by David Weber, 2005
SAGA OF THE BOLOS
Controlled by their tireless electronic brains which were programmed to admit no possibility ofdefeat, the gigantic robot tanks known as Bolos were almost indestructible, and nearlyunstoppable. Their artificial intelligences were designed to make them selflessly serve andprotect humans throughout the galaxy and made each Bolo the epitome of the knight sans peur etsans reproche, and often far more noble than the humans who gave them their orders.
Now, David Weber, New York Times best-selling author of the Honor Harrington series, continuesthe history of the Bolo, in four short novels, one of them published here for the first time.
One Bolo is driven over the edge by the very humans it is pledged to protect. Another Bolo mustdecide whether or not to disobey when it is given an order that constitutes genocide. A thirdmust hunt one of its own kind whose robot brain is damaged and rescue two children which thederanged Bolo thinks it is protecting from a nonexistent enemy.
And more, including as a bonus, David Weber’s own authoritative technical history of the Bolo,all in a volume that will be irresistible both for David Weber’s huge readership and Bolo fanseverywhere.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Weber is best known for his New York Times bestselling Honor Harrington series, arguablythe most popular series in science fiction, which has led to reviewers comparing him to C.S.Forester , celebrated creator of Captain Horatio Hornblower. Weber’s work ranges from epicfantasy ( Oath of Swords, The War God’s Own ) to breathtaking space opera ( Path of the
Ashes ) to military science fiction with in-depthFury, The Apocalypse Troll, Empire from the
characterization (the Honor Harrington novels). With John Ringo, he inaugurated the PrinceRoger series of space adventures with March Upcountry and has continued it with March to the
and March to the Stars . Weber and his wife Sharon live in South Carolina with theirSea
ABOUT THE CREATOR
Keith Laumer, creator of the Bolo series, was renowned both for his fast-paced stories ofscience fiction adventure, and for his comical stories of Retief, the only two-fisted diplomatin the galaxy. His novels and story collections have gone through printing after printing fornearly four decades. Laumer was a Captain in the US Air Force and later an officer in theDiplomatic Corps, serving all over the world, giving him a solid background both for his fast-moving action stories, including his Bolo series, and his satirical Retief adventures, whichdeftly skewer the bureaucratic mentality, whether human or alien. Among his other books, allfrom Baen, are The Compleat Bolo , The Lighter Side, Retief, Future Imperfect , and A
Demons. Plague of
Illustration by David Mattingly
Cover design by Carol Russo Design
THE BOLO SERIES
The Compleat Bolo by Keith Laumer
Created by Keith Laumer:
The Honor of the Regiment
The Triumphant by David Weber & Linda Evans
Bolo Brigade by William H. Keith, Jr.
Bolo Rising by William H. Keith, Jr.
Bolo Strike by William H. Keith, Jr.
The Road to Damascus by John Ringo & Linda Evans, (Bolo Series, 2005). Bolos! by David
Weber, (Bolo Series, 2005).
Old Soldiers by David Weber, (Bolo Series, 2005).
Miles to Go
I rouse from Low-Level Autonomous Stand-By to Normal Readiness for my regularly scheduled
diagnosticupdate. Awareness spreads through me, and I devote 0.0347 seconds to standard
Bogie in mychecks. All systems report nominal, but I detect an anomaly in Number Twenty-One
parikha, one ofaft outboard port tread and activate a depot sensor to scan my suspension. A
the creatures the colonists of Santa Cruz erroneously call "birds," has built its
nest in the
environmentalupper angle of the bogie wheel torsion arm. This indicates that the depot's
examination ofintegrity has been breached, and I command the central computer to execute an
all access points.
The depot computer net lacks my own awareness, but it is an efficient system within its
limitations and locates the environmental breach in 3.0062 seconds. Maintenance and Repair's
Number Seventy-Three Ventilator's cover has been forced open by an intruding cable-vine, thus
permitting the parikha to gain access. I command the depot computer to dispatch auto mechs to
repair the hatch cover. A further 0.000004 seconds of analysis suggests to me that the
of such an occurrence should have been allowed for in the depot computer'spossibility
programming, and I devote 0.0035 seconds to the creation of fresh execution files tooriginal
continuous monitoring of all depot access points and to enable automatic repairestablish
event of future failures in integrity. responses in the
These actions have consumed 3.044404 seconds since resumption of Normal Alert Readiness,
and I return to my initial examination of the parikha nest. Its presence constitutes no
to combat efficiency, yet the sensor detects live young in the nest. I devote animpediment
seconds to consideration of alternatives, then command the depot computer's remotes to remove
the nest and transfer it to an exterior position of safety near the repaired ventilator
receipt the depot computer's acknowledgment of my instructions and turn to a secondcover. I
Situation Update. phase
My internal chrono confirms that 49 years, 8 months, 3 days, 21 hours, 17 minutes, and 14.6
seconds, Standard Reckoning, have now elapsed since my Commander ordered me to assume Low-
Level Autonomous Stand-By to await her replacement. This is an unacceptable period for aunit of the Line to remain in active duty status without human supervision, and I check the
com files once more. No updated SitRep or other message to explain the delay has beendepot
during my time at Stand-By, and I allocate another 4.062 seconds to considerationreceipted
explanations. Despite this extensive analysis, I remain unable to extrapolate theof possible
delay with certainty, yet I compute a probability of 87.632 percent that myreason for the
correct in her observation that Sector HQ considers my planet of assignmentCommander was
nowhere in particular." "the backside of
Whatever its reasons, Sector HQ clearly has attached no urgency to detailing a new
Commander. This conclusion is disturbing, and I allocate an additional 2.007 seconds to
deliberation of potential responses on my part. My Autonomous Decision Protocols grant me the
discretion to break com silence and dispatch an interrogative signal to Sector Central in
conditions of Priority Four or greater urgency, yet my analysis of satellite data and
com traffic to and from Santa Cruz reveals no indication of current or near-futurecommercial
assigned station. Absent such threats, I must grudgingly concede that there is,threats to my
overriding urgency in the arrival of my new Commander. in fact, no
I make a note in my active memory files to reconsider this decision yet again during my next
scheduled Normal Alert period and revert to Autonomous Stand-By.
Lorenco Esteban stepped out of his office into the humid oven of a Santa Cruz summer afternoonand scratched his head as a tiny spacecraft slid down towards Santa Cruz's weed-grown landingapron. The immense plain of ceramacrete stretched away in all directions, vast enough to handleeven the largest Navy cargo shuttle, but it was occupied only by a single dilapidated trampfreighter in the livery of the Sternenwelt Line. The tramp was already cleared for departurewith a full cargo of wine-melons, and given her purser's persistent—and irritating—efforts tonegotiate some sort of real estate deal, Esteban was heartily ready for her to clear the field.
Not that she was placing any strain on Santa Cruz's basing facilities.
No one was quite certain why Santa Cruz had been given such a large field in the first place.It dated from the First Quern War, and conventional wisdom held that the Navy had planned touse Santa Cruz as a staging area against the Quern. That was only a guess, of course, though itmade sense, given the Santa Cruz System's spatial location.
had so intended, its plans had fallen through, yet the incongruously enormousIf the Navy
field remained, though only a fraction of it was used with any sort of regularity. CiudadBolivar, Santa Cruz's capital and only real city, lay fifteen kilometers to the northwest, justoutside the old Navy Reservation. The area to the immediate northeast was a vast expanse ofmelon fields—most of which belonged to Esteban himself—and few people visited the field undernormal circumstances. Despite the Sternenwelt officer's efforts to buy up crop land, there waslittle about the sleepy farming planet to attract even casual commerce. Wine-melons brought adecent price, but only a decent one, and no official presence had ever shown even a passinginterest in Esteban's homeworld. Until today, at least, he thought, and scratched his headharder as he recognized the Concordiat Navy insignia on the incoming shuttle's nose. It lookedlike one of the new Skyhawk three-man shuttles, though he couldn't be certain. He'd neveractually seen one, only read about them in the periodic updates the Navy still sent to theattention of "CO FLT BASE SANCRUZ." In his own mind, Esteban was positive the computers on theother end of those updates had no idea who the current "Commanding Officer, Fleet Base SantaCruz" was. He hoped they didn't, anyway. The probability that Concordiat officialdom had simplyforgotten Santa Cruz's existence was much less disturbing than the possibility that the Navyconsidered a farmer with no military background and who'd never been off-planet in his entireseventy years a suitable CO for anything, much less a "fleet base."
Now he watched the Skyhawk (if that was what it was) deploy its landing legs and settlegracefully onto them. From what he'd read of the Skyhawks, they were hyper-capable for shorthops—no more than forty or fifty light-years—and that made a certain degree of sense. Theshuttle could have made the run from Ursula, the sector capital, under its own power withoutdiverting a regular vessel from some useful duty. Of course, that left the question of just whythe Navy would go to the bother of sending anyone to Santa Cruz in the first place.
The hatch popped, and Esteban ambled over as a trim, wiry man in an immaculate uniform swungdown the hull handholds. Esteban couldn't place the uniform, though something about it tuggedat the back of his memory, and he paused with his hands in his pockets as the newcomer jumpedthe last meter and a half to the ceramacrete and stood looking about him.
The uniformed man turned at the greeting. He said nothing, but Esteban took his hands from hispockets when those cold, grey eyes met his. It wasn't anything the stranger did. There was justsomething about those eyes, as if they'd seen too much, done too much, that sent a faint andformless chill down Esteban's spine. The stranger's gaze held his for a moment, and then themouth below those eyes smiled pleasantly.
"Good morning," its owner replied. "Could you tell me where I might find the field officer ofthe day?"
"Shoot, son, you're lookin' at him." Esteban grinned wryly. "Officer of the day, maintenancechief, approach officer, and customs inspector in one. That's me." He held out his hand."Lorenco Esteban, at your service."
"Merrit," the stranger said in a peculiar voice, then shook himself and took the profferedhand.
"Captain Paul Merrit, Dinochrome Brigade. Ah, let me be sure I understand this. You're the entire base ops staff?" Esteban nodded. "The whole thing?" Merrit pressed. Esteban noddedagain and opened his mouth, but the sudden, raucous whine of the Sternenwelt tramp freighter'scounter-grav units drowned his voice. Both men turned to watch the battered ship climbheavenward, and Esteban saw Captain Merrit wince as the vibrations from the poorly tuned drive
assaulted his inner ear. Esteban himself was accustomed to the sort of casually maintainedvessels which (infrequently) visited Santa Cruz, and he only shook his head until the tramprose beyond earshot, then turned back to his visitor.
"Yep, I'm all they is, Captain. You seem sorta surprised," he observed.
"Surprised?" Merrit's smile was small and tight this time. "You might say that. According to mybrief, a Commander Albright is supposed to be in charge here."
"Albright?" It was Esteban's turn to be surprised. "Heck, Captain, Old Man Albright died, um,let me see. That'd be . . . that's right, thirty-two T-years ago, come June. You mean t'saySector thinks he's still alive?"
"They certainly do."
"Well ain't that just like a buncha bureaucrats." Esteban shook his head in disgustedresignation. "I commed Ursula Central personally when he died so sudden like. He asked met'kinda look after things till his relief got here, on account of my place's just over the hillyonder and I used t' help him keep the beacon on-line and like that, but I never expected to
this long." 'look after' 'em
"You informed Central?" Merrit seemed to find that even more surprising than the news thatAlbright was dead. "How?"
"Sure I did. 'Course, I had to use civilian channels. Old Albright didn't last long enought'give me command access to his official files—it was a heart attack, an' iffen I hadn't beenhere when it happened, he wouldn't even'a had time to ask me t'look after the field—so Icouldn't use his Fleet com. But I musta sent nigh a dozen commercial band messages the firstcouple'a years." He tugged on an earlobe and frowned. "Now I think on it though, I'll be dangedif anyone ever said a word back t'me 'bout anything . They just keep on sendin' stuff t'the
'base CO,' never even by name. You don't think those fool chip-shufflers back on Ursula—?"
"That's exactly what I think," Merrit sighed. "Somebody, somewhere may have receipted yourmessages, but they never got filed officially. Central thinks Albright's still in commandhere."
"But the old man'd be over a hunnert an' twenty by now!" Esteban objected. "That's a mite oldfor an active duty assignment, ain't it?"
"Yes, it is," Merrit said grimly, then sighed again, straightened his shoulders, and managed awry little smile. "Mister Esteban, I'm afraid your planet hasn't had much priority back atCentral. For some reason we still haven't figured out, Santa Cruz was set up with a dedicatedhigh security com link when the Navy put in its installations here. That link doesn't existanymore, but no one told the communications computers it didn't."
"Meaning the automated com sections haven't accepted any update from you because it didn't havethe proper security codes. In fact, they've been systematically deleting any messages that
pertained to the Santa Cruz Detachment from memory because they didn't carry valid securityheaders. That seems to be what's been happening, anyway, though no one noticed it was untilvery recently. Put simply, Mister Esteban, Central isn't exactly current on the situationhere."
"If you say so, I'll believe you, son," Esteban said, "but durned iffen I can see how evenCentral could expect someone Old Man Albright's age t'handle a job like this. I mean, shoot, itain't like there's a lot of business—" he gestured at the vast field, occupied now in solitarysplendor only by the Skyhawk
"—but poor old Albright was pretty nigh past it while I was still in high school, iffen youknow what I mean."
"I know exactly what you mean. Unfortunately, the original records on Santa Cruz went up whenthe Quern hit the Sector Bolo Maintenance Central Depot on Ursula during the First Quern War.That's when Central lost the Santa Cruz Detachment's dedicated com-link, as well. They've taken
steps to reactivate the link now, but anything you've gotten from the Navy must have come inover the all-units general information net."
"So you're sayin'—?"
"That no one at Central knew how long Commander Albright had been out here . . . among otherthings."
"You know, Captain," Esteban said slowly, "the way you said 'among other things' kinda makes mewonder when the second shoe's gonna drop."
"Really?" This time Merrit's smile held an edge of true humor, albeit a bit bitter. "Well, Ihope it won't make too many waves when it falls, Mister Esteban." He raised his wrist com tohis mouth.
"Yes, Captain?" a female—and very young—voice replied.
"You have now accomplished your solemn responsibility to deliver me to my new duty station,Lieutenant. If you'll be good enough to unload my personal gear, you can get back tocivilization."
"Are you sure about that, sir?" the voice asked.
"Yes, unfortunately. I would, however, appreciate your informing Central that their records areeven more, ah, dated than I warned them they were. Tell Brigadier Wincizki I'll update him assoon as I can."
"If you say so, sir," Lieutenant Timmons agreed. "Popping Bay One." A hatch slid open asTimmons spoke, and a cargo arm lowered two bulky gravity skids to the ceramacrete. Merritpressed a button on his wrist com, and both skids rose three centimeters from the paving andhummed quietly off towards the faded admin building. The captain watched them go, then noddedto Esteban, and the two men walked off after them while the hatch slid shut once more.
"Clear of drive zone, Lieutenant," Merrit said into the com. "Have a nice trip."
"Thank you, sir, and, um, good luck." Timmons sounded a bit dubious, but the shuttle rose on ahigh, smooth whine of counter-grav. It arrowed up into the cloudless sky with far moregentility than the freighter, then vanished, and Esteban looked at Merrit.
"Pardon me iffen I seem nosy, Captain, but did you say Santa Cruz's your duty station?"
"But iffen you expected Albright t'still be in command, they must not'a sent you out t'takeover field ops—not that I'd mind, you understand—and danged if I c'n think what else youmight be needed for."
"That, Mister Esteban, is a question I've asked myself quite a few times over the last year orso," Merrit agreed with yet another of those oddly grim smiles. "While Central may not have
has finally noticed another littlenoticed Commander Albright's demise, however, it
oversight. I'm here to inspect the Bolo and assume command if it's still operational."
"The Bolo? " Esteban stopped dead, staring at Merrit in disbelief, and the captain raised hiseyebrows in polite question. The older man gaped at him for almost a full minute, then shookhimself. " What Bolo?" he asked in a more normal voice, and it was Merrit's turn to frown insurprise.
"Bolo Two-Three-Baker-Zero-Zero-Seven-Five NKE," he said mildly.
"Y'mean t'say there's a Bolo on Santa Cruz?" Esteban demanded.
"According to Central there is, although—" Merrit surveyed the age-worn field with a sardoniceye
"—Central does seem to be a little confused on several points, now doesn't it?"
"But what in tarnation is a Bolo doin' here ?"
"We're not entirely certain," Merrit admitted, "but the records we do have seem to indicatethat it was deployed to Santa Cruz early in the First Quern War."
"That must'a been dang near eighty years ago!" Esteban protested.
"Seventy-nine years and ten months, as a matter of fact," Merrit agreed. Esteban just stared athim, and the captain shrugged. "I told you Central's records went up in the Quern raid, MisterEsteban, but HQ's best guess is that it was deployed here to deter the Quern from raiding SantaCruz. I realize it was a bit before both our times, but the initial Quern attacks took the Navycompletely by surprise. We lost control of two-thirds of the sector before we could get enoughcapital ships in here to take it back, and the sector governor of the time may have been afraidthe Quern would hit Santa Cruz before the Navy could restore the situation."
us ?" Esteban waved both arms at"Hit Santa Cruz? Why in tarnation would anyone want t'raid
the decaying landing field. "Ain't never been anything here worth stealing, Captain. Thishere's the backside of nowhere."
"Not really." Esteban blinked as Merrit disagreed with him. "Oh, you've always been a farmingworld, and I'm not saying there was ever anything here worth raiding for, but your system's ina fairly strategic spot. The Navy's pre-war strategic planning had included the possibility ofusing Santa Cruz to stage operations against the Quern, you know. Until Hillman and Sixth Fleetsmashed their spearhead at Quellok and obviated the need to, that is."
"Maybe," Esteban said dubiously, then chuckled. " 'Course, even if that was true then, thereain't no cause for anyone t'be interested in us now , now is there? I mean, there ain't no
more Quern t'operate against!"
"That's true, I suppose. On the other hand, now that they've charted the jump points to open upthe Esterhazy Sector, you may see a lot more shipping moving through here." The two men hadreached the welcome shade of the admin building, and Merrit paused to sweep his eyes back overthe field. "Santa Cruz is well placed as a natural transfer point for cargoes and passengersmoving through to Esterhazy—or, for that matter, down from the Camperdown Sector—and you'vecertainly got a nice big field."
"Wouldn't happen t'be that's why Central finally got around t'taking a look our way, would it?"Esteban asked shrewdly.
"It could be, Mister Esteban. It could indeed be. In the meantime, however, I have my ownresponsibilities to look after. Is there anywhere around here I could rent or borrow avehicle?"
"Shoot, son, I can do better'n that," Esteban said with a huge grin. "Seeing as how I'm thebase CO
and all, I reckon I can let you use the vehicle park. I got a nice little recon skimmer I canlet you have."
"You do?" Merrit sounded surprised, and Esteban's grin grew still broader.
" 'Course I do. I might not'a known anything 'bout your Bolo, Captain, but when the Navy pulledout, they left most'a their base vehicles behind in the depot over there. We've even got mostof a battalion of old Wolverine heavy tanks tucked away in there."
"They're still operable?"
"Accordin' t'the depot diagnostics they are. The Militia—what there is of it—trains with 'emevery four, five months. Don't see any harm in it. After all, they're as outa date as the wholefield is, and iffen the Navy was interested in 'em, it shoulda taken 'em with it when it pulledeverything else out. Still, I promised old Albright I'd look after 'em for him. Old fellow wasalways pretty decent—taught me a lot about 'tronics and system maintenance when I was a snot-nosed kid—so I figured it was the least I could do for him."
"Well, in that case, I'll take you up on that skimmer, Mister Esteban," Merrit said.
"Lorenco, Captain," Esteban said, holding out his hand once more. "We don't stand much onformality out here, and iffen you're gonna become a Cruzan, y'might as well get comfortable."
Merrit double-checked the skimmer's IFF transponder as the surface portion of the depot bunkercame into sight. The depot was buried in otherwise virgin jungle over a hundred kilometers fromthe field, and he wondered why it hadn't been installed right at the fleet base, given that theinitial idea had been to deter attacks and that any attacker would make the field and CiudadBolivar his first objectives. Of course, there was no reason for the depot's location to makeany more sense than any of the rest of the Santa Cruz Detachment's puzzles.
He studied the skimmer's radar map of the terrain below him. From the looks of things, thedepot's inconvenient distance from the field might have been a security measure of some sort.It was the sole sign of human handiwork for a hundred klicks in any direction, and thesurrounding jungle's steel-cable creepers had overgrown the site almost completely. Not evenSanta Cruz flora could break up the six solid meters of ceramacrete that formed the depot'slanding and service apron, yet enormous trees, some well over eighty meters tall, overhung it,and creepers and vines festooned the entire command bunker. The solar power panels wereclear—kept that way by the depot's automatic servo-mechs, he supposed—but the rest of thesite was covered in a dense cocoon like Sleeping Beauty's thorny fortress. His mouth twitchedat the thought of Sleeping Beauty. No one (except, perhaps, a member of the Dinochrome Brigade)would call any Bolo a beauty, but his instruments had already confirmed that Bolo XXIII/B-0075-NKE was still active in there, and he hoped the same remotes which had kept the power panelson-line had kept the old war machine from slipping into senility. The emissions he was pickingup suggested the Bolo was on Stand-By . . . which was why he'd made damned certain his IFF wasfunctioning.
His small smile turned into a frown as he set the skimmer down and surveyed the greenerybetween him and the bunker's personnel entrance. According to the fragmentary records UrsulaCentral had been able to reconstruct, the Bolo's first (and only) commander had been a MajorMarina Stavrakas. He hadn't been able to find much on her—only that she'd been an R&Dspecialist, born in the city of Athens on Old Earth itself, and that she'd been forty-six yearsold when she was assigned here. R&D types seldom drew field command slots, which suggestedshe'd been grabbed in a hurry for the Bolo's emergency deployment, but experienced fieldofficer or no, she must have been insane to leave a Bolo permanently on Stand-By. Either that,or, like Commander Albright, she'd died unexpectedly and been unable to change the settings.Either way, a Bolo as old as this was nothing to have sitting around in that mode.
Before the improved autonomous discretionary command circuitry that had come on-line with theMark XXIV, Bolos had a hard time differentiating between "unauthorized" and "hostile" whensomeone entered their command areas. They'd been self-aware ever since the old Mark XX, buttheir psychotronics had been hedged around with so many safeguards that they were effectivelylimited to battlefield analysis and response. From the beginning, some critics had argued thatthe inhibitory software and hardwired security features had reduced the Bolos' potentialeffectiveness by a significant margin, yet the logic behind the original safety measures hadbeen persuasive.
The crudity of the initial psychodynamic technology had meant the early self-aware Bolospossessed fairly "bloodthirsty" personalities, and the human technophobia an ancient pre-spacewriter had dubbed
"the Frankenstein Complex" had shaped their programming. Nothing in the known galaxy hadthought faster or fought smarter than a Bolo in Battle Reflex Mode; outside direct combat,they'd been granted the initiative of a rock and a literal-mindedness which, coupled withmultiple layers of override programming, had made them totally dependent upon humans fordirection. When something with the size and firepower of a Bolo was capable of any self-
direction, its creators had wanted to make damned sure there were plenty of cutouts in theprocess to keep it from running amok . . . or to stop it—dead—if it did.
The inhibitory software had done just that, but at a price. Full integration of a Bolo'spersonality had been possible only in Battle Mode. The division of its cybernetic andpsychotronic functions into separate subsystems had been a deliberate part of design securityintended to place the Bolo's full capabilities beyond its own reach except in combat.Effectively, that reduced its "IQ" to a fraction of its total potential even at Normal AlertReadiness, for the huge machines simply were never fully "awake" outside combat. But becausethe Bolos' autonomous functions operated solely in Battle Mode, they had, perversely, been morelikely, not less, to go rogue if system senility set in. The only thing they'd known how to doon their own was to fight, after all, and if any failing system or corrupted inhibitory commandfile toggled their autonomy—
Merrit suppressed a familiar shiver at the thought of what a Bolo that thought its friends wereits enemies could do. It hadn't happened often, thank God, but once was too many times. Thatwas the main reason the Dinochrome Brigade had spent decades hunting down abandoned andobsolescent Bolos from Mark XX to Mark XXIII and burning out their command centers. Hideouslyunpopular as that duty had always been with the personnel assigned to it, they'd had no choice."Sleeping" Bolos were too dangerous to leave lying around, and the cost efficiency people hadconcluded (with reason, no doubt, if not precisely with compassion) that it would have been tooexpensive to refit the older Bolos'
psychotronics to modern standards.
All of which meant it was probably a very good thing no one on Santa Cruz had remembered this
had remembered and come hunting for salvage, or even just for aBolo was here. If anyone
curious peek at the old site, Stavrakas' Stand-By order would almost certainly have unleashedthe Bolo on the
"hostiles," with catastrophic consequences.
He sighed and popped the skimmer hatch, then climbed out into the sound of Santa Cruz's junglewildlife with a grimace. In a way, he almost wished he were here to burn the Bolo's command
center. It always felt like an act of murder, but the fact that no one had even noticed thatStavrakas and Albright had died seemed a grim portent that this assignment was just as much theend of the road for him as he'd feared. Still, he supposed he should feel lucky to have eventhis much, he told himself, and sighed again as he reached for the bush knife Esteban hadthoughtfully provided.
I rouse once more, and additional circuits come on-line as I realize this is not a regularly
scheduled Alert cycle. The depot's passive sensors report the approach of a single small
and I zero in upon its emissions signature. The forward recon skimmer carries a Navyvehicle,
transponder, but it has not transmitted the proper authorization codes before entering my
perimeter. I compare its transponder code to those stored in the depot's files, andsecurity
comes back in 0.00032 seconds. It is Commander Jeremiah Albright's personalidentification
0.012 seconds of analysis suggest that it cannot be Commander Albright.vehicle code, yet
Commander Albright would be one hundred twenty-four years, nine months,Were he still alive,
Standard Reckoning, and certainly no longer on active duty. Accordingly,and ten days of age,
must be an unknown. It is conceivable that whoever he or she is hasthe pilot of the skimmer
unauthorized means—a possibility further suggested by the absence ofacquired the skimmer by
which case approach to this site would constitute a hostileany authorization code—in
My Battle Center springs to life as I recognize that possibility, but I initiateintrusion.
response. My autonomous logic circuits accept the possibility of hostileno further combat
suggest that the skimmer does not possess the weapons capability toaction, yet they also
or the depot. Use of deadly force is therefore contraindicated,endanger a unit of the Line
optics. and I activate the depot's external
It is, indeed, a recon skimmer, though it no longer bears proper Navy markings. It has been
repainted in civilian colors, obscuring any insignia or hull numbers, yet it retains its
defensive systems, and I detect an active sensor suite. Moreover, the uniformoffensive and
of the pilot, while
not quite correct, appears to be a variant of that of the Dinochrome
wrong color, yet the Brigade shoulder flash is correct, and itBrigade. The piping is the
the Line. bears the collar pips of a captain of
I study the face of the man who wears it. He is not listed in my files of Brigade personnel,
those files are seventy-nine years, ten months, eleven days, and twenty-two hours,but
Reckoning, old. Once more, logic suggests the probability—on the order of 99.99Standard
none of those listed in my files remain on active duty. A secondary probabilitypercent—that
94.375 percent suggests that the uniform discrepancies I detect are also theon the order of
time. result of passing
The captain, if such he truly is, approaches the main personnel entrance to the depot. He
carries a bush knife, and, as I watch, begins to clear the local flora from the entry. Clearly
intent on gaining access, and I devote a full 5.009 seconds to consideration of myhe is
Conclusion is reached. I will permit him entry and observe his actions beforeoptions.
action of my own. initiating any further
* * *
It took forty minutes of hard, physical labor to clear the entry. Merrit was wringing wet bythe time he hacked the last wrist-thick creeper aside, and he muttered a quiet curse at SantaCruz's damp heat. No doubt the planet's farmers welcomed the fertility of its tropical climate,at least when they weren't fighting tooth and nail against the plant life it spawned, butMerrit was from cold, mountainous Helicon, and he was already sick of the steamy humidity afterless than six hours on-planet. He deactivated the bush knife and scrubbed sweat from his eyes,then frowned in concentration as he keyed the admittance code into the alphanumeric pad. It wasplain blind luck Central had even had the code. A portion of one of Major Stavrakas' earlierdispatches had survived the Quern raid in what remained of Central's high-security data core,and it had contained both the depot entry codes and the command codeword she'd selected for herBolo. Without both of those, there wouldn't have been enough brigadiers in the universe to getPaul Merrit this close to a live Bolo. He was no coward, but the notion of confrontingsomething with almost four megaton/seconds of main battery firepower without the ability toidentify himself as a friend was hardly appealing.
The depot hatch slid open with surprising smoothness, and he raised an eyebrow as the interiorlights came on. There was no sign of dust, which suggested the depot remotes must be fully on-line. That was as encouraging as it was unexpected, and he stepped into the air-conditionedcoolness with a sigh of gratitude. Someone had hung a directory on the facing wall, and heconsulted it briefly, then turned left to head for the command center.
I note that the unidentified captain has entered the proper admittance code. This is
persuasive, though certainly not conclusive, evidence that his presence is, in fact,
generate a 62.74 percent probability that Sector HQ has finally dispatched aauthorized. I
previous Commander, but logic cautions me against leaping to conclusions.replacement for my
further. I will observe
* * *
The command center hatch opened at a touch, and Merrit blinked at the non-regulation sightwhich met his eyes. Computer and communication consoles awaited his touch, without a trace ofdust, and he was surprised to see the holo display of a full-scale planetary recon systemglowing in one corner. Yet welcome as those sights were, they also seemed hopelesslyincongruous, for someone had decorated the center. That was the only verb he could think of.Paintings hung on the ceramacrete walls and sculptures in both clay and metal dotted the floor.One entire wall had been transformed into an exquisite mosaic—of Icarus plunging from theheavens, unless he was mistaken—and handwoven rugs covered the floor. None of them impinged onthe efficiency of the working area, but they were . . . nonstandard, to say the least.