An uneasy truce existed at the bunkers. The trucks had arrived but Lothar could not raid any of the bunkers yet. The whole invasion boiled down to this one objective. Sitting right in front of him like a ripe cherry waiting to be plucked and eaten.
The stone of the cherry stood behind a makeshift barricade surveying the enemy. Staff Sergeant Frank Bacon could see the ragtag PDRA soldiers had their own makeshift barricades scattered around the firing lanes his men had set up. It was a siege scenario, but it was one that favored the sieged and not the aggressor.
“What does it look like, Sergeant?” asked the senior ranking military man from behind Frank’s back.
Frank did not like the man. Not that Frank liked many officers in general or Army officers in particular. The Marines typically were not fans of the other branches, but he was still a general. “As good as it can, sir.”
Shifting as he moved past the general to go back inside he made no physical contact despite the close quarters. Lieutenant General Groh squinted as he surveyed the enemy fortifications then turned to hastily follow Frank back inside the bunker.
An ammo box supported three flattened MRE box sleeves to make a field expedient table of sorts upon which lay the Lance Corporal’s map. Groh may have been used to icons or miniature models representing troops but on this map no such niceties existed. Hastily drawn tally marks indicated the locations of hostile forces. Bacon was updating the numbers as Groh put both hands on the table. It tipped his way before he lifted slightly allowing it to go back to horizontal. “SITREP, Sergeant Bacon.” He ordered.
Bacon hesitated before answering, “It’s ‘Ba-cone,’ sir, not like breakfast. The bunkers have all had their locking mechanisms rekeyed remotely. They reset once closed, a fact we learned when we tried to open the other three. So this one is still set to the old code—not that it helps because we suspect that if we close it this one will reset, too.
“Two of the other bunkers are still occupied, but the Marines in them can get out through the tunnels connecting below. These tunnels connect each bunker, we were going to show them to you as a part of your tour. The third has no connection, the one to the east,” he pointed to the small box they were using to represent the bunkers. “Our tunnel connection is open just like the main bunker door. Those codes are changed, too but unlike the main doors these will open from inside. We just can’t get back in them again.
“The few people we had outside fell back in at the first warning we had about the attack. This was protocol since there are no permanent posts outside the bunkers to man. The whole area is concealed by not looking like there’s anything needing to be concealed. Again, we’d have shown you this as a part of your tour. Everyone is secure. A few wounded but no losses. We don’t have any medics but the airmen left enough med supplies we can patch ourselves up for now.
“This whole compound was set up to be innocuous and not look like a heavily fortified safe space in the middle of the woods. Cell phone coverage was spotty because of the distances, hills, and trees but PDRA seems to be using those to jam the regular radio anyway. Of course the only phones we’d have would be bootleg anyway because of the cybersecurity OPORD in place prior to deployment. Radio coverage is intermittent, cell signal non-existent, so landline is our only option. All comms going out are underground to this vault,” he pointed to a spot on the map, “That’s where the telephone goes aerial with the rest of the utilities. Only line left is direct to the highest hill on the island where the big antenna is. We have a direct connection to there but no answer yet. It’s manned 24/7 so we have to assume it’s been compromised too.”
Markers were the only pointers he could find so he used one to point out the enemy positions. “Here, here, here, and here are enemy troops. They arrived in light vehicles and the only reinforcements they’ve gotten are heavy trucks, but they are holding them back not using them in the defense or assault. Assumption is that they’re here to load up whatever they can get from the bunkers. Suspect they are responsible for the lock changes so access isn’t their concern. About a company sized element, maybe 80, 90 bodies tops. Right now, we’re the only thing holding them back. They can’t get in and we can’t get out. There are 23 of us still here.
“All access points secure or under observation and covered by small arms. There are three vaults we can get into from this room. They have 5.56, 7.62, and .50 cal rounds for the weapons as well as 40 mike mike for the grenade launchers. Contents of the other bunkers are classified. We’ve always assumed that’s what we were here to guard in the first place.”
Groh circled the table scratching his chin. He was not supposed to be here. Not in the middle of action. His last troop time was years ago at Fort Polk. Once he left there he was on the short path to stars. War College instructor, Pentagon planner, Military Tactics Professor at West Point, then Deputy and now Tactical Advisor to the Secretary of Homeland Security. For a long time his job was to plan things and move troops from afar, not be in the thick of things. When he came up with a call someone else implemented it. Being on the ground, seeing the action, holding a weapon himself, these were not things he should be doing. Insulation from operational levels was his comfort zone.
He knew what was in the other bunkers. He knew why there was only one entrance and exit from the last one. The PDRA soldiers could not know, yet here they were. Someone back on base had to be responsible for changing the locks, that was the only explanation. This was just a squad of soldiers that stumbled upon the Marines in the middle of the woods and called for reinforcements. That was the reason they were there. No one knew, no one could know what was here. He was the only one that knew what was in the last bunker. And he had to get in there to protect it. He had to be the last line of defense. No matter what, the secret could go no further.
Glancing at the corner he saw bleeding and bandaged men. Pain was evident on their faces, yet each one was alert and perked up as he looked their way. Clearly they were ready to go. Ready for action. Seeing faces made it hard. If he ordered action and they died the face would be seared in his memory. This just was not what Groh was cut out for. Tactics, big picture. No people.
“Any tracer rounds for the M4s in there?” he jerked a thumb toward the vault.
Looking over his shoulder Frank looked at Corporal Melendez. The Corporal nodded. “Yes, sir, but it isn’t dark yet.”
“Not what we need them for. I want magazines full of tracers. And not the way they’re boxed. Rip apart the fast loaders and get just the tracers, take out the ball rounds, whole magazines of just tracers. A whole belt of 7.62. Let’s get those bastards running.”
Groh smiled as he explained the rest of the plan. He had not been at the micro level in so long it was just a bit refreshing. As long as no one else looked him in the eye. Big movements and big tactics had treated him well. And taught him better. Back to the bigger things.
Lothar looked over the hood of the squad leader’s vehicle at the bunkers. So close, and yet so far away. There was little activity to be seen from here behind the barricade thrown up at the entrance. Clearly the door was blocked open but someone had hung a canvas from the top concealing movements inside. No way this was air force guarding it, these guys were good.
Behind the second bunker Lothar could see a three-man team. They had gotten there in the shadow of the bunker shrouded from the American’s view. One man turned back to look in his direction so he nodded. The man tapped the guy to his left, then silently signaled the third man who crept along to the corner of the bunker. As he rounded the corner Lothar held his breath.
The second man slipped around the corner with his back pressed against the concrete. Now the third was around. The ground fell away slightly making the bunker seem taller but still no response from the Americans. Moving closer to the front of the bunker the men crouched lower and lower until they were as small a profile as they could make themselves at the front wall. The lead man got down and crawled around the front. Now Lothar could not see him so he shifted to the back door of the vehicle where a monitor had been set up. The symmetry of the bunkers was matched by the symmetry of vehicles surrounding the complex. Three vehicles had cameras peering into the nest and the monitor had a split screen showing both.
On one side was the front of the bunker and the crawling men, the other showed the occupied bunker straight on. Glancing up Lothar could see the scene in real time but after a quick look at the American fortifications he looked back down. The third man had rounded the front of the building now as the first one pulled himself up slowly to punch in the new door code. Lothar smiled, perhaps they were not as disadvantaged as it had once seemed.
The door code was entered but there was a hesitation before the man reached for the handle. As his hand slid for it the door burst open with a hail of gunfire. From within and without. The first man fell, Lothar could not tell where he was hit but he crumpled to the ground. On the monitor he could see the third man trying to stand and run for the corner while bullets danced around him on both sides. The middle man grabbed him and threw him to the ground as he raced back to the corner. Lothar looked up to see him fall to the ground clutching his ankle. It was safe to assume there were firing lanes to the bunker on the other side as well. The American patience had served them well. The only way to get in would be to get them out.
Groh risked a peek over the barricade. The third bunker’s door was now propped open and a similar fortification being constructed. Firing lanes covering the approaches had paid off but it took the third bunker to cover the approaches to the bunker they were in. The secret was still maintained. No one in the third bunker knew what was in there. Three Marines were building the barricade while two more pulled security. The walkie talkies still worked, but no one trusted their secure ability after all the other events of the day. Minimal radio traffic was the only procedure they trusted. Some communication had happened to set the plan.
He glanced at his watch, 1612, a half hour until go-time. He panned his view through the binoculars left of the bunker to the next one. Another five Marines there, six in the first bunker, just like this one. Scanning up the hill he could see PDRA vehicles partially concealed in the trees and brush. They had the high ground. They had the numbers. They had the advantages, except they were on the offensive. Defense is easier, better, stronger. The bunker was still well protected, and would remain so, but the defense was about to become offensive.
Up above, Lothar looked down on the scene. His third, fourth and fifth objectives were long since lost. Artillery was out of the question, sheer numbers was his only hope now. He could tell the Americans were moving around but for what purpose? It would make no sense to come out after the PDRA forces but that was what he needed. The best way in was for them to be out. It was way beyond time to lament the fact that they had been there at all. A fluke chance visit was the only explanation for this well-executed response. He looked at his watch, at least four hours until sunset and he still had not penetrated the first bunker. Twenty minutes until his absolute last reserve forces could arrive. “Alejandro!” he called out.
A young soldier bounded up to Lothar’s side. He wore no rank but that could just mean they were out. The uniform was ill-fitting, but his weapon was held firmly and ready to use. He did not reply to the summons verbally, but eagerly looked straight into the commander’s eyes.
“How good are you with that launcher?” Lothar asked nodding towards the 40mm grenade launcher. “There is no time for patience.”
Alejandro stuttered, “There was no practice. Uh, no rounds. We learned how to load, and shoot but never sighted the scope.” Shaking the soldier clutched his weapon tighter to his body.
Not tight enough, Lothar grabbed it, “Go get three more grenadiers and bring me a bag of rounds.” The scared soldier stared until Lothar leaned in and grimaced. The soldier ran off. Lothar turned back around, squatting he schemed.
The first round was two meters shy of the barricade. A second round followed ten seconds later but only a half meter closer. Groh retreated into the shadow of the door. Bacon leaned forward. Scampering to the far right side of the hastily made front of their fortifications he peered up at the PDRA formation.
A third round aimed at the second bunker landed no closer than the first two rounds. They were trying line of sight, but had no experience with actual rounds. Fourth, and fifth grenades inched closer. Suddenly on the hill a vehicle exploded.
Lothar had glanced at the last grenadier just before he fired. The barrel of the rifle sat on the wall of the truckbed but the barrel of the M203 grenade launcher was blocked. Lothar barely had time to duck before the dumb soldier fired. Shrapnel rained down while the truck caught fire. Lothar cussed but could hear nothing. Ringing in his ears blocked out everything. But he still felt shockwaves.
The first round penetrated the American defenses. The left bunker’s makeshift wall exploded in a rain of sand, sandbag, and wooden crates. Bacon hit the ground but raised a hand and paused. It was still too early, but another hit like that and it would be for naught. He signaled.
Inside the bunker Groh cowered. Tactics, send forward instructions, pretty symbols on maps, small models on sand tables, this was not where Groh wanted to be. But even a coward who relished his role from far away knew that there was a time to man up and act despite the fear. From the remaining bunker positions the Marines began a relentless barrage of tracer rounds.
The PDRA forces took cover. Even the grenadiers ducked. Lothar stared at the red shots being fired all around. It was a hailstorm of covering fire but all seemed out of place. The bushes behind him were riddled with tracers. Some of the dry brush began smoldering. Then flames. He looked underneath the vehicle. They were aiming around them, not at them. He yelled, he could not hear himself, but he yelled at two squads to advance. One had been decimated in the last attempt to take the bunker but their resolve was boosted by the successful grenade shot. “They’re not aiming at us! It’s cover! Go now!” he screamed at the top of his lungs.
Both squads began to high crawl to their designated start points. The brush behind the perimeter began burning in earnest.
The mass of outgoing rounds had stopped the incoming. Neither grenade nor small arms fire was entering the tight American perimeter. Groh peeked around the corner.
Bacon rose to a crouch, his two-man team poised with him. Private Pinto and Lance Corporal Ball jumped with him. As they took off for the objective Groh ran along. He had no weapon, no armor, not even a helmet, but despite the quaking fear he felt all the way down to the bottom of his testicles he ran. Bile and fear coursed through his stomach making him queasy and weak but he ran.
Ice water ran through Bacon’s veins. The adrenaline and excitement made his cock hard. This was living, this was why he joined the Corps. He crossed the short distance to the bunker and arrived just as the PDRA soldiers came into view. They had transited the distance out of sight but were unfazed as the Marine head butted the first one. Pushing him back and to the left he shielded himself from the second attacker. From the bunker side of the fight he felt a shooting pain.
Not a bullet, two slow for that. It was a knife. Turning and shaking his head to clear it from the ringing he felt from the head butt he saw a dark-skinned face attached to a body holding a rifle. A bayonet had pierced his side, but the soldier did not know how to pull it out. Behind him Bacon could hear his squad engaging. Scrapping, no one fired a shot, hand to hand combat.
Groh saw the PDRA men right as Bacon got stuck with the bayonet. The two Marines in front of him split, Pinto to Bacon’s side of the bunker, Ball towards the door. And the other PDRA team. Groh had been running too fast to stop and change course. He hit the door hard as the soldier in front went down. Then he was pushed aside as the door opened and three more Americans rushed out.
In front of him the two men rolled and wrestled. Groh reached for the mass of men and grabbed a helmet. With all his might he pulled and it came off in his hands. Raising it above his head he brought it down with a crunch and mush. Goo squirted his uniform as the man went limp. Another blow with the helmet, another crunch. Then Ball scrambled out from beneath the dead man and himself took a blow on the chin as Groh reared back for another swing. Ball fell backwards as Groh felt his feet move without thinking. A dream-like state took over, a detached, medicine head feeling coated Groh’s insides. Tunnel vision and muffled sounds of battle were all he felt as he swerved around the door of the bunker. Darkness inside greeted him.
Everyone from inside the bunker had joined the fray outside. Hand to hand combat raged just outside but Groh sought the safety within.
The bayonet cut deep within but Bacon jerked his body back to send the rifle butt into the soldier’s chin. He crumpled as Bacon could feel rather than see his teammate take on the last enemy to his right. Grasping the rifle’s hand guards with both hands he turned and pushed the bayonet from his side. Blood oozed as he turned the weapon around and pointed at the enemy. Two shots and he fell. As Pinto turned towards the entrance Bacon fell.
Glancing uphill he could see the fire raging. A few PDRA soldiers began to beat the flames but more came running down the hill. He raised the weapon shooting. For every man he hit two more billowed out around them. Three dead, four, then the gun jammed. Remedial action was second nature, from the ground looking up he readied the gun for another shot. One that would not make it out of the barrel.
Groh pulled the door and smashed a leg. The crunch of bone was unmistakeable but then another explosion rang through the tight space. Reaching for the leg Groh felt the mass of muscles tearing. Suddenly his own hair was pulled forward into the breach. The door caught his head and pain shot out on both sides. As it opened slightly the pressure relaxed and another enemy rushed in.
Without thinking Groh pulled him to his right and yanked on the door. The leg was clear now and the door shut with an ominous metallic thud. He took care not to touch the knob as he felt a kick in his side.
The sounds of the battle outside stopped when the door had shut. As did the light. It was pitch black and neither man had been able to adjust after the full light of outdoors. The kick had been part luck and part aim from the dying of the light but now Groh had the advantage. He knew the inside of this bunker as well as his own living room. Slinking back to the wall and off to his right he stared into the darkness trying to see his attacker. Taking a deep breath he held it in. The utter silence of the tomb-like bunker was matched only by the dull din still ringing in his ears, but ever so faintly below that he heard a plink.
Slowly feeling his way along the wall Groh groped with his hand sliding noiselessly along until he met the wall joint. One meter away was the counter. He feared his creaking knees would give him away, or his lungs would burst while he tried to hold his breath a little longer. Or maybe the pounding of his heart, pounding blood, adrenaline, and that sickening bile, fear mix from his throat to his balls. The other man was holding his breath too. But there was the plink again. A scrape. The PDRA man hit the door controls unexpectedly giving Groh more than just the sound of his sweat falling to know where he was. Groh leapt at him reaching for where his neck had to be. Cheek, jawbone, and teeth.
Groh screamed as the man chomped down but with his other hand he stabbed the man’s eyes. They were useless in this dark anyway. He felt a breeze on his arm as the man raised a knife cutting his sleeve. Relief flushed his arm as the man’s bite released. Hooking his mouth Groh slung the head toward the door. With a thud and rush of air he landed atop the man on the floor. The knife clattered as it fell while the man gasped for air with the fat general sitting on his stomach.
With a speed that surprised himself Groh felt for the knife. The point pricked his finger. Dull. Blade first and dull. But he picked it up anyway. Switching hands he grasped the handle and shoved down. The blow glanced off the man’s chest but a backhand caught bare skin. The soft of a neck. Another jab, the warm flow of blood. Gash, slash, stab, squirt. The handle slipped from his hand but Groh felt only token resistance.
Reaching for the neck Groh put both hands around it. Squirming through the hot, thick blood he squeezed. Gasping gurgles faded. Hands slumped down yet Groh would not let go. Blood pumped across his fingers. Then stopped. It oozed, like a marinated piece of meat. Lifeless and soft.
The hum of electronics, low and far way was covered only by Groh’s own panting. He pushed himself off the deadman and toward the counter. Crawling backwards he distanced himself from the man, and the door.
Distance had its advantages. Sending tactics, orders, sterile, removed, easy to give, easy to be angry if they were not followed explicitly. Insulation from the hands on dirty work. Direction of others, brigades, battalions, companies, platoons, even squads was easier. Calling for artillery, even shooting, you never had to watch the life flow from the 300 meter target. The closer one comes to the actual death blow, the closer actual death feels to one. Scrapping for your very life is frightening.
In the darkness of the tomb, he threw up.
Pieces of the barrel were lodged in Bacon’s leg and abdomen. One eye was covered in blood and a flap of his scalp, yet he pulled himself toward the door. The PDRA soldiers had trampled him in their rush to the door. Several had fallen at Pinto and Ball’s ferocious defense. From across the compound sporadic gunfire picked off the unlucky few who had no cover. Looking back up the hill Bacon saw the fire licking the old growth pines. A ring as far as he could see. It had worked. The tracers lit the brush and ringed in the enemy. It may have been a suicidal call since they were encircled and sieged but the victory remained. Bacon collapsed onto his back. He felt a throbbing in his head, his right arm hung useless, blood and guts oozed from below his belt but they had done it. He closed his eyes to rest. And was splashed.
He opened his eye. He was looking straight up and could see the tops of the pine trees swaying wildly in a breeze. Another drop hit his face. Dark clouds roiled and rolled behind the treetops. He saw lighting in the clouds as the bottom fell out.
The last powder fell from the extinguisher in a puff. Lothar threw the container into the trees to his left when he felt it. Cold and wet, a fat raindrop had landed on his wrist. Then another. The fire hissed. He whipped his head around then up. The drought was over.