Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Chapter Fifty

Price stood under the canvas cover that had been erected next to a giant outcropping of lava to create a little shade. He stood with a hand on the lava and watched as the soldiers staggered in. It was an army that had been beaten. One that had been slaughtered in a few moments of battle. He could see the look of defeat on their faces and knew that if there was a way to get off the planet, they would take it without question. At the moment, they didn't want to go back into battle. They just wanted to get the hell out.

Coollege was sitting with her back to them. She didn't want to watch. "We should have known."
"Known what?" asked Price.

"That would happen..." She hitchhiked a thumb over her shoulder.

Price stared down at her. "I told Hyland... I tried to advise battalion to be careful."

"We should have been more forceful," said Coollege. "We should have told them that the enemy would fire at them with the laser weapons."

Price was about to respond and then thought better of it. She did have a point. They should have suspected that the Citadel would turn the weapons on the soldiers as the aerial assault was eliminated.

Hyland appeared then looking haggard and tired. She sat down without a word, picked up a loose piece of lava and examined it as if she had never seen anything so fascinating. Finally she said, "We got hammered. We didn't even get close."

Price nodded and said, "It did seem to deal with the threats on a sliding scale..." He rubbed his chin slowly. "It took out the most damaging assault first."

"We did get closer than the other units," said Hyland, almost as if trying to alibi the poor showing.

"What did Monier say?" asked Coollege.

"Nothing," said Hyland. "She didn't have a clue."

Price sat down beside her. "It wasn't your fault."

"No," said Hyland, "I don't need this. I know that it wasn't my fault. But I have friends out there. Lots of good people are dead..."

"I don't think that a frontal assault is a good idea ever," said Price.

"Now you mention it," said Hyland. Her voice was dull, tired, lifeless.

"There has got to be a way to crack that thing," said Coollege.

"If that little creature was still alive," said Price, "we could ask it a few questions. Maybe it could provide us with a clue."

"What are you talking about?" asked Hyland.

Price waved a hand. It would do no good to tell her that they had a valuable intelligence source that had died before they could exploit it. Maybe they would have had a better picture of the Citadel if the creature had been able to tell them about it before they arrived here...if they had known enough to ask the right questions of it at the time.

"So now what do we do?" asked Coollege.

"Our jobs. We get with the people, debrief them and see if they saw something that we didn't. Maybe there was something that we can exploit."

"I wish you'd wait," said Hyland. "This has been quite a shock."

"I know," said Price, "but it's fresh in the mind. The details are beginning to fade already. It's the details that we have to get."

One of the sergeants, in sweatstained and dirty khakis appeared. "Special signal from the fleet. They want an acknowledgement in ten minutes."

Hyland slammed a fist onto her thigh and said, "Why can't they give us a chance to sort through it. Just a few fucking minutes to ourselves."

"Maybe they've figured it out," said Price.

"Right," said Hyland. "And it will cost the lives of more of my people."

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