Baltic Gambit: A Novel of the Vampire Earth (5 page)

BOOK: Baltic Gambit: A Novel of the Vampire Earth
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If they were stopped and searched, the poor bastard Indiana Patrol or Ordnance Guard would be in for a dreadful surprise, she thought. With luck they’d be taken prisoner quietly; they were now near enough for the outer hotel guards to hear shooting.

A rough-looking bunch, the Bears. They’d immigrated to Fort Seng when the fighting dried up around the Ozark Free Republics. Most veteran Bears, she’d been told, grew addicted, in a fashion, to the fighting madness that seized them in action. “Going Red” was one of the many phrases for it.

Their attire could be called a uniform only in the sense that it had the classic insignia pinned on it. And a name badge somewhere on the left breast. Otherwise, it was a mass of Reaper cloth, bulletproof armoring, legworm leather (popular thanks to its availability in Kentucky and the fact that it combined the ruggedness of leather with a breathable, insulative quality like layers of denim and athletic gear), regular fatigues, and in a few cases, painted plate steel or Kevlar. Some wore heavy helms with combat masks that made them look like samurai or old comic book superheroes; others liked to fight in nothing but a headband and tinted safety glasses. Their weapons were equally varied: short machine guns handy for room entry, combat rifles, sniper gear, grenade launchers, and fully
automatic shotguns, plus sidearms and blades that gave them a piratical aspect.

One thing they all had on this job was demolition gear, satchel charges, bags of grenades, and incendiary devices. The Bears had learned through long experience that slippery Kurians tended to retreat up or down, and the best way to deal with that was just to blow the hell out of their refuge—soft-skinned, boneless Kurians were notoriously sensitive to explosive fragments and concussions.

Duvalier double-checked the connections on her headset. She heard a low crackle in her ear. The short-range communicator was working.

“We’re counting on you,” Valentine said. “Two beeps for go ahead.”

They had light headset field radios captured from the Ordnance. They’d been modified by the electronics guys to send beeps using the Ordnance’s own communications gear. The beeps were so brief and used the edge of some “wavelength” that the Ordnance network ignored it as static, but a rewired sender-receiver could get Morse code out of the beeps. They worked through most of Northern Kentucky, and here in the sprawling Hoosier forest, the network sent and received perfectly.

He winked at her from his scarred eye. “Thirty minutes. It’s less than a mile cross-country.” He handed her a little earpiece with a button on it attached to a transmitter about the size of a pack of cigarettes. She stuffed it into the pocket of her duster and instinctively checked the edge on her sword-stick. It drew blood.

“See you at the gate,” she said, giving him a bloody thumbs-up.

Valentine had a reputation as a sniffer of trouble, and his confidence warmed hers. She’d had a feeling of dread the past few days, but it was gone now. Perhaps the Kurians attending this conference had fled. Now she just felt like a hunter who knows where the game is waiting.

They idled the garbage tractor and opened the hood. Valentine hung a flashlight so it shone into the engine, making his face less recognizable by contrast just in case a passing patrol was familiar with the garbage detail. She checked her “beeper.”

The slight discomfort in her finger helped her subsume her consciousness, entering that mental state that reduced the lifesign Reapers read. She was certain they’d have a Reaper or two watching.

That was the dangerous part. They didn’t need a clear line of sight to “see” you, so they could be lurking in a hollowed-out tree or thick patch of thorn and kudzu.

She followed a game trail. While you could reduce your lifesign by subsuming consciousness, you couldn’t eliminate it entirely, since each of the billions of cells in your body emitted its own fractional amount. Even from a hundred yards or so she might hope to pass as a deer, if she moved in a deerlike fashion, a few steps at a time. But night was fleeing, and she needed to hurry. So she trotted, hoping that she might pass as an escaped dog or coyote. By pausing every now and then to circle a tree, she hoped to add to the illusion. There was no need to lift a leg.

She slowly ascended the hill line opposite the hotel. When she could see the crest, she stopped and made a careful examination with her eyes, allowing them to rest on every tree stump.

The shock of recognition hit her square in the back before her brain fully caught up. There was a Reaper on watch looking east, sure enough. From its point on the hill it could watch the main east-west highway running north of the hotel, as well as the off-road approaches from the east. Just about where she expected it.

As a hunter, you want to know your game.

The Reaper stood still, only its heavy cloak moving slightly in the breeze. At the moment it was looking west. Its head moved slightly at each slow respiration. Perhaps the beast part of it was exhausted and sleeping standing up, or the Kurian animating it was engaged with another Reaper. A few Southern Command personnel were missing, she understood; it was possible that one was being questioned, or worse, by a different Reaper.

She moved crossways on the hill and restarted her ascent.

This was the hard part of quieting your mind. She was getting into the range where the Reaper didn’t even have to see her to know she was there.

When she spotted its head again she let herself relax into lifesign-reducing consciousness. The big problem with this discipline is you never knew how well you were doing it. It wasn’t like a flashlight where you could measure the candlepower or distance of the beam. You just had to go through your concentration exercises and hope. Not even hope—hope was an emotion that might alert it as much as fear or lust.

From close up, it appeared to be only half awake.

Reapers had physical needs like everyone else. It had probably been up all night chasing down Southern Command’s column, and been recalled so a fresher avatar could take over. No Kurian ever had
enough Reapers for all its duties: protection, food gathering, surveillance, and interacting with the Quislings. This one was operating on a “reduced power” mode; if it saw unusual traffic on the road it would probably rouse its master, who would in turn bring the Reaper back to full activity.

She suspected she could sneak up behind it easily enough and cut its head off. But its brief pain and death would alert the Kurian that there was someone in the neighborhood with the skill to take out one of his drones.

Instead she reached into her satchel and brought out a heavy fragmentation grenade and a loop of wire. With utmost care she crept to the rocky outcropping beneath the Reaper and slipped the wire around its ankle. A free piece of light cording (she always carried forty or fifty feet of thin cording that was practically weightless but strong enough to bind a prisoner or serve as a bootlace or hold a bundle together for transport) was tied to the pin in the grenade. She fixed the cording to a stout branch.

Ever so slowly she tied off the grenade up tight against its boot.

As soon as it took a step, the pin would pull. It would drag the grenade while the fuse burned—with a little luck it might even notice something bouncing around by its ankle and reach down to see what was the matter and have the grenade go off in its face. A Reaper with a foot blown off would be slowed considerably until it could bolt on (or whatever they did in the Reaper repair shops) an artificial replacement.

With that done, she descended the hill at an angle that put the most rock, trees, and earth between herself and the Reaper, making a beeline for the little strip of town opposite the old resort grounds.

She tried quieting her mind again, but it was difficult with the excitement of action near. The sentry Reaper meant there was at least one Kurian in the neighborhood. Was it at the hotel? If she was very, very lucky she might find out. Killing a Kurian would be the best way to kick off the action of her third summer in Kentucky.

At the sentry station, two guards stood on duty at the gates. A culvert running between the hotel grounds and the road smelled faintly of sewage. She’d heard that the mineral springs at French Lick had an odor that attracted wildlife for the salts or whatever, but this was definitely human waste being dumped out of a latrine into the nearest standing water.

She used it to approach the sentries. They were both keeping well away from the bog. They stood behind one of the gate’s thick posts out of the indifferent wind. Next to them a wooden beam painted optic orange served as a polite warning to stop.

She considered just walking up to them and using her claws. With her arms inside her oversized duster, they wouldn’t know she had her claws on.

The three curved metal blades were something of a joke to most Cats. She’d been made fun of in her earlier days with the Cats for carrying around that extra, easily identifiable metal. They weren’t as effective at killing as a single good knife, and were just about useless on something as tough as a Reaper.

She argued back that they were more than weapons. They were great tools for quickly scaling a tree, any kind of wooden-sided construct like a barn, or an old-fashioned wooden utility pole. They
could even be used to go up aluminum or vinyl exteriors if you didn’t mind the noise. And a kill by cat claws could be mistaken for an animal attack or a Reaper under the right circumstances, leading to confusion among the enemy.

What she didn’t say was that she just felt safer with nasty sharp hooks extending from her fists.

But after closer examination, she decided that the best approach was through an overgrown ditch that ran between the ancient railroad line bordering the hotel grounds and the road. There weren’t any dogs on patrol or at the gate. She could wiggle up like a salamander and not be seen until she was too close for them to do much about it.

Crossing the highway would be difficult in the light, but not impossible. There was a dip in the road a few hundred yards north of the sentry gate, and she used it to make the crossing with a quick belly crawl.

Once across she observed from the brush. They didn’t see her, or they would have whipped out binoculars. Unless they were very experienced counterinsurgents, that is, quietly relaying her presence up to the hotel while appearing not to notice.

She dropped into the chill water and mud of the ditch, and began her wet wriggle toward the gate, hugging her sword-stick to her side so as to disturb as little vegetation as possible.

Her cat claws and several knives accompanied her, including a skinner and a tough all-purpose bayonet with a wire cutter, but the one she rarely touched was a well-balanced thrower. She extracted it from its neck sheath (easily reached while absently scratching your head or when ordered to put your hands up and behind your head).

She wanted to get right into action if it looked promising. She hated waiting. She’d wasted too many opportunities, letting a good moment pass in the hope of a perfect one. According to the Cat who had trained her, she should wait until one guard went off to take a leak, or was occupied in some bit of phone business, before disposing of the other. But Val and the Bears were waiting, the guards were bored at their post, and one of them had his back to her.

No sense waiting.

The thrower made hardly a whisper as it cut through the air and disappeared up to the hilt in the sentry’s back.

His companion gave the stricken guard a quizzical look—he didn’t scream put probably had an odd expression.

She followed the knife up the bank, sword blade ready and point down behind her, a classic samurai carry, though she hadn’t been given the lineage of her killing technique. Just as the sentry with the thrower in his back sagged, she struck the astonished guard.

Making sure of both of them with her razor-edged sword tip, she pulled the bodies into the wet ditch, minus one overcoat and hat. From the hotel she could pass as one of the sentries.

The sentry-box phone remained silent. She gave it thirty seconds to be sure. The thrill of remaining alive while two enemies bled warm into the cold of the ditch was exhilarating. Valentine sometimes remarked on her eyes after a kill. She’d known too many Quislings to feel sorry for these two. Valentine sometimes grew melancholy after action, as if he’d prefer to be the one dead on the ground while the harvesters of humanity triumphed. Moody bastard.

BOOK: Baltic Gambit: A Novel of the Vampire Earth
8.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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