Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Chapter Forty-four

There was a single, deafening roar, a flash of bright light, and the shuttle was gone. As it disappeared into the night sky, the noise of the engine fading, Hyland realized just how alone they were. Around the planet there were other companies landing, but the line was stretched thin and the communications had yet to be established.

Swain appeared, as if by magic, but didn't salute. "Company is down and deployed. All equipment made it intact."

"That's something," said Hyland. "Are we ready to move out now?"

"Everything is set, Captain."

Hyland took a moment to look around. They were on a open area between two sections of buildings. It looked like the green belts that were being designed into cities on Earth. The only difference was that there was nothing green growing around them.

Although the buildings were more than a hundred or more yards away and it was night, it appeared they had been abandoned. No sign of light and no sign of life.

Swain seemed to read Hyland's mind. "I got patrols out already to make sure there's no ambush hiding in there." He turned to face the closest buildings, but didn't point. Too many people in too many wars have been killed by snipers because they were pointing and therefore appeared to be officers. Or if not officers, important.

"Looks to be abandoned."

Swain didn't answer that. "I think it'll take us about four hours to get to the rally point if I read the aerials right and understand the distances."

"Who do you want on the point?" asked Hyland.

Swain looked at Gotler standing to one side looking as if she was about ready to bolt. Her rifle was clutched in both hands. Her knuckles were white.

"How about Lieutenant Gotler?"

Hyland failed to hid her grin but said, "No. She'll be with me. Give the point to the first platoon. I want to get moving quickly."

"Yes, ma'am."

As Swain disappeared, giving the orders to the various platoon leaders and sergeants, Hyland said, "The best place to gather intelligence is on the point."

"I don't gather, I interpret. There is a difference." She stood quietly for a moment and then asked, "Do you think there will be contact?"

"Doesn't look like it," said Hyland. "Doesn't look like there is anyone around."


The troops fanned out with those from the first platoon taking a position closest to the buildings. When the gear was distributed and the soldiers were ready, first platoon moved out slowly, spreading across the open area until they covered nearly half a klick. They were taking no chances by bunching up.

When they were nearing the first group of buildings, the second platoon started off. The whole company began to move finally, spread over the open field.

They entered the built up area but there was no sign of life. Sand had drifted against some of the buildings. Doors hung open and windows were broken. No light showed anywhere. The soldiers were forced to use image enhancers to see anything at all. They began to break open doors so that they could search the interiors.

Hyland, taking her turn in the rotation, kicked one door open and slipped in her back to the wall, the muzzle of her weapon searching for a threat. The interior was empty except for a broken chair thrown into a corner. She picked it up and saw that one of the legs was missing. It was a small chair, looking as if it belonged to a child but it was recognizable as a chair.

All the windows were broken and dirt and sand were spread across the floor, piling up against the interior wall. It was obvious that no one had crossed it recently.

Keeping her back against the rough stone wall, she moved to the short staircase. She could see into the upper hall. There was nothing up there either. Apparently everything of value had been carrier off long ago.

Once outside, she watched as the company cleared the street, finding nothing of use. They worked their way down the long street without learning a thing about the creatures who had built and lived in the city and then abandoned it.

Swain finally broke away and ran over to where Hyland stood near an intersection. There were no street signs or street lights or even any trash. Just the sand that was invading, and threatening to cover everything over.

"I'm thinking of the Mayan cities on Earth. Abandoned for no apparent reason, reclaimed by the jungle...only here, it's the sand."

"You're getting philosophical, Sergeant," said Hyland.

"Nope. Just thinking of what it would have been like if we'd found one of the Mayan cities fifty years after it had been abandoned. That's all."

"I think we can assume that there are no enemy soldiers hidden in this section of the city. We have seen nothing, taken no fire and found no evidence of any armed force. Let's head on to the rally point."

"I must say, Captain, that a well hidden enemy could be sitting around here somewhere."

"If it was on our lines of communication, I would agree, but we're not coming back here. If and when we are extracted, we'll extract from our location. We will not be required to return here or to the field we used for landing."

"Shall I alert the first platoon?"

"Let's take a ten minute break. Full security out, but everyone gets a chance to take a drink of water, eat a candy bar, or whatever."

"By whatever do you mean take a piss?"

"And leave evidence of our passing?" asked Hyland.

"You mean like our footprints in the sand and the kicked in doors along the street."


"I'll get on it right now," said Swain.

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