In the last episode of Jarenth Plays Starships, I caught up with some ‘old friends’. It was weird seeing my former planet buddies again. And can you believe what Rejinaldo looks like now? I mean, I understand wanting to put as much distance between yourself and the Purity alignment as you reasonably can. But to go from that to Harmony? What a weird lateral move. That’s like trading a pair of ratty, beat-down loafers for a pair of undersized, chafing high heels. Both have their ups and downs, sure. But if you’re in the market to trade anyway, why not just get robot feet?
After a double meet ‘n greet, I went about the business of expanding my empire more. Thrice more did innocent planets call for help, and thrice more did the United Federation fleet lay the smack down on fleets of Marauders and pirates. My proto-empire is now larger than ever: no less than five planets willingly supply me with their adoration and resources. It’s not quite a galaxy-spanning Empire Of The Stars yet, but I’m getting there!
Just as long as I don’t end up forgetting some vital steps. But really, what are the odds of that happening?
Cyber-Élodie’s Log. Galactic Date: 2071.3
“Commander Élodie! Incoming transmission. The Galactic Union is trying to contact us.”
Sigh. I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this. I was hoping the whole Galactic Union would’ve just… I dunno, evaporated, somehow, in the time between me finding them and them finding me. But I guess I can’t daydream my problems out of existence anymore.
“Yeah, sure, let’s get this over with. Establish a connection.”
In the few seconds it takes for the comms link to get set up, I hold out some final hope that the Galactic Union’s leader isn’t who I think it will be. Sure, all the warning flags are there: red border, Purity faction, ‘Union’ right in the name. But wishful thinking is a hard habit to shake, I guess. Maybe it won’t actually be him! Maybe it’ll be Suzanne, or Samatar, or Daoming, or…
The screen flicks on.
The look on Vadim’s face tells me he accepted the inevitability of this meeting way before I did. There’s no hot anger in those squinted eyes, just a resigned deep loathing.
“Élodie.” His voice is like an ice cube doing a gravel impression.
I sigh. “Hello, Vadim. I’d say that it’s ‘nice’ to see you again, but I like to think I at least respect you enough to not lie to your face like that. Still, it’s been a while. How have you been?”
Silence and glowering meets me from the other of the line, an impenetrable mask of tangible dislike. “Oh, come on, Vadim. Are you still mad?”
“Mad?” Ah, that cracked the shell. “Why would I ‘still be mad’, Commander Élodie? Would it be because you sent your armies to destroy my colony in an unprovoked surprise attack? Or could it be because you destroyed my Warp Gate, denying the Slavic people their salvation?” He’s actually turning a little red now. “Or oh, I know! Maybe it is the fact that you then took your armies back to my ancestral home, and enslaved the people of Earth to your perverse digital hive-mind! Maybe that is why I am still mad!”
“Alright, alright, I get it. No need to yell, I have cyber-ears.” I flick my ear implants for visual emphasis, which only seems to upset Vadim even more. “I’m surprised you’re still so caught in the past over this. It all worked out for you in the end, didn’t it? Planetary leader of a ‘Galactic Union’. You’d never have gotten here without me.”
Surprisingly, that actually seems to calm him down a little. “It is true that your blatant attempt to exterminate the Slavic people has fallen woefully short of the mark. And I wield much more power now than I ever did back on our one-time second home. I am much more than a mere ‘planetary leader’…” Is that actually a little smirk I see? “…but I can see why you would not understand this.”
“Wha-” I start to interrupt Vadim, but he just keeps talking.
“I suppose you are here to finish what you started, then? You will find my people much more formidable, this time. Our fleet is powerful, our allies are mighty, and our union of willing cooperators grows with every passing day.”
“I actually met Rejinaldo de Alencar a while ago” I finally manage to interject. “He doesn’t really seem to be into the whole ‘human Purity over all’ thing anymore, though? Is he one of the allies you were talking about?”
Vadim surprises me by actually spitting on the floor. “Bah! That traitorous Bolivar has forsaken his human heritage! And for what? The fleeting promise of a power he will never be able to realize. No, as far as I am concerned, that wretched sub-human is not one bit better than you. I have new allies, now, allies who chose to be on this path. But you will meet them soon enough, I think. Soon enough” There’s that micro-smirk again.
I pause. What do I have left to talk to this man about? Somehow I sense he’d be less than enthusiastic about sharing empire information with me. If he was going to tell me about his allies, he’d already have done so. And what are the odds he’d be willing to tell me about that Blooming business? I let on I don’t know what that is, and I’ll be hearing his sneering for galactic standard months.
All interaction that’s left to me at this point is to offer him the same Peace Treaty I made with Rejinaldo and Kavitha. I could do it. I have no idea if he’d be willing to accept… but then again, I don’t think he’s necessarily willing to plunge the galaxy into outright war either. Offering a Peace Treaty would further solidify this galaxy’s peaceful status, and it might go a long way towards healing the rift between us.
I open the Peace Treaty screen. I hover my mouse over the ‘let peace be our destiny’ button. And I try to click it.
“Well, Vadim… I’ll see you around, I guess.” Close connection.
Oof. That was awkward. Not to mention cryptic. What do you suppose he meant by tha-
“Commander Élodie! Incoming transmission.”
“Huh? Who is it? Vadim again? Is he mad I cut him off like that? Or is it Rejinaldo, or Kavitha?”
“Negative on all accounts, Commander. This transmission originates from the faction called ‘Universal Collective’.”
I sigh. “Can’t we have one day without meeting at least two new empires? Don’t answer that. Patch them through, I guess. Let’s see who we found this time.”
I’m only partially prepared for the face that appears on-screen.
For a moment, I am genuinely excited at meeting someone I hold fond, friendly memories of. “Samatar!” Then reality kicks back in, and I remember how we parted ways on Terra Atlantea. We weren’t exactly pals when I left. “I mean, er… Representative Barre. Samatar. It’s been a while. How are you?”
“Commander Élodie.” The ice in his tone shatters any hopes I might’ve had about the healing effect of time. Then his voice softens just a little bit, because he is still Samatar. “Although I would’ve preferred the two of us never to meet again, elmo, I can’t in good conscience be upset that you are doing well.”
“Same to you. Really, how are you doing? You look, er… different.”
I intend that last thing as a joke, but then something that Vadim said earlier clicks in my mind and the whole thing takes on a much darker feeling. “Oh. Oh, wait a minute. You’re the ‘allies’ Vadim was just talking about, aren’t you?”
Samatar nods. “Yes, you’re right. Prime Minister Kozlov and I have become close friends over the years. It’s he who showed me the truth of human Purity: that we are the gatekeepers and the archivists of what it means to be quintessentially human in a galaxy where everyone is ready to throw that all away.” He hesitates. “Where I was ready to that all away. Before…”
“Before the Blooming?” I chance. Samatar nods, seemingly lost in thought.
Now or never, I guess. “Samatar, would you… tell me what the Blooming was?” That elicits a surprised look from him. “I keep hearing about it, the Blooming this and the Blooming that, but nobody seems to want to tell me what exactly happened. I know it turned Rejinaldo into Harmony. What happened that caused you to turn away from it?”
Samatar sighs, deeply. “The Blooming, Élodie. The Blooming of the Mind Flower!” He falls silent after that: one minute passes as I wait for him to resume talking, then two minutes, then five…
Eventually, he speaks again. “We were fools, Élodie. Naive, optimistic fools. So assured of our own correctness. We were going to use the amazing genetic engineering made possible by Terra Atlantea to give everyone a better future! Imagine it. No more disease, no more aging, no more hunger…” He shoots a quick dirty glance at me. “And we would do it not by sacrificing our humanity to machines, but by using the planet’s life and resources to enhance it. We would become… something new. Something better.”
“The Mind Flower was the culmination of that path. Suzanne and I built it, near her capital. Surely you saw it?” He’s right, I did, I remember now. It was that ugly brain-looking thing right outside Central. I was actually wondering what’d happened to it when I came back from Earth.
“The goal of the Mind Flower was to connect all of human consciousness to that of the planet’s.” Samatar continues. “It should have connected all thinking entities on the planet into a new, global consciousness: one with the reach and the power of a planetary network, but with the speed and the flexibility that human thought offers. It should have opened a new era of peace, of unparalleled understanding, of true global unity.” His moods sags further and further as the story progresses. “But instead…”
Another long silence. Then: “Instead, the planet rejected us. When the Mind Flower Bloomed, the planet responded by with violence. The wildlife… You should have seen it, Élodie, they went mad. They came from everywhere. Ground churning with Siege Worms, sea boiling with Krakens, sky darkened with Drones. They attacked us relentlessly, from everywhere. Aiming always for the Mind Flower.” He’s getting exasperated now. “We were losing, Élodie! All of us threw our all into holding back the planet, and we were losing. Tearing down the Mind Flower was all we could do to stop it. And even then… things never went back to how they were.”
I nod. “Yeah, Rejinaldo said something similar. The wildlife was pretty aggressive when I came back. I had to kill them all to get some peace and quiet.”
That news seems to sadden Samatar even more. “Yes, I’m not surprised. You would do that. And it’s our fault. It’s my fault. We tried to play God, and we were struck down for our hubris.”
Samatar’s gaze has been all over the place during the story, but now he suddenly looks dead at me. “Rejinaldo witnessed the chaos and destruction the battle wrought, and his mind saw the military applications, the chance to turn humanity into a new warrior race. But I witnessed the same chaos and destruction, and I saw that I had been wrong. Neither genetic engineering nor robot slavery are our future. And when my mood was darkest, when I was wracked with doubt and self-blame, Vadim Kozlov came to me, and he told me that there was a way to make things right. That we could deliver humanity to the stars, and that we could forge a destiny not of blood, nor of steel, but of pure human ingenuity. And that…” — he pounds the table for emphasis — “…is why I’m proud to call Vadim my ally.”
“Well. That’s, er…” I sit in silence for a minute. “That’s quite the story, Samatar. Thank you for sharing it with me. I certainly understand things, now.”
“You’re welcome, elmo. Now, is there something else you wanted to talk about?”
“No, I’m… I’m good, thanks. You’ve given me a lot to think about.”
“Then I wish you a good day, Élodie.” Connection closed.
Well. That’s certainly something. Samatar’s tale has me so shaken up, it’s not until several hours later that I realize I haven’t even asked him how Suzanne was affected by the whole thing.
I’m honestly more worried about Vadim’s words, though. Specifically, about that strange taunt of his. ‘I can see why you would not understand this’. What does that mean?
On a hunch, I decide to take action. “ADVISR.” *bing* “Get me a report of the Galactic Union’s past and present planetary movements, will ‘ya? I want to see what they’ve been doing that we haven’t?”
I watch the Galactic Union’s fleet movements play out on my star map. As I watch, the fleet moves from Hydrae 96, their homeworld, to Leporis 38. Hey, I was on that planet a year ago! I can’t tell what the fleet actually does there, but once they’re finished, I get a semi-polite message from Leporis 38 informing me that they will no longer provide resources to the United Federation.
The fleet then returns to Hydrae 96, passes through Persei 85, and continues on to…
…wait. Hold on a second.
I audibly smack my forehead. And in the game.
Quick analysis of the Supreme Galactic Empire and the Second Galactic Alliance’s movements reveals a similar pattern.
“Hey, ADVISR?” *bing* “Remember that thing you wanted to tell me right before the last shore leave? About one galactic standard year ago? Why don’t you repeat and finish that message for me.”
“Affirmative.” *whirr* “Are you sure you wish to suspend operations at this time, Commander? While your assessment of the crew’s efficiency is accurate, I would like to remind you that you have not yet managed to complete convince any planet to join the United Federation. It might be wise to ensure this before the next shore leave: analysis of human behaviour shows that while partially converted planets remain open to other faction recruitment drives, fully converted planets will likely resist any non-violent form of outside influence.”
I sigh, deeply. I forgot to seal the deal last time! I didn’t reach 100% influence with any planet, which is necessary to actually expand the Federation. I was so caught up in having five planets almost join up with us, I forgot to take that final step to get them completely involved. Ugh, I’m such an idiot. And now Leporis 38 is farther away from joining us than they ever were. And as I watch, Samatar’s fleet docks at Muscae 92, nipping off one of my influence points as well.
“Guess that oughta teach me to listen to you more.” I sigh again. “Ah well. Que sera, sera, as they say in the home country. I may have been surpassed on all sides due to my own laziness and stupidity, but at least I know how to start catching up. And a rushed, second-place goal is better than no goal at all, I guess.”
I pull up the star map. “Okay. Where do we start?”
As it turns out, I haven’t actually messed up everything this time. Returning to Doradus 24 for our extended shore leave has given the Draconian diplomat plenty of time to work her magic. And work her magic she has: the people on this planet speak so highly of our accomplishments, even I find myself a little impressed. It’s only five months after my first contact with Vadim and Samatar that the Doradus planetary government officially requests to be the first neutral planet to join the United Federation.
One planet down, at least two more to go. Time to roll out the fleet.
First things first, though: before I fly us anywhere, I first decide to put Vadim’s second, unintended lesson into practice. Look at that last screenshot again. Enlarge it, if necessary. Do you see that weird light beam effect connecting Hydrae 96 and Persei 85? That, my friends, is nothing less than revolution in space travel given physical form. And we’re only four episodes in!
Those of you with long memories may remember that I mentioned the Warp Nexus building in episode 2. Digi-pal krellen actually explained the concept in that episode’s comments, but for the benefit of those of you who don’t read those: the Warp Nexus building allows for the construction of dedicated ‘warp lanes’ connecting planets. They’re based on the Warp Gate technology pioneered by Vadim and myself back in our Terra Atlantea days, but supersized: rather than transporting infantry units and vehicles from planet surface to planet surface, they create fleet-sized corridors of instantaneous travel between star systems. Using Warp Gates for travel eliminates travel time, removing the Fatigue penalty to morale otherwise incurred by long-distance travel.
Using 1000 Metal, I construct a Warp Nexus on Doradus 24. This immediately connects it to Carinae 51, which apparently already possessed a Nexus of its own. Then, using my influence in the local political system, I have a second Nexus built on Draconis 96. That planet’s first on my to-conquer list, and I want to get there as soon as humanly possible.
Warp Nexi also have a secondary advantage: planets linked through the ever-expanding net of warp lanes start sharing certain planetary traits. For instance, Doradus 24’s trait (you might remember) is that the engineers on that planet are particularly good at building spaceship armor. With the Warp Nexus Network in place, that benefit is extended to any planet directly or indirectly connected to Doradus. This ensures that I don’t have to travel all the way over here if I want to get some good deals on ship plating upgrades.
And speaking of ship upgrades…
I start by upgrading the engines on all of my ships. These things are slow, considering that they’re warp-capable spacecraft. Then I decide to look into specializing each of them. Dauntless is in a pretty good long-range weapons-platform role right now, so I don’t mess with that. Formidable seems to be evolving into more of a carrier, so I add another level to its fighter bay. And for Courageous, I decide to experiment with shorter-range combat: I upgrade its plasma cannon to level 3, and make a mental note to invest in better engines at some point as well.
It is at this point I notice my ships are changing ‘types’ from these upgrades. I’d already noticed that Vadim and Samatar had Destroyers in their fleet list, and I was wondering if that meant anything. But I guess it’s just a title Starships assigns to your ship, based on the modules. Which is pretty neat, honestly.
And finally, I use my latest batch of Science to research Ion Energy, which upgrades the power of all my plasma cannons. This will benefit both Courageous, and any and all fighter wings I build: like I mentioned before, most fighters are basically just plasma cannons with wings and an engine. And while I’d have liked to upgrade the fighter bay Artificial Intelligence even further, the next level of that technology was just outside my Science budget for the moment. Next time, maybe.
And with that done… it’s time to go build some empire.
I check out the star map. I’ll want to return to Normae 28 at some point, and I didn’t get all that influence on Muscae 92 for nothing. But right now, it’s obvious that my first target needs to be Draconis 96. It’s practically on the border of Vadim’s Galactic Union, and they already like me 75% of the way anyway. Plus, I didn’t build that Warp Nexus connection for nothing.
“Hey ADVISR.” *bing* “Ring Draconis 96 for me, will ‘ya? Let’s see if they have problems that need solving.”
Long story short: Draconis 96 does have problems that need solving. It turns out that as a part of their trade agreement with Doradus 24, Draconis has gained access to a couple of Doradus’ old Orbital Sentries. The Draconian government has been trying to set these up in their solar system, in order to create an advance-warning system for raiders, but ironically, the buzz of interstellar activity that came with has attracted a small fleet of raiders. Much like on Doradus, my job on Draconis is to safeguard all three Orbital Sentries at once, ensuring they can come online before the raiders trash them for scrap.
A normal-enough mission, made more difficult only slightly by the fact that a freak quantum disturbance in the system is causing all stealth systems to auto-fire.
The raider fleet that shows up for this mission is actually of a decently threatening size. Two salvaging corvettes and two fighter wings right from the outset, with the promise of about once more that coming in over a few turns. And because they start off right next to one of the sentries, it’s looking as though I’ll have to fight my way through the lot of them to win.
Faced with these overwhelming odds, I decide to mess around with the Torpedo system a little.
Torpedoes are actually pretty interesting, theoretically. As its main action, any ship with torpedoes can fire one at a certain speed: dragging the targeting line increases or decreases how far they fly, up to a cap. Once fired, torpedoes have a three-turn flight time, and unlike lasers and plasma cannons, they’re unperturbed by asteroids and whatnot. Only planets influence them, in the sense that they smack into planets and explode.
Counter-intuitively, this means that torpedoes don’t explode when they ‘hit’ enemy ships. Rather, after flying for one full turn — this represents the torpedo’s arming time — any new turn of mine starts with me being whisked into this little torpedo UI view:
Here, I can basically do three things. I can make the torpedo explode immediately, dealing significant damage to any unit in the light blue circular area. I can make it fly straight for a little while, and then explode it at any point during its flight. Or I can let it fly its maximum distance without exploding, at which point the torpedo’s turn is ‘over’, and I get to revisit it again the turn after. Unless this was its third turn of flight, in which case it explodes at the end of the run regardless of what I do.
Torpedo mechanics can be a little tricky to get your head around, initially. Because torpedoes have the one harmless ‘arming’ turn, and because there’s always one enemy turn between torpedo launch and torpedo explosion, it intuitively seems relatively easy to just avoid the suckers altogether. It probably is, for human players. Still, this does make the torpedo an interesting tool for denying area and forcing enemy ships to go where you want them to go. And if you do catch some enemy ships cornered, or off-guard… the torpedo’s damage more than makes up for its unwieldy operation.
Of course, I don’t really need torpedo power to defeat these raiders. My boosted fighters are on top of the game as ever. And Courageous’ level 3 plasma cannon, which fires three scintillating trails of plasma at once, has enough power to destroy raider corvettes head-on even at relatively long range. I shudder to think what that ship can do to a close-up target’s weak side and rear armor.
Driving back the raiders has the predicted effect: overcome with gratitude, and probably more than a little influenced by their neighbours and trading partners, Draconis 96 becomes the second planet to join the United Federation. I respond by immediately using my Food reserves to build three new megacities on the planet, raising their inhabitant total from one billion to four. It is a harsh lesson for the former Draconian government: give me even a little leeway, and I will force you to share your planet with three billion worker robots. They’re awesome robots, though, so I’m sure nobody will complain.
Let’s see, what’s next? I could go claim Columbae 43, which — given that it’s right between the Supreme Galactic Empire and the Second Galactic Alliance — seems like a good planet to snag. Or I could make a move for Muscae 92. But honestly, what I want to do most of all right now is visit Leporis 38 again. Both because I want to regain my lost influence on that planet, and because Vadim currently has his battle fleet in orbit around that planet, and I’m curious to see what would happen. I don’t see any reason why there can’t be two fleets visiting this currently-neutral planet. But who knows? This is Vadim we’re talking about. Would he be willing to open outright hostilities for a chance to keep me off this planet?
No. It turns out that, no, Vadim will not initiate hostilities over Leporis 38. Rather, his fleet ‘retreats’ back to Hydrae 96. I’m equal parts happy and disappointed about this. Kinda curious what his fleet is packing, to be honest.
Once communications have been established, the Leporis 38 government profusely apologizes for the rude way our previous trading was cut off. It was Vadim, they tell me. He’s persuasive, they tell me. I don’t blame them. The man does have a way with words, I’ve seen it up-close.
Leporis 38 and I enact a limited reparation of our previous agreements. Vadim retains his 2 influence on the planet, but I gain back one point of my own, for 25% population support. The Leporian government also presents me with a gift, presumably for mollification: schematics for a special Interleaved Capacitor, a component in new advanced laser weapon design, they were developing for a shipyard on Normae 28.
Not quite the outcome I was hoping for, but I’ll take it.
I sit back, stretch, and check the star map. I’m honestly doing quite alright so far. Claimed two planets for the United Federation, made new overtures towards one more… and both Columbae 43 and Normae 28 are more or less ripe for the joining, too. I’m fairly sure all I have to do is fly over.
Too bad all of that’s gonna take so much travel. From where I am now, there’s nothing I can really immediately do to expand my empire. Muscae 92 is partially beholden to Samatar’s Universal Collective now, and I don’t think I can make enough waves in one visit to get them to convert. Pegasi 23 is even farther in the Collective’s pocket. And Hydrae 96…
I actually giggle to myself over the idea. Imagine, me assaulting Hydae 96. Wouldn’t that ruffle Vadim’s feathers something fierce. But it honestly seems like a silly idea more than anything. We’ve both been getting similar Energy income, so there’s no reason to suspect Vadim’s fleet is significantly less powerful than mine. And it’s his empire’s home planet, which I’m sure grants him some kind of home field advantage. And even if I did win, what then? Somehow I doubt that his actual civilization, his most loyal and devoted citizens, would be willing to switch alignments just because I scared his fleet off. Do I even have enough ANGEL robots for a sustained invasion?
Nah, this is just a daydream. I haven’t planned for this, I haven’t prepared, and I don’t know what to expect. I can’t defeat Vadim on his home turf like this…