Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Chapter Twenty

Monier crouched in front of Price and Coollege and said, "I just can't get much. There is something wrong here. Maybe its the distance. I just don't know."

"How do we know this works?" asked Coollege.

Price shot her a glance, thinking of the argument about mind reading they'd had and now Coollege was suggesting that Monier couldn't do it.

"I could give you a practical demonstration. We were selected after a series of tests. We were handed a sealed envelope and required to write a report on the contents without opening the envelop, of course. Another time we were required to provide reports on areas we'd never seen. A remote viewing they called it."

"Easy enough to say," said Coollege. "Especially after the fact."

"Jackknife," said Price, "You working on being an asshole? Let's just assume that somebody in command knows what he or she is doing. At the moment we have no reason not to believe in her ability."

"Yeah. Right."

"Rachel," said Price, "tell us what you have."

"As I said. Not much. I get a feeling of coldness. A hardness about this place. It's not softened by any human feelings or emotions."

"What about people?" asked Price.

"I don't know," she said. "Maybe the problem is the distance. I've never had a problem with distance before, but then this is a whole new world. A whole new experience for me."

"You had a chance to explore the asteroid..."

"But there wasn't much there," said Monier. She closed her eyes and thought about that experience. There had been impressions but they seemed to be based, not on what the builders had been feeling, but those who had been captured by it. The overwhelming impression had been one of fear or dread and that had been it. Nothing about the builders, the architects, the engineers or the designers. Even when she had examined the crew compartment where the alien had slept there had been nothing. Just a relaxed feeling that indicated the being had slept most of the time it was on the asteroid, and they had already known that.

"Anything you can tell me would be very helpful," said Price.

"There is nothing to tell," said Monier.

"Now why am I not surprised?" asked Coollege.

"Shut up, Jackknife," said Price. "Just shut the fuck up."

"No," said Monier. "She's right. I haven't proved myself yet. I talk a good game but I haven't been able to produce anything that matters. Or anything that can be verified which is the same thing."

"We still have some time."

"It won't do any good," said Monier. "If there is anything to get, I would have gotten it by now."
Price nodded and said, "Okay." He sat back in his seat and glanced to the right so that he could look out into space. There still was nothing to see. Just a scattering of stars looking blurred because they had shifted into light speed.

"Everyone understand the mission?"

"Tree, we all get it," said Coollege. "There is nothing for us not to understand. What's with you?"
That was the thing that Price didn't understand. He was nervous about this. Not the normal pre-insertion jitters, but a deeper fear because he knew so little about the enemy or the environment. On a regular mission they would have a historical connection to the enemy. Every mission had been to a planet inhabited by humans. Now there was nothing like that. There was no historical connection.

In fact, the problem went deeper because they had had a real intelligence source but it had been killed. That bothered him. It would seem that any questions the biologists, the doctors, the physical anthropologists, or the pathologists had could be answered with current technology without subjecting the creature to the tests that had apparently killed it.

Suddenly, Price realized that was what bothered him. The pahtologist saying that the creature had died as they tried to explore its internal structure. He wondered, briefly, if the creature hadn't been killed so that it wouldn't be able to answer the questions that he wanted answered.
"What's the matter, Tree?" asked Coollege.

"I don't like this mission."

"Well, join the club," said Coollege. "I've been saying that since the Colonel briefed us."

"It goes beyond that. I wish there was someway to call it off. I want it stopped."

"Getting chicken?" asked Coollege. She smiled as she said it to soften the criticism.

"No. Getting smart. If we can contact the scouts, I think we'd better call this off." He started to stand.

"You're kidding," said Coollege.

"No. I want some better answers before I'm dropped into an environment I don't understand. That we don't understand."

"Which is what I've been saying."

"Rachel," said Price, "there has to be some reason that your talent isn't working here. I don't want to do anything until I understand that problem a little better."

"You can't be considering a scrub based on that alone can you?" she asked.

"No. There are some other problems as well." He leaned over and touched a button on the intercom. "Rocky, can we inform the scouts that we're going back to the fleet?"

"Are we?" asked Stone, his voice filled with surprise.

"If we can get the scouts recalled, I think we'd better. There are too many questions to be answered. The briefings and the planning for this mission have been inadequate."

"Give me a minute," said Stone. "I'll see if I can get a hold of them."

"Are you really authorized to scrub the mission?" asked Monier.

"Of course," said Price, suddenly relaxed. "At any point I can scrub it. As the mission commander, it is my responsibility to scrub it if the conditions warrant it."

Coollege breathed easier. "I didn't like this one either. Our preparation wasn't adequate."

"Yeah," said Price.

"Captain," said Stone. "Scouts are on radio silence. I can't recall them. There is no way for me to break through that without shielded, direct communication."

"Shit," said Price.

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