Friday, July 11, 2008

Keith Laumer's "The Last Command" (short story, science fiction, thriller, free): A monster of a war machine is on the loose

Beats a Bond movie any day. In my book, at least. Gripping story. Note there is also an unrelated Arthur Clarke story of this title.

I'm wondering if Elizabeth Bear's "Tideline" that has been much in news this year because of award nominations takes its robot tank idea from this older story. But the two stories are very different, & Bear's version is way too soft compared to the machine here.

There was a Hollywood movie I cannot recollect the name of. Giant beasts, or insects, moving underground. Emerge at surface at will & terrorize everyone. A part of this story is may be a more plausible version of it.

Story summary.

A war fought with massive, powerful & competent nuclear-powered robotic combat machines. Eventually the war ends, some of the fighting units are decommissioned, along with most of these machines. Machines are incapacitated, disarmed, & buried deep underground in massive concrete bunkers.

70 years have passed. Everyone has forgotten about the war & the war machines' burial ground. A spaceport is coming up at the site of the burial ground. Months into the project, some blasting of the project has done something inadvertent: stirred "Lenny" aka a Bolo Mark XXVIII Combat Unit, once of Dinochrome Brigade, into life in its underground tomb! It's mostly dead, batteries gone, & very low reserve batteries. We are about to witness the ruin this near dead machine can wreck!

Machine doesn't know the war is over. It's trying to contact its comrades & commander - no luck. So it's now all alone, & must still do its war duty to the best of its ability!

Lot of horror above surface as it digs its way through the ground - sort of a small moving earthquake. Nothing is able to injure it - let alone stop it, not even the military bombing that comes later in the story. And it's headed towards a mall in the nearby city - thinking it is an Enemy deception!

Acting Brigade Commander of Lenny's unit, Lieutenant Sanders, is now an old man, & is seeing the drama on TV. He will finally stop the machine.

Collected in.

  1. David Drake, Jim Baen, & Eric Flint (Ed)'s "The World Turned Upside Down".

Fact sheet.

First published: Analog, January 1967.
Rating: A
Download full text.


Troy Macgill said...

I was greatly saddened when Lt. Sanders chose to sacrifice his life to stop his old combat unit.