High Ground

Geneva, Terra

Terran Hegemony

18 December 2582

"What's this about?" Marion Marik, like Viola Steiner-Dinessen, had had to rush by command circuit from her headquarters back to Terra for this special gathering of the Star League. Two weeks of almost constant jumps hadn't helped her temper. "I can rely on Ian to handle the situation on Royal Foxx but I want to be back before we launch any more large-scale operations."

General Carlos Lee sat in one of the seats to the left of the Director-General, opposite the arc of House Lords. ""It's about Sevon." He shot accusing looks at Alexander Davion and Hehiro Kurita, who for once were sitting next to each other. The pair of Lords had deliberately taken the two seats as far from the slightly larger seat occupied by Ian Cameron, which wasn't generally a good sign.

"Sevon?" Marik didn't bother checking on her noteputer, she'd kept up to date with the general progress of the other three campaigns while handling her own theatre of operations. "What did Forlough do now?" She made no secret of her distaste for the commander of SLDF's II Corps: while her VII Corps had been scrupulous in maintaining the pre-war rules of engagement, sparing the civilian populace the horrors of war whenever possible, Amos Forlough was proponent of the view that 'decisive' action against settlements would be the fastest way to bring the Periphery into compliance with the Star League.

It was Kurita rather than Lee who answered her. "There was a friendly-fire incident between II Corps and an AFFS expeditionary brigade."

"A friendly-fire incident?" demanded Steiner-Dinessen. The blonde shook her head in disgust. "You had me drop everything and rush here for that?"

"It's a little more serious than that," answered Lee. "The Sixth Royal Division was gutted."


Camden Fields, Sevon

Outworlds Alliance

3 October 2581

The green-painted BattleMechs were supported only by jump infantry and while the bulky jump packs gave the foot soldiers an advantage in mobility over their fellow footsloggers, they were slowing the Phoenix Hawks and Griffins down to a relative crawl.

Not that Major Erica Sanden of 'Pitcairn's Legion' was too unhappy about that. It had given the OAM forces - two battalions of aging T-12 tanks that the AFFS had sold off years ago - time to dig in around the hamlet, and also to evacuate the two hundred civilians who called Camden Fields home. The OAM crews of the Tigers didn't have the snap or precision she was used to from AFFS tankers but they were fighting for their homes and that was all the motivation a soldier really needs.

Stepping her Shadow Hawk out of the cover of the buildings so that it was plainly visible to the invaders, as were its colours: the red, white and blue of the Davion Guards. "This is Major Sanden of the Davion Guards," she called out in warning, using a frequency that she knew the SLDF would be monitoring. "Sevon is a protectorate of the Federated Suns and your assistance has not been requested. I must warn you that if you attempt to enter any settlement here you will be considered to be engaging in piracy."

Her only response was a bolt of PPC fire from one of the Griffins that scorched into the chest of her 'Mech just above the sword-and-sun badge. More fire followed it, but she had backed up hastily and only a few missiles struck her armour.

"All AFFS and allied units, this is Major Sanden. First Battalion is under fire!" she called out theatrically on the same channel.

On cue, the rest of her company - a few Shadow Hawks like her own, but mostly light Wasp scout 'Mechs - popped into view and opened up upon the SLDF troops, who were now within a quarter of a kilometre of the edge of Camden Fields. Infantry scattered and let the green BattleMechs charge in.

That was when the OAM tanks moved up from concealment into the firing positions that had been dug for then. Not all were in range, but almost two dozen heavy autocannons tore at the attackers, bringing their advance to a halt.

Seconds later the other two companies of Sanden's battalion burst into view, having crossed Camden Fields from the barns in which they had been hiding at a run. Half of them were Battleax heavies, more than equal of their SLDF adversaries, with the others being lighter but still formidable units. The AFFS Mechs fanned out, pincering the startled SLDF unit between them and hitting them from both flanks.


Geneva, Terra

Terran Hegemony

18 December 2582

"After that," Lee continued, "Pitcairn took two regiments of BattleMechs and hit the Divisional Landing Zone. Fewer than two regiments - mostly infantry and armour - had disembarked and with the pathfinders tied down at Camden Field they were smashed flat trying to buy time for the rest of the Division to rally."

Everyone with military experience winced. A military force was never as vulnerable as when they were embarking or disembarking.

"I take it that it didn't go well."

Davion shook his head. "No, it didn't. According to Colonel Pitcairn's report the 6th Royals never managed to concentrate any appreciable force outside of the dropships before he had them surrounded and overwhelmed. It's a classic piece of military fieldwork."

"Indeed, a laudable feat of arms," agreed Kurita diplomatically.

"It's an act of treason, is what it is!" accused Shandra Noruff-Cameron, sitting next to her husband as an observer. In addition to being the Director-General's consort she had been Lee's predecessor and had a long career in the Hegemony Armed Forces which meant that almost all of the 6th Royals, drawn from regiments of the HAF, would have been her former subordinates. "Why isn't Pitcairn here to answer for this?"

"To answer for what?" Alexander asked mildly. The old Prince placed his elbows on the arcing council table. "Forlough's troops attacked him. Are our armies no longer permitted to defend ourselves? I don't recall that being part of the Star League Accords."

Lee shook his head. "Of course not, Lord Davion. But Forlough had no reason to believe that they were genuine forces. What was Pitcairn even doing on Sevon?"

"Precisely what the SLDF was doing. We simply arrived first. Colonel Pitcairn was negotiating the surrender of Sevon when II Corps arrived." The First Prince smiled slightly. "Not so very different from what the DCMS is doing on Tabayama and Santiago."

Hehiro Kurita's apparently serenity could not have been genuine. "Not on Tabayama. I have... regrettable news. Reports have been confused but it appears that the OAM laid a trap upon that world... much as Sevon proved. I suspect that you owe the SLDF thanks, Prince Alexander. Had it not been for them it is your Colonel Pitcairn and his soldiers who would have been entrapped."

Davion nodded. "You are quite correct, Coordinator. General Lee, please advise General Forlough of my sincerest gratitude."

"This isn't funny," the Archon snapped. "What is this trap you speak of."

Kurita looked at Davion. "I suspect that your Colonel Pitcairn has the clearest report."

"Perhaps, although I would hope to hear of Tabayama as well," he agreed. "According to what I have been told, the Outworlders call it a Bolo..."


OberSevon, Sevon

Outworlds Alliance

4 October 2581

I am Bolo-04 of the Line.

Like my brother-units I am assigned to a battalion of the OAM's Heavy Combat Engineer Regiment. With the exception of my commander, the rest of the battalion are in an underground bunker some distance behind me.

For months I have been supporting the construction of that bunker. It is valuable work, for this will protect them from the Enemy that has now arrived on Sevon, but it is not my true work.

That true work is what I am now about. I am to make war upon the Enemy. My dictionary suggest that the term for the difference that this makes to my psychotronic circuits is 'satisfaction'.

The Enemy have landed in two distinct locations, close enough to support each other but far enough away that it is not practical for our limited forces to engage both at one time. Their strength is reported as division-level.

Earlier today, allied forces in brigade-strength attacked one landing zone and rendered the forces there unable to continue operations. This is a remarkable accomplishment and my commander expects no less from me. Two brigade columns have set out from the second Enemy force to pursue our allies.

Reports from Tabayama indicate that Bolo-01 has defeated a single Enemy brigade, albeit at a cost of severe damage. Much has been learned since then. I am confident that I will be able to defeat both Brigades.

"You are clear to engage." My commander tightens the straps restraining him to his command couch as the compressed display in front of him begins to display the icons of Enemy hover tanks. While my other sensors have displayed them upon tactical maps, until this moment Commander Daniels has refrained from providing authorisation. According to my programming I have reminded him that it is possible that we may be ambushed somehow before he can give me permission to act but this has not swayed him.

But now I am free to act and my turret was already tracking the nearest of the LTV-4 hover tanks providing a screening force to the brigade. Unsurprisingly, the fifty ton tank's armour is not proof against my weapon and the vehicle is torn in two, both sections tumbling across the slope that they were descending, secondary explosions from a ruptured missile-bin setting fire to the wild grass.

The LTV-4 was part of a lance of four and its three compatriots make immediate effort to attack me. I engage them at intervals of 2.79 seconds, as rapidly as my particle beam can recharge. This unfortunately allows them time to report that they are under attack but I calculate that the probability of a verbal report conveying tactically useful information in 8.37 seconds as 10.54%.

I can trace a design lineage from the LTV-4 tank design to my own. We have in common approximate top speed, for the time unrivalled armour, a particle beam as primary armament and missiles in a secondary role. I, of course, am 117 years more modern.

I have now penetrated the outer screen of the brigade. It is likely that other hover tanks will try to investigate my attack but they are no faster than I and will therefore be left behind.

"Stage One completed. Initiate Stage Two?"

My commander appears surprised and gratified at my efficiency. "Agreed. Begin Stage Two, Goliath."

This is not the first time my commander has referred to me by this name. My databases are loaded with every record of warfare known to my creators. This information provides the basis for my construction of fire plans and tactical options. I have several times been amazed by the wide variance in capabilities between the commanders recorded in these records. There are several possible results when I search for 'Goliath' in this database but I believe that my Commander is referring to the ancient warrior Goliath of Gath.

Like myself Goliath was a warrior of unrivalled size and power. Goliath, however, was defeated by an apparently unimpressive opponent utilising shrewd tactics. I interpret the name as a reminder not to mistakenly consider myself invincible. I return Commander Daniels' concern for my continued function with a sincere desire that he not suffer the same fate as Commander Perez of Bolo-01.

Will I find a David here?

Not, at least, for now. My next encounter with the Enemy comes in the form of

Wasp light BattleMechs. These appear to be older WSP-1 models, noticeably slower than later models and armed only with 5cm lasers. My turret weapon fires twice, each time destroying one of the BattleMechs. Between shots I engage the other pair with forward pulse laser turrets. With each shot the Wasp is disabled - in one case the left leg is destroyed, in the other the right shoulder.

The latter Wasp remains mobile but unarmed. Its only means of fighting back would be to attempt physical contact with me. The MechWarrior within appears to estimate his chances of a successful attack as minimal - in which I concur - and instead retreats outside my range and circles to recover his comrade from the other damaged Wasp. While I am fully able to chase down and destroy the BattleMech it would serve no tactical purpose.

My mission is elsewhere.

"Stage Two completed. Initiate Stage Three?"

"Do it."

Commander Daniels is pale. Medical sensors indicate an elevated pulse. It is clear that combat is more of a strain upon him than I had anticipated. Fortunately it does not appear that he is in serious danger.

My tracks dig deep enough into the peaty ground to obtain good traction despite the sub-optimal nature of the surface. I make a note that this is unlikely to be true of Enemy tracked vehicles, which may provide me with a further small advantage. This could prove important for the next stage which is the most dangerous for me.

Unit markings have told me that I am faced by the Enemy's Eleventh Brigade, an element of Fourth Division. These are experienced and able troops... but they are also drawn from five of the six Star League member-state armies. In order to ensure that they are working together, I estimate a probability of 73.12% that they will adhere closely to the new SLDF doctrine, as the only common element that they have in their training.

I come into view of the main force of the Enemy column. It is satisfying to confirm that they are deployed within 95.11% consistency with my predictions. Thus I am 3.2 kilometres of their heavy artillery batteries, all of which are entrained for towing by Gallant urban tanks.

In theory I could cross this distance in 96.80 seconds but it is of course unnecessary - it takes me only 22.17 seconds to close within range of my missiles. Against lightly protected towed guns, conventional warheads prove effective: the guns are not beyond repair but none can be used for some hours and they are the only immediate means by which the brigade may employ nuclear weapons against me.

With the artillery neutralized I alter my path towards the rear of the column. I have ample time before entering range of my main armament in which to use unit markings and radio detection to pick out command units. The battalion immediately trailing the artillery is made up of medium BattleMechs: my main gun smashes two

Icarus II, one Dervish and one Scorpion and I am 99.82% confident that I have eliminated the battalion commander and all three company commanders.

Four light BattleMechs - Firestarters and Commandos recalled from screening duties - attempt to attack my right flank as my main gun is facing left, towards the missile carriers that are firing largely inaccurate volleys of LRMs at me. This is unfortunate as tactical predictions had suggested that I had a 56.82% probability of circling the convoy before screening elements returned to flank me.

Fortunately it is a possibility that has been planned for. I display three options for my commander: ignoring the four BattleMechs; breaking off from the column to destroy them; and closing with the missile carriers to utilise my secondary weapons upon them while my main particle beam is used against the BattleMechs. Per the altered procedures since Tabayama, I do not offer the use of tactical nuclear warheads. While I retain the capacity, I may no longer recommend their use without a specific order from my Commander. The reasons for this alteration remain unclear but in this case nuclear weapons would be of limited advantage.


Absent instruction I fire my particle beam again, destroying an autocannon carrier positioned among the missile tanks to provide anti-aircraft fire. The Enemy BattleMechs are now within range of my pulse lasers, which I use to pick apart one Commando.

"Option two."

Commander Daniel's decision is enacted immediately as I spin my starboard tracks backwards abruptly. My momentum causes me to slide half my own length along my original course while turning. My turret turns even faster and I use my pulse lasers, barely in range, to burn through the side armour and tracks of a missile carrier.

I take 0.09 seconds to evaluate my Commander's decision. The precise reasons for this course of action as opposed to the others are not entirely clear to me. It is of course a fully acceptable choice but my own preference would have been for the third option. Self-improvement until I may more accurately anticipate my Commander's orders is part of my programming.

My forward pulse lasers engage the remaining Commando while my main gun engages the nearer of theFirestarters...


Geneva, Terra

Terran Hegemony

18 December 2582

"If the OAM's claims are to be believed, the engagement between Eleventh Brigade and this Bolo lasted sixteen minutes." Alexander Davion looked grim. "As far as we can tell they didn't manage to cause more than minor armour damage."

General Lee looked bleak. "Sadly, that agrees with my own information. At the same time, the OAM aerospace and atmospheric fighters engaged our own air cover, blinding it while the Bolo crossed the distance to Twelfth Brigade."

That earned a nod from Hehiro Kurita. "The fragmentary reports from Tabayama suggest that the Bolo there was damaged by artillery firing nuclear warheads at it as it approached after engaging the advance force. It would appear that they are wise enough to seek to counter that tactic being used against them a second time."

"It is a shame that your reports were not available before General Forlough had to learn about these Bolos the hard way," the Director-General noted coolly. "Might I ask the reason for this lapse in communication?"

"Tragically, Brigadier Igushi, who was commanding our contribution to the Outworlds campaign, died on Tabayama along with the majority of his staff. In his absence, the chain of command proved... compromised."

"For four months?"

Hehiro's lips curled slightly. "I imagine that you understand that subordinates are reluctant to admit to failures. Combined with the limited available information..." He spread his hands. "Heads have rolled, I assure you." In the Draconis Combine that term was not a metaphor. "At the highest of levels."

"How did this Brigadier Igushi manage to lose his entire staff?" asked Marion Marik thoughtfully. Her Free Worlds League had no significant history of acrimony with the Draconis Combine but she could guess that Kurita was hinting that one of the powerful Warlords that ruled the various Districts of his realm had proven as inconveniently independent as some of her own provincial rulers.

"The late Brigadier was leading the invasion of Tabayama personally. The ISF was receiving co-operation from the Alliance Governor, also now deceased, which led the Brigadier to believe that resistance would be minimal. In fact, the Bolo - which reports to the force's jumpships described as a mobile fortress of some kind - assaulted the Landing Zone with nuclear missiles. None of the dropships made it away."

"Barbarians," Viola Steiner-Dinessen muttered.

Alexander Davion decided not to make an issue over who had fired the first nuclear weapon on Tabayama. "To return to an earlier point: you said that the OAM was able to neutralise the air cover for Twelfth Brigade - and presumably that of Eleventh Brigade as well."

Lee pulled out the recessed keyboard at his place and the screen facing the Council lit up. "Yes, our fighters were facing G-15 Lightning and CNT-1D Centurion aerospace fighters, along with what appear to be copies of Capellan FR-1 atmospheric fighters. This strongly suggests that they may have sources of equipment within the Star League."

To Alexander's surprise it was Hehiro Kurita who came to the rescue of he and Chancellor Ursula Liao - who had been maintaining a disinterested pose for the meeting so far. "Or at least that they did. That is hardly cutting edge equipment and I imagine that House Davion sold of quite a lot of obsolete equipment to them over the last century or so. The Alliance was certainly a ready market for my own military industries during the reign of my parents."

"That is possible, of course," agreed Lee politely, although he remained evidently sceptical. "Once the Bolo was detected approaching Twelfth Brigade's position, General Forlough ordered a wing of light dropships to strafe it and for an assault company to drop from a Black Eagle directly onto it."

"That's rather a risky operation," Marik observed. The art of carrying out orbital drops of BattleMechs was no longer as unknown as it had once been, but what Lee was describing was an atmospheric drop - something quite considerably more hazardous.

Ian Cameron steepled his fingers. "Perhaps less so than a... mobile fortress... that can destroy an entire Brigade in less time than we've spent talking about it."


OberSevon, Sevon

Outworlds Alliance

4 October 2581

The air rattled around Captain Mark Sortek's command as his crew attempted to treat the Palfrey, a seventeen hundred ton dropship, like a fighter only five percent of its size.

Around them, dozens of fighters were swirling through the air and spitting fire at each other. By this point only a handful of the OAM atmospheric fighters remained - they were too slow and too fragile for this battle but they had fought anyway.

For the most part the pilots who were still in the air, on both sides, were the most experienced. Novices died in a battle like this - and with the last clashes of the Age of War a decade ago few veterans were still in the cockpit. This winnowing had brought the numbers to something close to equilibrium...

Until the dropships arrived.

From the nose and wings of Sortek's dropship - and the other two that made up a loose V-shape - lasers, particle beams and missiles lashed out and OAM squadrons scattered to evade that firestorm. They were not entirely successful: twoCenturions and a Lightning tumbled towards the ground of Sevon, smoking from rents in their armour.

Other Lightnings turned and burned to bring their mighty Luxor autocannons to bear, while their lighter brethren struggled to keep SLDF Sabres and Typhoons off the tails of their comrades.

"Keep going," Sortek heard Major Kirkpatrick order from the lead dropship Parsifal. "They're trying to keep us away from something out here - whatever they used against Eleventh Brigade. We have to find it."

Obediently, Sortek kept the Palfrey clinging to the Parsifal's wing, mirrored by the Peregrine. Their aft lasers spat fire back at the Lightnings, but it was not sufficient to keep them away and Sortek felt a new rattle as shells from their guns tore at the armour and flight surfaces of his ship. He clenched his fingers around the arms of his chair. "Goddammit, where is our air cover?"

"There's a wing of Eagles coming, but they're two minutes out."

"We won't make it two minutes!" Sortek thumbed his microphone to make an offer but instead he heard another voice cut in: that of Peregrine's commander, Mike Green.

"Peregrine's taken engine damage. I'll hang back and soak up their fire: they can't get our your tail if it means going into my forward arc."

"Agreed, Captain Green." Kirkpatrick's voice held a ring of pain. Sortek knew that the two men had served together onParsifal before Green received command of his own dropship. "Good luck."

Sortek ordered the Palfrey to close in with the Parsifal as Peregrine fell behind. For a moment it seemed that theLightnings might overshoot, leaving them vulnerable, but they broke off in time, twisting to avoid falling prey to the mighty but clumsy firepower of the dropship.

A moment later and they were clear. Three Centurions looked as if they might attempt to close in but at some unknown signal they broke off back to the dogfight where the SLDF reinforcements were beginning to arrive.

"Get every shred of data out of the sensors that you can," Sortek demanded grimly.

There were several minutes of silent tension before the sensor officer looked up.

"You have something?"

"Not yet, sir, but..."

Sortek leant forwards. "But?"

"Peregrine's gone into a spin, sir. They're losing altitude fast."

The young captain searched for something to say. "Get back to work," he ordered harshly. "That could be us, soon enough." Too harsh perhaps, but there was no time for grief now. And who knew? It might be premature. Green might manage to keep Peregrine in the air, or the crew might have ejected already.

"Something ahead. Might be another dropship."

Drawn from his thoughts, Sortek looked at the sensor readouts. "What do you have?"

"Magscan says it's big - the size of a heavy freighter. Slow and low. Bomber perhaps? Or some kind of gunship?"

"How low? Reports from the ground pounders were of some kind of giant tank."

"Nap of the earth... or it could be taxiing I guess."

"Good work." Sortek stretched to pat the younger man on the shoulder. He thumbed his controls. "Major, we've got something on magscan."

"We see it too." Kirkpatrick's voice broke up into static for a moment. "Getting jamming from that direction to. I'm going to take a closer look, keep Palfrey back and cover me."

"Roger that." Sortek gave his pilot a nod and the dropships split up - one driving down to make a low pass over the target, Sortek's higher and behind to deal with anything trying to interfere.

For all the separation, the two dropships had their first sight of the machine at almost the same instant.

"Madre Dios," hissed the pilot. "Look at the size of that thing!"

Privately Sortek had to agree. He could still remember his first sight of a dropship and the thought that such a mammoth machine could fly had been astounding to him. But this machine was far larger - both dropships could have fit within its hull and rattled - and rather than using fusion thrusters to fly through the air, it was barreling across the landscape of Sevon leaving a trail wider than a runway behind it.

The sight was so astonishing that for a moment he missed seeing that the domed turret was elevating. "Watch out for -"

A bolt of lightning lashed out - the telltale of a particle beam.

"- ground fire..." Sortek finished in shock as he saw the beam smash directly into the nose of the Parsifal. The dropship seemed to stagger in the sky under that terrible force but somehow it remained in the sky, though the blackened structure of the nose was gouting fiery tendrils as the air rushing into pierced armour fueled the inferno that was consuming the interior. "Major! Punch out!"

He was rattled around in his seat as his own pilot threw the Palfrey into desperate evasive maneuvers.

"No reply from Parsifal, sir."

"Dump our sensor reads on that thing to HQ," ordered Sortek. The turret was still tracking Parsifal but he couldn't be sure it wouldn't be firing on him next.

"Missile launch!"

Five missiles hurtled skywards from cells built into the upper surface of the giant tank. While they were still in flightParsifal exploded. A second shot from that gun - was it a naval PPC? - had blasted into the fuel tanks and ignited a hundred of tons of compressed hydrogen with results that any school-child could have guessed at.

Sortek was only tangentially aware of this however as he was splitting his attention between hanging onto his seat, tightening the straps holding him to it and watching the missiles close in.

Jesus Camacho - the pilot - was a good pilot. The Free Worlder had been highly recommended to Sortek and now he was seeing for himself what the younger man could manage under pressure. It was very nearly enough: four of the missiles missed the dropship.

The fifth, however, punched a hole through the stubby left wing right against one of the ammunition feeds for the missile launcher.

"I'm losing her!" Jesus screamed in warning as the loss of the wing and its flight surfaces sent the dropship into a roll.

Sortek flipped the cover of a switch on his controls. "All hands! Abandon ship!" The moment he punched the switch, explosive bolts blew loose all connections between the cramped cockpit and the rest of the dropship. An instant later, powerful rockets blasted it loose of the Palfrey.

The second escape pod, which should have carried the engineering crew out of the rear of the dropship, didn't launch before the Leopard-class dropship hit one of the OberSevon hills like a 1,700 ton paper-airplane doused in kerosene and loaded with matches.

"Jesus," Sortek murmured in horror. "Not you," he added when Jesus turned in surprise. Their pod's parachutes deployed with a jerk as the rockets died.

The third of the bridge crew was looking out of a window. "Looks like General Forlough lit a fire under the mechjocks, because here they come!"

Twelve BattleMechs with an aggregate tonnage of almost a thousand tons fell into the air as the Black Eagle-class dropship hung above the battlefield, cargo doors open at an altitude of five kilometres. To the probable relief of the crew, although the tank's main gun elevated, it did not fire on the dropship. Perhaps it was out of range.

However this was scant mercy to the 'Mechs. They were all modern Victor assault 'Mechs - superbly optimised for close assault operations and with jump jets that made them ideal for this kind of vertical envelopment.

They had also been dropped from too high. Sevon's gravity was dragging them towards the ground but it would have taken them more than thirty seconds to reach it even if they hadn't been using their jump jets to control their fall and slow it to a survivable velocity. That was more than ample time to predict their paths of descent and the lethal particle beam that had brought down the Parsifal picked off half of them as they approached the land.

Three of the survivors had landed within a few metres of each other and the tank was upon them before their jumpjets could recharge. They tried to back away, firing their autocannons fruitlessly at it, before they were ground under treads that probably weighed more than they did.

That left three. The escape pod was closing on the ground, and once it landed Sortek was more concerned about whether the tank would cone to finish them off.

Somehow it never occurred to him that the Victors might win. Not against that monster.


Geneva, Terra

Terran Hegemony

18 December 2582

"Following the destruction of Twelfth Brigade, General Forlough fortunately decided to withdraw his forces rather than see further losses." General Lee shrugged. "I've authorised him to use survivors of the Sixth Royals to rebuild Fourth Division but he's going to be understrength for quite a while."

"He didn't just withdraw," Alexander Davion corrected sharply. "He waited until all his troops were back in space and then launched airstrikes on Sevon's major settlements. Nuclear airstrikes."

"When they could get through the air defenses, yes. Air defenses that your Colonel Pitcairn assisted with, your highness." Lee leant forwards aggressively. "You approved the abolition of the Ares Convention, Prince Davion."

"That decision was intended to leave us with options against a foe such as the Taurians." The prince slammed his fist upon the table. "Not for wanton, spiteful attacks on civilian populations. All that Forlough's butchery accomplished was the pointless alienation of the Outworlder population. You know that they were the least inclined to put up resistance as it was but now they'll have a rallying cry."

"How many died?" asked Marion Marik.

"Millions," Davion told her. "If Pitcairn hadn't sent his fighters to join the defense he and his brigade would probably have been torn apart in vengeance - which might have been Forlough's intent. As it was they had to pull of Sevon with their tail somewhat between their legs. The entre situation was a debacle."

"What would you have of me?" asked Cameron. "His actions were not proper but they were within his discretion as theatre commander."

"Then remove him as theatre commander," Marik demanded. "Send him and what's left of the Corps you entrusted him with to fight the Taurians. General Hooker's V Corps can contain the Outworlds for now - certainly no further offensive should be launched against them until we have a counter to those Bolo."

"That could take years. And how would I justify demoting him to serve under Kincaid?"

Davion raised his eyebrows. "Justify? I believe that Lord Kurita will support Lord Marik and I in demanding that. What justification is needed beyond the fact that half the Star League Council have no faith in him."

Cameron might have argued further but his wife touched his sleeve. "It may take years to counter the Bolos, my dear. The name has reminded me of something." Now she touched the controls at her seat and a new diagram appeared. The black and white drawing showed a tracked vehicle very different from the Bolo seen on Sevon's battle footage, but judging by the SLDF Mackie[/i] stood next to it, the machine was on a similar scale.

The picture was captioned: 'BOLO Proposal'.

"Are you telling me that you developed that monster!" Viola Steiner-Dinessen demanded hotly.

Shandra Noruff-Cameron shook her head. "No Archon, we did not. The design of such a unit was proposed by the General Machines corporation in the 2550s. At the time we were beginning to scale back the Hegemony Armed Forces in anticipation of the Star League so we weren't going to invest a fortune in creating such a gigantic white elephant."

"But there is a connection, surely. The name cannot be a coincidence."

"It is possible - the name, apparently, harkens back to a fictional war machine of the twentieth century. Doctor Thomas Martinez, the primary mind behind the proposal, was apparently a devotee of such fiction. It's unlikely that he is the only person ever to consider using the name - but in this case I think we can presume a connection."

"Oh?" Ian Cameron tapped his own computer and studied the records. "I see. General Machines terminated Doctor Martinez's contract after the proposal was rejected by the HAF and he later emigrated to the Outworlds Alliance with his family. Well, it gives our intelligence people someone to look for at least."

"You'd better see what General Machines have on the proposal as well," Hehiro Kurita suggested quietly. "Because after Robsart the Taurians will be desperate for anything that can turn the tide now that their fleet has been beaten. The Outworlders have a proven weapon to sell to them... and the Taurians still have the industry to build them in far larger numbers than we have seen. If one alone can so easily defeat our Brigades, what happens when we face them in pairs... or by the dozen?"


Famindas, Alpheratz

Outworlds Alliance

25 December 2582

Keith Martinez visited his father on Christmas morning. While he wasn't a practicing Christian, the holiday had always been a time for the Martinez to gather as a family.

It was a baking summer in Famindas, but that didn't deter the Omniss or the other Outworlders from enjoying the season.

"Hi dad," he greeted. "Brought you a little something."

From a pocket he pulled out a pair of little die-cast metal Bolo. They were each about an inch wide. "Not exactly the sort of toys a good Omniss boy gives as a gift." This one's yours - see, just one turret like Ollie. That's Bolo-01, you saw us begin to build him. It, I mean. Don't want to get into the habit of anthropomorphising him."

He knelt and placed the toy upon the gravestone, rolling it lightly on the plastic wheels build into the underside of the tracks (which were solid).

"And this one is mine." Keith placed it down so that the two flanked the words 'Thomas Martinez' like an honour guard. "They're still repairing Ollie at the factory, which has put back completion of Bolo-05 by months but what can you do?"

"I'm not going to be supervising that though." He placed his finger on top of the second toy. "The Taurians are looking for help and they've offered President Avellar some warships - ships they probably can't spare - if he'll send someone to show them how to make Bolos for themselves."

"So I'll be leaving Alpheratz again, but this time I'm going out of the Alliance entirely. All the way to the Hyades, and I'm taking the designs for the Type-1 and Type-2 Bolo with me." His finger pressed onto the turrets of 'his' Bolo. "So I might not be here next Christmas. I'll think about you though."

Then he turned and walking away, leaving the two mis-matched Bolo to stand vigil over the grave of the man who had revived the dream of them.