In the last episode of Jarenth Plays Starships, I rounded out my collection of Prior Pals just in time for two of them to wrap up their fusion dance. Samatar folded his United Collective into Vadim’s Galactic Union, creating a new and unprecedented combined faction which was… about as powerful as any of the other non-me factions currently on the board. About half as powerful as me. Not necessarily immediately dangerous, but respectable; a potential future contender to my throne, maybe, given enough time to grow and develop.
So obviously, I immediately hit them with the full force of my fleet.
I stopped short of capturing the Union’s new adopted home world of Lyrae 80, because… well, because it looked undefended, for all intents and purposes. And I didn’t trust it. Who leaves their most valuable planet wide open to attack? So, instead of blindly rushing into what could well be a trap, I decided to wait things out. Let Vadim and Samatar make their moves first, and see what happens. If they were waiting for me to fall for something, it’ll be hilarious to watch them get more and frustrated as I don’t bite. And if there really wasn’t anything going on, well… just because I didn’t roll over their home world then, doesn’t mean that I can’t do it now.
Cyber-Élodie’s Log. Galactic Date: 2135.3
I sit in front of the SS Dauntless’ tactical star map, watching Kavitha’s, Hutama’s, and Suzanne’s fleets flit around the galaxy, when proximity alarms start blaring.
“Commander,” ADVISR bings into view. “The Galactic Union battle fleet is en route to planet Leporis 38.”
“Yeah, I figured he’d make his move here. Finally.” I push back my chair, get up, and crack my robo-shoulders for no particular dramatic emphasis. “Well then, let’s see what it was they were keeping up their sleeves. Get the fleet into battle positions, and open hailing if they’re willing to respond.”
When Vadim finally deigns to make a viewscreen appearance, he… Listen, you guys get Vadim by now, right? He’s unhappy to see me, let’s leave it at that. He also looks like he hasn’t been sleeping well. I wonder why that could be, nudge nudge.
“Now, then, is the time of our glorious resurgence! At long last, we wi-”
I make a cutting-off motion with my hand, which surprisingly actually shuts him up. “Yeah, yeah, heard it all before. Just skip to the part where you show off whatever trick you’ve been saving.”
Confusion, indignation, and anger all dance a roundabout jig on Vadim’s face. Finally, he settles for the latter. “Trick? I do not know what you are playing at, Commander Élodie, but be assured that the Galactic Union has no need for trickery to win the day. It is through our strength, our acumen, and our passion for galactic unity that we will repel your unlawful presence here and now.”
“So…” I try as hard as I can to keep the disappointed confusion off my face. “When Lyrae 80 scanned as totally defenseless the other year, I should have taken that as…”
“As long as the brave citizens of the Galactic Union have righteous fire in their hearts, no planet of ours will ever be ‘defenseless’ against your tyranny!”
“Ah. Okay, I see. Well, I guess I have some good news and some bad news about that. The good news is, I was at Persei 85 earlier, and you’re totally right: those guys did fight to stop me ’til their last breath.”
Vadim beams with barely-disguised pride for a few moments, before realizing I wasn’t done talking yet. “And what about this bad news of yours?”
“Oh, haven’t you heard?” I tap on my star map, on Persei 85, which now displays the vibrant blue of the United Federation. “Turns out that wasn’t actually good enough.”
Vadim’s fleet arrives at Leporis 38 to find the absolute toughest United Federation fleet the galaxy has ever seen.
And while Vadim’s fleet isn’t necessarily unimpressive, it’s…
And as a result, the battle is…
I’m sorry, I really am: these ‘battle’ reports must be getting quite boring. The reality of the matter is that, at time of writing, I significantly overpower almost every other force on the galactic board. This is the snowballing nature of (Sid Meier’s) Starships: winning early battles and quickly nabbing a home world gets you more resources than anyone else, and all those resources are really good for is further enhancing your combat power. It’s a vicious cycle of technologies, Wonder production, and lasers zipping through the cosmos, and I genuinely can’t see how this could have gone any other way.
The battle ends, as before, in a near-perfect victory. Vadim’s fleet scurries back to whatever galactic hidey-hole they came from, and I can be confident in the idea that — whatever else may happen on my next set of outings — the Galactic Union battle fleet will likely be too busy licking its wounds to do much of anything about it.
Which means there’s only really one thing I can do, isn’t there?
“The fleet has been assembled and is ready for departure, Commander.”
“Good work, buddy.” I leaf through the strategic reports. Ever since ADVISR took over the day-to-day empire management responsibilities, it’s been much less of a hassle to just get up and slam. Food goes to the right cities, the fleet is kept up-to-date as much as possible, resource facilities are being constructed… our most recent technological advancements are in Ion Drive engine enhancements and more Quantum Suppression stealth systems. Funny: when I first gave the little guy free reign, I almost assumed he’d divert our Science output to more Artificial Intelligence research. An AI building a better AI, that’s how it goes, right? But either ADVISR’s patterns here are more influenced by my own than I thought, or my earlier considerations re: diminishing returns were basically accurate.
Only one report actually seems to call for my attention. “Hey, ADVISR? What’s this one all about?” I tap on the console in a futile gesture. “‘Supreme Empire Study Result: Reactive Armor’?”
“This report indicates the completion of our cataloging the technological remnants of the Supreme Galactic Empire. While no clear information regarding the hinted-at ‘bio-stasis’ system was ever found…”
Drat. There go those surprise party plans.
“…further incorporation of Harmony science and design principles into our own technology has yielded a number of tactically interesting results.”
“Oh?” I perk up. “You mean like those self-repairing starship systems Suzanne has?”
“Similar to that, although not identical. Reactive Armor is actually the culmination of the ‘Tight Squeeze’ and ‘Cloaking’ study tracks. By combining adaptive bio-mechanical craft plating with hypersensitive neuro-electrical disturbance sensors, it has proven potentially possible to create starship armor that dynamically adjusts shape and angle in response to localized kinetic high-pressure events.”
“ADVISR, remember when we had that talk about summarizing earlier? Why don’t you try some of that, right now.”
“Affirmative, Commander.” *whirr* “Reactive Armor is starship armor that is immune to torpedo damage.”
I scroll my map over to Rejinaldo’s former domain. “So. I take it we’d need more Xenomass for this?”
“Affirmative, Commander. And seeing as though the supplies of planets Librae 65 and Corona 61 are already tapped to capacity, this has left planet Scorpii 70 as the principal eligible candidate.”
I nod. “As I thought.”
“And given that this report is…” I check the date. “…almost a month old, can I assume you’ve already taken the liberty of having the new armors installed on our fleet?”
“Good man.” I smile to myself. Every empire needs an assistant like this. “Let’s go give it a test ride, then.”
In the last dozen minutes before the battle fleet reaches Lyrae 80, I find myself pacing and fidgeting in the SS Dauntless’ command room. I can’t help it, it’s a nervous habit. I know there’s no trap waiting for me right now, I do, but…
“Why aren’t they defending it?” I’m muttering, now, to myself and to the ever-present ADVISR. “It just makes so little sense. We’re about to wipe them off the map, literally almost. Why won’t they show up?”
“Actually, Commander,” ADVISR is finally kind enough to interject, “tactical analysis has revealed one simple factor that may serve to explain this behaviour.”
“Well? Spit it out, then.”
“They can’t reach us.”
“…huh?” I plop down on a nearby chair. “I don’t…”
“If you look at the star map,” ADVISR starts, while helpfully bringing the segment up, “you’ll notice that the last known location of the Galactic Union battle fleet is around here.” A single ping beeps in an off-path asteroid field. “While we are currently here.” Ping at our current location. “And in order to get to us…” A line starts connecting both ping locations. “… the Galactic Union fleet would have to pass through United Federation-controlled territory. Here,” ping at Leporis, “and here,” ping at Pegasi.
“Aaaaaah.” Realization starts dawning. “And because we have sensor satellites in those areas…”
“…we would be warned of the fleet’s approach hours in advance. If not days.” ADVISR finishes my thought. “And this, in turn, would give us more than enough time to set up warp blockers and interdiction forces at every possible angle of approach.”
“So, they…” I stare at the map, intently. “It’s not that they don’t want to defend their planet, they just literally can’t get here in time?”
“Affirmative, Commander. Furthermore, it seems highly likely that if the Galactic Union fleet were to pass through United Federation-controlled space, Prime Minister Kozlov would not neglect the opportunity to force this planet into the Galactic Union. It actually stands to reason that these two reasons may have underpinned their earlier attack on Leporis 38.”
“Wow.” I steeple my fingers for a bit. “So we’re literally blocking off their only avenue of helping their own besieged home world?”
“Now I don’t know whether to be disappointed at the lack of a proper fight, or to cackle maniacally at my inadvertent evil genius. Is there some way to cackle disappointedly?”
“Unknown, Commander. Do you wish to authorize research into this area?”
“Yes, ADVISR. Yes, I do.”
I’d like to say that Lyrae 80 was completely undefended when we arrived. But for all Vadim’s usual hot air and bluster, he actually undersold the defensive conviction of his citizens a little.
“Let’s see…” I plink at the tactical map, zooming in on the tiny craft one by one. “That’s one fighter craft, two Megabots, and… is that a sloop? ADVISR, come check this out for a second.”
*bing* *whirr* “Analysis confirms that this vessel is, in fact, a re-purposed stellar construction sloop, Commander. It has actually been fitted with an impressive set of starship modules, including a level-5 engine and a level-4 plasma cannon. It would not be inaccurate to claim that this vessel is the most powerful enemy combatant currently present.”
“Does that mean we actually have to worry about it?”
Of course I pulverize this pitiful defense force in a single attack turn. Of course. I actually feel a little bad about taking a home world with this little fanfare. Doesn’t really scratch the itch, you know what I’m saying? But still, all’s well that ends well: Samatar’s impressive former home is now another trophy in my celestial gallery.
And after Lyrae, we immediately move on to the adjacent Sagittae 87. Which, as a smaller, non-home world planet, is… actually quite harder to conquer than Lyrae was.
Yeah, I’m surprised as well! It turns out that Sagittae’s citizens are actually better engineers than Lyrae’s, and their fighters are supplemented with upgraded Megabots called ‘Defense’. Nothing after that, just ‘Defense’. Again, though, their module layouts are nothing to scoff at: high level armor and lasers make them non-insignificant threats.
What’s more, the asteroid fields around Sagittae are actually pretty tough to navigate. While my fighters can burn through no problem, of course, it takes my capital ships a few turns to work their way through the maze. The Defense bots make full use of this opportunity, pelting my advance fighters with heavy laser fire.
Still, though. They try, god bless ’em, they try. But at the end of the day, was there ever any doubt?
A four-turn defense is impressive, I’m more than willing to admit this. But at the end of the day, Sagittae 87 falls to the United Federation advance just as surely and steadily as any other planet. Another segment of my star map turns a pretty blue colour, and I’m happy to learn that Sagittae is apparently a Metal-producing powerhouse of the highest degree. If I ever need any more Wonders built…
And with that, quietly and ignominiously, the last full Galactic Union planet is Galactic Union no more.
“So that’s it, then? Looks like we took their last planet. Is this the long-awaited end of Vadim Kozlov?” The enhanced star map blanketing the SS Dauntless’ command room certainly seems to indicate this: I’ve looked and I’ve looked, but there are just no more red planet borders anywhere in this region of space.”
“Affirmative, Commander. No significant Galactic Union presence detected in this region of space. Scanning sector now… scanning…”
The star map pings, loudly. “What’s that, buddy? What did you find?”
“Significant Galactic Union presence detected on planet Columbae 43. 50% of planet’s population supports the United Federation, but 50% supports the Galactic Union. This appears to be the only meaningful Galactic Union stronghold remaining.”
Poor Vadim. I’d summon some pity for his rock-bottom fall if my empathy glands weren’t in the shop. I settle for emulating the sound of the world’s smallest violin.
“In addition,” ADVISR continues, “news reports from Columbae 43 indicate that the planet is in some sort of minor uprising. Galactic Union supporters and United Federation supporters are contesting one another for the planet’s political alignment. Several warships have also been sighted in the area; intelligence suggests they may be Union-aligned.”
“Alright then.” I sit in my fancy captain’s chair. “Take us there, then. Let’s wrap this up.”
I arrive at Columbae 43 to find the planet more or less in exactly the agitated state ADVISR reported on. Before I can even focus on that, though, an urgent incoming communications request takes the spotlight. It’s marked ‘TO ‘COMMANDER’ ÉLODIE, SCOURGE OF HUMANITY’S PURITY’, which I think is catchy.
“ADVISR, what’s the source?”
“Scanning… two capital-class warships are in orbit opposite the planet from us. They are moving on an impulse intercept course.”
“Alright. Patch it through, then.”
Not one, but two faces appear this time, each in their own little view-square. One screen shows a man, of clear Slavic descent, with a head of short black hair. The other, a similarly-built man with longer brown locks. Well, I say ‘man’, but both of them honestly look like teenagers. I open my mouth to say something, then notice the blinking ‘broadcast’ icon in the corner. Apparently, what’s going to be said here is important enough that the whole planet needs to see it. Let’s let them make the first move, in that case.
“Commander Élodie,” the black-haired man sneers, and I make a mental note to destroy him first if it gets to that. “At last, you arrive. Late even to the occasion of your own humiliation.”
I raise a single eyebrow. “I’m sorry, I don’t believe we’ve met. And you are?…”
“Our names are not important!” Brown-hair pipes in. “You will know us only as the hands that hold the Union’s hidden blade!” This earns him a dirty sideways glance from Black-hair’s screen, confirming to me that a) they can see each other as well, and b) he wanted to be the one to do the dramatic reveal.
“So, does that mean Vadim sent you?”
Black-hair sighs. “Yes, you are correct. But not in the manner you think! Prime Minister Kozlov has officially disbanded the Galactic Union battle fleet. But in its place, he has given us means, direction, and purpose! ‘If we cannot defeat the United Federation from without,’ he has told us, ‘we must defeat it from within’.”
“Exactly!” Brown-hair continues again. “So from now on, Commander Élodie, wherever you go, we will be there first. We will be a thousand bleeding cuts from the shadows. We will trail your every step and sabotage your every plan! We will whittle down your empire until naught but a stump remains!”
“So wait,” I cut both of them off before they go into full Vadim-rant mode. “You guys are gonna try to shadow-warfare me… and your first move is to harass the one planet that’s still sort of on your side? Openly, even?” I shake my head. “Because I’m pretty sure that puts you zero for two on that whole goal thing.”
“Ah!” Black-hair beams. “That’s where you are wrong. We are not here for such base goals as open warfare, you see! We are here to challenge you… to a duel!”
“A duel.” My face couldn’t be flatter if I tried.
“That’s right,” Black-hair continues, “a duel! Our two ships versus your two best ships, in single combat. To the death!”
“And…” I make some vague shrugging motions, hoping to get the point across.
“If you accept, and fight us fairly, our tactical acumen will be your destruction.” Brown-hair gloats. “And if you reject, and employ your grand fleet, your cowardice will be on display for all to see! Either way, the Union will be the victor this day.”
“I…” I sit in silence for a moment, trying to find a way of getting across my utter incredulity. Finally, I just sigh. “Okay, you know what? You guys got yourself a deal. Your two ships versus my SS Dauntless and SS Formidable. Our orbital paths intersect in five minutes. That acceptable to you?”
“Your destruction at our hands will be swift.” I didn’t even catch who exactly said that.
I let out an audible whistle as the two ships come into sensor range. “Wow. Those are actually some pretty impressive ships you guys got there. Didn’t you say Vadim disbanded the fleet? How’d you nickel-and-dime those things together?”
“I’m glad you asked!” Black-hair begins. “You see, it took a not-inconsiderable amount of ingenu-”
And then his screen cuts to static.
Brown-hair snaps his head to the side immediately. Stares at the screen for three seconds, four, five. Then, slowly, turns back to face me. “What… what did you do?”
I shrug. “I sent a fighter wing to blow his ship up while he was talking. What did you think?”
“But… but…” Brown-hair’s teetering on the edge of righteous fury and old-fashioned shell-shock. “But that’s not…”
“Fair?” I finish his sentence. “Kid, you two challenged me to a death duel. If you think fairness had a place here, you ought to be grateful for the free lesson.”
“Besides,” I shrug again, “I wouldn’t be surprised if your pal got on an escape pod or something. I know your kind, you’re just like pests. Lord knows I tried blowing up Vadim like five times and it didn’t take.”
“But…” Brown-hair’s stammer is getting worse by the second. “But you didn’t even give him any time to get to a pod! You didn’t give him any warning!”
“I guess you’re right. That was pretty mean. But hey, at least I’m giving you some warning.”
“What do you mea-” Brown-hair starts, before realization creeps into his face.
With the glare of the second explosion fading fast, I turn my full gaze to the still-running broadcast.
“This is Commander Élodie of the United Federation. I’ve been informed there was some unclarity about this particular planet’s political alignment. Any more Galactic Union supporters would like to come up to discuss this with me?”
The deafening comms silence that follows on this speaks volumes. “That’s what I thought. Welcome to the United Federation.”
The aftermath of the ‘celebration’ involves an unexpected amount of tactical reports.
“Commander?” ADVISR disturbs my quiet equilibrium. “Are you alright? Sensors indicate you have been reading for almost ten hours now. Perhaps you should get some rest.”
“I will, I will, don’t worry.” I wave my hands. “It’s just that…”
I swivel my chair to face my large star map. Almost half of it is blue.
“We’re almost done, aren’t we?”
“Affirmative, Commander.” Somehow, hearing it out loud is… strange. “The United Federation currently encompasses 43% of the population of this galactic sector. Once the population count exceeds 50%, democratically speaking, we would be ‘in control’. While analysis is inconclusive, it makes sense that in the event of this happening, the Second Galactic Alliance and the Communal Collective would cede to your authority.”
“And then we would have won, huh. Yeah… thanks, buddy. I’ll go to sleep soon, don’t worry.”
ADVISR’s holographic presence winks out of view. And I get up, walk to the star map, and consciously try not to stare to the small blotch of orange planets in the corner.
We’ll win if I do it. We’ll win, so I have to do it. But then why am I dreading the prospect so much?