Saturday, 22 July 2017

Deus Ex Starship

'Only through many hardships, is a man stripped to his very foundations. And in such a state devoid of distractions is his soul free to soar. And in this he is closest to God'
GALNET: Devoid Region (excerpt from Amarrian Scriptures)

Emperor Zaragram Ardishapur II is not a name you will be familiar with unless you are an Amarrian theological scholar.

Or a capsuleer.

The historical legacy of Zaragram has been suppressed over the two millennia since his reign as Emperor, to the extent that there are no references to him by name in anything considered public record from that long ago. Instead you get non-specific references to the ‘head of state’ or ‘the Emperor’.

The reasons for this airbrushing from history are hard to piece together from what little is common knowledge, but it involves the usual corruptions: obsession with power and greed and megalomania, culminating with Zaragram declaring himself a God instead of being content with merely being God‘s choice of Emperor.

In short, he went completely mad. Totally off his gourd. A crazed dictator with a personality cult.

Examples throughout New Eden history indicate that this level of madness invariably reaches its zenith in a serious edifice complex. Thus it was that at some point during his reign, Zaragram ordered the construction of a series of large space stations in the Shastal system in the Devoid region. This collective was named The City of God, naturally after the God Emperor Zaragram himself, but it is not clear why it was built here in Shastal, 9.8 light-years from Amarr, on the edge of the Empire.

'God' worked in mysterious ways.

What happened next is again not clear because it was two thousand years ago, but Zaragram died not long after the completion of the City of God, and his death coincided with the inception of the renegade, underground Order of St. Tetrimon as well as inciting a whole raft of purges and doctrinal schisms within the theocracy that went on to last several centuries.

So nothing’s changed there, then. As an agnostic Ni-Kunni in charge of a starship, I can say things like that, even in public.

The City of God was abandoned and left to decay after the demise of Zaragram and his power structure all those centuries ago. It may have been mostly forgotten about by Amarrian rank-and-file since then, but to those of us who have a cosmic perspective it is impossible to ignore, because it still exists today and is a marked and beaconed navigational hazard which appears on our star charts.

Last week I did the wormhole shuffle from Anoikis and emerged into the Hakshma system in Empress of Amarr. I did a standard operational procedure sitrep to see where the hell I was, and I saw that the Shastal system was just one jump away. The City of God was right there on the map, so I headed straight over there to check out another example of Amarrian architectural abandonware (because I already did the Traumark Installation last year).

Sidebar: Empress of Amarr now looks substantially different from the last time I featured it in this journal. The ship's designers mandated a systemwide upgrade requiring the entire aft half of the ship to be rebuilt in order to accommodate a totally new subsystem architecture, resulting in a massive performance improvement across its entire operational envelope. I never said this before, but I was never totally happy with the ship’s capabilities in its previous iteration, because I came to realise it was never quite as good as it could be for what I wanted it to do; but now, after this upgrade, it’s transformed. It’s a new ship. It’s the ship it could be and now is.

So I arrived in Shastal, saw the City of God on the Overview and warped straight over to it. I expected it to be camped out by Sansha’s Nation pirates as they usually hang out at derelict space stations in this part of space, but no, I had this place to myself.

As well as the sole remaining station hulk, there were also a couple of those jury-rigged, ad-hoc asteroid complex things floating nearby: the ones where they hollow out a bunch of rocks and network them together with access tubes to form industrial facilities in arrangements that have no symmetry and must therefore be dynamically unstable ['cos you know how important that is, right? Mass/balance etc.?]. I got the impression the complexes were relatively recent additions to this site as they appear to be active, but you can never tell for sure whether there are people in these things as they can be run on automatic by robots, or occupied by slaves jacked up on Vitoc and living the eternal deathlife of the trans-cranial microcontroller. Or even miners. All those possibilities probably amount to the same thing to be honest.

There is a hemispherical dome monument here with a statue on it, presumably of Zaragram. I assume this even though I couldn’t find a single image of him to confirm it, because it makes sense that he would do a statue of himself here. The rest of the complex has that familiar vibe that we’ve all seen in derelicts throughout New Eden: failure, hubris and nemesis. The site has been here for two thousand years. If it’s lasted this long, it will be here for all eternity.

And yet if this structure is such an abomination, such an offence to Amarrian orthodoxy, then why doesn't somebody come down here and blow it up, destroy it, dismantle it, scrap it, remove it from the face of the cosmos? Why leave it here where it can be found? It's another core Amarrian trait: tell everybody that something is wrong and to forget it, then leave evidence of it so everyone can remember what to forget.

I drifted across the top of the giant station, the design of which is still in use in the Empire today. I had no idea they were this ancient. In the modern equivalent of these stations, the central core dome usually contains its docking bay. Under normal operations, a ship will emerge from that docking bay through the large opening in the top of the dome, so it represents a means of seeing inside it; but all I saw when I coasted over the dome was an impenetrable dark void, which is something that activates my inner Amarrian and causes me to blur the division between science and religion. Some parts of that station will still be pressurised. There will be corpses in there. Frozen meat popsicles. Ancient Amarr on ice. Perhaps Zaragram himself is in there, at one with his greatest achievement. Nothing I read about him suggests he died elsewhere.

I became aware of a certain kind of historical contrast going on that I had caused by showing up here. Empress of Amarr is the cutting-edge of Amarrian starship technology and embodies the perfect merger of human and machine like nothing else in New Eden. Zaragram declared himself a God in order to become closer to God, but all he had to disguise his mortality was his word. Today, two thousand years after Zaragram and his God complex, I jack into this ship and I become that ship. I get it to do things just by thinking about it, committing actions by thought. I can harness the power of a sun, break the universe's speed limit and traverse a thousand light years in a single breath.

I can also live forever.

To some societies, that kind of power would make me the God.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

The Cosmos Is All That Is Or Ever Was Or Ever Will Be

The Wanderer's Den, Horaka, Molden Heath: 1455 hrs

Another spectacular alignment of cosmic karma led to an opportunity, finally, to retrieve my Crow that I'd docked in ESOCI's citadel in the Horaka system some four months ago. The wormhole had manifested nearby a few times before but I was always out of position or there was something more pressing I needed to do.

I'd left the Crow there because it seemed a good idea at the time - to use it on expeditions into Drone space, which is close to Molden Heath. Then plans got changed, I got into wormholes, then I changed the plans again, because I have a short attention span or a low boredom threshold or whatever it is, so the Crow ended up idle in Horaka for nearly half a year. I did try selling it on a free contract to Signal Cartel at one point. In the contract description I put 'Free Crow in an inconvenient location'. There were no takers. Does Molden Heath really not register at all on Signaleers' consciousness? A free interceptor!

Anyway, I've got it back.

I ran some systems checks: months of idleness had caused a few leaks, brittle seals, blocked injectors. Flat batteries. Kaalakiota are usually better than this at shipbuilding. The engineers had stuffed the ship in a corner of the docking bay and let the tokamak run cold. I can't blame them for that as they hadn't heard from me in four months. I told them there was a case of Starsi in it for them if they fixed it all in an hour. Oldest form of persuasion going. Or perhaps the second oldest...

Cold starts take ages. I jacked in. I kicked the tyres, I lit the fires. I undocked.


A creaking hull. The sounds of flushing plumbing. Was the Crow complaining or was it waking again and rejoicing in the warm embrace of the cold void? At least I was the only biological in here. No crew to think about. I dislike crew.

I ran a few systems checks. MWD: fine, eventually. If I could have kicked it, I would have.

Improved Cloak II: slipped out of this universe into shallow hyperspace, then back out again. It worked, but it still seems wrong to do that sort of thing.

The all-important Scan Probes: I still get that weird, spurious error message that says something about there being 'not enough probes to fill the launcher' when I'm only carrying the one set so the auto-reload can't work. I mean is two sets a mandatory requirement or something? At least the set I had worked fine.

Satisfied, I set course for the wormhole that was seven jumps away. At 10.56 AU/s, I would be there in minutes.


Arek'Jaalan Site One

My route back to the 'hole took me through the Eram system in Metropolis. When I jumped into Eram, the Overview loaded and I saw a very interesting Beacon appear in the list, because the Eram system is the location of the Arek'Jaalan Site One facility. This is the scientific research laboratory that was founded by the late Hilen Tukoss. You'll remember him. Anyone who has an interest in exploration should have heard of him. It was Tukoss' dead body that was found floating, lifeless and shipless, in the vicinity of the first Drifter Hive to be reached by capsuleers a couple of years ago after Tukoss got there first. Remember the Scope vid featuring Tukoss' garbled warning 'Live from the Hive' before Drifters blew up his ship? Remember CONCORD's demands for the return of his frozen corpse under various threats of death to those capsuleers that were hiding it?

Backstory: in YC113, ex-Zainou employee Hilen Tukoss defected to the Republic from the State and set up shop in the Eram system, bankrolled by very large donations of ISK and infrastructure from Eifyr & Co., allies in the Fed, and by a number of capsuleers who were of a like mind. Site One was the result. Its name means something to do with either 'dissidence' or 'revenge' in the original Caldanese. Tukoss sounded like one of those types of scientist that are dangerous: driven as much by the need to get one over on those who have wronged him as by scientific curiosity.

Tukoss was still a wanted man in the State when he disappeared shortly after the site's completion. Two years ago he theatrically resurfaced somewhere in Anoikis, near what we now know to be a Drifter Hive, which sparked off the first series of capsuleer expeditions into Drifter space (through the 'Unidentified Wormholes'), which may or may not have incited the Drifters to do their thing, which, oddly enough, seems to have stalled lately, as if they're either bored with us, or worse, they're biding their time. Waiting us out.

Since that incident two years ago (and since the loss of its founder), the Arek'Jaalan project appears to have faded from visibility and hasn't published anything new in ages. You have to assume that Tukoss' disappearance is most of the cause of it. The facility has not shut down, as is obvious from the signs of activity present today; but all the literature and documents that can be accessed at the site pertain to projects that are several years old by now.

The site is just nine million km from the Eram primary, which is nothing. At a certain distance from the large Fed-template outpost structure, an automatic signal gives a short, pro-forma message about what this place is. That initial 'welcome message' is accompanied by a couple of documents that are automatically downloaded into your ship's databanks: explanatory texts on what Arek'Jaalan was and who contributed to its construction.

The site is still active, as evidenced by the few ships that can be seen shuttling around it - shuttles and industrials, mostly.

It is not a freeport so you can't dock in the Fed place or the Republic-built station nearby. There is a 'capsuleers quarters' section, which is a series of those standardised prefab units you see all over the cluster. You can't dock in any of that either. Permissions must be sought. From whom, I have no idea. I doubt that permission would be given lightly.

I programmed the Crow to make a slow tour of the facility at 185 m/s. The view is hypnotic. Eram's disc is vivid like an angry blister, and it should blow out everything around it in blinding red giant light, but the new cam drones we've been using since last month serve to confound your expectations by presenting you with a view an unaugmented eye cannot see.

While touring the site, I browsed some of the other published literature on this place: news reports from the years after it was built, the accounts from some of the capsuleers involved in its construction, and more recently the Scope vids on the Drifter/Tukoss thing. I realised from this information that all the Archive structures were interactive, and that if I made slow, close passes abeam them all, the Crow would interface with each one and download documentation that would detail whatever exotic research had gone on inside it (note the past tense there. I'll get on to that in a minute).

So that was what I did. As I passed each structure at what felt like a walking pace, some sort of automatic polling took place between the Crow and the archive structures. Documents started appearing in the Crow's memory.

Very interesting documents.

* * *

The Deepest Answers to the Simplest Questions

Anything that focused on the Sleepers and Anoikis was right down my flightpath. What stood out though, about all of it, was that it was all years old. Below is less than half of what's available.

Project Blueprint: investigating Sleeper constructs in Anoikis. I've done enough of this myself recently, as have the hundreds of capsuleers who live and work in Anoikis today. I could contribute loads of info to this myself, right now. I have tons of cam drone stills. I would like to know why those structures exhibit an iridescent quality when you get near them.

Project Common Ground: what's interesting about this one is how several years of capsuleer presence in Anoikis and the accumulated knowledge therein has proved how wrong its hypothesis is. Rogue Drones? Our designer of Signal Cartel's ALLISON AI construct would have a lot to say about that.

Project Compass: the one that found where Anoikis actually is. I met its lead researcher Mark726 once last year in the Jakanerva system. I wanted to ask him whether his name is actually his real name, or one of those oddball pseudonyms that some capsuleers give themselves. If it's his real name, then does the State really do that? Do the 'paternalistic mega corporations' give their newborn children employee numbers and put them on their birth certificates? I wanted to ask him that, but I didn't because he seemed like a nice guy and it seemed rude. In case you need reminding, Compass is the one that determined the distance to Anoikis as 1,300 light-years, which is ten-times the distance between the extreme points of the New Eden Cluster.

Project Enigma: interesting only because since this project was concluded, the Caroline's Star event took place in UUA-F4 and resulted in what we now believe to be the extinction of the Jovian Directorate, so its hypothesis about 'decline' was totally correct but for different reasons.

Project Huntress Green: this was the juice. Indisputable proof that some form of humanity existed in Anoikis before we got there in the present epoch. Thousands of years before we got there, during what we've always described as the Dark Ages. 

Some of our ancestors were way ahead - if the Dark Ages ever affected them. We already knew this. None of it is a surprise to any capsuleer who operates in Anoikis, or any capsuleer at all. However after reading about Huntress Green and its research into bio on terrestrials in Anoikis, I thought about those robot mines I set up on two planets in [classified]. I really ought to get back there and get down to the surfaces of those planets and have a good look around.

You never know what might be down there.

A lost Talocan colony..?

The reference to the past tense up there: it's because all the research abstracts that can be downloaded at Site One relate to activities that took place not less than six years ago.

So what have they been doing here since?

The Arek'Jaalan collective's current status is not clear. Cursory research indicates the collective most recently did something called 'Project Heliograph', aimed at trying to communicate with a Drifter Hive. That was two years ago. You can read about it here. That document gives you the impression that Arek'Jaalan is discredited these days. Then I read another report on it that suggested at least half of the projects listed at the site itself have yet to be completed; likewise a defunct mailing list with a header entitled 'Emergency Summit - Abandonment of Arek'Jaalan'. Perhaps the disappearance and death of its fugitive founder robbed it of its direction; perhaps Tukoss was dictatorial and without him it is a rudderless ship. Other noted capsuleers publicly associated with Arek'Jaalan in the beginning have since left it, like Rhavas, attributed in some of the documents I've reproduced above, but who is now believed to have retired from the pod altogether and become a meathead again. Perhaps the collective is spread too thin now, and IKAME has picked up where it left off.

So is it done or not? If it is done, why is Site One still active?

Maybe I'm reading too much into it again. Living in Anoikis does that to you. It's all that D-scanning.

All things end. Arek'Jaalan was six years ago. A lot has happened since. To capsuleers, that length of time could encompass a thousand lifespans.

To the cosmos, it doesn't mean a damn thing.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun

So I spent all that time in Amarr waiting for the wormhole to pass nearby.

It did, I went back to the dreamworld for a few days, then I had some corp media-related business to deal with, so I came back out and headed for our HQ in Zoohen (our real HQ, not the symbolic one in Thera).

The corp business in Zoohen meant I ended up detained there for over a week. So while last time I was away from the wormhole against my will, this time I was away from the wormhole voluntarily.

Such is life and its contradictions.

Then I decided to do something constructive while waiting out the wormhole again, unlike last time when I wasted time indulging in decadent cultural irrelevances and too much rich food. Last month I discovered I needed to repair my broken relationship with the Fed. I found this out when I casually entered Fed high-security space in the Solitude region and was presented with the automatic system-wide broadcast warning me that I was a criminal in the eyes of the Fed now, and that the faction police was after me. This had never happened to me before! How rude! If I hadn't been in my interceptor which was the fastest ship in the constellation at the time, I dread to think how it would have gone down.

It was obvious why this had happened: all those missions I had done for agents in the Empire, removing excessively ambitious Fed presences in Empire space, had, at some point, according to CONCORD and the DED's number-based arbitrary accounting system called 'Standings', lowered my negative status with the Fed below the -5 threshold which caused the Fed's law enforcement arm to become interested in me by default. The problem was that I hadn't noticed.

After this, I regained Empire space and did some intense bureaucratic juggling to restore my Standings to a point where I wouldn't get immediately arrested or blown up next time I entered Fed highsec. 

So with some time on my hands (again), and since Zoohen is right on the Fed border, I decided to take my Prorator into the Fed for a few days and volunteer for some courier/transport work for one of the commercial shipping corporations. My diligence would register with the relevant authorities and I would be at least tolerated in Fed space again.

But that's not what this journal is really about.

This week every ship in the cluster received a new batch of cam drones with upgraded visual processing algorithms. The principal effect of this change is to make stars look much more like the giant balls of raging photosphere that they are.

The effect is dramatic, compelling, arresting, hypnotic. Mind-blowing:

While I transited the border systems en-route to Sinq, I tested out the new cam drones by flying to several of the stars that were on my way, dropping out of warp closer to them than is probably sensible, just to take a look.

Warp drives shift us into a shallow realm of hyperspace, so in the process of reaching a temporary perihelion at each of the stars in question, I flew through some of them, right through their centres, which was weird.

I still dislike doing stuff that shouldn't be possible in this universe...

But there's no doubt that seeing ambient light reflecting off ships' hulls exactly as it does for real now, is far more satisfying to look at than the old system, where stars were just blank discs with no detail because there was no perceived need to render it.

I could have stayed for hours at each star, but I could sense the huge temperature differential being inflicted upon the hull at the distance I was orbiting them, a phenomenon much more visually obvious than it was before. If I stayed here too long the Prorator's interior would become an oven.

The result would be one broiled capsuleer. 

The new algorithm means all stars seem properly alive now. Angry balls of gas and gravity in perfect balance.

At close range (like several tens-of-thousands of kilometres), a ship's sunlit side is bleached clean of any detail. But then you still get the impossible juxtapositions of faint nebulae still visible behind the overwhelming power of the star's light. This new cam drone upgrade must have been overseen by an artist, not a programmer.


I can't get enough of it. I still, and never will understand how some capsuleers get blasé about the view outside. It never gets old. It never gets boring.

Even the TransStellar Shipping station orbiting Adiere X that I docked in had a faint pink tint to its slate grey hull that it never would have had under the old system.

Fact: this upgrade means the awesome visual wealth of New Eden has improved even further, and only us capsuleers get to see it like this.

What a time to be immortal.

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'...