WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 45:



            "Captain, this is Signals," said Daniel's commo helmet as he stood in the transport's forward entry bay. It was Adele's voice, but she sounded odd. Well, goodness knows what sort of rigmarole she'd had to go through to send the signal. "The artillery positions are neutralized. That's the missiles too, I mean. And there hasn't been an alarm yet, but there may be at any moment. Over."

            "Roger, signals," Daniel said. As he spoke, he pointed his finger across the bay toward Michael Sayer, the engineer's mate at the hatch controls–he was a Sissie, of course–and chopped it down in a short arc while nodding to the hatch. "Break. Ladouceur, this is Squadron Six. Come down now and land in Grand Harbor according to plan. Nothing fancy, Mister Liu, just bring her down. Over."

            The hatch dogs withdrew like a bell chorus. Pumps whined, building pressure in the hydraulic jacks that forced the ramp down. Chatterjee hadn't seen Daniel gesture to Sayer. He looked up, startled; at Daniel's calm nod, he spoke into the mike flexed to his epaulet.

            "Roger, Six," Lieutenant Liu replied from the cruiser. "We're approaching the window. We'll begin our descent in ninety seconds. Ladouceur out."

            Daniel didn't remark, but if it'd been him at the cruiser's command console he'd have started his descent immediately and recalculated the details on the way down. He grinned. That, of course, was why Liu was in orbit now instead of being here where serious work was in progress.

            The Ladouceur's plasma cannon could've come in handy, but using them would require the cruiser to hover close to Fort Douaumont. Lieutenant Liu's shiphandling ranged from good to better than good; certainly he was skilled enough to hold the cruiser in a safe hover under normal circumstances.

            The kicker was the definition of "normal." Being shot at had become normal–or at least not abnormal–for Daniel and his Sissies; that wasn't true for Liu. Daniel couldn't risk learning that an impeller slug clanging from the hull made the fellow throw up his hands and send the cruiser plunging into the ground.

            The air roiling in as the hatch lowered was hot and stank of ozone. Daniel slitted his eyes reflexively. He was opening up the ship earlier than he normally would've done following a landing on dry ground, but he hadn't considered that it might be a problem. He realized he was wrong when he heard shouts of fear and anger from the platoon of Skye infantry waiting in the bay with him and forty armed spacers.

            "Admiral!" Chatterjee said. "What's happened? Are we on fire?"

            "It's all right!" Daniel said. "The ground's hot from the exhaust, but it isn't dangerous. We probably don't have much time before an alarm goes off, so we need to cross to the headquarters building as soon as the ramp's down."

            Which would be another minute or more. The boarding hatch weighed twenty tons, far too great a mass to fling around without regard for inertia.

            "Admiral, I don't know that we can!" Chatterjee said. "We're not trained for this! Please, cannot we wait till it's cooler, a few minutes at least?"

            Daniel thought, his face blank. He should've realized that what spacers took more or less for granted might be impossible to soldiers who weren't familiar with the searing violence of a starship's landing. On the other hand, the reasons for getting into the Alliance HQ as quickly as possible were valid regardless of how unpleasant the process was. Hot, curling ozone wasn't lethal at the concentrations outside, but the automatic impellers which might start firing at any moment would be.

            "Right," he said. "I'll take my spacers in now, and you'll follow as soon as you're able to. But don't waste time, Colonel, please don't waste time."

            Chatterjee bent over his mike and gave a series of orders. Daniel didn't really care what the Colonel was saying, though he realized with a smile that Adele would've been coupled into the Bagarian net as a matter of course.

            His smile faded. I hope you're all right, my friend, he thought.

            The ramp thumped down. "Spacers with me!" Daniel said. The hold's PA system boomed his voice out from speakers in the upper molding. Cory wasn't Adele, but he was doing bloody well. "We're not attacking, we're simply marching to our new billets. Until I say different or they shoot at us!"

            "Aw, Six, we gotta march?" Kris Dehaes called, her voice an alto as cracked as a crow's. "You know we're no good at that!"

            "Pipe down, Dehaes!" ordered Sun, leading the contingent because Woetjans was off with Adele. "If we keep cool and listen to Six, it'll go just fine."

            Well, I don't know about that, thought Daniel, but he stepped off on his left foot. As expected, the spacers clumped down the ramp with him. They looked more like a mob rushing for the jakes between innings than a military unit.

            What he hadn't expected was that Colonel Chatterjee would still be at his side. The Bagarian'd tied a kerchief over the lower half of his face and seemed to have squeezed his eyes shut. Maybe he was squinting, but it didn't look that way.

            Chatterjee touched Daniel's arm, for balance or maybe just to be guided. "I told Major Zaring to bring the men along ASAP," he said, his words making the kerchief puff and flap. "I'm going with you, Admiral!"

            Dust and stray ions eddied in the heat shimmering from the ground. The air felt hotter with each step down the ramp, and by the third stride onto the concrete Daniel was thinking that he should've worn something heavier than the soft-soled spacer's boots he had on.

            He grinned, wondering if the dry heat was going to make his lips crack. And here he'd been mentally chiding the pongoes for not being up to crossing this little bit of hot ground….

            Daniel stepped from the pad onto bare earth. It wasn't so bad, now. They were farther from the thrusters, there'd been a little longer for the whole courtyard to cool, and dirt didn't store heat as well as reinforced concrete. Even so, the bare skin of his face and hands felt crisp.