IN THE STORMY RED SKY â€“ snippet 56:
The vegetation on the hundred feet remaining between the woodline and the nearest of the three buildings was blackened and dead, killed by herbicide rather than fire. Burning it off would’ve released a lethal cloud of the toxins that the staff was trying to keep away from their quarters.
“Base Alpha, this is Captain Daniel Leary, RCN!” Daniel called as he trotted forward. “We are taking control of this facility in the name of the Republic and of Senator Elisabeth Forbes!”
He was trying not to wheeze and also trying not to fall on his face. Quartz outcrops in the coarse laterite and the twisted remnants of vegetation made the footing treacherous, but he didn’t dare take his eyes off the buildings he was running toward.
He wore a pistol on his equipment belt, more as a badge of rank than a weapon; he wasn’t a good pistol shot. The holster slapped his thigh as he ran.
“If you resist,” called the public address speakers under the eaves of both buildings, “you will infallibly hang as rebels against the Republic of Cinnabar! Depend on it!”
It took Daniel a moment to realize that the threatening voice was Adele’s. He should’ve expected that, he supposed; she’d said that she’d been listening in through their communications system. That meant, being Adele, that she could take control of it as she wished.
“I surrender!” someone cried shrilly from inside the nearer building. “Don’t shoot! I surrender!”
The twenty-odd spacers of the advanced guard had spread around the buildings and were pointing their guns at whatever seemed most threatening to each individual. Nothing seemed very threatening to Daniel, but his spacers were determined not to miss a bet.
Woetjans was poised to kick in the front door, which was dull red plastic and contrasted with the beige walls. Since it opened outward, she’d probably fail–and then somebody would shoot the latch off without bothering to see if it was locked in the first place.
Daniel grimaced. This wasn’t at all the placid stroll to the door and presentation of credentials that he’d hoped for before they’d landed, but there wasn’t any help for it. He certainly wasn’t going to come without an armed escort; and even if he had, the Milton’s enormous bulk would probably have put the wind up the locals’ tails.
“Please, please, don’t shoot!” the voice squealed. The door quivered as someone grabbed the handle from the other side.
Woetjans tensed. Daniel tapped her on the shoulder and gestured her back forcibly.
“Come out, then!” he said. “You won’t be harmed so long as you turn over control of the facility promptly.”
The door opened. The man who came out was fat besides being tall. Though balding, his moustache flowed into the beard that covered his neck; the facial hair was intensely black. He wore a white shirt and a shoulder sash of red silk.
“I’m the, ah…,” he said. His voice was higher pitched than his bulk suggested. “That is, my name’s Disch. Please, we’ve put up all the guns and we only have them for the ferals anyway. We’ll do anything you say!”
Looking down he noticed his sash. He tugged violently without being able to tear the cloth, then lifted it over his head and threw it onto the ground.
A barefoot woman wearing a brown shift stepped out of the door behind Disch. She held a frying pan before her.
“Right,” said Daniel. “Now, Master Disch, how many staff members do you have–”
The woman brought the pan up and around in both hands, slamming the edge into the base of Disch’ skull. The cast iron rang dully, but the sound of crunching bone was sickeningly audible as well.
Blood splattered, a drop splashing Daniel’s cheek. Disch’ eyes rolled upward; he pitched forward on his face. Daniel stepped to the side to avoid the big man; he grabbed the woman by both wrists.
“Let me–” she shouted; then her taut muscles relaxed. She let go of the frying pan. Meeting Daniel’s eyes, she said, “There’s five of us, and him.”
She kicked Disch’ thigh with her heel. Though she was barefoot, her soles were callused like hooves; the stroke would have hurt if the fallen man had been conscious. He was breathing in great snorts.
Adele stepped around her to get to the doorway. She was holding her data unit and the wands in her right hand; her left was in her tunic pocket. Her utility trousers were stained by the dead vegetation she’d been sitting on, though that wasn’t obvious on the black-and-gray mottled fabric.
“Mistress!” said Tovera.
Woetjans gripped Adele’s sleeve, pulling her back; Tovera entered the room with her sub-machine gun ready. Adele looked up with an expression as cold as the blade of a guillotine; the bosun released her.
Adele smiled faintly. “Yes, I take your point, Woetjans,” she said, taking her left hand out of her pocket. “But be careful, please. Sometimes I just react when I’m thinking of other things.”
Barnes and four other armed spacers entered the building; Adele followed them. Close up, Daniel could see that algae with a faintly orange cast was creeping over the structural plastic, softening its lines but probably making it dangerous to touch.
“He’s just a trustee,” said the girl Daniel held. She prodded Disch with a toe–not a blow but a disparaging reference. “No different from the rest of us, but he thinks he’s god because the off-planet staff lets him act like one. They won’t stay here, so Disch does what he pleases.”
She half-smiled. “Did,” she said.
This would be a more unpleasant place to live than many of the apparently harsher worlds which Daniel had seen. You could move normally on the surface, unlike some iceworlds, but that surface would inevitably begin to devour you. The woman had a rash beneath her chin and on the inside of both arms, and a line of sores circled the neck of the sprawled Disch where his collar rubbed.
Forbes and her aides stamped up from the woods. Dasi had kept his spacers from rushing forward when Woetjans charged the compound with the lead section; he deserved a pat on the back for that, which Daniel would see he got as soon as things quieted down. Not quite yet, though….
“In the name of the Senate and people of the Republic!” the Senator said. “I declare the entire world of Fonthill under martial law. Cinnabar forever!”
Spacers cheerfully shouted, “Cinnabar forever!” and, “Up Cinnabar!” Some of the most gleeful weren’t, as Daniel knew from their enlistment records, even Cinnabar citizens.
Daniel shot a sharp glance at the woman he was holding. She was much younger than he’d judged, no more than eighteen. Her arms and legs were badly bruised, and he suspected there were more bruises on the places that her loose shift covered.
“Are you going to be all right if I let you go?” Daniel said. He could get one of the spacers to watch her or even tie her up, but he didn’t want to do that if he could avoid it.
She laughed without humor. “I’m fine,” she said. “If you mean, am I going to hit that bastard again–”
She jabbed Disch with her foot.
“–no, don’t worry. Though I don’t know why you bloody care. He’s not worth anybody caring, believe me.”
Daniel did believe her, but he was a naval officer and the matter didn’t fall within his remit. If Forbes wanted to set up kangaroo courts, he as the ranking RCN officer would provide the civil authorities with support as required. Until then, he’d maintain order among the local population so long as that was consistent with his naval duties.
Forbes was trying to get into the headquarters building, which was part of Daniel’s duties. The Senator’s two servants were about to try pushing through the spacers who clogged the doorway, and that wasn’t going to end in a good way.
“Poindexter!” Daniel said, stepping between Forbes and the spacers’ backs. “Smolich! Get your asses out of her Excellency’s way. Woetjans, I want all personnel out of the control room now except you and two others. Put the compound in a posture of defense!”
He paused while the room emptied. There’d been a dozen spacers inside, along with the Adele, Tovera, and the Fonthill officials–trustees, the woman had said, as though this were a prison. Which it obviously was, in the minds of everybody who was involved with it.
Daniel and Hogg followed Forbes into the control room. The building didn’t have climate control, and though the large openings under the roofpeaks provided ventilation, they did nothing for the mugginess.