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A Heart As Cold As Stone

Part II


Odin, as it turned out, was not the only one concerned with the rebels' position. The same thing, it seemed, had been preying on Rogan's mind, which was why he had called a meeting of the entire Resistance cell.

"The key to a successful guerrilla war, as I've said," he told them, "is never to meet the enemy forces head-on. Harass the enemy through ambush and let the word of your successes draw people to your side. Only when your forces actually do constitute an army should they dare act like one."

The ex-army major jammed his hands in his pockets.

"Problem is, we're not doing enough damage, and we're taking too much in return. Lassic is rounding up our supporters and we're losing lives in battle faster than we can replace those losses. Other resistance cells are forming, but for the most part Lassic has the people too cowed to join us."

His gaze swept over the expectant faces.

"What we need is a success, one so breathtaking, so tremendous, that it will energize the people of Palma. Something people will talk about, that will make them realize that it is possible to make a stand against the tyrant."

Myau raised his head off his front paws.

"So who are we going to assassinate?"

Rogan looked at him and shook his head.

"Really, Myau, hasn't anyone ever told you to let an old man have his moment?"

"I'm sorry, meow."

"You do mean an assassination, then?" Odin asked.

"I do."

An instant buzz passed through the group, whispering both excited and dubious. Rogan had their attention, all right.

"Wait a minute," one woman said, getting to her feet. "Fighting the king is one thing, but murder is something else entirely. I didn't join the Resistance to become a killer!"

There were nods and murmurs of agreement from the crowd, so Rogan quickly held his hands up for silence.

"I understand your concerns," he said. "I had the same ones myself when I was thinking this over. The fact is, though, that there is always a certain amount of dishonor inherent in guerrilla tactics. It means stealth, attacking from ambush, things that ring false for most of us. But let me ask you this: if you've decided that you're going to kill someone, does it really matter whether you kill them face to face on a battlefield or stealthily with an assassin's tactics? The end result is the same; they're still dead, and you've killed them. We are fighting for the freedom of all Algo. If we were to, say, set off a bomb and kill innocent people along with our target, then that really would be evil, but to fight Lassic in the only way we can? I think the real question that needs to be asked is, is our target truly deserving of death?"

"This could get really philosophical in a big hurry," one man mentioned.

"Then let's get down to brass tacks," Odin said. Philosophy wasn't his strongest point. "Who's the target"

"Medusa."

There were thirty-three people in Rogan's audience. He'd captured the attention of every last one.

"Rogan," asked a lean, bronze-skinned man named Asher, "are you out of your mind?"

"Yeah," Cyan added. "That tower of hers is a fortress. You'd have to have an army just to get near her, unless you were some kind of legendary hero or something."

Rogan stroked his beard.

"As far as I've heard, that is absolutely correct."

"You've gotta be kiddin'," groaned Merrick, a broad-shouldered man from Eppi. "Or Asher's right an' you really are crazy."

"Why don't we listen and find out, meow?"

"Thank you," Rogan told the Musk Cat. "Now, as I said, I agree that her tower is unassailable, either by force or stealth. Storming the tower is not our only option, though. Unlike Lassic, who hides himself away in his castle where we can't find him, Medusa regularly leaves her home to tour the villages and outlying towns she nominally controls."

"Why'd she do that?" Merrick asked.

Rogan turned to him.

"To keep the fear alive. Lassic's robotcops largely ignore the villages, and the army visits them only rarely. Cut off from most trade, they've had to become self-sufficient. If his policy continues, the villages might eventually declare their independence. Medusa keeps them cowed, afraid to rise up against the tyrant."

Myau clicked his claws on the ground.

"You know, I think it may also be to ease the fear."

"Oh?"

The Musk Cat's gaze swept over the assembled Resistance.

"We're all thinking it, meow. None of us wants to admit it, but we're thinking it. Medusa, the legendary monster. Is she really the same person? If so, how did Lassic bring her back, and why? Lassic may be a tyrant, but he is the rightful King of Algo, which is why more people haven't revolted against him by now. Medusa, though...I don't know if you're scared, but I certainly am. The idea of fighting a monster that battled heroes centuries ago..." He shivered. "I think Medusa has to appear in public regularly to keep the mob from rising up against her out of fear. She has to convince the people that she's not a monster."

"Wait a sec, Myau," Odin said. "You just lost me there. You say that she's not a monster, but that you're scared she is."

Myau flicked his tail.

"Three things, Odin. One, I said she had to convince people she wasn't a monster. I didn't actually say she wasn't, meow. Two, fear isn't logical; I'm afraid and I'll be afraid until I've got absolute proof, not just deductions. Three...if she isn't the real Medusa, what kind of person would choose to name herself after a storybook fiend?"

"We're getting a bit far afield, here," Rogan said, regaining control of the discussion. "The important thing is that for whatever reason or reasons, she does travel and make public appearances. That puts her outside her tower, in relatively unsecure locations away from her army. Places where we can get to her."

"Okay, now that's more like it!" agreed Asher. "How are we going to do it, though?"

Dean and Kyla, the Resistance's chemists, glanced at one another, then Dean hesitantly spoke up.

"We have the supplies for a very large bomb or several smaller ones. It would be crude, but it would work...only, I don't like the idea of a bombing. It would be so easy to hurt innocent people."

"I agree," Rogan said.

"Sniping is out," contributed Odin. "We don't have the weaponry we'd need for that, or someone with the skill."

"I guess that just leaves a commando-style assault. Infiltrate the area and strike at close range."

Rogan nodded.

"That's how I saw it, too, Cyan, but then I had another idea."

Odin leaned back, folding his hands behind his head.

"Got one of your plans, do you?"

"That's right, a variation on the ambush we carried out yesterday."

Rogan wheeled a cart into place in the center of the room. It carried one of the Resistance's most valuable possessions, a small, powerful computer which their electronics expert, Keel, had rigged up to run on battery power. The energy cell Keel had set up could be charged by almost any type of power source, which was vital since they never knew what kind of supplies they'd be able to get ahold of at any given time. The rebel leader booted up the computer and activated the projection screen so that everyone could see.

"What I propose," he said, "is rather than try to penetrate Medusa's security, we instead lure her into penetrating ours, here."

"Won't that give away our location even if we succeed, meow?"

"I think it's a good trade. We give up a monster-infested base in exchange for destroying one of Lassic's most important officials. The fact is, while this dungeon is well-hidden from the authorities, the monsters are making it more of a liability than we can afford." He pressed a couple of buttons.

"What's this? Surveillance photos?"

"That's right. Scott and the late Albert got these with a digital camera."

"You must have been planning this for a long time, meow."

"For some months, actually. I knew we would never get at Lassic, but this seemed like a workable possibility. So I had a few cautious investigations made, and this is what I came up with."

He pointed at the screen.

"Medusa always travels by hovercraft. It's a military model, which means it will have vehicle-mounted weapons, but it's been redesigned as an official transport. Combat capability has been sacrificed for the sake of image. This open canopy, for example, instead of an armored bridge. Also, the secondary weapons pods that would normally be mounted just in front of the turbofan struts have been removed."

He changed the picture.

"While local army units are sometimes called in to assist security, many of the places she visits are too remote for that, so she always brings an escort with her."

Rogan altered the picture again. It now showed a close-up of the hovercraft's bridge, with Medusa sitting in a thronelike command chair. To either side were the broad, imposing shapes of military-type robotcops, only these were a reddish-orange color instead of the usual gray.

"What's with the paint job on them robotcops?" Merrick asked.

"They aren't robotcops," Odin answered. "Those are androcops, the new, upgraded model. They're faster, better-armed, and with more powerful integral weaponry than the military-type robotcops."

"Which were about twice as bad as the police ones," Myau groaned.

"Of course," Rogan continued, "that isn't the only security she has. By our best estimates, there are an additional ten police-type robotcops in addition to a crew of five and an 'honor guard' of ten Palman soldiers. Obviously we can't beat that kind of force in a head-on fight, so we'll have to even the odds out. Here's my plan:"

He changed the picture again to display a digitized map of the area.

"The hovercraft can cross open terrain on or off the roads, but here in this stretch of hills, it has to follow the road because the ground is so irregular." He pointed, then changed the map to a close-up view. "Right here, we're going to block the road with a rockfall, much the same way we did with the transport van yesterday." A blinking red bar appeared on the screen to indicate the position. "Obviously this won't stop them; the hovercraft's weapons will blast right through it. At this point, though, we stage a sniper attack." This time a green dot appeared. "The snipers will be equipped with the needler rifle and with bows. The intent isn't to kill Medusa; we don't have the firepower to count on it, so try for the troopers. More than likely, they'll order a squad to pursue the snipers. At that point, the snipers flee. Don't take chances; there's no reason to get killed over a diversion," he instructed.

The green dot retreated, pursued by several small blue dots.

"Most likely the hovercraft will wait in this spot for the patrol to return. When the troops it dispatches after the snipers are sufficiently far off, or if the hovercraft begins to move"--Rogan pressed a button, and an explosion flashed on the screen--"we set off the bomb. Now, I'm not counting on destroying the hovercraft this way, given our weaponry limitations and its armor, but I figure we can at least cripple it, keep it from moving."

"That you can count on," Kyla said. "With luck, we'll even take out some of those rust-bucket robotcops while we're at it."

"The next step is where things get tricky," Rogan said. "Next we attack with a large force, around twenty or so. In other words, we convince them that they're in an ambush. With their vehicle crippled, the natural response is to try and fight their way out of the trap. When they start coming out in force, we fall back, luring them on."

"Won't they sense a trap?" Asher asked.

"Possibly, but remember their considerable advantage in equipment. They well may believe that they've foiled our attack and turned the tables. Plus, the robotcops are programmed to continue attacking and pursue targets once they've engaged the enemy; with luck they'll be coming after us before Medusa can think the situation through."

The screen changed as several blue dots pursued a cluster of green ones from the road through the forest until they reached the ironically-named Medusa's Cave.

"Here the forces split off. Some turn aside in the forests, while others hide here and here." Yellow boxes lit in the hillside. The first of the green Resistance fighters to reach them flowed inside, while the others scattered into the woods. "Undoubtedly some of the soldiers will continue pursuit into the forest. They may enter the cave on their own. If they do not, then the last group of fighters will lure them in with attacks from the cave mouth. Once Medusa enters, another bomb is triggered, and the cave will be sealed."

"Hey, hold up!" Merrick interrupted. "You gonna seal a buncha our guys in there with her?"

Rogan nodded firmly.

"Exactly. Our best fighters, armed with most of our best equipment, fighting in a closed arena which they know well. It's the best opportunity I can think of for us to have a chance to beat Medusa."

Myau sat up, interested.

"So how do our fighters get out? We'll need to show proof that she's dead, too, something like the traditional head on a pike, if we're going to use this to rally the population to our cause."

Odin had noticed that the more serious the topic, the better Myau's Palman got. He figured that it was because the Musk Cat concentrated more on articulating his thoughts when it was important. It had to be hard, living one's entire life among people who didn't speak his language, having to adapt to their ways...

"Plus, you'd really like that axe, wouldn't you, meow?"

"What?" It took Odin a couple of seconds to realize that Myau was now talking to him.

"The laconian axe that Medusa carries with her. If we're going to beat Lassic, we'll need something special by way of weapons, and that's definitely it."

"That's true. I remember what happened to that General Hallack when he tried to kill Lassic in SC 335. His ceramic sword shattered on the king's armor. Whatever it's made of, common weapons won't scratch it."

"Right, meow. Which makes me ask again, how do we unseal the cave after we close it up?"

"Carefully planted charges inside one of the air shafts. Once we win, they can be triggered. If we...fail...the cave remains sealed. Medusa will be trapped inside without supplies, and it will take a mining operation to get her out." Rogan looked down as he finished the explanation; clearly, he didn't like having to consider a loss, that Medusa might destroy the rebels, but he had to think of it. A leader was forced to, if he wanted to do a good job. He raised his head, and his gaze swept the crowd. "Are we agreed?"

There was a single frozen moment.

"I'm for it," Odin spoke up. "I want to face her."

"Me too!" Tomas piped. "Let's fight Lassic's oppression, not hide in a cave!"

It was as if a dam had broken. Asher, Kyla, Merrick, and then all the rest were cheering, shouting their enthusiasm for the plan, their willingness to fight.

Of them all, only Myau remained silent.

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