This portfolio originally appeared in Jump Point 10.05.
In 2542, the inaugural Invictus Launch Week saw Navy ships visit every system in the United Planets of Earth (UPE). Amidst the First Tevarin War, people gathered in massive numbers to celebrate and send off the brave recruits who boarded large military transports to be taken to basic training. Navy officials noticed that these large gatherings were becoming more and more popular system after system and realized that the event could serve both a practical and political purpose. From there forward, Invictus would be both a chance to pick up new recruits, celebrate the Navy, and eventually show off the latest additions to its fleet. Five centuries later, despite undergoing significant changes, Invictus Launch Week has become a cherished Empire-wide tradition. Today, instead of transporting volunteers, the event showcases the latest vehicles in the Naval fleet while celebrating that year’s recruits and graduating officers and pilots. Still, the core values of the event have remained focused on driving recruitment and honoring the brave starmen who’ve dedicated themselves to protecting the Empire.
READY TO LAUNCH
Few system discoveries changed the trajectory of Human history more than Elysium. On November 15, 2541, Dr. Kellar Lench returned after charting the first jump into the system to report that it teemed with advanced alien life, now known to be Tevarin. Unfortunately, unlike Humanity’s previous two encounters with a new culture, this one would quickly lead to war. Unprepared for the Tevarin blitz and their ships’ powerful phalanx shields, the UPE Navy found itself on the defensive and in desperate need of starmen to build an effective fighting force. Navy brass met with the UPE’s governing tribunal and high-ranking senators to not only seek ways to attract recruits, but to solve the logistical problems involved with transporting volunteers to basic training, as ship ownership among the public was rare and commercial space travel capacity and security not sufficient. A hybrid idea emerged where Navy ships would visit the populated planets in each system and pick up new recruits while also projecting power and security to the populace. The recruits’ ultimate destination being a base on Mars called Invictus, which inspired the event’s name and stuck even after the base closed in 2579.
Invictus ran for a week every October during the First Tevarin War (2541-2546). In 2547, the first Imperator, a First Tevarin War military hero by name of Ivar Messer, insisted that even though the war had ended, the event be held again to celebrate Humanity’s victory. From the event on Earth, Imperator Messer emphasized the importance of sacrificing oneself for the greater good of the Empire and promised that the Navy would be used to defend the newly renamed United Empire of Earth (UEE) against threats both alien and domestic.
Over the next few decades, people still gathered to see the Navy ships and celebrate that year’s local crop of recruits, but the supporting events varied greatly depending on the system as there wasn’t an active war or unified theme. That changed in 2581, when Imperator Messer, faced with declining Navy recruitment numbers, turned Invictus into an official holiday meant to celebrate the corps. Under the Navy’s direction, large and lavish ceremonies were planned to coincide with its ships arriving in-system. New recruits now hopped aboard ships to Borea, Magnus system, which housed the Navy’s main shipyard. That destination changed in 2632 when the Navy moved its shipyards to MacArthur, Kilian system, where they still reside. As an annual event, Invictus continued to evolve and expand with some landing zones getting elaborate expo halls to showcase ships and advanced technologies. Seen by some as a way to attract technophiles to the Navy and by others as a warning to those who dare come up against it.
Throughout the 26th century, the Navy was tasked more and more with dealing with political dissent and what was deemed by the government as “domestic unrest.” Not all welcomed the military and saw the unbridled propaganda of Invictus as another opportunity for the Messer regime to push its authoritarian ambitions. Historians consider Invictus posters, banners, and recruitment vids from early 27th century events prime examples of Messer era agitprop. Surviving pieces either reside in museums or are highly sought after by private collectors. The public pushback to Invictus peaked in 2637 when the Terra system abstained from the event in protest of Imperator Livia Messer III using previous events to promote her growing pro-military agenda. Instead, the system hosted a counter-event that featured a famous speech by Terran Senator Assan Kieren, who rallied the crowd around the idea of Terra sovereignty.
In 2681, the Navy dropped one of the core elements of Invictus and ceased using the event to pick up recruits to transport to training. From there forward, Navy recruits have been required to self-report to Kilian. This led to the overall number of Invictus events being reduced, as Navy ships no longer visited each system. Instead, larger more focused celebrations were held at various major landing zones across the empire, rotating locations each year. These larger Invictus events usually included vast recruitment centers that aggressively courted volunteers to fight the new danger from the edges of the empire: the Vanduul. The now-classic vid All Tomorrow’s Guardians, which centered around Navy personnel and the tactics they used in these recruitment centers, featured a Vanduul attack on an Invictus ceremony in Angeli for its dramatic finale. Many at the time saw the vid as traditional Messer propaganda but it has since earned a reputation for having a subversive spin of the event and politics of the era in its subtle skewering of the characters depicted as Messer loyalists within the Navy.
The intense recruitment drive alongside the public’s growing weariness of the Messer regime led to a significant drop in Invictus attendance in the late 2730s. Embarrassed by the lack of public support, Imperator Galor Messer IX would make attendance of Invictus mandatory beginning in 2743. In a strange twist on the event’s original intentions, Navy ships were used to pick up and transport people to the celebration closest to them. Invictus events soon featured large, sometimes unruly crowds that mingled about the halls just as long as required. Some used the free flights to plan family reunions. Anti-Messer activists used the massive crowds to meet, exchange information, and in some systems with lax security, use the flights to plan sabotage operations or recruit new members to the cause. Imperator Messer IX’s attendance mandate only lasted two years before being replaced with a law that deemed missing the event “unpatriotic behavior” punishable by up to five years in prison. The law was rarely used in connection with the actual event, more often it was used as a justification to arrest anti-Messer activists that the regime couldn’t pin other charges on. The legal mandate lasted until 2792 when the Messer regime finally fell.
The importance of Invictus actually increased following the fall of the Messers. The Navy found itself in desperate need of new recruits after purging its ranks of Messer loyalists and, in 2794, would move the event to May in order to repopulate its numbers as soon as possible. To further separate the event from its negative reputation, Imperator Erin Toi worked with Naval High Command to reshape the message of Invictus away from the old display of military dominance into one of hope and serving the greater good. Aggressive recruitment centers were replaced with aspirational dioramas depicting moments when the Navy came to the aid of the Empire. The turn toward becoming a popular family-friendly event continued in 2803 when the famous 999th Test Squadron began performing exhilarating aerial acrobatics at select ceremonies.
Most embrace and celebrate modern Invictus Launch Week events as an informative, entertaining, and fitting tribute to the Navy and starmen that serve the Empire. Yet, it’s not without its critics, who believe the cost is too exorbitant for taxpayers. They also argue that the event has become too commercialized and amounts to free marketing and essentially a government endorsement of the ship, weapon, and component manufacturers featured on the showfloor. Still, Invictus remains one of the most beloved and widely attended events in all of the UEE. A chance for people to support the Navy, what its pilots fly, and the sacrifices they make for the safety of the Empire.