A Diver's Notes on the Abyss

1 - Back Into the Depths

Ah-- it’s been a while since I did this.

Ave, pilots! So, for those of you who don’t know me already I’m a slightly noisy Achur with a bit of a writing habit and enough of an ego to sometimes think I might have something fun or interesting to share with people, so usually that writing takes the form of a public journal. A lot of my work’s been the “Sojourn” writings on various topics, but, really, I’m pretty well settled now so that title doesn’t seem so appropriate anymore.

So. New project.

To be clear, pilots, comments are completely welcome. So are corrections and even a little argument; I’m hoping this’ll be a bit informative, but even the limited expertise I have is more what you might expect from, like, a naturalist than a really focused researcher. Mostly I write about this stuff because I like talking about and discussing it, but I don’t pretend to have the best info all the time. So, yeah, corrections welcome.

Anyway. . . .

It’s been a while-- like a year or so-- since I did a lot of Abyss diving. For a while, a couple years ago, it was a nearly daily activity. I dove mostly Tier 3 and 4 until I finally made it through my first 5 and … well. It was hard to look back after that.

Only, also, it also didn’t really allow for a lot of photography, you know? … Lots of excitement, and the profit margin spiked a lot, but … it wasn’t gentle. Not in the way that lets you divide your attention. Not at all.

Then, the invasions happened.

I’ll probably be doing Tier 5 again regularly sooner or later. For now, it’s nice to be able to do something that lets me play around, and experiment, and talk to people. And do a bit of photography.

Something I’d like to just get out of the way: I’m aware some people consider this kind of work morally questionable, or even outright horrid. It’s true that the filaments are a Triglavian creation and that a diver is necessarily accepting a challenge from the Collective by activating one. It’s a controlled environment; we are, while we’re there, rats in a maze, running a test in hopes of tasty cheese.

To that extent, volunteering to be an experimental subject for a society that’s done what the Triglavians have seems … well, bad. Foolish at best. At worst. . . .

To me, though-- I don’t see what the Triglavians gain from me by me running these that they haven’t already got. It’s not like I’ve changed my tactics a lot. I’m sure they’re watching, but by now I expect I’m mostly confirming what they already knew about me. In exchange I get to kill either the Triglavians or (mostly) people we probably don’t want looting the Abyss, and I get to take the Triglavians’ stuff.

Then also, I’m not sure we’ve found a single way to fight the Triglavians that the Collective doesn’t consider to fall within the framework of a proving. Even in the invasions, it seemed like the arenas just got bigger.

I do think reasonable people can differ on this, though. I just do what makes sense to me.

Anyway! The Abyss.

There’ve been some changes since I was last diving much: tachyon cloud navigational hazards (fun!), plus a bunch of new visitors: in addition to our old friends the Drifters/Sleepers, the Triglavians, and the rogue drones, we can now add Sansha’s Nation (who we kind of knew were around but never saw), the Angel Cartel (that’s new. Also, OW! Stop that!), and (sigh) CONCORD. Whoooo seem to be completely and violently on board with the whole nature of the contest, so I can’t feel too bad.

(Let me know if I left someone out? It’s late.)

More to follow, starting with those lovely cream-colored what-does-this-do-oh-gods-I’m-HOW-far-outside-the-stable-zone clouds.

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2 - Title Hard to Pick but Kind of Want to Go With "SHAZING!"

This cream-white cloud (not to be confused with the blue or orange, the more familiar navigational hazards) is a tachyon cloud, and it’s an AMAZING problem to have. It basically I think triples your speed while also about doubling your maneuverability, so as navigational hazards go it’s actually pretty manageable … as long as you’re still inside it.

It’s a cloud, after all. It’s not always clear where the affected zone starts and where it stops, and more even than the others being surprised is the dangerous part here. When you enter the cloud, your ship will very promptly gather speed. When you leave the cloud, your ship will keep all its accumulated speed but its ability to do anything with or about that speed will be back at normal levels. This is fine as long as you’re heading someplace you’re happy to go, such as across an annoyingly large patch of nothing towards the exit gate or smack into the side of an asteroid next to the wreck of a resource node you just hit (three cheers for collision shielding!), but you might find yourself a little unhappy with your circumstances if it throws you far off course or the wall it sent you hurtling right at was the all-too-permeable stable zone boundary.

It seems like the key to managing these things is to try to stay away unless you’re entering on purpose and you’ve planned ahead of time what you’re going to do with all that bonus momentum. They can even be worth actively steering for if you’re aiming to get basically anywhere in the arena in a hurry; just make for the cloud and click approach on your actual destination as soon as you see the effect take. As long as you don’t wait too long to make your turn you should arrive where you wanted to be almost immediately.

A couple other things about this: it doesn’t seem like most things that aren’t eggers, including basically all conventional crews, are able to handle the tachyon clouds well. Drones especially are …

… you know, just don’t point light combat drones anywhere near one of these things? If they get caught in the effect and their target’s either in it or just outside, they’ll usually get tossed back and forth across the cloud like a ball on an elastic cord and often bang into the arena “walls” and so get torn into by the gravitational tidal forces. You can lose them pretty quick if you don’t notice it happening.

Most opponents handle it better, but I’m not sure I’d say well. For a long time I was holding my fire while waiting for any pursuers to follow me through the cloud, assuming that the sig-radius-friendly speed boost from the tachyon effect would make stuff like frigates nearly immune to my missile volleys. But, actually it seems like that’s not the case. What seems to happen (with HAMs, anyway) is that as I pull away they fire their microwarp drives to catch up. Then they get into the tachyon cloud and ZING they’re all of a sudden very close-- closer, maybe, than they meant to be, so they cut speed and start to reverse course, with the MWD still mid-cycle. And then my missile volley catches up-- likely even several at once.

Boom.

(If it’s a frigate or destroyer. Bigger stuff it doesn’t tend to make much difference.)

Convenient.

Basically, these things are hugely and even delightfully useful if you plan out how you’re going to use them and then execute that plan. If not, just … gods and spirits, be nice to your crew and just stay away. I haven’t had anything spectacularly bad happen but sometimes the burn back into the safe perimeter can seem just way too long, and I can’t imagine what it’d be like if you were under heavy neut pressure or something at the time.

As a general rule I usually stay away from them as long as the space around my ship looks like this:

Once things clear up, it’s fine. More than fine. Fun, even.

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3 - The Abyss

Can we talk about the Abyss for a moment?

From the start, the Abyss seemed like the sort of place that wanted to be described by literature more than science. Like, “A spacetime labyrinth of particle storms and shattered spindles,” “The place you go if you fall off the universe,” “The deadest space,” or maybe, “Literally the netherworld.” How else do you describe a place that seems to exist as a sort of encysted bubble of spacetime, or series of same, cut off from normal space?

I was looking back over some of my older writings on the subject, wondering and speculating about the where and the how of it all, and I realized: after all this time, we still don’t have any kind of satisfactory answer.

“Abyssal deadspace.” What even really is deadspace aside from a patch of space where warp drives stop functioning right? More energy? Less energy? Dark matter vein? Generalized spacetime weirdness?

It’s clear that deadspace can get deader. (More dead?) We’ve seen places-- patches, in normal space-- that seemed to be sort of verging on going abyssal, places with odd asteroids, apparently common enough for some Blood Raider-associated gang to make a serious practice of finding them and making hallucinogens out of them: “deathglow.” Not that we’ve been able to find them much ourselves without CONCORD helping us seek them out. Still, it can happen, and also it seems like Pochven is maybe, kind of … on its way there?

Like, all of it? Together? … It’s still at least kind-of with us, though. Eventually, I wonder if that’ll still be true.

Without using a filament (and dealing with the 20-minute time limit), can we find a way into the Abyss? … It seems like some people did, and it’s not just the Drifters, Nation, and Rogue Drones that are getting in anymore. Whatever the method is, they’re not sharing, though.

And it seems like the Triglavians themselves lost track of the way back out. So maybe there really is no way into it from normal space, without some kind of tunneling. That would make it … basically a series of bubbles. Maybe even a sort of spacetime … froth? Underlying (?) normal spacetime. Pockets of normal-ish reality existing in a “direction” human brains might not be very equipped to think about. That … it seems like that would have them literally existing in another dimension, but flowing along with us in terms of probably both time and general relation to our own geography.

If I’m even thinking about this vaguely right at all. Augh.

One thing I’m increasingly sure of: there’s probably no big Triglavian home star cluster beyond it all. I think the Abyss is it, and here’s the reason why: it seems like maybe the Triglavians treat our star systems almost exactly the way they treat their own pocket-arenas as they struggle amongst themselves. Victory in a given place means you’re entitled to take what’s in it: everything, everyone-- you take what you can, and either go your way or move in and make yourself at home.

It’s a viable way to approach a long-term conflict you have no expectation of just plain winning as long as you’re living in a very compartmentalized society, since even total war is pretty limited and you never stand to lose too much at a time. They’ve even adjusted their language to allow for a society living at multiple different speeds all at once.

(I wonder if they put their research divisions in super-fast-speed pockets or something-- squeeze in seventy years of research while the slow-timers are getting their suits on in the morning.)

It’d be way easier to say any of that with any certainty if we could explore without filaments, though, the way the Nation, Cartel, and CONCORD expeditionary forces are doing. I’m sure they have good reasons for not sharing (like keeping us from flooding it with citadels faster than you can say “new frontier lol”), but still …

… I feel like some critical pieces are being hidden. Much like the Triglavians themselves, who we definitely should have good biological data on by now, the Abyss greets us masked.

Even in victory, we never see the true face of our opponent.

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I think this is one of the most frightening things I’ve ever read. Have you seen the equivalent of Azbels or other structures for research in your dives yet?

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No, ma’am. We’ve found construction sites for their capital and supercapital ships, but other than that it’s been all gates, pylons, and resource extractors.

The pylons are interesting; they’re fortified towers that project certain effects (improved turret performance or damage to drones and other small remotes, such as missiles), but they apply evenly to all comers regardless of allegiance, which makes them more a resource/hazard than a weapon. And, they have docking ports.

I’m not sure of this, but I think Veles might use the tracking pylons as launch platforms to reinforce their drone swarms. Svarog seems to be responsible for the drone-suppression units, kind of like setting out roach traps I guess. The two sometimes work directly at cross-purposes.

The pylons might be manned; I’m not sure. They’re big enough for sure, and while they’re not impervious to attack they’re sturdy enough to discourage it. Outside the construction sites they’re the closest thing to habitats we’ve seen.

Pochven does demonstrate that the Collective’s perfectly happy to build a proper station here and there. I’d guess that we’ve never seen them elsewhere because they’re scrupulous about not including them in their labyrinths. Even the construction sites we’ve found have had clear elements (lootable caches and a safe return route) that showed they were part of the proving, but there’s no reason the Collective couldn’t just construct proving courses to keep us away from the really important stuff.

Our time is limited, and our arrival seems expected. What does a pocket look like before we enter, or after we leave?

I’d guess the elite baseline units getting in by whatever means they’ve found might have some idea. It’s a pity they’re not talking and we can’t follow, although getting in that way seems to mean the Triglavians are okay with making a proving challenge out of you for an incoming egger.

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4 - Games in the Dark

Before I get into other stuff, just a few notes on the whats and whys of where I fly.

I fly Dark, more or less to exclusion-- Fierce, Raging, Chaotic, don’t … quite know when I’ll try Cataclysmic but probably some day when I don’t mind losing a bunch of high-grade Crystals and such. I don’t know whether I want to put my poor Cerberus through that kind of test, though; Chaotic really does demand my full attention, even if I’ve gone months and months without losing a ship there.

As with a lot of Abyssal “weather” it’s not really clear what the “Dark” is. “Dark matter” shouldn’t ordinarily be, you know, visible? And, I guess, mostly, here it’s not. There’s a kind of fog of dimness, occasionally flecked in places with white. It definitely seems like it shouldn’t be quite so literally dark, though, given that it ordinarily just doesn’t interact with much of anything other than gravitationally. Practical effects are kinda similar to what you’d see near one of Anoikis’s black holes, but, not the whole thing. The effect messes with turret tracking instead of webifier strength, and you get higher maximum speed but effective mass is unchanged unless you wander into a tachyon cloud.

Anyway, “Dark” weather is pretty often definitely, actually dark. Like, “can’t see your own ship except by running lights,” dark.

That’s a Cynabal pretty much on fire, to be clear. (I didn’t get many good shots of Cartel ships; they’re unusually earnest about the whole “trying to kill me” thing, so encounters tend to be kind of … busy.)

Sometimes you can only really see even some pretty big obstacles when gigantic isogen crystals reflect what little light there is. This can make fields of spindle-asteroids a little tricky to navigate, but usually it’s not too bad. At least weapons fire tends to shed a bit of illumination, and it’s not a problem for sensors anyway. Just, it’s easy to find yourself bouncing off an asteroid here and there.

It suits me for a lot of reasons, including that other people get scared of it (thank you, intruding Cartel pilots, for driving off my competition!), which keeps filament prices low and mutaplasmid prices high. It also feels the most Abyssal (what else do you expect to find at the bottom of an abyss?), which … I guess, appeals kind of a lot. The speed boost makes it easy for me to reach most distant resource nodes without usually pushing the limits on the clock. Also, the better-lit parts, especially that rare lavender sky, are sometimes just painfully pretty.

Maybe that’s just my own tastes, though. Samira did quip that the “Dark Abyss” sounded like the perfect place for me. And, well, I guess it actually kinda is.

Mostly, though, it makes the dive mostly an offense problem instead of a defense problem, which makes it unique in the Abyss. Most turret-based ships struggle. Even Kharybdis, otherwise a pain to share a tactical grid with, has to be within 35-45 km to get its claws into me, which means I can pull range to deal with the escorts before worrying about the battleship. I don’t have to watch out for any particular kind of drone lance swarm or heavily tank in a particular category. And I can expect most stuff that’s attacking me to miss a lot, at least at first.

So, survival’s easy. Killing things is the hard bit, and I have confidence in my ability to kill things. (Mostly. Can I just say again for the umpteenth time that I really, truly, and completely despise Ghosting Damaviks?)

There’s other stuff I do want to try (Firestorm, in particular, just doesn’t get any love at all which makes me really want to make good use of it). But, at least for now, the Dark’s almost exclusively where I’m diving.

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5 - The New Intruders: Sansha’s Nation

It might be a little bit of a comfort (a tiny, tiny, tiny bit) to the luckless residents of Pochven that the invasion of the Abyss from K-space is already underway. It looks like CONCORD’s been making some use out of all that survey data we’ve been selling them.

Sadly, they’re not at all the only ones.

(I look forward to seeing an untrammeled good thing happen in world events some day. Lately it feels like everything’s either awful or mixed.)

As a side note, I’ll be adding to this post as I get good shots and intel on more unit types.

First up in our Abyssal rogues’ gallery, we have Sansha’s Nation.

Who, we kinda knew were there, or at least had found a way in. The Triglavians’ own relics recorded some recent encounter with an infectious, “hivelinked” entity they wanted so little to do with that they asked a Navka (probably) Overmind to incinerate a Damavik that got boarded and turned rather than risk doing it themselves.

I kinda hope the Collective’s figured out some countermeasures 'cause they’re now there in force. So far their “Devoted” fleets seem to be pretty consistently one or more cruiser-scale units plus support craft. And by “cruiser-scale” I so far mean specifically the “Devoted Knight” shown above. There only seems to be the one type.

It’s not a terrible type; functions a little like the Sleepers’ Lucid Sentinel: it’s slow-ish moving and not too much of a threat unless it catches up to you, at which point you’ll wish it hadn’t, especially if there’s more than one. Fields energy neuts and (I think) webs, in addition to a nasty beam laser battery. It’s hard-shelled but goes down quick once you’re past the shields.

The support units are variable, but mostly go down pretty hard. Devoted Priests are (as you’d expect, because apparently Sansha Kuvakei’s a fan of fantasy roleplaying games) frigate-scale logistics; Devoted Smiths (for some reason) are the neutralizer units; Devoted Heralds do weapon suppression.

And then there’s this handsome fellow, the “Devoted Hunter.”

Hey, “Master” Kuvakei, when your amazing, never-see-it-coming plan to conquer and enslave us all goes into full effect and we’re all imprisoned in your digital hive-mind in torment for eternity, can I maybe fly one of these?

It can’t be that hard to upgrade for capsule compatibility, right? I mean, your True Slave implants are supposedly based on the same technology to begin with.

I mean, the Succubus looks like it should be nibbling the glue out of the old book bindings on my shelf. Just saying.

(It’s a frigate-scale attack craft. Think of it more or less as an Imperial Navy Slicer with a shield tank.)

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6 - The New Intruders: The Angel Cartel

Maybe the most alarming (to run into) people to have turned up in the Abyss in the last few months are another old, familiar face: the Angel Cartel. Infamous already among pilots running missions against baseline entities for their hard-hitting, offensive-focused and multi-damage-type approach to warfare, the Cartel brings that same approach to the Abyss. Only here, well, it’s a little harder to warp off if you get in over your head.

Also, they’ve got kinda sophisticated and very … piratey. Their tactics seem like something you might find yourself contending (briefly) with if you made the mistake of mining in Amamake or something.

This might be the scariest silhouette in the Abyss right now:

Cartel Cynabals are … a bit horrifying. Their actual capabilities (neuts, stasis web, intense short-range damage) are maybe a little similar to Nation’s Devoted Knights, but while the Knight is back there trying to catch up to you the Cynabal is already right here and you’re already wishing it weren’t. Their guns (autocannon, I think, so excellent falloff) don’t seem to suffer all that much from the gloom, either.

I gather this is why the Hawk squad isn’t such a big thing in the Dark these days: taken together, it’s all a bit too much, and unlike in pretty much any other case the Hawk just can’t really avoid any of it.

The Cynabal’s main weakness is pretty straightforward, and also traditional for the Cartel: thin defense. The “elite” units seem to have similar capabilities but much tougher shields, so if you have both an elite and ordinary Cynabal to contend with you should probably start with the ordinary one.

They come with a whole range of support ships, which mostly drop hard if you can take out the Cynabals. The Dramiel’s pretty familiar, and there’s a bunch of other designs I really want to get a good look at, like the Lucifer Echo. There’s even another cruiser class, the Ixion (weapon suppression), but the Cynabals definitely seem to be where the planners dropped most of the equipment budget.

Really, the “swift victory or swift defeat” thing seems to be pretty common to all of the Abyss’s newest visitors; the Cartel’s just the most extreme about it. In a way, it’s kind of even a relief; a lot of Abyssal denizens make it as much a fight against field collapse as against the enemy, so I can even imagine being pretty pleased to run into the Cartel in the third chamber after, like, a Hadal Overmind in the first and then three Lucid Deepwatchers in the second.

Not sure that’ll be a lot of comfort, though, if your defenses fold under the abrupt, intense pressure, however brief it might have been.

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7 - The New Intruders: Sigh

Oh, CONCORD.

I get why you’re here. I get that we’re both trapped in a Collective arena and it’s you or me.

I do not get why apparently your black ops unit thinks killing me will get rid of a witness, but, that’s what your own database is telling me. Maybe your ROE means you have to try to eliminate witnesses even if they’re basically impossible to actually eliminate.

I’m stuck in an arena with you and have to kill you to get out before my warp core finishes destabilizing and crunches my ship, my crew, and me into a lot of very bloody tritanium foil. You’re stuck in a little walled-off arena with an egger who is definitely going to prioritize her ship and crew over yours. Isn’t that enough?

Unless you’re going to start disrupting the resurrection protocol for eggers in the Abyss-- which you’d be hearing about, a lot-- there’s just no point. So why make it, you know, silly?

Is your office maybe just trying to make me feel better about having to kill you all so I’ll keep coming here and bringing back all that survey data even though occasionally I cross paths with one of your baseliner teams and have to wipe it out? I mean, that would make it comprehensible at least.

And it doesn’t seem like actually your ultimate superiors object too much to me having to kill you, so. . . .

I guess, sorry, nothing personal? I mean, usually I hate that phrase-- everything’s personal; it’s experienced by people. But, really, it’s not.

It’s not personal.

If I were in your place, I’d attack me on sight too, even though the profile (single cruiser coming through a conduit into what might not have been a sealed arena before but certainly is now) screams “Abyss-diving egger” and that I’m in a trap, being used as testing material by a ruthless civilization of murderous meritocrats, and about to die.

(Actually, that’s why I’d attack me on sight.)

If I offer to ferry your crew members to the nearest station, can we maybe work something out?

No? … Okay. Well. . . .

Whether you’re really some shadowy, ruthless project or not, we’re fundamentally on the same side here, so I’m sorry we’re at cross-purposes for now. I guess the people giving the orders (giving you yours, setting up the ones I’m filling) think it’s worthwhile even if the occasional wire’s getting crossed and, mostly, getting you killed. Maybe the survey data I’m delivering can even help stop this happening.

It’s already … uncommon, a bit. Maybe it’ll get more so.

Anyway, I kind of have to admire some of the kit you’ve brought with you. What kind of shield is that?

It looks … woven. Threaded through with some kind of reinforcement? And those vorton projector weapon systems are pretty spectacular even if they seem to cycle so slowly I sometimes forget you have them and find myself wondering why you’re not firing at me and then it’s like, oh, wait, you are.

Do you know I think you might be the only other people around here who actually use local shield boosters?

Those damn orange filament fields might be useful for something other than staying out of, for once.

And then there’s that little frigate vorton platform-- sorry, I’m not really up on the names yet.

… yeah. I guess it isn’t really a time for talking. We each need to do what we have to.

Sorry, everyone.

Nothing personal.

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8 - Locals: Svarog (AKA “Belligerent Jerknose Douchenozzle”) Clade

Go away, Svarog. Nobody likes you.

I mean, really: you seem to be good at big destructive machines, which is … good, I guess? But you apparently murder people unlucky enough to have wound up in your bit of Pochven more or less indiscriminately, or maybe that’s “discriminately” in the sense that you’re just kinda shooting at everything that isn’t you. And that seems to be you all over.

Look, Svarog, I get that as a rule the Triglavian Collective doesn’t seem to be big on things like “compassion,” but you really go above and beyond. If Veles befriended the local rodent population you’d be the ones setting out rat traps.

Like that big one up above, there, yeah. Just like that.

Pilots, if there’s a clade around that I just … really can’t find any sympathy for, any redeeming feature of, it’d have to be Svarog. I mean, Leshak, yes, and they dutifully shared it around to the other clades when it became the mainstay of the war with the Drifters in the Abyss, but their conduct is just … it reminds me of the Templis Dragonaurs (the real ones, not the eggers), and that’s extremely not a flattering comparison. It seems like they just hate everything that’s not Triglavian.

They’re also the first demonstration of something really strange I’ve noticed in the Abyss.

So, the clades divided Pochven evenly three ways, right? But, it’s a little hard to tell what kind of living situation actually exists in the Abyss. Considering the nature of a “proving” and the fact that the clades apparently subject each other (and maybe themselves?) to it routinely, you might expect that only one clade would have sway over an arena at a time.

Only, they must all have some input because it’s not at all rare to find a whole bunch of Veles-allied rogue drones sharing space with one, two, or several, of these:

These “Deviant Automata Suppressors” will try to shoot down basically any missile or drone, frigate scale or smaller-- including the swarmers Veles actively fields under their own direct control (as in, kill the Triglavian ship, its part of the swarm shuts down). You’d think Veles would tear them down (it’s not like they could defend themselves against a direct strike by a Vedmak) in their areas of operation, at least when they’re fielding swarmers, but I guess that’s somehow not the “done” thing.

The result is that they’re one of the most useful tools against the Triglavians since bioluminescent clouds. If there’s even a single drone in a Triglavian squadron, you can cosy up to the nearest suppressor and they’ll have to split their reps between whatever you’re shooting at and the drone just to keep the drone alive.

Thanks, Svarog, for being horrible to your friends, interfering with those friends being horrible to me. Now I just need to be careful to use heavy (Rage or Navy, not Javelin) HAMs when you’ve got the intense, short-range rat traps set out.

Seriously, I think they just see the whole world outside the Collective as poshlost garbage by default.

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9 - In Broad Strokes

(Hey, look, an identifiable plasma world! … with barely any plasma. Hmm.)

So, at this point, there are a few things we can say pretty much for certain about the Abyss.

It’s accessible, somehow, from K-space, using means accessible to baseline craft and not just by filament, and also not just by hypertech entities like Drifters or automated craft like Sleeper and rogue drones. This seems to be a somewhat closely guarded secret, since (not counting the drones) so far only three K-space entities seem to know the way in.

Sansha’s Nation seems to have found the way in early, and definitely scared the Collective half to death. If there’s anything the Collective seems to hate as much as “Ancient Enemy Azdaja” (Drifters), it’d be “hivelinking” corruption. Interestingly it doesn’t seem to be their first encounter with the technology (one of the first things they seem to do with visitors is check for it), but is their first encounter with Nation specifically, which implies something like Nation has happened before. Either way, Nation forces are now present in large numbers and getting caught up in the “proving” system, but we haven’t seen, like, “Corrupted Vedmaks,” so maybe the Collective’s worked out how to keep their ships and facilities from getting infested. Hopefully. That’s one entity we really don’t need taking over in the Abyss.

CONCORD has, I guess, probably just been making good use of that data we’ve been bringing back. I am not buying the reverse-psyops effort to make me feel okay about having to kill a bunch of Disparu Troop ships by slandering them as some kind of ruthless black ops division that’s only attacking me to eliminate witnesses. I’m quasi-immortal and have camera drones and a galnet link that’s active even from the Abyss; there’s no making me un-see you and you’re not going to persuade me you’re that thick. You’re probably here following up on all that data I’ve been delivering, and actually there’s no reason at all I should be unhappy to see you (it’s ENCOURAGING to see empire agents exploring the Abyss!), only now you’re in a trap, the weird spacetime bubble around my ship probably makes it impossible for me to take on passengers, and it’s you or me.

That’s it, that’s all. This scenario works as a tragedy. It does not work as a spy thriller/action holo. You’re not going to make me feel better about this by being all “Grr” at me when the explanation makes no sense. I’ll try to make it quick. Now I’m sorry, but please die.

The Angel Cartel … we haven’t been selling survey data to them, at least not directly, so unless they got lucky hacking a Nation data center or something their presence in the Abyss probably speaks to Dark Angel infiltration at CONCORD. Which should surprise nobody who’s been paying attention. (Breaking News: The Cartel’s Scary!)

Taken together, it looks like the Abyss is directly accessible from K-space without filaments and in force, but the means is a closely-guarded secret among those who have it and doing so means being subject not only to the weirdnesses of the Abyss but to whatever mechanism creates and seals off Abyssal chambers for use in filament provings. It’s nice that at least somebody from our side is getting a more or less Triglavian’s or at least a Drifter’s-eye view of the Abyss; I hope the intel’s worth it.

Meantime, the Drifters are keeping up their explorations here as well as in Pochven. It’s interesting that they continue sending forces in, including Scylla and Kharybdis units, even though the actual Drifters seem to be at a severe disadvantage in the Abyss and they’d be way better off focusing on the Pochven ring. It seems like the Triglavians and Drifters each recognize the other as an existential threat even though they’ve likely been completely apart for maybe even thousands of years. And I thought the grudge between the Caldari and Gallente was bad.

I wonder if maybe at some point we’ll start seeing Triglavian raids on the Drifter hive systems. With all those Drifters and their Sleeper allies wandering around the Abyss it seems like the Triglavians might want some payback, but then again the Hives are in Anoikis and I don’t think the Triglavians have really reached that far. Maybe it’s hard for them to get to, at least in the numbers they’d need to pose a substantial threat. There are some observatory systems in Pochven; maybe the Collective plans to use it for staging. I don’t think the same Drifter Hive “unidentified wormholes” have still been appearing there, though. They might need to access the Hives through what remains of gate-connected K-space. It’d be just our luck to be functionally caught on the battleground between the two powers.

The situation with the rogue drones is weird. The Navka seem to get along-- maybe-- with Veles Clade, but it’s not clear whether the Collective in general and Veles in particular draws a line between “playful communion” and enslavement.

Either way, it’s pretty clear not all rogue drones are on board with the whole arrangement. Not only are they shooting at the Collective in Pochven, they’re the only “entity” to have invested Pochven with supercapital assets.

Not sure what their goals there might be. Avenge their fellows in the Abyss? Dismantle the Collective before it can pose a threat to their K-space freedom? Hitch a ride into the Abyss proper? Hard to say.

As for the Triglavians’ motives for building Pochven in the first place, it’s looking increasingly like a resource grab. There are stars in the Abyss; there’s no doubt of that.

But, I think the star shown above might be the brightest I’ve seen. What if they’re not just distant, but perhaps faint? Like, from having stuff like this done to them for thousands of years?

We know the Triglavians are harvesting stellar material to make their singularity reactor cores. There’s got to be a lot of material there, but even a star’s power isn’t infinite.

Likewise, if that poor plasma world is any example, planetary resources might be running low, too.

Here’s another shot (and also why I’m sure it’s a plasma world).

See that mote of electric blue in the southern hemisphere? Yeah, that’s not a storm or anything. It’s too stable. Here’s another shot.

Lightning doesn’t stick around like that. It’s plasma. But there’s hardly any of it. Most of the planet’s just barren.

There are some resources the Abyss definitely has in abundance, products of the weird local physics. Crystaline isogen’s kind of all over the place, mostly growing on asteroids.

It seems to sometimes break off naturally, but overall it seems to hold up better than more prosaic stuff like rock, and considering you can often find it growing almost literally everywhere in surreal devil-palaces it doesn’t seem like something it might even be possible to run short of.

Probably the hard bit is mining it.

It’s less clear where the zero-point condensate is coming from, but it seems to be around in roughly even proportion to the isogen crystals so even if it’s artificial it can’t be all that hard to make.

So, those plus certain microorganisms (like, literal clouds of) seem to be what the Abyss is really rich in. Everything else? The stuff we’re used to finding all over? That might be running short.

Take that situation and a culture that entitles you to what you can take by right of (somewhat formalized) conquest, and once contact was made last year’s invasion was probably inevitable from the start.

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The Angels are based in the ruins of the Jovian Second Empire, and so their presence in the Abyss may not require infiltrating CONCORD, hacking Nation, or buying data from capsuleers.

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Maybe, but, if that were their way in I wouldn’t expect it to have taken them even this long. They got in about the same time CONCORD did. Drones and Drifters aside, the only K-space group we have evidence got in sooner is (unfortunately) Nation.

The Angels are formidable, but exploration is not a defining characteristic of their organization or technology. The observations you report do not prove a connection exists between the Jovian Second Empire (as has been argued elsewhere) and the Triglavians. However, they make it more likely such a connection exists than would be the case without the observations.

Furthermore, you appear to establish the Sisterhood’s tardiness. That is not insignificant, given exploration is their defining characteristic. Not just “kind of, sort of” - they are committed to finding places and then going to them. Granted, not being seen also plays a significant role in their technology. Perhaps the Sisters are present, but are maintaining proper distances at all times.

Hmm. Well. . . .

The Cartel’s not defined by exploration, definitely, but they do seem to know their way around salvaged tech. And, also, something that is very much their forte and not the Sisters’: combat. With so many hostiles about, a willingness, even an eagerness, to kill is likely to be an asset in the Abyss. Intense, vicious fighting over resources and territory and making best use of whatever they got out of it is kind of I think what the Cartel’s been about going right back to its origins. They started out as basically just a gang, after all. It’s familiar ground for them.

The Sisters of Eve, not so much. Bloodlust’s something the humanitarian-hearted Sisters are famously short on, even if they’re not totally pacifists. The Sisters might be able to hold their own, but I’d expect them to come down more on the side that delving into the Abyss is morally questionable at best in the first place, much like they disapprove of us as a class. Even if they could get in, they might refuse on principle.

But, heh, then, also, they’re good with cloaking tech, so even if they were there I’m not sure we’d see them.

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10 - Life

There’s this thing you can do on the beach, at night, on some terrestrial worlds: walking on wet sand under the stars, while the sand itself seems to flash and flicker with every step, faint lights-- bioluminescent microorganisms-- mirroring the stars above.

That, above, is the Abyssal equivalent: a shining cloud of vigorous life so bright that it highlights passing ships like a whole thicket of target-painting lasers.

And that one? That one is over 50 kilometers wide.

It’s one of the most amazing qualities of the Abyss: the ability of life to not only survive in such an unforgiving environment, but to absolutely thrive. Whatever resources the Abyss is running short of, the building blocks of life are definitely not among them.

Only-- why? How? The kinds of materials you’d need-- the nutrients-- you wouldn’t just pick them up from solar wind I wouldn’t think? Even extremophiles need those. You’d need some medium to provide them, something, somewhere, to extract them from. On its face it doesn’t seem like that’s something you’d ordinarily find adrift in near-vacuum, or in a plasma storm.

(Okay, maybe in the plasma storm. Just, that’s usually a little more diffuse than, like, a hydrothermal vent or something, you know?)

So I think, even if they’re abundant, what I’m showing you probably isn’t naturally-occurring. Life in the Abyss didn’t just “happen.”

Thinking about it, the part of the Triglavians that nobody in authority talks about, at all, is their biology. It’s seemed likely for a while now that that’s because their approach to life is, from our point of view, truly radical-- that they may fully have accepted and adopted the reality of a body as a process, rather than a single, coherent thing: something that can be adjusted, adapted, freely and on the fly.

What kind of adjustments would such an attitude permit? Bioadaptive tech in the clothing, obviously; we’ve already found that. Mutaplasmids: they’re not just for ship modules. But that’s just the obvious part. If it were just that, it’d be getting discussed more, so it probably doesn’t stop at that.

What about growth? The human life cycle?

Childhood’s a problem. A maturing human operates at variable levels of incapacity, ranging from a semi-animate bundle of bodily functions at the start up through full physical functionality paired with impaired (or rather, incompletely developed) judgment as a near-adult. What if you could skip all that?

We know that the Triglavians tend to bind three personalities together into a single body (a “troika”). How does this work with growing up?

Maybe it doesn’t?

I think that, maybe, this is a farm. It seems like it kind of has to be, really-- the most obvious place for such a dense cloud of organisms to be getting their nutrients is from somebody deliberately providing them.

But farming for what?

Bioadaptives are an obvious answer. These organisms are extremophiles by definition; adrift, exposed, in the Abyss, they’d have to be. And depending on where they’re raised, they’d have a strong resistance to whatever the local conditions might be, making them probably a very good base for bioadaptive and/or mutaplasmid tech that’ll help resist, or exploit resistance to, the same kinds of phenomena.

What else, though? Food? Medicine?

Both? (“Don’t forget your firestorm-cultured sandwich, sweetie! It’ll be hot this afternoon!”)

Stuff like that would be one category of thing you probably couldn’t just harvest from stars, no matter how good at sipping solar plasma you got. You’d want a way to cultivate food. And if the planets are as exhausted as it seems like they might be, terrestrial farming might actually be a little troublesome (or, reversing that, abundant nutrients might make it hard to keep your microorganism cultures under control). If you can just plant in space, why not do that?

Only, if you’ve been doing this for maybe thousands of years, why even stop there? What if you can cook up a body out of an extremophile culture, then install whatever troika of personalities you want? No larval phase to nurture and protect, no juvenile stage to guide and instruct-- straight from biomass to fully-matured adult (albeit run by a committee), with all knowledge and physical capabilities in place even fresh from the vat.

Now we’re getting to the point where it might be worth not-talking-about. Might this be as close to infancy as Collective citizens come? Could this be, in addition to a mutaplasmid and nutrient farm, a nursery?

We’re not so far off of this, ourselves, with our nutrient broth-grown clones, but it might be that’s exactly why this is a distressing idea. Perhaps the really radical aspect of this might be the suggestion that childhood itself might one day become obsolete.

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Also:

I mean, really, doesn’t this look like it should be nibbling book bindings instead of flying around trying to shoot people?

It’s the hull for pretty much every Sansha’s Nation frigate in the Abyss other than the Devoted Hunter, and they all pretty much die as fast as it looks like they would, even when they’re not being lit up by a Triglavian farm/pharmacy/maybe-nursery.

Squish!

11 - Oh My Sweet Gods

Sorry, no concurrent image. Why will be apparent shortly.

So, diving a random Fierce Dark filament earlier today, came into the third room a bit ahead of schedule to find myself, three Leshaks, a modest drone escort, and a dense cluster of tachyon clouds all sharing the smallest pocket I think I’ve ever been in. Like, around a 40 km radius, give or take?

I never expected to be putting my interceptor training to use in the Abyss, but that’s pretty much how it ended up-- high-velocity manual piloting in very tight quarters. I even had the requisite “close call” when I got tangled up with the blasted gate and velocity dropped to near-zero. Happily no Starving Leshaks but actually I’m not sure it would have mattered with us all zinging around in that little bottle.

It wasn’t the most dangerous encounter, but still, it was kind of an amazing concentration of “why I do this” all gathered in a single room.

12 - My Enemy’s Enemy

Since the “weaving of Pochven,” there’s been a lot of talk about the Drifters: kybernauts trying to redirect our attention against this supposed shared foe, others valorizing them as natural allies against the demons who’ve dared pilfer not only our worlds but the very stars they orbit.

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is a popular saying, but not, maybe, always an accurate one? I don’t perhaps quite agree with the “my enemy’s enemy is my enemy’s enemy, no more, no less” analysis, either, though. Stuff’s complex. It’s really case by case.

Here … here I really think there’s no common cause to be found, or made.

Let’s leave aside completely for now the Drifter assassination of Empress Jamyl. It’s, I mean, obviously a big concern for the Empire but let’s still leave it.

Instead, let’s talk about contempt-- contempt, and the willingness to talk.

Communication on the most basic level isn’t a difficult thing. Human beings are really good at it. We communicate with each other, with other species (there’s lots of communication involved in training a slaver hound, for example), with computers; even utterly inhuman, artificial beings such as rogue drones send out the occasional broadcast. The Triglavian Collective communicates abundantly (actually they talk to our computers far too well, to the point where it’s a gaping security hole).

It doesn’t take much. Comms lasers aren’t hard. Mathematical principles form an easy starting point, and that’s even if there’s no shared language or common cultural or experiential ground to begin with. And we know the Drifters are way past that point: they can talk to us; they’ve done it before, during the Site One incident. They just don’t.

They don’t. At all. They don’t hack us, don’t manipulate us, don’t conduct diplomacy or try to get anything from us at all, except for that one time, and that was likely out of necessity (getting us to deliver biological samples they could culture and use to grow bodies).

Since then, they communicate only by violence, or by withholding it. I used to think this was the silence of deadly intent, that they meant to exterminate us, and they just had nothing to say to the dead. Now it seems they have larger worries: that they found the Abyss, and are deep into a war with the Collective-- a war of extermination, most likely.

But in a way, this makes it worse, or at least more insulting. Despite (or because of?) all their mysterious super-tech, the Drifters struggle in the Abyss to the point where a typical capsuleer diver’s cruiser is more than a match for a frontline battleship. We can kill Scylla and Kharybdis by the squadron, and still they not only don’t ask for help or even for us to just get out of the way, they don’t even deign to pursue us in K-space (where they have the advantage) unless we engage their units or go somewhere they don’t want us to be.

At least until we have something they want. Even then, they won’t lower themselves to speak with us again.

We’re treated like big, nasty, stinging insects: swatted if we offend, otherwise mostly just studied or ignored.

From the start, the Triglavian approach to capsuleer-kind has been, consistently, a series of dares: dare to enter our domain; dare to defend your own; dare to betray your own and join us, or to stand together and resist us. They almost certainly do not look at us as equals, since the terms of every dare are controlled by the Collective, but still, they invite us to test them, and ourselves. It may be an arrogant posture, but it doesn’t speak of contempt. They invite us to strive, and they reward success.

They’re the ones who’ve stolen our stars, but we’re not garbage to them. It’s not hard to imagine them cheering for us, in their way, should we manage to rally a counter-invasion of Pochven. We’re not quite their rivals, but we’re definitely people to Triglavian eyes.

The silence of the Drifters is eloquent. It says exactly what they think of us, as they play the part of celestials gazing upon arguably-sapient vermin. To them, we’re scum, trash-- in Triglavian terms, poshlost. We’re objects of contempt, to the degree they think of us at all. If we attack them, we gain no leverage. If we helped them, we’d gain no credit. They lowered themselves to talk to us once, because they had to … and never again. You don’t negotiate with a swarm of biting flies, and you owe it no favors just because you baited it into doing what you needed done, once (to your disgust).

If this is how they look at us, probably we will have to shock them out of that attitude before dialog is even possible. We have not found a way even to scratch the Hives, much less to communicate or dock with one. But it’s surely not impossible. A perfect defense of something so large … it may be out of reach for now, but there might be a way inside.

The enemy of my enemy is my enemy’s enemy-- and even less, until I can be seen at least as a potential ally.

Or a threat.

Perhaps when we see ourselves reflected in black Drifter eyes, corners tense with worry, there will be something to discuss.

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You have done a wonderful job with the dialogue in this piece - beautifully written and thankyou.