"Is there something we can do to help, L-T?" asked Sergeant Leo. The Old Man looked as despondent as the NCO had ever seen him. Even worse than when he thought they were gonna run out of chow.
The lieutenant sat on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial looking at the reflecting pool. It was another perfect fall day, as all these awful days of death and devastation had been. It was as if nature was laughing at them all for their silly games of war. The only effect of the kinetic bombardments, so far, had been to make for some spectacular sunsets and sunrises.
Lieutenant Ryan had chosen the perfect spot to capture the reflection of the Monument in the water. He was vacillating between hysteria and depression, both riding on a knife edge. He was an academy graduate whose first professional responsibility had, from his point of view, gone better than anyone had any right to expect. Lucking onto the Missouri had permitted him to slaughter the Posleen. And his platoon had performed like veterans under fire.
So they got lost from their unit. It wasn't their fault. There wasn't a unit to rejoin. So now they were talking behind his back about how the WPPA was going to have to recover his career. After turning most of a division of Posleen into paste.
And now this.
He'd only been in combat for a few days, but he felt he'd developed a "gut." And his gut call was that the Posleen were gonna wipe out the only controller for the demolition charges. That meant that they would capture the bridge. At that point the fucked-up units on the Mall would shatter like glass. And the Posleen would own America's core.
Losing the Mall would cut the heart out of the States. Hell, it would have a major effect on the expeditionary forces. Americans complained about their government all the time, but that was not the same as hating the symbols on this historic piece of ground. And all because a single stupid officer wouldn't pay attention to what a manual, an experienced junior officer and good common sense told him.
"I'm fine, Sergeant." He stood up and took a deep breath. There was a hint of smoke smell from the fires to the south where the Marines had mined the Pentagon with micronukes. He fixed what he thought was an expression of reserved contemplation on his face.
I was right, thought Leo, we're fucked. The last time the L-T had gotten that constipated-possum look was just before they latched on to the Mo and got all the fire-support any rational human being could want.
Leo knew what was bothering the L-T and agreed. He was, after all, a demolition instructor. And the captain was totally fucked-up. When the L-T mined the 123 bridge, Leo had been ready to help on the design. But the L-T figured just the right amount of demo and not only had three ways to blast, but different firing points for all three. That was way over the limit to conservative, but the Old Man was a belt-and-suspenders kind of guy. Which was just fine by an NCO missing two fingers from his left hand. Cutting corners around demo was a baaad idea.
"How are the men?" the lieutenant asked. He stopped whatever he was going to say next and his breathing deepened as he dropped into thought.
Leo cocked his head to the side. "They're fine, sir. We got a resupply of chow and ammo. Hell, we even managed to scrounge some wheels." He leaned over to look at the officer who had suddenly stopped paying attention. "Sir?" He looked the way the L-T was looking but all he could see was the reflecting pool and the Monument.
The lieutenant closed his eyes for a moment, then they flew open. "Get them up here," he snapped. "Full loadout. Now!"
"Yes, sir!" said the sergeant and started trotting down the steps before he wondered why. But he continued on. The Old Man was nobody to cross.
The lieutenant strode across the echoing room dedicated to either the greatest humanist or the greatest tyrant in American history, take your pick, and stopped at an innocuous side door. He had visited the Memorial as a kid and wondered where it went. Someone had already shot the lock off and he stepped into the small room beyond. The staircase he had fully expected to see dropped into the stygian depths and he smiled. Fuck with his country would they? Fuck with engineers would they?
The last of the platoon was starting down the stairway when the first gout of plasma slammed into the Memorial.
* * *
The wash of ionized deuterium caused the marble face of the Memorial to sublime. The gaseous carbon mixed with the carbon from the squad on the portico and was blown away in the wind from the superheated air. The flight of God Kings was at first unnoticed, but the rapidly approaching saucers could be seen all along the Mall as their cannons continued to wash the area between the Memorial and the bridge.
* * *
Kenallurial shouted in pure joy as his tenar flared out. So this was the te'naal battle madness that was spoken of. He felt whole for once, concentrated wholly on the task. The thresh burned beneath his guns, and that was good. The far side of the bridge was taken and the hated military technicians had been overcome for once. He detached Arnata'dra to begin clearing the demolitions as he charged the huge building.
There did not seem to be an entrance on this side, but that was no barrier. He floated the tenar up to the level where the hated technicians had been set up and landed. There was no sign of their devices, but wires still lingered, melted to the face of the rock in places or dangling on the ground. Without knowing their purpose he was loath to touch them; that was Arnata'dra's province.
He raised his talons in triumph. Let Ardan'aath belittle this accomplishment. A bridge across the river was in the hands of the Host. Let the thresh despair.