To the Honored Dottore-Illuminatus,
Danli, here at last is the report you requested summarizing the current state of tribal technology. My apologies for not compiling it earlier, but extreme circumstances prevented me from attending to it in a timelier manner. As it happens, however, the delays allowed me time to discover answers to several additional items not contemplated in the original report.
Before I begin, let me note the assistance of a pair of very helpful tribal warrior-scholars I befriended during my journey with Sous-Legate Panderson several months ago: Inquisitor Nabterayl and Priestess IshM’lak (yes, the titles are somewhat quaint, I know) of the tribe calling itself the Sons of Thunder. Without their insights, much of the information on the tribal armors would have been woefully incomplete.
Now, please allow me to offer a few introductory comments before you move on to the meat of this report. Danli, I must stress that tribal technology is a mix of the old and the new. It incorporates sparkling innovations with recycled concepts. Compared to the Empire, of course, the so-called “Tribes of Man” use antiquated, even primitive technologies, and our officers openly disdain the “barbarians.” However, such prejudices sorely underestimate the flexibility and effectiveness of tribal engineering. The weapons and armors used by tribal warriors proved deadly enough when directed at our garrisons in the Kepler system, and the veterans of that campaign no longer scoff at the prospect of facing tribal warriors on the battlefield.
Though most tribes no longer follow any semblance of a nomadic lifestyle, they remain highly mobile within their territories, and this mobility provides the key to their military strategy. Thus, tribal technology remains relatively portable and easy to maintain. The freedom and self-reliance valued in the wilderzone’s frontier atmosphere make durability and practicality primary design goals in any tribal device.
Aesthetic concerns also occupy an important place in tribal design. Many weapons and most armors will feature decoration pertinent to a particular tribe’s customs and history. Most notable in this regard are the Children of Phoenix, who take great pride in their brightly polished and engraved armors, but the Starwolf are also famous for the elaborate patterns carved in the hardwood stocks of their blasters. The Diamond Sword favor a Spartan but elegant look, and the Blood Eagle opt for drama with a more pragmatic - some would say secular - appearance.
This report attempts to summarize the state of tribal engineering and the cultural and political impact technology has had on the denizens of the wilderzone. I will not address spacefaring technology, however, as that topic is distinct enough to warrant its own report. It is my fervent hope that with better understanding of the capabilities of the Tribes of Man, the Empire can avoid a repeat of the Kepler tragedy.
Iridescent-Dottore Jarita Xu-Lachillan
In the service of the Imperial Legate
November 19, 3940
Terran Standard Reckoning
A brief review will help to establish the proper context. Nanotechnology is a common part of wilderzone life. The technology has existed since well before the Diaspora: microscopic robots (called “nanites” or “bugs”) manipulate matter on the molecular level, thereby creating or destroying either organic or inorganic material. Practically speaking, nanotech has always been somewhat overplayed by the directors and writers of holovids and speculative fiction. While it is capable of miraculous effects, nanotech labors under several limitations. It requires oversight to ensure it does not mutate into rogue forms dangerous to human life. It must be adaptable enough to function in a variety of environments on a variety of materials. It requires a reliable power source.
The need for oversight means any population of nanites must include a highly redundant control segment which monitors for mutation and removes potential rogues. Another segment monitors the environment and facilitates communication between the worker nanites so that the objective is constructed accurately. Finally, generator nanites exist to provide energy for longer jobs, though in some nanite populations this function is replaced by an exterior microwave broadcast. Such a broadcast produces an additional fail-safe, since cutting the power shortens the effective life of the nanites. The end result is that nanotechnology is not the panacea ancient futurists first projected. The more complex the task, the more oversight and control is required. The denser the material, the more energy is required. In short, while nanites can quickly repair broken bones and seared tissue, they cannot create a steak or make a living sheep.
An additional fear developed after the Cybrid Wars, namely that nanotechnology could become a tool for the extermination of humanity. The Starsiege conflict of the 29th century saw such a nightmare come to pass, but the defenders of Earth were able to circumvent Cybrid nanotech plagues with controlled EMP bursts that disabled the bugs with little collateral damage. With the establishment of the Second Empire following the Cybrid Wars, nanotech was used under controlled, human-supervised conditions, usually in medicine or construction. The great fear of sentient AIs commanding nanite armies means computer control of nanotech is limited to dedicated “idiot savant” systems, and the networking capacity of nanite populations is likewise lobotomized to prevent a sentience-establishing algorithm from developing.
The Five Limits
Over the centuries, certain standards and protocols have evolved to control misuse or loss of control over nanites. The nanotechnology used by the Tribes of Man differs greatly from the varieties used within the realm of the Empire. Tribal nanotech (or “entek,” derived from N-tech) is used exclusively for construction and medical procedures, but not for destructive purposes or psychological modification. In a section commonly referred to as The Five Limits, The Tenets of Harabec expressly condemn use of entek against human foes. The Empire also officially forbears from using nanotech (since the bugs have a history of being notoriously unstable under combat conditions), but as you know, the Imperial military has experimented with killer nanites and covert modifications as the war with the Scourge drags on. We’ve all heard the rumors of horrible battles deep within the Empire, where entire platoons dissolved into thin air, eaten by nanite predators. There are dark tales of worlds under perpetual orbital quarantine because of rogue entek run amok. Whatever the truth, tribals treat entek with as much skepticism as we Imperials, perhaps more so if the Tenets are any indication.
Other rules and traditions exist, but the Five Limits are the primary controls over entek in the wilderzone. So strongly does the average tribal feel about the misuse of nanotechnology that even Imperial citizens in the wilderzone use bugs very, very quietly. A witch-hunt can erupt quickly in tribal space concerning perceived abuse of nanotechnology, either by violation of the Limits or use of the less-recognizable, advanced Imperial variants. In fact, the tribal term “witch” seems to mean someone who uses unfamiliar entek or who flaunts the Limits.
THE FIRST LIMIT: Control by Man
Entek must always be deployed and supervised by a human being. There are no automatic entek-using devices in the wilderzone, nor do the Tenets permit direct supervision of nanites by a computer without the presence of a human decision-maker, though computer monitoring of nanite functions is also required.
THE SECOND LIMIT: Confine the Reach
Nanites’ range of effect must be limited. Most nanites are programmed to remain within a specific range of a “nucleus” and consequently they don’t function for more than a few meters beyond their deployment. When in use for major projects, entek seeds are sown in the desired patterns.
THE THIRD LIMIT: Confine the Generation
Nanites must have a limited lifespan and a limited number of generations. Again, much of the limitation is controlled by the “nucleus” nanites that form a necessary part of any deployment.
THE FOURTH LIMIT: Strike Not the Living
Nanites must never be programmed to break down living organic tissue except as a necessary adjunct to medical operations. Anyone who deploys such a flesh-eating weapon automatically becomes a hunted outlaw under tribal law - and Imperial, as I need not remind you.
Many rumors have accused the Blood Eagle of violating this limit, but the Sikkiyn-Captain I interviewed on Deus Sanguinus laughed at such accusations, calling them Starwolf propaganda. “Only a complete fool would risk losing control of such devices,” he said. “Haven’t we learned from the Cybrids?”
THE FIFTH LIMIT: Destroy Mutations
Any nanite that deviates from its programmed function shall be immediately destroyed.
Entek fills four specific roles, each role requiring a specific “species” of nanite. The roles are extraction of metal from ore, construction of structures, repair of equipment, and healing of the injured, carried out by “miners,” “skels,” “wrenches,” and “docs” respectively.
I note that entek fills a strange role here in the wilderzone. All of the major entek industrial species must be used in conjunction with human labor. For example, miners are either seeded over ore-bearing rocks that have been collected by hand, or are deployed in a mine delved by human labor. In practice, the tribes have a great need for laborers despite the relatively common presence of worker bugs. This is particularly true where conditions require flexibility of judgment or aesthetics. It’s worth noting again that the bugs only do as they are programmed to do, and the various safeguards severely limit any autonomous decisions.
Miners are the first nanites seeded on a new planet. They extract metal from raw ores in the vicinity of their deployment. The metal is then collected and refined into stahlplast for use in structures or tribal machinery. Actual forging or further construction is accomplished by tribal craftsmen using other entek tools.
Skels are nanites used in heavy construction. Skels are also used to assist in the building of ships and vehicles. Unlike in Imperial virts, skels do not construct ships and vehicles out of thin air in a matter of seconds. Given time, they can accomplish such complex tasks, but require hours for a relatively simple task, days or weeks for a more complex task. In addition, the specs for each piece of equipment must be programmed in great detail into the bugs, a complex task for all but the most proficient entek engineers. Consequently, the Tribes of Man use only a few hardy and proven designs, and they keep their entek construction confined to the deeper levels of their holdfasts. Tribals often keep arsenals stocked with weapons, armor, and vehicles in their bases, calling them up for deployment via use of “inventory stations.”
Tinkers are a subset of skels used to assist in the production of armor and other smaller components intended to be worn or held by human beings. These nanites are always used under exacting direction of a human engineer, and have almost no independence. Because tinkers require so much direction, tribal crafters skilled in their use become valued assets. Essentially, tinker entek manipulates microscopic pieces of the target component.
Reparis, or “reppers,” are the mechanical repair bugs. They repair any damage done to buildings and equipment. Using the imprint code found within any tribal device, they can repair an existing piece of equipment to its original state. As long as the item in question hasn’t been totally disintegrated, these nanites can repair it-armors, turrets, drop ships-all can be repaired within a matter of seconds. These nanites are found in the repair packs used by battlefield engineers, and are powered by a beam from the armor’s energy reserves. When the user cuts off the energy beam, the nanites destroy themselves.
Repair packs and kits used on tribal battlefields contain charges of reparis designed to seal breaches and repair damaged circuits. When applied to powered armor, the reparis are programmed to give top priority to damaged shield systems. Repair kits also contain smaller amounts of knitters programmed to check the warrior and effect minor microsurgical healing. As with tinkers, they manipulate the target material, whether mineral or organic, into the desired configuration.
Knitters, or “docs” are similar to reparis, but are engineered to repair human flesh instead of inorganic material. They can easily repair traumas such as cuts, skin and muscle burns, abrasions, and broken bones in mere minutes, but are less effective at dealing with major internal organ trauma due to the great variance in individual human physiologies and body chemistries. More serious injuries typically require suspended stabilization and transport to a location with a portable hospital array.
The handheld devices that use nanodocs are generally referred to as “knitterbeams.” A knitterbeam applies nanodocs under an electrostim field that promotes rapid cell regeneration. Warriors receiving knitterbeam healing in the field need to take extra fluids and electrolyte supplements to ease the tissue strain of accelerated regeneration. Part of the function of knitters is reweaving the biological tissue, but knitters are also able to form stitches to help maintain the flesh integrity. Such knittings dissolve over time. Knitterbeam work does leave scars, however, as nanodoc healing is somewhat of a strain on human cells. Thus, a warrior who receives much field healing will carry visible signs of numerous brushes with death. Of course, many tribals view scars as badges of honor and courage, and so refuse to have any cosmetic repairs after a campaign.
Most power for tribal settlements comes from stil-fusion generators considered antiques by Imperials. Compared to the antimatter chambers and ion flux wells used in the Empire, these tribal generators are old and inefficient. However, they more than fulfill the requirements of the tribal holdfasts. They are reliable, durable, easy to maintain, and relatively portable. Further, due to its isothermal input and low radioactive signature, stil-fusion is far safer and environmentally friendlier than antimatter, as well as more stable than the notoriously twitchy flux wells. The only byproduct of the fusion generators is water, formed by the fusion of plentiful hydrogen and oxygen atoms.
Naturally, the size of the generator controls the potential energy output.
Hyper-efficient photovoltaic cells embedded within solar panels permit tribals to supplement the fusion power plants used by holdfasts and bases. A square meter panel is capable of generating several megawatts of electrical power on a bright sunny day. A network of panels can match the output of a fusion generator under proper conditions.
However, these solar panels are useless at night or in inclement weather systems. On a desert world, they are extremely useful. In the dense jungle undergrowth of Helena Prime, they serve little purpose. Overall, fusion power remains the most efficient generation system.
The Tribes of Man use pulse and motion sensors to detect enemy presence. Critical to tactical planning in any situation, sensors are nevertheless severely limited. Tribal armors and vehicles all include standard ECM packages, such that average sensor effectiveness drops dramatically within several hundred meters. Outside of line-of-sight (LOS), even concentrated pulse sensors can be rendered virtually useless. On the other hand, once within a sensor’s effective range, escaping detection is virtually impossible without powerful jamming equipment. The honor-based culture of the wilderzone has prevented adoption of outright cloaking technology (deeming it dishonorable), though that capability has existed since the Cybrid Wars. Interestingly, one of my contacts in the Blood Eagle, an aspiring duelist who recently left Fury’s service, has hinted that the exiles have quietly begun to incorporate cloaking gear into their inventories. If this is true, we should expect tribal warfare to grow considerably bloodier.
Motion sensors are simple, short-range detection devices using an optical interface and sensitive air pressure triggers. When any object within its detection radius moves, a motion sensor “sees” and tracks that object as long as it remains within range. Many varieties of motion sensors also screen for intruder sound profiles. Some tribes use IR or laser “tripwires” to add an additional layer of protection. Such low-tech strategies are scoffed at by those familiar with the Imperial military, but tribals simply smile in the knowledge that their less-advanced equipment nonetheless continues to serve well.
Pulse sensors blanket almost the entire EM spectrum, from radio waves to gamma rays, in a manner similar to ancient radar. They can be jammed by a technology that utilizes a multi-phased cloaking field to make the shielded object or person invisible to pulse sequences. However, such broad jamming fields require enormous power and can only be maintained for long periods where supported by a dedicated energy source.
All information collected by the sensors in a tribe’s holdfasting is downloaded to a master tactical computer, which in turn relays the data to each warrior’s command circuit, or “Bleed.”
Hyperweb Coherent Antipodal Relay (HCAR or “hypercast”)
Most star systems on the wilderzone Hyperweb have powerful radio transmitters and receivers set up in the vicinity of the jumpgates. Tribal engineers have long known how to squirt dense message pulses through the jumpgates. However, the message must be relayed from transmitter to transmitter. Energy requirements are far lower than with message ships and transit through jumpgates slightly faster than do spindleships. Some star systems are close enough to maintain regular hypercast commlinks and thereby a localized trans-stellar O-Web (with some delays and interference due to jumpgate flux). This is the most common means of trans-stellar communication.
Advantages: Convenient and reliable. Any ship near a jumpgate can send or receive messages with nothing more than basic radio.
- Not private unless heavily encrypted. Any ship near a jumpgate can receive messages.
- Over a longer thread such as an Axis or Grand Axis, Hyperweb flux commonly corrupts part of the signal, causing the message to arrive in varying degrees of gibberish.
- Occurs at substantially the same speed as spaceship travel. Definitely not real-time communication. A message may take minutes to cross the even the shortest threads, and several hours to days for longer threads.
- It needs to be relayed across star systems. If you were to transmit from System A to System B, the message would stop at B unless someone at B retransmits through the B jumpgate to System C.
Quantum-Reed Transcomm (“Q-Reed,” “Q-R,” or “squirt”)
Q-Reed devices make true faster-than-light communication possible with amazing clarity, but this miraculous technology has severe limitations.
Advantages: Convenient and reliable. Real-time communication across any distance up to 5,000 light years.
- Due to a limit enforced by the laws of quantum engineering, a Q-R transcomm can only transmit between units that contain “reeds” grown in the same proto-singularity matrix. Odds are virtually impossible that a randomly encountered Q-R device will link to someone you know. You can alter the resonance of a transcomm to reach unlinked reeds only if you have samples of those reeds present when you begin the relinking process. In so doing, you sever the transcomm from all of its old connections. This process is time-consuming, expensive, and dangerous.
- The hardware is rather bulky and cannot be carried as a hand-held device. The smallest Q-Reeds are about the mass and size of a modern-day car engine block.
- They require substantial amounts of energy to function.
- The heart of a Q-reed system is the quantum resonator “reed,” which is constructed of unstable proto-singularity matter. If subjected to powerful implosive force, the reed will explode and (again due to the strange dictates of quantum engineering) a probability exists that every reed in its matrix chain will likewise detonate.
- Production of transcomms is hideously complex and expensive. The Tribes of Man do not have any capacity for independent production. Consequently, only a few transcomms exist in the wilderzone, virtually all of them owned by the Four. (It’s rumored that the Imperials brought one to Kepler, and that the Children of Phoenix assault was a pretext for capturing the device.) Though they are more frequently encountered in the Empire, they are still uncommon there as well, and are virtually monopolized by the Imperial Military, which uses them in naval tactical coordination.
Basically a Pony Express style of communication wherein messages must travel with ships in order to get to their destinations. A variation of this is the Proxy (or Courier), a person who memorizes the message and transmits it orally. Proxies with brain implants can be conditioned to tune out their messages so they don’t remember what they’ve said or what’s been fed into them until they hear the appropriate codes. See “Johnny Mnemonic,” by William Gibson for the classic example of this kind of courier.
Advantages: Fairly high security possible. Can go anywhere, be concealed in objects, offer full hologram presentation, etc.
Can be intercepted and/or faked. Limited to the speed of Hyperweb travel.
The whirlwind speed of tribal combat has led over the centuries to a small core of weapon varieties becoming the standard loadout on the battlefield. The use of entek-assisted production and craftsmanship means most weapon designs don’t vary significantly from tribe to tribe, although tribes with more technological savvy will make incremental modifications and improvements. The great majority of stock tribal weaponry is effectively the same across the wilderzone, with particular makes prized for durability and quality.
The so-called “weaponsmith” tribes, frequently independents such as the Forge of Hephaestus and the Daughters of Iron, are responsible for the most trade in tribal armaments, particularly in modified versions or improved models. Advanced Imperial weapons occasionally find their way into the wilderzone, but not in numbers sufficient to make a difference in the balance of power among the Tribes of Man. Most of these imports eventually seem to find their way into the hands of the Sabot-Styx weaponsmith bloodline of the Blood Eagle. The Blood Eagle deny accusations of Imperial collusion and also reject rumors of running a bounty price on Imperial gunrunners.
Without exception, tribal weapons are simple, time-tested models that have existed for centuries. The only new twist is the spinfusor, with its gravitically accelerated aerodynamic payload. Most weapons designed for use with armor are heavier and carry a greater payload than hand weapons. Aside from blasters, armor-scale weapons are bulky and unwieldy for an unaugmented user. Neither do these weapons lend themselves well to concealment. Hence, when a distinction must be made, tribals frequently refer to armor-scale firearms as “war” weapons, and call personal sidearms “free” weapons.
Every armor-carried gun includes a T-grav nodule that helps minimize the weapon’s effective mass for purposes of carrying and aiming it. In some cases, warriors set the T-grav node so high that when the warrior drops the weapon, it simply drops to within a half-meter of the ground and floats there. Such use will burn out the T-grav node fairly quickly, so most tribals only use this setting if they believe they will need to come by and pick up an auxiliary weapon quickly and in a short time. The more formalized a tribal conflict, as with the duels or team duels, the more likely such floating weapons are to be found.
Strictly speaking, “blaster” describes any weapon that uses compressed energy to increase damage potential at a cost in muzzle velocity. The tribal war blaster operates by producing a compressed particle charge (which can be analogized -somewhat inaccurately from a physics standpoint, I’m afraid-to ball lightning), and then accelerating that charge to the target. Energy for the war blaster comes from the microfusion paks in a warrior's armor, though light blasters feature self-contained power sources that provide a limited number of shots.
Tribals personalize blasters more frequently than any other weapon. The stock - usually plastic or ceramic but occasionally terawood - is frequently covered with ornate carvings or stencils. Warriors commonly add notches to represent the confirmed kills made with their blasters. Finally, some blasters are given names by their owners. Among the Starwolf, for example, many improbable stories circulate about the famed Great Sergeant Kwinton M’kraken and his trusty blaster “Old Blue.” I am also given to understand that before his death, Ulysses Konovalev was becoming quite well-known for his skill with a richly-engraved blaster given him by his Starwolf mother.
A blaster is traditionally handed down from a parent to a son or daughter at the child’s Rite of Newblooding. Many such weapons have belonged to a particular family for generations, perhaps originally war prizes of a revered ancestor, and are considered valued heirlooms. Most tribes consider the gift of a blaster a symbol of entering adulthood and preparing to join the elders on the battlefield.
A blaster used in conjunction with an armor feeds off a powerlink set in the armor’s gauntlet or vambrace, automatically connecting when a warrior draws the weapon. The powerlink draws energy directly from the armor’s microfusion paks, which permits unlimited ammunition at the expense of armor jet mobility.
Blasters designed to be carried on armors are essentially heavy carbines in the hands of someone not wearing a suit. The grip is a malleable ortho-resin that conforms to the hand and style of the last person who held the weapon.
The plasma gun, or “plascannon,” is a relic of the old Imperial armies, and dates as far back as the fabled Earthsieges. When Those Who Jumped ventured forth into the galaxy, they brought plascannons with them.
This weapon initiates controlled ignition in a “bullet” of compressed hydrogen to create a ball of dense, superheated plasma. The explosion of the surface layers of the hydrogen bullet provides the force to accelerate the plasma charge toward the target. A core of charged particles injected into the center of the bullet keeps the plasma from expanding for a few seconds after exiting the barrel.
Upon impact, the charge explodes and splashes plasma across a radius of three to five meters. This result is extremely effective against a group of targets. Peltasts in particular enjoy the benefits of the plascannon’s firepower when attacking enemy Myrmidons.
For the same reason, the plasma gun also works well indoors, because enclosed space confines the target’s mobility and sometimes concentrates the plasma’s splash damage in a manner similar to a shaped charge effect. As with other explosive weapons, the wielder risks injury or death from her own plasma if she fires at targets too close to her.
The various tribes frequently use colorful nicknames for the plasma gun. The Starwolf call it the “Dragonsbreath.” For the Children of Phoenix, it is the “Firespear.” The Diamond Sword and their allies refer to it as the “Sunfinger.” The Blood Eagle, however, simply call it a plascannon.
Unlike many other weapons, the Plasma gun has few variants. Most tribes will tweak weaponry to their own tastes, but a plasma gun used by the Children of the Phoenix on Priam III features almost exactly the same design as a plasma gun used by the Blood Eagle on Deus Sanguinius, many jumpgates away. Tribal historians believe the tried-and-true plasma gun simply continues to serve its purpose with enough effectiveness to discourage experimentation.
Plasma guns use a standardized canister for reloads, a reinforced bottle attaching with a magnetic-mechanical seal. The canister compresses the plasma supply and is itself constructed sturdily enough to minimize the chance of a stray breach in the field.
Due to its rugged and safety-reinforced construction, the plasma gun is a heavy piece of work. With the enhanced strength granted by most armors, wielding this weapon is little different from waving a blaster.
This weapon has changed little from its “Gattling gun” ancestry some two thousand years earlier. The principle remains the same: multiple barrels spin at high speeds and spit out explosive flechettes at an extremely high rate. The flechettes are propelled via a primitive binary chemical system that nevertheless is supremely efficient. Armor strength augmentation and inertial compensators make recoil a negligible issue.
At close range, the chaingun can chew up all but the most heavily shielded targets in short order. Even an enemy encased in well-shielded Myrmidon armor will fall. The explosive flechettes are similar to bullets but are more aerodynamic and consist of a sharp stahlplast tip set on a two centimeter long shaft of hardened polyvulkanar resin that explodes on impact. The explosion drives the stahlplast tip forward to add to the flechette’s penetration value. A typical flechette hitting an unprotected human in the torso will punch a coin-sized hole through the body while blowing open a hole the size of a dinner plate at the entry point. The rapid onset of multiple small explosions wears down even the toughest armor’s shields surprisingly quickly.
The ammunition clips for the chaingun consist of packets of flechettes. Each clip feeds into the stock of the chaingun behind the grip, and is completely encased within the stock. Each “round” represents approximately five explosive flechettes and two armor-piercing flechettes. The armor-piercing variety use duracore stahlplast tips with secondary propellant for higher penetration velocity. The flechettes of each round tend to hit in a tight cluster with minimal spread against targets within twenty meters of the gunner. Outside of twenty meters, the flechettes spread rapidly and their effectiveness plummets accordingly.
The chaingun is a devastating weapon at what passes for close range in tribal combats. It has many nicknames. The Starwolf refer to it as “Ripfire,” “Deathsong,” or “Eagle-plucker” (along with other, less-savory names along the same lines). The Blood Eagle call it “Shrew” or “Bloodblaster,” and the Children of Phoenix are fond of the name “Havoc.” The Diamond Sword call it “Mother of Fury” when they care to use a nickname. Some scholars I’ve spoken to have some disturbing theories about a possible link to the Blood Eagle sirdar who uses the warnom “Fury.” (Perhaps I’ll relate these in a future report; they’re such absurd speculations that I would be embarrassed to include them in this document.) And the independent tribes also add their nicknames. The Sons of Thunder, for example, seem quite attached to the term “Rolling Thunder” for this weapon. With all these various and sundry nicknames, it’s a wonder anyone here really communicates at all. I personally think it absurd to say something like, “I have to reload my Rolling Thunder.” Sounds like the kind of euphemism I’d expect to hear from a saar-marine on leave in the skinpits of New Caanan.
This weapon is an odd hybrid of magnetic and gravitic acceleration technologies. Most warriors call it the "spinfusor" after the ammunition it fires. It is also called the Stormhammer or by the more archaic spinfusil. Some tribes just call it the disk launcher.
The weapon fires a light, discus-shaped charge (the “spinfusor”) wrapped in a transferro-covilium skin. The explosive is usually a magnetically activated, hypervolatile impact-oxidizer such as Gamma-T or ZJ-90. Once activated, the weapon creates a localized magnetic field that suspends the disk in the ready position and spins it up to a high speed. Without the magnetic field, the disk remains inert. However, with exposure to the spinfield, the ordinance gains its explosive potential, which is apparent in the “inflation” of the disk to a more discus-like shape, and by the flashes of electrical sparks that become visible within the disk itself.
When the trigger is pulled, a gravitic pulse accelerates the disk to subsonic velocity without disturbing the magnetic field of the disk. The disk’s spin then provides a gyro-stabilizing effect such that the disk travels in a straight line to its target in all but the fiercest atmospheric conditions. In addition, the weapon creates a gravity “line” to further stabilize the disk’s vector. This line persists for a moment or two only. Anyone who comes into contact with such a line would feel a slight wrench or push, not enough to deflect a man-sized mass, but perhaps enough to break a warrior’s concentration. The gravitic "direction" imparted to the disk also forces it to travel at a constant speed. In flight, the transferro-covilium skin of the disk superheats and ablates, giving the ordinance its familiar light-blue trail. The disk alone is capable of beheading a warrior in light armor even if the explosive somehow malfunctions (a very rare event). The gravitic pulse also triggers the loading of the next disk from the magazine.
In the current model of the spinfusor, a very short delay occurs between the time of pulling the trigger and acceleration of the disk. Removal of the kinetic dampers eliminates this delay, but dramatically increases the risk of the magnetic field collapsing and detonating the weapon’s entire payload. Consequently, warriors accept a lower rate of fire as an unalterable feature of this weapon.
Outside of the mortar, this weapon produces the greatest splash damage (over five meters’ diameter) of all the traditional tribal weapons. Given the highly mobile nature of tribal warfare, this explosive damage effectively increases weapon accuracy, since even a near-miss can be sufficient to disable or kill a target. It should be noted that the explosion is thermal and concussive, but that the disk disintegrates completely without producing any shrapnel.
Standard ordinance for a spinfusor - one disk -- weighs about half a kilo. Lighter and heavier ammunition is available to achieve longer range or greater splash damage, but the standard loadout remains the most popular. A typical spinfusor magazine sits on top of the weapon and feeds the disk into the launch position, each disk is flat and takes up relatively little space until it has been magnetically charged. The gelid blue color remains dull until the disk enters the magnetic field, at which time the disk takes on its luminous blue, electrically-charged appearance. The weapon’s greatest disadvantage is the low magazine capacity, since only fifteen disks can be carried at any one time.
One of the most primitive ranged weapons still in use, the mechanics for this weapon are simple: a chemical charge propels an explosive device. The smoking residue of the powder gives the ordinance its familiar white smoke trail upon ejection from the chamber. The explosive operates on a timed fuse of approximately three seconds, normally bouncing once or twice before exploding. Unlike spinfusor or mortar rounds, grenades are typically designed to fragment and thereby produce shrapnel.
Tribal warriors favor the grenade launcher because it is simple, cheap, and provides indirect fire capability. The Empire is rumored to use micronuclear grenades with integral antigravity drivers and target-seeking capability, but even if these tales are true, the expense would be far more than the simple, tried-and-true tribal version of the weapon.
The laser rifle has by far the longest range of any weapon of the tribal infantry arsenals and is accurate to a range of several kilometers. It is also known as a sniper rifle or longrifle. It works best when combined with an armor’s built-in optiks for targeting across substantial distances.
I heard a ludicrous story about the Diamond Sword having invented this weapon-as if we haven’t had laser rifles in the Empire for over a thousand years! The Diamond Sword originally produced the popular Artemis model of this weapon, but the weapon itself has a long history that predates the appearance of the tribes themselves. Still, the current exaggeration is consistent with the tribals’ love of heroic myth. I don’t think anyone actually believes the story, but they all speak of it as though it were fact. The truth is, the Diamond Sword made extremely effective use of snipers when they appeared in the wilderzone, so much so that the tribals probably invented this yarn to explain the sworders’ prowess. And like so many other apocryphal parts of tribal history, folklore evolved into accepted facts. Our historians have quite the knot to untangle out here, to say nothing of intelligence services.
The longrifle requires a great deal of energy to use and will rapidly drain the normal energy cell of an armor. Consequently, only with the augmentation of an energy pack can a warrior fire this weapon and retain use of the armor jets.
Only tribals wearing light armor can use longrifles. The reasons are simple. First, the longrifle is a relatively delicate mechanism by tribal standards, easily disabled by powerful concussions. Heavy and medium armors typically lack sufficient mobility to avoid battlefield explosions to the degree required to keep a longrifle safely functional. Second, tribal armors have incorporated, over time, specific secondary powerfeed requirements for the longrifle that have been integrated into light armor design schemes, but not in the larger armor classes. Since the longrifle requires more immediate energy than any other tribal weapon, the need for a dedicated channel from the armor’s energy pack is crucial. Finally, the designs of the medium and heavy armors do not typically permit the range of motion optimal for use of a longrifle. Still, I am told that every so often, some renegade tries to use a longrifle with a modified myrmidon armor. The amusing results of these attempts at innovation provide tribal warriors with grim jokes they are fond of telling to lighten the mood during dropship assault runs. The expression “like Artemis with a slug” means two things that just don’t go together, something utterly ineffective or idiotic.
Continuing my anecdotal departure, Danli, I’ve heard this weapon is well-balanced and a pleasure to use. As with the blaster, the typical longrifle features extensive terawood use in its stock, though less ostentatious ornamentation. Tribal snipers are quite fond of their weapons and are fond of giving them names.
The Electron Flux Gun, or ELF Gun, has undergone a great deal of change from its origins as a powerful Herc-mounted weapon. Military historians remember the dagger-shaped Electron Flux Whip discharging blasts of controlled lightning at a target. The original ELFs were definite energy hogs, but ones capable of knocking down shielded targets quickly.
A handheld version of this weapon was produced as early as 2734, although it never made it past the prototype phase of testing. For centuries, attempts to miniaturize the ELF failed for two reasons: the enormous power requirements and the excessive amount of shielding required to prevent the injury or death of the shooter.
Sometime before the Sixth Firetruce, a workable variant began to see use on the battlefield. The old weapon was essentially “lightning in a bottle,” a massive, barely-controlled electrical discharge. This new version was more of a finesse device; creating a resonance effect. When fired, the ELF bathed the target in a wide emission of electromagnetic energy. A microcomputer in the weapon analyzes the feedback from the initial burst and shifts the next discharge to a resonating frequency. This process takes only milliseconds and is ongoing.
Against a shielded target, the effect apes the use of sound to shatter a glass. The target’s shields will falter, then fail. Against another tribal, the resonance effect not only knocks down powered armor shields, but causes an energy drain that renders the armor jets and energy-dependent weaponry useless.
This functionality comes at a price. The ELF Gun has only a very short range, and does not cause immediate damage to an armored and shielded target. The sensation of being hit by an ELF has been described as “like putting a battery to your tongue, but with your whole body being one big tongue.” Painful but not excruciating, the ELF can produce fatal results if directed at a person long enough, generally around eight to twelve seconds. It does so by draining armor energy and then causing the unshielded human target to go into cardiac arrest. Some electrically insulating armors have managed to blunt this effect, but the supplementary insulation adversely affects armor performance in other ways.
I’ve heard reports that this weapon is commonly used as an interrogation tool. Evidently with a little ion-gel rubbed on extremities, the pain of a low-level ELF discharge is enough to crack all but the strongest wills.
Most of the tribals I interviewed regarded this weapon with distaste. They acknowledged its place on the battlefield on disabling enemy turrets, but few were eager to carry one. “It’s as accurate as a bull with a blindfold,” one wag told me. Still another warrior told me the ELF was his favorite weapon in close quarters.
The Scorpion turret mounts a larger version of this weapon. This variant is far more powerful and inflicts greater damage but does not drain energy as rapidly, and can be considered a close “cousin” of the original ELF, essentially a lightning whip.
This particular weapon evolved from a Herc-mounted weapon developed in the post-Starsiege era. The Hellstar Vehicle Mortar (HVM) appeared on Hercs from approximately 2900 to 3300, primarily the Talon Mk. III, Skullsplitter, and Perdition-class Hercs. In the corporate wars of the 33rd century, the Unitech Giant-class Herc also incorporated a version of this weapon.
When the Blood Eagle first moved into the wilderzone, they brought Hercs and related equipment with them. Against the lightly-armored tribesmen, the mortar-equipped Hercs proved extremely effective. Years passed, however, and the Hercs broke down far from the supply lines of the Empire. Lacking the Herc platform to carry it, the Blood Eagle discontinued use of the mortar.
Once the Blood Eagle adopted the powered armors of the tribes, they revisited the weapons they have used on Hercs to see what they could modify for their use. The Hercules mortar was one such weapon, miniaturized and re-engineered for use with powered armor. It rapidly became one of the most feared weapons in the wilderzone. Nothing else in the tribal arsenals has the capacity to deal as much damage.
The weapon works like the grenade launcher, but on a much larger scale. The propellant is far stronger than ordinary chem propellants, making use of a surprisingly stable mix of hypervolatile compounds. A large percentage of cuprous oxides present in the mixture gives mortar shell smoke trails their characteristic green color.
With a thermal splash radius of ten meters, this weapon is capable of clearing a room, destroying heavy equipment with a single shot, or scattering a group of enemy warriors like rag dolls. Warriors equipped with mortars can rain destruction upon an enemy base from a reasonably safe distance. Most mortar round do not incorporate a shrapnel design, as the effectiveness of shrapnel against armor shields is minimal.
Some veteran tribal warriors have mastered the skill of “mortar jumping.” This action involves the warrior firing a shell at her feet and letting the blast carry her over a significantly greater distance than use of the armor jets alone would permit. It sounds suicidal, I know, but such is the kind of bravery one finds among the barbarians. It is a typical example of how the tribals find new uses with their core of admittedly unsophisticated technologies.
Given the mortar’s unmodulated weight of almost one metric ton and the weight of its ammunition, only the heavy Myrmidon class armor possesses the capacity of lifting this weapon (even with T-grav nodes reducing the mortar’s effective mass).
Not a true weapon, of course, the targeting laser operates as a simple rangefinder. Linked with the armor computers of other tribesmen, it enables the bearer to “paint” a target for his companions who carry mortars or grenade launchers. The tribes who coordinate best between laser spotters and mortar bombardiers clearly enjoy significantly more success than less-disciplined tribes. According to my Sons of Thunder friends, many warriors disdain use of targeting lasers for reasons of pride, and choose instead to seek personal glory.
Most tribal combat waged in earnest involves solely the use of firearms. However, my tribal sources say that though less common, melee weapons do have a place in tribal combat. Such weapons include swords, axes, flails, whips, staffs, and any other implement that necessitates the user being at close range to the target in order to deal damage. These are effective because they do not carry sufficient kinetic energy to exceed the threshold of the armor shields (save when the weapon uses pak or battery-powered energy in some manner). Hence, melee weapons essentially bypass shields and attack armor directly. When driven by the augmented strength of tribal armor, a sword or axe can pose as severe a threat to a tribal warrior as a chaingun.
Swords, Knives, Katars, and Tetrahooks
Though tales of rocket-assisted warhammers and blaster maces are quite common in the mouths of tribal storytellers, the most common melee weapons having relevance on the battlefield are of the bladed variety. Since tribal armor shields do not protect against the far more slowly-delivered impact of these weapons, tribal warriors occasionally do bring various melee sidearms to war.
Most commonly found are swords of various types. The Gehenna Sharks were known to use a wickedly serrated blade made of splint-etched memory metal. Upon penetrating to flesh, the sword would essentially release a jagged piece into the wound, an effect often more devastating by the tribe’s frequent use of poison.
Monomolecular-edged swords and knives are also used, but although these are devastating against unprotected targets, they yield far less effective results against tribal armor. The diamond-coating and ultradurable carapace of an armor quickly blunt monomolecular edges and can stop all but the most determined blows, unless those blows find an exposed point in the protection. Joints and areas lacking armor covering are the best targets for such blades.
Many swords have a hollow core partly filled with a heavy liquid metal such as mercury. Such a feature adds to the sword’s momentum during a swing by shifting the balance from the hilt toward the point.
Katars, or punch-daggers, are surprisingly effective in armored close combat, though they offer no overwhelming advantages over regular combat knives. They are especially favored by the Blood Eagle.
I found a tetrahook in a bazaar in Bira Marduk and had the opportunity to see its use demonstrated by a streetfighter against a melon. The tetrahook is a curious and disturbing weapon mostly used in unarmored tribal duels. It consists of a grip sprouting four (sometimes three) curved and barbed - often serrated - blades at cross angles, much like a monstrous dragon’s claw (which is, incidentally, the nickname of this instrument). One holds it as one would hold a cross-shape gripped by the hub. A tetrahook is designed to collapse into a flat plane for sheathing. When ready to use it, one triggers a spring-loaded or memory-metal mechanism that snaps the four blades open to their ready positions. Some tetrahooks have backward curving or forked blades, and some have hollow channels for injecting poison into wounds. Some variations are strapped around a wrist rather than gripped, but my sources say the handheld version is far more effective in practice. Either way, the tetrahook is an intimidating weapon. I gathered from the demonstration that tetrahook duels are extremely bloody affairs, wherein the users try to close so they can punch the barbed hooks into each others’ vitals or hook flesh so as to manipulate the victim with pain. Tetrahooks also make excellent parrying weapons.
Curiously, the Children of Phoenix are the most frequent users of tetrahooks. The Blood Eagle apparently consider them too flamboyant, though the Halakar bloodline of Bira Marduk encourages use of the weapons in streetfighting contests. A thought strikes me as I write this, Danli; perhaps the Blood Eagle see tetrahooks more as recreational toys than true weapons. Chilling, if true.
Fluxtorches are an example of simple tribal technology that nonetheless works well despite its lack of sophistication. A fluxtorch is nothing more than a plasma torch partly contained in a magnetic bottle. The magnetic containment only channels the plasma into a rough cylinder-shaped “blade,” something like a hose channels water. The tip of a fluxtorch is a spreading flare of plasma, which dissipates quickly enough but still produces tremendous heat. The weapon has been likened to a flame-thrower waved around like a sword, with plasma vapor trailing in the arc of the swing. It can by no means be considered a “finesse” weapon. My understanding is that using it without the protection of armor is tantamount to suicide. The plasma is at least as bright as burning magnesium, such that an observer lacking optical filters will be temporarily blinded.
The plasma is hot enough to do substantial damage through shields and armor, but it also splashes considerably, so the wielder must take care not to injure himself by holding the weapon against the target for too long. The fluxtorch’s blade measures approximately one to two meters in length and holds enough plasma for two minutes of continuous use. Unless the materials in the hilt are rather more advanced than the usual tribal alloys, the chance of the weapon malfunctioning in prolonged use rises substantially.
Such a volatile weapon holds other dangers. Nabterayl told me a story of a Child of Phoenix who attacked a Starwolf in heavy armor with a fluxtorch, only to have the warrior grapple unexpectedly and turn the fluxtorch against him, burning his arm off and cooking his chest badly enough to cause internal damage. The Child of Phoenix killed the Starwolf by slapping a mine on him and jetting out of the explosion range, only to perish shortly thereafter from the fluxtorch’s horrific burns.
These tribal warriors may be unsophisticated, Danli, but if Nabterayl’s story is true, they appear all the deadlier because of it.
Choices of the Four The Great Four Tribes, as the barbarians refer to the four dominant tribes of the wilderzone, display markedly different preferences in their selection of melee weapons. Some, such as the Blood Eagle, retain such weapons for ceremonial occasions, whereas others such as the Diamond Sword appear to invest great spiritual significance in their blades.
The Diamond Sword, unsurprisingly, favor a long hand-and-a-half sword of duracore parasteel. My suspicion is that many, if not most, of these weapons were brought from Imperial space, since nothing I have seen indicates tribal weaponsmiths are capable of producing DPS. Be that as it may, surodoi of the Diamond Sword always appear with a sword while out of tribal armor, and only surrender them in rare circumstances, such as at a parley or a tea ceremony. Many of the unit and rank names appear to connect to the tribal sword theme. Clearly, swords have great psychological weight for this tribe. The variety of swords varies greatly, with some following the styles of ancient Nippon and others drawing from a host of European and Near Asian influences. You are just as likely to see a member of the Diamond Sword carrying a claidh mor as a tachi. I am told a gathering of surodoi is an impressive display of antique martialry. Remind me to tell you sometime of the curious stories I have heard regarding the origins of this enigmatic tribe.
Displaying typical ingenuity, the Starwolf are fond of using a modified halberd that incorporates inertial enhancers to increase the effective mass-energy of the weapon’s impact. Other Starwolf melee weapons focus more on hunting purposes than outright combat. Depending on the prey sought, however, certain of these items are just as effective on the battlefield. “Skytrops,” for example, are small spiked balls containing a small gravitic motor that allows them to be thrown over a far greater distance than the powered armor would ordinarily permit. They can be modified to home in on an armor’s shield signature so that their flight paths curve toward the target. Many skytrops are coated with drugs or toxins, while others are timed to explode on contact with a target. The latter have the force of a microgrenade, but can be geared to produce an electron flux pulse that weakens the target’s shields for an instant. The Starwolf have also been known to utilize rocket-driven spears and magnetically-adhesive alloy nets.
The Children of Phoenix prefer explosive-tipped javelins and fluxtorches. Part of this choice may be traced to the tribe’s thematic obsession with fire, but undeniably Phoenix warriors are considered the most effective of melee fighters, even more so than the Diamond Sword. Some Children mount sharp blades on their vambraces and greaves, so that in close combat they have the opportunity to strike at their opponents without having to draw a blade. Despite their insistence on unity and their efforts to appear cultured and regally sophisticated, there is a brutal side to this tribe that causes me much puzzlement and unease.
Many Blood Eagle use a wickedly barbed katar, or punch-dagger. Some of these weapons feature a small laser engineered to fire from the hilt down alongside the center of the blade. In duels, the Blood Eagle use taloned gloves and swords, but almost never bring them into line combat. The typical Blood Eagle blade - if it is not a katar -- is curved after the Arabic styles of Old Earth. Indeed, sharp blades hold great significance for this ex-Imperial tribe, as you might imagine from all the horrible stories. One of the enlisted ranks is even named after a knife, and one of their officer ranks literally means “Knife-Captain.” Of course, the Blood Eagle talent with knives is well-known in the wilderzone, Danli, well-known and feared.
Imperial adventure sims set in the wilderzone frequently portray the Tribes of Man as savages in garishly-painted armors adorned with spikes, hologram tabards, and fur cloaks. Those zeit-visioneurs who know better engineer a more realistic perspective, but even they are prone to fanciful flights. The one thing all depictions of the wilderzone share is the presence of powered armor. Even though perhaps only ten percent of the population at most even has the training necessary to use powered armor, the overwhelming stereotype in the Empire is that all tribals wear shells.
It is a stereotype we in the Empire should not let cloud our thinking. Though they have many strange customs, a brazen independence, and a penchant for tremendous violence, the Tribes of Man are not primitives. At the same time, there is a paradoxical truth in the popular misconception. Tribal warriors are trained to be deadly in and out of their suits, but by far the most significant combat unit in the wilderzone is the warrior in powered armor. When a tribal speaks of going to battle, she means in her hard-shell. Though tribal warfare can involve frequent switching of armors to accommodate shifting tactical needs, most tribal warriors keep a personal armor, to which they can become quite attached. The more “professional” tribes such as the Blood Eagle or the Stormguard do not form such emotional bonds.
Armors are technically called “scarabs,” from SCARAB, which in turn is said to stand for Servo-Coordinated Armor with Refluxed-Agility Boost. However, I understand this term could also refer to powered armor’s origins as a primitive form of exo-suit used by ancient colonists on the planet Venus in Sol system during the Cybrid wars. Despite its antiquity, few tribals use “scarab” in common parlance, simply calling the gear “armor, “hard-shell,” “shell,” or simply “suit.” There are indications that some more traditional tribes have lately taken to calling their armors scarabs once again-this practice is particularly noticeable in the radical faction of the Children of Phoenix: the Harbingers. (I’ll speak more of this group in a future report, but I warn you now that they are a frightening source of discord in the wilderzone, and I fear they are gaining influence.)
Armors are primarily composed of a layer of titanium-cerapolymer alloy fused over shaped plates of honeycombed semiflexible stahlplast. The stahlplast contains a dense ablative gel that provides a secondary defense against thermal penetration. Finally, a soft orthoderm padding cushions the wearer. Each suit features mechanisms that open and close the suit on the user’s command. A further automatic contraction-expansion capability in the frame allows the armor to alter its fit to accommodate the wearer, though this capability is somewhat limited.
Basic armor grants the wearer augmented strength, a protective shield aura, and enhanced mobility. The outer shell is quite resilient, and even without shields, an armor provides tremendous protection against physical attacks. The firepower of most modern weapons, however, means that unless a warrior wears a myrmidon, unshielded armor does not stand up to a well-armed foe. All armors receive a peren-diamond varnish that greatly enhances armor longevity by increasing resistance to environmental conditions, general wear and tear, dirt, dust, and the effects of heat and cold.
Modern tribal armor incorporates many components we may find somewhat unsophisticated, but the design has been refined through ages of near-constant conflict, and the current result serves its purposes admirably. As with the weapons, however, the tribal philosophy is that the armor does not make the warrior; it is merely a tool that becomes effective only when used by a well-trained soldier.
Gross maneuvering in armor-running, using weapons, lifting, throwing-is accomplished via normal movement. In these cases, the wearer moves body, arms, and legs normally, and the armor amplifies that movement, adding strength and speed as needed up to the limits of the armor’s safe augmentation rating. A sophisticated neural link detects and implements the desired range of effect, in effect determining whether a warrior intends her grip to hold a teacup or crush steel and bone.
The neural-interface biofeedback system also regulates auxiliary armor functions such as the command circuit, optiks, and the armor jets. The interface uses a mix of direct neural impulse (DNI), pre-configured macromaneuvers (“macros”), and other biofeedback from the user. For safety reasons, most armor functions require a dual-phase trigger to access a function, such as (1) thumb-touching-index-finger in conjunction with (2) a squint. An analogy can be made to ancient computer commands featuring such quaint “keystrokes” as Control-Alt-Delete. A tribal is trained extensively until she can use all her armor’s features reflexively, from the vision-enhancing optiks to the famous jets.
Upon donning armor, a brief period is required for the neural interface to establish itself. Warriors have described the sensation of neural synchronization as a prickling across the skin.
Armor optical systems are called “optiks.” They include integral flash protection, binocular zoom, low light, and a Heads-Up Display that tracks energy use, weapon status, waypoints, and targeting. The system operates via a close-neural induction link that paints the display directly onto the cornea using microlasers in the armor’s headgear. However, optical magnification and the other vision-enhancing features are enabled by the armor’s visor. Typical visors include a mutable opticrys layer hardened with an outer layer of peren-diamond and an internal lattice of metaplas nanofilaments. I know, Danli. It’s surprisingly crude, but I am informed it is very reliable and effective despite the inelegant, hybrid nature of the technology.
Given a little time, a warrior can adjust his or her optiks to unusual battlefield circumstances. However this kind of action must be taken when the warrior is out of the line of fire. To try to make such adjustments in the heat of battle is suicide, I am told. An armor’s on-board pulse sensors allow the warrior to navigate and select targets even in utterly dark environments.
Command and control tactical communication is accomplished via a linked encrypted radio circuit among the members of a squad. This feature is called the “command circuit” or (again in typical tribal parlance) “the Bleed.” The command circuit, abbreviated “CC,” enables a commanding officer to coordinate the actions of her squad, by setting waypoints, issuing orders, and providing other tactical direction as needed.
The tribals customarily maintain a sub-channel as a “public” frequency. Any tribal who patches into it can communicate with any other tribal within range-even the enemy. Nicknamed the “patch” or the “underbleed,” this integrated radio channel is commonly used for taunts, challenges, and sometimes negotiations. It is an optional channel, and most tribals find it sufficiently annoying that they simply keep it mute.
Even light armor grants the wearer several times the effective strength of an unarmored human, whereas the heavy myrmidons have been described as miniature Hercs (a rather obvious example of dramatic exaggeration). Practically speaking, lifting strength of a light armor is approximately five times that of a man of average fitness in his prime. A medium is perhaps thirty percent more, and a heavy is easily twice the strength of a light. In conjunction with T-grav nodes in the weapon stocks, the armor allows a single individual to carry more firepower than an infantry platoon of the Cybrid wars.
The microservo network enhances all tactically relevant muscle motion, including the hands, oblique abdominals, and rotator cuffs as well as the more obvious gross limb movements. Flexor expansion-contraction sequences are keyed to the armor’s neural link such that augmentation activates in proportion to a warrior’s perceived need. Thus, an armored warrior can crush a human skull as easily as she can pick up an egg.
The design restricts an armor’s servo output to levels the human body can tolerate, though some stories tell of warriors overriding their armors’ limits to accomplish feats of speed and prowess considered quite improbable in real life armor use. Again, the popularity of these “tales of battle” is a common thread whenever one discusses military subjects in tribal space. There have been some documented cases of warriors who ripped their joints apart and caused serious permanent injuries by overriding the safety parameters of their armors’ performance. In the popular “Renegades” vid series (to which I shamefully admit my addiction), the heroes continually ignore their armors’ limitations to perform completely superhuman feats. Remind me to send you an episode sometime. You’ll get a kick out of the tacnuke machine guns.
Tribal armor shields are based on the same technology used during the Cybrid Wars and still used by the Imperial military today. The standard military paradigm of the last fourteen centuries still applies: Take down shields first, then armor.
Shield generators apply non-Newtonian fluid field harmonics to create a protective barrier of phased electromagnetic energy capable of deflecting high-energy attacks. I don’t pretend to understand the specific details of the physics involved, but I hope to summarize sufficiently for any reader not versed in the science. In this non-Newtonian model, the barrier’s resistance increases with a magnitude inversely proportional to the amount of thermal, electromagnetic, or kinetic energy exerted at the point of impact. The practical threshold for triggering the shield’s resistance is high enough that hand weapons and fists may pass unhindered through shields, but bullets or lasers will not. However, shields weaken quickly under sustained fire or a sufficiently powerful attack, since the actual resistance consumes enormous amounts of energy, often more than the power source can provide in a short amount of time. The shields are not one hundred percent efficient; some energy does bleed through to armor. Shields are more effective with kinetic energy than with thermal or electromagnetic attacks, hence the diminished role of non-explosive ballistic weapons over the last millennium. When resistance is not triggered, the ambient field does requires only a small amount of energy.
A tribal armor carries approximately a half-dozen shield nodes, usually one per limb and two to four on the torso and head, but configurations vary, depending on the designers’ decisions regarding concentration of maximal shield strength. Approximately three centimeters in diameter apiece, the nodes create a force field aura around the wearer. Normally invisible, shields become visible when sufficient excess energy from an attack is reflected outward from the armor as light and low level gamma radiation. Tribal engineers skirt the energy drain issue by linking each node to an independent capacitor that provides power independent of the onboard energy cells. As capacitors burn out, shield protection drops.
Typically, a shield node burns out when an attack (or aggregate attack) exceeds the node’s energy dissipation threshold. As node capacitors overload and burn out, the armor’s shield protection decreases. Secondary damage (that is, damage that penetrates the shield aura) reaches the warrior consistently when the shields reach fifty percent, but the armor typically absorbs such a “damage bleed” quite well. As the shields fade toward zero integrity, the armor takes progressively more of the role of protection until it is all that keeps the warrior from death. When a damaged armor is repaired by nanites, the repairing unit transfers energy from its own source to replenish the energy in the capacitors. In some cases, tribal warriors can rig a refresh from their own energy cells, but they only do so under dire circumstances, as the procedure is a tricky one. The basic concern is that a link between a microfusion cell and the shield nodes risks a feedback surge that could disrupt or destroy the power cell itself.
As stated above, shields have a minimum energy limit that must be reached before the fluid field resistance activates. Lower energy attacks, such as those imparted by most melee weapons, do not trigger shield deflection. Hence, knives and other hand weapons can actually be used on the battlefield, though they must contend with the armor itself. Typically, the highly mobile nature of tribal battle mitigates against widespread use of melee weapons. In confined spaces and the hands of a highly-skilled blademaster, however, a sword can prove devastatingly effective.
The tribes have engineered an interesting feature into the shield nodes. Each node generates a field “bottle” that envelopes the entire armor to a thickness of two to three centimeters; the node but also concentrates protection for a half meter around itself. The overlap and the concentration combine to provide a layered aura that maximizes defensive potential. However, the true innovation comes in the tribal manipulation of the shield bottle’s shape. The tribals have succeeded in having the bottle deform so as to partly cover weapons that normally would project from the aura. This deformation occurs automatically for all standard tribal firearms. The bottle stops short of covering the mouth of the weapon, such that the weapon is not plugged by a shield overlapping the tip of the muzzle. For non-standard weapons, a warrior can simply cancel the bottle extension. When the extension is dropped, the shield aura does not cover a melee weapon, but conforms to the surface of the armor.
Some tribes, such as the Children of Phoenix, wear partial armor that exposes portions of the bare skin. The rationale behind this behavior is rooted in the wilderzone’s honor-based culture combined with the Children’s peculiar elitism. They seem to believe they are so superior to other tribes that they can expose their vulnerable flesh and still prevail. Consequently, Phoenix warriors rely enormously on their own agility to keep them from harm, fully aware that most of their protection comes from the shields-unless they happen to be wearing Myrmidon-class armor. However, as the flames of the Eagle-Wolf War spread, most tribals - even those of the Phoenix - have begun to increase the secondary protection of armor once again. Thus, the tribal stereotypes may be even less accurate in future, as half-naked barbarian warriors vanish from the wilderzone’s battlefields altogether.
Armors offer wearers the ability to function in otherwise inhospitable environments. Built-in heating and cooling units enable the wearer to operate in extremes of nearly -50C to over 45C. The armor’s shielding units will also protect the wearer from excessive radioactivity that would otherwise be fatal, and environmental filters can screen out harmful toxins. The shield aura also provides protection against high pressure environments, but this capability is subject to shield degradation. Recently, many tribes have begun to produce sealed armors that can function as EVA suits in the cold and airless environment of space. I understand most Myrmidons already had this capacity, but now the lighter armors are being sealed as well.
A microfusion energy cell powers all armors. It is located in the back section of the torso, and is quite a heavy component due to the ultradense medium required for stil-fusion operation. The cell enables the armor’s wearer to use the jets, keep shields online, and power energy-based weapons and packs. It has a limited maximum output per second, although for all practical purposes the energy it generates is unlimited. The need to manage available energy forms the primary foundation of tribal tactics and armor skill.
The armor’s heads-up display (HUD) monitors the level of energy reserves available. When energy reserves dip to a certain level, all nonessential functions of the armor automatically deactivate and the cell begins its brief recharge sequence. Essential functions-which include shields, life support, the command circuit, and strength augmentation-are always maintained, otherwise the armor’s utility would drop dramatically. The first priority of the armor is to keep the wearer alive and unharmed.
Armor also includes a certain amount of backup energy storage capacity, but the battery alone won’t last long. Without the microfusion cell, backup on most armors lasts for less than five minutes if the warrior sustains use of jets and armor-powered energy weapons. With judicious jet use, a warrior can stay operational for over an hour on battery power alone. Warriors typically keep a set of small tools in an armor compartment that can be used to remove and replace a microfusion cell from another armor, but this is a tedious and time-consuming operation. Mobile turrets and other deployed items that use microfusion are easier options. The tools can also be used to jury-rig a battery recharge from another armor or deployable device, which enables a warrior to continue operation as long as she has access to helpful squadmates or other convenient power sources. Nabterayl calls this practice “leeching.”
Jets and Gravitics
The name “jets” is a misnomer. In actuality, the famed tribal armor jets are powerful ion thrusters paired with a gravitic subsystem that permits limited flight “jumps.” The ion jets port from exhaust points located on the lower back of the Peltast and Hoplite armors and in the heels of the Myrmidon armor. The gravitics include stabilizers that enable the armor’s wearer to remain oriented and upright during flight. The DNI interface allows a warrior’s physical reflexes to play a role in the speed and agility of jet use.
A biofeedback trigger activates the jets. The location and nature of the particular trigger depends on the warrior’s preference, but this is one area in particular that relies on the DNI component of the interface more than phased-sequence macromaneuvers. Once triggered, the armor jets provide thrust until the trigger is “released,” at which time the jets deactivate and begin recharging. Cutting thrust is a flight maneuver that has saved the life of many a warrior with a sudden altitude drop to throw off an enemy’s aim.
As with many tribal engineering choices, redundancy and durability is prized. It is extremely rare for an armor’s jets to be disabled. However, the jets default to an inactive state if the energy reserve falls to below eight percent.
Acclimating to gravity differences between worlds can cause warriors to make mistakes on entering battle on a new world. Typically, faux-grav settings on D-ships are adjusted to allow the warriors to adjust their weapons and armor according to the target world’s parameters. An armor’s onboard gravitic systems incorporate an adjustment capability keyed to a reading of the local gravity. The armor’s performance is then adjusted to account for the gravimetric reading. If the warrior wishes, he can override the system to remain at the same operating level. However, HUD targeting, ground agility, and jetting range can be severely affected by a change in gravity. On lighter worlds, warriors make few adjustments or throttle back jet output to conserve energy. On heavier worlds, the tendency is to increase the power output to keep agility and targeting performance within standard parameters.
Jet components are fairly modular and can be moved from armor to armor relatively easily. Over a recent dinner, Sub-Consul Margales St. Quebocher offered a rather hilarious story she’d heard about a Starwolf prankster who fitted jets to some cows and flew the poor beasts around his holdfast using a remote control. (Remind me to tell it to you in person when next we meet. It’s even funnier with the facial expressions St. Quebocher used.)
This device is seldom featured in the entertainment sims, but it represents a crucial component of tribal armor. The warharness holds the unused firearms on the armor and allows a warrior to swap between weapons swiftly. Simple warharnesses are little more than woven metaplas and alphasilk combat webs with attachment points for grenades, weapons, mines, and the like. They typically have mechanisms that release the weapon quickly upon the wearer grabbing and pulling the desired object. More advanced versions of this web contain interface-integrated microservos (IIM) so as to hold weapons automatically upon command, and to shift so that the desired weapon is easy to reach.
The most advanced warharnesses-which are quite rare-are composed of nothing more than a layer of nanites incorporated onto the armor’s torso. These nanites are programmed to hold weapons and make them available to the user upon command. Hence, the weapons of a warrior possessing such a warharness simply “stick” to her back until needed for use. When the warrior wants to draw a weapon, she simply reaches for it, perhaps triggering the request with a quick macro such as by tapping first her fist and then her middle finger on her breastplate. The selected weapon then swiftly slides along the armor’s surface so that the grip slides into the warrior’s waiting hand. When the warrior closes her hand, the warharness releases the weapon. Needless to say, this feature is heavily customized. The Blood Eagle possess the greatest number of this type of warharness.
Armors also have standard belt attachments for holding grenades, flares, medkits, and the like. Blasters are light enough to be slung from the hip, despite their size being close to that of a carbine. For holding more or heavier weapons, however, a warrior must use a warharness.
The Grievers and some indie tribes sometimes use a spidery mechanical variation of the warharness, but these jury-rigged devices are prone to malfunction or damage in the field and have not found acceptance among the Four.
Donning and Removing Armor
Tribal armor looks heavy and cumbersome, but in fact it is extremely collapsible when not being worn and weighs far less than it appears to. Peltast armors can be carried in a duffel bag or small suitcase. A Hoplite can only be carried in a duffel, and is somewhat awkward to maneuver easily. A small person could not carry it without the help of a T-grav porterclip. Myrmidon-class armor is definitely too heavy to be carried by one person without assistance.
As I mentioned earlier, all tribal armors include microservos and memory-plates that open and close the armor along designated seams. A person simply steps into Hoplite or Myrmidon armor and it seals up around her. A Peltast is usually donned one piece at a time after decollapsing it, as though it were normal garb. Nanoseals close the seams tightly and only open to a sequence of touch commands, though these can be activated by the wearer very quickly if necessary. The armor’s fit is typically snug to allow for the best somatic feedback, but light clothes can be worn without reducing the control efficiency to wholly impractical levels.
An armor’s headgear will automatically bind back the warrior’s hair (if any) so as not to interfere with control systems. As the neural interface synchronizes, the wearer will feel a minute twitch from the armor’s servos as they run through a brief test sequence. Then the warrior’s vision will blur momentarily as the optiks come online. As with standard Imperial HUDs, microlasers paint the data displays directly onto the wearer’s eyes.
Despite the many innovations and clever workarounds tribal engineers have worked into armor designs, they cannot escape the need for maintenance. However, many armor systems are modular enough to encourage easy replacement. Entek repari baths make much basic maintenance relatively painless. However, entek only deals with physical aspects such as microservo arrays, armor plating, seals, and gross component integrity. Checking operational efficiency of complex subsystems such as sensors, the command circuit, the DNI, onboard computers, and shield aura gestalt-overlaps requires a human technician. In addition, field repairs from entek repair kits do not return damaged components to a pristine condition. The reparis frequently leave stress fractures and may have reduced the strength or integrity of other components from which the material was drawn for repairs. Moreover, inevitable armor variants mean the reparis may not be programmed with the specifics of a particular armor, and so the repairs may leave the armor prone to breakdown or malfunction if follow-up maintenance is not performed. Finally, although the armors are designed internally with null-friction materials at joints and moving parts, some lubricants are necessary. Reparis are known for poor repair of such junctures.
Rule-of-thumb optimal maintenance requires one man-hour of troubleshooting and service per three hours of operation in the field under combat conditions or in unusually taxing environments. While this time seems unusually low by Imperial standards, one must remember that tribal systems are far less complex than standard Imperial military equipment, though I understand our saar-marines now use armors that incorporate simpler tribal design principles.
A typical service (absent major battlefield re-repair) can be accomplished by a single person. For the exterior, the first step for a warrior or technician is to spray the armor’s exterior with a cleaning solution and wipe it clean. The cleaner, the better, I am told. Even though the peren-diamond varnish prevents most grime from adhering to the armor’s surface, dust and other material can accumulate in the joints and over the optiks. (This is not unusual, as Imperial equipment still has trouble in the dust pockets of Old Mars.) The next step requires application of an oily silver paste that contains metal and carbon molecules that provide repair material for the entek. In the final step, a typical repair pack is used to apply the entek. For interior components, a maintenance computer is patched into the command circuit and DNI for diagnostic purposes. Any damaged or fatigued components are repaired or replaced. The cross-layered opticrys components of armor optiks frequently require replacement, since realigning the thin sheets of molecular crystal is a time-consuming process. Replacement is typically easy for “generic” components, such as shields, microfusion cells, and sensor nodes, which are common to perhaps ninety percent of all tribal armors. Optiks and DNI components usually require replacement. Occasionally, a technician may not trust the entek to do the work. In these cases, microscopic goggles, a laser welder, and an autosleeve are used. Such special repairs are quite time-consuming.
DNI interface replacement is a complex process requiring a period of “retuning” a warrior’s neural signature. Typically, the DNI “node” is easily removed and replaced in a new armor, an approach warriors invariably prefer to breaking in a new node. Older interfaces often retain remnants of previous signatures, dissonant elements that can interfere with armor operation. Of course, myths have sprung up around the ludicrous idea that the DNI interface imprints some of its owner’s personality, or even the owner’s soul. A story in the Diamond Sword Kohan Scrolls tells of a newblood who inherited the armor of his uncle, a martial arts master versed in the Kamisori school of Venusian Zen. The newblood used the armor in a training match shortly after he received it. The style he used was far more advanced than his level of study, and he executed with a grace and speed that overwhelmed his teacher as completely as if his uncle still wore the armor. The newblood claimed later that he felt another presence with him, guiding each motion. As a consequence of stories like these, sworders value old interfaces and do not erase those used by masters and exceptional warriors.
Microservos can present problems when severe damage interferes with repari penetration or slags enough material together to confuse the entek. A microservo consists of a conductive metadura-coil fused around a flexor filament chain made of exo-crys. The exo-crys expands on application of an electrical charge, which is applied through the surrounding metadura coil. They contract when the charge is removed. The microservo cables network effectively mimics the human body’s range of motion, though as armor weight class increases, range of motion and flexibility drops. A Myrmidon cannot match the moves of a Peltast, though I am assured it is not nearly as restrictive as its bulk suggests.
Battle damage often requires replacement of an exterior component or armor plate, particularly if the damage melted through several layers. Such damage often blends the armor’s material and confuses the reparis, which may not “understand” how to recognize a muddled fusion of AKS and metaplas.
Beneath tribal armor, most warriors wear a skintight body glove made of entek-laced metadura. This deceptively sophisticated underlayer serves several purposes. It protects the wearer from chafing. It contains a nanotech recycling system that collects body fluids and other secretions, detoxifies them and uses the collected water to rehydrate the warrior. Waste material is shunted to a discharge port in the armor, to be ejected at the warrior’s discretion. Finally, the bodyglove assists in establishing the neural interface with the armor, by providing an enhanced conductive medium via the wearer’s own salt-laden perspiration.
Many tribals refer to the skinsuit as the “stinksuit.” The name is an exaggeration, however, as the nanotech recycling components produce very little residual odor. In fact, IshM’lak wrinkled her nose more at the nickname than any memory of bad smells.
Peltast design philosophy values speed and agility, not raw power. Consequently, full coverage from the armor is not highly valued. The light microservos used in Peltasts burn out quickly if augmentation tolerances are exceeded. Given the lack of complete hard-shell coverage on many Peltast models, the lifting capacity provided from the armor comes more from a T-grav assist than from raw strength augmentation. The hard-shell components of several designs reveal quite a bit of the skinsuit.
Hoplite designs are intended to be mobile and hard-hitting, combining the best features of Peltast and Myrmidon. However, as with so many “compromise” designs, it appears to do nothing particularly well. Nevertheless, I am told that many tribal soldiers swear by their Hoplites and consider them either heavy recon or light assault gear.
Myrmidon designs are incredibly tough, and though they lack the deadly speed of the Peltast, they are unmatched in a defensive role. Moreover, the dense armor provides real protection once the shields drop, and a thick microservo array gives the wearer serious augmentation. A Myrmidon can deliver devastating blows capable of killing a Peltast outright-if it can hit the lighter warrior, that is. And that challenge, as always, is the rub. On the other hand, a Blood Eagle acquaintance told me of a highly-skilled Sikkyn-Captain who killed a Myrmidon in a hand-to-hand duel while using only a Peltast. This individual repeatedly delivered jet-assisted kicks to the head until the Myrmidon’s neck servos overloaded. Very, very difficult maneuver. The victor was Starkar Mace, who you might remember once served as the leader of Alexandre Konovalev’s personal guard. Mace was killed during the Marathon Pennant’s defeat by the Starwolf in the Fourth Battle of Hepta Ourubis III.