Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Chapter Forty-seven

At 2130 hours, Hyland walked over to the jump off point, an arbitrary location chosen only because it was in an open area that was shielded from the Citadel by a pattern in the lava. Monier, dressed in black as she had been when she landed on the planet's surface, was sitting on the ground, her back against a short wall built from black lava. She was eating from a dark green can.

"When we move out," said Hyland, "I want you near me at all times. I want to know the instant you begin to receive any impressions from the Citadel. Anything at all."

Monier looked up, the plastic spoon halfway between the can and her mouth. She was surprised by the comment. "Then you don't question my ability."

"Since you're here and Captain Price assures me that he has convince in your ability, I have confidence in your ability. I want you close to me."

Monier dropped her spoon into the can. "You sure this is a good idea?"

Hyland misunderstood the question and said, "It's a lousy idea. It stinks. But there is nothing we can do about it except try to stack the deck so that we survive. We reach the damned wall, look around and then sneak away into the night. The only thing that I can think of is for us to look as non-hostile as possible and hope the Citadel ignores us. If we are not a threat to it, it might leave us alone. That is the only thing that I can think of."

"It doesn't sound like any of this is well thought out," said Monier.

"I suppose," said Hyland, "that from one point of view, it's not. But the brass are looking for a way to crack the Citadel and until we do it, they'll keep coming up with wild-ass plans like this one."

"Has anyone really thought about how the Citadel is going to react?"

Hyland shook her head. "We just don't know enough about it to make any assumptions."

Swain appeared. His uniform was sweat stained although it wasn't that hot, yet. He slipped to one knee to rest. "Captain, battle lines are to be drawn in about ten minutes."

"Officer's call in three."

"Yes, ma'am."

"You stay close to me, Monier" Hyland repeated.

"I'll need to talk to Captain Price."

"You go right ahead, but I want you here before we jump off."

As Monier walked away, the platoon leaders and the executive officer began to arrive. Hyland thought about the coded orders that she had received only a few minutes earlier. It didn't seem logical to attack the Citadel without some kind of preliminary reconnaissance, but no one had asked her opinion. They had just sent down the orders and now she had to figure out the best way to execute them.

She waited as the officers crowded close. "In the next few minutes," she said, "we begin the ground assault." She waited for a response but when there was none, said, "We will, of course, use standard fire and maneuver tactics, but no one is to fire until we are shot at by the defenders of the Citadel. If we approach slowly and carefully we might not be viewed as a threat."

She continued on for the next several minutes, explaining what she thought was the best methods, what the line order of the platoons would be and what weapons would be used. She sketched it out quickly and then looked at the assembled officers.

"Sounds like a pretty flimsy plan to me," said Stephen Cross, the second platoon leader. Like all the other junior officers, he was young and eager, and searching for great glory.

Hyland pivoted so that she could stare at Cross. He was one of the few officers who hadn't seen combat, so nerves were expected and nerves made him talk. Hyland asked, "Are there any other relevant comments?"

There were none.

"All right," said Hyland, "everyone rejoin your units and be ready in," she glanced at her wrist, shielding the LCD on her watch from the bright sun, "two minutes and fifteen seconds."

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