The World Stage
"You know what you don't understand about people?" Fleet Commander Astrea stomped up to Archgeneral Hughes of the First Human Empire. "About civilization as a whole?"
"Fleet Commander Astrea." Hughes projected his booming voice over Astrea's. Though he was a baseline human, he'd evidently picked up some training in public speaking somewhere. "We are at war with the Nereids. We approach their starships even now. There had better be a very, very good reason for you to have abandoned your post."
"Yes! Yes, there is!" Astrea pulled at her hair. "If you attack the Nereids now, the entire First Human Empire will be destroyed!"
"The Nereids broadcast their every move to the entire galaxy, the arrogant fools. We know their military capacity is far below ours." Hughes' eyes narrowed. "Are you saying that they've deceived us? Our technicians and cultural analysts both agree that these broadcasts are real—"
"Gah!" Astrea threw both of her hands up in the air. "No! No, no, no! How did someone as stupid as you become Archgeneral—look, Hughes. You said it yourself. The Nereids broadcast everything they do to everyone, everywhere. It's baked into their culture. And their technological infrastructure is so refined that anyone watching, from anywhere in the galaxy, can experience what they experience exactly as if they were there themselves."
"Yes. It is a massive tactical weakness."
"Only on a small scale! Three trillion sentient beings around the galaxy turn to the Nereids' war games for entertainment. Right now, in anticipation of the battle to come, fifty billion humans throughout the First Human Empire are watching the Nereids. Watching them laugh and play and chat to their viewers and be oh so close to human. Especially at a time like this, with shipping lanes shut down for the war and people scared of Earth's first interstellar conflict, people need contact and comfort. The Nereids are providing that. And what do you want to do, in response to their declaration of war? You want to kill them all!"
Archgeneral Hughes gave her a dry look. "Yes. This is a war. In a war, you are supposed to kill the enemy. It's a necessity, but it's for the good of the state."
"Literally every word you just said is incorrect. For the good of the state? Do you understand what will happen at home if every citizen of the First Human Empire—children, politicians, media influences, everyone we're trying to protect—do you know what will happen if they tune in to the Nereids' broadcast and see you slaughtering them? And remember. They'll sense it as surely as if they were there themselves. Nereid 'warships' have families on them, Archgeneral. Children whose mass murder at the hands of the First Human Empire you're going to livestream to everyone. Hughes, you're thinking of our civilizations as if we're... elephants, beating at each other with our trunks. But we're not. We're delicate, delicate spiderwebs of connections, and the Nereids have connected themselves to us. Set them ablaze, and we'll burn too."
Archgeneral Hughes paused. He opened his mouth to speak, and an aide whispered into his ear. He grimaced, then set his finger down. "...I only wish you had come to me with more respect, Fleet Commander Astrea. I would have you promoted for potentially saving the First Human Empire, if it didn't set a disastrous precedent."
First Commander Astrea scoffed, shaking her head. "No, that's exactly why I started shouting at you in front of your entire command structure. You're not promoting me away from where I'm most effective: boots on the ground and thumb on the pulse. Society is connections, and if you leverage that right, you can run rings around your opponents."
"Well. The fact remains that the Nereids have declared war. We have to make some sort of response, yes?"
First Commander Astrea nodded. "I knew you had to be smarter than you looked, if you made Archgeneral."
"Hm." Archgeneral Hughes made a note to look into First Commander Astrea's past. He was sure he would have noticed someone as disruptive—and yet ingenious—as she before. "What course of action do you recommend?"
Astrea grinned. "The Nereids. Their audience. Me. We all want one thing. A show." She held up a broadcaster, its screen showing that it had been recording the entire time. "Let's give it to them!"