I led my squad in a frontal assault that just as quickly vanished. Then the ends, front, and quarters again. By the time the sun breached the horizon I had the Augers more split and confused than we had ever been. I had to tell Hame’s column to enter the cache ahead of mine, because we were too damned busy.
Then I let the White Swarm do its thing. Augers have no coms, you see, only the telepathic voodoo that the nightwind provides. But the nightwind has never been able to penetrate an energy shell, so to talk Augers needed to drop their electric defenses. By the time my squads had almost gotten back to the main street, not an Auger among them walked around with a woken shield.
They dropped like flies, like sacks of sand. They cradled their heads. They knelt and vomited. They had become, of course, fair game for the Swarm, which had restrained itself until this point. I had gotten us some recruits. Though I’ll admit the conversion was less pleasant than I had supposed.
What was that Jerem Cozak said? The Augers are obstacles only? Well, this is what the Academy taught us to do with obstacles. You get them on your side.
Nogilian’s column poured out of the cache as the second one started pulling in. Mounted on valkyries, they hurried to relieve the stranded column. I cracked the last of the relics, and watched the town start rolling over white. No kidding, even the buildings began to turn. I wondered if the White Swarm now knew construction, or soon would. There seemed to be some delay involved.
We had reached that part of the battle where there was little more for command to do. My own column was sweeping back east to crack more relics on that side of town. Within fifteen minutes the White Swarm would have been brought to every corner of the city. Nogilian’s mounted cavalry had chased off the Auger patrols, and set up a circuit themselves.
That’s when the despair hit. That’s what the Academy never tells you. After every battle you will feel horrible about making human beings do this kind of thing. You even regret success. You intimately understand how each your decisions could have been improved. And gods help you if you actually made mistakes. I remember names, a mantra in my head of all the dead I’d left behind. It’s only the soldiers, Elmy, who get hopped up on adrenaline and believe the world is beautiful. Officers get something else entirely.
The hum of valkyrie engines as Hame’s column started sliding up from beneath the earth. There was no need for camouflage now, so this time I noticed the shine that meant that these had not been ridden, ever. So. The caches were replacing those machines lost during the war, but had not released them to the Augers. Better. The day warmed. I watched my breath on the air and could not tell if it was the White Swarm. The wind whipped it away in either case. Even forty-foot high walls couldn’t stop the howling of the plains. But I realized what I had not time to before: there were no smells other than the nitrogen smell of the White Swarm. They are strangely anti-septic, the Auger cities. Machines whisked all the waste away. Here, as in the Auger cities around Cibola and no place else in all the universe, there was no litter.
The last of Hame’s valkyries cleared the cache. I led us in. Unfortunately, the ceiling of a valkyrie cache on Thaeron is the same as ceiling of any cache anywhere: the floor of whatever is above, without a door or window. At least I did not flinch as I went through. There are always a few seconds where you absolutely cannot breathe.
The cache itself was vast. It must have extended under the entire city. Came the strange sourceless wash of white Profusionist light that neither helped nor hurt the eye. Valkyries lined the floor in quiescent rows, silver and backwards-bullet shaped. There were no different than those on Earth: two meters long, a meter in average diameter and flexibly molded for the human form. Row upon row upon row. I went to the nearest one and woke it. Maybe that despair backed up an inch or so.
That’s when the messenger caught up with me. Not only the detected scouts had perished, though they certainly understood the risks. I had made damned sure of that. But Ki’s thousand, caught outside the city gate, had lost a tenth of its strength. Tevantes’ reserve, coming from the northwest, had not gotten there in time. No one had relieved them until Nogilian’s cavalry had come.