WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 44:



            The door to the post hinged inward; it was halfway open. No one was on guard in the corridor, but a soldier in the outer section was seated so that he could watch through the gap.

            He got up when saw Adele approaching. "Yes?" he called. He gripped the barrel of the sub-machine gun leaning against his chair and cradled it in his arms.

            "I'm Colonel Mundy–" Adele said.

            The soldier saw the armed group behind her. He slammed the steel door with his foot as he groped for the charging handle of his sub-machine gun.

            Adele shoved against the door, jouncing it off the jamb but recoiling herself; the soldier outweighed her considerably. Woetjans stepped past and slammed her shoulder into the panel. The door flew open, bouncing the soldier into the partition separating the guard room from command center beyond. Another soldier was reaching for her sub-machine gun. The first man shot Woetjans in the chest.

            Adele fired, hitting the shooter at the hairline. He lurched against the partition, then sprawled sideways. She took the pistol from her smoldering pocket and shot him twice more through the base of the skull as she entered the outer office.

            The second soldier screamed and dropped her sub-machine gun. Tovera killed her anyway, a three-shot burst at the top of the breastbone which destroyed all the major blood vessels connected to the heart.

            "Don't hurt the equipment!" Adele shouted as she pulled open the door of the inner office.

            An overweight woman in rumpled khakis sat at a U-shaped console with her back to the left-hand wall. Three younger male clerks in utilities had been at smaller electronic desks which faced hers. They'd started to get up when the door flew open, but the nearest threw his hands in the air and cried, "I surrender! I surrender!"

            The woman in khaki snarled, "You bastards!" and opened a drawer in the right-hand pillar of her console. Adele shot her through the right eye; the bone behind the sockets was thin. She didn't trust the ceramic pellets of her pocket pistol to penetrate the solid portions of the cranial vault.

            The woman's legs spasmed, throwing her out of her integral chair. She lay on the floor, thrashing and battering her head against the concrete wall. She'd voided her bladder and bowels when she died.

            Adele stepped over the body, setting her pistol on top of the console. She needed both hands to bring up her data unit, and the gun barrel glowing from the quick sequence of shots would melt into the synthetic fabric of her tunic if she dropped it back in her pocket.

            A sub-machine gun slammed the three captured clerks against the back wall and pinned them there for the length of the burst. Fifty rounds pulped their chests, splashing the room with osmium ricochets and powdered concrete.

            "Tovera!" Adele screamed, but of course the shooter wasn't Tovera, a sociopath but also a craftsman of slaughter. Tovera would never have wasted a full magazine like that when precise three-round bursts would do the job as well.

            Barnes stood in the doorway, reaching for a reload from the pouch hanging from his hard suit. The barrel of his sub-machine gun was white-hot. The dusty gray air shimmered with ozone and aluminum ionized from the projectiles' driving bands.

            Tovera grabbed Barnes' weapon by the receiver. When he wouldn't let go, she cracked his knuckles with the butt of her own sub-machine gun and jerked it away.

             "Help Dasi with Woetjans!" Tovera said. "Quick! Do you want her to die?"

            Barnes' mouth dropped open. He turned and slipped back into the outer office, moving as easily as if he weren't wearing the rigging suit.

            "Mistress?" said Tovera. "He was upset. He's a good man."

            Adele nodded as she synched her personal data unit with the console. She needed secure communications with the transport as well as to be able to access both Fort Douaumont's systems, so she couldn't simply use the console.

            She wondered if the bosun was still alive. The hard suit wouldn't stop projectiles, but being shot in the chest wasn't necessarily fatal. As Adele knew.

            Tovera returned to the outer office; Rene sat at the end desk and began shuffling through the display. At the moment, Adele was too busy to check what he was doing.

            The boy looked greenish and his face was set. That might simply be in reaction to the smell. Smells, rather. The dry sharpness of lime laced with ions could only tinge the effluvium of bodies ripped apart while alive.

            Adele found the controls quickly enough. First she changed the password and authentication sequence for all five batteries to a pair of eight-character strings of her own choosing. Next she switched the input option so that the password and authentication had to be entered through her personal data unit in order to be valid. Only when that background was in place did she shift the batteries to director fire so that they couldn't be controlled by the battery officer.

            Adele leaned back and closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them. Her wands twitched, using Fort Douaumont's own systems to open communications with the Skye Defender. As she did so, Rene rose from his desk and started for the door.

            "Cazelet?" she said. Her eyes were watering from the dust, and the back of her throat was raw. The sound came out as a croak.

            "I found a Medicomp in the next bay," Rene said in a harsh voice. His eyes were watering; tears streaked his cheeks. "Maybe if we get the Chief to it…. The riggers and me, I mean. You'll be all right with Tovera."

            Adele nodded curtly. "Yes," she said, "I will."

            Had Tovera really feared that she'd punish Barnes for killing someone who perhaps didn't need to be killed? That was a matter between Barnes and those who visited him in the night.

            Adele focused on her display again and connected with the transport.