Saturday, 12 April 2008

3. RIP Steve

I awoke the next morning, slightly damp from the less than luxurious bunk, but excited about what lay ahead. The resting place of Steve the Titan was on the agenda for today, and I would pass through a lot of systems on the way.

I set out from the Guardian Angels station, fully expecting to be back there before too long. My clone was there, and surely the rest of the people I would encounter would not be so accomodating as Bruce and his followers had been. My first few jumps were uneventful, so I was glad of the company of my friend SaberX in my chat channel. I would fear for my sanity in the vast unoccupied stretches of 0.0 if I had no one to talk to.

I briefly left Bruce's territory, and entered a system occupied by Thorn. Saber was able to tell me that they were friendly with Bruce, but that was all he knew. I remembered that the Interceptor that seemed to be stalking my yesterday was flown by one of these fellows, so I was slightly uneasy. Nevertheless, I was soon out of Thorn space, and back in Bruce's territory.

I entered a system called Y-2ANO, which was quite populated, and had another station owned by Bruce in it. The locals did not wish to chat though, and Saber was able to tell me that this system was often quite hostile territory, and enemies of Bruce were almost constantly present there. I knew this meant I was not safe there, so I decided to quickly move on. As I warped to the next gate on my route, however, my heart was filled with dread. I could see that the next system was in the region of Delve. This was Bob's homeland, and the current biggest warzone in the universe. I was certain there would be great danger there, and even if there was not, I had made friends with Bruce's followers, would that automatically make me Bob's enemy? I hoped not, but the sense of foreboding would not go away.

I jumped through, to ZXB-VC, and was delighted to find that my fears were exaggerated. The system was empty, so I continued on my way. A couple of jumps later, I encountered the first follower of Bob I had met. As I jumped into the system, I was met with a message in local alleging that I was farming for ISK. The, rather rude, pilot was called Roxanna Kell, and was a follower of Bob. This first impression was not very good, and I felt I should get out of there fast before it turned nasty. A few jumps later, however, this same Bob follower joined my chat channel. I was at first slightly scared, fearing I was being hunted and harassed for daring to set foot in Bob's territory uninvited, but after talking to Roxanna for a while, she turned out not to be so bad after all.

I had heard Bruce's side of the conflict yesterday, and now Roxanna was able to give me Bob's side of the story. There are two sides to every tale, and I wanted to hear them both before I made any judgment about who I felt was in the right. Bruce's friends had told me of an unholy pact between Bob and the Jovian deities, who aided Bob's forces in battle using supernatural means unavailable to their foes. This was said to be the cause of all the hatred between Bob's followers and the rest of the universe. Bob's foes were also bitter at the deities, and a lot of anger had spread throughout the universe.

I had expected Roxanna to deny this outright, but surprisingly she was happy to admit it had happened, though she hastened to add that it was the work of a single person, or possibly a handful of people, working against the wishes of Bob himself. Nevertheless, it was still the cause of the vast majority of the inhabitants of 0.0 wanting Bob dead. At the time this pact was discovered, Bob had steamrollered over a vast swathe of 0.0, destroying alliances, and smashing all who stood in his path. Bob quickly became the most powerful despot in the history of the universe, and the others saw this as a gross misjustice by the gods that they had assisted Bob in such an underhanded way.

Far from being crushed by this mass hatred, however, Bob and the majority of his followers, who had been betrayed themselves by the rogue elements amongst them turning the rest of the universe against them, revelled in it. Adversity drew them together, and they would be stronger in the face of it, because they had to rely on each other when everyone else wanted them dead.

Saber and Roxanna were able to tell me of the relationships between the followers of Bob and Bruce, and some of the other alliances in 0.0. It seemed there was a grudging respect between Bruce and Bob (and their respective followers). Although they fought each other, they fought with honour, and there was no bitter taste left in the mouth of the defeated party in their battles.

The relationships with the other alliances were different. Goonswarm hated Bob vehemently, and would stop at nothing to see Bob dead. Although they shared a common enemy with Bruce, there was no love lost between them, and they regularly fought each other as well. The other alliances for the most part just wanted a share of the vast power that Bob had accumulated.

In recent times, Bob had withdrawn to the region of Delve, which he was currently defending with all his might. Bob's followers put this down to the earlier rapid expansion leaving Bob with so much territory to control, it made sense to withdraw to a smaller region that would be easier to defend against the vast hordes baying for his blood. Of course, Bob's opponents would argue that he had been forced back by their weight of arms. Whatever the truth of the matter was, there was no simple black and white answer as to who was "in the right". On my voyage so far, I had learned that I could not judge an individual based on who they swore their allegiance to. Paranoia from the alliances was not the only thing infecting 0.0, stereotyping was another. A pilot would gain a reputation because he was a Goon, or because he followed Bob, or Bruce. But tarring all these pilots with the same brush was a mistake. There were real people on every side, and they were not so different from each other. I was sure each side had committed atrocities, and that each side was just as much a victim as the others. I made a vow to myself that I would not make a judgment on anyone based on any factor other than their direct treatment of me. To me, all pilot would be equal, potential friends until they gave me reason to believe otherwise. No one was my enemy unless they made themselves my enemy.

From then on, my journey was quite lonely. I passed through many systems, but hardly saw a soul. Eventually though, I reached my goal. I jumped into C9N-CC, and saw the beacon flashing in front of me. I warped to it and finally beheld the glory of the first mighty Titan to rise, and also to fall. Bob was his undoer. Rest In Peace, Steve.

I decided to stay here for the night. I would maintain a silent vigil, in memorial of this once great behemoth. May he never be forgotten.

Friday, 11 April 2008

2. The Fountain Flows

After having got a good night's sleep, the first outside Jita for many years, I set out on the next leg of my journey. I was off to see Bruce.

I had set a destination for PNQY-Y, as I knew there was a station there where I could install my clone, should I manage to gain permission from Bruce. This route would take me back through Empire space, relative safety, where I could relax and enjoy the journey while dreaming of the wonders which awaited me in Bruce's home region of Fountain. It was such a beautiful name, and it conjured images of a region flowing with wealth and great adventure. I hoped this Fountain would flow with adventure for me, if nothing else.

As I entered New Caldari, I felt strangely nostalgic. Although I could not bear to return to my old life of trading, I could not help but realise that I would be unable to settle anywhere for a long time. My quest would keep me on the move constantly for many months, maybe even years. Would I ever return home again? I shook the feeling off, though, and was soon on my way again, stopping briefly in Korama to pick up some Quafe Ultra and Long Limbed Roes. A girl's gotta eat, after all.

Many uneventful jumps later, I finally arrived in F7C-HO, the first time I had set foot in Bruce's territory. I was sad to see that I was all alone in the system, it seemed I would not be able to meet the famous Bruce just yet. I travelled onwards, and a few jumps later, I entered the system of JJA-IX, and I was finally in Fountain. However, again, this was an empty system. I realised though, Bruce could not be everywhere, and I was sure he had important things to attend to.

I continued onward resolutely, determined to find the great man. I was nearing my destination on PNQY-Y, and began to get worried about what would happen if I arrived there unannounced. After all, the members of Ethereal Dawn had not taken too kindly to my sudden arrival at one of their stations, and I was sure Bruce would not either. I needed to gain his blessing before I could venture near the place, I was sure. Happily though, upon entering 4-EP12, I discovered someone who was obviously a friend of Bruce's, for he proudly displayed Bruce's name alongside his own. This man was named Ivasha, and he was kind enough to put me in contact with one of Bruce's inner circle, 120z Jesus. This lightweight Messiah was a Diplomat, and he would make political decisions on Bruce's behalf. He was surely the correct person to talk to about becoming friends with Bruce. I sent a message to him, and sat in space in 4-EP12 for what seemed like an eternity, waiting for a response.

Eventually one came, but sadly it was not what I had been hoping for. My advances had been spurned. It seemed Bruce did not trust me enough to become my friend, though he would not be my enemy either. 12oz Jesus wished me well for my journey, but informed me that I would be unable to dock at the station in PNQY-Y. This was a massive setback. I had come a long way, and if I was podded again, all my travelling would have been for nothing. I needed to keep moving my clone, or my journey would be very difficult indeed.

A delightful twist then occurred. A pilot named RikkiTikki Tavi, another friend of Bruce's, contacted me to check on my progress, and I told him of my recent setback. He was able to tell me that there were stations in the region of Serpentis Prime where I would be able to dock. These stations were open to anyone who wished to dock, and even better, they had cloning bays!

Armed with this knowledge, I immediately set one of these stations as my destination, but I decided I would call via PNQY-Y on my way. I did not want to have come all this way for nothing, and besides, Bruce himself might be there. Before I went there, however, I was contacted by a pilot named Saber X. He informed me of the current fighting going on between Bruce and Bob. I could not understand why these two men, with such closely related names, could possibly hate each other so much, and Saber was able to give me a history lesson about the Great Northern War. It seems there was a time when Bob tried to go on a quest of Universal Domination, attempting to takeover the very space I was trying to visit the farthest reeaches of. Obviously, the current inhabitants of this space were unhappy about that, and they formed two great Coalitions, one in the North and one in the South, to halt Bob's plans. A great war ensued, and more than one mighty Alliance was torn asunder in the vicious fighting that took place, although Bob survived. Many of the refugees from these alliances were given shelter by Bruce, whotook it upon himself to lead them in a quest of vengeance against the man who had caused their suffering. His partners in this endeavour included Goonswarm, a vast collective of mad frigate pilots, the largest alliance known to exist anywhere.

I was slightly in awe of all the parties involved. Both sides must be very powerful to affect so many thousands of people. It seemed to me that although Bob seemed to be the aggressor, he must be a mighty warrior indeed to withstand such a furious assault from so many determined attackers. I learned that the current fighting was taking place mostly in the region of Delve, and I made a mental not to be careful when I decided to visit there. My little shuttle may be able to slip under the radar amongst all the distraction, but I would surely be easy meat should I stray too close to the firing line. It would certainly be helpful if I could make some friends to help me get through. But that was all in the future.

Saber also informed me of the greatest casualty of the previous great war. Steve, the very first Titan, belonged to ASCN, one of the alliances killed by Bob. His grave still existed as a memorial in the system of C9N-CC. I knew that my inspiration, Innominate Nightmare, had been present for the birth of this great spacefaring beast, and indeed was one of the first to feel the cleansing fury of its wrath. I felt it was only fitting that I should visit the final resting place of this once mighty Behemoth. I longed to see a live Titan, but I could not afford not to see this little piece of history. I reset my navigation computer to terminate the current route at C9N-CC, calling via PNQY-Y and the open station at YZ-LQL on the way.

I bade farewell to Saber and continued into PNQY-Y. There were 70 pilots in this system, the most I had seen outside Empire. I suddenly felt more at home, even though I knew I was not welcome at the station. I warped to an empty piece of space, where I knew I would be relatively safe, and began to speak to the locals. 12oz Jesus was there, and I thanked him for at least considering my request for Bruce's friendship, and for his good wishes for my journey. I also noticed a pilot called An Anachyyt was present. He was a member of Goonswarm, this was my first encounter with a Goon, and he was an amusing, if slightly eccentric, fellow. He seemed to think that my quest was an enormous waste of time, although he conceded that it was better than a life of trading in Jita. He also claimed that male sterilisation was preferable to trading in Jita, though, so I'm not sure if he was really conceding anything.

I stayed in PNQY-Y for some time, thoroughly enjoying the conversation from the locals. Most of my discourse was with a pilot called Illuminatis, who filled me in some more on the ambitions driving Bruce's progress. It seems Bruce longs for a plcae to live, some space to call his own, where his friends can also live in peace. He would fight to protect his home, but did not desire to destroy anybody else, unlike some of the other powers in the universe. Illuminatis was also able to inform me of exactly why there were Goons in PNQY-Y. It seems Goonswarm are a restless bunch, and when ob is not around for them to fight, they will fight whoever is around. In this case Bruce. Goonswarm seemed somewhat Schizophrenic to me, at one moment fighting alongside Bruce, and at another invading his home. Illuminatis phrased it well, Goonswarm have been a generally good neighbour, but sometimes their dog tears up Bruce's flowerbed. It seemed as if it was a reasonably good natured battle, with no hard feelings between the sides. I could respect anybody who could remain sporting and respectful, even in the face of defeat and hardship, and these two parties, uneasy though their alliance seems to be, had my respect.

I left PNQY-Y and headed towards the open clone bay to the south. Along the way, I noticed a pilot elonging to the Thorn Alliance, and piloting a Taranis interceptor was going through every system I was. I grew uneasy. Was I being hunted? I was so close to the clone bay, would I be viciously cut down when I was so near? Nevertheless, I continued towards my target, and eventually I either lost him, or my own paranoia was proven to be unfounded. It is strage the tricks this place plays on your mind. I sometimes grew frustrated by the paranoia displayed by those who hold the power in this unpoliced expanse. It saddens me that the universe has sunk to depths where a simple traveller cannot be taken at her word, because nefarious spies abound so readily, but yet I have been victim to the very same paranoia. I cannot bring myself to trust a single person out here whom I have not already grown acquainted to, adn it disturbs me that I have come to embody the very same trait that is the main obstacle in my own progress. It is my duty to overcome this obstacle, this insidious paranoia that infests 0.0. I must not let it claim me, and I must not be dissuaded from my goal by the alliances' excessive caution. I will continue unperturbed.

I arrived in YZ-LQL, and made my way to the station. I would be the guest of the Guardian Angels. Surely this faction could have no more apt name? They were truly watching over me, keeping me safe for now. I was once more enshrouded in the inpenetrable protection of a station, after what seemed like an age. I moved my clone, and I knew that this was the ideal place to call my home for a while.

Before calling it a night, I spoke with some more of Bruce's friends, named Leonard Dukes, and Queen Toodlums. They were most supportive of my journey, and I learned from them that news of my quest had spread throughout the followers of Bruce. I was glad that my voyage was bringing some light entertainment into the lives of those that lived out in this sometimes dark wasteland. Perhaps as knowledge of my exploits spreads, the inhabitants of 0.0 will spread, and perhaps my reputation will be such that will earn me the trust of some of the mighty station owners. One day, perhaps I will be given the coveted "blue" badge of honour that is worn by the friends of an alliance. Perhaps one day an alliance will deign me worthy of their trust, and I will be able to call their home my home, if only for a time before I pass through to continue my journey. That day will be a happy one indeed.

Leonard had one last surprise for me. He told me that he had seen none other than my inspiration, Innominate Nightmare, only a month ago! I was not aware that Innominate was even still alive. For all I knew he had been killed by the ruthless Bob, but now I was receiving news that he lived on, and was still roaming 0.0! I asked Leonard to pass on a message to him to get in touch with me if he saw him again, which Leonard happily agreed to do. It would truly make one of my dreams come true if I was to meet the man who inspired me to embark on this intrepid voyage.

As I lay in my, slightly damp, bunk in the Guardian Angels station, I had time to reflect on what had happened over the course of the day. I had visited 47 systems, and had extensive dealings with the followers of Bruce, though I had not managed to meet the great man himself, nor gain his friendship. His followers, though, had been a true delight. They truly are a shining light in the darkness of 0.0. Not a single one of them even attempted to shoot me, and many of them wished me well for my journey. They helped me get in touch with Bruce's inner circle, taught me about the history of 0.0, and guided me to a safe haven, even if they could not share their own with me. One of them, Honest Nonlabor, even gave me a gift of 10 million ISK to pay for clones. The generosity, and general good wishes of the populace of Fountain have restored my faith in humanity that was slightly tarnished by the widespread paranoia I had encountered since my arrival in 0.0, and for that, above all, I thank them.

I resolved to make my way to the final resting place of Steve the Titan when I woke the next morning. I was sure I would encounter many more people on the way, and I hoped they would be as unpstanding as ruce's friends were, though I doubted that would be the case. Regardless, I would soon find out...

Thursday, 10 April 2008

1. In the beginning

I began life as a simple trader, buying and selling Cargohold Expanders and Light Electron Blasters. But life in Jita bored me. There was just not enough of the unknown in Jita to keep a girl like me interested. So one day I came up with a plan to escape the dull monotony that was my life. I had heard rumours of a vast expanse of unpoliced space, where the strong held power, and the weak dared not venture. Great riches were to bound there, not to mention great fame. I imagined there was great beauty to be found there, and strange and wonderful people to encounter that just could not be found in my safe, boring home. I decided to go travelling. I decided to venture to 0.0.

I sat down with a map, and planned a route. I looked at the 0.0 systems near Jita, to see if there was somewhere I could call my home. I intended to move my clone there, and from that point on I would not look back. After a few minutes poring over the map, I settled on the delightfully named system of BWF-ZZ. This was where I would break through the barrier into 0.0. This would mark my escape from my dull existence. I bought a brand new shuttle, christened the HMS Pinafore, made my way to the fringes of Empire controlled space at Oijanen, and prepared to make the jump.

When I arrived in BWF-ZZ, I was initially underwhelmed, but at the same time surprised at the number of people in the system. There were no less than 40 in the local communication channel, which was far more than I was expecting. I had heard that 0.0 was for the most part empty, with not a soul to be seen for many jumps at times. I was expecting to be lonely, but here I found myself with lots of unexpected company. I punched in the coordinates of the station in the system, and activated my warp drive.

Upon dropping out of warp, I noticed several ships orbitting the station. I opened a channel to the station's docking computer and requested permission to dock, as I sat back and awaited the tug. To my shock, I was denied docking access! I had never heard of such a thing happening, and when one of the ships started trying to lock his weapons onto my little shuttle I panicked and
hit the emergency warp button on my control panel. The warp drive took me to a spot in empty space, not far from the stargate, and I queried the other pilots in local as to what had happened.

It turned out that the alliance that controlled the station, R0adkill, only permitted their friends to dock there, and as they didn't know me, I would not be permitted to dock. This was a problem. I knew that 0.0 was dangerous, and I had no desire to wake up in a clone vat back in Jita. I explained to my fellow spacefarers that I was simply an explorer, and that I hoped to make friends. One of them, a delightful young man named Ventro69, offered to give me a helping hand by showing me a Safespot, 73AU from any other objects in the system, and well out of scanner range. At least I would be safe there. However, my experience with the station had left me slightly paranoid, and to my shame I did not trust him. I cautiously warped to him, but at a distance, so he would be unable to kill me. I bookmarked the safespot as soon as I got there, and then decided I did trust Ventro, and approached his ship as a gesture of good faith. At this point I decided that in order for me to get anywhere in this universe, I would need a goal. Then it came to me, I wanted to explore, and the universe is a vast and varied place. I wanted to take it all in. I would visit every system in the known universe, and bookmark a location in each one. I did not know what I would encounter along the way, but I knew it would be a fantastic journey.

I explained this to my corpmates, whom i had kept in touch with, and one of them, Azia Burgi, the famous Cemetary keeper of Molea, was kind enough to compile a list of all the systems in existence, in alphabetical order. She asked only that I send her any corpses I find so that she might give them a proper burial. I happily agreed. With the endorsement and support of my corp, I was suddenly even more excited about my upcoming voyage.

My first proper encounter with another pilot in 0.0 was a delightful one. Ventro was very helpful, and was a man of his word. I appreciated his help, even moreso when he told me he knew of a station in R-6KYM which was open for almost anybody to dock at. I thanked him for this information, and set it as my destination, bid farewell, and went on my way.

Along the way I made a stop off in the low security Empire system of Tasti. My experience so far had told me that it would be useful to have a clone close by at all times, and this was the only station with a clone bay on my way. With it being in Empire space, I was allowed free access, something I had always taken for granted. I moved my clone there, and continued my journey.

I entered the Drone regions. Such a lifeless expanse of space I had never dreamt of. There were Rogue Drones everywhere, some the size of Battleships, though they seemed quite placid. Perhaps they were aware that my little shuttle posed no threat to them. In these regions I did not see another living person for 10 systems, and I felt so alone after all the commotion I was used to in Jita. The solitude began to play tricks with my head. I began to wonder about the stories I'd heard, stories of unscrupulous scum that inhabited 0.0, just waiting to kill any easy target they came across. My shuttle would be a prime target for them, despite my good intentions, and perhaps even moreso because of them. Then I thought about these powerful, yet placid drones. Were they really mindless automatons, or were they in fact able to discern my intentions better than any human pilot? Perhaps these great machines had a soul after all, and perhaps it was not corrupted by the taint of greed, wealth and power that comes with life in lawless space. Whatever the truth of it was, I was sure I would find out.

Eventually, 2 jumps from R-6KYM, I came across an inhabited system. A huge 5 people were in local, waiting to welcome me with open arms. Well, maybe not the last part. But i was ready to embrace them, purely from my starvation from human contact. I'd never realised how much I would miss the noise of Jita. The people inhabiting this system were members of an organisation known as Ethereal Dawn. They ruled this space, and they owned the station I was heading to.
They were able to confirm for me that the station existed, and that I would probably be able to dock there. My heart leapt, and I sped on my way.

Upon jumping into R-6KYM, I was astounded to see another well populated system. 21 people in local made me feel strangely at home. I warped to the station, and tried to dock, but to my dismay I was again denied entry. There seems to be a pattern to these stations, as once again, I was also locked by a pilot who was orbitting the station. I warped to a safespot which I had prepared in advance, and began to speak to the locals about my adventure, and what I had bee told about their station. Sadly, it seems I had been misled. The station, just like the other one, was only accessible to friend of the owners. I began to ask how I could become friends of these powerful people, and also about who they were, and what they did. What was this "Ethereal Dawn", and was it an event to be looked forward to, or dreaded?

As I was in the process of finding out this information, however, an Interceptor flown by a pilot known as Thresh Avery dropped out of warp beside me! My hiding place had been discovered, and I was now being hunted! I immediately started warping all round the system, creating several safespots on my way. Once I had made 4 of them, I started warping around them in a random pattern, sometimes I would be discovered before I moved, but I was able to get away every time. All throughout this game of cat and mouse, I was chatting to the local pilots, who were very nice people, it has to be said. And evetually, a pilot known as x3tr0v informed me that there was an alliance diplomat in a neighbouring system who I could speak to
about getting docking rights. I thanked him, and headed to the gate.

When I got to the gate, x3tr0v was sitting there waiting for me, in his Phobos class Heavy Interdiction Cruiser. I dropped out of warp into a warp scrambling bubble, and was swiftly, and unceremoniously killed.

I coughed up a mouthful of the bittersweet, sticky clone vat goo, and looked around, happy to find myself in Tasti, and not in Jita. I was slightly annoyed at having lost the HMS Pinafore, but I could not hold it against the x3tr0v. He had been very clever in his trap, lulling me into a false sense of security by pretending to be helpful, while I was distracted running away from Thresh and his friends hunting me down in my safespots. Had I been more careful, perhaps I could have avoided being killed, but I learnt a valuable lesson.

I opened up a long distance chat with x3tr0v, to congratulate him on outsmarting me, and also to find out if there was in fact a diplomat in that system, or if it was purely a trap. Turns out it was just a trap, but x3tr0v told me to talk to Thresh, which I did. I had a very nice chat with Thresh, and I can respect the fact that he and his friends were only defending their home. It seems paranoia runs deep in 0.0, and ships are shot first and questions are asked later. Thresh said most alliances would operate this way, and that I would find it difficult to get anybody to trust me. It seemed my voyage would be even more perilous than I had thought a first, but i was undeterred. In fact, I was even more determined to achieve my goals, as the triumph would be even greater in the face of such adversity.

I left my chat with Thresh with a promise that he would speak to his superiors, and see if I could get docking persmission in their space, even if it was only temporary until I had visited all their systems. I was very grateful, as this seemed like it really was all the help Thresh could offer me, and I respected him for being a nice guy about it. However, I now needed a backup plan. I didn;t think it would be wise to try and get past Ethereal Dawn without permission. If they gave it, I could go freely, and if they didn't, it would be disrespectful of me to go against their wishes. Of course, there may come a day when I have to, but perhaps then the situation will be different.

In my days in Jita, I heard about 2 very powerful men who lived in 0.0, each wielding a lot of power, both military and political. These men were named Bob and Bruce. Of the two, Bruce seemed to be liked by more people, and had a reputation for being fair, and giving everyone a fair chance. With this in mind, I decided that I would go and visit Bruce. I knew that he lived in the Fountain region, so I plotted a route to a station with a clone bay that was registered there, in hopes of meeting the great man. This route would take me back through Empire space, allowing me to visit some of those systems on the way. With my 2 plans in place I decided to get some rest. Fountain was 37 jumps away, and tomorrow was another day. Perhaps it would bring me a New Dawn, or perhaps all that awaited me was a series of unfortunate deaths, and the lingering flavour of vat goo. Only time would tell......