WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 56:



CHAPTER 20: Morning City on Pelosi


            The call plate beside Daniel's bunk buzzed. He slapped it and said, "Six, go ahead, over."

            The room was dark. Daniel didn't know where he was, and he wasn't really awake: his conscious mind was watching from an indefinite distance as his body communicated by rote with whoever was on the other end of the circuit. He was already wearing utility trousers and an undershirt; he began pulling on his boots by reflex as he spoke.

            "Sir, this is Liu on the bridge," the plate said.

            Lieutenant Liu is officer of the watch. I'm in my space cabin, dead tired and catching a few minutes' sleep before Adele returns and the watch awakens me according to my instructions so that I can talk with her.

            "Captain Hoppler's here and he's got orders from the Ministry, he says, over," Liu said. He sounded concerned, probably afraid that he was mixed up in something too big for him. More likely it was a request that Admiral Leary turn in the ammunition expenditure forms that were by now so badly overdue… but it was just possible that Hoppler was bringing at least a portion of the crew's back pay.

            "Roger, Liu," Daniel said. "I'm on my way."

            He'd gotten his boots on the correct feet; now he pulled a utility jacket over the undershirt and sealed its closure also. He hoped it was presentable, but he didn't have time to check. It'd be good enough for Hoppler regardless, but if the Newbernian were coming with pay, Daniel would like to display a reasonable regard for the proprieties.

            He grabbed his forage cap from the small desk and put it on; it still had his commander's square on the peak rather than the four wreaths of a Bagarian admiral, but it'd do. An RCN commander ranked a wog admiral any day of the week… and he hoped he wasn't so logy that he'd say that aloud.

            Daniel opened the hatch and stepped into a corridor full of soldiers. A hundred or more armed spacers were milling about, fingering impellers and chemical rifles. Those near the hatch stared at him.

            "Let me by, if you will," Daniel said sharply. "I'm the captain, and I need to get to the bridge!"

            He'd had a momentary urge to duck back into the space cabin, but he couldn't do any good there and there was more than a little chance of precipitating something if he tried. Dogs instinctively chase when they see something running, and this lot were mangy curs or he much missed his bet. There were a lot of them, unfortunately.

            The spacers made way at the tone of command. He recognized some as crewmen of the Independence and DeMarce. Though armed with projectile weapons, many were barefoot and those with rifles wore bandoliers with only a few extra rounds thrust through the cartridge loops. Daniel didn't doubt they'd be able to control the Ladouceur, however. Clearly, that's why they were here.

            The bridge hatch was open. Daniel strode through and swept those present with his eyes. Liu was the only member of the cruiser's crew, but half a dozen officers who'd been assigned to the DeMarce or the Independence had accompanied Hoppler and Seward.

            "Welcome aboard, gentlemen," Daniel said with a bent smile. "If you'd told me you were coming, I'd have been more ready to entertain you."

            Liu wasn't stupid, but neither was he sufficiently imaginative when faced with the unexpected. If any of the former Sissies'd been on watch, they'd have closed the hatches and summoned Six when they saw a body of armed men approaching.

            "That's what we thought too, Leary," said Hoppler with a toss of his chin; his goatee wobbled. "That's why we didn't warn you."

            He glanced at the girlishly slim Seward. "Give him the documents, Captain," he said. "It's only polite to let him read them."

            Daniel took the rolled sheaf of hardcopy from the smirking Seward and untied the tape holding it. The document on top was engraved with:

Independent Republic of Bagaria

Office of the Generalissima

            The remainder of the text was offset printed and the registration was skewed:

            By virtue of the powers vested in me as head of state, I hereby rescind all offices and appointments of the Independent Republic of Bagaria previously granted to Daniel Orville Leary, a Cinnabar citizen.

            It was signed DeMarce, Generalissima, and countersigned Douglas Lampert, Minister of the Navy.

            Daniel felt a smile twitch the corner of his mouth. I wonder if I can appeal the order on the grounds they got my middle name wrong? He didn't let the thought reach his lips. That was probably a good thing, given the glares of frightened anger which even the tiny smile drew from the Bagarian captains.

            Correction: the captain and the admiral. The second document in the group appointed Andreas Hoppler as Admiral of the Navy of the Independent Republic of Bagaria, while the third–

            Daniel shuffled the hardcopy, still smiling faintly

            –transferred command of the cruiser Ladouceur to Captain Ronald Seward.

            "Well, gentlemen," Daniel said, returning the documents to Seward, "these appear to be in order. I'll instruct my servant to collect my personal belongings and be off shortly."

            He nodded politely.

            "Don't play us for fools, Leary!" said Hoppler harshly. "You'll stay right here–in your space cabin until everything's settled. I don't mind telling you that that may take a few months."

            "You've been subverting discipline in the squadron for too long for loyal officers to be safe if you were loose to pursue your schemes," said Seward. His anger was probably a reaction to being frightened when Daniel smiled. "Planning a coup, I shouldn't wonder! Well, Bagarians are going to run their own affairs now without foreign meddling."

            An odd thing to hear from a Kostroman citizen, Daniel thought; but that, like so many things could pass for now. Aloud he said, "Gentlemen, I see that I won't be able to convince you that I neither had nor have any designs on the government of the cluster. I hope, however, that you'll accept my parole as an RCN officer on my oath that I will in no way harm or act against the interests of the Republic or her officials?"

            He did hope that, but with rather less belief than he had for the salvation of his soul. A promise of honorable conduct only works with people who conduct themselves honorably.

            "Dream on, Leary," Seward sneered. "Just stay quiet until we've put paid to the rebels on Skye and you'll be all right. And if you're wondering, we're replacing the Ladouceur's crew with spacers we can trust from the Independence and the DeMarce."

            "And I'll only warn you once," said Hoppler. "If you continue to connive with traitors, you'll regret it–briefly! Even Cinnabar citizens have accidents, you know."

            Daniel nodded calmly. He was worried about Hogg, but not very worried. Hogg had the instincts of a poacher, not a wild boar. If they hadn't picked Hogg up when they filed aboard–which they weren't sophisticated enough to have done–he'd be lying low and making plans which probably included wire nooses.

            "Well, gentlemen," Daniel said, "I regret that you won't accept my parole."

            That wasn't entirely true: if they'd been willing to treat him as an honorable man, he'd have acted as one. By making him a prisoner… well, it greatly extended the range of options open to an RCN officer.

            "Admiral Leary," rasped the command console. The voice was Vesey's, though flattened almost beyond personality by compression and expansion. Her words were being repeated on the speakers in the roofs of the corridors and compartments. "This is Sissie Five. Please report on your situation, over."

            A Bagarian aide drew his sidearm and pointed it at Daniel. Another aide more usefully jumped to the console. His face was grim.

            "Gentlemen, let me handle this!" Daniel said. "I don't want any trouble, especially not trouble for my friends."

            Daniel wasn't sure how Vesey'd been able to access the cruiser's public address system from the Princess Cecile. Adele could've done it, of course; but Daniel himself couldn't have. Vesey was a very sharp officer, but in this case it seemed likely that Midshipman Cory was again demonstrating his talent for communications. Cory'd never make an astrogator, but the RCN had more good astrogators than it did officers who could handle a warship's electronics.

            But that was a matter for another time.

            The aide looked back at his seniors. Seward shrugged. "He knows what'll happen to him if he says the wrong thing," he said to Hoppler.

            "All right, Leary," said the new-made admiral. "But remember what I said about accidents!"

            Daniel stepped to the console, smiled at the Bagarian beside it, and sat down. The fellow who'd drawn his pistol kept the muzzle following Daniel. His marksmanship probably wasn't any better than his judgment, but projectiles ricocheting around the steel bulkheads might accomplish what skill would not.

            "Sissie Five, this is Six," Daniel said, trying to sound reassuringly bored. He wasn't worried about Vesey reacting badly, but inadvertently frightening the Bagarian officers might lead to all manner of problems. "All's well here. There's been a change of command. I'll remain aboard the Ladouceur to work out the details, but this doesn't affect you as commander of an RCN naval unit. Remain as you are until I return or you receive orders from a higher authority, over."

            There was what seemed a long silence. Daniel really wanted to ask if Vesey'd had word from Adele, but he couldn't risk calling her to the Bagarians' attention. Things weren't immediately dangerous, so he'd gather information before he acted.

            "Roger, Six," Vesey said. This time her voice really was flat, quite apart from the effect of transmission. "We'll wait in Security State One until further notice. Sissie Five out."

            Daniel rose from the console, giving the Bagarian officers a friendly smile. "There, gentlemen," he said. "There's no need for trouble, you see."

            But there would be trouble, as soon as Daniel knew more about the situation. And he didn't think it'd take long to learn all he needed.