Patrick S. Baker
When I was a man my name was Ryan Dean MacLeod; when I became a ship my name was Hoplite.
I was an Assault Carrier—335 meters long, 125 meters wide, octagonal. I carried a crew of 3543 naval personnel and 819 Marines. I had 36 Vampire aero-space fighters, 26 Banshee aero-space attack craft, 41 Puller Marine landing and support boats, and 4 shuttles. I also had thirty-two 2000mm Space-Martel missile-launchers, sixty-four 150mm cannons, forty Sparrow-hawk anti-fighter/self-defensive missile launchers, and forty 24 megawatt self-defense lasers.
Parts of my human brain were still alive and connected to various systems of my metal body. I knew what I was and still felt like a person.
“Hoplite,” Captain Tran addressed me. “Ready to tunnel?”
“How many first timers?” she asked.
“What’s the pool running?”
“17,015 Adjusted Dollars. The most popular pick is ten will vomit.”
“I hope it’s that few,” the captain chuckled.
“On my count: three… two… one… go.”
The navigation computer threw us into the weird, not-quite-right dimension of Hartman Space. While I was unaffected by Faster-Than-Light tunneling, some of my crew were not so lucky. Many bio-humans felt a variety of effects: nausea, body pain, headaches and in some cases, temporary blindness and paralysis. The navy runs recruits through a short tunneling trip to test them. Twenty-two percent of recruits have such a strong reaction that they cannot serve on tunneling ships, although they are allowed to work on ships that use the fixed-point jump-gate system. In the Solar Union, all warships always travel by FTL tunneling. Giving any enemy, or potential enemy, a single, fixed entry-point into a solar system to attack is a very bad thing.
Then we were back in normal space. Twelve of the new crew-members had vomited; the winner of the pool was Marine Private Patel of the Marine Recon platoon. I informed the captain and all the bettors at once.
“How far out?” the captain asked.
“Fourteen light-minutes,” the navigator responded, proudly. “Right at the Hartman limit.”
“Ma’am,” the coms officer said. “No signals from the planet. No time stamp update. The automated beacon appears to be down.”
Each settled planet had a satellite in orbit that constantly broadcast.
“I don’t like that. Shape a course for the planet. Launch recon drones. At 30 light-seconds out, launch fighters.”
A chorus of “aye-ayes” came back.
I checked all the ship’s functions. I was nominal.
We set a course for Asgard and boosted. Asgard was the fourth planet from 28 Draconis A, a mere 46 light-years from Sol. The planet was prime real estate. A single mountainous continent that was a bit cooler than Earth average, but it had almost no axial tilt and thus no seasonal shifts. Also, Asgard had no native land life, except some lichen equivalents. The standard terraforming packet had been a huge success and the human colony of more than 100,000 people was starting to show a return on investment. They had just gotten a jump-gate terminal for regular trade and communications.
At 30 light-seconds from the planet we launched twelve Vampire fighters on a sweep. There were still no signals, not even commercial chatter from ground stations. This was worrying. The last ship to visit Asgard had been my sister ship, Samurai, ninety earth-days ago. She had set up the jump-gate and then left to continue her patrol. She had reported nothing unusual.