Originally published by Darker Matter: July 2007
(The original story consited of a single long scene. I’ve broken it up into a few parts for the blog entries.)
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The ground rumbled under Captain Dave Stiller’s feet as two M81 pocket tanks rolled by. Large red letters on the turrets spelled out B-U-D-W-E-I-S-E-R and negated the usefulness of the camouflage paint. The tanks threw up clouds of Fort Dix sand and scattered swarms of gnats.
Fueled by anxiety and disillusionment, Stiller’s churning stomach growled almost as loudly as the tank engines. He hated these artificial battles. Too many innocent people died. As a West Point graduate, he followed Pentagon directives even when he disagreed with them and these battles brought in a lot of money needed to compensate for the deep budget cuts.
He glanced over at his heavy weapons platoon where a soldier dropped a round into a mortar. The tube was painted in the US Postal Service blue-and-white with the legend, “We Deliver.” The mortar round exploded on the hilltop and re-arranged some rubble. Piles of stone and wood were all that remained of a village. Had any of the poor bastards survived the barrage? Most of them probably had no idea why they had been moved there yesterday. The platoon lieutenant gave a hand signal to cease fire and Stiller relaxed slightly. The contract called for twenty-five rounds and all had all been fired. His troops had completed Phase One.
He activated his cell phone and heard a lilting female voice say, “My panty liner is so wonderfully soft and absorbent that I don’t even –” He held the phone away from his ear and wished the Pentagon would go back to using radios. Once the commercial finished, he called his lieutenants in charge of the rifle platoons, “Move out!” He clicked his stop watch.
The three rifle platoons stood up and moved towards the slope.
“Faster!” Stiller yelled into the phone. “Get those troops running!” Speed would help determine which unit won the grand prize and there was a lot of money at stake.
The lieutenants yelled and waved their arms; the soldiers trotted up the hill. Their bobbing heads transformed the Golden Arches decal on the back of their helmets into moving bands of color. They all wore a red-and-white bulls-eye patch below the division badge on their shoulders. The patch was the logo of the department store that was the official sponsor of his infantry unit. Stiller’s wife liked the extra discount she received there on diapers for their infant daughter.
The soldiers fired from the hip — as stipulated by the producer to increase the drama — even though none of them could see a target. The bullets kicked up sand and rock splinters along the crest of the hill.
Recording the action, two camera crews stood on the beds of a pair of 4X4 trucks, while overhead, a helicopter circled the hill providing a different perspective. Blue and white letters identified the trucks and helicopter as part of the World-Wide Broadcasting Corporation.
“Come on.” Stiller beckoned to Mathis, his company sergeant. They climbed the hill and were swallowed by an acrid cloud of cordite left behind by the rifle fire.
A hum-vee plastered with so many logos that it wouldn’t be out-of-place at a NASCAR race rolled after the rifle platoons. The vehicle carried the two umpires and the referee in charge of scoring.
When the first rifleman reached the hilltop, Stiller clicked his stop watch: four minutes, thirteen seconds. Much less than the five minutes the goddamn producer allocated to the move. He should be happy with the time and with his men firing a truck-load of ammo to make his video look good.
His phone buzzed. “Sir,” the first platoon lieutenant said. “I counted forty-five people alive. A fifty-five percent Kill-ratio is an outstanding score, sir. Much better than anything I’ve seen from other units.”
“Keep looking for more survivors.” His stomach threatened outright rebellion. Out of a hundred illegal immigrants penned into the village, less than half had survived and would be allowed to stay in the country.