IN THE STORMY RED SKY â€“ snippet 55:
Led by Woetjans herself, half the detachment double-timed around the Senator and Daniel. Some were shouting, “Hup! Hup!” or similar things, and the clatter of their equipment added to the drumming of their boots on the steel ramp.
Each carried a sub-machine gun or stocked impeller, but almost all had a club, knife, knuckle-duster or similar personal weapon as well. Daniel didn’t see any pistols, for which he was thankful. Despite training, most spacers were more enthusiastic than skilled with projectile weapons. Pistols greatly increased the risk of accident that was inevitable even with long-arms.
“Great Gods,” Forbes muttered in amazed horror.
“They’d follow Captain Leary to Hell, Senator,” said Adele primly. Daniel started; he’d expected her to be on the bridge. “In fact, they’ve done so a number of times in the past and come back from it.”
“These have, at least,” said Hogg, grinning broadly. “Good folks to have with you in a hard place, for all that they don’t clean up as good as a lot of prissy house-servants.”
“That will do, Hogg,” Daniel said quietly, but he hadn’t forgotten the Senator’s contemptuous dismissal of his servant on Karst either. “Though what he says is correct in my opinion, your Excellency. Shall we go?”
The only weapon Hogg carried openly was a stocked impeller. If there was a better marksman with such a weapon aboard the Milton, it was Daniel himself. Hogg’s pockets bulged and clinked, though.
They started down the ramp. Daniel let Forbes and her entourage get a little ahead because he wanted a chance to talk to Adele. He would’ve told Woetjans over the helmet intercom to slow down if he’d needed to, but the Senator kept up a good pace and spacers–unlike soldiers who were used to marching–weren’t likely to stride away from you anyway.
“Carry on, Major Mull,” Daniel said as they passed the Marine outpost. The gunners were trying to spike their weapon’s trail to the ground with entrenching tools, since the sandbags wouldn’t hold a sufficient weight of the available soil.
Mull muttered, “Aye aye, sir,” but he watched the spacers pass with open frustration. He’d announced that his troops would secure the head of the ramp after landing–and Daniel, instead of arguing that he thought his usual squad of spacers would be sufficient, had simply agreed.
Daniel preferred having an escort of spacers anyway, because he knew they’d obey without question no matter how stupid Six’s order seemed. He didn’t doubt the Marines’ courage, but he knew they didn’t trust him like the former Sissies whom Woetjans had picked for this duty.
That was an added incentive not to screw up, not that Daniel needed more reasons not to screw up. He grinned and whistled the chorus of Down in the Valley: “A rolling stone gathers no moss, so they say, but a standing stone gets pissed on.”
Judging Forbes was out of hearing, he turned to Adele and said quietly, “I thought you were going to stay aboard, Officer Mundy?”
Adele shrugged. “There’s at least one database up there–”
She nodded toward the compound. The two men who’d started toward the cruiser were now going back up the hill at an accelerating pace.
“–which isn’t linked to any kind of a network, so I have to be on site to examine it.”
The Milton began to squeal and complain. Sun, predictably if against what had almost been a direct order, was rotating the dorsal turret to bear on the dull buildings. His excuse would probably be that he’d thought that the locals’ flight from a band of armed men meant that they were hostile. In truth he just liked to play with his guns. The eight-inch turret set up stresses in the hull as its great mass shifted.
Daniel looked at his friend. “Well,” he said, “I’d trust your judgment on any other opinion you offered. I’ll therefore trust it on this.”
But I’d much rather you’d stayed where it’s safe, he thought. Which here on Fonthill, the bridge of a heavy cruiser really ought to be.
Very possibly Adele understood what he was thinking, because her lips seemed to twist on something sour and she said, “They’re not going to fight us, Daniel; I was able to listen to the control-room conversation through their satellite receiver. They’re all atwitter, as you might imagine, but they were in the process of locking their weapons in the shipping container that serves as an armory. They didn’t want any chance that they’d be mistaken for hostile.”
“And if anybody does point a gun in our direction, young master…,” said Hogg with a self-satisfied smile. “Before he shoots, he’ll have a hole in his forehead and a bloody sight bigger hole in the back of his skull, where the brains all splashed out. Not so?”
Tovera laughed. “Unless Sun gets ahead of himself,” she said.
The trees started ten feet out from the pond and grew taller as the increasing slope reduced the likelihood of floods. Many species had strongly conical trunks, but a number of quite different varieties rose in corkscrews which their branches repeated. Daniel had noticed similar patterns in shinewood panels, but he’d assumed that the grain was artificial.
“Spread out!” Woetjans rasped to her section. “Keep your eyes open but don’t bloody start the trouble!”
Then, presumably over her shoulder, “Six, we’re outa the woods. Nobody’s showing at the windows, but there’s an enclosure and a couple guys without clothes looking out through the wire.”
“Those are prisoners, captured rebels,” Adele said. She was using a commo helmet for the moment, but she would probably set it on the floor as soon as she’d found a place to settle and bring out her personal data unit. “The administrators call them ferals.”
She frowned and added, “Don’t let the administrators kill them if you can help it. We’ll need them.”
“Woetjans!” Daniel called. “Secure those prisoners! Do what you need to keep them safe!”
He thought for a blink of time, then said, “Come on, Hogg! Dasi–”
The bosun’s mate commanding the rear guard.
“–stay with the Senator. I’m going forward!”
They jogged past Forbes and her aides. She looked startled and concerned. It was hard to tell how much she’d understood of the shouted conversation with the advanced guard.
It was uphill and spacers don’t get a lot of practice running, but it wouldn’t be far. Daniel burst out of the trees, allowing Hogg to get ahead as he couldn’t on the narrow path. Unless he’d been willing to clout the young master out of the way, of course–a plan that he’d probably considered for the young master’s own sake.