Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Chapter Forty

When the invasion began, Price didn't know it. Neither did Coollege. They were laying in the tall grass at the edge of the city, watching, searching for lights, for movement, for any sign that the enemy was alive and well and hiding in there. But they could see nothing out of the ordinary. They saw nothing to suggest any life.

Monier was there too, but she wasn't watching the city. Her eyes were on the night sky above them, searching for any sign of the fleet. She knew it was close, not because of anything she could see, or anything that she knew, but because of what she felt.

"They're coming," she said quietly.

"Who's coming?" asked Price.

"The fleet... the invasion." Monier looked at Price. "They're very close now."

Coollege turned and looked at Monier. She asked, "How do you know?"

Monier pointed to the north. "They're out there about to hit the city."

Price asked, "Are you picking up anything from the locals? Anything at all?"

Monier closed her eyes and dropped her head to the ground. After a moment she said, "Nothing."

"Tree," said Coollege, "we've got to do something. Move out. Get closer. Or get the hell out of here. Especially if the invasion is going to start soon."

Price, using the image enhancer, scanned the city in front of them again. He thought that darkness would help him spot the enemy in the city. There would be lights. Electric lights or flashlights or fires or something, but the area directly in front of him was pitch black. The only light was from the sky. One of the tiny moons and the blaze of stars.

There was no movement in that portion of the city. There had been none when they arrived. He had watched carefully, but it was obvious that the buildings were deserted. Good escape and evasive technique told him to stay away from such areas, but then, he wasn't escaping and evading and apparently no one on the planet cared that he was there.

He wanted to say that they would move out in fifteen minutes but there was no reason to delay. They'd been there for a couple of hours, they had studied the terrain carefully, and they were well fed and rested.

"Let's go," said Price. "I'll take the point. Stay ten twelve yards behind me. Jackknife, you have the rear."


"Again," said Price. He rolled to the right and picked up his pack. He climbed to his knees, shouldered his pack and adjusted it. Out of habit, he checked his rifle, making sure that it was ready to fire. Without a word, he stood, moved to the very edge of the forest and hesitated. Finally he stepped out, crouched low, and behind to jog across the open field of soft dirt. He wanted to reach the crumbling buildings as quickly as he could.

Monier followed behind him and Coollege waited until he was about halfway across the open area before she left the forest. They ran in a zigzag pattern, using the little cover available to them. Price slowed once, as if he was going to drop to the ground but didn't. He reached the buildings, ran past the first of them and stopped at the corner of one that showed no apparent sign of deterioration.

Monier stopped right behind him and Coollege joined them a moment later. She was breathing hard, as if she had sprinted the last hundred yards rather than jogging. Price looked at her and raised a questioning eyebrow.

"Clear behind us," said Coollege. "Just getting a little lonesome back there. And, didn't like being out there as the only target."

"They should be starting at any time now," said Monier.

"Who?" asked Coollege.

"The fighters," said Monier. "Our fighters. Hitting the Citadel."

"What the hell is the Citadel?" asked Price, forgetting that she had explained it to him once before.

"It's what they calling the main part of the city now," said Monier. "They think the control of the planet is hidden in the Citadel. It's the center of power."

Price turned toward the north, staring at the dark sky over head, searching for the strike aircraft. He thought he could see flashes of light that marked their entrance to the planet's atmosphere, but couldn't be sure.

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