The infamous tragalrás athánar (“meat machine”) – by whichever regional designation it is known1 – is both a awful and an excellent weapon. On the former point, certainly, it is crudely designed, generations obsolete, dumb, inelegant, and a wide assortment of other things which tend to give professional Imperial weapons designers fits of the vapors.
On the latter, however, it is durable, reliable even under the most stressful conditions, adequately lethal against soft targets, simple enough for even low-tech cottage industry to manufacture, and adaptable via an assortment of relatively simple kluges. It is these latter qualities that have made it the favored personal weapon of paramilitaries, asymmetrists, and criminal gangs the Worlds over.
Tracing its mixed heritage back to a variety of pre-gauss automatic rifles, the contemporary Meat Machine inherits a centuries-long evolution of design features chosen for maximal simplicity. The basic systems of the MM are an open-bolt design, using a spring-loaded magazine to push cartridges into the breech, where a gas piston advances them to firing position in the chamber when the trigger is pulled. It lacks any ejection mechanism; the cartridges are caseless, cast from a foamed propellant/oxidizer mixture – enabling it to operate in vacuum, in exotic atmospheres, or even submerged – beneath the bullet. This propellant is ignited by a mechanically or piezoelectrically generated spark. Residue build-up is generally loosened by the action and purged by the next shot, but does require periodic barrel cleaning.
Its design is very simple for ease of manufacturing or repair, using a wide variety of materials. In the most basic designs, the receiver is typically stamped (or occasionally machined) out of a single steel billet, whose scraps are used to construct the entirely mechanical action, mounted on or in a plastic or scrap wood frame. This makes it trivial to construct for most fabrication facilities, and simple even for pre-fabber cottage industry to turn out workable examples. Common dry lubricants – even animal grease – complete the assembly.
Performance varies widely depending on the quality of the assembly and the components of the foamed propellant, from barely adequate to sufficient to penetrate most civilian and low-grade military armor – proof that while the industry as a whole may have moved on to mass drivers, old chemical propellants still have some use. In addition, the flexibility of the weapon where propellants are concerned make it easy to avoid traces that show up on commonly-used sensors, including that of high-energy powercells.
In short: it’s a piece of junk that has its uses, and one not to be surprised by the wrong end of.
1. Common examples include “Meat Machine”, the name given to it by Resolutionist Faction ironmongers; the Nal Kalak Type 43, as it is known to one of its official manufacturers; RUSTY LEMON, the cryptonym assigned by Imperial State Security; the “Sewerslum Special”, a nickname from League of Meridian law enforcement; and “the ablative meat-stick”, as it’s known in the mercenary trade.
Munson was pissed. The jackholes took his scattergun. ‘No firearms on the Esplanade, sir’. Confiscatin’ bastids. No firearms, yeah? Let’s see ’bout that.
Tucked deep in the orbital’s guts, as far from the Esplanade as one could get and still be in Hesperis, the good folks of the market bought and sold, well, pretty much anything, flesh, minds, and firearms topping the list.
Munson hovered over the display: nope, ain’t lookin’ to eradicate, just kill…wait…is that a Meat Muncher?
‘Also known as the Meat Machine…a fine eye you have, sir.’
Munson hefted the gun: little too fancy for the long-haul, but, yeah, this’ll do….I’m goin’ get my Stoeger back.
Spent casings are quite essential in removing heat from the rifle when firing. I’d assume the Meat Machine has a vastly reduced firing rate in vacuum?
If you use something fancier than steel, with 0 thermal expansion and much higher melting point, maybe make the proppellant heat inert and electrically triggered, and use a can of cold spray between reloads, would that take care of heat problems?
Ah, but then it wouldn’t be cheap as dirt.
While it’s less than perfectly clear from the current text, it’s an open bolt design, which helps mitigate the cook-off problem.
(It does, however, still have a cook-off problem when fired too much, too fast. Such simplicity of design and assembly has its trade-offs.)
Which leads to an interesting question: how relevant really is rate of fire in the battlefields of the Associated Worlds?
How big is the chunk of whatever going downrange? How accurate is the weapon? how well can the soph shoot? Are you doing supressive fire? Are you in the enemy’s range?
“where a gas piston advances them to firing position in the chamber when the trigger is pulled”
The terminology might be different between our modern one and that of the Eldraverse but I believe you meant to say bolt instead of gas piston.
I may explain myself first, the part of modern gun that push a cartridge into the firing chamber and lock it in position is known as bolt. It is the part where the firing pin is housed.
One popular mechanism of auto-loading is called ‘gas piston’, a piston is placed inside a tubular tube parallel to the barrel, the forward side of the tube is connecting to the barrel via small port drilled into the barrel, the pressure built up in the barrel when the gun is fire bleeds to the tube and push the piston – hence ‘gas piston’.
The piston is wither directly connected to the bolt or to a bolt carrier which force the bolt backward after each shot, ejecting the spent case and cycle the feeding processes.
I guess you can referred to the bolt of caseless firing gun the way modern internal combusting engine works – a piston compressing fuel and oxidizer mixture inside cylinder and project it to gun ‘piston’ that displace solid blocks of fuel – oxidizer mixture with bullets attach into similar cylinder.
Again, terminology could be very different in your setting but I thought I should highlight the difference.
I’m picturing a long-stroke piston design rather similar to a Lewis Gun in terms of operating system. The first round, since there are no propellant gases yet, is chambered manually with the charging handle, but for the rest the given description seems accurate enough to describe the actuation of a bolt on a long-stroke piston carrier.
I’ve got pretty complete design in my head, using a Lewis-ish action plus a piezoelectric crystal like in an piezoelectric cigarette lighter, and it comes out to around 21 total pieces, not counting the magazine, “optional” furniture, or luxuries like sights.
I was thinking about something else, hear me out – short recoil action.
One of the many problems involving caseless guns is how to clear dud round/ propellant fragments/ unburned residue out of the firing chamber. Notice that any caseless firing gun have movable firing chamber that isn’t fixed to the barrel, all caseless ammo is of uniform cross-section. The reason – when need to clear the chamber the loading mechanism simply push new round into the decoupled (from the barrel) chamber which push away anything out of the system.
Now, short recoil action could be retracted backward against spring – that how short recoil action, and it could be used for clearing the chamber too. You remove the magazine, pull the charging handle back and lock the bolt against the trigger sear, then rack the barrel backward fast, preferably with the barrel pointing up.
The cheapest way will be to tap the muzzle break into the body several times, the muzzle break end should be thermally isolated or else you have ring shape burns on your left palm.
More advanced models will have 2th charging handle (reciprocating or not) to rack the barrel back and forward.
Racking the barrel several times will loosen the dud round out of the chamber and out of the gun via the empty magazine well.
Since the propellant grain need not be of uniform cross-section those cartridges could be slightly tapered (wider at the primer side than at the bullet side) to ease the clearance.
Oh, I absolutely agree that that sounds like a more reliable design (especially if combined with TRW’s sliding chamber idea, which can be found at Forgotten Weapons under TRW’s Proposed Caseless Machine Gun). I was just going off the description which called for a gas piston, as well as an expectation that this is not the verse’s most… high-quality weapon.