Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 44

“So you did,” Daniel agreed. The door didn’t have an external latch, but there was a large button on the right side of the console. Repeated use had worn the button’s cream enamel finish through to the black base.

Daniel leaned over and pushed the button. The door opened outward.

“Hey!” said the clerk, loudly enough to alert the dozing guard. Daniel and Hogg sauntered through without anything more serious happening before the door closed behind them.

“Good afternoon, Minister,” Daniel said as Robin looked up from the flat-screen display facing him at an angle on his desk. “I’m here as you directed.”

Walters rose from his console, then sat back again. Robin made a sour face, but he gestured and said, “Yes, take a seat, Leary.”

Walters eyed Hogg doubtfully, probably wondering what Hogg intended to do. Daniel wondered also as he took one of the chairs in front of the large desk, but Hogg remained at the back of the room.

“I’ve been very pleased with the progress the Nabis Contingent has been making, Minister,” Daniel said, “and I hope you are too.”

“Yes indeed, Leary,” Robin said. He tapped his display repeatedly with a light pen. “Major Berners gave me a quick account of your recent training mission. It shows real initiative and an ability to work with material which must be well beneath the level you’re accustomed to on Cinnabar.”

“Actually, sir,” Daniel said, leaning forward slightly, “the Nabies were solid personnel, very solid. All we cadre did was to show them what they were capable of doing. Ah, and working with the officers some to bring ’em up to speed.”

“Well, you shouldn’t be modest,” Robin said, turning from his display to flash Daniel a bright, false smile. “President Menandros has decided to greatly increase your responsibilities. He’s made you Governor of Nabis, reporting directly to him.”

Are you out of your bloody mind?

For a moment Daniel thought the words had come out of his mouth. They hadn’t, but Robin probably read them in his face.

“Your Excellency…” Daniel said. He closed his eyes for a moment to visualize his next words. Opening them he continued, “Sir, look. My father was the most powerful politician on Cinnabar; he’s still pretty bloody important. My sister Deirdre gives every sign of following him into the Senate, and I’ve never known her to play a game that she didn’t win at.”

Daniel had straightened when Robin pronounced his exile to a backwater. Now he leaned forward again and said earnestly, “Sir, if I wanted to get into politics, I’d go home and join the family firm! But I didn’t, I wanted to be a naval officer and I’m a bloody good one. Put me in charge of ships. Or better, put me in charge of your navy, and I’ll show you what I can do!”

“Captain Leary, I’m sure you’re a very important man in Cinnabar space,” Robin said, his voice rising. “But here in the Tarbell Stars, we’re under the rule of President Menandros, and it’s his decision –”

“President Bloody Nonsense!” Daniel said, rising to his feet. “Look, everybody knows you call the shots. Menandros probably knows if he’s got two brain cells to spare for any serious thinking! That’s fine, but –”

“That’s enough!” Robin said as he stood. He crossed his arms before him. Walters had gotten up also and was edging closer to Daniel from the side. If he tries to jump me, I’ll break his face.

Hogg, glimpsed in the polished metal surface of the side of the desk, remained by the door; nothing in the present situation required him to intervene. Though Hogg acted the simple hayseed, he had a very sophisticated grasp of urban society. He wasn’t going to precipitate a brawl which could not have a good result.

The door from the waiting room opened. The clerk outside was babbling something in a high-pitched voice. Walters turned to the disturbance, and Daniel glanced over his shoulder.

A heavy-set balding man in a blue servant’s uniform had entered. A tall man and a short one, both in business suits, were behind him.

“Dumouret, what in bloody hell are you doing here?” Robin shouted.

“Minister,” Dumouret said, “I’m very sorry to disturb you, but the President –”

The short civilian shot Hogg in the chest. Hogg flew into the wall behind him, thrown when his legs spasmed.

The shooter’s tunic pocket was smoldering, ignited by the vaporized aluminum driving band of the slug fired from inside it. The taller civilian was taking a sub-machine gun out of his briefcase.

Daniel grabbed Dumouret by wrist and thigh. He pitched the butler into the tall man, who in turn bumped the shooter off balance. Walters had frozen for a moment with his mouth open, but now he lunged at the shooter.

The pistol was now clear of short man’s burning pocket, and he shot Walters twice through the breastbone. He pivoted toward Daniel, who tripped over Dumouret’s flailing legs.

The shooter sprawled forward though he continued to turn. There was a fleck of blood on his right temple and a long bloody crease at the top of his head where the second pellet had gone a little high.

The taller man had risen to a kneeling position. At the crackle of Tovera’s sub-machine gun, he collapsed again over his own weapon.

The door to the rear entrance hit the wall and began to swing closed again behind Adele and her servant. Robin peeked up from behind the desk where he had dropped to shelter.

The air stank of ozone and feces and fear. Also of blood: Walters lay on his back. He had stopped bleeding, but the tunic of his white uniform was a crimson which would darken as it dried. His eyes were open and his lips drawn back in a grimace of horror.

Daniel tried to get to his feet, then fell onto all fours and crawled toward where Hogg lay. He felt icy inside. He wondered if he’d been physically injured.

“Do we need the butler?” Tovera said. Daniel heard all sounds through a thumping that seemed to be synchronized with his heartbeat.

“Not really,” said Adele, “but he’s no –”

The burst from Tovera’s little sub-machine gun cut off the next words. It sounded like an electrical fault. Dumouret had been curled in a ball. He twitched, and all his muscles relaxed.

The man with the pistol had fallen over Hogg’s body. Daniel felt his strength return. He stood up, hauling the dead shooter with him, and hurled him out of the way.

Hogg’s lips were moving slightly. There were bubbles of spit on them. He wasn’t bleeding, neither from mouth or chest, but something had blasted a hole in the left side of his tunic on a level with his heart.

Daniel reached into the outer right side-pocket of Hogg’s tunic and brought out the knife that Hogg kept there. He snicked the blade open, then plucked the collar of Hogg’s shirt away from the skin and ripped the garment down to the belt, baring his chest.

The skin was unbroken but there was a welt the size of Daniel’s spread hand at the point the hole had been blown in the tunic. It was fiery red and already swelling.

Hogg’s eyes focused on Daniel. “I hope somebody got the bastard who shot me,” he said in a rusty whisper.

“Is there a Medicomp in this building?” Daniel bellowed into the noise and confusion. Hogg winced with every breath, but he was breathing. “Adele, alert the Sissie! I want a stretcher team here soonest!”

Leaning close to Hogg again, Daniel said, “Adele handled that problem. I think Tovera took care of his partner, but anyway it’s taken care of.”

Daniel slit the left side of Hogg’s tunic and drew the pistol from the built-in holster concealed there. The slug had struck the receiver like a sledge hammer, almost severing the barrel from the butt and magazine.

“The bastard suckered me, played me for a right sap,” Hogg said, tensing against the pain but getting the words out without gasping. “If the Mistress fixed him, he won’t be doing it again, though.”

He laughed, punctuated by spasms of pain.

“There’s a Medicomp in the next room to the left,” Adele said, squatting to put her head on a level with Daniel’s.

“There’s a stretcher there too,” said Robin. “I thought, well, I’d as soon there was a facility close to my office.”

“I can bloody walk,” Hogg said, but he wasn’t trying to get up.

“You’ll do what your master bloody says, Hogg!” Daniel said. There might be internal bleeding; there were certainly cracked ribs.