Arm's End reached, which in a way is also Journey's End. From here, the only way is back towards home. As you'd expect for being on the edge of the intergalactic void, it's rather empty down here...
I may sit here for a while an enjoy the view. Or more accurately, the lack of one. Curiously, if you look at a plot of the stars down here, you can see one lone star off to the north-east - outside the named sectors, and far beyond the jump-range of any ship. I can't help but wonder which star it is, and how it got added to the records...
So just over six months ago, I was sitting in my Courier at Semotus Beacon, and took the obligatory "Me, in front of EVERYTHING!" selfie from the Galaxy's most northern extremity.
So now, I'm sitting in my Clipper at Sepositus Beacon, down on the southern reaches and the most distant reachable system from the Core, and symmetry demands the counterpart beacon gets a counterpart selfie.
There is a slight temptation to just keep flying. Problem with that would be that the Clipper's itty bitty fuel tank means I wouldn't get far - about 8 hours flying and I'd be dead in space. And dead entirely not long afterwards, when my Life Support unit ran dry. Soooo we'll not do that, and just head on towards Arm's End as per original intentions.
But not without noting first that I'll never be further than this from the Core.
Current location: about 7kly north-west of Sepositus Beacon, heading towards a reported sighting of the elusive Crystalline Shards. More for curiosity than anything else, mind - Shards aren't much use unless you've had access to a Material Trader before visiting them. And there aren't many Material Traders out here.
Still. 113 jumps to go until I reach that waypoint - which out here is pretty good going for an unbroken route plot. Seems lately that about 10-15 jumps is as far as I was getting before I had to hit the Jumponium again. I knew the star density down here wasn't great, but I didn't think it was quite this low.
I'd planned out as far as Sepositus before I left the Bubble, and I'd obtained mapped routes through the areas I knew I'd have trouble with otherwise. But I've run into far more areas where boosts & manual plotting have been required than I ever expected.
Part of that was my own fault - brute-forcing my way across the Perseus Transit when there were easier if longer ways around, for starters - but I'm currently more or less right in the middle of the Outer Arm and had expected to have easier going here.
None of which is complaining, of course. I chose my destinations, I chose the ship I'm flying - even while I knew its range was less than ideal for down here. But that was part of the challenge. I wanted to be made to work for this, to do this trip when others (wiser?) may have taken the easier option and flown an Anaconda. The galaxy is just saying "A challenge, you say? Hold my beer." And I'm quite happy with that.
As for after Sepositus... I've spent some time with the nav computer, exploring options. Arm's End was the stretch goal for the Outer Arm, and it now seems that yes, I can get the Clipper down there and safely back out again, so that part of the trip is most definitely on. After that, we'll see.
Took me nearly a month of flying, but I've finally tagged my first blue marble of this trip. Queue the ritual "sit in orbit and enjoy the view" stage.
The thing that struck me most while I was just soaking in the unaccustomed colour (yes, I fly a Gutamaya and yes, it has blue neon highlights - but they're outside the ship, and I don't actually get to see them) was the stuff I'm not currently having to think / worry about.
I'm used to a routine when I first sit in the pilot's chair each day of firing up my squadron info, seeing what needs done to maintain our position, seeing what the leadership thinks should be our priorities for the day (and then usually ignoring them, because I can be a dick like that). 1,001 things I feel I need to do, before I can get down to doing the things I want to do.
Add another thing to the list of woes that drove me into the black in the first place, I guess.
And that I'm not having to worry about out here. I haven't checked my squadron info in weeks, and while I know that there's a ton of things exercising the leadership right now, it's not like I could do anything about them, so hey! Not my problem! (Like I said, I can be a dick sometimes...)
Escape your woes: go exploring.
(At least until your power plant starts failing and you have to come home...)
"If you're not careful, you can lose yourself in the world. You get too busy with things, not busy enough with yourself! Spend your days and nights living someone else's agendas, fighting someone else's battles, and you're doing the work you're supposed to be doing, but every day there's less and less of you in it all! Till one day, you come to a fork in the road, and because you're distracted, you're not thinking. You lose yourself. You go right, and the rest of you, the really important part of you, goes left! And you don't even know you've done it till you realize, you finally realize, that you don't have any idea who you are when you're not doing all those things!
So you go walkabout. You just leave everything, and you start walking. If you're separated from yourself, you start walking and you keep walking until you meet yourself. Then you sit down, and you have a long talk. Talk about everything that you've learned, everything that you've felt, and you talk until you've run out of words. Now, that's vital, because the real important things can't be said. And then, if you're lucky, you look up, and there's just you. Then you can go home." - Dr Stephen Franklin, Chief Medical Officer of the Babylon 5 station, 2360
I appear to have gone Walkabout. I didn't realise that's what I was doing when I left the Bubble, but that's the best way to describe what I'm doing - flying until I find myself. And flying in a region where the star density is getting lower and lower, until perhaps there'll be nothing left but myself. Perhaps that's my hope.
I've meandered my way to Amundsen's Star (Lyed YJ-I d9-0) - the most southerly reachable system in the Galaxy - and spent some time starting into the void beyond the Rim, waiting for the void to stare back.
If it has, I haven't noticed it. But at least there are some other critters down here to enjoy the view with. P-05 Anomalies and Gyre Trees, according to my Codex.
The Anomalies don't like you getting too close - they shock your ship if you do - and the Gyre Trees are just... creepy. So it's not like they're company. But I'm not alone down here. Can't decide if that's a good thing or not, though.
From here, I'll continue my meandering down the Outer Arm. To see what - or who - I'll find when there are no stars left...
So yeah, I dropped off the radar for a while. Around a third of the way through my planned DW2 return route, I found myself simply not wanting to explore anymore, and ended up buckyballing first to Colonia and then back to the Bubble, as I clinically needed civilisation. Since then I've been doing stuff for my faction and for the new Witch Head colonies, which was a welcome break from the Black.
But as all explorers known, the urge always strikes again. A new exploration ship was built - may I present the God Made Me Do It...
Here seen leaving Monde de la Morte, where I took her for her test flight. That was a fun trip.
After that little trip corewards, I'm now headed in the opposite direction - south of the Bubble, currently at Serebrov Beacon and heading down along the meridian line to Notus. From there, the plan is to turn East and head across to Sepositus Beacon and then, if the urge to explore continues to burn, try to push on to Arm's End. Which for a 53.5ly-range Clipper should be quite a challenge (I've been burning synthesis materials at an impressive rate already, just reaching Serebrov) - but then I've always found that doing things in non-meta / suboptimal ships is half the fun. Wish me luck...
Have reached the first major waypoint on my route home - the Nyauthai Beacon, a blue supergiant than (for me) marks the start point of the trip south to Colonia.
With The Abyss behind me (and that felt like it took forever), it finally feels like I'm on the homeward journey. Hopefully The Styx - another are that could be difficult to travel through because of low star density - doesn't cause the rerouting and extra lightyears that the Abyss cause me...
So on the basis that DW2 officially ends for its participants on their arrival at Beagle Point, I'm done. Here I am on the ground at the Beagle Point 2 basecamp:
...here's the obligatory Semotus Beacon "Me in front of everything!!" selfie:
...and here's how the journey looked when plotted on the galactic map:
I'm now on the way towards Colonia, taking a route of my own creation which involves a little messing around in areas of low star density - the plan is to cross the Abyss and the Styx, both areas where getting stuck is a real possibility, and heading roughly down Colonia's line of 'longitude' (or whatever you'd call it in space). And already I'm manually plotting routes and thinking of jumponium, because my ship's route plotter says "Nope!".
Which is half the point. Following a route someone else has planned, that's safe for anything above a given jump range, is the one aspect of 'easy mode exploring' that just switching to the Courier didn't give up. But planning my own route, through regions that I know will be challenging to cross, gives me that experience. Let's just hope it doesn't end with me having to take a 10kly backtrack when I run out of stars...
Th DW2 organisers do like to throw things into each Waypoint trip to keep us 'amused', for want of a better word. Things like POIs so far off the main route that you think twice before swinging past them, or Waypoint systems far enough above the plane that shorter-range ships (like my Courier) need to use neutron boosts or synthesis to get there. That's part of the fun, though, and you won't usually find me complaining.
This week, though, the complication was what EDSM ominously refers to as the Thargoid Wall - although given the absence of actual Thargoids in the area, I'll stick to calling it the Bleia Permit Zones. 5 separate permit-locked areas that we have to plot around to get to this week's waypoint. They're locked with the Unknown Permit, so there's (at time of writing) no way of getting into them.
I hate Unknown Permit zones. My first encounter with then was as a relatively new pilot, trying to get around Col 70 Sector to get to and from Barnard's Loop, and trying to find routes that would plot while still taking you in generally the right direction was a ballache. I'm a lot better now at manually spotting workable routes, but it's still a pain in the arse to do it. Oh for a system upgrade that would let the ship's route plotter figure it out.
Still, it won't be long until Bleia is behind us and we have a clear run to the Abyss. I can almost feel it staring back at s already...
ELWs are a bit like buses - sometimes they come in clumps, and then you get periods like where I am where they just can't be found. I hadn't seen one since at least Explorer's Anchorage, but finally today I hit the jackpot and encountered this beauty:
I need a few more blue marbles. I have a ritual when I discover a new one of dropping down as close as I can get and just sitting and enjoying the view - there's something about the particular mix of white, blue and green that you get from an Earthlike that just demands to be gazed at. A side effect of being so far from home, I guess.
But these encounters are, by their nature, fleeting - there's a route to be followed and a waypoint to reach by the weekend, so after a too-short interlude I'm back on the road. But with memories of that blue marble imprinted, for a while at least.