Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Chapter Fifty-nine

The Colonel stood in front of the assembled pilots and said, "We have managed to penetrate the Citadel. We have a team who is inside it right now."

For an instant no one said a word and then the room burst into applause. The pilots shouted and slapped each other on the back. It was as if they had just scored the winning touchdown or hit the winning home run. They thought they had just been told that all follow on missions would be scrubbed.

The Colonel stood quietly and watched them. One by one they fell silent and when the room was quiet again, he said, "Unfortunately, I'm not sure how to exploit this. We have a team inside the Citadel, but they don't have the equipment or the manpower to destroy it from the inside."

"We're not going to let this opportunity slip through our fingers?" asked one of the pilots. The instant the words were out of his mouth, he regretted them.

"No," said the Colonel. "No, we're not. But we're not going to attack without some thought either. We all know how well the Citadel fought off last the aerial assault."

"But now we have people on the inside. If they could disrupt the flow of..."

The Colonel focused his gaze on the man. "I'm aware of the problems, Lieutenant."

Stone leaned back in his chair and looked at the porthole. There was a broad field of stars and the disc of a planet several hundred thousand miles away. Somewhere on the planet's surface was the Citadel.

With people on the inside, to create trouble, it made sense to launch another aerial assault that might be able to exploit their advantage. If they could coordinate it properly.

"At the moment," said the Colonel, "we don't know what is happening inside the Citadel. We know that a few of our people are in there. I want to be in a position to respond to any opportunity."

Stone grinned to himself. It meant that they were going to flood the sky with attack ships and if anything happened in the Citadel, they would be ordered in. Those who thought, only moments before, that they were safe now realized that they were wrong.

"Flight commanders will have a schedule for patrol. This will be a maximum effort operation. All ships, pilots and crews will be used. There will be little time for rest during the next twenty-four hours. We will be on a full rotation for that time. You'll have to catch what rest you can when you can. Eat when you have the chance."

"Rules of engagement?" asked one of the pilots.

"We will fire when fired upon. You will not initiate an attack unless ordered to do so. We must keep in close coordination with the people inside the Citadel." The Colonel fell silent and looked into the grim faces of the men and women inside the briefing room. "Are there any questions?"

Of course there were none. Everyone understood exactly what had to be done.

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