In the last episode of Jarenth Plays Starships, I finally convinced several planets to join the United Federation on a full membership. Two planets, in fact: Doradus 24, my diplomatic beach resort home-away-from-home, and Draconis 96, Doradus’ sadly un-lizard-like closest friend and trading partner. I met back up with Vadim Kozlov and Samatar Jama Barre, although neither were particularly thrilled to see me, and I even made a second trip to Leporis 38 to undo the damage to my reputation Vadim’s fleet had done there.
And then, I found myself in an interesting spot. Leporis 38, you see, is only one jump away from Vadim’s home world. Vadim’s juicy, productive, valuable home world. The center of his Galactic Union, and the seat of his power. And I found myself thinking, imagining, daydreaming…
…wouldn’t putting my battle fleet in orbit around Hydrae 96 be the ultimate slap in the face?
Cyber-Élodie’s Log. Galactic Date: 2077.5
I pace up and down the SS Dauntless’ command deck. Front to back, back to front, front to back. I stop, and steal a glance at the star map, for all the good that does me: the situation is still what it was half an hour ago. Here is Leporis 38, there is Hydrae 96, and this is the command I could give to move my fleet from the one to the other. That last one isn’t actually on the map, but I’ve been practicing it. In my mind.
ADVISR’s unmistakable *bing* interrupts my reverie. Oh thank goodness, I thought he’d never be done. “Commander Élodie! Situation assessment and planning calculations are complete. Tactical assistance can now be provided.”
“Alright, buddy.” I wipe some of the sweat off my brow. “Let’s start with the immediate stuff, then. What kind of defenses does Vadim have around that planet?”
“Scans show that the Galactic Union Battle Fleet is currently in orbit around Hydrae 96. Current fleet size: two craft. Craft level of armament is slightly more advanced than our own, particularly in the areas of armor, torpedo power, and scanning technology. Additionally, three launch- and combat-ready ‘Megabot’ class craft have been detected on the planet surface.”
“Wait, what’s that last thing? ‘Megabot’? I’m not sure I like the sound of that.”
“‘Megabot’ appears to be the colloquial name game to a common type of planetary defense craft. These vessels lack warp engines, limiting their effective range, but their power and armament levels appear on-par with Galactic Union fleet levels. Strong shields and lasers in particular suggest a role as long-range battle platform.”
“Ah, I see.” Not what I wanted to hear, but… “So given that level of defense, compared to our fleet… what would you say our chances of winning are?”
“Calculating… Taking into account fleet composition, technology level, remaining Energy that could be parlayed into emergency ship upgrades, and high crew morale… Success rate of United Federation fleet engaging Galactic Union fleet estimated at: 40%.”
It’s a good thing I wasn’t drinking anything, or I’d have done a legit spit-take. “Wait, forty percent? Wow, that is way better than I was expecting. You gave us 40% against that second band of Marauders around Doradus too, remember? And we blew those guys apart.”
“Yes, that is correct. Earlier negative predictions have been raised to account for the proven effectiveness of the Hyperlaunch Fighter design. At current levels of Ion Technology and Artificial Intelligence, fighter power projection is much higher than projected in base design.”
“Ah, I see.” This is putting a smile on my face. “So thanks to our fighters, we actually have a decent chance of winning? Won’t Vadim be frustrated when he figured that out.”
Then the realities of the present overtake my victory daydreams, and my smile drops again. “Okay, so combat victory ain’t entirely out of the question. But then what? It’s still the Galactic Union home world. Even if we destroy Vadim’s fleet…”
“Intercepted radio chatter actually shows that the Galactic Union battle fleet will likely attempt to enact short-range warp to nearby friendly space rather than face total destruction.”
“…even if we chase off Vadim’s fleet, then, I still don’t see his entire planet just roll over. I doubt they’ll be willing to cooperate with us. And we don’t really have the time or the manpower to carry out full-scale invasion. Hell, I don’t even know what kind of defensive firepower they have down on that planet.”
“Actually, planetary scans indicate that Hydrae 96 has no significant defensive installations to speak of. It appears that this planet relies entirely on the Galactic Union battle fleet and the Megabot craft for protection. Destruction of the latter and dispersal of the former would essentially leave it defenseless.”
“Oh, okay. That’s good to hear, I guess.” I’m not sure why I’m so surprised about this; do any of my planets have any defenses at all? “But that still doesn’t help us take over the planet.”
“Without established protection, planet Hydrae 96 would be highly vulnerable to surgical planetary bombardment strikes. Even Megabot-level laser and torpedo attacks on high-value targets, like power plants and civilian centers, could cause unimaginable destruction and loss of life.”
“Okay, but that’s not really wha-”
“Analysis of human behaviour shows that, faced with this information, the civilian population of Hydrae 96 will likely be willing to exchange cooperation for survival. They may not want to ‘join’ us, in spirit, but they will likely be willing to provide us with their resources and expertise. If only while waiting to be ‘rescued’ by the return of the Galactic Union.”
“Aah!” Realization blooms in my mind. “So what you’re saying is… we scare them into giving us their resources. And then we can repair and reprogram those Megabots to act as riot deterrents! And…” I start pacing up and down again. “…once all that’s in place, once we have the time, we can even… maybe indoctrinate them, somehow? Like a cybernetic virus, or free enhancement clinics, or… Yeah, that could totally work. Hope to keep the riots in line, and then slow-burning change instead of outright assimilation. What a plan. I love it.”
I stop, straighten my back, turn to the screen. “Okay, so. We can win the battle, hypothetically, and we can at least handle the planet, in the short term.”
“So, what do you think? Good idea, or bad idea?”
“Analyzing… Attacking Hydrae 96 will likely incur the permanent ire of both the Galactic Union and the Universal Collective. And if the battle is lost, the setback to fleet strength combined with this diplomatic shift may put the United Federation in a position that cannot be recovered from.”
“But if the battle is won,” ADVISR whirrs on, “and if Hydrae 96 is held, the significant increase in resources should boost the United Federation’s military, production, and science output to a heretofore unattainable level. We would, in essence, become almost twice as powerful as anyone else.”
“So what you’re saying is…” I check the numbers one last time. “…we have about fifty-fifty odds of either losing so horribly we might as well call it quits, or winning our way into a power position that’s almost guaranteed to snowball out of control?”
I find myself grinning. I don’t know if it’s a grin I’d describe as predatory, but… well, you know me at this point. It probably is.
“I like those odds. Let’s do it.”
Ring ring, ring ring. Ring ring, ring ring. Click. Vadim Kozlov’s scowling face appears on the viewscreen.
“Yes, Commander Élodie? What do you want?”
“Vadim!” I put on my broadest fake smile. “I have something I wanted to talk to you about. Hey, remember our first talk, about a year ago? You were all like…” I put on my best gruff Vadim impression. “…’you’re probably here to attack us’, and ‘our ships and allies can repel you’, and ‘if you attack us, you will rue your foolish mistake’?”
“I remember, yes.” Vadim looks annoyed more than anything else. “What about this?”
“Well, er…” I time my arm-waving gesture to coincide with the United Federation battle fleet dropping out of warp. “Surprise! I’m calling your bluff!”
Vadim’s eyes dart to his star map, then to me. Then to the map, then to me. Map, me, map, me… I’ve never seen a man’s head get that red, that fast. Not in situations I’m still wearing all my clothes, anyway.
Finally, he starts up. “What… you, you are… this is… of all the… I, I don’t… I…” The incoherent muttering slowly gets louder and louder.
I repeat my gesture. “Surprise! Again.”
Finally, after what feels like minutes, Vadim’s redness and muttering die down. In their place, his face turns to cold iron. There’s the cosmonaut general I know!
“I knew it was only a matter of time before you would reveal your true intentions. You have certainly dropped your facade… faster, than I expected. But that matters not!”
I shrug. “Yeah, what can I say? I saw an opportunity and I took it.”
Vadim’s face contorts itself into… dear gods, is that a smirk? Or something that passes for it, at any rate. The man does not smile well. Luckily, it fades as quickly as it appears, replacing itself with Vadim’s trademark scowl.
“This ‘opportunity’ will be your downfall, Élodie. After my fleet has destroyed your invasion force, we will hunt down and conquer each and every planet openly flying your United Federation flag. Your empire will fall, your legacy will be extinguished, and your name will only live in memory as a way to scare small children into behaving. This…” His scowl intensifies. “…is my promise to you.”
“Yeah, yeah.” I wave dismissively. “Well I want a pony. Let’s see who gets their wish first, huh?”
Within minutes, my fleet is in operational range of Hydrae 96. Vadim’s craft appear on our sensors, clustered around the planet in a defensive position.
“Alright then!” Sitting in the SS Defiant’s command chair, I crack my knuckles. “Let’s see ho-”
“Commander!”, the Defiant’s tactical officer interrupts. “Activity from the Galactic Union battle fleet!”
“What, already? That’s fast. What are they doing? We should still be out of laser and plasma range, right?”
“Correct. But we’re detecting incoming torpedo fire.”
“Alright then. We can dodge long-range torpedoes, no need for alarm. This is what we’ll do…” I study the tactical map in silence for a few seconds. And then…
I activate the inter-fleet comms system. “Courageous, dodge to starboard. Then release your one fighter wing, and send them to attack Vadim’s Corvette, the SS Janus.”
The comm sputters. “Affirmative, Commander.” Then again, a few seconds later. “Evasive maneuvers completed. Launching fighters.”
I smile to myself. “Vadim, you have no idea what you’re up against, do you? Let’s see how your ships deal with my secret weapon.”
Comm crackle. “This is Courageous reporting. Attack successful. Target Corvette has taken extensive damage, and is currently engaging short-range emergency warp procedures.”
“Excellent work, Courageous.” One down, four to go.
“Dauntless.” No real need to use the comms for this, as I’m sure the bridge crew can hear me from here. But eh. “Return torpedo fire along the same axis of attack. Then dodge to port.”
“Affirmative, Commander.” As the tactical officer and the helm crew start their work, I swear I can almost feel the ship’s weight shifting under me. Nonsense, of course, we’re in weightless space and our gravity compensators are top-of-the-line. But tell that to my subconscious, I guess.
“Formidable, dodge to port as well. And can your fighters reach Vadim’s fleet from here?”
“Negative, Commander. Operational range is too low for their cannons to be anything more than expensive sparklers right now.”
“Hmm. Well, wouldn’t want to give Vadim a fun light show, huh? Launch fighters anyway, and get them closer.”
I sit back. “Alright, Vadim. Your mo-”
“Commander! Incoming laser fire from the Megabot defense platforms! They’re targeting us, all of them!”
This time, the shudder I feel is definitely not imagined. “Damage report!”
“Critical hit! Shields are weakened, hull is holding. Most of our Fighter Bays are out of commission!”
I grit my teeth. “Damnit. We should take those things out before they cause even more damage. We’re a sitting duck out here! Courageous, Formidable: send both of your fighter wings on an attack run.”
The two incoming comm voices are almost perfectly in sync. “Affirmative, Commander.”
“Courageous, covering torpedo fire. Formidable, launch a second wing. And Defiant, are our Bays in any shape to contribute?”
“Yes, Commander. We should be able to support one active fighter wing on the remaining AI platforms.”
A few seconds pass before damage reports start rolling in. “Commander! Two Megabot units have been destroyed. These things don’t warp out, they just explode. Good to know!”
I nod; an entirely empty gesture, given that our communication is audio-based and nobody’s looking at me anyway. “Good job, everyone. We might make it out of this in one piece.”
Alarm lights start blaring. Damnit, I jinxed it. “Commander! More incoming laser fire from the last Megabot!”
An explosion rocks the Defiant. Then another one. More alarms whirr to life. Damnit, damnit, damnit, I hadn’t counted on this!
“ADVISR!” *bing* “Status report and tactical advice, pronto!”
“Scanning… the SS Defiant has taken significant structural damage. Shields are down entirely. Hull is holding, but compromised.”
From somewhere on the bridge, I hear someone yell “Yeah, I could’a told you that too!”. I’m not paying attention. “Suggestions?”
ADVISR’s suggestion overlaps a second round of bridge yelling. “Suggestion: mimic the Galactic Union’s short-range escape warp protocol.” “Yeah, how about we get the hell out of here?”
I snap my head in the direction of the sound. “Alright, cool it already! And ADVISR, take us to a safe place.”
In the relative safety of open space, the chaos and the blaring quickly die down. The Defiant is in no direct danger of ‘violent structural disintegration’, as ADVISR so charmingly calls it, so I return my attention to the battle being fought far in the distance. That’s one understated example of being, like, 60% cybernetics: I can interface with my fleet’s communication network and experience the battle through the ships’ sensors just as easily as if I was there myself. Come to think of it, I don’t even know why I was actually there in the first place. The thrill of danger, maybe? Do I even still produce adrenaline?
“All units, this is Élodie. SS Defiant is out of immediate danger, but will not return to the battle in time. What’s your status?”
“Good to hear you’re safe, Commander.” Formidable’s tactical officer replies. “And don’t worry about the battle. We just made Kozlov’s assault destroyer take the walk of shame as well.”
Courageous’ tactical officer joins in. “We have everything covered, Commander. It’s two of our capital ships and five Hyperlaunch Fighters against that last laser defense platform.”
“You guys focus on getting the Defiant back in flight condition. We’ll get the champagne ready. After all… we’ve got a whole new planet to celebrate over.”
As always, ADVISR’s predictions turn out accurate. The people of Hydrae 96 aren’t exactly happy with the situation, but they’re more than willing to trade their resources for the promised of not getting annihilated. Funny how that works.
I drain the last glass of our victory champagne — partial cybernetic robot or no, some traditions are just worth keeping alive — before turning my attention to the star map. “ADVISR.” *bing* “Status update, please.”
“Functional assimilation of Hydrae 96 was a complete success. Planetary Warp Nexus has been connected to Draconis 96. Galactic Union battle fleet has retreated to Leporis 38. Reports from United Federation sympathizers on that planet indicate that complete fleet repairs will take several months, at least.”
I find myself smiling broadly. Alcohol, or victory rush? Probably both. “Good. That ought to give us enough time for repairs and preparation too.”
I stare out the Defiant’s window-screen, gazing at the nearby planet. My planet, for now. But if I know Vadim, he’s plotting a counterattack as we speak. And as much as I enjoy poking fun at the guy, I am not about to underestimate Vadim Kozlov. I did that once before, and it almost cost me my future.
I activate the fleet comms.
“This is Commander Élodie to all fleet personnel. I’m calling another shore leave period. We’re setting up shop here. I want the Defiant returned to full combat capacity as soon as possible, but beyond that, everyone can consider themselves off-duty for the near future. Either until Vadim shows up again, or until we get bored of doing nothing.” I can’t suppress a quick chuckle. “Whichever comes first.”