Sunday, 19 February 2017

Postcards From The Edge Of The Known World



I've spoken before about the 'awesome visual wealth of New Eden' and how accidents of cosmic geometry produce 'transient moments of hypnotic beauty'.

It's truer than ever.

I was in the low security space in and around the Kador region. I stumbled upon another naturally-occuring wormhole in the Mod system. I sent the cam drones over to look through its bubble horizon and I saw evidence that suggested the Drone Lands. I dived in on impulse.

1-EVAX - Malpais

I arrived here at something like 01:50 NEST (don't ask me why I was up and active at this hour) and was met by this captivating vista which detained me for ages, so I had to document it.

Sometimes cam drones can produce an image more like a painting than a pixel-fest.



That cloudy white/quicksilver nebulosity that dominates the Drone Regions is not visible from anywhere in high security space, or for that matter any of the space belonging to the four major powers, so anybody who spends their operational lifetime in that part of space is missing this.




I brought one of my interceptors fitted out as a 'scannerceptor'. I should really be in Empress of Amarr, however for a reconnaissance in this part of space, I need agility, speed and immunity, and I must also look good doing it. Empress of Amarr only has immunity, and is neither fast nor agile. It is of course heavily-armed and armoured, but that isn't really enough out here.

I need the odds stacked further in my favour here. The Crow gives me that, because with interceptors, the engine is mightier than the sword.




HB-5L3 - Cobalt Edge

So then on further impulse I decided to explore deeper in the expectation of unearthing a few Drone data caches.

I worked my way up through Perrigen Falls...



...then Oasa...




...then into Cobalt Edge and the end of the stargate road: the edge of the known world. The last time I came out here was a well over a year ago.




The white nebulosity that defines this region is now far behind and vastly reduced in apparent size and significance, like the rest of the cluster. No more highsec chatter. No more queueing at gates. The emptiness and nothingness out here is terrifying and it messes with your head. 

Obviously you get the clearest view you'll ever get of the galactic plane beyond this outer rim of the cluster. I left a not-entirely-serious post on our corporation channel about 'finding the edge of the known world as the path to self-awareness'. I found it alright. The comfortable familiarity of Zoohen is 59 light-years from here.




On the other hand, in the thirty-odd systems I passed through on the way, I found not one single Rogue Drone data cache. That is bogus. As I progressed, I had the rolling 24-hour news feeds on in the background which headlined the disease outbreaks that have occurred in several locations in highsec during this last week. It served as a distraction from all the emptiness for a while, but then sometimes you have to switch all that noise off and embrace the silence (although if that really is Kyonoke Plague, then I might have to find a reason to stay out here).

I saw a handful of other capsuleers transiting through. A couple of them hailed me. One of them even told me I'd been 'pinged on intel', but then they wouldn't have been able to catch me anyway. I saw some Rogue Drones that my Overview designated as the equivalent of the 'officers' you see in some of the deeper parts of pirate faction space . If I was in Empress of Amarr I might have taken them on.



I eventually arrived in the border system that possesses one of the most powerful stargates in the entire cluster: one of the so-called 'Smuggler Route' gates that can send a ship a full 35.9 light-years in a single jump, all the way to the Tenal region. The attraction to the scientist-explorer of this gate is that it transits right through Jove space en-route to Tenal.

Jove space...




But then I balked at the prospect. The Caroline's Star Remnant is at its most prominent here in Cobalt Edge. When that thing blew up two years ago it was visible from every point in the cluster simultaneously, which is a clear violation of the natural laws of the universe, so God knows what sprites and demons and gargoyles are lurking in the contaminated space that this super-powerful gate can push a ship through.

After my last journal, you'd think I was looking to retire and never fly through a stargate again. I gave it some thought. I still do. But then that sense of unfinished business takes over.

I went for it.





SF-XJS - Tenal

I arrived, intact.

Thank God.

The first thing you see - the only thing you see - out here in Tenal is the Jovian Nebula. Tenal is every bit as remote as Cobalt Edge, so the vibe is the same, but the universe taunts you by changing the scenery.



Nobody has heard anything significant from the Jovian Directorate for years. The Society of Conscious Thought has assumed the role of the Jovian Directorate in CONCORD. All published evidence suggests the likelihood that the Caroline's Star event caused the Jove race to cease to exist in a functional capacity.


What few of them must be left are totally isolated from us and each other because there are believed to be no active stargates in Jove space, although the map indicates a few in the far north, close to the track that the Smuggler Route gate takes (not that you'd be able to pull over and take a look because it's through hyperspace, which is everywhere and nowhere, where distance has no meaning - so whether you pass through anything at all is the unanswered question that I discussed last time).




Lingering here in Tenal wasn't on my agenda. If I stay out here too long with nothing to do, it starts to scare me and I want my FedMart shopping channel. I certainly had no intention whatsoever of trying to return to base by heading south from here because that would be suicidal.



I had an escape route. I'd seen it in Cobalt Edge.

I went back through the big gate (crossing my fingers and screwing my eyes tight shut even though I was in a capsule, so the intent was there even if it didn't actually happen).



Back in the border system in Cobalt Edge that I'd just left, I'd seen a marked and designated Drifter Hive entrance, so I dived into it.



In the act of doing this, I invalidated the concept of remoteness I just riffed on by travelling the 1,300 light-years to Anoikis, to the 'Sentinel' system. I can't get my head around that inconsistency: that Cobalt Edge feels more remote from home than this place does. I've said it before, I know, but I'll keep saying it because it keeps blowing my mind.




When I eventually regained Known Space, I was only a handful of jumps from Signal Cartel's other office in the Gelhan system in Derelik.

I headed over there. While Zoohen is our main administrative and operational base and Thera is more of a symbolic HQ ('cos, y'know, weird), Gelhan is the substitute/standby. At least that's what it feels like. I assume management chose this system as a base because of its proximity to the Providence region, but only a few nonconformists live here. Shamefully I even had to look up which of the three stations in this system was ours.



I docked. There was nobody else home. There is no FedMart shopping channel available here because this is the Ammatar Mandate, and this Amarr-template station belongs to the Directive Enforcement Department. It is a police station. I think this must be why so few of us operate here.



This is what I know: every time I go out there to the outer rim, I remember that humanity suppresses its knowledge of its own insignificance in the face of an indifferent universe by embracing banal, trivial short-term ephemeral self-gratification as a means of manufacturing a sense of self-importance.

As soon as I get back to highsec, I forget about it again.

The cycle repeats.


Friday, 10 February 2017

The Qualities of Hyperspace: The Peralles Incident Revisited


"One could say that the recent history of New Eden would be completely different if, say, Tibus Heth had been born female; or if, say, Empress Jamyl had a big wart on her nose. Since both those possibilities involve the element of chance, then it could be said there are many universes where one, or both of those things happened."

Lucile Nagahan - Higher Quantum Theory #21, Hedion University Guest Lecture Series Holovid Archives






Signal Cartel HQ: Theology Council Station orbiting Zoohen III, 1822hrs, 2/4/YC119 (aka now)

In my last entry I mentioned I was in the Syndicate. I ended up spending almost three weeks there, and I think a lot of it rubbed off on me to the extent that I'm still processing it all. I returned from Syndicate with several hundred million ISK more in the virtual bank thanks to some trading in archaeological relics and the proceeds of salvage (null security space means no Receiver of Wrecks, and liberal - non-existent - Laws of Salvage, but then you already knew that).




When I returned to Zoohen, I felt as if spending three weeks in Syndicate had benignly corrupted me and turned me into something resembling a Gallente, which is totally unacceptable. I knew this because I felt the warmth of Amarrian conformity upon my return. As an ethnic Ni-Kunni with a strong agnostic streak, I've previously railed against that sort of thing. However, the Empire is my home. I know what to expect there. Syndicate isn't like that. My dress sense even changed there in an attempt to hide in plain sight. Syndicate was energizing in its unpredictability for a while, even seductive; but ultimately, living on my wits is not my thing: I had to get out of there in order to slow down and recharge.

It's that deserts-of-Mishi-IV thing again.

Anyway I'm not here to talk about Syndicate as something more important cropped up since I came back.


Upon returning to my own internalised interpretation of 'known space', I embarked upon a cleansing ritual - a cleansing of too much accumulated garbage and capsuleer-dioxide: excessive amounts of ships, weapons, modules, parts, junk; especially ships parked in hangars all over the place and not getting used. Did I ever tell you I had an Armageddon-class battleship? It was docked in Zoohen. I hated it and seriously regretted buying it. I took it to the trade hub in the Dodixie system, stripped it of all its parts and sold it, and made another 200 mil right there. I did the same with over half of my roster of ships that I had scattered throughout Zoohen, Tash-Murkon Prime and Mista. Three of them went up on Signal Cartel's own in-house contracts list. They all sold.

Ships are to be used, not stored. It is a crime to leave them gathering dust in hangars.



During the numerous errands I had to run in order to transport everything to the various trade hubs and set up all the sell orders therein, I had cause to pass through the Dom-Aphis and Iderion systems that are right on the border between Genesis and Kador. Both systems are on one of the 'country routes' back to Zoohen from the centre of the Empire - a route that avoids the most commonly-trafficked systems where unimaginitive wardeccers and gankers lay traps for us.

In fact this part of space is actually just at the other end of the Mih Constellation and only five jumps from our HQ in Zoohen, so it is not remote. Barren and underpopulated, certainly, but not remote.



I had a bit of a memory gate moment as I passed through these systems en-route to Zoohen. The names 'Dom-Aphis' and 'Iderion' struck chords, like I'd heard of them before for some reason, long before I ever started operating around here. I mean I already knew of them in a more recent everyday operational sense of course, because they're in the same constellation as Zoohen and are just a handful of light-years away, but something deeper in my lizard-brain rang a bell of familiarity.

Dom-Aphis. Iderion. Who was it..? Something about a missing ship..?

This remnant of ghost-knowledge gnawed away at me until I docked in the Zoo (just a few minutes later...). I called up the big holovid on the wall as soon as I got to my quarters.

"Document search".

The holovid replied:

[request parameters?]

"Search global. Keywords: Dom-Aphis system, Iderion system, statistics on both. Supplement: unusual phenomena, newsworthy events, current affairs."

[specify time interval]

"No time interval. Prioritise."
  
[visual or spoken presentation of results?]

"Visual."

[processing]

The big whirling symbol started up on the screen. After just a few seconds the results arrived. Before sitting down and reading it all, I used the interval to brew some chai and change my outfit. I went for my traditional tunic. The purple one. I find that it grounds me and resets my ethnic baseline, which is something I need to do from time-to-time.



Only after that did I sit down and scan through the results. Page one was everything a capsuleer would expect it to be: navigational information, station specs, solar system data, planetary statistics, political situations, ship losses, colonies, settlements etc. because 'results are based on previous search history'.

"Filter: news reports only."

[processing]

The big holovid theatrically rearranged itself in that way that betrays a flashy, self-indulgent programmer. I'm all for artistic expression but just give me the damn results.

This time it was mundanities, like press releases on things like the recent appointment of a new VP of Procurement of some-corporation-or-other.

Halfway down the new page I saw the result I was looking for: Caissor.

The Peralles Incident.

That's it!

I retrieved the report. It was an official CONCORD thing. I read it, considered it, and digested it. My chai was cold by the time I was done.


 

[Excerpt from the declassified public summary of the report into the disappearance of the starship Peralles, declared missing and presumed lost in the vicinity of the Dom-Aphis system in Southern Genesis, near the Araz/Kador border]

The theory and technology behind jump gates opened up a whole new era in the history of mankind and is readily accepted as being one of the most important discoveries of all time. Jump gates have now been in usage for centuries and new versions appear regularly that make them more sophisticated and safe. Even if the functions of jump gates are well known from a theoretical point of view, there still remain a lot of unanswered questions about the fundamentals of dimensional inter-connections. 

Naturally, many theories exist on the subject, but none are comprehensive enough to fully explain how the universe is divided into many dimensions and the connections between them. Some also touch upon the subject of hyperspace, an alternative plane in another dimension. About the only statement these theories agree upon is that these issues are definitely not as simple as they seem on the surface.

[caption redacted]

Every now and then some unexplained events have occurred when a ship jumps through a jump gate, but these have been so few and far between that they’ve always been put down to accidents or faulty data. In recent months strange incidents in the barren and unpopulated systems near the hub of the known world have had people starting to question the reliability of jump gates and wonder whether humans opened Pandora’s box when they started using them.

What finally caught the attention of the media and, hence, the public, was the disappearance of the Gallentean Senator Hubert Caissor along with his family and his fortune in the ship Peralles en-route to a new post as ambassador to the Amarrians. The Peralles entered a jump gate in the Dom-Aphis system between Amarr and Gallente space. Its destination was the jump gate in the Iderion system close by, but it never re-appeared there. 


What makes this even more of a puzzle is that the control station at the Iderion jump gate received notification that a ship was incoming, showing all the right signs, yet no ship exited the jump gate. What is more, this notification is received at the exact same time every day, with the same result: no ship appearing even if all the signs indicate that a ship is about to come through the jump gate."

Since the Peralles incident, stories of other similar incidents have surfaced, all within the same region. These stories, some no more than unsubstantiated rumors, all tell tales of disappearing ships, strange disturbances while jumping, ghostly echoes and images and unsettling time shifts in the vicinity of jump gates.

[archive:1228/536/334/X65 - dissemination: this excerpt approved for public release. For further details contact your local CONCORD representative. Have a nice day]






 The Dom-Aphis - Iderion Stargate, Mih Constellation, Genesis, 2353hrs, 2/6/YC119

I'll wager that most of the space-based denizens of New Eden take the use of stargates completely for granted. I know I did.

My scientific curiosity got the better of me: after reading the report and refreshing my memory of the Peralles (and being a bit stunned by the fact that its disappearance was right on our cosmic doorstep and that hardly anybody around here knows about it), I headed over to Dom-Aphis in my Crow interceptor at the next available opportunity. I felt like running a few field tests. I loitered near the gate to the Iderion system - the gate that the Peralles disappeared into, and the gate I'd passed through in a state of obliviousness two days previously.



I watched a few ships pass through it. I know that nothing will have changed; that the risk of passing through here is no different than at any other time, but I felt like testing it out anyway.

Science and detective work: what a combination.

I called up the text of Professor Alain Topher's classic primer on stargate development that's become a set text in the academies, and scanned a couple of paragraphs, in my head, through my implants:

"Jump gates are built around artificial wormholes created by exploiting gravitational resonances found in star systems. This resonance is a friction between the gravitational waves of stellar objects. The more massive the objects, the stronger the resonance between them. The positions of planets in a solar system, as well as the complex structure of dust rings around heavy planets illustrate this resonance.



"At the node points, the rapid oscillation of the gravitational field in opposite directions creates strong shear in the contravariant energy-momentum tensor. Under normal circumstances this stress is dissipated by high frequency graviton radiation, so it does not create any noticeable macroscopic phenomena. But if this stress is confined and forced to build up in a limited region of space, then the tensor-field will eventually develop a steadily growing high-curvature tentacle-like structure in the space-time continuum. 

"More specifically, the tentacle constitutes a self-avoiding 4-manifold that attempts to grow farther and farther from itself. The tip of the tentacle, where the curvature is highest, effectively acts like a magnet on space-time, and for high enough curvature it can eventually induce the creation of a small tentacle in remote high-density regions that can reach to the tip and spontaneously combine. An analogy of this phenomenon is when lightning strikes ground, where the tip of the downward lightning actually creates a small upward lightning emanating from the ground and the two combine somewhere above the ground, thus closing the electrical circuit."

That's how the artificial wormhole between two stargates is generated. The power of a star brought to bear on a single point. What if that 'tentacle' it produces, that lightning bolt, that whip, breaks while I'm passing through it? What would happen? Is that what happened to the Peralles? In his text, Topher doesn't elaborate on dimensional theory and the nature of hyperspace. Anyone who studied quantum theory and all its forms knows that to do so is to invite madness. Advanced theoreticists speculate on a minimum of ten dimensions because the equations all make sense when you assume that many.

Madness.

If I jumped through this gate and never came back out again, would I become a resident of hyperspace or be injected into another universe altogether in accordance with the 'brane theory' of multiple universes? Would that other universe be an alternate timeline, where there's another version of me that never became a capsuleer?



Gate-activation protocol is based on proximity. The sequence is automatic. There is no need to communicate with the crews that man those gates, because it's all polling between ship AI and gate AI, the operation synchronised down to the femtosecond. You have a small window of time in which to cancel the transit, but after that you're going through whether you like it or not.

The hyperspace whip cracked.

I dived in...


 Into - somewhere...


...and back out the other side, still intact.


I certainly did not see the Peralles in there. I didn't expect to. I assume I emerged in the same universe, just like I assume I do every other time. How would I know for sure? Maybe everytime we use a stargate, we end up in a different universe only slightly, imperceptibly different from the one we left...

In any case, the visual 'tunnel' effect is an artifact - a pod-created simulation designed to distract you and make you feel better about where you just passed through order to get to where you are, now.  

To make it feel more normal. 

Cam drones are drawn in towards your ship and deactivated as part of the transit procedure. In that temporary reality, you see nothing, because there is nothing to see.



Or is there?

Is God in hyperspace?


Far from being elegant miracles of ultra high technology, stargates are a crude, brute-force method of tunnelling through the quantum foam that's filled with nameless sprites that sever the link between time and distance. Wormholes to Anoikis go further and faster. As far as we know, they are natural phenomena. To do the same, we need the equivalent of a hammer smashing a window.

In the case of jump drives on supercapital ships, we carry our own hammer around with us like opportunist burglars.

Normal meathead baseliner ship crews get plagued by cynosis during repeated stargate transit and the use of warp drive. We capsuleers are immunized from it by the pod, our implants and our training. It makes us take stargates for granted.

I did.

Not anymore.


As long as a stargate connection exists between these two systems, there always exists the possibility that the Peralles might one day re-emerge from whatever constitutes the limbo that it may or may not be stuck in. If it is anywhere at all. If it was destroyed, then how come an arrival signal carrying the ship's ID occurs at the Iderion gate every single day? 

Is hyperspace everywhere or nowhere? If distance has no meaning there, then how can anywhere be anywhere at all?

I called up the text of the report on the Peralles again and reviewed its most disturbing last paragraph:

"Since the Peralles incident, stories of other similar incidents have surfaced, all within the same region. These stories, some no more than unsubstantiated rumors, all tell tales of disappearing ships, strange disturbances while jumping, ghostly echoes and images and unsettling time shifts in the vicinity of jump gates."

So it's happened many times, right here in Genesis. Funny how we never get to hear about it. Has nobody considered that among the causes might be accidents of timing involving the proximity of the EVE Gate, right here in Genesis, with its God-like, respiratory pulses of electromagnetism and gravity? Topher speaks of gravitational nodes in his stargate primer; perhaps the EVE Gate produces some form of travelling rogue node that intersects - interferes - with the operation of a stargate. It only has to happen to you once.

What if the EVE Gate itself is the ultimate grand portal to some other dimension?


I'd ruminated enough; and proved nothing. I left the gate and headed over to the Civil Service station in Iderion, because there was no way I was passing through that gate twice in one night.


At this hour the station was quiet (because Civil Service bureaucrats derive their fun from rigidity - imagine an entire station full of them). In this massive station, the largest in the Amarrian station architect's repertoire, my Crow was the only ship in the docking bay. It was too damn quiet. At times like these I want noise.


Every time I come up against the boundaries of human knowledge, my lizard-brain reaches for its religious comfort blanket, which always surprises me because I'm supposed to be - I am - a scientist. And an artist. I'm supposed to be an agnostic too. Science and religion are clearly not that different.

I initiated the disembarkation procedure even before the docking clamps secured the Crow ('cannot comply, cannot comply'). I unjacked from the pod and headed straight for the standard quarters where I ordered lots of beer from the concierge service, and sought the banality of the local media as a distraction from thinking too much about quarks, and foam, and the other six dimensions we can't see. The dimensions that are all around us, but which we need a crude spacetime hammer to pass through.

How those higher entities must laugh.

Who do we think we are? What are we doing here?


I've said before how Signal Cartel is 'on the cutting edge of weird'. I've also theorised on how Genesis has more than its fair share of strangeness. Placing Signal Cartel's HQ in Genesis may have been more apposite than management may have ever anticipated.

To take a rational perspective, none of the above is ever going to stop me doing my job, but from now on I might momentarily invoke some ancestral superstition before sending that command at a stargate.

Especially in Genesis.

Science vs religion...

Before I unjacked from the pod in Iderion, I saw the optimistic chatter on our Alliance comms channel from other Signaleers embarking on their own personal missions all over the cluster and beyond.

I wondered:

Do any of you really know for sure where you'll end up tonight..?




[OOC Footnote: the above quotes two of the official EVE Chronicles - one of which I've embellished with graphics - as found on the EVE Online website and in the Book of EVE. Fair use terms are asserted, and any additions I've made are from a respectful standpoint. The EVE Chronicles are a rich seam of sci-fi lore & backstory and are the sole reason I got into playing EVE, and I feel that in the modern era they are somewhat neglected, especially since the EVElopedia died a death. For the record, I think EVE does itself a disservice by relieving the player of the requirement to engage with the lore in order to play the game. Therefore, if this blog entry motivates anybody to revisit the Chronicles, I will be pleased.]

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Signal Cartel's Second Anniversary


Signal Cartel was founded two years ago yesterday by Mynxee and Johnny Splunk. This period of time almost exactly coincides with my own existence as a capsuleer as I was also 'founded' two years and one month ago, when Hedion University decided I was ready to be pushed out into the void in my laughably-equipped rookie ship. This parallel evolution meant I was always aware of who and what Signal Cartel was, and given that my interests always coincided with its core philosophy, it was inevitable that I would join the corporation eventually.

Signal Cartel's other philosophy of conspicuous neutrality has been very successful, in the sense that it has provided an independent base, not aligned with any of the major powers, for those capsuleers who actually have a functioning brain and a vestige of social conscience - those capsuleers who do not instinctively seek to undermine New Eden's fragile homeostasis in the pursuit of self-interest, and who don't realise that the universe always has the final say when it comes to that sort of thing.

In its time, Signal Cartel has become the premier independent advanced training organisation for enlightened knowledge-seekers and explorers. Proof of this was evident after 'Alpha Day' late last year, when over 120 new recruits joined us over the course of about two weeks. Seriously, Sanxion was recruiting about ten per hour at one point, like fishing with explosives.

So when I learned of this corporation milestone, I decided to generate some corporation propaganda to commemorate the fact:


I'm currently in Syndicate, experiencing what is probably the most ethnically-diverse, vibrant and liberal region in the cluster, and spending a lot of time in the various Intaki Syndicate stations soaking it all up. If you're there, you can expect to start seeing this virtual poster on billboards, station noticeboards and holofeeds everywhere.

Because you can't stop the signal!

Saturday, 14 January 2017

The Strangest Thing I Saw All Year


"I go on expeditions for the same reason an estate agent sells houses: to pay the bills."
Farislen Caladana - archived interview from the anarchic indy vid channel Black Rise Buzz (now defunct)


Hedion University station orbiting Conoban VII - 12/11/118


Two months ago...

Unwarranted Advice Is Criticism

"You're manifesting Infomorph Corporeal Detachment Syndrome. Otherwise known in the scientific literature as immortality boredom. You're bored with living forever. It's all that cloning around."

Taltha. She has a certain turn of phrase.

This was my erstwhile nightclubbing sidekick, bar buddy and eventual occasional lover Dr. Taltha Glaziere Romero, Director of the Clone Research Facility in the Empress Jamyl Sarum I Medical Suite here in Hedion University in the Conoban system, where I was docked for a few days layover (because this is the station that I did all my advanced training in two years ago so I get nostalgic for it). Taltha is only five years older than me and does not conform to any of the scientist stereotypes, which is refreshing. Her meteoric rise through the ranks to a department head role was attributed to her being a 'prodigy' and having 'an instinctive feel for DNA'. I only knew the off-duty version of her, which, among other academic eccentricities, used to play drums in a band called Jovians Never Smile.  They were experimental. They used to prefer it when nobody showed up to watch.

Right now we were sat on the standard-issue couch in the quarters I'd rented in the station's Guests Wing. Taltha had just run a blood test on me using a portable she'd brought with her from her lab. I'd told her I wasn't feeling great and hadn't for a few days.

She looked at the results on the portable's small screen and laughed out loud.

I said: 'What's so funny? I'm not diseased! Am I?' I felt a certain discombobulation. Disorientation. Shaken my foundation. Nobody ever told me capsuleers could get ill.

'Yes you are," she said. "It's all there in your blood chemistry. It's not that big a deal though. I've just seen this pattern a lot lately. Are you using citadel clones?' Taltha already knew the answer.

'Yes?' I said.

'What are you in now? Where was it?'

'Ah..." I had to think - when was the last time? "...no, hang on, it was ESOCI's new Fortizar in the Mista system.'

'Were you one of the first persons to use it?'

'I was the first.' I said this like it was my claim to fame.

'Goddamn first-pass calibration job. Settings were probably off. Idiots.'

'I don't believe it.'

'Believe it! Citadel clone bays are all dreck. Built to a price. Did you never wonder how they all get established and up and running so quick? Bad biomass, no quality control - at least not as strict as mine. Highest quality biomass in the cluster, mine is.  You haven't been in the Republic have you?'

'Er, yes? Yes to both counts.'

'What, citadels in the Bodysnatcher Republic? Dreck...'

'I thought ESOCI were OK. They seem legit. They are legit. I know a bunch of them.'

'Who the hell are Eesocky?'

'The Evesploratory Society. The citadel in Molden Heath I've been using is theirs. They're a good crew.'

'Bad bio is bad bio. Ask them where they get their biomass for clones. Bet you it's contract garbage. Up there it'll be from Core Complexion because they're the biggest and nobody else is doing it - nobody I've heard about anyway. Anybody independent doing biomass and I hear about it. What are you doing in Molden Heath anyway? It's a toilet!'

'Er, premium ratting? Bit of casual ice mining? It is kind of quiet up there and I don't get hassled by anyone -'

'You know they mix offal in with it up there? You know they raid abbatoirs? You know Minmatar sell their children to biomassers?'

'What!?'

'I'm joking! Ha!'

I first met Taltha in the Mora Mosh Pit Club (where her band was playing) during one of my regular monthly class trips from my time here as a trainee. She and I became friends quickly, which was tolerated because she is not Hedion University faculty. I've mentioned her before on here, but not lately, because I've had no recent business in Conoban, and because the last time I arrived in her clone bay - any clone bay - directly from a TEBS cycle was sixteen months ago. I wonder if that statistic is not in fact a record in New Eden.

Those double omissions meant I hadn't seen Taltha for a few months so I was surprised to see her in her bright red mohawk phase again. As a chief surgeon/clonejacker, it amazes me she gets away with it, but then her position gives her the power of life and death and therefore a certain immunity to criticism in this theocratic monarchy that thrives on dogma.

'You have three-hundred-million ISK's-worth of cybernetic implants in your head but you have the body of a pensioner, but only on the inside,' she said.

Now I was really depressed. She saw the look of disappointment forming on my face and tried to reassure me.

'Look, it can be sorted,' she said. 'I have fixer serums for it that use nanorestorers. No need to recycle you, you'll be fine. Then," she leaned forward and put a hand on my shoulder, " - that other thing, the existential boredom, take some time off. Some proper time off. Don't kill anyone. No Blood Raiders. Go and do something constructive. Don't hang around here like a bad smell either, otherwise you'll put all the Alphas off. You know their optimism has to be carefully cultivated, almost programmed into them. They're like pets. They seem to get scared easily and the last thing I need round here is a bittervet stinking the place out.'

'I'm not a bittervet!'

'OK well most of you are. You could be. It tends to be self-selecting in that you all eventually disappear off to your own little private empires in null-security space, and stay plugged-in forever and become moronic. I don't want to see you ever become like that.'

'So you're telling me all this bad stuff because you still care about me?'

'Yes, of course. I wouldn't give my serums to just any of you idiots. They're far too valuable. I wouldn't even give then to the goddamn Navy.'

'Awww...'

We turned the holovid on and watched some trashy drama for a while in one of those comfortable silences. It was like I'd never been away, which was nice. After twenty minutes or so she half-turned her head towards me while keeping her eyes on the vid, and said 'You're with Signal Cartel now, right?'

'Yeah? That was ages ago. Six months or more now,' I replied.

'I heard about that outfit. This is the crew that are always looking for the cutting edge of weird. You make a point of not killing anyone. You're worse.'

'Why?'

She turned fully towards me. 'Terminal curiosity? Burns you out. Shreds your nerves. Just sit in a library and read a book. Stick your head in a holo. It's safer. Seriously, I'll do you an end-state clone and you can stop doing it. I'll get you a job. Do you want to look like Jamyl? It's my speciality.'

'Isn't that blasphemous?'

'Yeah, whatever. You think I'm scared of the Thought Police? All I have to do is tell them I can clone two of them at once and put both copies in the same room and CONCORD would never know, and that shuts them up.'

'You're unbelievable.'

'You're going soft.'

We turned back to the holovid.



The Architecture of the Bizarre

That thing Taltha said about 'always looking for the cutting edge of weird' - after she left the next morning I kept thinking about just how 'weird' the last six months have been.

I'd arranged to visit Taltha's lab later in the day to take some of those fixer serums she said she would cure me with. To kill some time I took my datapad to one of the University's student lounges - the one that overlooks the docking bay and therefore contrives to inspire the chattering trainees in here. I sat at a table with what passes for chai here and browsed my archive of cam drone stills, which is far larger than is sensible.

I found the Echelon.


Backstory: well over a year ago now, I bought an Echelon frigate purely on impulse. I have a thing for collecting examples of those rare ships that appear on the market from time-to-time; those ships that are considered unsuccessful, or developmental dead-ends, or too esoteric for some reason. Part of my reasoning for buying the Echelon at the time was because a couple of examples of the unique equipment module around which the Echelon was designed, happened to reside in Outdated Host Productions' hangar in the Gehi system, so that gave me cause to satisfy that terminal curiosity that, let's face it, all explorers have got.



More backstory: the Echelon frigate was designed by CONCORD for one reason and one reason only: to hack into the data networks and electronic countermeasure systems that Sansha's Nation was using around the time the Nation first commenced its series of Incursions. CONCORD had covertly and clandestinely acquired an example of the 'Purloined Sansha Data Analyzer' device that was needed to get a ship to 'speak Sansha'.



CONCORD realised the device wouldn't work on a conventional ship's data buses, so designed the Echelon entirely around it. The Echelon was unveiled in YC112, but did not see regular use by the Empyrean community - mostly because the Echelon is so optimised for the Sansha hacking thing that it has no other equipment bays and can't do anything else. Echelons then became mostly curiosities for obsessive collectors like me.

Mostly curiosities, because somebody realised that an Echelon can hack regular Data Sites as well.



It's not a simple ship to operate. It's more like one part of a modular system. If you want to use an Echelon, you have to go out there beforehand and travel several light-years through several systems, probe-scanning everything first with a regular scanning ship, because the Echelon hasn't even got the internal space to fit probes.

If it's your lucky day, like it was mine when I found a Covenant facility in the Assez system near to where my Echelon was docked in Zoohen, then the hassle of returning the several light-years back to base to swap your capsule over to the Echelon can be justified.


Just about.

Terminal curiosity...




I took my Echelon over to the Covenant site and set about hacking it. It did not take long; in fact it was pleasantly straightforward as I realised the Sansha module and the ship's optimisation around it - its default state - gave it the same hacking power as a fully rigged-up Covert Ops frigate with Tech II-class analyzers.

The interface, by the way, is identical to that of the standard analyzer module, which is the whole point of the ship.



That interface of course appears in your head through your optic nerve and you manipulate it by thought. Same capsule, same system.


Assez is one of many systems in the Genesis region that are classified as low-security space. The system was quiet, there was nobody else around to hassle me, so this one time the potential risks were absent. I found the experience quite enjoyable.



Genesis, being the oldest, longest-settled region in the cluster, has a haunted vibe, with far more than its fair share of enigmas, which has to be related to the fact that Genesis is home to the EVE constellation and you-know-what. I see those ancient dead station hulks, defunct stargates and other random wreckage drifting around, and I wonder why nobody ever bothered to clean it up - maybe it's all possessed by the souls of dead colonists so nobody touches it.

I mention this because the Covenant data site I hacked with the Echelon had a kind of sentinel or overseer sitting nearby in the form of a metal sphere that I'd never seen before. Another Genesis enigma.




I hadn't noticed it at first, because my Overview was on the wrong (right) page so it did not register there. I initially dismissed it visually as a nearby moon.


After I'd finished hacking the site I headed over there to check out this weirdosphere.



It was not large, it emitted nothing, was unscannable, made no response to any enquiries on my part, and seemed to pose no threat. If it was a weapon, then the Covenant scumbags in those bunkers that were no doubt watching me, did not deign to activate it.

If it was a station, then it had no means of entry and exit.

If it had engines, then those engines had no exhaust. It made me think of Drifters and those abominable battleships and their 'Prong Drive'.



I read theories about constructing a sphere like this around a star, enclosing that star and building a biosphere on the inner wall, resulting in a habitat on a mind-boggling scale.

It's never been done.

Perhaps this was a prototype. A test device. A feasibility study.

Maybe it was just some local Covenant boss's idea of a joke. An inert sculpture. A piece of jewellery...


Seeing this bizarrosphere - the only one of its kind I've ever seen - in my cam drone still library summed up Taltha's comment about the 'cutting edge of weird'; but as I scrolled through more of the images, I saw that the list of weird is long, and being in Signal Cartel means it gets longer every time I go out there.

I see coincidences of planetary alignment producing transient moments of hypnotic beauty -


- contrasted with desecration, violence, vulgarity, atrocity. Sansha:


I see the fundamental chaos of the universe expressed in the brief flare of criticality -


- contrasted with the rigid order and symmetry of gas giant rings:



The blasphemy of Anoikis -


 - where there are too many secrets:



The impossible power of Thera:



The hubris of humanity expressed in the wreckage of failure -


- and ruined technology from forgotten pasts: 


Artifacts that defy all reason -



- including the strangest of them all:


 And yet the simple things detain me every time, like patterns of light playing off ship hulls -

 


- or surfing stellar coronae. How close can I get..?



This meditation on the limits of the bizarre was interrupted by my datapad ringing like a bell: my reminder to head to Taltha's laboratory to take her exotic health-restoring serum. I got up from the table in the lounge and turned to the door. I saw some of the trainees gazing out at ships in the docking bay. One of those ships would be mine - the ship I used to bring a hold full of ammunition here to sell on the market. No doubt some of them would be buyers in the future.


Taltha was right: we do exist on the cutting edge of weird. The greatest risk is not the risk of getting killed, it's becoming blasé about it - existential boredom. But Taltha was wrong about me there because I'm not bored yet. Not by a long shot.

Two days later, I walked up the ramp towards the pod gantry where my ship was docked, my business in Hedion University done for now. Any journalist knows their entire life is an ongoing narrative. Ascending the ramp towards the docking bay is always the beginning of another chapter. I knew then, there were a lot worse things to have in this business than terminal curiosity -


- because I don't want this to just be about paying the bills.