In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, lasers were used as personal and shipboard weapons, as the discovery of the Tesla coil enabled the construction of the compact power sources that made such weapons feasible. By the end of the Jovian war, though, researchers had discovered new applications of the etheric field: It could contain hyperaccelerated particles and then decay the field in a controlled manner, releasing them monodirectionally. In short, it created a beam weapon of unimaginable power.
The first atomic guns, much like the first cannons, were massive weapons that required full crews to operate them and that were notoriously unstable. The etheric fields could break down, either slowly (releasing deadly, invisible radiation) or instantly (causing a terrible explosion). “The Ballad of the Richenbacher” tells the true tale of a crew that stayed at their guns and kept them firing even as the radiation leaks tore their bodies apart from the inside.
Over time, the technology evolved and stabilized. It’s been boasted that the engineers of the current atomic guns would happily sleep on top of them during the heat of battle, so secure are they that there will be neither leaks nor explosions. Indeed, the technology has advanced so far that atomic pistols and rifles have become available (as of 2041), finally banishing the old laser beam to the realm of collectors and criminals. Use of shipboard atomic guns requires the Gunnery skill. Normal combat application is straightforward – aim and shoot. A skilled gunner can get some “tricks” out of the guns, however.