The Story So Far: Eight remain in a game of Neptune’s Pride after Facewizard (Laura Michet) walks away following independent assaults from Veret above and The Aspiration (me) below. She leaves 66 ships barricading the door against The Aspiration while Veret is free to consume her empire. Desperate to expand, I throw myself into a second conflict with Crossheart to the south.
Thursday, July 1. Day Nine.
Neptune’s Pride combat is a game of last man standing: each player takes turns destroying the opponent’s ships until one has none left. It is impossible to acquire a fortified star without paying for it in ships and so, as the game progressed, I began to view ships as currency for buying stars.
The mechanical core of Neptune’s Pride is about building up “ship currency” and deciding when and where to spend it. The longer you take building up your forces, the more expensive other stars become. And, if you really want to push the metaphor, weapon levels act as an exchange rate between different ship currencies.
Ship currency was why Facewizard’s zombie fleet at Dnoces was the elephant in the room dominating my military decisions. If I sent the Procyon fleet to take Dnoces, I would end up with two feebly defended stars, leaving them exposed to attack from mere splinters of Veret’s fleets. I might need the Procyon ships for something more critical – even if I wasn’t paranoid that Facewizard would awake and kick her ships through the Procyon choke point just for the giggles.
I was stunned that the game had turned sour and unpalatable so rapidly. I was exchanging fire with Veret at random, trying to claw back territory I felt was rightfully mine. But panic led to mistakes again and again, throwing bitty fleets into battles they had no chance of winning.
After the smog cleared, I saw that Veret’s situation was as distressed as mine. Having expended much of his forces on conquering Facewizard’s stars, he was dispersed and vulnerable. But I was still prowling around with 150 ships and, if I could have released my Procyon fleet, Veret would have been in far more trouble. I made a successful play for one juicy star with a 70-strong fleet even though I was fighting uphill in the weapons level stakes. It was the same with Crossheart – using a bow and arrow against gods.
I fired more volleys into Crossheart space to both expand and simplify my borders, forcing the sleeping giant to wake from its slumber. Crossheart and I communicated not by words but through the spilling of blood across the galactic map. Fortunately, Crossheart had been building science everywhere with little regard to defence. Acquiring expensive science-developed stars was like taking science candy from a science baby. I kicked science sand in his science face, too.
But the tension magnified every molehill into a mountain of apocalyptic shit. For example, I became frustrated with trading with Starspackle’s sworn enemy, Abacus Master. A couple of times it had played out like this: he would offer an interesting trade, I’d wire the goods only to discover he did the midnight tango with someone else. So I’d get nothing in return being second and then be $25 poorer for initiating the transaction. I wasn’t interested in competing for bids, no thank you.
Friday, July 2. Day Ten.
I remember one morning pre-commute, Mrs. HM asked what was going on. I jabbed fingers at Veret’s advance and Facewizard’s zombie fleet at Dnoces. She made a suggestion and I didn’t say thank you for your suggestion, I ranted along the lines of don’t you understand, there’s nothing I can do.
Was this really a game? Toxic paranoia and mind-crippling anxiety had replaced the fun. Every hour at work in the office and every minute of playtime with the Little Harbour Master was corrupted with poisonous worry that Veret had sent something nasty towards me while I was defenceless to retaliate, cut off from a fictitious galaxy that had come to mean so much to me. I had submitted myself, the willing lab rat, to the psychological labyrinth of Neptune’s Pride. And the labyrinth was victorious.
So understand that I needed on a personal level to end the constant skirmishing with Veret. I’d had enough. I remember the terrible weight on my shoulders when I wrote the following mail, words I did not feel, but words I had to write. To Veret: [click here for the full version]
The Codex parliament has decreed The Aspiration explore an alliance with Ankaa, to prepare against the coming conflict [with Starspackle]. Our tacticians have suggestions for how such an alliance to remain covert and poised to strike simultaneously.
Our initial proposal for a division of space. We retain Chort, Algieba and Etamin. We will deal with Dnoces. The rest of Facewizard’s stars are yours to take.
The galaxy was now a violent crucible of death, the plaything of dark gods. Seance (Kerry Turner) was an empire in persistent vegetative state, one lifeless star to her name, and now Switchbreak and Starspackle (Kent Sutherland) initiated a joint assault on Abacus Master. It finally became clear that Abacus Master was theprettiestboy who admitted his game was effectively over, although it would take days to play out. This in turn meant my southern neighbour, Crossheart, was Sid Menon (BeamSplashX).
Why, hello Sid.
Crossheart fired a 68-ship fleet to retake one of his stars, Furud, where I originally initiated war. I wasn’t expecting this – convinced he would improve his ragtag defences rather than lunge in. The annoying thing was that I’d upgraded Furud after snatching it but chalked it up as experience. I was still hoping Switchbreak would come aboard soon to speed things up. Crossheart still had a parking lot full of ships with guns, lots of guns.
But Crossheart outdid himself at his new position in the Ministry of Bold, Reckless Decisions. After retaking Furud, his fleet went straight for one of my peripheral stars, Sterope II, a complete leap in the dark as his scan range couldn’t see it. This was amazing news, the first piece of good luck in a week. You see, I already had a giant fleet parked there ready to invade his space. His fleet would be annihilated– and fighting defence would minimise my losses. I wanted to party, party, party.
Veret came back with an affirmative on the peace thing [click here for his full response] but demanded a demilitarized buffer zone between us. To speed these efforts along, he said, he was going to take Chort – evacuate please, my ships are on their way. Chort. You wouldn’t believe the cash I’d spent on this star, upgrading its science and industry.
In my notes, I’ve scrawled the word “FUCKER” and scrawling is pretty hard to do in Windows Notepad.
Fight or retreat? I saw another fleet inbound beyond Veret’s first wave, ensuring the star would eventually fall to him. I didn’t have the speed to get in there and protect it and neither did I want to re-ignite the war fires. But everything was connected: the loss of this star with a science base would postpone my ascension to the next level of weapons, affecting the outcome of pending battles with Crossheart.
My ships retreated from Chort and watched one of Veret’s fleets, the MCU Jennifer Hale, move in to take it. I had received words from Captain Albara of the Hale during an earlier altercation, who basically said get out of the way, but Chort was the last straw. I would have done anything to see the Hale destroyed. This strange, deep-seated hatred of the Hale would evolve into one of the game’s more fascinating sub-stories. For now, just remember the Hale and its captain.
Nonetheless, Starspackle had promised to help out if Veret got a bit frisky with The Aspiration. I sent him a warning, trying to provide encouragement to get involved. To support the good cause.
Our forces are unable to repel invading fleets from the Rim and are about to lose two valuable stars. The Ankaa Empire is not responding to diplomatic overture… Be advised that this means we are currently unable to police your border with the Veret of the Ankaa Empire and their intentions are overtly expansionist… We are dealing with Crossheart in the south. The weapons hoarder will no longer be a blight on the peaceful borders of The Aspiration. Together we Aspire.
I closed the day by sending Seance a final message, a requiem. I appropriated a piece of work published on my old writing site Hammerport, about masochistic love for an abusive god. It seemed fitting for a game which was unravelling my sanity yet couldn’t walk away from.
We may visit Avior one day, and plant an Alsafi Rose in your memory. We are diminished without you. The Aspiration prays for your peaceful ascension, your return to the Virtuous Rapture. We sing:
YOU sculpt my wings so i can fly from you
with loving violence and caring torture
living in the shadow of your word
and its barbed-wire binding
MY perfect configuration for sin
forces me to survive on tattered moments
floating amongst your jigsaw pieces
on a seductive teleological sea
THUS: each time i rise to flight
i drown in the fearful silhouette of your word
and with familiar resignation i slow, i stop,
beneath the cold breath of your counterfeit love,
to taste the sweat of your knuckles anew
Saturday, July 3. Day Eleven.
I was super-relieved it was the weekend again, regaining all-day access to my fleets, but an unhealthy mix of anger and stress continued to clog up my veins. The Aspiration was a bit pissy with Veret over the Chort debacle – the role-play façade slipping a little – but Veret did not rise to protestations like:
- Taking advantage of The Aspiration’s three day build-up to explore Facewizard Imperial Space – that resulted in a shift of Facewizard forces, exposing the northern border to attack – thus depriving our people of their Divine right to locate our original Spawnsground as described in Religious Membrane
- Asserting power over Chort will lead to the deaths of hundreds. Strategy against Crossheart empire expects a new spearbeam weapons technology to be available at the time enemy makes contact at Sterope II [and] will not be available due to the loss of Chort Aspiring & Virtuous Science Institute components. More of our people will die.
But we were done. Veret retreated. And there was no talk of an alliance against Starspackle. None at all.
Crossheart’s major fleet met its sudden and unexpected end at Sterope II and, as this happened, you could hear the beautiful, crisp sound of an imperial backbone breaking. It was effectively a death blow although mopping up the rest of the carcass would take time. Crossheart knew this too, admitting in the public chat that he was doomed.
And it was at this point Switchbreak sent The Aspiration the following message:
Hey, I am matching Crossheart on weapons strength now, and I’ve got a fleet approaching to jump into his space. Want to set up some expansion borders in his land so we don’t inadvertently run into each other?
After using the word FUCKER the previous day, it was out of bounds today. Three days after I asked for help, mere hours after I broke the back of Crossheart’s domain with weaker weapons, Switchbreak wants to “help”. What fortuitous fucking timing. Here, why don’t you just take what you want.
Unwilling to broker hostility with my new neighbour, I threw him a decent bone in the hope he would leave me alone but warned him off the main attraction: As we tear and bite at the flesh of this bitter, decrepit weapon-empire, we welcome communication from your species. We are closing on Pollux, the homeworld which still carries a poisonous fleet.
Look carefully. You might just see a “fuck you buddy” hidden between the lines.