The World Today

The World Today
Earth in 2013

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Project Behemoth

Control Center

TCS Edmund Teller

Petunia System

Professor Manson Ellington was just as glad to get off of that ice ball, even if it were just for a single day. He and his staff have been locked away on frozen Petunia IV, off in a quite corner of the Hawking Sector, for the better part of a year. Their home, if one could call it that, was a dome built beneath the glacier of Mt. Pettasiun. Gulagstadt was what the physicists and other scientists that lived there were called. Officially, they were dead. Each and everyone of them has, in the official Confederation papers, their own death certificate. Ellington, former Major Ellington of the Confederation Army, was listed as K.I.A. in the Niven System a couple of years back. Ellington was dead, killed by the Cats in defense of Niven Station.

His family was told that he died a hero, that he made the ultimate sacrifice for humanity. The latter was true enough; he gave up his former life to serve on this project. The brass told him that it would end the war in one swift stroke. Ellington always snorted when he thought about that. Yeah, end the war, he would believe that when it happened. He was but a year old when the Confederation made first contact with the Cats. He was just starting first grade when war was declared. He did not remember much of those first few years, and understood less, save that his parents and all the adults were scared.

Twenty-eight years later, and he fully understood why. Before “giving his life” for this project, he fought the Cats since he was twenty-one, and fought to liberate quite a few worlds in the Vega Sector. Seeing what the Kilrathi had done to those worlds– his parents would have been fools not to be scared witless. Now, they think their only son is dead, and probably eaten by the enemy. As does his wife and children. Who knows, if this project does end the war, years hence, he might be able to return.

Of course, his children would not remember him, and his wife would have moved on. He had no idea if Helen had done so. Confed does not allow personal news to enter Gulagstadt. They must be afraid one too many valued scientists might fly the coop– or blow their precious brains all over the wall. Damn the Kilrathi. He has lost almost everything to them and their damned war. Last he heard, his children and Helen were still in the Tethys System, in the Avalon Sector, about as far from the Kilrathi one could get and still be inside Confederation borders.

Most of the scientists under his command have made similar sacrifices, but they were mostly the types that married their careers. All but seven were childless. They were in a far better mood than Ellington. Part of that had to do with being let out of the glacier, if even for a little while. Ellington was glad to look out the window and see something instead of white. Now, on the bridge of this freighter, he looked out and saw nothing but black. A nice change, but still as monotonous.

On the bridge of the aptly named Edmund Teller, technicians did the last bit of wiring and programming to the ship’s computers. In only a matter of minutes, the first stage of the project would be complete, or it would have to start all over. If it were to fail, Ellington hoped it to be a catastrophic failure, and not something as mundane as having another amp blowing out. That happened more than once under the glacier.

“Professor,” one of his scientists called out. Ellington was still not use to be called that. Even with his own degree in particle physics, he was a long way from being worthy of his new official title.

“Yes, what is it?” he asked, with a slightly bored tone. He tried to stay detached from his crew, like any good commander. It was worse with Doctor Marlene Mistrique. She was a true doctor, with the doctorate in the same field as Ellington. She was the top of her class, everyone of her professors calling her brilliant. She was “killed” only a year out of school. Worst of all, she looked so much like Helen, that it drove the former Major crazy.

Her smile was much the same as well. “The Phase Transit Cannon is ready to fire.”

The Phase Transit Cannon, the biggest cover-up of the whole damned war. PTCs are powerful, single shot weapons. They take quite some time to recharge after they fire, but that one shot is powerful enough to bust a Fralthi-class cruiser outright. Officially, it was to be installed on a new class of battleships, and older battleships would be refitted. Some of the Confederation-class carriers were even having them installed on their bow. All official reports state the cannon will be ready for field actions by 2661– this year.

Hopefully, the Cats will buy that report, and not learn the real reason this cannon was developed. At least not until after it was too late to do a thing about it. Ellington did not make eye-contact with Marlene. “What of the superconductive amps, Doctor Mistrique?” He was always formal with her.

“They are cooled to near zero, Professor Ellington,” she said with a slight with a slight laugh. Like most of the scientists, she saw no reason to be so stiff, especially since they were all legally stiffs to begin with. Most of the Gulagstadt’s female staff took a hint and reciprocated the professionalism. But not Marlene– Ellington was wondering if he had become some sort of challenge for her. Most of the young scientists and staff have already paired off. Marlene was one of the few who had not. He could not understand why; she was certainly attractive enough–

No, he pushed her from his mind. Ellington was still married, and even if the entire universe said that part of his life was gone forever, it would remain in his heart. “If all is well, fire as soon as the target comes into sight,” Ellington ordered.

Marlene gave him a mock salute. “Yes sir,” she said before turning and leaving. Ellington refused to watch her depart, with her provocative sway.

Ellington rubbed the bridge of his nose. Damn this war, and all it has taken away from him. If not for those furballs, he could have lived quite the happy life. Right now, he would be back in Tethystadt, with Helen and the kids. He would probably be working at the spaceport, maintaining starship’s jump drives.

“Are you alright, sir?” asked one of the pilots, who sat below his station. Like Ellington, young Violet was an army officer. She piloted shuttles to and from battlefields, evacuating quite a few wounded soldiers, that is until her own luck ran out. She lost part of her left leg when a shuttle crashed. Had it been an internal organ, a replacement could have been grown and her put back into service after rehab, instead she was listed as KIA in the crash and conscripted into this mad project. Like everybody on board, she was officially dead.

“I’m fine pilot,” Ellington lied, sort of. For him, fine simply met everything was normal. In his case, normal sucked. “Just cursing the war.”

Violet nodded. “Oh, that. Haven’t we all, sir?” Ellington liked the ex-Army, and even ex-Navy personnel on the project. They knew how to behave professionally. Violet had her own man, somewhere out there.

Ellington remained silent, standing on his catwalk above the operations of the bridge. He stared outside, trying to spot their target. It was hopeless, for the kilometer wide asteroid was almost as black as space, and at least fifty kilometers away. With so many valued staff members onboard the Teller, the brass were not about to risk them. Besides, when the full model of this weapon was finished, years from now, it would not be fired anywhere near its target. Hours seemed to pass, but in reality only twelve minutes ticked away before Marlene reported to him again.

Avoiding her was difficult during this little test. He was nominally in command of the test firing, and she was his second-in-command. “Professor,” she said, with a hint of tease in her voice. So utterly unprofessional. “The target is in range, and locked on.”

He glanced over at his shoulder at her. “I assume the PTC is fully charged.”

Marlene nodded. “You assume correct. Both sets of amplifiers are near absolute zero as well.”

“Then by all means; fire,” he ordered.

Marlene did not relay the order. “Would you like to do the honors?”

Ellington snorted. What honors? Blowing up an asteroid was hardly honorable. Vaporizing it was just downright wasteful. “Have Mac fire it; it’s his job after all.”

“Any famous words to record?” Marlene asked.

Ellington’s face twitched. “Just fire the damn cannon!” he snapped.

Marlene gave him a sly grin. “Words for posterity.” She called over to Mac. “You heard the man.”

Lighting on the bridge flickered as the PTC fired. It did not fire directly outwards, but the energy was cycled through one set of superconductive amplifiers, and then another. More power was drawn from the system. As soon as the flickering started, it ceased as a pulse of energy raced across space at light speed. In an instant, the target vanished in blinding flash, as it was rapidly reduced to sub-atomic particles. Ellington covered his eyes as it blew, but still had to blink away the spots from his eyes.

“Target status?” he asked.

“Gone,” came the reply from the gunner, who sounded quite proud of the results.

He was not the only one. The entire civilian partition of the bridge crew let out loud cheers, loud enough to overload his ears in the way the flash did his eyes. Yes, the test was successful. Now, all they had to do was send that same shot through a far larger network of amps. When finished, it would be, without a doubt, the biggest gun in the universe.

“Well Manson, the test was a complete success. Nothing on board blew out.” Marlene said, slapping him on the back. Ellington gave her a look of reproach, but said nothing. Yes, it was a success. He could now report to the brass that Stage One of Project: Behemoth is now complete.

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