by Stephen V. Cole
Major Kahelski tried, for the twentieth time that day, to scratch himself. He and his battalion had been nine days in the iron so far this trip. Perhaps they would be relieved today? He fervently hoped so. The biofunctions system of his armor had failed the night before and his legs were already caked in filth. They had better be relieved today.
He heard a distant rumble, and the ground beneath him began to shake. Within seconds he was thrown from his feet, scrambling wildly to reach the nuclear-tipped tacmissile at the other end of his foxhole. The minor earthquake came to an abrupt halt. Kahelski leaped to his feet, to see a half-dozen of the nearer men in his battalion also appear from their holes. The Ogre gleamed in the sun, sitting warily just over a mile away. He lowered the missile to his waist. It was one of their own.
"Damned Ogres," he muttered to himself. Then, switching on the communicator with a click of his teeth, he spoke to the men of the 214th Battalion. "It's one of ours. Get back in your holes and get some sleep." He tried once again to reach Brigade, but the circuits were still dead. In all probability, so was the Brigadier. Kahelski wondered just what an Ogre was doing in his zone. Wherever Ogres went, there was trouble for the poor bloody infantry.
Abruptly the ground began to shake again, though not quite as badly as before. Flicking his helmet lenses to a higher magnification, the Major saw a dust cloud to the south. He did not have to see the Ogre to know what it was. Only the multi-thousand-ton monster tanks, moving at 40 klicks or better, could stir up that much dust. From the direction of its approach, he assumed it was another friendly. Then, to his horror, the new Ogre stopped abruptly, maybe three miles off, and turned in his direction.
The Major swore under his breath. Looking to his right, he saw the "friendly" Ogre turning to face the enemy. Before he could alert his men, both of the cybertanks fired their missiles in ripple salvo. Diving to the bottom of his hole, he felt tons of earth landing all around him, as nuclear missiles rained around the nearer machine. As he lay there, he hoped that one of the robots – even the "friendly" one – had been eliminated by the opening salvo. A duel between two Ogres was no place for the infantry.
Kahelski began to pull himself from the collapsed foxhole, trying meanwhile to contact his company commanders. Two were dead, with their sergeants reporting in their stead. The third was alive but badly shaken.
The two Ogres now charged each other straight on, firing all their weapons as they went. The enemy unit was apparently not a good shot, as many of his shells were falling among the 214th. Dimly, through the dust, he could see the two machines stop about a mile apart and fire heavily and directly into each other. The filters on his view lenses clicked into position to screen out most of the flash from the nukes as Kahelski continued to watch, fascinated. Somewhere in the maelstrom of nuclear fire, one Ogre now charged the other again. Kahelski could no longer tell them apart. The second Ogre was now moving as well. They collided, and the power piles of both cracked and blew. It was not a full self-destruct, but it was good enough.
Within a few hours, the crater had cooled enough for an armored man to approach. What was left of the two cybertanks, a twisted mass of BPC, could be seen at the bottom. By that time, Kahelski had reorganized his battalion. Out of some two hundred men, ninety were dead. Most of B company was indeed gone; he would have to make do with the other two. "Damned Ogres," he swore under his breath. Perhaps tomorrow they would be relieved.