"I think we shall stay well away from there," commented Kenallai. The notice had been ferreted out by one of Kenallurial's "Companions." With the fief of the military technicians finally neutralized, perhaps they would be fewer in number.
The crossed-rifle warriors were becoming more and more of a challenge, however. This last group, outnumbered and with pitiful weapons, had seriously mauled the oolt'ondar that assaulted them. Their last stand atop the hill had been worthy of song and there was still discussion as to which was the Kessentai. Given that there were more than enough thresh to be had, including many on foot that were yet untouched, they might declare the entire group piled on the monument at their center Kessentai and give them a single Kessanalt.
The place that they had stood made no sense. There was a fairly good shelter on the ridge, but it was well away from the monument they had chosen to cluster upon. And the entire ridge was covered in stones. He had set Kenallurial to determining the purpose of the ridge as he and Ardan'aath surveyed the problem to the east.
"So, old friend," he said, gesturing to the bridge below. It was still intact but they had learned what happened when they tried to cross one. "What shall we do?"
"That I know not," admitted the old oolt'ondai. "If we set claw on that structure it will take us to the Fuscirt."
"Yes," agreed Kenallai. "Fuscirto uut these 'sappers'!"
"I have, perhaps, two answers, edas'antai," said Kenallurial, drifting up silently from behind.
Ardan'aath turned away as Kenallai queried with a lifted crest. But the older Kessentai did not go so far as to not hear the suggestions of the younger.
"This place is a 'graveyard,' a place where certain of the thresh are placed after death."
Kenallai tilted his head to the side in query. "I don't understand."
"It was difficult for me to comprehend as well, edas'antai. However, instead of recycling their dead, the thresh apparently place them in boxes in the earth." He gestured at a headstone. "This lists who they were and when they lived."
"That is," the Kessentai wrinkled his snout in distaste, "that is disgusting."
The younger Kessentai lifted his crest in assent and snorted. "Nonetheless it appears to be the case. Furthermore, these in this place are not just thresh, they are all threshkreen."
At that Ardan'aath turned and looked at the serried rows of headstones drifting off in every direction. "Oh, abat shit," he whispered.
At those words both of the other Kessentai were flushed by combat hormones. Kessanalt was accorded to only the most potent, the bravest. To be surrounded by unrecycled souls of Kessanalt was like some nestling nightmare. At a visceral level they were suddenly surrounded by the larger and fiercer teeth that drove all the Posleen to become as secure as possible.
"Fuscirto uut!" said Kenallai. "First metal threshkreen. Then where the Kessanalt go to die. What is next?" he finished rhetorically. "You said you had two answers?"
"Yes, my edas'antai," Kenallurial agreed. "I perceive a possible way to capture the bridge."
"Ah!" exclaimed the oolt'ondai. "And will it work?"
"It might," admitted the younger Kessentai. He told them what it was.
Kenallai watched a descending ship as it headed to the other side of the river. If they did not make the crossing, the latecomers might make a bridgehead. He could call his Oolt'pos forward to make the crossing. But many of the large command ships had been destroyed doing just that and it would take precious time. No, better to try the crossing with his eson'antai's idea.
"Look at those abat," snorted Ardan'aath. "We do all the work and they come wandering in to take our prize."
"They are landing on the other side of the river, Ardan'aath," Kenallai retorted with a snort. "They seem to be landing in a grat'snest to me."
* * *
The sonic boom overhead was hardly noticeable after all the artillery and demolitions they had endured. But Keren still looked up.
"Oh, fuck," he said as the Suburban bounced across the torn grass to the south of Washington's Monument. The lawn had already been abused by various tracked and wheeled vehicles and was rutted and worn. They had seen the units scattered across the mall and the monuments area and wondered where the hell their assembly area was in the whole sea of tents, trucks and fighting vehicles.
"Just another lander," said Elgars. A couple of ibuprofen had apparently helped with the wrist.
"Yeah, but it's gonna land on some poor bastards who are gonna have to do something about it."
"You mean it's landing in a hornet's nest."
"Yeah. But it's gonna kill a bunch of hornets."
* * *
Sergeant Carter had never set up a squad tent in his entire military career. But, not surprisingly, the AID had precise directions. So, while one squad was laying out the grid for the tent city, he and his squad were showing a group of civilians how to set them up. The rest of the company was explaining field latrines in another area or standing guard. The guards were still by the Bradleys, rather than around the President, when the Posleen ship landed.
The ship slowed to practically zero and drifted, light as gossamer, over to Fifth Street. There it set down and dropped its ramp.
The crowd had started to panic at the first sonic boom. The now familiar sound went straight to the reptile hindbrain and triggered a flight. Unfortunately everyone had a different idea of which direction to run in and the result was a riot.
The riot stopped when the ship arrived. As the shadow drifted across, the mob noted distance and direction in its mob mind and headed the other way. The effect was to sweep the Detail along with it.
The President, on the other hand, in his half-ton battle armor was simply buffeted. Once he was knocked over as he stood his ground but as the crowd thinned he regained his feet.
The golf course between the Posleen ship and him was scattered with injured and dead from the panicked mob. Most of them were children or the old. As the ship drifted to the ground the President shook his head. He looked around at all the poor people who had been killed and injured in this last incident and put them squarely on his ledger. He could have ordered them dispersed, put into scattered and controlled groups. Then all those poor children who were lying broken on the ground wouldn't have been there. And if he had had the sense that God gave a donkey all the poor children who were scattered across Prince William County would still be alive.
He shook his head one last time and looked into the depths of the hated helmet. He really, really hoped that the gestalt knew what it was doing. He could feel it pulsing against his control and he was about ready to let it take over.
He put the helmet on and waited for it to open pockets over his eyes, nose and mouth before opening his eyes. "AID?"
"When the first Posleen appears, begin taking your control from the gestalt."
"I will attempt to not make distracting movements and sounds. However, if I move in a major way, AID, you follow Sergeant Martinez. Clear?"
"Clear," said the AID. There was a strong but complex surge from the gestalt. He took it as agreement.
He reached behind him and lowered the M-300 grav-rifle. As the heavy weapon dropped into place, a series of screens blossomed across his vision. The information was surprisingly comprehensible for a change. Range and bearing tracks crawled across as he shifted the weapon back and forth. A crack appeared at the top of the ship's deployment platform.
"Well, guys," he whispered to the electronic entities, "it is up to you. Do your President proud." At least he would be able to look his ghosts in the eye.