In the last episode of Jarenth Plays Starships, I paid a quick courtesy visit to Vadim Kozlov’s home planet, Hydrae 96. Then I took it over. My fleet defeated his fleet in straight-up combat, proving once and for all that super-powered fighter jets are way better than cumbersome planetary defense platforms. ‘Megabots’, my shiny metal…
I called immediate shore leave after that battle. Partially because the SS Defiant took a major beating, partially because crew energy levels were abysmal — their morale was excellent, but morale only gets you so far if you keep nodding off and your internal software keeps asking for update reboots — and partially to gloat. But mostly, mostly, to anticipate Vadim’s inevitable counterattack. I could have tried adding more planets to my empire in the interim, but here’s the thing: Hydrae 96’s resources equal about three normal planets. And I’m not about to lose this major payday to that Slavic space jockey just because I couldn’t sit still for five minutes.
Cyber-Élodie’s Log. Galactic Date: 2087.6
I am awakened from software reverie by the long-overdue blaring of alarms. Fucking finally. I wondered when he was gonna make his move.
“Commander Élodie!” And there’s ADVISR, right on schedule. “Sensors indicate that the Galactic Union battle fleet is warping into operational range of Hydrae 96.”
I do some quick stretches. Creak, creak. My enhancements need tuning. “Yeah, I can’t say that surprises me. Took him long enough.”
“Incoming transmission from the Galactic Union battle fleet. Orders?”
“Patch him through.”
Vadim Kozlov’s angry scowl-face appears on-screen. Man, he hasn’t changed his look at all the past year, has he? I consider commenting on it, then realize that I’ve basically looked the same for the past twenty years. I mean, sure, I’m half robot, I have an excuse. But eh.
“Commander Élodie.” Vadim’s tone is icy enough to make my whisky an on-the-rocks. He makes space seem warm by comparison. “As you are no doubt aware, my fleet is mounting a counter-offensive on Hydrae. Before this day is over, every trace of your perverted, sub-human influence will have been scoured from our rightful home.”
“Or so I’ve been told.” I stretch, again, more as a demonstration of laissez-faire than anything else. “What makes you think you can beat me this time, though?”
“Wha-…” Vadim’s face starts turning red again. “Do you take me for a fool, Élodie? Do you not think I have prepared for this? All our hours, all our efforts, all our resources of the past year, they have all gone into raising the Galactic Union battle fleet to the highest level of power! The fleet you will meet shortly represents the culmination of all our great civilization has achieved. And it will grind your pathetic flotilla into powder.”
“Yeah, I’m sure that’s all the case. And nice speech, by the way! ‘All our hours, all our efforts’, I like it. And I don’t for a second doubt that you’ve spent a long time preparing for this battle.”
“But here’s the thing, though.” I return Vadim’s icy stare with a coldness of my own. “So have I.”
“ADVISR!” *bing* “How’re we doing on those upgrades, buddy? Tell me I wasn’t a liar just now.”
“Fleet upgrade program has been carried out as scheduled, Commander.” Phew. “Construction of new vessel ‘SS Audacious’ is complete. Vessel module power levels: Engines, level 2. Shields, level 1. Armor, level 2. Lasers, absent. Plasma cannons, level 1. Torpedoes, level 3. Sensors, level 1. Stealth systems, level 3. Fighter bays, absent.”
I nod. “Good, good. And what about the others.”
“Also complete. The SS Defiant has been restored to full operational capacity. Armor module on SS Formidable, and armor and engines modules on SS Courageous, have also been upgraded.”
“Alright then!” I crack my robotic knuckles for dramatic effect. They don’t actually crack, of course, but I had motion sensors and micro-speakers installed for emulation. “Let’s go say hi to Vadim.”
The second battle for Hydrae 96 is practically over before it even begins. If battles had names, I’d call this one Leviathan: it was nasty, brutish, and short.
I have no doubt that Vadim’s team put their all into getting their two ships as battle-ready as they could. But, again, so has mine. And my team had a lot more to work with.
The previous battle, three of my ships versus two of Vadim’s ships and his three Megabots, was barely an even fight. This battle, which puts my four ships opposite Vadim’s two ships and zero Megabots, is a laughable bloodbath.
As usual, my Hyperlaunch Fighter squadrons do most of the heavy lifting. But special kudos go to the crew of the newly commissioned SS Audacious, whose well-placed torpedo takes the SS Janus out of the fight in a single blast.
In the aftermath of the battle, I read through the combat reports. Vadim’s fleet has disappeared again, another short-range warp off to god knows where. Our own fleet is entirely undamaged, apart from one destroyed — eminently disposable — fighter wing. And our resounding victory over the Galactic Union fleet has increased open popular support for the Galactic Federation down on Hydrae 96. In fact, the largest group of our actual supporters — the one obeying us out of actual belief, not just out of fear of annihilation — has started restoration work on one of the previously crashed Megabots. They hope to have it back to full operation within two weeks.
Not all news is good news, obviously. While Vadim’s fleet kept mine distracted, Samatar’s fleet has been flying around local space, visiting several planets that partially support us. Reducing popular support for our cause by spreading… I want to say ‘spreading lies’, but that honestly seems unlikely: not only is Samatar not the lying type, why would he even need to? I think not many planets would react well to ‘hey, the leader of the United Federation is a mad robotic despot with aims to conquer the galaxy’. Regardless of what exactly Samatar tells them, though, the effect is clear: Muscae 92 cancels its trade agreement with us, and Leporis 23 severs all ties altogether.
Still, I consider these acceptable trades for keeping Hydrae 96 under my control for another full session.
“ADVISR.” *bing* “Any trace of the Galactic Union?”
“Negative, Commander. No Galactic Union activity is being detected inside United Federation space. Galactic Union battle fleet location still unknown.”
“Good, good. He’ll probably be busy with another repair session for a while. And I don’t see Samatar openly attack us either. That’s just…” I rub my chin. “Alright, I’m gonna take a shower. Keep me posted if something happens.”
I very nearly make it to the bathroom door before something happens. “Commander! Incoming communications request.”
Sigh. “Vadim, then? Coming to scowl at me some more? Or maybe Samatar?”
“Negative, Commander. Incoming communications are identified as belonging to the Communal Galactic Cooperative.”
“Well!” I perk up, my shower forgotten. “That’s interesting. Bring them on-screen, then. Wonder who’s heading up this one.”
Then the viewscreen lights up, and neither my years of political training nor my cybernetic reaction adjusters can prevent me from bursting out into snorting laughter. “PrrrfahaHAHAHAHAHA!”
I laugh for seconds that feel like minutes, while the figure on the viewscreen looks on a little sheepishly. Eventually, my self-control returns to such a degree that I’m capable of speaking four whole words — before convulsing into more laughter.
“Hey, Hutama. Nice suit!”
Finally, eventually, the humor of the situation dries up enough for my training to reassert itself. I right myself, wipe the tears from my eyes, look at the viewscreen, and swiftly and irrevocably realize how hilariously awkward this situation must be from the other side. That thought earns a final light chuckles, and then I’m read to begin this talk in earnest.
“Sorry, sorry, that was unprofessional of me. I’m good now, I promise. Hello, Hutama! Long time no see. And seriously though, that’s a nice suit!”
Hutama smiles sheepishly. “Thanks, I guess. Wish more people would feel that way, but… You don’t look too bad yourself.”
A sudden thought strikes me. “Oh! Now I understand what Rejinaldo was talking about!”
Confused look, raised eyebrow. “Huh?”
“I made contact with Rejinaldo de Alencar a while back. You know how he’s a Harmony guy now, right?” Nod. “Well, I asked him why he didn’t switch to Supremacy instead, and he told me…” I briefly furrow my brow. “…’you should remember asking me that when you meet the others’. Something like that. And I get it now! He was talking about you, wasn’t he?”
That earns me a second sheepish grin.
“Well, don’t just sit there. C’mon, dish!”
“What’s there to tell, Élodie? I’m basically the same as Rejinaldo. Human Purity… it was a nice idea on paper, but it just didn’t cut it, you know? But…” Hutama makes a few gestures with his hands. “…I guess we disagreed on what to replace it with, huh? I mean, Rejinaldo was pretty close to that Blooming stuff, that probably affected him pretty hard. While I… well, you know what kind of stuff I was involved in.”
My turn to grin sheepishly. Or is it wolfishly? I can never keep my grins apart. “I have some idea, yeah.”
Hutama nods. “I hit you with my toughest soldiers and my dirtiest tricks, and you beat me back twice. Conviningly. If Vadim hadn’t made his play when he did…” Is that a shudder I see? “I don’t see how anyone could go through that and not conclude that… well, that I was wrong and you were right.”
“Plus…” His sheepish grin turns a little bashful. “…it helps that Kavitha was still on-planet, to… help me, with the transition. After you left. And you could say that we… that’s to say, she and I… we’re, er, cooperating, now. More closely.”
“Oh, you sly devil, you. Are you blushing? You are blushing, aren’t you?” Hutama nods. He’s totally blushing.
I beam a broad smile in his direction. “Well, I’m genuinely happy for you. Good on you, ditching that dead-end future path for the real winners. Cybernetics are a good look on you, you know.”
“Yeah, thanks.” He shuffles around a little, back to his earlier sheepishness. “So, er… where does this leave us?”
“Well, it’s just that… we didn’t really part on the best terms, did we? And I did pull some nasty tricks on you, with the uprising and the sneak attacks and…” He gestures some more. “Thing is, I’m not really that guy anymore. I understand what you’re trying to reach, now, I really do. And… I know it’s not impossible that we’ll get into some conflict or other later down the line. But maybe, right now… you and I could be friends?” His smile grows just a tad more mischievous. “Jobbo?”
“I think I’d like that, Hutama. I think I’d like that a lot.”
Man, that was a good shower.
Alright, time to get back into action. I’ve got resources to burn and a galaxy to conquer. My Energy reserves are already more or less drained this turn, but let’s see what kind of mischief I can get up to with this other stuff.
Science is relatively easy. Of course I’m upgrading Artificial Intelligence again. Normally, the rising costs of high-level technology would make it difficult to be so cavalier about this, but… you know. Vadim’s old home is giving me Science for days. I’ve got so much left after the upgrade, in fact, that I can a level in the shield-boosting Field Theory as well.
Of all my ‘owned’ planets, Doradus 24 is the odd one out on the City front: it sports only 2 cities, as opposed to everyone else’s 4 and 5. I spend a significant part of my newfound Food bounty on equalizing that discrepancy. The rest of it, I keep in the chamber for the time being. You never know what the future might hold.
And as for Metal…
“ADVISR.” *bing* “Give me some suggestions for Metal usage.”
“Analyzing… several options identified. Boosting Metal production on planet Doradus 24 presents high return on investment. Planet Draconis 96 requests resources for the construction of a paradigm-breaking academy. The high number of cities on planets Hydrae 96 and Cerinae 51 afford good result for any construction project. Planet Nor-”
“Wait, wait, hold up. What was that second one again?”
Let me just say here that, for the last several episodes, I’d been wondering where all the Wonders were. I started with one, on account of my Supremacy nature, and I can infer that both Kavitha and Hutama have one as well. But beyond that, I could never figure out where to find more of them. Or how to build them. Or what was necessary.
As it appears now, Wonders are just something a given planet can… offer, I guess. The usual planet HUD has the expected two buttons of ‘build improvements’ and ‘build cities’. But now, suddenly, Draconis 96 has a third button. ‘Build Dual Command Wonder’. Not any other wonder: only this one.
“ADVISR, buddy, you’re gonna have to explain this to me.”
“Analyzing request… information extracted. Military scientists on Draconis 96 have spent the last several years studying inefficiencies in battle fleet command structure and operation. It is suggested that interest was piqued when our fleet first visited the planet. Core study finding: current hierarchical modes of command limit starship crews to performing only one strenuous action at a time. Suggestion: adopting a more decentralized command architecture throughout the fleet would allow for functional multi-tasking, doubling ship action output. Increased weapon fire frequency is excluded, on account of cooldown time, but suggestions include: launching torpedoes, deploying fighters, firing impulse drives, and activating stealth systems.”
I nod. Two actions per turn, huh. That could be interesting.
“Resource request aim: construct a dedicated ‘academy’ facility aimed at further expanding this theory, and developing a range of crew training programs. Once completed, all United Federation crews can upload these programs into their cortical implants. This will boost ship effectiveness almost immediately.”
“Well, you got me convinced. Let’s do it.”
Now, sharp-eyed readers may already have noticed that I don’t actually have the 4500 Metal required to build this thing. Luckily, there’s a way around that restriction. And that way is called the galactic free trade market.
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how it works myself. It’s one of those unexplainable quirks of human nature, I suppose: wherever humans cluster together, black market trade inevitably shows up. But it’s not like I’m complaining, either: wherever this market came from, and whatever the organizing force, it’s decentralized and anonymous enough that the traders I sent there aren’t even chewed out for being the lackeys of a galaxy-conquering despot. I wouldn’t call the prices they get anywhere near fair, but fairness is for soccer and suckers: at the end of the day, the ‘Dual Command’ academy stands tall and proud outside the Draconian capital.
I take the new fleet out for a spin near Normae 28. Yes, finally. Like Doradus and Draconis before, Normae’s Orbital Sentry network is attracting attention of the unwanted kind. ‘Reprogrammed reconnaissance bots’, this time around, another loose collection of renegade vessels causing unspecified mayhem.
Dual Command proves an excellent addition to my fleet. It synergizes incredibly well with my Hyperlaunch-inspired fighter-heavy approach: Dual Command expressly forbids firing laser or plasma weapons more than once per turn, but it has no such restrictions on deploying fighter wings. More quickly than ever, I fill the skies around the planet with the most powerful fighter craft this universe has ever seen.
And then I win, and it turns out the reward for saving Normae 28’s bacon is one totally free technology. Guess where that upgrade is gonna go towards?
Back on the Defiant command deck after the requisite ‘welcome to the federation’ party, I listen to ADVISR drone. I asked for tactical input on which planet to visit next, and the lil’ guy is more than happy to oblige. There are so many planets we could hit.
“Planet Columbae 43 is currently hosting the United Collective fleet, but scans indicate they will likely disperse before our fleet. Planet Leporis 38 has ceased all trading with the United Federation, but could likely be convinced to renew this. The specialized cannon technicians of planet Muscae 92 could prove beneficial to further United Federation fleet development. Planets Persei 85 and Pegasi 23…”
Silence. Then: “Commander? Are you listening?”
“Sorry, ADVISR.” Truth be told, I wasn’t. “It’s just that…”
I center the star map on Normae 28, and then scroll down, slowly revealing the planets and the space lanes lying in that area.
“…your suggestions are all excellent, they really are. But I think I might have a better idea.”
Ring ring, ring ring. Ring ring, ring ring. Click. In an instant, Rejinaldo Bolivar de Alencar’s bio-engineered face appears on the viewscreen. He looks confused more than anything else.
“Oh, Élodie! Hello. To what do I owe the…”
Then his eyes dart off-screen. No doubt spotting one of Scorpii 70’s many proximity alarms, blaring about my incoming battle fleet. His face falls a little. “Oh.”
“Yeah…” This feels more awkward than I’d imagined. “I’m sorry, Rejinaldo, I really am. I think you’re a terrific guy! I just loathe everything your alignment stands for, more or less.”
If Rejinaldo is hurt by that comment, he doesn’t show it. “I suppose a long-term peace between us was never very likely. But why now? I am confused. Are you not already at war with the Galactic Union?”
“I am, I am.” Nod, nod. “But I already beat Vadim’s fleet twice in quick succession. He’s not gonna be a real threat to me for a while. And Samatar won’t attack me either, he’s still the same marshmallow he’s always been.” That earns me a smile.
“Truth of the matter is… of all the groups in the galaxy, yours is who I’m most afraid of. Or rather you, specifically. Like you said, this peace would never have lasted. And as much as you’re a good conversationalist, I wouldn’t put it past you to strike at this side of my space while I was occupied with the Union all the way over there.”
Another smile from Rejinaldo. “I cannot fault your tactical appraisal: had I seen such an opportunity, I might very well have struck the first blow myself.” The smile drops a little, but never quite fades. “Very well, then. Let us see if the force that fought back Vadim Kozlov is enough to topple the Supreme Galactic Empire!”
‘Sadly’ for you, readers, the battle for Scorpii 70 is not nearly as interesting as the battle for Hydrae 96. Now that I’m wise to the Megabots’ tricks, I know to take them out as quickly as I can. And with Dual Command in place, I can easily release massive swarms of fighters and fire a first volley of restricting torpedoes, all on the first turn.
Rejinaldo fights like a lion, cleverly using the planet itself as cover from my torpedo barrage and direct attacks. And, equally cleverly, his Megabots actually focus on taking out my fighters, instead of taking hopeless potshots at the far-away capital ships. Due to poor tactics on my part, the SS Audacious does suffer significant structural damage. But once the SS Courageous’ heavy plasma cannons get within operational range, the fight is more or less decided.
Rejinaldo calls me almost as soon as the battle is over. “Well fought, Élodie! Your victory today was well-earned.” He smiles more broadly than I’d have imagined him to. “Were these different circumstances, I would have asked that you share your incredible tactical advancements with me. My fleet never stood a chance.”
“I guess I’m not actually surprised that you’re being a good sport about this.” I am, but he doesn’t have to know that. “So… what happens next?”
“You tell me, Élodie.” Rejinaldo looks at me with a sudden solemnity. “You have taken my home planet and forced my fleet to retreat. What do you think? Has the threat that I represent now passed?”
I think on that for a moment. Then: “…No. No, it really hasn’t, has it? You’d be able to bounce back from this. And if I leave, and you do, you’re still a second front to me. More dangerous, even, now that I’ve started the fighting.”
Rejinaldo nods. “Correct again. And I will tell you now that my fleet is working on something, a new development, that will change the course of our destiny forever.” He cocks one algae-like eyebrow. “So, knowing that. What is your course of action here?”
I stare him straight in the bio-eyes. “I have no real choice, then, do I? I have to hunt you down.”
A wolf-like grin is Rejinaldo’s response. “Come, then.”
I sell my food stockpiles on the galactic market to pay for emergency repairs. They’re honestly more needed than I figured, earlier.
Then, I follow Rejinaldo to Librae 65. Icy world of scientists, one I once had my eyes on. His fleet is there, recuperating from our last engagement. I give them little time to recover…
…but recovered, it turns out they are. Blasted Harmony ships and their ‘natural healing’-style repairs.
Of course, as with Vadim, the absence of Megabots makes this second battle an easier one than the first. I chase Rejinaldo’s fleet off without casualties, and claim Librae 65 for my own.
And then, I follow his fleet again. To Corona 61, last bastion of the Supreme Galactic Empire.
Once again, the Supreme Empire battle fleet is back to full fighting capacity. Man, if I hadn’t hit Rejinaldo when I did… Once again, though, torpedoes and fighters make short, risk-free work of this final battle. And with that, Rejinaldo’s faction is no more.
Rejinaldo’s final transmission to me is traced back to an empty region of space, several warp-hours out from Corona 61. He must have set this up in advance, somehow: use a drone or a transmitter to relay final fallback coordinates. Ever the tactician.
“Excellent work, Élodie.” Rejinaldo’s face looks… sad, in a way, but not overtly so. Less the crushing sadness that you would expect from losing everything you’ve ever owned, and more of a… melancholia? Am I reading that right?
“Well, you didn’t make it easy.” I smile. “So, er… is this how it ends? I track down your fleet in the reaches of space, and then we have one final dramatic showdown? I still haven’t seen anything of this superweapon you claimed to be building.”
Rejinaldo laughs, deeply. “Oh, Élodie. Always the conqueror. I never mentioned any weapons. No, I gave you the runaround so my fleet could develop something much different, something far more valuable.”
“Warp-sustained bio-stasis. A method of leaving this galaxy, forever.”
“Wha… what? Come again?”
Rejinaldo looks me straight in the eyes. “Élodie, look at this place. I, my fleet, we are the only remnants of the Harmony philosophy left intact. Everyone else has scorned us, rejected us, traded us in for false ideals of purity. It is clear, to me, that we are not wanted here.” He turns around, waves his arm at the star map. “So we will go. There must be some place in this larger universe that will have us.”
He turns back to me. “While we were fighting, and running, our engineers have perfected a method of biological stasis that draws energy from our warp engines. When this conversation is finished, I and everyone on board will enter this stasis. And then our ships will fly, in a straight line, out of this galaxy. Into the unknown. Until we find where we belong.”
I sit in stunned silence for a few seconds. “Rejinaldo, I… er, I don’t really know what to say here.”
Rejinaldo smiles his warm smile at me, the last time I may ever see it. “Then I will say, instead. Élodie, it was good to know you, regardless of our many differences. I wish you good luck in your plans of conquest, and I hope that you find the inner peace for yourself that Harmony has given me. I would say that I look forward to seeing you again. But as that will never happen, let this be our farewell.”
“Yeah. Yeah, let’s.” My melancholic smile now mirrors Rejinaldo’s. “Farewell, Rejinaldo Bolivar de Alencar. Good luck out there.”
And with that, the viewscreen goes dark. And as I watch the star map, Rejinaldo’s battle fleet flies off in the darkness. Farther, farther, farther still, until I can barely make them out from the stars in the background.
For a few moments, I sit in indecision. Then I get up, walk to a nearby console. I compile all data on our Hyperlaunch design and on Dual Command, wrap it in an encrypted data package, and send it after Rejinaldo’s fleet at the same level of warp. A farewell present, if you will. He might need it someday.
“I don’t really do farewells” I whisper to the void, to myself, to nobody in particular. “See you around, Reggie. We’ll catch up later.