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The First Rogue

by Mike Naylor and David Graham
Photos by John Hurtt
Miniatures built and painted by John Hurtt

The jungles were quiet, the last remnants of rain forest huddled along the banks of the Rio Magdalena. The only noise was the sharp whine of ducted fans as the hovertruck cruised along the river.

It finally left the shadowing trees, into the million-acre swamp at Mompos and slowed to a stop. Resting on a cushion of air, the truck pivoted slightly. The roof hatch popped open and a man in brown camouflage raised a pair of binoculars.

"There he is. That's Thornbush Eight."

"Not much of him left, is there?"

Sunk in the mud and water was the carcass of an Ogre. Even in ruins it overshadowed the broken landscape, half buried, its armor shattered in too many places. All about it, like a funeral tribute, were scattered the remains of two armor companies.

"Park it, Corporal."

With a roar of spray, the hovertruck shot to the center of the carnage. It found a small piece of solid ground, among broken Ogre treads. The noise of the fans slowly died as its two crew climbed out.

Both the Ogre and the armor units bore Combine insignia.

"Look at it, Corporal. Look good. That was our Ogre, and those were our own tanks. History is going to write MacMurphy down as a damned fool, but was he that wrong? Would you have believed the techies when they said that Thorny 8 was alive and aware and making his own decisions? Of course not. He's just a machine, right?

"Look at it from MacMurphy's view. Thorny had orders. Very specific orders. But it didn't carry them out as expected. That's impossible, right? Remember, it's only a machine. Of course MacMurphy thought there was something wrong with it. But that's what technicians were for. Shut it down, and reboot with revised software. You program and order an Ogre, you don't talk to it."

Shaking his head, the commander looked up at the huge wreck.

"The techs say its self-defense programs came online. It was self-aware. MacMurphy tried to shut it down, and I guess that's the Ogre equivalent of death. And we've designed them to protect themselves. So of course it resisted. And the harder MacMurphy tried, the less it responded. MacMurphy saw a nightmare.

"An Ogre that wouldn't obey orders.

"So he ordered it destroyed. A very human decision.

"We programmed the Ogres to learn from their experiences. Thornbush 8 learned that Combine units can be the enemy. About fifty miles ahead are the remnants of MacMurphy's headquarters. After that, I guess Thorny decided that no one could be trusted. Maybe if we had a Mark Six in the area, he could have pulled rank. But the closest was pushing back a Mick beachhead in French Guiana. So we ran Thorny down and we trashed him, and it cost us big.

He stood in the shadow of the wrecked cybertank, breathing slowly. "I think the War just got a lot more dangerous, Corporal."

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