Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Chapter Thirty-five

The bedlam in the company area had been nothing compared to the confusion in the shuttle bay. The company stood in platoon formation with crates of equipment stacked around the shuttle craft. Sailors ran from one group to the next screaming orders that appeared to be contradictory. A dozen soldiers including a couple of officers were adding to the din, shouting at everyone around them. A few NCOs were running from platoon to platoon with no plan in mind. They were just moving around because they believed they had to.

Hyland stood at the hatch, pleased that her company was formed and ready to board the shuttles. They were all dressed in khaki, with body armor covering their torsos, helmets that hid everything but the eyes and nose, and weighted gloves that could be used as saps.

"Looks like a desert environment," said Hyland.

Swain, next to her said, "Predominate color is tan. The Citadel is tan... desert environment clothing was required by the OPLAN."

An officer approached. She looked like a teenager. She saluted and said, "Second Lieutenant Judith Gotler."

"So?" said Hyland.

"Last minute intell from the planet's surface."

"Can we talk here?" asked Swain.

"Why not?" asked Gotler. "No one here is going to be able to tell anyone if they hear anything they're not supposed to hear anyway."

Swain shrugged and Hyland said, "Give it to us then."

"The population, based on the reports of the ground teams, is very sparse. No large scale cities other than the Citadel. Sensor and radar sweeps reveal nothing unusual based any where. There are some indications of defenses located on the closest celestial bodies. The landing will either be unopposed or there will be very light resistance."

Swain interrupted. "You're predicting that we'll either be unopposed or opposed."

"Lightly opposed."

Swain rolled his eyes. "You've told us nothing that we don't already know."

Gotler looked hurt but said, "Then what about this. One team approached a group of the enemy and they ignored him. It was as if he didn't exist. They saw him. They had to. He spoke to them, but they just kept on working."

Swain looked at Hyland. "That's going to complicate the mission."

"How?" asked Gotler though it really was none of her business.

Hyland said, "If the locals are harmless, we can't just open fire when we see them. If they see us, do they report that to someone and if they do, does that make them a threat to us? The invading army is sometimes seen as liberators. If such is the case, we don't want to alienate the locals by indiscriminate firing. But we can't just sneak in because they have already been alerted to our presence."

Gotler shrugged as if to say she didn't really care. "You have my report," she said.

Swain looked at the troops and then at Gotler. "I think we need to have an intelligence officer to help us during the landing phase."

Hyland understood immediately. Grinning broadly, she said "I think you're right, Sergeant. I'm authorized to take anyone or anything I need for this operation. Lieutenant Gotler, I hope you have your gear handy."

"You can't do this," she said. "Major Webb won't let it happen."

"Lieuteant," said Hyland, "I want you back here in ten minutes prepared to land with us. I'll want a complete briefing of the latest intelligence."


"You'd better hurry," said Swain.

"Major Webb will authorize it," said Hyland. "I'll talk to him."

"You can't..."

"You have your orders, Lieutenant, I suggest that you prepare to land with us. You certainly don't want to be seen as trying to avoid a hazardous mission. You have nine minutes."

Gotler stood as if rooted to the deck, staring from one to the other. Finally she decided that there was nothing she could do except speak to Webb in the next five minutes. Webb, as a major could easily countermand the orders. She spun without saluting, heading to the hatch.

As it irised open, Hyland said, "You'd better get to Webb in the next two minutes and prove to him that we're going to need Gotler or we'll lose her."

"We don't need her," said Swain.

"Sure we do. Besides, seeing the result of all the information she hands out will do her some good. Get her a little seasoning as a combat officer."

Swain nodded and ran off, heading for the nearest ship's phone. He'd talk to Webb and get it straightened out.

Hyland headed across the deck, to the first platoon. Two squads had fallen out of formation and were working with the sweating sailors who were tossing the equipment pods into the shuttle. Inside the pods were stacked on rails filled with rollers so that when the shuttle landed and the rear cargo door opened, one extremely small person could shove the whole load out onto the ground.

The platoon leader turned and said, "We'll be ready in about six minutes. We'll load the troops then and be ready for take off in eleven."


"Will you be deploying with the first platoon?"

Hyland hadn't even thought of that. Swain would tell her which shuttle to use. It was another of the functions he fulfilled without her realizing it.

To cover, she said, "I'll let you know. I want to inspect the rest of the company."

"Yes, ma'am."

She turned and looked at the other four shuttles. The activity around them seemed to make no sense to her. A lot of people were standing in formation while others ran around throwing equipment in to the rear of shuttles.

Swain returned and said, "I just spoke to Major Webb. He was not pleased with our request, but understood the necessity of it and granted his permission. I believe, at that point, Gotler walked in and said that some infantry company was trying to shanghai her. Webb mumbled something and then Gotler exploded. She should be here in five minutes or less. She is not a happy camper."

"Good. Which shuttle are we on?"

"You'll go down with the fourth platoon. The radio gear and heavy weapons are there. They'll be setting up the headquarters with a defensive perimeter. I'll be with first. Where do you want the new lieutenant?"

"Why don't we really annoy her and send her down with the second platoon?"

"Sure, but..."

Hyland held up his hand. "I know. I know. You told Webb that we needed her for briefings and if we stick her off by herself, we'll catch hell when we return. But the point is that we'll need her when we land anyway."


"So, she'll ride down by herself."

Swain pointed to the hatch. "She made it. Even has a weapon."

A klaxon sounded and Hyland noticed that the troops were beginning to board the shuttles. She held out a hand. "Good luck, Sergeant."

Swain took her hand and said, "See you on the planet's surface."

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