The Story So Far: Starspackle (Kent Sutherland) and Switchbreak are guaranteed to take first and second place. The only real question is who takes third - hunted theopaths The Aspiration (myself) or falling tyrant Veret? As a last ditch effort, Veret sends the Zombie Jennifer Hale, a massive 455-ship colossus, towards The Aspiration's stronghold. Welcome to the end of the game.
Tuesday, July 13. Day Twenty-One.
I didn't enjoy mining the new vein of stress I'd discovered, but what kept me going was the knowledge that one way or another it would soon be over. To my surprise, I coveted the hollow reward of third place, a grey drab achievement to be filed away in a database of other people's grey drab achievements.
So know this. Know that I could have kissed Switchbreak. With tongues.
For all my moaning about his lack of charity - especially as Starspackle was now charging for technology again - Switchbreak came through. He sent a flotilla of ships ahead to ambush Veret's fleet, a flotilla that would be certainly crushed to bone dust beneath the undead treads of the Hale. But this action would wound her badly.
This was Switchbreak's hour. The right man in the wrong place can make all the difference in the world.
Projections indicate that this single blow should be enough for The Aspiration to ascend the remnant of the zombie fleet with existing forces, now being redeployed.
I/We will vacate Menkib in 5 hours; after that command uplink will be lost.
Arrakis will be left in Ankaa's incapable, Virtueless embrace for your jump north. I/We are intending to pursue Dnoces and Procyon tomorrow, although orders have not been issued at this point.
Together we Aspire.
Local time on Pollux is 02:00 and I/We must rise at the early hour of 05:30. I/We attend to rest.
And so after three hours sleep, nothing much had changed. There was nothing for me to do in the morning, except get ready for work and prepare vats of caffeine to keep me alive.
At midday, I was back at Pret with my notebook, eating my fingers out of anxiety. The Hale had arrived at Menkib - with only half of the forces she'd been carrying in transit after Switchbreak's sacrifice. I built a wall of fleets in front of her instead of attacking as any offensive move would have unfolded while I was at work. That was just bad idea all over, like wearing blue and green without something in-between.
Doman Albara, the captain of the Hale, responded to the previous day's mail.
Ah, many thanks; I think I will accept your gracious invitation. I have, after all, been looking for a place to retire from military life and spend my days in peaceful ignorance of galactic affairs, and that delightful area to the south looks like it could be just the place. I must caution you, though: I plan to bring roughly 400 of my friends to this idyllic spot, and I fear they may still leap at the possibility of "kicking some squidface ass" again. Old habits, you know. Perhaps you could arrange to have your pilots vacate the area before we arrive?
With only the merest hint of ultimatum,
Doman Albara zen Minelava
Captain, MCU Jennifer Hale
Ankaa Expeditionary Fleet
Navy of Righteous Expansion
PS: I must object to your implication that our fleets use neutron-based bombardment techniques. I have always favored mass napalm carpet-bombing; it's much less eco-friendly.
I kept thinking this fall from grace could not have been pleasant for Veret. From top hound dawg, he plunges to a disgraceful fourth place which is something like the ninth circle of Hell in Dante's Divina Commedia. That's the one where Satan chews on Judas Iscariot like a Curly Wurly for approximately forever.
What I wanted was Veret to attack Pollux as it would have kept him busy for five hours and out of my hair while I was working for money. It would have wounded me, of course, but I didn't care about that. Once the Hale was destroyed, my game would be finished.
But there was really nothing to fear. Veret didn't have any superstrategytacticmanoeuvre up his evil, conniving sleeves. There was one approach that I didn't think of until very recently: he could have exploded the Hale into tiny shards flying in all directions and trying to deal with that would have been adrenaline-worthy. But Switchbreak had crippled the Hale, closing that particular door. Veret was an empire in desperate need of Viagra. And in the game.
And so a quick visit to Pret after work revealed... no change whatsoever.
Not entirely true, that. With some sadness I noticed that Switchbreak had snapped up both Dncoes and Procyon, stars which had meant so much to me during the early game. I felt like those stars were part of the closure I was seeking... but it was not to be. Meh. I couldn't really complain after what Switchbreak had done for The Aspiration.
Doman Albara zen Minelava.
Your fleets are scheduled for irreversible nullification. I/We mourn this loss to the galaxy we find ourselves in. The Virtuous Rapture has decreed these events are to take place. There is a limit to our choices in a universe that judges everything by color.
We offer political asylum. Let yourself fall into our custody and I/We will let you live here on these worlds. The Nomads of The Aspiration are gone. I/We do not dwell here. I/We have no need for these worlds. Our species is already ex-galactum. The few of Me/Us left will join them soon on their journey to a new galaxy, ripe for peacemaking.
Consider this our gift to you. Your fleets cannot be saved, but your life may be spared to see those of your children and your children's children. The universe would be poorer without you.
Virtue is Bond.
Back to Veret. He needed a wee bit of encouragement. I didn't want the Hale squatting there and picking up ships from the Menkib industry I had built. I nudged the strong fleet from Rigel Kentaurus towards Menkib to goad Veret out of his spot - then the Pret connection went down again. Had I committed the fleet? This was even more unfair than it sounds because I had just bought a chocolate croissant to enjoy with my Neptune's Pride session. I should've returned the croissant which had more bandwidth than their bloody Wi-Fi. Somehow I managed to log in from the train home before it left London Victoria station. The connection lasted just one minute but it was enough. I saw that my fleet was on its way.
At home, I logged in immediately. And only then I kissed Mrs. HM and said "Hi, Honey, I'm hom-- hey look, the push worked, Veret's moved his fleet!"
The Hale was en route to Pollux. After fighting a speed war on the losing side for most of the game, it was nice to be faster than Veret at last. I could get most of my fleets to Pollux ahead of the Hale - not enough to destroy it, but certainly enough to hammer it down to 20 ships.
The desperate scramble to beat Veret to Pollux unexpectedly delivered the game's most stunning image - The Aspiration escorting the Zombie Jennifer Hale to Pollux. It was as if I was giving my arch-nemesis a grand send-off, a mark of respect for a solid and thoroughly evil opponent.
But the Hale was a dead fleet walking. If she stayed on Pollux, the 70-strong pursuit fleet would obliterate her last survivors. If she skipped town for another star, she'd die in the first round of combat at the destination without having fired a single shot.
So I sent "Emperor Veret" the requiem mail, particularly as his homeworld of Ankaa was now within Starspackle's striking distance.
The Nomads of The Aspiration mourn for you this day. Time draws thin for your empire and I/We are sad at the inevitable political consolidation of the galaxy. The light of Ankaa burns more dimly every passing day.
I/We sing for all those who ascend, whether they have wronged us or not. I/We sing:
As the evening progressed, The Aspiration crept silently into third place. It had been such a very long long loooong time since I had been in this position.
I stayed up late again. Someone had to witness this - the death of the undead Hale and the last moments of my game.
And so the long journey of The Aspiration, now into its fourth week, came to an end.
Game Over. You are THIRD. Play Again (Y/N)?
Wednesday, July 14. Day Twenty-Two.
For the first time in over two weeks I did not check the game in the morning. Neither did I rush out of the office to squint at the situation through a scraggly wireless internet connection. I basked in the soft, warm glow of life, free of this demon succubus that had forced me to do its bidding.
I took a quick look at the game in the evening. I was a little disappointed to be robbed a perfect ending to my game story - bringing Doman Albara over to our side, to live a comfortable, contemplative life away from galactic conflict. No. Veret would, of course, deny me that. I'm sure he was quite pleased with himself.
"That's *Captain* to you, squidface."
-Inscription discovered on impromptu gravesite on Pollux; believed to be epitaph requested by (Captain) Doman Albara zen Minelava. Remains already removed, likely awaiting re-reanimation.
Starspackle had reached 91 stars and it sounded like Veret was making Starspackle fight for every parsec of space. I told Starspackle he could take, say, five of my stars and five of Switchbreak's and all would be good, but a combat finish it was to be.
It was time, though, to say goodbye.
My/Our signal grows weak as The Nomads of The Aspiration drift farther from the galaxy, the galaxy your two empires now call home. A peaceful home. The end of war is almost here and there remains a comfortable diversity of culture.
Ankaa, the capital of Emperor Veret, has already fallen. It will not be long before you will capture him and pass judgement on his crimes against all of us. Please show him a modicum of mercy, The Aspiration re-united with its Union Mind wishes only for peace now. There has been so much death and killing and screaming. We three are not petty terrorists, we are nation makers and power players.
I/We bid you farewell. Galactic affairs are not for the faint of heart. My/Our people must go for the charred husk of Azelfafage does not inspire Me/Us. The Spiritual Domain is gone and The Aspiration search for a brand new home.
My/Our fleets will remain behind on proximity alert standby and I/We will transmit cash to Starspackle as it becomes available.
I/We are glad we spent a brief time in the company of your forces. I/We are sad to depart, but we are destined ex-galactum. May your cultural diversity be peaceful and joyous. Prosper, friend species, prosper.
Once again, pleasure and love to the Switchbreak Foundation for their timely and effective cushion ahead of Veret's zombie fleet.
Only Together do we Aspire.
I wasn't saying goodbye to the players, I was saying goodbye to The Aspiration. I was going to miss them and all their talk of cultural exchange and peaceful genocide.
I just didn't know if they were going to miss me.
Thursday, July 15. Day Twenty-Three.
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