In the last episode of Jarenth Plays Starships, Rejinaldo Bolivar de Alencar goaded me into removing all traces of him from the universe. I took his planets, all of them, partially because of the resources involved and partially because I was afraid of what his inevitable retaliation would look like. But rather than strike back, Rejinaldo took his fleet and his people and sailed clear out of the universe. And that makes me… sad? We were never friends, per se, but our galaxy was a brighter place for his inclusion. I hope he’s happy now, wherever he is.
I mean, I fully intend to go check once I’m done taking things over here. I didn’t think I was gonna limit myself to ruling one galaxy, did you?
Cyber-Élodie’s Log. Galactic Date: 2109.2
“Alright, we’ve spent enough time on this.” I casually toss the latest in a long line of reports to the couch. “Give it to me straight, buddy. Did we find it?”
“Negative, Commander Élodie. No traces of ‘bio-stasis’ research can be found in any of the Supreme Galactic Empire’s files.”
Damnit. Over the past dozen months, we’ve been meticulously combing over every piece of data Rejinaldo left behind. Hoping to find something related to his new stasis technology. Blueprints, articles, informal communications, goddamn napkin drawings. But nothing. Zilch, zip, nada. For all intents and purposes, it’s like Rejinaldo’s masterstroke technology just doesn’t exist.
Does it exist? I wouldn’t peg Rejinaldo for the kind of guy who’d fly his entire fleet in cold space oblivion just to pull an extremely long con on me… but then again, if anyone would…
I sigh. “Alright, then. We tried. I’m officially calling an end to operation Figure Out This Bio-Stasis Thing.”
“So.” I plop down on the couch. “How about the side objectives? Did you at least find anything else worth of interest?”
“Actually, yes, Commander. A partially completed Supreme Galactic Empire research project has been identified that matches your original search parameters.”
“Oh?” I perk up. “Well, don’t keep me in suspense. What is it?”
“Loading…” ADVISR whirrs for a while, then displays a cover art image of a fighter craft playing tag with some asteroids. “Supreme Galactic Empire project ‘Tight Squeeze’ loaded.”
“Okay, so…” I make some get-on-with-it motions with my hands that may or may not be entirely lost on my AI companion.
“Project ‘Tight Squeeze’ involved studying novel applications of the Harmony affinity’s bio-metallic compounds. A fighter design was suggested that could incorporate these compounds to dynamically alter its size and aerodynamic profile on the battlefield. When combined with a suite of ‘living’ sensors, and a brain-like neural network processing core, this would allow these new fighter craft to negate the obstruction and damage posed by asteroid fields.”
“Basically removing asteroids as a barrier to fighters, huh?” I nod. “Interesting. So just how theoretical is this idea? And could we make us of it?”
“Analysis shows that particular growth facilities on Corona 61 are already dedicated to producing the particular bio-metal required. Per your request, the clearing out of Harmony structures and operations has been suspended until the completion of the current study.” ADVISR whirrs in silence for a moment, and then continues. “Calculations indicate that it should be possible to incorporate Tight Squeeze metals and processing into the current Hyperlaunch Fighter design. Replacing the internal organic components and processor with advanced artificial intelligence networks will prevent the catastrophic organic decomposition otherwise associated with warp-velocity instant launch. If a production facility and pipeline is installed on Corona 61, it should be possible to incorporate advanced Fighter Bays into the United Federation battle fleet inside of a month.”
“That’s the best news I’ve heard all year. Make it so.”
“And while we’re on the subject…” I gesture towards a nearby data console. “We’ve got Energy for days right now, yeah? Even accounting for repairs on Audacious, that should get us a few more juicy upgrades. Let’s look over that again.”
I spent the next few hours picking out fleet upgrades. It’s not as if my ships are hurting for power, but, I mean, what else am I gonna use this Energy for? So Dauntless gets two new levels of laser cannon, turning her from this…
Formidable’s fighter bays get a significant boost too, taking her from level 3 to level 5. I actually learn this way that modules stop changing graphically after level 4, which is a bit of a shame.
And some special love goes to my baby, Courageous, bearer of the Largest Plasma Cannon In The Universe. I actually remove some modules from Courageous, too: I’ve noticed she sometimes defaults to firing her puny baby laser cannon when we’re just not in range of plasma devastation, and in those cases, I’d rather just be told we’re out of reach. Cutting cruft modules also reduces ship weight, which provides more thrust for the same level of engine power.
Even Audacious gets some upgrades, to the tune of a much-needed fighter bay, super torpedoes, and a high-powered stealth system. I figure Audacious can be my surprise ace-in-the-hole: you can’t hurt what you can’t see… right up until it lodges torpedoes and super fighters in your unprotected stern.
When all’s finally said and done, I’ve burned a little over three thousand Energy points on ship upgrades. I’m fairly certain the other factions in this galaxy combined don’t put out that much Energy. My fleet is an unstoppable war machine, a juggernaut of wealth and power and lucky decision making, and I’m loving every minute of it.
I’m as ahead in Science as I am in Energy, and I’m loving all of that too. My Science output is so massive, I could actually afford to keep the rapidly escalating cost of advanced AI research…
…even though I eventually choose not to. Artificial Intelligence is a great technology, it really is, but at this point it feels like the added value of another fighter module might not be that high. Instead, I invest my Science points in Nano Electronics, boosting the power output of my lasers, and in Quantum Suppression, enhancing the effectiveness of my stealth systems. Remember, kids: you can’t survive a galactic struggle for conquest on fighter snacks alone! All ship modules have their role in life. A balanced diet is best!
And finally, my Food goes to… I don’t know, everywhere. Everywhere and nowhere. Is that even really interesting anymore? I build cities on Librae and Corona, because those places were woefully understaffed, and then another one on Carinae, because I might as well use all that Food for something. From the amount and quality of planets I currently have, it just doesn’t feel like more cities add significantly. But I’ll keep building them anyway; after all, it’s either that, or just put all of my Food in a giant pile and never touch it again. And that’s more a strategy for a different game.
I slam shut my empire management console, get up, and stretch. Man, running a galactic empire involves a lot of paperwork. But it’s good, it’s all good, we’re done with the administration for the time being. For this action cycle, at the very least. The numbers’ve been shifted. Now it’s time to make some change happen.
“ADVISR, do you have that tactical analysis for me?” *bing* “There’s plenty of stuff to get up to in our little galaxy, and I’d rather not be flying blind. What’s your recommendation?”
“First of all, Commander, you might be interested in looking at the star map. Analysis of your behaviour patterns indicates that you would likely be interested in the new major faction that has appeared in that region of space.”
I lean over the star map. “Interesting. Looks like Rejinaldo’s borders kept these people from us. But now that we are ‘Rejinaldo’s borders’… what can you tell me about them?”
“Radio chatter indicates that this faction calls itself the Eternal Kingdom. Architectural analysis of planet Lacertae 87 suggests adherence to the Purity affinity. No other information is currently available.”
“Huh. Nothing at all?”
“Negative, Commander. It appears that Eternal Kingdom outward communications are strictly regulated.”
“Interesting.” I move over to the communications console. “Do you think we can try hailing them?”
The face that appears on the screen before me is stern, solemn, and covered almost complete in a large face mask/hat combination. So I can’t actually tell it’s stern or solemn, if I’m honest. But it probably is. I’m a good judge of character that way.
“Greetings, Eternal Kingdom!” I start. “I am Comma-”
The masked figure interrupts me. “I know who you are, heretic. And be assured that your vile influence will find infertile ground here. The Divine Ruler of the Eternal Kingdom needs not associate with rabble such as yourself, save at the end of a plasma cannon. Leave us be, however, and you will be unharmed.” Followed by a sudden disconnect.
I stand in stunned silence for a moment. Well, that was interesting. Admirable self-esteem, that’s for sure. But I have to wonder… who’s leading this outfit? I didn’t actually recognize the masked figure…
ADVISR interrupts my reverie. “Commander? Do you wish to issue a reaction?”
I shake my head. “No, let’s not. These guys don’t seem overtly hostile, or all that powerful. Let’s let them be alone for the time being, we’ve got bigger fish to fry. We’ll come back if they start acting uppity. Or I feel like conquering them later.”
“Do you wish to resume the tactical analysis?”
“Please do.” I walk back to the star map. “Though I can guess at what you’re gonna recommend. We still have a lot of consolidating to do, right? Columbae 43, Muscae 92, Leporis 38…” I punctuate each planet name by stabbing my finger at the map. “And all of Vadim’s other remaining planets. And Samatar’s domain, too.”
I sit down again. “I know it’s important work, but it all just feels so small-scale. After everything we’re done already. Can’t we just, I don’t know, knock over another home world somewhere? That was fun.” I gaze at the map, smiling wistfully. “Too bad we don’t know where Samatar’s home world is, I guess. I don’t suppose you know of any other ones we could reasonably take?”
After three months of warp travel, we arrive at Columbae 43.
Columbae’s planetary government contacts us almost as soon as we’re in orbit. Solar flares from the star Columbae have knocked their orbital defenses offline, and a group of marauders — always the opportunists — are preparing to loot and pillage a research outpost. Counter-intuitively, I’m not asked to defend the outpost, but to gather up all the station personnel in a Colony Ship and escort them to a nearby short-range warp portal. It’s such a unexpectedly humanitarian mission that I now feel bad about my original plan. Which was ‘pass by this planet at full warp speed and ignore any pointless requests for help’.
The actual ‘mission’ is hilariously easy, of course. The marauder ships are clearly counting on the high degree of asteroid cover to provide protection for their hit-and-run attacks. Predictably, they have no real way of dealing with my new Tight Squeeze-design fighters, which treat asteroid fields as only slightly less of a hindrance than bugs and rain on the windshield.
The whole ‘battle’ takes three turns. None of my ships are even scratched. Neither is the Colony Ship, which arrives back at Columbae 43 entirely unharmed. The planetary government, for their part, is exactly as ecstatic as you’d figure they would be: next to a generous reward of 1300 Energy — I didn’t even know a podunk little planet like this could have that much Energy — I’m also gifted plans for an advanced Power Core design. Delivering these plans to a research facility on Muscae 92, I’m told, will allow the researchers there to improve the engines of all my ships.
Muscae 92 currently plays host to the Universal Collective battle fleet, and I briefly worry I’ll have to fight Samatar for the privilege of hanging out in orbit here. Well, worry. But Samatar’s fleet withdraws as we draw near, leaving me free to get those sweet promised engine upgrades.
And as Muscae 92 isn’t suffering from any significant problems at the moment, I use this bounty of time to convert Columbae’s gift of Energy into some further ship upgrades. We’ll want to make sure all vessels are in tip-top fighting order, here. After all, the real mission — the actual reason I flew out to the center of the galaxy at the drop of a hat — is only one more jump away.
I lean over the star map, tap it twice in quick succession. The screen zooms in on the most peculiar planet: a broken world in the most literal sense, a shattered planet, whose uprooted chunks of former soil act as satellite guardians for an exposed metallic core. The kind of planet you’d think nobody would choose to live, at first glance, but the manifold lights visible on the surface put the clear lie to that assumption. “So this is the place?”
“Affirmative, Commander.” ADVISR’s holographic representation hovers just over my shoulder. “Comprehensive analysis of galactic emergency reports and raider vessel travel patterns very clearly traces all ‘marauder’ activity in the sector back to planet Nemesis 70.”
I shake my head. Guess they did send a poet. “And this planet is…”
“Resource output of planet Nemesis 70 is consistent with that of galactic power home world levels.”, ADVISR picks up. “Reduced surface area and hazardous working conditions are compensated for by advanced farming and mining techniques. Additionally, population density far exceeds any other known planet in the galaxy.”
“I see, I see. So it really is the ‘marauder home world’, then.” I furrow my brow, thinking. “It’s still strange, though. How does a random bunch of pirates become this powerful? They can’t just have been a Seeding mishap… the only reason all of our major home world are as productive as they are, is because we all applied the technology and innovation that was developed on Terra Atlantea. So how…”
“Actually, Commander…” *whirr* “Planet Nemesis 70 presents an eclectic mix of architectural styles and patterns. However, deeper analysis of surface constructions indicates that a significant portion of them are designed and built in accordance with Pan-Asian Cooperative construction guidelines.”
“Wait, what?” I veer up. “Are you saying that…”
“Affirmative, Commander.” ADVISR doesn’t even need to wait for me to finish that thought. “For all intents and purposes, it seems that this planet can be considered the de facto ‘PAC home world’.”
“Well. I didn’t see that coming. Do you think Daoming’s still in charge, then? Because I’d love to hear why they’ve gone all pirate-y on us.”
“Inconclusive, Commander. Do you wish to attempt communications?”
I nod. “Make it so.”
Sadly, the face that greets me when the viewscreen finally whirrs to life is nothing like Daoming Suchong. Well, ‘nothing’: the black-haired man I’m looking at does have a clear Asian descent. But Daoming never had this much hot anger in her eyes, for one. And I can’t imagine she’d ever wear one of those gaudy eye masks, either. You know the kind: the ones that people wear during overblown masked balls, the ones that pretend to hide your identity but don’t really do anything to that effect? Yeah, that’s the kind. I’m not entirely sure what the man is hoping to achieve with this display, but if the stated goal was ‘come across as an intimidating threat’, then I may have some bad news for him.
He speaks before I have a chance to. “Greetings, Élodie. Of the United Federation.”
“Yes, hello. Greetings. I’m afraid you have me at something of a disadvantage here. You are…”
He shakes his head. “I suppose you would not recognize me at first glance, would you? It has been a while. My name is Satoshi Inihara.”
“Satoshi, Satoshi… No, sorry, doesn’t ring a bell. Can you be any more…” I gesture vaguely with my hands.
That seems to anger the man. Satoshi, whatever. “Do not pretend you do not know me! I am Satoshi Inihara. I was Daoming Suchong’s right-hand man, during the Pan-Asian Cooperative’s outing on Terra Atlantea. Before…” He glowers at me, all fire and bluster. “Does that ring any bells? Élodie?”
I furrow my brow for visual effect. Thinking, thinking… “Ah! I remember now! We did meet once or twice, did we? You were always there for our meetings. Don’t think I ever heard you say much, but…” A beat passes, as I search for something to say. “So anyway, if you’re here, does that mean Daoming is, too? How’s she doing?”
Wow. That really seems to fan the flames of his anger. “How is she doing? How is she doing? If President Suchong was still among us, do you think I would be the one answering your hailing calls? How do you think ‘she is doing’?”
“Ah.” I halfway expected, sure, but I can’t deny the news is a bit of a gut punch. “I’m very sorry to hear that, I suppose. She wa-”
That earns me another burst of anger. “Sorry? And why would you be sorry about this? It is only your fault any of this happened, after all! You were the one who first opened hostilities against us! You were the one who took two of our cities! You brought the American forces down on us, and then weakened us enough for them to strike the killing blow! You…”
He stops, calms down, collects himself for a minute. Then continues. “We were neighbours once, you and were, peaceful friends in Supremacy. And then, out of the blue, you launched the attack that ended up destroying us.” He looks me straight in the eye. “Do you know President Suchong still had hopes for reconciliation with you, all that time? ‘The goal of human supremacy is too important to be sullied by politics of greed and jealousy’, she used to say. But then the ARC attacked Tiangong, and…” Brief silence. “Well, now you speak to me, instead.”
“I guess it does sound bad if you put it like that.” I shrug. Then, when I notice Satoshi getting red in the face, I quickly move on. “So how did you guys go from that, to…” I gesture at the star map. “…well, this?”
“Ah!” Satoshi’s desire to gloat overrides his desire to scowl. “After your armies left for Earth, after the Blooming, after the other factions packed up and left, there were still many of us left on our deadly deserted former home. The remnants of PAC, we were the most numerous, but many other groups had left behind their poor, their injured, their destitute. I gathered them all up, and using the plans that we scavenged from the remnant cities, we built our own exile fleet.” He makes a few wide, sweeping arm gestures. “And when we then landed here, amidst the struggling efforts of a Seeding ship gone wrong… It was as if Fate itself conspired to bring us together. Here were we, the cast-off of one world, come to enrich and raise up the cast-off of another.”
“Poetic.” I smile. “So then you all became pirates?”
Satoshi slams his fist down on something hard just off-camera. “Yes! What else would you have us do? A broken fleet on a broken world, barely capable of keeping ourselves fed. So we struck out, again and again, to the lesser-developed world around us. Taking what we needed to survive. To grow. To thrive.”
“And besides… it is not as if the other so-called ‘major factions’ did anything to prevent the destruction of the Pan-Asian Cooperative. No hands were raised in our defense. Why should we play by their rules, then, their laws and politics and war constraints, when they were happy enough to let us die? We have as little allegiance to any of them as we have to you.”
“Well…” I drum my console for a few seconds. “I guess I can’t fault your drive. Or your ingenuity. You’ve certainly made an impressive name for yourself. ‘Marauders’. I keep running into your raiding parties all across the galaxy.”
“Yes”, Satoshi almost beams, “our reach is far in this day and age. Our marauder fleet is mighty, and our technological prowess is surpassed by few. We have made our mark in this universe. And we will stand for none who try to drive us out again.”
“See, Satoshi, that’s gonna be a problem. Because, you see…” I think for a moment, then shrug. “Eh. I was going to be all righteous about it, ‘I can’t let you attack innocent planets anymore’. But I don’t have to keep that facade up with you guys, huh? I just want your planet. It’s rich in resources, and centrally located, and pretty badass-looking, as long as I’m being honest. So I’m here to take it.” I tap the side of my comms console a few times, for emphasis. “By force.”
“If you desire to claim our planet, we will bring down the full fury of the marauder war fleet down on you.”
I grin. “I was counting on that.”
At first glance, the marauder war looks more impressive than I’d have imagined.
And while looks can be deceiving, in this particular case, they really aren’t. The marauder ships are tough, well-built, and loaded for bear. I’m used to striking hard and fast in the first combat round, using the overwhelming fire power presented by my fighters and torpedoes to quickly take out the weaker enemy targets. But in this fleet, there are really no ‘weak’ targets. And even bringing in SS Courageous immediately, using the power of its new level-7 engines, fails to fully destroy any marauder vessel outright.
I’m reluctantly forced to grant first blood to the marauders, who blow up one fighter wing with overwhelming firepower. And then second blood as well, as their fleet swarms the SS Courageous and takes it out of commission in a single turn. They’re doing what I wanted to do! And, let me tell you: I am not happy with this outcome.
I’ll be honest: I am genuinely worried about the outcome of this battle for a moment. But luckily, the tide quickly turns, when the bulk of the marauder war fleet fails to get out of the way of my oncoming torpedo.
Two of the four ships are destroyed in the blink of an eye. A third is weakened enough that my fighters can easily mop them up. The two marauder fighter wings equally quickly fall to my assault. And from there, the odds are once again equal: the loss the SS Courageous is more than compensated for by the loss of over half the marauder fleet.
That’s not to say that the rest of the battle is easy. The marauder battleship in particular is a powerhouse. One that I was really hoping to take down with close-range fire from Courageous, but…
Luckily, it turns out that Formidable’s high-level laser cannons are equally terrifying murdering machines, under the right circumstances. Close range laser fire on an already-damaged rear ship quadrant can ruin even the most powerful vessel’s day.
The fight is over fairly quickly after that. My score is commensurate to the difficulty level, and almost all ship crews receive well-earned skill upgrades.
But that’s all ancillary to the real goal of this exercise, obviously. Which was…
Satoshi’s face fills the screen. There is still fire in his eyes, but most of the bluster has gone out of it. He looks like a man who’s had an unexpected confrontation with his own mortality. My own face is mostly a mask of impassivity. I’d really like to gloat, right here and now, but I realize I’ll have to play this conversation carefully to get what I really want.
“So.” I drum the side of the console again. “When last we spoke, I was going to take over your planet, and you were going to stop me with all your might. We see how that’s worked out for everyone.” Okay, so maybe I can slip in a little gloating. “Would you like to resume that talk where we left off?”
“What is there to talk about?” Satoshi scowls. “I have seen how you operate. I cannot stop you from destroying us. So do it, now, and get it over with.”
“Oh, Satoshi.” I almost giggle. “I don’t know where you get your ideas about me, but you are woefully misinformed. I don’t conquer and destroy things just for the hell of it. Everything I do, I do with a purpose. And right now, I think a civil conversation about our mutual differences would best serve both of our purposes.”
Raised eyebrow, curious look. Silence, otherwise.
I continue. “Consider this: my goal is to spread the power and wisdom of human Supremacy to all corners of the galaxy. That’s something I think you can sympathize with, because that was Daoming’s goal as well. And Kavitha and Hutama right now, they feel the same way. Sure, we may not all agree on who gets to rule the whole shebang at the end of it. But I don’t just follow the path of Supremacy as a means to an end. I follow it because I really believe this is humanity’s best shot.”
“Your goal, meanwhile, is to survive. And survive, you have, against any reasonable odds. I am genuinely impressed with the technological leaps and bounds you guys have made here, have I mentioned that before? You have done the kind of work in decades that six other civilizations couldn’t get done in centuries. All in the pursuit of survival, power, and self-determination. I respect that.”
“So here is where I feel we stand right now. I’m already on a pretty good path to conquer the known universe, but I can never afford to get complacent or sloppy. Adding your resources and technological prowess to my United Federation will give me yet another much-needed edge. And if you guys join my Federation, you’ll join it as fully accepted citizens. The past is the past, I can’t pretend to care about everything you’ve done to stay alive. Water under the bridge. You’ll all become full citizens, with all the perks that implies: protection from external threats, developmental assistance when needed, access to free trade and exchange of goods and services. Hell, you’ll even be helping to fulfill the final goal of total human Supremacy. Which, you’ll remember, was Daoming’s goal as much as mine.”
Satoshi takes all of this in for a while. Finally, he speaks. “Your words have a certain… merit, to them. But I must ask: what if we refuse to join you?”
I put on my broadest fake smile. “Why, then I’ll have my fleet bombard your planet from orbit, and pick whatever resources we can find from the molten glass wreckage of the surface!”
Is it my imagination, or did Satoshi go a little pale for a moment? “I… I see.”
“So, what’ll it be? Joining the United Federation for safety and a greater purpose? Or orbital bombardment annihilation of everything you’ve ever known and loved?”
“We… will submit to your authority.”
I sit down in my lazy chair. Whew! That was some battle, and no mistake. And I’m glad the marauders accepted my deal, because I do not know if I could’ve made good on the threat. Don’t tell them I said this, but most of my fleet was in tatters.
But man, the results were definitely worth it. Planet Nemesis 70 — why can’t my home world have a cool name like that — is a resource-producing machine, with no less than twelve cities chugging away day and night. And ‘defeating the marauder menace’ has massively improved my PR image in the galaxy, too: already, the government of nearby planet Centauri 53 is making diplomatic overtures in our direction. I’m starting to see why other conquerors paid attention to this sort of thing. Maybe if I keep this up, I won’t even have to manually conquer everyone and everything.
*bing* “Commander? The fleet commanders are requesting a status update. Do you wish to enact shore leave protocols now?”
I look at my fleet status overview. It would probably be a good idea to call it quits for now. Our resources are low, and even repaired, our fleet isn’t in much of a combat shape. And, honestly? I am tired.
“Yeah. Yeah, let’s do that. Relay this: I’m ordering the fleet back to Muscae 92. We’ll settle down for shore leave there.”
More and more of the galaxy is turning a nice blue colour. I like it. Makes me feel as though all my efforts are actually working out. We’re still not there yet, not quite… but at the moment, I feel as though I can take on anything any of my opponents can dish out. Unless any of them pull any really interesting stunts, I can’t help but feel that I’m on the fast track to galactic dominance.
And that feels good.