Thursday, February 15, 2007

Chapter Fourteen

Monier sat in the intelligence office, in front of the main viewer, the computer record from the scout ship playing in front of her. She watched the images as they paraded across the screen, aware of other images marching through her mind. Fleeting images that were more shadow than substance.

When the hatch behind her chimed softly before opening, she hit the cut off button and the image on the screen faded, but not those in her mind. She saw a group of humanoid creatures that had a feline look, with hair on the forearms and the legs below the knees but almost none on the head. She didn't understand the vision but was sure that the beings were not native to the planet.

The hatch irised open and both Price and Coollege entered. Monier glanced over her shoulder at them, looked back at the blank screen and then, suddenly at the two others. "So that is the way it is."

Coollege stopped in her tracks. "Is there anyone on this ship who minds his own business?" Then she remembered who Monier was and what the rumors said. She felt her face grow hot and knew that she was turning red. To hide it, she moved quickly to the console and bent over it as if to study it carefully.

Then she whirled, stared at Monier and flared. "You just stay the hell away from me."

"I didn't do anything," said Monier.

"Just keep your snotty comments to yourself. I don't want you playing with my mind. You hear me?"

Monier looked at Price helplessly and then said, "I didn't read your mind. I didn't read anyone's mind. I don't read anyone's mind without their permission."

"Bullshit," snapped Coollege. "No wonder no one trusts you with you slinging the bullshit like that."

Again Monier looked at Price. She didn't say anything in response.

Price shrgged at her and said, "Let it go, Jackknife."

"Why should I? She's the one causing the trouble." Coollege turned to face him, her fists on her hips, her eyes unblinking.

"This is completely irrational," said Price. "Lieutenant Monier is an officer and by definition she is trustworthy. If you have evidence to the contrary..."

"Just having her here," said Coollege.

"Okay," said Price, his voice hardening. "That was the put up or shut up, Lieutenant. Now, if you have no evidence that Monier has been anything but honorable, I will thank you to shut the fuck up. If she has behaved in a way that is not prescribed by regulations, you present your evidence. If not, then shut up. I am tired of this now. Lieutenant Monier will be given the benefit of the doubt. Do I make myself clear?"

Coollege stood stiffly, staring at Price and then lowered her eyes. "I understand, Captain."

"You two don't have to be friends, but you will work together. Neither of you has a choice in this matter. Is that understood?"

Coollege nodded and Monier said, "Yes, sir."

"Good, said Price. He let things settle for a moment and then asked Monier, "What have you been doing this morning?"

"Just reviewing the material brought in last night. I'm afraid that I haven't come up with anything extraordinary though."

Price sat down and twisted around in the chair. He leaned both elbows on the desk and said, "Tell me what you have?"

"Just a few impressions. I understand, from the computer file, that the scout didn't find any sign of a biological race on the planet."

"He found evidence that someone had been there once but nothing current."

"I get the impression that they were still there."

"Our instruments would have picked them up if they were there in any concentration."

Monier shrugged. "I don't want to argue the value of the instruments but it is possible that the enemy has developed some kind of a masking device."

"To what purpose?" asked Coollege.

"That I don't know but I can speculate. They have sent out one probe..."

"Yeah," interrupted Price. "One that we know about. I would assume the sent others throughout the galaxy. That's not the sort of thing you do only once."

"So," said Monier, "they have the ability to do it and they know the capabilities of their device. Now, suppose they assume there are other races with a technology equal to theirs. In other words, they take steps to hide their existence from anyone who comes looking."

"You base that on anything other than speculation?"

"Just that and the fact that I believe there are people on that planet but our instruments couldn't find them."

"Jackknife, why don't you lock the door. Let's review what the scout has and see if there is anything there that was overlooked."

"Sure," said Coollege.

For the next hour they watched the main screen as the images flashed. They focused on small sections and magnified them as much as possible. They found separate buildings, they saw some plant life, trees, bushes and even flowers growing at the sides of some of the buildings. They spotted what looked to be railroad tracks that hadn't been used for a long time. Gaps in the roadbed and the reddish color of the rails suggested that, though Price wasn't sure that engineers on another planet would build a railroad using iron rails.

But for all the searching they could find no evidence of any movement or any means of transportation other than the tracks. No rolling stock was visible. No cars or trucks on the roads and certainly nothing in the air.

Price rocked back in his chair, laced his fingers behind his head and said, "You think that the pickets radioed a warning and everyone took cover?"

"That'd never work on Earth," said Coollege. "There would always be someone who didn't get the word. Even the fastest survey conducted by the enemy would catch some people in the street."

"I'd have to agree," said Monier. "Hell, you'd have some people spelling out words to greet the visitors trying to be clever."

"If a state of war existed?" said Price.

"Even then," said Coollege. "There is always someone who has the dissenting view or believes the enemy is right and we are wrong. You just couldn't do it."

"So, if they did," said Price, "that tells us something more about them. Just as sticking one of their people on a ship that stayed in space for fifteen thousand years."

Price stood up and walked around his chair. He glanced back up at the screen and then walked to it, staring up at it. "Let's get some of this into the computer for the Colonel. We'll have to label it speculation, but then, that's what we're supposed to do. analysis," Price corrected himself. "This is analysis."

"I'd like some more information to work with," said Coollege.

"They'll probably send in more scouts now that they've scored a hit," said Price. "They'll need to gather more information as quickly as they can."

"And warn the enemy."

"Wait a minute," said Price. "We're assuming that we have an enemy. They might be the most friendly people in the world...make that galaxy."

"Except that they fired on the scout the first chance they got," Coollege reminded him.

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