Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Chapter Fifty-four

Stone, having returned from the mission to bomb the Citadel, and having been carefully debriefed by the Colonel's staff, was alone in the intelligence office on the ship doing the best he could to observe the current situation on the planet's surface. The various sensor arrays, detection equipment, and visual observation gear provided him with an almost unobstructed view of the situation far below them. He wanted to see how the infantry assault, ordered without the benefit of any air support, was progressing. He already knew, based on first hand observations, how the aerial attack had gone.

On the center screen, he had a display that was a computer representation of everything that was happening. It was as if he was looking down on the Citadel from the top. It was a red mass, glowing with a bright light. The infantry positions were marked in green and the assault forces, the few there were, showed in flashing green. The few enemy guns that had been located were marked in orange and there was a bright yellow ring that marked the point where the infantry assault of the afternoon had been stopped with such deadly results.

Stone didn't know exactly where Price and Coollege were, only that they were on the ground with one of the infantry companies. He hoped they were smart enough to stay in the background, away from the action, because that was where the intelligence officers should be. Back where they could observe the action, gather data, and brief the officers who needed the information for the follow on missions.

There was a quiet chirp behind him and he turned to look toward the hatch. On the display screen mounted on the bulkhead, he saw the Colonel. He leaned forward, touched a button and said, "Please come in, sir." He then killed the display on the center screen because it was classified.

As the hatch irised open, Stone stood and assumed the position of attention.

The Colonel waved a hand and said, "Please be seated." The Colonel found a chair where he could see main view screen. "What do you have here?"

Stone replaced the display, complete with the "Top secret" markings on it. He then moved toward the screen, pointed up at it and began a detailed explanation of everything on the display. He finally looked back at the Colonel and said, "I don't know what's happening now. This is real time, minus about thirty minutes for transmission, interception and processing. Given our position in space, I can't refine it much better than that."

The Colonel ignored the explanation. Instead, he asked, "You've been thoroughly debriefed by intelligence about the aerial mission?"

"Yes, sir. I'm afraid that there wasn't much I could tell them that they didn't already know."

"What was you impression?"

Stone shrugged and then thought about it carefully. "That they had it, meaning our attack, very well defended. No wasted motion... no wasted shots. They waited until we were in range before they opened fire. That suggests good overall discipline... The hardest thing to do is instill proper fire discipline on green troops. They always think you have to throw out rounds to break up the attack. These guys waited until they knew that they could hit something before they shot."

The Colonel, his attention focused on the screen, said, "Very good. You think, then, that we're facing a well trained force down there."

"Yes, sir. A well trained and highly disciplined military force."

"Do you think we'll be able to crack the Citadel?"

"Yes, sir. I'm just concerned about the number of people that we'll use up to crack it."

Some of the shapes shifted on the middle screen. There was a sudden flash of light that reached out and touched a number of the infantry troops..
"What's happening?"

Stone said, "The Citadel is now firing on one of the squads. Or rather, it fired about thirty minutes ago."

The beams faded and the lights showing some of the infantry winked out one by one.

"We've lost some people," said Stone quietly.


"I don't know," said Stone.

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