Author Topic: Money and the Will to Power: A Game of Economic Imperialism [PBEM]  (Read 5971 times)

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Offline Tayta Malikai

The Will to Power is a new mod to emerge from the recent upswing in modding activity for SMAC, itself an offshoot of the revolutionary Thinker Mod. While these two mods might have their differences, both have incorporated and built off each other’s features, and it’s very encouraging to see new innovations being made for this venerable game. I certainly look forward to seeing what else modders come up with in the years ahead.

While Thinker focuses on improving AI and providing configuration options, Will to Power makes an effort to completely rework the game in order to patch exploits and finally bring about True BalanceTM on Alpha Centauri. Among its many changes, and likely the most significant, is that combat is now weighted more strongly in favour of the defender, with huge bonuses to base defense and fighting on one’s own territory. Any war between factions is destined to be a protracted, drawn-out affair, defined by attrition and won atop a hill of mangled corpses and broken rovers.

So of course, we’re going to completely ignore all of that and instead wage war using purely economic means.

For as we all know, money is power…

This is a PBEM game played between myself and Nevill, using version 69 66 of the Will to Power mod. The exact rules have yet to be fully determined, since we were keen to get the game off the ground while it was the weekend and we could squeeze a good number of turns in, but essentially they amount to:
  • Don’t attack the AI, and definitely don’t capture their bases. Self-defence is, of course, permitted.
  • Don’t attack each other’s core territory, the exact extent of which will be subject to negotiation and the facts on the ground.

Game Settings
Difficulty: Transcend.
Map: Standard, Random.

Tayta: Peacekeeping Forces. ;lal;
Code: [Select]
Starting tech: Applied Physics.
+1 talent per 4 citizens
+2 standard population limit
x2 votes in Planetary Council elections
Pro-Democratic, Anti-Police State.

Nevill: Gaia’s Stepdaughters. ;deidre;
Code: [Select]
Starting tech: Centauri Ecology.
+1 nutrients from fungus
Pro-Green, Anti-Free Market.

Two peace-loving factions going head-to-head. Who will prevail in this contest of economic might? Find out as the game unfolds!

Offline bvanevery

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Re: Money and the Will to Power: A Game of Economic Imperialism [PBEM]
« Reply #1 on: June 29, 2020, 06:47:06 PM »
Hmm.  Sounds like a game of "who is cheap to buy".  Because I don't think either of you will be cheap to buy.  Therefore, the AI factions become "food".

Offline Tayta Malikai

Re: Money and the Will to Power: A Game of Economic Imperialism [PBEM]
« Reply #2 on: July 03, 2020, 03:49:23 AM »
Therefore, the AI factions become "food".
Aren't they always? ;)

Anyway, the game is actually proceeding at a blistering (for PBEM) pace, since work-from-home combined with relatively aligned timezones let us squeeze in a lot of turns. Considering how sluggish our last game with more players went, it's a nice change of pace. The downside is that since playing the game takes priority over writing about it, there hasn't been much chance to post about it here.

Now that the turn rate is starting to slow down, though, I'll try to get some material out soon.

Offline Tayta Malikai

Re: Money and the Will to Power: A Game of Economic Imperialism [PBEM]
« Reply #3 on: July 03, 2020, 03:39:04 PM »

The United Nations was not meant to outlive the Earth.

From its initial conception as a vehicle of international peace and stability following the end of World War II, the UN had never been more than the sum of its member nations. And as nations always did, they began to twist and pervert the powers granted by these new international institutions for their own purposes. Wars were declared and countries devastated in the name of peace; punitive sanctions and embargoes crippled economies in the name of prosperity; the worst violators of human rights were allowed to serve as their enforcers; unchecked veto powers enabled the self-styled guardians of democracy to repeatedly overrule it. For all their talk of the rules-based international order, it soon became clear that, as ever, there was only one rule that mattered: the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.

It was therefore viewed as the ultimate irony when, as the governments of those nations started to collapse left and right, their former citizens turned to the UN for leadership. A few unremarkable bureaucrats, who once had to plead and scrape for funds to help those in need, suddenly found themselves responsible for administering the remains of entire countries. Taking the reins that slipped from other hands, they soon became the world’s new powerbrokers, for it was the bureaucrats who decided where those resources would go: money, technology, armies and fleets. They governed no countries, yet without their connivance, no country could be governed.

In spite of their insistence to the contrary, power shifted from the halls of Washington, Brussels, Moscow, and Beijing, and into space: the final frontier, untamed by man, and therefore not yet subject to his petty geopolitical disputes. It was precisely because space belonged to no-one that a government which ruled no countries was able to claim it. While the surviving nations of Earth bickered over the spoils, it was aboard its stations in high orbit that the United Nations Space Authority became the sole arbiter of all human economic and military activity.

But while the underappreciated bureaucrats of the world had finally tasted power, they knew all too well how fragile it was. The UNSA’s entire powerbase rested on terrestrial assets: advanced technologies developed and built by the scientists and engineers of the former superpowers; tax dollars extracted from failing economies; reserves of natural resources long depleted by centuries of reckless over-extraction; even the bureaucrats themselves owed their prized formal educations to respected institutions on the planet’s surface. And those broken superpowers still possessed massive arsenals of anti-satellite weapons: intended to be used against each other in the final war to end all wars, but just as easily used on an outside party that was already too powerful for anyone’s comfort. If they couldn’t have space, then nobody would.

And so, with a resource and technology base that was crumbling by the day, the UNSA threw everything it had into one last gamble: the UNS Unity, crewed by the brightest minds humanity had ever produced. Leave the charred wreckage of Earth behind to start afresh on a virgin world, where none would be able to threaten them. If the problems of humans couldn’t be solved on one planet, then clearly the logical solution was to move humans to another.

That was how UN High Commissioner Tayta came to be standing here on the surface of Planet. Staring up at the harsh binary suns which once glittered with so much promise in the skies of another world, he reflected on just what went wrong along the way.

In a word, everything.

Six saboteurs, planted by Earth’s intelligence agencies decades ago, had emerged from their cryo-capsules alongside everyone else, and immediately thrown the Unity into chaos. The final gasp of their dying homelands, all of them had the same objective: to rally fellow national sympathizers, seize control of the ship, and re-establish themselves as the leaders of new successor states on Planet’s surface.

None were able to achieve dominance over the others, but they succeeded nevertheless, storming the Unity’s landing pods and breaking away from the ship to head for Planet –  and, in the process, wiping out the entire UNSA leadership on board. It was only thanks to Tayta’s quick thinking that any of the remaining loyalists were able to repair the final pod and escape the rapidly disintegrating wreckage.

Tayta found it rather fitting, in a twisted fashion, that the greatest crisis faced by the United Nation Space Authority should occur right as it attempted to transfer itself down to a planetary body.

Now here Tayta was: the last representative of the UNSA’s supreme executive power, a governor for a non-government. A bureaucrat who suddenly held more power than he’d ever dreamed of.

It seemed that humanity might have left Earth, but Earth had not yet left humanity.

Time to change that.
« Last Edit: July 05, 2020, 01:00:13 AM by Tayta Malikai »

Offline bvanevery

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Re: Money and the Will to Power: A Game of Economic Imperialism [PBEM]
« Reply #4 on: July 03, 2020, 06:21:36 PM »
Nice writing! 

the sole arbiter of all human economic and military activity.

I have trouble believing the UN was ever powerful on Earth, but nice writing.  Seems more likely the UN would have been a clearinghouse for a last ditch international effort, and not a military force of its own.  Hence why Lal is accused of being a pusillanimous wimp.  Simply put, you don't tell the USA where it's going to send its troops, unless the USA has crumbled into nothing.

Is Tatya a wimp??

Offline Tayta Malikai

Re: Money and the Will to Power: A Game of Economic Imperialism [PBEM]
« Reply #5 on: July 05, 2020, 01:29:34 AM »
Thanks! I'm just starting to get back into writing in general after a long hiatus, so it's good to see I haven't lost my touch.

I actually did have a line explicitly referencing pieces of the crumbling US economic and military hegemony falling into UN hands (among others) in an earlier draft, but I decided it didn't flow well to specifically call them out. I do agree that in the event of some general international calamity, it would be the other nations who step in and take control, with the UN acting as a clearinghouse as you call it - unless those nations had their own problems to deal with. The game does support this to some degree, with several faction profiles implying that the P5 nations all suffered some form of collapse or regime change. It's in this environment of shaky government control over their own countries that the various UN missions get repurposed to "help" them.

In that sense, what I mean to describe as the UN's supreme executive power is less that it deploys troops itself, and more that it uses its influence on member nations to get them to deploy troops on its behalf. The USA could still send troops wherever it wanted, but if it wanted things to go smoothly and to accomplish something meaningful with them, it would be in its best interests to get the shadowy faceless unelected UN bureaucrats on side. After all, even the USA needs basing rights.

But yes, portraying the UN this way is definitely a departure from what the game suggests. I just find the idea of a UN that learns to wield the levers of power for itself to be an interesting evolution, compared to its usual limp-wristed ineffectual reputation.

Also, United Nations Space Authority is a really cool name for a faction.

Is Tatya a wimp??
Lal is an idealist through and through. I expect he would argue that the UN succeeded because it was able to bring all the world's nations together to accomplish this one act, and ultimately ensured the continuance of the human species as a result.

The Tayta that appears in this story has a rather more cynical view of things. He'd argue that the UN succeeded because it recognized the importance of seizing and maintaining power when the opportunity arose, and took the necessary steps to ensure its own survival. For while ideals are wonderful, without power, you can affect nothing.

Lal would earnestly prefer to work with the other factions and effect change subtly, bringing them over to the UN's vision of their own will. Tayta knows they will never give up power willingly and will have to be strongarmed into submitting. But it's all for the greater good. Right?

Offline Tayta Malikai

Re: Money and the Will to Power: A Game of Economic Imperialism [PBEM]
« Reply #6 on: July 05, 2020, 02:23:55 AM »
Mission Year 2120

It’s shocking how fast two decades have already passed. I didn’t even realize until Sally asked me whether I was going to give a speech for the occasion.

Two decades. That’s almost half the time I’ve been alive. Subjectively, anyway. Cryo-years don’t count; otherwise, the whole High Commission would officially qualify as geezers by now.

Not that you could tell. I’ve no idea how the Space Authority got its hands on this stuff, but these treatments [intercourse gerund]
work. I feel like I haven’t aged a day since I climbed out of that pod. Physically, at least. Mentally, my brain has more holes in it than the Unity.

I guess I’ll never find out how they did it, either. They’re all gone now. Only me left.

Look at me. I was a young man when I left Earth. What did young men ever do back on Earth? Well, apart from starving. Get a degree, get a career, get a wife and kids? People still believed in that sort of thing, even though nobody could afford it anymore. I might’ve been able to: I had the first half down already. I still don’t know how I pulled that off, either. I thought for sure that smartass Alastor was gonna get the post. I’m here now, though, and he isn’t, so I guess that counts for something.

Ugh, I’m rambling again. Surely I’m not the only one who’s noticed. How long before some other smartass realizes that I’m faking it? That I’m a fraud waving around the UN flag to cover up for my own shortcomings? And when that happens, how long before the same smartass decides to take a shot at the top job?

I’m sure it’s happening already. I can hear the whispering stop when I enter the room, the sneaky texts under the table, the notes scribbled in the margins of requisition forms, the posts on the private message boards. I’m not even sure I can trust Sally these days. Sometimes it feels like she’s the one running this organization rather than me.

Right. Enough of feeling sorry for myself. I’m a leader now. I’m
the leader now. And leaders have to give speeches every now and then, so let’s write a damn speech.


Citizens of the United Nations, it has been a long and hard twenty years for us all. When we departed Earth with hopes in our hearts and regrets in our minds, we never dreamed that existence here on Planet would be so harsh or austere. As we have all experienced for ourselves, nothing comes easily, and every endeavour takes not just blood and sweat and tears, but above all time. In the years since we arrived, an entire new generation has been born and raised, already becoming citizens in their own right. And what world have we built for them so far? I hope we all take some time to reflect on our answer to that on this day.

Nobody despairs the loss of the Unity’s industrial and technological base more than I. It has taken us twenty years of toil and effort, often working with little more than our bare hands, to reproduce the simplest of the colonization and terraforming devices we carried with us to Alpha Centauri. Were it not for Commissioner Mitchell’s recycling initiative, we might have found ourselves confined to our riverbed landing sites for decades more!

Indeed, the sole item of Unity technology our scouting expeditions were able to recover has been more a source of consternation than one of comfort to us. The Battle Ogre was a top-of-the-line enforcement droid, built by the military-industrial complex on Earth for one purpose and one purpose alone: to ruthlessly crush dissent against those who would profit from others’ misery.

One could hardly imagine any more fitting a symbol of our species’ legacy: one that, as citizens of the United Nations, it is our solemn duty to overcome and rise above. For the sake of our children, for the sake of humanity itself, we will break free of the bonds of history and forge our own destiny here on Planet!

It will not be an easy duty for any of us. And it is only about to get harder. Our fledgling diplomatic corps has been run ragged for the past ten years, as our diligent scout patrols put them into contact with not just one, but four groups of our fellow survivors from the Unity disaster in orbit. It is my heartfelt desire that the five of us will be able to coexist in peace and harmony as all we strive for a higher purpose. Our diplomats have already concluded several fruitful exchanges of technology and information with these factions, a promising portent of the progress to come.

We must not place our trust blindly, however. Already we have seen signs that conflict, the same kind that devastated Earth and disintegrated the Unity, has followed us here to Planet. Morgan Industries reels in the wake of a short and brutal border dispute with the Spartan Federation, which has since invaded and occupied two of its three bases, stifling its peaceful expansion. Essential technology from Earth, which was meant to be shared with all of the Unity’s passengers, has been illegally scavenged and hoarded for private purposes. And this will surely not be the worst to come in the days ahead. As citizens of the United Nations, we must all remain vigilant and do our utmost to ensure that the horrors of industrial-scale warfare never have the chance to ravage another world.

The years have taken their toll on us; but we survive, we endure, and we prosper for it.

We have already taken the first of many steps on Planet; our giant leap awaits us yet.


(click to show/hide)
« Last Edit: July 05, 2020, 05:24:54 AM by Tayta Malikai »

Offline bvanevery

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Re: Money and the Will to Power: A Game of Economic Imperialism [PBEM]
« Reply #7 on: July 05, 2020, 04:25:37 AM »
In that sense, what I mean to describe as the UN's supreme executive power is less that it deploys troops itself, and more that it uses its influence on member nations to get them to deploy troops on its behalf.

And unfortunately I think that's a poppycock idea, in any future we can ever imagine about the human race.  The real number of soldiers you personally can put on the ground, matters.  The real number of tanks you have, and the real amount of oil you have to drive them around, matters.  Your real factories, matter.  Your real launchable nuclear warheads matter.  You cannot "peddle influence" on all these things.  They are repositories of real power.

Money is an odd one to try to reason about, given this.  Money is a virtualized system of exchange, ever since humans invented the idea to supplant direct barter.  If the exchange system is working, then money talks, money is power.  If the exchange system is breaking down, as in the state of planetary calamities and national collapse, then real power matters.  You can try to pay me as a mercenary, for me to use my knife on your behalf.  But if I have a knife, and know how to use a knife, I can just knife you.

In short, Santiago is correct.  When the world has gone to hell in a handbasket, at least.

Scientists are valuable in most post-apocalyptic sci-fis because they know how to make useful things like nerve gas.  That's a material artifact of real power.

The United Nations peacekeeping effort as portrayed in the game, is correct.  Bureaucratic middlemen that can't control all kids of stuff.  Like the 6 other factions.

Diplomacy is one of the forms of real power.  The problem is, it only works by convincing people to "vote others off the island".  It's all sleight of hand.  Someone who's got enough tanks and rockets and oil and nukes, doesn't need to negotiate anymore.

Offline Tayta Malikai

Re: Money and the Will to Power: A Game of Economic Imperialism [PBEM]
« Reply #8 on: July 05, 2020, 05:08:52 AM »
I think we are disagreeing over details here. We both (in the context of the story being posted in this thread, at least) seem to operate from the core premise that fundamentally, well, fundamentals matter. If you don't have the tools to enforce your will yourself, that will is irrelevant.

Of course, if you do have those tools, oftentimes you don't even have to actually use them to get people to do what you want. Isn't hard power diplomacy grand?

So yeah, you're right, you can't rule with a shadow government alone, you need Real StuffTM to back it up as well. The UN was never meant to get its hands on that sort of stuff, but in this story, it did.

Offline Tayta Malikai

Re: Money and the Will to Power: A Game of Economic Imperialism [PBEM]
« Reply #9 on: July 05, 2020, 03:41:00 PM »

Shock sweeps the United Nations in the wake of several high-profile raids carried out at the UN Headquarters by the Peacekeeping Forces, uncovering a corruption scheme implicating top officials from multiple agencies, including the Planetary Monetary Fund and the Nutrition and Terraforming Organization.

These raids were the culmination of a 10 year-long investigation into reports that funds earmarked for expanding the UN’s burgeoning terraforming fleet were disappearing into what one investigator called “a bureaucratic black hole”. It has since been found that the funds were in fact being used to finance unnecessary refurbishments to the amenities at UNHQ. Accountants estimate that over 30 million UN dollars have been lost as a result of this graft.

While details on the ground remain scarce, it is known that the Battle Ogre multi-purpose enforcement droid which was restored to service in 2109 took part in the raids.

At this time, we can confirm that two high-ranking PMF officials, Assistant Director Timothy Newton and Senior Economist Tammy Weiss, have been arrested and formally charged with the misappropriation of mission resources for personal use. However, due to ongoing undercapacity in the UN court system, it is expected that the case will not be heard for another 10 years.

UN High Commissioner Tayta called a press conference following the raids. “It is very disappointing to see that respected leaders of our noble mission have stooped so low as to engage in such petty acts of corruption. It would appear that a more shameful part of the United Nations’ legacy on Earth has followed us here to Planet.”

The High Commissioner then went on to announce that restrictions on the hunting and sale of live mind worms would be temporarily lifted in order to recover the loss, which represents a significant setback to UN development efforts on Planet.

When asked about concerns that excessive force may have been used in the raids, Tayta had this to say. “Unfortunately, due to the chronic staffing issues this mission faces, the Peacekeeping Forces had to make do with the materiel they had on hand. Rest assured that the on-site commander acted with a wholly appropriate level of force, and that any injuries to innocent bystanders were kept to a minimum.”

However, inside sources close to the High Commission have painted a different portrait. “Using the Battle Ogre in this manner was a completely intentional show of force,” one insider who agreed to be interviewed under condition of anonymity said. “This is about sending a message that anybody who misuses resources will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the Charter.”

(click to show/hide)

Offline Tayta Malikai

Re: Money and the Will to Power: A Game of Economic Imperialism [PBEM]
« Reply #10 on: July 07, 2020, 04:01:31 PM »
The UN High Commission passed Resolution 44 with a majority vote this morning, paving the way for an extensive restructuring of the United Nations’ organizational structure.

The restructuring is intended to address the issues believed to have caused the infamous Tim-Tam Scandal which broke headlines last year. While Timothy Newton and Tammy Weiss have yet to stand trial, a formal inquiry by UN Data Acquisition has identified major deficiencies in the UN’s education system and organizational culture as the root cause of the scandal.

“Education is the foundation of all civilization,” UN High Commissioner Tayta stated in a speech to the UN General Assembly. “Education is what allows scientists to research, engineers to build, administrators to manage, and soldiers to fight. Every advance in the history of our species was only possible because education allowed us to build on what previous generations achieved before us. Beyond all else, it was education that enabled billions of Earth’s citizens to escape crushing poverty and reach unprecedented socioeconomic heights at the turn of the third millennium.

“And yet, detailed statistics kept by UN Data Acquisition show that during the twenty-first century, education standards actually decreased worldwide! Worse, evidence shows that this decline was an intentional effort by world leaders, to suppress the threat to their positions that an educated populace represents. It is this brand of thinking that precipitated the calamities of Earth’s final century, and now threatens to precipitate similar disasters here on Planet.”

The specific objectives outlined in Resolution 44 include the establishment of a world-class education system, capable of producing talented future UN leaders; the expansion of the UN’s industrial base; the prevention of bribery, graft, cronyism, and any other form of corruption; and the promotion of the universal values of peace, freedom, social progress, equal rights, and human dignity as enshrined in the UN Charter.

These are intended to be achieved with the establishment of new agencies specifically tailored and empowered to achieve these objectives; significant increases to investment in capital goods, such as terraforming modules and computer networks; a tightening of budgetary restrictions, with all outlays to now require approval from a special oversight committee; and a thorough review of all UN agencies and sub-agencies, entailing the demotion or removal of any officials found to be underperforming or engaged in corrupt activities.

Critics have questioned the scope of the program, pointing out that the allocated budget of 80 million UN dollars over the next 5 years far exceeds the amount which was lost in the Tim-Tam Scandal. “This is spending dollars to save cents,” PMF Senior Economist Samuel Fletcher said in an interview. “All of these newfangled agencies and sub-committees are purely an exercise in expanding the bureaucracy to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.”

Controversy also arose over the inclusion of a measure in Resolution 44 that would see a reduction in the production and distribution of contraceptives. “The UN Declaration of Rights applies to all human beings, regardless of their natal status,” High Commissioner Tayta responded to criticism of the measure. “The unborn child will be treated with the same dignity as the adult citizen.”

(click to show/hide)
« Last Edit: July 08, 2020, 06:11:33 AM by Tayta Malikai »

Offline Hagen0

Re: Money and the Will to Power: A Game of Economic Imperialism [PBEM]
« Reply #11 on: July 07, 2020, 08:28:54 PM »
I can get behind Planned but why Fundamentalist? You do not currently need the talent. Building the recycling tank over more formers also seems questionable unless you have enough money to rush-buy it.

Offline Tayta Malikai

Re: Money and the Will to Power: A Game of Economic Imperialism [PBEM]
« Reply #12 on: July 08, 2020, 02:12:29 AM »
I can get behind Planned but why Fundamentalist? You do not currently need the talent.
I am admittedly uncertain as to how +TALENT interacts with Psych rules, which I already find confusing enough as it is. But I figure it can't hurt. At the very least, it should let you coast on RecCommons + 1 police unit for longer, right? That seems significant given I can't run Police State and Non-Lethal Methods got stuffed all the way to the back of the tech tree.

I'd still pick Fundie for the +INDUSTRY alone, which I sorely needed to get anything built in this version of the mod.

Building the recycling tank over more formers also seems questionable unless you have enough money to rush-buy it.
Well, let's do some theorycrafting. Both RecTanks and a former cost 4 rows to build (40 minerals). A RecTanks costs no maintenance and immediately gives the base +1 to all three resources, and is unlikely to be destroyed barring extreme negligence. To get the same from a former, you first need to build it, and then spend a cumulative 16 former-turns (4 for a farm, 8 for a mine, 4 for a solar), which can't really be sped up this early in the game. Formers also take up support you could be using for scouts or CPs, and there's always the chance you'll lose it to a mind worm attack.

And 40 minerals for a facility is not equal to 40 minerals for a unit. One costs ~10 turns of income to hurry (I was getting 8/turn at that point), the other 20. One clearly offers better value over the other.

Of course, in reality I don't actually make decisions like this. I mostly think, "Jeez that's expensive for a former! Might as well build RecTanks instead."

It would be a different story if RecTanks cost twice as much as a former, as they did in vanilla and Nevill's mod (or, more precisely, formers cost half as much as RecTanks). Then formers become a more attractive option, as they can be built faster and start terraforming tiles earlier.

Offline Tayta Malikai

Re: Money and the Will to Power: A Game of Economic Imperialism [PBEM]
« Reply #13 on: July 16, 2020, 02:31:24 PM »
Mission Year 2152

Fifty years ago, when the remaining crew of UN loyalists crash-landed on Planet, one of the first things they did was to dispatch reconnaissance teams to survey and secure the landing area. While the mission’s parameters expected a certain degree of habitability, nothing could be guaranteed, especially not from over four light-years away. Therefore, the UN's designers had spared no expense in ensuring that its brave pioneers were outfitted in the best survival gear that Earth technology had to offer. Full-body sealed pressure suits with NBC and ballistic protection, laser rifles with enough wattage to burn through over a metre of solid steel, and miniaturized fission reactors that provided practically infinite operational endurance were just the tip of the exploratory spear.

Things were a little different today. The new generation brought up on Planet had never known any other home; a combination of biogenetic tweaks in utero and simple human adaptability let them acclimate to the new environment in a way that their parents would never quite match. The extraordinary caution of dealing with an alien environment had long since given way to mundane everyday practicality.

The UN Peacekeeping Forces soldier of Mission Year 2152 wore a simple set of combat fatigues, patterned in blended woodland-fungal digital camouflage. They were light and comfortable, easy to move around in, easy to remove in case of medical emergency, and most importantly of all required no maintenance. That mattered a lot when maintenance could only be performed by qualified engineers under close supervision after submitting work orders in triplicate. Helmets and respirators were still necessary, but compared to the bulky SCBA affairs of yesteryear, these were thankfully lightweight.

Likewise, the Space Age laser rifles brought to Planet aboard the Unity, while fearsome enough as weapons, were also highly impractical for regular patrols. Their operation in Planet’s atmosphere was a messy tangle of power cables and cooling fans, and while the benefits might have been worth it to combat human opponents, against native life mettle mattered far more than metal. Simple flamethrowers rigged from defoliation equipment were easily sufficient to destroy mind worm clusters, once properly applied.

And if UNPF soldiers on patrol were to be attacked by human opponents… battle rifles chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO might’ve been primitive by Earth standards, but they were also portable, simple, and reliable. There was a very good reason Earth’s militaries had continued to use them right up until the end.

Of course, the whole point of this particular UNPF patrol was that those weapons would never have to be used. That was because the four soldiers were patrolling in the shadow of another Earth-era war machine: the so-called Battle Ogre. Allegedly intended for law enforcement, it was discovered during one of the sporadic attacks on UNHQ that mind worm clusters became curiously docile under the effect of its primary weapon system. It was theorized that this had something to do with “resonance waves”, which were used in the Battle Ogre’s original capacity to pacify masses of rioting drones. Some found these implications disturbing, but others soon realized the potential for a dedicated anti-worm system. If only anyone actually understood how it worked.

But until someone figured it out, Sergeant Stewart Ross and the three soldiers under his command were to take it for a spin outside the dome.

It wasn’t a bad day for it, all things considered. The weather was mild, with the westerly winds helping to alleviate the heat from both suns being in the sky at the same time. The terrain on this section of the patrol route wasn’t too rough, and the soil was firm beneath everyone’s feet.

“So, guys,” Private Antonin Marceaux was saying, rifle slung over his shoulder, “I’ve been thinking for a while now–”

“Yes, please, do that,” Corporal Vijaya Jha said snidely. “It attracts worms.”

“Very funny, Vijaya.” Marceaux took it in stride. “So I was thinking if this thing here is so valuable, why are the bureaucrats sending it on patrols outside the dome? Shouldn’t they be keeping it in a workshop night and day until they crack what makes it tick?”

“Hey, I actually like babysitting this thing, thank you.” Private Serafina Dwyer jerked a thumb at the Battle Ogre, which was currently plodding along the scrublands alongside the river, occasionally stopping to scan an errant patch of dirt with its laser rangefinder. “Would you rather we have to hunt worms with bare hands and a stick, instead?”

“Well, obviously not,” Marceaux answered, “but think about it. If they actually do work it out, then they’ll be able to reproduce it, and then we won’t have to use bare hands and a stick ever again. But if it gets broken out here–”

“Great, now you’ve jinxed it,” Jha remarked.

“Let me finish, will you? I’m saying that if it breaks out here, then we’re gonna be stuck using bare hands and a stick for the rest of all time. Now, I dunno about you guys, but that doesn’t sound like a great tradeoff to me.”

“You just don’t understand the mind of the bureaucrat, man,” Dwyer drawled. “It’s the most special thing, not meant for outsiders to know. It’s all in the numbers. They’ve got the gift, this special talent to know what this number means and that number means, and what happens when you add them together. And in this case, the numbers tell them that they can get a bigger number by sending this thing outside with us. It’s all numbers, I’m telling you.”

“So what’s your theory, Antonin?” Sergeant Ross cut in. “Seeing as you’ve been doing so much thinking lately.”

“I think Sera’s actually got the right idea,” Marceaux said, adjusting his respirator as he spoke. “It’s all about the numbers, and those numbers have a big fat dollar sign attached to them. See, when Tim-Tam went down, all the other bureaucrats, they had to cover the losses, right? Can’t have humanity’s progress held up just because a couple of idiots had to go and build themselves a golden recycling tank.”

“We already knew that, Antonin. Get to the point.”

“What I’m saying is,” Marceux started to gesture more animatedly, “we should’ve more than covered the losses by now. Thirty million’s a lot of money, but it’s not that much, you know. It’s only three years’ of the UN’s operating budget. Now, I dunno about you, but I’m pretty sure I know where all that money’s going. See, after Tim-Tam showed us the limits of UN bureaucracy, all the other bureaucrats–”

“Seriously, man, just get to the point,” Dwyer said. “All this thinking is doing my head in before the worms do.”

“Alright, alright. The point is, the bureaucrats are clearly skimming off the top thanks to our efforts. And I say we should be getting a slice too.”

There was a moment of silence, punctuated only by the Battle Ogre’s servos whirring as it scanned another bush.

“My, my, what’s this?” Corporal Jha mocked. “Corrupt UN Peacekeepers? It didn’t take long for history to repeat itself.”

“Yeah, man, don’t go joking around about that sort of thing.” Private Dwyer shook her head. “UNDA hears about it, they’ll send the boys in lavender to take you away and put you in remedial. Classes fourteen hours a day, exams every two hours. It’s not worth it, man.”

“Of course it’s worth it,” Private Marceaux defended. “Planetpearls go for like a million a pop. Who’s gonna notice if we skim a few hundred grand off a bounty like that?”

“You… you do know what organization you’re in, right? United Nations? Bureaucrats? Like, hello, who else is gonna notice us mysteriously losing a few hundred grand? [poop], I’d bet on them noticing if a few grand went missing.”

“They didn’t notice when Tim and Tam swiped thirty million of terraforming funds, did they?”

“Yeah, until they got caught. As in, they got caught? Now UNDA’s got their hands into every damn cookie jar. They’re reading every form, they’re weighing every trolley, hell, they’re watching you piss in case you drank too much water at breakfast. And you think they aren’t gonna notice a few hundred grand? Forget it. I’m not risking it.”

“That’s smart thinking, Serafina,” Ross nodded at her. “You should take note, Antonin. There are worse fates than being mind worm chow, you know, and remedial training is one of them.”

“Really, Sergeant?” Marceaux challenged. “Because the way I see it, we’ll be out here crawling in fungus until the twenty-second century comes around. Do you really wanna be doing that for the sake of some crooked, limp-wristed–”

A loud and distinctive ping interrupted Marceaux before he could finish his invective.

“We’ve got movement!” Dwyer called, holding up her motion tracker to study its screen more closely. “I make that… five hundred, no, four-fifty metres and closing, on our two o’clock! Looks like larval mass-sized!”

“Well, what do you know?” Marceaux spread his hands out. “Still don’t think grabbing a few hundred grand for our trouble is worth it?”

“If you call standing around while this thing does all the work for us ‘trouble’, I’d hate to see what you’d do in a real fight.”

“Hey, if you want a real fight, I can give you one right now, you know.”

“Oh yeah? I bet I can finish it before this thing mops up all the worms.”


It was good that the team was confident, certainly better than the converse, but Ross still frowned at how lightly they were treating the threat of mind worms. “Don’t count your pearls until they’ve dropped,” he warned. “Be ready in case anything goes wrong. If the situation does change–”

The Battle Ogre suddenly exploded.

Everyone instinctively fell prone as the blast wave rolled over them, showering burning chunks of Earth-origin space alloy everywhere.

Ross was the first to recover his feet. “Team, sound off!” he barked, fumbling with his flamethrower’s straps. His heart rate was up, his palms were slick with sweat, and every breath through the respirator was a strain. The mind worms were coming.

“H-Holy [poop],” Marceaux gasped, all traces of his earlier bravado gone. “Did the worms do that?”

“N-No way,” Dwyer cried out, clutching her flamethrower to her chest as she started to visibly tremble. “How could worms do something like that? They’re animals, man!”

“Stay calm!” Ross ordered. In truth, he was just as shaken as everyone else, but as team leader he couldn’t afford to let it show, especially not now. “You’ve got flamethrowers, you’ll get through this just fine. Marceaux, Dwyer! On my mark, aim and–”

There was a sudden click right next to his ear. Ross was no fool; he knew what it meant, even before he turned to see Corporal Jha holding her rifle to his head.

“Vijaya.” Ross found that he spoke at a remove, surprisingly calm despite the situation he faced. “What are you doing?”

The respirator concealed her features, but Ross knew her well enough – or he thought he did, before now – to detect the cruel smirk beneath it.

“Sparta sends its regards,” she said, and pulled the trigger.


“Are we sure it was Sparta?” UN High Commissioner Tayta asked, as he put down the briefing folder.

“Not really,” Deputy High Commissioner Sally Mitchell admitted with a shrug. “But it makes for a nice story, doesn’t it?”


(click to show/hide)

Offline Tayta Malikai

Re: Money and the Will to Power: A Game of Economic Imperialism [PBEM]
« Reply #14 on: July 17, 2020, 01:02:25 AM »

Disaster struck the United Nations today as mind worms swarmed the newly established UN Court of Justice and overran it, marking another setback to UN development efforts on Planet.

The primary cluster of mind worms, categorized by xenobiologists as being larval mass-sized, was first reported at 0814 hours emerging from a nearby fungal river and seething south towards UN Court of Justice. As the first individual worms began to cross into the base’s radius of control, local administrators made the decision to evacuate all personnel and equipment from the site. Regrettably, it appears that local deficiencies in evacuation procedures resulted in a chaotic and mismanaged evacuation, with thousands of citizens remaining unaccounted for in the aftermath. This represents the first major loss of life since UN settlement efforts on Planet began.

UN Deputy High Commissioner Sally Mitchell personally commended the engineers on base for their quick thinking and initiative, which allowed an estimated 20 million UN dollars’ worth of recycling machinery to be recovered from the scene, greatly softening the blow of UNCJ’s destruction so soon after its founding.

UN Data Acquisition is expected to open a formal inquiry into the cause of these events in the following weeks. Several theories have already been proposed, chief among them being the recent cutbacks to UNPF budgets which may have resulted in the base lacking an adequate garrison to hold off mind worm attacks. Criticism has also been levelled at the UN Settlement Agency for pursuing what several key figures believe to be an overly aggressive settlement strategy, which caused UN resources to be stretched over a wider front, increasing the UN’s overall exposure to Planet’s dangerous native fauna.

It is expected that the long-awaited trial of Timothy Newton and Tammy Weiss will end up being delayed yet again as a result of these events.

(click to show/hide)


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