Pillar of Steel

Outworlds Alliance
4 August 2581

"Your co-operation is a welcome change from the offensive behaviour of your President, Governor Bartusiak."

The politician smiled slightly, leaning back into his chair. There was no need to maintain appearances when the man he was addressing was only in contact via audio communications. "Grigori Avellar is pandering to the press, Brigadier. I'm sure that he doesn't truly believe that the Outworlds Alliance Militia can truly repel the most feared military in human space - and the SLDF as well."

There was a short pause as the abject flattery raced out to the dropships that were at this very moment accelerating away from the nadir jump point which they had arrived in the system. It took only a few minutes paused before Brigadier General Masao Iguchi's reply reached the office. "That would be pleasingly realistic in comparison to the pointless resistance being carried out by the Taurian Concordat. The fighting on Robsart is now coming to an end, fortunately, with no further sightings of the glorified bandits of the Taurian's so-called Navy."

Bartusiak's face twisted at the thought of the Robsart debacle. Unknown to his Kurita contacts he was kept well appraised of the progress of fighting on the Taurian front. He knew that the bulk of the fighting had been not against organised Taurian soldiers but against millions of ill-equipped and essentially untrained volunteers. "Yes, well you need not expect that sort of resistance here, sir. The planetary militia are under my control and the only federal forces are an engineering battalion working on fortifications."

"Are you sure that they are only engineers?"

"Quite sure." The last thing that the Governor wanted was fighting on his world. In that case, whoever won, they would want to tighten their control over Tabayama. Only a quiet and uneventful transition of power would let him retain his position of power. "They have personal weapons of course, but armoured vehicle they have is that heavy engineering vehicle of theirs."

There was more of a pause than the turn-around of light speed communication merited before Igushi answered: "Yes, I have your report upon it. However we have no other information of the OAM deploying such a massive item of equipment. Are you absolutely sure that it is unarmed?"

"I haven't had that close a look at it," he had to admit. "But it's far too slow to be a combat vehicle. A man can walk faster than it."

Igushi's voice was harsher than previously. "Find out for certain, Governor. It is possible that the machine is some kind of disguised missile launcher intended to engage my brigade's dropships as we approach, or from the size you have quoted, a transport for dozens of BattleMechs. Unlikely as these might be, we must know for certain before we land. I hope that the Coordinator can rely upon your services in this, sir. I know that he places great trust in his Planetary Chairmen..."


Outworlds Alliance
6 August 2581

The engineering vehicle was parked near a cliff-face in the mountains several hundred kilometres from Tabayama's modest capital city of Shinseiki. Bartusiak squinted down at it through the window of the air car as they cruised towards the site, although he knew that the press agents in the next car would be taking a multitude of images that he could use for later analysis. It was an impressive beast of a machine, larger than some dropships he had seen, almost two hundred metres from the front of the hull to the back.

As he watched, the long boom jutting from the turret-like arrangement lifted slightly, raising a load of girders off the back of a flatbed truck, and then swiveling smoothly to place them next to a roughly square hole in the cliff. Immediately dozens of workers in OAMC coveralls and hard-hats detached the chains and started sliding one of them towards the hole, for what purpose, the governor could only speculate.

As the air-car came in to land, Bartusiak saw that the marks of the machine's tracks were deeper than he'd initially thought. Each massive link had driven itself around a metre into the soil and there was little more than twice that distance between the left and right tracks: clearly each of the six bogies that the vehicle rested upon covered almost the entire underside. In retrospect he had to wonder why it was so large. The dropship that had brought it to Tabayama had been one of the handful of 'Super-Jumbos' used by the OWA predominantly to move massive quantities of bulk goods into the Inner Sphere. Granted that the ships weren't needed for that due to the current embargo, but what was the point in building an engineering vehicle that needed one of them to be ferried around?

"Chairman Perez, what exactly is this for?" he asked the woman who was waiting to greet him. "This is leaving a trail half a mile wide across half the planet."

"You're exaggerating, Governor." Elaine Perez, the governor noted, was not showing him the respect that he was due. "The tracks are only seventy metres wide, which will make for an excellent roadbed once enough concrete is available. That's one reason that we use it. Another..." She made a wind-it-up gesture in the air with one hand and a whine built up.

Bartusiak's eyes went wide and he pressed his hands against his ears a moment before the biggest industrial laser he'd ever seen started pulversing the back of the hole in the cliff.

A moment later it cut off.

"That takes a lot of power," Perez explained. "Conventional reactors just can't punch holes three meters wide in solid stone. That's we need the one that Ollie here is built around."


She chuckled. "Oh, it's the first unit of its kind. Zero-One on the paperwork, which got shortened to Ol' and the Ollie as we got used to it."

"I'd call it a horror. What would that mining laser do to a building if it hit it!?"

"Well I suppose that it depends on the building," conceded Perez. "It's not really optimised for that though. It's supposed to pulverise considerable thicknesses of material, so hollow spaces like rooms would mitigate the effect a great deal. And of course it's used for natural rock - not the reinforced building materials used on large buildings these days."

"It doesn't change the fact that this white elephant of yours is powering a deadly weapon."

"Governor," pointed out a lanky man in what most militaries would have considered an appallingly ill-kept pair of uniform dungarees (but for the OAM was fairly typical) and a sweat-stained t-shirt. "You do realise that anyone in half-decent shape can beat a human to death with an idiot-stick. Weapons are where you find them." He was poorly shaven, the governor noted, and had a shovel rested over one shoulder.

Bartusiak drew himself up. "I think you will do well to remember that we colonised these worlds to get away from thinking like that."

"Pity it followed you here then," the man said amiably. "I'd be more worried about idiot-sticks if I were you. They're easier to come by and unlike an industrial laser don't take an hour and a half to unpack."

"What the devil is this idiot-stick?" demanded the older man.

The soldier tapped the shovel with his free hand. "A stick with an idiot attached to it." He turned to the Chairman and saluted sloppily. "Permission to start work on the footings, ma'am?"

"Permission granted," Perez sighed. "Get on with it Martinez." She waited until the man was out of earshot before turning back to the appalled Bartusiak. "You see what I have to work with, Governor. There are some people even we aren't desperate enough to give weapons to. I'd swear Ollie was smarter than some of my enlisted ranks."

Bartusiak shook his head. "I can believe it."


Outworlds Alliance
8 August 2581

"The machine has hatches across the top," the Governor assured his off-world ally. "It's possible that there is some concealed weapon system inside. Certainly the onboard reactor is supposed to be impressive enough. I doubt that it is true however. The soldiers are hardly the sort of people who would be entrusted with a secret weapon-system..."


Outworlds Alliance
8 August 2581

"Do you think he bought it?" Doctor Keith Martinez asked, puffing on a thin cigar as he sat Indian-fashion on the floor of Ollie's command centre, checking circuit by circuit the incredibly complex computer that was as much the great machine's brain as the five thousand ton reactor was its furious heart.

Perez slumped in the compartment's one chair, eyes focused on the screen where the path of fourteen descending dropships was moving closer and closer to Tabayama. "I hope so. I thought you were laying it on a bit thick with Bartusiak."

"Manifestly impossible for someone as thick as he is."


Outworlds Alliance
11 August 2581

As the Galedon Regulars (and their attached infantry regiment and tank battalion if anyone cared about them) disembarked from the dropships that had brought them to Tabayama, Brigadier Igushi was quietly confident that all was going well.

"It seems that whatever else that machine might be, it does not possess long range anti-dropship weapons," observed Colonel Orochi from the cockpit of his Dervish BattleMech.

"It does not matter now," Igushi said sanguinely, although he had been having second thoughts about trusting Bartusiak's assessment of it for most of the way down. "It is a hundred kilometres from Shinseiki, and apparently can cross that distance in no less than ten hours. Your battalion can reach the city in less than four hours, which will leave it cut off from its supplies. And no lumbering engineering vehicle can contest successfully against an entire battalion of the Coordinator's finest samurai."

He could almost hear Orochi's smile. "Then I have your permission, sir?"

Igushi bowed the torso of his Warhammer slightly. "Go. Conquer Shinseiki in the name of Kurita-dono."


The ground of Tabayama shakes as my Commander orders me to flank speed. The Enemy have landed and our orders now permit that the masquerade be dropped.

The distances involved are strategically short: at this speed I reach the outskirts of Shinseiki in 0.82 hours. In order to avoid alerting the Enemy to my presence, my Commander orders me to circle the city at a distance of 5.71 kilometres, keeping my superstructure below the horizon.

Commander Perez then directs me towards a ravine only slightly wider than my hull. From here I am screened from detection unless Enemy scouts enter the ravine itself. I compute a 22.79% probability that aerial reconnaissance will succeed in reporting my location before being destroyed if it overflies this position. Unfortunately the confines limit the traverse of my turret, but the screening from ground observation outweighs this factor.

We have been waiting for 2.02 hours when a small all-terrain-vehicle arrives from the direction of the settlement. My commander disembarks to speak with the occupant, who wears the uniform of a guardian in the planetary militia. Body language and voice stress indicators suggest that the information being exchanged is not to either party's liking.

Upon returning to my command centre, Commander Perez enters new intelligence details. The Enemy forces have dispatched a vanguard force of one BattleMech Battalion. This force will reach Shinseiki soon and greatly exceeds the power of all other units of the OAM in the vicinity. If they secure control of the capital then we will be at a profound tactical disadvantage - I am not optimised for fighting among buildings filled with civilians.

The conclusion is obvious, we must engage and destroy this battalion immediately. Still, my commander hesitates. It is 3.42 minutes before she deactivates weapon safeties, clearing me to engage any valid target without further input. A moment later and I am freed to manoeuvre. Topographic maps suggest an optimal location to intercept the Enemy.


The first sign that First Battalion, Fourth Galedon Regulars had that something was very, very badly wrong, was their magscans reporting that thirteen-thousand tons of metal was approaching them at over seventy kilometres per hour. That was too slow to be a dropship making a low approach... and far too much to be anything else.

Static raged across radio bands, jamming communication beyond that of line-of-sight laser comms. Then the ancient trees ahead of them, part of the primeval forest that the logging trail that they were following had been carved through - began to topple.

"Open fire," ordered Colonel Orochi.

An instant later, while Mechwarriors at the head of the column were still bringing their weapons to bear, a particle beam lashed out and tore entirely through the chest of a Wasp, then did the same to a Shadow Hawk stood behind it. The third 'Mech along that line of destruction was a Crossbow one of several captured by the DCMS years before and somehow allocated to the Regulars as replacements. Perhaps it was the additional mass of the heavy 'BattleMech that absorbed the fury of that bolt of energy or perhaps it was simply that it was exhausted of much of its power but theCrossbow, although it fell to the ground, one side of the chest torn away and the arm almost vaporised.

Obedient to their colonel's orders the DCMS warriors with a line of sight returned fire as the mass of metal and fury crashed through the trees and onto - actually entirely across - the trail. Their shots bit scars into the thick armour of the sides and tracks of what was evidently some kind of tremendous tank. They also - without needing instructions - began to blast skyward upon jumpjets as they vaulted away from the trail, which was evidently a death-trap for them.

Not all the 'Mechs could jump however and a second furious bolt tore through a second Crossbow and then a Thornwith a deadly effect. The 'Mechs jumping found themselves targeted by secondary turrets along the flanks of the tank - by jumping above the trees they had exposed themselves and laser pulses bit into them - not the usual single pulse of standard energy weapons but a barrage of shorter pulses in rapid succession that allowed the shots to track the target 'Mech more accurately, With mechanical precision the turrets focused upon the lighter 'Mechs: three Wasp and a pair of Stingers crashed to the ground missing a leg. In the case of the Wasps the loss of a leg-mounted jumpjet left two crashing down out of control, the 'Mechs wrecked and in one case the MechWarrior killed.

With a roar of tracks the impossible juggernaut rushed down the track, turret turning to track a Shadow Hawk that had mistakenly landed in line with a Dervish. The length of the particle cannon brushed a dozen trees aside effortlessly and then it discharged. The raging column of energised particles decapitated the luckless Shadow Hawk, blew three intervening trees to burning splinters and then punched through one of the missile magazines buried in the chest of theDervish, converting fifty-five tons of state-of-the-art BattleMech to an expanding fireball.

Then the tank drove over the fallen Crossbow and three other 'Mechs that didn't move fast enough to get out of its way. The Regulars returned fire, as they were able, but their weapons didn't appear to be making more than the most superficial of marks against its armour.

It fired again, this time blasting the heart out of Orochi's Dervish as it rumbled past their formation and then skidded into a turn, great cannon turning like an executioner's axe. It seemed less a machine than an implacable, elemental force. As if the Pillar of Steel itself had risen up to wreak grim death upon the soldiers of the Dragon.

More than a third of the battalion were out of action, but the samurai of the Galedon Regulars knew their duty. To live, in defeat, was forbidden by their warrior code.


The Enemy are re-organising. To engage with my primary weapon is no longer sufficient. If they scatter then I may be unable to defeat them all before they reach Shinseiki.

Fortunately this does not appear to be their plan. Instead they are moving into relative proximity, attempting to surround me. My analysis suggests that they will attempt to come at me from multiple-angles, knowing that my cannon can fire in only one direction at a time. Fortunately their clusters make another weapon viable.

This weapon, however, requires further authorisation.

In my command centre, I project a fire plan upon my commander's display. It will require the expenditure of ten percent of my onboard missiles but I estimate that it will inflict 40.72% plus or minus 7.48% losses on the remaining elements of the Enemy battalion. Alternatively, the use of two nuclear warheads would eradicate the enemy with no more than a 11.10% chance of inflicting disabling damage to myself.

After 10.93 seconds (in which time I destroy two Enemy BattleMechs), Commander Perez enters her confirmation for the first plan. This decision seems prudent to me. This battle will not be the last of this campaign and if I were to take disabling damage, the campaigns outcome would have an unacceptable probability of defeat. I have opened the armoured panels covering my launchers in anticipation and a salvo of five artillery missiles lash out at a lance of Enemy light BattleMechs. A second salvo scatter, targeting the crippled Stinger and Wasps as well as a lone Dervish. The bay doors are closing again before the missiles strike home.

Explosions consume more of the forest and I note with satisfaction that eight Enemy BattleMechs have been destroyed and two others are now non-functional. Turning my primary particle cannon I plot an S-course that brings me into line with two further BattleMechs and then a second pair. All four are destroyed.

This reduces the enemy number to seven. They scatter in the direction of their main force. I prepare to pick them off but my commander engages safeties. Obediently I bring all turrets to rest positions and move myself into cover. I calculate that it will take the furthest of them 349.18 seconds to be outside my jamming.

"Status, Ollie?" asks Commander Perez.

I utilise vocal response, which is considered psychologically satisfying to a commander otherwise isolated from other humans. "Expendable ammunition stores 90% ready. Armour plating 97.16% intact. All other capabilities at 100%.

"Enemy status?"

My sensors sweep the area. "Twenty-nine enemy BattleMechs destroyed. Probability 97.23% of seventeen enemy MechWarriors ejected or dismounted action. Probability 86.29% that four dismounted MechWarriors have suffered ejection-related injuries."

My commander makes a distressed sound. I am unable to diagnose the exact cause but medical sensors indicate no immediate injury. She clutches at one panel of the command centre and I am glad to open it, providing her access to the sick bag within. This, at least, I can provide.


Outworlds Alliance
12 August 2581

The return of seven members of Colonel Orochi's command was all the cue that Masao Igushi needed to know that something had gone seriously wrong. The haggard expressions of Captain Smithson and the stale smell of sweat confirmed it before the MechWarrior spoke. They had seen action and it had gone well.

"Sir, I accept full and total responsibility for withdrawal from battle."

"Withdrawal. You mean... retreat."

Smithson could hardly pale further. "Yes sir."

Igushi wanted to sigh, but did not let himself. "And Colonel Orochi?"

"His BattleMech was destroyed, sir. I don't know if he ejected. We encountered... overwhelming power."

"Speak sense," ordered Igushi, slapping the man across the face. It put colour into it, perhaps helping to shake off some of the shock. "Where is your battalion."

"Brigadier, our 'Mechs are the only seven to survive. The Outworlders have some kind of tank..."

"Tanks? Hmm. How many?"

"One." He was shaking. "Just one."

Igushi frowned. "One tank? Show me your BattleROMs. Now!"

Smithson started back to his Stinger at a run while Igushi began to call together his commanders. They needed to know what they were dealing with.

I didn't come all this way to see my reputation destroyed by jumped up farmers.


My sensors detect multiple aerospace fighters sweeping the area. The probability that they will fail to notice my trail is 0.14%.

Since defeating the Enemy lead battalion my commander has ordered me to make a slow approach upon their Landing Zone. I am uncertain of the tactical validity of this approach. The most probable explanation is that she has access to information that I do not.

I highlight the presence of Enemy fighters to Commander Perez. At the current altitude they are beyond the reach of my weapons but the only threat they pose is of bombing, a negligible concern against a target with my mobility. If they close to engage with internal weapons then they will be within my weapons envelope. Therefore the only concern is for reports that they may make to their headquarters.


A third of the Galedon Regulars aero-wing was covering their jumpships and another third was being held in reserve in case of a push by OAM fighters against the Landing Zone. That still left twelve of them - eight Sabres and two pairs ofSamurai to seek out the enemy warmachine that had handed their comrades such a humiliating defeat.

The aerospace pilots didn't feel any particular malice towards the Outworlders for embarrassing their rival arm of the military, but it would be even more satisfying for them if they could boast of victory where the MechWarriors could not.

For this reason, having reported the location of their enemy to Brigadier Igushi, all twelve fighters proceeded to dump their bombs on and around the Bolo before diving down to finish off the battered wreckage.

When said 'battered wreckage' emerged from the cloud of dust and debris caused by sixty bombs going off in close proximity, it was moving roughly twice as fast as it had been and the only sign of damage was a single crater where half a ton of armour had been pulverised without penetration.

It was also spitting darts of laser energy upwards from more than a dozen targets, darts that tore apart first one and then a second Sabre in close succession. A moment later the main turret, having reached suitable elevation, spoke and one of the Samurai was all but vaporised by the titanic particle beam.


"Pull those fighters back to provide observation," ordered Igushi. "I want an artillery bombardment to be hitting that thing as soon as it enters the range of our Long Toms."

The camp was that peculiar ordered chaos of a military force preparing for action. The fact that they would be fighting here on the doorstep of their Landing Zone rather than marching towards Shinseiki mattered very little to the veterans of the Fourth Galedon Regulars.

Igushi paused. "And have the artillery prepare Davey Crocketts for use."

"Sir, I appreciate that the Ares Conventions have been withdrawn, but that hardly means that such weapons should be used lightly."

"It is hardly the first option that I have employed, Major, nor will I order their use unless other measures prove worthless. You will remember that these weapons were assigned to us by the Dragon, suggesting foresight that we might find ourselves in need of them. I imagine that Kurita-sama would far prefer to hear of our use of them than he would face the shame of our defeat by Avellar's jumped up bandits."


Elaine Perez clutched the handholds of her command couch as the distance between the Bolo and the Kuritan landing zone dropped towards ten kilometers. That, according to her training, was the maximum effective range of conventional heavy artillery. While she had read intelligence reports on the DCMS, those reports did not tell her whether the Fourth Galedon had heavy artillery - or artillery at all.

She guessed that she would find out shortly.

Ollie's missiles were believed to be roughly equivalent in punch to modern ballistic artillery... but it's range was only two and a half kilometers. If the Bolo came under fire it would be more than four minutes before it could return fire. That was longer - far longer - than the giant armoured vehicle's maiden engagement, a few hours before - the previous day according to standard time zones but only shortly before noon in this part of Tabayama.

"Incoming artillery."

Ollie's voice was synthesized from recordings made by several students at the Alliance's premiere university. The young men hadn't known what they were working on the programme, only that it was for use by the government. Elaine had wondered earlier what they would think when they learned it was for military purposes but now she had other things on her mind, such as gripping her hand rests even harder as the thirteen thousand ton machine automatically began evasive action. "Pin point the origin point for counter-battery fire once we enter range," she ordered.

"Acknowledged." Within seconds a map of the area appeared, carets marking a position screened by a ridge from the direction of approach that they were taking. More markings indicated Ollie's proposed fire plan: one using concentrated fire to take out the guns, a second saturating the area in hope of destroying ready ammunition and artillery personnel... and there was a third plan. Nuclear weapons.

"The first plan," she ordered. Her screens displayed an explosion not far from Ollie's side. Inside the shelter of the hull, she couldn't even hear it but it was an impressive blast. "Put me through to the command post."

There was a ping a moment later. "Elaine, this is Keith Martinez. Are you having trouble?"

"A little artillery. It doesn't seem to be a problem."

"Glad to hear it," the Terran-born engineer replied. "What can I do for you?"

Elaine lowered her voice unconsciously, feeling almost as if what she was about to say might offend Ollie's feelings... no, she realised. That was exactly how she felt: uneasy at criticising the machine in its presence. "Keith, Ollie keeps proposing nuclear options. It's, uh, freaking me out. Is it supposed to be so bloodthirsty?"

"Ollie's not bloodthirsty! He's giving you options. It's part of the tactical computer's job to look at the situation and given you multiple solutions, using the tools at hand. As far as the computer is concerned, the nuclear missiles are simply another subset of Ollie's arsenal. It won't activate a firing plan without your using them and you giving additional nuclear confirmation, just the way it's supposed to."

Ollie rocked slightly as one shell landed within a metre of its tracks. Elaine checked for damage and saw that one of the multi-ton armour panels had been pierced although the next innermost had held and two track links had minor damage.

"Are you okay? I heard that one!"

Elaine shook her head. "No, but I'll be in range to return fire in a few minutes. Thanks for the reassurance."

"Good luck," Martinez replied in a more serious tone than usual.

"I don't need luck, Keith. I've got your Bolo."

"Better to have luck than not."


"We're not managing square hits, sir. Observations from the fighters don't mention any signs of damage."

Iguchi grimaced. "I understand Captain." He paused. "Do you have a firing plan for the use of the Davey Crocketts?"

"Yes sir." The battery commander took a moment to consult his notes. "Four weapons, bracketing it. The target is too agile to be sure of a hit without the use of multiple weapons."

"Do you require further authorisation?"

"No sir. Just your word."

The Brigadier nodded, although the Captain could not see him. "Very well. I am authorising the use of four nuclear weapons."

"Understood sir. We will fire as soon as they are loaded."

Igushi closed the channel, thought a moment and then switched to another channel. "Abe-san."

The ISF liaison officer replied immediately. "Brigadier. I regret that I have no further report on this weapon."

"It appears to me, Abe-san, that Governor Bartusiak must have deliberately misled us. It is my opinion that his only remaining value is as an object lesson. Can the ISF accomplish this for me?"

"Yes sir." Abe sounded relieved. "My men will take care of that matter for you."


There is a break in the pattern of the Enemy artillery fire. I compute that the probability is 57.30% that they are relocating their artillery to avoid counter-battery fire once I enter their range.

However, before sufficient time for such a move has passed, another salvo is launched. My radar detects no significant change in targeting method, therefore there is a 97.44% probability that the pause was to switch ammunition.

"Inbound nuclear attack," I alert my commander and activate emergency restraints as I bring reactor output to 110.12% of regulation safe levels. My track stresses are approaching unacceptable levels as my ground speed pushes past 120.25 kilometers per hour.

My calculations are unforgiving: I will not escape the danger zone, a fact that seriously endangers both my commander and my mission.

Laser pulses from my turrets engage the incoming shells. Their targeting systems are not designed for this function but they adapt remarkably well.

Two shells are disabled and fail to detonate. One is aimed poorly and I am well outside the radius of effect against a target of my durability.

The fourth shell detonates 6.91 metres above the ground and 72.58 metres behind me.


"We have a hit!" came the message from the fighters still circling above and well outside the range of the weapons of the massive warmachine.

A cheer went up from the Galedon Regulars.


"That's odd." Keith Martinez whacked the computer terminal in the command van. "I've lost telemetry from Ollie." The console stubbornly refused to change its report. "What's going on?"

Another technician frowned and punched a code into her own terminal. "I'll see if I can get imagery from one of the weather satellites.

"Well?" asked Martinez after a few seconds. "What do you have."

The woman turned and emptied the contents of her stomach over the van's floor. Martinez scrambled to look over her shoulder. His face paled as he saw the orbital depiction of a mushroom cloud forming over the Bolo's last reported location, the expanding gases resembling a cruel and double-headed flower.


My systems reboot. It takes me 0.05 seconds to confirm my status.

I am seriously damaged.

Both of my rear tracks are impaired. Ejecting the track links and utilising the remaining road wheels permits me to continue moving.

Rear armour is compromised in multiple locations. I have no more than 59.01% coverage from that angle.

The cover of my rear missile launcher is heat-welded into place and I dare no longer fire the nine missiles in that bay due to the risk of their detonation within my hull.

Five of my laser turrets are non-functional.

Damage to my primary turret reduces its arc of fire to 30.11%.

I am still Bolo-01 of the Line. I have a mission and the means to complete it.

But very soon I will have no commander. The command centre is located aft of my fusion plant, protecting the vulnerable occupant with the mass of shielding against attacks from forward. This is of no benefit against attacks from the rear and my armour no longer provides coverage. Medical reports show no degradation as of yet but internal sensors leave no doubt that the dosage is terminal. Humans are remarkably resilient but I calculate that Commander Perez will be unable to function within 200 seconds, plus or minus 60 seconds.

"Ollie, are you still there?"

"Operational status confirmed. Warning, radiation levels within the command centre are at dangerous level." I bring up the data on her monitor. Recommendation...

My tactical computer locks up.

Damage control assesses the situation. The problem is traced to software. The survival of my commander is required to complete my mission. The survival of my commander can no longer be achieved. No tactical recommendation will meet the criteria, for without my commander's consent I cannot confirm tactical plans, which may change up to ten times per minute, and cannot therefore continue to engage the enemy. I cannot complete my mission.

I am Bolo-01 of the Line. I cannot abandon my mission.

I cannot complete/abandon my mission.

I cannot complete/abandon my mission.


For 28.91 seconds I continue to race towards the Enemy landing site, continuing the existing mission plans for lack of an alternative. We are now within range of my remaining missiles. I alert my commander of this. Thirty-six missiles is insufficient to compete the mission but it may suffice for some secondary objectives.

Commander Perez appears startled at the change of the display. "The mission above all, Ollie?" She reaches over to her communication panel. "Martinez."

Primary communications are disabled. I direct her signal through a back-up.

"Elaine! I thought... we thought... you're alive!"

"No time Keith. I need to you to..."


Igushi didn't believe the aerospace reports until he saw the truth for himself. He doubted the pilot minded: he didn't sound as if he believed his own eyes either.

The enemy tank bulled its way over the horizon at over sixty kph. The hull was scarred, battered and stained. Air reports made it clear that armour to the rear had been badly damaged.

But still it advanced, clearly intent upon battle.

He could not help but respect the indomitable will of the crew.

But that did not change his mission. "Fourth Galedon Regulars, surround that thing and engage it with the full fury of the Dragon!"

His Warhammer strode forward, the leading angle of a wedge of heavy 'Mechs. On the flanks light 'Mechs curved out like the wings of a dragon and beyond them hover tanks. He only had a single battalion of them but they had the best chance of encircling the tank and targeting the breached armour to the rear. Behind the Mechs, tanks were grinding their way after him, but they were slow and clumsy - feeble imitations of the foe's monstrous power - but a sufficient escort for the infantry and their APCs.

The enemy tank's upper hull shifted slightly and then vertical-launch systems began hurling missiles up into the air. These would be the artillery-like missiles that Smithson had reported. Against a formation this dispersed they would be of limited value.

But the first five missiles did not seek to target his 'Mechs or his tanks, much less the vulnerable artillery. They flashed through the air above his formation and Iguchi was just beginning to realise the truth when nuclear fire burst into existence among his grounded dropships.

In space the weapons would have been of no great concern: tactical battlefield weapons that had to make surface contact before they could cause damage. But this was not space and the dropships were sufficiently packed together that each weapon caught several within its blast. Military transports were hardened and armoured to have some chance of survival but not even the Draconis Combine Admiralty could provide transport for an entire brigade made entirely of military hulls and the missiles had been aimed with exquisite precision.

The holocaust of four fusion warheads gutted several dropships - Igushi could not tell how many precisely - and damaged many more. Then the hundreds of tons of hydrogen fuel spilling out of ruptured fuel tanks reacted to the heat and the air itself appeared to explode. Even if a military transport could avoid catastrophic damage from that, it still did them no good and an appalled Iguchi saw a pair of Vulture dropships literally rolling after being tipped over by the explosions, crashing into other dropships in a cascade of destruction.

I'll be lucky if half my transports are ready for action now, he thought. But it doesn't matter: we're on Tabayama now so we don't need them.

There were more explosions now - not nuclear thankfully - as the tank continued to hurl missiles, now aiming at theSand Devil hover tanks. The tanks were tough enough to take the pounding, but several were slowing due to damage, which was probably the goal.

And then the first Wasp lance closed into laser range.

The tank's laser range, not their own. The tank - that monstrously heavy tank - didn't even bother with its main gun. Turrets along the flanks swiveled and all four light 'Mechs toppled to the ground, each missing one leg.

Then, still more than half a kilometre from Iguchi, before the first of his 'Mechs or Missile tanks carrying LRMs had managed to come into effective range of the tank, the tank opened fire with its main gun.

He'd seen the BattleROMs, but Iguchi had not really believed until that moment.

Not until he saw the beam smash into the upraised arm of Sergeant Gotham's Warhammer, then through the limb and into the shoulder. And then the ravening bolt of lightning tore its way out of the back of the heavy 'Mech. Gotham's Warhammer collapsed, evidently having suffered massive internal damage.

And Brigadier Iguchi became a believer.

"Kill that thing!" he screamed and more than fifty BattleMechs rushed to try.


I am surrounded on all sides by the Enemy.

Dozens of humanity's most respected soldiers have addressed this circumstance with advice that can be distilled to a single word: attack.

And so I do.

My main gun has limited traverse so I change direction constantly, which also hampers the accuracy of my opponents. On seven occasions this means that I drive over BattleMechs that do not react fast enough to my maneuvers. Twice I am able to back up, crushing hovertanks that have closed daringly close.

The tanks are a serious threat, inflicting damage to my rear arc. Fortunately most of the systems exposed by the weakened armour are already disabled but the only laser turret that could still bear on the rear is now without power.

In order to neutralise this threat I slow my tracks. Sensing weakness, the enemy bring their hovertanks, believing that I can no longer turn fast enough to screen the damaged armour. They are mistaken and their shots crash against my side armour as the last of my onboard missiles launch.

Caught between lasers from my flank turrets and artillery exploding around them, fourteen of tanks are destroyed or reduced to a crippled pace that will prevent such opportunistic maneuvers.

The enemy heavy tanks have similarly been left behind as I lead the battle around the edge of the landing zone. There are now only thirty-two of them as on four occasions they were viable targets for my main gun.

Otherwise I have reserved the particle beam for the destruction of Enemy heavy BattleMechs. Their lighter BattleMechs are vulnerable to disabling damage from my pulse lasers and I compute that were my BattleROMs lost that the path of the battle could be mapped by the trail of crippled BattleMechs that I have left behind.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the militia can defeat even these damaged machines, given that they are supported by Enemy tanks. I will need to retrace my path at some point to ensure that they are entirely neutralised.

For now, however, I face the Enemy's main force: medium BattleMechs able to exceed my current hampered mobility and for the most part with long range weapons that do not require them to close within reach of a short, crushing, rush.

I must engage them one at the time, relying on my depleted armor to stand up dozens of salvos.

Dervish, Shadow Hawk, a second Dervish. I am disturbed that I fail to destroy a Griffin with my next shot. Diagnostics indicate that repeated damage is beginning to adversely affect my sensors and targeting. I adjust for this damage and shatter the BattleMech with another shot. Nonetheless it is... disturbing... to realise that I am reaching limits in my capabilities.

My programming includes my survival as a moderate priority. This may no longer be possible.

I am not programmed to feel fear but the increasing probability of my own destruction may be equivalent.


Outworlds Alliance
13 August 2581

Martinez pulled the All-Terrain-Vehicle to a halt as the Bolo came into sight. He'd already been building up a sweat inside the protective suit that he was wearing, but the sight of the smoking, cratered hull seemed to chill that sweat.

As he watched, Ollie's tracks started to turn once more, edging the mighty warmachine around to face him. Only one bogie was operating, and that at well below full power if Martinez was any judge. And he was - he'd been one of the chief designers, he'd have wagered almost anything that he knew the Bolo better than anyone else in the universe.

But even he was having trouble picking out the details of his creation and it was not due to the difficulty of seeing anything clearly through the thick goggles of his suit.

Scarcely an inch of the surface of the Bolo - twice the size of a football pitch - was unscathed. The massively armoured barrel of the main gun was so eroded that it was almost impossible to believe that the weapon inside still functioned.

But as terrible as the damage to Ollie was, his surroundings were a hellish wasteland - savaged by fire and carved into both by his own broad trail and by the tracks and feet of his adversary. The plain upon which the Kurita dropships had landed was a graveyard of fallen towers and ruptured domes where ship after ship had burned, hulls ruptured by the destructive fury of the Bolo. The trails left by his tracks were marked in places with the crushed and shattered wrecks of tanks and battlemechs while the tails of at least a dozen aerospace fighters that had bored into the soil after daring to dive at the Bolo.

"My god, what have I made?"

The engineer braked the ATV to approach the warmachine slowly. Even a glancing hit from one of its weapons would certainly destroy him and he couldn't be entirely sure if, damaged as it was, he would be allowed to approach. Attached to the dashboard of his transportation with duct tape was an IFF transponder that should mark him as friendly, but Ollie hadn't transmitted since entering the battle. It was possible that it he might not recognise the signal.

Fortunately for Martinez, his fears proved groundless.

Not only did Ollie not fire on him, the machine even lowered its suspension so that he could more easily reach up past the tracks and to the main hull. The ladders that should have provided hand- and footholds for personnel to scale the hull were gone, but there were enough gouges that even hampered by the radiation suit, Martinez was able to climb with relative ease.

The hatch surface was a twisted wreck and he heard metal tearing as Ollie's powerful motors forced it open anyway. But right now it wasn't the damage to Ollie that was first on Martinez' mind.

Inside the command centre, Elaine Perez reclined in the only chair, just as she had when he last saw her, but her skin had a parchment quality that it had lacked before and there was no rise or fall of her chest.

"Doctor Martinez." Ollie's voice came from one of the speakers. Was it Martinez' imagination that the voice was softer than it had been before. Almost as if it were showing reverence towards its dead mistress? "Commander Perez ceased to display life signs twenty point two-five hours ago. I have logged completion of my mission nineteen point six-two hours ago. My combat capabilities are reduced to five point two-six percent. I request instructions."

With a sigh Martinez sat where he had so many times before, cross-legged on the deck of the command centre. "Instructions. Right. Amend your logs, Ollie. Change the date of death for Elaine... for Commander Perez to five minutes after the completion of your mission."

"Amendment of my BattleROMs is prohibited under four measures of Outworlds Alliance law."

"I know. Override on my personal override. Access code Romero Utrecht Hal."

There was a pause on the part of the Bolo, as if in surprise. "Code accepted. Records updated. Security protocols have been overridden to delete record of this change."

Martinez patted the deck in apology. "Sorry, pal. Much as I'd like to boast about you being allowed to fight that battle without human direction, I don't think that the Alliance is quite ready to learn that we let you fire off nukes on your own initiative. Besides, this way Elaine gets credit for the victory."

He's never quite sure if he imagined the whisper or not. For the rest of his life though, Keith Martinez would wonder what exactly he had wrought in developing the psychotronic circuitry of the Bolo's computer core.

"For the honor of the regiment," murmured the voice of Bolo-01 of the Line, in his dreams and maybe, just maybe, in the command centre that haunted afternoon.