The Story So Far: Neptune’s Pride, seven players remain of the nine. Abacus Master (theprettiestboy) is losing to a joint assault by Starspackle (Kent Sutherland) and Switchbreak. I play The Aspiration, currently harassing Crossheart (Sid Menon) out of existence. But I am playing catchup to uncompromising northern neighbour Veret while anxiety and the constant need to check the game is wearing me down.
Sunday, July 4. Day Twelve.
My jaw hit the keyboard when central empire Baron Copernicus (Miles Newton) made a hostile move toward the umbilicus of stars between my homespace and Crossheart space.
It was, in all sense of the acronym, WTF. Maybe, I pondered, it was a good thing. Maybe I would just snap his ass off with my ships. Bring it on. BRING IT. I skirted along the sharp edge of madness here, with the game constantly pounding on my skull, demanding this and demanding that. Veret had usurped my debut expansion project, Facewizard. My sophomore project, Crossheart, was proving to be a protracted and delicate affair due to the distances involved and Switchbreak had already swiped a chunk of it. And now the Baron.
He had blundered into my radar of blind fury and I placed one trembling finger on the trigger. I was ready, willing and able to wipe half of Baron’s stars from the map out of sheer rage. Part of me suspected someone else was pulling his strings, maybe Switchbreak had goaded him into it, to get more of a boothold on Crossheart space. I didn’t want to care. I just wanted him gone. Toast.
*0123596532* Virtue is Bond, Baron Copernicus.
The Aspiration notes that a fleet is inbound from Mimosa to Furud. As this fleet will not damage our star infrastructure we assume this is an error of the Baron’s systems.
The Aspiration is also experiencing similar piloting system errors. We have an explanation.
Over the last few days, we applied peaceful communical exchange to nullify and devour the infrastructure of the Crossheart empire. Their fleets screamed with ecstasy as we swallowed them with the weaponised love of the Virtuous Rapture. It is possible in their orgasmic cry, they released a hyperwave networking virus across the region.
In advance, we can only apologise for any fleets we inadvertently nullify.
Celebrate their ascension.
So I was at war with three parties now. Oh thank you GOD. What the hell would I have done on Sunday if I hadn’t had Neptune’s Pride to force my eyeballs back to the PC every ten minutes?
But Baron responded soon enough. It was all just a misunderstanding, he assumed I was getting ready to have myself a Baron star-snackwich.
Thank you for clarifying your intentions, you must know that space can make a man mad with power and terror in equal measure.
Half of me felt sympathy, because I harboured the same madness. The other half of me was foaming mouth rabies shouting waving fists kicking. Look everyone, a pointless diversion that could’ve been averted by talking to people. Is there a Counsellor Troi in the audience?
Every minute of the game was psychological torture. I watched Veret shore up his fleets on the other side of the DMZ, knowing but refusing to acknowledge what I knew was truth. It wasn’t Starspackle that Veret was preparing against… Time. I needed more time.
But it was here I realised something was off with the galactic technology picture. Veret’s technology was always ahead of mine in three disciplines.
Let’s take a moment. No matter how scientifically adept your empire is, it can focus on one research discipline at a time and one only. This is intended to encourage collaboration as you can only move ahead in multiple technologies at the same time by trading them with other players.
So it was clear Veret was trading with someone, but who? There were few major powers left. It was down to Starspackle, Switchbreak and myself. Abacus Master and Crossheart didn’t match Veret’s technological girth.
I suspected Starspackle had a wolf in the fold and perhaps this was the opportunity to break up his partnership with Switchbreak. Perhaps… Starspackle might assist against the advance of Veret at last?
It is seems unlikely that Starspackle is trading technology with an aggressor nation. Which only leaves one political power available to perform this exercise: Switchbreak.
If this hypothesis is in error and Starspackle is indeed trading with Ankaa, please inform.
We believe Ankaa is amassing forces just out of our scan range, galactic west, and an attack is, no doubt, on the horizon.
Veret has offered The Aspiration the opportunity to work together against your burgeoning empire, which we consider to be stalling for time as opposed to a real offer of political union.
We have worked tirelessly to ensure galactic peace through the genocidal elimination of aggressor species. It would be disappointing if all our plans came to naught.
Neptune’s Pride has its share of shocking moments. Here’s one of them. To my horror, Starspackle and Switchbreak had been indulging in a technological ménage à trois with Veret for most of the game.
Starspackle admitted it outright. Although he had rational headthinking reasons to keep Veret sweet until he was ready for a final showdown, it tasted and smelt like betrayal. The Aspiration was just cannon fodder in a proxy war. While Starspackle fed me intel chicken soup and comforted me with fine speeches about how his forces would muck in if Veret made a predatory move, he was arming that motherfucker at the same time. I’d previously described Starspackle to Baron using these words: Smiles with one face and drools with another. Sweet Lord, why didn’t I read my own words?
The lack of serious support from Starspackle had been concerning me for days and this confirmed that I was truly alone. The next message to Starspackle avoided words like ‘treachery’, ‘betrayal’ and, of course, ‘motherfucker’.
The Aspiration is the more likely target as a result of our technological poverty. We expended great resources on the Facewizard police action with no return except to be ejected by Ankaa from the region: Ankaa annexed all Facewizard stars and demanded a demilitarised buffer between our spaces. We have stalled on that request until this very hour.
We are comfortable with a joint assault on his forces. To run such a gauntlet alone are the actions of a non-Virtuous fool.
I turned to other matters. As Crossheart’s homeworld Pollux was soon to fall, I sent him the requiem message also, starting with, “Pollux will soon fall. All species will be diminished without your presence. The Aspiration prepares you for peaceful ascension, your return to the Virtuous Rapture. We mourn what must be done, our communal spirit bloodied. We know not why we do these things. But we know we must do them.”
Sid was level-headed about the whole thing.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the real reason why BeamSplashX hangs out on Electron Dance. Sid has already written up his version of the game on his Satisfied blog, if you’re interested in hearing his side of the story.
But before the day was done, I complied with one last request. Veret kept pushing me to scrub out the Facewizard zombie fleet at Dnoces, now under the frightening thrall of the Neptune’s Pride AI, and I finally sent a fleet to take the star. Dnoces was mine at last.
And then I played my Joker card, an idea I had been waiting to deploy. It began with the first message I sent through the public chat since the game had started:
-2362724711- Joy. The Spiritual Domain of the Aspiration has located our species’ original Spawnsground on Dnoces. Excavation of genetic bank underway. We wish to know our past to know our future.
Monday, July 5. Day Thirteen.
I had a hospital appointment in the morning which ended so late that there was no point going to the office. Working from home meant I could keep a Neptune’s Pride browser window open at all times. And as it also meant I couldn’t go to my writing group in the evening, the galaxy would be monitored all day. Nothing mattered but my fleets and stars. It was like Gollum and the Ring, except even more pathetic.
I don’t suppose I was expecting anyone to demonstrate noble virtues such as altruism in a kill-or-be-genocidally-eliminated game like this but I was still put out when Switchbreak offered a weapon upgrade for $75. Those who had armed my enemies were not interested in providing The Aspiration with the tools to protect itself. I pulled out of the purchase with the trite comment:
We will spend the money on building shelters over our childrens’ heads when the Kill Dancers of Ankaa rain genetic dissolving agents upon the Nursery Fields of Azelfafage.
How could I rescue myself? Switchbreak and Starspackle had their nice cosy little romance taking out Abacus Master. Veret was amassing forces beyond my scan range, getting ready to attack, while I was left scraping around the galaxy for technological crumbs. Starspackle said he would fight Veret with me if he invaded. I was far too reliant on other people filling in the blanks of my sentences. I needed to mix things up.
Okay, so. I could tell Baron explicitly that Starspackle wanted him dead earlier in the game and that Switchbreak was lining him up for attack after Abacus Master was done (true). And Starspackle was ahead of Veret in the star stakes. I could propose a new alliance: Veret, Baron and me against Starspackle and Switchbreak. Abacus Master might even come back from near-death, blowing the whole game wide open again. It was a long shot but worth a shake of the tail.
I sent invites – but not from The Aspiration. The Spawnsground, you see, was a role-play prop intended to make a stark change to the personality of The Aspiration, enabling it to betray when the time was right. Originally, The Aspiration was going to be replaced with something hungry and incomprehensible, something that boomed messages like WE ARE THE TERRIFYING FOG, WE EAT. I even had a file of “practice lines” for when this went live, but The Aspiration didn’t have the strength to look frightening so this story was canned.
Instead, the ancient, hastily buried Union Mind of The Aspiration was waking up on Dnoces and reaching out to take back control of its people. And seeing the mess they were in, it was already making efforts to fix things on their behalf. With a tech upgrade as a sweetener, Baron received the following:
dnoces signal 0
i see your ships are very sad, your stars too are not smiling
what do you think is in store for you soon? what do you think is planned for you? will your friends love you still?
purple yellow purple yellow
there are such secrets in the galaxy
tell me your nightmarish fantasy… tell me what you think your future holds…
And to Veret, an appeal from an old friend. I wanted Veret to understand that The Aspiration had been replaced with something less combative and more collaborative. Even this late, I thought I could change the course of history. So this was how I played it:
so nice to see you again, i remember you now, the centuries are hard on the memory
i see you have a problem, a little bug has taken all the stars away, boo hoo
so you are flipping a coin, or perhaps it is already flipped, landing squarely on its edge
you’re thinking, do i jump on the green one, who is weaker than yellow
but probably green and yellow have a deal, having had a long trusting relationship, maybe they will both fight back
and if you strike yellow, well, that’s a powerful breed of insect you have there, mandibles that could perform a clean amputation of a tail
what to do what to do, it’s like defusing a bomb, green wire yellow wire, isn’t it?
sigh, if only you had other options
Veret did not seem terribly impressed with this, although he was pleased I remembered him: “It is well you remember that, before we Slept, there was a time in which all the galaxy knew my embrace. What was, shall be again; I am patient.”
I was role-playing for the very survival of The Aspiration. Come on, bite, damn you:
but brother we all like our options
does this star look good with my jacket
does this one show off my many sighted eyes
i have been stuck in this grave for far too long
there is a trinity in this galaxy which works far too much like a well-oiled machine
bend over, that’s where you need the oil
and poor orange suffers a fate, i always liked to bite into oranges
the soft juices
just like the baron, he’s going to get it in the neck, pow pow, bullet in the head, better off dead
my people, the dimwits they are, are negotiating themselves into a fifth-rate power. tsk. the aspiration used to be the foot soliders ahead of ankaa, before it all crumbled and you got stuck out on the rim. and i ended up buried in this mud. let me tell you: genetic reprogramming hurts. i don’t have control yet, once i link to the interstellar net, i will. they already know something is wrong as dnoces has been cut off with the busybodies in the parliament. there’s nothing better than a collective consciousness. especially if it’s me.
it amuses me to play with the idea of upsetting things in the south.
do you want to play too?
ahem. where did this “emperor” business start? i didn’t think you liked titles.
Every fleet in Neptune’s Pride can have a name of your choosing. Under the old regime, The Aspiration had fleets called Gentle Hug, French Kiss and Pleasure & Comfort. I went round renaming every single one of my fleets after Veret. Brother Veret. Sister Veret. Father Veret. Granny Veret. Aunt Veret. Uncle Veret. We were old-time compadres. If nothing else, it might at least confuse the shit out of him. But Veret didn’t bite.
Part of me toyed with another plan – to encourage him to invade and force Starspackle’s hand. I could’ve asked him to take a star as a gift – and then point out the “invasion” to Starspackle. Option two was to kick his ass on a star which was out of Starspackle’s scanning gaze and invite revenge. That, however, would actually be a bloody invasion, but perhaps one before Veret was truly ready.
The Union Mind also issued a weapons upgrade to Abacus Master and a message to reach out to him, signed “a friend”. All of this was desperate, but I couldn’t see a decent end game just sitting quietly and waiting for death.
My brain was on fire, constantly churning over strategies and what-if scenarios. The game followed me from room to room, from lunch to supper, from television to bed. It haunted me like a dark spectre, unforgiving and omnipresent. How much time did I have left? How much?
Still going after two weeks but I sensed defeat was lurking just around the corner. Part of me wanted it to be over, do a Laura, just not log in any more. Another part of me was handcuffed to the steering wheel, helpless as the car plunged into a lake, helpless as ice cold water poured in squeezing the air out. Not even third place seemed a possibility now.
The game was killing me in many ways. I couldn’t sleep some nights because that’s when the Americans would strike, hating the idea of waking up to shock fleet movements with little ability and time to counter them. I pushed through too many nights with less than four hours sleep, religiously devoted to the Neptune’s Pride refresh button instead of lying in bed.
I really needed this to stop. I wanted my life back.
Tuesday, July 6. Day Fourteen.
Before heading off to work, I had about five minutes to check the fleet status. Two mails. Baron was cross that I was threatening him and also thought my new role-play was now derivative of Portal’s GLaDOS. On point one, BARON DID YOU NOT NOTICE THE TWO TECH ENHANCEMENTS I HAD SENT YOU. LOOK AT ME THREATENING YOUR ASS WITH UPGRADES. On point two, stop breaking the goddamn fourth wall dude.
The other mail I’d received was from Starspackle, telling me he’d seen some large fleets moving down from Veret. I could see them too, dispatched while I had slept. Heading for my remote outpost of Tabit, 152 ships. Another two fleets for other border destinations.
Look at these numbers again. Look at what I was supposed to best. With scattered ships. And alone.
Hundreds of ships concentrated into a hot lance, coming to cauterise my festering wound of an empire. Here it was, the thing I had feared right from the second day of the game. The darkness from the Rim had come for me.
My beautiful people, all of the hours, strategies and creative role-play over the last fourteen days… lost.
And, in this moment, I knew grief.