Stellaris

A short Stellaris story

stellaris 5 - A short Stellaris story
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So I wrote another story recently, based on this playthrough. It deals with space politics (something I wish was a focus of more sci-fi). I think I've given it enough polish now, and I quite like the result, but I'm still not sure whether it maybe needed more character descriptions or whether they'd drag it on a bit too much for its size. Whatever the case, here it is, criticism and opinions welcome!

2297.

As I walked into the Quick Meeting Room, side-by-side with my aide, Timi, the evidently-heated conversation there was cut short. In attendance was a group of some intelligence officers and Findinkha officials as well as a few scientists, all sat around a simple elongated oval table. The room was recently renovated in the most ascetic of styles. Other than the table and the attendees, the only other object of note was a large window, through which only the wall of a building could be seen at this angle. Those physically present respectfully rose to their feet even as I gestured them to stay seated. I headed to the chair at the head of the table at a brisk pace for an until in her eighties, and briefly landed in it, before getting back to my feet to start the meeting:

– Fellow Findinkha officials, intelligence officers and scientists! Let us begin this emergency Quick Meeting convened at the behest of the Findinkha Intelligence Organisation!

Those physically present likewise briefly rose to their feet, and the meeting began. Timi swung the seat’s visor from inside the headrest and held my hair back with the other hand. He then carefully adjusted the visor to the left half of my face, the connectors making a whirring sound for a split second. The officials in attendance lit up with their names, ranks and profiles overlaying. One of the intelligence officers – Tosee Ur – shone with a brownish colour of the meeting-starter.

– Colonel Ur! I believe it’s up to you to explain the reason for convening this meeting, – I said, gesturing to the large, elderly man just a seat away.

– Yes, my Arekommendashns! – he responded in a deep voice, leaning onto the table for support as he stood up, – Fellow officials! This meeting has been convened due to… the arrival, or rather, the confirmation of some grave news, which… the Findinkhaun’kha had previously briefed and warned the Findinkha structures about. Long story short, the Concordat of Nellpa’xo, our… “loyal vassals”… – his voice reflected toxic disdain, – have achieved the capability to broadly match any theoretical fleet we could field.

“That’s bullshit”, – I thought, – “Or simply unreliable information”. After taking a dramatic pause, Ur continued:

– This conclusion was reached via two paths. The first is a pretty much explicit confirmation from today’s public address by Chancellor Lop Upiverta, – Ur quickly input a command into his handheld computer and everybody’s visors lit up with a recording from the Multyx leader, his clicking and popping language subtitled into standard Yokhnota:

“…The strength, security, peace and prosperity of the Concordat do not, and cannot rest solely on the shoulders of the Yokhneet! Today I am proud to announce that the new budget and administrative planning for the Multyx fleet permit a force both numerically and qualitatively identical – or even superior! – to that of our overlord. Concordat of Nellpa’xo is no longer a nation of trash scavengers, and so long as I am in charge it will never be such!”

– But, of course, relying on their word alone is not how a defence analysis is made, especially when dealing with that character, – the colonel scoffed. – The second is the result of a direct report we have received from our man on the inside of the Multyx fleet. That’s the source codenamed “Iverseyen”. The text should be appearing on your devices now, it’s 21 page of material…

The text indeed appeared, the first page bearing all the appropriate marks of a Findinkhaun’kha report. I gestured to the officer:

– The meeting will have to take some time to acquaint ourselves with the report.

– If I may, the message of it is simple enough, and can be distilled to a few words, – Ur insisted, – The Multyx fleet is getting stronger, due to a consistent and sustained policy of the Concordat’s government. At this point the comparison between our fleet and theirs once again puts us under that self-selected threshold that we had to overcome a couple of years ago. Except this time, we observe that their organisational, economic and technological capability has likewise increased. They are now a match for us. And we’ve been warning about it, of course.

As the colonel relented and sat back down, I was skimming through page 2, finding that its introduction broadly matched Ur’s words. The screen-window which displayed the venerable Admiral Kherardo Batissta brought the voice of the old akt through:

– This confirms what we’ve been seeing here in Bindur system. It’s a significant effort made by the Multyx, and it’s been a long time coming. If there is ever a war again, our victory is far from certain. And that makes war more likely.

I kept silently skimming through the pages. The Quick Meeting was likely Batissta’s doing via his friends or followers in Findinkhaun’kha – First Strike Legion, which he leads, finds a lot of support in it. The whole situation was a political ploy, clearly. Not to say that the report itself was suspect – it seemed trustworthy enough – but they clearly were trying to get me to take a political stance towards further militarisation, towards a possible confrontation with the Multyx…

The screen-window of Rekuirakha Like’s 2nd most important Admiral, Markherita Rossikh, broke the silence:

– If I’m reading this report correctly, the Yokhnota fleet is still superior? So it is solely the Multyx mobilisation capacity that is new?

– It is difficult to say at this point whether we’re superior still, – Batissta intercepted the question which seemingly was addressed to Ur. – They have these ships that are much larger than anything we can build… But they are fewer in numbers, and seem to be equipped to a comparable standard, so it comes down to attrition, which they now don’t have to fear as much.

– And you, Admiral Batissta, would suggest that the Concordat of Nellpa’xo is going to rebel any moment now, that these calculations are more than just an idle exercise? – I asked the figure in the screen-window, with a slight grain of mockery in my voice. Of course he is. His whole career has been based on it since the war.

– Their buildup should be taken as a way to apply pressure on us, to threaten us. We need to direct major investment into our fleet, especially mine, 1st Fleet, which is simply unable to act as anything but a tripwire force in the current situation, – the Admiral responded.

– To return to Admiral Rossikh’s question, the Yokhnota fleet is only superior when counted with all of its component fleets merged into one. No matter how you slice it, in the case of a war breaking out it is dubious 1st Fleet could avoid an enemy surprise attack into Bindur system while docked at Raxibb Oxocodolf. It would be tied up against a force three times its size without time or space to rendezvous with your fleet, – Tosee Ur noted, turning with some effort to be face-to-face with Rossikh’s image.

– I am well-aware of the strategic positioning of forces, thank you, – Rossikh replied coldly. – My question has to do specifically with your area of responsibility, with intelligence. What is the data on the match-up between our fleets? Have they completed any new construction, any retrofitting, upgrading?..

– In theory we’re still ahead, but we are again below the threshold of several years ago. We’re not far enough ahead for them not to start getting any ideas. They are again making overtures towards independence.

– Not at all, – I chimed in, scrolling page 5, which I had read fully, up. – We have every trust in Concordat of Nellpa’xo’s loyalty. This is the opinion of Findinkhaun’kha itself, as you are certainly aware. The matter of whether they are gaining too much strength relative to us is to only be seen as a question of defence theory and risk prevention. No credible analyst in the whole Like sees them demanding independence in any short-to-medium timeframe.

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Ur expressed an annoyed look, but did not respond, proceeding to stare blankly at Timi, who stood behind my chair, with his unoccupied eye. I noticed motion in his visor, visible through its semi-translucent red surface. “He is probably not re-reading the report”, I thought, – “It’s more likely that he’s maintaining contact with the outside, as the paranoid bastards do so often, like they’re still living in the 22nd century”. Tosee Ur was well-established in First Strike Legion, and known as an abrasive hardliner. He likely jumped onto the chance to present that report to me while it was still in the making, as it’s an opportunity to push an akta agenda onto the Arekommendashns. Or failing that, to try to find support in the opposition, or to make a compelling testimony to the Testinkh at large…

– Colonel Ur! Would you recommend a Full Testinkh Meeting discuss this report? – I inquired, finding it useless to resist that particular ploy.

– The decision is yours, Arekommendashns Alonso. My advice would be to decree a fleet expansion and a review of the possibility of building some fortifications in the distant regions. Likewise, I’d recommend lodging a complaint to the Multyx authorities, – the intelligence officer responded, staring confrontationally, – We need a comprehensive and self-certain response…

– Fortifications are useless! – Kherardo Batissta interrupted, seemingly enthused by his favourite topic coming up. – Space is not some plain or dune, where you could stick a castle or something and call it a day! We need to construct many more ships and bring both fleets to strength, and consider moving 3rd Fleet to Amerikan or Stratitheylal. That’s how to address the growing uncertainty we’re facing.

– Space fortifications aren’t a tested idea, – Rossikh, the fleet’s contrarian maverick, opined. The meeting was getting sidetracked, – And the Multyx sure see something in them, beyond even the value of expanding their spaceports!..

– But when it comes to setting… – I attempted to get the discussion back on track, but Rossikh would not be interrupted.

– …But this is a conversation we’ve had many times, I’m not sure anything new can be said. Likewise with redeploying my fleet – Concordat of Nellpa’xo is certainly not the only possible threat in the galaxy, and someone has to guard the mainspace. As for a Full Testinkh Meeting, – she seemingly had the same idea as I did, – discussion in that format would be appropriate, in my opinion. The report – as presented – immediately concerns Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs and implies the need for policy revision. I doubt any new course of action will be advised, other than construction of a few more ships, which I trust Arekommendashns Alonso agrees is due this year.

“No reason not to go along with that. Rossikh is quite right, a Full Testinkh Meeting will not advise anything beyond standard military and fleet boosts. I need to seize onto this agenda before the Quick Meeting concludes!” – the thought raced through my brain, and I quickly reacted:

– Colonel Ur! Make the report available to the relevant Findinkha structures, – I ordered, – And prepare to present it in detail to the Full Testinkh Meeting.

The large man nodded to each order: “Yes, my Arekommendashns!”

– Whether it’s spacebases, whatever your opinion on them, or formal complaints, I will require more information and advice to make the decision. I think we should draft a fleet expansion order ahead of the meeting, though, as I have no doubt it will find support. It’s something that is long overdue, you are all quite right. Still, I would like to clear it with the Defense Ministry. The Economic Development Ministry might also want to weigh in, but I’m sure there won’t be a problem.

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– They’re bloody pacifists, all of them! They’re certain to try to cut whatever increase we suggest in half, – mouthed off a less-prominent official further to the back of the table.

– It is beneath the dignity of Findinkha service to suggest that the patriots serving in the Economic Development Ministry are anything but that! They are akt, betweenitset and so on, not some pacifists! Besides, am I known as someone who has ever bowed before Internal Growth Party? – I asked with an outraged tone, only slightly played up from my genuine feeling.

– They’re mostly materialists, actually, as is the majority of Findinkha officials on Mammokhrams, but Arekommendashns Alonso is exactly right otherwise. This statement is unwelcome and taints our unity, – spoke up from the middle of the table the Head of Rekuirakha Like’s Society research, Konstantin Kolosov. His unremarkable and unimposing appearance and voice did not betray his military background nor well-deserved rank. – What concerns me more is that while Admiral Rossikh mentioned the Foreign Affairs Ministry possibly taking interest in the report, the foreign affairs angle hasn’t been properly discussed yet. The way I’m reading it now, Lop Upiverta is not seen as the biggest… hostile presence in the Multyx government. Is that right, colonel Ur?

– To an extent, Dr. Kolosov, – Ur responded at extra volume, as if believing the 3 meters between him and the Scientist to actually be 30 instead. – Our biggest worry is, of course, an accidental war, a war that neither the governments nor the citizens of either polity would want. A rogue act setting something off. The leader of 3rd Husk Squadron, the Multyx fleet strikeforce, is Admiral Valknek Upiverta, the leader of the so-called “Multyx Primacy Movement”. It is followed by 14% of the population of Concordat of Nellpa’xo, around 10 billion Multyx. I don’t think we can be certain of peace when that madman is in direct control over that force.

– Colonel Ur! Are you at odds with the Findinkha Intelligence Organisation? Should your thoughts be taken over its official assessment? – I implored, catching an even more confrontational stare from the colonel as he picked his handheld computer up from the table and began tapping something in.

– I am simply assessing threats and responding to questions, Arekommendashns Alonso, this being my job. Even if the likelihood of a crisis is drawbacha, we need to be aware of all threats. Additionally, this particular one – a rogue attack by a Multyx supremacist madman spiraling into a war – would not be a subject of the standard Findinkhaun’kha security report.

– Colonel Ur! Are Chancellor Lop Upiverta and this Admiral related somehow? Both having “Upiverta” in their name and all? – asked Kolosov, exuding pure curiosity.

– It’s not particularly relevant to the topic at hand… I believe these two individuals come from the same community, Farbber Youxca. Multyx communities are something between large clans and universities, members usually are only distantly related. All the Multyx from Farbber Youxca will have the “zinc”, as they call it, “Upiverta”, – Ur responded with some annoyance.

The Quick Meeting was growing long. As Kolosov pressed on with more questions on Concordat of Nellpa’xo’s socio-political structure, a topic he seemed greatly intrigued by and hardly knowledgeable about, I began to realise the true reason for Ur’s growing annoyance – time was running out, and with it First Strike Legion’s chance to have input on the fleet expansion decree that I had pledged to submit for the Testinkh to discuss. A chance to not even have to commit to any concrete numbers is too much of a political opportunity to pass up. Ploy for ploy. I typed in a message addressed to Timi on my visor, asking him to search for a reason to finish the meeting as soon as possible – it having to be a semi-legitimate reason, of course. He received the message on his handheld computer and went to work. I then turned my attention to the discussion, finding that I hadn’t missed much:

– You bring up an important point, Dr. Kolosov. I doubt there’s any direct continuity. It might be that the xenophobic anti-Yokhnot ideology of Multyx Primacy Movement runs deep in Farbber Youxca, I have no information on that… We certainly do believe that these ideas hold sway in the Multyx leadership, hence the recent activities and attempts by them to gain leverage against us.

– Admiral Batissta! Do you have any knowledge of that ideology’s proliferation within that community? I believe you are acquainted with Multyx customs from your many official functions, both in territory of our direct and indirect control? – I asked, feigning deep interest.

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– I wouldn’t know much about that, Arekommendashns Alonso, – the akta leader responded, seemingly hoping to dodge the question.

– If this xenophobic Admiral died, or was assassinated, would the situation change at all, or moreso improve, colonel Ur? – Kolosov wedged himself back into the conversation before I could press further.

Ur seemed taken aback by the suggestion:

– I… Dr. Kolosov, this is a highly unorthodox topic… At this moment I don’t have any… any planning done. To me, increase of our own military power and applying strong diplomatic pressure seem to be much better solutions. Solutions more likely to work.

– I see, – Kolosov said softly.

– May I suggest returning to drafting the fleet expansion document? – came through the voice of Admiral Rossikh, – This seems like the most important thing right now and time is in short supply.

Rossikh, of course, saw through the situation as well and was blunt enough to bring it up. She’s not even a member of First Strike Legion, although the very nature of an Admiral’s job aligns her with them.

– One moment, Admiral Rossikh, some questions remain! – I declared, turning to the meeting-starter. – Colonel Ur! You have accused both the government of Concordat of Nellpa’xo and this Admiral Upiverta of wanting to create conflict with us, their overlords. It is known to me that xenophobia is ill-supported among the Multyx, and the largest faction is… I won’t remember off the top of my head, but I believe it is one that espouses pacifism. Even if you consider that Lop Upiverta might be influenced by that Admiral on the basis of being from the same community – well, Lop Upiverta’s electoral prospects are less than stellar, if the reports are to be believed. Why do you frame the Multyx expansion of their military, or simply their military potential, in terms of some ill will towards us, when in fact it is our responsibility and our responsibility alone to maintain a military worthy of being the overlords of the galaxy and the bearers of the benefith?

A pause lingered as I struck the table to accentuate the end of the tirade. Some of the scientists at the end of the table started clapping, soon joined by Konstantin Kolosov and a few of the officials. Looking back at the words I had said just seconds ago, I appreciated managing to invoke a sense of shared purpose with First Strike Legion, showing myself to be an akt just like them, but above stirring artificial conflict. The colonel seemed to be genuinely enraged, and struggling to maintain a calm demeanour. Admiral Batissta appeared unsure of how to respond as he stared off-camera; Admiral Rossikh nodded along and was the first to break the silence:

– This is a fair point, Arekommendashns Alonso, and one that I absolutely share. Especially when one considers that the expansion of military potential comes simply from increased population, technology and spaceport infrastructure, which, by the way, Rekuirakha Like needs to seriously invest in. That’s something I’d like to be brought up on the Full Testinkh Meeting.

– Admiral Rossikh! I shall request you present the Full Meeting with the paraphrase of our conversation here so far, including our shared concern. You will be able to come to Mammokhrams for the session, won’t you? – I said, leaning back on the chair. I felt spent.

– Provided it is scheduled some time from now, yes. It would be an honour, – Rossikh responded.

– I believe you have never spoken at a Full Testinkh Meeting before?

– I haven’t, Arekommendashns Alonso.

– Well then, you will have the chance to prove yourself worthy of Juvina Nayak, the commander of 3rd Fleet whom you have succeeded. She was talented beyond all measure, but I do think you could measure up to her in time, – I said, radiating warmth, in a speaking style that comes only with advanced age.

– I thank you for putting your trust in me, Arekommendashns Alonso.

Timi bent over from behind the chair and whispered to me:

– A Quick Meeting has been moved up in the schedule. The Findinkha engineers want consultations on further settlement construction on Amerikan.

– Hasn’t this current meeting run out of its allocated time anyway? – I asked in a similar whisper.

– It has, but the schedule alteration means it cannot continue beyond its limits, – Timi explained. That was legitimate enough, he’d done a good job.

Arekommendashns Alonso! – exclaimed Ur, – I don’t suppose you’re planning to adjourn this meeting before a clear draft has been formulated for the fleet expansion order?!

– I’ve just been informed of a schedule change, colonel Ur. Besides, we’re out of time regardless. Perhaps you should have forwarded your reports to the attendees ahead of time, – I responded, gesturing for Timi to disconnect the visor.

– That is unconscionable! What was the purpose of this meeting if not to develop some policy drafts with input from the appropriate specialists? – Ur stared in disbelief as some of the more eager officials rose to their feet, hearing the next meeting’s delegation gathering outside. A uniformed guard looked into the room, and disappeared back behind the door.

– The meeting you have convened served to inform us of the news, acquaint us with the report and get us to agree on further action, – I disagreed, rising up, not even as much to signify that the meeting was over but to make a quick stroll to the window and back, a bit of stretching in a day of sitting around. – Fellow Findinkha officials, intelligence officers and scientists! This emergency Quick Meeting is adjourned! Expect information on the next Full Testinkh Meeting and participation in it by tomorrow. I don’t expect distant participation will be permitted, but we’ll consider a live feed, as usual. I’d like to thank everyone here and Findinkha Intelligence Organisation… Admiral Rossikh! I’ll have my office contact you on some specifics. Admiral Batissta! Likewise. Farewell!

I turned and strolled to the window, as those physically present headed out and others disconnected from their screen-windows, which then were hastily rearranged by a group of robots with a couple of aides watching over. Up close, some of the sky could be seen from this window, a sector of orange up above. Most of it was obscured by metal, glass and silicate. Rekuira’s heat was scorching today.

As I turned, a new, far less important and urgent Quick Meeting was almost fully assembled. It could wait while I instruct Timi to inform my office about the upcoming Full Testinkh Meeting and the preparation I expect done. I hope to be able to guide a moderate military boost without anything that could tear into our economy or push the Multyx towards revolt, however unlikely…

But I was right. Our defences are our concern alone. The Multyx can do what they may, but we must not be overtaken. We just need to find a balance. Only this way can Rekuirakha Like neither be overthrown nor degenerate or fall apart as did the great space empires of yore, and as did the great Yokhnota empires here, on the cradle of our species, the glorious planet of Mammokhrams.

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