Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Chapter Twenty-nine

They couldn't hold the briefing in the normal conference room because there were too many people who were going to be involved. All the pilots from the various missions, the staff officers, and intelligence officers were also there. And the Colonel had also invited a number of infantry officers from other regiments to attend the meeting. It was going to be the planning session.

The room was as noisy as the a theatre before the play started. Dozens were talking, speculating, shouting greetings at friends they had seen for days and then disagreeing with the orders they knew would be issued. When the hatch irised opened and the Colonel stepped through, the room fell silent, almost as if a switch had been thrown.

The Colonel moved to the front of the room, near the control panel for the holo and computer. There was a large, high backed leather chair waiting for him. A sergeant stood waiting for the Colonel, holding a leather folder that contained all the information that had been gathered.

The Colonel sat in the chair, waved a hand and said, "Let's be seated."

There was a rustling as the men and women sat down, but no one spoke. They waited to learn what was happening, though many of them had heard various rumors.

"As you know," said the Colonel without preamble, "a number of months ago we discovered an asteroid traveling between stars. It was an artificial construct filled with scientific experiments and equipment. Obviously, this was the result of an intelligence that had launched the craft long before we had developed any type of civilization, let alone space travel."

The air above the audience, which was sitting in rows facing the Colonel, shimmered and a holo of the asteroid drifted over them, rotating slowly to give everyone a good view of the entire craft.

"Scout searches for the last several months were unsuccessful in locating the home planet. Recently, Randly Clark changed all that. We have located the home world of the builders of the asteroid. We have inspected their world and have landed six intelligence teams on it."
The Colonel waited for a burst of noise, but the staff sat in dead silence. Some of them were watching the rotating orb in front of them. Others had focused their attention on the Colonel as he stood there.

The scene above the stage changed slowly. The silvery orb faded away, replaced by a light brown planet with a tan cap to it. The large oceans were a bright blue and there were even a few clouds hovering over the planet to make it look more realistic.

"As we approached this planet, our scouts were attacked. Lieutenant Clark engaged them, punched through their picket line and explored the planet. He was engaged by their defensive systems. When we put down the Intel teams, Clark and his scouts were again attacked." The Colonel looked at Clark. "That's right, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir."

"Now, I think we can assume that the inhabitants of the planet are hostile."

One of the staff officers held up a hand and said, "Sir, I don't think we can assume these people are hostile without a little more data."

"They shot down three of our scouts," said the Colonel evenly.

"After we shot our way into their system. I venture to say we would react with hostility if the situation was reversed," said the officer.

"Captain," said the Colonel, "we are not here to debate the situation. Those decisions have already been made."

"Yes, sir."

Without waiting for more, the Colonel flipped a page in his notebook and began to talk. He gave them all the information that had been learned since the asteroid had been captured. He told them about the other aliens who had also managed to enter it but who had died before they could learn the secrets of it. He talked of the studies that provided clues about the location of the builder's home world. He talked of the many recons by scouts and the building of a base of information until they knew as much as they could without having anyone to spy on the planet's civilization.

"That is all changing," said the Colonel. "We now have teams on the planet's surface searching for answers to these questions. They are in communication with our intelligence facilities remaining here, on the flag ship."

One of the infantry officers looked up and said, "Are we going to invade... on the ground."

"That is the question we're here to answer."

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