This was the third invitation to SPACE PRINCESS ONLINE that my young sister had sent me this month. It was just the sort of social game that encouraged you to spam all your friends and relatives to grow your abilities in-game. I suppose my sister desperately needed another friend playing the game so she could get the next best rainbow-shitting space unicorn for her planet that the game had to offer, or something to that effect. She also kept telling me about how much she needed new members for her guild, the insipidly named Princesses for Planetary Peace.

“Dan!” came the bellow from a prerecorded message, “Accept the invite!”

I didn’t see what was so interesting about this pink, frilly game, and I generally try not to let my spoiled little sister, Natalie, tell me what to do. However, my defenses were weak lately, and so I acquiesce. I could use a new game to play for a bit and maybe I’ve got a few hours to waste.

Of course, those first few hours are full of boring stuff— there’s the long sign-up form and the surprisingly detailed character customization; there’s the terms of service, privacy policy, addendum to the terms of service, and a couple of early offer walls to “optionally” reward me with some “Princess Points” to spend; there’s the customization of my royal family, and my royal palace, and my royal planet; and finally, I give up halfway through and skip the planet governance tutorial. Even sticking to mostly defaults and random choices, it surprised me with how long the customization process took. I wasn’t surprised to find how many of the default and “random” options kept giving me pink stuff.

I went to bed seeming to know what it was that attracted my sister. She certainly loves deep customization and all the family and relationship building. I wondered, however, what was there for me to enjoy. If what follows is only a dream, or perhaps nightmare, then it was an oddly prescient one. Of course, I’m not so sure it was just a dream.

The armor I wore was, on the inside, surprisingly soft and light. That was the first thought in my head. It felt like wearing nothing but silk boxers all over, so I assume it felt something like what a good, very tight kimono might feel like. I figured it was armor solely by the fact that it surrounded every bit of me, and was much tighter than anything I’d ever worn. A few taps of my gloved hand against my hips gave a surprising amount of tactile feedback about the armor’s strength.

I couldn’t get past how tight the armor felt. I assumed there must be some sort of waste disposal system in the armor because I couldn’t imagine that it would be at all a simple matter to remove (or put back on) the armor. In fact, something about the armor felt too tight in a way that shouldn’t be possible.

Before I dwelled on that problem for much more than half a thought burst, the armor’s visor finally kicked in and immediately I noticed that the exterior of the armor was blindingly pink. As I blinked away the spots, I ran a hand up from my hip to my chest. Something was wrong, this armor seemed the wrong size or curvature or something… Wait a minute, breasts in pink armor and that strange tightness against my crotch! This definitely wasn’t my body.

“What–” I tried, almost startled again by the sweet, high voice that squeaked out of my mouth. Instead the creepy-looking man staring at me from across the room startled me. He was hunch-backed and scarred. Velvet robes meant to seem majestic, instead looked like curtains that had been hung very poorly over a desk. What might be a glorious scepter was just shy of a sparkly ogre’s club in his hands. He started into an almost immediate, relatively rushed, and seemingly prepared ramble: “Forgive me your highness, but the cryostasis is a safety precaution during cognitive transference and it may be a few minutes before all of your faculties and memories coalesce.”

“What the hell are you talking about? What the fuck is cognitive transference?” I wondered a little bit about how easily condescending and demanding this voice sounded. It sounded like a voice used to getting its way, but unafraid to quickly change from saccharine to bitter and sour at a moment’s notice. Certainly, she could throw a wild, spoiled tantrum when “she” wanted to, that being the body that I now found myself inside, and I found that I was tempted to try it. I certainly wanted to do some screaming of some kind or another.

He glanced at the ceiling, then the scepter, then the floor, and gave the tiniest of bows. Or perhaps the bow was simply a spasm of his hunched back muscle. “My humblest apologies, Princess Daniella. I never meant to assume that your royal mind would waste precious royal time reading legally binding contracts to which you have agreed. If you will allow your humble servant to explain the matter to you: When you signed up for The Game you agreed to license your intellect should you demonstrate adequate tactical skill and determination fitting of galactic royalty. In its time of need, your planet has called you to it, through a process of cognitive transference, to lead it.”

I stared at him, perhaps hoping that he might continue his absurd, fast-paced banter, but he seemed to have spent his current quota. My mind was still trying to catch up to being in the body (and tight, hot pink armor) of “Princess Daniella “, which alone seemed a lot of work. I sneeringly thought about how a “Princess Danni” would most certainly dot her I’s with some cute heart or smiley face, and hoped not to find out.

I let forth the first processing queue of questions that came available, “This is about that game? Wait a minute, Space Princess Online is real? You made me a real space princess because I might be a skilled player at a videogame?”

He nodded as the next queue in line fired up, “Hold up, I just signed up. I wasn’t even planning to play much. I didn’t even pay attention to the tutorial! Surely you’ve got the wrong guy?” The question sounded like such a whiny, whimpering thing that I almost wanted to punch myself for asking a question like that.

“You just ‘signed up’? That is… odd. Unfortunately, there is nothing that we can do about that now.” Unlike the previous conversation, this was oddly stilted and slow from the hunch-backed guy.

Finally, an important question came to mind, completely out of priority order, “Who the heck are you?”

He looked sheepish, but then smiled a vulgar looking thing that I assumed was meant to be friendly, “I am but His Majesty’s Humble Advisor, Sir Crumsfeld. But since your Father is currently away under Affairs of State, He has requested that I act as your aide and humble servant until He returns…” His head turned sideways as if to get better reception while he read something three inches in front of his face, “I am informed that a message has arrived via underspace. Shall we take it in the Throne Room, My Lady?”

I think about it for a second, nod and follow Crumsfeld to the Throne Room. He ushers me to take a seat on the dais, before taking one knee beside me. This only enhances his resemblance to ugly, unwanted furniture partly obscured under expensive fabrics. The room has a sparkly chandelier that sprays rainbows across mirror-covered walls. I catch my own reflection for the first time, and even decide to take off my helmet. The waves of brown hair that cascade out, and the light pink makeup seem oddly unaffected by their time inside the helmet and whatever the cryogenic freezing process must do. She’s startlingly pretty in several of those ways that would have left me afraid to ask her out if I had met her in real life. She’s also surprisingly young; she appears 18 and only just past the threshold of adulthood. I frown at the thought of how young and immature she seems, only to find myself reminded once again that “she” is currently me . So instead I attempt to smile, only to find myself somewhat smitten by that evocative emotion. I guess this strange situation isn’t all that bad.

When I remember to ask Crumsfeld to show me the message, the far wall fills with a surprisingly familiar face. I don’t even need the helpful overlay at the bottom informing me that the message is from Princess Raina of the Rainbow Ringed Planet of the Rainforged System in the Pony Nebula. This is because I, worryingly, recognized the blonde character that my sister has spent years playing. Only this Princess Raina isn’t a 3D model projected on my sister’s cute little purple laptop while I’m trying to ignore it; this Princess Raina looks as real as my actual sister, and looks several years older than I currently do.

I slowly become aware of the actual words that she is speaking, “…your father, King John. I am sure that your King did not inform you that he was sending armed forces in my direction, but you must imagine my own surprise that he has conquered my poor planet, and locked up my own parents. I ask nothing of you, save that you send a message asking for peace between our planets to your father, King John…”

The message seemed set to repeat a third time when there was an interruption, a quick cut to a large, regal lion of a man. I am a bit more relieved to find the subtitles informing me that this man is in fact Princess Daniella’s King and Father, King John the Romantic, of Hearth Planet in Daniella’s System of the Pony Nebula. “My Dearest Daughter, I make this Conquest only in Thine Name. It is a Belated Gift for Your Recently Marked 18th Birthday, and I hope only the First of Many to Come. Do Not ask me to relinquish it until I have mined the Rainbow Stones for which this System is Known, to celebrate My Love for You and to Make Amends.”

I certainly hated the way that “my father” spoke. Everything about it sounded insincere and self-important, except the obvious fact that King John would take more than a radioed response to leave poor Princess Raina’s system. Crumsfeld felt that he had to ask anyway, “Shall I record your royal response, my lady?”

I shook my head, “No, I believe that he will not take my word on the subject.” That certainly sounded more regal than I had perhaps intended it to.

“What is it that you propose to do about this situation, Your Highness?”

I looked at Crumsfeld, pondering how to respond. “It sounds like the Princess Raina could use my help. I wonder if I should visit her and my Father to help settle this dispute.” Certainly, the game itself couldn’t be this tough, I imagined. This seemed like a hard choice to make, but shouldn’t I help my fellow princess? This princess must be a duplicate of my sister’s character. Might it even be my sister inside that princess, as I found myself inside this one?

Crumsfeld replied, “That certainly would be most generous of your majesty. I am sure that Princess Raina would appreciate your support, even if she did not ask for it. Please allow your humble servant to advise you that should you leave your planet, you may open up vulnerabilities to attack.”

“That seems like a reasonable risk to take in this situation. I shall prepare for my flight.”

Crumsfeld stood and gave another one of his back spasms that just might have also been a bow, “You are wise beyond your years, my princess. Allow me to suggest that you find a squad of your royal guard to bring with you, as you may face combat when you get there.”

“Thank you, Crumsfeld, for your advice.” Okay, so at least I felt like I was getting the pattern of dialog down here, even if I still didn’t quite feel comfortable being here. It did help me feel less like a fish out of water to play along, at least.

I did indeed appreciate the advice and so I went off in search of the guards’ quarters. In the process of the search a question occurred to me, and I thought to ask Crumsfeld. I turned around to ask him only to discover that he seemed to be talking to himself, or perhaps a spot three feet from his face. “The dunce has taken the bait, my liege.” I did not wish to dwell on such words, particularly hoping that they did not refer to me, and lost the question I had been about to ask in the process, and thus I went back to finding the quarters.

Immediate upon reaching the quarters where my Guard are stationed, Captain of the Guard April Greene, or so proclaimed a hologram projected from her necklace, was at my side. I quickly explained the cognitive transference and ensuing mission to her, which she adequately summarized back to me: “Simple meet and greet, that could turn ugly, with a possible Princess rescue if needed.”

Greene hand-picked three Special Operations Task Force members to accompany us on the mission. To me she designated the women as Agents Red, Blue, and Plum. I didn’t have much trouble realizing what my own call sign was under this arrangement. It was even more obvious when after what seemed a surprisingly short amount of time all four met me in armor like my own, but black with color-coordinated stripes. Of course, their armor was a bit more spartan and austere than mine.

Suited up, it was a simple matter to arrange a royal transport ready to ferry us to the Rainbow Ringed Planet. The journey was uneventful, or at least that is what I assume. After a couple of days of mostly boredom I opted for cryostasis and slept through most of the journey.

Greene woke me as we approached the planet. Her face was ringed by a few deep red bangs that had escaped the ponytail that constrained most of the rest. Her outward countenance was tight and professional, but a slight hint of a dimple suggested a kind smile ringing the fringes of her face like the way her few bangs had gotten loose. “My lady, we have arrived in the Rainforged system and will be ready for planetfall within the next few minutes.”

Greene was a much nicer sight to wake up to than Crumsfeld, and overall the symptoms of post-cryo disorientation seemed much easier to handle this time. It perhaps helped that Greene had immediately reminded me that I was still a princess. “Why don’t you just skip the ‘my lady’s and call me Danni.”

“Yes, Princess.” I could swear that I saw Greene’s dimple deepen just a tad at that reply. I figured that she was intentionally teasing me in my post-slumber grumpiness, but the tone of her voice gave away nothing and I wasn’t certain.

At that, she turned back to Red, Blue, and Plum to triple check that everything was ready for planetfall. I found my eyes drawn to the observation screen and the Rainbow Ringed Planet that quickly filled it. Even I felt I should admit that for a gas covered, life sustaining ball it was pretty fucking sexy, flying towards us like that. On the other hand, after only just a few days awake, and cooped up in tight quarters on athe ship I was probably desperate for any planetary action I could get.

“Remember,” Greene sternly etched into the transport’s somewhat stale air as we prepared a descent capsule, “we shall try only to incapacitate any hostiles we may encounter, as we should assume they will be our own planetmates.”

Descent was a nightmare of turbulence and heat. “Is it always this bad?” I wondered out loud. It seems like something that would take some getting used to.

Plum chuckled, “Sometimes it is worse, ma’am.”

As we had surmised, our opposition tracked our descent and met us as we arrived. I wasn’t entirely certain that we had landed for the amount of artillery that I could hear expended against our capsule’s meager shields as a warning. They began firing shots as soon as we opened the hatch. Red ducked her head out to quickly ascertain the situation and a sniper shot collided with her faceplate, a purple energy blast that knocked her quickly back into the capsule.

“Red!” I shouted, uselessly. I probably even raised a fist in vengeful wrath at Red’s fallen form.

Red was in fact fine, albeit the force of the impact had obviously winded her. When she had recovered enough she gave us a quick militaristic debriefing, “Surrounded. At least fifty hostiles. Primarily flat terrain, but some useful cover to the northeast. Mostly basic beam weapons.” The last observation she made with a brief point to her faceplate, which lead to a quick snicker from Plum.

On signal Red, Blue, and Plum lead the charge to the nearest cover, with Red taking point. On their next signal, as the trio tried to draw the majority of fire, Greene and I followed. Upon noticing my royal personage, much of the incoming firing slacked off. Greene sent a quick message directly to me, “It does appear that they at least want you alive.”

The armor’s visor gave me an amazing amount of targeting information each time I ducked out of the cover to fire on a hostile. Almost all the information was familiar to me from other games that I have played. It was oddly comforting in such a stressful situation to have such information at my fingertips. It was probably more comforting that I understood enough of what was going on to keep up with the battle.

I let Greene lead the tactical plan, but as I watched her work I realized that what she was doing also had a comforting familiarity. She was directing Red and Blue to opposite flanks to attempt to get behind the strong group directly in our path to what Greene had marked the objective. Based upon intelligence from our transport the objective in this case was the path we most expected to lead us in the direction of Princess Raina’s palace.

Blue, then Red, successfully navigated around the group ahead, and began trying their fire. As the group turned to deal with the fire on their flanks, the three of us charged, Plum taking point. The group was quickly incapacitated and the way to our objective appeared clear, with only the occasional squad catching up on us from behind, and a few embedded snipers ahead to deal with. Other than that, the jog towards the palace was surprisingly peaceful and even serene. The brilliant blue sky was indeed wonderfully bifurcated by that rainbow-colored ring that gave the planet its name.

Surprisingly, Princess Raina was waiting for us upon the palace forecourt, standing plainly in front of King John and King Richard, her own father. She wore a royal purple dress that clearly commanded attention, probably even more so than the bright pink armor I was wearing. Of course, it helped that the dress, or some nearby emitter, projected a crazy sparkly effect like tiny purple diamonds exploding slowly from the fabric of the dress.

Princess Raina didn’t even bother with pleasantries, “Thank you so much for coming to my peace talks, cousin. I hope that the welcome was as exciting as the one you expected.”

“Natalie, what…” I started, but a cruel derision in Raina’s face stopped me short. At that, I was certain that this was not my sister; that I was probably the only “cognitive transfer” currently around, and that I was sorely outmatched .

“You truly are the worst Player in history, aren’t you? I just find that fascinating. Your boringly direct approach opened precisely the window of opportunity that I was looking for. Let us talk about the possibilities of future peace on your own planet.” With a wave of her hand, Raina drew up a bubble of a feed of Queen Emily in my own throne room surrounded by soldiers proudly displaying the purple unicorn emblem of the Princesses for Planetary Peace.

I was angrier than I expected to be by this sight. Particularly with the traitorous hunchback cyborg Crumsfeld in the background having swapped royal robes for a similarly proud purple unicorn uniform. “Is this what the Princesses for Planetary Peace stand for? The subjugation of planets and blackmail doesn’t sound very peaceful to me.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, you must be expecting the ‘Princesses for Inter-Planetary Peace’. My only concern here is for the peace of this planet,” a gesture towards the sky and its rainbow ring, “and if blackmailing a few stupid Princesses insures it, then so be it.”

I was glad that I still had my helmet on, because I’d rather not broadcast my emotions of betrayal and dismay. This wasn’t the cutesy happy time I expected. “But King John…”

Princess Raina smiled, a deeply feral grin, “King John continues to dote more upon his prettier, older, and wiser niece than his own cow-like daughter. Isn’t that right, Uncle John, honey?” King John just looked sheepish behind Raina. “He did his part in my setup.”

Raina waved the two Kings away as one last, obvious sign of domination. “We shall talk in the fullness of time about what it is that you owe me, the kind and gentle Empress of this Nebula, for relinquishing your boring planet. First, I ask only that you join the Princesses for Planetary Peace for your good faith interest in peace.”

I was definitely sick of this bitch. “I have no interest in joining your evil empire, cousin!”

Raina laughed at me and called her Guard Captain to her. “Send our dear Princess Daniella’s guards back to her precious little planet. It seems Princess Daniella has requested a luxury stay on my Stardungeon…”

The Stardungeon was surprisingly luxurious, contrary to its name. I had my run of the ship, excepting of course the fact that ship controls had me locked out, but spent most of my time in my designated royal suite. The place was decorated nicely, albeit with a huge reliance on the purple unicorn motif, which I was starting to get sick of.

I had to admit that it made a certain amount of sense to use a mobile prison for high profile “guests”. It certainly would make it harder to break someone out, much less escape from inside it. Particularly because you might not always know where it is.

Over several weeks I managed to build up something of a relationship with the man who was basically my personal guard, but he preferred to think of himself as my porter during my stay. One day I managed to work in some personal questions like “How do you like working for Princess Raina?” He smiled, “The Princess is kind. She convinced her Father to let us have casual Fridays, and on Thursdays when we’ve done well, our superiors don’t have to whip us as hard anymore.”

“That’s awful, I wouldn’t allow whipping on my planet at all.” He seemed shocked to hear such a pleasant working environment might exist. I think that’s partly why he responded well to my later request asking him if he knew anyone familiar with “cognitive transference” on the ship. He directed me to seek out the ship’s physician.

“Dr. Jane” had a weirdly cheery disposition for being stuck as an overworked physician on a deadly prison spaceship. She had a giant store of suckers and lollipops, apparently, because every person I saw leave her office had been given at least one. I couldn’t imagine how the weight and space for such a silly thing was justified on a military ship of any sort, much less a prison ship.

When I finally met with Dr. Jane I instantly felt like I could trust her, and found myself very quickly explaining the situation to date. She nodded patiently, before explaining that she wouldn’t be a good ship’s physician if she didn’t already know what brought me to the ship and the fact that I was “under the influence of external cognitive interference”. I didn’t particularly care for that manner of referring to my condition, but she treated the phrase professionally and with a smile.

She immediately knew my next question, “You want to know if you can leave.” She began to work with some controls at the desk next to her.

She smiled, then proceeded to tell me that her job was to make sure I knew the guilt of leaving the real Princess in a prison ship considering that it was my actions that got her into that predicament.

“Is this my future? Or elsewhere in my galaxy? Or entirely separate alternate universes?”

It took Dr. Jane a few seconds to think about the questions before responding, “Cognitive transference is complicated. It is probably best not to discuss it. Why?”

I fidgeted, toying with controls in my armor, as the nervous habit I’d developed over the last few weeks, “Well, is the game that I’ve seen based on all of this, or is all of this based on the game? If I play better ‘back home’, will it help Princess Danni’s situation ‘here’?”

Dr. Jane laughed a little bit, and it was completely cute and unassuming. “It sounds like I did my job, and you do feel guilty. As for your game back home, player… all I’m allowed to tell you is that it will not hurt Princess Danni to try harder.”

I did feel guilty about Princess Danni. It’s hard to “be someone” for such a considerable number of crazy things going on and not feel some emotion of it, I think. I wondered if I would miss the adventure of being a Princess.

Disconnection was sorely anti-climactic. It was just like the time that my Captain April Greene helped me achieve cryostasis on my royal transport en route to that wild, rainbow-ringed planet of my own doom…

Natalie was supremely disappointed when I failed to fall for her opening surprise attack gambit. I couldn’t imagine a way to tell her about “the other Princess Raina” successfully pulling that same gambit against me– er, the Princess Daniella.

All of which I describe to you, however, because I need you to trust me, and I need you all to accept my invite. I know that you won’t believe me that I think some actual place out there somewhere (entire planets of actual people) are impacted by how we play this game, this cutesy Space Princess Online. Sure, it probably was just a crazy dream, but I don’t want misery and enslavement, evil subterfuge and backstabbing betrayal and blackmail on my conscience if I think I can fight those things.

Here’s what I hope you will believe me about: this game is amazingly deep and rich. I know as a team we’ve played many awesome hardcore games, fighting many wars together over the years. I know that you trust my experiences as a gamer , and I trust that you can trust my knowledge of gaming on this matter. This is the game that we need to be playing right now. This is the game that puts many of those “hardcore” wars to shame. You just have to get past the corny exterior.

Natalie and her Princess Raina, the self-declared Empress of the Pony Nebula, have many years of political involvement as an advantage in the game. I know that that if we pull together as a group that we have the tactical advantage afforded from our combined gaming knowledge to fight an effective guerrilla war against her. Don’t let the colorful graphics confuse you, this war will not be easy.

First big battle will be this coming week. I will leave more details in follow up threads on this forum, and I will be setting up a SPO channel on our usual voice server for the battle. The Protectors of the Pony Nebula need all the help we can get.

One last reminder to pay attention to the sign-up process. I know it is long, but it matters. In particular, I want to encourage you to set up a sustainable, non-oppressive governance. Unlike our competition, we shall serve higher morals than subjugating our planets for mere shiny trinkets. Details on Protector values specific to SPO will also be posted in follow-up threads on this forum.

As always, I will see you in game.

Alliance Nickname
Alliance Role
Supreme Player (AAG, GRM, LOX) Guild Leader (SPO)
Currently Playing
SPACE PRINCESS ONLINE as Princess Daniella of Daniella’s System in the Pony Nebula, founder of the Protectors of the Pony Nebula guild (newly-formed Alliance-affiliated guild)