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…

Trope-a-Day: Firing One Handed

Firing One Handed: Works much better with the small examples of personal arms, pistols and such, whose vector-control recoil compensation is very good indeed at making it manageable, and come with an aiming system that plugs directly into your personal-area network, which is to say, brain.

Nevertheless, averted for heavy carbines and slugguns, at least some of which have enough recoil left over even with the compensation to break your wrist and/or arm, even fired two-handed, if you don’t happen to be equipped with those fancy carbon-ceramic weave bone reinforcements they hand out in basic training these days.

Trope-a-Day: Every Bullet is a Tracer

Every Bullet Is A Tracer: Justified for non-slugguns, inasmuch as modern slugthrowers kick their tiny dust-grain bullets up to such a high velocity – a respectable fraction of c – that they plasmate the air they hit on the way to their target.  The bullet doesn’t glow, but the resulting plasma bolus does.

(The disadvantage that this has, that firing gives away your position unless you turn the muzzle velocity way down, has been noted by the relevant tacticians.)

Trope-a-Day: Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better

Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: For most things, yes.  It’s not that they don’t have perfectly functional energy weapons, or power cells which can manage the job – if you can run a mass driver that can get a flechette or slug up to a respectable fraction of the speed of light, yep, you can power a laser with it too, just fine.  Nor do energy weapons lack their place – lasers are a damn fine way of pumping heat into things, which is very handy in starship combat, for example, and electrolasers (fire the laser to ionize a path through the air to your target, then dump a lot of voltage down it) make excellent stunners and anti-machine weapons, and EMP weapons are also handy for the latter, if really hard on the infrastructure.  Blinding lasers are effective on at least many species and relatively humane.

But in practice, it’s a lot easier to solve the problems of making really awesome kinetic weapons than of dealing with beam dispersion (while you can do some cool blasting-shit-apart – not slicing it up – with a big laser or graser, you would generally prefer not to have to let it get that close), atmospheric humidity (a big problem for electrolasers), and other such things, and in some cases vulnerability that varies sharply by the precise way the energy is delivered, and suchlike.  So while energy weapons of various types are part of the arsenal, in the special uses for which they excel, the jack-of-all-trades weapons still Throw Stuff At You Really Damn Fast.

Trope-a-Day: Dramatic Gun Cock

Dramatic Gun Cock: Modern personal weapons don’t actually need cocking (just flip the arming switch to Unsafe, and you’re done, to the accompaniment of no more than a little electrical hum or capacitor-charging whine).  On the other hand, since they fold up very nicely into a more convenient form-factor for storage and transportation, you can do all the dramatic unfoldings (push the button and let the springs, etc., do the rest) that you like.

Sweet Kynthia

Like most ridiculously excessive weapons, the unique anti-materiel/area-denial weapon, “Sweet Kynthia”, was built to impress a lady, constructed by Sarai Iliastren-ith-Weváren during her pursuit of Kynthia Andracanth-ith-Andracanth, whose interests in heavy weapons – and indeed, whose own creations (see pps. 36, 42, 138, 196, 211, 335, 401, 545, 607-611, 720, 1196, and much of the rest of the book) in the field – have been proverbial.

Sweet Kynthia is an antimatter scattergun, firing two dozen individual coated one-gram antimatter pellets in a star-circle dispersal pattern – adjustable for wide or narrow scatter, each with an individual yield of 43 kilotons, the weapon’s total conversion yield being just over a megaton.

Given the multi-mile range of both the blast and thermal flash, and the mile-plus range of even the generally lethal prompt radiation pulse (rather less than the effective firing range), Sweet Kynthia has served primarily as a weapon of intimidation, given the essential impossibility of surviving firing the weapon – although it has been picked out of enough smoldering radioactive craters during its long and memorable career to lend the sight of it in a determined or desperate hand real weight.

– the Big Boys’ Book of Boom

Freedom of Assembly

First there was the Adaptech Adventurer’s Pistol, and that was bad for those us who believe in trying to exert some sort of control over the proliferation of arms in our countries. Usually you can try and regulate the ammunition, or the fuel, or the high-density energy cells too, for the ones that inevitably slip past you — except when a corporation which happens to be located in a polity notorious for its refusal to cooperate with anyone’s reasonable measures along these lines starts marketing a gun that feeds on sunlight and can make bullets out of air.

But that was an issue for ten years ago.

And then it got worse when Adaptech invented a newer and better model of the Adventurer’s Pistol, and followed the Empire’s intellectual property law and tradition by dumping the conceptual seed for the old one into the public knowledge pool, so that any idiot with an unfiltered extranet connection and an unchained nanoforge can run off as many copies as they want, no charge.

But that was an issue for two years ago.

Today’s issue is that, courtesy of the Means of Defense COG and the Agalmic Praxis Foundation, there’s now a free-to-use-and-modify seed out there for a version of the Adventurer’s Pistol that’s self-replicating, able to construct nanoseeds which – supplied with simple power sources and raw materials – will grow more pistols, which in turn can grow more, and more, and more.

What does border security mean when to smuggle a million copies, you only have to smuggle one?

Our anarchists, lunatics and terrorists thank you for your support.

– #4, “The Top 10 Denounceable Exports: How the Empire’s Annoyed Us This Year”,
Independenf Worlds Router

Trope-a-Day: Bullet Time

Bullet Time: Given the speed of electrophotonic hardware, it would be possible for most cybershells and many bioshells up to the current Imperial neural standard to do live-action Bullet Time, at least with current Earth guns.

Of course, in their own place and time, the bullets are a lot faster than they used to be… but it’s still useful, because there are plenty of people around who aren’t.

Trope-a-Day: Bottomless Magazines

Bottomless Magazines: Not literally true, but due to the architecture of modern Imperial firearms, it often seems that way.  A typical example has three types of “ammunition”, in a consumables-you-need-to-fire sense: a metal-containing “magazine cartridge” that the flechettes the weapon actually fires are produced from; an energy cell to power the mass driver that makes it work; and a heat sink (containing the same high specific heat capacity thermal goo we’ll be talking about later in Deflector Shields) to give you somewhere to dump the waste heat produced by said mass driver so your gun doesn’t melt.

The flechettes are small enough and light enough (grain-of-sand size, made up for by extremely high velocity) that by and large you should never need to change the magazine, even in a whole sequence of firefights of unlikely length, although you may want to swap in a new one at maintenance time, just to be sure.  The heat sink usually only needs to be swapped out at maintenance time (the goo may eventually crystallize), because in normal operation the radiative striping on the gun should be able to get the heat dumped in between uses, but if you routinely keep up sustained volumes of fire, you can carry some spare heat sinks with you and field-swap them to let you keep it up beyond what would otherwise be the weapon’s thermal limit.  The energy cell is actually the thing you’re likely to need to swap most often, and it usually holds enough energy for a good couple of hours of firing, so while you may need to change it, you still probably won’t need to change it that often.

And of course, those magnificent legionaries in their combat exoskeletons have their guns plugged into the much larger energy and cooling reserves of their armor, so those guys really do have de facto bottomless magazines.

Trope-a-Day: Boom, Headshot

Boom, Headshot: Life got a lot easier for snipers on this point given the amount of fancy hardware (smart targeting systems and auto-assists, predictive target analysis, off-bore firing, etc., etc.) they squeeze into guns these days, and sometimes even into the bullets.  ­Especially for snipers.  (But they still train regular weapon-users to shoot for center-mass, on general efficiency principles.)

Trope-a-Day: BFG

BFG: Oh, several.  Let’s start with “that created by any excuse to shove antimatter rifle-grenades in your sluggun (see: Abnormal Ammo) or battle carbine and cut loose”, shall we?  There are also a variety of multibarrel miniguns, and yes, hypothetically even some that you can shove antimatter rifle-grenades into (see: More Dakka).

Specific examples would include the S-11i Mamabear, a souped-up sluggun which requires heavy bone reinforcement of most species in order to cope with the recoil, but can pull off one-shot kills on just about anything you care to name; the E40 Motherstorm, a very overpowered electrolaser that is unsafe at any setting, but very useful against mechanicals if the environment will let you use it; every single hunting weapon ever on Paltraeth, the kaeth homeworld, where the apex predators are oversized velociraptors with natural scale-mail plating; and the EI-12d Valkyrie target designator, which on its own is a tiny weak modulated laser, but which if there’s an orbital defense grid or an assault cruiser owning the local orbitals, can unleash more hell than everything else in this entry added together.

In the Fire Breathing Weapons category, the plasma-belching sets-fire-to-everything-around power-armor-mounted weapon of doom that is the KF-11 Dragonspume.  Even if its primary use is taking down cyberswarms and nanoswarms through thermal overload.

In the vehicle-mounted weapons category, that minigun-class weapon which is fitted to a G7-BU Sunhawk (see: Cool Plane) and which necessitates – as does the main weapon of the aircraft to which it is a homage – some special care in using to avoid find yourself flying backwards.

And any number of the one-off custom designs from Eye-in-the-Flame Arms, whose weapons designers (drawn, substantially, from the Cyprium-ith-Gislith line) consider the existence of any practical purpose for the weapon distinctly secondary to generating more and more extreme levels of overkill.

Trope-a-Day: Backpack Cannon

Backpack Cannon: Found in a couple of forms.  The primary one for those of us whose body plans resemble the ones we’re used to, which is to say, vertical, involves using a backpack to hold vertically-launching smart missiles and other such guided support weapons that don’t need to be aimed in the direction they’re firing in.  (Fortunately, combat armor, powered or otherwise, avoids the problem of setting yourself on fire doing this.)

The other form is regular heavy weapons for those people with horizontal primary body axes, which isn’t every quadruped, hexaped, etc., but is a strong working majority.

Counterpoint: Tourism

My colleagues have spent most of this issue telling you all the conventional reasons why you ought to visit the Empire: the outstanding natural beauty, the many places of historical significance, the music, the food and wine culture, the chance to experience their literary, gaming, and entertainment culture up close, or even just to witness all the eccentricity on display.

I’m here to tell you why you shouldn’t.

Firstly, it’s all so wretchedly anodyne. For a land notorious for its decadence – and it is decadent – it has all the bohemian credibility and counterculture of a consciously-designed theme park. Something about Imperial libertism has converted every imaginable vice from drug parlors to autophagy restaurants into friendly, commercial experiences that simultaneously defang the shock one might rightly feel at some, and robs the others of even the slightest frisson of transgressive pleasure.

Second, one of my colleagues mentioned, when discussing how safe the Empire is to visit thanks to its ubiquitous law enforcement, the to-be-avoided experience of collecting a half-dozen on-the-spot fines for littering on your first day there. Well, while the Imperial legal system is notoriously rigid, that’s not the true visiting-the-Empire experience. That would be discovering that due to the equally uncompromising use of reputation networks and the near-complete lack of any public-privacy or antidiscrimination laws, you’ve been deemed Officially Not Polite Enough to customer service staff and are paying 120% over market for everything.

Then there are the weapons. Yes, we know it’s just the local political climate – and incidentally, unless your idea of a pleasant holiday is a knock-down drag-out argument, don’t use that word or any of its derivatives; it’s almost reflexive – but everybody, everybody is carting a gun and probably a sword around, too! That they make a point of how low their rate of violent crime is compared to the Worlds’ average does not make this look any better; given that, why would well-adjusted people need to carry all that hardware around?

But most of all, it is the subtext of the entire experience. In small doses, it’s not so bad, but on any extended visit, the sheer flawlessness of the place starts to hurt the eye.

We all want to make our worlds better, our lives better, our selves better. But there’s a point beyond which further improvement is counterproductive.

And this point comes well before I start looking around desperately for any scrap of litter, any accumulated dirt, any stain, crack, or hole, any building – not acclaimed as historical – with some signs of wear on it, any traffic that’s not moving with exacting regularity, or just one single solitary person who is not one of the eldritch-beautiful people.

There’s no fuzziness to the Empire at all. No soft edges, no comforting blur, nothing that’s been permitted to be less than its idealization, and the result is a place that is profoundly disquieting for those of us from locales with more realistic expectations.

And if disliking that makes me an “entropist”, well, that’s why I won’t be going back.

– from the Empire-centric special edition of Worlds Traveler magazine

Trope-a-Day: More Dakka

More Dakka: While, by and large, they are not found on normal battlefields, those wonderfully clever people at various research and development establishments have gone a long way towards the wonderfully dakkalicious, both through sheer scale and through quantities of fire.

Skipping over the more normal options available and actually used – even the IMS standard IL-15i Battlesystem, the standard-issue assault rifle/shotgun/SMG/anti-material sluggun/grenade launcher/missile launcher combo-pack, offers a respectable quantity of dakka – let’s just look at a couple of proposals, here:

On the one hand, for example, is the not-yet-built-or-engineered proposal for using the Dyson bubble at Esilmúr as a fleet killer, with the addition of a perfectly normal wormhole pair, one end of which would be axially mounted on a regular lighthugger – which would be quite the weapon when the entire output of the Esilmúr sun was magnetically focused down the wormhole using the harvesting arrays in reverse.  You could melt planets with that – although it’s probably impractically slow to actually get in position, the speed of light being what it is.

On the rather more practical hand, of course – well, thinking of things you can assemble from modular components, consider that a sluggun can double as a bore-compatible grenade launcher, that multibarrel/Gatling slugguns do exist, and so do antimatter grenades.  In short, you can assemble – using off-the-shelf components – a device which will let you high-rate (as in, thousands of rounds per minute) cycle-fire mini-nukes full auto!  (What you could possibly realistically want to use this piece of comical overkill on, and how exactly you’d go about surviving firing it, never mind paying for the ammo, are left as exercises for the reader.)

Nonetheless, it’s never enuff.