The Story So Far: Six still stand in Neptune's Pride. Role-playing The Aspiration, my condition is terminal as northern super-power Veret invades. But with inevitability, stress recedes and I seek to leave the game with dignity. As a final protest against being used as a pawn in a proxy war, I plot against Starspackle's (Kent Sutherland) close comrade Switchbreak. But a brief discussion with Kent outside of the game makes me see people instead of players, the humanity and not the empires.
Wednesday, July 7. Day Fifteen.
And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high
I had ceased to be a player in the traditional sense. I was a people fleeing their home, refusing to kowtow to a bloated tyrant. I was an anarchist no longer fettered by the need to win or survive. I was a god damn wild card with teeth. Veret, bless his cotton socks, had released me from my torment, transforming The Aspiration from upstart theocracy into a biker gang of bishop-berserkers with nothing to lose. I had been killed only to become fearless and immortal.
Everything was different now. The sky was coloured awesome in my world.
I elected to thwart Veret for as long as I could. Even though he had a 700 ship-strong military I could only spy a third of these forces in home sector. I had to convince him to send more, to weaken the defence of his core stars... ready for his special Starspackle spanking. So my strategy was to pick off smaller fleets and reclaim stars where possible as Veret didn't have the forces to keep every stolen star well-defended. Welcome to guerilla warfare, Neptune's Pride style.
Starspackle tossed me double weapons upgrades, even though he was worried Veret might work out who was aiding The Aspiration. I replied to him:
I have failed this galaxy. Where we meant to bring Virtue, we have sown chaos.
The Union Mind is now integrated, undoing the genetic reprogramming committed against our species 300 years ago. Restored to what we once were. How disappointing we are departing for greener stars. But we leave whole.
Refugee North will turn and fight.
Refugee North, now a minor behemoth, was a ragtag group of refugees manning the guns and willing to die to ensure their species safe passage out of the galaxy. Refugee South, meanwhile, headed down through ex-Crossheart territory, towards to the edge of the galaxy... with a detour through a special place called kick-Switchbreak-in-the crotch. Two birds, one stone. Two chicks, one time.
Abacus Master finally responded to my calls for unity but said he was all but lost – but good luck anywho. I checked out his situation on the map. Four stars left. Yup, that thar is what we call doomed. So, I did what The Aspiration always did at a funeral and sent him the requiem.
I continued to explain to Emperor Veret of Ankaa our shared fictional history that I was writing on the hoof, just like those guys on Battlestar Galactica who painted themselves into a Deus Ex Machina corner. I discussed "that time on the bridge" during our youth when, get this, he killed his own father. And I went from this to point out that Veret hadn't really partnered with anyone in the galactic struggle, despite being offered opportunity. He was still alone and that made him more like me than Starspackle or Switchbreak:
In the pattern of the stars, a species sometimes sees their maker, sometimes sees wonder. And, other times, a species sees only possessions, an urge to imprint their own pattern upon the majesty of nature. These are the limitations of a monochromatic legion. You hate our species the most because you see yourself. Shattering the mirror will not change what you are.
Embrace Virtue, for it will surely embrace you. Celebrate our ascension, for we surely will.
I was Veret's target, his chosen victim, and he would not be dissuaded from that. Nevertheless, I continued to jab and harass him with backstory, my way of exerting some control over the game. He got the stars and the girls, I got the narrative. Deal.
I asked Switchbreak for additional technology too although I was pretty sure I'd have to pay for it. I also suggested he never mention to Veret the "shortness" of Veret's tail, or ask what happened at the bridge. Reverse psychology alert. I hoped Starspackle and Switchbreak would bring these things up, and let Veret know exactly how much fictional shit-talking I was doing at his expense. I don't think they ever did, though.
But Refugee North was also closing on our old nemesis, the MCU Jennifer Hale, who was prowling around homespace. Neptune's Pride told me she had 11 victories to her name. I wanted to end that run. There would be no twelfth, darling. I was going to savour this moment and possibly toast the Hale's demise with a glass of wine.
Whilst Veret might have felt like he had control, my mission was to upset not just his apple cart but his orange cart and mango cart. I was fruity violence incarnate.
I felt a strange camaraderie with the other players, underdogs facing a threat to all our civilisations - a brutal dictator for whom diplomacy was just a cover for invasion. This was the legacy of my conversation with Kent the previous evening. After being paranoid about every move for two weeks, it was a wonderful about face.
Thursday, July 8. Day Sixteen.
Oh, Your daddy's rich
And your mamma's good lookin'
So hush little baby
Don't you cry
Happiness arrived in the form of an upgrade sent by Switchbreak, saving a fleet in the process. It seemed perverse, cruel and also amusing that I would be using the same tech to blow a small hole in Switchbreak's space very soon.
The Aspiration told central empire Baron Copernicus (Miles Newton) the time to rise up against Switchbreak was almost here.
[preparations] for assault against the Switchbreak Foundation almost complete. Our swords drawn: we will share our culture into their wounds, we will fell their border.
Within 24 hours, we will launch assault. We do not need you to ascend gracefully; we offer you the opportunity to choose your method of ascension.
Without choice, then why are any of us here?
I'd got the impression that Baron had done little during the game since the first days of stepping out onto open, unblemished space soil, choosing to defend rather than attack much like Crossheart. I wanted to offer Baron a chance to vandalise the galactic map with his colour and name, with the final question here being a deliberate attempt to prompt him into action. Carpe diem!
But this day delivered both joy and tragedy.
First, look upon the majesty of this beautiful vista and weep.
Veret's forces were fleeing from Refugee North which had set about vacuuming the floor of home sector, turning red back to green. I might not have bagged the MCU Jennifer Hale in the end but this was punch-the-air euphoric. Temporary but still euphoric. As Mira Furlan once said: If you value your lives, be somewhere else.
As for the tragedy, well, it was too late for Baron. A jagged maw of yellow and purple teeth snapped shut on the Autocracy of Copernicus, swallowing Baron whole. I tossed Baron a lifebuoy in the form of tech upgrades but his game was done. Baron sent me everything he had left then departed this virtual coil, with only The Aspiration's requiem to keep him company.
And then there were four. This raised the question of whether I really wanted to run at Switchbreak alone. It no longer held the same attraction and, in contrast, I was having so much fun trying to run rings around Veret - it was too much fun to quit now. To Starspackle:
Refugee North is a shadow of its former self. Options shrink. I/We are joyous at providing Ankaa with a rout, temporary but warm, like dying embers... tell us: choose your victim, veret or switchbreak.... I/We will dribble poison into their mouths, unexpected and unforgiving, their backs turned to Virtue, a cultural exchange worth a chorus of screams
Starspackle responded. He trusted Switchbreak, who he had been working with for most of the game on the Abacus Master front line. The decision was simple. Switchbreak was safe.
Now losing in Neptune's Pride is like being a spider whose legs are torn off one after another by some cruel infant. I didn't rejoice at the idea that Veret might have to share this experience as the tide turned against him. And so The Aspiration forgave Emperor Veret, with the patricide playing the role of Neptune's Pride in an overwrought metaphor.
up on the hill, beside the whistling nursery field outside the Ankaa capital
I/We talked with you about what had been done
remember you spoke calmly and casually
it was what mother would have wanted
it was what mother would have wanted
And I/We forgive you for what you do this day
channel your fear and rage
bring a new day
if you can
Despite this sudden outbreak of group hug tenderness, I was determined to keep Veret's balls juggling in the air, so that we could crush them and make him a eunuch once Starspackle was ready. As Veret streamed more reinforcements into my old home sector to kick some ass I retaliated with now freed-up fleet reinforcements from Crossheart space. For Seance and For Facewizard were committed.
A later mail to Veret confirmed our determination to puncture his tyres and smash his windscreen. I copied him the lyrics of Summertime, the lullaby from musical Porgy and Bess. The Aspiration claimed they had picked it up on a transmission from the galaxy they were headed for: Those who have stayed behind, who have stayed to plunge our scimitar of cultural exchange into the flesh of your fleets, are singing it as they stride into peacemaking activities around Azelfafage. We see your dirty prints on our sands, but I/We still sing! In harmony! Against discordance!
But this guerilla strategy was getting harder and harder to maintain. Veret's speed was a serious concern again and trying to plot courses that he could not outrun was causing Type VII Brainache. The stress began to creep back, the anxiety that he could end my anarchy during a period of slumber. No, no, no... hadn't I let go already? Why did I feel like this again?
I urged Starspackle to hurry as the Nomads of The Aspiration wouldn't be able to hold out much longer. Time was running out for Refugee North, slowly bleeding to death. With new fleets from Veret of strengths 130 and 90 inbound, it was difficult to see this fleet doing much more without refreshments.
At earliest opportunity. Now difficult to avoid being forced into attack, as enemy can outrun Me/Us. 200 new ships inbound. Will eliminate, but possibly our final action. My/Our people will not be able to hold out much longer. The Refugee South now approaches Merak.
Friday, July 9. Day Seventeen.
One of these mornings
You're going to rise up singing
Then you'll spread your wings
And you'll take to the sky
Veret's ships swung into home sector and Starspackle had still not delivered extra weapons or speed, possibly out of paranoia that Veret would pick up on his duplicity. As a result, it was impossible to get one step ahead. The night had witnessed internecine struggles that could be declared as neither failure nor success.
One little gift to fall out of the piñata of war was a new opportunity to blow the mighty MCU Jennifer Hale to smithereens, which currently had one, just one tiny ship left to her name after crushing one of my fleets.
At 6am, I sent every fleet practicable across the southern belt after her. Screw the bigger game plan, this was the Hale, the very definition of symbolic victory, something to rally the singing paladins of The Aspiration. There was a good chance she might get away but this was not something I had a choice about. It was the bloody Hale. I couldn't let her get away from me this time.
When I returned home twelve hours later, I couldn't find the MCU Jennifer Hale anywhere. Was she destroyed? Had we killed her? To Veret:
**** The Aspiration ponders the location of the MCU Jennifer Hale and her captain, Doman Albara zen Minelava. ****
**** I/We pray nothing untoward might have happened to the Hale. ****
**** Maybe I/We pray. Maybe I/We do not. ****
I/We sprinkle our home sector with dust to make your many eyes sting. Our cultural exchanges continue until we are done.
It turned out that Starspackle came in with speed and weapons at just the right time, greasing things quite nicely. HA. Take that you bastard.
But Veret couldn't let a great role-play asset like the Hale be put out to pasture that easily. Just as I was reaching for the wine, the captain of the MCU Ellen McLain transmitted: Captain Albara's remains have been recovered and returned to Minelava for appraisal and reanimation; he is one of our most decorated officers, so I have no doubt that you will once again encounter Captain Albara and the Hale in front-line combat. If you live long enough.
Once again, though, hand-in-hand with good news was sad news. My closest companion since Tuesday, Refugee North, fell to enemy forces. Veret was able to send a fleet ahead of Refugee North – the kind of speed-war scenario I had been panicking about – and the fleet did not survive its arrival at an otherwise harmless destination.
There was a growing sense that my time was up. Veret had been making advances and I had been haemorrhaging ships. This was my mission, of course, to fight until the bitter end so that others might turn back Veret's forces of darkness.
Then, looking across to the east, Switchbreak was building up forces. Why? For what? Switchbreak hadn't said a damn thing to me - was he plotting to end my little crusade against Veret? Let's forget about the impolite matter of my plans to send metal into his guts over the last few days. I asked Starspackle to look into it and also sent something of brutal honesty to Switchbreak: Any interference will convince Me/Us that our war of attrition is over, and I/We shall withdraw from all territory immediately, making our way to My/Our new Home of Virtue. The Union Mind will depart for ex-galactum.
This wasn't all. Veret had broken through my firewall of fleets and was now heading straight towards my Crossheart stronghold of Pollux. He wanted to destroy my second nerve centre, Pollux, that kept sending dirty, irritating fleets up his nose.
My last major reinforcements, For Baron Copernicus and For Facewizard, were inbound to Sterope II from Crossheart space. Veret was moving in to intercept with the MCU Mike Shapiro. If my fleets were wiped out, that meant The Aspiration had no significant pieces in play and my guerilla war would be over. I had to keep Veret on his toes, drag this out at any cost. I needed to save these ships.
The 30 minutes it takes for a fleet to start a journey meant For Baron could not get off Sterope II before the Shapiro attacked and would be lost. For Facewizard arrived early enough to get away - and I concocted a tricky strategy to save the ships of both fleets. I'd order For Facewizard to leave Sterope II at the last minute, giving me a tight 20 minute window during which I could transfer all of the ships from For Baron across to For Facewizard before the Shapiro laid waste to Sterope II. I would either save every ship or, if I screwed up somehow, lose everything.
A tricky gambit to keep me in the game. A potential invasion from Switchbreak. Veret on approach to The Aspiration's secondary base at Pollux.
I braced myself for the worst.
But until that morning
There's a'nothing can harm you
With your daddy and mammy standing by