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? ", 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?'


'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.'


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.'


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.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Legion: Shakedown Trials in the Drone Lands

Prologue: Morning - The Ni-Kunni Tea Ritual

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


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

"I said cease."

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


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

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

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

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

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

This is the view out the window:

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

"Aura, status please."

Alton Haveri is muted.

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

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

"You're learning..."

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

"There are always unknown unknowns."

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

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

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

The Molden Heath Sessions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that red nebulosity: it's everywhere.

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

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

Out here, it is bronze.

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

This is no cave

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

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

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

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

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

Etherium Reach - Face-to-Face With Several Demons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not this.

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

Here be more Drones.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet dreams, boys...

Back to the Heath

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

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

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

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

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

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

We're heading for interesting times...