WHEN THE TIDE RISES — snippet 46


WHEN THE TIDE RISES – snippet 46:



            The main entrance to the headquarters building had monumental double doors, armored and now closed. They were reached by a ramp instead of a flight of steps; Daniel wondered if dignitaries expected to be driven in. Walking at a measured pace–he didn't want his assault force to look like an assault force–he started up the slope.

            The door valves were decorated in low relief with scenes of happy laborers, farming on the left panel and assembling machinery on an assembly line to the right. Despite the embellishments, the doors were a very real barrier. Sun carried a satchel of explosives, but the upper hinges were ten feet above the door sill.

            Daniel supposed they could form a human pyramid to allow someone to climb high enough to place a wad of explosive there, but that presupposed that the Alliance garrison would sit on its collective hands during the preparations. That didn't seem the most likely scenario.

            A pedestrian door opened inward from the left panel. A head wearing a bicorn hat full of gold braid peered out.

            "You!" the Alliance official called angrily. "Whoever's in charge of this shambles, get over here now."

            "Daniel!" Adele's voice snapped on his commo helmet through a 50-Hertz hum. "Claim to be the political officer accompanying the battalion from Maintenon. The man in the door has cluster-command major's insignia, though I don't know his name."

            The officers of a real Maintenon battalion wouldn't know the fellow's name either, Daniel thought, but of course it wouldn't bother them. It wouldn't bother anybody but Adele, to whom information was life. And thank heavens she's with me!

            "I suppose that's me, then, major," said Daniel, who'd reached the apron before the door alcove. The stone facing was pleasantly cool through his thin soles. "I'm Commissioner Leary, the battalion's political officer. Colonel Chatterjee here will handle the purely military decisions, but he defers to me in, shall we say, intra-Alliance matters."

            He stepped through the doorway. It was designed like the hatch of a starship, and the valve in which it was set was as thick as a starship's hull plating.

            Hogg entered also. He swung the door fully back as Chatterjee followed.

            "Here!" protested the major. His gaudy uniform made Daniel think of doormen at expensive Xenos hotels, though a doorman's garb wouldn't have been so worn and dingy. "They can't come in here! I have to shut the door to keep the stink out! And whatever possessed you to land here?"

            "Well, I can scarcely leave them out in the heat, can I?" said Daniel cheerfully. He eased forward with Chatterjee at his side. Their presence moved the major back, allowing the spacers room to enter and spread along the front of the hall. "And as for where we landed, you'd have to ask Captain Salmon. I will say, though, that we were informed in orbit that you were under attack, so the decision seemed reasonable to me."

            The entrance hall was sixty feet long, forty wide to the square pillars framing it, and thirty feet high to the top of a barrel-vaulted ceiling which was decorated with mythological scenes.

            Daniel supposed they were mythological; at any rate, the figures wore flowing robes and some of them had feathered wings. From the outside the HQ Building seemed a fortress or the ritual center of a brutal religion; within, however, the Cluster Governor lived in a palace.

            "We're not being attacked!" the major cried. With him were three civilian clerks–two were women–and a young male warrant officer who looked as sharp as Hogg's knife. The warrant officer carried a personal data unit hooked to his belt; it was projecting a display before him, but he was also keeping an eye on the present discussion. "What blithering idiot said that we were?"

            "With respect, major…," Daniel said, drawing out the other man's rank. Commissioners, like warrant officers, came in various grades, but the major would know that it was normal for the commissioner to be senior to the line officer whom he accompanied. "It was your blithering idiot, not mine. Now, where is Governor Platt?"

            "He can't see you," the major muttered. He still hadn't bothered to identify himself. "Anyway, there's no reason to see him. You'll need billets and–did you bring your own rations?"

            He looked up hopefully, his eyes sliding from Daniel to Chatterjee. The warrant officer's face had gotten very still, but the three clerks were chattering to one another beside a pillar. There was nobody else in the hallway, though the door to the left marked Authorized Personnel Only had the look of a guardroom. It was ajar.

            "We have–," Chatterjee said and paused to hack up phlegm. He continued, "We have nine days rations left, but we're on your strength from the moment we touched down. You'll have to reimburse the Government of Maintenon for anything I issue to my troops until we're released from Conyers' control."

            Perfect, absolutely perfect…, Daniel thought. All his spacers were in the building. While Chatterjee and the major wrangled over administrative costs, Daniel sidled over to Sayer and murmured, "I want to make sure our pongo friends can get inside fast when they decide to join us. Can you open the main doors here?"

            "Does a rat shit in the sewer, Six?" replied the engineer's mate with a big grin. He was obviously a city boy.

            "Governor Platt is in his suite on the top level," Adele said in a tone of cold detachment. "There don't appear to be any combat troops billeted in the building itself, but there're gun crews on the second level and there's supposed to be a platoon dispersed to guard the entrances. Over."

            Sun had already detached a squad under Jo Ashburn, his striker, to drift toward the guardroom. Ashburn pulled a Bagarian grenade from her cargo pocket, though she didn't appear to have armed it yet.

            "Right," said Daniel. "Open the doors, spacer."

            He walked back toward the major. Sayer thrust a short pry bar into a crack Daniel hadn't noticed in the surface of a doorpost. He gave it a quick twist to pop the latch and swing out a panel, displaying the set of control buttons beneath.

            The warrant officer said, "I'll get right on that, sir," in a cheery voice and turned, striding quickly in the direction of a doorway entering the hall from the right.

            "Hey!" cried the major. He bustled toward Sayer with his features set in an expression of outrage. "What are you doing? What are you doing?"

About Eric Flint

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