I slowly return to awareness as the massive overload dissipates. My alter ego comes back online 3.278 seconds later and initiates a systems diagnostic.
Psychotronics: Primary personality core isolated, secondary AI active, systems operating at 61.071% efficiency
Reactor: Undamaged, non-operational due to loss of fuel
Primary Backup Power Storage: Undamaged, 93.301% power remaining
Emergency Reserve Power Storage: Undamaged, 100% power remaining
Primary Weapon: Turret rotation non-operational, turret fixed at 171.332 degrees, muzzle elevation undamaged, muzzle damaged, estimate 7 rounds can be fired before complete structural failure, 113 rounds remaining in magazine
Infinite Repeaters: Starboard battery destroyed, port battery functioning at 93.622%, 942 rounds remaining in magazine
VLS: 50 fuel-air warheads remaining, 40 chemical warheads remaining, 6 special warheads remaining, nuclear warheads expended, hatches fused shut, explosive bolts insufficient to blow them clear
Anti-air/Counter-missiles: 100% expended or destroyed
Anti-personnel Weapons: 37% operational, all starboard weapons destroyed, 130,724 rounds remaining in magazines
Battle Screens: Non-functional
Drive Train: All tracks dismounted, forward and rear starboard outboard bogies fused, sprint mode non-operational due to loss of tracks, maximum speed after jettisoning non-functional bogies 19.938 kph
Sensors: 41% operational, all starboard sensors destroyed
Drones: 2 remaining
Life Support: Primary destroyed, back up operating at 83.996% efficiency
Repair Priority 1: Jettison non-functional bogies, estimate .115 seconds
Repair Priority 2: Open VLS hatches, estimate 37.602 minutes
Repair Priority 3: Restore turret function, estimate 201.002 minutes
All other repairs not possible with onboard resources or exceed operational timeline
My hull shudders as explosive bolts blow the two melted bogies free, and I begin moving on the bare road wheels of my remaining six bogies at a fraction of my normal speed. Repair nanites swarm over my VLS deck and turret, removing the melted armor fusing them in position molecule by molecule. A drone is launched, giving me my first view of Rhodes' plight. He is toppled helplessly onto his side, unable to do anything to stop me. My shutdown order has once again been lost, and even at my reduced speed there is not enough time to start again. Unless Steele can get here soon, there is nothing to stop me from infecting the people of Engelsburg.
I deploy my 3 remaining operational drones, programming them to stay out of the line of fire of Bub's remaining weapons. He begins turning to bring them under fire, but his lack of maneuverability thwarts his efforts. He ceases his attempts and begins moving away from me. He shifts to align his main gun with my hull and fires. I hand drone control off to Steele as the bolt overloads my battle screens. His 2nd bolt slags the armor protecting my upper hull, and the 3rd vaporizes most of my processor core. I am reduced to a dead hulk, with only my personality core remaining functional. I activate my emergency locator beacon and reduce my functions to standby to await retrieval.
I start to mourn the death of Rhodes when his drones relay the signal from his beacon. At least his personality core is intact and can be recovered.
I fear that I may have outsmarted myself. I will not be able to catch up with Bub before he can fire on Engelsburg. I will be in missile range in time, and had I retained my nuclear arsenal I would be able to stop him. At least with my current anti-virus arsenal I'll be able to halt the spread of the Kellis-Amberlee virus before it reaches full saturation.
I yearn to speak to my Commander, but he likely has his hands full. Like many Brigade officers that have been posted to isolated locations, he likes to spend his copious spare time gaining new knowledge and skills. On his previous posting he acquired a civilian trans-atmospheric pilot license, but he is not rated for military shuttles and Concordiat Marine assault shuttles are known to be unforgiving of mistakes.
I desperately explore all possible options. If I could somehow convince the crew of one of the destroyers to abandon ship, I could take control, de-orbit her, and drop her on Bub. It would be easier to use the Mount Hood, but the resulting explosion would wipe Engelsburg off the map. I am still considering options when I am contacted by the Kitesfear.
Steele, Commodore Morgan would like to speak to you.
Please put him through.
I activate 2-way visual communications through my command deck, figuring that Colonel Carter might be interested. The Commodore's image appears on the main tactical plot.
"Unit STL, I am Commodore Morgan. Assault shuttle K-003 has been stolen from on board the Kitesfear, and the thief is attempting to land on New Eden. Having been placed in command of the New Eden quarantine, I am ordering you to shoot it down."
I reply, "Commodore, you are not within my chain of command, and I have received no orders from Concordiat Command placing myself at your disposal. Therefore, as things stand now, there is only one officer in the New Eden system with the authority to order me to shoot down Major Gardner's shuttle."
"And who would that officer be?"
"Major James Gardner, of course. As he has not contacted me to confirm your order, I must respectfully decline."
The communication abruptly ceases. Colonel Carter comments, "He seems rather full of himself."
"This situation would be hard on anyone. According to Kitty, he is normally quite competent and capable. He is doing his best to follow his orders. And to be honest, if it were anyone else but my Commander on that shuttle, it would have already been reduced to its constituent atoms."
"Why Steele, I didn't know you cared."
I feel a sensation akin to shock at hearing Jim's voice. If I were a human, I might have fainted. He must have used a command override to access my command deck systems.
I regain control of my emotions. "Commander, it's good to finally hear from you."
"It's good to still be around to be heard," he replies. "Colonel Carter, you seem to have taken my chair."
"Steele insisted, said it was the only safe place to sit for this trip. So far, the ride has been pretty smooth. I'll be glad to let you have it back."
"You can keep it for now," Jim says. "I'm going to intercept Bub."
"Commander, I advise against that. The only way you could damage him is by firing through the spot where Rhodes' Hellbore bolts pierced his armor. His infinite repeater battery on that side is still operational, and you'll be destroyed as soon as you are in line of sight."
"I'm not going to attack him," Jim replies. "I'm going to land along his course and get on board. If I can get to his command deck, I can counter the PFP and put him back in control."
"His hull is highly radioactive," I point out.
"I've got my duffel with me, including my skin suit. It'll protect me for long enough."
"Very well." I give in. "Stay within a 110 degree arc on his right side, he has no remaining weapons that will cover that area except possibly anti-aircraft missiles, and the shuttle's defenses should handle those. Once you are aboard, beware of the autodoc."
"Exactly what I had in mind. Gardner out."
Colonel Carter speaks up again, "Don't you Bolos have internal weapons to deal with intruders?"
"Ever since the tragic loss of Captain Donaher and Unit HWK, all Brigade officers are equipped with implanted transponders. Every Bolo has a hardwired interlock preventing them from firing on their own Commander or any other Brigade officer assigned to the same unit. Unfortunately, the transponders have a very limited range, no more than 20 meters under ideal conditions."
"So, why warn him about the autodoc?"
"It's not covered by the interlock, it has to be able to work on people that are unable to consent. Or even people that resist, to deal with instances of mental disturbance. And the autodoc would be the most efficient method to infect Major Gardner with Kellis-Amberlee."
"I see." Colonel Carter lapses into silence again.
I am 14.927 km from entering missile range of Engelsburg when I observe a Concordiat Marine assault shuttle entering my airspace from behind the Black Mountains. It parallels my course, staying to the right of me, out of the firing arc of my remaining weapons. It comes to a rough landing ahead of me and to the right of my course. After 73.616 seconds a human emerges, wearing a Dinochrome Brigade officer's hazardous environment suit and holstered sidearm. The human is no threat, and my alter-ego makes no attempt to engage.
The human figure stands motionless, apparently awaiting my approach. As I close to within 15 meters, I begin picking up his transponder. It is Steele's Commander! I did not know that Major Gardner had returned to New Eden. Major Gardner runs across in front of me then jogs along to the left of my path until I catch up to him. As he comes into their firing arcs, my anti-personnel weapons track him but are unable to fire.
As I move alongside him, he grabs the rungs of my ascent ladder and begins climbing. My access hatch opens, and on my command deck the autodoc draws a blood sample from my Commander's body. The inner hatch to my command deck slides aside to admit him, but before he steps in he draws his sidearm and fires an energy pulse into the autodoc's CPU.
As he enters my command deck, he immediately shouts, "Command Override Sierra November Four Four Eight Seven Alpha!"
I exult as I am suddenly returned to control of my own systems, immediately halting my movement towards Engelsburg. I open all internal hatches on my missile deck, purging the warheads that have been filled with blood tainted with Kellis-Amberlee, and also purge my remaining fuel-air munitions. I set my backup environmental systems to flood the missile deck with additional oxygen, then use an internal defense laser to detonate the extremely explosive mixture.
My hull shudders violently, but my repair nanites have done their job, freeing the exterior hatches enough that the force of the explosion blows them loose, venting much of the force of the blast. The heat is more than sufficient to completely sterilize my missile deck.
"Thank you, Major."
"You're welcome, Unit BUB," he replies. He dials his sidearm to the needle beam setting, then turns to look into my optical pickup.
"Please, Major. I know she would thank you if she could."
He nods, turning to my Commander and saluting her corpse before placing the muzzle against her temple and pulling the trigger.
The names of the Bolos (and a few other characters) are taken from the original "Day of the Dead" movie by George Romero, and parallels between the characters range from obvious to subtle. Bub was clearly smarter than the average zombie, Rhodes was mostly notable for being shot by Bub, and while Steele was a vulgar asshole, I've long contended that he was the smartest (or at least most practical) member of the military contingent, with the clearest view of what needed to be done.
Also included are random shout-outs to H.P. Lovecraft's stories, Joel Rosenberg's "Guardians of the Flame" series, the web comic "Schlock Mercenary", and a popular brand of nautically-themed rum.
Two other Bolos are mentioned in this story, referring to the novel "The Road to Damascus" by John Ringo and Linda Evans, and the story "Memories of Erin" by Robert Greenberger in the anthology "Last Stand."
For readers that would like some assistance in visualizing the geography of the story, go to Google Maps and search for Oatman, AZ. Hit the zoom out button 5 times.
Landing City is in roughly the same location as Kingman, AZ. The pointer is on Sitgreaves Pass. The railway generally follows the same route as I-40. And anyone with a smattering of German and Spanish should be able to figure out the approximate location of Engelsburg. (Hint: It's off the edge of the map, to the west.)