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Lost Superweapon
"Then they went out and played Charles Fort and the Atlanteans versus the Ancient Masters of Tibet, but the Tibetters claimed that using mystic ancient lasers was cheating."

Almost no matter what your level of military tech- javelin, arquebus, phased plasma rifle in the 40 Watt range, quantum black hole, whatever - it's nowhere near as good as it was in your great-great-granddad's day. In those days, men were real men, women were real women, and hideously powerful destructive forces were... better than this modern muck, with glowing runes and everything. This could be despite the apparent primitive nature of the society at the time. More rationally, it could also be the cause of the primitive nature of the society immediately following...

In any event, unlike its cousins the Ancestral Weapon and Forgotten Superweapon, the Lost Superweapon is lost, and not just down the back of the sofa with some loose change and badly crumpled hidden back issues of Playbeing. (For the latter, see Superweapon Surprise.)

Lost Superweapons are generally a type of Plot Coupon and found in fantasy novels and video games. If the Lost Superweapon has become a notable part of the landscape, then it is a Weaponized Landmark. If it was lost with the intent of it never being found again but is found anyway, it's a Dangerous Device Disposal Debacle.

See also: MacGuffin, Artifact of Doom, Older Is Better, Super Prototype, Lost Technology and Dangerous Device Disposal Debacle. Compare Fling a Light into the Future.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime & Manga 
  • Mazinger Z: Mykene Mechanical Beast. Old myths assured an ancient, allegedly lost Greek civilization called Mykene lived on the island of Bardos used metallic giants shot flames from their chests to defend their land. Big Bad and Mad Scientist Dr. Hell pondered maybe the myths might be true. Unfortunately for everybody, the old legends were indeed right, and he found an army of ancient, forgotten Humongous Mecha under the ruins of the island. However it is a subversion, since like it was seen in Great Mazinger, the Mykene civilization still existed, and throughout millennia had dramatically improved their technology, and compared with their newest mechas, the giant robots Dr. Hell found were ancient, outdated, mountain sized piles of scrap.
  • One Piece has, as part of its Myth Arc, the existence of three super weapons, Pluton, Uranus, and Poseidon that are so powerful they make the Navy's Buster Call (which is an order to summon ten massive battleships to an island to incinerate it) look mundane. They are so rare, powerful, and difficult to obtain that one villain tries to conquer an entire country just to facilitate finding one. So far we know Pluton is a battleship of some kind and Poseidon is the Mermaid Princess' ability to command the Sea Kings.
  • The God Warriors of Nausicaš of the Valley of the Wind.
  • The Saint's Cradle of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Strikers.
    • And Ixpellia, who was in suspended animation for hundreds of years.
  • Macross Zero centers around a Protoculture artifact known by the military as "AFOS" and by the native islanders as "the bird-man". The militaries of both sides believe it is a powerful weapon and wish to use it, while the islanders believe that the bird-man is an ancient deity whose awakening will trigger the end of the world. The truth is a bit of both: the Protoculture did not want humanity to repeat their mistake of bringing war to the greater galaxy. The bird-man was an Ambiguous Robot they left behind whose job was to annihilate humanity if humans had not turned pacifistic by the time they achieved space travel. And it just got woken up in the middle of a World War.

    Film 
  • The Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark is a Grade A Lost Superweapon.
  • The Great Cannons in Legend Of The Tsunami Warrior, which sank to the bottom of the sea and were retrieved by a band of pirates. An usual example in that they were only lost for a couple of decades.

    Literature 
  • Star Wars expanded universe novels have the entire solar system of Corellia is made of giant spaceships disguised as planets with the tiny station of Centerpoint being the control center. The said spaceships can attack with their giant repulsors/engines, and Centerpoint is able to warp gravity across the galaxy to decimate an entire alien fleet. Oh, and Centerpoint can also make stars go nova and cut off the Corellian system from access to hyperspace. It's indicated (though never attempted) that by using the planetary repulsors to boost Centerpoint's output, the station could cut the entire galaxy off from hyperspace, making it all but impossible to travel between star systems. Given how essential interstellar travel is in the Star Wars universe, this would be roughly equivalent to reverting Earth to the stone age at the press of a button. Subverted, in this instance, as there's reason to believe that The Precursors didn't originally build this particular Lost Technology to be used as weapons of war. In part, it was designed to make sure a Sealed Evil in a Can stayed in its can.
    • Other Star Wars examples include the Sun Crusher (which was forgotten because it was built in a remote Imperial wormhole facility that was only known to three people outside the facility...only one of whom was still alive), the Katana Fleet (which was lost to hyperspace troubles) and the Lusankya (an entire Super Star Destroyer buried beneath Coruscant to use as a prison). It's never specified why the latter was forgotten, but the two theories offered in-universe are both horrifying: that Emperor Palpatine was able to block everyone's memories of its burying through the Force, or that he simply had all of the billions of witnesses killed.
    • More examples:
      • The Eye of Palpatine, a largely autonomous superweapon predating the Death Star with the mission of destroying a colony of fugitive Jedi. It never completed its mission due to sabotage, and was forgotten by Rebels and Imperials alike (those that even knew about it in the first place) until mysterious forces cause its AI to suddenly awaken.
      • The Another Chance, an Alderaanian warship loaded with every weapon on the planet when Alderaan decided to disarm itself, and sent off into deep space where it would be virtually impossible to find.
      • Person of Mass Destruction Irek Ismaren, a Dark Jedi with implants that allow him to control droids and computers. Virtually unknown even within the Emperor's inner circle until Children of the Jedi, then disappears from galactic history again until Luke encounters him again as Lord Nyax - 3 meters tall, wielding no less than 6 lightsabers permanently attached to his body.
  • The Lord of the Rings is full of these. Indeed, the book is set against a backdrop of general technological decline. If you're going into battle wielding anything forged within the last 3000 years or so, you might as well run into an aeroplane propeller.
  • Subverted in Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space universe: In one book, several of the heroes spend most of the story on a race to track down and wield Lost Superweapons to turn on the remorseless alien foe. They probably hoped for better results than "none at all. But she went out with a bang".
  • Alan Dean Foster's Humanx Commonwealth universe is loaded with Phlebotinum left behind by ancient civilizations, among them quite a few superweapons. Examples:
    • The title device in The Tar-Aiym Krang, which uses an entire planet as its power source and creates Swartzchild discontinuities... ahem, miniature black holes that utterly annihilate anything they touch.
    • The Hur'rikku artifact in The End of the Matter, which uses a powerful stasis field known as Fixed Cosmic Inertia to slingshot itself through spacetime and punch a hole into Another Dimension, through which a "white hole" composed of pure antimatter is created. This is used to destroy rogue black holes.
    • Not satisfied with one Krang, the Tar-Aiym also built a weapons platform the size of an entire planet that contains hundreds of Krangs. Flinx discovers it in Reunion and spends the rest of the series searching for it. His attempt to use it against the Ultimate Evil ends up being a Worf Barrage.
    • And last but certainly not least, the Xunca. Not satisfied with destruction on a mere planetary or solar system scale, they constructed a weapon concentrating the energy of several million galaxies across multiple dimensions. It gets used.
  • The title device in Larry Niven's The Soft Weapon.
  • A large number of these in Mortal Engines, such as MEDUSA the city destroying laser and ODIN the Kill Sat.
  • Only a 30-year backlog on this one, but Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy has the incredibly awesome Alchemist, which disappeared when the strike force heading off to deploy it was destroyed shortly before the genocide of their home planet's population. It's recovered towards the end of the second book, The Neutronium Alchemist, and the (fairly accurate) physics is explained- and we discover that it can turn a sun into a black hole. That's the more humane setting.
  • The Ma Wi Jung in Crystal Rain, though it's not exactly a superweapon, per se.
  • In Life, the Universe and Everything, there was the Supernova Bomb. Invented by the supercomputer Hactar at the behest of the Silastic Armorfiends of Striterax, it was a junction box which would make every sun in the universe go supernova simultaneously. Hactar purposefully made it faulty because he calculated that there wasn't a conceivable consequence resulting from not setting it off which could be worse than the known consequences of setting it off, so... The Armorfiends disagreed, before destroying him and then, fortunately for everybody else, themselves. Hactar managed to survive in a reduced form, and many millenia later had the Omnicidal people of Krikkit rebuild the bomb before planting it on Arthur Dent, who very narrowly avoided setting it off.
  • The Wheel of Time has a couple of these lying around. Most notably, there's the Choedan Kal, two artifacts so powerful that each of them is capable of not only destroying the world, but also causing serious damage to the fabric of reality itself.
  • In Christopher Rowley's Starhammer, The title weapon is a huge skyscraper-sized tank carrying a weapon that blows up stars, instantaneously over unlimited ranges.
  • Iain M. Banks's Against A Dark Background features a Lazy Gun as a MacGuffin.
  • The Hador-Haelic space forts from The Helmsman Saga. They are well remembered and in plain sight, actually, and still in pristine condition after thousands of years... it's just that no one remembers how to power the guns up.

     Live Action TV  
  • The Dakara Superweapon in Stargate SG-1, which was originally used by the Ancients to seed all life in the Milky Way. Being the arrogant, Neglectful Precursors that they were, they decided that instead of dismantling the device afterwards, they'd simply leave it sealed inside of a mountain, guarded by a single locked door.
    • When the protagonists get their hands on it they use it the exterminate the entire Replicator species. Its suggested that it could be tuned to kill anything, or everything.

     Tabletop Games 
  • In one Paranoia mission, the PCs discover a long-forgotten antimatter bomb capable of destroying the entire Complex, and have to keep it away from fanatics who would actually detonate it.
  • This trope practically litters Exalted, with two major examples being the Five-Metal Shrike (a sentient warship from the First Age that is hinted to still soar the skies of Creation) and the Realm Defense Grid (an old superweapon which only one person has ever been able to master since the days the Solars ruled... and they ended up making that person Empress of the most powerful nation in the world once she was done with it).
    • FMS might be nice, shiny and theoretically operational by just a playgroup, but there are also some surviving Directional Titans it was designed to kinda "replace". One is currently an underwater city and another a giant freaking flying mountain. Estimated matter survival time around each of those deployed in combat: 1 tick. And it does take a city of operators to man.
  • This was the original defining feature of BattleTech. The golden age of technology was some 300 years ago and everything now is patched-up, dumbed-down versions of the stuff the Star League had but the Successor States have largely forgotten how to make.
    • The Warships have gone back to being lost, after the Word of Blake Jihad concluded. Every faction still has a few, but all the facilities capable of building more were destroyed and nobody's bothered trying to rebuild them. Inside the game universe, it was considered too expensive and difficult to maintain the facilities and there weren't enough people with the skills necessary to do so anymore. Outside of the game universe, Wordof God is that the developers considered them to be overpowered compared to everything else and therefore wanted them to no longer be a factor: the Humungous Mecha the game was supposed to be centered around risked being metaphorically and literally overshadowed if Warships continued being built and used by everyone.
  • The Imperium in Warhammer 40,000 appears to have lost the ability to innovate. Apart from reuniting humanity the Great Crusade is also about finding STCs on lost colony worlds that describe how to build things the Empire lost the plans of in the Age of Strife. There are also superweapons knocking about that were built by mysterious ancients who tend to manufacture these awesome devices and then wander off with the instruction manual in their pockets never to be seen again.

     Video Games 
  • In Journey, the creatures you encounter in the fifth and seventh levels are the machines responsible for starting a civil war against your ancestors. Only some units remained active after the war.
  • Vegnagun, the semi-sentient, Earth Shattering Doomsday Gun from the final days of Final Fantasy X's Machina War, was sealed deep below Bevelle one thousand years ago. Then it goes missing.
  • Orichalcum is an ancient Atlantean superfuel/explosive in Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Eventually Indy discovers what the Atlanteans powered with the orichalcum: a god making machine.
  • The titular Halos.
    • The Reclaimer trilogy introduces the Composer, which downloads organic matter and reconstruct them into mechanical Prometheans.
  • Remember the Gaia Temples in Sonic Unleashed? The ones built centuries ago to house (and if needed restore) the power of the Chaos Emeralds? Well, apparently, Light Gaia/Chip can summon them to form the Gaia Colossus, the one integral component (aside from the power of the emeralds) needed to tame Dark Gaia and prevent The End of the World as We Know It.
  • In Starcraft II, protagonists Jim Raynor and Tychus Findlay are hired to recover several seemingly benign-well, relatively benign-precursor artifacts for an interested party. As it turns out, the five artifacts are actually the parts of device capable of killing all the zerg an entire region of the planet Char, and curing zerg infestation.
  • The contents of D-6 in Metro 2033, especially the MRLs used to destroy the Dark Ones' hive.
  • Guillo in Baten Kaitos Origins. It was lost after the defeat and death of Malpercio, and the Children of the Earth abandoned it, feeling that a weapon capable of killing a god wasn't something the new world would need.
  • The B-plot of Mass Effect 3 involves the Alliance trying to recover a Prothean superweapon, the Crucible, to use against the Reaper invasion. There are only two wrinkles: one, it's some-assembly-required, given that they have only the blueprints; two, it is missing a crucial component, the Catalyst (which is why it didn't work for the Protheans) — which turns out to be the Citadel.
    • Mass Effect 3 deconstructs this trope, as the designs for the superweapon are revealed to predate the Protheans - and even their predecessors - with every cycle adding and improving to its design. The last several of those cycles built it out of desperation from recovered plans and had no idea what the hell it was actually supposed to do.
  • The Cetan starship from Perfect Dark is a planet killer that has been resting on the floor of the Pacific Ocean for millennia. The plot revolves around a conspiracy to retrieve the weapon and use it on Earth.
  • There are a few in the Homeworld games. Homeworld: Cataclysm has the Siege Cannon, a Wave Motion Gun built millennia ago by the Bentusi and then abandoned when the Bentusi disarmed themselves. Also, Homeworld 2 has the Movers, the Progenitor Dreadnoughts and the warship Sajuuk, all built by the Progenitors before their disappearance. These are the ones the player can acquire, as all the games have one: the original Homeworld has the Junkyard Dog (the most annoying foe in the series, possibly a Progenitor Mover variant), Cataclysm has the Naggarok (and if the damn thing had stayed lost until you found a way to destroy it, the characters would have been happier), and Homeworld 2 has the Progenitor Keepers, the drones carried by the Keepers and the Planet Killers (these of unknown origin, but somehow linked to the Bentusi).
  • In Pickle Wars, the hero is tasked with finding the secret stash of weaponry needed to defeat the aliens that have invaded Arcadia. The weapons are lost because Arcadia has achieved world peace and has not had any need for them in ages.
  • Subverted in The Adventures Of Massmouth, where the mythical magical superweapon (the "Eye of Mahan"), once found, turns out to not do anything at all.
  • A Yithian lightning gun is found in Call Of Cthulhu: Dark Corners Of The Earth just when it's needed most.
  • Fallout 3 has Liberty Prime, a giant robot originally built for the Anchorage Reclamation in 2072, but kept idle due to power supply difficulties. After the bombs fell, it stood forgotten in the Pentagon ruins until the Brotherhood of Steel arrived. They finally get it up and running for the battle to take back Project Purity from the Enclave. And then blown up by a Kill Sat controlled by Enclave.
  • These appear in Distant Worlds as discoverable technology from ruins in any planet that is not a gas giant and they can be reverse-engineered as usable equipment for your warships. Access to such weapons can greatly shift the balance of power among races as you now have a fearsome One-Hit Kill weapon to easily win your battles.

    Western Animation 

    Web Original 

    Real Life 
  • In the early days of World War 2, Britain was in dire need of large caliber heavy artillery to defend against a cross channel invasion. However, because the production lines to make such weapons had been dismantled after World War 1, new weapons of the same type could take years to produce from scratch. Records indicated that a number of large railway guns had in fact returned home from the WW1, but, despite their size, had been "lost" in the intervening years. In November 1939, a Lt Colonel was sent on a quest to locate the guns and after months of fruitless searching he noticed a large disused railway shed at a Royal Ordinance depot. Forcing the doors open he discovered no fewer than 20 9.2" railway guns and 12" railway howitzers along with three additional 14" named railway guns (Boche-Buster, Scene-Shifter and Gladiator). These were all promptly reconditioned and put back into service.
    • Another story has it that a Royal Ordinance surveyor was inspecting a railroad line for suitable firing locations when he discovered another shed with a perfectly maintained 9.2" railway gun inside. A short while later an older man showed up and explained that he had been collecting a small stipend to look after the gun for the last 20 years.

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