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A lot of weird stuff has happened on Earth over the centuries, but for for sheer "what was that about?" value, the Fleet of Fog incident takes some topping.
In SY 2012, a few years after the end of the Contact Wars (a global conflict precipitated by the xenophobic backlash against Earth's First Contact, which happened in 1999), people started reporting sightings of so-called "ghost ships" in various far-flung corners of the planet's oceans. These vessels varied widely by sighting, but there were always two common factors which eventually began to form a pattern in the eyes of those few people (mostly enthusiasts of the paranormal) who were looking for one:
1) They were invariably surrounded by a dense fogbank, which was often not consistent with the prevailing meteorological conditions at the time; and
2) Those few which were seen clearly enough to be identified always appeared to be warships dating from Earth's Second World War, some 50-60 years before First Contact, except they were often unusual colors and/or sported strange and indecipherable markings. These were usually found in areas where it wouldn't have been odd to find the originals during the war, so that, for example, almost all the ones that looked like Japanese vessels were sighted in the western Pacific, while the eastern Pacific was home to mostly "American" ships and the Atlantic sightings mostly resembled British or German vessels.
Fig. 1 A typical Fleet of Fog ship (Takao-class Japanese heavy cruiser)
Fig. 2 For comparison, a vintage photograph of the real IJS Takao, taken in 1933.
For decades, the "World War II ghost ship" sightings were considered either a hoax or a paranormal conspiracy theory by mainstream society... until 2038, when they started showing up in numbers that could no longer be dismissed as people's imaginations or mistaken identifications of normal traffic. Doubly so when they started shooting.
Two more things quickly became apparent about the "ghost ships". One was that there were a hell of a lot of them; once the shooting started, they appeared in much greater numbers, whole fleets of them roaming around the planet's various seas. The other was that they only looked like ships from World War II. They were equipped with weapons and defensive technologies far ahead of Earth's most advanced starships of the day (which were based in large part on Salusian technology, so we're not talking about the usual pat-on-the-head, aren't-you-guys-precious space navy technology most civilizations have managed to come up with 50 years after First Contact).
Most of the bigger combatants had Class Omega or near-Class Omega gravity beam weapons; all of them sported more plasma beam weapons and advanced missile systems than you could shake a really big stick at, as well as a weapon that appeared to function rather like a heavy disruptor in warhead rather than projector form. Instead of an explosion, these weapons (dubbed "corrosive torpedoes" by the beleaguered United Earth Navy) generated a high-frequency oscillating spatial distortion capable of disintegrating virtually any matter caught in its radius of effect.
Within less than a year (the conflict is called the Hundred-Day War, which is a slight exaggeration, but only slight), humankind had been swept from the seas, which, given that Earth's surface is about three-quarters sea, was a problem. Moreover, the enemy - inevitably dubbed "the Fleet of Fog" after the conditions under which they customarily appeared - interdicted the airspace above the seas as well, apparently bent on confining the people of Earth to the landmasses and isolating each landmass from the others. This policy extended to intercontinental telecommunications as well, with satellites destroyed, submarine cables cut, and most radio frequencies jammed.
Conditions on Earth, where the world's economy had been heavily globalized for more than a century by that point and was well on its way to full interstellarization by 2038, deteriorated rapidly. Forced into a much more circumscribed existence than Earthpeople had been accustomed to for centuries, some peoples reverted to barbarism, or at least medievalism, while others clung grimly to modernity while their material readiness for same crumbled.
Interestingly, one thing the Fog didn't appear to care about was people leaving the planet. They would shoot down any aircraft whose destination was below the Kármán line, but those bound for interplanetary or interstellar space were free to depart - just so long as they didn't try to turn back and land somewhere else on Earth. Word therefore got out to the rest of the galaxy in fairly short order about what was going down on Earth - but the United Galactica Navy was to discover in short order that the Fog's "no arrivals" policy extended beyond aircraft that had departed from points on Earth.
The downward spiral in Earth's standard of living and the Fog's evident indifference to departures converged to result in the Second Diaspora; and there is much persuasive evidence to suggest that Earth's second colonial wave was so much bigger than the First, which immediately followed the Contact Wars, precisely because conditions on the homeworld were so ever-increasingly dire under the Fog blockade. Many of Earth's most prominent colonies were founded in this period, including much of the Greater Rigel Sector Co-Prosperity Sphere (only New Japan, of the CPS's most notable worlds, is a First Diaspora colony), the Vega Sector Crown Colonies, and the first of Earth's Rimward and Coreward settlements. It is estimated that between the casualties of the Hundred-Day War, attrition from the various economic and political collapses caused by the blockade, and the Second Diaspora itself, Earth's population fell from nine billion in 2038 to less than four twenty years later.
In that time, the UG Navy and the Wedge Defense Force mounted six separate attempts to relieve the planet. All of them failed, not because the Fog's ships were so much more capable than those of the outer galaxy (although they were more capable, on average), but because defeating them completely would have required a massive concerted assault on the entire planet at once. While logistically possible (the WDF could, for instance, have called on their Zentraedi allies, whose fleets would have outweighed the wildest estimates of the Fog's strength by a factor of about 20), every forecast model predicted that the devastation it caused would be worse on every meaningful level than just leaving bad enough alone.
Instead, the WDF chose to focus on intelligence-gathering, trying to figure out what the Fog were and what they wanted. During the Hundred-Day War and its aftermath, there were several theories, the most prominent of which was that it was some sort of alien invasion with a strange sense of style. However, no Fog ship was ever seen to have any crew aboard at all. The most advanced sensors of the day could detect no lifesigns aboard any of them, and on the rare occasions when the UEN managed to destroy one, no survivors or casualties were ever seen. As for the ships themselves, they never surrendered, and those few that were sunk disintegrated in the process. No Fog ship was ever captured or salvaged.
Those details, and the fact that the Fleet of Fog never displayed even the most rudimentary sense of tactics or strategy - they simply possessed numbers, firepower, and durability so much greater than their enemies' that they rarely lost a fight no matter how stupidly they fought - led many to conclude that the ships were automatons of some kind. As for their origins, no theory ever appeared that had any convincing evidence behind it. Their technology, though highly advanced, conformed to no known standard. They never issued demands or instructions - never communicated with anyone nor answered any attempt to communicate with them. The only message a Fog ship ever issued came in the form of weapons fire.
Two decades after the Hundred-Day War, then, intelligence agencies and military forces both on and off Earth were no closer to fathoming the mystery of the Fleet of Fog than they had been on the day the shooting started. And then, one day in the summer of 2059...
... they were gone.
Literally. One day they were there, all over the world, patrolling the coasts like always, and the next... they weren't. At first the world's remnant navies assumed it was some kind of trick and refused to emerge from their fortress ports, but within a few days, the first tentative scouting expeditions began poking their noses tentatively outside. When nothing happened, they got bolder. Within a month, a UGN/WDF expeditionary force had made unopposed planetfall and worldwide searches were underway. By autumn, the only conclusion was that the Fleet of Fog had left the planet - their reason for doing so as unknown and unknowable as their reason for coming in the first place.
In the centuries since the incident, there have been unconfirmed sightings of Fleet of Fog ships traveling singly or in small groups, sometimes on Earth, but sometimes - stranger still - on the seas of other human-inhabited worlds. No one has ever seen a Fog ship traveling in outer space (though there are reports from the Hundred-Day War of Fog ships flying at low altitude - their drive systems appeared to work by some form of gravity gradient manipulation). If they are appearing on multiple planets, it is entirely unknown how they're getting there.
But then, even at 400 years' remove, most of what we can say about the Fog involves the word "unknown". Who made them? What were they supposed to accomplish? Did they? If not, why did they leave? Where did they come from and where did they go? None of that is known; most of it can't even be guessed at.
Even today, Earth governments' defense policies are partially informed by the lingering fear that the Fog may return. Analysis of records from the 21st-century occupation indicate that if they did, Earth would be able to put up a better fight... but would probably still lose. It is, perhaps, this grim possibility that accounts for the paranoid strain running through successive Earth world governments, from Olympus to the present-day Earth Alliance.
Interestingly, if the suspected Fog sightings on Earth and elsewhere since 2059 really have been Fog ships, they haven't seemed to be looking for a fight. There are instances on record of naval vessels and aircraft attempting to engage them, but they always disappear.
Just, some authorities muse darkly, as they always did when challenged during the period between 2012 and 2038.
This Guide entry was written by Soviet heavy cruiser Kirov, who won the Order of the Red Banner in the Great Patrioic War and is pretty sure he could take IJS Takao in a fight if he had to.