Since the First World War, or even before, human warfare has been primarily governed by the arms race. Rifles rendered line-and-volley tactics expensive, the machine gun rendered them obsolete. Tanks changed the nature of the trench line, before air power changed it again. Smart systems, drone units and information warfare…the beat went on, unceasing and unstoppable.
Predictions which have been preserved from the time before the Process was discovered posit future wars waged entirely by Artificial Intelligence, carried out by ever smaller and more complicated machinery. What went wrong? Why did their estimates bear so little relation to the modern conflicts?
The first reason is that their view of the nature of reality was incomplete. The dominant paradigm of the time viewed the observable universe as complete-in-itself. Physics governed all. When they posited that one day machines would think, they thought they were being perfectly rational. Where could thought arise, but from matter, if matter was all there was? And if matter in the form of a brain could think, why not in a microchip? The notion that consciousness arose from a soul, or from something outside of physics, was tangled in the religions of the time, and not given serious consideration.
This reason made itself felt when the expected advancements simply stopped coming. Drones never began to think for themselves. Nanobots couldn’t be made to work. All of the glorious promises of science fiction were always “ten years down the road”.
The battlefield, consequently, remained recognizable. The wars that occurred, never declared or named, were small conflicts, superpowers dispatching soldiers that millions of dollars had been spent training, outfitted with a fortune in precisely engineered weaponry, to kick over militias carrying stolen weaponry, engineered for a war at least two generations past.
The second and most obvious reason, however, that the nations of the past couldn’t conceive what warfare would become, is that nothing like Ultras existed back then.
The modern battlefield is a struggle for resources (in the form of human population centers), carried out by small gangs of Ultras. Human forces exist, but function primarily as support forces. Vehicles are all but nonexistent.
Ultras generally fall into 3 categories on the battlefield.
Type 1 Ultras are not defended by their powers in any way. They may able to wreak great devastation, but they are ultimately fragile. These Ultras rarely go to the battlefield, as it is a place of great peril for them.
Type 1 Ultras would not, by themselves, have disrupted the expectations of old world military experts. They would be seen, roughly, as infantry bearing exotic man portable weaponry. Dangerous, to be sure, but they can be neutralized by human infantry in sufficient numbers, or through targeted anti personnel interventions, or ultimately by theater clean-sweep protocols.
Type 2 Ultras are those who are defended, in some way, by their gifts. Ultra toughness of the first degree is the most common form of this, but Ultras who take large combative forms, those who are able to swiftly heal from injury and the like all fall into this category.
These Ultras are superior to anything that the ancients could have imagined on the battlefield. They possess endurance similar to, or superior to, the old armored vehicles. They combine this preposterous resilience with the infantryman’s traditional ability to evade and endure through obscene amounts of expended ordnance.
It is these Type 2 Ultras, main battle Ultras if you will, that make up the bulk of Pantheon, Regime and Union forces. Bullets bounce off of them as they advance, lashing out with their gifts and destroying any opposition.
Defeating a force of Type 2 Ultras is difficult, but possible. Another force of similar size and higher quality is the preferred method, but on rare occasion human forces have, through exceptional effort and, if I’m being honest, heroism, occasionally defeated them. The fifth battle of London saw the Dirty Thirty fall to a Union force that was nearly entirely human, over the course of eight days of ferocious battle.
Lastly, there exist the Type 3 Ultras. Zeus, Prevailer, etc. Ultras of this class are entirely unstoppable by anything except their own kind. In aggregate, this is what killed off the military forces of the old world. They are the reason that modern conflicts never concentrate more than a few dozen Ultras in one place. These cruel titans rule the current battlefield with an iron fist.
As a consequence, the modern battlefield is a place of skirmishes, a series of blisteringly fast duels or scrums between squads of mixed Type 2 and 3 Ultras, striving to gain the upper hand on their rivals and seize the humans that they control. Machines are used primarily for transport. Human forces are sacrificed for little gain. Terrain is gained or lost by the mightiest nations in the world as the result of the action’s of less than a hundred Ultras on both sides. Civilians, where their paths approach the conflict zones, invariably become casualties.
It would be entertaining to predict what will change this status quo, but this very report makes it clear that such action would do naught but provide amusement to the historians of tomorrow. Instead, let us close by hoping that, tomorrow, there exists anyone to read these histories. It is far more likely, however, that the earth will suffer the moon’s fate, and that this evolution of conflict will be the last.