Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Chapter Fifty-five

Monier was sitting up, her back against the rough stone of the lava, feeling the sharp angles pressing into her skin. At the moment, she didn't care about that. She was thinking about the deaths she had felt. The sudden blackness that overwhelmed the others.

She didn't want to dwell on that. And, she didn't want to look at the Citadel because it had caused those deaths. At the moment the sight of it frightened her badly. She had no idea of what was hidden behind the thick stone walls and that was a situation that she was not used to.

"Any time you're ready," said Hyland.

Monier shook her head. "I'm not sure that I know what I'm doing here. I'm not sure that I'm ever going to be ready again."

"Just try to create the image of us moving through the lava beds toward the Citadel. Just think about that and nothing else. Just see us stand up here, in the arroyo, climb clear and continue the march."

"I don't know if it'll do any good," said Monier.

"It won't hurt," said Hyland. For an instant she was angry and then it passed. Anger wasn't going to help the situation at all.

Monier shifted around and then climbed up to where she could see out over the open plain that lead to the Citadel. She studied it briefly and then said, "When I began, please don't talk. The slightest distraction will break my concentration. I need to concentrate."

"Okay," said Hyland. "Let's spread out and remain alert and stay quiet."

Price stood up so that he could watch the show. The only problem was that there wasn't anything to see. Just the open ground, hidden by the dark and shadows, and the Citadel dominating the landscape beyond it. He looked for some sign that something was happening on the plains near him or inside the Citadel but there was nothing there for him to see. It was as if the Citadel was deserted and the infantry had lifted from the planet.

Price had just about decided that the plan had failed when the blue net flashed again, reaching out to where the phantom squad should be. The laser lights faded as suddenly as they had brightened and that was it. The Citadel took no other notice of them.

"Now what?" asked Price.


Coollege said, "Well, we know a couple of things we didn't know before. First, whoever is in there can detect the illusions or whatever was created by Monier." She stopped and thought about what she had just said.

"Thought you didn't believe in any of this psychic crap," said Price.

"I do when I can see the evidence with my own eyes. She was obviously creating some kind of image that was detected and then engaged."

"And we know," said Hyland, "that they'll engage anything or anyone who gets too close to them regardless of the steps taken to look non-hostile."

"The question is then," said Price, "will they engage us again?"

"Why wouldn't they?" asked Hyland. "We've just seen the evidence."

"Because they've already killed us... it would seem inefficient to do it again... kill us again," said Price.

"Captain," said Hyland, "I don't believe I care to bet my life on that theory."

"Maybe I can do it again," said Monier. "Make the Citadel think that we've reappeared right where we were detected and eliminated."

"And if," said Coollege, "they're using electronic sensors, they might think they've got a ghost image. They'll fire at it and there'll be no results, they'll stop firing. Then we can walk up."

Price was surprised by the enthusiasm in Coollege's voice. She was never excited about anything, but now she saw a way to penetrate the Citadel and she wanted to take it. Even if it was betting against the odds.

But Hyland seemed to understand what was being said. To Monier, she said, "Do it again. Create another squad and let it take the same route toward the Citadel."

"What good will that..." began Monier.

"Just do it, Rachel," said Price. "We'll see if the Citadel will engage the second squad."

"If you think it will do any good..." She had realized that as long as they sat in the arroyo, they were safe. If she created phantom squad after phantom squad, she would be in no danger. The danger would come when they were ordered from the arroyo and toward the Citadel.

When they fell silent and Monier began to concentrate again. She said nothing. Now all of them were watching the Citadel. But nothing happened this time. There was no burst of fire. Nothing at all.

Monier exhaled explosively and wiped at her face with her hand. Finally she turned to Hyland and said, "I think that's about it."

"You detecting anything from the Citadel?"

"No," said Monier. "I still don't get anything from it."

"Then I guess we try it for real," said Hyland. She turned to the rest of the squad. "Let's saddle up. We've got a long walk to make.

"Wait," said Zouave. "Wait! Let's think about this for a moment."

"Nothing to think about," said Hyland. "We have our orders and no one has rescinded them."

"Which doesn't mean we have to do this stupidly," said Zouave.

"All we have to do is take it easy and let Monier keep her attention focused in case there is any activity," said Price. "It'll be a cakewalk."

"Of course," said Hyland not sure that she agreed but knowing there was nothing else she could do. "Let's get going."

No comments: