WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 50:



            The image of Station B still held a quarter of Adele's display. One of the men trying to cut the conduit leaped to his feet, flinging his hammer and chisel in opposite directions. Before his body'd collapsed, his partner lurched into the gun carriage and sprawled in a flag of blood. On the other side of his body, the projectile that'd killed him ricocheted as a bright purple streak from a trunnion.

            "Thank you for taking care of that, Cazelet," Adele said. She didn't mean to sound so formal! "I wouldn't have gotten around to it in time."

            She cleared her throat. "That is, if it's in time now. I didn't get much of a look at the wounds, but it's clear the Chief was, ah, badly wounded."

            Another Alliance soldier dropped. Two more ran for the hatch and died in a tangle across it. The sixth man, rather than trying to outrun impeller projectiles fired from the roof of the HQ Building, huddled behind the plasma cannon. Hogg must be smiling….

            "She's stable, mistress," Rene said with a lopsided smile. "It's been my experience that if you get them to the Medicomp, you'll probably be all right. Except for brain and spinal injuries. Shock kills more than trauma does, and she won't slip off that way now that she's hooked up."

            "Ladouceur Six-two to Squadron Six-four," said a voice Adele didn't identify instantly. "Mundy, this is Borries. Please reply, over."

            The Pellegrinian was using the laser communicator, not the microwave link through the planetary comsat system by which Adele'd netted the cruiser with the detachment on the ground. Because the Ladouceur was landing in a descending spiral, for part of the time she'd have been out of line-of-sight with the fort's laser transceiver heads.

            "Mundy to Borries," she said. "Go ahead, over."

            "Mistress?" said Borries. He sounded tense. "Can you highlight where the holdouts are on a map of the fort for me, over?"

            Adele frowned. "Borries," she said, "there're friendly troops holding the sections to either side of the target. I know that Captain Leary intends displace them himself, over."

            "Mistress, I can do this," Borries said in a tone of frustrated despair. "Six won't let me but I can. Let me do my bloody job, mistress, over!"

            Adele pursed her lips again. She'd already prepared the schematic with Sector Two in red and a pulsing cursor over the gun emplacement still in Alliance hands. "Borries," she said, "I'm transferring the data now, out."

            Her wands flicked.

            In her experience there were very few people who wanted to do their jobs. If the Pellegrinian missileer badly missed his aim, well, there weren't many friendly personnel closer to the target area than Signals Officer Adele Mundy.

            "Captain Ringo," Daniel said, "I'm speaking to you as Commander Daniel Leary, RCN. Please, you have a last chance to surrender on honorable terms. You can see that with only small arms at your disposal, you can't resist for more than an hour or two. Surrender and–"

            A low-frequency rumble from the east was beginning to shake the fort. Dust which Barnes' burst had smashed from the walls quivered in the air.

            "Bugger you, Leary!" Ringo screamed. He must be spraying spittle into the microphone; perhaps he too had watched his men shot down. "Didn't you hear me the first time? Bugger all of you bloody Cinnabar faggots!"

            The sound of the cruiser in its final landing approach built to thunder. Through it Adele heard a shriller sound.

            "Adele," said Cazelet as he slid out of the seat built into his desk. "I think we'd better get down–"

            The CRACK! was earsplitting. The Alliance warrant officer's corpse bounced from the floor at Adele's feet, spun on its axis, and flopped back face down.

            Adele's display went monochrome for an instant, but the console had its own power supply. Dust lifting from the floor interfered with the projections and blurred the images, but there was nothing wrong with the computer itself. The quadrant showing the gun position went blank because the sending unit had vanished.

            "Adele, get down!" Rene screamed. He started toward her but sprawled headlong when the second missile dealt the fort another hammer blow.

            Adele strapped herself in and switched her display to a video pickup on the exterior wall of the HQ Building's penthouse. It provided a 90-degree panorama of the rampart, including Sector Two. The gun emplacement was a smoldering crater where a few strands of wreckage poked out of the smoke. The angle beneath it, the precise middle of the sector, had taken the second hit. Blue sparks snapped and sparkled through the bitter gray whorls, showing that the missile had punched deep enough to cut power lines.

            The third missile hit twenty yards to the right of the second, delivering the worst shock of all to Adele's CP. Concrete shattered and steel–the missile's nose, cast from a nickel-iron asteroid, and the wall's reinforcing rods–burned white from the friction of impact. The fourth missile drove into the rampart on the left of the angle, a perfect pairing with the third.

            The Ladouceur roared overhead as it dropped into Grand Harbor. Its magazines still carried two plasma missiles which hadn't been launched on Churchyard, but Adele supposed Borries hadn't had time to program them during the cruiser's landing approach.

            He hadn't needed them, either. There was no question about that.

            Smoke shot up from scores of gunports and ventilation shafts; occasionally a streamer of red flame licked like a snake's tongue before sinking back into the foul blackness that was settling over the gutted angle. The barriers were already down, cutting the late Captain Ringo's sector off from those which had surrendered to the Bagarians. The deepest bunkers may've survived, but all passages from them to the surface had been filled with rubble.

            "Squadron, this is Squadron Six," said Daniel. "Fellow spacers, don't get cocky quite yet, but I believe we've completed the conquest of Conyers. Ashburn, I won't need your escort after all. And Chief Missileer Borries–"

            He paused, then resumed, "Mister Borries, I have some quibbles about your judgment, but your professional skill is on a par with that of the best people I've ever seen in action–myself very definitely among them. Congratulations, my fellow spacers, I'm proud to serve with you. Hip hip–"

            "Hooray!" shouted Rene Cazelet. And Adele found herself shouting also.