Mjolnirs?'
'Heavy or Light?'
'Heavy, of course.'

In the morning I went shopping for new outfits (what do you think capsuleers wear on the outside? Just the one thing? I certainly bloody don't). I ate a very expensive lunch, then spent the afternoon in one of the station's State-imported fully-immersive holotheatre suites where the scenario was that I was a secret SoCT agent attempting to infiltrate the Angel Cartel in order to find out what happened to the remains of the Second Jovian Empire in Curse. I considered it part of my ongoing personal research project.

The game involved nested multiple realities and I played it on 'hard' mode because I'm a capsuleer and I'm used to virtual reality as my day job, but I died just before I reached the final boss. At least I'm in the top-100 high-scorers. I obviously have far too much time on my hands.

* * *

The next day...

Now, this morning, I'm back at the docking bay viewing plaza (where the footfall is reduced at this hour) and using one of the seemingly hundreds of square holoprojector devices to catch up on some back issues of In Your Face, freely available here despite being a Gallente gossip rag catering towards the trashy celeb end of the market, which is right down my street. Apparently, Synchellian holovid star Myriestene Mahatta is divorcing again, citing her twelfth husband's unwillingness to engage in threesomes as 'irreconcilable differences'. Typical oversharing/overexaggerating Gallente. I don't know how these people get anything done.

I people-watch for a while. Everybody looks purposeful and fierce, chasing ISK. People with nothing to do, like me, seem rare. Who has nothing to do in a trade hub? Who comes to a trade hub to do nothing?

But it's not like I can go outside and take the air.

When you live in a station you get used to limited sightlines, no sky, no horizon, no weather and artificial light. Some people live their entire lives in stations, like the bad joke teller I saw two days ago, who is the embodiment of how people get trapped in these places, their lives in a permanent limbo, where either they can't buy passage out of here for whatever reason or they just get too used to the range of freebies on offer so it becomes a lifestyle choice. They live, they die, they get scooped up and biomassed as waste, and end up as incinerator exhaust or fusion catalyst. Maybe it's too much choice - option paralysis - like that bizarre Jovian Disease theory I overheard yesterday.

I could book a passage to the Throne World itself and pay homage to Empress Catiz, but I drag my feet. 'Saying hello to Catiz', by the way, seems to be the dissenter's euphemism of choice for checking your bank balance. I didn't start it. Don't blame me. For the record I do have enormous respect for Catiz and I do approve of the new era despite reservations I may have expressed earlier in this journal. After all I've named my favourite and most expensive ship after her.

Anyway I'd rather do culture. I got a notification on my datapad this morning about a live broadcast from within the Fed. The noted Intaki tenor Antomien en Divalone was in residence on Intaki V performing a new, purist interpretation of the operatic cycle The Burden of the Intaki, which in this version is the full 78 hours without a break. I'd heard of it. I'd also heard that some sections of the Fed media dismiss it as pompous propagandist dreck, because one of its essential requirements is that it be performed outside as its narrative is synchronised to Intaki V's diurnal cycle.

It had already started yesterday, so I'd missed the good bit. I could have stayed here in the plaza and watched it on the square holofeed thing, but the background noise in here would have killed the tension in the guillotine scene. I could have rented a Captain's Quarters and watched it there, or watched it from the lounge on Empress of Amarr (where I'd been basing myself the whole time I'd been here. I could see her over on the far side of the docking bay), but I needed to be able to move as soon as I got positive word on the whereabouts of the hole back to the dreamworld. So I passed. If I'd watched it, I'd have been compelled to finish it, because I'm a completist.

I opened a channel on my datapad instead.

'Tell me what I want to know.'
'Genesis. Sigga. Fourteen from you and only seven from Zoohen.'
'Thank God for that. I'm coming in.'

I sent a message to Aura: I'm on my way. Prep the capsule and submit a flight plan to the dockmaster. Request priority. Pay him whatever he wants. Destination: Sigga, Ekrin constellation, Genesis. We're going home.

 [1] I never told anybody this before, but when I was at Hedion University in Conoban, there was an exchange student from the EFA who came to us for six months. He was hardcore. He was built like the front end of an Abaddon and was curiously of below-average height. He wore the same elaborate robes every day, he never spoke unless he was spoken to, and as much as we tried to turn him to the dark side by testing his faith with excessive leisure, he wouldn't budge. We even tried kidnapping him for one of our monthly shuttles to the Mora Mosh Pit Club in the Ishukone place in the Mora system one jump over from Conoban. We planned this operation for a week, but when we tried to carry it out, the one of us who got near him ended up with a fractured skull as the exchanger deployed some kind of extreme martial art and shouted in an obscure archaic dialect while he used it. He scared the crap out of the rest of us and we ran away. The excessive and unfeasible strength he used during this incident is where the rumour about the gravity sort-of made sense. I mean if you're used to 25% higher than Standard, then it would be a formality to deliver an ass-kicking in Standard. The hard-as-nails, pious exchanger left shortly afterwards. We never saw him again and I never did get to the bottom of the gravity thing. The rumours persist. If somebody ever mentions it (which is not often), I just say 'I wouldn't know'...