Valentine's Exile Online - Vampire Earth 5 - E. E. Knight

E. E. Knight

Valentine’s Exile

Vampire Earth

Book Five

Only solitary men know the full joys of friendship.

Others have their family; but to a solitary and an exile his friends are everything.

Willa Cather

Shadows on the Rock


Dallas, March, the fiftieth year of the Kurian Order: Four square miles of concrete and structural steel smoke and pop and sputter as the city dies from the stranglehold of a siege.

Save for the sounds of streetfighting, hard to locate thanks to reflections from the skyscrapers, this city at war seems strangely empty. Scavenging black crows and wary, tail-tucking dogs catch the eye here and there, but human activity is nil. Vague stormlike rumbles mutter in the distance, and sudden eruptions of machine-gun fire from a few blocks away might be jackhammers breaking holes in a sidewalk in a more peaceful time. When men move they move in a rush, pouring from doorways and crossing streets in a quick wave before the whine of shellfire can catch them in the open.

Viewed from above, or on a headquarters map in one of the command bunkers, Big D is now a network of opposing circles.

The largest circle encompasses the great towers of the city center. Linked above the twentieth floor by spiderweb-like cables that allow the sure-tentacled Kurians interbuilding access without mixing with their human herds at street level, they show new holes and pits and hollows from the besiegers’ guns and rockets. At street level mounds of debris and rubble stand in concentric rings, defended by batteries of guns manned by everyone from professional soldiers to minor functionaries in what until last year had been the affluent and sprawling North Texas Cooperative.

Surrounding that central axis are an assortment of smaller circles, ringing the central battlements like the chambers in a revolver’s cylinder. The closest to the front lines are Texas regulars out of the Pinewoods and the Rio Grande belt; others to the north and east fly the tricolor of the

Ozarks, and a few smaller ones filling gaps to the rear are clusters of militias made up of men and women freed from the heavy hand of the Cooperative.

Northwest of the city rests one of these smaller circles, surrounding an airstrip once called Love Field. The soldiers there are not placed to assault the city. The ad hoc unit occupying the airport grew out of the rising in Little Rock that opened Operation Archangel. They participate in the siege both as a sentimental gesture of gratitude to the Texans who plunged down the Arkansas River to rescue them and as being part of the gun-bristling ring that prevents an organized breakout. Their airfield joins the extreme left of the Ozark troops and the extreme right of the Texans.

Their regimental flag, a black-and-blue silhouette of an Arkansas razorback set under the joined Texas and Ozark flags, reads DON’T FEED ON ME. Judged from a distance, the forces in this particular encampment, called Valentine’s Razors by the veterans, aren’t in shape to serve as anything but a supporting unit. Only a few mortars and machine-gun pits fill their lines, more for defense of the camp than for battering those within the city. Instead rolls of concertina wire on the open ground near the airstrip enclose cattle awaiting slaughter for the daily ration, and the airport’s garages hum with the sounds of generators and power tools. On the march southwest from the Ozarks the Razors proved invaluable in getting captured Kurian vehicles operational again, and in turning cattle, wheat, pigs, and corn into grist for various regimental kitchens. Their aptitudes reflect the rear-area nature of many of the soldiers in the Razors, united by chance during the uprising in Little Rock.

To a general of either side looking at a map and possessed of a modicum of intelligence, military and personal, the Razors are one of the least-threatening circles surrounding Big D.

But quality can rarely be judged from a distance.

The first clue is in the rifles that each on-duty soldier always has within reach: long, heavy-barreled fillers with oversized banana magazines and integral bipods, some with telescopic sights, others with fixtures for high-capacity drum magazines. Souvenirs of the Razors’ brief integration into Solon’s Army of the Trans-Mississippi, they are the best battle rifles the famous Atlanta Gunworks produces. Thanks to the Type Threes, any soldier is capable of turning into a supporting fire unit in a moment, given a simple wrench and a belt of the proper ammunition.

Then there are the “prowlers”. The mechanics of the Razors see to it that the best bits