USRE FA-Saiph Battle Rifle

The Saiph Battle Rifle is, with that gun, one of the most common firearms in human space, albeit it is exclusively found in military or paramilitary service. Prototyped during the late Low Age and manufactured since the dawn of the interplanetary era, this weapon is based on archeotech designs, presumably recovered by Low Age nomads in the western European reclamation zones. This bullpup chemical rifle fires universal 6.2 USRE steel-cased cartridges and is meant to be used by infantry, standard or exoskeleton-equipped.

It is...a decent gun. Though somewhat lacking in the firepower department, its high rate of fire (1,000 to 1,200 shots per minute depending on model), great variety of ammunition (explosive, target-seeking, double-zero optimized*, armour-piercing, among others, all swappable on the fly) and reliability make it a versatile option for military personnel. The short bullpup configuration is appreciated by close quarters specialists, and the possibility to mount active cooling mechanisms to further increase the rate of fire can turn the Saiph into an acceptable anti-Sequence small arm. There’s also a version of the Saiph that is the only assault rifle in history to have been specifically balanced and stabilized for usage on horseback, a leftover of the nomadic Low Ages. Finally, flower warriors sometimes use Saiphs in conjunction with low-lethality tracer ammunition.It is not rare to find religious carvings or inscriptions on a Saiph, either outside or inside the weapon, especially on Earth-made rifles, reflecting the quasi-spiritual aura of a weapon of war in the post-Low Age context. 

None of this is particularly relevant. Wars are not won or lost on battle rifles.

What makes the Saiph interesting is that it was one of the first productions of what can be considered as the “military-artisanal system” — the vast network of Earth and later Elora-based communes that replaced the vertically integrated industries of the thermo-industrial age. In short, the Saiph was never conceived by a top-down authority, but emerged as an organic project from within the USRE’s myriad of manufacturing communes, all united under the umbrella of the Union’s socialist entities. Though more than five million Saiph battle rifles have been manufactured on Earth, individual production runs rarely numbered above a few thousand. All Earth-made Saiphs, without exception, have been assembled by individual manufactures and workshops, producing their own guns based on the blueprints and loose supply targets given by the USRE. As such, every Saiph is unique, with its own quirks and slightly divergent parts. In the age of industrial wars and worldwide standardization, this would have been unthinkable, and clearly detrimental to the weapon. However, in the post-Low Age era, there is no such thing as industrial wars anymore, and standardization is seen as a flaw, not an advantage, in the face of humankind’s sprawling diversity of polities and armed forces. Thousands of versions of the Saiph exist, all of them sourced by different communes, all of them with their own advantages and disadvantages. This kind of diversity is somewhat reduced in the Traverse, where weapons are exclusively manufactured by qiths, that are larger and more complex than communes — in effect, they can be understood as small nationstates with their own agendas and procurement strategies.

Regardless of local differences, the Saiph is truly emblematic of warfare — or what remains of it — in the interstellar age: conflicts are local, fractured, and led by bottom-up entities born out of the Low Age and its redefinition of human polities in a world where standardization has become effectively impossible.

*Double-zero ammunition refers to projectiles optimized for use in zero-g and hard vacuum conditions, typically post-decompression boarding or EVA combat. They often incorporate microscopic RCS modules to control their trajectory. 


Illustration: MarcusBurns1977, Creative Commons

That Gun

Electromagnetic firepower — now we’re talking. Swift, elegant, deadly. Or lasers. Everyone is afraid of lasers, right? They ought to be. Pierce through the void with the intensity of a small sun, that’s something. More firepower for the individual soldier than a late industrial age tank. Then why, why does that gun still exist?

I get this, I think I get this. Lorentz force, electromagnetic currents rushing down a conductive structure, equations drawn in chalk on a board, that then translate into pure kinetic force, yes, I know some people who aren’t afraid of it. I know some people who revel in it. The appeal of the kinetic age. The lure of clean, immediate destruction. But you want none of this, right? You want the gun. You want that gun.

It has a form of certainty contained within its frame — the certainty of failure. It’s reassuring. Railguns and coilguns rely on a steady supply of energy and complex spare parts. Lasers require hefty batteries, heat sinks and fragile lenses. They have very few moving parts and they don’t break often, but when they do...what are you going to do when they fall to entropy? Get a hold of that knife, private. We’re going to fight the Sequence with a sharp stick. But the gun, but that gun...oh, it will break. It will jam. That is a fact of life. But you’ll repair it. Be it on Earth, in the toxic mud of a reclamation zone, or in the depths of a dark forest at the edge of the Milky Way, you will get that gun working again.

Fire. That’s what it all boils down to, right? Fuel, reaction mass, energy — and a flame. That feeling when you pull the trigger. The weapon that shakes, the recoil, the flash, the smell of powder. Every time you fire a gun, there’s a line that extends behind you and goes all the way up in time, all the way up to your distant ancestors in the plains of Africa, waving flaming branches to keep the beasts at bay — that’s the same thing, that’s the same lineage, the flame that vanquishes the monster. It’s definitive. It’s simple. It’s frank. Bang — on your side of the iron sights, everything that matters. On the other side, everything that doesn’t. Or that won’t, once this bullet hits. Or the next. Or the one after. You’ve got thirty bullets to feed that gun. Plenty of fire. Plenty of steel. Plenty of humankind’s greatest achievements for you to yield and bend. An illusion, of course, a projection of power, of this hubris that led the industrial world to the abyss. Does it matter, when you pull that trigger? Do you think about it? Or do you simply revel in this brutal influx of warmth and light?

That gun. There are many like it but this one is mine, they used to say. Irrelevant. Senseless propaganda drilled in the malleable minds of young men. You know better, don’t you? The gun, that gun, isn’t yours. Its strength doesn’t reside in a meaningless feeling of ownership. It is not a sword, complex, personal, refined. It’s a spear. Simple to make, simple to use, simple to kill with. The strength of industry, the strength of mass production, that’s the real deal. Fire. Reload. Repeat. Once, the Sequence understood that, too, but now they’re gone, now they’re dead and yes, maybe a bullet won’t get that shambler. Maybe thirty won’t either. A thousand, though? Yes, a thousand will do. In the mud, in the dust, in the void of space, a thousand will do. You’re a child of the sun, you’re a child of the Earth, you are a human for the stars’ sake and that’s what humans do. They grind the world under the gears of industry, under the flames of their fires, under their arrogance, under their guns.

And all of this, that’s the great idea, that’s the gun, but it failed, you know that, right? Of course you know that, because you live on Earth, because you belong to a sorry species that walks among the ruins left by its own kind and wonders why it survived when by all accounts it should have choked itself to death. The gun failed — and by that I mean industry failed, I mean the great gears of our civilisation devoured themselves, I mean fire died and steel gave up, I mean we killed the great market and the monstrous machine that minced the very earth under our cities and we learned to do better, to aim higher, and, yes, the gun failed.

That’s the thing. That’s the crucible. The gun failed. The gun withered away and died.

But a gun did remain.

The USRE calls it “Earth-Pattern Rifle, model 47.” It’s been there for seven hundred years. More than a billion of them have been manufactured throughout history. It has endured the Low Age and it will endure the interstellar era. It is used by soldiers, pioneers, criminals and flower warriors alike. Every single war-dedicated commune makes it.

I call it that gun. Because that’s it, that’s the one we’re stuck with. It has ceased to represent anything. To be anything, really. It’s just there. 

We can’t get rid of it.

The Great Circus

Algorab report 67-T-SZ: warfare in the extant civilisation of Station Zero.

The human civilization in Station Zero (182 million inhabitants as of today), while relatively well-organized, has yet to see any kind of orbital-wide peace. It has been marked by countless conflicts, both ancient and recent, which tend to gravitate around two key elements which are often deeply intertwined in situ:

— Control of local non-natural resources left over by the Sequence, the most prominent of which are Sequence-made technology and sambre, an exotic alloy with a very good strength to weight ratio that is extracted (the correct word would be scraped, really) from the core structure of the orbital, itself only accessible in places where said structure has started degrading significantly (the locals call such places faults, even though they are not the result of actual tectonic activity. They do not possess the means to extract sambre directly without the use of weapons of mass destruction that would further compromise the stability of the orbital).

— Cultural and religious disagreements on the nature of humankind, and more critically its relationship to the Sequence. The existence of the Sequence as an interstellar empire (and possibly intergalactic) is well-known to Station Zero humans, and a significant number of powers, both small and great, have embraced or still embrace imperialistic policies based on the idea that humankind is the inheritor of the long-dead Sequence.

The Station Zero orbital represents several dozen times the Earth in terms of usable surface and even in present day remains mostly unsettled and barely explored. Human settlements are rather scattered as a direct side-effect of the initial (and accidental) colonisation process carried out by the survivors of Zero Fleet. The original purpose of the orbital is unknown to us, but it is likely that it was meant to harbor vastly different species, as it shows radical differences in geology, climate and biomes meaning entire sections of the orbital are unfit for permanent human settlement. Furthermore, Station Zero isn’t complete and its structure is full geological placeholders: many kilometer-deep wells and ocean-sized chasms dot the orbital’s surface, making land and sea-based communications arduous if not impossible in some places.

The direct corollary to this state of things is that the Station Zero civilisation is extensively based on air travel. It achieved human flight at the beginning of the modern era, first through the use of local flying beasts (see entry: Helium Jellyfish, Cloud Whale, Sequence Bird), then dirigibles and, finally, planes. In the absence of fossil fuels on the orbital, heavier than air vehicles are powered by organic fuel harvested from a local species of palm trees, possibly derived from Earthbound GMOs. Flying vehicles are used for freight, travel and military operations to the point all significant powers on the orbital are ouranocracies, that is to say polities whose power derives from the control of the atmosphere.

On Station Zero, flying vehicles are the be all and end all of warfare. Wars are waged to control small points of interest scattered across the vast landscapes of the orbital, resulting in highly dynamic conflicts where concentration of forces and reconnaissance are paramount. Both ground and sea forces find themselves serving as auxiliaries to air forces rather than the contrary — they simply do not have the flexibility and speed required to truly take part in modern point-to-point warfare. I must stress that this goes way beyond a simple supremacy of air power. Warfare on Station Zero exists in ways that have no real equivalent in history. The local civilisation entered the jet age some 30 years ago. Though its planes would remind a keen observer of late Cold War vehicles from the industrial era, Station Zero also sees “airships'' being used — not dirigibles, but massive flying wings capable of remaining in the air for days, presumably assembled from an alloy of aluminium and Sequence-made transbiological compounds. Records of local conflicts suggest that defense has an edge over offense on Station Zero, with jamming technology in particular having rendered long-range BVR combat much less prominent than in the late industrial era. Pictures and films taken during the latest conflicts show large battles involving vast airship fleets, with jet fighters acting as pickets in what can be considered as slow-burning, days-long dogfights over the inhospitable landscapes of Station Zero. Many militaries have built up an “ace culture”, where the stereotype of the heroic warrior is best pictured by a fighter pilot. In fact, it appears that a few constitutional monarchies have even directly translated the ideal of the ancient knight to the technological context of fighter jets.

Though Station Zero was rather peaceful in the past decade, conflicts seem to be flaring up again and apparently involve three distinct powers: imperialistic “Sequence imitators”, a religious conclave and what could be best defined as a communal confederacy. The latter seem to hold a relative, hard-won advantage but the situation remains fleeting. Particularly concerning to us is the ever-increasing frequency of superweapon uses in this conflict. We define “superweapon” not as a weapon of mass destruction (the locals do not have nuclear weapons, for instance) but as weapons with technical characteristics far beyond what the local civilisation can achieve, which often corresponds to reawakened Sequence or Algorab technology. Atmospheric controllers have been weaponized as “storm-makers” at least twice in the war, and the communal defense system nicknamed “Circle of Stone” is heavily suspected to be a trans-orbital railgun array, possibly salvaged from the remnants of Zero Fleet. Finally, the use of experimental suborbital vehicles might allow belligerents to bypass enemy defenses, striking at their cities directly — albeit the delta-v requirements of such endeavours are far higher than those on a regular planet, which might discourage their use.

In any case, I suggest we keep watching Station Zero with great interest and stand ready to intervene if our distant cousins stumble upon something that would be too dangerous for them — like, say, a Sequence antimatter generator.

Taxonomy of FTL Weaponry

The weapon of choice for faster-than-light engagements are geometry-drive equipped missiles. These powered projectiles are fired from hardpoints on military vessels and are teleported towards their targets via a geometry translation. They form the backbone of modern space-to-space weaponry and are rare, sophisticated weapons that fall under very strict criteria for trade and ownership. FTL missiles are extremely expensive ammunition, mostly because they require to sacrifice a geometry drive. Their nature as weapons of mass planetary destruction grants them a very specific, quasi-religious aura. It is not rare to find FTL missiles adorned with intricate carvings, bas-reliefs, mystical seals or precious jewels. For the average person, the sight of such a weapon is rare and awe-inspiring. Very few worlds manufacture these missiles, with planets specialized in FTL ammunition, such as Ishtar, being surrounded by fear and mystery.

Geometry missiles come in various shapes and sizes depending on their roles and payload. The smallest ones are similar in dimensions to industrial-era surface-to-air projectiles while the largest missiles are the size of surface-to-orbit rockets. FTL missiles most often carried by dedicated space platform such as combat spaceships, drones or stations. Outside of combat missiles are stored inside the ships and their geometry drives are turned off to prevent translation interference. In combat situations, missiles are deployed from the internal bays, with agile ships sometimes entering a spin to provide additional evasive capabilities. Though FTL missiles can be teleported anywhere except within the translation envelope of another drive or solid matter, they have to compete with the fact that spaceships can also perform tactical translations over several light seconds.

FTL missiles come in various classes, though all of them are based around the same structure: a geometry drive, a payload and a fusion drive capable of performing accelerations up to 50 gees. The translation accuracy of a missile at usual combat ranges is under five kilometres. Finally, most missiles do not have the luxury to deploy radiator strings and will often melt themselves to death in long engagements.

  • Needles are simple kinetic impactors, with a basic payload and a single-use geometry engine to drive their cost down. They are mostly used in ship-to-ship combat, fired in swarms to overwhelm enemy defences before they can shoot the projectiles down or translate the vessel away. The cheapest Needles are clustered in a MIRV-like configuration inside a single geometry drive equipped frame. The best defence against them is mobility and electronic warfare: Needles require data beamed from their parent ship which gave them the nickname of "torpedoes". A large combat vessel can deploy hundreds of Needles with a few FTL-capable MIRVs.
  • Lances are more sophisticated hunter-killer missiles, capable of reacquiring a missed target after a failed interception. They can chain up to five geometry translations in a row and track down a vessel across several light minutes. Lances have their own targeting equipment which allows them to operate way beyond the communications bubble of their parent vessel. FTL mobility alone is of little use against them. It has to be paired with defensive missiles and aggressive sublight manoeuvers to force the incoming Lances to bleed delta-v.
  • Swarmers are an evolved version of Lances that are fired in clusters of five to ten missiles. Swarmers can act as a group, beaming targeting data to each other and tangling enemy ships in vast interferometry nets.
  • Halberds are variants of Needles optimized for space-to-ground exchanges and the most destructive kind of surface weapons allowed on military vessels. They translate at the edge of an atmosphere then plunge towards their planetary target. Their warheads are reinforced to survive re-entry and are optimized for damage against single targets such as bunkers or vehicles. When the parent ship doesn't have direct line of sight, a Halberd can deploy a small swarm of re-entry vehicles beaming targeting data to the MIRV warheads.
  • Stalactites are hunter-killer missiles configured as deep space mines. Larger and beefier than Lances they are equipped with an additional propulsion and targeting stage. They are dropped in groups of ten to twenty in deep space where they main remain in a deep sleep for months to years. As soon as they resolve a hostile ship, Stalactites lit up and engage. Some of them even trade fusion drives for chemical rockets in order to give away as little heat signature as possible. 
  • Fractals are defensive missiles that are attached on external hardpoints alongside a ship's main fuselage. Their main use is to get rid of Lances tracking down a vessel. Instead of a conventional payload, they carry a fragmentation charge that can shower a  vast expanse of space in superheated debris. While these debris cannot really compromise a vessel, they are more than adequate against a missile. Fractals have two case uses: mine and anti-missile. When used as a mine they are dropped behind a ship just after a defensive translation in order to destroy the Lances sent after their parent vessel before they have time to reacquire. In a more conventional anti-missile role, Fractals are sent after the thermal signatures of enemy projectiles. 
  • Mirrors are another class of defensive missiles, more expensive than Fractals and more effective. Instead of a warhead, they are equipped with a blunt-tipped all-aspect laser emitter comparable to a small laser grid. They are deployed at the beginning of an engagement and move alongside their parent vessel in swarms of four to five. They can either complement their ship's laser grid or actively hunt down enemy missiles. Mirrors are the largest, longest-lived missiles available and come with their own radiators, an oddity among FTL projectiles. 
  • Boarders are exactly what it says on the tin. These heavy missiles are to be used against unprepared or damaged ships. Translating in very close proximity they deploy self-powered tendrils to attach to the hull and then deploy drones capable of dismantling or infiltrating the vessel. They are specifically useful against space stations. Boarders can technically carry infantry. 
  • Tenders are a variant of Boarders with a much more friendly function, as they are meant to be used for in-flight, in-combat refuelling. Translating next to a friendly vessel and matching its velocity, Tenders can then transfer missiles, ablative armour, spare radiators or laser batteries to an open docking bay. 
  • Barges are a somewhat more unhinged version of Boarders that are used to deploy space dropped drones, Karman skimmers or scramjet vehicles in the upper atmosphere of a hostile planet. They are equipped with drag parachutes and follow gentler re-entry profiles which also makes them more vulnerable to ground defences. 
  • Martlets are the smallest FTL missiles available and are typically used in a surface-to-orbit role. Fired from a submarine or ground vehicle, sometimes a spaceplane, Martlets accelerate towards low planetary orbit then translate towards their target. Their main advantage is that they can be used to perform counter-battery fire without direct line of sight, as they can translate "through" a planet to strike at the opposing hemisphere or orbit. 
  • Temporal Scattering Vehicles are exceedingly rare, experimental paracausal missiles developed on Azur. These Lances exploit a loophole in geometry drive safeties by performing a series of very close translations at a high frequency which leads the missile to "scatter" across the local timeline, thus existing in several places at once for a few tens of seconds before impact. Upon impact, the geometry waveform collapses and only one hit is recorded. TSVs are true paracausal weapons in that their scattering isn't just an illusion with a "true" missile and several decoys: in order for the TSV to be intercepted, all scatters have to be destroyed - and they can number in the hundreds.

Account of the Mars Skirmish

[Extract from historical archives on OpenElora]

[Historical context : the Mars Skirmish was one of the only three recorded occurences of ship-to-ship engagement since the discovery of the geometry drive. It involved unidentified Q-ship "Horizon Signal" and USRE warship "Damask Rose." The following records have been extracted from Damask Rose's black box.]

INPUT::

::Warning : translation detected.
::Sensors : resolving contact.
::Sensors : contact identified as : merchant.
::Comms : sending hail.
::Comms: no response.
::Sensors : WARNING
::Sensors : discrepancy between self-reported class and thermal signature.
::Sensors : contact reclassified as : XXX.
::Sensors : WARNING
::Sensors : TARGETING LASER DETECTED
::Nav : initiating evasive translation.
::Comms : interception permission : denied.
::Sensors : WARNING
::Sensors : MISSILE LAUNCH DETECTED

::MASTER WARNING : BATTLESTATIONS


::Comms : interception permission : denied
::Sensors : MISSILE TRANSLATION DETECTED
::Nav : evasive translation data sent (random translation pattern)
::Nav : translation
::Sensors : reacquiring target
::Sensors : tracking 3 projectiles
::Sensors : projectile translation detected
::Comms : interception permission : granted
::Sensors : establishing targeting solution
::Nav : evasive translation data sent (random translation pattern)
::Sensors : reacquiring target
::Sensors : tracking 2 projectiles
::Sensors : warning : missile parameters prevent fire without target solution.
::Sensors : override acknowledged.
::Weapons : missile drop : tubes 1 to 6. (blind).
::Nav : evasive translation data sent (random translation pattern)
::Sensors : reacquiring target.
::Sensors : tracking 1 projectile.
::Sensors : tracking 2 projectiles (PROJECTILE REACQUIRED TARGET)
::Nav : WARNING : TRANSLATION ERROR, COMPUTING PARAMETERS EXCEEDED
::Nav : rebooting mainframe
::Sensors : PROXIMITY ALERT
::Mainframe : emergency shutdown
::Mainframe : ejecting blackbox

::Missile 1 : contact with ship lost.
::Missile 1 : activating auto-tracking mode (last known target)
::Missile 1 : activating swarm mode (5 projectiles)
::Missile 1 : target reacquired
::Missile 1 : warhead armed
::Missile 1 : target resolved
::Missile 1 : target locked

::Missile 2 : target hit
::Missile 2 : target breaking
::Missile 2 : good kill good kill


Total elapsed time : 8.7 seconds.
Both ships were reported destroyeds. No survivors.


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