.:==: ARRIVAL, PART ONE :==:.
As I sit in the galley of the new Neb, as small as it is, and peer out the port side window above the sink across from me, I watch someone - in an EV suit, nobody has an obvious gender - drilling away at the floor. That's because, at Omega Mining, the floor is a rock. So are the walls and the ceiling. At first, the EV suit looks out of place. The station may be a bit rough, but it's pressurized and has air. Then I remember the tales of guys getting sucked into the black and dying before the rescue crews arrived because one genius put the wrong type of charge in a fissure and cracked the whole damn station wide open, and I realize this guy isn't an oddity, he's just smarter than the rest of us. The rest of the interior is a strange mix of civilization and frontier, like the station comprised all of the available real estate in the entire system and they just didn't have any way to separate the dance club and the refinery - probably because that's true, it IS the only station in the system.
I've heard of stations like this, of course, but it's my first time being inside a station that is very literally built into the side of an asteroid. I'm not even sure how old it is. There were times when construction materials, designs, and critical equipment like air recyclers were phased in and out, and if you're keen you can generally nail down a a normal station's construction date within 3 or 4 months. Not so out here. The rock is no doubt trillions of years old, and it all looks like it was just drilled into yesterday. There's precious little equipment, and it's housed in special armored structures so that if the whole damn station falls apart, they can just bore into another rock and transplant what they have. In the bubble, that'd violate building code, but this ain't the bubble, and shipping replacement equipment all the way out here violates sanity.
It was a long journey to get here, and it's both sobering and humbling to think about all the distances involved. None of these people were born here, and the station strains, not so much under the weight of the ships of the DW2 fleet, as the functions of providing food and booze for its pilots, all eleven thousand of us. This is a place built to support a mining crew of no more than a thousand hardy people who knew exactly what they were getting themselves into before they ever arrived. To see it handle ten times that many, and all of them at least somewhat unprepared, is to watch an elephant carry an entire house.
I shouldn't say we're all unprepared, though. A tiny hand full of us have done this before. They may not have been to this station before, but a small core of our fleet has been to Beagle Point and back already and has a pretty good idea what life is going to be like for the next couple months. I'm not among the veterans, but after my experience with the first Neb, I'm learning things hard and fast. The trip out here was over 1,600ly farther than the round trip in the Krait MkII, but I still finished it over an hour faster. Switching to the Phantom was a good call indeed, though I do miss my SLF. That's one of the things the locals and veterans already know and greenhorns like me are learning by the minute - mass is a luxury, and the price you pay for it isn't money, but rather time. And time is far more valuable than money.
As surreal as this station is, it's just the latest in several amazing moments I've had these past 5 days. I discovered 8 new planets, including 6 in the same system. With eleven thousand pilots sojourning out here, all of us bent on exploration, we all knew we'd get our names written in the codex eventually. There's just too much out here for anyone to have already discovered it all. Yet, it's still a thrill to see it happen. It's one of things you know you'll never accomplish in the bubble, and it's one of the reasons we're all out here.
I also went to Thor's Eye, a well known black hole that's an official POI on our itinerary. Honestly, it was a bit underwhelming, but the gas giant and the star in the system were awe-inspiring. I've seen a blue giant before, obviously. You don't travel over 10,000 career lightyears without encountering a couple. But wow, this thing was so blue it would put the purest sapphire to shame, and it coated the entire system, even the Neb, in a beautiful glow that made the already-gorgeous purple gas giant even more stunning. I do hope to find a black hole that's got something more to look at soon, and it's certainly one of my main goals for the trip.
That is, of course, aside from riding my SRV on the belly of a space whale, which remains my #1 goal. I know, I know. Laugh all you want, but I've wanted to do it since before I joined the Pilot's Federation and I don't think I'll ever stop wanting it. Our fleet hasn't discovered any space whales (aside from several Beluga's making the trip, hah!) but I did find some space clams! Or as the nerds in the science division would call them, "Albulus Gourd Molluscs." Strangely, I found them within the rings of a planet, and nowhere near any obvious Lagrange Clouds, though the lighting was poor and it's entirely possible I just couldn't see the cloud. I tried to scan one and he tried to follow my ship, so I left in a hurry, but I admit it's hard to resist the temptation to return and try again to scan the little guy. So yes, now that I know we've got space clams, I have renewed hope that it's just a matter of time before I get my space whale ride. Keep on laughing, it's fine. When I've got a massive pet space whale swallowing your AspX whole, I'll be doing the laughing.
Anyway, I'm taking the night off. I've received word that tomorrow we're going to begin construction on a new station, one much more typical of the bubble than this little rock, and I've drill jockeyed enough to know it's going to be a long day. I'll probably kill some time at the bar while they give the Neb's FSD a tuneup and go to bed early. It's going to take all day and everything we've got to make this happen, so a little R&R is warranted all around.