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.

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