Too Hard-Headed

Gorch steelheading, by any of its various names, originated as a street medical procedure from the freesoil world Gorch (Dinyoza’s Serpent). A retroviral treatment, steelheading affects the glial cells of the brain, causing them to accumulate metallic, particulate iron within internal vacuoles. This serves as an effective countermeasure to uploading using the standard techniques (i.e., the high-resolution NMRI built into every commercially available cerebral bridge), since the ferromagnetic particles darken and distort the image, and may indeed cause damage to the scanning equipment. As such, steelheading has become popular among every quantum-hatted forknapping-obsessed paranoid from Core to Rim.

Since it remains a street procedure, it is sadly to be noted that many of its purveyors do not inform their clients of the actual risks of placing a brain stived through with super-nanoscale iron particulate into a high-grade magnetic field, and specifically the combination of thermal effects on the glia and direct magnetic force effects resulting in said brain being stirred like a bowl of overcooked pudding. Caveat emptor, indeed!

Unfortunately, other uses of the procedure have become apparent. I draw your attention here to the incident last year aboard CS Fist of Civility, when hostages recovered from one branch of the Resolutionist Faction had been involuntarily steelheaded by their captors, a fact not discovered until it had led to a permanent death.

Steelheading, however, is a technique that is only preventative against NMRI or similar technologies, and a clean upload can still be achieved by use of the older membrane disassembler, or a nanitic burning-scan reader such as that used in a ripknife. Of course, these techniques either require an extracted mostly-dead brain or are fatal to the patient, which is why they were replaced by high-resolution NMRI in the first place, and yet they remain viable methods of extracting a mind-state from a steelheaded brain.

For this reason, we have now added testing for the presence of encapsulated ferromagnetic particulates in brain tissue and the use of alternate methods as part of the best practices for uploading brains recovered from hostages, kidnapping victims, or otherwise “left unattended”, and we commend this to the attention of our colleagues elsewhere.

– Dr. Venerí 0xCADE443E,
Noble Order of the Lancet,

Fellow of the Imperial College of Surgeons,
Imperial Sodality of Neuroscience,
in a letter to the All-Worlds Journal of Medical Incident

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: La Résistance

La Résistance: The Resolutionist Faction (your local name may vary; it’s not like they can agree on one) are a loose coalition of hundreds, if not thousands, of separate groups, struggling valiantly against the lack of tyranny imposed by the Empire and, to a lesser extent, the Accord of Galactic Polities.

Yes, I said “lack of tyranny”.  This is also what makes them a fine example of We ARE Struggling Together, inasmuch as their common feature is opposition to the “apathetic, nugatory, and downright irresponsible” oversight that prevents the Right People from applying the jackboot of firm governance to the buttocks of the unrighteous, and indeed, only seems to act to oppress people’s perfectly legitimate demands to reward the Obviously Correct and oppress the Just Plain Wrong.  As such – which is to say, as a coalition of the extrasystemic-resistance-inclined among all of old-style aristocrats, conservatives, liberals (vis-a-vis libertists), socialists, progressives, fascists, communists, theocrats, democrats, xenonationalists (although surprisingly few polity nationalists inasmuch as imperial annexations have been out of style for a long, long time), deep ecologists, other single-issue crazies, and every other kind of power-hungry whackjob imaginable – it’s about as effective as it sounds like it is.

But it does, at least some of the time, manage to hang together well enough to achieve something (usually something from The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized) on the grounds that they can fight each other afterwards, once The Man has been taken down.

(There are also a few really serious anarchist La Résistance groups, but since they’re – as you might expect – rather disorganized, and since there are so many more attractive targets in the galaxy than most of the protagonizing ones, they’re generally considered of minor importance.)