At last, Operation Renfield by Steven Johnson is complete!
Here is another snippit!
Franz had heard the mine explode, of course. But mines exploded fairly often on the Line. He couldn’t know for sure we were coming in force. Did he have a reserve handy? Was he willing to send it out after one mine, when something else might be coming in a little more carefully somewhere else? Unless both answers were yes, we still had a chance.
Maybe it’s mirror-imaging, but I figured if I were the Strudels, I’d send a recon patrol to see what’s what. Not that mirror-imaging is something vampires are very good at.
Brenner emerged from the background a few steps away. The spatter-colored smock he wore made him blend into the woods better than our foliage-studded camo nets did, and he knew how to move silently. You pick it up after a month or so in the woods; heck, I’m from Woodlawn in the Bronx, and even I got to sliding like a shadow over the snow eventually.
Dave was crunching determinedly through the snow, because where I balanced on the crust, he crashed right through. It was up to his waist, and had to be hard slogging, but he didn’t complain. His face was cycling through some pretty vile exclamations, but he didn’t make a sound. We could always hope that any mind-reader searching for us might be struck blind with disgust, or admiration for his vocabulary.
Moving a platoon quietly is basically impossible.
Someone’s always gonna sneeze, or snap a branch, or crunch snow under his clodhoppers.
What, you’re waiting for the but? There isn’t one. Moving a platoon quietly is nearly impossible.
With enough prep, though, we might not be loud enough to get intercepted. Selection’s important when you can; most of King Company were picked men, although sometimes we got handed replacements and told to make do. That tended to even itself out, because the ones with a natural gift for sneakery prospered, and the others got wounded.
Once you got selection, you need training. In some ways the Army’s all about training. It never stops, or it shouldn’t. A guy had to practically out-stealth the Shadow before we’d let him go on leave. Again, sometimes an officer had other ideas, and sent a man away whose skills were gonna rot before he got back. But you have to have officers in an Army, don’t you?
I was chewing on that when a tree wobbled in my line of vision.
I stopped still – yes, it was moving even when I wasn’t. I held up my right fist, shoulder-high. The woods got quiet.
Rattling leaves – there was still plant life up here – pinpointed the exact tree that was moving. I slipped my helmet back, uncovering my ears, but also raising my sight line above my brow. I couldn’t see a thing up there.
Something moved beside me. Dave was blinking his eyes, slowly, but steadily. He had big eyes, so when they went from white to dark it caught my attention.
I’d made the sign to freeze, so he wasn’t moving. In combat, or what could become combat at any moment, he wouldn’t dream of ignoring my orders the way he sometimes did in the rear. Obedience, even deference, served a purpose up front.
But he was blinking to get my attention. There wasn’t much of a moon, and that screened by the trees, so it wasn’t a huge risk, but even so, he thought he needed my attention bad enough to take that chance.
I cut my own eyes around. I didn’t see Brenner, but two of my own guys were staring at that tree as hard as I was. I sort of raised an eyebrow, asking the question with my eyes, but they didn’t see anything either.
The tree stopped shaking.
I could swear it was leaning at a different angle now. But it didn’t look bent. I was stumped, so to speak.
Nothing for it. I slowly slid to the ground, merging with a shadow, then crawled on my belly over to Dave. My elbows found every rock on that slope, dragging my weight along.
When I got close, he shuffled over to my ear.
“Dwarves,” he hissed. “Under the roots.”
Planting a mine? Digging a tunnel? Or just waiting to topple the tree onto us?
I eased a grenade out of my bandolier. Silver twinkled on the casing where the lampblack had rubbed off. It was meant for vampires, but nobody really likes fragments of jagged metal in their bodies.
Besides, the loss of shine discipline might be turned into a bonus. I held the grenade up near my helmet, turning it to catch the moonlight. Soon other twinkles flickered about the forest floor. My guys were prepping their own grenades.
As soon as that dirt-eater stuck his snout above Terra Firma, we were fixing to blow him right back to Heck.
Dave snugged the Browning Automatic Rifle into his shoulder. We always had the short guy carry the heaviest weapon. If that sounds cruel to you, just look at it this way. Most guys who get hit are hit by unaimed fire, usually artillery, but sometimes just a guy popping a few shots around a tree. Now who is more likely to get hit by random chance: a big man or a small man? Exactly.
If we coulda measured who was the luckiest guy in the outfit, you can bet he’d carry the big gun. But since we can’t, no matter what the Christian Mysticists say, it goes by inches and pounds.
Dwarves are dense. A bullet that would kill me or you wouldn’t usually knock them down. Oh, they might bleed out after a while, but they could raise all kinds of Heck in the meantime. To put them down reliably, you needed a big, heavy bullet, heavier than the thirty-ought-six our Garands threw. Or, if you didn’t have that, you needed a whole lot of thirty-ought-sixes, all at once. Hence the BAR.
Or you could think of the BAR as the smallest, simplest machine gun one man could use by himself. Dave was supposed to have an assistant to change magazines and carry ammo, but they kept dying and we kept accumulating more BARs. So he was pretty much his own assistant.
A wink of metal appeared in the dirt next to the tree. Dave lined up the BAR on it and waited for my word. I withheld it, waiting for the dwarf to show more of himself above the soil. It doesn’t take much dirt to stop shrapnel, most of the time.
The dwarf shoved something up into the moonlight and I tensed. It was a thin-bottomed triangle, the color of dirt, of course, but then the bottom came free on a long, thin stick. The triangle hung there until the dwarf, still invisible under the sod, shook it back and forth. Then it flopped free. Parts of it weren’t precisely the color of dirt.
I let out a breath I hadn’t known I was holding. I lowered the grenade, a little.
“Let’s go meet the man, Dave,” I said louder than before. “He’s doing his best to fly us a white flag.
And the full story is now live!