“To children ardent for some desperate glory, the old lie: Dulce et decorum est pro Matria mori.”
Spirits above, this city is alive. Despite the occupation and war, in spite of being important only by happenstance, being on a planet that happens to be in just the right place right now while normally being in the arse end of nowhere. In spite of it all, the city is so very much alive. As evidenced by the slightly deranged drunkard greeting my exodus from the dilapidated housing block with a quick and unprompted explanation of how the aliens had just scanned the whole city block and I should get off-planet as fast as possible.
“Yeah? What about you then, Olen?” I said, flicking the tip of a couple of cigarettes to light them, the glow briefly bathing us both in a dim red and rather unflattering light. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard to not look good in a clone costing more than this entire block has seen in its lifetime, but this neighborhood makes everything in it look as grimy, unkempt and hideous as it is. As Olen is.
“Aren’t they coming for you too?” I ask as he snatches one of the cigarettes with a grateful but nervous glance at me.
I let him ramble at me for a few minutes as he greedily sucks down the fat, thick smoke of tobacco way beyond his price range. He makes a few surprisingly good points about him being impervious to the aliens on account of his unique brain chemistry which he attained through his experiences on the streets of the city, a careful regimen of drugs, occasional bouts of head trauma and regular therapy sessions with the talking frog down Einhardt’s alley. That would indeed do the trick, I agreed.
I hand him a couple of cigarettes and head in the general direction of the city center. It’d take all day and most of the night to get to where I was going by foot, but it had occurred to me that I needed it. The streets underneath my feet. Around me. Above me. Even having left the pod to reconnect to why I fight and kill over a year ago now, it’s too easy to become disconnected. Detached. Even down here I am apart. Even if the clone is starting to fall apart – that damn nonsense of hers is killing me, quite literally – there’s probably not a baseliner on this planet that could match its performance. Could count the people who’s wealth match mine on one hand down here. Even as I’ve tried to shift my perspective, I’ve still crossed New Eden in under half an hour and I’ve watched their lives from the vantage points otherwise reserved for Gods, madmen, accountants and statisticians. That tends to stick.
I need to walk these streets again, take it all in. See the world from their eyes, or risk losing sight of why I do what I do.
The drawback in that of course, is seeing what I do with their eyes. Their idiot, small-minded, lovably naïve and so painfully mortal eyes. Seeing the Myth first-hand. Seeing War from their eyes. You can do it too, it’s the exact same in every single human society in New Eden. Pick a city, any world, any nation that is about to go to war, and watch. You’ll see the exact same damn thing, if you know how to see.
I pass through a connecting alleyway, barely two dozen paces, and I’ve gone from one of the slums to a perfectly gentrified neighborhood. Isn’t it always that way, really? Little lines and invisible borders separating little nations, cultures and people. That side good. This side bad. That place over there, worse. On this side of the alley the drug dealers don’t hide in fortified apartments. They risk the corner, because their clientele is less desperate and likely to try and shank them for a fix. I like this neighborhood. Affluent enough that the trash mostly stays in the collection bins, poor enough that they’re not worth marketing too much to, so it is mercifully sparse on advertisement drones, holos and augmented reality spam.
Some new graffiti though. War paint for buildings. It’s kind of pretty. A war mace emblazoned with butchered Amarr words on it. “Go to home back.” There’s been a patrol in the area, as a quick response underneath says, “God grant both of us this wish.” This is where it’s time to start Seeing. To not just look at the city but seeing it. See what the war does to it. Go take a walk and see it with me, in whatever world at war you may have available.
There’s this platitude that the first casualty of war is always the truth. This is far from always the case. Truth always become mortally wounded, sure enough, but it’s not always the first casualty. Just one of the early ones. War forces myth upon everyone it touches. You can see it the moment your own nation goes to war. The others become almost instantly detestable. Cruel, unjust, vile. We of course are merciful, just and righteous. Pit one of our leaders against the enemy leaders and any act they perform are imbued with opposing qualities. Bloody-minded and cruel. Courageous and willing to make hard choices. Performing clever maneuvers and utilizing cunning strategy. Cowardly and craven, dishonorable in every way. This seeps into every fiber and crevice of our nations, in a war.
Even the onlookers, other nations, fall prey to it. Instead of acknowledging the greed, fear or vanity that causes an outbreak of war, they respond to the ideological veneer wrapped around it. The lie that justifies it is easier to swallow, because it means they can often avoid intervening. It gives the bloodshed and terror a kind of historical inevitability. It’s just what is, and how it would be. Not our fault, or something we should consider a Wrong to Make Right. This isn’t very often malicious, I’ll grant you. Most politicians and media simply don’t have the perspective or insight that allows for dispelling the illusions laid upon their eyes, the debunking of myth.
They and we swallow these myths whole and thus allow us to stand by and watch as eight hundred thousand men, women and children die on a backwater planet in Molden Heath, over the course of four years of conflict that was for the very most part fabricated and false as a jumble of loyalties, political maneuvering, corruption, national security and criminal enterprise collided with the people dirtside being equal parts victims and perpetrators. Fabricated, as it took almost as long as the conflict has lasted to build up the resentment and hate that caused a single gunman to light the spark, through media, rhetoric and propaganda. Different cities, different planets. Same shit.
This city didn’t give much of a shit about it, a while back. It wasn’t a real war to them. Hell, it wasn’t a real war to the participants. Sure, in reality the war started on the Day of Darkness and has continued unabated in various forms ever since, but people can’t sustain that. It’ll flare up at times. Elder Fleet. Border breaches. That nonsense bloodsport that rolls from side to side as speculators want to dump their war profiteering points onto the market. Slave raids on our side, terror strikes on theirs. Down here? Down here life just went on. The sun rose every morning, just like it does now, turning darkness into light and shadow, warmth and awakening. The city wakes. A wall opens and a food stall rolls out to begin catering to whoever is on their way to work. I glance at it, trying to identify what they have on offer. It’s usually harmless and nutritious, but not always.
Beware the Trad. What is Trad? Well, it depends on where you are in the vast Minmatar diaspora. What comes most commonly to mind would be certain teas and herbal drugs, embedded in ‘traditional’ ritualistic fervor or other excuses to get your brain proper fucked by chemical rapists having a party in your audio-visual centers. Most are harmless, inducing calm and gentle euphoria. What I accidentally came across when I thought I was just buying a snack from a food stall led to spending half an hour on a naked rampage through a library, café and public park imparting wisdom I loudly insisted was tattooed in unmentionable places. The librarian took a keen interest, just in case I was right. I like to think the photos she took are being studied by scholars unfamiliar with Gripdjur iconography, inventing new mythologies and philosophy in between furious masturbation sessions. I got off with a small fine on account of Suffering Accidental And Unusual Brain Chemistry. This is apparently a common enough event in the city that it has its own legal designations.
It’s the risk you take when this single city sells me food made out of dozens of species few off-planet even knows exists. Yesterday I ate a bowl of eyeballs from a species of fish that is on the verge of extinction. The dish takes four months to make and it was almost as delicious as it sounds. If I lived here a hundred years, I could maybe try a fraction of a percent of the cooking that exists here right now in this moment, while ten thousand new ones got invented in the meantime.
I spend a few minutes haggling over a piece of meat on a stick. I have to threaten the man with dragging him into the back and force feeding him his own produce before he admits the meat is indeed caught and butchered in the back alleys nearby, but he swears up and down that it’s high quality nonetheless. He barely managed to catch it. I pay him three quarters asking price, overpaying by at least twice what it’s really worth. I take two napkins to even the score a bit and leave wiping grease off my chin. It’s delicious, and I can feel him grinning at my back as I leave. We’ve had roughly the same interaction a few times a week for a while now, and he only started trusting me when I learned to play the local game.
He is pretty unaffected by the occupation. The recent curfews are largely ignored in these parts of the cities, as I understand it. The Amarr enforce it where they have assets to spare and vulnerabilities to protect. The rest of the city remains alive. Hell, all of it remains alive. Some parts just hunker down a bit, squaring its shoulders and prepares. Short of WMD destruction, nothing can kill this city. Change it irrevocably, perhaps, but that happens anyway. Every day. It’s too alive not to.
As we change with every moment, so does the city. Any city. Take some time in the zocalo to just lean on an ad post, looking at it. Listening to it. Inhaling its scent. Be it dogshit, some new spices in the food stall next to you or a perfume full of memetic triggers aimed to get you to buy the new Hover Ride, it won’t be there tomorrow. Be it here or Sarum Prime, Matar, Skarkon II or wherever else. It’s so alive, in spite of all that we do to it. In spite of war.
The war though, that changes the people.
“Each leader works at poses, inflections: strong on screen, bluff on the air-waves, caring friend. Each of them bathes in his own propaganda; his currency is lives, and he has plenty to spend.”
They fall for the myth and turn their reality into it. The problem with the mythic reality is that it also imbues the fight with absolutes. Light and Dark. Good and Evil. We set impossible goals to Vanquish the Darkness and for Justice to Prevail. How often have you seen this actually happen in human history? None that we have recorded so far, other than those most suspect of historical accounts that were written by victors desperate to hide their now clear knowledge of what they had truly done for posterity. It didn’t work. There’s no security or harmony created by war. Ironically, we often can feel safer and more harmonic under the myth of war, as it takes hold of our minds and creates that most horrible of monsters. Patriotic solidarity. Unity.
Even the media succumbs. It doesn’t lie. It doesn’t have to. It just omits. Leaves things out. Torture of prisoners. Execution of civilians. War crimes from our side. Complete fuckups like bombing a school or assassinating innocents. These things are only reported by the enemy media, like ours grab onto their crimes, until the myth collapses. Not until the populace can no longer bear the weight of the myth and it falls around them, does the media report the whole truth. And even when it does, there’s no self-reflection. The time before it collapsed stands true. They did the Right Thing. They allowed themselves to be steered around by the military themselves, willingly cooperating as they’re led around carefully selected parts of the frontlines and shown what the military wanted them to see. Even international observers do the same. Docile and cooperative, CONCORD observers and press look at the aftermath of an antimatter explosion having taken out the town of Northflow Bay, as an Amarr official explains how and why it happened. Their docility allows the most natural action of a state to occur. The Lie.
A war reporter put it very nicely: “The potency of myth is that it allows us to make sense of mayhem and violent death. It gives a justification to what is often nothing more than gross human cruelty and stupidity. It allows us to believe we have achieved our place in human society because of a long chain of heroic endeavors, rather than accept the sad reality that we stumble along a dimly lit corridor of disasters. It disguises our powerlessness. It hides from view our own impotence and the ordinariness of our leaders. By turning history into myth we transform random events into a chain of events directed by a will greater than our own, one that is determined and preordained. We are elevated above the multitude. We march towards nobility.”
Want to see it? Look. We’re coming up on the Grey Ring. I have tried to find out how it came to be, but there’s too many contradictory historical records. Whichever one is considered true has changed whenever the political balance of the city shifts, and slowly turns favor towards one explanation over another. A broad circular street circling the city, dotted with vast plazas at every cardinal direction. Often considered the limit between the “real” city and the sprawl that grew outside it to accommodate the growing populace. One of the dozens of lines you can be on the wrong side of, depending on your upbringing. It’s old, that we know for sure. Each plaza has a towering stone statue of featureless women facing outwards, arms raised to the sky. No one has managed to find certain evidence of who built them either, the techniques used too common to too many potential candidates. The style, too plain and nondescript.
The greatest mystery is that each statue’s crotch has a tunnel in it. Unreachable without external elevators or other equipment. No, get your head out of the gutter. It’s not life-like. Just a hole in the stone where you can enter and within you’ll find a perfectly spherical chamber of the exact same smooth stone the Ring and Statues are made of, and a stone chair facing inwards. No instrumentation, no technology, nothing. Just a chair facing a smooth stone spherical wall, inside a massive statue of a woman with no features.
The theories abound of course, but there is nothing to support any of them. As far as I’m aware, there are no examples of this elsewhere, not even on this planet.
These days the Damsels are being included in the maintenance work that maintains the Ring itself, in spite of the outcries of preservationists wanting them untouched. The reason being that a few years back, one of the tits cracked and fell off, killing almost two dozen people loitering underneath. I laughed hysterically for a full five minutes watching the recordings.
Coming up on one of the plazas now. Look at the people. The day has dawned and they’re crowding the same as they always have, but they’re not the same under the war. If you just look without seeing, it could of course fool you, but you’d have to work at it. The tattoo count is almost doubled. The ones usually covered up in deference to climate and practicality are now on display. Hair styles, clothes and demeanor has shifted. There’s a belligerent pride descending on them that they had mostly ignored before the war became real. Well, what they think of as real. It hasn’t really come to the city yet, but the myth has. They’ve gotten caught up in it and grown into it.
I have to suppress a flash of hatred at them all. An urge to grab that piece of shit little turd, twenty years at the most, wearing a proud ‘hawk and strutting with a newfound pride in a nation unified under the threat of the other, the evil. Grab him and show him war. Real war. Stare into his eyes and watch his pride wither under the weight of it. The flash is quickly gone, choked by the taste of all the self-loathing it consisted of. I was him once. I was no more immune to the myth.
War is sometimes inevitable, of course. It’s sometimes a necessity. It’s been part of human society since the dawn of recorded history and probably since the dawn of our existence. Doesn’t make it less corrosive. Less damaging to us. Once we deploy organized violence, we inevitably must abandon our otherwise fixed and established values and morals. We must suddenly accept and even condone the murder, maiming and destruction of others as merely regrettable costs of war. We sacrifice all on the altar of war and without the myth that is so essential to justify those sacrifices we can’t even justify the necessary ones. We must twist and turn the lies, manipulation and inhumanity of war into Heroic Ideals. Poetry, epics, holo serials and movies all nurture underneath it, from the gross mass-produced tosh to the finest works of our best authors. The best of these even know what they’re doing, and often will in little sections or moments lay bare the truth of war. Just enough to create discomfort. Not enough to provoke violent backlash as people become forced to defend themselves against what is clearly an attack on their world view, ingrained into their very identity right now. The myth they entwined so closely to their very identity.
You see, we are as a human species, regardless of the society we live in, a social animal. We are as successful as we are thanks to collective tendencies, and in this we find a huge weakness. Underneath all of our societies, every last one, we find a passionate yearning for a cause to exalt us. War delivers that. It can ease and even erase the anxiety and responsibilities of individuality, allowing us to abandon them for a shared, unquestioned and common venture. Even if morally questionable. The individual ties itself to the collective, that ties itself to the cause and criticism of it becomes a personal attack on your very individual identity. The myth is now so sacrosanct that criticism triggers your very survival instinct and you defend it as vigorously as you would your very life.
I could grab that little shit and provide him with the utterly and completely unvarnished truth. I would instantly become the enemy as that would be an unparalleled attack on him, not the Lie, not the Myth, not even the Cause or whatever the fuck. Just him. This is the core of what Nationalism does. Sometimes benign in peace. In war, its myths are dredged up to support the cause. Glorification of the nation, of the people, of the cause, of the righteousness. Spirits help you if religion gets caught in the mix as well.
“And I won’t even mention the howl of orphans that reaches up to the throne of God and beyond, making a circle with no end and no God. “
Passing the Ring, we’re heading into the city ‘proper’. Spirits above, I’ve come to love this place. The curse of this city is love. You’ll fall in love a dozen times from when you leave whatever hovel or mansion you live in, before you even get to the drug dealer on the corner. Spirits behind, how many kinds of people can New Eden produce, and how can they all come here? Or there. Wherever you are, whatever the city you are in is called. I pass a woman with silver eyes and hair, her skin sheening in a tint I have never seen before in my entire life. She leans with a loving smile onto a tall dark man with his hair loose to the small of his back and his shirt open to his navel, revealing metallic tattoos telling an intricate story. I fall head over heels in love with them both and spend a split second in an eternity of fantasy making them both whimper my name. I can smell the sex they had just moments before they wandered onto the streets, unshowered and unashamed. Those split moments happen time and time again, and as I revel in them, I also briefly hate this city and everyone in it, because I am here and not at home with her.
I’ve heard and noted eighteen different music genres I’ve never heard anywhere else in my life, down here. I watched at least one of them as it was being invented, as a small gaggle of what I think was Achuran inspired singers sang their hearts out on the street, for no other reason than to be joyful and sharing it. As they went on, one of the onlookers dug out a flute I recognized as coming from a small Khanid territory and never really getting purchase outside it. They joined in, improvising with the signature organic trill it produces. Within another five minutes there was also strangely shaped gourd drum I don’t know and a bog standard guitar in the mix, and for the next half an hour people from across New Eden watched people from across New Eden create something new that have never been heard before, and possibly never will again. Music happens all over this city, all the time. Music from every corner of New Eden, with every emotion humanity can conjure within it. Once I heard the war drums and chants of the Gripdjur in the distance. I never found the players, but they were legit enough that my warpaint tattoos surfaced and blazed openly for an hour and if I’d come upon an Amarr security checkpoint there would have been blood.
The checkpoints start popping up once you pass the Ring. Outside of it is largely consigned to drone surveillance and strongholds. In here, there’s the ever-present patrol breaking up gatherings and checkpoints funneling people only where they should be and picking out those tagged by surveillance as having been part of demonstrations, riots or other dissenting activities. I walk up to one of the priority lanes. I haven’t changed my clone even an iota. My tattoos are on full display, my Horned Mask voluval proud on my stomach and my augs are blatant. I can actually glimpse my face on a Sarz’namarr album ad near the end of the street. I light a cigarette and don’t even bother acknowledging the facial and gait scan or the heavily armed troopers watching me closely as the gate opens to let me pass.
Infiltration is 90% not giving a fuck. It’s knowing in the very core of your being that you are the one who belongs and being so certain of it that the world shifts around you to make it so. It is in temporarily picking up a smoking habit to up the not giving a shit factor. It is in making everyone else so certain of the neck-deep pile of shit they’ll be in if they question or challenge it, that they simply won’t unless someone else does it first. It is in having hacked the surveillance facial recognition databases and inserting a false identity that throws up minor red flags but none that warrants the aforementioned trouble.
One of the troopers look me in the eye and there’s a mutual flash of recognition. Neither of us have ever seen the other before of course, but we recognize something else. We recognize the shattered myth. There’s really only one part of the populace that largely remains immune to the myth of war. Those who actually fight it. It’s almost impossible to maintain the myth there, because that will get you killed very quickly. Veteran soldiers are usually the least likely to hold to the myth, even if they too need to hold at least a small grasp on the demonizing of the enemy, long enough to keep their deaths from condemning him. That too rarely lasts, replaced entirely by the justification of his survival and that of his comrades. His unit, that is who he really fights for. His brothers at his side, not the ones at home. They soon have their armor of lie stripped from them, and thus become incapable of experiencing the force of violence and war without being touched by it to the very core of their spirit. As combat looms, there is no thought of home or family. No thought of the myth you fight for. Those thoughts would overwhelm you with nostalgia and emotion that would get you killed. You think of readying weapons, checking ammunition stores and of the killing. Not even the Amarr ever charge into battle for God and Empire. They fight for the brother and sister next to them. Only them.
Once in the fight, they are removed entirely from the myth to the real. They no longer have anything to do with a New Eden not at war. The belief carried by those at home shatters. It isn’t necessarily replaced by a better understanding or the truth, but with confusion and a taste of the addictive heady narcotic of war. The survivors may eventually come home and stare at the believers as if from a great distance. A distance they can’t really reach across. Some manage to integrate again, their cog slightly mismatched but not enough to break the machine. Others are hooked. Addicted to the real war, incapable of living in the myth.
I look him in the eye and we recognize it in each other. This one has seen it. A lot of it. His grip on his rifle tightens slightly along with his eyes. The screen in his view shows the identity he has already dismissed as fake. It also shows the hints of the clone’s capabilities. Nowhere near the real extent of it, but enough for him to make some qualified guesswork and tactical assessments. I keep walking and he shifts his gaze to the next in line. It is unspoken. Even in body language. It’s shouted in the silence. Proclaimed in fiery letters across the sky in how we ignore each other entirely.
We both recognize the addiction and craving, the desire for the fight. The challenge. The affirmation of being alive in spite of New Eden trying its damnedest to make it not so. I pass him with the brief sensation of having a shared bond, like lovers. We both want it. We both suppress it. Not here. Not now. The reality of war isn’t here yet. This is a place of myth. Of those who live in the lie. It wouldn’t be right. The time will come and the myth will implode, replaced by reality, but until it does he will let his men live the myth and I will avoid shattering the lives of the people of this city.
I walk on into a stranger part of the city, leaving the stranger I know better than most clan members behind.
The Historical Foundation is alive and well. A whole section of the city rebuilt to be a precise replica of some part of the past, gleaned from documents and archeology. Inevitably full of twists and interpretations through the lens of modern people, so probably have the historical veracity of a propaganda leaflet, but some of the most ardent workers there believe so much in recognizing and learning from the past that they’ve undergone neural reworks and remaps to believe they truly live in those old times to add to the ‘authenticity’ experienced by the modern people walking around and observing.
I recognize nothing of it. With the passing through of modern people, it’s a painful assault on the senses. What I call home on Mikramurka is an underground city where the surface is what we think the past looked like. In intent, almost exactly like this part of the city. In execution, rather different given that we don’t actually allow outsiders there except for very strictly guided and silent tours. Ever since I passed the Ring, the itch in my AR Augs have intensified as carrier signals bombard it with attempts to bypass all the filters. Even here, unfiltered Augmented Reality would cover every surface in advertising, newscasts, propaganda and damn near every signal carries some heinous attempt to inject trackers and adbombs. I pass a prostitute with a shudder of loathing as she is the origin of no less than three signal feeds trying to provide a service list with prices, a certificate of guild membership and the last health check. I briefly let the cleaned signals through and watch the city overlaid with a layer of commercialism, lies and noise.
I spend a little time idly inventing and designing a signal bomb that would trigger the primate brain to the point where they’d all revert to violently killing and fucking each other in a frenzy. Wouldn’t work, of course. It’s been done enough by others around New Eden already that the defenses are pretty solid now. I hate them all for a while and hold on to it this time. It’s a connection. A bond. A necessity.
I isolate a signal and watch the news as I keep walking. Some war news. Some city news. I analyze where demonstrations have happened with the law allowing it. Where they’ve happened without permission. Where they turned violent, where they stayed peaceful. Following the datastreams, I find and analyze footage to try and identify useful individuals. Speakers. Rabblerousers. Leaders. I tuck away what I find and my attention shifts to an amusing news piece. I collate a few news sources on it, stripping some biases away. A week ago, twelve people died as a cloud of gas came billowing from the nearby canal. They still have no idea what kind of gas it was, how it came to be or why all the victims died laughing. One rumor I find very enjoyable claimed one of them said he saw the future of the city and that is why he was laughing.
As I leave the Historical Foundation section, I see an Amarrian officer leaving an unofficial brothel, sweating profusely. I could almost see the galloping cockrot clambering up his spinal column. Unofficial means no tracking or tracing of clientele, but also no protection of law or public health services. I suspect it’s not the first time he’s had to find ways to deal with a social disease that’ll turn his baby batter green and cause gently crooning genital pustules while bacterial buzz saws are eating out his urinary tract.
“Why this sudden bewilderment, this confusion? (How serious people’s faces have become.) Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly, everyone going home lost in thought?
Because night has fallen, and the barbarians haven’t come. And some of our men just in from the border say there are no barbarians any longer.
Now what’s going to happen to us without barbarians? Those people were kind of a solution.”
This is a wealthier part of the city. The structures tower above, and the cavernous depths of the city are visible below. The decision to move all the mass that used to cover the vast subterranean structures of the city certainly makes the difference between the top and bottom of city center blatant. Eight different levels of logistics and road networks, and from the top of these buildings you couldn’t hope to even glimpse the foundation. I personally know of at least one guy who has made a ritual of masturbating from his penthouse and jizzing off the balcony while muttering that he owns every last one of you, at least twice a day. He’s not even near the top of the food chain in this city, but it’s important to have aspirations and ambitions, no?
This is the part of the city that profits from the war. It’s nothing personal, they profit from literally everything that goes on. Another feature of any city on any world in any nation in New Eden. The rich and mighty feeding on the efforts of everyone else, whatever those efforts might be. Weapons, arms, supplies, logistics, data collection, food, whatever is currently in demand all sends trickles of money upwards from every single level of society, ending up in vast pockets at the top. I am technically one of them. I’ve long since lost the details in the picture my finances paint, other than when it’s put to work for war efforts.
I glance up at one of the buildings, recognizing the curved shape of it. Last I saw it was from above, as an atmospheric shuttle landed me on the top. Meet and greet with a contact among them, preferring his world a little less war torn. Likes his business smoother and more predictable and has the clout to affect the high end politics. Not the actual politician politics, the real ones, among the wealthy fucks that run things.
How do I know these people and how can I walk among them? How do I get the leverage to push them where I want them? Isn’t this stuff supposed to be hidden better? Normally it would be, but there’s a few factors in play. One of them is simple: Contacts. Live as a capsuleer for over a decade and make some noise. You’ll start gathering contacts and people owing you favors. There’s a half-Civire Bishop over in Ammatar space who I got out of a bind involving semi-intelligent skin lotion, a Federal journalist with six nipples and a scrupleotomy, seven gun-toting Achuran nuns and a wheelbarrow of experimental drugs designed to induce religious experiences. He’s got contacts of his own, and so on. I am on decent enough terms with some Serpentis, Amarr, Feddies and that’s not even taking into account the Gripdjur intelligence processing community I’ve got at my fingertips. Put all of this together and I know where to look.
From there, all it takes is ridiculously expensive and illegal digital lockbreakers and hiring a staff of Galnet dwelling young sociopaths who manage through judicious medication and innate personality features to turn themselves into information-sifting machines with the work ethic and aggression of lizard brains sloshing around in a soup of thruster fuel and capsuleer piss. Nine tenths of everything I do is maintaining this machine of hate-fueled omniscience, allowing me to know exactly where to insert a sharp needle for maximum effect.
I am briefly assaulted by the memory of being in that building.
There is a glass table mounted onto the back of a beautifully muscled man in a ball-gag, being ridden by a very tiny person wearing some sort of animal mask I can’t quite place. The dwarf steers him around as he delivers drinks and drugs primarily made from various bodily fluids to people ranging from morbidly obese to wearing animal bodymods. Some in the midst of copulation, others looking bored and desperate for something, anything new and different they haven’t already seen, done, eaten or fucked. He’s wearing an absolutely gorgeous negligee better than I ever could.
The activities barely registered with me. I have participated in and organized bacchanalians that would have even these creatures rendered catatonic with the experience. It was the disconnection that got to me. Two hours of talking with the man and being surrounded by people so disconnected from anything people ever must go through left me with a burning need to burn my own clone in a reactor fire. After some consideration, I abandoned the notion in favor of burning everyone who ever stepped foot in there in a reactor fire instead. I am never going to pretend I’m not a monster, but if I ever become a politician, I will cancel all clone contracts and jump into the nearest star.
If peace breaks out on this planet, so many in the city will suffer for it. From the rich to the poor. They’ve all invested so much of themselves into it, be it financially, politically or their very identities. What happens when the enemies at the gate go away? When the pressure to maintain the myth goes away?
Watching nationalist myth implode is spectacular. When the lies and absurdities reach critical mass, too much to sustain, contradictions too great to bear by society, it all implodes ferociously. Of course, it is followed by plain refusal to acknowledge its failings. The crimes. Shame, discomfort and simple self-preservation ensures we will not pursue what we did in the name of nationalist causes. Easier to find other external things to blame. Perhaps those lone sane voices who criticized the cause and the lies to begin with. The myths remain, of course. Dormant. Buried. It festers in popular culture. In stories of heroism and service. Monuments to the fallen. It’s there, waiting for the next pandemic of nationalism.
I focus on the level I am on instead. This level has actual people in it. Restaurants and shops, mostly. Upper end of the mid-range. Safe. Boring. Slightly eccentric. Heh, that sign actually did say “employees must urinate on hands after washing.” I have an inexplicable urge to get dinner there later. Okay, maybe not entirely boring. Look at this guy.
The rampant progress in bodymodding tends to be slightly faster than legislation moderating its use. In about two hours the latest innovation by the Shop of Bodyhorrors – fuck off, I didn’t name it – will probably be illegal. What that glistening fellow walking out of that clinic with a manic grin and a literal halo can do in two hours in that church he’s ambling towards might leave a lifetime of experiences on some poor souls, though. He will probably consider the beatings from the zealot security and the law enforcement afterwards quite worth it. I laugh softly, delighted by the notion. Magical.
There is quite literal magic here too. It’s a local sort, different from what I’ve been taught as a Volur back home on Mikramurka. More to the point, there’s a thousand local sorts. Some homegrown, unique to the city as shamans, seers, dreamers, chanters, madmen and women create their own in this urban wilderness of spiritual chaos. Some imported as practitioners from across New Eden arrive, bringing their own flavors with them. The spiritual and ritual knowledge here is so vast and incredible, I could spend lifetimes learning it all and still have lifetimes more to go. Somewhere in here, there is a woman who knows the Nine Words to make a soul yours and a man who knows the five paths to redeem your own. Someone here has looked upon the stars in the exact right moment for them to spell out the secret way to kill a God and will never speak a word ever again. Whether or not a single thing among these are real or true does not even matter. The city makes them all real, to them.
“Nothing but hurt left here. Nothing but bullets and pain… Believe it when you see it. Believe it when a twelve-year-old rolls a grenade into the room.”
The city center is mercifully retreating behind me as I light another cigarette, passing another checkpoint and finding myself in a cultural hotspot. This district holds a rather eclectic collection of press corporations and news media, combined with the most ridiculous assortment of theaters, holo dens, adventure lounges, movie studios and every last one thinks they’re the arbitrators of the city’s cultural life.
Culture thrives in war. Culture dies in it. I can see a dozen variations on war propaganda and purveyors of myth from this single spot, and they’ll be replaced by another dozen upon dozen as I keep walking. You’re probably a capsuleer. Do yourself a favor. Connect to a university in a city that’s had a war history and start analyzing the cultural and academic output from a period of peace, through war, and into peace. Run memetic analysis and plot the occurrence of nationalistic pride, then control for liberal and conservative value sets.
Weep as you watch the death of genuine cultural expression and academic veracity and can’t even hold whichever side of the political spectrum you belong to above the other. Want another little gut punch? Spot the few outliers that try to maintain a little academic or cultural integrity. Check their career progress. Compare the suicide ratio to the local normal values.
Now search for their vindication in the peace time that follows. Their shame expunged. You aren’t going to find it. Like the media, politicians and peoples of the nation, the collapse of the myth still does not allow for the truth of what happened under its influence to be acknowledged or recognized. The myth of war just consumes, and what it eats stays digested and shat out.
It takes me a few minutes to realize night is falling, instead of merely my mood. I’ve walked all day and still have a little ways to go to get to my destination.
As night falls, the holo theatre at the south-central releases the snow. Far up above, venting machines release all the little self-assembling components into the air that slowly combines and creates little organic machines with just enough energy to become self-illuminating specks of snow. Little temporary crystals falling down on us, shining brightly like fireflies in all kinds of cold colors turning the street into a wondrous fairy land. I inhale a few, not really worrying about it as I know they’re designed to decompose into harmless organic matter my body and the streets themselves will just absorb and eventually eject with no effects. There’s no ads in it, no message, no reason or even purpose. Just beauty, because someone decided they wanted it to happen every evening in that place. I’m told no one knows who did it, but the funding comes to the theatre anonymously every week like clockwork. My mood improves slightly. It is genuinely beautiful. I look around and see a group of kids delighting in it.
It hurts, but I can’t ever help myself. I gravitate to the children. They immediately recognize that I’m out of the ordinary. Unlike the adults who look at my tattoos, clothes, mannerisms and posture and take these blatant signs that I don’t belong here as confirmation that I can’t possibly be out of place since I’m not playing pretend that I do, they see what they see and know that I don’t. They ask questions and wonder who I am and why I am here. I tell them. I show them. They want more. I spend an hour or so telling them about New Eden and Matar. Of the Empire and the invaders. Of capsuleers and of their own city. Once they’ve learned some things, and spent half an hour telling me things they know, I send them scurrying off with a handful of the local currency with a pang in my heart, knowing I never can have my own. I’ll have to make do with yours. They seem to like it, at least. You probably wouldn’t.
“It’s getting dark, but not dark enough to see. An exit wound as an exit strategy.”
I am passing beyond the Ring again. Another couple of checkpoints and I’m back out in the sprawl. The beginning of my journey repeated in reverse. Gentrification. Slums. I pause and lean on a light post that flickers fitfully in the dark. It’s never truly dark in the city of course, but no one who lived their lives here would ever know what that would be like. This is as close as it gets, here.
I’ve walked the city. Felt its myriad streets and pavements under my feet. Had it surround me on all sides, weigh down on me from above. I’ve watched the people and fallen in love a dozen times and seethed with hatred a dozen times more. I’ve spoken with some, been ranted at by others, seen them watch the Amarr military convoys going from stronghold to stronghold. I can even now feel several drones watching me closely and dispassionately, in case I’m a threat.
I am as connected to them as I can be right now, I think. Even with the war consuming this world and its people, I am pretty sure I can’t know them or their city any better. I think I am as cognizant as can be when it comes to war and what it does to them. Not just the myth, but the real thing when that finally breaches the city limits. I am ready. I can do what I must, without ignorance or excuse.
I start moving again, stepping down an alley just as I can feel a planned information bomb take out the drone network’s surveillance for a few minutes. I hand the last of my cigarettes to what could be Olen’s twin brother playing lookout as I duck into a shielded basement level. Greeted by confident and expectant gazes from a dozen different people, silently taking in the look on my face and realizing we’re close to go time.
I look at the information feeds playing across two of the walls, the other two covered in weapon racks, watching all the Amarr troop movements playing out real time, along with every known vulnerability, strongpoint logistics chains, other known cells and strike-teams ready for coordination, resource and weapon caches, continual analysis of probable strategies and tactics by both Filmir’s and Amarr forces and long lists of people ready to turn demonstrations into riots, the oppressed into uprisings.
I glance at the crate containing my own combat gear, before I look at each of the others in the room. Two Mikramurkan shock troopers. An Amarrian ex-bishop I trust with my life. A man I’ve sent to operate in Dam-Torsad, twice. Others. Some of them are more connected to the city than I am, others don’t care at all. All of them have long since become immune to the myth of war, though. They’ve all seen. It’s fine, they don’t need to love the city or the people in it. That is my responsibility. My need. If I am to watch it burn, I need to do it honestly. Pay the price of what must be done, knowing exactly what it entails.
Sorry. I didn’t have some grand point to make. No lessons or revelations about people or war. There is no silver bullet that will kill it, there are no grand truths that will dispel it. There is nothing but people. The city. Humans. There is just us, and our duty to know in our very spirit what we are and what we do. Sit back now. Take a few moments and try to gauge honestly how much of what you know and do is merely in service to myth. Consider your actions when you’re inside and out of the pod. When you obliterate someone with a thought. When you shift staggering amounts of ISK around New Eden. Can you honestly say you know what you do, for who or what? If the answer isn’t a very clear yes, and I doubt there’s many in New Eden that could do that without brain damage or an incredibly firm ignorance, it’s time to reconnect. To go out there and See. Go see New Eden from every level and perspective. Learn who they are. Who you are. Learn where you draw the lines when it comes to what must be done. Go See, or that line will disappear over the horizon.
Now, if you’ll excuse me… it’s time to go to war.
“You are blood rushing down a mountain, Spirit of hate, greed and anger, dominator of heaven and earth!”