On 3 February 2155 the System was shaken by a press conference given by the Selenography Group at LIT. They reported that their network of seismographs had recorded an unusual event on 17-18 January 2155. Analysis of the seismic waves indicated that they originated from a highly compact source with a rapid energy output of approximately 10 to 15 megatons. Furthermore there was a 90% likelihood that the point of origin was within the confines of Soyuz-Mikoyan's secretive Site 7 on the Lunar farside, at an estimated depth of 10km. The selenographers reached 'the inescapable conclusion that Soyuz-Mikoyan has tested a high energy weapon, almost certainly a fusion bomb'.
Three days after the LIT press conference, Soyuz-Mikoyan issued a release stating that it had detonated a laser-ignited fusion test device with a measured yield of 14 megatons. The device was the prototype for a series of 'clean' fusion explosives for civil engineering applications. The release ended by stating that Soyuz-Mikoyan intended to abide by all the terms of the 2073 "Treaty on Peaceful Applications of Nuclear Technology". Independent experts soon noted that the megacorporation was not a signatory of this or any other treaty restricting the use of nuclear weapons.
Many nations on Earth reacted with outrage and demanded that Soyuz-Mikoyan allow immediate access to all its nuclear facilities by independent inspectors. Only the EF and the UN, however, had the power to force such access; the former was entirely reliant on the goodwill of the metanationals and the latter was owned by them. Soyuz-Mikoyan did actually allow limited inspection of its nuclear operations with UNDTC experts touring under the supervision of the corporation's own staff, but nobody was convinced by the charade. The reality of the situation was that the metanationals were de facto superpowers and could act with impunity.
The market value of Soyuz-Mikoyan soared.
In August 2158, Exxon-Mitsui stated that it intended to challenge Soyuz-Mikoyan's 'economically indefensible monopoly on civil fusion explosives'. A multi-megaton explosion in what is now the Orientale Test Site followed six weeks later. Late in that year, a joint operation by the UNDTC, the CIA and EF intelligence uncovered a plan to sell information on laser isotope separation to the Aldrin People's Corporate Republic; the technology could only be used to build dirty fission-triggered weapons unsuitable for civilian applications. The corporate arms race had started.
The 2160s were a time of System-wide nuclear rearmament. By the end of that decade it was estimated that the combined arsenals of humanity contained both more and more powerful nuclear warheads than ever before. The limited stockpiles maintained by the EF, California-Cascadia, the PCRC, Greater Azania and the American Alliance were soon dwarfed by the strategic nuclear forces controlled by the largest corporations. Alongside the nuclear buildup, the major polities quietly began to construct deep-space weapons platforms, delivery systems, torchships, early-warning networks and other military assets.
On 3 September 2173 the asteroid 1011 Laodamia, a body 7km across, was shattered in a blast estimated at 1 gigaton. Several gamma ray observatories across the System accidentally observed the event and recorded a gamma ray spike at 511keV: the electron-positron annihilation line. Laodamia had been claimed by Shikomi Zaibatsu, but the Ceres Combine denied all knowledge of the circumstances of the blast and emphatically denied that it was developing antimatter annihilation weapons.
Following the Laodamia incident the major polities cranked their weapons development programmes up to full speed. Sol System's Golden Age began to plunge headlong towards disaster and ruin. By 2180 three of the Ceres Combine corporations, the Aldrin PCR and the top five of Earth's metanational corporations had demonstrated a nuclear capability. Sol System was now the home of nineteen nuclear powers. Military analysts estimated that twelve of these had significant numbers of warheads deployed on warships and stations across the System. The scale of redundancy guaranteed that massive retaliation against targets in Cis-Luna and the Belt would still be possible after any attack. A fragile peace was maintained only by the balance of terror.
The economic and political landscape of the System shifted profoundly in the aftermath of Cerean independence. The complex web of political rivalries within the System slowly began to polarise into a two-way confrontation between the Belt Zaibatsus and Cis-Luna. For the first time Earth was faced with an external threat that was capable of the complete destruction of its civilization. Whilst the security arms of the transnationals made preparations for war, the Terran intelligentsia began to speak of the possibility, indeed the necessity, of détente with the Zaibatsus. The alternatives were too terrible to contemplate.
[détentiste bloc ascendant on Earth, brief thaw in cold war]
As a coda to all this, Shikomi Zaibatsu revealed in 2190 that the Laodamia blast had resulted from an industrial accident at its Bulk Antimatter Containment Facility. A Zaibatsu commission had reported shortly afterward that the technology was inherently flawed and the programme had been discontinued. But the avalanche had already started.
Cis-Luna: 1 | 2 3 | 4 5 | Now
The future of Ad Astra