Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Chapter Fifty-one

Hyland took the coded message and read it quickly. Then slowly she wadded it into a tiny ball of paper but didn't throw it away. That wasn't sound military procedure. She stared at the paper and shook her head.

The orders were simple. The Colonel and his staff had decided that a blatant frontal assault, no matter how complex and coordinated, would eventually fail. The enemy would see it coming and repeal it, and they couldn't put together a force of sufficient size to overwhelm the Citadel's defenses. A series of small raids, however, designed to breach the walls might succeed. Even if they failed, the information gathered might allow them to find a weakness to exploit by another, larger assault force. Without the pyrotechnic of a high altitude bombing and missile attack, or a large scale assault, the small units might be overlooked.

Price was standing right behind her. She glanced over her shoulder, indicated the orders. She asked, "You see it?"


"It won't work," she said. "More fodder for the cannon."

Price, standing there on the rough broken lava of some extinct volcano and sweating in the afternoon sun, shook his head. He wasn't sure that Hyland wasn't right. It was a suicide mission designed to test the defenses with the lives of the soldiers on the planet's surface. Those on the ships of the fleet didn't understand the situation on the ground. That meant that Price was failing at his job.

"I'm not going to do it," said Hyland evenly. "I can't do it."

Price said, "There might be something I can do if I can get some information to the Colonel."

"You can use every aspect of the communications facilities here," said Hyland. " All of it or any of it. If there is anything else I can do..."

Price looked at the remains of the company. It was scattered around, using the cover that was available, to hide from the Citadel. They were a quiet bunch, unaware that their fate had been sealed by the orders from the fleet.

"I'm going to have get ready for the big push no matter what," said Hyland.

"I'll let you know what I find out," said Price. He walked off then, glancing up at the Citadel, sitting in the distance. It dominated the whole area, but seemed unconcerned that anyone was close.

He found the radio operator who had set up shop in the shadow of a large boulder. They had stretched a canvas shelter half from the top of the rock to the ground creating a little shade to protect the equipment. Price crouched there, out of the way but in the shade, and tried to think of what to say. He used the code book to compose his analysis of the situation and finally handed it over to the radio operator who broadcast it immediately but there was no response other than the acknowledgement that it had been received.

"When you get an answer, let me know."

"Yes, sir."

Price returned to where Hyland sat. There were a couple of people with her, including Coollege and Monier. Hyland waited until he walked up and said, "I've assembled my assault team."

"Shouldn't it be on a volunteer basis?" asked Price.

"No. You take volunteers when its a general assignment. You order people when there are special needs. I'm afraid this is going to require special needs."

"What are you planning to do?" asked Price.

"I am going to take seven people and I am going to try to get as close to the Citadel as I can. And then I'm going to retreat and report that we did what we could." She stared at Price for a moment. "I'm taking the officers and not the kids. We know the score but I'm not convinced that all the kids do. We're supposed to take care of them, not use them to test the capabilities of the enemy's fortifications."

"I'll take one of those positions on the assault team," said Price.

"I had counted on that already. You and Coollege and Monier."

"Not Monier," said Price. "She hasn't been in the army more than a few months. She's one of those kids you were talking about."

"We need her," said Hyland. "She is the key to this thing. If we're going to survive it, we're going to need her."

"I don't see how," said Price.

"Oh, come on... She knows things. She can feel things. I don't understand how it works, but I know there are people who can detect danger that the rest of us can't see. I think we need her with us." Hyland stopped talking, realizing that she was preaching to the choir. Price already knew about Monier's abilities.

Price shrugged. "We leave it up to her then. No orders. She has the choice."


"How soon do you take off?" asked Price.

"Sun down."

"Why? There is no reason to wait. The enemy can see as well in the dark as it can in the daylight. Hell we can see as well in the dark with the image enhancers."

"But we don't have to worry about sunstroke at night," responded Hyland.

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