The obsolescence of human technology [Short Sci-Fi Story]

A lot of things can be said of humans. In fact, a lot has already been said of them, in the nearly two millennia since they made contact with the rest of the galaxy. Heck, a lot of them are even true…

But nothing beats the time they pulled the wool over the entire galaxy’s eyes for a good five hundred years.

Now, before I get into the details, you have to remember, the humans are short-lived. They rarely make it past 100 years old, and they’re only really productive for about 40-60 of those years, anyway.

I’m almost 3000 years old at this point. For me, keeping a secret for a measly 500 years is child’s play.

For an entire race, as short-lived as the humans to do it? on a galactic scale? That is nothing short of miraculous.

So, I think the best way to explain it, is to go back to the point where we found out about it.

It was early in the war between the Galactic Federation and the Graxion Empire, and we were preparing for a long war. Both sides were fairly evenly matched, although the Empire had already won a few victories, mainly because they had started off the entire war with a series of sneak attacks on several of our systems.

As a member of the Federation, the Human Systems were among the first to commit their navies to the war effort, which wasn’t really encouraging to any of their allies.

See, even back then, we liked the humans. They were friendly, even courteous. They never started any wars, they were always the first to respond to the occasional humanitarian crisis that arose, their fleets were actively suppressing piracy and slavers in Federation space.

But we thought they were just a bit slow… At this point, the humans had been members of the GF for a bit over 500 years, and their ships were still using the same chemically propelled kinetic weapons as when they had made first contact.

Now granted, their ships had improved a lot in that time. Their armor was state of the art, so were their shields, their software, their FTL drives… but they were still using cannons, and cannons had been made obsolete almost a thousand years before we even discovered the humans.

So, we couldn’t explain why they stubbornly hung on to their powder burners. The Federation military couldn’t agree on a reason.

Some speculated it must be due to some spiritual or cultural reason. Maybe even a superstition. And there was indirect evidence to support this. Allied troops stationed with the Human Systems Navy occasionally heard mentions of a mythical Gun Jesus, or references to a Book of Armaments

Others suspected that there was some intellectual limitation, some reason why human brains couldn’t grasp the applied technology behind plasma cannons. And, indeed, Federation scientists working with Human scientists would regularly hear rumors about some setback on one or another of humanity’s various weapon development progress

Under normal circumstances, that question would have been just an academic question.

But these were not normal circumstances. At the start of the war, facing an enemy of roughly equal power, and after the losses it had just suffered, the Federation needed a win, and fast.

It was at this point, when the ships of the Human Systems Fleet accounted for almost a third of the Galactic Federation’s assets currently at full readiness, and the fact that every single one of them was equipped with cannons that nobody had used in over fifteen centuries was deeply worrying to the rest of the Federation members.

Nobody could really fault the humans. Not when they had mobilized so fast, and so much of their fleet, and when their troops showed so much enthusiasm for the coming fight. Under these circumstances, the apparent human backwardness had just become a giant elephant in the room.

And that’s when the humans dropped the news on us. I still remember that day like it was yesterday.

It was at a strategy meeting of all the Federation commanders when a human, Admiral Mikawa, spoke up:

“Friends and allies, I would like to take a few minutes to discuss matters of technology, before we start making any plans for winning this war.

I speak with absolute certainty that every person in this fleet has, at one point or another, been concerned about the weaponry of our ships. I would like to assure you all that we have worked hard to maintain those concerns, and a lot of rumors about or technological backwardness were deliberately encouraged.

Nonetheless, let’s address the root of these concerns. There seems to be a misconception going around, that chemically propelled kinetic weapons are obsolete, because they have not been used by any major navy in well over 15 centuries.

The misconception is this, my friends. Time does not make technology obsolete. Circumstances do.

The cannons firing good, old-fashioned Armor Piercing shells were not made obsolete by time, they were made obsolete by new techniques in deflector shields and armor hardening, so it was replaced by railguns that could defeat those new shields and armor.

Eventually, new techniques in armor hardening and deflector shielding made even the railgun obsolete, so that was replaced with lasers.

The problem with the introduction of lasers is all that iterative development on armor and shielding designed to defeat solid projectiles at high speeds is useless against lasers. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of what is needed to stop an energy weapon.

So, as laser technology matured, someone invented the armor and shielding needed to defeat it, until finally the laser was replaced with the plasma cannon.

As plasma cannons developed, so to did the armor and shielding needed to defeat it.

And, since the first lasers were installed, armor and shielding became increasingly less effective at stopping *solid* projectiles.

When we made first contact with the Galaxy, all those hundreds of years ago, we were exposed to incredible new technologies, and there was a temptation to embrace them all.

Fortunately, one of my predecessors, Admiral Sun-Sin resisted the idea. In one moment of what can either be genius or divine inspiration, he realized that the cannons we already had can basically ignore the armor of every other ship in the galaxy, because nobody’s designed armor to stop solid projectiles in such a long time.

There was a lot of pressure to at least update to railguns, now that we knew how to make them, but again, Admiral Sun-Sin saw the downside. Our shells already ignore every form of armor currently in deployment across the galaxy, and the advantage of a railgun is just more penetration. A larger shell will not make a difference.

So, in effect, over the last 500 years, we have been building a stockpile of ships with armor good enough to stand up against the most modern weapons in the galaxy, and guns which can ignore any armor in the galaxy.

For reasons that I’m sure you will understand, we have not gone out of our way to make those capabilities public. If anything, we have taken great pains to vastly understate them.

You are the first people outside the Human Systems Navy to become aware of that capability. The strategy and tactics of the upcoming war will depend on making the most of this capability before the enemy develops the ships, tactics, and doctrine to overcome it”

As I’ve already alluded, I was in that room, that day. And in the two minutes it took for the human admiral to explain that, I went through every emotion you can think of, including some you probably can’t. Awkwardness, when the human first brought up the issue. Then disbelief, as he made the claim that the weapons were viable. Then astonishment as my mind caught up with his explanation, and burning shame as I realized just how much we had underestimated the humans, and how blind we all had been. Then sheer admiration, at the scope and scale of the disinformation efforts of the human navy.

And, finally, curiosity.

Why *had* the humans built up this capability? Why *had* they kept it a secret, for so long? Why had they not used such an overwhelming advantage in any war? Those were all good questions, but I was pretty sure I knew the answer to them. Because their fleet’s position of absolute dominance absolutely relied on the paradigm of space combat to remain the same, and as soon as they made their capabilities public, that paradigm would instantly change, in ways not even the humans could predict.

A better question was why they had chosen to reveal this capability to us now. That too was a simple question, with an obvious answer. Because this was a large enough, and important enough war that they were willing to trade away their position of invincibility for a few overwhelming victories before the paradigm shift.

No… the really important question was. HOW did they plan to use this advantage before the rules of space combat changed forever? I was looking forward to finding out…

Republished with permission from the author, Reddit user u/Pale-Ad6264. Follow the author on Facebook here: Michael Carabott. Image created using Stable Diffusion.

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