Range

The figure clinging to the side of People’s Security Observation Platform Number Three would have been barely noticeable even to a careful observer. The ambioptics of his chameleon cloak, whose electrostatics held it still and in position against the satellite’s hull, perfectly reflected the appearance of that hull across the entire visual and ultraviolet spectrum.  Some infrared emission was thermodynamically necessary over his four-day vigil, but he had carefully positioned himself over one of the platform’s radiothermal generators: the addition of his body heat would only fractionally increase emissions.

Careful ranging and hull mapping might still detect his presence, of course, but even the infamously paranoid Iltine State Security Bureau did not do that routinely – and, thank Éadínah and Her Shadows, no watchers had detected him on his brief cold-gas jumps from bermos freighter to cargo dropper, from dropper to Terilti’s tiny moon, from moon to shuttle, and most risky of all, from shuttle to this secure platform.

Silently he watched, unbreathing, relying on the stored oxygen of his hemocules. His hearts did not beat: constant-pressure pumps ushered the blood through his veins. Nothing disturbed his perfect stillness as, eyes pressed to the sights of a custom-tailored mass driver, he watched a garage door slide open in the side of a skyscraper on the planet far below. This was the fourth day, and once again, his target was departing precisely to schedule. Consistence of habits, and in such a desirable target! It was hardly even sporting.

(Nonetheless, he permitted himself a slight smile at the thought of the record he was about to set. Let the 75th boast of their prowess; to pull this off from 120 miles above the planet, with a low-angle shot even, would write his name for all time in a book which, admittedly, few would ever read.)

The garage door finished its traverse, and locked home. His brain flashed through final calculations, integrating the observations of the last days with what could currently be seen of the traffic around the building, the current weather, and a dozen other factors. He made a microscopic adjustment to the alignment of the mass driver, and gently squeezed the trigger.

Twenty pulses went by.

A black, luxury aircar nosed its way out of the garage.

Another ten.

The aircar began to turn, slipping sideways to join the flow of morning commuters.

One more.

And the aircar abruptly jerked downwards, shoving its nose into a lower traffic lane with – he presumed – some great effusion of horns and epithets, before its safety features yanked it to an abrupt stop.

Then alarms went off in the offices of the orbital SSB, as the thermal bloom of self-destruct nanotech reducing the sniper and his weapon to a thin, homogeneous, minimal-evidence plasma set off sensors all along Platform Three and beyond.

But by then, Lieutenant Dynari Ejava, 82nd Imperial Legion (“the One Hope”) – or the spray of neutrinos representing him – was already on his way home.

 

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: 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.)

Well, Sometimes It’s Also A Metaphor

When you become a sniper, they cut out your hearts.

This is not a metaphor.  It’s a difficult series of surgical operations, considering all the things they did to your skin and bone and sinew when you passed the Anvil to prevent the enemy from getting near either of them, but difficult or not, replacing them with constant-pressure cyberpumps is necessary to get an LS-series vocspec.

To hit something at ten-thousand yards, you can’t afford any tremble in your hands.  The photonic nerves everyone uses these days are a good start.  The breather hemocules and milspec glands we gave you at the end of basic take care of fatigue-based muscle tremors.

But if you really want to compete in this game, you can’t have a pulse.