The Formation Wars

The Formation Wars

After the its renewal the Eichberger Foundation became a lot more aggressive than it had been before. Its enforcement vessels ruthlessly fired on suspected raiders rather than let them escape. Where any conquest was still in progress it intervened with military force, killing or capturing key personnel or destroying armies. It captured and dismantled extraterritorial trading depots, and deported traders to their homeworlds. Where there were villains whom no colony would prosecute, it punished them on its own authority.

In systems where there were notorious abuses in progress, and later in any system that did not have its own space authorities, the Fleet boarded ships in orbit and inspected them for contraband. Migrant ships were turned back. Ships with troops or weapons on them were seized and the crews repatriated. (The Eichberger Foundation had investigators and informants on most of the colonies with interstellar capability: it was often forewarned about pirate undertakings.) Gradually taking an ever harder line against Eichberger devices in private hands, Eichberger enforcement vessels started firing on any interstellar vessels that would not stop, and confiscating spacecraft with pirate Eichberger devices even if they were not engaged in nefarious activities.

From the point of view of colonies with FTL industries this amounted to intolerable interference with their commerce and migration, and denial of due process to their citizens in free space. Starting with Seeonee in 448 ATD, one by one they imposed sanctions: froze Eichberger Foundation assets on their surfaces; closed Eichberger Spaceways offices; closed or seized port facilities; boycotted Eichberger Spaceways ships; and sometimes arrested or expelled Eichberger Foundation and Spaceways staff. The Eichberger Foundation found itself gradually excluded from the lucrative trade routes between the fourteen most advanced colonies, which was a long-term threat to its success. In 459 Barutanah at last joined the boycott, and the Foundation was cut off from supplies of parts to maintain its spaceships and build Eichberger devices. This was an acute threat to its existence.

Seeonee, Tau Ceti and New Earth even went so far as to build interstellar warships. (To protect, it was said “their migrants, their merchants, and their missionaries respectively”.) The prospect of colonies maintaining rival interstellar navies was anathema to the Eichberger Foundation. In 458, after furious debate among the Board of Trustees the Foundation recognised a condition of war and resolved to win it.

Ship and fleet actions in the outer systems went both ways, with the advantage to the Foundation. But such actions could never decide the strategic issues. In 464 the Foundation deployed enormous plinkers—barely-mobile vacuum-UV laser platforms, which could focus a destructive beam at far greater range than any other space weapon. Starting with Seeonee, it warped a task force and several plinkers into each system, exiting from warp at a distance from the planet beyond range of any defensive weapons. While the conventional combat vessels held off torpedoes and counter-attacks, the plinkers systematically destroyed warships in orbit, orbital defences, and eventually all equipment in orbit. Interstellar vessels that arrived were allowed to orbit, and given time to unload and disembark before being destroyed. Vessels that attempted to leave were shot at, and most destroyed. The plinkers allowed the Fleet to interdict planets without bombarding ground facilities, since they could destroy any ship or torpedo launched long before it reached warp distance. But they could not keep Eichberger ships safe if they approached an enemy planet within range of ground-based weapons firing through the atmosphere.

Allies of the beleaguered colonies attempted sometimes to relieve them by warping task forces in near the suspected locations of the plinkers. These efforts were hampered by problems getting intelligence, and though some plinkers were destroyed, no system once beleaguered was relieved.

The reduction of Tau Ceti took eight years (465–472), because Tau Ceti built large orbital UV laser platforms of its own. The plinkers in the first invasion force were destroyed, and their escorts retreated in confusion. After years of skirmishing, Tau Ceti eventually succumbed to Minamoto’s Raid, an elaborate ploy involving clouds of asteroidal detritus put on an orbit to sweep Tau Ceti’s near space like a charge of shot, short-range bomb-pumped ‘mines’ concealed among the detritus, and eight converging interstellar task-forces englobing the planet with plinkers. After Tau Ceti was beleaguered there was no relief for other belligerents.

Where the colonial systems included substantial habitats in deep space, in asteroid belts, or in the orbital systems of uninhabited planets, these sometimes had to be captured by shooting off their point defences and then boarding. Eichberger Fleet combat teams were extraordinarily careful to capture orbital habitats with minimal casualties among non-combatants. In two cases they managed to capture occupied O’Neill cylinders with no civilian fatalities at all, a great achievement.

On no occasion did Eichberger Foundation forces make any demonstration of frightfulness against an inhabited world, nor threaten, nor imply a threat, to bombard from orbit. Their unwillingness to do these things left them with no way to force the surrender of a planet even after its defences were reduced.

By 480 major combat operations were over. The belligerent colonies were confined to their atmospheres. Any continuing hostilities or pirate activity amounted to villains gradually running out of parts and supplies as they futzed around in the deep Beyond. The Eichberger Foundation had its objective, but was not in a position to hold it for long. They had 72 billion people besieged on fifteen colonies, but those were the ones with the industries and skills it needed to maintain its spaceships. The Foundation had made efforts to develop sources of supply on Pacisordine, Tian Longshan and other advanced worlds that were not in the boycott, but the results had not been adequate. Besides, the huge majority of Eichberger Spaceways’ potential revenues depended on trade among the colonies now interdicted.

On the other hand, the advanced colonies had lost the prosperity that they had gained while interstellar trade was flourishing. They had lost access to their mines on asteroids and moons, and to free-fall manufacturing. They had even lost the use of satellites. These colonies now had populations that required development equivalent to GURPS TL 9 (advanced) or even TL 10 (ForeSight TL 7.5 or 8) to maintain them. Without space industries they faced hardship.

In 490 the Formation Wars were acknowledged to be an exhausted draw.