A Diver's Notes on the Abyss

13 - The News

It’s been a rough week for this. News, I mean. Seems someone out there really wants us all at each other’s throats, and by “at” I don’t mean threatening (that’s kinda just, you know, Tuesday), I mean actually gouging and ripping and tearing and slashing. Possibly, but not necessarily, in that order.

So isn’t it nice of the Triglavians to be getting into the spirit of it all?

  • Perun and Veles Clade “Bioadapted and Drone Armies Clashing on Vale II” in Bizarre “Battle on Gigantic Ocean Biomatter Raft” - Reports Claim

With their usual gusto, too. I guess that’s what you expect of a culture that seems to define “restraint” as “not simply obliterating all life.” (Completely uprooting, for example, is, you know, fine.)

I’ve been a little bit hard-pressed, up to now, to understand what was up with Perun Clade. I mean, it kind of seemed like Veles were the cosmopolitan, “Let’s all be friends! What’s this collar for? Oh, it’s just a symbol of FRIENDSHIP! Here, let’s just slip this on…” type while Svarog were the grumpy, “Not like us? BAD! We hit!” stupidly-violent xenophobe type.

And I just had no idea what was up with Perun, aside from them apparently being indifferent on the whole “welcome/maybe-enslave the drones or exterminate them?” issue.

This has never been a very satisfying understanding and it’s obvious in retrospect that I was plotting along the wrong axis in terms of even a basic understanding of the three. For one thing, it was never very likely that Perun was anything so simple as, “the moderate clade.”

What I find so absolutely fascinating about this little news blurb, fragmentary as it is, is its description of the armies.

Now, the blurb’s kinda vague in several ways, notably it doesn’t specify whether both armies are using both unit types or whether each army is using one unit type mostly or wholly to exclusion, but in the past we’ve only ever seen Veles ships deploying swarmers, and they seem like the likely ones to be deploying them here. Perun are the ones we keep hearing about aggressively bioengineering the captured civilian population in the territories they took.

If each is using mostly or entirely its respective unit-type in this conflict, a clearer portrait of the three Clades, and their specializations, begins to emerge.

We already knew Svarog were strong engineers. Leshaks: new, or if not new, then at least proprietary, shared to other Clades on Convocation orders due to Drifter threat. Deviant Automata Suppressors: widespread Svarog response (and seemingly expression of disgust) to Veles’ “playful communion” with the rogue drones. They continue to conduct their affairs in reliably brutal fashion; if there’s a problem, Svarog’s probably going to design and build a big machine to kill it.

If the Veles are keeping drones as kind of a signature unit, even adapting them to planetary combat, and NOT using bioadapted conscripts as much or maybe even at all, it starts to look less like they’re “cosmopolitan” and more like they’re just, well, good with computers: mathematics, logic, software, hacking, AI-- heck, it seems likely they’d have been making extensive use of AI themselves for a very long time. I’d guess the “artificial” Zorya voice is probably a Veles representative, and they’re the ones most responsible for how laughable our computer security seems against Triglavian infiltration. In that context, they’d be more likely to leave squishy stuff like biomodification and redeployment of civilian “assets” to …

… Perun Clade. The biologists. Maybe, also, stuff like social sciences and psychology?-- working with bodies and minds, the squishy kinds in both cases. Mutaplasmids and new bioadaptive devices have got to require a deft touch (a green thumb for gravid, an orange one to coax it all the way up to unstable, maybe?), and it really seems like controlling and ultimately weaponizing their new population was just about the first thing Perun started doing in their new territories once they moved in. We’ve got repeated stories in the news from that time about them hard at work on that, and … it didn’t stand out to me so much at the time, but did we have a single story about either of the others doing anything similar?

Svarog definitely didn’t; they just kinda blew up anybody who came to their attention. Did Veles?

If not, we can start to see essentially what all three clades bring to Triglavian civilization as a whole. Svarog, Veles, and Perun: hardware, software, and bio, respectively. Obviously they all share in all of their inventions to some degree, so I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise if, when fighting each other, each might want to focus on whatever it’s been doing lately, trying out their latest work.

If it’s good enough, it probably propagates through the whole society, by Convocation directive or by challenge.

(Do they ever just, you know, trade? Somehow it seems like that might not be a thing they do at all.)

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14 - Once More, Pochven

A ponderable to, uh, ponderously … ponder? (Afloat in a pond, perhaps): is it worth currying favor with the Triglavian Collective to better hunt their pet traitors?

It’s probably possible. Pochven is rife with Drifter activity and rogue drones; there’s a lot of good targets that wouldn’t involve engaging or weakening friendly units at all, and it seems EDENCOM and Collective standings are no longer in direct opposition.

Of course, doing that means helping the Collective. I suppose this is the conundrum they were encouraging when they set things up this way: to hunt the ones who betrayed our caste and civilization, freely and to every corner of their domain, I’d need to aid their masters. Probably a lot of us would. And then the Triglavians get their interests seen to, no matter who’s doing it-- basically they get rival groups of servants. Which, if given the choice, is no doubt exactly how they want it (all the better if there get to be three rival groups).

I don’t hold the Collective in the kind of contempt I feel for the kybers, but that still doesn’t feel right at all.

The … attempts … under ARC to start a large-scale evacuation of Pochven did not go well at all. Two fleets of unarmed industrials blown to shards (including some patriotic idiot trying to smuggle in supplies and troops in the first fleet); a few survivors, but, in either case, not a lot. Worst of all both operations were somewhat underway before the kybers showed up with their bombers: orbital customs centers visited, vehicles deployed, who-knows-how-many people loaded. Of course, they didn’t show up on the ship manifests.

The kyber bombers hit the industrials in preference to armed combat ships. It’s not like there was even any ISK value to speak of. I don’t think we’ll ever get anything like a proper death toll. Softer targets I guess.

Softer targets … and orders from an Intriguerre spokesman claiming authority from the Convocation.

It’s been a while since I was this angry-- Thebeka, maybe, after a year of Miz. That anger was poisonous, though, a gnawing anger that burned like charcoal, low and slow, full of toxic fumes. I don’t think I’d truly learned to hate until that time, didn’t even notice what it did to me for … months, I guess.

It’s something I’ve worked to put behind me.

This anger feels cleaner, clear and bright. Maybe it’s a lack of complicating impurities: there’s not a lot of ambiguity here. There was somebody who reportedly swore she was going to ice her drinks with Ms. Elkin’s frozen corpse; we collected hers, instead. (I don’t think Ms. Elkin is probably mirroring the threat, herself, though, because ew.)

(Seriously, what kind of organization appoints someone like that-- assuming it was who I think it was, and it’s a bit alarming to imagine there’s a second one-- to the role of diplomat? One looking to upset people methinks. Well, be careful what you wish for.)

I’ll need to be a little careful myself, though. It’d be easy to let myself get carried off. There’s a lot of stuff I mustn’t do-- not because the enemy doesn’t deserve it, but because that’s not the person I should be. I don’t think the directrix would let me ice my drinks with somebody’s corpse or make a bag of marbles out of plasticized kybernaut eyeballs, but I shouldn’t put her in the position of saying no to such a thing to start with.

This thing is a little bit personal for me. The evacuation effort’s fate aside, the kybernauts made a mockery of our class’s very existence. They made me-- made us all, collectively-- something I truly never wished to be: a liability, something New Eden would have fared better without.

I’ve often thought that the existence of the independent capsuleer was a hard phenomenon to explain, being an individual, a private pilot, with not only unmatched command over even the deadliest warships in the cluster, but the functional legal sovereignty of a nation-state. It’s a strange arrangement, not least because it’s hard to imagine the great powers of the cluster agreeing to let something like us have so much unchecked power and freedom. From my limited knowledge it seemed inexplicable.

But I’d never been sure, until the invasion, until the kybernauts, that it was a mistake. That we were a mistake. That I …

There’s only one apology we can give for failing everyone so completely, for betraying the absurd trust they placed in us for reasons I still don’t understand. The Triglavians seized Pochven, and they used capsuleers to do it. Somehow, we need to get it back, or, more likely (and as the kybers did for the Collective), create the conditions for others to step in and do so.

Putting every kybernaut structure in Pochven to the torch won’t accomplish that.

It’ll be a start, though.

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15 - This Blighted Sky

It is good, so far.

Too much it was to hope that the kybernauts would surrender their foothold easily. The struggle goes this way and that-- offense, defense, offense again, a sort of violent stalemate for now. I am content, though. It’s enough to watch the traitors bleed, and if we bleed a little ourselves, well, that’s war.

In time maybe we’ll drive them from their stolen worlds. Meantime, it is good to have such unambiguous purpose. My anger rarely lasts for very long, but it is good to be put to use in a way I can approach so happily. After all, this-- fighting the enemies of New Eden’s civilizations-- is precisely what I’m for, and at last we all seem to have an opponent we can really agree on.

I wish I’d been able to do so as a part of a capsuleer class united in purpose, but at least as it is I can help punish those who betrayed that purpose and betrayed the worlds that gave them birth and lifted them to such high positions, who repaid their nations’ trust with a knife in the back.

Even hunting Blood Raiders isn’t this satisfying, and operations are giving me plenty of time to look around.

The “weather” of Pochven is unlike the known weather of the Abyss (so far, at least), or even the strange border-spaces where the Deathglow Hunters harvested their product. Really the sky hasn’t changed so much from the time of the invasions; it’s still that alarming swirl of black and red.

The effects are strange; if these clouds were physically present at the distances they appear to be at, they’d be moving and shifting across the system at absurd speeds, possibly faster than the speed of light. Probably either the effect is some kind of illusion or whatever particles of matter they’re made up of actually move much more slowly than the “clouds” appear to, and what’s actually moving is energy, maybe an electrical charge, that causes the “weather” to appear red at some times, black at others.

It’s also interesting that it fades to vanilla along the ecliptic, at least in places and at least at times. It seems like it’s mostly near this line that those of us inside the effect can see the stars beyond very well.

I’ve long assumed this veiling of the stars was a side effect, but the speed with which the Triglavians raised this black and crimson curtain on arriving, and their persistence in maintaining it unchanged around systems they’ve seized, make me wonder if that’s all there is to it.

All the hours I’ve spent in the Abyss, have I even seen more than a single star in any given sky? I can’t remember a single time that I could. It could be like living generations on a world shrouded in fog, then one night to climb a mountain and emerge under a sky of bright but small and distant jewels scattered across a bottomless and hungry emptiness.

Could the stars of the “ancient domains” be unsettling to the Triglavians the way a natural sky is to Arrendis? Is it disturbing, even frightening, for them to look out and see, at a glance, light emitted years or even centuries or millennia ago?

Could the Triglavians, in other words, be agoraphobic?

If so, intentionally or not, it seems their Ancient Enemy Azdaja might have their number. Of all the structures in New Eden, the one that seems to pierce the veil of Pochven the most consistently and easily is the Drifter-green cosmic “event” (possibly the extinction event of the Jove) called Caroline’s Star.

That event is older than Pochven, though, by quite a bit, and probably predates renewed Drifter contact with the Collective, so this piercing effect probably isn’t something the Drifters are doing on purpose. If Pochven is in the process of leaving normal space as we understand it, it seems that wherever it is, Caroline’s Star is there, too.

Now I think of it, could that be how all the other interlopers in the Abyss are getting in-- the Drifters, the Cartel, Nation, CONCORD, the rogue drones? It’s a major cosmic event that capsuleers can’t approach; it’s too far off the beaten path for us, but I’d be surprised if any of the current Abyssal intruders had failed to investigate it. If the event permits easy access to the Abyss within its boundaries, the sheer size of it would keep any single faction from being able to secure and limit access, too. It’d be hard to restrict access efficiently across an entire region if rivals are arriving by interstellar warp and not by stargate.

Huh.

Well … if those of us in Pochven arrive in the Abyss and find we can get into whatever’s left of Jove space by basically taking a short walk I guess we’ll know. I’m not sure how we’d test this new hypothesis of mine otherwise. Maybe if Jovian stars start turning a really livid shade of pink that’d also be a sign, but it’s not like the Triglavians needed a direct connection to start bubbling out of the Abyss into K-space.

Either way, there’s work to do. And it’s a privilege to be in a position to do it.

I feel like I should write something about this orbital city that’s playing host to us. Strange, to sleep so well in a place overseen by Elsebeth and her people. But I guess things are strange all over. I can hardly imagine what it’d be like to be part of the staff here-- watching your home sink into this unending, stained gloaming.

To me, though, it feels like a place where the world fits together, for once, the way it should, if only under extreme pressure. I’m not sure I’d want to see what horrific calamity it would take to make this kind of arrangement permanent. I’m definitely availing myself of the opportunity to take a good look around, but I don’t really feel like it’s something I have the context to write much about yet.

Maybe soon.

Ah well. Time for bed.

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16 - The Peace of Pochven

This place …

It’s hard to call it beautiful, at least in the conventional sense. It definitely isn’t anything serene, with its stained and restless skies. And of course, it’s the scene of a terrible tragedy still playing out all around us in real time, in the worlds and even the very bodies of those trapped in this place.

And yet, not forgetting all of that, I can’t help but be in awe of what is being done in this place. Full 27 systems, all plunging towards the Abyss-- I suppose they must be; the security situation here I’m sure is intolerable in the long term even for an entity as pugnacious as the Triglavian Collective. The place is as full of Drifters and Sleepers as Triglavians, and so far it seems the best way to limit the Drifters’ strength is to make them fight in the Abyss.

Whatever it is that gives them problems doesn’t seem to be here yet, though, so, I’m guessing: little by little, adjustment by adjustment, down we go, all of us here together.

And what a ride it’s being.

The campaign against the kybernauts proceeds apace-- not without setbacks! But it’s become pretty clear that at least the basic thing we set out to do could be actually within reach. And I’ll admit it makes me smile.

“Justice” isn’t a word I use very often. To me it sounds really kind of foul dropping from a capsuleer’s mouth, we who execute crowds and collect the bounties blithely presuming that those we slew were deserving-- or not! For many it makes no difference whether the target “deserved” their fate; there was a bounty, the target’s down, the bounty’s collected, and that’s all there is to it.

But, here …

Hey, remember when this was a working stargate?

Remember when Vale wasn’t being battled over by drones and bio-modified humans? Remember when large-scale antimatter weapon discharges even in warzones were, you know, serious, alarming, and rare?

Remember when stars didn’t have stems?

Of course you do! It was LAST YEAR, before the Collective set its minions to pick a few thermonuclear flowers from our arrangement and assembled a bouquet all its own.

And now? Now the kybernauts at last have something to defend.

Now it is our turn to visit the homes of our fellow creatures, to test their defenses and their unity, to pit our mettle against theirs, and if we find it wanting, to take what we can and burn what we can’t.

Word is the kybers are beginning to burn some of their own domain, to destroy the orbital structures they can no longer defend and fall back into the hardened structures the Triglavians themselves now maintain. Which’ll be interesting. Mostly, after a time, it’ll mean that there’s not much more in Pochven we can burn.

But the kybernauts were never the real problem to begin with-- just the only one we could actually, definitely harm. Moving from the kybernauts to their masters would be a not-insignificant step, but if we’re to reclaim what they stole we’ll have to start finding ways. Unless we were to concede these stars and all the worlds around them to the Collective, we were always going to need to contend with the Triglavians themselves again somehow.

And they, too, can never be allowed to rest in peace and comfort among the worlds they stole.

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And now you see it, where it comes from: whatever it takes, never again another Long Night.

17 - Respite

So, it’s done. Pretty much.

(This isn’t news to anyone I think by now, though from some of the rhetoric I’m not sure all the kybers have totally figured it out.)

There’s not a lot more to be done, maybe, until whatever teams are working on the Arshat transmuter have news. I mean, like, actionable news.

We’re home.

So … a few things to cover.

These journals of mine won first and second place in the YC 123 New Eden Capsuleers’ Writing Contest News/Gossip division. Yaaaay!

I do have slightly mixed feelings about taking both spots, particularly when there weren’t a pile of entries in the category to begin with. It’s not quite like I don’t feel proud of both works or feel like they’re both really one work or anything, but I do think I won’t enter the later entries from this journal in next year’s contest since it’s already won an award for the earlier ones. (Though I might rethink that if I’m still doing this by then and there are like a bajillion new entries.)

My earlier speculation about the clades and their roles turned out to be spot-wrong, according to no less a source than CONCORD. Seems at some point they quietly filled in a bunch of new data for us. The reality’s a good bit more nuanced than I thought, at least in terms of the clades’ specialties. It’s good to have some more accurate stuff to work from. I do wish somebody’d told me, earlier, though. Ah, well.

Directrix Lunarisse Daphiti is now Directrix Lunarisse Phonaga. The marriage happened basically the same time the last structures were falling in Pochven, which was a lovely if completely coincidental kind of wedding present. That reminds me, I still haven’t given the Directrix mine. Embarrassing. It’s been weeks. I was maid of honor at the wedding, too. Gave a toast to distinctly mixed reviews.

In the aftermath, the directrix and Mr. Phonaga seem to have some pretty extensive plans. I hope they’ll be happy. I expect they will be.

So … I guess … maybe I should say something about this:

… or maybe I shouldn’t, but I will, I guess.

Elsebeth, I never didn’t see. I get it. I got it. I did. I don’t stand at the directrix’s side out of ignorance, at least not of this. I just don’t share it, is all.

I didn’t before. I don’t now.

I’m aware also that the history between you and the Amarr isn’t even over, that it persists even now, and that it probably feels as real and bitter and raw as anything the Collective did. Probably more-so, even. After all, the Collective’s actions, as horrifying as they are, weren’t so … complete. They didn’t try to pull everybody into the Abyss, at least not yet. In a sense they just kind of went … shopping: a star here, a star there. It seems like the worlds and orbital habitats they picked up were just sort of a bonus. We could even describe at least some of their actions as a form of charity: “Oo, first time into the Abyss, huh? Here, you’ll need this.”

The Amarr didn’t conquer your stars. They conquered your people. That was the target: not your territory, but you.

So, yeah, I get it, but it doesn’t change so much for me.

It’ll probably be a while before we work on the same side of something again, at least in such an extended way. I hope we get the chance. To me, Pochven was a truly welcome respite, a glimpse of a world I’d have preferred, a world united in purpose and at peace with itself, even if the grievances never actually went away.

Maybe I’ll get to live there again one day.

Meantime, it seems likely we’ll return to some version of the usual. I’ll do my duty and you’ll do yours and I guess we’ll see how it all goes.

I’m tired of it. But me being tired doesn’t signify.

It was neat to see your base of operations, Elsebeth. Thanks for letting us stay there.

See you around.

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