We marched in cool twilight. The scouts and front ranks disappeared first. I looked down at my hand, and noticed it was see-through. Well, not transparent exactly. Sometimes, you caught a lag or flicker of delay. I supposed that bugs looking up would just see unbroken cobalt sky.
We moved across the plain like ghosts. Wheat waved against our armor, green grass and brown, none more than chest high. Chlorophyll on the air, the scent of growing things. They say there are no seasons in Nogilia, and that every grass is edible. The human work is keeping all of them from ripening at once, by harvesting and replanting a region at a time. The things a world will think of.
The likeliest scenario had us splitting into five columns and coming at it from all four directions. Confuse. Overwhelm. Dump as many men into the cache as quickly as you could. And close the gates behind you, because we kept having to duck to let the enemy pass by unawares. What was it Jerem Cozak had called them? Obstacles. The Augers are coincidences only. Our enemies are not on this world. Right.
It took a long time to walk to the horizon. Some of the gullies dropped down forty, fifty feet, and steeply. My dead and I discovered fairly quickly that everything ambulatory is harder when you cannot see your boots. The heavy mud at the bottoms forced everyone to slog. Then you climbed up the far side, whether the darkness let you see your chameleonic hands or no.
It was after midnight before I stood outside the northmost gate. The temperature was dropping quickly, as Nogilian had said it would. We were getting closer to the middle of the world, but clear nights on the plain do not retain the heat of the day. I shivered and waited for the scouts. I wondered why the machines of the nightwind did not report us as resistant. Likely it had something to do with this White Swarm, which seemed content for now to keep us camouflaged and uninfected. Later, of course, we had other plans for it.
The gate split open. They were all of the kind that opens that way, though those that open out are the most problematic for invaders. They just don’t think defensively, the Augers.
It was a bright enough night where I could see all the way across the city, to opposite gate opening on a similar pile of nothing. For a while, the Augers would think there was just a problem with that system. I was astounded the streets were empty. The Augers of this world lacked sufficient organization for a curfew.
I ordered the attack. We rushed toward each other, double time.
Well, three of the five thousand moved quite quickly. In the map of my mind, Nogilian’s southern column and Hames’ western one and my northern all closed the distance. Tevantes’ column stayed as reserve, to the northwest.
Ki’s column did not come. There was not, from the direction, the marching sound of boots. I glanced between the buildings, where that gate still stood closed. There came the sudden glow of energy shields, white and numinous.
Contact. Our scouts had been discovered and prevented from achieving their objective. Before I gave the order Nogilian was on it, sending eight squads in that direction. Right. He had gotten there first. He was working on getting the cache to open up.
So my column now had a different purpose. As did Hames’, if any of this was going to work. I swerved east, but into the smaller streets of this new Auger town. On Earth, my big habit had been cracking open relics, those centers of communication and control the nightwind relies upon. Smash one, and all the active nightwind around it comes crashing down.
Nogilian figured it would make it easier for the White Swarm if the relics weren’t around. I agreed. So now I split my column to squads, had us scanning the western streets for those little knee-high black boxes that had given everyone so much grief.
Hame, doing much the same on the western side of down, reported no contact. Renly’s replacement, Hame was born Nogilian and knew weaponry and geography alike. He had distinguished himself in battle against the apes. His promotion on the way out of Redmarak had made as much sense as any.
Never try to discern talent, Elmy. It’s a waste of time. Just reward success instead.