I realise I don't have a choice. I can only play the Loyal Lieutenant when I'm the lesser power. I've actually got the tactical edge right now. If I move on Jim or Graham, I essentially give the game to Quinns. I was willing to support him in a win... but to give it to him when, amazingly, I actually have a nasty little military machine to put to task... .well, that's not right.
I plan my move with Graham. The tactic's simple. I need to leverage those 500 ships into destroying Quinns' infrastructure. I'm not interested in taking stars. What I'm interested in is advancing as far as I can into his territory, only hitting high-industry stars. If I take enough, quickly enough, and his massive ship production won't matter. Because it'll be my production now. Hell, even taking stars I can't hold temporary stops them from making ships for Quinns. I don't plan this as a war. I plan this as an assassination. We have to kill the giant.
The added bonus is that Jim is on his last legs, and by attacking now, it makes it appear that I'm actually a nice guy saving his ass.
Well, appear. We're past the point where anyone can think of anyone else as a nice guy.
Quinns: An assortment of fires, hailstorms, Irish internet service providers and the game's own servers being down mean I don't log in to Neptune's Pride for 36 hours. As the game loads I ponder worst case scenarios, revealing a cheery lack of imagination.
My vast empire is gone. It's just gone. The fleets Kieron and Graham had been using to protect themselves from one other have left their stations to skewer my territory like harpoons through a television set. I am devastated. Ruined. I'm almost reduced to Jim's level.
It's an exhausting thing to log in and discover after weeks of play, but I've got a little fight left in me. I send the orders for my fleets to regroup at key defensive systems and to take back industrial centres wherever they can. I'm not digging in, not just yet. Instead, I'm drawing out the chaos and wondering how I can go about breaking up Kieron and Graham's alliance. What would test their trust in each other most?
I don't have to spend very long thinking. Kieron and I are still chummy, and during an MSN conversation this happens:
Kieron: You know, as a thought
Kieron: And this is the cheekiest diplomatic message I've ever sent
Kieron: If you're happy coming second, I'll back off and turn on Graham
Oh, yes Kieron. Absolutely Kieron. Three bags full Kieron. I tell him (truthfully) that since he's been fighting against the odds since the game began and only recently risen from underdog status, I'd way prefer to see him win than Jim with his isolationism, or Graham with his opportunism. I put the word out to my scattered forces and point them straight at the stars Graham took.
I'll win this fucking game yet.
Graham: After three days, Kieron finally agrees to attack. Late at night, before heading to bed, I put on the music to the Battlestar Galactica mini-series and direct my fleets.
In the battle that follows, I capture around seven or eight of Quinns stars. I have fewer ships than Kieron to commit to the frontlines, meaning I make less progress, but for the first time in weeks I move into the lead. Finally it looks like Quinns might be toppled.