Humans are awful at war, concluded envoy Ö-Three-Eyes in her first assessment of the newly integrated species’ ability to reliably defend their corner of the Orion Arm.
In a vacuum, without the Great Chain knocking at the metaphorical door, it would have been an interesting conundrum. Compared to its neighbours, humankind didn’t lag behind in technology. Their understanding of the universe was roughly on par with that of most Agora species, and while they were a few generations behind when it came to biotechnologies, their material science was nothing to scoff at. Visiting their fifty-odd worlds, Ö-Three-Eyes witnessed many feats of engineering that humans had every right to be proud of. She saw geoscale wind-wheels in their gas giants, fusion lanterns warming up icy worlds, O’Neill cylinders housing millions of inhabitants, space elevators stretching out from their garden planets, faster-than-light spaceships glittering at the edge of reality, trailing hyperluminal wakes between the stars.
One thing, however, was strangely absent: weapons. It wasn’t that humans didn’t have conflicts — in a rather amusing episode, Ö-Three-Eyes found herself involved in a five-way squabble between human communes, ending up in a close pass between two several terawatt-strong fusion-powered ships. Simply, they didn’t seem to have wars. Laser grids on their ships were limited to asteroid defence, the only missiles she could find were used as launchers and particle beams were nowhere to be found. Their ground forces were effectively nonexistent and, safe for a few ballistic submarines lurking beneath the oceans, the humans didn’t seem to have much in the way of planetary defences. The only martial activity they entertained were “Flower Wars” — pretend conflicts that served more as spectacle than anything else.
Ö-Three-Eyes was intrigued. It was extremely rare to find species that were true pacifists. Pretend pacifists existed — civilisations that prided themselves on being pacific, but would stand ready to unleash their wrath on those they assumed to be deserving of it. She had but contempt for them. They were all old, ancient civilisations whose main claim to fame was to have emerged from their homeworld a few thousand years before the others and could now rest on their laurels. Humans were anything but that. They had no hidden stockpiles and they were certainly not a sleeping giant. They were not a submissive species either, disarmed by a long-gone master, or biologically unable to exert aggression. No, realized Ö-Three-Eyes after a few decades as an ambassador, humans were pacifists by choice. It was a deep-seated principle, their way of living in the interstellar age.
Once again, not a problem, hadn’t their little corner of the galactic community turned into a March with the sudden disintegration of the empires of the Perseus arm in front of the Great Chain’s relentless advance? Member species of a March were expected to receive various advantages, in exchange of which they would stand firm for the Agora, protecting the borders of the multi-species democracy. Ö-Three-Eyes thus faced a problem. The Earth and its daughter-planets were extremely valuable, and the humans were not equipped to defend them against the tidal wave of the Great Chain. The envoy considered the direct neighbours of humanity, wondering if they could make up for humanity’s shortcomings. The Messer hivemind was the archetypal March species: a strong, deeply united civilisation capable of throwing untold billions of soldiers in the path of the Great Chain. The Pleiadians were less fit to combat, but still a great addition to the Orion March. The delicate, blue-skinned humanoids had a taste for particle beams and could strike at the Great Chain from long distances with their planetkillers, harassing the fleets as they crossed the inter-arm void.
How would humans ever fit into that? For a time, Ö-Three-Eyes considered a grim possibility — she could manipulate either the Pleiadians or the Messer into annexing human space and putting them under their wing. They would easily win a war. But the Agora wasn’t a competing arena of scheming species, it was a galactic democracy and if Ö-Three-Eyes believed in one thing, it was the fundamental truth that all sophonts had a right to self-determination. No. She could not do that. Then what? Arm the humans by force? Have them retool their industry for war? There was no time. The Great Chain would hit within a few decades, and in its state, the human economy would take at least a century to transition to military production. Everything was to reinvent and develop — and more importantly, Ö-Three-Eyes feared it would alter human society and psyche to such a point they would inevitably revolt against the Agora.
When the first tendrils of the Great Chain reached the Orion March, Ö-Three-Eyes braced and feared for the worst.
It did not come to pass. There was one thing she hadn’t quite figured out about humans. Their pacifism wasn’t passivity. Like many things — such as their syndicalist organisation, or their environmentalism — it could be traced back to their industrial age, to the era where they had almost choked on their own civilisation. Humans had forgotten how to fight, but they had not forgotten how to act. Four centuries prior, they had narrowly avoided disaster by focusing their societies, economies and cultures towards the singular goal of safeguarding their own homeworld. The arrival of the Great Chain, of this unyielding force bent on conquering the Local Group, brutally reignited this drive.
In the first months of the invasion, Ö-Three-Eyes noticed a peculiar thing — the Orion March was holding better than she would have thought. The Messer armies were more mobile than usual, plugging gaps in frontlines and evacuating lost worlds with a swiftness she had not expected. The fragile Pleiadians replenished their fleet losses much faster than at the height of their previous wars and always narrowly avoided running out of their precious relativistic kill vehicles. The statistically significant oddities, in both cases, were explainable by human activities.
Ö-Three-Eyes, just as an idle thought, perused the statistics of human interstellar trade.
Holy Stars. That was a lot of ships.
Several hundred thousand, at least — and most of them had been spontaneously converted into supply and utility vessels. With human space ideally positioned between the Messer and Pleiadian spheres, the children of the sun could easily transport resources, personnel and knowledge from one side to the other. Devoid of weapons, entirely designed around speed and capacity, their cargo vessels moved in hundred-strong formations, supplementing the supply lines and economy of the other two civilisations. It was more than help — the human contribution acted as an exoskeleton for the Messer and the Pleiadians, multiplying their ability to hold and fight back.
Many worlds were lost against the Great Chain, many billions died, but at no point did the line falter. There were gigantic cargo ships running constant back and forths between the industrial gas giants of human space and the bio-furnaces of the Messer hive; fast couriers informing Pleiadian artillery-stars of Great Chain advances with nary a few days of delay; FTL-capable shipyards following in the wake of interstellar battles, standing by to replenish ammunition and repair damaged vessels; and even a few formidable “prime movers”, massive antimatter-powered clippers that could haul entire flotillas between stars, sparing Messer and Pleiadian ships the stress of a group long-range hyperluminal translation.
And all of that without mounting a single weapon on their ships, without firing a single shot, without even using their own drives in self-defence. The human devotion to pacifism had something of a mythical oath; even as they lost thousands of ships and millions of people to the Great Chain, they did not break it.
When the second wave — the true invasion, the real tendril of Great Chain Fleet Orion — hit the March two decades later, all the local civilisations had changed. The Messer hive had turned into a war machine of stellar proportions, churning out dedicated lifeforms by the tens of billions from worlds turned into planetary-scale corallian reefs. The Pleiadians had built a cosmic wall of fortresses through the arm, Nicoll-Dysons beams aimed outwards, and their fleet was now equal to none in sophistication. And the humans…
As battles unfolded, Ö-Three-Eyes marvelled at them. Their supply ships were now directly integrated to the Messer and Pleiadian battle order, acting in unison as if they had been part of the same species. Pleiadian clippers and Messer moths screened them as they moved, but the escorts were not always necessary. Within a very short timeframe, humans had radically overhauled their propulsion technology; equipped with military-grade power generators, but without the weapons to complement them, human cargo vessels could brute-force their way through extremely long-range hyperluminal jumps, bypassing Great Chain blockades with ease. The human network now allowed the Messer and the Pleiadians to act as one single war economy, each of them covering the other’s weaknesses with human space as a hub of stellar proportions. Unconcerned with the manufacture of armaments, the great artisanal-industrial complexes of human space churned out medicine, supplies and non-military equipment for its allies. Its extreme versatility was stretched to its limit, but the adaptability of humans quickly allowed them to size up to the pre-war Messer and Pleiadian economies. Entire human planets had been converted to fac-similes of Messer hives, while Pleiadian specialists oversaw whole gas giant systems where their technology blended in with human machinery.
From probes dropped in the billions to advanced hydrogen steamers shadowing the tendrils of the Orion Fleet, the children of the sun painted a picture of the invader crisper than any telescope. As the Great Chain started threatening human systems, their allies jumped to their rescue — at the height of the war, human cargo ships often worked double duty, ferrying goods out and reinforcements in. Some systems were lost to the enemy, but the humans surprised Ö-Three-Eyes with their swiftness to relocate and start anew. As the Great Chain approached to consume their worlds, they simply moved their O’Neill stations away and retreated in order.
Thirty years after the beginning of the assault on the Orion March, the Great Chain finally identified the true cornerstone of the staunch defense it faced — the Earth itself. Sweeping through a weak point in Messer hive-armies, hundreds of thousands of ships made a beeline towards the Sun. A strategic masterstroke — and a terrible mistake.
The three allied races had Great Chain Fleet Orion right where they wanted it. As the Messer and the Pleiadians converged on the solar system, an apocalyptic battle erupted in the Kuiper Belt, quickly spreading towards the outer planets. Human supply lines now operated point-blank. The geoscale wind-wheels of Saturn and the magnetic tethers of Jupiter beamed power directly to Pleiadian laserstars, demultiplying their firepower. Automated asteroid bases manufactured billions of Messer drones, throwing them into the battle instantly — even as they were overrun, even as they were destroyed, they kept working until nothing was left. Moving sunwards, the partial Dyson plates of Sol fed Pleiadian relativistic artillery stations with untold petawatts of power, firing at Great Chain capital ships near-constantly. At the height of the astronomical unit-spanning exchange, human cargo ships delivered Messer hive ships directly into the fray, before adding the plumes of their engines to the concert of all-spectrum jamming and interdiction zones crisscrossing the solar system. In a remarkable display of pettiness, humans even used their telescopes to shine powerful lasers at Great Chain targeting drones.
The battle lasted for a whole month. Jupiter, Neptune and Uranus were lost. Saturn held. Mars was bombed. The Earth was briefly landed upon, and for five glorious days, the Pleiadian elite defended human cities. A billion allies died. Sol, now the single most heavily defended system in the Milky Way, braced for a second wave.
None came. Of Great Chain Fleet Orion, nothing was left but stragglers. The Orion March had held and the humans hadn’t fired a single shot. Yet, Ö-Three-Eyes’ colleagues at the Agora agreed on one thing — victory was theirs.
A century later, as the Great Chain was crumbling and in disarray, Ö-Three-Eyes visited the solar system once again and was surprised to find a Pleiadian planetkiller bearing human identification signals, orbiting in the depths of the Oort Cloud. Had the experience of the war finally convinced humankind to arm itself, and with such a terrifying weapon?
Upon closer inspection, it turned out that they were in the process of turning the planetkiller into the first prototype of an interstellar disco ball.
Republished with permission from the author, Reddit user u/low_orbit_sheep. Image created using Stable Diffusion.