Parson leans on the table. Behind him, on the chalk board, is written "GRAND STRATEGY".
He leaned against the map table. "Now, we've fought our way back pretty well. I mean, we're sitting in the former capital of Jetstone right now. But we've done that by leaning on Decryption. Which means Wanda. Which means a single point of failure on the battlefield. The fight for this city was almost a disaster. Ansom, when you marched up to the bridge, how many armies were we expecting to fight? Just Jetstone, right? And you even tried to make terms with them."
Ansom nodded solemnly. "I did."
"But what actually happened was, not only did we not negotiate a truce or a surrender or an alliance, but we ended up fighting Jetstone, plus Faq, Charlescomm, and Haggar. That wasn't in any of the battle plans I saw; it was an ambush. For Wanda, in fact. They were going for you. You are that scary to them."
Wanda did not move, even slightly, in response.
"Taking this city," continued Parson, "cost us half of our dwagons, and all of our Archons. We lost a hell of a lot of ground troops, as well as several warlords. Ansom was captured, Jack was croaked, the rest of us almost burned up, and we had to change the capital.
"It. Was not. Worth it." He poked the strategy table with an index finger to punctuate the sentence. Then he paused and looked around the bleachers again.
"The fastest way to lose in a multiplayer game is to look like the biggest threat, the one that everybody agrees to gang up on," he said. "So we have to be less scary. We might actually be able to take over the world eventually, but we can't fight everyone all at once. We need some friends right now. We need to try some real diplomacy, not just this "convert or die" crusader crap." He looked squarely at Wanda as he said this.
"With who?" said Stanley pointedly. His tone suggested: who'd want to deal with us?
"I dunno," said Parson, standing up straight and glancing at the broad, empty strategy table. "Maybe someone in the Coalition. They've had their infighting, their holdouts. Maybe with Slately gone, we can break them up."
He gestured toward the edges of the table. "Or maybe we just have to go farther afield, to places like Jitterati and Carport that don't hate us yet. Maybe we spend the next 27 turns surrounding Faq or Jetstone with our allies, so we can avoid the kinds of surprises we got here."
He fell silent, letting the room stare at the empty table and imagine the possibilities. He watched Stanley in particular. The Tool was stroking his chin.
From the top of the bleachers, a throat cleared.
"Or we could deal with Jetstone," said Ansom. "Or Faq."
Parson looked up in surprise. "I was...kind of under the impression that those would be diplomatic dead ends, Ansom," he said, shaking his head a little. "Why, you don't think so?"
Ansom raised his chin and squinted. "I do not know," he said. "But if the aims of the side can be best furthered by diplomacy, then that is how I wish to serve. I know my brother likes to talk. And I know that the Queen of Faq has an interest in me. I believe I should personally negotiate with one or both of them."
"You tried to kill them both," said the Chief Warlord with a wry smile. "You sure you're the man for that job?"
"I am," said Ansom, without a hint of humor about it.
"Okay, maybe," Parson said, shrugging. "We'll talk about it. We have a lot to talk about. We've got security issues. Communications issues. Logistical stuff, like restoring the dwagon relays. We've gotta decide if we want to keep the capital here, or go back to Gobwin Knob, or even use the Unaroyal site. We'll have to think about our forces in the Magic Kingdom... Lots of stuff like that."
He took a step over toward Stanley. "But it all starts with grand strategy, and that's your call, boss. So what do you think? Can we be less scary and start making some friends?"
The Overlord put his thumb and forefinger to his chin. "Nah," he said. "It's not really my style, Hamster."
"Right, I know," said Parson, not letting his smile drop. "But it is the fastest and surest way to take over the world. And just remember, every friend you make now is somebody you get to stab in the back later on."
Stanley's eyebrows went up, and he shot a quick glance in Wanda's direction. He leaned forward on his bench. "Okay, yeah. That's my style."