You step through a portal and you can almost feel every atom of your body shudder as you cross light years of space in a single step. You clutch a medium sized metal briefcase as if grip strength mattered, the tech carefully packaged in there would take several lifetimes of earning to replace. You can feel your Nanons dance excitedly about you, eagerly awaiting your next command. This planet is cold, but your frosty exhales diminish as your sentient nanomachines form a protective heat barrier to ward off the invasive chill. They do not require any commands to erect this barricade, keeping you alive is part of your mutual arrangement. The idea has taken huge adjustments, that death has to try a bit harder to catch you. Some days its hard to recall what “normal” fear feels like.

Scanning your environment, your visual field is augmented with various information pertaining to the materials needed to get you airborne. “Good”, you think to yourself. Most of what you need is within an acceptable distance, your ship should be constructed before the 2nd star of the system ducks behind the planet for its evening slumber. Nodding off, your final command is to set up an reflective camo-field to avoid prying eyes.

Roughly three hours later you awaken, fully refreshed from your augmented nap. You lift the barrier blocking your eardrums and the familiar sounds of ship construction rush in to alert you to your little builders’ efforts. Some hosts refuse to do it, but you insert yourself into the audio feed and listen in to your nanomachines excitedly chatter about ship building. Watching for a few moments, you marvel that watching a starship’s construction out of thin air never really tires out. A smile crosses your lips, you can’t help but notice the ship’s resemblance to an iconic webcomic vessel you fantasized about captaining before the Nanon reawakening.

The briefcase holding your five component pieces of ship tech has four phantom indentions, there is but the propulsion rod leftover for installation. A comm channel opens in your field of vision, and your Galactic Council sponsor requests a status update. You structure a thought-response that your Nanons encode and send for you; “Airborne in approximately two hours.” The comm channel clicks off, and you begin to plot out your course colony to colony for the remaining time. Your Beacon Nanons fill the air with their teeming excitement, broadcasting your location to local colonies nearby. If you had to, you could point to their exact location in space.

Finally airborne, you get to harvesting. The first colony harvest passes by without a murmur. You consider yourself lucky, a quiet harvest is always preferable, especially when that harvest contains a great deal of Nanon variety and quantity. A fantastic haul, tax-free. No collector opposition meant no need for Galactic Council intervention, thus no tax on equipment used to fend off an attacker. En route to the second colony, the peace of a successful harvest lives out its last wonderful moments. Your ship shudders violently as it absorbs the blow of laser fire. The recently constructed shields absorb the brunt of the damage as you curse your turn of fortune. What started as a pleasant harvest has turned hostile, and now a portion of collected Nanons would have to be taxed to lose this joker, collect all local colonies simultaneously, and jump the system. The other collector must feel the excitement of the native nanons ratchet up, they’ll get their choice of host after a contest of wits. “I’ll give them the show they’re looking for”, you think to yourself.

Plotting quickly, you assemble several Nanon Tariff transport boxes, the cheap kind that the Galactic Council hands out practically for free. Luckily you werent too greedy and held off claiming the Nanons from the previous harvest, so now you start this engagement with a solid financial base. Bitterly, you stuff each Tariff box with your recent haul, filling them with a cloudy mist of swirling untapped power.

You issue the command to your Nanons to begin the charge wave, charging up your eight available tariff boxes and four Gamma Transmitter Nanons in a random “Queue” order. Selecting the order would be lovely, but the Nanons do not follow orders when it comes to dictating the Queue order. Many believe it to be a test or a game, and you are included in that list of believers. It is whispered that the Galactic Council is working on tech that would allow for queue tampering, but regardless of if and when that happens, it is useless for now. The first six items off the queue blink “ready” in your augmented HUD vision. Four of your Tariff boxes charged and two Transmitter Nanons are now ready to open an ultra-secure portal to the Galactic Council. “Perfect”, you muse, “I’ll go ahead and grab the first CollectorTech addon.”

Opening the comm line, you inform your sponsor that you’re requesting the invaluable first piece of CollectorTech. A light on three Tariff boxes begin to glow brightly, indicating that their signal has been located, and the misty contents begin to fade slowly seemingly out of existence. There go three tariff boxes worth of Nanons that were meant for you. You note your rage, compartmentalize it, and continue with the task at hand. Right around the time your Transmitter Nanons receive the broadcast signal from the Galactic Council, two more lasers rain havoc on the remaining shields. Apparently this collector feels the rage of an untaxed harvest too.

The broadcast signal locks, and much like the swirling mist disappeared, a small energy conduit slowly materializes into an open slot of a device most collectors affectionately call “The Vacuum.” Alone, the crystal confers no benefit to the harvest. But with the additional four component parts, the vacuum gains the ability to simultaneously harvest and bind all local non-claimed Nanons. Game over for this chump, assuming he doesn’t breach the hull before all CollectorTech parts are collected.

The Nanon boxes’ lights fade out after they’ve been fully emptied. The next six items fully charged by your energy wave blink into your HUD. More tariff boxes and Gamma Transmitters, no surprise there. Five boxes this time, enough to purchase a bigger tariff box and incinerator tech. The bigger tariff box allows for larger Nanon transfers, ensuring enough influence to secure better contracts and equipment for this engagement. The incinerator tech, when charged, allows for the removal of items currently locked in the charge wave queue. One cannot fully complete the Vacuum without ridding the charge wave of cheap tariff boxes and Gamma Transmitters. Onward and upward.

The ship built resembling star-faring fantasies quivers, its shields taking more punishment from torpedoes this time. A mixed blessing; shields soak up the damage of torpedoes far better than the hull would, but with thirty percent shields remaining, this protective barrier would be gone soon leaving the hull exposed to the powerful anti-matter torpedoes. The HUD indicates that the opposition is of course stocking up on more weapons and ammunition. Time to focus on some defense. The next six available items hit the appropriate charge level and message your CerebralNet to let you know they are ready for deployment. An excellent yield; the new higher capacity tariff box, the incinerator tech, and four of the meagerly sized tariff boxes. You choose to use the incinerator tech on one of the small boxes, removing it from the charge wave for the remainder of the engagement. The strangely adorned device shoots up, starts spinning in place and folding in on itself over and over until it was no bigger than the size of a playing card, and floats over to rest in the metal briefcase. “Great, one less useless box cluttering up space in the wave queue”, you think to yourself.

With your remaining tariff boxes content transferred over to the Council, you compile your options of purchases. A truly tough choice. You could again go with a larger tariff box and incinerator tech, granting you more purchasing power and whipping your wave queue into fighting shape, but with an aggressive offense like this its time to consider defensive assistance. There are several defensive equipment or contract choices available to you.

For the available influence, you find your best contract options are either a Defensive Nanon Specialist or a Ship’s Repair Mechanic. Both will require the wave queue’s energy to open a portal to get them to your ship(a laborious and time consuming process), but the Nanon Specialist will open up two portals for additional contracts for you if need be. He/she/it will also adapt charged Transmitter Nanons to generate additional shields, offering a boost to defense as long as the specialist is on board. Conversely, the Ship’s Repair Mechanic contract allows for a mechanic to be transported on board to repair shields. Every time that portal contract device comes up in the wave queue, a "jumpgate" portal may be opened for the mechanic and shields will be boosted by a permanent 10%, great for replacing lost shields. Additionally, having one on hand during an opponent’s attack allows for a temporary 20% boost to sheilds. Ideally, your Defense Specialist would portal in the mechanic for you if you got both contract portals charged simultaneously. “Damn mechanics could learn to open a portal or two”, you gripe to yourself, and it occurs to you after this engagement you’ll send in a request to the Galactic Council for just that. It’ll cost more influence in future engagements, but hey its worth it. Opening a portal for another sentient being is a time consuming process, frustrating even when there are more pressing matters at hand.

You figure that since you have not purchased enough Transmitter Nanons yet, the best choice for now is the Ship’s Repair Mechanic contract. With a little defensive padding, you know you can hold out against anything this lesser collector throws your way. Once you snag that fifth CollectorTech piece, you can instantly claim all local Nanon Colonies and be about your merry way. The opponent won’t follow, they’ll be off looking for the next colony-rich area. Don’t waste time, don’t hold grudges, just collect more Nanons.

To be your next game! :)