Four Days On The Danube – Snippet 01

Four Days On The Danube (From ROF III) by Eric Flint

Chapter 1

          The first notice Rita had that something was amiss was on the startling side. The front door to the small apartment in Ingolstadt’s military headquarters that she and her husband Tom had just finished settling into was blown in by an explosion. A splinter from the door sliced open her left arm just below the shoulder. Another splinter flew into her side and stuck there like a pin, just above the hip.

          The blast itself sent her stumbling back. She tripped and fell into the fireplace. Where her dress caught fire.

          A man came through the door on the heels of the explosion. He had a wheel-lock pistol in his hand which he leveled at her and fired.

          That was pretty much the low point of the evening. Luckily for Rita, the door hadn’t been completed blown off the hinges. Half of it was still hanging in the entrance and a jagged edge caught the man’s sleeve as he brought up the gun. His aim was thrown off and the bullet went into the fireplace instead of Rita’s chest.

          Squawling with fear and anger, Rita scrambled out of the fireplace. She started slapping at her dress to extinguish the flames licking at the hem. Then, seeing that her assailant was bringing out another pistol, she left off trying to extinguish the flames and turned instead toward the mantelpiece. Her husband Tom kept his shotgun up there.

          She wouldn’t make it, she realized despairingly. By the time she —

          Another crash drew her head around. Tom had burst in from their bedroom. The front room of the apartment doubled as a dining area. Tom disarmed the gunman by the simple expedient of driving the dining table across the floor into the man’s hip.

          Tom Simpson was a former football lineman. If anything, the years since the Ring of Fire and his military service had put still more meat and muscle on his immense frame. And he certainly hadn’t lost any strength. The table smashed into the assailant like a battering ram, smashing his hip and slamming him into the door frame. His eyes rolled up and he slumped into the room unconscious.

          Now that he was out of the doorway, Rita could see another assailant coming right behind. This one had a pistol also.

          “Watch out, Tom!” she shouted, as she brought the shotgun to bear.

          Rita had been raised a country girl, the daughter and sister of coal miners. She’d been handling firearms since she’d gotten a .22 rifle for her eighth birthday and had been hunting pheasant and quail with a shotgun since she was ten.

          That had been a 20 gauge, of course, suitable for a small girl. But she’d graduated to a 12 gauge long since.

          Tom had the gun loaded for war, not hunting. The heavy slug punched the man back with a hole in his chest. If he wasn’t dead already, he would be soon — and either way, he was out of the action.

          A third man stood behind him in the corridor, a look of surprise on his face. He had his dying companion half-supported with one arm while he tried to bring his own pistol to bear with the other.

          Rita pumped in another round. Since she didn’t have a clear shot at the man’s center mass, she aimed at his head instead. Later, she’d realize that she could have taken the much easier center mass shot. At that range, a solid slug fired from a twelve gauge would have blown right through the man standing in front. But this was her first gunfight — and it was a mistake even experienced gunmen probably would have made.

          The head shot missed, not surprisingly. But the man she’d fired at, who was also not thinking clearly, frantically pushed his dying comrade aside so he could bring up his own pistol and fire.

          And miss. The shot went completely wild, in fact, striking the wall of the corridor and never even making it into the room Rita was standing in.

          Now she had a center mass shot. She pumped in another round and fired.

          And missed. Her intended target, at least — but the shot went high and struck her opponent on the side of the head. A chunk of his skull was torn off and the corridor was splattered with blood and brains all the way to the outside entrance another fifteen feet further down the corridor. The man spun completely around, dropping his pistol, and then collapsed on top of his companion.

          Rita jacked in another round. The next thing she knew, she was doused with cold water.

          “Hey!” she squealed, spinning around to face this new attack. Just in time, she managed not to point the shotgun at her husband.

          “Don’t move, dammit,” Tom growled. “You’re on fire.” He had the faucet running in the basin and the saucepan under it. A couple of seconds later, he threw half the contents over her dress.

          Looking down, she saw that there were still some flames flickering along one edge.

          And her leg hurt. She’d been burned, she realized.

          “Ow,” she said.

          Tom took the time with the third panful to lift up the hem of her dress and carefully pour the water over the still-burning and smoldering spots, instead of just splashing it on her.

          “You’d better see to your wounds and change clothes,” he said, setting the pan down on the table he’d used to disable the first assailant.

          Who, for his part, issued a groan.

          Tom leaned over, lifted the man to his feet with one hand, and slammed the back of his head against the door jamb again. Then, let him slump to the ground.

          This impact was far more savage than the first. The man would be unconscious for hours. If he wasn’t dead — Tom was in a quiet fury and he was very strong.

          “I’ve got to go see what’s happening, hon,” he said, reaching for the jacket of his uniform hanging by the door.

          For the first time, Rita realized there was a cacophony of shouts and gunfire coming from outside. It sounded like the whole city was under attack.

          It finally dawned on her that this hadn’t been a house invasion by criminals.

          “What do you think…?”

          Now, Tom was buckling the holster with his sidearm around his waist. He’d had that hanging by the door also.

          “At a guess, the Bavarians are attacking.”

          “But how’d they…”

          “Get in? Treachery, I figure. Has to have been, as many as there are from the sounds of it.”

          His gun holstered, Tom stepped forward, reached out and plucked out the splinter above her hip. That was her first realization that it was there.

          “That’s probably nothing to worry about,” Tom said. “It’s hardly even bleeding, from the looks of your dress. But you’d better see to your arm.”

          For a moment, he seemed to be dancing back and forth, obviously torn by indecision. Rita shook her head.

          “I’ll be fine,” she said. “Go see to your men.”

          A moment later, he was gone. After giving the corridor a wary glance, Rita put the shotgun back on the mantelpiece and drew her left arm across her chest to get a better look at the wound.