In the last episode of Jarenth Plays Starships, I conquered Nemesis 70, the erstwhile marauder home world, and added a faction of bloodthirsty pirate warriors to my empire. Technologically-minded pirate warriors, though, so I’m sure they’ll fit right in. Now, with yet another home world-class planet flying the United Federation flag, I’m almost positive no single enemy faction can realistically stand against me. Unless one or two of them have some really clever ideas, I predict smooth sailing from here on out.
Cyber-Élodie’s Log. Galactic Date: 2110.4
I’m sitting at the breakfast table of my Muscae 92 apartment when the communication alert starts ringing. I don’t actually need to eat breakfast, not anymore: my body is enhanced with implants and replicator upgrades up to the point where a single plutonium-Firaxite infusion can keep me sustained for like a decade. But even an immortal robotic despot needs some glaring inconsistencies in her life. Besides, I just like the sound croissants make when I bite down on them. Crunch, crunch. It reminds me of home.
“Commander,” ADVISR interrupts my reverie. “Incoming United Collective broadcast detected.”
“Broadcast? You mean, like, not aimed at us specifically?”
“Negative, Commander. This wide-band broadcast is detectable on all common channels.”
“Hmm,” I ponder, as I get up to pour myself a glass of milk. “I guess Samatar has something he wants to share with all of us at once. Put in on, then.”
Samatar’s face appears on the suite’s central viewscreen. He looks… older? No, it’s not that. But definitely tired. A little crestfallen. The last few years have not been kind to him, I suspect. But then, he did decide to pick a fight with me.
Samatar clears his throat once, twice. Then speaks. “Greetings. This is Samatar Jara Barre, Representative of the United Collective. With a message to all who should hear it.”
He pauses, briefly. His eyes dart from side to side, as if looking for his next words. Then: “As most of you will know, I founded the United Collective with the goal of spreading peace and brotherhood to all peoples of the galaxy. It was my hope that our message of unity could stand up to the tyrants and the conquerors, and that we would serve as a shining example to all those who would follow our way.”
Another silence fills the air, as I sit down with my milk and another croissant. Finally, Samatar resumes. “It is clear to me now that we have failed in this mission. While our original plan was promising, recent changes in the balance of galactic power” — and it’s hard to not feel as though Samatar is looking directly and only at me when he says this — “have left our collective weakened, scattered, and adrift.”
“And that is why…” Samatar makes a sweeping arm motion as the camera slowly starts panning leftward. “…effective immediately, I am disbanding the United Collective as a sovereign entity, and joining all our fates to that of the Galactic Union.”
I almost choke on my drink as the panning camera reveals Vadim Kozlov standing next to Samatar. WHAT? They can… they can do that? That’s not bloody fair!
“Thank you for that kind introduction, Representative Barre,” Vadim starts. “Much like you, the Galactic Union’s mission of safety and peace has been jeopardized, by those who would see humanity’s destiny a thrall to monsters and machines. But with the might of the Union and the Collective combined, we have the might to protect for human purity throughout the galaxy. To ensure this, we will…”
Vadim starts droning about the minutiae of the merger, citizenship this and voting rights that, but I’ve already tuned out. Tactical console in hand, milk all but forgotten, I frantically scan through our files on both powers. “ADVISR! Tactical analysis and update, now!”
“Analyzing…” ADVISR whirrs in silence for a few endless-seeming seconds. “Folding the United Collective into the Galactic Union increases Galactic Union presence level by 116.67%. All United Collective planets have fully joined the Galactic Union. In addition, planet Pegasi 23 was formerly split 50/50 between the United Collective and the Galactic Union, but has now fully joined the Galactic Union as well. This combination raises Galactic Union population levels to 13% of known galactic total population.”
Tap tap tap. “What about their power levels?” Tap tap tap.
“The combined resource output of their planets puts the new Galactic Union about on par with the Eternal Kingdom and the Communal Galactic Cooperative, and slightly below the Second Galactic Alliance.”
“And compared to us?”
“43.33% comparative power.”
I calm down a little. “Okay. So this makes them a respectable power, let’s put it in those terms. But not…” I start tapping again, but at a slower pace. “Still, that’s a pretty decent jump in power. I wonder how… oh, of course, the United Collective home world! We took Vadim’s palace, but Samatar’s home would still be a big resource producer. I see…”
“That assessment is correct, Commander. In addition, the combat of the combined battle fleets may well be higher than calculations predict.”
“Clever, clever.” I sit back down at the breakfast table, and focus on the broadcast again. At an opportune time, it turns out, because Vadim is just getting to a particularly interesting part:
“…and finally, as a show of the new power of our combined Union, I’m happy to present you with…” Vadim waves his arm, and the camera flash-cuts to a view of a fancy production facility. “…the Glide Path. Scientists from the Collective and the Union have pooled their efforts to study the fundamental nature of nuclear impulse power. Thanks to their combined efforts, soon, the new Galactic Union battle fleet will run effortless circles of victory around our sworn enemies.”
I catch myself grinning. “Gotta hand it to you, you old cosmonaut. You really managed to blindside me with this one.”
“You really shouldn’t have announced it, though. Give your trick away this early. Because now…” I finally manage to take a sip of that milk. “… I know who I need to be gunning for.”
I push my chair back, get up from the table. “Alright. That’s a clear wake-up call if I ever saw one. We should proba-”
“Commander! Incoming communications.”
“Eh? Vadim calling to gloat?”
“Negative, Commander. Incoming communication frequencies identified as belonging to the Eternal Kingdom. Used frequency is not their common communication frequency, however, and the message is highly encrypted.”
“Huh.” I sit back down. “That’s interesting. Put them through, then.” I don’t explicitly tell ADVISR to ‘try and break’ the encryption; we’re Supremacy, the affinity of robotic thought enhancement and advanced AI computing, there exists no encryption that we can’t break. And whoever sent this hailing request is probably banking on that come to think of it. I wonder…
I’m simultaneously surprised by the face that appears, and surprised that I’m surprised by the face that appears. I mean, on some level, I had to know it’d be her. She’s the only member of the old guard that I haven’t re-met yet.
“Heya, Élodie. Been a while. What’s up?”
The sudden shock of, well, this, briefly reduces me to incoherent babbling. “What’s up with me? I… I mean, you… I mean…” And then, just as suddenly, realization hits my mind like a thunderclap. “You! You’re the Divine Ruler! Of the Eternal Kingdom!”
Suzanne flashes me a sly smile. “In the flesh.”
I stare at Suzanne with mouth slightly agape. I’d be lying if I said that that confirmation did much to reduce my confusion. “Wow, I just… I hadn’t really counted on seeing you again so soon. Right now. And in this role, of all… I never took you for the religious type. What happened? Did you also have a ‘personal revelation’ after that whole Blooming incident?”
Suzanne’s face briefly sours. “Only revelation there was that planet minds don’t like being intruded on.” Then returns to its sly default. “But no, nothing like that. It’s more of a ‘fitting in’ thing, if you catch what I mean.”
“Can’t quite say that I do, sorry.”
“Well, it’s like…” Suzanne’s eyes flick into ‘trying to find the right phrase’ mode for a second. “The planet was like this when we got here, yeah? It turns out that this American Seeding ship was less of the ‘capitalism solves everything’ variety, and more of the ‘repent your sins in the eyes of the Lord’ variety. They…” She makes some vague hand gestures. “I’m still not even sure what exactly their faith is. Some sort’a amalgamation of a lot of Old Earth stuff, I reckon. Very doom ‘n gloom for the most part, not big on dealing with ‘heretics’. As I’m sure you’ve noticed.”
I nod. “Talk about a warm welcome.”
That earns me another grin. “Yeah, it was like that for us, too. But, you know, at least we were ‘borne of the same origin’, or some such, so they let us in. And from there…” Shrug. “Well, what can I say? I like being in charge. I’m a politician by training, which just means a fancy actor, and I like being in charge. So I told the whole lot of them exactly what they wanted to hear. Gloom this, evil universe that, over and over, every street corner. Until…” Some more vague hand gestures. “…well, you know.”
My mouth is a little agape again as I absorb all of this. “So that means… you didn’t really turn into a xenophobic theocrat?”
Suzanne winks conspiratorially. “I just play one on TV.”
And just like that, the next five minutes are lost to me — and her — laughing like a bunch of total doofuses.
“So…” I finish wiping the tears from my eyes. “Your current Purity thing, that’s God-mandated too?” Nod nod. “Does that mean you’re still a Harmony gal at heart?”
Suzanne sighs. “Honestly, Élodie, I don’t know what to believe anymore. I won’t lie, up close, this Purity stuff does have some merit. But I still like what our old Harmony path stood for. And obviously…” She gestures at her star map, covered over half in tiny frowning robot faces. “…that Supremacy thing is doing the three of you a lot of good. Maybe… just taking the best elements of all three? Maybe that could…”
She sighs again. “Honestly, I have thought about switching this civilization around. Either to Harmony or to what you do. But it’s not as easy as just me saying that this is what we’re doing now. It’s all pretty entrenched. Maybe some real strong outside influence… ” She perks up and looks me straight in the eye. “And I don’t mean war threats, because these guys’ll fight to the death over that. But maybe some outside influence could get them, could get us, to switch stuff up quickly. Otherwise… it’ll take a while, I guess is what I’m saying.”
I nod along to the story as Suzanne’s grin returns. “Still, I’ve been making some progress already. Managed to convince our fleet admiral that turning our old Harmony bio-metallic alloys into regenerating ship plates was ‘in accordance with divine will’. Or however I put it back then. That’s one step.”
“Impressive!” I beam a disarming smile, not trying to let shimmer through how much I want that Wonder for myself. “I’ve actually been doing similar stuff with Rejinaldo’s old stockpile. Got myself some shape-changing fighters out of that. So yeah, maybe there’s some room for Purity and Harmony in the universe. You know, as bit players.” I grin, and Suzanne grins back.
“Hey, Élodie, it was nice talking to you, but I gotta get back to fooling an entire planet worth of people. But if you ever want to contact me again, use this frequency, okay? The official frequency’s no good, you get that, I have to keep up appearances. But I would like to stay in touch.”
The smile that follows looks just a little forced. “Unless you’re planning on waltzin’ all over us, I guess, in which case the whole thing is moot anyway.”
“Haha!” I put on my most disarming face. “Nah, don’t worry about that. I got bigger fish to fry for now.”
“You got that Galactic Union broadcast too, huh?” Nod nod. “Man, I never figured Vadim and Samatar as pals. But there ‘ya have it. What’s your take on all this?”
“It’s pretty clever, honestly. Both of them were more or less on the brink, but this way…” I grimace for effect. “They’re basically back in the game now. Power worth paying attention to. If left alone, they could grow to become something really dangerous.”
Another sly smile from Suzanne. “So are you gonna leave them alone?”
I return my best predatory grin. “Oh hell no.”
“Alright, ADVISR,” *bing*, “let’s get this show on the road as quickly as possible. You take care of the preliminaries, alright?”
“Command unclear, Commander. Please elucidate.”
“You know.” I wave my hands for emphasis. “All the pre-work ‘n shit. Food distribution, fleet upgrades, science. You get the idea. We’ve been doing this whole galaxy-conquering thing for long enough now, I’m pretty sure you’ve worked out the patterns in my behaviour at this point. So, you know…” More hand-waving. “Just do it for me.”
“Affirmative, Commander. Analyzing…” *whirr* “Fleet upgraded in accordance with identified role patterns. Scientific progression pursued in areas: Quantum Suppression, Ion Energy. Ship modules enhanced: stealth suites, plasma cannons.” *whirr*“Food distributed to gain influence with planetary government of planet Muscae 92. As a result, planet Muscae 92 has agreed to join the United Federation.” Wow, that’s actually pretty clever. Nice going, little guy.
“Input required on Metal distribution.”
“Option A: distribute Metal to production facilities across United Federation. This will boost significantly boost production of Food, Metal, Science, and Energy over the coming years.”
I yawn for exaggerated effect. Then realize the effect will probably be lost on an AI. “What’s option B?”
“Option B: Cloaking program.” *whirr* “Recent studies into Quantum Suppression have opened the way to studying the quantum disturbances around Draconis 96. You may remember that these disturbances caused all stealth systems to remain active indefinitely. Recent studies have shown that running a modulated electrical current through a particular bio-mineral preparation can induce this effect on a very limited scale. In practice, incorporating this configuration into stealth module design will result in the creation of semi-permanently cloaked vessels.”
I let out an impressed whistle. “Nice. What do we need to make that happen?”
“Plans for the facility have already been drafted. Location options are limited: due to the combined biological and mineral nature of the solution, alien Xenomass is required to achieve the intended effect. In addition, low temperatures are required for optimal solution preservation. This combination of factors makes planet Librae 86 the most eligible candidate for the facility.”
“More Harmony in my porridge, huh? Well, I like the sound of it regardless. Make it so.”
“Affirmative, Commander.” *whirr* “Facility construction initiated. Ship upgrades should arrive in several galactic weeks.”
“Good. Nice job, ADVISR. That gives us just about enough time to wrap things up here. We’ll head out as soon as the upgrades are installed.”
“Affirmative, Commander. Have you decided where to send the fleet next?”
I retread my earlier predatory grin. “Well, Vadim has been kind enough to paint us a clear target…”
Vadim takes the news of my impending attack with all the grace and poise that I’ve come to expect from him.
“So, your terror in the face of the new Galactic Union is revealed!” If it wasn’t for his military training, I imagine angry spittle would’ve been flying freely. “And I should not be surprised to see your coward’s strike directed at the very capstone of our new cooperation. Your feeble attempt to overthrow our rightful dominion will be broken by the power of our galactic unity!”
Christ, he’s like a rhetoric machine. I cut in before he can start defaming my family line or something. “Well geez, V-man, what did you expect? Building your new toy on a front-line planet like that. It’s almost as if you were trying to get me to attack it.”
“Why, you!…” Facial redness intensifies. “The location of the Glide Path has nothing to do with your insignificant little empire. It is the specific plutonium isotopes found only on Leporis 38 that informed our decision to base the facility there!”
“Ah, I see. So that’s how it works. Thanks, Vadim! I’ll be sure to put it to good use after I take over.” Too late, Vadim realizes the beans he’s spilled, and his face quickly becomes a case study in Human Anger And Regret Expression.
“If you think you ca-” he starts.
I cut him off with a bored wave of my hand. “Yeah yeah, Vadim, I’ve heard it before. ‘You can never defeat the might of our mighty might’, yeah? Something like that? But hey, listen.” I lean in close to the screen. “You’ve never ever been able to stop me before. Ever. What makes you think you have a snowball’s chance in hell now?”
Vadim’s answer is an abrupt disconnect. Yeah, that’s what I thought.
The fleet arrives at Leporis 38 to even lighter resistance than I was expecting.
“ADVISR, what the devil is this?” *bing* “Why am I looking at just one combat ship? This can’t be the whole Galactic Union fleet, can it?”
“Negative, Commander. Radio chatter indicates that half of the Galactic Union fleet was not in planetary range when our attack commenced. Two more vessels are set to arrive shortly. Currently, two vessels are present in Leporis 38 space: quantum spectrometry shows the presence of one cloaked ship.”
“Ah, I see! Thanks, buddy.” I crack my knuckles. “Well then… let’s see how Vadim likes it when I play that game.”
To my joy and only little surprise, the Cloaking Wonder works more or less exactly as advertised. One by one my ships make their moves, take their dual actions, and then auto-stealth. I can only imagine the look on Vadim’s face as my ships start dropping off his radar after completing two actions each. Gods, it must look like I’m cheating at the universe. I almost feel sorry for the poor man.
And between that turbo stealth activation, and what is quickly becoming my trademark combat opening of ‘waves of torpedoes and super fighters’…
…it may not surprise you to learn that the whole battle took only two turns.
The fight is over so soon, in fact, that the second half of Vadim’s fleet never gets around to showing up! I’m not entirely sure how that works, either; I’m assuming they dropped out of warp when the first two vessels sent their ‘everything’s fucked, we’re getting annihilated, run as far away as you can’ signals. Which I assume anyone going into combat with me has.
In the aftermath of the battle, I inspect the Glide Path with ADVISR. To some small surprise, the facility is still and running. No self-destruct, no bombs, no sabotage. Was Vadim really that convinced he was going to be able to defend it? Looks like. But his unavoidable loss is my easily-avoidable gain.
“Fuel mixtures are being shipped up now, Commander.” ADVISR pipes up. “Necessary engine and fuel schedule adjustments should be done within the hour.”
“Good, good.” I’m smirking again, aren’t I? “What’s your take on the tactical advantage of this technology?”
“Preliminary analysis suggests that Glide Path engines have strong potential synergy with the Dual Command architecture. The increased power provided by Glide Path enhances the viability of using one action to get into close weapons range, and one for weapons fire. Particularly SS Courageous and fighter wings will benefit from this.”
I nod. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. And it’s good for fighters overall, isn’t it? Extra impulse movement also makes it easier for them to Tight-Squeeze into asteroid belts for cover.”
“Correct analysis, Commander. Apart from the Cloaking program, all our Galactic Wonders have served as significant force multipliers for our fighters.”
“Alright.” I swivel my chair around until I face the star map. “Now I feel like testing these new engines out. Let’s see where we’re going next.”
The battle for Pegasi 23 goes much the same as the battle for Leporis 38. As before, only half of Vadim’s fleet is actually present. Whatever patchwork emergency repairs they slapped on these ships are honestly quite effective, because they actually try to fight back this time around. Not that the outcome isn’t essentially a foregone conclusion, but I admire their gusto regardless.
As predicted, the Glide Path upgrade works wonders with my fighters. They were already pretty damn powerful, but the addition of a three-move impulse command makes it all the easier to get to the enemy vessels’ poorly-protected rear armors. And because my fighters can do two things…
…well, you get the idea.
And just like that, I find myself in range of what appears to be Samatar’s former home world.
Another home world! My skin starts tingling in that familiar rush way as I turn towards ADVISR. “What do you think, buddy? Third time’s the charm? I’m guessing the Union’s got this place defended more tightly than any other, but-”
“Actually, Commander,” ADVISR interjects, “telemetry does not indicate the presence of the Galactic Union battle fleet anywhere in the vicinity. It seems unlikely that they will defend planet Lyrae 80.”
That takes me aback a little. “Wait, what?”
“Telemetry does not indicate the pre-”
“I heard what you said,” I cut him off. “I’m just wondering what it means. Why would they not defend this planet? Of all possible ones to leave undefended.”
I bring a hand to my chin. “Unless…” And start pacing. “Could it be… a trap, or some sorts? I can’t imagine what, but… I mean, it has to be something, right?…”
“Commander.” ADVISR wakes me from what fast becomes a walking reverie. “What are your orders?”
“…No.” I shake my head. “Belay assaulting Lyrae 80. I don’t trust it, I just don’t. Let’s try somewhere else instead. Any other ‘undefended’ planets we can reach?”
“Scanning…” *whirr* “Telemetry around planet Persei 85 indicates equal absence of Galactic Union battle fleet.”
I fly the fleet over to Persei 85, and… to call what happens next a ‘battle’ is vastly overselling the experience. It’s a massacre. Two tiny ‘Stealth Fighters’ and one half-functioning Megabot versus the entire United Federation fleet.
I spend the entire battle waiting for the other shoe to drop. Some special weapon, a hidden bomb, a tactical nuclear strike. A secret technique for warping in the Galactic Union fleet behind my combat lines. Or even a surgical strike on the heart of my empire, while I’m otherwise occupied! But nothing happens. I go in, fight some disappointing planetary guardians, and take the place for myself. I never even so much as see Vadim.
I still don’t trust it.
“Commander?” ADVISR carefully interrupts. How long have I been sitting motionless at my desk? Hours? There’s just… so many angles to work through.
“Commander? What are your next orders?”
I look at the star map. Then, at the fleet statistics. Then, at the undefended planet Lyrae 80.
“You know what? The crew’s tired, we’ve taken three planets already, and I’m still not trusting any of this. I’m calling another shore leave. Let’s see if staying put for another year will tempt Vadim into overplaying his hand.”
I get up, and stretch my legs. Wow, I have been sitting still for a while. “Buddy, can you keep working on figuring out why Vadim’s fleet isn’t reacting? If he and Samatar really are planning something big, I’d rather know about it in advance.”
“Affirmative, Commander.” Then, after a brief silence. “And what if they’re not?”
I grin, more to myself than to ADVISR. “Then I guess this whole galactic conquest war thing is gonna end much earlier than planned.”