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Plasma weapons are the weapon of choice for the Chinese empire, and are undoubtedly derelict technology. This being china however, there is no elaborate cover story, like with the Americans, they simply deny it and refuse to answer any further questions.

Anyway, the plasma cannon uses an envelope of super heated plasma, straight from the reactor core, or sometimes produced behind the barrel, and hurls it towards the target. A single, negative charge is used to hold the plasma in a coherent sphere[1], how this charge is generated, or why it isn’t vaporised by the plasma is a state secret, and most people are content to let it slide for the sake of keeping their sanity[2]. The envelope is magnetically accelerated towards the target, with a cruising speed of a couple of kilometres per second, and on impact the field breaks down, dumping most of the energy into a half metre of hull plating, usually vaporising it[3].

Damage comes mostly from the heat, and the electromagnetic effects surrounding the plasma. This is reduced sharply with range, as the plasma does escape from the envelope, and this gives the plasma cannons a very short effective range, at about five kilometres, though at less than one kilometre they will beat rayy guns for damage[4]. The high cycling rate, resulting from the direct feed from the reactor, gives them a truly withering rate of fire, before you have to let the magnets in the cannon cool.

Like rayy guns, plasma weapons are fairly useless against the planets surface as the atmosphere strips away the plasma, but unlike rayy guns, this effect is so severe you would need an inconceivable amount of energy in the shot to actually make an impact. By that point though, you’d have put enough energy into the atmosphere already to start boiling the sea, so it’s moot, and none but a few of the End Time fleets actually have that kind of energy output.

Ammunition is usually redundant for plasma weapons, as they are fed usually with the reaction mixture of the engine. In larger vessels where such pipes would be a hazard and prone to battle damage, a secondary super heating vessel is placed behind the barrel to supply the plasma, and this does need to be fuelled by a nearby tank. Usually this is a hydrogen mixture, though in the later guns 2200 and onwards, a short lived fusion effect can occur and so deuterium is used to increase damage.

Random Fact: Production of plasma cannons is a closely guarded secret, but this rarely stops other individuals possessing such devices. By the early twenty third century there are enough fragments of data on the web to build a cannon, and likewise with rayy guns.

Authors Note: Plasma cannons are one of those ideas that are in the background, but rarely in the actual book, mostly because the Chinese territories are a good distance from the British where 2100 is set. Given that the weapons are a state secret, you rarely see them anywhere but on military vessels, and Chinese military vessels have no jurisdiction in the Commonwealth. That said, the ship my lead flies is a civy’ ship with a plasma cannon, but I don’t actually think the owner knows when or how it was come by and Hawk’s learned not to ask by this point.

[1] Actually, it’s technically ovoid, due to the micro resistances in the interstellar medium, but those are slight enough for it not to have any visible effect. Besides, you can’t actually look at it without searing your retinas

[2] I find it quite disturbing how willing people in Vast Worlds are just to accept the near magical effects the derelict technologies produce without argument. Partly it’s probably just familiarity making the issue moot, (like how you don’t have to know the mechanics of a fridge to use one) but also its just resignation to the fact it cannot be understood. There are a disturbing number of cults worshiping the derelict makers, and most scientists who’ve ever studied the devices feel quite sympathetic to these people.

[3] Like with rayy guns, this does depend on what the hull is made of and designed to withstand. A good battle armour will take a half dozen rounds before it loses coherence.

[4] Ships that use plasma cannons tend to be have high thrust and low mass so they can rapidly close and stay in range. The Chinese Empire used fighters in combat for the longest of all the factions for this reason alone.


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