The miniaturization of subspace-induction particle accelerators or paccels has allowed for the creation of many surprising subspace-powered devices. One of the most useful, and the one most widely embraced as “awesome” by galactic popular culture, is the subsword, also known as beam swords, light sabers or energy blades. Combat aboard spaceships is a unique proposition, and new CQB (close-quarters battle) techniques were needed to cope with the impracticality of firing many military weapons aboard most spaceships. A return to fast, lethal close-range melee combat as the preferred method of boarding warfare was made possible by the use of subswords.
While deactivated, a subsword looks like a metal hoop about 2.5cm (1 inch) thick and 20cm (8 inches) in diameter. A pillar that runs through the center of this hoop serves as the handle and is usually sculpted to fit the human (or another species’) hand. On this handle is a switch that acts as the “safety”, and a trigger that is held down to activate the blade.
When the safety is disengaged, a thin rod only half a centimeter in diameter rises out of the handle, holding clamped to its tip a small disc. This rod is usually made of stiffened carbon weave but can be made with varying degrees of flexibility depending on user preference. This rod is the “blunt edge” of the standard subsword. The span from the disc on the tip of the rod back to the handle forms the cutting surface. When the trigger is held down, the metal hoop, a miniature particle accelerator, produces a subspace induction reaction and projects a “beam” of subspace from the hilt to the disc at the tip. Thrameexis-designed gravity-corridor modules keep the subspace tear from “leaking” out of its cylindrical shape. Releasing the trigger ends the reaction feeding the tear, dissipating the blade immediately.
Subspace blades do not “cut” or even “burn” or “vaporize” material in their path. They actually remove physical objects, molecule by molecule, from realspace and send them into subspace, where they are rapidly disintegrated. As soon as the subspace corridor touches something it is gone into another dimension. Being cut by a subspace blade does not burn or cauterize the wound and in fact is completely painless in and of itself. The flesh just disappears, leaving the rest of a victim’s flesh and blood free to come spewing out. And although the wound itself is instantaneous and painless, the stump of a severed limb is still going to hurt, a lot. The aforementioned lack of cauterizing heat leads to the subsword’s biggest design flaw, the horrific levels of gore that it leaves behind. A subsword kill almost always involves severed limbs, decapitation, bisection of the torso or innumerable other lines drawn through a body splitting it into various-sized chunks. On the plus side, a subsword can in theory be used to completely dispose of a body bit by bit, leaving only a spectacular bloodstain behind.
While active, a subspace blade produces a constant low hissing roar with occasional crackling, much like a raging fire, as it consumes any nearby atmosphere. The sound made when it cuts depends on the material cut. Leaving a subsword on for long periods can deplete the atmosphere in a confined area, especially if two or more people are dueling with them. The “vacuum effect” of air being removed by the subsword is not powerful enough to be dangerous except for the possibility of loose hair or clothing being drawn in and zapped.
By the nature of their design, and as a “safety feature,” subswords have no cutting surface at the tip. Being poked by one is just as annoying as being poked with a car antenna and probably not harmful. Therefore it is not possible to stab someone with a subsword, only slash. This slashing action, however, will cut through any matter in its path no matter what. Spaceship design has changed due to the threat of subswords chewing through bulkheads and wreaking all sorts of havoc, and so doors and other critical structures are usually designed to be difficult to destroy via slashing.
The only thing that a subsword cannot cut through is a gravity field, such as the one that holds the blade itself together. This is why the spectacular subsword duels popularized in the media (and occasionally practiced in real life) are possible: the two gravity fields holding the blades will repel one another, causing the subswords to bounce off each other.
In addition, because the beam of subspace transports everything it touches out of our reality, a subsword can be used to intercept an object in flight, eliminating that object along with all of its momentum. A skilled subsword user can “block” bullets, lasers and even missiles, letting the subsword eat the projectile harmlessly. This takes a huge amount of skill and bravery, of course, and one must also take care to absorb the projectile cleanly: many have learned the hard way that cutting an incoming missile down the middle will leave you with two slivers of missile that will both still impale you.
Many traditional sword-fighting techniques are not viable with a subsword, such as traditional fencing, which incorporates many thrusting and lunging moves that require a weapon with a piercing tip. Getting a piercing tip of subspace would be very difficult, but there is nothing stopping a swordsman from fitting the tip of his subsword with a sharp point or even with a shotgun shell that can be discharged at will, a tactic popular with bandits.
Subswords can be made with no “blunt edge” by having a second disc on the opposite side of the central rod as the first, and a second port for a second beam of subspace. This produces a literal double-edged sword, but increases the bulk of the weapon due to the necessity of a larger paccel and power supply. Even more extravagant models can have up to four separate blades, which can be positioned to produce weapons with different shapes. Conventional wisdom suggests that unless one is a martial arts master, having too many blades will result in one severing one’s own limbs.
Small subswords or “subknives” exist as well, but the miniaturization of subswords has its limits.
The reaction that powers a subsword must be maintained with both battery charge and Subspace Induction Medium. Subswords take standard cartridges of SIM and are usually powered by a kinetic battery. The action of swinging the sword around in combat partially recharges the battery, allowing longer fight time. Eventually though the battery will run out, especially if the sword is frequently clashed against another subsword and even more especially if the sword is used to negate too many high-energy projectiles too quickly. A dead battery requires a period of vigorous shaking to recharge, which can be disastrous in the middle of a duel. See Power Supply.