The Final Battle
by Herb Diehr
December 14, 2017
We all are tired beyond thought, running on guts and hatred. We move forward toward our next objective . . . our last objective.
"Colonel, the Factory is 80 kilometers away. What orders?"
My adjutant is hinting at a rest. Blunt the men's motivation? No. We rest after, one way or another. Then, we go home. The enemy will not rest and production continues. The longer the wait, the more enemy are produced. We have few enough men and machines for what exists as it is.
At the academy, so long ago, we were taught to keep troops moving. Less food and less sleep than desired, even needed, gave a soldier an edge for victory, an animal hunger to kill. We all needed that hunger, now. Our final battle for humanity is 80 kilometers away.
"Petr, order the missiles to set up on the near side of the hills at mark 300. I want them ready when we are about to make contact. Ten kilometers apart."
"Yes, Colonel." Petr is a good man, efficient. He knows my mind better than I do. Twenty-five years together is enough for close-knit thoughts. The other soldiers know my mind as well. Eight years in command creates trust.
At 50 kilometers, we move into combat formation. No unit nearer than ten kilometers. Heavy armor deploys forward, infantry riding last. The Ogres are in the second rank. We follow the Ogres mid-right. No orders; it just happens. We are still around because we are the best; the best remaining, anyway.
This is our last mission, live or die. When the larger Ogres became sentient, we should have destroyed them. When the Factories took over the war, we should have rebelled. We mistook the enemy for the ones we'd been fighting. By the time we knew better, there were too many sentient Ogres to destroy. The Factories were cranking out as many Mark V Ogres as they could manage.
Our response was to build short-range strategic nuclear missiles. Dirty, but effective. Some warheads were just left on the ground with an electronic trip-wire. Not complicated, but lethal. Many Ogres burned but not nearly enough.
"30 kilometers, Colonel."
"Send the scouts far left and scattered wide. Continue forward scattered. Be sure the missiles are ready. They only get one try. So do we."
Events happen quickly.
Hidden GEVs pop up and fire once. No damage done . . . They are painting our units for artillery fire control. The enemy GEVs are blown up immediately by our scout GEVs. Fire on our scouts is immediate, shells following each designated scout until detonation. Our scouts fire at the shells, but 20% of the scouts burn. The long-range artillery was beyond our reach. By the time we could reach out to the guns, they are in a new position, prepared in advance.
We have more Ogres, but ours are Mark IIIs to their Mark Vs. Closing on a single Mark V, the scouts and heavy tanks destroy it with two volleys. Half of the remaining scouts are lost to mines. That Ogre was too easy a kill. It was just an unarmed Ogre shell – a trap set to bring us into the minefields.
Artillery opens up on us. More scouts are destroyed along with a few empty infantry carriers. Three of their Mark Vs have their treads eaten by our own artillery and the infantry. A third of the infantry dissolves. Still, their Ogres are useless.
"Make a hole, Petr." I mark the location by the HUD on our visors.
Two mobile artillery fire once into a defilade with, we presume, a minefield waiting there for an unsuspecting mobile headquarters to come and hide. There is, or more correctly, was. Our command unit, a Mk III with no weapons and room for six soldiers, drives right into our temporary home. Two pintle mounts to knock down enemy incoming shells are set and we monitor the situation.
The real battle begins.
All of the Factory's known mobile units are gone and there is only the Factory entrance to take, and then enter. Piece of cake. We are now 15 kilometers from the Factory entrance and closing. "Unit report."
- "Mark III Long Arm – ready. 100%"
- "Mark III Visionary – ready. 100%"
- "Infantry – ready. 45%"
- "Artillery – ready. 100%"
- "Armor – ready. 85%"
- "Scouts – ready. 15%"
- "Command – ready."
The plan is to close immediately, tie up the Factory's emplaced weapons and strike with both strategic missiles. Expensive with both troops and machines, but no price is too high to destroy the last Factory. We have just this one shot to succeed.
Hover tanks move out at maximum speed, as do the hovercraft carrying the infantry. Our two hoarded Mk IIIs grind forward, as does the mobile artillery. The infantry is to drop off at the first sign of Factory fire. That comes soon enough.
All units except the command post move at top speed for the Factory. Small missiles, the type Ogres use, launch at the infantry carriers. A few are shot down, but most hit their targets. Some troops bail out in time; most do not. The remaining infantry still move forward. I cut the signals of the wounded from the net.
"Infantry – 5%"
Another wave of missiles comes for the mobile artillery and the scouts. About half hit their mark. The scouts fare very well but few mobile artillery units remain.
"Artillery – 25%."
"Scouts – 10%."
We finally get in range. Mines go off here and there; a few more units are destroyed. Gunfire brings down several others.
"Armor – 60%."
Unit readiness starts to increase as disabled units come back online. Infantry and scouts are both at 40% of original strength.
Finally, we reach the two-kilometer range for most units. Our fire eats at the wall; 10% damage in the first salvo! We have a chance.
The remaining scouts disintegrate in radioactive fire. A couple of heavy tanks are destroyed as well. We cannot take such losses and live.
Our Ogres launch their missiles at the wall and most of them hit! Their main guns also inflict some damage. A final wave of our force makes a surge forward all the way to the wall. A couple more mines explode right in front of the wall.
"Armor – 50%."
Close-in weapons strike down half of our forces at once, but over a third of the wall is gone. The Ogres fire and then ram the wall. One has no treads remaining after the first ram.
Many of the Factory's larger guns are silent. They must be out of ammo. "Take us out to the wall."
"Sir?" A quick look stops him. "Yes, colonel." We dig out of our pit and move forward at full speed.
Our remaining units wither in the brutal close-range fire. Fortunately, only two longer-range missiles hit our treads. We are a bit slower. "Launch missile one."
The cruise missile leaps into the sky for the wall. Having little in the way of longer-range weapons, the Factory launches its own missile. Hopefully, it is the only one. At range three kilometers from the Factory, it explodes. Our missile detonates with it, at four kilometers out. Great damage is inflicted to our units below and no damage to the wall.
"Unit report." No one responds. "Launch missile two. And Petr, pray for us all, and for an end."
"Yes, my friend. Always."
The last strategic missile launches in a clear blue sky toward towers of smoke and flame. The remaining units are ramming the wall and firing their final shots. They know what's coming.
We arrive in time to make an initial ram against the wall. A loud boom moves throughout the command Ogre. Only three other vehicles remain. All are heavy armor. These remain because they were on the far side of the wall during the strategic missile explosions.
There is no fire upon us; near silence strikes at us as an unfamiliar foe. Our missile reaches five kilometers, four . . . How strong is the wall? Helmet electronics are out. Perhaps the missile will create enough damage to bring the wall down; perhaps the world will die. This is the moment of decision.
"Range three kilometers . . . range two kilometers . . ."
Both of us begin, reverting to instinct ingrained from childhood, "Hail Mary, full of grace, bless..."
And we died.
An unknown time later, Petr and I leave the command Ogre with the other two survivors. A dozen more join us. They are what remain of all of the armored vehicle crews.
Moving among the rubble of the wall, we enter the Factory. We see machines still working. There are several vehicles being built in different areas. The Mark VI was the largest. The treads were just being finished and ammo being loaded. It would awaken soon.
Petr and I move forward to the line and remove a missile from the rack. It is fused, but not assembled. Petr hands the nose section to me while the other soldiers push the missile into an Ogre. Setting the fuse by hand and leaving quickly, we move behind another Ogre being assembled.
The noise of the explosion is beyond comprehension . . . we are all deaf. Two are dead, but I am satisfied the Ogre is lifeless . . . forever.
Examining the remainder of the assembly lines, we see most of the equipment is no longer working. We set charges made of enemy short-range missiles in each assembly line and vehicle and confirm there is enough explosive to destroy them all. Tactical nuclear devices are dangerous to work without shielding, but we did not want to see anything coming out of the Factory but smoke.
A few hours later the job is done. Leaving the Factory, we look over the vehicles outside and find a variety of unexploded ordnance. We also find an infantry carrier still able to move . . . barely. Piling many shells and missiles into the poor carrier, we dump them into the Factory with their cases off and fuses jury-rigged for 20 minutes from when we leave. We hope.
The infantry carrier has its left rear corner dragging in the dirt, but it carries us 21 kilometers before the Factory explodes. First there is a small explosion; a moment later, two more follow together. A few seconds later the wall collapses inside a fiery pit of radiation and destruction.
I doubt the helmet visors can stop the radiation, even with heads turned away and in the dirt. The poor infantry carrier may have blocked some of the wave. It never moves again. We march toward home, wherever that is. None of us can see, but we feel the sun in our faces and walk that way. One soldier, a driver for a heavy tank, dies the first night. More die along the way.
Five of us finally find a little village. It has taken five days. There is no food, but we aren't hungry. Two more die on the walk. We leave them where they lay. It takes a while, but we finally convince a man to take us to a town, any town. He drives us 33 kilometers to a small hamlet, where a doctor looks us over.
The doctor speaks loudly against our skulls to allow for the bone conduction of her voice to be understood. "You should all be dead! Your radiation levels are beyond reason. This man has been exposed to 500 Roentgens of radiation. He will die in a few days. You two are about 450 each. You are all the walking dead."
"We would all like to die with our families. Is that possible to arrange?"
"Considering the situation and your reasons, yes. Transportation shall be ready soon."
We are taken home. Petr and I were born in the same city; we grew up together. We married girls we'd known since nearly birth. Coming home was a new experience. We are the greatest heroes of human history and the only ones to live through the final battle of the war.
Even sick and with no hair, we receive all of the praise and adoration that a world surviving the Last War could offer its saviors. Throughout the celebrations, I wish many, many more were here with us. Maybe the worst part of the war is the funerals.
And still, we are home.