The Story So Far: Only Veret, Switchbreak, Starspackle (Kent Sutherland) and The Aspiration (myself) remain. The Aspiration are fleeing the galaxy with a rearguard engaging in guerilla warfare against unstoppable juggernaut Veret. For four days I have been trying to buy time for Starspackle to prepare an all-out assault against Veret, but I cannot hold out much longer.
Saturday, July 10. Day Eighteen.
I/We inform you of our movements within the fray of our home sector.
My/Our only active fleet is For Facewizard, currently inbound to Maark. For Baron Copernicus fell in the last few hours. The Ankaa menace is faster and armed with better weaponry – blisterdarts and tele-explosives – which makes the journey of My/Our final peaceable fleet all the more perilous.
Starspackle: Neshmet and Phad are yours to take if you so wish, although Veret may consider this declaration of peaceful cultural exchange.
Switchbreak: Furud and Nash are yours to take. Ankaa will have taken both of these stars in the next few hours.
I/We would ask that, for the present urgency of this moment, do not step below the Nash line. I/We desire to sail a fleet alongside your forces, simply for the honor. The galaxy melded to face a greater threat. I/We are spinning up a new fleet to join the conflict one more time.
Together we Aspire.
If it hadn’t been for galactic thermonuclear war, I might have been enjoying a lie-in. Neptune’s Pride was, at least, getting me out of bed in the morning, something that Mrs. HM had failed to achieve in six years of marriage. But this dawn was one of the most exciting of the entire game.
Switchbreak had moved against Veret.
Any other day, the sight of purple fleets flying across my space would have been gutting but this… this was America coming in to save me from an oppressor! And not messing it up! Could this universe be any more fictional? I imagined the bishops of The Aspiration rising out of their mnemosyne-pools to wave the Stars and Stripes at these foreign fleets sweeping past. Military intervention had saved Pollux from attack.
And on top of this fabulous news, my tricky wangle with For Facewizard the previous night had ended in success, saving my last snatch of ships.
I grinned like the Cheshire Cat that got the custard creams. I’d only gone and made it to the bloody end. I had played my part to slow Veret and would get to witness the final epic showdown between good and evil. Let’s be clear about this. Veret was evil. There was absolutely no getting around that.
The last battle was joined. Starspackle was vying for first place with Switchbreak set up for second. We were beyond backstabbing and secret deals, the time for talking was over. Empires had chosen sides. The die was cast. Even so, Starspackle was nervous about how this was going to play out despite having a thousand ships ready for launch.
I began writing regular missives detailing fleet movements to avoid friendly fire. These dispatches were laced with happy, positive banter:
My/Our blood boils as we hurl our teeth into battle, tumble across the Ankaa horror with our bites and rips.
Welcome, Switchbreak. Those of Virtue will sing songs about your exploits during these days, in which the fate of this ancient galaxy will be decided.
Together we Aspire. Alone: he Survives.
I was not just witnessing these giants slug it out from afar but flying alongside – it felt more like an embedded journalist than combatant.
Switchbreak charged at the lower stars of home sector, in particular Haldus. Veret responded with a massive fleet that had been squatting on my original homeworld, Azelfafage. Left relatively undefended, The Aspiration took the opportunity to swipe homeworld back.
This was thrilling stuff. No longer was I checking the game out of fear, but simply out of excitement. This new drama was not about The Aspiration’s survival but galactic dominion.
One thing was sure, though. Overnight, Haldus would be scorched to the bone.
Sunday, July 11. Day Nineteen.
Starspackle, finally taking the fight to Veret’s home sector, gave The Aspiration a wide berth. This gave me the opportunity to rebuild a small empire, reclaim some of what I had lost to Veret.
But home sector was eerily quiet. Veret and Switchbreak had worn each other down to scraps of ships and I had a minimal military presence.
The meagre funds of My/Our species’ ruined economy are being used to bolster industry and rebuild an economic base. With each day, I/We grow stronger and hope to sing louder and brighter with every ascension visited upon the troops of the red foulness.
Despite having surrendered Aspirations of galactic conquest, coming third was now a very real possibility. This was un-fucking-believable considering I had been drowning in a deluge of depression a week earlier.
There was no more doublecross in my heart and was committed body and soul to our allied cause. (An aside: to tell Veret that we all sung with one voice, I asked Starspackle and Switchbreak to send him the lyrics of Summertime, but sadly they never did.)
While Starspackle was happy to seed me with weaponry for the greater good, Switchbreak still appeared to hold out on the sharing caring front. I found this amusing. My impression was someone who still thought of the game in terms of a mutually beneficial trading relationship, rather than my perspective: the destiny of the galaxy to be free of an accursed, ancient tyrant. Maybe it was just because I was living in la-la role-play land and had lost every single one of my marbles, but I suspected Switchbreak would be absolute shit in charge of Babylon 5.
So I was pleased when The Aspiration finally pulled off a scanning range upgrade using its own limited scientific resources instead of waiting on the alliance for technological charity. I was looking forward to see more of the war farther afield and as I ran my gaz–WHAT THE SKULLFUCK
Far west, a leviathan 389-ship fleet was travelling away from home sector. Its name? ZOMBIE. JENNIFER. HALE. In capitals.
A miasma of dread descended. I just couldn’t figure out what Veret was up to and the reanimated Hale was of monstrous size. As I was the only player to understand the connotations of the name it had to be about me. Then again, does every game these days have to have a zombie in it?
Still, it was for Starspackle and Switchbreak to take this game home. They were dealing with the red menace. My game was pretty much done, save for snapping up a few stars here and there. I took it easy, broke out the popcorn, and watched the sci-fi apocalypse take place on my PC screen. Another 236-strong fleet from Switchbreak was on its way and Starspackle had bisected Veret’s territory with a line of yellow stars.
I tried to put the Hale out of my mind, but she bothered me even more when she shambled out of scan range. Out of sight, very much in the fucking mind. The popcorn didn’t taste so good.
Finally, Refugee South – after a long journey – reached Merak, the southern most point of the galaxy. My/Our forces had achieved victory, securing safe passage for the Nomads of The Aspiration to escape the galaxy.
Monday, July 12. Day Twenty.
The Aspiration will be disconnected from command for 16 hours from this message.
I/We observe the zombie fleet approaching and are not entirely sure what to do about it.
I/We push onward our fleet all the way to Dnoces and hope for the best.
Together we Aspire.
Bugger, damn and blast. Veret was bringing the Hale‘s 400 ships to Tabit, right outside home sector.
It was now obvious what Veret was up to. Two days of war had made it clear that Veret’s empire was destined for the dirty dustbin of history. The alliance’s success in pushing back Veret meant that first and second place was non-negotiable. The real battle… was going to be over third.
Yes. I was his real target. Me. Again. Paranoia flapped her scaly wings once more as I entertained random thoughts about whether Veret was trying to negotiate acceptable losses with Starspackle. It’s what I would have done in his hippie sandals.
And thus for the first time I checked the game during lunchtime at work. With my trusty Fujitsu notebook I literally ran to a nearby Prêt A Manger to abuse their free wi-fi. Their free and shite wi-fi it has to be said, with internet connectivity dropping out for ten minutes at a time because it needed to nap.
Mrs. HM was bemused that I had been telling her for a week “it’ll be over any day now” yet was still pouring my full attention into the game. There was anxiety aplenty, yes, but it was not of the same creed as that running up to Veret’s invasion on day fourteen. This was not a situation impossible to salvage but a war in motion.
The Hale was 8 hours from The Aspiration. I moved 150-ship-strong For Crossheart to maximise manoeuvrability in the event of an attack, needing to put my ships in the Hale‘s path if possible. Timing was going to be the issue. My big fleet was stuck, frozen, waiting for a movement from the Hale.
History was regurgitating itself. Oh my God, all of this had happened before. And all of this would happen again.
Neither Switchbreak nor Starspackle had responded to my queries about the situation yet – they probably didn’t get up at 6am managing fleets like moi. Switchbreak had another 200-strong fleet coming towards home sector but it wouldn’t arrive for a day at least. Starspackle didn’t have too many ships in the area either. The Aspiration was on its own.
At 5pm, I rushed back to Pret but the move Veret made was not the one I expected. The Hale was inching towards the southern Crossheart region, away from the front line with Starspackle.
I folded the crappy wi-fi problems into the role-play:
The Aspiration notes that the zombie fleet is heading south, likely – although not certain – to attack secondary sector of The Aspiration in the vicinity of Pollux.
I/We are having command uplink problems. I/We are trying to redeploy
I / We
I couldn’t stop him alone, I was simply not strong enough to stop a 400-strong fleet. Without intervention, he could flatten my stars and secure third. To Switchbreak:
The Nomads of The Aspiration would rather have the aggressor fleet stopped, wherever it might rest, rather than tear through star after star, giving our joint cause more problems than we would desire.
Together I/We Aspi–
pppossibly your species fleet at azaleh could get to eltanin firsssss–
if fleet departs soon, your forccces are faster than i/we
At 6pm, more weapons upgrades flood in from Starspackle. I had no idea where he found them but I was now two points above Veret in weapons, astounding, but not enough to kill his undead fleet of mass destruction.
But the clock was ticking. If Starspackle made it to 99 stars, the game would stop and a victor would be declared. If I was still tussling with Veret at that moment, the game might freeze Veret into third place even if, with some more effort, I could claim that position.
i?we st i–ll connection isszzues
ratitude for wepppons upgfade
Aspiration proud to fly alongside your golden fleets of peaceable expansion, all ascension delivered with a smile. You nullify, they quake.
We still only equal speed of Ankaa forces so unlikely to make southern rendevous before the dark bloody forces seep and corrupt our secondary base below. We only hope Switchbreak will be preparation complete. We/I/We/
I was desperate to scoop up all the outstanding stars which turned my galactic map into a maze of fleet trajectories. I spent serious time forecasting star captures, trying to ascertain what the actual gap between Veret and myself would be when Starspackle was victorious. I predicted a 22-star gap in my favour which meant he needed to capture 12 from me to retain third place.
So maybe I didn’t need to defeat Veret’s monster, maybe I only needed to prevent him from holding on to captured stars. The odds were in my favour but these were odds not certainties. Tick tock… tick tock… There wasn’t much I could do except wait and worry. And write mails.
-2492358XY-3857JSY- To the Captain of The Jennifer Hale
Doman Albara zen Minelava,
I/We are pleased to see you back to health, although I/We are not clear on the exact process in which a member of your species is reconstituted from disassociated pieces. I/We invite you to visit the worlds I/We liberated from the weapons-monger Crossheart, whose ascension is celebrated. These worlds are still verdant and lush. I/We watch over nature, for it is what the Virtuous Rapture demands.
The same cannot be said of Azelfafage, of course, which Ankaa troops razed with neutron gauntlet fire during their last visit.
I/We was once friend of your emperor many years ago, even before he was known as ruler. I/We became his sharp talons, reaching out across the galaxy, creating order in his image. A tyrannical empire can never last, however, and after the last uprising, forcing him to flee to the rim, he decided that The Aspiration required punishment for failing to maintain the stability of the Ankaa state. He destroyed Me, the Union Mind of The Aspiration and placed Me within a deep grave on Dnoces. I/We can never be sure if his inability to kill me was out of mercy or perhaps lasting pangs of guilt. I/We will never know.
Over the centuries, the fragmented people of The Aspiration fought amongst themselves but eventually communed with the Virtuous Rapture, discovering the majesty of the universe that swells about us. I/We no longer have thoughts of conquest and empire. I/We are purged. My/Our soul is unmoved.
Whatever happens in these last days, The Nomads of The Aspiration entrust this galaxy to Starspackle of the North and the Switchbreak Foundation, wisdom is theirs. Through mass-nullification of aggressor forces, they have brought peace where none were thought possible. They exceed My/Our own Aspirations for peace, harmony.
May our final cultural exchanges be diverse and mutually beneficial.
Celebrate all our ascensions.
At 0033 precisely, the Zombie Jennifer Hale disembarked and headed for Crossheart space, carrying 455 ships in her wake.