Stars were no longer visible. Only dark metal stretched across the holoscreen. Disabled cannons pointed listlessly, while pocks and holes from recent explosion dotted the ship’s surface.
The woman behind Maxwell said, “Our little drones took that thing down?”
Maxwell nodded and said, “It’s amazing what small things can do when they’re coordinated, Skylar. A single bee sting is an annoyance, but a swarm of them can kill a fella.”
Skylar nodded, her eyes taking in the vessel looming before them.
The transport banked sharply, and the giant ship’s sides rolled off to the left. A yawning red hexagonal opening marked the entrance to the Aquamarine’s landing deck. The transport banked left and flew through the force field.
A huge tarmac stretched out before them. The floor space of the landing deck was expansive, the size of several football fields, but only three other transports were parked there.
Skylar’s brother said, “They have surprisingly few carriers for such a large ship.”
Maxwell turned and gave him a lopsided grin. He said, “Well, Samuel, they probably have a really good human teleportation setup. Far better than ours, which only does two at a time planetside.”
Samuel nodded, but his eyes flashed in suppressed anger. The Intangibles existed thanks to experiments on humans.
The Wu Drives worked well in space, instantly porting large ships across many light years in repetitive jumps. The idea progressed to its logical conclusion of teleporting humans across the surface of planets. But this proved more complex than anyone realized at first.
Space was much more forgiving for teleportation. A ship would appear in a wide-open empty area during a jump. Porting one person across the surface of a planet required much more precision.
Even accounting for exact specifics in location, many early experiments resulted in disaster. Slight variations in a planet’s movement meant early subjects sometimes materialized with part of their body in the floor or a wall. Multiple subjects sometimes found themselves fused together. Research halted for several years as scientists studied ways to teleport humans and other biological subjects safely on planetary surfaces.
Eventually, with advances in AI and quantum-computing, the issues were resolved. The AI systems determined teleporting people long distances was generally not advisable. Star travel was safe in a ship via relatively short jumps. But porting a human from one side of a planet to another was not. On the other hand, the AI systems determined that much shorter distances such as ship to ground, or ship to nearby ship, were eminently feasible for people. Then war came.
PLAIR used ship-to-ship teleportation to help take out several StarCen vessels early in the war. This was a huge boost for PLAIR who began the conflict with fewer resources. StarCen subsequently devised anti-teleportation measures to protect her ships while in standard drive. These involved fields that disrupted small-scale teleportation. And so, boarding parties resorted to the use of transport carriers.
As time went by a cat and mouse game of attempts to bypass the boarding defenses emerged, with experiments on live subjects occasionally taking place. On an obscure planet called Raton 5, scientists from a shady corporation called Gemini Exponentials performed experiments declared illegal on humans in both the Planetary Republic and the Star League.
No one knew much about Samuel and Skylar, but the crew of the Ultima Mule had pieced together the siblings were part of the original group of subjects used by the company. They also knew only a handful of those subjects made it through Gemini’s experiments alive. The survivors emerged different, somehow. Each seemed capable of extraordinary, extra-human things. Collectively, these survivors of the Gemini experiments became known as the Intangibles.
In the months that followed, some of the Intangibles faded from view entirely, disappearing off the AI grids. Others hired themselves out to perform tasks deemed too difficult for ordinary humans. Samuel and Skylar ended up in Lute and became pirates.
The transport bumped lightly on the landing deck. Its door opened and the loading ramp swung down. Everyone jumped out of their seats.
“Look alive, people! Jeter, Escobar, take point out that door. Expect resistance.”
Jeter and Escobar nodded, and clicked the safety off their rifles. They burst through the opening and ran down the ramp, scanning in all directions. Only a few metal crates lay scattered between the transport and a large entryway about 30 meters from the ship. The men took up position behind the crates. They looked up and around, but found no immediate threats.
Jeter turned back to the transport, his light brown hair shaved razor-short, betraying a receding hairline. He stood shorter than most, at five foot six, or 168 centimeters. But he was stocky and well built, with a thick neck and a barrel chest. He nodded at Maxwell from his position.
LuteNet had landed them close to the main doorway. All they had to do, Maxwell thought, was get through that entrance.
The rest of the boarding party exited the transport and scattered, taking cover behind the crates, spread out and guns ready.
Maxwell popped his head up from behind cover and examined the door. It stood three meters by three meters, solidly shut.
He said, “No welcoming party? Surely they’re not going to make it this easy for us, are they?”
As if in response, the door swished up and ten bots stormed out, shooting.