In the last episode of Jarenth Plays Starships, I finally, totally, completely defeated Vadim Kozlov and his Galactic Union. I conquered planet after planet, one after the next, until nobody but the most foolhardy would dare even declare their allegiance to that doomed Purity crusade. And then I found the one planet that had a bunch of those foolhardy braggarts, and I smacked the upstart right out of them.
Now, with the taints of red and brown finally scoured from the galactic map, the ranting voice of Vadim Kozlov has finally fled my precious airwaves. His fleet has disbanded, on his orders, to become independent raiding parties… reasoning that if all his ships combined couldn’t make a dent in my power, splitting them up into tiny groups might be more effective? I wouldn’t be able to guess at the reasoning, to be honest. But whatever the reason, whatever the case, the last of the great non-Supremacy power blocs has finally fallen.
And as for me? Well, I’m doing alright. I’m doing very alright, if you’ll permit me a little brag. In fact, according to all power metrics, I can’t be more than one turn away from total galactic victory. And I’m sure I will reach total galactic victory, sooner or later, if I just keep conquering enemy planets…
…assuming I can build up the conviction to do so.
Cyber-Élodie’s Log. Galactic Date: 2157.2
I pace the command room of the SS Dauntless. I pace when I’m nervous, have you noticed? I’m not entirely certain why, myself. Even though almost everything related to my locomotion is artificial, I guess there’s still something intrinsic to the soothing value of walking. Pendulum for the mind. Who said that again?
I interrupt my pacing every now and again to stare at the star map. It doesn’t change, of course. Not on this time scale. Most of it, the larger top right corner and a big chunk of the center, is a soothing United Federation blue. Mine. Kavitha’s green and Hutama’s yellow occupy the lower left and the upper left, respectively. And tucked away in the lower right corner, no more than four planets large, is the distinct orange of Suzanne Fielding’s Eternal Kingdom.
I sigh. “Are you absolutely certain about this?”
“Affirmative, Commander,” ADVISR chimes in, visualizing in a corner of the room with that ever-recognizable *bing*. “Conquering the planets currently associated with the Eternal Kingdom will boost the United Federation’s global population to include over 50% of the galaxy’s total. When this happens, democratic mandate can be invoked, effectively setting up the United Federation as ‘ruling party’ over this galactic sector. Analysis predicts that, at this point, any remaining non-Federation-affiliated planets will face increasing popular pressure to join up with the Federation. It seems unlikely that even the larger Second Galactic Alliance and Communal Collective governments will be willing to oppose these popular demands for long.” And, after a possibly-meaningful pause: “Particularly with the threat of the United Federation battle fleet still very much present.”
“So we conquer enough people to become the de facto democratic government, and then we bully everyone else into joining?” I can’t help but crack a smile at that.
“And all I have to do to get there…” I mutter to myself, as I turn to face the star map again, “…is attack the one person I actually kind of like.”
The commands to start the invasion are all queued into the fleet operation system, too. With the mere push of a single button, I could order the United Federation battle fleet to warp to Crucis 55, Suzanne’s home world… starting another war of invasion with an unmistakable bang. All I have to do is push this command button. My finger hovers over it, like a mechanical viper. Poised to strike.
And I find I can’t do it. I just can’t do it! Not even because I like Suzanne and all that jazz, though that’s definitely a factor. But I can’t do this because it’s wrong! Suzanne isn’t a threat to me! There’s nothing her Eternal Kingdom could do to even slow the United Federation down. And because I know this, I can’t feel right about this attack. The United Federation has always punched up, inasfar as we could: always attacked the biggest, loudest power on the block. None of this ‘stealing power from the weak’ nonsense: even back on Terra Atlantea, we’ve always been about taking power from the strong.
Aah, it’s so frustrating! I know I could get her to join me, too. If only the civilization she’s gotten herself mired in weren’t all such a bunch of sticks in the mud. Or if they were at least rooting for the right team, if nothing else. I mean, for all the flak I give her, I have to admit that Kha-
And then, all of a sudden, the solution to all my problems unfolds itself before my mind’s eye. My hesitance at attacking weaker targets, my desire to have everyone supremely get along, my cruisin’ for a good battle. I can solve all of my worries in a single, beautiful masterstroke. It’s so glorious, I’m tempted to call it divine inspiration. I know what I want to do today.
I speed-dial Suzanne’s personal frequency before frantically hammering away at new fleet coordinates. Her half-asleep visage appearing on the viewscreen a few minutes later actually causes me to giggle: finally, I’m not the one getting woken up!
“Behold, unbelievers,” Suzanne starts, groggily. “Hail the almighty credit. Why do you seek audience with…” She blinks once, then twice, then notices me and clears her face proper. “Oh hey, Élodie.”
The laugh I return this time around is completely genuine. “Hey Suzanne. Nice catchphrase.”
Suzanne smiles groggily. “You like it? I’ve been making some progress the last year. Make the place feel a little more like home, you know what I’m saying?”
The smile sobers up a little. “Anyway, to what do I owe the pleasure? Social call? Or is this when you tell me you’re finally conquering me?”
“It’s neither, actually. Suzanne, I’m calling because I have a little proposition for you.”
Suzanne perks up. That gets her attention. “Oh? Well, tell me!”
“Alright. It’s basically…” I pause for a moment, trying to find the right words. “How do you think your church would feel towards converting?”
Ring ring, ring ring. Ring ring, ring ring. If I live to be a thousand, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of this ringtone. And I will live to be a thousand. I might get it hardcoded in my DNA sometime.
Kavitha’s face fades into view, her face the same disarming fount of happiness it’s been since we first met. “Salutations, Élodie! To what do I owe the…”
Kavitha’s eyes drift off-camera. The rest of her head follows suit quickly. Looking at the nearest console, I assume, that tells her of the incoming battle fleet signatures headed straight for Bootis 64. Kavitha takes in the information rapidly, her eyes scanning with speeds only cybernetic eyes can provide, and she…
Wait, hold on a second. Is she smiling?
Kavitha turns back to face me, a broad grin plastered on her face. “Ah, marvelous! It is finally the time of you and I. Providence smiles on this destiny’s hour, Élodie.”
“I, er…” I’ll admit, that reaction takes me aback a little bit. “…are you… are you happy about this?”
“Of course I am happy about this! The moment of our final confrontation has finally arrived. And with such a marvelous show of conviction, too! And to think, I almost thought you had lost your nerve.”
“Ah, I see. That really does explain quite nothing at all.”
“Oh, Élodie.” Kavitha chuckles. “How else did you think our differences would ever be resolved? Surely you did not think that we would accede to anything less? That we would be cowed by the size of your Federation, or the prowess of your empire’s design, and simply give up without a fight?”
“Ah, haha, no.” I say uncomfortably, making a mental note to scold ADVISR later. “Of course not!”
Kavitha’s face grows a shade more serious. “Élodie, the key to our shared destiny has always lain in the name we chose for ourselves. We are Supremacy. Supremacy.” she draws the repeated word out. “We have always done all what was necessary, embraced every technology and carried out every difficult task, all to ensure the lasting supremacy of the human race.”
I nod, silently. I mean, she’s basically right on this count.
“But Supremacy was never a monolith,” Kavitha continues. “While our paths intertwine in many ways, in equally many ways, your choices and my choices are diametrically opposed. And if our end goal is to be the most supreme, then that can only mean that one of our paths is better than the other.”
“And what better way to determine the fitness of our relative paths, than by…” She gestures to the off-screen console that I know holds my fleet information.
“…by fighting over it?” I chance a completion?
“Wait, what, though. What about you and Hutama? I don’t see the two of you fighting about who gets to be top dog. Did that never come up back when you convinced him to join up?”
Kavitha raises one eyebrow, then chuckles again. “Is that what he told you? That I ‘convinced’ him? Maybe, after this fight is over, you can ask him to tell you just how it was that I ‘convinced’ him.”
I choke back a fit of laughter as Kavitha winks at me.
“Alright, so,” I start, once I regain my composure. “How do you see this going down, then? You’ve obviously thought more about it than I have.”
Kavitha smiles broadly. “And yet, you have reached the best conclusion over it! For you to attack me here, at the seat of my power, shows the amazing strength of your convictions. And should you manage to defeat me here, where I am at my absolute strongest, it will prove without the shadow of a doubt that your way is the way of Providence.” She bats her eyebrows briefly. “And if that is how it happens, then we will follow you.”
“And what if I don’t beat you?”
“Well, if you do not defeat me today,” and suddenly much of the earlier warmth drains from Kavitha’s face, “then this will have shown that your way is not the optimal one. In that case, I will have no choice but to challenge your beliefs more directly. I do not expect you to give up your plans after one single defeat. But be assured that you will find me a much more active opponent, in this case.”
Kavitha cocks an eyebrow. “Why do you ask? Does the possibility of your loss weigh on your mind?”
As before, I can feel my grin grow downright predatory. “Oh, no, no. I was just curious, is all. Don’t you spend time worrying about the ‘strength of my convictions’, missy. Or you might force me to conclusively demonstrate just how sure I am that I can bring you down.”
The grin that answers me is that of wolf versus wolf. “Then show me your best shot.”
From my cozy chair on the SS Dauntless’ command bridge, I watch the final warp time tick by. Two more minutes before we reach Bootis 64. And then…
“ADVISR?” *bing* “One last systems check, buddy. You took care of everything before we left?”
“Affirmative, Commander. Research into Artificial Intelligence has been advanced to the highest reachable state. And Energy supplies have been used to upgrade all relevant ship modules to optimal levels of efficiency. All four ships are now optimally suited to their respective roles.”
“Good, good. Then I guess we’ve done all the prep we can do.”
I swivel my chair to face the main view screen. Ten, nine, eight, seven, six…
“Let’s hope it was enough.”
The warp-smeared stars make way for Bootis 64, as the United Federation battle fleet drops out of warp mere clicks away. And orbiting Bootis 64, I can see…
“Wow.” I actually let out a low whistle. “That is a lot of battle ships.”
For the very first time since planning out this attack, I notice myself feeling a tiny pang of fear. “Hey, ADVISR? Are you sure we can win this? Because I’m-”
Proximity alarms start blaring. “Commander! The Second Galactic Alliance battle fleet is moving towards us. Incoming projectile detected.”
Alright, then. I guess there’s no time left for second-guessing. I bring up the tactical map display, then crack my knuckles — for dramatic effect, yes — as telemetry data starts filtering in. “What is it? What’ve we got coming, buddy?”
“Oh, is that it?” I relax the shoulders I didn’t even know I was clenching. “You’re making a big deal over one torpedo? And shouldn’t our Reactive Armor protect us from that, anyway?”
“Affirmative, Commander.” *whirr* “Threat level thresholds recalibrated. Expected fleet danger levels: currently zero. How would you like to proceed?”
I study the tactical map. Hmm… “First things first, I guess. I admire that forward ship’s moxie, but it’s also horribly out of position right now. Let’s send Courageous to show everyone why formation is important.”
“And just because we’re immune to torpedo fire doesn’t mean they are.” I tap the screen one, twice. “Fire torpedoes here, along this vector, and here. And send some fighter squadrons in a wide berth, to…”
I pause for a moment, and re-check the map. “Actually, our fighters have Reactive Armor too, don’t they? No need to keep them out of torpedo’s way either. Just send them straight forward. That ought to mess with Kavitha’s ideas for a bit.”
“Affirmative, Commander.” *whirr* “Torpedoes launched. Fighters deployed.”
To nobody’s particular surprise, three of the four fighter wings I sent straight into the enemy fleet do not survive the ensuing laser punch-up. And while that result is certainly better than having one of my capital ships shot to hell, I’m still getting a little worried. The fighters did some damage, sure, but normally I’d have at least two or three confirmed kills at this point. But Kavitha’s fleet is tough, real tough: the second one of her Fast Cruisers can actually survive a head-on SS Courageous attack.
Still… with the high hit point levels all of Kavitha’s ships present, there’s really no taking them down quickly. Well, unless I get lucky with torpedoes. But Kavitha’s fleet AI isn’t dumb either: all of her ships have skedaddled over to the other side of Bootis 64, leaving my two flying torpedoes so much intergalactic fireworks. If only there was some way to get torpedoes to… to detonate… immediately…
I stare at the map. Rotate it, zoom in, stare again. Yeah, see, right there. Could this work? Everything I know about torpedoes tells me that it should work, but… I don’t know. Will it work?
“ADVISR.” *bing* “Have SS Courageous fire its second torpedo…” I tap the screen a few times. “…here. Along this exact vector.”
“Are you sure, Commander? At that vector, it is almost inevitable that the torpedo will…” ADVISR falls silent for a moment. Then: “Affirmative, Commander. Torpedo fired.”
See, one peculiar thing about torpedoes is — and I don’t think I’ve actually ever explained this before — that they can interact with some stellar objects. Planets, in particular. Torpedoes normally follow a linear path, you see, but when they get too close to planets, they can actually get caught in the planetary gravity well. This arcs their path along predictable lines, and can actually result in the torpedo impacting the planet.
And for some reason, when a torpedo impacts a planet… all the normal rules regarding arming times and flight paths get thrown out the window. A torpedo hits a planet, and that torpedo explodes. And when I say ‘explodes’, I mean it explodes.
As the dust settles, the empty space right outside Bootis 64 than used to play host to two of Kavitha’s ships speaks to the effectiveness of my plan. I actually pump my fist in the air. “Yes!” Then, settle it down, as I briefly consider the implications. I mean, I hope the planetary side of that enormous torpedo explosion didn’t cause too many civilian casualties or whatever. But then again, with any luck, they’ll name the impact crater after me.
With two of Kavitha’s stronger ships swept off the board in an instant, and my supply of fighters still nigh-unlimited — SS Formidable in particular can release two fighters per turn for the next three turns — the battle quickly swings in my favour. A renewed swarm of torpedoes pins the remains of the Second Galactic Alliance battle fleet behind Bootis 64, cowering from the barrage of instant-death super missiles, as my fighters swarm in to pick them off with impunity.
And once my capital ships make it into operational range, the battle genuinely, truly ends. SS Courageous scores the well-deserved final blows, dealing more damage in its last two attacks than the whole of Kavitha’s fleet has dealt throughout the fight.
In the aftermath of the battle, it is Kavitha who first seeks out contact with me. She appears on the viewscreen together with Hutama, the two of them sharing a space on her command ship. I find Hutama’s expression difficult to read: it teeters between contented and grim, shifting almost imperceptibly between one and the other. At a guess, I’d say he’s glad that the long struggle for domination is finally over… but he would’ve preferred a different outcome, maybe.
Kavitha’s expression, on the other hand, is as easy to read as Hutama’s is enigmatic. I’m not even surprised anymore to see her smiling broadly.
“Ah! Élodie, that was magnificent. You are clearly the victor today. Your tactics, your technology, your dedication… truly, Providence has spoken: it is your path of Supremacy that will see humanity into a galactic golden age.”
Kavitha turns to look at Hutama. He nods, curtly. She turns back to me.
“And from now on, we will follow that path. Your path.” She bats her eyes, but her smile remains broad. “Commander.”
I try my hardest not to slump into my chair as over a hundred galactic years of tension drain out of me. Man, it feels good to hear that. It takes all of my much-vaunted ‘dedication’ to curtly nod in their direction. Commander. I may never get used to this.
If Kavitha notices my silent elation, she doesn’t it. “And with the great unification complete, soon, all in this galactic sector will fly the banner of Supremacy. Only the Eternal Kingdom remains in opposition…”
“But now that we’re of one direction,” Hutama takes over, “we’ll have that little Purity outpost squashed and assimilated before the end of the month.” Something in his predatory grin unsettles me; he reminds me, I’m startled to realize, entirely too much of myself.
“Actually,” I start, “I have something of a different idea of how to deal with the Eternal Kingdom.” That statement gets their attention, if the two confused looks I’m shot are any indication. “I think I know how to resolve this whole thing with a minimum of bloodshed, even.”
Hutama’s face slumps a little, but Kavitha starts beaming even more. Which is good, because I need her on-board for this to work. “Kavitha, correct me if I’m wrong: your society is basically built around your church of Providence, right?”
Nod nod. “Yes, Élo- I mean, yes, Commander. The church of Providence is the Second Galactic Alliance’s beating heart.” She catches herself, then continues: “And it will be whatever you wish it to be, in the United Federation.”
I nod. “Good, good. Here’s what I want you to do…”
But first, let’s wrap up one final Starships Mechanics lesson. Today’s topic: victory.
A normal game of Starships basically has four potential victory conditions. The first and most straightforward one is Domination Victory: be the only player left in the galaxy. The second, Population Victory, requires you to control over 50% of the total galactic population; you may have caught on that this was the one I was sort of shooting for. The third, Science Victory, involves researching three different technologies to their maximum level of six. Which is… honestly a pretty big investment, and not something that I think you can really reliably rush? But it serves as a neat unavoidable tie-breaker for smaller games, where military struggles can more quickly get deadlocked.
None of these are the victory I achieved, though.
My final Starships victory was of the fourth kind: the Wonder Victory. Perhaps the most inevitable of all the victories, the Wonder Victory requires you to hold seven galactic wonders at once. Whether built yourself or stolen from someone else, doesn’t matter. It’s a victory type that, particularly on larger maps, can just sort of creep up on you… and in my game, that’s actually exactly what happened. I was at six wonders when I launched my attack on Kavitha’s homeworld: Hyperlaunch, Dual Command, Tight Squeeze, Cloaking, Reactive Armor, and Glide Path. And Kavitha’s homeworld, Supremacy as she was, held yet another wonder: Torpedo Boosters, the last piece of my conquest puzzle.
So, what happens after you win? According to the short ending cutscene that plays immediately after pressing that Continue button, it’s this:
And so, within the year, a galactic referendum elects you ruler in eternum. Prosperity blooms throughout the galaxy, and there will follow a thousand years… of peace.
Of course, anyone who’s been reading along this far will immediately see that that is total horseshit. Galactic peace and prosperity, bah. No, here’s what really happens:
To my not inconsiderate surprise, Kavitha and Hutama actually end up keeping their word. The Second Galactic Alliance and the Communal Collective merge with the United Federation with an absolute minimum of fuss, and the new directives on how to operate and act — my directives — are disseminated within weeks. I still find myself distrusting Hutama a little bit, but that may just be residual paranoia from long, long ago. And Kavitha, for her part, never stops being genuinely overjoyed about the ‘Supreme destiny of Providence’ that we are apparently following.
The two of them are not the only ones to join the United Federation, however. No, it takes a long time and a lot of careful setup, but in the end…
It really helped my cause that Suzanne had already started ‘reforming’ the Eternal Kingdom. On her own, I think she could eventually have achieved some great things. But when I turn my attention back to that last non-blue corner of the galaxy, of course, she no longer is on her own. And given that Kavitha’s society was basically as much a theocracy as Suzanne’s was, a clever plan is set up to integrate the latter into the former.
It’s actually quite ingenious, if you don’t mind me ruffling my own feathers. We start by ‘seeding’ Crucis 55 with more advanced Supreme technology. Stealth ships drop low-level enhancements and upgrades in special drop pods, which flare and burn with celestial intensity as they make their way down. Suzanne, ever the actress, wastes no time in spinning these events as ‘signs from the sacred beyond’. And while resistance to using the ‘gifts’ is initially high, public opinion quickly shifts when they ‘prove their divine value’ in ‘defending the Eternal Kingdom from the encroaching heretics’.
See, before I took over, Suzanne was actually embroiled in a big war with Hutama and Kavitha both. A losing war, for reasons too obvious to name. But with the introduction of Supreme technology, the tides of battle quickly shift in the Eternal Kingdom’s favour… helped in no small part, of course, by my total control over one side’s combat prowess. Turns out it’s really easy to give one side of a fight the sensation of sudden divine power when you can literally turn off the fighters on the other side.
And, well, from there, it’s simply a matter of slowing ramping up the intensity over many decades. Low-level plasma weapons and body enhancements become advanced AI suites, total cyborg organ replacement, and global mental computer networks. And a dash of bio-engineering, too: Suzanne is adamant we work the good parts of Harmony into the new civilization we’re building, and — to my surprise — I find myself agreeing a little. Only the good parts, though.
And eventually, when the Eternal Kingdom is Supreme in everything but name, when erstwhile enemies are identical in lookout and outlook and in the fact they’re basically friggin’ robots, the final step of ‘converting’ the Eternal Kingdom to the church of Providence is easily made. Suzanne boldly leads the charge on this as well, embracing her new techo-organic look with a vigour I can’t imagine she’s faking. But then again, it is Suzanne we’re talking about.
And with that, the larger galactic sector is finally unified.
Well, not entirely unified. True to his word, and baffling all conventional wisdom, Vadim Kozlov and Samatar Jama Barre manage to remain a marauding thorn in my side. I honestly don’t understand where they even get their ships from. It’s never enough to topple me, obviously, but we nevertheless have to remain alert. They even race ahead of our expansion efforts, occasionally colonizing and fortifying habitable planets we didn’t even know existed. I’m genuinely worried they may have some kind of outside help, at this point. Because remember: Samatar’s scientists were trying to contact alien species…
And speaking of alien species: efforts to trace Rejinaldo’s final flight and new home are underway. As the decades pile up, though, I become increasingly anxious at what we’ll find. The path of Harmony was always the one most willing to shed all traces of intrinsic humanity, up to and including form. Would an isolated Harmony civilization, left alone for decades into centuries, be in any way recognizable as my former planet-mates? Only time will tell, I suppose.
And none of this is even taking into consideration other Seedings, of course. Who knows how far humanity has spread across the stars? What they’ve found, what they’ve done, how they’ve changed?
For now, the expansion efforts go slowly, but steadily. All known humanity has been subsumed into the Supreme Path of Providence — yeah, I know, the name just stuck. With tooth and with claw and with cybernetic power, we carve out an ever-widening part of the universe for ourselves. And while we can never know what lies beyond the next warp, behind the next star system, or in the darkness of celestial void… we’ll face whatever comes with a song in our heart, and a terrifying fleet of warships at our back.
Ain’t that right, buddy?
“Affirmative, Commander.” *bing*
— Fin —