Máquina de Carne

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.

Trope-a-Day: Universal Ammunition

Universal Ammunition: Not quite universal, but so far as regular guns go (see Bottomless Magazines for the description), there are very few different types of standard magazine cartridges (metal for slicing up), powercells (which are just the fast-discharge versions of regular battery equivalents), and heat sinks which cover virtually everything on the market.  And even where slugguns are concerned, there aren’t all that many different bore sizes beyond the two main ones, and the rest of the compatibility issues can often be handled by software patch.

Conventionally averted where the exotica are concerned, though.

Trope-a-Day: Short Range Shotgun

Short Range Shotgun: Averted.  Flipping the switch on either standard model of slugthrower (pistol or carbine, turning it into a shotgun-analog, sawed-off and regular respectively, by firing multiple flechettes in rapid succession while flaring the fields at the end of the mass driver to achieve spread), or firing canister shot from a sluggun, does nothing to turn down the power.  If anything (if you don’t manually drop the power to get low penetration, that is) they’re even more lethal than regular shot out of the same weapon, and equally effective at range.  With the advantages of spread on top of that.

Trope-a-Day: Improbable Aiming Skills

Improbable Aiming Skills: Training for the various sentinel occupations, including the Imperial Legions and, yes, also the Watch Constabulary tries its best to achieve these, or at least to avert Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy really hard.  In these modern days in which you can have a top-flight ballistics software package running in your head and arbitrary amounts of computer power, locally networked sensors, etc., etc., in your gun – well, let’s just say that the standards for improbable have been raised a tad.

Interlude: Things That Go Bang

Since in the ongoing series about the Legions I’m obviously going to be talking about their guns, seems to me that I ought to maybe describe the terminology used for those just a bit so that you know what I’m talking about.

That is, inasmuch as terminology has changed from what could reasonably be translated into our firearms terminology, inasmuch in turn as these guns technically aren’t firearms – they’re powered by mass drivers rather than chemical explosions – so while some of the words are familiar, the definitions have changed.

Let me sum up:

There are four basic classes of guns (in the slugthrower sense, that is, and ignoring needlers which no-one counts as slugthrowers even though they technically are) used in the Empire. These are referred to as pistols, carbines, snipers, and slugguns.

The first three of these all work by firing tiny flechettes at HOLY CRAP speed.

A pistol is, basically, any flechette-firing mass-driver handgun.

A carbine is the common flechette-firing mass-driver long gun. The original definition as “shorter-barrelled than a rifle” has more or less gone away, since there are no more rifles – the mass drivers spin their projectiles purely through EM fields – but it translates to the vast number of general-use longarms intended for use in pretty much all combat situations from close-up defense to long-range suppressive, essentially filling both the PDW and assault rifle role.

A modal example has a bullpup configuration and probably has a form factor not dissimilar to the FN P90, the weapon I would expect to play them on television if any of this were ever to be made into television. The barrels, in general, are not significantly longer than the main body.

A sniper is the only really long longarm, long-barreled and equipped with specialist software and sensors for even more accuracy than you’ll get out of an already accurate carbine. They’re the descendants of sniper rifles, only shortened in name because, well, they’re not rifles.

The sluggun isn’t a flechette weapon; it fires macroscopic metal slugs in an anti-material role, or canisters which you can put just about anything in, up to and including using it as a launcher for bore-compatible grenades and gyroc micromissiles.

A battle carbine isn’t a special class of its own; it’s what you get when you mount a regular carbine and an underslung sluggun in the same case for maximal versatility, usually sharing their redundant components.

Of our other common firearm types, this can be said:

There aren’t shotguns, because a simple software change to a carbine can emulate them by firing a burst and oscillating the final stage of the mass driver to produce a spreading cone of flechettes, with all the stopping power and spread of the real thing. You can do the same thing with a pistol to emulate a sawed-off shotgun. Alternatively, you can fire canister shot out of a sluggun to much the same effect.

There aren’t submachine guns, because you just configure your carbine to fully automatic rapid fire, and you have exactly the same effect. Likewise, the machine pistol and the pistol.

Any questions?

Trope-a-Day: Hand Cannon

Hand Cannon: You can, indeed, fit some bloody powerful mass drivers into handgun-sized weapons, these days – although even with recoil compensation, etc., it helps to have some of those military-grade musculoskeletal reinforcements – and some way to brace yourself – if you plan on firing the things comfortably or with any reasonable degree of accuracy.

There are even a couple of handgun-sized slugguns on the market, if you feel like a one-handed gyroc-grenade launcher is just what the doctor ordered.  (And Eye-in-the-Flame Arms, outré as ever, sells a sluggun derringer – which, yes, you could theoretically load with an slugfire antimatter grenade – although even by the Empire’s loose standards, the crossover market between “small, concealable suitable-for-waistcoat-pockets-and-ladies’-purses gun” and “can snipe buildings” is… not exactly huge.)

[As a side note, while it is entirely in keeping with the Eye-in-the-Flame design process – which is to say, getting as high as possible on creativity-enhancing nootropic drugs and ignoring entirely the coquetries of practicality – I was a mite concerned about the reader-credibility of this particular example of their products.

Then I learned about this real-world product, a derringer chambered for .81/20 mm, which is to say the type of shells used in Vulcan autocannon. And that they’re planning a 30 mm version.

I rest my case.]

Trope-a-Day: Friendly Fireproof

Friendly Fireproof: Your modern weapons, seeing as they contain fairly sophisticated software and personal-area network integration, tend to come with FFI (Friendly Fire Inhibition) to ensure that this is realized in real life; they just plain won’t fire at targets positively identified as friendly.

(Yes, of course there’s an override mode.  There’s also a fancier civilian model that prevents you from firing if the collateral damage you might do exceeds the amount your tort insurer would be willing to pay for.)

Of course, all guarantees are off when it comes to grenades or other area-effect weaponry…