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The Great Circus

Algorab report 67-T-SZ: warfare in the extant civilisation of Station Zero.

The human civilization in Station Zero (182 million inhabitants as of today), while relatively well-organized, has yet to see any kind of orbital-wide peace. It has been marked by countless conflicts, both ancient and recent, which tend to gravitate around two key elements which are often deeply intertwined in situ:

— Control of local non-natural resources left over by the Sequence, the most prominent of which are Sequence-made technology and sambre, an exotic alloy with a very good strength to weight ratio that is extracted (the correct word would be scraped, really) from the core structure of the orbital, itself only accessible in places where said structure has started degrading significantly (the locals call such places faults, even though they are not the result of actual tectonic activity. They do not possess the means to extract sambre directly without the use of weapons of mass destruction that would further compromise the stability of the orbital).

— Cultural and religious disagreements on the nature of humankind, and more critically its relationship to the Sequence. The existence of the Sequence as an interstellar empire (and possibly intergalactic) is well-known to Station Zero humans, and a significant number of powers, both small and great, have embraced or still embrace imperialistic policies based on the idea that humankind is the inheritor of the long-dead Sequence.

The Station Zero orbital represents several dozen times the Earth in terms of usable surface and even in present day remains mostly unsettled and barely explored. Human settlements are rather scattered as a direct side-effect of the initial (and accidental) colonisation process carried out by the survivors of Zero Fleet. The original purpose of the orbital is unknown to us, but it is likely that it was meant to harbor vastly different species, as it shows radical differences in geology, climate and biomes meaning entire sections of the orbital are unfit for permanent human settlement. Furthermore, Station Zero isn’t complete and its structure is full geological placeholders: many kilometer-deep wells and ocean-sized chasms dot the orbital’s surface, making land and sea-based communications arduous if not impossible in some places.

The direct corollary to this state of things is that the Station Zero civilisation is extensively based on air travel. It achieved human flight at the beginning of the modern era, first through the use of local flying beasts (see entry: Helium Jellyfish, Cloud Whale, Sequence Bird), then dirigibles and, finally, planes. In the absence of fossil fuels on the orbital, heavier than air vehicles are powered by organic fuel harvested from a local species of palm trees, possibly derived from Earthbound GMOs. Flying vehicles are used for freight, travel and military operations to the point all significant powers on the orbital are ouranocracies, that is to say polities whose power derives from the control of the atmosphere.

On Station Zero, flying vehicles are the be all and end all of warfare. Wars are waged to control small points of interest scattered across the vast landscapes of the orbital, resulting in highly dynamic conflicts where concentration of forces and reconnaissance are paramount. Both ground and sea forces find themselves serving as auxiliaries to air forces rather than the contrary — they simply do not have the flexibility and speed required to truly take part in modern point-to-point warfare. I must stress that this goes way beyond a simple supremacy of air power. Warfare on Station Zero exists in ways that have no real equivalent in history. The local civilisation entered the jet age some 30 years ago. Though its planes would remind a keen observer of late Cold War vehicles from the industrial era, Station Zero also sees “airships'' being used — not dirigibles, but massive flying wings capable of remaining in the air for days, presumably assembled from an alloy of aluminium and Sequence-made transbiological compounds. Records of local conflicts suggest that defense has an edge over offense on Station Zero, with jamming technology in particular having rendered long-range BVR combat much less prominent than in the late industrial era. Pictures and films taken during the latest conflicts show large battles involving vast airship fleets, with jet fighters acting as pickets in what can be considered as slow-burning, days-long dogfights over the inhospitable landscapes of Station Zero. Many militaries have built up an “ace culture”, where the stereotype of the heroic warrior is best pictured by a fighter pilot. In fact, it appears that a few constitutional monarchies have even directly translated the ideal of the ancient knight to the technological context of fighter jets.

Though Station Zero was rather peaceful in the past decade, conflicts seem to be flaring up again and apparently involve three distinct powers: imperialistic “Sequence imitators”, a religious conclave and what could be best defined as a communal confederacy. The latter seem to hold a relative, hard-won advantage but the situation remains fleeting. Particularly concerning to us is the ever-increasing frequency of superweapon uses in this conflict. We define “superweapon” not as a weapon of mass destruction (the locals do not have nuclear weapons, for instance) but as weapons with technical characteristics far beyond what the local civilisation can achieve, which often corresponds to reawakened Sequence or Algorab technology. Atmospheric controllers have been weaponized as “storm-makers” at least twice in the war, and the communal defense system nicknamed “Circle of Stone” is heavily suspected to be a trans-orbital railgun array, possibly salvaged from the remnants of Zero Fleet. Finally, the use of experimental suborbital vehicles might allow belligerents to bypass enemy defenses, striking at their cities directly — albeit the delta-v requirements of such endeavours are far higher than those on a regular planet, which might discourage their use.

In any case, I suggest we keep watching Station Zero with great interest and stand ready to intervene if our distant cousins stumble upon something that would be too dangerous for them — like, say, a Sequence antimatter generator.

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