by Paul O'Grady
It rolled south across the Salisbury plain along a dual lane freeway, treads overhanging on one side, flattening the vegetation and digging deep ruts. It crushed the asphalt to fragments beneath its colossal weight, but the additional traction substantially increased its speed. Two long barrel 175mm gauss cannons traversed within their limited rotation ball mountings to cover likely ambush positions as the terrain rolled past. Six shorter barrelled 135mm calibre weapons did likewise while six Rattler-1A heavy missiles remained ready for immediate use within the missile pods aft. Emblazoned on the sensor tower was a gleaming Union Jack flag, proudly declaring the allegiance of this new model OGRE, the Mark V.
As it bounded toward the unsuspecting enemy, passive scanners searched the surrounding environment for sign of the enemy. Seismic disturbances and distant flashes to the Southeast indicated combat activity, correlating with the anticipated attack by the 49th Highland Division to pin the enemy units in place. All evidence suggested that strategic surprise had been achieved. With every passing moment the enemy drew nearer.
Ahead lay the PanE invaders. At Dover they had been repulsed with heavy losses. Further east around Brighton they had gained a foothold ashore but had been contained in a series of bloody battles; the once scenic seaside resort area was now a smoking ruin and most likely uninhabitable for many years. Here though, the enemy had not only gotten ashore but had broken out and was now pushing reinforcements into the breach to try and swing back east and threaten greater London. This was now the pivotal battle of the campaign and the 1st Cyber Group had been released from the strategic reserve to support the two beleaguered Allied formations stemming the tide. Kept hidden in electronically shielded bunkers, the OGREs of the 1st Cyber Group included several new Mark Vs, previously unused in battle. Fresh from the Sheffield manufacturing facility, they were about to introduce themselves to the French and German troops in the most brutal way possible.
Transmitting a microsecond burst of encrypted data, the Mk V opened a feed from the 49th Highlanders' command system. Immediately, icons and swiftly moving symbols flooded the tacmap showing the ebb and flow of the battle. The UK 49th Highlanders, with the Combine 13th Mechanised Brigade in support, had taken heavy losses; the fight between the infantry heavy Combine-UK forces and the predominantly GEV equipped troops of the PanEuro 1st Combined Arms Corps had not been an even one on the mostly open plain. Unfortunately, Combine Command had had no other options but to commit any available force and they had suffered dearly. Casualties or no, they had done their job well and now continued to hold the enemy's attention and as the PanEuros advanced East, their Northerly flank lay exposed. This was the flank upon which the Mk V and III OGREs of the 1st Cyber Group now advanced.
One final preparatory measure was still awaiting execution. The appointed time was reached at the exact moment that the Mk V rumbled over its checkpoint. Its passive sensors detected the cruise missiles skimming the earth from the Combine rear areas and into the concentrated PanEuro forces forming up for another attack. Many were plucked from the air by fire as they overflew the PanEuros but without the protection of jamscreens and laser defences, the enemy were vulnerable. The decision to deliberately detonate high yield nuclear warheads on UK soil had not been made lightly. As scores of units vanished into plasma, command links were severed and confusion reigned through the PanEuro ranks. Then the OGREs smashed into them, hard.
Going active on all sensors, the Mark V quickly detected multiple targets correlating with the passive tactical feed. Altering its approach path slightly, the Mark V engaged at maximum range, the 175mm Main guns raining saturation nuclear clusters into the Light GEVs forming the weak flank protection for the French 1st Chassuers Division. Before they knew what had hit them, the hovercraft lay smashed, adding to the radioactive debris on the battlefield. As the Mk V bit deeper into the formation, it began to engage heavier units, and a half dozen Ajax Missile and Jaeger Heavy Tanks marshalling for another assault on the 49th were destroyed within minutes. Some of them were able to bring fire to bear onto the MkV before they died rendering two secondary weapons inoperable. All along the line, other OGREs of the first Cybergroup were doing the same thing. As realisation dawned upon PanEuro Command, their forces began to respond.
"WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT THING?" screamed Lieutenant DuFraine, commanding the Recon platoon of the 342nd Fast Attack Craft Battalion, as he caught his first visual of the behemoth. It looked like one of the Combine nightmares, only bigger and he had not thought that possible. Ordering the remaining 2 units of his troop to retire, he brought his LGEV into a tight turn, engines screaming in protest as he maxed them beyond design specs. Opening to a safer distance, he opened a channel to Brigade HQ. There, the Staff officers looked in disbelief as they started to digest his visual feed. After realising that they weren't going to provide him with any immediate answers, DuFraine fell back on his recon training to describe what he was seeing. Zooming in to maximum magnification, he expertly rattled off the details.
"Much larger than a standard MkIII. Two main turrets facing forward, 4 secondaries around the sensor tower on the forward hull, although there is some debris to suggest there may have been a few more. Missile pods on the after hull, it seems like six although two missiles have been fired. Make that 3 left" he said as another heavy missile lofted upward on a pillar of flame and began its evasive approach to a target DuFraine could not see. Moments later there was a blinding flash followed by a growing fireball on the horizon.
"Target alerting course, now manoeuvring SSW at about 80kph. Some tread damage, but not much" he continued to report as he nudged the control of his hovercraft to ensure that he kept well away from it.
The staff officer was replaced with the worried visage of Colonel Permal, Commanding the 27th Chasseur Demi-Brigade to which DuFraine's unit belonged. "Roger Echo-1, continue to shadow and report. It seems like the Combine bastards have come up with something new. A mass attack is crushing the Division from the North. We are trying to change the attack axis, but we are fully engaged with the Scotsmen" Permal said. "I'm punching your data up to the General now." The vidscreen went blank as the Colonel cut off the connection.
Relieved that they weren't going to throw his light units into a meaningless and suicidal attack just yet, DuFraine ordered his troop to spread out further as they paced the leviathan. He called up the tacmap to see the overall situation and was shocked to see at least 16 Combine OGREs smashing through his division. The flank protection force was wiped out and they were deep into the rear areas and wrecking havoc. The Highlanders were trying to co-ordinate a counterattack at the same time, but they no longer had sufficient strength to capitalise on the situation and the attack quickly stalled.
DuFraine's three LGEVs continued to pace the Mark V awaiting reinforcement
The Mk V had sustained further more damage. One main battery was out of action in addition to the four secondaries and only two missiles remained unfired. Operational speed was down to 66% and two anti-personnel mounts were also inoperable after it had overrun a company of battlesuited infantry. PanE resistance was becoming more organised now, although it appeared that the first enemy formation, identified as the French 1st Light Chassuers Division from communications intercepts, had been crushed and was no longer combat capable. At least two command posts had been destroyed and numerous hovercraft had run back desperately to try and defend them. It was they who had inflicted the damage on the Mk V, but without the support of the heavy and missile tanks, which had been deployed forward to engage the 49th Division, it hadn't been an insurmountable threat. The lack of artillery support had cost the Pan Euros dearly and their gamble to conduct highly mobile operations had prevented the establishment of howitzer positions.
The PanEuros were well aware of the threat now and were reacting in strength. The tacmap showed two disabled Mk IIIs and one heavily damaged Mk V withdrawing to the North. The Mk Vs had orders to continue action only while cumulative damage remained within specified parameters. When the combat capability of a unit was reduced to the minimum allowed level, it was to withdraw and return to the staging area. This would, the mission planners hoped, prevent any of the new cybertanks falling into PanEuro hands for analysis.
The Mark V was nearing its ordained damage level, but continued to close the CP which had revealed itself with several long transmissions. It altered course toward it, swiping away another platoon of infantry barring its way in exchange for another few wheel bogeys destroyed.
DuFraine snapped his visored face toward the vidscreen as Colonel Bertrand once more appeared.
"Echo-1, I have been unable to contact DivHQ and Theatre uplinks are being jammed on all frequencies. You are herby instructed to make best speed to 2nd Corps HQ to directly download your data on the new OGRE - The colonels face snapped sideways to addess an unseen staff officer
"Well what DO we have left? Send the infantry forward and prepare to evacuate!" He turned back to DuFraine. "Standby to copy the Brigade's War Diary and the latest tactical download. Deliver them to Corps HQ also." The colonel turned away to scream more orders and the vidscreen went blank.
As DuFraine watched, two heavy tanks charged the OGRE as it neared the CP. One was disintegrated by the OGRE's main weapon but the other survived long enough to duck into range and transform that fearsome cannon into twisted wreckage before it too was destroyed by a massed volley of secondary weapons. The turret flew high into the air as massive internal explosions tore the hull to fragments. Infantry from the HQ security company threw themselves against the gargantuan, taking fearsome losses as the AP mounts swivelled and engaged. More of the OGRE's treads were blasted to fragments but it was too little, too late.
Now in range, a heavy missile streaked from its pod and raced toward the CP. Radiating a wall of electronic noise and making random evasive turns, the missile tore toward the hastily constructed structure. A previously undetected point defence battery mounted next to the CP began to spit a stream of near continuous fire at the missile and managed to pluck it from the sky in the final stags of its terminal manoeuvre. The missile ditched short but exploded with full force, bodily throwing the CP sideways as its anchoring cables were shorn and the PD mount vanished. Before the dust had settled, the last of the Mk V's missiles was launched and flew directly into the disabled CP. This time there was no doubt of the result and the glowing crater was topped by a mushroom cloud lazily climbing into the air.
Having now sustained heavy damage and fired all its missiles, the Mk V turned and slowly rumbled north. The tacmap showed that the 1st Chassuers had been all but wiped out and significant losses had been inflicted on the other two Divisions, particularly the German 4th Light Infantry Division. The OGREs had crushed the advance of the 1st Combined Arms Corps. Eight Mk IIIs had been destroyed or rendered combat ineffective and all but two Mk Vs were damaged and withdrawing, but none had been destroyed. The remaining OGREs and the 49th Division were sufficient to contain the remaining PanEuros: Mission Achieved.
"Merde". 5 kilometres away, 3 LGEVs peeled away and speed southwest having helplessly watched the destruction of their command post. Masses of data had been recorded and it had to be delivered for analysis. DuFraine shook his head in amazement; the PanEuro engineers were not going to believe this- he hardly could himself.