Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Chapter Twenty-three

The HUD was still clear and Clark couldn't help believing that he was flying into a trap. It was the old football play. Let the blitzing linebackers through so that they over ran the play while the quarterback tossed a pass to a back with a screen of blockers. The key was to let the enemy through so that it could be neutralized.

But the HUD was clear. Nothing showed anywhere and unless their stealth capabilities were such that it could defeat all types of sensors, Clark should be able to spot them. Stealth was an outgrowth of military organizations and constant warfare. A society where there was no war would have no reason to develop stealth. The problem was that Clark didn't know if they were a warlike society or not. Their tactics, to this point had been poor, but then, they did have weapons.

"We are entering the outskirts of their system," announced the computer.

Clark let the computer scan space all around him but the only thing that showed were his own ships. There was nothing else around them. Nothing of an artificial nature. No evidence of any equipment monitoring their progress.

"Where is the follow up ship?" asked Clark.

"Gaining on us now," said the computer. "One hour behind."

Clark took a deep breath and rubbed a hand through his short cropped hair. There was nothing for him to do but continue to push forward.

The line of scouts spread out along the plane of the ecliptic. One of them broke off, diving toward a moon that was in a long orbit around the outer most planet.

Clark watched on the computer display fed back through shielded beam. He saw a dim surface covered with dust, ice crystals and impact craters. The diving scout, cameras running, made a low orbit of the moon, found nothing radiating, and lifted up, back into space. He had been searching for some kind of outpost and found nothing.

"Moon is clean."

"Roger, Six."

The computer said, "No readings on the outer planets. No detectable radiation. Ninety-four percent probability that there are no outposts present on this planet or any of the moons orbiting it."

As the scouts fanned out, across the system, they continued toward the fourth planet. Clark kept his eyes on the HUD and the sensors, watching for any indication that the enemy knew that they were coming.

As they neared the target planet, the line began to contract again so that the scouts were in a loose formation no more than half a klick across. They had turned off all their lights, radios, radars and engines so that they were emitting nothing for the enemy to detect. They slipped forward in silence, heading for the large city that dominated the north pole of the planet.

The computer said, "Secondary craft is now fifteen minutes from touch down."

The sound of the computer's voice seemed unnaturally loud to Clark. He almost told it to shut up and then realized that it wouldn't shut up and that the enemy would never be able to detect the sound anyway.

He looked out the tiny window. The planet dominated his view. The city was a dung colored expanse on the top of the world. He had no real mission, other than buzz the city and keep it busy watching him and his scouts for a few minutes. Let it detect a lot of activity over it and hope that it didn't bother to monitor the rest of the planet's surface.

"Secondary craft is ten minutes from touch down."

Clark turned on his radio, unshielded and ordered, "Let's begin the run. Respond in flight order."






Clark turned on his lights and radars, boosting the power levels so that he would suddenly burst into prominence. It would appear that a ship exploded on any electromagnetic detectors below. It should draw all attention to him to him and his scout flight.

He pushed the stick over and punched through the upper reaches of the atmosphere. There was a shuttering, as if he had flown into a thunderstorm but it dampened out quickly. He steepened the dive.

"Activate all sensors."

"Tracking of our ship," said the computer.

They were plummeting toward the surface. Clark was watching as the radar altimeter unwound rapidly. He kept an eye on the HUD and a hand on the thrusters.

"Missile launch," announced the computer.

That was what Clark had been waiting for. He pulled back on the stick, worked the thrusters and waited for the nose to come up. "Where is the missile."

"Missile on the right, forty-two thousand feet below, accelerating rapidly."

"Type of homing?"

"Radar lock."

"Pop a chaff dispenser."

"Chaff fired."

Clark rolled to the right, dove slightly and then jinked right and left trying to break the radar lock. He watched the HUD, seeing that the missile had finally locked onto the chaff cloud. It popped through chaff and then detonated in a boiling, roiling burst of bright orange fire and dense black smoke.

Clark felt relieved. It had been simple to defeat the missile. "Status of other scouts."

"In line, diving on target."

"Status of secondary mission."

"Ship has disappeared."

To himself, Clark said, "I hope they made it in."

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