WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 48:



            The door at the stair head was open; the heavy automatic weapon had stopped firing, but bursts from sub-machine guns and individual whangs from stocked impellers came up from the plaza. There were shouts, screams, and frequently the ringing growl of projectiles ricocheting off gun mountings.

            Daniel followed Hogg into the corner of a garden twenty feet on a side. Sparkling gravel walks wound between rough stone planters set with colorful flowers from several planets including Earth. Boxwood hedges enclosed three sides. The polarizing screen overhead let light through but from above appeared to extend the roof of the penthouse whose end wall–with a door flanked by bay windows–formed the garden's fourth side.

            Hogg headed for the door between a planter of flowers streaming like red flags and one of blue, purple and violet cups. Even in haste he planted his feet with such delicacy that his fur-lined poaching boots barely disturbed the gravel path.

            He twisted the latch with his left hand, pointing the sub-machine gun in his right like a pistol; the outward-opening door didn't move. He backed, tensing his right leg to kick.

            "Get back," Daniel snapped, raising the impeller to his shoulder. The door panel was wood-grained metal. The wide troughs in which the clear panels of the casements were set implied that the windows were armored also.

            Hogg stepped aside, reflexively careful not to cross in front of the gun muzzle. Daniel fired, blasting the latch into shards. The door itself jounced barely ajar.

            Checking to see that Daniel still had the impeller leveled, Hogg stuck his sub-machine gun's muzzle into the hole where the latch had been and levered the door open. He couldn't use his bare hand, because the opening was white-hot and as sharp as a jumble of razorblades.

            Beyond was a sitting room with a malachite table on which a vase of roses had been recently overset; water still dripped to the carpeted floor. The chairs had ornate frames of gilt wood and upholstery which matched the tabletop, picked out with stylized gold stars. It costs a great deal of money to buy things so tastelessly ugly, Daniel thought.

            "I'm in!" Hogg said. He slanted through the doorway in a crouch that kept him below the line of Daniel's impeller.

            "I'm in!" Daniel said. He followed at the opposite angle.

            To the right was a well appointed office. It could be closed off from the drawing room, but the slatted door made from mirror-finished synthetic was collapsed against the wall. There was no one in either room.

            Straight ahead was an archway made shimmeringly opaque by holographic distortion; Daniel guessed that there'd be a band of active noise cancellation at the same point to provide complete privacy for those inside. The trouble was, the only way to tell what was on the other side of the curtain of light was to go through it into whatever was waiting–

            Hogg lifted the muzzle of his sub-machine gun and raked the transom. Bits of cast synthetic flew in all directions. Sparks popped as the burst slashed away several projectors; strips amounting to half the screen vanished, showing a huge bed. Its rumpled duvet was in the same hideous gold-on-malachite pattern as the chairs in the drawing room.

            The bed was empty. On the far wall between built-in bookcases–false ones, Daniel suspected–was another armored door, this one slowly swinging to. Beyond, the powerful fans of an aircar whined, then bogged as the driver tried to bring them up to speed too quickly.

            "No you don't!" said Hogg. He leaped into the bedroom, ignoring the risk that a shooter waited in ambush.

            Daniel turned and ran back through the garden. The hedge was dense and the sculptured boxwood branches raked him like so many fingernails, but he'd hunted in brush before. He forced his way between trunks, holding the impeller vertical before him.

            If necessary he'd have run on the lip of the planter in which the boxwoods were set, but there was a good five feet between the hedge and the second level's roof coping. Daniel sprinted around the penthouse to reach the back, just as an open aircar roared out of the garage housed in the rear half of the suite.

            Hogg fired a burst, pocking the quarter panel. Where the sub-machine gun's light projectiles hit, they stressed the black thermoplastic skin to gray-white.

            The driver hauled his vehicle into a tight spiral as he gained altitude. The car banked, fifty yards out from the garage and ten or a dozen feet above the level of Daniel's head.

            He fired twice. The impeller's heavy recoil woke nostalgic memories of his childhood. He'd actually become a better wing shot than Hogg, who took the reasonable attitude that birds shot off a branch tasted the same as those he'd shot out of the air. The aircar was just a bigger bird, and the butt-plate's punch against his shoulder was much the same as that of a shotgun using full charges.

            Daniel saw a tiny spark in the car's rear fan housing. For a moment the vehicle continued to spiral upward, its fans howling.

            Hogg stepped out of the garage, pointing his sub-machine gun. "Don't shoot!" Daniel shouted. He kept his cheek weld on the stock but he'd lifted his finger from the trigger.

            "Shoot, you pup!" Hogg shouted. "You bloody missed it, you did!"

            The car howled. There was a Blang! and the rear fan blasted shreds of itself out of the housing.

            Daniel heard shrill cries from the cabin. He lowered his impeller.

            "Sorry, master," Hogg muttered in embarrassment. "Shoulda knowed you wouldn't miss a clout shot like that."

            "I put holes in a couple blades instead of shooting out the motor," Daniel explained quietly. "I want them to have a chance to set down. Remember, I'm trying to capture the Governor alive."

            The driver–a woman in uniform, Daniel saw as the car came around–fought her controls as the unbalanced rear fan shook itself increasingly to ruin. With the nose continuing to rise despite anything the driver could do, the aircar slanted toward the pad from which it'd lifted.

            Daniel and Hogg flattened themselves against the wall in case the vehicle landed beside rather than inside the garage, but the driver managed to hold it straight as it slid down. The nose cleared the transom by no more than a hair. There was a crash, screaming metal, and a second crash which shook the wall that Daniel was leaning against.

            The fan motors shut off. They're not all dead. Somebody was sobbing. Holding his impeller at port arms, Daniel walked around the end of the building and looked into the garage.

            The car's bow was wedged against the back wall; the frame had bent enough to crack. The driver climbed out of the front seat. Her mouth was open and, though she was moving, there was nothing behind her eyes.

            All three men in the rear compartment were bloodied, but they didn't appear to be seriously injured. The two chubby youths were nude except for rings and other piercings; one's penis stud had tufts of feather at both ends.

            The male in his sixties was even fatter than his catamites. He'd thrown on a shimmering robe before running to the car, but it didn't cover as much as Daniel wished it did. His blubbering made tracks down the blood oozing from his nose.

            "Governor Platt," Daniel said, "I'm Admiral Daniel Leary. I'm here to demand your capitulation to the Independent Republic of Bagaria."

            Hogg began to laugh. He was laughing so hard that he had to kneel on the plaza to keep from falling over.