Postface to 2100 CE
The months of saber-rattling at last came to an end, and though American and European powers had been willing to accept annexation of the trans-Dnipro regions a generation prior, they were not nearly so tolerant on the heels of a third world-spanning conflict. The expansion of Russian authority into Eastern Europe has not been unlike the impulses of an addict in the presence of the easily-acquired intoxicant; indeed, the geographical proximity of Moscow to the object of her desire drives the present conflict in much the same way the call of Lebensraum propelled the hungry gaze of the Third Reich to look eastward. But where physical expansion might once have been the capillary for the expansion of lands, and thus individual populations, the modern understanding localizes all such considerations under the heading of economy, or economic concerns. Foodstuffs themselves, the basic component of life and its survival, has through globalization and industrial agriculture become economically indistinguishable from the price of gasoline or the cost of a Snicker’s bar. Such abundance allows for the literal stacking of populations in cosmopolitan cities across the globe where true sustainability would otherwise be an impossibility.
Thus, in the acquisition of lands and their resident populations, a modern power seeks to expand not for ethereal causes, but in order to expand their own economic solvency through the direct expansion of their individual market while simultaneously manipulating international markets in their favor. Expanding into Eastern Europe gave strength to a deeply anemic Russian economy, its increase in resource by such expansion in turn expands its demand, allowing Moscow to manipulate a peace-seeking Europe, whose own economic fortunes are so deeply tied to the outcome of any such conflict. Little wonder certain key powers were hesitant to act during the wave of Russian expansionism which came to characterize the first quarter of the twenty-first century. The necessities of mutual defense temporarily aligned the concerns of the democratic West and a plutocratic Russia, giving rise to the sort “suspicious alliance” which temporarily wedded the concerns of the Allied powers in their mutual opposition to the Axis during the Second World War. Just the same, the desire to maintain if only a semblance of the “era of good feeling” of the postwar economy wedded the concerns of peace and economic solvency against even the most ardent revanchist.
Yet once more it was the concerns of economic solvency which both triggered and fueled a resumption of the conflict. A particularly cold winter in East Asia predicted a subsequent famine across much of China, a prospect which the regime of the People’s Republic had long since been prepared. Flush in postwar capital, virtually overnight Beijing became the single greatest importer of foodstuffs on the global market. The combined hunger of some 1.5 million Chinese-nationals across mainland China and her overseas holdings would prove capable of strangling economies already on the verge of collapse. The Philippines and Indonesia were among the hardest hit, but as the price of foodstuffs rose, so did it draw the gaze of others. It would come to pass that the potential profits to be made in the export of foodstuffs to China were calculated to be greater than the loss to domestic stocks, greater even than the potential loss resulting from shortages—that it was more profitable to sell foodstuffs and risk famine than to maintain domestic stores. Such thinking would prove the death knell to nearly a century of peace, for the Russian economy found itself incapable of disentangling its own self interests from the economic sustainment provided to the powerbrokers in Moscow by Beijing. Unable—and unwilling—to face this reality and the necessity of economic reformation, the regime sought the only option left to them. Where economic repercussions for such action had indeed proved destructive to the individual Russian consumer, it had likewise been calculated to have been a worthwhile sacrifice to preserve the regime’s—and Russia’s—authority. To expand the Russian market’s ability to fulfill the demands placed upon her, Russia would expand her market—and thereby gain greater control of it against outside players and likewise the larger international marketplace.
But where the calculations which had brought South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Crimea, and the trans-Dnipro back under Moscow’s will had been made by the most competent powerbroker among the survivors of the Soviet collapse, the second wave of expansionist fervor came from merely the loudest among a pool of economic oligarchs. Although surrounded by many of the same kind of advisors who had so sagely tempered the greatest excesses of his predecessors, this particular plutocrat proved unequal to the task of finesse and subtlety. The plodding grace of the authority in Moscow gave no thought to what a Euro-American response might look like after decades of effective silence. The limited response which greeted Russian forces crossing the Dnipro only encouraged the regime in its bluster, simultaneously crossing Suwalki Gap from Belarus in order to secure their northern flank. Perceiving a Russian assault upon their sovereignty, Warsaw invoked the mutual-defense clause of the Coalition’s treaty—and with it a mutual military response from all other member-states.
Identifying armored columns advancing on Kaliningrad for a larger invasion of neighboring Coalition states, an autonomous spacecraft in orbit fired its maneuvering thrusters to reorient itself over the globe. Whilst other Coalition spacecraft of similar design began to wage an unmanned campaign against the Russian satellite network, the larger MS-47C instead aligned itself in geostationary orbit over the Baltic Sea. Utterly silent and devoid of life, the large spaceplane maneuvered its nose so that it would be pointing toward the earth’s surface, its ventral side facing the direction of its orbit. Opposite, the pair of cargo bay doors on the spacecraft’s dorsal side opened with only a whisper of escaping gases, revealing a space large enough to accommodate a city bus or semitruck. Inside stiletto-like tungsten rods were housed in a circular chamber not dissimilar to the revolving cylinder of an old-fashioned revolver handgun. True to its forebearer, six tungsten rods occupied the chambers along the cylinder’s rim, while a seventh round was held in a central chamber. The entire housing rose from the spaceplane’s dorsal side as the spacecraft maneuvered forward relative to its previous orbital position, vacating it in order to provide the cylinder with enough room to operate.
At some unspoken command, the first of the chambers fired, a plume of white thruster gases blasting from the spaceward side of the cylinder, while a tungsten rod the size of a phone tower ejected from the other side, accelerating the projectile on a precise trajectory toward the blue world below. Gleaming in the orbital sunlight, each of the seven sharpened ends entered the atmosphere with nearly as much kinetic energy as that of a hydrogen bomb. Accelerating to hypersonic speeds, the rods each grew long tails of fiery plasma, carrying with it a wave of destructive cacophony. Anything unfortunate enough to be caught within a fairly small radius of the projectile’s path-of-travel would be torn apart from the sonic wave alone, giving no warning in its race ahead of the sound barrier.
It is known that two tungsten rods struck Kaliningrad, one to the north along the border with Lithuania and the other to the south along the Polish border. A third struck the massed column of Russian forces crossing the Suwalki Gap, annihilating some thirty thousand Russian soldiers. A fourth exploded over Russian supply lines in Belarus, the airburst intended to maximize localized Russian casualties while minimizing damage to the Belorussian state—a subtle difference intended to emphasize the Coalition’s conflict with Russia first and only secondarily with her allies.
The other three tungsten rods ignited the eastern Ukrainian plain in plumes of earth and fire as though three massive volcanoes had all at once emerged on the eastern side of the Dnipro River. Such incredible destruction had been directly authorized by the Western-backed Ukrainian government-in-exile, just as it had been authorized by Poland over its northern border. With their network of satellites disabled or destroyed and its ground forces decimated, the Coalition calculated that they could then approach a subdued Russia with the cause of an enduring peace. It was presumed that Moscow would have no choice—that they would blink first. They would relent.
But the Russians did not.
The sixth hour of the war saw the first nuclear assaults, first against Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, and Norway, followed immediately by what appeared to have been preemptive strikes on Sweden and Finland. The first response came not from the Americans, but from Norwegian and French submarines in the Arctic, followed by confirmation of nuclear launches from Britain and Scotland, and finally from American forces.
The nuclear exchanges which followed have exterminated all record of how the war progressed from there. Targets across the Northern Hemisphere disappeared behind a blinding curtain of fire so vast the engagements were only concluded when the results of mutual annihilation found there to be no clear command authority remaining. Who precisely directed remaining forces to cease fighting may be lost permanently to posterity, as the results of global irradiation continue to consume the surviving. It was the ultimate fate of the belligerent powers to find their remnant governments-in-exile in the global south to be the last citizens of their nation. It was said that the American ambassador in Australia preferred to die by suicide than to die of radioactive poisoning in the bed beside his Russian counterpart. They ultimately both died less than twelve hours apart.
The Nine-Hour War achieved for the cause of interplanetary separatism what the entirety of the war in space could not. For this reason, many have suspected that the events which precipitated it were the result of Galilean orchestrations in the face of the invading Peacekeeping Forces. Members of the Europan Secret Service were known to have infiltrated much of Western and Russian society in an effort to undermine popular support for the war in space. Creating such descent was intended to open another front in the conflict, one of domestic chaos among the most powerful states on the international stage, stirring peace movements as much as domestic separatist causes. To what extent the ESS was able to penetrate the hierarchy of decisionmakers and powerbrokers across the globe—and particularly those most heavily involved in those nine hours—remains unknown and may never be known, but its outcomes are. For they were precisely what Europa had intended through its campaign of espionage and sabotage. With Earth ablaze, Mars subjugated, and the scores of daily casualties from one engagement after another in the orbits over Jupiter, the center at last could no longer hold and the junta which had formed in the aftermath of the Nine-Hour War sought peace with the Galilean League. Peace, for the sake of stability. Peace, sufficient to regroup and to reorient their focus to the recovery of Earth’s dwindling masses.
The armistice reached by Fleet Admiral Mudahar with the Presidents of Europa and Ganymede were therefore not signed so much at the point of a gun but as in the midst of bleeding out. Where the plan had been for a lightning invasion and a heavy occupational presence within the Galilean Sea, the circumstances now facing the Peacekeeping Forces dictated a return to a smaller footprint in the Outer orbits. Little more than a token force was left over Jupiter to rebuild the facilities at Mahon and enforce the conditions of the peace accords, a part of which guaranteed not just their presence, but the continued presence of emplaced fortifications of the Galilean League. For many who had served in one campaign after another, it was seen as a return to the prewar conditions, invalidating the struggle and sacrifice of so many lives in the preservation of the international order against an enemy largely unaffected at home by the devastation of the war. It was as though nothing had changed. This feeling of betrayed vengeance would figure heavily in the rationale for a full-scale invasion upon the resumption of hostilities; indeed, with the exception of forces recruited from Earth, the Peacekeeping Forces did little to demobilize their standing force in the intervening period. To what extent this motivated the Galilean League to likewise prepare for a continuation of the war is difficult to calculate, but it is worth noting the timing of rearmament by the Galilean League relative to the reorganization of Peacekeeping Forces five years before the renewal of war. Little wonder Galilean forces undertook a direct strike on the Terresphere at the start of the second war as a means of delaying the inevitable.
To be concluded.
Part of 2100 CE.