I like Star Control 2, a lot. I like it so much I like to talk about it in terms of the vastness of its world and individual factions and events rather than like a whole game. It’s too big, it’s too fast, there are too many little science fiction stories woven together that you can engage with — and some of those stories can be completely missed if you play the game non-exhaustively.
But when I talk about Star Control there’s this unfortunate cousin of it, the dead end sequel that did so badly it killed the franchise. I don’t like Star Control 3 nearly as much as I do 2 – but there’s still a lot of weird ideas that I like and you may never experience if you play the game.
Because you won’t play the game.
Because Star Control 3 isn’t a lot of fun, and it’s kinda hard to extract the interesting bits.
Let me then present to you one of these threads that makes up Star Control 3, where you Do An Abortion For The Good Of The Galaxy.
Content Warning: The subject kinda sets this one up? It’s a sci-fi context, but if Abortion is a heated topic for you I’m going to continue using it to describe something when talking about this 90s game full of angry muppets.
First up, the dramatis personae: you have yourself, the Captain, stranded in a new sector of space with some of your scattered allies and some new alliances to form. In this space there’s this villainous empire known as the Ploxis Plutocrats (and we’ll get to them one day) that oversee the Hegemonic Crux. The Crux is this thing where uh, it’s ostensibly an alliance of equals, it just so happens that the Ploxis make all the decisions and through capitalism and chicanery (but I repeat myself) all the other cultures involved just happen to be basically slave cultures. I said we’ll get to them one day, okay, leave it out. The Ploxis aren’t heavy hitters – their ships kind of suck, and there aren’t lots of them. The Crux is supported militarily by at least two forces of heavy hitters: The K’Tang, who we’ll get to at some point, and most importantly for this conversation, the Clairconctlar.
Hailing from the Enkidu star system, the Clairconctlar are silicon-based rock people who act very slowly, but very decisively. Their whole vibe is ‘smooth rock dudes’ – they’re biological, but they might not count as ‘organic,’ as we don’t know if they have any carbon in them instead of silicon. They’re also one of those encounters you kind of don’t want to push when you run into them at random because they are hard as coffin nails.
The Clairconctlar are honestly pretty cool dudes. While the K’tang are blustery and obnoxious, the Clairconctlar are patient and only fight you because the Hegemonic Crux orders it. They don’t like the Hegemonic Crux, though — they’re not a very honourable, trustworthy group, especially since they basically just operate on the orders of the Ploxis. And the Ploxis suck. But you’ll roll up, have a conversation and then the Clairconctlar will nod politely and wrap the conversation up then try to stuff your head down between your shoulders.
Why would they do that? Well, it’s because they’ve been ordered to: The Crux wants them defending Crux bases, and the Clairconctlar are honour-bound to do it. When you investigate, you get a version of the story from the Clairconctlar that represents what they know, as best they know it, and that’s when we get into the dread specter of genders.
All but one Clairconctlar you see has no meaningfully differentiated gender, at least as far as they tell us. You, the captain, do use ‘he’ for them at one point, which is a fair implication in the binary-obsessed no-singular-they times of the late 90s, but it’s much more fair to say that the Clairconctlar are a culture of non-reproducing individuals of a species with a single reproducing individual, known as their Queen. The Queen does not reproduce sexually, so it would be a slight misnomer to refer to it as a ‘sexually dimorphic’ race. Rather, the reproducing individual is visibly and tangibly different to the non-reproducers.
Well, we don’t get a strong vibe on how Clairconctlar scale versus humans but they definitely project ‘big strong scary dude’ energy. Their ships are comparable in size to human and Chmmr ships so we can probably assume they’re on that scale, but let’s be generous and say that the Clairconctlar are about three meters tall.
The Clairconctlar Queen is so large it compares to multiple moons. And at some point, the Clairconctlar Queen told the rest of the Clairconctlar that they had done something dreadful to the Ploxis, eliminating half their population. Therefore, they were honour bound to join the Crux and work for the good of the whole Hegemony (except you know, that mostly meant the Ploxis), and also, because they had to follow Ploxis orders, they absolutely could not go talk to the Queen to check. The Queen had, for some reason, decided to move to the bedrock of a planet that the Ploxis owned…
And there they were stuck.
They were stuck because based on the last known information they had, their Queen told them they had to work for the Ploxis and not ask any follow-up questions, which was obviously sketchy as hell and they could tell that the Ploxis were probably shifty, but they were told by their Queen, and what were they going to do about that? Assume the Queen was lying!?
Thus the Clairconctlar’s plight. They were pretty confident they were screwed, but they couldn’t unscrew themselves. Nothing in their society was more important than obedience to the Queen, because, after all, the Queen represented the persistence of their entire species, and no matter other concerns, the means to reproduce was fundamental to their entire cultural outlook.
How did the Clairconctlar reproduce anyway? You could talk to them about it and find out how — the Queen would, periodically, create a thing called a Conc Rock, which was made up of millions of tiny flakes of crystal. The Conc Rock was then taken by the mobile Clairconctlar to be placed in a cave where each flake could absorb material from around it, such that each Rock could build a whole new Clairconctlar. Very importantly, the Rock was not the Clairconctlar — nor were the individual flakes. Each was much more like one single cell, but because it was such a large collection of them, the Conc Rock could represent an entire generation of Clairconctlar, if given time to grow into maturity.
Now you can find these Rocks and bring them back to the Clairconctlar and they say thanks and that’s it and they just move on with their day (but you still have to fight them). It’s strange, though, they make a point of just how important these Conc Rocks are to them – in fact, the one great unforgiveable sin of their culture is destroying a Conc Rock. If someone destroys a Conc Rock, the entire Clairconctlar culture is obligated to hunt that person down and make them pay for their crime, no matter what would stop them.
Seeing it yet?
You get a Conc Rock. You make sure you’re on comms with the Clairconctlar. And then in front of them, you destroy it. And when the entire fleet starts chasing you down (and you know, you can absolutely get caught by them and get absolutely rinsed), you can fly off to the prison of their Queen. The Clairconctlar have to choose to obey their Honour or their Honour, force-quit cultural norms, keep chasing you, cross the boundary keeping them from their Queen, and then the Queen interrupts the whole affair.
The Clairconctlar see their Queen, pinned to the rock of a strange world, then there’s some communication and now there’s a new set of priorities. They talk to the Queen and learn that the Queen was kidnapped and imprisoned, and the message about a debt was a lie by the Ploxis to control them. Your destruction of a Conc Rock is suddenly extremely small potatoes, especially since The Queen can produce more again, and the Clairconctlar priorities turn towards crushing the Ploxis.
This is obviously a really dumb science-fiction version of a much more real story; a story in which someone gets mad at an abortion provider, and attacks them, but in the process learns their reasons and sees that it’s fundamentally about the liberation of the person who needed the abortion. And you know, maybe it’d have been great if you could talk to the Queen about this beforehand, or it could have been the Queen’s idea, as the person whose reproductive cells were getting cleared out to enable their own liberation.
Cool story, by the way, right?
It’s told entirely through dialogue boxes with two different puppets and one of them is very unexpressive. The other is a mushroom that kind of hates you. You don’t talk to the Queen. You don’t have a heroic fight, not really, you just fly to a location and have a canned encounter with Ploxis guards. No cutscene, no special dialogue, nothing much from the Clairconctlar.
Still, I appreciate this story for at least taking a big swing at an idea, and it’s not hard to see how the ideas that lay in Star Control 3, when smashed apart and reconstructed in a new form like a digital kinder egg, could serve as the root of the Mass Effect story of the Krogan. And it’s a different story, it’s very different; a lot of the Krogan narrative is centered on feelings of impotence of the men, and how one might address the ethics of having committed an act of genocide, rather than the Clairconctlar’s reliance on a reproducer who needs, for their liberation, assistance in asserting reproductive control.
I’ll never recommend Star Control 3 but I’ll always be happy to tell its stories.