The Setting

A planet (large continents, mostly steppes, deserts and plains) is settled by nomadic tribes (think Mongols, Tuareg or Apache). The tribes lack written history, but the legends speak of a day when strange lights started appearing in the sky, which was sometimes followed by mysterious artifacts dropping to the surface. Some of those artifacts proved useful, and the tribes started integrating them into their culture, creating a somewhat Mad-Max like world. Nobody on planet has ever seen, let alone interacted with one of those aliens.

But Why?

What could cause multiple spacefaring civilizations to be locked in a centuries-long space battle around a barren piece of rock settled by relatively primitive people, with none of them ever gaining the upper hand and claiming what ever prize it is they are after - or even interacting with the natives?

Bonus Points

  • I'd prefer multiple factions of "aliens" with different, mostly incompatible flavors of technology.
  • It would be quite cool if I could drop subtle hints that the planet in question is Earth, many million years into the future, and the "aliens" are descendents of human space expeditions, but barely recognizable because of genetic drift, bio-engineering and/or cybernetic modifications.

EDIT: Some extra criteria as per bilbo_pingouins suggestion:

  • All else equal, harder scifi wins. Not that important though, since from the native's perspective it all looks like magic anyways. But I'd like it if the audience could recognize some of the artifacts.
  • The bigger the variety of usable equipment that makes it to the surface, the better.
  • The non-interaction clause is mostly there to keep the natives from getting explanations on their artifacts (let alone a technical education), trade for spare parts or becoming, as a whole, literate enough to understand manuals and blueprints they might find. The occasional abandoned outpost, shipwreck or even stranded pilot is fine, as long as the sufficiently advanced technology keeps looking like magic.

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  • 3
    Have you looked into similar events in our history? – L.Dutch Dec 4 at 8:13
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    why have a centuries-long battle when you just need one (or a few) big battle in space and just have the debris falling back down to earth now (like how space works now) hell the battle doesn’t even need to be happening now. Could be a battle long since past (even before the planet became barren wink wink nudge nudge) – Creed Arcon Dec 4 at 8:46
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    Unlikely. - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kessler_syndrome – KalleMP Dec 4 at 11:17
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    This might perhaps be better split into two questions - one on why a perpetual space battle would rage in the space around a planet, when the planet is out of bounds, and another on what prevents parties engaging in combat around a planet from ever landing on the planet or interacting with it's inhabitants. – Ben Dec 4 at 16:15
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    Some ancient artifact that can't be removed from orbit and radiates a signal that can be detected by suitably advanced societies. There's been a trickle of new species turning up all the time. Sometimes there are phases of peaceful, mutual investigation, but eventually a warlike species always arrives and tries to claim the artifact.... ? – Basic Dec 4 at 18:36

35 Answers 35

Raids against peaceful space stations

If the planet's obit is inhabited by a wealthy, and pacifist trading civilization, based in large space stations, then you could easily have constant raiding. These would be smaller battles, but it would justify the longest-term battle taking place (Mongol/Mongol-like raiders were constantly attacking Northern China, Viking raids lasted hundreds of years, etc).

Mercenaries These merchant-stations would almost certainly deploy foreign mercenaries to defend themselves. This will add even more variety to the artifacts landing down on the planet.

Think Battle of Verdun

The planet happens to be at the front line of large scale space war the inhabitants aren't aware of. It has been chosen as a point of prestige for both sides and they keep battling without making any progress.

Due to the resources the war-faring parties have, the battle seems eternal for the mortals down on the planet, but it is just an episode on the larger time scale of the battling parties.

A very scarce, dangerous resource that can be used to make weapons banned by some civilisations exists somewhere around the planets orbit.

This resource may even be the reason for the planets decline, either from misusing it or perhaps as the result of an asteroid containing the resource colliding with an existing orbiting body.

This could be on a moon or in multiple smaller bodies that now orbit this planet. The resource is scarce in some parts of the galaxy that are controlled by the civilisations that have banned it's use, but non-existent in other parts of the galaxy. This planet exists on the edge of one civilisations territory or in unclaimed space.

One or more civilisations defend this planet to stop others claiming the resource, but the others will always try. Large scale assaults have happened, but as they can be seen coming, the system is reinforced as needed. More often small raiding parties are sent of either manned or drone spaceships. The regular garrison is quite small, because keeping this outpost supplied is expensive with no actual profit, so skirmishes happen often but at a small scale.

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Diametrically opposed philosophy. Classic sci-fi references here

Borg, Dalek, cybermen are all races that fight solely because they feel every other race in inferior. Many other examples exist. Your race has to fight or one of these races will wipe them out, convert them, or enslave them.

The only question would be why they come to an exact area.

Resources would be one of the top reasons. Also strategic advantage, so some kind. The aliens hide except every ## years or etc they make a pilgrimage to this area. It is/was there home world, some people will always try to go back.

The Farce

There is no war between two factions, there is only one faction of aliens, at war with itself. Its computer systems are so corrupted, its culture so paranoid, that communication in the war zone is abandoned, and the opposition is to be engaged at all costs. And boy, how powerful that opposition must be, how entrenched, as this black hole of a conflict swallows all the have to give. Honor demands, that no prisoner ever falls into enemy hands, so suicide is encouraged or even enforced. Pockets of gone mad predecessors, have built the equivalent of scrap-yard foxholes everywhere in the system, sniping at newcomers and old inhabitants alike if there is a chance to get away with it.

Maybe even add some sort of obstacle to explain the lack of circumventing tactics. Subspace was bombed to hell in a previous war.

Or add value to the planet, hidden beneath the surface are the ancient archives - its holy ground, where you go in times of crisis, to retrieve knowledge of the ancients.

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