Price and Coollege stood at the rear of the formation and listened to the pep talk given by Hyland. Price thought about the last few hours spent with the infantry. They had watched as Hyland ran her company as they all had slipped into the position among the buildings about twelve thousand yards away from the Citadel. They had spent the night watching and listening to everything around them.
When the briefing was over, Coollege leaned close to him and whispered, "I have to agree with that young officer. I don't think this is very well thought out."
Price nodded and took a deep breath. "There is something going on here. The Colonel, or someone on high, believes that we must take care of this now. That Citadel must be neutralized for some reason."
"To prove to the locals that we are powerful?" suggested Coollege.
"I don't know. Every time we have encountered these people, we have been able to defeat them. First is their asteroid traps us, but we get out of it... defeat it if you think it through. Then our scouts encounter their pickets and blow through them without much trouble. One scout orbits their home planet and gets out." Price wasn't aware of the results of the attack by the fighters the night before. That information had not been shared with the forces on the ground.
"So there is no reason to reduce the Citadel by storm," said Coollege.
"None that I can think of. This is just some kind of macho play by the brass..." He fell silent for a moment and then changed tactics. "If this was Earth, we'd have everything we have deployed to defend ourselves. Nothing would get close to our home world."
"But here we are, on the planet's surface. We landed a large force and there is no resistence."
"That's what doesn't make sense," said Price. "Here we are, threatening their world but they don't seem to care."
Coollege felt her stomach turn over. Suddenly she was cold. "They only defend the Citadel," she said. "It is the only place on the planet's surface that we have seen any sort of activity that makes sense." She hadn't forgotten the creatures and the pipeline, but that made no sense to her.
"Which means that the infantry is going to get chopped all to hell as they approach it," said Price. He was suddenly sure of that analysis.
"We going to tell Hyland?"
Price didn't answer her. He turned and started walking toward Hyland. Coollege followed behind him. All around the soldiers were getting ready for the assault. They would leave the packs behind, taking only their water, first aid kits, weapons and ammo. Nothing else would be needed.
"Captain," called Price as he approached, "can I talk to you for a moment?"
Hyland stopped and looked back at him. "I've got a lot to do in the next minute."
"Captain," said Price, "I was dropped on this planet before you to evaluate the situation. Then, not waiting for that evaluation, the Colonel landed part of his regiment here."
"I am aware of that."
"The point," said Price, "is that the only place on this planet they have attempted to defend is the Citadel. The only place on this planet that seems to have a function is the Citadel. They have made no real effort to stop us anywhere else."
"And we have made no real push to take it," said Hyland. "That we're about to do."
"Might I suggest, that if you are still in communications with the battalion commander, I would suggest a delay in the schedule."
For the first time, it looked as if she was worried. "What do you have?"
Price glanced back at Coollege and then said, "Nothing firm, but then, our job is to take our observations and those of the soldiers around us, and translate them into meaningful information."
"So...and remember the clock is running."
"It seems to me... us," said Price hitchhiking a thumb at Coollege, "that they will defend the Citadel with everything they have. We're all walking into a trap of sorts."
"Based on your analysis of the situation," said Hyland.
"Exactly," said Price.
"Then might I suggest you communicate that to the battalion commander yourself and leave me to prepare for the upcoming assault."
Hyland cut him off. "But nothing. I have a great deal of work to do before the assault begins and I have about thirty seconds to get it done." She hurried off, suddenly running toward one of the sergeants.
"Now what?" asked Coollege.
"We stick with them to watch the show. Someone has to be available to explain what happened here."
"Great," said Coollege. "Can't we just review the combat holos and speculate from there."
"Maybe there is something we can do..." Price stopped talking as the infantry formed their lines to begin the assault, "...but I doubt it."
"I told her to help Hyland. Maybe she'll pick up something that'll stop the slaughter."
"But you don't think so," said Coollege.