Needlers and the Port Authority

Needlers have been mentioned in many science fiction stories going way back. They may be second only to blasters in space opera settings.

Despite this there's only a vague (or several) notions what they are. They range from energy weapons to slugthrowers and the only consensus is that they have a very small bore size. So I consider myself to have a free run here.

Boarding actions are much rarer than entertainment media would have you believe. There are good reasons for this. People boarding a ship are either extremely well prepared, armed, and skilled -or incompetent (lunatics, morons, fanatical take yer pick). If your ship is boarded by the former the best maneuver is to lay your weapons on the deck and make no sudden movements. Boarding actions by the latter are usually met with resistance because the defenders have nothing to lose. They are likewise met with booby traps, explosive decompression and many other tricks when they least expect it. 

The thing most media fails to convey is that (if your ship is still holding atmosphere) a boarding action is goddamn loud. Lasers are not typically used because of smoke, aerosol defenses, and even sand grenades. Firearms are loud and armor typically has helmets with ear protection otherwise your strapping Marines will be stone deaf after a few fights. Of course they'll live –they're Marines!

Wearing ear protection for an operation you've prepared for and then taking them off for downtime is one thing when you are a Marine, or pirate. But Merchant crews have security issues too. Fortunately, these are usually not boarding actions. A person might be disturbed, a brawl might turn into a knife fight, a passenger might turn out to be a wanted fugitive or emotionally disturbed and an obvious danger.

Because some crew members are armed and they do not want to be deaf after a few shots, or have to constantly wear protection (though body armor is another matter).

Silent weapons, usually handguns, fire silenced ammunition. Each round's propellant is sealed in a sort of metal foil balloon. The propellant gases are contained in the foil which expands hitting the bullet and propelling it with little sound. Silent versions of every form of handgun ammunition are available. Stealth rounds for shotguns are also popular.

Stealth rounds have the advantage of being inherently silent. Weapons with a silencer  take longer to draw. The silencers degrade over time, they interfere with the sights, and they are more properly termed suppressors since they don't silence a weapon completely. Stealth pistols are often much lighter in construction since the firing puts less stress on the weapon. Firing normal rounds in such a weapon can lead to damaging the weapon, a misfire or an explosion. For this reason needlers are typically made in smaller calibers to prevent normal ammunition from being used by mistake.

Of course, stealth weapons are used for covert operations and undercover work. Eventually the low penetration was somewhat made up for by changing to rounds to fire hard core 3 mm  submunitions. Multiple rounds increased the chance of incapacitating an unarmored target (especially at close range) and give a better chance of a projectile hitting an armored target in a weak spot. This and a dart round designed to deliver drugs or toxins gave the weapons their current nickname -needlers.

The daring robbery of the passengers of the liner, Serendipitous Retreat, in orbit at Inerze (minutes before their disguised escape ship docked) was foiled at the start by ship security using needlers. The entire exchange of gunfire lasted under a minute and the passengers outside the observation lounge had no idea anything had occurred. It helped the robbers had no idea that most of the crew was armed and highly trained or that the service bots were bulletproof and programmed for mean attitudes when necessary.

Silenced rounds for shotguns date back before star flight on Old Earth. Modern shotgun shells use flechette rounds instead of shot. They are popular with starport authorities, who still wear ear protection. Shotgun needle rounds are the same calibers as normal rounds. These shotguns have become popular enough to earn their own nickname: the 'Port Authority' style of shotgun is considered as iconic as the merchants' trader carbines.

Besides the needler rounds Port uthority shotguns are often loaded with slugs. When a ship is boarded at a port the procedure is for the boarding party to proceed to the bridge. Once there the team splits up with one group holding the ship's controls hostage and the other performing customs inspection. A shotgun slug or even needler rounds can do a lot of damage to ship controls very quickly. At any sign of hostilities or resistance that ship is getting its control systems wrecked. The other team might split up as well with one group taking over the engine room during the inspection.

A number of people use needler rounds for various criminal enterprises and needlers have the same restrictions as body pistols. Some enterprising individuals get around this by making adapters for their weapons allowing them to fire needle rounds. Port inspectors on low tech planets (or rookies) may miss the modification.

Needler revolvers and automatic pistols are the same cost as the handgun they resemble (body pistols are already silenced and usually not needlers.) They are three quarters the weight and do -1 damage per die. Shotguns can fire needler ammunition. Needlers are typically introduced at TL 8 but have appeared as early as TL 5 on some worlds (thank you Zaonia). These low tech rounds are of questionable quality and may damage weapons unless they are handcrafted by capable gunsmiths (the cost is also much higher). Needler ammunition is five times the cost of the corresponding type of ammunition. The rounds are inaudible outside the compartment they're fired in. Needlers firing submunitions or darts do 2D damage but any penalties for armor are doubled (negative dm or reduction in damage)

Some worlds and institutions provide needler ammunition in calibers ordinary autopistols and revolvers can use. This ammunition is also considered a body pistol for legal restriction and it is only available on the black market (costs vary but are high!)






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