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 [05J] Talarin

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PostSubject: [05J] Talarin   Fri Feb 06, 2015 3:19 pm

21km Beneath the Surface of Talarin
Project Hephaestus Site
Coordinates: CLASSIFIED


Claustrophobic.

That was precisely the word Colonel Ariel Mendelsohn had been looking for, the word to perfectly describe the interior of the poorly lit elevator she had boarded almost half an hour before; there was barely enough space for five people, although the two power armored Marines flanking the battle dress uniform clad Special Operations Command officer occupied two slots each. These lifts, four in total, were the only way to reach the underground drilling facility known as Hephaestus Site, aside from one cargo and vehicle elevator that was in constant use to move excavated rock out of the base and supplies in. She hardly understood the reason for the extreme depth, but as one of the technicians that had briefed her on the specs while riding down in the space shuttle had explained it, it had something to do with the temperature and the gas composition near the facility, allowing it to derive part of its electricity from geothermal power.

For thirty minutes and change she had been quiet while the two Marines behind her made small-talk, they too distressed by the cramped space of the lift: even the people who spent most of their day in man-sized coffins powered by nuclear fusion couldn't seem to get comfortable in the tiny compartment. And she couldn't blame them either: all it took was one tiny fault, one broken part for the three passengers to be crushed under billions of tons of rock and soil. It was a terrible assignment she had been given, but the highly classified nature of the facility meant that direct communication with the outside was forbidden: all data had to be moved to a nearby relay station to be transmitted to the FTL communications array on the other side of the planet, and SPECCOM wanted someone on site who could act as a 'delivery girl', reporting personally on the progress of the project. Her predecessor had died in an industrial accident, which was hardly helping comfort her.

At last the elevator came to a halt, and after a brief decontamination sequence the triple doors opened to allow the two Marines and the woman they were escorting to depart: they stepped out with relief, with the Colonel taking a deep breath out of the filtered air of the new chamber she had found herself in before allowing herself to examine her surroundings.

She was in a large chamber with six elevator access points, two on the sides and one on each corner, lit only by a series of floodlights mounted on the thick concrete walls. The most disturbing feature of the room was the large anti-tank turret in the middle, rotating slowly as the blue scanning laser beam scanned every square inch of the area for threats; the machine was flanked by several smaller anti-personnel turrets, and a quad of power armored marines patrolled the elevator access chamber.

Moments passed before the blastdoors on the edge of the room slid open with a loud hydraulic hiss, allowing a short, overweight man with a very impressive mustache and workers' coveralls to step through. He looked more like a construction worker than the Major the rank insignia on his hardhard identified him as, and for a few moments the Colonel wondered if they were playing a prank on her. As soon as the man offered his gloved hand for a handshake, however, all doubt went away.

"Colonel Mendelsohn, ma'am. Welcome to Hephaestus Site. I'm Major Paul Hendricks, United Systems Army Engineering Corps, Site Foreman. The General is currently off-base, he's headed to the relay station to contact Command about something, and I believe you met the XO on the surface. I'll be your liaison while you are here."

Reluctantly the Colonel accepted the handshake, surprised that the man's hands were not covered in as much grease and dust as the rest of his suit; he had evidently been working before coming to greet her. At least he was not a slacker.

"Thank you, Major. Now, if we could skip the formalities, my first report is due tonight and I would like to be able to explain to my superiors why you asked for another time extension."

Of course the man understood; he had been the one to file the time extension request with Command, and the one to be yelled at for failing to produce results for yet another month.

"Very well ma'am. If you will follow me please, I will show you to the operations center." he begun before walking towards the still open hydraulic door and into the wide corridor outside. Wordlessly, the Colonel followed.

"As you know Colonel, we started this project about seventeen years ago, after a civilian scavenger team stumbled upon an old Alarei power plant. Nothing groundbreaking, the same Helium-3 fusion we use, but it did prove something: the reactor was operating at maximum capacity when it was shut off. Now, Alarei reactors were not as efficient as ours, but they did not need to run at a hundred percent to power the planet. It gave our people a lot to think about, but nothing concrete. And then a few months after that, some crazy OCD nutjob comes up to us and claims he has been mapping the Alarei power network for thirty years, and that he found something. All of the power stations had conduits, very high output conduits at that, heading towards some kind of 'epicenter'. But there was nothing there, the cables just disappeared into the ground."

Another hydraulic door opened ahead of them, and the two Marines standing guard at the sides were swift to salute. "So we started looking that up in whatever fragments of the Alarei database we had recovered, and we found some reference to a project. Something to do with antimatter. They were using a lot of power for something related to antimatter, and that was enough to get Command to order us to start digging. So that's what we have been doing since then. Only a handful of people outside this facility know about the project. Now, for the past seventeen years, it has been a nightmare. Two of my predecessors died to industrial accidents, one committed suicide. It's like chasing ghosts. We were about to abandon the effort last year, actually."

"So what happened? Why are you still digging?"

"Ah, excellent question. You see, every few kilometers we dig, we 'ping' the rock with ultrasounds. They have a range of about two kilometers, and usually we receive just absorption echoes. One day however, we received a pong. There's something there. It could be an iron deposit, but our geologists say that the density is all wrong, that it's got to be a chamber or chambers of some kind. We've got about half a kilometer of rock to go, lets say... A month of drilling at best conditions?"

"Now that does not make sense. You said you found it last year, and it was two kilometers deep. Why haven't you reached it yet?"

"Drilling is not an exact science, Colonel. For example: last week, we hit a gas pocket. Now, we've got sensors for that, and nobody was hurt, but if we had used the drilling laser in that pocket, the whole facility would have blown up. We have to be careful at those depths, the slightest mistake could get us all killed. Right now, the borehole is almost at the edge of the upper mantle, the temperature's so hot that we have to cool the drills with liquid nitrogen. We can't go any faster."

After several minutes of navigating the corridors of the facility, the pair finally passed one last gate and entered the Operations Center of the facility; the massive chamber was furnished with myriads of consoles, manned by Army, SPECCOM and civilian staff, while the front window overlooked the most impressive piece of machinery the Colonel had ever seen. The Foreman's next words escaped her attention as she walked towards the observation glass, taking in the scale of the machine she was seeing.


The massive laser assembly mounted on the top of the chamber had to be as wide as a small football field. Every thirty seconds, the machine would groan and hum loudly as a blindling white beam pulsated out of the lenses, following a tiny hole in the middle of the platform and down to the drilling machinery eighty kilometers beneath. Ten seconds later, the pulse would end and the beam would shut off as furious jets of what appeared to be liquid nitrogen were sprayed against it to cool it down.

"...yeah, that's the laser drill. We've got a mechanical drill at the bottom of the borehole as well, the laser drill melts down the rock and the mechanical parts cut through the remainder while moving the pieces and liquid up to disposal. We are actually doing great right now, we received another shipment of Helium this morning and we've managed to double the pulse duration with all the extra power."

Still mesmerized by the machine, the Colonel nodded her head dumbly just as another pulse cycle ended, allowing the device to cool down again.

"Welcome to Ops, by the way. This is where you'll be doing most of your work, I presume. Now, if you'll follow me again, I will show you to your quarters."
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PostSubject: Re: [05J] Talarin   Fri Feb 27, 2015 11:33 pm

Talarin Low Orbit
USS Avenger, Avenger-class Titan
Combat Information Center
Day 371 of Orbital Defense Rotation


<"Action stations, action stations, set threat condition one throughout the ship. Secure all bulkheads and stand by for atmosphere draining in critical sections. All stations report to Combat with ETA to max readiness.">

General Ostberg could only watch as the Combat Information Center, the very brain of the massive beast that was the Avenger, became engulfed in what he called 'ordered chaos': it was an oxymoron, but in a way, the phrase perfectly represented what was occurring throughout the entire ship since DEFCON 2 had been declared by the government. Everyone inside the ship had been mobilized: bulkheads were being double-checked and then sealed, air was being drained out of critical sections like fuel and ammunition storage, and the people working in critical areas or sections near the hull were putting on spacesuits. The ship had a perfect mobilization record: less than three minutes were needed for every station to report 'Condition One' to CIC, and in the terrifying conditions of an imminent war, the crew had done an admirable job of nailing it down to two and a half.

<"CIC, Weapons. Condition one, ready for action.">
<"CIC, Sublight. Condition one.">
<"CIC, Missile Control, condition one has been set. Standing by.">
<"CIC, Medical. Condition one, awaiting casualties.">
<"CIC, FTL. Condition one, spooling up drive one to hot stand-by.">
<"CIC, Damage Control. DC parties standing by at assigned stations, repair bots set to auto.">
<"CIC, CAG. Alert and reserve fighters ready to launch, bomber capacity ETA is one minute.">
<"CIC, Sensors, we-">


As the readiness reports kept coming in, the General witnessed a fireteam of power-armored Marines walk leisurely into the Combat Information Center, with the series of two airlocks behind them sealing shut; nobody was coming in or out of CIC without the authorization of the commanding officer while the ship was in Condition One. With the CIC, or the bridge as other nations called it, buried deep within the warship's center and built like a bunker, complete with its own armor, life support and emergency medical bays, food and water recycling systems, it was near impossible to force one's way inside; the crew could coordinate the actions of the ship from within CIC, even if every other station had been boarded.

<"Attention on the Avenger, stealth systems now active. Ship is rigged for ultra-silent. Thermal and EM restriction protocol now in effect. All hands must report potential breaches of protocol to CIC immediately.">

At last, the Avenger disappeared from all sensors, with its battleship escorts following suit: it had gone ultra-silent, a state in which even the best of sensors could not detect the ship's presence, and a capability that had allowed the ship to strike swiftly and with great power during the war. The Avenger was the only known capital ship to be capable of both stealth and movement, at least according to Coalition intelligence, thanks to its classified impeller drive.

"Sir, ship reports ready for combat and all stations are awaiting orders."

Of course, the General had already received his orders: his primary objective was to defend Talarin, although he knew that the Avenger strike group was only the tip of the iceberg in the planet's defense capabilities. With hundreds of nuclear missiles, both in silos and on mobile TEL and TELAR truck convoys, the Coalition had the means to destroy any fleets that dared enter Talarin's atmosphere: the Kal'bavakorians had learnt that lesson in the hardest way, as an entire fleet of theirs had been massacred when trying to land. It was simple: the Coalition had nothing to fear in using its nuclear warheads on Talarin, because it was already a radioactive wasteland, and the surface had already been scavenged clean by the US Army in the two decades since the USC invaded it fully.

His secondary objective, and the one that seemed more likely to be needed since the Coalition had detected an unidentified strike group in a system adjacent to Europa, was strategic strikes. With the Avenger's nuclear arsenal and advanced stealth capabilities, it could be in firing range of the Nakar homeworld in five hours, and two hours away from the nearest Nakar colony. Even if a first strike decimated the Coalition's land-based nuclear missiles, the stealth bombers and drifting ISBMs in interstellar space, along with the Avenger, could retaliate in kind.

"Set condition 2SQ for strategic missile launch, keep the nukes in radiation restriction protocol for now so as to not compromise our stealth. We might have to launch them. Keep nuclear ship-to-ship missiles on stand-by."
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