Clark had formed his scouts in a loose formation on his ship as they had flashed from the planet's atmosphere. He kept checking the HUD, hoping that the missing ships would reappear though he knew they wouldn't. They were gone. He'd seen them explode under the focused attention of the planetary's point defense system.
His computer was scanning space ahead of him and had found nothing there. Behind him were a number of small ships, but all had been identified as the landing ships launched from the fleet. A half dozen intelligence teams had been inserted. Now those ships were off the planet's surface and all were racing to join on him.
He knew that the destruction of half his flight was not his fault. It was the breaks of the game but he still felt responsible. There should have been something that he could have done to prevent the problem. That thought kept intruding though he tried to ignore it. Now was not the time to dwell on those problems. That was something that would come later. Now he had to get clear of the enemy's system.
"Approaching edge of main planetary system," said the computer.
Clark checked the HUD again. The flight was joined with no stragglers. Sensor sweeps had shown nothing in front of him. The enemy wasn't waiting to ambush them.
Over the radio, he said, "Prepare for jump to light speed on my mark."
There was a series of acknowledgments. Clark then touched a series of buttons, flipped a switch and said, "Let's go to light speed."
As the ship transitted the barrier, Clark sank back into his seat. He kept his eyes moving from instrument to instrument but that was only something to occupy his mind. He kept slipping back, watching his own run on the Citadel as if he was outside his ship, waiting for the enemy to respond. Then he could see the others as they rolled in, trying to light the sky with a display that would keep the attention of anyone on the ground. Here was the extraterrestrial menace over their city. Keep them busy while the other ships slipped in far to the south to land the intelligence teams.
"It was a stupid plan," he said outloud. It wouldn't have fooled them for a minute. They would have been able to see the invaders over the pole and the others trying to sneak in even if they were coming in low from another direction. Who had thought it would work?
And then he realized it had worked because the ships had landed and had gotten away. All the teams were in place, moving on toward the Citadel. It had cost three scouts, but they had gotten down.
"Flight integrity intact after jump to light," the computer told him.
"Time to fleet?"
"Nineteen hours," repeated Clark. He wanted to be there now. He wanted to go through the debriefing, talk about what he'd seen, review the computer logs and holo record and get it over with. That was what he wanted.
The radio crackled and Clark heard, "Scouts, well done."
That was it, the whole message. Clark recognized the voice of the Colonel. He was violating procedure to let him know that the sacrifice had been appreciated.
Outloud, Clark said, "Bullshit."