"You shouldn't be here."
He was right about that. I knew exactly where I should be. In fact, I knew a great many places I could be. But neither the 'should's nor the 'could's involved a campfire.
"You have to leave."
"E.. e.. excuse me?" I stammered in response. "Who exactly are you? And why should I do anything you tell me?", I gained confidence hearing myself talk.
The old man sat back with an amused look on his face. "Who am I?" he smiled, "Well, now, I guess we've just about got time to tell that tale."
"It all started with the Seyllin Incident," the man began, "I assume you know of it?"
Of course, I knew of it. Anyone who dared venture into the depths of wormhole space was familiar with the dawn of access from New Eden. In YC111 several massive explosions were triggered all across New Eden. These were initiated deep in the lawless regions of null security space when a Thukker captain opened fire to destroy a cache of the rare isogen-5 mineral. The captain could not have known the cache he destroyed was entangled with the various other caches across New Eden. He would also never know the absolute power he had unleashed on his universe. Although several solar systems experienced their own cataclysmic devastation, nowhere was it felt so strongly as the system of Seyllin. Despite the best attempts of Gallente, CONCORD, and even Serpentis aid fleets, half a billion souls were lost. Their loss, however, was our gain and a whole new, uncharted realm of space was opened up for exploitation.
"Once the wormholes opened", the old man continued "there was a rush of the most intrepid explorers into these new reaches of space. Few could refuse to journey into the unknown."
He went on the paint a picture of uncertainty and danger. Things long since lost to the modern tourists who venture into the area of space also known as Anoikis. He told me about the first, deadly, encounters with the Sleepers where a great many ships were lost. The golden era when artefacts and materials brought back from expeditions would make even the laziest capsuleer rich beyond their wildest dreams.
"And that's when the most daring of us contemplated living there permanently. We amassed a large fleet of colonists, our friends, our families, and flew our entire lives there. We felt invincible."
"The riches we achieved once we were actually living in wormhole space far exceeded our expectations."
My friend painted an almost unbelievable picture of Anoikis in its glorious heyday; greatly understood but still dangerous to the incautious. In an era before scanning systems became mostly automated it took real skill to place and optimise each individual probe into an optimal formation. For those who mastered the skill, the reward was an increased depth of influence through the ephemeral wormhole connections and even greater rewards.
"The Sleepers were eternally ready to destroy all who challenged them but actually living in their space brought a greater knowledge of how to defeat them. We even came to master the physics of the wormholes themselves. We learnt that with enough ships we could prematurely collapse a connection to another system. This allowed us greater control over who and where our neighbours were. We lived in safe impunity. Nothing could touch us.
"We grew fat in our excesses. We had more ISK than we could sensibly spend. Our ships were ever more extravagant. The best modules were imported from Jita. Then we built capital ships. The Sleepers were no match. Not in our low-class system.
"With the riches, of course, came those who would take it from us rather than do the work themselves. Pirates, thieves, turncoats who would live as one of us only to take what wasn't theirs and flee. None of that mattered, though. We had enough assets saved that whatever was taken we could simply replace it."
"Then something changed. I was scanning to update our current charts. All known connections had expired and scanning showed we only had one new wormhole. This was unusual because we'd always known our home to have two connections, one deeper into wormhole space and the other back to the known regions of empire space.
"I approached the single outbound connection and saw it led into another wormhole system. My group wasn't unduly concerned. Nature changes over time and a new, unexplained phenomenon were welcomed. The absolute worst case we would have an extra hop to make to reach known regions of space.
"I jumped through the connection to start mapping our new neighbour. Once my transit of the wormhole was complete I was more than a little confused to find myself still in my home system, albeit now more than 6 AU from my original location.
"I surprised my fleet by warping to them and relayed what had happened. My experience was repeated by several other pilots before we decided to collapse the connection. Nobody expected the next connection to also connect to our home system, but that's exactly what happened. Time and time again we collapsed the single link we had. Every single time the new wormhole that coalesced led right back into the same system."
There was a remembered fear discernible in the old man's voice now. With some urgency, he relayed how his entire corporation spent days upon days doing nothing but running ship after ship through connection after connection. And day after day the only connection they were rewarded with returned them back to their starting point.
"Panic killed the corporation. Fighting broke out. In our despair, we turned on each other. And that's when some of us decided to abandon everything we had. With a heavy heart, I set the self-destruct timer on my capsule and waited to awake in a new clone.
"The new clone never came. Even with my death, there was no escape from our home. This was different, though. We were now free from the restrictions placed on us by our pods. We still could not go back to empire space, but we could venture to other areas of Anoikis."
"In our ethereal travels through many, many systems we became aware that wormhole space was becoming ever densely populated. Corporation after corporation were following in our footsteps and settling new space. Concern increased that the plight of everyone we cared about would become more common. We were worried that others would become forever trapped in Anoikis as we had. We needed to take action.
The old man's face turned even sadder and he sat in silence for some time before I prompted him to continue the tale.
"I discovered it was possible to infiltrate the dreams of capsuleers as they slept in their ships. At first, we tried to explain what had happened. What fate befell us. We only wanted to warn others away. But none would listen.
"Some of our number turned to more radical methods. They would return night after night after night. The living got no rest. They would show horrific scenes of destruction to the capsuleers. Show them their loved ones being massacred by massive fleets of Sleepers. Some left wormholes for good, many more stayed.
As the old man continued to talk I remembered hearing tales of haunted wormholes. The tales all related to a mythical being everyone called 'Bob'. I didn't think anyone believed in the actual existence of 'Bob', but could the tales of haunting currently being told be the grain of truth in the legend?
My guest was silent. My mind had been wondering during his tale and he clearly knew. "Yes, Bob," he said, "some of that may relate to us. But not all, not by a long way."
"It became clear that the few capsuleers we were able to drive from Anoikis were rapidly replaced by just as many new souls. A new tactic was needed. We could communicate with the sleeping. What could we do with those who were awake?
"We started small. Initially, we experimented with the subconscious of the capsuleers. Disabling ship modules at inconvenient times turned out to be trivial. Deactivating armour plates or prop-mods during hole-rolling exercises led to massive frustration. As an unexpected bonus, our victims had a tendency for blaming each other for it. They would accuse each other of borrowing ships they weren't rated to fly.
"We also forced the inaccurate creation of navigation bookmarks. Once again, this spawned many arguments that the bookmarks were deliberate sabotage. But still, newcomers came. We had to up our game and get more imaginative. It was a short leap from there to taking control of the entire ship.
"Once we made that transition, driving people out became easy. We took control of entire corporations of pilots and forced them to hunt their fellow capsuleers. Of course, their minds attempted to resist. Tied to their corporeal forms they were no match for us. Day after day we would treat the pilots as our puppets of destruction. Locked in their ships and in their pods they were mere passengers.
The old man's eyes were ablaze now as he went on to relate his tale of violent conflicts. The ease by which they were able to infiltrate apparent safe systems simply by taking control of a pilot in the target location and forcing them to turn traitor against their will.
"Finally, our mission was working. People were fleeing wormhole space. First, there were tens of empty system. Then there were hundreds. Today there are thousands, but my job is not yet complete. There are still a few pockets of resistance to drive out. And once they are gone, and wormhole space is once more uninhabited, then I can rest."
So now I hunt for him. I am a prisoner in my own ship. I find myself helpless in battles I never committed to. I am a passenger; I can only watch. I feel him there. I struggle against him with no effect. I can sense his amusement when I try. And still, he strives to drive all from Anoikis. To deliver J-space back to Bob. And then I, too, can rest.