WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 47:



            The main doors began to crawl apart. Their pained squeals were louder than those of the transport's hatch; they may not have been opened in years or decades.

            Chatterjee's ear-clip speaker chirped at him. He looked at Daniel and said, "Jon, that's Major Zaring, is on the way, Commissioner."

            "Hold it, soldier!" Hogg said. "You're not faster than this is!"

            The warrant officer froze in mid-step and threw his hands in the air. Only then did he turn toward the impeller pointed at the middle of his back. In other hands, a long-arm held at the waist wouldn't be a real danger; this fellow had correctly estimated the likelihood that Hogg would hit his target even if he closed his eyes before shooting.

            The Alliance major grabbed Sayer by the arm. A rigger lifted off the major's bicorn and clocked him over the head with a length of pipe; he went down like a shower of sand.

            One of the civilians squealed and put her clenched fists to her mouth. The warrant officer turned his head and snarled, "Shut your face, you stupid cow! Do you want to get us all killed?"

            Daniel looked through the doorway to make sure that the Bagarian soldiers really were coming as announced. The detached squad placed themselves against the wall to either side of the guardroom door.

            "Colonel Chatterjee," Daniel said, "secure the lower floors with your troops while–"

            Ashburn cocked her right arm back with the grenade poised to throw. A member of her squad jerked the guardroom door fully open and dived out of the way. The remaining six spacers pointed impellers and sub-machine guns into the doorway.

            "Freeze!" Ashburn shouted. "Freeze or you're for it, pongoes!"

            Half a dozen soldiers, two in their undershirts, were playing poker. The man with the deck let it get away from him; cards fluttered through the air like mayflies in a mating dance. There were guns leaning against the back wall, but nobody was foolish enough to try to grab one.

            "Very good," Daniel said. "As I was saying, Colonel, I'm taking my detachment to the Governor on the top floor where I hope to end this business without bloodshed."

            He cleared his throat and added, "We've kept it relatively peaceful thus far. I'd like that to continue."

            Chatterjee nodded curtly, watching Ashburn' squad bind the guards with cargo tape. "I've been a real estate lawyer for the past fifteen years, Admiral," he said. "I hope to go back to that profession. If I never hear a shot fired in anger, it'll be too soon."

            Daniel clapped him on the shoulder. "Sissies to me!" he called. "Up three floors to the Governor's suite, spacers. The pongoes can take care of things on the ground, right?"

            There was a broad staircase of polished gneiss at the far end of the hall. Halfway up it split into a Y and reversed direction onto both sides of a mezzanine; it didn't appear to go higher. Hogg had located a spiral staircase in the alcove to the left of the entrance door, however. He stood at the foot of it.

            "Follow me!" Daniel said, waving his sub-machine gun as he strode toward his servant. "Sun, bring up the rear!"

            "Trade me!" said Hogg, tossing his stocked impeller to Daniel, who handed over the sub-machine gun without pointless argument. The man in the lead in these close quarters should have the automatic weapon. Hogg was the proper person to lead because decades of poaching had honed his senses to react to the slightest sound or movement. Daniel was good, but he knew he wasn't in the same league as his servant.

            Besides, Hogg was going to lead in a situation like this, even if that meant clubbing his master down and tying him to keep him out of the way. Relationships generally, not just political ones, were the art of the possible. Daniel'd had his whole life to learn what was–and wasn't–possible in dealing with his old servant.

            Their soft-soled boots whisked on the cast concrete stairs. Hogg and Daniel both kept their faces turned up instead of looking down at their feet. The muzzles of their weapons pointed to the left, the direction of the doors off the clockwise spiral staircase, but that to the mezzanine was closed.

            The detachment following banged and rattled like a busy day in a bucket shop. The spacers were all sure-footed: quite apart from the riggers, the wear-polished steel treads of the companionways that the Power Room crews negotiated many times a day were slicker and trickier than this.

            On the other hand, though all his Sissies'd had firearms training, they weren't ideal people to have running behind you with guns in their hands. The spiral was some protection; and anyway, if Daniel'd made personal safety a priority, he wouldn't be in the RCN.

            The door to the second level was closed also, but as Hogg reached it a siren outside began to wind up and hooters–one of them in the stair tower–blatted. Almost at once an automatic impeller on the first-level plaza began to fire. The clang of heavy slugs ricocheting from steel indicated the gunner was shooting at the transport.

            "Sector Two, that's northwest, has given the alarm," said Adele as dispassionately as if she were ordering lunch. "I've rung down the barriers between sectors, but troops can get out through the courtyard doors if they care to, over."

            Hogg paused and glanced at Daniel. Daniel looked back in turn and found–not surprisingly–that the spacer directly behind him was Sayer.

            "You!" Daniel said. One petty officer was as good as another in a crisis, and the engineer's mate had proved he was a quick thinker. "Take half the detachment and clear this side of the plaza. Tell Sun to take the other half and clear the west side. Hogg and I'll take care of the Governor."

            "Come on, Sissies!" Sayer shouted down the staircase. "We got wogs to teach what's what!"

            "I've relayed your order to Sun," Adele said, as primly as a senior professor. "The captain on duty in Sector Three has informed Governor Platt that the building is under attack. Over."

            "We're on our way, Signals," Daniel said. He followed Hogg up the stairs as the spacers clumped through the door onto the second floor.

            His spacers'd be hitting the gun crews from an unexpected direction. He'd have liked to be leading them. He'd have liked to be bringing the Ladouceur down–and to be sitting at the cruiser's gunnery console, demonstrating what a 6-inch plasma bolt did to reinforced concrete.

            He'd have liked to be doing a lot of things, but he was an RCN officer so the job nobody else could do became his priority. Admiral Daniel Leary was in command of the Bagarian assault force, so he would treat with the Alliance commander.