Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Chapter fifty-three

At 2130 hours, Hyland walked to the jump off point, an arbitrary location chosen only because it was in a ravine that was shielded from the Citadel. Monier, dressed in black, with camouflage smeared on her face, was already there. She was sitting with her black to a rock, staring in the direction of the Citadel though she couldn't see it from her position.

"When we move out," she said, "I want you near me at all times. I want to know the instant you pick up anything. Anything at all."

Monier kept her attention focused on the Citadel. "You sure this is a good idea?"

"Hell, it's a lousy idea. It stinks. But there is nothing we can do about it now. We'll reach the damned wall, have our look around, and then get the hell out." Hyland turned and took a long look at the Citadel.

Monier turned so that she could look at Hyland who was little more than a black shape silouhetted against the lava. "Has anyone really thought about what we're going to do if... when we get to the wall?"

Hyland sat down and was quiet for a moment. "No," she said. "I've only thought about the best way to get us to the Citadel. That's all I've thought about." She turned to look up toward the Citadel again. "I've been wondering if you can actually communicate... mentally, with the people back here. That way we wouldn't have to use the radio. A radio emits detectable radiation."

"What makes you think that any communication worked through me wouldn't be detectable?"

"But I thought..."

"Thought waves are detectable and measurable. I don't know if my thought patterns will be significantly different than any others on the enemy equipment or if they have the right equipment to detect them, but they are detectable if someone is looking for them."

"Shit," said Hyland, but there was something there that gave her the germ of an idea. She tried to concentrate, but that forced it deeper, away from her. She let it go, hoping that it would return.

Price strolled up to the ravine, crouched at the edge of it and said, "I have arrived."

"Not getting here early?" said Hyland.

Price ignored that and said, "How you doing, Rachel?"

She laughed uneasily and said, "Not real good."

Price knew what she was thinking and he didn't have to have any psychic ability to do it. Monier was thinking about the bodies lying out there. They hadn't been able to recover them. It marked the location of engagement. It was the point that the Citadel had decided that the humans should be stopped. It had been the point where the possible threat had been recognized and eliminated. The Citadel had been ruthlessly efficient with its message. It was telling them to approach no closer. If they attempted it, they would be killed.

"Well," said Price, "all we can do is the best that we can do."

There was a noise and Price looked up to see two of the others straggling in. They were dressed in black and carrying nothing other than canteens and knives. They didn't say much as they dropped down into the ravine.

"I don't like this," Coollege whispered as she passed Price.

Hyland inspected the assembled group, searching the faces for clues about their emotions. Unable to read them easily, she shrugged and said, "I guess it's time. I'll take the point. Let's move slowly, carefully and try not to look hostile."

"This is stupid," said Lopez.

"Of course," said Hyland, "but we have no choice. We have our orders."

But nobody moved. They sat or stood there, trying to ignore the problem, their orders and the Citadel. Finally Hyland began to climb from the ravine so she could begin the slow march toward the Citadel.

One by one, the others followed her, stringing out behind her in a long, thin line. No one had ordered them to begin the attack. They had just fallen in behind the leader.

As they walked, Monier was aware of what the others were feeling now. Those in the squad were all frightened because they didn't understand what they were facing. The knew it was deadly. It had shown them that earlier. But now no one knew if the same rules applied. Maybe, because there were so few of them, they would be able to walk right up to the walls. That was what they hoped.

The minds of the others were filled with confusion... confusion and fear. Monier didn't like probing them, but she wanted to know what they really believed. She knew that she felt she would die in the next hour. She wanted to know if the others agreed with that, or if, because of their experience, they believed they would survive.

She reached out then, beyond those around her, to the other squads that were working their way toward the Citadel. Each of them had one or two people who had some pyschic ability. Some of them had trained with her in the past. One or two of them was almost as good as she was. She recognized the minds some of them, knew who they were, and what they were thinking. They were as unhappy as she was.

Hyland kept them moving slowly, worming their way around the larger lava boulders, the arroyos and ravines. She kept their attention focused on the target. It was nothing more than a black shape looming from the ground in front of them.

They kept moving for an hour and then stopped for a rest. Price wanted to slip down, into one of the shallow depressions close by and hide for a few minutes, but Hyland shook her head. If anyone took a hiding place, that could be interpreted as a hostile act. She wanted them out in the open looking as non-hostile as possible.

Monier said, "Everything is progressing on schedule. Every- one else is fine."

"Keep me informed," said Hyland.

"You get anything," said Price, "I want to know. Anything at all. Especially if you think it's from the interior of the Citadel. Don't try to interpret it, let Coollege and me worry about that."

"Yes, sir."

Hyland stood up and was looking directly Citadel, trying to see something more about it. There was a sudden, brilliant flash of light, a crisscross of blue beams that looked like a pie wedge of netting that stabbed briefly into the night.

Monier cried out, grabbed her head and fell to the ground. Price leaped to her. She grabbed his hand, squeezing it tightly. "Someone just died. I felt it. Him. Die."

"The Citadel fired," said Hyland.

Monier waved her hands in the air as if trying to brush away unseen demons. Her breathing was rapid and sweat dampened her forehead. She moaned low in her throat and seemed to lose consciousness for a moment. Then, an instant later she tried to sit up. "I'm all right," she said pushing aside Price's hands. "I just need a minute. Leave me alone."
"What happened?" asked Price.

"I don't know," she Monier, her voice low and quiet. "The Citadel just killed them. No warning at all. It just killed them."


"I don't know," said Monier. "One of the other attack squads. I just felt them die."

"You all right?" asked Hyland.

Monier rubber her temples, squeezing her eyes shut. She took a deep breath and checked herself slowly much the way an athlete would after a vicious hit. She made sure that everything was working well and then said, "Yes. Yes, I'm fine."

"We're not going to continue on now, are we?" asked Zouave.

Price looked at the sergeant and then said to Hyland, "He's right. I don't think we should proceed. Not now."

The idea came to Hyland in a single bright flash. Suddenly she knew what had been bothering her for the last few hours. She looked at Monier and asked, "Can you project?"

Monier didn't answer her right away. Finally she asked "What do you mean send?"

"Can you create images? Can you send those images to others?"

Monier thought about it, nodded, and said, "We have experimented with creating illusions... but we need a receptive mind. It's very hard to create images for you to see if that's what you mean."

"Then you might be able to project, at the enemy in the Citadel, the images of us walking toward the Citadel as we sit here and watch."

Monier looked toward Price for help, but said, "I don't know if there is anyone in there to receive."

"But you can do it?"

"Maybe... I don't know. It isn't something that we explored with any care..."

"Just try it," ordered Hyland. "Just try to project an image of us on the move."


"Whenever you feel up to it," said Hyland. She looked at the others and added, "Let's take cover now. Plan A is revised."

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