The Colonel looked at the assembled pilots and said, "You're going to have to do it again."
"Again?" said Stone quietly, but not quietly enough.
The Colonel looked at him and said, "I'm afraid so. We want a diversion as the seven companies that have been landed advanced on the Citadel."
"Diversion?" said one of the others.
"Is there an echo in here?" The Colonel glanced at the woman who had just spoken. "Sometimes," he said, "we're required to sacrifice for the greater good."
The Colonel turned his gaze on Stone but Stone was not intimidated.
"Let me see if I can clarify that then," said the Colonel evenly. "In this case the diversion will serve an important purpose."
"Yes, sir," said Stone.
"The plan," said the Colonel, "is to keep the enemy in the Citadel so busy worrying about the air threat that they will pay no attention to the advancing ground forces. By the time they perceive this as a threat, the infantry will be in the shadow of the walls."
"Colonel," said Stone, raising his hand slightly, "why is this necessary?"
"Are you questioning the orders?" The Colonel's voice was turning nasty.
"No, sir. I was just wondering the motive for this particular mission. They have not ventured from their system in strength. Hell, it doesn't seem they have ventured out at all except for the asteroid and a few pickets scattered around close to home."
"I would have thought that the answers would be self- evident," said the Colonel. "Every time we have come into contact with them, it has cost lives of our people. Several of those who landed on the asteroid died. They have fired on us first each time we have encountered them."
"Yes, sir," said Stone. He decided that it was now time to keep his mouth shut. Nothing he said was going to change any minds on the regimental staff. The die was long cast and it seemed that the staff believed that the enemy was hostile toward them.
"We will begin our mission, with all available craft, fully loaded, at zero six hundred. It will be designed as a mission to destroy the Citadel. Now, I don't believe that we will be successful in that attack, but I want the mission designed that way."
He looked at the assembled pilots. "We're going to destroy that Citadel and stop the threat from this planet. Once they understand that we have the capability to do that, I'm sure that communication can be opened between our people and the enemy in the Citadel."
"We have tried communication?" asked one of the officers who rarely spoke at such meetings. He preferred to sit quietly in the back and listen.
"Ever since we made contact with the asteroid, we have attempted communication in many different ways. We have been met with hostile attitudes. There is nothing else we can do."
"What happens if we destroy the Citadel?"
"Then our problems are solved before the infantry assault," said the Colonel. "With the Citadel out of operation, we will own that planet. We can then establish communications the inhabitants without having to worry about them shooting at us."
Stone wasn't sure if that was right or not. He did know that everything did seem to be concentrated in the Citadel and that the enemy seemed to be extremely hostile. If the Citadel was eliminated, then there would be no organized opposition anywhere else.
"There is a lot to be done before the attack," said the Colonel. "If there are no other important questions, I suggest we all get back to work."
The men and women in the briefing room came to attention as the Colonel walked to the hatch. As soon as he was gone, the room exploded into a hundred conversations.
Stone looked around and shook his head. It didn't seem that anything in this campaign had been well thought out. But then, it wasn't up to him to decide that. He was not required to approve of the tactics or the overall plan. It was his job to follow his orders.