by Jack L. Thomas
Commander Barton MacGregor, of the Combine 6th Alaskan GEV anti-Ogre squadron, knew well the words he spoke. He had spoken them many times. But from the inflection of his voice, one would get the impression that they were the most important words ever spoken. "An immobile Ogre is a DEAD ogre. IF, I repeat, IF it is within Howitzer range. Shut it down in Howitzer range and back off. Let them blast the behemoth from a distance. As long as the Howitzers are out of range of its missiles, or main batteries, the Ogre is DEAD."
Many commanders disagreed with MacGregor's strategy – they preferred destroying the weapons first, take away her bite. But MacGregor knew that even a mobile Ogre, weaponless or not, could wreak destruction by ramming everything in its path. No, he knew immobility was an Ogre's biggest weakness. This was the tactic he had used in over 27 missions. 21 of those were victories. This was the tactic he taught to the cadet GEV pilots.
Later that week, MacGregor had the cadets in the simulators practicing the tactic. As he strolled the narrow walkway between the simulator pods he kept a sharp eye on the monitors over each one. They displayed all the information necessary for him to evaluate the performance of each cadet: simulated position, speed, heading, radar, damage, and a view showing what the cadet saw – a cockpit view.
His six cadets were closing in on a single Mark III Ogre on an open plain. Their mission was simple: slow the Ogre's approach with tread attacks. Then, when it crawled within range of the Howitzers, stop it completely and retreat.
Roberts was the first to strike. He moved in close and fired. His shot was off and the treads were undamaged. Instead of moving quickly out of range to regroup for another attack, he moved in closer. He realized his mistake immediately; the Ogre rammed his GEV.
The canopy on Roberts' simulator pod popped open. He looked around confused, squinting in the sudden brightness. He ran one hand through his auburn flattop while using the other to shield his eyes. "What the hell happened?" he asked.
MacGregor almost got the impression that Roberts had just awakened from a bad dream. "You're dead. Get out of the simulator and go to the briefing room."
Simon Roberts climbed out of the GEV simulator and headed down the hall toward the briefing room. He met MacGregor's gaze and held it until he was past. Looking away would have been admitting failure. That was not the way Roberts saw the situation; if they others would have followed his lead, the attack would have worked.
MacGregor gave some thought to the fact that Roberts had struck first – that was the type of information he was seeking in this test. Then he turned his attention back to the simulated radar monitor and noticed the other cadets were still hanging far back from the Ogre. It was already approaching the range of the Howitzers, and still moving at full speed. MacGregor shook his head in disappointment, then fingered his raven moustache in thought for a moment. He took two steps over to the master intercom and pressed the microphone switch. "Attention, cadets. In three minutes, the Ogre will be within missile range of the Howitzers. You've waited too long, dammit! Astor, Hammond, Brier, take out the treads. Hawker, take out the missiles. Move it!"
In a poorly timed and uncoordinated attack, the 4 GEVs all came in on the Mark III simultaneously. Samantha Hammond's shot found its mark on the Ogre's treads. But Scott Astor and Nicholas Brier nearly collided with each other and failed to fire on the cybertank at all. Incredibly, Jeremy Hawker managed a successful shot at one of the missiles, and pulled back out of range quickly. MacGregor was impressed with the maneuver. A split second later, Hammond was gunned down by the Ogre's main battery. The secondary batteries destroyed Astor and disabled Brier. It would take several seconds for his GEV to recover from the proximity of the simulated electromagnetic pulse which blasted through its circuitry.
When their pods opened, MacGregor sent Astor and Hammond to the briefing room as well, then turned back to continue watching Hawker and Brier. Hawker's intercom chirped, "Commander, should I try to take out the other missile, or work on the treads?"
MacGregor failed to answer him. He decided to see how he would react on his own. And again Hawker impressed him with a perfectly timed attack. Unfortunately, the shot glanced off the missile launcher. But still, Hawker pulled back out of range in time. Out of range of everything but the Ogre's last remaining missile.
Hawker saw the computer generated Ogre launch its simulated missile. He knew he was history – but the missile headed off in a different direction. Then he realized why: Brier's GEV had restarted and was moving in. But the missile struck true, and this time Brier was destroyed. His pod's canopy sprung open. Brier was beaming with a goofy smile. "How did I do?" MacGregor silently pointed the way to the briefing room.
Jeremy Hawker knew that he would only have the opportunity for a couple of attacks before the Ogre was in range of the Howitzers, and soon after, the command post. With amazing adeptness, he managed three perfectly executed attacks on the Ogre's treads, slowing it considerably.
With a smile of satisfaction, Barton MacGregor nodded to himself in approval of Hawker's abilities. He then accessed the simulator's control computer and set the Howitzers to attack the Ogre's tread mechanisms only. After several combined attacks from Hawker and the two Howitzers, the Ogre was at a crawl. Moments later, however, the Ogre destroyed one Howitzer with its main battery. But before it could crawl into main battery range of the second Howitzer, Hawker brought the behemoth to a stand still. Then quickly, he moved out of it's range, and waited for the Howitzer to finish the job.
With a few keystrokes, Commander MacGregor accelerated the simulation to its end. Certainly not a decisive victory, he thought, but at least the command post survived, as well as one GEV and one Howitzer.
With the simulation concluded, Hawker's canopy opened. MacGregor watched him climb out. He expected the young man to be full of pride at his accomplishment, and MacGregor planned to bring him back down to reality. But instead, Jeremy Hawker stood there for a moment brushing his sweat-drenched, raven-black hair from his eyes. Then he said, "I apologize, sir. About the Howitzer, I mean. I should have stopped the Mark III sooner. I'm just not sure how I could have. I did the best I could."
"Well, lad, all I ask of anyone is their very best. I think that's what you gave."
"Permission to speak freely, sir?"
"Wasn't this battle slightly lopsided, sir? I mean, five GEVs and two Howitzers against a Mark III?"
"You're absolutely right, son. Tomorrow, you'll be up against TWO Mark III's. That should even things up considerably."