Stiller pulled out the canteen-shaped bottle of sports drink, took a swig, spit it out and wiped his lips with the back of his hand. “Boisenberry! I hate that flavor.”
Mathis chuckled and offered his own canteen. “Coconut-kumquat.”
“Gawd!” Stiller swallowed a mouthful. “How can the supply people accept this shit? Better round up some runners, Mathis. We’ll have to do things the old-fashioned way.”
While he waited for the runners, he wondered if the other officers felt like he did. Two other rifle companies had undergone similar maneuvers recently. The producer would splice together a two-hour-long special from tapes of all the battles.
Mathis returned with three privates.
“Tell the platoon lieutenants I want an ammo check,” Stiller told one of them. “Fast.” The runner sprinted towards the closest platoon. An idea sprang into his mind. To another runner, he said, “Go down to the tanks and tell them to get their asses up here. Go! And don’t come back without them.”
The ammo report was as bad as he anticipated: an average of twenty rounds for each rifle. His troops didn’t have enough ammo to stop a force of five hundred maniacal attackers. Not without air or heavy weapons support.
“Fix bayonets.” The lieutenants looked at him as if he was insane. The soldiers hadn’t practiced bayonet fighting since boot camp. The officers gave a terse order and the blades flashed in the sunlight. Every bayonet carried the logo of a condom company on both sides of the blade.
“Set all rifles on single shot,” Stiller yelled. “No automatic fire.”
Mathis pointed in the air. The network helicopter swooped down and hovered behind the south side of the hill. Stiller frowned. The position of the chopper made no sense. If the attack echeloned to the north face of the hill, a distinct possibility, the helicopter would be in the line of fire.
A deep growling noise interrupted his thoughts. Thank God! The two tanks, call names Bud-1 and Bud-2, bellied up the top of the slope with his runner on back of the lead tank. Stiller placed a tank on each of his flanks. With armor anchoring his lines, he felt a bit safer.
“Here they come!” a soldier shouted. A burst from an automatic weapon sent bullets whizzing over Stiller’s head. The soldiers in the second platoon returned the fire.
“Hold your fire!” their lieutenant yelled. “Wait ‘til they get closer. Much closer.”
Stiller moved towards the point of attack and sucked in his breath. Only fifty attackers ran up the slope. Where the hell were the other four-hundred-fifty? In answer to his question, gunfire and more shouts came from his rear. Bud-2 fired its cannon and opened up with its turret machine gun.
The fifty attackers flopped to the ground and sniped at his men. Stiller cursed at them. They would pin down a portion of his soldiers; troops needed to repulse the much larger attack. Someone had given the attackers a good strategy. Z-Cubed?
Stiller ran over to Bud-2 where heavy fire from the insolvents churned up the dirt on the edge of the hill. Protected by the bulk of the tank, he saw the main strength of the debtor force charge uphill on the east flank of the hill, an area undefended except for the tank. He had been outflanked! He backed away from the tank and grabbed a runner. “Get the first platoon over here. Fast! You,” he beckoned to another runner. “Get the other tank.”
Now the position of the helicopter made sense. It hovered out of the line of fire of the attack and could take ground-level film of his men getting overrun.
The fire power of Bud-2 rattled the attackers and slowed them enough for the first platoon to move across the hill and drop into firing positions.
To the panting runner, Stiller said, “Round up as much ammo as you can from the other platoons.”
The defaulters slogged forward, firing their automatic pistols and howling, “Debt free! For you and me!”
The crack of weapons rose to a deafening volume then subsided only to rise again.
“I’m hit!” one of his soldiers yelled. The man gripped his forearm while blood flowed through his fingers.
Bud-1 joined the defense and the two tanks ripped holes in the attackers who surged forward but in smaller numbers. Stiller heard more screams followed by cries of “Medic!”
The cannon blasts, the steady fire from both the turret machine guns and the infantry broke the attack. The survivors retreated towards the woods and prison, their chance at economic redemption ended. The bodies of those who no longer needed a jail cell littered the slope. His men had executed a large number of people who wouldn’t be guilty of a crime back in his parents’ time. He gawked at the red-stained grass, then forced his mind back to business.
He waved to the commander of Bud-1 who stood in the open turret. Stiller pointed to the area in front of the first group of attackers. The tank commander nodded and the tank spun around, sending a shower of sand over the nearby soldiers.
“Get me a casualty report,” Stiller told a runner. He saw a number of soldiers writhing on the ground.
Stiller heard a blast from Bud-1’s cannon.
“Where you goin’, cowards,” a soldier near that tank yelled.
“Come on back and give us a fight,” a second called out.
When the runner returned, she reported, “Sir, fifteen wounded. No KIA.”
Stiller tried his phone. “Now! Mortgage rates guaranteed to be lower than any other lending company—” He closed his eyes and held the phone against his shoulder until the spiel ended, then called for medical helicopters. Two arrived within minutes, one emblazoned MERCK and the other WYETH.